Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, further to the beginning of the noble Lord's speech, will he remind us what he did to become a Member of this House, and what he did to catch the selector's eye? He might also explain why he thinks he should be a Member while my noble friend Lord Ferrers, a Privy Counsellor and distinguished former Minister, should be flung out.

Lord Birt: My Lords, I do not think any appointed Cross-Benchers know why they were selected.

10.40 p.m.

Lord Swinfen: My Lords, Members of another place now treat politics as a profession. Years ago, that was not the case. It means that they need to climb the greasy pole in politics with the object of becoming a Minister. They need to follow their party's lead and abide by the Whip in order to make certain that at the next election they will be selected and re-elected. As professional politicians, if they lose their seat, they lose their income and can no longer look after their family. They may have considerable difficulty in getting a job elsewhere.

The same would apply if Members of this House—or what is to follow it—were elected. They would lose their independence of mind and would do what their party and party leader wanted them to do. Independence of

21 Jan 2003 : Column 677

mind is extremely important in this House. It should also be important in another place, but it is not as important there now as it was 20 or 30 years ago.

There has been a suggestion that, if we were to have an elected or partially elected second Chamber, Members might be elected for a term of, say, 15 years, after which they would not be allowed to stand for election again. That would be a great mistake. Because what person, safely ensconced in a career, would leave for 15 years and then attempt to return to it? They would have lost it. It would be extremely difficult for them to get back again.

The function of this House is to revise and scrutinise legislation. We do it well, but we need the expertise and experience that can be gained outside Parliament. Because we are an unpaid Chamber, we need to make our living outside Parliament, so some of us attend only part time. But, at the same time, we gain experience and understanding of what is happening in the real world outside politics. We can, therefore, bring our experience to bear in looking at legislation. As the House knows, we do that well and most of our amendments are accepted by governments of all political colours.

For those reasons, this House should be wholly appointed, not wholly elected. A partially elected House would not work properly. Therefore, I will vote for a wholly appointed House when the vote comes.

10.44 p.m.

Lord Sewel: My Lords, like some noble Lords, I shall try to speak briefly, not only because of the lateness of the hour but the fact that many of us had the opportunity to express our views on the further reform of your Lordships' House in earlier debates.

It is a truism that complicated, complex constitutional issues often boil down to simple but fundamental questions. So it is with further change in the composition of your Lordships' House.

The second and third order arguments are also important. For example, we need to ensure that any future change maintains or even enhances the ability of this House to revise and scrutinise legislation. We also want to maintain a Chamber where the Government could, on occasion—let us not beat about the bush—sort out their legislation away from the partisan cockpit of the House of Commons. As someone responsible for navigating the Scotland Bill through your Lordships' House, I am well aware of the benefits of the role played by this House. However, important though those arguments are, when they are put to one side, there remains, in stark simplicity, one important issue—the supremacy of the House of Commons. Should it be maintained or should it be eroded?

The paradox at the heart of the debate on introducing any elected element into your Lordships' House is that its constitutional impact is likely to be greater on the House of Commons than on the House of Lords. This House works as a subordinate, scrutinising and revising Chamber. It does not threaten the supremacy of the House of Commons because it cannot claim a

21 Jan 2003 : Column 678

democratic mandate. As the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, said, it works well within the statutory and conventional limitations imposed upon it. Indeed, if it were to work up to those limits, virtually no Government would be able to secure their legislative programme.

This virtual self-denying ordinance is bound to change with the introduction of an elected element. Quite simply, we cannot have a first and a second-class democratic mandate. It is a little like virginity—you either have it or you do not. It is as simple as that. It would be impossible to argue that elected Members of the House of Lords did not enjoy the same democratic mandate as elected Members of the House of Commons.

During the legislative battle between the two Houses, when push comes to shove, why should elected Peers give way to elected Members of the House of Commons? The balance between the House of Commons and the House of Lords would not only begin to change with the introduction of an elected element, it would continue to change. It is not an end point, but a process.

When we set off down the road of constitutional reform, it is a good idea to know, at least roughly, where we want to finish up. It is my belief that a hybrid House would be essentially unstable. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor was absolutely right when he said recently that the real choice is between a wholly elected and a wholly appointed House. I believe that is a constitutional and political reality. That choice will eventually, if not immediately, have to be made.

Once an elected element is introduced, the power of the democratic mandate argument is so strong in our political culture that there would be irresistible pressure to increase the proportion of the democratic element until we finished up with a wholly elected House, no matter what the belief and the intention was at the beginning of the process. Once we start the process, the end point is, in my view, absolutely clear. It is a stark choice between an elected and an appointed House. That House would increasingly challenge the supremacy of the House of Commons.

On what basis of any understanding of a theory of a representative parliamentary democracy would it be possible to defend the Parliament Act, for example, if there was a wholly elected House of Lords? At least one of my friends in another place has argued that it would be possible to have a wholly elected House of Lords but at the same time reduce its power. That has no consistency or sustainability whatever—it has no theoretical base at all. My argument is that the supremacy of the House of Commons could not survive as we know it the introduction of an elected element in your Lordships' House.

The noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, made it clear earlier that she fundamentally disagrees with that argument. As far as I understand her argument, and arguments like hers, it relies on an assertion that the House of Commons can remain supreme because it says that it is supreme. That will not do. The House of Commons can claim the supremacy that it enjoys

21 Jan 2003 : Column 679

because it uniquely possesses an elected democratic mandate. When one makes a breach in that wall, the claim of supremacy begins to erode and continues to erode until it effectively disappears.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, my argument was based on the fact not that the House of Commons was elected, although I believe that to be important, but that built into our whole historical tradition are certain rights that are exclusive to the House of Commons. In particular, there is the crucial right of Supply, which dates back to the English Civil War, and the Parliament Act, which makes it clear that when there is any conflict the House of Commons will be supreme.

Lord Sewel: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for clarifying her position, but I must counter it. If one looks back on that historical development, the ability to claim the right of Supply is based on the fact that, imperfect as it may be, at any one time the House of Commons was elected and your Lordships' House was not. That is the historical basis on which the House of Commons could claim the right of Supply.

I shall look again at the arguments that the noble Baroness advanced in her speech, but they boil down at the end of the day to saying that the House of Commons is supreme simply because it claims supremacy. My argument is that its supremacy is based on its unique claim to democratic electoral legitimacy.

In terms of the constitutional journey on which we have embarked, Parliament is best served by arriving at a position in which the House of Lords, because of its lack of democratic legitimacy, cannot and will not challenge the supremacy of the House of Commons. It is as simple and stark as that.

10.54 p.m.

Lord Skidelsky: My Lords, after so much has been said, there is nothing I can do except to reinforce some arguments, dot a few "i"s and cross a few "t"s. I should say at the outset that my instincts are in favour of a wholly appointed House. I shall consider two arguments against that, the first relating to legitimacy and the second to appointments.

The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, had some trouble with legitimacy; he did not like it. It is perfectly true that hardly anyone has tried in this debate to define it, but it is really not that difficult to explain. In political theory, it is simply what makes the powers exercised by government acceptable to the general public. In traditional societies, that could be dynastic or divine claims. In our type of society, legitimacy ultimately derives from popular election or democracy. I do not think that there is any real dispute about that. However, although we cannot have full legitimacy without democracy, we can have democracy without full legitimacy. Northern Ireland, since 1922, and many other places with ethnically divided societies have been examples of that.

So we add other requirements to legitimacy as the debate goes on. One of them is "representativeness", which I think was suggested by the Joint Committee. A reformed House

21 Jan 2003 : Column 680

should be representative of the major groups in society and the major parts of the country. However, that is different from popular election and may be in conflict with it. We may not get a representative group from a general election in the sense that "representativeness" is being used. However, how far do we really want to take representativeness? Do we want a House that is truly representative of the community in terms of knowledge and intelligence, for example—what the pollsters call a "representative sample"? Surely not.

So we come to another requirement of legitimacy, which is roughly being able to speak with authority on the particular subject of interest. That comprises expertise, so that we talk of "expert authority". Here we come very much into the area of what this House is all about. We can add other requirements, such as incorruptibility—a very important requirement for legitimacy—integrity, independence of mind and so on. My belief is that, for what this House does, we have enough legitimacy. The House does not wield the supreme power of government, but it has a great deal of what one might call second order legitimacy, which might well be destroyed if it was popularly elected—a point powerfully put earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth.

Provided that the law-making supremacy remains with another place, a second Chamber can only benefit from being able to bring the highest-available ability to the scrutiny and fashioning of legislation. The only people for whom that doctrine seems anathema are the tabloid press, which wants to drag everyone down to its own moronic level.

From the start of the present phase of this debate on the reform of the House of Lords, I have argued that it is contradictory to want to change the composition of the House while leaving its powers unchanged, that the two need always to be considered together. It seems to me to have been a defect of many of the reports advocating different types of composition—and either a wholly elected House or a partly elected House—that they have tried to separate these two points and have either argued that the powers should stay the same or failed fully to specify what new powers and functions they want a reformed House to have that require it to be directly elected. Instead, the argument has tended to be that your Lordships' House would exercise the powers it already has more firmly or more vigorously if it were more legitimate. But surely that argument made most sense, I regret to say, when the majority of the House consisted of hereditary Peers. That was the basis of such self-denying ordinances as the Salisbury convention. But there is no reason at all why that convention should apply in the kind of House that we now have.

In other words, what we have to make up our minds about is whether we want to start on a constitutional journey which leads to a fully written constitution with a fully blown division or separation of powers, or whether we want to carry on broadly with what we have, allowing it to evolve slowly in ways that we cannot entirely foresee. We have to make up our minds about that. That is the choice which is posed by the Liberal Democrats. I speak as an historian now. I do

21 Jan 2003 : Column 681

not see any such evidence of the misgovernment of this country over the past 50 or 60 years as to justify such a radical break with our constitutional past.

I turn briefly to the second aspect of my speech—how is an appointed House to be appointed? We are all very much against patronage although we are all here because of it. That applies even to those noble Lords who are the beneficiaries of patronage granted a century or two or longer ago. One must not be too harsh on the patronage system; otherwise, we would be questioning our own right to be here. But I accept the fact that once the hereditary Peers have gone, the system of appointment has to be much more open, transparent and publicly accountable than it has been in the past. The problem is to devise a system of appointment which guarantees high quality while at the same time preserving the interests of the government of the day in getting their business through the House. The latter is essential as the Lords is not a debating Chamber, it is part of the legislative process and no one has wanted your Lordships' House to be anything but that.

Any advocate of an appointed House, therefore, must accept an independent, powerful appointments commission, as, indeed, the Joint Committee has done. That would function rather like a selection committee in any other walk of life; people would be nominated and it would choose from among the available candidates. As I see it, the Prime Minister and other political leaders should have no privileged position in nomination except in two respects: in deciding the political balance of the House as a whole and for the purpose of particular appointments to Front Benches. That is where I believe that the privileged position of the political parties and the Prime Minister in particular is applicable. But for all other purposes nominators would be on equal terms. The recommendation for new Peers which would then go to the sovereign would be funnelled through the appointments commission.

There is no reason why under that system indirect elections cannot occur. Occupational groups can nominate people for membership. Normally there would be more nominees than available places but that is true of most appointment procedures; namely, that there are more candidates than jobs on offer.

I should like to add a couple of points in regard to the requirements for membership of your Lordships' House to those already suggested by the Joint Committee. First, it would be desirable to have evidence of someone's ability to put a case persuasively. That takes into account the particular nature of the business of this House. Secondly, I refer to availability and, thirdly, to age. Age is connected with availability as with successful people availability tends to increase with age.

My fourth point is more controversial and relates very much to the times in which we live. I refer to some sort of security clearance. It goes very much against my instinct, but it is something that we need to pay attention to in a world in which a Guy Fawkes might

21 Jan 2003 : Column 682

well have more success than he did in 1605, if we are to preserve our freedom of access to the whole of Westminster.

My final suggestion is that a fully legitimate appointments commission should be elected by the whole of this House. Any noble Lord should be eligible to stand.

I am not against all elections. Whenever there is more than one elector and one candidate, that is an election, explicit or implicit. It is the size of the electorate that matters. In the case that we face today, I would simply echo the famous words of Kingsley Amis: "More means worse".

11.6 p.m.

The Earl of Caithness: My Lords, I too would like to thank the Joint Committee, especially the seven noble Lords and one MP who attended every one of its sittings. I am sad that the Joint Committee's work was so limited in its remit. It has therefore told us nothing substantially new, but has served the great benefit of clarifying the confusion that the Government have got themselves into on the matter.

In the past six years there have been massive changes in the way in which the House works. One of the first things that one ought to note is that the reason for the appointment of Peers has changed. When judging this House, it is wrong to look only at the number of people in each party. That gives a very misleading picture of how the House works. A more accurate way of looking at the House is to look at the number of working Peers.

Furthermore, there are two agreed legacies of the House of Lords Act 1999. First, we have lost a great deal of experience and expertise. Secondly, the percentage of noble Lords under the age of 50 has dropped by more than 60 per cent. Now that I am over 50, I tend to agree with my noble and learned friend Lord Howe of Aberavon when he said that age was quite a good thing. However, we have also lost a great deal through the youth that we lost under the 1999 reforms. Another important point is that the powers and working practices of this House are constantly changing, as my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith pointed out.

We have been asked to vote on seven options. I am disappointed that there is not an eighth option anyway, that of a right to vote on the status quo. I wish that the Joint Committee had at least made some remarks as to why the remaining hereditaries are no longer acceptable. It is a given that we must go, but I do not think that there has been a justified argument for that.

The Joint Committee points out that there must be more work on costings. Once again, we are being asked to make decisions when we do not know what their full implications will be. There are no details on how elections will take place, if they do take place. There must be an election for an individual. Any closed list system would be totally wrong for a House of this nature.

21 Jan 2003 : Column 683

I carried out an interesting exercise on the idea of having elected representatives for areas of population. Should 50 per cent of the House be elected, that would be roughly 300 Peers. That is one for every 200,000 people. Coincidentally, that would be one representative for the whole of the area that comprises the highland council; it is about one-third of the size of Scotland and about the size of Belgium. I am not sure that that is a good way to have an elected Member.

There will not be many elections if there is a statutory term of 12 or 15 years. A number of noble Lords said that there are currently too many elections and four or five more elections in one's lifetime will not make a material difference.

I have found today's debate very interesting. In 1999, we hereditaries were told that we were undemocratic and that we had to go because we were undemocratic. Today, there has been much more about the legitimacy of patronage and its superiority over the elected system. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester reminded us of that. Am I the only noble Lord in the House who hears some similarity in today's arguments with some of those made by hereditary Peers in the past?

I turn to powers and conventions. When the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, reformed the House in 1999, she did so with a cudgel or—perhaps more appropriately—a guillotine. The present Leader of the House, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, is reforming the House with a stiletto. He is attacking the soft underbelly of the House; that is, our working practices. Carry-over is a seismic shift in the way in which the House operates.

We are at the start of a two-year trial of the reforms that have been introduced. I strongly believe that in the future our ability to revise will be continually curtailed, revised and reduced. In five or 10 years, the House that we believe we are operating as a good revising Chamber will not be a House that is able to revise in the same way as this one is. The logical conclusion from that is that the Joint Committee's recommendations on roles, conventions, functions and powers, and the foundations on which it based its arguments, are shifting. It involves a snapshot of an historical House, not of the House today. We will probably therefore make decisions on totally the wrong basis. I am seriously concerned—I made this clear when we voted on working practices—that some of the proposals will undermine the role of the House, change its relationship with the Commons and weaken it.

Given all that is currently going on with the change in powers, my first option would be to leave the House's composition as it currently is. However, I know that that is not practical and that at some time in the future it must change. When it changes, I do not believe that it can do so without having an elected element. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, who said that once one starts with an elected system, it will be ratcheted up. I believe that it will be the policy of the party in opposition to say, "We want more elected people—senators or whatever they are called—in the second Chamber".

21 Jan 2003 : Column 684

It is inevitable that we will have an elected element in the House. Otherwise—and in association with the changes in working practices—the House will lose its credibility. The noble Lord, Lord Hughes of Woodside, said that we may need to bite the bullet. He is right; we must go for a large elected element of the House now. As the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, reminded us, that will entail that the powers, functions and duties of the House must be clearly spelt out and written down. I do not like that option but given what we are faced with, I believe that it is an inevitable consequence.

11.14 p.m.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, as an advocate of reform, I find this a fairly depressing debate. Like the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester, I had hoped that, as a House, we would spend more time considering how we could make a contribution to reviving the state of the body politic in this country rather than, as we seem to have done, discussing how to preserve the undoubted virtues that we have here.

I agree with a great deal that has been said about the consequences of changing what we have. I agree with many of my noble friends' strictures on what would happen if we had a largely elected House: the influx of party politics; the challenge that we would make to another place; and the question of whether we would get people with the necessary quality to perform our existing functions.

But I am equally concerned about the idea that a House of Parliament should be appointed by a quango. I find it an astonishing idea that this should be the summit of the "quangoracy". One works one's way up through the various quangos and then, eventually, reaches the greatest quango of them all—the House of Lords—by virtue of an appointments commission which is essentially appointed by the existing House of Lords. I find that an astonishing idea in a democracy.

I am distressed, too, by the idea that we should despair of getting good people to stand for election. We need good people to stand for another place and therefore we should be looking at ways of getting good people to stand for election. In any event, anyone who has climbed the greasy pole to be, say, head of the BMA has stood for election 100 times, whether simply as a person who, among two or three others, is preferred or receives promotion or, ultimately, is the one chosen to head such a great organisation. Elections are not foreign to such people, but they do not want to become involved in parliamentary elections.

It occurs to me that perhaps we are looking at things the wrong way round. Throughout today, we have been talking about electing the politicians and appointing the Cross-Benchers. Perhaps we should elect the Cross-Benchers and appoint the politicians.

The political appointment system has worked extremely well. When I look at the Benches opposite—there are not many Members there at present—I am fairly impressed by what has been done by political appointment. Some extremely good Members on all

21 Jan 2003 : Column 685

Benches in this House—in particular, on the political Benches—have been put there by politicians. They have sometimes surprised those politicians by what they have done afterwards. But they have made a major contribution to this House and they have maintained their personal independence and integrity, as my noble friend has illustrated this evening in his Damascene conversion.

None of us is subject to that strong a Whip any more, even if we are put on a key committee by the Chief Whip. A great deal of independence is to be found in political appointments. It results in people who make a key contribution to the political life of this House, and it seems to me to be a very effective way of choosing the political part of this Chamber. It also avoids dumping another party-political election on the electorate.

But if, at the other end of the argument, one asks, "What about electing the Cross-Benchers?", then half the structure for that is present in what has been proposed so far. The appointments commission can say, "We need a couple of doctors or people with medical experience in this House. Therefore, if you are going to apply for this particular slot, you must have the relevant qualifications". The people who apply for that slot will not be elected by a small closed group of people—we are not going back to university Members or anything of that kind—but they will be on the slate for election when it comes to the House of Lords. In deciding what is needed in the House of Lords, a doctor will be able to choose whether he votes for the medical candidate or for some other interest group chosen by the appointments commission. People will be able to pursue their own passions and choose their own people.

Perhaps a section of the election could even be an open category. People could propose themselves or perhaps a group such as the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection could get together with other, similar-minded charities and say, "We wish to propose a candidate for the House of Lords". There would then be a collection of people to vote for, at least one of whom would excite the passions and interests of voters.

A voter would want to ensure that the anti-vivisection candidate, the peace candidate or the doctor had enough votes to be elected. It might be that the BMA has put forward a candidate and that I want to vote for the noble Lord, Lord Winston, who would not have been put forward by the BMA. It is a much more personal choice to have someone such as the noble Lord, Lord Winston, than a medico-politico. It would be the people as a whole who would make that choice and not a closed-off appointments commission, with a question mark over how its members will be appointed. That gets down to the idea of people's Peers, but the people standing for those particular positions would have been chosen because of their

21 Jan 2003 : Column 686

expertise. When they arrive in the House, they would have the necessary expertise but would be individuals chosen by the people.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page