MONDAY 27 FEBRUARY 2012|
Lord Richard (Chair)
Bishop of Leicester
Lord Norton of Louth
Baroness Scott of Needham Market
Baroness Shephard of Northwold
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean
Mr Tom Clarke MP
Ann Coffey MP
Oliver Heald MP
Tristram Hunt MP
Dr William McCrea MP
Dr Daniel Poulter MP
Laura Sandys MP
John Stevenson MP
Malcolm Wicks MP
Rt Hon Mr Nick Clegg MP and Mr Mark Harper MP
Examination of witnesses
Rt Hon Mr Nick Clegg MP,
Deputy Prime Minister, and Mr Mark Harper MP, Minister
for Political and Constitutional Reform
Q709 The Chairman:
Thank you very much for coming. We are very grateful to you. Mr
Harper, we have seen you before, three times, I think. Mr Clegg,
this is your first intrusion into the Committee. We welcome you
to it. You know what we are about, so I do not have to explain.
Do you wish to make an opening statement, or would you like to
launch straight into the questions?
If I could just spend a minute or two, I would be very grateful.
First, thank you very much for inviting me and the Minister to
come before you today. I am also very grateful for the rigour
with which the Joint Committee is examining the draft House of
Lords Reform Bill. I am very much looking forward to seeing the
final report, which will have a very significant bearing on the
Government's thinking on the final shape of the Bill. I hope we
have ample time to enter into quite a lot of the detail, but before
we do so, I want to step back for a minute and reflect on why
we are discussing another reform proposal relevant to the composition
of the House of Lords.
My view is that at the end of the
day it comes back down to a pretty simple dilemma, a simple question,
if you like. Do we think that in a democracy the people who make
the laws of the land should be elected by the people who obey
the laws of the land? Ultimately, when you strip away all the
detail, it is as simple as that, and I think the vast majority
of people intuitively would accept that it should be people, not
party-political patronage, who determine who sits in the House
of Lords. That question has hung over this issue for generations.
It has been debated for a hundred years or so and there have been
15 blueprints for reform of the House of Lords, but I hope that
with the new constellation, if you like, in which all three major
parties at the last general election had clear manifesto commitments
of one shape or other for reform of the House of Lords, we can
finally bring this debate about reform of the composition of the
House of Lords to a close.
Yes, these are important proposals,
but they are not new. In fact, they have been knocking around
for a long time. They are not particularly revolutionary. My view
is that the only institution or body of people that has anything
to fear about these proposals in British politics is the Executive.
We will, no doubt, debate this shortly. I know there has been
a lot of focus on the possible change in the relationship between
the House of Lords and the House of Commons, but my view is that
a more legitimate House of Lords will strengthen the role of Parliament
as a whole in holding people in power, in Government, to account.
That, in my view, is one of the many merits of this kind of reform.
Yes, of course we should proceed
with care in a thoughtful and pragmatic manner, but even as we
debate a lot of the complexities, I hope we will be able to keep
the end goal in sight, which is that, in a modern democracy, the
House of Lords should not be stuffed full of friends and colleagues
of party-political leaders, but should be filled with the elected
representatives of the people. Mark, I do not know whether you
want to add anything.
Having been here three times, as the Lord Chairman said, and having
observed the work the Committee is doing, I think it has engaged
with this in the way we hoped it would. I think it has set a very
good example for both Houses as a whole when we eventually present
a Bill. I am confident that both Houses, including the House of
Lords, will adopt the same sort of constructive approach that
the Committee has adopted and we will end up with a Bill that
is in good shape to end with a very successful elected upper House.
The Chairman: Thank you. I wonder if I can start by raising
one major issue, not a fundamental one such as Clause 2 or what
you have just been talking about but one that is of great importance
to this Committee and, indeed, to the House of Lords itself. At
the outset, we were told that, as far as the transition was concerned,
there was going to be no money that we could consider in relation
to it. Now Lord Steel did his Bill about two weeks ago in the
Chamber of the Lords. If you will forgive me, I am going to quote
two paragraphs. They are not too long, but they are necessary,
I think, for us to get the flavour. He said:
"The most important part of
the Bill that we are now considering is, I would submit, the retirement
The House will recall that the all-party committee
under the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, recommended that the
House should take statutory powers to introduce a retirement scheme.
While I shall not quote the report in detail, the committee also
said that that should be done without expense to the public purse
and within the budget of your Lordships' House. Since then, I
have had discussions with four Members of the Cabinet. I am not
going to name them, but I will say that one was a Liberal Democrat
and the other three were Conservatives. We talked about what sort
of scheme might be introduced if we give the House the necessary
At present, those Peers who attend
regularly, by which I mean almost every day, can take home in
allowances over the course of a year something over £40,000.
The Government are keen on capping payments and I suspect
that capping any kind of terminal allowance would be quite popular.
These details are not in the Bill, but I shall give noble Lords
an indication of the kind of discussions that have been going
on. If a cap were set at £30,000, that would be the same
as the tax-free allowance on redundancy payments made in the outside
world and so would be quite acceptable and in line with other
We suggested that the other cap
would be that the maximum amount any Member could claim would
be no more than they claimed in the last Session of Parliament.
That would prevent Members who come only occasionally suddenly
deciding to claim a large lump sum. With that in place, I think
that the scheme would be financially neutral. The taxpayer would
benefit after one year because no more payments would be made
to those who leave. I also suggest that there should be a minimum
payment of something like £5,000 to deal with those Members
who no longer attend for reasons of frailty, but who have given
great service to the House and may wish to take advantage of this
I listened to that with some surprise
when I was sitting there that Friday afternoon. Is this true?
I have had no discussions on that matter with Lord Steel, so I
am as interested as you are.
The Chairman: With respect,
that was not the question I asked you. I did not ask whether you
talked to Lord Steel about it. I asked whether it is true.
Clearly, it is not the case if it has not been discussed. It is
certainly not something we have decided upon within the Government
because those issues of transition and the costs of transition
depend in very large measure on what the design of that transition
would be, over what period, how one would move from one statusthe
current status quoto another and in what kind of instalments.
As the Committee will know, we have proposed a particular model
in the White Paper, in thirds, but there are other versions of
that transition. It is quite difficult for us to be precise about
transition costs and whether you would cap one or other feature
of it without deciding first what the basic transitional route
I had the benefit of listening to the whole of that debate in
the House of Lords. I think I am right in saying that Lord Steel
made it clear that he had individual conversations and that each
of the people he had spoken to made it clear that they were not
speaking on behalf of the Government and that the Government had
not agreed that position.
The Chairman: "Four
members of the Cabinet" is what he said.
The decisions that the Government take are collective decisions,
and the Government have not taken a collective decision effectively
to provide some sort of redundancy pay, which is effectively what
Lord Steel was arguing for.
The Chairman: Is that on the table? That is what I really
want to know because it may have quite an effect on our proposals
in relation to the transition. Is that something that the Government
would be prepared to consider?
We set out our proposals in the White Paper. Clearly, if this
Committee recommends such a thing, we will consider what it says.
At the moment, in much the same way as we have set out the position
for party funding, I do not think the public would take kindly
to effectively giving Members of the House a pay-off for going
The Chairman: I am not asking you about the public. I am
asking about the Government. What I really want to know is a simple
question. I hope it will get a simple answer. Is the issue of
payment for Members who are going to leave one that the Government
are prepared to consider?
We are prepared to consider it, but we simply cannot be asked
to decide on it now without hearing this Committee's final views
on what the transition should be and allowing for collective discussion
within Government about what the transitional arrangements should
be. It is inextricably linked with the pace and manner of transition
from the current House to a reformed one, but of course we will
consider it, and we will particularly consider it if the Committee
were to recommend it.
This is a rather different question. Can I put it to the two Ministers
that ifand there is no reason why we should bewe
were being asked by people in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and, hopefully
one day, Syria to advise on what a modern parliamentary democracy
looks like in the 21st century, we probably would not say that
one of the Chambers should consist of representatives of the military,
big business and theocracy and former Ministers and other close
friends of the political class? Probably, going back to basic
principles, we would say that it has to be democratic. I am rather
repeating what the Deputy Prime Minister said. It should be made
up of people who, if they are passing laws that affect the society
and the people, should be elected by the people. There are a lot
of details herewe just heard a bit of detailbut,
basically, should we not be going back to basics about what the
21st century demands in terms of a democratic Parliament?
I suspectI cannot be scientific about thisthat if
you spoke to protestors in Tahrir Square and other activists in
the Arab spring who look to our country as a model of democracy
and of a stable, democratic political system, they would probably
be surprised when they found out that over 70 per cent of the
current Members of the House of Lords are there as political appointees
and have been appointed by party-political leaders. They would
The issue about legitimacy is important
not just for the overall design but for the quality of our democracy.
I genuinely think that a more legitimate House of Lords would
be a more effective one as well. In other words, I think that
efficacy and legitimacy go hand and hand in a democratic system.
I think a revising Chamber, which does a magnificent job with
its current composition, would do it even more authoritatively
and credibly both at home and, as your question asks, abroad,
if it had greater explicit legitimacy.
Q713 Tristram Hunt:
Am I right in thinking that the coalition agreement suggested
that a draft House of Lords Bill would come forward, so in terms
of the coalition agreement just a draft Bill was all that was
So you have fulfilled that. For those critics who fear that this
is going further, in terms of the agreement, that has been ticked
Any Government puts forward a draft Bill for a purpose, not for
the sake of it. That draft Bill is there to be examined, revised
and finally adopted.
Mr Wicks talked about the view of members of the public. Interestingly,
even today one of the party grass-roots websites, Conservative
Home, did a poll of its members. Just over half of its members
who took part in that poll supported the principle of an elected
Lords, so you can see that the simple principle that people who
make laws ought to be elected is supported on both sides of the
Q714 Tristram Hunt: Talking
of grass roots and parties, in the Guardian today, Lord
Rennard, the former chief executive of the Liberal Democrats,
explicitly links support for reform of the House of Lords to Liberal
Democrat support for the boundary review. Is there any basis to
Of course there is no formal link between those different elements
of the constitutional and political reform agenda that this Government
are pursuing. There are various different facets of it. I recently
got the ball rolling on what I hope will be new, fruitful discussions
on party funding reform. Mark Harper is piloting legislation through
Parliament on individual electoral registration to bear down on
electoral fraud. We had a referendum last year. We have legislated
for a fixed-term Parliament. There are various bits that make
up the mosaic of this Government's political and constitutional
reform agenda. I think they all hang together in a coherent way,
but there is not a quid pro quo about one aspect as opposed to
Q715 Tristram Hunt:
Finally, in a private seminar last week, a senior House of Commons
official suggested that if the timetabling vote on this Bill,
if it is in the Queen's Speech, went against the Government, Parliament
would be into what he called Maastricht territory. Do the
Government have the will and the appetite for Maastricht territory
on House of Lords reform?
I understand that this provokes passions, particularly for people
who are very adamant that the status quo should be retained. Many
people out in the country do not care about it nearly as much,
but that does not mean it is not important. Of course, the quality
of our democracy is important. It would be pretty incomprehensible
to the vast majority of people in the United Kingdom if those
who oppose what would strike most people in the country as reasonable
reform, just asking law makers to be elected by people who have
to obey the law, had a slightly odd set of priorities and hijacked
the rest of parliamentary business just to insulate the House
of Lords from reform which has been discussed in one shape or
form. In preparation for this, I was looking at the extraordinary,
in fact almost accidental, similarity between our proposals and
the proposalsI have forgotten what they are calledback
in 1918. This has been debated for a long period. I think everyone
would find it quite curious if, in defence of the status quo,
a whole range of other laudable measures were somehow disrupted.
I think people would find that a curious, to put it mildly, selection
Q716 Dr Poulter:
One of the biggest issues we have picked up in this Committee
is the primacy of the House of Commons. Earlier on, Deputy Prime
Minister, you said that the second Chamber would do its job even
more authoritativelyI think those were your wordsif
it were democratically elected. Would you agree that there is
a clear distinction in terms of the primacy of the House of Commons
between having a second Chamber that is 80 per cent elected and
20 per cent appointed and one that is 100 per cent elected?
I suspect that may well be right. I find it difficult to be scientific
about the consequencespredictable or unintendedof
one model or another. It may well have a bearing on the perception
of the relative roles of the two Chambers, but my view is that
whether it is 80 per cent elected or 100 per cent elected is probably
less important in making that distinction than the other quite
big differentiators that we have built into the plans. The most
important, I think, is the non-renewable single term, because
that removes any incentive for Members of the reformed House of
Lords to mimic what I call the conventional electoral politics
of the House of Commons. You would not have constituencies at
all in a reformed House of Lords under our blueprint. You would
have districts, the smallest of which would have 2.5 million voters,
and I do not think you can do meaningful constituency work for
2.5 million voters, so there would be a clear distinction there.
This very long, non-renewable term would be much shorter than
the life membership you have now, so in one sense, it is a big
cut, but it is still none the less a long non-renewable term.
I think those are probably more important mechanisms by which
the clear division of labour can be maintained between the House
of Commons and a reformed House of Lords in future, but I accept
that 80 per cent or 100 per cent might have some additional bearing
In terms of the frameworkand I am sure we will get questions
on this laterthe underpinning of the primacy is the existence
of the Parliament Acts. We have been very clear that we want those
to continue as now. Ultimately, they guarantee that the Commons
is able to retain its supremacy over the upper House. However
much the upper House might want to change that position, it cannot
do so without the permission of the Commons. For Members of the
House of Commons who are nervous about that, that is the underpinning
that should give them confidence that they retain that supremacy
because of the nature of their relationship with the voter.
Q717 Dr Poulter: It
follows, Deputy Prime Minister, from what you have said that,
with those 15-year non-renewable terms, the implicit terms under
which the senator or the Lord accepts election would be that it
is a revising Chamber. Inherently, they accept the primacy of
the House of Commons as part of their mandate for election to
the second Chamber.
Absolutely. By the way, there are countless bicameral systems
that manage this trick in a very straightforward manner in which
the two Chambers are either wholly or largely elected but none
the less a clear division of labour exists and there is clear
The Chairman: Since
the Division in the House is on the health service, I fear we
will have to adjourn.
Meeting suspended for a Division
in the House of Lords.
I think that we can probably start again.
Q718 Laura Sandys:
In the Tea Room, there is a lot of discussion about the primacy
of the Commons and the Lords. In many ways, the issue for most
people and parliamentarians is the relationship between Parliament
and Government. While we have had a lot of evidence given to us
about the primacy in the relationship between the House of Lords
and the House of Commons, it is strange that we have had no real
discussion, projection or analysis of how an elected House of
Lords would change the relationship between Parliament and Government.
I would be very interested in your perspective on that and on
whether issues such as long-term strategy could be more effectively
scrutinised by Parliament. My personal view, which may not be
shared by others, is that both the House of Lords and the House
of Commons will become stronger and more activist and use more
of the powers that they currently have which they tacitly deny
One of the interesting things is that some people say that if
the House of Lords becomes more legitimate and powerful that must
mean that power is taken away from the House of Commons. I simply
do not follow that argument. Your position about scrutinising
long-term strategy is something that Lord Adonis also set out
in some of his observations from when he was Transport Secretary.
A House elected for long single terms could scrutinise significant
infrastructure projects, which have a gestation period of longer
than one Parliament. I think an elected or mainly elected House
of Lords could carve a role out for itself to hold the Government
to account very effectively on things that the Commons does not.
Collectively the two Houses of Parliament working together would
hold the Executive to account more effectively and we would have
a stronger Parliament, which would be a good thing for the people
and for Government because if Government has to be more concerned
about Parliament and about being held to account we would get
better decisions and better drafted laws. Both coalition parties
agree that well drafted laws and the Government being held to
account are better for the country as a whole. I think your argument
has a lot of merit.
Q719 Laura Sandys: You
are saying that the Government are turkeys voting for Christmas.
On that basis, when you start to look at the engagement the Government
have with trade bodies, the media and think tanks, do you feel
that Parliament does not currently have the capacity to put forward
ideas in the most effective way to influence Government strategy?
Do you believe that a greater capacity across both Houses would
enable Parliament to take powers away not just from Government
but from third parties and people who are now engaged in the political
process with no legitimacy at all?
One thing that I would add is that the great virtues of the current
House of Lords, which would be retained under the new arrangements,
are the freedom to think long term, emancipation from the tyranny
of day-to-day, up-and-down politics, an ability to see the wood
for the trees and not worrying about the gyrations of political
fortunes but looking at the long term. I think Members of the
House of Lords elected on long, non-renewable terms would, as
the earlier question suggested, explicitly be putting themselves
forward to fulfil a very different functionnot just political,
but intellectualfrom that of Members of the House of Commons.
They would be genuinely free to look at things with greater independence
and a longer view. I think that must be good for a House of Lords
whose legitimacy has been strengthened. As Mark Harper has quite
rightly implied, it would also be good for Government because
it would test Government on some of the long-term propositions
which, as we know, often get lost in politics in the wash of day-to-day
Baroness Shephard of Northwold: Mr Clegg, I am starting
with a slightly cheeky question. You said that the report that
will eventually be produced by this Committee will have a significant
effect on Government thinking. How about if it does not entirely
come out in favour of the Government's Bill?
It will have a significant effect, but it may be a different from
one that had a different conclusion. I know you would like to
go on to another question, but this is an important point. We
have tried to move at a very methodical, almost stately pace on
this. We have drawn very heavily on all the previous cross-party
reports and the views that have gathered over the years and the
decades. For several months, I chaired a cross-party group looking
atreviewing, if you likeall the blueprints for reform.
We then put forward a White Paper with a draft Bill and submitted
it to you for your deliberations, and we will take it forward
from them. We have tried in the time available to move in a very
deliberate, collaborative and open fashion. That is very much
the spirit in which the Government will respond to the report
from this Committee.
Q721 Baroness Shephard
of Northwold: You will
know from studying the submissions made to this Committee and
its minutes that no evidence whatever has been received supporting
the claim that the primacy of the House of Commons will not be
affected by having an elected House of Lords. I wonder whether
you would like to comment on that. The only evidence we have had
supporting that argument has been, most loyally, from the Minister.
Equally, although I stand to be corrected, there has been no evidence
to this Joint Committee that a change in the composition of the
House of Lords will in and of itself create an unstable or undesirable
relationship between the House of Lords and the House of Commons.
The composition of the House of Lords has changed radically over
the years. If one compares the composition of the House of Lords
today with that before the 1958 Act, which introduced life peerages,
it has changed out of all recognition. It has become a much more
partisan place, and it has become dominated by those who have
arrived in the House of Lords through political appointment. That
simply did not exist 50-odd years ago. Even though the composition
of the House of Lords changed radically, we never sought to try
to capture the changed relationship between the House of Lords
and the House of Commons. In a way, we allowed it to evolve organically,
if you like. That is very much like drawing on the wisdom of history
and very much the approach we take to the future. As the composition
of the House of Lords changes, we want to do exactly what previous
Administrations of all persuasions have done and allow that relationship
to evolve on its own merits and not to try to predict it with
any scientific precision. I think it is not susceptible to scientific
Q722 Baroness Shephard
of Northwold: It is
precisely that point on whether one can predict a change in behaviour
that has worried those who have given evidence to this Committee,
not least the Clerk to the House of Commons, who has said that
if you replicate the politicians in the House of Commons in elected
politicians in an upper Chamber or a senate, unless there are
very elaborate means of deciding disputes between them, the disputes
will become entirely justiciable. I have a supplementary to that,
although you might like to answer that first.
First, a key point is: what kind of politicians do people prefer?
Do they prefer politicians who are placed in the House of Lords
through patronage or politicians who are in the House of Lords
through election? That is an issue of principle. We should not
contrive to portray the current House of Lords as an apolitical
body when over 70 per cent of its composition is there through
decisions by people like me, at the whim of individual party leaders.
My view is that, when confronted with that choice between politicians
who are there because of them, because they cast a vote in a ballot,
and politicians who are there because some party leader decided
that they would like to have them there, most people in Britain
would chose the former.
Secondly, we are explicitly seeking
not to replicate Members of Parliament. I do not want to repeat
the answer I gave earlier to Dr Poulter, but with a different
electoral system, a different length of term, a non-renewable
term and no constituencies but larger districts, we are doing
something that is very familiarly done in bicameral systems around
the democratic world, which is giving the two Chambers different
forms of mandate that allow people to have a say through the ballot
A final point I would make is that
I could not agree more that we should ensure that these issues
about the relationship between the two Chambers should not be
determined or decided by judges. We are very confident that our
Bill, and finally the Act, would make that absolutely crystal
clear. Of course, we are open to any suggestions to put that beyond
any reasonable doubt.
Baroness Shephard, the question that you asked was about primacy,
and then you referred to the evidence from people who said that
the relationship would change. I think we have been very clear
that the relationship between the two Houses would change and
evolve, but underpinning the primacy of
Q723 Baroness Shephard
of Northwold: No, the
point that I made, which was about the evidence that the Committee
has been given, is that the assertion in the Bill that the primacy
of the House of Commons would be unaltered by the existence of
an elected second Chamber does not hold. That is the evidence
we have received from everyone except yourselves.
I have looked at the evidence. Lots of people have said the relationship
would change and lots of people have said that the conventions
would be tested and would evolve. I do not think that anyone has
said that the legislative underpinning of primacy, the Parliament
Acts, would be affected.
Baroness Shephard of Northwold:
I think that you will
find that the Clerk of the House of Commons said exactly that.
In his evidence, the Clerk of the House of Commons said that if
you had elected Members of the upper House, they would want more
powers, but the fact is that under the framework we have set out
with the Parliament Acts, they could not take those powers without
the agreement of the House of Commons. They might desire themI
am sure they wouldbut without the Common's assent that
could not happen.
Q724 Baroness Shephard
of Northwold: What he
said is that it would end up in the courts. I have one more question
at this stage. We have heard from Mr Clegg a lot about the quality
of democracy, legitimacy and so on. I do not know that we have
heard very much about the accountability of those who would be
elected to the second House with a 15-year, non-renewable term.
To many of us who have been elected, it would seem that there
is not much accountability in that. Would you like to say how
this would enhance the accountability of the Government to the
British people, the people who are so important in all these electoral
arrangements, as you have constantly stressed, and as I agree?
I very deliberately talked about legitimacy rather than accountability
to draw the distinction because of course I accept that, technically
speaking, if you are not standing for re-election that affects
accountability. Clearly, accountability can be expressed by voters
deciding whether someone deserves to carry on. I have chosen my
words very carefully. I have talked about legitimacy rather than
accountability. Some people may say that 15 years is a long time.
It is a whole lot shorter than life membership.
Baroness Shephard of Northwold:
That is not the issue. The issue is that you are electing someone
with the desire, as you put it, to improve things.
To improve legitimacy, correct.
Q725 Baroness Shephard
of Northwold: If you
are actually electing people who are in effect here for life because
they have a 15-years non-renewable term, what is the difference,
apart from telling the people, who you say are so importantand
indeed they arethat they are being given an electoral chance
that they do not currently have and that this is a reward? I would
submit that, in terms of accountability, you are giving the public
As I said, I placed the emphasis quite precisely on legitimacy.
Do I think that one could come up with a range of different options?
Yes. I think it was the Wakeham commission that first proposed
a 12 to 15-year period. Again, we are not new. We drew very heavily
on the Wakeham commission proposals. Why did he and his colleagues
arrive at that decision, which was no doubt as controversial to
you then as it is now? It is because it tries to strike the right
balance by giving voters a say in who sits in the House of Lords
in a way that is constructed in a manner that makes it abundantly
clear that it is separate and distinct from the House of Commons.
While I totally accept that one
can argue almost indefinitely on whether a shorter term, a slightly
longer term or a different electoral system might be appropriate,
I come back to the principle of whether it is better in a revising
legislative Chamber to give people at least some say in who is
there or simply to allow the whole thing to remain in the clammy
hands of a very small number of individuals who happen to be the
leaders of political parties. That seems to me to be the issue
of principle that we have to come back to again and again. Fifteen
years elected seems to me to be eminently better than an arbitrary
list of nominees appointed from time to time by party-political
The Chairman: Can I put in a slight defence as one who
had a clammy hand put on his shoulder and was compelled into the
House of Lords? It seems to me that it is an infinitely better
situation than it was earlier on, when you had 1,200 Members of
the House of Lords, 850 of whom were Conservative or took the
Conservative Whip. Although they all sat independently, they all
voted Conservative independently. It seems to me that the Life
Peerages Act transforming that into a situation in which you had
party representation at the core of the House of Lords was a huge
step forward, not a step backwards.
I do not want to cast aspersions retrospectively on the 1958 Act,
which was a huge advance in the composition of the House of Lords,
as was the 1999 Act. In a sense, that underlines my point that
what we are doing is a natural extrapolation. It is the natural
next step in a process that has evolved over decades.
Baroness Andrews: Can I take up that point? I confess to
being slightly confused because you have always been a very powerful
advocate of the extraordinary power of election. You have mentioned
that many times this afternoon, yet in your evidence to the Constitution
Committee you suggested, as you have just now, that this is just
another step in a sequence of changes in the House of Lords. You
have said that that is one reason why we can be content to address
composition and need not bother our heads about function. You
cannot have it both ways. Either election is a manifestly radical,
transformational step for this Chamber, or it is an evolutionary
step which poses no threat or issuein which case, why bother?
While I accept, of course as in all major political debates, that
there is a mixture of poetry and prose and one needs to lift people's
sights but also keep their feet firmly on the ground. I do not
think there is anything incompatible in saying that of course
it would be significantafter all, this has been debated
for over a centuryfinally to fulfil the promise debated
in 1911 to have law-makers in the House of Lords subject to election
by the people. I think it is none the less reasonable to point
out that there has already been a great change in the composition
of the House of Lords. We talked about it just now, 1958 and 1999
being the two most important steps. I suspect that historians
could possibly construct an argument that the introduction of
life Peers in 1958 was almost as significantnot least given
the very particular composition of the pre-1958 House of Lords,
as Lord Richard reminded usas would be a partially or mainly
elected House of Lords in future. I do not think the one is as
incompatible with the other as you suggest.
Q728 Baroness Andrews:
I think that you are ploughing a rather lonely furrow. If you
read the evidence to the Committee, people have taken the challenge
of election to this House extremely seriously, which is why we
are struggling with Clause 2. You said that you have been very
careful to look at the history of the way we have tried to address
this very complex constitutional problem in the past. Yet Clause
2 does not wrestle with it at all. That is the absolute judgment
of every person who has come before us, irrespective of where
they stand on election. In evidence to the Constitution Committee
you said that you do not see an automatic link between composition
and function. You said: "the functions of the House of Lords
are not the problem that one is trying to fix
We have a
sensible, balanced, pragmatic set of proposals to deal with that.
If we try at the same time to resolve a whole range of other issues,
which are not in critical need of reform or amendment
will change". I put it to you that the consensus of evidence
to this Committee, common sense and experience suggest that you
have no choice but to address the issue of functions because with
an elected House, everything will change.
We are in danger of just repeating assertions at each other. I
would like once again to refer to perhaps the best empirical data
of all, which is the past and what has actually happened. The
composition of the House of Lords has changed out of all recognition.
Someone who was a Member of the House of Lords in 1957 would simply
not recognise the House of Lords today. I suspect, parenthetically,
they would be appalled by the much more party-political nature
of the House of Lords because of its changed composition. Like
Lord Richards, I think that the 1958 Act was a massive step forward,
as was the 1999 Act. At no time in all those years have any Government
of whatever political persuasion suggested that a radical change
in composition of the House of Lords should automatically lead
to a change in function. If that has not happened in the past,
I think the onus is on critics of our proposals now to suggest
why that would be so very significantly different in the future,
not least because what we are proposing is hardly a big-bang approach
to change. Our White Paper talks about a 15-year process of elections
in thirds, incrementally, with roles that are clearly distinct
from those of the House of Commons. Forgive me, I know I am slightly
repeating what I said before, but for all those reasons, I am
persuaded that the assertionswhich is what they are; it
is not a mathematical formulathat an elected component
will suddenly be transformative in a way that the 1958 and 1999
Acts were not are not right.
I do not think that anyone is arguing that the relationship will
not change; the question is whether we say now that we will try
to forecast or set out what we expect the relationship to be between
the House of Commons and the House of Lords at the end of the
transition period, codify that and set it down in statute, or
whether we say that we will allow that relationship to evolve
over time, accepting that the primacy of the Commons is guaranteed
by the Parliament Acts. When this was looked at by the Cunningham
commission, the conclusion it came to was that you did not want
to try to codify everything and set it all down in statute. That
is not how we have ever gone about things in the past. The relationship
between the Lords and the Commons has evolved and changed. It
has changed quite a lot since the start of this coalition Government,
with the move of the Liberal Democrats into Government and the
role that the Cross-Benches play. I think that is, if I may say
so, a very British way of allowing the constitution to evolve
and a perfectly sensible way to go about things.
Baroness Andrews: All that
I can conclude, gentlemen, from your evidence is that either you
do not think that election is that important, as we certainly
do around this table, or that you think election to the House
of Lords carries a lower value in terms of a mandate than election
to the House of Commons.
I do not think that it is a case of hierarchy. It is the case
that we think that the two Chambers have a different role. The
House of Commons at the moment has primacy and will continue to
do so with the Parliament Acts. It is the House in which the Government
have to have a majority to be the Government. It is the body that
predominantly holds the Government to account. That is the body
that you are accepting has that role. The House of Lords has a
scrutiny and revision role. It is a different, complementary role.
Together, the two Houses make Parliament stronger. I do not think
there is anything contradictory about it at all.
That is the difference between the two Houses at the moment: an
elected House and a supplementary, complementary House, not elected,
that obeys the will of the Commons.
May I ask a question? I am genuinely keen to engage with this.
As Mark Harper says, of course we accept that changing the composition
of the House of Lords would, just as in the past, change the tenor,
the temper, the character of the Lords. I hope that a more legitimate
House of Lords would feel more credible and self-confident. It
is a good thing. The more Parliament as a whole is self-confident
and assertive vis-à-vis the Executive, the better. What
I genuinely do not understand, and I have tried to grapple with
this constantly, is why anyone thinks that that patchwork of changes
and evolution in the two Chambers should be the reason that we
do not do any reform or change at all when it is Parliament as
a whole that stands to benefit and the Executive that would be
put on their toes. In my view, the House of Commons might welcome
a more legitimate House of Lords with which it can work together
on either side of the Palace of Westminster in order to do the
work that we are collectively doing in Parliament, which is holding
the Executive to account. Of course roles will evolve. They must
do. It would be very odd for them not to, but to suggest that
that is always going to be a threat to the House of Commons and
therefore that that is somehow an alibi to say that there should
be no reform at all is the bit of the argument that I genuinely
do not follow conceptually.
In passing, I will make some supplementary comments on things
that have been said so far before I come to my main point. First,
I noticed that Mr Clegg referred to people coming into this House
on the whim of a party leader. I do not know what happens in the
Liberal Democrat Party, but I want to place on record that my
party did not allow me to act on my own whim when I was doing
something similar. Secondly, Malcolm Wicks saidthis was
echoed in Mr Clegg's commentsthat the laws should be made
by people who are elected. Of course, that sounds eminently reasonable,
but surely in assessing that we should be looking at substance
rather than form. The substance of the matter is that the laws
are made by the House of Commons, and the House of Lords merely
asks the House of Commons to think again on certain issues. Sometimes
the Commons takes that opportunity to think again and sometimes
it does not, but the laws are not made by the House of Lords in
any meaningful sense. That is the substance of the matter.
However, the main point that I
want to focus on is the question of accountability. In commenting
on democratic legitimacy, Mr Clegg, you said that that legitimacy
came purely from being elected rather than from being accountable.
I would ask you to think again about that. Persons who are elected
and are subject to re-election consider what the electorate might
think of their actions, because they want to be re-elected. Similarly,
parties that want to win the next election think about what the
electorate want when they are making their decisions. Accountability
and democratic legitimacy are totally intertwined. If someone
who is elected never has to face re-election, he does not need
to pay any attention at all to public opinion during that period
of time; he is, literally, irresponsible. We will have someone
who is not accountable and could do what he likessubject
to whatever influence his party might have on him, which may be
greater or lesser. I see that as a real danger, particularly when
linked to the electoral system that is proposed.
Every electoral system has its
advantages and disadvantages or its pluses and minuses. You may
like a proportional system, but there are different types of proportional
system. You have chosen the STV proportional system, which achieves
a fairly high level of proportionality, but it is also a proportional
system that is biased against political partiespersons
get elected not so much on their party label as on whether they
attract a personal vote. In a multimember constituency, parties
put forward several candidates who then compete with each other,
so it is a matter not just of the party's selection but of that
interaction among them. Where STV exists, party discipline tends
to be weakened and independents come forwardor people create
parties quickly for the purposeand persons who get their
names well known tend to benefit from that. We are going to have
an electoral system in which a personality or celebrity or someone
who manages to attract publicity has an advantage, and in the
course of the campaign he can say anything that he likes to the
electorate knowing that he will never be called to account for
those comments or for what he does subsequently.
Given that this 15-year term is
being put together with STV, I am very concerned about what this
will do to our electoral political system. You are creating a
machine for irresponsibility in the second House. If the second
House does become more assertive, this is creating a very dangerous
situation from the point of view of the health of our parliamentary
democracy. I urge you not just to reply off the cuff but to take
this point very seriously indeed.
Of course I will take it very seriously and certainly I will not
seek to provide an off-the-cuff answer. Believe you me that, while
we may not agree, a very considerable amount of thought has gone
into our proposals. Crucially, we have drawn very heavily on previous
conclusions arrived at by previous committees and those who have
advocated reform. For instance, the idea of having a lengthy,
non-renewable term was a key conclusion of the Wakeham commission.
The all-party group that I chaired looked at the Wakeham commission
and we all agreedwe did not agree on other aspects of the
reformsthat that was the right model. Of course I accept
that, if one wanted to improve the accountability of elected Members
of the House of Lords, one would suggest that they have renewable
terms. This is where we have to strike a balance. If we came before
your Committee and said, "We are going to suggest that there
should be Members of the House of Lords who are elected and who
can get re-elected", I think that you would, quite rightly,
throw your hands up in horror and say that that really will pose
a challenge to the House of Commons, because there would then
be a whole bunch of elected politicians traipsing round the country
trying to curry favour with the electorate. We arrived at the
conclusion, just as the Wakeham commission did, that to maintain
the distinction between the two Houseswhich Baroness Andrews
quite rightly highlighted is so importantit was best to
advocate, as others have done before, a non-renewable term.
On STVdare I say itit
is precisely because STV weakens the hand of the parties that
I believe that it has some virtue. As you rightly pointed out,
STV encourages people to develop a personal profile and make a
personal pitch as individuals, not just as partisan politicians,
to the electorate. In our internal deliberations, we were anxious
to retain in a reformed House of Lords a House that could be populated
by people with independence of mind, who are not placemen and
placewomen of the parties. I would suggest that an electoral system
that gives elected Members of a reformed House of Lords a personal
mandate, so that they are not just plonked on a list by party
bosses but have actually won that mandate in and of their own
right, is a better way of securing that kind of independence of
spirit and mind that I think everyone values in the House of Lords.
Whereas you believe that this concatenation of mechanisms would
create irresponsibility, I would suggest that a system such as
what we have now, where legislators in the House of Lords do not
need to seek any mandate at all from the electorate and whereof
course I accept that different parties have different methodsat
the end of the day much of the composition of the House of Lords
is determined by political patronage, creates a greater risk of
irresponsibility than the proposals that we have put forward.
The thing that concentrates the minds of Governments dependent
on a majority in the House of Commons is the danger of losing
an election, and the great significance of the power of the electorate
is that they can turn people out of Government. With this new
elected House of Lordsor upper House or whatever it isthe
electorate will never be able to turn it out. It is literally
irresponsible, and something that is literally irresponsible is
liable to behave in an irresponsible way. This worries me enormously,
actually. If we are to have an elected House that thinks that
it has greater legitimacy because it is elected and it is free
to do whatever it likes because it does not have to stand for
re-election, you are creating a very dangerous machinea
much more powerful body than our existing Houseat the heart
of Government. I worry very much about the damage that that will
do to our political system.
Listening to your description of the characteristics that STV
would inculcate in those who are elected through it, I thought
that many of those sounded like remarkably welcome characteristics
that we would want to see in Parliament.
I think that the difference is
this: the House of Commons is what determines the Government.
For those people running round saying, "Here is what the
Government is going to do if you elect me and we get into power",
that position is not going to change. Members of the House of
Lords who campaign for election will not be campaigning on that
basis, because a majority held in the House of Lords will not
determine who is in Government; that will be determined by the
House of Commons. You are electing people on a different basis.
I recognise that it is a novel basis, because we have not had
elected Members of the House of Lords before, but all of the risks
that you have pointed to, such as a lack of accountability, are
risks that we have today. The difference is that, today, party
leaders decide who gets to sit in the House of Lords and no Member
of the House of Lords is accountable at all because they can stay
there for life, whereas in the system that we are proposing Members
will have a term of 15 years. You may not be any more accountable,
but you are certainly no less accountable.
A final point is that Members of
the House of Commons go through this process once in their career
if they decide to stand down voluntarily. From the moment that
a Member of Parliament says, "I am not standing for election
again"whether he actually says it or whether he thinks
it in his mindhe is in exactly this position. Other countries
have the same position with term limits. In my experience, Members
of Parliament who decide not to stand for office again do not
suddenly go mad and run around being irresponsible. That may be
a theoretical risk, but it is simply not one that I have seen
in practice. I may be corrected by other Members, but I have certainly
not seen that sort of behaviour myself.
The next question is from the Bishop of Leicester.
Sorry, Mr Harper's comments did not relate to anything that I
The Bishop of Leicester, please. You have had a good go.
Q729 Bishop of Leicester:
You began your remarks by reminding us of what you regard as the
simple question: do we think that people who make the laws should
be accountable to the electorate? I wanted to explore with you
what price you would be prepared to pay for that principle. Supposing
this was regarded as a political good of such magnitude that it
was worth creating a parliamentary system in which there was a
dysfunctional relationship between the two Houses and in which
there was substantial loss of expertise in the upper House, and
possibly that the process of getting there consumed a large amount
of parliamentary time in the middle of a financial crisisif
all those things came about, would you still regard that as a
price worth paying for the fundamental principle about which you
care so passionately?
The only circumstances in which it would be as destructive of
the parliamentary timetable and gobble up a huge amount of political
capital, energy and time would of course be if, when they received
the Bill from the House of Commons, Members of the House of Lords
chose to die in a ditch about it. If the House of Lords were to
be sent a Bill on the back of a vote in the House of Commons in
support of reform, the onus would not be on the Government; it
would be up to the critics to explain to the public at large why,
even though all three major parties in British politics are explicitly
in favour of Lords reform, that issue was significant enough to
disrupt other Government and legislative business. I think that
case would be almost impossible to make, and I would not recommend
anyone doing that.
You mentioned expertise. It may
be that I have misunderstood this, but I just do not understand
the underlying assumption that election is incompatible with expertise,
that somehow a legislative Chamber would be dumbed down by the
act of election, as if a reformed House of Lords could not seek
out the expertise of experts in its work. I am quite unsettled
by this idea that there is this image of pristine, uncluttered,
unsullied expertise in the present Houseeven though over
70 per cent of the present House is there through political appointmentand
that somehow elected Members would not have expertise. Dr Poulter
is elected and he is a great expert in certain medical fields,
and that would not change. A reformed House of Lords would be
able to seek out experts just as the House of Commons can today.
Q730 Bishop of Leicester:
Perhaps you could tell us whether you have had the opportunity
to listen to debates in the House of Lords regularly and whether
you have been able to form a view as to the comparative quality
of some of the debates and levels of expertise for yourself.
Of course I have. Candidly, some debates are distinguished by
insightful, wise, relevant and up-to-date expertise; other debates
are distinguished by less relevant and more out-of-date opinions.
In the same way as we should not on our side over-romanticise
the sanitising effect of election, I urge colleagues on all sides
of this debate not to over-romanticise the House of Lords as it
is today. Closer scrutiny of the way the House of Lords works
suggests there might be a bit of a gap between claims about what
it is and what people believe it to be.
Q731 Bishop of Leicester:
I have one last question. You talk about closer scrutiny, and
of course the House of Lords has been under scrutiny, as you have
mentioned, on many occasions, not least the Wakeham commission.
It was the Wakeham commission that expressed its strong opposition
to "a situation in which the two Houses of Parliament had
equivalent electoral legitimacy. It would represent a substantial
change in the present constitutional settlement in the United
Kingdom and would almost certainly be a recipe for damaging conflict".
You clearly think that Wakeham got it wrong. Can you tell us why?
I do not think they would have equal legitimacy. Clearly, an elected
House on the basis that we set out would be more legitimate, but
there are a number of things that the Deputy Prime Minister set
out at the beginning, in answer to a previous question, about
why ultimately the Commons' position as the primary House would
be defendable. For a start, our proposals are for an 80:20 elected
House, so the House of Lords would still have 20 per cent of Peers
appointed. Our proposals allow it to retain Bishops. Members would
be elected in three tranches so they would never have a more up-to-date
mandate than the House of Commons. I do not think the Houses would
have an equal level of legitimacy, and picking up Baroness Shepherd's
very sensible point, the House of Commons would consist of people
who are not just legitimate but accountable. That makes the House
of Commons' position stronger, which is why I think it would both
retain the primacy legally and be entitled to do so. I just do
not accept the premise of your question.
Q732 Bishop of Leicester:
Just so we understand you, you do not accept the premise of the
Wakeham commission's finding on that issue?
You quoted what Wakeham said about two Houses which had equal
legitimacy. I am saying that that would be a problem if you had
that, but our proposals have a different relationship between
My recollection is that that was a prelude to explaining why the
Wakeham commission arrived at the conclusion that 12-year to 15-year
non-renewable terms would be the best way to proceed, which we
are pretty well carbon-copying.
Q733 Mr Clarke:
Perhaps I can ask the Deputy Prime Minister whether he feels that
the Government actually has the will to see the changes through.
I think the same questions have been asked about the Welfare Reform
Bill and the legal aid reforms; indeed, the NHS reform Bill is
very much the subject of the moment. Notwithstanding endless predictions,
which I have now witnessed almost on a daily basis since the coalition
was formed, that this coalition Government would not be able to
muster sufficient political will to do controversial things, I
suggest the evidence shows that we have confounded our critics
and that if we set our mind to try to do something, particularly
on the back of deliberate, open and internal debate within a coalition,
we see things through. This is a clear ambition for this Government,
which draws on a long history of attempts by various Governments
of different persuasions, and because all three main parties had
their manifesto commitments to see House of Lords reform happen,
we hope that this time the stars will be aligned in a favourable
Q734 Mr Clarke:
That leads me to ask: does he think that the Government has the
might to see such changes through? For example, Mr Clegg is the
Deputy Prime Minister but he is also Leader of the Liberal Democrats,
and we seem to be hearing conflicting messages there. Yesterday
I saw Lord Oakeshott on Andrew Neil's programme saying that he
would not support the boundary changes if the changes in the Lords
do not go through, and then I read elsewhereif Lord Lee
is correctly reportedthat he would resign from the Lib
Dems if this went through. If I am wrong on that, I apologise,
but certainly Lord Lee did give the impression that he was not
agreeing with the Government in what they are planning to do.
Does that not present a problem for you, both as Deputy Prime
Minister and as Leader of the Lib Dems?
I think it is rather refreshing. It shows that even in the Liberal
Democrats, the party of zealous political reform, there are different
shades of opinionof course there are. If this had been
straightforward, and the subject of straightforward political
consensus, it would have happened in 1911. The reason we have
been debating this for 100 years is precisely because it divides
opinion, and clearly it has divided opinion in this Committee
as well. I am not for one moment suggesting that we will achieve
North Korean-style political consensus where everyone applauds
what the Government do on this. What we are trying to do, including
this whole process of engagement with the Committee and the cross-party
meetings that I have chaired, through argument, discussion, debate,
evidence and balancing the pros and cons, is to advance reform
of the composition of the House of Lords, which isI cannot
stress enoughin line with proposals for reform which are
as old as the hills, or certainly several decades old. There is
a very strong body of opinion in all parties in favour of reform,
but clearly not a universal body of opinion in favour of reform.
I would never expect something like this to be universally applauded,
but I think we live in a political culture that has changed very
dramatically in recent years. People are less diffident; they
are more demanding of people in power. They do not just want to
be told to like it or lump it in terms of their political arrangements;
they want people to be held to account. People have been empowered
through information technology and as consumers. We do not live
in that deferential, tribal class-based political environment
that supported a House of Lords which lived by its own rules.
People increasingly find it anachronistic that they, the people,
have no say in who sits in the House of Lords to determine or
shape the laws of the land. I just think it is very much in keeping
with a more demanding political culture that we should make this
Q735 Lord Trefgarne:
I am afraid that I want to develop the same point. Mr Clegg, in
your speech to Demos some months ago, you quoted Lloyd George
as describing the House of Lords as "a body of five hundred
men chosen at random from amongst the unemployed". You then
said, "To be honest, it might be better if it was".
Do you really think that?
No. These are the dangers, which I learn and relearn all the time,
of humour in politics.
Q736 Lord Trefgarne:
The plain fact is that, despite your best endeavours, the work
of the all-party group to which you referred and the work of this
Joint Select Committee, there is no consensus for this proposal.
A number of MPs from all parties have said they are going to oppose
it. Even more Members of the House of Lords have said they are
going to oppose it. It looks as if it is going to have a pretty
rocky and certainly very long passage through Parliament. Will
you be imposing a three-line Whip in the House of Commons?
The first point that I would make is that there is a consensusin
the formal, stated policies of all three parties, as set out in
their manifestos. Yes, they were of different shades but all three
parties were committed to reform of the House of Lords. That was
stated explicitly by all three parties in their manifestos. It
would be not quite right to suggest that parties, formally speaking,
were not devoted to House of Lords reform. I have now seen, certainly
over the last 18 months, enough predictions of disaster and apocalypse
every time any change is proposed in any major area of public
policy to learn that if one were to stop at the first sound of
opposition and criticism, Government would do nothing. People
do not like change. I understand that, and the onus is on those
who propose change to explain why they think change would be an
improvement on the status quo and that the plan has been carefully
thought through. I believe that we have thought things through
carefully. I would suggest, in reverse, that those who want to
defend the status quo and inoculate the House of Lords as it is
from any basic democratic impulse also need to explain more fully
why, uniquely, the House of Lords should stand aside from a democratic
impulse when compared to so many parliamentary and bicameral systems
across the democratic world. I hope those argumentsand
I accept they are argumentscan be made in a considered
and considerate fashion in the coming months.
Q737 Lord Trefgarne: So
there will be a three-line Whip in the House of Commons and you
will use the Parliament Act to get it through if it fails in the
House of Lords?
As the Prime Minister has confirmed, this is Government business
and will be treated as any other part of Government business.
Lord Trefgarne: Including the Parliament Act?
Absolutely. He confirmed that in the House of Commons himself.
Q739 Lord Norton of Louth:
I want to ask about one or two points. Mr Harper, regarding your
response to Lord Trimble, of course part of the problem was identified
by Enoch Powell back in 1969: namely, that voters would be voting
for the second Chamber on exactly the same basis as for the first,
and that would inject an element of redundancy into the system.
In your opening comments, you quoted a survey carried out by Conservative
Home, a copy of which I have in front of meit is headed,
"Tory members vote overwhelmingly against a House of Lords
elected by PR". In that survey, 72 per cent agreed that,
"the Lords often does a better job at scrutinising legislation
than MPs and it should be left as it is".
Deputy Prime Minister, in response
to the point made by Malcolm Wicks, you seemed to think that people
were surprised that the second Chamber is not elected. I am not
quite sure why you gave that response. In your opening statement,
you said that the claim that you were making is self-evidently
true, but that is challenged in the written evidence that we have
received, including from at least one specialist in democratic
theory. If you look at it empirically, wholly elected second Chambers
are not to the majority taste. For example, Meg Russell's latest
article in Political Quarterly shows that, of the 76 national
second Chambers that exist, 21 are wholly directly elected, which
is not much more than the 17 that contain no elected Members at
However, I really want to pick
up other points that Meg Russell makes in that article. She makes
the point that, if you look at elected and mainly elected Chambers,
just under half have an absolute veto over normal legislation.
She concludes: "it is generally the party balance of the
second chamber with respect to the first which determines the
level of conflict, rather than concerns about legitimacy".
Once you turn to an elected second Chamberonce the clammy
of hand of this electorate is at work and its Members have to
campaignelection fundamentally changes the terms of trade
between the parties. Indeed, that is implicit from what you were
saying earlier about the nature of the conflict between the two
Chambers. That invites the question: what dispute resolution procedure
should be adopted? There has been talk of the Parliament Act,
but that is a last resort. One would be looking prior to that
in thinking about how the two Chambers relate to one another when
there is a conflict. What are the dispute resolution procedures
that should be adopted? The procedures that we have at the moment
are geared to asymmetry; if you have a more symmetrical relationship,
how are you going to resolve disputes between the two Chambers?
Before the Deputy Prime Minister answers, I want to say that it
is interesting that even in the Conservative Home poll that Lord
Norton quoted, which I do not think meets any of the normal criteria
for a scientifically conducted poll, the majority of the people
voting said that they supported an electedadmittedly, not
elected by PRsecond Chamber. Even in that poll
Lord Norton of Louth:
Well, 49.7 per cent of those polled said that the second Chamber
should not be elected, and the rest supported varying degrees
of election. Under first past the post, that is an overwhelming
If you want to read it like that, you can, but I do not think
that that is how a reasonable person would read it.
Lord Norton of Louth:
I do not know how you can lump the 8.1 per cent of those polled
who said that only 20 per cent of the second Chamber should be
elected with the 17.9 per cent who said that it should be 100
per cent elected. The poll does not exactly produce a consensus.
If you look at the Social Attitudes Survey, which asked what the
public think, the issue is very clear: 22 per cent say that they
want to abolish the House of Lords; 6 per cent say that it should
remain as it is; and 60 per cent say it should have a significant
proportion that is elected
Lord Norton of Louth:
If you drill down, as the MORI poll did in 2006
Lord Chairman, we cannot hear the Minister if he is interrupted
all the time. I think that those data were quite interesting.
Could we hear the Minister uninterrupted for a while?
The British Social Attitudes Survey showedthis has been
an increasing trend over time in a number of surveysthat
22 per cent want to abolish the second Chamber, 6 per cent say
that it should remain wholly or mainly appointed and 60 per cent
say that it should have a significant elected element, with at
least half of its Members being elected. It seems to me that it
is very clear what the public view is. Yes, they do not care about
it very much, and we have never suggested that they do, but if
you ask them what their view is, the proposition that people should
be elected is not a controversial one.
Q740 Lord Norton of Louth:
When you start to drill down, as was done in the Ipsos MORI poll,
which is the only poll that asked people about priorities, you
find out what people would prefer: a House that engages in detailed
scrutiny over an elected second Chamber or one where they had
trust in the method of appointment. Given those priorities, an
elected second Chamber came fifth on the list.
I do not accept the premise that people who are elected cannot
do detailed scrutiny and cannot do a serious job in a scrutiny
and revising Chamber. If you say to people that elected Members
cannot do that job, they may not want elected Members, but I do
not accept that as a premise and I do not think that it is borne
out by legislatures around the world.
Lord Norton of Louth:
I refer you to what the article that I quoted from says about
I do not want to intervene on this psephological debate, but the
Ipsos MORI poll was produced back in 2006, so it is quite old
datait is about six years out of dateand it took
place before the MPs' expenses scandals and before what has clearly
been a very sharp increase in public demand for transparency and
legitimacy in the way in which politics is conducted. The Social
Attitudes Survey results are really quite remarkable. When, as
part of that very large survey last year, people were given a
choice of various options, only 6 per cent in effect opted for
the status quo. By the wayI have just been looking it up
hereof the 76 second Chambers in the world, 56 are largely
or wholly elected. Of course there are lots of differences, because
some are directly elected and some are indirectly elected, but
that is quite a striking reflection of what happens around the
On the observation that the party-political
composition of a second Chamber must have a bearing on the relationship
between the second Chamber and the first Chamberand, indeed,
on the relationship with the Executivethat has to be true.
However, in a sense, we are deliberately designing the system,
notably by proposing that elections happen in three steps using
a single transferable vote system or other proportional system,
such that it is highly unlikely that you will get any overall
party control in a reformed House of Lords. We accept that in
a revising Chamber it is arguably more healthy if there is a spread
of opinion that is not dominated by one party or another. Of course,
having the elections take place at different points in the electoral
cyclecoinciding with elections to the House of Commonswill
almost certainly guarantee, given the ebb and flow of party-political
fortunes, that that will remain the case. That was very much one
of our anxieties, which we have sought to address, so that you
do not have single-party domination of a reformed House of Lords.
The next question is from Lady Symons.
Lord Norton of Louth: Sorry, would either of the Ministers
like to answer my question?
On dispute resolution mechanisms, I come back to what I said in
answer to a previous question. First, we are not proposing a big-bang
reform. If we were suggesting that we went from the position today
to having a 100 per cent elected House of Lords tomorrow with
no transition, your argument might have a significant amount of
force. However, we are going to be starting from the status quo
and move over a period. I said that the relationship will change
and evolve and the conventions will change and evolve. Ultimately,
the back-stop is that the Commons has primacy through the Parliament
Acts. Because of that, our tradition suggests that you would get
that dispute resolution mechanism, as happens now, evolving through
convention. I think that that is much more sensible than saying
that we have got to decide today what the relationship will be
between the two Chambers in 15 years' time, decide now how you
would deal with those disputes and set that down in statute so
that it would be decided by the courts. I do not think that that
is how we have traditionally done things in this country, and
I do not think that it is necessary in this case.
Q742 Baroness Symons of
Vernham Dean: Deputy
Prime Minister, in your manifesto in 2010 you put forward the
proposition that the House of Lords would be 100 per cent elected.
In the Commons vote in 2007, there was a majority of 113 for a
fully elected House and a majority of only 38 for an 80 per cent
elected House. How will you vote when inevitable amendments come
before the House of Commons to have a 100 per cent elected House
of Lords? How will you advise members of your party to vote?
I am a supporter, of course, of a fully elected House of Lords,
but I do not want to make the best the enemy of the good. If the
centre of opinion across parties is such that the 80 per cent
option, which we very deliberately proposed in the White Paper
alongside the 100 per cent model, gains more favour and support,
in the cause of consensus and cross-party work, I would support
that because, bluntly, 80 per cent is a lot better than 0 per
Q743 Baroness Symons of
Vernham Dean: May I
then ask Mr Harper? We have been bandying backwards and forwards
on the poll that has been published. Of all the options, among
Tory Members there is least support for the 80 per cent option5.9
per cent of Conservative Members. Are you going to find that difficult
in the House of Commons when it comes to voting for an 80 per
cent elected House, or will you simply not worry about that?
No, first of all, I simply used this argument because it happened
to be current today. I think that opinions among MPs and the views
of the public are important. The public are very clear that they
want at least half the Members of the House of Lords to be elected.
I think our 80 per cent option balances legitimacy with the concerns
that people have about the relationship between the two Houses.
I think it is a very good balance, and I hope it will command
support, but the whole point of going through this scrutiny process
is to say that this Committee, consisting of Members of both Houses,
having taken a lot of evidence, can offer the Government its views.
We have not heard what your views are yet. We will use your views
to help shape what the final Bill looks like when we bring it
before the House.
Q744 Baroness Symons of
Vernham Dean: I am sure
that we are all very reassured on that point, but it seems as
if you and the Deputy Prime Minister want legitimacy, but not
too much legitimacy, and you want democracy, but not too much
democracy, in the House of Lords. You have rested a lot of your
argument on the Parliament Acts. I think the Deputy Prime Minister
said earlier that the House of Lords was not political in earlier
times. Actually, the Parliament Act was introduced precisely because
the House of Lords was so political. If you look at the preamble
to the 1911 Act, the reason it was introduced was because the
House of Lords was not elected, the House of Commons was and therefore
the elected House should have its way. Are you going to be able
to rest on the Parliament Act when the House of Lords is elected,
too? The whole raison d'être in the preamble will be knocked
away. How can you say that you can go on using the Parliament
I am keenly aware of the preamble. The preamble is just a small
point. It does not have legal force. Lord Pannick made some very
interesting observations on this point to this Joint Committee.
He made a slight variant of your argument. In order to clarify
the status of the Parliament Act, he advocates incorporating it
into the final Act. It is a novel idea. He also confirmed in his
evidence to you that this Government are entirely entitled to
use the Parliament Act to see their business through. I am very
keen to examine what Lord Pannick said on this point in order
to pick up from where the 1911 preamble left off. Of course, I
accept that there might be tying up of loose ends as we move towards
direct election, but we need to look at it quite carefully. Is
it possible, does it work legally and so on?
Can I take one slight issue about
us wanting legitimacy, but not too much or whatever it was? How
can I put this? A bit of legitimacy and a bit of democracyjust
a smidgenmight be better than none in a House which makes
the laws. It is not an alien concept in mature democracies that
legislative revising Chambers in one shape or form have some form
of democratic mandate. It is not unfamiliar at all if you look
at democratic bicameral systems around the world that that mandate
is not always completein other words, not 100 per cent
of the membershipand there are plenty of instances where
there are non-renewable terms. So it is not perhaps quite as half-cocked
a concept as the question suggests.
Q745 Baroness Symons of
Vernham Dean: Deputy
Prime Minister, no one is arguing that it is a half-cocked concept.
What we are arguing is that a democratic mandate also generates
greater authority. You say so yourself in the foreword to the
White Paper when you say that the Lords does its work well but
lacks efficient democratic authority. "Authority" is
the word you use. You have used "legitimacy" throughout
this discussion. "Authority" is a very different word
because it implies, and we would all understand
What is wrong with it?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean:
There is nothing wrong with it, but authority means that you have
a mandate and can exercise it on behalf of your electors. You
seem to want to separate the electors from the elected. That is
fine for the House of Commons but is not fine for the House of
Lords. I put it to you that when the House of Lords is elected,
and I think that many of us do not have any problem with the House
of Lords being elected, we need to have the mandate of the people
that can be exercised by those who are elected. You seem to want
to separate the two.
I do not quite follow. I have no problem at all in repeating that
I think that greater legitimacy will confer greater authority
on the work of the House of Lords. That is precisely why I think
it is a good thing for the House of Lords. I think that with a
strong revising Chamber, in which I passionately believe, good
governance, which is improved by a strong Parliament as a whole,
will be facilitated.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: Then why do you not support
a 100 per cent elected House of Lords?
Of course I support a 100 per cent elected House of Lords. I have
believed in that all my political life, but I also believe that
politics is the art of the possible as well as the ideal, and
I would rather have 80 per cent than no reform at all. All I am
doing is giving the reason we deliberately set that out in our
White Paper and our Bill. By the way, it is quite unusual for
Governments to do this instead of slapping down a White Paper
and a Bill saying, "This is what we believe must happen and
we are not going to consider any other alternatives". On
a number of issuesfor instance, the electoral system or
80 per cent versus 100 per centwe said there is a legitimate
debate and we are very keen to hear people's views. I would be
delighted if you could become a major advocate of a 100 per cent
elected House of Lords. I suspect that many other people feel
that 100 per cent is a leap too far and they would prefer the
hybrid model of 80 per cent. In pure conceptual terms, I would
prefer a fully elected House of Lords, but I would be delighted
to see a reform that enjoyed greater cross-party consensus with
80 per cent.
Q747 The Chairman:
You said that you are in favour of 100 per cent elected. Do you
see this Bill therefore as an interim stage, a point between what
we have now and the 100 per cent elected that you want?
No, I do not believe in perpetual Maoist revolution when it comes
to reform of composition.
Perpetual motion, perhaps?
For all I know, there may be future generations of politicians
who might want to pick up the cudgel again, but my view is that
this is the conclusion of a debate that has been brewing since
1911 and we need to settle it one way or another to provide constitutional
and institutional stability.
The Chairman: This is a settlement, not a staging post
to something else?
That is my view. I cannot speak for other Governments in future.
Q749 John Stevenson:
I have two very different questions. First, the Prime Minister
of the day appoints Ministers from the House of Commons and the
House of Lords and, if he wishes to appoint additional Ministers,
he creates new Peers. Given that we want to strengthen Parliament,
should we restrict the ability of the Prime Minister of the day
to appoint new Ministers by creating Peers?
Secondly, we have talked a lot
about legitimacy today. Once the Bill has been passed, should
it be put to a referendum of the people?
On the first point, we specifically set out in the White Paper
provision for the Prime Minister to create a limited number of
appointments. We did not set out an exact number, but we made
it clear that the number would be limited and that such people
would be appointed only for the purposes of being Ministers and
would serve in the House only for the period that they were a
Ministerso when they ceased being a Minister, they would
no longer be a Member. We did that for the very reason that you
gave: there may be people whom the Prime Minister wishes to appoint
to Government who should therefore be accountable to one or other
of the Houses of Parliament. We think that that is a sensible
thing. One of the criticisms that we had is that, because we did
not limit the number, people were very suspicious and thought
that that might be a mechanism for large amounts of patronage,
but we made it very clear that the number would be limited.
On the second question, regarding
Q750 John Stevenson:
I have a quick question before you answer that. Do you think that
those appointed by the Prime Minister should also be entitled
That was the basis on which we set out the proposal in the Bill.
As you know, we have proposed that 80 per cent should be elected
and 20 per cent would still be appointed. We have also said that
the Church of England Bishops should still be there. Those people
would have the same role in the House in terms of being able to
vote. That is the basis on which we set out our views in the draft
On the referendum point, our view
was that, because all three parties were in favour of this, we
did not think that a referendum was justified. When the House
of Lords Constitution Committee looked at referendums, it said
that it thought that abolition of the House of Lords would be
a subject on which you would automatically want to have a referendum,
but it did not say that changing the composition of the House
of Lords would be such a proposition. So, no, we do not think
that a referendum is necessary, and that is why we did not propose
it in our draft Bill or White Paper.
Q751 Dr McCrea:
There is certainly no doubt that the reform of the House of Lords
is a live issue for parliamentarians, but how exercised do you
feel that the general public is about this issue?
The Bill suggests that we should
introduce a little legitimacy or democracy but not accountability,
but whether those issues can be so easily separated from one another
is another question. Should there be a baseline of electoral support
to give legitimacy to these persons, who will be there for 15
I will take the first point and Mark Harper will deal with the
second. In terms of the public, if you are worried about your
job or your child's education or paying the bills every week,
reform of the composition of the House of Lords is hardly going
to be at the top of your shopping list of concerns. The same applies
to many other things that we debate, such as reform of local government
finance or the World Trade Organisation. I think that the quality
of our democracy is immensely important, but that does not mean
that it comes up on the doorstep when I go out canvassing. Of
course there is a distinction between significance and popular
resonance. However, all the evidence suggests that, when you ask
people whether theyrather than just party bossesshould
have a say on who is in the House of Lords, they generally say,
"Now that you have asked me, I think that it would be better
if I did have a say".
I have heard and read of a lot
of people saying that we should not be wasting our time on this,
as if Government can do only one thing at once. Looking at the
history of this, we see that in 1911, when this issue convulsed
the Government, they were legislating to introduce the modern
pensions system. I think that Governmentsand, dare I say
it, parliamentarianscan do more than one thing at once.
I very much hope that the opponents of this reform, particularly
when it arrives in the House of Lords after the Commons, will
not choose to give this a disproportionate degree of priority
over all other matters by holding everything else hostage. I agree
with the implication that has been made that that would be very
much out of line with public expectations on an issue like this.
They would expect us to deal with it, particularly because it
has been debated for about 100 years, with slightly greater velocity
than that would imply.
On your point about legitimacy and accountability, I think that
you my have been asking about how much support you would need
to get elected in the first place. One of the things that we looked
at in setting out the electoral system was balancing getting a
proportionate result with other areas that make some sort of sense
to people. For elections to the House of Lords, my sense would
be that it depends on what you measure progress against. Clearly,
you can measure progress against some perfect system that would
tick every box, but if you measure against where we are starting
from, we are going from a system where people are put in the House
of Lords for life with no interaction with the public at all to
a system where they are put in for a limitedalthough, admittedly,
lengthyterm which is an awful lot less than the term that
we have at the moment. I think that that is a very good balance.
Clearly, we are just about to be
interrupted by a Division in the House of Lords.
The Chairman: I do not know how much time the Ministers
have, but I have five Members who still want to ask a question.
If they would be kind enough to let us go and vote and then take
those five questions, I would be obliged.
Meeting suspended for a Division
in the House of Lords.
Let us go on. I call Lord Rooker.
Q753 Lord Rooker:
I apologise if I leave before the end, but I have only a couple
of points. I do not want to repeat things, but there is a central
issue. You asked a question of Baroness Andrews, Mr Clegg, and
I want to give you the answer. On Wednesday this week in this
place, we will deal with ping-pong for the final bit of the Welfare
Reform Bill. I can personally guarantee that the Minister will
at some point say, because I have done it myself and have been
there, "This is the third time. We don't normally go past
the third time in the Lords, because"and there is
only one reason"we are unelected". That is the
reason. The Parliament Act has been used only, perhaps, seven
times since 1911. That indicates that we give way, because the
Commons makes the laws. That is the answer. The only difference
between us is that we are not elected, so we don't push it. That
gives you an example, from this week, of where the system works
because we are not elected and don't push it.
Can I ask you about bicameral Parliaments,
because you have used the term several times today and in your
evidence to the Constitution Committee? As I understand it, there
are some three countries that have no form of written constitutionI
might query the quality of some of them, but there are only threewhich
are: the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Israel. New Zealand and
Israel have unicameral Parliaments. Therefore, we in the UK are
in the position of having a bicameral Parliament with an unwritten
constitution. Would it not be a good idea, before the change,
to write down some rules on the relationship between the two Houses?
That is what we are asking for. I am with you that the second
Chamber should be 100 per cent electedthat is the only
thing that I have ever voted for, although I have moved Bills
to abolish the placebut I am more concerned about the relationship
between the two places than I am even about the relationship between
Parliament and Government. Before it happens, to avoid chaos in
the governance of the country from a parliamentary perspective,
should we not write down some of the rules, because we will be
the only modern democracyyou can count all the others as
wellwith no written rules for governance and a second Chamber?
If it is an elected second Chamber, that is a recipe for disaster.
Would it not be a good idea to write down the rules of the relationship
before we do it?
I think that my answer to both points, really, comes down to the
same thing, which is that I do not believe that election in the
way that we are proposing it will upset the applecart in quite
the way that you fear. First, on your phrase "don't push
it"which is a good phraseI think that a reformed
House of Lords would be under no illusions that it could push
things beyond a certain limit, because it had an asymmetrical,
uneven, unequal relationship with the House of Commons. That position
would be retained for all the reasons that I explained earlier:
the non-renewable long term; the different electoral system; its
not being elected in one go but in thirds; and its not being dominated
by one party as is the case with many revising Chambers. I do
not think that maintaining an unequal relationship between the
two Chambers, even though both are wholly or partly elected, is
quite as complicated as you suggest.
On codification, I was looking
earlier at the 2006 report on the conventions by the Cunningham
committee. The report concluded: "We do not recommend legislation,
or any other form of codification which would turn conventions
into rules, remove flexibility, exclude exceptions and inhibit
evolution in response to political circumstances". That was
absolutely spot on because, as the Minister was saying earlier,
trying to codify an evolutionary process, which will take many
years to developafter all, our proposal is hardly top-speed,
so it is a 15-year transition before we have a fully reformed
House of Lordswould be unwise. The process will develop
its own tempo and character. We never chose to do that when the
composition of House of Lords has changed radically in the past
and that has served us well. We were tolerant of a position whereby
the composition changed, but we did not try to trap that or put
it in a straitjacket in anticipation of events that we simply
cannot anticipate at this moment.
Q754 The Chairman: As
I recall, the Cunningham report said that there should be resolutions
of each House in virtually the same terms which in effect encapsulated
the understandingsif I can use a non-Cunningham, fairly
neutral phraseas to what the conventions between the two
Houses were. I totally accept that it is not legislation, but
there was going to be some actual expression of what the conventions
should be. Do you feel that that is a good thing or a bad thing?
Mark Harper will want to comment on this. Of course, both Houses
should be entirely free to adopt resolutions. It is not a matter
for the Government to say at this stage what resolutions a reformed
House of Lords or a future House of Commons should pass; they
are entirely free to do what they like. The Cunningham report
was quite clear about the dangers of fossilising things through
codification when you are dealing, by definition, with quite a
At the risk of repeating myself, we have not said that the relationship
will not change. The question comes down to whether you try to
predict the destination and say what you think that relationship
either will or should be at the end and then codify it today,
or whether you accept that it will change over time but you have
the Parliament Acts in place, which ultimately mean that the Commons
can get its own way. In other words, if the House of Lords, for
example, chose to "push it"to use Lord Rooker's
phraseby using some of its existing powers where it currently
does not, the Commons could act to stop that happening. Because
the Lords knows that that is the case, the two Chambers will end
up with a dialogue and those conventions will evolve, as they
have even since the election, where there has been a lot of debate
over some of the existing conventions that may or many not operate
with the coalition Government. Given the way that we have done
things in the past, allowing that evolution, but with that legislative
back-stop of the Parliament Act, seems to me the best way of proceeding.
But you have taken a lot of evidence on it and I know that it
will be one of the issues that will be debated. We will listen
to what the Committee says.
Q755 Lord Rooker:
Can I just put finally the worst-case scenario? Let us say that
an elected second Chamber, whether it is elected in thirds or
whateverI am in favour of it being 100 per cent electeddecides,
because it has got a mandate and all the reasons that it will
use because it has been elected, that it does not agree with the
Commons having the last word through the Parliament Acts and blocks
every Bill to force the Commons to negotiate a rewrite of the
Parliament Act. That may be irresponsible and not constructive,
as Lord Trimble pointed out, but why risk that? Mr Clegg, we have
never met and I was not in the Commons when you were there, I
do not know whether you think that you are a House of Commons
man or a man from the House of Commons. I know the difference.
The fact is that there are more House of Commons menand,
I might say, womenin the Lords than there are in the Commons.
Those of us who served in the other place actually feel deeply
and strongly that it should not be put at risk. Frankly, you are
playing fast and loose with a refusal to write some basic rules
for the relationship between the two Houses. That is what we are
concerned about, not about self-preservation or redundancy pay
and all that sort of flim-flam. The relationship between the two
Houses of Parliament is absolutely fundamental as far as we are
First, of course, you are right, Lord Rooker, that an increasing
number of people have been recycledthat is not quite the
right wordbut have moved from the House of Commons into
the House of Lords. In the long run, it is more healthy for Members
of the House of Lords to have their own mandate through the ballot
box rather than be part of this washing-machine arrangement whereby
people go from one end of the Corridor to the other.
Secondly, I think that we have
done better than codification and than any number of rules anticipating
the future; we have made sure that the rules of the game are such
that there can be absolutely no doubt whatever that the House
of Commons has primacy, because we are not providing Members of
the House of Lords with the ability to be re-elected, because
we are giving them non-renewable terms and because they are being
elected in tranches rather than at once. That is more reassurance
than anyone needs to show that there is a clear distinction between
one and the other, and that those Members of the House of Lords,
once elected, would not be able to "push it".
Q756 Oliver Heald:
Can I take you on to one change that concerns me, although, broadly,
I would accept what you are saying? You are turning the House
of Lords into a forum for regional and national concerns to be
aired because 80 per cent of the people in it will be elected
by regions and nations to go to Parliament and speak up for their
people. If that happens, that will mean that, in your constituency,
there will be a senator for your region who, on a regional issue
such as subsidies for the steel industry, will be able to come
into your constituency as somebody who has been elected for your
region and make a great deal of it. He will be able to come to
Parliament and raise those issues. In my area, it may be the A14
road in East Anglia. Are you happy with that?
At present I have no problem when Members of the European Parliament
pile into regional issues from different parties. I am a generous
spirited man. I think if people from different parties and with
different mandates want to get involved in an issue that is of
great concern in a region, why not? The big difference between
MEPsI should know this from personal experienceand
Members of a reformed House of Lords is that MEPs can then compete
for attention and all the rest of it and subsequently pursue their
ambition to get elected to the House of Commons. We would, by
statute, make that impossible. That is another very important
fire-break. Baroness Symons, did you want to say something on
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean:
I was wondering where democracy was in that. You made the analogy
with MEPs, then you said
Let me clarify. I am trying to highlight the difference with MEPs,
who at the moment, quite rightly, have the right to get stuck
into local or regional issues and some of them may, dare I whisper
it, have ulterior motives if they have ambitions to transfer from
the European Parliament to the Westminster Parliament. We looked
at this on a cross-party basis in the committee that I chair and,
for that very reason, everybody across all parties felt this was
a good idea. We felt that we should not mimic that but should
make sure that there is a fire-break between one and the other
and should legislate to ensure that one cannot leap from a reformed
House of Lords into the House of Commons. You have to wait for
one full term before doing so.
Q757 Oliver Heald:
My other point is about the great and good. You are going to have
20 per cent for the great and good, as long as they are independent.
If you look at your party, you have very eminent lawyers in the
Lords who are national figures in the legal world. So do the Conservatives,
and so do Labour. Writers, such as PD James and Ruth Rendell are
national figures. There are Melvyn Bragg and Lord Lloyd-Webber.
On the medical side, there are Lord Winston, Lord McColl and so
on. Is it going to be possible to keep people of that quality
in this new Chamber? How are we going to have people like that
putting themselves forward for the senate if they have to have
this regional job as well?
I very much hope that they will put themselves forwardnot
all them, of course. It would be very interesting to see what
the Committee concludes on whether the assumption is that elected
Members of a reformed House of Lords would attend on a completely
full-time basis or whether they would be expected to maintain
other vocations at the same time. It is quite a finely balanced
Q758 Oliver Heald:
What do you think about that?
I am genuinely undecided about that. On the one hand, if one is
going to confer a democratic mandate on elected Members of the
House of Lords, in order to reciprocate the confidence the people
have invested in you, you should be applying yourself full time
to the job of scrutinising and revising Government legislation.
There is a very powerful argument that says that, precisely in
order to retain that independence of spirit and objectivity of
mind and thought, not only is it worth having people elected,
particularly under the STV system where they are freer of party
strictures, but there might be a case for allowing them to continue
to do other things so they have one leg in politics, if you like,
and one leg in the real world. I do not know whether the Committee
has deliberated on this, but it is one of the many things we need
I agree with that. One of the things I know from reading press
reports, which may not be accurate, is that the Committee has
been looking at the number of Members and their full-timeness
or otherwise. That may be something that goes into its report.
I have one observation, which is that a lot of the people you
read about, people with a reputation, in the best sense of that
word, absolutely fit the description of the sort of people that
Lord Trimble mentioned as people who would be particularly able
to get elected under STV as they are people with a reputation
whom the public would look at and think, "Yes, this is the
sort of person who brings something to Parliament, who brings
experience, and is the sort of person I want to elect". I
do not know whether they would want to be elected, but they sound
like the sort of people who would be perfectly capable of getting
elected in the system that we have set out.
I think that they would like to be elected but they would not
want to go through an election. That is the real point. There
is a big difference between those two things.
All Members of the House of Commons want to get elected, but I
am not sure how many of them actually enjoy the process of election.
The Chairman: If you are a very distinguished doctor, you
have the choice. You do not have to get elected.
I am told there is one question
that I have to ask you so the clerks can go on beavering away.
It is on disqualification. Clause 36(4) envisages that the House
of Lords may, by resolution, modify the disqualification regime
for elected Members. This resolution will be given effect by an
Order in Council. Clause 38(3) states that an Order in Council
can list offices that will not disqualify appointed Members. What
is the effect of this different approach? Is it appropriate for
the reformed House to decide its own disqualification regime in
respect of elected Members but not in respect of appointed ones?
Let me say what I think it says, but I will reserve a fuller answer
and write to the Committee.
The Chairman: Fairly
I think the distinction between the two in what we have set out
is to reflect partly the conversation we have just had. If you
are going to have appointed Members who have other interests and
may do other things, you may want to have a less restrictive regime
for disqualification than for elected Members. I think that is
the purpose of the difference, but I think it is probably safer
if I write and set it out in full for the benefit of members of
Thank you very much. We have four questions left. I ask Ms Coffey
to be brief.
Q760 Ann Coffey:
I will be as brief as everyone else. In this Committee, we have
talked a lot about House of Lords reform and how it impacts on
the House of Commons has been seen through the prism of primacy.
As a Member of the House of Commons, I have noticed over the years
that the way that the Government manage business through the House
of Commons and the House of Lords has undermined the House of
Commons for a very long time. What tends to happen is that Governments
of all colours have refused to accept amendments in Committee
then have subsequently made those amendments in the House of Lords
or have brought forward Government amendments. Everybody says,
"Isn't it wonderful that the House of Lords has managed to
overcome the deficiencies of this wretched Government and useless
Opposition?". That has caused undermining. Do you think that,
if we have an elected Lords in which there will be no overall
majority and in which the Government are going to have to manage
quite a lot of very difficult negotiations, it might encourage
the Government of the day to make sure that when Bills go through
the House of Commons sufficient time is given to scrutiny and
that proper amendments are accepted by Ministers in the House
of Commons so we do not have this situation where Members of the
House of Lords can then stand up and say that the House of Commons
did not scrutinise enoughor whatever it isand therefore
they are completing the job? I think that is more of an issue
than elections. I am very much in favour of an elected House of
Lords because I think that, in terms of public perception, that
is where we should be. Let us not pretend that the reality is
something other than it is.
I certainly recognise your characterisation of what a succession
of Governments do, when they give way on amendments and in which
House. I think that is more a function of the fact that the House
of Commons usually has a Government majorityusually a thumping
majorityand the House of Lords does not. I hope things
will improve with more elected Members of the House of Lords,
not least because I think you would get greater engagement up-stream,
so Governments would think carefully when they propose legislation
and engage at a very early stage. However, I do not think the
basic difference between one House where a Government has a socking
great majority and another which does not will necessarily be
changed by the fact of election itself.
My answer to your question is that I would hope so. Also, I think
it is worth remembering briefly what reforms are taking place
in the House of Commons to try to strengthen it. The things that
have happened already include electing Select Committees and the
Backbench Business Committee and, by the end of the third year
of the Parliament, there will be the move to a House business
committee, which will be quite significant because it will start
looking at the extent to which the Government get their way and
how you then manage time in Parliament.
Speaking for myself and for Conservative
colleagues, I think that having well drafted pieces of legislation,
perhaps even fewer pieces of legislation, is probably a good thing.
After all, if we solved all the problems of the world by passing
vast quantities of legislation through Parliament, over the past
13 years the country would have been a very happy place, and it
was not. This goes back to the point that Ms Sandys made that,
if you strengthen one House, you should not see that as a diminution
of the powers of the other House. The two Houses together would
be a more effective Parliament in holding the Executive to account,
which I think is a good thing. It makes life more difficult for
Ministers, and I expect any Ministers watching me say that will
probably stick pins in me, but it raises the bar, makes us work
harder and ultimately delivers better legislation, which is, after
all, what the public want us to do. I think your point is very
I have another point, Chairman.
A short one. I am concerned about the fact that there have been
two and a half hours so far.
Those of us who are asking questions at the end of the Committee
have waited patiently.
We have steeled ourselves.
Q761 Ann Coffey:
My second question is about the term of election. On the day that
you are elected, that is your moment of legitimacy, whether you
are elected for five years or 15 years. One of the things that
concerns people is standards in public life. I know the House
of Commons is considering a recall mechanism for Members of Parliament.
Do you think it might deal with the issue of getting elected and
then not giving a toss about what people think if you had a tougher
recall mechanism in the House of Lords? You cannot do it based
on the number of votes cast because they are going to be so vast.
That might be a way of reassuring people that people cannot get
elected to this place, offend the public by their behaviour and
then expect to stay elected Members.
Conceptually, I have a lot of sympathy for that view. If you take
the step of not standing for re-election for reasons that we have
said, it is a debatable point but our view has been that that
is a failsafe way of providing a distinction between one House
and the other. You are quite right. You need some kind of insurance
mechanism so that, if people go off the rails or do not give a
toss, they can be held to account. What kind of recall mechanism
you use is quite an important matter to consider in some detail
because the proposal we are putting forward for the House of Commons
is that it can be triggered by 10 per cent of the electorate in
your constituency signing a petition calling for a by-election,
in effect. I think that 10 per cent of a district of 2.5 million
or more just would not work. I think the principle is right, but
I would not recommend just carbon-copying the recall mechanism
in the House of Commons in a reformed House of Lords. I think
we need to have a different one, and that is where you would have
an opportunity to, arguably, set that threshold lower, if you
wanted to, precisely to provide reassurance that your vote would
not be wasted once you elected someone to serve for 15 years.
Q762 Baroness Scott of
Needham Market: This
evening has reflected months of deliberations, in that the key
question is the extent to which individuals' behaviour will be
changed by having a mandate and how that will alter things collectively.
I wonder whether you might like to reflect on the nature of the
mandate. It seems to me that it is very important to think about
what people have voted for when they have gone to the ballot box.
For example, if they are being asked to vote for people to carry
out a scrutiny and revision exercise, it would be very odd indeed
if they behaved in a Rookeresque way and drove the programme of
the House of Commons, which is elected to form a Government, into
the sands. I wonder whether you want to reflect on the importance
of the clarity of the mandate as a scrutinising and revising Chamber.
On that topic, I remain concerned
about the notion of holding elections to both Chambers on the
same day, not because people cannot understand the difference,
but it is difficult to get any oxygen for the secondary election.
I speak as someone who has fought three county council elections
on general election day. It is very difficult to get any oxygen
at all for those sorts of issues. If you want clarity that the
second Chamber is about revision and scrutiny, it makes that job
more difficult if you are holding the election on the same day
that you elect the Government.
On the last point, clearly there is a trade-off, which we reflected.
We think people are capable of dealing with two separate questions
on the same day. The evidence from the AV referendum last year,
which in many places was combined with a devolved election or
a local election, demonstrated that voters are very capable of
doing that, so I am not sure that I necessarily accept the premise.
Clearly, one of the things we have never tested is having two
national elections at the same time where, effectively, people
are submitting themselves to voters on different bases. However,
I think your starting point is the right one. If you are clear
about the role of the second Chamber and the basis on which you
are campaigning to get electedpicking up the point that
Lord Trimble madeit is not the same as somebody who is
getting elected to the House of Commons because you are not saying
to someone, "If you vote for me, and my party gets a majority,
we will form the Government". Whatever you are doing, that
is definitely not what you are doing. You are standing for election
on a different basis. As well as your party label, there is more
of a role for your personal characteristics and what you bring
to the role in doing that scrutiny and revision, which is exactly
why we chose the STV system which maximises the ability for candidates
to set out those qualities. As long as you are clear with people
about what the role is and is not, voters can make that judgment
Clearly, if you were a candidate in those elections, you would
not be presenting yourself as someone who was going to provide
a constituency service. You would, I guess, be seeking to portray
yourself as an individual who would be effective at holding Governments
to account and who has the expertise, wisdom, insight and background
that people generally want in Parliament. I think it would be
refreshing to try to bring the concept of scrutiny and revision
to life in political terms. So far, we have never had to explain
that to people in direct accessible language, and I think it would
be a good thing becausedare I say itit would help
dramatise the excellent work of the House of Lords in a way that
has never happened before.
Baroness Scott of Needham Market:
I agree absolutely, but that is the reason that I am nervous about
the dual election because I think it is very difficult to get
anybody to listen when they are choosing their Government. That
is what people are focused on, but I will leave it at that.
Q763 Lord Tyler:
My question follows the answer that has just been given. We have
had some insidious suggestionsnot from either of you but
from some witnesses and some evidence and possibly in one of the
questions todaythat, somehow, somebody who is elected cannot
have the independence of mind and expertise to do the job with
the scrutiny that it demands and so on. I would hope that you
would be able to reinforce the view that the people you see being
elected, quite apart from the ones who are appointed, could have
all those qualities in spades. There is nothing to prevent that;
indeed, it would put the parties on the spot and, to some extent,
if the STV option is selected, the voter on the spot, to identify
just such people.
That is a very good point. This is something that I said when
we had our full day's debate in the House of Commons. I know it
did not necessarily make me popular in the House of Lords. In
the debate on House of Lords reform, Lord Howe of Aberavon gave
an example of a debate on healthvery topical for todayand
said that in the House of Lords you have a number of people with
a lot of experience. If you look at the House of Commons, quite
a lot of people have done other things first. I thought of some
colleagues. We have people who are hospital doctors, such as Dr
Poulter, or who have been journalists, opticians, lawyers, accountants
or bankers. They do not suddenly lose all that knowledge and expertise
just because they have been elected, so I do not accept the premise
that everybody in the House of Commons comes with no skills, ability
However, your point is quite right.
If your role in the upper House is one of scrutiny and revision,
where you are bringing your qualities and expertise, they will
be one of the things that you will want voters to make a choice
about. The party you support will be less important because you
are not going to be putting the Government in position. I think
people rate more highly your personal qualities and what you bring.
Some of what Lord Trimble said of his experience of STV suggested
that some of those qualities are exactly the sort of things that
people will rate in an STV system.
Finally, Mr Hunt.
Q764 Tristram Hunt:
I will be very brief, Lord Chairman. Deputy Prime Minister, do
you accept the evidence we had from the Clerk of the House of
Commons, Robert Rogers, that he would find it very difficult to
foresee a reformed second Chamber with democratic legitimacy not
being able to take on finance Bills? Why would a second Chamber
limit itself in relation to finance Bills if it represents taxpayers?
The curtailment of the financial decision-making powers of the
House of Lords goes way back to the 17th century, a time when
the concept of democratic legitimacy was not around. I see no
reason why a partially or wholly elected Chamber would not still
maintain its division of labour.
Q765 Tristram Hunt:
What would be the rationale? Why?
Partly for all the reasons that we have set out. Without a renewable
term and with explicit revising and scrutiny tasks to fulfil,
the basic division of labour on financial matters between the
House of Commons and the House of Lords does not need to be usurped.
The Clerk of the House of Commons said that he could imagine an
elected House wanting to do that, but as I said before, it can
want all its likes, but the Parliament Acts set out very clearly
who is responsible for money Bills, and that position is not going
to change unless the House of Commons agrees. At some point in
the future, if the House of Commons wants to agree that the upper
House can have responsibility for money Bills, fine, but the point
is that the upper House cannot unilaterally decide it is going
to because the framework that is in place has made it very clear
who controls supply. The logic is that supplycontrol of
money, taxation and spendingshould go with the House that
determines who is in Government. Ultimately, being in Government
is about being able to raise taxes and spend money, so it is very
logical to say that the House to which the Government are responsible
is the House that is ultimately responsible for taxation and spending.
That is the logic that is underpinned by the Parliament Acts,
and we are not proposing to change that.
Lord Trimble: Have you seen the legal advice that we have
received that the Parliament Acts properly construed will not
apply to an elected House?
I have seen the argument that Lord Pannick set out, for example,
which is that it would be better to refer in the reform Act to
the Parliament Acts to reassert that they apply.
I think Lord Goldsmith was of the same opinion.
That was not the view that we took when we drafted our Bill, but
I think I have already said that we will look at the evidence
that you have received and what you say, and we will come to a
view about whether we think that backs it up.
Lord Trimble: This
is an argument about the interpretation of the Parliament Acts.
It is a legal point. We have had evidence from Lord Pannick and
Lord Goldsmith, but we are not the Court of Appealthank
Godand no doubt the Government will have their evidence.
In this context, I must say that we asked the Attorney-General
whether he would express a view on this, and were turned down
very flatly. He said it was his job to advise Governments, not
Select Committees of Parliament, which I am bound to say I thought
was a bit brusque. As a result of that, we turned to Lord Pannick
and Lord Goldsmith.
Notwithstanding that brusque response from the Attorney-General,
I think Mark and I have been very clear that the argument that
Lord Pannick and Lord Goldsmith made is a powerful one. It is
about the status of the Parliament Acts in a reformed House of
Lords rather than rewriting the provisions of those two Acts.
It is a legal issue, but we are very willing to look at the specific
recommendation that we write the Acts into the Bill or refer to
them in the Bill.
That is departing from the intention of Parliament when it enacted
the Parliament Acts. Its intention was clearly demonstrated.
Q767 The Chairman:
I have two other matters before we close the meeting. First, Mr
Harper, you were kind enough to write to me today offering to
produce a paper for the Committee on your thinking about Clause
2. We would be grateful if you could produce that paper, but as
you know, we are committed to producing our report by the end
of March. Therefore, to feed it into the processes of producing
that report, please can you do it fairly early?
Q768 The Chairman:
Finally, I just want to mention a monumental issue, which we have
not referred to, but I have been asked to mention it, so I will.
It is Scottish devolution and the referendum. As I understand
it, the proposal is that there will be a referendum in Scotland
in 2014, before the first tranche into the House of Lords in 2015.
If that referendum in Scotland is for independence, presumably
you will not have any elected Scottish Peers coming in in 2015.
If Scotland departs from the United Kingdom, what happens to the
House of Lords joins a long, long, long, long list including taxation,
defence and all the other things that we share at the moment in
the United Kingdom. A whole lot of unravelling would then have
to be done which would, of course, affect the way the House of
Lords functions but, like in so many other areas of public policy,
we have decided not to arrest life until that decision is made.
We think we just need to proceed on the basis that the United
Kingdom remains strong and whole.
I thank you both for coming. It was a fascinating session and
we are very grateful to you. I think you have exposed the Government's
thinking, and it has been very helpful to us.