Evidence to the Royal Commission on the
Reform of the House of Lords
1. PERSONAL BACKGROUND
I come from two parliamentary families. The
Jolliffes represented Petersfield (Hants) in the House of Commons
almost continuously from 1730 to 1830, and later in Victorian
times, and were made peers under Disraeli. The Asquiths produced
a Prime Minister and subsequent generations served in both Houses
I was a scholar of Eton and received an Honours
Degree in History at Oxford; I also qualified as an Associate
of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. Later I was awarded
an Honorary Doctorate in Social Sciences by Southampton University.
For two years I worked in the private office of the Governor-General
of Canada. In local government, I have been elected to a Parish
Council and a Rural District Council. Over the past 37 years I
have had much experience of founding and managing voluntary organisations,
including the Chairmanship of the National Federation of Housing
Associations, and the Presidency of the Northern Ireland Association
for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders. I am a practising
farmer, forester and land-owner.
In the House of Lords, I sat on the Conservative
Benches from 1971 to 1981, and on the Cross-Benches from 1982
to now. My interests were originally in housing and Northern Ireland.
I am a member of All-Party Parliamentary Groups on Penal Affairs,
and Human Rights, as well as of the Commonwealth Parliamentary
Association and Inter Parliamentary Union. I have made many visits
to areas of conflict, eg Northern Ireland, Israel and the Middle
East, Albania, Turkey and the former Soviet Union, particularly
Moldova and Armenia.
In addition to routine parliamentary work, I
have piloted Private Members Bills through the House of Lords.
These led to Government legislation on extra-territorial jurisdiction
re child-abuse overseas, and to major administrative changes regarding
domestic workers coming to this country from overseas.
2. THE UNITED
I agree with the general outline given in the
Royal Commission's Consultation Paper of March 1999 and with the
report by the Lords MacKay of Clashfern and Hurd of Westwell (April
1999). The House of Commons expresses the will of the people and
provides the source of authority for the government of the day.
It is directly representative and has acquired exclusive powers
over taxation and public spending. The reformed second chamber
should be complementary, democratic, respected, but in no way
a rival body. Its purpose is primarily advisory, on major policy
issues, minority interests and also on the detail and form of
legislation. It should help hold the Executive accountable for
its actions. I would like the reformed Chamber to be called the
Senate and its members, Senators of Parliament(SP as an
abbreviation); title-holders should be free to describe themselves
as they wish.
The role of the Senate would be broadly similar
to that of the present House of Lords. There should be full scope
for private members bills, (and thought should be given, especially
in the context of devolution, to limiting the possibilities for
obstructing and killing private members bills in the House of
Commons). The Senate should have freedom to decide and to amend
its own procedures.
Secondary legislation should continue to be
scrutinised by the Joint Committee and the Delegated Powers Scrutiny
Committee, and on the floor of the Senate, with the possibility
of making amendments.
Experiments should be made with Special Public
Bill Committee procedures, and with the "Inter leaving"
of the Commons and Senate stages of particular bills. In the event
of major disagreement between the two Houses, there should be
procedures available for resolving differences and disputes, eg
a Joint Committee of both Houses, in which the Commons might have
a majority, but would have to argue its case.
Another role of the Senate could be to examine
the consistency of central and devolved legislation, within the
United Kingdom, and to make recommendations concerning devolution
and subsidiarity throughout the country. I see no reason why the
Senate should not also have roles both in scrutinising Draft Bills,
and hearing evidence on them and in reviewing the effectiveness
of legislation once enacted. Input from the Law Commission might
be helpful here.
4. SCRUTINY AND
The present combination of Oral, Written and
Debated Questions, taken together with Questions on Statements,
general debates and second reading debates, seems to me to provide
good scrutiny of the policies and practices of the Executive.
I am in favour of greater separation between
the Executive and Legislature than now exists. I would like to
see Ministers, whether they have seats in the Commons or not,
obliged to come to the Senate to answer questions and to reply
to (and possibly initiate) debates in the reformed Upper House.
They should not have votes there, and I think that the long-established
practice of Ministers in the Lords having to vote (and not being
paired) should be ended. It must surely reduce their effectiveness
as members of the Executive.
5. JUDICIAL FUNCTIONS
On grounds of separation of powers, I favour
the establishment of a Supreme Court of Justice, separate from
Parliament. I would therefore like to see the active Law Lords
(Lords of Appeal in Ordinary) removed from the Senate. Retired
Law Lords, on the other hand, are extremely helpful to the work
of the House. They should be voting members of the Senate, either
as of right, or by automatic appointment. My suggestion already
operates to some extent de facto, as a result of the convention
that active Law Lords seldom vote in divisions.
I would also like to see a resolution of the
historic anomaly of the position of Lord Chancellor, as Head of
Judiciary, Cabinet Minister, and at the same time, symbolic president
of the House of Lords. There should be a Minister for Justice,
who would be clearly seen as a normal member of the Executive.
In my view neither the position of the Law Lords,
nor that of the Lord Chancellor, (on which many people hold strong
views) should be allowed to delay the emergence of the fully reformed
upper chamber or Senate.
The present House of Lords has great expertise
and experience in handling scientific and ethical subjects, together
with European Union policies and draft-legislation. It also deals
effectively with a wide range of minority issues, both internal
and external, for example, human rights issues, and problems arising
from violent conflicts and from world-wide poverty. It is absolutely
essential to preserve, and if possible, enhance these skills in
the fully reformed Senate. I will return to this point under the
heading of its composition, since I believe that a very broad
pool of experience is vitally important.
Links between the UK Parliament and Europe are
already important and are likely to become more so with EU enlargement
and the common currency. One way to improve them would be for
all MEPs to attend and speak in the Senate, but not to vote. (As
there are only some 80, I do not think this should be too difficult
to accommodate.) Another method would be to authorise UK MEPs
to elect say 15 or 20 persons (not themselves MEPs) to act as
a permanent liaison group between the two Parliaments. (Both the
above methods are mentioned in the Consultation paper.) Such indirectly
elected Senators should have the same rights as all other Senators.
The appointment of former MEPs and European Commissioners to the
Senate would also help to strengthen links.
I agree with those who have proposed a Chamber
of about 450 members (or slightly more). As already mentioned
in paragraph 2 above, it should be designed to be complementary
to the House of Commons and not to resemble the US Senate, with
its superior prestige and influence. It must, in my view, have
its own democratic legitimacy and ability to command respect.
I therefore agree with the Fabian Society (and disagree with the
Labour Party) that a significant majority should be indirectly
elected. I would like to see two-thirds, or approximately 300
Senators, chosen by this method. I propose that the electing bodies
should be the devolved Parliaments or Assemblies in Scotland,
Wales and Northern Ireland, together with county councils, cities,
metropolitan and unitary authorities in England, (until such time
as there are elected English regional authorities). As mentioned
in paragraph 6 above, the UK MEPs might be enabled to elect a
small number of Senators, to act as permanent links between Westminster
and the European Parliament.
No Dual Mandates
I am totally opposed to dual mandates. For this
reason I propose that the indirectly elected senators should not
be allowed to sit in the various bodies which elected them. It
should be an instruction to the electing bodies to seek for persons
of independent mind, not tied too closely to political parties,
who are capable of considering and advising upon the common good
of the entire United Kingdom. Electing bodies should also be asked
to take account of balance between genders, age groups, and minorities.
Those elected should be seen as general representatives, and not
as the delegates of particular regions.
Term of Office
All Senators should serve for terms of 15 years,
or, if preferred, for three Parliaments. This will buttress their
independence and make possible changes of party affiliation, without
fear of deselection (or other penalties). After resigning or completing
their mandate, Senators should be eligible to stand for the House
of Commons or the European Parliament. I would like to see one-third
of the elected Senators chosen every five years, or in each parliament.
This would ensure continuity and diminish the likelihood of sudden
swings and changes. I commend the transitional arrangements between
the present House of Lords and the future Senate, detailed in
the Report by Lords MacKay and Hurd.
One-third, or approximately 150 Senators, would
be nominated by an Independent Commission (whether or not the
same Commission charged with over-seeing Honours and other Government
Appointments). Such a Commission might be composed of one-third
MPs, one-third Senators, and one-third other independent persons.
It should be an instruction to the Commission to analyse the experiences,
political backgrounds, professional qualifications etc of the
elected and other continuing Senators, with a view to filling
discernable gaps, and, in particular, to achieving a balance of
experience, genders, and age groups, while not overlooking minority
interests. The Commission should ensure that religious and ethnic
groups are adequately represented.
Representation of Religious Groups
I agree that this is important even in a largely
secular society. If the Church of England wishes, at any rate
for the time being, to continue to be represented by Bishops,
I am content to accept this. In principle, however, I suggest
that the major faiths and denominations should be represented
by lay-people, rather than by clergy or other official leaders
of organised religions. On this point, I concur with the Roman
Catholic Bishops of England and Wales, who have pointed out that
the world-wide canon-law of their church forbids ordained persons
to stand for public office or to become members of legislative
General Considerations as to Composition
I agree with the Consultation Paper that all
11 of the points listed under the heading of "composition"
are desirable. So is the point about the need for a "sizeable
proportion of independent members". I do not think it is
necessary in an essentially advisory and revising chamber, for
the Government of the day to have an absolute majority over all
other parties and groups. To do so would tend to make the Senate
a mere rubber stamp. In the present House of Lords, former ministers
and cabinet ministers have somewhat too prominent positions. They
can be very useful, but their numbers should be limited.
It seems to me that the proposed balance of
indirect election and nomination, will, of its nature, work towards
the achievement, over time, of the combination of desirable characteristics
mentioned above. The experience and ability of existing hereditary
and life peers should indeed be helpful, especially in the first
five or 10 years of the new Senate. This could be secured by transitional
arrangement, and by the combination of indirect election and independent
nominations already described.
I return to the general theme that the two Houses
of Parliament should be designed to work together in harmony.
The House of Commons should remain the principal source of legitimate
authority. I would like to see a smaller House of Commons (after
comprehensive devolution), and one more able to concentrate on
essential national business, including our relations with Europe
and the world.
I suggest that the mainly indirectly elected
Senate, balanced by independent nomination, would be seen as democratic
and representative. It would be capable of giving well-considered
advice, not too party-politically oriented, and based on the public
common good, seen in long-term perspective.
In my view our country needs comprehensive constitutional
reform for the challenges of the coming century. After the Second
World War we helped design new institutions for Western Germany:
a decentralised constitution, with a new education system and
reformed company and trades union law, all subject to new legal
norms. We failed then to recognise our own need for appropriate
contemporary institutions. We have since appreciated how such
a constitution can be a positive asset for the social and economic
life of a country.
Reform of the House of Lords is an essential
part of comprehensive constitutional revision and I would, therefore,
like to offer maximum encouragement to the members of the Royal
Commission in their urgent task. I trust that the ideas expressed
above, based on 28 years of parliamentary life and work, will
be found helpful.
The Lord Hylton