Examination of Witness (Questions 500
THURSDAY 24 JANUARY 2002
500. I think the words "substantially elected"
come to mind from various quarters and certainly a number of people
we have had before us giving evidence have used that term "substantially
elected". "Substantially" to me means more than
50 per cent. What does it mean to you?
(Mr Kaufman) One of the reasons why I support one
Member, one vote and single Member constituencies and the present
way of electing Members of Parliament to the House of Commons
is because a lot of people may disagree with it and think it is
wrong and unrepresentative but it is clear, it is not a fancy
franchise. I am against fancy franchises created by political
groupies or faddists. Choosing some figure, "let us compromise
on this, let us compromise on that", that is a fancy franchise,
it has got nothing to do with democracy. As I said before, what
it has got to do with is what you think you can get away with.
501. We always compromise in the political world.
You said you are an abolitionist and I am an abolitionist as well
and it would have solved all of the problems if we had come forward
with the abolition of the second chamber, but we are not in that
position at the present time so we have to compromise on what
our positions are. What I am saying to you is that the political
world is full of compromises and surely on this one there has
got to be a compromise to come to a solution?
(Mr Kaufman) I think there are two problems about
the kind of compromise you envisage. One, that there can be no
intellectually coherent basis for it. The other is what I said
to Mr Prentice, I think any compromise that the House of Commons
might accept is likely to be rejected by the House of Lords and
502. Just finally, could I say I agree with
you very, very much about the need to get intellectual coherence
and not just to pluck figures out of the air, there has got to
be a reason why they are figures of the kind that they are and
a lot of the arguments seem to me, if I can say inappropriately
from the Chair, beside the point on this. What is intellectually
incoherent in saying that there is an argument for having election,
one understands the argument for that and one understands the
argument for having appointment and, indeed, the Lord Chancellor
was acknowledging to us that there were arguments about the legitimacy
of both these things? Why can you not have two good things rather
than just one?
(Mr Kaufman) I think what many people are losing sight
of, and I gather that is what this whole inquiry is about, to
refocus attention on this, is we are not just dealing here with
some political dodge, we are creating a House of Parliament. We
are creating one of the two Houses of Parliament from which this
Government derives its authority and through which it tries to
pass its legislation. This is not something to draw on the back
of an envelope and hope you can persuade someone to do it. This
is a House of Parliament. There have been two major changes in
the constitution of the House of Lords since it was created. One
was the creation of the life Peers by Harold Macmillan. The other
was the removal of most hereditaries by the present Government.
That is an evolution. If you are, as it were, starting ab initio
then, okay, the way this country is governed has evolved over
eight centuries and it is, as I said to the Royal Commission,
a mess, an evolving mess. It is one thing to evolve a mess but
it is another thing to sit down and draft a blueprint for a mess.
If this were less serious, if we were creating a debating chamber
or something, then I could happily agree with you about a compromise
but this is a House of Parliament. We are operating on the basis
that it will continue its existence on the basis of its composition
and powers for centuries to come, unlike the Lord Chancellor who
seems to think "We will do another one if this one does not
work in a few years from now". If we are creating a House
of Parliament to endure then I do not believe that a diagram on
the back of the envelope is the best way to create it.
503. Do you believe that this should be a once
and for all change or is there an opportunity for a bit of change
now and a bit of change later on?
(Mr Kaufman) There can always be room for a change,
after all Macmillan life peerages not only introduced the whole
ethos of life peerages but also introduced women. As you go along
you get different changes. It is perfectly arguable that you should
get rid of the Law Lords and create a supreme court, that is a
perfectly arguable proposition and one which we discussed on the
Royal Commission for quite a long time before on balance coming
down against it. Of course I am not saying that whatever might
emerge from legislation which the Government came forward with
is the last word. One of the great things about the fact that
Britain does not have a constitution is that we can change things
and trim things and tweak things as we go on, I am in favour of
that. It is only these foreigners who have these constitutions
that we have to amend by referendums and so on. I am not saying
that whatever came before us would have to be the last word but
what I am saying is that anybody who is responsible for creating
the new House of Parliament should do so on the basis of the assumption
that its framework is going to endure for a very long time indeed
and it is irresponsible, particularly for an elected Government,
to try to create a second chamber on any other basis.
Chairman: That is precisely the note on which
we should end. We are very grateful to you for coming along, particularly
with your cold, and we apologise for keeping you so late as well.
I am sorry one or two Members had to go and catch trains and planes
and various things but we very much value your evidence. As I
said at the beginning you have had the last word too. Thank you
very much indeed.