House of Lords
Monday, 14 May 2012.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Wakefield.
Death of a Member: Baroness McFarlane of Llandaff
My Lords, the Government will publish a consultation on the draft aviation policy framework and a call for evidence on options for maintaining the UK’s hub connectivity later this summer. The Government aim to adopt the final aviation policy framework next spring.
My noble friend plays his usual straight bat in his usual charming way. Obviously, consultation is important, but surely the Government accept that Heathrow Airport is now full up and that there is therefore a desperate need for the construction as soon as possible of a third runway.
My noble friend is right: consultation is important, as is listening. I have listened to what noble Lords have said in the Chamber and outside, as have my right honourable friends in another place. Government policy is that there will be no third runway at Heathrow. The Government will of course follow the proper process in relation to the call for evidence on hub connectivity. However, it is unlikely that we will discover that we have not maxed out on what Heathrow’s affected population can tolerate.
The Minister is very good at listening, but I point out that we would like some action. The Government keep saying that they want growth. Aviation expansion related to Europe and the global economy is vital. The third runway at Heathrow would cost nothing to the public and would add about £8 billion to the GDP of this country. Why on earth do they not just get on with it and create employment and growth at the same time?
My Lords, because we have to get the policy right. Successive Governments have struggled to develop an enduring policy that will outlast changes of government. We have to get it right and we are going to do it properly, but we will announce our aviation policy framework next spring.
Does the Minister agree that there is a lot of spare capacity at Gatwick, Stansted and Birmingham, which is soon to have a runway extension, and that if these resources were used intelligently and properly, we would have sufficient airport capacity? We need to improve surface access to those airports.
Does my noble friend not agree that Heathrow and Gatwick are two great national assets? The expansion of both airports would do wonders for the British economy. It would be very beneficial, in terms of both the work that would be done in the short term and the expansion of capacity. If the Government refuse to allow a third runway at Heathrow, they will be imposing a brake on the growth of the British economy.
My Lords, will the Minister agree, as he has generously in the past, that one of the most difficult things for communities that are likely to be affected by airport expansion is the length of time over which these discussions have gone on? Specifically, in Stansted—I declare an interest as a supporter of the “Stop Stansted Expansion” campaign—certain areas have started to regenerate since BAA started to release properties back on to the market. If there is another period of uncertainty because the Government are not necessarily going to stick to their intention not to build a second runway at Stansted, that regeneration will begin to decline again.
My Lords, that is a rather detailed question and I do not know whether I will be able to get the answer even by writing, but I will try. I should emphasise that Heathrow is still well connected to the rest of the world, especially China, if you take into consideration direct flights to Hong Kong, which is connected to 45 other Chinese cities.
My Lords, will my noble friend the Minister reassure me that the British Government will resist efforts by China, the United States and other nations outside Europe to opt out of the EU emissions system, which is there to control carbon emissions for the whole aviation industry in a non-discriminatory manner?
But, my Lords, on the question of an integrated transport policy and given that the Minister mentioned Birmingham Airport, does he not, like me, regret the absence of an HS2 Bill in the Queen’s Speech? Does that indicate that the Government are in fact having second thoughts on that?
I hope so.
My Lords, my noble friend behind me said, “I hope so”. I thought, “I hope not”. My understanding is that we did not intend to publish a Bill at this point. There is still much work to be done on planning the route, because we need to say exactly what powers we need, so I thought that it was a bit premature in any case.
My Lords, the youth contract was introduced in April 2012 to provide additional support, with almost £1 billion, to young unemployed people over the next three years. It builds on the support already available through Jobcentre Plus and the work programme, enabling young people to look for work, gain work experience and skills and find real, lasting jobs.
My Lords, if it were not so tragic, the lamentable performance of the Government would be laughable. More than 1 million young people are not in education, employment or training. When are the Government going to pull their socks up and do something about this problem, or are they happy for young people to return to the misery of the 1980s?
My Lords, let me just correct those figures. The number of people who are not students and who are unemployed is around 719,000. That figure is much too high but it is not near 1 million. We are doing an enormous amount to help young people into the jobs market, and we are doing it on a structural basis rather than making little fixes here and there.
Apprenticeships are one of the key things to help youngsters into the market. There were 457,000 starts in apprenticeships in 2010-11, and 60% of those are for the age group that we are talking about, the 16-24 year-olds. We are pushing apprenticeships very hard, and we have put in a programme to reinforce that with incentives to SMEs: for each apprentice they take on, they get £1,500 a year. That is being financed for 40,000 youngsters.
My Lords, in east Lancashire alone there are 5,000 18 to 24 year-olds out of work, of whom 3,000 have been out of work for more than six months and are still claiming benefits. We are very encouraged in my cathedral town of Blackburn that the world of education and the world of business are coming together to try to reduce that figure, but could the Minister give us in the north-west some hope that in the next three months we need not expect to see another cohort of young people adding to that figure of 5,000?
My Lords, one of the things that has changed in terms of looking at young people is that we are getting some real figures that are not disguised, as they were, by people going into training and coming back again. We are counting people who are long-term unemployed as long-term unemployed, and the figure in the country as a whole for those unemployed for more than six months is currently 163,000. That figure is too high but, if you compare like with like, only about 10,000 more than it was when we first came into power.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that unless and until we get a Government who place the restoration of full employment as a central aim of government economic policy, the young people of this country have no hope substantially of returning to work? We need a policy of full employment and not the kind of Elastoplast policies that the Minister is talking about.
I am sure that the noble Lord will agree that the lump of labour fallacy is not how one should run an unemployment policy and that a competitive employment approach is the right approach. The way that one achieves that is by skilling up the workforce so that people can take jobs. That, in itself, expands the economy by more than it would otherwise expand. I am sorry that the noble Lord does not agree. I know there are noble Lords on the Benches opposite who dislike the lump of labour fallacy as much as I do.
My Lords, the apprenticeship scheme is already achieving a lot and can achieve a lot more, but one of the problems is that when people come off jobseeker’s allowance their pay on an apprenticeship is very modest and they often cannot afford the travel costs. The Mayor of London is happily providing the travel costs for apprenticeships in London. Will the Minister look at expanding this where it is needed elsewhere in the country?
I will look at that because one of the central thrusts of our policy is to ramp up apprenticeships. One of the most encouraging signs I saw when I visited a work programme contractor the other day was the way that having sustained outcomes—long-term jobs—is driving it towards putting youngsters into apprenticeships. That is a very happy fact pulling them together, and I will very happily look at anything we can do to reinforce the drive to apprenticeships.
My Lords, will the Minister explain why the Government have taken the decision to exclude disabled young people on the work choice scheme from accessing wage subsidies under the youth contract? Does that not mean that they will be doubly disadvantaged?
My Lords, democracy and the rule of law were discussed with Prime Minister Gilani during his visit. We discuss these issues regularly with the Pakistan Government.
I thank the Minister for his reply. Is he aware that Yousaf Raza Gilani was convicted by the Supreme Court of Pakistan of contempt for failing to ask the Swiss authorities to reopen a money laundering case against the President? Is he also aware that his son, Ali Musa, is being investigated by the antinarcotics force for importing 10,000 kilograms of the controlled drug ephedrine, which is used for producing cocaine and other drugs? What message did Her Majesty’s Government give to the people of Pakistan when they invited a Prime Minister who is not even accepted by the opposition in Pakistan as the Prime Minister, and when there are allegations that he is corrupt, that his son is involved in drug production and that his President is involved in money laundering?
I am aware of the matters that the noble Lord raises, but I must emphasise that they are internal matters for the Government and people of Pakistan and are not matters in which we can be involved. The discussions which we hold are, in general terms, about democracy, the rule of law and the aspirations to see Pakistan develop in a stable, democratic way. Pakistan is a friend and a nation that has faced great difficulties. When friends face difficulties, you help them; you do not just walk away.
Yes, we raised the blasphemy legislation, religious intolerance and evidence of it. These subjects were raised not just during these talks. They are raised constantly by our High Commission, by visitors and by Ministers. My noble friend Lady Warsi certainly raised them when she last visited. These are issues that are very much our concern, and we keep raising them.
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the issue of contempt of court by the Prime Minister is dealt with very adequately in the Commonwealth Latimer House guidelines, which refer to the relationship between the Executive, Parliament and the judiciary? Pakistan is a signatory to those guidelines, which were agreed by the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in 2003. Will the Minister tell the House whether the Government are assisting with judicial training in that regard, so that the Pakistani judiciary can be better apprised of its responsibilities?
Yes, we are assisting with judicial training and huge educational programmes. The Government’s overall training and aid programmes in Pakistan are substantial. If the path is smooth over the next two years, Pakistan will reach the remarkable level of being the largest recipient of British aid, training and technical assistance, with a sum of around £446 million a year being given if everything goes according to plan. Certainly, on the judicial side, yes, these are areas where we can help and which can be assisted and reinforced in a Commonwealth context as well.
My Lords, I understand the point that the Minister makes about the considerable difficulties and the fact that one needs friends to get through them. However, in a hard-headed sense, have the Government made an assessment of the extent to which Pakistan meets the unfortunately named Harare principles overall as a working democracy?
These are matters that are looked at in the Commonwealth context. We want to see Pakistan develop as a strong, stable, constitutional democracy with respect for the rule of law and judicial judgments, which are in the interests of all Pakistan. We constantly encourage all involved to act in ways that respect these principles. These are things that we do all the time. They are discussed in Commonwealth circles and are matters to which the people of Pakistan themselves recognise they must aspire. I cannot put it more precisely than that. Assessments of what occasionally goes wrong, and positive ideas about how to help, are made all the time.
My Lords, I declare an interest in that the diocese of Wakefield has a long and enduring relationship with the diocese of Faisalabad in Pakistan. Indeed, we recently brought people with different religious convictions to this country to talk about how we deal with coherence here. Following the question of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, will the Minister tell us whether the Government have received any commitment from the Government of Pakistan on doing something about the religious atrocities that have been committed in the past few years?
I can say only that these are matters that concern us deeply. We raise them repeatedly with the Pakistani authorities and Government. We believe most strongly that religious tolerance of minorities and protection of their rights must be enhanced in ways that they clearly have not been in the recent past. We will continue to make the maximum effort on these fronts. Beyond that, I cannot be more specific.
I am sorry to hear that. The Harare principles, and another whole series of declarations, are those drawn up by the Commonwealth network—that is, the Commonwealth at its Heads of Government Meetings—over the years. The Commonwealth today is a completely modern network, which is engaged at this moment in developing an even more ambitious charter that not only asserts the commitment to democracy, the rule of law, good governance and respect for human rights, but sees that these things are effectively policed so that the Commonwealth is a network of nations that uphold the values that we admire most.
My Lords, will the Minister tell the House whether the Government discussed with the Pakistani Prime Minister the problem of young British Pakistanis—young men as well as women—who are taken to Pakistan by their parents for the purpose of forced marriage? If it was raised, what response did the Government receive?
I do not have that on a specific list of issues that were raised in the meeting to which I referred. However, it is certainly a matter that is on our desks and we raise it in dialogue with the Pakistani Government. I cannot be more specific than that, but if I can find a more specific answer I will convey it to the noble Baroness.
Working Tax Credits
My Lords, the changes to the working tax credit are necessary in order to tackle the record peacetime deficit which this Government inherited. Tax credit spending increased to around £27 billion in 2010-11 and extended to those high up in the income distribution. This was unsustainable. The package of changes to tax credits introduced in April will save £4 billion in 2016-17 while ensuring that the most vulnerable are protected. For that reason, they will not be reconsidered.
My Lords, this year, more than 200,000 low income families who work less than 24 hours a week will lose thousands of pounds as a result of the withdrawal of the working tax credit. In the present economic situation, a great many employers are not able to offer these people extra hours. Does the Minister agree that the phrase “making work pay” must seem pretty hollow to these impoverished families? I plead with the Government to take an interest in the poorest in our society and do something about this group who desperately need our help.
My Lords, what underlines this change and the need for it, as well as the unsustainability of the huge cost of working tax credits, is some of the unfairness and behavioural incentives in the system. This Government firmly believe that working people on low earnings should gain through money that they earn rather than from government subsidies. The switch from reducing reliance on benefits to increasing personal allowances is part of a significant change to getting more families to gain more from working than has been the case to date and for incentivising second earners into work. There was also a basic unfairness in the system as it was in that a single parent had to work 16 hours but a couple had to work only 16 hours between them. Therefore, underlying what the Government have announced are a fairness and an incentivisation and behavioural change that are very important.
My Lords, what advice would the Minister give to the woman interviewed on the “Today” programme last month? She is in a part-time job that she loves. Her husband is an unemployed builder who cannot find work. She is at her wits’ end because her employer will not give her extra hours and no alternative work is available to her. What is she and thousands of others in a similar situation supposed to do when they are struggling to manage without working tax credit and the only alternative realistic option is to give up work, which is the very opposite of what the Minister says that this Government believe in?
My Lords, I did not hear that particular case and it is very difficult to comment on individual cases, particularly when one has not heard the details. I appreciate that many of the changes we are making across the tax and spending playing field are painful for very many people in this country. I do not minimise the effect on the 200,000 or so, including couples with children, who we are asking to find another eight hours on top of what they may do otherwise.
We should not play down the prospects for finding employment in this country. Nearly 1.1 million people found a job in the fourth quarter of 2011. Some 600,000 of those had been unemployed and had got into employment, and 459,000 were previously inactive. At the moment, the number of job vacancies is rising. At the last count, it was 464,000. I do not underestimate at all the effect on individual cases but there are jobs out there and more than 1 million people in one quarter found employment.
My Lords, I think that a significant number of companies are somewhat fixated around the idea that 16 hours is the gold standard for part-time work. Given that for many people affected by this change, 24 hours becomes the standard number of hours they would wish to be in employment, are there means by which the Government could communicate, through the trade associations and others, to try to change some of the cultural attitudes towards the various shift structures and others that set part-time hours?
First, I congratulate my noble friend on her new responsibilities as her party’s spokesman on the economy. I can see that she is not going to give me an easy time. It is an important question. First of all, there are important elements of the present tax credits system, such as the child tax credit, which do not relate to hours worked. Of course, when universal credit comes in, the link to hours worked will go altogether. As my noble friend knows, that change will start with natural migration, coming in from October 2013. Then managed migration will take place from August 2014 in a way that means that nobody loses out in cash terms. So it is a transition that has been carefully thought about by my noble friend Lord Freud.
My Lords, the examination by the Institute for Fiscal Studies of the impact of the April measures demonstrates that the greatest proportionate burden of those measures falls on those in the lowest deciles of the income distribution. In the light of that independent finding, would the Minister like to correct his inaccurate first Answer to my noble friend Lord Touhig?
My Lords, of course I shall read the record very carefully, and if I made any inaccurate response I shall correct it—but I do not believe that I did. There were, of course, a large number of tax and benefit measures announced to come into effect in the last Budget, including 24 million households that will benefit by up to £6.50 a week from the changes to allowances as well as benefits. There are the significant above-indexation increases to child tax credits as well. Therefore, one should look at the total effect, which is very much designed to make sure that those at the lower end of the income scale are protected.
Smoke-free Private Vehicles Bill [HL]
A Bill to amend the Health Act 2006 to make provision for a ban on smoking in private vehicles where there are children present.
The Bill was introduced by Lord Ribeiro, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
Airports (Amendment) Bill [HL]
A Bill to amend the Airports Act 1986.
The Bill was introduced by Lord Empey, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
Wind Turbines (Minimum Distance from Residential Premises) Bill [HL]
A Bill to make provision for a minimum distance between wind turbines and residential premises according to the size of the wind turbine, and for connected purposes.
The Bill was introduced by Lord Reay, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
Presumption of Death and Provisions Relating to Missing Persons Bill [HL]
A Bill to make provision for the declaration of presumed death of missing persons for the administration of the affairs of missing persons, and for connected purposes.
The Bill was introduced by Baroness Kramer, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
Committee of Selection
That in accordance with Standing Order 63 a Committee of Selection be appointed to select and propose to the House the names of the members to form each select committee of the House (except the Committee of Selection itself and any committee otherwise provided for by statute or by order of the House) or any other body not being a select committee referred to it by the Chairman of Committees, and the panel of Deputy Chairmen of Committees; and that the following members together with the Chairman of Committees be appointed to the Committee:
B Anelay of St Johns, L Bassam of Brighton, B Goudie, L Hylton, L Laming, L McNally, L Newby, B Royall of Blaisdon, L Strathclyde, L Wakeham.
My Lords, first, I am sure that the whole House would wish to join me in offering sincere condolences to the families and friends of Corporal Brent McCarthy of the Royal Air Force and Lance Corporal Lee Davies of 1st Battalion Welsh Guards, who were killed on operations in Afghanistan recently. My thoughts are also with the wounded, and I pay tribute to the courage and fortitude with which they face their rehabilitation.
The Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence is as follows.
“With your permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement on progress in balancing the defence budget and establishing a sustainable equipment programme as part of the work to deliver the vision set out in the strategic defence and security review—a vision of formidable, adaptable and well equipped Armed Forces, backed by balanced budgets, disciplined processes and an efficient and effective department.
The United Kingdom’s Armed Forces and the Ministry of Defence exist to protect our country and its interests, and provide the ultimate guarantee of its security and independence. My overriding priority as Secretary of State for Defence must be achieving success on military operations. However, our defence is built on the extraordinary quality and commitment of our people, and ensuring their welfare is close behind. I am clear that when we ask the brave men and women of our Armed Forces to put themselves in danger to ensure our national security, we owe it to them to make sure that they are properly supported with the very best equipment we can give them to do the job.
The best way I can support our Armed Forces as they restructure and refocus themselves for the future is to give them the assurance of stable and well managed budgets and the confidence that the equipment programme is affordable and deliverable, because the only way to ensure, in the long term, the ability to project power, to protect our national security and to ensure that our troops have the equipment they need is to have a defence budget that is in balance.
A strong, diverse economy and sound public finances are a prerequisite to being able to sustain the Armed Forces that our national security requires, so correcting the disastrous fiscal deficit that we inherited and returning the economy to sustainable growth are themselves strategic imperatives. Defence has, rightly, contributed to that fiscal correction, as well as putting its own house in order by dealing with the chaos we inherited in an equipment programme that left a yawning black hole under our Armed Forces.
Tough decisions have been taken and I want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to those who have taken them: my predecessor, the right honourable Member for North Somerset, who showed the courage to tackle head-on some of the worst and longest-running procurement fiascos, and to make agonising choices over capabilities that Britain could simply not afford; the Armed Forces chiefs, who have grasped the challenges the SDSR has presented and embraced the opportunity to create a sustainable foundation on which they can build for the future; and the leadership team in the MoD, who have worked tirelessly to turn this supertanker around, to tear up the old ways of doing things and to embrace a new model that will ensure that the MoD never again gets into the mess it was in by early 2010.
Thanks to all of them, and with the decision I announced to the House last week on carrier strike being the final piece of the jigsaw, I can tell the House today that, after two years’ work, the black hole in the defence budget has finally been eliminated and the budget is now in balance, with a small annual reserve built in as a prudent measure to make sure that we are not blown off course by unforeseen events—a plan endorsed by the chiefs and by the Treasury. We have achieved this by facing up to the fiscal reality and taking the tough decisions that the party opposite dodged, reluctantly accepting smaller Armed Forces and redoubling our resolve to invest in the best possible equipment for them; transforming the role of the TA as the Regular Army gets smaller and making it an integral part of Future Force 2020; and embarking on a major restructuring of the department and a reduction of just over a third in the civilian workforce.
These have not been easy decisions, but they have been the right ones. This has been a difficult period for all our people in the Armed Forces and more widely across defence. Major change, the threat of redundancy and uncertainty about the future all present challenges to confidence and morale. Reaching a balanced budget for the MoD’s planning round 12, or PR12, represents a hugely important milestone in the transformation of defence—a symbolic break with the failed practices of the past and a solid foundation on which to build the future—and it starts to put that destabilising uncertainty behind us as we move forward with defence transformation.
At the heart of the plan is the defence equipment programme, which by the end of the PR12 period will account for around 45% of the total defence budget. I have seen over the past seven months just how complex defence procurement is—developing cutting-edge technology so that our Armed Forces have a battle-winning edge in projects that rank alongside the biggest being undertaken in this country today. While there have been widely publicised failures, there have been unsung successes—most notably in Afghanistan where the urgent operational requirements process funded by the Treasury has repeatedly allowed us to deliver quickly and efficiently the equipment our Armed Forces need. Brigadier Patrick Sanders, who commanded 20th Armoured Brigade last year in Afghanistan, has described the equipment his troops had as ‘second to none’ and ‘the best that I’ve experienced in 27 years’. We need to build on the best elements of the UOR model to achieve that level of performance across defence as a whole.
At the same time, we must learn from the failures. Over the 10 years of PR12, we will spend almost £160 billion on new equipment and data systems and their support, reflecting the planning assumption agreed with the Treasury of a 1% per annum real increase in the equipment and support budget from 2015. But poor decision-making and poor management have too often meant that the Armed Forces have not received the full benefit of all this spending.
Under the previous Government, the equipment plan became meaningless because projects were committed to without the funding to pay for them, creating a fantasy programme. Systemic overprogramming was compounded by a ‘conspiracy of optimism’ where officials, the Armed Forces and suppliers all consistently planned on a best-case scenario, in the full knowledge that once a project had been committed, they could then revise up costs with little consequence. It was an overheated equipment plan, managed on a hand-to-mouth basis, driven by short-term cash rather than long-term value, with constant postponements and renegotiations driving costs into projects in a self-reinforcing spiral of busted budgets and torn-up timetables. Rigid contracting meant no flexibility to respond to changed threat priorities or alternative technologies becoming available, and it is our Armed Forces and the defence of our country that have ultimately paid the price for this mismanagement. The culture and practice have to change.
So we will move forward with a new financial discipline in the equipment plan—underprogramming, rather than over-programming, so that we can focus on value rather than cash management—giving our Armed Forces confidence that once a project is in the programme, it is real, it is funded and it will be delivered, so they can plan with certainty. The core committed equipment programme, covering investment in new equipment and data systems and their support, amounts to just under £152 billion over 10 years, against a total planned spend of almost £160 billion. That £152 billion includes, for the first time ever, an effective, centrally held contingency reserve, determined by the new Chief of Defence Materiel, of over £4 billion to ensure the robustness of the plan.
It includes: 14 new Chinooks, Apache life extension and a Puma upgrade; a programme of new armoured fighting vehicles worth around £4.5 billion over 10 years and a £1 billion upgrade of the Warrior armoured fighting vehicle; the building of the two Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers; the remainder of the Type 45 destroyers and the new Type 26 frigates; the Astute class and successor nuclear submarines; investment in new Wildcat helicopters; the Merlin upgrade programme and the assessment phase for Merlin marinisation; the introduction into service of the Voyager air-to-air refueller and troop transporter, the A400M air transporter and the Air Seeker surveillance aircraft; an additional C17 strategic airlifter; continued investment in Typhoon and the Joint Strike Fighter; and £7 billion invested in complex weapons—the smart missiles and torpedoes that give our Navy, Army and Air Force their fighting edge.
Balancing the budget allows me to include within that £152 billion core equipment programme: a £4 billion-plus investment in intelligence, surveillance, communications and reconnaissance assets across the CIPHER, SOLOMON, Crowsnest, DCNS and Falcon projects; the outright purchase of three offshore patrol vessels which are currently leased; capability enhancements to the Typhoon; and a range of simulators, basing and support equipment for the new helicopters and aircraft we are introducing.
This programme represents the collective priorities of the Armed Forces set out by the Armed Forces committee on which all the service chiefs sit. The chiefs confirm that this committed core equipment programme, together with the available £8 billion of unallocated headroom, will fund the capabilities they require to deliver Future Force 2020, as set out in the SDSR. That £8 billion will be allocated to projects not yet in the committed core programme only at the point when they need to become committed to be delivered on time, and only in accordance with the military assessment of priority at the time. No project will be allowed to commit without a 10-year budget line to cover not only its procurement but its support costs—not rocket science, you might think, but quite an innovation in defence procurement none the less. Individuals and contractors can expect to be held to account for the estimates on which decisions to commit to projects are based.
This Government believe that transparency is a driver of performance, and I want to be as transparent as possible about the defence budget because greater transparency will help me to drive the change that we need to see in the MoD. But the House will understand that some elements of the defence budget are security-sensitive and other elements are commercially sensitive. It is essential that we preserve our negotiating space with defence contractors without announcing all our detailed intentions in advance. To provide the reassurance that the House will want, while protecting the commercial and security interests of defence, I have agreed with the NAO that it will review the equipment plan and confirm that it is affordable. The NAO will have confidential access to detailed information on the equipment plan that cannot be published, but once it has completed its work we will publish its verdict on the plan, together with a summary of the plan itself.
Today’s announcement and the work we are taking forward mean that for the first time in a generation the MoD not only has a balanced budget and an appropriate reserve but is putting in place the behaviour-changing incentives and structures that will keep it balanced. It means that the politicians and civil servants in the MoD can look the Armed Forces in the eye in the knowledge that we are delivering them the stable platform that they need to build Future Force 2020, with a budget agreed across government, across the department and by the service chiefs, and a firm baseline for the transformation that is under way to an Armed Forces that may be smaller but will be adaptable, agile and equipped with the very best technology, supported by an MoD that is laser-focused on its needs and working alongside a defence industry that can invest with renewed confidence in an equipment plan that is actually deliverable. It represents the start of a new chapter in the long history of UK defence. I commend this Statement to the House”.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for reading out the names of the two members of the Armed Forces who have recently died in Afghanistan. I would like to associate these Benches with the condolences to their families and friends and to support the Minister in his reference to the wounded. The two members of the Armed Forces concerned were involved in the extraordinarily difficult task of mentoring the security and armed forces of the Afghan Government. I am sure that we all admire the courage necessary to carry out that task in such difficult conditions.
I thank the noble Lord for repeating that very long Statement—it took him a bracing 15 minutes to do so. I have been faced with Statements and papers throughout my career. Those documents have varied greatly in length, and my suspicions have deepened as their length has increased. One way to work out whether a Statement or paper says anything is to précis it. When you précis something again and again, you can see what is left at the end. If there is not much left after that process then there cannot have been very much there in the first place. I put it to the House that this is a profoundly vacuous Statement. It says very little indeed.
The first thing that it does not contain is a plan. You would think that a Statement about defence expenditure over the next 10 years would have a plan associated with it. The Statement did not contain a plan—it promises a summary of a plan some time in the future. It does not even give a date when that plan will be put forward.
What else does the Statement say? One of the few new things it provides is an overall figure. It says that the equipment and support plan for the next 10 years involves £160 billion—that is the hard figure in the middle of the Statement. It then goes on to explain how that figure is made up. It says—the Minister will correct me if I am wrong—that £8 billion will be available over the next 10 years to adapt to the changing world. So, over 10 years, 5% of that amount will be available for innovation, new equipment and new threats—things that we do not know about now. Some £4 billion will be available as a contingency, which is about 3% of the overall figure. So £152 billion will be available over 10 years and the Government have got things so right that they can manage with a contingency of 3%. I put it to noble Lords that that level of accuracy simply is not credible.
What else will the plan contain? Does the Statement mention any new acquisitions? I do not know—I could not see any. Although it mentions the decision to purchase three offshore patrol vessels, as opposed to leasing them, we have heard everything else before. Is there anything new in the Statement? Are there any new cuts? I cannot see any new ones. I can see no mention of how money will be saved.
Let us go back to what the Statement purports to say. I should add that the press reports about what the Statement would say were rather more exciting than the Statement itself. I invite the Minister to correct me if I have overread the press reports, but they seemed to imply that the Secretary of State for Defence would say that there would be no more cuts over the next 10 years—no more cuts until 2022. That is pretty ambitious. If that is what the Minister said, I am sure that noble Lords will welcome it. If nothing else, we will not have so many Statements to look at when plans change.
Does the Statement say that there will be no more cuts? The closest reference I could find was:
“I can tell the House today that, after two years’ work, the black hole in the defence budget has finally been eliminated and the budget is now in balance”.
Is the budget in balance for 10 years? Will there be no more cuts over the next 10 years?
What does this promise? Once again, I looked through the Statement. Does it promise anything different from the SDSR of October 2010? That was a very precise document. For instance, it stated on page 19:
“The new Defence Planning Assumptions envisage that the Armed Forces in the future will be sized and shaped to conduct … an enduring stabilisation operation at around brigade level … with maritime and air support as required, while also conducting … one non-enduring complex intervention (up to 2,000 personnel), and … one non-enduring simple intervention (up to 1,000 personnel)”.
Does this equipment plan with its balanced budget still commit the Government to resource our Armed Forces to meet that commitment?
Throughout the SDSR there were a series of statements about numbers of ships, although fewer about numbers of aircraft. We heard about changes to the size of the Army and about a different way of approaching the carrier. Otherwise, are all the commitments in the SDSR fully funded in the plan referred to by the Statement?
I am amazed at the brilliance of the Government. About a year ago, there were what seemed to be extremely well informed rumours in the press—in the Times and the Daily Telegraph, which are normally well connected—that the Government in the SDSR had created a plan that was underfunded by more than £1 billion per annum. May I assume from the Statement that by some miracle the problem about which defence chiefs or their agents briefed the press—the massive gap between what was aspired to and the money available—has been bridged? I cannot see, without any new cuts being described and without any changes other than those mentioned, how it has been bridged.
We know that a very large number of civil servants—about one-third—will disappear. In my career I purchased a large amount of materiel. It was not for the military but for the railways. The essence of doing that efficiently is not underfunding professional capability but if anything overfunding it to get the right contracts, structures and monitoring. Will the Civil Service, after these massive cuts, have the capability to keep hold of this plan and deliver on it?
I find this to be an incredible aspiration, and an incredible Statement that is impossible to judge. I look forward with bated breath to the NAO report and its judgment on whether it will work. I hope that the Minister, in spite of not yet having the report, will be able to assure us that the Statement really means that there will be no more cuts to equipment programmes for the Armed Forces for the next decade.
My Lords, of course I agree with what the noble Lord said about the bravery of our Armed Forces in Afghanistan. However, I am sorry that he took such a pessimistic line on our Statement by saying that there is not much to it. We have had to make some very difficult decisions. In the SDSR, as the noble Lord knows, the Harriers went, the “Ark Royal” went and MRA4 went, along with a whole lot of other things that we would much rather have kept. We have had to make some very difficult civilian and service redundancies. There is much greater financial discipline in the department now than there was. It has been a very difficult task.
The department's fundamental approach is to deliver the Future Force 2020—so I can confirm to the noble Lord that there is absolutely no loss of capability. We have debated that over a long period, and we are absolutely convinced that that is correct. The process had the SDSR at its core and has made no significant changes to it. At the end of the SDSR we acknowledged that there was more work to be done, and, obviously, balancing the budget is a vital part of that process.
The noble Lord asked if I could guarantee that there would be no cuts for 10 years. The Government have committed to carrying out an SDSR every five years. Although we would not want to pre-empt the outcome of that process, it is clearly important that the department is able to make long-term plans. However, I cannot say what the next SDSR, in 2015, will come up with.
The noble Lord asked if all commitments were fully funded. I can confirm that the answer is yes. He said that a “miracle” had taken place. The Secretary of State has a brilliant—outstanding—head for figures, along with all his other very great leadership qualities. This has given great leadership to the department as far as the budget is concerned. We have a much better relationship with the Treasury than we used to have. The Permanent Secretary is adopting a very disciplined approach to all budget holders, which is a great help to us.
The noble Lord asked about redundancies. I can confirm that, as far as the civilian headcount is concerned, there will be a reduction of about 32,000 by 2020, which equates to just over a third of civilian manpower. Service manpower will be reduced by 33,000, or 19%, by 2020, of which approximately 19,500 will be in the Army, 8,000 in the Royal Air Force and 5,500 in the Royal Navy.
The last of the noble Lord’s questions was whether I felt we had the capability to keep hold of the plan. My answer is: absolutely, yes.
My Lords, I should like first to join these Benches in the earlier tribute.
Now that the MoD budget is on much more of an even keel, and given the long-term nature of so many MoD contracts—10 years is not particularly long, and my noble friend talked about the 10-year line—would it not make sense now for the political parties to try to get together to agree a common approach to the level of defence spend? Would it not make a lot of sense if that could be achieved?
I appreciate that my noble friend may not be able to answer all my specific questions at this stage, so perhaps he will write to me. First, have there been any changes to profit margins on non-competitive contracts? Secondly, on the reductions in the civilian workforce that he talked about, how many reductions have taken place so far? I know that there is an aspiration to reduce by about 30,000, but how many specific redundancies have taken place?
My noble friend referred to the offshore patrol vessels that have apparently been leased. Leasing is normally quite an expensive operation. When were they originally leased and what are the financial terms of the purchases? Further, are any other naval vessels currently being leased?
On the question of the NAO review, can my noble friend give an indication of how long the work will take and when publication might come through? Finally, will the likely considerable costs of withdrawing equipment from Afghanistan come out of the normal defence budget or will they be treated as, in effect, the equivalent of urgent operational requirements?
My Lords, I thank my noble friend. He has asked quite a few questions and I will not be able to answer them all here, but I will write to him. He asked first whether I think it is a good idea for all the parties to get together. I certainly have very good relations with my shadows and I am very happy to take this back to the department and come back to my noble friend. It is an excellent suggestion, and it is one that he has made in the past. I shall let him know how I get on.
I cannot give my noble friend an instant answer to his questions about profit margins and reductions in the civilian and Armed Forces staff. He also asked whether we are leasing any other vessels which might be bought. Off the top of my head I think that HMS “Protector” might fall into that bracket, but I do not want to be held to that answer and I will write to my noble friend. I am not sure how long the NAO report will take, but I am happy to write to him about that as well.
My Lords, when I first was lucky enough to join your Lordships’ House some 15 years ago, and I was already appointed as the Minister of State for Defence Procurement, I held strongly to the view that defence matters are far too important to be treated in a partisan way. I was extremely flattered and gratified that when I was introduced into the House, one of my two sponsors was a distinguished Conservative former Defence Minister and former Secretary-General of NATO. The Statement I have heard today is replete with political self-justification of a sort that should have no place in a Defence Secretary’s Statement. I am very sorry for our Minister because he has had to read it out. The last defence Statement took 13 minutes to repeat, and this one took 15 minutes, with large parts of it just as odious as the previous one. Again, I am sorry that our Minister has to come out with all this stuff because he is a thoroughly decent man. It has no place whatever in a Defence Secretary’s Statement, and if he wants to bandy about political remarks, I would ask him to look at who it was that saddled this country with the F35C—Dr Liam Fox—and he can put that in his pipe and smoke it.
However, today I have only one question for the Minister, who I regard as a good friend and hold in great respect. I hope that he does not consider himself tainted with the remarks I have found it necessary to make. What assessment has been made in the MoD of our ongoing loss of the C130, which is going to be kept by the Americans for many years? We are going to lose interoperability with around a dozen of our closest allies—the Australians, the Canadians, the Americans, the Qataris and many others. I think that this is going to be one of the most damaging consequences of these so-called reviews, and I should be grateful for the Minister’s views on the subject.
My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, does not feel that I approach matters in a partisan way. I do not use this as a criticism, but I try to go out of my way to invite Members of all parties in this House into briefings. This is indeed a very complicated Statement so I shall be happy to lay on a briefing in the Ministry of Defence on all these issues. However, I hear what the noble Lord says.
With regard to the C130, the problem as I understand it is that the production line is going to close quite soon. I did have a flight in the A400M the other day—it was its first flight. I did invite the noble Lord and I had hoped that he would join me—and I think I very nearly got there. It is a wonderful plane and the Royal Air Force, which was originally very much against it coming into service, is now absolutely delighted. I think it makes a very good addition to the Royal Air Force.
I apologise to my noble friend for not being here to hear the opening Statement, but I have for greater accuracy obtained a copy, which I have had a chance to read. He spoke about a bipartisan approach. If I understood correctly the noble Lord who spoke for the Opposition, he called for no more cuts. It seems that we are moving in that direction, which is encouraging. The MoD is very good at producing plans; the problem is whether they are fully executed. Even if the NAO approves the plan, the challenge will then be the difficulties of having single contractors and the various contracts which might be entered into—they are major challenges. In that connection, I agree with what my noble friend said about the Secretary of State. We have a more numerate, literate Secretary of State than perhaps were some in the past. If he keeps up the initiative that he has announced in this Statement, the challenge for him is to make sure that it happens.
I thank my noble friend for his support. I do not underestimate the difficulties, but, as my noble friend said, the current Secretary of State is very numerate. He is on top of his brief, and I am fully confident that we can carry these plans out.
I welcome the new arrangements that the Minister has announced, but following on from what the noble Lord, Lord King, said, it seems to me that the MoD enters into contracts which, to my inexpert eye, more or less boil down to, “If you want more than you originally asked for, you pay more; if you want less than you originally asked for, you pay more; and, actually, if you want what you originally asked for, you pay more”. For the MoD’s books to have a chance of remaining balanced, we will need contracting staff and legal staff who are at least as good as those employed by industry. When will the Minister be able to say something about the approach that the new Chief of Defence Materiel will take on this subject? How will he recruit that level of skill within his staff that ensures that contracts are to the benefit of both sides and not just of the one?
My Lords, the noble and gallant Lord makes a very good point. There have been cases in the past where the department has been let down in negotiations with industry by the legal staff. We are looking closely at this issue; we are aware of it and of the sums of money that need to be paid. It is certainly in our in-tray at the moment.
My Lords, after 25 years of serving at sea and then serving in the madhouse—I am sorry, I should have said the MoD—I share the view of the noble Lord, Lord King, and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, about the difficulties associated with contracts. I worry that it is not that easy to stay within costs, and there is an awful lot of smoke and mirrors as well. I hope that the projections are true, but I have real doubts about them. I also share the view that defence is so important for the nation that we should try wherever possible to be cross-party in our approach to it.
Looking at the 10-year timeline for PR12, am I right in assuming that the money for the replacement of the V class submarines, which will be coming to its big spend at the end of that period, is being allowed for in the figures that have been given in this Statement? This morning, at the EIS summit, the right honourable Member for Runnymede and Weybridge spoke very strongly about the need for deterrence.
My Lords, I can assure the noble Lord that we have a new team in the MoD who, as I have seen with my own eyes, are absolutely on top of this issue and will do their very best to make sure that this plan is properly carried out. On submarines, as confirmed in the SDSR, the MoD is committed to delivering seven Astute-class submarines, at a cost of approximately £10 million. In order for the UK to continue as a nuclear power, the MoD is committed to delivering continuous at-sea deterrent. The MoD has started the £3 billion assessment phase for the £25 billion successor programme to deliver long-term CASD.
My Lords, first, from this Bench, I join with all others in their tributes to those who have lost their lives recently in Afghanistan. I am grateful to the Minister for the considered Statement and for the acknowledgement that the budget should be balanced. I am sure that we would all agree with that. I assume from what he said that much of this is derivative from the SDSR. I am concerned about three questions. First, progress has been made recently with the military covenant, particularly in the area of welfare for families affected by casualties and injuries, and, more generally, for those serving in the Armed Forces. At a time when the conflict continues in Afghanistan, I want to be assured that all that has been set out there can be fulfilled in the short term.
Secondly, and similarly in the short term, in thinking about resources for those serving in Afghanistan, we have all heard on a number of occasions the fears of senior officers in the forces, who are unhappy with the present support in terms of equipment. Can we be assured of that support at present, rather than looking further into the future?
My third question is about morale. I am grateful for all the briefings that the Minister has organised. Morale is one issue that has come up time and again. There are bound to be difficulties at a time when such drastic cuts have to be made. In the Army, I think another 20,000 people will eventually lose their jobs within the forces, and that uncertainty causes continuing difficulties with morale. I want assurances on welfare, the equipment at the present time and how we will try to encourage morale at this tricky moment.
I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate. On the military covenant, nothing in the Statement will affect any decision or commitment to members of the Armed Forces. The right reverend Prelate also mentioned equipment. I am sure that some noble Lords went to the briefing by Brigadier Sanders the other day. He is just back from Afghanistan and said that the equipment is better now than at any time in his 27 years in the Army. He could not say enough good things about the equipment. Finally, it is a difficult time as we have to make these redundancies but we are doing our best to ensure that morale is as high as possible.
My Lords, would my noble friend take this opportunity to pay tribute to the role which Scottish regiments have played in the British Army and reaffirm that the best future for regiments such as the Black Watch, with its proud tradition, is in Scotland’s remaining part of the United Kingdom and continuing to play such an important role in its defence?
My Lords, the noble Lord’s own remarks in the House today have been temperate and statesmanlike, as they always are. Yet the Statement that he read out from the Secretary of State was tendentious, and quite disgracefully so. The great difference between the Labour Government and the Conservative-led coalition in defence spending is that we built up the nation’s Armed Forces. We increased real spending by more than 10 per cent. This coalition has run down the numbers in our Armed Forces by 20 per cent and disgracefully exposed us to having no carrier strike capability for 10 years. The noble Lord said that the equipment in Afghanistan was better than it had ever been. I wonder as a result of which decisions that equipment came through the pipeline.
I was amazed to hear the Secretary of State, whose remarks were read out by the noble Lord, taking credit for a whole lot of projects, such as the A400M, the new Chinook helicopters—although the Government have reduced their number by 10—and the Scout vehicle, which I negotiated. It was a very disingenuous Statement and I hope that the Government will think twice before coming to the House with such a piece of party-political propaganda on so serious a matter in future.
My Lords, I am happy to pay tribute to the noble Lord and the Opposition for many of the defence procurement decisions that were taken. I think that he would agree that we were left with a big black hole and a whole host of problems that had to be sorted out. That is why I am here today.
My Lords, I add my thanks to the Minister for his Statement and particularly welcome the firm place that he gave to the successor submarines in the long-term costing and programme. Reverting to the question asked by my noble and gallant friend Lord Stirrup, when will we get the report of Mr Bernard Gray, Chief of Defence Materiel, on the options for structuring future procurement operations? I think it was completed several months ago; it was ready at the end of last year. Some of us have been awaiting it with keen anticipation.
I welcome my noble friend’s Statement. Having spent six years on the Public Accounts Committee, where we spent many hours dealing with defence procurement, I believe that it is important to get the books balanced first. Will he say something about what changes are to be made in project management within the MoD? Clearly, from the reports that the Public Accounts Committee has received from the NAO over the years, there is a serious systemic problem there involving both systems and personnel.
My Lords, my noble friend makes a very good point. I assure her that the Permanent Secretary is getting on top of that issue and taking a very disciplined approach to budget holders. A number of them have had a quiet gripe to me about that, but it is the right thing to do and the only way to get on top of the problem.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his briefings. He is extremely helpful. I, too, regret that the tone of the Statement was at such odds with the way in which the noble Lord conducts his business with other Members of the House.
The Statement lays great stress on the spiralling costs in defence procurement, which has been a problem for a very long time. What is being done about the other problem which has been around for a very long time, which is the constant delays to the programme? Once we are told that a capability will be delivered in five years, in my time—and I have seen it go on since—one was always certain that there would be delay after delay. Getting that under control, as well as the costs, is so important.
Debate (3rd Day)
Moved on Wednesday 9 May by
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty as follows:
“Most Gracious Sovereign—We, Your Majesty’s most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament”.
My Lords, the Front-Bench speeches last week on behalf of the coalition added very little to the cautious reference in the gracious Speech concerning reform of this House, but that is as it should be. The noble Lord the Leader of the House said that the Government are yet to take a position on the Joint Committee’s report. I would add that they should give equal weight to the alternative report—and note that it is an alternative report, not a minority report. It was a committee of 26: there was one member from the Commons who did not attend any meetings; another member from the Commons, during the 30 meetings of the committee, popped in six times at the beginning and popped out not long afterwards. I do not recollect him saying anything while he was there, and he certainly did not vote. We had then, in effect, 24 persons who were contributing to the committee and 12 of them signed the alternative report. In the light of that, that report is entitled to equal weight in the matter.
There are some signs, I am glad to see, that the Government might think again. For example, both the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister gave nuanced reactions to the recommendation in both reports of a referendum, and last Wednesday in the other place, the Prime Minister said:
“I think it is possible, and it would be a good reform … if we had a smaller House of Lords and if it had an elected element”.—[Official Report, Commons, 9/5/12; col. 23.]
That is of course reminiscent of the Wakeham report. It may also refer to the suggestion which appeared in the Mail on Sunday on 15 January, in a column written by Mr James Forsyth. He said that a compromise was being hatched in Downing Street which would see elections take place in 2015 for 20 per cent of the places in the Lords, but that the elected element—his words—would not be increased without Parliament again being asked to give its approval. In case either of these is being considered, may I advise caution?
If there was a referendum, what advice would the Conservative Party give to the electorate? It is likely that Members of Parliament and other members of the Conservative Party might try to compel their leader to campaign for a no vote, just as they did with regard to the AV vote. As to the cunning plan which, it is said, is about to emerge from Downing Street, I would like to make two points. First, it would be unstable if future change was conditioned simply on the approval of a statutory instrument. What, I wonder, would your Lordships do if such an instrument was whipped through the other place after a short debate? Secondly, the injection of even a small elected element into this House would destabilise it. No matter how few they were, I cannot see any directly elected Member accepting that his or her electoral mandate was inferior to that of the other place. The elected Members would not follow the conventions and they would expect, and probably obtain, the support of their appointed political colleagues in doing that.
There is no escape from the reality that a House containing Members with a direct electoral mandate, whether they be few, many or all, will act differently from this place. If the other place is to retain primacy, those who sit here must not be able to assert that they have an equal or superior mandate. The Joint Committee’s report suggests this can be done by a concordat between the two Houses, but anything agreed between the two Houses will last only as long as both Houses continue to agree. When one House decides not to follow it, it will end. Ministers giving evidence to the Joint Committee said that the Parliament Acts would be a fallback for Commons primacy. I was interested to note that last week the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, said that he “firmly agreed” with the view that had been given to the committee by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, and by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, that the Parliament Acts would not apply to an elected Chamber. Proposing, as some do, that those Acts be extended to an elected Chamber ranks, to my mind, with the Labour Party’s proposal to reduce the powers of the elected Chamber—a proposal rightly derided by the noble Lord the Leader of the House as a rich absurdity.
I would suggest that the solution is to elect Members indirectly, by a formula or process related to a direct election. Indirect elections are not unusual. In her written evidence, Dr Meg Russell told us that of the 76 second Chambers then in existence, 16 were wholly indirectly elected and 18 partly indirectly elected. By way of comparison, the figures for wholly and partly directly elected Chambers were 28, while those for wholly or partly appointed were 34, so there is an interesting distribution there. It is proposed that we have a second Chamber with a majority directly elected and with some appointed members. There are five other upper Chambers around the world that are constituted in the same way and which might be regarded as comparable. These five are Zimbabwe, Burma, Bhutan—they may not be regarded as terribly good comparators for reasons of distance, cultural difference and so on, but it is the remaining two that really worry me—Italy and Belgium. Is that going to be the future of our constitutional and parliamentary arrangements? I hope not.
The simplest form of indirect election is to allocate seats in proportion to the votes obtained in a general election, so that if a party obtained 40% of the vote it could appoint 40% of the second Chamber to hold office until the next election. Nominations could be made after the election or from a list published beforehand. But that is open to the familiar criticism of closed lists: it would increase party patronage and favour those individuals who were good at schmoozing party managers or members.
I would prefer the form of direct election that this Parliament legislated for in the past. The relevant Acts that I am referring to were enacted in 1909 and 1920. The second Chambers provided for in those Acts no longer exist, but that is not the point. Here we have legislation that was enacted in the middle of the crisis that led to the Parliament Act, and it may show what the Government who were involved in that crisis thought would be the appropriate shape of a second Chamber. The first Act was the South Africa Act 1909 and the second was the Government of Ireland Act 1920. Both proposals are very similar. My noble friends to my right might like to note that the 1920 Act was the work of a coalition of Conservatives and Liberals, headed by a Liberal Prime Minister—Lloyd George—whose Budget it was that had started the crisis in the first place. This is something worth looking at.
The South Africa Act 1909 provided for eight senators to be elected by single transferable vote for a 10-year term by the legislature of each of the four colonies that became provinces of the Union of South Africa, with a further eight Members appointed by the Governor General—an 80/20 split. That is interesting. The Government of Ireland Act provided for 24 Members of the Northern Ireland Senate to be elected for an eight-year term by single transferable vote by the Northern Ireland House of Commons, half being elected every four years, with the lord mayors of Belfast and Londonderry as additional Members. I thought that this might be a pointer in view of some other aspects of the coalition’s policy, but apparently they got lost by the wayside recently. But you never know, that might come back again.
Interestingly, both Acts had exactly the same procedure written into them to resolve differences between the two Houses. In the event of a difference between them over a piece of legislation, there could be convened—it was discretionary—a joint sitting of both Houses to deliberate and vote on the disputed Bill. That deliberation and voting would then count as the passing of the Bill. This procedure also applied to the rejection of a money Bill, so the legislation contemplated that money Bills might be rejected and had a procedure for dealing with that, which underlines that the Governments at those times did not contemplate that something similar to the Parliament Act was needed or should exist with regard to these bodies.
If anything resembling the draft Bill that the Joint Committee has considered comes forward, it is clear that it will encounter serious opposition in the other place from Members who wish to retain their primacy and to avoid being challenged in their constituencies by a rival elected Member. An indirectly elected senate solves both those problems. So I urge it on those who will be involved in taking decisions on this as something to look at.
Last week the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, said that if a reform Bill comes here,
“the responsibilities of this House are clear. We should treat the Bill like any other coming before the House”.—[Official Report, 10/5/12; col. 50.]
It might be possible to do that if the Bill comes after being properly considered in the other place, but I fear for what might happen if we get another ill-drafted Bill pushed though the other place on a guillotine with many of its provisions never debated.
I appeal to the Government: treat this bill as constitutional Bills were once treated in the past. Let it be considered without a timetable. A whip on Second Reading would be understandable, but thereafter let the debate proceed freely. A consensus reached in that way would then be respected.
My Lords, I thought that it would be helpful to today’s discussion if we cast our minds back a couple of weeks to the elections that took place across Britain. I am referring in particular to the elections regarding the 10 directly elected mayors. As the House will remember, the suggestion was that there should be 10 directly elected mayors in 10 of the great cities of Britain. This proposal was supported by the leadership of the three main political parties, which is always a rather worrying state of affairs. It was argued that it would be a far more democratic system that would provide greater accountability and represent change, and these days we are always in favour of change. I need hardly remind the House of the results of those elections by the good people of Birmingham, Coventry and sundry other cities. When presented with this proposition, roughly three-quarters of the electorate could barely stifle a yawn before they changed the subject. The quarter, roughly, who actually went to the polling station voted pretty overwhelmingly and, I am happy to say, nine out of 10 said, “No thank you very much. We don’t think our present system is broken. We will carry on as before”.
I will leave noble Lords to their own judgment as to the relevance of that to the discussion of Lords reform because so much is unknown about Lords reform, despite all the discussions we have had so far. We know that the Government will probably introduce a Bill, but we do not know whether the Bill will be largely the draft Bill or will be substantially changed in the light of the Select Committee’s report. We do not know when it will be introduced. We certainly do not know what its passage will show or whether or when it will reach this House. We do not know whether the Parliament Act will be applied, if necessary, and we do not know whether there will be a referendum at the end of everything.
There are a lot of do not knows, but I would like to put to the House something that I do know, I think. We cannot judge how the thing will end, but we can make a pretty educated guess on the direction of travel. I am sure that it is pretty much everyone’s experience, as well as mine, that the direction of travel on this debate about whether we should have an elected House has been slowly but inexorably moving towards those of us who say that an elected second Chamber would be bad for our constitution. If there is anyone around who previously thought that an appointed House along the present lines, but not quite, was a good idea, but who then read the draft Bill and thought, “Eureka! I used to favour an appointed House but, my word, this is a cracking little Bill and has certainly convinced me”—I have not met that person yet—perhaps they could drop a note to the Government because I am sure they would be very pleased to hear that.
I do not want to win this battle as, simply on the basis of procedural wrangles, it threatens to be deals between political parties or perhaps even between Front Benches. I want to win this argument because I want to see it concluded and put to bed for a very substantial period. It is very important that that happens. Perhaps I may be partisan because, obviously, the party I care about more than any other, and always have, is my dear old Labour Party. Should we win the next election, as I fervently hope, and should this attempt at Lords reform fail, I hope that we will not find ourselves mired in a commitment to introduce another Bill which will take an inordinate amount of time and trouble to no discernable benefit to the electorate. Perhaps I should remind those newer members of my party who seem to think that an elected second Chamber is in our DNA and is what the Labour Party has always believed in and campaigned for, that they do not have memories anything like as good as those of some of us on these Benches. I actually took the precaution—I never thought I would—of reading the 11 election manifestos of my dear old party since 1970. That is an arbitrary date, and was the first general election that I lost. Since 1970, there have been 11 general elections. Only twice did the Labour Party have a commitment to a directly elected second Chamber in its manifesto. Incidentally, we lost both those elections. I do not claim that there is a direct relationship between the two things but it may be worth a note of caution.
I commend to the House the reference to Lords reform in the 2005 general election manifesto. I expect the ears of my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer to prick up at this. The 2005 Labour manifesto said:
“Labour believes that a reformed Upper Chamber must be effective, legitimate and more representative without challenging the primacy of the House of Commons”.
I think that is a tremendous script and am sure my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer will also think so. We ought to; we wrote it.
Without being overconfident, I am confident about the way that things are progressing because I think we are winning the argument. I will not repeat points that have been made already but we have surely conclusively won the argument on powers. Clause 2 of the draft Bill is ridiculous. It just asserts the primacy of the House of Commons with absolutely no evidence to explain how that would be sustained. The Government have still failed to answer the question that others and I have put repeatedly in public—that is, parliamentary—and private meetings, which is simply this, on powers. If one House votes to go to war and the other House votes not to go to war, following a request from the Government for war powers, where on earth does that leave the Government?
It is no use saying that it works abroad. It is the weakest argument of the lot to say that things work in other systems overseas. For the most part, other systems overseas have written constitutions that precisely delineate the powers of the two Chambers. We are not in that position. We are in a position in which the two Chambers have pretty much the same kinds of powers, but most of the time this House simply decides not to exercise them to the full. That is why we have a good relationship between the two Chambers. Therefore, I will not trouble the House. The point about powers has been well argued already.
There has been no attempt to argue otherwise by the Government, or by the previous Government, under Jack Straw. I had the same sense of frustration arguing with Ministers then as I have now. They refused to address the problem, just saying, “Oh, we have the Parliament Act so everything will be all right”.
The other argument is more difficult but I think that those of us who are against a directly elected House have won it. It is the argument about democracy. I will not expand on this because no one could improve on the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Norton, on Thursday. He simply made the point, which I shall try to make in a sentence, that our democratic system depends on the people electing the Commons, the Commons determining the Government and the people being able to throw out the Government in a general election. To have a directly elected second Chamber would be an immediate and obvious threat to that core of the democratic legitimacy of our constitution. Therefore, I say quite confidently that a directly elected second Chamber would not enhance our democracy; it would damage it.
I put this as the final paradox. I was pleased when I realised that this was the case. The strongest—although not to me—and most frequently repeated argument that one hears from supporters of an elected House—
The noble Lord referred to his party’s manifestos. In 1912, Keir Hardie and Arthur Henderson campaigned on the basis of the abolition of the House of Lords. The current policy, as enunciated by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, is for 100% election. Just to clarify this, is the noble Lord saying that 1999 brought about the final apotheosis of the House of Lords and that it should remain in that form for ever?
The noble Lord tempts me down the line of being even more of a constitutional anorak than I am. I could read out for him, but I will not, the commitments of the Labour Party on Lords reform to sundry general elections over the years. There is no common pattern within it, except that quite frequently there is reference to controlling the powers of the second Chamber, but when it comes to composition, there has been absolutely no consistency. I am quite happy to put a copy of this deeply researched note in the Library should anyone wish to read it.
I come to what I think is the final paradox of where we are in Lords reform. It is interesting that I should have had an intervention from a Liberal Democrat because I have heard it said frequently that, somehow or other, an Act now on Lords reform would be the conclusion of a 100-years struggle—we have heard that previously, although I do not know who has been struggling but most of my constituents were not—started by that great Liberal Government of Asquith and Lloyd George, and that this is somehow a conclusion.
I ask the House to consider the following proposition. Were Lloyd George around today and sitting at the other end of the Chamber—we will call him Dave in order to keep it contemporary—his colleague alongside him might say, “Dave, have you seen this new Lords reform Bill?”. Lloyd George might say, “No, I haven’t seen it. What’s in it?”, and his colleague might say, “It’s a great Bill which makes the Lords more powerful and will enable them to throw out more Commons legislation. What is more, in due course it will be able to start blocking Budgets. What do you think of that?”. I do not think that David Lloyd George would be too struck with that proposition.
I say to the House that in terms of this simple proposition, which I hope does not sound too egotistical on the part of those of us who take this view, if any heirs to Lloyd George are sitting around in Parliament at the moment, they would be saying, “We are protecting the primacy of the House of Commons”. I am confident that that is what Lloyd George would want to see, were he here. It is certainly what I say and what most of my colleagues have been saying. I hope that the Government will listen to this and realise that it is not just a bad Bill, it is increasingly a friendless Bill. They would do themselves and the country a favour if they were simply to drop it.
My Lords, I will not claim to know what Lloyd George might or might not have said. He was a radical. It seems depressingly clear that there are very few radicals for reform on the other side of the House. I find that very sad for a Labour Party that has always stood for constitutional reform in favour of democracy and the people in this country, but its members must examine their own consciences on this.
I should begin by making an apology to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. On Thursday, I was here for most of his speech. I regret that I had unavoidably to leave for the last couple or three sentences. I offer my apologies to him. Obviously, I read what he had to say in Hansard.
Well, so here we go again. Over the weekend, I was speaking with a friend in Somerset. I do not think that he votes Liberal Democrat—I think he is probably a Tory—but he watches these things rather carefully. He had looked at our debate on the parliament channel or had read it in Hansard and certainly knew what had gone on. I was expressing to him how depressed I was. He said, “Paddy, you may be depressed but you should not be surprised. The House of Lords is performing exactly its traditional function down the years of opposing every democratic reform”.
This is the Chamber that opposed the Great Reform Act 1832, women being elected and so many fundamental reforms. It did so à l’outrance but was finally dragged kicking and screaming to the democratic reforms that have made this a democracy to be proud of. So it shall be again. In 1911, this House opposed democratic reform—perhaps we can understand that. We were somewhat ahead of our time then but we are depressingly, disastrously behind the times now. I asked the House of Lords Library to tell me about the new constitution for Egypt, which was proposed by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces—no lovers of democracy there—and supported by the Islamic Muslim Brotherhood. It proposed a bicameral system—a shura will be the upper House. It will be two-thirds elected and one-third appointed by the President. We are behind them.
I will happily give way in a moment. Are noble Lords really content that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces of Egypt will create a constitution with better contact with democracy than we have in this place, and that most Members of this place wish to see here? It is an untenable position and sooner or later this House, in the future as in the past, will be dragged to democracy, even against its will.
The weekend before last I was in Egypt and sat in the gallery of the lower House of the Egyptian Parliament. It was a lively debate, with over 400 members all present. Does the noble Lord know how many women there were? There were half a dozen. That is all. He should look around him now and see how many women we have.
I will give way in a moment. Let me just make it clear that across the world, or at least a very great deal of it, people are on the streets demanding democracy, while here we sit huddled, determined not to even let it enter through the doors. It is an unsustainable position.
I am most grateful. A couple of weeks ago, the noble Lord, Lord Morgan, asked his noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford why Lloyd George—the hero of the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown—did not believe in an elected second Chamber. The noble Lord, Lord Thomas, could not answer that question. Can the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, do so?
I am grateful to my noble friend, but I do not want to talk about 1911—I want to talk about today. Democracy is on the march across the world, and you cannot keep it outside that door. In the end, you will be dragged there. Let me make this proposition to noble Lords: the longer they delay it, the more ridiculous they will look. That is where we are in the eyes of many of the public, 69% of whom want to see a directly elected Chamber. [Interruption.] I am grateful for any support I can get.
I want to answer a few of the arguments that have so far been put forward to prevent this happening, to delay it, and to make sure that we hang on to our seductive comforts for as long as we may. The first is the most ridiculous, but it featured in our previous debates and there were echoes of it on Thursday—that we are not a House of Parliament but a committee. Some committee! We are told that we are a monocameral Parliament, that all we do is advise and that this is just a committee. We are invited to believe, therefore, that when we met King John on the banks of the Thames nearly 1,000 years ago we were not beginning with a Magna Carta and Parliament but creating a committee—and that when we invite Her Majesty to come here all dressed up in her finery, accompanied by a company of the guards and a clatter of the Household Cavalry, to sit on the Throne and read the parliamentary programme for the future to your Lordships, who are dressed in red dressing gowns while the other Chamber has to come and parade before us, we are no more than a committee. That is a preposterous suggestion, and those who make it, as the noble Lord, Lord Richard, said in a previous debate, simply do not understand our history or function.
The argument that is made to bolster this claim is that we do not contribute to the making of laws. You cannot make that argument on the one hand and then claim, as my noble friend Lord Phillips did, that we have done our function because we have changed and passed so many laws. The truth of the matter is that we contribute to the making of the laws in this country. In a democracy, those who do the people’s business should be the people’s representatives. We are the daily affront to that basic principle. How can we be satisfied with that? It is a desperate and ludicrous argument that gives little comfort or respect to those who continue to seek to make it.
I am grateful to my noble friend for giving way. I notice that his wording has now changed to, “contribute to the making of the laws”. The Deputy Prime Minister said that those who make the law should be elected. Should we take this as an acknowledgment that the House of Commons has the final say on all laws that are made in this country?
Of course we should. The draft legislation that was put before us made it perfectly clear that the House of Commons should have primacy. That is not a contentious item. By the way, I said that we participated in the making of the laws. We contribute to the making of the laws. That should be done only by the power that is derived not from the Prime Minister or from patronage but through the ballot box.
My noble friends in the Conservative Party often ask, “Why should we address this constitutional issue at a time of crisis—is this not a distraction?”. Those noble friends should have a care as they, too, are interested in constitutional reform. As the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, has just said, they introduced mayoral elections. Now we must vote for police chiefs across the country, whether we like it or not. It seems to me that my noble friends are interested in every constitutional reform except the reform of this place. They want to see the election of mayors and chief constables but not of anybody in this place. I say to noble Lords who love to make that point that it is a dangerous one to make.
It is also dangerous to make that point as we are facing not just an economic crisis but a democratic crisis. We should look at what is happening on the streets of Egypt and at what has happened here. Our economy is in crisis but so is our democracy. We should look at the turnouts in the local elections last week. You cannot solve the democratic crisis unless you can create more respect for, cognisance of and at least trust in the democratic process. We need a process of democratic renewal in this country. I do not claim that the House of Lords represents all of that programme but it is certainly a crucial part of it. You cannot resolve the deep economic crisis of this country if you do not also address the democratic crisis, and that is what we seek to do.
Another point that is often made is that famously there is no public call for reform of this place—we have heard it in the Chamber today—and that campaigners have knocked on many doors but not one person has called for democratic reform of the House of Lords. But they never do. This is not the people’s business; it is our business. There was no great public call for the Great Reform Act 1832. There was a campaign up and down the country, but in the Dog and Duck and other pubs around Britain in the 1830s there was no great public call in support of that or, later, the suffragette cause. The campaigners believed deeply in that cause and they fought for it, but the public did not, being largely uninterested in it, if not opposed to it.
The noble Lord, Lord Luce, said the other day that there have been four reforms of this place—in 1911, 1949, 1963 and 1999. None of those reforms was called for by the public. We initiated them to put our House in order. This has nothing to do with the public calling for reform. It is entirely to do with the fact that we should recognise that we have grown out of touch with democracy and that we have to put our House in order—no more and no less.
My Lords, I did not say that there was no great campaign. I made it very clear that among the ordinary people of our country there was no great public cry for this, as indeed was the case with the suffragettes. I had a look at this in the Library only the day before yesterday and I assure noble Lords that that was the case. However, if noble Lords will not accept that, and it seems that they are not inclined to do so, I repeat that on the four occasions that this House has reformed itself it did so because it needed to, not because the public demanded it. So it was then and so it is now.
Finally, I turn to the question of the written constitution, because this has come up a number of times. Let me see if I may address it directly. Perhaps I may pick up on the statement, or perhaps question, of the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, during the debate last Thursday. He is a man for whom I have a great deal of respect and admiration, but he made an odd statement. He said that if we were to be a democratically elected second Chamber we would be the only one in the world with an unwritten constitution so to do. There are only three countries with an unwritten constitution—not a huge number. There is New Zealand, Israel and Great Britain. His argument was, “How could we make such a change when there is no model for us to work from?”. I looked at his statement in Hansard and could read it out to him; I have it here.
My Lords, the point the noble Lord actually made, springing from that, was that we would not have a model to work from. Since when have democratic reformers in this country needed a model to work from? We have always had an unwritten constitution. Did it cause Cromwell to stop and say, “Hang on; I had better not go ahead with demanding that powers be transferred from the king because there isn’t a model anywhere else”? He was the model. Others followed him—not he followed others.
For the Great Reform Act 1832, we did not sit down and say, “Oh my goodness, we have no model to follow”. We had an unwritten constitution. We did not know how the powers would fall. We did not call for a constitutional convention to decide those powers before moving forward to reform. We made the democratic reforms and the world followed us. I am absolutely confident that, because we were ahead of the rest in 1832, the Great Reform Act saved us from the revolutions that swamped Europe in blood in 1848. Surely the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, is not one to argue that because we have an unwritten constitution we cannot have democratic reform. That is a ridiculous argument.
I say to those who say that we cannot have reform because we have an unwritten constitution, but at the same time talk about the magic of our unwritten constitution that reforms and resolves all matters, that I do not much believe in the unwritten constitution. To be honest, there is a case for a written constitution in this country. However, those who argue that the unwritten constitution resolves all, and that because it is a living constitution it can evolve and cope with these changes, cannot then say that some part of that constitution has to be written down. The proposition made by those who make that argument seems to be this: there has to be an unwritten constitution for everybody else but a written one for us—it has to be codified and we cannot otherwise move forward. You cannot make both arguments at the same time. Either you have an unwritten constitution, celebrate it and leave things to it, or you have a written constitution. However, noble Lords in this House seem to want the best of both worlds—an unwritten constitution for everybody else but a codified and written constitution for us and our relationships. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, was entirely right when he said that this should be left to the two Houses to work out. It would be better if it were.
My Lords, I am very interested in the last point made by the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, because he said, in essence, that he would not be unhappy with a written constitution. To be fair to my noble friend Lord Rooker, the point I think he was making was that if you have two elected Chambers, both with representatives of the people in them, you must have a written constitution in order to resolve the relationship between the two Houses. That was his point—not that you cannot do it, but that there is an ineluctable logic to the written constitution. In that case, the proceedings of the Houses become justiciable. That is why the conventions between the two Houses are not codified. It is why they are written down as explanations, not as a code. If the noble Lord does not understand that, it is he who misunderstands our constitutional arrangements.
Allow me, my Lords; the noble Baroness’s proposition is that, if you want to have democratic reform of this place, you must first have a written constitution. If we had a Bill before us for a written constitution, I would vote for it. However, we do not; we have a Bill for democratisation of the House of Lords. Perhaps I may make this point to the noble Baroness: if the past great reformers of this country took those risks, going out and leading the world from the basis of an unwritten constitution to change the powers of the monarch of this place and of the Commons, why should it not happen again? What is the basis on which it will not happen again?
I have taken up a good deal of the House’s time—
I agree with the noble Lord, especially because of his allegiance to the principle of a bicameral system, but surely he agrees that in a bicameral system the relationship between the two Chambers needs to be understood by people if it is put to them in a referendum. The noble Lord appears to be speaking in favour not of the draft Bill but of the Bill that he wishes it were. When I spoke to people in Lancashire, they said, “If it’s to be democratic, why elect once for 15 years? I would have no control over you, Josie”. That is what people said in my locality. Why is the noble Lord not arguing for what he believes in?
My Lords, I have been arguing for precisely what I believe in. Perhaps I may put it to the noble Baroness in this way. The draft legislation made it very clear that the Commons would have primacy, and I imagine that the legislation that will be put before us will have that phrase in it. However, if you believe in an unwritten constitution, you believe that that relationship needs to be worked out when the system has established itself. That is what an unwritten constitution does. I repeat: when they drew up the Great Reform Act, did they say, “My goodness, how will this alter things? If we were to abolish the rotten boroughs, how would this alter the constitution? We must have this codified”? Of course they did not. They went ahead and did what was necessary and our constitution responded effectively. That is the wisdom and the magic which I am told attends upon an unwritten constitution. You cannot argue that you believe in and value an unwritten constitution but where it relates solely to us it has to be written down. Either it is unwritten and works magically, as I propose it does, or it does not—full stop; end of story.
I feel that I may be trying the patience of the House as the Clock shows 20 minutes—
I guessed that I would be—I have never been popular in making these points, here or elsewhere—but perhaps I may come back to the central issue. The House of Lords Library tells me that there are 71 bicameral Parliaments across the world. Somebody said that it was 76 and I accept that. Leaving aside the microstates of the Caribbean, whose constitutions we wrote, only seven apart from ourselves have no contact with democracy, and they include Belarus and Yemen.
I am happy to put the advice provided to me by the Library into the public domain if noble Lords wish, but I have the advice here and it is very clear. The other seven appointed bicameral Chambers include the nations that I have just talked about. If the noble Lord wishes to contend that, I shall be happy to exchange with him following the debate the Library research paper on which I base what I say.
This situation cannot be sustained. Noble Lords know that. Some people are using every argument to delay or obstruct reform and are coming forward with arguments that, frankly, do not hold water. Sooner or later, in some way, this House will have to become connected to the democracy of our country. Democracy cannot be kept out of this Chamber; it cannot be kept on the other side of those great brass doors. Sooner or later it will come here, and the longer noble Lords sustain this opposition to it, the more ridiculous this House will look. We now have an opportunity to put that right. Let us take it.
My Lords, I was going to start my speech by saying that it was a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown. It is certainly a challenge and I shall try not to take as long. I am glad to have this opportunity not least because his support for an elected second Chamber is, as he demonstrated today, both passionate and principled and I respect that. However, I hope that he will accept and acknowledge that it is possible to have as great a respect for democracy and for a parliamentary system without agreeing with him on the virtues of an elected House. It is possible for true democrats, honourable Members and noble Lords to disagree honourably on this point.
The other reason I was pleased to follow the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, was that I would like to echo some of the points that have been made about second Chambers across the world. I fear that in his rhetoric he employs a rather broad-brush approach and fails to do justice, as the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, has pointed out, to the complexities of bicameral legislatures. Over the past five years—something of a misspent late middle age—I spent a great deal of time visiting, discussing and studying second Chambers, and speaking to their members and debating with their speakers. The position is nothing like as simple as the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, suggests. He achieves the figure of only seven appointed Chambers by simply ignoring some countries that he decides to classify as microstates and therefore not worthy of consideration.
More importantly, if you look at the figures—whether it is 72 or 76—for me the crucial issue is that directly elected second Chambers are actually in the minority when you consider the large number of indirectly appointed second Chambers and put those together with the ones that are appointed. I say that not simply to parry debating points with the noble Lord, but to suggest that parliaments are rather like Tolstoy’s families at the beginning of Anna Karenina: lower Houses are basically all the same—representation by population—and second Chambers are all different—unhappy in their own way, as unicameralists such as the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, would say. They tend to be the product of political history or of political geography which, of course, explains federal countries and second Chambers in federal states. Their existence, their powers, their composition are subject to recurrent debate. They are abolished, as in New Zealand, created, as in Rwanda, and revived, as is currently happening in Kenya. The holy grail of achieving a second Chamber that is viewed as legitimate by the public, that adds value to the legislative process, that plays its part in holding the executive to account and in the better governance of our country, while not being either a fractious rival or a pale replica of a lower House, is not easy to find, as the coalition is now discovering.
I return to those issues of principle that are the noble Lord’s driving force for an elected second Chamber. One is that no one should participate in the legislature, whatever the limitations of its power, without an electoral mandate. As I understand it, that is what the noble Lord delineated. The principle stands alongside the mantra that we heard in the other place that law makers should be accountable to law obeyers. However, if the two principles of election and accountability are sacrosanct, I cannot comprehend how the current proposals can in any way be judged acceptable. If no one who is not elected should be a legislator, how could one justify appointing 20% of the Members of a reformed House? I agree with noble Lords who said that such hybridity would very quickly become unsustainable. If accountability is king, how can single, non-renewable 15-year terms with no constituency responsibilities be justified?
Clause 2—legislation by assertion—maintains that the current balance between the two Houses can be maintained. How can it be when it is the product of the lack of electoral legitimacy of this House? How can one argue that it will not be fundamentally altered by giving Members of your Lordships’ House an electoral mandate? This is not an abstract issue; I speak from personal experience. I proposed an amendment on control orders in your Lordships’ House in 2005. It was supported—I see the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, in his place. It was supported again when it had been overturned in the Commons and came back in the first round of ping-pong. However, after that round I stepped back—as did the rest of the House—because the House of Lords knows its place. It knows that its job is to revise and advise. It understands the balance of power between the two Houses. The idea that, if I had had any sort of electoral mandate at the time I would have stood back from what I considered to be an issue of principle, is ludicrous. Therefore, one cannot simply assert that the powers and the relationship would remain the same.
There were many speeches in recent debates about fundamental flaws in the proposals. I will not go through all the arguments but will simply say that the current proposals in no way provide a gain in democratic legitimacy and accountability that outweighs what would be lost in complementarity and differentiation between the Chambers and the single focus of democratic accountability that exists in the form of the House of Commons. Those who argue that the only route to legitimacy in a liberal democracy in the 21st century is election have not thought about some very powerful positions in our country for which some jurisdictions have elections. In some countries, judges are elected. I do not think that we would consider that an extension of democracy in this country. I do not believe that voting for police commissioners will be an extension of democracy. We must be prepared to take a more nuanced view on how legitimacy is gained in a liberal democracy in the 21st century. For me, involvement in the legislative process, as long as the powers exercised by such non-elected parliamentarians are commensurate—in the words of the Joint Committee—with their non-elected status, is acceptable.
I share the affection for this House that the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Hendon, expressed in her speech; it is deep-rooted in me.
Earlier in this debate, the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, spoke of the need,
“to avoid yet more incestuous self-congratulatory introspection”.—[Official Report, 10/5/12; col. 42.]
I fear that he may have thought that my intervention on him the other day was exactly that and I will attempt not to do that today. Let me say quite explicitly that there is much that is wrong with the House as currently constituted. There is much that needs to change—as much has changed in the past. When I was taking my 11-plus, every Member of this House was an hereditary Peer, a judge or a Bishop. There was not a single woman in the place. In my adult lifetime, we have seen tremendous change, particularly in 1958 and 1999, and I believe that we need to see change on that scale now. The lack of that sort of incremental progress is a serious failing. For me, simply to defeat the current proposals would not look like success.
Several noble Lords have referred to the evidence that I gave to the Joint Committee. In that evidence, I put forward what I considered to be the problems the House faces—size, no retirement plan and the lack of terms. I put forward an agenda for change—a substantial reduction in the size of the House, agreement on the proportion of party-political to independent Members, term limits for future appointees, a statutory Appointments Commission operating under clear criteria which the public understood and which could be changed through Parliament, an end to the position that those who had committed serious criminal offences or breaches of the House’s Code of Conduct cannot be barred from the House, an end to the link between membership of the House and the honours system and an end to by-elections for hereditary Peers.
I understand that not all those proposals will be agreed by everybody, but I suspect that within them, there is a core that would amount to substantial and quite radical change around which consensus—consensus in the conventional rather than the Strathclydian definition—could be achieved. It would require leadership and compromise, but I do not believe that it would be any victory to defeat these proposals by long-drawn-out and bitter hand-to-hand parliamentary combat.
Even more of a travesty would be to confront what I suspect, as the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, suggested, would be the very small proportion of the British public who turned out to vote, with a referendum that gave a choice between a proposal as ill thought out and flawed as the one currently before us and the status quo of the House of Lords as it is today, with no progress or incremental change having been made since 1999.
Several speakers in this debate have referred to their anxieties, which I share, about the lack of respect for and trust in Parliament and politicians. We will not create that respect and trust quickly or easily and we will certainly not do it by putting two such unappetising alternatives to the public at a referendum. The key to slowly rebuilding that trust is to find reforms, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester has suggested, that allow us to do our job better. We can then demonstrate that to the public and show that we are representing them in the special and important way that this House does in Parliament.
I agree, if not with Nick, then with the Prime Minister. He is quite right: Parliament can do more than one thing at a time. We could both take measures to improve this House’s effectiveness and legitimacy through a Bill on which we have created widespread consensus and at the same time undertake the broader debate about the implications and desirability of an elected House in the context not only of Parliament as a whole but of the wider constitutional developments, which many have referred to, that are taking place in the United Kingdom at the moment. Or to put it in the more succinct words of the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, we could get on and “do the work”.
At the end of a speech made in this House in 2002 about very similar proposals, the late Lord Jenkins of Hillhead argued that there was an intellectual case for either a small, regionally based equivalent of the United States Senate or for a reformed, appointed House. However, he concluded by saying:
“But I am sure that we should face the logic of one course or the other and not fish around in the ill-thought-out and muddled middle”.—[Official Report, 10/1/02; col. 702.]
A decade on, I believe that we have not only the opportunity but the obligation to do better. It will require leadership, compromise and commitment, and I hope that the Government and Parliament will rise to that challenge.
My Lords, although it did not receive top billing, the reference in the humble Address to reform of the rules of royal succession are sensible and timely. I know I speak for all on these Benches when I say that we wish the Government well in their present consultations with the other Commonwealth realms. We look forward to and hope that it will then be possible for the necessary Bill to pass quickly through both Houses of Parliament.
The position of the church on the future of your Lordships’ House was set out clearly by my right reverend friend the Bishop of Leicester in his speech on the report of the Joint Committee, on which he served as a member, and by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury in his written and oral evidence to that committee. I commend that evidence to your Lordships and I should like to pick out three points. The first is that the proposals in the draft Bill fail to meet the test of shaping a second Chamber that will serve the people and Parliament better. We have already heard a great deal about conventions, primacy, powers and the deficiencies of Clause 2 of the draft Bill. It is obvious that any Bill to reform this House that does not adequately address those points risks being holed below the waterline before it sets sail.
The second point is to affirm and welcome the significant measure of agreement—I recognise that it is not universal, but it is significant none the less—that exists on the question of religious representation. We have long held the view that there should be a broadening of representation across the denominations and faiths— not only Bishops of the established church—and it is good to see that this is reflected in both the Government’s most recent proposals and the findings of the Joint Committee.
My third point reiterates the concerns voiced here a fortnight ago by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester about the potential for divisiveness in pursuing the policies on reform that were set out in the draft Bill. As we have heard today, the economic and social challenges facing us are clearly great and severe. If the role of the Government in these circumstances, particularly one forged in coalition, is to place the principles of unity and consensus front and centre, it has to be asked: is this really the moment for stoking division between Houses, within government and within parties, and creating further disillusionment among a population, many of whom have urgent and pressing welfare needs that appear not to be mirrored in the concerns of their representatives in Parliament?
On that last point about welfare, I beg the indulgence of your Lordships while I stray briefly, though within the ambit of our topic of constitutional affairs. The changes made to the provision of care following devolution to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are a fine example of the law of unintended consequences at work. Slightly different systems of entitlement and provision of care have emerged to a point where, frankly, we are in danger of creating something of a postcode lottery in the provision of care for some of our most disadvantaged people. I am reminded of a recent visit that I paid to Beaumont College in Lancaster. The college offers both residential and day programmes to learners aged between 18 and 25 with a broad range of physical and learning disabilities. Its aim is to empower learners to take responsibility for their own lives, offering an extended curriculum with a very strong emphasis, I am pleased to say, on creative arts, communication and self-expression. A former student of the college commented to me that, after leaving the college, they found life outside to be far harder to deal with than they had been led to expect. That is not to fault the college—which Ofsted reports as outstanding on many levels—but to make a point about the dislocating effect of moving from one regime of support to another. Let us imagine how a young person from the college would cope if, after leaving the college and settling into the English regime, they found that, perhaps for family reasons, they had to move to Wales or Scotland and then begin to make their way through a totally new system.
Lord Ashley, whose recent death was a great sadness to all his many admirers, was a tireless campaigner on behalf of those with disabilities, speaking up constantly for widows and battered wives, rape victims, the disabled and mentally ill, those with hearing loss and victims of thalidomide. His was an example of one of the great advantages of our current arrangements: the ability of this House to harness and benefit from the specialism and talents of many who might not otherwise have the chance to offer service in public life. In our approach to reform of this House, especially the reduction in space for the appointed and non-partisan, I make a plea that we build in enough flexibility to enable all the future Lord Ashleys to continue to serve the people of this country.
In a debate three years ago in your Lordships’ House, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool made a hopeful appeal for us to rediscover the unity of Parliament in our discussions on reform. He spoke of two Houses working in the interests of the whole, the upper deferring to the electoral legitimacy of the Commons, which in turn looked to the upper for its wisdom and experience. The right reverend Prelate described it in terms of a House of elders. That is a point worth reflecting on. As the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury recently observed, a society that places great value on the cult of youth risks neglecting the needs of the old. This House is—and should not be ashamed of being—a necessary counterbalance to that trend. We hear often of the ageing society and the demographic change to come. Across the two Houses of Parliament, some reflection of that demographic is, on the face of it, no bad thing.
As we have heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, this House needs to reform. It has too many Members. It also lacks the means to discipline or expel its more errant Members in a way that the general public are right to expect. Like many on these Benches, I wish to see speedy action on those issues where we can all agree the need to change. My fear is that by gambling on the passage of a much more ambitious Bill, such as that staked out already by the Government, these necessary reforms will be further delayed and, in the process, the reputation of this place will be damaged. Your Lordships’ House retains the potential to remain a trustworthy and efficient service to the people of this country. Let us not put that at risk by getting bogged down in a far-reaching and contentious Bill that would distract us all from the real and pressing needs of our country.
My Lords, I feel a distinct frisson of anxiety in saying that I do not intend to talk about reform of your Lordships’ House—at least, not very much—but about much broader issues. I find it hard to credit that the Government have put forward such an anodyne legislative programme in the middle of the greatest crisis to afflict the industrial countries for the past 80 years. The recession is not just cyclical but has deep structural roots. It is essentially a crisis of competitiveness for the West, one which was building for some three decades. It has essentially been papered over by large-scale borrowing, which we know now is unsustainable. To confront that effectively will require a huge effort of the intellectual and practical imagination. I see no sign of that whatever in the most gracious Speech.
I am a believer in an elected second Chamber—apparently one of only about six or seven Peers who hold this view. I am a believer in 80:20 per cent, or what we could now call the Egyptian position. I admire the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, for standing up so forcefully for that. Yet I cannot agree with him that reform of the Lords is of systematic importance at this juncture in relation to the overwhelming crises that we face not only in this country but also elsewhere.
At this juncture, far more pressing constitutional issues are looming, perhaps as fundamental as the economic ones. I mention three. The first has been alluded to en passant by one or two noble Lords: loss of faith in political leaders and the rise of extremism, which we find in all industrial countries at the moment—this is not just a British phenomenon. It will demand an effort of imagination, constitutionally and practically, to confront it, to hold the democratic centre of politics together in this country, as elsewhere.
Secondly, there is the potential secession of Scotland. That is not just one part of a country breaking away. Even devo-max would give an enormous impetus to English nationalism and the long-standing idea of setting up an English parliament. There would be deep constitutional and economic implications even for a referendum, which we shall see as it approaches, which need to be thought through.
Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, there are the dramatic events in the eurozone. I was very pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Owen, who is not in his place, gave the speech that he did; in my opinion, it was very powerful. He said that he might be in a minority of one; he is not, but perhaps he is in a minority of two. I find that odd, given the huge nature of the issues that we face and the enormous implications of what is happening in the eurozone and the EU for this country. The possibility of a collapse of the eurozone and, with it, much of the European project, is all too real at the moment. Not many realise how catastrophic that would be if it happened suddenly, for this country as much as for other EU states.
That means that the future of Europe is radically different from that of even three or four years ago. There is the possibility of collapse; if that does not happen, there is essentially only one way forward, not just for the eurozone but for the wider European Union. At this point, essentially, it is federalism or bust. We do not know what kind of federalism it will be. This is a totally different situation from the past, as the noble Lord, Lord Owen, observed. For not just the eurozone but the EU to survive, there has to be much tighter fiscal integration, a further ceding of sovereignty over economic and social affairs, with the ECB in some senses the lender of last resort. We know from what is happening in Greece and elsewhere that new democratic mechanisms will have to accompany those innovations for them to succeed, and those mechanisms will have to be transnational—in other words, they will have to be European mechanisms of democratic involvement.
At the moment, the Government seem hapless in the face of those events. The semi-detached approach to the EU, based, above all, on simply supporting the single market, which all British Governments have favoured, including the previous one, can no longer be an option. The UK must take a position, as the noble Lord, Lord Owen, so forcefully said. Whenever that should happen, whenever there is a significant movement towards federalism, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Owen, and my noble friend Lord Mandelson that there will have to be a referendum in this country on continued EU membership, which itself raises all sorts of issues and problems. I think that that point may come much earlier than my noble friend Lord Mandelson suggested in his recent lecture at Oxford, when he said that it might be in five or six years. It might come much earlier than that, because I see no other option for Europe than an acceleration of the integration process.
I would welcome the Minister’s comments on this. He is not only a Minister but a distinguished academic in the field of international relations and an expert on the European Union, and he has reached the pinnacle of academic achievement possible in this country as a professor at the LSE. I hope that he will at least address these wider issues, as surely this country and the world are at the moment on the edge of a precipice. I would like to hear his views on how the Government plan to respond.
My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, will forgive me for not following him in his masterly tour d’horizon of many of the massive issues now confronting Her Majesty’s Government. I wish to speak on the issue of the draft Bill for the reform of this place and to ask two simple questions. First, what was the end product that the Government desired in drafting the Bill? What net result were they aiming for? Secondly, what was the principle that they sought to espouse in trying to achieve that result? Those are two simple but pertinent questions.
Concerning the first question, what was the end product contemplated? It seems that the Government have been saying quite consistently over the last few years that they wished a situation to develop whereby this House would have greater authority—greater moral authority than it has at the moment to conduct its duties, but greater authority vis-à-vis whom? Not vis-à-vis Europe; it can only be vis-à-vis Her Majesty’s Government and the House of Commons. Yet that seems a very strange proposition when one considers the way in which Her Majesty’s Government and the House of Commons have reacted in the last two years to the assertiveness of this House.
I will not go through any list in detail, but we know exactly what has happened. There has been a reaction to practically every worthwhile amendment that this House has passed, irrespective of its merits. There has been the use of the subterfuge, as I would describe it, of overemphasising the privilege which that House has in relation to financial matters. Of course it must retain that jurisdiction, but to use it even where that result is minimal in its effect upon an amendment amounts to bullying and almost to tyranny. That is one of the very great problems. Is it the case that if this Bill were to be carried, the House would adopt a different situation and, if so, on what basis? It is for the House and for the Government, in my respectful submission, to spell that out.
In so far as the question of the principle is concerned, probably every Member of this House present would say that there is one thing that we agree upon: that the primacy of the House of Commons should be maintained. In the course of these debates over the last few months, I have never heard anybody argue to the contrary. Very few people, however, have defined primacy. Primacy, to my mind, can mean one of three things. First, it can mean the acceptance that there is an overwhelming moral authority and sovereignty vested in the House of Commons itself. That is one possibility, but for it to succeed there has to be a common subscribing to a moral code and the willingness to abide by it, which is something rather difficult.
A second possibility is that it is a legal concept, which means that on all matters large and small where there is conflict between this House and the House of Commons, the House of Commons swiftly and peremptorily establishes that authority—and that our situation disappears, as it were, in so far as any status in that connection is concerned. The third possibility is that one does not apply such a rigorous determination as in the second instance but that nevertheless the House of Commons is entitled, in the long run and over a reasonable period of time, to have its own way. I cannot conceive of primacy that does not fit into one of those three categories.
With regard to the attempt to deal with the issue of primacy, Clause 2 of the Bill is of course a disaster. It has been savaged. I may be using a term that is too harsh to describe the efforts of the noble Lord, Lord Richard, and his Joint Committee, but the clause has certainly been heavily and fairly criticised, even more so in the alternative report. I can well understand that, because if the primacy of the House of Commons is to be maintained, and that is the wish of everyone, then there are only two ways in which that can be done. One way—a dangerous one, to my mind—would be to put the Salisbury/Addison convention on a statutory basis. That convention was developed in very different circumstances from those now prevailing, at a time when there were about 20 members of the Labour Party in this House and many hundreds of Conservatives. Then, it was necessary either to abolish this place or to have a convention of that nature. However, if you put such conventions on a statutory basis, you are in grave trouble. I know that noble and learned Lords who are in a far better position to judge than I would say that you immediately place yourself at the mercy of the courts and do the very thing that Article 9 of the Bill of Rights wished to avoid—in other words, that there should be a conflict between the jurisdiction of Parliament and that of the courts.
A convention is no more than a convention. The moment that it ceases to be a convention, it becomes a great peril. Again, noble Lords may say that we could use the Parliament Acts, but why should you use two pieces of legislation that were passed in very special circumstances to deal with a wholly new circumstance? Those Acts were passed when there was a deadly conflict between a House of aristocratic origin—an hereditary House—and an elected, democratic House. That is not the situation now, nor would it be if the Bill were to be passed. Although of course there is every justification for the broad rules regarding money Bills and taxation to be abided by, the Parliament Acts were nevertheless created in a special situation that would no longer obtain in the event of the Bill being carried.
What are we left with? A situation where the only sane, reasonable and safe choice is either A or B. A is to maintain an appointed House, possibly with many, though not all, of the reforms that were so properly advocated by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman. B is to have an elected House, but one that operates within a written constitution. If you have an elected House without one, there is always the certainty of deadlock—although perhaps I put that too strongly. I suppose that one can be a very great optimist and say that it may be possible that two elected Houses could live in a situation of total amity and concord, but I doubt very much whether—
I am sorry. However, it seems to me that I am surrounded by many people who subscribe to the same ideas as me. That may very well be the choice. Although the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, and others may argue that there is no great significance in a written constitution, I believe that it makes all the difference. I would put it, very humbly, in this way: if you have a written constitution dealing with two elected Houses, it is very much like having two rail tracks running parallel with each other. With luck, no great disaster will ever occur. If you do not have a written constitution, with two elected Houses you have an open highway where each of those heavy, dangerous vehicles is competing with the other for road space and where there is, in the long term, the certainty of disaster. That is the situation.
If I am right that those are the stark choices now confronting our community, then we have gone about it the wrong way altogether. We have sought to deal with this matter in a piecemeal, tunnel-vision manner. That is a fair criticism. The 1911 and 1949 Parliament Acts dealt solely with powers. Since 1949, virtually all the discussion has been about membership. How can you possibly deal with membership save in apposition to powers or with powers save in apposition to membership? How can you possibly deal with a tripartite entity, such as parliamentary government—the House of Commons, the House of Lords and the devolved Assemblies—through totally changing the character and the constitution of one of them?
I believe that one of the most unwholesome proposals in the draft Bill is the 15-year term. I can well understand, and have sympathy with, the motives behind it. I came to this House 31 years ago, although I am sorry that I have not been here for the entire intervening time, having very improperly played truant for a period. I can well understand why a modern legislator should feel that they should have the independence to be able to deal with an issue as they see it on merit without having to look over their shoulder to the next election or to dictate into the columns of the local rag. It is a perfectly understandable and decent motivation, but I think it is a very wrong one. Democratic representation means two things: it means being elected in a democratic way and being answerable in a democratic way. It is not the fact of election that is so important but the fact of facing re-election: that is the mandate that has sovereign value, if you look in a purely tunnelled way at popular election.
I end with this: I believe that the most sensible answer to this situation has come from the alternative report. It states that, bearing in mind all these issues and more, there is only one place to start, and that is with a constitutional convention to examine all these matters in depth with maturity, common sense and statesmanship. To start anywhere else would be wholly unthinkable.
My Lords, I was glad to hear parts of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan. My profession at the Bar was many years ago, but I was reminded of a very distinguished silk who usually addressed the public galleries behind him rather than the judge in front of him.
The noble Lord referred to the theme that has run through much of this debate: the primacy of the House of Commons. For me, it was eloquently and convincingly spelled out in the alternative report. It rests on the fact that it is elected and we are not. That is the position from which one must start, as I do.
Earlier in this debate we listened to two dazzling speeches—from the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, and from my noble friend Lord Ashdown—both of which I enjoyed tremendously. I found very little common ground between them, but I hope that my noble friend will forgive me for saying that I found the arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, rather more persuasive.
We also listened to a remarkable and eloquent speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman. I had told her that I was going to refer to her evidence to the Joint Committee, as she did herself. Many of us must surely agree with her main point that this House needs a continuing process of reform. On Thursday, my noble friend Lord Denham spelled out what has happened in the past, but it surely cannot stop now. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, told the Joint Committee, if we try to do everything at once, we shall end up with,
“a messy debate that ends up with no progress whatever”.
In her eloquent speech this afternoon, she reiterated that fear, which is a fear that I share. I support the proposal which has come from many parts of the House that we concentrate first on the things on which the great majority agree. The noble Baroness spelled that out in her speech this afternoon and I perhaps do not need to repeat it all.
We must reduce the size of this House. It has become in many respects unmanageable. I find it distasteful that there are often, but not at the moment, Members of the House sitting beyond the Bar where they are not able to take part in debates. That is simply a consequence of overcrowding, of which there are many other features. We must have a proper, transparent system of appointment, which has also been discussed at length, and we must have proper provision for retirement.
I would like to say a few words about retirement. I realise that in the draft Bill which was considered by the Joint Committee there were some quite elaborate proposals about how we might reduce the size of the House. I checked the numbers this morning and at the moment there are 797 noble Lords, excluding those on leave of absence. I support the figure of 450, or thereabouts, that the Joint Committee came out with. It is about right. That implies that a lot of us are going to have to retire in the next five or 10 years. I find it very difficult to understand the views of those who say with one breath, “Yes of course we must have a much smaller House. But I have been appointed for life and you will have to drag me kicking and screaming out of the door”. It is completely illogical. We have to face up to this. There has to be wide acceptance that retirement from this House becomes the norm. It should not be something exceptional that happens individually but should happen generally and through a process. I like the suggestion in the report by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, that there should be a small formality to recognise the retirement of Peers. If it is simply left to individuals to decide to retire, and to take the initiative off their own bat, it will somehow give the impression of throwing in the towel and that people are just giving up. It is not that. The House is too large and many people will have to retire.
Some people have suggested that it should be up to the party groups to decide how best to reduce their numbers so as to match what may be the overall total at any one point in the process. I do not know whether that is practical. Noble Lords may remember that that is what happened when the question arose of electing 92 Peers under the interim process. It was left to the individual groups to decide who they should be. However, I believe that this must happen.
I should like to make a point of which I have given the Minister notice. As an essential part of the process, I would encourage the proposition, originally put forward in the report by my noble friend Lord Hunt of Wirral, that there should be some financial provision. I understand that this has been discussed at some length with the authorities by my noble friend Lord Steel of Aikwood. He argued for some kind of severance payment. This cannot possibly be at the cost of the taxpayer. The financial logic is that the savings in allowances, travel costs and so on, which would be incurred by someone remaining a Member of the House, would be balanced by the amount of the severance payment so that, in the end, there would be nil extra cost. The question that I put to my noble friend is: where do we now stand on that? Could he indicate where the discussions have got to and what prospect there is of something coming from them? I come back to the point that having that sort of severance payment would substantially increase the rate of retirement.
There are other points in the Bill in the name of my noble friend Lord Steel. I do not see why a Bill along the lines that the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, indicated, covering all the things on which we agree, some of which were in the original Bill—I stress the word “original”—of my noble friend Lord Steel, should not be a perfectly good fulfilment of the pledge in the Queen’s Speech to reform the composition of the House. It would be infinitely preferable to the draft Bill that was considered by the Joint Committee. As several speakers on Thursday and today have said, if anything like that Bill were to go forward, it would be hugely divisive, take an enormous amount of time and create enormous acrimony. I cannot see that we are in a position where we could afford that sort of thing. Therefore, we should start with the things about which most of us agree and get ahead with them. I do not see why that should not be a perfectly adequate step for the Government now to take.
I shall make my other point rather more briefly. When my right honourable friend Oliver Letwin gave evidence to the Public Administration Select Committee in the other place last February, he was asked why the Government were giving such priority to the draft Bill on House of Lords reform. I was very struck by his answer to question 262 in the report. He said:
“we think that the House of Lords is more likely to be able to hold Government properly to account and to check the power of the Executive effectively if it contains a healthy, democratic element”.
I have to say that I find that completely bizarre. Is not one of the most serious concerns for the public who follow these matters the extent to which, in the other place, Parliament appears to be subservient to the Executive? I am sure I am not the only Member who has pointed out to visitors the picture in the Lords corridor of King Charles standing by the Speaker’s Chair, demanding the surrender of the five Members of Parliament whom he had accused of plotting against him. The first thing that Parliament passed after the Restoration, and which remains true to this day, was that never again must the royal sovereign be entitled to set foot in the House of Commons. Since she became Queen, our present Queen has never been able to do that.
However, what do we have? In the other place, nearly 100 Members are members of the Administration or direct supporters of it. There is the full panoply of the Whips, who seem able always to get their own way. We have had a system of guillotines and timetables that has made this House—the House that does not have such things and is not so fiercely under the control of the Whips—far better able to hold the Government to account.
A few weeks ago I was struck by a letter to the Times from the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant. Noble Lords will remember that he played a notable part in the debates on the Health and Social Care Act. His letter showed what the House of Lords had achieved. We had made what was seen at the beginning as a thoroughly dangerous Bill far more acceptable. If I may say so, my noble friend Lord Howe played a very notable part in achieving that. The sting was in the tail of the letter of the noble Lord, Lord Walton. He wrote:
“As the end of this marathon is in sight, I cannot but speculate with deep apprehension as to what fate the Bill would have suffered if, on emerging from the Commons in the form that it did, it had then been considered by a politically dominated and elected Upper Chamber”.
I think I will allow that to be the last word.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, who has had such a distinguished career, mostly in another place. I remember it very well. Listening to his powerful and eloquent speech today reminded me of the dilemma that I faced over the weekend. I was standing in the shower—not a pretty sight, I know—having heard many of the speeches in the debate before the Recess on the future of the Lords and having sat through a lot of last Thursday’s debate. I thought, what is there left for those of us at the tail-end of the debate to add? It is a dilemma and it will be worse for the people who follow us, as my noble friend Lord Anderson points out. It is a difficult question.
I thought in the shower of the traveller in Ireland who got lost and asked one of the locals the way to Dublin. After the local had contemplated all the options, he stroked his beard and said, “You know, if I was going to Dublin I wouldn’t start from here”. If we were setting up a legislature, we would not necessarily start from where we are now, but we do not have a clean sheet. Even those of us who like a lot of the aspects of the House would not sit down and come up with a composition such as we have at the moment, with only English Bishops, 90-odd hereditaries and those strange by-elections that take place. I do not think that we would do that or that any of us accepts that it is an ideal option.
We are not like the founding fathers in the United States who were able to start with a clean sheet. They could have the separation of powers and a bicameral legislature but with clearly different kinds of elections and powers. As we have seen, there are those who advised post-war Germany in setting up its constitution with a federal system and the Bundestag and direct elections, and the Bundesrat representing the states of Germany. In each case, they have different powers and a written constitution to deal with any problems that arise. Like the traveller in Ireland, we are where we are and we have to start from the status quo.
What are the options? One perfectly valid option that we need to consider—I think that it was one of the options proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips—is abolition. For a while, I thought that that was the best option, but I will explain why I do not think that now. Why do we need a second Chamber? Some countries work pretty well with unicameral legislatures; for example, New Zealand and, I am advised by my noble friend Lady Ramsay of Cartvale who knows Scandinavia very well, all the Scandinavian countries. It has many attractions. There is no question that it would save a lot of money. The issue of primacy would not arise and there certainly would not be any gridlock.
Abolition has a superficial attraction but I have been put off by the most recent experience—the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, will know why—at Holyrood, which reminds us of the dangers of one-party control of the Executive and the legislature without any checks and balances whatever. The electoral system in the Scottish Parliament was supposed to make sure that no party had overall control of the legislature but that has not worked. We have a unicameral system in Scotland which is becoming more and more authoritarian and creates problems. On balance, we need to look at a bicameral system, which would be better.
It has been suggested that we should set up what could be described as a “House of Lairds”, which one might consider. I am not necessarily in favour of that and I will come to what I am in favour of in a moment. The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, is wont to lead me down the track of an interesting diversion. In relation to the second Chamber, we first need to consider its roles and functions. To have in the Queen’s Speech the wording that it is only the “composition” that will be included in a Bill is to put the cart before the horse. We need to know what it is for before we know how it should be constituted. A second Chamber elected on the same basis as the first would be a nonsense. It would be duplication. However, if its function is to act as a check on the overbearing and increasing power of the Executive, as has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, and with the House of Commons forming the Executive, we have got that responsibility. If it is to be elected, there is an argument for the second Chamber to be elected by a different system in order to give those checks and balances. There is an argument for that.
Another argument is for a different kind of second Chamber to represent the diversity of the United Kingdom. We have devolution to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Perhaps we should have it to England. I would prefer devolution to England as a whole whereas some others would prefer it to the regions of England. But increasingly, as was said earlier, there will be more pressure to have devolution within England. We need to think ahead because, as so many people have said, our constitutional revision has been tinkering and piecemeal, and we have not thought ahead. An indirectly elected second Chamber might counterbalance the centralisation which can come from a unitary system. None of those options has been looked at by the Government or the Joint Committee. I absolve the Joint Committee of any blame because it was given a limited remit to do its work and therefore cannot be blamed.
My preference—I have said this on other occasions in previous debates and keep saying to the Liberal Democrats that they should think more about it—is for a federal United Kingdom. It is one of only three stable constitutional options for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. We used to have one of the stable options—a centralised, unitary state whereby London controlled everywhere in the United Kingdom. That has been abandoned but it was stable. The other stable option would be to let Scotland, then inevitably Wales and then inevitably Northern Ireland secede. That is not a preferred option. It is a frightening thought. The United Kingdom has been one of the most successful economic unions anywhere in the world and we should fight hard to preserve it. But separation is a stable option.
The type of devolution that we have, which is unbalanced at the moment, is not as yet a stable option, which is why it should be seen as a stepping stone towards a federal United Kingdom.
I think that that argument will come with the referendum debate. Along with my noble friend I will be strongly against it but it could be argued that there is some stability in it. The federal option has the best of all worlds and the second Chamber of a federal Parliament representing the different parts of the United Kingdom should be part of that federal solution.
However, we cannot achieve that quickly, which is why I think that now there are two ways forward—a long-term way and a short-term way. As regards the long-term way forward, the alternative report shows the way. The noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, finished his peroration strongly supporting a constitutional convention, as have many others. It would look at the Lords and the Commons—the other place needs looking at as well in terms of its functions, powers and responsibilities—in the context of devolution and in the context of the committee set up under Bill McKay to look at the West Lothian question. When I intervened in the debate the other day, the Ministers were rather taken aback. But in replying I hope that the Minister might have a more coherent answer to how that fits into the Government’s constitutional thinking. All that needs to be looked at in a constitutional convention.
Meanwhile, in the short term, as was said by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, and others, let us move forward on those reforms on which we can agree, including arrangements for retirement, more transparent appointments and—this might be more controversial—getting rid of the remaining hereditary Peers but making those who are making a really good contribution life Peers. Who are they? Clearly, they are all those who are here, and those who attend regularly and contribute. In other words, in the short-term we should have a beefed up Steel Bill. While the constitutional convention looks at the longer term and all its implications, the beefed up Steel Bill will deal with the immediate arrangements.
Absolutely. There is no sense to having two questions. There is a suggestion that there should be for or against separation or something devo-max. Devolution, even if it is devo-max, is an entirely different concept from separation. Whatever the level of devolution, Scotland would still be part of the United Kingdom, whereas separation is irreversible. It is a completely different concept. As someone said, you cannot be partly pregnant, and you cannot be partly independent—you have to be totally independent. My noble friend is absolutely right.
The worst of all options—I have mentioned a few of them and some people will agree on some aspects and disagree with me on others—is the Clegg Bill, with the list system proposed. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, pulled it apart brilliantly. If the closed list is selected by the leadership of the party, what difference does that make from appointment to the House of Lords? It is exactly the same thing. Then if you are elected for 15 years and not subject to re-election, that is very similar to where we are now. So it is not really democracy at all.
Indeed, and I am not very comfortable with that. One thing that we ought to do is to learn from our mistakes in the past, look at the problems that have arisen from things that we have done and not do it again. That is what I am arguing very strongly. It would be an entirely nonsensical system, just as it is nonsensical to suggest that an elected Chamber would not demand extra powers. That goes against every principle of politics. Look at the devolved Parliaments—they are asking for extra powers, saying, “We are elected and we want more powers”. That is just so obvious that it should be accepted by all politicians. A hybrid House would have real problems in terms of having two classes of Members.
I wonder whether the noble Lord has given some thought to this question, which could be part of his constitutional convention’s considerations. Given that in this country, unlike many other countries in the world, the Executive are not elected separately—the Government are the Government because they command a majority in the elected House—if there were two elected Houses, which one would determine the Government?
That is a very good question, and there is no answer that I can give to it and no answer given by the proponents of the Clegg Bill. What the noble Lord, Lord Reid, says is yet another argument. Day by day, week by week and month by month, the arguments accrue in favour of a constitutional convention to look at all these things to get some coherence into our constitutional changes instead of the piecemeal changes that we have had in the past.
My fourth point about the Clegg Bill is that no account is taken of the possibility of Scottish independence or indeed of the West Lothian question and the McKay commission. So let us abandon the Clegg Bill and find another way forward—in the short term, as I have suggested, with the beefed-up Steel Bill, and the constitutional convention in the long term. It is not just the extra problems of the economy and others that are facing the Government. We could do with a little less legislation considered a little more carefully and we could spend more time dealing with legislation that really matters to our people. We could also continue to fulfil the other important role of this House, which we share with the other House, of keeping a check on the Executive—and my goodness that is needed more and more each day.
I will follow up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, before I turn to the issue of this House. The amount and complication of legislation is a far more serious long-term issue for this Parliament than we generally recognise. Although some may say that the Queen’s Speech is shorter than some, it still contains 20 pieces of legislation, several of them very major indeed. For example, we have reform of the courts and of security and intelligence services; we have a raft of complex reforms around children, families and parents; we have reforms of banking utilities; and so on. To legislate as we do, more than any other free democratic assembly in the world, is one of our besetting sins. I am sure that most noble Lords know that we put on the statute book between 12,000 and 15,000 pages of statute law a year, while repealing only 2,000 or 3,000. That is inevitably bureaucratising, centralising, complicating and demoralising. It has a great deal to do with the disaffection of politics by so many of our fellow countrymen. That disenchantment is tracked rather effectively—for those of you who do not know of it—by the Hansard Society’s Audit of Political Engagement. It has been conducted year by year for eight years, and at the start of the executive summary says:
“The growing sense of indifference to politics … appears to have hardened into something more serious this year: the trends in indicators such as interest, knowledge, certainty to vote and satisfaction with the system of governing are downward, dramatically so in some instances”.
The report says that,
“only …49% … agree that the issues debated and decided in Parliament have relevance to their own lives; only 38% agree that the government is being held to account by Parliament; and only 30% agree that Parliament encourages public involvement in politics”.
We need to pay much more serious attention to that piece of evidence—and there is much more like it—because we cannot go on as we are going. I suggest that one major cause of this tsunami of legislation is indeed the system that prevails in the other, superior, Chamber. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, touched on it when he spoke about the way in which that Chamber conducts its business. Some may recollect that, in the reform debate that we had last week, I referred to the degree of holding to account by the Commons. My noble friend Lord Wallace said that he would answer my questions in this debate, and I much look forward to that. I got from the helpful Library staff comparable figures for Lords and Commons over the last 10 parliamentary Sessions, from 2001 to 2012. I thank Patrick Vollmer here and Paul Lester there. In that period in the Commons there were 3,078 Divisions, of which the Government lost six—one every two years. Is that holding the Executive to account? It is a farce; it is a rubber-stamp machine down there. Whatever one says about this extraordinary place, although it certainly could not withstand scrutiny by a panel of academics drawn from across the realm, at least in 1,455 Divisions we defeated the Government 425 times, or one in every three or four votes, compared down the other end with one in 513 votes. I fear that I am out of step with the majority on these Benches, but before we take this astonishingly pregnant step of electing Members to this place, we must address what is already a fundamental defect in our parliamentary system.
We are therefore between the devil and the deep blue sea. The devil would be to go ahead with election to this House without seeking to ensure that it did not become a replica of the other place. I am afraid to say that I do not see how it could fail to become a replica of the other place. A 15-year term would not counterbalance the even greater dependence on party patronage that the regional list system would necessarily involve. Those who would effectively elect to this place would comprise a tiny caucus of party faithful—all good men and women. None the less, they would adopt those of their own kind. Once here they would be ever more grateful for the party patronage that got them here, given the system of election, given that they would have been put on the list and given that they would have been given priority in the list.
Although the noble Lord makes the point very well, he underestimates the problem because at least under the system of election at present, although there is a party influence, there are different ideas and opinions within each party constituency, so there is a degree of separation between the patronage of the leadership and local communities. Under the list system, it is completely in the gift of the party leadership. Therefore, even before someone got in here under the list system, they would already be the creature of the ideological and political leadership of the party.
Before my noble friend moves on to his next point, I hope that he will allow me to make two points. Some 60% of the Members of this place are appointed here as Members of Parliament from the other end by their party leaders. That is pure patronage, not patronage which is diluted in any way by democracy. Even though he points out flaws in the democratic system, with some of which I agree, surely a system which has some contact with democracy is better than one which has none and is based on pure patronage.
I am grateful to my noble friend for giving way. The fact that I put him here does not make the system any better; it makes it worse because I had to put him here to enable us to fulfil our functions. Although he did not give me any undertakings, I remind him that he came here to represent a party which has had this issue in its manifesto for 100 years. He must have known what was expected of him.
Well, headmaster, to be honest, I did not. If my noble friend had taxed me on that point, he would have realised that I was then not certain as to what my views were on election. Having been here, I am afraid that my views are now certain: I want heavy reform of this place but not direct election. He and I will have to differ on that. Of course, the place is stuffed with party patronage but we can reform in a way that does something about that and that makes this place more representative of the nation as a whole but does not destroy its two signal virtues vis-à-vis the other place. First, there is here a depth of experience of the real world, which, sadly, Members of the other place have less and less—fine men and women though they are. Secondly, we have that level of independence that is an essential counterbalance to what goes on down there, which is one defeat of the Executive every two years. We have to exist; without us the situation would be appalling. If this place were directly elected, frankly, I would have great anxiety about the possibility of there being majorities in both places. What would happen to the volume of legislation then because the manifesto theory looms large down the other end—and reasonably so up to a point? However, when you have modern manifestos of more than 100 pages for each party, packed with 1,000 commitments to every interest group in Christendom, I fear to think what could happen if these two Chambers were aligned politically. You would see an amount of legislation—
That is true, my Lords, but many of those concessions derive from amendments to Bills made in this place, which gives the boys and girls down there a bit of leverage over Ministers. Indeed, you hear it said that a lot of the most contentious stuff in relation to education Bills, health Bills and so on, is left for us to deal with because it is then somehow easier for them to deal with it when it goes back.
As I say, these are complex issues. I repeat that I have come to a slow but certain conviction that to elect this place directly would not even be a leap into the unknown because we know what is happening at the other end and we know that the partisanship would come up here. We also know that if you had a different majority at each end, that would constitute the deep blue sea. What would happen then? The pretence that legitimacy would be retained, as many noble Lords have said, is a total figment of the imagination because legitimacy lies not in the written word but in the hearts and minds of the people of this country. It is in the eye of the beholder. If we were elected, the man in the street would accord equal credence to us as he does to those in the other place. For those reasons if for none other, I fear that I will be a steadfast resistor of election if that time comes.
My Lords, I agree wholeheartedly with what the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, has said about the volume of legislation. Twenty-five years ago the Acts passed in a single year could be contained in a single handy volume, which, as I have said before, one could, if so disposed, read in bed. Today, a year’s statutes can be contained only in five massive volumes, one of which I can scarcely lift. We have come to believe that legislation will solve every problem but we are wrong about that.
I wish to touch on two separate points, the first of which has not been mentioned so far. Therefore, like the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, mine may come as something of a relief from Lords reform. I refer to intercept evidence and whether or not such evidence should be admitted in court in order to convict terrorists and others accused of serious crime. The basic facts on that issue are agreed. We are the only country in the world to exclude such evidence. I have argued that the ban should be lifted since a report I wrote on the subject of terrorism in 1996. There is little doubt in my mind that the ban would have been lifted years ago but for the resistance of MI5 and GCHQ. Their case has always been that the lifting of the ban would prejudice their main purpose in life, which is gathering intelligence. However, in 2006, the movement for reform started to gain pace. Several very powerful reports were produced in that year by Justice, the Joint Committee on Human Rights and others.
In addition, there was a debate in this House in March 2007 on a Private Member’s Bill that I had introduced. One noble Lord was kind enough to say in the course of that debate that I had “demolished” the case for maintaining the ban. The noble Lord in question was none other than the noble Lord, Lord Henley—speaking, it has to be said, at some length on behalf of the Conservative Party in reply to the debate. He was teased with having changed his mind from what he had thought before. He replied—I thought with some dignity—that it was legitimate for the Conservative Party to change its mind, and that that is what it had done. I can only hope that the Conservative Party will not change its mind back again.
As a result of increasing pressure for reform, the Government appointed a committee of privy counsellors, known as the Chilcot committee—which might perhaps be referred to as the Chilcot committee number 1, to distinguish it from the Chilcot committee number 2, which has still not reported. That was in July 2007. In January 2008, the Chilcot committee came down in favour of lifting the ban, provided that certain conditions were met. The Government accepted that report and asked the committee, in effect, to get on with it. Its favoured approach came to be known as public interest immunity-plus. This has many advantages, not least that it will be consistent with the operational requirements of MI5 and GCHQ.
Then, in 2009, there came a bolt from the blue. The preferred approach was abandoned—not because of pressure from MI5 and GCHQ but because of certain legal difficulties that had come to light. The preferred approach, it was said, was not “legally viable” because of a decision of the Fourth Section of the European Court of Human Rights in a case from Finland. Since then, we have heard nothing from the Chilcot committee. On 15 December last year, I asked what was happening, and the only explanation given, again by the noble Lord, Lord Henley, was that there had recently been changes in the membership of the committee. That was five months ago. There has still been no word from the committee.
My view, for what it is worth, is that back in 2009 the Chilcot committee took a wrong turning. It gave much too much weight to the decision in the European Court of Human Rights on the Finnish case and, in order to test the legal position and get things moving again, I hope to obtain leave next week to introduce another Private Member’s Bill along similar lines as my earlier one. I am aware that the Chilcot committee has been advised by an independent QC of great distinction. I have been allowed to see that advice but, since it is concerned largely with legal matters, I hope it might be possible—with his consent of course—that that advice be made generally available before the Second Reading of my Bill, so that we can all understand the nature of the legal difficulties that are said to have arisen, and perhaps help to resolve them.
I come now to my second point, which, needless to say, is on Lords reform. I suggest that I might have something slightly different to say on that. My views have remained the same as they were in 2011, in 2007 and, even earlier than that, I think, in 2002, when we first debated this matter. I am against a mainly elected House and the 80 per cent option, but I am equally against a wholly appointed House. I am in favour of a partially elected House, such as that which was favoured by the royal commission chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, 12 years ago, soon after the first-stage reform was completed.
The authors of the alternative report now call for a constitutional convention; and that call has been echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, and my noble friend Lord Elystan-Morgan. The request is that the constitutional convention should,
“consider, in depth, the issues involved in further reform of the House of Lords, and to bring forward proposals”.
However, that is exactly what the royal commission did 12 years ago. All the crucial issues that would now be considered by the constitutional convention, summarised carefully for us in paragraph 5.54 of the alternative report—including, above all, the impact of House of Lords reform on the House of Commons; in other words, the primacy question that has occupied so much of our time—were considered at length and in detail by the royal commission. It offered a solution. What purpose could then be served by having 12 years later another royal commission under a different name?
So far as I am aware, there was no reference to Wakeham in the alternative report; which is hardly surprising because there was no reference to Wakeham in the Joint Committee report—or, indeed, in the Leader’s speech when he opened this debate on Thursday. This is, of course, because the Joint Committee was asked to report on the Bill and nothing but the Bill. Thus the proceedings of the Joint Committee have, if anything, tended to polarise divergent views, as we have seen, rather than find a way through. In retrospect, it may not have been the best approach.
What, then, did the royal commission recommend? It proposed that 15% of the House should be elected by proportional representation to represent the regions. In a House of 450 Members, that would produce 65 elected Members. Alternatively, with 20% elected Members, we would have 90 such Members—by a happy coincidence, exactly the number of hereditary Peers whose presence among us is still so welcome, but is also so anomalous. Nobody, I think, would argue that the presence of 90 elected Members would present a challenge to the powers of the House of Commons—more especially given that the constituencies that they would represent would be so large that they would not have to face, like Members of the House of Commons, their constituents every weekend. The primacy of the Commons would remain as it is under the existing conventions. There would be no need for a written constitution or for a concordat between the two Houses. On that view, there is nothing wrong with Clause 2, except—this is vital—that the Government have got their numbers wrong.
Moreover, a limited influx of elected Members would actually improve the quality of our debates. Here, I know that I shall be treading on thin ice, but, at present, there are in the House too many ex-Members of Parliament. In the recent two-day debate on Lords reform at the end of April, there were 37 speakers in all, of whom 22 were ex-MPs and 11 were hereditaries. We can do better than that. I accept, of course—
There are always too many lawyers, but I maintain that we could do with fewer former MPs and perhaps more elected Peers in the way that the royal commission suggested.
I accept that the Wakeham proposals, which I support, rested on a compromise—of course they did—but you will never, ever reach consensus on a disputed issue unless there is compromise on both sides. Therefore, I beg the Government to think again about the Wakeham proposals before introducing a further Bill, as I hope they will do. A 20% elected House would of course fall far short of what the Deputy Prime Minister wants but it would at least represent a step in the right direction and as such should, I suggest, be accepted by the Labour Party in the House of Commons. As the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, mentioned, it would make the House of Lords more representative but without challenging the primacy of the House of Commons.
If a Bill along those lines were introduced in the House of Commons, I would expect it to get through and, if it did, I hope that it would be accepted by your Lordships in this House. Surely that would be far better than forcing the present Bill down our throats by having resort to the Parliament Acts. Let us do something now and something more than what is contained in the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Steel. Above all, let us not defer the decision by appointing another royal commission under a different name.
My Lords, the Royal Commission on the Reform of the House of Lords was precisely that—the clue is in the title. Since then, there have been significant changes to the constitution of the United Kingdom. A constitutional convention would address the constitution holistically and not one particular part looking outwards.
I should be grateful if the noble Lord would indicate what changes there have been since 2012. The only one that I can think of is the progress of devolution. The fundamental questions relating to primacy which we have been discussing are still exactly the same as they were.
My Lords, I want to follow up and embroider upon my contribution to the debate on Lords reform which took place on 30 April. I shall concentrate on issues of primacy and, in particular, gridlock, dealt with supposedly under Clause 2 of the draft Bill.
My position is clear. I support an elected House—perhaps as a compromise an indirectly elected one. I support the thrust of the Richard report and I also strongly support a referendum. However, those of us who support an elected House, hybrid or otherwise, have to address the issue of gridlock. Until we confront that, we cannot win the argument. I have sat through four days of debate, primarily on Lords reform, and there has been very little discussion on that particular subject. Personally I am not greatly troubled by it, and my reasons are simple. The first is that I believe that the conciliation procedure, which has been referred to in this debate, will grow out of gridlock. I am not convinced that you can predetermine a conciliation procedure in advance, as such a procedure will by definition need to be finely tuned and carry the nuances and ambiguities that may on occasion be essential to deal with the sensitivities that conciliation requires. Secondly, I am convinced that a constitutional crisis arising out of gridlock will abate to meet public expectation and market movements as Parliament backs off from sustained open conflict between the two Houses.
However, the questions in my mind remain. Can we avoid gridlock? Can we protect primacy of the Commons? Can we build into reform a mechanism for controlling the pace of change as the newly elected Chamber increasingly and justifiably seeks to increase its influence? Without a written constitution, what can we do? At the moment, we have two options: a system of statutory codification setting out the powers and responsibilities of both Houses, or a series of resolutions carried in both Houses, which has been described as a concordat.
On statutory codification, it is argued that a means will be found to undermine codification in the courts, despite Article 9 of the Bill of Rights and the reluctance of the judiciary to intervene. On the concordat, it is argued that such an agreement, approved in this unelected House, could find itself tested to destruction in a newly elected House where Members claim greater legitimacy. For those reasons, I proposed in the debate on Monday, the 30th, the amendment of the oath as a constitutional lock.
The oath that we all take at the commencement of each Parliament is a solemn promise made to Parliament to show allegiance to the monarch as part of our constitutional arrangement. It is the product of a constitutional settlement and it already provides a constitutional lock on allegiance to the monarch. Similarly, we need to find a mechanism for reinforcing any constitutional settlement agreed between the two Houses prior to the election of the second Chamber—effectively, a new lock. The current wording of the oath is as set out in Section 1 of the Parliamentary Oaths Act 1866, as amended by Schedules 8 and 10 to the Promissory Oaths Act 1868, with further amendment for affirmation under a consolidated Oaths Act of 1978. The oath has a long history. It has grown out of a series of revisions and amendments over the centuries from an oath of supremacy, an oath of allegiance and an oath of abjuration to today’s oath. At one stage in our history, Members took three separate oaths. Interestingly, the oath introduced in 1829, which removed restrictions on Catholics entering Parliament, imposed limitations on the actions of Members, which is what I am advocating.
So what am I advocating? I argue that the parliamentary oath should be amended to include an obligation or duty to accept the constitutional settlement between the two Houses. The settlement would be underpinned in statute. The 1866 Act, as consolidated, would be amended and the constitutional settlement, which would include limitations on the statutory and non-statutory powers as set out in paragraphs 39 and 40 of the Richard report, would, where necessary, be defined in the legislation—that is, the Bill about to be presented to Parliament. I argue that the oath could then provide us with a constitutional lock.
I am not advocating that the newly elected House could not debate for increased powers. However, I am advocating an arrangement under which the Lords would be unable to threaten to delay, or actually delay, legislation with a view to securing greater powers. Nor would the Lords be able to bring an amendment to the constitutional settlement. Under the terms of the settlement, the process of amending the settlement could be initiated only in the Commons under its primacy. The Commons, protecting its primacy, could influence the pace of change.
What about the arguments against? We are told that Parliament cannot bind its successors, but of course that would not be the case if the constitutional settlement provided for Parliament having the right to amend, which would be the case under Commons primacy. It is argued that such a proposal would breach the freedom of speech provisions in Article 9 of the Bill of Rights, which states that,
“the Freedome of Speech and Debates … in Parlyament ought not to be impeached or questioned in any Court or Place out of Parlyament”.
My proposal is for an internal parliamentary arrangement to be made in the form of a constitutional settlement between the two Houses, establishing a process for the handling of legislation. It is an internal parliamentary arrangement. There is no question of outside interference in freedom of speech. A summary of “The Parliamentary Oath” research paper produced by the House of Commons in 2000 states that,
“even if the entire country were to vote in a general election for a party whose manifesto pledge was to remove the monarchy, it would be impossible by reason of the present oath, and current acts of parliament, for such elected MPs to take their seats in the House of Commons, or be raised to the House of Lords, without taking this Oath of Allegiance to the ruling monarch, and to her heirs, and successors. However, there would be nothing to prevent a Parliamentary majority debating a republic or from seeking to renegotiate the constitutional settlement since freedom of speech is guaranteed by article 9 of the Bill of Rights 1689”.
So, as it stands, the lock keeps out those who are not prepared to show allegiance to the Crown. In the oath we already have a constitutional lock in practice, but that raises the issue of challenges to the requirement to take the oath.
We have the Bradlaugh v Gossett case of 1884, which involved a challenge to the Parliamentary Oaths Act 1866. The court held that the matter related to the internal management of the procedure of the House of Commons and the court had no power to interfere. We have the Prebble v Television New Zealand case in 1995, in which the Privy Council ruled:
“In addition to Article 9 itself, there is a long line of authority which supports a wider principle ... that the courts and Parliament are both astute to recognise their respective constitutional roles. So far as the courts are concerned they will not allow any challenge to be made to what is said or done within the walls of Parliament in performance of its legislative functions and protection of its established privileges”.
We then have the Sinn Fein/McGuinness v United Kingdom case. In one of the cases, Mr Justice Kerr ruled:
“The control of its own internal arrangements has long been recognised as falling uniquely within parliament's domain and superintendence from which the court's intervention is excluded”.
McGuinness, defending the interests of the Sinn Fein elected MPs, went to the European Court of Human Rights. The court ruled:
“The requirement that elected representatives take an oath of allegiance to the monarch forms part of the constitutional system of the respondent State, which, it is to be observed, is based on a monarchical model of government. For the Court, the requirement that elected representatives to the House of Commons take an oath of allegiance to the reigning monarch can be reasonably viewed as an affirmation of loyalty to the constitutional principles which support, inter alia, the workings of representative democracy in the respondent State … In the Court’s view it must be open to the respondent State to attach such a condition, which is an integral part of its constitutional order, to membership of Parliament”.
Interestingly enough, the Northern Ireland Assembly Members do not take the oath, but they have to sign the Assembly’s roll of membership and take a pledge of office which sets out in detail requirements and obligations on Members to act in good faith, to commit to democracy, to serve all communities, to commit to participate in democratic institutions, to recognise the role of Ministers and to participate in programmes of government. Their responsibilities are clearly defined. That is my proposal. The amended oath would set out an additional requirement to accept the constitutional settlement in addition to pledging allegiance to the Crown. The oath is a solemn promise made to Parliament.
Following the last debate, I encountered, quite naturally, some hostility to the proposal that I put to the House, essentially from those opposed in principle to an elected House. However, there are those in favour of an elected House who have a more open mind. I seek an objective debate on the proposition that I have put forward.
My Lords, I was most interested in the deliberation of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, particularly his reference to the oath of allegiance and to Sinn Fein taking the matter to the Court of Human Rights. I was the Speaker in the Commons who ruled against Sinn Fein coming into the Commons. They took my ruling to the High Court of Northern Ireland and to the Court of Human Rights and they failed. I hope that the noble Lord will forgive me if I do not follow his very detailed examination, as I have a very simple message to put to the House and to place on the record.
If I had any doubts about my refusal to destroy the way that this House serves Parliament, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, put them to rest in his remarkable interview with the Financial Times on the eve of the gracious Speech. The Leader of this House rated the Government's chances of reforming the Lords at no more than 50:50—hardly a clarion call to set the pulses racing. But my eyes popped out when I read on. He warned that an elected second Chamber could be more aggressive than your Lordship's House; that it could frustrate key pieces of legislation; and that it would be more expensive to run. The Financial Times was so taken aback that it said that the noble Lord's comments seemed almost calculated to further incite MPs to oppose reform. I agree. His message to the Commons was clear: proceed at your peril. I applaud his frankness and I agree with him.
If the new Bill is passed, however much it is dressed up, it will destroy this House as a revising Chamber and replace it with a wrecking Chamber. From my non-partisan observations of both Houses over the past 20 years, the Government stand no chance of getting a consensus on this measure from both sides in either House, let alone within the 10-week timeframe which they seek.
Indeed the coalition shows every sign of wanting this thorn removed from its side as quietly as possible and with minimum risk to its unity. The signs of retreat are already visible. The blame game for the impending fiasco has already begun. The Prime Minister's lukewarm comments in the Commons debate on the gracious Speech underlined the weakening of the Government's resolve. Mr Cameron talked about how good it would be if there were,
“a smaller House of Lords and if it had an elected element”.—[Official Report, Commons, 9/5/12; col. 23.]
That is two “ifs” that leave many questions unanswered.
Until the fog lifts, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, can be counted on to fight a rearguard action bravely and with his usual panache. If I may say so, his first shot at consensus was almost quixotic. After appealing for all-party agreement, he pitched into the Opposition, whose support he seeks. He accused the Labour Party of “conniving and collective spinelessness”. How about that? He said that he could already detect their spines quivering. I have to confess that mine quivered at his audacity. We all know where we are coming from, but what matters is where we are going.
The Government know that the country is not listening to them. The majority of ordinary people do not care about parliamentary reform and novel ideas of governance. Outside Westminster a consensus already exists about what really matters: jobs, homes, education for their kids and their quality of life. Messing about with the constitution does not bring about consensus out there.
However, the coalition ploughs on. The Liberal Democrats have 1911 written on their hearts. Never mind that voters rejected AV last year by a majority of 7 million votes; and never mind this month's overwhelming vote against directly elected mayors in nine of the 10 cities that held referendums across England. A million people voted. More than 600,000 of them said no. Ministers do not need their media contacts and special advisers to tell them what is going on.
The Westminster drama of Lords reform has been running for as long as “The Mousetrap”, but it has no relevance outside. Most people are already detached from politics. Very sadly, apathy is rife and growing. The turnout in elections is about one in three and will stay like that until the political parties reconnect with ordinary people and reflect their views and their priorities in life.
The French had an 83% turnout in their recent election because they cared about the outcome. We have not matched a figure like that in our general elections for 60 years—since 1951. After the AV referendum, the Prime Minister said that the coalition would get back to governing in the national interest. He was contrite again after the local elections about the Government’s remoteness from public opinion. He said that he had got the message. I doubt it. Still they press on with the most contentious and irrelevant legislation in the gracious Speech. The Prime Minister said that,
“it is perfectly possible for Parliament to do more than two things at the same time”.—[Official Report, Commons, 9/5/12; col. 23.]
Mr Clegg, his deputy, said:
“The historic mission of liberals is to stand up for ordinary people against vested interests”.
By that, he obviously means us.
Simon Hughes MP, who speaks for the Liberal Democrat grass roots, urged Tory MPs to support Lords reform in almost desperate terms. He acknowledged in the Commons that your Lordships’ House was a lovely place. He was kind enough to say some of us, too, were lovely. But he urged Tory doubters,
“come on, guys: we have to move on”.—[Official Report, Commons, 9/5/12; col. 48.]
And so do we, and so do the Government.
Apparently the new Bill is still being drafted, with some difficulty. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, admitted that the Conservative Party was visibly split. Clearly, the Labour Party is in no mood to help out, and the Joint Committee that examined the draft Bill asked pertinent questions that can no longer be dodged. Senior Ministers in the Commons cannot escape their responsibilities by running away from the mess that they created and leaving it to Parliament to clear up.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr Osborne, had the gall to tell the BBC:
“Parliament can discuss these issues. Parliament’s very good at discussing constitutional issues”.
So we shall, but we shall not be bounced.
The coalition’s misbegotten intention remains what it was from the start—to abolish this House, jeopardise the primacy of the House of Commons and throw a spanner in the constitutional works, while the perpetrators saunter off claiming that it is not their fault.
Mr Clegg instructed us:
“Instead of getting ourselves tied up in knots in Westminster about this, we just need to get on with it”.
The Government’s draft Bill is tied up in so many knots that it would take Houdini to untangle them. Mr Cable, the Business Secretary, said that we should get on with it “quietly and quickly”.
I for one will do no such thing. I will not connive with the abolition of this House to suit the partners in a temporary coalition. I shall support sensible reform, in favour of which I have already spoken many times in this House, outside it and in the media. But I will not be a party to the wrecking of Parliament—and nor, I trust, will the House of Commons.
My Lords, what a privilege to follow my noble and very true friend Lady Boothroyd. She was one of the most remarkable Speakers of the House of Commons that I ever sat under. Her reputation and knowledge were so impressive, and we are all fortunate to have in the House two former lady Speakers. We heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and now we have heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, with whom I share quite a past. We both trod the boards, as it were, some years ago—although not the same boards and not quite at the same time. Perhaps that always gave me great fellow feeling with the noble Baroness. I salute her and I agree very much with her position on the Bill.
I cannot for the life of me comprehend how the Lords reform Bill ever came within a country mile of the Queen’s Speech at this time. The electorate have no interest whatever in it and have never demanded it. They are shocked that parliamentary time will now be tied up for weeks and months while the country is in a financial mess and real people have real problems in their real lives. Not a scrap, jot or tittle of what is in the Bill will help a single one of them.
Unless we are stone deaf and totally blind, we cannot have missed the marches, chants and flags of demonstrators just across the road outside this building. Almost on a daily basis, and not just for the past couple of years but for many years, they have gone on telling us about their problems. Currently there are problems with the police, pensions, education and health. They are among a whole raft of matters that occupy voters’ minds at this time. Has any noble Lord seen a single banner waved or heard a whisper of a chant from Joe Public asking for Lords reform? The silence from noble Lords who have heard such things is deafening.
Apparently there can be such a thing as a supporter of the Bill who talks about his support coming from a love of democracy, and from the fact that the House is to be democratised—yet at the same time he does not seem to worry about finding out what the people want. Supporters of the Bill are very loud in their claims that they are the true democrats who seek democracy. The recent referendum was referred to, in which the voters—as the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, reminded us—made it absolutely clear that they did not want any change in the system of voting. So why does the Bill, supported by all these democrats, thumb its nose at the people’s expressed wish and force them to accept it in the matter of Lords reform? A fat lot of democratic activity there is in that—or in the extraordinary belief that by some nifty rule that is not in being yet they will be able to ensure that although the Members of the Lords will have to fight and win elections to get here, they will not have the same rights over the passage of legislation as Members who are elected to the Commons. What is democratic about that?
As was said, we always yield to the will of the Commons. The people outside do not always recognise that. How can they call us undemocratic when in our work we always bow our heads to the fact that the House of Commons is an elected House?
It has fascinated many of us to see the way in which Members of the Commons have gradually changed their view on the Bill over the past few months. They did so because it dawned on them loud and clear that if the Bill goes through, they will lose their primacy; there is no question about that. It does not make sense to imagine for a moment that we would accept or that there would be even a tiny modicum of agreement about this. If, God forbid, we should ever be elected, we would have to be allowed to vote. If the electorate gave us the right to do so, why should we not?
I am concerned, too, that supporters of this Bill do not seem to have made any effort at all to find out much about this House. I asked Mr Clegg, when he came to one of our Committee Rooms to speak, if he realised the breadth and depth of the knowledge that many of the Peers here were able to bring to our deliberations because they had so much experience. Bless my soul—he assured me airily that MPs were just as clever. I have no doubt that there are lots of very clever people in the Commons, but that is not the same as having had a lifetime of experience. You can have youth and cleverness, but youth and experience cannot sit together: it is a contradiction in terms. The fact is that we are able to receive advice from people such as admirals and generals on service matters, diplomats and ambassadors on foreign affairs and top doctors and nurses on health. I could go on but I will not. You all know what I mean—that the wisdom which a lifetime of experience teaches us is available freely from this place. That is a great benefit to our country.
However, it becomes daily more apparent that such people will not stand for election. Why should they? Why take on a load of constituency duties, which as many here will know, are extremely heavy? One has to have surgeries and visit schools, hospitals and factories. You must plant trees and lay foundation stones. You must speak at meetings. The list is endless. You can forget altogether about having any free time at weekends. Why ruin a peaceful retirement to take on a life like that?
Next, I asked the Minister, Mark Harper, what cuts in expenditure and from precisely which department he was planning to obtain the very large extra amount that it would cost to pay the elected Peers. Noble Lords will not believe this, but it is true. He said that our daily allowance was about the same as the amount that MPs were paid. I dropped my jaw at that happy statement. He seemed to have absolutely no idea that we could claim only for the days when we were seen in the Chamber—even the Corridors will not do, we must be in here. That is not a rule that applies to MPs, I promise you. An MP is paid not a bad salary on the whole whether he is there or not. Mr Harper did not know that. Why was some effort not made to find out a little more about what our House is and does?
Apparently, it had not occurred to Mr Harper that with a new load of constituency work, we would have to be provided with full-time secretaries and various other help. I heard the other day that nowadays in the House of Commons, because of the e-mail system of contact for MPs, an extra PA has to be employed to make sure that the person writing to the MP is in fact a constituent. That never happened when I was in the Commons. Can you imagine how expensive that is? If you are going to saddle Peers with constituency duties, the cost of all that back-up, never mind the cost of the extra salaries, will be very heavy. Surely the elected Peers would not be the only ones to be paid. The unelected ones would have to do an awful lot of committee work to make up for the others who will be busy in their constituencies. It would be a colossal mess if it ever came to be.
I am sorry but I have something to confess. I regret to say that my noble friend Lord McNally, ever ready with a merry quip or jest, severely tested his political friendship with me when he claimed that those of us against the present Bill were just smug about the good that was done here. He seemed to be saying that we were smug lot. I can assure him that because we recognise that many Bills sent to us for scrutiny are indeed improved by our amendments, that does not brand us as smug. I wonder what he thinks of the QC who wrote recently to the Times. He said that his work often requires him to peruse Hansard when having to deal with a complicated piece of legislation. Perusing Hansard, had taught him that,
“the quality of the debates in the Lords is vastly superior to the quality of debates in the Commons”.
He went on to say that he valued the specialist knowledge of Members of the Lords because they are able to deploy that knowledge together with the absence of party politics. Is that is a smug comment? It is a very real comment.
That is one reason why I value so much, as so many of us do, the Cross-Benchers in this House. They contribute so much, not only from their knowledge and experience, but from the fact that they are Cross-Benchers. Nobody ever quite knows which way a Cross-Bencher will vote. That is what it is all about. That is a good answer. They will go because in order to get elected you have to have a powerhouse of party behind you. In all the years—it is now nearly 50—that I have been in one part or another of this House, I only ever remember two in the other place. One was a famous television reporter who wore a white suit, as I recall, and the other came about because his hospital was very much loved in his local area and he campaigned on that one issue alone. But it is true that without the power of a political party behind you, it is virtually impossible to get elected. So many of us recognise that what we gain and what our country gains from our Cross-Benchers is certainly worth saving.
I am not saying for a moment there is no need for some reform of this House, but not in the way that is before us here. Instead of pursuing the Bill as drafted, why not deal with the numbers question? We all know perfectly well that there are certainly not 800 Peers working daily here, but that is what the press print and that is what the public believe. Why not consider adopting, for instance, a policy that non-attendance for more than a set period would automatically mean retirement? We all know many Members of the House who it would be lovely to see now and then, but we never do. Why not recognise that instead of saying they are Members and that is one of the reasons why something must be done about us? If we adopted a system like that, we would be down to 300 or 400 in no time at all.
The threatened Bill before us was born out of ignorance; it has never been costed, justified, demanded or thought through. It would deprive Parliament and quite needlessly burden the taxpayer. It must not pass.
My Lords, this has been a stimulating and, from my personal point of view, instructive debate. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, in our debate on this subject just before Prorogation, said in his rather world-weary way that he had not heard any new questions being put and implied that it was something of a failure on the part of those who have problems with the Bill to come up with serious objections to it. I think the problem is the other way around. So far, we have not had anything like enough answers. If the Government feel that some of the objections that are being raised are not valid, it is up to them explicitly to take the time to refute them, and if they cannot do so, to recognise that it is necessary to think again and come back with something better. It is only on that basis that we will make any progress on this particularly difficult issue.
I have always been a supporter of a 100% democratically elected House of Lords. I have taken that line throughout my political career. I have spoken along those lines in another place, but hitherto I have not had an opportunity to do so in this place. I voted along those lines in the House of Commons whenever I had the opportunity. I can also remember speaking along those lines to Gordon Brown both before and after he was Prime Minister, so I have a consistent record. But I could not possibly support the Bill that is now before the House. Indeed, I read it with complete astonishment as it seems to be deeply flawed. It is flawed in three places, or perhaps more, but certainly in three places it is in glaring contradiction with its own principles. That is a very serious weakness in a Bill and it would be a great mistake on our part if we put it on to the statute book. Clearly I need to justify that statement, and I intend to do so.
Let us take, first, a membership of 80% elected and 20% appointed. It is clear to me that you cannot have it both ways. Either democratic election is necessary for political legitimacy, which is the argument behind the White Paper and the Bill, or it is not. You cannot say that it is a principle that must be applied to some people but not to others, that democratic legitimacy can only be conferred on me by election, but on my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours it does not have to be conferred by election. You cannot possibly have a so-called “universal principle” which is selectively applied. In putting forward that idea, the Bill destroys its own argument and we should not proceed on that basis. It is entirely unjustifiable.
The practical point of view—if noble Lords think that that is a theoretical point, it is actually very important to get the theoretical points right and get our thinking clear on this subject—is whether we in this place, either elected or nominated, would rival in some way members of the House of Commons in their constituency functions. Another point made the other day at some length and with a lot of quotations by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace—and there is a widespread view in this country to this effect—was that the British public have lost faith in their institutions and have lost confidence in their politicians and people in public life, and that we need to do something about it. His suggestion was that we need this Bill in order to do that. Can you imagine a situation in which you introduce a Bill to have 80% of people elected to the House of Lords for a 15-year term who then, as the Government think will happen, refuse to take up any personal or local cases brought to them by their electors? Presumably they would say to those who had elected them, “Thank you for electing me, it was very good of you. But actually I have a 15-year term and I cannot stand for re-election, so you can get lost”. If we behaved along those lines, can anyone in the House think of a way more calculated to reinforce any cynicism there may be about people in public life or encourage a greater degree of rejection of our institutions and of us individually?
The second problem I have with the Bill has already been referred to by several other speakers. Clause 2 suggests that there would be no change in the constitutional position or the powers of the House of Commons if we became an elected or a largely elected House. This is a matter of elementary logic. If you define the qualities or status of something in relation to something else and you change the something else, you change that status and those qualities. If it be the case, as Erskine May says and as the White Paper argues, that the House of Commons is special because it is democratically elected, and then if the second House in our legislature becomes democratically elected, clearly in that respect the House of Commons would no longer be special. To recognise that is a matter of simple logic and honesty, otherwise one is in the business of promulgating an intellectual dishonesty. It is just like saying that everybody can have priority; for example, that everybody in this army can be a general but we will not change the concept of a “general”, or that everybody can go first class on aircraft or in trains but we will not change the concept of “first class”. However, you would be changing the concept of first class or generalship, and it is dishonest to believe otherwise.
There is a third area in which the Government seem to be in contradiction with themselves, and that is in relation to a referendum. I cannot make out what has happened to the Liberal Democrats on this because they fought the last election, as we did, saying in their manifesto that they were in favour of a referendum on this subject. Now, as part of the coalition, apparently they are no longer in favour of a referendum on a House of Lords reform Bill, and the Deputy Prime Minister goes around saying that he does not think that one is necessary. I also have a consistent record throughout my career of not liking referenda. My very first political campaign, which I enjoyed taking part in and am very proud to have done so, was the 1975 referendum on our membership of the European Community, as it was then called. But even at the time I personally regretted that that decision was taken by a referendum and not by Parliament. However, it would be less than honest not to recognise that over the past 30 or 40 years, the constitution of this country has evolved and there is now a general acceptance that major constitutional Bills cannot simply be passed through Parliament, as has happened down the centuries, but that they require a referendum. That would be the case if we left the European Union or, I think by universal agreement, if we joined the euro. Over the past few decades it has always been the case for devolution.
Moreover, noble Lords will recall that we have had referenda on much more minor issues like whether to have elected police commissioners or mayors. We had the referendum on AV last summer. It is really quite extraordinary that we now have a proposal to make a major constitutional change without a referendum. I think that that is very suspect and curious. What is more, it comes just a few months after we voted through the Europe Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, and I spent some time debating matters on that Bill which, as I recall, provided for 39 different circumstances in which there could be a referendum in this country, some as relatively trivial as changing the rules on the appointment of the Court of Auditors at the European Commission. That Bill is now an Act—a very bad one, in my view, but I will not go into that now—that provides for the possibility of referenda on extraordinarily trivial subjects, yet we are told that we cannot have a referendum on House of Lords reform. That is an inherently incredible and unbelievable situation. It would be very suspicious and everyone in the country will ask, “Why is there this inconsistency?”.
This is the moment when one is right to remember the famous question put by Lenin. I emphasise that I am not a Marxist-Leninist. Indeed, unlike my noble friend Lord Grocott or a number of other people in this House, I cannot say that I have always been in the same party, but I have never been in a Marxist-Leninist party. Lenin had a point when he said the key question to ask about any proposal was, “Who, whom?”— “Kto kogo?” Who benefits and at whose expense? I think that people up and down the country, given this extraordinary dog’s breakfast of a Bill, with its mass of self-contradictions and breach of its own principles, will naturally ask that question. They will ask who had the incentive to bring forward this extraordinary legislation at the present time. The answer to that is quite obvious: it is the Liberal Democrats. We all know that the Liberal Democrats have dreamt for decades of introducing proportional representation for House of Commons elections, which would give them the balance of power in the House of Commons for the rest of time and therefore leverage and lien over, and probably membership of, every Government for the rest of time. It is clear that they have now despaired of introducing PR nationally; after the AV referendum, they despaired even of getting something in the direction of PR nationally; so this is now the next great agenda. The idea is that, since they cannot do it with the Commons, they should improve the standing of the Lords vis-à-vis the Commons by making the Lords directly elected, as will inevitably happen, and making sure that, through PR, they get their permanent blocking minority in the House of Lords for the rest of time. It is a very simple agenda, and I can see that it is very alluring for the Liberal Democrats. They see it as much more important than any individual piece of legislation that might go through in this Parliament; this is the long-term, historic prize; this is the great existential change for the Lib Dems if they can achieve it—and what a wonderful opportunity, being in coalition with the Conservative Party which is dependent on them for survival, to get this through. I think that that is really what it comes down to. I cannot believe that, without such an agenda, anybody would have come forward with such a self-contradictory and messy Bill.
I am worried that, if we proceed on this basis, there will be exactly what the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, predicts; that is, increasing cynicism on the part of the electorate about our priorities, the way we do things and how we cook up initiatives. It will be widely seen that this fundamental change in the constitution, accompanied by all these anomalies, is going through because it meets a party-political agenda. That will be seen as extremely squalid and, I fear, contribute to exactly the disease which the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, described the other day.
My Lords, in the debate on the gracious Speech two years ago, I made the mistake of beginning by discussing the fixed-term Parliaments proposals, only to find to my great surprise that a principle that had been in the Labour Party manifesto had suddenly become the subject of such passionate opposition from the Labour Front Bench that I was intervened on some six or seven times in as many minutes. I may be about to repeat that mistake by attempting to respond to some of the points made in this debate about the future of your Lordships’ House. I hope then to make a few remarks about electoral registration.
There has been much debate about the future of this House since the much quoted Parliament Act 1911, which followed the controversy over this House blocking what became known as the “People’s Budget” when a Liberal Government, with Lloyd George as Chancellor, first introduced the old-age pension in the face of great opposition from the largely Conservative hereditary Peers who were of course Members of the House at that time. It has been said many times in this House that the House of Lords merely revises legislation and invites the other place to think again. Many of those most opposed to reform frequently say that this House does not block the will of the elected House. However, in many ways, the current controversy about the future of this House goes back all that time to the attempts to block the introduction of national insurance and the old-age pension. These came not long after Gladstone’s attempts to introduce home rule for Ireland.
I defer to the perhaps greater knowledge in this respect of the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth. However, I recall seeing the paintings of the debates in 1893 that hang outside the Bishops’ Bar. I thought that it was at that point that the House of Lords was blocking home rule for Ireland.
The first home rule Bill was blocked in the House of Commons, not the House of Lords. The House of Lords under the Liberal Government had let through such matters as old-age pensions. Those matters which were clearly popular outside, it let through.
I think that Lloyd George in his many arguments against the hereditary basis of the House of Lords felt otherwise as he tried to introduce radical legislation.
Turning to more recent times, I would dare to suggest that opposition to the Government’s legislative programme in the past two years has often gone well beyond polite exhortations to the Commons to reconsider. This House has real purpose and real power, even if limited today to the significant power to delay non-financial matters. The power to delay can in practice often be the power to prevent.
The issue of legitimacy for this House to exercise its powers has been debated for more than 100 years. It is frequently suggested that we may now be moving too rapidly to conclude that debate. As I have said previously, it is probably only in this place that a Government intent on proceeding with a principle contained in all major party manifestos and introducing a phased programme of democratic reform over about 15 years could be accused of acting with “undue haste” with only a mere century of deliberation so far.
Proposals for reform appear to have shocked many noble friends to my left in this Chamber—I do not mean to my political left, of course—as well as a few around me. Some of those around me should recall that we have two words in our party title. The first word is “Liberal”, which takes us back to the party of Lloyd George and Asquith and that fight to end the hereditary principle and, at least in Asquith’s case, to replace it with the popular principle for membership of the House.
Indeed they did, and some of us accepted life peerages. Some of us who I know were strong supporters of the principle of democracy and elections to this place accepted peerages because it was the only way in which we might have a voice in these debates and eventually a vote to support those principles.
For Members around me perhaps looking for a little further guidance as to where our party should be on this issue, I suggest that there is a clue in the second word of our party name, “Democrat”. I take a simple view about the nature of representative democracy: I strongly believe that those who approve the laws should be elected by those who have to obey them.
As for noble Lords who take a more Conservative position, I understand that it took a long time for their predecessors to accept such principles as the universal franchise, the secret ballot and the abolition of rotten boroughs, but I might remind them of what their party has said in more recent times. Under the leadership of Mr William Hague in 2001, the Conservative Party manifesto stated:
“We would like to see a stronger House of Lords in the future, including a substantial elected element”.
Under the leadership of the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Lympne, in 2005, the Conservative Party manifesto said that,
“proper reform of the House of Lords has been repeatedly promised but never delivered … We will seek cross-party consensus for a substantially elected House of Lords”.
In 2010, the manifesto on which 307 Conservative MPs were elected stated:
“We will work to build a consensus for a mainly-elected second chamber to replace the current House of Lords”.
I know that my noble friend likes to be accurate, so would he acknowledge that in 2007, when another place voted on these proposals, more Conservative Members voted against the party’s official policy of 100% elected than for it? That policy, enunciated in manifestos, has been repeatedly repudiated by the majority of Members of the Conservative Party.
Indeed, but the question must be put as to why the party stood on that manifesto in 2010 as clearly and unequivocally as it did. The Conservatives stood on that basis over 10 years, with three manifestos— whether there would be a substantially or predominantly elected element or changes to the House of Lords. It was on that basis that they were elected. That is a matter for others to judge them on.
It will be to the relief of the House that I will not quote every Labour manifesto on the subject of House of Lords reform. The noble Lord, Lord Grocott, tried to refer to 11 of them in brief. I will quote just one, which happens to be the one on which the last Labour Government were elected. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, is not in his place. He suggested that whenever the Labour Party advocated Lords reform, it lost. I seem to recall that the Labour Party won the 1997 general election, and did so decisively with a majority of 179.
It was the beginning of the last Labour Government. The manifesto said in 1997 that,
“the House of Lords must be reformed ... to make the House of Lords more democratic and representative”.
In particular, the 1997 Labour manifesto said that,
“the legislative powers of the House of Lords will remain unaltered”.