Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 483 - 499)




  483. I think because of the time we shall continue, if we may, otherwise we are going to get very, very late. Could I thank you very much for coming along. You have two distinctions. One is that you were on the Royal Commission and therefore followed the whole process through and that is a major reason why we want to talk to you. The other distinction is that you are in fact the very last witness in this whole inquiry we have been doing at a rate of knots so you will have the last word, come what may. It would be nice if you could just perhaps make some reflection on this process that you have been engaged in and where you think it has arrived at now?
  (Mr Kaufman) When the Prime Minister asked me around three years ago to serve on the Royal Commission I had no more particular or informed views than anybody else. I had off the top of my head views. If you really asked me what I felt about the House of Lords then I have been an abolitionist but that was not the remit that I was given. I was given a remit according to the terms of reference of the Royal Commission. I then spent nearly a year discussing this with the other members of the Commission, hearing a very great deal of evidence from witnesses who came to see us here in London and going around the country discussing this with people in different parts of the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland as well as Scotland and Wales. At the end of the period, and having had a very great deal of vigorous discussion among us in the Royal Commission, although we had arrived in the Commission with a variety of very different views we produced a unanimous report and that is a report to which I am attached, not simply because I was a signatory to it but because I believe that it is right. Of course in our Labour party election manifesto we have the manifesto commitment by which I am bound, as I assume all other Labour MPs are bound. "We have given our support to the report and conclusions of the Wakeham Commission and will seek to implement them in the most effective way possible". That manifesto pledge is broken by the White Paper. The White Paper to a very large degree on several particularly important matters does not implement the Wakeham Report. I have read the evidence Lord Wakeham himself gave when he came before you a couple of weeks ago and I agree with him. I agree with a very large part of what he said in his evidence towards you. I will not support this White Paper and I will not vote for legislation deriving from this White Paper because, as I say, I am committed to the Royal Commission Report and what is more as a Labour MP I am bound to the Wakeham Report by the manifesto pledge.

  484. That is a very splendid opening shot. It would be helpful to go a stage further so we can get a few pointers I think as to where the major areas are where you think that the Government has departed and where you think you would not be able to follow them in that departure?
  (Mr Kaufman) There are three very important areas where I believe that the White Paper departs from the Royal Commission Report. The first is the handing over of the appointment of the party appointed nominees to political parties. We were very clear indeed as a Royal Commission that that must be taken away from any Government and that no longer should 10 Downing Street decide what names are advanced for appointment to a second chamber. I say a second chamber because I do not believe that it ought to be called the House of Lords. I claim personal proprietorship for the recommendation in the Royal Commission Report that membership of the new second chamber should be separated from a peerage and that a peerage should not qualify.

  485. Not to say that I gave evidence to the Commission on that point, but—
  (Mr Kaufman) Could I just interrupt for a moment. I have got a very, very bad cold and it has somewhat affected my hearing, so I am not hearing you as well as I should.

  486. I apologise and I will speak up. I just wanted to hold you on your first point because we have just had the Lord Chancellor here, and I think you saw some of it, and he told us, I have not got his precise words to hand, on your first point he was emphatic and withering in saying something like "nobody who knows anything about the real political world would have thought for a moment that anybody would have accepted that recommendation".
  (Mr Kaufman) We all have different approaches to what is the real world. I have been elected to Parliament nine times and sat here for 32 years, I do not know that the Lord Chancellor has ever actually stood for election, certainly to Parliament, at all. While the Lord Chancellor is wiser than I will ever be, I will not accept that he has a greater political awareness of the art of the possible and, indeed, I fear he has demonstrated that by being party to a White Paper which is reviled by practically everybody.

  487. Thank you. Your second point?
  (Mr Kaufman) The second point is the length of membership of regional members, and I specifically do not say elected members because the Royal Commission does not, in fact, recommend election. What it does, as you know, is set out three possible ways in which the regions should be represented on page 127 of the Report. None of these is a recommendation. We go, if you care to look at it, from recommendation 76 on page 121 to recommendation 77 on page 128 and none of those is a recommendation about election but a model certainly includes election, indeed two of the models include election. The view that we took, and we took after very, very long discussion, was that the second chamber might well be regarded by people who sought election to it as a way of gaining local publicity and support for candidature for the House of Commons and we did not believe that the existence of the second chamber should be there with an elected element, if that was what was decided upon, should be used by ambitious people to displace or remove sitting Members of Parliament; there are ways of doing that. Just as we have seen that some people have regarded membership of the European Parliament as a pathway to Westminster, just as we have seen that some people regard membership of the devolved assemblies as a pathway to Westminster, election to a second chamber would be an even more effective pathway because here we would have people in the same building as the House of Commons representing the same areas, even if the areas were not contiguous or coterminous, able to take up the same cases, able to get the same publicity, if the days of attendance were fewer able to spend more time in the constituency and, if they happened through a proportional system to be elected from a different political party from the sitting Member, able to seek to discredit the sitting Member, and if the Member were a supporter of the Government, his or her Government. We simply did not believe that a second chamber should be used as a pathway to the first chamber. We believed it had an entirely different necessity and ethos. Therefore, we set down (a) that there should be a 15 year period, after which the person could be appointed for a further period, and (b) that anybody who was elected, if there were to be an elected element to the second chamber, could not stand for the House of Commons for ten years after the expiration of his or her elected period in the second chamber. The Government has just thrown that out of the window and I share Lord Wakeham's very strong objection to that. The third one, and for the life of me I cannot understand what troubled the Government about this one, was that we wanted to entrench in the Parliament Acts the ability of the second chamber to block the House of Commons from prolonging its own life. The Government has rejected that. There are a number of other reservations, some large, some small, that I have to the White Paper but those three, as far as I am concerned, are fundamental.

  488. Thank you for that. If I could ask one question and then I will hand over. This is on your last point. There are those who would have liked to have seen a stronger recommendation from the Royal Commission on the constitutional role of the second chamber. You referred to the one particular area here but there are those who wanted to go further than that and to build in the second chamber as some kind of routine constitutional check. That is not something that you would feel comfortable with, is it?
  (Mr Kaufman) We discussed it at very great length and we considered it carefully. We were attracted by it. We thought that it might be a valuable idea for the Speaker to attach a certificate to a Bill labelling it as a constitutional Bill in the same way that the Speaker can attach a label to a Bill that it is a money Bill, but after great discussion we decided that it was very difficult to define a constitutional Bill. It could be a very small Bill could be so defined, a very large Bill might not be easily defined. It was certainly something we considered. If we had been able to arrive at some clear definition of what a constitutional Bill was we might well have included it.

  Chairman: Thank you very much for that.

Brian White

  489. I understand Lord Irvine actually contested Hendon North when you were first standing for Parliament, but that is another issue. One of the things we have been coming back to is the nature of the people in the House of Lords, whether they are part-time or full-time. There is an argument that says the House of Lords should be a small full-time chamber like that of many others around the world. What is your view of the difference between part-time and full-time, given the impact it has on the size?
  (Mr Kaufman) We looked at that. The Royal Commission looked at that and we came to the conclusion that while people should be more committed to play their part in a second chamber requiring regular attendance day after day would not have been not simply not appropriate, it would not have been practicable. After all, here we are, an elected House of Commons, we have got, I think, 412 Labour Members of Parliament and certainly in the years since 1997 never has the Government got 400 votes. Large numbers of people are allowed away. If you cannot, which you cannot, however much you may want to, enforce attendance in the House of Commons on a regular basis, I do not see how you can do it in a very different and far less party political second chamber.

  490. One of the issues that has been around since 1997, and particularly after the June election, is the disenchantment of the public generally. Is not the fact that you are going for a mainly appointed House of Lords just adding to that general disenchantment and the lack of legitimacy in the House of Lords?
  (Mr Kaufman) One of the things I did agree with in what I heard of the Lord Chancellor's evidence was his argument that among the general population reform of the House of Lords was not a highly salient issue. We had on our Royal Commission Anthony King, who is one of the leading polling analysts in the country and who, if I may say so, made an extremely valuable contribution to the Royal Commission. He was one of the first to say—and he is an academic, of course, with a very deep interest in the political process—that it was not of high salience. If I went to Gorton Labour Club tomorrow night and asked people in the concert room what were the ten most important things to them in politics, I would be astounded if a single one of them said "Reform of the House of Lords". It is a very important issue, I would not have spent a year of my life working on it but it is, if I may say so, the equivalent of a cineaste's interest rather than one of general entertainment.

  491. Is not one of the issues that Bills come before the House of Commons very sloppily drafted because we know the House of Lords will sort it out. Therefore is not the House of Lords one of the biggest impediments to reform of the House of Commons?
  (Mr Kaufman) I fear that they quite often emerge from the House of Lords back to the House of Commons very sloppily drafted. When I was a Minister in the 1970s, sloppy drafting was one of the things which worried me most particularly when it came from the most expert people in the entire land in drafting legislation, namely the parliamentary counsel. Even when ministers can be clear about their instructions it does not necessarily mean the legislation will be better drafted and with the greatest of obeisances to Members of the House of Lords, while certainly, say, those with expertise like judges may very well help in certain kinds of drafting, drafting legislation is a very, very specialised thing and quite often goes wrong.

  492. Like you I started off as an abolitionist. Is not this whole proposal designed just to stop reform in its tracks? The reason for the White Paper is that it will generate opposition from people who support the Royal Commission and opposition from people who want a wholly elected chamber and therefore we will get the Powell/Foot scenario of the 1960s that nothing will happen?
  (Mr Kaufman) Frankly I would not mind if nothing happened, I would rather nothing happened than what is in this White Paper. When I say nothing, I would very much like to see the 92 hereditary Peers removed but rather than this botched exercise here I would rather live with the second chamber as it is minus the 92. Could I say one other thing, referring back to your previous question. I have got no confidence whatsoever that if there were to be an elected element in a second chamber, unless that election took place on the same day as a General Election, the poll would be such as to give those elected much kind of democratic legitimacy and, of course, we only got 59 per cent poll in the House of Commons election. If you held it mid term—though that is not the proposal of the Government—then you have only got to look at the poll in the European elections to see the kind of percentage poll you would get.

Mr Prentice

  493. Gerald, only a couple of questions. You talked a few moments ago that you had been in the Commons for 32 years and with that huge experience do you think that we are going to see Lords' reform in this Parliament?
  (Mr Kaufman) I do not know. I think that if the Government had decided to enact Wakeham, not in every jot and tittle, then there might have been a reasonable chance of getting legislation based on Wakeham through. I think it might have had problems in the House of Commons but I think the combined endorsement in the House of Lords of Lord Wakeham, Lord Hurd, Lady Dean, Lord Butler, the Bishop of Oxford would have had a very strong influence in getting that enacted. What I see at present is this. Because in the House of Commons there is a very strong head of steam for a large elected element, any legislation that does not contain a large elected element, larger than the 120 in the White Paper would be butchered in the House of Commons in the way that the Crossland legislation was butchered in the 1966 Parliament. On the other hand, if such legislation with a very large elected element went to the House of Lords I think it would be butchered there because as I understand it the appetite of the Conservative Party leadership in the House of Commons for 80 per cent election is in no way mirrored by the Conservative membership in the House of Lords. In addition, something I think you raised with Lord Irvine when I was here, I cannot see the life Peers voting to have themselves removed. Lord Wakeham, as I am sure you knew even before he came before you, is an extremely practical politician, practical to the point of brutality and one of the things that he warned the Royal Commission about was that if we recommended getting rid of the life Peers the life Peers would all vote against it and it would never get through. I think that the Government have made an extremely serious error in what I think is a slip shod and ill-thought out White Paper by ditching the basis of Wakeham. They have prevented people, like Wakeham and his colleagues, from helping this legislation through the House of Lords. It would have had trouble in the House of Commons but my own view is that whatever is palatable to the House of Commons will be unpalatable to the House of Lords and vice versa. Therefore if you ask me to place a bet, I would bet that such legislation will not get through in this Parliament but that may well not stop the Government trying.

  494. There are people who say that the Royal Commission Report was slipshod and unpalatable on the recommendations of the faith communities, and you have read the evidence of Lord Wakeham when he came before us. The Government said that faith communities' proposals were unworkable.
  (Mr Kaufman) For one thing, although I am obviously committed to the Royal Commission Report, I accept that many people do not like it, I accept that many people do not like its arguments, they even regard its arguments as shallow and unviable, that is a perfectly reputable approach. On the other hand, to be told by the Government that has thought about it for heaven knows how little time that what we spent nearly a year on working out is less good than what they have botched together in this White Paper is something that I will not accept.

  495. My question really was why should the Government not amend a Royal Commission White Paper? There was no agreement, presumably, when the Royal Commission was set up that the Government would accept hook, line and sinker the entirety of the Commission's Report?
  (Mr Kaufman) The Government has got every right to reject a Royal Commission Report. The Government has got every right to put the whole of it in the pigeonhole and allow it to gather dust. The Government has got a right to reject large parts of a Royal Commission Report. If a Government wishes to do that, which is what the Government has done, it ought not to make a manifesto pledge that it is going to implement the Royal Commission Report. I was elected on this. I cannot say it was a big issue in Gorton but I was elected, as every Labour Member of Parliament in this room was elected, on the specific pledge "We have given our support to the report and conclusions of the Wakeham Commission and will seek to implement them in the most effective way possible". That does not say, as the Lord Chancellor said, "There is a load of this stuff that is lousy and silly and unviable and what fools people are to produce this". If they had said that in the manifesto, "This is a poor report and we shall bring forward our own proposals" or if they had said "We accept some of these proposals but reject others and we will bring forward our proposals, which we have a right to do as a sovereign government" then, okay. I might have disagreed with them but their intellectual stance would have been unchallengeable. I did not write this manifesto for them. If I had written their manifesto it might have been a better manifesto. I did not write this manifesto for them, they wrote it, and I am a Labour MP who tells my constituents that I stand by the whole of the manifesto.


  496. Just so that we take it a step further, your bleak reading of the prospects leads me just to ask, knowing all that, is there, do you think, any kind of compromise position that you would be able to edge yourself into or are you so attached to the words that you keep reading to us that it makes it impossible for you to arrive at such a position?
  (Mr Kaufman) I cannot envisage what the Government will come up with as a result of this period of consultation. I have learned enough never to say never. It is absurd, never. All I can say is that if the Government brings forward legislation based upon this White Paper then for the first time in 32 years I shall vote against the Labour Whip.

Mr Wright

  497. Just to extend that particular point. Without the manifesto commitment what would you be supporting?
  (Mr Kaufman) Sorry?

  498. Without the manifesto commitment what would you actually support?
  (Mr Kaufman) This. I spent a year on this and I think it is with flaws, with room for correction, with room for amendment, but I support this. That is why I put my name to it and worked very hard to achieve it.

  499. Again, without the manifesto commitment and your supporting that, would you then look towards a compromise, which seems to be appearing on the horizon coming from the White Paper?
  (Mr Kaufman) It is impossible for me to say without seeing the nature of the compromise. I have got the strongest reservations about an elected element in the second chamber. I would need to be persuaded about an elected element. I will tell you, if I may, what I regard as the two intellectually respectable positions. One is an entirely elected second chamber because there you are, that is it, you have done it and nobody can quarrel with the intellectual cohesiveness of it. The other is an entirely appointed second chamber because one may disagree with it but it does not create two classes of Members and it is intellectually coherent. One of the problems with the discussion that is going on now with what the White Paper puts forward and what different colleagues in the House of Commons put forward and what the Conservative Party is putting forward is that all of these figures are plucked out of the air. There is no argument which is transcendental enough to say that 80 per cent is perfect, as Mr Duncan Smith is saying. There is no argument to say that 120 is perfect, as the White Paper is saying. You can elect any number to suit your predilections or what you think you can get away with. I regard that, with great respect to all of the people who are putting these various figures forward, as pretty shoddy. Therefore, I would vote against a Bill which said 100 per cent elected second chamber, but I would respect it. I might, depending on it, vote for a Bill which said nobody elected but all of these gradations, you tell me, anybody in this room or outside this room tell me, what is special about 80 per cent or 20 per cent or whatever or, as I see from the survey that has come forward, 58 per cent or something?

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