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Lord Stanley of Alderley: My Lords, I see that he is. Over the past 28 years I have had the privilege to move amendments to 78 different Bills. This will be the last, which I fully realise will be a great relief to the Government and no doubt to many, if not most, of my own Front Bench. I beg to move.
Lord Peston: My Lords, I am sure we are all indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, and the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, for tabling this amendment. There is nothing much of interest or seriousness on the Marshalled List of amendments and as we have many hours ahead of us we may as well go into one of our favourite modes which is that of a sixth form debating society. This is precisely the kind of thing that is so beloved by sixth formers.
In introducing the amendment the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, did not feel that he had any obligation to meet the kind of point that the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, had made; namely, of telling us what he meant by experience and expertise, or telling us how we determine that separately from politics. My experience of life has been--notice that I use the word--that those who most protest that they are not political and are not committed always turn out to behave in a definite and particular way. I remember when I was a student at the London School of Economics that one of the most famous professors said that he always considered all problems on their merits. A brave student piped up and said, "Yes, and then you always end up voting Conservative!"
I take a dim view of this kind of amendment. I think that it is insulting to those who devote themselves to politics. Speaking as a party hack who always loyally supports my own Front Bench, I have never felt that it was disreputable for someone to say, "I devote my life to politics". Indeed I do not see how parliamentary democracy can work without people who are committed to politics. I am less enamoured than some Peers of the Cross-Benchers. I am much more enamoured of the committed political Peers who take a party Whip and make a contribution in a definite and positive way.
I have two further remarks. It seems to me that my noble friend the Leader of the House was quite right; namely, this is not the time--nor in this Bill--for this kind of amendment. Further, once you start to go down this line, you end up with essentially unworkable amendments. As I say, I think that it is useful to occupy the hours with this kind of debate because I cannot see that the other amendments are useful. But subject to filling out the time, I really do think that it is about time this Bill is passed into law.
It is our duty as a House--and indeed I believe it to be the duty of the interim Chamber--to review, revise and improve on the quality of draft legislation. I am not disrespectful of full-time politicians. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Peston, for whom we have much admiration, that they play a useful part. I have no hesitation in saying that I was a full-time politician for 10 years of my life and I believe that that will be an essential ingredient of the House. However, I also believe--I hope that your Lordships will agree with this--that an added ingredient of this House, as opposed to another Chamber, is that it gives a wide breadth of experience outside politics which is necessary for the revision of draft legislation. There are plenty of examples all around the House. I refer to the Labour Benches and the noble Viscount, Lord Chandos, with his experience of the City. If he is not part of the interim House, his experience will be missed.
I believe that the last thing this House wants to become is a cosy cartel of professional politicians. I believe that we also want Peers who do not attend on an every day basis. I think that those who attend infrequently are listened to and are well respected. They have played an important part in this Chamber. I hope that a similar kind of Peer will be included in the interim Chamber.
Over many years my noble friend Lord Stanley and I have tabled amendments together, when in opposition in the 1970s and when in government in the 1980s. It has been a great pleasure to work with him. I believe that the whole House will miss my noble friend. I tried to persuade him to put his name into "the hat" but the House will be the poorer for his going. I think that the least one can do is to pay tribute to him by accepting this amendment.
The Earl of Kinnoull: My Lords, I support this amendment. Amendment No. 14 is drafted in parallel terms. It has one major difference; namely, that it includes mixed ages. When we are talking about a criterion--
Lord Carter: My Lords, I believe that we have degrouped Amendment No. 14, as I believe that the noble Lord wished. Therefore I think that it would be better to discuss Amendment No. 14 when we reach that amendment.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I echo briefly the closing words of my noble friend Lord Caithness when he paid tribute to my noble friend Lord Stanley of Alderley who has been such a distinguished Member of this House for so long and has brought his real expertise, knowledge, understanding, and--dare I say, as a former government chief whip--independent nature to this House. As the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, will remember well, on more than one occasion the Conservative government lost a measure
It is in that tone that I express my great respect for both my noble friends who have put forward their ideas. The aim of the amendment is one that I can sympathise with; namely, to ensure that the House retains the broad spectrum of rounded experience that it has always had. We do not want to become a House of professional politicians fawning on ministerial answers and proposing laudatory Motions in praise of whoever happens to be the Prime Minister of the day. I understand that the Government have said that they want a more representative House, but at times that has seemed to mean little more than obedience to the political correctness of whoever is Prime Minister.
We have proposed a new, open, independent and statutory system of appointment. For the life of me I cannot understand why the Government seem unwilling to accept it wholeheartedly. After all, they said they wanted it and the Labour Party's propaganda states that the Prime Minister has given up patronage already. It does not feel like it from where I am looking or, I imagine, from where some noble Lords on the other side sit.
When he winds up, I hope that the Government Chief Whip will confirm that the Government want a broad range of experience and accept that the spirit of the amendment is right. I know what my noble friends intend in moving the amendment--we should all sympathise with it--and I wish I could be confident that the Government will accept it.
The amendment also gives your Lordships an opportunity to ask the Government some direct questions about the appointments commission, questions that so far they have not begun to answer. Can the Government Chief Whip confirm that the Government will follow the lines put forward by the House in the amendment that has been accepted into the Bill? Will they set up a statutory commission or will it be run at the whim of the Prime Minister? Are they preparing a commission already? If not, why not? When do the Government propose to have the commission in place? Will it be ready to deal with recommendations that are put forward by the Prime Minister for the New Year's Honours List?
It will not have escaped the notice of the House that it was recently mentioned in the press--it may or may not be true--that the New Year's Honours List in recognition of the millennium will be very substantial and that we can expect a number of new Members.
It is important that these questions are answered today. My noble friends are entirely correct to have probed this matter. If the Government stay silent behind promises that have already passed their expiry date, the suspicion will grow that they do not want an appointments commission until they have appointed a House that suits their purposes. That would greatly damage the House.
Lord Carter: My Lords, before I turn to the amendments and deal with the remarks of the Leader of the Opposition, perhaps I may pay a further tribute, on behalf of these Benches and personally, to the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley. He referred to the amendments and the changes to Bills that he has made in the past. He will remember that we shared some amendments with which we defeated the previous government on agriculture Bills. I remember particularly one important amendment on rural housing. He said that he could tell whether a farm was any good from a few moments' conversation. I prefer to look at the crops and livestock.
Turning to the points raised by the Leader of the Opposition in regard to the appointments commission, we have made our intentions absolutely clear: it will be set up under the Nolan rules; it will be non-statutory and a public body; and it will be set up as soon as practicable after the passing of the Bill. The insertion of Clause 3 into the Bill has delayed the setting up of the commission. Clause 3 introduced into the Bill an incompatible provision. We were advised that it was improper on constitutional grounds to proceed with a different approach while Clause 3 remained in the Bill. That is the advice we received. The insertion of Clause 3 has delayed the setting up of the appointments commission. It is not for me to comment on the possible contents of the New Year's Honours List.
As the noble Lord said, Amendment No. 13 seeks to draw continued attention to the desirability that the House of Lords should continue to contain a significant non-political element. As with the last group of amendments, we regard this issue as more of a private one between noble Lords opposite and their own Front Bench, who supported the insertion of Clause 3 into the Bill. The succession of amendments demonstrates just how badly the clause was drafted. As we pointed out on Report when noble Lords moved an amendment which would have obliged the appointments commission to ensure that 50 per cent of the House had non-political expertise, there seem to us to be formidable problems of definition in the approach. How does one decide what "experience of" and "expertise in" mean? How recent does it have to be? How full time? To continue the farming analogy, is it based on conversations the appointments commission may have with potential Members of the House, or does it look at their crops and livestock--that is, at their practical experience?
The amendment simply requires the appointments commission to report on whether the criteria have been met. It does not say what it is to do about it if they have not been met. There is no provision for saying that the commission must immediately nominate sufficient Cross-Bench Peers to meet the requirement; nor could the appointments commission prevent the parties making further nominations on their own account which could dilute the non-political element again.
On the whole, unlike the previous group of amendments, we consider that this provision will--to paraphrase an expression often used by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde--make a bad clause worse. I would advise the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment. As with previous amendments, if he wishes to ask the House to include it in the clause, we shall not resist.
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