House of Lords
Tuesday, 13 March 2007.
The House met at noon: the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.
Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Rochester.
Earl Cathcart, having received a Writ of Summons in accordance with Standing Order 9(7) (Hereditary Peers) following the death of Lord Mowbray and Stourton—took the Oath.
House of Lords: Reform
Debate resumed on the Motion moved on Monday 12 March by the Lord Falconer of Thoroton—namely, That this House takes note of the White Paper The House of Lords: Reform (Cm. 7027).
My Lords, the first thing that strikes me about yesterday’s excellent debate is that whatever we on the Back Benches may think, our Front Benches—or at least the Front-Bench spokesmen on this issue—are in broad agreement. They want an 80 per cent elected House. That must give the rest of us some food for thought.
My right honourable friend Jack Straw backed the 50 per cent option; indeed, he predicated a whole White Paper on that option and was soundly defeated, not just in the Commons but within his own party. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, having argued persuasively for the status quo, cheerfully went on to back the 80 per cent option, acknowledging as he did that his own Back Bench in this House would not support him any more than his party supported that option in the Commons. The Liberal Democrats want a 100 per cent elected House but will settle for what they can get—and who can blame them? Of course, the Cross Benches rightly prefer an 80 per cent elected element because it preserves that independent expertise, which we all acknowledge is such an important and valuable attribute in this House. Meanwhile, the House of Commons, the elected House, has voted decisively for a 100 per cent elected Lords—and, as Jack Straw remarked last week, the genie cannot be put back into its bottle.
How will the Government pursue the consensus without which, we are told, we cannot proceed? The Government will be against any vote in this House for 100 per cent appointed Peers, but they are clearly deeply uneasy about the Commons’ decision for 100 per cent elected Peers. There is no consensus between the parties in the Commons and it is pretty clear that there will be no consensus between the two Houses, but the Government have said that they will seek consensus between the Commons vote and the Lords vote, and the Lord Chancellor said that the cross-party group—that is, Mr Straw and the Front-Benchers—will reconvene.
I return to the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, yesterday about a range of views in that group, a point elegantly sidestepped by his noble friend Lord Strathclyde. I put it this time to my noble and learned friend. How will Back-Bench opinion in the political parties be represented? We have had no such representation hitherto, on that group—no one to argue for what I suspect this House will vote for. A consensus based on the current cross-party group will be no consensus at all; it will be a sham.
The Government’s unease is understandable because the decisive vote on the 100 per cent model has clear implications—at least it does for any person of common sense—for the primacy of the House of Commons. That may be why such large numbers voted in another place for the 100 per cent appointed and 100 per cent elected Peers. Some 70-odd did so, by my calculations, including 60 or so of my own party. That is an impressive number voting for two apparently contradictory positions—and, in time, those 70 will have to reach a decision to back one option or the other. However, I think that their vote at present is defensible, because this is an argument about hybridity.
The argument is that hybridity will confirm legitimacy because this House will have an elected element, which my noble and learned friend claimed provided what he called democratic connection, or the legitimacy claimed by many others. We can be legitimate, but not too legitimate, because legitimacy would challenge Commons primacy. The 20 per cent appointed Peers will be the bulwark claimed against a challenge to the primacy of the House of Commons.
The 80 per cent political or elected Members of this House will still believe that their individual legitimacy is every bit as valid as the individual legitimacy of those elected to another place. They will recognise that the cap put on the elected element in this House will be there to protect those in the Commons to the disadvantage of the electoral mandate that they have in this House. Moreover, the first time that a vote in this House turns on the 20 per cent appointed votes, there will be a constitutional crisis. An elected majority will simply not tolerate being overruled by an unelected minority, nor should they.
What of the relationship between the two Houses? Why should an elected Member in this House subvert the mandate from his own electorate to the mandate of an MP in another place? That is not democracy; it is a doctrine of, “all elections are equal, but some are more equal than others”. It is this that will be used to protect the primacy of the Commons. That primacy is not challenged—it is right that the Commons has primacy, and there is no question of it. Members in the Commons are elected, we are not—end of story. But sooner or later—and, given the vibrancy of our politics, it will be sooner—the 80 per cent elected Members of this House will challenge another place, will feel an equal legitimacy with the all-elected Commons and the 20 per cent artificial constraint will not hold. It will be attacked and defeated and primacy will go.
The truth is that last week’s vote in the Commons has put primacy into play. The all-party Cunningham committee said unanimously that at this point the conventions between the two Houses must be reconsidered. It was a unanimous committee position, adopted by unanimous resolution in both Houses. How would this vital issue be examined again? We already know what the Government want on the conventions: the status quo. But who will they consult? Will there be another “understanding” with the Front-Benchers, with no Back-Bench representation? Or will the Cunningham committee reconvene? There is only one respectable answer: the issue must be dealt with by an all-party committee of both Houses. No other means is acceptable, and I ask my noble and learned friend to confirm unequivocally that that will be the case.
If this House has a majority of elected Members, the primacy of the Commons as currently understood will go. The argument that it can be protected is both unsustainable and undemocratic: unsustainable because neither electors nor elected will abide by it, and undemocratic because it denies the elected the power to act on behalf of the electors. Democracy is not just about voting, but about voting for people who will act on the basis of the mandate that the electorate have given them. The election of political members of this House will give them such a mandate. It is misleading to give the electorate the right to vote without the right of the elected to deliver on that vote. A mandate without means to deliver is meaningless; worse, it is a deceit.
I shall vote against all the options on hybridity. Hybridity is a connection not to democracy but to constitutional uncertainty and electoral unfairness. I shall vote for a 100 per cent appointed House. I could vote for a 100 per cent elected House, but only if there is a new settlement between the two Houses reflecting that all elections to the British Parliament really are equal, without some being more equal than others.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, with whom I served on the Joint Committee on Conventions. I find that her main point is one that I would reinforce.
It is a privilege to speak in this debate. Yesterday, we had many fine speeches. There were outstanding speeches from the government Benches by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine, from the Conservative Benches by my noble and learned friend Lord Howe and from the Cross Benches by the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd. They all agreed, and I agreed with what they said. I shall not repeat their arguments, but there is a consensus across the Benches that ought to be followed.
The voting in the House of Commons last week was not, as was feared, a train crash; it is probably better described as a nuclear missile that went off at half-cock. Yesterday, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said that we must take the vote on 100 per cent elected at face value. That would be extraordinarily naive. In reality there was an enormous amount of tactical voting. It is important to analyse how people voted last week, and I shall do so, reinforcing the point made by the noble Baroness a moment ago.
I first make one or two simple points. First, I support the views expressed, as quoted yesterday, by Mr Alan Williams in another place. He was my pair for some 33 years, succeeded me as chair of the Liaison Committee and is now Father of the House. He pointed out that hybridity is not only the worst of all possible worlds, but intrinsically unstable. At the end of the day, the choice can only really be between wholly elected or wholly appointed.
Secondly, the idea that democracy would be increased in this country if we had elected Members of this House is false. We already have a system that is 100 per cent democratic; one cannot make it more than 100 per cent. Having elected Members of this House would change the balance between the two Houses. We would lose what is now an effective system, both in revising legislation—I see the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, opposite, with whom we did a great deal—because the Commons is no longer revising and scrutinising legislation as it should, and in holding the Government to account. It is inconceivable that this House would hold the Government to account—let us say at Question Time last week, on defence or the National Health Service—with the same expertise if we had elected Members.
The Government, in support of their view that an elected element in this House would be all right, points out that other countries have elected double chambers. However, they did not point out in the evidence to the Select Committee that all those countries have written constitutions. As far as I know, the Government do not propose that for this country, although given the rather oracular remarks of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor yesterday, I am not sure that he is not moving in that direction.
As to the future and the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said yesterday that we will reconvene the cross-party group. If one analyses the votes in the House of Commons last week, however, it is clear that the official policy of the Conservative Party is not supported by a majority of Conservatives in the Commons; nor, as I am sure we will find, is it supported by a majority of Conservatives in this House. The Government’s preference is not supported by 128 to 188 Labour Members in the House of Commons. We shall wait and see what happens on the Labour Benches in this House. In reality, it would be completely absurd to reconvene that committee without having effective representation of the views of the majority of each party in each House. We simply must sort that out, because there will be no effective progress without it.
No doubt my noble friend Lord Strathclyde will make many points with which I agree—for example, on the dangers of proportional representation and other issues. On the fundamental issue of whether we should have elected Members of this House, however, it is clear that that is not the case. If we are to move forward, we must follow the line which—to my surprise, because I had not anticipated it coming immediately before my speech—was laid out by the noble Baroness. We must sort this out. It is an unusual situation, but it is essential to do so.
That is the immediate problem. The other problem is that there is much speculation in the press that this will all be kicked into the long grass—Mr Gordon Brown, or whoever else happens to become leader of the Labour Party, will not be keen to have a constitutional confrontation in the first two years of their period in office—although it will turn up in the manifestos. If there is one feature of our democratic system that is very doubtful, so far as democracy is concerned, it is manifestos; they are agreed behind closed doors, there are no free votes and one is stuck with them. It may be that at the next election the manifestos of all three parties are in favour of an elected element. The Joint Committee will then have to examine in great detail whether or not the Bill is a manifesto Bill. I hope that we will look again at what the committee says, because the whole question of whether a manifesto Bill must not be opposed in this House is rather doubtful.
I refer to one point in the committee’s report, when it qualified what it said about manifesto Bills. It said that it offered no definition of a situation in which an attempt to defeat a Bill on Second Reading would be appropriate, save that that would include free votes. I leave noble Lords to consider the implications of that point in relation to manifesto Bills. It may well be that, whatever the manifesto, there are those of us who would still feel that we ought to oppose any elected element in this House.
It is important that we should not get to that stage. We should try to resolve this matter before the next election. All that needs to be done is to have an Appointments Commission that is not open to criticism in the way that the present system is. I also believe that the continuation of the by-election system for hereditary Peers is not helpful to our overall situation. Its removal and the establishment of a proper Appointments Commission are all that is needed at present. Parliament is working very well now. One of my hereditary colleagues said to me a little while ago that it is working better than it has done in the past 700 years, and that is probably true. Therefore, while I am not in favour of the status quo—there are changes that need to be made—the right approach is to oppose any elected Members of this House. I shall vote for a wholly appointed Chamber, and oppose all the other options.
My Lords, I agree with the previous two speakers on only one point: you either have an appointed House or an elected House. I am not trying to curry favour with people whose opinion is against an elected House. The principles are very important and cannot be ignored. The democratic principles of a reformed second Chamber must surely rest in the accountability of the membership through election and the legitimacy of a diverse candidature to contest elections to this House. The elected Members must surely represent all nations and regions of the United Kingdom, many of which are under-represented here at present. Not only that, but they should be representative and inclusive of all social strata and occupations. It must be a House, preferably a Senate, with no overall majority, identified with people of different political philosophies and allegiances and of none.
I have always believed in an elected second Chamber, and after five and a half years here that is still my view. The second Chamber must scrutinise and revise legislation; it must be complementary to the House of Commons and not usurp its primacy. A substantial vote in the House of Commons to have a 100 per cent elected House of Lords endorses that principle.
Arguments will rage over a number of issues. The first is whether the powers of the House of Lords should be strengthened, diminished or remain unchanged. The second is the method of election to the second Chamber. Other factors come into play. No party or grouping should hold an overall majority in the House, as is widely accepted; indeed, it is incorporated into the White Paper. The position of independent Cross-Benchers should be incorporated into the second Chamber within an electoral system, and I do not believe that to be impossible. With those caveats, I believe that it is possible to have a representative Senate to bolster democratic accountability within the UK. To address some points that have just been made, the primacy of the House of Commons will surely continue to be protected by the Parliament Act.
If we take all these factors into account, the concept of an all-elected second Chamber now has legitimacy through the indicative vote in the House of Commons. That concept has certainly been endorsed by Liberals and Liberal Democrats for the past 100 years, though I note from the voting in the other place that a majority of Conservatives still do not accept that principle. It is my belief that we should get on with it, work out a fair electoral system for all and at the same time, at least initially, retain the status quo so far as this House’s powers are concerned in the Parliament of the United Kingdom. We would not then present a threat to the House of Commons at this time.
It would be vital to incorporate an electoral system of proportional representation. I detect that that is anathema to some noble Lords, but in fact it is enlightenment. Let us hope that they learn that over time. I would prefer a single transferable vote system. If a list system is introduced, it is crucial that open lists of candidates are deployed. Power must remain with the electors and not with the political parties or factional interests. It is important that this should be a parliamentary legislature that fairly represents all parts of the United Kingdom, including a fair representation from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. There will also be an opportunity to create a gender balance in the Lords, which is best secured through an open-list, single transferable vote system. That follows almost automatically.
Recent experiences in the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly show that closed electoral lists have caused problems, especially as there has been a mix between first-past-the-post elected Members and Members elected from a regional list. The perception of some is that there have been two classes of Members; not only that, but the closed lists have specified which party member is nominated to get elected. I believe that these same weaknesses would occur in a hybrid House in this Chamber. A single transferable vote system gives the same status for all elected Members. Such equality is transparent, and an open list ensures that those elected are the choice of the electors. That ensures that the legislature is both legitimate and democratic. I will support an elected second Chamber created on that basis.
The resolution of the vexed question of Cross-Benchers and their unique contribution to the House can be resolved through election to this House, possibly—and this needs investigation—by an electoral college of prescribed institutions and occupations—
That could be entirely representative of the country, my Lords. I am not saying that this is the answer; I am saying that it should be investigated. I know that there is great scepticism about this, as can be heard, but the future of the House rests on accountability, and indeed legitimacy through election to it. That, surely, is the way ahead.
My Lords, we have now had two attempts to reach agreement on the composition of a hybrid House of Lords—partly elected and partly appointed. It seems to me that, as a result of the proceedings in another place last week, many of the speeches here yesterday and two very notable speeches today—from the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, and the noble Lord, Lord Higgins—the search for a hybrid solution has reached a dead end. It would be most useful for our discussion if we were now to put on one side discussion about hybrids, even a hybrid with 80 per cent elected Members, to which, in any case, at least 80 per cent of the pros and cons of 100 per cent election apply, and to continue the discussion in terms of a choice between wholly elected and wholly appointed.
As the noble Lord who has just spoken said, before we try to make that choice, there is, or should be, a prior question: what do we want a second Chamber to do? That question is barely touched on in the White Paper. The general assumption seems to be that we want it to do pretty well what the House of Lords does now—certainly not to have greater powers, and to be if anything slightly more restricted than now.
If that is our position, it is one of the factors that affect the choice between wholly appointed and wholly elected. To make the second Chamber a wholly elected body would be a profound and fundamental change in our parliamentary constitution—a change with many consequences and ramifications, many still unforeseen, that need to be thought through over a considerable period. At this moment do we really want or need to undertake such a change, if there are to be no significant changes in the functions of the second Chamber?
It is suggested that a wholly elected Chamber could be subject to rules and conventions similar to those by which this House is content to be bound, so as to protect the primacy of the other place. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, on that. I doubt whether the Members of such a Chamber would be content to submit to such constraints. Before long they would surely come to feel that they had as good a democratic mandate as the other place and should have the same or very similar functions and powers. There would inevitably be unremitting pressure to stretch the rules and conventions, and constant unproductive tensions between the two Chambers. Thus the second Chamber would soon in effect constantly be challenging the primacy of the first.
The White Paper has more to say about the disadvantages of and objections to a wholly elected Chamber than about its advantages and benefits, and it does not succeed in arguing away all those disadvantages and objections. I am not convinced that membership of a wholly elected second Chamber, constrained as we are content to be, would attract people of the standing and capacity that we should wish for. Why should such people be prepared to subject themselves to the process of submitting for election to such a Chamber? Whatever the process by which Members were elected, I wonder whether the British voting public would have sufficient enthusiasm for electing the Members of a second Chamber to go out and vote for them. I suspect that the British public are beginning to suffer from a surfeit of elections—from election fatigue. A second Chamber elected on the votes of only about a quarter of the electorate would lack the democratic mandate and the degree of democratic representativeness and authority that such a Chamber ought to have.
A wholly elected second Chamber would not have room for the independent element that those who sit on these Benches provide, and by which all those who have discussed these matters set great store. Our all-appointed House is thought to be deficient in representativeness, so we should be searching for a way of making it more broadly representative. I suggest that other ways than a process of direct election could deliver this objective. “Legitimacy” is not and should not be used as a synonym for “direct election”.
The proposed independent statutory Appointments Commission could be given instructions as to the balance that it should seek to preserve between the representatives of the various political parties and between those representatives and independent non-political members. It could be instructed to invite nominations for the appointment of members representing the various social partners—for example, from the political parties, from the world of local government and regional communities, from the world of industry and commerce, from the trade union movement, from the financial world, from agriculture, from the churches, from non-government organisations, and from the world of charities. Nominations could also be invited from the professional bodies representing, for instance, the health professions, the legal professions, the academic and educational professions, and the media professions.
The people so nominated would not need to be politically independent. Some no doubt would be; others would be supporters of one or other of the political parties. The political affiliations of nominees would have to be declared so that the commission’s recommendations could take into account the balances of representation in the House. The commission could put forward lists of recommendations once or twice a year. Its recommendations would be made to the Prime Minister, who would be expected to put them unaltered to the Queen. The Prime Minister might need to retain residual powers to make his own recommendations to the Queen, for instance when he wanted to appoint as a Minister someone who was not a Member of the other place. In other cases—senior public servants on retirement from the armed services or the Civil Service, for example—he would send his nominations to the commission for consideration by it.
We should no doubt continue to examine the pros and cons of a wholly elected second Chamber, and the means by which we might seek to differentiate an elected second Chamber from the other place and so maintain the primacy of the other place. But that would be a profoundly radical, even revolutionary, change in our constitutional parliamentary arrangements—a great leap into the unknown, with unforeseeable consequences. This is a field in which, if we want to press forward to make early proposals, we should do better to proceed by a process of gradual reform.
I suggest that the time has come when we should concentrate on building and improving what we have, on reform which would give us a more broadly representative House and which would be achievable and manageable within a reasonable period.
My Lords, I, too, share the view that Jack Straw has tried his best to reconcile conflicting opinions about Lords reform. However, in my mind the key issue is how to maintain freedom for the nation and for each and every individual within it. In modern Britain, a two-tier Parliament has, to date, provided a very effective means for this to happen. The House of Commons represents a form of democracy in which everyone aged 18 and above has a right to vote for its Members. It has been throughout the previous century, and even longer, a symbol of British freedom and, indeed, since the Magna Carta there has been a culture in this country of ensuring that the rights of all could be seen to be valued.
However, full election in both Houses may not be in the interests of freedom. The noble Baroness, Lady Symons, highlighted some of the problems that need to be addressed. Our 21st-century fashion for a particular form of democracy may, in the end, not give us freedom; election and freedom are not necessarily coterminous. Voting does indeed provide a peaceful way of changing government, giving a political party to form Her Majesty’s Government or to become Her Majesty’s Opposition in Parliament, but it does not necessarily guarantee freedom or success. Given voter apathy and low turnouts, the House of Commons should take the warning of the Teacher of Galilee of taking the beam out of its own eye before it tries to take the speck of dust out of the eye of your Lordships’ House. Energy should be spent rather in persuading the electorate to reconnect with politics. That is a far more urgent and necessary task.
Where is the empirical evidence for the bold claim in the White Paper, at paragraph 6.12, that “in many people's eyes”, the House of Lords,
“still lacks the … legitimacy to carry out its current role”?
If I am not mistaken, a survey soon after the last general election suggested that two-thirds of the public backed the House of Lords’ right to delay unpopular legislation, even if it comes out of the party in government. What gives the House its legitimacy is simply this: it is established in law and is part of the parliamentary constitutional agreement of this country. For me accountability in the end has to do with transparency. Is what we do here transparent or not? If it is, then it is legitimate. No one serves in your Lordships' House or the House of Commons until they have taken their oath of allegiance to the Queen. That is what gives Members a seat.
L Blake, barrister at law, in his book, The Royal Law, locates for the reader where our freedom really lies. He says that few people realise how important for our civil liberties are the words of the coronation service for the sovereign—a service embedded in an Act of Parliament, the Coronation Oath Act 1689. The service is not a meaningless pageant. Blake says:
“The Coronation Service is where the Divine Law is placed before the law of the State, acknowledged and reverenced. It reminds us of the source of all our law, in truth and in justice. We should not forget the words in which are conveyed the truth which inspires our Common Law”.
As a 13th-century lawyer, Bracton, rightly said, the king or queen,
“must not be under man but under God and the law, for the law makes the king”.
In forcing King John to sign the Magna Carta, were the barons not insisting that he observed this principle and his coronation oath?
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford spoke yesterday of Parliament needing to take into account the spiritual dimension of people as it legislates—that beliefs affect people, and that the voices of a religious life need to be heard. The presence of the Lords Spiritual is a necessary reminder of that. I want to go further and say that the Queen in Parliament is sovereign, but is also Queen in law, in council, and in the Executive. That is the constitutional arrangement. Are we going to preserve it? The Lords Spiritual remind Parliament of the Queen's coronation oath and of that occasion when the divine law was acknowledged as the source of all law. We see ourselves not as representatives, but as connectors with the people and parishes of England. Ours is a sacred trust—to remind your Lordships' House of the common law of this nation, in which true religion, virtue, morals and law are always intermingled; they have never been separated.
As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine, and the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, reminded us yesterday, the aim of your Lordships' House has always been to provide a wise check and balance for the nation using the diversity of skills and experience in revising legislation, delaying ill thought out or hasty legislation, being deliberative and acting as a bastion of democracy by not allowing a party in government to extend its life beyond the timetable set in the Parliament Act. That is the role of this House. Your Lordships' House has always been in the interests not just of democracy, but of that higher freedom which supports our values and the culture of this nation.
It was right that the House of Lords be reformed, but why not allow time to assess whether further reform is needed? Is not evolution a better way, compared to activism and pressure to modernise? We should think very carefully before losing the breadth of experience of hereditary Lords, appointed Lords, retired Supreme Court Justices and others with the automatic right to sit here. In an age where our House of Commons is ever more homogenous, with more and more professional MPs in all parties and less and less breadth of experience from a wide range of operational life, we should note that election does not bring an age range of 18 to 90, the breadth of experience through luck in life, sheer hard work which leads to some appointments, specialist gifts in areas of life, and conscience and values which stem even from beyond the elector. These make for wisdom and, most importantly, freedom—freedom to think and say what is right, freedom to check and balance legislation for the whole nation, and freedom to learn from the diversity within the House itself. I have been here a short time, and I am most impressed by what I hear, see and experience.
Blake's book also shows that there is a government behind Government, with a greater purpose and permanence than the changing spectrum of party-political strife. This government consists of institutions, mostly of medieval origin—the monarchy, Parliament, common law, jury system, church, universities, the police and the Armed Forces. The powers working through these institutions, which meet in the House of Lords, are made available to the Government of the day. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, told us yesterday that who makes the law must get the consent of the people. What would he make of Lord Atkin in the case of Donoghue v Stevenson, in which the law of the duty of care towards one's neighbour was clearly established, based on the story of the good Samaritan? What about Lord Denning in many of his judgments, where he was clearly not interpreting law but making it? What matters in the end is how people behave when they get here. Are they equal to the task? Will the suggested changes lead this House to be a better House?
Despite the apparent surface of fairness of a second elected House—it may seemingly be in the interests of democracy—it may ultimately fail this nation in its desire to value freedom. We should think very carefully to be sure that the rumours of self-interest of various parties within the House of Lords are not merely a smokescreen to cover something which we might miss horrendously once lost, never to be recovered. For those reasons, I shall vote strongly for option 1, a House fully appointed by a royal commission established by statute. I may look at the possibility of a hybrid, but I have not yet heard the argument to persuade me, and would need to.
My Lords, in every debate in which I have spoken on House of Lords reform for the past 11 years, I have argued for a wholly elected House. I never thought that such a dream of mine would ever have a chance of fulfilment, but the House of Commons made a revolutionary decision last Wednesday. It would not do to examine the entrails of that decision—how many tactical votes there were this and that way. If you start down that road, you could unpick every other decision of the House of Commons, so let us not do that. Grown-up people were given a choice and made a choice; it is our duty to examine its consequences.
Even an 80:20 hybrid House would not be a stable solution. In attempts to reform this House in 1999, a big wedge of 75 or 92 hereditaries was left in. Now we know that that will have to go, because it is no longer tenable. If we implement a hybrid House, very soon the 20 per cent will be the first victims of the next stage of reform, because reform of the House of Lords would not stop there. We should actually grasp the nettle and see what the consequences of that revolutionary decision by the House of Commons are. It is revolutionary because, again and again, a chance was given to another place to make up its mind and it failed to do so. After 96 years, it has done so.
It is true that if we have an all-elected House of Lords, it is a new constitutional arrangement. The status quo will not last, and all the conventions that we have carefully fashioned will have to be re-examined. We may have to face up to a written constitution because, unless it is written down, old conventions based on a system when this House was unelected and the other place was elected will no longer suffice. As my noble friend Lady Symons said, if people are elected both here and there, all elections have to be treated the same way. This is the time for us to give up our prejudices and frankly examine what is going on.
In this debate, I have found our self-regard astonishing, and the contempt we have for elections and democracy amazing. I do not know how many of the ex-MPs who have come here suddenly found that, from being ugly elected ducklings, they became beautiful appointed swans. Why do we fear that, if there were elections to this House, no good candidates would come—that only third-rate people would come, because all the first- and second-rate people had been exhausted already? If you give somebody a chance of independence—of serving here for 15 years and not being worried about re-election—some good people will want to come here. It is up to us to devise methods in which we can make sure that nominations come not just from political parties but, as the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, said, from a variety of bodies—not for an appointed Chamber, but for people to submit themselves for election. I do not see why we should not have a wide open list; let the parties nominate, but let lots of other people nominate and let us see what the people of this country decide. If they are convinced, as we think that they are convinced, that the present arrangements are good, they will try to reproduce the present arrangements when they have the choices for elections.
We should not prejudge the issue by saying that elections are no good, that the candidates will be no good, that we are the best and that any attempt to displace us from here would be a constitutional disaster. I remind noble Lords who were here before 1999 that our debates then were full of dire warnings that if the hereditaries were eliminated it would be constitutional vandalism; that our great unwritten constitution and our beautiful traditions of freedom would be destroyed. What do we find now? Everyone thinks that they own that reform and that they actually made it. They say, “The 1999 reforms have made this House much better and much more legitimate; why do we need more change?”. That is the pattern, not just in the House but in the country: every time change is threatened it is opposed. When change happens, suddenly it is owned and all opposition is forgotten. I am sure that the Magna Carta was opposed by some—and so on down the line.
I do not agree with the most reverend Primate that we have always had freedom and democracy from the word go. Women did not have the franchise until 1916. What kind of freedom was it when half the population did not have the right to vote? Workers did not have the right to vote until the late 19th century and not fully until the beginning of the 20th. Democracy is a progressive process. We are not yet at the best level and until this House is elected, we will not be at the best level of democracy. We have no reason to fear that if somehow we were removed the world would come to an end. I have the humility to believe that perhaps there are other people, maybe not as good as I am, who, once they arrive here and have settled down for a few months, could become as good as me, and—perhaps—dare I say?—even better.
Let us give the reforms a chance and let us make quite sure that we are not churlish and are not seen to be people defending our narrow vested interests.
My Lords, I rise to speak to the Motion that will stand in my name on tomorrow’s Order Paper. I wish to make it absolutely clear right from the start that I am not opposed to reform of your Lordships’ House. I therefore need to explain my Motion, which calls for the composition to remain as it is—anyway, for the time being.
Your Lordships will recall that the House of Lords Act 1999, when first introduced, provided for the full and complete removal of all hereditary Peers, including the two great hereditary offices of state, namely the Lord Great Chamberlain and the Earl Marshal. At that time, of course, the Conservative Peers could command a considerable majority in your Lordships’ House, especially with the hereditary Peers who then belonged to the Conservative Party and could have delayed the passage of that Bill to the point that it could have been enacted only by means of the Parliament Act. As everyone knows, the Parliament Act is a blunt instrument for its stated purpose and at least involves considerable delay.
The Government therefore entered into negotiations with the leader of the Conservative Peers in the House of Lords at that time, my noble friend, the then Viscount Cranborne, now of course the Marquess of Salisbury. The essence of that agreement is well known: 90 hereditary Peers, elected from among themselves, would be allowed to remain, being topped up by by-elections as necessary; and the two offices of state to which I have referred would also continue to be Members of your Lordships' House. The noble and learned Lord the then Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine of Lairg, who we understand was the principal government interlocutor with my noble friend, subsequently gave a clear and unqualified undertaking to the effect that the hereditary Peers so excepted from the provisions of the 1999 Act would remain until the process of Lords reform was complete.
By no stretch of the imagination can any of the proposals in Motions 1 to 7 which will be before your Lordships’ House tomorrow be described as completion of the reform process so far as your Lordships’ House is concerned. Nothing is said about the role of the new Chamber, the powers of the new Chamber, the arrangements by which Members will be either appointed or elected, the place of the Bishops, or many of the other important matters that will need to be decided before any Bill can be drafted let alone enacted.
Thus I believe firmly that reform of the House of Lords—which, I say again, I most certainly do not oppose in principle—must be a comprehensive reform and not piecemeal reform as we have had so far. The 1999 Act was the first piece of piecemeal reform. There should be no more until the Government are ready with thought-through plans for this momentous change that have been agreed by the other place and agreed on a cross-party basis, as the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, suggested.
I suspect that the majority of your Lordships are in favour of a largely or even wholly appointed House. As it happens, I take a different view. I am in favour of a largely elected House with a smallish number of appointed Members to include, for example, the retired Chiefs of Staff and the two ex officio hereditary Members to whom I referred earlier. But I also believe that change in that direction would necessitate some increase in the available powers. It is simply not credible to suggest that persons of quality could be found to go through all the rigmarole of election, including exclusion from standing for the other place, just to join a revising Chamber. So whatever powers may initially be granted to a newly elected second Chamber, they will, as sure as night follows day, soon appear inadequate.
I do not believe that that is what honourable and right honourable Members voted for last week. Indeed I am much mystified by the outcome of those votes. I have not laboured through all the figures but I am told that 70 or so honourable Members from the party opposite—and maybe from my own party—voted both for a largely elected House and for a largely appointed House. It is all very puzzling. I cannot believe that, in voting for a largely elected House, they were thinking of the proposition quite correctly put by the noble Baroness, Lady Symons: that an elected House is a House with more powers come what may.
More importantly, the Government’s present plans are a departure from the categorical undertaking given to facilitate the passage of the 1999 Act, and are, furthermore, incoherent and confused. For myself, I stand ready to consider and perhaps to support a full and thought-through comprehensive reform proposal for your Lordships’ House. What we have before us is nothing of the sort. So let us leave matters as they are until such time as the Government are able to present a full reform proposal for our consideration.
I have been a Member of your Lordships’ House for 44 years. I have no talent and no brains but I do have the experience of those 44 years, which has taught me one thing at least—that an undertaking given in the circumstances which I have described is absolutely binding. I invite the noble and learned Lord the present Lord Chancellor to be guided accordingly.
My Lords, I feel justified in speaking in this heavily oversubscribed debate for two reasons. First, I was the first person to make a television documentary on the House of Lords; that was in 1970, a few years after the Wilson Government had seriously attempted to reform the Lords and failed. Incidentally, it was the House of Lords, not the Commons, which first allowed television cameras into the Palace of Westminster. Secondly, as a hereditary Peer, I have already been abolished once and I do not particularly want to be abolished again. Not quite yet anyway; it really is very unsettling.
The Wilson Government’s attempt to reform this House in 1968 collapsed because of the famous unholy alliance between the left and right wings of the two major parties. The right, led by Enoch Powell, believed that the House of Lords had historic legitimacy and that, although it should be allowed to evolve the change organically, it could not be bisected or hacked about without doing it fatal damage. Let us remember that in those days it was an overwhelmingly hereditary and Conservative House and, from the Conservative point of view, no doubt that was no bad thing.
By the way, at that time Enoch Powell had just completed a 671-page tome entitled, The House of Lords in the Middle Ages, with the subtitle, A History of the English House of Lords up to 1540. He tried to sell me a copy but I found the thought of actually having to read it a little too daunting.
On the left wing of the Labour Party, the view succinctly expressed by Michael Foot was that the House of Commons was the only democratically elected Chamber and that, as such, it should be supreme and the House of Lords should be abolished. However, if total abolition was not acceptable to Parliament, the next best thing was to retain the Lords as the self-evidently undemocratic and absurdly unfair body that it was in the hope that it would eventually become completely discredited and wither away. The last thing that he and his supporters wanted was a reformed House of Lords, because that might give it some legitimacy and therefore a right to challenge the elected House of Commons. It is perhaps not surprising that similar arguments are still being expressed here in this debate.
In the event, in 1968, as most of us know, that unholy alliance of the right and left succeeded in torpedoing the Government’s plans for Lords reform and the attempt was abandoned. However, it struck me at the time—and in those days I think that I was a more-or-less objective observer—that, in spite of its anachronistic and unbalanced nature, the House of Lords seemed to work surprisingly well. A predominantly hereditary and Conservative House was only too aware of the precariousness of its constitutional position and therefore very careful not to be seen to obstruct the will of the elected House, even when it passionately disagreed with it. The Conservatives employed a sort of internal self-censorship. Only when confident that it had public opinion on its side did it dare to bare its teeth and, even then, it would almost certainly give way.
A House of Lords that was primarily concerned with its own survival seemed to work in practice but, of course, it did not begin to work in theory. In the mean time, I was very struck by the high standard of debate in the Lords. Peers tended to speak on subjects and issues only when they knew what they were talking about. Now that most of us hereditary Peers have been ejected and a much greater number of appointed life Peers is here, it is still the quality of the debates and the ability to amend Bills through intelligent reasoning and argument that shows this House at its best. It is particularly during the debates on amendments, when sheer weight of knowledge and professional expertise compel the Government to change their mind, that I feel most proud of being a Member of this House, and, as I think we all agree, its primary job is to be an effective revising Chamber.
However, in order to remain an effective revising Chamber, the House needs to be composed, as it now is, of wise men and wise women and experts and representatives of minority interests, with only a limited number of professional politicians. Yet it seems that the view of the Commons and the official policy of my own party is to convert this House into a Chamber of professional politicians—not top-rate politicians either; the most able ones will surely look for a seat in the House of Commons, where real power will continue to reside.
Scrutinising legislation, amending Bills and debating important issues, then, is what this House does best. That is its purpose, and its skill is due to the expertise, wisdom, experience and specialised knowledge of its Members. How could that be better achieved by a House made up of what I would regard as second-rate professional politicians? Do we really want a dumbed-down second Chamber to match increasingly dumbed-down television and newspapers? Surely we must seek to preserve the best qualities of this House and not throw the baby out with the bathwater in the name of democratic legitimacy.
That is why I believe that we must continue with an appointed House, although we could of course have 20 per cent of its Members elected if that made us feel better. Only by appointing Members can we engineer the right mix and ensure that some of the most able and experienced people in our country can be Members here. The only real issue is: who does the appointing? The cash-for-peerages scandal has clearly discredited the present system. Perhaps it is the members of the proposed independent Appointments Commission who should be democratically elected—or some of them, anyway. But that is just a thought and a subject for a whole new debate.
My Lords, what we are debating today marks a defining moment in the history of this House and our country. In fact, the decisions that we make here may have far-reaching consequences in influencing the policies and politics of democratic institutions across the world, for the system of government which has developed on this site by the Thames for more than 700 years has been adopted across the world and has delivered stable democratic government to billions of people. Any sudden leap that we may be tempted to make in reforming this House may therefore have serious and far-reaching consequences for future generations. As Shakespeare said:
“Wisely and slow; they stumble that run fast”.
As with much in modern life, the pace at which this debate has developed has left little time for reflection. For many, the reform of this House has become a bipolar issue. However, it should not just be considered as a choice between “elected” and “appointed”. Instead, we should ask ourselves six fundamental and interconnected questions. What is the role of the House of Lords? Who are the people best suited to fulfil this role? From where will they be found? Do appointed Members lack legitimacy? Can elected Members demonstrate the required experience, expertise, quality and impartiality? And, finally, will a largely elected membership of the Lords challenge the primacy of the Commons?
After seven centuries of parliamentary evolution, this House plays a vital part in our democracy. It does not select Governments; it does not dissolve Governments; and it does not overrule or veto the will of the Commons. It does, however, play a crucial role in scrutinising government and revising and guiding legislation. In doing so, this House serves as an important check and balance on the power of the Government and nothing should challenge or modify this role. This House also brings together people from a diverse field of expertise, as we have heard. They are objective people, eminent people and, most importantly, people who are willing to think independently of party politics. We must be mindful not to dilute this quality in any way.
So, who is best placed to scrutinise, revise and guide? For many, that question is superseded by the consideration as to whether, first, these people need to be elected or appointed. Unfortunately, I believe that this is where we are guided by the baggage of the past and the need to sound politically correct. This is where, instead of “being right”, a lot of people try to “sound right”. Both options are not without their merits.
Perhaps I may quote an example from India. In 1991, India was almost bankrupt when Prime Minister Narasimha Rao appointed Dr Manmohan Singh, an eminent economist, as India's Finance Minister. Dr Manmohan Singh initiated reforms and, within a decade, far from being the “sick man of Asia”, India is now one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. What would have happened if India's constitution had expressly forbidden any such appointment? It would have been denied the services of Dr Manmohan Singh, who is now one of the world's most respected leaders. By the way, Dr Singh subsequently stood in a general election—for the lower House in 1999—but, sure enough, he was not enough of a politician and lost it handsomely! As we all know, today Dr Manmohan Singh is Prime Minister of India and sits in India's upper House.
Would we miss out on the services of such experts here in Britain if we abolished appointments? I have no doubt whatever that we would. The issue that we should address is not whether this should be an appointed House but the system of appointments that needs to be in place to ensure that those selected have been selected on merit and have not prospered out of patronage.
To be clear, I believe with every fibre that, if we stand for anything, we must stand for democracy. The voice of the people is both the moon and the tides, the push and pull, to our great nation. But we must note also that, just as appointments supposedly give us patronage, elections give us politicians. Neither appointments nor elections are bad in principle; indeed, each plays a vital role. Again, it is a question of checks and balances and of how we can maintain that system.
Not everyone is a politician; not everyone can stand for, fight and win an election. While I have the greatest respect for those who can and do, we must be mindful of what we could lose in creating two elected Houses, not solely in terms of repetition or redundancy but, potentially, in losing the breadth of experience, expertise and wisdom that is the great strength of this upper House. Again, I have no hesitation in saying that if its membership came through elections alone, this House would have missed out on the services of many eminent Members, both historically and in this House today.
The Leader of the House of Commons has informed us that the popular view is that for the House of Lords to be legitimate, it must be elected or have an elected element. We have also heard a great deal about an appointed House lacking legitimacy. If appointments are clearly and demonstrably without patronage, there will be far less debate over legitimacy. Indeed the calibre of Members and the respect they command are the greatest forms of legitimacy one could ask for. It is the permanence and independent nature of this House that has commanded respect over the years and contributed so much to Britain and to British democracy. The independence of this House is, I believe, truly one of the cornerstones of our democracy.
Looking ahead, I have no doubt that if we take the route of elections to this House, there will at some point be competition and fractiousness and that the Lords and the Commons will start competing for primacy. It would take us right back to where we were 100 years ago before the passage of the Parliament Act. However progressive these measures may look, I fear that, ironically, they may amount—as the noble Lord, Lord Desai, said—to a step backward. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, that if what was on the table was a complete reform and a rewriting of our constitution—of two elected Houses with equal powers—that would be a separate matter. But that is not on the table today.
As has been said, we have a House that is functioning well—be it in attendance, the quality of the debates or the independent nature of the House. What is needed is further evolution, not revolution. What we are not good at is communicating our strengths to the people. I am often asked by friends and colleagues to explain the role of the House of Lords. I tell them that this House is the guardian of our nation; that it provides scrutiny, oversight, and line-by-line examination of legislation; and that it performs its important function with integrity, independence, objectivity and without regard for point-scoring and private interests.
My team recently conducted our own straw poll asking people whether they felt that Members of the House of Lords should be elected or appointed. Initially, many favoured an elected Chamber. However, once the role and function of the House was explained to them, most changed their view. I believe that they are not alone. I believe that if we put more effort into communicating what we do here, more people would see the appropriateness of appointed Members.
This House is very much at the beating heart of democracy in Britain; it has been for centuries, and long may that continue. Let us not shake these great foundations. We always need to remember the rules of home improvement: we can change the layout of the House, we can add or remove walls, but when we meddle with the foundations we risk bringing the whole House down.
My Lords, first make it more legitimate and then castrate it. That is the recipe recommended to us from Jack Straw’s cookery book mark two, but I cannot see it being dished up any time soon—it may be washed up before it is dished up. One of the reasons why the Leader of the Commons, despite his great courtesy, which I salute, led the Commons into this predicted morass—many of us predicted it in terms—is that he has drained the word “legitimacy” of any meaning, just as happened some time ago with the word “democratic” and now with the word “consensus”. If we are now heading towards what is called a consensus, my name is Marco Polo.
Speaking of consensus in the proper sense, the Leader of the Commons has, of course, looked a gift horse in the mouth by not concentrating on addressing two immediate issues: that of making party-political appointments more transparent and that of finally saying goodbye to the hereditary principle and practice. He should have stuck to that because, at the moment, we are a million miles away from a consensus on the most fundamental question of all: do people want more checks and balances, fewer or about the same? The majority in the Commons seems to be saying the first but means the second. Hence we have a false prospectus.
How did the Leader of the Commons, and the Commons more generally, get there? If the case had been examined by Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson, the latter would have remarked, “We have here, I am afraid, a strange case of schizophrenia”. In any event, when Jack Straw, in an interview in the Guardian, said that we can simply bolt back on the primacy of the Commons, he adduced no reasoning or evidence to suggest that that would be possible if this House were to continue to have the power to amend Bills.
How would that new statutory primacy rule be translated into practice? Would the Commons simply be able to wave aside any amendments it did not like from the Lords on the Legal Services Bill or whatever? The civilised version of ping-pong that is played today would by no means be the name of the game between a much more partisan second Chamber and an equally partisan Commons, where majorities may often differ and issues could be and would be pressed.
Indeed, on the 100 per cent elected hypothesis, a separate point arises in that it is difficult to see how, when—it is “when” rather than “if”—the governing party in the Commons is not the leading party here, we can carry on with the tradition that the leading Front Bench here is provided by the same party as in the Commons. Why should that be? Perhaps my noble friend the Lord Chancellor can deal with that point among others. If that issue does not arise and it is to make no difference whether more people in this House are Labour or Conservative, what will people want to change by voting one way or the other? It is known that there will be roughly 200 Labour Members, 200 Conservative Members and so on, for the foreseeable future, in the second Chamber.
The second part of my remarks deals with thinking through the procedures of a reformed appointments system. We can certainly build on criteria such as regional balance, a point well made by my noble friend Lady Quin. It would be perfectly possible to have a number of indirect elections through different hinterlands, including local government, industry, the City, trade unions, ethnic minorities, and so on, as was spelt out in the speech of the greatly respected former Secretary to the Cabinet, the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster.
I will say a word now about how I think the Labour Party could do that and I would be very grateful if a member of the Conservative Party would indicate whether it could be done in that party in similar terms. The Liberal Democrats have some sort of halfway house, but I do not think that that form would necessarily work well in a party with the rather more complex structure of the Labour Party. Given the 200:200 balance, the White Paper, whose status is very obscure, made some limited proposals. Naturally and correctly, they were largely on the role of the statutory Appointments Commission and did not consider how the Labour Party and the Conservative Party would go about it. That has led some people—in my view inaccurately—to conclude that the main responsibility would lie with the statutory Appointments Commission.
On the contrary, one needs to pause for a moment to see that the whipped Members of this House—Labour or Conservative Members, as we are talking about political Members—will not be chosen by the statutory Appointments Commission from a larger number. That is because that process would be rejected by the party conferences as it would be tantamount to the statutory Appointments Commission preferring, or being perceived as preferring, more right-wing people or more left-wing people. It would not and could not work like that.
So how would it be done? I shall sketch it briefly. Each of the parties would need to draw up criteria and write them into their rules. They would have to be in their rules because party conferences and executives could not interfere in detail with selection as there would have to be some degree of confidentiality. The parties would register the criteria with the statutory Appointments Commission and then submit names to it, and the statutory Appointments Commission’s override would, as at present, be restricted to grounds of probity. My final point is that a shadow run on this in the next couple of years would be helpful to test out some of the issues that arise. However, there is no reason why this House should not proceed with a Bill to establish a statutory Appointments Commission.
In conclusion, given the massive majorities we can expect in this place tomorrow for a modernised, reformed appointments system and against election, the tabloids will want to have a field day in caricaturing them as “Lords puts up two fingers at Commons”. I do not believe that the voting here would have been any different if it had taken place in the week preceding the vote in the Commons. As the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, said, it is now for the Government to take a long look and reflect on how opinions in both Houses can be brought together to see where we go from here.
My Lords, I feel slightly uncomfortable standing here because, although it may not be news to your Lordships, I am a hereditary Peer and, I remind your Lordships, one of the few elected Members of your Lordships’ House. I know that being a hereditary Peer is one of the lowest forms of political life, but there seems to be a common cause—almost a bizarre ganging-up—among those who want to reform your Lordships’ House in the quasi-inevitability that the remainder of the hereditary Peers will have to go. They seem to want to see hereditary Peers vaporised, as it were. I suppose I should declare an interest as I do not particularly agree with that, and I hope that it will not happen. It is really very unwelcoming and rather anti-social, too. I think that people who try that should be issued with anti-social behaviour orders to make them a little more welcoming.
I have always been of the view that, if there is to be change—and I see no reason for it as the House works so well—the House should be 100 per cent appointed. The House of Commons is where political and parliamentary power rests, and it should not be compromised by another elected Chamber, whatever the proportion of elected Members. Power is finite. If there is to be an elected second Chamber, it will, of course, be more powerful than the present one, and that additional power can come only as a transfer of power away from another place.
One of the great virtues of your Lordships’ House as it is at present is the remarkable blend of history, law, church and achievement, and I sometimes wonder whether all this clamour for change is because the Government have so tarnished the standing of the House of Lords with their cash-for-peerages row that they are trying to deflect attention away from that by saying, “Let’s reform the House of Lords again”. It is rather like the politician who scribbled in the margin of his notes, “Weak point. Shout”.
One frequently hears people say, “Thank God for the House of Lords”. One very seldom hears people say, “Thank God for the House of Commons”. The present Members of another place may say that they wish for a second elected Chamber, but I can tell them that their successors will hate it. The two Houses will frequently be in opposition to each other. The new upper House will say, “We have just as much right to see that our views prevail as has the House of Commons. We have been elected, too”. There will be constant constitutional clashes. Members of Parliament will intensely dislike having another person prancing around their patch vying for votes. Members of the House of Lords will have to be paid, the elected ones and the appointed ones, too. As the noble Lord, Lord Cunningham, said, they will want another Portcullis House, and where will that go? The power of the House of Lords will be increased at the expense of another place and the cost will be prodigious.
The two Houses have different but complementary roles. Many Members of your Lordships’ House who have been in another place have said, like my noble and learned friend Lord Howe of Aberavon, that when they were there they did not realise what your Lordships did and now that they are here, they realise and are amazed. My noble and learned friend Lord Howe once made a telling speech—he has made many telling speeches but, for the purposes of this debate, he made one that I well remember. He was talking of the value of your Lordships’ House as it is at present and of the value of its remarkable and varied composition. He gave as an example the Human Reproduction and Cloning Bill 2001, which was very technical and sensitive. There were 20 speakers in the debate and they included the head, or former head, of two Cambridge colleges; two former presidents of the Royal College of Physicians; two general practitioners; two consultants specifically involved in the field; the president of Mencap; the vice president of Life; a former chairman of the Bar Council; a former chairman of the Equal Opportunities Commission; two bishops; and the Minister who was responsible for the Bill. That was a formidable list of experts. As my noble and learned friend said, there is no legislature in the world that would begin to command that range of expertise on a topic of that nature. Ministers and Members of another place are free to accept or reject the advice given by experts of that kind, but its availability is invaluable, and it cannot be matched in any other way. Does anyone think that those people would ever want to stand for election and be pestered by constituents about their council tax or their local hospital? Of course they would not. They make just as great a contribution to democracy—the will of the people—as the person who is on the party list and has been drafted in to the second Chamber. Your Lordships are often more in tune with the sentiments of the public than are Members of another place.
So, what do the Government want to do? They want to throw it all away and replace it with a half-appointed, half-elected Chamber. However, if an all-appointed House is illegitimate—that awful word—then a half-elected House will presumably be only half-legitimate, so that does not get us very far. Then what happens? According to the White Paper, once elected for 15 years, the Members of the second Chamber can do and say what they like and they can do the opposite of what they campaigned for. Indeed, they do not have to do anything at all and can just collect the salary and go away, knowing full well that they do not have to stand for re-election. There is no redress. They will be elected, but they will be unaccountable. As one third of them will be elected every five years, the full complement of elected people will not be in the Chamber until 2020, but that puts 850 people in the House. So the size of the House has to be reduced to 540. How can that be done? It can be done either by letting the grim reaper do his stuff and waiting for your Lordships to die—which, although inevitable, may not be immediate—or by paying your Lordships off. That would go down a bundle with the electorate. How do you pay people not to do something for which they were never paid in the first place? How much will they be paid: £10,000, £20,000 or £50,000? For those who have given, or who have lent, £2 million to party funds, that may not seem to be overtly attractive. If cash for peerages has created a row, it will be nothing compared to the row which will be created by cash for giving up peerages. Making a person a Peer and then paying him to stop being a Peer is hardly a decorous or constitutional way in which to behave.
When the House of Lords Bill, which removed hereditary Peers, was going through your Lordships’ House, I gently advised life Peers to take the smiles off their faces because it would be their turn next and, sure as eggs are eggs, so it is. But the really astonishing thing about all this is that the Government are proposing a new Chamber which will not be fully in existence until all the present Members of your Lordships’ House and half the present electorate are dead. How can we possibly impose, not on ourselves, but on our successors, such an obtuse concept?
What have the Government actually done under the careful direction of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor? They have removed the majority of the hereditary Peers, thrown out the Law Lords and disposed of the Lord Chancellor. Now they want to remove the remainder of the hereditary Peers and reduce the number of Bishops, and they will have to remove some of the life Peers—and all of them if the House is to be 100 per cent elected. The Government really have got a tiger by the tail over this, which is pulling them, the constitution and everyone else all over the place; the direction and the consequences of which are unknown and unfathomable.
After so many changes, why cannot we just leave your Lordships’ House alone for a while? Let it settle down. If, in five or 10 years’ time alterations are thought desirable, let fresh minds and fresh thoughts, bereft of the cascade of bruising which the House has been obliged to suffer, be brought to bear.
I commend to your Lordships the words of one person who was a Member of your Lordships’ House, but who no longer is. He is not a hereditary Peer your Lordships will be glad to know, but he was on the Episcopal Benches as the Lord Bishop of Norwich, the right reverend Prelate Peter Nott. He once gave a very clear description of the important differences between what is old-fashioned, what is traditional, and what is extinct. The right reverend Prelate said:
“Old-fashioned is flared trousers, Morris Minors, the quickstep, Bing Crosby, stone hot-water bottles and”—
in his profession as Bishop—
“gaiters. Tradition is Trooping the Colour, the State Opening of Parliament, getting married in church and the 10 Commandments. Extinct is the dodo, brontosaurus and gramophone records which break when you drop them. When the differences between those three are not recognised”,
said the right reverend Prelate,
“there can be confusion. What is extinct has gone beyond recall. Fashion changes often and is essentially ephemeral. Tradition is more complex, for, unlike fashion, it contains elements that have shaped our present, and influenced the way we think and act. Traditions can be changed, rather like fashions, or discarded, as if extinct. But those who have the power to change traditions should think very hard indeed about what they are doing; because some traditions, like sacraments, often have a deeper significance, the loss of which would harm our life as a community or as people”.
So said the former Bishop of Norwich.
The Government are on dangerous ground in what they are doing. Indeed, they do not know what they are doing, nor do any of us, and I just hope that they, and, indeed, another place, will, if nothing else, reflect on the right reverend Prelate’s words.
My Lords, I suspect—I cannot prove because of the paucity of polling evidence on House of Lords reform—that the public’s apparent indifference, or at least lack of excitement on this issue, stems from three factors, of which the most important is this: we are debating and voting on composition and not content. That means that our focus is ourselves, not the public, or the public’s interest.
For the other place the question is therefore: do we stay or do we go? Do 20 per cent go, or 40 per cent, 50 per cent, 60 per cent, 80 per cent or 100 per cent? It is a parliamentary version of “Big Brother” and, not surprisingly, the goodies in one place eventually plumped for all the baddies being expelled. The “how” to be determined later—perhaps far later.
From the public’s perspective that is perhaps all right, as far as it goes, especially as no one is really spelling out what it might mean for them—more voting, more costs, a written constitution, proportionality at Westminster and/or a revised role for the Commons. For the time being the focus is composition not content and composition not consequence.
Likewise, our focus is mainly internal. Do we stay or do we go? How many? When? What about the Bishops? What about the Cross-Benchers? Or do we just defy the baddies down the corridor?
It is a great pity that the Government chose to approach the issue in this way. There has been a strange combination of almost hyperactivity on Mr Straw’s part, and apparent lethargy or non-involvement on the Prime Minister’s part. The result is that we seem entirely focused on internal matters. Therefore, I think that the public’s reaction is predictable.
For the public I suspect this impression is buttressed by a second factor: the alleged and oh so long-running cash for peerages scandal. It has—does it not?—a certain Gilbert and Sullivan timbre to it—Yates of the Yard versus the nobs. While, as was pointed out yesterday, this House is in no way responsible, there can be no doubt that it leaves it reputationally diminished. That has encouraged those who, above all, want to ridicule this House. Thus on this week’s “Question Time” on BBC television, the former editor of the Mirror—a man better known for his bravado than his accuracy—regaled the audience with the tale of his one visit to this House, when, so he said, his host—a Peer he did not name—fell asleep in his soup during lunch. Occasionally some of us have nodded off in both this Chamber and that of the other House; but in our soup? I think not.
It is no wonder then that, faced by our own introspection, by the allegations of scandal that fuel further introspection and caricatures of this House, the public sits back and sees this as something that essentially does not have very much to do with them, or with their lives.
However, that is quite wrong. The likely outcome since last Wednesday’s vote in the other place will and should have a great deal of impact on the public. The cart has been put before the horse, but the cart is now rolling and the horse may well break into a gallop and catch up.
I will vote tomorrow both for a wholly elected House and a wholly appointed House, something which I know a significant number of people in the other place also did. By voting for appointment I wish to demonstrate my respect for this House; for the work it does in the Chamber and in its Select Committees, for the time, effort and skill, and for the experience, judgment and commitment Members of this House bring to this House and the country. I want to celebrate what we know the public most appreciates about your Lordships’ House—its robust independence, exemplified not only on the Cross Benches but also on all Benches. It is a House which, as an appointed House, could and should be improved—particularly in the three ways advocated yesterday by my noble friend Lord Steel—by establishing a statutory Appointments Commission, by ending the by-election of hereditaries and by setting an age limit.
All that said, this House since its last reform is fit for the purpose of a revising Chamber. But now we come to the nub: should this be simply a revising Chamber? Democratic legitimacy is discussed as though it was a kind of chemical potion which can be dropped into this House to constitute 20, 40, 50, 60, 80 or even 100 per cent of the whole without changing the essential role of the House. I do not believe that; and because I do not believe it I will also vote for a wholly elected Chamber.
Once wholly elected, a second Chamber will challenge our over-mighty Executive as never before. In so doing it will challenge the House of Commons. It is inevitable, and I am for it.
Perhaps inadvertently, the Commons has made itself the focus for future reform. An elected Chamber will mean a new balance between the two Houses; a new vigour and vitality in holding Government and No. 10 to account; and, yes, a proportional voting system here at Westminster. When, in yesterday’s debate, the noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, conceded as much, my Liberal Democrat heart leapt.
For many in the other place, all that may mean that their goal was an own goal. So be it. Now the game must resume, and it must be won for and by the country. Thus, I will vote tomorrow for a fully elected House. When content has replaced composition, when we have before us, as I hope we will, a Bill for a fully elected House elected proportionately, able and expected to challenge the Executive and in a new relationship with the Commons, I will vote for it and for no other option but, as of now, I will vote for both.
My Lords, I had the privilege of being a member of the royal commission a few years ago and I begin by paying tribute to its chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, because many of the key ideas in that report have survived to today, gathering momentum on the way. To mention just three, there is the separation of membership of a reformed House from an automatic link with a peerage; long fixed terms of office for both elected and appointed Members; and a long period of gradual change to a new order. Those and other recommendations are now widely accepted.
Paragraph 7.97 of the current White Paper proposes that all Members should sit for 15 years and that,
“there would be no prospect of re-election or re-appointment”.
I believe that that is wrong and that the Wakeham alternative on the issue is better: that after 15 years, both elected and appointed Members could, under exceptional circumstances, be appointed by the statutory Appointments Commission for a further term of office of up to 15 years. Otherwise, we shall have the very unhappy situation of someone being elected at, say, 30, serving the House with distinction and then at the age of 50 no longer being able to contribute much valued wisdom and experience.
The noble Lord, Lord Grocott, advised us at the beginning of the debate yesterday that we should not repeat arguments advanced by other noble Lords. Therefore, on the question of Bishops, I simply say that I fully support what was said by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford. I urge something that we took some trouble over on the royal commission: that the statutory Appointments Commission, when it is appointed, takes very seriously the question of appointing distinguished people who can be seen in some way to be representative of Christian denominations other than the Anglican church and of other faith communities. I know that the religious dimension is not welcomed by all your Lordships, but the fact is that religion is now a major player on the public stage of both this country and the world as a whole and it is vital that voices who want to be heard are connected with this House in some way.
In the other place, I listened with particular attention to the powerful speech of Mr Douglas Hogg, in which he set out the options with clarity and a hard reality to which not all in that House have faced up: the hard reality that the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, spelt out this morning with great force in her powerful speech. The Member in another place said that he wanted a stronger second Chamber better to hold the Executive to account, a job he feels that the Commons does not do very well at the moment. To achieve that, he said that he would, with a very great sense of loss, go for a totally elected House as the only way to obtain the necessary legitimacy and power to do that. I do not want a stronger House. I believe that our present powers of revision and delay are about right.
I would also like to tackle the argument about legitimacy that is often put forward: that the sole way that that can be achieved is by election. There are many different kinds of legitimacy and authority, if you like. There is the authority of proven expertise, for example, represented among both the political and non-political appointments. A Select Committee has legitimacy, but it is appointed, not elected. I do not accept that if we have a significant appointed element in this House, it is thereby less legitimate, especially when you focus on what we are actually asking the House to do, which is to work hard on the detail of legislation, trying to avoid pitfalls and to improve it along the way.
Personally, I support a small elected element, not because I believe that it will add to the legitimacy of the House but, first, because I would like the regions to be better represented here. Secondly, we should add another pathway through which a person could come to this House, thereby giving a wider, different group of people an opportunity to become a Member.
I do not believe that the political element in this House should come solely through election. One reason why the House works well now is that a large number of your Lordships have served either in the other place or in local government. What about someone who wants to retire from the Commons, either a long-serving Back-Bencher or an ex-Minister, whose experience would be valuable to this House? People have said to me, “Oh, they could stand for election and just go on a party list”. Is that really what we want those lists for, if we are having lists? That way, we would not bring in new people with a different background. We should welcome political appointments without apology and they should be transparent, as well as being scrutinised by the statutory Appointments Commission.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine, in his powerful speech yesterday, was rather dismissive of a hybrid House, saying that the House had to be either totally elected or totally appointed. That theme has been pursued by a number of your Lordships. But in recent decades, we have had a hybrid House and it has worked well. There is no reason why a hybrid House of elected and appointed Members should not work equally well, but much depends on the percentage of each element. If we were 80 per cent elected and 20 per cent appointed, there would be a danger that the appointed element would feel somehow surplus or supernumerary—aside from the main action.
However, the other way round, with 20 per cent elected and 80 per cent appointed, there would not be the reverse danger, for the elected element would rightly have the confidence of their election. They would add to the House without being able to dominate it. My preferred option, therefore, is for a 20 per cent or 40 per cent elected element, with 20 per cent non-political appointments and the rest appointed by the political parties, scrutinised by the Appointments Commission not just for probity but for the balance of the House, especially gender and ethnic background.
Such a House would preserve the best of what we have now while rightly opening itself up to new perspectives and a wider range of members. It would be legitimate and representative, fit for its proper purpose of improving legislation while leaving the supremacy of the Commons unquestioned.
My Lords, in a perfect world, this debate would not be necessary. As other noble Lords have said, our forefathers intended to move from a hereditary House to an elected House. Instead, they chose to move from a hereditary House to an elected House via an appointed House. Who is to say that they were wrong? Slow change is a feature of life in this country, and I am in favour of it as long as we are moving in the right direction. Last week’s vote in another place indicated that we are moving in the right direction. The excessive patronage provided by a fully appointed House now seems totally out of place on the 21st century. Cash for honours has made it even more so. But a single move from an appointed House to an elected House is too drastic. That is why I am in favour of a hybrid House—a transitional hybrid House. I was in favour of this when we debated the House of Lords Act in 1999 and, indeed, was the joint author of a paper arguing then that we should have a hybrid House on the way to an elected House. As my noble friend Lord Desai and a number of other noble Lords have said, reform is inevitable.
As ever, the devil is in the detail, and this is not the time to deal with it. However, there are some principles that I would like to assess in detail. The first principle must be that we now have a bicameral system. Indeed, this is what the other place voted for by the largest majority. My second principle is that the primacy lies with the other place. We are a revising Chamber to complement and challenge, but not to replace. This primacy is defined not only by the conventions between the two Houses and the Parliament Acts, as other noble Lords have pointed out, but by the fact that the other place forms the Government and is in charge. It controls the budget and holds the purse strings. This is what defines the powers of this House and of the other place.
The Cunningham conventions will certainly need revising to enable the Government to get their business through a hybrid House, while still enabling Members of this House to exert their independence. Much of that independence comes from the fact that this House does not form the Government. The electors cannot remove us. That is the source of our independence. There may be members of the Government in this House, but Executive Ministers are responsible mainly to senior Ministers in the other place. I join my noble friend Lord Whitty in asking whether we need Ministers in this House. The third principle is that there should be a majority of elected Peers, leading to an elected House. I agree with my noble friend Lord Hoyle and others that this acknowledges that we rely on the judgment of individual electors and that we entrust the public with our democracy. After all, this is what we stand for. As my noble friend Lord Graham said, this is what we have gone to war for and what we are fighting for. My fourth principle concerns the membership of this transitional House. To ensure their independence, I would like elected Members to serve for a single period of 12 or 15 years, with one-third elected every fourth year. As some noble Lords have said, who will want to bother with being an elected Peer, with little promise of political advancement? I disagree. This will attract a different kind of person from the Commons—perhaps older, wiser and more experienced; yet wanting to serve. Many people want to serve. Look at the large number of people who are joining the voluntary sector. It is quite incredible.
My next principle deals with numbers. I would like to see 300 elected Peers and 150 appointed Peers who would sit on the Cross Benches. I think that 450 is more than enough to do the job here. Unlike many other noble Lords, I think that the two kinds of Peers would work perfectly well together. I am told that the same arguments about incompatibility between different kinds of Peers were used by the hereditary Peers in the debates in the 1950s when the Life Peerages Bill was being debated in this House. You cannot have two types of Peers, they said, so they opposed the Life Peerages Act. Life Peers and hereditary Peers have worked perfectly well together without any conflict over legitimacy. Indeed, the life Peers have now taken over the territory. In turn, I think they will cede it to the elected Peers. During the transition, which of necessity will be long, life Peers should be offered an inducement to leave. There will have to be a retirement age, and I would hope that those hereditary Peers who have given exceptional and distinguished service to the House would be treated as life Peers.
I say to the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, that of course Members will have to be paid a proper salary. This would be in return for a commitment to attend and to work, as happens in many professions, so that the years of service in this House could become part of someone’s career pattern. Age and need would not stand in the way. Basing the membership of the House of Lords on these principles would make it more modern, more representative of the union, and more independent. It would ensure the primacy of the other place and ensure that there is no overall majority. With no majority party in the House, we would have to work with the discipline of having to persuade other parties or the Cross-Benchers in order to form a majority. That is a very important discipline. Most importantly, however, this would enable the House of Lords to carry out what may be its most important task in the future—to be the place where the Government are held to account, as this seems to be declining in the other place. The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, spoke about this.
There is a vast amount of detail to be looked at, but if we are going to have a bicameral system that in the end is to be wholly democratic and elected, a hybrid House of Lords is a sensible stop on the way. This is a different House since the House of Lords Act 1999. Much has changed. The noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, who was in his place, said that we are poor at explaining ourselves. I agree, because we now know that once Members of Parliament and the public fully realise and understand this, and learn of the quality of our Select Committees, the depth and rigour of our revision work, and our concern for the liberty and freedom of the citizen, they want us to retain these valuable assets. Many noble Lords argue that these qualities are the reason why we should stay as we are; to retain them. They are wrong. These qualities are the baby we must not throw out with the bath water. They justify our existence, and we must retain them while moving towards the goal of a democratic second Chamber.
My Lords, I start with one observation. A number of speakers yesterday said that they heard the public clamour and the thunder for reform of this House. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, even invoked the Reform Act 1832. Last night, I read again about that Act. There was certainly a clamour at the time. In Birmingham in 1830, Thomas Attwood addressed a dinner attended by 4,000 prosperous middle-class citizens—rather more than I used to get for my supper club. He was received with continuous cheering when he asked:
“Where is the man among you who would not follow me to the death in a righteous cause?”
His audience had made its point by lustily joining in the singing of the “Marseillaise”. Unless I missed it, I cannot recall such demonstrations for change of the House of Lords. Certainly, I know of no dinners in my part of Birmingham that have had that vigour. I can say only that when I was an elected Member of the House of Commons for 31 years, I received letters on virtually every subject, and certainly on every animal known to man—from dangerous dogs to urban foxes—but I never received one letter about reform of the House of Lords. If you ask old Members of the House of Commons, you will find that that was substantially their experience.
However, my service in the House of Commons established two important truths. The first is that most MPs know nothing, or very little, about the working of the House of Lords. We may be only 200 yards apart, but we operate in separate worlds. Ignorance is king. I make it clear that that was an ignorance that I fully shared. For 10 years when I was in the Cabinet, I had Ministers in the Lords. I remember one young man called Strathclyde and another called Trefgarne, who was much more modest about his talents than he should have been. My noble friend Lord Glenarthur was another, whom I sent out badly briefed to defend my policies. I am sure that they would all agree with that. I apologise to them, but I had only the sketchiest idea of what they did here. In extremis, when I was really in trouble, I would crouch on the steps of the Throne and smile, I hoped, benignly around. I noticed Jack Straw last night doing exactly the same thing. However, this explains one of the glaring defects in last week’s debate in the other place. The obvious starting point is how 80:20, 60:40 or 50:50 improves the service that this House gives the public. There is no point in most MPs addressing that question, because they have very little idea of what we do.
The second truth is that not all quality judgment and experience resides in the other place. I have served with outstanding Members of the House. I have also been opposed by outstanding Members of the House. Being a Minister on the receiving end of a speech from, say, the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, in full flood is an alarming experience. But I have to say softly that not all MPs are quite of that same quality.
I do not want to claim that this House exhibits every virtue. We should beware of saying that we are beyond all change. But this House at least has experience which, by definition, most young MPs could not have acquired. There were not many generals, consultants or senior nurses in the other place. That is not a criticism of the Commons, but it is perhaps an argument for this second Chamber playing a complementary role.
I shall be frank. I am rather attracted by my noble friend Lord Strathclyde’s vision of a Senate, not with less power but with more power and strength. I am even more attracted by proposals for the reform of Parliament—the House of Commons as well as the House of Lords. It is a disgrace that we receive Bills here, large parts of which have simply not been considered in the other place; it is a disgrace that important statements are made first outside Parliament without proper questioning; and it is a disgrace that we still do not have a proper procedure for post-legislative scrutiny, an area where all the major mistakes of Governments are made. It is also open to very serious question whether we have too many Members of Parliament in the House of Commons, which was an issue not much mentioned in the debate last week.
The only trouble is that these ways forward are not on offer. I heard much yesterday about the primacy of the Commons, but precious little about more strength for the Lords. The Government’s proposition is that the powers of this House, even if elected, should stay the same. I simply say that that will not work. It is a central flaw in their proposals. Whether Governments like it or not, an elected House or a substantially elected House will try to use its muscle. If I came to this House as an elected Peer, my attitude would change. I would not accept the conventions of the old appointed House. I would say, “My vote is as good as yours down the Corridor”. I would also say, “I have a duty to represent my voters”. I do not see how that position of potential deadlock is in anyone’s interest. Unless this question of powers is addressed, all one is doing by going ahead with an elected House is building in an institutional conflict, which is not in the public’s interest.
There are other serious defects in the proposals in the White Paper. I shall mention just two. I regard the list system as the very worst of the electoral systems on offer. I argued that in 1999 on the European elections when I was shadow Home Secretary against Jack Straw. He won the vote by a much reduced majority, but I noticed that only one Labour Back-Bencher ever spoke on the Floor of the House in favour of that proposition. I regard the proposal for a 15-year term with no prospect of re-election as ludicrous. I do not see how a Member elected in such a way would be remotely accountable to the public who had elected him.
It was suggested yesterday in the debate, and again today, that the cash-for-peerages investigations makes it essential that this House is changed. I hope that that argument is not accepted, as I do not see the logic of it. If—and it is an “if”—there has been dishonesty, you root out the dishonesty and see that it is investigated, and, if necessary, prosecuted. The law is clear. The issue should not be used as some kind of smokescreen. If we wish to reinforce our defences, we should underline those defences by a system of an independent Appointments Commission.
I will vote for an appointed House, partly because of the manifold defects in the Government’s proposals, partly because of the failure to properly address the real question of the reform of Parliament, but partly also because of the merits of this House in holding the Government to account. Before that advantage is thrown away, the public deserve a better plan than has so far been set out in the House of Commons last week or by the Government’s White Paper.
My Lords, there have been moments in this debate when the words of Edmund in “King Lear” rang in my ears:
“Fine word ‘legitimate’ … Now, gods, stand up for bastards”.
This debate has to be about how to improve government in Britain. It cannot be a rearguard action in defence of the House of Lords as it is. That would be an irrelevant response to the House of Commons’ strongly expressed preference for an all-elected second Chamber. It should be seen as an opportunity to construct a second Chamber that is a strong, secure and indispensable buttress of democracy and accountability in the 21st century.
The background to this debate, and to all the debates that we have had about constitutional reform in the past decade, is the central problem of the need to strengthen the capability of our constitutional provisions and for Parliament, in particular, to check the power of the Executive. That process began in 1997 with devolution, with the entrenchment of human rights powers and bringing the courts into their safeguard, and with the opening up of government provided for by freedom of information. Today, we are discussing where the next steps lead.
We have to acknowledge that the principal defect in our parliamentary democracy is the unchecked power of the Prime Minister, who, with the slightest dexterity, is capable through his use of patronage of holding the House of Commons in his hand. That cannot be the sole repository of authority to check our Executive, which is why this provides a real opportunity to construct a role for a second Chamber—a Senate—that has the authority of direct election and is not the creature of the Government, particularly the Prime Minister. Reform of this House will in my judgment not be achieved by a mere tinkering with its composition. It needs more than reconstruction and making a bow in the direction of the electorate. This Chamber requires the full authority and the right, which flows from having been elected, to say no to the Prime Minister. As it stands, this House is seen as part of the problem of patronage, not as part of the solution.
I was much impressed by the arguments put forward by the noble and learned Lords, Lord Irvine of Lairg and Lord Howe of Aberavon, about the excellence of this House today in the discharge of its duties. Few who know anything about the way in which this House works would quarrel with the idea that wisdom, experience, tenacity and devotion to duty ameliorate our legislation. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, spoke of how 40 per cent of the amendments produced by this House are accepted by the Government. That is a true achievement but, alas, it is not enough.
Last week, we heard a magnificent debate in the Chamber in which the renewal of control orders made under the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 was considered. Some 10 powerful and cumulatively effective speeches, made without repetition, demolished the Government’s case, but the sadness is that, at the end of the debate, the Government marched on. We heard a feeble speech from the Front Bench on behalf of the Government, while the eloquence, perception and experience of the House did nothing to redirect their policy. That is the challenge that we must face.
There is no serious objection of principle to a second elected House having true authority. The primacy of one elected House over the other is not obvious in any constitution that I have observed. The business of government is so complex, the layers so deep and the extent so wide that surely it makes sense to consider the differentiation of roles and the possibility that this House could take on the task of holding the Government to account using some of the powers that the Commons does not exercise. I am talking about the use of the prerogative, appointments, treaty making and so forth—matters that neither House tackles in an effective way today.
My consideration about what is required to effect this change is that a reformed House should have real power; that Ministers should not be drawn from it, but should be accountable to it; that it should be small and therefore by its nature distinguished, a place for which there is a competition to serve; and that re-election should certainly be possible to hold the Members of the elected second Chamber to periodic account. I advocate some consideration being given to the issue that properly exercises many of those who have contributed to this debate: how to import into the deliberations the expertise and knowledge that come from high-level experience. It would be open to an elected House with the powers that I have described to establish an advisory council of state with just such members serving on a continuing basis. That might complement the input from citizens’ panels, which people have considered, into the decision-making process of government.
This process of change will not be comfortable. If it is honestly conducted, it will not be comfortable for either House. There is much to be said for the contribution made by my noble friend Lord McNally in opening the debate from these Benches, asking for a “glide path to reform” to enable wider considerations than the mere question of percentages of election to be debated. But what is clear is that the Commons vote has compelled us not to tinker with the structure of Parliament, but to rethink its powers and its purpose.
My Lords, when I first arrived in this House in 1976, the hereditary Peers did not enjoy the pariah status that they seem to have acquired today, but I always felt that I did not have any proper democratic legitimacy. It was for that reason that I did not stand or put my name forward in 1999. Returning here as an elected hereditary Peer, albeit elected by a rather small and eccentric constituency, gives me a sort of quasi-democratic feeling. In my view, however, it is not enough. Like the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, I think that we should have a 100 per cent elected Chamber. That is the proper way forward, and a second best would be an 80:20 split. I shall vote accordingly. If we believe in democracy, we should certainly practise it and at least refrain from pontificating about it around the world and imposing it on some countries that never have enjoyed it and never will.
The question is: how do we get there? Surely the answer is that we should have indirect elections. But first, and turning to the White Paper, let us consider the size. The White Paper suggests that we should come down to 540 Members, but that still seems to be far too many. It is more than twice as many as in any other second Chamber in the world. India has a population of 1 billion people, but the second Chamber, the Rajya Sabha, comprises 245 Members. I start from my original submission to the 1999 royal commission of the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham: I should have thought that 300 Members would be more than adequate, divided 25 per cent from the regions and 75 per cent from sectoral interests. I believe that that takes in the suggestion made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine, to incorporate expertise; he is quite right. We certainly have that today. Sitting on the Cross Benches, I am surrounded by an impressive, in fact an overwhelming, amount of expertise.
However, that experience can also be achieved by indirect election. The sectoral groups should include the law, commerce, defence, financial services, medicine, academia and, of course, the churches. This is a random selection, which can be refined and made good by a royal commission set up expressly for that purpose. It would certainly comply with the suggestion made by my noble friend Lord Williamson that it would keep the expertise and independence in place. Like many noble Lords, I believe that such a Chamber should be called a Senate; in other words, a chamber of wise men. What is more, the suggestion that I have made would take party politics out of this wise Senate. Above all, it would preserve the supremacy of the House of Commons.
Unfortunately, judging by the tenor of the speeches made both today and yesterday, none of this is likely to happen. That is a pity. In some ways the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, is right to say that the White Paper is a bit of a dog’s breakfast and we really need to start again from scratch and do it properly. That would constitute a real process of reform, which could conform to stage two of the famous Irvine/Cranborne solemn undertaking. When that happens, I will go quietly and happily. However, in view of the likely impasse—electoral demand, change of Prime Minister—I suggest that it is all going to take a very long time. Indeed, some of us may well have expired before it happens. I await my fate.
My Lords, in last week’s debate in the other place, Sir Gerald Kaufman said of the White Paper, no doubt with a degree of hyperbole:
“This is an utterly irresponsible way to create a new House of Parliament from scratch. After 800 years of the other Chamber’s evolution, the Government basically want to abolish it and to start anew”.—[Official Report, Commons, 7/3/07; col. 1533.]
Yesterday in this Chamber, the noble Lord, Lord Cunningham, spoke of the danger of changing fundamentally the constitution of this country. Earlier today, a former Cabinet Secretary, the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, spoke of a profound and fundamental change being proposed—a leap into the unknown. When such warnings are laid alongside many other words of warning, not least from the former Lord Chancellor—who has now, one hopes, irreversibly broken his Trappist vow in the Chamber—they need to be weighed very carefully. Previous speakers have subjected to scrutiny the claim that the legitimacy of this House and its Members could only be provided by at least a substantial elected presence. When the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor introduced the debate, I felt that he was rather restrained in his deployment of that argument; he spoke of the need for a democratic element or a democratic connection.
I find the arguments against the fundamental hybridity in the House persuasive. I accept that there is a degree of hybridity at the moment, but that seems quite different from introducing into this House people who are elected in ways that parallel the election of Members of the other House. That would introduce the principle of hybridity in a wholly new way. No doubt with traditional British good sense, it could be made to work after a fashion, provided that the electoral process really did generate Members of quality, although there are strong questions about whether that would happen in practice. Along with the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, I suspect that more radical changes would be needed if one were to get through the process of election people of the quality that we require here.
Any fundamental hybridity between elected and appointed Members seems to carry a substantial danger of instability, for reasons that have been widely advanced. Senior figures argue that, once an elected element has been introduced, the pressure would be there to increase the elected proportion. I think that that is the real message of the vote in the other place last week. Once you start, where do you stop? In one sense, they drew the logical conclusion.
I agree that this House needs a democratic connection but believe that that is best achieved by attending to its relationship with the elected House rather than by muddying the waters of our own House. As has been said, do we really think that electing somebody for 15 years, with no prospect of re-election, provides any form of accountability at all? I professionally believe in acts of faith, but that seems to be an act of faith beyond anything that I have attempted so far in my life.
As I read the debate in the other place in Hansard, I sensed the feeling that all was not well with our democracy as a whole. But rather than being fundamentally a problem for this House, the problem surely lies primarily with the inability of the other place to lead in the exercise of a democratic restraint on an overpowerful Government and Executive.
In a previous incarnation, I was a chemist. I was taught the basic rule that when there are a number of variables in a situation, one should not change them all at the same time. The priorities, it seems to me, should be to bed down effectively the major and substantial constitutional changes that the Government have already made. Most of these are still in their early days, as the nature of the campaign for the Scottish Parliament illustrates well enough at present.
Then there is the need to improve the relationship between the Government and Parliament, not least with the office of the Prime Minister. I do not dispute that there are also issues that need to be attended to in this House, but I suspect that what is needed are more modest proposals than those in the White Paper, let alone those expressed in the other place last week.
Aspects of the White Paper are beginning to generate a significant consensus. In a persuasive contribution yesterday, the noble Lord, Lord Steel, identified three areas in which the working of this House could be addressed. Changes do not have to be comprehensive to be appropriately radical. The changes consequent on the Supreme Court have been agreed on their merits. Other changes, including, if desired, the gradual removal of the remaining hereditary Peers, could also be considered on their merits.
I include here the question of religious representation. I agreed fully with the speeches yesterday by my friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford and the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York, but neither argued simply for the status quo. The case for having religious representation in a revising and deliberative Chamber in the UK Parliament can be made more powerfully today than it could 20 or 30 years ago, but that needs to be broadened, both ecumenically and in relation to other faith communities. In its submission to the Wakeham commission nearly 10 years ago, the Church of England said:
“A reformed second Chamber…must be seen to take full account of the nation’s growing ethnic and cultural diversity”,
including different religious traditions. If that was true 10 years ago, it is even truer now. I believe that this is urgently required, but it implies some reduction in the number of Bishops on these Benches.
In conclusion, there are two basic priorities before us. First, we must address the problem of what Lord Hailsham termed the developing elective dictatorship in our country. If it was that then, it is much worse now. That is mainly, although not exclusively, a matter for the other place. Secondly, we need to broaden this House to be a more representative forum for the whole host of professional bodies, communities and interest groups, including regionally based bodies and people of many types of expertise who exist in our wider society. I continue to believe that, with proper checks and balances, this will best be achieved at the present time with an all-appointed House, aided by a properly constituted Appointments Commission.
My Lords, this will be one of those speeches where more people will be listening at the end than at the beginning—a very unusual thing. I have to finish my speech as close to 2.30 as I can, which will take a tremendous effort of will.
I worked for many years in universities. In university settings, people are fond of saying, “This must change in the outside world”, “That must change in the outside world”, “This institution must change”, “That organisation must change”. But if you ask people in universities to change themselves, they come over all conservative. In the light of Mr Cameron’s leadership, that is conservative with a small “c”. In other words, they are very reluctant to change. I know, because I tried to change a university. Then people say, “Leave us alone. We are doing a good job; we are all right as we are”. That is the same argument that is used in schools by teachers who do not want to change, as well as in hospitals by doctors and nurses who do not want to change. I detect a very strong residue of that feeling in the speeches that I have heard yesterday and today in your Lordships' House.
I have been in your Lordships' House for only a meagre amount of time, during which I have come very much to appreciate its qualities. But it seems patent and obvious that this is the time to reform and that your Lordships' House must embrace reform. Only a very small proportion of the population in surveys supports a fully appointed House, and there was a clear mandate for change from the Commons.
It has been amusing listening to the different formulations of proportions that people want. I can only state my case: I am clear in my own mind that as a matter of principle, not tactics, an 80 per cent elected and 20 per cent appointed House would be the best option for reform. There are three reasons for that. First, it would preserve the independent measure of expertise of which so many noble Lords have spoken. I am not persuaded by the argument of my noble and learned friend Lord Irvine that everybody in the House of Lords needs to be an expert. Twenty per cent of experts is surely enough—you need a lot of generalists in a House to discuss the range of issues that we face. Secondly, a 20 per cent appointed House would help to protect against dominance of both Houses by a single party, an obvious risk with a 100 per cent elected House. Thirdly, it would at least mute the possibility of this House increasingly questioning the primacy of the Commons, which would be inevitable if the House was 100 per cent elected. For me, 80 per cent elected and 20 per cent appointed is the best option.
It is also obvious, however, that mode of election is only one aspect of the changes that the House of Lords must embrace. Many noble Lords have spoken about these other issues. I shall briefly mention three. First, the most important thing to avoid is replacing one set of appointees with another. I am not convinced by the method of a partially open list that is suggested in the White Paper. If there is to be a list system at all, there should be a completely open list of the sort that is used in, for example, some Scandinavian regional elections. Secondly, there must be a strong regional component. I am not convinced that the White Paper’s proposal of using the European Parliament constituencies is good enough. Thirdly—
That is it.
My Lords, this may be a convenient moment to adjourn the debate. I beg to move that the debate be adjourned until after the Third Reading of the Government Spending (Website) Bill.
Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
House of Lords: Reform
My Lords, upon completion of the debates and votes in both Houses and subsequent cross-party discussions, we envisage providing a draft Bill first.
My Lords, I am not too disappointed by my noble and learned friend’s Answer because the Question may be considered a hypothetical, but I shall be only faintly hypothetical in my supplementary question. By “Government” I mean whoever is the Prime Minister in the next Government, and I will assume that that Prime Minister is a member of the present Government. Perhaps I may ask my noble and learned friend a specific question which will help the House and might even help him when he winds up the debate by saving him a bit of time. I shall not assume that there is a consensus anywhere. Do the Government still have it in mind, even if there is no consensus, to introduce such a major constitutional Bill without giving a great deal of time for consideration of its contents? Would they do so without recognising that such a major constitutional Bill will inevitably take up so much time as to make it impossible to pass other important Bills during the rest of this Parliament?
My Lords, part of the reason for seeking a consensus on Lords reform is to try to narrow down the issues as much as possible and avoid precisely what my noble friend Lord Barnett said; namely, excluding time in Parliament for other important issues. That is why, as we have always said—and we say it completely seriously—we are engaged in a serious search for consensus.
My Lords, given that the introduction of House of Lords reform is presumably in the spirit of improving our democracy, will my noble and learned friend tell us whether the Government intend to consult the public after educating them about the workings of this House in full and then taking proper soundings in an open situation to see what they desire in their upper House?
My Lords, it is extremely important that debates about this place are not simply private discussions between this place and another place. We have an important role in leading the debate, but the debate must be a national debate. That is why the White Paper that has already been produced and any further White Papers will seek to engage the public as a whole in this important discussion.
My Lords, can I make a suggestion that may help the noble Lord, Lord Barnett? If the new Prime Minister announced a moratorium on Home Office Bills, it would have a dual benefit: it would both enable the Home Office to become fit for purpose without another load of legislation and give us all the time we need to get through a Lords reform Bill.
My Lords, if nobody else wishes to speak, perhaps I may take a little of the rest of the seven minutes available on this Question. Does my noble and learned friend seriously believe that there is the slightest chance of the Government achieving a consensus between your Lordships' House and the other place to get a Bill through without huge delay? Listening to the debate in this House, I find it hard to believe that anybody could assume that.
My Lords, I say as an aside that perhaps there were no other questions because we have set aside 19 hours for debate on House of Lords reform. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, on getting in on the debate without the obligation to stay until the very end. On the question of consensus: yes, I am completely serious. One of the things that we have done, over the years and over the centuries, is to find a way forward.
My Lords, does the noble and learned Lord believe that a consensus might be achieved by having Back-Bench representation on the Joint Committee as suggested this morning by the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, and yesterday by my noble friend Lord Forsyth?
My Lords, Back-Bench representation on the Joint Committee is obviously a matter to be discussed. My own view is that the debates that we are having in this place and those in another place allow all views to be considered. There is not much point, however, in the Front Benches making proposals if they cannot carry them with the Back Benches.
My Lords, in 1999, for example, we made a very substantial reform of the House of Lords. As I am sure noble Lords who have been following the debate in this House over the past two days will agree—I think that everybody agrees—that reform has had a significant effect on this place. We did not have a referendum on that issue and I do not think that we need a referendum on subsequent changes.
My Lords, I was interested in my noble and learned friend’s reply to my noble friend Lord Davies of Coity. We had a referendum on the Assembly in Wales. I also know that we were defeated by Italy on Saturday by an English referee. And I think that further consideration be given to a referendum.
My Lords, I am not sure whether the question was about a referendum on the decisions of the referee or a referendum on further House of Lords reform. I think that I have answered the question very clearly. I am not in favour of a referendum on that.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Winston, asked the Lord Chancellor whether he would consult the country after ensuring that it was properly informed. I am sure that that is a desirable end. But how can that be achieved when we have heard in this debate from many former Members of the House of Commons—the noble Lord, Lord Steel, is an example—that they sat there for many years without having any idea of what went on in this place? How can that be remedied before the public are consulted?
My Lords, it is our responsibility in this House to ensure that people know what we do and the good work that we do. That has been a problem for a very considerable time, but we cannot wait for 200 or 300 years until that has been achieved. We need to take steps now.
Airports: Elderly and Disabled Passengers
My Lords, the Government are advised in these matters by their statutory advisers, the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee, which has recently advised the Government to consider lifting the exemption of air transport services from the provisions of the Disability Discrimination Act concerning access to goods and services.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply, but is he aware that there are considerable discrepancies in the way in which elderly and disabled people, particularly those using wheelchairs, are treated by airports and by individual airlines? The introduction of the new EU regulation, which makes charging for assistance unlawful, is very welcome, but why is it necessary for us to have to wait another year before those provisions come in? In addition, is my noble friend aware that blind and partially sighted people have particular problems at our airports, especially with respect to the accommodation of their guide dogs?
My Lords, I am very concerned to hear the noble Lord’s first point. One reason why it will take a little longer for this regulation to be introduced is that we want to hear very clearly from those who have the misfortune of a disability or suffer an impairment due to frailty through age; we want to use that time to consult properly so that we can collect together their thoughts and reflections on how we implement the European regulation. For that reason, the process of implementation is two-stage, culminating in July 2008. We shall set out our thinking later this year through the consultation document.
I understand that the noble Lord’s second point raises the particular concern that some guide dogs have experienced difficulties at airports with regard to the issue of “spend”, which is a technical term.
My Lords, background evidence suggests that no-frills carriers are among the worst at providing adequate support. Will the Government ensure that those carriers realise that if they do not look after this group of people they will acquire considerable bad publicity and the rest of their messages may well be overlooked?
My Lords, I understand the noble Lord’s point and am sympathetic to the thrust of his argument. One benefit of the EU regulation will be to put in place minimum standards and ensure consistent levels of service throughout all European airlines. That is one issue that the regulation should finally sort out.
My Lords, the assistance that airports and airlines are willing to provide is very welcome and the EU regulation is doubly welcome in that it will have a standardising effect on what airlines and airports are willing to do. Does the Minister recognise, however, that one problem at the moment is that inappropriate assistance may be offered? For example, blind and partially sighted people may be offered a wheelchair when that is not what they need; it would be much more appropriate, if it is a long distance to the gate, to have a buggy to take them there or even just sighted guiding assistance. Through the consultation process and in any guidance issued as a result on the implementation of the EU regulation, will the Government make it clear that disabled people should be asked what kind of assistance they would find most valuable?
My Lords, I am entirely with the noble Lord on his point; the code of practice should absolutely cover that. We are aware that the issue of appropriate assistance is real and should be dealt with through adequate training provisions, which the code of practice will cover.
My Lords, it is clear from the questions that we have all been heavily and well briefed by the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association. I shall stick to what it has been asking so that we clear its sheet, as it were.
Will the Government’s assurances given during the passage of the Civil Aviation Act 2006—that airlines’ practice of charging for the checks required to comply with PETS will be outlawed in 2008 when the EU regulations are fully implemented—be honoured? What practical changes will be necessary for that to happen?
My Lords, we should of course honour that commitment. I am sure that the noble Baroness will be aware that booking services are already covered by the Disability Discrimination Act. It is reasonable to expect airlines to make reasonable adjustments to allow visually impaired people, in particular, to access services on equal terms. Under the new regulations it will be unlawful for airlines to charge a fee, for instance, for the carriage of assistance dogs. All of these issues are covered in the operation of the guidance.
Public Officials: Powers of Entry
My Lords, there is no central record of all the categories of public officials who are entitled by law to enter private property without a warrant. We are considering if and how it would be possible to rationalise powers of entry and associated powers, and have announced a review of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. Part of this process will involve an audit of existing powers of entry, and their potential to be identified at a central point with public access.
My Lords, can the Minister not answer the Question, or does she not know the answer? My noble friend Lord Trefgarne asked how many had been introduced by the Government. The Minister says that she does not know. Is that how the whole Government have been working for 10 years? Do they not know whether they are coming or going, or what Acts they are putting on the statute book?
My Lords, that is not the answer. The noble Earl will remember that, in 1980, when noble Lords opposite were in power, the Mitchell report looked at the issue and came up with 700 different powers. We have about 650, but that is not a complete list. You have to go through the legal database and see how many powers are extant and how many are not. That is why, in accordance with the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, we shall see whether there can be better synergy and whether we can do a little better. The noble Lord is right to raise the Question; I have a great deal of sympathy with him.
My Lords, although the need for powers of entry is clearly related to public safety, are the Government satisfied that the guarantee of privacy in the Human Rights Act 1998 provides an appropriate remedy for either inappropriate entry or one which is not proportionate to the object?
My Lords, we are seeking to address that question. The figure for the past 10 years is about 105. As I said, in 1980, when noble Lords opposite were in power, it was about 700, so we have come down since then. The whole issue is that we have to rationalise whether each of these powers of entry is necessary and how it works. That is why we thought it would be a very good idea, when we undertake the PACE review, announced last summer, to look again at whether we can do that. That is what we intend to do; a consultation on that process is imminent.
Zimbabwe: International Crisis Group
asked Her Majesty’s Government:
What is their response to the recommendations contained in the recent report of the International Crisis Group entitled Zimbabwe: An End to the Stalemate?
My Lords, we welcome the ICG’s latest report and agree with a number of its recommendations, including the need for greater regional engagement. The situation is appalling. I condemn last Sunday’s beatings and arrest of opposition leaders. What is needed now is negotiation between Government and opposition on new, democratic, constitutional agreements and an economic recovery programme to lift Zimbabwe out of the disaster resulting from Mugabe’s policies. Instead, Mugabe has resorted to further violence and intimidation, clinging to power as Zimbabwe crumbles around him.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that very full reply, with which I agree entirely. I would add only that the demonstration two days ago involved the leader of the opposition being assaulted so severely that he had to be hospitalised. Does the Minister agree that the report makes it clear that the Mugabe regime is actually crumbling? I agree with him that the report makes valuable suggestions, and I am glad that the Government are going to take up some of them.
Discussions should begin, as proposed in the report, about taking the question of Zimbabwe to the Security Council of the United Nations. It is relevant that South Africa is now a member.
My Lords, I understand the noble Lord’s point. If we can secure enough of a basis in the Security Council for a good discussion without it being blocked, that will be valuable. I hope that people understand the urgency for doing so. Morgan Tsvangirai appeared in court this morning, plainly seriously injured, and has been returned, as others have, to prison. These circumstances call for a robust international response. If anyone needs to learn the lessons, they have only to turn on the television and see the footage of those injured—and very heroic—people.
My Lords, I would be surprised if it were high on the agenda of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. Zimbabwe withdrew from the Commonwealth, arguably just moments before it was removed from it. I know of no intention to re-admit it. It is completely out of line with, paradoxically, the Harare principles for good governance.
I have also heard that Mugabe anticipates carrying on in power well beyond 2008. I do not know whether that will happen, because his economy has more or less imploded. The World Bank is anticipating a rate of inflation that may be approximately 5,000 per cent by the end of the year. These are circumstances from which I believe no economy in peacetime, or probably in wartime, has recovered.
My Lords, will my noble friend take delivery of a message of solidarity from the House to Morgan Tsvangirai, given the appalling treatment he has received? He is a former friend of ours, a trade union official and a great democrat, and that is the least we can do in these circumstances.
My Lords, I welcome that, and I will do so. I am hopeful that trade unionists and others throughout the world will convey that message, and that in doing so they also convey it to COSATU in South Africa, where I should like to see the trade union movement also stand shoulder to shoulder.
My Lords, in the circumstances described by the Minister of Zimbabwe imploding, does he think that the recommendation made by the ICG—that the European Union should engage with SADC in formulating and implementing a strategy for a peaceful transition to post-Mugabe democratic rule—now stands a better and more realistic chance of success? If these discussions do take place between the EU and SADC, will the Minister ensure that one of the matters to be taken up is the humanitarian situation of the victims of Mugabe’s tyranny and in particular those who have been severely injured in the recent attacks on peaceful demonstrators?
My Lords, I believe that when these matters are resolved the suffering of people in recent days—and over a considerable period—must feature in those discussions. SADC has a responsibility as the regional part of the African Union and plainly ought to play more of a role. In answering the question I am cautious, not because I disagree with the sentiment that lies behind it, but because I have been frustrated on too many occasions by witnessing the fact that leaders in SADC have not been prepared to play that role. We should urge them to do so.
My Lords, a number of African presidents—President Obasanjo, former President Chisano of Mozambique and President Mbeki—have probably said rather more privately than is recognised. I am among those who would prefer some of those comments to be made more openly and on the record because they would have a greater effect.
There are deep concerns in South Africa that the current economic implosion may well displace up to 6 million people across the Limpopo into the poorest part of South Africa. That would be a humanitarian and regional security disaster as competition for land, water and other resources would become acute. I believe that everybody wants a robust solution, but one which does not lead to an even worse disaster.
My Lords, given the failure of President Mbeki and others to speak out vocally against what is happening in Zimbabwe, would not the visit this week by President John Kufuor of Ghana, who has just taken over the presidency of the African Union, be an ideal moment to raise this issue with him and to engage a nation such as his in trying to broker a way forward in a country that is seeing not only the imprisonment of opposition leaders but the use of tear gas on innocent demonstrators? As the noble Lord told us, the country is sliding into famine and the mortality rate for women is now said to be in the mid-30s. Surely this is a moment to raise this matter during the state visit of President John Kufuor and to bring African leadership behind everything that the noble Lord mentioned.
My Lords, President John Kufuor has a very good record in this regard. I should be extremely surprised if this matter were not discussed during the state visit, which I welcome. President Kufuor is an outstanding leader who can play a very important role. When statements are made at the end of the visit, I hope it will be apparent that some of the noble Lord’s wishes will be gratified.
My Lords, the noble Lord told us that if enough votes could be obtained in the Security Council a resolution could be passed. What will it take to obtain those votes? How engaged are Her Majesty’s Government in trying to persuade the different embassies and High Commissions in the region to be proactive because dictators know no other language than a very robust response?
My Lords, I frequently put precisely those points to high commissioners and ambassadors of the region. We want to see this matter expressed in the clearest possible terms. The problem at the Security Council is slightly more complex than the most reverend Primate expressed. Were it to be a matter of simply trying to get the votes, it would be tough but we would have a very good go at it; the difficult task is knowing in advance that you have enough support to make a credible stab at it. I am keen to avoid Robert Mugabe believing that we cannot even get off first base, because if anybody will use that, it is him.
My Lords, I suggest to the Minister that the report recommends that something should be done to prevent a second Murambatsvina—“clearing up”—like the awful operation about two years ago, which Anna Tibaijuka criticised so justly and severely. Is it possible for this Government to at least raise in the United Nations the question of requiring the secretary-general, who I hope is quite distinct from the Security Council, to send a personal representative and a representative to ensure that the follow-up to the Anna Tibaijuka report should not be a second operation of the same kind? Surely that is clear-cut and simple, and is something that could be done and need not rest on votes?
My Lords, the noble Baroness makes a very important point. Ban Ki-Moon has taken account of the fact that the first of these appalling events should not be repeated. He is engaged, and we should press him to continue to be engaged. Even that will not turn out—as I know the noble Baroness knows—to be as simple as it is to say it here. Kofi Annan intended to go there to follow those matters up and to see whether there was a prospect of change before he left office. He was told by Mugabe to stay out of the country. He announced at the African Union conference that he would have no prospect of success in attending. Very few countries in the world tell the secretary-general not to come, and they do so only, in my view, because they have appalling crimes to hide.
My Lords, I do not think that there is a prospect of the invasion of Zimbabwe, and I do not want to encourage that thought. The circumstances of the people of Zimbabwe require of us a very high measure of aid and a possibility of reconstruction. The noble Lord may say that that is true in other places as well, but the prospects of being able to do it successfully are bound to be part of what is taken into account.
Docking of Working Dogs’ Tails (England) Regulations 2007
Mutilations (Permitted Procedures) (England) Regulations 2007
Welfare of Animals (Miscellaneous Revocations) (England) Regulations 2007
My Lords, I beg to move the three Motions standing in my name on the Order Paper.
Moved, That the orders of 22 February referring the draft orders to a Grand Committee be discharged.—(Baroness Amos.)
On Question, Motion agreed to.
Welfare Reform Bill
My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.
Moved, That the amendments for the Report stage be marshalled and considered in the following order:
Clauses 2 to 21,
Clauses 22 to 27,
Clauses 29 to 39,
Clauses 40 to 57,
Clauses 58 to 62,
Clauses 63 to 66,
Clauses 67 to 70.—(Lord McKenzie of Luton.)
On Question, Motion agreed to.
Local Electoral Administration and Registration Services (Scotland) Act 2006 (Consequential Provisions and Modifications) Order 2007
Representation of the People (Scotland) (Amendment) Regulations 2007
Scottish Parliament (Elections etc.) Order 2007
My Lords, I beg to move the three Motions standing in my name on the Order Paper.
Moved, That the draft orders and regulations laid before the House on 6 and 7 February be approved. 9th Report from the Statutory Instruments Committee, Considered in Grand Committee on 7 March.—(Lord Evans of Temple Guiting.)
On Question, Motion agreed to.
Housing (Tenancy Deposit Schemes) Order 2007
My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in the name of my noble friend on the Order Paper.
Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 8 February be approved. 9th Report from the Statutory Instruments Committee and 11th Report from the Merits Committee, Considered in Grand Committee on 7 March.—(Baroness Morgan of Drefelin.)
On Question, Motion agreed to.
Government Spending (Website) Bill [HL]
Read a third time; an amendment (privilege) made.
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass. This Bill is a contribution to the transparency and openness of government in the digital age, and my hope is that in another place the Government will embrace it and the future that it embodies.
Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Baroness Noakes.)
On Question, Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.
House of Lords: Reform
My Lords, I have to disappoint noble Lords as I have found that there is something to say. One matter has hardly been discussed at all during our deliberations. Some noble Lords have commented on how the powers of this place may have to change if an elected element is introduced, but I have not heard many suggestions as to the respects in which the powers would or should change. Indeed a large number of noble Lords seem just to assume that, if an elected element were introduced, things would stay more or less as they were, with the primacy of the House of Commons remaining secure. I do not think that there is the slightest chance of that happening, and those who believe it really are living in cloud-cuckoo-land. A 100 per cent elected House, with as good a democratic mandate as the Commons, would feel itself to be and would be its equal.
From time to time, the Government have hinted that the powers of a wholly or partly elected House should be cut. Noble Lords will remember how the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor made a most extraordinary speech on April Fool’s Day last year in which he made comments to the effect that the powers of a House which had a democratic mandate ought to be cut. It would be nonsensical to do anything of the sort. Far from there being a case for a reformed House having fewer powers, the only really strong argument for making the House “more legitimate”, in the words of Jack Straw, is the need for it to play a larger role, exercising more powers—powers that the people would be reluctant to give a second Chamber if it did not have some democratic legitimacy. It is a pound to a penny that a wholly elected House would demand and eventually win more powers, for such a House would not have just some democratic legitimacy, but would be quite as democratic and legitimate as the other place.
We all agree that this House does a good job as a revising Chamber, but I am rather tired of being told that we add value to the legislative process, as if that is all that we are about. Surely the most important power in the hands of this House is not the power to revise legislation, but the power to block legislation for a meaningful period to make the Commons think again and alert the public and media to what is going on. Most important of all, of course, is the power to veto legislation to prolong the life of a Parliament. If Parliament were to go for an elected House, the perfect opportunity would arise for us to build on those powers, to better protect the fundamental liberties and rights of citizens, and for Parliament as a whole to be a better check on the Executive.
In one obvious respect, the powers of this House are inadequate. When the 1911 Act was passed, it had the consent of both Houses. The House of Lords accepted a new constitutional settlement limiting its powers. But in 1949 the Attlee Government introduced a Bill to amend the Parliament Act and to reduce the Lords' delaying power, and forced it through without the Lords' consent by use of the Parliament Act. It seems strange to us that there was no legal challenge to what the Government did, but there was not. On the face of it, it seems that today a Government determined to neuter the second Chamber could reduce its delaying power to six months, three months or, for that matter, seven days. That matter really should be addressed without delay. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, suggested yesterday that certain matters could be the subject of a concordat between the two Houses; and why not start with an agreement that there should be no more changes to the Parliament Act?
So, where does all that leave us so far as the Motions before the House are concerned? First of all, it is ridiculous to contemplate having elections to this place without recognising that its new legitimacy would have to be reflected in new powers. Secondly, I do not think we should give the Government any encouragement to bring forward a Bill providing for a wholly or partially elected House when it is plain that any such Bill would provide for the worst possible system of election.
Mr Straw’s preferred plan may now be a dead duck, but if he had his way, 30 per cent of the membership would have come here because their names had been put on a party list and then sent forward to the Appointments Commission; 50 per cent would have arrived here because they had been put on another party list. In short, the whole 80 per cent would have owed their places in the Lords to their party bosses. A 100 per cent-elected House would be little different from a 100 per cent-appointed House, but rather worse because those who had in effect been appointed would not have had to pass scrutiny by an appointments commission.
Mr Straw knew what he was doing when he decided on this fake election procedure. He did it before when he forced on us the regional list system for elections to the European Parliament, with the result, judging by Gallup polls, that nine out of 10 voters do not have a clue who their MEPs are; and he tells us in the White Paper why he wants those elected to this House to rival MEPs in anonymity. The voter, says the White Paper, should not be encouraged to vote for an individual rather than a party, nor should he be encouraged to spread his votes among the parties and individual candidates, because in that way people standing for election might have a high public profile and be able to speak with authority. Under those proposals, it would be far better to get people in to the House who probably would not even be known to the people they were supposed to represent. What a come-down from the democratic second Chamber that Labour promised in 1997.
I am in favour of a largely elected House, but it should be properly and democratically elected and it should have new powers to reflect its new status. I am not in favour of fake democracy, so I cannot possibly vote for any of the Motions providing for an elected element to enter the House, and I shall abstain on those. Until the Government address this matter properly, as regards powers and a proper system of election, and because at the moment our present system works remarkably well, I shall vote for a nominated House.
My Lords, when I am asked what it is like to be in the Lords, I reply that, as occupational therapy goes, it beats basket weaving. Having listened to most of the speeches in this debate and the thrust of many of the arguments, I am now not so sure—basket weaving suddenly seems quite attractive.
Much is made about the quality of debates in your Lordships’ House. I congratulate the other place on coming down, at long last, in favour of an elected upper Chamber. Of course, one would hope that this reforming zeal would be extended to demanding an overhaul of the House of Commons, but, short of a miracle, that is most unlikely in the foreseeable future; 2111 AD might be a date to hope for.
In the course of this two-day debate, the overwhelming majority of speeches have been replete with arguments for maintaining the status quo and very few voices have been raised in support of the principle of a wholly or mainly elected Chamber. As usual on these occasions, it is the House speaking to itself, as the noble Lord, Lord Watson, said. With the exception of the three opening speeches and a few others, most speakers have dismissed the Commons vote last week but, more importantly, they have disregarded public opinion on the matter. As I said on 10 January 2002, when we discussed the previous White Paper, 54 per cent of the public wanted a majority-elected House with only 21 per cent wanting a mainly appointed one. That ratio remains fairly constant.
As the noble Lord, Lord Desai, said, most speeches have been conservative, complacent, self-congratulatory and lacking in self-criticism. Much is made of the quality of debates in your Lordships’ House. This one, I feel, will prove to be an exception. As Jackie Ashley forcefully argued in yesterday’s Guardian, the context has changed dramatically. Too much hyperbole is used in exalting the virtues of this House.
An up-to-date audit of the operations of this House would have to take account of the following facts. First, attendance and the contribution to the work of its committees are very patchy. Probably fewer than 200 Peers are fully active, with some commendable exceptions, and that is largely true of the “people’s Peers”, while Cross-Benchers as a group have very low voting records. Secondly, some of the “celebrity” life Peers created since 1997, who nominally take the Labour Whip, rarely attend.
Thirdly, the Conservatives have great difficulty in holding up their numbers. On 26 February, for example, during the Report stage of the Mental Health Bill, the first amendment was carried with, among others, 99 Conservatives voting, as was the second with 89 Conservatives voting, but the third—a Conservative amendment, it should be noted—was lost by three votes because the Conservatives could muster only 58 of their number. It was at 6.51 pm and dinner clearly, as always, was the priority.
Fourthly, there is the question of expertise available to the House which nurtures the quality of its debates. As debates go, of course they rarely receive any media publicity. However, these days, regretfully, the Lords, along with the Commons, form part of the Westminster turn-off so far as the public are concerned. As in this debate, we largely talk to ourselves and specialist interest groups.
As for our much-vaunted expertise, that, too, is overdrawn. As I said in 2002, it is highly overrated. Given the average age of Members of the House, which approaches 70 years, the expertise tends to be outdated, especially in these days of very rapid change and innovation. I take myself as an example. As an erstwhile professor, I have not regularly taught students for more than 20 years. As an ex-vice-chancellor, retired for eight years, I would not be abreast of the numerous changes that will have taken place in tertiary education over that period. I think that that would be true of any other former vice-chancellor in your Lordships’ House, and I should be surprised if it were not true of most others, whatever their career specialisation. Legislators and legislation need the benefit of up-to-date expertise.
The time has come—indeed, it is well past—for reform of this Chamber, which will put it on a wholly elected basis. The idea of the Prime Minister using the royal prerogative to nominate up to 10 life Peers in any one Parliament, as Mr Blair has promulgated quite out of the blue, should be seen as the anachronism that it is. The “people’s Peers” experiment has not worked. These innovations, far from refreshing and revitalising the image of the House of Lords, have merely exacerbated the problem. I will, somewhat reluctantly, vote for an 80:20 elected:appointed ratio, but I will vote enthusiastically for the principle of a 100 per cent-elected Chamber.
There is still much detail to be thrashed out, particularly to avoid the discredited closed-list system, but the momentum of reform must be maintained. The leavening of kindred spirits, such as the noble Lords, Lord Desai, Lord Richard, Lord Plant and Lord Hoyle, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Whitaker and Lady Quin, on the Labour Benches, together with the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, on the Conservative Benches, plus most of my noble friends, has persuaded me to continue the occupational therapy here and to eschew the basket weaving.
My Lords, conscious of the time pressures on anyone speaking three-fifths of the way through an extremely long debate, I shall not refer to the White Paper, so ably dissected by a number of noble Lords. Instead, I shall concentrate on trying to knock on the head the myths and misconceptions about the House that keep resurfacing. I suppose that we are stuck for evermore with the public image of elderly, moustachioed Peers, sitting hour after hour clad in red robes every working day. The caricature is too valuable for cartoonists to jettison easily, even though some elected hereditary Peers may never have worn robes in their lives.
As the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, reminded us yesterday, it is not just cartoonists who misrepresent the House. A week ago today, a respected broadsheet slated us as,
“a body of mostly white, unelected men of an average age touching 70”.
The noble Lord, Lord Lawson, was too polite to name and shame the organ in question, but I can reveal that it could be considered pink in more senses than one. Although it is true that we are, on average, 18 years older than MPs, as the noble Lord, Lord Soley, pointed out yesterday, both ethnic minorities and the disabled are better represented here than in the House of Commons and women are almost as well represented. Moreover, we are a great deal younger than the French Senate and a lot less male-dominated, yet one hears few calls for a complete revamp of the French Senate. Our age pattern gives us one fortuitous advantage over the other place which will persist for a few more years: as a higher proportion of us were born before or during World War II, a high proportion of us will have served in one or other of the armed services and in a great many cases will have seen action; therefore, we are better placed than the House of Commons to make informed judgments on defence matters.
A more important and damaging allegation is that we, unelected individuals, exercise power over ordinary people and can single-handedly control or alter their lives. On 28 February the Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland said that,
that is, Peers—
“have the power to change the laws of this land”.
I am sorry to say that that was echoed yesterday by the noble Lord, Lord Richard, for whom I have always had great respect. Of course, the reality is that not a single proposal that emanates from this House, not even a correction of a minor drafting error to a government Bill, gets anywhere unless the elected Chamber endorses it, which is fair enough, even though it means that some extremely worthwhile measures fall by the wayside, as there is always pressure on the parliamentary timetable and Commons legislation must always take priority.
Our only power is the brief power of delay. As a former Labour Cabinet Minister, Frank Dobson, wrote in the Independent on 7 March,
“the House of Commons always gets its way, providing it can tolerate delay”.
He went on to say that that would no longer apply if the Lords were elected. That point was powerfully enlarged on yesterday in a magnificent speech by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, later backed up by, among others, the noble Lords, Lord Lawson and Lord Forsyth. It cannot be expressed often enough that, although the House of Lords can make life extremely difficult for the Executive when necessary, it has absolutely no unilateral powers over anyone else, nor would it ever wish to have.
The next most important myth that needs challenging is, unfortunately, very widespread: that elections to this House would give ordinary people more control over the legislators and hence over legislation. That is not so, as the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, said yesterday and the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester pointed out today. Once a Peer has been elected for a single, non-renewable term of 10, 12 or 15 years, he would be a free agent, fettered only by his conscience. Without the possibility of reselection, there could be no deselection and he would be as free as a second-term American president to ignore the wishes of his constituents, however “constituents” might be defined. Of course, the Government could opt instead for the recreation of 1930s corporatism, as unwittingly recommended by my noble friend Lord Montgomery of Alamein, but I do not think that that is a good idea.
I freely confess that I have changed my mind since we last debated this matter at length, when I broadly supported the proposal by the noble Lord, Lord Richard, for a 60 per cent elected element. However, that was a while ago; since then we have had more time to ponder the contradictions of a hybrid House. Above all, we have had seven years to observe how extremely well the reformed House works, with its much fairer political balance, the instinctive co-operation between those of different political and philosophical persuasions and the persistence of an admirable degree of independence, even among those who take the party Whip. Why spoil that?
One thing has not turned out as forecast: in 1999, it was widely predicted that independents would always hold the balance of power, but in practice only very rarely do Cross-Bench votes determine the outcome of a Division. Those who hold the balance of power are without question the Liberal Democrats. When the Liberal Democrats support Labour, the Government almost always win; when they support the Conservatives, the Opposition usually win, if they turn out in sufficient numbers. A House elected under some form of PR would not weaken the power effectively held by the Liberal Democrats; on the contrary, it would considerably strengthen it. Is that really what the Government and the Conservative Front Bench want?
My Lords, I was somewhat disappointed by the White Paper, not so much because of its internal inconsistencies, of which there are many, but because it is so timid. The fault is not that it is too radical but that it is not radical enough. Its root problem is that it is essentially concerned only with composition, and that is the wrong way round. A reform driven by a consideration of function, role and purpose could have produced a much more radical set of proposals than one driven purely by considerations of composition. It would have been better to start with what we do reasonably well—I say reasonably well because we could always do things better—which is scrutiny and revision. It should have concentrated on that, seen how it could be improved and strengthened and looked at the real challenges of pre- and post-legislative scrutiny. That is the challenge that a modern legislature should address rather than the lesser order issue of composition. That approach would have led to a much more comprehensive reform that would have had to cover organisation, structure and process and, at the end of the day, would have addressed the arguments about composition. That would have been a fit-for-purpose way of addressing the problem. We should have focused on how a second Chamber can add more value to the process of legislating and how it can add value to the public life of our country.
However, in Chapter 6 of the White Paper the Government usefully set down a series of seven principles that they believe should underpin a reformed House of Lords, whatever its composition. It is worth reading them out: primacy of the House of Commons; complementarity of the House of Lords—by which it means revision and scrutiny—a more legitimate House of Lords; no overall majority for any party; a non-party-political element; a more representative House of Lords; and continuity of membership. It would be enormously helpful if my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer could confirm that the Government remain committed to those principles and that any detailed proposals will be argued from them. That would be a very important statement for the Government to make now about their intentions.
The White Paper argues:
“The primacy of the Commons rests on three clear factors. First, election of its members as the direct representatives of the people ... Second is the Commons’ power to grant or withhold supply ... [and] Third, the principle of the primacy of the Commons is enshrined in the Parliament Acts”.
If we look at the Parliament Acts and how they came about, we find that justification for the limited power of veto that the Lords now have and of the special treatment of money Bills rests squarely on the distinction that the House of Lords is not elected and the House of Commons is. Make the House of Lords, or a second Chamber, elected and the justification for the restrictions imposed by the Parliament Acts falls away. British constitutional history shows that the primacy of the House of Commons is based on its unique claim within Parliament to democratic legitimacy. Remove that unique claim and you will certainly get change in the relationship between the two Houses and endanger the supremacy of the House of Commons.
I want to touch on two other aspects of an elected second Chamber: the electoral system and the time of elections. If elections were to take place by some form of proportional representation, that would not just introduce a distinctive basis of election for the second Chamber, it would open up a very real, important and divisive debate on which electoral system produces the most representative Chamber and the most representative politician.
We know the Liberal Democrats’ answer to that. They are open and frank in saying that proportional representation produces a fairer and more representative system for a Parliament than first past the post. So the argument is bound to be that a second Chamber based on proportional representation would be more representative than the first-past-the-post elected House of Commons.
There is already proportional representation in the European Parliament, the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales, the Northern Ireland Assembly and in Scottish local government. We are fast heading towards the stage where first past the post for the House of Commons will be the anomaly. How stable and secure would that be?
The White Paper favours holding the elections at the same time as the European elections. That opens up an argument about new and eroding mandates. Imagine a Government going through mid-term unpopularity and faced with a newly elected second Chamber that is elected on what some would claim is a more representative basis. In those circumstances, is it likely that such an emboldened and confident second Chamber would content itself merely with scrutiny and revision? Of course not. It would start to challenge the Commons, arguing, as other noble Lords have stated today, that one elected politician is just as good as—in some cases, perhaps better than—another elected politician. In those circumstances, we get either paralysis or another constitutional crisis.
My argument—and my argument in previous debates on House of Lords reform—has always been based on the relationship between the two Houses and the need to maintain the supremacy of the House of Commons. Given that, I am not in the business of saving the House of Commons from itself, but I can argue for scrutiny and that the reform should be based on principle.
I want reform. I want thoroughgoing, comprehensive, coherent reform. Above all, I want reform that maintains the power and supremacy of the House of Commons. I fear that the White Paper fails to deliver on all those objectives.
My Lords, when, for three separate periods over a number of years, I was part of the usual channels in another place, it was my duty to visit your Lordships’ House frequently, which I greatly enjoyed. I prided myself on understanding the ways of your Lordships’ House, its traditions and its foibles. Little did I realise until I came here, less than two years ago, the depth of my ignorance and how imperfectly I understood the elegant subtleties of your Lordships’ House.
My noble and learned friend Lord Howe of Aberavon observed earlier how little Members of the other place understand your Lordships’ House. He is right. Why should they? Their priorities lie entirely elsewhere. In a sense, we are like Bertie Wooster’s aunts: aunt baying to aunt,
“like mastodons … across the primeval swamp”.
Perhaps like the historian, FW Maitland, who was accused of seeing medieval England through a mist of moots and witans, my former colleagues in the other place looking along the Corridor see through a prism of coronets and ermine, with a wholesome contempt for the great and the good and the privileged—not parliamentary privilege, of course, which is sacrosanct in the other place. Noble Lords here are exasperated by the wilful, even disrespectful, reluctance of the other place to acknowledge our wisdom, experience, expertise, independence, diversity and modesty.
Some of my former colleagues are, even today, ageist, which is certainly not politically correct and, in some circumstances, is illegal. I suppose that it was ever thus. The noble Baroness, Lady Symons, in her remarkable speech, suggested an all-party committee of both Houses to take matters forward. I do not normally favour setting up ever more committees to take decisions, but I believe that on this occasion it is an excellent suggestion. Indeed, the more such committees there are, the better. The Government are seeking consensus and I hope that one may emerge. These things are always relative.
The case against an elected or predominantly elected House has been analysed in the White Paper and powerfully argued, especially by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, my noble and learned friend Lord Howe, my noble friend Lord Lawson, and others, so I shall not repeat their arguments. Suffice it to say that no system of election could be devised that would deliver the gender, racial, religious and other aspects of diversity that we have in your Lordships’ House—far more so than is or ever could be the case in the other place. That can be achieved only by the Appointments Commission.
The Australian Constitution of 1901 stipulated that each state should have the same number of senators, irrespective of population. The intention was that senators would represent the interests of states in a body where the most populous states could not dominate the less populous. In practice, the Senate was quickly taken over by the principal party machines—a condition that has prevailed to this day. A wholly, or 80 per cent elected, second Chamber here would undergo the same experience. From the late 1970s to the early 1990s, the Conservatives would have had the upper hand in elections. From the mid-1990s until recently, it would have been the Labour Party. The assumption that an election could not deliver a single-party majority in the Lords is clearly false. Elections are unpredictable. My right honourable and learned friend—he is a great friend—Ken Clarke in another place spoke of an idealised Chamber in which Members would be immune from the Whips. Pigs might fly, but I do not think that they will.
No doubt the world would not come to an end if there was a single-party majority in the second Chamber but, as the White Paper recognises, the conventions of this place whereby your Lordships’ existing powers are not used to bring the Government to a halt and cause gridlock would need to be enshrined in statute—in effect, a written constitution, on which we are far from agreeing. If a second Chamber were controlled by the same party as the other place, we would have produced an elective dictatorship. If it were controlled by the Opposition, there would be a high risk of gridlock. Neither would be the end of the world, but they would hardly be an improvement on what we have now. Nor is it what people want.
In recent years, the House of Commons has ceded substantial power to Brussels, Strasbourg, Edinburgh and Cardiff. Students of Tudor and Stuart history of my generation were advised to read Wallace Notestein’s learned tract The Winning of the Initiative by the House of Commons. Future students may read a tract about the present era entitled, “The Losing of the Initiative by the House of Commons”. Power is indeed finite, as the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, said. It is a zero-sum game. Some see creating an elected second Chamber as a way of checking the overweening power of the Executive, but surely if primacy means anything, that is the job of the other place, not of a revising and deliberative Chamber. The noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, deplored, as I do, the new procedure of programming all legislation in the other place—what we used to call the guillotine. However, MPs do not have to vote for these measures. Perhaps tomorrow night’s rebellion will give government Back-Benchers the appetite for a little more independence. The solution to an overmighty Executive lies in the other place. That is what primacy is about.
Like other former Members of the other place, I never had any correspondence about House of Lords reform. Jack Straw referred in the other place to,
“the pent-up feeling for devolution”.—[Official Report, Commons, 6/3/07; col. 1399.].
He was talking about the situation prior to the devolution legislation. There is no such pent-up demand for an elected House of Lords today; in fact, quite the reverse. Consensus lies in creating a statutory Appointments Commission, charged with appointing Peers from all walks of life, all regions—Owen Paterson in the other place pointed out the preponderance of the south-east—all faiths, all ethnic minorities and all age groups, and ending the system of by-elections for hereditary Peers. We have been asked to consider a massive constitutional change, about which few details, such as functions and methods of election and so on, are apparent, as the Government concede. The noble Lord, Lord Cunningham, said that we are being asked to sign a blank cheque. All the White Paper offers us for our blank cheque is a pig in a poke.
Since 1999, our Chamber has been characterised by independence and diversity, where all parties are represented but none has a majority, and all agree that it is performing well—as well, some say, as it ever has in history. We should let your Lordships’ House continue to evolve, with a statutory Appointments Commission, as envisaged in the White Paper and as described by the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, and others, and we should revisit the matter in years to come if the present and envisaged arrangements, which are very new, seem unsatisfactory. There is no hurry.
My Lords, like the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, last night, I hope that the observations of a relative newcomer to the House will not seem out of place and that they may add value. I draw encouragement from the statement of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor that no one should feel inhibited about expressing their views. I would be content for mine to be seen as the contribution of a rising star amid this galaxy of heavyweights. I can hope only that my star will not be snuffed out too precipitately as a result of the discussions on which we are embarked.
I associate myself with the sentiments expressed by the noble Lord, Lord James of Blackheath, in his maiden speech shortly after my own, on 21 November 2006. He said that it had come as a revelation to him to witness at first hand,
“the wealth of experience, the depth of knowledge and the fierce independence at work in this Chamber, which are almost certainly beyond the recognition and appreciation of the wider British public”.
A leitmotif running through this debate has been the extent to which the work and the working of your Lordships’ House are neither understood nor appreciated. The noble Lord, Lord James, went on to say:
“It would be a tragedy if the public discovered what they had had only by losing it”.—[Official Report, 21/11/06; col. 270.]
I speak only as I find and I hope that I will not be considered to be too self-serving and complacent in making these observations. As will appear, I am not wholly uncritical of the working of the House and believe that changes could usefully be made.
I had always entertained a measure of scepticism about the cliché that the level of debate was superior in your Lordships’ House to that in another place. Perhaps that scepticism would have been justified in the dog-days of the House identified by the White Paper when only a fraction of your Lordships’ predecessors attended on a regular basis. But since I arrived, I have been awed by the level of expertise, the analytical prowess and the forensic command evident in your Lordships’ House, which is so devoid of the kind of political knockabout with which we are so familiar in another place. I do not believe that that can be attributed solely to my accession to the House. More than once I have attended a debate with the thought that I might make an intervention, only to abandon the idea rapidly on recognising that I was in the presence of people who knew 10,000 times more about the subject than I did.
Some debates have been among the best seminars that I have ever attended. I say “seminars” because I have sometimes wondered what difference they made. It has occurred to me that there could be merit in our recording our view in a resolution that is slightly less bland than is customary in your Lordships’ House, which need not be confrontational. The Government may wish tomorrow that we had recorded our view with slightly greater emphasis at the end of our recent debate on the renewal of the Trident missile system.
However, on the matter in hand, there is a problem of legitimacy. To the bien pensants who consider themselves to be of a generally progressive disposition, there is something faintly disreputable about the House of Lords. One detected that in the reaction to one’s own appointment in certain quarters: “Not really to be condoned, but perhaps, since it’s you”. I think this stems from the association with aristocracy and the hereditary principle, but this is surely anachronistic with the renaissance of your Lordships’ House following the 1999 Act, since when, by common consent, it has worked with unparalleled effectiveness. It is also specious, as many speakers have shown, to say that legitimacy comes only from election. Indeed, the most significant thing to come out of the debate over these two days is the destruction of the argument for election as the only basis of legitimacy, along with the lack of knowledge of this place and the absence of demand for reform, as attested by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford and other speakers.
That is not to say that there should be no change. The noble Lord, Lord Steel, and others have suggested some basic changes, but not the kind that will be offered in Motions 2 to 7 tomorrow. I believe that your Lordships’ House is in many ways more democratic than the other place. In the absence of the stranglehold of party discipline, the organs of civil society have much more genuine access to the legislative process. The problem of legitimacy is much more one of perception than reality. The remedy is much more one of education—rather than election—about how the House is composed and how it works. It is said that public opinion wants an elected House, but I am not aware that any attempt has ever been made to engender a proper understanding of these things. However, severance of the link with the peerage probably would make a difference to how things are perceived.
I am not so much in favour of appointment as against elections, at least of the kind proposed—in geographical constituencies from party lists, however open. Indeed, I would not feel able to vote for an elected element if it was to be elected on such a basis. The idea that this will confer legitimacy is laughable when one considers the regard in which the other place is held. Such elections will simply produce a cardboard replica of the other place, a House full of party hacks good only for political knockabout and devoid of the expertise and analytical mode of operation that make this House so fit for purpose as a revising Chamber.
A number of other arguments against election need to be considered. It is said that election will alter the balance of power between the Houses. Though much is made of this, I do not think that it is as strong an argument as is commonly supposed. Election of the upper House may give rise to tension and have a destabilising effect, but it cannot actually alter the balance of power except in so far as the other place allows. On the other hand, I am certain that election of Members to this House on the basis of geographical constituencies will bring them into conflict with the representative role of Members of the other place. We have heard about this from noble Lords who are familiar with the Scottish situation. Finally, there is what I might call the “fourth XI” problem, to which the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, drew our attention in his intervention in the debate on the Queen’s Speech and to which other noble Lords have alluded. That goes to the very heart of the issue of quality and fitness for purpose.
However, I am anxious to be of help in moving towards a consensus, and I think that I can be. If elections were to be based on constituencies reflecting the different sectors of civil society—the arts, sport, medicine, the law, trades unions, education, the voluntary sector, the women’s movement, disability, black and ethnic minority communities, the different faiths and so forth—it would be possible to combine the requirement for expertise with that of election. Such systems are usually dismissed on the grounds of complexity and impracticability, but there are precedents in other countries, and as I see it they offer the only basis for consensus between those who want a method of recruitment to the second Chamber that maximises expertise and those who want a House whose composition is determined by election.
It therefore behoves us, I believe, to try a little harder. I understand the difficulties. Other noble Lords, led by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, have their own lists of constituencies, but if the Government were to come up with a scheme and consult on it, and all our different ideas were to be pooled, I cannot believe that it would be beyond the wit of man to arrive at a scheme that commanded general acceptance. I would be happy to submit my ideas, and no doubt other noble Lords will have theirs. If the proposals have flaws, as no doubt they will, I hope that that will be a stimulus to improve them rather than a reason to reject them out of hand.
My Lords, as I imagine did many noble Lords last Wednesday evening, I sensed the boot of history targeting my posterior. The depression was slightly lifted, however, when I analysed the contributions to the debate in the Commons, because it was quite clear that MPs were voting not so much for a specific proposal as uniting behind a slogan of “election”, or rather, “elections good, appointment bad”, which was more the mood of the House. I was further encouraged when I analysed the votes, because although I was disappointed that the vote for appointment was down, it was significant to note that in the Conservative Party the majority against had narrowed from 28 to 23, while in the Labour Party the majority had grown from 6 against an all-appointed House to 84. I have direct anecdotal evidence that a lot of Labour MPs were very concerned that Labour should not be seen as the only party in favour of appointment, bearing in mind that the two other major parties have in their manifesto a House of Lords that is 80 per cent or 100 per cent elected.
While mindful of the admonition of the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York at close of play last night that we should not keep talking about cash for honours, the publicity surrounding events over the past year is, to put it mildly, not conducive to a dispassionate examination of the merits of an appointments system. But let us be quite clear: the country could not survive without appointments. The whole infrastructure of our civil society depends on people from whichever party making appointments and, by and large, people accepting them. Many bodies are being set up to monitor this and make sure that it is done fairly. We have very nearly got it right. To allude for the last time to events that allegedly took place, it is clear that the Appointments Commission blocked something happening. The commission was doing its job and I am quite content for it to be more transparent still. That is a true reform of the House of Lords. To abolish it and replace it with a second Chamber with no name which will be wholly elected is not reform; it is abolition. It is a major constitutional step. It is like someone going to the doctor with a sore throat or a head cold and being prescribed decapitation.
I was further encouraged when I looked at those who voted for 80 per cent election. Surprisingly, that option did not have a majority among Labour MPs—I concede that the majority against was narrow at five votes, but it was still a majority—or in the Conservative Party, despite the fact that it was official Conservative policy. Assuming, with the greatest respect to the Liberal Democrats, that one of those two parties will form the next Government, they might have some difficulty convincing their members that it would be a good idea to pursue an 80 per cent or 100 per cent elected House.
I have news for my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor: I wish to offer him a consensus—not unanimity, but consensus. I am mindful of the admonition of the Leader of the House in the other place, Jack Straw, who said we should not let the best be the enemy of the good. What I propose is exactly what other people here have referred to, including the noble Lord, Lord Steel, and what Ben Chapman, the MP for Wirral South, referred to in the House of Commons. We should abolish the hereditary by-elections or remove the hereditaries, baptising them immediately as life Peers on their own merit, with the involvement of a transparent statutory Appointments Commission. In addition to what the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, said, it would probably be sensible to have the same procedure as the House of Commons for removal for misdemeanour. I would also be happy with a proposal that allowed people to retire or be deemed to have retired if they were not here for more than, say, five days a year. That would be a package; it may not be revolutionary to some in the House of Commons, but it would represent a House of Lords reform.
Here I must take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne. This would be a legitimate second-stage reform, as envisaged by the previous Lord Chancellor, my noble and learned friend Lord Irvine, when he said that the 92 existing hereditaries would remain until the second stage. It would surely be perverse for this House, of all Houses, which has consistently voted by a majority of three to one in favour of a completely appointed House, to say that an all-appointed House is not a legitimate second-stage reform. It is subconsciously saying that we will not really be reformed until we are all elected, which is not what this House thinks.
If we have elections, we will undoubtedly affect the primacy of the House of Commons, as the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, said yesterday. It is all very well for Jack Straw to say that, if necessary, its primacy will be put in statute. At the end of the day, the people decide. If, after all this trumpeting about a huge reform, which started with the Reform Act 1832 and the end of privilege and continued through to the end of fox hunting, we suddenly produce a closed, partially closed or partially open list system, where one elects somebody for 15 years and cannot get rid of them, the public will say, “No, that is not what we thought you meant by ‘elected’ when you asked us whether we would like an elected House of Lords”. I am reminded of the tag from Horace, which I will translate:
“The mountains are in labour and produce a ridiculous mouse”.
That is really what the proposal amounts to. The noble Lord, Lord Livsey of Talgarth, observed that an elected House would be more accountable, but, by definition, it will be no different from an appointed House. If you are elected for 15 years and cannot be deselected, you are totally unaccountable, but we have lost the advantages that appointment gives us. The advantages are set out quite clearly, so I need not take up the time of the House with them. We need only to read pages 30 and 31 of the White Paper. Paragraph 7.2 states that the simplest way to ensure that the principles of composition that we are all looking for are met is appointment. Paragraph 7.3 states that appointment would help ensure that we reflect the diverse population of the United Kingdom. The only drawback of appointment, in the words of the White Paper, is its alleged illegitimacy. I think that that point has been dealt with sufficiently. I am not one of those who think that “unelected” is a term of abuse. I do not want to live in a society where, for example, judges are elected and presumably vying with each other for the approval of the Sun and the Daily Mail through the severity of their sentencing policy.
I think that the public are expecting something different. They do not necessarily understand how the House of Lords works simply because it does not get the publicity that the House of Commons does—in many ways, quite rightly. However, it is surely perverse, at a time when we have just reached what has been spoken of as a historic agreement—the Cunningham report—on how both Houses should work, suddenly to put that in danger, as the noble Lord, Lord Cunningham, referring to paragraph 61 of the report, pointed out yesterday, by altering the possibility of the primacy of the Commons being challenged.
I have been in this House for just under 10 years but, previously, I used to present a political programme on television for about eight years which looked at the work of the House of Commons, so I have a little knowledge of the other place as well. It strikes me that it is daft to talk about complementarity of Chambers if they never talk to each other. We have a situation where one end is in total, blissful ignorance of what the other does, and that applies, to be fair, in both directions—we are as bad as the House of Commons. Surely that is the target that we must address. We must get Parliament as a whole working together, with the respective skills of the Lords and the Commons complementing each other and producing better government than we have at the moment.
My Lords, my purpose today is to seek an undertaking from the Government that, if any Bill is sent up to your Lordships' House to create a wholly elected Chamber, such a Bill will contain a specific provision to repeal the Parliament Act 1911. Without such an undertaking, your Lordships' House should not concur with the wish of another place for a wholly elected House.
It can be implied, and I would do so, that the repeal of the Parliament Act 1911 took place with the passage of the House of Lords Act 1999, which removed the hereditary Peers from your Lordships' House.
I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Kingsland for his legal erudition on this matter. I draw your Lordships’ attention to section 80 of Bennion’s Statutory Interpretation, which describes the doctrine of implied repeal:
“Where a later enactment does not expressly amend (whether textually or indirectly) an earlier enactment which it has power to override, but the provisions of the later enactment are inconsistent with those of the earlier, the later by implication amends the earlier so far as is necessary to remove the inconsistency between them”.
In his commentary on the code, Bennion states that:
“If a later Act cannot stand with an earlier, Parliament (though it has not said so) is taken to intend an amendment of the earlier. This is a logical necessity, since two inconsistent texts cannot both be valid without contravening the principle of contradiction. If the entirety of the earlier Act is inconsistent, the effect amounts to a repeal of it”.
The inconsistency between the Parliament Act 1911 and the House of Lords Act 1999 is evident from examination of the recitals to the 1911 Act, which clearly describe the intention of the Parliament Act. It was, as we all know, to restrict,
“the existing powers of the House of Lords”.
Shall we ask ourselves what the motive was behind that intent? The record seems to show that the motivation and raison d’être of the Parliament Act 1911 arose from the then hereditary nature of your Lordships' House. Commending the Parliament Bill to the House of Commons on its Second Reading on 2 March 1911, the Liberal Prime Minister, Mr Asquith, said:
“Take the hereditary principle. What can we get out of it? Hon. Gentlemen opposite have got a great deal out of it . . . a working instrument to frustrate and nullify the functions of this House when there is a Liberal Government in power . . . That is what the right hon. Gentleman”—
he was referring to Mr Balfour, the leader of the Conservative Opposition—“gets out of it”.
Then the Prime Minister spelled out the motive for the Parliament Bill. Speaking of the hereditary principle, he said:
“Let it not be our master. So say we. It is because it has been our master . . . because it enslaves and fetters the free action of this House, that we have put these proposals before the House and we mean to carry them into law".—[Official Report, Commons, 2/3/1911; col. 584.]
Winston Churchill, campaigning for the Parliament Bill around the country, asked:
“Why should their children govern our children? Why should the sons and the grandsons and the great grandsons have legislative functions?”.
He said he hoped that the Bill would be,
“fatal to the hereditary House of Lords”.
The recitals to the Parliament Act 1911 make it clear that the offence complained of—in other words, insufficient respect from your Lordships' House for the elected House—was an offence committed by an hereditary House of Lords. That offence, against what we now in common parlance call the primacy of the House of Commons—the phrase has been used many times in this debate—was to be remedied, as we know, by strict time limits on our delaying power, a blanket disqualification of your Lordships' House in public finance, and the vouchsafing of all fiscal authority to another place, so that with regard to all money Bills we could look but not touch. In effect, the Parliament Act 1911 ultimately gave power to another place to override decisions of your Lordships.
We know that the House of Lords Act 1999 made this House not hereditary. According to the then Leader of the House, the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, it made it “more democratic, more legitimate”. Thus it can be argued that according to the doctrine of implied repeal, that made the Parliament Act 1911 obsolete. So either the 1911 Act has already been repealed by virtue of its inconsistency with the later Act of 1999, or else it should be repeated in any future Act that puts our House on to an elected basis.
The 1911 Act sought a House of Lords constructed on a “popular, not hereditary basis”. We are now not hereditary. It is of course arguable whether we are popular; I would say that we are, but it is debatable. It is certain, however, that the creation of a new elected House, being both popular and not hereditary, will render the 1911 Act redundant. That is why I urge every noble Lord considering voting for an elected House tomorrow to insist before they vote on an undertaking from the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor that any Act which comes before us to create an elected House will contain a specific provision to repeal that most iconic of all Acts of Parliament, the Parliament Act 1911.
My Lords, some noble Lords may think that I am lowering the tone of this wonderful debate if I confine my remarks, as I shall, to my special subject: the cost of reform. That is not the sole reason why I oppose election to this House, but it does seem to be relevant that what we are considering is not merely a folly but an extremely expensive folly.
Some noble Lords may believe that democracy—if I may stretch that word to apply to the White Paper proposal—is a pearl beyond price and that I am just one of those damned economists who know the price of everything and the value of nothing. It is always difficult to argue with absolutists but I shall make just one point to them. There is one reason and one reason only why electing the Lords is so fashionable at the moment, and that is the so-called cash-for-honours affair. I rather agree with the remarks of the right reverend Primate the Archbishop of York last night, that we should be chary of going into that subject. However, I do not think that I will trespass against that warning if I say that, last year, the three main political parties together spent £98 million. That is rather less than my estimate of the annual cost of 100 per cent election to your Lordships’ House. In other words, we could, if we wanted to solve that problem, simply give the money to the parties. Then we would not then have to worry about changing this admirable House.
Other noble Lords, however, will not take the absolutist view but the more usual view. I see the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, sitting there; as a past Permanent Secretary of the Treasury, he will certainly agree with this. With most goods in public life, it is not a question of being able to pay for them whatever they cost; but if you choose to have one thing, you cannot have another thing. The Government face a budget constraint. So, to put it quite simply, if reforming this House is going to cost a lot of money, that is going to mean fewer teachers, nurses, doctors, soldiers and so on. That seems a common-sense view. It does matter what this costs.
When I did my estimates, I did not do it to prove anything particular but to fill a gap in the White Paper. The White Paper provides no costings for its proposals, on the grounds that
“It is difficult to assess the overall cost of any reform to the House of Lords until the final shape of reform is known”.
That is true—it is obviously true as far as it goes. But my suspicious mind could not help thinking that it was a jolly convenient truth for the Government since the cost would rather mitigate against their arguments. It was possible, after sitting down for a while, to make some reasonable estimates. I have produced a costing on the basis of such assumptions and estimates.
The cost of each election to this House is £30 million. If you want the source for that, it is the White Paper. Each elected Member of this House eventually replaces an appointed Member, and I suggest that each elected Member will cost about two-thirds of what a Member of the House of Commons costs, to reflect their lesser constituency duties. I suggest a pension of £20,000 a year is paid to life Peers who agree to retire, to compensate them in part for the pensions they have not been able to provide for themselves since Members of this House are not paid. That is floated in the White Paper. Extra accommodation is made available in my estimates at a rather conservative rate of one extra workstation for each elected Peer, so they can have someone who keeps in touch with their constituents.
Those, I hasten to add, are conservative estimates—they do not, for example, provide for any pay for appointed Peers during the transitional period when the elected Members are going to be paid—but they nevertheless produce monstrous results. Over the 15-year transitional period to an elected House, the extra costs will exceed £1 billion for a 50 per cent elected House, and £2 billion for a 100 per cent elected House. Two billion pounds represents a pile of £10 notes a mile and a half high.
Having produced these costings, I had rather hoped that the Government would respond by entering into a proper debate. I was therefore—how shall I put this?—a trifle disappointed at the reaction of Mr Straw when my costings were raised by Mr David Clelland in another place. Mr Straw, the Leader of the House, said:
“Lord Lipsey’s estimate is absolute utter balderdash and nonsense … It cannot be the case that a partly elected other place would cost £1 billion when the total cost of this place … is £300 million”.—[Official Report, Commons, 7/3/07; col. 1554.]
Absolute utter balderdash and nonsense—moi?
Mr Straw’s first error was in the costing of the House of Commons. How would he know—he’s only the Leader of the place. He said that the figure was £300 million; in fact, for the latest year it is £468.8 million. For that, see the Written Answer from the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie of Luton, to a Written Question from the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, on 28 June 2006 at cols. WA 168-70. But that is only the minor error. The major error is that he compared my costing for a full 15-year period with the annual cost of the House of Commons.
As a long-term friend and admirer of Mr Straw, it pains me to say what I now have to say: that he was talking absolute utter balderdash and nonsense. Mr Clelland pointed that out to him but apology came there none. I am sorry to say this of an old friend, but Mr Straw misled the House. In my knowledge of the other place, which is less than that of many other Members of this place, Ministers who mislead the House are expected to apologise; but I am long enough in the tooth not to have had high expectations that he would do so. Who would want to admit to making a howler that would make any schoolboy blush to the roots?
I do not even ask him to apologise for misleading the House. I will be quite satisfied if he does something else: let him now publish the Government’s best estimate of the cost, saying where his assumptions differ from mine. Let him level with the electorate and see then if his proposals retain their support.
I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, said earlier in the debate, that this matter cannot be settled by pledges in manifestos which voters barely read; it can be settled only in the way that major constitutional issues are generally settled in this democratic era, in the way that devolution was settled and Europe was eventually settled, and in the way that the Government once proposed to settle voting reform—by a referendum in which every voter has his or her right to be heard. During such a referendum voters would learn more about the proposed change and about the virtues of this House, and far more than Mr Straw chose to disclose about the cost of what he is proposing. I am confident that they would then reject it, as I trust your Lordships will reject it tomorrow.
My Lords, we have had a marvellous debate both today and yesterday. I apologise to noble Lords who spoke when I was not in the Chamber as I was hosting a function in the Cholmondeley Room and could not get here.
I agree with my noble friend Lord Waddington that by now everything must have been said. Nearly everything probably has been said, which is why I asked to speak on the second day. I wanted everything to have been said so that I could change the tempo for a moment and talk about what the House of Lords means to me, to all of you and, indeed, to the public at large. Unlike most noble Lords, I speak about the House of Lords twice a week, and have done so for years. I speak to Conservative constituencies, to Rotary clubs, where I am very popular, and to Soroptimist clubs. I do not even charge. I talk about what we are and what we do for this country. Wherever I go, people say that if they have any complaints at all about Parliament, they are about the other place, not this place.
When the House of Lords reform debate was initiated a few years ago, I sat on the Conservative Front Bench, next to my noble friend Lord Strathclyde, and cried my eyes out. Nobody could understand why. I told all those around me that I had hay fever—as if you could have hay fever in November. The truth is that I loved this place from the day I came in right up until now. It represents the best of British history and tradition and a job well done. Every time that we interfere with it, we take away a little bit of something that is valuable.
I became a government Whip within about six weeks of coming into the House. Before that I was chairman of the London Conservatives, so I knew what it was to be bossy. Life Peers ran away from me if they knew that I expected them to vote. But asking a hereditary Peer to vote was an entirely different thing if he did not think it was right for his country. They used to say, “It may be good for the Tory Party but my family have supported this country for years and years and I intend to continue to do so. I do not intend to vote as you wish just because you are telling me off”. I used to reply, “Then stay at home; just don’t come”. That was the very best that I could hope for.
I wondered afterwards why it was that history, tradition and all these things meant so much to me. I have explained it once before in the House so I shall not do so again in detail. However, my grandparents were immigrants. When they came to this country there was no such thing as benefits. They had to work for every single thing that they had. They were not well off and neither were my parents, but the one thing that they gained was a love of Britain. That has stayed with us and my children right the way through.
I am not a dinosaur. I am certainly not saying that there cannot be change of some sort or another. However, it grieved me greatly when we lost so many of our hereditary brethren. I hope that if we go for an all-appointed Chamber—which I shall support—all the remaining hereditary Peers will be made life Peers.
The Commons walked blindly into an accident. They thought that a vote for an all-elected Chamber would be a tactical move. However, yesterday I heard many noble Lords on the other side of the House say, “Nobody on this side is listening to what the Commons said”. The Commons could never in a million years have intended to produce the rubbish that it came up with. It is not possible. Never mind the general feeling, we should consider the individual feeling of a constituency MP. Why would he want another MP—representing a bigger area than himself with more people having elected him—in his part of the woods? He would not. The Commons has not thought the matter through. But this House thinks everything through. The bottom line is that we get legislation coming in from the other place which has not been looked at. Whole swathes of it have not even had the pages opened, if you ask me. They just have the guillotining, which many noble Lords have mentioned, and consequently they are not doing their job. Now, they are trying to stop us doing our job by making us just like them. It just will not do, and I am not prepared to stand by while it is happening. Too much has already happened to our constitution on our watch. It is time to say, “No further”.
We do not want an elected Chamber. We would lose, as so many other noble Lords have said, the abilities of people such as all those vice-chancellors, Bishops and Law Lords who have come here. They—the great and the good—are not going to stand for election. I am sure that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, realises that they are not going to stand. I would love to have stood years ago if I had been selected for the other place; but not now. Good heavens above, I would be one of the first out the door if I had to stand for election.
I beg noble Lords to please think very carefully when they vote tomorrow. Yesterday, a noble Lord said that probably everyone had made up their mind. They may very well have done; but one has no idea what one’s children and grandchildren will say in years to come and we have lost the jewel in the parliamentary crown. They may ask, “What were you doing when that happened?”. We amend, and we are a great revising Chamber. I cannot remember who said today that it is not such a great Chamber. It is a great Chamber. There are all those amendments that we make and send to the Commons; they keep 40 per cent of them. Where would they have been without us? Think very carefully before you cast your vote tomorrow.
My Lords, that is a very difficult act to follow. The noble Lord, Lord Grocott, if he would desist for one minute from his conversation, said some 25 hours ago:
“I recommend to the House … that it would greatly assist the speed of the debate if Members did not deploy arguments that had previously been made”.—[Official Report, 12/3/07; col. 451.]
He recognised that that was a principle that has never been applied in either House down the centuries. I am speaking just after number 80, so I am somewhere in the 80s as a batsman. Applying the Grocott test—that nothing that I say will have been used by way of argument anywhere—is really pretty tough. I do not claim that. I shall treat his injunction as an injunction to be brief, which I will be.
The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor told us that we are to take note of the White Paper. I think that that drives us to ask ourselves: is this House currently an effective Chamber, and do we find in the White Paper a recipe for a better and more effective Chamber via either the hybrid route or the wholly elected route? There can be only one answer to that question. The White Paper does not even attempt to show a superiority in the House that would result. That attempt has not been made.
Although I have been here close on 10 years, that is a newcomer by the standards here. But this House strikes me as extraordinarily impressive and efficient in five areas. I take first the point that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, talked about yesterday regarding an effective brake or check on the power of the other place. He produced figures on the number of occasions in recent years where we have called on the other House to think again. It is an impressive figure. We also have a pretty good record of success—about 40 per cent—in making those calls. So as a brake on the other House, this House is efficient.
It seems to me that we also do a very thorough job of examining legislation. I say that having just come off the sixth day in Committee, with the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, on the Legal Services Bill. That was six days spent in Committee on the detail of one Bill about the legal profession. It is very impressive.
Then there is the examination of European legislation and initiatives. We have a European Union Select Committee with six sub-committees; I have had the honour to be on the Select Committee and one of the sub-committees. It is recognised that the work produced by the House of Lords committee structure is the best in Europe. There is no match for it anywhere, and parliamentarians around Europe will acknowledge that they read our reports. We do a much bigger job on that front than the other place.
I do not need to say anything about discussion of broad policy issues at all, as the discussions here are of the highest possible quality. I remember the first time that that was brought home to me, when I came into a short debate after dinner one night that was about Indonesia. Nobody spoke who had not been in the country in the previous six months. Everyone was some form of expert or was highly knowledgeable about that country. More recently, I have sat in on debates on assisted dying and palliative care, and noted the quality of the contributions. You had people who ran hospices, nurses, many doctors and surgeons—a terrific range of experience. An interesting footnote to that is that noble Baronesses were in the majority throughout the most recent debate on palliative care. We talk about a male prerogative but, in that area on that evening, they had the place to themselves and were all incredibly knowledgeable and articulate.
My final example is probing the Executive by questions. I do not think that our Written and Oral Questions are in any way below the level of the other place. We are a very satisfactory thorn in the side of government.
I shall pass on to hybridity, the concept of which in this debate is not only dead but decomposing; there are really no proponents for it. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, came up with one fatal objection yesterday which I entirely agree with:
“No Member should be able to claim for his opinion or vote greater legitimacy than another”.—[Official Report, 12/3/07; col. 477.]
It would have to be an absolutely equal Chamber. Imagine having first-class and second-class Members. It would completely destroy the harmony and friendship of this place and would be a dreadful retrograde step.
That takes us to the other alternative, the wholly elected House. What happens? The Bishops vanish, as does the wealth of experience that we have from the Cross Benches and the other parliamentarians here chosen for their knowledge and ability to contribute to big issues. Also, you have an uncertain system of a list or some other method of finding your new Members. At first sight, the wholly elected new Chamber looks as though it means what it says—that its Members are all wholly elected, so you have a duplicate of the House of Commons down the Corridor. A friend said to me, “They can’t mean that. That is like turkeys voting for Christmas”. I said, “They don’t mean it at all. They intend to put that elected Chamber into chains immediately”. Restrictions will have to go into the primary legislation; they cannot be left to subsequent consent and dialogue between the two Houses, both with equal legitimacy and elected by the people, with the new House agreeing to be inferior in various respects. The chains would have to appear, which would limit the power of the new House. It could not be allowed to destroy the primacy of the other Chamber. It would have to be made clear to voters that there were two Chambers—that the first-class one where power resides is the old House of Commons, and that the new one is a reviewing, subordinate Chamber and does not have the power of the Commons.
What lies behind the whole argument is the concept of legitimacy—the feeling that you cannot have a part of a legislature that has not been put there by popular vote. Other noble Lords have discussed this, so I shall be brief. My view is that a vote is not the sole source of legitimacy; we also have, in law, customary law. You find out what the customary law is by examining the evidence on long-standing usage, a source of law which is well recognised in all the books. Applying a similar doctrine of usage and given the position that it has occupied down the centuries, we can say that the House of Lords—alongside the House of Commons, co-operating or sometimes in conflict with it in producing legislation—has an unchallengeable claim to be legitimate.
The House of Lords Act 1999 and every other Act today state:
“Be it enacted by the Queen’s most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows”.
The legitimacy of both Houses is formally recorded in every Bill that comes out of this House. There is no reason to believe that that sole source of legitimacy of the House of Lords is the vote of the populace. The word legitimacy turns out to be an Alice-in-Wonderland word—it means what I say it is going to mean. That then depends on the question: who is to be master?
My Lords, I intend to continue to argue, perhaps uniquely in both Houses, that we should not discard a unicameral solution. I intend to argue for a referendum on whatever we press forward with and to suggest that if we are going to have an unelected element here, it should not be based on the present make-up of Cross Benchers. Finally, I shall suggest that we should not be too dogmatic in turning down a number of options merely because we have one preferred option at the moment. Tempting though it would be to sit down, having made those points, I should provide a little more by way of explanation.
None of the excitements of the past few weeks has changed my view that the best outcome would be to go for a unicameral House, and I am sorry that the other place did not consider that more fully. Were there to be one House, it would require many more resources than the Commons has now. The additional burden of scrutiny would require more staff, Members to spend much more time here than at the moment and the close link between the legislature and the Executive, despite the excellent work of the Select Committees, would have to be reviewed again.
My suspicion is that the Commons in their voting last week wanted to remain the primary House, but did not want to have to bother with the detail of scrutiny. I support unicameralism because I am determined to defend the primacy of the Commons and I believe that it is inconceivable, as many Peers argued yesterday and today, that should either of the two options that the Commons voted for last week be followed through, the primacy of the Commons would be unchallenged. After the votes last week, there were cheers, no doubt partly from those who foresaw the demise of this place. They should have been aware that they were also cheering the end of their primacy. However well the legislation is drafted, the Commons’ role will not remain unchallenged if there should be an elected House of Lords or an elected element within it.
We have heard eloquent arguments that there should be wider consultations, particularly with the Back-Benchers when seeking agreement on this subject. I wish to make a broader point that there needs to be more than just agreement with Back-Benchers. We need to have a referendum on this key constitutional issue. I know that my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor was quite hard on that issue earlier in response to a Question from my noble friend Lord Barnett. However, my noble and learned friend said that one of the compelling reasons for that was that we made big changes in 1999 which did not require a referendum. Absolutely—but in 1999 we were acting on a very specific proposal from the 1997 manifesto. Whatever you say about what we put in the 2005 manifesto, it cannot be described as specific.
I do not accept that a statement in a manifesto that something will be done, unspecified as to precisely what is intended, gives a democratic mandate to whatever follows. That would have been taken as an endorsement of any decision of the Commons last week, whether it was for a unicameral, wholly elected, wholly appointed Chamber or any point in between. There does not seem to be a consensus here and still less is there a consensus in the country. This is a major constitutional issue and at the end of the day it should be the people, not the people’s representatives, who have the final say. I would suggest that a further White paper be put to the people for their agreement rather than to assume that these two Houses have an absolute right to change the constitution of the country as they see fit.
However, we must accept that there has been a change as a result of what the Commons did last week. Despite the clear fact that the consequences have not been well worked out—perhaps not worked out at all—it remains true that the view that election is necessary to ensure legitimacy has been supported by many, even if we disagree with it, and we ignore that view at our peril.
I should like to say a word about some of the options that were considered in the Commons: the White Paper option of a 50:50 split and the 80:20 option. I know that this will cause controversy but I dispute the notion that there has to be a block of unelected Cross-Benchers in the new political, elected House, if that is what we end up with. They are undoubtedly excellent in their knowledge and expertise and they are a real and important addition to this House, but, if this is to be a political House, we must take account of the fact that they have what might euphemistically be termed “political form”.
I hope that noble Lords will forgive me for generalising—there are of course exceptions—but the fact is that the Cross-Benchers are usually small “c” conservatives with pronounced pro-establishment prejudices. If a progressive Government, aided and abetted by a progressive opposition party, sought to build into the newly reformed House an anti-progressive, unelected block, that would ensure that a democratic vote in the country for progressive policies would have to clear an unnecessarily high hurdle in the second Chamber to succeed. That is simply unacceptable. If there is to be an appointed element, much more imaginative ways of finding those Members must be sought and found.
Wherever we end up, there is, I suspect, a long way to go. As the person responsible for manoeuvring the Scottish Labour Party towards a more proportional system for the Scottish Parliament, I view with some interest the prospects of getting an agreed electoral system for a reformed Chamber through either House, never mind both. Indeed, my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor might reflect that, as a first stage, it may be easier to get the agreement of the people than the agreement of both Houses here. That is roughly what happened with the Scotland Act and it was an extremely effective way of doing things.
Finally, I advise this House to acknowledge that there has been a change and that there is change on the agenda. That is the case as never before. I doubt whether there is any perfect solution, but we should not be too dogmatic in rejecting out of hand all possible ways forward.
My Lords, I agree entirely with all Peers who, yesterday and today, expressed fundamental disagreement with the vote last week to abolish the House of Lords. I could not believe that the Commons would go on such a rampage of destruction with only a minority having the wit to realise that if the Commons vote sustains, they will destroy themselves, too.
In the “Today” programme last Thursday, which reported the Commons vote, someone—probably John Humphrys—said something to the effect that in this debate we would all speak from self-interest. But that is not what I and the overwhelming majority of your Lordships are doing at all. Everyone knows that, whatever happens, it will be years before fundamental changes are brought about. By that time, I and many of my colleagues here will be long gone. What motivates us is not self-interest but deep concern for our country and its good governance.
It is very telling that the senior staff and officers who guide and monitor us and are responsible for the inner workings of the parliamentary machine in both Houses, are as horrified as we are at what is proposed. They are not motivated by self-interest either. It is not the loss of their jobs that worries them; those jobs will go on. What upsets them is the invaluable expertise and experience that will be lost forever from these red Benches if this proposal goes through. As has been mentioned, we have in this House Privy Counsellors, Commanders in Chief, Secretaries-General of NATO, Secretaries of State, top academicians and medical doctors, but they would never stand for election. Earlier today, one noble Lord said, “I don’t see why we shouldn’t have them”, but no one would fight an election again if they had been in the other House, and no one who had reached the higher echelons, as I described, would stand for election either.
I can assure your Lordships that when you stand for election you need to have a party behind you, so bang go all the independents whom we value so much in this House. A great many people would stand for election, saying, “This sounds good; 15 years without being challenged, 15 years with a large salary and 15 years with a large number of people to work for me. And it doesn’t matter because I need never turn up, I need never do any work, but once I am in, I am in”. I would rather have the Members we have now by a long chalk.
A result of having independent Peers in the House means that three or four top experts take part in every debate. I have been in the Commons and I have been in the Lords and far more erudite, knowledgeable and relevant speeches are made here than ever are made in the other place. The country needs those people, especially the Cross-Benchers whom I value hugely. We cannot afford to lose them but we shall if the Commons have their way.
There is no public demand whatever for the proposed changes. If the public knew more about what we do and how we do it, there would be a very strong public demand for things to be left as they are. If the public knew how much extra tax they would be charged for an all-elected House, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, they would picket the Treasury in droves. Extra taxation for a better health service, for better schooling, for better roads and for better transport is one thing, but extra taxation for a far worse House of Lords is quite another.
Elected representatives, as I know very well, have to spend lots of time answering between 40 and 60 letters every day; they have to visit schools, factories, old people’s homes and they have to attend constituency surgeries and functions as well as coping with the problems of their constituents. At the moment, this House does a lot of scrutiny which the House of Commons—the elected representatives—do not do at all. Any elected representatives who replace us will have to do all those things. How will Bills be scrutinised then? There will also be much duplication of effort. Constituents take their problems to their MPs and they write them letters. For every letter that comes in and for every visit to a surgery, action is taken and letters go to Ministers, to local authorities and to anyone else who can possibly help a constituent. MPs of all shades of opinion are very punctilious in what they try to do for their constituents. If the Members here also have constituents, how on earth will the people who replace us do what we do now, which often is the lion's share of ensuring that Bills are good when they are passed?
There are so many arguments against what is proposed. Some will say that the strongest argument is that the power of the House of Commons would be severely lessened. I am strongly in favour in our democratic system and of leaving power with the clearly elected House. Laws will not pass as they do now, with one Chamber almost always proposing the laws and this House checking them carefully and suggesting amendments to improve them, which the Commons can then accept or reject. We say, “Okay, we are not elected, you are”, but we will not say that if this House is also elected. The Commons will be challenged by a new elected House. I believe in the Commons keeping its primacy and the Lords keeping its wisdom. Why deprive both and inflict constitutional chaos on us all?
My Lords, a proposition has been mooted in some quarters, particularly in chapter 10 of the White Paper, regarding getting rid of the 92 hereditary Peers. It is that Peers’ elections should be abolished. It is seen in some quarters as a kindly means of finally abolishing the last vestiges of the hereditary principle while retaining for their remaining lives the services of the present hereditary Peers, not all of whom are totally useless or “half-witted old duffers”, which I understand is how one Member of another place recently described your Lordships—all your Lordships, I understand.
I have to declare an interest not only as a hereditary Peer but also as a member of the Hereditary Peers Association. There is no way that I can support the abolition of Peers’ elections. We were elected in 1999 by our colleagues who were kicked out of this House in a cavalier and sometimes spiteful manner. To support the abolition of the only chance they or their heirs and successors have of ever again becoming Members of this House seems to me to be tantamount to saying, “I’m all right Jack and to hell with you lot”, and I cannot do it. It just sticks in my gullet. I know that some of my elected colleagues think as I do, and I shall be very interested to hear what any of them who have not already spoken have to say about the matter.
Having said that, I think Peers’ elections in their present form are rather a farce, but they could be improved by one or two simple measures. At the election held last week, there were 43 candidates and 41 electors. It should not be difficult to devise a method of weeding out the candidates. The Hereditary Peers Association might be able to help, or party organisations, such as, for the Conservatives, the ACP, might do it. Then again, we might revert to simple first-past-the-post voting, which even someone as thick as me can understand, instead of the alternative vote system—I know the Liberals would not like that. Finally, I think the electorate should be all the Peers in the party, life and hereditary. I know that I supported hereditary Peers only as the electorate in 1999, but, hindsight being a wonderful thing, I now believe that I was wrong and that election by all their Peers would give successful candidates greater what is nowadays, I am sorry to say, called “legitimacy”, although I do not think that is a correct use of the word. Perhaps “gravitas” might be better. I was so glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Neill of Bladen, questioning the use of that term. All Members of this House are legitimate, regardless of how they got here, because they are all here in accordance with whatever the law under which they were appointed or elected, as the case may be. I do not believe one can be more or less legitimate: either one is legitimate or one is not.
However, at the end of the day, if any substantial reform of this House takes place, whether it is to make it a wholly or mainly elected House or a wholly or mainly appointed House, we, the 92, will have to go, because the basis on which our continued presence in this House rests is to ensure a second stage to the reform of this House, which was begun in 1999 with no idea of what shape it was to take beyond a wholesale cull of hereditary Peers. We are here until the legislation to implement that reform, with dates when it will come into force, has received Royal Assent. Until then, we shall remain. Peers’ elections should continue, and we shall fight tooth and nail against any attempt to remove us before then. I shall vote for the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, tomorrow.
My Lords, so much of what I was going to say has already been said, so, as the 91st speaker in this debate, I shall be brief. In his House of Commons speech on Tuesday of last week Kenneth Clarke said that the House of Commons “has lost its powers” and the House of Lords that restrained it “in exercising its powers”. In reality, the House of Lords does not use its full powers because Members realise the dominant position of being elected. That is our situation.
In the event, hybridity or a partially elected House is not a solution. Such a House of Lords would have two categories. Not only will the elected element quite naturally feel superior, but they will also demand the staff and the pay required to keep in contact with their electors. They will be full-time Members. In such a situation, with the elected Members of the House of Lords being dominant as well as having electoral legitimacy, they will be rivals to the House of Commons. On occasion, there will be deadlock. At present when the House of Lords differs from the House of Commons there are negotiations and a solution is normally found. It is getting a little more difficult, but a conclusion is reached.
If a new House of Lords makes use of its elected Members and amends legislation in defiance of the House of Commons the use of the Parliament Acts is threatened. What if a number of amendments to different pieces of legislation are passed? Are the Parliament Acts to be used again and again on each Division? The Parliament Acts are such a major piece of legislation that it takes months to get the procedure through. If you have a number of such procedures, what happens to Parliament as a whole? These matters need to be considered.
As this House is constituted we could oppose the House of Commons in a determined way. What we have now is a sensible understanding of the role of the two Houses. It is important to keep it that way. As Alan Williams said in the House of Commons, the House of Lords has muscle but,
“it just does not use it”.—[Official Report, 6/3/07; col. 1428.]
With an elected element that muscle will be exercised. And it can be exercised in a very high way. Such a House will be able to do all sorts of things, and it will be a proper rival to the House of Commons in a way that this House of Lords is not. There will be problems for the whole of Parliament.
Then there is the position of the Cross-Benchers who occupy an important part of the House. Subject to election, such useful Members of the House will, even if they wish to stand, find it very difficult to be elected. The loss of such a body of expertise and experience acquired before coming to this House would be a most serious loss, as my noble friend mentioned. The range of expertise that was illustrated by my noble and learned friend Lord Irvine of Lairg is of great parliamentary value. One of our enormous advantages is that people come from all sorts of areas which most of us know little about, but which add to the kind of debates we have here.
If this House were to be 80 per cent elected, let alone 100 per cent elected, the Government could have a clear majority in both Houses. The increase in their power would move our democracy to an even greater dominance by the Executive. As my noble friend Lord Cunningham said yesterday, with a partially elected House the elected would be claiming legitimacy and the other part could not. So we would not just have a division but a hierarchy in which so many people who contribute greatly to our debate, our discussions and our conclusions would not have anything like that kind of role in the future.
The House of Lords has a vital role. The Government need to win the argument in the Lords rather than use their pressure in the Commons. This increasing pressure has, as the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, so rightly said, been bringing the power of the House of Commons into decline. Very sad it is that since the departure of the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, from the House of Commons, that decline has got worse and worse. For those of us who had a very high opinion of the House of Commons, that is a matter of great sadness.
When it comes to speaking, the elected Members could claim priority and there would not be the present giving way at Questions, which is a feature of our procedure. We operate in a very sensible way. We do not have a predominance of one kind of Member or another. People get up and give way to each other even in Question Time. In such a situation, the Speaker may be called on to decide who is to be called: an issue that will bring about a fundamental change in her role. It will come rather closer to that of the Speaker in the House of Commons. Given the way in which we and the Speaker have operated, that would be a considerable loss to us all.
In this Parliament, there is no place for a partly elected House of Lords. We either have a wholly elected Chamber, with the inevitable battle between the two Houses, or we continue with the present arrangement which, like so much of our unwritten constitution, may not be defended in every detail but it works and continues to work.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord and I defer to his wisdom and experience. Indeed, he gave an introduction better than I could produce to my speech.
The Gods appear to have ordained for their pleasure that these debates and votes should ensue during the Ides of March. Auguries are not as propitious as some noble Lords might wish. But it will all take quite a bit of time—not because of delay for the sake of delay but delay to get it right. In that sense, stand-off between the Houses has not arisen and, as I see it, there is no particular anxiety that it should.
The assumption is that our unwritten constitution is to be retained. That is about the only assurance that I want from the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. That assurance goes to the root of one of the main arguments. If that is retained, the extant working relationship between the two Houses under the Parliament Act as implemented in amity by convention cannot be improved by any proposed option, other than option one. No justification is produced for improvement of that working relationship, which goes to the essence of the main argument.
The electorate—we do not have any PR in this House, as far as I am aware—has very little interest in this political power struggle generated by the White Paper, which is not a White Paper, at the behest of government. The noble Lord, Lord Williamson of Horton, referred to it as a struggle for power and the authority to use it. All that one can know about the electorate is that in an opinion the other day, 72 per cent took the view that the House as constituted was doing a pretty good job. This could only favour a wholly appointed House under option one. A hybrid House is no compromise; it was simply a Trojan horse that was stuck there to try to secure some agreement as an aid to going forward to stage two. I am afraid that the horse collapsed. In fact, I am rather glad it did. A hybrid House would engender conflict between the Houses. Even more than that, it would destroy the ethos of your Lordships’ House, to no advantage at all, and would involve the appointment of a disciplined Speaker along the lines of the Speaker in another place. Our whole ethos about giving way and not dominating, to which the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, referred, would go. Such an appointment would be the end of it. Therefore, on any showing, this is the worst possible option. It is even worse than a wholly elected Chamber.
As I understand it, the speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, acknowledged the status of the hereditaries under the Cranborne deal, and appeared to seek in the wake of this debate and vote a fresh start in the discussion on the reform of the House and what was in the best interests of the nation and both Houses under our excellent unwritten constitution, without the pale of doctrinal political pre-emption. Those are my words. They are not the words that he used; that is how I interpreted his feeling about the matter. If that is his feeling, I wholly endorse it. The speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, my noble friend Lord Wakeham and my noble and learned friend Lord Howe were in favour of a wholly appointed House, for the reasons given by them. The context was given by the speeches of the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, and other noble Lords.
Only one other matter remains for me to discuss. It has already been discussed so well that it would be a shame to try to improve on it. The speeches made this morning by the noble Baroness, Lady Symons of Vernham Dean, and my noble friend Lord Higgins set out the essence of the problem that most Back-Benchers, like me, have in this House. I am very grateful to them for the way in which they put it.
My Lords, following the surprising votes in the House of Commons last week, we are not really any more dealing with House of Lords reform; we are dealing with House of Lords abolition. In a fully elected or even a largely elected upper House, there is no room for life Peers. A life peerage will become just an honour and, as paragraph 9.36 of the White Paper states:
“The automatic link between the peerage and membership of the House of Lords should therefore come to an end”.
The House of Lords would need to be renamed as the upper House or Senate. What seems to have been overlooked is that the fundamental reform of the House of Lords was effectively achieved with the House of Lords Act 1999, which ended the in-built Conservative majority and gave control of the House to the life peerage. That is of great significance because in principle, and in spite of recent bad publicity, life Peers are by definition achievers in their respective fields of experience. That experience and expertise are available to the House in the scrutiny of new legislation. There is an absence of political ambition that inevitably would be part of an elected or partially elected Chamber.
The present House of Lords works extremely well. It is a unique reservoir of expertise and experience. The variety, depth and quality of this experience has been spoken of by many noble Lords in this debate, but it was masterfully also researched by the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, in his paper, Towards a Peerless Future. I congratulate the noble Lord and strongly recommend his paper. It should be required reading, particularly for Members of the House of Commons and the media.
In the present House, no single party has a majority and there are some 200 independent Cross-Benchers. The House acknowledges and poses no threat to the primacy of the elected House of Commons. But, surprisingly, as many have pointed out, the House of Commons seems to think that its primacy would still be respected by a fully or partially elected upper House, which is of course nonsense. As many noble Lords have noted, the present House is also a real bargain for the nation. Because we get paid only expenses when we attend, the House of Lords costs a quarter of the cost of the House of Commons. A partially or fully elected upper House would expect to be paid and would therefore cost as much as or more than the existing House of Commons.
The main criticism of the present House of Lords is its lack of democratic legitimacy. Those who believe that this can be reconciled only by the election of Members will not be satisfied until that is achieved. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Lawson of Blaby, explained yesterday and as others have mentioned, a case can a made that, as the House of Commons is the predominant, democratically elected Chamber, the upper House should be seen as an advisory rather than a legislative body. It should be composed of selected representatives of the widest possible interests and social and geographical spread who can monitor the work of the elected House and, when appropriate, ask it to think again. This essentially is what the House of Lords is now.
The existing House also has responsibility for the historical background that it has inherited. The House is generally accepted as being a long-stop guardian of our unwritten constitution. To be made a life Peer does, I imagine and hope, still carry with it a sense of duty to the state. On appointment, the new Peer is granted by the Queen the right to,
“have hold and possess a seat, place and voice in the Parliaments and Public Assemblies and Councils of Us Our heirs and successors within Our United Kingdom”.
While I believe that the basic role and structure of the House of Lords should not be changed, there are, as the noble Lord, Lord Steel, said in his speech yesterday, three areas where reform can be considered. First, should service in the House of Lords be subject to a time limit of, say, 15 years or to an age limit of, say, 80? That should be a matter for the Lords themselves to decide. If such a limit were to be introduced, it should be accompanied by an emeritus rule whereby someone playing a very positive role when due to retire could by a vote of all Peers be granted an extension of, say, up to five years.
Secondly, there is the question of the Appointments Commission. I support the views of my noble friend Lord Armstrong of Ilminster. I believe that the commission should be composed exclusively of existing Members of both Houses as follows. There should be one Member from each of the three parties in the House of Commons and one Member from each of the three parties in the House of Lords, plus two Cross-Benchers. They should select their chairman from among themselves. It is difficult to have outside members of the commission. They would be compromised if they themselves had ambitions to become life Peers. The commission’s brief should be closely defined and agreed by both Houses, and should seek to appoint expertise and experience from the broadest of disciplines and geographical and social backgrounds. The commission should ensure that there is a balance between the political parties and that no party has a majority. But it is important that its brief should not discourage the continuing appointment of former Cabinet Ministers and other Members of the House of Commons. There are currently 142 former Ministers in your Lordships’ House and their contribution is of great value.
Thirdly, I come to the question of the remaining hereditary Peers. I have had the good fortune to be one of them, but I am afraid that we are an anomaly and I believe that we should retire or be retired gracefully. However, because of the history, the House via the Appointments Commission should in future accept an agreed number of hereditary Peers who would be proposed to the commission on the basis of their individual expertise and experience. This would go some way towards preserving a very important link with history.
My Lords, the White Paper, of which we are only being asked to take note, makes no real attempt to explain why the change to an elected House while retaining our current roles would lead to better governance, scrutiny and decision-making. It does not do so because the change probably will not bring about that result. Indeed, a persuasive case can be made for saying that the result will be a move in the other direction. Neither does the White Paper seek to address the implications of a move to an elected House for the relationship between your Lordships’ House and the other place and for the working relationship between Members of your Lordships’ House and Members of the other place. It does not address that issue because to have done so might have jeopardised the likelihood of getting a majority on an elected option in the other place, which was, after all, the name of the game, not improving or even maintaining the quality of governance of the United Kingdom.
I am not prepared to vote for a change of this constitutional significance—namely, to an elected or partially elected House—when those who want the change are not prepared to put all their cards on the table and tell the full story about the changes that they are seeking to achieve and the benefits that they believe will accrue, and why. That could have been done. After all, the White Paper referred to elected Chambers in other countries and how they work, albeit totally ignoring among other things the impact of our party-political culture in this country, which is highly adversarial and rarely consensual.
The position now is that, as the full story slowly emerges about the intentions, changes and implications arising from the votes in the other place, views may change on whether this should or should not be an elected House, or the extent to which it should be elected. But it will be too late to reconsider, because the argument will be that the decision on composition has already been made in the other place and cannot be reopened. If the view is that the powers of your Lordships’ House should be strengthened so that the other place cannot pass either some or all of its legislation without the agreement of this House, then of course this would have to be an elected House. If it is not proposed to increase the virtually non-existent powers of your Lordships’ House in relation to the other place, and instead to leave it as a revising Chamber able to take a second look at proposed legislation but not able to prevent the other place from getting its own way or to make legislative decisions of its own that do not have the support of the Commons, it is difficult to see how that role is enhanced as opposed to weakened by having a House that in composition and make-up would very likely be close to a clone of the other place.
Your Lordships’ House has influence, not power, but that influence arises in significant part precisely because our composition and make-up is totally different from the other place’s, and not simply from the fact that the Government of the day cannot automatically get their legislation through unamended immediately on a whipped vote. Perhaps what will emerge on role and powers is somewhere in between the two positions that I have mentioned, in which case, and depending on what emerges, there could be a strong argument that that would both improve governance and demand a change to an elected or partially elected House. However, it is just not credible to argue that if your Lordships’ House is elected, it will not change anything in relation to powers and working relationships with the other place. To vote now for your Lordships' House to be elected or partially elected is to vote for a major change without knowing what the constitutional significance, implications and intentions of that decision will be.
An elected or significantly elected House of Lords will be as party political in its approach and outlook as the other place. If the Government of the day have a majority in this House because the House is elected on a similar basis to the other place, this House will rubber-stamp what the other place has done and the revising role will diminish considerably. If the Government of the day do not have a majority in this House and the House is an elected body, then party-political considerations will be the predominant, if not the only, factor in determining the approach of whichever parties are in government or opposition at the time, rather than a view that the role of your Lordships' House is primarily that of a revising Chamber inviting at times the other place to reconsider its view.
The result will be that the Government of the day find that this House insists on its amendments much more frequently and on many more Bills, since the restraint of being a non-elected body and thus giving way to the elected body will have gone, and the Parliament Act, with its associated delays, will have to be invoked on a regular basis. For a year or 18 months prior to the likely date of a general election, the Government of the day will find it very difficult to get any legislation through and in this area will effectively be powerless.
Whether or not one regards consistent and regular blocking and delaying of legislation as a plus or a minus in the context of effective governance will no doubt be influenced by whether one is a supporter of whatever party is in government at the time or a supporter of whatever parties are in opposition. However, to suggest, as the White Paper does, that, if your Lordships' House was an elected body, that would not change existing conventions and working relationships between the two Houses is, to say the least, optimistic.
An elected House would also mean the end of the direct link between a single Member of Parliament and his or her constituents. If your Lordships' House is elected, every elector will have at least two people in Parliament who have been elected to represent them. There are arguments for and against such a development, but it would be a major change, and one on which the White Paper chooses not to dwell.
The argument that this will be no different from the current situation between Members of Parliament and Members of the European Parliament is without substance. MPs and MEPs have totally different responsibilities and operate in totally different legislatures. We are talking about a situation in which two or more people, quite possibly from different political parties, will represent constituents and be involved in considering the same legislation, each able to raise issues with and ask questions of the same Ministers on behalf of those constituents.
That bears out the point that we are being invited to vote for something very different from what we have now, against a background of silence and secrecy or ignorance about the likely and intended ramifications and constitutional implications. That is no basis for making major constitutional change. While I recognise that the other place will probably force through its intentions without regard to the likely views of your Lordships' House, I would not wish to be in a position of having voted for a probably irreversible significant change in one area—an elected or partially elected House—in the absence of any agreement or understanding about what that decision would mean for the surely not unimportant consideration of its impact on improving the quality of governance and decision-making and law-making in this country.
My Lords, the vote in the other place last week did not come as a great surprise to me, but it makes most of the White Paper irrelevant. I sensed that the result was inevitable, given the way in which the Prime Minister has treated the constitution and this House. Furthermore, we seem to have forgotten that four years ago in the other place, the 80 per cent elected option was defeated by only three votes, and the calls for an elected Chamber have since increased. However, the Government do not like the 100 per cent elected option which received such a thumping majority last week. It was the result they wanted least.
This debate has been fascinating for anyone who is interested in human nature and our inherent desire to retain control over what we have. I have listened on numerous occasions to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor telling us to abide by the will of the other place. It is elected—we are not. It has primacy—until it does not suit us. What a different speech he gave yesterday as he tried to put clear water between their decision, the Government’s preferred solution and how we might vote tomorrow. It was a joy to listen to. I hope that the noble and learned Lord will continue his new independent spirit for some time to come.
In the White Paper, there is no criticism of the way in which we perform our function and no argument as to why this House should be reformed, except that it should be. It is all the weaker for that. I remember well having my ear bent as a Minister and having to defend the role of this House to fellow Ministers in another place after we had suffered another defeat or given way to the strength of opinion here. Some of those Ministers are now in this House, and having understood the work that we do, have made impassioned speeches in its defence. I welcome their Damascene conversion and only wish that I could have been a brighter light to them in the past. However, it is inevitable that an unelected Chamber, amending one’s legislation, will always rankle with Ministers in another place.
We were told in 1999 that stage 2 reform would be comprehensive, was inevitable and would happen quickly, which is why elections to replace deceased hereditary Peers did not really matter. Interestingly, yesterday and today, we have heard from those same noble Lords that this House is doing a valuable job: we work hard and conscientiously; we improve the quality of Parliament and have a high standard of debate; and we complement the House of Commons and are the paragon of what a second Chamber should be. Many have argued that they are,
“fully convinced that the country possessed a legislative which answered all the good purposes of legislation”.
Actually, those were the words of the Duke of Wellington in 1830 as he tried to stop the Reform Bill. One of the reasons for opposition to it was that the wrong type of person would be elected to Parliament and distinguished experts would no longer find a place. Nothing has changed but the speakers, and the fears of the Duke were as unfounded as the fears expressed yesterday and today.
Similarly, the arguments used in this debate for staying as we are are exactly those used by many hereditary Peers in 1999 when they were so ungraciously ejected from this Chamber. Some, though I fully agree not all, had worked long, hard, conscientiously and, if we want to discuss costs, with considerably less expense allowance than we receive eight years later. The role of this House has not changed since then and, although the composition is slightly different, it is doing neither a better nor worse job. I also believe that the votes against the Government would not have been much different if the 1999 reforms had not taken place. In this respect, there is little difference in my mind between a Peer recently appointed by the Prime Minister for whatever reason and the descendent of a Peer appointed by King James II of Scotland.
My preferred option for reform would be to look at both Houses together, but that is not the proposition before us. We are discussing only reform of this House, so I must focus on that. Logically, there are two options that would work satisfactorily in the long term: a wholly appointed House or a wholly elected Chamber. I remain of the opinion that I had in 1999—namely, that this House is doing a good job—but I believe also that it can and should do a better one. To do that, it needs to change its composition. For the sake of good governance in the UK, it should hold the other place to account. That might at least induce some badly needed reform at that end.
As has been said, the genie is out of the bottle. So is the Labour Party going to be true to its manifestos, as the noble Lord, Lord Richard, asked? As he knows better than me, his party has changed its mind on numerous issues. It would not surprise me if it changed it again on this.
As a nation, we are encouraging, and in some cases forcing, democracy on other countries around the world, but we seem to be scared of allowing it here. I welcome in principle the vote in another place, but there is a mass of devils in the detail which need to be got right in the next stage, otherwise the Government will succeed in their aim of neutering the role of the second Chamber. I plead with my noble friend Lord Strathclyde not to enter into any side deal, as was done in 1998, because that restricted debate here and the way we operated to an almost untenable extent.
The consequences, both expected and unexpected, of a change of this magnitude will be huge, and include the reform of the Parliament Acts. Does the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor agree with many of us that this should be the subject of a referendum?
The key question for me is what consistencies there should be if we had an elected House. I should like to see an electoral system based on the Senate in the USA, whereby each state has two members, whether it is Delaware or California. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, seems to have forgotten that there has been devolution. Although I have 16 elected representatives in Parliament, like many in rural areas I am still suffering an odd type of democratic deficit. My nearest of seven MEPs is 4.5 hours drive away, which is equivalent to someone in London having a representative in York or Lancaster. The nearest of my eight MSPs is 1.5 hours away, but my MP is locally based. It is not surprising, therefore, that he does so much constituency work.
I believe that we should go back to something like the old county system of the 1980s, before the local government reforms, and each area should elect two Members to serve here. To use the existing local government boundaries would continue the urban domination and, in my case, the nearest Member would undoubtedly be in Inverness, some 2.5 hours drive away. Reform of this House offers a great opportunity to strengthen and in some cases restore the link between the people and Parliament.
I ask the noble and learned Lord to look at paragraphs 9.33 to 9.35 of the White Paper, restricting former Members of the House of Lords in standing as MPs. Can he explain why what is sauce for the goose is not also sauce for the gander? I rather agree with those paragraphs, but surely it should work both ways.
We shall never reach unanimity on this subject but, if there is to be any reform, it must lead to a strong second Chamber. The other place has seen a lot of its power seep away to Brussels, Edinburgh and Cardiff and is not doing the work that it should. What it needs is to be challenged and only an elected second Chamber with sufficient powers—and that is my caveat to my support for that principle—can do that effectively.
My Lords, it has been a pretty impressive two days of debate, and I venture into this debate with some hesitation, not least because I still regard myself as a comparatively new kid on the block. I was one of the first wave of 15 Peers selected by the newly established Lords Appointments Commission, the first samples of a new breed—introduced, it is hard to believe, only six years ago. However, one of the things that has prompted me to say something is that I have had the privilege—the advantage, indeed—of having been, in the role of a politically interested spouse, an observer, over more years than I care to remember, of just how both Houses and their inhabitants operate and behave.
I have one very simple, not new, but important point to make—that this House is very different from the other place. The inhabitants are different, too, and we behave differently. Why? It is because we have different functions to perform. That difference is very easily explained: it is in the Parliament Act. The noble Lord, Lord Saatchi, called for its repeal before further changes and, of course, he is right about that, because it is the other place, the elected House that takes the final decisions and has the last word. I suspect that not one of us, in either House, really wants to change that.
The Houses themselves have been changing. Membership of the other place, for example, has become more and more dominated by professional politicians with considerably less experience than previously in the outside world of successful achievements in other careers and professions. So, increasingly, it has been more and more important to offer them advice, from very different points of view—independent advice, based upon a range of expertise and experience unparalleled in any other legislature in the world.
I am constantly amazed—indeed humbled—when I contemplate the diverse expertise of the colleagues who were appointed with me: people like Lord Chan, so sadly no longer with us, who brought regional as well as ethnic diversity—a Chinaman from Merseyside—as well as a very distinctive medical expertise; or my noble friend Lady Finlay of Llandaff, who will address us later this evening, who brings from Wales her own immensely energetic and knowledgeable blend of academic and medical skills; or my noble friend Lord Hannay—by no means the only one of his kind, but with hugely impressive international insights.
To take much more recent examples, my noble friends Lord Low and Lord Bilimoria have already spoken today and are taking an active role in your Lordships’ House. Last, but not least, my noble friend Lord Ramsbotham is the winner of this year’s Channel 4 award for campaigning parliamentarian of the year for his outstanding contribution to debates and Bills on penal reform. Then there is the other, even wider, diversity of colleagues who have arrived here by other well tried routes including the political parties, of course, and the right reverend Prelates with their connectedness, as they put it, with both our national traditions and every corner of your Lordships’ country.
Two consequences of that diversity are worth emphasising. First, there is an increasing number of women Peers; a higher proportion of life Peers than MPs are women. They have been able to make contributions based upon their extensive practical experience of NGOs, as well as their professional lives and backgrounds. Secondly, there is the unique contribution that continues to be made by our legal fraternity. Their role today is even more valuable, as other noble Lords have said, with so many Bills being passed on to us by the other place with most of their clauses wholly unexamined. I have often voiced the view, perhaps partly to tease my noble kinsman, that the world contains far too many lawyers. That is certainly not the case in your Lordships’ House. I have vividly in mind an early experience of the domestic violence Bill in Committee, in which the late Lord Donaldson would from time to time question whether a particular clause would be interpreted by the courts in the way that everyone—including the two noble Baronesses leading for the Government and Opposition—had assumed. The effect was electric and, almost without exception, appropriate changes were made to the Bill before Report stage.
Perhaps most significant for me in today’s House is that all our votes have the same weight and are as good as each other. That was not the position before 1999, with its built-in hereditary Tory majority. Until then, it was easy for critics to separate the so-called sheep from the goats—the hereditaries from the rest—and so discount the results accordingly. That does not happen today. For me, that is the most striking thing about this House: the extent to which we are able, and do, work together as partners in a common cause, regardless of our origins.
That priceless pattern of mutual respect, that invaluable parity of esteem—if I may borrow a phrase from the long-running education debate—would be fatally damaged by the introduction of a totally different tranche of elected members. They would not hesitate—or if they did for a moment or two, the media would not—to claim their elected status as conferring extra so-called legitimacy upon them, thus discounting our own contributions. This House would once again be divided, with its authority correspondingly diminished, and we should have lost all the ground gained since 1999.
Thus far, I have tried to underline the benefits, as they appear to me, of the present system of appointing Members of this House. It is notable, as other noble Lords have observed, that the so-called “cash for peerages” mischief only came to light because of the work of the commission established in this very context. That underlines how perverse it is to exploit that scandal as an excuse for replacing us all with elected Members. But, given the vital role it played, your Lordships should certainly have no difficulty in agreeing that the commission has more than earned its right to be given statutory status.
It follows that I regard as totally misconceived the notion so casually commended in the first Division in the other place: the replacement of this House by a second, entirely elected, Chamber. That strikes me as so thoughtless and reckless a proposal as to destroy entirely the credibility of any of the other alternatives. Accordingly, I shall vote for an entirely nominated Chamber, and against all the alternatives.
My Lords, I am 40th in a list of 70. We have reached the stage of the debate where everything that can be said has been said, but not everyone has said it. Therefore I shall give my explanation of my vote.
My vote is simply for an all-appointed Chamber, with safeguards, including the Appointments Commission. I shall do so not just on the principle that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it—I do not suggest that there is no room for improvement, and noble Lords in earlier contributions have made suggestions for that—but essentially because an elected Chamber, the alternative to an appointed Chamber, has far greater disadvantages than the current arrangement.
I stand amazed at my own consistency. To protect myself I looked up my vote in the equivalent position in February 2003, and note that I again voted for an all-appointed Chamber and for nothing else. At least I protect my back on that. I also recognise that, following last week’s vote in the other place, there has been a fundamental change in the political context. The change since the vote in February 2003 has presumably been influenced by the change of membership after the last election, with new Members influenced by their first experience of ping-pong and consequent late hours, but also by the current allegations of cash for honours.
Some say that the final majority for an all-elected Chamber was due to deliberate sabotage by those favouring no change—but that is not so clear. We cannot be sure of the motives of those who voted so overwhelmingly for an all-elected Chamber. It is surely quite a respectable position to hold that the only logical alternative to 100 per cent appointed is 100 per cent elected, and that hybrid solutions, of whatever balance, are inherently unstable and will not last.
Indeed, last week’s vote marked a major change from our usual pattern of constitutional development, broadening down from precedent to precedent. I suspect that many in that overwhelming majority ignored the subtle interrelationship between the component parts of our constitution, as well as the many unintended consequences that follow; not only the step on the road to disestablishment of the Church of England, but also a major step on the road to a written constitution, with a constitutional court and judges appointed for their perceived political leanings.
In a perfect world, there should perhaps have been a constitutional convention, looking not only at the relationship between the two Houses but also at that between Westminster and the devolved Administrations, as well as reform of the other place itself. But that comprehensive approach is not the way we do constitutions in this country, however compelling the case may be for that convention. To suggest it now would be considered as just another delaying tactic. In my judgment the debate last week ignored the argument that if we seek such a radical change we cannot limit the exercise; we cannot fail to look in the mirror and see the need for reform of the other Chamber as well.
What should be the guiding principles of reform? Fundamental should be the aim of preserving the best of your Lordships’ House today, after the 1999 reforms, as a deliberative and revising Chamber, with opportunities for second thoughts for Government and Opposition. It is one of our key constitutional checks and balances. This House is an expert Chamber, a point very well made by the noble Baroness, Lady Howe. We are also a less partisan Chamber.
Mr Straw argued that the reforms would preserve the primacy of the other place. That can surely only be partly true. Yes, the other place will elect the Prime Minister and retain the power of the purse, but elections are bound to create a second Chamber that is more assertive and more likely to challenge the other place.
What, then, are the claimed advantages of a wholly or partially elected Chamber? These include that the second Chamber will be more legitimate and more accountable. That legitimacy will depend on the level of participation at elections. If few vote, the legitimacy will be correspondingly reduced. Further, if there is PR on a party list in large constituencies, on the European election model, there will be only limited accountability to the electorate. A totally elected Chamber will lose part of its expertise. The noble Baroness, Lady Howe, gave a litany of those on the Cross Benches who make a substantial contribution. Even if, as seems unlikely, many senior figures from the professions are prepared to take a party label to get into a wholly elected second Chamber, it is even more unlikely that they will be selected at party caucuses or selected high enough on the party lists to be elected. We saw an illustration of the idea that new elections would draw on a totally different reservoir of talent in the elections to the Welsh Assembly.
Again, if there is, say, a 12-year term, how will that make those in the elected Chamber more accountable? What sanctions will there be if they fail to attend or attend only fitfully? What happens if they switch parties? What accountability is there at the end of their 12-year term when they do not have to face the electorate again? Even with open lists, there will not be much transparency. Even if the lists are open, it will be difficult in multi-Member constituencies for the electorate really to know the candidates and to move the position of those candidates in the list. The real choice will again be left to the ever-reducing selectorate of the political parties. So, much will depend on the process of selection and the voting system. I am very sceptical of the claims for greater legitimacy and greater accountability.
Obviously, any solution is a matter of balance and there is no perfect balance of all the relevant factors. One hundred per cent elected ignores the very special contribution that Cross-Benchers make to the quality of debate. Today’s debate is surely only the starting point of what promises to be a long march and a long process with several votes along the way. Like the vote in the other place, tomorrow’s vote will be only an expression of opinion on the ideal solutions. Later there may have to be compromise. Then I and others may have seriously to consider voting for the less attractive option of 80:20. For now, I shall vote only for option one—an all-appointed Chamber as amended.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, talked of the starting point. I suggest to your Lordships that my great-grandfather was probably only at a middle point when he talked to Lord Salisbury in the late 1880s, knowing and accepting that the then House of Lords was not legitimate. They talked about the fact that we could not go on having a hereditary House.
Listening to the speeches I was irresistibly reminded of the late and blessed Lord Longford, who many years ago wrote a book totally appropriately called, Humility. We are in danger of showing Lord Longford’s humility, which is called saying how wonderful we are. I have heard speech after speech saying how wonderful we are. In 1911 the last-ditchers led by Lord Willoughby de Broke also said how wonderful they were and how well the—
My Lords, I do not think that we went that far; there was not a queue of noble Lords.
I then come to the question of why I am here. Many will say that they can see no possible valid reason; but the reason I am here, which is the same for my noble friends Lord Lucas and Lord Caithness, and the other hereditary Peers, was to make sure that there was not a completely appointed House. That is why Lord Cranborne did his deal; to make sure that there could be no fully appointed House. We should therefore not be going down the line of having a fully appointed House. I remember my noble friend Lord Ferrers at the time pointing out that when we went, the next people on the line would be the life Peers, and they all said, “No, no, it will pass by on the other side”. Now what has happened? Lo and behold, the life Peers are also facing an element of chop. They are actually finding it much less pleasant than even we did, which is why they have all been taking on what I could call the Longford role.
We have been talking a lot about Commons supremacy. Of course the Commons has supremacy. The Prime Minister can be Prime Minister only if he commands a majority in the House of Commons. In around 1340, your Lordships’ House decided that it did not want to be involved in taxing subtenants, and said to the king, “No, we are not going to have anything to do with taxing, thank you very much. If you want to go and beat up the French with longbows on the Continent, get our subtenants to volunteer to pay for it properly, rather than asking us to tell them to pay for it”. That is why the Commons has supremacy in taxation.
Furthermore, there are the Parliament Acts. I enter a slight caveat on the Parliament Act, because I believe that in the Law Lords’ judgment on the then Hunting Bill there is a very slight caveat that messing about with this House against its will may not be Parliament Act-able. I am sure that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will be able to correct me if I am wrong on that, but I am pretty certain that it is there, so we have to be careful about that. That is the only place. There is obviously the extension of the life of the Commons.
We do have a written constitution; everything that we know about the constitution is written down somewhere. It is just not all written on one piece of paper. We cannot write it on one piece of paper—well, we could—because of precedent and no Parliament being able to bind its successor. We have a written constitution.
I therefore come down in favour of a hybrid House because, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, said, this House has been hybrid for 800 years. Hybridity is present here. We elected Peers, as one likes to say as a joke, are one source; the appointed majority are another; there are Law Lords and there are Bishops, all of whom come through a different process of arrival. There is nothing new in hybridity. Before, in the days of hereditary peerage, there were the Scots elected peerage on one side and the Irish on another, and before that there were the abbots and the Bishops of the church. There is nothing new in hybridity.
I strongly feel that we should be able to allow people in some way to appoint Peers for a bit. That is what it is. It is not election; it is people appointing a Peer. The suggestion of the semi-open list is anathema. That is far worse than anything else that has been contemplated. That is the worst of all methods of election. If we have Peers appointed by a process of election, the argument made by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, and others, that they cannot be accountable, falls away. If you carry that argument to its logical conclusion, Members of the House of Commons who are elected and say that they are not going to stand at the next election immediately lose their legitimacy. They do not; some people are not going to stand again, and it does not stop them being legitimate.
The bane of Parliament is the over-control of parties, so we would have to devise—now is not the time for me to go into it—a system whereby the election of people was more divorced from parties. If you do that, you will see the continuation of the process. The House now uses its powers much more frequently. I am open to correction but I believe that, since 1999, this House has defeated the Government on opposed resolutions about 800 times, and the Government have accepted about 400 of those. I am in danger of changing my name to Lord Longford, but we are doing a better job than we did when composition was completely illegitimate.
I want this House to have arguments with the House of Commons; I want it to make life difficult for government. If we have an elected element, we will be able to do that. It is not right that a king’s Government can always get the business that they want. I do not suggest that we go back to when Pitt proposed both the abolition of the slave trade and a reform Bill—I think that it was 1788—and lost both of them; those are major government Bills. However, it is not necessary that every Government should get through everything written in their manifesto, which may be out of date five minutes later. We must make law-passing more difficult for Governments, not easier. I hope that we will be much more inclined to go back to a balanced Whig constitution, which is what my forebears fought for in 1688.
My Lords, I think that I bat at 99, a number I associate with sweet confectionary. The century will soon be up.
I feel that I must respect—and I do—the strong democratic urge now manifest in another place, but respect alone is insufficient reason for this House to set off on a journey into the unknown, a journey with as yet no clarity at all about the ultimate destination.
There are many conceivable designs for a parliament and few obvious rights and wrongs—one Chamber or two, or different combinations of function, powers, composition and accountability. Our constitutional architecture has evolved. Even if, starting from here, we would not set out to invent it, the current parliamentary system has many advantages. The national will, when it makes one of its periodic shifts, can produce decisive single-party Governments in the first Chamber, with a powerful following wind for reform. That is a strength. On the other hand, the strengths of this largely appointed House are its bedrock of experience and expertise, and its independence of spirit. As such, this House is a counterweight to the growing professionalisation of politics—to the narrowing of experience evident in all parties in the first Chamber. It is a counterweight too to the inevitable conformity born of party discipline.
As almost everyone has said, this House is essentially an advisory body, a revising Chamber. It has few powers. Its advice can be ignored, even if invariably it is not. If we wished, we could continue to tinker with the existing model to make it work even more effectively. It appears to be common ground that we need an appointments system which vouchsafes that the best possible candidates are appointed to this House on all Benches. Secondly, even if as individuals some hereditary Peers clearly deserve to be here on personal merit—I hope some will remain—there can be no possible justification for the continuation of the hereditary principle, if the rationale for membership of this House is expertise and merit.
Thirdly, I cannot see the justification for the bloc appointment to this House of members of the established church. We are now resoundingly a multi-faith society, and increasingly a society of no faith. If we are to refine and improve the existing system, we would need a balanced representation of faith and conviction, and we need such voices to take their places among the Cross-Benchers, not on special Benches of their own.
Fourthly and finally, I would be content if a truly advisory and appointed House, deepening and extending its expertise and capability, had reduced powers to delay legislation. However, after last week’s vote, any thought of improving the present model may be pie in the sky; but if the principle of largely or wholly elected membership of the second Chamber proves paramount, we must surely stop, pause and think.
We should proceed no further unless and until there is a clear, comprehensive and coherent proposition on the table, covering not just the composition but the functions, powers and accountability of both Houses of Parliament. At that point, we will need a persuasive case explaining why a new parliamentary system will perform more effectively than the old—why it will produce better governance of the United Kingdom.
If such an argument is made in the future, and if it is compelling, I may place my vote for fundamental constitutional reform. In the mean time, and in the complete absence of any such argument, I shall vote only for the continuation of a system which, even if it can be improved, is of considerable constitutional merit.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Birt, for doing the count so that I know I am number 100 on the speakers list. I count with my noble friend Lord Goodhart that, out of the previous 20 speakers, only three were, like me, in favour of a wholly or mainly elected House. I was beginning to feel a bit lonely until the splendid speech of the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, for which I thank him very much.
Noble Lords may think that this two-day debate on our future is long enough, but it is a mere hors d’œuvre in comparison with the meal our predecessors made of the Parliament Bill in 1911. I revisited the splendid account of the passage of that Bill that summer contained in the biography of Asquith by my old boss, Roy Jenkins, to see what we could learn for the historic challenge that we face 96 years on. He wrote:
“The Lords turned distastefully to the Parliament Bill in the last week of May, and proceeded after a three-day debate to give it a Second Reading without a Division. But it was made clear that this emollient attitude was only a prelude to severe amendment in Committee. Knowledge of the exact severity of the amendments, however, was not available until after a Whitsun Recess lengthened to include the Coronation”.
There was no danger of burnout through overwork in those days. Roy Jenkins’s account continued:
“The Lords returned to the Parliament Bill on June 28th and proceeded in six committee days to make a massacre of the Government’s intentions”.
The King then made it clear that he was prepared to create as many new Peers as were necessary; Asquith had a list of 249 “men of liberal conviction” in his pocket, and,
“from this point the battle became an internal one within the Unionist party”.
The battle continued and the final Division was taken at 10.30 pm on 10 August, when the House decided not to insist on its amendments. Most Unionists abstained. The Parliament Act became law and the King left London to join the Duke of Devonshire’s shooting party at Bolton Abbey.
What can we learn from that? Listen to Roy Jenkins’s devastating analysis of the tactics of Lansdowne, the Unionist leader in the Lords:
“He neither dug in for resistance à outrance nor prepared himself for retreat. He merely decided to stay where he was for as long as he could in the hope that delay might shift the dispute onto slightly different ground and enable the powers of the Lords to be preserved. He started on a course which six months later was to lead him into a position of humiliating weakness”.
Substitute “composition” for “powers” in that passage and that is precisely the position today. The House of Commons has spoken loud and clear. We now know that this House will inevitably become wholly or mainly elected. We in this place can either accept the primacy of the Commons in its decision and argue and engage constructively with it, or we can forget 1911, turn ourselves, and force the Commons to ram through with the Parliament Act, as it will, a blueprint for a reformed Chamber on which we will have had little or no say.
I want us to preserve the best of our traditions and pass on to a democratic Chamber all we can of the independence of thought, expertise, rational debate and painstaking process of revision and scrutiny that I have valued more with each of the seven years that I have been in this place. Although I will vote for both options, there is a good case for preferring the 80 per cent elected and 20 per cent appointed option to a wholly elected House, but only on the basis that all party-political appointments end and all new independent or Cross-Bench Peers are appointed by a totally independent statutory commission.
Either way, the timing and method of elections to this House must be carefully planned to give the maximum freedom to individual voters to choose which candidates they prefer—women, rather than men, for example. We want a system that is achievable, whereby well known Members of this House, for example the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, could be elected without official party backing. To ensure a reasonable turnout without making elections to this House a sideshow of a general election to the other place, I propose a “Super Thursday” election day in June every five years, with elections to the second Chamber, the European Parliament and local councils—the local council elections having been moved from May.
If 20 per cent of the membership of our House continued to be appointed, we could still ensure, as the right reverend prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford put it,
“that the many voices of the faiths and the Churches are heard in this place”.
He was right to say:
“Many voices, including some crucial religious ones, need to be heard in the shaping of our public life”.—[Official Report, 12/3/07; cols. 475-76.]
However, we should not take the word “crucial” too literally. If a fully reformed House ends with about 100 appointed Members, as it would, there could not be room for even 16 Bishops from a single faith established in only one of the four nations of the United Kingdom. Of course, the statutory Appointments Commission will need to ensure that the Church of England is properly represented along with the many other Christian denominations. Lately, there has been talk that anti-Semitism is again rearing its ugly head in our country. What a boon it would be to have the Chief Rabbi or an equally authoritative voice of Judaism in our House. A statutory commission should work hard also to let more Hindu and Muslim voices be heard—and I do not believe that we have a single Sikh. I was encouraged, in church last Sunday, to make these points by a retired occupant of the Bishops’ Bench.
If we want to work towards a smooth transition to a mainly elected House, personal Prime Ministerial patronage must stop. The Government’s White Paper argues against it; three out of every five Peers—366 out of 614 in this House—have been appointed under Mr Blair. That is enough of a legacy for anyone. We die off steadily at about 20 a year—six so far in 2007—so a smooth transition to a House elected by thirds every five years is manageable without compulsory redundancies, but only as long as there are no new appointments. If Mr Blair drew up a resignation Honours List, after all, it could look pretty odd. Would it include post-dated peerages, pending possible prosecutions? No, the Prime Minister should abide by the decision of the House of Commons.
I return to the words of my mentor Roy Jenkins. He praised Asquith’s moulding of events from 1909 to 1911, which, he said,
“amounted to a masterly display of political nerve and patient determination. Compared with Lansdowne’s sullen lack of foresight or Balfour’s casual indecisiveness, his leadership was outstanding”.
That is what the forces of reform need today. The leadership of all three parties is on our side. We have a clear vote in the House of Commons behind us and we will win. The only question for your Lordships’ House is whether, after what amounts to a two-day cry of pain—that is what this debate really is—we will roll up our sleeves and get on with what we do best: revising, scrutinising and improving the 2008 or 2009 Parliament Bill when it comes from the Commons. In that way, we can really shape our future. But, if we spit into the political wind, as in 1911, we will fail our Parliament and our people.
My Lords, at this stage of the debate, when everything that might be said has been said and probably will be said again, I start by saying that I agree with the right honourable Member for Blackburn, the Leader of the House of Commons, that, in order to resolve the current debate about the composition of the second Chamber, we must seek compromise. We need to do that because it matters to the country that there is general support for constitutional change of this kind. Equally, we need to be clear that compromise is not necessarily achieved by triangulation. Triangulation can achieve something quite different which is not compromise at all.
In the debate in another place, the right honourable Member for Manchester Gorton, unlike his neighbour, the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, disparaged most of his Members of the European Parliament—I had the good fortune to be one between 1999 and 2004. But he was not entirely wrong on everything; he rightly commented that there are only three logical ways to get us from where we are now—that is, to abolish the second Chamber, to have an all-elected Chamber or to have an all-nominated Chamber.
Despite the few remarks that I heard earlier this evening, I believe that unicameralism is now, rightly, off the agenda. The proper choice in principle, I believe, is between a nominated or appointed Chamber, for each of which I can see perfectly respectable arguments. Of course, both cannot be the best answer or, indeed, the answer that we achieve.
As part of the background to this constitutional debate, one of the givens, put forward by both the Government and the other place, is that the powers of the House of Commons will remain as they are now vis-à-vis this House; but in a paraphrase of the celebrated words of Mandy Rice-Davies, “They would, wouldn’t they?”. Of course, as we are a revising and amending Chamber, I think that one is at least allowed to raise the possibility of questioning that. No doubt, that will be the position at the start, possibly entrenched by statute and convention, but, over time, it is inevitable that that may change, and it certainly would change with an elected Chamber. After all, conventions and the Parliament Acts have strengthened the House of Commons on the back of popular support and, if there were a change of allegiance in that popular support, it could be reversed.
During my 10 years, over a 15-year period, in the European Parliament, I have seen that elected Chamber flex its muscles. Incrementally and inexorably, it has acquired more political power in the system of EU governance. I believe that any election to this place will get that process under way, but I am not sure that that would be a bad thing. After all, why not? Parliament not the House of Commons is sovereign in this country, and it is politics that has given the House of Commons its current pre-eminence. For my part, I see no sacramental significance in that position. Times can change things and that might even strengthen Parliament. It is all a matter of “Events, dear boy”.
It is possible to envisage membership of an elected second Chamber becoming a more and more attractive option than membership of the House of Commons, dominated by the party Whips and shackled down by constituency duties. In my own case, many years ago I was approached by a Conservative constituency chairman about a safe seat, where I would have been a strong candidate for nomination. But he said to me, “If you go forward, you must make it clear that you would renounce the peerage you would inherit on your father’s death”. I thought about that and I declined. I think that, on balance, that has been one of the best decisions that I have made in my life. I have had a much more rewarding and, I hope, constructive life as a result.
However, in the case of an elected Chamber, we do not know enough about the constituencies proposed or the relationship that constituents might expect with those who represent them. When I was a Member of the European Parliament, my constituency in north-west England was the size of a small country. On that scale, it is absolutely impossible to enlarge the traditional relationship that exists between a Member of the House of Commons and his constituents. If we are to have constituencies and election, how will the relationship between the electors and the elected work? We need to know that kind of answer.
Equally, having exercised a dual mandate, it seems to me that politicians with constituents conduct politics very differently from the way those without constituents do. It is a case of oil and water, and, as is well known, the two do not go well together. Therefore, I believe that any significant hybridity will erode the effectiveness of the second Chamber.
Mention has also been made of conflict between elected representatives in the same or overlapping constituencies. I can vouch for that from first-hand experience. It is especially bad with those in one’s own party. I speak with feeling about that as an ex-leader of five Conservative Members of the European Parliament in north-west England between 1999 and 2004, which was not a happy time to be a Tory Euro-politician.
I do not believe that the current round of debate about reforming the second Chamber of our Parliament will bring any form of closure. There is no “best answer”, and all change inevitably brings loss as well as gain. The composition and character of Parliament have always depended, as they do now and will in the future, on circumstances. Indeed, I feel a bit like an observer of the massed armies locked together in a titanic struggle on the Western Front in the first half of 1918. Many have forgotten how and why we got there, but in front of us a massive conflict is raging and it is now in intellectual stalemate in the nation as a whole. Neither side can mount a knockout breakthrough, but, at some point, it will come.
We need a lot more concrete material to work with and think about, and we need to move the debate away from generalisations, which I believe are one of the causes of this stalemate, to specifics, which I suspect will be the way to break it. In the mean time, I shall vote, as I did on the previous occasion, in a spirit of compromise for both the wholly elected second Chamber and the wholly nominated House, and I shall eschew the third way—the hybrid options, which offer something quite different and not a compromise at all.
My Lords, I have enjoyed the privilege of serving in your Lordships’ House for almost 10 years. During that time, I have witnessed some pretty significant events, many of which have revolved around reform of the composition of this House. The most significant was of course the removal of the bulk of our hereditary colleagues in November 1999. That was a somewhat sad but entirely inevitable development. The same may well be true of the eventual outcome of today’s debate.
My right honourable friend the Leader in another place has, on more than one occasion, cautioned us not to allow the best to be the enemy of the good. As a former film producer, I know that to be very good advice. But do we really know what the “best” might look like, and can anyone claim that what is being offered genuinely qualifies as “good”, as opposed to a somewhat empty symbolic gesture?
I have been very fortunate over the past few years, as chairman of a Hansard Society commission, in having the opportunity to take a look at a whole range of possibilities for parliamentary reform. For me, this debate is critical because it helps to highlight the fact that the electorate of this country are being encouraged to believe that, in some magical way, changes in the composition of this House will, of themselves, create a more effective form of democratic legitimacy and therefore better governance.
That is seriously idle thinking. It leaves me wondering what last week’s voting figures would have looked like had the successful Motion been accompanied by a simultaneous commitment to a 500-seat House of Commons. Here is a very sensible development that most constitutional experts have been advocating for as long as I can remember. However, if noble Lords find that concept too ambitious, how about tying reform of the second Chamber to a package of changes designed to ensure that all new legislation is carefully and competently scrutinised before finding its way to this House?
This is no ploy. My motive is not to wreck, hinder or delay reform—quite the opposite. But I want to put the optimum amount of pressure on another place to reform and improve its own structures and working practices. I cannot be the only person who feels that there is something myopic in the willingness of Members of another place to debate, with no apparent embarrassment, the future of this House while remaining reluctant to analyse critically the future of their own.
In truth, I have been fairly shaken by the degree of ignorance, or possibly just intellectual apathy, that has characterised the reporting of events leading to today’s debate. The media, with a few honourable exceptions, have failed to grasp the fact that any successful reform of this Chamber can be of value only as part of a well thought through commitment to significantly improved legislative practice across the whole of Parliament. And that should not just happen within Parliament; there must also be a commitment towards a significantly improved and far more responsive relationship between the electorate and their elected representatives.
To pretend that an effective legislature, equipped to deal with the enormous challenges of the 21st century, is, as if by osmosis, going to emerge somehow from the uprooting of this Chamber is simply a fantasy. I fully expect that I shall eventually pick up my P45 and leave this place. I have no especial problem with that, although like that national treasure, the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, I shall greatly miss this place.
The concept of an elected Chamber, in whatever form is finally agreed, is one that I do not in principle resile from, although clearly its precise form and function will have to be thrashed out over time. But before I go I intend to use all my remaining energy to ensure that the message gets out to the electorate to remain extremely wary of what the late Lord Hailsham described as a shift towards an elective dictatorship. The long-term future of Parliament is far too important to be reduced to a sideshow, over-influenced by allegations regarding the so-called cash-for-peerages scandal.
A lot of very sensible things have been said during the debate. I hope that people are listening, because if this House holds its nerve the result could be a clear commitment to parliamentary or perhaps even constitutional reform as a whole. An improved form of parliamentary democracy should be the natural consequence of a coherent series of proposals, set out in the form of either an informed referendum or transparent commitments from each of the major parties in their manifestos at the next election. At that point, and only at that point, could we all leave this place with entirely clear consciences. In the mean time, I shall vote for a fully appointed Chamber in the hope of achieving my eventual ambition.
My Lords, many noble Lords, in particular my noble and learned friend Lord Howe of Aberavon and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, have already fully and persuasively argued the case for an all-appointed House. They have explained the merits and the advantages of an appointed House in relation to its role, which is different from that of the other place. It is not a matter of how good or how much better we are; this House is different and has a different job. The noble and learned Lords have highlighted the difficulties arising from a hybrid House and the fundamental change in the long-established relationship between your Lordships’ House and the other place that would be created by a wholly or largely elected House, to say nothing of the false accountability of Members here being elected, by courtesy of a party list, for 15 years with no need to seek re-election.
At this stage of the debate, I shall not try your Lordships by repeating all the arguments, save to say that I entirely agree with what has been said. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth, who has already done so much to promote the cause of an appointed House, will comprehensively address towards the end of the debate the issues that have been raised.
If in 2007 we were starting with a blank sheet of paper, we would not create this House, but that is not what we are doing. Some seek to change the arrangements at which we have arrived after 700 or 800 years of history and constitutional development. We are where we are. My noble friend Lord Strathclyde referred to the preservation of the ethos of the House, something for which the hereditary peerage can claim credit. The original life appointees to the House were wise enough to accept it and we who came much later were fortunate enough to inherit and benefit from it. The retention of the 92 current elected hereditary Peers as life Peers in a wholly appointed House would ensure that continuity and link between the old House of Lords and the reformed House. The notion that the manner of our working could easily, if at all, be transferred to a House formed by a totally different process is optimistic, as is the notion that the supremacy of the House of Commons could be maintained in the face of a wholly, or largely, elected House.
The advocates of election seek a strengthened House with greater power, but that argument has to be at odds with Commons primacy. Equally unrealistic is the idea that the same conventions as those to which we currently subscribe could or should apply, a point made yesterday very eloquently and clearly by the noble Lord, Lord Cunningham of Felling. He emphasised that the recommendation in his committee’s report was on the basis of the current composition. In opening the debate, and while not supporting any one particular option, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, said:
“This process of scrutiny and change is effected in the main without significant delay and without gridlock between the two Houses. It is a beneficial part of our constitution. From time to time, the process is attended by tensions between the two Houses, but the conventions are observed. Legislation is amended by your Lordships’ House and the Government get their business”.—[Official Report, 12/3/07; col. 453.]
We should be under no illusions that the media coverage of the whole so-called cash-for-peerages affair has been damaging, but in this debate, as we were reminded by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York, we should be careful not to be influenced by matters that have not yet led to any charges being brought or indeed, if they were brought, by the outcome of any trial.
In any event, any problem about the process of recommendation for appointment is well on its way to being solved and could be solved by the statutory Appointments Commission. I believe that that commission has the potential to contribute a significant measure of reform to an appointed House. If created, not only could it consider the possible appointments from the point of view of probity and integrity—whoever’s nominations they may be—but it should be appointed and approved by both Houses of Parliament. It should be charged with guidelines approved by Parliament, and only capable of being changed by Parliament; it should be charged with ensuring the relevant ethnic, gender and regional balance of the House to ensure a mix of expertise and experience and to guarantee that no party obtained an overall majority; and it should crucially maintain a strong independent element, which currently forms our Cross Benches.
We are also told that there is consensus between the major parties for reform. There may be consensus among the party leadership for a largely elected or wholly elected House, and no doubt noble Lords opposite have examined the votes of their colleagues in another place. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said yesterday that Conservative Members of Parliament had voted against every option. But he will also have noted that more voted for appointment than any other option. I hope that tomorrow in this House there will be a large vote from this side of the Chamber for a wholly appointed House. We have a free vote, but my party still advocates as its policy an 80 per cent elected House. I say in all humility to the Front Bench: how can we be expected to support a policy of which a majority disapproves and which, I suggest, originated as a not very well thought out reaction to an earlier White Paper? Had there at that time been a willingness to ensure fair treatment of the 92 hereditary Peers, the issue might well have been resolved; there is certainly a very good chance that we would have had a statutory Appointments Commission in place. Perhaps it was a lost opportunity that we shall live to regret.
The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor also said yesterday:
“This is an issue beyond party politics”.—[Official Report, 12/3/07; col. 452.]
Matters of this kind are too important to be decided on a purely party basis. There should be consensus in Parliament for a change to a system that is generally conceded to work well. It should be in the interests of Parliament and of the country. I appeal to the Front Benches, and particularly to the Front Bench of my party, to listen to the views that have been expressed and, in future discussions, which I am sure there will be, to listen to the voice of the parliamentary party as a whole and to the Back Benches. I shall vote for the option of a wholly appointed House and against all the other options.
My Lords, we were all perhaps a little stunned by the votes in the House of Commons last week, but we should not have been too surprised by the massive support for an elected second Chamber because, day after day, MPs, like everyone else, have been reading the extraordinary reports of the cash-for-honours inquiry at No. 10, which have inevitably discredited the option of Peers appointed by the Prime Minister, although that should not put out of court appointments by an independent statutory Appointments Commission. I do not think that we should be too rattled by the massive Commons votes, although they led the Times to lead its front page, a trifle prematurely, with the headline “Farewell to the Lords”, reporting that MPs had decided by a huge majority to end over 700 years of parliamentary history.
We have plenty of time and should say what we believe is right. I am in favour of arguing for the retention of the status quo, not for ever, but for the foreseeable future. The public seem reasonably satisfied with what we do and, as at present constituted, this House seems to work pretty well. We should bear in mind the fact that the move for reform is being orchestrated by professional politicians and nothing has been said to the public, who may think that Parliament should spend its time on matters of much greater concern to them. It would be inconceivable that in a country such as the United States major changes in the constitution could be discussed without the fullest consultation with the states and the nation as a whole.
Last week, there were votes in the Commons for the eviction of the 92 elected hereditary Peers, of whom I have the privilege to be one. We should be grateful to those noble Lords who have suggested that we should be transformed into life Peers or allowed to stay without replacements by by-elections so that one by one we gradually fade into the sunset.
The White Paper says that the primacy of the House of Commons should remain in any reform of this House and that this House should be a complement to the Commons. However, it also says that the issue of legitimacy goes to the heart of the question of reform and that it is increasingly difficult to justify a second Chamber where there is no elected element. In this context, it is worth pointing out something that no one seems to have mentioned, which is that between 50 and 80 per cent of our legislation is now produced not in Westminster, but in Brussels by the European Commission, which has no democratic legitimacy at all, while its one member from the United Kingdom is appointed by the Prime Minister. In the light of that, the issue of democratic legitimacy is a good deal less important than the White Paper suggests.
The real value of this House is the contribution of individuals from all parts of the House, not only to the scrutiny of such legislation as is left to us by Brussels, but also in putting forward views based on long experience and special knowledge. I believe that, ideally, party politics should be left to the House of Commons and that all Members of this House should speak and vote as individuals. That is probably too much to expect at present, but the more party discipline and whipping can be reduced, the better it will be.
During my 23 years in this House, I have taken part in a good number of inquiries by Select Committees, usually sub-committees of the European Union Committee and the Science and Technology Committee. I was continually impressed by the way in which noble Lords who belong to political parties left their political prejudices at the door and took part in the work of the committees as individuals. Those committees, reflecting individual views free from the control of the Whips, are by general consent one of the most useful aspects of the work of this House.
Most of us when looking back on our time in the House will surely think that the most significant moments came from individual contributions, not least in this remarkable debate. The least attractive memories are of votes determined by massive whipping. One of the most dispiriting aspects of our deliberations is the sight of long lines of Peers entering the Chamber to vote, often without having listened to the debate or being aware of the issues at stake, simply responding to being whipped like sheep being driven towards the dipping tank.
I am opposed to the Government’s proposal that any election to a reformed House of Lords should be conducted by a partially open regional list system, as that would mean that votes could be cast only for parties. Voters should be able to vote for individuals. A hybrid House on the lines proposed in the White Paper would never work and I do not believe that election would produce a good input into the House. The noble Lord, Lord Lawson, was right when he pointed out that we should probably attract only third-rate candidates.
Therefore, all in all, I think that we should vote against the proposals in the White paper and for an appointed House. The more things can be left as they are, the better.
Lord Steinberg: My Lords, no! No! No! This is not a White Paper, it is a bit of straw. This is not a bad Bill, nor a dreadful Bill, but a terrible Bill. It is designed to destroy democracy, cancel history, destroy heritage and remove freedom of choice. What is wrong with patronage? It has held this country together for hundreds of years, and most of us sitting in this House are beneficiaries of patronage in one form or another. I have been in this House for 20 years less than the noble Lord, Lord Moran, but I agree with most of what he said. I know that many noble Lords have heard time and again the comment that if it is not broken, you do not need to fix it. In my three years in the House, I have been amazed by the length and breadth of knowledge imparted by fellow Peers. I am proud to be a Member of the House of Lords, and I believe that all noble Lords are. In her speech, my noble friend Lady Miller, who is sitting in front of me, typified everything that I feel about the House, and she has been here much longer than me.
The noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott, who is not in his place, spoke about the established church and the introduction of representatives of other faith groups. As a proud Jew, I am happy that the 24 bishops of the established church sit in this House, but I would be even more proud if the Chief Rabbi were able to join us and give us the benefit of his wisdom. The greatest brains in industry, the military—the air force, the Army and the Navy—and the law, including former Law Lords and Lord Chief Justices, add kudos to the House, and I do not understand why the Government want to destroy something that has stood the test of time for so many years. Many illustrious former politicians who have served their country well have been put into the House of Lords to give it the benefit of their experience.
In my few remarks, I want to elaborate on why I believe that we should vote for an unchanged House, and I hope my arguments will fall on sympathetic ears and bear fruit. It appears to me that the Government do not know what they want. If the House will pardon the analogy on the first day of Cheltenham, it sounds like a seven-runner horse race with options. The mere fact that Members have been given seven different options—seven different runners—suggests that the Government do not really know what they want to do, and that is no great surprise to us on these Benches. On page 16 of the White Paper, noble Lords will note that there was a free vote in 2003. It says:
“As the tables below indicate, no clear consensus could be found”.
Perhaps that is why we have been presented with so many different options.
The House of Lords considers itself to be a revising Chamber that looks carefully at government legislation. Where appropriate, it makes adjustments to the wording of many clauses and, in some cases, actively opposes the wishes of Parliament. Were it not for the House of Lords, we would not have the kind of democracy for which we all wish and hope. Without it some of us might think that we have a benign dictatorship, and with government as it is today, it is no idle thought that in time without a proper representative House of Lords that could happen.
Do noble Lords not think that there may be another reason why we are being faced with this so-called reform? Maybe the Government do not like losing occasionally. When I was in the gambling business I did not like losing occasionally, but I did not try to change the law so that I did not lose. Perhaps the Government these past 10 years have not been used to losing and now that they are, they do not like it. However, that is only a thought.
Having heard that the House of Commons wants to eliminate us, we must all be concerned that we send the right message to the House of Commons and to the country that ours is a great House that keeps the Government of whatever colour in check whenever necessary. We do not automatically vote against the Government through a fit of pique, but we do where we think the legislation is wrong or incorrectly written.
One of the things that impressed me the most is the way the House of Lords carefully deciphers every word in the production of a Bill. How do we, as threatened Members of the House of Lords, resist? I say that we should all vote for a purely appointed House, and that we do not follow the route of all the other options because they will destroy the status quo. I am a great believer in the status quo, democracy and history. I believe that this House will vote showing its wish to preserve democracy and history. I encourage noble Lords to vote with me.
My Lords, it has been a fascinating debate, with every possible shade of opinion expressed. When lower down the batting order—I think that I am speaker No. 106—you are faced with the situation that allegedly confronted a Minister who, in an aside to his civil servant, said: “What can I say? Everything that can possibly be said on this subject has already been said”. To which the Sir Humphrey reply was, as has already been mentioned by my noble friend Lord Anderson, “But not by everyone”. I hope I will not fit the “everyone”, and I will endeavour to follow the Chief Whip’s advice and avoid reiteration. That is probably an impossible objective.
My noble and learned friend Lord Falconer in his opening address invited us to accept at face value the other place’s decision. Normally I would be willing to accept his recommendations, but I find this proposition difficult to accept once you examine the voting record of last Wednesday’s decisions. When the tectonic plates of the other place started to shift last week, the tide went out, leaving Motions calling for “a fully appointed House”, a 20 per cent elected, 40 per cent, 50 per cent or 60 per cent elected, like stranded whales on a deserted beach. When the tide came back it delivered a veritable tsunami of votes for a fully elected House. I might have been prepared to accept that decision at face value if it had not come to light that a number of those who voted for a fully appointed second Chamber also voted for a fully elected second Chamber. You could say that they believed in the polar extremes, but you cannot blame me for having a scintilla of scepticism on the matter.
I next want to address the allegations of a democratic deficit. The British Parliament has evolved over hundreds of years to its present state, not in a logical straight line—going through a civil war, that would have been difficult—with a constitutional monarchy now and a link between church and state. It is a curious hybrid that works. Does it work perfectly? No, I doubt that it does. But it recognises in the final analysis the primacy of the other place. Of course if you put it under some kind of microscope and examine the constitutional parts you can identify an unelected, unaccountable second Chamber, but the democratic whole is greater than the sum of the parts, because the role of our House is to scrutinise and revise, not to challenge the primacy of the other place. As no party has an absolute majority as a result of previous reforms, it is a role which recent history shows the House performs well.
A fully elected second Chamber will inevitably challenge the current conventions and impinge on the primacy of the other place, creating an unintended democratic deficit. I do not want to comment on the current situation about allegations on the appointment of Peers, except to say that the current Appointments Commission instituted by this Government successfully challenged the validity of some nominations.
I will support a fully appointed second Chamber, recognising that that will mean the removal of the remaining hereditaries, but I would support their conversion to life Peers, although sometimes the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, stretches that generosity. He did say that he was “the grit”. However, I feel that we cannot totally ignore the tide of change. Despite the view of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that it is dead in the water—I hope that he is wrong—I would be prepared to vote for a 50 per cent hybrid. I believe that would retain many of the strengths of our current Chamber—its richness and diversity—and combine experience with a new elected element. Inevitably, we would have to redefine the conventions with that kind of hybrid Chamber to ensure that the primacy of the Commons was not challenged.
If noble Lords do not like much in the White Paper—and I gather from some of the contributions we have heard during this lengthy debate that many do not—I believe the point made that in going for the best you can sometimes end up with the worst. So I think that this House has to accept that at some point in this democratic process, there will be a need to compromise. If we are asking the other place to listen, then we have to heed that advice.
As my noble friend Lord Anderson said, this is going to be a long process. There are many other aspects that we will need to look at. For example, the size of the House will have to be addressed, probably over a period of time. As a number of noble Lords have said, we are in a 21st century multi-faith society. I have no desire to see the abolition of the church’s representation, but we need a more ecumenical representation than we currently have.
Unlike one comment I heard, it would be unwise if we sought to somehow say that this Chamber had the right to challenge the validity of the Parliament Acts in a situation where there has been a genuine attempt to reach consensus between the two Houses.
My Lords, I shall try not to burden the House with a lengthy repetition of all the arguments so eloquently put by noble Lords on all sides. I was particularly impressed by the excellent speeches of the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, with whom I was in complete agreement, and that of my noble friend Lady Miller, by which I was deeply moved.
Of one thing I am certain: in a country of our size there is no public demand for yet more expensive elected politicians, particularly if the method of their election will deliberately have made them remote from those they are supposed to represent.
Mr Straw presented his White Paper as offering an important opportunity to reform Parliament to serve the people better, and stated that his approach, a hybrid House, represented the best chance to move forward gradually and by seeking to build consensus around some of the key issues.
However, as was correctly remarked by Sir Patrick Cormack last Wednesday, Members of another place have not endorsed the approach recommended by Mr Straw; rather they have voted to abolish your Lordships’ House and replace it with something completely different.
It is notable that some 70 of those who voted for the all-elected option also voted for an all-appointed Chamber. I wonder which of the two completely conflicting options they really support. In such circumstances, it is unacceptable that use of the Parliament Acts has already been threatened, although I doubt that they could or that it was ever envisaged that they would be used by another place to abolish your Lordships' House in its present form.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Nicholls of Birkenhead, and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Hale of Richmond, at the time of the petition to the Appellate Committee in connection with the Hunting Bill, both held that, by accepting a Bill to prolong the maximum life of a Parliament beyond five years, Parliament was also disabled from using that procedure to remove the exception. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Steyn, expressed himself as being deeply troubled about assenting to the suggestion of the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General that the 1949 Act could be used to change the composition of your Lordships’ House or to abolish it.
Leaving aside the legal arguments, it is frequently argued that the introduction of a substantial elected element into your Lordships' House would enhance its legitimacy. Legitimacy does not derive only from the ballot box and I firmly believe that a second Chamber constituted on either of the bases approved last week by another place would be an unworthy and ineffective successor to your Lordships’ House. Its authority would be further diminished if the suggestion that Ministers of the Crown could not sit in this place were to be implemented.
In a democracy, power must ultimately reside with the people, but the people need protection against the untrammelled use of executive power by a Government using a large majority in another place. Your Lordships’ House in its present form provides such protection. It is also widely recognised for the successful role that it plays in scrutinising and improving legislation—something that the other place does rather little of nowadays.
In a federal state, there is a logical basis for two elected Chambers in a bicameral system. Despite the Government’s untenable and deeply flawed devolution settlements, we remain basically a unitary state. The noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, has persuaded me that we are no longer a pure unitary state and Scotland has always retained its special features, such as its own legal and education systems, but we are still, I think, closer to being a unitary state. We have a 100 per cent democratic system because the will of the elected House prevails. We cannot be more than 100 per cent democratic. To introduce directly elected Members to this place, especially under a list system—which is, in effect, another method of political appointment—would not enhance its ability to scrutinise and improve legislation and require the Government of the day to reconsider.
I lived in Japan for 11 years and thus have observed the Japanese political process at close quarters. The White Paper mentions the Japanese second Chamber, the Sangiin, which has a perfectly good English name: the House of Councillors. The White Paper does not mention that the Japanese upper House, which is wholly elected but possesses restricted powers, enjoys little respect among the people and is regarded by many as being completely superfluous. It was created by the post-war Government under the American occupation to replace the previous House of Peers, which was part-hereditary, part-appointed and modelled on your Lordships' House.
My view is that a good way forward might have been to construct a Chamber representative of the new estates of the realm: the CBI, the TUC, teachers and doctors. If the Church of England can decide who should represent it in your Lordships' House, so can those other bodies. There will be a need for a standing commission to determine which bodies should be entitled to select or elect Members and which should not. Unfortunately, that option is not one to be put your Lordships' House tomorrow, however much merit it may have.
I was lucky enough to be returned to this place through the much derided hereditary by-election system, which has been described by some noble Lords as ludicrous and absurd. The system of by-elections should be improved, as proposed by the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun. It is illogical that, at present, life Peers are entitled to vote in by-elections only to fill vacancies in the Deputy Speakers’ list; they should also be entitled to vote in by-elections in their own party lists. Having crossed a narrow bridge myself, I do not want to be complicit in drawing it up to prevent others from crossing it in future.
Of course, it is impossible to defend the hereditary principle in democratic terms, but if being elected is the sole criterion of democratic legitimacy, to be elected by anybody is better than to be elected by nobody. I was elected by an electorate of 48 people, which is not many, but I suppose that that makes me 16 times more legitimate than the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester. However, I learned yesterday that the noble Lord is the only dairy farmer on the Labour Benches, which shows that the hereditary principle has provided a valuable resource to the Benches opposite.
I also take this opportunity to welcome back to these Benches my noble friend Lord Cathcart. Last week, I received a letter from the Local Government Information Unit and the new Local Government Network urging me to speak in favour of reserved seats for local government in a reformed House. My noble friend has served as a district councillor for Breckland district in Norfolk for 10 years, so I shall be able to reply to the local government bodies that the recent by-election has helped them in achieving their aim.
I shall be supporting the Motion in the name of my noble friend Lord Trefgarne because I believe that all of the other options will produce a less good House than the present one. I cannot support any of the elected options because they introduce hybridity between those who represent electors and those who do not and because they envisage a bad system of election which I think is not democratic or representative.
My Lords, I am always glad to follow the noble Viscount, who puts his views clearly. I am glad that he mentioned the Far East, as I shall. This is a minimal intervention and has to be a subjective one, as one who speaks as an independent and non-party individual. The last time that I took part in a debate on this subject, I seem to recall that I somewhat rashly suggested that life Peers, such as me, might have to consider the date of their 75th birthday to be their sell-by or retirement date in a reformed House. However, my next birthday brings me too close to that date for comfort so, for the record, I would now like to withdraw that rather short-sighted proposal.
I strongly support those who said that they wanted a statutory Appointments Commission in place for an all-appointed Chamber to be selected when it comes to the vote on Wednesday. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said, when referring to the two Houses, that we were “different” from the other place and other parts of the legislature. I entirely agree. Does the noble and learned Lord also agree that a fully elected Chamber would make us indistinguishable on most accounts from Members of the other place, with the exception of those of us who sit on these independent Benches?
I have sat in your Lordships’ House for the past 36 years. I am extremely grateful for the chance to have worked here, off and on, since 1971 and, at the same time, been allowed to maintain my outside commitments. I recall—as can perhaps only the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, and one or two others—what happens when there is a majority in this House different from the one in the House of Commons. If we have an elected Chamber, that is a possibility. Matters of principle, such as nationalisation, renationalisation and denationalisation, made the work of this House almost impossible and nearly brought it to its knees. Night after night, amendments were made. It was redone and rehashed and I really despaired and wondered—I had come from business to this House—what sort of place this was going to be, because it seemed to be getting nowhere. That was a huge setback to British industry and was all a result of the political process that we had to deal with at the time.
I am bound to say that, apart from many changes that have occurred since, I am left with the impression—perhaps as a result of my outside business activity—that the political world within the Palace of Westminster can, on occasion, be dangerously out of touch with reality. The forthcoming Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Bill might prove to be a case in point.
It is essential that any new blood that is appointed in the future brings not only expertise but experience of the world outside politics. MPs these days seem to be drawn mainly from local political backgrounds that have been part of their lives from a very early age. There is nothing wrong with that, but to fill our reformed House with these same people on a party ticket, who may have reached their sell-by dates, rather like me in the other place, could lead to disaster. The party managers will be very happy because it makes their job nice and easy, but will the general public will happy about it? I doubt it.
Finally, a fully appointed reformed House of Lords will be much more economical than a fully elected Chamber. It is important that the present arrangement of reimbursing expenses is used rather than a salary, because it allows us to come when we have something to say, and to be able to carry on with our outside activities to keep us up to date with what is going on in the real world. This would allow those Members with outside interests to continue them and to be good Members of this House if they were appointed, because they could work with two hats on.
The noble Viscount mentioned his experience in the Far East. Many years ago—I think it was in the late 1970s—I was in China. Because my wife speaks at least six dialects, we did not have a language problem as most people do in that country. The question of Hong Kong and democracy came up. I asked some people, whom I do not want to quote because it was off the record, why they were so against democracy. They gave a very simple answer. “Why do you in the West, who have a choice of all types of political system, choose democracy?”. I said, “Well, it’s obvious, isn’t it?”. However, they said, “What is the point of having democracy, which elects people who are good only at politics? We need people who can get things done”. I was rather taken aback by that, but that is very much the way in which things happen in the East. Whether we like it or not, authoritarian-type Governments get things done. We only have to look at Shanghai to see that.
I am very pleased and privileged to have been, and still be, a Member of this House, although for how much longer we do not know. Nevertheless, it has been a privilege to take part in the history of its making, as we are indeed making it tonight and in the months and possibly years ahead.
My Lords, somewhat different interpretations of the state of play between the two Houses have emerged from the Commons debate—the defeat of 50:50 and the vote for a wholly elected second Chamber. Forty-six Commons Back-Bench Members spoke. The majority, including the abolitionists, either concentrated their opening arguments on the unstoppable growth in the power of the Executive, which has been enforced by party discipline, or made executive power a strongly supporting argument. Throughout the debate, rebellious unease came through. The 46 were frustrated by their own inability to do much about the woes of Parliament, such as the disengagement of the public, because Commons reform was not on offer. As they analysed the position of this House, there was somewhat ritual praise for it. The praise was qualified, sometimes highly so, and there was disappointment.
The majority’s conclusion, reached from differing perceptions, centred on the proposition that this House cannot meet the needs of Parliament. The most telling criticism was that although this House has appropriate powers, it does not use them because it lacks the confidence to do so. They gave a sort of shopping list of what was needed. First, they argued that much greater power to hold the Executive to account was needed. No doubt some had Iraq in mind, some ID cards, and some Europe. Secondly, they argued for more and better scrutiny of legislation, not only as it goes through Parliament but before and after—both pre- and post-legislative scrutiny. The Commons provided no time for this. A second Chamber had the time, but this House does not do this job effectively. That was their argument. It was not developed out of any misunderstanding of what this House does. Thirdly, they argued for greater public-body accountability. The proliferation of executive bodies that derive their ration of legitimacy from elected Secretaries of State demand time and diligence. The Commons cannot deliver; it has no time to do so. An elected second Chamber could deliver if it were peopled by those who enjoy the rough and tumble of politics. Experts, however valuable in their advisory role, are no longer the compelling need of the day. The message of the vote was therefore that the present constitutional settlement is not delivering. A new settlement is needed. All else is subordinate: primacy, legitimacy, the views of the electorate, practical difficulties with the methods of election, and the transition period. We can debate these matters for as long as we like—they will need to be debated—but they will remain of limited interest to those whose objective continues to be a wholly elected Chamber.
The majority’s message was delivered primarily to the two Front Benches in both Houses, both of which were in disarray, and to this House, more in a spirit of empirical disenchantment than in any search for legitimacy. The 46 in the majority wanted a settlement that worked, as they saw it, politically. Given the possibility of a wholly elected second Chamber, it might be as well for the cross-party group, if and when it meets, to assess how many Members of the Commons are already planning to stand for second-Chamber election. That would provide a good indication of the troubles ahead. The chance to get their own back on the Government of the day might be too tempting to miss, as would reviving flagging democracy. Perhaps that is why some suggested having no Ministers in the second Chamber.
This Back-Bench dissatisfaction is a highly risky route to major constitutional change. It smacks of a last-chance-saloon shoot-out. However, if the drawbridge was down, instead of being at least half-way up, would it be impossible to reach consensus? I suppose not. If this House were reformed and its work reviewed to make it robust and appropriate within the conventions, it could meet the perceived need for the full scrutiny of legislation, both before and after its passage, for the full evaluation of secondary legislation, and for ensuring the public accountability of executive bodies—NDPBs. It is still—just—an option. However, would this House have the will and the way to do the necessary job? I will leave it there. Being an optimist, and believing that this House could rise to the challenge, I will vote for the continuance of a fully appointed House of Lords.
My Lords, at this stage in the debate, I, like my noble friend Lord Trenchard, am very conscious of the strictures about repetition enjoined by the Captain of the Gentlemen- at-Arms before the debate began yesterday afternoon. The great constitutional issues have been extensively aired by minds more experienced and able than mine. I therefore hope that the House will forgive me if what follows appears to be a trifle parochial. I comfort myself with the thought that these proposals will eventually have to work, or not, at the worm’s eye level.
First, what are our functions to be? I share the view of many other noble Lords that functions should come first and form should follow. Indeed, it is the Government’s obsession with form that has mudded the waters and confused the whole debate on this matter. So far, I have heard no clear answer to the function question, other than the rather woolly idea that we should do what we do now, but do it better. This I take to be the meaning of paragraph 1.2 of the White Paper, which states:
“It should be a complement to the Commons, having a different kind of membership and providing a distinct voice in scrutinising and revising legislation”.
Why, under these proposals, will we do this task better? The Government’s answer is that there will be an element, perhaps a large element, of democratic accountability. For us to undertake what the Government see as the Chamber’s new role seems to me to be a proposition of dubious validity. I leave aside the incontrovertible fact that at present there is no real public demand for more paid politicians and elections. Among the chattering classes there may be, but in the country at large there certainly is not. More fundamental is the potentially negative impact on what this House already does rather successfully; namely, pretty effective scrutiny and revision of legislation. On that, I draw on my personal experience.
I have just had the privilege of leading for my party on two substantial pieces of legislation, both of which began their passage through this House; that is, the Companies Act and the Charities Act. These Acts cover issues that are of great importance to the well-being of the country, but they are not for the most part politically controversial. In this House, we—when I say “we” I do not mean just my party: I mean the Liberal Democrats, Government Back-Benchers and Cross-Benchers—were able to subject each Bill to lengthy and detailed scrutiny, covering such specialist issues as the role of company secretaries and company law, and the use of permanent endowment in charity law.
To the Government’s credit, they listened to the arguments deployed and made several hundred changes to those two Bills which, by common consent, improved the quality of the legislation. By contrast, when these Bills went on their parliamentary progress to the other place, two features immediately became apparent. First, there was extensive use of programming Motions—guillotines, timetables, call them what you will—which meant that large chunks of both Bills were never discussed. Such limited Committee stage debate as there was focused predominantly on the political aspects of the Bill; for example, public benefit for private schools and hospitals in the Charities Bill and directors’ duties in the Companies Bill.
That is not—I repeat, not—a criticism. Elected politicians quite properly respond very sensitively to the day-to-day concerns of the electorate. Moreover, they want to discuss and be seen to be discussing issues that have visibility and will resonate with the media, pressure groups or the voter. So, in this brave new world of a wholly or overwhelmingly elected House, who do the Government think will undertake the unglamorous but nevertheless essential work of scrutiny? No one in the saloon bar of the Dog and Duck will have the least care about the role of company secretaries or permanent endowment. But there are really important issues of public policy to be addressed and to be resolved. To do so successfully needs a lot of time.
My second question to the Government is: again in this brave new world, how will they avoid the House of Lords becoming a pale reflection of the House of Commons? Having a single long term of office is the answer in the White Paper, which is fair enough. But single long terms immediately underline the element of democratic accountability, which is the major argument for reform in the first place.
I said that I agreed with the argument that function should come before form. Function needs to be addressed first not here but in the House of Commons where the Executive has run away with the ball. In our increasingly presidential system, the power of the Executive in the House of Commons, in those famous words, “has increased, is increasing and ought to be diminished”. The reality of the situation was revealed in the remark made during a speech in a debate in the other place last week that a Labour Member of Parliament who opposed the abolition of jury trial did not have to vote against the proposal and thus incur the wrath of his Whips because he knew the House of Lords would do the job for him.
I see no attempt in these proposals to address these subtle and difficult issues. There is possibly only a desire on the part of the Government to be seen to be doing something, anything, even if the hybridity, which is apparently the Government’s preferred outcome, is a clear recipe for instability with its in-built two classes of Members. And if there is not a desire to be seen to be doing something, it may be even worse—possibly a reaction to the increasing assertiveness of this House in recent years. This Government have no more real wish to weaken the Executive’s grip than any of their predecessors—rather the reverse.
The Government cannot have it both ways. So while I will of course listen carefully to the closing speeches, my present intention is to vote, first, for the continuation of a fully appointed House, broadly doing what it does now but with reforms, including much more transparent methods of appointment, and acting, albeit imperfectly, as a constitutional long stop; and, secondly, if this is not to be on offer, for a fully elected House which should be given the statutory powers necessary to provide an effective counterbalance and check to the elected dictatorship implicit in the present House of Commons structure. If a degree of legislative gridlock ensues, it will probably show that the brave new world of democratic accountability is working.
My final word on this subject to the Government Front Bench is to venture to suggest that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor should keep firmly in his mind the advice contained in the Hilaire Belloc quotation from Cautionary Tales:
“And always keep a-hold of Nurse
For fear of finding something worse”.
My Lords, most Members of your Lordships’ House, including me, believe that a system that got us here must be pretty good. Where I differ from most other Members is that I believe that election would be an even better system. I start from a very simple and basic proposition. In a democracy the legislature should be elected by the people; that means the whole legislature, not just one House, and it means being elected by the whole electorate, not by special interest groups, as suggested by the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard. Any departure from that proposition needs to be justified by very strong arguments indeed.
Most Members of your Lordships’ House want an appointment system, but appointment by party leaders has been discredited by recent events and, in any event, gives far too much opportunity for patronage. Appointment by an Appointments Commission, however impeccable its integrity, may be okay for the appointment of a limited number of Cross-Benchers, but would be absolutely wrong for the appointment of political Members. How could we justify having a quango of perhaps a dozen members having power to appoint all or most Members of one House of Parliament?
We on all party Benches are politicians. We should earn the right to sit here by standing for election, which, after all, is what politicians are for. We have heard objections to election to membership. Some noble Lords say that it would damage the primacy of the House of Commons. That primacy is based on three pillars: first, on the control by the House of Commons of the supply of money, a rule applied for centuries which no one would suggest should now be changed; secondly, on the Parliament Act, which enables the House of Commons to legislate without the consent of your Lordships’ House; and, thirdly, on the rule that the Government must have the confidence of only the House of Commons to remain in office. None of those three pillars would be removed or to any extent weakened by giving people the right to vote for membership of your Lordships’ House. As the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, pointed out yesterday, a reformed upper House could not seize powers for itself. An elected House would and should enable your Lordships’ House to exercise the power it already has, but to exercise it more effectively. That for me is the main purpose of the proposed reform. Such a House could, for example, make more use of its power to block secondary legislation if it thought that it was being used in an inappropriate way or needed amendment.
It has been argued that there would be a decline in the quality of the Members; I do not believe that. Membership of an elected upper House would remain an honour and a privilege. It would continue to attract people who had finished their career in the House of Commons but wished to remain involved in national politics. It would attract people who have held senior positions in local government and want to move on to the national scene. And it would attract people like me, who have tried and failed to get into the House of Commons. These are all groups which already make up a large proportion of Members of your Lordships’ House and who, I believe, would not be put off by the need to fight an election.
There would be some loss of expertise among appointed Cross-Benchers. I recognise that this expertise has value, though any such appointments should be time-limited because, as my noble friend Lord Smith of Clifton pointed out, expertise has a use-by date. I am therefore happy to retain 20 per cent as appointed Members in a reformed House, not all of them as experts but also to fill other gaps in the membership. Indeed, an 80:20 split would be my first preference.
Your Lordships’ House is not just a revising Chamber; it also has an important role, along with the judiciary and the media, in resisting the abuse of power by the Executive. Since the departure of most hereditaries in 1999, your Lordships’ House has done a more effective job than was the case previously, and I believe that it will do a better job still if it has the legitimacy which comes from an 80 per cent or 100 per cent elected membership.
There is a serious fault in your Lordships’ House, one which, frankly, has been displayed during our debate of the past two days: it is too inward-looking. I would like to remind noble Lords how we appear to many outsiders by quoting a passage from the speech of John Bercow in the House of Commons last Tuesday. He said,
“although some peers work exceptionally hard and frequently demonstrate great expertise, the most vociferous voices in support of the excellence of the existing House of Lords are existing Members of the House of Lords. On the principle that no one should be judge in his own cause, we should not attach much weight to that kind of special pleading”.—[Official Report, Commons, 6/3/07; cols. 1477-78.]
I have no illusion about the outcome of tomorrow’s votes, but noble Lords should not have the illusion that they can veto reforms of your Lordships’ House for ever. Since 1999 the House has largely ceased to be constituted on a hereditary basis. This satisfies the first half of the preamble to the Parliament Act 1911. I still hope that the second half of the preamble, constitution of the second Chamber on a popular basis, will be completed in time for the centenary of the Parliament Act, and I mean the Parliament Act 1911 not the Parliament Act 1949.
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, but, I am afraid, I remain convinced of the view, put to me yesterday evening, that there is really not a great deal to be added after the notable speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg. I am proud to say that he is one of a growing number of my ex-students who are to be found on all sides of the House, some of them in strange nooks and crannies, but they grow. Among them, he is perhaps the most remarkable. I am sure everyone would agree that we should be grateful to him for breaking a silence which has too long enclosed him when sitting on the Benches of this House in recent days.
Perhaps I may make two preliminary remarks. First, I do not share the view that has infiltrated some speeches that we should in some way speak or vote tactically on this issue. The speeches and votes in this House are not part of the negotiations which no doubt will come; they are the basis on which negotiations, if they come, will take place. I urge noble Lords to decide on their view and to vote on that view, whatever it is. Secondly, I have to admit to a personal disappointment that there is not an option for a unicameral solution. A great deal of useful work has been done in various reports and papers, but all of it on the basis that we should remain bicameral. That may be right, but work should be done on the possibility of a unicameral solution. Mention is made in the White Paper of various countries with single-Chamber Governments—Portugal and New Zealand—but no reference is made to, or discussion had of, the profound debates that went on in New Zealand from 1950 onwards and which, above all, have taken place in Sweden. However, I accept that it is not a practical matter to discuss tonight. If we wanted unicameralism we could have it, but it would require a vast change in the procedures and structure of the other place.
It is a slight irony that, just when the majority in the other place is demanding reconstruction of this House, on 1 November it adopted a small step towards that reconstruction of its proceedings by introducing a so-called Special Standing Committee system for programmed Bills—just the sort of direction one would move in if one were thinking of a unicameral solution.
The debate in the other place, as I read it, concentrated on the second Chamber and on what was called its “lack of democratic legitimacy”. That is based on a profound error because democratic legitimacy for the first Chamber, which in the end controls and puts through government programmes, must rest upon election. But a second Chamber is justified and legitimate if its procedures and composition are suitable and appropriate for the job that it has to do. After 30 years in this House it is my view, as it is that of many other noble Lords, that this House does a reasonably good job in revising and scrutinising the Executive and their legislation, and—I add this having some years ago been a member—in its committees for scrutinising European legislation, which is fast becoming a major part of our statute book. If that is right, there is no case for imposing by way of a mantra the same test on the second House as is imposed on the first. The first House has primacy and no one disagrees with that, while the second House must be composed and have procedures in place suitable for revision and scrutiny.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, I pray in aid of this argument the honourable Member for Swansea West, the Father of the House of Commons. He said that there was no doubt at all that the primacy of the House of Commons was agreed, but if this type of proposal went through, that form of primacy would eventually disappear. He has rightly suggested that over the longer term, an elected or partially elected upper House would come into conflict with the first Chamber. Of course that is very likely, and to say that it just will not happen and then to sit back and vote for a completely elected second Chamber seems rather astonishing. He also suggested that hybridity was not a solution but an interim step towards the final aim of making the second Chamber wholly elected. Indeed, the 80:20 solution seems the worst of all in the longer term.
In my submission, a large majority of the other place hastened to its vote for a totally elected second Chamber on the basis of a false test of legitimacy for a second Chamber. That completely eradicates any logic in the position. I do not say that in defiance of the other place; it is an argument. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, said that there was plenty of noise coming from another place. I do not want noise; I want to engage in an argument.
In comparative terms, what has been voted for in the other House is a parallel to the Italian Senate. I bow to nobody in my passionate love of all things Italian, but the one thing my Italian friends would tell us not to have is anything like their Senate.
In conclusion, the argument becomes this: the test of legitimacy for a second Chamber is very specific and was misunderstood; the proposals for either a hybrid or a fully elected House will, in the longer term, contribute to constitutional and political chaos. The argument has not been answered in the debates so far. On that basis, it is our right and our duty to ask the first Chamber to look at the matter again and, from that basis, commence negotiations for a solution.
My Lords, I arrived in your Lordships' House 10 years ago. Like 58 other people nominated before me, I had been Chairman of Ways and Means. I hope that in the future those who subsequently serve that great office in the other place, whether they be men or women, will be able to follow us into your Lordships' House to serve the nation to the best of their ability and that their skills, particularly their impartiality, will be available to Parliament.
There is a certain irony about the timing of this debate. It was in March 1649 that England became a republic; at the time, interestingly, there was not much public opposition or significant support for any other form of government. It was on 19 March that your Lordships' House was abolished, only to be restored in 1657 when Parliament agreed to the creation of the other House, with its own Cromwellian peerage—an early issue of “Oliver’s cronies”.
Noble Lords on all sides have said that the issue boils down to the so-called legitimacy created by popular election, which I would like briefly to examine. I live in Bedfordshire and have close associations with Northamptonshire. In neither county can I find any great desire to change things in your Lordships' House. A wider poll from Populus found that 75 per cent of those questioned believed that the Lords should remain a mainly appointed House because—and this is what happens when you go out into the counties you know well—they value our independence. That is what Joe Public values—the independence of mind, thought and action of your Lordships' House.
The votes in the other place warrant close attention—I suppose I think that because I was used to counting the results of the votes there. It is sad to note that the Irish Members were unable to vote on this great issue. Why is poor Ireland always left on the sidelines? To have those key votes on the day of the Irish election reflects badly on the management of the Commons. Leaving that aside, significant numbers of Members turned out. Some 565 voted on that occasion out of a total of 642—a turnout of 88 per cent, which I think is pretty good. But fewer than 60 per cent voted for the option which had the biggest majority of 113. I draw attention to that figure because in constitutions across the world, major constitutional change, particularly in south and south-east Asia, which I know particularly well, always requires a two-thirds majority. That figure is some way away from being two-thirds. Given also the strange dimension of tactical voting, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn—it appears that 57 Members managed to vote for both a fully elected House and a fully appointed House—the legitimacy of the majority is highly questionable.
As one would expect, the debate on 6 March was introduced by the Leader of the House and the shadow Leader, whose speeches contained the key policies of their party. I suspect that many noble Lords have read them. I have listened to a great many speeches in the other place and, on an issue of this importance, they are probably the most incompetent, incoherent speeches to listen to. The leader faced intervention after intervention, but the speech of Chris Mullin MP encapsulated everything. He asked:
“Is that not the nub of the problem? An elected House or a part-elected House would be used to undermine the legitimacy of this House”.—[Official Report, Commons, 6/3/07; col. 1392.]
Mr Mullin had at col. 1391 quoted the remarks of my noble friend Lord Kingsland on the Police and Justice Bill, from which it could be inferred that this legitimacy could be challenged. The Leader of the House said that that was a key issue but that they would get round it. That is what we heard in yesterday’s opening speeches. We were told that our leaders say exactly the same thing; they all somehow believe that they can put fetters on democracy, but you cannot. If Parliament decides to vote in an elected Chamber and you unleash democracy, you unleash competition.
I do not know how many of your Lordships have been in local government where control changes, or in a highly marginal seat with numerous recounts, but it has been my privilege to experience both. The excitement, the passion, the anger and the fervour are such that in both experiences, you do not accommodate the other side. That is exactly what will happen when this House, elected, gets into a row with the other place. That would be a great tragedy. Sadly, none of those who are deeply involved in this and who make up the leadership on the Government Benches, my Benches and in another place have been through that experience, which will be a great problem for the future.
If there is to be an elected House, our leaders will have to think about two questions. First, since Back-Benchers across the two major parties here and in the other place disagree with their leaders, how will our views be properly considered? The noble Baroness, Lady Symons of Vernham Dean, raised this issue in some detail this morning. She was right, and she needs an answer like the rest of us. Secondly, what choice will the British people really get when all three leaders of political parties put an almost identical message in their manifestos? If Parliament and the people believe that our constitution requires dramatic change, you need to consult the people. After all, we were all to be consulted and to vote on the proposed European constitution. If Europe, barely 50 years old, demands that it should have a vote on a change of constitution, how much more does this House, with its experience and longevity, deserve it?
My Lords, before I came into the House in 1997, I was a trade union official. I was initially an appointed officer with a job for life. Noble Lords opposite then changed the rules and, because I had some power and influence, I had periodically to submit myself to my members for re-election. It was always an unnerving experience, but the Conservatives were right; I have said that on a number of occasions since. It changed me, too.
Therefore, when I came here, not only did I find the absence of accountability odd; over time, I held to the principle that it is wrong. Why? Contrary to my noble friend Lord Rosser—who is not in his place, but who said earlier that we have influence but not power—I believe that we have power as well as influence. I had not been in this House very long before I saw that power wielded very effectively by the hereditary Peers. The Labour Government had the largest-ever majority in 1997 and an unambiguous manifesto commitment to reform the House of Lords. The manifesto stated that,
“the right of hereditary peers to sit and vote in the House of Lords will be ended by statute”.
We have had two general elections since then but, nearly 10 years on, a substantial block of hereditary Peers is still here, and I am very fond of many of them. However, we all know why they are still here. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, the Lord Chancellor when we were dealing with 1998-99 Lords reform Bill, had to reach an agreement to retain the more than 90 hereditary Peers who are still with us, otherwise he would have lost the Bill and other elements of the Government’s programme would possibly have been sabotaged too. If that is not power, I do not know what is.
We should acknowledge not only that we scrutinise, revise and amend legislation but that an increasing amount of important primary legislation starts its life here in this House. The noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn, did not mention it—it may be the passage of 30 years—but an increasing amount of primary legislation is starting in this House, moved by and involving people who have no mandate and are non-elected. We can also promote Private Members’ Bills. The assisted dying Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Joffe, was mentioned earlier as an example of the fine work that we do. Regardless of its merits or otherwise, assisted dying is a highly controversial social issue which divides people and communities. However, it was promoted here without any mandate whatever and without any reference to the people.
The primary qualification for anyone who seeks to legislate on behalf of the people of this country must be that they have been chosen by the people of this country. Ultimately, the right to vote remains the most potent protection for the individual against the powerful. Improving our efficiency and performance and minimising cost are important, but the principles which I have just enunciated are paramount.
I therefore welcome the Commons’s decisions last week, notwithstanding the efforts of the wreckers there. I also welcome much of the White Paper but, like others, I find parts of it unacceptable and would wish to amend it in a number of ways. For example, the parties must be required to make greater efforts to find people of greater breadth of experience, with specific expertise and from differing backgrounds, than we are seeing enter the Commons. If we are to have elections for this House, great effort should be made to try to change the way in which people are selected in the first instance and the way in which people are involved in their selection. I favour primaries. I pay tribute to the Conservatives for their recent efforts to look at innovative procedures for finding a wider and more varied range of candidates. Regrettably, we have not been doing as much on my side as I would wish to see, but I hope that, when elections arise, we spend some time trying to address that problem, which has been raised by many Peers in this debate.
I grew angry during the debate as I heard different objections raised, but I have contained myself in the belief that many of those objections can be addressed satisfactorily if there is the will and the desire among the parties involved. It will unquestionably take time, but, contrary to what the previous speaker said, it is heartening that we have for the first time seen a meeting of minds. A change has taken place within a week of what happened in the Commons. Spokespeople on the Front Bench are for the first time speaking on this subject in a way which they have not done previously. That is a step in the right direction and I hope that Members on these Benches will be willing to give them their support.
I regret that the Lord Chancellor is not here to hear me, because I conclude with two questions for him, but I am sure that my noble friend the Chief Whip will pass them on to him. What are the prospects of securing consensus on many of the issues which have been raised in this debate? I look particularly to the leaders on the Benches opposite. My second question is more specific. I am in favour of elections, as noble Lords will have gathered, and support the view that codification of our conventions will be needed. I served on the first committee of the noble Lord, Lord Cunningham, when codification was passed over very quickly, particularly by the late, loved Lord Carter, who was strongly against it. I note that the latest report, too, spends little time on it. As codification has not been attempted thus far, can it be done?
My Lords, after 44 years in this House I find myself in a state of great excitement and enthusiasm because of what has happened in the past day or so. I often wonder where this excitement might come from. When I first came here, I came as an independent unionist Peer, and I have always felt that I was independent and believed in the union. The great advantage of having been here for 44 years is that you can say the same thing that you said 44 years ago, and no one here will remember it.
When I came in to the House, I found that we were to sit on the Benches opposite—but nobody showed me where to sit, so I sat down in the front, because I thought that the important people were at the back. Then I was told politely that I should not be there because I was not a right reverend Prelate—but I was then told that I could sit in any place in the House that I wanted, and that the House was a unified animal. Over the 44 years, I found that I was expendable—that I was not environmentally friendly. I realised, too, that I was getting excited because I was perhaps an ethnic minority group, which is terribly popular. But there was one thing that this House did for me: it taught me that you can talk to people.
I go back to 1968, when all of this began, and I was asked to do a bit of work as a researcher on the future of the House of Lords. Your Lordships may remember that at that time Willie Whitelaw came here; we always called him Willie—everybody needed one. He suggested for the first time that the Peers might elect some of their own Members, as the Scottish Peers had. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, was totally against that. I should remind the House that the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, has been here since 1945 and is without doubt the best Foreign Secretary and one of the best Ministers that we have ever had.
Then we moved on a bit. Of course, at that time the idea was that hereditary Peers should be allowed to sit but not vote, because it was all about the numbers game and voting. As time went on, we came to 1997 and then to 1999. In 1968 it was said that the hereditary principle should go, and in 1999 we all accepted it. But that was not the problem; the problem was the way in which it was done. However, one great thing came out of it. Even if I am environmentally unfriendly, there is one bit that I have so enjoyed in all this—when the noble and learned Lord the then Lord Chancellor, who was always going on about hereditary Peers and elected hereditary Peers under various Acts, made a statement in 1999 that,
“the hereditary Peers who remain will have greater authority because they will have been elected ... A nice element of the compromise is that to stand in an election will be a novel experience for the 75”.—[Official Report, 30/3/99; col. 207.]
Your Lordships should understand that the term hereditary Peers refers to all those who are entitled to inherit a peerage. It is used in this House to describe people who are actually elected hereditary Peers or, in some cases, appointed hereditary Peers. It is not 92 in total—there are 92 who are elected, including the two statutory office holders, but another 12 are appointed. Four are appointed from these Benches, all of whom had been Leaders of this House.
I give this only by way of a background, but I am proud to have been here—and I wanted to be properly elected, as I believed in those days that we should have a fully elected Chamber. I still believe that that should be an objective. The question is how it gets achieved. It will not get achieved through this strange piece of paper that we have been given, which is a form of Green Paper. It might have been called a White Paper, but in previous times White Papers, as I was told by one of my noble colleagues, were very useful. After you read them, if you put a rubber band round them and soaked them in water, they made very good firelighters in the winter. This White Paper is short on information and data, which is why I decided to write my own.
I wrote my own and sent it out to as many people as I could, but the system here would not allow me to make major use of the photocopying machine. I typed it all myself—and the biggest worry was licking the envelopes, when I cut my tongue. That is why I look forward to an elected Chamber, if I could stand for election, because we might have proper back-up and facilities.
What is going to happen? The excitement now is that we are in a very strong position to make some forthright and positive proposals. Parliament is both Houses—the upper House and the lower House. The weakness of the system at the moment is the other place, which is dominated by the Executive, who have too much power that is misused and who misrepresent the situation and, for selfish political reasons, promote things that they should not. We should get together with the other place and strengthen the right and position of the individual Member of Parliament to represent his constituency and his own thoughts and feelings. We should refuse to accept any legislation that has not passed a scrutiny commission on leaving the House of Commons. The time-wasting and the extra cost in this place are enormous.
What happens if we decide suddenly to be elected? Noble Lords will notice in my White Paper that, if one is negative, everybody starts to become a mutual admiration society or self-preservation society and that the turkeys do not vote for Christmas. On the other side, you can look at this House and ask what it is made of—who knows what it is made of—but let me tell you what would happen if we got rid of it. First, 187 former Members of Parliament, who have served their country well and who were elected at one time, would walk out the door. Then, 189 privy counsellors would go—but the Government want to get rid of privy counsellors anyway, or so I am told. That would get rid of some parts of the newly elected Chamber. Then, 46 QCs would go, along with a range of legal people; the Law Lords would probably mostly go. As for the vicars—I am sorry, the right reverend Prelates—they might go, too.
The knowledge at the base is quite considerable, and I take only one example—the subject of defence. In this House we have four or five former Chiefs of the Defence Staff, which is quite a lot. We have six former Secretaries of State or Ministers of Defence, two former secretary-generals of NATO and another 40 former Ministers in the Ministry of Defence. More than that, more than 170 noble Lords have served in the Armed Forces and know what it is like to have bad boots. They remember when the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders went to Korea in their shorts because they did not have time to get winter clothes. So we have a large knowledge of defence. I will not go through the whole lot, but I could do that with every single department. There is a wonderful base of knowledge here and, if we lose all that knowledge and experience, we will not be able to get it back.
Therefore, we have a solution. We should sit down with the House of Commons. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, in that regard. He should not be surprised to hear that one thing I did when I first came here and got attacked for being a hereditary Peer was to say, “When I was a temporary shop steward in the Transport and General Workers' Union, and about to suffer from asbestosis, I remembered the words of my uncle, Stafford Cripps”. Or I could have said, “I am a chinless wonder hereditary merchant-banking Peer who ought to be put down, because I am environmentally unfriendly”.
In this House, we are more representative than anybody else. If noble Lords look at my paper they will find that in the regions there are more Members of the House of Lords than Members of the House of Commons. We have more women and ethnic-minority groups and more of Jewish faith. It is an amazing place which could not have been created other than by accident—and I hope that the accident continues.
My Lords, I propose to call on a thus far unmentioned quality of this House—its fortitude. As speaker number 60 in the speakers list today, I am reminded of a colleague of mine who came to the Court of Appeal from Manchester many years ago. He was last in the list and, after a very long day, the presiding judge said, “This had better be short, Mr Smith”, to which he replied, pulling out his railway ticket, “I agree; this is a cheap day return”. So I shall keep it brief.
Constitutional reform usually occurs because of great events. It is most unusual for it to occur in what we can call quieter times. We are in such a time. We have had constitutional change: devolution, the dispatch of most hereditary Peers, and the Constitutional Reform Act, creating a Supreme Court and the independent appointment of judges. There is no reason why Parliament itself should not be the subject at least of review with a view to reform. But that is Parliament, not just the House of Lords. Reform means change for the better. Both Houses of Parliament act together to serve the public, so any reform must be shown to be, first, necessary and, secondly, likely to be effective, better to serve the public.
When we look at our parliamentary system, no one can seriously challenge the bicameralism entrenched in our constitution. A single Chamber would quickly become dictatorial; two Chambers, with their mutual respect and tension, should better serve the nation. Nobody can doubt that the House of Commons has primacy; it is the elected Chamber. The Parliament Acts ensure that primacy and the Salisbury convention makes it work. The question is therefore: why, if the House of Commons has primacy and is the engine of parliamentary democracy, do we turn to consider reform of the secondary Chamber first? That is extremely difficult to follow.
Without comment, I ask these questions of the other place. Is it holding the Executive fully to account? Is its committee system properly serving investigation and the need for accountability for all forms of unelected government? Are its present structure and stature among the people commensurate with its constitutional responsibility? Is it attracting the best quality of candidates to be Members of Parliament? Is it, above all, influencing the affairs of the nation so that there is a third element in the public debate of this country, beyond the Executive and the media? When I hear the answer “Yes” to those questions, I shall say that it does not need reform. If I hear too many noes, I ask “Why not?”. The House of Commons cannot currently plausibly argue that it is achieving the constitutional and democratic objectives that I have outlined. Its reform is necessary.
What of the secondary Chamber—us? I shall talk not about civil liberties but about British constitutional freedoms: the removal of the ouster clause in the terrorism legislation; the rejection of the abolition of jury trial in certain contexts; and our regular debates on our Armed Forces, with specialist input from some Members of this House. Who could honestly and objectively say that this House has not served the public in the eight years since 1999?
Reform, yes. Stop people coming. Reduce the number of people in the House. Give us fixed periods to serve as appointed Members. There is plenty to be looked at. But if asked on your Lordships’ behalf whether we are effective, I challenge anybody to say that we have not been in recent times. Is reform necessary? Why? When will it happen, how will it occur and what effect will it have on the dynamics between the two Houses? These are unknowns.
Is it therefore appropriate that we should start our constitutional reform debate at the end, with the composition and election of the secondary Chamber, without starting at the beginning? What is the elected House doing for our nation? I issue this not as a rhetorical challenge, but as an invitation to both Houses—the other in particular—to remember their constitutional and democratic duty to the country. That kind of change requires time, reason and focus; it requires both Houses to ensure that the change, which is properly to be called reform, will benefit us all. Can we abide the prospect, over the next parliamentary Session or two, of Bills about our election and composition? Is there nothing more important in our constitutional debate than that? Is it not appropriate for each party here present in Parliament to put constitutional reform into the public debate, by way of a royal commission, a constitutional assembly or whatever it takes—not by newspaper opinion poll, but by rational debate?
If, at the end of that, reform is necessary, I shall gladly look to it and determine whether I think it appropriate. This particular proposal is appropriate neither in its timing nor in its necessity. My noble and learned friend Lord Irvine of Lairg demolished the proposal yesterday with relentless logic. He was right. A better proposal may yet come, and we can look at it. But this is not the way to reform the British constitution.
My Lords, in the wake of that splendid speech it will take some agility on my part to adjust what I was about to say. I declare an interest as an elected hereditary Peer. That interest is perhaps not exactly what some people think it is. We were not put here to perpetuate either our own membership or the present composition of the House of Lords. We were put here to ensure, as far as we could, that what came after us was no worse than what is here now and, God willing, a good deal better. If we can achieve that, and do so in my absence, I, for one, shall go on my way rejoicing.
I think that the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, would agree with me that a significant shortcoming of the White Paper is its title, House of Lords: Reform. To say that the House of Lords is to be reformed is rather like saying that your friend’s leg is going to be operated on. The operation is on your friend; in this case, it is on the Houses of Parliament, a single constitutional body. We must therefore look at both ends of the Corridor. In support of the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, the noble Baroness, Lady Symons of Vernham Dean, my noble friend Lord Higgins and others, I say that you must look at what Parliament was invented for: to protect the governed from the Government. The Executive of the time was the King. Protection was offered to a relatively small section of society, because the Members of Parliament were representative of a relatively small section of society. With the universal franchise, however, the duty has extended to protect all the people of this country.
As the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York so succinctly put it, we are here, as is the other place, to protect the freedom of the individual and all that goes with it. Up to the arrival of King George I, the Executive were out there and we were in here. Then the Hanoverian dynasty arrived, speaking German. It was necessary to have English speakers to conduct the King’s business and we started, for the first time, to have Ministers in Parliament; they got a foothold in the body that was actually provided to control them. Now, if you count both Ministers and PPSs, there are roughly 100 members of the Executive in the other place, which is supposed to be the most powerful instrument for the control of the Executive.
This chimes exactly with what the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, said; it is why the House of Commons is becoming consistently less able to do its job. The noble Lord cited two prime examples of it letting things through that were a threat to the liberty of the individual, and which this House stopped. It is clear that, as long as the constitution of the other place remains as it is, our function is to balance the weakness of that place with a strength of our own.
The great pity of the present development is that we are being encouraged to think of this as some sort of competition between the House of Lords and the House of Commons for primacy. We are speaking to each other as if we did not share an interest. That is because there are so many members of the Executive in the other place. The other place and this place should be allies in the face of the threat to the population of an overmighty Government. It is essential, between now and the next stage, that that communication should start.
A good beginning could be made by my noble friends on the Front Bench and the noble Lords on the Front Bench opposite and on my right in seeing that the cross-party group is not merely seized of the opinions of those who sit behind them but is capable of representing them, which means some change in its composition. That is if the cross-party group is to have an effective role; if it is not, what it does must be discounted and set aside firmly. The weaker the House of Commons is, the stronger this House must be.
That almost brings to an end what I wanted to say, except to add that I would like to see the request made of the Government by the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, answered. I would like to see the Government’s costing of what they propose specified and defended—and, if possible, to see it go before the Audit Commission. I do not think that the general public have a clue with regard to either what this is about or what it costs. We have to put that right.
My Lords, many of your Lordships have rightly pointed out that it is pretty silly to reform your Lordships’ House before sorting out the House of Commons. After all, some 40 per cent of the electorate do not see the point in voting even in general elections any more, and modern Governments are formed by only some 40 per cent of the 60 per cent who bother to vote, or 24 per cent of the electorate. That 24 per cent has to vote for the whole of the Government’s manifesto, which typically contains around 150 commitments. So it is hard to understand how modern Governments have the nerve to believe that their administrative programmes have the support of the British people. That does not stop them, of course.
I am sure your Lordships would be disappointed if I did not point out that democracy in this country is now quite a bit sicker than that, thanks to the folly of our membership of the European Union. The former German president, Roman Herzog, has recently announced that 84 per cent of all national laws in Germany between 1999 and 2004 were imposed under the EU system of government. There is not much reason to suppose that the percentage is very different here, but so far the Government have only admitted that a majority of all law affecting our commerce and industry “originates in Brussels”—which is bad enough. The British Chambers of Commerce are somewhat less coy, and calculate that 72 per cent of the cost of regulation affecting business is imposed by Brussels.
Whichever way you look at it, it is probably safe to say that a majority of our national law is now imposed by our membership of the European Union under its unique system of making laws, which is the very antithesis of our democracy. Let us not forget that EU law is proposed in secret by the unelected Commission, negotiated in secret by the unelected Committee of Permanent Representatives, or COREPER, and decided in secret by the Council of Ministers, where the UK Government are now reduced to some 8 per cent of the vote. That law is agreed by the EU Parliament, after which it has to be rubber-stamped by the House of Commons and your Lordships’ House. It is then executed by the Commission. If necessary, the Luxembourg Court of so-called Justice can be relied upon to confirm the process of integration, and there is no appeal against its judgments.
I say that this system is the antithesis of our democracy because, as I have reminded your Lordships more than once, the central principle of our democracy is that the British people should elect and dismiss those who make their laws. They no longer do, not by miles. Twenty-four per cent of them elect a Government who boast 8 per cent of the votes in the Council of Ministers that imposes most of their law. No wonder so many of them cannot see the point of voting in general elections, or that they hold politicians and our political system in such low esteem. How right they are.
I suppose I should also remind your Lordships in this debate of the big idea that gave birth to the fateful project of European integration, to which its devotees still cling: that nation states were responsible for the carnage of the two World Wars and for the long history of bloodshed in Europe, so the nation states, with their tiresome and unreliable democracies, had to be emasculated and diluted into a new form of supranational Government run by a commission of technocrats. Hence the Commission’s continuing monopoly on proposing legislation and executing it once it has been through the Brussels system.
I accept that that idea was honourable enough after the last war, but it has gone wrong and it is getting worse. “The project”, as it is known in Brussels, was supposed to reach its fulfilment in the recent EU constitution. That was legally killed by the French and Dutch people in referendums, but the Eurocrats are not letting a small matter like that get in their way. They are surreptitiously putting most of the constitution into place, using clauses in existing treaties, illegally, to do so. One of those clauses is Article 308—to which I have drawn your Lordships’ attention before—which allows the EU to take power only,
“in the course of the operation of the common market”.
That clause was in the original 1957 Treaty of Rome, and was designed to permit small tariff adjustments and so on in the emerging Common Market. Now this article is being used to pass a whole string of powers to Brussels, and Her Majesty’s Government—