Select Committee on Public Administration Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Letter from Professor Lord Hunt of Chesterton CB (LR 12)

  I am glad you are holding hearings on the reform of the House of Lords, and are seeking evidence. I enclose a letter I wrote to the Times (unpublished) which expresses my thoughts (as a relative newcomer).

  You might be interested to hear that at a recent open meeting at UCL when this was discussed (along with other topical matters) there was not much enthusiasm even for the limited elected element proposed by the Government—I was surprised.

  On the basis of my 18 months experience as a Labour Peer, I find that I can broadly support the Lords' reform recently proposed by the Royal Commission and the Government. So I have to disagree with your editorial views on this point and on the effectiveness of the Lords in general. Because the media, with the notable exception of BBC radio, barely report at all on the legislative process or on the role of the Lords, many of your correspondents' comments on its future do not seem to be based on much familiarity with how it actually works.

  As the Prime Minister explained, Bills are regularly improved by the Lords. For example in the recent Transport Bill, environmental considerations. which had escaped the Commons' notice were included in Lords amendments. In the Freedom of Information Bill, useful ministerial statements about the operation of the Act, which have legal force, were made following representations by outside organisations who on this, as in many occasions, make full use of the Lords to promote their companies. My Scandinavian friends say that having eliminated reforming second chambers from their parliaments, second attempts at legislation become more necessary.

  Obviously the Lords should be more representative, especially of the UK regions, which is why the new proposals include having a good proportion of elected members. This essentially complements the continuing practice of political and independent appointment of members from a wide range of backgrounds, including the holding of various kinds of elected office (as I have myself). A continental student observing the UK parliament commended the practice of having part-time politicians, who do not live in a "parallel universe".

  Although there is a fear that these two types of member will be regarded as first and second class, this is probably unlikely given the gradual way that the changes are being introduced and also the constructive way in which members with different experiences work together. Indeed the interactions of these two kinds of members should make the Lords more lively and effective.

  Finally, why should we be so worried as some politicians seem to be, that these reforms may be experimental and interim? This would be quite consistent with the usual heuristic practice of British constitutional developments?

Julian Hunt,

Lord Hunt of Chesterton

November 2001

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