Memorandum by Dr Doug Naysmith MP (LR
CONSULTATION ON THE WHITE PAPER COMPLETING
I welcome the first stage of the reform to the
House of Lords, but believe the process of reform will not be
completed satisfactorily until the second chamber is wholly or
substantially made up of elected members.
I do not believe a second chamber with a large
proportion of appointees would have sufficient authority to operate
effectively. The public would believe, possibly with good reason,
that appointees were there through the patronage of the Prime
Minister and Government of the day, despite denials and explanations
of the role of an independent commission. Already, the appointment
of so-called People's Peers has been greeted with disappointment
and even derision. However, worthy these individuals may be, they
are not what the public believe they were led to expect and they
are regarded as being very similar to many others already sitting
in the House of Lords. A number of opinion polls show that public
opinion is strongly supportive of a substantial proportion of
the new Second Chamber being democratically elected. However low
people's opinion may be of their elected representatives, the
thought of a second chamber filled with appointees is even less
attractive. If nothing else the public puts a high value on its
ability to get rid of us and it wants to be able to do the same
with the members of the second chamber.
Speaking as a Labour Party member, I recognise
that most of my fellow members, including current members of the
Cabinet, have long believed that a Labour Government would either
abolish the second chamber completely or deliver an elected chamber.
I realise, of course, that changes have sometimes to be made to
long-established policies, but I believe many party members would
find it hard to forgive a Labour Party which, when in Government,
went back on its long-established plans for what appear to be
reasons for temporary expedience rather than principle.
Several arguments have been made in favour of
a House of Appointees, none of which I find convincing. The arguments
1. THAT A
Those who favour a substantially appointed second
chamber make much of the argument about challenges to the primacy
of the House of Commons. I, too, believe that it is important
that the House of Commons should remain the primary chamber, but
I consider it is possible to achieve this by means other than
by appointing the majority of the second chamber.
(i) The remit of the second chamber should
be set out clearly, emphasising its secondary role, allowing it
to revise and delay legislation but not reject it. The argument
that this would entail having a written constitution which would
take years and involve wholesale change is a red herring. The
secondary role of the current House of Lords is known and understood
and this could be true and also of the new second chamber.
(ii) The second chamber should be much smaller
than has been proposed, containing between 250 and 350 members.
2. THAT APPOINTEES
It is true that it is useful to be able to call
on the expertise and experience of people from different walks
of life, including, perhaps, those who would not normally be expected
to stand for Parliament. As has been mentioned, however, the experience
of appointing the first "People's Peers" has not been
a happy one and, by excluding those who would not fit in, has
not made the House of Lords more representative. There appears
to be no plans to ensure that the appropriate proportions of scientists
and students or directors and dinners ladies will be appointed
to the new second chamber. Also, it should be remembered that
members of the second chamber will be expected to consider legislation
on a wide range of subjects, not just their own particular area
of expertise. The experience of a bishop may be of use when the
topic of debate is a religious or moral one but on the matter,
of say, the siting of a National Sports Stadium it is of no more
(or less) use than that of the butcher or baker. It should be
possible to arrange for members of both chambers to invite people
with the necessary expertise to assist them in their deliberations
without making them members of the second chamber. The Government's
use of outside experience (eg the Literacy and Numeracy Task Forces)
shows that this can be done.
3. THERE IS
Defenders of the proposal to elect only 20 per
cent of the members of the second chamber have argued that there
is no consensus of opinion amongst their opponents. It is true
that while some would be prepared to live with an elected element
of 51 per cent, others would stick out for 80 per cent or even
100 per cent. It seems perverse, however, to argue that because
there is not yet unanimity about whether fifty, sixty or 90 per
cent should be elected, that the figure should, therefore be 20
per cent. What is widely agreed is that the second chamber should
be wholly or substantially elected and that, therefore, 20 per
cent is completely unacceptable. The discussion should not be
based, not on the question "What is the minimum percentage
of elected members we can get away with?" but on finding
ways of electing a second chamber which ensure that it is representative
of the country and regions and of drawing up its remit so that
the primacy of the House of Commons is maintained.
In conclusion I wish to make the following points:
1. That if Ministers are appointed from the
second chamber they should come from the elected element, and
should be required, when appropriate, to answer questions on the
floor of the House of Commons.
2. That, when drawing up plans for a reformed
second chamber, we should not be constrained by concerns about
the fate of current hereditary and life peers. Of course, if they
do not subsequently become members of the reformed second chamber,
they should receive appropriate recompense reflecting their years
of service. It would be ridiculous, however, to attempt to design
a chamber for the 21st century and perhaps beyond while being
held back by thoughts of "we can't lose Old So-and-so"!
3. Electing members of the second chamber
for period of 15 years would mean they could remain in power long
after public opinion had changed and they were no longer wanted.
It might ensure that the legitimacy of the House of Commons had
been more recently established, but would damage the credibility
of the members of the second chamber.
4. Elections could take place at the same
time as either the General or European elections and might boost
interest in the latter.
5. Religious leaders should be entitled to
stand for election or put themselves forward to be part of the
appointed minority if one exists, but they should have no privileged
right of entry to the second chamber.
6. Members of the second chamber should not
be entitled to `lords' or `ladies'. They could be called MS (Member
of Senate) or senators or Member or whatever the second chamber
is to be called.