My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Lord Chancellor on House of Lords reform, on which he is today publishing a White Paper. The Statement is as follows:
“In my Statement to the House on 19 July last year, I said that I would continue to lead cross-party talks on reform of the House of Lords. Those talks have included Front-Bench representatives of the main parties from both Houses, as well as of the Cross-Bench Peers and the Bishops. The talks have made good progress. I am most grateful to all those who have served on the group. I pay tribute for their constructive contributions and readiness to consider alternative proposals. Our discussions have been much informed by the work of others, including the Public Administration Select Committee, informal cross-party groups, the Cunningham report and above all the report of the Royal Commission under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham.
“The basis for our talks was the outcome of the votes in the House of Commons in March 2007. This House voted then for a wholly elected, and for a mainly elected second Chamber and rejected all other alternatives by a large margin. The Lords took a different view. It voted for a fully appointed second Chamber. However, as I said in my Statement on 19 July last year, reflecting the remarks of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister on 3 July last, work taking forward House of Lords reform had to be based on the will of the House of Commons, which is the primary chamber in our legislature.
“The proposals we make today are consistent with the 2005 manifesto commitments of the three main parties. The White Paper sets out how a wholly or mainly elected second Chamber might be created within a bicameral legislature in which the House of Commons retains primacy. The White Paper reflects the considerable consensus reached in the cross-party talks. Inevitably, we did not reach agreement on all issues. In some instances, those taking part asked that the White Paper record their difference of view, which it does.
“As I indicated to the House in my Statement on 19 July last, our intention is that the product of the cross-party talks would be the basis of a,
‘package that we would put to the electorate as a manifesto commitment at the next general election and which hopefully the other main parties would include in their manifestos’.—[Official Report, Commons, 19/07/07; col. 450.]
“It has never been the intention to legislate in this Parliament. The White Paper represents a significant step on the road to reform and is intended to generate further debate and consideration rather than being a final blueprint for reform.
“The White Paper sets out how Members could be elected to a reformed second Chamber from the nations and regions of the United Kingdom. It was a key recommendation of the Royal Commission of the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, and has since enjoyed strong consensus, including within the cross-party group, that Members should serve a single, non-renewable term of three electoral cycles—that is, of 12 to 15 years. This reflects proposals in the February 2007 White Paper. Elections would be held at the same time as those for Members of this House, so as to minimise disruption to the business of Parliament.
“The current House of Lords has over 700 Members. The Government intend that the reformed second Chamber should be significantly smaller, of not more than 400 to 450 Members and maybe less, and that costs should be similar or reduced. We envisage all Members of a reformed second Chamber making a full contribution to its work and would welcome views on its size. Single, non-renewable terms would help provide a membership for the second Chamber which continued to be distinct from that of this House and hence which could bring an added dimension to the work of Parliament. It is proposed that this be reinforced by the use of large constituencies for elections to the second Chamber.
“I referred earlier to the primacy of this House. Analysis of other countries’ arrangements and our own history shows that primacy does not depend on the fact that this House is elected while the Lords is not. It is rooted in the Parliament Acts of 1911 and 1949, and the conventions which govern relations between the two Houses. With the introduction of elected Members into the second Chamber, however, we have to ensure that the mandate of this House and the government it sustains continues to hold sway. The Membership of a reformed second Chamber should be such that it could not challenge that mandate. This is why we saw considerable merit in staggered elections to a reformed second Chamber, with a third of Members returned at each election. In this way, the electoral basis of the reformed second Chamber could never, as a whole, be more recent than that of this House.
“The cross-party group considered at some length possible voting systems. The White Paper presents detailed modelling on the possible effects of each of four electoral systems for elections to a second Chamber. The systems are first past the post; alternative vote; single transferable vote; and open or semi-open list systems. The Government would welcome views on the choice of system.
“The cross-party group considered the powers of a reformed second Chamber. We took the view that it would be wrong to pre-suppose conflict between this House and a reformed second Chamber. The working relationship between the two Houses currently functions well, and we could see no reason why it should not continue to do so. Creative tension between the Houses can lead to better government, not an undermining of this House’s primacy. If conflict arose in future, it would, as now, be for both Houses to devise a way through that conflict. We identified no persuasive case for reducing, in advance of that, the powers of a wholly or mainly elected second Chamber.
“Given that the Commons voted last March for both, the White Paper does not take a view between the options of either a 100 per cent or an 80 per cent elected second Chamber. However, it includes detail on a possible 20 per cent appointed element, should the latter option be chosen. There would be a statutory Appointments Commission and published criteria for appointments. Any appointed Members would serve for three electoral cycles in the same way as elected Members.
“If the second Chamber became fully elected, there could be no seats appointed or reserved, including for Church of England bishops. But in recognition of the wide and important role played by the Lords Spiritual in the life of the nation and the special constitutional position of the church, we propose that their representation should continue in a mainly elected House. In that instance, their numbers would not contribute to the 20 per cent appointed element.
“The White Paper includes proposals on eligibility and on disqualification. Because of the long, non-renewable terms for which they would serve, we were attracted to the system discussed in the White Paper of recall ballots for elected Members of the second Chamber, with analogous arrangements for any appointed Members. This would apply only after the first of three parliamentary terms which Members would serve. The Government welcome views on this. Members of a reformed second Chamber should receive salaries, with the Senior Salaries Review Body asked to advise.
“The transition to a reformed second Chamber raises a number of important issues, not least about the future arrangements for existing Members of the Lords. Those Members, collectively, enable the Chamber effectively to fulfil its key roles of scrutinising legislation, conducting investigations and holding the Government to account. This Government, and I know the whole House, greatly value the work of the Lords and the contributions of individual Members to it.
“However, it was made clear in 1999 that the rights of hereditary Peers to sit and vote would be removed as part of the next phase of Lords reform. The Government propose that, following legislation and during the transition to a reformed second Chamber, there should be no further by-elections to fill vacancies for hereditary Peers.
“The February 2007 White Paper included a proposal from me that a reformed House should be 50 per cent elected and 50 per cent appointed. One of the many merits I saw of that proposal was that it would have enabled existing life Peers to remain for life, if they had wished to. However, that 50/50 proposal was comprehensively rejected by both Houses. The votes in this House for a wholly or 80 per cent elected House mean that the context for the transition to a reformed second Chamber has changed. There may not be an appointed element in a reformed second Chamber. If there is, it may comprise 90 or fewer Members. A discussion is therefore now required to determine how far the rights of life Peers to sit and vote during any transition to a reformed second Chamber should continue. The White Paper sets out three options for managing the transition to a second Chamber: first, for all existing life Peers to leave in tranches allied to the three electoral cycles; secondly, for all to leave on the third cycle; and, thirdly, to remain as now for life. The Government welcome views on these options”.
My Lords, I think I know where your Lordships stand on this.
“Mr Speaker, the cross-party group faithfully and assiduously followed the mandate set for it by the Commons last March. We are now keen for there to be a wide-ranging and thorough debate, but I think all Members of the cross-party group share my view that to have got this far on such an important but highly complex issue is a considerable achievement.
“As I said in my Statement on 19 July last, our intention now is to continue developing consensus round a comprehensive package for reform of the House of Lords. Any final package would have to be put to the electorate as a manifesto commitment at the next general election. I hope that we will be able to build on the considerable consensus established already in the cross-party group, to the extent that other parties include similar commitments in their manifestos.
“An effective second Chamber plays an invaluable role in holding the Government to account and in scrutinising legislation. Our belief is that the proposals in the White Paper, and of the group, will lead to a more legitimate and strengthened second Chamber. I commend this Statement and the White Paper to the House”.
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
My Lords, that the Statement is being presented to Parliament on 14 July, when the French celebrate the storming of the Bastille, demonstrates that someone in the Ministry of Justice has a sense of humour, if not a sense of history. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, for repeating the Statement made in another place, and for giving me an advance opportunity to read the White Paper. It is the third White Paper on this House from this Government, and there have been even more major statements on its role, Members and powers over the years.
Of course, many proposals have preceded it since the curbing of this House’s powers in 1911, when both Houses resolved that in due time the House should be constituted on a popular basis. We had the Bryce commission of 1918, the talks of Lord Longford and my noble friend Lord Carrington in 1968, the Home report, the Plant commission, and the royal commission chaired by my noble friend Lord Wakeham. One has only to read a few of the names to realise how long the debate about the future of our House has continued. For all the Lord Chancellor’s ingenuity, the problem has been neither newly identified nor finally resolved in the White Paper; there is much work to be done before a Bill could be presented.
This House is no stranger to reform. The Conservative Life Peerages Act 1958 was a revolutionary experiment in composition, enacted some 80 years after the controversy over life peerages first raged in the Wensleydale case. The Conservative Party enabled women who inherited peerages to enter this place in 1963, and in 1968 the House voted for substantial further reforms only to see those plans scuppered in another place. In 1999, half this House departed in the face of the House of Lords Act. Much as they disliked it, they accepted that as their duty in view of the binding undertakings given by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, to provide for a comprehensive stage 2 reform. In 2005, further legislation reversed the first life peerages provisions in relation to the judiciary and provided for Law Lords to be excluded. So let it not be said that this House is not prepared to entertain change, accept it or adapt to it when it occurs.
I thank the Lord Chancellor, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, and the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, who joined the cross-party talks referred to in the Statement actively when she became Leader of the House, for the care with which they conducted them. They did so with responsibility and a clear understanding of the role, authority and importance of this House in our bicameral constitution, something not always seen from every member of this Government.
Equally, I know that the cross-party talks have created resentment in this House, although cross-party talks are of course normal in a functioning democracy. Many of your Lordships felt excluded, which was unnecessary and avoidable. For my own part, I would have had no difficulty with publishing the papers or the records of the talks, and I always thought that it would be wise to have a parallel process made up of Back-Benchers examining the implications of the votes of this House on reform. There is a majority in this place for a fully appointed House, an idea that in itself presents substantial practical issues. However, the Government chose to proceed on the basis of votes in the House of Commons for an 80 or 100 per cent elected House, which made known—for this Parliament at least—the will of another place.
Of course, the Government could not and should not have ignored the votes of another place and—I must say, bluntly—neither should we as a House. If we do not engage with another place, it can impose its will on us; we cannot just sit this one out. That is why the Front Benches in this Parliament, the noble Baroness the Convenor of the Cross-Bench Peers, and the right reverend Prelates accepted the Lord Chancellor’s invitation to participate actively and constructively in wrestling with the issues arising from the votes in the other place; I make no apology for that. After all, the unilateral proposals for change put forward by this Government since 1999 have not exactly had a rapturous welcome.
We started the talks with the aim of working out what the House that another place voted for might look like and setting out for both Houses to consider a potential design for such a House. The paper published today is a step towards this, but let me make it clear that it is a government White Paper, not a cross-party paper, although, as the Statement says, we found wide areas of agreement. That is hardly surprising, given the commitments of the main parties to seek consensus for a partially elected reform. However, it is equally unsurprising that we also found major areas of disagreement and it is inevitable that this White Paper will be the basis of a long and heated debate which I hope will take place in this House some time after we return from the Summer Recess. Without pre-empting that debate, I shall sketch briefly some areas of agreement and disagreement.
If there is an elected House, we must keep, so far as possible, the strengths of this House while increasing its will to use its powers. We agreed that that means no reduction in the powers of this House. We agreed that it means long non-renewable terms for Members, so that they are free of coercion and as independent as possible from threats and rewards by party Whips. We agreed that it means retaining the right reverend Prelates. It also means, in my view, “no” to a 100 per cent-elected House, because that would exclude the Cross Benchers who put a particular stamp on this House and whose expertise is so valuable to Parliament.
Any reformed House must pass these and other key tests. It must complement the other place, not compete with it; it must not be a House of opposition, but nor should it be servile; it should be no less capable of performing the key roles of the current House and it should be a House to which the people of this country can genuinely relate.
That takes me to an area of major disagreement—how an elected House should be chosen. It may surprise noble Lords to hear that the Liberal Democrats shocked us in the working party by calling for proportional representation. We prefer smaller constituencies based on our historic cities and counties, with Members chosen directly by “first past the post”. The Government sat on the fence. That is not a good basis for legislation.
Many grey areas also remain for which the White Paper has not provided adequate answers for public scrutiny. There are the difficult questions of the transition from one House another, the pay and pension arrangements for the new House and outgoing Members of the present one and, indeed, the overall costs of a reformed House. These issues cannot be fudged in a Bill.
There has been perhaps a little fudging, which is why this is not really a White Paper at all. It is a Green Paper. The Government’s mind is unclear on so much that you have to wonder why they are publishing it in the first place. Even the name of a reformed House is a mystery. Leaks a few weeks ago suggested that it would be called a senate, but even that seems to be too radical a step for this Government, and the name disappeared in the final draft. What will the House be called? The Minister and the noble Baroness the Leader of the House will have to make the Government’s position far clearer in the months ahead.
There is a great deal yet to do. There should now be a pause while both Houses, the wider public and, in due time, the next Parliament work to resolve the many questions raised by this process. That should be no excuse for suspending further work. The Executive are too strong and Parliament, for all the efforts of your Lordships over the past 10 years, is too weak to restrain them properly. We have too many laws in this country and too many lawmakers who lack the capacity or authority to prevent or improve them. We must not set our faces against change that might help Parliament to do its vital job more confidently.
As I am sure all noble Lords will agree, this is a great House, a House of ceremony and dignity, a place to which all of us feel privileged to belong. The 20th century was not the happiest for our House, but in some ways in this new century, against all expectations, we have begun to feel our way back to the heart of national affairs. The White Paper does not impede that movement, but it leaves us far from agreed legislation. The next reform of the House will be a democratic one—I am sure of that and I expect that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, will agree with me—but when will it happen? Of that, I am far, far less certain.
My Lords, we on these Benches warmly welcome the Statement and the White Paper. The approach fulfils the objectives that my honourable friends at the other end of the Corridor—the Liberal Democrat MPs—voted for absolutely unanimously in March 2007, and which my noble friends in this House voted for at the same time by a majority.
I hope that I will not do damage to the reputation of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, among his loyal supporters on the Conservative Benches if I say that I am not quite sure what the noble Lord was actually suggesting. Is he suggesting that we should have another pause in reform? If so, he is not fully taking account of the fact that the Statement makes it clear that his very constructive contribution to the work of the cross-party group was acknowledged and warmly welcomed. I am sure that the Minister will reflect that again in a moment. Although he may have problems with the detail of the White Paper, he was, I think it would be fair to say, a very constructive contributor and I pay tribute to him for that. I hope that I have not done great damage to his leadership.
I am sure that there will be a very firm commitment to reform along the lines of the White Paper in the next Liberal Democrat general election manifesto, but it is far from clear, from what has been said this afternoon by those on the Opposition Front Bench in this House and the other House, whether that remains the case for the Conservative Party. I am not sure whether it is still committed to the reform that it said it was committed to in the 2005 general election. Is it the Minister’s intention to seek an exact common manifesto commitment from all three major parties to make progress in future?
The question that the public will ask is, “Why are we waiting?”. Why do the Government hesitate? It was clear—was it not?—that when we were all expecting a general election this year or in 2009, there was a very good case for delay. Now, since the Prime Minister has made it clear that there will not be a general election until 2010, it should surely be possible for us to make some progress on this clear set of proposals.
The Prime Minister’s first Statement, on 3 July 2007, contained a firm intention to give priority to reinvigorating democracy and strengthening Parliament. Why are we in this House to be left in illegitimate limbo? In the Statement and in the conclusion of the White Paper, great emphasis was given to clear legitimacy for this House. That is surely what we should all seek. Given that the so-called Constitutional Renewal Bill has proved to be nothing of the sort, surely this is a genuine reform that can be included in the Queen’s Speech in December.
When I have previously questioned the Minister, he has said, on two occasions, that it was the Government’s intention to submit draft clauses for pre-legislative scrutiny. He seemed very sympathetic to my idea that this should be examined by a Joint Committee of both Houses; that would at least reduce the ignorance there is about the other place and this place among Members of the two Houses. Surely that is a way in which we could make some progress. We could, in the phrase of the Lord Chancellor’s Statement,
“build on the considerable consensus established already”,
and sort out some essential details. For example, we on these Benches think that it would be preferable to hold elections for the senate on a fixed date to avoid the considerable practical difficulties involved when the House of Commons is elected on an indeterminate date; we would be seeking a firm, fixed term for Members of the reformed second Chamber. It would also mean that we could avoid confusion among the electorate, who I am sure many of us recognise often vote for—or, indeed, against—a Government when they see an opportunity at a general election to do so. We surely do not want that to determine what will happen in this House. The Government are promoting a different option; why cannot we now debate those two alternatives and see which best meets the needs of this House?
Ministers have been quite specific in the White Paper on so many points that it is curious that they are havering between an 80 and a 100 per cent elected senate. No one is asking them to be absolutely determinate about that but at least some preference could be indicated. Surely they could now reveal that.
It is now 15 months since the House of Commons, for which everyone claims primacy, voted by such large majorities for reform. Surely unnecessary delay simply plays into the hands of the refusniks or reactionaries. In his Statement in the other place, the Lord Chancellor referred to the possibility that we might achieve reform by 2011. As Members of this House will no doubt recall, it was on the face of the Parliament Act 1911 that we should move towards a second Chamber based on a popular mandate. If we are to fulfil that firm commitment of 100 years ago by 2011, surely we should start now.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement and offer congratulations to the team of officials, who managed to make coherent what was often less than coherent.
All that I wish to say has been said many, many times before. Nevertheless, I feel compelled to make just a few points, if only because there is very strong feeling about this issue among the independent Cross-Bench Peers. Some might say, “Well, they would, wouldn’t they?”, but I think it is more than that. There is a deeply felt concern that some of the measures proposed will have an undoubtedly deleterious effect on the chief functions of this House and on legislation more generally. More than 60 independent Cross-Bench Peers have, for example, endorsed a statement focusing on incremental House of Lords reform.
I start with the premise on which the White Paper, and the work of the cross-party group on Lords reform, is based. In no other legislation since I have been in this House has the overwhelming vote of this Chamber been so entirely disregarded. The Lords voted on 14 March 2007 for an appointed or predominantly appointed upper House by a majority of 327 votes, which represents almost 60 per cent of the votes cast on that day.
Perhaps I may also add that the two options—wholly or 80 per cent elected—which have now become the only options, were in fact voted against in 2003 and 2007 by two leading members of the cross-party working group; namely, the right honourable Jack Straw and the right honourable Theresa May. Therefore, in fact they are arguing for something that they had voted against.
It is difficult to know from where this pressure for radical reform is coming. It is certainly not coming from this Chamber, the public or the media, nor, as far as I can tell, from a significant body of Members of the other place. However, inexplicably, even the relatively minor and sensible reforms put forward in, among others, the so-called Steel Bill have been rejected by the Government in favour of this radical reform.
Crucially, I have not heard from within the working group or without it any argument that a radically reformed House would demonstrably improve the work of this House. The need for legitimacy is constantly emphasised, but we are not illegitimate as we stand—a view endorsed by the Government’s public reference to the “increased legitimacy” of the House of Lords. Legitimacy is not necessarily or exclusively guaranteed by elections. Are, for example, judges or senior academics non-legitimate by virtue of having been appointed? Furthermore, are we talking about genuinely open elections or about simply substituting the present appointments system with a more politically based one?
The process of democratic reform is achieved by greater transparency, accountability and debate, and not by the single fact of election alone. It is difficult to see how an individual elected for a 10 to 15-year period with no opportunity for re-election can offer accountability.
The potential effects of a predominantly elected second Chamber can be summarised as follows: the rise of a competitive state of affairs with the other place, which would have an inevitable effect on the primacy of the House of Commons—elected Members would, I suspect, not be content merely to delay legislation but would in time demand a veto; an increase in the politicisation of this House, no matter what voting systems are adopted; an inevitable decrease in the expertise, independence and diversity of this House—it is, for example, less likely that mid-career people, women, representatives of ethnic minorities, and, most importantly, people with disabilities would put themselves forward for a potentially gruelling election process; and, finally, its relative cost as compared with the other place, a matter on which this House has always prided itself, will be lost—an elected Chamber will involve a massive rise in expenditure.
I regret so much that, in the past few months, I have sounded much like a stuck record in the proceedings of the cross-party group, but I genuinely believe that the changes outlined in the White Paper will neither enhance nor improve the work of this House but may result in politicisation and a degree of confusion to the ultimate detriment of the crucial work that this House undertakes.
My Lords, noble Lords will have a flavour of the fascinating discussions that we have had in the 12 meetings of the cross-party working group since it was established following the free votes in the Commons. I say at once to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that I agree that your Lordships’ House makes a huge contribution to the work of Parliament. An intention behind the White Paper and its proposals is to build on that contribution. He is right to say that there have been many reports and many White Papers on Lords reform, starting with that of Viscount Bryce and the Bryce conference in 1917-18. The noble Lord might also have mentioned the memorandum of Winston Churchill to the Cabinet arguing for some form of indirect elections, I think, during the 1920s. That illustrates to me that reaching consensus on the future of your Lordships’ House is very difficult indeed, which is why the cross-party group was established.
Of course, there is much more work to be done. This White Paper spells out the implications of the vote of the Commons and allows for a debate on those implications. I do not think that we are the poorer for that kind of process or that it was an unreasonable way in which to proceed. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, is right: it is a government White Paper, but it draws heavily on the long and detailed discussions in the cross-party group. I pay tribute to all noble Lords and honourable and right honourable Members who took part in those discussions.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, about the issue of powers. We do not want to see a diminution in the powers of your Lordships’ House within the context of a mostly elected or all-elected Chamber. That principle was agreed right at the start of those cross-party discussions. I believe that it was agreement on that principle that enabled the talks to continue in such a fruitful way.
I also agree with the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, when he points to the importance of long, non-renewable terms of office and to the contribution made by the right reverend Prelates to your Lordships’ House, which, he argued, meant that he favoured an 80 per cent elected House. The Government have deliberately chosen not to come down in favour of either option at this stage, because the Commons voted for both options. We thought it better to produce a White Paper that allows the Commons and others to look at the consequences of that. The time for a decision will be later, but I think that the White Paper will be very helpful to that debate.
It was clear from our discussions in the working group that we were unlikely to achieve a consensus on voting systems. It seemed much more sensible to put into the White Paper a number of options and to allow a debate to take place.
On the name of the reformed second Chamber, I know that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, is keen on the use of the word “senate”—“the senior senator from south Scotland” has a certain ring to it. Let us debate the title of the second Chamber and decide in the light of that debate.
The noble Lord then asked when that will happen. That very much depends on the debates on the White Paper and on the decisions of the political parties. This process allows manifesto commitments to be given at the next general election and subsequently for legislation to be made. That process was always laid out. The White Paper continues that and will allow the public as a whole to come to a view.
I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, for his kind comments. He asks why we are waiting. As we have already observed, there will be many reports on House of Lords reform, which started more than 90 years ago. Seeking consensus is surely the best way forward. Surely a modus that allows for debate, manifesto commitments and then legislation is the best chance that anyone could have for reaching agreement and producing legislation to enable reform. This is entirely consistent with the Green Paper, The Governance of Britain.
I did not recognise the unkind remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, about the draft Constitutional Renewal Bill. Reform of your Lordships’ House is entirely consistent with the Government’s intention to enhance the position of Parliament vis-à-vis the Executive. We have always said that, in the light of consultation, there may well be an opportunity to publish draft clauses. Just as we would welcome Parliament’s scrutiny of and debate on the White Paper, we would welcome further scrutiny of any draft clauses that might be produced.
The cross-party group discussed the Liberal Democrats’ view that elections should be held on a fixed date. That view is recorded. However, there are strong arguments for those elections to be held at the same time as general elections. That would certainly ensure that this House as a whole had no more recent mandate than that of the Commons, which is important, given the primacy of the Commons. On the point about confusing the electorate, the electorate are well up to being able to vote both for a Member of Parliament and for Members of your Lordships’ House.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, for her contribution to the work of the cross-party groups. I was amused by her comments about coherence where there may be none; I often think about the work of Hansard when I read my speeches in the Official Report. I do not share her view that the measures in the White Paper would necessarily have a detrimental impact on your Lordships’ House. The question of legitimacy is very important. Surely the goal is to add legitimacy to the enormously important work of your Lordships’ House. That is what is intended. The question of independent Members is one of the strong arguments for an 80 per cent elected House and I am sure that she and others will pursue that option with great vigour in the future. Matters such as costs will need to be considered in greater detail when we are clearer about the way forward. We will want an effective second Chamber, but we will also need to ensure that public finances are managed as effectively as possible.
My Lords, is my noble friend aware that, if legitimacy is the underlying argument driving this forward, the conclusion—that we should have a 100 per cent elected House—is inescapable? Any other arrangement denies the very argument and principle that the Government have advanced. However, I must say that a 15-year term gives a fig leaf of legitimacy and no more. What in the White Paper will convince the public that an elected House on those terms will be more effective, more efficient, give better value for money, be more representative and speak more effectively for the people of this country? To describe what we have had presented to us as a White Paper defies logic. It barely can be dignified with that description. With the world economic crisis as it is, oil prices going through the roof, and food and commodity prices rising weekly, if the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, thinks that the public are hanging on for an imminent decision about reform of the House of Lords, I am afraid that he is not living in the real world.
My Lords, my noble friend perhaps has put the “price of bread” question to me. Of course, one would hesitate to say that reform of your Lordships' House is the first concern of many members of the public. None the less, the health of our democratic institutions is important. It underpins the whole nation. Therefore, measures to improve the effectiveness of Parliament are worthy of consideration. I take his point about legitimacy and a House that is 80 per cent elected as opposed to 100 per cent elected. However, we have taken both votes in the other place and presented to Parliament and the outside world the implications and consequences of that. Clearly, there will be an intense debate about whether 80 per cent or 100 per cent elected is appropriate.
As regards long terms, the aim was to have an approach and membership that are very distinct from the Commons’. I think that most of the working group believe that a non-renewable, long, one-term electoral term is likely to lead to a more deliberative approach by Members of the second Chamber, which very much fits in with its essential scrutinising role. However, we will have to see the outcome of the discussions.
My Lords, first, I thank the Minister for the very kind references to our Royal Commission report in the White Paper. A substantial piece of work was produced, which merits a lot of consideration and not detailed judgment. Having said that, all the outstanding points are those which were difficult for us 10 years ago. They are very nearly the same points. Our report at that time attempted to offer a compromise between those points, which was rejected by virtually everyone initially because no one wanted a compromise. Does the Minister think that, 10 years later, people might be prepared to seek a compromise, rather than everyone demanding exactly what they want, with the likelihood of getting nothing?
My Lords, I pay tribute again to the noble Lord for his chairmanship and leadership of the Royal Commission report. It remains a fount of wisdom and information about reform of your Lordships' House. He is right that the White Paper merits a great deal of consideration, which, I hope, your Lordships' House will be able to give it over the next few months. The noble Lord is also surely right that the lack of compromise has bedevilled Lords reform on many occasions. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, referred to the 1968 proposals, which fell, due again to a lack of compromise.
Following the votes in the Commons and the cross-party working group, let us hope that what we have now engaged in can lead to a consensus which would enable Parliament after the next general election to legislate on the basis of a settled view. That is the hope and the expectation following this White Paper.
My Lords, I also thank the Minister for repeating the Statement, and welcome the White Paper. We on these Benches will play our part fully in the debates on the recommendations, including those that seek to secure a proper representation of all communities of faith in these islands. Given the evident interest in the future of these Benches shown by many noble Lords, not least during the reading of the Statement, perhaps I could comment on some of the recommendations that relate to the Bishops. While noting that there could be no continuing place for Lords Spiritual in a wholly elected Chamber, we welcome the fact that there would be a place for them within a partially elected Chamber. We therefore acknowledge that in a House with a reduced membership, consideration would need to be given to the appropriate number of Lords Spiritual, which currently stands at 26. We have long held the view that the minimum number required for an effective service to be offered to this House would be 20 and we would therefore welcome a commitment by the Government to discuss this issue with the church. In this context we would be happy to respond to the invitation in the White Paper to review the current system of selection to the Bishops’ Bench—
My Lords, in welcoming the continuing presence of Lords Spiritual in this House, would the Minister affirm that, whatever the final outcome regarding the place of Lords Spiritual in the House, there is an assurance that there would be no fundamental change in the relationship between church and state?
My Lords, I welcome such modest progress as has been made towards the democratisation of the second Chamber, but it pains me to reflect that in the years since the late Robin Cook and I signed a cross-party agreement, so little progress has been made. Does the Minister recognise that the failure to provide for the re-election of elected Members of the second Chamber deprives the public of the prospect of holding them to account, which greatly reduces the legitimacy of the second Chamber? What considerations might ultimately tip the Government’s mind with respect to whether it should be a wholly elected or partially elected House?
My Lords, the noble Lord says that little progress has been made. In the history of Lords reform there have been considerable problems in reaching agreement on the way forward, and that is why the process we are now engaged in is so important. He could have acknowledged that the Commons were able to come to a view, which, as he knows, was not the case in the first set of free votes. On re-election, I have already outlined the reasons why the Government and the cross-party group favour long, non-renewable election terms. The White Paper discusses the possibility of recall ballots as one way of ensuring accountability. We will welcome views on that.
My Lords, like most noble Lords, I have not been given the opportunity even to skim the White Paper before the Statement was made this afternoon, but I start by endorsing every word spoken by my noble friend the Convenor of the Cross Benches, which, I know, reflects the substantial majority of opinion on these Benches. I noticed that the Minister shook his head vigorously in denial when the Convenor referred to costs. While I do not expect him to answer the question this afternoon, how does he expect the Senior Salaries Review Body or its successor to devise an appropriate salary for 450 elected Members of this House within existing costs?
The Government have frequently assured us that they were seeking a consensus. What kind of consensus is it when only two options are put forward in the White Paper— for a fully elected or an 80 per cent elected House—which totally ignore the vast majority of opinion in this House that it should continue to be fully appointed? If the Government were really looking for a consensus or, to use the words of the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, a compromise, surely the logical answer would be a 50:50 House. I am not saying for one moment that I would support that solution, and I doubt whether many of my noble friends on the Cross-Benches would support it, but it is surely logical. It is worth noting that that is the proposal included in the White Paper last year that was voted for by the Minister’s right honourable friend Mr Jack Straw.
Does the Minister consider that the premise of the White Paper—that there are only two options to be considered: a fully elected or an 80 per cent elected House—is a serious proposal and not a deeply flawed one?
My Lords, I do not agree. We need to go back to the reason why the first cross-party group was established: to enable both Houses to come to views on Lords reform and its membership. As we have heard, the Commons voted in favour of both 80 per cent and 100 per cent elected. Your Lordships voted only for a 100 per cent appointed House. Faced with that difference of view, and as the Commons has primacy, as your Lordships have always acknowledged, the Government decided that it was appropriate to carry out considered work on the options on which the Commons voted.
I understand where the noble Lord is coming from on compromise, and 50:50 sounds a comfortable compromise between both Houses. But, as he suggested, that proposal was comprehensively rejected by both Houses. That is why my right honourable friend the Lord Chancellor has taken forward the discussions on the basis of the Commons votes.
My Lords, is not a fundamental flaw at the heart of the White Paper that it treats the major reform of one House of Parliament as a stand-alone issue with no relevance to the rest of the constitution? Whatever the wishful thinking in the White Paper suggests, is it not inevitable that the relationship between the two Houses would change dramatically and permanently, with the role, powers and responsibilities of the House of Commons being diminished? Whatever people’s views on that might be, surely it is essential now that the Government recognise the work of the Cunningham committee, to which they have already subscribed and which has been the subject of unanimous support from both Houses of Parliament. It recommended that, before any further steps are made, the issue of an elected House of Lords and its impact on the powers of the Commons and the relationship between the two Chambers is fully examined, preferably at length.
My Lords, I have been aware of my noble friend’s views on Lords reform for a long time. He puts his case very powerfully, but I disagree with him, although I certainly acknowledge—and I should have done so before—the enormously valuable work of my noble friend Lord Cunningham in his chairmanship of the Joint Committee on Conventions, which has informed the Government and the working group.
My noble friend says that an elected second Chamber would diminish the role and powers of the House of Commons. I do not share that view. All members of the working group and the Government are firm that the primacy of the Commons must and will be retained. Primacy is underpinned by the Parliament Act, by financial privilege and by the confidence that a Government must have in the House of Commons. Of course an elected or mostly elected second Chamber will feel confident in the powers it has; we should not run away from that, but at the end of the day it is still within the context of the primacy of the Commons.
My Lords, we have a system of government that is 100 per cent democratic, and I do not believe that having elected Members of this House would in any way increase that percentage.
The Government have set about this matter of achieving consensus in completely the wrong way. They have put far too much emphasis on a single vote in the House of Commons, when what was absolutely clear from that vote was the disagreement between the Front and Back Benches in both Houses and in both parties. They then set up a group that was totally unrepresentative of the Back Benches, where we had no effective say in the matter at all.
The Minister has put much emphasis on the primacy of the House of Commons. Since this matter goes back to 1911, it is not entirely clear that that primacy extends to total revolution of the constitutional situation. In some respects at present, in fact, the House of Commons is not totally unfettered. That is an important issue.
The second point is that there was a stitch-up with regard to election manifestos; the role of the manifesto in relation to this matter is extremely questionable.
My Lords, the noble Lord is being a little unkind about the Government’s undertaking. We made clear in our 2005 manifesto that we would seek free votes of Parliament, and that is what we have done. It was not simply a vote in isolation; it took place in the light of a White Paper produced after constructive discussions between the political parties. That is not an unreasonable process. The Government could quite easily have produced a White Paper and a proposal without any consultation at all.
In the light of all the problems over many years about achieving longstanding reform of your Lordships’ House, this did and does appear to the Government to be the best way of achieving political consensus between the three main parties, which I believe provides the best foundation for taking reform forward.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that Tony Blair’s commitment in 1997 that no one party should have a majority in the House of Lords has contributed greatly to its effectiveness ever since? Does he also agree that if the first-past-the-post system or alternative-vote system had been in force for elections to this House, his party, the Labour Party, would have been in an overwhelming majority after the 2005 general election, at least among the political parties? Is it not therefore clear that some form of proportional representation will be essential if this House is to continue to play the role it does after we have become a partially or wholly elected Chamber?
No, my Lords, I do not accept that at all. That is why the White Paper puts forward four options in the appendices. It looks at past election results and makes predictions about how voters might have voted, although it is very difficult to come up with firm calculations. Depending on which electoral system is adopted, there might be majorities for one party if it was successful over three elections, but in most cases there would not be an overall majority.
Your Lordships' House has worked well for any number of reasons. We intend to build on that, and I believe that the White Paper will enable us to do so.