Select Committee on Public Administration Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Letter to the Royal Commission on the Reform of the House of Lords (April 1999)

  I have spoken twice in the debates on the Future of the House of Lords [14 October 1998 Col 1980-2: 30 March 1999 Col 288-290] and those opinions have not changed.

  I will hope to answer your questions referencing page numbers, but I am not able to answer them all.

  P4  I do believe we need a bicameral Parliament especially in order to check a very powerful executive with a large majority for any party in the House of Commons.

  P5  I do want to see the continuation of the representation of the Church of England as the established Church, who make a particular non-political contribution to the work of the House. I would be happy to see clergy also from Roman Catholic and Non-conformist denominations, and Jews and Muslims on a lesser scale. Otherwise, for the rest of that page I do not want to see any further change. It works well as it is.

  P6  I like the idea of the Second Chamber reviewing the effectiveness of legislation once enacted. That could be done by Select Committees leading to debate on the floor of the House.

  Government Ministers should continue to be members of the Second Chamber and to answer on behalf of the Government. They understand the ways of the House, which is important if they are to be effective.

  The Select Committees form an important part of the work of the House, both European Committees and Science and Technology, and ad hoc Committees, which should continue. I do wish to see the present debates continued for the reasons you state.

  P7  I think, as I said in my speech, that the broad pool of experience and expertise is vital to the work of the House. All Members have to do their homework carefully before speaking, as they are aware of Members with that experience and expertise on any subject being present in the House. Debates are therefore measured, and less partisan. Standing Orders also ensure we listen to each other.

  I think the Second Chamber must sit in London for the convenience of Members and Staff, but could easily monitor devolution or have regular debates on the subject. People who want to give evidence can come to London, the transport centre, with expenses paid.

  I would not give membership to MEP's as they do not have time, but ex MEP's could be created Members as at present. I think the Privy Council should scrutinise appointments. The House should continue to have a formal religious component (see p5 comment).

  P8  I like the idea of a monitoring role in any field. I think the most important role of the House is one of influence rather than powers. I would like to see its work reported more seriously in the media than it is at present, so the country considers its influence carefully. There is no case for reducing the Powers of the House.

  P9  I believe the present Standing Orders with each Peer having personal responsibility for obedience to Standing Orders results in a sensible, orderly, reasonably tempered House and should continue. Also the rule about being present during and at the end of the debate ensures that we listen and learn from each other.

  On the question of Composition, I agree with most of your list of characteristics. I would not use the word "representative". I think it is wrong. We all have views connected with our personal backgrounds and rightly have to declare interests so these are clear. The strength of the House lies in our independence, however.

  I think political parties exist and should continue, but the presence of the strong group of Cross-Benchers mitigates adversarial conduct. It is important that any party, in order to win a vote, has to convince a sufficient number of Cross-Benchers. However, every one of us, because of our appointment for life, can defy Party Whips if we feel it important.

  I think fixing an age limit is difficult as many ninety-year olds make an important contribution to the House. As people age they attend less often so that solves the question to a certain extent and I agree with Lord Mackay of Clashfern's suggestion that Peers should be able to retire voluntarily.

  P10  I think something like the Weatherill amendment may form the Transitional House satisfactorily. I cannot see a long-term solution satisfactory to both Houses.

  The Government should not have a majority over all other parties including Cross-Benchers. The capacity of the House to make the Government, of whichever Party, think again is vital.

  I believe our Writ of Summons as Life Peers lays down our duties, which should be taken very seriously. However, I believe in the present system of part-time attendances, unpaid, but with proper reimbursement of expenses, works well. One must also be free to take part in other walks of life, to bring back that up-to-date experience to the House whether in paid or voluntary fields. It is important to be active in the community where one lives, so one is aware of public opinion locally and nationally, and in specialised fields. Recently, I believe the House of Commons, under both parties, has become too hot-house and inward looking. Most people in this country are not highly political, which all Governments should remember.

  P11  The retention of a part-time House in general allows Members to arrange their own hours which can, therefore, be family-friendly. That is another virtue of being unpaid, but with sensible and reasonably generous reimbursement of expenses so we are not out of pocket.

  I like the idea of professional bodies etc putting up names for appointment—rather like nominations to the present Honours List. However, they should not become representatives nor be elected by members of their profession. People appointed should have friendly relationships with those who nominated them, but no more.

  P12  There should be a regional spread of those nominated, but not as representatives or delegates. Women play an important part in the present Chamber. They should feel welcome, and nominations encouraged. Equally for ethnic minorities. Young people too, but they will always lack experience. The public could nominate people worthy of appointment just as they do for the Honours List.

  I agree with the continued appointment of Former Cabinet Ministers, Senior Civil Servants and Senior Judges because of their valuable experience, and also Hereditary Peers.

  P13  I have already supported membership of people from Christian Churches and other religions (p5).

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