Examination of Witnesses (Questions 360
THURSDAY 24 JANUARY 2002
360. I have your selection criteria here, it
talks about the ability to make an effective and significant contribution
to the work of the House. It talks about the time available to
make an effective contribution within the procedures and the working
practice of the House. If it is a job, how often has John Browne
of BP attended, do you know?
(Lord Stevenson of Coddenham) Out of the 15 that we
nominated and appointed it takes time to be introduced and make
your maiden speech, 13 so far have made their maiden speech. I
gather that John Browne, and Stewart Sutherland, are looking for
the right occasion to make their maiden speeches. It is worth
saying, either you or Gordon Prentice asked the question
361. With respect, they are not looking very
hard, are they? You appoint people to do a job. Your selection
criteria says they are there to do a job and they do not do it.
Then what happens to them?
(Lord Stevenson of Coddenham) I think you are being
a little unfair, Chairman.
362. He has not been there!
(Lord Stevenson of Coddenham) He has not yet made
his maiden speech. What we said to every single nominee, we said
this publicly, is that what we expect of them is that when subjects
are being debated in the House on which they have relevant authority
or expertise we very much hope they make it their business to
make their authority and expertise available. I think it is entirely
reasonable and proper that people, in looking to make their maiden
speech, look for debates where they can talk about things they
know about. It is entirely up to John Browne and Stewart Sutherland
what they do. The Commission would have considerable confidence
when you look over a five year period, as opposed to a period
of a number of months on which you are basing your argument, that
you will see they will make a contribution.
363. You have to be in touch with these people
to say, this is a bit of problem for us.
(Lord Stevenson of Coddenham) With respect, it is
not a problem. It is their obligation, of course. If in five years'
time we noticed that John Browne had not played a part in the
Lords, had not made a contributionhe is also one of the
leading managers in the world and there is a lot he can contributethen
we would be extremely cross. We made the judgment that he will
and I believe he will.
364. I fear our other witnesses might be accused
of not being working witnesses unless we turn to them at this
point. Can I ask Paul Tyler, do you think that proportional representation
is a fairer electoral system than first past the post?
(Mr Tyler) Yes, I do and I think it is the only one
that is possible in the context, for reasons that have been adduced
earlier in the session.
365. Can I ask you, you think it is a fairer
system and gives more legitimacy, presumably, and yet in your
submission you believe the second chamber should not infringe,
if you like, on the primacy effect that we have in the House of
Commons? How can you square that argument?
(Mr Tyler) What I was going to go on to say is, it
is not just fairness to the parties I am concerned about it is
fairness to the electorate and to the nation as a whole. I think
it is extremely important we have a complementary balance between
two Houses. What I ought to have said earlier, and I apologise,
the document from the library which may be of use to the Committee,
shows that 60 per cent, 60 per cent of the House, the Second Chamber
under the proposals of the first past the post system would have
been Labour in both the last two elections. It would not be fair
to the electorate, who obviously did not vote that way, and it
would not be fair to the nation because you would have an unbalanced
balance between the two Houses.
366. You are suggesting that you believe that
proportional representation would confirm legitimacy on a legislated
body and yet you would be prepared to accept the notion that a
body elected by the first past the post system, namely the House
of Commons, the government, might have an overall majority with
less than 40 per cent of the votes, shall we say, that that House
would still have primacy over a House elected more recently under
your proportional system.
(Mr Tyler) I think there is a problem here and I understand
where this question is coming from. It has been expressed and
it has been very carefully answered by a number of your witness,
not least Mark Fisher. The House of Commons elects, effectively,
the government and those who vote in a general election know they
are electing a government to the House of Commons. The great advantage
of the single transferable vote in a multi member constituency
is it gives the electorate a choice of representative without
necessarily worrying specifically as to whether that is going
to lead to the formation or the defeat of the government. It would
make a sharp distinction between the two Houses that there were
two quite separate electoral systems for the two Houses. That,
I think, is an extremely important principle, it makes it easier
for the two Houses to work together in a complementary way rather
than to give them a potential of challenge and conflict.
367. Can I ask Andrew Tyrie if you would be
prepared or you are happy with the proposals, the Forth way, if
you like, that we heard earlier on from Eric Forth, the current
proposals that have been put forward by the Conservative Party?
(Mr Tyrie) I do think that there needs to be some
movement on behalf of my party in the electoral system as well
as some of the other parties, if we are going to get a compromise.
I am in favour of some form of proportional representation. I
do not agree that is a fairer system, it is another system. All
systems have advantages and disadvantages, the advantage of the
first past the post system for electing the government is that
you have judgment day, you have a day when a government can get
kicked out, that is what happened in 1979 and 1997 in dramatic
fashion. Furthermore, I think that the introduction of proportional
representation in the House of Lords or in the Second Chamber,
if was renamed the Senate, or whatever, would entrench the first
past the post electoral system in the Commons, because you would
not want to replicate identical electoral systems in both. I really
think this is a great exaggerated problem.
368. Can I ask Lord Weatherill whether or not
he agrees with his noble colleague Lord Jenkins that never in
his political experience has he seen the House, of which I am
a member, the House of Commons, so bereft of talent and so full
of people of little or no intellect, time serving clowns. Perhaps
it is because of the record number of Liberal Democrats, I do
not know! You have great experience of both Houses, do you think
the current House, of which we are members, is so pitifully short
of talent as my countryman Roy Jenkins believes?
(Lord Weatherill) First of all, I should make it plain,
of course I do not belong to Roy Jenkins party, I am an Independent.
I disagree. Apart from Anthony Steen, who is not here today, I
think none of you were in Parliament when I was there, 12 years
ago now. I think the House of Commons has a lot of talent. I think
probably there is no country in the world where we are more personally
represented than we are in our Parliament. My concern is that
members of Parliament spend too much time doing welfare jobs,
surgeries, and that of thing, preventing them from being in the
chamber and holding the government to account. If I may expand,
Chairman, on my initial comments, I am passionately in favour
of reform. I would like to see reform of both the Commons and
the Lords. I think we should seize this opportunity to look at
the functions of both Houses in a very careful way. The duplication
is ridiculous. Is it really necessary to have a first reading,
a second reading, committee stages and report stages in both Houses
of Parliament? It is not. I think there is an enormous amount
of duplication we could do away with. The second matter is, that
we have never come to terms with devolution, the West Lothian
question, Wales and assemblies also in Northern Ireland, and soon
possibly in Europe. I think this is a Heaven sent opportunity
to look at Parliament as a whole. The reason that I say I would
go for the status quo is this. The suggestion that the
government have a kind of hybrid House is patently not on; that
will lead in first and second class peers, people who get elected
to the upper house at the age of about 40 they will not want to,
they could not, exist on the allowances we get and they would
want to be paid, and there is no reason why they should not be
paid, and this leads to first and second class peers, which I
think is a nonsense. I would rather stay as we are, the status
quo, which is working very well. If I may say to Andrew Tyrie,
4,000 amendments last year in the House of Lord, nearly all of
them accepted. The great thing about the House of Lords is if
you put down an amendment there, and because we do not have any
constituents to justify ourselves to we can go quietly and get
these motions through, we do not need to crow about it. Ministers
will accept amendments if they feel they have made a concession
to the House and not to an individual member who is going to crow
about it in his constituency. I think the present system is working
well, but it could work better. I am very much in favour of the
Independent Commission, which Lord Stevenson has been telling
you about. I was a convener of the cross-bench peers for five
years and if any of the cross-benchers came to me and said, "Do
we happen to have a line on this?" The only answer I could
give them was, "Go into the chamber and listen to the argument".
That is what we do. For myself, as a former speaker of the House
of Commons, my response to most things was if in doubt, and if
on balance support the government of the day but vote against
them if you think we can make a point in improving the legislation.
So, I would like to seize this opportunity to look at the whole
parliamentary system, that is the reason I say the status quo
at the moment.
369. When you say status quo, I mean
you have peers named after you?
(Lord Weatherill) I do. One is dead, a `dead' Weatherill!
370. Presumably even the status quo would
mean the final elimination of those named after you?
(Lord Weatherill) What has gone wrong, in 1999 Chairman,
is that the government accepted Lord Cranborne's amendment under
which the `dead' Weatherills, if I can put it that way, were replaced
by an he election of the whole hereditary peerage. It is a nonsense.
The system which I negotiated in, as you know, on Privy Council
terms, was a system of fastest losers, you know what I mean by
371. I think you had better explain what "fastest
(Lord Weatherill) In the case of Cross-Bench Peers,
we had 28 places to fill and we elected something like 38 so that
if anybody died then the 29th automatically took his place. In
fact, we have had two deaths in the Cross-Bench ranks and now
we have the man who was 30th on our elected list. It is called
"fastest losers". That would have lasted us for about
ten years. The whole idea at that timeand I was very strongly
in favour of thiswas that this would only be a stage towards
reform of the whole parliamentary system, and I still feel very
strongly about that.
372. The short answer to my question is that
even a status quo solution involves the removal of the
(Lord Weatherill) There is no legitimacy in the hereditary
peerage. I discovered through my research in 1999 that there were
only about 100 families in the peerage before 1900. Nearly all
of them were Lloyd George `purchases' and, if I may put it indelicately,
many of them have been purchased since! There was no legitimacy
in it at all. They all knew it. Of course they were upset at having
to go, that is natural. I ran into one of the "redundant"
Peers the other day and said
373. Could you just explain that?
(Lord Weatherill)One of those who was not elected
. They have, as you know, sort of club rights which I think is
an extraordinary thing. If I had been excluded from any institution,
I would never go back! Many former Members of Parliament haunt
this place. I think if you are finished, you are finished, you
are finished. I ran into this man the other day and I said, "Nice
to see you back here" and he said, "But for you, we
would all be here." That is certainly not the case.
(Mr Tyrie) Just a point of clarification so that everybody
understands. What we have in the Lords now is an electoral system
to replace hereditary peers who die. An electoral college is created
by the remaining hereditaries in the House of Lords so, for example,
there are four hereditary Labour Peers, four Liberal Democrat
Peers, there are 43 Conservative Peers, and what happens is if
one of them dies then the other three have a cup of tea and decide
who will become a legislator in this country. I do not think that
is an acceptable way to proceed short or long term. I think it
is, frankly, not serious politics to propose the retention of
the status quo, which is what Lord Weatherill suggested
a moment ago. As for his 4,000 amendments, most of those are put
down by the Government and, on average, 75 per cent are the result
of a shoddy Bill which gets put in the Commons. "Don't worry
about it. Bung it up the corridor, amend it there, and we will
lick it into shape in a quiescent House of Lords." It is
worth bearing in mind that very little has been achieved with
House of Lords reform so far. The main achievement has been the
creation of an Appointments Commission which looks increasingly
like a self-perpetuating oligarchy of the great and the good.
As it happens, John Browne himself has said, and I quote, "The
time I spend in the Lords will be very limited." At the time
he said that, which was late last year, he had been there twice.
The only other achievement of the stage one reform was to eject
about half of the active hereditary peeragethe vast majority
never turned upand to create "tea for three"
by-elections. I really do not think that the status quo
is a sustainable option.
(Mr Tyler) The exchanges that you and Gordon Prentice
have had with Lord Stevenson and Lord Weatherill should, I hope,
persuade the Committee that the best appointments commission is
the people. The big difference between appointees and representatives
is, of course, accountability. The reason why the newly elected
Lord Browne does not bother to go and do any work there is that
he is not accountable to anybody. As Members of this House, we
are accountable to our constituencies. I think and my colleagues
think and it looks as if a large consensus in the House of Commons
thinks that the only people who should serve in the nation's Parliament,
predominantly at least, should be those who in some way or another
are accountable to the electorate, to the people at large, to
the nation rather than to a smaller group, however distinguished
they may be in the Appointments Commission or amongst their fellow
374. Just very quickly I want to go back to
Lord Stevenson and a couple of comments that he made. I was somewhat
dismayedand the point Paul has just made regarding the
Commission certainly raises questions on our view in terms of
the debate in the House itselfand I was very concerned
that when you talk about the lack of attendance of certain Peers,
the "People's Peers" as they were termed, you said that
they will speak when a subject on which they have knowledge appears.
Is this perhaps one of the reasons why we do not see any electricians,
bricklayers or, indeed, hairdressers being appointed because it
was viewed by the Commission that there would probably never be
a debate that would entitle them to participate?
(Lord Stevenson of Coddenham) Can I re-emphasise and
repeat that it is only because the Commission brought in a condition
that nominees who were appointed were required to work in the
Chamber that that exists at all. We were handed the old system.
Let me make that absolutely clear. The second answer to the question
you ask is no. We have set up a job application process with stringent,
375. I am sure we will debate that when it comes
up. I am also very surprised that it was felt it was too expensive
to give replies to failed applicants. One of the failings that
I often hear about is that people are not notified when they fail
in job applications, and to say that about 3,000 applicants I
find quite appalling. Can I just turn to Andrew. Within your document
Reforming the Lords you talk about the size and remuneration
of a chamber of about 300 and you say "cost is the only major
argument against a somewhat larger chamber". I find it amazing
for the price of democracy that cost should be the main argument
in opposing a larger chamber. I firmly believe that it should
be much smaller than has been coming forward but I certainly would
not argue on the question of cost. Can you just clarify that particular
(Mr Tyrie) I think I wrote that cost is the only "major"
argument against a "somewhat larger" Chamber. So people
who are arguing for 400 can make a case for 400. I think a House
of 600 or 700 is getting very unwieldy. The House of Commons is
close to getting unwieldy. But how many of us want to be the
376. But you would not reduce that on the basis
of cost only?
(Mr Tyrie) The major argument against a somewhat larger
chamber is cost. It is very expensive to run an elected chamber.
There is strong pressure for some payment to be introduced for
at least part-time employment. I do not think this is a major
issue. I am not deeply entrenched on it. But the difference between
a 300-person chamber and a 400-person chamber is not that great.
377. Within your document as well you are talking
already about the term of the Lords and whether it should be five,
ten, 15 or (in the Liberal's case) 12 years. You say that there
is a strong case for holding elections at the same time as the
Commons. Are you determined that there should be fixed-term elections
for the House of Commons?
(Mr Tyrie) No. The Americans elect the Senate by thirds
every two years and elect on the same day the lower House completely,
the whole House coming up for election. I think that a system
whereby every time there is a House of Commons' election if, say,
a third of the second Chamber comes up for election, that would
be a perfectly reasonable way to go forward. Before I proposed
it I worked out what that would mean in terms of average duration
of term and the answer is the average length of Parliamentary
term in the Commons is three and a half years so we are talking
about ten-year terms, which I think is a perfectly reasonable
period. The advantage of holding elections of the second chamber
on General Election day is, of course, that turn-out is extremely
low for the European elections. The disadvantage is that you may
replicate to some degree the voting pattern in the Commons. However,
it you are electing by thirds you are only going to replicate
it for a third at a timethere is always going to be a lag.
I do not think that is an insurmountable problem either although
I you recognise that there are disadvantages.
378. You would accept a 15-year term?
(Mr Tyrie) I am suggesting a term that is indeterminate
because it is based on the length of the House of Commons' term.
I would like to stress again I do not think one should get entrenched
on this. These are second order issues that reasonable men and
women can work out together amongst themselves.
379. I can tell you as a distinguished former
member of this Committee, that is the point of our proceedings.
(Mr Tyrie) It is very kind of you to say that.