Examination of Witness (Questions 483
THURSDAY 24 JANUARY 2002
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
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.
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
(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 sayand
he is an academic, of course, with a very deep interest in the
political processthat 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
(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
(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 termthough that is not the
proposal of the Governmentthen you have only got to look
at the poll in the European elections to see the kind of percentage
poll you would get.
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
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
(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.
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
(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?