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Lord Davies of Coity: My Lords, my contribution to this debate will be specifically related to that part of the Queen's Speech that referred to further reform of your Lordships' House. It will dwell on what I consider to be the most important feature of reform: the composition of the House, who should be here and the process of determining that.
But, first, let me say how much I welcome the thrust of the gracious Speech. It highlighted the Government's intention to continue, as a major priority, to pursue sound economic policies, thereby maintaining stability and promoting growth and prosperity for all, policies which over the past eight years have produced low unemployment, low inflation and low interest rates. They are policies that have produced considerable economic growth, raised the standards of the British people and enabled greater investment in public services, particularly in health and education.
I also welcome the proposal to introduce ID cards. I believe that no law-abiding citizen need fear such a measure. Such a provision will enable the law enforcement agencies to tackle more effectively terrorism, the perpetrators of terror, crime in general, fraud in particular and the growing problem of illegal immigration. Of course, I wish that there was no need for such a measure but, regrettably, the nature of the world that we now live in makes it so very necessary.
However, as I said at the outset, my particular concern in this debate is the question of further reform of your Lordships' House. When I entered the House in 1997, it was not long before we were thrust into the historic proposals to remove hereditary Peers from the Chamber. In 1999, the legislation was completed and about 90 per cent of the hereditary Peerssome 600were removed and only 92 remained as a result of the Weatherill amendment. I shall return to the question of the remaining hereditaries a little later. I do not believe that the removal of hereditary Peers from this place had much to do with advancing democracy in this country. It had much more to do with applying common sense and with removing the obvious injustice of allowing someone who had no qualification for being here, other than being a descendant of someone who may, or may not, have qualified as much as 500 years ago, to participate in the work of this Chamber. People being here without qualifying in their own right was obviously intolerable
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and had to end. It was indefensible and it was widely recognised as such. In the main, it is now behind us, except for a little tidying up.
Moving on, the fundamental debate was argued, in the main, on a misunderstanding of the concept of democracy. It took place in the 21st century and culminated in several votes taking place in both Houses on Tuesday, 4 February 2003. The votes in the other place were totally inconclusive and no vote clearly expressed its wishes. However, as many noble Lords can undoubtedly recall, the seven votes in this Chamber were extremely clear and conclusive. The vote for a wholly appointed House was carried by 335 votes to 110. The other six votes, which proposed varying degrees of part-elected, part-appointed House, were defeated, with well over 300 noble Lords voting against and fewer than 110 voting for in each vote. Those were free votes. But, as I recall, those votes were carried in opposition to the united view expressed by the Leader of the House, the two immediate past Leaders of the House, the Leader of the Opposition and the Liberal Democrat Front Bench.
I shall now deal with this concept of democracy, which is a misunderstanding of democracy as far as the work of this House is concerned. The composition of this House has never been determined by our understanding of the application of democratic terms; and, because of where we are now, no attempt should be made to make it so. To do so would, in my view, result in chaos, conflict and ultimately the abolition of the second Chamber, because two elected Houses cannot be successfully sustained.
Although the composition of this House is not determined by our concept of the application of democratic means, the question is: do we effectively contribute to the democratic structure of our country and would we fulfil that role, better or worse, by electing Peers to this House?
When I say that this House contributes to the country's democracy without itself being produced by democratic terms, as we understand them, I look to other institutions in our society that complement our democracy without themselves conforming to any form of democracy. The judiciary, the Civil Service, the police and the Armed Forces are all ultimately answerable to the elected government of the day, as represented in the other place. We of course are different from them, as indeed they are all different from each other; but then we are also different from the other place.
Our powers are limited. We know that in the end we must and should bow to the pre-eminence of the other place. They are elected by the people; they are answerable to the people; and they are accountable to the people for their stewardship. Election by the people to the other place satisfies the basic principles of our democracy and in my view that should not be disturbed.
We in this House, with our limited role of scrutinising and proposing revision, very largely complement the proposals of the other place and as such much of what we do by way of revision is willingly
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accepted by the Government because it is clearly recognised and appreciated that the expertise in this Chamber is valuable and helpful.
Of course there are times when our complementing role takes the form of a challengesometimes by delaying legislation to enable the Government to think again. There is nothing wrong with that, so long as we know we do not have, and can never have, the same authority as the other place. Obviously, the way we work and the terms under which we conduct our work will need reconsideration, review and adjustment from time to time to ensure that we are constantly effective in contributing to the nation's welfare.
Once it is understood how we function for the common good, then, in my view, it is more easily understood that it is essential to have a wholly appointed House, embracing experienced and knowledgeable people from all walks of life, with no other motive but to serve.
Your Lordships' House is now largely made up of those who before coming here have had success in the fields of science, medicine, law, media, arts, security, politics, both sides of industry and in many more areas. How could such expertise be brought together other than by appointment?
There are still many in the Labour movement who believe in abolishing the House of Lords, and from time to time some of my colleagues on these Benches have expressed support for that view. They argue their case on the basis that this House is undemocratic. I say to them that their view is based on a misunderstanding of what we are about.
The campaign to abolish the House of Lords is as old as the Labour movement itself. When that view was first expressed I accept that it was fairly valid because this place was dominated by hereditary landed gentry and the aristocracya condition that was rightly seen as alien to a democratic society.
In 1958, with the introduction of the Life Peerages Act, the character of the House started to change, not a lot at first but it slowly progressed. But what happened in 1999 transformed this place for ever. No longer was it to be dominated by hereditary privilege but it was created as a workshop for national benefit.
If Peers were to be elected, a number of difficulties and a number of counter-productive circumstances would arise. First, elected Peers could not be expected to accept a lesser authority than elected Members in the other place. That would then result in this House mirroring the other place and cause unnecessary conflict between both Houses to the detriment of the nation.
Secondly, complications are bound to arise about the system of election to be used, the extent to which Peers will have constituencies and their role in accountability to constituents. Thirdly, would elected
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Peers have greater authority than appointed Peers in a House made up of part appointed and part elected Peers?
Fourthly, with elections it will be impossible to maintain the concept of a balanced Houseone-third in government, one-third in opposition and one-third on the Cross Benches. I understand that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister advocates that concept. The worse feature with an elected House would be the great loss of those who bring to this House the reality that is so necessary. It is a reality acquired from years of working in the real world. They are not career politicians, but those who have gained knowledge and experience in making their way in the world long before coming here; those whose only wish is to serve the British people and people the world over.
I fear they will not, understandably, be prepared to stand for electionand their loss to our society is too great a price to pay. It is therefore my hope that a clear decision is taken to confirm that your Lordships' House will remain a wholly appointed House. We can then get on and deal with the issues that are of great importance to the people of this country.
Of course tidying up is required in respect of the 92 hereditary Peers still with us. Those 92 were elected from their respective groups on the basis that they participated conscientiously in the work of this Chamber. Therefore, I should have thought that it was not beyond the wit of man, or woman, or government or the usual channels to make the 92 life Peers and to draw a line in the sand for ever.
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