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Lord Richard: It is not for me at this stage to argue with the Government about their White Paper. It may be within the knowledge of the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, that that is precisely what I have been doing ever since the White Paper was published.
Lord Waddington: Again, before the noble Lord sits down, surely he recognises that although St. Kilda might not have been quite so congenial as Bermuda, the situation has changed since those days because the Government have announced that they are prepared to put a voluntary restraint on the Prime Minister's power to make appointments to this place.
The Prime Minister has said that he is prepared to promise that he will not make appointments which will give him an absolute majority in the House. The only question is, as he said that in his own White Paper, what harm will be done by putting it in the Bill?
Lord Richard: The noble Lord has asked me a question which provokes me to respond to him. This is another example of what we have experienced throughout the whole Committee stage of the Bill from Members of the Committee opposite. They have said that all is perfectly safe and people could be relied on to behave well so long as there is a Conservative administration in No. 10 and so long as there are 350 hereditary Peers on their side of the Chamber. If that is the situation then they say that there is no need for those checks and no statutory provision needs to be made. They say that they do not need a Prime Minister voluntarily to agree that there should be some non-statutory curbs upon his power. They say that all will be well in those circumstances.
I am sorry, but I do not accept that. I do not believe that anybody else on this side of the Committee accepts that. If one starts on that basis, then the unreality of what is being proposed on the other side of the Committee becomes totally clear.
Viscount Bledisloe: I am concerned with the principle as to whether there should be a statutory commission for the appointment of independent Peers. I am not concerned about how the political appointments are made. Therefore, I am somewhat closer to the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, and the substance of his amendment although I am in no way concerned with the detail of any particular amendment. If, at the end of the day, the Government will tell us that they are happy to have a statutory body, then they should devise precisely how it is to be formed.
I am also not concerned with the party points made by the noble Lord, Lord Richard, for which I have a certain amount of sympathy. I should be making these points whichever party were bringing forward this Bill and whichever party was likely to be making the appointments.
The Government expressed the desire to maintain in the interim House--and I emphasise in the interim House--a substantial independent element. They have also expressed a willingness to have those who are appointed to fulfil that role recommended by persons other than the Prime Minister.
This Bill will reduce substantially the number of independent Members of the House and will reduce substantially the number of noble Lords opposite. Therefore, my submission is that it is a necessary element of this Bill to consider how that substantial independent element is to be maintained. With respect, I do not understand the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, that this matter does not arise under this Bill but is a matter only for stage two. This is a matter that concerns how the interim House is to be filled.
The common theme behind the amendments is that the commission which is to fulfil that role should be embodied in statute and should not be dependent on the particular wish of whoever may be the Prime Minister for the time being, because, if it is a voluntary body, a future Prime Minister can disband it and revert to absolute appointment.
Therefore, I suggest to the Committee that the concept of that commission is extremely necessary for the interim Chamber. It seems highly likely also that some such body will have a necessary role in the stage two House. If, as appears to be the wish of virtually everybody, that second stage House is to have a strong independent element, pace the report of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, that independent element must stem from some system of appointment and not from a wholly-elected Chamber.
Therefore, if, in the stage two House, there is to be an ongoing need for the appointment of an independent element, surely it is desirable now to start with a strong statutory body making those recommendations. Then, by the time stage two is for consideration, there will be practical experience of the working of that body which can enlighten the deliberations of stage two.
If the Government believe in that independent advisory body, I do not see why they should be reluctant in any way to put it on the statute book. That has the great advantage that a less high-minded government hereafter would not be able to abolish the idea at the whim of the Prime Minister. I very much hope that the Government will indicate not that they accept any particular amendment but that they accept the idea of a statutory body and will bring forward proposals at a later stage.
The Earl of Erroll: As a Cross-Bencher, I sometimes despair of the political point scoring which takes place. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Richard, about the past performance of some Tory policies. But--and I totally disagree with him--I am glad that they have finally seen the light because it provides a way forward.
The noble Lord, Lord Bach, summed up the concerns of many Members of the Committee and put them in a nutshell. The real problem with the Bill is that it cannot be assumed that future governments will be such pillars of moral rectitude as the present government. That temporary and interim House may have to last a very long time. Therefore, we must remove from future governments and Prime Ministers the power to manipulate the interim or transitional Chamber. If it is not on the face of the Bill, it is all too easy for a Prime Minister to change things in the name of efficiency when he really means expediency. For that reason, this should be a statutory provision.
Viscount Cranborne: Not for the first time, I listen to the noble Lord, Lord Richard, with a certain amount of sympathy. After all he, like me and, I suspect, a surprisingly large number of your Lordships, has been a business manager. As the noble Lord well knows, one of the main weapons at the disposal of any government--I suppose in your Lordships' House it might be the whisky bottle--is the power of patronage. Until fairly recently, if that power of patronage was exercised discreetly and was not abused beyond a certain amount--after all, the words "abuse" and "government" go together; otherwise the power of Parliament would not be as important as it is--then it has been thought perfectly acceptable, as the noble Lord implied, for the Government to exercise the power of patronage as a means of ensuring that their objectives are achieved. Of course, it is only when there are evident abuses of that power that problems arise. One does not want to get too far up to date for fear of being a little invidious, but the history of the last administration of Lloyd-George would perhaps do as an example. I have a certain amount of sympathy, as part of the former business managers' club, with the sentiments that the noble Lord expressed.
The difficulty for a number of Members of the Committee on this side when considering this pragmatic and rather eighteenth century view of politics, some of which has persisted until the present day--there is every sign, particularly in view of what the noble Lord said, that it persists with the present Government--is that before it came to power the Labour Party took a rather different view. I would not mind betting that one of the reasons why people viewed the imminent arrival of a Labour Government with something like equanimity was that the Labour Party had persuaded a large part of the electorate that the Tory government of which I was a member were enmired in sleaze and that the whole system needed cleaning up. I see the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, nodding. I assume that she not only agrees about the need to clean up but also that that was one of the reasons why the Labour Party won the election.
I well remember how the noble Lord, in some of his more eloquent speeches from the Dispatch Box, when I was quaking in my boots about how I was going to reply to his barbs, made very great play of this disgraceful exercise of power of patronage and of sleaze generally.
It is for that reason, I suspect, that we on this side of the Committee would like to see the Government put their money where their mouth was when they wrote the manifesto, when undertakings were given by the right honourable gentleman the Prime Minister, and when the noble Lord, Lord Richard, was Leader of the Opposition. It seems to me perfectly consistent, as my noble friend Lord Waddington said, for us to ask as an opposition that the Government do that, not because we think we are guiltless, but because it seems to us perfectly sensible for any opposition to hold the government to their word.
I quite understand what the noble Lord, Lord Richard, says. As the House knows by experience, he is a very frank individual. He has been very frank about his disagreements with his own party on the matter of reform of your Lordships' House. It is perfectly plain by implication that the Government are beginning to enjoy the exercise of power. That is what governments do, and part of the exercise of power is a power of patronage. It is very easy therefore for them to suggest that what has been done is enough. A concession has been made; a nod in the direction of their former rhetoric has been made; and that is enough, because the practicalities of government mean that the power of patronage must continue to be exercised at least in some measure.
I do not believe that that is consistent with what has gone before. It is therefore perfectly legitimate for us to ask, as my noble friend Lord Crickhowell asked: under what authority will this commission be established? It sounds as though it will be established under royal prerogative. It also sounds as though the Government, like all governments, are growing to love the idea of preserving what is left of the royal prerogative for the reason I have given.
I hope also that the Government will deal with the question to which by implication both my noble friends addressed themselves in their different ways. Why is the commission only to concern itself with the Cross Benches? I am sure the answer will be that Peers taking the party whip should rightly be appointed at the suggestion of party leaders. We also know that some of the rhetoric of the Labour Party over past years has questioned whether the strength of scrutiny of names put forward by party leaders has been quite sufficient. Surely it is sensible for any names submitted by party leaders to be scrutinised by an authoritative commission of this kind. I should be very interested to know from the noble Lord, if indeed it is he who will be replying, why he feels that at least some role should not be played by the commission in the appointment of all new Peers if consistency is to be maintained with the rhetoric we have heard.
I hope we shall be told when the Government expect to appoint the commission and how its members will be appointed because inevitably, as my noble friends explained, the question quis custodiet must arise in any consideration of the proposal. I hope too that the Government will talk not only about transparency but also about how the recommendations themselves will be made. Will the commission draw up lists? Will it be possible for people to submit names? I hope too that it might be considered helpful if the public were encouraged to make submissions in the same way as they have been encouraged by both parties to make submissions on the Honours List in another context.
It would be very helpful if the noble Lord, when he comes to reply, could answer not only those questions but above all the question: why not put it on the face of the Bill? The Government have been adamant in their refusal so far. Perhaps they can be induced to think again.