Motion to Take Note (Continued)
My Lords, your Lordships can now return to an equally controversial matter, on which I think the camera has somehow got too close to the subject. I know that there is a general impression outside this House, although probably not inside it, that we are observing the early to middle stages of a power struggle between the two Houses, whereas we are actually in the closing stages of a power struggle between the Crown and Parliament.
The Crown and Parliament are the protagonists on whom we should keep our eye. By “the Crown”, I would have said “the Government”, but when one talks about the Government, one tends to think of what is only a thin veneer of ambitious politicians laid over a vast machine with a collective memory that goes back for centuries and which understandably regards Parliament as something of an obstacle to its objectives. As a Minister, one can detect this in individual civil servants, although I should say at this stage that I am commenting not on individuals but on human nature. However, you find that there is surprise and resentment that some proposal that appears to be eminently sensible to people who are not in touch with the mood of public, which as a Minister one has to be, can be obstructed by the parliamentary machine. The combined apparatus of ambitious politicians and career civil servants has a momentum of its own. The Crown as such has been trying to retrieve the power that it lost to Parliament in the 13th century, and it has retrieved a great deal of it.
One cannot survey the history in seven minutes, but I can give a good illustration of the state of play in more or less contemporary times by asking noble Lords to look at the year of 2005, and in particular to what happened between noon on Thursday 10 March of that year and 7.31 pm on the following Friday evening, which if I have calculated the period correctly is a total of 31 hours. Many noble Lords who took part will remember that the then Government had brought in a Bill with a clause that would have empowered the Home Secretary—in the legislation I think it is the “Secretary of State”—having consulted a single senior police officer, to sign a bit of paper that would consign a British citizen to what was called “derogated detention” for up to 90 days without the intervention of any legal force whatever.
Anything less consonant with British liberty or standards of democracy is difficult to imagine. It was got through the House with a government majority of 131 and was carried by a majority of only 14. We removed the clause and sent it back. Commons messages arrived and then we started on a round of ping-pong. As a result, that draconian measure was subject to very thorough judicial supervision and did not resemble what had been sent to us to start with.
Why was the House of Commons not able to control the Government? I remind noble Lords that Parliament was invented to control the Government. What was the difference between that House and this place? There are four differences. The first is that Members of the other place receive a substantial salary and are in what we would regard as career jobs. As has been alluded to, if you lose your seat you can move on to another, but if you lose your seat you lose your job and your salary. It is certainly true that the Whips have the power to deselect a Member so that he actually loses his job and perhaps cannot pay his mortgage, the school fees and so on. That is it, really. Members of Parliament have to be re-elected to hold on to their jobs, so they have to toe the party line; and if a Government have a substantial majority they actually hold those jobs and livelihoods in their hands. In this House, we are not elected and we do not have a salary. Although I benefit from it, I regret the fact that we now have a certain incentive and an interest that we ought to declare in this debate: if we claim it, we are in receipt of £300 a day for attendance. To that extent our continuance in office is a matter of personal concern, but of course we cannot be turned out, as the others can.
The present Government proposal entails the introduction of a majority of elected people who inevitably will have to be paid large sums of money in the form of salaries, and in effect those salaries will be in the gift of the Whips, if they have to be elected Parliament by Parliament. If we are going to move to something along the lines of what is being suggested, it is essential that the term of office, the tenure, should be for at least 15 years, although I would rather see it set at 20 years.
Perhaps your Lordships would pause to reflect for a moment that it was actually the undemocratically produced House that in March 2005 defended the electorate from a democratically elected Government when the elected House was unable to do so. Therefore, I see no need for election. Further, on appointing Members, I would remind noble Lords that more than 50 per cent of this House was appointed during the prime ministership of the then Prime Minister, and I believe I am right in saying that the Government suffered the largest defeat of any Government since the war. So I am here merely to say: please remember that we are trying to preserve the power of Parliament in the face of the Government, and to do that you need at least one House of Parliament with what the Americans call “tenure”. As it is not available in the other place, we ought to have it here.
My Lords, this issue has engaged me since the launch back in the 1980s of Charter 88, which called for House of Lords reform as part of a serious rethink of our constitutional architecture. I chaired Charter 88 from 1992 to 1997 and played a role in putting constitutional reform on the Labour Party manifesto prior to the 1997 election.
More recently, I chaired with the Conservative politician, Ferdinand Mount, the Power inquiry, which also recommended the reform of this Chamber. However, I reinforce the point that those recommendations for a change to this House were set against a backdrop of holistic constitutional reform, a recognition that if you want to reform this House that reform will have knock-on effects and therefore should be seen in the wider context of the checks and balances that are needed to make our system work well. You have to ask questions: what is the second Chamber for, and what are its powers?
For that reason, Charter 88 in its manifestation argued for a written constitution, something that I still believe is necessary, particularly as we become a more mature and sophisticated democracy. We continued to argue in the Power inquiry report that there had to be a written declaration of what the powers of this House would be in relation to the House of Commons. If the primacy of the House of Commons was to be maintained, there would have to be some kind of statutory document or concordat setting down the nature of the respective powers.
We also suggested that there should be a regional basis on which this House might be elected. Parliament is at the heart of our democracy and it is vital that it has the confidence of the people. When the Power inquiry went around the country and asked the public what they felt about the House of Lords, they said that they wanted it to be elected. Interestingly, when the follow-up questions were asked as to what kind of membership they wanted, they said that they wanted it to be expert; they wanted Members to have a hinterland and to have experience in many different walks of life; and they wanted to see independence. They wanted in a strange way to square a very difficult circle, because finding an electoral system to produce that is the real challenge. I am not satisfied that the recommendations in the recent reports meet the requirement.
People repeatedly told us that they wanted independence of mind and a distance from party diktat. They were very clear that they did not want any extension of dominance and control by the main political parties. They did not want any reform that brought an increase in the writ and power of the Executive—that is, Downing Street— whichever party was in power. This was not in relation to any specific distrust of any particular political party. They liked the idea that people had a lifetime’s experience in different walks of life and that that would provide a different kind of Chamber from the other. It is here that I take issue with the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor, who asked what kind of person would want to be in this new Chamber if they could not see a progression in their career. What people really like about this Chamber is that it is filled with people who are not professional politicians as we see in the other House.
What people did not want—we should concentrate a little on what is not liked about this House as we congratulate ourselves on our successes—is for the Lords to be used to reward party donations or as payback for services rendered to a political party or Prime Minister in some form or other or as a place of refuge for persons being removed from the House of Commons. They did not want it to be seen as a place to bump someone into to provide a safe seat for a party favourite. I am afraid that those suspicions are regularly reiterated by critics of this House.
There is wide agreement, therefore, about the need for reform. We are too large, and it is clear that there has to be a review of our size and our purpose, but we have to reflect for a moment on how you achieve that. It really is not becoming for us to congratulate ourselves on how terrific we are and on the quality of our debates. It is for others to say whether that is what they think. It is not enough for us to say that we should be allowed to stay here for ever. It is for others to decide on that. We cannot therefore talk about reforming this House without giving the public their say in how it should be done. It is for that reason that I urge that we consider taking a step similar that to that being recommended by the alternative report, which is that there should be some kind of constitutional convention but not in the form that is being suggested, with the great and the grand and the academic researcher being put on it.
The people doing that should come from among the general public. This is not something that has not been considered in other nations. Recently Canada, which looked at whether it should renew its electoral system and change it from first past the post to a proportional system, created a convention made up of a cross-section of its public. There is a clear methodology for doing that. It had proper and full debates, with evidence gathered from a properly drawn cross-section of the public, who in fact all decided that they preferred first past the post to the proportional representation that had been proposed. It is the public who should decide on this and not parliamentarians, who may have vested interests.
The person to whom we should turn is a very distinguished professor of political science at Stanford University, James Fishkin, who with a whole team of people there has developed this deliberative polling system. He has done it for Canada, and he has done it for other parts of the world when presented with constitutional issues of importance. I would advise this House to embark on having his team conduct such a thing here over the next period and advise our political leaders.
The complementary relationship between the two Houses should be at the forefront of our minds, but it is not acceptable in the 21st century for this House to be created through patronage. Power has to be given to the people. We have been enriched, no doubt, by the many people on the Cross Benches who have come here independently and not as part of the party system, but that could still be done under an electoral system. I am happy for it to be 80:20 per cent hybrid House if that is the consensus, but it is the public who should decide and not us.
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness in debate, especially on constitutional matters, where she has such expertise and knowledge. I want to begin with a personal apology to the noble Lord, Lord Richard. Due to transport problems from Scotland today, I am afraid that I caught only the tail end of his speech, which I very much regret, because I say genuinely that the report that he and his colleagues have produced is a most valuable document for the House, as indeed was the alternative report.
In my seven minutes, I want to say just three things. The first is about what was my own Private Member’s Bill. I say “was”, because once it had been passed by this House, I regarded it as a House of Lords measure, which unfortunately lay unattended in the other place for some seven weeks. However, having registered my fury and the disappointment of the House, I am happy to report that sweetness and light have broken out and that it has been agreed that if a Bill identical to the one that left this House is reintroduced early in the new Session, it will be proposed to be put through the House by expedited procedure so that we do not have to go through all the stages again. When it is sent to the other place, it will be given a fair wind by the Government. I am very pleased to report that. It is important to disentangle that from the wider issues from the wider issues of reform, because it is a measure that we all want now, this year, and not between 2015 and 2025. I look forward to progress on that issue.
My second point is on the Leader of the House’s suggestion that the manifestos of the three parties were remarkably similar at the last election. Well, up to a point, yes; they were also remarkably dissimilar. Of the three, I have to say that I prefer the Liberal Democrat one, because it was unambiguous in saying that we should have a fully elected Chamber. The words “fully elected” are very important because I keep pointing out, especially to my colleagues, that Mr Asquith and the preamble to the 1911 Act never used the words “universal suffrage” or “elected”; they talked about replacing the hereditary House by one based on a popular mandate. I believe that that could be achieved through the alternative report’s suggestion of a constitutional convention and the fact that the committee’s report and the alternative report both gave a nod in the direction of an indirectly elected Chamber merits further consideration.
I have read with interest the pamphlet of the Society of Conservative Lawyers, by Oliver Heald. It does not feature among my regular reading, I must admit, but I thought that it was a very good report. I understand that similar evidence was given to the committee by Mr Billy Bragg, who I think would claim to be on the left of the Labour Party.
I am all for digging up older conventions in order for them to be considered by the new one.
I was going on to say that I have looked further at the work of the Cambridge Liberal Democrat, Dr Alex Reid, whom the noble Lord, Lord Low, mentioned, who also came to this conclusion. There is a measure of support across parties for looking again at the possibility of indirect elections. Dr Meg Russell, in her evidence to the noble Lord’s committee, pointed out that 34 countries used this as their method of obtaining a second Chamber. What I did not know until recently was that there is a precedent for that in the United Kingdom. Precedent is terribly important in this House, I know that, and the precedent existed in Stormont. In the old Stormont, the Senate was elected by the lower House, so there is a precedent for doing that here.
There are certain advantages of the indirect election system as against universal suffrage. First, there is a good chance that if the electorate were existing MPs, MEPs and Members of the devolved Parliaments—a confined electorate—we would retain some of the expertise that appointments brings which we are afraid of losing. It would prevent conflict between the two Houses because the upper House would not be elected by universal suffrage. There would be no territorial conflict between senators and MPs because there would be no territorial definitions. The costs would be much less, both of the election and of running the House. Most important of all, the fundamental difference is that it would be possible, if such an election were held every five years after a general election, for the House to be adjusted proportionately without increasing the numbers, which is the way it is already constantly adjusted.
The last thing I want to say is that I disagree with the main report in its recommendation that there should be a referendum. Here I rather agree with what the Leader of the House was saying. To coin a phrase that has not been heard much recently, I agree with Nick. The question of a referendum is dangerous. We have to remind ourselves that the coalition came together for the specific purpose of putting right the nation's finances—full stop. We have not yet succeeded in doing that. We may not have succeeded in doing that by 2014-15 if the present economic situation continues. If we go to the electorate and say, “Okay we have not quite succeeded in putting the country right as we had hoped to do but would you mind voting for a more expensive new upper Chamber?”, they will say to us, “But you've already asked us about a slightly obscure form of proportional representation. You've already messed about with constituency boundaries and tinkered with the National Health Service. You’ve spent months in both Houses reforming the House of Lords and what we want is to get the nation's finances back on a proper footing”. They might say no. They are very likely to say no.
I end with the recollection that I was involved in the referendum in 1979 in Scotland. The late John Smith was a very good personal friend of mine from student debating days, despite our political differences. I remember that the one time we fell out was during that referendum because I said, “You’re daft to have pictures of Jim Callaghan, after the winter of discontent, on posters with the word ‘yes’ underneath. The public are minded to say no to the Government whatever the question”. I that fear the same will happen again and we could end up with nothing at all.
My Lords, I join the many, blessedly without even attempting to repeat the views of the many, who have grave misgivings about the draft Bill and would favour only modest, provenly necessary, incremental reform of the kind that the noble Lord, Lord Steel, introduced in his Bill, which we are glad to know is back on course.
Of course, everyone here has benefited from reading the report of the noble Lord, Lord Richard. I was for example reinforced in my support for our bicameral Parliament that we have enjoyed for so long, at least until such time that the House of Commons can be trusted to scrutinise the Bills that it passes upwards. I welcome the idea of reducing the size of the House of Lords to something under 500. I welcome bringing in a term limit, and 15 years sounds just about right to me although I would prefer this to be done in three five-year bites, which could be manipulated to give the Appointments Commission a bit more room for manoeuvre. I share the strong feelings over Clause 2, as one who welcomes and would go on supporting the primacy of the House of Commons. I note with alarm the words in House of Lords Reform: An Alternative Way Forward that the draft Bill reveals an,
“unbridgeable gap between the election of the House of Lords and the primacy of the House of Commons”.
What I miss in the report is any convincing argument that the proposed massive change would mean that a new second Chamber would be any better than our present Chamber at what the present Chamber does best, which is revising and advising. Just think of the legislation that has passed through this House this year on health, welfare and legal aid. Bills were not only in need of root and branch revision, but they got it and, let us be fair, they got it above all through the intervention of the Cross-Benchers.
Obviously I would say that. I grant that not all the House’s expertise, for which we are famed up and down the land, resides on these Cross Benches. But most of it does. I am astonished at the way in which we have come to expect something like a reduction to 20 per cent of a reduced total House as sufficient to get the kind of expertise that we have at the moment. The hybrid House that we are threatened with would be a very poor exchange for an alternatively revised House in which the independents in fact would form the core, serving and served by a political architecture like at present but smaller, representing the structures of government and opposition. My sense of the national mood is that our people would happily settle for such a House of Lords. I do not think that the people at large are so enamoured of what they currently get in the House of Commons as the result of their democratic vote as to be anything other than perfectly happy to forego the privilege of something similar but of paler complexion in the House of Lords.
My Lords, when the House debated its proposed reform on 21 June last year, I commented on a single issue: the Parliament Acts. I will do the same today. There are now two issues. The first is whether the Parliament Acts can be used to drive through a House of Lords reform Bill without its consent—the antithesis of a consensual approach. Secondly, there is whether the Parliament Acts will continue to be effective once the second Chamber has an elected element in it.
I proposed to the House and later suggested to the committee that the Attorney-General’s advice be sought. The Attorney-General declined, in the main on the grounds that it would not be,
“appropriate for the Law Officers to advise Parliament on issues relating to the Government’s legislative programme”.
The Attorney-General was not asked to advise on the programme but on a particular draft Bill. I would have thought it highly desirable for the law officers, who can call on the widest possible resources upon which to formulate their views, to assist Parliament as requested. The committee quite bluntly states that it,
“regrets that the Attorney General felt unable to assist the Committee to understand his reasoning in respect of such an important matter”.
If I was Attorney-General, I would be very unhappy to have such a weighty Joint Committee of both Houses pass such strictures. Perhaps the Attorney-General would think again if a specific Bill were brought to his attention. His interpretation, in addition to the weighty legal opinions that he points out exist within this House, would be extremely beneficial to our proceedings.
I set out in my earlier speech the caveats entered into in the opinions of Law Lords in the fox-hunter case, Jackson v Attorney-General, on possible limitations to the use of the Parliament Acts. Despite the caveats, I concluded that,
“the weight of opinion … may well lead towards recognising a considerable supremacy for Parliament”.—[Official Report, 21/6/11; col. 1188].
By “Parliament”, I mean the House of Commons. This preliminary view is reinforced by the more deeply researched and persuasive views of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith.
That aspect in itself was not my main concern, as I said in my letter to the committee. Since the issue is justiciable, courts at different levels have been known to disagree with each other and, in the words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Steyn,
“the courts have a part to play in defining the limits of Parliament's legislative sovereignty”,
does Parliament wish to run the risk in such litigation of the possibility of at least the perception of politicising the courts? I leave it at that.
The second issue, which is more germane, is whether there is any reason why the Parliament Acts could not be used if we had an elected House of Lords. Both the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, and the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, commented on that and raised their concerns, to put it mildly. The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, said in his evidence that,
“the better view is that the 1911 Act would not apply in the event that the upper Chamber were wholly or mainly elected”.
As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, says,
“the vague and general provisions of the proposed Section 2 … do not seem … adequate for that purpose”.
The committee, having considered the matter, concludes:
“If the Government wish to ensure that the Parliament Acts apply to a reformed House, they should make statutory provision for it”.
The alternative report reaches a similar conclusion, and I agree with it. The Joint Committee reports that,
“the Government … placed great reliance on the fact that the Acts will continue in force, and may be used with more frequency, even after the reform is in place”.
This is one of the important building bricks to underpin the thesis that, despite this House being elected, the primacy of the Commons will prevail. If so, why on earth are the Acts not referred to in the draft Bill? This is a startling omission and either the Government do not mean what they claim as regards primacy or it is sheer incompetence. I strongly suspect that the Attorney-General was not consulted on this. I commend the overwhelming view that the Bill should be specific and state that the Acts will continue to play their part as the committee maintains if the reforms proposed ever come about.
My Lords, it is worth repeating that this Chamber is the second largest political Chamber in the world, second only to the Chinese National People’s Congress. It is the only second Chamber in the Commonwealth that is larger than the first. It needs reform. But the commendable report from the noble Lord, Lord Richard, has shown up the problems of the Government’s planned reform. It is not really the Government’s plan, of course, but a Lib Dem plan as part of the coalition agreement. The Lib Dems want, implemented in three stages, the House of Lords to represent the popular share of the vote, and have never given up on AV despite losing the referendum. But if one looks at it closely, one can see that the law of unintended consequences takes over. A Chamber of 450, on the basis of some of last week’s opinion polls, would have about 45 UKIP and about 10 BNP Members. In fact, UKIP could have more Peers than the Lib Dems. Of course, it depends on what system of STV is used, but the fact is that UKIP stands to gain most, and there is the rather frightening thought that the BNP might for the first time be represented at Westminster. One would have thought that was the very last thing that the coalition would want, but it is difficult to argue that only the main parties should legitimately benefit from PR.
Everyone agrees that this House needs reform, but no one agrees how—elected, appointed, half and half or the many variations of all three. The last Labour Government managed stage 1 reform, getting rid of the majority of hereditary Peers, but never managed to go any further. Labour realised that the sensible solution was to talk the talk of further reform, but do nothing. As we have heard today, that is still their policy. Some in the House of Commons do not see the point of a second Chamber at all, but most agree that the power of the Executive should be controlled by more than just the House of Commons.
The key questions that have to be answered on any proposal for reform of this House are on what its role is going to be and, if it is largely the same, will the new Lords work better or least as well as it does now? The current membership is diverse. Some Members hardly ever speak, which is made up for by the Members who speak all the time. But they represent a wide range of views, with expertise and ethnic, gender and social diversity, and it is difficult to see how an elected House would have the same diversity. The Lords cannot be an absolute mirror of the House of Commons, as then we have an elected dictatorship, with absolutely no check on the Executive. The likelihood is of course that a new elected Chamber will want to exert more power—to block Bills, challenge the concept of financial privilege of the House of Commons, and amend secondary legislation. We would then find ourselves veering toward the American system, which is often gridlocked between the Executive, Congress and the Senate. Some may say, “No bad thing”, as there would be less legislation, but it would be a profound change for this country. The break-up of the union is another complication, as explained by the noble Baroness, Lady Symons.
The Government have argued that the people who make the rules should be accountable, but this House does not make rules—we amend. You do not have to be elected to be accountable. This reform is disliked by almost everybody. It offers an elected transition—a hybrid House. The only real defence I have heard in this debate is that if we go on without doing anything, this House will get even larger. There is a simple remedy to that, as my noble friend Lord MacGregor pointed out: a retirement age. As for the elections for a 15-year term, those who have sat in another place tell me that what sharpens up Members of Parliament is not their first election, when neither they nor the electorate know each other, but their second election when they have to defend their record.
And, indeed, subsequently.
The supporters of this draft Bill cry popular democracy, but what we need is popular legitimacy rather than popular democracy. This can be by either an appointed or elected House of Lords but if it were to be under the current proposal, with 80 per cent being elected, the pressure would be to have 100 per cent elected. I very much doubt that the 20 per cent appointed would last more than one Parliament. Following its endorsement in the report, it certainly looks as if the referendum clause will be added in another place. That must be a good idea.
The question the Government have to answer is whether Lords reform, in their current Bill, is worth taking up hours and days of sittings in the House of Commons and in this House, while having the Government’s other Bills blocked in the process. Of course the problem is that if there is a deal to be done, who do they deal with? Neither side in this House controls their Back Benches when it comes to Lords reform but it is clear that constitutional reform should be well thought-out, not cobbled together in some back room—albeit, perhaps, smoke-free this time—as part of an agreement between two political parties. This House should—and does—bring a range of perspectives to bear on the development of public policy, be broadly representative of British society and play a vital role as one of the main checks and balances within our constitution. We provide a voice for the nations and the regions of the United Kingdom at the centre of national politics. More by accident than design, we have managed to achieve that.
The proposed Lords reform is heading for an almighty train crash. I wonder whether sensible voices will be heard down the other end, or whether the train will have to crash before a sensible plan appears. One result of the Labour reform of 1999 is that the House of Lords has become more authoritative and self-confident. We see ourselves as more legitimate than prior to 1999, while maintaining that the House of Commons is the pre-eminent Chamber of Parliament. The result is that this House is not going to allow itself to be dictated to by a lower House if it thinks it is wrong. We will fight to preserve what is best and what works well. When one looks at the current offer, one has to say that an appointed House still comes out on top. In the last Parliament, the majority of another place voted for a fully elected Chamber. Equally, a large majority in this House voted against. We know now that many in another place are having second thoughts. Indeed, there are many new Members there.
When I last spoke on House of Lords reform, I followed the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, and as I respectfully disagreed with almost everything that he said I described his speech, slightly tongue in cheek, as a virtuoso performance. I certainly paid the price for that, as I received lots of e-mails from Lib Dems congratulating me on supporting him. Perhaps I can apologise to him for that and say that in case there is any doubt of where my sympathies lie, we should turn our energies not to looking at the Bill in this House but to persuading those in another place to throw out this Bill.
My Lords, I am in favour of an elected House—a position I made clear on my appointment. I strongly support the thrust of the excellent Richard report, which we have before us today. I have no intention of using this occasion to argue the case for reform; I shall do that in Committee when we are finally presented with a Bill. I want to concentrate today on the referendum and Clause 2.
I favour a referendum due to what I believe to be a growing resistance to a Bill in the Commons. There is a fundamental dishonesty and artificiality about the debate there. Conservative Members argue publicly for reform in tune with their manifesto, while privately they are strongly hostile. Liberal Democrats are unsettled by the prospect of their coalition partners reneging on the coalition agreement in this area. My own colleagues in the Commons are increasingly uneasy over the emergence of a competing institution. The danger for reformers is that a coalition of the concerned will, for a combination of diverse reasons, set out to block the Bill in the Commons.
Some MPs who have historically supported an elected House on public platforms—in the media, during general elections and even in Parliament—will use any excuse in a desperate attempt to block the Bill. Some will claim to be unicameralists. Some will argue that they oppose an open-list STV system, which they say is the wrong PR system. There are those who will quibble over the 15-year term. Others will argue over the cost of the whole project. Some object to the extended transition period. Many will oppose the hybrid House in an all-or-nothing argument. Quite a few will argue that the Bishops should be excluded. Some have expressed concern about overlapping parliamentary mandates, and there are those whose motives are far more cynical. They want to come here in due course, either because they wish to retire or are to be displaced under the Government’s ill considered proposed reduction in constituencies. That is the real world in which we live. All sorts of excuses are now being deployed in the campaign to block an elected House.
That is why I want a referendum. While I recognise that there are those who support a referendum because they believe that the public will kill the Bill, that is not my view. I believe that supporters of an elected House can win and I am confident in that judgment, as I was in my belief that the AV referendum would be lost. Furthermore, a yes vote would lock Parliament into a position of reform. Parliament cannot reject the judgment of the people in a referendum. The alternative report proposes delaying a national vote, pending a report from a “long grass” constitutional convention. I reject that approach. The talking must come to an end; it has gone on for too long.
The problem is that if the referendum is in the Bill, it will be impossible to secure passage of the legislation prior to the next general election. We cannot allow provision for a referendum to be held up in the logjam of delay over the Parliament Acts. We all know that the Parliament Act will inevitably be used to delay implementation. Indeed, I presume that the government Whips have already factored calculations on extended debate in the Lords and delay under the Parliament Act into their legislative timetable. In my view, we need two Bills running coterminously. I cannot conceive of circumstances in which the Lords would seek to block a referendum of the people; it would be seen as nothing short of self-serving.
Moving to Clause 2, I strongly believe that a constitutional settlement on powers between the Houses is attainable, although I recognise that an elected House will inevitably seek to increase its powers and will probably, in time, succeed. We cannot be naive by failing to consider the possibility of gridlock—that is, unless some constitutional lock can be deployed which impeded that development, allowing the Commons some flexibility to concede greater responsibilities to the Lords over time.
I propose that we turn to the oath and the signing of the undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct which we take when we enter this House. I have raised this idea with a number of colleagues. It has found little support among colleagues in the Lords but has received a sympathetic hearing among some colleagues in the Commons. We enter the House only after taking the oath under the Parliamentary Oaths Act 1866. The form of the oath is prescribed by Section 2 of the Promissory Oaths Act 1868 and Section 1 of the Oaths Act 1978. Alternatively, we can affirm. No oath means no entry. The refusal of elected Sinn Fein MPs to take the oath meant that they could not take up their seats. I argue that the oath could be amended to include an obligation to accept the constitutional settlement between the two Houses as underpinned in legislation—both an amended 1866 Act and the proposed 2014 Act—the settlement to include the limitations on the statutory and non-statutory powers as set out in paragraphs 39 and 40 of the committee’s report. The oath could then provide us with a constitutional lock. I am not advocating that an elected Lords could not debate the case for increased powers. However, I am advocating an arrangement under which the Lords would be unable to threaten to delay, or to delay, legislation with a view to securing greater powers. Nor would the Lords be able to initiate an amendment to the constitutional settlement. The process of amending the settlement would be initiated only by the Commons deploying its primacy.
I know that some have written off the proposal as a constitutional nonsense. They argue that it could be challenged in the courts and that Parliament cannot bind its successors, which, of course, would not be the case if the Commons had the powers to amend. However, there is a division of opinion on these matters. I ask only that the idea be considered.
My Lords, I join those who have congratulated the noble Lord, Lord Richard, and his committee on all the hard work that they have done and, more particularly, those who have worked even harder and more extensively on the committee that is supplementing the work of the Richard committee.
My problem is that the Richard committee was asked to undertake pre-legislative scrutiny of a Bill that is fundamentally flawed. The argument is very simple and is put forward by the Liberal Democrats and others: namely, if we have an elected House, Britain will be more democratic. I do not believe that that will be the case. We are already 100 per cent democratic and that democratic legitimacy rests in the House of Commons. If both Chambers were elected, that legitimacy would inevitably be divided and, I believe, would be less effective.
Therefore, there is a very real problem here. The committee faced up to it and decided as follows. The report states:
“The Committee, on a majority”—
I stress “on a majority”—
“agrees that the reformed second chamber of legislature should have an electoral mandate provided it has commensurate powers”.
It seems to me clear that “commensurate” is the wrong word. If both Chambers are elected, the wording ought to be “equal powers”. More particularly in that context, if the upper Chamber is elected on proportional representation, which Mr Clegg tells us is more legitimate than first past the post, we would end up with an upper Chamber that is more legitimate, and ought to have more powers, than the House of Commons. This, clearly, would be a pretty absurd position in which to get ourselves.
I must say that, after the events of the past 10 days, I am more and more convinced that the priority is not reform of this end of the building but reform of the other end. We have had the appalling use of programming at the other end, not only in the initial stages of a Bill, where major issues are not debated at all, but the effective guillotining—not in the old efficient way, but by programming—of amendments from this House, whereby the time allocated for consideration of four amendments was barely as much as the time that this House had spent voting on them. We therefore clearly need reform as far as that end of the building is concerned.
However, it is not true to say, as the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown said, that we are creatures of the Executive. We have certainly not been so in recent days, but if we were an elected Chamber we would be much more likely to be heavily whipped, to be creatures of the Executive and to lose the technical expertise that we have at present. I hope that those who were so anxious that we should hear their views on many subjects in the past few days will realise that electing this Chamber is not in their interests and that they will campaign on it, whether or not it be done in a referendum or more generally. They are the kind of interest groups that we have been defending and I hope that they will campaign.
I intervene because the noble Lord mentioned me by name. I want to ask him a question, because the issue genuinely puzzles me. If it is the case that having an elected second Chamber produces the kind of dire consequences that he and everyone else in this place—or at least most people who have spoken—predict, how come about 60 of the other 71 bicameral Parliaments across the world do not suffer these problems when they have elected second Chambers? Is he really saying that our democracy is so weak that we cannot cope with what everyone else can cope with?
No, on the contrary, I recognise that what is fit for other countries is fit for them, but we have here a unique institution—a highly expert and unbelievably cost-effective second Chamber. Therefore, the reasons that we are putting forward in its defence are the right ones.
I want to come to the crucial point raised by the committee of the noble Lord, Lord Richard, relating to primacy. The committee certainly rejects—not out of hand but after careful consideration—the idea that Clause 2 will carry out the purpose of preserving the primacy of the other place. I am glad to see the noble Lord indicating his assent. I certainly do not believe that it would, but it would be very strange if next week something in the Queen’s Speech said, “Measures for reforming the House of Lords will be laid before you, and we regret the fact that Clause 2 will not carry out the intention of the Government”. We shall have to wait and see what, if anything, is proposed, but it would seem rather odd if the Government were to include anything without having resolved this absolutely crucial question.
My other point relates to the issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor—the utterly absurd idea that election without accountability is democracy. The whole basis of democracy must be accountability and, if we have a system whereby a Member can remain here for 15 years without election, there is no accountability whatever. That cannot increase the amount of democracy in this country.
I want to spend just a moment or two on the question of referendums. Throughout my 33 years in the House of Commons, I was strongly opposed to referendums. I take a strong Burkean view that Members of the House of Commons are representatives not delegates. A referendum is the antithesis of that. However, it is the case that on a major constitutional issue it is less appropriate for the House of Commons to act in that way, so a referendum may indeed be more appropriate. My problem is that, unlike the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, I am not optimistic that a referendum will produce the right result.
The reality is that the public are unbelievably ignorant about this House and are not likely to understand the way in which we work or the good work that we do. Certainly if you had an opinion poll asking how Members of the House of Lords normally dress, they would reply very simply by a large majority, “They all look like Father Christmas”. There is a real problem here. The press time and again publish pictures of the State Opening, which is composed not of the House of Lords but of many other people who are not in the House. Therefore, if such a referendum takes place, we will have to engage very strongly, despite the splendid efforts already made by the Lord Speaker and her predecessor, to try to publicise the work that this House does.
I am out of time. I end by saying that I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Steel, on what he just said, but the Bill that has gone to the Commons from this place is much less than his original Bill. We still need to do far more and we certainly must do something greatly to reduce the size of this House. I hope that we will manage to do that.
My Lords, I start by stating clearly that I think that this is a bizarre priority at the moment, when we have an economic crisis and massive levels of unemployment and when people are suffering from poverty. However, we are where we are, so I start by thanking my noble friend Lord Richard and his team for the considerable work that they have done on their report.
I say from the outset that I am in principle very much in favour of a fully elected House of Lords. I want to stand by the manifesto commitments to reform put to the electorate by my party and others at the general election. It is right and proper that the people who are able to initiate and amend legislation should be accountable to the people to whom it will apply. The Chamber as currently constituted, whatever its considerable merits, is a complete anachronism. It is undemocratic in the 21st century. It is only through elections that we will preserve and enhance this Chamber’s vital constitutional role.
Arguments that suggest, “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it”, simply do not wash. That is a recipe for preserving this institution in aspic. It assumes that it is not broken. Even Winston Churchill suggested:
“If we are to leave the venerable if somewhat crumbled rock on which the House of Lords now stands, there is no safe foothold until we come to an elected chamber”.
Several areas of Lords reform are desperately needed. It is broken. In no way can we argue that the current set-up reflects the country as a whole. The underrepresentation of women is not unique to this Chamber, but it needs to be addressed. Likewise, the number of people from an ethnic minority background needs to be increased. The age profile of the Chamber does not reflect society, with an average age of 69 and more than 82 per cent of the membership over 60. Although I accept that with that comes a whole host of knowledge and expertise, it would be very difficult to make the case that we here represent the disparate voices of the whole country.
The south-east is hugely overrepresented, with 70 per cent of Members with a London base. When we have seen a considerable shift in the constitutional arrangements of the UK to reflect growing devolution to the nations of the UK, it is time to revisit our arrangements to ensure that all areas of the country are adequately represented. The suggestion that Members should be elected on a regional basis I would welcome wholeheartedly.
If we are serious about keeping the integrity of the UK as a nation, we need to be serious not just about respecting devolution in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland but about moving towards increasing regionalisation in England. Electing Members to the Lords regionally on a basis similar to the European regional constituency boundaries would allow a more balanced picture of our country to emerge in this Chamber. My preferred option would be for the regions to be equally represented, as my noble friend Lord Desai suggested earlier, so that this place really would look and feel different from the other House. In that way, we would be able to respect devolution but take into account the fact that we were seeing an asymmetric development of regionalism in the UK.
The ongoing debate in Scotland on further devolution, and perhaps even independence, is something that we should not duck. Let us not be naive in thinking that the outcome of the referendum north of the border will not have a dramatic influence on the way we are governed across the whole of the UK. The West Lothian question must also be put into the mix—a fact that has probably not been adequately dealt with in the Richard report, given the committee’s tight remit.
Questions are already being raised in Wales and Scotland about the need for second Chambers to scrutinise primary legislation going through those parliaments. Although I would resist calls for new second Chambers to be established in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, we have to be able to say why there is a need for a second Chamber at Westminster if there is no need for such scrutiny in those institutions, which also deal with primary legislation. Therefore, I could foresee the possibility of the elected Members of the new Lords Chamber being given the broader remit of being a scrutiny body for primary legislative powers in devolved bodies.
Plenty of people will be asking for this debate to be set in the broader context of trying to establish a grand constitutional convention. However, do we really believe that this will help to move the debate on? If we cannot build a consensus on one aspect of our constitution, what hope is there if we broaden the debate? All parties recently and historically have been guilty of snatching and reforming bits of our policy development and decision-making framework, watching how it goes and then moving on. Despite the shortcomings of this approach, I have no doubt that this is how we will continue to work. That is why I believe that we should use this unique opportunity with all three main political parties making a commitment to further reform the institutions. I would not want to see us pushing this reform into the long grass.
What kind of people would be attracted to sit in the second Chamber? What kind of Members do we want? To a large extent, the make-up of the new Chamber will be determined by the political parties, but I have real concerns that the pool from which parties can choose candidates is particularly small. It will be incumbent on parties to try to be more creative in the way that they select candidates. Political parties should be encouraged to seek out experts and attempt to place them high on their party lists, as happens in continental parties. This is one reason why I would be in favour of a closed list system. The Government should be allowed to draft in experts as Ministers, who should be given a temporary seat in this Chamber.
One question that I have been asking myself is: what would it take for me to put my name forward to stand for this Chamber? There are, I am afraid, some serious shortcomings in the proposition as it stands. For me, one of the key problems is the length of the mandate. I guess that that probably sounds a bit odd, as I have accepted a life peerage, but let us be clear: an elected mandate would put Lords representatives in a very different position. The implication is that they would have a full-time role and that it would be possible to hold an additional job only if they were appointed Peers. I am afraid that the practicalities of that if you are not based in London just demonstrate once again the London-centric approach to the reforms.
I believe that people of my generation who are talented and ambitious would be extremely reluctant to accept a 15-year mandate. My generation has not been brought up in a job-for-life culture and I believe that many would feel too restricted by a 15-year tenure. The longest legislative term among elected legislative Chambers today is eight years. If we wanted to attract people of my generation to stand, we would need to ensure the introduction of a closed party list system so that, if someone were to step down, that person would automatically be replaced. However, that would cause all kinds of problems for any independents who stood and would send out the bizarre message, “This is a 15-year mandate—unless you want to break it”.
The second point is that it is very difficult to envisage why someone would want to put their name forward for a reformed Chamber that did not have decision-making powers. Surely the most talented would be attracted to the House of Commons, so we would probably end up, once again, with an older Chamber that does not reflect society.
Clause 2 of the Bill needs to be amended. Enough experts have stated the position on that. I believe that, at the point when we insist on Peers being elected, that would represent a significant shift in our constitutional arrangements and as such would require a referendum. The public should be the arbiters of how they are to be governed. I have confidence that the British public would support such a move.
It is fair to say that none of us believes that any of this is going to happen quickly. Indeed, even if the current proposed timetable were respected and the first new elected representatives of the second Chamber were elected in 2015, it would be 13 years before we would see the 80 per cent elected Peers in place as proposed. In the mean time, I believe that there is an urgent need to follow the advice of the Constitution Unit in its recommendations for immediate action: an immediate moratorium on Lords appointments, to be lifted only when the number of Members has dropped below 750; allowing retirement from the Lords, as proposed by the House of Lords Leader’s Group chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt; and any future appointments to be put on a more transparent and sustainable basis, with the independent House of Lords Appointments Commission determining how many vacancies exist and inviting nominations from the parties.
I thank the members of the Joint Committee for their considerable work and I look forward to a long debate on this issue.
My Lords, like most of my colleagues in the Liberal Democrat Party, I am a strong advocate of a fully elected second Chamber and constitutional reform was one of the reasons I joined the Liberals in 1974. I share the frustrations of those who have gone before us, in the preceding 150 years, in finding it almost impossible to make this Chamber directly accountable and transparent to the people of the United Kingdom to whom it is answerable.
Walter Bagehot, in 1867, in his seminal book, The English Constitution, on the nature of constitution and the functioning of Parliament, reported:
“A severe though not unfriendly critic of our institutions said that the cure for admiring the House of Lords was to go and look at it”.
In those days, the Lords were noted for their opposition to any kind of reform such as the great Reform Bill earlier that century, and 100 years ago your Lordships’ House was certainly not in favour of women’s suffrage, a point noted by my noble kinswoman Baroness Stocks of Kensington and Chelsea, a suffragist who marched on Parliament during those turbulent years. Indeed, I remember her description of your Lordships’ House in her autobiography, My Commonplace Book, when she joined it 50 years later: she called it her “eventide home”.
The House of Lords has no age of retirement and it has already been pointed out that the average age is 69, with more Members over 90 than under 40. When I was introduced last year, my family was told that I would be called “young Brinton”, something that my children still find hilarious. More worryingly, Peers may be removed only by an Act of Parliament and those convicted of serious crimes may return after serving their jail sentence, subject, as we know, to specific votes of the House, but that is only ever a temporary measure.
That brings me back to the issue of perception. Like my noble friend Lady Scott of Needham Market, I have faced sixth forms and public meetings with questions that demonstrate that many, probably the majority, have no real idea how we arrive here, or even what we do. Lords of the Blog, tweeting and other more modern methods of communication are beginning to help. However, when it is explained to them, most people are clear that they want reform, because they cannot understand why, in the 21st century, we have a House of Parliament that is not elected. This was confirmed in a number of polls, most recently a couple of weeks ago in a BBC poll for “World at One” that showed that nearly seven out of 10 people wanted an elected House of Lords and a referendum of the people. Given that all three major parties supported reform of your Lordships’ House at the last general election, the case is unassailable. As for a referendum—if it is the will of Parliament, bring it on.
I recognise that it will be impossible in this House to reach consensus on reform. Despite my preference for a 100 per cent elected Senate, I believe that the report of the Joint Committee presents Parliament with the best available option to move forward. It would be better to achieve significant reform now and move on to the final stages of reform in the future. Now is as good a time as any—otherwise, no time, ever, will be good.
The core issues in the report that Parliament will have to tackle concern primacy and the nature of the work that a reformed House would undertake. We heard much earlier today about the need for clear conventions to ensure clarity about primacy. The proposals in the report do that. The regional constituency basis of election will create a very different Member to the traditional Commons MP. A regionally elected House of Lords—even without a specific embargo on individual casework—would be unlikely to draw casework to its Members; but with that rubric written in, it would be straightforward. I also draw noble Lords’ attention to the relationship between MPs and MEPs on casework. MEPs, too, are elected on the proposed regional system. There are no great fights over casework. In fact, most people automatically go to their local MP on local issues and their MEP on wider, strategic issues.
Secondly, the single term of office means that Members of a reformed House will not be worried about their own re-election; and election by thirds once every five years will ensure that the Commons will always have the most up-to-date mandate. Revisions to the Parliament Act might be necessary, but people speak as if that is an impossible thing, which is not the case. It has to be possible to adjust all the parts of the constitution that we need to while undertaking major constitutional reform.
Your Lordships’ House is rightly regarded as having considerable expertise in reviewing and scrutinising draft legislation. Indeed, if there were no second Chamber, the Commons would need to rethink how it operates because, given time constraints, it cannot provide the level of detailed scrutiny that this House undertakes. This must remain a key function of a reformed House, and I see no reason why an elected House could not carry this out as effectively as the present one.
I conclude by returning to the argument for reform. Once inside the Westminster bubble, it becomes comfortable to argue for the status quo because we can see the benefits of the present system. However, as a fairly recent arrival to your Lordships’ House, I say that the quaintness of the traditions, no matter how well grounded they are in our history, makes us seem part of the problem of politicians being distant from the people. To be placed here through patronage starts to build an invisible wall around us. Title and deference quietly reinforce the construction, and a lack of accountability bangs the door shut.
As a Liberal Democrat, I believe that we must break down those walls. No matter how excellent is your Lordships’ House, I am with Henry Campbell-Bannerman, who in 1905 said:
“Good government could never be a substitute for government by the people themselves”.
Let this report and the draft Bill move forward so that we can, 107 years after that statement, take the firm steps towards accountability and transparency that are the bywords of any good, modern democracy.
My Lords, like many of your Lordships, I find it amazing that the other place could even consider making this House an elected or indeed partially elected Chamber. This would only increase this House’s legitimacy to the point where it would have the right to challenge the power of the other place. I do not know whether reform of this House is, yet again, a piece of red meat thrown to the wolves to distract them or whether this urge by the House of Commons to pursue a course of action which will do it so much harm is the same urge for self-destruction which has led it to surrender so much of its authority to the European Union or is a wish to introduce more democracy into the government of this country.
If it is a wish to improve democracy, then I suggest the other place starts by taking a good look at itself. I shall quote from a distinguished Member of the other place.
“Every bill now has a ‘programme motion’ setting out how much time can be spent scrutinising and debating each part. These are automatic guillotines, and the time allowed for scrutiny is set in advance, before anyone can see whether or not a particular issue is contentious or complex. Watching a Minister in the Commons drawing out one point for an hour to fill the time, to an audience of dozing backbenchers—this is not accountability. How has the mother of all Parliaments turned itself into such a pliant child? If we’re serious about redistributing power from the powerful to the powerless, it’s time to strengthen Parliament so it can properly hold the government to account on behalf of voter. The House of Commons should have more control over its own timetable, so there is time for proper scrutiny and debate”.
Those words were written by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. May I respectfully suggest that parliamentary time would be better spent restoring the ability of the House of Commons to hold the Executive to account than in messing about with this House, a matter for which there is no public desire or interest?
Time is the chief weapon of opposition. For an example of how effectively this weapon can be used, we need only look back to the Parliament (No. 2) Bill in 1969, an occasion when a proposed reform of this House was seen off by talking the Bill out.
As my noble friend Lord Higgins commented earlier, constantly programming Motions and imposing timetables increases the power of the Executive to the point where, in practical terms, the role of the other place is reduced to that of a cipher.
My message to this unelected Government comes from the Bible:
“How canst thou say to thy brother, Brother, let me pull out the mote that is in thine eye, when thou thyself beholdest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother’s eye”.
My Lords, I have not come with a text this evening. I think we owe the noble Lord, Lord Richard, and his crew—if I can put it that way—a great debt of gratitude for clarifying the issues. However, I am rather afraid that the debate tonight has shown that, as a whole, this House is no further forward. Veterans of this debate will know that I am a pretty unreconstructed supporter of the democratisation of this House and of the process of election to it, and I am so for the reasons expounded by my noble friend Lady Morgan just now, although she alarmed me somewhat by reminding me that I am nearly the average age of the House now; earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, and the noble Baroness, Lady Scott; and by colleagues on these Benches.
At the beginning of this debate, the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, who is still in his place, said that not a flicker of consensus was revealed by the Joint Committee report and the alternative report. The debate tonight shows that there is not even an empty matchbox of consensus here. We are where we have been for many years: gridlocked on the options. The majority opinion in this House is obviously against democratisation. Some of it is now being justified on the grounds that we should legislate for function before form, and to some extent I agree. Perhaps slightly strangely, I find myself agreeing with the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, to some extent, although he starts from a different position and comes to a different conclusion.
Almost all the arguments seem to be about the relationship between this House and another place, and the composition of this place, when the real constitutional issue ought to be about the relations between the legislature and the Executive. This gets confused partly because in the media people often talk about the House of Commons when they actually mean the Government. Within the clear roles of legislature and Executive, there needs to be some differentiation between the roles of these two Chambers.
As far as the relationship with the Executive is concerned, I am a strong believer in a strong state—unlike some members of the coalition—but a strong state requires an ability to deliver effective, high-quality legislation, good administration and general good governance. To do that, I am afraid that it needs a stronger legislature to challenge it than we have had in recent years. I have been here under four Prime Ministers and the same applies in all cases.
If we are moving to election for this House, there is a very clear and differentiated role for this House compared with the House of Commons. An elected House of Lords that is engaged in heavy scrutiny and that has a revising role and the general ability to hold the Government to account—through, I hope, more powerful Select Committees—performs a different role from the House of Commons, which provides the Government and decides on the broad structure of policy. Of course, an elected House of Lords would not have power over financial matters. Here I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown; I do not think it would have a veto over a declaration of war, for example. However, it is possible to define what powers this elected House would have, and its role and function, and to differentiate those from the role of the House of Commons.
I think we all agree that, frankly, the Government have their head in the sand if they deny that election of this House will not change the nature of the relationship between this House and another place. It is also a gross exaggeration to say that the primacy of the House of Commons is not compatible with an elected House of Lords. This is not an unbridgeable conflict. A clear and new definition of relations between the Houses, once both are elected, is vital. I accept that it is difficult, but it is hardly impossible. After all, over two-thirds of all other bicameral jurisdictions find a way of doing it, although not all in the same way and not without periodic difficulties, and have done so for many decades and, in some cases, centuries.
I think we are also all agreed that the attempt in Clause 2 to redefine this relationship is completely insufficient and rather pathetic. Relations at present are defined in statute—to a limited extent, in relation to the Parliament Act—in conventions, in understandings, in procedural mysteries via the usual channels, and in various other ways that are pretty much unknown to the general public. Codifying the Cunningham conventions and cross-referring to them in statute is not a solution; nor is it a concordat, which is itself only a codified convention.
We have to define the different roles and functions here in primary legislation. At present the Parliament Acts statutorily define and limit the Lords’ powers, and they need to be explicitly reiterated in this Act or modified to meet the new situation—I agree with my noble and learned friend Lord Morris of Aberavon on that. Even the financial privilege is not reflected in those Acts and by statute. In view of recent events, that would require further definition as well. Removing the inhibition of the House of Lords because of its non-elected status would indeed make us a more assertive Chamber, but only in the areas that the statute would then define as us being responsible for.
The argument against putting all that in the statute book is limited. It seems that if you did so it would be justiciable—in other words, judges could challenge the operation under that part—but that is also true if you cross-refer to conventions and concordats in primary legislation. In any case, we are not in the United States. We would not have a Supreme Court that struck out actions by the Government or that struck out legislation on the grounds that they are unjustifiable. I know that even the present statutory base is challengeable in court; I, after all, had a major role in the Hunting Act, and the use of the Parliament Act in that respect was challenged by several people. Luckily, the judges saw sense in that respect, although others may disagree. Nevertheless, in general the judges would not override the clear will of the House of Commons and the House of Lords. We would also need to set out a clearer pattern of dispute resolution. Again, institutionalising ping-pong is not impossible.
I have other concerns about what is in the Bill and the report. I have concerns about the electoral system and the length and non-renewable nature of the proposed term, as well as concerns about the means of culling—I apologise, I mean the running down of—the current membership of this House. I have opinions about the survival of the Lords spiritual, which I will not go into because they have all disappeared tonight.
My central point, and the central point about how we proceed from here, must be that, as far as the public are concerned, a lot of these esoteric arguments about the role of the House of Lords and the House of Commons are not relevant. From change, the public want to see improvement in government. If they do not, or they are not convinced that the change that we have proposed will bring about improvement in government, we will not get a vote for it in a referendum. Inevitably, whether we want it or not, we will go for a referendum. Whatever we do with this Bill when it emerges after the Queen’s Speech, we must ensure that the final outcome is better governance and that we are not quite so esoteric and inward-looking within this Palace of Westminster.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Whitty has just spoken about what the public expect. The noble Lord, Lord Higgins, spoke about the importance of telling the public what we do. They are both right. Outreach is one way in which your Lordships’ House communicates with the public. I have participated in the outreach schemes since they started several years ago. I have spoken about this House, and taken questions, not only at many schools but also at regional WI conferences, Rotary meetings, business conferences and political meetings. Rarely am I asked about legitimacy and reform, although I am asked about diversity and experience.
However, if there is one threat running through all these meetings, it is that people have high expectations of us. They have such expectations because we are appointed. It is to satisfy those expectations that we need to be very careful about the reform of your Lordships’ House. I am in favour of reform and, eventually, an elected House, if that is what our powers, duties and functions, as my noble friend Lord Whitty spoke about, require. But I also agree with my noble friend Lady Royall. I am in favour of taking the steps when they have been properly thought through. It is then that we will satisfy the high expectations that the public have of us.
Sadly, the draft Bill presented to your Lordships and considered by the Richard committee does not satisfy these expectations. It speaks of objectives but rarely speaks on how to achieve them. The call for evidence listed in appendix 2 of the Richard report is, in effect, a list of these shortcomings and, quite rightly, the committee is asking people to help them to do the Government’s thinking for them. Both reports point to many inadequacies, about which noble Lords have spoken. In particular, they have spoken about the primacy of the House of Commons in Clause 2. As regards appendix 7, in the supplementary written evidence on Clause 2 from Mr Mark Harper, he agrees that the Government have not thought matters through and asks the committee to do it for them.
The Richard report and the alternative report point to many other areas where the objectives have not been properly thought through: the relationship with the other United Kingdom assemblies; necessary changes in the House of Commons; the honours system, separate from membership of the House; differences over numbers; conflicts in the constituencies; and the accountability of elected Members. Many noble Lords have added to this list and, as a result, the suspicion must be that it is political expediency which is driving this reform, not wisdom—a suspicion that both reports attempt to rectify, but something which the public do not expect from this House.
I am in favour of reform but, because of the difficulties we are debating, I am in favour of dealing with it incrementally through a series of small steps. They should be steps which have been properly thought through, such as the proposals from the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, about reducing numbers, and from the noble Lord, Lord Steel, on discipline and reforms to our procedures. When these small steps have been taken satisfactorily and the other matters properly thought through, that is the time for a referendum. Of course there should be a referendum on such a major constitutional change, but only when the smaller steps have been taken and shown to work, and when the other more major changes have been properly considered and decided. Otherwise, a referendum will be a fiasco because it would be seen as a way of covering up for inadequate thought and preparation.
I join my noble friend Lord Lipsey and other noble Lords in their concern about costs. We all know that making changes without a budget ensures not only that costs will rocket, but that the intended changes will suffer. Yet the costs are not spelt out—and this from an austerity Government. The alternative report tries to deal with it. An analysis on the fullfact.org website raises a number of serious queries, and using the Freedom of Information Act it is trying to get the Government’s costings. I look forward to the Government providing the House with a proper budget by which we can hold them to account so that we can judge the value and appropriateness of the expenditure.
I add my thanks to those given to my noble friend Lord Richard and his committee for the report, and to those who have written the alternative report. Both are valuable contributions. However, neither really settles the old arguments about our duties and whether election equals the legitimacy to carry them out. A recent Hansard Society report tells us that the public have become less engaged in politics and more suspicious of politicians, which is hardly the right climate in which to devote our attention to an elected House. So let us take the small steps, think through the big steps and explore whether there is a consensus. We will then carry the public with us because, after all, we are here to serve them.
My Lords, it is an honour to follow the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, and his considered words. I am very much of his view that we should seek more incremental change. He reminds me of an occasion when I sat next to a colleague of his over tea one afternoon. She told me that my father had visited her primary school many years ago, and how important an experience it was to have a Member of the House of Lords come to her school, take an interest in what the children were doing, and talk about the Lords. One of my concerns is that with the publication of a Bill of this kind, we may be forced to look inwards and so do less of that kind of outreach work. Indeed, I have the honour to be a co-chair of an inquiry into the issue of children who run away from local authority care. We have heard from some good witnesses. However, unfortunately I was not able to attend a meeting today because I felt that I had to take part in this debate. Noble Lords have only so much time. I share the concern expressed by others about the current austerity.
I thank, as many others have done, the members of the Joint Committee and its chair, and particularly my noble friends Lord Hennessy and the noble Baroness, Lady Young, for their work on the report. I am grateful also to the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, and her colleagues for their alternative report.
As many Peers have said, we are in a time of extreme austerity. We are hearing of ever more of our citizens having to depend on food packages. We hear that further significant cuts in welfare payments are possible. It is a difficult time. We know that we need more growth in the economy if people are going to find employment, yet we also need to secure the confidence of the investment markets to avoid having to pay higher interest rates. Those are huge challenges for us. Is this the right time to take on this huge challenge in this House and to devote so much of our time and energy to this area?
I shall concentrate on the powers of your Lordships and the primacy of the other place. Two things in particular come to my mind. The first is the example of bickering parents—parents who are so busy getting at each other, trying to assert their own will against another person, that they neglect their children or allow the strongest child to bully the other ones. I am also reminded of an old story about an old king who decides to divide his power among his three daughters, which seems to him a very good idea at the time. However, he comes to realise that he has given up something which leads to great pain for him and his family and great conflict within the nation that he runs. A comment is made upon him: he only ever slenderly knew himself. The suggestion of the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, and others of a conventional assembly to dig down further into these issues is important, because I would hate us to enter into something which might undermine our ability to make the changes that we are in a good position to make to the benefit of our nation.
My father took his seat in this House back in the 1930s, during the time of the depression. He was immensely privileged, being an Etonian and Cambridge and Oxford-educated. He wanted to use those privileges to help people without those sorts of leads, much in defiance of his family. I share with him the thought that we are extremely privileged, particularly in this place, and we can make a huge difference to the most vulnerable in society. However, if we lock ourselves into constant conflict with the other place, we are in danger of losing that capacity. Let us think about children’s homes. In the evidence to the inquiry in which I am involved on children who run away from care, we hear from the police a familiar story: that there are a few poorly run children’s homes from which children run away again and again. I am afraid that there are possibly gangs of men who are looking at those homes and thinking about what they can do with some of those children. This is such an old story; it needs to be sorted out. I know that the Government are thinking about instituting an inquiry into such children’s homes and trying to do some good work in that area, but if we become so engrossed in this discussion about what we do and who we are, we are less likely to be able to give time to such work. This Government and the previous Government have done a huge amount of good work in improving the status of social work, which has involved many different measures. To pursue programmes of that kind is challenging when we may be involved in such self-obsessed expenditure of energy.
Let us think of the benefit to lobbyists of seeing two Houses that are about equally strong. I have in mind tobacco lobbyists, who have been so effective when they have wished to oppose tobacco legislation going through this House on a number of occasions. They had deep pockets. A former Secretary of State had been on the board of directors of British American Tobacco, for instance. They used all sorts of means to lobby very effectively. If the upper House is as strong as the lower House, we give them a second bite at the cherry in which they can frustrate such legislation as putting plain packaging on cigarettes or preventing children seeing cigarettes in newsagents.
I think also of examples in the United States. President Carter won a mandate from the public to pass laws to restrict energy consumption at the time of the oil crisis, but that was frustrated. There were so many checks and balances to which that legislation was subjected that he could not make it work and he could not win his way. Again, President Clinton’s health reforms were frustrated even though he had a mandate from the public.
I encourage noble Lords to look at the oral evidence from Dr Meg Russell to which the noble Lord, Lord Steel, referred. There are some important points there. In particular, she notes that nobody expected the authority of this House to be as strong as it is now, following the removal of the hereditary Peers. We are a far more assertive House than anyone expected, according to her. We need to think very carefully how much more assertive we might be if we were an elected House and not simply an appointed House as we are today.
My Lords, we have in front of us today two very fine reports. They are both very well written, which makes them easy to read and understand. However, I have one secret wish: I hope that perhaps they will be the last reports on this subject for a decade or two.
The more closely one looks at these coalition proposals for House of Lords reform, the more they seem to resemble the eurozone. First, the design of both contains the seeds of their own destruction. Secondly, they both look as if they may result in the humiliation, or worse, of their architects. Thirdly, the most enthusiastic supporters of both have been among the Liberal Democrats.
I focus on only two of those seeds of destruction. The first is the use of the guillotine as a parliamentary instrument, which has already been referred to by others. In my years as a parliamentary lobby correspondent, the use of the guillotine was a media story. It was usually a story of political conflict and the inability of the Government of the day to resolve important legislation and disputes by debate. The guillotine was an instrument of last resort. It was not there to prevent or inhibit parliamentary debate but to limit and contain the use of parliamentary obstruction.
I am afraid that it was Mr Blair, for whom I have much respect, who introduced the guillotine as routine for virtually all legislation. It was not long before the effects on this House became obvious. An avalanche of ill-digested legislation, much of which had been subjected to little or no scrutiny, descended upon us. Of course, the production rate of the House of Commons was hugely increased, but the quality of the output fell.
I had assumed that the lesson had been learnt and that a new Government would scrap the routine timetabling of Bills. To my disappointment, and not to his credit, Mr Cameron has perpetuated this bad practice. Far from improving the presentation and quality of the legislation, it has got even worse. Our efforts have been even more needed to knock it into shape. How long would it be before an elected senate was subjected to a guillotine? It would then be another stepping stone towards the elective dictatorship that the great Lord Hailsham warned us against. We will watch with fascination to see whether the House of Commons allows the Government to timetable this Bill if it is introduced.
The second seed of self-destruction is the anti-elitist argument so widely used by advocates of the replacement of the House with an elected senate. Provided that elites derive from open opportunity, ability, achievement and merit, they are an essential ingredient for all organisations, including Parliament. If there were a criticism, it is perhaps that we are not sufficiently elite. In my view, the anti-elitist culture of recent decades has done much to erode the quality of our Civil Service. To insist that it is more important for Civil Service recruitment to reflect the diversity of Britain rather than be drawn from the ablest of Britain is counterproductive to what it is there for. The superb quality of the 20th century British Civil Service stemmed from the 1855 Northcote-Trevelyan reforms which substituted competitive examination for patronage.
I doubt whether France, with its politicians, would have survived as well had it not been for the unashamed elitism introduced by de Gaulle through ENA. I remember that years ago, in order to write about ENA, I went to interview its director, Monsieur Pierre Racine. He was remarkable man. I said finally to him, “How is it that you get such marvellous people all wanting to come to ENA?”. His answer was, “Well, because they end up running France et ça c’est amusant”.
One problem is that MPs are so inadequately remunerated. In my view, they should get a salary of about £100,000—about what a GP gets. They should be freed from the arrogant and insulting invigilation of IPSA. IPSA behaves incredibly badly and will quite soon have a serious effect on people wanting to be subjected to that sort of treatment. To invite people to give up 15 years of their lives for £50,000 a year, and subject to IPSA, is hardly going to entice the ablest young people to divert from other careers or enterprises to service in the new second Chamber. Nor are many of those approaching, or who have reached, the pinnacle of their careers likely to be tempted to stand for most of the remainder of their lives as virtually full-time Members of an elected House. I say “virtually full-time” because, even with 450 members, 90 appointed places would not provide anything like the depth or width of expertise and experience which the present House provides.
This really is a potential disaster. In the history of doomed enterprises, it brings to mind the advances of Napoleon and Hitler on Moscow, and the recent repeated attempts to subdue Afghanistan. Fortunately, even if there is reference to the Government’s draft Bill in the Queen’s Speech, it will not be too late to pull the plug on this ill-conceived and rather sordid coalition deal, and perhaps revert to the sort of package of reform referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy. Of course the House of Lords is anachronistic, as is much of our constitution, but it is none the worse for that. I was very surprised when my noble friend Lord Ashdown kept telling us about the strange collection of countries—Belarus and other places like that—that we should emulate. I would suggest that they have not quite got to where we have. Our constitution has evolved over at least 1,000 years since the days of the Witan—that body of notables which advised the Anglo-Saxon kings. What an honour it is to be a Member of a descendant of such a body. I believe that, far from being undemocratic, the present House of Lords underpins our democracy, which is and I hope always will be in the House of Commons.
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow my friend the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, but I shall take a different line. Like my noble friend Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, I am a member of the Campaign for a Democratic Upper House, and I very much follow his analysis.
I mainly want to record my support for the Joint Committee’s endorsement of a democratic second Chamber, with an electoral mandate and commensurate powers, so ably navigated by my noble friend Lord Richard, and a lingering degree of surprise that the principle should still be so contentious. I have quite often found myself advocating causes not shared by others, but I would never have dreamed that the election of even part of one Chamber of a modern democratic state legislature might become one. I think that future centuries will look back at proposals to cling to an entirely appointed Chamber as an extraordinary aberration. Opinion polls confirm this. Some may even find it a betrayal of all those who fought in the struggles for emancipation over our history.
It is also the case that I quite often do not agree with the Government, so I am also surprised to find that to a degree I may, with reservations, somewhat agree with them over the Bill. But then, I am not sure that the Government agree with the Government, so I await with interest the Minister’s reply. Of course, constitutional change needs fundamental thought; the preservation of the primacy of the House of Commons needs to be worked out with great care. But evidence to the Joint Committee has laid out sensible and authoritative ways to do that. There is also the idea of a binding oath suggested by my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours. The nature of the mandate also needs thought, but the report provides a good starting point, and I do not doubt that our native capacity for innovative and practical constitutional thinking will be equal to this task. But the timidity evinced by some at the prospect of reform will need reassurance at various levels.
I would like to say a word about the alternative report. I find it slightly misleading. On primacy, for example, the alternative report says that it cannot be maintained with an elected Chamber. A majority of the committee felt that the remaining pillars on which Commons primacy rested would be sufficient to ensure its continuation. None the less, it is agreed that a means should be established to define and agree the conventions governing the relationship between the two Houses by means of the adoption of a concordat. The alternative report calls for the same outcome in the light of the Cunningham committee as the Joint Committee proposes, but it simply ignores the principal mechanism recommended for securing agreement. It therefore adds nothing to the committee’s recommendations while ignoring the solution that it proposes.
On costs, the Joint Committee rejected salaries for transitional Peers and for office and staffing costs for personal case work. The effect of that is to remove £264 million from salaries for the transitional Peers and considerably cut down the £186 million estimate for office costs. So it is not quite as it seems in the alternative report.
Finally, the alternative report claims that the Joint Committee gave no material consideration to alternative means of dispute resolution—clearly, a very important point. The Bill does not give any material consideration to that but the report does, in paragraphs 369 and 370.
There is just one other aspect which the Joint Committee might have looked at. It is a second-order question, but I am concerned that the term Senate will have different associations from what the committee recommends. Could we not have a term of our own, such as a state council? I thank the Joint Committee and I hope that, when we come to the Bill, we can move forward on its conclusions.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Richard, on his labour of love in chairing this demanding committee. I also thank my colleagues, my noble friends Lady Scott of Needham Market and Lord Tyler, who were members of the committee and worked long and hard. It is a very useful report as far as it goes, but that is not very far. We might have anticipated this, given the purpose and terms of reference of the committee, and its membership. In the introduction to the report, we are reminded of the principal milestones in the long march since the 1998 White Paper and my noble friend Lord Wakeham’s royal commission. The 15 divisions tell the story of substantial failure. Instead of a consensus on a matter of the highest constitutional significance, the committee was often seriously divided.
Since the royal commission, opinion has, however, moved on the primacy of the House of Commons. At least, my own perception of it has. What is much clearer now, given the report and today’s debate, is the inescapable challenge of an elected or partially elected House of Lords to the Commons. I share what other speakers have said on the importance of paragraph 34 of the report, which states:
“The Committee is firmly of the opinion that a wholly or largely elected reformed House will seek to use its powers more assertively”.
It adds, in paragraph 35, that:
“The Committee considers that a more assertive House would not enhance Parliament’s overall role in relation to the activities of the executive”,
and, in paragraph 55, that:
“We concur with the overwhelming view expressed … in oral and written evidence that Clause 2”—
the crucial clause—
“of the draft Bill is not capable in itself of preserving the primacy of the House of Commons”.
I also note that David Howarth, my Liberal Democrat former colleague in the Commons and now a reader of law in Cambridge, said in evidence on Clause 2 that it “is just silly”.
In a previous debate on 22 June, I said that the House of Lords and the House of Commons were,
“joined together in a single Parliament. The balance of powers … works very well despite some rough edges. After scrutiny, debate and negotiation in Committee, including … ping-pong, the elected House of Commons … wins, and so it should be”.—[Official Report, 22/6/11; col. 1267.]
Despite the report and the valuable evidence, and what we have heard in today’s debate, I remain firmly opposed to a wholly or partially elected House. That was my view when I joined this House 20 years ago, and since then it has been broadly the same. Perhaps I may say again, especially to my colleagues on these Benches, that 13 years ago I wanted to end then the hereditary principle in the House—quite a different matter from election, but a major reform. Alas, my then leader in the Commons, my noble friend Lord Ashdown, did not see it that way.
At no time have I justified the status quo. Given a non-elected House, I could be happily persuaded by a number of important further changes, given a relaxed open choice in details across the parties. I would be content to have 400, 450 or 500 parliamentary Peers. They could serve for 15 or 20 years and retire at 75 or 80. As for the Lords spiritual, having read 24 paragraphs and seven recommendations in the report, I could support 12 Bishops, only two—such as the two we have seen here today—or none at all. I would not be upset if those who remained in the second House became Senators. For me, these are all tolerable options.
What should happen as 22 or more men and women sit around the Cabinet table and try to agree the final draft of the Bill to reform the Lords? Perhaps they should push the Bill through both Houses, through thick and thin, in a clean sweep. Perhaps they will be attracted by the alternative way forward, which was drafted as a minority report, of setting up another committee to examine the conventions between the two Houses. Perhaps they should split the Bill, proposing important changes but stopping short of an elected House, with a further legislative stage some time ahead in the next Parliament or beyond, as I would prefer. Above all, as Cabinet Ministers sit there, they should have at their elbow that enjoyable autobiography of Rab Butler, The Art of the Possible. The coalition, which I strongly support, is passing through hard times, as are my Liberal Democrat friends. It should remember that politics is the art of the possible and think of priorities for the nation and the voters in these difficult economic and social years.
My Lords, we are told that all three manifestos claimed that the reform of the Lords was a priority. However, no one voted for the coalition. Were you a voter, which none of us is, you could not have found a party that thought differently. Then I ask myself, “What did we in the Conservative Party say in our manifesto?”. I had a quick look at it and I see that we committed ourselves to,
“work to build a consensus for a mainly-elected second chamber”.
I congratulate my noble friend the Leader on the Front Bench. He has worked tirelessly to find such a consensus. When challenged this afternoon, he tried to define a consensus—not very convincingly, I have to say. The fact is that there is no consensus, but we can give him 10 out of 10 for hard work, and he has met the manifesto commitment.
When I look at the team promoting the Bill, I note the depth of experience of the leading voice and the Minister of State. Both have served for seven years in the House of Commons. One of them has never done anything outside other than politics; the other had a career in the world of finance. However, I do not think that the commitment of two colleagues from the other place with 14 years’ experience—experience that was never without guillotines, incidentally—is something in which to have much faith in terms of leadership.
Perhaps I am being too party political, but it seems that the hidden agenda behind part of the drive, particularly, dare I say it, from our Liberal Democrat colleagues in the coalition, is to have proportional representation to ensure that there is a lock on what this House does from the Liberal Benches. Frankly, I do not want that to happen. The country voiced its view in the referendum on the alternative vote. It was not at all in favour of it, by a majority of more than two to one, so we already broadly know what the public’s view of the electoral system that is being considered for the Bill is.
I looked at the report in some depth. I will not repeat the passages from which my noble friend Lord Rodgers quoted, but I will pick on just two paragraphs. Paragraph 40 is the original statement of the primacy of the Commons. As it states, that goes back to the resolutions of 1671 and 1678 that:
“all aids and supplies, and aids to his Majesty in Parliament, are the sole gift of the Commons; and … ought not to be changed or altered by the House of Lords”.
After all, in case we forget, that was what the civil war was about. That was the whole purpose of Parliament’s rebellion against the king. Dare I mention that Parliament reigned supreme at the battle of Naseby? That was the catalyst for democracy. That is the fundamental reason why the Commons has supremacy. Why did the Commons decide to have a Chairman of Ways and Means? It did so simply because it did not trust the Speaker to deal with financial matters. That role has continued—I had the privilege of being the 58th holder of that office—and should and must continue. A Member of the Commons should continue to exercise that control over money matters.
The other paragraph that I think is of great importance is paragraph 45, which concerns Clause 2. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, referred to that this afternoon. It is pretty damning that the Government wanted this Joint Committee and set it up, but the committee records that:
“The Minister declined to share the Government’s Drafting Instructions for Clause 2 with the Joint Committee, on the grounds that such Instructions were subject to legal professional privilege”.
Frankly, that is amazing. I had the privilege of chairing the body that took the Maastricht treaty through the other place. The process took 25 days and there was no guillotine on that Bill. It became law in the end, although it was duly amended. I have searched through my notes on that procedure and there was no problem then with the so-called legal professional privilege. Therefore, I wonder why legal professional privilege has suddenly appeared as an excuse for not providing data to the important Joint Committee.
As several Members have said, we are in the depths of probably the worst recession that we have ever experienced. There is turmoil in the Middle East, threats from Iran, North Korea, Argentina and al-Qaeda and the very real danger of the euro collapsing. Frankly, the coalition lacks confidence at the moment and certainly the public have no confidence in our Government. Yet the priority, apparently, has to be the reform of your Lordships’ House. You only have to open any paper of any sort to pick up the public’s feeling on this issue. A headline in the Times states:
“Kick this shambolic reform into the jungle”.
Another headline in the Sunday Telegraph states:
“The House of Lords is working fine—don’t fix it”.
A letter to the Evening Standard has the headline, “Keep Lords unelected”. Another letter to the Evening Standard has the headline:
“Should we have to elect Lords?”.
The “Letters to the Editor” section of the Telegraph bears the headline:
“A reformed House of Lords would gobble up power and pick a fight with constituency MPs”.
We do not want that, do we? At least, I certainly do not want it. Frankly, this Bill is a real test of the leadership of the Commons and, by definition, of the Prime Minister. He and his colleagues must decide where their priorities lie.
Furthermore, the Bill must not be guillotined or subjected to any timetable Motion. I hope that the Commons will ensure that we go back to the old system that a constitutional Bill is held on the Floor of the House and that every single Member of Parliament who wishes to do so can take part. I say to my former colleagues in the other place that they need to think long and hard about safeguarding the primacy of the Commons against the very real threat that would come from elected Peers. I am afraid that it will also be a test of the leader of the Opposition, Mr Miliband. If he is a leader, he will act in the national interest and vote down the Second Reading and get on with rebuilding his party and providing good alternative government leadership. However, if the Bill should get a Second Reading in the other place, I would see it as my duty to try to defeat it. If necessary, I will support a referendum.
The Leader asked this afternoon: what on earth could the referendum question be? Just as a suggestion, it might be: “Is it a priority for you”—by implication the elector—“that the House of Lords becomes mainly elected at a cost of at least £200 million a year?”.
My Lords, that seems to be an excellent question. I open by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Richard, and everyone on his committee for a thorough report. It was narrow in its remit, but it therefore focused on the issue. The committee did as good a job as anyone could in such a short space of time.
It would also be churlish not to acknowledge the part played by the Government in this. I genuinely congratulate the coalition Government on bringing a draft Bill before the House. I recall an exchange between the noble Lord, Lord McNally, and, I think, my noble friend Lord Grocott, on this side. The noble Lord taunted my noble friend with the fact that Labour had failed to bring forward a Bill, and that the coalition Government were going to do so. He was as good as his word. They have done that, and it was a courageous decision to do so. I mean that sincerely, but also in the sense in which Sir Humphrey means “courageous” when addressing Ministers in “Yes Minister”, because the fact is, when you look at the Bill, you can understand Jack Straw’s reluctance to bring one forward. It is a shambles of a Bill. One cannot think that the Government will proceed with it. After all, they set up a Joint Committee of both Houses to look at the Bill, and it has shot it to pieces—at least on its principal conclusions. It would therefore be wholly inappropriate simply to ignore the findings of the Joint Committee and proceed with the Bill.
The problem is that it is very easy to have one White Paper after another, one consultation after another, cabals of Front Benchers, and everyone thinks elections are a great idea. “Elections” is a banner that is easy to march behind, but when you get to the destination and someone delivers a speech on the draft Bill, you find that that support disaggregates at an alarming rate. Take the first decision: in an effort to try and avoid competition with MPs if people were to be elected to this place for five years, the proposal is, “Right; make it one term only for 15 years”. You immediately destroy any accountability whatever. One of the points that the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, was crying for was that this place must be made accountable. A term of 15 years would not make us one whit more accountable than we were previously.
The great problem is that that will not achieve even the purpose of preserving the primacy of MPs, simply because of the democratic dynamic. If I were to stand for this new House, how would I differentiate myself from the other candidates to secure election. What will my manifesto contain? What am I going to promise to do? If I promised to do anything, then forget seeking re-election, I would want—even to preserve my reputation—to achieve what I had promised to do. If I needed powers to do so, I would horse-trade my way to get them. You cannot have an election without people demanding more powers to fulfil the promises they make to the electorate. You cannot square the circle, as the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, put it earlier.
I think that one of the reasons why the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, found his colleagues in the House of Commons getting rather alarmed about this Bill was precisely the finding of the Joint Committee that Clause 2 was wholly inadequate in protecting the primacy of the House of Commons. That is not going to do much for MPs in the House who, in the case of Scottish MPs, already feel threatened by the devolved powers that MSPs have, and possibly the total loss of their raison d’être if Scotland goes fully independent. It will not allay the fears of MPs who, facing perhaps prominent elected mayors, can see their own importance as city MPs dwindling slightly. No wonder that there are alarm bells in the House of Commons.
Do not mistake me; there is a good case for an elected House of Lords. It is just that it will not be an elected House that is anything like the present one in its relationship with the House of Commons. There is nothing that would stop it being at least equal—if it is elected by a different system, possibly superior—to the House of Commons
As somebody who is against election, I fear the results of a referendum. I think that a lot of the public, for an entirely wrong reason, will say, “We want a House of Lords that is more powerful than the House of Commons. We will vote for an elected House of Lords”. That is very unfair to MPs, because what is wrong with House of Commons is not the individual MPs but the system. It starts with their election. Are people elected to control the Executive or to become part of them? With a payroll vote of more than 100, no wonder there is no scrutiny of legislation. At least another 100 want to be part of the payroll vote, so they are bought off as well. Nothing is properly scrutinised in the Commons.
Somebody mentioned costs. I do not want to go into great detail on costs but just to add a few points. Whatever the figures are, they will be 50 per cent more if the recommendation of the Joint Committee is accepted by the Government, as I think it should be. One presumes that the Government have done some costings—if they have not, they are guilty, because they should have done—so they are not telling us, possibly because they are scared. In my view, the costs have just gone up by 50 per cent.
There is the inequity point, which my noble friend Lord Lipsey mentioned. Transitional Peers will still get an allowance while the newly elected Peers will receive a salary. The comparison is worse than the one he suggested. Apart from the fact that the transitional Peer will get an allowance only on the days on which he attends, the elected Peer will receive a salary for 15 years whether or not he turns up. If somebody says to me, “Ah, but if he doesn’t turn up, we will recall him”, that is fine, but please put that in the Bill. Watch how many MPs love the idea of being recalled by constituencies every now and again.
There is a further point which your Lordships will forgive me if I make as a Scot. Will an elected Peer receive an allowance to cover the cost of living in London, as I understand that the Joint Committee recommends? That is a novel idea that would certainly appeal to those of us who come from Scotland and who bear the cost from our own pocket at the moment. Will that disparity remain?
There are two more important points about cost. First, the electorate will think, “Hold on. This House of Lords used to get an allowance. Now we are making them salaried they must be more important than they were or doing different things”. The House of Lords will appear to the electorate to be more important than it was. That might be a welcome thing, but I am not sure that the House of Commons would welcome it.
I invite my noble friend Lord Richard to reflect on a further point—this apparently clever idea that we will not give allowances for doing constituency work. You cannot stop an elected Peer doing constituency work. All it means is that the rich Senator will be able to do it and the poor Senator will not—hardly a great democratic option.
Generally, I think that this is close to a Eureka moment. We cannot square the circle of election and subservience to the House of Commons. I do not think that we will see a Bill in anything like its current form before us. That is because I hope that the Government, who presumably set up the Joint Committee to listen to its findings, will genuinely take account of what they hear and realise that they should ditch the fundamental points of the Bill and instead proceed with some meaningful reforms which are in it and are adumbrated in the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, and the evidence submitted by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman.
That is what I hope will happen. If it does not, I do not think that the Bill will get through the House of Commons. People do not remember that a majority of Labour MPs, even in 2007, at the height of the “cash for peerages” scandal, voted against 80 per cent election. A bigger majority of Conservative MPs voted against, despite the fact that it was in the Conservative manifesto. Since then, what have they seen? They have seen the growth of power elsewhere. One can only presume that the Government gave Clause 2 their best shot but they have also seen a Joint Committee of both Houses say that the protection is meaningless, despite any assurances that may be given, and I am sure that the Whips will say, “Oh, we’ll fix it; don’t worry”. Incidentally, I really did not like the idea put forward by my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours of dealing with the issue of primacy in the oath. Why not put a provision to support the Government in the oath and then we could really get to a police state rather more quickly? Anyway, I do not see Peers going for it. The position has become slightly rockier since 2007 for various reasons, and I think that the House of Commons will defeat the Bill.
I do not want this matter kicked into the long grass. I want somebody to get out a lawnmower, clear a plot of ground and give the idea of an elected second Chamber a decent burial.
My Lords, I do not think that I can add much to that, so I shall go off in a different direction. I think that we are now galloping towards the Becher’s Brook of constitutional reform, and matters are, unsurprisingly, pretty confused. Perhaps this is inevitable. The confusion and discomfort arise because many noble Lords and many others want an elected House of Lords because it will have greater legitimacy. However, they do not want it to have too much legitimacy because that might challenge the primacy of the Commons. This ambivalence, to which there is no very easy solution—perhaps no solution—has been with us for a century, and it is manifest in the fact that we have not one but two illuminating reports on the draft Bill, with a near even split of members of the scrutiny committee supporting each.
Of course, we are not alone in this confusion; I fear that the public are with us. I have often asked members of the public whether they would prefer an elected House of Lords. Typically—although a good deal less often recently—the answer has been, “Yes, it would be more democratic”. I then ask, “So more like the House of Commons?”, to which I get the answer, “Oh, no. Not like that!”.
A point that I do not think has received sufficient attention in the discussion of reform of your Lordships’ House is that, as party-political loyalties and affiliations have waned in the country, people have increasing ambivalence about the parliamentary results of democracy. I think we need to pay much more attention to the reality that the public may want more democracy in the abstract but they do not want more party politics—certainly not as they see it on television.
From that perspective, the fact that this House actually discusses legislation, with some courtesy and some care for the most part, is pretty important. Scrutiny is, after all, about reasoning, challenging, listening and keeping an open mind, and, whatever else we do, we need to make sure that a future House is genuinely designed to continue and to carry these tasks. However, the draft Bill concentrates on the process by which people arrive as Members of your Lordships’ House but not on the powers and functions for which they are responsible when they get here. It deals with the abstract question of the process of arrival but says little about how changing that process is likely to alter the membership.
It is less than clear that there would be as wide a range of experience and expertise on the party-political Benches of an elected House. Campaigning for election places great strains on any career, and I expect that a number of distinguished noble Lords on the political Benches might not have taken the electoral route to your Lordships’ House if it had been available. At this moment, I catch the eye of the noble Lord, Lord Winston. I think that he might be one of them, together with many other distinguished medical colleagues. If we come to debate the Bill, we must therefore try to gauge whether future elected Members will in fact still be eager to engage in scrutiny in the way that the process of this House demands, assuming that its role is unchanged.
It may be said that the draft Bill takes account of these demands in considering the retention of a proportion of appointed but non-party-political Peers, selected, it is often said, for their expertise—in effect, supposedly successors to the independent Cross-Bench Peers. No doubt like other noble Lords, current Cross Benchers bring such experience and expertise as we can muster to the task. However, our role depends fundamentally on something different—not on experience and expertise but on the fact that we are unwhipped. There is plenty of experience and expertise on the party-political Benches but they are in a different position because they are whipped, and although they do not always vote the party line, that is nevertheless the default position. While there are sufficient numbers of unwhipped Members Governments obviously have to attend to the reality that they might lose an amendment. They have genuinely to engage and to think, and scrutiny then is possible.
So I think that the unwhipped Members will remain important, if there are any. However, it will be said, “The problem is that they will not be elected”. Again, that is not obvious to me. It is not obvious to me that it is impossible to have independents who are elected. Would it not be possible—it is not considered by either report from the scrutiny committee, but I think that it has some parallels perhaps with suggestions made earlier today by the noble Lord, Lord Low of Dalston—for a statutory independent commission, and I do not say Appointments Commission for a reason, to nominate a list of potential independent Peers which was then presented to the electorate? Of course such Peers would not be elected for constituencies; and their election would be on a closed list basis, which the scrutiny committee—rightly, I think—rejected as a basis for constituency elections.
Election of independents would, however, have to meet two conditions. Those nominated would—this is the easy condition—have to be demonstrably free of party-political connections, and have been free for a considerable period, using the criteria currently used to distinguish independent Cross-Bench Peers—as noble Lords know, not all who sit on the Cross Benches are independent Cross-Bench Peers—or perhaps stronger versions of those criteria. Secondly, it would have to be open to the public to cast a vote for any political candidates who were candidates in their constituencies or for the independent list. The electorate would have to have a choice. This would have the effect that the proportion of independents elected could vary, and it would have the effect that the House could be wholly elected.
I hope that those noble Lords who are keen on an all-elected House might take up this thought, and that they will not let themselves be deterred by fears that the party-political proportion of the membership of the House might fall below 80 per cent if the electorate were so minded. That would surely be the proper test of commitment to democracy, rather than to party politicisation. A test of this proposition: would those noble Lords who are campaigning for a wholly elected second Chamber balk if it does not guarantee a party-politicised Chamber?
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Northbrook, for allowing me to intervene before he starts his speech. Noble Lords may find it helpful if I remind the House of the guidance time of seven minutes. If all noble Lords were able to stick to that time, we should be able to conclude the speakers list well before 1 o’clock this morning.
My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to discuss the report of the Joint Committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Richard, on the draft House of Lords Reform Bill. I will also examine the alternative report, produced by 12 out of the 26 members of the committee, which I particularly welcome. I noted the very important comment from the noble Lord, Lord Richard, earlier, that he and his committee were not starting with a clean sheet of paper. The draft Bill had to be the starting point. He also carefully emphasised that certain paragraphs were only passed by a majority, which in some cases was very small. Even the proposal for an elected House was passed by only 13 votes to nine.
I am not in favour of an elected House, unlike the majority on the committee. An elected House would undoubtedly want more powers than the current House. I agree with paragraph 4 of the report’s conclusion that this would not benefit Parliament’s overall role. There would be more scope for gridlock in legislation. An elected House would want more powers, for instance with regard to financial matters, and this should be borne in mind by the other place. Financial privilege, too, would be a much more contentious matter. I support the alternative report’s very sensible conclusion that if there is an elected House, as per the Cunningham report, the conventions between the two Houses would have to be examined again.
I move on to the subject of the primacy of the House of Commons. The inclusion of conventions in Clause 2 of the draft Bill could mean the courts deciding what these were. The committee, as many noble Lords said, also stated that Clause 2 of the draft Bill alone was not capable of preserving the primacy of the House of Commons. I agree with the committee’s view.
The size of the House was the next topic brought up by the committee. Its proposal of 450 Members was more sensible than the draft Bill’s number of 300, but I would rather see it achieved by the elapsing of time than by this radical reform. The idea that appointed Members should not have to attend as often as elected Members seems wrong.
The electoral system recommended is a form of proportional representation. It allows voters to cast a simple party vote or express preferences among individual candidates across parties as well as within them. The report prefers the version of STV used in New South Wales to the one in the Bill. As I understand it, that means compulsory voting. STV is also complicated. In addition, as the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, explained so well, the 500,000 size per constituency is ridiculous. Non-renewable terms of 15 years are proposed by the report, but how will MPs feel when they face an elected parliamentarian with a 15-year term rather than their own five-year one? Not very happy, I imagine.
I move on to the paragraphs on the Appointments Commission. I cannot understand why the commission has been so long in coming, given that we first encountered it in the House of Lords Bill 1999. However, I have two criticisms of the report. First, in paragraph 248 there is not enough detail of the areas of expertise needed: in particular, of areas such as manufacturing, finance and other professions. Secondly, it appears bizarre that paragraph 257 of the report states that appointed Peers should serve for an initial period of only five years, although with the ability to be reappointed up to the maximum limit of the elected term. Why should we not have the confidence to give them a full 15 years?
On the role of the bishops, I agree with paragraph 62 of the conclusion to the report that there should be no reserved places for bishops in an elected House. I also agree that their numbers should be cut to 12. I concur with paragraph 65, which states that the Appointments Commission should consider faith as part of the diversity criteria that it has recommended. The disqualification criteria in the report give different rules for appointed and elected Peers. It seems strange to treat Members of the same House in different ways.
I move on to the Parliament Act section in paragraphs 83 and 84 of the conclusion. It is very interesting that the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, believe that a court might rule that the Parliament Acts did not apply once the House of Lords was reformed. This would be a serious change to the balance of power between the two Houses. I agree with paragraph 368 of the main report, which states:
“In spite of the Government’s confidence, distinguished lawyers have some doubts as to whether the Parliament Acts would continue to be effective once the second chamber was elected or largely elected”.
The last main issue of the report that I will cover is paragraph 385, in which the majority of the committee agreed that the Government should submit the decision to a referendum. I was very supportive of this happening in the case of the House of Lords Act 1999—although the amendment did not succeed—and I support it now.
The alternative report has an extremely sensible conclusion not covered in the main report. It is that the Government should establish a new constitutional convention to consider the next steps on further reform of the House of Lords and any consequential impact on the House of Commons and on Parliament as a whole. While the draft Bill is faulty, the Steel Bill, as amended, could be brought to the statute book.
Overall, I am not in favour of an elected House of Lords. The noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, has produced some very interesting figures on the extra costs of a reformed House, and we have to rely on them because the coalition has refused to produce its own figures, which is a disgrace. On page 61 of the alternative report we can see an estimate of the total extra cost in year 1 of £177 million, and from 2015-2020 of no less than £433 million. Can the Minister break new ground and give the coalition’s estimate? Is this a wise use of taxpayer’s money at this very difficult time? Indeed, is this a wise piece of legislation when there are so many more important issues affecting people’s lives in these difficult economic times?
My Lords, the late noble and learned Lord Bingham said in his 2009 Jan Grodecki lecture,
“for over a century the future of the House of Lords has been regarded as a problem. Our belief in the power of reason generally leads us to believe that all problems are amenable to a rational solution if sufficient thought is devoted to them. But there is in truth a small category of problems which are not amenable to a rational solution, and the problem of reforming the House of Lords while preserving its present form is one of them. That is why, despite an immense outpouring of time and talent, no solution has been found”.
A few years ago, I had some responsibility for this policy area. When I met Lord Bingham after his lecture, we had a lively discussion that left a very deep impression on me. Although I will be supporting my party on this issue, I am very pessimistic that it will ever happen, as there is clearly no consensus, so I want to make sure that although, tragically, the noble and learned Lord is no longer with us, his thoughts are represented in the record of our debate today in case we have to return to this issue, as I fear we will, in future years.
In my contribution tonight, I will follow Lord Bingham and his lateral thinking about this issue. I am going to suggest two things: we should use this opportunity for a constitutional moment of reform to make the House of Commons more effective as a legislating Chamber and, since the Lords does invaluable work as a revising Chamber and in the work of its specialist committees, seek to enhance that contribution by creating what Lord Bingham called the “Council of the Realm”.
It is clear from the huge number of discussions and debates we have had on this topic that the main issues which bedevil any discussion of how to reform your Lordships’ House are the reform of its composition and the interrelated but different reform of the powers of the Lords. On composition, we are not the only country to be having problems about how to organise our second Chamber. A recent report has suggested that,
“few democracies were content with their second Chambers, and that many were engaged ‘in an apparently incessant dialogue about how they should be reformed’”.
That sounds familiar. It continued:
“The reason why so many countries are unhappy with their second chambers is that there is a problem of a very fundamental kind in creating a second chamber in a modern democracy, especially in a non-federal state. A second chamber needs to be based upon an alternative principle of representation to that embodied in the first chamber. But what is that principle to be? How can the same electorate be represented in two different ways in two different chambers?”.
Our House of Commons,
“represents the principle of individual representation. What alternative principle should the second Chamber represent?”.
As Lord Bingham was quick to point out, the irony is that the current composition of your Lordships’ House enables it to evade the conundrum of finding an alternative principle of representation to that used for electing the House of Commons. This is a point I want to return to.
On powers, it is arguable that, for most practical purposes, one of the main consequences of the Parliament Acts has been to produce unicameral government in Britain. I say that because it is patently clear that the Lords cannot effectively resist the legislation of a determined Government. This effect is magnified by the coalition, and we have seen this Session that the Government can whip their legislation through both Houses without much difficulty. The truth, as Professor Vernon Bogdanor has said, is that the Parliament Acts have, in effect, ensured that Britain has not developed a strong bicameral legislature. What we have is a unicameral system with two Chambers. The consequence is that this unelected, and hence undemocratic, House spends a great deal of time doing what the House of Commons does not do well enough: ensuring that the Government’s legislation is fit for purpose, making government more efficient, but, in essence, within a unicameral system, albeit across two Houses. Surely we should try to sort that out first.
In 1975, a former Conservative Leader of this House, Lord Windlesham, wrote that,
“the House of Lords should not attempt to rival the Commons. Whenever it has done so in the past it has failed, and usually made itself look ridiculous in the process”.
He goes on to argue:
“In any well-tuned parliamentary system there is a need and a place for a third element besides efficient government and the operation of representative democracy. This third element is the bringing to bear of informed or expert public opinion”.
In other words, was Lord Bingham right to suggest that if one could make the House of Commons do its job more effectively, one possible future role for your Lordships’ House would be to provide a forum in which “informed public opinion” can take shape, and that we should do more of what we are already good at: providing a space for the deployment of special knowledge and the representation of interests not otherwise present in the House of Commons?
In his lecture, Lord Bingham suggested that since it was not possible to come up with a rational reform of the House of Lords, what should happen is that the House of Commons should do what it is elected to do and the House of Lords should become what he called the “Council of the Realm”. I would prefer pinching the ancient title of the Privy Council, but whatever it was called, the council,
“would differ from the House of Lords superficially in that membership would involve no outdated pretence of nobility, and it would differ fundamentally in having no legislative power. It could not make law. It could not … obstruct the will of the Commons”.
Its power would be to recommend amendments, which the Commons would have a statutory responsibility to consider.
According to Lord Bingham:
“The Council would, however, resemble the House of Lords in crucial respects. Its members, appointed not elected, would be very much the same people, and the same sorts of people, as now make up the house. It would perform, but in an advisory and not a lawmaking way, the revising function it now performs. Its expert committees could function much as they do now. It could debate issues of public moment”.
Future recruitment would be by appointment, by a statutory appointments commission, with a remit to ensure wide experience, broad representation of interests, and gender and diversity balance. Lord Bingham suggested that,
“the number of members would be governed by the need of the Council to be able to call on members with knowledge and experience in politics but also, and particularly, in the multifarious fields which fall to be considered in a complex modern state … In this way, the most valuable functions of the existing house could be preserved”.
but the clever point is that what was referred to as,
“the features of the house which fuel calls for reform could be eliminated”.
Of course, more detail is required to flesh out this proposal, but as it neatly sidesteps many of the difficulties likely to be faced by the Government’s draft Bill, I hope that Lord Bingham’s thoughts may at some future point be considered worthy of consideration by your Lordships’ House. At the very least, we should keep in mind his view that there is,
“a small category of problems which are not amenable to a rational solution”,
and recognise that neither of the two excellent reports, nor the Bill likely to be before us shortly, provide that elusive solution.
My Lords, I am privileged to have been a Member of your Lordships’ House for almost two years now. In that time, I have lost count of the number of times people have urged that the House of Lords should prevent Bills passing and that, despite being an unelected Chamber, we should prevent the elected Chamber from delivering its programme. As we know, this reflects in part a lack of understanding of the role of this Chamber. We exist, and must continue to exist, to revise and to scrutinise legislation, not to challenge the primacy of the House of Commons.
Too much legislation reaches us without proper scrutiny having been undertaken. It would be unthinkable for there not to be a second Chamber in which such revisions can be made. The role of this Chamber must remain to revise legislation for consideration and confirmation by the elected Chamber, but it does not follow that a wholly or partly elected second Chamber would inevitably end up competing for primacy with the House of Commons, as has been claimed.
I was impressed by the submission of the Hansard Society on this matter. It argued:
“The different electoral system, term lengths and limits proposed for the reformed Lords, coupled with the constitutional reality that it is the Commons from which the government is formed and where it must sustain confidence, should underpin the primacy of the Commons”.
I concur with its thinking and, with an agreed concordat and the codifying of Lords powers and conventions as proposed by the Electoral Reform Society, it is entirely possible to prevent the potential for conflict.
I believe instinctively in a 100 per cent elected second Chamber. It is hard to see on what basis it can be democratic for this Chamber to be unelected. When we revise Bills we are inevitably legislating and, in so doing, we should have a clear democratic mandate for what we do. I do not accept the argument that House of Commons primacy takes care of democracy, because the House of Commons cannot do everything. The House of Lords influences and amends Bills significantly. In so doing, it should derive its power from its own democratic mandate.
However, I am very conscious of the independence of thought and the expertise that comes from the system of nomination to this House. In particular, the Cross Benches provide an essential antidote to domination by party politics. For that reason, I would be very content with a House in which 80 per cent of its Members are elected and 20 per cent are nominated by an independent appointments commission. With 450 Members altogether, the present culture of this House could continue with no party in majority control.
To prevent domination by one political party requires a system of proportional representation, as recommended rightly by the Joint Committee. But the use of proportional representation is vital for another reason. In 2000, the royal commission concluded that there was a need to ensure greater representation from some of the constituent parts of the United Kingdom. In the 12 years since then, little seems to have changed. Of the 614 Members of this House who have registered an address as their main residence, only 74 are in the north-west, Yorkshire and the north-east. The north-east has 16 Members, Yorkshire has 27 and the north-west has 31. If we add the 15 Members from the East Midlands and the 23 from the West Midlands to the 74 from the north of England, just 112 Members of this House are from those five English regions. That amounts to just 18 per cent of the total when they have a population of 24 million, which is almost 40 per cent of the UK. These figures compare with 273 Members from London and the south-east—some 44 per cent of the total membership, but with a population that is seven million fewer. An electoral system for 80 per cent of the membership of this House based on proportional representation would go a long way to putting right this serious anomaly and would ensure that this Chamber reflects the nations and regions of the UK.
Finally, public opinion is strongly behind reform. A recent YouGov poll showed 69 per cent in favour of reform of the House, with 33 per cent wanting a fully elected second Chamber and only 5 per cent wanting the status quo. The British Social Attitudes Survey has found that one-fifth of people would prefer to close this House down altogether. Therefore, we need to think very carefully about what the public feel because I do not think that trying to maintain the status quo, as some would like to do, will work. Parliament needs to listen to the general public on this issue and to act accordingly, which is why any proposed constitutional change simply must be backed by a positive vote in a referendum. It will not be enough to rely solely on three party manifestos.
My Lords, one can wait for years for a report to come along, then two arrive at the same time. I should like to add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Richard, and all those concerned with the Joint Committee report and the alternative report. The default position for supporters of the draft Bill is that it is needed because of our democratic deficit. I think that it was the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, who compared us earlier today to Belarus—or was it Baluchistan or Bahrainistan? Anyway, he was very angry about it and proclaimed that our country’s democracy is in terrible danger, so why not let us give this democracy thing a go and wander down the path to see where it leads?
The first thing to be said about democracy is that it is not simply about voting. Lots of countries have voting, but that does not make them democracies, and if voting were the answer we would already be in Camelot. Over the past 20 years we have elected more politicians than at any time in our history, yet the other day Hansard Society reported that political disengagement and disillusion in Britain has reached record levels. But, we are told, we have got to have more of the miracle cure—more elected politicians because the people want them, including an elected Lords. The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, has just told us that opinion polls prove the point. But that leaves me wondering, if opinion polls are so meaningful, why, for instance, do we not bring back hanging or get out of the European Union? Democracy can be a funny old game and we should kick it around with care.
Rather like the committee, I wonder why those who speak loudly about the merits of democracy are so often the same voices raised to deny the people their say in a referendum. I seem to recall spending much of last year being whipped through the Lobbies to vote for dozens of different referenda for every new EU post from dog catcher to crèche convener. We have the money to spend on all that, but we have neither the time nor, it seems, the will to ask the people about one of the most significant constitutional changes in a century. The committee saw this as being profoundly inconsistent, and it was right.
As so many noble Lords have pointed out, we are in the midst of a double-dip recession, yet here we are with a Bill that proposes to shove still more taxpayers’ money down the throats of politicians. Is that really what democracy is about? Ask the Government how much more money and they come over all coy and refuse to answer. They have not worked out the sums, so they say, perhaps because the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, has got there first and exposed just how costly this Bill would be. But let us not argue too much right now about the odd few hundred million; I am sure the people will understand what good value an elected second Chamber would be. However, my suspicion is that high up the list of democracy’s demands is for a Parliament that is above board and honest, or at least reasonably so. I am long enough in the tooth to know that no Parliament is ever painted pure white, but if you were to ask the people which of this country’s Houses of Parliament has a reputation for scandal and sleaze and self-interest, they would not be pointing the finger at this end of the building.
There is another awkward little thing. Democracy demands a Parliament that makes sound laws: government for the people. But what the people seem to get as a matter of course nowadays is something totally different: legislation that starts off being ill-conceived then goes on to be ill-considered as guillotines chop their way through debate and sensible discussion—at least until it gets to this, unelected, Chamber of Parliament. If there is a democratic deficit in our system, it is not at this end of the building. Yet the cry goes up: let us have elections, more elections. Where will it stop? Should we elect our judges too? There is just as much logic in that. Or should we even elect our monarch? Suddenly, voting does not seem as much fun or so necessary.
There is one final argument that gets used to establish this Bill’s democratic credentials, which is that it was in all three party manifestoes. I have an admission to make: I am a Conservative. In the 18 or so words with which this matter was set out in my party’s manifesto—widely read from end to end of this country, I am sure—it called for consensus. That is what I feel bound to and that is what, over the coming months, I will do my best to achieve. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, and his committee have spelt out just how difficult that will be, but we must live in hope. And while we are struggling to achieve consensus, we can leave the Government to concentrate on their own noble struggle to dig us out of our economic mess.
The hour is late, so let me conclude. I am very keen on the reform of this House, but this misbegotten draft Bill is not it. The Bill will not do, and it is so demonstrably flawed that it will not go through. The people will not understand, nor will they forgive, if the Government waste months of parliamentary time on this self-indulgence when they should be putting their interests and future first.
My Lords, to be listed at 53 in the batting order is not just a new experience but a promotion for me. However, if the exercise was a cricket match, I would by now appeal against the light.
I am sure that the House is grateful to the Joint Committee and its contributors, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Richard, who led their work. Unlike other attempts at Lords reform, this debate is informed also by what is described as the alternative report. I have to disclose that, on balance, my preference goes to the latter for reasons that I shall explain later.
The authors of both reports will have recognised that some of these issues were last explored by the Royal Commission on the Reform of the House of Lords led by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham—here I declare an interest as a member of that commission. The issues were as clear then as they are now: the need for a democratic revising Chamber which holds the Government to account without challenging the supremacy of the elected House and the existing conventions.
The question posed by the draft Bill is how we get to that dual destination. There are only three routes: direct election, appointment or a combination of both—the 20:80 formula. Common sense tells us that a direct-elections system does not necessarily deliver the required expertise for the task of scrutiny and accountability.
Before I joined the royal commission, I was quite clear about the need for a fully elected second Chamber. At face value, that need seems very clear: those who make the laws that govern the people should enjoy the mandate of the people. But how would we guarantee the broad range of experience that I see before me when I come into your Lordships’ Chamber, and the expert opinions which inform our debates and bring experience to our scrutiny in our committees and in our Chamber?
I have yet to hear a debate in this Chamber during which there has not been at least one Member, and often many more, able to offer real-life experience of the subject under discussion. We hear from those who have spent years working and building expertise in many professions—in the sciences, medicine, commerce, the private and public sectors and, yes, trade unions.
In many instances, it is not a question of getting elected. I doubt whether many here would even stand as candidates. That is why I see the report of the Joint Committee as work in progress and why, as I have already declared, my preference goes to the alternative report as the guiding rails for future travel.
I have come to this conclusion because it is clear that, save for the Joint Committee on Conventions led by the noble Lord, Lord Cunningham, which reported in 2006, no serious effort on Lords reform has been made since the Wakeham commission reported in 2000. It is therefore an opportunity missed, as it appears that the Joint Committee restricted its consideration to matters exclusive to the draft Bill and the White Paper.
We pride ourselves on being an open democracy with public interest in our work, but our working hours and working practices are not exactly public-friendly. We end up debating to an empty Public Gallery because of the way that business in our House is organised. It is little wonder that the alternative report declared the Bill and the White Paper to be a flawed example of delivering a stated objective.
However, my key reason for supporting the alternative report is the proposal for a constitutional convention. As we know, constitutional conventions are a political tool used here at home and abroad. At home they are used to pursue and co-ordinate opinion, as we have seen in respect of the Scottish Parliament and devolution in 1999. Therefore, I stand four-square behind the proposals in the alternative report for a Westminster-led constitutional convention with broad representation and a wide agenda that will include a root and branch review of the conventions that underpin the relationship of our two Houses of Parliament.
While I welcome the recognition for pluralism in the alternative report, I see no specific commitment to diversity, which I believe to be an important component in a plural democracy. On that point, I conclude with some words and actions by President Clinton. In his first term of office, he rejected a number of nominees for office in his Administration. When challenged to explain his reasons for rejection, he said simply that he wanted his Government to look like America. I want the House of Lords and our public institutions to look like the United Kingdom.
My Lords, I remember that soon after David Cameron took over as leader of the Official Opposition, he came to meet the Cross-Bench Peers and was asked what he thought of House of Lords reform. He said, “Of course we believe in a mainly elected House of Lords, don’t we, Tom?”, referring to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, who is not in his place. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, looked up at the ceiling and rolled his eyes. David Cameron continued, “But of course, Tom, that is something I will deal with in my third term”. Mind you, Mr Cameron said that back in 2006 when Britain’s economy was booming, as was the rest of the world’s. As the Nobel laureate, Paul Krugman, pointed out last week:
“Britain is officially in double-dip recession, and has achieved the remarkable feat of doing worse this time around than it did in the 1930s”.
On top of that, we have a Government in crisis in so many areas with many issues that have upset many people, such as the recent Budget. So many of the Government’s austerity measures have been rushed through and not thought through—the strategic defence and security review in 2010, for example. On top of all that, we have the eurozone crisis, which in all probability is about to blow up, and as the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, said, what are we debating today, tomorrow and for days on end following the gracious Speech is not a plan for growth and recovery in the economy but a plan for House of Lords reform. Yes, it has been pointed out that this was in the manifestos of all three parties and that evolutionary reform was called for in the shape of the reforms originally outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, in his Bill. But this is not the time to force on us revolutionary reform of the House of Lords, which will turn our constitution upside down.
The Prime Minister who most radically reformed the House of Lords in the previous century was Tony Blair and even he said that,
“the key question … is whether we want a revising Chamber or a rival Chamber. My view is that we want a revising Chamber”.—[Official Report, Commons, 29/1/03; col. 877.]
One of the main reasons that we are going through this unfortunate distraction is because of the will of one my Cambridge contemporaries, the Deputy Prime Minister. He holds a utopian, ideological view that elected equals democratic equals legitimate. Mr Clegg and his allies have also tried to use the argument that other bicameral Parliaments have democratically elected upper Houses so why should we not? There are other Parliaments that do not even have upper Houses and countries whose upper Houses do not work properly, do not have the talent that we do or are in constant gridlock with their lower Houses. The ultimate, democratically elected upper House with real power and the resources to use that power is the United States Senate. The drawback, of course, is that the Senate does not have the depth or diversity of expertise that we have. Some 54 per cent of Senators in the United States are lawyers and powers are divided between the two Houses. In many cases, the Senate has more power than the lower House. That is not on the table in this country. Why do the Government not have the guts to go all the way, the whole hog, and propose a US-style Senate for Britain?
No, like the other hasty proposals that this Government have put forward affecting our economy, education, healthcare and defence, this draft Bill has not been thought through. A hastily put together Joint Committee has come up with a report that half its members do not agree with, to the extent that, for the first time that I can recall, they have broken away and published their own alternative report. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, is not in his place, yet this was not a Joint Committee but a disjointed committee. Instead of reforming our House, we are making laughing stocks of ourselves.
As the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, said on the argument that polls show that people want an elected House of Lords, that is only because, as other polls show, there is a huge lack of understanding of the working of the House of Lords by the public. I have seen this time and again in speeches that I have given around the country. When I ask the public if the House of Lords should be elected, they initially all say yes, but when I explain to them the function and working of the House of Lords, they change their minds and say it should stay appointed.
There are two key issues here. First, what is the role of the House of Lords, does it have the right people in its make-up to carry out that role, are they effective in that job, and, as a result, is the House of Lords effective? The second issue is constitutional. We decided in 1911 that the House of Commons should have supremacy as a democratically elected Chamber, so there could never be a prolonged deadlock between the two Houses. On both these issues, the House of Lords as it stands today fulfils its role as the guardian of this nation, as a check and balance, scrutinising, questioning and challenging the Government and the Commons each and every day through its legislation, debates and questions, and through its Select Committees. It does this in a way that the House of Commons could not even dream of imagining.
I challenge people regularly to name me a renowned world expert in any field in the House of Commons. They cannot name one. I am proud that in the House of Lords we have a sense of independence and objectivity that the other place simply could not match. This credible and incredible wisdom is unique in the world. Our method of debating through the self-regulating system is also unique. We do not need to be like or copy anyone else. After all, Westminster is the mother of all Parliaments. We do all this for a fraction of the cost of the House of Commons. What the Government propose will cost us at least half a billion pounds more per Parliament, if not much more. Unsurprisingly, the Joint Committee report does not even attempt a costing. It says that that is because the Government refuse to give a costing. Would you start a new business without doing a proper business plan? This is pathetic.
Whatever the Government say about the current conventions remaining in place, they are living in a dreamland. There is no way that an elected or partially elected House of Lords would for long accept subservience to the House of Commons. What is more, I cannot see how, by making people stand for elections, we could possibly maintain the amazing depth and breadth of knowledge we currently have in this House. We would end up with a House full of second-raters compared to the one we have today. Even today, the public holds very little respect for politicians. How will they feel if the House of Lords was filled with career politicians rather than the experts with real-world knowledge that it has today? Is this the way we increase the legitimacy of the House of Lords? It would have exactly the opposite effect.
Mark my words: if we go down the route of an elected House of Lords, we are moving to a written constitution. If we are moving one step closer to a written constitution, we are moving one step closer to a republic. Not only are we wasting precious time here, we are playing with fire. By pushing through this reform, the Government will throw the baby out with the bath-water. We have a delicate yet robust, a very ancient but tried and tested, a very complex but yet crystal clear unwritten constitution, one that has stood the test of time. By putting means before ends this Government are endangering, destabilising and wrecking all this by wrecking this precious House. As I have said before, the fundamental lesson in home improvement is that you can move the walls and raise the levels, but when you play around with the foundations you risk bringing the whole House down.
My Lords, our country is facing a perilous economic situation, which is likely to last for some time to come. For any Government, coalition or otherwise, to attempt to drive through major disruptive and potentially disastrous changes to our long-established and proven parliamentary structure in this situation strikes me as utter folly.
The structure of our two Houses that make up Parliament is not responsible for any shortcomings in government that there may be. It is how we, the Members of both Houses, use the structures that really matters. Some people seek to change things in the name of democracy, and we have heard much about that in today’s debate, in the mistaken belief that the changes will improve government. The truth is that the way in which we behave is often more important than the structures themselves. Certainly, change for change’s sake solves nothing; it can do more harm than good and, as in this case, could damage beyond repair a unique institution that, although far from perfect, by and large does the task asked of it very well indeed.
The only justifiable reason for change is to produce better government, but that can be achieved without destroying existing structures. I suggest that the Government and its Ministers should concentrate not on legislation but on sound administration. I was for 27 years a Member in the other place, from 1983 to 2010. I ask your Lordships how many education Acts were passed in those years. The answer is 33. Most grammar schools were abolished and the whole educational system deteriorated. How many health Acts were passed in that time? The answer is 35. We got rid of matrons from our hospitals and everybody knows what a mess the NHS was reduced to. How many Acts in that period were on criminal justice? There were 100—a veritable torrent of legislation that produced little or no benefit to anyone. The answer must surely be better administration and less legislation.
I would like to add to less legislation two things—pre-legislative scrutiny of all Bills and the abolition of the guillotine, or programming as it is currently called. If we could stem the torrent of legislation and persuade Ministers and their departments to concentrate their energies on sound administration, if we could subject every Bill to detailed all-party scrutiny before it was even published and if we could abolish the guillotine to prevent this House from having to deal with wagon-loads of undigested legislation that comes down the Corridor, perhaps your Lordships’ House, with its wealth of experience and wisdom, could be allowed to carry out its traditional role of revising, fine-tuning and, yes, occasionally rejecting legislation brought before it, which it is uniquely qualified to do. These measures, coupled with the modest reforms that the House is already prepared to accept, would deliver better government without the need for the drastic and dangerous experiment that is this draft Bill.
My Lords, to say that this Bill is half-baked is to put it politely, and the idea of pushing it forward in the next Session, even with the guillotine, is offensive. That would be a procedure which would be admired in a banana republic. Indeed, it is perhaps not untimely to go right back to the fundamental question: what is the problem? I must conclude that the only instrument that the Government had to hand was a sledgehammer. One would not otherwise use a sledgehammer to crack a nut. The whole point about that metaphor, which we use every day of the week without perhaps stopping to think about it, is that you do not use a sledgehammer to crack a nut.
The sledgehammer in this case is, to use the demotic, to deal with some deficiencies in the procedures and method of appointment to this Chamber. Indeed, I am reminded a bit of that other great example of overreaction which took place during the Second World War, when a leading admiral in the United States Navy went to see President Roosevelt and said, “Mr President, Sir, I’ve got the solution to the U-boat problem”. “Well”, asked the President, “what’s that”? “Drain the north Atlantic”, said the admiral. That did not go down all that well, but there are a few jokes in this. Anyway, there you go: you win some and you lose some.
However, there are many practical things that many of us have advocated for many years. Indeed, the Labour group wrote unanimously to Tony Blair five years ago in answer to his request, “Have you got any ideas?”. I had a hand in writing the letter, as a matter of fact, along with Robin Corbett. We had a whole string of things, including a statutory appointments commission which would entail the Labour Party, as well as the other parties, looking seriously at reducing prime ministerial patronage and finding out about the different constituent parts. This is in the same spirit in which my noble friend Lord Morris of Handsworth was speaking: to find some new formula—whether regionally, industrially or in any other way—to give more confidence within the constituency parties that this was a House of Lords of which they had some ownership. The Labour Party constitution could certainly be easily adjusted to provide it. That is a practical answer to a practical problem, without overreacting in this totally dramatic way.
We have some very sober committee reports on the record. I, too, recall what I think was the unanimous report of the Cunningham committee, that one could not simply state that the conventions would remain. Yet here we are, and as far as I can see the Richard report has more or less said, “Yes you can”, when clearly the answer is, “No you can’t”. We cannot just look at the next Session and expect to get the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, or some equally brilliant draftsman, to rewrite Clause 2 to remove the problem. This is not that sort of problem. Perhaps noble Lords will correct me in a few minutes.
The report sees there being no change in the powers and functions of the two Houses. How? This leads to the committee struggling with the corset that it wants to put around the new Senate to make sure that these conflicts with the House of Commons do not arise. I think I am right in saying that there is some reference to the fact that IPSA should make no provision for casework by the Senate. Surely, that is struggling a long way to make sure that the corset still holds the Senate in check.
This relates to a point made in a most interesting way in one of the most interesting contributions, by my noble friend Lord Whitty. He said, “After all, we are not America. We don’t have a Supreme Court that arbitrates between the House of Representatives and the Senate”. I have been thinking about that in the past half-hour. One could put up a plausible—if not even more convincing—case to say the opposite. Are there not members of the Supreme Court right now, on the other side of Parliament Square, licking their lips because that is exactly the function that they will have? They are servants of the people; they work 24/7.
If there is a historian of the American Senate and House of Representatives here, I am sure I will be corrected but I do not think I have got this wrong. We are celebrating the centenary of the 17th amendment of the American constitution, which was made in 1912. It effectively meant that, instead of the states doing their own thing through their own indirect methods to appoint the Senate, they moved to direct elections. Many historians would say that this was when the Senate started to become the more important of the two Houses. I think it would happen here for all the reasons that made it happen in the United States. There is every reason to say that we are not like America, from the monarchy downwards. However, in this respect there would be that opening, which we might regret, for a role for the Supreme Court.
On the role of MPs, when somebody says that we do not hear MPs say openly that they are worried about their relationship, that is true, but the reason is the one that would have been given by Mandy Rice-Davies: they wouldn’t say that, would they?
I conclude from the same position as my noble friend Lord Morris of Handsworth. I vote for the alternative report and, from doing my sums this evening, I think that I am alongside at least three-quarters of this House.
My Lords, I thank those who compiled this report and those who compiled the alternative report. I find myself much more in sympathy with the alternative report. Tonight I speak against my instincts. My instincts are for democratic elections to be held wherever they are practical and worth while. I know that some of my noble friends, if not all of them, agree with that. However, I am not at all persuaded that the proposed reforms of this House will achieve their aims, irrespective of whether it is wholly or partly elected. Indeed, I think that a partly elected House would be more of a dog’s dinner than a wholly elected one. I am much more committed to the reforms proposed in the original Steel Bill, with others besides—in particular the reform of the appointments system, which is lacking. I believe that criteria for appointments should be agreed between both Houses of Parliament.
Having said that, I am very concerned that we are throwing the baby out with the bath water and not recognising sufficiently the very considerable benefits that accrue from the status quo: namely, that this House adds value to the other place in two ways that I am convinced will not survive election. Everyone has referred to those two principal virtues: namely, that we in this place are experience-rich and relatively independent. Those virtues stand in increasingly strong contrast with what happens in the other place, which I have no wish to disparage. It is made up of good, true and well intentioned young men and women. However, they are young and inexperienced, as others have said. They come mainly from a professional flight path and are ever more susceptible to the regimentation and partisanship that have made the other place into a wholly ineffective control on the Government of the day.
You only have to look at the number of guillotines that are applied and the number of Bills that arrive in this House having been only partially considered. You only have to look at the quantity of legislation that is enabled by this production line, to which the noble Lord, Lord Framlingham, referred. We are now legislating between 12,000 and 15,000 pages of new statute law a year and we repeal only about 2,000, 3,000 or 4,000 pages. We are legislating more than any respectable democracy in the western world by far. Dire consequences arise from having this excessive quantity of legislation, much of which is half baked and not implemented, or implemented unevenly; and we know it. I believe that the election of this House would worsen that state of affairs. The notion that this place, when elected, will somehow be a better check on the Executive is laughable. I will say a word or two more about that in a second.
We spend more time dealing with the legislation here and we deal with it in a more open-minded fashion. Above all, we do not take the Government’s word for it, as they constantly do in the other place. I repeat the statistic that I put to my noble friend Lord Ashdown: in the 13 years in which the previous Labour Government were in power, they suffered less than one defeat in the House of Commons every two years. That made a total of six over 13 years. What sort of control on the Executive does that represent? By contrast, in this House—it is hard to believe it—the Labour Government were defeated not six times but 528 times. In the nearly two years of the coalition’s term in office, there have been no defeats in the other place but 48 in this House. Noble Lords may say that those defeats do not stick and are overturned in the other place. However, that is not the case. A great deal of hard work has been done on this by the Constitution Unit at UCL. It is not an easy calculation to make, but Meg Russell and her colleague, Maria Sciara, reckon that 40 per cent of the amendments that we win through the Lobbies in the Lords stick in whole or in part, although there are compromises, of course, and that we make a major impact on legislation. We are doing the job that the primary, the only democratic, Chamber does not do. What does that tell us about our state of affairs and the health of our democracy? Not much, I suggest.
Public disenchantment with politics has been referred to by one or two noble Peers. We have to be very careful indeed about giving way to reforms that could, I believe, worsen that state of affairs. I refer to one particular poll that noble Lords may have seen referred to in the useful Library Note on public attitudes towards the reform of this place, published in March this year. The final poll in the report deals with general attitudes and was conducted by Ipsos MORI in 2009. It found that in 2001 the proportion of the public satisfied with the work of Parliament as a whole was 45 per cent. By 2009 it had dropped to 20 per cent. The dissatisfaction level had risen from 30 per cent in 2001 to 63 per cent in 2009. More tellingly, when the figures between the Commons and Lords were broken down, the poll found that in 2009 15 per cent were satisfied with the performance of the House of Commons, while 71 per cent were dissatisfied. We did not do too well, but we did a heck of a lot better—23 per cent were satisfied and 50 per cent were dissatisfied. That is scarcely a case for the major reform of this place, and is more likely to be a case for reform of the other place.
The level of disenchantment is important, and the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, referred to the Power inquiry. The public want less party control, more independence, more life experience and less legislation. Moreover, there is no public agitation for election to this House. If there were people on the streets with petitions and rest of it, I would take a different view, but there is no sign of them. Anecdotally, I find very few people who do other than come up to me and say, “Thank God for the House of Lords”. When I held a public meeting in Sudbury to consider the matter of electing this House or not, a poll at the beginning of the meeting found quite a number in favour, but at the end of the meeting—and all points of view were fairly represented—there was a complete switch. Again and again, this is the experience.
I am sorry; I should sit down and shut up. However, there is a paradox at the heart of all this. I am content for the Commons to be the democratic Chamber and for us, as the inferior House, to retain the virtues of complementariness.
My Lords, the duck-billed platypus is a remarkable creature but is evidence that evolution does not always go as planned, so when I read in the committee’s report that,
“We agree with the weight of the evidence we have received which suggests that the conventions governing the relationship between the two Houses will evolve further once the House of Lords is reformed and would need to be re-defined”,
I am fearful.
An elected second Chamber, whether 80 per cent or 100 per cent elected, would very quickly evolve into a challenger to the House of Commons’ primacy. I cannot claim to have been the first to have made that observation today, but when you come on at number 58, it is very difficult. However, it is for that reason that I cannot support the idea of the drastic constitutional change that is now being proposed. Clause 2 of the draft Bill would not guarantee primacy to the Commons.
Under the previous Government, we saw unprecedented constitutional change: a Supreme Court, devolved Assemblies with new electoral systems, and statutory human rights. The changes came fast, and problems such as the unsolved West Lothian question followed closely behind. If the implications appeared to be unconsidered, it is perhaps because they were. A senior Cabinet Minister of that period has since said:
“Although I don’t think we necessarily meant to do this, we did effect a very fundamental change in the way government is run. We deprived the Executive of a lot more power than we ever intended”.
If we are to effect fundamental change in the relationship between the two Houses of Parliament, we should at least mean to do it. It would be unforgivable to have what the noble Baroness, Lady Symons of Vernham Dean, criticised as a “give it a try and see what happens” approach.
The Government seem determined to alter our constitution drastically, with little idea of where it will end. The PR involved here is not proportional representation but public relations with the Liberal Democrats. At the very least, such a far-reaching change should be put to a referendum, as the Joint Committee recommends, but the Deputy Prime Minister would deny us that. His response to the idea of a vote was to ask:
“Why is it that we should spend a great deal of money asking the British people a question that frankly most people don't worry about very much?”—
a good question. Most people have other things to worry about at the moment. As the country faces a double-dip recession, the essential hunt for economic growth is not being obstructed by the House of Lords. On the contrary, this Chamber is working hard to come up with ideas that might help. However, extended parliamentary debate on the future of this House may well be a dangerous distraction from the most important issue: “It’s the economy, stupid”.
That is not to say that there is no need for reform. As a relative newcomer to your Lordships’ House, I have been hugely impressed by the extent of the work that goes on here, both in the Chamber and in committees, but we could and should be more streamlined and efficient. The Steel Bill is an obvious starting point. It could be quickly activated. I was also interested in the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Low of Dalston. The House of Lords Appointments Commission might be receptive to nominations from colleges of experts. It might even hold a certain number of seats for them.
However, there are other ways to make us look relevant and counter criticisms that we are a talking shop. Too often, maximum speaking times are interpreted as minimum speaking times. We could speed up our proceedings by embracing the view that less is sometimes more, so I will sit down.
My Lords, looking around the Chamber, I see a great deal of shellshocked people, so I will try not to detain your Lordships for long. I was rather surprised at the cricket analogy, given that your Lordships have been good enough to miss the Manchester derby, which is a far more important occasion. I hope that you all realise that Manchester City are now heading the table.
When I came into your Lordships’ House 17 years ago, there was a notice in the Prince’s Chamber which said that your Lordships should not indulge in vexatious argument, which was from an Act of Parliament of 1623. I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, remembers the notice; it has now gone. That is important to me because, when you turn on the television and watch Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, you think how appalling Parliament is in its complete lack of rational argument, with people simply slavishly following a stupid political line. There is a serious risk that that brings our politics into disrepute. When you add the guillotine and people walking through the Lobby without having listened to the arguments, there are serious questions which also affect your Lordships’ House. I have found it very dispiriting in recent weeks when we have felt that we have to do that out of loyalty to our side. I feel that this House works best when it is not too political—although it has to be political to some extent.
I remember sitting at the top of the table when I chaired the Science and Technology Select Committee 10 years ago and I could not say who was Labour, who was Conservative, who was independent and who was a hereditary Peer, because everybody there had an important point to make which was worth looking at. At my first meeting of that committee, nuclear waste was the issue and there was a risk of our decision being split. I was told by my clerk, “Whatever you do, please try to avoid a vote”. Looking at the report of my noble friend Lord Richard, one has to say that it is constantly split with votes. Is this democracy at work? I am not sure that it is.
At this late hour, I shall not go into great detail. I noticed a frown on the face of the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, and I saw his wise comment in the Times last week about my being here by patronage. Perhaps he knew more than I did. When I came into this House and met my noble friend Lord Richard, he asked whether I might consider taking the Labour Whip. I said, “Actually, I’m a member of the Labour Party”, to which he replied, “Are you sure?”. It is a pity that he is not in his place to confirm that this evening. I am not sure what “by patronage” means but a large number of us on both sides of the House will try whenever we can to vote according to our beliefs. With the health Bill, for example, there were at least two amendments on which I was seriously at odds with my own side. It was one of the most horrible Bills that I have dealt with and I felt very strongly about it, but I could not vote with my own side on two occasions because I thought that occasionally we, too, are wrong.
Finally—I shall reserve most of my comments for later, because this issue is going to come back again and again—there are no easy solutions to what is proposed. The idea of an electoral college sounds good but there are so many problems associated with sorting out an electoral college that I am not sure it would work. I think that a referendum ought to be seriously on the cards but your Lordships should remember that they may not get what they anticipate when it happens.
It is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Winston. When I was his chairman at Imperial, the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, was also on the college council, and I do not think that she or I managed to catch up with him, so following him is quite easy—I am used to it.
I do not agree at all with the noble Lord’s strictures on the report; nor do I agree with the stronger strictures from the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria. As I understand it, it is an agreed report with a supplementary alternative. To call the report disjointed is unfair but I think it is more unfair to criticise it for the defects of the Bill. The terms of reference to which the noble Lord, Lord Richard, worked—and we owe him and his committee a great deal of thanks—were to report on the Bill, not on Lords reform. Therefore, there are a number of matters that the committee has not touched on in detail because the Bill does not do so. In particular, it is a pity that indirect elections have not been more explored. Both the report and the alternative report make it clear that their authors believe that the issue should be explored further but it just does not happen to be in the Bill.
I also think it is a pity that the potential future role of the Lords as the cement of the United Kingdom is not discussed. My noble friend Lord Hennessy spoke of this as the grade one issue. The noble Lord, Lord Steel, also spoke of it, and I agree with both of them. I think that there is a very important role for the Lords. I suspect that we will have further devolution that will make the West Lothian question still more significant, and part of the answer may be found in this House.
I have been very polite about the report, but there is one point which is touched on only obliquely and briefly in one paragraph—paragraph 104. The noble Lords, Lord Cunningham of Felling and Lord Cormack, are quoted as talking about the difficulties that could arise if the non-elected Members were decisive in a vote on a constitutional issue. The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, referred to it today as a point that I have made. I have made the point and it is very nice of him to attribute it to me but in the report it is attributed to him.
I am very concerned about hybridity, which seems to me to mean instability—hybridity without a rationale. There is no rationale in the Government’s White Paper or in the Government’s Bill or in the Richard report. If democratic legitimacy is to be the determinant or the touchstone—I see the argument for that—then by definition the non-elected, the non-democratically legitimate are illegitimate.
The House was good enough to vote for a couple of amendments that I tabled on the EU Bill, but I found it very difficult to vote for them when they came back after they were rejected by the House of Commons. My difficulty would be greatly enhanced if I were in the small, unelected minority in an 80 per cent elected House of Lords. That would be a two-tier House. The Richard report talks about differential arrangements for remuneration and differential arrangements for disqualification procedures for the elected and non-elected Members. I think it is probably right but I am not talking about that; I am talking about something much more fundamental. If you think the Cross Benches are worth preserving, I do not think that you can preserve them in that way. It would be very difficult or disastrous to be a Cross-Bencher if your vote were decisive in an important question on which the two Houses came into conflict.
I also think that it is very odd to produce numbers with no rationale. Why is it 80:20? Why is it not 75:25? There has to be a basis for the figures. If you are writing a constitutional settlement, it has to be capable of being taught in schools; you have to know why the figures are 80:20. It is not enough to say,
“it delivers a little democracy—but not too much”,
in the words of the alternative report. You have to know why those are the right numbers. The noble Lord, Lord Winston, is a scientist and there must be some scientific rule that explains why the figures are 80:20. I think this is a fudge and I think that fudges come unstuck. Hybridity means instability. Constitutional settlements should be premised on stability.
Perhaps I can help the noble Lord with a little bit of information. The two options of 80:20 or 100 per cent have been placed before Parliament because that is what the House of Commons voted for. I pay tribute to the noble Lord for introducing such an interesting contribution at a quarter to midnight. The reason why it is a fudge is because the House of Commons voted for a fudge.
That is fine, but in 15 years’ time how will you explain that in schools? You cannot have a fudge; you have to have a rule, a principle, a rationale, otherwise it will be unstable. When it starts to go wrong, when there is a showdown between the two Houses and the independents, and the unelected have played some role in that, the numbers will get changed. People will decide on a different number.
When we voted on possible compositions, I voted for an all-elected Chamber or an all-nominated Chamber. I could not vote for any of the numerical compromises. If we go for a compromise, we ought to look either in the area to which the noble Lord, Lord Low of Dalston, was pointing us or in the area to which the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, was pointing us: the area of indirect election. There are good arguments for indirect election and by choosing indirect election constituencies or interest groups, you could achieve possibly the degree of expertise that you are looking for, which you were kind enough to say that you get at present at least partly from the Cross Benches.
My Lords, probably one of the most frequently used phrases in the speeches that I have heard in the debate has been that this issue is “not a priority”; it was repeated time and again. We also heard of opinion poll evidence that seems to back that up. Nadhim Zahawi, the Member in the other place who was formerly the chief executive of YouGov, cited his opinion poll that showed that Lords reform was proposed as an important issue for the Government to tackle by exactly 0 per cent of the population.
That is very interesting, but the reality is that we are where we are and in all likelihood a Bill will come before us next week. It may not be the greatest priority. I suspect—although I have no knowledge of this—that it is not the greatest priority of the Prime Minister or the Chancellor of the Exchequer at the present time. I am sure that they would subscribe very much to those arguments. However, it is in the nature of their commitment to the coalition, and of their honouring of agreements, that even while they do not agree that this is necessarily the best way for both Houses to spend their time over the next year, none the less they signed up to a deal in 2010 and therefore will see it through and honour it. That is to their credit.
Some noble Lords in the debate talked about references to reform being in all three manifestos. I dusted down my copy of the manifesto—of course I should say that it has no dust on it, because it is so frequently reread—and eventually found the reference, in paragraph 6 on page 67 out of 85. It was not exactly a rampant endorsement, but merely stated:
“We will work to build a consensus for a mainly-elected second chamber to replace the current House of Lords, recognising that an efficient and effective second chamber should play an important role in our democracy and requires both legitimacy and public confidence”.
Most noble Lords and Members in the other place will recognise the realities of how we have got to where we are. However, we are where we are and we have to deal with it.
The architecture of the building in which we are debating these matters is incredibly grand, astonishing and humbling to walk into each day. However, nobody suggests that if it were knocked down we would rebuild it with the Pugin and Barry designs for this great building being replicated by the noble Lords, Lord Rogers or Lord Foster, should they be commissioned with the task. The building would be different; it would reflect the culture, ideals and drives of the time in which we live. Therefore, even if this question is not a priority, if it is put the only credible answer in present times is to have a wholly elected House.
We extend our work around the world through organisations such as the Westminster Foundation for Democracy. I cannot believe for one minute that we would dispatch people around the world, to the Arab world or anywhere else, to argue that they ought to have an entirely appointed House with our present composition, or indeed one with an 80:20 ratio; they would argue in favour of a fully elected House.
In many ways, the position that we find ourselves in is made more difficult by the piecemeal reforms that were embarked on by the Blair Government. They embarked on the great task of rebuilding and reshaping this constitutional building and then, half way through, lost interest and walked off the job. It is in that sense that I worry about the sustainability of an 80:20 solution, because that would be to ensure that in five, 10 or 15 years’ time—or perhaps even in one year’s time—people would be coming back to have further reports about how we tackle this issue. It has been going on long enough. The view is there, and we need to settle this once and for all.
I shall make two very brief points that perhaps have not been touched on as much before. The first is to stress the importance of the House being representative. One of the great strengths of the House of Commons system and the fact that our Executive are drawn from the legislature is the linkage that even the Prime Minister has. In the midst of all that he is dealing with, at some stage he has to answer questions and letters from his constituents. He has to go back to his constituents and listen to their concerns in a constituency surgery. That grounding of the debate is very important in the grounding of politics and a sense of accountability.
I was quite persuaded in the debate. The noble Viscount, Lord Astor, said—I am paraphrasing him—that it is not the first election that instils accountability but the second. Therefore, rather than thinking of single 15-year terms, we ought to be thinking of some mechanism to introduce re-election to the system.
I am aware that my time is going, but my final point is that I think that a change of this magnitude requires us to have a referendum. If we are going to have referendums for local mayors, which we are campaigning for at present, something as major as this needs to be put to the people for them to express an opinion. That is very much in keeping with the founding fathers of Parliament. On 13 November 1295, Edward I summoned Parliament and said in his Writ of Summons:
“What touches all should be approved of all”.
That is the case for the referendum.
My Lords, what are the failures and problems in our political system that most need attention? Are they in the House of Lords? Many of us might agree that relations between the media and politics, the financing of our politics, the debilitated condition of local government and the relation between Scotland and the United Kingdom and its implications for Parliament are major and urgent issues to which reformers should soon apply themselves. There are problems about the lack of public trust in Parliament and the domination of the House of Commons by the Executive, but would an elected second Chamber make a useful contribution to the solution of either of those problems? What is the problem that the proponents of the draft Bill purport to solve? The Government tell us that it is a flaw in our democracy. In their foreword to the White Paper, the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister said:
“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”.
The Prime Minister has added that the Bill would strengthen Parliament. The first of these propositions is based on a misrepresentation of fact, and the second is a rhetorical and unsubstantiated assertion to which the Joint Committee gave short shrift. As a matter of fact, the House of Lords does not make the laws of the land. The House of Commons decides what is to be the law. The House of Lords advises and influences, but in the event of disagreement between the two Houses, ultimately the appointed House defers to the elected House. Our parliamentary system is, after all, democratic.
What if the second Chamber were to be elected? The Government say that we should not worry because the Parliament Acts, perhaps revised in consequence of the advice on this matter received by the Joint Committee, and financial privilege guarantee the primacy of the House of Commons. If so, what gain would there be in an elected second Chamber expressly designed to be powerless? What candidates of quality would stand for election to it? Why would voters bother to vote in elections to it? I anticipate that there would be low turnout and that rather a lot of voters would cast their votes frivolously and in protest. I fear that we would see BNP and Respect senators elected, who would then be in the reformed second Chamber for 15 years. I do not know whether noble Lords on the other side of the House would contemplate with equanimity a state of affairs in which a UKIP block vote were to determine the outcome of votes in the second Chamber for 15 years to come.
What would be lost in such a change? As the alternative report grasped clearly, we would lose the representativeness that the present House has of the diversity of the professional, cultural and ethnic make-up of our country, and we would lose the gender balance that we have, which is at least better than that of the elected House of Commons. We would lose the eminent professional ability that this House contains. Above all, we would lose the experience of Members of this House. I prefer not to make the case for an appointed House in terms of expertise, because expertise falls away but experience grows. Whether or not your Lordships are posh, you are not boys. You have seen a good deal of life and a very great deal of government, and it is for those reasons that you are qualified to advise Ministers and the other place.
I believe that the quality of our debates would be poorer, that there would be less shrewdness and persistence in scrutiny, and less candour in the advice offered by a House that was more tightly controlled politically. Whatever the quality proved to be of an elected second Chamber, the Joint Committee and the alternative report are as one in agreeing that it would challenge the House of Commons in new ways, and that Clause 2 of the draft Bill is wishful thinking. The Joint Committee anticipates that a new assertiveness would lead to clashes between the two Houses becoming routine, and I fear that the public would find that frustrating and distasteful and that their disaffection from politics at Westminster would be compounded.
As Professor Bogdanor put it in his evidence, the revising Chamber would become “an opposing Chamber”. If we have impasse and an inability to legislate, it would be a disaster. The courts would have to intervene to resolve the conflicts between the two Houses, as we see at the moment with the Supreme Court in the United States of America determining the legitimacy of legislation produced by the two elected Houses of the American Congress. Replicating such a situation in this country would be a constitutional disaster.
I fear that we would see a deterioration of our democracy, and the erroneous propositions of the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister should not be the foundation for massive constitutional change. Instead, we should address the modest reforms that are really needed and which have been put off for so long. We should improve the functioning of the existing Chambers. The House of Commons should remember itself and resume the practice of thorough scrutiny of legislation. The House of Lords should be allowed to pursue the agenda of reforms set out by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman: the establishment of a statutory appointments commission tasked by Parliament, and provisions for disqualification, limitation of tenure and the end of the hereditary by-elections.
Constitutional change and reform in our country have been continuous, but the British tradition has been to be cautious, pragmatic, respectful of the inherited constitution and conscious of the distinctive history of United Kingdom; to address significant problems in due time to build the maximum consensus; to pause at each stage to see what the effects of reform prove to be; and to proceed incrementally.
The authors of the alternative report propose a constitutional convention on the future of the House of Lords. I rather think that this is a sensible proposal in all the circumstances. Certainly, if the membership as they recommend is broadly drawn, their terms of reference enable them to consider all the relevant issues because so many constitutional issues are inter-related and the work is not rushed. Most valuably, as the alternative report recommends, the convention could consider the implications for the Parliament at Westminster of the Scottish referendum on independence.
There is no sense in undertaking radical reform of the House of Lords at a time when the Scots are about to force huge constitutional issues affecting the role and the structure of Parliament upon us. The political developments that have occurred in Scotland are a complete game changer and they have happened while the enthusiasts for an elected second Chamber were not looking. It would be particularly valuable if a convention was therefore able to head the parties off from leaping into the dark with ill-considered manifesto commitments for devo-max with incalculable consequences.
Finally, the proposal from the alternative report is that the recommendations that emerge from the constitutional convention should be put to the people in a referendum. Reluctantly, I accept the principle that major constitutional change should be subject to a referendum. But let us be careful: let the debate run; let the issues clarify; and let understanding mature first.
My Lords, I am in favour of an elected House, so I hope that the Government will have the courage to come forward with a Bill. However, I do not envy their prospects. On the one hand, if they go down the route proposed by my right honourable friend Nick Clegg, they will be faced with a rebellion in the other House and in this House. On the other hand, if they pull up short of that, they look like causing some severe fractures internally in the Government. It will be a hard choice and I do not suppose that they will have gained anything from the debate today, which has to my mind been pretty polarised.
I will concentrate on a bit of ground between the opposing parties, which no one else likes but for which I happen to have an affection; namely, the list system. Those who favour an elected House say, “It’s appointment by another name”, and so it is. We could preserve all the virtues of the current House under a list system. Those who have argued that we must preserve the House as it is say that the list system would be an election. But it is not an election to fear. At the moment, the Government create the list of Peers they want in the dark after the election and all sorts of odds and sods come through. My peerage comes from buggery and bribery, although things are better these days. None the less, to expose the people proposed for peerages to an election would be a positive step forward. It would not interfere with the process and would tend to result in a better selection of Peers in this place.
There is a lot to be said for my right honourable friends bringing forward a Bill based on a list system. To our surprise, I think that we would find that we could agree on it.
My Lords, at the end of a long day—indeed, it is a different day from the day on which we began this debate—which is before another morning of debate on this subject, one week before another two days of debate on constitutional reform and 101 years after the passage of the Parliament Act 1911 that promised to replace the hereditary basis on which men came to this House with a popular principle in its place, I shall be brief. But I want to address the issue that has again been contested today as to whether these proposals are best described as evolutionary or revolutionary.
First, I want to respond to the alternative report and to those noble Lords who have so far argued that there has been insufficient debate about proposals for reform of your Lordships’ House in order to proceed with a Bill along the lines proposed by the Joint Committee, which was so well chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Richard.
It seems to me that it is only in the House of Lords that the argument could be advanced that 101 years is insufficient time properly to consider the merits of a proposal, especially when the proposal is as basic as the principle of democracy, which many of us so easily advocate for other countries. I would also like to correct a mistake I made in a recent article I wrote for a public sector magazine about Lords reform. I said that our country was in a league of two with Lesotho in maintaining the hereditary principle in the legislature. I now understand that I was wrong. I am told that Belgium preserves the right for the children of the king to be members of its upper House, but by convention they do not vote. So in fact we are, in this country, alone with Lesotho in maintaining voting rights in Parliament that are inherited. I believe that the changes now proposed by the Joint Committee are logical and evolutionary because they build on previous legislation such as the Life Peerages Act 1959, which enabled men and, for the first time, women to come here without committing their descendants, and the House of Lords Act 1999, which ended the hereditary principle save for 92 seats, and known then as stage 1 reform.
The proposals now follow more than a decade of cross-party work which has seen proposals similar to these from a royal commission, a Joint Committee of both Houses, the Public Administration Select Committee, a cross-party group of MPs convened by my noble friend Lord Tyler, and two Labour government White Papers. After another decade of discussion, it must be time for stage 2 reform. The Joint Committee’s report states that:
“It is readily apparent that many of the principal elements of the current draft Bill have been proposed before”.
It is time to decide and not just to debate.
I also agree with the committee proposal that the appropriate size for the House in the future, especially in the absence of serious devolution within England, is 450. That is a number big enough for the House to do its work, and big enough for elections under a proportional system to be proportional within large constituencies or regions. It would improve diversity, but not include extremes. Of course, and despite the references made by many noble Lords earlier in the debate, a proportional system is very different from the alternative vote system which was rejected by voters last year and which is in fact only a small modification to first past the post. In practice, we should be electing 120 Members of this House in three years’ time. That would be an appropriate time, in my view, to complete the promise of the 1999 legislation and that of 1911, and bring an end to the principle of inheriting a right to vote in the legislature.
My Lords, given the late hour, I shall be brief. I am one of those who feel strongly that the proposal to turn the present House of Lords into a wholly or partly elected Senate is not reform but abolition, the abolition of an institution that has a unique history and which performs a valuable function in the scrutiny of new legislation. It does not create legislation, and where there is disagreement, it always recognises the supremacy of the House of Commons.
The strength of the House of Lords is the experience and expertise of its Members in most walks of life. Its Members have made a mark in life and will be reluctant to stand for election. The new Senate would be more party political and considerably more expensive. Most important, there can be little doubt that the newly elected Senate would sooner or later challenge the primacy of the House of Commons, and for this reason alone I am surprised that any Member of the House of Commons supports the idea of an elected Senate.
To argue that the proposed Bill should be rejected is not to say that this House is not in need of some reform. I join others in this debate who have recommended that the Bill before us today should be rejected and that, in its place, the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, preferably in its original form, should become the basis of further debate on Lords reform.
My Lords, I have clearly drawn the short straw for the last of the graveyard slots today. At this late hour, I hope that my remarks will not hasten your Lordships into repose, because I will focus on a proposal that so far today has not been aired. It bears a passing resemblance in substance to the constructive speeches of the noble Lords, Lord Low of Dalston and Lord Stevenson of Balmacara.
It is of great concern to me, and to so many Members of this House and the other place, that there is no compelling argument in the Joint Committee report behind the main tenet for reform, which is election over appointment. It is no more than an easy and populist mantra for the Deputy Prime Minister to say that a largely elected House will bring “a smidgeon of democracy” to the House of Lords. In my view, the idea has arisen simply because it sounds good. I believe that it is baseless, wholly wrong and dangerous. It will lead to the undoing of the successful and enduring balance of power that forms the bedrock of our much-admired constitution.
I welcome the alternative report which 50 per cent of members of the Joint Committee felt compelled to write. The report highlights the abject failure of Clause 2 in arguing a case for preserving the primacy of the Commons by abolishing the Lords and introducing 80 per cent elected Senators.
The arguments against election have strength and some clarity: the challenge to the primacy of the Commons; the quality of Senators in an elected House would be restricted and reduced only to those who wished to fight an election campaign to gain their seat; elected Senators will be costly to the taxpayer; and elected Senators, with larger constituencies than MPs, will be much diverted from their primary function of scrutiny to manage their mailbags and hold surgeries.
However, I am convinced that some reform is required. To that end, I welcome the proposals to reduce the number of Members in the House. In my submission to the Joint Committee I recommended an upper House of around 400 Peers, and the Joint Committee recommends 450. I commend the idea of a sensible retirement policy for Peers as well as a provision for the exclusion of Peers with serious criminal convictions. Both of these are contained in the Steel Bill. This Bill has been like a rugby ball, available in a ruck of unresolved conflicting views, and I am pleased to hear this evening from my noble friend Lord Steel that the coalition is now scooping up the Bill and heading for the baseline, hopefully to make it law.
In my submission to the Joint Committee, I also made some suggestions to improve the system of appointments to the House, a process on which I would like to focus my remarks today. The alternative report states that the starting point for reform should be to determine how Parliament best serves the needs of the British people—I think that we would all agree with that. However, the reason that we are all debating this issue is that the British people need to trust that the Lords fulfils its role in this country as effectively as possible and that there is transparency and accountability around the process of appointing Members to it, a point made by my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth.
To achieve this, there must be some basic premises: the system must be meritocratic and not be perceived as elitist; Members should be highly regarded in their field of work, across a broad range of sectors, taking account of their background, skills and reputation; their knowledge and skills should be current and relevant and remain so; and Members should be committed and active in this House.
A proactive, transparent and open appointments system is the only way to secure the optimum quality of Members in this House. So I suggest a 100 per cent appointed House and not a 20 per cent appointed one.
I welcome the recommendation in the Joint Committee report to have a statutory Appointments Commission. From this base, I suggest a more rigorous appointments process to mirror that practised by leading executive search consultancies, a sector in which Britain excels.
Your Lordships’ appointments panel is currently somewhat opaque and shrouded in mystery. The executive search process should be adopted to extend the scope for more applications from society. It would work in the following way. A small number of sector panels would be set up, headed by appointed luminaries in each sector. Its sole purpose would be to find suitable candidates to represent sectors such as agriculture, tourism and the Armed Forces, for example, to sit in the Lords. Positions in the Lords would be open to all eligible British citizens. The process would include the review of all CVs received.
Additionally, a proactive headhunt would ensure that suitable and recommended individuals were approached, thereby finding people who otherwise might not have considered entering the Lords. Each sector panel would draw up the candidate list to present to the statutory Appointments Commission which would finally appoint, with successful candidates filling vacancies in those sectors under-represented in the Lords. Consideration would be given to party or no party affiliation.
As an example, if an exceptional head teacher based anywhere in the country wished to apply for a position in the Lords, he or she could send an application to the education sector panel, or he or she could be approached so to do. With luck, the application would be submitted up to the statutory Appointments Commission. Following assessment and interview, he or she could be appointed.
The sector panels and Appointments Commission would be wise to utilise the services of the executive search sector to expedite the process and to take advantage of its sophisticated IT systems and databases. After all, the executive search professionals already research, approach and appoint our most senior leaders in this country across the public and private sectors. The appointments process should be regularly reviewed by an independent body to ensure transparency and rigour for selection. It should provide regular feedback, published for public scrutiny.
It may be wishful thinking, but I suggest that this provides a basis for consensus. The proposed constitutional convention should give serious consideration to these proposals. They are proposals that would provide for the necessary continuation of the breadth and depth of experience in our House. It would also add some credibility to a “smidgen of democracy”.
Debate adjourned until tomorrow.