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None of the excitements of the past few weeks has changed my view that the best outcome would be to go for a unicameral House, and I am sorry that the other place did not consider that more fully. Were there to be one House, it would require many more resources than the Commons has now. The additional burden of scrutiny would require more staff, Members to spend much more time here than at the moment and the close link between the legislature and the Executive, despite the excellent work of the Select Committees, would have to be reviewed again.

My suspicion is that the Commons in their voting last week wanted to remain the primary House, but did not want to have to bother with the detail of scrutiny. I support unicameralism because I am determined to defend the primacy of the Commons and I believe that it is inconceivable, as many Peers argued yesterday and today, that should either of the two options that the Commons voted for last week be followed through, the primacy of the Commons would be unchallenged. After the votes last week, there were cheers, no doubt partly from those who foresaw the demise of this place. They should have been aware that they were also cheering the end of their primacy. However well the legislation is drafted, the Commons’ role will not remain unchallenged if there should be an elected House of Lords or an elected element within it.

We have heard eloquent arguments that there should be wider consultations, particularly with the Back-Benchers when seeking agreement on this subject. I wish to make a broader point that there needs to be more than just agreement with Back-Benchers. We need to have a referendum on this key constitutional issue. I know that my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor was quite hard on that issue earlier in response to a Question from my noble friend Lord Barnett. However, my noble and learned friend said that one of the compelling reasons

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for that was that we made big changes in 1999 which did not require a referendum. Absolutely—but in 1999 we were acting on a very specific proposal from the 1997 manifesto. Whatever you say about what we put in the 2005 manifesto, it cannot be described as specific.

I do not accept that a statement in a manifesto that something will be done, unspecified as to precisely what is intended, gives a democratic mandate to whatever follows. That would have been taken as an endorsement of any decision of the Commons last week, whether it was for a unicameral, wholly elected, wholly appointed Chamber or any point in between. There does not seem to be a consensus here and still less is there a consensus in the country. This is a major constitutional issue and at the end of the day it should be the people, not the people’s representatives, who have the final say. I would suggest that a further White paper be put to the people for their agreement rather than to assume that these two Houses have an absolute right to change the constitution of the country as they see fit.

However, we must accept that there has been a change as a result of what the Commons did last week. Despite the clear fact that the consequences have not been well worked out—perhaps not worked out at all—it remains true that the view that election is necessary to ensure legitimacy has been supported by many, even if we disagree with it, and we ignore that view at our peril.

I should like to say a word about some of the options that were considered in the Commons: the White Paper option of a 50:50 split and the 80:20 option. I know that this will cause controversy but I dispute the notion that there has to be a block of unelected Cross-Benchers in the new political, elected House, if that is what we end up with. They are undoubtedly excellent in their knowledge and expertise and they are a real and important addition to this House, but, if this is to be a political House, we must take account of the fact that they have what might euphemistically be termed “political form”.

I hope that noble Lords will forgive me for generalising—there are of course exceptions—but the fact is that the Cross-Benchers are usually small “c” conservatives with pronounced pro-establishment prejudices. If a progressive Government, aided and abetted by a progressive opposition party, sought to build into the newly reformed House an anti-progressive, unelected block, that would ensure that a democratic vote in the country for progressive policies would have to clear an unnecessarily high hurdle in the second Chamber to succeed. That is simply unacceptable. If there is to be an appointed element, much more imaginative ways of finding those Members must be sought and found.

Wherever we end up, there is, I suspect, a long way to go. As the person responsible for manoeuvring the Scottish Labour Party towards a more proportional system for the Scottish Parliament, I view with some interest the prospects of getting an agreed electoral system for a reformed Chamber through either House, never mind both. Indeed, my noble and

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learned friend the Lord Chancellor might reflect that, as a first stage, it may be easier to get the agreement of the people than the agreement of both Houses here. That is roughly what happened with the Scotland Act and it was an extremely effective way of doing things.

Finally, I advise this House to acknowledge that there has been a change and that there is change on the agenda. That is the case as never before. I doubt whether there is any perfect solution, but we should not be too dogmatic in rejecting out of hand all possible ways forward.

4.42 pm

Baroness Knight of Collingtree: My Lords, I agree entirely with all Peers who, yesterday and today, expressed fundamental disagreement with the vote last week to abolish the House of Lords. I could not believe that the Commons would go on such a rampage of destruction with only a minority having the wit to realise that if the Commons vote sustains, they will destroy themselves, too.

In the “Today” programme last Thursday, which reported the Commons vote, someone—probably John Humphrys—said something to the effect that in this debate we would all speak from self-interest. But that is not what I and the overwhelming majority of your Lordships are doing at all. Everyone knows that, whatever happens, it will be years before fundamental changes are brought about. By that time, I and many of my colleagues here will be long gone. What motivates us is not self-interest but deep concern for our country and its good governance.

It is very telling that the senior staff and officers who guide and monitor us and are responsible for the inner workings of the parliamentary machine in both Houses, are as horrified as we are at what is proposed. They are not motivated by self-interest either. It is not the loss of their jobs that worries them; those jobs will go on. What upsets them is the invaluable expertise and experience that will be lost forever from these red Benches if this proposal goes through. As has been mentioned, we have in this House Privy Counsellors, Commanders in Chief, Secretaries-General of NATO, Secretaries of State, top academicians and medical doctors, but they would never stand for election. Earlier today, one noble Lord said, “I don’t see why we shouldn’t have them”, but no one would fight an election again if they had been in the other House, and no one who had reached the higher echelons, as I described, would stand for election either.

I can assure your Lordships that when you stand for election you need to have a party behind you, so bang go all the independents whom we value so much in this House. A great many people would stand for election, saying, “This sounds good; 15 years without being challenged, 15 years with a large salary and 15 years with a large number of people to work for me. And it doesn’t matter because I need never turn up, I need never do any work, but once I am in, I am in”. I would rather have the Members we have now by a long chalk.

A result of having independent Peers in the House means that three or four top experts take part in every debate. I have been in the Commons and I have been

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in the Lords and far more erudite, knowledgeable and relevant speeches are made here than ever are made in the other place. The country needs those people, especially the Cross-Benchers whom I value hugely. We cannot afford to lose them but we shall if the Commons have their way.

There is no public demand whatever for the proposed changes. If the public knew more about what we do and how we do it, there would be a very strong public demand for things to be left as they are. If the public knew how much extra tax they would be charged for an all-elected House, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, they would picket the Treasury in droves. Extra taxation for a better health service, for better schooling, for better roads and for better transport is one thing, but extra taxation for a far worse House of Lords is quite another.

Elected representatives, as I know very well, have to spend lots of time answering between 40 and 60 letters every day; they have to visit schools, factories, old people’s homes and they have to attend constituency surgeries and functions as well as coping with the problems of their constituents. At the moment, this House does a lot of scrutiny which the House of Commons—the elected representatives—do not do at all. Any elected representatives who replace us will have to do all those things. How will Bills be scrutinised then? There will also be much duplication of effort. Constituents take their problems to their MPs and they write them letters. For every letter that comes in and for every visit to a surgery, action is taken and letters go to Ministers, to local authorities and to anyone else who can possibly help a constituent. MPs of all shades of opinion are very punctilious in what they try to do for their constituents. If the Members here also have constituents, how on earth will the people who replace us do what we do now, which often is the lion's share of ensuring that Bills are good when they are passed?

There are so many arguments against what is proposed. Some will say that the strongest argument is that the power of the House of Commons would be severely lessened. I am strongly in favour in our democratic system and of leaving power with the clearly elected House. Laws will not pass as they do now, with one Chamber almost always proposing the laws and this House checking them carefully and suggesting amendments to improve them, which the Commons can then accept or reject. We say, “Okay, we are not elected, you are”, but we will not say that if this House is also elected. The Commons will be challenged by a new elected House. I believe in the Commons keeping its primacy and the Lords keeping its wisdom. Why deprive both and inflict constitutional chaos on us all?

4.50 pm

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: My Lords, a proposition has been mooted in some quarters, particularly in chapter 10 of the White Paper, regarding getting rid of the 92 hereditary Peers. It is that Peers’ elections should be abolished. It is seen in some quarters as a kindly means of finally abolishing the last vestiges of the hereditary principle while retaining for their remaining

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lives the services of the present hereditary Peers, not all of whom are totally useless or “half-witted old duffers”, which I understand is how one Member of another place recently described your Lordships—all your Lordships, I understand.

I have to declare an interest not only as a hereditary Peer but also as a member of the Hereditary Peers Association. There is no way that I can support the abolition of Peers’ elections. We were elected in 1999 by our colleagues who were kicked out of this House in a cavalier and sometimes spiteful manner. To support the abolition of the only chance they or their heirs and successors have of ever again becoming Members of this House seems to me to be tantamount to saying, “I’m all right Jack and to hell with you lot”, and I cannot do it. It just sticks in my gullet. I know that some of my elected colleagues think as I do, and I shall be very interested to hear what any of them who have not already spoken have to say about the matter.

Having said that, I think Peers’ elections in their present form are rather a farce, but they could be improved by one or two simple measures. At the election held last week, there were 43 candidates and 41 electors. It should not be difficult to devise a method of weeding out the candidates. The Hereditary Peers Association might be able to help, or party organisations, such as, for the Conservatives, the ACP, might do it. Then again, we might revert to simple first-past-the-post voting, which even someone as thick as me can understand, instead of the alternative vote system—I know the Liberals would not like that. Finally, I think the electorate should be all the Peers in the party, life and hereditary. I know that I supported hereditary Peers only as the electorate in 1999, but, hindsight being a wonderful thing, I now believe that I was wrong and that election by all their Peers would give successful candidates greater what is nowadays, I am sorry to say, called “legitimacy”, although I do not think that is a correct use of the word. Perhaps “gravitas” might be better. I was so glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Neill of Bladen, questioning the use of that term. All Members of this House are legitimate, regardless of how they got here, because they are all here in accordance with whatever the law under which they were appointed or elected, as the case may be. I do not believe one can be more or less legitimate: either one is legitimate or one is not.

However, at the end of the day, if any substantial reform of this House takes place, whether it is to make it a wholly or mainly elected House or a wholly or mainly appointed House, we, the 92, will have to go, because the basis on which our continued presence in this House rests is to ensure a second stage to the reform of this House, which was begun in 1999 with no idea of what shape it was to take beyond a wholesale cull of hereditary Peers. We are here until the legislation to implement that reform, with dates when it will come into force, has received Royal Assent. Until then, we shall remain. Peers’ elections should continue, and we shall fight tooth and nail against any attempt to remove us before then. I shall vote for the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, tomorrow.



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4.55 pm

Lord Sheldon: My Lords, so much of what I was going to say has already been said, so, as the 91st speaker in this debate, I shall be brief. In his House of Commons speech on Tuesday of last week Kenneth Clarke said that the House of Commons “has lost its powers” and the House of Lords that restrained it “in exercising its powers”. In reality, the House of Lords does not use its full powers because Members realise the dominant position of being elected. That is our situation.

In the event, hybridity or a partially elected House is not a solution. Such a House of Lords would have two categories. Not only will the elected element quite naturally feel superior, but they will also demand the staff and the pay required to keep in contact with their electors. They will be full-time Members. In such a situation, with the elected Members of the House of Lords being dominant as well as having electoral legitimacy, they will be rivals to the House of Commons. On occasion, there will be deadlock. At present when the House of Lords differs from the House of Commons there are negotiations and a solution is normally found. It is getting a little more difficult, but a conclusion is reached.

If a new House of Lords makes use of its elected Members and amends legislation in defiance of the House of Commons the use of the Parliament Acts is threatened. What if a number of amendments to different pieces of legislation are passed? Are the Parliament Acts to be used again and again on each Division? The Parliament Acts are such a major piece of legislation that it takes months to get the procedure through. If you have a number of such procedures, what happens to Parliament as a whole? These matters need to be considered.

As this House is constituted we could oppose the House of Commons in a determined way. What we have now is a sensible understanding of the role of the two Houses. It is important to keep it that way. As Alan Williams said in the House of Commons, the House of Lords has muscle but,

With an elected element that muscle will be exercised. And it can be exercised in a very high way. Such a House will be able to do all sorts of things, and it will be a proper rival to the House of Commons in a way that this House of Lords is not. There will be problems for the whole of Parliament.

Then there is the position of the Cross-Benchers who occupy an important part of the House. Subject to election, such useful Members of the House will, even if they wish to stand, find it very difficult to be elected. The loss of such a body of expertise and experience acquired before coming to this House would be a most serious loss, as my noble friend mentioned. The range of expertise that was illustrated by my noble and learned friend Lord Irvine of Lairg is of great parliamentary value. One of our enormous advantages is that people come from all sorts of areas which most of us know little about, but which add to the kind of debates we have here.



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If this House were to be 80 per cent elected, let alone 100 per cent elected, the Government could have a clear majority in both Houses. The increase in their power would move our democracy to an even greater dominance by the Executive. As my noble friend Lord Cunningham said yesterday, with a partially elected House the elected would be claiming legitimacy and the other part could not. So we would not just have a division but a hierarchy in which so many people who contribute greatly to our debate, our discussions and our conclusions would not have anything like that kind of role in the future.

The House of Lords has a vital role. The Government need to win the argument in the Lords rather than use their pressure in the Commons. This increasing pressure has, as the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, so rightly said, been bringing the power of the House of Commons into decline. Very sad it is that since the departure of the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, from the House of Commons, that decline has got worse and worse. For those of us who had a very high opinion of the House of Commons, that is a matter of great sadness.

When it comes to speaking, the elected Members could claim priority and there would not be the present giving way at Questions, which is a feature of our procedure. We operate in a very sensible way. We do not have a predominance of one kind of Member or another. People get up and give way to each other even in Question Time. In such a situation, the Speaker may be called on to decide who is to be called: an issue that will bring about a fundamental change in her role. It will come rather closer to that of the Speaker in the House of Commons. Given the way in which we and the Speaker have operated, that would be a considerable loss to us all.

In this Parliament, there is no place for a partly elected House of Lords. We either have a wholly elected Chamber, with the inevitable battle between the two Houses, or we continue with the present arrangement which, like so much of our unwritten constitution, may not be defended in every detail but it works and continues to work.

5.01 pm

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord and I defer to his wisdom and experience. Indeed, he gave an introduction better than I could produce to my speech.

The Gods appear to have ordained for their pleasure that these debates and votes should ensue during the Ides of March. Auguries are not as propitious as some noble Lords might wish. But it will all take quite a bit of time—not because of delay for the sake of delay but delay to get it right. In that sense, stand-off between the Houses has not arisen and, as I see it, there is no particular anxiety that it should.

The assumption is that our unwritten constitution is to be retained. That is about the only assurance that I want from the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. That assurance goes to the root of one of the main arguments. If that is retained, the extant working relationship between the two Houses under the Parliament Act as implemented in amity by

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convention cannot be improved by any proposed option, other than option one. No justification is produced for improvement of that working relationship, which goes to the essence of the main argument.

The electorate—we do not have any PR in this House, as far as I am aware—has very little interest in this political power struggle generated by the White Paper, which is not a White Paper, at the behest of government. The noble Lord, Lord Williamson of Horton, referred to it as a struggle for power and the authority to use it. All that one can know about the electorate is that in an opinion the other day, 72 per cent took the view that the House as constituted was doing a pretty good job. This could only favour a wholly appointed House under option one. A hybrid House is no compromise; it was simply a Trojan horse that was stuck there to try to secure some agreement as an aid to going forward to stage two. I am afraid that the horse collapsed. In fact, I am rather glad it did. A hybrid House would engender conflict between the Houses. Even more than that, it would destroy the ethos of your Lordships’ House, to no advantage at all, and would involve the appointment of a disciplined Speaker along the lines of the Speaker in another place. Our whole ethos about giving way and not dominating, to which the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, referred, would go. Such an appointment would be the end of it. Therefore, on any showing, this is the worst possible option. It is even worse than a wholly elected Chamber.

As I understand it, the speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, acknowledged the status of the hereditaries under the Cranborne deal, and appeared to seek in the wake of this debate and vote a fresh start in the discussion on the reform of the House and what was in the best interests of the nation and both Houses under our excellent unwritten constitution, without the pale of doctrinal political pre-emption. Those are my words. They are not the words that he used; that is how I interpreted his feeling about the matter. If that is his feeling, I wholly endorse it. The speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, my noble friend Lord Wakeham and my noble and learned friend Lord Howe were in favour of a wholly appointed House, for the reasons given by them. The context was given by the speeches of the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, and other noble Lords.

Only one other matter remains for me to discuss. It has already been discussed so well that it would be a shame to try to improve on it. The speeches made this morning by the noble Baroness, Lady Symons of Vernham Dean, and my noble friend Lord Higgins set out the essence of the problem that most Back-Benchers, like me, have in this House. I am very grateful to them for the way in which they put it.


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