House of Lords
Tuesday, 29 June 2010.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Exeter.
Introduction: Lord German
Michael James German, Esquire, OBE, having been created Baron German, of Llanfrechfa in the County Borough of Torfaen, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Lord Livsey of Talgarth and Lord Roberts of Llandudno, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.
Introduction: Baroness Hussein-Ece
Meral Hussein Ece OBE, having been created Baroness Hussein-Ece, of Highbury in the London Borough of Islington, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Baroness Scott of Needham Market and Baroness Garden of Frognal, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.
Introduction: Baroness Ritchie of Brompton
Shireen Olive Ritchie, having been created Baroness Ritchie of Brompton, of Brompton in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Baroness Hanham and Baroness Morris of Bolton, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.
My Lords, high levels of conservation have already been achieved with a legislative framework protecting sites and species of particular importance. The territory’s quarter of a million square miles is Britain’s greatest area of marine biodiversity. The territory’s Administration will work with interested organisations and regional governments to increase awareness of the environmental and scientific importance of the territory.
My Lords, the declaration of the marine protected area did not cost anything, but by implementing a no-take fishing zone, the British Indian Ocean Territory's Administration loses between £800,000 and £1 million of revenue which they would have got from the sale of fishing licences. That revenue used to go towards the cost of maintaining a British Indian Ocean Territory patrol vessel for surveillance duties, and so on. The annual cost of running that vessel is about £1.7 million, including fuel costs, so the costs not offset by the fishing licence loss were met by subsidy from the overseas territories programme fund. The short answer to the noble Lord is that we need to find an additional £800,000 to £1 million, and the overseas territories division is in discussion with a number of foundations and charities which have offered to meet that requirement for a five-year period.
My Lords, I acknowledge the merits of marine conservation, but does the Minister agree that the MPA has caused considerable tensions, not least with our close allies, the Government of Mauritius? Will he respond positively to the expressed desire of the Mauritius Government for the dialogue initiated by their Prime Minister and Gordon Brown to be continued as soon as possible by the current Government? Would he be prepared to meet representatives of the Chagossian community in the UK?
My Lords, under the previous Government, of which the noble Baroness was a distinguished member, there were some difficulties about the consultation continuing. It began, but then problems arose on the Mauritian side. We remain happy to talk to the Mauritian Government at any time about the marine protected area, but if it takes us into the broader issue, on which the noble Baroness touched in the second part of her question, of the Chagossians’ right of return, all I can tell her at this stage is that the new Government are looking at the whole pattern of issues raised by the British Indian Ocean Territory's situation. I will certainly communicate with her and your Lordships as soon as possible on that issue, but I cannot say more today.
My Lords, bearing in mind that a total ban on fishing under the MPA would end the careers of Mauritian and Chagossian fishermen, and the amount of money that the Minister mentioned, which would contribute to the use of the BIOT fisheries range protection vessel, will the Government refrain from taking any decision on the MPA until Parliament has had the opportunity to debate the situation after the European Court’s decision on Chagossian rights of return, expected before the Summer Recess? Secondly, can we invite the US to undertake a joint review of the pollution created by the US nuclear base on Diego Garcia, including the deployment of the nuclear submarine tender USS “Emory S Land”, which is alleged to have contaminated the sea around its former base in Sardinia?
Parliament is free to debate the MPA, which is a very important proposal, development and plan, at any time it wishes. The intention to go ahead with the MPA is in place. However, on the broader issues of the hearing in the European Court of Human Rights and the nature of operations in the Diego Garcia base, the Government are, as I said, looking at all aspects raised by the British Indian Ocean Territory’s problems, and I will communicate with the House when views have been reached. I cannot go further than that today.
My Lords, I accept the concept of a marine protected zone, but does the Minister agree that it would be wholly wrong to implement this zone without doing justice to the Chagossian islanders who were gratuitously expelled from Diego Garcia and the surrounding area after 1965, whose rights of abode and access need to be restored first?
The noble Lord is raising two separate issues. The proposal for a marine protected area is widely supported by many people and there are very few objections to the general concept from the Mauritians or anyone else. The Chagossians’ right of abode is a broader issue. I would like to say that certain views have been reached which may or may not be different from those of the previous Government, but today I cannot because the matter is under review. I will communicate with the noble Lord and other noble Lords when we have a view on this situation, with which many Members opposite are very familiar.
I know of no specific threat in relation to resettlement. All sorts of other problems were studied in a feasibility study some years ago and the whole prospect of resettlement was found to be precarious. However, the particular issue of rising sea level is not one on which we have any detailed evidence.
The Minister mentioned the general concept of an MPA. Does he acknowledge that in the general run of MPAs, the people who normally live there actually live there, by which I mean the Galapagos and the most recent MPA, made by President Bush, around western Hawaii? Would it not be quite normal for the Chagossians to be living in the MPA?
As I have explained, the Chagossians are not living there because they have not resettled. That is a separate issue which needs to be looked at and we are studying. The issue of the MPA, which is a vast area, immediately affects only the licensed fishermen whose problems have been very carefully addressed. That is the position, and these are two separate issues. I am sorry that I cannot help the noble Baroness in bringing them together today.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his reply. Does he agree that 111,000 people are employed by quangos at a cost to the British taxpayer of more than £38 billion? Some of those quangos perform important and essential work, while others, in my view, are rather expensive talking shops, which, surely, are an undesirable luxury that cannot be afforded in today’s world. How are we to distinguish between them?
Virtue is always easy to recognise, but my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has asked for all quangos to be assessed against three main tests. First, is the function technical? Secondly, does it need to be politically impartial? Finally, do facts need to be determined transparently? My right honourable friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office will discuss the outcome of this assessment with Ministers in July and, following Cabinet agreement, publish the outcome in the autumn. He has confirmed in a Parliamentary Question in another place that cost-effectiveness and suitability will also be factors. His assessment will also ask whether the Government really need to do this and whether the function should be performed at a local level or through non-state means by either a voluntary or a private body. Furthermore, his assessment will also bear in mind costs, efficiency and the requirement for savings, including alignment with Budget and spending review requirements, and, finally, the impact of the changes on the Government’s policy objectives.
The noble Lord expresses himself powerfully. As my noble friend mentioned in her supplementary question, the cost of maintaining quangos amounts to £38.4 billion per year, which contrasts with £15.4 billion in 2002. There is a considerable problem to tackle. By dealing with it rigorously, I hope that the Government will show that they are in earnest and have purpose.
My Lords, I welcome the noble Lord to his new role. I am sure he will agree that new Governments always talk about getting rid of quangos and not creating them. Much has been made of the importance of the Office for Budget Responsibility, which I believe is a quango. Therefore, how many quangos have the coalition Government announced or set up since they took office?
The Government are determined to ensure that any new bodies set up will satisfy the new tests. I remind the House that those tests are: is the function technical; does it need to be politically impartial; and do the facts need to be analysed transparently?
I thank the Minister for his full reply. Is it the Government’s intention to seek to consolidate quangos in order to save overheads where that can be done without necessarily winding up useful bodies? Will he undertake to consult the public before introducing legislation? This is such a vast field that there will be particular consequences of the application of the Government’s criteria which cannot be suitably dealt with during the legislative process.
My Lords, the whole point of the exercise is to make sure that the agencies of government as represented by quangos perform in the interests of the body politic. To that extent the body politic will be involved in the legislation. The country is well aware of the economic background against which these decisions will be taken and of the costs, as I explained to the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, of the existing quango structure. The Government are right to tackle that task, which they will do with determination. I hope that the Bill will be before the House in the autumn.
My Lords, many of us recognise that there are quangos and bodies that need to be reviewed and some of them may need to disappear. But can we not set up a small committee here, which will cost nothing, to try to ensure that when Questions are asked, they are answered? Can we have an answer to the question of how many commissions and quangos have been set up since the Government came to power, and can we please have the cost of them as well?
I am afraid that I cannot give the answer to that. What I am trying to do is give the House an indication of the standards by which this Government will address the whole business of public agencies and bodies. I will write to the noble Lord and, indeed, to the Leader of the Opposition who asked the question in the first place so that they are aware of the facts, but I am afraid I am not briefed on how many have been set up since the Government took office. It cannot be very many, and certainly cannot be as many as we found—966 in total—when we took office.
Student Loans Company
My Lords, last year, the service delivered by the Student Loans Company was unacceptable. The Student Loans Company now has a strengthened leadership team and is engaging more effectively with its stakeholders, including those representing disabled students. My department has provided increased resources to help the Student Loans Company put the service back on track, and has set tighter turnaround targets for applications for the disabled students’ allowance.
I thank my noble friend for that Answer. As something like 10,000 students did not receive their disabled students’ allowance last year, can the noble Baroness give an indication of what is being done to make sure that any future reorganisation of the service does not result in a disaster like this one, where a locally run service was replaced with a central one and ended up failing totally?
My Lords, the Student Loans Company has made a number of improvements in the way it processes applications, which I hope will improve customers’ experience. The scanning technology that was at the heart of the processing problems last year has been moved from Glasgow to Darlington where the processing teams are based so that all paper documentation is sent to one location, allowing the Student Loans Company to react quickly to any problems. A more user-friendly online application process has been introduced for new and returning students. Applications for disabled students’ allowances are now being turned around faster, and in consultation with stakeholders—who have proved to be an invaluable support to us—the Student Loans Company has streamlined its processes for dealing with these applications. That includes a fourfold increase in the number of staff allocated to the work, with better training and quality assurance to ensure consistency in the service provided to its customers.
My Lords, I welcome the assurances given by the Minister. Can she confirm that arrangements have been put in place to enable contacts between disability groups and the Student Loans Company? My experience of going around universities suggests that they bend over backwards to assist potential students with disabilities.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a contact person for disability at the University of York. It is my experience that, essentially, help does not arrive on time. The problem is that there is no system whereby an advance can be offered to students whose cases have not been processed, but disabled students need help from the moment they arrive. Unfortunately, even a little delay can cost them a great deal in their studies. Is there a way of advancing an initial sum to these students so that they are given assistance on arrival?
As noble Lords can imagine, we have studied this question very carefully to see what can be done. Special financial arrangements have been made to get people over the difficulties that they are experiencing immediately, and money has been set aside for that. The applications that we have received are receiving good attention now. However, we are mindful of the fact that people do not seem to realise that for this year, for example, starting in September, students—whether able or disabled—should apply now; they do not have to wait. If they or their representatives were to start applying now, we could get to the core of their difficulties, so that by the time they start their year arrangements will be in place. We have found particularly that disabled students wait until they are on the course before they start applying, by which time the lag that they experience causes them difficulties. However, even in such cases we will make sure that, because of last year’s awful experiences, people will not be put off starting their studies for fear of not having their money.
Does the Minister agree that the setting up of this disability stakeholder group is a major step forward, as it provides a proper assistance set-up? A great deal of credit for this forward movement should go to the noble Lord, Lord Addington, for his pressure and assistance.
My noble friend Lord Addington has been an absolute champion of the disabled. He very kindly gave us of some of his questions in advance so that we could start to process them already. If the noble Lord has other questions that he would like answered, I very much hope it will be okay for us to write to him. This is a big and complicated subject and we really do not want to see it get into the trouble that it did last year.
I rather thought I had covered that. We have strengthened the leadership team; we are engaging more effectively with stakeholders, including those representing disabled students, which is very important and went wrong last time; and we have provided increased resources to help put the service back on track. I really do hope that this year, for the sake of us all and all our students, we will see a much clearer run at things—if they get their applications in early enough, please.
Energy: Belarus-Russia Gas Dispute
My Lords, the Russia-Belarus gas dispute had minimal impact on European gas supplies, though flows to Lithuania reduced, as did pipeline pressure to Poland on 23 June. However, no customers were affected. The EU-Russia early warning mechanism, strengthened after the January 2009 Russia-Ukraine gas dispute, was activated and the Commission led EU engagement with both parties to urge a swift resolution. Any such dispute is regrettable but we welcome its swift resolution before EU customers were affected.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord and for the speedy resolution of the dispute. Does he accept that this dispute and the Russia-Ukraine difficulties show that Europe needs co-ordinated action on gas security? Can he say what progress has been made in the development of the southern corridor, which brings gas to Europe from the Caspian but is not dependent on Russia?
My Lords, this gives me a great opportunity to praise the former Minister who, through his work on the EU security of gas supply regulation, helped to enhance the resilience of the emergency plans and provided cross-border support of supply. We look forward to his plans being adopted in the autumn. I am grateful for the work that he has done—as, I am sure, is the rest of the House. The general point is that the UK is not dependent upon the Caspian Sea or Russia for its gas supply: 65 per cent of our gas comes from our own domestic fields, 20 per cent from Norway and the remainder from other international sources. We have reviewed this situation in the light of what we have just seen and I am confident that we can support our customers to the full.
My Lords, given the continued dependence of Europe as a whole on Russian gas, what pressure are the UK Government putting on the European Commission to look at the potential for shale gas in Europe, which over just a couple of years has in many ways revolutionised the security of energy within the United States?
My noble friend and coalition colleague raises a very good question to which not many know the answer, but I will do my best under the circumstances. The issue of shale energy, for those who are interested, is well advanced in the US. It is generating a great deal of supply, but it does not have the same planning restrictions that we do here in Europe, so only limited exploration has been carried out. As yet there has been no establishment of financial viability, but this is happening apace. The benefit from this for the UK is that as a result the US is importing far less LNG, which makes it cheaper and more available for this country.
Does the Minister not feel that he is being a little overconfident about Britain’s position in all this, given that our capacity for gas storage is very low compared with a lot of other member states in the European Union? What are the Government doing to encourage more gas storage in the UK, which is surely one of the key elements in dealing with any interruption of supply?
The noble Lord asks a good question. The reality is that we currently have eight days’ gas storage—more than we have had for a very long time, and after depletion from a cold winter. We have to establish security of supply. As I said earlier, 65 per cent of the gas we need comes from our own shores; 20 per cent from Norway, which we believe is a friendly source; and 15 per cent from other countries throughout the world. Having reviewed this, we feel confident that we can sustain the supply required.
My Lords, is not foreign control or ownership over the supply and distribution of energy resources in fact a national security issue for this country? Do the Government have a position on the foreign ownership of energy supply companies, such as the fact that most of London’s electricity is supplied by Électricité de France?
When the Minister answered the question from the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, I do not think he indicated whether it is the Government’s intention to increase gas storage capacity in this country. If they wish to do so and if they are going to abolish the Infrastructure Planning Commission, how will they be able to do so on a reasonable timescale and on terms that are acceptable to public opinion in this country?
I think I have made this clear. The truth is that we have enough supply, 65 per cent, coming in from our own shores, and we have to work out whether we can supply our customers. We have 135 per cent capacity, which is increasing to support the import of gas into the country. Quite frankly, I have answered this question quite bluntly and blatantly.
My Lords, it will decline during the coming years, as we know. The fact is, though, that we have a broad spread of import, a secure supply from Norway and Holland and adequate capacity to store and provide for our customers. I referred earlier to our gas import capacity of 135 per cent, and that is increasing over the next few years to 165 per cent, which is more than adequate.
Rehabilitation of Offenders (Amendment) Bill [HL]
A Bill to amend the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 and for connected purposes.
The Bill was introduced by Lord Dholakia, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
London Local Authorities Bill [HL]
That the Commons message of 23 June be now considered; and that the promoters of the London Local Authorities Bill [HL], which was originally introduced in this House in Session 2007–08 on 22 January 2008, should have leave to proceed with the Bill in the current Session according to the provisions of Standing Order 150B (Revival of Bills).
Business of the House
Motion on Standing Orders
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, is it really satisfactory to ask people whose average age is about 1,006 to stay up till 12 o’clock, and to have 67 speakers all on one day on one Motion? I would hope that the usual channels could look into this and come up with something which was slightly more satisfactory.
My Lords, when the Motion was set down, no one had any idea how many speakers there would be. It so happens that 10 per cent of your Lordships are desirous of speaking. In those circumstances, seven minutes is about right for a midnight rising time. Of course, if noble Lords spoke for five minutes, they could be ready to go at 10 pm.
Given that we now know the number of noble Lords who wish to take part in this debate, what on earth is the problem about finishing it at the more reasonable time of 10 o’clock and going into a second day? If the Government do not want to hear the views of noble Lords all around the Chamber, they should say so. This is nonsense; it is just waffling.
House of Lords Reform
Motion to Take Note
My Lords, I for one am delighted to have been able to find this very early opportunity in the lifetime of this Parliament to discuss your Lordships’ House. I can say to noble Lords who have an interest—and many do—that this is the first of such opportunities that we will have to discuss the future of this House.
So I shall not bother telling him the good news about how often we hope to hear him speak in these quality debates over the next year.
Before the election, we knew that if Labour had won we would now be faced with a Bill based on Jack Straw’s committee paper, seeking to legislate on an elected senate in Labour’s historic fourth term—but that was not to be. Equally, we believed that, with a Conservative victory, reform would not be such an urgent priority and we could continue to seek a consensus for a long-term reform. Under the coalition Government, the three main parties all share similar objectives and the issue has now been given greater priority. Today’s debate is an opportunity for the Government to lay out the structure of their plan and an opportunity to listen to the views from your Lordships’ House.
There were more speakers who had put their names down on the speakers list but decided not to go ahead. Some have written to me with their views, but, as I said a moment ago, this, I think, will be the first of such opportunities to discuss the future of this House.
We seem to have been living with propositions for reform of your Lordships’ House for years, indeed decades. It is neither the most important question facing the country nor the least important; this is one House in a sovereign Parliament. It is a House that has often been proved right in recent years, but its voice needs to be better heard. Your Lordships’ House does an outstanding job, but it has not been able to avoid this country having a near disastrous experience from a surfeit of spending, legislation and regulation. We have done what we can well, but it has not always been enough to achieve all that we wanted, whether that was in the fields of ancient liberties, choice or plain old common sense. If the first job of your Lordships is to call the Executive to account and to challenge the other place to do its job, we have not lately excelled. It is at least legitimate to ask if one of the constraints on our ability to act lies in how we are constituted.
There have been years of debate since the 1999 Act changed this House for ever by ending the right to sit by virtue of hereditary peerage alone. We have seen umpteen schemes and watched them drift down umpteen backwaters, often with many here cheering loudly as they ran aground in the mud. We have seen umpteen propositions for change within the House, with my noble friend Lord Steel of Aikwood perhaps the most persistent in his bid to create the wholly appointed House that both Houses rejected in 1999. Many have hoped that it would all go away, but it has not. Indeed, all three major national parties promised a largely elected House in their manifestos only a few weeks ago, while the SNP pledged our abolition outright. A reformed House could play a great part in pulling together the voices of the devolved nations. No wonder those who would divide our kingdom see no place for any upper House, representative or not. That is a view that I totally reject. I have no doubt that this country needs a second Chamber with authority in all parts of the kingdom—one with confidence, powers and the willingness to use them in the public interest, even as the House that we now have acted to protect jury trial, defend habeas corpus and rejected the tyranny of electronic surveillance by compulsory ID cards. Can we create a Chamber better able to do all those things? That is the question before us. I believe that we can. Others believe that nothing under the sun could be better than this. As Leader of the House, I want to ensure that the voice of this House is heard from the outset in this debate, as sadly it was not always—indeed, some argue ever—heard in the past decade.
The coalition Government’s declared intention is to bring forward a draft Bill on reform of the House, which will provide a proper focus for debate and decision. It is something that I and many other noble Lords called for many times over recent years. My noble friend Lord McNally and I will set out the government agenda, but we are also, just as importantly, here to listen to your Lordships’ views. I can promise you this will not be the last opportunity. I know that many of your Lordships will have greeted this element of the coalition’s programme for government with a degree of apprehension, although the work of the cross-party group led by the former Lord Chancellor, Mr Straw, set it at the heart of the programme of the party opposite, too.
I hope that we will be able to reassure the House today that your Lordships, indeed both Houses, will have a full opportunity to take part before ever any legislation is introduced. In our programme for government, we said we would establish a committee to bring forward proposals for a wholly or mainly elected upper Chamber on the basis of proportional representation. We have done that. My right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister is chairing that committee, which is composed of members from all three major political parties as well as from both Houses. My noble friend Lord McNally, the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, and I all serve on it. The committee is charged with producing a draft Bill by the end of the year.
Whatever is in manifestos, the plain fact is that at the moment the Front Benches of this House are on this committee and, as the noble Lord and all sides of this House know very well, in advance of a debate the Back Benches do not agree with the Front Benches. Why is there not a single Back-Bencher on that committee?
Because, my Lords, this committee is charged to create a Bill in draft. There will be a full role for Back-Benchers in both Houses, on all sides and with different views, when we set up a Joint Committee of both Houses which will then give it the scrutiny it deserves before it is introduced to each House.
Could the Leader of the House, in the spirit of the coalition document, referring as it does to the importance of transparency, ensure that the agenda and minutes of this committee which is meeting at present are made available to the House and to the public?
I am very happy for the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, to discuss that with the Leader of the Opposition, who sits on the committee, but the Government will not be publishing either the agenda or any minutes because our objective is to come forward with a Bill in draft. That will be the result of the committee and we hope to do that before the end of the year. This will be the first time that legislation setting out how an elected second Chamber might be constituted will ever have been published by any Government.
Before we leave the matter of the composition of the committee, perhaps the noble Lord could explain why representatives of three of the main groups in this House are on that committee while the fourth group—the Cross-Benchers—is not represented? In order to save him from doing something which will irritate those around me quite a lot, will he please not say that it is because we have already made up our minds as to the shape of a future House?
My Lords, I have no desire to irritate the noble Lord or, indeed, his noble friends, but the point is that the three main political parties each had a manifesto at the last general election which was broadly in agreement. The Deputy Prime Minister took the view that it was important to bring those political parties together in drafting the Bill. When we get to the creation of the Joint Committee of both Houses, the noble Lord and others of his views—not just on the Cross Benches, but elsewhere—will quite rightly be fully consulted and represented on that committee.
My Lords, in a way that is how it works in Parliament. Governments propose legislation and then Parliament disposes of it in whichever way it wants—and that will happen. I am sure that what the Government publish and what comes out of this committee at the end of the year is not where we will be at the end of the day. This is the start of the process. It will be up to the two Houses to set up the Joint Committee; it is not the job of government. My noble friend Lord McNally, the Deputy Leader, and I will make the case for the inclusion of all strands in this matter.
I am normally an enormous fan of my noble friend on the Front Bench, but surely his argument about not including Back-Benchers is slightly destroyed when it becomes a cartel of the three Front Benches. If it was solely my noble friends on the Liberal Front Bench and my noble friends on the Tory Front Bench, his argument would be absolutely solid. However, as it has included the Labour Front Bench, which as far as I have gathered is not part of the coalition—even though 1931 might come again—surely to exclude Back-Benchers is not a sensible idea.
My Lords, the point I was trying to make is that Back-Benchers will play their full part in the process when we get to the creation of the Joint Committee of both Houses. The committee that the Deputy Prime Minister chairs, with all his might and authority, is designed to create the Bill that your Lordships and others can then comment on. I suggest that we are not going to agree on this issue this afternoon, but I hope that we can move on.
Is my noble friend the Leader of the House aware that there is another point of view? On 5 July, the question of due process concerning the setting up of this committee and its functions is due for consideration. There are two views. One is that of my noble friend the Leader of the House and the other is certainly my own.
My Lords, I am well aware that there is more than one view on this issue. Today we will hear from 68 speakers and we may well end up with more views than there are speakers. The point of the Deputy Prime Minister’s committee is to produce a Bill. Then a Joint Committee will examine it and that will have representatives from the Cross Benches and the Bishops’ Bench. I look forward to them playing their full part in it. We would not wish to exclude anybody from this process. That is likely to mean that it will be a substantial committee. It will have a substantial job to do, but that will be next year’s job, not this year’s.
The noble Lord has been very good in giving way. Perhaps he could help me a little. I understand that this committee will produce a Bill. Will it produce a Bill in a legal form, properly drafted by parliamentary draftsmen? Will parliamentary draftsmen be attached to a committee of the three Front Benches to draft a Bill? Is that really the position, so that when the committee reports we get a Bill in draft—which can be introduced in the House—and carry on from there?
My Lords, yes. I would hope that the noble Lord would not be so incredulous. One thing that has been missing from this great debate is precisely that—a Bill in properly drafted form. It will not be introduced to Parliament as part of a legislative process, but as part of a pre-legislative process for proper discussion. I am not going to give way too often.
My Lords, I hope I can save the noble Lord the Leader of the House a little time. Will the draft Bill that is being produced by the committee deal with transition? I think it might shorten the number of speeches today if the noble Lord could be more forthcoming on that.
My Lords, yes, it will deal with transition, which is one of the most important issues. I do not suggest for one moment that the noble Baroness will agree with whatever we propose, although she might. I cannot tell her what it will be because we do not know either at this stage. It is still very early days. However, the Bill will cover that subject, as it must. Once the Joint Committee has completed its work, at the end of the process, it will be for the Government to decide whether to bring forward legislation. I hope that by the time we reach that point, this House will have had the opportunity for input—first into the work of the committee, and then that of the Joint Committee—before we get to a final decision.
I seek clarification on this point. Like other Members, I have read all three manifestos, which all talked about the House being mainly or wholly elected. Not one of them raised the issue of what this place is for. At what point will the House get the chance to debate what a Second Chamber is for, what it is to do and what its powers are? Surely, all we are talking about at the moment is its composition, which seems to be the wrong way round.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, was a senior Minister in the former Government. They must have debated these issues many times in the build-up to the 2008 White Paper. Of course we have to decide what this House is for and what it will do. The view at the moment is that the House should continue to have the powers that it holds and do the work that it does. We are looking at its composition and how people get here, rather than what they do once they get here. I have hardly started in my speech. I will give way to the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, and then I will get on.
My Lords, I have consistently taken the view over a long period—I am not saying that I will retain that consistency—that whipping a Bill on reform of the House of Lords is a particularly fatuous exercise as I suspect that Peers will make up their own minds, almost whatever the Whips tell them. However, we are a long way from having legislation on which we need to take a view on whether it will need to be whipped.
The coalition agreement, which noble Lords will have seen, envisaged a wholly or mainly elected House with elections on the basis of proportional representation. As the noble Baroness pointed out a moment ago, it also anticipated the transitional arrangement that a “grandfathering” system would be put in place for current Members of the House. I know that noble Lords will be anxious to know what both these things mean. They mean that we as a Government have yet to take a view—
We have yet to take a view on whether a reformed House should be fully or partly elected. Those words mean that we recognise the case for an orderly process of transition if the composition of the House is to change, just as in 1999 both Houses saw the wisdom of retaining a transitional element from the old House.
As I said at the outset, this House can be proud of so much that it does, but it lacks democratic authority. As a result, I believe that it does not carry the weight that the quality of its work merits. While we remain an overwhelmingly directly appointed House—something like 85 per cent appointed as against 50 per cent before 1999—our membership continues to grow. It is now fast approaching 800, with daily average attendance rising over 400. More new Members are due to be introduced over the coming weeks and months. I believe that it is time to examine what avenues could be created to make it possible for Members to leave the House permanently. To this end, I can announce that I will be setting up a Leaders’ Group, chaired by my noble friend Lord Hunt of Wirral, to investigate the options available. The group will include representation from all sides of the House and will be tasked with identifying the options that could be considered to allow Members to leave or to retire from the House.
Over the past 18 months, public confidence in politics, but more especially in Parliament, has been dramatically eroded. While many may reject the case for change, both Houses must surely consider it. Some in this House did not want change in Parliament in 1832, 1911, or, indeed, that much in 1999. Incredible though it may seem, the party opposite even voted against the creation of the life peerage in 1958. However, we came to accept all these great changes, just as in 1958 the then hereditary House accepted the case for change.
We cannot know precisely how this debate will unfold, but we know that it cannot be avoided. A great debate is beginning, or perhaps for some of us it is restarting. This House of all places cannot sit this one out. There is not a single Peer, whatever his or her views, who does not love this place, understand the need for a stronger Parliament and want the best for our House. This House, and its Members, must be at the heart of the debate ahead. I want to ensure this House a place in that process. That is the reason today’s debate was arranged. I look forward to all the contributions that will follow today and in the months ahead. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Leader of the House for opening today’s debate with his characteristic élan and his evident relish for reform. We all marvel at the newfound determination of the Conservative element of the coalition Government to ensure that, very suddenly, a third-term issue should become an imperative. But whatever their reasons—and I for one am utterly convinced that the Conservative Benches opposite are as natural supporters of reform of your Lordships' House as they are the natural party of government—we can all heartily welcome the Conservative Party to the ranks of reformers.
The noble Lord the Leader of the House is the very model of the radical revolutionary, and from his speech on this subject to the House today, no one can see him in anything other than that role in the future. While the judgment of these Benches is that the constitutional change on which the coalition is so focused means rather less to people’s lives than the measures put forward in the coalition’s Conservative Budget, I look forward to today’s debate, and I thank the Government for providing the House with the opportunity of debating these issues once again.
This House is familiar with almost every aspect of the issues around the question of Lords reform. The department store John Lewis makes the claim that it is never knowingly undersold. On the question of reform of the House of Lords, I think that we in this House can claim that it is never knowingly underdebated.
However, we have seen in this long-running debate a new move, as mentioned by the Leader of the House: the decision by the coalition Government to form a cross-party committee, chaired by the Deputy Prime Minister, on further reform of the House, with the explicit aim of bringing forward a Bill on reform for consideration by both Houses. I am grateful to the Leader of the House for the information that he has provided about the committee’s work so far. I would have liked a more open and transparent way of working, but I am told that because the committee is a Cabinet committee, this is not possible. However, I would ask the Leader of the House for an undertaking that he will, as Leader not only of the whole House but of the Government in this House, continue to keep Members of the House informed about the work of the committee as it progresses.
We may not always have to hand a debate on the future of your Lordships' House to provide the means for him to do so, but I would urge the Leader to consider the best means by which all Members of this House can be kept up to date about the committee’s work. It is directly relevant to the future of this House and of the Members of this House. While many beyond this Chamber have a legitimate interest in this House and what will happen to it, I would argue that the Members of this House unquestionably have such an interest and it is right and proper for the Government to keep the Members informed.
Some—including, I acknowledge, some in my party—have questioned whether it is appropriate for Labour spokespeople, including me, to be members of this committee, taking part in its deliberations. I understand those concerns. However, I think that in this case it is right for me, as Leader of the Opposition in this House, and for two other members of the current shadow Cabinet to take part. As we showed in government when, at the instigation of my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer of Thoroton, we established the cross-party talks which led directly to our last White Paper on these matters, there is a genuine cross-party interest in such a major constitutional change as further reform of your Lordships' House. We also as a political party should be involved in these discussions inside the tent, if I may put it like that. Reform of your Lordships' House is of course a matter of party politics, but reform of your Lordships' House is also such an important matter for the constitution of our country that it is above party politics too.
I would have preferred—as clearly would have others—the Cross Benches to be represented on the committee. I think it is wrong that they are not. However, our being members of this committee does not bind us to it. We are the Opposition, not the Government. We have joined a committee, we have not joined the coalition. We will see what conclusions the committee comes up with. We have agreed nothing in advance. As the Deputy Prime Minister told us about the approach to these discussions, nothing is agreed until it is all agreed. There will be no accretion of agreement as we move through the process. In particular, we on this side of the House were committed in our manifesto to put the issue of further reform of your Lordships House to the people of this country. To us, that commitment is real and it is important.
This House plays a vital part in the politics and constitution of our country. Whatever the temporary impact on the balance of this House caused by the forming of the coalition Government, this House plays a vital role as a revising Chamber as well as having a central function as a unique means of national debate. It is the principal mechanism within the legislative process by which the Government of the day are held to account and can be asked to reflect and reconsider. That role is necessary whatever political party is in power. It is no less necessary with a coalition Government in power. Indeed, we on this side of the House would argue that it is even more necessary in such circumstances. I take this opportunity entirely to refute the suggestion that the views of this House were not heard by the Government over the past 13 years. They were constantly heard around the Cabinet table.
This House plays a key part in our constitutional arrangements. It is one of the main checks and balances in our constitution and it is right that it should remain so. Our manifesto commitment to a referendum reflects that. It shows that we believe that, because of the importance of the role of your Lordships’ House in both our politics and our constitution, it is right that any fundamental change to this House should be put to the people of this country for their decision.
According to the agreement of the coalition Government, the parties opposite are committed to a referendum on voting reform, specifically on the introduction of the alternative vote system for the election of Members of the House of Commons. However, because of the fundamental instability at the heart of the coalition Government, the two parties opposite are not committed to campaigning for the same goal in any such referendum. That and other deep fissures in the coalition, although significant, are matters for another day. What is important today is that, if the issue of voting reform is significant enough to merit the country’s consideration in a referendum, so, too, is further fundamental reform of your Lordships’ House. I made that point at the first meeting of the Cabinet committee chaired by the Deputy Prime Minister and I shall continue to hold to it as the process of the committee moves on.
If, as we consider legislation, the party opposite presses for a referendum on the future of the House, will the noble Baroness take into account the recommendations of the Electoral Commission on compulsory voting, which applies in many other countries, so that that is one of the considerations that come before us?
My Lords, I could not at this juncture speak for my party on that issue, but personally I am a firm supporter of compulsory voting. However, that is my personal view.
On other occasions, my noble friend Lady Jay of Paddington, a distinguished former Leader of the House, has asked what the point is of the committee of which I am now a member. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, will raise a pertinent issue in his Question on 5 July and, with typical shrewdness and incisiveness, my noble friend Lord Richard has made the point that, if the committee is to consider fully the outstanding issues of Lords reform, it is unlikely to be able to produce a Bill by the end of the year.
Will the noble Baroness clarify whether, in her understanding, this will be a government draft Bill, or will it be agreed to by the Opposition as well? More particularly, is it not rather strange to say that we will have a draft Bill before we have taken the decision on whether we want a partially or wholly elected House? Surely that would be a complete waste of time. The vote on the main point of principle ought to take place first, not during consideration of a draft Bill that has been stitched up by the Front Benches.
My Lords, as I mentioned, this is a government committee on which the Government have invited members of the Opposition to sit. That does not mean to say that, at the conclusion of the committee’s work, the opposition party will fully sign up to it. The noble Lord makes a powerful case in relation to a referendum, but whenever the referendum takes place—
My point was not about a referendum; I was asking whether the cart is now being put before the horse—that is, should we not vote first on whether to have a wholly or partially elected House before debating the establishment of a committee which assumes that that is going to be the case?
Indeed it would, should that be necessary. Obviously, these are still very early days. This committee has met once, and we just have to wait to see what happens within the process. However, I assure my noble friend and other noble friends that I will keep them as fully informed as possible.
I return to the question of what the committee is for. Many noble Lords around the House have suggested that it will not be possible for such a committee to produce a Bill by the end of the year. However, I believe that there is a huge impetus on the part of the coalition Government and that, for three reasons, it will be possible for the committee to produce a Bill by the end of the year. The first reason is political impetus. On behalf of the coalition, the Deputy Prime Minister is making it clear that he wants and intends to maintain the political momentum implied by the formation of the coalition, including on Lords reform, and of course he has every right to do so.
The second reason is political preparation. Perhaps against all the odds, the cross-party group steered through to conclusion by my right honourable friend the Member for Blackburn got further and made more progress than might have been imagined. Therefore, the new committee is meeting against a background of a high degree of political consensus and of a considerable amount of work done.
The third reason is Bill preparation. The length of the history of further reform of your Lordships’ House means that a number of pieces of draft legislation have, from time to time, been prepared by the Government of the day. I suggest that there is much stuff in the Cabinet Office’s cupboards, so taking a Bill off the shelf, as it were, and adjusting it is far from impossible.
Therefore, to answer the question posed by various noble Lords, I think that it is possible to produce a Bill by the end of this year, but the crucial issue is the pre-legislative scrutiny which the Bill must then receive.
It is clear from what the Leader of the House has said that Lords reform will not be part of what the Deputy Prime Minister has talked about in quite grandiose terms—a new great reforming Act to rival the Great Reform Act of 1832.
I apologise for interrupting but exactly the same problem is raised by the intervention of my noble friend and the noble Baroness’s reply. We come again to the question of due process, which must be dealt with long before a Joint Committee is in place to scrutinise the Bill. At a very early stage, the due process of this committee is being challenged.
My Lords, I well understand the concern being expressed around the Chamber about due process, but quite frankly, as Leader of the Opposition, I am not responsible for that due process. This is a matter for the Government and noble Lords should continue to put their questions to them.
My noble friend appears to agree that the Government have made a crashing error of judgment in excluding the Cross-Bench Peers, who clearly have a legitimate interest in the outcome of the draft Bill. Will my noble friend therefore not adopt a grandmotherly attitude, listen to the Cross-Benchers herself and be prepared to put forward their view, as they are excluded from the committee?
My Lords, it would give me great pleasure to listen to the Cross-Benchers and to put forward their views in the committee. I must rapidly move on and come to a conclusion.
From everything that has been said, it is clear that this is going to be a separate Bill and not part of a great reforming Bill. However, can the Leader of the House confirm that its separation will not mean that it will be considered in isolation from issues such as voting systems? Would it really be sensible for the people of Scotland, for example, to be subjected to as many as four different voting systems, perhaps on one day?
In relation to pre-legislative scrutiny, can the Leader of the House state that a Joint Committee, which I welcome, will be given enough time to consider, in depth and in detail, all the complex issues involved in further substantial reform of the House? For example, can the Leader confirm that such a Joint Committee will fully take into account the stipulation of the last cross-party Joint Committee of both Houses, chaired by my noble friend Lord Cunningham of Felling, on the conventions of this House, that if substantial proposals on the reform of your Lordships' House are brought forward, then the issues considered by the Joint Committee will need to be examined again?
The powers and functions of this House are significant and merit careful consideration, which I hope they will be given. Can the Leader of the House also set out the coalition Government's attitude to the Bill covering a range of reforms of this House brought forward again by the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood? I welcome the Leader’s announcement about a small group to look at people leaving the House.
I shall detain the House no longer, other than to say that, in this next period, we on these Benches will be holding the Government to account, both inside the Cabinet committee and outside it, on four key points—that the major issues of further reform of your Lordships' House, including the conventions of its relationship with the other place, are properly considered; that the process of pre-legislative scrutiny is full, thorough and sufficient for the nature of the issues involved; that due regard is given to and provided for any necessary transitional arrangements—I am glad that the grandfathering idea is mentioned in the coalition agreement; and that the issue of further substantial Lords reform is a matter for a referendum of the whole country.
We on this side of your Lordships' House, together with the Liberal Democrats on the Benches opposite, have long been in favour of reform. If, in becoming a member of the coalition, the Conservative Party, and not just its leadership, is now also in favour of reform, we in the reform group genuinely welcome that. History and experience might suggest otherwise, but we shall see. As the noble Lord himself suggested, we know that change is inevitable. As ever, however, the questions are: what kind of change is intended? What will be the rate of change? How will the change be managed? And, crucially, what is the change for? As my noble friend Lord Rooker said, “What will it achieve?”. Will it make our Parliament, our politics, our constitution and our country better? Those are real and important issues, and throughout this process we shall seek answers to these extremely important questions.
My Lords, as has been said, constitutional Acts affecting this House include the Life Peerages Act 1958, the House of Lords Act 1999 and the Constitutional Reform Act 2005. That legislation has had a profound effect on the work and composition of the House of Lords—very much for the better, as almost all would agree.
More recently, a stringent Code of Conduct has been agreed and implemented, a commissioner for standards has been appointed and we are about to have a new and transparent financial support scheme. We have on the table a raft of small but important further reforms, such as those in the so-called Steel Bill which, if enacted, would address retirement, sanctions, the House of Lords Appointments Commission and hereditary by-elections.
The Leader of the House has referred to a group on retirement and is setting up a group to consider further the recommendations put forward by the noble Lords, Lord Filkin and Lord Butler, and by the noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, on strengthening Parliament. These would encompass greater pre- and post-legislative scrutiny of primary legislation; better legislative standards; public evidence hearings for government Bills; improving lines of accountability and transparency in all our work; and measures to make the planning and execution of business more efficient.
So reform is clearly taking place. The above measures are aimed at enabling this House to do better what it already does well. Why do we need an elected House to do what this House does well and for which it is widely respected? In other words, why fix what ain't broke? What would elections add to the process? How would elections strengthen the functions that this House undertakes? Those are genuine questions, and it is difficult to find answers.
Let us take the important question of democracy. This House, it is said, lacks legitimacy because it is undemocratic, and will continue to do so until it is fully elected. Let us consider how far elected representatives will be able to deliver the relatively impartial and independent scrutiny that this House specialises in. One of your Lordships said at a recent meeting that in order to do our job, Members must somehow manage to stay out of the pockets of Whips, but the proposed reforms would be precisely to deliver us into the hands of the Whips. Democracy, which I shall define for the moment as freedom to say no to the Government of the day, would surely be eroded—possibly in a short period.
Once again, the role and functions of this House are quite different from those in the other place. Certainly a fully elected House would in one sense be a strengthened House, in that it would have the same legitimacy as the other place. If this House is elected, it will inevitably behave like an elected Chamber. Is that what the Government want? Do they want to legislate for tension and possible stalemate between the two Chambers? What would then be the point of such a second Chamber?
Let me briefly say something about the proposed mechanisms for achieving reform, which have already been addressed in some detail. The Deputy Prime Minister courteously called me to tell me in advance about the announcement that he was about to make in the other place two weeks ago about the Cabinet drafting committee to be set up, for which I am extremely appreciative. However, I asked him why I, as representative of almost one-third of this House, was to be excluded. The answer, which I think is worth repeating verbatim, was “I want a clear and explicit political consensus which I would not get if you were on the committee”. I appreciate the frankness, but I wonder what consensus means or what kind of consensus is concerned with talking only to those who already agree with your plan. That is no way to rewrite fundamental parts of the constitution of this country.
There is an area of further contradiction and confusion. It concerns the seemingly endless march of new Peers into this House—all of them extremely worthy and welcome—when on all Benches we agree that a smaller House is not only desirable but imperative. That is coterminous with an almost deafening call for a fully elected House. Do the Government believe that such actions command public respect?
Your Lordships would expect me to express those views—being, for the moment, Convenor of the Cross-Bench Peers. It is, after all, an aspect of my task to extol the virtues of an independent element in this House, and I do so willingly, but the issue is so much wider. We are heading at dangerous speed towards a major constitutional change by relatively undemocratic procedures. Once done, it cannot be undone. We have before us a much needed programme of rolling, incremental reform. This House would be the better for many of those reforms but, as they show, we do not need an elected House to achieve them.
My Lords, in my speech on House of Lords reform in 2007, I said that the key issue in reform of your Lordships' House as a legislative revising Chamber has to do with revising the law that will maintain freedom and justice for the nation and for every individual within it. This is the basis of our concept of democracy, which is central to our nation's understanding of itself. Throughout this country's history, it has been a symbol of British freedom. As John Betjeman said:
“Think of what our Nation stands for,
Books from Boots' and country lanes,
Free speech, free passes, class distinction,
Democracy and proper drains”.
Winston Churchill said:
“Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time”.—[Official Report, Commons, 11/11/1947; cols. 206-07.]
It is now claimed by some that your Lordships' House, not being elected, is undemocratic. I believe that a wholly elected House may not serve the interests of freedom. Our 21st-century fashion for a particular form of democracy may, in the end, not give us freedom. Elections, freedom and justice are not necessarily coterminous. We all know of countries where elections were conducted but their Governments ended up being elected dictatorships.
How should we therefore, in our 21st century, understand democracy? The principal elements of democracy are power, accountability, transparency and representation. However, representation must not be the only important element. There are those who always overplay this element. The concept of democracy goes back to Greek classical thought. Democracy—demokratia—means government by the people, but Governments do not have a right to the unrestricted use of power. They exercise it only as trustees of the people. The role of your Lordships' House, I submit, is to ensure that this temptation to the abuse of power, by the use of statutes from the other place as a promissory note or a form of assurance, is kept in check, and to maintain a very clear commitment to the social values of justice and equity.
Secondly, democracy has to do with accountability; that is, people's ability to call to account those who exercise power. In these present days, accountability is key to the confidence people have in Her Majesty's Government. The question for us is: how best will your Lordships' House exercise the task of calling Her Majesty's Government to account to the people for their stewardship of the trust people have placed in them? I believe that a wholly elected House of Lords will not encourage the distance and independence needed to ensure proper accountability. They are far too close. The elections are coming next time round. Proper transparency is necessary.
Thirdly, there is representation. While there is a strong and historic imperative towards representation, we must remember that your Lordships’ House is not Her Majesty's Government, but a second Chamber that revises legislation in order to keep the statute common to all, especially to the gentleman on the Clapham omnibus. The issue of representation becomes skewed if we are trying to create a Chamber in which everything is like the House of Commons, but in name only. I believe your Lordships' House is at its best when it is not being whipped, but allows freedom of expression and revision of the legislation for the common good of the country, and not for any political advantage.
A truly democratic society will affirm and uphold the equality of all, both before the law and in the responsibility for the exercise of power. The key issue for us is: does your Lordships' House keep to this task? Would it perform the task better as an elected Chamber? The present operation of the House of Commons, with its Whips and guillotines, should give us no great confidence in this. Regulations are often placed with a bare minimum of revision. The Equality Bill was a good example. This House revised that legislation and tidied it up into a good Bill, and therefore a good Act, which I do not think they could have done down there.
The fundamental issue before us is to determine the true purpose of this Chamber and the best way of achieving it. If we set out the purpose, goals and objectives clearly, it will be possible to work out how people should get here. If we do it the other way round, we are simply in a game where the football is already flat. I maintain that in order to ensure the just use of the power entrusted to Her Majesty's Government, in order to ensure true and impartial accountability, and in order truly to represent the breadth and diversity of our fellow citizens, we need a House that has the potential to draw on the diversity of persons, with all their different backgrounds and experience, who we see before us in your Lordships' House. The noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, played a major role during the passage of the Equality Bill, as did the Leader of the Opposition and many other noble Lords. I am not sure whether they would like to stand, but I have not asked them.
It may be that the time has come to say to the other place: “Thus far, and no farther. You concentrate on your first task of ensuring that Her Majesty's Government are called to account, are transparent, truly represent the whole nation and do not abuse the power entrusted to them by the Crown and the people of this country”. The other place must make the main thing the main thing—calling the Government to account—and we revise the legislation. This House, your Lordships' House, will diligently revise the legislation and seek answers to questions. That will make Her Majesty's Government more accountable and transparent. That is our job, and I am uncertain whether a wholly elected House that looks very much like the House of Commons will do its job.
My Lords, it is a great privilege to follow the most reverend Primate in a debate of this importance, particularly because each of the three noble Lords who have spoken before me have taken us one step further towards clarifying the issues. The noble Baroness, Lady Royall, gave a clear insight into the fundamental importance of the central issue, which, put simply, is: is this House likely to improve if a substantial elected element is introduced to it? That is the great fundamental question and I have some sympathy with her proposal of a referendum on the consideration of that. The noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, reminded us that a number of transitional changes are featured in the Steel Bill, which, whatever happens, will need to be considered. As we have argued many times, they have and could have been considered already. That is the quality of the questions we are considering.
The first and fundamental question is whether there should be elected Members here. One of the problems is that we will not gain much from arguing about the procedure for resolving that; from arguing about the appropriateness of a draft Bill now, next week or next year; or from arguing about what committee should be designed to consider the problem and disentangle the difficulties so as to make it easy to go on with the next step. The difficulty is that every political organisation addressing this question is divided within itself. All the parties are divided. Both Houses of Parliament are divided, which causes gaps between the leadership, as well as between the sometimes slightly misleading term of the organisation. For example, we understood that this would be something for a third term of a Conservative Government, but somehow impatience has carried it in a different direction.
We want this caucus of Front-Bench representatives from the three parties to seek a way forward, and I can understand why. It then has to be commended to both Houses of Parliament. Both Houses have to address this fundamental question of elected Members and be persuaded in their judgment that it is a positive improvement for this legislative structure. Because that question concerns this House alone in the direct sense, it is very disagreeable to find any suggestion to the effect that the views of this House can be pushed to one side and that, above all, we do not require a clear majority persuaded in favour of this change in this House.
Therefore, where the evidence is on which the case for change is to be based becomes the important question.
Before the noble Lord speaks, I should say that it is not customary to give way in a speech of this kind. I fell into the habit on the Front Bench in the other House of yielding too often to interrogative bodies. I would like to have freedom from that on this occasion in this House.
I draw attention to the total lack of evidence that can justify a change of this kind on this scale. It is interesting to look at the speech made by the Deputy Prime Minister on 19 May in which he said that his second objective was to,
“reform to reduce the power of political elites and to drag Westminster into the 21st century, starting with the House of Lords”.
That is the proposition he advanced and it is the proposition which it is necessary to establish if this case is to get anywhere at all.
What will be the effect on the composition, style, quality and expertise of this House? It is that which is of crucial value and we need considered debate about it, as we have had frequently. The first quality is one that we hardly need to be reminded of: it is the sheer expertise of this House. Its difference and its quality are wholly distinct from that of the other place, and therefore it makes a very distinct contribution. Only in the past few weeks we witnessed a debate led by the noble Lord, Lord Patel, on genomic medicine. That is not a topic I even begin to understand anything about, but the House was privileged to have taking part in that debate not just the noble Lord himself, a profoundly authoritative expert on the subject, but four members of two royal societies, including the president the Royal Society of Edinburgh and two Fellows of the Royal Society, the president of the British Academy and chairman of the Nuffield Foundation, two Ministers, one a Minister of Health, and several other well qualified medical people, including the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, and above all, the noble Lord, Lord Winston. That is the kind of quality that to a large extent would be impaired and destroyed if we were to accept the concept of a wholly elected House.
I take your Lordships’ minds back to the debate four days after 9/11, on the Friday when we debated what would happen in Iraq and when, sadly enough, our views did not prevail so as to prevent that disaster. The people who took part in that debate included three former Chiefs of the Defence Staff, three former Foreign Secretaries who had played a role in that part of the world, two former Home Secretaries, two former ambassadors, two former Defence Secretaries and many others with service experience. The House has its character because of the accepted presence of a substantial number which makes up the quality that it is necessary to preserve. That is only one thing which would be damaged if we were to accept a substantial elected element here. Grave damage would be done to the quality, diversity and expertise of this place.
Secondly, I turn to the argument about legitimacy, about which we have heard mention already. It is a strange argument that is inconclusive in its impact because an apparent consequence of legitimising us by making us elected would be to provoke much more savage and regular conflicts between the two Houses. There is no doubt that if we were to feel as extravagantly self-important on the issues of this kind as the other place sometimes does, conflict would be repetitive. Nothing would be gained by sharing legitimacy in that way.
Another consequence would be the change in cost if this House were to represent people who had been elected with access to the same level of privileges, facilities and services as exist in the other place. I make no complaint about that, but where is there any evidence to suggest that elected Members here would effect an improvement in the quality of our performance? It is a question that I have asked many times. Curiously, we find that Parliament’s shortcoming is most frequently attributed to shortcomings in the other place. I have quoted previously the fifth report, HC 494-I, of the so-called Wright committee, published in 2002, much to the credit of that Member of the other place. The committee addressed the question of what effect legitimacy would have and said,
“the principal cause of today’s ‘widespread public disillusionment with our political system’ is the ‘virtually untrammelled control … by the Executive’ of the elected House”.
It is the fact that the other place is effectively dominated, commanded and controlled by the Executive, which now even chooses candidates for selection at constituency level and so on. That is the cause of the disillusionment with our political system. The Wright committee went on to reach two conclusions. It emphasised,
“the need ‘to ensure that the dominance of Parliament by the Executive, including the political Party machines, is reduced and not increased’”.
How would that dominance be reduced and not increased if we were to have elected Members here? Who would select those Members but the parliamentary Executive? Who would finance their campaigns? The parliamentary Executive.
For those reasons, the Wright committee reached the other conclusion that the Second Chamber—that is us—must be,
“neither rival nor replica, but genuinely complementary to the Commons”,
and, therefore, “as different as possible”. That would hardly be fulfilled if we were to now set about introducing elected Members to this House. That is the central question.
Interestingly, I started by quoting the Deputy Prime Minister as wanting to start the reform by making fundamental change here, bringing us into the 21st century. This week I came across an article in the Parliamentary Brief paper for June/July—the latest one—in which there is an article by the new Leader of the House of Commons, Sir George Young, someone for whom I have great respect. I have half a minute left and I dedicate it to Sir George Young. Under the heading, “The House rules, OK”, he starts with this paragraph:
“For years, the real scandal in British politics has been the impotence of the House of Commons. The terms of the trade between government and parliament have shifted too far in the executive’s favour. Over recent decades, it has simply become too easy for the government to sideline parliament; to push Bills through without adequate scrutiny; and to see the House more as a rubber-stamp than a proper check on executive authority”.
If that is the real scandal in British politics today, where, in heaven’s name, is there any sense in introducing and extending the role of the political Executive into this House with disastrous consequences?
My Lords, there is a strong sense of déjà vu about this debate. We go round and round and round again; it is not a magic roundabout, it is an eternal roundabout. I have heard nothing today which I have not heard in the past 10 years and I do not expect during the whole course of this debate to hear anything new said about this issue.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, has been persistent and consistent in his views: he does not like the thought of an elected Chamber and has passionately advocated the status quo. For my part—I do not think anyone in this House would doubt it—I have persistently advocated precisely the opposite. As he has asked the question, I shall try to answer it. It is a fair question. The debates in this House are of extreme quality—no doubt about it. The people who take part in those debates are of extreme quality—no doubt about it. We deliberate, come to a conclusion—and nothing happens. The fact of the matter is that no one is listening to us. Why are they not listening to the House of Lords? They are not listening to the House of Lords for one very simple reason—we are capable of being ignored.
When I was in the House of Commons, as any other Member here who was in the House of Commons will know, the last thing we ever did was consider what was going on in the second Chamber. Why did we not consider what was going on in the second Chamber important? Because it did not represent anything. It was a group of people, some of whom are extraordinarily distinguished, I do not deny that, but—
Perhaps I may finish the sentence. But we are not a debating Chamber. This is a legislative Chamber; a part of Parliament. It is not here for us to have good debates and to produce good reports, which people do not thereafter read. The noble Lord wants to enjoin me.
If he wishes, the noble Lord can take the view that that is a massive justification for a non-elected legislative Chamber; I am bound to say that I do not. I have a simple view on this, and I have persisted in it for many years now: if you are a legislator, you should be elected by the people who are going to be affected by your legislation. It is a simple proposition.
I am pleased that the Government, with the extraordinary coalition that they now have, seem to have come to the conclusion that a mainly elected second Chamber is desirable. I share that. What we need in our constitution is a predominantly but not exclusively elected second Chamber. I am fortified in that, because that is almost the wording that John Smith used to describe what Labour Party policy was supposed to be when he was leader of the party, and that is going back a very long time. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, is now in exactly the same position on this issue as he was in 1997 and 1998. His position has not moved on, but it has to.
I support the idea that there needs to be legislation, but I have one or two reservations. The first concerns the powers of this Joint Committee. For the life of me, I do not see how it is going to produce a Bill. I do not see how you could conceivably instruct parliamentary draftsmen when there may be opposition on that committee. If we get a piece of paper in our hands that says, “This is the Bill”, I shall be extraordinarily surprised.
I shall make just two further points, because I am anxious to sit down within my seven minutes. It is easy to see the ends that one wants. Very often we get to this stage of the negotiations: you agree what you want to achieve, but how on earth do you get there? We had this the other day on the Barnett formula—everyone on the committee agreed that it ought to be reformed and what we ought to see, but how on earth did we move from were we were now to where we wanted to be?
I emphasise that the transition provisions will be crucial to this enterprise. I follow the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, on that. Many of the people in this House are life Peers who came here on the basis that they were here for life. Maybe they will not be—I do not know—but it was a legitimate aspiration on their part, given the way that they were approached and introduced. Personally, I had a fond notion that I would be staggering into the House on my Zimmer frame at the age of 85, and I sincerely hope that that will still be the position. I do not know how the grandfather concept is going to work, but I look forward with great interest to hearing about it. The transition is very important.
The second thing that is important is the system by which Members will be elected to the House. I am sure that this will shock the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, and many other Members of this House, but I am totally heretical about this: it should be an election on the basis of constituencies, rather like the present European constituencies, and it should be done by PR. Elections to this House should be fixed and they should not be coterminous with elections down the other end.
In terms of the health of British democracy, the situation in which this House can provide a better check upon the Executive because of the way in which it has been elected, and because of the composition of this House compared with the composition of the other House, is a greater check on the power of the Executive than the glorious speeches that we make in this Chamber and the glorious debates that we have. If you want to check the Executive you have to have power, and in order to have power you have to earn it—it has to come from an election. It has to have a legitimacy that arises from the people.
I hope that this venture moves, although perhaps not too quickly, towards fruition. I will give it my support. I hope that at the end of the day this House will be more efficient and effective, it will be heard more and it will be more democratic and more justified.
My Lords, I have been involved in several attempts to move the House of Lords towards a 21st-century institution of our democracy. I do not agree with those who say that nothing has happened. The outcome of the discussions between the Labour Party and Liberal Democrats that were led by Robin Cook and me was that measures for the reform of this House were introduced. That there was a compromise as a result of the clever negotiation between Lord Cranborne—now the noble Marquis, Lord Salisbury—and Tony Blair about the hereditary Peers certainly stalled the process of reform. However, that was not the end of the story, because in 2005 we had a significant Bill, which, as I mentioned in an earlier intervention, removed the Law Lords from this place. That followed the wise advice of the then senior Law Lord, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bingham, who took the view that those who made the law should not sit in judgment on their own laws. We were moving. The previous Government produced a White Paper that indicated further moves.
The noble Lord, Lord Richard, exaggerates when he says that no one listens to the work that is done by this House. The actuality is that, during the past five years, some 40 per cent of the amendments passed by it, against the advice of the Government at the time, have been accepted without cavil. That may not have captured the headlines in the broadsheets; it may not have been reported more widely than in “Yesterday in Parliament” en route; but we have made a big impact on legislation and have stepped in very often when the Commons was not ready to make a move because it was very largely in the hands of the Executive.
In considering today the case for the reform of the House of Lords, what should be up front is not the process, which seems to have dominated the debate to some extent, but what the objective is and where we will see an improvement in our system of governance. For that, I agree that it would be sensible to look at this House’s transition to a modern elected House, because most of us have some direct interest in the House as it is structured. However, let us also consider where we should end up.
The weakness of our parliamentary democracy is not its bicameralism; it is the fact that its principal House—there have been references to retaining its primacy in every debate that we have had—is very largely the creature of the Executive if they enjoy a substantial majority. That does not help to improve the quality of governance, which is why this House, reformed, should have a major role. There is certainly a case for considering how that could be more effectively discharged; for example, I cannot really see that we need to circumscribe the Prime Minister’s choice of Ministers by saying that they have to be either drawn from the Commons or appointed to the Lords. That gives the second Chamber a heavier bent towards the Executive than it would have if it were empowered to draw in to answer its questions all those who were responsible for Acts of government. I hope that the second Chamber, as reformed, will not contain Ministers of the Crown, but that Ministers of the Crown will be required to attend when it has a Bill for which they are responsible or to answer questions when they are departmentally responsible.
I am glad that nobody in this debate or in any other debate that I can recall has seriously suggested that we could do without a second Chamber. Reform, not abolition, is under discussion. However, the discussion also ought to take into account as a goal, and as part of the case for reform, the fact that the Commons is grossly overloaded. It has to be said, taking that consideration into account, that it is somewhat odd to be looking for a substantial reduction in the number of Members. Does this not point to a sensible delimitation of functions between the two reformed Houses? Would it not make sense to have some second-guessing, which allows opportunities for reconsideration?
Also, as we give the other place priority over money Bills and exclude this House from their consideration, should we not give the reformed upper House priority over considering the country’s international obligations such as the treaty-making process and perhaps European Union oversight? That is a growing weight of responsibility for Parliament as a whole, and if we are all second-guessing each other all the time we are diminishing the amount of time available for the vast global responsibilities in which we wish to play some part.
This House has 137 Members at the last count engaged in its subject committees, which one might regard as a very active part of its membership. That sort of number might be a target for the size of the reformed second House. It is certainly clear that we need to have a committed House in which Members are prepared to work their socks off. Many do, and that is what has allowed this House to survive as long as it has in its present form.
I put it to the House, not as a postscript but as a central proposition, that we have such expertise, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, said, that we do not wish to see it lost entirely to the governance of this country. That should not be included in a reformed, elected House—
My time is almost up. That should not be included in this House directly, but it might be incorporated in a separate institution such as a council of state, which would not have the power to block the Government or reform legislation but would have the power to make amendments and draw in evidence from outside as well as informing the proceedings of both Houses of Parliament. With the complexity of government that we have today, that expertise should not be abandoned to our processes.
My Lords, I shall make four very brief points. First, in response to the Prime Minister’s invitation to everyone, including parliamentarians, to suggest ways in which to cut the deficit, I have pointed out that in my opinion it is sheer folly, in what the Leader of the House referred to only yesterday as the present economic climate, to aim to legislate for an all or substantially elected House of Lords, which on any calculation is bound to cost the nation at least three times as much as the existing appointed House.
Secondly, I find it extraordinary, given the strength of feeling expressed in today’s debate and on many previous occasions, that there is no representation of Cross Benchers, let alone Back Benchers, on the Deputy Prime Minister’s committee. Unless the Government are prepared to change their mind on this, I hope that the Leader of the House, or the noble Lord, Lord McNally, when he comes to close the debate—and the Leader has already told us that he is here to listen—will assure us that he will personally accept the responsibility of conveying our views to his noble and right honourable colleagues and, in particular, to the Deputy Prime Minister.
Thirdly, I strongly support the Motion proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, which seems in no way to pre-empt whatever wider legislation the Government decide to propose at a later date for an all-elected House. Finally, a lot has been made today of our lack of democratic authority or legitimacy because we are not elected. Perhaps the Government could tell us what they propose to do about the Supreme Court.
My Lords, having been a Member of your Lordships’ House for an inordinate length of time, I have often had it said to me that I must have seen a lot of changes in the House over the years. I always give the same reply, that what amazes me is not how much the House has changed, but how much it has remained the same.
It has survived the advent of the life Peers. It has survived eight Labour Governments, each bent on its destruction. It has survived Select Committees, Joint Select Committees and Royal Commissions, all hoping to improve it. It has even survived the culling of 90 per cent of the hereditary Peers, carried out though it was by the Administration of that time in an unnecessarily callous way. And the House still retains the quiet and unassuming sense of purpose with which it carries out its duties that I first found here 60 years ago. But I must tell your Lordships that I have the gravest of doubts if it will survive being turned into a wholly, or even a predominantly elected House.
One of the principal virtues that your Lordships’ House has retained is the fact that if you win the argument, more often than not, you will win the vote—which is invaluable in a reforming Chamber, frowned on though it would undoubtedly be in another place.
When the animal lobby and the whole Green movement first came to the fore in the 1980s, I discovered that there had not been a vet—veterinary surgeon—sitting in either House of Parliament in the whole of that or the previous century. And I was able to send an urgent message down the Corridor to my right honourable friend the patronage secretary, seeking to remedy this omission. That is how and why we have had the advantage of advice on such matters as these from my noble friend Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior to this day.
There is a small but select number of what I would call key Peers who are generally acknowledged, irrespective of party, to be experts in their own particular subjects and who, when that subject comes up, are immensely useful, to their own side, certainly, but beyond that to the House as a whole. Each of your Lordships would be able to draw up your own such list. I do not want to embarrass them, but my list would certainly include my noble friend Lord Plumb on agriculture, the noble Lords, Lord Bragg and Lord Puttnam, on the arts, and, more recently, the noble Lord, Lord Sugar, on business know-how.
Beyond that again, each of the parties has provided themselves on their Back Benches with their own experts on such diverse subjects as the law, defence, economics, employment, foreign affairs, the Commonwealth, crime, health, sport and the machinery of politics itself. The right reverend Prelates bring with them an extraordinary knowledge of the individual characteristics and needs of every parish in England. And the contribution of Cross-Bench Peers to all of this speaks for itself.
We would indeed be lucky if any conceivable form of election were able to throw up a tenth of the combined skills and experience that are present in your Lordships’ House today.
I would like to end with a story that I have told your Lordships on two similar occasions, both of them a long time ago. It is the story of Sir Isaac Newton’s mathematical bridge at Cambridge. The story is probably apocryphal but, as Sir Winston Churchill once wrote about another legend, “If it isn’t true it ought to be”. Newton, so the fable goes, designed a wooden bridge over the River Cam with such ingenuity and mathematical precision that its component pieces of wood, once they had been laid in place, held together without the aid of nails, bolts or any other form of fastening. This confounded all the greatest brains in the Cambridge of the day. They could think of no good reason why a bridge constructed in this way should work. They could think of a number of very good reasons why a bridge constructed in this way should not work. But the one thing that was abundantly clear for everyone to see was that the bridge did work and carried out admirably the purpose for which it was intended.
Such was Newton’s prestige in the Cambridge of the day that, while he lived, no one dared to tamper with his bridge; but as soon as the old man died, their curiosity got the better of them and his contemporaries could resist it no longer. They took the bridge to pieces to find out how it worked. From this piece of vandalism they learnt only two things. The first was that by taking the bridge to pieces, they could get no further forward in discovering how and why it had worked; and the second was that, having taken the bridge to pieces, they could not put it together again.
My Lords, follow that. When the Leader of the House spoke to us before multiple interruptions, he set out several points. He said that public confidence in Parliament had been damaged over recent years, and that the task of holding the Executive to account by this Chamber, while often done well, could have been done better. I agree with him. The point I wish to make in this short intervention is that addressing the composition of the House may make some contribution to those points but, by itself, will not rectify them. We need, within the terms of reference of the reform of the House of Lords, to consider how well we do our role, as well as who is doing that role. Over the past 15 years, we have given excessive attention to composition and insufficient attention to how we fulfil a role around which there is a broad consensus.
The noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, acknowledged that there had been many ideas for improvement of how the House functions. She had the kindness to refer to three recent contributions to that debate from the reports of the cross-party working groups led by the noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, the noble Lord, Lord Butler, and me. We would say no more than that these are stimuli to a wider debate, rather than seeking to set out a rigid template for change. Nevertheless, some of those ideas—and others on the same theme of how we improve how this House works—require debate. The process of changing the composition could well take 10 or 15 years. We must not neglect the importance of addressing our processes, procedures, systems and standards.
I will briefly touch on three or four points in those reports, which are no more than a taster. On legislation, perhaps the central recommendation was that there should be a process whereby this House tests whether legislation is fit and ready for introduction to Parliament. That is basically a technical function; it would do for primary legislation on a slightly bigger scale what is already done for secondary legislation by the Merits Committee. It would ensure that legislation had been thought through; it was clear what it sought to do; it had been properly consulted on; and there was a clear explanation of what it was for and how it would achieve its policy objectives.
Next, we recommended that there should be a public evidence process as part of any Lords starter. I am delighted that we need to say no more on that; it is already the coalition Government’s policy, as set out in their manifesto. Amen to that. Finally, because we thought it made sense, we said that the use of Grand Committee should become the default rather than the exception. I am sure that ought also to cheer the heart of the government Chief Whip. We also said that there ought to be more post-legislative scrutiny and we should get on with doing it. There is no threat to the Government of the day in any of those proposals. They ought to ensure that government legislation is better prepared by officials and goes through with more understanding of what it is for, rather than wasting time trying to unpack what it is for, which is often what we do.
On procedures, I will say nothing more because the noble Lord, Lord Butler, may wish to speak on those. However, we made a range of recommendations about Statements, Oral Questions, the topicality of debates and sitting times—the micro-issues, which are very important in making sure that the House operates efficiently.
In the report on governance, we argued that there is a need for a debate about the governance of this House. Some believe that governance is self-evidently good and sound. Others find it opaque and do not understand it. Irrespective of who is right on that, it is important that any self-governing institution is particularly careful to review periodically its governance and standards so that it can command public confidence that it has good governance, and that how it has good governance is transparent. We ought to be particularly mindful of that. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, when we discussed these issues with him, had the grace—as one would expect—to recognise that perhaps every 10 years or so, a body such as ours ought to review how we work in these respects.
We were pleased to have the opportunity to discuss these issues with the noble Lords, Lord Strathclyde and Lord McNally, as Leader and Deputy Leader. We were cordially received—I would expect no less from the Leader of the House—and had a good discussion. He agreed—I hope that he will correct me if I am wrong—that it would be desirable to have a debate on these and other issues before too long. I got the sense—I hope that I am not taking it too far—that he was minded to establish a Leaders’ Group after proper consultations. He has made a similar remark in other places. We told him that we see the benefit in such a process having wide terms of reference, being set up early rather than later—before the Summer Recess—getting on with it, and therefore reporting before the Christmas Recess, all of which we thought was perfectly possible without going at it too pell-mell. Therefore, when he responds, will the Deputy Leader say whether he agrees that we should make progress in these ways and when such a debate and such a process might start? I will say no more. I thank both the Leader and the Deputy Leader for the way they received our comments. I think that the House would generally welcome a process to look at these other issues in parallel with the debate on composition. There is more to life than composition.
My Lords, I would certainly support the Motion standing in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood. A final solution to the question of Lords reform has been dangled tantalisingly before us, arguably, for the past 100 years. The pace may have quickened in recent years but the outlook is still quite uncertain. In the mean time, certain specific reforms are needed to remedy some obvious weaknesses in the constitution of your Lordships' House. These could be introduced without in any way prejudicing the case for more radical reform, if that was thought desirable. The noble Lord has given us the opportunity to make these changes on a number of occasions over the past three years, but we have consistently allowed the uncertain prospect of more fundamental reform to stand in the way of necessary but more limited reform. I do not think that we should do this any longer.
To take just the most obvious case, everybody agrees that the need to reduce the size of the House is now pressing. The adoption of a scheme to enable Members of the House to retire would potentially open the way to a reduction in the size of the House. We fluffed the opportunity to salvage even this most uncontentious provision from the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill in the wash-up at the end of the previous Parliament. In the mean time, the House just gets larger and larger. I do not think that we should fluff this any longer.
On the question of more fundamental reform, I was not long in this place before it was obvious to me that it is rather well constituted for carrying out its principal role as a revising Chamber. The qualification for this is expertise and experience rather than the more nebulous quality of representativeness. These are things that can probably be better secured by appointment than election; it is more like choosing someone for a job than electing them to represent you. The bases of legitimacy are not better or worse, just different. In any case, if it is democratic legitimacy you are after, it is not clear that this place is conspicuously inferior to the other. Again, it is just different. The Members of this House may not be democratically elected, but in the way that we operate, with the writ of the Whips being much less irresistible and predictable here than it is at the other end of the building, I would argue that the point of view of civil society gets a much fuller airing and receives a much better hearing here than it does in the other place. Subject to the changes about which the noble Lord, Lord Steel, is talking, I would be relatively content for the method of recruitment to this House to remain broadly as it is. By common consent the House has never worked better. The case for election may be superficially attractive, but it remains essentially superficial. Where is the added value in a pale imitation of the House of Commons composed of people who could not get into the House of Commons?
The arguments for election versus appointment will no doubt be canvassed back and forth as the day goes on—indeed, that process has already begun. We will hear about election changing the balance of power between the two Houses and the need to tear up the conventions, or the confusion caused by two sets of elected representatives roaming around each others’ constituencies. However, like the noble Lord, Lord Richard, who spoke earlier, I do not suppose that anyone’s mind will be changed. We will just argue ourselves to a standstill.
Instead, I might suggest that we try to find a way through which gives something to each of the rival points of view. If we are to have an elected House—as I said, I am by no means persuaded that this is the right way to go—I would submit that we need a better system, and one better calculated to preserve the House’s USP of expertise than one based on geographical constituencies such as is used for electing the other House. A system could be developed based on constituencies of expertise, mirroring the different walks of civil society—the law, medicine, the arts, sport, education, the Armed Forces, business, trade unions, the voluntary sector and so on. By departing from the geographical constituencies used for elections to the other place, this would bring something distinctive and provide the necessary added value. It would retain the necessary basis in expertise which those who favour appointment seek to preserve, and which is the essential hallmark of this place, but would at the same time concede something to those who favour election.
It may not be easy to devise a system which achieves universal suffrage. I would favour a system based on electoral colleges representing the different branches of civil society. It is not possible to get into the detail today, but I hope that it will be possible to submit more detailed proposals to the committee we have heard about this afternoon which is going to come up with a draft Bill by Christmas. I and others have made proposals along these lines before, but they have typically been given rather short shrift. The Wakeham commission was initially attracted, but—if I may be forgiven for saying so—its approach ended up by being one that seemed more inclined to find a difficulty for every solution. It cannot be beyond the wit of man to find a solution for at least some of the difficulties.
For instance, the House of Lords Library has a classification of existing Peers in 19 categories. We could do worse than take that as a starting point for determining the constituencies of expertise. At all events, I hope that the coalition may be willing to give these ideas more of a hearing than its predecessors, and see them as a potential solution for many of the difficulties. For it seems to me that only by means such as these will it be possible to break the deadlock in a way which stands any chance of building anything like a consensus.
My Lords, I know that brevity and clarity are at a premium in a debate of this length. I therefore ask your Lordships’ indulgence if I take this opportunity to remind you of the consistent position of this Bench and of the Church of England in the matter of Lords reform and to reiterate the principal points made both to the Wakeham commission in 1999 and more recently in response to the 2008 White Paper.
We have, along with others, consistently raised the question about the purpose of a second Chamber. In the Church of England’s submission to the Wakeham commission we expressed the point in this way:
“In a number of senses”,
the second Chamber’s role,
“is to provide a different yet complementary system of representation to that provided by the House of Commons. It should not seek to challenge that House's democratic primacy but it must not be a mere cipher. It should have powers to amend legislation, to require reconsideration and should play its part in the duty of Parliament to hold the executive effectively to account”.
The distinction of roles implied by the historic functions of your Lordships' House suggests that a second Chamber requires a different mix of skills in comparison to the other place and, crucially, a source of legitimacy which does not pit the second Chamber against the first in a potential stalemate. It is clear that our focus must therefore be on the role of a second Chamber in holding the Executive to account.
The party-political system has contributed a great deal to the functioning of our democracy, but where it needs augmentation from a non-partisan element is in enabling Parliament to maintain the necessary checks and balances that good governance requires. Elected Members in the other place sit on behalf of all their constituents, not just those who voted for their party, and the Executive legislate on behalf of all. A politician will, no doubt, believe with a passion that his or her party’s programme is the best hope for the common good, but understandable single-mindedness must always be moderated by the perspective of others, especially those who, because of expertise or experience, have reason to know the detail of how legislation impacts on people’s lives. Furthermore, a move to a fully elected House would come at a time when the greatest issues that we face, such as climate change, competition for scarce resources and reform of our financial systems, cannot all be fixed within the short-term time horizons of the electoral cycle.
My colleagues on this Bench and I question, as others have, the composition of the committee set up by the Deputy Prime Minister to take a first look at reforming the constitution. We would have expected such a committee to include representatives of all the stakeholders in the present arrangements. In replying to this debate, will the noble Lord, Lord McNally, at least acknowledge that, by setting up a committee entirely composed of members of the three main political parties, the Deputy Prime Minister runs the risk of appearing to foreclose the question about the role of non-party members in any future second Chamber?
At a time like this, your Lordships would expect me to raise the wider question of the place of religion and bishops in our national life and hence in our constitutional structures. The experience of the last decade or so has made one thing very clear. The theories of secularisation, with which most of us have been familiar for a long time, are no longer an accurate picture of how the world works. Contrary to expectations, increasing material prosperity, scientific advance and global mobility have not led to the death of religion or even to its relative eclipse. That may be a matter of celebration or dismay to some of your Lordships, but it remains true that the persistence of religion has to be accounted for and, since it will not go away, its ongoing place in society must be taken into account. It would be at the very least a shame if major constitutional reform, potentially the most significant for nearly 200 years and designed to last for perhaps several hundreds more, were grounded on a 20th-century theory of secularisation that has been fairly comprehensively discredited and no longer describes the world as it has turned out to be.
Of course I do not believe that Christians, let alone Anglicans, should be the only Members of a second Chamber who stand for and speak for their religious principles. Nevertheless, the established place of the Church of England is deeply woven into the constitution and unpicking it at any one point will have numerous consequences in other areas of our national life. Successive Governments, including the last, have asserted that they intend to do nothing to diminish the church’s established role and I hope that we can look to the new coalition publicly to continue that commitment. Embeddedness in the nation’s life and history should surely count for something. Of course, bishops of the Church of England claim absolutely no monopoly of those qualities among the religious communities of the land.
My case is this. I ask what a second Chamber is for and I remain convinced by the answer that it must be primarily a revising Chamber that does not seek to usurp the prerogatives of the other place. That in turn requires some distance from, or leavening of, the party system by independent Members chosen for a different set of virtues. Those virtues should include experience, expertise and wisdom gained in vocations to service outside these walls, and should be brought to the service of Parliament to serve the good of all. Some of these Members should represent the religious character of our country and the religious motivation that enhances citizenship for so many of our people.
My Lords, it is both a pleasure and a privilege to follow the right reverend Prelate. I am sure that he knows that I do not underestimate the important role played by the Bishops’ Bench in this House. However, this afternoon I will raise another matter of great importance that we are in danger of overlooking. It shows clearly that we cannot duck the question of what should be the powers of a reformed House by saying that it can be left as a marginal matter.
I remind your Lordships that our constitution has been rickety since 1949, when the Government of the day, rightly or wrongly, upset the quasi-settlement of 1911 and used the Parliament Act to drive through a reduction in the delaying powers of the Lords without the consent of this House. It is arguable that with that precedent a Government could further reduce our delaying power; indeed, could so reduce it as to make it virtually valueless and render this Chamber incapable of fulfilling its most important role as the ultimate guarantor of the rights and liberties of the subject. Therefore, what is required is not a second Chamber that is an ever more efficient part of the legislative sausage machine, and not a second Chamber that does no more than—to use the jargon—add value to the legislative process by amending bills that have not been properly considered in the Commons, and by scrutinising EU legislation. We need a second Chamber that can block legislation for a meaningful period and stop a Government using their temporary majority to drive through irreversible change before the country has had time to grasp and digest its true consequences. That was precisely what the settlement in 1911 was about. We need a second Chamber that can stop a Government using their temporary majority to extend their own life, which is another thing that the 1911 settlement was all about.
That is what the country needs but, the way we are going, it is very unlikely to get it. This House with its present powers is, as I have shown, a very frail barrier against arbitrary government, and it is absolutely clear that, because it lacks democratic legitimacy, it will never get additional powers. However, if we do not look out, an elected House will also be denied meaningful powers in the name of preserving the primacy of the Commons. My noble friend the Leader of the House said as much when he hinted that there was no chance of any increase in the powers of the second Chamber.
After all the inglorious constitutional meddling of recent years, it would be surprising if many people did not feel now that the best course is to leave well alone. If an elected House comes into existence, we do not know how the relationship between the two Houses would work, and how the inevitable tension between them would be resolved. So why, many say, take a leap into the unknown?
I am afraid that the answer to that is very plain: the transition to an elected House is, in my view, well nigh inevitable. Lords reform is not, just now, a burning issue in the Dog and Duck, but when measures are taken to cut the number of MPs, surely it will be almost impossible to argue that people should be required to support an unelected House growing ever bigger and costing ever more, for I have seen no evidence to suggest that if a proposal were brought forward to encourage noble Lords to retire, there would be a great rush of people to the door. I do not believe for one moment that that would happen.
Therefore, I think that our job is to see that by the method of election to the new House, by a limit on the period for which anyone can serve and by other devices we create a House far more independent of the Executive and therefore a better check on the Executive than the Commons has proved to be in recent years. Of course, we must see that the new House has meaningful powers and at the very least—this has not been mentioned yet today—the power to veto a Bill that seeks to further amend the Parliament Act.
I have not much doubt that a change to an elected House will cause much trouble and strife, with the new House using its democratic legitimacy to challenge the primacy of the Commons. However, there is perhaps some reason to hope that out of it all will come in time what is really needed: a new constitutional settlement with a written constitution granting the second Chamber specific powers different from those of the Commons—powers such as were mentioned very briefly by the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, a few moments ago—and with it becoming something akin to the American Senate. That, indeed, would be a happy outcome.
My Lords, I begin by thanking the noble Lord the Leader of the House for introducing this debate. I have to confess that I am somewhat irritated by the fact that we are invited to take note of the case for reform of the House of Lords, as though that were on the coalition’s agenda. It is not. What is on the agenda is the abolition of the House and its replacement with something entirely different. That is quite an innovation but, as Edmund Burke taught us, innovation is not reform.
Of course there is a case for introducing reforms, particularly those that would reduce the size of the House, improve its structures and procedures, and set in place a statutory appointments commission. We have been discussing such reforms for some time now, many of them in the context of the House of Lords Reform Bill, for which there was wide support, and it is on those that the Government should now be focusing.
However, we have got nowhere because the posture of the previous Government, and now, alas, of this Government, has been founded on what I would call a grand illusion. That illusion is that you can invest this House with the legitimacy that we are told it lacks with reforms that do not upset the balance of power between the two Houses. My Lords, you cannot. This Government and the previous Government are and were hell-bent on creating a wholly or predominantly elected Senate whose powers would be neither more nor less than those enjoyed by the House of Lords today. They may succeed in drafting a Bill with that as their objective but they know that in practice it will be shown to fly in the face of all logic. Alas, they seem to be ideologically blinded to reality.
The abolitionists speak airily of “transition” to an elected Chamber, as though it will involve little of more consequence than a rechoreographing of the State Opening and a rewriting of the Companion to the Standing Orders. However, in effect, they will be provoking a constitutional upheaval of colossal import. To paint it as otherwise is, to put it politely, disingenuous and, less politely, pitifully naïve.
What would this hugely costly new creation be asked to do? If it is asked to do what the existing House does, but better and more democratically— whatever that means—I cannot believe that it will succeed. It will fail because it will become, in the splendid description offered by Simon Jenkins in the Guardian,
“a wrinkled second division replica of the Commons”.
What room will that give for the application of expertise and independence of thought, which are the hallmarks of the work of this House? One has to ask: in exchange for giving up most, if not all, of our capacity to scrutinise, advise and propose revisions to legislation to the high standards that we attain here, what on earth will we get in return, all in the name of greater legitimacy?
Those who claim that only a fully elected or predominantly elected upper Chamber will have the legitimacy to do what we do, fail to appreciate, or wilfully ignore the fact, that our true legitimacy lies in what this House achieves. I voted happily for the 1999 Lords reform Bill and I remain convinced that the House has since demonstrated that it can and does play a fundamentally important constitutional role. How? In simplest terms, the House of Lords seeks to meet the electorate’s requirement that the legislation promised by the party that wins office is fashioned to the highest possible standard, consistent with the will of the elected House, whose primacy we unquestionably acknowledge. With few powers to exercise, and rightly so, we Members of the Lords participate in the legislative process by drawing on our experience and applying our expertise to help to ensure that Parliament delivers to the people what it has the right to expect: high quality, implementable Acts of Parliament.
It has yet to be proven to me that the fact that we are an appointed House disqualifies us from performing that crucial democratic function. I am yet to be persuaded—I am confident I never will be—that an elected Senate, riven by party political interests and divisions and locked in a permanent power struggle with the other House, will perform that service to the people better, if at all.
My final point is that we all know the broad outlines of what will emerge from this exclusive, closed drafting committee. That is pre-ordained. In the mean time, Cross-Benchers and Back-Benchers must satisfy themselves by writing letters to it, presumably enclosing a stamped addressed envelope. After today, we shall have to wait for the pre-legislative scrutiny stage before we outsiders can make any real impact. Believe me, those of us who do not share the abolitionist ambitions of the coalition Government and of those likeminded on other Benches, including my own, will, I trust, continue to make their case forcefully, but not just within the confines of Parliament. The people must be made fully aware of what is being proposed in their name.
Properly informed, I believe that they would recognise that their right to high-standard law-making would be put at risk by an ideology-driven move to create an elected Senate, no matter what the unintended consequences. Is this what the people want? The Government may claim that they already have the mandate to reform this House because it was in each party's manifesto, but do the people know what the full constitutional consequence of that is for the structure of Parliament and the balance of power between the two Houses? Of course they do not. It has not been explained to them, and it should be. Then let them tell us what they think about that in a referendum, but, of course, they are not likely to get one. One referendum on AV will, doubtless, be considered enough. Besides, the coalition Government could well lose a referendum on a proposal to restructure Parliament in a way that alters the balance of power between the two Houses and puts at risk the quality of legislation, and they would richly deserve to lose it.
My Lords, I wish to express the hope that our colleagues on the Front Bench will convey copies of this debate in Hansard to members of the committee who are not present in this House so that they may read speeches such as the one we have just heard from the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell. I begin with a note of surprising agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Richard. I have some doubts about the timetable. In my Resolution, I very politely talked about the legislative timetable being unclear. That is not an insult, it is a statement of fact. So many things have to be decided before we get to a Bill that I think that the noble Lord, Lord Richard, is right.
Let me mention just three circles that have to be squared before we get to that point. The first is the question of the electoral system to be used. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, said that he is a heretic and believes in proportional representation. I join him in that heresy, but we must be aware that, at the moment, both the Conservative Party and the Labour Party are not so persuaded—or, if they are, they are minded to have the horrors of the party list system, which is a form of proportional representation that most of us would not want in an elected House.
That is the first circle that must be squared. The second is to decide on the phrase used so blithely, “wholly or mainly elected”, as though that is just some minor matter. It is not a minor matter. If the argument is that we have no legitimacy unless we are elected, what on earth is the point of having a percentage of illegitimate Peers in a future House? That does not make sense. In my view, only a wholly elected House stands up to any rational scrutiny. That issue is glossed over all the time in every document from both the previous Government and the present one. They say, “wholly or mainly”, as though that is a minor matter that can be decided in five minutes. It is not; it is a major issue.
The third circle has been referred to by several colleagues already. That is the question of the conventions between the two Houses, which, as the Cunningham committee reminded us, if we move to an elected upper House, will have to be completely rewritten. I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Richard, when he ended his interesting speech by talking about needing to have power and saying that we would have power only if we were elected. I do not think that this House is about having power. That is a mistake that some people make; it has a very different function.
I suggest that two other circles have to be squared before we have even a draft Bill. Our coalition is committed to reducing the size of the House of Commons. It therefore cannot make any sense at the same time to be increasing the size of the upper House, but the previous Government’s White Paper and everything we have heard so far from the coalition suggests that existing Peers will sit in an interim House alongside newly elected ones. Our size will increase, when we are already bigger than the House of Commons. That circle will have to be squared.
The fifth circle that will have to be squared is this. I read the speech by my right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister in the Commons in introducing these proposals. I admire his reforming zeal. He said that one of his objectives was to reduce the cost of Parliament. How can you reduce the cost of Parliament when, as we heard only yesterday from the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, we, existing on minor expenses, would be replaced by an upper Chamber which is salaried and which will need offices and secretaries? That will not reduce the cost of Parliament.
All of those issues lead me to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Richard, that this will take some time. I very much doubt if we will see an elected Chamber—or even proposals for an elected Chamber—passed through this Parliament before we reach the end of this five-year coalition. What are we going to do in the mean time? That is why I tabled my Resolution, as one cannot amend a take note Motion.
Members will have noticed that the four items I mentioned in the Resolution are the four items that have been twice discussed in the Private Member’s Bill which I introduced to the House. I have said repeatedly in previous debates that my objective was not to pass a Private Member’s Bill—it is not a suitable subject for that—but to bring pressure to bear on the Government to act on the issues. To some extent, I was successful, because, as Members will remember, Jack Straw had a deathbed conversion and, at the last minute, produced three of the four items in the Constitutional Renewal Bill, which was washed out in the wash-up. I am not surprised, because we could hardly be expected to do in 24 hours what we had failed to do for several years, but that is what happened.
In a sense, we have gone backwards, because whereas the previous Government had grasped three of the four items in my Bill, today the new coalition has taken only one. Let me say right away that I welcome the announcement of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that he agrees that we ought to have a system to enable Peers to retire and that he will set up a committee to deal with that. I welcome that very much; I just wonder why he does not go the whole hog and take the other three items which were in my Bill. Why is he so wedded to continuing the hereditary by-elections? Why do we not, as in the House of Commons, remove those who are convicted and receive a jail sentence of more than one year? That happens automatically in the other place and should happen here.
The one item that neither Government have accepted is the appointment of a statutory commission, even though the noble Lord, Lord Jay, as chairman of the present commission, has argued for a statutory commission. The argument was that we do not need one because we are going to have an elected House. Since then, we have had 57 new appointments, we are told that there are more coming and there are bound to be more in the next five years. If we end up with a mainly elected House, 20 per cent or so of Peers will be appointed, so there will be a need for an appointments commission. I cannot see why we cannot have that properly on a statutory basis.
We have before us the scandalous case of Lord Laidlaw, who said to the Appointments Commission that he would give up his tax exile status. It had no powers to make him do that and, in fact, he has done precisely the opposite. In the best Lloyd George tradition, he has effectively bought a title with no responsibilities whatever. It is publicly unacceptable that that goes on. That is the case for having the Appointments Commission on a statutory basis.
These four reforms that I keep pressing on successive Governments were approved by the Commons Administration Committee, so they have a lot of support at the other end of the building. The question is: what is going to be done about them? When the Straw Bill failed to carry, I sent an e-mail to my noble friend Lord McNally, the leader of my party. I said that it was a great tragedy and we must do something about it. He replied and encouraged me to retable my Bill in the new Session of Parliament, which I have done. [Laughter.] Wait for it! I then wrote to him in his new position and said, “Dear Minister, my leader recommended that I table the Bill. I have done so. What about government time?”, to which I got a reply saying, “Dear David, your leader is a very wise man”, which did not really address the question.
Frankly, my Bill is not going to go anywhere. I recognise that. Let us be realistic. That is why I tabled the Motion in the hope that the Government would enable Peers to vote separately on the merits of these issues and would introduce their own wording so that it would be government wording, not a private Member’s wording. I think that is a sensible suggestion. Whether I move the Motion later tonight—I certainly do not want to start a second debate after we finish this one—depends on the reaction of Members in the rest of this debate.
My Lords, at a time like this we need to be extremely careful as we move forward, because a step in the wrong direction will have far-reaching consequences not just for us but for future generations. As Winston Churchill once said,
“It would be a great reform in politics if wisdom could be made to spread as easily and rapidly as folly”.
What the coalition Government propose—to rush through wholesale reform of the House of Lords—is sheer folly. The upper House is the principal check and balance on the Government. This House is, in many ways, the guardian of the nation. Nothing should be done to modify this role of the House. An appointed House brings together, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, said so well, diversity, objectivity, experience and, as the noble Lord, Lord Denham, illustrated, world-class expertise and, perhaps most importantly, thinking that is independent of party politics.
Should we appoint our Members or should we elect them? That is what we are all talking about. I believe that this is where instead of being right, a lot of people unfortunately try to sound right. To be clear, I believe with every fibre that if we stand for anything, we stand for democracy. As the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York so clearly spelt out about democracy, the voice of the people is the moon and tides, the push and pull, of our great nation. However, I have no hesitation in saying that if its membership comes through elections alone, this House will miss out on the services of many of its best Members.
We have a House today that is functioning well, be it in attendance, the quality of the debates, the exceptional value for money—as the noble Lord, Lord Steel, mentioned, it costs one-fifth of the cost of the House of Commons—or the independent nature of the House, which ironically makes our unelected House the cornerstone of our democracy. What is needed is further evolution, not revolution. For example, the Appointments Commission, which is doing such a sterling job, could be made into a statutory appointments commission, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Steel.
We are not very good at communicating our strengths to the public. The general impression is that the public feel that for the House of Lords to be legitimate it needs to be elected. I believe that if there was wider understanding of the role and functioning of this House, the public would agree that to have an elected second Chamber would dilute the quality and qualifications of this House. Would we risk diluting the credentials and qualifications of any other cornerstone of our society via an elected system? Would we elect our Army chiefs, our top civil servants, our judges, our surgeons or our university vice-chancellors? Do we question their legitimacy on whether they are elected or not? No, we judge these professionals on the quality of their work, their service to the people and the content of their character.
When we talk about the general public not feeling a connection to this House, I find it astounding that there are those who suggest electing Peers through a system of proportional representation in the mould of the European Parliament elections. MEPs in this country have no connection whatever with their constituencies or their constituents. The vast majority of people cannot even name their MEPs. Do we really want to go down that route? But whatever happens we must maintain an appointed, independent Cross-Bench Peers section of this House, as electing this valuable subsection of the upper House would never work. However, if we are living under a coalition Government who promise freedom, fairness and responsibility, as the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, and so many others have stated, where is the fairness in having a committee on House of Lords reform with no Cross-Bench representation? This is absolutely appalling and completely unfair.
Let us for one moment imagine what it would look like to have an elected second Chamber. As the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, said, we could kiss goodbye to the balance of power between the two Houses as we know it. An elected House of Lords would ultimately challenge the primacy of the House of Commons, leading to conflicts, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, said, between the two Houses over rights, laws and constituencies. We would begin to resemble our American cousins, with an elected Senate and a congress vying for power, and an appointed Supreme Court with the power to strike down laws that it deems to be unconstitutional.
If we want to go all the way, let us just do it. Let us have a wholly elected membership and increase the level, power and authority of this House, like the American Senate. I do not believe that this country needs that or that the people of this country want that. This is not a case of turkeys not wanting to vote for Christmas. This House is very much at the beating heart of democracy in Britain. It has been for centuries and long may that continue.
In conclusion, as I have said before, let us not shake these great foundations. We need always to remember that when you try making changes to a house, you can change the layout, you can even move a few walls, but if you try to change the foundations, there is always the risk of bringing it down.
My Lords, I must apologise for being absent for most of this debate. Unfortunately, I had to go to a meeting of the EU Select Committee, but at least I have truncated my speech. I hope that what I will say will not be too repetitious. The Motion on the Order Paper is:
“Lord Strathclyde to move that this House takes note of the case for reform of the House of Lords”,
and we seem to be going through all sorts of options of how we will reform. But we ought to decide whether this House needs to be reformed.
I believe that there are three options. The first is to leave this House as it is. The second is to make some changes to structural procedures, such as reform of an evolutionary nature. The noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, is right that we should go for an evolutionary process. Reform implies evolution in terms of reforming something which exists and making it better, and we hope not to make it worse. When you chuck out everything and change the whole basis of the constitution—what it does and its relationship with other things—that is revolution. It is not reform.
Looking at the three options, I refer first to the option for leaving the House as it is: that the tasks undertaken add value, not least because of the body of experience and expertise. Moreover, as others have probably said, we have more time to consider issues because Members of the other place have serious constituency duties which do not permit them to undertake the same level of scrutiny as we can. In the last Parliament, there was an appalling situation of a House of Commons Bill where in only three of its seven stages had it been scrutinised even marginally before it came to us. That is one of the things we do, but I am not about to back this option.
We are in danger of being seen to be wasting time considering all sorts of options when people in the world outside this place are horribly burdened with managing their finances and wondering if their jobs are going to disappear. The amount of time we have already spent on this issue and the amount we are going to spend on it will, I suspect, be far greater than the 700 hours we wasted on the Hunting Bill. Is that what the people out there really want, and is that what they are going to be told it is all about?
I turn to the second point, that of evolutionary reform. The burgeoning size of this House is clearly a cause for concern. Although we have recently lost some very distinguished Members, their number has been more than offset by the creation of more than 50 Peers, with talk of more and more coming through. There are practical resource implications, not least in terms of accommodation, and political implications in terms of how we are seen by those outside the Westminster village. We are caught between a rock and a hard place. If Peers do not attend, they cannot claim allowances, so there is no burden on the public purse, but none the less it conveys a poor impression if we operate on the basis of a certain proportion of our membership being able to come here or stay away willy-nilly whenever they want.
We now have a dedicated and transparent House of Lords Appointments Commission. I support my noble friend Lord Steel and I firmly believe that it should be put on a statutory basis. That would bring us into line with what electors expect in terms of the appointments process, and in effect would guarantee independence for the process. Perception is all, and as a matter of principle we need to enhance our powers to deal with Members who break the law, or indeed who break the spirit of the law. Our powers are far too limited. I also favour changes to some of our existing practices and procedures for the purpose of strengthening what it is that we do. We should make greater use of evidence-taking committees when a Bill originates in this House, we should play to our strengths in establishing a committee for post-legislative scrutiny, and we should press further for the greater use of pre-legislative scrutiny. In short, we could, should and must build on strength as an evolutionary process.
What I am totally opposed to is the third option, which constitutes the exact opposite of building on strength. The Government’s proposals for an elected House are a recipe for wiping out the strengths of this House. Why would elected Members of a second Chamber devote their time to detailed scrutiny that has little potential to attract the attention of the media and their constituents? I do not think that I have ever heard of a Member of this House issuing a press notice when he or she is about to make a particular point in a speech, or has done so. That is a feature of what happens in the other place.
Moreover, what would elected Members in this House bring to bear to enable them to engage in these tasks? They would be here primarily because of their political skills and not because they have a particular expertise that is likely to be of value to the House. Despite some of the claims of the previous Government, an elected House would not be a House of Lords in a different guise. The reality of who would stand for election to a second Chamber was conceded in the last Government’s White Paper. After serving a single fixed term, Members of the second Chamber would, for a period of five years, be debarred from seeking election to the House of Commons. In other words, the group established by Jack Straw conceded that people coming to the second Chamber would be those who would rather be in the other place. We would be their number two choice.
Who would vote for the Members of a Second Chamber? The Government appear to believe that an elected Chamber would not have any more powers than the current House. However, turnout in elections is likely to be low—one suspects it might be lower than that for elections to the European Parliament, which now has considerably more powers than this House. Again, the Government appear to concede this by wanting to hold such elections on the same day as those for the House of Commons. In short, the Government’s proposals effectively concede that the new House would lack popular legitimacy.
I fail to see that the case has been made for the third option. They need to go away and think about it, not rush ahead with ill considered legislation. In fact, they should not even consider it. If they really want to see reform, they should take what we have got and go part of the way I have suggested in an evolutionary process.
My Lords, I suppose we are hoping that, whatever the outcome may be, we are going to be better governed. Perhaps to some extent we should go back to first principles because there is always a danger, when something has been going on for a long time, that we stop thinking strategically. There becomes a certain inevitability of outcome that may disregard the circumstances. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Richard, put very powerfully in his speech the argument for stopping the dialogue and just doing what to him and many others has seemed obvious for a long time. My noble friend the Leader of the House referred to “public confidence” and the matter of whether people’s expectations are fulfilled, whether they are good or not so good.
There is a deep lack of confidence among the public because people believe increasingly that Parliament is not in a good position to deliver, and worse than that, that it is unreasonable to expect it to do so. Why are the public coming to this conclusion, which certainly requires that we should go back to first principles? If you say that you have ways of ending boom and bust and it turns out that you do not, that is not a good start. The story, which started in 1911, has a much longer history and began with the erosion of confidence in politicians and in politics itself. The public know that much of what has happened—and much of it is extremely good—has been driven by science and technology. People know that such improvements are not driven by the political system and that developments in the global economy are not driven by the political system of a single nation state, so they are becoming increasingly aware of the fact that Parliament is not easily able to design or even to describe end results. It is increasingly less able to keep up with the unfolding details of events such as the BP experience or the challenge of climate change.
Political leadership now lies much more in establishing directions of travel than in a commitment to detailed end results through legislation, but if we are to pursue successful directions of travel, we need to deepen the dialogue both within the Houses of Parliament and with civil society: a theme developed by the noble Lord, Lord Low, in his speech. We need to know where to acquire the necessary knowledge and advice on which the best decisions can be made, and we need to improve our ability to decide what to legislate on and what not to legislate on, and how to legislate. These decisions are becoming more, not less, difficult year on year, but the one thing we should not do is try to simplify these complicated issues by going back to a tactical solution that started in what was indeed a very tactical way in 1911, because simply to continue the long history of attempts to complete the process that started in 1911 will not lead to better government. We need first principles in order to think through the challenges of our democracy as they are today and not as they used to be.
My Lords, the fundamental flaw in the approach in the Statement made by the Leader of the House yesterday is that we are playing at demotic politics without the demos. For years we have been carrying on as though there is an issue in the country but, wherever else there is an issue, it is not in the country. We have therefore had to invent a demos who want something, which we then have to give them. A moment’s thought suggests that that is an erroneous starting point. There can be many other starting points, but I wish to clear that one out of our subconscious first.
This leads directly to the second fallacy in the line of proceeding. Someone has said that we must have a committee with a limited remit—build a Trojan horse. If you want to build a Trojan horse there is not much more you can do other than build it. I cannot think of someone saying you should put down an amendment if you want to build a Trojan horse—you have got to get on and build it. My metaphors are often hard to keep running, but this one would result in a process whereby it would be hard to look at anything other than building the Trojan horse.
Can all the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, and many of the points made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester—who made an interesting contribution, as did the noble Lord, Lord Low of Dalston—be brought within the building of, or even inside, the Trojan horse? That will produce a difficulty for many of us; it is an impenetrable remit that will prevent us getting to the practical and philosophical points that lie behind it.
Therefore, to use the vernacular that has been used more than once, it would be nice if we could take literally, objectively and honestly the famous aphorism, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. However, what is it that is broke? Let us say, “Okay. This is not a perfect place. Something is perhaps a little bit broke. Let us look at it”. There is a gap in the range of people who come here. The noble Lord, Lord Jay of Ewelme, who is not in his place, said in his evidence to the Constitution Select Committee—this was drawn to my attention by the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth—that there is a danger that we are appointing too many people in our own image. There is something in that. It raises the practical question of what you do to avoid appointing too many people in your own image.
In the Labour Party there is certainly scope for getting the National Executive Committee and the conference to look at the appointments system. This is a reform measure and, as the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, said in an excellent speech, the Labour Peers’ Group is a practical reforming group. A majority of the group—indeed, it was a consensus—wrote to the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, in answer to his suggestion that we should put forward any ideas, and said that we wanted these four points considered. I am not saying that the noble Lord, Lord Steel, did not have an idea in his head until that moment in history, but he picked up on that principle and no one at any stage has ever said that there was anything other than genuine reform in it.
The only request I would make of my very good friend, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, is that he does not repeat the canard that we are only putting forward the Steel Bill in order to put off the revolution of election: that in the Steel Bill we want a body of six or seven people to make all political appointments and so on. Perhaps I may put on record for the nth time that that is specifically not what we want. In the last version of the Steel Bill before the election, it was spelt out specifically that that is not what we are proposing. We are proposing virtually the opposite: that the parties should put up criteria to be registered with the Appointments Commission.
Two aspects of democracy would then be met and the balance between the parties would not be too far out. The Liberal Democrats would say that there are not enough Liberal Democrats, but the balance between Labour and Conservative over the years has met the three elections’ average. This is not like the nonsense in the coalition document. The worst drafted sentence in the whole document is that they want a House of Lords that reflects the last general election. I do not know which innumerate person in the coalition talks late at night wrote that sentence, but it would be totally impossible unless there were 1,000 Members within a few years—we leapfrog you, you leapfrog us.
The way in which these ideas can be looked at side by side with building the Trojan horse may cause a difficulty. One way through may be to look at the way in which we relate to Members of Parliament. There is no feeling among most MPs that this demotic politics needs to find the demos, but there has been a bit of a reaction. As Jack Straw said late at night here in the wash-up—this was reported in the newspapers so it can only be accurate—coming up to the House of Lords is like going to another planet. If these two planets are to have Members who know each other, and there are no pointed heads on one side or the other, we ought to get to know our colleagues at the other end a lot more than we do. There are some very notable colleagues—my noble friend Lord Grocott springs to mind on our side—who have spent many distinguished years in the Commons. We know many people in the House of Commons who, as soon as you have the second pint with them—but not only because you buy them a second pint—start to see the sense of what you are saying.
We should find a way in which we can continue to look at the merits of the proposal by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, and parallel proposals, side by side with this mad idea of building a Trojan horse. George Woodcock, who was the very distinguished general secretary of the TUC when I joined, used to quote something that I never understood. He said, “Structure is a function of purpose”. After 50 years, I begin to see what he was talking about, and that is where we should begin the conversation.
My Lords, I wish to express my views on the main issue of whether or not we should have an elected, largely elected or partly elected House. The House of Lords has evolved under Governments of all three parties during the past century and I support some further evolution such as that suggested in the Bill of my noble friend Lord Steel. However, as I said, I want to discuss the main question.
The basic argument in principle against the present set-up, which has already been set out, is that we are not elected. The argument is that it is wrong that unelected people should be involved in legislating in a democracy. I do not accept that. After all, even if we had a fully elected senate, many non-elected people would still be involved in legislating—the Civil Service to begin with. Given that almost all legislation of importance is government legislation, government collectively have a much larger and more detailed input than either House into what goes into legislation. That will not change.
In addition, Governments these days also consult widely from outside when preparing legislation, draft Bills and so on. That involves experts, interest groups and the public generally—and quite right, too. So the idea that only elected people should be involved in decisions on legislation is not sustainable.
However, this is also related to the question of power. As others have said, this House is high in expertise but low in power—and, for that matter, in cost. An elected House would dramatically lower the expertise involved in legislating, and it would inevitably increase the cost immediately. It would increase the power of the second House, at least over time, and it is the question of power that is the least understood. The House of Lords lacks power exactly because it is not elected. That does not mean that it does not have any power; it does, but in the end the elected House prevails.
Having been a Whip in both Houses, for some years in both cases, I have seen the ping-pong process from the inside. The process when the two Houses disagree is more subtle than is often realised. If each House insists on its version of the Bill—what is called “double insistence”—then the Bill falls altogether. By that time that is rarely wanted by either side, so the amendments exchanged between the Houses in the course of ping-pong in order to avoid double insistence progressively move nearer to one another until agreement is reached. I can tell your Lordships from experience that when ping-pong is in process or, for that matter, merely threatened, the time comes when noble Lords increasingly say, “Well, the elected House should have its way. We have expressed our opinion and they have expressed theirs”. When enough Peers say that to the opposition Chief Whip, the Lords give way. This is not a secret. After all, at both ends of the building, and, for that matter, in private, Ministers use the argument vigorously in such situations.
If there were an elected senate, however, then that argument would not apply. The senate would be elected by a different method or on a different timescale, or some combination of those. At times it would say, “We are more legitimate than you, the House of Commons. We were elected more recently”, or, “We were elected by what we think is a better method”—more proportional representation, or whatever the method was. I hope that Members of the House of Commons realise that if we were to go down this route, the Commons would lose their vital power ultimately to decide legislation. To ignore that entirely foreseeable consequence of an elected House of Parliament is to be as short-sighted as a Uruguayan referee. Better to have an appointed second House with world-level experience and expertise and the influence that that gives to this House, but with the low powers that follow from not being elected.
Fundamentally, I believe that whatever can be done to improve our system of governance will not be achieved by electing more legislators. We are not suffering from a shortage of politicians.
My Lords, the debate on reform of the House of Lords has been, as Members have stated, a very lengthy one. However, reform has been ongoing, most importantly since the Life Peerages Act 1958 when women were allowed for the first time to take seats in the House of Lords.
Now the coalition Government have stated in the programme for government that this committee will bring forward proposals for a wholly or mainly elected Chamber and that there will be a grandfathering system for the present Peers, which I understand means that we will be permitted to serve out our term. Why it is called a “grandfathering” system for those of us of my sex, I am not quite sure.
The proposal appears to deal only with the methods of appointment to this House. I accept that there are consequences with any model of appointment, but nevertheless I question why there is a focus on the method of appointment only.
I emphasise that, as has been said previously, the cross-party Joint Committee on House of Lords Reform does not include the Convenor of the Cross-Bench Peers. Given that Cross-Benchers represent some 25 per cent of the membership of the House and given that they make a significant contribution, it cannot be right for them to be totally excluded from this process. The holding of a debate such as this does not address the lacuna created by this deficit in proper process. Even now, it would be much more acceptable were the Convenor to be appointed to the committee. In an era in which the Government legislate and call repeatedly for equality, and in which statutory obligations are placed on so many organisations, it is important that there be equality of access in the way in which any process of reform in this House is conducted.
The possible outcome of the coalition Government proposals for a House elected using proportional representation cannot be definitively forecast. We know from the operation of PR in Northern Ireland that on occasion the results can be somewhat unexpected, and that people can use their vote tactically to achieve the end of keeping an individual out rather than electing anyone. Be that as it may, it is eminently possible that a PR vote for an elected House of Lords would result in a House that, rather than being reflective of the share of the political parties in the previous election, would be very different.
There are of course a variety of systems of PR. The outcome of the most recent election, had it been conducted under alternative voting, would not have produced the result that the coalition Government seek to achieve for the House of Lords because the result of that election was the result of the first-past-the-post system, not an alternative vote system.
It has been said publicly that the turnout for elections, particularly in European elections and elections for the Mayor of London, is very low. In the past three Mayor of London elections, the proportion electing was 34 per cent, 34 per cent and 45 per cent respectively, and that was a situation in which the mayoral elections attracted candidates, it has been said, with a high public profile and the functions of local authorities are clearer than the functions of the new House would be—we do not quite know what those functions are anticipated to be. It has also been suggested, and I think noble Lords have said this, that elections to the upper House would be likely to attract candidates who would really be seeking to go into the Commons, and therefore it would become a second Chamber in more ways than one.
Can it be appropriate to develop a new system for selecting individuals for membership of the House of Lords by simply seeking to replicate the outcome of a previous election using an uncertain voting system? There is, of course, an alternative.
It is necessary to consider the possible outcome in terms of the election of an alternative Government to this House, one that did not reflect the party results in the House of Commons but that would effectively create a powerful Opposition to that Government in this House. One also has to contemplate the fact that elected Peers would look to their electorate to ensure that they remained in the House. This would introduce another dynamic into this House’s deliberations that may not be conducive to proper scrutiny and the reform of proposed legislation.
In addition, one has to factor in the fact that the other place has become rather dysfunctional. On a number of occasions, Bills have come to this House that have not been properly scrutinised and debated there. The tenor of debate in this House is generally more reflective, considered and purposeful. Were we to move to a fully elected Chamber, the dynamics of the context of our debate would change. Is it possible that that would result in the kind of dysfunction to be seen on occasion in the other place?
It is right that Governments should not be motivated solely by cost or by cost savings. Nevertheless, it is the case that this House, with its 753 Members—many of whom never appear in the Chamber and 155 of whom are women—cost about £104 million in 2008-09. Were Parliament to legislate for an elected House, costs would increase dramatically. We currently do not receive the kind of salary and office costs attendant on membership of the other place. Elected Members would have to be paid just as elected Members of the other place are. Inevitably, this would be a substantial salary.
A reduction in the size of the House is clearly necessary. Without wishing to be indelicate, that may, in part, happen naturally, and if the appointment of new Peers were handled differently, the size of the House would diminish anyway.
I shall briefly address the issue of how we work. As a newcomer, I think it works well. There is recognition of the role of the other place and of the place of government in that House, but Bills often leave this House to return to the other place in a significantly different form from that in which they came here. I think we could fine-tune our working practices, but I do not understand that to be the purpose of this new committee on the reform of the House of Lords.
Is reform necessary? I think it is. The route that we should take is the one that I am proud to have been appointed through: the House of Lords Appointments Commission. The noble Lord, Lord Jay, gave us its figures for appointment. It has appointed 51 people since 2001. Forty-nine of them are active, two having died. It has appointed about 20 per cent of the total of 183 independent Cross-Benchers, which means that 70 per cent of even the Cross-Bench Peers have not gone via this route. Of the 51 appointments, 37 per cent are women, 22 per cent are from ethnic minorities and 8 per cent are disabled. This composition represents greater diversity than does the current composition of the House of Lords and reflects the remit of the commission, which is to ensure that the House is more broadly representative of Britain’s diversity—a remit which it takes seriously. I am therefore moved to support the conversion of the House of Lords Appointments Commission into a statutory appointments commission. I do not see why those who have given distinguished service in the field of politics should not apply, as I did, to that commission for appointment to this House. There is nothing which diminishes one when one applies. The process of open competition is something which the people whom we serve understand and are familiar with, and it would add credibility to the appointments process.
There are clear arguments for non-active Members to be able to retire, attractive as it may seem to some parties to be able to call on the votes of those who have ceased to play an active role here. It would be better for this place if there were to be a process whereby a person could honourably retire if they chose so to do. I am well aware, however, of the extreme clarity of the minds of some of my noble colleagues who are a little further advanced in years than I am and of the wisdom which they bring to debates. Age should not be a determining factor. I agree that we need to be able to remove from this House Peers convicted of serious offences.
In all this, then, I am minded to support the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Steel. There is much for this House to consider in the context of reform of the House of Lords, but the consideration must be worthy of this place. It must be conducted in a proper manner by all the representatives of this House. The Houses of Parliament have a great history. Any change will have great significance for the future of our country.
My Lords, we are asked to take note of the case for reform of the House of Lords. In fact, we have had two related debates: on the one hand, the arguments about whether the present House of Lords should effectively be abolished and substituted by a wholly or mainly elected House and, on the other, the arguments for reforming the House of Lords by improving the present structure of the appointed House. To some extent, those in favour of moving to an elected House feel that progress on the second issue would undermine their case, because it would then be working even better than it does now. That is a mistake. It is becoming increasingly urgent that we should reform our proceedings, and I wholeheartedly support the proposal put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, which, after all, was carried without any dissent in the last Parliament. We have had in addition the proposals of the three committees set up in the last Parliament—under the chairmanship of the noble Lords, Lord Filkin and Lord Butler, and the noble Baroness, Lady Murphy respectively—putting forward a number of important ways in which we could improve our procedures. Since it is unlikely that rapid progress will be made on the first issue, it would be a mistake not to treat as a matter of great urgency progress on the second; namely, the reform of our procedures within the context of the present House.
The Leader of the House said that the reform of the House of Lords is not the most important issue which we face at present. That is true if one takes into account the state of the economy or Afghanistan—there are many issues which might well be regarded as more important. However, while the question of reforming the House of Lords may be more or less important, it is fundamentally different, because it alters the way in which we deal with all the other issues. In addition, any change is likely to be irreversible. While fundamental reform may not be the most urgent or important issue, we must recognise none the less that it is different in kind from the other issues. Budgets come and Budgets go, and even wars come and wars go, but the way in which we reach decisions on these matters is quite different.
I turn to the Government’s pressing ahead with a so-called Bill and there being considerable objections rightly raised by the Cross-Benchers as to how they are going about it. It is very curious indeed that the Opposition have apparently agreed to be involved in what the Government are proposing. We are not then clear whether it is a government Bill and, inevitably to some extent, the Opposition will be committed to whatever eventually emerges. The difficulty as I see it is pressing ahead with that Bill—the Government are saying, “We must have a Bill; we haven’t had a Bill before”—before we have reached a decision on whether we want a Bill which introduces elected Members to this House. That was the point of my earlier intervention on the Leader of the Opposition. If we are to proceed in this way, we should have a debate on whether we should have a partly or wholly elected element before we decide to draft the Bill. It is of course rather a cunning approach to it: we will find the Opposition to some extent committed and we will find anyone who serves on any pre-legislative committee also implicitly agreeing with the basic proposition. So we should agree the principle first then come to drafting a Bill. We do not know how the House will decide.
It was absolutely clear in the last Parliament that the leaderships of both the main parties were totally at odds with their membership. In the other place, the official Labour Party policy was not supported by a majority of Labour Members, and the same went for that of the Conservative Party. In this House, both were vigorously rejected. There is therefore a gulf between the leadership and the Back Benches. Therefore, to set up a committee made up solely of the leadership of the three parties with no regard for the Cross-Benchers or the Back-Benchers is unlikely to be a fruitful or helpful way of proceeding.
We must confront the fundamental issue: we are told that if we have elected Members, the House will be more democratic. I simply do not believe that to be the case. Mr Clegg said the other day that the House of Lords was an affront to democracy. How does having an elected House make the country more democratic? We are already 100 per cent democratic in this country, and that democracy is vested in the House of Commons. Having this House elected will in no way increase the extent to which this country is democratic. It will undoubtedly result in a division of powers between the two Houses, with no ready means of resolving it. We are going along this road. Unless we hear a more convincing argument than that it will increase democracy, it is the wrong way to go. But there is no other argument. For some reason, the leaderships of the parties have decided that there is a huge public demand for election to the House of Lords. Anyone who went around on the doorstep during the last election will not have been overwhelmed by a view that “we must have an elected House of Lords”—certainly not in some of the south London constituencies where I was canvassing. That is one of the main arguments against a referendum.
We have a problem both in the House of Commons and among the public at large. There is the most appalling ignorance of how this House operates, certainly at the other end. We do not know, if we have a vote similar to the last one, how the House of Commons will vote. It is always a danger with a new House of Commons that the new Members will not want to revolt too readily against their leadership, whichever party they may be in. That is clearly a danger. However, we need to take stock. The proposals put forward by the Government with regard to the committee and so on are totally out of sync. We have to reach a decision on the principle first, and then we know where we are. But there is also the most appalling ignorance about this House of Lords in the public at large. That is why a referendum is certainly not the right way in which to go. People do not have the remotest idea about what they are really voting about or about the value of this place, which is the most cost-effective legislative Chamber in the world. To ask them to express a view on it would be completely wrong. However, we need to press ahead with the second group of reforms, as I have suggested, in which the noble Lord, Lord Steel, and the various committees have put forward constructive approaches that will enable us to get this House right, not least with regard to numbers, before we go to anything more fundamental.
My theme is very much along the lines of my intervention on the Leader of the House earlier. I agreed very much with the speeches of the noble Lords, Lord Cope and Lord Higgins. The Tory, Lib Dem and Labour manifestos and the coalition programme exclusively refer to the words “second Chamber” and deal only with the issue of composition. I do not seek to support the status quo. Giving my maiden speech at that Box some nine years ago, I reminded this House that in 1980 I moved a 10-minute rule Bill in the other place to abolish your Lordships' House. That enabled me to get away with a lot at that Dispatch Box over the years.
The manifesto lines of the parties are obsessed with composition. Not one asked what we are for, what we do and how we do it. The functions and powers of the second Chamber should be known before starting on the composition, if only on the basis that if we are expecting good, honest, professional citizens outside to want to get elected here, they will want to know what their powers and functions are beforehand, not afterwards. There is a real problem, as the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, has just said. After 27 years in the Commons, the last four as a Minister, I will admit that I was very ignorant about your Lordships' House. Not any more—but as a transferring Minister from one House to the other, fresh from the Commons, in my first seven years in this place, in my four departmental roles as a Minister, I genuinely felt under greater scrutiny than I ever was in the Commons. There is no question about that in my mind and I have thought about that a lot. The scrutiny level here is much greater—and my experience ranges across six departments.
On more than one occasion as a Minister, I found myself in Cabinet committees explaining, not defending, the way in which the Lords works, to be met by the accusation from the senior Cabinet Minister in the chair, “You’ve gone native!”. That was the level of debate. My noble friend Lord Grocott was with me on one occasion when that was said. I am entitled to ask whether the present Deputy Prime Minister is any less ignorant than his shadows in that position beforehand, because so far I have not seen any evidence that he is. Many of your Lordships have served in the other place, but there is only one Member of the other place who has served in this place. So the level of knowledge of this place is incredibly shallow in the other place. You can make a damn good cheap conference platform speech, however, at the expense of your Lordships' House. It will always get a cheer. So there is that shallowness in the debate.
My other point is this—I do not see how we can escape a review of the conventions. If I came in here elected, I would not be interested in conventions, because I would have been elected. Where is the book of powers for the Lords? People have talked about our having fewer powers, but we do not; we have very substantial powers, but we choose not to use them because we are not elected. That is what the conventions report was all about. The refusal to give a Second Reading, the time delay, how we treat secondary legislation and the challenge on financial privilege will all go by the board by elected Members of this House. Why should they obey the conventions? Therefore, if we do not legislate on the conventions on a statutory basis, which means by definition legislating to reduce the powers of the Lords by law, we will suffer the consequences of massive conflict between the two Houses as elected Members here test the powers. If the second Chamber is to get more power, that can come from the Commons alone. We have to appreciate that—there is only one central, finite power, and any more coming here means that some has come from there. So it is make your mind up time. We have to fix the role of the second Chamber, fix the powers and the numbers before we do that—and only then do we start to make a sensible arrangement that will stand the test of time about the composition of your Lordships' House. I do not believe that these aspects will go away when we get to the detail of Bills. It will be an absolute disgrace if the Long Title of any Bill rules out discussion of the powers and functions, if the Bill does not deal with them itself, and we will insist on them being dealt with.
To finish, I want to be a little bit more positive. I have some personal views about how a second Chamber should work, although I cannot go through them in detail here. We should concentrate on revision and scrutiny rather than repetition, which we do so much of. There is far too much repetition in this place and not enough revision and scrutiny. I do not think that Bills should start here and we should be half the size of a much smaller Commons than is planned, with no more than 500. I do not think that Ministers should be here, but we should be able to send for them to come and explain and then scrutinise what they are doing and revise the legislation in the light of what they say. That would be a much better role. We must not be a mirror of the Commons—and we do not want people queuing up to get in here because they could not get into the Commons. I guarantee that that is what will happen.
The upshot of all this—and it has been a theme of many speeches—is that to function on behalf of our fellow citizens, as a second Chamber of Parliament, the powers that we have are not dependent on how people arrive here. I could make a case for an all-elected House or an all-appointed House, but one case that I will never make is for a hybrid House of some elected and some appointed. That is completely and utterly unsustainable and, if any Bill comes forward with that, we will end up wasting months of time, because it will not get anywhere. It is better that those points are taken on board and we have a much wider debate before we are faced with a fait accompli.
I intervene very briefly to remind the House that I am the only surviving Cross-Bench member of the conventions committee. We came under strong pressure from the then Government to make it clear that the conventions as they existed at that time would continue. In response, we made it very clear that under an elected House—
My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, and rather a surprise to follow the noble Lord, Lord Wright. I admire both of them. I admired the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, in the House of Commons for many years and admire him in this House. The difference is that I generally agree with him in this House, and I have agreed with him to a very great extent today.
The noble Lord, Lord Filkin, said that there was more to reform than composition—and, of course, there is. But the debate about composition is the cornerstone of reform. I hope that I shall not be thought to be obsessive if I devote my seven minutes to trying to demolish that cornerstone.
In his book, The New British Constitution, Professor Vernon Bogdanor, Professor of Government at Oxford University, has a particular footnote which I shall read. It says,
“In 2007 I heard a Liberal Democrat MP at a meeting in the House of Commons on House of Lords reform solemnly apologise for the fact that the Liberals had not fulfilled their pledge to democratize the composition of the Lords. Perhaps his apology was unnecessary. For the pledge was never intended to have been taken seriously”.
In support of this, Bogdanor reminds us of the then Liberal Government’s heavy and radical reform of legislation. He said that they and their Back-Bench supporters,
“wanted simply a measure which, by removing the obstacle of the House of Lords, would allow”
their programme to be implemented. He continues,
“They saw the Parliament Act as a final solution to the problem”.
They did not see it as “an interim measure”, and, as he says, for the reason that,
“the Liberals were hardly likely to construct a second Chamber more legitimate”
than the then current hereditary system, because being more democratically based it,
“would be in a stronger position to wreck their legislation”.
“It is doubtful ... whether current attempts to reform the composition of the House of Lords designed to make it more legitimate, can fairly be characterised … as ‘Mr Asquith’s unfinished business’”.
These are not fanciful considerations; they were not even fanciful in those days, or considerations peculiar to the differing circumstances of 100 years ago. Neglected though they have been, they remain good today. In modern times, I guess that there was no shrewder judge of these matters than the late Viscount Whitelaw of such fond memory—a highly successful leader of your Lordships’ House and, before that, an MP for some 28 years. In his memoirs, published in 1989, he wrote declaring his opposition to any elected House of Lords, partial or otherwise, as follows:
“Surely, experience with all assemblies, of which the most recent is the European Parliament, shows that the moment the members are elected they demand more powers”.
We can add that subsequent devolution surely adds further examples of that phenomenon.
Let us look into the future. If further powers are demanded, probably—and I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, about this—through a rejection of some of the conventions that govern our relations with the other place, what will happen? It is highly unlikely that the Commons will concede them, so there will be ongoing conflict and instability, with the probability that the delaying powers of this House would be further curtailed in the end, and that the stability of the 1911 settlement—substantially amended as it has been, as we have been reminded—which has served us so well will be disrupted.
Even if the powers of the Lords remained the same, membership of this place would be unlikely to attract what one might perhaps describe as first XI or even second XI players. To quote once again from Bogdanor’s book:
“The more the powers of the Lords are restricted, the more difficult it would be”,
“people of ability to stand for election. What person of merit would wish to stand for election to a toothless chamber”,
and attract to himself all the joys of serving a constituency?
Almost at a stroke, then, there will be undermined and diminished those House of Lords functions which attract the strongest approval from the public; first, our wide expertise, so graphically illustrated by my noble and learned friend Lord Howe this afternoon, brought to bear when scrutinising legislation and in holding Ministers to account; and, secondly, our independence—the latter, because, as Professor Bogdanor points out,
“in every modern elected upper house, elections are organised by political parties and run by professional politicians”.
Not much scope for independence there.
I contend that the right solution, although there is no time to develop it, is a House appointed by an independent statutory commission. That would give it legitimacy from having been imposed, set up and established by Parliament. I concede, of course, that the high-water mark of the case for an elected House of Lords is the fact that all three major political parties supported it in their manifestoes. That undoubtedly advances the case, but does not secure it. Objectively, it can be seen to constitute a shared mistake. The electorate may well forgive a mistake that is confessed, explained and corrected. It will not forgive a mistake that it is left to it, by bitter experience, to discover for itself.
My Lords, an elected second Chamber is the wrong answer to the wrong question. Even those who accept the Prime Minister’s melodramatic characterisation of our politics as broken cannot claim that dissatisfaction with the House of Lords so much as registers among the public’s concerns—notwithstanding the grubby efforts of the Mail on Sunday and the Sunday Times. Public dissatisfaction with our political culture arises mainly, I believe, from two other sources.
First, people think that power is excessively centralised in London. Too few decisions are taken locally. Too much political power resides in Downing Street. Associated with that is a widely held view that the House of Commons is excessively dominated by the Executive. There is good will towards the coalition, a hope that it may portend a fresh politics, but that sentiment has not dissipated the folklore that Members of Parliament are too biddable by their leaders and Whips and, as exposed by the expenses crisis, venal. Unfair though this is, the House of Commons has a lot more to do to vindicate itself to the people. We are entitled to retort to the eager proponents of Lords reform in the other place, “Physicians, heal thyselves”.
We can applaud the new localism professed by the coalition, but if and only if it means a revitalisation of democratic local government and not a marginalisation of it. Reform of the House of Commons and renewal of local government are the right priorities for constitutional reform. Reform of the House of Lords will, at best, do nothing to mitigate public disaffection from politics and, if it is to mean a second elected Chamber—costly, docile, weak and otiose—it will actually make it worse.
The second principal source of malaise is the malfunctioning of the media. Our politics suffers profoundly from the relentless cynicism, triviality and sloppiness of so much political journalism. There is no solution to this at the disposal of constitutional reformers. The best we can hope for is that we might, over time, have better educated citizens who will insist on better political journalism.
Why would people want to create an elected second Chamber? For some MPs, it is good enough that it looks progressive and deflects public indignation from the House of Commons. For Mr Cameron, embarking on it at this stage is a price worth paying to have Mr Clegg on board. For some Ministers, it will be attractive no longer to suffer the inconvenience of a second Chamber that does revise their legislation and from time to time blows the whistle on seriously misguided policy. Rather than those independent Cross-Benchers and former senior parliamentarians, how much easier to have a second Chamber of elected placemen, placed by patronage on the party list under PR, people more like Prufrock,
“an attendant Lord, one that will do
To swell a progress ...
an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous”.
If those explanations are too harsh or fanciful, it is difficult not to take the view that, in the present circumstances of our country and the world, for senior members of the Government to be channelling their energies into abolition of the House of Lords is displacement activity, a frivolity. In the scale of things, reform of the House of Lords is neither here nor there; that, I am quite sure, is the view of the public. People will stop worrying about political institutions if they become confident that the politicians they have elected are making wise judgments about the big issues, tackling them with determination, courage and effectiveness and offering inspiring political leadership; that is the proper path to democratic renewal.
None of this is to say that reforms of the House of Lords are not still needed, following the major reforms since 1999: the removal of most of the hereditary Peers and the establishment of a Supreme Court, separate from this House. We are proud of this institution, but we are not complacent.
My own agenda is fourfold, aligned with that set out in the latest Bill and the Motion tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood. We need to open the way to abolition of the hereditary principle for membership of the legislature. We need to place the Appointments Commission on a statutory basis and task it to improve further the representativeness—representativeness of civil society—of your Lordships’ House, a House which is already more diverse in terms of experience, gender, ethnicity and disability than the House of Commons. We need to disqualify from membership Peers guilty of serious criminal offences. And we should introduce a term for membership. I would go further than the noble Lord, Lord Steel, in not only making provision for retirement, but abolishing the right to sit in the legislature for life.
The reforms proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, and backed by so many of us on both sides of the House, are reforms that the previous Government would not countenance and nor would the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. He showed no sign today of becoming any more pragmatic in office than he was in Opposition. If he would only abandon his dogmatic attachment to an elected second Chamber, he could carry the House in support of a substantial set of reforms.
What most noble Lords seek is not abolition of the House of Lords, as advocated by the Leader of the House of Lords, but reform to consolidate and enhance the existing capacity of this House to do the job that the public want it to continue to do: to scrutinise legislation thoroughly and rigorously and offer amendments; to debate the issues before the country with expertise and relative impartiality; to advise; sometimes to propose restraint to overweening central government and a House of Commons that finds it hard to shake free of party conformism; to prompt second thoughts and a pause to get things right. This is the contribution that we make as a House of Parliament. The problem is not a lack of democracy at Westminster. So long as this is an unelected House, we will not defy or block the democratic House of Commons. Would it not be sensible to settle for this kind of complementarity?
What motivates so many of us, who value this House, to oppose its replacement by an elected Chamber is not self-interest but a deeply held belief that such a change would be damaging to Parliament and the quality of government. As I have said again and again, the onus should be on those who propose an elected House to explain how it would improve the performance of Parliament. None of them has yet been able to do so.
My Lords, I take it that, notwithstanding the title of this debate, it provides an opportunity for your Lordships to put points to the cross-party committee which is preparing a draft Bill for a partly or wholly elected House. Like other noble Lords who have spoken, that is profoundly not what I want and I think it is a fundamental mistake. Nevertheless, although I do not agree with it, I accept it for the purpose of the remarks I am going to make. I want to put a case rather different from that which other Members of your Lordships’ House have made. I suggest—I hope not entirely frivolously—that the House could find itself going down this route, through the process of so-called reform, having an elected House, and finishing with something not very different from what your Lordships’ House is today. I will explain why.
As the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, said, the starting point is: what are the functions of the House? The Leader of the House answered that question this afternoon. He said that he envisaged that the functions of the House would continue to be as they are now, and its powers very much the same. What are those functions? I suggest that they fall under three headings. One is to provide an alternative forum of accountability for the Executive. The second is to provide the sort of detailed scrutiny of legislation which the other House fails to provide. I was struck by the statistics given by the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, about the times when this House acts against the Government’s advice but its advice is accepted in the amendment of legislation; and by what the noble Lord, Lord Cope, said about that. The third—to which I think the public attach enormous importance—is to act as a partial counterweight to the dominance which the Executive have established in the other place and which, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, quoting from Tony Wright’s report, said, is the fundamental reason why the public have lost so much of their confidence in their Government.
I think your Lordships would agree that that power of the House of Lords—to act as a counterweight to the Executive—cannot be achieved if the Executive have an overall majority in this House. Since voting patterns for your Lordships’ House would be likely to follow closely those for the House of Commons, that can only be achieved if there is a significant independent membership of the House of Lords. I follow the noble Lords, Lord Steel and Lord Rooker, in feeling uncomfortable about having a hybrid House which is partly appointed and mostly elected. However, I do not see any other way of achieving an independent element. If there was a section of the House that was reserved for independent Peers, if I were not to be a grandfather I would stand for it, but I do not see any basis on which the electorate would be likely to know whether to vote for me. I find it difficult to see how an independent element can be produced without the method of appointment.
Then we come to the elected Members of the House. Of course the political parties will continue to exercise great influence. They will determine who will stand in their name. To say that this is people being elected at random is absurd. It will be a method of appointment which goes under the guise of election but will, in effect, be appointment by the political parties. Since the coalition manifesto makes clear that the people who will be appointed will be appointed for a long, single term, with a period of quarantine before they could stand for another place, it is unlikely that there would be people standing for election who have future political ambitions. Contrary to what the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, said, I give the political parties the credit of supposing that they will want to have sitting in their names in this Chamber people of experience, wisdom and weight, and people without further political ambition. That seems a very close specification for the type of Members that we have sitting for the political parties in this House now. I think the best outcome would be if those people were on the list and were elected.
So, what would we have after this period of reform? We would have a significant element—let us call it 20 per cent—of independent Members, who I think would have to be appointed. Eighty per cent would be elected on a party-political ticket and it is likely that they would be senior and experienced members of their parties, who have no further ambitions for the other place. If so, that would be a House very much like we have now. We would have gone through all the agony of reform. Certainly, the people sitting for the parties would have been nominally elected but in fact they would have been appointed. We would have gone through it all and we would wonder what the point of the agony had been.
My Lords, let us face it—the subject of reform of the House of Lords is but a euphemism for introducing an elected second Chamber, where the protagonists of election in the last two Parliaments have conducted a bizarre Dutch auction between themselves as to the precise number of elected Members that there ought to be. The figures have ranged from 20 per cent to 80 per cent and 100 per cent, with those of us who dare to say 0 per cent being marginalised as undemocratic reactionaries.
Let us admit at the outset that the composition of your Lordships' Chamber is anything but democratic and that if we were creating a new Parliament today there would be no possibility of having a second Chamber such as the one we have now. Let us admit that, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, this House may be the worst form of a second Chamber, except for all the other forms that have been tried from time to time. However, we are where we are with a revising Chamber that, without exception, is described by commentators as the finest anywhere. We have a revising Chamber which, far from being undemocratic, invariably bows to the will of the elected Chamber, prodded without doubt by the Parliament Act 1911, but also by the outstanding act of self-denial, the Salisbury convention. We have a revising Chamber which, far from being undemocratic, exists to remedy the errors and omissions of the other place, where the legislative sausage machine operated by the Whips allows whole swathes of legislation to reach us without having had a single minute of debate or discussion, it being left to your Lordships to put these matters right.
On the subject of democracy, I say as forcefully as I can that our constitution does not belong to one Parliament, one party, or to one group of politicians who happen to have no more than a leasehold five-year term of office. How much less does it belong to a Parliament whose Members were held in such low esteem, given their unacceptable behaviour, that no party was able to secure the unequivocal mandate of a majority in the other place? Whatever the issues were in the recent election, I can tell your Lordships that, apart from the fine print buried in the massive verbiage of the three party manifestos, the so-called reform of your Lordships' House featured nowhere on the doorstep, as my noble friend Lord Higgins said. He may have been talking about south London, but the same applied in north-west London. Voters were interested in jobs, housing, immigration and above all the effect of the economy on their own lives.
Members of your Lordships' House who have been Members of the other place, party activists or have served their trade unions have already done more than their fair share of electioneering. I cannot see the leaders of industry, academics, Nobel laureates, distinguished commanders of our forces and others who are here honoris causa submitting themselves to door-to-door canvassing or to toadying up to the Whips in the hope of securing a higher place on the list if, as has been suggested, an election is held on the PR system.
The House of Lords has existed for more than 800 years. It is not open to a transient group of politicians to change it without the full knowledge and consent of the public and after a comprehensive, detailed debate. If this sounds like a call for referendum—I have never really approved of that—it is, but it is very low key. As we know, the outcome of a referendum can be manipulated in advance by the phrasing of the question. My choice would be exactly the same as that of the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, and of the noble Lord, Lord Lea, “Do you subscribe to the view that if it ain’t broke don’t fix it?”.
I assure your Lordships that I wish to discuss briefly the basic question posed by this debate. If the “reform” is not simply to alter the composition of your Lordships' House, what is to be reformed? The current President of the United States of America got himself elected by constantly repeating the mantra calling for change. Change from what to what was never specified. What reform do we need to enable us to perform our functions better without the other place ceding us additional powers, which, of course, it will not? In fact, the package of reforms proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, in the Motion in his name on the Order Paper is indeed worthy of our support as it deals with difficulties that we have. The beauty of Britain's unwritten constitution is its flexibility and adaptability. Before we give a single day's consideration to the reform of the membership of your Lordships' House, it is essential to define what its functions should be. What is it supposed to do? What powers shall it have? What powers will be ceded by the other place? In short, what inducement will there be to persons of the same quality as those here now to put themselves up for the rigours of election?
Reform of the House is a distraction when compared with the vital and pressing subjects with which the country and the new Government should be concerning themselves first and foremost. The cosmetic issue of reform of the House, accompanied by the sound of the hoof-beats of hobby horses thundering through the corridors of the Palace of Westminster, is an irrelevant act of self-indulgence which the country is neither interested in nor has the time for at present. I only hope, but with not much optimism, that after today's debate the Government will accept that they have far more important issues on which to expend further valuable parliamentary time.
My Lords, I intend to make just a few points. I have supported and opposed referendums in the past, and I look forward with interest to hearing what a low-key referendum might look like. I suspect that I may well support one of those as well. I am, and remain, a unicameralist, but I would like to put that in context, for I would not like to see a unicameral settlement in the UK with nothing else changed.
Under the previous Government, there were major constitutional changes: reform here, with most of the hereditaries going; devolution to Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and London; and a great deal more. It was hoped that the English regions would be part of that as well. It was a coherent package of constitutional reform. That has not normally been the case in the UK. The tradition—and it is an unhappy one—is much more piecemeal. I fear that the present proposals for the Lords are very much in that piecemeal tradition.
The issue of the cost of a reformed House has been raised. The noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, made the point that any proposed reformed, elected Chamber would cost at least three times what the present House costs, and questioned wisely whether this was the right time for such a proposal. I would add a further point. We are in the middle of discussions about changes to the allowance system in this House. At a time when we are under more scrutiny than ever before, it appears that we are seriously considering a system whereby if you live close to the House and have fewer additional costs arising from attendance, it will be possible to claim higher allowances than before, whereas if you live away from London, as I do, and have genuinely additional costs, you will be able to claim less than before. I wonder whether this bright scheme will survive real scrutiny. It sends a terrible message to the rest of the country and will tend to mean that the representation of the country away from London will be diminished. I will not be alone in looking very closely at the costs involved in attending the House. The proposal for a sort of half-day payment, which has all the hallmarks of being put forward in a blind panic rather than with serious prior thought, is as unworkable as it appears ridiculous.
One of the great strengths of this House is that it has always given Governments time and space to get legislation right. Not just the Government but the Opposition, outside interest groups, lawyers, Cross-Benchers and other experts all have time to consider what legislation will achieve, and are able to make changes and discuss things. For a whole plethora of interest groups, that time and space gives them the opportunity to lobby Parliament and argue their case. An elected House will not, I fear, be as willing to fulfil that function and is more likely to be involved in a battle for power with the other place.
The question of electoral systems has been raised—a matter on which the coalition partners have strong albeit opposing views. Having a different system here will mean endless dispute about the relative legitimacy of the two Houses. That point was made forcefully by my noble friend Lord Rooker. Politics is a dynamic process. I wonder where we might be in a couple of years’ time. How will the future of regional government look then? I imagine that there will be increasing demands. In areas such as the north-east there will be a realisation that people need their own voice in their own area, to offer them protection and leadership. That is also true of areas such as the south-west. I know that they are very well—uniquely well—represented by the parties in the coalition. Does that mean that people in such areas will have no differences with Westminster? Or does it just mean that they will have no way of dealing with the differences that they certainly will have?
We have a very mixed system of government across the United Kingdom. We have a chance to make it better with a coherent package. I fear that what is being proposed will only make matters worse.
My Lords, before you can decide on how to reform this House, you have to decide what you want it to do, and I do not think that we have done that yet.
But whatever the functions of the House are to be, I have grave doubts about the wisdom of making it an all or part-elected House. I just do not think that the Prime Minister and his advisers have thought this through. I do not know who his advisers are, although I read names in the newspapers from time to time. I believe he would be wise, if he has not done so, to consult the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, who has studied the subject with some care. Election for every conceivable post is now the politically correct procedure, regardless of whether it is sensible or not. It is supposed to be “democratic” and “modern” and to make the body to which people are elected more “legitimate”. These buzzwords are bandied about without any thought for what they really mean.
I am asking Her Majesty’s Government to give a little thought to what they are about to destroy, before wading in with the bulldozers—for bulldozers it will be. There is no way that the existing House can evolve into an elected Chamber as it has always evolved in the past. It means starting again from scratch.
There is in this House at present a large body of ability and expertise in a wide variety of subjects. Much of it is on the Cross Benches, but there is a lot on all sides of the House. Is it wise to disband that expertise? For no system of election will give us the quality we now enjoy in many Members of the House, which is a mainly appointed House. I am sorry, but I do not think that the kind of people who are in this House now will want to stand for election and go through all the hustings and the hassle of doing so, whatever anybody may suggest. What is less than satisfactory here is the method of appointment—party leaders filling the House with their cronies whom they want to pay off for past favours; or those cronies from whom they have hopes and expectations. Only the Cross-Benchers have an appointments commission.
The noble Lord, Lord Steel, has trotted out his House of Lords Bill for another outing. I entirely agree with him—I am sorry that he is not in his place at the moment, to hear me agree with him for once—in his wish to have an appointments commission for the whole House. What I do not agree with is his recipe for the commission. In the first place, I do not see why the Speaker of another place should have any input into the membership of the commission. Come to that, I do not see why the Lord Speaker of this House should have one either, although I mean no disrespect to the Lord Speaker in saying this.
At the same time, I think that the leaders of the parties should have an input, the Convenor of the Cross Benches especially. I think that they should each be able to nominate members of the commission. However, they should have to nominate them from those members of the Privy Council who are also Members of this House, because that way you might get people who understood what was needed. The leaders of the Government and the Opposition and the Convenor of the Cross-Bench Peers could each nominate three members and the leader of the Liberal Democrats could nominate two members. That would make a commission of 11 members. The chairman of the commission should be an independent Cross-Bencher.
I could go into a lot of detail as to how the commission would work—it would work in much the same way as the commission of the noble Lord, Lord Steel—but we have very little time, and I will not bore your Lordships with the details in this debate. Anyone who is interested, which is very unlikely, can ask me.
As for the rest of the noble Lord’s Bill, any of us can retire at any time by simply ceasing to attend. Or is he proposing that we should be paid to cease to attend? I doubt if that would go down very well in the present fiscal state of the country. I find the noble Lord’s proposed embargo on ex-convicts a little sad. They have paid their penalty and some may have much to contribute.
The hereditary Peers were—as the then Lord Chancellor, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, said at the Dispatch Box—to remain until the second stage of the reform had taken place, as hostages to annoy the Government and prod them into producing the second stage. The appointment of an appointments commission for the whole House would constitute that second stage of reform, and the hereditary Peers would have fulfilled their remit and should then go.
I do not think that the people of this country want the House of Lords destroyed. It is the Government who want this House destroyed, when it does its duty in preventing them getting their own way without a second thought. That is why the Government are determined to do what they propose. They do not wish to destroy—for destroy it would be—this House because it does not work. They wish to destroy it because it does work—too well for their comfort.
My Lords, I do not have a prepared speech, but I made a few jottings and shall try to deal with them in relation to what has been said. At this stage of the debate, it is just as well that I did not try to make a speech, because I could never have matched the quality of the speeches that were against setting up an elected second Chamber.
Perhaps I may say a word or two on due process. I am extremely grateful not only to my noble friend Lord Higgins but to the noble Baroness, Lady Royall of Blaisdon, who immediately got hold of the importance of the point. This is crucial, because if you are to start a process, you really ought to start at the beginning. No one yet has taken that point, which is crucial. We should debate whether we want a second Chamber. Once we have said yes—we probably will, or perhaps we will not; I do not know—the committee that has been appointed can get to work. If we say no, it cannot.
What is the committee doing now? I do not know of course, but I suspect that it is very little. I think that it has had one meeting, but it may be meeting in vain. At the moment the committee should not be doing anything. One has to consider not only its remit but its composition. Why is there no Back-Bencher from any of the three main parties of our House on the committee? I do not know. If I asked the Leader of the House, I would not get a direct answer, because even if he knew he could not tell me. This is a very important question because the whole process could collapse if a court were to hold that there had been no due process.
It is not only Back-Benchers from the three main parties. It is crucial to include the party in opposition, whatever it thinks, because we are supposed to be a sort of democracy. As the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, said, we should also have someone who knows something about the House. Most of the people in the other place know nothing about the House. They do not want to know anything about the House. They do not like the House very much. They think that we are an awful nuisance. I do not blame them, but they are not ideal candidates for a committee to improve our work.
Those two aspects have to be dealt with. There is no prospect of a compromise. I hoped that there might be, but I made some inquiries and was informed by people who are more knowledgeable than I am that there is no prospect. Well, these questions will be dealt with at Question Time next Tuesday.
The noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, dealt with this next point in a remarkable fashion. What about the people? What do they think? Do they want a change in the House? Has anybody asked them? Does anybody know? The feeling is that the people are really rather satisfied with the way in which we deal with things in a moment of difficulty. I argued this point from the other side of the Chamber some time ago, when we debated the Eames report. The day after that debate, the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, said to me outside, “You were right. What we wrote in the report could not have been the right reason”. However, there were other reasons. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, who was not the Leader of the House then, said, “Well, times have changed and that is the reason”. However, there is no evidence that the people are dissatisfied.
Let us not forget that, as the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury said on 8 June, the “historic role” of our House is to represent “non-partisan civil society”. This is not only about elections; it is about the nation. Before we debate, we want to know what the people think. Some time ago, polls showed that the people supported our House. Perhaps the papers or someone else could arrange for us to have some evidence, of whatever quality, of what the people think before we have this essential debate.
My Lords, since I first came to Parliament, I have listened to many debates on the reform of this House but I have never spoken in one. My fondest memory is of the debates on House of Lords reform in the other place in the late 1960s, when a coalition of Michael Foot and Enoch Powell, both eminent parliamentarians, held the Labour Government to ransom. As we did not have a sufficient majority to impose a closure, that Lords reform Bill was obviously dying on its feet. Its unenthusiastic author, Jim Callaghan, departed to the warmer climes of a Commonwealth conference, leaving the management of the Bill in the interminable, long nights to his young Parliamentary Secretaries, Lord Merlyn-Rees and the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan. In one of his late night interventions, Mr Foot reminded the House of a naval battle in the Mediterranean, when the admiral had been shot on the deck of his ship, leaving his young son standing alone on deck, whence all had fled. Michael said of the two young Parliamentary Secretaries that never had such responsibility rested on such young shoulders,
“since the boy stood on the burning deck”.—[Official Report, Commons, 14/4/69; col. 885.]
Soon afterwards, that attempt at reform was abandoned. I forecast a lot of trench warfare on this occasion, too.
There may be greater success if we keep at the forefront of our minds what I regard as some important facts. First, in our time, there have been massive changes in the entitlement to membership of this House. Secondly, it would be counterproductive to have piecemeal, individual reform of the two branches of the legislature. The Commons must be the primary House. Supply must be its concern and its concern alone. That is why I have looked with great disfavour when the head of a major spending department is in this House. Traditionally, my view used to be the attitude of the Labour Party, too. To achieve any worthwhile reform of this House and to ensure the stability of that reform, the powers of both Houses and the relationship of Westminster to the devolved legislatures should be considered first. We have had that reiterated time after time in this debate.
It is said from time to time that there is no intention of giving this House more powers. Powers are the key to the future. It is said that the powers of this House and of the other place would remain the same. That is nonsense. No self-respecting reformed House of Lords would be content with that. Elected Members of this House, with their staff and offices and with the enhanced credibility of having been elected, would demand their place in the sun. Unless a provision is built in to limit in some way their re-election—and there could be human rights problems with such a proposal—they will strive for more powers and the publicity from the exercise of those powers. Within our shores, we have seen in the last few years the demand from the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly for more powers. The same would happen with an elected House here.
Michael Foot also said, “Don’t ever think that you can make the House of Lords an India paper edition of the House of Commons without creating eternal conflict”. We are approaching a situation in which we have too many elections—to the Commons, Europe, the devolved legislatures and councils, as well as referenda, with more to come. Over the years, the percentage of those voting has gone down. It would be a brave person who would claim that, with different kinds of voting for different kinds of bodies, the percentage of those voting would go up. What sort of poll could we expect from another tier of elections for this House, unless we piggyback that election on another one?
Dare I say that there is a problem of identifying people who are prepared to stand the rigours of election to office? I surmise, with respect, that many if not most of our present membership would not dream of doing so. Given the resources that MPs now have to carry out their duties, can the totality of their number, which has been increasing over decades, be justified? When the Welsh Assembly was created, my postbag and my surgery workload as an MP were halved overnight. For all these reasons, I suggest a different approach. We now need an impartial study, probably by a royal commission—as we used to have, particularly on matters pertaining to the constitution. The most recent one in my time was the Kilbrandon Commission on devolution. The remit of the royal commission would be to examine the powers and constitution of both Houses; the number of Members; and Westminster's relationship with the devolved assemblies. Before we proceed any further, we should do that.
My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Morris, we are all allowed a personal reminiscence—perhaps an indulgence—on this occasion. My text for today arises from 20 October 1994, when I said in the House:
“I believe that it would be a mistake for any government to make the reform of the House of Lords the centrepiece of the first parliamentary Session”.—[Official Report, 20/10/94; col. 368.]
I suggested that there were more urgent problems, such as poverty, unemployment, health, education and homelessness. I went on to say that if, however, legislation were to be proposed, it should examine how life Peers were chosen, and by implication the ending of the hereditary principle. I also said that an appointed House should reflect the composition of the electorate as indicated at general elections.
That was my view 16 years ago. Consistency is not necessarily a virtue, but my views since have remained broadly the same. As for priorities, although my noble friends on the Front Bench may wince, I will remind them that there were only two and a half lines about reform of the Lords in the 108 pages of my party's manifesto—and one paragraph out of 300 in the document, The Coalition: Our Programme for Government. In the election campaign, I did not hear much about this in Glenrothes, Wigan or Llanelli. However, I recognise and fully accept the Government's wish to publish a Bill with a large measure of cross-party agreement. If the Bill is a big, bold proposal, it will absorb a great deal of parliamentary time. The alternative is an important, significant but relatively modest Bill, which may succeed.
One objection to the character of the House 16 years ago was the unfair and damaging political dominance of the Conservative Party. In the interim, without statutory change and owing to my noble friend Lord Wakeham's royal commission, there is now a convention by which there are at present more Labour Peers in the House than Tories, even if there are not enough Liberal Democrats. Another objection at the time was, as I said, to the hereditary principle. Although I thought that it should be abandoned completely and did not agree with the Weatherill amendment, at least under the 1999 Act the hereditaries have been reduced to fewer than 100. There has also been an Appointments Commission since 2000. This is better than nothing, although it is not statutory, it has arbitrary numbers and it does not cover all noble Lords who sit on the Cross Benches.
There have been other major constitutional developments, including the election of the Lord Speaker and the departure of the Law Lords to the new Supreme Court. The House has changed a great deal for the better over these years without becoming elected or partially elected. By common consent, the House is very effective in the scrutiny of legislation because it now has a greater range of experience and talent. At the same time, there has been no challenge to the primacy of the Commons. In the end, the existing elected House wins—and quite right, too.
In a debate almost three years ago, I said that my preference among the options for reform of the Lords was for no more White Papers, no more parliamentary Statements and no more working groups. I called for a moratorium of at least five years. It was, I think, the informal view of my noble friend Lord Strathclyde that he would perhaps prefer 10 to five. However, when I came to examine the first draft of my noble friend Lord Steel's Bill, I softened. There was a strong case for supporting it.
Almost every Member of your Lordships' House has a personal agenda. My own is for all Bills to go first to the Commons for Second Reading—to agree on the principle of the Bill and vote if necessary—and then to the Lords for all its stages, from Second Reading to Third and Do Now Pass. After that, it would return to the Commons, which would take the remaining usual proceedings up to Royal Assent. One advantage would be to end the tiresome exchange of ping-pong, another to emphasise that the House of Commons would have the last word. I am tempted to examine this further, but on this occasion I am content to back my noble friend Lord Steel's Bill as the core for new legislation to be promoted by my Government.
My Lords, like others, I have no problem with taking note of the case for reform of the House of Lords. Indeed, I am happy to support reform. There are various changes that we could and should make in order to render the House more effective and efficient in fulfilling its tasks, not least those changes so clearly adumbrated by my noble friend Lord Steel of Aikwood. However, like others, I distinguish between reform and what the Government propose for this House, which is not reform but destruction. The Government's case for a largely or wholly elected House is built on stilts. In the time available, I wish to address each of these and demonstrate why they cannot bear the weight given to them.
First, we are told that having an elected second Chamber is the “settled view” of the House of Commons. This derives from the outcome of two Divisions in 2007. It is not clear why the votes of MPs in 2007 constitute a settled view but their votes in 2003 do not. How can something decided on only one occasion constitute a settled view? If there is a settled view, it is the consistently expressed view of this House, which apparently is to be dismissed.
Secondly, we have heard the argument a number of times that an elected second Chamber is the “democratic” option. This is usually advanced as if it is self-evidently true. We have a representative democracy, at the heart of which is the concept of accountability. Our system of asymmetrical bicameralism ensures that we maintain what has been termed “core accountability”: that is, there is one body—the party or parties in government—responsible for public policy and accountable through elections to the House of Commons for that policy. There is no divided accountability, as exists in presidential systems and/or where both Chambers are elected. The role of this House, by virtue of not being elected, is to complement the elected Chamber and not to conflict with it. Once one elects a second Chamber, the relationship will change and undermine the core accountability that I consider a particular strength of our current system.
Thirdly—this is related—we are told that an appointed Chamber lacks legitimacy. Legitimacy derives from a popular acceptance that certain people are the most appropriate for fulfilling particular tasks. The means by which they are selected to fulfil their task will vary according to the nature of the task. There is survey evidence that people want this House to fulfil its current tasks, not least that of detailed scrutiny of legislation. The legitimacy of the Commons derives from election. Our legitimacy derives from having a membership that is especially qualified, through experience and expertise, to engage in informed scrutiny. They are different forms of legitimacy but they constitute legitimacy none the less.
Fourthly, we are told that moving to an elected Chamber will not affect the relationship between the two Houses. My noble friend Lord McNally has said in answer to a Written Question from the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon:
“The Government believe that the basic relationship between the two Houses, as set out in the Parliament Acts 1911 and 1949, should continue when the House of Lords is reformed”.—[Official Report, 24/6/10; col. WA 206.]
Perhaps, in replying to the debate, my noble friend can tell us why he thinks that the Parliament Act was put on the statute book. Election will change the relationship between the two Houses and indeed the relationship in the second Chamber between the parties. The partisanship that is a feature of the other place—a consequence of competitive election—will translate to this place. It will be difficult to see how demands for greater powers than those presently held by this Chamber can be resisted.
My noble friend’s Answer demonstrates the key failure of the Government’s approach. Our constitution comprises a number of bodies that have evolved over time, each interlocking with other parts of the system. No one institution is a wholly autonomous body capable of being removed or replaced without having implications—sometimes fundamental implications—for the other parts. We have to understand the complex nature of our constitution before we make substantial change to any one part. We have to have a clear understanding of what Parliament does—and what we expect of it—in relation to the body politic before we embark on replacing one of its Chambers.
Some claim that the subject of Lords reform has been debated ad nauseam. It has been debated at length, but most of the debate, like the White Papers on Lords reform, has focused on process. The Government appear to have achieved the remarkable feat of not having engaged with the principles and not having thought through the consequences. We need to engage in a proper, thorough debate. I look forward to my noble friend agreeing that any legislation must be a consequence of such debate and not a substitute for it.
My Lords, it is a great privilege to follow the noble Lord, with whom I totally disagree, although I shall not explain why as I do not have the time.
I have been in this House for 19 years but I still fail to admire myself so much that I think of myself as indispensible to the British constitution. It is difficult not to be in love with oneself but I try. I am for a wholly elected House of Lords and always have been. I belong to a party which, I remind my noble friends on this side of the House, had to be dragged from being abolitionist to being in favour of a reformed House of Lords. If some of us have now moved to a no-change position, I shall not join them.
This, I believe, is the first time that we are in serious danger of being reformed. We at last have a Government who have the commitment to do that and, given what they are doing—I believe, rightly—to the economy, they need a political programme that will prove their radicalism. This Government have the majority in the House of Commons—and perhaps even in the House of Lords, although whipping is difficult—that will make it possible for them to pass a Bill on reforming the Lords to a wholly or partially elected House. That is quite a serious possibility. This is now the time to stop thinking that this issue will go away or that people will get into a discussion about powers and conventions and that somehow reform will never happen.
I take this matter very seriously. I believe that this Government should not only draft a Bill for whichever option they choose—as I said, I prefer the wholly elected option—but should also be prepared to use the 1949 Act. When Tony Blair came to visit the Labour Peers’ Group about five years ago just after he had made a hospital pass to Jack Straw about House of Lords reform, I remember asking him whether he was going to use the 1949 Act. He looked as though I had assaulted him. He said, “No, of course not. I am going to rely on consensus”. At that moment, I knew that reform would not happen.
Constitutional change does not happen by consensus; it happens by conflict, as British history shows, although I shall not go into that. If we are serious—and I am very serious about this—then we have to get this Bill through. We have already waited 100 years. The right honourable gentleman the Deputy Prime Minister may not quite get what he wants in 2011 but he may get it in 2012. I want reform because of the inadequacy of the House of Commons to be a check on the Executive and because our appointed position does not make us powerful enough to check the Executive, despite the evidence that the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, gave of our amendments being accepted. When push comes to shove, we always have to say that the other place is right and that we are wrong.
I consider the primacy of the Commons to be an historical accident of the past 1,000 years or so. It is an historical accident because your Lordships’ House is unelected. No Commonwealth countries adopted this bicameral model when they left the Empire. They all took a bicameral model but none had an appointed or hereditary House.
I stand corrected. I always think of larger countries such as India and Pakistan. I apologise for that. However, Canada did not make its second Chamber hereditary, because at that time it did not have that option. There was not even an appointed element in your Lordships’ House when Canada made that choice.
The point is that other countries manage to have bicameral legislations with elected representatives and they get into conflict. Conflict is the essence of politics and conflicts get resolved. There are established ways of reconciling conflicts between two Chambers of a Parliament wherever there are two Chambers. Why are we afraid of conflict? Solidly belonging to my party, I believe that good things, including progress, come out of conflict; progress does not come out of reconciliation.
If we want a really effective Parliament—one that will be a check on the Executive—perhaps we will have to abandon the wisdom and sagacity of your Lordships’ House and have a Chamber which is elected and legitimate and which will be able effectively to check the Executive. We will then have to consider on what grounds we elect that Chamber, and a number of suggestions have already been made. The noble Lord, Lord Low, in particular, made a very interesting suggestion about appealing to various constituencies such as the royal societies and so on. However, we have to move to an elected principle—perhaps not on territorial grounds like the House of Commons—with Members who cannot be re-elected so that they are independent. Fear not, my Lords. There are other people who are very capable; the fact that they are not here does not prove that they are not.
My Lords, I confess it is something of a shock to learn that there is a Back Bencher in favour of an elected House. With the new stricter regulatory regime, I feel I ought to declare a family interest in these matters. I can assure noble Lords that my contribution will be brief in view of the hour and a long speakers’ list.
The arguments in favour of an all-appointed, or largely appointed, House, against an elected one, have been well aired in a series of remarkable and compelling speeches. I would say that they enjoy the support of the majority of noble Lords on all sides of this Chamber. One of the more entertaining features of life in this place in recent months has been to watch the faces of those noble Lords seated behind their Front Benches when official policy on the subject of so-called reform is being discussed. To describe such faces as being supportive would be to stand the English dictionary on its head. Practical considerations and common sense are, of course, nearly always overlooked at such times.
However, to put in hand, at a time of dire economic stress, reforms which will add very considerably to the cost of the Lords, while at the same time driving a coach and horses through its ability to make a meaningful contribution, as it undoubtedly does at present, to this country's legislative process, beggars belief. I am reminded of the question, repeatedly and cogently asked—and asked again today—by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, who is not in his place: in what way will any reform improve the quality of the work that the Lords is expected to carry out, and how will it improve its performance? Each time, until today, that question has been met with a deathly hush, but I am much obliged to the noble Lord, Lord Richard, who also is not in his place—this is a problem of speaking down the batting list, as they say—for supplying an answer during this debate. I cannot say that I am persuaded by it, but at least he has provided, as one would expect from the noble Lord, a lucid and passionate case for the forces of darkness.
Proponents of reform, as they like to call it—although in this specific context “destruction” rather than “reform” might be a more accurate word—take pleasure in using words like “anachronistic”, “indefensible” and “undemocratic” to describe this place, but, like many other noble Lords I suspect, I have rarely heard them used by ordinary people outside the hothouse atmosphere of Westminster and certain sections of the media. Rather, there would appear to be a modest appreciation of the work we do, although we must never ever be guilty of self-satisfaction.
I would like to make two observations, one general and one particular, about the spin-offs from this reform crusade. On the generality, there is much talk of the need for democratic accountability and that, of course, entails elections. Interestingly enough, however, figures show that the increased demand for elections—for Europe, for mayors, for the police, for Uncle Tom Cobbleigh and all—runs in direct parallel with the drop in numbers of those taking part in the democratic process itself. In 1950, for example, the percentage turnout for the general election was 83.9 per cent and in May, it was 65.1 per cent. As a democrat, I have a strong feeling that we should be doing more, far more, to get the electorate to vote at the only election which really counts—the election of Members of the other place.
Let us fine tune the mechanism for general elections by making it possible for everyone to vote who wants to vote, without being turned away at the polling stations and without multiple voting fraud, by having sensible constituencies, and so on, before we start fiddling about with additional electoral creations where a 40 per cent turnout will be regarded as a triumph. That sort of thing brings democracy into disrepute. As to the particular, we learn, just as with certain aspects of the human rights legislation, that democracy can be selective. Let me remind the House, for the umpteenth time today—good tunes always bear repetition—about the committee established to produce a draft reform Bill by the end of the year. It contains no Member of the Cross Benches, and Cross-Benchers account for a quarter of the membership of this place, and it has no Back-Bencher on it. Presumably, one cannot risk the chance of dissenting voices. It might be too much to talk of the tyranny of democracy, but to describe it as the selectivity of democracy would seem an apt description.
Of course, I welcome sensible reform of the House, but reform and not destruction. There are more urgent issues than the debate between election and appointment. Let me refer to just two. At present, the House is far too large; its size should be reduced through the sympathetic and sensitive encouragement of retirement. Secondly, the Appointments Commission should be put on a statuary basis. I cannot understand why the excellent Bill proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, should not be given a fair wind without delay. I look forward, with interest and sympathy, to the Motion of the noble Lord at the end of these proceedings today.
Recent experience has shown us the constitutional folly of piecemeal, or rushed, reform. Ill-thought-out changes, which after experience and evaluation can be seen not to have worked, can take a long and damaging time to put right. Any reform to this House must enhance its capabilities and be in harmony with the other place. Nothing else will do for the good governance of future generations.
My Lords, I am probably one of those people who will support an elected House, although, having listened to the noble Lord, Lord Cope, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, I thought that their cases were very strong indeed. When the noble and learned Lord was speaking, I looked at the three Cross Benches there and saw a collection of talent which was mind-blowing. Will we, because of election, lose those people? I was wavering. What made me stick to my guns is what the noble Lord, Lord Desai, said: I, too, want this House to be more powerful. Let us remember how the King’s Government goes on: the King’s Government can only continue because the Commons gives it money so to do. We have never had tax-raising powers; we only had “don’t raise tax” powers and when more people voted to tax other people and it was popular and necessary as a result of universal suffrage, it was natural for this House to say to the Commons, “No, you cannot take powers”. It lost all credibility and the consequence was 1911.
The powers that rest in this House are still, as the noble Lord, Lord Desai, and others have said, very considerable. I can think of several statutory instruments in the past year which we should have voted down. We should have voted down the one about all those northern boroughs and then the Government would not have got into a pickle. The fact that the first Division in this House this Session was lost by a Conservative Government in the House of Lords is one of those totally joyous facts which one will cherish, giggling, all the way to one’s grave. I am not sure the Whips feel like that.
The system of election is very difficult and it is important that the election should not be at the same time as that for the House of Commons. It is equally important that people should be elected for, say, a fixed term of 15 years with no re-election. When elected to this House, the Whip should lie like gossamer upon your shoulders. Admittedly, I am here because Pitt got drunk with my great-great-grandfather, but we have been paid our bribe and all that sort of stuff. For however long I have been here, the Whip has rested lightly upon my shoulders. I hope it has not stopped me being a great supporter of the Conservative Government when in office and someone who has tried on occasions to make the Labour Government’s life impossible. However, Governments are never perfect; they make mistakes; and, therefore, something has to be done about it.
If you have elections, you go back to what our Whig forebears found, which is a balance of power between the two. There was an amazing example of 18th century government which took place in Australia. Because the Australians had had dominion status, as it was then called, before 1911, their Senate had the power to throw out Budgets, exactly as the old House of Lords did. When the Senate under Gough Whitlam threw out the Budget, Sir John Kerr dissolved Parliament and said to the people, “The King’s Government have stopped. Now please, oh people, choose another King's Government”.
The Whig constitution of 1688 works perfectly. Before 1911, that is how this House functioned. It said that we will very rarely sling out Bills, but when we do, either you accept it or you call an election and let the people decide. If you rebalance the powers between the two Houses, you have a more balanced and, in my view, a more efficient Government.
The House of Commons now has a system of timetabling and guillotining. The Bills come from the House of Commons undigested and undiscussed. We seem to be able to go through most of them on the Floor of the House quite sensibly. I am not asking for a change of culture. I am just suggesting that we should use the powers that we have and have the legitimacy to use those powers more than we do.
I am confused; perhaps the noble Earl can explain. He says that by electing this Chamber, those powers can be properly used. The House of Commons is all-elected. Does it do better in making the Government accountable? Does it use its time to revise the law properly? They are elected. What difference would that make to this House that does not happen in the House of Commons, which is fully elected? Can he enlighten me?
I am extremely sorry that the most reverend Primate is confused, and I will do my level best to try to deconfuse him. It is a question of legitimacy of power, is it not? In today’s world, it is difficult to say that power can arise other than through some element of popular choice. If we had an elected House, there would be no reason why the Prime Minister should not sit on that Front Bench, because if the party chose him as leader, he would have power. We would get a rebalance of the Whig constitution. That is very important.
Finally, if and when we have a change, please, please, please do not let us call this House a senate. I would love to be elected—it would be great fun to come in because of birth, because of an odd election and then because of a popular election, but I am much too old—but if I were I would not like to address my fellow Members in an upper Chamber as conscript fathers. Let us keep calling it the House of Lords. Let us not change it to a senate. Those are my views. I know that I am in a minority but there we are, that is what politics is all about.
My Lords, we always get surprises in this House, and I did not imagine that I would agree so much with the noble Earl. Nor did I imagine for one moment that he was going to be in favour of an elected House. Indeed, when agreeing with the Leader of the House in the past, I said that there were only two of us in favour. Now it appears that there are one or two more than that.
On the other side, we have heard again—I agree with my noble friend Lord Richard when he says that the arguments are all the same—the reason for delay and why we cannot do it now. We have referred in passing to the fact that there have been party manifestos on this. The Conservative Party manifesto stated:
“We will work to build a consensus for a mainly-elected second chamber to replace the current House of Lords, recognising that an efficient and effective second chamber should play an important role in our democracy and requires both legitimacy and public confidence”.
In their manifesto, the Liberals were quite short on the subject. They simply said:
“Replace the House of Lords with a fully-elected second chamber with considerably fewer members than the current House”.
That is quite straightforward as well. The Labour Party manifesto stated:
“Further democratic reform to create a fully elected Second Chamber will then be achieved in stages. At the end of the next Parliament one third of the House of Lords will be elected; a further one third of members will be elected at the general election after that. Until the final stage, the representation of all groups should be maintained in equal proportions to now. We will consult widely on these proposals, and on an open-list proportional representation”—
I emphasise, an open-list proportional representation—
“electoral system for the Second Chamber, before putting them to the people in a referendum”,
with which I agree. It is no use this House continuing to resist change.
My noble friend Lord Desai is right; it is possible that that could go through, and it is time that the House recognised that that is legitimate and could happen. We have seen that the new Government are prepared to bring that about. There has been a lot of talk about the clash between the two Houses if it happened. On 24 June, the noble Lord, Lord McNally, stated:
“The Government believe that the basic relationship between the two Houses, as set out in the Parliament Acts 1911 and 1949, should continue when the House of Lords is reformed”.—(Official Report, 24/6/10; col. WA 206.)
That is right as well. There is no reason why there should always be a clash between the Commons and the Lords. What about the Lords and the Commons coming together to bring the Executive to account? I do not see why that could not be achieved. We have been looking at the negative; let us look at the positive for a moment.
We have been talking about the size of a new House. We ought to recognise that this House is run by about 400 people. There may be nearly 800 Members, but attending week by week or day by day there are about 400, give or take—sometimes there are less, sometimes more—so there is no reason why we should not look at a composition of a House of about 400. I welcome what the Leader of the House said: that he would look at proposals for what might happen to existing Peers—retirement, or how else they could go? There is no reason why we cannot change that.
I also agree with the noble Earl that anyone who is elected should be elected for one term—that term being, I suggest, about 15 years. It could be for three Parliaments; it could be for 15 years. Where I disagree is that if we are to get a real turnout and make a representative House, the election must be on the same day as the general election, when the Commons is elected, but in a different way. I believe that it should be elected by region; I believe that it should be by proportional representation; but I believe that it should be by an open list, so that Members are not responsible to the parties in the same way. We know what parties do with lists; they put those who they want at the top and those they do not want nearer the bottom. Why should not the electorate select for themselves who they want to sit in Parliament?
If you pass legislation, you should be democratically elected. I think it is possible—I go no further than that—to say that after 100 years, we may be nearing the time when there could be an elected House. I respect everyone in this Chamber. I really enjoy my time here and any debate I partake in, but instead of trying to delay and procrastinate, we have to recognise that this might happen and must play a role in bringing it about. We must be positive and look towards the future: a democratic House. We will end 100 years of procrastination when we achieve that aim.
My Lords, as an old history master, I must give a little correction; Peers assessed themselves until, I think, 1663. That said, the noble Lord, Lord Desai, was right to say that you must consider the history of every country when you consider their constitutions. As the 38th speaker on the speakers list, I can only underline what other noble Lords have said. The fact is that the British Executive are one of the strongest in the world. As noble Lords know, in recent times Lord Hailsham described it as an elective dictatorship. Paradoxically—and we have got to face this fact—this House is the most independent element in the English constitution. The late Lord Peyton was a great friend of mine. Those of you who knew him here know that he was an awkward and independent man. The Whips once got hold of him and said that he ought to knuckle under and be more supportive of the Government. He replied, in a very pretty phase, “Look, you’ve got nothing to give me that I want, and there is nothing that I have that you can take away from me”. That is, in a way, the essence of this House. We are all independent. I am possibly more independent than many, which is why I am 38th on the list.
The basis for this executive power is the political party. There is a book to be written on the English political party. It is one of the strongest in western Europe and was created from Gladstone, Disraeli and Salisbury onwards. It is the basis of the power of the Executive. Many Members know more intimately that I do what happens when you rebel against a political party. Very few rebels last after one election. The party holds the power. Harold Wilson descried it by saying, “If you don’t wear my dog collar, you won’t get anywhere”. That is the historical background we are operating against. The political party will not alter its power and will remain, and that is why I oppose elections. You would not have men like the late Lord Peyton. The noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, who spoke eloquently in favour of democracy, is also an independent man, but would he be in an elected House with a career to prove?
A long tenure has been suggested. The English political party has refined and developed its methods and would deal with that tenure in no time at all. When the poor fellow passed his tenure, he would be told that he had no hope unless he committed himself to the party.
I am opposed to election. I think we are walking blindfold into an abyss. I agree with all that my noble friend Lord Norton said, but that does not mean that I am happy with the present method of appointment, although I was a beneficiary of it. It is not beyond the wit of man to devise a system of appointment that is fairer and more independent and that would produce a House that is better, possibly, than the one we have now. It is crucial that, with a strong Executive and iron political parties, there is an independent element somewhere within our legislature. The fact is that we are it. If we abandon this, we get over the abyss and hand total control of the legislature to the English political parties. I suggest that we would do that at our peril. History would not reward us for what we did. I ask noble Lords to think. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, spoke about democracy. It is a sort of magic word. We have forgotten who invented the referendum; it was Napoleon, and he never lost one. We also forget that the greatest beneficiary of the democratic system was the late Adolf. We should not plunge ourselves into that abyss.
My Lords, I am one of those who strongly support the House remaining a fully appointed Chamber. I support the reforms proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, and agree to the proposed ending of the election procedure for replacing the 92 hereditary Peers. Although I am a beneficiary, I do not think that heredity can any more be justified as an automatic qualification for membership of your Lordships' House. That does not, of course, mean that a hereditary Peer cannot be appointed to the House on the basis of personal merit.
My main concern is about the growing size of the Chamber. Noble Lords are living longer and the numbers of new entrants are large. The idea proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Steel—that there should be a voluntary retirement option—is a step in the right direction, but I do not believe that it would solve the problem. I believe that there should be a fixed retirement rule. It should be based on either a retirement age or a fixed period of service. I feel strongly that a fixed period of service is preferable. An age limit takes no account of the fact that individuals become Members at different ages and therefore would have different periods of service. A fixed period of service, on the other hand, is the same for everyone.
How long should the fixed period of service be? It could be 20 or 25 years; I would suggest 20. There should be a mechanism to grant an extension of, say, up to five years to a Peer who is making a significant contribution at the time of retirement. This step could be approved by the Lord Speaker after consultation, as appropriate. Given that a large proportion of the current membership of the House has considerably more than 20 years of service, it would be necessary to have an extended transition period of at least five years. I proposed such a system in an amendment to the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill in the previous Parliament, but it was lost in the wash-up and not debated. Basically, it would involve listing the present membership by length of service and dividing it into, say, five groups, with the longest serving group retiring in the first year and the others spread over the next four years. In summary, I believe that a fixed period of service will be necessary if this House is to survive as a fully appointed House, and I believe that it is of paramount importance for the future of this country that it should.
My Lords, in discussing this subject, I believe that we should take a firm and objective view of ourselves and what we do or, rather, the results of what we do. When all is said and done, we are a House of Parliament with very few powers, fewer even than when WS Gilbert wrote that we,
“Did nothing in particular,
And did it very well”.
As my noble friend Lord Cope pointed out, we often do not use the powers that we have. We credit ourselves—and, to be fair, outsiders do too—on being an efficient and cheap revising Chamber, not only in discussing potential Acts of Parliament, but in general debates, Starred Questions and in looking at government policies or, sometimes, the lack of them. I must ask noble Lords to look beyond this and consider what happens then.
The noble Lord, Lord Richard, is right. The answer is precisely nothing, except in very rare cases until or unless the Government of the day accept our findings. That is why I believe that a better description of our activities is “advisory”. It follows then that we are not so very different from any other quango anywhere in the world, but with one notable exception. We are the biggest by far. I am sure that it is principally this that has, over the past few years, put the wind up the leaders of all the political parties. I am therefore delighted by the formation of the Leader’s Group to be chaired by my noble friend Lord Hunt of Wirral.
We are, of course, smaller than we were before the great emasculation, a phrase that does not gain universal approval. On 13 October 1999, we mustered 1,213— technically anyway, as 117 noble Lords had either no writs of summons or had taken leave of absence. That is around the size of the roll of Eton. At the beginning of the next Parliament, we had reduced to 674, with only four Peers on leave of absence. Today, including the three noble Lords we have just welcomed, we have 745. As my noble friend Lord Strathclyde said at the beginning of this debate, it would not surprise any of us if we did not number 800 by this time next year.
How can we possibly justify this? The answer is that we cannot. Indeed, could we do the same job so well and so inoffensively with less than the average daily attendance of 400? Do we even need 800 Peers to achieve attendance of 400? I doubt it very much. We must correct it. My solution is rather different from the announced policies of the main political parties, which got approval for them from a series of votes in another place in the last Parliament. This has resulted in a quick and dirty solution; that is, to have a substantially elected chamber. It is beyond peradventure that this will be the guts of the draft Bill that will be the product of the committee comprising the great and the good of the main political parties, all of whom are members of one or other Front Bench. My noble friend on the Front Bench will have noticed more than a little resentment here.
Before they do further work, I strongly suggest that the Government organise a free vote in another place to ascertain the views of a substantially different House. More than that, I would like to see a self-denying ordinance by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister of not recommending the creation of any more new Peers to Her Majesty once the parliamentary parties in this House are balanced. There should be no more mid-term lists except to correct the natural wastage of those that go to the great debating chamber in the sky, and there should certainly be no resignation honours unless we invent non-parliamentary life Peers. There should also be a statutory limit on the suggestions of the Appointments Commission.
Last, but not least, there should be no question of an elected House for all the reasons that have and will be given by other noble Lords. Another place will live to regret it if there is, unless we are to have what the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, might have called an elected poodle. That is what it seems the Government want.
My Lords, we are invited to note,
“the case for reform of the House of Lords”.
In fact, the debate has noted the case for only limited reform or no reform at all. Clearly, House of Lords reform is very much a minority interest. As my noble and learned friend Lord Morris of Aberavon said, if there were to be a referendum just on this, one would anticipate a very small participation. The Conservative component of the Liberal-Conservative Government read public opinion better than its Liberal Democrat junior partners. For the Conservatives, at best before the election this was a third-term issue, which means that there would have been no conclusion during the lifetime of the first Parliament. They recognised that there are many issues much higher up the political agenda.
Thus, the question is: why now in government has this issue been accelerated against the political instincts of the Conservative Party? The answer is clear. For the Liberal Democrats, strictures on constitutional structures are very much part of their raison d’etre. There is a certain wide-eyed zeal, believing this to be, after 100 years or so, the unfinished business of Lloyd George. Just as Mr Clegg misread the significance of the Reform Act 1832, so I believe he has misread that of Lloyd George.
Lloyd George in my judgment would have shown himself to be a pragmatist at this time. One recalls the Limehouse speech:
“They toil not, neither do they spin”.
That is a world away from your Lordships’ House. Today’s House has a very different role and composition from his time. The truth is that the Liberal Democrats are so zealous that they were willing to pay a high price to obtain reform—not just voting reform, but including the reform of the second Chamber. But, the Minister, Miss Featherstone, as quoted in today’s Daily Telegraph, has said that she now recognises the sort of price that is being paid. It is the price of a free rein on constitutional reform for the Liberal Democrats so that the Conservative Party can have a free rein for a Tory Budget and massive welfare cuts, which will harm the poor particularly. It is sad to see the willingness to sacrifice the poor and the deprived in the country on the altar of constitutional reform. We have been here before. At an international parliamentary conference I recall a Florida Congressman saying that everything that can be said has been said, but not everyone has said it. So he proposed to make his own speech.
Let me try to expose some illusions. One illusion is that an 80 per cent or 100 per cent elected Chamber,
“answers the claims of democracy and accountability”.
That is absolute nonsense on stilts. If there were to be one election every 12 years with no possibility of facing the electorate again, how can such an individual be deemed to be accountable because they happened to pass an electoral test at one stage in the distant past? How can they in any way be accountable to an electorate?
The second illusion is that such a changed House would not rival the House of Commons. I think that it was Berkeley who said that no institution is static; all institutions are dynamic. Certainly, a House of Lords with democratic legitimacy would inevitably challenge the House of Commons more regularly and with greater ease.
Another illusion is that in a reformed House of Lords one can still expect the same expertise as we have now in this House. For me the argument is less strong, having seen some of the arguments in favour of a Welsh Assembly. We were in favour of an Assembly, but one of the arguments was that we would have a new sort of person coming from all corners of Wales and not from the traditional political structures. Alas and alack, although there are many very good people, the normal pathway to the Welsh Assembly is through being in the office of an existing Assembly person. One has to pass through the normal political structures if one values the expertise which one has from senior lawyers, senior medics and senior military people. Does one expect those lawyers, medics and generals to find a place on a party list? Of course they would not. If they were to expect to find a place on the list, the argument put to them would be: “What have you done? Have you laboured in the vineyard? What have you done for the party?”. It would be a different sort of House, which would be a pale reflection of the House of Commons and of those who, for various reasons, were not able to find their way here. They will not be the new people. Indeed, the old will prevail:
“New presbyter is but old priest writ large”.
Finally, the reality for all of us is that, ultimately, reform will come, as my noble friend Lord Hoyle has said. There will be a House wholly or mainly elected even if there is a Passchendaele of trench warfare in this House on the way. The other place seems not to understand that there is a real danger that much of value will be lost. Surely there is a case for analysing the strengths of the current House of Lords and for asking how one could mitigate the negative aspects of change.
That means not just altering the composition, but at present this House is less partisan than the other place, is more expert, has a stronger representation of women and minorities, is much stronger on human rights and is willing to be a curb on Government in this and other respects. So any change should ensure that no one party has a majority. At least 20 per cent of its composition should be appointed for their expertise and should be based on diversity. In the past, we have altered our constitution gradually, smoothly, moving from precedent to precedent. The Steel Bill, in my judgment, offered such a way out for the Government, but the zealots have rejected it, as the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, said. I fear that much of value will be lost, and that we will indeed be a weaker reflection of the other place unless there is a clear analysis of the virtues of this place now and a serious attempt to preserve these so far as is possible.
My Lords, it is now 99 years since the passing of the Parliament Act 1911. I think it would have considerably surprised the supporters of that Act that, a century on, the question of how people should become Members of your Lordships’ House is still undecided. To use for a moment the story that the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, raised about the man who said that everything that could be said once on a subject has been said but not everybody had said it, the situation here is more than that. Everything that could be said on this subject has been said and, what is more, everybody has said it. The trouble is that not everybody has said it more than 20 times. I shall therefore concentrate, perhaps slightly as a form of light relief, on other aspects of reform, just pausing to say that I support strongly the 80:20 per cent formula.
There have been many important changes since 1911 in the way in which your Lordships’ House operates. Notably, we have had the Life Peerages Act 1958 and the House of Lords Act 1999 which between them have fundamentally altered the nature and membership of the House. In 1911, Members of your Lordships’ House were mainly grandees, the hereditary aristocracy, the great landowners and the descendants of great landowners. That had been so ever since Parliament had first come into being 600 years earlier. But that is very far from the present membership. No new hereditary peerage, I believe, has been created since Harold Macmillan was created Earl of Stockton in 1984. It is several years now since any peerages have been included in the New Year’s or Birthday Honours.
Lord Tonypandy and Viscount Whitelaw.
My Lords, I think Lord Tonypandy and Viscount Whitelaw were given peerages in 1983, a year earlier.
It is increasingly clear that new peerages created now are not awards of honours but are awarded as a method of appointment to a job. But there are many features of your Lordships’ House which are unsuitable to the House as it now exists and should be removed or altered. Let me start with a trivial matter. Why do we have to hire fancy dress from Ede and Ravenscroft if we want to attend the State Opening of Parliament? Scarlet robes are taken as a sign that we are still a group of hereditary aristos. Robes make us look out of date because the media always use photographs of us at the State Opening. I remember a photograph appeared in the newspapers of noble Lords dressed in robes and awaiting the gracious Speech in which I was the only identifiable face in the picture because I had turned around to talk to a Peer sitting behind me. Unfortunately the headline over the photograph was “Cash for peerages”. I must say that I thought I had good grounds for huge libel damages, but I avoided taking it any further.
More seriously, why do we have to have titles? Why do we have to be Lord X or Baroness Y? Why do many of us have to add place names on to our surnames? Titles, even if they are for life peerages only, seem to be another remnant of the hereditary aristocracy. Why not call ourselves—and here I disagree entirely with my noble friend Lord Onslow—senators in the same way as professors call themselves Professor or doctors call themselves Doctor without altering their names?
Let me move on to a more important matter. Why are we appointed for life? Again, that is a leftover from the time of hereditary peerages. I believe that all appointments to your Lordships’ House should have a time limit, and I agree, as most people have said, with 15 years. The Cross Benches add valuable expertise to your Lordships’ House which is particularly important when fewer and fewer Members of the House of Commons have experience of any work outside of politics. But most Cross-Benchers are only appointed on or close to retirement, and expertise has a sell-by date. After 15 years, expertise is usually not worth very much, and I believe that political appointments or elections should also be time-limited. In the case of elections that is inevitable, of course, because they will run only until the next appropriate election, but it should apply to those who in the future are appointed to sit in your Lordships’ House as party Members. I would extend this to those who have already been appointed, except that I do not want to be lynched by Members of the House, and indeed it would cause serious problems for my noble friends Lord Strathclyde and Lord McNally.
Quite plainly, our numbers are too large. Since your Lordships’ House is the best geriatric daycare centre in the country, we live for too long. I have been a Member for more than 13 years and I am conscious that my ability to contribute to the House is beginning to decline. When I will have completed my 15 years, my membership should come to an end.
The need to recognise and explain to other people that appointments to your Lordships’ House are for work and not for honour is completely different from the functions of Members of the House in 1911, and it is significantly different from the situation before the House of Lords Act 1999 came into force. But our retention of titles or life membership and other habits are out of date and mislead the public about the character of this place. It is time that we made it clear what we really are and stop pretending to be what our predecessors used to be.
My Lords, much has been said with which I strongly agree but, as Lord Peyton, whose name was mentioned a few moments ago, once said, “Nothing is spoilt by repetition”.
The House of Lords clearly needs reform, but the way not to reform it is to introduce the elected element. What will happen is that the bulk of the candidates—and here I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell—will see standing for election to come here as a second best choice to the House of Commons, as they do, to be frank, with the European Parliament now. The elections will be taken over by the parties whether we like it or not, and the elected Members will be taken over by the Whips. I say that with the authority of a former Government Chief Whip. The widespread expertise— which is the glory of this House—will be confined to the appointed Cross-Benchers, and that would be a tragedy.
However, the House needs reform and we have a good start with the Steel Bill. I like the phrase of the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, who said, “Let us have sensible reform, not destruction”. Much has been said about the growing numbers. If we go on like this, it will be within the lifetimes of some of the younger Members of the House that we shall get to 1,000. We are already seeing the possibility of the Conservative shortfall in membership compared with the Labour Party likely to be corrected by the treadmill of top-up, as I call it. We need to move to a much smaller House—400, 500, it is arguable—which should be subject to a cap where the membership cannot go above that figure.
Over the weekend I was with American friends who have strong connections with the United States Senate. When I told them that I thought the membership of the House of Lords should be reduced from getting on for 800 down to 400, they were astonished and said that if the United States can manage with just over 100 in its upper House, why do we need 400?
However, the membership of the House should be flexible after each general election. I wish to ask a question of my noble friends on the Front Bench. I hope my noble friend Lord McNally might refer to this when he winds up because I have said it all before here and have never yet got any kind of an answer—partly because I do not think there is one. What would happen in this House if a party came from nowhere at a general election and became the Government, or a significant part of a coalition, with virtually no presence in this House? It happened not long ago in Turkey and Italy. I remember, and other Members, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, will remember the surge of the SDP in the 1980s when it got to almost 30 per cent or maybe more—I forget, but around that figure—in the opinion polls. It was not sustained but it is not impossible that a surge of that kind could happen. It would be impossible here if there were a surge of that kind and a party came from nowhere and had no representation here. If we are to reform the House, let us take into account the chaos that would arise in that kind of eventuality. It is vital to deal with it now.
It would be important in the formula I suggest to adjust the House of Lords membership in the short time after a general election. The problem then is how you adjust the membership to reflect a change in government. I do not support an age limit; I do not support a set term of service. There are many around the House who will remember those who served for decades in this House; they lived to an old age in their 80s and 90s but contributed magnificently to the House. I would hate noble Lords to be thrown out just because of that.
The best way to adjust membership after each election is to leave it to the membership of the particular political party to decide which of the party members in the House will leave and which will stay. That was done very satisfactorily with the election of the 92 Peers who stayed on. Colleagues know their colleagues well, and they can be relied on to elect the most active and the most wise.
We need a formula that comes into effect after each election, so that within the cap of 400 or 500, as I say, you can allocate the membership totals to parties following the general election to reflect broadly the results in the House of Commons. Of course we would still need 20 per cent to 25 per cent of appointed Members on the Cross Benches, with all of their expertise, but whether you have an appointed or an elected House, in my view the two main parties should have more or less the same percentage. That percentage is currently around 30 per cent, and maybe each of the two parties would need rather more than that. You would leave the balance of the membership to the other parties.
I have made this speech before. I believe that it has become rather more relevant than it has been in the past, with our numbers approaching the absurd figure of 800.
My Lords, having heard the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, I am sure that he will agree that it is better to hear a good speech twice than a bad speech once.
This is a good time to consider House of Lords reform, for two reasons. The first is that we have a coalition Government. Any party in government thinking about reform of this kind is almost inevitably going to see how it can obtain party advantage. The great thing about having a coalition of two parties is that, with a bit of luck, they may be able to keep each other reasonably honest.
The second reason is that this is part of a wider debate about parliamentary reform. As has already been said on a number of occasions, we cannot deal with the way that a second Chamber is composed or operated without reference to Parliament as a whole, because of the independent nature of its components. In that context, it is important to appreciate that we cannot prescribe by statute how a chamber of a parliament actually works. Since 1999, we have seen how this Chamber has gained considerable political self-confidence, and it has a kind of political impetus behind it that it did not have a decade ago.
I spent 10 years of my life in the European Parliament; indeed, I think I represented my noble friend Lord Jopling, who obviously felt that he might have had a better representative; I do not know. I remember the way that, regardless of what the precise constitutional position was, because we had been directly elected we slowly clawed more powers towards ourselves. This is the point that my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew made when referring to my old friend, neighbour and mentor Viscount Whitelaw. In this context, I suspect that the more inferior any designation that is put to, and ascribed to, a Chamber of Parliament, the more uppity it will become as a result.
We cannot shackle the future, just as Parliament cannot bind its successors. If you look at the way that the European Union has evolved, you see that it was in a series of steps, each one of which was a settlement, but each settlement contained within it the mechanisms for change. If change takes place in accordance with the appropriate procedures, there is nothing that we can do about it. We can start by spelling out how the powers of a second Chamber may be exercised, but if a reformed second Chamber generates its own political impetus, there is nothing we will be able to do to stop it trying to acquire more. We should not be remotely concerned about that; we should cross those bridges if and when we reach them.
I turn to what I might call “soft points”. I will not necessarily offer any answers to the questions that I pose but they are important, albeit that they may not have been widely canvassed. First, I believe that Parliament as a whole is excessively metropolitan. Inevitably it is going to be London-focused because of where it is, but I happen to live and work outside London, and that makes it a great deal more difficult organisationally to play a part. I am particularly on my guard when I hear reference to “family-friendly policies” in Parliament. That normally means that you are going to have to spend all evening by yourself, and the temptations of the stews of Soho will no doubt be ever more in one’s mind as the evening goes on. They are not family-friendly at all; they may be attractive to those who live in London, but for those of us who do not come from London they are diametrically the opposite.
Secondly, the basis of the allowances that we receive appears to be that Members of this House are financially self-sufficient, through outside earnings, inheritance or pensions—I do not for a minute suggest that I am not. However, many people in this country are not in that fortunate position. While I would not go so far as to say that membership of your Lordships' House is means-tested, that proposition has an echo of truth in the background.
Perhaps I may use the “A” word: age. The truth of the matter, whether we like it or not, is that this is a pensioners Parliament. The average age here is just under 70. I think that I have been in the youngest decile here for the 20-odd years that I have been a Member. I have nothing against people being old—indeed, I very much want to be old myself one day, albeit subject to St Augustine’s strictures about chastity—but the second Chamber should no more be a gerontocracy than be a shrine to youth.
As someone who has to go out to work—I have not yet reached retirement age, which seems to be disappearing over the far horizon—I come here as a Back-Bencher and I play a part-time role. I suppose that, in a life where portfolio activities are becoming increasingly prevalent, that is not necessarily perceived as being dilettante or amateur, but we need to decide how Back-Bench Members of this House should organise their time and what commitments are expected of people.
We live in a country where evolutionary change is the technique as we go through time. We have a flexible constitution and we do not wait for the pressure cooker to build up so it explodes. We adjust to forces of change before that happens. Whatever the rationale for the processes under way for reform of the second Chamber, we must not forget that the composition of the House of Lords is not only a matter for us who are Members here or for Members of Parliament as a whole but is also a part of the constitution and belongs to every British citizen, who has a legitimate interest in what is going on. What matters most about the work which the committee that will look into these matters will conclude is not whether there is consensus in committee, not whether there is consensus in Parliament, but whether what is proposed is acceptable to the country as a whole. We can see from reading the newspapers that there is a wide range of disagreement about what should happen in the second Chamber—it seems to draw almost every crank in Britain into the letters pages, and you see some extraordinary as well as some extremely wise contributions.
Political legitimacy does not depend on systems of appointment or Acts of Parliament. It depends on acceptance by the wider body politic, which may or may not in turn form its view based on it. The ultimate test of legitimacy is whether, when a decision is taken with which you disagree or which personally hurts you, you accept it as being fair and reasonable. If you do, it is legitimate. To achieve this, hearts and minds have got to be engaged; you cannot simply do it as a top-down administrative process. Acts of Parliament do not engender hearts and minds. You have only to look at, for example, the Act of Union with Ireland, which collapsed because the Irish simply were not prepared to put up with it; the same, I fear, could happen again with Scotland. The European Union’s biggest problem is that it has not won the hearts and minds of the citizens of this country and a number of others.
If proposals for a reform of this Chamber come forward, it is important that they have general acceptance across the country. I have no objection to radical change, but my own preference should not necessarily determine the way in which I vote. There is not a right and a wrong answer—there is a whole series of ways of skinning this particular dead cat—but it is important that we know what the country wants for the second Chamber. For the time being, I am in the dark about that.
My Lords, I am sorry that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, the Leader of the House, has temporarily left his place, because I was going to start by congratulating him on the way in which he opened the debate. It was, typically for him, a smooth and polished performance. I felt that if he were to visit a turkey farm in November he would have no difficulty in convincing the residents that Christmas was really a time for rejoicing and that all of them should be grateful for the humane way in which they were going to be dispatched. However, he is not here, so perhaps his Chief Whip will pass that comment on to him.
I had hoped that the new Government would have tried harder to achieve a consensus on Lords reform. When my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer of Thoroton was Lord Chancellor, he made it clear that Members of your Lordships' House were to be part of the consensus which would deliver change. That made particular sense in the aftermath of the votes in the other place in 2003, when no majority could be assembled for any of the options on offer.
That approach was shattered, which made me sad, following the votes in the House of Commons on 8 March 2007, and from then on the views of Back-Bench Peers were largely ignored in the discussions about our future. Quite why the 2007 votes mattered so much, and why the failure to agree on any option in 2003 was of so little consequence, has never been satisfactorily explained to me. The noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, referred to this matter in his speech. I have a strong suspicion that, had a Bill been published before the recent election, it would have contained provision for the eventual expulsion of all existing Members as we moved to an all-elected House. I do not know how many of your Lordships are familiar with the TV game show “The Weakest Link”. I suspect that the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, may be, because he seemed to suggest that noble Lords should vote other noble Lords out because they were not contributing enough—very much the theme of that programme, as noble Lords will know if they are familiar with it.
Let us be quite clear about one thing. Those of us who are opposed to an elected House are not against reform. This House has already demonstrated that there is very considerable support for the measures contained in the Private Member’s Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood. It is very regrettable that its merits were not recognised until it was too late in the last Parliament to do anything about it. If the noble Lord, Lord Steel, wishes to press his Motion to a vote later, I shall certainly support him. His Bill goes a very long way towards modernising this House, as the previous Government recognised in their Constitutional Reform Bill. One of its immediate benefits would have been to reduce the total number of Members, to which a number of noble Lords have referred, as they took advantage of the provisions for retirement. Until now we have had to rely only on the Grim Reaper as a means of reducing our number. Unless something like the bubonic plague were to make a reappearance, the Grim Reaper would not be able to keep up with the lists of new appointments that seem to come through week after week at the moment. So I wish the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, well with his group, but I think that the provisions in the Private Member’s Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, will be an essential part of any new arrangement for retirement.
I have a great deal of respect for the point of view that elections confer legitimacy, but I argue too that elections are not the only way in which legitimacy can be achieved. The role of this Chamber, which is primarily to scrutinise legislation and hold the Government to account, derives its legitimacy from the way in which we do that job and from the people who carry it out. It would not be enhanced if every Member, or nearly every Member of this House, were elected. It is necessary in doing the job that we involve substantial numbers of people who are not part of the normal party-political establishment. At present we can credibly say, during the passage of legislation and the final stages of ping-pong, “We know our place”. That is a point that the noble Lord, Lord Cope, made. When inadequately scrutinised legislation is presented to us, we are able to suggest improvements and revisions to it, but we know and accept that the final word lies with the elected Chamber. The moment when authority is conferred on an assembly through election, it would be necessary to rewrite the conventions between the two Houses. Where would you stop? On what basis would you deny an elected House the right to debate supply and agree the Budget, for example? That point was made with great force by my noble friend Lord Rooker.
I hope that honourable Members in the other place will read very carefully the words of the noble Earl, Lord Onslow. As we heard this afternoon, the noble Earl is a great enthusiast for elections. But the reason why he is such a great supporter of them is that he wants this House to be really powerful and to challenge the will of the Commons. I hope that the House of Commons will come to terms with the fact that many more Members will take the same view as the noble Earl. It seems to me that there is barely a glimmer of understanding of that in the other place. They seem to believe that opposition at this end of the building to an elected House is motivated purely by self-interest and will somehow melt away if we can be bought off by some vague offer of grandfather rights for existing Members, which I have to say I find pretty insulting. The great majority of us are opposed to a predominantly or entirely elected House because we believe that the effectiveness of the second Chamber will be irretrievably weakened if it is replaced by an elected body from which Cross-Bench Peers are absent and whose Members are chosen by the party machines.
It would be invidious to name individual members—mostly, but not entirely, they are on the Cross Benches—whom we would lose if they had to stand for election. Yet who can imagine how groups such as former university vice-chancellors, eminent scientists, distinguished medical practitioners, retired police chiefs and permanent secretaries, generals, air vice-marshals and admirals—with the possible exception of my noble friend Lord West of Spithead, who I can see on the hustings—would offer themselves as political party candidates in elections to this place? They would disappear and the character and effectiveness of the House would change totally.
I wish that when we discuss these matters we would use the English language accurately and truthfully. What is being proposed is not reform, it is abolition. It is the replacement of what we have now with something totally different. Anyone who questions that has only to read Mr Clegg’s rhetoric. I cannot believe that the overwhelming majority of noble Lords on the Conservative Benches, who voted by margins of almost 6 to 1 in favour of an appointed House in 2007, are going to allow their temporary coalition partner to destroy an institution in which they so strongly believe and to which they make such a powerful contribution.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, for whom I have considerable respect. I also think that I agree with every single word that he has uttered. As someone who has lived through some 50 years of continuous, evolving reform of Parliament—admittedly, a great deal of it somewhat vicariously as the spouse of my noble kinsman when in the other place—I am certainly not opposed to necessary, continuing reform of your Lordships’ Chamber. Indeed, probably my only claim to speak on this subject is that I am a product of one of the more recent reforms of your Lordships’ House: Parliament’s decision to set up a House of Lords Appointments Commission to encourage a more widely drawn composition of the Cross-Benches, within what had already become a more representative and politically balanced House with the removal of most hereditary Peers.
As one of the first 15 so-called, rather arrogantly, people’s Peers selected, my baptism was immediate. Like all my colleagues in that first batch of appointees, we quickly became aware of the vast range of experience, expertise and, above all, independent-mindedness among those we had just joined. I do not need to go through all the characteristics because the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, has already kindly done it for me. That description certainly includes the remaining hereditaries, whose presence has also ensured the maintenance and quality of well-behaved self-regulation. Indeed, in our current Parliament we have what I would call a typical British accident—above all, an accident that works.
Necessary reform of your Lordships’ House probably has the backing of most of us, but that is not what our coalition Government have in mind. Again, I could not agree more with what so many of your Lordships have said: rather, it is the abolition of the Lords as we know it and its replacement by a completely—or almost completely—elected rather than appointed second Chamber. How much more sensible to proceed with something such as the Steel Bill, which would continue the evolving reform process by making the Appointments Commission statutory; ending the process of replacing hereditary Peers; enabling Members to retire; and taking whatever other sensible measures make sense at the time. When you consider the alternative—the upheaval and sheer cost at an economic time such as this—that a completely elected House would involve, it really does not begin to make sense.
There is no likelihood that elected Members will settle for the kind of minimal expenses and working conditions that today’s Lords receive. It is not just parity with the pay and expenses that the Commons receive that would be required, but the additional expenses and accommodation for their staff. Voting powers of equal strength, too, would certainly be demanded, unlike the benefits of the current system where the Lords can secure only strictly limited delay. What happens then when a clash between the two Houses occurs? How will that situation be resolved? Again, nobody has addressed these questions in the practical way that would be required. I return to the Lords’ proven track record of business experience and expertise in every field under the sun, particularly, as has been said, on the Cross Benches. This will become even more valuable in a Parliament where, to the great disadvantage of us all, the Prime Minister has made it clear that MPs will no longer be able to hold any kind of outside job.
However, there are certainly areas in your Lordships’ House where democratic reform could well and truly be introduced right now. I give one example. The usual channels may have their uses but they are hardly a democratic institution. In this respect, the other place has already begun to set us an example, with its change of rules to enable Members to vote for the chairmen of their committees, rather than Ministers being able to make these influential appointments. A similar change in your Lordships’ House would certainly inspire far more confidence.
We may be at the beginning of a real debate on this whole issue. I was particularly inspired to see that our marvellous House of Lords Library has today produced two wonderful examples of what it does to keep us all up to date. These draw the wider public’s attention to just how important the present role of the Lords is to the effective working of our basically democratic parliamentary processes. With that in the background, there is much more to look forward to in the debate, including the involvement of the wider public in the future. I hope the Government will find a less contemptuous and more democratic way of processing their plans, which involves membership of both sides of your Lordships’ House and not just a convenient section of it.