Select Committee on Public Administration Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by The Rt Hon Lord Jenkin of Roding (LR 15)

  In response to your letter to Members of the House of Lords dated 21 November, may I offer a few thoughts.

  1.  I believe the Government has made a great mistake in deciding, contrary to previous understandings, against establishing a Joint Committee of both Houses to examine their proposals set out in the White Paper. I firmly believe that major constitutional change should only be undertaken with a wide measure of agreement in Parliament. It is my belief that with proper discussion in a Joint Committee, it would be possible to arrive at proposals which would command a good deal of support in both Houses. If the Government persists with putting forward its own proposals and leaving it to the legislative process to deal with them, I would guess that such a Bill might have a great difficulty in making progress. I believe your Select Committee Inquiry could usefully explore and pronounce upon this issue.

  2.  I note that your Inquiry proposes to examine the broader issues raised by the Government's proposals for reform of the House of Lords. There are others better qualified than I to discuss the proposals in detail, but it may be helpful to your Committee if I reiterate a point which I made to the Wakeham Commission and which I still believe to be of the greatest importance.

  3.  Having served 23 years in the House of Commons and now, some 14 years in the House of Lords, I think I can usefully comment on what many people recognise as the two very different cultures of the two Houses. Whereas the culture of the House of Commons is dominated by the party battle and is therefore confrontational and often noisy, the culture of the House of Lords seems much more driven by the wish to see the widest possible consensus and to seek ways of achieving that. The presence in the Lords of the Crossbenchers has a profound influence on the style of debate; those who come up from the Commons and have not yet understood this are sometimes chagrined to find that their party political quips go down badly! In the Lords, the style of debate is almost always reasoned and reasonable, peers do not usually seek to score points, they are constantly seeking to persuade by argument, and Ministers, for their part do best when they respond to debates in like vein.

  4.  The point I made to the Wakeham Commission and would repeat to your Inquiry is that I believe that in the reformed Upper House it will be very important that we try to retain the best of this House of Lords culture into the future. Everyone agrees that the role of the House is as a revising chamber and somewhere where the great issues of the day can be debated largely free from party rancour. If these qualities are to be retained, it really is essential that there should be the highest possible level of continuity in the membership of the Upper House during the process of reform. A big bang that brought in very large numbers of new, perhaps, elected, members and saw the departure of a large number of existing members at one time could do great damage to the culture I have been describing. That it did not happen after the House of Lords Act owes itself to the fact that, apart from the departure of most of the hereditary Peers, the membership of the House continued substantially as before, with the retention of 92 hereditary Peers despite the addition of a fair number of new Labour and other Peers. In my view it will be of the highest importance that this process of gradual change should be continued as, without it, there is a real risk that the separate and distinctive culture of the House of Lords will be lost.

  5.  Happily, Lord Wakeham's Commission appears to have taken full cognisance of this point and the Wakeham proposals provide for a very gradual process of change spread over a number of years. I hope that your Select Committee, in examining the Government's proposals, may feel it right to endorse this point and to recommend accordingly.

November 2001

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 25 February 2002