Committee (1st Day)
Moved by Lord Steel of Aikwood
That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.
My Lords, I would like to speak very briefly to the Motion that the House should go into Committee because I would like to bring to the House’s attention that I may have inadvertently misled it when I spoke at Second Reading.
The noble Lord, Lord Tyler, said in his speech:
“Some may say that the Bill is a device for delay, but that is not my noble friend’s”—
the noble Lord, Lord Steel—
“intention. Indeed, he voted for 100 per cent elected membership of this House and not for the 80 per cent compromise. So he is even more hardline than I am on that matter, and that is quite difficult”.—[Official Report, 27/2/09; col. 466.]
I took up this reprise at Second Reading, for which I may be embarrassed. I said that I had learnt a new fact in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, that the noble Lord, Lord Steel, was in fact in favour of an elected second Chamber. The noble Lord, Lord Steel, did not demur from that fact, and he is not doing so at the moment. However just a couple of years ago in the columns of the Guardian newspaper no less, the noble Lord, Lord Steel, wrote an article headlined:
“An elected upper house would cause huge divisions. Its members should all be appointed”.
When I discovered this, imagine my consternation and confusion that I might have led your Lordships to believe one thing about the noble Lord, Lord Steel, when the other was true. The article goes on:
“During my 12 years as leader of the Liberal party I regarded myself as hereditary keeper of the Asquith pledge to replace the House of Lords with a chamber constituted on a ‘popular basis’. Now that we face a new attempt to reform the upper house, it is time to stop and ponder whether we are proceeding in the right direction”.
The noble Lord rhapsodised on, with the enthusiasm of the newborn baptised, to extol the virtues of an all appointed House. If I am confused, I suggest that the House is confused—the noble Lord, Lord Steel, may be confused—but we need to set this matter right before we go into Committee because it lies at the heart of the debate that we shall have.
This morning noble Lords will have arrived in this House to find that the noble Lord, Lord Steel, was confused not only about whether he is in favour of an elected or an appointed House but also about the purpose of his Bill. This is the second or third time that we have debated the noble Lord’s Bill, and one would like to feel that he understood what his purpose was; but yesterday afternoon, when the noble Lord rose from his lunch or his slumbers or whatever it was, he cried, “Eureka!”. He rushed to the Printed Paper Office—it was almost the middle of the night by the time he got there—and laid a manuscript amendment because he thought that the House did not yet know the purpose of his Bill. When I came in this morning, I said that if we were going to discuss yet again the purpose of the Bill, because I thought that we had done that at Second Reading, it was only fair that I should seek to amend it, and I have myself put down a manuscript amendment.
I hope that I have not delayed the House, but I would very much like to know what on earth is in the noble Lord’s mind, not only in terms of his purpose clause but also whether he is in favour of an elected or an appointed House.
A1: Insert the following new Clause—
“PART A1PURPOSE OF THE ACTProvisions contained within the Act
The four purposes of this Act are—
(a) to establish a statutory Appointments Commission,(b) to end entry into the House of Lords of hereditary peers by byelection,(c) to enable peers to retire, and(d) to enable the House to exclude members from the House.”
I must first apologise if my voice does not carry as well as normally because I have a heavy cold. Since I had to make this speech, I could not resort to my usual, favourite Scottish medicine to chase it away. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, only that the salmon did not rise to fly. I am sorry; I am not going to be caught out on that issue.
My noble friend Lord Tyler was absolutely right. I can listen to debates in the House and be moved by them. When it came to the votes on the composition of the House, I voted against the mixed House, but I accepted that an elected House was probably the will of the House. However, the point that I want to make today in tabling the amendment is that we have moved on from the discussion about whether we have an appointed or an elected House. This amendment would unite those who are in favour of maintaining the House as it is and those who are in favour of an elected House. This can be done by accepting the four points in the amendment.
Amendment A1 is aptly named because it is a first-class amendment, supported by all four quarters of the Chamber. It is right that, before we get into the detail of 95 debatable amendments to the Bill, the Committee is provided with an opportunity—and this is a perfectly open and transparent device—to come to a specific view on whether it wants to see these measures brought into effect.
It is clear that there has been a major shift in opinion from our debate in the previous Session of Parliament to that of the other Friday, when we had 27 speeches in favour of the Bill and only five against. If the Committee carries the amendment, as I hope it will, it will be a clear signal to the Government either to take over the Bill and thereby introduce the four measures into the legislative programme or to introduce them into the constitutional renewal Bill, which we expect in the next few weeks. In either case, there would have to be a carry-over, but I think that we are all agreed, whatever our views on the merits of the Bill, that it would be far better conducted by the Government than by a private Member.
Therefore, perhaps I may spell out briefly again the four purposes of the Bill and remove any confusion in the mind of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. First, on the creation of a statutory Appointments Commission, we had the welcome support at Second Reading of the noble Lord, Lord Jay, the new chairman of the Appointments Commission, who is very strongly in favour of a statutory basis. We know that it was a pledge in the Labour election manifesto of 2001 that there should be a statutory Appointments Commission. We look forward to the Minister of State at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, who has the task of replying to this debate, telling us how much work has been done in Government since that manifesto commitment was made. We hope that some work has been done and that they will take over this section of the legislation, with their own views as to how the statutory Appointments Commission should work.
The second part involves an end to the by-elections for hereditary Peers. I am indebted to an academic who sent me an advance article to appear in next month’s Political Quarterly, which pointed out that we have experienced in this House the only election of a Member to the British Parliament in which the number of voters was exceeded by the number of candidates. There were 11 candidates and three voters in one election. As for the promise made in 1999 that the 92 hereditary Peers would remain until stage 2 of Lords reform, nothing was said at the time about what stage 2 would consist of. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, who made the commitment as the Lord Chancellor at the time, regards the four proposals in this Bill as constituting stage 2 and therefore an acceptance of that promise. We are, in this Bill, being much kinder to the hereditary Peers than was envisaged in 1999. We are not saying that the 92 should disappear; we are saying simply that they should not be replenished and that, therefore, the hereditary Peers would become de facto life Peers, unable to be succeeded either by their heirs or by election of new Members. That seems a sensible provision in this day and age. It means an end to entry into this Parliament by heredity.
The third part enables Peers to retire. I think that we have all agreed that the House is too large, at more than 700, and that numbers should be reduced. Of course, there can be legitimate argument, under the amendments tabled, about whether there should be a fixed age limit, a fixed length of service or a mixture of the two, as they have in the Senate in Canada. I think that it is agreed that Members who never come should be taken off the list and that an effort should be made to reduce the size of the House. That is what the third part of the Bill allows for.
The fourth part enables the House of Lords to do what the House of Commons can do, which is to suspend or expel its Members. Even if those accused of wrongdoing at the present time turn out to be completely blameless, the fact is that the press coverage has exposed a weakness in our constitution that ought to be remedied. In fairness to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, he accepted that at Second Reading.
In spite of the merits of these four proposals, there is still an attitude of “let’s do nothing until something more major happens”. I have two objections to that. First, what is the something major? We have the White Paper, which has never yet been debated. It is not even a White Paper; it looks like the tail fin of a British Airways plane. In fact, that is entirely appropriate, because that is all it is: it is a tail fin; it has no body and no wings. We do not know whether it will be 100 per cent elected, or 80 per cent elected; we do not know how it is going to be elected or whether the Cunningham committee recommendations for a complete change of the conventions between the two Houses are going to be accepted. We do not even know what it is going to be called. It has no body and there are certainly no wings, because we have no date for the take-off of this project at all. In fairness to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, I thought he made a very valid point at the end of Second Reading in spelling out what he thought would be the priorities of an incoming Government—and I think that applies to whatever Government is created after the next election. They will not include the replacement of the House of Lords.
We are in an extraordinary situation in which it is clear that opinion in the House does not coincide with the opinion of the two Front Benches. They are united in a new mañana party, which reminds me of the tale in 1588 of the shipwreck of part of the Spanish Armada in the Western Isles of Scotland. One of the ships was wrecked off a very small island with a population of 100—a part of the country where the pace of life is much slower than in the rest of the United Kingdom. There was only one survivor. He came ashore and the islanders decided that the only thing they could do was to teach him how to speak Gaelic and he would teach them how to speak Spanish.
After about a month of this exchange, they said to him, “What is this word ‘mañana’ that you keep using?” “Well”, he explained to them, “it means tomorrow, maybe, at some time, in due course—that sort of thing”. They nodded. He said “What is the Gaelic word for ‘mañana’?” He got the reply, “There is no word in the Gaelic language to convey such a sense of urgency”. There is no word in the English language to convey the sense of urgency that impels the two Front Benches on this issue. They ask us to sit back and do nothing: to wait for a big bang whose explosive composition and date are totally unknown.
At this point, I was going to inject a party-political note and say that at least we on these Benches have a printed blueprint for an elected House of Lords, but that invites the response, “So you should; you have been at it for 99 years”. It may be that the other parties will start a 99-year course. In the mean time, to be perfectly serious, the House has an opportunity to vote for what the Administration Committee in the Commons called “running repairs”. We are proud of the institution of this House. We are proud of the way that it is regarded by the public. We have suffered from bad publicity in recent years and recent weeks. That can be put aside because it is possible to drag this House into the 21st century before the next election if the House votes so to do today.
Amendment A1A (to Amendment A1)
A1A: Line 10, at end insert—
“(e) to create an all-appointed House.”
This morning, I suddenly saw a range of manuscript amendments and I thought that there was dirty work afoot or that something dastardly was in the air. I recalled, back in my family history, Glencoe, when we were invited to dinner by the wicked Campbells, who henceforth had to have a yellow stripe in their tartan. I wondered why the Liberals had chosen yellow. Last week I wore a yellow tie, and I wonder why the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, has suddenly seemed to have switched sides and moved to the yellow. I have gone blue with a yellow anchor.
I would now like again to correct the noble Lord, Lord Steel, because at his Second Reading debate, he turned to me with a sort of evil look in his eye and called me an enemy because I had not voted for his Bill. He had forgotten that one of the traditions of this House is that when at Second Reading something benefits you, you do not speak in favour of it. Being an elected hereditary Peer and being effectively told that if I supported him I would be a life Peer was wrong. More than that, I am one of his supporters because he was a Member of Parliament for Peebles and I am the Baron of Polmood in the County of Peebles, so we are roughly on the same side.
What worries me is this yellow business. There is yellow-belly and yellow also denotes jealousy—of which the Liberals have a multitude—or it can mean cowardly, but it is not. It means someone who wishes to change something. They wish to change the Government and good luck to them. I have supported them on many things, and in many aspects of this Bill I would support them again.
It is always an important day. Last week we had the ides of March and today is the feast of San Giuseppe, which is the feast of St Joseph where the Pope speaks in the Vatican areas of the role of the worker in society—man effectively lives to work and does not work to live, but it is actually the other way round. Here we are trying to determine the future of a great institution but without an awful lot of knowledge. I disclose my interest here: I was part of the team paid by the Labour Party in 1968 to look at the reform of the Lords. As your Lordships may know, over a period of time, I have produced paper after paper and analysis after analysis and I really supported a wholly elected House when I first came here. I, too, have perhaps been contaminated a bit by change—but more, I think, influenced by your Lordships. As I research, I suddenly find that there is a breadth of knowledge and experience that could be directed towards the outside world rather than towards some elements of internecine strife.
In our recent debates, opinions have shifted and changed. I have moved my amendment because there is a certain misrepresentation of what you call an elected hereditary Peer. Under the 1999 Act, for which I did not vote, we were exempted, I was not sure what that was, but I thought that we were exempted, then we were excepted, and then some of us were elected. To be honest, I did not expect to be elected. In general, in any of these strange elections, if you have 10 people who all agree to put each other in the top 10, William Hill advise me that no matter how many there are in the race, you will automatically get in. So it was a put-up job, or a dastardly deed.
Now that we have moved on, I must accept that my excepted and elected colleagues have done a pretty good job over time. However, they are permanently assaulted from outside by people saying that they are hereditary. They are hereditary Peers—who were elected. Parties opposite have often tried to remove the word “elected”. It was not a perfect election; it was totally imperfect. But it exists.
I tabled this amendment and Amendment 40 because one should recognise that these new manuscript amendments are a little insulting. Under the 1999 Act there is a register of people who can stand for elections should one come. I suggest in Amendment 40, to which I will not speak now, that all 175 on the register should be placed before the Appointments Commission. You cannot exclude them totally just because they are hereditary. My amendment would, in part, determine the view of the House and also create the correct position. If we place the list of Peers who wish to stand before the Appointments Commission, that effectively removes the election. They would be appointed.
I would not wish your Lordships to feel that I was interfering, but over the past weeks and in the coming months, I have put in hand a complete analysis, an assembly, of all your Lordships’ contributions to this House since each noble Lord arrived. The preliminary research shows that it is a remarkable collection of ideas and differences of opinion. It also shows that your Lordships, individually and collectively, have shown an ability to change opinion by almost 180 degrees, and then 180 degrees back. I am slightly doubtful, although I still believe that there is an election role here, and I would like to move my amendment and see what the opinion of the House is.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Steel, who has more experience in more Houses of Parliament than I, that I am rather regretful of the way in which he simply spurned my rather straightforward questions, as if I were operating some kind of device to get him to say something that he did not want to say. I have no idea what his analogy was about catching a fly. I have no desire to catch a fly. I would actually quite like to know what he thinks. I am rather depressed at the moment, because I am not sure whether I misled the House at Second Reading or not.
I think that the noble Lord is in favour of an appointed House. I think that he was once in favour of an elected House and has changed his mind. It would be more open of him if he were to stand up and admit that, rather than playing this Liberal game of saying one thing in one place and another in another, assuming that nobody will ever put the two ends of the conversation together and decide that they are perhaps more confused than the rest of us.
I congratulate my noble friend Lord Selsdon on moving very smartly this morning when he saw the manuscript amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, and tabling his own. In doing so, I should make clear, if noble Lords have not yet had notice of this, that I wish to degroup my Amendments A1B and 32ZA. So quickly did my noble friend move that he got in front of me in the queue. Perhaps he realised that, although on this occasion I cannot support the specifics of his amendment, I support the principle of tabling it as that allows us to have a debate on an appointed House, which I know many of your Lordships keenly support.
I listened very carefully to what my noble friend had to say, and, as I understand it, his amendment lays before the House, honestly and openly, the known and intended effect of the Bill put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, which is to create an all-appointed House. I shall not repeat the remarks that I made before we came into Committee on the declared belief of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, but it would have helped if he had been franker about that. After all, the second signatory to this amendment is my noble and learned friend Lord Howe of Aberavon, who has always been straight about his views. He is clear—he has said this consistently since we started to debate the future of the House of Lords in 1998 and 1999—that he wants an all-appointed House. I expect he also knows that, over time, this Bill will create it, and therefore he certainly shares the sentiment of the amendment of my noble Lord Selsdon, which is that one of the purposes of the Bill is to create an all-appointed House. I suspect that the same must be true for the noble Lord, Lord Williamson of Horton. He has lived a life of immense distinction in the public service and I do not see the smell of electoral battle bringing fire to those wise old eyes. Perhaps he will rise in a few moments and tell me that he has a passion for election—I await that with interest—but he, too, appears to agree with the purpose of the Bill, which was clarified by my noble friend Lord Selsdon. However, I am not quite so sure about the noble Baroness, Lady Jay.
I wonder whether the noble Lord could help noble Lords given his vast experience on the committee—the cabal with Mr Straw and others. Does he think there is a consensus in both Houses of Parliament in favour of an all-appointed House? Although I personally favour an all-appointed House, I rather suspect that there is not, and for that reason it is precisely the sort of thing that we do not want to put on the agenda now because it will simply lead to no reform whatever. Surely the purpose of this Bill is to achieve a small improvement in the way the House works.
That is extremely seductive but I think that the hidden purpose of the Bill is to provide for an all-appointed House. That is why I asked the noble Lord, Lord Steel, whether that was his intention. I do not see the great standard bearers of democracy rushing forward to support this Bill. In a moment I will lay out a timetable to provide for an elected House soon after the next election. I hope that the Government will accept my meagre offering, and take it forward if they win the next general election.
What would the noble Lord say would be the situation if, Heaven forfend—I apologise for the inappropriate, unparliamentary language—his party were in government?
At Second Reading, I laid out what I thought the priorities of a Cameron Government would be. Indeed, my right honourable friend David Cameron has said that this might not be a priority. But he is not witness to the intensity of the debates that now take place very regularly on a Thursday afternoon in your Lordships’ House. He has not understood the passion that is roused by this subject, or the frustration that is felt by so many noble Lords that nothing is going to be done. That is why I said to the noble Lord, Lord Gordon, that in a moment I am going to describe the kind of timetable that would bring what so many noble Lords desire—a finality to this debate, and that would be a directly elected senate.
I am confused by the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, as I was a little bit by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, because I thought that she was a democrat and that she believed in an elected House—
I intend to intervene later, but as the noble Lord has now referred to me twice, I say to him quite clearly, in order that he does not, as I would say, spend a great deal of time speculating about my position, that indeed I am in favour of election. That is why I regard the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, Amendment A1A, as being wrecking to the Bill proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, because it precisely does not forward the purposes as they are agreed in his amendment.
I am delighted to hear it. I was hoping that the noble Baroness would say exactly that, because if it comes to a Division on my noble friend’s amendment, she and I will find ourselves—not for the first time, but it happens fairly rarely—in the same Lobby. Like her, I am not in favour of an appointed House. The noble Lord, Lord Steel, on the other hand, will have to consider his position rather more carefully as to whether he supports my noble friend Lord Selsdon. Then we will be able to see whether he is in favour of an appointed House. There we have it. The noble Baroness still says that she is in favour of a more democratic House; I could not help feeling that in her Second Reading speech, she was drifting away from that.
What really worries me about the original amendment—the purpose clause proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Steel—is that the purpose seems to me to be defending a House that was created in the 20th century, coming forward, as the noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, has said, with a piecemeal reform to an appointed House. I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, will not be offended by this, but it reminds me of those Peers who, nearly 100 years ago in 1911, led by Lord Rosebery and Lord Lansdowne, tabled so very belatedly their incremental proposals for reform of the hereditary House, which were in effect to defend the 19th century House. Therefore, the House of Lords always finds itself a century out of date. I see the noble Lord, Lord McNally, who caught my eye. He is on the side of the angels with me—I assume that he will also vote against my noble friend Lord Selsdon, because he, like me, is in favour of an elected House.
The noble Lord is quite right. On Lords reform, he and I will march shoulder to shoulder towards an elected House. I do not understand why the Conservatives say that it is a second- or third-term issue. I remind the noble Lord that Sir Winston Churchill managed to lead a Government who brought in the Beveridge report and the Education Act 1944 while fighting a world war. When came this doctrine that a Government can do only one thing at a time?
I feel suitably chastised by the noble Lord, Lord McNally. As I tried to point out to the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, my right honourable friend Mr Cameron is not aware of the sense of frustration that exists in this House. As a result of these debates, I shall make it my business to draw even the noble Lord’s remarks to his attention, and to try to get him to bring forward his timetable, so that, if the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, were to accept my timetable, it could well be after the next general election that we could have a House of Lords reform Bill or an elected senate Bill in the very first Session of Parliament.
I do not want to digress from the amendment too much. The noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, said that he wanted to tidy up the question of the 92 elected hereditary Peers. What is so interesting is that those Peers are not appointed, which again leads me to believe that the noble Lord is really after a wholly appointed House. He is not willing to strike in the daylight and throw elected hereditary Peers out but he is prepared to squeeze them out in the dark. Some might call that clever.
The noble Lord raised the commitment given by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, which again goes to the heart of the commitment that was made. I have no idea of the veracity of the private conversations between the noble Lord and the noble and learned Lord, but it strikes me—and I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, would agree—that, if the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, had said in 1999 that he would have been quite happy with this sort of Bill as a stage two, it might have been rather more difficult to get the 1999 Bill agreed. The noble Baroness was of course Leader of the House and, if she does not mind my saying so, she was the first person to be stunned to hear of the agreement struck between the Prime Minister, Mr Blair, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg. Many of those who were there will hear the echo of the noble and learned Lord talking about the agreement being “binding in honour” on all those who took part in it. Those are solemn words and should not be struck down by what the noble Lord, Lord Steel, said. So I will have no part in this; otherwise, it would be a trick played on former parliamentarians whom the noble Lord, Lord Steel, always seeks to defend. It would be a calculated slight to those former colleagues on all sides who left this place with many regrets but who, crucial to the leadership of the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, offered no disruption in 1999. Therefore, I cannot possibly agree with that part of the noble Lord’s purpose clause.
Under this Bill, only those who have caught the eye of the great and the good will, in time, remain. They will be the men of the noble Lords, Lord Stevenson or Lord Jay. I hope that we are going to see even more of the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, now that he has been discharged from his duty running the Appointments Commission. In fact, he will be able to see how his appointments have fared. Now they will be the men of the noble Lord, Lord Jay of Ewelme, and will no doubt be subtle and estimable additions to our Parliament. However, there will not be a single elected Peer. Nowhere in the House will there be an elected Peer, and that is what the Bill is about. That, in essence, is its purpose. My noble friend Lord Selsdon, even if I disagree with him and will be obliged to vote against him, is absolutely right to point that out.
No one who honestly believes in an appointed House could oppose my noble friend’s amendment. How could they vote against what they believe in? The result, if he presses it to a Division, will be a most important test of the views of this House. If, as the noble Lord, Lord Gordon, said, there is some confusion as to what we should do next, voting against my noble friend and ensuring that his amendment is not carried would mean that the House was not in favour of an all-appointed House, and that would be a significant moment. That is why I am going to oppose my noble friend’s amendment. However, on behalf of my noble friend—not that he needs my support—I recommend that all those who genuinely support an all-appointed House make that clear by going into the Lobby with him. Let no one say that that would not be a fair test.
Your Lordships have had barely more notice of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, than they have had of the amendment of my noble friend. If a Division on this amendment is not a fair test of the opinion of the House as it is today, then neither is any Division that may follow on any other amendment. The amendment says,
“to create an all-appointed House”.
That is the proposition that my noble friend has put before us and it could not be clearer or more readily understood by people watching us.
It is absolutely clear, as the noble Lord, Lord Steel, has made apparent, that this Bill has nothing to do with whether we have an elected House or an appointed House. To suggest that one was voting on this amendment to indicate that is absurd. It is absolutely clear that this Bill is not concerned with that issue and a vote on this amendment would not indicate in any way how one stands on the wider issue of an elected or appointed House.
I do not follow my noble friend at all on that argument. We are not being given a choice between an elected and an appointed House. We are being given an opportunity to vote on whether or not there should be an appointed House.
I am sorry to interrupt my noble friend but that is clearly not the point. We are not being given a choice on whether to vote for an appointed House or an elected House. The amendment has to do with the purpose of the Bill before us. The amendment is to add a purpose clause and we will vote on the purpose of the Bill not on whether we should have an appointed or an elected House. That is a debate for another day completely.
My noble friend should not worry. We will be returning to that debate many times in the months and years ahead. I hope that my noble friend recognises that, unlike the noble Lord, Lord Steel, I am very happy to answer the questions and queries that are put to me not just from the Back Benches but from all around the Chamber. It may not suit my noble friend, the noble Lord, Lord Steel, or other promoters of their purpose clause to follow the route of my noble friend Lord Selsdon. I was happy to see his amendment because it gives me an opportunity to vote against an all-appointed House. I cannot be clearer than that. It strikes me as being a simple proposition.
The noble Lord has been tempting us to rise, which I have tried to resist, but I have now found that impossible. I do not want him to rush to a conclusion but as he has been so keen on complete frankness from everyone else, can we have clarity from him? We know of his passion to abolish this place and replace it with a fully elected House. He promised that he would give us a timetable by which a Conservative Government might do that. I invite him to do that swiftly now and in doing so deal with the specific point that on this first of some 95 amendments tabled to this very short Bill, he has spoken for nearly 20 minutes. How long does he estimate that this all-embracing Bill that he has in mind will take to go through the House? Will he address that point?
The only reason I have been speaking for a long time is because noble Lords keep asking questions, and unlike the noble Lord, Lord Steel, I am happy to rise to the fly and respond.
The noble Lord has reminded me that I gave a commitment to the noble Baroness and one or two others that I would respond to the question on a timetable. Let me begin by saying that the time has come for this House and another place to debate the White Paper which was published more than a year ago. The important aspect of that White Paper is that it was published with the broad agreement of all the political parties. Although the Convenor of the Cross Benches and perhaps the Bishop would not have agreed with every aspect of it, they were part of the process that created it, so we should have an early opportunity to debate it.
I thank my noble friend for allowing me to intervene but I am utterly confused. Will he say on whose behalf he is speaking?
For the past two weeks, and on many occasions, I have come to the House to debate its future. I have not, until today, proposed any amendments, I have not proposed any debate and I have not proposed any new legislation. All I have done is react to suggestions by other people. It must be our absolute right in a great debating Chamber to discuss these issues. All I have just said is that, given that the Government proposed that there should be a consensual discussion leading to a White Paper, Parliament should debate it.
Going back to the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, after the debates in both Houses responding to the charge made not just by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, but by others, that there is no progress, let those who are interested in an elected House demonstrate progress. Step one: let us have a debate on the White Paper; step two: let the Government come forward with draft clauses for consideration, perhaps in a pre-legislative scrutiny committee, which have been so successful in this House, or even in a Joint Committee, before Christmas.
There has to be an election in 12 months. We know the end game of this. After the next election, there will be a brand new House of Commons with 100 or 150 new Members of Parliament, almost whichever party wins. A Bill should be proposed in the House of Commons. The single most important outstanding issue, which is the electoral system, can be resolved only in the other place. If the Labour Party and the Conservative Party believe in first past the post, which I do, and I think most people in the Labour Party do as well, then that is the kind of senate that we would have. The Bill would then come to the House of Lords just over a year from now to be debated. It would take a long time and, although I would regret it very deeply, the Government might have to resort to a Parliament Act and therefore, before the centenary of the 1911 Parliament Act, we would have a statute for a 21st-century directly elected senate.
To those who make the charge that there can be no progress, I say that there can be, and I challenge the Government to accept my timetable, and they will find that the Conservative Party is very co-operative in helping to make it so.
Is the noble Lord saying that if his party is elected at the next election, they will follow that timetable?
We would certainly co-operate with the timetable up to the next general election, but I have been at pains to explain that I cannot bind the Conservative Party thereafter, particularly since my right honourable friend the leader of the party has suggested that there may be many more important things to deal with immediately after the election. I have also explained, and I am happy to do so again—although I shall get the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, up again telling me that I am banging on and repeating myself—since I did not make myself clear the first time round, that because of this sense of frustration in the House, I will have to pass this on to my right honourable friend. He may be so impressed by the sense of urgency for an elected House and by the consensus between the Labour and Liberal Democrat Front Benches that he decides we ought to be able to come forward with a Bill.
When the noble Lord does that, could he draw to Mr Cameron’s attention the precedent of Gladstone’s 1867 reform Bill, which Disraeli successfully scuppered before bringing forward a year later a far more radical reform Bill? There is a precedent for a Conservative Government ratting on previous commitments and being far more radical than any of the noble Lord’s supporters behind him could ever dream of.
The only ratting that the Liberal Democrats know about is on their commitment to have a referendum on the Lisbon treaty. We will take no lectures from the Liberal Democrats on the question of ratting; they know more about it than the rest of us put together.
Do I take it that the noble Lord’s answer to my question, if expressed briefly and clearly, would just have been no?
No, I have not yet had that discussion with my right honourable friend. It is not anticipated that there will be an election for at least another 12 months, so there is an enormous amount of time between now and then for all political parties to decide what will be in their manifesto. Indeed, I am not sure that the Conservative Party has even started on that process, so it would be very strange if I were this afternoon able to make an absolute commitment.
I know that some noble Lords would like me to make an absolute commitment, because it would answer the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, about the frustration that nothing is happening, that there is no energy and that inertia has set in. I want to be part of rebuilding momentum. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, and the Lord Chancellor, Jack Straw, are of the same mind—and, no doubt, so is the Prime Minister. I do not know why the noble Viscount is asking me these questions; he should be asking the Government. They are in charge; they are in control of the timetable.
Perhaps I may make my final point, because then I shall sit down; I have spoken for more than long enough. The Conservative Party would never have started on this process of reform without having a very clear idea of where it was going to end up.
My noble friend may want an escape hatch at this point. We were being treated to fanciful speculations on his part, way detached from the great majority of his supporters in this House and roaming into the future. Then he was suddenly challenged by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, with his Gladstonian recollections, so there was a competition in fancifulness. Can we not address the substance of the amendments? My noble friend Lord Strathclyde agrees with my noble friend Lord Selsdon that we do not want an appointed House, so they have tabled and spoken to this amendment in order that the proposal may be rejected to avoid their fears being fulfilled. That objective coincides precisely with that of the noble Lord, Lord Steel. We do not seek an all-appointed House.
We have all been debating this matter for years and years. The way that this House has developed and is developing even today is incrementally, with broad consent at each step, as it did when life Peers were invented; and as it did when, in a rather complicated way, the bulk of the hereditaries were removed. We have now reached the point when further steps can and should be taken on which there is almost universal agreement. The points set out in the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, have emerged from discussion in committee after committee. Each of them has been supported without difficulty.
There is no passionate cry, even from my noble friend Lord Strathclyde, to maintain the pattern for entry of hereditaries to the House. There is no opposition to the proposal to enable Peers to retire. There is no opposition to the House being able to exclude Members. All that is consensual; it is an area where we can make real progress without committing ourselves one way or the other on the further future. We all agree that we do not want the amendment proposed by my noble friend Lord Selsdon. May we not proceed on that basis by carrying forward discussion on the Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Steel?
The cascade of amendments before us, including Amendment 1A, are almost all intended to change or add substantially to the Bill. For myself, I do not believe that the Bill will carry the weight of the amendments; and I do not think that it is intended to do so. That is my basic position.
Amendment A1, the basic amendment that we are discussing an amendment to, is intended to identify very simply the main provisions of the Bill so that it is easy to judge whether they are desirable. That is what it is about. My name has been added to Amendment A1 because I think these provisions are desirable and because I have for many years generally favoured a statement of the purposes of a Bill at the beginning of most legislative proposals. That is my position. It is very simple.
If the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, looks at Hansard tomorrow, he will see that he used the phrase “hidden purposes”. I have to tell him that there are no hidden purposes as far as I am concerned; I find it extremely difficult to decide on my purpose, so a hidden purpose is quite beyond me. The various other references to me, such as the colour of my tie, by the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, are quite irrelevant. I am wearing this tie because I invited my wife to lunch today and she particularly likes it. That is the explanation. My position is quite simple on all these matters, including the substance of the amendment. Amendment A1A goes too far and should not be supported, but Amendment A1 is to be supported.
My name has also been added to this amendment. I think I made the points that I wanted to make in rising to the fly, perhaps unfortunately, of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. I re-emphasise that I made it clear at Second Reading why I support this—I say this to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, rhetorically, because I do not intend to invite an intervention. I suspect that the noble Lord does not understand the process of thought that leads some of us to believe that incremental reform is worthwhile and worth pursuing. I hope that I made that point at Second Reading.
I have rather lost track of this afternoon’s debate. We have been involved in an almost single-handed therapeutic session in which the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, has sought to understand the inner workings of the psychology of all of us who support the Bill and the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Steel. My position follows exactly that of the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, in that I see this as a useful contribution to the purpose of the Bill, but I have supported and will continue to support an elected element in this House. I see the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, as a wrecking amendment and will have no hesitation in voting against it. I will also vote very happily for the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, and will not concern myself with the fantasies, as they were appropriately described by the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, about the psychology or the long-term theoretical objectives of either the noble Lord, Lord Steel, or the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde.
Unlike the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, I have always supported an appointed House. I feel rather guilty about not having contributed to the Bill before now, but I have been very much led by my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth and all the work that he has done. I pay enormous tribute to him for that work. He has done a fantastic job in putting forward the case for an appointed House and in pointing out the very serious dangers of an elected one. Having said that, I originally went along with the idea that the noble Lord, Lord Steel, should put forward a Bill on this.
At the time—this concept emerged a very long time ago—we were seriously beleaguered. Members on both Front Benches stated that they believed in an elected House and that this was an important thing to have. We then reached the point at which Gordon Brown became Prime Minister, and there was a serious worry that he might want to make some left-wing gesture and start talking about legislation to reform our House with an elected element. Of course, things have changed since then, and quite dramatically. I argue that Mr Gordon Brown must be incredibly in favour of an appointed House. He has filled our House with a whole mass of people: so-called experts from all walks of life. The noble Lord, Lord Myners, was here only a moment ago; sadly, he has just left the Chamber. We would not have his presence and all the wisdom that he brings from the City, if it were not for the fact that he could be appointed to this House.
Clearly, Mr Gordon Brown has been converted into believing in an appointed House. I have always had my doubts about my Front Bench on this issue, which I think says one thing and probably believes another. But the last thing I want to do is impute that it is in any way not being straightforward. There are dangers in bringing this Bill forward for the simple reason that it raises these issues all over again. Let us suppose that the noble Lord, Lord Steel, succeeds and gets this Bill into the other place. The chances of it not being amended seem very small and it could be amended in a way that we would all find extremely uncomfortable.
I do not support this Bill in principle. In particular, I have started to change my mind on abolishing the election of hereditaries. We are an incredibly old House. The one advantage of electing hereditaries is that it brings younger people into this House, which mainly benefits these Benches. It would be a great pity to abolish electing hereditaries and the average age would go up even further than at present. Those are my reservations. I apologise to the House for taking so long to state my position, but that is where I now stand.
I have an anxiety that when this debate finishes and I go outside, someone from the public who has been listening will say to me, “What was all that about?” I honestly do not know how to answer that question. I have heard different motives attributed to the Bill. Some of the supporters, who are good friends of mine, of this first amendment say that they believe in a largely elected House, as do I. Some supporters clearly believe in an all-appointed House. I do not quite understand how one Bill can square that circle.
I am sure that my noble friend was here earlier when the point clearly was made that this is not about the long-term composition of the House. This is about making some incremental changes to the existing House before we come to a position where—I would agree with my noble friend, although he might go further than I—we would have, I would say, an elected element, and he would say, an all-elected House. But that is not what this Bill is about, and this purpose amendment precisely states that. If the wrecking amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, was not under discussion, it would not be relevant.
I am grateful to my noble friend for that. If she were the only person supporting the amendment, I would say that that is fine because I have total confidence in her views and judgment, except for one thing. Other Members of this House interpret the Bill differently. The noble Lord, Lord Steel, obviously does. That is my difficulty. If everyone supporting the first amendment is rejecting the proposal by the noble Lord, Lord Steel—apart from the noble Lord himself—perhaps we will begin to see where we are going.
I want to put a question to the noble Lord, Lord Steel. Would he support inserting in Amendment A1 a paragraph (e), “to prepare the way for a totally or largely elected House?”. If the amendment said that, I would begin to understand what the Bill was about, but short of that, I am not sure.
I am prepared to read Hansard again and again to see whether I have made a mistake in interpreting what is being said. But I am confused and I think some Members of the Committee share my confusion. Someone said that this is a matter of running repairs. I had a discussion with an eminent Member of this House, who is not here at the moment, who accused me of making the best the enemy of the good. I would never do that and I believe in an incremental approach, provided that the good is the good. If I was totally satisfied of that, I would go along with this.
However, my main point is to say how concerned I am about the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon. We would be getting a decision made which as an unelected House we have no right to make. The Commons clearly said that it wants either a 100 per cent elected House or an 80 per cent elected House. To put forward that amendment and make a decision on a Thursday afternoon just like that, ignoring what the Commons said, is wrong and flies in the face of what the House of Commons wants. The Commons should win any argument of this sort.
In future, when I am asked, “What did you do on the Steel Bill, Daddy?”, I will be hard put to respond. It seems that people who agree with me and those who do not will have been on both sides of the barricade. I am confused, but I am certainly clear that the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, should be defeated.
I will tell my noble friend Lord Dubs what the point of all this is. In a marvellous scene in George Bernard Shaw’s “Man and Superman”—the Don Juan in Hell sequence—the old man says to the young man who has just arrived that,
“instead of merely killing time we have to kill eternity”.
We are here because every year we have a Bill and we debate it; and we shall go on debating it until we get something better, which I hope will be very soon.
My noble friend referred to Bills and eternity; I could not think of a more apt description of the Marine and Coastal Access Bill.
The Government’s position on House of Lords reform has been discussed by a number of noble Lords in this opening debate on the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Steel. I hope that I will not test the patience of the Chamber if I restate that the Government are committed to a comprehensive reform of your Lordships’ House. We will base our proposals on the White Paper, which was produced as a result of cross-party discussions and consensus, and we would welcome a wide-ranging debate on what it contains. As I have said to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, on a number of occasions, I look forward to debating in the very near future the White Paper and comprehensive reform of your Lordships’ House.
I know that the noble Lord, Lord Steel, is not a great admirer of the White Paper. Alas, at Second Reading he said that the Government’s proposals were not imminent and that the White Paper was extremely vague on fundamentals. He spoke rather a lot today about wind. I was not quite sure whether it was the offshore wind variety of renewables or the greenhouse gas emissions variety of cows, about which my colleagues in Defra are so concerned at the moment. We are in a period of debate and discussion on Lords reform and we have made it clear that we will not introduce comprehensive legislation before the next Parliament. This is because we think that on so fundamental a decision as the reform of your Lordships’ House, we have to proceed by cross-party consensus. I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Steel. The White Paper contains within it many provisions which are the result of cross-party consensus.
I was interested in the helpful suggestions of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, about the timetable that the Government should adopt. As I have already said, we would welcome a debate. We have always said that we would consider publishing draft clauses in the light of the response we receive to the White Paper, and that remains the position. The noble Lord said that the Conservative Party would never have started from here. The problem, of course, is that the Conservative Party would never have started at all. If the party opposite had been at all serious about Lords reform they surely would have used their 18 years in power to bring forward proposals. We welcome the clear determination of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, to persuade his right honourable friend the leader of the Conservative Party to change his mind on the urgency of Lords reform. No doubt he will keep us all informed of the progress he makes.
The noble Lord will know that the statutory Appointments Commission was part of the proposals contained in the White Paper. It clearly would make sense that if the option of an 80 per cent appointed House was to be adopted, a statutory Appointments Commission would be necessary. The drafting of the noble Lord’s Bill is extremely helpful in allowing us to debate the nature of a statutory Appointments Commission and we will look very carefully at the proposals the noble Lord has made in that respect.
Hereditary by-elections are difficult to defend. That was the point of the agreement made back in 1999 in order to encourage comprehensive reform of your Lordships’ House. The Government could not support the proposals made by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, however, because he described them as being kind to the hereditary Peers. We know that under his proposals it would be at least 2040—it could well be 2060—before the last hereditary Peer left this House. Much as I love the hereditary Peers and the contribution they make, we cannot support a proposal that would allow them to remain until then.
I turn to the third pillar of the noble Lord’s purpose. As with a number of other parts of the Bill, the allowance of Peers to retire is consistent with the Government’s intention on the provision of resignation, attendance requirements and the enfranchisement of Members after fundamental reform. On resignation, the Government’s intention is that Members of a reformed second Chamber should be able to resign in a simple but formal process. On disqualification for lack of attendance, again, we accept the principle; again, such proposals were contained in the White Paper.
On the question of the proposal to exclude Members from the House, there is little doubt over the consensus around Part 4 of the noble Lord’s Bill. The lack of a provision to disqualify Members who are convicted of a serious criminal offence puts us at odds with the rules of another place for no good reason and has caused damage to the reputation of your Lordships’ House. We agree that we must act on this, and we will do so swiftly. Serious criminal conviction is one area where we are considering what legislation could be introduced as part of the Government’s support—
I am surprised, although the Minister is a good friend of mine, and encouraged by what he has said: of the four planks of the Bill, he has stated from the Government’s perspective that he supports three of them in principle and that the debate is just about the fourth. I put it to him, as someone who has taken more legislation through this House than most people, that if you start with a Bill three-quarters of which you are strongly in favour of in principle, surely that is a good basis on which to say that you support the Bill.
Not entirely. I am saying that the Government’s own proposals for fundamental reform are clearly stated in the White Paper, and there are elements in the noble Lord’s Bill that are entirely consistent with what is contained there. I have also said that we will consider carefully the debates in your Lordships’ House and what is in the Bill. We have also said—I was about to finish this—that on serious criminal conviction and expulsion from your Lordships’ House, we are considering legislation as early as possible in order to support the House’s reform of its own disciplinary regulations.
The issue before us is that we believe the way to proceed with general and fundamental reform of your Lordships’ House is the process that was laid out with the publication of the White Paper. The noble Lord, Lord Steel, talked about the vagueness of the timetable, but let us be clear: we have said that we intend to move towards the next general election with a manifesto based on the provisions that are contained in the White Paper. There is no reason why legislation cannot follow the next general election.
Will my noble friend confirm that his reason for rejecting this Bill is that it would delay fundamental reform? Indeed, those were the words he used the last time around this circuit. Given that it will take something like seven or eight years for fundamental reform to take place, can he justify his statement that the Bill would delay it?
I do not know where my noble friend gets his figure of seven or eight years from. Why should it be seven or eight years? It is perfectly possible for a Bill to reform your Lordships' House to be brought forward in the first Session of a new Parliament following a general election which, as we have observed, must take place within 15 months. It need not take seven or eight years.
Is the noble Lord saying that the Government like three-quarters of the noble Lord’s Bill but that they will not have it done by somebody else? Is he saying that they want to do it themselves, so they will reject this Bill and then do the same in two or three years’ time?
The Government’s view on the noble Lord’s Bill, as it is on all Private Members’ Bills, is that we do not seek to impede its passage through your Lordships' House. That is the Government’s position. I have said that we are looking at aspects of the Bill; I have also said that we are anxious to move towards legislation to support the House in being able to discipline its own Members. But the Government’s fundamental position is that we want comprehensive reform. Having established a process to bring the parties together in cross-party talks, having had very successful talks, a very successful outcome and a clear pathway towards the election and legislation after it, it is no wonder that that is where the Government are going to put their energy.
I hope that my noble friend will not regard this as nit-picking but, in response to various questions and comments, he has said that the Government effectively support three of the four points. As my noble friend Lord Grocott says, that amounts to a three-quarter endorsement of the Bill. Yet I understand that what he is saying about proposed subsection (d) of the new clause, which would,
“enable the House to exclude Members from the House”,
is that the Government are looking more urgently than considering the general points of the White Paper at perhaps bringing legislation forward before the general election. Would he be kind enough to confirm that, if possible? If that is so, and all he is saying is that he cannot accept the provision on the hereditary Peers, why is it not possible to take any potential immediate action to include some of the other points proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Steel?
Of course the Government are listening very closely to your Lordships' House, and we will consider other aspects of the Bill. We will consider the issue of a statutory Appointments Commission. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, is also taking note and will attempt to convince his leader to change his mind on the priority of Lords reform. We are perfectly prepared to engage in discussions with noble Lords on these matters. All I am seeking to do is to stress again that our prime concern is to take forward fundamental reform of your Lordships' House. In that respect, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, that the Government will be strongly opposed to his amendment. We cannot support it. Although it is very unusual, I believe, for members of the Government to vote on an aspect of a Private Member’s Bill, I shall vote in the Not-Contents Lobby on that matter, because I could not possibly support it.
Not for the first time, the Minister has referred to his proposed legislation on discipline in the House. When does he think the House will be able to see either the detail of his proposals or the generality of them, and will they be discussed or debated in any other forum rather than simply being published by the Government as a fait accompli? The House should be consulted on these issues before the Government take a final position.
I associate myself with that. It would be very dangerous if the Government confronted this House with a fait accompli on such a serious matter.
That point is very well taken. I assure noble Lords that the Government have no intention of doing that. The House has a mechanism for looking at these matters and the Government will be very much informed by the outcome. There is certainly no intention suddenly to produce a proposal without there being full discussions with relevant Members of your Lordships' House.
That is extremely helpful and useful, because I think the Minister said that the Government would not seek to legislate until the House had taken a view through its procedures, either a Leader’s group or a discussion within the Privileges Committee, which could be approved by the House. Is that what I understood the Minister to say?
The Government believe that we need to make urgent progress in this matter. As I understand it, the House has a mechanism for looking at these matters and the Government would of course wish to be informed of the outcome. We hope that it will not take an inordinate length of time and that there will be a speedy outcome which would then be able to inform the Government as to the kind of legislation that needed to be brought forward.
I am delighted to see the noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall, in his place. I apologise to him for not being in my place at Second Reading, when he spoke, but I am very grateful to him for what he said about me. I have been called many things in my life, and I am delighted to add to that list being a representative of the Bourbon tendency and having Trotskyite leanings.
If the noble Earl looks at Hansard, unless it got it wrong, he will see that I said that we have here in the House a member of the Bourbon tendency, and my noble friend on the Front Bench, who fully appreciated that the point was tongue in cheek, said that we had on our own Front Bench a member of the Trotskyite tendency.
I say to my noble friend that that would come as a great surprise to members of the Moseley and Kings Heath Labour Party.
I think that the noble Lord, Lord Lea, has surprised a lot of people, but I am grateful to him for his kindness towards me. I turn to the amendment of my noble friend Lord Selsdon. The effect of the Bill before us is exactly as he said; it is to create an all-appointed House.
It is fascinating how the views of some people who have come to this House have changed since 1997. I remember very well in government being chastised on more than one occasion by my Secretaries of State and other senior members of the Cabinet, some of whom are up here now, for having lost Divisions. “Why can’t we win Divisions?”, they had asked. “This is my legislation and the House of Lords, that unelected Chamber, is defeating my legislation. We are not doing the right thing from the Conservative Party point of view”.
There is another group of Peers who have come in since 1999 and who in the past had been great potential reformers of the House, seeing changing it as one of the great things that they could do when they got into it. Is it not fascinating how both those two groups of people have come together to support an appointed House as if, now that they are here, the House is infinitely better than it was pre-1997? That is why my noble friend Lord Selsdon has got his amendment absolutely right. Alas, I cannot support it because, being the second hereditary Peer speaking in this debate, I want an elected Chamber. I want the appointed Peers to go—I would be delighted to see you all go, as I would be delighted to see the hereditaries go. Let us have a fully elected Chamber. I wish the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, good speed with the proposals that have come before us, which in due course will come forth.
The noble Lord, Lord McNally, intrigued me when he asked, “Why is it that the Government can only do one thing at a time?”. It was not so long ago—in fact, it was the other day—when the noble Lord or another member of his party complained that the Government were introducing too much legislation. Well, perhaps it just suited the argument at the time for him to say that.
I turn to Amendment A1 from the noble Lord, Lord Steel. I distrust the amendment; I am highly suspicious of it, because of its timing. In principle, I support having a purpose clause in a piece of legislation but not the timing of it. We have debated this Bill before, yet on the night before we are to debate it in Committee this amendment is tabled. A lot of the Members of the House would not have been aware of it. Why was not this done at Second Reading? Why was the noble Lord not more open with us? Why has he sneakily put it in as a starred amendment? It makes me extremely suspicious, and I find that as he is unable to reply to the questions put to him by my noble friend Lord Strathclyde, I remain continually suspicious about his motives. I think he is one of those who are chameleons on this matter; he says with one voice that he wants an elected House but, now that he is here, he would be perfectly happy to remain in an appointed House.
I turn to Amendment A1B and the House of Lords hereditary Peers by-elections. I cannot support that; I shall go into it in much more length when we get to my amendment, but it is a matter of supreme principle to me and loyalty to those of my friends and colleagues who were brutally removed in 1999. The noble Baroness, Lady Jay, rather surprised me when she said that she was now in favour of incremental reform; she certainly was not in favour of incremental reform in 1997, when she wielded the axe with devastating effect. If she had been more incremental then—
I was not here in 1997, but could the noble Earl tell us what his position was then? I assume that it was in favour of a fully elected House. Could he just remind us?
I have changed from the old system that we had, and since the 1999 Bill I have been in favour of a fully elected House. I voted that way the last time—and I think that it would be much the best thing for this Chamber.
In 1999, a decision was taken as a result of an agreement that was made. The principle of that agreement was that a small number of hereditaries, some 90 of us, would remain until stage 2. A lot of people who had worked hugely long hours, hugely longer than we are working now, for considerably less money and at great cost to themselves, had given a great chunk of their lives to the service of this House. In 1999 they lost their seats on the basis of that agreement. I was one of the Peers and Members of this House that did not like it at the time, but we went through with it. However, it would be quite wrong and disloyal to those who gave up their seats to support an amendment like that. I can understand some noble Lords not agreeing with me, but they were probably not in the House before 1999, understanding what it felt like and what the atmosphere was like. For that reason, I would try to remove that part from the noble Lord’s amendment before us.
It is of concern that the noble Lord has tabled an amendment at the 11th hour and 59th minute. It is highly suspicious and he does the House a huge disservice. He should have been much more open and done this at Second Reading. A lot of noble Lords would have liked to have taken part in this debate had they known that such an amendment would come before us.
I received a terrible shock during the Minister's speech this afternoon to be told that I was not going to live beyond the age of 94. I am not sure what information the Government were drawing on, but that is official and from the Front Bench.
It is because of climate change.
I shall put down a Written Question to get a more precise answer so that I can plan ahead, but 2060 is the date when proceedings will be of less interest to me.
I share the sentiments of my noble friend Lord Caithness who I felt spoke very powerfully about the deal that was entered into solemnly that resulted in the settlement that we have and the need for a properly thought-through stage 2.
Turning to the amendment in front of us, we have not heard any convincing argument about why Amendment A1 was tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Steel. Why is there a manuscript amendment? Why is there a need to state this? It is very clearly a ruse, a wheeze or a device. One thing I have learnt in my time at Parliament, which is relatively short compared with some noble Lords here, is that parliamentary wheezes do not work. They run extremely badly outside the Westminster village. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, who suggested that someone sitting in the Public Gallery might ask while walking out, “What was all that about?”. It is a fair question.
We have not had a particularly dignified parliamentary occasion this afternoon because there have clearly been some underhand movements to produce such a substantial amendment at the very last minute. There is no logical explanation for that other than to generate an extraordinary situation of the purpose of the Bill being stated. We know what the purpose is and we do not need the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, to come down in written form at the last minute; a few hours before we debate the Bill. It does this House no credit at all for that to happen. We have an awful lot to talk about in the Bill, but to have this debate prompted by a manuscript amendment is not productive. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Steel, owes the Committee a frank explanation about the timing and purpose of the amendment.
I simply have to take issue with my noble friend for talking about the wheezes, tricks and all the other things that have happened. As a matter of fact, this has been going on now for one hour and 27 minutes. We were here to talk about the purposes of the Bill in a serious way. Those of us who consider this a very serious Bill cannot be happy with the way that it has progressed so far. Only very recently have we come to the purposes of the Bill and heard from the Minister that the Government are unhappy with only one purpose, but happy with the other three. It took an awful long time to get there.
I say to my noble friends who are talking about wheezes, and my noble friend Lord Caithness, that there is no way that I would have supported the Bill and the noble Lord, Lord Steel, if I thought that he was up to wheezes of all kinds. We have seen wheezes this afternoon. We have seen people wasting time.
We have seen all kinds of things. I say to the House that I am terribly disturbed by it. Many of your Lordships might remember when we had the original Bill in 1999. It may be that the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, will remember, but certainly my noble friend Lord Strathclyde will remember because he had to give me a handkerchief because I was crying so much at the terrible things that were happening to this House. I remember my noble friend saying at a Front Bench meeting afterwards that the hereditary Peers owed me a vote of thanks for crying on all of their behalves so that none of them had to cry for themselves.
This is now a way of protecting this House from something terrible happening to it in the future. All contributions should deal with the Bill, not these other imagined things that noble Lords think might happen.
My noble friend intervened on my remarks, and I could not agree with her more that we need to get to the substance of the Bill. So why do we need this new clause? Why do we need this manuscript amendment? What is its purpose other than to create an artificial decision for the House?
My noble friend keeps referring to it as a manuscript amendment. It appears on the Marshalled List of amendments for today.
I stand corrected. “An amendment submitted at the last possible moment before becoming a manuscript amendment” would be clearer.
My noble friend Lord Goschen is actually correct. We are currently debating the manuscript amendment of my noble friend Lord Selsdon. The only reason that my noble friend felt obliged to put down a manuscript amendment was because the noble Lord, Lord Steel, who proposed the Bill, produced Amendment A1 at the very last minute, giving nobody any opportunity to put down an alternative amendment. I carry some of the guilt, because I myself have a manuscript amendment that we shall debate in a moment. If the noble Lord, Lord Steel, had been better organised, put his amendment down earlier and let us all know—he knows that we are interested—then we would not be having a debate on manuscript amendments.
I want to make technical point about paragraph (c) of the proposed new clause in Amendment A1, which says,
“to enable peers to retire”.
This seems to prove that that amendment has been tabled in a hurry at the last minute. Clause 12(1) says:
“Any member of the House of Lords who fails to attend the House during the course of a session, where that session exceeds more than three months in duration, shall be deemed to have taken permanent leave of absence”.
It is not to enable Peers to retire: this clause actually forces them to retire. So that is an inaccurate piece of drafting.
Submitting late amendments obviously gives rise to suspicions. I had a little suspicion, particularly after I heard the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, say that a debate on an elected House is for another day, that if this were adopted it would prevent us from debating the amendments in my name.
We have been around the houses long enough so I should perhaps respond to the debate so far. I started, right at the beginning, by saying that the amendment was an open and transparent device. The device is to serve the interests of the Committee by enabling it to come to a clear decision as to whether, in principle, it favours these four reforms or not. That is being helpful to the Committee, rather than having endless debates on the 95 amendments that have been tabled to the Bill, 52 of them yesterday and the day before.
It is reasonable that we have a debate on the purpose of the Bill, which is what I had hoped that we would provoke, instead of which we have had all sorts of other highways and byways, including an attempt to divide the Committee on the issue of whether we have an appointed or elected House. The Bill is not about that and its purpose is not about that. The way is still open. All three parties are committed to an elected House. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, was correct that when we had a whole series of votes—I do not remember how many years ago now—on different permutations of election, I voted against them all except for 100 per cent election, which has always been the policy of my party.
When the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, talks about his timetable, he is really offering it to the Government. He is not saying that the Conservatives would have a timetable on the issue if they came in. He said that the first thing we should do is to debate the White Paper, but that was published last summer. The noble Lord is a major part of the usual channels. Has he agitated every week to get a debate on the White Paper? No, I do not suppose that he has. We have made no progress whatever on this. As for the Minister telling us that the manifesto commitment will mean that we have early legislation, I remind him again that his party gave a manifesto commitment to have a statutory Appointments Commission not at the previous election but at the one before that. Eight years later, we still do not have that. What are the chances of getting a major reform of the House if we have to wait eight years even to get one part of the Bill that is before us today?
The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde—I think that the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, touched on this—mentioned the 1999 promise on keeping the hereditary Peers. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, suggested that there was a trick in a private conversation between me and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg. I assure him that there is no trick. I asked the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, whether I could refer to his views on this. He made me write it down on a piece of paper and I read out exactly the words that he agreed. I assure the Committee that his view is that this Bill can represent stage 2 of incremental reforms. I do not happen to know what his views are regarding the long term but we are not concerned abut those who think there should be an elected House and those who think there should be an appointed House.
This is an extremely interesting point. It is clear that there is no definition of stage 2, and there never has been. I suppose the problem is that there was an understanding that stage 2 would involve a fundamental change. I guess that is the issue here.
I understand that and accept it. I honestly believe that in 1999 Ministers genuinely expected that a more fundamental reform would come forward long before today, but it has not happened—that is what we are faced with—and there is no sign of it happening in the very near future. Therefore, we have brought forward a package of reforms, which in the view of the former Lord Chancellor form sufficient—
I am sorry to pursue this but it is a very important point. I would understand the point the noble Lord raises were it not for the fact that the Government of the day have produced proposals for substantive reform which could well be enacted straight after the general election. That is why I think it is very difficult to see his proposals as stage 2.
With great respect to the Minister, I have said over and over again that the problem with the White Paper is that it leaves many fundamental issues unresolved. It is not a blueprint for an Act of Parliament; it is nothing like it yet. Major issues are not decided in the White Paper, but have to be decided before we get anywhere near a Bill.
I apologise for again intervening but surely the point here is that the White Paper and the cross-party talks showed that there is agreement on many of the fundamental issues. We could not agree on some issues such as the voting system, but then it is entirely appropriate for political parties to include in their manifestos their views on the voting system. There is then no reason why the next Government could not bring forward legislation very soon after the election.
I thank the noble Lord for what he has said about the declaration of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine. Of course, he is entirely right in his interpretation of it. If the noble and learned Lord had stood up at the time and said, “Oh, by the way, what I mean is something like the Steel Bill”, then the 1999 Act would not have gone through in the way that it did. As regards the White Paper, the Minister is absolutely right: some issues were unresolved, and they are major and important issues to do with the constituencies, the method of voting and the period of transition. However, those are precisely the issues that would be resolved in a vote in another place and then ultimately in this House.
I do not disagree with any of that. All I am saying is that you cannot describe the voting system for an upper House, or the question of whether it should be 100 per cent elected or partly appointed, as trivial issues of detail. These are issues of basic principle that are not yet resolved, and they show no signs of being resolved for some years to come.
I do not know who the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, speaks to in his party, but I suggest that he has a word with Mr Dominic Grieve, who is in charge of these issues in his party. I think that he may find that he is right to stick to what he said at Second Reading. He talked about my inconsistency; at Second Reading, he was most eloquent in telling us all the issues that a Conservative Government would deal with before they got around to dealing with Lords reform. Now, he is telling us that he has changed his mind and that we could have a Bill in year one. I just do not believe it.
I have said this so many times that I regret that I have to rise yet again at the Dispatch Box, to the displeasure of the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, to explain this once more. We are now approaching the end of the second hour of this debate. My view is changing on the issue of the urgency of Lords reform precisely because we debate it so much. I share the frustration that beats in the heart of almost every single noble Lord who has spoken this afternoon that there is not more activity and more action.
That is why I have said that I will have to have urgent discussions with my right honourable friend David Cameron to try to see whether we can have a more concrete proposal for a directly elected senate as soon as possible after the next general election, if we were to win it. It is precisely because of the energy that the noble Lord, Lord Steel, and his friends, have demonstrated today, that which the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott, demonstrated last week, and no doubt that which will be demonstrated on the second or third day in Committee, that I am drawn to this conclusion. If this House never debated this issue, I could wholly understand why my right honourable friend would not regard it as the most important priority.
I am terribly pleased that the introduction of this Bill has influenced the Conservative Front Bench to such an extent; this is really a very welcome turn of events. I want to influence it even further and enable the Committee to vote for the purposes of this Bill to demonstrate clearly, not just to the Opposition but to the Government Front Bench, united as they have been up to now in obduracy, that we want to get on with it. That is the purpose of the amendment.
Will the noble Lord answer the question that I asked him? Why was this amendment not put down at Second Reading?
I explained that right at the beginning. I said that this is a device. It is a device to enable the Committee to come to a decision. I said that at the beginning; I do not disguise it. It is a means of enabling the Committee not just to express voices across the Chamber, as we did at Second Reading, but to have a vote and to show the numbers to the Government and to the Members of the House of Commons.
I feel terribly confused. I have never in my life before come across an Amendment A1A. I never intended that this should be a great debate. I was just seeking to tell the truth; that if those amendments had been agreed, the House would effectively be an appointed House. It did not matter whether they felt that they were appointed. I also know that no one wanted to leave.
My proposal, very simply, was that those who would be elected and who had put their names down would be perfectly content if that list was placed before an appointments commission and the election process ceased. Therefore, they would probably be just as happy to be in the hands of a commission choosing them than they would with this rather strange electoral system.
Having had such a debate which it was not my intention to have, if anyone else wants to press my amendment, they are very welcome to do so. Otherwise, I feel that the debate has been long enough. I apologise, because there are other things to debate. I did not mean it to go on like this. I just know that your Lordships do not want to be dismissed. There are many good points in the Bill. We know that the Liberals want to get more people in this House. We know that the Conservatives are likely to lose more and more people. The Labour Party wants to retain a majority and it hopes that the Cross Benches do not intervene too much. Unless anyone wants to take this further, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment A1A withdrawn.
Amendment A1B (to Amendment A1)
A1B: Line 10, at end insert—
“(e) to place the appointment of members of the House of Lords in the hands of a commission of nine people meeting in secret.”
This is the second amendment that we have to deal with and it goes to the heart of the role and position of the Appointments Commission. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Steel, will not mind me discussing this, because this is one thing that he would be in favour of—a statutory Appointments Commission.
I should say right at the start of this debate that anything I say about the statutory Appointments Commission is no slur on the noble Lord, Lord Jay of Ewelme, or indeed on his predecessor, the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Coddenham. I am a big admirer of them both. That is not the purpose of this amendment. Its purpose is to tackle the reasons why there should or should not be a statutory Appointments Commission.
I have tabled this amendment to the purpose clause because I think that it is a serious omission from the central purpose of the Bill, and it would be wrong for the Bill to go any further or to be discussed in Committee without recognition of that fact. That central purpose is set out in Clause 1(2), the first operative clause, which reads:
“No recommendations for the creation of life peerages shall be made other than by the Commission”.
No other mechanism for appointing anyone to this House is suggested anywhere else in the Bill. Of course, as we discussed during debate on the previous amendment, the Bill also excludes the election of hereditary Peers. The purpose of the Bill is therefore to set up a system that elbows aside the Prime Minister and puts in his place a procedure whereby an elected and unaccountable quango meeting in secret will recommend the entire membership of a House of Parliament. It is that significant.
I am sorry but I am having difficulty following my noble friend’s understanding of the Bill. Under Clause 4(1)(c), the Prime Minister can put forward names, and the only task of the Appointments Commission is to vet them in the way that the existing Appointments Commission does. It does not differ from what happens at the moment.
My noble friend will have to listen to the end of my speech. The point is that the Bill will create a new statutory Appointments Commission. The Prime Minister will lose a large part of his current role of appointing Members to the House of Lords, including the Cross Benches. I have only to mention the name of the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, the former chief executive of the NHS, who was appointed directly by the Prime Minister, as was the former Bishop of Oxford, the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth. My understanding—I could be wrong; my noble friend Lord Norton will be able to put me right in a moment—is that the Prime Minister would not be allowed to appoint Members to the Cross Benches if the Bill were passed.
The commission is told that it must have regard to certain provisions set out in Clause 8, including a duty to balance the political membership of this House. Who is the commission to decide such a thing? Perish the thought that the people of this country, or even the safe, restricted pre-1832 franchise of people of this country, might determine directly the membership of this House. Instead, that obligation will be given to nine people on a commission meeting in secret.
It is often said that no one would invent this House if they were starting with a blank sheet of paper and that it is unique in the world, but to replace one unique system—
Can the noble Lord enlighten the House as to where in the Bill it says that the commission must meet in secret? I do not think that it is there. It may be up to the Appointments Commission whether to meet in secret or it may be required by Parliament not to meet in secret, but the Bill does not say that it must do so. I suspect that the purpose of the noble Lord’s amendment is to hold the idea up to ridicule rather than to enforce it.
Yes, very much so. It is ridiculous that we will put the future composition of this House into the hands of a statutory Appointments Commission. If the noble Lord highlights the fact that I think it is ridiculous he is correct.
I do not think that the noble Lord is being disingenuous, but if he looks at the actual Bill, Clause 2(4) refers to,
“members affiliated with registered political parties”.
That includes the great majority of this House.
The White Paper made it clear that the political parties would have a role and that it would be on grounds of probity alone, as the noble Lord, Lord Norton, said, that the statutory Appointments Commission would have a role. It will not be selecting members of the Labour Party or the Conservative Party—neither party would put up with that. That is very clear. I hope that I can find a softer word than “disingenuous” to suggest that the noble Lord’s is not a reasonable critique of the Bill.
One of the great problems of proposing a purpose clause, which, as the House knows, I oppose, is that inevitably it leads to generalisations about the purpose of the Bill. Some noble Lords are rather keen on the idea of purpose clauses but on the whole I am not. This short debate demonstrates why purpose clauses are not very useful.
Perhaps I might ask the noble Lord who is proposing Amendment A1B whether he is proposing it so that we can all vote against it. It is his amendment.
No. For the avoidance of doubt, I will not be seeking the opinion of the House on this. I really wish to have a short debate about the principle of a statutory Appointments Commission, meeting in secret, deciding the future composition of your Lordships’ House. There may be an opportunity on Report to vote on that but it is far too early at this stage.
I want to ask again the question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Gordon, about where in the Bill it says that the commission will meet in secret. If the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, is saying that this is a debate in principle about a statutory Appointments Commission it is difficult to reconcile what he is saying with his support for my noble kinsman, who I supported at Second Reading, and the work of the Appointments Commission, which the noble Lord, Lord Jay, said he would like to be put on a statutory basis.
Nowhere in the Bill does it say that it must meet in secret but one of the Bill’s flaws is that we have seen no review of the workings of the current Appointments Commission. We do not know how it meets. We probably know that it meets in secret but there is no reason why that should continue. The use of the word “secret” is important, and I am glad that we are discussing it at this stage; I wanted to demonstrate how different it would be from a directly elected senate. Instead of a magic circle of nine individuals deciding who should vote, as the Chamber knows I am in favour of it being the people.
The noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall, said that political parties will be able to make nominations directly to the Appointments Commission, but it will not have escaped his notice that in another place Dr Tony Wright, the chairman of the Public Administration Committee, has proposed that political parties should not be allowed to propose names to the Appointments Commission. It should furnish the Appointments Commission with a substantial list of names and it will then be up to the noble Lord, Lord Jay, and his colleagues to pick and choose who should sit in your Lordships’ House. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Lea, made that point. This is one of the flaws of a statutory Appointments Commission, which I am therefore trying to bring to the attention of the Chamber.
Would the noble Lord withdraw the notion that that is in the Bill?
I do not think I actually said it was in the Bill. What I said was that the Appointments Commission would ultimately be responsible for appointing the future composition of this House. If I am wrong about that, I am not sure there is any purpose in the Bill. I understood that the whole point of the statutory Appointments Commission is that it would provide people to sit in the House of Lords, in stark contrast to alternatives.
I must ask my noble friend, who actually is my noble friend and my ordinary friend outside the House, who he is speaking for. This amendment is tabled in his name and he is speaking from our Front Bench, but who is he speaking for? Is he speaking for our leader or for all of us sitting behind him? It is important because we have not been questioning some of the things that he is now questioning.
I am not proposing a Bill. I have not suggested legislation, although I certainly could do so. If I were ever in a position to propose a Private Member's Bill, I would do it on the understanding that as soon as it came to the House, it would become the property of the House and it would be right for each and every one of us to make whatever proposals and changes. That is what happens on every other day of the week when we deal with legislation. It is very odd that the noble Lord, Lord Steel, and his colleagues have put forward a new Bill, and as soon as anybody puts any amendments down, they say that he should not.
As I understand it, the noble Lord said first, that the attack he is making on the Bill is not actually on an item that is in the Bill and secondly, that he does not intend to take the opinion of the Chamber. Why is he on his feet? Is he simply trying to waste our time?
No, I am trying to get to the bottom of what those who propose a statutory Appointments Commission in the Bill mean by it and what they see in it. The only reason that I said that I was not going to test the opinion of the Chamber was that I thought that was the right thing to do. However, if it is the wish of the Chamber to vote on this, any noble Lord is entirely free to shout “No” when the Question is put by the Lord Speaker if I seek to withdraw the amendment. That is the way the rules of the House work, so the noble Lord will have his opportunity to march through the Lobby.
I have been trying to progress on moving my amendment. Let me pray in aid the late Robin Cook. He was a friend to many noble Lords who served in another place. He was in government in 1999 and said at the time that the Government had moved from the 15th-century principle of hereditary to the 18th-century principle of patronage. That is the fundamental flaw in the statutory Appointments Commission. I wonder what he would have made of this proposal. I am very sorry not to see the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan of Rogart, in his place because he played such a leading role in discussions and debates with the late Robin Cook prior to the election in 1997, and we would have valued his contribution today.
The point about the Appointments Commission is that nine men and women meeting in secret should choose a House of Parliament. I am sure that there is no other phrase for it. I find something odd in listening to the noble Lord, Lord Steel, in one breath criticising the election of a handful of Members of this House, as provided for in the 1999 Act, by hereditary Peers because of the small numbers of those involved and then, in exactly the same breath, and supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, standing up to propose in all seriousness that the entire membership of this House should be chosen by a magic circle of nine people and that they would have a veto on who should sit in this House. Even the political accountability of the Prime Minister in that process would be withdrawn.
I find that an extraordinarily reactionary proposal, one that reduces accountability rather than increases it. Therefore, in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, that is why it must lie four square in the Bill that that should be one of its purposes. The concept of handing all authority to a commission of that kind deserves the fullest scrutiny and debate. I must apologise to my noble friend Lady Miller—she is right to say that she is a friend both inside and outside the House—but surely if we cannot debate something as important as the creation of a commission of nine men and women who will, uniquely, choose who should sit in the House, what on earth would be the point of this House at all? I beg to move.
I reply briefly to the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. Frankly, he is trying to write into the purpose of the Bill something that is not in the Bill at all. He ought to recognise that, although he is of course right that the detail of the Appointments Commission—how many members there should be, what should be its powers, and all the rest—are perfectly legitimate matters for debate, the purpose is to establish the statutory Appointments Commission as has been promised for several years by the Government. Why did that come into the public domain? Because of the concern in the country about the cash-for-peerages scandal, which, if I may say so, mutually affected not just the previous Conservative Government and the current Labour Government, but even the Liberal Government of Lloyd George. That has been a long-standing grievance in the public eye, so the creation of the statutory Appointments Commission was a sensible measure, the details of which are of course open to further debate and discussion.
It is simply not the case that the Bill proposes that those people should identify the entire membership of the House in future. Quite the contrary. If the noble Lord reads Clause 9, for the first time we suggest that the commission should require the political parties to have some criteria for proposing names to the commission. Technically, someone must be responsible for submitting the names; therefore the statutory commission is named, but it will not sit there and choose members of the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats or the Conservative Party. That would be ridiculous. I know that that has been proposed in the other place; I disagree with that and it is not in the Bill; so why is the noble Lord trying to introduce a purpose that is not there? As he said that he will not press the amendment, I hope that he will withdraw it quickly so that we can get onto the main Division on the purposes of the Bill.
The noble Lord raises an important point. My reading of the Bill and the advice that I have received is that it leaves to the commission the final responsibility for making those appointments. Clearly, when we come to debate this later, we all have to look at that very carefully, because I want to draw a distinction. I have said already that the Government support the principle of a statutory Appointments Commission. We made that clear in the White Paper. I have said that we are considering very carefully the outcome of our debates on this matter.
However, there is a fundamental difference between the statutory Appointments Commission discussed in the White Paper and the noble Lord’s proposals. In the White Paper, based on an 80 per cent elected House, the strong consensus was that the Appointments Commission should not make political appointments—that the political Members of the future House would come through the electoral process. The statutory Appointments Commission that the Government support would be focused on non-political appointments.
Secondly, at the moment the commission plays no part in assessing the suitability of those who are nominated by the political parties; that is a matter for the parties themselves. Its role is simply to advise the Prime Minister on whether it has any concerns about the propriety of a nominee. My reading of the Bill is that the noble Lord, Lord Steel, is taking us much further forward. In the end, it is for the commission to make the political appointments. This is not a pedantic point; this is a matter of substance which, when we come to Committee, we will need to look at very carefully.
I listened with care to what the noble Lord, Lord Steel, said, but I think his argument is fundamentally wrong. He can talk for however long he wants about Clause 9, but Clause 1(2) is very clear. It says:
“No recommendations for the creation of life peerages shall be made other than by the Commission”.
My noble friend Lord Strathclyde is therefore absolutely right that that is a purpose of the Bill.
I am very grateful to my noble friend and, indeed, to the Minister. Sometimes it feels a little like being General Custer here at the Dispatch Box. I am glad for the support that they have given us. The Minister is quite right that when we get to these clauses in Committee, we really will be able to debate in great detail exactly what they mean, how they will work in practice and what impact the role of the Prime Minister and the political parties will have.
If I may assist the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and my noble friend the Minister, we are actually in Committee, although the person leaving the Gallery, to whom my noble friend Lord Dubs referred, could have been led to believe that we were at Second Reading.
The noble Baroness is quite right, and I stand admonished, of course. We are in Committee. I meant that we would discuss the clauses later in Committee. Of course, she is also right that this sounds more like a Second Reading debate, but that is precisely the effect that the noble Lord, Lord Steel, wanted. He wanted to discuss the purpose of the Bill, which is why he has proposed his purpose clause.
Clause 8 says exactly how many members of the commission there will be and the processes by which people will be proposed to it. The noble Lord may well say that he does not think that the commission should pick and choose from the political parties, but as that proposal is live in a cross-party group in another place, we must accept the danger that if this Bill were to go to another place, that is precisely how they would seek to amend it. It is therefore as well to be wise to the dangers of what another place might do to this Bill. I am very sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Steel, will not accept this amendment. It is a very small, very modest amendment that lays out rather neatly how I think the Appointments Commission should operate. It would choose every Member of this House and would meet in secret. No one is suggesting that it should hold public hearings.
I am slightly surprised by that. When my noble friend reads Hansard tomorrow, he will see that he said that he was not going to move any amendments. In all events, this amendment certainly does not do what he said a moment ago it would do.
I think I said that I was not going to vote on this amendment. Being true to that, I now beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment A1B withdrawn.
Division on Amendment A1 called. Division called off after three minutes due to lack of support for the Not Contents when the Question was put a second time.
Amendment A1 agreed.
I think noble Lords are aware that the previous vote was negated. I am about to move that the House be resumed. We must finish at 7 o’clock, and on past experience it appears that we cannot deal with an amendment between now and then. I therefore beg to move that the House be resumed.
House adjourned at 6.40 pm