Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witness (Questions 500 - 503)

THURSDAY 24 JANUARY 2002

THE RT HON GERALD KAUFMAN

  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 vice versa.

Chairman

  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.

Brian White

  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.





 
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