Motion to Take Note (2nd Day) (Continued)
My Lords, given the time limits on speeches, it is tempting to try to speak in a staccato shorthand manner, rather like Mr Jingle in Pickwick Papers. Sadly, I lack Charles Dickens’s skill with words and so I will have to say what I want to say in my own way.
I am conscious that I am one of the newest Members of your Lordships’ House, but I am quite a long-standing parliamentarian and spent my last 13 years in the Commons as a Deputy Speaker. I have seen ping-pong at close quarters and know only too well how an amendment to a Bill in this House can strike dread into hearts at the other end of the Palace. As a Deputy Speaker, I spent a long time not speaking but listening and, I hope, learning. I spent much time meeting Speakers and guests from other legislatures and being by turns proud and humbled by their reverence for our parliamentary system and traditions, including your Lordships’ House and the way its procedures work so well.
Before any momentous decision is taken, the key question is not how but why. If there is no satisfactory answer to why, then you never go on to how. To do so is only to waste time, effort and money, which should be spent where it could do some good. I am currently reading Adam Nicolson’s book about the making of the King James Bible. The Bible, a work of genius, was produced by a committee of 47, so committees can work. One sentence which guided them in their labours and which leapt out of its page at me in the context of this debate is:
“What virtue was there in newness, when the old was so good?”.
Indeed, what value is there in newness when the old is so good?
Abolition is self-evidently a bad idea. When weighing the issues, on one side of the scales are many good and treasured things; on the other side, the only thing is this increasingly debased currency of democracy. “Democracy” is a word like “community” and “stakeholder”; it had a meaning once but now it has become, sadly, debased. It has become a flag that has been pinned to too many masts; it has become tattered, bedraggled and, sadly, increasingly meaningless. Please let us call a spade a spade. This is not a reform; it is abolition.
The press renamed the allowances of Members of Parliament as expenses, to devastating effect. The community charge, whatever you think of it, became the poll tax and was killed immediately. This is abolition and the word “reform” must be corrected every time it is uttered. In all this, we must beware of relying on the media to tell a straight tale. They are no longer patriotic; they are no longer guardians of our constitution or cherishers of our traditions. We cannot rely on our newspapers or television even to be fair-minded. Their only concern nowadays is to fill their columns or their programmes with controversial or eye-catching headlines or photographs. If a serious argument goes by default to the detriment of our nation or its children and grandchildren, they show no signs of caring. In my political lifetime, I have watched this happen with growing unease. That now borders on despair, combined with bafflement at their lack of concern for the protection and preservation of a wonderful country such as ours.
Others have dealt, in great detail, with the nuts and bolts of the Bill, but the truth is that it is rotten at the core. I finish by using words that Mr Jingle might use: “Elected Peers not in conflict with the Commons? Nonsense. A 15-year term? Far too long. Continuing appointments? Confirms their value. Modify? Yes. Sensible reform? Yes. Abolition and Americanisation of our House? Certainly not”.
My Lords, I am a radical. I believe in parliamentary reform—of both Houses. Scrutiny of legislation is only one example of where improvement is required, but it is illogical to focus exclusively on this House. On the contrary, it is only in the context of both Houses that one can identify the functions of this House and it is only after defining the functions of this House that one can sensibly approach the question of its composition.
I am a democrat—I believe in a fully elected House of Commons and the primacy of that House. That, of course, is what we have. To that extent, I am in favour of the status quo. No case has been made out that any weaknesses of this House will be cured by the proposed change in composition. No confidence can be maintained that the strengths of this House may not be impaired—far from it. The one certainty is that there will be uncertainty and confusion about primacy and the relationship between the two Houses. There is the potential for paralysis. It is naive to suppose that if this House were elected its Members would not consider that this elected House had at least equal legitimacy to the other elected House.
To meet this point, it is proposed that there should be different electoral systems, but that is merely digging a deeper hole. It is bizarre to be considering an alternative voting system just after it has been rejected in a referendum. More seriously, those who believe that the single transferable vote or proportional representation, or whatever, is superior to first past the post will inevitably consider that this House enjoys the greater legitimacy of the two. It is nothing short of absurd to imagine that the conventions that govern the relationship between the two Houses would remain anything like the same. These proposals are ill thought out. The hybridity will not command support in the country.
At a time of acute constraints on public expenditure, expense will be incurred. We saw the figures yesterday, while yesterday’s Gallup poll highlighted the problems of well-being for low-income families. Those are the issues that we should be discussing in this House and the other House.
These proposals will monopolise parliamentary time, not only over the issue of new creations but because they envisage removing those who were, unquestionably, appointed for life. They will therefore turn an appointed House into a disappointed House, which will need to scrutinise, at the least, the transitional arrangements. I welcome the establishment of the Joint Committee of both Houses to consider all these matters in detail. However, for most Members of this House, and certainly for the general public, there are greater priorities.
My Lords, when I read the Government’s White Paper, I was struck by how extraordinarily unbalanced it was. Ninety per cent of the White Paper dealt with the method of election to an elected House, the difference to the Bill if there were not appointed Peers and the period of the transition. There were two sentences only on the role and functions of the House and on its relationship to the other place. These sentences said that the Government see no reason why an elected House should alter or have different functions from the present House, or why its role and relationship should alter. It is on these aspects that noble Lords in this debate have rightly, in my view, cast such scepticism. Indeed, if I may say this with great respect to the Leader of the House, he has not been consistent on this matter. Yesterday, defending himself against the charge that this proposed legislation amounted to abolition of the House of Lords, he concentrated on the fact that the role and relationship would not change; yet previously he had said that he expected that the role would evolve and the relationship would change. I hope that the noble Lord who is summing up the debate tonight will make it clear which of these aspects the Government really believe. When the noble Lord says that the House will evolve but is not being abolished, I remind him that that is what evolution is all about. Evolution does result in extinction. He is just bringing it about rather more quickly than has happened in the past.
When I struggled with these matters on the Wakeham commission, we started with the question: why should we have a second Chamber at all? Surely that is the question from which we ought to start. When we went around the country taking evidence from the public, those members of the public who were sufficiently interested to want to come and give evidence—I accept that that is rather a select sample—were clear about two things. First, a second Chamber is necessary to counterbalance the dominance that the Executive have exerted over the other place. Secondly, however, the elected Chamber must retain its supremacy. Surely those must be the two bases on which we consider the role of the second Chamber. The Bill and the Government’s White Paper refuse to define the role and status of the second Chamber, saying that we should rely on the established conventions. However, the whole point about conventions is that they change. Surely, if the Government are launching this legislation without defining those functions and the relationship in the legislation, it is starting the British constitution on a voyage to a destination that is undefined. That seems to me not good enough. Will the Minister confirm that, despite what the Government said in the White Paper, the role of the second Chamber and its relationship to the other place will be within the purview of the Joint Committee?
I finish by making two other observations. First, the White Paper and the draft Bill talk about a normal term of 15 years, or three terms, non-renewable. However, if you look at the small print, that is not the limit of the term of Members of this House. It is the normal limit, but in abnormal times, if Parliament is dissolved within two years and there is a further election, there would be no further election to this House. Therefore, the maximum period of time for an elected Member of this House is 21 years, which seems to me far too long.
My second observation is on the size of the House. The White Paper and the Bill propose that the House should have 300 Members. In support of that, they say that this House, now amounting to more than 800 Members, has an average attendance of 388 and therefore 300 Members should be sufficient to carry out the normal roles of the House, particularly if they are full-time politicians. It seems to me highly implausible that a House of 300 would be sufficient to carry out the work of this House, particularly when terms are non-renewable so that Members do not have to account to their constituencies and there is no financial advantage in attending particular sessions. It seems very likely that people in that position, or at least some of them, will take their stipend and very rarely be seen here. So the size of the House seems much too small.
There is a very large number of issues which the White Paper and the Bill leave undetermined. There is a huge task for the Joint Committee to perform, and I wish it all possible success.
My Lords, having been a Member of your Lordships' House for 26 years, I have had almost equal experience of the House when it consisted of mixed hereditary and life Peers as of the current composition of appointed life Peers with a small and select band of elected hereditaries. As far as I am concerned, the post-1999 House of Lords is no better, no more democratic and no more able to defeat the Government or ask the House of Commons to think again and does not have a greater breadth of expertise. It is certainly less independent, more partisan and more expensive. I therefore again wish to put on record my regret that the historic and traditional element of our ancient Parliament, which was represented by hereditary Peers, should have been lost apart from the small group who remain and continue to do sterling work. The brilliant speech by my noble friend Lord Elton earlier is a witness to that.
I welcome the proposals before us to the extent that they at least show that the Government are prepared to follow through on the so-called reform Act of 1999. For those of us who were here in 1997 and 1998 when the then Government spoke of their mandate from the public and how urgent and important their proposals were, there was an assumption that the Bill was but the first stage of reform and the dawn of a new era. In fact, all it amounted to was a Bill to abolish the right of hereditary Peers to sit in the House of Lords or, as the then Leader put it, to get rid of hereditary Peers.
I am a natural conservative, in that I do not like change for the sake of change. If changes have to be made, it has to be shown that they are changes for the better. The 1999 reform Act did not achieve that; a wholly appointed House is not an improvement, although I can understand that those who have become Members since 1999 are able to persuade themselves that it is now a much improved place. If I had a magic wand, I would use it to return to the pre-1999 position, and I only wish that the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, had been here in 1998, as I feel sure that she would have been a doughty champion of the status quo then as she is now. I join others in congratulating her—
I am most grateful to the noble Baroness, but I am not in favour of the status quo. I am in favour of reform, but it must be incremental reform, as laid out in the Bill proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Steel. I want reform, but I want sound and good reform when it does come.
I thank the noble Baroness for her intervention. I was about to congratulate her on the style and bravura of her speech yesterday. I must say that, if she supports the Steel Bill, in my opinion that is a long way in the direction of preserving the status quo. However, we are where we are—facing the current proposals.
There are so many ways in which the working of the House of Lords could be improved, and there have been many excellent and some very novel suggestions in the course of this debate. Like others, I have always believed that in considering further reforms we should be looking at the whole of Parliament—that is, at both Houses, also taking into account the powers and functions of the devolved Parliaments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which considerably change the constitutional map.
I have also always believed that we should move towards a fully elected second Chamber, since I do not consider that the present wholly appointed House has democratic legitimacy. However, my idea of a fully elected second Chamber would be via the medium of indirect elections, based on a system of electoral colleges to ensure that the breadth of expertise, which most people agree already exists and must remain if the role of the second Chamber is to be mainly that of scrutinising and revising legislation, should be guaranteed. The electoral college system would allow doctors, lawyers, academics, the voluntary sector, the regions and other groups to be defined to elect their representatives for a period of time. It would be on much the same lines as the hereditary Peers do today so, far from wanting the hereditary Peers to wither away, as has been suggested would be the result of the Steel Bill, I want them to remain and to be reinforced because of the historic continuity that their presence gives to this House.
I cannot therefore find anything to recommend in the Government’s proposals for direct elections or the system that they suggest. Perhaps the only thing I can agree with in these proposals is the decision not to change the name of the House of Lords, at least not in the short term. It would indeed be ridiculous to have a House of Commons without a House of Lords. It is perfectly feasible to have Members of the House of Lords without having to create them all as Peers of the realm, which has indeed become something of a charade. Yet the idea of a senate has no appeal at all.
I started out by trying to find something to welcome in these government proposals. The more that I have listened to the debate and its many brilliant and constructive speeches, the more I recognise that they simply will not do. I hope that the Government will do the same and draw the same conclusion.
My Lords, coming in to bat at number 75 it is tempting to have a bit of a slog but I shall be my usual restrained and cautious self. We can surely all agree that our democracy needs safeguarding and strengthening, that government—policy-making, legislation and administration—needs to be done better, that the performance of Parliament needs to be improved and that the House of Lords needs to be reformed. As we pursue political and constitutional reform, our lodestar should of course be democratic legitimacy—the principle that elections determine who should form the Government, that elected Members of Parliament and the Government themselves should be accountable to the people and that the people should, from time to time, have the opportunity to renew them or to replace them. But we have such democratic legitimacy through the ways in which the House of Commons works, as it is now constituted.
That the House of Lords is appointed does not invalidate or weaken our British democracy. So long as the primacy of the House of Commons is accepted, as it now is, the democratic imperative is satisfied. As we have it now, the House of Lords is no more than an advisory Chamber. Its role is revision and scrutiny, which is what the Government want it to be. Of course there are, from time to time, impassioned and prolonged debates between the two Houses. We in the Lords offer our amendments. Sometimes we reiterate that offer. Occasionally, rarely, we exercise our delaying power but ultimately the appointed House of Lords always defers to the democratic authority of the elected House of Commons. Although the textbooks may not quite put it like this, since the Parliament Acts we have, in effect, unicameral government: an elected House of Commons with an advisory House of Lords beside it. The noble Lord, Lord Norton, who always educates me in these matters, described our arrangements as asymmetrical bicameralism.
Mr Clegg’s quest to introduce democratic legitimacy into the second Chamber is the pursuit of a red herring. The people who make the laws are already elected and are accountable to the people. The House of Lords advises the real legislators. If we were to have an elected second Chamber, the clear accountability of Parliament to the people would be muddied.
Elections are not the only source of legitimacy. Judges, academics and faith leaders have legitimacy. The legitimacy of the House of Lords derives from the quality of the advice that it offers through debates, amendments, the work of Select Committees and so forth. The quality of that advice derives from the expert knowledge and experience of the Members of the House—Cross-Benchers and Members of political parties alike. Good scrutiny makes for good government. That is the justification of what we should do.
Our democracy needs reform. The debate about the Bill is not a contest between those who are in favour of reform and those who are against it. The House of Commons needs to pursue the agenda offered by the Wright Committee to strengthen the Back Benches and improve their scrutiny of the Executive. The interaction of the Parliament at Westminster and the European Parliament needs to be improved. We need to attend very carefully to the arrangements for devolution because, since the recent elections to the Scottish Parliament, the union is in greater danger than it has ever been before. We need to reinvigorate elective local government through relaxing control from the centre. There is a large and legitimate agenda for reform and it certainly includes reform of this House. We should not be complacent. There is some risk that this two-day debate might be perceived by some—admittedly those who read it selectively—as a sustained indulgence in institutional narcissism. At any rate, we should not talk too much about our own wisdom. We need to reform the House to make it a more effective advisory House, not to make it a new democratic hotspot.
If the House of Lords were to be abolished and replaced by an elected second Chamber, as the Government propose, how would relations between the two Houses be affected? There could be an attempt to nip this new element of democracy in the bud—to emasculate its democratic potency—restricting its powers to those conventionally exercised by the present mainly appointed House, which is what the White Paper proposes. Who of first rate ability or serious experience in the world would want to stand for election to a Chamber with such limited powers? In principle, an elected second Chamber could be embraced as a vigorous and spirited House of Parliament flexing its democratic muscles. However, in that case, the House of Commons would have to accept a rebalancing of the respective powers of the two Houses. Members of Parliament would have to accept that Members elected to the second Chamber would have the same rights to represent and relate to the citizens of this country as they do. When the United States federal Senate became directly elected, its Members serving longer terms—though not 15-years terms—than Members of the House of Representatives, the Senate became the senior House. The Unites States legislature is characterised by permanent conflict and impasse, with the Executive unable to secure their preferred legislation.
The compromise proposal of an 80 per cent elected and 20 per cent appointed House would not work; I cannot imagine how such a hybrid Chamber could be successful. Of course, the appointed Members would be 20 per cent of a much smaller House. The Government propose that they should be full-time Members. They would be no match for the Cross-Benchers, who at present make such an invaluable contribution to your Lordships’ House. The decisive argument against the compromise proposal is that the unelected 20 per cent would again and again decide the outcome of votes in the mainly elected House, which would be unacceptable.
If we have abolition and replacement, it seems to me likely that the House of Commons would attempt to constrain the powers of the elected second Chamber; but the elected second Chamber would gradually and tenaciously aggrandise its powers, just as we have seen the Welsh Assembly, the Scottish Parliament, the London mayoralty and the European Parliament do. Do noble Lords remember the categorical assurances that we were given before the first direct elections to the European Parliament in 1979 that its powers would remain unaltered? We would have continuous instability and conflict and meanwhile we would have lost the virtues of the appointed House: its expertise and its forbearance.
Either way, whether we have a weak or a powerful elected second Chamber, the key question to be asked is: how would it improve the performance of Parliament? Again and again, I have asked the proponents of elections that question and I have never had an answer. I hope that when he comes to wind up this evening, the noble Lord, Lord McNally, will be able to give us an answer, but I fear that the price for the extra democratic legitimacy that is not needed would be a less effective Parliament.
It would be much better to concentrate our energies on reform of the second Chamber where we can agree, and on improving what we have. The proposals set forth by the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, in his Bill are more or less contained within the White Paper and the draft Bill: a reduction of our membership; arrangements for retirement; the phased departure of the remaining hereditary Peers; powers to expel Peers found guilty of grave offences; and a statutory Appointments Commission. The statutory Appointments Commission’s task would be to ensure that the quality, expertise, range and representativeness, in the sense of the term used by the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, were such as to provide an institution that would give the best of service to the country.
If the Government set aside, at least as their immediate purpose, elections, which are massively contentious inside Parliament, little debated or desired outside Parliament and irrelevant to the urgent needs of the country, it would not be difficult to achieve wide agreement on measures of incremental reform. Incrementalism is the British way of constitutional reform. Changes that often seem modest—for example, the introduction of life peerages—turn out over time to have profound, far-reaching and beneficial consequences. Mr Clegg, if he would moderate his ambition, could yet be a great parliamentary reformer.
My Lords, it is a complete pain to be speaking after the noble Lord, Lord Howarth. He said so much that I wanted to say that I shall have to prune my speech as I go along. I suppose I can summarise my attitude to this Bill by saying, “I agree with Nick, but not much”. I agree much more with the noble Baroness, Lady Royall. I am a thoroughgoing supporter of an elected House of Lords, but rather in the mould of my noble friend Lord Waddington. I want to see a more balanced bicameral system. I want to see the Executive having less power. As the Executive have so much power in the Commons, a stronger, elected House of Lords would be a useful change to the British constitution, but that is not what we are talking about now.
What we are talking about now is a completely botched reform, concocted in dark rooms by a party that is meant to believe in openness, without even involving the Front Bench of the Labour Party or taking any account of all the expertise around this House about how it might have got further in achieving its aims. As my noble friend Lord Lang pointed out, leaving the powers and functions as they are but changing the composition of the House is a recipe for instability. The powers and functions will have to be rebalanced, and how that will happen is essentially unpredictable. I believe that, as others have said, we will go through a period where an elected House under this Bill will fight to improve its position, to get power and to make itself worth while. How could it do otherwise because the alternative is grim, dull and uninteresting?
We are offering people coming into this House 15 years with the wages of a moderately senior teacher, no prospects of promotion, no afterlife and no influence. How are people like that going to be respected by the House of Commons? It is the respect that the House of Commons has for the people here, for us, that makes the whole thing function. A lot of people here were senior Ministers, have played a part in Government and have the same qualities as the people in another place, except that they have been through it all and succeeded. Added to that, there is a collection of people who have succeeded in the courses that they have followed in life. Although we are a nuisance, get in the way of what the Government want to do and do not have to go through elections, none the less we are accorded respect, and that makes for the balance in the House.
We have a Bill and I do not see how, in the course of coalition politics and looking after the pride of the Liberal Party and its leader, we can get away from the fact that this is the Bill we will probably end up with. However, as many Peers have said, a lot in this Bill reproduces what is in the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Steel. Therefore, we can actually build on many of the proposals in this Bill. If we cut away the bits that do not work and do not make sense we may end up with this Bill looking remarkably like the Steel Bill, perhaps with a few improvements. It is a task which I do not envy the noble Lord, Lord Richard, and his committee. I am delighted he has taken it on. I am sure he will chair it brilliantly. I have no wish at all to join him but I look forward very much to what he has to say in a year or two’s time.
I have some suggestions for him. Now that we are going to have a fixed pattern of elections, it seems to me that even in an appointed House we could take a step towards election by making sure that at election times the parties expose to the public the list of those they intend to put forward for the House of Lords under the Steel Bill. If we are having the Steel Bill system with a 15-year term and a regular flow of new entrants, the major parties—Conservative and Labour—will have about 70 or 80 Peers to create in any five-year period. They can safely expose the top 30 or 40 names without any risk that anyone on that list will not get into the House of Lords. That would mean that when you were voting for a party you knew what they were going to do with the House of Lords and you knew the quality of people they were going to put in there. It would be something which was a matter at the general election. It would be an element of democratic accountability. You could even have a separate vote for the lists of Peers that parties were putting forward. This would have the advantage of dissociating the percentages in this House from the percentages that had voted for the other House and would greatly weaken any claim to democratic legitimacy that this House might feel as a result of having had an element of election.
I would also suggest, in contrast to what my noble friend Lord Marlesford said, that when it comes to reducing this House, as needs to be done, we should not pay people, we should offer hereditary peerages. It is an attractive thing. My peerage, if I am cynical about it, is a reward for buggery and bribery but hallowed by several hundred years in between. Noble Lords have got here for entirely legitimate and honourable reasons, certainly by comparison, and they would be elegant additions to the hereditary peerage as it will then be, which is something entirely irrelevant. It will have been severed from its connection with this House and will be merely a decoration rather in the way that French titles are a decoration. It would be a pleasant badge for people in this House to be able to hand down to their successors and adequate compensation for many people who were looking for a good reason to retire. Giving money to people to retire is going back to sinecures and to bad old ways I would not like to see reproduced.
I want to see a House of Lords which is as strong as it is now and which is an attractive place for the many people who get here because of their own experience and skills. That is the right balance to try to maintain. I think we can do it while improving, in many ways, the House at the moment and I wish the noble Lord, Lord Richard, every success in that. I hope, too, that he will manage to remove IPSA from the Bill. I do not think we should wish that on ourselves.
As a former senior police officer, noble Lords will be pleased to hear that I do not intend to detain them for very long. I came into this House some 13 years ago, and one thing that I have learnt is to value the wise counsel of your Lordships. It has been said several times throughout the debate, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. I do not think that it is broke, and the House performs extremely well. Clearly, there is room for reform, and I agree entirely with the wonderful speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd. I support her Motion.
The changes that have taken place in this House since, I suppose, 1911—more than 100 years—have evolved slowly. We have heard noble Lords refer to this. It has been an evolution rather than a revolution. One thing that I should like to say is that if the House changes, it is important to look at the transitional period because noble Lords who have given selfless service should be allowed time to leave this place. I gave up a promising plan for retirement and moved down here at some economic cost. The House and certainly the committee of the noble Lord, Lord Richard, should consider—and the Bill is silent on it—the exit strategy for those who will be dispensed with if the Bill is passed. I hope that it will not be passed and that the House stays pretty much as it is. I read of grandfather rights, a term that seems appropriate to this House. They should be looked at as well. It may well be that we can ease the burden of those who may have to leave.
When I first came into the House, regular attendance was a badge of honour. I remember in the House Magazine being mentioned as one of the top 10 attendees. I was very proud of that. Because it attracts more expenses, regular attendance now seems to be a badge of dishonour. That is a tragedy because it discourages people from attending, and the press pick up on this as though somehow we are abusing the system, when we are simply performing an important public function.
I fully support the reforms of the Steel Bill. In a strange way, in my experience over 13 years, this House often represents public opinion more than the other place. That is a strange anomaly, even though that place is elected; but, of course, that place is controlled almost totally by the party system. This place has a healthy independence and long may that continue. It will become a party animal if we have elections.
As has been said many times, the Bill is a bad Bill. There are a lot of unanswered questions. As has also been said many times, I do not envy the Joint Committee, which has a difficult task ahead of it. If the House is elected by some more proportionate means, Mr Clegg seems to think that that clearly would be a more legitimate way of electing people than first past the post. This House would eventually argue that it was more legitimate and would challenge the other place. That is fairly obvious. I conclude simply by saying that the constitution of this country should not be the political plaything of a minor player in a coalition Government who were hatched together over a few days. This country of ours deserves better.
My Lords, let me say at once that I acknowledge how complex a task it must have been to put this Bill together. Unlike some, I think that it was brave and constructive to produce it so that we can have something concrete to argue around.
I start with some clarifications. Nothing that I am about to say should be taken as a disparagement of Members in the other place. There has been an undertone of that in some of the contributions. The vast majority of them are decent, intelligent and conscientious Members of Parliament who are trying to do their best for the public realm.
Secondly, although I oppose elections to this House, I accept the need for reforms as many others have done. Many have mentioned the Steel Bill, as do I. Thirdly, we must accept that the onus is on those on my side of the argument—the non-elected side—to justify the non-elected status quo, which is almost unique in the democratic world and against the spirit of the times.
Further—I do not know whether this has been mentioned—we stand in particularly intense conflict of interest on the Bill, because the majority of us will be booted out if it goes through. We have to try extremely hard to be objective and see ourselves as others see us. At times, we can be apt to be a trifle too self-congratulatory.
I want to talk a little about a referendum. Some have mentioned it; I heard the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, praise it yesterday. Partly because of the conflict in which we stand, I believe strongly that this should be put to the people of this country in a referendum, although I am very chary of referenda. Let us not forget that it was in the Labour manifesto that there should be a referendum. Some will say that a referendum is superfluous because all three parties had it in their manifestos at the election that this place should be elected. That is a spurious argument. It was far from being a mainstream issue. Only zealots plough through modern manifestos.
I also note that in the European Union Bill, which my Government are in the process of legislating, they propose referenda for 50-plus Community arrangements. One will require a referendum if there is any change to either the right of election or the right to stand in any European election. How can it conceivably be right for us to impose a referendum under those circumstances while denying a referendum under these much more direct and plangent circumstances?
I do not believe that this is our Parliament. It belongs to the public. We are not just changing this House in the course of the Bill; we are uprooting it. I cannot for the life of me see how my Government, who claim deficiency of democratic authority as the reason for the Bill, can then ignore that democratic requirement. It would surely be aping the deficiency that they level at us to push through reform without it.
I devote the remainder of my time to the potential impact on the quality and character of this House if elections go ahead. First, who will want to stand for elections to this House? Given that it will have seriously inferior powers, what ambitious man or woman wanting a full-time career in politics will make this their first choice? Furthermore, that second-rateness will be wantonly rubbed in their faces if paragraph 111 of the White Paper is followed into legislation. It states that,
“the level of salary for a member of the reformed House of Lords should be lower than that of a member of the House of Commons”.
What on earth can that mean in terms of status or the authority of this place? We will be so inferior that we cannot even get the same rate as the people down the road.
The idea that someone might start here as a means of climbing to the elevated House of Commons is scotched, first, by the 15-year term and, secondly, by a ban on going straight from this place to the other place—there has to be a five-year break. It is not as if we will work less assiduously. The constituencies will consist of about 450,000 and does anyone suggest that that will not yield a massive amount of work? Of course it will. We will have less than half the number in the reformed House to deal with the plethora of legislation and policy than the other place will have. What sense is there in that? There will be less power, less pay, more work and no title. Who really believes that ambitious politicians will come to this place?
I find it very easy to respond to the noble Lord’s intervention because, in his case, he would certainly be the exception to my rule. I am trying to be sensible and point out some of the realities about the two places.
I end with a few comments on the 20 per cent appointed Members of this House, if that option goes forward. One of the statistics produced by the progenitors of the Bill to beat us with is that on average only 44 per cent of Cross-Benchers bother to turn up to vote. That is precisely because many of them attend debates and Bills which engage their expertise and experience; otherwise, they get on with outside jobs and perform the outside commitments which feed and furnish their virtues of experience and expertise. I do not disparage people who may come here—I am trying to be realistic—but I do not believe that a full-time, paid 20 per cent of Cross-Benchers could do what the present Cross-Benchers do, for the reasons to which I have briefly alluded.
Apart from all that, I suspect that the culture and tenor of this place will be very changed under the new aegis. Partisanship will, inevitably, be in full cry, not least because getting a candidacy under the new aegis will be via an even more narrowly partisan channel than that which applies to MPs now.
Lastly, despite the best intentions of the framers of this draft Bill, I cannot see that it will yield a Chamber as ready, let alone as qualified, to amend government legislation as we are. I have not been able to update the statistics to this moment in time, but when I wrote an article in 2002, I found that in the period since Labour gained office in 1997, there had been more than 1,000 whipped votes in the House of Commons and not a single one went against the Government. In the same period, there were roughly the same number of votes in this place and a quarter of those were lost by the Government. I do not believe that that fantastic independence of mind and voting will survive an elected House. I believe that our native genius is demonstrated in the evolution of our Parliament, in both Houses. Let us continue on that evolutionary path and eschew revolution.
My Lords, one of the problems of speaking fairly far down the batting list is that most of what needs to be said has already been said, several times. For the convenience of the House, I shall confine myself to do no more than identify a number of areas where I am more concerned now, as a result of listening to much of the debate, than I was before. I certainly do not favour abolition, even if it is creeping abolition over several years. On the other hand, it has become increasingly important to tackle the issue of reform. Like many others, I commend my noble friend Lord Steel for his work on that and hope that we can progress it, either on its own or in conjunction with part of the draft Bill in front of us.
What bothers me most is that it appears that those who drew up the Bill had certain preconceived notions of what would and would not work, and how they wanted it to happen. However, one must consider function in broad terms and identify its requirements if one is to give it authority through our parliamentary system. I do not see that that happened. Instead, we have a proposed composition of a rather extraordinary kind, which contains a lot of elements that are individually very hard to justify.
We have heard a lot about the 15-year appointment period. I think that that is completely unworkable. If you are elected and for some reason do not do anything much in the parliamentary system, you can go on holiday for 15 years—which might appeal to some people.
Do we really need another elected body? We are always complaining that we have too many elections—to central government, to local government and to the devolved Administrations. Do we want to put in yet another tier?
I missed the point about Members of a reformed House being paid less than Members of Parliament. That is an extraordinary twist and I do not think that the Bill will get anywhere, even if its fundamental proposal of elected membership makes progress.
When dealing with an electoral system, it would be better to have one elected House than two so that responsibility remains clear-cut. There will undoubtedly be challenges from one House to the other—it will not always be the upper challenging the lower—and the Bill will change the relationship between the two. It will change the way in which they carry out their functions and it is a huge leap in the dark.
One can be sure that any upper House of the kind proposed would seek to extend its competence. One has only to look at the EU or Scottish Parliaments to see that the new body would desire immediately to widen its competence across the board and would demand more powers; that is so certain that one does not even have to justify it.
On a practical level, I worry that the process will effectively exclude any parliamentarians who continue to know what is going on in the outside world. For some years, the House of Commons has made it evident that outside jobs are frowned on. Here, all Peers are part-timers and get a lot of experience from what they do outside the House. If they are replaced by 300 professional politicians, how will that enable the new body to bring all the necessary experience and knowledge to bear on its parliamentary work?
The worst thing about the 15-year figure is that there will be no accountability for those involved. One will not get anything that could be described fairly as a democratic system in the full sense if there is no accountability once somebody has been elected in the first instance. That is such a gaping omission that it invalidates a lot of the concepts behind that part of the draft Bill.
The question of who would stand and what we would do about existing Peers with outside jobs and so forth are unresolved areas, but they will need a great deal more thought and attention if there is to be any prospect of them getting near legislation. I do not believe that legitimacy depends entirely on election. In our society there are many examples of people with considerable responsibilities but who are not elected to their posts. Judges are the obvious case, but they are not alone. Throughout the structure of public affairs we have people like the Comptroller and Auditor-General and the ombudsmen. A long list could be produced of those who are not elected but who exercise very substantial power. So the legitimacy argument is not quite as helpful to the Government’s cause as it might seem at first sight.
I hope that this debate will focus attention on many of the most difficult and worrying areas of the process. I have said quite enough already, but I conclude by saying that those who are going to have to try to work this system deserve our thanks and admiration.
My Lords, I am number 82 in the list of speakers in the debate and I agree with my predecessor who has just spoken that everything that has to be said has already been said. I should like to summarise my views by saying that I agree with what the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, said yesterday and what the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, said today. I also agree strongly with the statement made yesterday by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall of Blaisdon:
“the changes to the House as it is currently constituted, and its replacement by an elected senate, will automatically affect the primacy of the House of Commons”.—[Official Report, 21/6/11; cols. 1161-62.]
I am opposed to the destruction of the present House of Lords and I am opposed to the creation of a new Chamber as per the model in the White Paper and the draft Bill. I also object to the spurious urgency that is being heaped upon the committee which has been asked to look at the White Paper. It should have all the time that it could possibly want in order to carry out the job. However, it has really been given the wrong agenda because the Bill and the White Paper are, to put it rather mildly, not 100 per cent on course. What the committee should be thinking about are what incremental changes are needed and can be made without damaging the overall fabric.
I want to spend a little time on the principle that underlies the desire for having elected Members in this House. The benefit of being elected will be conferred upon 80 per cent of the Members, but there will be another 20 per cent who will not have it. Part of the scheme provides that some 20 per cent of the House will be illegitimate by the test of direct election. There are also the 12 bishops who, on the same test, would not have that benefit; and then the Ministers, however many there may be, would be specially nominated by the Prime Minister to serve in this House. So there will be a group of people who will not have been blessed by the touch of the people.
Where does this principle come from and where does one find an exposition of it that is applicable to our circumstances? We have a country in which the entire electorate has its own Member of Parliament in the form of some 60,000 people per constituency. They have a right to call upon their MP to look after their own interests or the interests of the constituency in the form of local interests, and indeed national matters if that is their concern. It is the duty of the MP to answer those concerns. The Chamber in which their MPs sit is accorded primacy under a system of conventions which have been set up, so their representatives sit in a Chamber which has the final call on what legislation is enacted. Look at all that and then look at what the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister say in the foreword:
“In a modern democracy it is important that those who make the laws of the land should be elected by those to whom those laws apply”.
That condition is fully met in the case of the House of Commons, but why, one asks, does it have to be met for a second time in relation to the House of Lords?
I do not know how well your Lordships remember the passage getting on a bit in the book where there is some discussion about the European Convention on Human Rights and the composition of the House of Lords. I shall read paragraph 428 on page 162 to your Lordships.
“The Government is not aware of any Strasbourg case-law on the composition of the second chamber of a member state of the Council of Europe. There is a variety of types of membership: in the Czech Republic all members of the Senate are directly elected; in Austria all members of the Bundesrat are indirectly elected; the Seanad in Ireland includes appointed members; the Senate in Italy includes a few appointed members and a few ex officio members; the Belgian Senate contains directly elected members, indirectly elected members, co-opted members and hereditary/ex officio members. In other words, while first chambers must be elected by the people in order to comply with the Convention, second chambers will frequently have a different form of composition, which may or may not involve direct election. If one looks beyond Council of Europe member states, all the members of the Canadian Senate are appointed”.
So there is absolutely no widespread recognition of any general principle that applies to the appointment to a second Chamber and I call that in question.
I want to draw attention, as has been repeatedly referred to, to the extraordinary feature of the elected Members—that they get a 15-year term and they are never questioned or brought up for review at general elections as they come and go over those 15 years. The matter is taken even further by the provision in relation to payment, that their salary has to be set below that of the MPs because they,
“would not have constituency duties”.
What an incredible phrase. One might expect there to be funds for an office to be set up for this huge constituency of pushing on for half a million. One might expect special funding for that, but there is not a word about that. It is not conceived. There is a completely dead hand; once the vote has been given in their favour they are in for 15 years. There is nothing to stop them setting up an office—true enough—but there is no concept of that; it has not be dreamt of or thought of by those who make these proposals and that is an extraordinary feature.
Those who propound the democratically-elected principle must believe in it. One is amazed then that they fall short of demanding a 100 per cent elected House. Why are these other 20 per cent deliberately selected as not having the benefit of this electoral process? They nevertheless get a 15-year term, unquestioned, however they perform their duties. One is surprised at the poverty of the demand. One would expect that, if they really believed in the importance of this principle, they would be going for 100 per cent.
My Lords, by any criterion, in our bicameral system your Lordships’ House is more representative than the other place. I am not ignoring the question about electoral mandate, but as we have heard so often, elections are both before and afterwards—the electorate has the freedom to choose an MP and to unchoose their MP next time around. That seems to be a fatal flaw against the 15-year fixed term. Certainly the ballot box is not the only way in which democratic legitimacy is acquired. There are many people who, for a variety of reasons, have no say in elections to the other place, while in this Chamber there are doughty champions of some otherwise relatively voiceless groups in our society.
Our experience of the Appointments Commission since its establishment in 2000 has been a good pilot for a wider application of that principle for getting to this place. This House is already fairly diverse but the nominations by the commission have increased that diversity. The chair of the commission, the noble Lord, Lord Jay, has pointed out that, of those nominated by the commission since 2000, 37 per cent have been women, 22 per cent from ethnic minorities and 8 per cent disabled.
While with my right reverend friends on these Benches I welcome the opportunity to consider the governance of our country in its totality, including reform of your Lordships’ House, I would not want changes in any way to reduce the capacity of Parliament to speak for society as a whole. I am speaking about so-called “civil society”, distinguished as it sometimes is from the formal mechanisms of the state and the commercial market. Obviously, the boundaries are somewhat fuzzy and there is considerable overlap but in a healthy and free society some distinction of that kind is necessary. In a way, I would be more comfortable with a definition of civil society that sees it as society conceived of as a whole and served by various political, commercial, military and other instruments, but which is and must remain ultimately the body from which these other instruments derive their legitimacy.
At least if their voting habits are anything to go by, large numbers of our fellow citizens are sceptical about our present electoral system and it would be profoundly unwise to replicate that scepticism in the upper House. For that reason, I simply cannot agree that a directly elected upper House, whatever the proportion, would be a reform—I would describe it as a deform. When I reflect on the point about the existing commission, I am tempted to say that you can have election or you can have diversity but you cannot have both.
I shall not comment on the inevitably greater challenge to the primacy of the House of Commons in the Government’s proposals. Many noble Lords have made that point and I agree with it. However, I wonder how many places in the world have a bicameral system under which both Houses are elected and the upper House has not, in practice, acquired the upper hand. We have heard that sometimes this leads to deadlock but in countries where there is deadlock there is often a president or a political head of state to bring them together. Is that one of the unthought-through implications of what is being proposed?
I now turn to two other aspects of the proposals. The first concerns the overall size of the House. That question cannot properly be answered without a detailed reflection on the purpose of the House and its role. A smaller House could, if properly appointed, do the representative job asked of it. But 300 Members is almost certainly too small. Much thought would have to be given to the nature of the appointing body or bodies and the way in which they make their nominations. I very much warmed to what the noble Earl, Lord Glasgow, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, said, particularly about electoral colleges and perhaps an indirect election by that means.
It would, however, be important to make sure that in a rightly much more professional House, those Members whose expertise relies precisely on their lives and expertise outside Parliament are able to keep their feet firmly on the ground outside the rarefied atmosphere of Westminster. A more professional House should not exclude the contribution of some noble Lords who cannot be here every day. That has some bearing on the numbers.
My other point is about the place of bishops. It is essential to separate as far as possible the role of the bishops of the established church from issues of representation of faith communities. That faith communities should be one of the estates or constituencies of civil society from whom Members of this House are chosen is so obvious as to be, in the inelegant modern phrase, a “no-brainer”. I take it absolutely for granted that however difficult it is to work out the details, we must have appropriate representation of the different faith communities in our legislature, whether they can secure election or not.
The bishops, however, are not here for any such reason. We do not represent the Church of England, Christianity or the world of faith, even though many in all these areas say how much they appreciate our presence. The bishops of the Church of England have sat in this Parliament since its inception for no reason other than their responsibility for the areas covered by their dioceses and all the people who live in them. I happen to think that the link between bishops in the Lords, the establishment and the Crown is so close that the removal of one is likely to hasten the demise of the others. I do not think that most of those who would like to get rid of the bishops in a rather cavalier—although I really mean roundhead—way have thought through all the consequences of what they are proposing.
The concern of these Benches is not in itself about ourselves. After all, we are the one group in this House for whom there is a sunset clause already written in. I could quibble about the details of the proposals, but if we did end up with a House of 300-ish, 12 places for bishops of the established Church of England would be reasonable and manageable. However, in such circumstances it would not be wise to keep automatic places for the Bishops of Canterbury, York, London, Durham and Winchester, and I would prefer to see the church free to make its own selection. However, that is a detail and I hope that we do not get to that point.
In many minds, this question is obviously linked to that of religious representation as a whole. Of course, under the present proposals there would be no place for religious representation as such apart from the bishops of the established church. That is another reason why I would prefer an appointed House, which would give us the opportunity to think carefully through the role of faith communities in civil society and how their voices, often those of minorities, may continue to be heard.
If I wanted to be naughty, I would say that the only good thing about this Bill is that it would increase the proportion of Members of the House sitting on these Benches. However, bishops are not supposed to be naughty.
My Lords, with the greatest respect to my noble friend the Leader of the House, it could be said that the proposal on which we are asked to take note must rank among the most inappropriate political events since Nero fiddled while Rome burned. That is not to criticise the quality of this debate, which, at least until now, has been superb, although for all I know the melody played by Nero might also have been superb.
The simple fact is that this proposal is the wrong answer to the wrong question at the wrong time and, in my view, is being addressed in the wrong way. Its proponents seem to challenge the doubters, such as me, to show why it should not be adopted. That approach is perverse. Surely it is for the proponents to show why these proposals should be adopted—something that they have so far singularly failed to do. I was taught many years ago that constitutional propositions should be tested against basic criteria. I listened with great care to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester yesterday as he set out certain tests. I wish to follow him in that direction.
First, are these proposals wanted? Like many others here, in over 40 years in active politics I have never met anyone outside the refined and elitist quarters of the political class who has ever even remotely raised the question of House of Lords reform with me. Anyway, it is not for us to show that it is wanted; it is for its proponents to show that it is wanted. So far they have failed to do so, because they cannot.
Secondly, will these proposals repair something that is not working? Even the paper that we are debating accepts that your Lordships’ House is currently working well and it contains no apparent proposals for making it work better. Indeed, the only proposals for that are those advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, in his Bill, which I strongly support.
Thirdly, will these proposals improve the governance of this country? Given that the role and powers of the second Chamber are to remain unchanged, even its most ardent proponents are not arguing that reform will improve the governance of this country; they are arguing only that it will be more democratically authoritative, whatever that is meant to mean in this context. I have yet to hear a remotely convincing explanation of that.
Fourthly, will this improve the scrutiny that is brought to bear on legislation? On the contrary, it will in time remove that vast well of specialist expertise that is the key to the effectiveness of this House and replace it with journeymen political hacks. That is a prediction that I confidently make if these proposals go through.
Fifthly, will it improve the lives or quality of life of the citizens of our country and, if so, how? I have yet to meet any member of the public who thinks that their lives will be improved by these proposals; indeed, I have not yet heard in this debate from the proponents of these proposals any suggestions as to how they will improve lives. Again, it is not for us to show that these proposals will not produce a benefit for people in this country; it is for the proponents to show that they will. Once again, they have not, because they cannot.
Sixthly, will the proposals, as claimed, strengthen the accountability of this House? What on earth is accountable about electing someone for 15 years, being unable to get rid of them during that period, however bad they are, and not being able to keep them after that period, however good they turn out to be? This is at a time when Parliament is looking to enable the recall of unsatisfactory MPs, who, anyway, are always changeable every five years at election time. That is a paradox of which Lewis Carroll would have been proud.
Seventhly, is reform really a legislative priority today? We are currently involved in two wars, in one of which many British lives have been lost; we are facing the gravest economic situation that this country has endured in my political lifetime; and we are trying to reform the welfare state, the National Health Service and our education service, all of which are creaking under the strain of overweening bureaucracy. The thought that we could spend months deliberating on this half-baked scheme simply beggars belief. It is not good enough to argue that the reason why we have to do this is that it has been on the constitutional agenda for 100 years. The longevity of a misguided concept does not make any less misguided.
Nor is it good enough to make great claims that such constitutional change will create greater acceptability. I warn your Lordships against taking too much notice of rhetorical claims on constitutional reforms. I still recall the confident and unqualified government claim in 1997 that Scottish devolution would kill nationalism stone dead. Tell that to Alex Salmond today.
A great deal has been said about the effect of these proposals on the balance of power between the two Chambers and there are still those who argue that an elected House of Lords would never dare to seek greater powers. There is in the west of Scotland a saying that if you give someone a Minch they will take an isle. It is even more in the nature of political institutions, particularly those that are elected, to seek constantly to extend their powers, so it is naive beyond credulity to believe that an elected second Chamber would not constantly seek to do so.
This dog’s breakfast—and dog’s lunch and dog’s dinner—is not a serious proposition but the product of a belief by the Liberal Democrat leadership that after the failure of the AV referendum it needed another constitutional flagship within which to shelter its increasingly tattered credibility. This, then, is what these proposals are—unseaworthy, unwanted and unsafe. Many years ago, in a spirit of friendly generosity, from a conference platform I described the Liberal Democrat logo of the dismembered bird as a cloud cuckoo looking for somewhere to land. I cannot help feeling today that the homeland of that mythical bird would be an excellent place to lay these proposals finally to rest.
My Lords, it is a particular pleasure for me to follow the excellent speech of my friend—and he is my friend—the noble Marquess, Lord Lothian, who for many years was my pair in the other place when he was a mere Earl. That is one of the intricacies of the aristocracy that I still cannot understand, even after the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, earlier today.
When we were in the other place, we used to listen to passionate speeches by Paddy Ashdown, as he was then—the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown—and we heard one yesterday. It was eloquent, powerful and passionate in favour of democracy and accountability. There was only one problem with it—the draft Bill does not deliver what he seeks. It was obvious when he intervened on the speech of my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition that he did not realise that there was a draft Bill in the White Paper. As my noble friend Lord Gordon said, where is the democracy and accountability in a list drawn up by the leadership of each party? It sounds like the list that is currently drawn up for membership of this House, just replicated in another way and going through the democratic process to give it some legitimacy.
The noble Lord also mentioned the 61 legislatures where he claimed—I think, wrongly—that there was no challenge from the second Chamber to the first Chamber. That needs to be checked. I am not suggesting that the noble Lord, Lord Richard, and his committee should visit all 61 parliaments, but one or two might help. If they went by boat, it would be even more appropriate.
One of the interesting things about this debate is that I do not think that anyone, perhaps with the exception of the noble Lord, Lord Marks, and the Leader of the House, has supported the Bill. It is astonishing. Where are we now? I am the 85th speaker, and only two speakers have been in support, although we thought that the Leader of the House had his tongue in his cheek. I should not say anything about his cheeks but sometimes you do not notice when he and I have our tongue in our cheek. It is astonishing that we are going ahead legislating on that basis.
Let us go back to first principles, as the noble Lord, Lord Butler, said. Do we need a second Chamber? Other countries, such as New Zealand and the Scandinavian countries, are good democracies and manage perfectly well without one. Until recently, I was in favour of abolition of the House of Lords. Some people said that when I came here I changed my views. My views have changed, not because of my membership—or not just because of that—but particularly because of seeing the unicameral Scottish Parliament in the last few weeks. It is totally controlled by one party—no, by one man. My honourable friend Ian Davidson described it in another place, in not the most felicitous phrase, as “neo-fascism”. I would say, cautiously and carefully, that it is becoming very totalitarian in Scotland now, with a unicameral Parliament controlled by one party, with every committee that was supposed to provide the checks and balances also controlled by that party and with the Presiding Officer also from that party. It is really worrying. For example, they are now about to rush through a Bill on sectarianism with very little thought, under pressure from the tabloids, before the football season starts. The unintended consequences of that could be very serious indeed. I have come to the view that a second Chamber is needed to provide those necessary checks and balances.
The next question is what kind of second Chamber. The White Paper and the Bill, as many others have said, put the cart before the horse—they talk about composition before the purpose, functions and role of the second Chamber. I can see arguments for a nominated second Chamber, if it has a revising function, as it does at the moment, but a second Chamber improved by the proposals included in the Bill drafted by the noble Lord, Lord Steel. I do not think that David realised that he was going to have so many people supporting his Bill—and rightly so—in the course of these two days. There is also a case for an elected second Chamber. However, if that is the way forward, we have to recognise, as a number of others have said, that it will challenge and question the primacy or the supremacy of the House of Commons. Other Members have argued that far more forcefully than I can. Conventions will need to be revised or a written constitution will be needed in relation to that.
Two points have not been covered in this debate. As I said, this Bill has very few friends here; indeed, it does not have many friends anywhere. When the Leader of the Opposition, the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, referred to the careful consideration that we undertook in relation to the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill, I saw my noble friend Lord McNally—and he is an old friend of mine—make a note and look in my direction. If he was thinking what I think he was thinking, he is right.
Finally, problems have arisen because for some time now constitutional change has been piecemeal. Problems have arisen. One of the most urgent—more urgent, I think, than any reform of the House of Lords—is the democratic deficit in England. English people do not have the same say over a domestic matter that we in Scotland and others in Wales and Northern Ireland do. That ought to be dealt with rather more urgently than looking at the House of Lords. It would be better to tidy this matter up rather than to carry out another constitutional change. If we go ahead with it, I predict that it will have unintended consequences far greater than any of us can now imagine.
My Lords, it is very difficult to follow a speech such as we have just heard. I say at once that I am against a wholly elected House. Apart from anything else, it would mean losing the Cross Benches, a point made very powerfully this morning by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames. I think most of us would agree that the Cross Benches are, in the immortal words of 1066 and All That, “a good thing”, not because we are in any way better than any other Members—of course not—but because we are independent not only of party but of each other, as we have seen very often during the last few weeks; indeed, we will see it shortly when the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scott, follows me. He and I share a room and I know that he strongly disagrees with everything that I am about to say.
I am not only against a wholly elected House; I am against a wholly appointed House, for two main reasons. First, it would give too much power to the seven members of the Appointments Commission just as the present system of appointing Peers gives much too much power to the Prime Minister.
I am not sure that that answers the point that I am against appointment by the Prime Minister. I would also be against appointment by so small a body as the seven eminent men who are apparently proposed. To have seven people appoint the whole of one Chamber of a bicameral Parliament seems to me to be wrong in principle.
Secondly, it would mean that the voice of the people had not been heard in choosing any of the Members of this House. The noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, argued yesterday that the voice of people is heard, and often heard, in this Chamber. That is true and I entirely agree with her. However, it is not heard in choosing the Members of this Chamber, which is a very different thing. That was the great point made yesterday by the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown. Perhaps even more relevant, it was the great point made by the royal commission under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham.
The noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, in his measured speech this morning, was not against reform but he said that we should take it slowly and even think of appointing a royal commission to take the matter forward. Surely he was forgetting that we have already had a royal commission. Its membership could hardly have been more distinguished—eight were Members of this House out of a total of 12, I believe. They took a mass of evidence, both expert and non-expert. May I say in passing that I am really surprised that so little has been said so far in any of the speeches that I have heard about the work that that royal commission undertook? I think that the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, himself was the only person who has mentioned it, and he was far too modest about the merit of the proposals in that royal commission. It reached very clear conclusions, one of which was that a significant number of Members should be elected to represent the regions—the north-east, the north-west, Scotland, Wales and so on. There are 12 regions in all. That seems a very good idea. The commission went on to consider various models of how it might be achieved; under model B, there were to be 87 elected Members to represent the regions, or 15 per cent of the total, while under model C it was somewhat more. A majority of the royal commission favoured model B, and so would I.
I am in favour of a partially elected House. There are two main arguments against having any elected Members at all. First, it might lead to friction between elected and non-elected Members; secondly, it might lead to friction between this House and the other place—and perhaps even call in question the conventions that we all know. The royal commission dealt with each of those objections at considerable length and rejected them both, and so would I. Of course, a wholly elected House would challenge the primacy of the other place. That almost goes without saying. That of course is what is proposed, but it is not what the royal commission proposed and not what I favour.
Since in a debate of this kind, one should always come down and say what one does actually want, perhaps I can say what I would like to see and to have considered by the hardworking committee that will consider all these matters. I would like to see a House of 400 Members—rather more than the 300 proposed in the Bill. There is more than enough work for 400 Members to do. Of those 400, 320 would be appointed by the new Appointments Commission, of whom 100 would be Cross-Benchers. The remaining 80 would be elected by proportional representation to represent the 12 regions, as recommended by the Wakeham commission. I am easy as to the form of proportional representation, as long as independent Members are not discouraged from standing. They would serve for two terms, renewable; they would not be eligible for election thereafter to the House of Commons, so the House would not become a stepping stone for ambitious politicians. All Members, whether appointed or elected, would be paid the same salary, which would be taxable.
I accept that of course what I am in favour of is a compromise between what is proposed in the Bill, which I do not like, and the wholly appointed House favoured by very many. But a compromise may yet become necessary if we are to reach a consensus with the views held in the other place, whatever they may turn out to be. I would not expect such a compromise to be popular in either place, but then compromises are never popular until they become inevitable, and often not then.
Perhaps the noble and learned Lord could enlighten us as to how a Prime Minister should proceed when he finds that there is no material in the other place adequate to form a Government, which has been the effect on every Prime Minister for the last 50 years, and probably many before that.
I am not altogether clear as to the relevance of that point to what I was saying. I am not suggesting any alteration in the other place; I simply referred to what I would hope might be regarded as incremental reform of this place, to use the expression of the noble Baroness yesterday.
If I might help the noble and learned Lord, I heard him say that he was against any appointments to this place by a Prime Minister. If a Prime Minister cannot have total freedom to choose his Government, what is he going to do under the noble and learned Lord’s recommendations?
Of course the Prime Minister can choose the Government. There is an argument, which we have already had, as to whether he should be entitled to choose Ministers to sit here, but what I am against is the Prime Minister choosing, as he does, the vast majority of the Members currently present.
My Lords, in following the noble and learned Lord I regret to say that I have no solution to what should happen, although I admire his courage in going back and putting forward one that has been considered before. It certainly is true that we are faced with compromise. I suppose that is inevitable. As the noble and learned Lord said, there is always going to have to be compromise. The trouble with this compromise—the Bill—is that it is between a school of political theory and the empiricists. It is between those whose heritage is revolution and those who believe in evolution. Indeed, I suspect that the parliamentary draftsman got two completely different sets of instructions when he set out to draft the Bill.
To take the first school, where do the political theorists come from? It has been claimed that there are none and that for 100 years, in the footsteps of Asquith and Lloyd George, all that is being done is to complete pragmatically a process which was started then. I do not think that is right. The origins of where we are go back a lot further: to the Enlightenment and to 1776 with Tom Paine, sitting in Philadelphia and about to advise, very successfully, the founding fathers. He wanted to persuade the 13 colonies that they could break free from the King and the British Parliament, so he was making the strongest argument that he could and saying that the English system was broken, to use a more recent term.
In the pamphlet entitled Common Sense, he referred to:
“The remains of aristocratical tyranny in the persons of the peers”,
who were to be got rid of under his scheme. He praised:
“The new republican materials, in the persons of the commons”.
Tom Paine was committed to 100 per cent election and to written constitutions. Indeed, he wrote about the unelected that they were wholly independent from the nation, but he did not mean “independent” in the sense that it has been used in this debate. He also wrote:
“From the want of a constitution in England to restrain and regulate the wild impulse of power, many of the laws are irrational and tyrannical”.
Were Tom Paine to be here today, would he think differently? I think that he would still be in favour of election and of a written constitution. Would he be able to distinguish between the remaining hereditary Peers and the life Peers in this House of Lords? I would hazard a guess that he would not be able to distinguish them and that if he did not it would make no difference to his opinion. He would think that because this House was not elected, it should be abolished.
However, many empiricists, who are evolutionary, think that many of the political theorists enjoyed Tom Paine when they were young. They liked the drama of the Declaration of Independence and the fall of the Bastille, which turned them on, but most people grow up. Some take longer than others and some never achieve it but most of the theorists who write essays when they are young turn into empiricists later. Unfortunately, some never do.
This Bill is hooked on democratic legitimacy and concepts, but has been drafted by somebody who has been told that they must take care of the effects. As the French Revolution showed quite clearly, theorists are not much bothered by effects. However, empiricists are. Much reference has been made to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, and you have to give him a point. If you had full-scale democratic legitimacy, as described in political theory, the second Chamber would be able to disagree with the first Chamber about going to war. If it did so, there would be a constitutional crisis. However, neither mandates nor manifestos make things happen; events do. Libya was not in anybody’s manifesto. Therefore, there could be—and very likely might be—a standoff between one House and another based on a democratic theory of legitimacy that creates a crisis but the draft Bill is trying to solve this problem. The other instructions to the draft will have been to grant some form of political theoretical democratic legitimacy to it but to reduce it to a minimum. Hence, we will have a House of only 300, which is clearly too small. Hence, we will have 15-year terms. Hence, we will have all the other things about which Members have been speaking during the debates. I do not need to repeat them all.
There is a standoff within the Government between the Paineite theorists and the empiricists. The Bill both grants the democratic legitimacy that is looked for and does its best to take it back. This is why it will fall.
Several people have said that it is very difficult at this stage in the debate to say something new. However, the right reverend prelate the Bishop of Chichester did exactly that. It was rather spine-chilling to follow his logic on the Bill and the possible subplot that might lead to a president in this country who would be the arbiter between the two Houses. It was particularly chilling because the picture that came to mind was President Clegg. If I was not already opposed to the Bill beforehand, I certainly was after listening to that particular possibility.
It is late. I do not normally speak on Lords reform but it is important that the Government and the Joint Committee get a sense of the strength of feeling that exists in the House on this draft Bill. They have certainly got that today and yesterday. However, it is also incumbent on us as individuals to use our personal experience to highlight some of the practical problems that will arise from these proposals.
Like everyone else, I am tempted to comment on everything, from the Steel Bill, which I support, to the use of the Parliament Act, which I oppose, and all the other issues. Instead, I base my words on my experience as Shadow Leader of the House of Commons—when the noble Lord, Lord Newton, was Leader—Leader of the House of Commons and government Chief Whip, which are very different roles as the noble Lord, Lord St John of Fawlsey, said yesterday. However, all these roles, in one way or another, brought me not only into the usual channels in the Commons but also into the discussions that have to take place from time to time between the business managers of both Houses. Both Houses have to interact; both Houses have to negotiate. That can be quite difficult. In particular, there can be an impasse between both Houses. We can, as we have seen on many occasions, get to a ping-pong situation. I have been there in the smoke-filled or darkened rooms, in the corners of corridors, and I have to admit to being party to negotiations and compromises and to a whole variety of done deals just to keep the show on the road. That has not always been easy, as anyone who has been involved will acknowledge.
However, when I was in the Commons, as Leader of the House or as Chief Whip, I always knew that in the Commons you had one great advantage that the Lords never had. It was the very basic, simple fact that the Commons was elected. That is not to say that this House had no influence. It is not to say that this House never got its way. It did have an influence and it did sometimes persuade the Commons to back down and accept what was being proposed, and it did, on occasion, delay legislation, but when the crunch came, the Commons was elected, and the Commons always had the edge. Therefore, I ask this House, and the other House, to think what would be the situation if this House was elected, be it 80 per cent—as someone said, four-fifths legitimate—or 100 per cent. Those discussions and negotiations would be completely different.
The Government cannot just say that the primacy of the House of Commons would be preserved because, in reality, that is just not possible. Ministers always say that the way things will be preserved is by conventions. That is always the answer when we talk about this but, as the Leader of the House said yesterday,
“these arrangements and conventions may—indeed will—develop and evolve”.
You bet they will, and there is only one direction, there is only one way, in which they will change. The power of this Chamber will increase and the power of the Commons will diminish. No group of people, however much or little they are paid, who are worthy of election would sit back in this Chamber and not flex their muscles once they were elected, and I think that they would do it pretty quickly. My noble friend Lord Sewel said yesterday that institutions are dynamic. If we were to have an elected House of Lords, you would soon see how dynamic it could be. I think that that issue is now dawning on people in another place.
My second point is about accountability in the proposals in the draft Bill. Like others, I question what accountability there could be. I thought of it personally. If I were to stand in the senatorial elections under this system, first, I would be there for 15 years; secondly, as the Leader of the House said yesterday, I would,
“not be accountable to voters in the same way that MPs are to their constituents”,
and, thirdly, I would be barred from seeking re-election. So there is one very basic question: to whom am I accountable? It is not the electorate, and it is not my party, because I will not be able to seek re-election. I reckon I would have carte blanche. As long as you do not break the rules, you are there for 15 years. As the Leader of the House said yesterday, long single terms will uphold the independence of Members. He spoke of the,
“spirit that differentiates this House”.—[Official Report, 21/6/11; col. 1156.]
So if we have that valued independence that he praises now, as we do, why are we going through all this to elect independent but non-accountable senators? It seems a nonsense to me. Like many others here today, I was in the Commons for quite a long time. I was there for 27 years, and I fought, I think, eight elections. That is accountability, not what is proposed here. What is democracy worth if it does not include accountability? It is a very basic question and one to which we have not yet had an answer.
Finally, I accept that it is very difficult to mount a theoretical, academic defence of an unelected House, although some people have got quite close to doing quite well today. Like others, I do not think that the House of Lords is perfect. We could improve it, as many have said, and as the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, tries to do. My defence is the practical fact that this House works. No one could have designed it in the way that it is but it has evolved into a very useful Chamber. It is my very strong belief, with others, that it is absolutely impossible to elect the Lords without the most severe impact being felt on the Commons. If you are doing that, in addition to all the other changes that this Government have been proposing, you might be best to start with a blank piece of paper and write a whole new codified constitution from scratch. The alternative, and what we are seeing at the moment, is piecemeal tinkering with our constitution. There will be unintended consequences and this approach will probably create far more problems than it solves.
My Lords, there is really very little to say that has not already been said very eloquently by those who have spoken before me. That feature of the debate that has taken place yesterday and today allows me, I hope, to be brief. I wish to associate myself particularly with the coruscating speech delivered yesterday by the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, and with the speeches delivered today by the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, and the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, and also with the many speeches delivered to your Lordships by those who have opposed the notion that election of Members of this House would be a desirable constitutional innovation.
This House has long been the subject of reforms to its membership. The reforms have always been pragmatic ones designed to make the House better able to discharge its constitutional functions. The reforms began—so far as I know; there may have been earlier ones—in 1878 when provision was made by statute for life peerages to be awarded to eminent judges or lawyers, and these became the first Law Lords. The reforms were designed to make the House better able to discharge its then constitutional role of being the final court of appeal for the kingdom. That was a wholly pragmatic response to the proposal by Prime Minister Gladstone to remove from the Lords its appellate jurisdiction. A general election brought in Disraeli as Prime Minister in place of Gladstone and the creation of Law Lords to sit on appeals to the House was the result.
The Parliament Act 1911 was a procedural reform introduced to prevent a Tory-dominated House of Lords from defeating legislation desired by the Lloyd George Liberal Government. That too was a pragmatic response to a need for the House to be in a satisfactory state. The 1958 Act extended to anybody the possibility of the grant of a life peerage and this too was a pragmatic response to the growing criticism of the hereditary character of the then membership of the House. The 1998 Act started the process of removing hereditary Peers from membership of the House but this Act, like the 1878 and 1958 Acts, owed little, if anything, to doctrine and everything to pragmatism—what would enable the House more efficiently to fulfil its constitutional role until a final decision about membership of the House could be reached. These reforms have since 1958 enabled a constitutional balance between the Commons and this House to evolve. I know of no criticism of that balance except that the Members of this House, bar the remaining hereditaries, owe their membership to appointment and not to election. Subject to that single criticism, the House has since 1958 discharged its constitutional functions without serious criticism of its membership.
Is that criticism justified? Your Lordships have heard over the past two days all sorts of criticisms of the proposed Bill and the details contained in it. Having listened carefully to those criticisms, I should have thought that the proposed Bill was a bad Bill, but that does not dispose of the underlying question of whether an elected House of Lords should be preferred to an appointed House, either wholly or in part.
A fully or mainly elected House would undermine the balance between the two Houses that has evolved since at least 1958—perhaps earlier. It would produce constitutional complications, disputes and deadlocks, the outcome of which would be difficult, perhaps impossible, to foretell. In the words of the noble Lord, Lord Butler, it would produce a “destination undefined”.
In considering the proposed reform of the House and whether an elected or an appointed House is to be preferred, there are only three relevant questions. First, what is the constitutional function of the House? Secondly, what attributes of Members of the House are needed for the discharge of those functions? The third question is whether election of Members of the House by members of the public is a necessary attribute for the discharging by Members of the House of their functions.
At present, the roles of the House are threefold. First, its reviewing and advisory role in relation to the House of Commons is applicable mainly to primary legislation but also to secondary legislation, particularly under the procedural reforms proposed in the report of my noble friend Lord Goodlad. The scrutiny of legislation is to identify whether any unintended consequences are to be discerned that might be thought to be undesirable, and whether the legislation as drafted will produce the consequences that were intended for it. Those scrutiny processes are highly desirable for the production of sound legislation and are performed by this House to a degree of satisfaction to everyone.
The second role of the House is to provide a venue for the introduction of politically non-controversial legislation. That role can be set aside for the purposes of the present argument, because an elected House would be able to discharge that role as well as would an appointed House.
However, the third role of the House is of critical importance. It is the function of holding the Government to account. That may arise in an almost infinite number of respects—some scientific, some technical, and some that are connected with the Armed Forces, legal matters, matters of medicine or other technologies. The “degree of expertise” is a phrase disliked by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. I would accept “diversity of experience” as a better use of language. That diversity is of huge importance in enabling the holding to account of Ministers to be discharged to its optimum effect. The House as presently constituted contains that diversity of experience. It is by no means confined to the Cross Benches, and is to be found in all parts of the House. It must be very rare for an issue to arise that calls for discussion or debate in the House where no one in the House has experience—expertise, if one likes—of that subject. I can certainly remember no such case since I have been in the House. That informs our debate; it enables questioning of the Minister to be effective and searching.
The next question is whether elections would produce Members of the House as well able to discharge their important constitutional function of holding the Government to account as does the House as presently constituted. The expert knowledge and experience of Members is clearly of great importance, as I have said. The independence of Members is also important. Members of political parties, as well as Cross-Benchers, are independent in the sense that, once they are here, they stay here. They are not subject to discipline by government Whips if they choose to vote or speak against party policy. That independence is important and obtainable under the House as it is constituted at the moment.
I do not believe that an elected House could match the qualities I have just mentioned. The manner in which individuals are appointed is certainly open to criticism. I entirely support the introduction of a statutory Appointments Commission—
My Lords, I speak in this debate with considerable reluctance, because I, too, was concerned about this House spending a considerable amount of parliamentary time on the issue when so many people are facing such difficult circumstances. I recently gazed at the supermarket shelves reflecting that there was hardly a loaf of bread for under £1. However, the more that I considered the draft Bill, ironically, it highlighted one of the main roles of your Lordships' House: to keep a long-term view when short-term considerations press in on government.
I am in favour of reform, but the reforms in the draft Bill are deeply flawed and could lead to our finely balanced constitution, which operates like a beautiful clock, being tampered with one too many times and jamming altogether. In my brief time in your Lordships’ House, I have come to view the relationship of this House to the other place rather like a boxer and his trainer. The other place throws a democratic punch, to be met by a mitt labelled delay, scrutiny or review. Perhaps another punch or two is thrown, but eventually, the boxer gets the prize. The trainer is there only to improve the boxer. By electing this Chamber, the trainer will become another boxer and the two will end up fighting or, worse still, they will be on the same team and there will be no fight at all, no scrutiny, review or delay.
A boxing match also needs a referee. Who will referee potential endless ping-pong between the two Chambers? Will it be a Joint Committee, a referendum, a YouGov survey or the judiciary? The draft Bill is silent. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Williamson of Horton: the other place will lose its supremacy once public opinion and the media, in any dispute between the Chambers, are on the side of senators. The judiciary just battled Facebook and Twitter and did not do so well. I do not believe that Members of the other place will fare any better.
I have also tried to imagine the doorstep conversations in elections under the draft Bill. I would have to ask for a person’s vote and explain, “No, I do not want your vote for me as your elected representative but as your elected reviewer, your elected scrutineer, your elected delayer”. I think that the final comment will have been shouted through a door shut in my face, and quite rightly.
What would my election literature look like? My whole CV condensed onto an A5 flyer? I do not believe that that would improve public confidence in our politics one bit.
The two elected Chambers will also clash at grass-roots level. As the noble Lords, Lord Faulkner of Worcester and Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, said, senators will take on case work in part of their areas. I think that I can feel a cold draught coming from the other place as chills go down their spines at the thought of theyworkforyou.com having senator and MP competitive league tables. Of course, if this would deliver a better service for constituents then it would be worth considering. The very valuable work of an elected representative dealing with constituents inquiries is rather like customer service from a big retailer, but I cannot think of any retailer that advises you to phone up twice, to speak to two people, to get two customer reference numbers and to have two people contacting the suppliers, as the likelihood of conflicting answers would increase.
On a serious note, hundreds of civil servants are at the end of hotlines from offices in this Palace doing their best to deal with complex cases. I believe that such duplication will be a waste of public resource as well as immensely frustrating to the civil servants who will find it impossible to tell a senator that they cannot deal with an inquiry because the MP called two days ago.
Much of what I now say regarding the Lords Spiritual applies to the current Chamber as well as to any reformed House. I would like to deal with the reality which is outlined in paragraph 91 of the White Paper, a paragraph with which I agree—that although historically they are here as independents, the reality is that they are seen as representatives of the Church of England.
I am impressed by the Lords Spiritual, who bring a sense of service to their community and a spiritual, moral and ethical perspective that enhances the independent nature of debate in your Lordships’ House. I believe that the work of this House is improved by each of the Benches having a blend of part-time and full-time Peers. I am deliberately avoiding using the term “working Peers” as it implies that other Peers do not work, which is not true. I believe that there would be much merit in having a blend of Bishops: some part-time with diocesan responsibilities and some full-time akin to working Peers. It would be most welcome to have Bishops more fully involved in the life of this House
Unfortunately, under the draft Bill, none of the recommendations of the royal commission is developed. Surely the churches in the other home nations should be represented and the wisdom of the leader of the largest voluntary provider of social services in the country—namely the Salvation Army—would be extremely valuable. Perhaps canon law will still deny this House the insights and immense wisdom of the Archbishop of Westminster but there are very gifted laity in the Catholic Church. What of the black-led denominations whose story often includes having to found their own denominations as many of the established ones were not the most welcoming? To my knowledge there is not a single attendee now, let alone a leader, from within those denominations in your Lordships’ House, and I think that the House is poorer for that.
There are no perfect proposals, but the division of the 12 places on the basis of church attendance within the UK would be a good starting point. On the latest British social attitude surveys that would give us 3.5 Anglicans, 3.5 Catholics and five others. I know that I am expecting a lot from a Bench that believes in miracles.
In looking into the history of this House, it was most encouraging to learn that the 14th century church was rather radical and that women owned land. So in 1306 a writ of summons was sent to abbesses to attend Parliament—but alas, there is no evidence that any of these women attended. Whether by laity or working Bishops, there needs to be a clear timetable outlining and guaranteeing when the Benches of the Lords Spiritual will include a substantial number of women. Places in the nation’s legislature are not on a men-only basis for any organisation.
The public want a House that functions. I would support a fully elected House, with proper recognition of the democratic power of the people and a means to resolve disputes between Chambers. However, I am not convinced that we will ever come up with such a solution. On the options presented to me, I would support a wholly appointed Chamber based on a statutory Appointments Commission, and I would submit myself to reselection if required.
I pray in aid of my conclusion the result of a vote in a House of Lords Chamber event in 2010, when a majority of the 16 to 18 year-olds who had the privilege of debating this issue voted for a fully appointed House. I concur with the comments of many of your Lordships about the loss of wisdom and expertise to this House under the reforms. I cannot express that point better than Ed Gerlach, from Western Sixth Form College, who took part in that Chamber event. He said:
“I agree that we should have appointed Lords. They are from different fields and will know what they are on about from a variety of different backgrounds. People were saying that a lot of them are middle aged people, but they have been around longer and know better what they are on about. They are the people who we should trust. I agree that we should perhaps have a few younger people but you cannot use that as a criticism. They know what they are on about because they have been around the longest. I do not mean that in any disrespectful way”.
And neither, my Lords, do I.
My Lords, after 10 years spent chained to the ministerial Bench, I cannot remember ever uttering an original comment in this House, and I am therefore not likely to do so on this subject, particularly after almost 90 speeches which have covered every conceivable part of the document. It is a work of genius, I think, for the three main parties to be in favour of reform and for the Government to produce a document which seems to have attracted the wholehearted and complete support of fewer than five out of the 90 noble Lords who have spoken. Of course, we all await the Minister’s ability to redress the balance, and we look forward to that contribution with great joy.
As reformers, we should rejoice in the fact that the Government are committed to this degree of reform. I would remind those in my own party who have reservations about reform that it took us 40 years, more than a generation, to improve on the 1911 Act with regard to the relationship between the two Houses and then almost 50 years before we moved on again with regard to hereditary Peers. It is not as if this country or even my party moves at breakneck speed when it comes to constitutional reform, so I hope that on all sides there will be some degree of constructive response to this initiative. But I am all too well aware of the fact that the criticisms that have been expressed of the Bill have been not just on the detail but on crucial aspects of principle.
Let me express an obvious point. I have enjoyed my period in this House and I have particularly enjoyed the quality of the contributions to our debates. It is very rare that we do not present words of great worth to the nation, however ill reported they may prove to be. But part of that limited reporting is the very fact of the matter: we can be disregarded because we are unrepresentative. We are not a debating society. We are the second Chamber of one of the world’s oldest democracies. Other countries which have come much later into the democratic field than us have tackled the problems of a second Chamber with success. It may be said that many of those countries have written constitutions. Well, let the Government address themselves to that fact.
Fundamental Acts of Parliament such as the Parliament Acts of 1911 and 1949 and the Act passed with regard to the hereditaries are part of our constitution. If the Government need, and I think they obviously do, to define clearly the relationships they see developing between two Houses if they are elected, it is for the Government to make that abundantly clear before either House is asked to make a judgment about the composition of the House of Lords. That is why the biggest weakness in the document is its complete failure to identify the issues of powers. I hate to say this to my noble friend Lord Richard, but it looks as if we will need to ask the committee to go back to the drawing board on these issues, such has been the force of criticism in the debate.
I am in favour of an elected House. I do not see that an elected House could be anything other than an enhancement of our democratic position. However, I cannot recognise the concept of an elected House in this document. Election is not only a question of winning the votes to arrive at a place, but also about the accountability of the exercise of power when one is in that place. Of course, this document proposes that Members of this House would get here through election and not be accountable at all; they would enjoy 15 years as legislators, but not as representatives. The Government certainly need to address themselves to that.
Whenever the Government, in this paper, have gone into any area of detail, they seem to have fallen very short of the quality of argument we would expect. The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, identified a proposal in this document that a Minister of the Crown can be appointed, can become a Member of Parliament and can be dismissed from his post by the Prime Minister, but also dismissed from Parliament by virtue of the post having been lost. That is an absolute absurdity. Where has a conscious thought gone into this White Paper if such absurd positions as that are produced? Let us be clear, however, about what this document does tackle and what the fundamental principle is that we have to address.
I have heard a great deal about the weaknesses of the document and about the Government’s position and I have made it fairly clear that I intend to support my Front Bench in a great deal of the criticism of the Bill because we hope that, when the Bill emerges, it will be very different from the one envisaged in this document. What is being tackled is the problem that we all share, each and every one of us. We are here as creatures of patronage. It is not an attractive word, not a word that has featured a great deal in this debate. Though we have been full of considerable congratulation on the work that we do, on the efforts that we put in on behalf of the community—and I appreciate all that work—it is still the fact that we are here because somebody in power thought that we should be. That is no basis for the second Chamber in a democracy. That is why, despite the bumbling efforts of the Government over this document, despite the ease with which we are able to subject it to criticism—unless my noble friend Lord Richard and his committee are able to produce very different perspectives indeed—we should respect that obvious point. We, a House of grandparents appointed through patronage by individuals, should recognise that we have limited legitimacy and one which has no place in the law making of a modern democracy.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, and I shall disappoint other noble Lords by agreeing with a number of things that he said. He will have noticed that the debate opened with a striking speech by the Leader of the Opposition, in which she tore up, on behalf of the new reforming leadership of the Labour Party, the commitments made after many years of discussion involving the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, who is shaking his head, to an elected House. That was in the Labour Party’s manifesto and Labour pushed for it after its manifesto. The shadow Cabinet has awarded itself, as I see it, the freedom to duck and weave on this issue, while, as many of us will have noticed in this debate, not ruling out returning to election in the future, when it suits it rather more politically. I find in that position, which I must put down to Mr Miliband, very little principle and quite a lot of opportunism.
I share many of the reservations expressed about aspects of the Bill, but I am afraid that I accept many of its core arguments. I ask the House to consider whether this Government have done what this House time and again has asked Governments to do on legislation. They have put forward a Bill, however imperfect, for pre-legislative scrutiny. It is easy, when someone puts his head above the parapet, to open fire and, indeed, we have heard absolute volleys of grapeshot over the past two days—the ample body of my noble friend Lord Strathclyde offers a larger target than most. However, I hope that, in shooting at the target of this Bill, we will not block, at this perhaps closing stage of the question of the House of Lords, serious scrutiny of the idea of election, which has been in the open, as others have pointed out, since it was endorsed by the royal commission. I certainly hope that we will not rule it out, however tempting it might be, pour épater Monsieur Clegg.
I could not support a 100 per cent elected House or the effective exclusion of Cross-Benchers. Nor could I support the removal of the right reverend Prelates, for what I thought were the rather old Tory principles set out in the words of the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York that were quoted to us yesterday. I would dearly love to see the return of the Supreme Court and the Law Lords here. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scott, pointed out, that happened in 1876 after an earlier ham-fisted reform. It might well lessen the risks of future clashes between Parliament and the judiciary.
However, I cannot rule out election of at least some political Peers with the certainty that has informed so many speeches in this debate. The case for election is not only democracy, although I do not disdain democracy. After all, Lord Chancellors apart, since Victorian times almost all the greatest statesmen who have led in these islands, save the odd exception such as my noble friend Lord Carrington, have first been elected. That includes even the great Marquess of Salisbury. The case for election is not only some greater legitimacy, as has been argued, although I do not disdain that either. There have been many attacks on the 15-year mandate, but they neglect to point out that the House, although never dissolved, would be renewed and refreshed by election by thirds, as is the US Senate.
The case for considering election is surely that from which so many people in this debate have recoiled: challenging the House of Commons to do its job better. It has generally been accepted that the Executive are too strong and that the other place is malfunctioning. I agree with all those who have said that Clause 2 of the draft Bill is nonsense. A House with a significant elected element would challenge the House of Commons and its primacy more and with more conviction. But why not? Then the other place might have to win a few more arguments rather than relying on the juggernaut of the Whip and the mantra of primacy that we keep hearing.
I do not want to reel back through the mists of time, but it is an odd fact that the last time this House brought down a Government was in 1783, which opened the way to one of the greatest of all our Prime Ministers, William Pitt. I do not fear the challenge that election would put into the system. Nor do I panic about the word “gridlock”, which comes up time and again—sometimes from those who darkly hint that it would happen if they did not get their way on this matter. Do we not have too much ill thought-out legislation pumped out through our Parliament, including by the Government whom I support?
I am sorry but, if the need to avoid gridlock contributed to more forethought, more willingness to compromise and less haste to publish monster Bills, I would not lose too much sleep if election contributed to that. There are many ways to break deadlock and, in the good old days, Members of the House of Commons used to have to stand and take their hats off when Members of the House of Lords attended joint conferences.
I suspect that that might appeal to many here. As regards the criticisms that have been made about aspects of the draft Bill, I appeal to the House not to put itself in the position of being seen as ruling out any idea of election. Let us ask the Joint Committee to try to burnish a proposal and then—I agree with what my noble friend Lord Astor said yesterday—the proposal should be put to the people in a referendum.
To conclude, there should be at least one other option in such a referendum. When Lord Gardiner put his paper on reform to the Labour Cabinet in 1968 he said that there were four options—abolition, do nothing, election or appointment. Things have not changed much since then. The prevailing mood in the House is clear: noble Lords want an all-appointed House. Most see a seductive and stealthy route to that in the Bill put forward by my noble friend Lord Steel of Aikwood. I cannot support that Bill. We have an Appointments Commission already and I question the prevailing assumption—as did the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick—that a committee of seven or nine people, chosen from the ranks of the great and good, should be charged by statute for all time with controlling the peopling of a whole House of Parliament. I cannot accept as readily as some that it is axiomatically wrong that 40 million people should have a say in who might come to this House, while it is right that seven people should determine in secret who comes and why.
The core proposition of my noble friend Lord Steel’s Bill is the ending of the replacement of our hereditary colleagues in order to leave an all-appointed House. I will pass over the point that that would disproportionately disadvantage this party, which had the largest popular vote at the recent general election, and ask why, if this is so desirable—as has been so eloquently argued—the creation of this all-appointed House should be done by stealth. Why should it creep through the shadows under the name of incremental change? Why can it not proclaim itself as the full and final reform that so many of your Lordships wish? However, this is something that no party has put before the British people recently. It is featured in no programme and has been subject to no scrutiny or public debate. We have heard eloquent arguments for an all-appointed House, but if we want to settle the House of Lords question and close off election, as many noble Lords wish, we will not do so by a hole-in-the-corner measure.
The proposition for an all-appointed House, put by so many noble Lords with such conviction, should be put squarely before the British people in a referendum, alongside whatever proposition on a politically elected element may emerge from the Joint Committee and the deliberations of another place. If the British people then vote to reject the idea that they should ever have a right to vote for any Member of this House, I might be able to accept my noble friend Lord Steel’s Bill. Until then, I am sorry that I cannot.
My Lords, I am in the minority in the House and on the speakers list, although I am much comforted by some of the speeches that I have just heard. It is both right and just that those who have power over the lives of others and who can make and amend laws—and we in this House do have powers—should be subject to the will of those people, the electorate. Therefore, in principle I seek a democratically elected and accountable second Chamber. In this I am in accord with my party and its traditions. Noble Lords may have heard statements to the contrary today, but the Labour Party stands for a democratically elected second Chamber and I do not believe that it will change its view in future years.
There has been a lot of talk also about MPs at the other end changing their views. I do not know from my contacts whether this is the case. However, I have spent some time looking at MPs who spoke in the debates at the other end, and it seems that many of them have been around for quite some time. A fair number of them are coming to the end of their careers, and possibly a number might hope to come to the House of Lords. It is very difficult to get a measure of the strength of feeling among the new MPs—and there are a lot of them down there. My guess is that if push comes to shove, most of them will stand with their leadership. Secondly, they will look at the manifestos on which they were elected. All the manifestos, even if the parties did not get majorities, have statements to the effect that those parties want an elected second Chamber. The MPs will also look at allegations that have been made about their conduct, and about breaking their promises, particularly after what we have seen in the past 12 months. Again on this issue, if it comes to the push, I believe that they will not leave themselves open to the allegation that they have breached the promises given in their manifestos.
I urge the House to look a bit wider than this debate has done so far—and I am very much a supporter of the House and in love with the House. We had rather a surprise three or four years ago when more people in the Commons voted for the change. People down this end did not believe that would happen. It is important that we do not misjudge the mood and the momentum. This topic is very much about momentum. It has been on the move since 1997 and there is a long way to go yet.
There is also a change of mood taking place among the public at large at a very fast pace that it ill behoves us to ignore, particularly in relation to the media, to communications, to the internet and so on. We can be caught out if we do not watch what is happening. If there was a referendum on whether the House should be 100 per cent elected, the public would throw it out completely, no matter what arguments were made.
There has been some movement in the Commons but I certainly cannot see it standing on its head and supporting the Steel Bill or 100 per cent appointments. I just do not see that happening; it is not the reality. They are not going to do that even if there was more opposition to election. We have to take note of some of those points. They will also be conscious that we are now a House of over 800 and that they are to be reduced in due course to 600. They will ask questions about the cost and sustainability of what we are doing. These are all topics that have not come up so far today but I think we should look at them.
Some people here are taking note of the need for change beyond just talking about tinkering around the edges. I listened with great interest to the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, this morning. He is a greatly respected Peer and not a man who is about disturbing the normal state of affairs—he is a man for stability and a man who knows when there is a mood and change taking place and when there is a requirement to respond to it. It is interesting that he now advocates a move towards a form of election—not direct election, true, but indirect election—but this change is starting to take place in some areas in this House. The message for those of us who listen carefully to each other is to listen very carefully to what is going on around us.
If this Bill went through, I suppose that would be my manifesto for an election next time round and I would be out on the first list in 2015—one of the number to be ejected. The view has been put to me that if you are in favour of elections you will be the first to go out of the House if changes do come. Maybe I will respond to that.
Having said all that, I find the Bill a huge disappointment in certain respects, mainly in regard to omissions—it is what is not in there but which should be in there that I worry about. First, like the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, I am in favour of accountability and that means at least once going back to the electorate for election. In fairness, the Labour Party never had a policy which went down that road. We argued with Jack Straw and some of us hoped that we might be able to persuade the party that it should introduce some accountability because otherwise it makes a mockery of claiming that this is fully legitimate.
Secondly, I come to the infamous Clause 2 and failure of the Bill to address the issue of powers. I am an advocate of broadly maintaining the present relationship between the two Houses. Over time I have been asked about what work the Government were doing on codification of the powers and conventions between the two Houses. I am absolutely surprised that this has gone completely off the agenda and not been mentioned at all. I find this amazing. The last Government knew it had to be done and was starting to look at it but this Government have left it wide open. I hope that the Government will reflect on that carefully because there is no way you can keep the status quo. It was mentioned this morning that over 200 secondary legislation SIs came through the House last year. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, knows himself what you can do with an SI in this House: you can have a fatal vote on an SI and you can change completely a government policy—as indeed Members in this House did on the Gambling Bill when they threw out the SI. When you have elected people in the Chamber, can you leave the freedom for them to do that? In no time you will be in trouble.
My next question is linked to the Parliament Act. Do the Government have in mind using the Parliament Act on a frequent basis? More particularly, do they have in mind the possibility that, as previously when the delaying power was reduced from two years down to one, one of the ways in which they could deal with a problem between the two Houses is to change the delaying power from one year down to nine months, six months or even three months? I would be grateful if the Minister would address that point because it is fairly fundamental. It would be very difficult to put through but, if it went through, it could create an entirely different relationship between the two Houses.
My time is running out. I regret that the Government have not spent any time looking at the issue raised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, and others—the quality, calibre and experience of this House. How do you get such expertise through a system which requires selection and election? Many alternatives could be used instead of the present arrangements, which rest with the existing parties, and I am sorry that the Government in being radical—as they are trying to be—have not spent some time looking at that issue to see how we can get nearer to a system of finding people willing to stand for election who are similar to the ones we already have in the House. I hope the Government will look at that issue. I have raised it with the noble Lord, Lord Richard, and I hope that the Joint Committee will be prepared to look at it.
My Lords, this debate is both long overdue and very timely. In this day and age, it is abundantly clear that the structure of our constitution needs reform and revision. To depend on piecemeal legislation, convention, interpretations and other practices of the past will increasingly create ambiguities and imprecisions at a time when clarity and specificity are required to serve the needs of our ever more complex society. Effective reform is the best constitutional legacy we can bequeath to future generations.
As we engage in these efforts, we should broaden our approach. The structure of the constitution and issues such as the composition of this House have become our primary focus; however, I feel that it is as important to consider reform and revision of the processes, the procedures and the operating functions that underlie the constitutional structure and make it work. These are the nuts and bolts that give the structure its strength and assure its legitimacy.
In the penumbra of larger reform, we now have an excellent opportunity to make sure that these operating procedures and the ways in which this House regulates itself will conform to the highest standards of fairness and probity. In this context, four principles need to be incorporated in our working processes. Regretfully, they have not been fully adhered to in the past and this, as your Lordships are aware, has been the source of considerable controversy.
The first principle is equality in the way the rules of this House are applied. If there are any investigations or allegations regarding Members of this House, all those concerned must be treated equally; selective application of rules against some and exculpation of others is discriminatory. When it is known that many have done what only a few are castigated for, that can only be a gross transgression of British justice.
The second principle that needs to be clearly established is the undesirability of ex post facto application of rules. Rules and requirements that are in place at the time of alleged actions should be the rules that apply to any such situations. As far as I know, retrospective violations have no status and are not recognised in the courts of law. Why, then, should they be the basis of punishment for Members of this House? It may also be appropriate to consider how committees examining allegations against Members are composed—whether it is more appropriate to select committee chairpersons from among those who belonged to the House when the alleged events were supposed to have taken place.
The third principle is that of transparency. When this House or its committees conduct investigations or examine evidence, it is essential that all relevant documents be made available. Scrupulous care should be taken that nothing is omitted or withheld.
Finally, I believe it is essential that in any proceedings against a Member of this House, that Member should be allowed some legal representation, especially if he or she is to be subject to unrestrained cross-examination by legal luminaries. Simply summoning Members and denying them the right to legal representation is something that our justice system would not tolerate and nor should we.
Your Lordships will not be surprised at my interest in these matters. Experience, after all, is the parent of insight. However, my primary concern is that we govern ourselves with the same degree of propriety that we expect from the civil institutions of government. Reform will really be reform only when it reaches all levels. Widening the scope and application of reforms of this House allows us an opportunity to do this—an opportunity it would be unwise to neglect.
My Lords, in my short career as a cricketer I learnt one thing: if one is number 95 on the batting list, be quick, say your bit and perhaps get out—although I hope I shall not be declared out too early by the umpire. Two of my noble friends—one who is beside me and another who was, briefly, in his place—have between them 120 years’ experience in your Lordships’ House. In my case, I have learnt that the day that I took my seat, on 22 February 1961, my noble friend the Leader of the House, who alas is not in his place, was 13 months old. I cover a good period then. In the 50 years since then—I am now in my 51st year here—I have been able to learn a very great deal, both in your Lordships’ House and outside. What I have learnt so far in this debate—yesterday rather than necessarily today—comes from the marvellous remarks of my noble friend Lord Dobbs. If your Lordships have a look at col. 1235 of yesterday’s Official Report you will see what he said about being a fresh Member of your Lordships’ House. I am that boy but it is 51 years on, so I have had some learning and experience that I hope will be of help in discussing reform of this unique institution.
One of the mottos that, as a youngster, was drummed into me above all is, “Leave the place as you wish to find it”. That is my leitmotif and the main thought that I would share today. I believe that the evolution and development of your Lordships’ House, this second Chamber, will happen in some way, but I am not entirely satisfied—indeed, I am not sure—that it should evolve in the way that the Bill and White Paper propose.
I am asked by young friends, and also by older ones, to try to explain, in what I call O-level terms, what I do as a parliamentarian. It is most useful that we are having this debate in the two weeks that the London suburb of Wimbledon is at its peak, because I try to describe what we do in your Lordships’ House by saying that we are amateurs. Down in the other place, they are the professionals, but we play the same game. In this great game of politics, occasionally there is a break of serve and sometimes one of the top seeds gets knocked out. But I always tell my young friends that the name on the trophy is that of our friends in the other place.
I hope that our duties will remain as they are now, or that they will remain in a new institution however it evolves. I hope, first, that we will revise. Secondly, I hope that there will be no guillotine or chasing or methods of that sort. I hope that there will be no time limit, because that is one of the benefits of your Lordships’ House. I also hope that the Select Committees can continue as they are.
As an individual, what have been my powers? What have I been able to do in my career in your Lordships’ House? I have been able to do many things, both passively and actively. One extraordinary thing that will be of note to my noble friend sitting beside me and indeed to the Deputy Leader is that I have been able to do extraordinary jobs for an institution that is particularly well known—I think that it is beyond the Old Swan, as the Deputy Leader described it. This institution had a serious problem over recruitment and required considerable help. I said, “Did you not go to your Member of Parliament or to a Minister who is well known to be a supporter of this great institution?”. They said, “We had no success at all”. So it came to a Conservative Member of your Lordships’ House to try to help this great institution in the city of Liverpool. I was humbled by the reception and help that I got. That is one tiny example of what we can do.
The pitfalls of what might come to be development of your Lordships’ House were beautifully explained by my noble friend Lord Steel, in col. 1199 of yesterday’s Official Report. He explained the three massive developments involving power going from your Lordships to the House of Commons. This is the first time when there may be a little difficulty regarding power going from the other place back to this place. His wise words are well worth reading.
Let us look at who might be the occupants of these Benches in a new and reformed House. As your Lordships know, I come from the boondocks, the rural areas of Scotland. I have found it particularly difficult explaining what one might call the democratic process, or politics, or this splendid place that in the vernacular in Scotland they call the Waste Munster—which is not necessarily anything to do with rubbish in that province of Ireland, but is the district where we work. It is an indication of the remoteness of what we are discussing in your Lordships’ House in my neck of the woods. Should I survive long enough and wish to take part in any election to this new Second Chamber, I would find it rather difficult to explain exactly what one is supposed to be up to. We already have a Member of Parliament in another place; a Member of the Scottish Parliament, with different powers; and a Member of the European Parliament.
As for what any title of your Lordships’ successors might be—noble Lord or senator—I do worry. As for the candidates who might take this up, I hope your Lordships will consider the wise remarks of my noble friend Lord Cormack yesterday. He asked why somebody of the age of perhaps 65 might commit himself to 15 years of his life in here. I, as an impudent lad, will also add the problems of finance. The thought of a salary for Members of your Lordships’ House, or whatever it might be called, will provide, I think, succulent prey for this institution called IPSA. It has already caused great dramas in the other place. I imagine it swooping down on my noble friend as well as on my noble friend Lord Caithness and others coming from the boondocks. It will be particularly interesting to see what we will be allowed to charge as overnight allowances. I hope that we will not find headlines in a newspaper saying, “Canada geese attack tents in St James’s Park”. I would suggest that, to consider us perfectly clean and innocent, the IPSA might wish to see us camping in St James’s Park. No government money will be spent. We will be as white as snow.
Should I or any Member of your Lordships’ House from my neck of the woods succeed in being elected to the new Chamber, to whom would they report? Would they cover all the activities of a Member of Parliament, a Member of the Scottish Parliament—you can see the toes being trampled on—or a Member of the European Parliament? I look to see what my noble friend Lord Steel has to say in his Bill, which I hope will go on.
In my 51st year in your Lordships’ House, there is one motto that has stood by me. I borrow two words from His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales: Eich Dyn—I serve. That goes for each and every one of us. How we do it, now or in a new Chamber, that will be something to consider. I hope that we will have constructive discussions and a constructive solution.
My Lords, I propose to address most of my remarks today to those Members of your Lordships' House who were previously Members of another place or have, in the course of their careers, suffered election to obtain their advancement. It is my view that the final decision on these matters will actually be taken down the other end of the corridor; in this respect, I am much more sanguine than my noble friend Lord Brooke, as I sense already a distinct change of tide at the other end of this corridor, which relates to the sorts of people who might arrive in your Lordships' House, were membership here to be by election. They are suddenly beginning to realise that at the other end.
Before I dilate on that, I would just like to say how much I enjoyed three speeches in particular that I was able to hear in the course of the last two days. First of all there was the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Low, who produced one of the most elegant speeches that I have heard since I came to your Lordships' House, about 14 years ago. Secondly, there was the ferocity of my noble friend Lady Boothroyd. I had the pleasure of having a constituency that abutted directly on hers for nearly 27 years. Thirdly, there was the speech of the noble Marquis. I think he is the only one we have who ever speaks, but I thought that he produced a most professional contribution.
Now that your Lordships have heard that, it will therefore come as no surprise to hear that I am a fervent supporter of the Bill proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood. I hope that he persists in his efforts. I hope very much, too, that my noble friend Lady Boothroyd will test the opinion of the House at the end of this evening’s proceedings. She can be sure that I will be in the Lobby beside her if she chooses so to do.
I challenge one of the idées reçues of this debate, which is that if we have elected Members, the power of the Whips will be considerably enhanced. I simply do not believe that. Whips derive their power from two things: the ability to bribe and the ability to threaten. Once you have your seat here for 15 years, I cannot see that any Whip can say to anyone, “Thou shalt have that”, or, “Thou shalt not have something else”. As far as I can see, the Whips will be absolutely powerless over Members, once they are here.
I derive a couple of conclusions from that. First, two types of people will arrive here. There will be those who come for the money and the title. It will vary from family to family who is keener on which, the husband or the wife, the money or the title. I make no judgment. Also there will be some ambitious people arriving here who would like to be Ministers. All these ridiculous restrictions, such as that you are here for 15 years and you cannot stand again down the other end for five years, and the idea that all the present arrangements between the two Houses will persist—it is all absolute nonsense. If anybody actually believes that, I have a bridge I can sell them somewhere. I will take bets on it. You do not have to worry about that—it is going to disappear. It is absolute nonsense. Anybody coming here for the first time, once he is here, if he is not the cash and title type of creep, will be the sort of oik that wants a job, and he is going to fight for it. He will be in a position to make it very uncomfortable for the Government of the day. He will have 15 years to go on making it uncomfortable. I know what I would do. The first thing that I would say is, “Hey, what about the Parliament Act—we’ve had enough of that, thank you very much”, or, “Hey, what about supply—can we have that, please?”. “Finally”, he will say, “we are going to have our share of Cabinet Ministers”. There would be no stumbling block to put in the way of any Parliament not to concede those things to Members of this House who were determined to have them.
As was said in the debate earlier, this House has huge powers. The trouble is that it has not used them; it has funked the fight. But the powers of this House to obstruct are absolutely enormous, and there will be enough people who will use them once they are elected here.
I said a moment ago—I do not think that this has been said in your Lordships' House in this debate—that there was a change of attitude appearing at the other end of the corridor, and the reason is that they are discovering something. They are just beginning to realise who will be getting into this place: it will be the people who Members of the House of Commons beat to get their own seats there, and they hate each other—you had better believe it. Whether they are men or women, and however long they have been there, the people who will be after the seats here will be the so-and-sos who tried to stab them in the back and prevent them getting selected in the first place. No love will be lost at all. So I am afraid that I disagree again with the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, on the likely attitude of Members down the other end of the corridor. Through all of this, that factor is changing very fast indeed.
There was this other nonsense about constituency work. Really, does anybody think that the public will not come to elected Members of this House saying, “The other fellow is no goddamned use. You sort the problem out for me; he has failed”? Anybody who has been down the other end knows that that is what will happen. Of course it is. You cannot stop it, and that will be another source of friction.
I am so glad to see the noble Lord come in. I have his name down here: the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury. That was not meant to be sarcastic. I apologise to him, as he made my afternoon, and I congratulate him on what he had to say. Moreover, there were only two other Members from his party on the Benches around him when he got up to speak, but he managed to increase that number to four. That is a major achievement. One thing that I have noticed about today's debate is that although this is a coalition Bill, I have not heard many Conservative speakers get up to say how much they want it. Even more surprisingly, I have not heard any Liberal Democrat speakers get up to say that they want it. There is one following me, and I know that he will have a go. That is why I regard myself as a little unfortunate today, because I normally prefer to speak rather later than this in your Lordships’ debates. We will see that that does not happen again. I am damned if I am going to have a Liberal Democrat replying to me in any future debate in your Lordships’ House, particularly one with the abilities—I will not specify how I value them—of the noble Lord, Lord Tyler.
I have said all that I want to say. I seriously hope that my noble friend will press her Motion to a vote today. I support it very much, just as I support the Bill from the noble Lord, Lord Steel.
My Lords, I promise most sincerely that I will not follow the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, in any respect. The last two days of debates have been laced with the most delicious, rich irony, which is somehow so traditional in any debate in this place when we are talking to ourselves about ourselves. I counted the number of former Members of Parliament on the list of speakers. There are 68, two-thirds of the total. The first irony is that rather too many of them seem to think that appointed politicians are somehow more reputable and reliable than elected ones, which I think reflects on their previous experience.
Meanwhile, I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Richard, has set the scene best in his book on this subject, Unfinished Business. He wrote:
“Executive control over the House of Commons is stronger in Britain than in any comparable country. Though it frequently masquerades as a defence of the rights of the Commons, in reality many of the arguments against comprehensive reform”—
that is, of this House—
“are a defence of that executive power”.
He hits the nail on the head. The endless defence of the supremacy of the other place amounts to an assertion that we really should have that “elective dictatorship” of which Lord Hailsham spoke in 1976. Indeed, some Members seem so anxious to avoid a House that will assert itself against the Executive, strengthening Parliament as a whole, that they would prefer to have this House abolished altogether, and not be bicameral at all, rather than see it gain the legitimacy that it so richly needs but at present so woefully lacks.
Surely the White Paper and draft Bill, and the central intention to ensure that this place contains an elected element by 2015, should not come as a surprise to any Member of your Lordships’ House. Of the 105 speakers in this debate, 65 have been appointed since 1997, when a Government came to power determined to introduce a democratically elected element to this House. All noble Lords who have come to this House after that date must be absolutely clear that our appointment was not for life but would be temporary. That, too, is an irony.
Much has been made, especially on the opposition Benches, of the need to clarify the future relationship between the Houses if and when these reforms are fully implemented. The best analysis that I have seen concluded:
“There is no reason why any further increase in the authority and effectiveness of the second chamber following elections should undermine the primacy of the House of Commons”.
I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, will recognise that quotation because he wrote it. It is a direct quotation from the Jack Straw/Philip Hunt—the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath—White Paper of 2008. Members on the other side of the House should read their own White Paper before they come to the House and pretend that all these matters are completely new.
Can the noble Lord answer the question which his colleague the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, failed to answer yesterday as to why he thinks that a House elected by first past the post should have primacy over a House elected by single transferable vote?
If the noble Lord had read his own White Paper, let alone the Government’s White Paper, he would know that three tranches of elections to this House—whether it is 80 per cent or 100 per cent—mean that at no time would the membership of this House have a more up-to-date mandate than that held by Members of the other House. That is absolutely clear—and Jack Straw and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, were clear about it, too.
I am very respectful and appreciative of the wise heads in this House, but they cannot go on asserting the primacy of the other House and yet build up the impression in this House and beyond that they intend to threaten a veto on any reform Bill that the other House sends us. That is yet another irony.
Breaking a habit of a lifetime, I will concentrate for the few minutes that I have on the one area where I think there may well be a consensus in your Lordships’ House. Several Members have questioned the suggestion that 300 is a sensible number for a reformed House. This matter requires very careful analysis by the Joint Committee. The commission headed by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham—who was here just now—recommended 550; the 2001 government White Paper 600; the House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee 350; the Bill which was sponsored by Messrs Clarke, Wright, Cook, Young and Tyler, 413; and the Jack Straw/Philip Hunt White Paper 435. At no stage has anyone suggested that the workload of this House could be undertaken by 300. We all thought that it was preferable to have a second House of Parliament where it was not necessary to have full-time parliamentarians. I regret that the White Paper has gone on that route when it has never been recommended.
There are five reasons why 300 Members is too small a number. First, as I have hinted, Parliament as a whole benefits from having a proportion of Members who retain an active involvement in other walks of life, which would be very difficult to have with only 300. Secondly, given the relatively long but one-term limited service, it would be difficult to recruit candidates who were prepared to be full-time parliamentarians while they were not able to take part in other activities and go back to another career. Thirdly, your Lordships should note that 80 of the 800 Members of your Lordships’ House are already involved in European scrutiny. It is already a very considerable commitment and I do not think that 300 could do the job.
In fact, the White Paper comes up with the very strange proposition that the figure should be around 300 or so because that is the average attendance in this House. However, this assumes that the average attendance covers all the same people, which is absolute rubbish. People come depending on their expertise in a particular debate. We need more than that number in order to get the coverage.
I am very grateful to my noble friend, but there is an additional reason. In fact the average is not 300; it is over 400. That figure is out of date. I accept entirely what my noble friend said and I hope that there will be support from other Members across the House when it comes to looking at this issue in the Joint Committee.
Finally, under whatever system of PR, if the number is so small it will be quite difficult to get diversity—indeed, even gender balance—in the membership of this House. If only 80 Members are elected in each tranche there will be relatively small multi-Member seats and it will be quite difficult to get the sort of diversity and gender balance that I know many Members of your Lordships' House wish to have. Many have already expressed concerns on this.
I am embarrassed by this support from all sides. It is an unaccustomed experience. I hope that this will be a very early discussion in the Joint Committee.
The Government’s proposals are incremental and evolutionary and take advantage of the work of the royal commission led so ably by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham. They take advantage of all the thinking that went into the work on the Jack Straw White Paper and it is simply nonsense to suggest that this issue has suddenly burst upon us in this House and in the other House and among the public. People have been talking about these issues for a very long time and been studying precisely the concerns which have been expressed in your Lordships' House yesterday and today. These proposals maintain the best of this place and will give it the legitimacy and credibility that I believe it not only needs but deserves. The pace of change will still be slow, but its direction will be clear. For that, it is very much welcome.
This is a subject I tackle hesitantly, given the weight of discussion which precedes me, but I want to make a few brief points. First, on this emotive and political subject, it is important that Cross-Benchers do not feel constrained by being seen as turkeys with a view one way or the other about Christmas. The non-partisan views of those with broad experience are vital to ensuring that what emerges from the Joint Committee is better government for the UK and not, at worst, a political fudge.
The law attributed to Parkinson says that the time spent on any agenda item will be in inverse proportion to the budgetary consequences. Major reform of the House of Lords would not be my priority at this time. Europe's recovery is bumpy and uncertain, and on its border, the Middle East is in upheaval. By giving this issue valuable consideration and debating time, we are offering fodder to those who argue that legislators are out of touch with the concerns of real people.
On the other hand, the aspiration of shrinking the House seems both deliverable and desirable. A mechanism for removing permanently or temporarily those noble Lords who are not participating could be found, as well as a presumption in favour of, say, a 15-year tenure. My greatest worry about reform is that the Lords will drift towards becoming a replica and competitor of the other place, leading to politics within and between the two Houses. Politicised decision-making would replace more reflective consideration of the longer term needs of the country.
I understand the aspiration to have a more democratically accountable House of Lords, but democracy operates poorly where the electorate feel little connection with the institution or the individuals. I would put in this category MEPs and London Assembly Members, with apologies to those present. On the other hand, people identify strongly with the London mayor as an individual and often with their local MP, and they feel a connection to the role of their local council. Without such connection, voting risks defaulting to party lines, and for me, a highly party-politicised House of Lords would be a backwards step.
Today, this House provides a wealth of different experience, expertise and perspective with academics, business people and community leaders. The role of the Lords in non-partisan expert scrutiny risks being overwhelmed by Lords with party-political priorities and scores to settle. But if we are to see an elected House of Lords, I am with many other noble Lords: we must then review the primacy of the other place. Further, by recognising and accepting prescribed ways in which primacy no longer held, the Commons would be in a stronger position to resist the gradual erosion of its power.
What might we hope to fix through reform? I have one simple proposition—a longer-term approach. The current constitution does not encourage adherence to lasting principles and the necessary steps towards them. Is it the British character to be better at make-do and mend than grands projets and grand visions? Or might our horizons lengthen; might we be more bound actually to tackling climate change rather than just signing up to long-grass targets? Might we be ready to act for higher literacy standards for the next generation of children? Must we always wait until road, rail, air or energy capacity is at breaking point before reluctantly committing to remedial investment? It is always easier to duck, turn, ignore and avoid, leaving the tough decisions to tomorrow and the next man.
My aspiration, if we are to have an elected House of Lords, is for it to be a coherent conscience of the country. In this capacity, should the Lords then challenge the primacy of the other place? In the case of long-term policy commitments I would say yes. There should be a mechanism for securing a measure of political consensus across both Houses and success would be policies capable surviving several changes of government before and during their implementation.
Perhaps I may finish with a quote from General de Gaulle:
“Politics is too serious to be left to the politicians”.
My Lords, the past two days of debate have been rather different from our previous debates as we have had a draft White Paper to consider and that has made a substantial difference to the tone of the debate. However, it still saddens me that we have not been discussing what the role of a second Chamber should be before we decide on the composition. We are once again starting with the cart before we actually look at the horse.
Looking at the House now I see a Chamber orientated towards the south-east of the UK. I do not think that is healthy and it has been exacerbated by the change in the expenses system making it much more difficult for those of us who live in the south-west or the north to come and attend at the times we would like to.
When one looks at the size of the House, it is going to take about 450 Peers to fill the committees that we have now. The average attendance for 50 per cent of our sittings is 424 so the size is not far wrong for managing our current workload. However, the current workload has increased as the number of active Peers has increased. Are all the committees we have at the moment relevant? Are they the right ones? On Monday, in a debate on working practices, more committees will be recommended for us.
Indeed, the draft Bill itself requires more work for this House. According to paragraph 125 of the White Paper we will now be able to tackle financial matters again. That is probably a very good thing because if we had been able to do that we would probably have saved some of the ghastly mess we have seen over the past five years as there is more expertise in finance matters in this House than there is in the other place.
The noble Lord, Lord Tyler, says that 300 Members is not workable—of course it is workable. It is only a question of what we do or what we give those people to do. A House of 300 used to be a very big vote in this House. I remember that if we got 300 it was quite something. The House then was working extremely well and extremely efficiently but we were covering fewer areas. It is a question only of what we have to cover.
When one looks at attendance, it is quite interesting—75 per cent of the elected Peers attend 50 per cent or more of the sittings but only 55 per cent of the life Peers attend those same sittings. Are we missing out on the expertise of the 300-odd life Peers who are not attending 50 per cent or more of the sittings? Is their expertise being utilised properly? Surely there is another way we could utilise that expertise and tap it without them having to be Members of your Lordships’ House?
I have always said that the Achilles’ heel of this House has been our working practices. There is no doubt that in the recent past those working practices have been increasingly abused. Some noble Lords will not learn, or even cannot be bothered to learn, our rules and conventions and some deliberately flout them. We have seen that already in this debate on both days. For the first time that I can remember, the Government have been unable to get some of their legislation through in a reasonable time. That was the result of a deliberate decision by some Members of this House. That worries me because once that has been done, it will be done again. I put it to your Lordships that there is a new fault line in this House that cannot be papered over. It is a matter that will have to be addressed as part of the reforms.
In the past two days, it has also been interesting to listen to the damascene-like conversion that some of your Lordships have gone through. I spent 10 years of my life explaining to right honourable and honourable friends in the other place how this House worked, that we were very sorry that yet again the Government had been defeated, and that the Secretary of State would have to change his legislation and make some concessions in order to get a Bill through. Some of those former right honourable and honourable friends are with us today, and it is nice that they now support a totally appointed House. It is, however, a little galling to find that some of them want an exit strategy for life Peers, given that, not so long ago, there was not a life Peer who was prepared to provide an exit strategy for an hereditary who had given up a lot of his life to serve in your Lordships’ House.
What really concerns me is how Parliament functions. The other place, as we know, does not scrutinise legislation as it used to. Increasingly, we are under the heavy hand of an elective dictatorship. My belief is that the other place will not change. The Executive will not allow the other place to control it and, as the Executive have increasingly taken power in the other place, the role of this Chamber has become more important. We have been able to scrutinise legislation, to suggest alterations and make amendments. There is nothing new in that. We did that when most Members of this House were hereditary Peers. It happened to me when I was a Minister. I was for ever making concessions and getting defeated. I do not think that the House is any better now than it was pre-1999.
However, I remain convinced that this House needs major reform because it is only by having an elected House that can challenge the Executive that one will get a better balance in the parliamentary system of this country. The other place will never be allowed to do that. I want a second Chamber to hold the Executive to account and the only way that we will do that is by having an elected House. It is also right and fundamental that the peerage should be separated from the right to sit in Parliament. If someone in the other place has done extremely well, they can be offered either a right to come here, if we have an appointed House, or they can be given a peerage and they do not come here. The two should not go together.
I have a final point on the electoral system proposed in the draft Bill. We had a referendum on the alternative vote system. It would be ludicrous if we did not have a referendum on the STV system. Whatever the outcome of any legislation to alter the constitution of this country, it certainly should be put to the public to decide whether they want it.
My Lords, the sad issue of the debate over the past two days has been that, rather than having a constructive debate that takes us forward, we have seen a joining together of Members—whether they are in favour of reform, an elected House or a non-elected House—against the proposals. The responsibility for that has to fall at the coalition’s feet. The Bill is not a draft Bill for reform of the House of Lords. It spends much time talking about and providing for an elected House—whether 80 per cent or 100 per cent—and totally ignores the peripheral issues that are as important in that reform.
A number of Peers referred to the Royal Commission on the Reform of the House of Lords—the Wakeham report. I am pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, is in his place. He was a very able chairman of that commission. In his closing remarks, the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, said that the Bill builds on the Wakeham report. In many ways, the Bill does not build on that commission, of which I was a member. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, talked about the Bill being drawn up by a group of people in a committee that contained no one from the Opposition or the Cross Benches. That is absolutely true. The Wakeham commission met for 10 months. It received more than 1,700 submissions. It held 21 public meetings in addition to visits to various parts of the country—Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales—to meet parliamentarians in those areas. There was not a majority in those meetings or from the evidence that we took in favour of a directly elected House. Yesterday, the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, said:
“This is not about what the public want, it is about us putting our House in order”.—[Official Report, 21/6/11; col. 1189.]
A major constitutional change is proposed but the public are not at the centre of it. I find that unacceptable.
The debate today has centred on the issue of election, because that is what the draft Bill concentrates on. That is not good enough for our constitution. Many Members who have taken part in the debate, including me, have been put in the position of having to reject the proposals in the Bill because, frankly, it is an Elastoplast. It does not provide for stability of parliamentary rule in a democracy and it does not cover the essential issues. We have little coverage in the Bill of the roles and responsibilities of the new House of Lords and how they would impact on the House of Commons—and, indeed, whether the role of the House of Commons also needs to change. The noble Lord, Lord Butler, referred to that, and how right he is.
Until I came to this House, I had been elected to every position that I had held in my working life. I had no doubt where my responsibility lay: it lay with the people who elected me. If you have a House of Commons that is elected and this House becomes overnight—not by evolution or incremental steps but by a full-blown decision—an 80 cent or 100 per cent elected House, I know where elected Members of this House will think that their accountability lies. Any idea that constituents will not go to you when they have voted for you to ask you to deal with issues is cloud-cuckoo-land. That will present a challenge in a short time.
I support the content of the Wakeham commission report, which dealt with an element of elected membership. This is a missed opportunity. It could have been so different. Perhaps there is some truth in the reports that we have had that these proposals were a consolation prize for the lost political ambition of the AV voting system being introduced. If there is, that is not a service to the population of this country.
The Government have said that they will listen. What proposals will they bring forward for public consultation on their initiatives, even after the Joint Committee report? Will the Government hold a referendum on the outcome of any discussions? Will the Government use the Parliament Act if this House is a barrier to the changes that they seek? Those are not frivolous questions; they are questions that have a right to be answered.
The prelude to this debate will be the Joint Committee. I wish my noble friend Lord Richard and his colleagues the best of luck in their work. I cannot think of anyone better to chair the committee. He really has a difficult task in front of him. Try as I might, I have great difficulty in seeing it being able to deliver to the Government, to this House and, most importantly, to the House of Commons a revised Bill that will satisfy what we need in this country. That said, I wish it well and I am sure that the quality of what it produces will be much better than the draft Bill that we have before us, because I cannot think that it could be any worse.
My Lords, first do no harm. That is the guiding principle in my professional life as a surgeon. The noble Lord, Lord Ribeiro, also a surgeon, will recognise the importance of that principle in undertaking any major surgical intervention. The proposed Bill, which, effectively, abolishes your Lordships’ House and replaces it with an elected second Chamber, represents in many ways major constitutional surgery. I would like to look at it in that frame, through the eyes of a practising surgeon.
The first question that we have to ask ourselves in any major intervention is: what is the indication for the intervention? Here, it is not entirely clear. The introduction to the Bill and the White Paper makes it clear that the House of Lords does its job well and that, in the future, as a replaced elected Chamber, it is to retain the same functions with the same powers, yet it appears that the purpose is to overcome some democratic deficit. That will be achieved through creating instability through having a democratically elected second Chamber, but with appointed Bishops and with the continuing ability of a Prime Minister of the day to appoint Members to the House. So we will end up in a situation where we have a kind of half-pregnancy, which is not possible; we will have a half-democratic legitimacy. That is a potential source of instability in the future.
Another potential indication for change could be to focus on the proposals that have been discussed on many occasions in the past two days and put forward in the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood. That is a good stepwise direction of change in terms of achieving reform of your Lordships’ House that is urgently necessary.
The second important consideration is always to try to avoid complications and unintended consequences of a particular intervention. Sometimes complications can be fatal and, if they can be predicted, one should take mitigating action to try to avoid them. Over the past two days, we have heard of a number of potential unintended consequences and complications that may attend this Bill if it becomes law. The first relates to the primacy of the other place. There appears to be a consistent and consensus view that one thing that must be maintained is the primacy of the other place. I certainly agree with that. How will that be achieved? It is irresponsible to assume that the primacy will be maintained just because it is the wish of the Government and because a particular Bill says that it will happen.
We have heard that there are 61 parliaments around the world that are bicameral and have an elected second Chamber, but I wonder how many of those bicameral parliaments with an elected second Chamber have no written constitution. How many of them depend merely on convention, which, as we have heard, is a fragile constitutional settlement to ensure a relationship between the two Chambers? That is an important question that the Joint Committee might wish to consider further. Such consideration may help us to understand whether we need to move forward with some form of written constitution, codifying the responsibilities and powers of two elected Chambers, if that is the direction of travel.
Another issue that has been raised, and which I think represents a potentially serious future complication, is the voting methods used to elect Members to the other place and to a future elected senate or second Chamber. We recently had a referendum on methods of voting for the other place and the people of our country decided that first past the post was their preferred method for sending their elected representatives there. The Joint Committee might consider the implications of that vote in determining whether it needs in a future Bill to enshrine the fact that the people have spoken and have declared that the most democratically legitimate method of election is first past the post and that any other method used to elect a second Chamber would be less democratically legitimate than that used to elect the House of Commons.
Another area of considerable concern for unintended consequences is the potential impact on the constitutional monarchy. In our Parliament we have three elements: the House of Commons, the House of Lords and the constitutional monarchy. The Lord Great Chamberlain sits as a Member of your Lordships’ House and one of the important responsibilities of that great office is to serve as a channel of communication between the monarch and the House of Lords. Noble Lords have alluded in this debate to the risk, if there are two elected Chambers at loggerheads, that the position of the constitutional monarch may become complicated and that they may be drawn into political controversy. I suggest that we need an absolute assurance that an unintended consequence of this legislation will not be that in some way the constitutional monarchy is undermined in future.
A third issue of considerable importance is the role of the Parliament Act, which has been considered principally in terms of its use to drive forward potential legislation to abolish your Lordships’ House and to replace it with an elected second Chamber. The Parliament Act also contains a very important reserved responsibility for your Lordships’ House, which is to ensure that the life of a Parliament is not extended beyond five years. We should be concerned about how that responsibility will be maintained in future to ensure that a tyrannical Government cannot extend the life of a Parliament because they control two elected Chambers.
Finally, it is important that we have some form of informed consent. In this regard, it is important at the outset of the process of considering the Bill that the Government commit themselves to a free vote both in your Lordships’ House and in the other place. We need to be absolutely certain that any proposals that are finally considered will enjoy genuine confidence.
We have heard over the past two days that Members of your Lordships’ House lack democratic legitimacy. However, every Member of the House today has important obligations and responsibilities to the people of our country, who expect us to use the opportunities and privileges of membership of your Lordships’ House to serve their interests and to ensure that the laws to which they are subjected are the best possible laws. We must not take for granted the fact that we live in a wonderful country where, over the past 100 years, we have enjoyed democracy, prosperity, the development of universal health care and education, common decency and the assimilation of a variety of different cultures into our society. None of this would have been possible without a stable parliamentary system. In this regard, the relationship between the House of Lords and the House of Commons—the understanding and respect between them—has been absolutely critical. We must think carefully about the consequences of any future Bill and its implications and impact on denying the people of our country the rights, opportunities, obligations and pleasures of being citizens of the United Kingdom.
My Lords, I think I should explain why I am speaking from this Bench. It is partly because I have a hereditary duty to do so. Also this is the Barons’ Bench. When I first arrived in your Lordships’ House I knew no one, but the book said that this was the Barons’ Bench, and being a Baron, I sat here. I did not know that when the Government changed, you moved from the Barons’ Bench to the other side, so I remained here for quite a long period of time until someone asked me which party I was in. I said that I was an independent unionist Peer.
This may seem complicated, but for other reasons it is not appropriate for me to speak on the same side as the Liberal Democrats. It is only for today, and I would rather not speak behind my noble friends while looking at their bald pates or flowing locks. I would rather look them in the whites of their eyes. I want to make the speech of my grandfather, although I am not sure whether you make a speech, you give a speech or you deliver a speech, but at the beginning it goes something like this. I am going back over 100 years to 1907 when a Motion was debated in the Commons:
“That, in order to give effect to the will of the people as expressed by their elected representatives, it is necessary that the power of the other House to alter or reject Bills passed by this House should be so restricted by law as to secure that within the limits of a single Parliament the final decision of the Commons shall prevail”.—[Official Report, Commons, 24/6/1907; col. 909.]
At the time my grandfather was the MP for north-west Lanark, then for Maryhill, North Down, and lastly Croydon, and of course I had an uncle called Stafford Cripps. Here is an extract from my grandfather’s speech:
“What is the real charge that is laid at the door of the Second Chamber? It is that it oppresses the people because it resists their will as expressed by their elected representatives when these representatives happen to be Liberals. In other words it is resisting what the Liberal Party believes to be the will of the people … In short this reform of the Constitution is being proposed not for the safety of the people but confessedly nakedly, unashamedly, in order to strengthen the position of the Liberal Party”.—[Official Report, Commons, 25/6/1907; cols. 1206-7.]
As I listened to the right honourable Gentleman yesterday raising his voice in lamentation over his innocents that had been slaughtered by the Lords, I expected him to conclude by paraphrasing that finest of all funeral orations, the one delivered at Gettysburg, and saying, “Let us all highly resolve that these dead will not have died in vain and that the government of the Liberals by the Liberals for the Liberals shall not perish from the earth”. I have therefore decided to deliver his speech, and in the secret pigeonholes to the left of the entrance, each noble Lord will find a copy of it, as well as the links to Balfour and others. It was a fascinating debate, but it shows that even after 100 years, things still go on.
I need to look to the future, but that is more difficult. I want first to describe and define the House of Lords as I see it. It has 830 Members, some 32 of whom seem to be classified as either absent or not available. That is quite a lot of people. More than that, it has 450 members of the Administration, including some of the greatest minds of all. If you add the other people to that figure, it comes to 500. We have a responsibility not only to Members of the House of Lords but also to the Administration who have served us faithfully and well for generations, and I would not want to see something that evoked dramatic change without being aware of it.
I have a problem. I did something terrible this morning. I took that piece of paper and by mistake put it into the red bag that you give to the council. It has been crushed by an 18-pound weight. However, I did think it was one of the worst documents I had ever read. Some noble Lords know that one of my earliest jobs was writing reports on the House of Lords for the Labour Party. I probably submitted more wasted paper to the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, and his committee than anyone else. But I actually love this place and love knowing about it. I know also that among my colleagues there are some really great minds. I also have the advantage that I was brought up to sit and listen to everything, so I have been drip-fed by geriatrics over years. Indeed, I will admit that probably 80 per cent of my knowledge has come from your Lordships’ House.
Now we come to the simple matter of the future. I want to make a suggestion. If you are in Parliament, you should represent something or somebody other than yourself. I looked around and decided that the Bishops represent some 31 million people, 10,000 churches and 8,000 or more parishes. We should represent someone. I thought we might introduce some legislation called the representation of the peoples Act. I would like to represent every one of the local councillors in the land, some 80,000 of them, and possibly involving over 120,000 people. We may be able to decide who we represent.
Many things could happen. I have a great affection for the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, not only because she was on the Wakeham commission, but also because she was the chairman of the war Lords. If we are to go to war, I would rather have her on my side.
I do not approve of the legislation and will certainly not vote for it. I may not vote against it, and I look forward to the response of the Government.
My Lords, the noble Lord said that we should all represent something. I suppose that I represent the long list of Lords Ministers who have dabbled in Lords reform, but without, alas, much success. We come to the end of this long but invigorating debate. I start by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Strasburger, on his excellent maiden speech—it seems a long time ago. He said that in the few short weeks he had been in your Lordships’ House he has moved from a position of supporting a wholly elected House to endorsing a mostly elected House. I wonder where the noble Lord’s voyage of discovery will end. We await his next contribution to a debate on Lords reform with eager anticipation—he will have further opportunities.
There have been many reports on Lords reform, none better than the royal commission report chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, who spoke so eloquently yesterday. The noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, and other noble Lords argued at some point for indirect elections. This is, of course, not a new idea. Viscount Bryce chaired a conference of Peers and MPs appointed by the Prime Minister in 1917 on the reform of the second Chamber, which made proposals for the indirect election of Members of the second Chamber by MPs in regional groupings. Alas, it went the way of many such proposals. I have much greater hopes for my noble friend Lord Richard.
Of course, this debate is rather more significant than many in recent years. We have a draft Bill, far-reaching proposals, pre-legislative scrutiny to come and a pathway towards the first elected Members setting foot in the second Chamber in 2015. How determined the Government are to meet that date is, perhaps, open to question. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, the Leader of the House, yesterday reaffirmed the 2015 goal, yet in his highly entertaining interview in the Financial Times this weekend he seemed to have lost a little of his reforming zeal. Perhaps he was looking for St Augustine for inspiration. “Oh, Lord”, the Leader seemed to be saying, “deliver me an elected second Chamber, but not quite yet”. We will all be interested to hear whether the noble Lord, Lord McNally, takes a similar view. Indeed, does he think he can take his Members of Parliament with him, to say nothing of the noble Lords behind him?
The caution that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, expressed over the weekend is, I think, entirely understandable. He must know that the Government are being disingenuous in presenting these proposals as a stand-alone measure with little consequence for our overall constitutional arrangements. He must know that, if enacted, the Bill would have a profound impact on Parliament and our democracy. I regret that, because the Government’s failure to admit this risks the whole reform process. I am a reformer, I support an elected House, I have always voted for it, but I want that reform to enhance our democracy. I do not want changes which threaten a fight between this House and the other place. I do not want changes that detract from the Lords’ role as a revising Chamber. Time and again it has been this House that has improved legislation, held Ministers properly to account and saved Governments from themselves—my own included. Would that the other place could say the same.
It is noticeable how many noble Lords in the past two days have commented on the performance of the Commons and their concern to strengthen Parliament as a whole. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, made a telling point about the overweening power of the Executive and of his fear that the Bill would extend that. Nowhere is that more to be seen than in paragraph 68 of the White Paper where a Prime Minister can at a whim throw a Member of the new second Chamber out of Parliament. That is the rub of it. As my noble friend Lord Whitty has said, the Government have simply not put the groundwork into the draft Bill. Yet they had plenty of time. The draft Bill was published on 17 May but the cross-party committee, chaired by Mr Clegg, has not met since 24 November. Almost six months has been wasted.
It is pretty arrogant on the part of the Deputy Prime Minister to think that he can waltz this reform through Parliament, as the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, reminded us, on the whim of a hunch or a best guess and to do so without so much as a genuflection to the complexities with which governments and parliamentarians have wrestled for these past 100 years. Why that should be so has become clear during our debate. The Government seek to strive for a second Chamber that replicates most of what the House of Lords does now but with electoral legitimacy. We are told that the reformed House of Lords would have the same functions as the current House and that no change is envisaged in the fundamental relationship with the House of Commons, which would remain the primary House.
In Clause 2 of the draft Bill, we are pointed to the relationship between the two Houses. It is worth restating. It says that nothing in the Bill,
“affects the status of the House of Lords … the primacy of the House of Commons, or … the conventions governing the relationship between the two Houses”.
My noble friend described that as nonsense and I think that he was being kind. That is my response to the noble Lord, Lord True, who also criticised Clause 2. But does he not recognise that Clause 2 goes to the heart of the Bill? Nowhere is that more illustrated than in the conventions which govern the relationship of this House with the Commons.
The Cunningham committee was clear that, in a formal sense, the Lords has equal status with the Commons as a House of Parliament in initiating and passing Bills, subject to Commons financial privilege and the Parliament Acts, and equal status in approving delegated legislation. In reality, as Cunningham said, the formal position has come to be moderated by conventions reflecting the primacy of the Commons. The moment that elected Members walk into this Chamber, those conventions will evaporate.
My Lords, I do not know whether the noble Lord would like to comment on how precisely that clause differs from his recommendation in his own White Paper, which I quoted to your Lordships’ House earlier. It said:
“There is no reason why any further increase in the authority and effectiveness of the second chamber following elections should undermine the primacy of the House of Commons”.
My Lords, I am always grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, for reminding the House of my heroic efforts on the cross-party group chaired by my right honourable friend Jack Straw, and very enjoyable it was too. I say two things to the noble Lord. First, we produced a White Paper for consultation. We did not produce a draft Bill. Secondly, I am not arguing about primacy. I am arguing about the issue of an elected House of Lords using the powers that it formally has within the context of primacy. I believe that even within the context of primacy, the clash between two elected Houses will bring profound constitutional changes.
Noble Lords could argue that we should not worry about that, which is a perfectly legitimate point to put across. But the one thing that I have learnt from my three years of dabbling in this subject is that unless a Government are explicit about the powers of an elected second Chamber, any attempt at reform will always be doomed to failure. I speak as someone who has always supported legitimate reform of your Lordships’ House. When elected Members enter this House, the conventions will evaporate because they are voluntary constraints on an unelected House in their relationship to the elected House. Once you have an elected House, what is the need for restraint?
The noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, was eloquent yesterday in favouring a strong second Chamber to stand up to the Executive. His noble friend Lord Ashdown reminded us that there are many examples around the world of bicameral systems with two elected bodies which manage to sort out their relationships. As the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, remarked, that is because the relationship between those houses is set out in some form of written constitution that will usually provide for dispute resolution between the two houses. I acknowledge that the implications of a written constitution in the UK are profound. However, as my noble friend Lord Elder suggested, they have to be considered when introducing major constitutional change.
I believe it to be inevitable that if we are to have two elected Chambers there has to be a codification of the respective powers of both Chambers and there has to be a way of resolving disputes. One cannot simply rely on the Parliament Acts as legislated for.
Noble Lords have raised a number of issues. I will not go into all of them, but I will just talk about the Bishops. I acknowledge the contribution of the right reverend Prelates to your Lordships’ House. I particularly welcome the speeches of the right reverend Prelates the Bishops of Leicester and Chichester. If we are to have a 20 per cent appointed House, I am sympathetic to spiritual leaders having a place, although I understand where my noble friend Lord Judd is coming from. We should not underestimate the role of the established church in the life of our nation. The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, took a rather different view. I am sure that right reverend Prelates will take some comfort from him that once expelled they will none the less be invited back to say daily prayers.
I turn now to the transitional arrangements. We are offered three options, but what has happened to grandfathering? My clear understanding of the term, which comes from the world of professional regulation, particularly in the health service, is that experienced professionals in an unregulated profession go forward to a new professional register on the basis of experience. The term grandfathering is in the coalition agreement, which on my reckoning would rule out both options one and three. I would be grateful for the noble Lord’s response to that.
I would also like to ask the noble Lord, Lord McNally, about the Parliament Acts. My noble friend Lady Dean asked whether the Parliament Acts would be used to force legislation on Lords reform through your Lordships’ House. I would caution the Government on that. In a profound speech yesterday, my noble and learned friend Lord Morris of Aberavon put some very important questions to the noble Lord on the implications of the foxhunting case of Jackson v Attorney-General in 2006. We look forward to an answer on that.
In the end we come back to the question of powers and to the relationship between the two Houses. Unless some Peers think this is a smokescreen for refuseniks, let me pray in aid the words of my noble friends Lord Wills, Lord Whitty, Lord Hoyle, Lord Desai, Lord Davies of Stamford, Lord Davies of Oldham, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe and Lady Quin—all passionate proponents of an elected House, but all saying that this Bill will not do and all bemused as to why the White Paper and draft Bill are so lacking in understanding and coherence on the central point of concern to your Lordships. In his opening remarks, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said that the present settlement will suffice for an elected House and that if in due course that turned out not to be the case, Parliament would be able to address it at that time. The noble Lord, Lord Marks, argued yesterday that primacy of the Commons would be unaffected because of the Parliament Acts and the fact that Governments stand or fall on maintaining the confidence of the Commons. I understand that argument. But for me it is not so much about primacy. Both noble Lords underestimate the assertiveness the House will show when unfettered by conventions and with legitimacy.
The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, put it well when, based on the Scottish experience post the Scotland Act, he said that he doubted that statutes determined behaviour. He pointed to the example of how political reality and lines set in statute come into conflict and said that in the end political reality wins. We saw that in an extraordinary intervention from the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown. He suggested that an elected second Chamber could have prevented this country from going into an unwise war. I, too, am wary of such military interventions, but I am very wary indeed of giving what would be an effective veto to a second Chamber on matters of war and military engagement. The noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, has illustrated the likely ambition of an elected second Chamber, particularly if it claims greater legitimacy under a proportional system of election.
As for the reliance of the noble Lord, Lord Marks, on the Parliament Acts, I return to the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, who reminded us of the preamble to the Parliament Act 1911. It is well known that it promised a second Chamber constituted on a popular base. What is much less remarked upon is that the preamble makes it clear that the Parliament Act was designed solely to govern relationships between an elected Chamber and an unelected Chamber. It also spelled out the need for an elected House to have its powers limited and defined. So, 100 years ago, the architects of the Parliament Act understood that the powers of an elected Chamber would have to be set out in statute.
I am convinced that that is the case today. That is why the Bill is ill conceived.
My Lords, I had a boyhood dream that one day I would stand at a Dispatch Box as a government Minister facing Members of a hostile House and, an hour later, purely on the basis of my oratory and eloquence, I would have turned them round on to my side. I heard a voice say. “Dream on”. However, I shall have a go and, as your Lordships have been so disciplined, I see that I do not have only an hour but two-and-a-half hours to convince you. I can get my speaking notes out now. Some of us have dinner appointments so I will not use all of that time.
I congratulate my noble friend Lord Strasburger on his travels. He should not worry about the teasing of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, that, since he entered the House, he has travelled a short distance in his opinions about its reform. Some noble Lords on that side have travelled miles and miles and miles.
The noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, now claims to know what I am thinking about him even without my saying a word. I hope he will be really insulted by that thought. However, even he confessed that he had once been in favour of reform, that he had come into the House and now was no longer in favour of reform. I think the technical term for that is “the foreman’s job at last” syndrome.
One thought about “Apocalypse Now” prompted me to share with you a short quote from a book that was given to me by the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, who I do not think is in his seat. His grandfather was the leader of the “last-ditchers”, who tried to stop the 1911 Act. There are two quotes that are worth reading:
“And what was the final decision of the Constitutional High Court of Appeal, or rather of that proportion of its members who dared to deliver the verdict? The numbers were read out, but those who knew Willoughby and saw him as he entered the Chamber had no need to lengthen their suspense. All was settled and over. By seventeen votes the Parliament Bill had been accepted, and was now the law of the land”.
It was his thoughts about that that were more interesting:
“From the night of the 10th August 1911, when a great principle was sacrificed to expediency; when the right course was departed from for fear of the consequences, the Conservative Party received a shock from which it has never really recovered”.
I am merely pointing out that those speeches we have heard today that predict only the most terrible consequences for radical reform can be very, very wrong indeed. As historians such as the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, continue to point out, the following century for the Conservative Party was one mainly spent in government. I also find it extraordinary to hear suggestions from the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and others that the Deputy Prime Minister has been somehow high-handed in his approach to this legislation. No senior politician has given Parliament more chance to consider these measures, has shown more flexibility or offered more opportunity for genuine reflection.
I am not sure which parts of his own White Paper the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, tore up during that extraordinary speech. However, he says with pride that they never produced a draft Bill. So you never did—shame on you that you did not.
My Lords, I am grateful for him raising this issue again. The purpose of producing a White Paper is to allow for debate and discussion and that is what we did. The Government would have done better to have had a widespread public consultation and debate before producing a draft Bill.
This again from a Minister who produced a White Paper that produced no such debate. They sat on reform for a decade. When we talk about consistency, I was on the Cook-Maclennan committee prior to the 1997 election, where my party and the Labour Party both committed themselves to a raft of constitutional reform, including reform of the House of Lords. My party has been consistent for the last 14 years on our proposals. The Labour Party has performed somersault after somersault after somersault and there is no way they can get out of it—that is the record.
I remember well the noble Lord, Lord McNally, standing as leader of his party in your Lordships’ House and stating categorically that an elected second Chamber would never threaten the primacy of the House of Commons. At that point he was leader of the Liberal Democrats. How does he tie that in with the speech made by his noble friend Lord Ashdown, who said that this Chamber—if reformed in the way that the noble Lord, Lord McNally, is advocating—would and should be able to challenge the Commons on issues such as going to war and finance?
Is the noble Lord, Lord Cunningham, in his place? No, he is not. When I was on the Cunningham committee, there was great bemusement because I said, as I still believe, that the House of Lords has the right to say no. That is an essential part of the relationship between the two Houses. I honestly wish to God that this House had voted on the Iraq war and that Ministers had read this House’s debate on the matter, but we will not go down that road, not because I do not believe it but because, even among the red herrings that the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, usually streaks across this debate, I am not going to pursue that one.
I knew that in the first five minutes of his speech the Minister would be Mr Nice. He has now turned inevitably to the Mr Nasty phase. He needs to explain to the House that if the new, elected second Chamber were to have essentially the same powers and functions as the present one, as his own White Paper and draft Bill say, how on earth could this Chamber veto absolutely crucial matters that would be determined by the primary House?
I never said that this Chamber should have a right of veto; I said it had a right to say no. There is a difference. Usually in this House somebody is allowed to develop an argument, and I will cover the whole question that was raised. I am not trying to be nasty to the noble Lord, Lord Grocott. I am very affectionate towards him. There were a number of thoughts that passed through during the speeches. I liked the phrase used by the noble Lord, Lord Davies, of a House of grandparents appointed through patronage. I think that is one to reflect on. I liked another one by the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, who said,
“we must avoid what de Tocqueville called a ‘perpetual utterance of self-applause’”.—[Official Report, 21/6/11; col. 1194.]
We did not entirely manage that over the last two days.
You have to be patient. You are behaving as you used to do in the House of Commons. That is why wind-up speeches in the House of Commons take so long. This has been a long debate. I am not going to answer every question in 100 speeches, partly because, as I have already pointed out, this is the start of a process of consideration. I think many of the questions that were raised quite rightly should be addressed by the committee to be chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Richard, and I will make further points on that. However, I must remind this House—this unelected House—that all three parties fought the last election advocating direct elections as part of their plan for reform of the House of Lords. Those policies presumably went through a decision-making process in all three parties. I wonder how many of the speeches made from the Labour Benches would go down at a Labour Party conference, or how some of the speeches made from my own Benches would go down at a Liberal Democrat conference.
My party leader and my party took a great deal of criticism when they appeared to go back on a manifesto commitment concerning tuition fees. The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, made great hay of that during his contribution. However, this is a threefold commitment that the government proposals reflect. As far as I am aware, no one has put proposals to continue with an unelected House before a party conference or put them into an election manifesto. As the noble Lord, Lord True, suggested—
All three parties had it in. I have to say that that is a kind of car salesman’s excuse. Let me make it clear that I am not anticipating changing many minds during this speech. However, I am also very well aware—more than this House seems to be aware—that this is not a perfect reflection of opinion in the country. That should be the warning to this House.
No, I am not taking any more interventions.
Much has been made in this debate of the recommendation in paragraph 61 of the Cunningham committee report, which says:
“Our conclusions apply only to present circumstances. If the Lords acquired an electoral mandate, then in our view their role as the revising chamber, and their relationship with the Commons, would inevitably be called in to question, codified or not. Given the weight of evidence on this point, 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. What would, could or should be done about this is outside our remit”.
As a member of the Cunningham committee, I was happy to sign that paragraph. The conventions between the two Houses were examined on a regular basis throughout the 20th century and to say that they will be re-examined is no more than a statement of the obvious. What is equally obvious is that how they should be examined and with what outcome was outside the remit of the Cunningham committee. The idea that the Cunningham committee is somehow holy writ and that the conventions and relations between the two Houses would fall like a portcullis at the time of the passing of the Bill is simply absurd.
What is clear is that the relationship between the two Houses has always evolved and will continue to evolve in the future, particularly over the transitional period. The fact remains that the relationship between the Houses is underpinned by the Parliament Acts and the conventions. The House of Commons remains the primary Chamber; nothing in this draft Bill changes that. Nor are we suggesting any short, sharp shock in these proposals; rather, there is what old Fabians will recognise as “the inevitability of gradualness”.
I am interested in the points made by the noble Lords, Lord Wills, Lord Davies, Lord Brooke, Lord Kakkar, and others, about whether codification is necessary. I hope that the committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Richard, will look at that issue and take evidence. But there will be a lengthy transitional period of two Parliaments, which will allow transfer of knowledge. Noble Lords would not be prevented from standing for election or being considered for appointment to the reformed House.
We are sending the matter to a committee that will take wide evidence. I hear my noble friend saying that we are ruling it out, which is not an entirely helpful intervention at this stage of the evening, but I do not think that you can set up a commission under a chairman of the independence and distinction of the noble Lord, Lord Richard—and I am delighted that he was willing to take this chairmanship—and then tell him in advance what he can look at. I will go no further. I am sorry. I see the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, who always tries to give a spurious kind of veneer of intellectual credibility to—
Is there anybody I have not insulted yet? Please form an orderly queue. In among the insults, there are some facts. One fact is that it was at times a bit like sitting in the North Korean Parliament. I have often wondered what that was like. Speaker after speaker even had to make the kind of praise that Kim Il-sung had every so often—in this case, it was of the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd.
I wonder whether the Deputy Leader would allow me to bring some semblance of order into this very interesting debate. Perhaps he would answer a serious question which I put yesterday. I am still waiting for an answer and I am sure that we would all be interested in it. In what way would the nation benefit and parliamentary proceedings be enhanced by the abolition of this House of experts and experience, and its replacement by a senate of paid politicians? I am sure that if we came back to answering questions which were being put in the debate, we would all be much happier.
Of course we would. First, there are no proposals to abolish this House. Secondly, the difference between what I am putting before the House for debate and consideration is that this has gone before the electorate in manifestos, while what my noble friend Lord Steel is proposing is an escape hatch. It would mean that we would go to the electorate next time and say, “By the way, that elected House that we promised you is not going to be delivered. We have fixed it so that we are now going to have a wholly appointed House for as long as anybody can see”. I do not think that is a particularly democratic way and that is the difference between what you are proposing and what I am proposing.
A most unusual intervention from a Cross-Bencher—you are lucky that we do not have a Speaker. I did at one stage support the Steel Bill. I wanted it because it was the best on offer after the Straw-Hunt proposals were put on ice. The noble Baroness, Lady Royall, knows full well that she could have had the Steel Bill in its entirety in the previous Parliament and that we constantly promised her our votes for it. Yet again, we are dealing with things where the Labour Party, with 13 years to do something about them, did precisely nothing.
My Lords, I will skip to my own defence because ultimately, while I agree that it was too late and regret that we did not take it earlier, we did take up most elements of the Steel Bill in the CRaG Bill. In the wash-up, however, those were taken out by the Conservative Opposition of the time.
More mea culpas. The fact is, as well, that one of the benefits for those who like some aspects of the Steel Bill is that the proposals of that Bill are all now in the draft Bill before the House: a statutory Appointments Commission; ending by-elections for hereditary Peers; permanent leave of absence and dealing with those convicted of serious criminal offences. In addition, noble Lords will be considering next Monday the recommendations of the Procedure Committee to provide for permanent voluntary retirement.
However, the proposals in the Bill of my noble friend Lord Steel are in the context of a wholly appointed House, whereas the Government are committed to a wholly or mainly elected second Chamber as set out in the draft Bill. It is unrealistic to believe that any proposal for incremental reform of this House, such as the provisions in my noble friend’s Bill, could be sped through this House without controversy, even with the support of the Government. Moreover, it would be completely unnecessary to do this when the Government have published detailed, comprehensive proposals for full reform.
I turn to the Joint Committee. As I have said before, I have tremendous respect for its chairman. I hope that he will keep an open agenda in terms of the evidence that he takes. The committee that the Deputy Prime Minister chaired tried to bring forward proposals and had a certain degree of consensus. I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, will agree that we worked on and looked at the case for reform based on our manifesto commitments and that the case for reform should be by election. We are setting up the Joint Committee with 13 Members from this House, including a Bishop and a Cross-Bencher. The House agreed a Motion on 7 June that the Joint Committee should report by the end of February 2012.
Giving a target date to a Joint Committee is normal practice. If the committee needs more time, Motions can be put to both Houses to extend the date; but it should not be seen—as some Members, with nods and winks, have suggested—that the committee will have a licence to promote open-ended delay. Reform of this House is an issue that will be debated long and hard both inside and outside the Joint Committee over the coming months. The Government look forward to those discussions. We will listen to the arguments and adapt our proposals. However, we intend to introduce a Bill so that the first elections to this House can take place in 2015.
I end on a personal note. I have given way to no one in my affection and respect for this House—what it does and what it stands for. I greatly regret not grasping the opportunity for reform offered by the Wakeham committee, on which point the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, was absolutely right. If we had, we would be further down the road to a lasting reform than we are today. If we miss the opportunity presented by this Bill and procedure, a House that has won much respect—not least in its willingness to defend civil liberties and human rights and to stand up to the over-mighty power of the Executive—will lose respect as it looks increasingly out of kilter with the spirit of the age.
The proposals that we have made give this House and the other place the opportunity to carry through a reform as significant as the one passed by the Liberal Government a century ago. This is no time for noble Lords to join the last ditchers. There are those who say that, at a time of economic crisis—the worst in 80 years—this is not a time to divert our attention from the central challenges of our day. I would rather invoke the spirit of the last great coalition Government, which launched the Beveridge plan, the Butler Education Act and won a world war. Government is not a one-trick pony. The battle to right the economy is no reason to delay a much needed and long-overdue reform of this House.
On accountability, I am interested in the suggestion that it might be two terms of perhaps seven years. I do not know. Again, I invite the noble Lord, Lord Richard, to look at that. The 15-year term has some weaknesses in democratic accountability that have been pointed out. However, it takes the breath away when speaker after speaker, all of whom have been sent here for life, start lecturing us about the dangers of somebody being sent here for a limited 15-year term. As the Prime Minister made clear in the other place, the Government’s actions to date in producing this draft Bill have been based on trying to work for consensus. The Government are ready to listen; we are prepared to adapt; but we are also determined to act. The Bill, when introduced, like any other piece of government legislation, will be scrutinised, carried through, debated, discussed and passed in the same way.
I have been asked about the Parliament Act. I do not think that you start a piece of legislation by brandishing the Parliament Act, but, especially after some of the passionate debates in favour of the supremacy—the primacy—of the other place, I ask Members of this House, “If the clear and settled view of the other place is for reform, are you going to veto it?”. I think that we should be told.
Other noble Lords raised a number of detailed questions. The Government have set out their views on these issues in the draft Bill and the White Paper. I am sure that the Joint Committee will consider all these issues in very careful detail. My suggestion is that Hansard for the two days of this debate, the Wakeham report, the Cunningham report, the Jack Straw White Paper and the White Paper accompanying this Bill be the Joint Committee’s summer reading. We should now all wish it well and let it get on with that work.
That, notwithstanding the Government’s proposals for the House of Lords set out in Cm 8077, which amount to the abolition of the House of Lords, this House calls on Her Majesty’s Government to bring forward proposals for incremental urgent reforms that would improve the functioning of the existing House of Lords.
Motion not moved.
House adjourned at 8.01 pm.