Select Committee on Public Administration Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum by the Country Land and Business Association (LR 28)

RESPONSE TO GOVERNMENT WHITE PAPER ON REFORM OF THE HOUSE OF LORDS (PHASE TWO)

A House of Lords to Represent the Villages, Towns and Cities of the United Kingdom

A House of Lords to Give a Long Term and Broad View of Britain's Interests

A House of Lords to Contribute Independent Expertise to the Improvement of Draft Legislation

INTRODUCTION

  The CLA represents 46,000 rural businesses: encompassing 180,000 individuals and their families; managing 60 per cent of the rural area of England and Wales; employing many thousands more in rural areas; generating profits and incomes in the countryside; providing land, capital and buildings for productive use.

  Rural businesses help to sustain the economy, environment and communities of the countryside. Rural areas play an essential role in the life of the nation, accounting for nearly a quarter of its population, 30 per cent of its employment, 30 per cent of its GDP, and 80 per cent of its landscape.

  The countryside, with its contribution to our national life, has much to offer in a reformed House of Lords. By supporting the economy, environment and social fabric of rural areas local communities keep the countryside going. In doing so they also enrich the culture, heritage and spirit of the whole nation. In addition, the needs and aspirations of all those who live and work in the countryside are as legitimate as those of the urban majority. The future of rural and urban Britain is inseparable. The nation benefits from a healthy countryside and so the needs, experience and concerns of rural areas justify recognition in a reformed House.

  The CLA has extensive experience in working with Members from a range of political parties in both Houses of Parliament, and with cross-bench Peers. The CLA provides advice and information on the state of the countryside and how legislation would affect rural businesses and communities, and suggests alternative approaches and solutions. The CLA, recognises that the departure of the remaining 92 hereditary Peers is likely to form part of the reform to create a Second Chamber relevant to the 21st Century, whilst still appreciating their valuable contribution. We urge that the composition of the new Chamber includes those who possess the considerable knowledge and expertise often brought to the work of the House of Lords by the outgoing Peers. Timely changes must not result in a reduction in quality.

  The CLAs submission covers the role, functions, powers and composition of a reformed House, in response to the Government's White Paper—"The House of Lords—Completing the Reform".

  The CLA warmly welcomes the Government's initiative to complete this reform in a coherent and timely fashion—as was strongly urged in the CLA submission to the Royal Commission Consultation Paper in 1999. Indeed we are pleased to see many of the points the CLA raised in this document have been taken on board, firstly by the Commission, and are now receiving Government endorsement in this White Paper. However, there remain areas of concern which shall be highlighted in the following response, the most important is the lack of specifically rural representation in the proposals for the new House of Lords. To sanction such an arrangement would be to ignore the legitimate needs of a quarter of the population and to undermine the Lord Chancellor's pledge that the new house "will be more representative of the country as a whole".

  It must be ensured that the 120 seats allocated for the regions and nations adequately provide a voice for the countryside.

  The most important points in a reform of the House of Lords, in the CLA's view, may be highlighted. The reformed House should:

    —  retain the ability to scrutinise and revise draft legislation with technical expertise;

    —  also retain the expertise to initiate in-depth study and debate of longer term or broader issues, such as developing policy in the European Union; and

    —  ensure representation for the rural constituency of the United Kingdom and its particular character. A rural voice in policy and legislative scrutiny, particularly on matters where the rural angle is not always recognised, such as the need for economically viable land use, cannot be guaranteed in the Commons, where the majority of members represent urban constituencies.

  The CLA would be pleased to discuss its submission or related issues with interested parties.

THE PRE-EMINENCE OF THE HOUSE OF COMMONS (PAGES 9-10)

  The CLA fully agrees with the Government that the House of Commons should retain its pre-eminence over the House of Lords.

THE ROLE OF THE HOUSE OF LORDS (PAGE 11)

Advantages of a Second Chamber:

  (i)  It can incorporate more technical expertise into the scrutiny of legislation than is possible in the House of Commons. The improvements to the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, are good examples of this.

  (ii)  It can ensure that the concerns of particular non geographical constituencies within the UK, eg rural communities, women, peripheral regions, the ethnic minorities, are given a voice in the scrutiny of Government policy and legislation, and in longer term political thinking.

  (iii)  It can take a longer term and broader view of Britain's interests than is possible in a House of Commons strongly influenced by the 4-5 year electoral cycle.

  (iv)  As a less overtly Party political forum it can balance the tendency in the Commons for issues and legislation to be seen mainly in Party terms, but this must be without frustrating the ultimate predominance of the Commons.

  The CLA sees the scrutinising role of the House of Lords as very important, particularly as a forum for examining how Bills will affect particular interest groups or industries or other policies, and commends the Government for recognising this value. This type of scrutiny is often not possible in the House of Commons committee structure which is usually whipped, often guillotined, and where amendments may not be called if the Chairman does not consider them to be sufficiently relevant or different from previously debated points. It would be desirable to preserve the ability of the House to debate issues in a less Party charged atmosphere than is possible in the Commons.

  Given the potential greater technical expertise available in the House of Lords, there is a case for greater use of the Special Bill Procedure, in which interested parties make representations, including technical representations at an early part of the legislative cycle. Such representations might be better received in the Lords, but the Select Committee structure in the Commons already does give the opportunity for pre-legislative scrutiny, involving interested parties.

  The CLA agrees strongly that the role of the Select and ad hoc Committees of the House to produce high quality reports should be maintained.

  This legislative role of the Lords requires technical expertise, unwhipped, from walks of life not always drawn to political activity. As environmental, agricultural, financial and other matters become ever more complicated and technical, so the need for technical expertise increases.

  At the same time, the wider implications of legislation, and the practicalities also need to be understood. There must also be experience in the House from the real world outside politics.

  In the CLA's view, Government Ministers should continue to be members of the House of Lords and we are in agreement with the White Paper that this is a critical factor in enabling the House of Lords to hold the Government (through the individual Ministers) to account.

THE POWERS OF THE HOUSE OF LORDS (PAGES 13-15)

  The CLA fully endorses the Government's proposals in the White Paper on the powers of the House of Lords.

Secondary Legislation (31-33)

  The CLA agrees with the proposal to reduce the Lords' current power to throw out Statutory Instruments to one of delay for three months.

COMPOSITION

Composition—Rural Representation

  The introduction of a new Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has been a welcome addition to Government. Indeed it might be taken to represent recognition by Government of the need for specific representation for the countryside and its individual nature. If this is, even in part, the rationale then the failure to ensure rural representation in the new Second Chamber betrays a lack of "joined-up thinking" and results in incoherent policy. Over the years the Commons has tended to become increasingly urban in outlook. The current frequency of debate on rural issues is welcome, and perhaps reflects the contribution of Labour rural MPs to the Government's overall numbers. However, there is no guarantee that this interest will continue, and for the greater period, the House of Lords has served a valuable purpose as at a rural counterbalance in Parliament.

  The particular voice of rural areas needs to be given positive expression in a reformed House in view of the contribution of rural areas to the life of the nation, because this derives from the complex mixture of economic, environmental and social activity pursued by myriad rural communities and businesses; and of the reality that in rural areas there are particular circumstances of remoteness, small scale, age profile, predominance of small businesses, pockets of poverty, and a greater proportion of self-employed. The second House should ensure explicit rural representation. A rural voice in policy and legislative scrutiny, particularly on matters where the rural angle is not always recognised, such as the need for economically viable land use, cannot be guaranteed in the Commons, where the majority of members represent urban constituencies. This is an inescapable outcome of the principle that the geographical extent of a Parliamentary constituency is determined by its population. The CLA does not argue with this demographic fact of life, but it does mean that the decision making process cannot ensure that the full importance of the particular concerns of rural communities will be properly heard.

Composition—General

  The CLA agrees that the House should display in particular a greater independence from political parties than the Commons; that it should enable non-partisan approaches; that there should be recognised expertise in a number of areas; there should be a breadth of experience; a long term perspective; and knowledge of the EU.

  The CLA agrees with the Government that there should be no upper age limit.

Independent Members

  The CLA agrees it is of the utmost importance to retain a strong independent element in the House. We suggest the proportion/number of independent members (currently proposed as 20 per cent/120) should be kept under review.

Political Balance

  The CLA is pleased to see Government agrees with the point we raised in response to the Royal Commission that the Government could be ensured a majority over the largest opposition party, but to ensure a majority over all parties could give the House greater importance than the Commons, and could subordinate the value of the House in making progress through the force of argument and debate.

The Peerage (78-80)

  The CLA agrees with the proposals to cut the link between the peerage and membership of the House of Lords.

Judicial Members of the House (81-82)

  The CLA is in agreement with the Government.

Religious Representation (83-85)

  The CLA is pleased the Government has acknowledged the Bishops bring a valuable non Party expertise to the House, and reflect the views of all the geographical corners of, at least, England. The Church of England is striking in having a presence in every parish in the country, and this helps to ensure that the rural voice is heard in the House.

  Although in the submission to the Royal Commission the CLA argued there was a case for finding supplementary arrangements to represent other major religious denominations, Christian or otherwise, and other parts of the UK, we accept the practical constraints which face the Government. We would hope however that this lack of a formal commitment does not prevent the inclusion of those representing minority sectors.

ISSUES FOR CONSIDERATION—THE CLA VIEW

1.  Balance of the Membership of the new House of Lords

  The CLA is not qualified to comment on the proposed make-up of the new House of Lords. However, as mentioned earlier in this submission, we do believe that there must be a proportionate rural representation if the House is to reflect contemporary society, as is the Government's wish.

2.  Elections for Regional Members

  In the CLA submission to the Royal Commission we recommended adoption of an electoral system along similar lines to that adopted for the Welsh Assembly (ie a regional top up, based on proportional representation) as it provides a basis for rural representation. The Welsh system also has the valuable advantage of maintaining a link between Member and constituents. The regions for the European Parliament elections in the UK were specifically rejected by the CLA, as we believe these would be too big to express the rural interest. The Welsh system also enables voters to choose an individual name on the ballot paper, whereas under the system adopted for the European Parliamentary Elections voters are unable to select the particular candidate of their choice. The result of the system used for the European elections is that not a single MEP can legitimately claim that he or she was the first choice of the constituency he or she is to represent. As a result representative and represented feel alienated from each other. When the CLA made these points in 1999 it did not realise that this alienation would be expressed so clearly by such a low turnout in the subsequent European election, hardly a good model for participative democracy.

3.  Term of Membership

  The CLA is not qualified to comment authoritatively on the proposals for the proposed term of membership. We would however suggest that it is important to ensure a term is long enough to enable members to be able to make a significant contribution.

4.  Rules for Disqualifying Members

  The CLA is not qualified to comment on this issue.

5.  System of Remuneration

  The CLA sees value in Peers having occupations outside the House, through which experience and expertise may be gained. However we share the Government's concern that the absence of payment may act as a barrier to broadening the representativeness of the Lords.

December 2001



 
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