My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the House of Lords Bill, has consented to place her prerogative and interests so far as they are affected by the Bill at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.
Before I speak to the Bill, perhaps I may refer to the fact that today, sadly, is the memorial service of my late friend Lord Garden. Tim Garden’s untimely death has robbed these Benches, in particular, of great expertise in defence. I hope that the House will understand that these Benches will tend to be rather empty today for that good reason.
I do not want to repeat the speech that I made in July when we had broadly the same Bill before us. If I were to do that, I would be guilty of the parliamentary offence of tedious repetition before I got into my second sentence. I want instead to explain very briefly the four purposes set out in the Bill and to draw the attention of the House to the changes that have been made since we debated the Bill in July. These changes have been made entirely in response to the speeches in that debate.
I repeat that this is not a personal Bill of mine. It has become known as the Steel Bill but it is one of the curiosities of parliamentary procedure that, whereas in the Commons a Private Member’s Bill would be festooned on the back with the names of Members of all parties, in this Chamber there is only one name. But this Bill is the result of the work of a group of more than 200 Members, of all parties and of none and of both Houses. I pay particular tribute again to the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, who was responsible not only for drafting the original Bill but also for dealing with the amendments in response to July’s debate.
Part 1 of the Bill seeks to establish a statutory Appointments Commission that would be responsible for all appointments to your Lordships’ House. The Bill makes perfectly clear the different routes by which names may come to the statutory commission. I believe that the measure is necessary. In this past year, we have had all the irritation of the cash-for-peerages question, but the statutory commission will have responsibility for maintaining a proper size of the House and proper proportions between the parties. In fact, all the political parties are agreed that the statutory commission is long overdue. I remind the House that the present non-statutory commission was first appointed in 2000. Its remit has twice been extended, through to June next year. Something has to be done and I suggest that Part 1 of the Bill provides the solution.
Let me draw to the attention of the House two changes in this part. First, the original Bill suggested that the appointment of the commission should be made by Mr Speaker. Again in response to the debate, the Bill now reads that the appointment will be made jointly by Mr Speaker and the Lord Speaker. Secondly, we have changed the definition of independent Peers to meet the request of the Cross-Benchers.
Part 2 of the Bill brings to an end the hereditary by-elections. As I mentioned in July, in one election we had the spectacle of the Clerk of the House informing us and the nation that a new Member had been admitted to the British Parliament by two votes to one. This is not a sensible way to continue. Indeed, it was never intended that the hereditary by-election system would be long-lasting. The Library has produced a helpful research document, which shows that in October 1999 the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, when he was Lord Chancellor and dealing with this matter, invited the House to make a bold hypothetical assumption. He said:
“The transitional House will be of short duration, but let us proceed on the hypothetical assumptions that it might last for more than two or three years”.—[Official Report, 26/10/99; col. 169.]
That was eight years ago and there is no prospect of any change to the transitional House for some time to come.
I pay tribute to the hereditary Peers; they at least are here because they were chosen on merit by their fellows and they continue to play a crucial part in our proceedings. If we were to pass the Bill, however, it would bring to an end the principle of entry into this House on the basis of heredity, thereby satisfying not only the Labour manifesto but indeed one half of the famous Asquith promise way back in 1910.
Part 3 of the Bill provides for a system of permanent leave of absence—in other words, retiral—from the House in order to reduce our numbers and to reduce the average age, which is now approaching 70. I am informed that actuaries who have been working on this matter have discovered that Members of this House live longer than the average of the population. They explain that this is because we come to a nice warm place, we are well fed and we have intellectual stimulus. That is all very well, but we are not supposed to exist as a therapeutic community; we are supposed to be an effective revising legislative chamber. It is only right that we should make provision for Members to retire full-time.
The late Dennis Carter, when he was the government Chief Whip and afterwards, was working on a proposal to provide not necessarily a golden handshake but at least a silver or bronze one to Members to enable them to leave. The hint is there in the Bill that we hope that the Government will come forward with some such scheme. My noble friend Lord Mackie of Benshie, when we were discussing this in one of our internal party meetings, strongly supported this measure. He is in his late 80s and he said that it was preferable to his agricultural solution of having us shot.
Perhaps the most significant new provision in this version of the Bill is Clause 12. During the debate on the previous version in July, many Members said that, if we were going to try to get the numbers down in the House by having permanent leave of absence, that should also apply to those who never attend. Clause 12 therefore says that those who do not attend for a full Session should be deemed to have applied for permanent leave of absence and should have it granted to them compulsorily. Subsection (2), to which I draw your Lordships’ attention, would exempt those who have good reason for not attending. I know that the post no longer exists, but if a Member of your Lordships’ House had been Governor of Hong Kong, that would be an obvious example where a Member would be enabled to stay away from here with the impunity that Clause 12 would provide.
During the debate in July, there was some criticism of the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Coddenham, the current chairman of the Appointments Commission, because he does not attend your Lordships’ House. I said that I was to have dinner with him in Edinburgh over the summer at his invitation and that I suspected that he had issued the invitation not in his capacity as chairman of the commission but because I was a customer of his bank. That indeed turned out to be the case. He was very concerned about three overdrafts: Mexico’s, Guatemala’s and mine. I drew his attention to the remarks that had been made in the debate and he asked me to make it clear to the House that he stays away as a matter of principle. When he was headhunted to take on the job, it was not intended that the chairman of the present Appointments Commission should be a Member of your Lordships’ House. He therefore thinks it entirely inappropriate that, holding that capacity, he should be here.
The noble Lord would be covered by Clause 12(2). So, too, would the Law Lords. This is an important matter, because at present when the Law Lords attend here in the mornings on their judicial business they do so as Members of the House. When in future years they move across the square to the other building, they will not be recording attendance here. It is important that they should have blanket exemption under Clause 12(2).
Part 4 is perhaps the smallest and least important part. It is simply to bring your Lordships’ House into line with the House of Commons so that anyone sentenced to 12 months’ imprisonment should no longer sit as a legislator in the UK Parliament. That was a proposal in the last government White Paper. We have made a change: we have removed the retrospective element that was in the original Bill.
Those are the four proposals that the Bill contains. They provide for effective and immediate reform and updating of your Lordships’ House. In the debate in July, among the Back-Bench speeches we had the support of 46 out of the 49 speakers. Indeed, one of the three whom I thought was against spoke to me afterwards and said that he was only half against, so it was really 46½ against two and a half.
The only people whom I do not include in that are the three Front-Bench speakers. How can I put this politely? They treated the Bill with quiet disdain. They reminded me very much of a speech made in the other place by the great Manny Shinwell when we were having an intense debate on Europe. He was king of the Eurosceptics before that word was ever invented. He was making a passionate speech from the very back of the Labour Benches when he said, “I’m not against Europe”. He paused long enough for incredulity to spread throughout the Chamber and then said, “I just don’t want to have anything to do with it”. That is rather the attitude that we had from the three Front Benches at the end of the debate in July.
There has been a change since then. We now know for certain that the future proposals for an elected or partly elected House cannot come about until after the next election, which will not be until at least 2010. We are looking at fundamental changes to this place perhaps by 2012, or perhaps by 2014—we do not really know. There is plenty of time for a debate in future about an elected or an appointed House, but that is not a debate for today; the Bill is not about that argument.
The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, who is dealing with the Bill in this House, was kind enough to invite me to a private meeting in his office last week, when we had an amicable discussion on the Bill together with Jack Straw. I was struck by two things that Jack Straw said. I am not revealing any private confidences, because he said them publicly. First, he said that we will have a White Paper next year. That took me back to something that my noble friend Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank said in the July debate. He said:
“From the beginning, we had Modernising Parliament—Reforming the House of Lords in 1999, The House of Lords—Completing the Reform in 2001, Next Steps for the House of Lords in 2003, then simply The House of Lords: Reform in February 2007, and yesterday’s Statement, which might yet be called The Way Ahead. I am reminded of books by Richmal Crompton, which I greatly enjoyed in my childhood: ‘Just William’, ‘More William’, ‘William Again’, and 35 other similar titles. Documents on Lords reform have been quite like that”.—[Official Report, 20/7/07; col. 491.]
We are being promised William Again next year.
The second thing that struck was Jack Straw’s emphasis on the support that he has from the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and my own leader, the noble Lord, Lord McNally. The three of them are a little like a pop group: they are rehearsing away behind closed doors and we hear occasional noises, but the trouble is that none of us is rushing to buy tickets for the concert because none of us has the faintest idea when it will take place. In fact, because it will be after the next election, the group does not even know who its manager will be. They are a bit like the England football team. Jack is hoping to be the lead singer of the group and the other two are hoping that he will not be. It is an impossible situation. I have an affectionate name for the group: Jack and the TomToms.
To be quite serious, I do not believe that the issues that we are placing before the House in this Bill can wait that long. Perhaps I may paraphrase what the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, said in our previous debate. There are those in this House who regard the measures in this Bill as necessary and entirely sufficient and there are others who regard the proposals as necessary but wholly insufficient. The point on which we should all agree is that they are necessary. Let us get on with it. I submit the Bill to the House.
Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Steel of Aikwood.)
My Lords, on behalf of the other members of the Bill team, the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, the noble Lord, Lord Corbett of Castle Vale, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, on his exemplary leadership on the Bill.
Perhaps I may reinforce one point and urge my noble friend the Minister not to repeat on this occasion the mantra that he used in July, that our Bill is not fully “comprehensive”. Surely that begs every question in sight. What does “comprehensive” mean in practice? Translated, it means putting all your eggs in the basket of one Big Bang in the next Parliament—not very wise, I would have thought. In any case, I have no doubt that if the choice were put to both Houses, a majority in each—I challenge the Government to test this—would prefer “incrementalism”; in other words, “Take steps A and B now, without prejudice to future measures”.
In advocating this approach, I am speaking for the consensus of the Labour Peers group. The approach was set out in a letter to the Prime Minister a year ago and adopted by general consensus after a well attended meeting with him. It is not of course inconsistent with people disagreeing about future measures.
People may say that something has changed now that we have a new Prime Minister. Well, as the noble Lord, Lord Steel, pointed out, one thing that has changed is Gordon Brown stating that the “appointment-versus-election” question will have to wait until after the general election. Another thing that has changed is that it is now as plain as a pikestaff that the so-called “consensus between the leaders of the parties” on anything like a Big Bang approach is a mirage. The leader of the Opposition has apparently said that he might get round to it in his third or fourth term. We could have a sweepstake on how many of us will be alive by then. Are there any other straws in the wind, to coin a phrase? Perhaps we should not read too much into it, but we are told that Ministers are now adopting “the normal stance of neutrality towards a Private Member’s Bill”.
If I were the Prime Minister, I would now say to myself, “Here I have a window of opportunity to transform the appointments system by making it totally transparent and removing all patronage. Secondly, I would finally be ending the hereditary principle after 1,000 years, and, incidentally, exactly 50 years after the first life Peers were appointed—an experiment which has worked rather well. These are measures which will go down in the history books, and we would take the credit for introducing them on my watch. What I may not say—even to myself—is that if we do not make these changes in this Parliament, we will, despite all the hoo-hah about reform of the House of Lords, have achieved absolutely nothing, and of course no one knows about the balance of forces in the next Parliament. So let’s go for it. In any case, it is not as dangerous as the Big Bang”.
Certainly, we do not need to wait for another White Paper, as the noble Lord, Lord Steel, said, for the points in the Bill to move forward with all due speed, because the analysis of these matters in the earlier White Paper in February this year still stands. However, it is for us and the political parties now to put some further flesh on the bones and for the Ministry of Justice to get involved with us rather than remain exclusively engaged in giving birth to its own baby some time later next year.
In the short time still available to me, I shall draw attention to some of the issues behind Clause 9, on the relationship between the statutory Appointments Commission and the political parties so far as whipped Members are concerned. The political parties’ constitutional bodies will need to balance the first stage of the trawl, where there will be a degree of transparency about how people are put on preliminary lists, with the second stage, when small, separate party panels, drawn from different hinterlands, do the selection, on the basis that we still wind up with 200 Labour Members and 200 Conservative Members, or an equivalent number in a smaller House. The Liberal Democrats will have to propose their own number over a run of years. I think that this will lead to a code of practice, agreed between the SAC and the political parties, on the modus operandi in relation to appointments. Voluntary changes would then be made to the party rule books. The code should also define a firewall—to use the latest vernacular—between nomination of candidates and any donations to the relevant party.
This exercise will also demonstrate that, although it will be for the SAC to look into any questions of probity, it cannot be for that small group of men and women to choose Members of our legislature by selecting from longer party lists. From my knowledge of the Labour Party, I think that that would be an impossible situation and that the same would be true for the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats.
We ask the Prime Minister and the Lord Chancellor not to look this gift horse in the mouth. I repeat for Jack Straw’s benefit that this is a gift horse and not a Trojan horse. I believe that our approach can and will, after further reflection, be taken up by this reforming Prime Minister and reforming Lord Chancellor when the Bill goes to the Commons and seeks sponsors early in the New Year.
My Lords, the striking feature about the work of the so-called “cross-party” group has from the outset been a search for consensus. “Consensus” is defined in any dictionary as “general agreement” or “comprehensive agreement”. Against that background, we have heard many times from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, that the search is not just for consensus between the two parties, but also for consensus, as it must be, between the two Houses. When I say that, I do not mean to cast any doubt on the principle of the primacy of the House of Commons. However, that was not the principle that we applied in 1999. A compromise was arrived at and consensus was reached in 1999. It surely must be right to seek consensus taking account of the views of this House. The views of this House must be being expressed—one wonders, by whom—in the discussions taking place in the cross-party group.
The only matter that is obstructing the progress of this Bill along the lines supported by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, to whom I pay tribute, and the noble Lord, Lord Lea, is the argument about elected Members or not. I suggest that that need not inhibit the Bill’s progress. As to why this is still on the agenda, I must ask three questions. Is there any fault to be corrected by the arrival of elected Members? Is there any improvement to be achieved by the arrival of elected Members? One scours in vain all the documents about this topic that have been published for any evidence to support the answer “yes” to either of those questions. The third question is: what is the reason for any such change? Again, one asks that almost in vain, but one gets an answer; that is, that it is necessary to make this change to deal with the problem of legitimacy. That argument has disappeared since 1999. The reason for the sense of our illegitimacy was the fact that the House had a built-in Tory majority of an overwhelming size. That is why we hesitated ever to use our powers. There is therefore no reason to respond to that.
There remains the question: why then should we now be contemplating election as an added component? The curious answer is given by the House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee under the chairmanship of Mr Tony Wright, which said that any change that was made should take account of the,
“widespread public disillusionment with our political system”,
because of the,
“virtually untrammelled control… by the Executive”,
of the elected House.
The committee reached two conclusions: first, the need,
“to ensure that the dominance of Parliament by the Executive, including the political Party machines, is reduced not increased”.
Secondly, the committee’s fifth report says that the second Chamber must be,
“neither rival nor replica, but genuinely complementary to the Commons”,
“as different as possible”.
It is hard to see why at any stage in the future—although we are not at that point yet—a replica of another elected House, wholly, partially or at all, can be the answer to that problem. The truth is—and this is the important thing—that perhaps we have not recognised the extent to which the House has been transformed so that there is no need to go beyond the very clearly defined ground set out in the Bill proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Steel. The reason for saying that was quoted to the House by none less than the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, when he spoke in the previous debate on this matter on 19 July. He said that,
“this House has performed very well since the major changes made in 1999. We need to build on… the incredibly valuable role of this House as a revising and scrutinising Chamber”.—[Official Report, 19/7/07; col. 396.]
That is the present position. The reason given for blocking this Bill—because a process is still taking place in search of some other consensus—is unfounded.
The noble Lord, Lord Steel, closed by drawing our attention to what is necessary and added to that by quoting a sentence often quoted by my right honourable friend David Cameron:
“We keep what is good and change what we need to change”.
No evidence is before the House or anywhere else to suggest that this House is other than good. If one asks the question, “What do we need to change?”, the answer is that embraced by the consensus supporting the Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Steel. It is necessary change that will remain necessary as long as the other argument lingers on. I should like to think that those representing any party in this House in deliberations as a cross-party group will represent those arguments in search of a genuine consensus that can be achieved while most of us are still alive.
My Lords, I begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Steel, and all those who have so carefully nurtured this Bill over the past year or so—in particular the noble Lord, Lord Norton, for his willingness to incorporate amendments suggested by independent Cross-Bench Peers. There were some doubts, now resolved, and I think that it is fair to say that there is a significant measure of agreement on the Bill, and not in this House alone.
I am here indebted to the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, for analysing the previous debate on the Bill in July. Of the noble Lords who spoke, 89 per cent were in favour of the Bill including Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrats and, while one speech was definitely against the Bill, the remaining four were sufficiently unclear as to remain unallocated.
Reform of the House of Lords has been going on more or less for ever, and significant changes have occurred, including the 1958 Act and, most recently, the 1999 reforms, of which I have spoken in previous debates. But it is worth emphasising that apparently small changes have had a major impact on the effectiveness of the House in its tasks of revising and scrutinising legislation. It would therefore seem logical to assume that the relatively minor reforms set out in the Bill would have a similarly significant effect.
Better provision for the retirement of Peers, entrenching the good work of the independent Appointments Commission by making it a statutory body and updating arrangements for dealing with those Members convicted of serious criminal offences seem to me to be sound and far from revolutionary changes. So, too, are the measures that maintain the benefit of the hereditary Peers’ experience while ending the application of the hereditary principle. If adopted, these reforms would reassure the public and at the same time neither preclude the opportunities for further reform nor introduce radical measures all of a heap.
It is widely acknowledged that the post-1999 House of Lords has been more assertive than previously, which has been good for parliamentary democracy. The independent Cross-Bench Peers have contributed to this; the so-called Stevenson’s Peers now constitute about 20 per cent of the independents, and the attendance and voting record of the 42 who have been appointed since 2000 is approaching 60 per cent. Moreover, many of the younger independents have full-time responsibilities outside this House and, therefore, come in only to contribute to specialised debates. Crucially, they play a significant role in committee work. In fact, their contributions are often disproportionately representative and their commitment to a career should be viewed as an advantage.
The appointments system works, demonstrably; it seeks to fill gaps in prevailing expertise and to nominate those who perhaps represent the wider community in terms of gender, ethnicity and geography. Much of the legislation in this House is not principally political but to do with difficult issues requiring the exercise of moral and ethical judgments. These are not party-political matters in their content but can become so if Members are required to vote according to party politics. It is in this context that the independent Cross-Bench Peers are valuable, even necessary, in that they vote according to conscience and could thus be considered as the ethical grouping. Those debates initiated by the independents can explore issues which parties may not wish to do or feel should be left alone, and which, although not touching directly on legislation, can promote and influence public discussion. Rarely have the independents in recent years crossed the boundaries of convention and initiated Divisions at Second Readings of Bills—on one occasion on the Constitutional Reform Bill. This too arises from conscience, rather than any political motives.
Finally, the capacity of this House to fulfil a scrutinising role which is genuinely independent and which manifestly has a political distance or neutrality is a vital element in its democratic credibility. It is for these reasons that I shall hold resolutely to the 20 per cent independent appointees as set out in the Bill.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Steel has already referred to the unfortunate coincidence that it is today that we are having the memorial service for our late and much lamented colleague, Tim Garden. I regret that I shall miss some of the speeches in the middle of this debate for that reason.
On these Benches, we welcome the opportunity to discuss the obvious weaknesses and anomalies of the current composition of your Lordships' House. However, I do not consider that this Bill is a realistic basis for a sustainable reform. Indeed, my noble friend has made it abundantly clear that he does not regard it as anything more than a temporary expedient. On 14 March he did not vote against the substantial majority of Liberal Democrat Peers who supported a fully elected reformed second Chamber.
Ministers have repeatedly promised us a White Paper in the new year, which will, we hope, give a consistent and comprehensive message about what is to happen next. It will also take advantage of the fact that MPs have voted so conclusively for democratic legitimacy for the second Chamber, as well as of the commitment of all three parties in their election manifestos to the people of this country for such a reform. We believe that the White Paper should be followed immediately by a draft Bill for pre-legislative scrutiny by a Joint Committee of both Houses. That is particularly important because it would avoid the pitfalls of misunderstanding between the two Houses. That was the promise given by the then Lord Chancellor, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, many months ago.
There may be deeper concerns about sections of my noble friend’s Bill. For example, under Clause 8(2) on the Appointments Commission, it may be difficult to fulfil the requirements laid on the commission. Suppose—heaven forbid—that a large number of Conservative hereditary Peers are struck down by food poisoning at Royal Ascot, or some other calamity occurs. In the absence of by-elections, would the Appointments Commission then have to redress the balance of parties in this House? What would happen if the membership of the House of Commons changed dramatically at a general election? What would happen if a Cross-Bench Peer went to join a political party? All those are difficulties if the legislation is to be maintained for any length of time; it could be sustainable only for a very few months. My noble friend Lord Steel emphasised that in referring to this as a “transitional House” on a number of previous occasions.
Similarly, on the exclusion of hereditary Peers through by-elections, the original discussions never mentioned the by-elections; they were an afterthought, as my noble friend has already said. In the excellent Library note, it is made clear that the Weatherill amendment never anticipated that there would be a renewal process. There was never going to be a continuation in the long-term of the hereditary element; it was literally going to die out. Of course, the by-elections have been the subject of some ridicule, the most notorious being the one on 30 October 2003 when there were 11 Labour candidates and only three eligible electors. Imagine what would happen if all the eligible electors suffered some sudden demise. There would be no electors, although no doubt there would be plenty of candidates.
This is only a very temporary expedient and so my noble friend Lord Steel is right to seek to end this anomaly. In his speech at Second Reading on 20 July, to which reference has been made, he pointed out that this was to try to fulfil Mr Asquith's pledge of 1910. The best way to do that is to move swiftly on to consideration of stage 2 of reform, which is what the Government promised and what all Members have looked forward to, just as my noble friend and everyone else have anticipated since 1999.
In summary, we recognise the value of this Bill as a timely reminder of unfinished business. That business is now urgent and this Bill should not be used by those who are in essence refuseniks to any reform to let the Government off the hook. Is this Bill a stepping stone to a long-promised stage 2 of comprehensive reform or is it merely an island from which further progress cannot be made? My noble friend Lord Steel clearly believes that it should be only the former. Therefore, he and his fellow promoters of the Bill should make that explicit in Committee by including a sunset clause to time-limit the provisions of the Bill to the first Thursday in May 2009. Incidentally, my noble friend referred to 2010 as the first likely date for an election. I hope that is not the case because it would suggest that the Prime Minister has other things in mind.
If there were such a sunset clause, it would be possible to ensure that this is indeed a transitory and temporary expedient. It would also ensure that the Government would know that they had to get on with implementing the firm decision of the other place, whose decisions all Members of this House believe should retain primacy in our Parliament.
My Lords, I have listened to the noble Lord, Lord Steel, for some 40-odd years in different assemblies and I have usually done it with admiration and a great deal of respect. Were it not for that fact, I could perhaps be forgiven for feeling, gently around the edges and tentatively, that this Bill was a piece of constitutional mischief-making of the highest and most elegant order. One could go further, but perish the thought: that the whole object of the exercise is to entrench in advance the concept of a heavily nominated House into legislation before the Government have had the opportunity of producing their White Paper.
I am fortified in that suggestion by the speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon. We know his position: he is against any form of election to this House. It is not a question of seeing this Bill as a step. As far as he is concerned—and as far as many of the people who support this Bill are concerned, including my noble friend Lord Lea sitting in front of me now, who made the same point—this is the end. It is the end because you have an Appointments Commission that is set up to do one thing—to produce an appointed House.
My Lords, I know that the noble Lord used the word “incrementalism”, but that does not destroy the point that I was making. The fact is that this Bill is grossly premature. It is inevitably and unpleasantly pre-emptive. The White Paper is forthcoming, as we know. The arguments on composition should take place in that White Paper and not in a Back-Bench Bill introduced into this House.
I have three points to make against the Bill: the first is that of pre-emption, which I will not labour any further; the second relates to the principles on which the Appointments Commission is supposed to operate; and the third is about the overall context and timing of the Bill. The creation of an Appointments Commission to recommend all new Members—and the noble Lord, Lord Steel, emphasised that it would do so—is frankly and obviously inconsistent with the views of the House of Commons. Indeed, it is inconsistent with the Government's policy in favour of a wholly or largely elected second Chamber. It is also inconsistent with the policy of the Opposition and the Liberal Democrats.
We have heard the argument that the commission will be created to recommend only life peerages and that that would not preclude the introduction of another basis of membership; namely, election. I do not accept that: it is not the case. The broad political impact of moving at this stage to a more permanently appointed House would cut across the direction toward an elected second Chamber.
More particularly, the detailed provisions of the Bill are based on the assumption of a 100 per cent appointed House. Moreover, several provisions are directly inconsistent with an 80 per cent or 100 per cent elected model. Clause 8 goes some way to setting out rules for the party balance between the Government and the Official Opposition in an appointed House. Clause 8(2)(b) expresses the principle that,
“no one party shall have a majority of members in the House”.
Clause 8 (2)(c) states that,
“the Government of the day shall be entitled to”,
a majority over the Official Opposition but that this,
“shall normally be … [limited to] … three per cent of the total membership of the House”.
Whatever the merits of the latter proposal, it is plainly inconsistent with a Chamber that is wholly or substantially elected; where the majority of one party over another inevitably cannot be predetermined.
I find Clause 8(4) an extraordinary proposition. It would give the Appointments Commission discretion to phase in the majority for the Government over the Opposition over a period of up to eight years. If there is to be a change in the relationship between the Government and the Opposition, this House should not take eight years in order to produce it.
Finally, this is a point that I really want to emphasise: the Bill grossly underestimates the votes and the implications of the votes in the House of Commons on 20 July this year. The Commons, by a large majority, committed itself to a wholly or mainly elected House. If this Bill were passed, it would put the House of Lords on a direct collision course with the House of Commons. I cannot believe that that is what most noble Lords would wish.
One of the main arguments used over the years against elections is that it would confront the House of Commons and that there is a danger of encroachment by the Lords on the powers of competence of the other place. If anything were in that argument, I would have expected that the Commons would have been anxious to guard the competence and the powers of the House of Commons against the possibility of encroachment by the House of Lords. Not a bit of it. What do we have? We have the House of Commons saying—
My Lords, I will be brief and I will get on quicker if my noble friend Lord Lea is quiet and stops waving his arms about.
We now have an extraordinary position: the House of Commons has accepted the possibility of encroachment by this House on the powers of competence of the other House. Are we really going to say to the House of Commons that we know better than it how to protect its powers and its competence? That is nonsense. What it amounts to in those circumstances is patronising by us and also rather self-important. I have believed in elections for the Lords for a long time and I do not resile from that one bit.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Richard, because I had feared that I might be the first person to indicate disapprobation of the Bill and I am delighted that he did so. The noble Lord, Lord Steel, and my noble and learned friend Lord Howe, referred to the cross-party group. That was set up in order to see whether there was a broad measure of support in the event of the Government producing legislation that was unpopular. It was never set up in order to promote legislation. The Government did not introduce a Bill and I was therefore surprised when this Bill was produced. Like the noble Lord, Lord Richard, I do not think that this is a suitable subject for a Private Member's Bill. If there were to be a Bill for reforming your Lordships' House, it ought to be a government Bill.
I am apprehensive about the proposed Appointments Commission. Its nine members will determine the future size and content of your Lordships' House for ever. They are then to be hide-bound by regulations and criteria about the diversity of the population, the percentage of party members and so forth, all intended to provide some mathematically perfect result. It will not, and we should avoid the temptation of trying to prearrange these things. At least under the present system we know that the Prime Minister is responsible for new Peers. In future, it will be some sort of headless amoeba.
I do not like Clause 15. The whole principle of the British judicial system is that if you are sent to prison, you serve your sentence and then you are returned to society a free man. Murderers and rapists are always being let out. Under this system, anyone who has been sent to prison for a year will be removed from your Lordships' House. That seems to me like being punished twice and I do not think it is right. Apart from anything else, your Lordships are always concerned about prisons and prisoners, and it is quite useful to have one or two people who have been at the “coal face”.
Nor do I like Clause 10, which is a modest little insert, your Lordships may think, of some eight lines. The Government gave an undertaking that the hereditary Peers would not be removed until stage 2 of the reform was put into place. Stage 2 has not been put into place. Those in favour of the Bill will say that this is not the wholesale abolition of hereditary Peers. Of course it is not; it is merely quiet, gentle strangulation, getting rid of them one by one until they no longer exist.
Of course, I declare an interest as an hereditary Peer. It is a pretty modest thing to be nowadays. It is about the lowest form of political life there is, but I think—and always have thought—that the complete removal of hereditary Peers from your Lordships' House will have long-term and regrettable consequences. The life Peers have all been appointed by someone for some purpose. The whole essence of hereditary Peers is that they are here by chance. They are not here because they have friends in high places. They are not here because they have given or lent funds. They have not had to struggle to come to the attention of the powers that be. It is a way of getting young people into the House. I happened to come in when I was 25—just the other day. Your Lordships may think that that in itself is reason enough to get rid of hereditary Peers but the result is a mixture of talents. And, as has so often been said, it is presumably no worse to be appointed by the Almighty than by Mr Blair, or now by a headless commission.
I am not suggesting that hereditary Peers are the best thing since sliced bread, but they make a valuable addition to the House. My concern is that when they go—if they go—the pressure for the House to be wholly elected will be unstoppable and the pressure to change the name of the House will be unstoppable too.
This country, and the way in which it works, is founded on a long historical constitution. As the noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall, said, it goes back 1,000 years. But like a cat with a ball of string, we try to unravel it at our peril because we do not know where the ball will roll, in which direction or for how long.
The noble Lord, Lord Steel, is no novice in this political jungle. He knows perfectly well that if this Bill goes to another place, it will be amended left, right and centre and nobody knows what on earth will turn up at the end. It is thoroughly dangerous and I hope that it will not get very far.
My Lords, I welcome this revised Bill so ably moved by its sponsor, the noble Lord, Lord Steel, and I hope that the Government will grasp the opportunity that it offers. It addresses the general wish for greater accountability that should be acceptable to all parties in this House and it can be enacted in the lifetime of this Parliament.
The Government’s response will be a test of the Prime Minister’s commitment to improving public confidence in our institutions. Gordon Brown has a choice. He can surrender his powers to appoint life Peers to an independent statutory commission, while still retaining the right to propose candidates to that commission—and do so without much delay—or he can join the long list of Prime Ministers who prefer to prevaricate and keep their powers of patronage. The Government have yet to give a clear lead.
Replying to the debate in July, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, said that the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, could emerge from another place in a different shape from when it left here. That is the way of all legislation. It applies as much to Commons Bills which come here as to ours which go there—perhaps more so. We have a sharper eye for detail and we like to be helpful.
If we are frank, the prospects for all-party consensus on the wider issues of Lords reform are unlikely to advance in the run-up to the next general election. The Lord Chancellor may want a big-bang reform that creates a new revising Chamber. But there was nothing in the Queen’s Speech about it and I shall not hold my breath next year either. It could come in the fourth term of a Labour Government or, from what we are told, in the third term of an incoming Conservative Administration. Whether the option is for a House that is 80 per cent or wholly elected, either way it is unlikely to be soon.
While we wait, public confidence in the way we are governed plummets. New Scotland Yard failed to unravel the mysteries of Downing Street’s patronage system, but we cannot afford another scandal over alleged abuses in high places. It is bad enough that departments of state and government agencies are accused of “not being fit for purpose”. This House must not fall foul of that charge because of the way Peers are selected. It is a tribute to our effectiveness that our reputation remains as high as it is despite some noises off-stage. It reinforces our determination to do our duty within the timescale of this Parliament, whatever the future holds. This Bill is proof of that resolve.
I very much hope that the Government will not respond in the way that Alice was fobbed off during her journeys through the looking glass. She was told that she could not have jam today because:
“The rule is, jam to-morrow and jam yesterday—but never jam to-day”.
She said that it was nonsense; so will the country if the Government bury this Bill. It is in line with the Government’s own ideas outlined in 2003 in that it allows us to move towards a new era, which we are constantly being asked to do. Some of its proposals may be unduly optimistic. I doubt whether many long-term absentees will formalise their non-attendance by retirement. I tend to place more weight on the proposed powers to strike them off our books if they persist in absenteeism. My parish council does not tolerate absenteeism, and nor should we, but those details can be worked through in Committee. I welcome the area of the Bill that allows the remaining hereditary Peers to leave us naturally, on a timetable determined by a higher authority. It is a totally sensible proposal.
We live in a time of constitutional upheaval and greater demands for change in every part of this United Kingdom. Some of it I welcome, particularly in Northern Ireland. Elsewhere, let’s face it, the jury is out. This Bill proceeds with caution. It is a constructive formula for obtaining a realistic reform of this Chamber and I commend it to the House.
My Lords, I hope that my speech will not be considered in the light of the very diplomatic phrase of the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza—“so unclear as to be unallocated”. I should make it clear that I am with my noble friend Lord Tyler, the substantial majority of Peers on these Benches and the overwhelming majority of our friends in the other place in supporting a wholly or mainly elected House.
Having said that, my noble friend Lord Steel has done the House a considerable service by bringing forward his Bill, which highlights many of the absurdities of the current situation. I want to focus particularly on a case which highlights the problems of a non-statutory Appointments Commission to which people can give the most clear and solemn undertakings and then cock a snook at them. I particularly want to draw attention to the annual report of the House of Lords Appointments Commission and the letter written by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, drawing the attention of the Prime Minister to this case. The report says:
“The Commission looks at residency as part of its vetting process. It has always considered that, as a matter of principle, individuals who are appointed to the House of Lords should have their main home in the UK so that they can devote the time necessary to make an active and effective contribution to the work of the House. Further, the Commission has always required that nominees must be resident in the UK for tax purposes … During spring 2004, the Commission vetted a list of party-political nominees. One of the individuals on the list, Irvine Laidlaw (now Lord Laidlaw of Rothiemay), was not resident in the UK for tax purposes. Following an exchange of correspondence and a face-to-face meeting, the Commission accepted an assurance from Lord Laidlaw that he would become resident in the UK for tax purposes from April 2004. On the basis of this assurance the Commission found no objection to his appointment. The Commission would have taken a different view on Lord Laidlaw’s nomination if it had known that he would not be resident in the UK for tax purposes from April 2004 … Lord Laidlaw has not become resident in the UK for tax purposes. The Commission has drawn the Prime Minister’s attention to the situation”.
The noble Lord, Lord Laidlaw, has now taken leave of absence, but that makes no difference to the undertakings that he gave the commission. As we have made clear about the present situation, he can simply end his leave of absence at any time and pop over from Monte Carlo whenever he likes.
What response has the previous Prime Minister or the new Prime Minister made to that very important letter from the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson? Has it got lost in the in-trays between Prime Ministers? If no response has been made, I ask this to be urgently considered and responded to.
I have twice introduced in this House a Life Peerages (Residency for Taxation Purposes) Bill to stop tax exiles being nominated for peerages. Now it is time to finish the job. I will move amendments in Committee to disqualify from membership of the House any Peer who is not both resident and domiciled for tax purposes in the United Kingdom. To vote on this country’s laws, you must pay tax on exactly the same basis as the overwhelming majority of straightforward British taxpayers. “No representation without taxation” is the principle that we should adopt. Do the Government agree with that principle? Will they support my amendments to achieve it?
My Lords, I am sure that we are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Steel, for introducing the Bill. In spite of the powerful speech of my noble friend Lord Richard, I hope that it will make more progress than the previous Bill. I agree with Part 1, which puts the Appointments Commission on a statutory basis. I also agree with the provisions of Clause 5, which include,
“a willingness and capacity to make a contribution to the work of the House of Lords”.
I consider that to be absolutely essential. The great majority of Peers, of course, fulfil that requirement, but I am sorry to say that a small number do not. As Sir John Major said, once their backs touch those Red Benches they are off and we never see them again. I take particular note and agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott, said, who I am glad to follow. It is surely right that this undertaking should be put on a statutory basis.
Clause 10 closes off the by-election option for replacing hereditary Peers who have died. Although the 92 include the Leader of the Opposition, several shadow Ministers, and hardworking Peers on all parts of the House, the idea of the hereditary peerage constantly replenishing itself, sometimes with tiny electorates, has been much criticised. Although I am an elected hereditary Peer, I had the privilege of being elected by the whole House as a former Deputy Speaker. The time has now come to cut off this system, although I realise that the provision causes strong feelings.
I consider Clause 13 on expelling a Peer from membership of the House if they have permanent leave of absence to be rather draconian. It may be that a Peer who has been a regular attender has been posted abroad on official business. He might have been sent as a commissioner to Brussels, for example, or he might be recovering from a lengthy illness. It seems rather unfair if they have to go cap in hand to make their excuses to a body stipulated by the House, which then decides whether,
“the reason given is of sufficient merit for the provisions … not to apply”—
“the provisions” relating to expulsion from the House.
In conclusion, I hope that one day we shall have an elected Chamber where the Members are called senators. That would take care of many of the problems connected with the peerage that we have, regrettably, seen in recent years and which continue. The Bill attempts to put right some of those problems. It is a useful interim measure until we have the full-scale reform that I hope will not be too long in coming.
My Lords, I have long been a supporter of a part-elected, part-appointed House. That dates back to when Margaret Thatcher was Leader of the Opposition and she appointed me to a committee under Alec Douglas-Home to come up with proposals to reform this House. We came up with quite a good package: part-elected, part-appointed, part-hereditary. Alec had an ingenious method for culling the hereditaries. It was a Scottish system, whereby all the Scottish Peers would go to the Assembly in Edinburgh. Lord Stair would take the chair as the oldest and all the names would be read out in alphabetical order, receiving the acclamation “Yes” or “No”. During that process, various derogatory remarks would be shouted out, such as, “No, we couldn’t have him, he cheated at Eton”. That was not the system that was eventually used for culling the hereditary Peers, but they were culled. Margaret did absolutely nothing about that report. The only comment that she ever made to me about the House of Lords was that she was rather sad that the people whom she appointed to take the Conservative Whip rarely supported her. She wisely did not do anything on constitutional reform.
We should now park the possibility of a part-elected House for a number of years. I say that to be realistic. The Government do not have time to bring in a Bill. Whatever the White Paper says, it is academic; it really is for the birds. The Government have neither the power nor the time to implement it. Come the next Parliament, a small majority one way or the other way will lead to a hung Parliament, so there will be no constitutional measure in the next Parliament. It is absurd to believe that there will be. The hustings are not remotely interested in reform of the House of Lords. You get not to 2010 but to 2015. By then, a whole new factor will have entered the debate; by then, this House will have to recognise that it has two roles. It is the upper Chamber for England, because we no longer have any influence on Scottish, Welsh or Northern Ireland matters. It is also a federal Parliament for non-devolved matters. That is very strange body indeed. It will lead to a great debate on who should be the Members of that extraordinary body. I do not believe that there will be fundamental change to the composition of this House for 20 years.
Therefore, I conclude that there should be small, incremental change. I support entirely what the former Speaker of the House of Commons said in her very wise speech. This is a small, incremental measure that will make this House better. I strongly support an independent Appointments Commission and I strongly support the idea of phasing Members out slowly. Those who speak in favour of an elected part of this House have a wish list.
Let me say one thing about leave of absence and the size of the House. When the hereditary Peers were Members of this House, there were 1,200 to 1,300 Members. When they left, that fell to 600. We have now expanded to 700. The Appointments Commission is a ratchet for increasing that. The Reaper takes only 17 of us a year, but the commission will appoint more than 17 a year—and in the year after an election probably rather more. There must be a system for descaling the House. We do not need 700 Members, rising to 800 Members.
I would like the measures in Clause 12 to be slightly strengthened. I advocate a system whereby all new life Peers should be appointed for 15 years and existing life and hereditary Peers should be offered either another 15 years or compensation. We can certainly determine compensation for this House. The department with responsibility for environmental affairs has devised an extraordinarily generous system of compensation for disposing of middle-ranking and senior civil servants. If we put our mind to it and use the right actuaries, I am quite sure that we can do the same.
I very much support this Bill. Perhaps I may say to my Front Bench that I hope that the leader of the Tories in this House will go to the shadow Cabinet and persuade it, too, to support the Bill in the Commons. This is all that we are going to get, so let us take it.
My Lords, above our heads are the statues of our founding fathers—men who emerged from the dark ages with ideas that in time would light up the world. Through Magna Carta they established the Common Council, which later became the Great Council, England’s earliest parliament. The small seed that they planted grew into a tree and from that tree there has now grown a forest of parliaments around the world that share a common heritage.
Our Parliament has evolved in the past eight centuries and, in particular, our House of Lords has become the diverse Chamber in which we sit today, as my noble friend Lady D’Souza said so clearly. Change did not happen overnight. Countless small steps over hundreds of years have ensured that this House has remained relevant to the needs of the country and respected by the people whom it serves. Today marks yet another step along that road of reform.
I said that this House is respected, but there can be little doubt that its reputation has been severely undermined by recent events, as my noble friend Lady Boothroyd said powerfully. If this House wants to regain the public’s confidence and if it yearns for the stamp of legitimacy, yet wants to challenge the popular misconception that legitimacy flows only from direct elections, we must ensure that the public have total confidence in the way in which Members are appointed to this House. That is why I welcome the Bill.
In all fairness, this Government deserve recognition for establishing the House of Lords Appointments Commission. From personal experience, I know of the time, effort and care that members of the commission put into finding and vetting candidates for these independent Cross Benches. They have delivered to this House many world-class experts whose contributions we would never benefit from but for the system of appointments. Despite its success, however, we must bear in mind the fact that the Appointments Commission remains a non-statutory body with a very narrow remit. It is the Prime Minister, not the commission, who determines how many Members are appointed to this House. It is the Prime Minister, not the commission, who determines the balance between the political parties in this House. And it is only the Prime Minister, not the commission, who can recommend individuals from political parties for life peerages to the Crown.
The proposal in this Bill that all recommendations for the creation of life peerages shall be made only by the commission is an idea whose time has come. The Prime Minister should not, in a modern democracy, be able to decide how many people are appointed to scrutinise government and revise legislation. Nor should he determine the political balance of the upper House if the House of Lords is to remain a powerful check and balance on the power of government. This Bill not only proposes to remove these powers from the Prime Minister, but would require the Appointments Commission to guarantee that no party enjoys an overall majority in this House.
Tuesday was the first anniversary of my maiden speech in this House. In the short time that I have sat on these Benches, it has convened for close to 1,000 hours. Peers have asked Her Majesty’s Government more than 5,500 Questions and debated issues simply too numerous to count. But the issue that I regard to be the most important is the one that we are debating today, because the public’s confidence in this House underpins everything that we do here in the service of our country. Any misunderstanding of how we are appointed—any perception, right or wrong, that our selection process is open to abuse—undermines the important work that we do.
I applaud the noble Lord, Lord Steel, for his Bill. I am proud that it recognises that the strength and foundation of this House lie in the independence, objectivity and integrity of its Members. I am proud to serve as a Member of this House. This House is precious. This House brings out the best in Britain and this House is also the best for Britain. The House of Lords is the guardian of our nation, the guardian of the values and principles for which we stand and the guardian of the very foundations of this country. May these reforms serve this House as well as this House serves our nation.
My Lords, while I of course congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Steel, on the introduction of this Bill, I am opposed to it, not because I do not agree with at least one of its proposals—eventually to remove the remaining hereditary Peers—but because I am profoundly opposed to its proposed method of appointing life Peers. As a matter of principle, the idea that nine people, be they ever so good and ever so great, should be responsible for deciding who should be the Members of our legislature is no longer appropriate in a modern world.
However, I oppose the Bill largely because its time has passed. It is not quite like rearranging the deck chairs on the sinking ship, as that would be too cruel an analogy for your Lordships’ House. Perhaps closing the door after the horse has bolted would be a more apt description. The horse that has bolted in this case is the vote in the other place earlier this year that said in clear and unequivocal terms that your Lordships’ House should either be wholly elected or that a majority of it should be elected. This decisive vote has been welcomed by the Government and by the main political parties. The Green Paper The Governance of Britain, published in July 2007, stated that the Government will develop reforms for a substantially or wholly elected second Chamber and that the cross-party discussions led by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Justice will seek to bring forward a comprehensive package of reforms. I agree with that and I was in the minority of your Lordships who voted for a substantially or wholly elected Chamber earlier this year.
In preparing for this debate, I went back to the debates of 1999, when I sat through almost all the hours during which your Lordships’ House was debating what we, and certainly I as a very new Member, thought would be the first stage of reform. I believed that the second stage would surely soon follow. I am older now, certainly; whether or not I am wiser I leave for others to judge, but I have come to realise that reform of this Chamber is not and never will be easy. Since 1997, we have had a royal commission, two Joint Committee reports, four government White Papers on Lords reform and now this Private Member’s Bill.
While I disagree with the Bill, I commend the noble Lord, Lord Steel, for trying to find a way to edge forward in the further reform of your Lordships’ House. However, there is no doubt that, willy-nilly, we have over the past 10 years reformed ourselves and the way in which we conduct business. For example, we elect our own Speaker. In my view, we need more elections to important committees in this House—and why not? But I digress. Because of the accumulation of internal and external reform, there is no doubt that we are a more confident and businesslike House than we were, we are taken more seriously by the Government and, if the number of organisations that beat a path to one’s door is an indication, we are taken seriously by many organisations and groups that seek to influence our deliberations.
However, I do not believe that, just because this House does a good job, that justifies efforts to continue our existence or our composition as it currently stands. With respect to my noble friend Lord Lea, who is not in his place, I believe that he is mistaken. There is no consensus in the Labour group about how this House should be reformed and I regret to say that he is completely out of step with his own party policy and manifesto.
We have hereditary Peers and we have an absurd by-election system to replenish them. The methods of appointment of the rest of us are not easily understood or justified. We have just emerged from a period of examination about how we are appointed, linked to a suspicion that some may be here because they donated or loaned money to a political party. Like many noble Lords, I spend some of my time explaining to others the work of this House—to schools, students, women’s institutes and political gatherings. I can assure noble Lords that the recent police investigation and discussions have damaged all of us. When one links the unhelpful publicity to what it is like attempting to explain to a crowd of 18 and 19 year-old students the composition of the House, with its Bishops and its hereditary Peers, and how the rest of us got here, the lesson is salutary. There is disbelief, amusement and incomprehension. There are questions about why we have the established Church sitting as of right in our legislature, when the only other country in the world that has such a system is Iran.
As my noble friend Lord Whitty said in a recent debate about the composition,
“we sometimes fail to see ourselves as others see us”.—[Official Report, 12/3/07; col. 556.]
I am convinced that he is right and that we have a tendency to convince ourselves that because we do a great job—as, indeed, we do—the lack of democratic accountability can be justified in the 21st century. The House of Lords must look at itself much more carefully. We must adopt the principle that, one way or another, directly or indirectly, the consent of the people is required if we are to be part of the legislature.
My Lords, I am not in favour of the Bill, and I hope that your Lordships will allow me a few moments to say why.
I turn first to the provisions in the Bill to end the by-elections among hereditary Peers to replace any of the 92 first elected in 1999 and who sadly pass on. I believe with complete conviction that the undertaking then given by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, the then Lord Chancellor, was and remains binding upon this Labour Government in the terms in which it was given; that is, that the 92 elected hereditary Peers would remain in place until such time as the second and final stage of House of Lords reform was in place. By no stretch of the imagination does this Bill meet that requirement. Of course, I acknowledge that this Bill is introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, speaking from the Liberal Democrat Benches. But that does not absolve Her Majesty’s Government from the formal undertaking given on their behalf eight years ago.
To put it plainly, I do not believe that the 1999 Act would have passed through your Lordships’ House had the undertaking to which I have referred not been given. To go back upon that undertaking now would be an act of dishonour, with which I am certain noble Lords on the government Benches in your Lordships’ House would not wish to be associated. As I speak now, I am not informed as to the Government's detailed intentions in this matter; no doubt we shall hear more later. However, Ministers have a duty to ensure that at least that part of the Bill that does away with by-elections does not reach the statute book. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, when he comes to speak, will confirm that position.
I turn, secondly, to the provisions in the Bill which give formal statutory authority to an appointments commission which alone, it would seem, will become responsible for the appointment of Members of your Lordships’ House. These arrangements are altogether too prescriptive. For example, there is no reference to religious leaders or retired service chiefs, both of whom make a crucial contribution to this House and who should perhaps come of right. Nor is there any reference to the Earl Marshal or the Lord Great Chamberlain, who were specially provided for in the 1999 Act. These are important omissions.
I make no secret of the fact that I am not much in favour of a wholly or largely appointed House, whoever may be responsible for the selection. But I recognise that many noble Lords—perhaps a majority—take a different view. There is clearly no consensus as to the way forward. Let us therefore leave matters as they are until such a consensus does emerge and we can move forward with general agreement.
The Bill also includes a provision for the exclusion of those noble Lords who unhappily fall foul of the law. I do not, in principle, oppose such provisions but they ought to be set out more carefully. For example, I am not clear whether noble Lords who have been convicted in the way referred to prior to the Bill coming into effect are excluded, or whether these provisions include convictions handed down outside the United Kingdom. These clauses have clearly not been fully thought through.
I will end with some general points. Proposals for major constitutional change which will fundamentally alter the House of Lords or any other of the great institutions of state should come forward in a Public Bill introduced by the Government following proper consultation. This Bill is nothing of the sort. It is, I fear, an amateurish approach to an overwhelmingly important issue and simply will not do. I very much hope that the noble Lord, Lord Steel, will withdraw it.
My Lords, I am rather regretful about following that speech, which I feel hankers back to the old days, which have been forgotten by most of us—to good advantage. I wish to see whatever package of reform comes forward include provision for modernising the House of Commons. Their vote is, to some extent, an attempt to push the reform agenda to us while leaving their own stables uncleared.
I also rise to support my noble friend Lord Steel. I represent a part of the party which does not agree, and was not willing to be dragooned through the Lobbies in the last vote, with the three-line Whip. A number of us opposed it. On matters such as this, Whips are not appropriate.
Chiefly, I want to say that I was talking to a group of people last Monday about the functioning of the House of Lords. The Lord Speaker has done a tremendous job in improving the presentation of this Chamber to the public. Many of us try hard to go out and explain things. When we do so, we find a clear understanding and support among people for what we do. It was perhaps best illustrated when I went—I am not a regular attender of such things—to a regional party gathering. Following my report on the House of Lords was a motion on the agenda to abolish it and burn us, and all sorts of things. When I had given my report, the motion was lost because people understood what this place does, and were not willing to be guided by prejudices of any sort. They made a judgment on the facts.
I hope that the House gives every support to the Lord Speaker in continuing to push forward that educational programme so that, whenever a decision is made, it is made on the basis of fact, not pictures in the newspapers of people in full-bottomed wigs sitting in front of the Queen in ermine robes. That is the impression that certain cartoonists give of the place. That is not right; there is valuable work done here. I think particularly of the Climate Change Bill, the speeches on which were of the highest order—if any Member of the House has not read them, I suggest that they do so.
I hope that this Bill tidies up some anomalies, removes some of the criticism, and that the Government, when they bring forward their comprehensive package of reform, regards it as a reform of Parliament and not simply of the House of Lords.
My Lords, in 1999 we were promised that a full and final reform of this House would eventually happen. This is a grave constitutional matter unsuitable for a Private Member's Bill, particularly one introduced on a Friday afternoon, when many of your Lordships have gone home for the weekend. It should be resolved by a Government Bill introduced in prime time, the contents of which should have been arrived at, if possible, by all-party consensus. If it is not done in such a manner, what guarantee have we, should it pass, that it will be accepted by the Government, by the opposition parties and the country as stage two of the reform which was started in 1999? For that reason alone, I am totally opposed to the Bill.
Even Part 1, which could have created an appointments commission which would have been truly independent of prime ministerial patronage, signally fails to do so. Why should the Speaker of another place have anything to do with it? Only four members have to be privy counsellors. I suggest that the appointments commission should be a committee of the Privy Council, the majority of the members being also Members of this House; then they might know something about what they were doing.
So far as I am concerned, Part 2 is not acceptable, and here I have an interest to declare as an hereditary Peer. The 92 hereditary Peers were supposed to remain here until stage two of House of Lords reform had been completed. The noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, has reminded us of the undertaking given in 1999 by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg. The noble and learned Lord went on to say:
“The 10 per cent will go when stage two has taken place and their presence is a guarantee that stage two will take place”.—[Official Report, 11/5/99; col. 1092.]
That was confirmed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, only last March, when he said:
“The noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, reminded us that we agreed to the keeping of the hereditaries until stage 2 was in place. We agreed that in the White Paper and stand by it”.—[Official Report, 13/3/07; col. 722.]
Now, as I said, what guarantee have we that, if the Bill were to receive Royal Assent, the Government, who I believe are neutral regarding it, would be satisfied that the reforms embodied in it constituted stage two? Absolutely none, my Lords. In that case we, the hereditary Peers, would no longer be here as such to annoy the Government like a cloud of midges and to torment them by our very existence—an existence that they had a manifesto commitment to get rid of.
Much is continually said about the ludicrousness of the Peers’ elections. That is something that I do not deny, but the principal thing that is ludicrous about them is that the electorate consists only of the hereditary Peers so that, in the case of Labour and Liberal Democrat elections, just one or two Peers vote for a whole list of candidates. That would be simply remedied by making the electorate all the Peers in the relevant party or the entire House, which, with hindsight, is what I now believe should always have been the case. However, for any of us hereditary Peers to be party to abolishing the elections sticks in my gullet. It is tantamount to turning round and saying, “I’m alright Jack, and to hell with you!”, to our erstwhile colleagues, who were so meanly and ungraciously sacked in 1999 and whose only hope of either getting back themselves or their heirs doing so is to be elected.
I think that Part 3, Clause 12, is mean and short-sighted and that it will deprive the House of a lot of experience and expertise.
Turning to Part 4, it is a pity to be so sanctimonious about Peers who have served jail sentences. As the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, said, they have paid their forfeit and should be allowed back into the game. In any case, this is not a matter for primary legislation. I believe the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, will say a word about that.
Altogether, I think that this is a dreadful Bill and I shall join others in attempting to amend it at a later stage. As it is, I hope that I do not have to leave for the airport before the winding-up speeches are finished.
My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Lady and I agree with everything that she said. It saves a little time on my speech because she said it better than I could have done.
As has already been said, there is no consensus on the way forward and, at the moment, the Government are seeking that consensus. This Bill was rejected in substance by the Government in the Statement of 19 July. It is not a gift horse, other than a Trojan gift: it is but an albatross hanging around the neck of government to pre-empt stage 2 and renege on the Cranborne deal; it hangs around the neck of your Lordships’ House as a grievous trespass upon the convention that we shall remain master of our own procedures; and it curtails the exercise of the royal prerogative to grant peerages for life.
In saying that, I do not call into question in any sense the integrity of the noble Lords and Members of the other place who got together to devise and support the Bill. In the wake of this debate, it is suggested that the Bill be withdrawn, pending debate in both Houses on the White Paper, which is in preparation. That was suggested in a document that appeared on my desk yesterday, although I do not know who put it there. It was a briefing on the Bill by a group of Labour parliamentarians and Members. As I said, I do not know how it got there but written at the top were the words, “It may help you”. Well, it does, but they had reasons for the suggestion other than to help me. However, I am with them on the suggestion for the reason given in the briefing and not because they would have said other things. I think that they are right: this is a pre-emptive affair. I totally agree with what has been said by my noble and learned friend Lord Howe and indeed with what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, the first time around.
The object of this speech is to give notice of my intention to oppose the Question whether Clauses 10 and 11 to 17 shall stand part of the Bill. The tripart intendment of the Bill is flawed. As to Part 1, which has been spoken to by my noble friend Lord Ferrers, there is no provision to determine the balance and size of the House, and no reason has been given why the present Appointments Commission could not in fact do what it is proposed the statutory commission should do.
Part 2 reneges on the Cranborne deal, albeit that the criteria for stage 2 reform cannot be met. This is well-trodden ground to be revisited on another occasion.
I turn to Parts 3 and 4. Contrary to the convention, Clauses 11 to 17, which are so drafted that you cannot get at them to amend them in the ordinary way, provide that our domestic procedures shall be ordained by primary legislation. This House has the conventional entitlement under Standing Orders to make provision for permanent leave of absence on or without application; for the deprivation of membership, also on conviction of a serious criminal offence; and to establish a fair regime—three noble Lords have spoken about that—for the implementation of both under the aegis of the Privileges Committee, on which, so far as I am aware, there is no reason why the four Law Lords should not be enabled to sit. My time is up.
My Lords, the second version of the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, would implement some essential principles for a modern legislature.
First, an Appointments Commission for such an important task should surely be statutory, and it must be right to set out criteria for eligibility, including a regard for the diversity of our population. The present non-statutory commission has already honoured that regard with distinction. I am not so sure about the resonance of the term “merit” as a criterion—not of course that your Lordships are not all meritorious people—but the implication of deserving a reward moves away from the responsibilities of a working Member of a second Chamber, and I hope any commission would focus on aptitude and experience for the task. In that connection, I am disappointed that such membership is still termed “peerage” in the Bill. “Peerage” has a fuzzy hereditary association.
It is that sense of a fuzzy edge which makes me think that while there are steps forward in this Bill we need to have a bigger picture in mind. In introducing his first Bill the noble Lord said, if I may quote him:
“I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me”.—[Official Report, 20/7/07; col. 487.]
I submit that it is essential to have a firmer grasp of the distant scene if we are to make the right steps towards it. That distant scene will include proper reform—election of at least 80 per cent. The noble Lord’s Bill safeguards an independent 20 per cent of Members, and I hope that this will be fully considered by those drafting the complete reform. It goes comfortably with the diversity imperative.
I do not think we should run scared of the big picture in the distant scene. It will not go away just because we deny it; but nor would it rock our foundations. Indeed, I suggest that party lists would probably yield people very similar to your Lordships. Why would the parties want to have a different kind of animal? Indeed, they might, if similar explicit criteria were rather more firmly embedded in the system, produce an even more luminary membership, if that were possible. It is difficult to imagine, I know. I also think that there is a case for allowing the party leaders to influence the composition of any party lists, at least by drawing up a long list for a commission to look at.
The big picture requires consideration of much wider factors, and in much more depth. It requires consideration, for instance, of matters like the details of workable balance and control which Dr Meg Russell set out so interestingly in one of my noble friend the Leader’s seminars, and, of course, all the essentials of a second Chamber which has a democratic colour, role, powers, conventions—even that Members themselves could vote in a general election, which is, rather surprisingly, not in the noble Lord’s Bill.
The prospect of change to a truly democratic basis has caused consternation among some of your Lordships. But we now take for granted many democratic elements which were regarded as outrageous in their time, such as equal application of the law—the Levellers—and secret ballots—the Chartists—to name but two. I wonder if those of your Lordships who fear the distant scene shiver in the words of TS Eliot:
“They all go into the dark …
The captains, merchant bankers, eminent men of letters,
The generous patrons of art, the statesmen and the rulers,
Distinguished civil servants, chairmen of many committees,
Industrial lords and petty contractors, all go into the dark”.
But, not necessarily so. Those who add value to the legislature can still be with us under a new democratic dispensation. I therefore hope that the best measures in the noble Lord’s Bill will be taken forward instead as part of much wider provisions.
My Lords, I remain here to be the grit in the oyster for reform, not just to ensure that change comes, but to ensure that when reform does come, the power of this House is not reduced and can still hold the Government to account.
This Bill seeks to pre-empt any reform, and, incidentally, if passed will give the Labour Party and the Lib Dems more Peers in this House and my party and the Cross Benches fewer. If it had been enacted in 1999 we would have 10 fewer colleagues, but I am sure that the Prime Minister would have carried on appointing Peers to the Government Benches.
The concept of an appointed House has been rejected by another place. It is not the policy of the three major parties. This House is, after all, a political Chamber. Business is managed by the parties and their whips. With respect to the Cross Benches, if both Opposition Front Benches went home early, business would collapse.
I agree with noble Lords who say that this Chamber works. It works as well as it ever did. The Bill seeks to improve some aspects, such as leave of absence, size of membership and suspension for those guilty of a serious offence. However, I note that the noble Lord, Lord Steel, is content for Members of this House to take temporary leave of absence if they sit in the European Parliament, but not if they sit in either the Scottish Parliament or the Welsh Assembly. Why should not the rules be the same for all three? Perhaps the noble Lord might address that when he winds up.
The hereditary by-election system was supposed to last only a few years. Whose fault is that? The Government must take full responsibility for this bizarre electoral system continuing.
For change to be accepted it has to come from another place. I believe that it will come only after the next general election when both parties will have to spell out their plans in their respective manifestos. We should not try to pre-empt that. All parties favour an elected second Chamber. It would be a second Chamber that is rather different from the one now; it would have different conventions, different powers and probably a different role. Would it work better? Who knows? Is the country clamouring for an elected second Chamber? The answer must be no, not at the moment. Equally, neither have they endorsed the concept of an appointed second Chamber. They do agree that there should be a check on the Executive and a revising second Chamber with power to delay and make the Government of the day think again.
We were promised another stage of reform by this Government, by the then Lord Chancellor, his word given as a Privy Councillor—so far a hollow promise. The Bill has a number of things wrong with it. It enshrines the status quo; it is a slight benefit to the Lib Dems. But the most important thing is that it lets the Government off the hook; it lets both major parties off the hook. It comes in the middle of yet another consultation process. We do not know what the Government’s response will be but we can guess. They will take the views expressed in this debate into account very seriously during their consultation process to produce yet another White Paper. However, if recent remarks from a former No. 10 official are true, they suggest that the Government would like to do away with the second Chamber altogether, and have only one House—the House of Commons.
The Bill pre-empts what is generally understood to be the business of government in another place. It would deprive the electorate of a chance to vote for the party which offered the way forward for constitutional reform. The Bill perhaps could be re-titled, “The Life Peers Rescue Bill”. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Steel, for allowing one lifeboat for the hereditary Peers to clamber into.
As always, I am pleasantly surprised to be here—10 years after a Labour victory and 34 years after I made my maiden speech. That is not a bet I would have taken 10 or even 34 years ago. The Bill lets the Government off the hook and I do not believe that it should be supported.
My Lords, with constitutional reform it is a reliable maxim that the best is the enemy of the good. We can have our grand dreams of reform, but one person’s dream is another person’s nightmare. Experience tells us that comprehensive reforms do not work. We do not have a Jacobinical tradition in this country. Lord Holland was asked by the Neapolitan liberals if he would supply them with a new constitution to replace the arrangements under the Bourbon regime. He replied that they might as well ask him to design a tree. Whether you consider that the British constitution develops organically or providentially, the observable fact is that it develops gradually. Largely undefined, our constitution adapts to new circumstances. That is why this Bill is so useful. It seizes the opportunity presented by immediate political pressures and sufficiently wide consensus. It addresses limited but important issues that everyone agrees need early remedy, and it offers sensible solutions.
We cannot respectably carry on with the present Appointments Commission. In their 2001 White Paper the Government accepted the case for a statutory appointments commission. In the 2003 Queen’s Speech they said that they would legislate to create one. The present Appointments Commission was created in 2000, avowedly as a transitional arrangement, not by Parliament but by the Prime Minister. It has now been reappointed, the Library tells me, three times. For all the good work it has done, it lacks authority. Its terms of reference do not permit it to determine the size, balance and proportionality of membership of this House, which remain at the determination of the Prime Minister. The last reappointment—last January—was for just 18 months. We need to legislate in this Session.
The Government are exercised, rightly, about legitimacy of the second Chamber. This Bill is well designed to confer legitimacy upon the procedures for appointment to the second Chamber. The Bill would place a new appointments commission on the basis of statute. Its membership would be proposed by the Speaker of the House of Commons, together with the Lord Speaker, and would be approved by a vote of the elected House. The Commons would also approve the criteria and guidelines for the commission.
The Bill provides the assurance that the public want that all Members newly appointed to the House of Lords would be people fit for the purposes of scrutinising legislation and advising the elected House of Commons and the Government. The procedures for party nominations would be transparent. Only people of conspicuous merit who were committed to doing a proper job would be appointed. There are provisions for disqualification and retirement. The size of the House would be contained, while the continuation of a strong element of independent Cross-Bench Peers would be assured. Diversity would be encouraged. It would be assured that experienced politicians would continue to be appointed, which is important for the good functioning of the House.
The Government party would be the largest, but there would be a balance of the political parties. No party would have an absolute majority in the second Chamber. That has effectively become a constitutional principle in recent years, in one of those decisive developments of opinion that characterise the process of constitutional change in our country. Dr Russell has made a strong case that the membership of one Chamber should be on a proportionate basis if the membership of the other, the House of Commons, is on a majoritarian basis, and she notes that proportionality can be achieved by appointment. Among the virtues of this Bill is that it does not foreclose more radical options, such as elections, for the future. Many of us will have our own ideas about further reform. Personally, I do not think membership for life of an appointed House can now be justified. But those debates are for later on.
The Bill deals also, meanwhile, with a second absurdity: the by-elections to this House of hereditary Peers. The noble Lord, Lord Steel, has pointed out that at present we have elections in which there are fewer voters than in the pre-1832 rotten boroughs. Hardly anyone now attempts to make a serious case for the retention of the hereditary principle for entry to the legislature.
The specific measures in this Bill are widely viewed as necessary. If we do nothing until we have genuine consensus on comprehensive reform we shall wait, on the Government’s admission, until the next Parliament, which must mean five to seven years. More likely, we shall wait for ever. David Cameron has said that for a Conservative Government Lords reform would be a third-term issue. That will not do. We should proceed, incrementally, and the time is now ripe for the reforms in this Bill.
My Lords, I am glad to follow the noble Lord because I agree with everything he said. In advance of this debate, seeing the number of speakers, given that we have already had a Second Reading and having been involved in all the details of the Bill, I wondered whether I should put my name down because I was not sure I had anything fresh to say. My main reason was to indicate in the absence of a vote that I strongly support the Bill.
Having listened to the debate so far, I am bound to say that I profoundly disagree with those who oppose it for whatever reason. I agree with my noble friend Lord Baker that further reforms of the House of Lords certainly will not happen before 2012 and I think that it will be a long way beyond that. The differences we have heard in today’s debate about what that further reform should be underline that. I believe that we are long way from getting that further main reform. These are important and much needed reforms for the Lords, and it is right to do them now.
Two of the merits of the Bill are that it helps to promote the distinction that the Government have advanced between the peerage as an honour, like, but beyond, knighthoods, and Peers who will not only be Members of this House but will be working Peers. I believe that Clauses 11 and 12 help to achieve that. I say “help” because they do not achieve it completely, but they go some way to achieving that. Secondly, the Bill goes some way, especially through Clause 12, to reducing the number in the House to make it closer to the number in the Commons, which is the Government’s objective. I have to say that they have not helped their objective because ever since they claimed that that was their purpose the former Prime Minister appointed so many new Members to this House that we have gone further and further away from the number of Members in the House of Commons. I understand that the number of Members of this House in October was 746, which is exactly 100 more than the House of Commons. That is why I believe that Clause 12 is important. I do not know how many Peers Clause 12 will remove. Perhaps the Minister can tell us, based on recent experience of non-attendance how many he thinks it will be. Judging by the numbers attending every day, it could be substantial. I recognise that there is a flaw in that Members who attend only once every three months in order to register that they are still here could escape the purpose of that clause, but we will, no doubt, debate that in Committee. Unless Clause 12 produces significant reductions in numbers, it will either take a very long time through the Appointments Commission to get to the Commons number or there will be very few appointments in the early years. I share the view of my noble friend Lord Baker that we need to look closely at Clause 12 to see whether it can be strengthened.
I now turn to the proposal in relation to hereditary Peers and non re-election. This is widely supported, and is the neatest and fairest way of dealing with this problem. In passing, I note that those affected by permanent leave of absence and conviction for serious criminal offences will under the Bill be entitled to vote for the House of Commons. I am not quite sure why those groups in particular have been chosen to be able to vote for the House of Commons. I would have thought that the right reform is for all Members of this House to be entitled to vote for the House of Commons, and I now see no logic in our not being able to do so.
I wonder whether Clause 4 means that the Appointments Commission could ignore altogether the recommendations made under paragraphs (b) and (c). I hope that is not the case because it would be regrettable if that happened. However, this is also a point for debate in Committee.
I believe that the way in which the noble Lord, Lord Steel, has introduced this debate and listened to the previous debate and adjusted the Bill indicates that the Committee stage will be very productive. I commend the way in which he has done so. We are some way from the wider reforms and this is therefore an important step to put right the things that need to be put right now. I am told that the Government are going to be neutral and I hope that it will be benevolent neutrality.
My Lords, when they launched the White Paper in February, I was impressed by the Government’s determination to move ahead with reform under a new Prime Minister, but months have passed. There is always a temptation with Lords reform for Peers and others to assume that it is drifting into the long grass. I am not one of those who would prefer that option, and I think it would be a great mistake to make that assumption. That is why I am a member of the group which supports this Bill as a means of helping the Government towards a second-stage solution during their lifetime. I do not believe that this Government will leave a major reform such as this for another day, and they badly need the support of this House to get their agenda through.
As my noble friend Lady Saltoun and the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, said, the second stage represented by the Bill does not follow the logic of the Weatherill amendment, which called for only two stages, and which, at that time, secured the majority of this House. However, we have moved on, and the second stage is what we are now offering. If the Government take it over, it would be stage 2; if not, the third stage would be the creation of a substantially elected House. This is not the time to debate that, but the Minister must recognise that there would now be such opposition to that proposal in both Houses and such political uproar during the debates that it would almost certainly lead to stalemate and use of the Parliament Act, and in no way could such a reform be the product of consensus. This is why I argue that while the Lord Chancellor, who is a 50:50 man and, I believe, sincere in his search for consensus, has the opportunity of finding consensus through this Bill, he should seize it. By setting aside elections, he would satisfy the manifesto and the desire of a large majority of both Houses put together to reach agreement.
Beyond that, I have one misgiving about the proposed number of independent Peers. The figure of 20 per cent originally suggested by Wakeham and accepted in the White Paper will have to take account of party political nominations. Clause 8(2)(a) repeats the figure, but points out that the 20 per cent will be independent of any registered political party. There has been some conversation about that. Under the new Appointments Commission, it is argued that there will no longer be party political Peers, except through this process, yet the pressure to appoint former political figures will remain the same. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, made this point in the previous debate, at which I was not present. As a result of the political character of Parliament, the pressure would become stronger in a reformed House, and I can think of a number of Peers who would disguise their political background on the Cross Benches with some difficulty. Independence would clearly be compromised. Cross-Bench Peers may well make representations on that when the time comes.
The White Paper goes back on another undertaking given by the Government, through the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, at the time of the 1999 reform. She committed the Government to a higher figure corresponding to the present number of independents, which includes Bishops and retired Law Lords, although they are sometimes listed separately. That figure was then about 26 per cent, but it has risen since. The White Paper refers to the figure of 28 per cent, including the hereditary Cross-Bench Peers. I suggest to the Government that in the case of any further vote, there should be an alternative of 25 per cent appointed and 75 per cent elected, for both the reasons that I have given. The Government made a great mistake in going back to the seven options on election before we had achieved consensus. I expect that they are regretting that now.
Finally, on a more personal note, I never expected when I joined the House 12 years ago that I would be standing here today. There must be a lot of Labour electors and other people in the country who share that surprise and would now like to get on with the second stage, but there will be many more who value the House as we are presently composed and who have seen it in action. We must acknowledge the role of the elected hereditary Peers who, although their heads were on the block, are, almost as much as life Peers, now welded into an interim House and seem set to remain. They are not often mentioned, but all of us have made a contribution to the House and at least some are experts in their field and would be electable or appointable to any House.
I hope that the Government now see the wisdom of the Bill.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Earl. We are indeed fortunate to have him here and to have the benefit of his wise words, with which I entirely agree. When the matter was debated in the summer, it was stressed that the Bill ought to be one that everyone could support, regardless of their views on the future composition of the House. If we are to get consensus, we ought to be able to achieve consensus on this Bill. I have therefore been somewhat disappointed by some of the speeches made against it, which I believe are wrong. In particular, the noble Lord, Lord Richard, seems to suppose that it in some way pre-empts what happens eventually. That is not the case. It improves the situation between now and when, if ever, that decision is eventually taken. It is important and urgent that we make the changes proposed by the noble Lord. Lord Steel.
A great deal of damage has been done to this House by the cash for peerages scandal. Therefore it is important that we change from the present appointment system to one that is clearly impartial and not subject to undue outside pressures. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Richard, is not in his place, but he is wrong to say that this ought not to be done now; it should be done now. The case for that is overwhelming.
This is a modernising Bill. My right honourable friend the leader of the Opposition, Mr Cameron, says that he is in favour of modernisation. It moves us forward in the right direction, regardless of what eventual decision is made on composition.
There is an excellent Library note on the Weatherill amendment. It depicts the dramatic events in 1999. It was supposed to be a temporary arrangement that ensured that stage 2 took place. We could not have clearer evidence that it has failed in that objective. At the same time, it has created a certain number of problems. I stress one particular point. Lord Weatherill himself introduced a Bill in 2003 to get rid of the system with which his name had been associated. The other important point is that, as far as I am aware, there is no reason why the hereditary Peers who were removed from the House in 1999 could not have been made life Peers to allow them to re-enter the House.
It is essential to get the Bill on the statute book as early as possible. It has been suggested that long-term reform, in the sense of composition, may be many years ahead. We do not want to go on meanwhile with the present appointment system unimproved—in particular, with the problem of non-attendance of Members and the fact that the House is getting larger and larger. The Bill proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, seeks to deal with that point, which is very important.
I make two final points. First, it has been suggested that we must take account of the vote in the House of Commons. We must certainly take account of it, but it was advertised—if I may put it that way—as an indicative vote. I believe that opinion in the other place on the issue of composition is changing. Gradually, Members in the other place are beginning to appreciate the radical changes that have taken place in this House since 1999, which have vastly improved the way in which it operates. As that opinion changes, over time—I hope that the White Paper will take account of this—before the eventual decision on change of composition, we will get a greatly better situation.
Secondly, the vote for 100 per cent in the other place was flawed in various respects by tactical voting. If the proposal were indeed to have a 100 per cent- elected House—effectively abolishing this House as it now is—we have at some stage to question whether the basis on which constitutional change takes place in this country is really as it should be. I do not go for a referendum, because ignorance of the work of the House of Lords in the country as a whole, despite the efforts of the Lord Speaker, is probably almost as great as that in another place. I am mindful of Ted Heath’s remark that a majority of one is enough, but we must consider whether a larger majority may be more appropriate if we are going to undertake a fundamental constitutional revolution.
My Lords, I crave the indulgence of the House for my voice, which at least means that I will be brief.
Fortunately, reforming this place is difficult. I say “fortunately” with a pang of regret, because I would like to change this House in many ways to make it more effective. The only way in which I do not want to change it is by introducing election. Although a reformer at heart, I do not think it is wise to rush into reform or to take it in giant bites without seeing what are its consequences as we go.
In particular, I cannot think that it is wise to base the case for reform on a single vote—a pretty confused vote, too—in the House of Commons as if that were the end of the story. For one thing, the electoral system under which the House of Commons is chosen is very flawed. Two MPs in three got fewer than half of the votes in their constituencies. That is some mandate. Although I believe in the primacy of the Commons, I do not believe in the dictatorship of the Commons or that we should be cowed by that single vote.
Just how difficult reform is was spelt out to some Members of your Lordships' House by Dr Meg Russell of the Constitution Unit when she addressed the Leader’s seminar on 13 November. Dr Russell is a former adviser to the late Robin Cook. She has long been a fervent and articulate advocate of election to this place, albeit that some of us detect that she is not as fervent as once she was. Looking to the future of reform, she asked the gathering, “What can really honestly be achieved?”. Her answer was, “I am a lot less convinced than I used to be that large-scale reform is possible. If Robin Cook couldn’t do it, with his brain, what hope is there for anyone else?”.
This is what makes the Government’s position on the Bill—public neutrality, private hostility—so infuriating. Behind it stands Jack Straw, the Minister responsible in another place. It will be 40 years next year since I first met Mr Straw, when he and I were summoned by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, to meet the then Home Secretary Lord Callaghan and to tell him what young people thought. Unlike me, Mr Straw has myriad great achievements behind him—he is a man whom I applaud—but if he has a flaw, it is that there is about him something of the student politician yet. Let us face it, he is against the Bill for one reason only; he thinks that if he gets rid of the obvious flaws in this House, his chances of getting it elected will be weakened.
As I said, I do not think that election is a good thing. If, however, like Mr Straw today, not Mr Straw two years ago when he took a quite contrary view, I did think that election was a good thing, I hope that as I lower myself into the bath each morning I will remember the old saw quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Howarth of Newport: “Do not let the best become the enemy of the good”.
My Lords, unlike my usual habit, I did not come to the House prepared with any particular speech because I wanted to listen to the debate. I was not present at the debate in July. Although I read it, it is by listening to noble Lords that one gets the flavour. Those who oppose the Bill seem to have one particular reason for doing so—I should make it clear straightaway that I support the Bill as I believe that it is right. They say that it somehow pre-empts the decision on the final reforms, which are sometimes referred to as stage two, which may eventually emerge. I am totally against that argument because it simply is not true. Nothing in this Bill in any way pre-empts the decision that Parliament may in the end be invited to take and may vote on. The argument is trying to escape from what the noble Lord, Lord Steel, rightly said at the beginning are agreed reforms. They are not agreed in every detail—that has been made clear; we need a Committee stage—but the four reforms in the Bill seem to be things that most noble Lords agree should and could be done.
I agree wholeheartedly with those who say that most—indeed, one might say all—constitutional reform should be, to use the word of the noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall, incremental, or should, as the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, said, proceed by stages. This is an admirable stage in the process. As I say, it pre-empts nothing. I do not intend to get involved at all today in the argument about what should follow this. I have some sympathy with the view expressed by my noble friend Lord Baker that achieving stage two may take rather longer than some of those who are looking to it as the next stage say we should wait for. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, was one of those who said that the Bill was simply mischief-making. I am glad that he has come back. I am greatly reinforced in my views on the Bill by realising that he is on the other side. We have been sparring partners for 40 years in one House or the other, and the fact that he opposes the Bill is a comfort. As I say, my noble friend Lord Baker has indicated that he thinks that this process of achieving consensus and reform is likely to take longer. The noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, said that it was obviously going to be a difficult process. There is no doubt about that.
In the mean time, given that there are four reforms on which almost everyone agrees, we should go ahead with them. I have considerable respect for the views of my noble friends and others about the position of the hereditary Peers, but we really must recognise that it has been more than 100 years since it was acknowledged that that system could not survive. It has taken a long time to get there, but the longer the present interim position goes on, the less defensible is the process of the elections following the death of an hereditary Peer. Although I sympathise with that view, that clause is right. I support the Bill and, if there is a vote, I shall vote for it.
My Lords, pending consensus on the composition of the House and whether it should be 80 per cent- or 100 per cent- elected, we certainly need to tighten up the appointments system. In so far as the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, does that, I welcome it. I do, however, have four or five small and large reservations about how the Bill attempts to do so. First, the Bill suggests that the members of the Appointments Commission should be appointed for seven years. That is too long. I cannot think of many organisations to which people are appointed for as long as seven years. University heads of department are appointed for about five years, as are chairmen of quangos. A period of seven years does not allow sufficient rotation of the membership or new ideas to emerge. There is also the danger that the members of the commission can over time build up a kind of power base and create suspicions about the process of appointment that needs not occur.
Secondly, if we are really going to tighten up the appointments system, this commission, like all other commissions, should be required to submit an annual report to your Lordships’ House, explaining how many people had applied, the breakdown of the applicants, how the appointments were made, and whether in the light of the process of appointment the commission thinks that some changes need to be made. If all other commissions regularly report to your Lordships’ House, I see no reason why this commission, which is so important to the structure and operation of this House, should not be required to do the same.
My third reservation has to do with the criteria of appointment to your Lordships’ House. The Bill mentions two: conspicuous merit, and the capacity and willingness to contribute to the work of the House. I am not entirely happy with the words “merit” and “conspicuous”: conspicuous to whom, and what does merit mean in this context? Does it include a nurse or a trade union leader? What are the criteria by which we decide? Who defines merit and whether someone meets that criterion? I have even more difficulty with the second criterion: the capacity and willingness to contribute to the work of the House. If someone has the merit, he obviously has the capacity. Capacity seems to be implicit in the idea of merit and therefore redundant. Nor does the Bill do anything to spell out what willingness is. What does it mean to ask someone, before he or she is appointed, whether he or she is willing to contribute to the work of the House? One of the things that one might ask is whether they are prepared to attend the place fairly regularly. If that is too demanding in certain circumstances, a minimal commitment to attend at least a fifth or a quarter of the sittings of your Lordships’ House should show in earnest whether someone is willing. Unless we spell out these things, either in this way or some other way, there is a danger of misunderstanding.
I am also a little uneasy about the fact that a person who has been sentenced or ordered to be in prison for more than one year may be eligible after a lapse of time. If someone has been in prison, the legitimacy of the House and public confidence in it requires that that person should not be considered for appointment.
I also have unease about the overall membership of the House. The commission says that its membership should not exceed that of the House of Commons, but that does not tell us anything. It does not tell us what the maximum membership of this House should be, which should be decided on what this House is expected to do.
A further difficulty is that the House of Lords has 100 Members more than the House of Commons. The commission says that that number should be reduced in eight years. It would mean that there should be about 12 fewer appointments each year, which would be considerably fewer than at present and bound to deny new blood as well as frustrate talent. Reducing the number to 100 is important, but rather than simply requiring that over eight years 12 fewer Members should be appointed, we should encourage more Peers to take permanent leave or to allow retirement.
My final point is partly conceptual and partly linguistic. The Bill states that Members who have taken permanent leave of absence shall no longer be Members of the House of Lords. I think that only Members can be on permanent leave; an outsider cannot be. If I am on leave, I am on leave as a Member of this House, by virtue of being a Member of this House. Therefore, I would formulate the wording slightly differently. I suggest that those Members who are on permanent leave of absence should not be “active” Members or should not be “considered” Members of the House of Lords, rather than simply saying that they are not Members of the House of Lords.
My Lords, like other noble Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Steel, on the promotion of this Bill. It is a genuinely workable solution to the much discussed second stage of House of Lords reform. It does not compromise the supremacy of the elected House of Commons and it maintains this House as a fully appointed revising Chamber with its unique reservoir of experience and expertise. It is an approach that we should all support and fight for in the months and years to come. In the short time available, I should just like to raise a few issues which need to be discussed.
First, on the choice of members of the statutory Appointments Commission, I agree that there should be nine members and that members of the commission should be formally nominated jointly by the Speaker of the House of Commons and the Lord Speaker of this House. But their decisions should be based on one nominee each from the three major parties in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords, with the remaining three members to be nominated by the independent Cross-Benchers in the House of Lords. One of the Cross-Bench nominees should be appointed chairman.
This arrangement would create a commission composed of six Peers and three MPs. Unlike the present commission where there are two outside members, there would be no outside members, which is right. Outside members might harbour ambitions to join the Upper House, which it would be difficult for them to realise. The same is partly true for MPs, but as political party representatives, they would need to persuade only their political backers. There is also the issue of whether members of the commission should be Privy Counsellors. The Bill states that at least four should be, which is probably about right.
The Bill requires the commission to,
“have regard to the need to achieve a membership not exceeding that of the House of Commons”,
a subject which has been raised by other speakers. Given the fact that we are all living longer, it will be difficult to achieve this while still making a reasonable number of new annual appointments. This difficulty could be remedied by instituting a retirement age of, say, 80, or a fixed period of service of, say, 15 or 20 years. Of those alternatives, my preference would be for a fixed period of service, which should be set at 20 years. If a Member were making a significantly valuable contribution at the end of his or her 20 years, it could be made possible for him or her to claim a further, say, five years, to be decided by a secret poll of fellow Peers.
The introduction of a 20-year fixed period of service would need to be spread over a number of years to avoid a mass exodus of long-service Members from the present Chamber. I believe that there are 191 Peers with more than 20 years’ experience—or about 25 per cent of the total. I fully accept that the arrangements for the 92 hereditary Peers are an anomaly and that the present system of election to fill vacancies should be ended. However, for historical reasons, a special case should be made for the Earl Marshal and the Lord Great Chamberlain.
Part 2 is entitled “Exclusion of Hereditary Peers”. This title is a bit harsh and could be changed to “Future of Hereditary Peers”. The section should include a clause specifically stating that hereditary Peers will not be excluded from future nomination by the Appointments Commission. I fully support the Bill and trust that it will become the accepted second stage of House of Lords reform.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Richard, was wrong to say that if we pass this Bill we shall be spitting in the face of the House of Commons. The noble Lord and I share a conviction that a 100 per cent- elected House is the right way to go. I am sure we also share a view that it is right that the Commons should have primacy. But to say that this Bill challenges either of those things is not right. It is an attempt by this House to improve itself in the reasonable understanding that, although the Commons may eventually get it together and express its views in legislation, precedence suggests that this may take rather a long time. This Government will have had 12 years at least of very large majorities in which they could have made such a change, and a large conviction among their ranks, particularly in the other place, that these changes should be made. And they have not and will not do it.
It is clear that if we have a hung Parliament or a Conservative Government there will not be any changes for a long time after the next election either. There is no reason why the other place or this place should tolerate deficiencies in the way that this House is put together. They can be easily remedied with consensus on all sides and to the improvement of the body politic generally and, in particular, to the way that this House runs. We can all argue with the terms of this Bill and doubtless we will in Committee. It does not seem to me any more badly put together than the average government Bill, the difference being that I hope very much that the sponsors of this Bill will have their ears rather more widely open than the average government Minister. I except the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, from that.
I do not see, for instance, that if you are convicted in the Sudan of calling a teddy bear Mohammed and sentenced to a year in prison, you should be deprived of membership of the House of Lords. I am sure that there are some rather wider changes that we might want to make, but that is for the Committee stage. I urge the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, to take this Bill seriously. We should look at the effects of particular clauses to see whether they represent a real advance for this House. We should look at whether the changes being made would make it a better place and, if not, whether we can amend the proposals in a way which would prove satisfactory to all parties. I would be delighted if the Government would approach the Bill in that way. I would be delighted and very surprised if my Front Bench would look at it in that way. Its history in this has not been honourable. It should recognise that looking after the interests of this House should come before party political gains.
My Lords, I am sorry if I accused it of dishonour. I feel strongly that our views in this House have not been accorded the weight that they should have been in the deliberations of our party. I very much hope that this will change. It distresses me greatly that that should be the case.
I return briefly to the Bill. I also support it because I see it as an excellent first stage in getting towards an elected House. To move from where we are now to a substantially or fully elected House would be an enormous change. When you make an enormous change to the constitution, it is extremely difficult to predict the consequences. We cannot do much to ameliorate that, but we can move this House towards the sort of status and arrangements which it might have as an elected House, and this Bill seems to do that. It gets rid of a lot of the anomalies and brings us very close to an elected House. The transition to election need not be that cathartic if we pass the Bill, and it would greatly lessen the chance of future conflict between an elected House of Lords and an elected House of Commons if we make the changes proposed and are used to being, as it were, a more representative Chamber but performing the role that we perform now in relation to the Commons. We would not find that it raised the questions. Doing this now would make the change to an elected House much easier in five or 15 years’ time, whenever it comes.
My Lords, I start by saying that it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, who is a good example of the contribution that some hereditary Peers make to this place, and I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Steel, on his introduction of the Bill. I came to this House in 1998 from the world of law enforcement, and I did not realise then the major contribution that law enforcement would make to politics in the future. At that time I knew really very little about what this place did or how it was made up. I was, to coin a phrase, a simple policeman. In those days there were many more Members, with a full complement of hereditary colleagues still entitled to sit and to speak. I was surprised to learn that some never attended, and that some attended but did not speak. I even met some who had never even made a maiden speech even though they had been in the House for several years. Clearly that could not continue in the new millennium, and of course it was changed.
The Government’s last manifesto made a commitment to do something about hereditary Peers, and this Bill achieves that. If it is passed, our remaining hereditary colleagues obviously will remain, but the election process means that no replacements will be made. As has been mentioned once or twice, we saw the embarrassment of the “cash for honours” inquiry start to develop, with the eventual involvement of Scotland Yard. I always felt that nothing happened under the Blair Government that had not happened under many previous Administrations of all shades going back decades, but that still did not make it right. It is for that reason that I predicted right at the outset that there would probably be no criminal proceedings in respect of the inquiry, and of course I was proved correct. There is no doubt, however, that the system is faulty, and I always believed that it needed changing. I therefore welcome the noble Lord’s Bill as a simple means of achieving that by setting up a statutory Appointments Commission.
When I first sat on these Benches all those years ago, I was given some advice by a wise old owl who unfortunately is no longer with us. He said, “Never speak on something about which you are not certain because you have experts on everything in this place”. Over the years I have come to realise that he was absolutely right. I have witnessed your Lordships’ valuable contribution to national life, as well as your role of scrutinising, amending and initiating legislation. Whenever I speak publicly about the workings of your Lordships’ House, which I do frequently, the response is generally favourable. People usually say, “Let’s hope it doesn’t change too much”. You would not get the same calibre of Member in your Lordships’ House if they were required to stand for election—but that is a matter for future debate. What the Bill really seeks to do is to make the House acceptable and workable during the interim period. It is a good housekeeping measure, if you like, and a very important one. A statutory independent Appointments Commission is essential to ensure that people of high quality are appointed for the right reasons. The House places a high value on its independence, due in no small part to the large number of Cross-Benchers not allied to any particular party. It is essential that that situation continues.
Unlike in another place, the political parties in this House do not have much control over their own Members. As we are here for life, we can exercise a great deal of independent thought and action, and that is extremely important. I remember being told a few years ago that being a Whip in the House of Lords is a bit like mowing the grass in a graveyard: you have a lot of senior citizens underneath you but nobody takes any notice. There is probably something in that, and in many respects it is a good thing. Long may noble Lords retain their independence of thought, word and action. The strange thing is that I am invariably told by members of the public that the House of Lords often reflects the public mood more than the elected Chamber does.
It is also right that Members who do not attend for long periods should be excluded, as should Members who are sentenced to more than 12 months’ imprisonment or indefinitely for criminal offences. I was interested to hear the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, oppose that provision, but he did not declare an interest. He will correct me if I am wrong, but I read that one of his ancestors was actually tried for murder in this House and then executed. That is an interest which he did not really let us in on.
My Lords, I agree, and I am delighted that it was not the noble Earl. It is another way of excluding Members and I thought that he might pick up the point. I have always found it difficult to explain to others why a Member who is declared bankrupt could be named and shamed in this House but that one who goes to prison could not. For that reason, the position needs clarifying.
I am running out of time, so I say simply that I commend the Bill to your Lordships.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie. As Edmund Burke recognised, change is sometimes necessary to enhance that which already exists. Your Lordships’ House performs a number of functions, and in my view it does so extremely well. That is because the House has proved to be a functionally adaptable body. It has adapted over time to a changing political environment, complementing the elected Chamber and adding value to the legislative process. What is the test to be applied to proposals for change? The test is quite simple: will they strengthen the second Chamber in fulfilling the functions ascribed to it? I believe that the provisions of this Bill will strengthen the House in terms of both how it is seen and its capacity to fulfil its functions of legislative and administrative scrutiny.
Parts 1 and 2 of the Bill are inextricably linked, a point rather missed by my noble friend Lord Astor. Providing a means of bringing hereditary Peers into the House has meant that some Members continue to enter the House independent of prime ministerial nomination. In practice, of course, the constraint on prime ministerial patronage is limited. Prime ministerial nominees can and do easily outnumber any Peers coming in through the by-election procedure.
The Bill limits prime ministerial patronage—or, rather, the potential for abuse. The Prime Minister can continue to nominate people for membership, as indeed can the Leader of the Opposition and others. It does not necessarily mark a distinct shift in that respect. What it does do is create a structured and protected process, one seen to be independent of the Prime Minister. This, I contend, will enhance the position of prime ministerial nominees as they will be seen to be subject to an independent process of scrutiny and adjudged to be people of conspicuous merit.
Once this process is in place, the principal rationale for the existing by-election procedure ceases to have effect. Does this mean that hereditary Peers will cease to be brought into the House? It does not. I follow the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold. Several hereditary Peers already sit by virtue of holding life peerages in recognition of their individual merit. To argue that hereditary Peers will no longer enter the House if this measure is passed is to argue that they lack the conspicuous merit necessary for membership—and I, for one, do not believe that to be the case.
Enabling Peers to take permanent leave of absence will ensure that the active membership of the House comes close to the actual membership. It will also ensure that some who have given long and conspicuous service, but who feel unable to continue, are able to apply for permanent leave. I stress the word “apply” as it will be for the House to decide what criteria will govern the granting of such leave. Introducing such a provision will, as we heard, also contribute to reducing the size of the House.
The combined effect of the provisions will thus be that there is a smaller House, with an active membership that will be variously replenished with people of conspicuous merit selected through an independent and transparent process. Does this undermine the capacity of the House to fulfil its functions? Not at all. Does it enhance its capacity? I believe it does. Does it help to deliver what the public wish to see in a second Chamber in terms of independence and knowledge? I believe that the answer is most certainly yes.
My comments have been addressed essentially to those who believe that no change is necessary. I turn to the point already made by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, and in some respects I am responding to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Richard. There are those who accept that change of the kind embodied in the Bill is necessary and sufficient, and there are those who believe that such change is necessary but not sufficient. Where these two groups meet is in the acceptance that some change is needed. Those like the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, and my noble friend Lord Lucas who believe that the proposals are necessary but not sufficient and who are confident in their case for further change have no problem in supporting the Bill. Those who are not confident of their case are the ones who attack it.
The Bill delivers change that is desirable and proportionate. I urge your Lordships’ House to support it.
My Lords, I was not able to be here in July when the Bill was first introduced. I am therefore particularly glad to be able to support it today. However, having read the earlier debate, like other noble Lords, I find it hard to find anything new to say that has not been said already. I thought of making a collage of all the best bits from the speeches of those who spoke on that occasion, but although the whole may well have been greater than the sum of its parts, it would hardly have made for an original speech.
The Government have made much of the vote in another place. But much doubt has also been cast on that vote. The vote is a matter of record. But in the language of statistics, there is room to question both its validity—was it an accurate reflection of the view of the House of Commons?—and its reliability: would you get the same result if you ran the vote again? It is not uncommon for majorities, sometimes even two-thirds or 75 per cent majorities, to be required in two successive meetings for major constitutional change within the organs of civil society. If the Government are so confident that they have a mandate for a 100 per cent elected House of Lords, perhaps they would like to try the experiment of running the vote a second time. But those matters, which touch on a final solution to the vexed question of Lords reform, are not for today.
The Bill is about introducing a small number of limited, common-sense and relatively non-contentious reforms. They represent, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said in July’s debate, the kind of pragmatic approach to reform that would, in a world where common sense prevailed, ensure a rapid passage on to the statute book. However, so far the Government have not shown much interest in them, which obviously limits their chances of success. I hope that the Government, who claim to be in listening mode, may think again about that.
Why should they do this? There are two good reasons why they should and one very good reason why it would be a big mistake not to. As for why they should, the Bill contains a number of reforms around which there is a broad consensus. The Government say they wish to proceed by consensus, and these reforms are certainly worth having. By closing off the possibility of further accession to this House by right of heredity, the Bill would go a long way to fulfilling the long-held aspiration of many and implementing Labour’s recent manifesto commitments.
Speaking of the piecemeal reforms that have taken place over the past century in her lecture in the Leader’s series recently, Dr Meg Russell of University College London’s Constitution Unit said that,
“each of these reforms was seen at the time as inadequate and long overdue, but in retrospect was enormously important. Indeed all of them (even the removal of the veto) have proved in practice to strengthen the Lords”.
The reason it would be a mistake not to accord the Bill a facilitative response is that House of Lords reform will otherwise be stalled. There is unfinished business from 1999 as well as some momentum and an appetite for reform. We are promised a White Paper next year—but in what year have we not been promised a White Paper or something of the sort? Like the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, I shall not be holding my breath. Indeed, on the analysis of the noble Lord, Lord Baker, which I personally found devastating, attempts to deliver a final solution in one gigantic hit are unlikely to succeed for at least a decade, if not two. Until then we are staring into a void, and nothing is done to refresh the outdated and out-of-touch image of this place as being full of old has-beens got up in ermine, who are here only because their ancestor knew the sovereign or as the result of a tap on the shoulder from the Prime Minister.
Worse than that, though, we know only too well from previous attempts how easily exercises in big-bang, comprehensive reform at a stroke can unravel. The Government believe that the Commons vote has built up a head of steam behind their final solution, but that is before any consideration of matters such as powers, electoral systems, the length and renewability of terms, the balance and size of the House, financial packages and so on. Reform could soon get bogged down in any one of these, let alone all of them together. How robust would that vote be then, and what would the Government have to show?
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Richard, that all the difficulties of timing, phasing and balance that he sees as attending the present Bill will attend more radical reforms in equal if not greater measure. The Government would do well to listen to Meg Russell again:
“The lesson from the past hundred years or so is that large-scale House of Lords reform doesn’t happen. What does happen, sometimes, is small-scale reform on narrow points which are in practice unarguable”.
That is what this essay in incremental reform offers—and it is incremental. It closes nothing off. It offers a positive way forward, containing some important components of reform that the Government could be pretty sure of getting through if they got behind them. The alternative is the House that Jack seems bent on building, based on straw votes, which could well come tumbling down.
My Lords, one word that I hear repeatedly in the House of Lords is “expert”. I do not really like that word because if you use it, it means you do not know what you are talking about. I tend to prefer the word “amateur”, which in England is often derogated. Someone will say, “Oh, he’s a bloody amateur”. But the word actually means someone who knows and loves his subject.
There is another word I often hear. I once asked the noble Lord, Lord Bach, who I see is in his place, if he could give me the definition of “vermin”. I think it was to do with the Hunting Bill. He said, “No, there is no definition of vermin. The Oxford English Dictionary therefore prevails”. So I went to the OED. The first definition it gave was “small brown animals”, and the second was “politicians”.
I stand here today as a bloody amateur who does not know what he is talking about and who must be subservient to the noble Lords on the Benches beneath him, such as the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, and the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, who have served here longer than he has. But I am actually the longest-serving Back-Bencher, with only 45 years’ service. I have been there, done it, seen it and never got the T-shirt.
I would like to expose a few things now. This is not the “Lord Steel Bill”. It is the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth—a gentle and honest man of great integrity who felt he was too amateur to introduce a Bill, so he needed a politician. The noble Lord, Lord Steel, was selected to introduce something. This is not really a Bill. It is yet another debate on a subject that will not go away. Here we are, the longest-serving House in the world, in the greatest Parliament in the world, worrying about our own future rather than deciding it ourselves.
The old method of introducing people was to make them stand up here in black hats, wander around and be looked at; you looked at the chaps who were introducing them and then you wandered by and bowed. Beforehand, though, I had to go to the Lord Lyon King of Arms, and he told me, “You’re not with us, you’re without”, because I am a Scot. You then had to choose not only your name, but also your “of”, which is terribly important. A certain noble Lord on the Benches opposite will not mind me telling the House that he asked whether he could possibly have “of Jerusalem”. He was told, “No, not unless you’d owned it or sacked it”. What I am about to suggest is heresy. As you go through, you then shake hands with the Lord Chancellor and everyone says, “Hear, hear!”. If we are to have a statutory commission, I propose that we should have the right to say “nay” and that anyone put forward by a commission must come before the House and have “aye” or “nay” said against him. It is called blackballing, and I believe that it is a good way to do it, because I do not trust commissions.
In my years here, having done masses of research, I have bored the House rigid. I have probably the greatest database of your Lordships’ House, in which I have great pride. I have also done a recent analysis of “how they got in”. My own codes for this are slightly difficult. They are: “bought their way in”, “wormed their way in”, “screwed their way in” and “how did they get in?”. However, once they are in, they do not want to get out; they have gone down a wormhole and really do not want to leave. So they are not being honest when this matter is debated.
I have a certain degree of integrity: I am an elected hereditary Peer. I sit on what is called the Barons’ Bench. I am one of the few Members of this House who was elected. I did not approve of the method of election. I did not expect to be elected. I was away at the time and I knew that there was a Front-Bench fix whereby they all voted for the Front Bench. I asked the bookies about it and they said: “It’s very easy. If 10 people all agree to vote for each other in the first 10, they get in anyway. It doesn’t matter how many candidates there are”.
I am here, and I really believe in this place. It is a strange love that I have for it; I have affection for everybody. However, it is very easy to change the situation. We are talking about not allowing the secondary election process. If, by voluntary agreement, the elected hereditary Peers and those who are on the waiting list agreed that this system should be replaced by placing all those on the waiting list on a list before the commission, it would solve the problem. It does not need a complicated Bill. This Bill provides a good opportunity for debate. I have enjoyed myself in my few minutes, and I am grateful to anyone who listened to me.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, is a hard act to follow. I did not realise that he was what one might term “an ermine anorak”, in knowing everything about us, but it does not surprise me.
Before I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Steel, on introducing the Bill, perhaps I may agree with the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, that it is not a Bill in the normal sense; it is really an attempt by my noble friend Lord Steel of Aikwood to stimulate some momentum in incremental change, during a period when the reform of the House of Lords has become irretrievably stuck. Other noble Lords who have spoken in a most interesting debate may not agree. I say that because I never expected to be here when I was a younger man. However, I find myself here at the appropriate time as a hereditary Peer. I expected House of Lords reform to have taken place long before I arrived here.
When House of Lords reform was introduced by new Labour, I had the greatest concern about it achieving what it was setting out to achieve in the short term, which it did not do. I certainly did not expect to find myself here as part of an election process, which is dealt with as one of the four main points of the noble Lord’s Bill. The Bill suggests that it is something to which we should turn our attention, but one is in a difficult position about that. The noble Viscount, Lord Astor, said jocularly to me as he passed: “I suppose you’ll be talking about extending your time here”. Well, I do not think that I have to do that, because I think that I am going to be here for a little time, at least for as long as I am able to get here in the mornings by whatever means of transport I choose.
I absolutely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Howarth of Newport. What is wrong with the Government’s attempt to produce wholesale reform of this House is that they have not understood the very important historical point that he made. “We are not a Jacobinical culture” was, I think, roughly what he said. We do not like big things—big buildings, big change or people who are too big for their boots. Incremental change is what has happened in our history and it is why we are here today, in this astonishing Chamber. Most of us have to explain to people who visit us from other countries exactly how it came about that we are all here calling ourselves Lords, using seemingly strange language and having such a jolly time. At the same time, we are fulfilling our constitutional role as well as our day-to-day role of revising and amending legislation. Several Peers have mentioned our constitutional role; it is important and always at the back of my mind. We are here to control the Executive and hold them to account. Whatever replaces the Chamber as it is now formed needs to fulfil that function. Nothing that has happened so far leads me to believe that that will be easily achieved.
There is no consensus at the moment about the way in which the House will be reformed. Several noble Lords have talked about various votes that have taken place in the House of Commons and elsewhere, but there is no consensus; the Government are still seeking it. It takes a long time to get consensus with institutions such as this, so I do not see that we will be hurried along, but at least the Bill gives us the opportunity to look at one or two points. I do not suppose that the noble Lord, Lord Steel, thinks that they are perfect, in any sense. As I speak, the noble Lord has just entered the Chamber. He went out when I was speaking because he knew that I was one person who would not complain if he needed to leave the House for a sandwich. I do not complain that he has not heard my speech—in fact I am rather relieved.
The noble Lord addresses four points in his Bill. I am not sure that I agree with any of them fully, but I congratulate him on introducing them as a subject for debate so that we might possibly get some consensus to improve the House as it now is. On independent appointments, I do not think that there is much wrong with the present appointment system, except that people need to be asked if they are prepared to turn up, which did not happen in the first instance. That point is also dealt with in his suggestion that we should deal with permanent leave of absence, although I do not particularly like the idea of policing leave of absence.
On criminal offences, I have to tell your Lordships that I had an ancestor who was impeached by the House of Commons—being a Scottish Peer he sat in the House of Commons—and was sent to the Tower of London. He was there for quite some time, during which he retained his high office of state, until he got smallpox and died. That ended the problem.
This is a helpful measure. It will stimulate discussion and debate and may move us forward a tad. It certainly will not increase the chances of achieving any consensus, which will be a long time coming. If I am alive I shall accept the consensus when it comes, in whatever form it takes. The noble Lord has done us a service in giving us an opportunity to examine the whole subject as we have done so entertainingly this morning.
My Lords, I would not take much of your time this morning except for the fact that as a very strong supporter of the Steel Bill I am deeply concerned whether it has tactical and strategic flaws that may prohibit it from going the distance in the long run. I see it as very much an attempt to achieve the resolution of what would be a major corporate restructuring exercise, in which an unstoppable force is coming from one direction heading straight for an immoveable object in the other. In the middle is the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. I keep having nightmares about the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, in which he appears to me as an extremely large and very happy spider. He stands there looking very pleased with himself saying, “I wish to thank the noble flies for agreeing to follow me into my parlour named consensus”. That is what I fear will be the fate of the Steel Bill in its present form. I do not believe that it has enough tripwires in it to bring about a meaningful negotiation on the outstanding points which we should insist on resolving for the long-term interest of this House.
All that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, needs to do is to take this very good Bill and say, “This is a major attempt at consensus. All we need to do is go back to the unstoppable force end of the equation and cut and paste back in the requirement for 100 per cent election and everyone will have what they want, will they not? You get what you want from this Bill and we get this”. It does not actually force a debate with the other place or with the Government on the process of election.
The Bill should have a couple of tripwires inserted to force a meaningful debate on the critical issues. I recall from the last debate that those issues were about how we could rely on the quality of this House being maintained for the future to carry out effectively the purposes that it discharges now: from where the flow of candidates would be forthcoming; how that would be impacted by the electoral process; and what sort of transitional process could be mounted that would be compatible with the very real need of this House to assimilate, train and prepare the new incoming Peers.
After one year in your Lordships' House, I know that there is no way that you can come and sit on the red leather and magically become a Lord. On average, I would estimate that it is a six-year process requiring a lot of good will and patience from all parties concerned. I do not think that your Lordships would relish having 300 new arrivals to assimilate at once if there are only 100 of you left to do the task. That would not allow for the continuity of good governance.
In those circumstances, we should be looking towards introducing a consideration or at least a dialogue about whether some limited form of electoral process should be allowed by the commission being mandated to create electoral colleges in one or two places, just as an experiment. That would at least bring in a proper dialogue on how it might work. You could have two reasonably respectable and sober groups of people such as the TUC and the Law Society. That would give us a lot to learn for the future. As it stands, we would be caught with the lack of clarity about how that process could apply. We do not force the unstoppable force to sit at the table and negotiate on the key points of the Bill in its present form. We need to put the tripwires in.
I should warn your Lordships that I have had a long-term career obsession with the need always to have a plan B. I am not sure that the Steel Bill at the moment is clear about whether it is intended to become the future plan A or whether it is plan B if we cannot overturn the unstoppable force's plan A. Next week I have my 70th birthday and my colleagues over my long-term career have volunteered to my much younger wife that they wish to give me a birthday present of my tombstone, which they wish to pay for and commit to now—they may look for additional contributions from these Benches. They want the tombstone to have engraved on it, “See what plan B gets you”. The local parish priest has barred that on the grounds that it is an insult to religion. I am expected to be sentenced to 40 lashes on Sunday morning.
I warn your Lordships that the Steel Bill at the moment, for all its admirable features, is not yet plan B and a way that ensures that it does not get you to the same place as that tombstone would imply. It needs to have some tripwires in it to force the negotiation on the meaningful points, and they are not there.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, for giving us the opportunity for further debate on House of Lords reform. However, like some of the previous speakers, I do not welcome the Bill at this juncture. There is an awful lot in it that is needed and on which there is genuine consensus in Parliament, including in this House, but there are other points on which there are quite deep divisions between both Houses and, indeed, within this House. Those cannot be ignored. Nor can we ignore the underlying change in voting patterns in the Commons over the past 10 years. I would like to hear evidence from anyone that there are indications that it will change and go in the opposite direction.
Incidentally, I congratulate whoever was responsible for briefing the Sunday Times last weekend on the Bill’s intentions. It was a masterly piece of spin which elevated, on Lord Steel’s own admission, the smallest part of the Bill, Part 4, while mainly masking the fundamental objective behind it. Here I share the argument expressed by my noble friend Lord Richard that basically it is about the entrenchment and legitimisation of a 100 per cent appointed House of Lords. Perhaps whoever was responsible for arranging that briefing might care to assist my party with its media difficulties.
In my opinion and that of many previous speakers this Bill seeks to pre-empt the business of the Government and their forthcoming White Paper on the reform of the House of Lords with the introduction of elections. Instead it pursues an outcome which is opposed by the public in most opinion polls and is opposed overwhelmingly by their elected representatives in the other place. While many Peers on these Benches may support a 100 per cent appointed House, such a policy would be totally rejected by my party. It would fly in the face of all that we have stood for historically—the extension of democracy and the greater involvement, access and participation of the people of this country in the government of this country.
What I found surprising in the 20 July debate was how little regard was paid to the Commons votes for 80 or 100 per cent elections, although there was more mention of that today. It is true that some people have argued that there was tactical voting. But not one Peer—I underline this—either then or today mentioned that MPs had voted 375 to 196 against a 100 per cent appointed House. There has been no mention of any tactical voting in that vote. I do not believe that there was. I believe that was a true reflection of the feeling at the other end. Therefore, my first question to the noble Lord, Lord Steel—I pick up some of the points that the noble Lord, Lord James, has just made—is, in the light of that vote, how does he believe that the Bill could conceivably be carried in the Commons? I take it for granted, of course, that it will be carried here. Does he believe that at some stage the Government will accept and support his Bill, even without amendments to provide for an elected Chamber? I would be grateful if my noble friend the Minister would make an observation on that and endeavour to define what neutrality means in this context.
My fear is that the way this Bill is being propelled will bring us into direct conflict with the Commons. There are already portents for conflict with the Government. I hope that I am wrong and I look to the noble Lord, Lord Steel, for reassurances that I am misreading the position. The best reassurance I could get from him would be confirmation that, ultimately, he and his supporters will respect the supremacy of the other place on a Bill on House of Lords reform which introduces elections to this Chamber.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, referred to the consensus reached in 1999 and feels and hopes that we may be able to get there. He, of course, was not here then. But for those of us who were, at least on these Benches, it felt more like blackmail than consensus being reached at that stage when we were forced into a compromise that on these Benches we were very unhappy about. That consensus, or compromise—or whatever it might be called—was achieved through open threats that Peers were prepared to disrupt and derail the Government’s legislative programme.
I have heard talk that if we are unable to get consensus some Peers, if faced with a move towards election, will take on board the idea that was used in 1999 and could endeavour to derail legislative business to oppose the change to elections. I hope that I am wrong and that the noble Lord, Lord Steel, and his colleagues will give me full assurances that such an incident is not likely to be repeated this time round.
My Lords, looking at the Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, overall, I approve of the establishment of a statutory Appointments Commission, Clause 12 excluding from the House Peers who do not attend during a Session, the facility for a permanent leave of absence and measures to exclude Peers who have committed a serious criminal offence. However, amendments are necessary to all the above. The Appointments Commission proposed in the Bill would do little to take the influence of the Prime Minister and political parties out of the appointments process. Why, in Clause 2(2), should the four members—who are commendably not to be affiliated to any political party—be nominated by the Speaker of the House of Commons and the Lord Speaker? They should, in my view, be nominated by another independent body.
I would like to see an additional clause to make the commission mindful in the selection process that there should be a balanced House in terms of wide expertise in, for instance, industry, commerce, finance, law and the arts. That should be a major criterion for the non-political appointments. Clause 5(2) is too vague, mentioning only “conspicuous merit” and,
“a willingness and capacity to make a contribution to the work of the House of Lords”.
I declare an interest as a hereditary Peer. I cannot support Clause 10 on the removal of the by-election procedure. I will not bore the House by repeating the well argued reasons given by the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, and my noble friend Lord Trefgarne. If the promoters of the Bill are saying that it does not preclude a stage 2, why not wait for that to happen before changing the by-election procedure? The noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, made that promise during the passage of the Bill that became the House of Lords Act. That promise must be honoured, particularly with respect to those hereditaries who were so unfairly kicked out in 1999.
The Bill leaves a significant number of questions unanswered on the composition of the House, including how to control the size of the House, notably if political support were to fluctuate over short periods. There would be a risk that the House would grow rather than contract, even allowing for leave of absence. There is the question of how to determine the balance between the Government and third and other parties. What would be the size, as opposed to the relative balance, of the government and opposition parties?
I now turn to the clauses on permanent leave of absence. When a Member seeks permanent leave of absence or dies, should there not be an automatic top-up procedure rather than one that just leaves the matter to being dealt with once a year under Clause 8(1)? It is still unclear that Clause 15 is not retrospective. I find Clause 17 rather bizarre. If such a person was renominated, would he not be automatically excluded, even if his appointment was confirmed?
Overall, here we have a Bill that has good points but which needs careful examination in Committee. On the other hand, the Government’s insistence on ploughing on with proposals for a fully or partially elected House will only lead to trouble. It is naive to believe that, just because there is consensus on the Front-Bench working group of all the parties, the Back Benches here will sit idly by. I welcomed the letter received in July from the Leader of the House inviting Back-Bench Members to suggest ways of having input into the cross-party group. The only trouble is that nothing concrete has resulted from it.
In conclusion, there still remains the key issue that by far the majority here does not want the Government’s proposal of a fully or mainly elected House. The current House, which we have by default, is working very well. The Cunningham report stated that, if we had an elected House, there would need to be a review of its powers. An elected House of Lords will wish to have a stronger role in the legislature. Is that what the Government want?
My Lords, I admired the powerful speech of the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, but is he not a long way in front of the game? There is to be a White Paper, a manifesto and an election. Then we will see what happens. Whatever happens is some way down the road. At that time, we shall have to address the issues that the noble Lord raises and we may, of course, be addressing them in different circumstances.
I support the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, because it seems a completely sensible tidying-up operation. As many noble Lords have said, it is incremental. That argument was followed strongly by the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria—I could not help thinking that, if and when we have an elected or partly elected House, he will only have to put himself up for election to be selected immediately.
I do not follow the pre-emption school of thought. I follow the noble Lord, Lord Norton, in thinking that those in that school not only do not have confidence in their own arguments but lack the confidence that they will be led by people who will be able to put the argument sufficiently strongly. In my submission, they do not want to lose some of the arguments that they currently have at their command. Of course, this Bill would remove some of those arguments.
On the hereditary peerage, I say to my noble friends Lord Ferrers and Lord Trefgarne that I am, for my sins, a hereditary Peer—or is it the sins of my father? It was suggested that life Peers got here because they had friends in high places. I assume that my father had some friends in high places. We need to remember that we hereditary Peers are an endangered species—Viscounts even more so—not only in this House, but as a whole. I wonder whether—
Well, my Lords, of course circumstances differ.
In thinking about this subject, are we not in danger of imposing disabilities? We have a long history of disabilities. Does no hereditary Peer hope to find that his son or even his daughter will become a life Peer? If the criteria of the commission are,
“a willingness and capacity to make a contribution to the work of the House”,
is there no one in the hereditary peerage, or among the sons and daughters—as we all get older—who might merit being brought into this House?
Finally, institutions, of which this is one of the greatest, have a capacity to become rather inward-looking and to think of things from their own perspective rather than putting themselves outside or accepting even the judgment of someone else outside—it might be the people—about what works or does not work in the public interest. If we accept the judgment of my noble friend Lord Baker of Dorking, we could justifiably be asked the question from around the country, “Why did they not try to do something about it themselves?”. If it is likely, as I judge, that more fundamental reform will take quite a long time, not to be willing to make a move in the right direction on our own account is a great mistake. I support the Bill.
My Lords, my support for the Bill, viewed as a consensus Bill, is partly based on what I hear out there among the public: support for this Bill and the principles behind it. If I was doing a research project, I might have reached thematic saturation in a qualitative study by now.
I have had the honour of representing the Lord Speaker in Wales, but have also spoken at lots of other occasions—principally in Wales—and it is on that experience that I have based my views about how people view us. I am surprised at the interest in our work and how people view us in a positive light. Some consistent comments come out time and again. The quality of our debate is remarked upon. The porters in the hospital where I work have been watching our debates and those of the other place, and commented on the quality of debate on issues that I was not even aware we were debating. They are impressed at the high level of expertise represented here. They are glad that this House asks questions to hold the Government to account without the combative shows that occur in the other place. They are aware that this House is extremely effective in scrutinising legislation.
However, there are other views. People feel strongly that those convicted of a serious crime should not sit in this House after serving prolonged periods in prison. The hereditary principle is viewed as an anachronism. Honours have been tainted by finance, and the arguments are strong for an independent appointments commission to appoint independent Peers or scrutinise recommendations for all new Peers, irrespective of party affiliation. Many arguments have already been rehearsed.
I remind the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, that I personally got here by applying for the post. I carefully filled out the forms. I still do not understand why we are selected, but I have enjoyed it enormously and hope to contribute. Many other speakers from these Benches came through the same process of an appointments commission. There are strong views out there about non-attenders. The discretionary section over leave of absence allows for examples given by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, and also for accident or illness which may be severe but from which recovery is anticipated. People in Wales, who have another layer of voting compared to those in England, have voting and party politics fatigue. That is why they do not turn out, they tell me. They often do not know what their different representatives actually represent. I find that worrying.
Outside this House, I am hearing support for how we currently work and the functions we perform. The Bill before us will correct anomalies in the way in which we are currently constituted, and will allow us to continue to maximum efficacy.
My Lords, it has often been said that everything that can be said has been said, but not by everybody. I realise that I come at the end of the day, and we are all looking forward to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd-Webber—principally, of course, because his is the last speech before the wind-ups, as well as other merits.
I have been in the House now for more than 20 years, and in the other place for 10. My remarks are firmly based upon touch and feel. I first congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Steel, who I have known as a friend for more than 20 years. His supporters think that they are doing a good service. I shall say why I believe that that is not the case.
When I was the Opposition Chief Whip, there was a change in 1997. I pick up on the words of the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, who pointedly asked why, if this change is now needed, it was not attempted during the 18 years when the party opposite could have pushed through any legislation they liked. In 1997, the Whip was taken by 485 Conservative Members and 116 Labour Members. When the compromise was reached two years later, based upon the hereditary representation, there were 425 Conservative hereditaries and 18 Labour. So the Conservatives got 42 hereditaries and Labour got two. That was a situation that Members opposite—I am speaking directly to that Bench—were happy to sustain and support, and in my view many of those who support this Bill do so from the stance that they are not in favour of any elected element in this House.
All my life, and for more than 60 years as a member of the Labour Party, I was in favour of the abolition of the House of Lords—the House of Lords as I knew it and as it behaved. Of course, there has been change and I note, in particular, that many of my noble colleagues who were members of the Labour Party before they came here take a diametrically opposed view. However, I am old Labour and very set in my ways, and I have not changed my view that, if the House of Lords is to be part of the 21st century, it has to be radically altered.
I am quite relaxed about whether the Bill makes progress but what will be its impact if it does? The diametric parliamentary situation is that the other House is in support of either a wholly elected or 80 per cent elected House and this House is not. That is not an unusual situation, but why take the time to go through the process when we know, as the noble Lord, Lord Baker, said, that it will not be resolved this year or next? If the Bill is agreed to here, it will face a hostile reaction in the other place. Never mind the Government’s reaction—we will hear that from the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, in a moment—but down there a majority of the people who are interested in voting will be opposed to it. So we have a recipe for delay and procrastination and, so far as I am concerned, I do not want anything to do with it.
The noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, and others have traded on the fact that when the Bill was debated last time, 46 out of 49 speakers were in favour of it. I look forward to the day when they are prepared to admit that in this debate the arithmetic has radically altered. I sense that, unless the present machinery can produce something that we can get our teeth into next year, this will be an exercise in futility, and I am against it.
My Lords, I freely admit that my attendance in the House is not as great as I should like it to be. However, I put it to your Lordships that, when I was sounded out—I think that is probably the best way of putting it—about whether I might accept the great honour of being invited into this House, my concerns were that I had a considerable outside career, I was 48 and there was nothing very much that I could do at the moment. It was suggested to me that my presence here from time to time would be valuable because I would be able to bring something from an outside career.
I realise that the House’s character has changed considerably since 1997, when I first came here. Of course, I can see that a very large number of working Peers are here now and that the majority of new Peers have been created as exactly that. However, I hope that noble Lords will understand the view of someone who believes greatly in the extraordinary institutions that this country has, by some osmosis, found and created.
Perhaps I may add one thing. It is very important that, when considering the Bill, the House reflects on whether there is room within it for people who may not be able to attend as much as they would like but, when they do attend, they do so with some kind of passion because they hope to offer something in the particular field about which they care deeply through working in it. Therefore, I hope that this does not simply become a House of elected semi-professional and professional politicians, because that is not what it should only be about.
My Lords, the length of this debate and the number of speakers is interesting for somebody who has resisted the opportunity to talk about House of Lords reform for a number of years, and has found himself having to catch this pass today. As the noble Lord, Lord Graham, suggested, the scores are becoming more even; the ticks versus crosses—my scientific way of checking the score—are starting to balance out.
My noble friend Lord Steel has initiated a debate on what people on both sides are thinking. A few of them have both ticks and crosses in my assessment of what they were saying. There are pros and cons. I have always started from the premise that I have signed up to a programme that says there should be an elected second Chamber. On several occasions—with gritted teeth—I have voted for an elected second Chamber. If the Bill puts off that process, or even if we suspect that it will, we must be cautious of it. If it is something that could be used to delay the process, we must be cautious of it.
Political will and drive are also required. The noble Lord, Lord Baker, with considerable political craft, pointed out that the realpolitik is that this may not be happening soon; it may not be happening at all in the cycle of the current Government. We do not know what the next election will bring, or what will happen. We are in interesting times once again. Everybody who assumes they will not win or will not lose should place a hedging bet.
We must ensure that we carry on the agenda so that the Chamber can develop. If we are using the Bill as a way of stalling that and patting ourselves on the back, we must think twice. We always think we are wonderful and that no one else understands us. Every interest group to which I have spoken thinks that, and we must guard against it. The House of Commons is probably the biggest offender. Whatever the vote was in the other place, undoubtedly games were being played. Usually political games come back and bite you—very hard. Whether the one with the biggest scars on their political anatomy on this occasion is us or the Commons, time will tell. We must guard against that, too.
This is an opportunity for the Government to let us know what their drive is on this and how much they will give us, or whether they regard this as just another paper. I threw out a great pile of House of Lords reform papers the other day because they were irrelevant. The world had moved on. But they were all published with a great deal of concern about what was going to happen, what was not going to happen, when it would happen, and so on. Timetables that we never realistically envisaged have come and gone; they were out of date before the ink was dry. If we are having another one of those, we will not achieve very much.
The noble Lord may not be totally in control of this, but I would be interested in finding out exactly what the Government have in terms of firm plans at the moment. If they do not have firm plans, what do they regard as the impedimenta to them? Do they think they need to win a majority of a certain size in the next election? It might be realistic to hear that if the Government have only a small majority, they cannot take this on and still conduct the rest of their governance. He shakes his head now and can confirm this later. At least then we could start to form an opinion on what will happen to the Bill.
There are very few measures in the Bill with which I have any serious disagreements, although I have some about the provision relating to serious criminal offences. Several noble Lords made a small attack on it by saying that a House of expertise should have some experience. That might have a logical thrust, but it is a matter of how many months as much as anything else.
There is also the provision about permanent leave of absence. Those of us who work in this House tend to get on our high horses slightly about people who are not here often enough. The noble Lord, Lord Lloyd-Webber, referred to being in a different world and being asked to come in every now and again. That may have been the system then, and he may well have been sold a pup on it. The rest of the House gets very annoyed. We do not like that, and we feel affronted by it.
I supported the Bill introduced by my noble friend Lord Avebury to exclude hereditary Peers. We had hours of fun comparing ourselves with Old Sarum and rotten boroughs. Let us leave that where it stands.
If we are going to have people appointed for any long period of time, a more firmly based Appointments Commission is the only way forward, but that brings us to political will and where we are going. Can we hear from the Government exactly what their commitment is and what they are going to do because then, if the Minister is having to run a diversionary tactic, we can blame his masters who sent him out?
My Lords, anybody who listened to this debate will know that it has been a good debate, at times even a good-humoured debate, which always helps us along on a Friday. It has also been a surprisingly divisive debate, rather more so than was the case in July. That is evident from the feeling on both sides of the argument today. So let me cut straight to the quick. I understand the concerns driving the promoters of this Bill. They feel that this House is performing well—as I do—and it is performing well. Overwhelmingly, they feel it should be established on an appointed basis. It does not need this Bill to make that point. No one is under any illusion: not the Liberal Democrats, whose view we have just heard, not Mr Straw and certainly not me. Repeated votes and debates here show that the majority in this place want an appointed House, not only because they would like to stay, which is an understandable human feeling, but because, in all sincerity, they think an appointed House is best. It does not need this Bill to show that, nor is this Bill the best advocate of that cause.
There is a third feeling: a feeling among many noble Lords that they are being excluded from some big plan in the making on the future of this House. That feeling must be addressed, but it cannot be addressed in Committee on a Private Member’s Bill. It needs to be addressed by setting up systems that enable your Lordships to feed in detailed views before and after the White Paper that we are now told may be published some time in the next year. I know that the noble Baroness the Leader of the House had various thoughts about how that could be done, and perhaps the Minister will tells us how that is continuing.
As noble Lords have pointed out, many questions are left unanswered in this Bill. Its core is a powerful new statutory Appointments Commission, yet little has been said about how effective the present non-statutory commission has been and what appraisal has been done on it. If there is to be a statutory Appointments Commission, should this House not determine the guidelines and criteria by which Peers will be chosen by that new magic circle? What would those guidelines be, beyond merit and diversity? How will gender, or region, or religion have a role?
Why is the other place given such a say in the criteria? What has happened to the principle that one House does not hold decisive influence over who comes to the other? How will the commission decide on numbers in the House? Will it be in relation to seats won at the previous election, votes cast or what?
Of course I am not surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Steel, in Clause 8(2)(c) suggests that no Labour or Conservative Government should ever have a majority over the other of, if my maths is right, more than 19. After all, that is a recipe for permanent Liberal Democrat control of this Chamber.
Those are only examples of areas in the Bill that need far more consideration. If such a Bill goes to another place, having been agreed by this House, we must remember that the other place is not over-stuffed with friends of this House. What is to stop it being amended to expel the 90 elected hereditary Peers, breaking even more glaringly the 1999 parliamentary undertaking? I can think of Members of another place who would find that attractive. Or they could raise the bar for attendance needed to avoid expulsion under Clause 12(1) from 0 per cent to, say, 10 per cent of days, or impose quotas on membership or even age limits or term limits on life Peers, or amend the Bill in any other way.
I would be very wary of sending a half-built ship—indeed, any ship—down that Corridor. It could go down as a stately barge and come back as a fire ship. I am delighted to have the support of the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, on that.
My Lords, of course that is not what I favour. I favour trying to build up a consensus in the long term, not just on the future of this House, but on the relationship between this House and another place. One test for the Bill would have been to introduce it in another place, to get their view before we debated it. Of course there are oddities in our present arrangements in our House. There is nothing unusual in that. I dare say that the Bill would create new anomalies. For instance, I have huge respect for the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, whose integrity illumines the House, but the walls did not fall in when the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, came in here. People do not write off what we say because the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, my noble friend Lord Eccles or the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, are here under Section 2 of the House Of Lords Act 1999.
Many outside this place will not see it as much less eccentric for nine unaccountable people meeting in secret to decide all Members of this House, as the Bill proposes. After all, how many people decided on the appointment of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, and the reasons for him coming here? I know that we have Members who attend less often than others, but as my noble friend Lord Lloyd-Webber just said, many have unique insights that are invaluable to the House when they come. We should not be shy of defending their attendance records.
As for the expulsion clause, Clause 12, those who would have been expelled under it in recent years include the noble Lords, Lord Hattersley, Lord Browne of Madingley, Lord Attenborough, and Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, Lord Deedes and Lord Alexander of Weedon, and no less than the former most reverend Primate Archbishop of York, now the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Habgood, and Lord Callaghan of Cardiff. I know that many of them were prevented from attending by reason of other duties, some by illness and some by old age. Is it seriously suggested that a former prime minister, such as Lord Callaghan of Cardiff, who was revered in this House, should be told that he must stand before some committee to plead the right ever again to come to this House? Who would be the accuser at that hearing? Perhaps it would be the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood.
Many noble Lords have concerns about the Bill. Having heard the divided voices today I ask: what good is all this doing?
My Lords, I appreciate that my noble friend is struggling with his conscience and is about to lose that struggle, as I suspect he has an underlying favour to the Bill. I hope he will recall, as will members of the shadow Cabinet, that, apart from the hereditary Peers who have spoken today and who have an interest in a delay of execution, all the other Conservative Members in this House have supported the Bill. I hope he will say very clearly that, if the Bill is not passed, there is no chance of any reform of the composition of this House, or of improving this House, for between 10 and 20 years.
My Lords, it is true, and it has already been said today, that there is very little understanding in another place of what goes on in this House. That is something I deeply regret, as I expect do Members on all sides in both Houses. As for what my noble friend Lord Baker said, I heard many noble Lords speaking against the Bill, including my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway. I shall come to the shadow Cabinet in a moment, and indeed to the other Front Benches.
We heard from the noble Lords, Lord Tyler and Lord Addington, what the view of the Liberal Democrats was, so I can tell my noble friend Lord Baker that the Bill does not carry the support of the shadow Cabinet. Most crucially—the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, will no doubt clarify this for us—the Bill does not carry the support of the Government either. Moreover, it is not necessary to promote the image of the House. Indeed, when blow after blow is raining down on the image of government and politics, the name of this House stands high. The whole nation is looking to our debates on defence, human embryology and climate change. I therefore agree with my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth, my noble and learned friend Lord Howe of Aberavon and others that the present House has much to be proud of. However, this Bill does not flow out of the heart of a House brimming with confidence; it is a defensive Bill that wishes the real world away and offers this House only more uncertainty. Yes, there is talk of further reform—there has been talk of further reform for a very long time indeed—but at present there is no Bill before Parliament except this one. No Bill was promised in the gracious Speech. Yet we have this Bill flying like a whippet out of the traps. I have heard both Mr Brown and Mr Cameron say that this is a matter for a future Parliament, so what is all this haste about? What is the problem with this current House that we need to deal with so urgently?
In 1998-99, the House wrestled with the painful issue of change. We did it together: hereditary Peers, life Peers and right reverend Prelates alike. And we did it, as we will always have to, in concert with the other place and with the political parties. I hope that is the way in which the Government will continue to go. They can bring in representatives of this House and consider the technical and other issues that would arise in any stage two based on appointment. That could be measured and put to the test of parliamentary and public opinion against proposals based on the view of another place, which it has already shown in a vote and which we cannot ignore, that this House should be wholly or largely elected. The Bill is not the answer, and by appearing to ignore another place, it may call down on this House fire from the other place that is now silent and stilled.
Today’s debate has been worthwhile. Feelings have been vented, and wise words have been exchanged on both sides. I would leave it there, but if the Bill continues its passage through this House, my colleagues and I shall certainly wish to be involved in the many details of the Bill that remain to be clarified.
My Lords, first, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Steel, on securing a remarkably early slot for the Second Reading of his Bill and on instituting a fascinating and good humoured debate. I thank the noble Lord, Lord James, for the compliment he paid me by describing me as a fat, happy spider drawing flies into my consensus web. If only, my Lords, if only.
It was a delight to hear my noble friend Lord Strabolgi, who entered this House in 1953, speak today, as it was to hear the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, who joined the House in 1954. It is almost 39 years to the day since he spoke in the debate in your Lordships' House on the 1968 White Paper on House of Lords reform. In that debate, he espoused the Ferrers law that everything has a reverse effect of that which it is intended. I thought he demonstrated very well today how that applied to the Bill proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Steel.
When we debated this Bill in the previous Session, the noble Lord, Lord Steel, gently chided me. He said that 75 per cent of my speech had nothing at all to do with his Bill. Of course, as of today that debate encompasses a much wider debate about Lords reform in general. I shall certainly set out the Government’s view on the wider reform programme, but I owe it to the noble Lord and to the House to give some detailed consideration and commentary on the specific clauses in his Bill. If he continues with it, it is clear that we will spend many happy hours in its consideration in Committee, on Report and at Third Reading. I know that I will have many happy hours. I owe it to the noble Lord to place on the record as much of the detailed consideration as will be necessary.
Perhaps I may say to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that I welcome the contribution of all noble Lords to wider considerations of Lords reform. I know that the noble Lord has written to my right honourable friend the Lord Chancellor and that my right honourable friend has responded. The cross-party working group, which is meeting fairly shortly, will consider the matters he has raised about the involvement of Members of your Lordships' House and the information provided from the work that my noble friend the Lord President has undertaken consulting Members of your Lordships' House.
The Bill seeks to put the Appointments Commission on a statutory footing. In the long term, that would be predicated on the assumption that there will be an appointed element in the second Chamber. Notwithstanding that, there are a number of points, or indeed questions, that I would put to the noble Lord, Lord Steel. The Bill specifies that the members of the commission will be nominated by the Speaker and the Lord Speaker. What would happen if the Lord Speaker and the Speaker disagree about nominations for membership of the commission? Assuming they agree, how would the Lord Speaker and the Speaker decide what constitutes a “politically balanced” commission? Is it intended that their decisions will be subject to review? We will need to work through those matters.
The Bill makes no provision for what one might call the “governance” of the commission. From where will it be funded? Will it have the power to employ staff or to enter into contracts—for example, to rent accommodation? Will its members be paid, and if so by whom and how will that be accounted for? These questions may appear to be details at this stage, but in any substantive Bill they would have to be dealt with.
The Bill sets out how the commission might be appointed in the first instance. Members would be appointed for non-renewable terms of seven years. Unless one or more of those members had been removed or has resigned during that period, a new slate of members would have to be appointed. The noble Lord might want to consider whether that is the right model compared to, for example, a rolling membership.
Clause 9 provides a wide power for the commission to seek information from political parties, including about their internal procedures. I would just sound a note of caution on that matter. There is a good argument that if the leader of a political party wants to propose someone for a peerage, the commission should be clear about the basis for that proposal. This is provided for in Clause 9(1). But Clause 9(2) goes on to say that a leader of a political party, in submitting a name to the commission,
“shall supply such other information as may be requested by the Commission”.
There is no qualification in that provision. Unlike many other statutory requirements to furnish information, there is no reference to the information being “reasonably required”, nor is there anything in the Bill that describes what the commission might make of the information. I suggest to the noble Lord that, in taking the Bill forward, he needs to be clear that the catch-all nature of the provision is justified.
The Bill sets out two principal criteria for conferment of a peerage. I do not doubt that we shall have some interesting discussions about this, in particular what is meant by “conspicuous merit”. Of course we all know what the noble Lord means. Like me, many noble Lords enjoy Gilbert and Sullivan. In “Iolanthe”, Gilbert was somewhat less ambitious. The qualification for membership of your Lordships’ House was to be a “person of intelligence”. But even that was enough to make the hereditary Peers fly off with the fairies.
My noble friend Lord Parekh made an interesting contribution in his discussion of the word “conspicuous”. It is described in the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary as,
“clearly visible … obvious, plainly evident; attracting notice”.
I should caution that that might rule out some people of extraordinary talent who undoubtedly could make a very valuable contribution. I mention the practising members of three professions who, sadly, are grossly under-represented: the nursing, teaching and social work professions. It is important, in any consideration of the criteria for a statutory Appointments Commission, to make sure that we do not set them in such a way as to exclude some very valuable Members indeed.
My Lords, that is a helpful point, but the wording I have used comes from the Bill in relation to the criteria to be applied. I believe that the points I have raised would have to be considered.
The Bill also provides that the Appointments Commission can propose additional criteria and may issue guidelines setting out how it will interpret and apply them. They should be laid before both Houses of Parliament and be subject to the negative resolution procedure. These are important matters and I am sure that that is the right approach, but unusually, indeed uniquely—I hope that noble Lords will not use this against me in the future—I find myself querying whether it might be more appropriate for the Bill to include the affirmative resolution procedure rather than the negative one.
My Lords, I realise that there is a high risk attached to making that point.
I turn now to the question of composition. The Bill proposes that,
“not less than twenty per cent of the membership of the House of Lords shall consist of members who are independent of any registered political party”.
That is defined by reference to activities undertaken during the two years prior to nomination for a peerage. I am sure that noble Lords will want to look at the details of the designation of independence, in particular the time limitation on the activities listed. What would happen if a Peer who qualified as independent at the time of nomination subsequently undertook one of more of the activities listed that would associate him with a political party?
The question of composition will need to be looked at very carefully. The Bill provides that,
“the Government of the day shall be entitled to have a larger number of members than the official Opposition, but the Government majority over the Opposition shall normally be no greater than three per cent of the total membership of the House of Lords”.
It is not clear from my reading of the Bill whether the Government’s majority should be over the official Opposition or the total opposition. If it is the case that it is to be a majority over the total opposition, then initial work by my officials suggests that on the current composition of the House, an Appointments Commission would need to create 70 to 90 new Labour Peers. I have no doubt that my noble friend the Chief Whip would be very pleased about that. Further, the figures take no account of appointments from other political parties and of people who are independent of any party. There is a risk that far from reducing the size of your Lordships’ House, it would increase it, notwithstanding that Clause 8(5) provides that the commission should “have regard” to the need to reduce it from its current size.
My Lords, has the Minister ever heard of a parliamentary Labour group with members who left a missive on my desk to say that they wanted the Bill to be withdrawn on their briefing for today? I do not know what it is about. Does the noble Lord know anything about it?
My Lords, I have received various communications on the Bill. The noble Lord may be referring to a Labour Party group which is committed to elections to your Lordships’ House. Although my own view on Lords reform is very well known, I cannot claim ownership of it. I have also enjoyed vigorous and helpful discussions with other groups, particularly the group chaired by Sir Patrick Cormack. We had a very enjoyable discussion only two days ago.
The question of numbers is very important. If there was a change of government—an unlikely prospect but we have to consider the implications it would have for numbers—the defeated Government would have a majority of party-political Peers and the commission would need to reverse the situation. I know that the Bill provides that the commission may, at its discretion, phase in the requisite number of recommendations over a period of two Sessions following a general election, but there might be pressure from the winning party for that to happen more quickly and for the majority to be towards the upper end of the 3 per cent provision. Clearly frequent changes of government—which we have not seen recently but those of us who remember the 1960s and 1970s will know that it can happen—would create a great deal of uncertainty about whether the numbers can be contained. Again we perhaps enter into the realm of fantasy, but if a party other than Labour or the Conservatives became the Official Opposition, there would then be a need to create a very large number of Peers. These matters all need to be considered.
I am not saying that the principles contained around the Appointments Commission are wrong. I fully understand why the noble Lord is pursuing this. If there is to be an appointed element in the future, all the various political parties have a commitment towards such a statutory Appointments Commission, but the detail of these matters needs to be considered very carefully.
On the exclusion of hereditary Peers, I have no comment to make on the technical drafting of the clause. However, I observe that it will take many years—perhaps 60—before all the hereditary Peers leave your Lordships’ House. At the moment we have one hereditary Peer in his 30s and six in their 40s—including, happily, the noble Lords, Lord Addington, Lord de Mauley and Lord Strathclyde.
He certainly looks to be in his 40s. I am sure that we wish them all long life. The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, described it as quiet, gentle strangulation; it seems to me that it is very gentle indeed.
The noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, and others took us back to 1999 and the commitment made by my noble and learned friend Lord Irvine that the hereditary Peers would remain until the second stage of House of Lords reform had taken place; the 10 per cent would go only when stage two had been completed. My understanding of the House’s position is that it has in the past been made clear that it will countenance the removal of the remaining hereditary Peers only in the context of final reform. I do not believe it can be argued that the Bill could be considered to meet the terms of that pledge.
My Lords, I am repeating what my noble and learned friend said then. I also reflect that the second stage has never been defined. My understanding is that the guarantee that there will be fundamental reform was the agreement reached in 1999. Indeed, in a sense that was the Cranborne tripwire.
Yes, my Lords.
The Bill provides for permanent leave of absence, including by means of failure to attend, and for cessation of membership of the House in cases where a Peer is found guilty of a serious offence or offences. The intentions here are entirely sensible and would need to be dealt with in any wide-ranging reform. However, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, that we need to look at the practical implications of the proposed approach. The noble Lord, Lord Steel, said in his opening remarks that it would be entirely proper and appropriate for some noble Lords to be absent. He mentioned the Governor of Hong Kong as an example. We have recent examples too: the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, was Secretary-General of NATO, while the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, was Governor and commander-in-chief of Bermuda. Still, I question whether under those circumstances they should be made to go before a committee to plead their cause. I ask the noble Lord, Lord Steel, to consider that.
There is a slightly different position with regard to Justices of the Supreme Court. Under the current provisions of Clause 12(1) of the Bill, judges would be likely to be deemed—
My Lords, I am sure that is a most important point that the noble Lord, Lord Steel, will wish to consider. He might also want to look at the way the Bill has been drafted to ensure that, where the position is so clearly legitimate, they ought not to have to come before a committee to plead their cause.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott, that a response was sent to the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson. I understand that the commission reviewed its policy on residency in 2005 and now declines to vet any nominee who is not resident in the UK for tax purposes.
My Lords, I do not know whether the response has been published. I am quite happy to let him have a copy of it.
I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Steel, has found my comments helpful. In any reform, were it an interim reform as the noble Lord suggests or a more fundamental reform, the matters and the practical details that we have debated today would have to be considered. Whatever our views on whether it is wise to allow the noble Lord’s Bill to progress, our discussion and detailed consideration are extremely valuable.
The Government’s formal position on the Bill is as I stated it when we debated the noble Lord’s Bill in July: that, as with all Private Members’ Bills that go through your Lordships’ House, the Government will adopt a neutral position. The Government will be constructive in responding to amendments that noble Lords put forward. I hope that I have demonstrated that approach today in commenting in detail on the noble Lord’s Bill.
We do not know what shape the Bill will be in if and when it leaves your Lordships’ House. It is certainly not in my gift to offer government time for it in another place. However, the Government’s efforts are focused on comprehensive reform. I know that noble Lords have sought, both today and in July, to question the Commons and its ability to come to a view through voting, but a vote is a vote is a vote. The process that was undertaken—the cross-party group, leading to a White Paper earlier this year, leading to the free votes—allowed the Commons to come to a clear conclusion and vote in favour of both an 80 per cent and 100 per cent elected House. That is the foundation on which the Government are taking forward their work. We have a cross-party working group, consisting of people appointed by the leadership of the three main parties. It has been meeting during the past few months. It will inform the basis of a White Paper to be produced by the Government in the New Year. We also hope to produce draft clauses in some areas for consideration by Parliament as a whole. Today’s debate will be extremely helpful in allowing us to consider the details with which we will inevitably need to deal in any fundamental reform.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for allowing me to intervene. Will he assure us that those draft clauses, or a draft Bill if it develops, will be put before a Joint Committee of both Houses so that we can minimise the amount of misunderstanding about the way in which both Houses operate?
My Lords, I cannot give an absolute commitment, but we would try to see that Parliament had as much scrutiny as possible. I certainly agree with the noble Lord that the more Members from both Houses are able to discuss these matters together, the more likely it is that we will achieve a sensible, reasonable and practical outcome.
The intention of the Government is for the outcome of the discussions, in the White Paper and in consideration of draft clauses, to be put to the electorate as a manifesto commitment at the next general election. We have said that we would hope that the other main parties included similar commitments in their manifestos. I know that that noble Lord, Lord Baker, with all his experience, was doubtful of major reform for at least another 20 years. I am more optimistic. The vote of the Commons was historic. It allows us to establish a real platform to produce a White Paper which has the opportunity of getting support among the political parties and which will bring the second stage of reform to your Lordships’ House.
That is the way that we need to go forward. I thank again the noble Lord, Lord Steel, for allowing us to debate these matters in detail, and I look forward to Committee, where we will no doubt discuss in ever-loving detail every consideration in today’s Bill.
My Lords, since at the end of the last debate I was so critical of the Minister, let me say right away that I am extremely grateful for the constructive way in which he has commented on the Bill. In the time left to me, I do not think that he would expect me to respond to all the points that he made—but let me pick up just two.
The Minister suggested that guidelines for appointment to the House should be subject to affirmative rather than negative resolution. As an offer that comes from the government Front Bench, I shall grab it immediately, and I think that it would be welcomed by the House as a change.
On the Minister’s reference to the section of the Bill dealing with those who might be put out of the House but have good reason not to be, it was not intended in the Bill—although other Members have made reference to this, too—that people should come before a committee to plead their case. That was not the intention at all. It was intended that those who have a genuine occupation elsewhere, as a Law Lord or whatever, will automatically be excluded from the provision of the Bill that would otherwise make them leave the House. I am happy to give that reassurance; if we need to alter the Bill to make it clear in that regard, let us do that. I have been in correspondence with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope and Craighead, on behalf of the Law Lords, and given him that assurance as well.
Secondly, I do not at all resent the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, teasing me—I have teased him often enough on this subject. He asked me how many people had been involved in my appointment to this place, and the answer is one: Mr John Major. However, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, because I always have to reassure my Whips’ Office that I am not here as a working Peer. I describe myself as a “dissolute honour”. All of us have different contributions to make to this place, and I pick up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd-Webber, as a very valuable one. The number of speeches that noble Lords make here, which is what the press like to talk about, is not a proper measure of the contribution that Members of this House make to our work here. I think we can all agree on that.
I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in a very constructive and good-humoured debate. In particular, I reassure those who made constructive suggestions of amendments to the Bill that we shall be open to those amendments in Committee, as we have already demonstrated by the fact that so many changes have been made to the Bill in response to the July debate. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, gave the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, and me rather a back-handed compliment when he said that the Bill was no more badly put together than the average government Bill. That may or may not be so—but we will look favourably on constructive amendments in Committee.
On the observations of some of the hereditary Peers who were worried about the undertaking given back in 1999—and we have just had another exchange on this subject—it is noticeable that they latch on to one part of what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, said. I refer to the volume of Hansard of 11 May 1999, where the noble and learned Lord said:
“I make it absolutely plain that stage two reform will take place, and when it does the hereditary Peers who remain … will cease to be Members of this House”.—[Official Report, 11/5/99; col. 1092.]
That is, perhaps, a less palatable part of the undertaking. My Bill does nothing to remove the hereditary Peers.
Fine, my Lords, but the point that I am making is that my Bill ought to be welcomed by the hereditary Peers, as I acknowledge the activity that they conduct in this House. I am only saying that in the 21st century it is quite wrong that we should continue to have a system whereby people can enter into the British Parliament by the process of heredity. The Bill will bring that to an end. That is an important principle.
If I had to select one part of the Bill as having more impact on the future character of this House than any other, it would be Part 3, which deals with leave of absence. That could be the biggest change in the way in which we conduct ourselves here. Let us be blunt: at the present time, the whole culture and ethos of this place is that we all stay here until we drop. None of us volunteers to leave early because we would let the side down—our party or the Cross-Benchers would lose a Member. That is the current state of play. But if we had a scheme whereby, after a certain age—
My Lords, forgive me, but I am in mid-sentence, may I just go on a little? I will finish this point and then I will give way to the noble Lord.
The point that I am arguing is that if we had a scheme whereby, after a certain age or period of service in this place, people could leave with dignity knowing that they were making way for a new intake from their own party or group, that would introduce a completely different attitude into the House and would deal with the case mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, of Lord Callaghan. Lord Callaghan was a regular attender here until old age overtook him. I am quite certain that he would have taken advantage of such a provision had it existed. I give way to the noble Lord who is determined to intervene yet again.
He is not going to intervene; good.
In conclusion, as others have observed, the arithmetic in this debate was different from that in July. Of the Back-Bench speeches, I counted some 28 in favour of the Bill and nine against. That is understandable because this time the Bill is going forward seriously. The last time was just a debate at the fag-end of the Session. However, I noticed that those who opposed the Bill came from completely opposite ends of the spectrum. There was the sight of the noble Lord, Lord Richard, and the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, both distinguished servants of this House, linked together in opposition to the Bill—one is madly keen to have an elected House tomorrow and the other is wholly resistant to any change, particularly anything that might affect hereditary Peers, yet they are united in opposition to this reasonable Bill.
I have permission from the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, to repeat a conversation that we had the other day when he was also expressing some doubt about my Bill. His solution was very interesting: he said that every Member of this House should be created an hereditary Peer. In that way, the debates on House of Lords reform would go on as they have done for the past century. There is almost that element in the opposition to the Bill.
I will seriously respond to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe. I can truthfully say that in all the discussions that we have had in the group promoting the Bill, I have never heard any discussion or suggestion of blocking or interfering with government legislation if we do not get our way. That may have happened in the past, I do not know, but certainly there was no such suggestion.
If we can get this Bill through this House in, as the Minister said, a tidy and correct form and it emerges cleanly, there is a chance that it might carry in the House of Commons. The one thing that that House has is some common sense. As the noble Lord, Lord Baker, said, we cannot be certain that we will get the more fundamental reforms for which they voted for 20 years. He may be wrong about that, but nobody knows—not even the Government know whether he is right and certainly the Commons does not know.
I end with the analogy that the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, gave us about Alice and the jam; that what we are being offered—
My Lords, we can debate all that in Committee. I hope that by Third Reading the House will vote so that we can determine the position for or against the Bill.
I end by picking up the reference of the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, to Alice and her jam. We are being asked to consider taking a teaspoonful of jam today as against being offered a whole jar of jam—shelves of jam—not tomorrow but at some indefinite time in the future. That is not a sustainable argument to put against the very sensible measures in this Bill. I now invite the House to give it a Second Reading.
On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
House adjourned at 2.25 pm.