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Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: My Lords, is the noble Lord suggesting that there is any system at all that will be found not to include a large element of patronage in relation to membership of this House? The noble Lord quotes the Prime Minister's appointments. Over the years there have been many objections to "patronage", as it is called; I am not sure that a system of necrophilic patronage is better than a living one.
The point that we make from these Benches is a broader one. At the moment, the only way into this House is if the Prime Minister ticks your name. He decides not only who will be a Member here, but also the political balance and the overall number of Members. I hope that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, will put me right if I am wrong in saying that. All we propose today is that some of that patronage should be taken away from one person--the head of the executive, the Prime Minister--and be put into the hands of a commission. We have attempted to introduce an element of independence.
Of course, the Government have accepted that argument because they propose their own appointments commission. The difference between our commission and theirs is that ours is backed by law. As I said a moment ago to the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, theirs has been produced at the whim of the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister could wake up tomorrow and decide that he will not do it. Under this system, it can be changed only by the will of Parliament. That is why it is so much more important.
This Bill provides for all the matters that I have mentioned and all those that my noble friend has mentioned. Perhaps I can also tease one other point from the noble and learned Lord. Your Lordships will know my strongly held view, and that of my party, that we should now proceed to the creation of a Joint Committee of both Houses to consider proposals for stage two. There is no reason why that commission should not be set up. This House and another place expect and deserve no less. As Mr Tony Wright, the chairman of the Select Committee on the constitution said recently in another place, it is wrong for the Government to exclude Parliament from this discussion just as it was wrong to exclude the Cross Benches from discussion on the interim appointments commission.
I hope that my noble friend's Bill and this debate will provide a basis for discussion of the stable and long-term statutory commission that is widely demanded inside and outside the House. I confirm what my noble
My noble friend has shown that his proposals differ from the Government's only in the sense that they entrench independence further and limit the Prime Minister's power of patronage. It is right to err on that side. I hope that we can find a way, with the good will shown by most speakers so far--
The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): My Lords, as I understand the principled position taken up by the noble Leader of the Opposition in this House, he accepts that the appointments commission will reduce the Prime Minister's power of patronage, but his point is that it should be a statutory appointments commission. Therefore, I assume that, apart from that point, he is content with the arrangements in relation to the appointments commission proposed by the Government.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, not entirely. I shall tell the noble and learned Lord why. I agree with his point about it being statutory and hope that he agrees with my view on that. But it is difficult to take part in this discussion because we do not know enough about the appointments commission currently being proposed and cooked up in the Cabinet Office by the Government. I understand that the Prime Minister will still decide the political balance in this House and will still decide the overall numbers. If I am wrong, perhaps the noble and learned Lord will put me right.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, fairly pointed out that what he sought to do was to reflect in his Bill the Government's proposals. I am entirely unclear now as to what the Opposition's position is.
This Bill is being presented by the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, as a reflection of the Government's position. It is being put forward on the basis that the only two differences are the Privy Counsellor point and the selection of the chairman by the body itself. Apart from that, no other changes have been made. I take it, therefore, that the Opposition are content that that is a suitable discharge of the power of patronage, apart from the point, fairly made by the noble Lord, that it is statutory rather than non-statutory.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, if it was a fairly made point, I hope that the noble and learned Lord will accept the principles underlying this Bill and give his support to getting it through Parliament; in which case, I shall continue to support him.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I apologise for continually interrupting. Perhaps the noble Lord will stop me if it causes difficulties. The noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, took the proportionality point from the White Paper. We accept that the proportionality which he seeks to reflect--I am not taking any drafting points here--broadly reflects the point for proportionality that we have always put forward for the transitional House.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, that takes us back to the point on which the noble and learned Lord and I agree--it is good that we agree because we bring this Bill to the House in a spirit of consensus--that is, that the commission should have a statutory basis. If we do not disagree about the details, then when he rises in around 30 seconds the noble and learned Lord must be going to tell us the reason why the commission cannot be statutory.
The Bill before us will strengthen the life peerage; it will strengthen this House; it will strengthen the political process itself. On that basis, we should seek to be equal to the challenge that my noble friend Lord Kingsland has set us this afternoon.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, the exchange I have just had with the Leader of the Opposition is significant. As I understand it, it has been the position of the Opposition in this House that the Prime Minister has not adequately shed his powers of patronage. As I understood the effect of our exchange, apart from the issue of whether or not the commission should be statutory, the Leader of the Opposition would be content with the arrangements advanced by his noble friend in this Bill.
The only difference between the proposals advanced in the Government's White Paper and this Bill are in effect points of detail rather than points of substance, such as how the chairman is appointed and the Privy Counsellor point. That is how the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, introduced his Bill. At the moment, therefore, I am quite unable to understand how the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, can continue to make what appear to me to be thoroughly bad points about the Prime Minister not having given up his power of patronage.
I should like to assist the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, though I suspect he is not in the mood to be assisted this afternoon. If the noble and learned Lord would be kind enough to cast his mind back to the beginning of my speech--though I accept that that may, perhaps, be too distressing an experience for him--he will recall that I said that my fundamental objection to the route that had been chosen by the
If the selection process is statutorily based, which is what I seek, we will have a commission that is independent of the Royal prerogative determining the composition of your Lordships' House. That would satisfy the constitutional criterion that I laid down at the beginning of my speech. In my submission, that is the fundamental objection to what the Government are seeking to do at the moment.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, as I understand it, the Conservatives would be content with the following arrangements in the interim House--I make no claims for what their position would be in relation to a final House. First, they would be content with the Prime Minister nominating the Labour Peers; with the leader of the Conservatives nominating the Conservative Peers; and with the leader of the Liberal Democrats nominating their Peers. Secondly, they believe that the makeup should be broad parity between the two main parties; that the Cross-Benchers should equal as a proportion of the whole House the proportion that they broadly represent now; and that the Cross-Benchers or "independents", as some noble Lords wish them to be called, should be nominated not by the Prime Minister but by the appointments commission.
I do not want to go into any further detail, but, as I understand it, the Conservatives would be happy with such an arrangement and would regard it as being satisfactory. The only difference is that, instead of the appointments commission being established under arrangements that the Government presently propose, they believe that it should be established under arrangements contained in a statute. I see that noble Lords opposite are nodding their heads. That is what the position will be, except for the statutory point. Therefore, I imagine that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, will now no longer complain about patronage--
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