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Lord Butler of Brockwell: My Lords, I think the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, does the Royal Commission a slight injustice. There is a reference to the dependent territories. The report does not recommend that there should be automatic representation in this Chamber, but it does say that this is a matter which the appointments commission could take into account.
At Question Time today, there was some debate about the difference between religion and faith. I have to say to your Lordships that, for better or worse, in my former constituency, which I represented in another place, I had to wrestle with what is generally termed a cult; I refer to the Jesus People. I think great care must be taken when we are dealing with the definition of a religion as opposed to a faith.
I believe also--and this may be a delicate area which, I hasten to say, has no personal dimension--that our second Chamber would be well advised to contemplate having a speaker or president. That should not be the Lord Chancellor of the day. I personally feel that the practice of having a Lord Chancellor speaking, as he must, as a government Minister and trying at the same time to be an impartial figure is not acceptable. It reflects badly on the independence and validity of the second Chamber. It is not for me, necessarily, to suggest a format but certainly the format in the other place of a Speaker, a Chairman of Ways and Means, two Deputy Speakers and a Chairman's Panel seems to work well there. There are other structures abroad which are not very different.
Finally, I made the point in my submission--and we seem to be losing sight of this--that if, as a second Chamber, we are to be a revising Chamber, we really should be sitting rather less than the other place and not rather more often, as seems to have been the case in recent years.
Lord Smith of Clifton: My Lords, I fear that I shall be demonstrating yet again that there is little agreement within the parties as well as between the parties. I shall certainly be speaking against the mainstream thrust of the argument which has been demonstrated tonight in your Lordships' House.
Mine is one of the few discordant voices and I apologise in advance for treading on any noble sensitivities. I am an unreconstructed radical. I am grateful to my professional colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, for acknowledging that while he is in total disagreement to the position that I adopt he accepts its intellectual coherence and lineage.
With respect, I regret to say that this is a very flawed report which, pace the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, deservedly was condemned by the broadsheet press when it appeared. It was described as "timid" in the Independent, as
Such universal criticism is not surprising. The commission was handicapped from the outset for failing to reflect in its membership the broad spectrum of opinion on constitutional reform. Therefore, inevitably, it has produced an oligarch's charter, allowing for cronies appointed by the Prime Minister of the day with a very high risk, which I notice some noble Lords welcome, of corporatist representatives selected by an appointments commission with a relatively small number of regionally elected members.
The Wakeham Commission failed to grasp a golden opportunity to attempt to engage the Lords with the people, by producing a modern, relevant blueprint based on Members elected on a different basis to those of another place. The commission's proposals guarantee that your Lordships' House will become a sideshow, functioning less as an influential legislature and more as a quaint tourist attraction. There should have been widespread public consultation by the commission. That was the very least the topic demanded. The consultation exercise as undertaken by the commission--and I realise the time constraints on it--was hopelessly partial and inadequate. For example, as against a series of private meetings of assorted members of the political, legal and religious establishment, only 21 sessions in nine locations were held for the public. They were poorly publicised and attracted derisory numbers. Not surprisingly, some proposed sessions had to be cancelled or curtailed. It is likely that the commission met more people from the establishment than members of the public at large.
The only extensive test of public opinion came from Democratic Audit. It submitted evidence drawn up by a panel chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Plant of Highfield, of which I, too, was a member--I declare that interest. It supplemented that evidence by commissioning a nationwide poll from ICM. That poll revealed that a huge majority of citizens--no less that 84 per cent--favoured election over appointment for a new second Chamber, with only 5 per cent being strongly in favour of appointment. They must have polled your Lordships.
The poll was undertaken in August 1999 and its full results were communicated to the Royal Commission. Significantly, they are not cited in its report. A similar poll will be commissioned in the near future to probe public opinion further on the question.
The dilemma of competing legitimacies between upper and lower Chambers when both are elected and the need to maintain the supremacy of the lower House, to which the noble Baroness the Leader of the House referred, can, I believe, be managed by defining the functions and role of the upper House.
Hiding behind spurious Burkean notions of the virtue of slow evolutionary constitutional change is untenable. Edmund Burke himself would not have entertained such subterfuge. Indeed, the Government seemed at the outset fully to realise the need for a radical overhaul by the welcome and long overdue abolition of the hereditary principle for membership of your Lordships' House initiated by the Government last year. That was a vital and necessary prerequisite
Let us hope that the Government will have learnt the lessons from the shambles that has ensued through their attempts to fix arrangements to suit their own purposes; first, over the appointment of the First Secretary in Wales and, secondly, by their gerrymandering of their party's candidate for the mayor of London. This time, over the question of the reform of the second Chamber, they should have the wisdom to reject the fix provided obligingly by the Royal Commission. The Government should convene an all-party Joint Committee for round table talks to discuss the future. They should follow not their own instincts but those of the vast majority of the British people and agree plans for a wholly elected second Chamber. They would gain much respect from doing so and possibly staunch the haemorrhage of their traditional core supporters, disillusioned with their control freakery as recent opinion polls report.
Lord Reay: My Lords, I confess that I was extremely impressed by the report of the Royal Commission. To my surprise, following criticism by a disappointed press, an example of which the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, has just read out, I found it well written, ingenious and worldly. It is also extremely thorough, compendious, and provides an education in itself for anyone whose knowledge or understanding of the working of this House is incomplete. Given the time available to the commission, the report is an astonishing achievement. Whatever its immediate fate, I am sure that it will provide the reference point for future debate about the reform of the House and in all probability will map out its future evolution.
One specific criticism that I have is that in listing the various interests or groups that should be represented, or better represented in your Lordships' House, such as the voluntary sector, the professions, cultural and sporting interests, other religious faiths, ethnic minorities, women and so on, no mention was made of economic interests. I believe the report lapsed in apparently forgetting to make a bow in the direction of the wealth creators. Unless the political class shows sympathy for them, all our grand and expensive schemes will come to nothing.
My noble friend Lord Wakeham has made no great secret of the fact that he had to be persuaded to come round to the view that there should be an elected element. The reason for such a recommendation evidently is not to produce a House composed of more suitable people, or which will function better internally, but that it would achieve thereby greater public acceptability. Having decided on an elected element, the next matter to decide was at what level:
As noble Lords know, three options are put forward, in each of which the elected element is in the minority. With the elimination of the vast majority of hereditary Peers, have not the illegitimacy, and with it the lack of self-confidence to which the Royal Commission refers, which amount to about the only faults that the Royal Commission seems to have found with the House of Lords, already been removed? Has not a sufficient degree of legitimacy been reached? After all, it is only a question of degree, and the art of measuring legitimacy can hardly be an exact science, as is implicitly recognised by the Royal Commission in putting forward three alternative elected options, for which I do not criticise it at all.
Another point to be borne in mind is in that scholarly work, discovered and quoted by the Royal Commission, Senates--Bicameralism in the Contemporary World by Samuel Patterson and Anthony Mughan of Ohio University--required bedside reading, I can assure noble Lords, for would-be constitution builders--in which this comment is made:
The answer would seem to be direct election, but that produces a rival to the lower House and endless problems of reconciliation between two equal Houses when disputes occur between them. So the outcome is less, not more, democracy, as the Leader of the House and my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth agreed. The authors conclude:
In other words, do not let us think that by adopting Wakeham we would deal once and for all with the question of this House's legitimacy. Whatever we do, this House will not be able to escape the issue of its legitimacy. Might not, therefore, the sensible and pragmatic course be to see, first, how the additional legitimacy which this House has already achieved and which has been demonstrated by its use of long-neglected powers over secondary legislation affects the usefulness of this House in our political constitution, before rushing into a scheme of election that even its advocates do not claim would add to the quality of the House, and which at the least would be divisive because it would bring in a new, supposedly superior, class of Peer who would purport to be here to give us respectability and who would be expensive because those elected Peers would bring all sorts of new demands in their wake?
I have two things to say concerning my party's position on this matter. I hope that my party is not going to enter into a competition with the party opposite over the number of elected Peers it wishes to see introduced into this House. I am sure that it will not. But with its record of inactivity on this issue during the long years in power, if it does my party will never sound convincing and, worse, may find itself, in order to demonstrate its sincerity, having to make a commitment in its manifesto. I hope that when it comes to power--and it will one day come to power--it will have better things to do in government (although this sounds a harsh thing to say) than pour energy into such a secondary issue before any need to do so has been demonstrated.
I also think that even though my party is now in opposition, it should look at this matter from the perspective of government, as I am sure that it will, and should refrain from calling for an impractical degree of power and independence for this House.
Like other noble Lords, I see no reason why other proposals in the report relating to the operation and function of your Lordships' House should not be judged and introduced on their merits, even if the recommendations on composition are not straightaway proceeded with. Just as the previous unreformed House brought into existence and developed the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee, why should not the present House bring into existence a constitution committee such as my right honourable friend Mr John Major initially recommended to the commission, or the suggested sub-committees on human rights and devolution? A constitution committee and the other committees would be composed more of the sort of people who are available here already by appointment than those likely to be elected. Many other Wakeham proposals could be easily and simply adopted by the present House.
I thought some of the wisest words spoken during the long passage of the House of Lords Bill through your Lordships' House last Session were spoken at Second Reading by the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan. He said,
I shall leave this House happily when called upon to do so, but hereditary Peers who represent tradition may still have an important part to play in this evolving House. I shall leave a lot happier if it is not to make way for an elected element. I see no manifest advantage in including an elected element in your Lordships' House at the present time. Apart from anything else, there is a risk of spoiling what we already have. I believe that the introduction of life Peers, which owes its existence to the reforming activities of a Conservative government, has been an outstanding success and is not something that should be thrown away or compromised lightly.
I can understand, and sympathise with, the anguish of members of the Royal Commission--the noble Lord, Lord Butler, and the noble Baroness, Lady Dean--and with the noble Lord, Lord Richard, if the chance of a lifetime, or even of a century, as my noble friend Lord Wakeham thought this might be, for Lords reform slips away. However, from my reading of British history, we have only rarely proceeded by adopting blueprints, or proceeded to constitutional reform at all except in conditions of great, or even dire, necessity. The problem, from the point of view of noble Lords today, is that I fear that there may not be sufficient political necessity.
Lord Elton: My Lords, I am much encouraged to see the noble Lord, Lord Richard, sitting opposite me, not because of any exchanges that we have had in the past, but because he seems to me to be like a good old-fashioned steam engine who for a long time pulled the constitutional train in the direction of Lords reform. He has now been switched round to the back of the train and is pushing even harder. I wish him more strength to his pistons.
The purpose of this debate is nominally to take note of the report of the Royal Commission chaired by my noble friend Lord Wakeham. I join others in thanking him for this opportunity and for all his work. However, if the debate itself is to have any worth, it lies not in looking back at the work of the Royal Commission but in trying to influence the events that will follow. For that reason, it seems to me that we should not be speaking to each other, but to members of the future putative Joint Select Committee of both Houses. I hope that, when the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General comes to reply, he will tell us when that is to be convened. I did not hear any reference made to it in the speech of his noble friend the Leader of the House.
In our review, we should start not like the noble Baroness, Lady Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, with the purpose of the House of Lords, but with the purpose of Parliament itself. In his excellent potted history, the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, omitted an essential comment; namely, that the basic function of Parliament is to control the Executive. Until the
In another place, where ambition is keener because careers are shorter, the ability of the Executive to offer places to its members gives it an extremely powerful means of control. The function of Parliament is to control the Executive on behalf of the people of this country. That is now almost synonymous with the electorate, but of course it was not until the passing of the Reform Acts. In doing that, Parliament is a trustee for the people of this country. Anything that is lacking in the House of Commons must therefore be supplied by this House. For that reason, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, and many others who have commented that we are holding a very three-legged debate because there is no room in it for consideration of the strengths and weaknesses of another place. Indeed, my noble friend Lord St John of Fawsley suggested that any criticism of the other place was like using a pea-shooter to hit them in their tender parts when we should be trying to secure co-operation from them.
It is essential to look at those shortcomings. For example, Parliament itself changes with every parliament, as does the House of Commons. The current House of Commons seems to me to be very short of people with experience of executive or, indeed, any other responsibility outside politics and Parliament. Therefore, any second Chamber that replaces this one must take that into account and recruit people with such experience.
As I have already said, there is a blurring, especially in the House of Commons, between the duty to provide and the duty to control the Executive. That springs very largely from the patronage available in the other place to the government of the day. Incidentally, perhaps I may leave a few words on the table, as it were, for the Joint Select Committee, or whoever takes this business forward. I presume that all of them are parliamentarians, or will be. The words are these: "Remember, if you are in government at the moment, that your party will soon be in opposition; and, if you are in opposition at the moment, remember that your party will soon be in government. If you play this as a match between parties, you are being blazing fools because you are in fact abusing an opportunity to do something for this country in the long term, in order to secure short-term advantage for one section of its population".
Having said that, it seems to me that the second need in this House is that it should not be subject to the patronage pull of the government of the day, to which people in another place are subject. That can be avoided by giving some form of tenure. The Royal Commission suggested a three-term appointment for
What we need is a House that is independent of the government of the day, whose Members are experienced in life outside Parliament and who are not unduly influenced in their behaviour by those outside this Chamber. They should not be supported in a style of life by their attendance allowance, their salary, or whatever it is called, such as to suborn them away from the useful outside activities that actually give them most of their strength as Members of this House and of Parliament. So I am against re-election and I am deeply dubious about election; I am entirely against re-appointment; and I am all for independence.
There is something at the centre of the matter. It cannot be said too often and, unfortunately, it is not said often enough, although my noble friend Lady Young touched on it in her excellent speech. We are trustees for the electorate. That means that we are here to ensure, above everything else, that every five years the electorate of the day has the chance to boot out, or to keep in office, the government of the day. If that is lost, history shows that it can only be regained with terrible price, usually paid in war or in revolution. That sounds pretty alarmist, but the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford rightly said that, when you are building constitutions, you build against the storm and not against fair weather. Therefore, what we decide about the constitution of this House is of critical importance for future generations.
Lord Williamson of Horton: My Lords, as a very recent Member of your Lordships' House I did not intervene in the long debates in the previous Session on the membership of this House. But today we are looking forward and, as I hope to make a contribution to the work of the reformed House, I should like to make some comments and to pose some questions on the report of the Royal Commission and on the constitutional developments which may result from it, particularly as I am running level with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, as regards the "gold star" for continuous attendance in this debate.
In a long career in public service, I have heard many times that a particular moment is a defining moment. If we do not say it, the press do. However, I think that, in the true sense of the phrase, we are now at a point
On that last point I have been struck by the fact that although attention is rightly concentrated on the proposals concerning the appointments commission, the political balance in the House and the possible regional Members, the Royal Commission also makes important observations and 13 recommendations in relation to the law-making role of this House, together with 20 recommendations on the future scrutiny by this House of national statutory instruments and on holding the Government to account, in particular on European Union matters. Those recommendations may not be as eye-catching as some of the other major recommendations, but they deserve careful attention and I shall come back to them.
More generally, I start from the principle, in relation to the structure of our parliamentary regime, that there should be no cloning. I am one of those who believe that it is important not only that the other place should have the predominant role but also that we should not put ourselves in a position where we actually, or appear to, damage that role. History has shaped the role of your Lordships' House to be, first, a revising Chamber which seeks to improve draft legislation and to return it to the Members of the other place for their decision whether to accept, to refuse or partially to accept the changes. Secondly, it is a fail-safe House which, on issues of a constitutional nature or which concern very long-standing traditions of UK practice, has sufficient authority to require the Government and the other place to consider most seriously the objections raised in this House. Thirdly, it is an authoritative Chamber with a wide range of knowledge of different aspects of our national life and an independence of judgment.
The question now is how far the recommendations of the Royal Commission maintain and enhance this role. On balance, for me, the answer must clearly be that they do, and for that reason they should be generally supported. First, on the role of the revising Chamber, it is right to stress the advantage of the suspensory veto and to reject some of the more confrontational or more drastic methods used in some other countries for resolving disputes between two Chambers of Parliament. Examples are the super-majority; the shuttle between Chambers--which in Italy rather charmingly can continue indefinitely; the referendum; the dissolution of both Chambers or joint Sessions of both Chambers.
But the Royal Commission presents in a very moderate way a proposal which was first formally proposed 82 years ago, and is perhaps now reaching maturity: that in case of disagreements between the two Houses of Parliament, either House could refer the question to a Joint Committee whose opinion would clearly carry weight but could not, of course, override the power of the other place to take a final decision. I support that recommendation. Although
Secondly, in relation to the protection of the constitution--a function of this House which is widely recognised and supported by the British people--the Royal Commission rightly concludes that this does not require additional powers. However, it also proposes that, in order to focus possible constitutional concerns and to avoid a haphazard approach, there would be value in an authoritative constitutional committee of this House. I see advantage in that and I am glad that the Leader of the House indicated a favourable approach to that issue when she spoke at the beginning of the debate. It might of course be associated, either through a sub-committee or through some common membership, with the Joint Committee on human rights, which the Government have already announced that they will ask both Houses of Parliament to set up.
Thirdly, in relation to the authoritative Chamber which we all wish to see maintained or enhanced, the Royal Commission proposes the election of regional Members in order to spread the range of interests within this House. I do not see this proposal as related to some kind of search for a greater element of legitimacy for these Members. Indeed, I do not see any case for two classes of Member at all; nor do I believe--contrary to the view expressed in your Lordships' House--that there will be two classes of Member. I shall take a substantial bet that within six weeks of such a decision, the difference between the Members would not be visible in this House.
It is a matter of political judgment whether the identity of the public with their nation or region within the United Kingdom will increase. In other countries in western Europe there has been a tendency in this direction, including in those countries with a strong tradition of centralised government. On balance, I think it will become more evident here, particularly in the English regions as they observe the devolution which has already taken place in Scotland, Wales and, potentially, in Northern Ireland.
I noted that the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, did not identify very much with the East Midlands. In the region in which I live, people do identify with their region and I am quite sure that that will increase in future.
The simplest proposal is the one favoured by the majority of the Commission--that is, Model B--which involves an election at the same time as the European parliamentary elections. I sincerely hope that it will be possible to have a partially open-list system and that in one way or another the public will be able to vote for a list or for individuals.
I think that the public would readily understand the proposal put forward that we need to have a greater spread of interests, including regional interests, in this House, and that an excellent way to achieve that would be to ask them to choose those persons. It could be done in a different way, but I think the public would quite readily understand that.
I noted, of course, that the total number of Members of the House would not be fixed under the Royal Commission's proposal. In this respect, the appointments commission would have the rather headmasterly task of taking account of our workload and our levels of attendance.
Although I support the proposals on regional Members, I believe that, in practice, because of regional and local issues, such Members will not avoid some element of a constituency role. This will be because the public in those regions would identify to some extent with their new Members.
Finally, I come back to what the Royal Commission said about scrutinising statutory instruments and about strengthening the scrutiny of European matters. I shall be brief, but I attach importance to this point. I very much hope that the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General will at least look benignly on the question of a strong contribution from this Chamber to enhance parliamentary scrutiny of national secondary legislation, including the proposal that there should be a "suspensory veto" for such legislation taking effect, if this House had voted to annul a draft instrument.
I should add that, in relation to some secondary legislation in the European Union, I should like to see a similar power for the European Parliament. That would give this House the power and the time to scrutinise that secondary legislation which, at the present time, we do not have.
A single question was posed directly to Members of this House by the noble Baroness the Leader of the House in her opening remarks. It was the question of the separation of the peerage from the membership of this House. I can reply briefly. I am in favour of that proposal.
As the Royal Commission recommends that I, like other life Peers, should be here until I die, or retire--the commission relies principally on the Grim Reaper to sort out this issue!--I look forward, because I have certain elements of tenure, to seeing some of these ideas actually come to pass.
Lord Denham: My Lords, in something over 40 years spent in active politics, I never remember a previous government embarking on even minor constitutional change without at least trying to achieve some form of consensus with the other parties first. The Government
First, there were the two devolution Bills. If it is desirable to give the Scots and the Welsh responsibility for their own destiny, surely it must follow that the local party members should be able to decide who they want to lead them, without having to defer to Downing Street or Smith Square. It is, to say the least, unlikely, if the two referenda had been held on the same day rather than a week apart, that there would be a Welsh Assembly now. The Neill report on standards in public life in effect rebuked Her Majesty's Government retrospectively for using public money to support one side of the argument.
Then there is the West Lothian question. The only answer that the party opposite seems to have arrived at is to pretend that it does not exist. As a result, it would be possible now for Labour Members of the Scottish Parliament to choose one option for their own countrymen, and for their Westminster colleagues, at the behest of Downing Street, to inflict the exact opposite on England and Wales.
As for Westminster itself, the Government have reduced Prime Minister's Question Time in another place from two days to one. They have allowed important statements to be made direct to the press from Downing Street. They have put spin doctors above Ministers of the Crown. And, as to the spin doctors, when are they going to pay attention to the Neill Committee's warnings about them? Finally, there is the matter of the mayor of London.
All of which brings us back to the question of your Lordships' House. Again and again we implored the Government that there should be no phase one without phase two, because, once the incentive of getting rid of the hereditary Peers had been thrown away, it might well prove impossible to get agreement on definitive reform, let alone getting the Bill through another place. Many of the speeches that I have heard today have only added weight to that concern. But no, the Government could not wait to get rid of the hereditary Peers.
And now the Royal Commission has recommended that all life Peers, unless they themselves decide otherwise, should remain Members of this House for the rest of their natural lives. And what about the considerable number of life Peers who seldom if ever turn up? Are they to be allowed to linger on and haunt the reformed House as a new generation of backwoodsmen? The Government, of course, resolutely refused to have even one hereditary Peer of long-standing experience on the Royal Commission who might have given invaluable advice as to how a newly constituted second Chamber would best work.
It is just as well that we insisted on the by-election procedure for the 92 hereditary Peers. If the Royal Commission proposal as it stands were to go through, the ultimate House that it envisages would be unlikely to come into effect for many years.
In that connection, I was horrified to hear that my noble friend Lord Wakeham and the noble Baroness, Lady Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, should have found it necessary to urge the House to take account of the report now or the opportunity might not occur again for many years. We have no choice. We are honour bound to do so. Now is the time for Her Majesty's Government to save something out of the wreck. They owe it to the country, with whose trusted institutions they have been tinkering. They owe it to Parliament, whose prestige and authority they have been sidelining. And, above all perhaps, they owe it to the hereditary Peers whom they have sent packing like a lot of naughty schoolchildren after a lifetime, many of them, of public service spent in this building, to put something of positive and immediate value in their place.
The steps forward are simple: first, to set up the independent commission with statutory backing to vet the whole of each new list of Peers, not just for the Cross-Benches but also the party nominations; secondly, to set up a joint Select Committee of both Houses to answer the questions and round off the rough edges--there are some--in the report of the Royal Commission; thirdly, to consult the other political parties, just for once, and make a genuine attempt to reach the most satisfactory solution. It would be eminently possible, for instance, to use the same machinery that was devised for the self-election of hereditary Peers to reduce the present large number of life Peers to manageable proportions. The final step is for the Government to get the resultant Bill through Parliament by their massive majority in another place, if necessary by making it a vote of confidence.
I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Acton, is shortly to return to the Benches opposite. Before it is too late perhaps he will remind his noble and right honourable friends of the saying of his illustrious forebear:
Whether or not it is recognised as such, the strong message from both the report and previous speakers is that, in the light of the first stage reform, things will never be the same again. If, therefore, all aspects of life in the second Chamber are up for review I believe that the discussion should take into account the question of expenses, payments, allowances--call them what you will. If we are to have a changed, and changing, congregation that is younger, more specialist, more
At this stage in the debate much of what can be said has been said. Yet I wish to take up a little more time on the section of the report of the Royal Commission which deals with an interest that affects every Member of this House, and any future House, whatever its shape or size. I refer to Chapter 17 of the report, which deals with resources. As to that, I am grateful for the remarks of my noble friend Lady Dean, the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, and perhaps others. I trust that there is near unanimity on the thrust of the point.
Bluntly, the chapter spells out the woefully inadequate way in which Members of this House are served. There is an old saying that the Lord helps those who help themselves. It is about time these Lords helped themselves, because nobody else will. I refer to paragraphs 17.3, 17.4, 17.7 and others. However, I draw particular attention to paragraph 17.10 on page 166, which precedes Recommendation 121:
I plead the case, backing the report, for a more sensible package which will both attract and retain the interest and service of men and women who, even now, suffer financial burdens as a consequence of their attending here. A wide spectrum of financial circumstances is experienced by Members in this House. But that to me is a spur for review and change.
My experience over more than 16 years in this House, preceded by 10 years in another place, is that when it comes to looking after ourselves we can take lessons from the other place. Your Lordships' House is far too timid in pursuing such factors as accommodation, Members' facilities, payments and expenses. Some years ago the SSRB announced a programme of reviews. The first review involved Back-Benchers in the Commons. That review took place to their satisfaction. The second review related to Ministers in the Commons. That took place to their satisfaction. The third review related to Ministers in your Lordships' House. That review has taken place to their satisfaction. But the fourth estate, Back-Benchers
In time this House will become a Chamber in which all those who attend will be workers. I firmly believe that a worker is worthy of his hire. No party point is made when I support the recommendation that not only should the present regime of allowances be enhanced but the additional allowance for attendance should be pursued without delay. Members of this Chamber--it is a bicameral system--do not receive one penny by virtue of membership. They have to claim the return of moneys spent on travel, overnight costs, subsistence and secretarial support. If the members of any other House of Parliament allow themselves to be treated so scurvily, I should like to hear of it.
I conclude by reiterating the thrust of my views. No one else will help us if we do not help ourselves. The report is a step in the right direction and it is to the section on resources and support for us and our work that I give my wholehearted approval.
Lord Goodhart: My Lords, I start by misquoting Mark Anthony: I come to praise Wakeham, not to bury him. Indeed, the report contains many good and sensible recommendations. I think that on the powers and functions of the future second Chamber, the report gets it pretty much right. We do not want more powers than we have now. What we want, as the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, pointed out, is more authority to exercise our existing powers. We need more pre-legislative scrutiny. We need a strengthening of the committee system. I agree that the Salisbury convention should continue to apply.
Indeed, I have only one serious disagreement with the report on the powers and functions of the future second Chamber. Recommendations 41 and 42 suggest that if the second Chamber rejects a statutory instrument the other place could override that objection by a vote taken at any time within the next three months. If those recommendations were in force
I accept that it is illogical that your Lordships' House can block secondary legislation permanently, but can only delay primary legislation for a year. Perhaps there should be a restriction on our powers over secondary legislation to the imposition of a one-year delay to conform with our powers over primary legislation. But the delaying power measured in hours, which would be the result of Recommendations 41 and 42, would be futile.
What has caused me and my noble friend Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank the most concern is the report's proposals on the composition of the future second Chamber. But even here there are some good proposals. The report rightly rejects the idea of indirect elections; of elections by functional constituencies, as in Hong Kong, or, most ridiculously of all, by random selection. The report recognises that political parties will and must have a central role to play in the new second Chamber and that most of its members should be affiliated to a political party.
Another good thing is the proposal that the elected Members of a second Chamber should serve a single long term of office and at the end of that could not stand for re-election. It is important that the good features of your Lordships' House should be preserved. One feature is our ability to debate controversial issues on a party basis, without being unduly partisan or acrimonious. I fear that that would be lost if ambitious young politicians saw a spell in the second Chamber as a stepping stone to a career in the other place.
A rule that Members of the new second Chamber should be elected or appointed for a long term and could not stand for election to the other place during that time, even if they resigned their seats here, would effectively block the use of your Lordships' House as a half-way house on the way to the other place. Of course, in addition, the fact that terms of elected Members were not renewable would mean that they were under no constituency pressures and would have a greater degree of independence from the Whips. In all probability, the result would be that if such a system were adopted, your Lordships' House would continue to attract politicians whose career in the other place was over, rather than those whose career in the other place had yet to come. That is no bad thing--it is the way it works now and it works not too badly.
The Wakeham report is also right in proposing a second Chamber containing a mix of elected and appointed Peers, although I believe that they have got that mix wrong. But I agree with the principle of a mixed House with the independent Members of that House appointed by an appointments commission. I accept that a wholly elected House would create a danger of confrontation with the other place and would lead to the risk that the second Chamber would stop doing well what it now does well.
Those are important issues, but they are side issues which need a separate debate. The report also contains a useful proposal for the method of electing some Members of a future second Chamber. We have all heard about the three options. I believe that two of them must be ruled out at once. Option A is not a real election, but is simply a system by which the parties tell the electors who they intend to nominate the next time they get a chance to do so. Option B, which was said to have been favoured by the largest number of members of the commission, proposes that there should be elections, but only at intervals of 15 years. Frankly, that idea is so fantastic that I am amazed that it was even seriously considered.
However, option C provides a workable solution. It proposes the election of a third of the elected membership every five years, with each elected Member serving for 15 years. The details may not be quite right. I believe that perhaps the terms and the intervals between the elections are rather too long. However, the basic idea is perfectly good.
Having said that, I come now to what I see as the flaw at the heart of the report. I believe that it is an absolutely fundamental flaw. It is the proposal that the appointments commission should appoint not only the independent Members of the second Chamber but most of the political Members as well. The report suggests a second Chamber of around 550 Members. I agree that that is perhaps too large, but let us take that as a starting point. After deducting the Law Lords, the Bishops and the appointed independents, according to the Wakeham Commission, that leaves approximately 400 "politicals" to be appointed.
Of the three options offered by the report for election of the regional Members, the one that is by far the most generous--option C--still provides for only 195 elected Members. That leaves more than half the "politicals" (if I may call them that) to be appointed. Under option A, all would be appointed. Under option B, more than three-quarters would be appointed. I believe that that is neither right in principle nor workable.
First, the selection of members of the commission will be highly politicised. The report proposes that members of the commission should be nominated by the Leader of your Lordships' House after consultation with the leaders of the other party groups and the Convenor of the Cross-Benchers. That will lead to intensive horse-trading through the usual channels. I continue the equine analogy. Each party will have a strong incentive to press for good, sound, quiet horses which have been gelded, respond well to the bit and will not kick over the traces.
How, then, will the politicals be chosen? Will the commission exercise its own judgment and ignore the wishes of the party leaderships or will it be guided by those wishes? I have been to two meetings addressed by members of the commission, both of whom have spoken in the debate today. I asked both of them that question. One said that the commission will exercise its own judgment. It will select people from a wide spectrum of opinion across the membership of each party; for example, this member of the commission said that it would appoint Ken Livingstone. The other member said that the appointments commission would pay very great attention to the proposals from the party leaders. Therefore, it would nominate the occasional outsider, such as Ken Livingstone. The only common ground between them was that Ken Livingstone will become a Member of your Lordships' House. I have to say that that is a result which I do not expect to see.
How can an appointments commission dictate to a political party which of its members is to represent it in one of the two Houses of Parliament? But on the other hand, if the appointments commission accepts the recommendations from the party leadership, why involve the commission at all? Why not have some simple formula for the number of political appointments and leave the party leadership to get on with it?
Finally on this issue, I believe that it is constitutionally unacceptable for the appointments commission, which is not elected by anybody and is not in any real sense accountable to anybody, to appoint the majority of members of one of the two Houses of Parliament. That puts enormous power into the hands of a body which is not the right one to exercise it.
If anything, I believe that appointment by an appointments commission would be even less legitimate than appointment by the respective party leaders. At least they are elected to the other place by ordinary voters and elected to the leadership by the votes of members of their own party. In short, I believe that the report puts on the appointments commission a burden which it cannot bear and should not be asked to bear. I believe that there is no real alternative to the direct election of all the political members of the second Chamber.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I rise rather earlier than I and other noble Lords had anticipated and for that I give thanks. It has been a long and interesting debate. But I do not believe that any of us will forget the vignette near the beginning. It will perhaps go into our diaries this evening when we go home or perhaps into the diaries of our wives or husbands if it is they who do the writing. It was the vignette of the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, who indicated, in the midst of his speech, that he had some agreement with the Government--I am paraphrasing and hope I have it right--that in exchange for good behaviour on the part of the Liberal Democrats they were promised proportionality with their election result. It was a most interesting little vignette which we shall all remember. We look forward to the public production of this document, if it exists.
The rest of the debate followed a reasonably predictable course. However, I believe that little more attention might have been given to the non-composition elements of my noble friend's report. I should not have been too surprised by the fact that not a great deal of attention was paid to the first few chapters. I believe that they are important. Perhaps I may quote the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, again without worrying him this time too much. He said, "Let's get on with those things on which we agree and can do now in this House." That is something we should take to heart. A few noble Lords echoed that kind of sentiment.
There are things we can do in this more legitimate House which will go some way along the road which the commission's report suggests. For example, I do not believe that many Members of your Lordships' House will disagree with the bulk of the recommendations in chapter 4. I heard no-one disagree although I believe the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, came closest to disagreeing with the proposition in Recommendation 2 that,
The chapter on protecting the constitution could also be accepted. The noble Baroness, Lady Jay, agreed with the idea of having a constitutional committee in your Lordships' House and other of your Lordships who mentioned these issues talked about a committee on human rights. That could easily be agreed. We could do that now because it may be some time before we reach stage 2. Constitutional and human rights issues, especially perhaps the latter, will loom ever larger in the affairs of our country as my own country of Scotland is discovering almost daily in the courts where decisions are being made and questions raised in a way which no one ever thought would happen when Parliament agreed that the convention should be incorporated in Scots law with the devolution settlement.
There is perhaps less agreement over chapter 7 on delegated powers of legislation. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, and not with my noble friend Lord Wakeham that there will be no powers of delay in secondary legislation. As the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, pointed out, the very satisfactory negotiations with the Government, which is what we had after your Lordships took the rather bold step of rejecting a piece of secondary legislation, would not have been necessary at all. The Government could have had a vote down the corridor the next day and that would have been that.
At the risk of being critical of the commission, I think its members live in Cloud-cuckoo-land if they think that a report to the House of Commons about the reasons will do anything to influence the Government to depart from whatever course they have chosen. I am afraid governments understand losing Divisions. It is a simple fact of life among governments of all parties. They may not like it, but they understand it.
On delegated legislation, I would not suggest that we agree with the proposal from the Wakeham Commission. Frankly, if we did agree, we would probably vote down many more pieces of secondary legislation. I believe firmly, as I said the other day--although the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, said it rather better than I did--that, on a very limited number of occasions, perhaps your Lordships should use its power. However, the occasions should be very limited and we should think seriously before we do it. Indeed, when we did it a fortnight ago, we knew there was a vehicle to hand for the Government to use to reach a compromise with your Lordships. I think that that is right.
In some ways, that is the easy part. The difficult part is the composition of your Lordships' House. I note that the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, said, "We are a unitary parliamentary democracy." I have news for her. We are no longer a unitary parliamentary democracy. We have a devolved parliament in Scotland, a devolved assembly in Wales and I hope we are going to have again a devolved assembly in Northern Ireland. Therefore, I do not think we are a unitary parliamentary democracy. However, I believe that I understand what she meant, although it is not a description of where we now are.
There are two smaller "bits" that are perhaps easier to deal with in relation to composition. The first is the question of the Law Lords. I believe that only my noble friend Lady Carnegy of Lour raised that issue. I was surprised that none of the Law Lords spoke in the debate this evening. They are not usually backwards in coming forwards, so to speak. A few lawyers spoke, but we always expect that. But in this House, there is a difference between lawyers and Law Lords. I shall not make any judgment on which is superior to the other in intellect and so on. That would be far too dangerous. I might be sued. In fact, I cannot be sued, but I shall resist the temptation.
My noble friend made an extremely valid point about the position of the Law Lords in your Lordships' House. I agree with the commission in that regard. They play a valuable part. We all understand the position which they hold in this House, and the system works perfectly well. I am resting on the firm advice given by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor that nothing in the European Convention on Human Rights will disturb the position of the Law Lords in your Lordships' House. As my noble friends behind me will confirm, I am doing that with both my fingers crossed behind my back.
I turn now to the question of the Lords spiritual. We heard from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford who made a very good case for the Lords spiritual being Members of your Lordships' House. As a member of the Church of Scotland, I should tell the House that we have an historical opposition to bishops. We got rid of them some 500 years ago, but I am rather more charitable than my forebears. I have heard the bishops make extremely important contributions to your Lordships' House.
However, it is right that we should bring in other religious faiths, other parts of the Christian community, and the other faiths which have strong representation in this country. Your Lordships will remember the important contribution which the late Lord Jakobovits made to your Lordships' House. We should bear in mind also future contributions from the noble Baroness, Lady Richardson of Calow, who comes from the Council of Free Churches in England.
Therefore, I have no great problem with that proposal even though 10 of the bishops must, so to speak, "take the black spot", to use a previous term from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn.
That is quite easy, but when we come to the rest of it, the debate has ranged from arguments for a wholly appointed Chamber, to a few elected, to a few more elected, to a good few more elected, to 50 per cent elected, to two-thirds elected. For a long time, I thought that the bidding was going to stop there; then along came the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, who said that all Members should be elected. I was rather relieved when he did that because, otherwise, I should not have been able to present this as a rounded summary.
I listened with a great deal of care, as I always do, to my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth, to the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, and to a number of other noble Lords--namely, the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, and the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice--who seemed to favour having a wholly appointed House. I thought that my noble friend Lord Norton and the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, in particular addressed the issue of legitimacy in a convincing way. To a simpleton like me, it seemed that they were looking at Parliament as a whole and were saying that the legitimacy for the electorate is for the Members down there. They decide who is to be the government; they decide if a government are to be chucked out; they make those decisions. We have no part to play in that. We can defeat governments or not defeat governments; and they just carry on. But it is in the House of Commons where the democratic legitimacy resides in its entirety.
I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, made a telling point when he wondered whether the European Parliament is looked on as being any more legitimate today, elected, than it was before 1979 when its Members were appointed. If the turn-out for the European elections in this country is anything to go by, it is certainly not looked on with much favour as a democratic institution by our electorate. So the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, as always, made a very important point in that regard, as did my noble friend Lord Norton.
I am not really supposed to show that I have reached any great conclusion on this matter, but at the risk of sharing a confidence with your Lordships, my noble friend Lord Hurd of Westwell came nearest to persuading me that we should have a mixed House. He was quite convincing until other noble Lords spoke about it and decided to cast doubts on our ability to have a mixed House. I noticed that the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, said that the Government accepted the principle of a minority of elected representatives. She went on to say that she did not believe that there would be a problem of conflict with the position of MPs.
I should like to share with your Lordships what has happened in Scotland; it may just be teething troubles. There has been conflict within the Scottish Parliament between the two differently elected kinds of Member: between first-past-the-post and top-up Members--the
Before we consider any elected representation your Lordships would be well advised to think carefully about the consequences which might arise from the conflicts which could appear in the constituencies. I understand the regional aspect. To be honest, I should not look on Members who were elected, if that was the way it was, as regional representatives. I should simply consider that we had to divide the country into regions in order to carry out the elections. But if we go down that road, we should go out of our way to ensure that such Members never become upper-class constituency MPs or upper House constituency MPs. Frankly, they should not be given the kind of constituency allowances and office suites given to Members of the other House. There should be a clear decision that they do not take up constituents' cases as if they were Members of the other place; otherwise, there will be huge conflict. It will not be about the powers of the two Houses, but about what the membership of each House actually does.
I have only one other point about the elections. I noticed that few noble Lords dealt with the elections. I am not surprised. I regret to say to my noble friend Lord Wakeham that the system laid out in the report is rather complicated. I saw in the middle of it, the words, "closed list". My Lords, no! Whatever else we do, we must not allow closed lists or even partially closed lists, whatever they are, for elections here. We really must learn from the dreadful turn-out, the disinterest and so on at the European elections. We were told that list systems would bring people out in droves to vote, but they kept them away in droves. But it is more than that. If we want to go down the road of elections to this House, we must try to ensure that the claws of the political parties are not deep in the decisions and that the electorate is allowed to decide inside each party whom it would prefer to see here. In that way, we shall get some independent people and people with independent minds.
Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, I believe that the long term of tenure is right. I should not allow re-election should we go down that road. The reason that I should not do so is that it is re-election which gives the Whips in the other place a bit of control over their Members. What is the point of having this House entirely controlled by the Whips in the same way as is the Commons? I notice that the Chief Whip is looking at me rather quizzically, but that is exactly what I think.
Can we for a moment discuss the appointments commission? Will the Government forget the kind of interim appointments commission which they are suggesting? This has taken them an awfully long time, considering that I was told when your Lordships passed an amendment to the House of Lords Bill that stopped it dead in its tracks. The House of Lords Bill was passed a long time ago, as your Lordships will remember. The appointments commission has still to be appointed. I believe one should be set up along the lines proposed by my noble friend Lord Wakeham. We could get on with that now and we could use the Bill of my noble friend Lord Kingsland as a vehicle for the creation of a proper appointments commission.
Lastly, will we have a Joint Committee of both Houses? If so, will it be set up in this Parliament? Like my noble friend Lord Strathclyde, I cannot resist the temptation of reminding the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, of Labour's manifesto--my bedtime reading. It says that a Joint Committee should,
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, at about 3.15 p.m. my noble friend the Leader of the House said that she was opening the debate with great enthusiasm. At about 11 o'clock I am, with pulsating enthusiasm, about to close it.
It is curious, with certain notable, not to say notorious exceptions, how consistent a thread of consensus there has been in the debate. I believe that already this House is equipped to carry out its proper work, which can never remain static, in a better way. As a number of noble Lords have said, I believe it has begun to be reinvigorated and much more effective.
During the many days when I sat listening to your Lordships discuss reform generally, one or two phrases stuck in my mind. I hope your Lordships will not think it invidious if I repeat what the noble Lord, Lord Elton, said vis-a-vis the general position of the hereditary element in your Lordships' House as it then was. He said that he was content to go, though not
It is short-sighted and foolish to say we should take a little piece of this and a little piece of that and address it all at once. It is short-sighted and foolish on at least two bases: first, we have the advice given to us by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, not to cherry-pick; and secondly, we need to heed the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Denham, that, if we are embarked on constitutional change, we ought, if at all possible, to do it on a comprehensive basis. We want consensus. It is idle to think of having a Joint Committee unless the general parameters of agreement in this House have already been established for that Joint Committee.
Let us also not forget that, although we are reforming and reinvigorating ourselves with a transfusion of new ideas, we are not the only determining Chamber in this matter. I take the example of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, who said, for instance, that in the context of secondary legislation it is not our business alone. The other Chamber has a legitimate interest in that and plainly, as everyone in your Lordships' House knows, the other Chamber has not debated these issues.
If we as a government say that we want to have consensus, that we want to hear different views, I readily accept the indication given, again by the noble Lord, Lord Elton--I hope this does not qualify him for expulsion from his party--that we have to bear in mind that these are constitutional arrangements for the future. So we are trustees, as he said, and we should be servants to a greater purpose than our present convenience.
I take the noble Lord's point and the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham explicitly here and constantly in the report, that we are not here to construct constitutional edifices simply because the Labour Party at the moment and for the next few years is likely to be in power and presently has a substantial majority. My immediate instinct, being an unsophisticated country boy once upon a time, was that there ought to be a wholly elected second Chamber. The more I read the report and listened to the arguments, the more, I regret to say, I realised that I had been wrong.
If there had been a wholly elected Chamber at the time of the last election, we would have ended up with a significant--some would say powerful--majority in the Commons, and a similar powerful majority here. That would not have been good for our country and our horizons should not be limited simply by the fact
It was interesting to me to hear quite unambiguously what the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said; namely, that the official Opposition support an elected element, which means inevitably that they support the dual system identified by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham. We deceive ourselves and look at it in an unduly simplistic way if we believe that, because the origin of Members here is different, there are necessarily two tiers. The hereditary Peers here worked amicably together with the lifers. And of course the bishops are here only on a temporary basis--though I appreciate they are spiritual and not temporal. They are here ex officio but only while they hold their see. Similarly, the Law Lords are here ex officio, but they continue in their place, to our infinite pleasure, after they retire from sitting in what is our Supreme Court. Nobody asserts that any of the Law Lords' contributions are better or worse in their essential nature than any contributions from the right reverend Prelates. That is a bogus argument which has no real validity when one looks at it.
I appreciate that the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, wanted as much as 50 per cent of elected representation, and others held different views. That does not derogate from my point that there is virtual unanimity, apart from the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, in relation to the dual composition which is set out. There is room for argument. I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, readily agrees with his colleagues on the commission that there is room for improvement in the possible models put forward.
It was said by the noble Lord, Lord Norton, that our approach to House of Lords reform is somehow different in nature and essence from our approach to other constitutional reform. That is a misreading of the situation. It ought not to be overlooked that one of the most fundamental constitutional changes that this Government have introduced--I suggest that it may well be the most fundamental one--is the introduction of the Human Rights Act. Once that is embodied in the fabric and full heart of our society, nothing will ever be the same again. We did that deliberately; not because we had not thought of the consequences; not because we did not anticipate legal challenge in Scotland; of course we did. That is why people were trained to deal with the legal challenges in Scotland, Wales and in the rest of the United Kingdom. That is a significant constitutional advance because it devolves power from the centre to the individual. That is what devolution to Scotland and Wales is all about.
If there are sniggers (apparently there are occasionally) in relation to what has been happening in Cardiff, I say this. There were different views as to who should be First Secretary. Those have now been resolved. But if we devolve power, we devolve trust. And it is a foolish person with no experience of constitutional political arrangements who does not imagine that in the earlier years there may be some difficulties.
It is interesting to bear in mind one or two historical perspectives. We have not been the grateful recipients of 1,000 years of parliamentary democracy. I shall repeat, I hope for the last time, that in this country women did not get the vote on the basis of equality until after the First World War. It is no good saying that 1832 changed everything. It hardly helped at all to enfranchise the working class. In fact, it did nothing for the working class and it was like drawing teeth to secure even the most modest improvement.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, that the other issues, although they have not received headline attention either in the newspapers and political tracts, or indeed, in your Lordships' House this evening, are extremely important. Over the past nine years since I have been here, our House has been evolving. Perhaps I may call it the Alexander committee. Effectively, that has needed no more powers to be given to it, but it has given itself legitimacy because it has produced its own authority. The House of Commons has legitimacy because the electorate donate it that legitimacy on the occasion of every general election. But the Alexander committee--it is a very important example--has acquired its own authority. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, that it has therefore acquired its own legitimacy because of its own productivity.
I believe that there is a great deal of work to be done on devising ways in which we can develop committees. I agree entirely, although not necessarily on the same basis addressed by my noble friend Lord Graham of Edmonton, that the question of resources is extremely important. It is not a question of resources in the sense of whether Ministers are properly remunerated. Plainly there is only one answer to that question. It is a question of resources in terms of whether we ask too much of our committee Clerks. The answer is yes. Are we giving people the necessary resources and back-up facilities to do the work they do, in some circumstances, infinitely better than some committees--I am speaking very quietly indeed now--which operate at the other end of this Palace? I believe that those are advances upon which we all ought to be able to agree.
I was genuinely surprised to see such a degree of agreement and consensus, because I had not anticipated it. I think there has been a cooling of passions and calming of disappointments and distress, which were inevitable given that some hereditary Peers left unhappily and unwillingly. That cooling period, which has been used by the commission to get on with its work, is capable of being of great benefit to our House.
My noble friend the Leader of the House said that she would not be addressing and dealing with particulars today. That is the right way to approach this. Only a foolish person would read the Wakeham Commission report and come to immediate conclusions. I believe that noble Lords are quite right to say that we do have more than a passing duty to listen to views, not least views from the other end of the corridor, because they have an interest in what we do and it is a proper, lawful, constitutional interest.
I hope that we do get on now. Speaking as neutrally as I can, we have not waited 90 years and invested all those hours of fascinating, non-repetitious discussion of these various issues which have so concerned us, to have no outcome other than the departure of most of the hereditary Peers. That would be a pretty indecent and craven outcome. We want to move forward.
As my noble friend the Leader of the House said earlier, we have started discussions. I know that she has had discussions with some of the opposition parties. I pay tribute to the generous way in which a response has come from the main opposition party--I am using those words fairly carefully because I cannot say that all responses to her requests have always been generous or full-hearted. We have had good discussions so far with the Leader of the Liberal Democrat Party and the Convenor of the Cross-Bench Peers. We have made inquiries as to what is wanted by our colleagues in Scotland and Northern Ireland. There is a real opportunity here for those who feel that their voices have not been heard sufficiently still to feel themselves bound in to the constitutional settlement that we have in this country.
One thing about this country that I believe is good is the fact that it is capable of periodic, organic renewal and change. For too long in past years, that change has not been occurring. No one wants a revolution, but we can work together to get a workable, sensible outcome that will, as the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, said, have to derive its authority from acceptance by the public.
The noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, is absolutely right in this respect. I do not believe that those members of the public who tick the box--that is, the 89 per cent, or whatever the figure happens to be at that particular moment; it seems to vary--want the dead hand of party political organisation to strangle this House. If we had a wholly-elected House, which, apparently, the 89 per cent want at one time or another, that is what we would end up with. We would have no Law Lords and no Cross-Benchers because, in the nature of things, they will not be willing to stand for election. In any event, no one can be elected in our modern world without the organisation, the determination and the finances of political parties.
That system works well in the House of Commons, at present; but it would not work here if we want an independent House which would, within appropriate, prudent and agreed limits, be there as a check and a balance on the power of the House of Commons. We ought to be able to advise: to do so we need to be informed and resourced. We ought to be able to give guidance. But we ought always to remember that they are supreme in our settlement; indeed, I have heard no dissent from that proposition. The fact that they are supreme does not make them dictators over us. However, if they are not to be dictators over us, we need to do our work properly, prudently and co-operatively.
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