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Lord MacGregor of Pulham Market: My Lords, I cannot give way because of the time. In my 27 years as an MP I think that I received two letters about the House of Lords. I rarely heard any discussion about the matter in my constituency and there has never been any inclination to have a serious discussion along the lines of the debate that we are now having. I warn people not to pay too much attention to the opinion polls.
I shall consider the principle and then the practicalities of a wholly or substantially elected House. On the principle, if the House of Lords were the same as the House of Commons, with similar functions and powers, the point about elections being the only legitimate route would hold. However, that is not the case. This House is substantially and definitively subordinate. The real issue of legitimacy in a democracy is how the government are chosen. That is done by election to the House of Commons. Governments depend on retaining the support of the House of Commons. It has the ultimate total decision on legislation and nearly always gets its way on major substantive legislation. Anyone who has been a Minister will have considerable experience of how that can be achieved. We should be under no illusions about that. Nearly all Ministerscertainly nearly all senior Ministersare drawn from the House of Commons. The House of Commons also has total control over finance and supply.
My noble friend Lord Baker argued that because this House has powers it should have an elected element. But those powers are very limited. The supporting documents rightly point out, in paragraph 4 on page 5, that that has profound implications for the role of the second Chamber, and hence for its composition.
An extremely pertinent point is made in the supporting documents. Very little reference has been made to the supporting documents in the debate. I urge your Lordships to look at pages 22 and 23. One point made on those pages is that,
I have therefore come to the view that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor was right to say that election is not the only route to legitimacy. What is the nature of that legitimacy? I thought that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford made some very telling points about the representative function that he has been able to perform in this place.
We have heard powerful speeches from the noble Lords, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, Lord Neill of Bladen and Lord Sewel, among others, on how a largeor anyelected element could substantially change the character of this place. I shall summarise some of the points.
If elected Members of the Lords are expected to perform our current roles and functions, what will be the job description? It will be, "You will not have many powers. You will have very little capacity to influence legislation. It is also very unlikely that you will ever become a Minister, but you will be expected to be full time. You will find it extremely difficult to attract the attention of your constituents or explain your activities to them in any way at all. If you are going to take advantage of the Government's proposals on re-election, there will be major disadvantages. By the way, although you'll be full time, you'll have no real secretarial support for the major activities that you are supposed to undertake. No one will take much notice of the highly important work that the House of Lords does. You are also not expected to receive any salary".
Who will respond to that type of job description? Anyone who is successful in mid-career will not be attracted to the House of Lords if he wants to embrace a political career; he will go to the House of Commons. If he fails to persuade a constituency to accept him, he will regard the House of Lords as a possibility only if he sees it as a stepping stone to the House of Commons. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, that that would hardly raise the quality in this House compared with appointed Members who have wide expertise and experience over many years.
Moreover, if there are elected Members, they will constantly argue for greater powers because they believe that they have legitimacy. We have heard that argument many times and I do not intend to repeat it. However, elected Members would also attempt to copy the habits and tactics of the House of Commons
There would also be inevitable jockeying for the electorate's attention between Members of the House of Lords and Members of the House of Commons. One of the principles stated in the White Paper is the need not to disturb the relationship between elected Members of the Commons and their constituents. Elected Members in this place would do precisely that. We have learned that lesson from the difficulties that Westminster Members of Parliament have had in trying to attract their electorate's attention when MSPs are receiving all the attention.
Your Lordships might therefore conclude that I am against any elected element at all. However, I was much impressed by the arguments made last night by the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, on the importance of compromise and consensus in trying to reach agreement. On that basis, I would accept an elected element. I believe, however, that the right number is 87, as in the Wakeham proposals, for the reasons given in that report and for two others. First, such a major change would greatly change the character of this House, and we would have to learn from experience the unintended and unexpected consequences. We shall have to move fairly slowly to gain, as my noble and learned friend Lord Howe said, the benefits of incremental change.
Secondly, I was much impressed by the points made by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor on the transitional period and the arithmetic. If I understand the arithmetic aright, if we abolish the hereditary Peers and have 120 elected Peers, to reach the capped number in 10 years there will be only 49 appointed Members. We shall therefore have about five appointed Members per year. Consequently, in reality, very few independent Members will be appointed in those 10 years. I agree with all the remarks that have been made about the importance of the independent element. It cannot be enhanced if there are 120 elected Members.
At this point, I substantially part company with the Government and their White Paper. The Government's proposals on the length of term, re-election and closed listsall of which have already been dealt with thoroughly in the debateare absolutely wrong, and the Wakeham commission proposals on them are absolutely right. The Government's proposals would simply increase the power of patronage of the parties and of the Prime Minister, as so many of the new Members entering this place in the next 10 years would arrive by means of that electoral, closed-list system. I therefore wholly oppose those proposals and hope that the Government will rethink them.
I very much regret that the White Paper says so little about the powers, role and function of the House of Lords. It states a position but does not really offer an argument or say where changes might be made. In the whole of his speech, the Lord Chancellor had only one sentence, I think, on powers and functions. But it is a fundamental issue. The important point is that the House of Lords should be doing so much more of what the House of Commons is now doing so very badly. All former Members of the House of Commons and Ministers know that the pressuresnot least the constituency pressures, but also so many otherson a Member of Parliament are such that the role of truly scrutinising legislation takes second, third or fourth place.
Timetabling is not working. Substantial clauses in the Education Bill, for example, are not being debated at all in Committee in the other place, and there will be no debate on them until that legislation reaches this place. That is happening much more frequently now because scrutiny is not the type of task to which Members of Parliament are giving high priority.
It is a scandal how little attention is being paid to secondary legislation. The supporting documents list, on pages 18 and 19, some elements of secondary legislation that are far from technical matters; they are matters of fundamental policy or are substantial changes to policy. Yet neither House pays any real attention to that legislation.
I am very much of the school that this House's current powers are inadequate. The ability to vote against is hardly ever used, and the proposal to delay a statutory instrument for three months does not add up to a row of beans. Any government can quite easily ignore it. As several of your Lordships have said, the real point is that statutory instrumentsnow that they are increasingly being used and frequently have quite significant implications, and now that so much more primary legislation is referred to statutory instrumentsshould be amendable. I believe that this House, with its time and experience, could concentrate much more on amending statutory instruments. A sifting process could be used to force the government to pay attention to some of the changes that your Lordships are advocating. Delaying powers would not achieve that objective.
My point is that additional powers are not about challenging the House of Commons but about challenging the executive's power when the House of Commons is unable to do it. I believe that all of these additional powers would be in keeping with the Government's principles of reform. I greatly regret that they have not even touched on them. I hope that, even now, they will consider them.
Lord Elton: My Lords, I start by congratulating my noble friend Lord Kingsland, who does not sit in the spotlight but has sat as long as the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House in the service of his side and a little longer than the Lord Chancellor.
I congratulate all the government team now present on the extent of the time that they have spent here. I hope that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, has an equal power to absorb as he has to hear. I was astonished to see that he has only 15 minutes, like the rest of us, to replyI am relieved to be corrected; he has a little longer. I hope it is not too much, but it certainly ought to be more than 15 minutes.
It is the privilege of those replying late in the debate to speak to a lot of empty seats. But I wish to address every member of the present Government in this House as though they were sitting in front of me. I hope that they will listen well, wherever they are. I sat there once and as sure as eggs are eggs, whoever is sitting there now will one day be sitting here. I want them to consider that, when they start messing about with parliamentary machinery, the changes that they make today will be in place on the day that they sit here. I ask whether they will want then what they claim to want now.
Will they want a Chamber that delivers swiftly and without trouble all that the then government demand of it? No. They"you"will want then what I want now: a House that will scrutinise and improve legislation without fear of the executive and without expectation of reward from the executive; a House that is directly in touch with the social, economic, political and defence needs of society in the light of its own experience; a House that will stand between the electorate and the leader of any political party of any colour who gets absolute control of the House of Commons; and a House that, in the last resort, can and will prevent the extension of a Parliament beyond its five years unless the reasons for that are agreed as sufficient. The great and vital and indispensable blessing conferred by democracy is not, as we all assume, the power to elect the party of government; it is the power to get rid of it.
Let me take those points in reverse. It is a disappointment that there is no mention in the White Paper of an entrenchment of the quinquennial Act or of the House of Lords' right to veto any amendment of it. The point relating to a House that is in daily touch with the concerns of the electorate may be thought to relate to the House of Commons. But, as was pointed out by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of
Members of this House, to counterbalance that, must be out and about. The first issue we come to in that regard is that any question of having a House that functions during normal business hours is out. We cannot be in two places at once. That may not be Member friendly; but it would be hostile to the electorate if we were to bottle people up in this place so that they became out of touch with what is going on in the real world. We must remember that it may not be Member friendly; but we are not here for ourselves. We are here for the electorate. They are the ones we should be protecting.
For the scrutiny and building of legislation age is not a consideration. My noble friend Lord Renton, at 94, gives far more to this House than many Peers under the age of 50. He is nearly twice their age and nearly twice their use. I well remember when taking the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill through this House that the greatest difficulty I had, and conversely the greatest help I received, was from one man, Lord Denning, at the age of 85. So the idea that the Law Lords should be forcibly expelled 10 years before that notable Law Lord gave of his best seems to me to be cross-grained and contradictory. I cannot see the purpose of it except to make more room for other people so that we sit within the 600.
To stimulate contact with the outside world Members of this place must, while they are capable of doing so, be under the necessity of earning. It is important that we are not paid. The need to earn drives people out into active engagement with the economy. I take myself as an example, at the age of 71, with two part-time jobs. Your Lordships should recognise that those who embark in middle-age, in their prime, on a career in this place, undertake a considerable penalty. I take myself as an example not in any sense of self-pityI went into it with my eyes openbut because my last year in a full-time pensionable job was when I was 43, in 1973. The penalty I pay will be when I stop earning and do not receive the pensions that other people outside this House have been free to earn. If your Lordships are to have a system of recruiting people to be diligent in this place, we must recognise that they cannot take full-time work and we should take into account the situation in which they will find themselves when they pass earning ability.
As I say, I am not speaking for myself but of myself. I foresee many people being put in that position and being discouraged from coming into your Lordships' House for that reason. The answer is not to pay people while they are here, but to give them enhanced pension rights for their declining years. At the mention of severance pay, which was
I mentioned a House that will scrutinise effectively. The noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, said that we are already effectively the Committee stage of the parliamentary process. That brings me to the question of what is happening at the other end of the corridor, on which I am not qualified to judge. But noble Lords with recent and profound experience confirm my fears that all is not well there and that we should be considering the Houses in tandem in a single debate and not singly.
In relation to the huge volume of secondary legislation passing through Parliament, we heard at Question Time today that the average over the past four or five years has been 3,500 statutory instruments. That suggests that we cannot let them go further out of control than they are already. There must be some system of striking them down if necessary. There must be a sifting process. The purpose of secondary legislation is simply to save parliamentary time. To prevent that being abused we have the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee. But that is not achieving enough and we need to extend our purview by perhaps setting up a separate committee process for sifting and reviewing.
I have said that this process must be without fear of the executive or hope of advantage from it. That means inevitably that there must be no re-appointment of appointees and no re-election of those elected. I do not need to explain the first statement. The second statement arises from the fact that one does not now have a hope of being elected unless one is backed by the party machine. We will therefore be in fee to the manipulators of the party in Parliament if we want to be re-elected. That will then cover us. My pride is that my first speeches and first votes in your Lordships' House, apart from my entirely uncontroversial maiden speech, were against the government of the day, which was Conservative. That must always be possible.
Everything I have mentioned can be achieved regardless of how the membership is recruited. Yesterday my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth completely destroyed the White Paper when he pointed out that the paper presented to Parliament by no less a person than the Prime Minister states:
The speech of the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, yesterday constituted a breath of fresh air with regard to Select Committees. However, I do not think that what we are discussing constitutes the way to connect with the public and, as the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Temple Guiting, said, that is vital at this stage.
I do not think that what we have here is the vessel that my noble friend Lord Hurd looks for to carry us safely from the halfway island to the other shore, nor is it the road forward that the Government encouraged us to expect. There is no sign of consensus. One wonders where we go from here. At this point I am reminded of the telling speech of my noble friend Lord Denham. It was delivered with deceptive gentleness, but it was a devastating account of the way in which, I regret to say, the Government have reneged on their undertaking. The noble and learned Lord will be able to rebut my remarks when he replies to the debate, but he mentionedand I have seen in writingthe evidence for his statement that we have been repeatedly assured that there will be a Joint Select Committee of both Houses to resolve this difficulty.
That undertaking was given before a crucial vote in the passage of the House of Lords Bill. I am assured that votes were cast on that occasion in the light of that undertaking, which has not been honoured. It seems to me that it is not too late to honour it and that if the Government did that they would have a way out of the place into which they have dug themselves, because if there could be no agreement it would not be their fault. However, at the moment, as far as I can see, they can deliver that only by using a pitchfork on this House wielded from another place.
I believe that I have made the essential points. I shall not discuss composition. What matters now is what we do next. What we do next must surely be to address some means of achieving an intelligent andI cannot remember the exact phrase of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildfordreceptive dialogue by going far enough back as regards our differences with the other place. That can be achieved only by a Joint Select Committee of both Houses. I hope, therefore, that the Government will eventually fulfil that intention.
Lord Chalfont: My Lords, I begin exactly where the noble Lord, Lord Denham, began his speech yesterday, except that I was always led to believe that what he described took place not in Ballymurphy but in north Wales. I believe that it was in the town of Llangollen that a local inhabitant was approached by a foreign gentlemanI believe that he was Englishwho asked him the way to Dolgellau. After a thoughtful pause the reply came, "If I was you, I wouldn't start from here". If I were considering the reform of Parliament, I certainly would not start from here.
Some noble Lords may remember that from the beginning I have consistently questioned the wisdom of this whole adventure. In my experience of nearly 40 years in your Lordships' House I have always believed that the House of Lords functioned perfectly well in its previous incarnation. In spite of what the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, said in his amusing speech, I do not think that it did any harm to anyone. However, it is not, of course, difficult to understand or to accept the ideological pressures which led to the decision to remove the majority of hereditary Peers from the House, although it seems to me that when that was done no one really seemed to know, or to have any clear idea, of what the next step might be.
The result is this somewhat ill received White Paper which is very much like what the Guardian has called a dog's dinner and what Field Marshal Montgomery used to call a dog's breakfast. Whatever unfortunate dog's meal we choose to compare the document with, it certainly pleases no one. It does not please those who want to see a fully elected House, those who would like to see a fully appointed House, those who would like to leave things alone or those who would like to abolish the second Chamber altogether. Indeed, it seems to please no one.
The alleged idea behind the White Paper is apparently to look for a compromise among all these contending approaches designed to produce a House which, like all the other modernisation projects to which we have been subjected over recent years, is supposed, in the jargon, to make it "fit for the 21st century", whatever that may mean. What it does in fact is to propose the establishment of a House which will be almost entirely under party control and even less capable than the House of Commons of holding the Government to account.
As we know, the White Paper proposes that the House should consist ultimately of 600 Members, of whom 120 are to be appointed independents. The remainder will be appointed by the party machines or elected on the iniquitous party list systemthe noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, rightly described that as a democratic monstrosity; it is also an intellectually dishonest monstrositywhich means that everyone in the House envisaged in the White Paper except the 120 independents will be beholden to one of the main political parties.
In that context, perhaps I may say that I have been engaged in a study of the White Paper over some months, together with some other Members of the Cross Benches. The noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, mentioned that yesterday. We have already submitted a response to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor in reply to his invitation to comment on the White Paper. I say in passing that the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, who was a member of the group which carried out the examination, much regrets that he is unable to take part in the debate as he cannot be present for all of it. However, he would like it to be known that he agrees fully with the report which the group submitted to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor.
As the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, said somewhat ruefully yesterday, if anyone is rash enough to want to read that paper it can be made available. I wish to make a few brief points on it. The first, and to my mind the most important, concerns the definition of an independent Member of the House as described in the White Paper. It is in my view absolutely essential that that quota of 120 appointed independents should, if the plan ever comes to fruition, be truly and transparently independent in the truest sense of the word.
Any Member of your Lordships' House can, of course, sit on the Cross Benches and is entitled to call himself a Cross-Bencher. However, that does not necessarily mean that he should be counted as one of the 120 Members appointed as the independent quota. There have been some rather bizarre suggestions in that context, including that membership of a political party is not inconsistent with independence. I find that peculiar. It may be true in one sense, but it is, in my view, totally inconsistent with being an independent, in the sense of being part of the quota in the White Paper. We are talking not about intellectual or moral independence but political independence in the party sense.
The present Appointments Commission has already published its criteria for the assessment of nominations for non-political membership of this House. It specifically includes the requirement that nominees should be,
I move to the composition of the new statutory appointments commission, which will decide on quotas and appoint the non-political Members of the House. The make-up of that commission is therefore of great importance. I suggest that however it is appointed or composed, it should have a chairman who is an independent Member of this House with extensive experience of how it works, and a further independent Member of the House who also has extensive experience of how it works. I welcome the fact that one of the members of the commission, according to the White Paper, will be nominated by the Convenor.
However, parts 7 and 8 of the supporting documents, if I read them correctly, seem to accept that there might be no Members of the House among the independent members of the commission. That seems extraordinary.
Finally, there is the question of hereditary Peers. At the change, the House will lose 92 hereditary Peers and gain 120 elected Members. The noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, has already dealt expertly with the mathematics of that. It seems essential that there should be some kind of commitment at the change that an appropriate number of replacement appointments should be made to the independent Members to take account of the varying expertise that will be lost. I advance a purely personal view on that. If the present proposals are adopted, the independents of this House will lose overnight 28 hereditary Peers, many of whom
Given the volcanic eruptions in the other place and the somewhat more decorous exchanges in your Lordships' House over the past two days, it must by now be clear to the meanest intelligence, and even clearer to the formidable intellect of the noble and learned Lord, that legislation that is based on the White Paper has about as much chance of arriving on the statute book as I have of playing rugby for Walesalthough, if last season is anything to go by, perhaps the chances are rather less. The Government will have to go back to the drawing board. There is something to be said, as was pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, for leaving things as they arethe House is working well and, outside political ideology, there is no reason for change. I have previously quoted in your Lordships' House the admirable dictum of the 17th century Lord Falkland, in the days when an hereditary peerage was not a target for envy and malice.
In that context, I conclude by asking the Government for an assuranceif they can give it to methat the removal of the remaining hereditary Peers is not the sole or principal aim of Her Majesty's Government. When the first stage of reform was implemented, it was clearly understood by all of us that the remaining hereditary Peersthe 92 who were left herehad a specific role to perform and that they would not be removed until the final reform of the House was being implemented. It would never occur to me for one moment to suggest that Her Majesty's Government would not honour that understanding fully. But perhaps I may ask the noble and learned Lord the Lord Privy Seal, when he comes to reply, to give an undertaking to the House that, if in the long run the rest of this White Paper proves to be too difficult to translate into legislation, they will not contemplate simply removing the remaining hereditary Peers and leaving everything else unchanged.
Lord Bowness: My Lords, as the 68th speaker, I dare say that the less I say the greater the chances of the content being valued. Inevitably, what I do say must be a statement of support of many views that have already been expressed.
This House, like all institutions, is from time to time subjected to criticismsome justified and some not. However, I believe that it is generally perceived to carry out its revising, scrutinising, debating and
Nevertheless, for those for whom the composition and numbers posed a real problem, I submit that those issues have now been largely overcome. That leaves me wondering to a considerable degree why we are faced with these controversial proposals, with the consequent parliamentary time that would be taken if they were to be pursued, when there are so many other matters of pressing concern to Members in this House and to members of the public.
I concur wholeheartedly with noble Lords who have argued persuasively against an all-elected House. Without repeating all the previously rehearsed arguments, I particularly take that view because it is only a reform of this House which is being considered. Without reform of the other place and of the whole system of government, another wholly elected Chamber would add no value whatever to the political process.
Nor do I support the Government's proposals for a partly elected House. The reasons for such opposition have been well aired, not least the effect that the introduction of an elected element would have on the character and working of this House and its relations with the other place. The noble Lord, Lord Sewel, and others made that very clear. I very much hope that we shall not now see the start of a kind of auction to discover who can put forward the most radical proposal for the greatest number of elected Members. I consider this matter to be too serious to be dealt with in that way.
Despite the opinion polls that have been referred to, I submitthose of us who are not here full time do work in the real worldthat there is little evidence that the public are anxious to elect yet another tier of government. My noble and learned friend Lord Howe of Aberavon and my noble friend Lord MacGregor drew attention to the generally-held favourable views of the public. Indeed, tonight the Evening Standard has even published a letter which, by and large, is favourable to your Lordships' House, even if it published a photograph of the judges rather than the rest of us. Perhaps that is indicative of the gap in understanding which must be closed.
The Government propose that a majority of political Members should be appointed. Personally I have no great problem with the involvement of the parties in that. How could I? I came here on the recommendation of a party leader, but for life. However, I do have a problem in reconciling the Government's proposal with the desire for independence. If independence is a principal consideration, as it should be, then the term of appointment should be as long as possible and there should be no prospect of reappointment. But, whatever the length, experience would undoubtedly be
I believe that the proposals to determine the number of Members so as to reflect the votes cast in the preceding general election will inevitably give rise to difficulty. They will give the impression that the government of the day are seeking to increase their grip on Parliament rather than increase its independence.
At this time of night, I believe that it is extremely dangerous to try to take issue with the noble and learned Lord the Lord Privy Seal. However, I noted that in the debate on the sex discrimination Billagain, talking about proportions, albeit of members of the Cabinet or of the House of Commonshe said, when asked about specific arithmetic, that that is the way in which British society has always worked; it does not work on a narrow, arithmetical calculation. I am sure that the noble and learned Lord will be able to draw a distinction between what he said then and the point in the White Paper. Nevertheless, I believe that it is a fair point to make.
The Lord Chancellor asked us to be constructive. I shall be constructive and say to your Lordships' House that we should recognise the values of the present system, many of which would go needlessly under the Government's proposals.
The present system is flexible. It meets the majority of the Government's objectives, or could do so. The Government's proposals maintain the Cross-Benchers, the Law Lords and the Bishops largely as under the present system. I submit to your Lordships that existing life Peers of all parties are a better guarantee of independence than a party list elected set of Members and nominees eligible for re-appointment or re-election, or vice versa. This is not to be an elected House and its composition may therefore be subject to different considerations.
To those in the other place who would have us all or largely elected, let us make it clear that we do not claim to be better for reason of non-election, merely different. We are different because we are here for a different purpose. We are, in the words of the Lord Chancellor, a vital check and balance. We are part of the same Parliament, of which the other place is also a part, but a Parliament in which the other place will always prevail. It may be at a cost of some time, delay or loss of particular detail, but prevail it always will.
We do not seek to change that position. As other noble Lords have said, our powers are largely adequate and justify our composition. Any attempt to equalise powers would not be justified by our composition, and the Government do not propose significantly greater powers with a different and less adequate composition. We do not look down on elected office. I held elected office, albeit at local level, for 30 years. I hope that it does not embarrass the Lord Chancellor if I repeat his comments about there being other sources of democratic legitimacy other than election.
The present system has many merits. We should have confidence in the House and ourselves. Members in all quarters of the House have different experiences, achievements and expertise. We should acknowledge that the life Peers who take a Whip have all been appointed by someone. Everyone is someone's crony, if one wants to use that rather pejorative term. I prefer that it were not so used. If it is not invidious to draw attention to the fact, we have already seen many new Members of your Lordships' House exercising, both in speeches and in votes, the independence which has characterised this House for a very long period of time.
The present system permits the practice of appointing people to serve as Ministers. That is a practice known to Prime Ministers of different parties. The Government's proposals would limit this quite considerably and the individuals who have held important offices within the countrya question raised by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radleyand indeed the kind of almost automatic right of former Cabinet Ministers to a seat in this House. All these advantages could be lost under the somewhat limited proposals of the Government.
With the independent commission and the Prime Minister's commitmentif honourednot to have a House dominated by one party, the regional balance, which is apparently one of the objectives of the elected Peers, could be easily achieved and all the difficult questions of a mixed House, election, numbers and re-appointment or re-election would not arise.
The present system also ensures, as has been referred to on many occasions, that the House is a part-time House. I believe that the involvement of as many outside Members as possible is an important feature.
Lastly, the presence of 92 hereditary Peers would be ended under the Government's proposals. But the House has now moved to a situation where there is no overall majority for any party. If noble Lords who sit here by succession forgive the phrase, the historical anomaly is immaterial and their presence does, and will continue to, add an element of independence. That was argued by my noble friend Lord Trefgarne. The register, far from being the ultimate closed list as described by the Lord Chancellor, is, after all, determined by accident of birth and rather more open than any party list that we have so far seen.
While it is inevitable if the Government's proposals are proceeded with, on a personal note I see no reason why we should be so eager to break the link with the peerage, which is, after all, a constantly evolving institution and provides a historical link and justification for the House and the powers that we now have.
The Lord Bishop of Oxford: My Lords, I had the privilege of being a member of the Royal Commission on the Reform of the House of Lords. Therefore, if I may, I shall speak from that perspective rather than as part of the official response of the Church of England.
In their response to the Wakeham report, the Government reject the idea of an appointments commission responsible for political appointments as well as Cross-Benchers. I think that that is a pity. The noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, set out the reasons why we thought that such an appointments commission was desirable and necessary. Nevertheless, if a consensusand it is a very big "if"eventually emerged around the Government's proposal for a more limited appointments commission than the Wakeham report envisaged, I should like to put forward two suggestions which might go some way to meet our concerns.
One major concern of the Royal Commission was that a reformed second Chamber should be properly representative of both gender and race. It would be a statutory duty of the appointments commission to ensure that a minimum of 30 per cent of new Members of the second Chamber should be women and 30 per cent men. It would be required to use its best endeavours to ensure that the level of representation for minority ethnic groups was at least proportionate to their presence in the population as a whole. The Government accept this principle but lay the requirement of ensuring it for political appointments on the political parties rather than the appointments commission. Paragraph 35 of Completing the Reform, "Supporting Documents", states:
My second suggestion concerns the Bolshie Back-Bencher or, to put it more politely, the independent-minded party Member who is out of favour with his party's leadership. This was a particular concern of the Royal Commission. We wanted to ensure that it was possible for independent-minded people of political experience to make their contribution to a reformed second Chamber even if they did not have the support of the party leadership. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, in his letter to the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, of 11th December, addresses this question. The Lord Chancellor writes:
If a consensus did eventually build up round the Government's proposal for political appointments rather than the proposal of the Wakeham commission for an appointments commission responsible for all appointmentsit is a big "if"I believe that the appointments commission, in addition to appointing 120 Cross-Benchers, should have the power over the lifetime of a Parliament to appoint up to 10 experienced politicians who would not otherwise have a route into the second Chamber and who, it judged, still had an important contribution to make. Such people would sit with their party but perhaps would not be taken into account by the appointments commission when doing its arithmetic for a balanced House.
As regards the method of election, the Government have recognised, as the Royal Commission did, that the balance of advantage for one method rather than another is difficult to discern. They go for election coinciding with a general election. My preferred option is still that of the Royal Commission: to tie in with the European elections. That would make the tenure a fixed one, whether for one term of five years or two terms and 10 years. The Government favour a shorter term, rather than the Royal Commission's proposal of three terms, or 15 years, or even two terms and 10 years.
The Government stress the need for accountability. The commission's concern was to achieve a genuine independence of outlook in a reformed second Chamber. That is much more likely if the elected Members are there for at least two terms, amounting to 10 years, and the appointed Members are appointed for at least 10 years. That would provide Members with the necessary long-term perspective and independence of outlook which are essential to the functioning of a reflective, reforming second Chamber. It is crucial that Members are here for a longer period rather than a short oneat least 10 years, rather than the five seemingly favoured by the Government.
I should now like to focus on the issue of religious representation. Again, I stress that I am speaking from my perspective as a member of the Royal Commission rather than as part of the Church of England's official response. The Royal Commission's proposal had three elements: first, the maintenance of a Church of England presence reduced from 26 to 16; secondly, 10 Christian leaders from denominations other than the Church of England, coming not only from England but from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland; and, thirdly, at least five religious leaders from non-Christian faiths.
First, under our proposals, with which the Government agree, all appointments except Church of England bishops would come through an independent appointments commission. When it comes to non-Christian faiths, there are at present no truly representative bodies, except perhaps in the case of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, so the appointments commission would have to consult widely and use its judgment.
It was never the case under our proposals that every religion would find representation in the House of Lords. Rather, through a process of consultation and head-hunting, the appointments commission would find significant figures representing a range of religions. It would be the quality of the people concerned and their potential contribution that would be taken into account as much as the fact that they were respected figures in a particular religious tradition. Where the Government depart from the Royal Commission's proposals is in their reluctance to allocate a certain number of seats for such figures. While the Government say that the appointments commission will have to take account of religious leaders of non-Christian faiths, that is obviously much weaker than having a certain number of seats reserved for that category.
When it comes to Christian denominations other than the Church of England, I confess a particular sense of disappointment at how the Government have emphasised the difficulties rather than the opportunities. Again, the Royal Commission did not think it either appropriate or possible for every Christian denomination to find representation. Rather, we believed that through a proper process of consultation, broadly representative figures of a range of Christian denominations could be identified.
The key to our proposals was the so-called ecumenical instruments. For example, under our proposal there would be two places for Christian denominations in Scotland. The ecumenical instrument, Action of Churches Together in Scotland, would be consulted. No doubt, through its consultation with Scottish Christians, it would come up with a name from the Church of Scotland and a Roman Catholic name. At this point, another complication arises because, as I understand it, Roman Catholic priests are precluded by present Vatican rules from being a Member of Parliament, even of the House of Lords. So, unless that rule were rescinded, the Roman Catholic name would have to be that of a lay personperhaps a leading religious sister. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth reminded us earlier, in the Middle Ages leading lay religious figures were Members of this House in the form of abbots, who sat with the bishops.
Leaving aside that difficulty, we envisage names emerging from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and from England Christian denominations other than the Church of England to take up the 10 places that have been removed from the Church of England bishops. The appointments commission could work with the ecumenical bodies in that way to identify appropriate people, not to represent every denominationthat was never the pointbut to give a broad spread of respected religious figures.
I feel a particular sense of disappointment about the issue because before the Reformation there was a unified Christian presence in the House. Over the past century, there have been huge steps towards Christian unity, and there is the possibility of once again having a more unified Christian presence, symbolised by the leaders of different denominations. Sixteen Church of England bishops and 10 leaders of Christian denominations other than the Church of England is an attractive proposal and I am sorry that the Government have shied away from it because of the difficultiesdifficulties that I acknowledge, of course.
There is a general direction to the appointments commission to consult widely for appropriate Christian leaders but no specific number of seats has been reserved for them. In effect, the number of Church of England bishops has been reduced from 26 to 16, with no corresponding take-up by other Christian denominations or other faith leaders. I know that the Cross-Bench Peers also have concerns as to whether religious leadersChristians or otherswho are identified by the appointments commission are to count as part of the 120 or as additional. A specific number of seats should be reserved, in addition to the 120 Cross-Benchers.
Rather than argue against the Government's response, I have tried to suggest ways in which their proposals could be modified to meet at least some of the concerns of the Royal Commission. In practice, that means strengthening the role and responsibilities of a truly independent appointments commission by giving it statutory powersnot just an advisory functionin relation to political parties, to ensure that over the lifetime of a Parliament political nominations reflect a proper gender and ethnic balance. Secondly, we should give the appointments commission up to 10 extra seats to be reserved for experienced politicians who would not otherwise have a route into the House because they were unpopular with their party leadership and who would not be eligible to be Cross-Benchers. Thirdly, at least some seats should be reserved for non-Christian faiths and Christian denominations other than the Church of England, over and above the 120 seats allocated to Cross-Benchers. At the least, the 10 seats that would no longer be allocated to Church of England bishops should be set aside for other religious representation, Christian and non-Christian.
It is desperately important that a way forward be found to complete the reform of the House. It would be truly shocking, as well as highly unsatisfactory, if no consensus could be found and we were left with a
The Earl of Liverpool: My Lords, as number 70 on the list of speakers, I am discovering that everything that I wanted to say has already been saidalmost everything. The advantage that accrues to your Lordships is that I shall be brief. Listening to the debate, I was struck by the fact that the White Paper has found practically no supporters. Against that background, the advice proffered by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor that he might tear up the White Paper and start again has some resonance.
I am against having any elected element in your Lordships' House. The work that we do as a revising Chamber is not suited to having elected Members and certainly not via the much discredited closed-list system which has been referred to by previous speakers. My noble and learned friend Lord Howe of Aberavon spoke powerfully in that vein. I believe that there is a great need to retain and foster the independence which currently exists in your Lordships' House and that has been a feature of many speeches today.
Against that background, I hope that the House will permit me to say that we on this side are hearing rumours that an independently minded member of the Government Benchesnamely, the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindonhas been expelled from the party. I do not know whether that is true, but I hope that in winding up the noble and learned Lord will comment on it. If it is true, I hope that he can say how he will square that circle.
Whatever anyone says, I believe that a part-elected House will become a hybrid House. The White Paper states that the present balance between the two Houses should not be disturbed. If one takes that to its logical conclusion, the only way to achieve it is to maintain the status quo.
The proposals in the White Paper will not achieve that. Apparently, that is also the opinion of the vast majority of speakers in the debate. There must be consensus on such an important issue because, ultimately, it is a parliamentary matter and not a party one. My noble friend Lord Denham made that point most forcefully in his speech yesterday and many other speakers have supported it.
I hope that the noble and learned Lord in winding up will say whether in view of the White Paper's reception he will now make good his undertaking to set up a Joint Select Committee of both Houses of Parliament. I honestly believe that that is the only way in which we can expect to move forward with the Government's desire to complete the reform.
Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords, this debate has shown how difficult it is to square the circle of conflicting aims and traditions, or what Sir Isaiah Berlin called the incommensurable aims. That difficulty has been exacerbated by the media presenting the historic proposition of a move to 20 per cent elected Membersa number at the high end, backed by Wakehamand 80 per cent appointed Members, as if we were starting from scratch. The conclusion that I draw is not that the White Paper has got it wrong but that there is a massive job of communication and that we need to build on the prospect of a review after stage two has been running for a period.
There is the current understandable opportunism of the Opposition, which highlights another message that I hope will be understood by those Labour MPs who think that going for a big proportion of elected Members in this House will somehow enhance the future of socialism. Apart from anything else, they should appreciate that the proportional system, whether open or closed, would never give Labour a majority but would do the maximum to exacerbate the clashes of legitimacy, given our way of dealing with legislation in this country which, incidentally, is not exactly the same as other legislatures in other countries with which comparisons have been made.
I shall make a final political point and then leave that issue alone. We know where the Liberal Democrats are coming from. They are being handed the key to the gridlock, which is a rational position for them.
My advice to the Government is to stick to Wakeham even more closely than we are already doing and to revisit some of the differences. We cannot move lock, stock and barrel overnight from a rationale based on experience and a degree of independence, albeit largely rooted in political parties, which is the basis of
They will not thank me for saying it, but many of our colleagues in the House of Commons are schizophrenic on that central point. Much as they love us dearly, which is of course fully reciprocated, some tend to cast aspersions to our disadvantage on any and every point that differentiates the two Houses. What then is the real democratic logic of the differentiation of composition, as opposed to function, between the two Houses? Surely the central point was that enunciated by the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, when he said that we certainly needed elections to choose a government, but that was not what we were about. That is a clear and fair point which I think the country seems to understand better than some in Parliament.
I shall anticipate the remarks of my noble and learned friend the Lord Privy Seal in trying to list 10 points that have come out of the debate. First, as my noble friend Lady Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde said, members of the Royal Commission decided to strain every sinew to reach a consensus. That is a very strong argument for Wakeham, even though the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, has had to exaggerate the difference between the Royal Commission's report and the White Paper. Wakeham presented a very elaborate jigsaw puzzle and in essence I do not think that we should pick and choose the parts that we like and those that we do not.
Secondly, once Wakeham had unanimously recommended a degree of election, there was no way in which our Government couldor wouldreject that recommendation. I have served on Royal Commissions which have not been unanimous and in my view, unanimity is extremely powerful.
Thirdly, any immediate move towards a totally elected House would fall foul of what the Fabian Society used to call the "inevitability of gradualness", an aphorism I found intensely irritating in my youth.
Fourthly, paragraph 39 of the White Paper is surely right when it states that two wholly elected Chambers would be a recipe for gridlock. Why is that? Their legitimacies would be hard to tell apart and mediate between. Our two Houses do not operate in the same way as those in France and Germany and thus mediation would be more difficult.
Fifthly, simply because we have to square a number of circles, it is all too easy for phrases such as "dog's breakfast" to be used or, as the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, prefers, the phrase "dog's dinner". In any case, I prefer my own animal metaphors, or perhaps one coined by Ernest Bevin, which I may have adapted. On one particularly difficult proposition he proclaimed:
Sixthly, we are already a hybrid House and the difficulty of accommodating 20 per cent elected Members can be and has been greatly exaggerated. Incidentally, it does not necessarily follow that it would lead inevitably to a 100 per cent elected membership, or anything like it.
Seventhly, those 20 per cent elected Members would bring extra qualities to those of the rest of us, principally for the reasons indicated by my noble friend Lord Dubs. However, at the start, any number much higher than 100 to 120 new Members would be impossible to square with the 10-year cap of 600 Members, which is surely right and necessary. After all, it is only with a credible cap on the size of the House that the appointments commission will be able to work out the arithmetic.
Eighthly, there is a paradox in that the legitimacy of elected Members would be very low if the election attracted only a low turn-out. It has already been said that democratic legitimacy is not only about ballot boxes. We should be ready to issue a new health warning against a condition called "ballot box fatigue". As Sir Bernard Ingham would have said, "The House of Lords elections are not what they will be talking about in the Dog and Duck in Hebden Bridge".
Ninthly, our colleagues in the House of Commons have a style of political point scoring and general partisanship which is not true of this House and neither we nor the country in general would wish to import it.
Tenthly, the 120 Cross-Benchers form a substantial element of the House. We all take it as an axiom that Cross-Benchers cannot be elected, but rather they constitute a separate, protected species. I have to say that unreal expectations were built up by the media about the People's Peers, and we are all suffering from that. Incidentally, on numbers, I agree with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford that if 20 Bishops would make sense for the Bishops' rota rather than 16 Bishops, which sounds quite plausible to me, then why should they not have 20? Today we are not debating the web of arrangements which we call the establishment of the Church of England, but we support it and it must be allowed to work properly. In general I am in sympathy with the wider points put by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford.
Inevitably, almost all noble Lords have concentrated on the composition of the House to the exclusion of its function. I simply underline the fact that here, too, it is in the interests of Parliament that we reach an understanding on the role we play best in this House. I shall mention two fields in which I happen to be involved. First, I refer to the European dimension. We must become more heavily involved before EU decisions are taken. We must also develop closer links across Europe, as well as in the implementation of European legislation in Britain.
In the longer perspective, this White Paper may be seen as launching a pilot project, the results of which can be judged after mature reflection. After all, we could have a succession of constitutional reforms every few years. I recall the characterisation of the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, of European summits and treaty changes, drawing on the Old Testament, that Maastricht begat Amsterdam, and Amsterdam begat Luxembourg, and Luxembourg begat Nice, and Nice begat Berlin, and so on ad infinitum.
We have to make provision for something similar. This is so complex that it is quite unlikely that every aspect will be right from the word go. For example, I am not convinced of the logic of paragraph 51 of the White Paper where it states that the Government are attracted to holding the elections to the Lords on the same day as the general election on the grounds that this would ensure a higher turn-out. Is not that a polite way of saying that it is the best way of disguising the fact that an election to the Lords on its own might produce a derisory turn-out? Indeed, who of us would want to turn out and vote for a free-standing House of Lords election?
Incidentally, it is a well-established fact in most electionslet us speak plainlythat people vote for the party. In that connection, if independents were so wildly popular they would stand and be elected on their merits. My inclination on the terms of the election rules would be to stick with Wakeham, the closed list being far too easy to characteriseas it was by the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorfas appointments masquerading as elections and convincing no one.
We have to move in stages. The reform of the work of this House is very much the acid test of the relationship with the House of Commons. The 10-year transition will certainly be needed, and it may be that we can move towards 15 years if the numbers are easier in that setting. I hope that the Government will give themselves the breathing space to not only consider everything that has been said but to give the Opposition time to decide whether or not they wish to make a constructive input to a consensus around Wakeham. I trust that ultimately they will.
Lord Monson: My Lords, this has been a most extraordinary debate. I know from conversations that I am not alone in finding myself substantially in agreement with almost every speaker, even though most of their conclusions differ enormously. This demonstrates a recognition that, in the situation we find ourselves, no option is perfect. Our task is to try to determine the least bad option.
This is further complicated by the question of the appetite of the hitherto indifferent public. Five years ago, the general public most certainly were indifferent to the composition of this House, but now that the appetite of the public has been artificially whetted by the Government, how is it to be fully satisfied?
In her excellent speech yesterday, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, reminded us that we are, above all, a revising and scrutinising Chamber. This was echoed by my noble friend Lady Strange, among many others. But the general public do not realise thisand who can possibly blame them? Most of what we do is too technical and boring, albeit extremely important, to interest the press, radio or television. Yet so much of this revision is non-politicalor, at any rate, non-party politicaland the same can be said of Select Committee deliberations and reports.
This, combined with the fact that because of the Salisbury convention and the Parliament Act the government of the day always get their way after an occasional short delayat least 99.5 per cent of the timeleads me to make the doubtless heretical suggestion that the political balance of this House is not all that important, provided that it is not grotesquely skewed towards one or other party. Expertise and experience matter far more than politics, which is why the preference expressed yesterday by my noble friend Lord Neill of Bladen and by many others for a totally non-elected House has decided attractions.
Perhaps I may diffidently cross swords with the noble Lord, Lord Baker of Dorking. If I interpret his words correctly, he said that, because we exercise power, the House ought to be mainly elected. Yes, we do exercise powerbut only with the consent of the other place. Not a single Bill or amendment emanating from this House gets anywhere at all unless it is subsequently endorsed by the House of Commonswhich is as it should be. It is true that we have delaying powers, but they are pretty trivial in the last resort.
I go further than my noble friend Lord Neill and claim that there is little wrong with the status quo. Before Ministers mutter, "Well, he would say that, wouldn't he?", I point out that this was first proposed yesterday evening by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, who is a totally disinterested party with no personal axe to grind. However, now that Pandora's Box has been opened, it may be politically too late for a non-elected Chamber, however cogent the arguments in its favour may beand they are cogent.
However, if you are rejecting tradition and starting anew from first principles, as the Government are doing, you will have quite a job explaining to the public why the United Kingdom should be almost unique in the civilised world in having a mainly non-elected second Chamber. The exceptions are the Senates of Canada and the Republic of Ireland. But they have very little to do, whereas this House is the hardest working second Chamber in the world, as was recently shown. That is largely because of the prolixity of legislation, about which my noble and learned
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, that the choice lies between a totally non-elected House of Lords and a largely elected one. The fudged so-called "middle way" of having a token elected element simply will not wash. If the Government want any support in terms of public opinion or press opinion, elected Members will have to be in the majority. I favour the proposal for an elected element of 66 2/3 per cent as proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Richard.
Of course, elected Members must be differentiated from MPs as much as possible. They should be elected under some form of PR, but certainly not under the closed list system. Election should be for a non-renewable 15-year termas suggested by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfernor for the slightly shorter term of 12½ years (three parliamentary terms), as suggested by the Wakeham commission, coupled with the widely approved 10-year gap before they are eligible to stand for election to the House of Commons.
Although the point has not been mentioned, I thinkthough many may disagreethat the 5 per cent threshold is wrong. Anyonethose on the extreme Left or the extreme Right, supporters of Al'Qaeda, advocates of the legalisation of hard drugs or, more benignly, champions of an independent Cornwallshould be eligible for election if they achieve 1 or 2 per cent of the vote. Why not? It is better to have extreme views represented in the House than in a possibly sinister, extra-parliamentary forum. It would be dangerous to have such people in the House of Commons, especially if the Government had a small majority; but they could do little harm in this House, and would soon be tamed by our civilised atmosphere. Some of that civilisation might trickle its way back towards the people who elected them. From what he said yesterday, I suspect that the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, would agree with at least some of what I have said.
It ought to be possible to elect independents. Many of those elected under a party label will become de facto independents or semi-independents over time, as happens today. However, if only 20 per cent are to be elected, as the Government want, different considerations will have to apply. To prevent the public feeling totally cheated of the voice that they were promised in the Lords, that derisory 20 per cent would have to do the public's bidding, being elected for the same terms as MPs and kicked out at the end of four or five years if their performance was judged unsatisfactory by those who elected them. With a mere one-fifth of the seats, there would be little room for rebels or mavericks, whereas a larger proportion of elected Peers could accommodate quite a few rebels and mavericks without the public fussing or feeling that their views were being ignored.
The Government try to justify their proposals by talking about the alleged need to represent the regions. At the risk of offending a great many noble Lords, and in particular members of the Royal Commission, I submit that that is nonsense. The regions are perfectly well represented in both Houses of Parliament as things stand. We are not like the people of the larger continental countries, who think of themselves as Bretons, Alsatians or Meridionales, as Rheinlanders or Saxons, as citizens of Galicia or Catalonia, or as citizens of the Mezzogiorno, ranged against the citizens of the Veneto, Lombardy and the rest of the Northern League.
The differences in this country are much more between town and country. A Northumbrian hill farmer has little in common with the proprietor of an amusement arcade in Gateshead, even though they may live no more than 25 miles apart as the crow flies. A Cornish fisherman has very little in common with his neighboura wealthy retired individual from London who has snapped up the next door cottage at the expense of the fisherman's son, who cannot afford it because of the iniquitous common fisheries policy. There is not the same community of interest within the regions, nor the local patriotism that exists on the Continent.
Some may point to the example of Scotland, which may be thought of as totally united, with everybody singing from the same hymn sheet; but I wonder. Already it seems that the people of the Borders and the Highlands are feeling squashed by StrathclydeI mean the region, not the Peer!
There are surely two things that virtually everybody can agree on. The first is total rejection of the corporate state. Even the Government agree that there should be no question of people being given seats on the basis of being delegates of the CBI, the TUC, the NFU or whateverand thank goodness for that. The secondalthough this is not quite so universally accepted, notably by the Government and by the noble Lord, Lord Lea, who preceded meis that whatever proportion of Peers is elected, if any, on no account should they be elected under the dreadful and essentially undemocratic closed list system.
The Earl of Dundee: My Lords, so far in this long debate we have achieved a consensus on two important issues. First, universal disapproval of the White Paper has been expressed from all sides of the House. Its shortcomings have been summed up by many, not least by the noble Lord, Lord Richard. Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, he did not call the proposals a "dog's breakfast", but he used vivid culinary imagery of his own and may well have hit the mark when describing the White Paper's contents as "half baked".
The second consistent aspect in this debate is also rather paradoxical. Your Lordships have stressed that, if the White Paper really were adopted, the best to be hoped for would be damage limitation. Equally, however, as has been pointed out, the worst and far more probable outcome of the White Paper's implementation would be an erosion in the quality of function that currently obtains in this House. While clearly very disappointing, it is perhaps also quite curious that such a negative and misguided prospect should be able to emanate from any White Paper, let alone from one on constitutional reform.
Nevertheless, as many noble Lords have observed, there are a number of quite simple and constructive ways in which to enhance the quality of parliamentary function. Such can and should be done both in this House and in another place. Ironically enough, some parts of the White Paper, when amended and redirected, can assist the process.
On enhanced parliamentary value, I shall touch on three themes to arrive at a certain conclusion. First, there should be a particular target for this House: to improve the balance of its membership without eroding the quality of its function. Secondly, there should be a joint parliamentary objective for both this place and another place: to hold the executive to account to a considerably greater extent. The third theme follows directly from the second: the prospect of a better service by politicians to the country and a much more competent form of political delivery as and when Parliament begins properly to hold the executive to account.
The conclusions from the three themes, when connected together, may be fairly obvious: the need for a cross-party process and consensus affecting parliamentarians in both this House and the other place. As indicated, the simple purpose of that process is to improve political delivery within the country through increased scrutiny by Parliament of the executive.
The initial theme in regard to this House is how an independent appointments commission might augment the balance of membership without eroding the quality of function. First, the commission should be established as envisaged within the Wakeham report, thereby covering all political groups as well as the Cross-Benchers.
Secondly, although it should indeed, as recommended in the White Paper, seek a balance of gender and ethnicity in making its appointments, it should also appoint Members and deal with representation from the regions.
Thirdly, and consequently, new appointments made by the commission would not co-exist with new elected Members to this House, as advocated in the White Paper. That is based on the argument adduced by many, and very clearly by my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth, that new Members would always be
In that connection, and fifthly, no groups of current Members would be retired or removed from this House, as suggested in the White Paper. While there is a strong probability that such action would be disruptive to and decrease the quality of function in this House, conversely, there is no proper evidence at all that it would do the opposite and thus increase the quality of function.
The second theme is the joint task for parliamentarians from this House and from the other place to hold the executive to account. Recently in this place the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, introduced an excellent debate on the subject of Parliament and the executive. In considering ways of redressing the imbalance between the two in this country, we are all grateful to my noble friends Lord Newton of Braintree and Lord Norton of Louth, both of whose committees have produced much useful guidance.
For Members of the other place, career prospects within Parliament as distinct from within the Government must become far more attractive. Hence also independent-mindedness and the deliberative function must be encouraged far more in the other place. As also indicated, not least will such a change of direction augment public confidence in the operation of both party politics and executive controleach often accused of stifling parliamentary scrutiny and debate and each currently held in the country in very low esteem.
When the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House winds up today I am quite sure that he will indicate support for the current leader of the other place in his undertakings to improve parliamentary scrutiny and effectiveness; and that equally he would wish this House to assist that process in a variety of ways. Clearly this House can give constructive help to the process of adaptation in the other place. As it is, there is a fairly satisfactory balance between Lords and Commons Select Committee work. The two are able to complement each other. However, there are anomalies. For example, in this House, and as has been said, there is still no foreign affairs Select Committee. As a number of noble Lords observed, another inconsistency is that while Select Committee scrutiny applies to the European Union, it does not go beyond that boundary to address Council of Europe conventions, let alone to consider international treaties.
It has been contended that parliamentary scrutiny of relevant matters within that wider area should appropriately be set up through a committee in this House. Perhaps the Leader of the House may agree that such would be a good and timely development, all the more so in the context of this debate.
The third theme is the enhanced degree of political delivery which arises from an increased level of parliamentary scrutiny of the executive. Why should that be so? The connection may simply be self-evident: through consideration of the greater degree of trust by the public in both Parliament and government once Parliament is seen to have more say in what is planned and done.
In summary, one benefit from this debate on the flawed White Paper is a developing consensus and sharper focus upon the need for carrying out a much more important and cogent agenda. This is to promote enhanced quality and increased parliamentary scrutiny. And the purpose of that is to achieve improved political delivery. The process depends upon cross-party co-operation and joint initiatives between both Houses. In the other place every encouragement should be given to proposed reforms seeking to broaden opportunities and attitudes. In this House, the present quality of function must not be diminished. An independent statutory appointments commission along Wakeham lines should operate to deal with future membership. It should redress as necessary the imbalances of political patronage. And it should establish a balance of its own, reflecting Lords' representation of different groups of the population and of the regions themselves.
Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay: My Lords, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, in opening this debate, threw down the gauntlet to those of us who believe in real reform. He asserted that if the rights of existing life Peers are respected, there is no scope at present for more than 120 elected Members. He said that those who say that there should be more than 120 elected should explain where the scope for them exists. That I shall now do.
My noble friend and leader Lady Williams of Crosby explained yesterday that we on these Benches believe that over a 10 to 15-year period there will be no numbers problem. Let us start from the right figures. In his speech the Lord Chancellor quoted the current party strengths correctly, giving a total of 675 Peers including the hereditaries but excluding the Bishops. Those are shown in today's Analysis of Composition pinned up in the Library. Unfortunately, the same Analysis of Composition shows that there are now 584 life Peers, not 587 as the Lord Chancellor said in his speech. His figures are out of date already. They were White Paper figures from 15th October.
The average age of life Peers in this House is 69, and we die on average at 81. So, sadly although not surprisingly, three life Peers have died since October. That is in line with the average of 18 a year in recent years. Therefore, the problem is already less than the Government have led us to believe.
We on these Benches believe that the best date for electing the first 120 Members of the new reformed House would be June 2004, on the same day as elections to the European Parliament. Indeed, I think that there is a good case for making it local election day
We believe that Members of the House should be able formally to retire if they so wish. It also seems reasonable, following the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Temple Guiting, and others, that they should receive some form of lump sum retirement grant, as do retiring Members of the House of Commons. Even if only one-tenth, say, of life Peers now aged between 70 and 80 chose to retire, that would still reduce the new House by 16 immediately, with perhaps another 15 over the next 10 years. If a quarter of that age category chose to retire now, the reduction would be 40.
Therefore, it is perfectly possible to move within the next seven and a half years to 240 elected Members, double the White Paper's pitiful proposal, while still keeping well within the Government's self-imposed transitional maximum House of 750 Members. There would almost certainly be room for the Appointments Commission to continue to appoint up to 10 genuinely independent life Peers each year.
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