Motion to Take Note (2nd Day)
Moved on Monday 30 April by
My Lords, having listened to many of the speeches yesterday—I confess that I missed some of them because I went to the theatre to see a play appropriately called “The Collaborators”—and having read the others, it is difficult to know what to say about this debate that is different. But I wonder whether your Lordships remember the Austin Allegro. The Austin Allegro was probably the worst car ever built. It was completely unreliable, it had a totally underpowered engine, and its big selling feature was that it had a square steering wheel. This car was designed by the management for political reasons. They ignored the people who knew about cars and design and it was meant to save British Leyland. It was the management’s answer. In fact, they were so convinced that it would save the company that it was nicknamed the “flying pig”.
I do not know whether noble Lords can see the parallel that I am drawing here, but it seems to me that this Bill, which has been so comprehensively filleted by the Joint Committee, has many similarities to the Austin Allegro in so far as the Deputy Prime Minister believes it will save the Liberal Party at the next election. It was conceived for political reasons and without any recognition of the needs of the consumer and the customer—in this case the wider electorate.
The case is being made for “reform”. However, I think “reform” is the wrong word here because actually it is the abolition of this House that we are talking about and we are talking as well about the destruction of the House of Commons as we know it. So “reform” is the wrong word to use. It is the right word to use in the context of the Bill of my noble friend Lord Steel, which for too long has been ignored by the Government for reasons that are incomprehensible to me. The Government could perfectly well bring about some reform that would deal with most of the issues and avoid all the difficulties that the Joint Committee has so comprehensively illustrated.
I want to deal with two of the fibs which have been repeated during the course of our debate. The first is that this was a Conservative manifesto commitment. It was not a manifesto commitment. Our commitment was to seek a consensus on Lords reform. One has only to listen to the chiding given by the chairman of the Joint Committee to the excellently produced alternative report to realise that there is no consensus. A casual reading of the committee’s report will show that we have failed to reach consensus. So as far as I am concerned, as a Conservative, we have discharged our manifesto commitment.
The second fib which is told is that it was part of the coalition agreement. The agreement was that the Deputy Prime Minister would convene a hand-picked committee to look at this issue with a view to producing a Motion by December 2010. But as the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, pointed out as a member of that committee, it failed to do so. In fact, it failed to reach any agreement at all, to the point where the committee stopped having meetings because it was impossible to make progress. So on both of these counts, the obligations of the coalition agreement and the obligations of the Conservative manifesto have been discharged.
My noble friend Lord Strathclyde has come up with a new definition of consensus. “Consensus” is what the House of Commons votes for on a three-line Whip on a constitutional Bill. The play I saw last night was about Stalin, but not even he would have used that argument. I have to say, listening on the radio this morning to a beleaguered Minister trying to persuade the chief executive of British Airways, or whatever it calls itself nowadays—the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, may be able to help me with that—who had explained that there are queues at Heathrow, that they are not really as long as he said they were, made me wonder this: what does the country think? Do people think that it is better for us to spend money on 450 superannuated politicians rather than on immigration officers at Heathrow to deal with these problems? As the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, pointed out, this is not an issue that is central to the problems facing our country.
My Lords, I knew that an intervention would be popular.
Can the noble Lord address the central question? Can he explain why it is that this Chamber cannot follow the same principle as the vast majority of second Chambers elsewhere in the world, which is by being democratically based? Is it because our democracy is so weak? Is it because we are totally unique in the world? Or is it because the House of Lords is, as it always has been, opposed to democratic reform?
I have to say to my noble friend that I read his speech with interest. In it he made that point repeatedly, along with the point that this House should have the right to decide whether we go to war. He did not actually explain what would happen if this House, elected by PR, voted against going to war and the other place, elected by first past the post, voted in favour. How would we resolve that? The point about this House—what makes it effective—is that it is completely different from the House of Commons.
In his speech, the noble Lord—my noble friend—said that this place ought to be able to decide things, which is a perfectly respectable point of view, but it is one that I do not agree with. That is because, like him, I served in the House of Commons. I love the House of Commons. It is the central feature of our democratic system. It is the body which guarantees our liberty and its sovereignty is crucial. By creating a competing House here, we will undermine it. Another noble friend, the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, said in her speech that she was sick of hearing about people talking about turkeys voting for Christmas. The turkeys will be in the House of Commons, not in this House, if they vote for this legislation, for it will undermine the power of the House of Commons. It will turn this into a competing Chamber, and that will be a disaster for the House of Commons. So I do not agree with my noble friend that we should become a kind of House of Commons.
At the same time as we had the Austin Allegro there was a very popular programme on television which I used to enjoy—watching with my children, of course—called “The A-Team”. If we have an elected House here, it will be very much the B-team. Who in the A-team is going to want to be part of a Chamber that is perceived to be secondary? Who will put up with that? But if I had been elected on a 15-year term with a popular mandate, I have to say with regard to the Scotland Bill—on which I think I spoke for quite a long time—that under the powers which already exist in this House it would have been perfectly possible for me to kill that Bill. That is one of the things to consider when people talk about the existing powers. This House has enormous powers, but we do not use them because we respect the fact that the House of Commons is the elected Chamber. I could easily have killed the Bill, but I did not do so. Although I hate the Bill, I did not do so because I am not elected and I do not have a popular mandate. If I had a 15-year term, so that even if it was unpopular in my constituency I would never be held to account, I tell you what— I would certainly have done it.
That is the problem with this whole Bill: it will change behaviour. I can tell noble Lords something else. There are not too many Conservatives in Scotland. If I was elected as a Conservative Member of this House on a 15-year term, I would make it my business to secure in every constituency the election of other Conservatives to the House of Commons. I would be there for 15 years while the average term of a Member of the House of Commons is, I think, eight years. I would be there for 15 years, so I would know all the issues. I would be interfering in constituency business. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, said that, by not giving them secretarial services, they would not interfere. The noble Lord himself was a Member of Parliament— I do not know what his constituency was.
Well, if the noble Lord casts his mind back, he will know that, just as today, constituents would not allow that to happen.
For the Government to say that the House is too large and to continue to make additional appointments to it will bewilder the electorate as it bewilders me. Sometimes, I think that the Government are behaving like Caligula, who appointed his horse as a consul. Everyone said, “He’s mad”. But he was not mad: he appointed his horse as a consul because he wanted to discredit the institution. By making more and more appointments while doing nothing about the size of this place, the Government are trying to have it both ways and are undermining its integrity and effectiveness.
The House of Commons should look out for this Bill. It will be decided in the House of Commons, not here. It is right that it should be decided in the House of Commons, because the House of Commons is sovereign. However, as it sees its powers being taken away by Europe, by assemblies, by Parliaments, by external courts and others, it should look at this Bill and realise what it is: it is a Trojan horse at the centre of our democracy and it should be rejected, and rejected comprehensively, by every Member of Parliament who cares about that great institution, the House of Commons.
My Lords, it is very difficult to follow the noble Lord, because he has given us a comprehensive demolition of the proposals in the draft Bill. It has been rather strange over recent weeks to listen to him speak on the Scotland Bill. He and I agree on very few of the big political issues of the day—the economy, the health service and education—but when it comes to constitutional issues, we agree a great deal, because, although we are politicians, we are practical politicians who want workable solutions. That is not what we have been presented with.
I add to the congratulations offered to the noble Lord, Lord Richard. When I was shadowing the Leader of the House in another place—Lord Newton, who is much missed on these occasions—where we proposed pre-legislative scrutiny, we hoped, expected and perhaps assumed that Bills would be in a better state of readiness than the one that was presented to the Joint Committee. As others have said, the noble Lord, Lord Richard, had a big task, but his hands were tied behind his back because of the limited remit. Therefore, his committee could not address some of the basic problems. That is one of the reasons why I welcome the alternative report, which may become a definitive guide on this issue. The one thing that we all agree on is that we do not have a workable solution. Last week, when this debate was announced, one of my colleagues said, “Well, what is there new to say about this Bill?” My noble friend Lord Foster of Bishop Auckland said that the thing that would be new would be if somebody stood up and said, “I think that the draft Bill is perfect”. The noble Lord, Lord Tyler, has not spoken yet and he may break that duck, but I doubt it.
I share the concerns of many people; we all have different priorities. Mine are not theoretical but very practical, because I have never, even going back to university student days when we are all a bit wayward, favoured a second Chamber that would or could challenge the House of Commons. Indeed, I think that I would prefer a unicameral system to a confrontational system. The reasons for that are quite straightforward: first, the electorate should have the clearest possible choice at a general election to elect a Government who can get their programme through. For the same reason, I am against proportional representation, which will always lead to post-election deals that no one has voted for. Secondly, if we have a second Chamber with a strong electoral mandate—and some, though not me, would say that a PR mandate supersedes a first past the post mandate—it is inevitable that, in pretty short time, there would be a clash, gridlock and a constitutional crisis.
The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, referred to the Scotland Bill. I had the privilege of being Leader of the House of Commons and then Chief Whip. We had then, as now, ping-pong. It was very inconvenient to business managers to have to send things back and forth, and sometimes we had to compromise, but we knew as Commons business managers that, at the end of the day, we would get our Bills. If I were to be an elected Member of the second Chamber, a Senator, then, as the noble Lord asked, why would we give way? Indeed, I can imagine squabbles: “My mandate is bigger than your mandate. My mandate is stronger than your mandate. I was elected on PR”. Why on earth would we give way in those situations?
I must mention Clause 2, which has united many people because no one thinks that it is fit for purpose—indeed, the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor, said that there was devastating criticism. It is obvious to me and, I suspect, to many other people that the Government will rewrite Clause 2. But I hope that no one will fall for a bland rewriting of that clause with promises of future codification of conventions because some people are making that sound simple and it is not. As the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, has said on more than one occasion, relationships will evolve and change. The only way in which that will happen is with a second Chamber becoming more assertive.
I heard one analysis that I think sums up the current situation. In many ways, we have a unicameral legislature with an advisory second Chamber, and that works. As the Clerk of the House of Commons said in his evidence to the Joint Committee, at present we have two Chambers that are complementary. If this Bill goes through we will have two Chambers in confrontation. That point above all others is one that Members of another place should bear in mind.
I also want to say a word, as indeed did the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, about mixed membership—some elected, some appointed. The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, has referred to this on many occasions. If the will of the unelected Senators outvotes the will of the elected Senators, how does that enhance democracy?
While we are on that word “democracy”, it is a single cry of those Ministers who are proposing these changes. But democracy is about more than just the vote: it is about accountability. What accountability is there for a Senator who is elected for 15 years and cannot seek re-election? What sanction does the electorate have? It is utter nonsense. If those seeking election as Senators are to do so on a party list, influenced by the party establishment, what is the real difference between those of us who are put here by our party leaders and those who are put on a 15-year list? We might as well put a 15-year limit on our time in this House. There will be no less accountability there because a party machine will still choose and the electorate will not be any better off.
My other very serious concern about what is being proposed is the piecemeal nature of all the constitutional changes that have been proposed and are floating around at the moment. The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, mentioned the Scotland Bill. He did not mention the Scottish referendum, which will have a significant impact on our constitutional arrangements. Who knows what that will be? It will be upon us very soon.
Surely we must have some coherence in all the changes that have been proposed. We have to bear it in mind that while, thankfully, we do not have AV, because that referendum came out the right way, we do have a change to a fixed-term Parliament. We have a new system where there will be boundary changes for constituencies every five years. We are moving towards individual voter registration, not to mention elected mayors and police commissioners and we will see what the turnout will be for that. I wonder whether all this turmoil is really the way to re-engage the public with politicians. At a time when they are worried about jobs, the health service, housing and so forth, I believe that it is dangerous to alienate the public, especially when we see the far right doing so well in parts of Europe.
The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, referred to the Conservative manifesto and the coalition agreement, and I do not want to intrude on private grief there. But will the Minister who is replying follow up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, about the definition of consensus—the idea that consensus is a majority in the House of Commons? I wish when I was Chief Whip and Leader of the House that I had thought of that. We need a denial that that is where we are.
Few people in this debate have said that there should be no change to the workings of this second Chamber. The noble Lord, Lord Steel, said yesterday that he had received an indication from the Government that they will give a fair wind to his Bill in the next Session and that is welcome. But we need to go further and incorporate the proposals suggested by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, in her very positive and constructive evidence to the committee. Other interesting ideas have come up in this debate, perhaps especially the idea of a secondary mandate, which could lead to some consensus.
We really need some kind of road map of where constitutional change is going. If we do not have that, we will see all sorts of unintended consequences if we go down the path of the Clegg Bill. That is why I was glad to see the recommendation in the alternative report for a constitutional convention. It is also why I remind the House of the words of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, yesterday, which we should all bear in mind. He said that we are talking about the British constitution, not the glue that holds the coalition together.
My Lords, I do not think that the draft Bill is perfect, but I think it will be improved by the work of the Joint Committee. Pre-legislative scrutiny, which this House believes in, has been undertaken manfully and womanfully by the committee headed by the noble Lord, Lord Richard. However, I suspect that he, too, shares with me some surprise at the way in which our conclusions have been interpreted or even misinterpreted.
I was here until the early hours of the morning. I was the only member of the Joint Committee still able to be upright, and to avoid repetition I will concentrate on just two issues that are media myths. The first is cost. I have studied the alternative report with care, and while I differ with various conclusions I respect the integrity and conviction with which the authors argue their case or cases. However, they should have been more careful when it came to using figures on potential costs. For example, it is ridiculous to use costs that were clearly speculative 10 months ago. The noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, who is now in his place, has been perfectly open and honest that he prepared those cockshy estimates many months ago when the Joint Committee was not even set up and had not reported. I am therefore very sad that those figures have been used.
First, let me reiterate what the Joint Committee recommended. We unanimously agreed that the independent assessment of salaries and allowances should be left to IPSA, not to the Government, let alone to the present House of Lords. By emphasising that new Members, whether elected or appointed, need not be full-time parliamentarians, we discouraged IPSA from suggesting a full-time salary. I suspect that the appropriate answer may well be a part-time salary, perhaps half that of an MP’s. Members of your Lordships’ House who have been MPs know how hard they work. They of course have to work when Parliament is not sitting in a way that we do not.
More importantly, this package will no longer be tax-free, as the present allowances are. It would be reasonable to expect a very modest net salary figure for year one for the 150 new members—120 elected, 30 appointed—who will replace the departing 92 hereditaries. Without a definitive figure for the number of life Peers retiring—the Joint Committee makes recommendations that are more ambitious than the government Bill—it is too early to estimate the savings on the present generous daily allowances, but obviously that, too, will be substantial. The estimated figure—
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, criticised my noble friend Lord Lipsey because he did not have at his disposal all the facts relating to the costs of the new Chamber. Yet the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, does not have all the facts at his disposal either. If the Government had come forward with costings when the report went to Joint Committee, we would not be having this muddled discussion now.
I hear what the noble Baroness says, but these are the conclusions of the unanimous report in this respect. It is just that I, rather than the Government, am interpreting it. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, and other members of the Joint Committee agree with what I am saying about the recommendations of the Joint Committee. That is all I am doing. I am not blaming the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey. He prepared his figures long before the Joint Committee sat, let alone made its recommendations.
I am trying to keep within my time limit. Many other noble Lords have gone over it, but I will try to make progress. We specifically advised against the funding of any but the most minimal staff to undertake parliamentary duties, so the staffing figure of £31 million is just pie in the sky. Finally, since it is recommended that the election of the new Members would be at the same time as the 2015 general election polling day, the extra cost would obviously be marginal. Of course, the cost of not reforming your Lordships’ House, with more appointments to re-balance the party numbers and with the allowances doubling in every decade, would be phenomenal. If we retain the present membership of the House and it is increased by re-balancing, those tax-free allowances would go through the roof. Would that be good value for taxpayers’ money in this period of austerity?
The noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, has generously—
My Lords, will the noble Lord concede that few if any Members of your Lordships’ House believe, as far as I am aware, that the current arrangements could continue for much longer? The question is not whether reform is needed but what kind.
The noble Baroness is right, but there is no proposal yet on the table. I am illustrating the cost implications of the Joint Committee’s report. The noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, has generously already cut his cost estimate by £100 million at least. In fact, the year one extra cost might be—
My Lords, my patience is great but has now been exhausted. I prepared the best costing possible of the Government’s proposals. It is perfectly true, as I said in my speech yesterday, that the Joint Committee’s proposals will cost slightly less because they make wholly unrealistic assumptions about what it is possible to do for transitional Members, but I have not cut my costs by £100 million. I stand by my costs. Until the Government or the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, find some better criticism than he puts forward this morning, I shall stand by them to the last.
I hope the noble Lord will now read the Joint Committee report, because there are specific recommendations in it that do not concur with his conclusions.
The second issue is the media myth that somehow or other the public are completely opposed to any reform of your Lordships’ House. I draw particular attention to paragraph 17 of the report and the footnote. The 2010 British Social Attitudes Survey shows that 59 per cent are in support of wholly or partly elected Members and 22 per cent are in favour of abolition—completely sweeping the House of Lords away and having a unicameral system. That is the real danger. Only 6 per cent wish to continue as a wholly appointed House. That is endorsed by the January 2012 YouGov poll, where 71 per cent support wholly or partly elected Members and 10 per cent support wholly appointed Members. Last week, two more polls showed insignificant figures for a wholly appointed House. Those who—
I have always been in favour of referendums. I have no problem with a referendum and I will explain why in a minute. I am very grateful to the noble Lord for feeding me that line.
Those who oppose the Government’s evolutionary reform process should remember that this is firmly based on the report prepared by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, and Mr Jack Straw. Every element is there, such as the primacy issue and 80:20. I can quote that back to the noble Lord and look forward with huge interest to hearing what he will say in a few minutes from the opposition Front Bench. This Bill builds on that evolution and the work undertaken by the previous Government. It is supported by large numbers of Members on the other side of the House.
The noble Baroness misunderstands the position. I am totally relaxed about a post-legislative referendum, which is how we have undertaken referendums in the main in the past in this country. I will certainly support one when the time comes.
More people are in favour of the abolition of your Lordships’ House—three or four times more—than in retaining a fully appointed House. I hope that Members will recognise that that is a real danger ahead of us. Going back to the noble Lord’s question, that is why, if this House resists clear public pressure for reform, there will come an opportunity for the public to have their say. The longer Members of your Lordships’ House seek to obstruct the public, the more the will of the public will have to be given an opportunity.
I am trying to keep within my time. I have already been interrupted on a number of occasions and other Members managed to go beyond their time. I am personally very relaxed about referendums. I very much hope that the time will come when the public will be able, as they did 100 years ago, to express their fears about the way in which this House has become so undemocratic.
As I said, I was here for all the speeches yesterday, bar two or three, right through until past midnight. This debate has been notable for the small number of courageous Peers who have stuck to the promises that they have campaigned on for so long. I hope that, when the time comes, they will stick to their principles, too.
Was the question put to the public for a mandate to serve on a similar term to that in the Commons or for Peers to be elected for 15 years and then be unable to stand again? To me, that is not democratic accountability; it is an appointment for someone to say whatever they like for the next 15 years.
I am sorry that the noble Baroness did not feel able to speak during the debate yesterday; she could have made that point. I will happily discuss with her the four major polls that have been undertaken and that clearly demonstrate support for the evolution of the democratic principle as the basis of representation in this House.
My Lords, I, too, join other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Richard, on the work of the Joint Committee on scrutiny of this draft Bill for proposed House of Lords reform. Yet, coming at this Bill as I might as a surgeon preparing for major operation, I am forced to ask what the indications are to justify major constitutional surgery. Is it that your Lordships’ House has failed and continues to fail the people of our country? Is it that, as has been stated by the Deputy Prime Minister, your Lordships’ House is an affront to democracy? If it is the former, what is the evidence that your Lordships’ House has failed to undertake appropriate scrutiny and revision of legislation that we have received from the other place?
What action might be taken to ensure that, in future, your Lordships are better able to fulfil the purpose of scrutiny and revision of legislation? If, however, it is the latter—that your Lordships are an affront to democracy—it is unclear what evidence there is that the proposal in the draft Bill adds to democratic accountability. The proposal is to elect 80 per cent of the second Chamber on a term of 15 years, with no opportunity for those elected representatives to present themselves once again to the electorate for scrutiny of their record, creating a system whereby the elected representatives have no contact with their constituents while discharging work on behalf of those taxpayers who are paying for them to sit in this Parliament.
The second obligation of any surgeon preparing for a major operation, and of any responsible politician preparing for major constitutional reform, is to ask whether the benefits proposed outweigh the risks. The important work of the Joint Committee has highlighted the consensus that Clause 2 is insufficient. In future, work must be done to define properly the powers of an elected second Chamber, to understand how those powers might be exercised and how the relationship between two elected Chambers would be handled, and in particular how disputes between the two Chambers might be resolved.
The noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, rightly identified 60 bicameral Parliaments around the world with an elected second Chamber. The question is how many of those Parliaments have no written constitution, no written definition of the powers of the two Chambers and no written protocol for the resolution of disputes between those two Chambers. The Joint Committee took evidence from Australian Senators, and that evidence is instructive as it touched on the question of a resolution of disputes between the two elected Chambers in the Australian Parliament. If we look back to 1975 and the Australian constitutional crisis, we see that the presence of a written constitution was acutely important. The then Speaker of the House of Representatives in Australia wrote to Her Majesty as head of state requesting intervention. The private secretary to the monarch was able to respond that the written constitution made the position clear and that there was no need for any particular intervention.
It seems very unwise to proceed with the creation of an elected second Chamber unless the important issue of the powers of the two Chambers, how disputes are to be resolved, the potential role that the Supreme Court may play in resolving disputes, and therefore how Parliament may be secured as sovereign in future, are properly defined before a Bill is brought for further scrutiny before this Parliament. However, important opportunities have been identified for a way forward. To make progress with necessary reform at this stage, the Joint Committee report and alternative report, the report of the Leader’s group on working practices and the Bill part-way through its passage in this Parliament in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, all have important elements that could be extracted and brought together to offer useful legislation that could rightly justify parliamentary time being used in an effective and cost-effective fashion for the benefit of the people of our country.
The Prime Minister, speaking on the “Today” programme last week, indicated that House of Lords reform could proceed only if there was consensus. Those who have the privilege of leading our country and have particular responsibility for constitutional reform need to be sensitive to this debate, the Joint Committee report and the alternative report. They must ask themselves, having heard what has come out of this important phase of pre-legislative scrutiny, whether the proposed Bill for House of Lords reform justifies prime legislative time in the forthcoming Session of Parliament. They need to exercise the judgment that many professionals, including surgeons when deciding when to operate, have to exercise, because they have responsibility to the people of our country. They must ask themselves whether the competing demands of needing to hold the coalition together by using Lords reform as the glue to maintain some form of cohesion outweighs the needs of the people of our country to secure a long-term settlement for an effective Parliament that can serve their needs not only in good times but in times of crisis—and, more acutely, a Parliament that will focus on the issues that are their principal concerns today.
The Prime Minister, answering an urgent Parliamentary Question yesterday, repeated in your Lordships’ House by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said that,
“the country wants to hear about jobs, investment, living standards and the great challenges we face, like debt”.—[Official Report, Commons, 30/4/12; col. 1243.]
Those of us who have the privilege to sit in this place and the other place need to be acutely sensitive to those wise words and act accordingly.
My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Lord, who adorns this House, and will continue to adorn the House even if the composition of the political Benches in the House is decided by the people rather than by patronage.
Many would say it is unenviable to be the 73rd speaker to address your Lordships in the last debate of a 293-day session, but I can conceive no more enviable privilege than to be able to address your Lordships’ House. However, I suspect I may have caught the selector’s eye this morning, since I do not share the certainty of many who have spoken in this debate that election of Peers to this House is unthinkable. Given the reaction of Peers to speeches yesterday and the witty speech of my noble friend Lord Forsyth this morning, perhaps as last man in I should have prayed for rain and stayed in the pavilion.
I would like to consider one of the refrains running through this debate—the primacy of the Commons. I suggest that we fret over that too much. Yes, the Commons has primacy, but the question is how well it uses it. I agree with the noble Lord, Norton of Louth, that we need to begin from the functioning of Parliament as a whole. Frankly, you would not begin constructing a strong and free Parliament by putting it under the primacy of one House shackled by executive-dominated procedures and telling the other House, however constituted, that it must not say boo to that over-mighty place.
The main case for introducing election to this place is—as the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, said the other day—that it would enable this House to hold by what it believes to be right, rather than knuckling under whenever the other House shouts “unelected”, “primacy”, “privilege” or what have you. Parliament is a trinity of the Crown, Lords and Commons, and in modern times one part of that trinity has, because it is elected, usurped effective power within it. It was not always so, and need not always be so. Indeed, for many centuries your Lordships were the dominant House, though after the 1670s generally accepting Commons privilege in finance. That did not stop your Lordships occasionally rejecting money Bills—for example in 1860, when you rejected paper duties as a tax on knowledge, then being circumvented by Mr Gladstone’s invention of what has become the modern curse of a multi-decker Finance Bill, which your Lordships could not touch, and still cannot, without bringing the whole House down, as happened in 1911. One consequence of an elected House—and the other place has to realise this, just as much as us—could be that if the Parliament Act is to be amended, as some propose, we might look again at the way that money Bills are defined and consider the Joint Committee of both Houses, which was offered by Mr Asquith and Lloyd George to the unionists in 1910, but was not ultimately accepted.
Our acceptance of Commons primacy on finance was rooted in the fact that, even then, the Commons was elected but it was mirrored, after the great privilege battles which raged between the two Houses back in the 1670s, by Commons acceptance of this House’s primacy in justice. Here, at that Bar and in the Benches before it, was embodied the supreme court in the High Court of Parliament and almost all of us will recall the noble and learned Lords who came here, or will have heard of the mighty Lord Chancellors who sat there in olden times, centuries ago. That was the historic, if largely unspoken, deal about primacy between the two Houses: primacy of the Commons on finance, primacy of your Lordships in justice.
I did not hear the other place troubling too much about your Lordships’ primacy on justice when they drove through the expulsion of the Law Lords and dismembered the Lord Chancellorship in the past few years. For my own part, if we are invited to embark on a reform which involves election I do not feel that your Lordships, if elected, need be too squeamish about the other side of the bargain, the Commons primacy on finance, and still less other, all-embracing claims to primacy that have quite recently been laid upon it on the basis that it is elected and we are not. When Parliament is functioning so badly in its prime role of checking the Executive and protecting the citizen against bad counsel—as they used to be called right back to the 13th century—and unjust and incompetent law, why must we always meekly be expected to say: “Oh, but the Commons has primacy and must not be challenged”?
As was said by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, the case for election is that challenge might become more confident in that case and stimulate another place to do its job better. A stronger House here, armed with the authority that comes from election, could deliver that refreshing and, to my mind, necessary challenge to an imperfectly functioning sister House. Yes, there would be a need for resolution procedures, as the noble Lord said, but in the history of these Houses, when they were roughly co-equal in power, there were perfectly good systems for addressing those problems and others could be devised.
Can my noble friend help me and perhaps explain how it would be that if we had this elected second Chamber, it would not suffer from the same problems of the other place in the domination of the Whips and the power of the Executive, given that it was elected? How would we avoid that?
My Lords, it is avoided precisely by the concept of the long mandate, which is non-renewable and with no right to go on to the House of Commons. That means that someone coming here would not be able to develop a political career and go forward to be a senior Minister of the Crown.
I am very grateful to my noble friend. I have known him for many decades and I would never accuse him of naivety, but I have been following his speech carefully. If the other House continues to automatically guillotine every piece of legislation, what is to prevent this House from doing exactly the same and therefore being a mirror image of the other House by not revising legislation properly?
My Lords, the procedures of this House are not currently in a state which would enable the Executive to impose the guillotine. Nor would that be the case in a House in which the political element would be smaller but selected in a different way. If I may, I would like to get on.
I accept that election would change the relations between the Houses, and of course the absurd Clause 2 of the draft Bill is froth, but the balance of power between the Houses is in my submission not a zero-sum game. Both Houses, acting more assertively, could claw back powers surrendered to the Executive, and perhaps other authorities too. However, and here I agree with others, there is no point in reform to include election if you also try to restrain the powers elected Members might exercise. Aside from the risk of letting in the courts, you simply secure all the confusion that follows radical change with none of the benefits that might follow from constructive and confident challenge. If that is the game, I want no part of it.
Elected Members with a mandate will not wish to be restrained. The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, was quite right yesterday to say that nothing is so transforming as seeing those pieces of paper with crosses by your name being tipped on to a trestle table. This House would be different and would behave differently. I agree that it is equally absurd to say that an elected Peer would not respond in a representative capacity; of course he would. My noble friend Lord Trimble described the realities in Australia. Is it really suggested that a Senator should write back to an elector saying, “I’m not able to help you because I’m not allowed an office and I might upset an MP”? The idea is a farce.
I agree with my noble friend Lord Forsyth that no one in either House, particularly in the House of Commons, should be blind to the uncomfortable effects for them of creating a stronger House here which, if we go through all the trauma of change and reform, would and should be ready to challenge aspects of Commons primacy. It so happens that I differ from my noble friend because I believe that, done correctly, the benefits of such challenge might outweigh the problems many have described.
To conclude, I am not going to be the first to proclaim the merits of the Bill. I cannot accept, for example, that in the form of election we should send back to the British people another version of the proportional voting systems that have only lately been rejected in a referendum. That may be okay overseas, but I expect rather better from my Government. The voting paper on page 123 of the Joint Committee’s excellent report reminds me of one of those hospital menus where you tick the box for roast beef and Yorkshire but end up with a vegetable omelette and mushy peas. If we are to have election, please let it be simple and first past the post. I also agree that introducing election here would be a major change to our Parliament and should be put to the people in a referendum. However, I cannot agree that faced with the manifest failings of our 21st-century Parliament and the crying need—the age-old need around which Parliament grew up—to control better the actions of the Executive, the Members of this House should sit back and say to the British people, “Leave us out of it. There is no remedy in changing the composition here”. There might be, and we should consider the Bill maturely when, or if, it arrives.
My Lords, this has been a very powerful and forensic debate. It is a challenge to be the last Back-Bencher to speak, and the last to have had the privilege of serving on the Select Committee. I said rather casually at the beginning of the process that it was a bit like being sent with Sir John Franklin on his expedition to the Arctic. I was wrong, however—at times it was more like being on the “African Queen”, with my noble friend Lord Richard as Humphrey Bogart hauling us through various crocodile-infested swamps and a rather cantankerous crew on board. The stamina which the chairman and my fellow members showed was remarkable. I pay tribute also to the clerks, who were incredibly patient with us.
A consensus was reached on the committee: it was that none of our debates were dull. Our disagreements were indeed all about principle, not perversity. It was helpful to have the benign voice of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester to restore harmony when we got out of control. As noble Lords on the committee have already made clear, our views did diverge, particularly in precisely those areas where the House would have wanted us to be most scrupulous: that is, on what we variously saw as the impact of an electoral mandate—and in the alternative report we used the term “electoral mandate” rather than “election” throughout—on the second Chamber and on the primacy of the House of Commons. Our second concern was the workability of the Bill and its practical and political consequences. On those grounds, those of us who signed the alternative report were convinced that the Bill simply fails the minimum tests. We thought that that needed to be recorded and explained.
Noble Lords have drawn attention to the stark and consistent divisions in the committee, and to the pattern of voting, with votes lost by one or two. Therefore, it is all the more significant that the committee was totally united in rejecting the fundamental proposition of the Bill, Clause 2, as fatuous. Witness after witness demolished the claim made by Clause 2 that the elected House would change nothing and the primacy of the House of the Commons would remain intact. That assumption could be the reason why we have had no impact statement on the Bill. If the Bill has no impact, why should the Government provide an impact statement?
The noble Lord, Lord Tyler, raised the issue of cost. I do not want to revive it but I was sorry that his wrath was not turned on the Government for not producing costings for us, rather than on my noble friend Lord Lipsey, who stepped into the breach. I also remind him that that was the precise reason why we invited IPSA to express—which it did rather well—what might go into those costings, including the whole range of support services such as research assistants, facilities, space and IT costs, which are all critical if an elected House is to do its job. Therefore, we have made a start on fleshing out the implications.
What was particularly disappointing was that the disingenuous—indeed, dangerous—thesis that Clause 2 changed nothing was peddled by Ministers and only by Ministers. The Select Committee’s report, which was based on the weight of the evidence and the great deal of experience that came before us, says—in contradiction to the Bill and in the words of one witness—that “the world will change”. Clause 2 cannot protect the primacy of the Commons. We have in the House of Lords an unusually powerful Chamber. So far, it has been restrained in its use of its powers by culture as well as convention. The report says that in future the second Chamber will unchain those powers and use them assertively; and that, as a result, the balance of power between the two Houses will shift in favour of the House of Lords. It also says that the second Chamber, elected on a proportional system, will indeed acquire a new function of representative responsibilities. It is hard to imagine greater changes in the status, function and powers of the second Chamber than these, or indeed greater changes in our present constitutional balance.
To answer the question of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, it was on those grounds that the committee, at the very end of its deliberations, decided that these massive changes could not be left to the prerogative of government, but needed to be endorsed, or otherwise, in a referendum. I was very glad that the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, clarified his position on the referendum.
However, when challenged on the constitutional risks that will be a part and parcel of these changes, the Minister, Mr Harper, could offer only a cheerful wave in the direction of the Parliament Acts as a regulatory device that would have to be used more often. This is emergency legislation, cobbled together a century ago, to restrain the power of this House. The Deputy Prime Minister, who is already on record to the Constitution Committee as not being too concerned, or indeed too clued up, about the Parliament Acts, refused to be drawn. One witness described the ministerial approach to policy-making as racing blindfold over the edge of a cliff. Therefore, I am bound to say that it is hardly surprising, with this degree of thoughtful statesmanship, that the Bill marks a change of direction in our constitution in which the destination is unknown, the risks undetermined, the costs unquantified, the impact on Parliament as a whole left to chance and the constitutional impacts unconsidered. We know what the real agenda is. Even though the Deputy Prime Minister is on record as saying, in effect, that he knows that this is not the priority of either his constituents or the Government, the reality is that the Bill has become a bargaining chip for the coalition.
My noble friend Lord Richard stated rather plaintively that there was nothing left to say about the issue. We may have had years of debate but it has taken the reality check of the Select Committee and the alternative report to drive down into what is really at stake, and to uncover some of the intractable problems and contradictions of a second Chamber with an electoral mandate. As Professor Bogdanor told us, the problems of balance and power have been avoided only because we have just one elected Chamber. As we have heard, such problems have been resolved in other countries within a written constitution. We do not have that discipline or framework.
Taken together, the two reports show how much hard and detailed work is to be done and how divisive some of these issues are. Of those disagreements, the most profound was over our sense that the debate on and definition of primacy is incomplete. Many noble Lords have referred to paragraphs 66 and 67, which state that these “remaining pillars”—the Parliament Acts and financial privilege—on which primacy rests will be sufficient to secure its continuation. We do not believe that that is so, which is why we tried to remove it from the report. We lost that vote by 10 to 12. We believe that the powers that the second House will have will pose a serious threat to the authority of the House of Commons, for the many reasons set out so eloquently in this debate. Secondly, we do not believe that primacy of the House of Commons rests solely on the constitutional arrangements created by virtue of the struggle between the Crown and Parliament more than four centuries ago, or on the expediency of containing the powers of the House of Lords in the Parliament Acts.
There is something more at stake here, underscored by Erskine May: the primacy of the House of Commons and the positive obligation that MPs have to their electors—that is, the principle and the power of the unique mandate held by Members of Parliament. That is what we submit to every time we draw back from challenging a Second Reading, laying a fatal amendment to secondary legislation and pursuing amendments to their logical and moral conclusion. An electoral mandate with commensurate powers rips up these foundations. Who can predict which Chamber would prevail? The result would be a Parliament divided against itself, uncertain of where power might lie and locked into its own internal battles. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, it was for those reasons that we concluded that a more assertive House would not enhance Parliament’s overall role. It is because the House of Lords will become so much more powerful that the Government offer democracy with one hand and take it away with the other.
As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester put it beautifully, it is democratic legitimacy watered down to incoherence. The mandate for the second Chamber is assumed by Ministers to be—and is designed in the Bill to be as far as possible—a very cramped and confined version of democracy. It is designed to reduce the challenge to the House of Commons, and to reduce the impact, scope and accountability of elected Members. Ministers were blatantly clear about this in their evidence. Not only would a hybrid House with 80 per cent of Members elected be less of a challenge to the House of Commons, it is also an illogical fudge for those of us who believe passionately in a 100 per cent elected House. A 15-year term with no accountability is an attempt to limit the scope of elected Senators by reducing their resources. I find that unethical and risible.
The Government may want to turn the second Chamber into steerage class but they will not be able to. If the Bill becomes law, tomorrow’s Senators will be national representatives, elected to a national Parliament on a national mandate. They will deal not with local, European or devolved matters but with the same issues as the House of Commons deals with every day, and they will exercise the electoral mandate that they have been given. Legislation, ministerial diktat and the ingenious devices put forward by some Members of this House will not be able to determine what these new Senators in a new Parliament will do, or how far they will go to use their powers.
What will the Government do about the report and the Bill? The Deputy Prime Minister said:
“We have tried in the time available to move in a very deliberate, collaborative and open fashion. That is very much the spirit in which the Government will respond”.
We have offered him a way forward and I am sure that, in the spirit of what he said, he will take it. We are in a very different place as a result of the work that has been done. We have exposed complex and unresolved questions. The long grass is not an easy option and we are not rushing for it. As many noble Lords have said, reform and election are two different things. It is not a case of being for or against greater democracy, or for or against reform. We can have both. The work has already started in the Steel Bill, the reform of the appointments system, the coherence of the Goodlad report and the wise words of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman. We have been too slow and too circumspect about reforming this House ourselves. Let us take this opportunity as the better alternative.
My Lords, I rise to speak briefly in the gap and thank the House for allowing me the opportunity to do so. I apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, for trumping her as the last speaker from the Joint Committee.
Like others before me, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Richard, for his diligent and patient chairing and engagement with this most difficult of tasks. As a member of the committee, I learnt a lot about how both Houses work and welcomed the opportunity to work with Members from the other place as well as a cross-party group of Peers. In the main I supported the Government’s proposals for a number of reasons. However, I did so having changed from my original position. I had previously supported an appointed House along the lines of the original Steel Bill. However, given that Bill’s death by a thousand cuts, that was no longer a viable option and in any case I had some major misgivings.
After considering and analysing the statements made to the Joint Committee and hearing some of the arguments that I had previously made played back to me, spoken by other Members of your Lordships’ House, I could no longer subscribe to the notion that an all-appointed House was the right course for reform. I will not say that it was an easy decision to come to, partly because I anticipated that many of my noble friends on the Cross Benches would oppose an elected second Chamber, although I might have underestimated the vigour with which they would do so. But arguably even more importantly, I was wary of supporting the proposals in the White Paper and Bill that we have pored over for so long because the draft legislation contains a number of problems that need to be sorted fully before it is considered fit for purpose. Noble Lords have, of course, pointed out those flaws.
I wish to address three points in the short time allocated to me. I am addressing these because they are some of the issues on which I modified my views as scrutiny progressed. First, some noble Lords say that there is more party-political independence in your Lordships’ House than in the other place. As the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, and others have mentioned, on many occasions this House has successfully put forward amendments challenging government Bills. However, in the vast majority of cases—well over 90 per cent—noble Lords vote with their political party, even though they may sometimes feel like doing so while holding their noses.
Secondly, I have heard it said many times that there is more diversity in the Lords than in the other place. I have said it myself in the past but I decided to check the assumption. Diversity in this House across the category of age is particularly poor, with many more noble Lords over 80 than the two Members we have under 40, as the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, pointed out. On gender, we do about as well as the other place. However, no rigorous research is available on disability, ethnicity and faith as we do not monitor these areas. Further, it must be clear to most noble Lords that we are drawn from a narrow stratum of society as regards social class and regional representation. In other words, we have no evidence to support the assertion that the Lords is more diverse as a result of being appointed. Incidentally, the issue of evidence is very important when considering what was put before the committee. Much, if not most, of what we heard and read was essentially opinion, albeit the opinion of experts, and should be examined in that light.
Thirdly, there is the question of whether the public think that Lords reform is a priority, especially in the current challenging times. If they do not, perhaps that is because they have lost faith in our political system and see it as being concerned with maintaining the interests of an entrenched privileged political elite—one that works to the advantage of all three major political parties. Perhaps the public are not prioritising constitutional change because they do not think that the institutions are willing or able to change that much in the end. The noble Lord, Lord Tyler, has already referred to the fact that, when polled, the majority of the public regularly state a preference for Members to be elected in the House of Lords. They also want Members who are less in thrall to the party political machines. In any case, have we really reached a point where we have so little confidence in the Government and Parliament that we feel that they, or we, are unable to work through more than one major issue at a time? Historically, the work of Parliament has not ground to a halt in order to deal with one grave situation to the exclusion of all else.
In spite of the hostile reception given to the Bill in your Lordships’ House, I remain convinced of the principle of election, at least for the majority of the House. We continually assert that this House does an excellent job at revising and scrutinising, so let us hope that the Government will take on board the many considered and thought-through comments from the Joint Committee, noble Lords and the alternative report. Then, when the Bill comes to this House, no doubt we will perform this function with our customary rigour.
My Lords, my noble friend Lady Andrews is right to say that this has been a fascinating debate. I, too, pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Richard, his committee and the clerks for the work that they have done. However, we are also indebted to those members of the Select Committee who produced the alternative report. Taken together, they provide an invaluable reference point for our future debates on reform of your Lordships’ House.
In this excellent debate many noble Lords have questioned the priority that the Government are giving to Lords reform when our economy is in such a perilous position. I agree with that. Over these two days of debate some noble Lords have argued that reform of the second Chamber cannot be considered in isolation from other constitutional issues such as a referendum in Scotland and other changes that the Government are making or have made. I agree with that. However, we will have further ample opportunity to debate those wider issues when we discuss the Queen’s Speech. I would like to focus my remarks on the role and powers of an elected second Chamber and its relationship with the Commons. The Joint Committee has identified this, as have most other noble Lords, as going to the heart of the controversy over Lords reform.
The noble Lord, Lord Tyler, teases me about my position and that of the Opposition. I make it clear that the Official Opposition support reform of your Lordships’ House. We are proud of the legislation that we introduced in 1999, which removed most of the hereditary Peers. In the years since, this House has become ever more effective as a House of scrutiny and revision. It is this House that has held Ministers properly to account and has so often saved Governments from themselves. Would the other place have acted similarly? I want to see reforms make us better still. The Official Opposition support an elected House. However, that must not be at the expense of primacy of the Commons, nor must it threaten gridlock or detract from our role as an effective revising Chamber. Further, these changes should take place only with the specific consent of the British people.
Mr Clegg told the other place on 20 March 2012 that nothing in his plans would change the primacy of the Commons. Remarkably, he denied that there was an automatic link between changing the composition of the Lords and changing the balance of power between the two Houses.
My Lords, I would like to refer to the noble Lord’s work on this issue as we have been through so many of these discussions together. The 2008 White Paper on an elected second Chamber states:
“There is no reason why any further increase in the authority and effectiveness of the second chamber following elections should undermine the primacy of the House of Commons”.
I suspect that the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister are quoting the noble Lord. If he would like me to go through all the other ways in which he has endorsed what is now in the draft Bill—for example, as regards the 80:20 ratio—I would be very happy to do so, but he should reread his own work.
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for reminding me of the heroic efforts that I, other noble Lords and Members of the other place made in producing that White Paper. However, that was work in progress. We tried to reach consensus. The problem we have is that when Mr Clegg took over responsibility for this matter he convened a joint group of all the parties and when my noble friend raised the issues of powers and a referendum, that group met no more. We now have the benefit of the work of the Select Committee and of the alternative group, which has taken the debate on powers and primacy further than it has ever been taken before. We need to listen to what those reports say.
We should remember that very few noble Lords agree with Mr Clegg’s view. There is now an overwhelming consensus that an elected House would affect the balance of power. Whether it affects primacy is another question but it would certainly affect the balance of power between the two Houses. We heard the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, say yesterday that he would like an elected second Chamber to be able to veto the UK going to war. We heard a statesmanlike speech from the noble Lord, Lord True, but even he, too, talked about Houses that are co-equal. The problem that we have comes back to Clause 2 of the draft Bill, which states:
“Nothing … affects the status of the House of Lords … the primacy of the House of Commons … or the conventions governing the relationships between the two Houses”.
The problem, as the Select Committee itself pointed out, is that, “a major difficulty” with Clause 2 is that it,
“seeks to establish a series of negative propositions”,
in relation to “key terms”, such as,
“status, primacy, powers, rights, privileges, jurisdiction and conventions”.
There is no existing body of statute defining these key terms.
The Government have clearly rejected at this point proposals to set out in statute the powers and relationships between the two Houses, and to amend the Parliament Acts. The reason is that a complete statutory codification would lead to tensions as to where the boundary lay between Parliament’s own processes and the courts’ interpretation of statute law. I understand that argument, but my point is this: those tensions will be nothing as to the tension between two elected Houses vying for supremacy—and they will vie.
We are clear that Clause 2 will not do. My noble friend Lord Richard tells us that Clause 2 will not do. I hope that the Minister, when he responds, will not simply say that we can tinker around with Clause 2. The overwhelming argument put to him in this debate is that the Government have to go away and think again about how to define the powers of and relationship between the two Houses.
I should like to come back to the Parliament Acts and the preamble to the 1911 Act. It suggested that for a Chamber constituted on a popular basis new proposals would be needed,
“limiting and defining the powers of the new Second Chamber”.
Why have the Government not made such proposals for limiting or defining those powers? What does the Minister have to say in response to the evidence of my noble and learned friend Lord Goldsmith and the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, that the drafters of the 1911 Act did not intend its provisions to apply in the event of a second Chamber being constituted on a popular basis? The Leader of the House, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, rather ducked that point in his opening speech—but it is a crucial point. It is perhaps the most crucial point of all. Yesterday, my noble and learned friend Lord Morris of Aberavon regretted the absence of the Attorney-General’s advice to the Select Committee on the Parliament Acts. I ask the Minister why that advice was not made available, and will it be put at the disposal of Parliament if a Bill is introduced following the Queen’s Speech?
I turn to the conventions. The committee of the noble Lord, Lord Cunningham, said that in a formal sense the Lords has equal status with the Commons as a House of Parliament in initiating Bills and passing them, subject to financial privilege and the Parliament Acts, and equal status in approving delegated legislation. In reality, as that committee said, the formal position has come to be moderated by conventions reflecting the primacy of the Commons, and those conventions are “flexible and unenforceable”. Indeed, the Joint Select Committee comments that:
“It is paradoxical and self-defeating to refer to conventions in statute”,
as the draft Bill does. The report continues,
“once the meaning of a convention had been legally determined, it would no longer be a convention”.
The committee’s solution is that the two Houses should, following reform,
“establish a means of defining and agreeing the conventions … by the adoption of a ‘concordat’”.
However, by that time it will be too late. What if there were no agreement? In any case, do conventions have anything to offer between two competing elected Chambers, each claiming equal legitimacy?
Meg Russell, of the Constitution Unit at UCL, said that,
“elected chambers … feel free to use their powers to the full, in a way that the House of Lords currently does not”.
The Joint Committee said that if the Lords,
“chose to use its powers, it would be one of the most powerful second chambers in the world”,
and that the reformed second Chamber,
“should have an electoral mandate provided it has commensurate powers”.
However, few would want to see both Chambers locked into endless conflict, and the logical outcome of this is that the role, functions and powers of the House should be determined and agreed before any change is made to its composition.
On the question of a referendum, surely the British people should have the final say. An elected second Chamber would be a major constitutional change. Surely no one could disagree with that. It is rather more important, I suggest, than decisions on mayors—even on the Mayor of Birmingham—or the minutiae of European legislation. It is as important as voting systems for the House of Commons. On all these matters, the Government have recognised the need for the people to decide through a referendum. The Joint Select Committee has so recommended, yet Mr Clegg dismisses it out of hand. What is the Deputy Prime Minister so frightened of?
Democracy, ah! He told the House of Commons on 20 March that a referendum was not appropriate because he proposed to reform the composition of the House, rather than abolish it. Surely that is disingenuous. Whatever our arguments about reform, elections or non-elections, these proposals are fundamental and change the second Chamber. In fact, Mr Clegg’s arguments have moved on since 20 March —understandably perhaps. We are now told that we cannot have a referendum because Lords reform was in the three party manifestos at the last election. However, my party’s manifesto said that we would have a referendum. The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, reminded us that the Conservative Party manifesto pledged to work towards a consensus for a mainly elected House. I imagine that it related to a consensus in the normal sense of the word, rather than the interesting interpretation made by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, yesterday. The coalition agreement, to which we all dutifully pay obeisance committed only “to bring forward proposals” on Lords reform. Mr Clegg’s arguments are as thin as his draft Bill.
As for the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, about his own heroic role on this question, I refer him to page 163 of volume 1 of the Joint Committee’s report, which records the vote that took place on the issue of whether the Government should submit to a referendum the decision on changes to the second Chamber. There were 13 contents and 8 not-contents, and the not-contents included the noble Lord, Lord Tyler.
The noble Lord is really kind, but it was quite clear from the discussion—and of course he was not present—that that was intended to refer to a referendum on the Government’s proposals. I have always said, in common with most of the other decisions taken by this country in referenda, that they should be post-legislative. That was what I was referring to very clearly in my speech today.
My Lords, what the report says is:
“The Committee recommends that, in view of the significance of the constitutional change brought forward by an elected House of Lords, the Government should submit the decision to a referendum”.
That is pretty clear. The noble Lord is being rather pedantic on that point.
Time moves on. We have debated many other issues and I wanted to pick just three from our debates. First, on the question of representation, the noble Lords, Lord Trimble and Lord Dubs, made some excellent points that elected Lords will expect to represent their constituents and should be resourced to do so. That must be part of their accountability to the electorate. We cannot have a situation whereby elected Members of Parliament are discouraged from direct contact with their constituents and almost inhibited from helping them with constituency cases.
On hybridity, I sense strong concern in our debate. One can see why it would be attractive to retain an independent element in an elected House, but I suspect that the 20 per cent appointed Members would feel increasingly uncomfortable and isolated in a House dominated by elected politicians. If the votes of the appointed Members helped to thwart the views of a majority of elected Members, I doubt that they would last very long. I well remember when we were in government, particularly in the early days, that when we lost votes, we put out press notices which showed that it was because of the way that hereditary Peers had voted. The temptation for any political bloc to do that would be overwhelming. Hybridity is a nice idea. One understands why it is being put forward, but I sense that in two days of debate, the argument has fallen.
My Lords, let me be clear about what the noble Lord is saying. Is he saying that the Labour Party’s position is that it would not support a Bill unless it was for a 100 per cent elected second Chamber without the Cross-Benchers?
My Lords, the noble Lord says that we have consistently supported a 100 per cent elected House. I have to tell him that I part-authored a book many years ago in which I called for a two-thirds elected House and a one-third nominated House. I have never resiled from the principle that the majority should be elected but that a minority should be appointed. I do not want to go on about this, but I have always been in favour of what the late John Smith used to call a predominantly but not exclusively elected House of Lords. If the Labour Party’s position has now changed, I would be upset.
My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend for his contribution and for his long campaign and support for democratic reform of your Lordships’ House, but I am absolutely clear. I advisedly said that, since the election, the policy of my party is to support a 100 per cent elected House.
Our position is very clear. If there is to be an elected House, it should be 100 per cent elected. Of course, we also believe that we have to sort out the powers issue, because the two go together.
I come back to the issue of costs. I thought that my noble friend Lord Lipsey put forward some interesting evidence. I thought that it was a bit unfair for the noble Lord, Lord Tyler—his interventions are always enjoyed by your Lordships’ House—and Ministers to dismiss his work as highly speculative, because the Government will not put their costings into the public domain. This can be sorted very quickly if the Minister will offer to the House today to put those costings in the Libraries of both Houses so that we can study them with great care.
As for the suggestions of the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, on salaries, I would have thought that that meant that only rich people need apply, but that is a rather familiar refrain from some parts of the coalition Government at the moment.
We come to the end of our debate. I, too, hope that the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, will provide some reassurance that the Government will reflect on this debate and study both reports with great care. I say again that I hope that the Government will not rush to produce a Bill with minor tinkering around Clause 2. That would be very disappointing.
I also hope that the Minister will explain why, when the country faces so many challenges, not least on the economy, Lords reform is apparently to be a centrepiece of the Government’s legislative proposals in the Queen’s Speech. That is a rather strange sense of priorities. Last night, my noble friend Lord Stevenson referred to the observation of the late Lord Bingham that there is simply no solution to the problem of Lords reform. That is why, Lord Bingham said, despite an immense outpouring of time and talent, no solution has been found. I do not go that far, but I think that in a non-federal state, working out the relationship between two elected Houses is very difficult. The charge that I put to the Minister is that the Government have not begun to think this through.
I hope that the Government will agree to allow for the role, functions and powers of an elected second Chamber to be determined before proposals on membership are made. Above all, I hope that the Government will agree to such proposals being put to the British people in a referendum. In the end, should not the people decide?
My Lords, my congratulations go to all those who have sat through most of this debate and who were here at a quarter to one this morning. I remind your Lordships that this has been a take note debate on the report of the Joint Committee. I therefore hope that the House will excuse me if I do not answer all of the points made in the more than 70 speeches. There has been remarkable passion across all the Benches. I suggest that as we continue to discuss this, we will need to be as dispassionate as possible.
The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, with whom we have debated these issues so often and will no doubt continue to do so, talked about the need to seek consensus, but made it clear that the Labour Party is unwilling to compromise on a 100 per cent elected House. I suggest that if we are to seek consensus, compromise is part of the way that may lead to a consensus. I answer just two of his specific questions. The Attorney-General has made his position clear to the Joint Committee in volume 3, page 8, and elsewhere. The Government will set out their legal reasoning on the application of the Parliament Acts if a Bill is included in the Queen’s Speech.
The Government have not produced an estimate of costs with the draft Bill because a final decision has to be made on issues such as how many Members the reformed House of Lords will have, how much they will be paid and what support they will receive.
Did I hear the noble Lord right? Did he say that the Attorney-General has made his position clear on the Parliament Act point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith? If so, it has passed me by. The Attorney-General was very specific in a letter to me and said that he would not do that for the Select Committee. Where has he done that so specifically?
My Lords, the reference in volume 3 is indeed not to whether the Parliament Acts would be used, it is merely to the relevance of the Parliament Acts, but if the Government produce a Bill, we will of course return to the issue.
There is a wider context here, and I want to start with that. Many Peers have referred to the constitution as a whole. We need to be conscious of the mood beyond Westminster and the attitudes of the public to our democratic institutions. One newspaper last week, I forget whether it was the Times or the Guardian, talked about a crisis of confidence in public elites—that is to say, in politicians, journalists, media proprietors, bankers, hedge funders and the like. The Audit of Political Engagement, which has just been published, talks about our public as disillusioned, disgruntled and disengaged. Less than one-quarter of those polled think that our current system of government works well. Disillusion and disengagement are strongest among the young. I have just read Peter Kellner’s long piece on a large YouGov survey held in January this year in which he says:
“What emerges is a picture of massive discontent that goes far beyond a dislike of particular politicians, parties and policies ... Unless action is taken to restore the reputation of our political system, its very legitimacy may be at risk”.
The survey asked respondents what they liked or disliked among a list of political groups and institutions. Dislike of the way that Peers are selected to be Members of the House of Lords comes second equal in terms of hostility with,
“the quality of our political parties”,
and behind only,
“the quality of our politicians”.
I thank the Minister for giving way. The noble Lord, Lord Tyler, and the noble Baroness, Lady Young, said that the public, when polled, would prefer an elected House of Lords, but other polls show very clearly that the public admit that they do not understand how the House of Lords works. That is what we have to convince the public about. If we are going to rely on polls, at the moment they show that the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats together rate lower than the Labour Party, in which case the Government should be out of government.
My Lords, I am talking about a wider and longer-term sense of public disillusionment with all political parties and all politicians, of which we need to be aware. The test for our House is how we handle ourselves on the question of further change in the unfriendly light of media attention and public cynicism. I respectfully suggest that we should not be too pleased with ourselves as we are. We have not entirely escaped popular disillusionment with the metropolitan elite. A run of hostile articles in the press would easily puncture our sense of how high our public standing is.
There is almost a consensus in the House on our self-image as a repository of wisdom and experience that stands above grubby party politics. There is even a hint that people like us would not stoop to stand for election—that, as the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor, argued, an elected House would never attract candidates of comparable quality. The noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, stated sharply that an elected Chamber would bring in,
“a whole new gang of second-rate … politicians”.—[Official Report, 30/4/12; col. 1983.]
Not all elected politicians are second rate and, if I may suggest, not all appointed officeholders are first rate. The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, declared that an elected House would consist of 450 superannuated politicians. As a superannuated politician, I am not sure that he should regard that as necessarily a bad thing. What does he think this House consists of now? Seventy per cent of us in this Chamber are political appointees—here by patronage—and half of us have held elected office within the Commons, the European Parliament, the devolved Assemblies and local authorities. Indeed, when I first entered this House, I observed that much of the detailed work of scrutiny was carried out by former chairs of city and county councils. They had the most relevant experience and expertise and the strongest commitment to holding the Government to account.
My reference to “superannuated” related to paying salaries and pensions in a reformed House—something which we do not have now. However, on the point about the standing of Parliament as seen by the public, how does the Minister think the public will feel about constitutional change which results from a deal between two political parties, where the Conservatives get extra Members in the House of Commons and the Liberal Democrats get to control the balance of power in the House of Lords? Does he really think—and some of his noble friends have made this point—that that kind of deal will enhance the reputation of Parliament?
Many of those who most admire the House as it is are among those who have been here for a relatively short time. In the 16 years that I have been in this House, I have been struck by how much it has changed. I remind those who were here that a deal was struck in 1999 by Lord Cranborne and the then Prime Minister against the strongly held views of the majority of Peers and against the consensus of those within the House. Then, however, it was still a courteous and polite House. It was extremely rare for any Peer to attempt to interrupt or intervene on another, and the overall tone of debate was far less partisan than it is now. Many Members have remarked on the increase in lobbying of us over the past 10 years and the increase in the volume of our mail and e-mails. I would also remark on the rougher, much more partisan and far more aggressive atmosphere. It is not at all obvious that an elected House would be more partisan than we have now become. On the other hand, we have become a more diligent House, meeting for longer hours and scrutinising more of the nooks and crannies of government.
The House as at present constituted was intended to be a temporary House. The 1999 Cranborne/Blair agreement was another way station on the long road towards—I quote from the preamble to the Parliament Act 1911—
“a Second Chamber constituted on a popular instead of hereditary basis”,
something to which the infant Labour Party within the then government coalition was committed.
My Lords, I think that the number of interventions on members of the Government is noticed more by those who are in government than by those who constitute other Members of your Lordships’ House. I can remember when, for example, my noble and learned friend Lady Scotland was intervened upon 10 times on one particular issue. I remember not always enjoying the interventions of the much missed Lord Onslow when I was in the noble Lord’s position. I think that if he checks back he will see that the behaviour in your Lordships’ House is not worse; it is just that he is more on the receiving end.
My Lords, we will agree to differ and I shall check back. I think that we have changed a great deal since 1999.
Our current position is not sustainable as numbers creep up and habits in the Chamber mutate. If noble Lords were to carry out some of the threats that have been uttered in this debate to wreck the rest of the Government’s legislative programme in order to sabotage proposed reform, then not just the sustainability but perhaps the reputation of this House would be weakened further. We cannot preserve the current House in aspic; it will continue to change and evolve. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, said that very few of us believe we can remain as we are; the question is which direction we go in terms of reform.
The current proposals have not emerged from nowhere. Since the 1999 changes, Parliament has already devoted more than 140 hours to debating further reform. Shelves of reports—from Wakeham to Cunningham, Mackay of Clashfern and Hunt of Kings Heath—and a succession of Green Papers and White Papers have been produced. Very few arguments have been put forward in this debate which are not already familiar to most of us, and we will return to the topic again in 10 days’ time, when we will be discussing constitutional reform in one form or another in our debate on the Queen’s Speech.
Last week, in addition to reading the Richard report and the alternative report, I reread, for the first time in 40 years, the classic study of academic procrastination, Francis Cornford’s Microcosmographia Academica. This is the volume which first set out the principle of unripe time, the principles of the wedge and the dangerous precedent, and the determination of opponents to die in the last ditch. It was written of course to explain why the Cambridge University Senate so determinedly resisted all proposals for university reform. It says that the most effective means of obstruction is the alternative proposal. It continues:
“This is a form of Red Herring. As soon as three or more alternatives are in the field, there is pretty sure to be a majority against any one of them, and nothing will be done”.
The speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, was an excellent example of the principle of unripe time—that the proposal before us may be right but now is not the right time to accept it. She argued that an elected House is in principle at some point a good thing but only after the economy has recovered, the Scottish issue has been resolved, the relationship between the two Houses clarified and a constitutional convention held. The time was never ripe in the boom years of Labour’s third term in government either, although it might have been thought to be an appropriate time. As Francis Cornford remarked,
“Time, by the way, is like the medlar: it has a trick of going rotten before it is ripe”.
The principle of the wedge has also been used by many.
My Lords, the noble Lord is making an assumption when he says that we have to wait until all these problems are solved before we go ahead with Lords reform. That is not what we are saying. Goodness knows, we are not expecting the Government to solve these problems or we shall wait forever to get back to Lords reform. We are saying that it is very strange that, in the coming Session, so much time will be devoted to this when, at the moment, the Government should be focusing on problems which they probably will not be able to solve but on which they should at least be making an effort.
My Lords, the amount of time in the next Session to be spent on this subject will depend partly on how dispassionately both Houses approach the issue.
On the principle of the wedge, if we accept this, it will be impossible to stop short of further and disastrous consequences: a written constitution, a judicially arbitrated constitution or, as the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, suggested, a republic. Others want a written constitution before we reform the Lords or argue that further reforms will fundamentally alter the nature of Britain. In considering whether this House might introduce an elected Chamber, my noble friend Lord Cormack told us that we are talking about the future of this country.
Alternative proposals have been scattered across the Chamber: an indirectly elected House, the modest reform put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and the noble Lord, Lord Steel, or a full constitutional convention. I was utterly surprised by the enthusiasm expressed around the Chamber for the Steel Bill, given the bitter opposition to so much of it in the Chamber over several years. I am still not sure whether the support has been expressed for the full Steel package or for the emasculated Bill that emerged from Third Reading.
We have had plenty of other arguments against change: constituency competition, the bug bear of former MPs. In one way or another, those of us who live outside the metropolitan south east already play some of those roles and we see them as part of our responsibility within an appointed House. I have been president of my party’s Yorkshire region; I spend time at weekends going to constituencies and conferences; and I run into Peers from other parties at various Yorkshire events. We already fulfil some of those constituency responsibilities.
The issue of costs has been raised. We must be very strict about costs, although if we have to have a referendum we will spend £100 million on it.
Primacy of the Commons is a wonderful obstacle against which one can kick. If necessary, we must do all that we can to defy the will of the Commons in order to preserve its primacy and its financial privilege. Conventions must be written in stone, although the noble Lord, Lord Cunningham, remarked that conventions, of their nature, are not rules and that they must be allowed to evolve and that a concordat between the two Houses would therefore be an appropriate way forward.
I hear some people say that there is not much interest in Lords reform among the public but, nevertheless, there must be a referendum. I respectfully remind Members of this House that one of the most fundamental constitutional changes that we have witnessed since I joined the House is the separation of the judicial function from the legislative function through the establishment of the Supreme Court and that was carried through without a referendum.
Hybridity has been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, as completely unacceptable because it would make the House unworkable. This House has always been hybrid; it consists of Lords Spiritual and Lords Temporal and, when I joined the House, it was partly hereditary and partly appointed. I recall a colleague in the Association of Conservative Peers saying that in the Conservative group the hereditaries referred to the Life Peers as “the day boys”. Only those who have been to boarding school know how dismissive that is; it refers to a subordinate body to the lifers. This would merely be a shift to another form of hybridity.
The argument has been made by the noble Lord, Lord Desai, and by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Bolton, that a second Chamber elected on proportional representation might even claim greater legitimacy than the Commons because it would be more fully representative of the opinion of voters as a whole, which suggests that we all prefer a less legitimate voting system than the one that might be used for this House. Above all, we have to wait for a consensus in this House or in the Commons.
My Lords, I had hoped that the Minister would indicate that he has listened to what has been said and that the Government would reflect on what has been said in the debate on such issues as hybridity, referendum and primacy. My noble friend is coming suspiciously close to saying that he has a closed mind on these issues. I hope that he will draw back and indicate that what has been said in the official report, the alternative report and on the Floor of this House over the past 24 hours will be taken into account before the Government decide whether to proceed with a Bill and what sort of a Bill it will be.
My Lords, I have listened carefully to almost the entire debate and particularly to my noble friend’s contribution. Many within the Government will be reading the debate in Hansard. As I said at the beginning, I did not hear much with which I was not already familiar. I suspect that that may be true of many noble Lords. Of course we shall be reflecting on matters and, if proposals are brought forward in the Queen’s Speech, a great deal of what has been said will be reflected in those proposals.
My Lords, the Minister says that he has not heard anything new, but would he not accept that in both reports the argument particularly about powers and legitimacy have been developed in a way that we have not seen before? Can he assure the House that we will not simply get another version of the Bill showing marginal changes? He owes it to the House to say that the Government will consider the reports carefully.
My Lords, of course, this is a debate to take note of the Richard report. It has been read extensively within the Government as well as outside. I trust that all noble Lords have read all three volumes, including the splendid compliment made by my noble friend Lord Cormack to the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Hornsey, in which he commented on her extreme youth. The conclusions will be considered within the Government, but the proposals on the table are those on which the Richard report commented.
I recognise that many noble Lords would like some entirely different proposals. Undoubtedly, if the proposals are brought forward, they will be modified by comments made in this House and elsewhere. That is the nature of the to and fro of democratic debate and those are the efforts that we all make in attempting to reach a consensus.
The question is, as the noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall, remarked: what is our central problem? Part of the central problem, which the Government aimed to address, was how to increase the legitimacy—
My Lords, the noble Lord does not seem to be addressing, in the appropriate slot, what many of us, including me, regard as the principal issue at stake, which was sharply focused on by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, and by the noble Lord, Lord Ryder, in their recent interventions and which I rather cloudily tried to draw to the attention of noble Lords last night. How will they use this opportunity not to expand but to curb the power of government over Parliament? In reflecting on that, may I remind the noble Lord that he has been sufficiently long enough in government to be infected with the virus which makes people think that they will always see things from the Government’s point of view. However, the day—distant or near—when he will be sitting on the other side of this reconstituted House is of course drawing nearer.
I thank the noble Lord for his reminder that an issue that we need to take into account as we consider this is the balance not just between this House and the Commons but between government and Parliament, and that reform of this House should contribute to redressing the balance of power between the Executive and the legislature as a whole.
When we debate the Queen’s Speech, we will again discuss constitutional reform. If the Government produce a Bill on this, I hope that noble Lords will place this piece of the jigsaw of constitutional reform in the wider pattern of popular disengagement from politics and distrust of politicians. We need to look very carefully at the evidence. We need to consider the appropriate balance between representative democracy and direct, popular democracy before we slip perhaps a little too far down the road towards direct democracy. We need to have a concern to rebuild popular trust in our political institutions. Quiet, calm deliberation should be the way in which we seek to disentangle the knot of this highly tangled issue.
We heard some remarkably apocalyptic speeches in this debate, and even threats to wreck the rest of the Government’s legislative programme in order to prevent reform progressing. However, we serve in this House by appointment and by the privilege that that gives us—not by right. The way in which we discuss the future of the House will reflect, for good or ill, on our reputation. We will return to the subject—I hope a little more dispassionately—again and probably again.
The Minister quite rightly made trust a major theme of his speech. Does he not consider that part of the decline in public trust in Parliament has a great deal to do with the excessive regimentation in the other place, where in the past 15 years Members voted against a government resolution only six times, while here we did it nearly 600 times? Is that not a crucial difference that will be lost if this place is wholly elected?
My Lords, we have had an interesting debate. I listened very carefully to what the Minister said. He spoke for 26 minutes, hardly mentioned the Bill or the report, and gave us a lecture on how we should behave and an analysis of what was wrong with the House of Lords and with Parliament as a whole. I was thoroughly disappointed by his speech; it was not up to the issue, to the debate or to the occasion.
One could wind up this debate either at great length or very briefly. Noble Lords will be happy to know that I do not intend to wind up at great length. It was a long debate. Various themes were explored—and explored and explored. We went down various avenues—and avenues and avenues. I am no wiser at the end of the debate than I was at the beginning, although a great deal of argumentation was displayed.
Perhaps I may reject—calmly and quietly—the suggestion from my noble friend Lady Taylor that the constitution we want in this country is one in which the House of Commons is basically a unicameral legislature and this House merely an advisory House to the Commons. I do not agree with that. I have always believed that this should be a proper, functioning House of Parliament, not merely an advisory council, there to give advice that the Government may in their wisdom or ignorance choose to accept or reject. This is meant to be a functioning, legislative House of Parliament. We are a vital part of the legislature and we should never let go of that fact.
Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, chided me on the fact that I had got the arithmetic of the Joint Committee wrong. He pointed out that I had said that there was only one Cross-Bencher on the Joint Committee. He was quite right, that is what I did say; it is in Hansard. However, I was so surprised that I should have forgotten the noble Baroness, Lady Young, who spoke this morning, that I checked my notes. In my notes I stated that there were two Cross-Benchers on the Joint Committee. Therefore, although I said that there was one, I would not wish it to be thought by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, that I had ignored her presence or her contribution. I shall say no more. I beg to move.