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Lord Hurd of Westwell: My Lords, I am having some difficulty following the noble Lord. I should be grateful if he could clarify a point. In all parties, certainly in the two main parties and possibly in the Liberal Democrat Party, there are distinguished people who might well be an ornament and of great use to a second Chamber but who, for one reason or another--or perhaps only temporarily--are at odds with the party leadership on an issue. Is the noble Lord saying that the appointments commission should not be able to select such people simply because they are temporarily at odds with the leadership of their own party?
Lord Ezra: My Lords, I do not believe that the appointments commission should make the decision about who would be considered to join the reformed Chamber on a political basis. That should be for the parties to propose. If, in due course, those selected in that way--as at present--were to express different opinions, so be it. That is the normal course of democracy. But I see difficulties in the appointments
When it comes to the election of the regional representatives, one might ask a few questions. First, I believe that the electorate is growing rather tired of the number of elections in which it has to take part. I cannot see that an election for a minority of a second Chamber, which is basically an advisory Chamber, would excite a great deal of popular interest. If we went ahead with such a proposal and the turn-out at the polls was extremely low, it would be an unfortunate basis on which to start the reformed House.
Secondly, bearing in mind that this is a step in an evolutionary process, I cannot see why the arguments so eloquently advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, for the nomination of the bulk of the Members of the reformed House do not apply equally to the regional Members. For example, there could be regional appointment commissions which would take account of party nominations and collect proposals for independent nominations representing regional opinion which could be put forward in the overall context of the membership of the House.
I pose such questions on the assumption that this is an evolutionary step and that at some later date, when we have reviewed the parliamentary institution in its totality, we may well want to introduce an electoral element, either in whole or in part, to this House. But I believe that the House would be more cohesive--a quality to which the commission attaches a great deal of importance--if, at this stage, all Members were appointed on an objective basis and we reserved the option to review the situation in a wider context at a later date.
Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, there is at least one matter on which I can agree with the noble Lord, Lord Ezra. We both seem to agree that it would have been more sensible for any reform of Parliament to have begun with another place rather than here and to have set reform in that context. Unfortunately, as I believe the noble Lord acknowledged by implication, such an avenue of proceeding is not open to us. Therefore, we must make do with the rather restricted attack on the existing weaknesses of Parliament which the Government have allowed us. That is, in all conscience, narrow enough.
This will be an extremely long, although interesting, debate. I suspect that an exhaustive analysis of my noble friend's report would not endear me to your Lordships. Therefore, what I say is bound to be a little impressionistic. I apologise for any imprecision which may arise from that.
I strongly agree with a great deal of what my noble friend has produced. Although there is much I could list in that respect, I believe that my noble friend will accept that any dissent I express during the course of my remarks does not in any way undermine the
Nevertheless, I should be less than frank if I did not say that there at least parts of the report with which I feel compelled to quibble. I applaud the fact that the commission began by asking itself what was the function of your Lordships' House. That seems entirely sensible for obvious reasons. As I have ventured to suggest to your Lordships previously in what seems to be an endless series of debates on the future of this place, it has always seemed to me that, apart from all the other things which your Lordships' House does so well and elegantly, it has one central and crucial role which on its own justifies the existence of the second Chamber in our complementary system: that is, if I do not put it too crudely, to make another place do its job properly.
One need only examine the events of the past 20 years under governments of both complexions to realise that the government of the day almost always controls another place. One direct result of that fact, particularly with the increasing professionalisation of the composition of another place, to which my noble friend alluded in his remarks, is, as many Members of your Lordships' House are wont to observe with almost excessive regularity, the enormous amounts of ill-digested legislation and the failure in another place to hold governments to account on non-legislative matters. As a result, it seems that the authority of governments suffers in the long term and that Parliament is increasingly held in contempt by the general public. Indeed, as power is stripped from Parliament and given to other institutions--to judges, the European Union and the devolved Parliaments--I cannot help wondering whether people will increasingly begin to ask themselves whether Parliament in its decline is worth defending at all.
Perhaps--this is perhaps indulgent and idle speculation--institutions are rather like lazy individuals. Perhaps they need to show their work to others in order to maintain its quality. I suspect that another place is like any other institution in that respect. If that is so, is it not also true that in our system your Lordships' House is the only institution available between general elections to which formally another place can show up its work? Above all, if we are to perform that task, as I believe my noble friend and his colleagues pointed out so ably, this House needs two characteristics: authority and independence.
Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Richard, whom I am delighted, but not surprised, to see in his place, I believe that the old House had independence, but in the view of the public and in its own estimation it no longer possessed the authority to exercise that independence. Despite what is now known admirably by the phrase coined by my noble friend Lord Strathclyde as the "Jay doctrine", I doubt whether the present House possesses that authority either. Although the noble Baroness clearly stated many times during the course of our debates on the House of Lords Act that the present House would have more authority, her own colleagues have equally clearly
Therefore, I was delighted that the Royal Commission recognised the importance of both independence and authority. I was equally pleased that it emphasised that the House should have a role as a constitutional longstop, as a quality controller of legislation, including European Union legislation and, as another place realistically cannot and cannot be expected to look beyond the next election, as a thinker about the medium and long term. I venture to suggest that in the past the House has played a distinguished and important role in that context.
My difficulty is that I cannot see either in the powers that it envisages for the new House or its membership that the Royal Commission endows it with enough authority to perform the task that it quite properly assigns to it. In view of the admirable objective that the Royal Commission posits of giving the House a useful role as a constitutional longstop, I find it difficult to see how any irreversible and major constitutional change can legitimately take place in our constitutional system unless it is endorsed in a post-legislative referendum. As your Lordships have discovered, a pre-legislative referendum is a way of emasculating parliamentary scrutiny, which is one of the reasons why this Government have been so addicted to that particular device.
The Royal Commission rightly sees a difficulty in deciding what constitutes a major change and who decides whether or not there is a major constitutional change in view. With the greatest respect to my noble friend, I venture to wonder whether it need have worried. Clearly, it cannot be a matter for another place to make that decision. After all, a number of your Lordships will agree with me that most of the time another place is controlled by the government of the day, who are not in a position, if they are promoting that particular constitutional reform, to be judge and jury.
I suggest a little special pleading--we are becoming used to that with this Government--that courage and common sense should put the power of exercising that judgment in your Lordships' House as the constitutional longstop. If we had the courage to do that, I suspect that the country as a whole would be grateful for our role in completing the circle in any major constitutional change so that a view can be taken about whether or not it that should be implemented after the legislation has been through both Houses of Parliament.
I could give your Lordships many other examples where I would make the same quibble. One is the suggested three-month power of delay for secondary legislation which to me does not seem to be strong enough. I venture to agree with my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition in his suggestions in that regard, but as ever I see, looking at the clock, that time is my enemy.
The authority that seems to be the characteristic that is so important to your Lordships' House, as the report makes clear, can come only from composition. Here, too, I agree with my noble friend's analysis, but I wonder whether his prescription is quite powerful enough. I wonder whether it is sensible to have quite so small and so circumscribed an elected proportion. My personal preference is for 50 per cent because it is easier to hold the figure at 50 per cent than to slide into an overwhelming majority of elected Members or to make the figure less than 50 per cent. That figure gives a nice equilibrium which is more difficult to assault with thin-end-of-the-wedge tactics. Equally, there is a danger that the elected element will become as much slaves of the Whips as are Members of another place, a point that has been made consistently during the course of this debate.
If the matter of election were simplified to a single 15-year non-renewable term, that would do much to alleviate the problem and would lighten the burden of the Whips on any party member. That would also make it more difficult for us to claim that we had a more recent mandate than another place, a point made by the noble Baroness who has just spoken.
I also accept that there should be a high proportion of nominated Members. Such Members would carry a different kind of authority, as many noble Lords have pointed out, from the elected membership. I believe that their expertise and experience would not reduce their standing below that of their elected colleagues, which I understand was something that worried some members of the Royal Commission. Indeed, it is perhaps disrespectful of me to say this about tribunes of the people, but from anecdotal observation I wonder whether one could not come to the opposite conclusion: that the authority of the elected Members may suffer in comparison with the performance and qualifications of the nominated Members.
I hope that the Government can be persuaded that the quickest way in which they can destroy the standing of the House after reform is to pay us, to give us enormous research facilities, big offices and staff. I suspect that that is one thing that has done more to destroy the standing of the House of Commons with its constant and undignified scrabble for increases in all such matters, ending with the greatest sign of a declining enterprise that I know of, a new building.
A number of noble Lords have suggested, if only to dismiss it, that all the work of my noble friend and his colleagues may be academic. People say that another place will not want to give us more power. They do not recognise the force of the paradox, as I certainly do, that for another place to be more effective, it must be checked effectively. Governments certainly do not subscribe to that view; and we would give them even more trouble than we do now if we were to do that.
We know that stage two cannot be implemented before the next Parliament, as I believe that the Government have implied. I regret that. It may be that for whoever wins the next general election, the will to do something will have evaporated.
The greatest difficulty is that identified by my noble friend Lord Strathclyde. With his usual candour, he made it clear that no single party--I was to make an exception of the Liberal Democrats until I heard the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, speak--can agree on how to reform the House. My party is split--if I have heard aright down the corridor--and I believe that the Labour Party is also split. The danger is that in spite of the incentive to the Government represented by the 92 hereditary Peers--I was delighted to hear the Leader of the House acknowledge them--nothing at all will happen. I believe, as I have always tried to make clear, that that would be a terrific wasted opportunity. We must try to keep the momentum going, without a stitch-up between the Front Benches of the three main parties of the kind suggested by the Government.
One way forward would be to set up the Joint Committee now with a wider remit than the one suggested by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, and we should use it as a matter of urgency with good will--certainly from my party--as an anvil on which to forge a consensus for progress. My only proviso is that the committee should sit in public so that those who are interested can see what is going on and help to influence it. I fear that unless something of the kind is done, we shall miss a golden opportunity to improve the performance not just of your Lordships' House, but of both Houses of Parliament, and so let our central, national, political institution sink further into contempt and perhaps even ruin.
Lord Butler of Brockwell: My Lords, I am grateful to have had the opportunity of serving on this Royal Commission. It was a privilege to be engaged on such a task and a pleasure to serve with such colleagues and under such a chairman. I have, of course, known and worked with the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, for many years. Even so, his wisdom, charm and skill never fail to impress me. I also endorse what the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, said about the contribution of the secretariat. Its work made me proud of the profession in which I served my career.
My sympathy with the Government's decision to reform your Lordships' House in at least two stages has been reinforced by the reactions to the Royal Commission's report. The commentators, understandably, start from first principles rather than from where we are. For some, the only legitimate basis for a House of Parliament is democratic election. For others, it is anathema to have a second elected House with the same claims to legitimacy as the first.
In the light of the reactions to the report, it is easy to see why previous attempts at reform of your Lordships' House failed to surmount in one leap the two hurdles of abolishing hereditaries and deciding how a successor House should be constituted. Indeed, there are logically only three bases for composing your Lordships' House--or perhaps three-and-a-half if one includes lottery, which I beg leave to exclude today. The three are a fully elected House, a fully appointed
Impaled on the horns of that dilemma--or perhaps I should say "trilemma"--the Royal Commission started, I believe rightly, by asking itself what value this House should be expected to add. Surely the House of Lords should add value by bringing a perspective not necessarily supplied by the House of Commons. The House of Commons is representative of all areas of the United Kingdom, but does it fairly represent, for example, the nation in terms of gender? Not necessarily, and certainly not hitherto. Does it represent fairly ethnic origin? Not necessarily, and certainly not hitherto. Is it representative of a broad range of interests in the country? As time goes on, less and less. Do its Members have sufficient independence to exercise their judgment free of party control? Whatever its merits, nobody can say that of the other House.
That broad range of representation and that independence is something valuable which your Lordships' House can add to Parliament. In practice, it can only be achieved by appointment. In theory it could be achieved by indirect election by interest groups. But the practical problems of indirect election rehearsed in the report--problems inherent in selecting the groups to be represented and ensuring election methods of sufficient validity for conferring membership of Parliament--in practice rule out that option.
I accept--the Royal Commission accepted--that appointment, however objectively carried out, however wise the appointees, can never confer as much legitimacy as a democratic ballot. But since it is also common ground that the second House should, except in a very few matters, ultimately defer to the elected House, that is not a decisive objection.
But there is another thing which the second House should do; something particularly important in the present fissiparous state of the United Kingdom. It should be a House in which all parts of the United Kingdom have a voice. That element does, in my view, need election so that the citizens of the different parts of the country can feel that they have had a role in putting in the House people to speak for their interest. There are examples of second chambers elsewhere in the world where the absence of such an element has led to disillusion.
That leads inevitably to a House of mixed composition and raises two further questions. How big should the elected element be? How can the danger of two classes of Member be minimised? As to the size of the elected element, I am among those who feel that it should be relatively small, at least to begin with. And that for three reasons.
First, as I said, it is there for a specific purpose--to enable all parts of the United Kingdom to feel represented and that, though an important role, is only one role of the House. The second and more pragmatic
However, since commentators have made much of the fact that the Royal Commission produced three options, perhaps I can say that any number within the three options recommended by the commission--that is, between 65 and 195--would be acceptable to me and I believe to most members of the commission, though my preference was for a smaller number.
As to the problem that the presence of both elected and appointed Members may lead to two classes of Member, it seems to me essential that once people are Members of your Lordships' House, by whatever route they have arrived, they should be Members on terms which are as similar as possible. It is worth reminding the House that we are used to a situation in which Members of this House have entered it by the hereditary and life peerage routes and have co-existed happily together. So the commission recommended that new Members, whether elected or appointed, should serve for 15 years and both should only stay on if appointed to do so by the appointments commission. In other words, once they were here, their status would be the same.
There are many aspects of the report, but those are the essential points with which I wanted to deal. I finish with the questions that others have asked. Will the report be implemented? Will there be a stage two? There are many sceptics who say that, despite the clearest assertion that the Government intend to proceed to stage two (and we must all have been encouraged by what the Leader of the House said this afternoon) in the event the Government will not take reform any further. Indeed, current politics gives notable examples of people changing their minds.
As a personal view, I feel it is wise for the Government not to introduce legislation to implement the main elements of the report before the next election, for two reasons. First, I think that it is sensible to allow time for parliamentarians to think about and, I hope, to reach a consensus on the issue. Secondly, this kind of issue is best not dealt with in the run-up to a general election. But after the election, I hope that the Government will act on the report.
Everyone agrees, I think, that the present House is not satisfactory. The half-life of the hereditary principle represents unfinished business. Much of the rest of the report--for example, taking appointments out of the hands of the Prime Minister--is common ground. Stage two, as recommended by the Royal Commission, need not be the final stage, but I certainly believe that it is a step forward.
Lord Hurd of Westwell: My Lords, it is always satisfactory when duty and pleasure combine. That is why I agree with my colleagues from the Royal Commission who have already spoken that we shall always look back with satisfaction at the time we spent studying for, and conceiving, this report. I hope that it will prove to be of substantial and practical interest. Although this has already been said, I should like to underline the tributes paid to the admirable and enviable skills deployed by my noble friend from the chair. On many occasions he filled us with admiration and I believe that we all learned a great deal from him about many aspects of parliamentary life.
It will not be possible to cover the whole field, so I should like to concentrate on the problem of devolution and, therefore, the problem of regional representation. I must say that I had hoped, when we worked on the Mackay report a long time ago--the report of the committee chaired by my noble friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern at the instance of the Leader of the Opposition and subsequently on the Wakeham Commission--that we might be able to find an answer of some kind to the glaring gap created by the present arrangements for devolution. It is a fact that four-fifths of the inhabitants of this kingdom live in England, but no English institution is in being or in immediate prospect which could wield power comparable to those in place in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. This is a huge problem and its neglect will run us into serious danger as regards our constitutional arrangements. However, we could not find, and I do not think that it is possible to find, a solution to that problem based on a second Chamber. The problem must be solved in the House of Commons. However, we did find ways in which we could have made the problem worse by our suggestions for this Chamber. I hope that we have avoided those.
With that consideration at the back of our minds, we then thought about an approach not, I believe, yet mentioned in this debate, but which we did feel bound to consider. That approach is now in the report; namely, the suggestion that we might try to bring members of the devolved parliaments and assemblies together in this second Chamber in an attempt to bind the kingdom together. I hope that the House will agree with the fact that we came to the conclusion that this was not a good idea. Logically, it was flawed. Members of the devolved parliaments are elected for a specific purpose which does not include membership of a second Chamber at Westminster. The dual mandate, although of course it exists in the House of Commons at the moment, creates huge practical difficulties of time management and a philosophical
We abandoned that idea and moved forward to the suggestions made in the report for regional representation. Perhaps I may underline here a point already made by my noble friend Lord Wakeham. We received a strong impression from all parts of the parliamentary spectrum of powerful opposition in the House of Commons to any arrangements for direct election of members of the second Chamber which would enable those members of the second Chamber to use the publicity and resources of their local position to out-manoeuvre and perhaps eventually to replace existing members of the House of Commons. There is no doubt that this is a widespread and deep-seated fear.
Of course, it would be possible to argue that that is an improper fear; that it is indefensible and that it is an interest of existing Members of the House of Commons that they should in some way be ashamed to reveal. That is not my view because it seems to me to be a natural instinct. In any case, we must take account of it, because throughout our considerations one factor of which we were very well aware was that anything we proposed must be supported and carried in the House of Commons. We thought it inconceivable, regardless of the merits of the fear which I have just described, that any House of Commons would vote for a system which appeared to create rivalries for its Members at the point where they are most vulnerable; namely, not here in Westminster, but in their constituencies.
I should also like to mention a point that has already been described most vividly by the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers. On his Benches and also much more widely throughout the country, according to the evidence we received, there is quite a strong feeling in principle of being in favour of a directly elected second Chamber. However, quickly following on the heels of that feeling is a strong desire that it should be quite different from the elected House of Commons and a pining for a system of selection and election of candidates by the parties which would prevent what otherwise would be feared; namely, that a directly elected second Chamber would consist largely of people who had tried, but not succeeded, to enter the House of Commons. Those of us who have constituency experience fear that the search for such a system is doomed to disappointment. That was one of the main reasons why, in discussion, opinion began to turn against a wholly or even largely directly elected second Chamber.
We reached a compromise, of course, and produced three models for regional representation which aim to reflect that compromise. They are now three bonny infants presented for the choice eventually to be made by Parliament, following further discussion. I am glad that the Leader of the Opposition, my noble friend
Perhaps I may remind the noble Baroness of a point which she did not make and which has not, I believe, been made so far in the debate; namely, that a substantial majority--that is the phrase we have used in the report--of the Commission, for the reasons given by the previous speaker, the noble Lord, Lord Butler, favoured Model B. That model does provide for direct election, but not like Model A, which opts for simply translating into seats in this House the votes cast in a general election for the House of Commons. Model B provides for a sizeable minority of directly elected regional members, though not as many as Model C. I hope that the noble Baroness and others will not forget that a substantial majority of the Royal Commission did favour Model B.
It seems to me that we have been trying, through this Chamber, to introduce, or reintroduce, into Parliament two qualities that have somewhat ebbed out of our political system; namely, independence and experience. Independence has already been much mentioned in this debate and I need not repeat what has been said. There have to be limits to independence in the House of Commons. My noble friend Lord Wakeham was a Chief Whip. We have all been in the business of sustaining a government of one party or another; that is part of the job of the House of Commons. As has already been said:
However, the second Chamber is not under that constraint. It does not have to sustain governments because it cannot destroy them. Therefore, whatever the system we choose--for example, the mix of appointment and election--those concerned can and should be independent to a greater degree than Members of the House of Commons. That is why we made our proposals for the elected Members to have a long term of office--they should not to be tempted by the immediate prospect of election to the House of Commons because that would be out of the question--and for the appointed Members to be appointed by an entirely independent appointments commission. That is why I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, for giving way to me earlier. I was slightly surprised by his objection because I believe it is important that the appointments commission should be able, as set out under our proposal, to appoint to this second Chamber people who are out of favour with the leaderships of their parties at the time but who, nevertheless, are part of their party and who the commission believes have a contribution to make.
Under our proposal, we would also have elected regional Members who would speak with the authority that that gives of conditions, say, for doctors and patients in hospitals on Tyneside or in the Midlands. We would have two kinds of people. Who could say which of those speakers would carry the greater authority? One would speak from direct personal experience and the other would speak as the representative of the region. It seems to me that bringing together these two kinds of authority is an entirely legitimate and admirable way of rebuilding the political authority of the House of Lords of which my noble friend Lord Strathclyde rightly spoke.
The Earl of Longford: My Lords, I join with other speakers in paying tribute to the work of the Royal Commission. It would be nice to be able to use the words of Macaulay when describing the trial of Warren Hastings and say that it was "massive, precious and splendid". But that might be going over the top. Therefore, without too much commitment, I shall just refer to a noble endeavour.
There are over 40 speakers on the list and I suppose that each one of us thinks that he knows best what ought to be done about the second Chamber in this country. Those who have served with much distinction in both Houses, like the noble Lord who has just spoken, will have special confidence in their own judgment. I must be forgiven for mentioning my own credentials. They are no more than anyone else's, but they still exist. I have been a Member here for 54 years. During that time I held various government posts, including the leadership of the House. I was also a Member of one of the Front Benches for 22 years. So, naturally, I have confidence in my own contribution.
However, I also have the qualification, which is not common in this House, of having taught politics for 10 years as a university don at Oxford. Therefore, from that point of view, I look at matters rather differently from those whose experiences have been derived directly from life or, very often, from politics. I look at matters from two angles: first, from the academic angle; and, secondly, from the point of view of my long experience here.
From the academic angle, one would reach conclusions that ignored the immense value of this House. Indeed, that is something that cannot really be put on paper and cannot be described in books. But I am sure that anyone who has served here for a number of years--and many have served here for a good many years--feels, as I do, that this House has rendered invaluable services to the nation. I do not believe that any second Chamber in the world has done such a good job as this House in the past 50 years. People may use those rather famous words and say, "Well, he would say that, wouldn't he?" That may be true, but I believe that my academic training enables me to look at the matter with some objectivity.
I would say that the debates in this House are superior to any debates known to me in other chambers. Even last week, after the reform of the House, we had notable debates on asylum seekers, on hospices and, indeed, on the question of non-food agricultural products. I do not believe that those debates could have been rivalled anywhere else. If anyone wants to intervene and point out that there were better debates elsewhere, I shall be glad to know. But I do not believe it. Such debates are enormously valuable.
At this point I should like to pay a tribute. It is one that I have paid more than once and I shall do so yet again. I pay tribute to the hereditary Peers--not to all of them, of course, because some of them may be doing awfully good work elsewhere. I am talking about the ones who have come here a good deal and have rendered faithful service either by speaking or by just listening. The latter have provided us with a audience; an all-important audience. I feel enormously sorry for them and, indeed, sorry for the rest of us because we are now without them. I suppose we all have our own favourites, personal friends or perhaps some Peers to whom we owe a special debt. For example, I happen to owe a special debt to the noble Lord, Lord Ashbourne, the leader of a very inspiring prayer group for many years. I am sure that everyone will have his own Barry Ashbourne.
However, reform had to come. Two-thirds of the 750 Peers seldom, or never, came here, so the place had to be reformed. I voted solidly for the government measure that has now passed into law. So we have this reformed House. So far, I do not think that anyone could say that the quality of debates has declined. But what is less certain is whether the atmosphere, the tradition, the decency, the civilisation and the underlying Christianity of this House will be maintained. I hope and believe that it will be. I try to believe that that will occur but it will not do so unless we make sure that we value this House. If we start from the assumption that something is wrong about the place, we shall be starting from the wrong end. We must start from the assumption that we want it to carry on the traditions and improve upon them.
So what about the present House? By and large, I would say that it is very praiseworthy and fully worthy of Britain. But there is one obvious defect; namely, that there is a built-in Conservative majority. No doubt that will have to be corrected and, indeed,
I must mention one other matter before I sit down and that is that I am, on principle, utterly opposed to any elected element here. It would make a nonsense of the place. I refer to two aspects of the matter which have been lightly touched on by previous speakers. First, the elected Peers could claim a democratic mandate and occupy a superior position to the others. That would constitute a dog's breakfast. Secondly, who would comprise these elected people? They would be "second raters"--people who could not get elected to the House of Commons, or people who could not even get elected to the European Parliament. They might comprise people who could not even get elected to the Scottish Parliament or to the Welsh Assembly. We would get the dregs. Therefore, as I say, I am utterly opposed to an elected element. That way, in my eyes, lies madness. We have inherited a noble legacy; it would be criminal to betray it.
Baroness Young: My Lords, I take as my starting point what seems to me to be a real and increasing public concern that Parliament is somehow being downgraded, if not actually bypassed, by this Government. My noble friend Lord Cranborne referred to some of the reasons for that; namely, power being stripped from Parliament and given to the European Union, to the devolved parliaments and to judges. Further, sometimes government announcements appear in the press before they are announced in Parliament.
That highlights the importance and significance of the debate today on the future of the House of Lords and the second Chamber. I note with interest that in Scotland, where there is no second Chamber, the Parliament has not found it quite as easy to manage its affairs as it might have thought when the new constitutional arrangements were put in place.
I too wish to thank my noble friend Lord Wakeham and the Royal Commission for the report and for their work. Whatever one's views about the report as a whole, I find the early chapters, particularly Chapter 3, together with a great deal of the analysis which follows and the historical background, of great interest. They set out clearly the reasons why we are where we are, and are well worth studying. I am sure that we all find that valuable.
Believing, as I do, not only in a second Chamber but in one that is strengthened and able to hold the executive to account, it seems to me that we need to move ahead. Here I very much welcome the remarks of my noble friend Lord Strathclyde. We could begin
I hope very much that we shall establish by statute an independent appointments commission. I listened with great interest to what the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, had to say on that point. I believe that that is an important matter on which there is much agreement. As I believe that we shall make better progress where there is cross-party support, I hope that we can move forward on that matter.
There has already been much discussion as regards a Joint Committee of both Houses to consider the future of the second Chamber. There is value to be gained in moving forward on that issue although I recognise the real difficulties that stand in the way. As has been pointed out, there is little agreement within the political parties on the best way to proceed. Different individuals have their own ideas on how the second Chamber should be constituted and on what its powers should be.
I was a member of the Conservative Party working party set up in the 1970s under the chairmanship of the late Lord Home to consider the future of the House of Lords. Our general conclusion at that time, which commanded much support, was for a part-elected, part-appointed and part-hereditary House. I believe that there should be some elected Members in the second Chamber. I believe that only by going down that route will the House be more democratic and have the authority which it needs to implement its powers. However, a problem arises--I do not believe that this has been touched on--once one has elected Members, and the problem increases the higher the proportion of elected Members; namely, whether they will be satisfied with the powers that the House has. One needs to reflect on that. I certainly agree with the commission as regards not being in favour of a fully elected House for the many reasons that have been advanced and not least because I think that it is most unlikely that the House of Commons would agree to that. It would, of course, be a recipe for gridlock between the two Houses.
I have noticed in the report and in previous debates that it is suggested that somehow appointed Peers are more democratic and more representative than hereditary Peers. It is extremely important to recognise that appointed Peers are neither democratic nor representative. They may be other things, but they do not have those particular qualities. However, when one considers the detail of the election arrangements and reads the Royal Commission's report, in conjunction with the report of my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern, it is possible to see how a future House could combine both elected and appointed Peers. I believe that that would constitute a stronger House. I welcome the concept of a 15-year term for both elected and appointed Peers. I consider that that would overcome some of the difficulties.
I turn to the question of appointed Peers. I am glad that the commission recognised the importance of retaining the expertise in this House. One of the valuable characteristics of the House of Lords-- I share the point that the noble Earl, Lord Longford, has just made about the House as it is presently constituted--is that it contains so many people who have expert knowledge in their field. That lends an impressive quality to general debates and it lends an edge and a quality to the revision of legislation. As a former Minister who was quite frequently on the receiving end of detailed criticism on the part of experts on some matter of policy, I know how that quality of debate sharpened one's contribution to the debate and the quality of the debate. Whatever may or may not emerge from this discussion, we should certainly lose something of great importance and distinction if we did not retain the experts in this House.
I touch on Recommendation 34 on overseas territories, which interests me. This issue is unlikely to be raised by others. These small countries, which are the legacy of the Empire, are not directly represented anywhere and are not independent and therefore cannot speak for themselves. Nevertheless, they have their problems. One needs think only of Montserrat, the Falklands, Gibraltar or St Helena, to say nothing of the others, to realise that there is something to be said for considering representation on their part. I hope that the appointments commission will seriously consider this matter.
Time does not allow me to comment in detail on a great many of the other recommendations. However, I am not happy about Recommendation 70(f) which mentions minimum quotas of 30 per cent women and 30 per cent men. I have never been in favour of a quota system for anyone. I think it devalues those in the quota; it devalues the individual. All too easily quotas can become a maximum number rather than a minimum number. I am not sure that the end result is what one would want.
There is a great deal in the report which deserves close and careful consideration. I particularly welcome the proposals contained in Chapter 16 which build on the procedures of the House as we have known it. The House is unique in being a self-regulating Chamber and it has greatly benefited from it. Any loss of that status would be a great disadvantage.
I welcome the emphasis on a stronger House to do the work which is its main purpose--that is, calling the executive to account. The proposals concerning secondary legislation are important and I welcome the establishment of a constitutional committee.
Time does not allow one to go into all the detail that one would like. I share the views of other noble Lords that, if we are to move on this, we should proceed where we can--particularly in regard to the appointments committee--and consider these other matters. There are big problems to be resolved, but this
Lord Dahrendorf: My Lords, if one thing has become increasingly evident today, it is that the Wakeham report provides an excellent basis for moving forward. I am pleased about that. It is informative, thoughtful, well argued and persuasive in most of its recommendations. That sounds like the kind of statement which is followed by exceptions--and it is. If I had the subtlety and wisdom of my noble friend Lord Ezra, I would say that it leaves me with two questions. The two questions coming from me--which are similar to his--may, however, sound more like statements to some noble Lords. But they are questions. Like many others--and obviously like members of the commission itself--I am not sure that I have thought everything through sufficiently to be entirely certain of my arguments.
It is right that the report should have begun with a discussion of the role of the second Chamber. That role is, in large part, a result of what the report calls "the constitutional context"--that is, the context in which we are operating. One can imagine a totally different context. I can even imagine--although I do not wish for--a context in which a second Chamber would not be necessary.
We are operating in a context characterised by two elements: first, the absence of a written constitution and thus, for example, the absence of a constitutional court; and, secondly--and I underline both words--the "strengths" and the "weaknesses" of the House of Commons, the other place.
So far as concerns the first of these contextual facts, there is therefore a need for a constitutional long-stop. That can, to some extent, be provided by the House of Lords, especially if the House is strengthened by a constitution committee and by participation in a human rights committee. I am a little more sceptical about the desirability of amending the Parliament Act in any way unless it is absolutely necessary.
So far as concerns the strengths and weaknesses of the other place, too little has so far been said about its strengths. Perhaps I am reasonably well placed, with a degree of comparative experience, to point to at least two major strengths of the House of Commons. It is stronger in relation to government than most other parliaments in the sense that government is largely recruited from Parliament, which supports and sustains that government. It is also a Chamber that holds government to account. Make no mistake, even Prime Minister's Questions--a seemingly small
If this is the constitutional context, it defines the role of the second Chamber very clearly. In many ways, I am simply following what the Wakeham Commission tells us: that it is a constitutional long-stop; that it is a Chamber for legislative scrutiny, not least for the scrutiny of legislation which emerges not from this Parliament but from Europe; and that it is a forum for important debates. The composition of the second Chamber follows from this particular role.
I agree unreservedly with the four points made by the Wakeham Commission: no wholly or largely directly elected chamber; no indirect election; no random selection; and no co-option. I also agree that, if these alternatives are ruled out, the appointments commission will require careful attention. Like other noble Lords who have spoken, I am a little concerned that the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, should mind so much what he calls "cherry picking". Sometimes, strategic changes with great leverage can be a pretty good beginning for a considerable process of change. Establishing an appointments commission as foreseen in the Wakeham report would be one such strategic change.
I come to my two questions. Having 65, 87 or 190 elected Members seems to me one of the few quite pointless recommendations. It is true that 15 years, plus a prohibition on standing for the other place for another 10, amounts almost to appointment for life. Even so, it seems to me that elected Members would be a curiously alien element unless they were the advance party of a totally different chamber. Above all, I am simply not convinced that they would provide what the commission wants them to provide; namely, "authority" or "legitimacy".
Legitimacy is an important and complex idea. It has to do with legality; following certain rules; effectiveness, competence and qualifications; and confidence, both within the Chamber and outside it. Elections are not the only method of providing legitimacy; nor do they necessarily do so at all times. I am not sure that the directly elected European Parliament is more legitimate than its predecessor--an assembly gathered from the parliaments of the member states. Conversely, our judges, and such bodies as the Monetary Policy Committee, are quite legitimate without being elected, because they comply with many of the criteria of legitimacy. In that sense, I should find it possible, in line with the constitutional role of the second Chamber, including the prevalence of the first, to conceive of a House wholly appointed by a plausible and transparent process. Indeed, I can readily think of reasons why it would conduct its business better than either a hybrid or a wholly elected chamber.
My second question relates to the vexing issue to which the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, addressed his comments. It is the issue of the regions. "Giving a voice to the nations and regions" is a pervasive theme of the Wakeham report, and "acting as a unifying force" is one of its intentions and programmatic proposals. I understand all that very well. But despite the strong leads given by the commission, I am not convinced by its solution.
The devolution of powers to the nations of the United Kingdom--and soon to its regions and cities as well--represents a massive constitutional change. It raises a whole new set of problems and conflicts. These are not simple conflicts, let alone conflicts of personality. I remember vividly, during our debate on the Scotland Bill, the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, raising the issue of what would happen once the Scottish Parliament had to accept a reduction of 21 in its membership because there was such a reduction in Scottish Members in the House of Commons. That issue has all the elements of a constitutional conflict--incidentally, in this case, between two elected parliaments. It indicates the magnitude of the problems that will be raised by devolution in all its parts.
I urge all those who are involved in thinking about the future of the second Chamber not to burden Lords reform with a resolution of the obvious problems and conflicts that will arise from devolution. A voice for the nations and regions is a nice idea. But simply electing or appointing a few regional Members to this House would bring about many of the same problems that would arise if we had representation of the professions and introduce what I should regard as an irrelevant perspective into the debates and the work of the second Chamber. We should fail to resolve the real issues of the regions versus the centre, or even possibly deceive the regions--for who is to say where a regional representative resides and has his or her loyalties after five, 10 or 15 years? What the nations and regions need is judicial institutions--and perhaps fully representative institutions--not an optional extra tagged on to a reformed second Chamber.
I am afraid that I have sounded more dogmatic than I intended. My questions are posed in the hope that we shall make progress in the timescale mentioned by other noble Lords and on the basis of the outstanding report which is the subject of our debate.
Lord Waddington: My Lords, the Royal Commission is to be congratulated. It is typical of my noble friend Lord Wakeham that he should have tried to produce a scheme that was politically saleable rather than waste his time devising one that would never become a reality. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf: the report forms an excellent basis for moving forward.
Personally, I do not believe that a wholly elected House was ever a runner. Of course, an elected Chamber composed of the representatives of the people has a special authority. That is why one does not want two of them, with the second being either a carbon copy of the first or a rival. Like the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, I do not accept the argument that an unelected House must lack legitimacy. No House established by a sovereign Parliament with the consent of the people can possibly be illegitimate. However, I have not the slightest doubt that those who call for an elected House to secure what they consider to be the necessary legitimacy will not be mollified by the offer of a small elected element. The question at the end of day is whether opting for a modest elected element in an otherwise nominated House is worth while.
The commission's proposal that there should be a modest elected element has all the hallmarks of a compromise in a bid to achieve a unanimous report. It does not fit comfortably with the rest of the very logical scheme devised by the commissioners. Let us look at the evidence. It is surely only the decision to have an elected element which forces the commission to make the odd, and otherwise pretty indefensible, suggestion that the nominated Members should serve for three electoral cycles rather than for life or until a fixed retirement age.
The commission is forced down that path because of its determination to avoid what it calls "mixed membership problems" and make sure that in a mixed House all Members enjoy parity of esteem. That is the reasoning. Again, it is the decision to have an elected element which forces the commission to conclude that, as one can hardly have people elected for life or give them peerages for being elected, there must be a new House with the link broken between the possession of a peerage and membership of the second Chamber. That is a very unsatisfactory proposal, carrying with it the risk that the peerage as an institution will die, there being little point in the acceptance of a peerage rather than, say, a knighthood if the peerage does not carry with it the right to sit in the legislature.
Although I do not put this anywhere near the top of my list of objections, I believe that there would be difficulty in finding people of worth who were prepared to stand for election for only a three-Parliament term when all that was on offer was a modest payment related to attendance. I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Longford, that the only people interested in it would be those who had failed to get into the House of Commons, the European Parliament, the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. I do not know how many would be left after all that. I am not half as optimistic as the commission that in a mixed House all the members would have parity of esteem. It would not be long before the press began to talk about the Government having survived a Division but not having won a majority of the elected members.
What I really cannot support is the suggestion that the elected element should be made up of regional members who would be able to speak for each regional unit of the United Kingdom and facilitate a stronger regional voice in Europe, as the report suggests. Frankly, I believe that we need that like a hole in the head. It is true that if House of Lords reform had been addressed before devolution a strong case could have been made for the second Chamber to be composed of representatives of the constituent parts of the United Kingdom, the nations. However, we are not talking about representatives of Scotland, Wales, England and Northern Ireland but about regionalism, particularly within England. I believe that development of regionalism will drastically weaken the authority of this Parliament and the unity of the country.
The English regions set up by the Government are not natural entities and for the most part those who live within their boundaries do not feel any common loyalty or enjoy any identity of interest. We are not a big country. When we reform this place we must not lend encouragement to any design to split the country artificially and set one part against another. Therefore, like the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, I am wholly against having regional members. If we must have an elected element, for goodness sake it must not be dressed up as regional members.
Further, the idea of having a small elected element is wholly unnecessary. The really important and beneficial change proposed by Wakeham is the creation of the independent appointments commission. If there is such a commission with the statutory duty to ensure not only that there is a strong independent element in the House but that there is an appropriate balance between the political parties we shall have all that is required. I hope that the Government will legislate for such a commission right away. That will provide some reassurance to those of us with a suspicious nature that the Government will not spend the next year continuing to create Labour Peers at the present rate, thus providing themselves--if they are still in office--with an enormous majority when the new House is first set
I shall not weary the House further. Those are the important points that I want to make. I have no quarrel with the proposal that no longer should it be possible to amend the Parliament Acts using Parliament Act procedures, because it will reinforce and safeguard the Chamber's power of veto over any Bill to extend the life of a Parliament.
Having been part of the original group under my noble friend Lord Carnarvon which began to consider this most intractable of problems some six years ago, I have to say that the thought of another long haul is daunting indeed. No doubt that view is shared by the Government Front Bench. However, I am tempted to remind the Government that the good news is that it is always darkest before the dawn; the bad news is that we have only just passed midnight. I am in the happy position of having no axe to grind. I am what can only be described charitably as a "goner", whatever the future solution may be, so at least I can speak impartially.
The report, on which I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, and his colleagues, not least because of its completion under a very tight schedule and the eminently clear style in which it is written, has attracted criticism from some quarters, quite wrongly in my view. It would be strange to find a report that covered such a wide and detailed area which pleased everybody. I find myself in support of the majority of its arguments and conclusions.
The area covered by the report is so wide and far-ranging that I propose to refer to only two main points. However, in passing I very much welcome the recommendation that all recognised religious groups should have representation.
I move to the two main areas on which I should like to comment. I very much agree with the conclusion of the report that the greater part of the new House should be appointed, not elected. I go so far as to favour Options A or B as representing those which would create the smallest percentage of elected regional representatives. There are many in this debate and outside it who do not share that view and for whom the phrase "the tyranny of the ballot box" is seen as provocative and offensive. However, let us be practical and try to avoid the politically correct knee-jerk reaction which says that predominantly disinterested voters should decide who is to sit here.
We must ask ourselves repeatedly the question that has been asked in this debate and in others: what is the purpose of this House? In all the debate that there has been on this matter most people can at least agree on the following principal objectives of this place: to ask questions of the Government on topical issues of the day; to debate matters of current concern; above all, to scrutinise legislation from the other place, and even from Europe, with the utmost care; and, in the case of the former, to suggest amendments to legislation, which has often been hastily and imperfectly drawn up, in the hope that they may be accepted when they go back to another place. If not, so be it. For such a role one does not need, as it were, the worthy Councillor Buggins reluctantly elected by, say, 15 per cent of the electorate; instead, one wants experts on every subject under the sun--and that is something we thankfully have in abundance in this House.
Quite apart from that stark fact of life, to add elections to this House on top of European elections, local elections and, in the appropriate areas, assembly elections would be piling Pelion on Ossa. It is difficult enough--heaven knows--to get our fellow countrymen to vote once every five years. Perhaps we should contemplate making voting compulsory, but that is a subject for another day. But I believe that the limit we can go for is, as the commission says in the report, to have limited regional selection on the back of a general election vote.
There are other considerations against an elected House. After a landslide general election victory, one would have a weak rubber-stamp here of another place. Conversely if the election were to be held half-way through the parliamentary term and the voters had turned, one would have stalemate. How would one protect the precious flower of independence under such an arrangement? Equally daunting, who would wish to stand for a subservient Chamber, and what quality would they be? I understand the passionate view in this matter of, for example, the Liberal Democrats. I find the conversion of some Conservatives (not particularly in this House) to universal suffrage for this House as amusing and fascinating as any of the contortions
Perhaps I may now say a word about the Independents. Cross-Benchers will, I suspect, come to seem increasingly old fashioned as the years unroll. The commission's and the Government's commitment to the central role to be played in future by the Independents is very much to be welcomed--I would say that, wouldn't I?--but certain misconceptions and problems should be faced. Some have already been touched on by my noble and gallant friend Lord Craig.
Perhaps I may make some other points. There is a widely held belief on all sides of the House, however great the assurances that it is not so, that Independents act in concert on occasion just like the political parties. I recall with amusement during the previous government that it was felt that Independents then voted more often with the Opposition than with the Government. I have not the slightest doubt that the same feelings occur within the Government today. If that is really the case, it would seem to suggest that things are just about right. But whatever the pattern--and, believe me, I have sought to make some sense of it over the years--it always defies rational prediction or explanation.
What is clear, at least in my view, is that we must guard the flame of independence ever more carefully in the months and years to come if we are worthy to be trusted with this new central role, even if it risks alienating party managers and certainly party Whips.
It is important to identify the principal problems inherent in this dependence on independence in balancing the voting patterns of a future House. Any group without a Whip and, to compound that, any group comprising people of distinction in other fields with large outside commitments, will inevitably have a poor voting record the more unsocial the hour at which the vote is taken. It is surely something of an irony that the very constituent believed on all sides to be one of the new House's most important elements should be so vulnerable in this way. Having made that point, it is also important to draw attention to the fact that deliberate abstention is often a factor in Independent actions and it often seems to me to be a pity that psephology, if not party managers or statisticians, has not been able to recognise that fact.
In practical terms, however, I suggest that there is no immediate answer to the problem, but there is one possible consolation that I can offer the House. It is what might be called the reserve power of the Independents; namely, the likelihood that there will always be a big Independent vote on a big issue provided that it is at a controlled time.
To sum up, I do not agree that a new second Chamber cannot have legitimacy if it is largely unelected. Our legitimacy will be as a result of our work and our contribution to the government of this country. It is vital that we should be as different from the other place as it is possible to be. Only in that way can the richness and diversity of Parliament be enhanced, at the same time providing the
Lord Jopling: My Lords, I begin my adding my good wishes to my noble friend Lord Wakeham and his colleagues for an admirable report. I agree with a great deal of it, although I share the reservations of my noble friend Lord Waddington about having an elected element in your Lordships' House.
I want to concentrate on a certain aspect of the composition of your Lordships' House after stage two. I have made the point in two previous debates and have been greeted with stony silence from the Government Front Bench. Perhaps it will be third time lucky today. I shall concentrate on the percentage of Members who will sit in the House who are government supporters. It is an important issue because, without doubt, this House will after its second transition become a great deal more political than it has been in the past. I have noticed that it has become a good deal more political in the three years that I have attended the House. Although we shall have a different situation from the somewhat strange balances between the parties in the past, we need to think hard about the Government's representation in your Lordships' House in the future.
At present, the Government have 27 per cent of the membership of the House. Consequently it comes as no surprise to anyone that they are defeated as often as they are. Apart from the good sense underlying those defeats, it is great sport for the Opposition parties to tumble the Government every now and again. However, the down-side is that, with only 27 per cent of the membership, the Government are able to brush off a defeat with or without the rather petulant reactions from the leadership that we have seen in recent times. But, with only 27 per cent of the membership, the clout and influence of the House is reduced because the Government of the day can find a ready excuse in the arithmetic to reject the views of the House.
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