My Lords, I sense that this might be a convenient moment in the proceedings for me to repeat a Statement made in another place by the Deputy Prime Minister. These are his words on a subject that interests all Members of this House, namely House of Lords reform. The Statement is as follows:
“With permission, Mr Speaker, I wish to make a Statement about the Government's plans to reform the other place. At the last general election each major party committed to a democratically elected second Chamber. The coalition agreement set out very clearly the Government's intention to deliver this, but the roots of these changes can be traced back much further. A century ago the Government, led by Herbert Asquith, promised to create a second Chamber,
‘constituted on a popular instead of a hereditary basis’.
There has been progress in the intervening years; the majority of hereditary Peers have gone, and the other place is now predominantly made up of life Peers. We should see ourselves now as completing that work. People have a right to choose their representatives. That is the most basic feature of a modern democracy. Our second Chamber, known for its wisdom and expertise, is none the less undermined by the fact it is not directly accountable to the British people. So today I am publishing a draft Bill, and accompanying White Paper, which sets out proposals for reform.
In the programme for government we undertook,
‘to establish a committee to bring forward proposals for a wholly or mainly-elected upper chamber on the basis of proportional representation’.
I chaired that cross-party committee and we reached agreement on many of the most important issues, although not all, but good progress was made, and those deliberations have greatly shaped the proposals published today. I would like to pay tribute to all the Members, particularly from the Benches opposite, who engaged with us in an open and collaborative fashion.
Let me also thank those individuals whose past work on Lords reform has laid the foundations for what we are doing today, particularly the right honourable Member for Blackburn and the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham. Rather than start anew, the Government have benefitted from their previous endeavours. Today’s proposals represent a genuine collective effort over time. The draft Bill and White Paper will now be scrutinised by a Joint Committee composed of 13 Peers and 13 Members of this House. It will report early next year and a government Bill will then be introduced.
The Prime Minister and I are clear; we want the first elections to the reformed upper Chamber to take place in 2015. While we know what we want to achieve, we are open-minded about how we get there. Clearly our fixed goal is greater democratic legitimacy for the other place, but we will be pragmatic in order to achieve it. So, we propose an upper House made up of 300 Members, each eligible for a single term of three Parliaments. Three hundred is the number we judge to be right, but this is an art and not a science. In the vast majority of bicameral systems, the second Chamber is significantly smaller. That arrangement helps maintain a clear distinction between the two Houses. We are confident that 300 full-time Members can cover the work comfortably. We are, however, open to alternative views on this.
The coalition agreement committed the Government to producing proposals for a wholly or mainly elected Chamber. That debate is reflected in what we are publishing today. The Bill makes provision for 80 per cent of Members to be elected, with the remaining 20 per cent appointed independently. The 60 appointed Members would sit as Cross-Benchers, not as representatives of political parties. In addition, bishops of the Church of England would continue to sit in the other place, reduced in number from 26 to 12.
The White Paper includes the case for 100 per cent elected. The 80/20 split is the more complicated option, and so has been put into the draft Bill to illustrate it in legislative terms. The 100 per cent option would be easy to substitute into the draft Bill, should that be where we end up. There are people on all sides of this House who support a fully elected Chamber, believing that an elected House of Lords should be just that. Others, again on all sides, take a different view, and support having a non-elected component to retain an element of non-party expertise, as well as to keep greater distinction between the two Houses. Personally I have always supported 100 per cent elected, but the key thing is not to make the best the enemy of the good. That approach has stymied Lords reform for too long. Surely we can all agree that 80 per cent is better than 0 per cent.
Elections to the new reformed House will be staggered. At each general election a third of Members will be elected, or a combination of elected and appointed. That is to prevent the other place becoming a mirror image of this House. In the Bill we set out how those elections could be conducted using the single transferable vote. The coalition agreement specifies only that the system must be proportional, and what is most important is that it is different from whatever we use in the Commons. That is so the two Chambers have distinct mandates; one should not seek to emulate the other. STV allows for that, and would give the upper Chamber greater independence from party control. Votes are cast for individuals rather than parties, putting the emphasis on the expertise and experience that candidates offer, rather than the colour of the rosette they wear.
We want to preserve the independence of spirit that has long distinguished that House from this one. I know some Members prefer a party list system, including opposition Members of the cross-party committee I chaired. We are willing to have this debate, and have not ruled out a list-based system in the White Paper. The Commons will retain ultimate say over legislation through the Parliament Acts. It will continue to have a decisive right over the vote of supply. In order for a Government to remain in office, they will need to secure the confidence of MPs.
The other place will continue to be a revising Chamber, providing scrutiny and expertise. Its size, electoral cycle, voting system and terms will all help keep it distinct from the Commons—a place that remains one step removed from the day-to-day party politics that, quite rightly, animates this House. What will be different is that our second Chamber will finally have a democratic mandate. It will be much more accountable as a result. Clearly, the transition must be carefully managed. We propose to phase the reform over three electoral cycles. In 2015, a third of Members will be elected, or a combination of elected and appointed. The number of sitting Peers will be reduced by a third—we are not prescribing the process for that. It will be up to the parties in the other place to decide. In 2020, a further third will come in under the new system, and then again in 2025. There are other ways of staging the transition; the White Paper sets out two of them.
To conclude, history teaches us that completing the unfinished business of Lords reform is not without challenges. Our proposals are careful and balanced. They represent evolution, not revolution, a typically British change. I hope that Members from all sides of this House, and the other place, will help us get them right. The Government are ready to listen, we are prepared to adapt, but we are determined in the end to act. I commend this Statement to the House”.
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement made in the other place by the Deputy Prime Minister. As I understand it, although the Deputy Prime Minister is the prime mover behind the proposals in front of your Lordships' House today, he apparently feels the need to distance himself from them. Indeed, he is passing the torch of toxicity to the Leader of this House, in which case I offer my commiserations to the noble Lord.
I suspect that for many Members of your Lordships' House these proposals have a ring of familiarity about them. That is partly because the Government started leaking them in detail pretty early on. We have seen repeated leaks in recent weeks, culminating in a virtually line-by-line account in last week's Guardian of such detail that the Leader of the House was forced to disavow in this House yesterday, in advance of today's publication, one of the whizz-bang new ideas—that Peers could be removed from this House by lottery.
The Times tells us this morning that the Deputy Prime Minister has been busy over the past few days watering down his own proposals, while other media outlets report that the Deputy Prime Minister is to argue today for a 100 per cent elected House of Lords, so in effect, at the very moment he is promoting his new policy, he is taking the opportunity to argue against it. While this juvenile japery is entirely proper for party political conferences, fundamental reform of the constitution of this country, the Parliament of this country and the politics of this country is simply too important to be left to this clowning about.
It is, by the way, a discourtesy to this House for proposals for further reform of your Lordships' House to have been given to any and every journalist who asked to be told about them before they have been placed before this House itself. However, these proposals are not only familiar because they have been so comprehensively leaked by the coalition. They are familiar because most aspects of the history, argument and practice of reform of your Lordships' House are familiar; few areas of the argument over reform have not been exceptionally well trodden over the past 100 years. That is not to say that the issues involved in further reform of this House are resolved. They are certainly not resolved by the proposals that have been published today, and they were certainly not resolved by the group established by the Deputy Prime Minister to consider these issues. I took part in that group, along with opposition colleagues from the other place. The purpose of the group was to produce a draft Bill, and I have to tell the House today that it did not do so. Indeed, I can inform the House that the group has not met since November—six months ago.
I saw the Bill for the first time when I came into the Chamber this afternoon. Make no mistake, this is a government Bill. Indeed, the glum faces on the Conservative Benches suggest that this is not even a coalition Bill. This is a Liberal Democrat Bill—if it is a Bill at all. We were promised a Bill; we were in fact promised a draft Motion “by December 2010”, according to the coalition agreement. A little while ago that started to be transformed into a Bill and into a White Paper. Now what we have before us today is a White Paper—a very green White Paper, at that, with green ink on the cover—at the back of which is tucked a little draft example of what legislation could look like, with the real legislation to come later.
What a difference a year makes. You start off roaring like a mountain lion about the greatest programme of constitutional change since the Great Reform Act 1832, and 12 months later you bring forward the little mouse that the Deputy Prime Minister has published today. Constitutional reform is indeed a difficult subject, and reform of your Lordships’ House is one of the most difficult aspects of all. It can be done, it must be done, but it must be done carefully, and it must be done by consensus, bringing as many people along with it as possible.
I pay tribute to perhaps the most significant reform of your Lordships’ House achieved over the last century—the introduction of life Peers, which transformed this House from a failing, moribund institution to something that, as the Government felt last week over the Police Bill, can have a real impact on the Government of the day. That reform, of course, was brought by a Conservative Government, and I pay tribute to the clear and apparent reforming zeal of the Conservative Benches in both this House and the other place for further House of Lords reform. Indeed, let me quote the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, who, as well as having a good week with his book serialisation, was quoted in the Times this morning as follows:
“They can have a three-line whip but we don’t have to go along with it. If they tell us we have got to vote for this elected Lords, the majority of Tory peers would say we’re not going to. People might start causing trouble on other Bills. The Lib Dems made us have the AV referendum and got a complete drubbing; now they’re going to start wrecking the House of Lords. It’s mad”.
With support like that on the government Benches, the Leader of the House is clearly going to have the easiest of times getting this legislation through this Chamber. It will be a complete breeze. The real roadblock to reform of this place will be the Deputy Prime Minister’s coalition partners on the Benches opposite. The Conservative Party was the only party at the last election not to commit to a fully elected House of Lords in its manifesto. I know that the Leader of the House is himself utterly committed to Lords reform; 100 per cent committed. Perhaps today he is 80 per cent committed—I am not too sure. I do not for a single second believe that for him and Lords reform, his favourite part of the garden is the long grass. I wonder whether the Leader can confirm that there will not only be a debate in this House on these proposals, but that sufficient time will be provided for that debate—two days, perhaps even three, because these are serious matters. My own experience of the group led by the Deputy Prime Minister was that there was a whole range of issues that were so difficult that not only was agreement difficult but there was no serious or substantive discussion on some of the most difficult issues. So there was no detailed discussion in the group about the powers of this House in relation to the other place. Can the Leader, therefore, indicate what powers the Government actually want a reformed House of Lords to have?
We on these Benches welcome the proposal to establish a Joint Committee of both Houses to consider these issues in detail. The Government must avoid the rushed and piecemeal approach that has characterised their constitutional reform agenda so far. It is essential in considering these proposals that proper agreement is reached on the relationship between the two Houses and on the powers and privileges of each House. The Joint Committee will be essential for that. I have said many times that I thought that the group chaired by the Deputy Prime Minister should have included a representative of the Cross Benches. I commend the Government for their proposal that the Joint Committee should include representatives of both the Cross Benches and the Bishops’ Benches when it is established.
Can the Leader confirm that the Joint Committee will include as part of its remit the provisions of the previous Joint Committee on Conventions, chaired by my noble friend Lord Cunningham of Felling, and that in the light of the publication of these proposals the conventions will indeed have to be looked at again? Do the Government believe that the relationship between the two Houses, as set out in the conventions, and the powers and functions of both, should be codified? In terms of timing, can the Leader confirm that it would be inappropriate constitutionally for the Executive to suggest any limit on the time that a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament should take in considering these views? Can the noble Lord confirm that he wants these reforms to be on the statute book by the next election? Will he confirm whether the Government would use the Parliament Act in relation to these proposals?
Constitutional reform is difficult to get right. I believe that the last Labour Government got a lot of it right with a new Parliament for Scotland, a new Assembly for Wales and devolution for Northern Ireland. I am proud to proclaim our record on reform of your Lordships’ House—the removal of the majority of hereditary Peers, an elected Speaker, the separation of powers with the creation of a new Supreme Court in place of the Appellate Committee here, and the creation of independent Peers through the independent House of Lords Appointments Commission.
In terms of the Government’s Statement today, the country two weeks ago comprehensively rejected the AV system. Is the Leader seriously suggesting that his Government should impose a system of PR for the second Chamber without consulting the electorate? If indeed no Peers would be forced to leave the Chamber until 2025, what does he predict the maximum size of the second Chamber to be in the interim, and what will be the financial cost? Will the Government continue to appoint large numbers of new Peers to this House in line with the provisions in the coalition agreement? What do the Government believe is the role of Bishops in a reformed second Chamber?
These and similar questions are difficult and complex issues that have vexed the minds of many constitutional reformers over the past 100 years. In that light, I look forward to the response from the Leader. At a time of austerity and cuts, constitutional reform is understandably not an issue on most people's minds. However, constitutional reform is about how power is exercised in modern Britain, so it is vital that we get it right.
The Deputy Prime Minister declares himself in his Statement, as repeated by the Leader of this House, to be “ready to listen” and “prepared to adapt”, but to be,
“determined, in the end, to act”.
Determination to act is a very fine thing, but a determination to get it right is finer still. We on these Benches are committed to the reform of your Lordships’ House, but we do not believe in reform for reform’s sake. We want the right reform, and we want to get that reform right. That is why we believe, for example, in putting the substantial reform of this House to the people in a referendum—not today, not now, but when we have real reform before us; not today’s damp squib, not today’s little mouse, but reform, like Labour’s constitutional reforms since 1997, that improves the politics of this country, improves the governance of this country, and improves what we, as politicians, are here to do.
My Lords, I, too, thank the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement and, indeed, for the courtesy of briefing me before it was made first in the other place.
At a recent meeting of Cross Benchers when, not surprisingly, House of Lords reform was discussed, three phrases came up time and again. They were: independence is good for democracy; form follows function; and it is perhaps too rigid to equate democracy with elections alone, or elections alone with democracy. There are other forms of representation that could be considered to be democratic.
We now have the long-awaited White Paper with draft proposals, and the first thing to say is that the Cross Benchers, on whose behalf I am sure I am speaking, very much welcome the proposed 20 per cent independent element. We cannot but be happy about that and, indeed, about the fact that there is to be a statutory appointments commission. However, it is fair to say that there is concern about the elected way forward for this Chamber. If we agree—and perhaps most of your Lordships do—that the major function of the House of Lords is to revise and scrutinise legislation, an obvious response to the question of how best we can do that is by having available those who have relevant and current expertise in a wide range of areas. This, to my mind, necessarily means a part-time House packed with Members from the arts, sciences and humanities, with writers, film producers, IT experts, legal, medical and social welfare experts, distinguished scientists, philosophers and financiers, and those from the more technical professions to deal with increasingly technical legislation.
It would, I suggest, be difficult to achieve that by elections alone. It is more likely that there would be a greater number of politicians from the parties at the expense of the specialists whom I have already outlined. Although I would certainly not go as far as the late Michael Foot in describing a fully elected second Chamber as a “seraglio of eunuchs”, an elected House would mean more politicians—and, as Sir John Major wisely said, if the answer is more politicians, then the question is wrong.
Surely the outcome of an elected House would be to give it more political power than it currently has, despite what is said in the White Paper. That would be the inevitable result of an elected House or even a partly elected House, and I think that it would eventually result in the power of veto, otherwise why undertake such radical change? What would be the point?
Power is, as we all know, a tricky area and will have to be thoroughly addressed and resolved by the proposed pre-legislative committee. The issue of powers is so fundamental and this is so radical a proposed change that it may be justifiable to rephrase the question of reform to one of whether the House of Lords is in fact necessary at all. What I mean by that—it may not be a view shared by the Cross-Benchers but it is my view—is that I would be much more in favour of abolishing the House of Lords altogether and appointing external scrutiny committees than having an elected Chamber because I cannot be convinced that an elected House would be able to do its work better than the present House.
That said, there will be time to examine the proposals in far more detail. Once again, I welcome the inclusion of an independent element, which I trust will emerge as a truly independent element and not merely one for the purpose of rewarding the great and the good.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord the Leader of the House for bringing this Statement to your Lordships’ House. As noble Lords would expect, we on these Benches welcome the proposal that, if there is a partly appointed House, a smaller number of Church of England Bishops will remain as full Members, allowing for the smaller number of Peers in general. We stand ready and welcome the proposal that one of our number should be part of the Joint Committee. However, it is amazing to me that, as we have heard, the committee that has brought the Bill forward has not worked out or prescribed, or even suggested, how that lessening of the number is to be achieved. For many Members of your Lordships’ House, that will be one of the most crucial questions. How are they to be—I am trying to find a neutral word—excluded? It was very coy of the Statement to make no such suggestions.
Many of your Lordships know that right through this process the Bishops’ Benches have spoken about the place of the Bishops only at the end of all the papers that they have been brought forward. That was the case with the paper produced for the Deputy Prime Minister’s committee by our convenor, my right reverend friend the Bishop of Leicester, at the end of July last year. Our interest throughout has been, and continues to be, effective government, holding the Executive properly to account, and the proper scrutiny, review and revision of legislation. If those are to remain, the prime focus of this House, alongside ensuring that the House of Commons does not seek to take all power, must be much of what the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, has just set out. That is absolutely critical. Those points were made to the committee—albeit, noble Lords will not be surprised to hear, in slightly less trenchant terms—in the submission of my right reverend friend the Bishop of Leicester.
I did not have the opportunity of seeing the material beforehand. However, I did a very brief scrutiny of the document, which says that, were there to be a House of 300, its Members should all be full time. Of course, Bishops will not be full time and nor will the 20 per cent of those who will have made their reputations and gained their expertise outside the world of party politics—if that is to be the number; my belief is that that is far too small a proportion. That seems to be a straight contradiction in the material that is put before us. The information recently noted—that some 40 per cent of the amendments to legislation brought forward in your Lordships’ House have been accepted and become law—only underlines the critical importance of having a competent, widely experienced upper House of Parliament, full of a variety of expertise. I am very puzzled to see how that can happen, though it is absolutely necessary if your Lordships’ House is to be an excellent body of scrutiny, review and revision, with a sizable proportion made up of those who are not already committed to the party structure.
The Statement that we have had repeated in this House said very little about the cost. I note the green White Paper—I cannot believe that the noble Baroness is the only one of us who takes as significant the green print on the front. There are pages and pages in it about costs, tax and all sorts of things, which seems a very strange thing to be leading into at this stage in this country’s history when so many other things are under such enormous financial pressure. I hope that, as the discussion continues, those on our Benches—of whom I shall not be one because I am soon to retire—will want to contribute very fully on the kinds of questions that both the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, and, very particularly, the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, raised. We shall be working very particularly on good and responsible governance and, in the strongest possible sense, on legislation being expertly and carefully scrutinised. I find it difficult to see how even an 80 per cent elected House will be prepared to bring the expertise and to give the time to the hard, line-by-line work that this House undertakes.
Lastly, I shall not use the tough words of the late Michael Foot any more than the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, did, but I find it hard to think that there will be people prepared to stand for election for this kind of role when—much though we may regret it—the reputation and standing of elected politicians is so remarkably low. Sheer wishful thinking is coming from all three political parties in so many different areas. The role of the Cross Benches and—dare I say it?—the Bishops over these next many years of discussion will be very important.
My Lords, on behalf of the whole House, I pay tribute to the right reverend Prelate who, after 15 years as a Member of this House, will retire at the end of this month. Although he will be remembered for many great speeches, I am sure that his last contribution will be quoted on many occasions. The right reverend Prelate raised some very important issues on the full-time role of Members of this House once elected, on the rationale behind the proposals to have an elected House and on whether it would continue its scrutiny role. I see around me in this House many Members who have stood for election in another place and in other elected Parliaments and Assemblies, and they have the skills of scrutiny, so there is no reason why we should not be able to elect people to sit in this House who would have similar skills.
The question about full-time politicians is also important. What is intended by this is the expectation that those who stood for election would have the time available to devote themselves full-time to this House while the House is sitting; namely, around 150 days a year. It would not be a full-time job in the same way as being a Member of the House of Commons is a full-time job, with all the coalface representative functions of constituencies on the ground.
I also welcome the words of the Convenor of the Cross-Bench Peers in welcoming the 20 per cent option, continuing the role of the Cross-Benchers and the appointed element with a statutory Appointments Commission. Of course I understand her concerns about the role of an elected House, and many others around the House will make that point.
There is a rationale for an elected House: it is to give legislators in this House the authority of the people who would elect them, to make the powers of this House stronger and to make this House more assertive when it has that authority and the mandate of the people. The noble Baroness said that it would have more political power, and I think that is right. It is one of the essentials of doing this. All of us who are in favour of an elected House should recognise this.
That is why I was so disappointed by the Leader of the Opposition, the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, and underwhelmed by her contribution. The reason why this White Paper is presented today is because there is a political consensus right across the parties—the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservative Party—all of whose elected representatives stood on a manifesto in favour of a democratically elected second Chamber, but you had to strain your ears to hear that from the Leader of the Opposition this afternoon. Indeed, the noble Baroness did not tell us that the Labour Party’s position is now to have a 100 per cent elected House. She did not tell us, nor did she explain, why she and her party see no role whatever for the Cross-Benchers in this House and believe that they should be removed immediately, nor any role for the right reverend Prelate and his colleagues. “No Bishops”, says the Labour Party sitting opposite. I am glad that the noble Baroness is now nodding in agreement. I wish she had said that in her statement.
The noble Baroness did ask several questions, which I am very happy to answer. Today is a day to deal with the Statement and the immediate questions. There will, of course, be a requirement for debate, and it is one which the Government are very happy to agree to. A one-day debate—two days, if required—will be made available, probably within the next four or five weeks, and an early announcement will be made.
The Joint Committee of both Houses will be set up fairly soon so that it has an opportunity to meet before the Summer Recess and decide on its work programme. As I said in the Statement, it will be made up of 26 individuals. From the House of Lords, it will include Members of the Cross Benches and a Bishop in order not only to represent their views but to share their experience, knowledge and undoubted wisdom.
The noble Baroness, Lady Royall, asked about the powers. It is an important assumption that underlies the White Paper that the powers of the existing House should not be changed it if it were to be elected or partly elected. There is one very good reason for that. If I were to propose that an elected Chamber should have less power than an appointed House, that would begin to look ridiculous. Of course, over time, the relationship between the two Houses may change. It already has changed over the course of the last 20 or 30 years. There is no reason why it should not do so in the future.
The noble Baroness, Lady Royall, asked whether the Joint Committee would be able to examine the report of the noble Lord, Lord Cunningham. Of course, it will be entirely up to the Joint Committee to decide. While it is in accordance with precedent for the Government to invite the Joint Committee to produce its report by the middle of February of next year, it would be entirely up to the Joint Committee to take a view as to whether that was possible. I hope that this House and another place will co-operate in setting up a Joint Committee to look at the proposals in a sensible way and give it the kind of expertise in pre-legislative scrutiny that I know so many noble Lords are keen that we should demonstrate.
The noble Baroness also asked about the Parliament Act. The Parliament Act is a process that comes into effect when the two Houses are in disagreement with each other. At this stage, there is no Bill before Parliament and there is no disagreement between the two Houses. It is therefore impossible to tell whether the Parliament Act would be used. If, or indeed when, the Government come forward with legislation, which I hope will be supported by the noble Baroness and her party, as with all government legislation, the Parliament Act is always a fallback.
Finally, the noble Baroness asked about the system of proportional representation. It was a bit odd for her to suggest that if it were to be PR, there should be a referendum on it as one of the proposals for PR was proposed by her party—namely, a list system which means that you vote for a party as opposed to individuals.
I hope that I have covered the ground reasonably well as regards those who have spoken. There will now be 40 minutes for me to reply to individual Peers, which, as you can all imagine, I am looking forward to immensely.
We have got 40 minutes. Let us show ourselves on our best behaviour. I suggest that the noble Lord, Lord Cunningham, asks first, and then perhaps we can hear from the Liberal Democrat Benches.
I am grateful to the noble Lord. Can I remind the Leader of the House that the Conventions of the UK Parliament report was unanimously approved by the committee, unanimously approved by your Lordships’ House and then unanimously approved in the other place—a unique record for any such report? That report, inter alia, said that if this House, or part of it, were to be elected, and people had a mandate, it would be bound to call into question the relationship and the conventions operating between the two Houses. Indeed, the report went further and said in paragraph 61,
“should any firm proposals come forward to change the composition of the House of Lords, the conventions between the Houses would have to be examined again”.
That was a decision of both Houses of Parliament. Does the Leader of the House not recognise that all the evidence underwrites these conclusions of the committee, and not only in our country, if we look at the relationship between the House of Representatives and the Senate in the United States of America or between the Japan Diet’s House of Representatives and House of Councillors? They moved to change their powers in the relationships just as this House with an elected mandate would seek to do, with the most profound consequences for the governance and the constitution of our country.
My Lords, I entirely agree with the noble Lord. His report was extremely useful, was well received in both Houses and is a testament to his skill as a chairman. I dare say that he will be called upon again to examine many of these issues. It will be up to the Joint Committee whether it wishes to examine that precise aspect of his report on conventions. During the transitional period between the wholly appointed House and an elected House, over 10 or 15 years, I fully expect the conventions and agreements between the Houses to change, to evolve and to adapt to different circumstances; it would be very strange if they did not do so. I also think that both Houses will be able to develop a mature relationship so as to retain the best of what we have now, but, as I said earlier, it would mean a more assertive House with the authority of the people and an elected mandate.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for repeating the Statement made earlier in the Commons by my right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg. The Statement gives us an opportunity for the first time to focus attention on some of the key issues that this House has debated from time to time. I detect much amusement, but let us not forget that there are some very serious matters on which there is a general consensus in this House; for example, matters relating to the statutory Appointments Commission and the preservation of an independent element among its membership. The key point that we cannot forget is that this is a draft Bill accompanied by a White Paper. It is evolutionary and consultative in its content; it addresses the manifesto commitments, whether we like it or not, of all three parties; and it removes the suspicion and hype that have arisen from misrepresentation in some recent press articles.
The Statement rightly emphasises the options that exist for the political composition of the House and its elected elements. It offers options for the method of election and the numbers required effectively to carry out Lords functions. Let us not forget that it is not simply for this House to determine what it wants. The other House, too, has an interest in how this matter can be taken forward. Will the noble Lord ensure that the terms of reference of the Joint Committee provide for Members of both the House of Lords and the Commons to be consulted, so that it can take a constructive approach in reaching its final conclusions?
My Lords, I readily agree with my noble friend, most particularly that these are serious matters on which a great deal of debate has been expended over the years and that there is a good deal of consensus on the way forward. I also agree with him about the Joint Committee; it is important that it should work and consider these matters, bringing together all the knowledge and experience that senior parliamentarians would have and with an aim of trying to improve on the draft Bill and some of the options outlined in the White Paper.
My Lords, my noble friend has given a great account of the Deputy Prime Minister’s proposals for the House of Lords, which we will all of course study very carefully. However, a very important issue is the effect of the weakening of the House of Commons resulting from these proposals. Does my noble friend consider that to be a proper subject for the Joint Committee to consider in the work that it will shortly undertake?
My Lords, my noble friend has had years of interest in this issue—not only in Parliament but on the royal commission, which completed its work just over 10 years ago.
I have long believed that giving this House an electoral mandate would make it stronger, more independent of party and more assertive. That would obviously have an impact on the Executive and on another place, but whether it would be weakening or strengthening I am not sure. Many people argue that the House of Commons and the Executive have become too strong and that this could be one way of changing that balance. I believe that the Joint Committee should examine the issue.
Many commentators believe that the question of the reform of the House of Lords affects only this House. It does not. It affects both sides of the building and I am sure that Members of another place will take a great deal of interest in the announcement that has been made today.
My Lords, I noted with interest that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, emphasised that the Statement he was repeating belonged to the Deputy Prime Minister; he did not imply that he agreed with it.
Can the noble Lord confirm that no senior Member of your Lordships’ House will be compelled to waste their time on a Joint Committee—including, perhaps, himself as a senior Member? When he is considering this issue, will he be careful not to take it for granted that any leader in either House can speak for all the Back-Benchers in this House?
The noble Lord emphasised the accountability and democracy of an elected House. Does he accept that the difference might be marginal when under the list system—STV or whatever—candidates are selected initially by political parties? How different will that be from the current situation where Members are appointed by leaders of political parties and/or an independent commission? What difference does he see between the two? Will he at some time have it in mind to let your Lordships into the secret of how during the transition the membership of the House will come down to the 300 that he has in mind?
My Lords, when the noble Lord reads the White Paper he will certainly find the answer to his question on transition. It proposes one option and provides for two alternatives which the Joint Committee and the noble Lord will wish to examine.
I can confirm that no one will be compelled to sit on the Joint Committee. However, there is a great deal of interest. If the noble Lord wished to sit on the Joint Committee—I am sure he would be an eminent member—he should address himself to the leader of his party.
Of course I recognise that political party leaders do not necessarily speak for their Back-Benchers in this matter—not only in this House but also in another place. One of the hallmarks of this debate has for many years been the divisions within parties rather than between parties. Sometimes it leads our leaders to believe that because they can reach a consensus between themselves, everyone else will sign up to it. I do not believe that and I am well aware of the divisions that exist. That is why I hope that when the Joint Committee is selected it will show a balance of views and interests across the House and between the parties because that is how we can best use the knowledge in this House.
I agree with the noble Lord on the list system. One of the reasons I would oppose a list system is because it is simply appointment by party by another name and I am not sure that it would be worth going through that process. We are, however, as a coalition committed to a system of proportional representation, on which I am not an expert. However, the Deputy Prime Minister—who is—is very keen on STV.
Does my noble friend not realise that the inevitable effect of following these proposals and having two elected Chambers will be to introduce into this country the worst features of the American constitution without the mediating powers of the President, which can resolve conflict between them? Secondly, as this is a matter for both Houses and is of supreme constitutional importance, throughout the proceedings on these proposals and any other proposals connected with them, will there be a free vote of both Houses of Parliament on the merits of them?
My Lords, my noble friend is entirely entitled to his view and the comparison he makes between the Senate and the House in the United States. However, there are many examples around the world of bicameral systems with two elected bodies which manage to sort out their differences, and I am sure that it would not be beyond the wit and wisdom of these two Houses to be able to find a way through that. If a Bill came forward it would be a government Bill and would be treated as such, but no final decision has yet been taken as to whether there should be a free vote and it would not be taken until we proposed a Bill.
My Lords, how would an elected second Chamber improve the performance of Parliament? Why would an elected, or a predominantly elected, second Chamber be better than this House—at debate, scrutiny and revision, and holding the Executive to account?
My Lords, that is a central question in this debate. The leadership of the noble Lord’s party and mine and the Liberal Democrats are so keen on an elected House because they believe philosophically and rationally that at this stage, 100 years after it was first mooted, it is time to move on to a House selected on a political basis. Why? Because political authority, which we wield in this House, should only be wielded with a clear mandate of the people. Whether it would make things better is a good philosophical question which is very hard to answer. I dare say some things might be better; some things might be worse. But overall, when a second Chamber took a decision with the backing of the electorate it would be more authoritative and would have greater impact on another place and on the Government of the day.
My Lords, if the determination to follow and ensure democracy in this country is the aim of the Government and of us all, why is this suggestion now before us as a serious move when not one indication of public demand for this change has been made? In the many years I was a Member of the other place, I got not one request for this, either in a surgery or in thousands and thousands of letters. There are no marches; there are no banners waving about it. Where did it come from?
My Lords, 100 years ago the Parliament Act was passed, which certainly recommended that we should move forward on a popular basis. It is true that in the last 10 or 15 years there has been increased interest in electing a second Chamber; indeed the previous Government had numerous Joint Committees and White Papers on it. For those of us who argue for an elected Chamber, it is also true that it is very difficult to do so in the light of the fact that this House, currently constituted, does the job it is asked to do extremely well and effectively. Therefore I rely on the answer I gave the noble Lord, Lord Howarth: that it is ultimately about authority of the mandate and giving us the ability to wield that authority more effectively.
Can I make it clear that I am in favour of a 100 per cent elected House? Does the White Paper make reference to an indirectly elected House? Does it rule it out? Does the Leader of the House have a view on the question of an indirectly elected House?
My Lords, the White Paper does not rule it out because it does not mention it. I am not quite sure what the noble Lord intends by it; there are so many different models for indirect election, but the White Paper is very much in favour of giving a direct vote to elect Members of this House.
My Lords, my noble friend has dealt with one matter very clearly in his answer to the noble Lord, Lord Howarth. The transformation by increasing the electoral component here will certainly not lead to an improvement in the ability of this House to do the functions that it has done so well for many years. He has also conceded without any hesitation that movement in that direction would increase the liability of this House demanding the right to impose its will more strongly than it has in the past. Those two together fundamentally transform the structure.
You could even compare it for a moment with the structure in our criminal courts, where there is no doubt that it is the judge who determines the technicalities, the detail and the framework within which most expert guidance can be given, but it is the jury who have the last word. In those circumstances, the judge as he comes to the end says, “It is entirely a matter for you, members of the jury”. That is precisely the structure that we have in the relations between the two Houses at the moment; we would not dream of challenging the final verdict—after ping-pong—of the other place. That is the essential difference; they have the last word, and they must retain it as a power of that kind, while we make the contributions of the kind that we traditionally make in that context. Any change from that cannot and has not yet been justified by any rational argument.
My Lords, I have heard my noble and learned friend speak on many occasions on plans for reform of this House. He has done so always with integrity and very much in favour of the powers and composition of the House as it is. Even I am deeply impressed to hear him speak today and, in doing so, bring forward an entirely original analogy that he has not used before in describing the relationship between the two Houses. It is an eminently good one—I do not wish to argue about that—which is why I say that with an elected Chamber the relationship between the two Houses would change. It is up to Members of this House but also, most importantly, Members of another place to decide whether they wish to make that change.
My Lords, I wonder whether I could ask the Leader of the House to address more directly what I took to be the central point made by the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, and echoed by my right reverend friend the Bishop of Winchester. It was that a House of 300 full-timers would simply not have the expertise in the scrutiny of particular subjects that is afforded by the present composition of the House. In that case, how could this new House do its work as effectively as I believe this House does?
My Lords, there is no magic about the figure of 300, any more than there was magic about the 600 figure for the House of Commons. Many argue that the existing House is far too big, but nobody has a view as to what the exact figure should be. There are many examples around the world of second Chambers being smaller—and sometimes substantially smaller—than the primary Chamber. I think that we ought to be able to manage with 300 full- time Members if they were elected.
My Lords, the Statement says very clearly that people have a right to choose their representatives. If this House is to become a House of representatives, it will have to have the real powers to represent. The Leader of the House has spoken about the mandate of the people. In answer to the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, he said, “Yes indeed, the powers of the House would have to change if there were to be an elected House, or an 80 per cent elected House”. Can he explain how his commitment on that sits alongside paragraph 7 of the White Paper, which states:
“The Government believes that the change in composition of the second chamber ought not to change the status of that chamber as a House of Parliament or the existing constitutional relationship between the two Houses of Parliament”?
Surely those things cannot be true. This House cannot have more powers to do the job as a House of representatives and the relationship between the two Houses remain the same. The two are completely inconsistent, and I would be grateful if the noble Lord would explain it.
My Lords, paragraph 7 is in the context of the powers of the House not changing. I made that plain in the original Statement, and I make it plain again. However, the relationship between the two Houses would evolve over time. I see no difficulty in that. It has already evolved over the last 20 years and I think it would continue. The only basis for having an elected House would be to give this House greater authority to use its powers more assertively and effectively.
My Lords, I wonder whether my noble friend has read the report published last week from the House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, which said,
“those proposing radical reform need also to address other incremental, urgent reforms that would improve the functioning of the existing House of Lords”.
Does that not echo the recommendation about retirement in the report of the committee that his noble friend Lord Hunt reported on a few weeks ago? Since my Bill deals with these issues, has already had a Second Reading and is just awaiting Committee stage, why do the Government not take it over and get on with it?
I hope that my noble friend is pleased that the Procedure Committee will very soon, I hope, bring forward a proposal for permanent voluntary retirement from this House. The White Paper also lays out a statutory appointments commission if we should still have appointed Members. If we are to go forward on this, it is likely that we would spend many days and weeks on it. Therefore I wonder whether my noble friend really feels the need to progress with his own Bill.
My Lords, obviously what we are dealing with is an important constitutional issue. That is what we need to concentrate on. I want to put two specific points to the Leader of the House, because while I do not care too much about the new elected Members, I care about my friends who are here now.
My first point is that, when we come to the first election, the draft Bill proposes in Schedule 6 that two-thirds of the existing Members would be considered transitional Members. Accordingly, one-third of my friends—I cannot see which ones—will not be here any more. I really think it is essential to be clear how it is going to be achieved. The Leader said that that is dealt with in the document but I cannot find it, even though I read very fast.
My second point is that this document sets out the membership of the House and includes the transitional Members. Again, in Clause 59, the draft Bill says that all Members listed at the beginning are to receive a salary. Accordingly, I assume that all my friends here who have not been slung out because they are not in the two-thirds will receive a salary. Would the noble Lord confirm that?
My Lords, it is likely that the salary would be set slightly lower than that of a Member of Parliament, but slightly higher than Members of the devolved Assemblies and Parliaments. It may be that the White Paper says what the noble Lord says, in which case it is an error. Transitional Members would continue on the same basis as currently—namely, they would receive the daily allowance.
On the question of transition, the draft Bill proposes that, with each third of elected Members coming in, a third of the House would depart. My noble friend Lord Steel has consistently said that there is a large number of Peers waiting to retire, so I suspect that a number of Peers would take the opportunity of the elections not to remain behind. Of those who did, if there were insufficient retirees then within the parties and the Cross Benches a decision would have to be taken. We have a precedent for that in 1999, when elections took place to reduce the numbers of Peers. There is no reason why that should not happen again.
My Lords, in supporting the move towards a democratically elected House, may I put two concerns to the Leader of the House? First, if we are to be elected once for 15 years there seems to me to be a singular lack of accountability. The point of being elected is that the voters should be able to throw one out and during those 15 years they will have no chance to do that. My second concern is that, if we are to have very large constituencies, who will determine the candidates? It will be not the ordinary people but the party machines. Could I urge on him that the constituencies should be small and that one should have to be re-elected to have proper democratic accountability?
My Lords, on the first point regarding accountability, what is envisaged here is to try and preserve the independence of party that is such a hallmark of this current House, but also to have the power and authority given by an elected mandate. While the noble Lord may be strictly right that there is no accountability if you cannot go back for re-election, those who would stand would make commitments to their electorate as to what they intended to do when they got here. I have some sympathy with what the noble Lord says about the size of constituencies and about creating the link between the elector and the elected Member but that is a matter which, quite rightly, the Joint Committee will wish to look at in detail before coming up with its own proposals.
My Lords, my noble friend’s recent replies—I feel very sorry for him—make me want to quote PG Wodehouse. This is not a half-baked scheme; it has not even been in the oven. Would he address the point that was just raised by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs? The abolition of this House and its replacement by an elected House, with people elected for 15 years by proportional representation but with no accountability, will immediately challenge the other place and will completely distort the balance within our constitution. The only comfort we can take this afternoon is that Clegg is no Cromwell.
My Lords, I have dealt with the question about accountability and 15 years. If the White Paper had proposed a first-past-the-post system, my noble friend could quite legitimately say that two Houses elected on a similar mandate could well clash far more than those elected on different mandates. It is up to my noble friend but I am sure that he does not think that PR is a more legitimate system than first past the post.
First, I thank the noble Lord for his elucidation of the thoughts of the Deputy Prime Minister, which I am sure he has done to the best of his ability, but could he help us further? Since the Executive under our constitution—the Government —are so by virtue of their ability to command a majority in the House under the democratically elected system, and since it is obvious that the Deputy Prime Minister considers that the electoral system of proportional representation with which this House would be elected better represents the common will, why, under the reform programmes would the Executive—that is, the Government—be chosen on the basis of a majority under first past the post in the House of Commons rather than under a majority under proportional representation in this House? Was he briefed on the Deputy Prime Minister’s thoughts on this?
My Lords, that is a clever argument, but it will not wash. There is no intention at all to change the primacy of another place or of the Government being able to govern by commanding a majority in another place. In fact, PR would preserve the system that we have here, whereby the Government do not have a majority.
May I warmly congratulate the noble Lord the Leader of the House, on the consummate skill with which he side-stepped the question of the possible invocation of the Parliament Act, were this House to afford a total challenge to the other place? Does he appreciate that, in the fox hunting case of some years ago, learned Lords expressed the gravest doubts whether a fundamental constitutional change could possibly be brought about by such a machinery? In the circumstances, may I suggest to him that that is a matter to be decided now, not when the cameral battle begins? Will he say whether the Government have taken legal advice on this matter, and if so, what that legal advice was?
My Lords, I cannot say whether or not the Government have taken legal advice on this specifically, but my reading of that judgment and my understanding of the constitutional position is that the Parliament Act would apply to a Bill brought similarly along the lines of the draft Bill published today.
My Lords, will the noble Lord accept that the part of his Statement in which he referred to Mr Clegg’s committee and that—as I think my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition said—it last met in November, is little short of scandalous, given that it purports to be representing different points of view? Based on the number of options that we have, what has Mr Clegg been doing since November —working out permutations of possibility?
My Lords, the Joint Committee—on which the noble Baroness sat and was such a distinguished and senior member—met, I think, on seven occasions. I cannot remember whether the last time was in November or December, but it is true that there has been a gap of several months before we have been able to publish this today. There is nothing in the White Paper with which the leadership of the Labour Party, the shadow Cabinet or indeed the noble Baroness would seriously disagree. It is a pretty good distillation of the consensus or, in some instances, the lack of consensus that was reached in that Joint Committee.
My Lords, can my noble friend confirm that there are many features of the current White Paper that simply repeat the features of the White Paper produced by Mr Jack Straw in the last Government? Can he also reassure the House that he has been told by the Official Opposition that they intend to conduct pre-legislative scrutiny with all the constructive contributions that we in this House take such pride in? Would it not be ridiculous if Members on the other side—or indeed any side of this House—attempted to obstruct or filibuster when at the same time they take such pride in saying that the other House should retain primacy? Can we be assured that the Government have been given an indication that they are all signed up to using this exercise, in the best traditions of this House, to undertake proper, constructive pre-legislative scrutiny of these proposals?
My Lords, I am sure the whole House will have heard my noble friend. I can confirm that it is my understanding that not only the Opposition but also the Cross Benches and everybody else who wishes to play a part in the Joint Committee will wish to do so most constructively to try to reach a good solution that would suit not just this House or the other place, but also the nation.
My Lords, is the Leader of the House aware that in the House of Commons this afternoon, in response to questions on this very matter, Ministers prayed in aid the fact that the present House of Lords is unsustainable on the grounds that its membership is approaching 800 and will go beyond that? Does he not agree that it is the present Government who are doing the majority of the appointing? The White Paper states that a statutory appointments commission should be available to deal with 20 per cent of Members, if they are appointed. Why can we not go forward with the Steel Bill and say that the present appointments, which would include a formula between the parties on a ceiling, should not go forward? The Government claim—even though we will obviously be here for some years yet—that it is unsustainable to have the present growth stampede, led by the Government, in changing the composition of the House.
My Lords, I do not know how long the noble Lord will be here, but there is no need to go forward with the Steel Bill if the intention is to have elected Members by 2015. We will spend probably the next Session and maybe even the Session after that on passing the House of Lords reform Bill.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on how he has dealt with this matter today. May I press him on the answer he gave to the noble Baroness, Lady Symons? Throughout the Statement, he has been at pains to say that of course elected Members would change the relationship with the House of Commons. I have got only as far as page 7 of the White Paper, which says:
“We propose no change to the constitutional powers and privileges of the House once it is reformed, nor to the fundamental relationship with the House of Commons”.
Who should we believe? Should we believe what it says in the White Paper or what my noble friend has been telling us this afternoon?
My Lords, there is no tension between the two. All I say is what is obvious: in a House that is entirely elected, over time there will be evolution, as there already has been over the past 10 or 20 years. That is entirely natural and entirely in accordance with what is said in the White Paper.
My Lords, the noble Lord the Leader of the House has emphasised the statement in the White Paper that the intention is that the other place will remain the primary House in this Parliament. If the Joint Committee on Scrutiny concluded that it would be impossible to secure the primacy of the other place if your Lordships’ House were abolished and replaced by an elected Chamber, would the noble Lord consider it appropriate to proceed with the Bill?
My Lords, that is a very clever question—one that would allow me to indulge in much philosophical debate about the primacy of the House of Commons and the workings of the Joint Committee. The Government hope that the Joint Committee, when it is set up, will give the White Paper and the draft Bill serious scrutiny and examination. Of course it will want to look at peripheral matters, such as the role of the Parliament Act, that of the Cunningham committee, many other things and various alternatives. In the end, it will have to focus on whether this House is to be elected; if so, how it is to be elected; what it will be called; transition and so on. It will then put proposals to the Government. I hope it will do so in a most realistic way. Everything that I have heard this afternoon leads me to believe that the Joint Committee will have plenty of work to do.