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All these things are considerable improvements on what went before and the Government should be commended for them. Other things are less to their credit. Gordon Brown began as Prime Minister with a powerful statement on constitutional reform but in fact the approach has been fragmentary and incoherent. I served on the Joint Committee that considered the previous Constitutional Renewal Bill and it just seemed to us a very miscellaneous measure dealing with all sorts of matters, from demonstrations in Parliament Square to the right to make war. Of the proposals that were valuable, some, such as the war powers and the role of the Attorney-General, have disappeared from the new Bill. The new Bill does not seem to be up to meeting the challenge that is required. There are of course some valuable pieces, on the Civil Service and the approval of treaties, but in the famous phrase of Sir Winston Churchill,
There are no obvious central arguments and what is left is what one academic has recently called a state of "constitutional anomie" in which the Government contradict themselves. They have concentrated on the dispersal of power and yet they have at the same time ratcheted up power with controls imposed over civil liberties in ways that we have heard, in relation to DNA and other matters, which seem to be very much at variance with what we heard earlier about Tom Paine and John Stuart Mill.
Our democracy, I believe, is in acute crisis. People are losing faith in it. Specifically, what we should do, in my view, is to relate constitutional reform not to the internal, circumscribed political class but to the people. There is an enormous democratic deficit. Ironically, there is a deficit in Europe. I strongly support our membership of the European Union, but the democratic deficit there was shown almost to an absurd degree by the recent appointment of a President. In an earlier era, critics of Europe such as Michael Foot claimed that the British system was more open, better and more democratic-well, perhaps not any more. It needs to be democratised. The Commons as well as the Lords should be democratised. We should have the
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Proportional representation is advocated by many but I think that too much can be attributed to it. Too much can be claimed. However, I regret the fact that the gracious Speech did not refer at all to proportional representation at a time of such widespread public disaffection. It should have seized the initiative. However, I enormously welcome the views that I read the other week in Progress by the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, who seems to be a wonderfully innovative Minister in so many cases. He argued the case for elected mayors and for the need to decentralise and open up the system. I quite agreed with what the noble Lord said about Ken Livingstone having been a considerable pioneer in this respect.
Britain does not embody popular sovereignty; we have a very limited sense of citizenship compared with other countries. We are subjects of the Crown. We still have the tattered vestiges of the royal prerogative. I well acknowledge that having a formal written constitution would absorb a huge amount of time. What we should do, I think, is be incremental and build on existing legislation.
Finally, I hope that the Labour Party will take the initiative in these matters, as it should-with the support, I trust, of the Liberal Democrats, despite the rather right-wing observations from their leader over the weekend. The Labour Party was built on the idea of democratic socialism. For people such as Keir Hardie, the democracy was quite as important as the socialism. The main party opposite has resisted every change. It is an unsatisfactory instrument for reform, with a paranoia over Europe. I think that building a healthy people's democracy depends on the power of progressives.
Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I found the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Morgan, fascinating and indeed I would like to continue in that vein by referring to the constitution, although I fear that my contribution will be very much less erudite than his. I am also bound to say that I found it hard to agree with him in a few of his winding-up remarks at the end.
What worries me is that there has been a great crisis of confidence in the parliamentary system, which destabilises the constitution. The country is lacking in trust. It is lacking trust with Parliament, with the legal system, with officialdom and with one another. That is bad and it is divisive.
On top of that, the Government seem to be encouraging not only the nanny state but the police state. "Get out of the bus lane. Fine: £100. And I have a camera in the back of a bus to photograph you. Sneak on your neighbour if you think that he is cheating on social security benefits, and there is a hotline so that nobody need know that it is you who are ringing. Watch what you put in your wheelie bin; otherwise we will photograph it or weigh it". All that is a sharp, bad turn for the worse. It really is the way in which society has been going for the past 10 years. In that time, of course, your Lordships' House has seen
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At the moment, the two Houses have separate compositions, separate rules and separate responsibilities. Each House has a different task and each is complementary to the other. However, make them similar-with the second Chamber saying to the other, "We have been elected, too, and we have just as much right as you do, House of Commons, to have our way; our views on legislation have equal weight to yours"-and you will end with bitterness and discord between the two Houses of an undreamt of nature.
In common with most noble Lords, I am sure, it breaks my heart to see what has happened, and is happening, to another place. No one approves of Members of Parliament breaking the law. If they do, they are subject to the law of the land just like everyone else, but many Members of another place who are at present being pilloried do not fall into that category. I was so glad that my noble friend Lord MacGregor of Pulham Market said what he did about Members of the House of Commons because so many of them are honourable people.
Most Members of another place are good, honest people. In my view, it is largely the rules that have been at fault. If the rules say that you are entitled to this or that, it is not good enough for someone to say, "Oh yes. You may be entitled to it, but morally you should not have claimed it". It is like saying that you are entitled to a first-class railway ticket but you ought to have bought an economy one because the country would have been better off if you had. I venture to suggest that, if there has been improper payment, the Fees Office, which, like the Inland Revenue, is the guardian of public funds in its area, should have had more control over the disbursements.
Some Members have been accused of claiming for things for which they did not claim. The right honourable gentleman Mr Hogg was accused of a claim for a "moat". There was no moat; there was a ditch. He was paid nothing, yet, like many respectable Members, he has had his character assassinated and is leaving Parliament. I find that devastating. The honourable gentleman Sir Peter Viggers has been lambasted for claiming for a duck island. A pretty, quacking duck makes a lovely picture on any newspaper, but he never received a penny. However, that does not stop everyone being quite convinced that he did and it does not stop him being reviled and having to stand down as a Member of Parliament. His mistake was to have asked the advice of the Fees Office and to have put it in writing. The letter got on to the disk that was obtained by the Daily Telegraph for £300,000 and the Daily Telegraph milked it as hard as it could. I do not know whether that says an awful lot for the responsibility of newspapers.
Some chivalrous-minded gentleman decided to dig up-not dig-the garden of the honourable gentleman Mr Duncan. Some time later, in order to try to let bygones be bygones, the honourable gentleman asked his new friend to have a drink with him on the terrace
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The Speaker said that there had to be some rough justice. If I was on the receiving end of that kind of rough justice, I would think that it was grossly unfair. Most Members of another place are still honourable Members doing their best for the country and for their constituents and I salute them for that. The powers that be seem to have lost their judgment and their sense of direction over all this. The Government's answer is, as always, to set up another quango, the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, to control what Members are paid. The chairman is to be paid double what a Member of Parliament is paid. Is that right? It is unbelievable.
Some say, with justification, that this is the nationalisation of Parliament, but do we want Members of Parliament looked over by rules, commissions and quangos, theoretically cleaning it all up but actually creating more traps for people to fall into, more authorities to judge and more punishments to be dispersed? Do we really want to discourage Members of Parliament from having interests outside the Palace of Westminster and thereby being alert to what is happening in the mad world outside Parliament? I do not think that we do. Do we really want to know how much they are being paid for their outside interests? Do we really want to know how many hours of work they are putting in? Put in 20 hours, and it is bad for your firm; put in 200 hours, and you are not doing any work for your constituents.
There is no winner in all this other than the rigid manacle of bureaucracy. It is a convenient way of saying, "No remuneration from outside Parliament from now on". That will be hugely detrimental to getting the right people into Parliament and to Parliament itself. Members of Parliament were elected to run the country in the best way that they can and, if what they do does not have the approval of their constituents, they can be removed at the general election. They were never elected to be dictated to by some higher, better remunerated and unelected quango.
In my view, another place is making far more of a mess trying to get out of the mess than the original mess itself. If another place is going to clear itself up and be a place of authority again, it needs to be led by a Speaker with authority, who speaks with authority, who conducts himself with authority and who dresses with authority. I am sure that I am not the only one feeling a sense of sorrow that the Speaker chose the
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Parliament has not been assailed by such distrust and by such a demise of power over the Executive for 300 years. My fear is that the anticipated cure for it all is going in the wrong direction. It is giving less power and less independence to Members of Parliament when what is wanted is more power and more independence for them and more trust.
Lord Maclennan of Rogart: My Lords, I am very happy to share something with the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers; namely, a wheelie bin in Warwick Square. I hope that he does not feel the necessity to consign my remarks to it, but I promise him I will not supervise what he puts in it.
I thoroughly agree with the noble Earl's view about the discontents of our country not beginning with the much published actions of the Members of another place recently. It is quite clear that for more than a decade this country has been conscious of the anachronistic elements of our constitution. The fact that successive governments have not delivered what they have aspired to and that the system is, at least in part, due to that. At this time in a Parliament it is unreal to expect all the identified defects to be tackled in a monster constitutional Bill.
This debate has gone in two directions. There have speakers who, like the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, have made extremely practical suggestions. He made seven proposals, to which most of this House would give assent, about how we can reform ourselves effectively without an Act of Parliament. Other speakers have had a wider view, and I fall into the latter category for the purposes of this debate. Consequently, I shall not expect the noble Lord, Lord West, to philosophise about what I say.
I recognise that the undertaking in the gracious Speech that legislation will continue to be taken forward on constitutional reform is not to be dispensed with lightly, despite the considerable limitations of the Bill that flows from the earlier Constitutional Renewal Bill which, like the noble Lord, Lord Morgan, and a number of other speakers in this debate, I considered in the Joint Committee of the two Houses. That Bill was not adequate in the view of the Joint Committee. There was a certain discontent among many members about the proposals for the Attorney-General, so I am not entirely surprised that the Government have dropped their proposals on that subject.
Similarly, there was quite a degree of dissatisfaction with the proposals for war powers and the fact that the Prime Minister's prerogative to take this country into foreign hostilities was not frontally dealt with. Remnants of that Bill are in the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill, which in at least one case seem to be
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In the light of that, we need to do something to secure the independence of the Civil Service. We shall watch the progress of that Bill with great interest. If the rest of it is jettisoned, the country will not be much the worse off.
The mountain of constitutional reform to be climbed is formidable if the Government are to meet the aspirations of the British people for the delivery of their objectives. Climbers sometimes take comfort and encouragement from looking down the hill at what they have surmounted, and there have been significant constitutional advances since this Government were elected in 1997. The enactment of the Freedom of Information Act has greatly improved the transparency of Executive action, and the Human Rights Act has given individuals a much speedier route to redress than they enjoyed when they had to take their case before the European Court of Human Rights. Scotland, Wales, London and Northern Ireland have all benefited from some decentralisation of power. We wait with interest to hear whether the Calman and Jones Parry reports will be acted on.
The central weakness of the British constitutional arrangements, which none of these things really addresses, is the growth in the power of the Prime Minister. I do not expect the Minister to address that in his winding-up speech. None the less, it is important, because Cabinet government has clearly been replaced by overloaded responsibility at the centre. You cannot expect anyone to deliver on such a broad front when fingers are in every pie. The comparison between this Labour Government and the Labour Government of 1945 is not so much that there were giants in the 1945-51 Government and there are pygmies now but that the media have treated successive Prime Ministers as celebrities who, as a result, feel they must have the last, and indeed the first, word on everything. Candidly, that operates to the disadvantage of our sense of a people's democracy. We are moving inexorably towards an American presidential system but without its proper checks and balances, and I hope that there will be time in what is left of this Parliament to look at how we can fortify those checks and balances.
Lord Cobbold: My Lords, I intervene briefly in this debate to join noble Lords who have spoken in favour of the retention of the House of Lords that we know. The Queen's Speech stated that the Government will publish,
A democratic mandate, in this Government's vocabulary, must mean an elected Chamber and thus the abolition of the House of Lords that we know. However, the Leader of the House does not appear to favour this particular prospect. In her excellent speech last Wednesday, she told us how much she values this House as it is. She said:
She is a great lady and I agree with everything she says. I trust that she will resist her party's plans for an elected Chamber. I still fail to understand how any Member of the House of Commons can be in favour of an 80 per cent or a 100 per cent elected upper House. As other speakers have said, it would inevitably threaten the primacy of the House of Commons that we in this House of Lords are happy to acknowledge.
The arguments in favour of the present appointed House of Lords are well rehearsed. The life Peers have all made an impact in the field of activity in which they have been involved; thus the House is a unique reservoir of expertise and experience that is available for the scrutiny and improvement of parliamentary business. Few if any of its Members would be interested in standing for election, so this expertise and experience would be lost. It is also important to remember that the House of Lords costs about one-fifth of the House of Commons, which would no longer be the case for an elected upper House.
A number of reform measures are of course desirable. No doubt the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, will refer to some of them shortly, and no doubt we will debate them in the weeks to come. What is important now is that we all stand together and fight for the survival of this great House, which, like the Leader of the House, I am sure we all love.
Lord Steel of Aikwood: My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, I propose to deal with only one topic: the part of the Government's Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill that deals with the reform of the House of Lords.
As we move into 2010, we shall be celebrating the centenary of the first promise by government to replace this House with an elected Chamber. It is, as far as I know, the only political promise that is eligible to receive a telegram of congratulation from the Queen. Were she to send such a message, she would be fully justified in wishing it many more anniversaries, because I do not believe that this will happen in the near future. In fact, I am astonished that the noble Lord, Lord Bach, could read out the interim proposals from the Bill with a completely straight face, given that his colleagues on the Front Bench spent so much time if not actually obstructing then stonewalling the very same proposals in the Bill that I presented on behalf of so many Members in all parts of the House.
I will recap again the four proposals in my Bill. The first was the appointment of a statutory appointments commission. That is the one bit which the Government
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The other three proposals, however, are taken over lock, stock and barrel: ending the by-elections for hereditary Peers; enabling retirement from the House, which is the most important part simply because of the size of the numbers in the House and the fact that so many do not come to it-this is long overdue and I am very glad that it is in the Government's legislation-
Lord Steel of Aikwood: That could not occur according to the wording in my Bill, but I agree that the wording in the Government's Bill is slightly ambiguous. That is certainly not the intention in the proposal as I put it forward, but there is some argument about the drafting, to which we will no doubt come when the Bill reaches us. The final item was to deal with the expulsion of serious wrongdoers from this House on the same basis as happens in the other place. It is wrong that legislators should be serious lawbreakers.
The three proposals which have survived from my Bill are taken over by the Government. I say with some irritation that it is a great shame that they did not accept the offer I made so many times for them to take over the Bill as I presented it. If they had done that, it could have been in law by now. It was clearly overwhelmingly supported in all parts of this House. Instead, we now have simply the current legislation, to which I shall return later, plus the offer of a draft Bill which will propose an elected House. The Government are going forward with that on the basis that it will be a firm manifesto commitment. I do not want to go back over previous manifesto commitments, but this Government have had manifesto commitments on Lords reform which have simply been ignored at election after election. Why should one place any more faith in a new one?
As for the Conservative Party, we remember on the last occasion when we debated my Bill a moving speech from the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, who said that he was off to see Mr David Cameron to make sure that this matter would receive priority attention. We were all deeply moved by this. There has been a deafening silence since and the press continues to report Mr Cameron as saying that he regards it as a priority for his third term. I have great scepticism about whether this elected Chamber will ever be legislated for. Political history demonstrates that my scepticism is worthy.
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