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We would lose the Permanent Secretaries. I doubt whether even a dozen Members of this House would stand for election to the House of Lords. I am certain that fewer than a dozen Members would get elected. The former trade union leaders, captains of industry and Permanent Secretaries would not offer themselves to the British electoral process by party at such a late stage in their careers. That would be nothing but a loss to the country.
Who would we get? Either people who have never stood for election or failed candidates in elections for another place, the European Parliament, the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales and probably the GLA. We would have an elected House of failures. Is that what the country wants? Go on! Does the noble Lord, Lord McNally, have a response?
That is all I have to say. I have fallen in love with this place and I do not want to see it changed by the introduction of elected Members. I agree entirely with what the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Harptree, said about how to deal with the remaining hereditary Peers. They do a first-rate job, and the solution he proposed is exactly right.
Lord Elton: My Lords, the list of speakers says that I am 95. I feel as if I were 95, having listened to 87 of the 93 speeches in this debate. This is a great occasion. Although it is too late for oratory, whatever is decided I hope that the Joint Committee will consider the idea of the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong. The idea he proposed also occurred to me when I was a Minister biting my nails in the Lords' Gallery of another place, listening to my reputation being defended by a colleague who I knew had not read his brief. Ministers of either House could be called to the Bar of another place to account for their actions rather than rely on others to do so. In the same vein, I hope that the committee pays attention to the suggestion of my noble friend Lord Renton of Mount Harry that there should be much more use of Joint Committees so that the Houses get to know each other.
This House does not belong to us; it belongs to the country. We sit neither as representatives nor directors but as trustees. As such, we have an interest not only in this House but in the whole Parliament, because it is a single institution originally created to make it possible to govern this country, and, thereafter, to make it impossible to govern the country without its consent. The principal function of Parliament was, and remains, to monitor and control the executive. Originally, the executive was the King. One could see him and his followers outside Parliament. In Oxford, two streetsNorth Parade and South Paradestanding about 300 yards apart, mark the lines where the armies of the executive and Parliament faced each other fairly regularly while the court sat there during the Civil War. Now the executive is inside Parliament and you cannot tell them apart. They are sitting opposite us, very attentive and decorative. I am flattered that they should be here at this moment, because it does not always happen. They are sitting in far greater numbersif they are still at work, which I doubtat the other end of the Corridor. Indeed, more than 80 members of the executive sit as Members of the House of Commons, which is supposed to control the executive. The House of Commons therefore has a conflict of interest when it comes to discharging its duty under the constitution. That has not arisen because we have suddenly had a spring tide of an election. It is incremental over many years, and it flows from a change in the country's economic and social conditions.
A hundred years ago, it was possible, indeed expected, that anyone who wished to have the honour of sitting in the House of Commons should pay for the privilege. Having paid to get here, he did not expect to receive any financial reward. All that has changed. There is a substantial reward for being here and it is only possible to get into the House of Commons with the support of a national political party. Since belonging to the House of Commons is, quite properly and honourably, a job upon which one's livelihood and family depend, quite apart from any ambition one may have, it is natural to try and stay there, and one can do so only with the consent and support of one's party at the next election. That gives the Whips inordinate power over the behaviour of the Members of another place.
All that flows from the electoral system. That, coupled with our social and economic organisation, has undermined the efficiency of the democratic process in defending the public from the operation of an over-mighty executive. We are being asked to introduce the same system here to protect the public by having more elected people and, perhaps, a wholly elected House. That really is to stand logic on its head. That is my main point.
I do not expect my view to prevail. I am comforted that it is the view of so many of your Lordships, but the words of the Leader of another place, quoted by my noble friend Lord Renton of Mount Harry, suggest that the views of this House may not prevail. I look, with some hope, towards my noble and learned friend Lord Howe of Aberavon. I apologise for not thanking him with due courtesy at the beginning of my speech for the gracious way in which he introduced the debate and the sterling work that he and his committee have done. I regret that they said that this House must be representative. For the reasons that I have given, I do not think that it should be. But if that is the majority view of this House, I hope that it will be given due attention in the committee which will still be asked to try and find a consensus between the Houses.
I hope, thereafter, that there will be consultation by the committee on the detail of whatever is eventually proposed. If it is to be an appointments commission, there should be consultation and discussion on how it is to be composed and what its terms of reference should be. If it is to be an electoral college, I hope that before it sets to work it reads the speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester lit a sparkler at the party to which we should pay attention. There is something wrong with the electoral process; it has damaged how this place works. If there is another way of making it work electorally, and if we cannot have the sort of House that I think we should have, let us have a House that re-engages with the electorate and then, if the two Houses lock horns, perhaps this House will come out on top.
I am rather like a baby hoping that the bath water will be thrown out with it or a turkey hoping for Christmas. If we are to be recycled, to repeat the unpleasant term used by my noble friend Lord Howell of Guildfordand I have visions, as a turkey, of the shelves of Sainsbury'sI think that the day will come when I have done enough here. I came here under a completely different regime, in which I was obliged to nobody but my father and Ramsay MacDonald and could come and go as I wished with a clear conscience. I am now here as a result of the votes of a majority of all your Lordships to do a job. I find that it has extraordinarily cramped my declining years and diminished the chances of writing even one of the two books that I would like to do or painting 50 of the 100 pictures to which I would like to put my paint brush. I may have reached the point when I should go anyway, because I am worn out and not contributing. There will be other people in that position who ought to be able to get out, but there is no escape hatch for us, and there should be.
That is rather a sad note on which to end. Like the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, I fell out of love with this House and then in love with it again after all the changes. Long may the upper House remain the second House, and long may it survive.
Lord Goodhart: My Lords, it is usual to start a wind-up speech by saying that it has been an excellent debate, but tonight I feel unable to say that. On the contrary, in more than five years of membership of your Lordships' House, I have never listened to a debate that has been so deeply depressing. The debate has been riddled with complacency and self-congratulation. Time after time, I have heard the voice of Dr Panglossnow Lord Panglosssaying, "All is for the best in the best of all possible Houses".
Of course, there are legitimate arguments for a wholly appointed Housewhich have been expressed clearly and forcefully by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, and the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth. However, those arguments need to be challenged, and far too many speakers in this debate have swallowed them whole.
We in this House overestimate our own virtues. I agree that what we do, we do well. We have good debates. We have contributions to those debates from Members of great expertise, some of them sitting on the Cross Benches, some of them on the party Benches. But who listens? What coverage do we get in the media? We produce excellent reports, many of which actually get read, and spend a lot of time on the boring but necessary job of revising the detail of legislation. Occasionally, we persuade the Government to think again. As many speakers said, we had some success with the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Bill 15 months ago. But is that all that we are expected to do?
What is the greatest problem of the British constitution today and what has been the greatest problem for many years past? Only three speakersthe noble Lords, Lord Desai, Lord Onslow and Lord Eltonhave referred to it. When the Government have a large majority in the House of Commons, as it has for 19 of the last 24 years, there are no effective checks on the abuse of executive powers. It is the absence of those checks that gave us the poll tax and that may, in the next few weeks, lead us into a war in Iraq when that war is opposed by a large majority of the people of this country.
A reformed second Chamber could offer the chance of a more effective challenge to the executiveto the executive, not to the House of Commons. Many noble Lords have said that greater legitimacy must be avoided because it would increase the risk of deadlock with the House of Commons. Has anyone stopped to think why, if elections to your Lordships' House are such a threat to the primacy of the House of Commons, so much support exists in the House of Commons for elections to your Lordships' House? Why is it that the Public Administration Committee, in a unanimous report, proposed a 60 per cent elected membership of your Lordships' House?
I will tell you why. In the House of Commons, they see what is actually going on. They see the Government crushing the challenges from their own Back Benches. On both sides of that House, among Government Back Benches as well as among the opposition parties, they want a House of Lords that can challenge the abuse of executive power. That was made clear in a brilliant speech made yesterday in the House of Commons by Mr William Hague. Let me quote at a little length from it. He said:
Noble Lords on the Conservative Benches should read not only the speech of their former leader but the speech of Ken Clarke, their leader in waiting, and of Sir George Young, before they finally commit themselves to voting against elected Members. I have to say that speeches from the Conservative Benches have been much as I expected. I welcome the four or five gallant souls who resisted the Gadarene rush to oppose all elections.
What I found more disappointing was the reaction from speakers on the Labour Benches. More than half of them have announced their intention of voting against any elected element, in clear breach of what has in fact been their party's policy of many years.
Among the speeches from the Labour Benches in this debate, there is one that is notable for not having been madethe speech of the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House. He is a man who is enormously respected in your Lordships' House. He has made his views in support of reform clear on many previous occasions. A speech from him would, I believe, have been valuable and persuasive. I regret that he has been silenced or has silenced himself. But if Labour Peers cannot hear a speech from the noble and learned Lord, they can read the speeches of Robin Cook, his opposite number in the House of Commons, and of Tony Wright, the chairman of the Public Administration Committee. They should do that before deciding how they are going to vote.
If, as seems all too likely, your Lordships' House supports no option other than an all-appointed one, noble Lords will have opted for a quiet life. I have to say that I understand that that is a very seductive option indeed. It is a wonderful privilege to be a Member of your Lordships' House. I, too, love this place. If I was thinking of myself alone, I would be happy if your Lordships' House continued unchanged until kingdom come. A House which included elected
I have to say also that the idea that all appointments can be made by an independent commission is completely misguided. The commission can indeed appoint Members who sit as Independents. However, this House is a political House; it is and it always has been. In fact, some 70 per cent of its present Members take a party Whip. The House could not operate without party structure, party leaders, the Whips' offices, the usual channels. A non-political House, however high-minded, however intelligent, however wise its Members, would be totally chaotic.
There is of course a role for Independents here. I very much want them to remain. However, they are indeed the icing on our cake. Cake is, of course, much nicer with icing on it; and it is a better House with the Independents here. But without the cake there can be no icing, and most of us, I am afraid, have to be the cake. I simply do not see how the commission can choose those who come here to play a political role.
The commission can and should exercise a veto over political appointments. It should be able to reject nominees who have, for example, spent years living abroad as tax exiles, or who have been offered a place in your Lordships' House as a reward for making their seat in the House of Commons available for someone else. The commission cannot, I believe, tell a party, "We are going to choose X, Y and Z as your representatives in the second Chamber". Indeed, if it could, that would mean one House of Parliament being elected by an electorate of eight, nine or 10 people. That I regard as a totally incredible idea. No commission can or should have that power. It is the quango to end all quangos, as the Speaker said yesterday. So, without elections, we shall end up with a House most of whose members will continue to be appointed through the patronage of party leaders. I believe that that will not do.
Nor do I support some of the other proposals raised in debate. I totally reject the idea of appointment through election by professional or other interest groups. That is, I believe, a travesty of democracy. The British Government in fact created such a system in Hong Kong some years agothe functional constituencies. Mr Patten tried to democratise it. The Chinese Government, however, liked it and restored it. So now one has the functional constituencies, the bankers, with the votes cast by the directors of the banks and not by the employees.
Indirect election is perhaps less objectionable but it leads to the election of people to represent the interests of the members of the local or regional councils which elected them rather than of the people who live there. I believe that in a non-federal country such as ours it is far better to have direct than indirect elections.