Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Waddington: I do not believe that the question of why I changed my mind, if I did change my mind, has anything to do with the amendment. In the amendment, I am saying that if the Government are telling this House that it is their intention to have a House in which there is no party with an overall majority, let the Government put their money where their mouth is and put in the Bill which they are asking us to pass a clear statement of their own intentions.

That is what is important, not my own views on this. If the noble Lord wants my own views, he will note that I stated them in an earlier speech. The fact is that we are creating a much smaller House and one which it would be much easier to manipulate. We are creating a House over which it would be much easier for the Prime Minister of the day to gain control simply because he would not have to make many new appointments in order to achieve an absolute majority. That is how the position has changed, but what matters is the Government's own intentions.

Lord Bach: When the noble Lord was Chief Whip, the Prime Minister had complete control over the majority in this House. Is that not right?

Lord Waddington: I do not follow the purpose of the noble Lord's question. Perhaps he will tell us later in the debate why he expects us to have such faith in the Government's claim that they are bound to get through Parliament a second stage Bill and that it is quite unnecessary for us to write into this Bill what the Government say are their own intentions. Perhaps later the noble Lord will be able to tell us what would be the disadvantage to the Government if they wrote into this

13 May 1999 : Column 1350

Bill their own intentions. What are the Government afraid of? Perhaps we shall hear that from the noble Baroness the Lord Privy Seal.

Lord Crickhowell: My Amendment No. 86 is grouped with this amendment. Although all the amendments in the group propose a statutory appointments commission, they cover a wide field and have different objectives. As my noble friend Lord Waddington has made clear, his amendment translates the Government's intentions into a statutory form. However, the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Lamont, who is not in his place, proposes to impose a cap on the number of creations. I have some sympathy with that proposal. These amendments, and the amendment of my noble friend Lord Lucas, propose the setting up of an appointments commission to deal with the appointment of all life Peers.

My Amendment No. 86 has a more restricted and specific intention. The commission that I propose is concerned only with the appointment of Cross-Bench Peers. It is intended to carry into effect in statutory form the Government's declared policy set out in Chapter 6, "The Appointments Commission", of the White Paper, which we now understand from the noble Baroness the Leader of the House is in official racing colours. Paragraph 9 recognises,


    "the tremendous contribution made ... by the independent cross-bench peers". It adds:


    "There is no reason why the Prime Minister of the day should control the nominations to the cross benches." The Government therefore propose that there should be an "advisory non-departmental public body", which


    "will operate an open and transparent nominations system for cross-bench peers".

So far, so good. But, incredibly, this independent appointments commission is to be established by the Government, by the Prime Minister, and not by statute. That is an extraordinary, and to me completely unacceptable, proposal. The nature of the commission, the way in which its chairman and members are appointed, the objectives it is given, and the rules under which it operates, should be, must be, a matter for Parliament, not the Prime Minister and the Government.

If there is any responsibility that should be removed from the hands of the Prime Minister and the Government, it is surely that which embraces the appointment of Cross-Bench Peers. I go further than the White Paper's statement:


    "There is no reason why the Prime Minister of the day should control the nominations to the Cross-Benches". There are a multitude of compelling reasons why he should not do so, but there are equally compelling reasons why he should be distanced from--I go further; why there should be a wide and unbridgeable gulf between him and--the body tasked with the responsibility of nominating Cross-Bench Peers.

Having been the chairman of a non-departmental public body established by statute, I inquired under what provisions the commission would be appointed by the Prime Minister. The Library tells me that because it is

13 May 1999 : Column 1351

advisory and not executive, and because its expenditure will be small, it can be set up by the Prime Minister, just as the Nolan Committee was set up. I accept that advice. But it is not a technical reason that moves me to propose the amendment. It is surely a matter of the utmost constitutional importance that Parliament should, in this Bill, provide the statutory authority for the commission.

No doubt I shall be told that the present Prime Minister is a person of absolute integrity and that all kinds of rules of propriety will be observed. But the fact is that the present Prime Minister and his successors are political animals. It is no criticism of their integrity to say that their judgments are inevitably influenced by their political views and aims.

I have been a Minister responsible for appointing the members of quangos. I have also been the chairman of a very large quango. Appointments to quangos involve the exercise of judgments about individuals. However honourable the intentions, appointments may involve bias; and even if they do not, the world outside may believe that they do. Public perception is as important as the reality.

Furthermore, I have learnt from experience that Ministers and their civil servants have a thousand subtle, and sometimes far from subtle, ways of seeking to influence the actions of quangos that they have set up, even though the quangos are supposed to be independent. Whitehall hates independence. The more independent-minded the quango, the more determined is Whitehall to quell that independence and regain control.

It may or may not be right for a Prime Minister to appoint the chairman of a Royal Commission to consider the future of the House of Lords, a European Commissioner of another party, or the leader of the devolved Assembly in Wales. It is certainly wrong that he should have any say in, or influence over, the appointment to a commission that will recommend who should be Cross-Bench Peers.

My new clause makes it clear that the commission should have regard to all the desirable objectives about breadth of membership that the Government set out in the White Paper and the Labour Party recommended in its evidence to the Royal Commission. I find it hard to believe that the Minister can object to the principles behind my amendment.

There is, however, one aspect on which I am particularly anxious to hear the views of the whole Committee. I refer to the question of membership. In subsection (2) I propose a membership designed to guarantee independence, but with the Cross-Bench Peers themselves given a major say in the appointment process. There is plenty of room for variety.

My noble friend Lord Waddington proposes for his commission a membership consisting solely of Privy Counsellors appointed by the Prime Minister. I toyed with the idea of Privy Counsellors, but not with the idea that they should be chosen by the Prime Minister. My noble friend Lord Lucas makes an alternative suggestion.

13 May 1999 : Column 1352

I have not fixed irrevocably on my particular solution. This debate provides an opportunity to test the Committee's views on the subject. That is the principal reason why I do not intend to seek to press my amendment to a vote tonight. But before the Bill leaves the House of Lords, such an amendment must be incorporated into it. I have proposed something which I think fulfils the intentions that the Government have set out. It seems to me absolutely essential that on this crucial matter of the appointment of Cross-Bench Peers the commission must be controlled by Parliament, must be seen to be wholly independent and must be separated entirely from the actions of the government of the day. Therefore, I give proper warning now that, having considered the views of the Committee on the detail, particularly on the nature of the appointments to the commission, I shall certainly want to return at a later stage and press to a vote an amendment with similar objectives.

Lord Richard: With great respect to the two noble Lords who have just spoken, there was an air of almost total political unreality about their speeches. They were both members of the Cabinet of the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher. A vision came to my mind of the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, as Chief Whip, and the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, as Secretary of State for Wales, and perhaps other noble Lords, saying to the then Prime Minister, "We are very worried about maintaining the independence of the Cross Benches in the upper Chamber. Therefore, Prime Minister, we think that you should now accept a statutory curb upon your right to appoint Cross-Benchers". I would merely say to the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, that he would not have been appointed Governor of Bermuda, but of St. Kilda--and I suspect that the tenure of the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, in the Principality would have been somewhat curtailed.

There has never been this sort of curb upon the power of the Prime Minister. The noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, says that he is merely setting out what is in the Labour manifesto. I refer him to subsection (5) of the new clause that he proposes in Amendment No. 86. The manifesto sensibly proposed that there should be an advisory committee. I hope that the Committee will accept that. But what is the noble Lord's proposal? It is that,


    "The Prime Minister shall not have the right to refuse a recommendation of the Commission". That is a strange advisory commission. For the first time that I can recall--I am pretty sure I am right about this--a Prime Minister would be voluntarily offering some public curbs--not statutory; and they should not be statutory--on his right to appoint people to the House of Lords.

For the first time, he has said that, in relation to the Cross-Benchers, in order to preserve independence and to secure a reasonable cross-section of people sitting on the Cross-Benches, that should go first to an independent appointments commission. With great respect to the noble Lord, you cannot expect a government to go further than that.

13 May 1999 : Column 1353

Therefore, I come back to where I started. There is an air of political unreality about the way in which the two noble Lords are attempting to entrench in statutory form that which the Prime Minister has offered voluntarily. That is wrong and if there is a Division, I trust that Members of the Committee on this side at least will oppose the amendment.

7 p.m.

Lord Crickhowell: I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. He made a great deal of the freedom of the Prime Minister to make the appointments and the need for that body to be advisory. I have based my amendment entirely on what the Government said in the White Paper. That states specifically that the Prime Minister will have no right to refuse a nomination that the commission had passed. It is for that reason that I included that phrase in my amendment. If the noble Lord feels as his words suggest, he should be arguing against his own Government's White Paper and not against my amendment.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page