Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 40 - 59)




  40. Can I just try that point on you slightly differently because I think it is a fundamental one. I had difficulties with parts of the Terrorism Bill and I remember when we were voting on that, one of the particularly contentious sections of it, we were all trooping through the lobbies and I heard one of my colleagues, who was clearly unhappy about all this and the way it was being done, said to those around him "Never mind, the Lords will sort it out for us" and we all chuckled. Now when it came back from the Lords, the Lords having sorted it out for us, and they played a blinder on the Terrorism Bill, I got a call from the Whips saying "You know, the Lords are not elected" and of course my reply was "Yes, but they have got the right arguments". This is not something that you will understand as a former Whip.
  (Lord Wakeham) I have done all the dirty tricks that are known. I could write a book about them, but I will not.

  41. So is not the need to answer the question "who are these people" absolutely crucial for us as well as for everybody else?
  (Lord Wakeham) Yes, and if you could answer that question satisfactorily there would not be the problem because the Whips would have sorted the House of Lords out as well and the thing would have gone through with no problem. If there are a lot of elected Members the Whips will move in and they will take over, and I think that would be a great mistake. I think that it would be a great mistake indeed. I recognise that a House that is going to have that sort of freedom which arises from an authority other than elected, and we have gone to considerable lengths to make sure it is not patronage but is a genuine attempt to find people who have got a contribution to make, if you convert it into an elected House I am afraid to say the Whips will take over, and I will tell them how to do it too if they want me to tell them and then it will do no good at all and the House will hardly be worth having.

Mr Trend

  42. Most other countries do end up with some form of fully elected second chamber and they do this by rebalancing the responsibilities or duties of the two chambers. At what stage in the Committee's deliberations did you give that idea up as a starter?
  (Lord Wakeham) I think it was very near the end. I started with a number of members of the Commission in my view who were horrified that it was not going to be a fully elected chamber. They assumed that was what they had come there to do. They also assumed that they had come there to advise Government to bring a second Bill in to throw out all the life Peers. I will tell you this, I have never said this publicly I do not think, I said to them—this was not in deliberation but over a cup of tea and it is very revealing—"If you do that I have got my doubts as to whether this Government is going to bring in a second Bill to throw all the life Peers out. Whether it is right or wrong I do not think they are going to." I said "Even if you had a transitional period and most others would agree to that, let us assume a transitional period is 15 years, which is about one term, at the end of 15 years after the legislation is passed, how many life Peers will still be around?" and the answer was 43. I said "What do you want to worry about that for? It changes". On the different proportions elected or appointed we made a report and I am not going to advocate anything different from that, but I could probably live with a different proportion so long as the arrangements were right, so long as the elected members did not end up as a threat to the House of Commons.

  43. Yes, but a lot of what you say relies on your view that the House of Commons cannot be touched in this, that you are trying to be extremely helpful in preserving our legitimacy. It may well be that the relationship should be looked at in a more fundamental way and the House of Commons is not performing a totally democratic task.
  (Lord Wakeham) Yes, sure. If they had said to me would I like to be Chairman of a Royal Commission to look at the functions of Parliament that would have been a different job. I had to do what I was asked to do and I think it was worthwhile doing. The other stuff will not happen. You are a young man and I am retiring and it will not happen in my lifetime, it simply will not happen.

  44. Do you think the tail could wag the dog a little in this?
  (Lord Wakeham) I do not know about a little. The truth of the matter is in the Conservative Party we criticised the Government but they were absolutely dead right, the only way to have attempted to reform the House of Lords was to bring in a Bill, to remove hereditary Peers and then present the problem that had to be resolved. If you had not done that we would have gone back to 1968 and all the different attempts, it would never have happened, the Government would have said "We have not got enough time to waste time on all this". So they have started and now I think we should achieve the job. Of course there are all sorts of other things that could have been done and all sorts of things which would make for perfection in some people's view but I am in the business of the art of the possible. I spent a year of my life getting this report together with a lot of people who were very disparate, disagreed, and they produced a united report which I think is a practical way forward. I cannot see a possibility of getting any alternative which is not pretty near that, the sort that people could live with. I can see there are a lot of people unhappy with some of the things we have said, I accept that, and it may be that nothing is possible.

  45. That is the pragmatic view, and I understand that, but in the theoretical view it would be possible, would it not, to rebalance the responsibilities of the two chambers and make both elected, perhaps in different ways?
  (Lord Wakeham) Sure, I guess so. I guess you are right but it is not my world.


  46. Your view is if the Conservative Party comes forward, as we are told it is going to do, with an overwhelmingly elected proposal this will in fact destroy the legitimacy of the House of Commons?
  (Lord Wakeham) I am certainly not going to answer any hypothetical questions at this stage.

Mr Prentice

  47. You could not possibly comment.
  (Lord Wakeham) I take the view that the right solution is a House which is partly appointed and partly elected but it has to be appointed in the proper way, which the Government is not proposing to do, and it has to be elected in the proper way, which the Government is not proposing to do. I do not think I am going to die in a ditch for exactly the proportions as between one and another, I think that is something to be negotiated.

Annette Brooke

  48. We started on this process, I believe, with a commitment in the Labour Party manifesto that there should be an All Party Joint Committee to actually establish a democratic, accountable second chamber. I would like to ask to what extent do you feel that the White Paper is meeting this commitment and also do you see that perhaps by consensus and fudge the Lords' final act will be as it acted on the Anti-Terrorism Bill and perhaps achieve what is cross-party consensus but within a most bizarre way rather than having an all party approach to it all the way through?
  (Lord Wakeham) They are intriguing questions but I do not know that I know the answers to some of those questions. I think the Government will say that their commitment to an All Party Joint Committee was before they set up the Royal Commission and so on, so they feel they have done it legitimately and the Conservative Party are still very unhappy about it. As far as I am concerned I put some proposals on the table and I am prepared to defend the proposals. I do not think I can get too far down into the party politics of it all because I do not think my views are necessarily 100 per cent anybody else's views.

Mr Heyes

  49. You said that your starting point was to be very positive about an appointed second chamber and you moved some way from that, but that was your starting point. What are your feelings about Canada where I understand that the appointed senate is derided and generally ignored?
  (Lord Wakeham) Absolutely. I went to Canada to talk to them about it and I think they are very anxious to find consensus to find a different system. Their system simply does not work. It is patronage in the hands of the Prime Minister, as I understand it, and he uses it in a way which I think would be totally wrong in our system. The thing which is remarkable about our system over the years is the fact has been that Prime Ministers have had total patronage and the remarkable thing is how well they have used it considering what they might have done. If you look back it has not been quite as bad as people think. I am totally opposed to a system of patronage of that sort. It is not popular in Canada and I think they are trying to find a way forward, but as we have already experienced finding a way forward is not that easy.


  50. We are into the last few minutes but can I just warn you, after your time here we started having Thursday morning sittings which means that in a few minutes' time the bells are going to ring and then they are going to stop and then they are going to ring again, but we pretend they do not ring, we just carry on.
  (Lord Wakeham) You just carry on, okay. I am in favour of people voting—

  51. It is not a voting bell.
  (Lord Wakeham)—not understanding the issues or anything like that. That is a luxury I thought people should always have. I am joking.

Mr Lyons

  52. Lord Wakeham, could I go back to the question of future reform of the Lords looking at the tensions, as you described it, between various parliaments and assemblies. Is there not a suggestion that is just a re-invention of yourselves to some extent?
  (Lord Wakeham) No. When we talked about these ideas when we were in Scotland a number of the Scottish Nationalists certainly did not think it was a very good idea, they did not think the House of Lords has any relevance to what they are interested in at all. We took the view this was the sort of thing which the House of Lords could do well, not to tell everybody what to do but to try to illuminate what is happening in a public way. We had a similar sort of situation when we considered the constitutional issues. There is a case for saying that you could perhaps have different voting levels for constitutional issues or you could give the House of Lords a greater authority on what is constitutional. We found that was extremely difficult to know how to define and whilst we had some sympathy with the view we did not know how to do it. What we said was consistent with the House of Lords' view that they are in a way "advisory" and the better wisdom we can put on to the scene, the more light we can put on to the scene, the better. So devolution is an area where we can illuminate some of the things that are happening, some of the tensions that are there, in the hope to resolve them. When we have a Constitution Committee again, if they felt, this Committee of senior experienced people, that the constitutional issues were not being properly highlighted they could issue a report, possibly early on before it has necessarily gone through all its stages in the Commons. I am in favour of them looking at something and saying "Look, you chaps, you are the ones who have got the decision but these are some of the very significant issues that have got to be dealt with". I think that is valuable.

  53. Ultimately that would be a matter between Parliament and the UK Government to be resolved?
  (Lord Wakeham) Absolutely, I am not against that. And ultimately the House of Commons will have its say because the legislation may have to be got through, sure.

  54. You also mentioned the Appointments Commission and the debate and argument about whether that should be done on maybe a national or regional basis rather than a London basis. What were the arguments for this London position at the end of the day?
  (Lord Wakeham) I would certainly expect any Appointments Commission to make sure that it has a proper amount of knowledge and expertise and interest from regions and the nations, that is vital. What we felt was not so much that we were in favour of a London Appointments Commission. As we saw difficulties in having a plethora of Appointments Commissions around which would not have necessarily the expertise or the authority, we thought it was better to have one Appointments Commission.

  55. So what are the difficulties then?
  (Lord Wakeham) The difficulties?

  56. Of having these regional and national Appointments Commissions?
  (Lord Wakeham) I do not know how blunt to be.

  57. Please.
  (Lord Wakeham) The view I got was a number of people told us that they thought that it would be extremely difficult to get the sort of independent view of an Appointments Commission's role non partisan, independent view, in some parts of the country because by and large most of the people you would put on the Appointments Commission would be the people you would probably want to appoint anyway. So we came to the conclusion—I came to the conclusion and it is presented in this way—that the best Appointments Commissions in the regions were the people.

  58. So London knows best ultimately?
  (Lord Wakeham) No, not necessarily, I do not think that is right at all, but you have got to have a centre. I would not mind if the Appointments Commission was located somewhere else. I think it is probably practically better where Parliament is.


  59. I think the next logical question, of course, is if nobody would accept the legitimacy of regional Appointments Commissions, why would they accept the legitimacy of a central Appointments Commission?
  (Lord Wakeham) Legitimacy was not the issue, it was in practice finding the right people to do the job. The view was that we would do it better this way. The legitimacy, as I have always said, it is your legitimacy I am trying to protect by these reforms, not ours. I think our role is a different role. We need to be representative of British society, we need to be independent and we need to have knowledge and expertise, you need to be legitimate.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 25 February 2002