Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 20 - 39)



  20. Two other very brief points, on the question of the Appointments Commission, which the Chairman touched on earlier, you want to see a statutory Appointments Commission, what is wrong with one which we have at the moment, the Stevenson Commission?
  (Lord Wakeham) It is an advisory committee which advises the government and that leaves the final say within the hands of the government, and I think that is totally wrong. I also think the sort of Appointments Commission that I would want is going to be a significant body, it has to be a significant body, the Chairman is going to be of the sort of standing of a Speaker because there is going to be on the margins some head knocking to be done to get everyone to agree as to what is reasonable and what is not reasonable, that is why I want a significant body.

  21. We have experience of the nonstatutory Appointments Commission with the appointment last year of the peoples' Peers. I am not asking you to identify individuals, that would be invidious, were you broadly satisfied with the candidates that were recommended for appointment to the upper House by the Appointments Commission?
  (Lord Wakeham) As far as I can see they were the same people that would have been recommended even if they had not had the Appointments Commission, so I did not notice any difference. I think they will all make a reasonable contribution, that is not the role of the statutory Appointments Commission.

  22. Were you happy with the selected candidates, the seven knights and dames, and the rest of them?
  (Lord Wakeham) It is nothing to do with the reform of the House of Lords as far as I am concerned it is a continuation of the old system.

  23. Can I finally move on to the question about the size of the upper chamber, a maximum of 750 as an interim house and then settling down to a house of 600, which would be rebalanced after each general election to reflect the result of that general election. How is this rebalancing going to work in practice? What happens if we have a general election with a huge swing in public opinion of the kind that we had in the general election in 1997, would that not mean an enormous task of rebalancing the upper chamber?
  (Lord Wakeham) We applied our formula to every general election for 100 years previously to see if it produced the sort of result we expected. It would take in the normal course perhaps as much as two years at the most to have got the numbers back right again. We took that as being a perfectly reasonable way of doing it. You can get there maybe a little bit quicker by adding on a few more, that is why I am not so riveted about the exact numbers, it does not seem to matter so long as the proportions are right. I do think that if the House of Lords is going to be of any contribution at all—voting is relatively unimportant compared with the Commons—then the House of Lords must have something worthwhile to say. Those of us who have managed Parliament over the years know perfectly well that the House of Lords is wasting its time voting something down if it does not approve of it most of the time unless it knows it can get some movement in the House of Commons and therefore it has to attack the House of Commons' position and notice where those changes are and then present the changes that it thinks desirable. The numbers do not matter. The key thing about our proposals that would make work is the need to have 15 year terms.

  24. My question was about rebalancing.
  (Lord Wakeham) That is right and I am saying that it could be done with in two years and it would not be far out.

  25. You have done the modelling, you said that, on general elections going back to whenever, did you do modelling on the results of the 1997 general election, where there was this huge Labour majority?
  (Lord Wakeham) Yes.

  26. It could still be rebalanced after two years?
  (Lord Wakeham) There really is no problem. It would be a problem if people were appointed for life, then there would be a problem, once you are a member of the House of Lords you live three years longer than anybody else but you still die.

  27. Every year on average.
  (Lord Wakeham) It is not a big problem.

  Mr Prentice: We will have to disagree.

Mr Liddell-Grainger

  28. Can I ask you, you say that it is a constitutional long-stop the House of Lords. Can I ask you to look ahead, say in 10 or 15 years, where do you see the House of Lords ultimately ending up because of the influence of Wales, Scotland and Europe, etcetera? In your Commission did you specifically look at where you hope the House of Lords ideally would get to in say 10 years' time?
  (Lord Wakeham) I think that there is a role in public life and in a legislative process from people who are relatively independent of whips, who are experienced and have something to contribute. If you go back to when I first got into the House of Commons there were a significant number of those sort of people in the House of Commons, gradually over the years they have become less and less. One of the roles, therefore, I think the House of Lords can do is provide a way in which people who perhaps do not conform to the established view on every issue will continue to have an outlet for their views to be expressed. I think all legislation that will come forward in the next 10 years will need that independent view and I see it more and more coming from views expressed by the House of Lords. I definitely take the view the House of Lords only have a value if its arguments are sound, if what it says is sound, that is the most important thing. It is not a battle between the House of Commons and the House of Lords.

  29. Is that not exactly it, potentially it could end up being a battle between the House of Commons and the House of Lords? The second part of my question, is, therefore, not a potential way of looking at it starting again completely and all become Mr Wakeham's and Mr King's and say, "let us look at it completely from scratch".
  (Lord Wakeham) First of all, I do think the first part of it is right, I do not see why I should come back. Of course it is possible to advocate scrapping it and starting again not. All I can say is, it is not the real world I have lived in, it will not happen. It is like saying, as a lot of people say, chuck the judges all out, have a separate Supreme Court, it is not going to happen. Let us get on and try and make the world a better place.

  30. Let us have a look at some of the roles that you see, the three committees on constitution, human rights and devolution. Let us look at devolution, how do you see a balance of Scots, Welsh and West Country people, or whoever, being maintained not just through the system, because you have an assembly and a Parliament, how do you see them being represented?
  (Lord Wakeham) That is slightly not to see the Committee's work as you present it, as we thought it should be. The fact of the matter is devolution is a settlement between what central Westminister can do and what the regional governments can do. There is within the Whitehall machine, others will know better than I, committees and government arrangements where they have negotiations about whether somebody is encroaching on somebody else's powers. We think there should be a public debate about that as well. We do not take a partizan view at all, what are the problems and what are the issues and where the tensions are arising in the settlement and throw some light on the subject so that others can then decide what is appropriate to do if necessary. That would be the sort of work of devolution and therefore it is not a question of representatives. It is a question of finding people who have the expertise, many of them will be lawyers and experienced people, who can look at what is happening and present a dispassionate, as far as possible, independent or partizan politics, of the devolution issue itself, a view of what is happening compared with what people thought might have been happening or should have been happening.

  31. It still comes back to trying to achieve the balance for minorities, whatever you want to call them - as a Scot I know what it is like—to try and achieve that, to put expertise into the system, into the House of Lords given the changeovers of government and all of the other vagrants we have. I still do not see how you are going to achieve that.
  (Lord Wakeham) What we need in the House of Lords and what we have had over the years, I think, is a great resource of human experience and wisdom and we need continue it and we need to pick those people who can contribute in whichever area they can contribute. The European Select Committees have done a pretty good job over the years because there have been people in the House of Lords who have devoted a lot of time to that work. The devolution settlement that has taken place, which must have on its margins some tensions between the powers of central government and the powers of regional governments, needs monitoring by somebody and we felt that the House of Lords was a good body to do that monitoring, but it would be made up of people with the expertise.

Brian White

  32. I start from the position of coming from the abolitionist point of view but my questions are based on the assumption that will not happen and we are talking about some kind of reformed House of Lords. Do you see this current round of changes as completing the process or do you see it as a step change and in a few years' time there will be another set of reforms?
  (Lord Wakeham) I am not sure I can answer that question. We anticipated these changes would last a fair time and see us all out anyway, but I think to say never is a mistake. I have to say that I am not so enthusiastic a supporter of the House of Lords under any possible circumstances. There are circumstances in which I could be an abolitionist too.

  33. One of the things that our democracy is based on is a representative democracy but increasingly it is about how people have access to that democracy. In looking at the reform of the House of Lords did you look at that aspect of it or did you just specifically look at the way the House of Lords operates?
  (Lord Wakeham) No, we looked at it. We looked at it in this sense: we took the view that the House of Commons is the proper place for that and we did not want to do anything that would undermine the supremacy of the House of Commons as the main democratic forum for our nation, for our politics. We have always taken the view, I have always taken the view, that the House of Lords' contribution is a different contribution and therefore a subservient contribution than the House of Commons. To have two bodies that both have democratic legitimacy in the sense that I think you would understand it, and I would perhaps disagree a bit, is in my view running a risk of making a dangerous difficulty and damaging the House of Commons and, therefore, damaging our democracy.

  34. In a House, whether it is 300, 600 or 750, whatever, you were talking about getting people appointed with expertise but there can only be a certain number of those people so you are going to exclude a large number of people who have got particular expertise to bring. How did you go about assuming what was right to be included and what was right not to be included, or did you say that it is the job of the Appointments Commission?
  (Lord Wakeham) We think very much it is the job of the Appointments Commission. We took the view, at least I take the view, that the Appointments Commission should look at the existing House and existing Members of the House and when it is finding, for example, cross-benchers it may take the view, for instance, if there were several good doctors who happened to take the Labour Whip you do not necessarily need to have a cross-bencher who is a doctor, you have got that expertise there. It is the total expertise that they are looking at in trying to produce additional people. One of the things which we thought was very important, and I have expressed it this way many times, I would sooner have three vice-chancellors who are Members of the Upper House who continue to be vice-chancellors than to have one vice-chancellor who has had to retire from it in order to be a full-time politician in the House of Lords.

  35. This comes back to the whole concept of the gifted amateur and part-time politicians. Is it not really reinforcing the problem that our society has had that when somebody supports the status quo generally they are considered to be participating in public service but if somebody wants to change it they are acting in a political activity? Does not what you are proposing actually reinforce the status quo?
  (Lord Wakeham) I am reinforcing the status quo if I believe, as I do passionately, in the supremacy of the House of Commons. That is what I believe in. I believe very, very strongly in that. I am a total democrat. I think that people who have attacked our proposals are not looking at it in a proper democratic fashion. That is what I believe. Therefore, I take the view that the House of Lords is essentially an advisory body. Of course it can make itself difficult and awkward at times but in the end the democratic House has to be able to win otherwise I do not think it is right at all. That is my view.


  36. Just on this point, there is something a bit absurd about the idea of a second chamber of Parliament where you drop in when you can. This would be regarded as absurd in second chambers around the world. When we have a substantially elected element, even under your proposal we will get maybe a third elected, these people who are elected will fully expect a salary and expect to do a proper job. So we shall move anyway, shall we not, from the drop in when you can arrangement to one which becomes a serious second chamber?
  (Lord Wakeham) I am not so sure. I think that if we do not have a part-time House it will diminish in value, and that is what I think is very important. The problem we have got at the moment is that the House of Lords is sort of becoming the Committee stage of the parliamentary process and I do not think that is entirely wise. They certainly do a very significant job. I served in the Commons and I was as rough and as tough as anybody but you have only got to look at the way a Company's Bill is dealt with in the Commons and the Lords at the Committee stage to realise that one has got politics very much at the fore, the House of Lords is seeking genuinely to try and find, however inadequately, a solution to some of the issues that are there at that stage. That is what I want to contribute. I do not think you can contribute to it on the basis of having full-time politicians. I think the salary question is tricky. I would prefer that there were not salaries but I recognise that we have to have an arrangement for those who do devote the whole of their time and need to be supported. I would prefer, and we deliberately kept this out of our report because this is headline stuff and we wanted headlines for some of the other things. Whatever body it is that looks at these things should now to try to find a way of dealing with it by daily allowances which is fair to both sides. I recognise that it would be quite wrong for us not to have a system where people who cannot otherwise devote the time have got to be remunerated.

Mr Wright

  37. One aspect that I want to cover is the legitimacy with the electorate. One of my constituents has been communicating with the Chairman and has come to a solution and I have to say that I come from the point of being an abolitionist but that is obviously not going to be one of the options. My constituent, Rev. Pike, suggests as an ordinary member of the public that to have any legitimacy the House must have at least 51 per cent of its membership elected by the people, preferably by proportional representation. He goes on to say "I suggest an Upper House should command general support in the eyes of our people". Surely one of the things that we have to look at as well is what the general public wants. When we go back to the People's Panel certainly it was not what the general public expected when, as Gordon Prentice mentioned, the people nominated at the end of the day were far from what people would consider as people's representatives.
  (Lord Wakeham) I think that is right but, of course, it is your legitimacy that I am most concerned about. It is the legitimacy of the Members of the House of Commons. If we had what your constituent might think was a more legitimate House of Lords then I can tell you if the elections are not on the same day half way through this Parliament there will be an election in the House of Lords, there will be a different result and they will say "Why should we take any notice of the House of Commons, this is a much more up to date mandate", and you have got all sorts of problems of dividing between the two. I am 100 per cent in favour of legitimately elected politicians having the power to control Government. I think the House of Commons has got to be boosted and supported to do that job better. I think the second chamber can do it better if it provides people who are not rivals to the House of Commons but are able to produce arguments and expertise and wisdom and advice to the House of Commons which I hope the House of Commons would listen to and say "well, maybe these guys have got a bit of something which we ought to think about". In the end it is your decision, that is the way I see it. I am very keen on legitimacy but it is your legitimacy I am concerned about.

  38. I would probably suggest that you would say that anyway.
  (Lord Wakeham) Yes.

  39. Obviously I would consider that the Lords want to protect their second chamber in what they perceive to be the best for themselves. How many other democracies did you look at throughout the world in terms of the numbers that were in the second chamber where they had a second chamber and, secondly, the percentage of representatives that were directly elected?
  (Lord Wakeham) The first thing we did not do was go tripping around the world looking at other legislatures. We went round the country talking to a lot of people and I have to say there were no people in the country who gave evidence to us who want a repeat of a House full of a bunch of politicians, that is the truth of the matter, they do not. We looked at all the other different chambers around the world and we had some expert advice and help. The thing that struck me looking at them is that they are very much more the product of their own history and social background than they are of any great parliamentary theory. Canada, France, we have all seen them. I think they have many more characteristics that arise out of their history and development than they do out of looking at some system of government. Our system was developed in our way. What I am most anxious to do is to move it forward. It is not going to be abolished, it is going to be changed. Its role as a revising chamber is going to be supplementary and supportive of the House of Commons in its work in my view and it does not have to have legitimacy, you are the ones who have to have legitimacy. What it has to do is have arguments that people understand and people realise. The fact of the matter is if you listen to the debates in the House of Lords you will hear the comments and remarks which you will hear in pubs and things up and down the country much more so than you will in the debates in the House of Commons, that is the truth of the matter.

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