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No system is perfect, and our parliamentary system is not perfect, but it has some remarkable features. In terms of the distribution of power, it is, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Exeter said, close to a unicameral assembly because the real unambiguous power and democratic mandate are held at the other end of the Corridor by the elected House of Commons, and so it should be. As I said in my maiden speech, I believe that there is a great deal to be said for unambiguous holding of the democratic mandate.
Your Lordships' House has many distinct and distinguished Members. The expertise encompassed in this place has been referred to many times in this debate. I will not repeat what has been said for fear of incurring the sort of wrath that I once heard from a doorkeeper in another place. When the doorkeeper was asked, "Has everything been said?", he replied, "Yes, but not yet by everybody". Therefore, I shall not repeat at length the admirable points that have been made about the composition of this place, nor do I want to rehearse-as has been done-the number of reforms that this House has gone through in the 100 years since the Parliament Act 1911. However, we
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The underlying theme of the White Paper is a reluctant acknowledgment and praising of your Lordships' House for what it does and how it does it and assurances that the senate that would replace it would preserve our merits, our detachment from party domination and our powers. But that could not be. My noble friend accepted that the relationship between the new Chamber and the other place would inevitably be different. Some, such as the President of the Liberal Democrats-I referred to this in an earlier intervention-have said that an elected second Chamber would, if elected on PR, be more legitimate than the other place. Even if the actual powers were no different, as has been said several times, those powers would be used. My noble friend Lord Dobbs, in his extremely entertaining and amusing speech, made that point with real vigour and force. He was right to do so.
One thing that has not been said today is that the White Paper proposes a House with four categories of membership-the elected, the appointed, the Bishops, and the placemen, who would be an unspecified number of Prime Ministerial nominees and be Members only as long as they held office. It is not impossible to imagine a close vote in which the Government of the day were defeated by the 20 per cent or sustained by the placemen. The 20 per cent-the Bishops and the placemen-demolish the logic of the argument that only election confers legitimacy. If the Government concede that illogicality and go for the Deputy Prime Minister's preferred option of 100 per cent being elected, we would create an expensive second Chamber of paid party politicians with no Cross-Bench element or expertise. If election is then held to be the only legitimacy, where does that leave those in our society who hold high office without election?
It may not be the intention, but the passing of this Bill would isolate the monarchy and make it vulnerable to future Cleggery. Almost as dangerous-this has also been referred to-is that the Bill would separate elections from accountability, because Members of the senate would have a single 15-year term, which would be a deterrent to any man or woman wishing to offer the state some service after a lifetime of achievement. Who at 65 wants to stand for a 15-year term, with all the answerability that a paid salary means they would have?
When a Government are legislating, especially on constitutional matters, they should eschew gimmickry, pseudo-populism and tokenism. This document smacks of all three. Far worse, it threatens that durable, priceless
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Every so often in our history, those in power have an urge to tear down or to tear up, such as when they sacked the monasteries or when they abolished county boroughs. I remind my noble friend the Leader of the House that destruction is the easy bit. Destroying a unique forum for public service, where those who have held high office in government can sit with those who have achieved distinction in their various callings, may be within his power. But does he really want to have the epitaph, "He promised progress and created chaos"?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, it may come as some very slight relief to the noble Lord the Leader of the House that I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, and that I am, in principle, in favour of the objectives of the Bill. Having said that, I also voted yes in the AV referendum and I start every football season thinking that Millwall are going to win the cup.
The Bill has a highly desirable democratic objective, but the way that the Government have brought it forward and the way it has been handled mean that it is unlikely to fly. As with electoral reform, and as with a football club, you need to do some more work before you can succeed in this difficult area of constitutional reform. The central principle of the Bill, which I support, is that those who make laws which bind the people should be chosen by the people. Although we in this House have a secondary role in legislation-that of scrutiny, revising and questioning the Executive rather than proposing legislation-it is a very important role. No other democracy in the world has the basis of appointment that we have to provide for the delivery of legislation that governs the people.
The roles that we perform are important, and it is important that they transit to the new House, as and when we eventually agree to have one. The talk that the Bill is primarily about abolition is wrong. It is about transition of the strengths and expertise of this House, particularly in legislative matters, to a new era. The key is how a second Chamber can effectively influence legislation proposed in the first Chamber by a Government in a parliamentary system where the role of the Executive and the role of the legislature are not clearly differentiated.
I support the principle behind the legislation. Despite this issue having been around for 100 years, and despite the many abortive attempts by the previous Government and previous Governments to resolve the issue, much of the groundwork has not been done. Not a lot of the constitutional groundwork has been done, but it is important to recognise that the political groundwork has not been done either. For a major change of this nature, you need at least one form of consensus, whatever consensus means in this context. There is no consensus between parties; there is no consensus within parties; and there is no consensus between the Houses. To proceed, the Government need to work to create at least one of those dimensions of consensus. We are not yet there. Without that, the Bill will not happen.
The constitutional groundwork also needs to be done, in particular, on the nature of the relationship between the two Houses, as many noble Lords have said. Clause 2, which suggests that there is no change in the relationship, is absurd, as many noble Lords have said. That does not necessarily mean that, with a democratically based Chamber, we will be faced with a constant power struggle. At present, the role of this House in holding the Government to account is different and done in a different way from that in the House of Commons. We need to build on that differentiation, rather than deny it. However, there will be disputes and we will need to have, as the Bill does not have, methods to negotiate and resolve disputes between the two Houses.
The work of this House on scrutiny, revising and committee work has been invaluable, and everyone, from whatever point of view they take in this Chamber, always praises that. It should be extended. It should be extended even in an unreformed House. However, expertise, the ability to question and knowledge of subject are not confined to the kind of elite that we, whether we like it or not, represent. All of us, one way or another, arrived here by patronage. We arrived here after a career somewhere else in which we managed to succeed, or nearly succeed, and were deemed by the great and the good to be worthy of a place in this House. That is not a sufficient basis for a democracy; nor is it a sufficient basis for questioning the Government in a way that they are bound to take account of.
We have a lot of expertise in this place, but you can co-opt expertise. You cannot co-opt democratic legitimacy. Our very elite status means that we are neither representative of the people in a demographic sense nor chosen by them as their representatives. That is the fatal flaw in the status quo. How much we need to democratise is perhaps a matter for query. After all, the proposals before us allow for only 80 per cent of us to be democratically elected. They also have only one wing of full democratic representation. We would be elected but we would not be allowed to be re-elected. We would therefore be representative but not accountable. Perhaps that is sufficient to provide a reflection of the people's will in this House but not sufficient to be able to challenge the primacy of the first Chamber. That may be deliberate but at no point in the justification for this legislation is it spelt out as being deliberate. It would be a big leap in our democratic base but, whatever the system of election, which also is not yet clear, it would not be quite as effective and absolute a democratic base as occurs in the House of Commons.
Perhaps we need other differentiations, too. For example, in a Chamber whose main role was revision and scrutiny, why would we need Ministers in this House? Why would not all Ministers come from the elected Chamber, which would have the democratic primacy, with Ministers being allowed right of audience in this House? That would get away from the issue of placemen, which has been opposed.
There are other ways in which we could change and more greatly differentiate the role of this House from that of another place. However, the essential point of the Bill-and it is why, despite all my queries and reservations, I strongly support the Government in
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Those who run scare stories about abolition ought to stop doing that and think. The proposal that we are looking at and that I hope we can significantly improve but whose principle I strongly support would mean that the strengths of this House were carried forward in a democratically legitimate way. We could therefore say to the people that, when we expressed a view on a law, we would at least have some democratic legitimacy. That is what we lack at present and the Bill at least attempts to give the prospect of that.
Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, referred to the Liberal Democrats' murky waters whose depths she could not fathom on the issue of Lords reform. To me, the waters are as a,
"I would say this to my fellow-countrymen. If they find our Liberal Government manoeuvring their artillery into position for leading an attack on the Lords, any Welshman who worries them in attending to anything else until that citadel has been stormed ought to be put into the guard-room".
The phalanx who guard the citadel today in this House are largely former Members of the other place, enthusiastically supported by the survivors of the hereditary Peers and the Cross-Benchers. These former Members of Parliament, across party, have enjoyed and fulfilled distinguished careers, many in the heights of government, and I respect them for that. It is true that in the past they walked across Central Lobby once a year to the House of Lords for the opening of Parliament, but otherwise they never came near the place and are surprised to find how potent it is when they arrive. Their main motivation for retaining appointment as the way to membership is expressed as a fear for the primacy of the Chamber where they made their mark-they have their misty memories to preserve. My noble friend Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames has no doubt soothed their fears on that score and I will not repeat his compelling arguments. The attitude of former Members of Parliament was encapsulated for me by a comment from a noble friend, an ex-Member of Parliament, obviously with warm memories of his local cinema in his youth. He said to me, "You must realise, Martin, that this place is the second feature".
However, when did noble Lords ever hear it said of a proposal for a government Bill, "This will never get through the House of Commons"? How often, by contrast, have we heard, "That will never get through the Lords"? While we debate each amendment in a Bill and scrutinise each clause, and while we have been able in opposition or even from these Benches to win changes to legislation and even to defeat the Government, the other place has given up and swathes of legislation are presented to us undebated and undigested. The public perception is that debate in the other place has degenerated into point-scoring with half an eye to personal and party advantage at the next election. It is a potent reason for public disillusion. When in ping-pong we finally defer to the so-called elected House, we are deferring not to the elected Members of the other place at all but to the Government of the day who control it completely. The Whips were, and remain, absolute. Government business must be delivered. The other place is no more than an arm of the Executive.
The noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, referred to these proposals to introduce democracy into this House as a dog's dinner. I was reminded of the words directed by Mr Lloyd George at the House of Lords, which I suggest should now, after the experience of the past 20 years, be directed to the other place. He said:
Today, I might suggest that the mastiff has a tendency to run away at the first snarl of the red top press. That other place, the safeguard of liberty, endorsed, in the grip of the Government, the Iraq War, the control order, the special courts, the indeterminate sentence and all the paraphernalia of an intrusive and watchful state.
When the Members of this House exercise its undoubted powers and influence, they do it in the name of the people, but they do not have the people's mandate to do so. It is a fundamental principle of democracy-the rule of the demos, the people-that parliamentarians should subject themselves to election. Is "election" an inconvenient word? A former Conservative Home Secretary, leader of his party and a recent Member of this House railed against the judges in January of this year. He said:
The Conservative Benches are currently pushing through elected mayors and elected police commissioners who are to answer to the public for what happens, but they seem-some of them, at least, in this House-to baulk at the idea of elected legislators.
It is argued, and has been argued today, that we will lose all the expertise on the Cross Benches because Cross-Benchers would never stand for election. I am very wary of that argument. There is, of course, expertise enough on the political Benches in this House. We heard
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Lord Thomas of Gresford: Of course. She is a highly popular Member of this House and a highly respected person. Yet it is easy and populist to attack politicians. It is almost as easy as attacking lawyers. If Cross-Benchers want to serve the people, they can knock on doors with the rest of us. As the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, has said, the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, did so with success-far more success than I had in the past.
Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, I was gaining expertise in another field at the time. An expertise is a fine thing but everyone on the Cross Benches who has retired from their field of endeavour will recognise that expertise has a limited shelf life and is overtaken by developments and changes. Contemporary expertise should be delivered to Parliament, as it is in congressional committees in the United States, and severely tried and tested under questioning. That is why I support a 100 per cent elected second Chamber of a limited number of senators. I used to walk through the Lobbies with Lord Williams of Mostyn, he and I having similar backgrounds, in support of a 100 per cent elected second Chamber. I agree that Members should serve for one term of 15 years, which would give them independence, but I would include in the Bill a right of recall, which would enable an electorate to sack a Member and hold him accountable for the trust that the public had put in him. I look forward to the findings of the committee next year.
Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: My Lords, whatever the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, may say about the speech of my noble friend Lady Boothroyd, it was one of the finest speeches that I have ever heard in this House. After it, there was really little left to be said; however, I am still going to say it.
What is this compulsion to destroy things which seems to seize even people who should know better? It is just an upmarket version of the compulsion to break things which seizes idle and unemployed youths
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This House was working perfectly well in 1998 when the Labour Government decided to reform it by throwing out most of the hereditary Peers who had served it faithfully for centuries. Nevertheless, it continued to work perfectly well in spite of the numbers being topped up with a flood of the Prime Minister's cronies, some of whom have much to contribute but others rather less. At least the quality of the Cross Benches was maintained, thanks largely to the Appointments Commission. Now, having flooded the House again with far more new Peers than there is room for, the Government want to get rid of everyone and have a mainly elected House. In the process of doing this, they will lose much of the wide experience which this House still contains, and which makes it so valuable.
On top of that, the Government want a House where the strength of each party replicates the strength of the parties in another place. What folly. It will simply become a rubber stamp, which will never be able to do what this House frequently does at present, which is to ask the other place to think again. Of course the Executive do not like this. They want to have everything their own way, without question. I think that is why they are doing it.
This country does not have a written constitution; its government has evolved over many centuries. Nothing is perfect in this world but, unlike so many countries, we have not had a revolution for nearly 400 years, so it cannot be that bad. Along with almost every other aspect of government, this House has evolved, and it would be much better if it were to continue to do so instead of being radically changed.
At present, it is an appointed House. The only trouble is the method of appointment. The party leaders decide who is to be appointed, so they opt for their supporters or people they want to reward or pay off. The noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, whom I am very glad to see in his place, gave a remedy in his Private Member's Bill: an Appointments Commission for the whole House, not just for the Cross Benches. He gave a detailed recipe for it. I do not entirely agree with his recipe-I think it could be improved-but I agree with the concept. That way, the House would evolve, as it always has done, instead of being replaced. If that were not satisfactory, after another 10, 15, 20, 50 or 100 years, it would be possible to change it and have an elected House, if it seemed better to do so. You can replace an appointed House with an elected House, but I do not think you could ever go back again.
In the draft Bill, there is, in my humble opinion, something quite important missing: a new first clause which would say that the name of this House would no longer be the House of Lords but the senate, and the Members would be senators not Peers. Governments love changing the names of organisations, causing endless confusion and unnecessary expense. Here is a golden opportunity for a necessary change.
Lord Reay: My Lords, I have always been sceptical about the significance of the famous vote when the House of Commons voted overwhelmingly for an elected House of Lords. Much was made of that vote subsequently by would-be reformers such as Mr Jack Straw; indeed, it could be said to have formed the bedrock for later reform proposals. However, to me, it always seemed that, whereas the House of Commons might vote for an elected second Chamber when it was a distant prospect, when it was faced with the imminent threat of a rival Chamber with a refreshed democratic legitimacy it would think again. I still tend to think that. If that is right, this Bill will never come before us, for it will have to be introduced in the House of Commons to preserve the possibility of using the Parliament Act and it will fail there. I may be wrong, but I do not think that this Bill will see the light of day, nor do I think it deserves to.
Immensely important players in our democracy have no so-called democratic legitimacy. One thinks of newspaper proprietors and editors, and even of columnists or TV commentators, not to mention judges or civil servants. I see nothing offensive in an appointed revising Chamber. Indeed, for it to be maintained as a revising Chamber, it has to have its legitimacy suppressed. The usefulness of this House has depended on its willingness to play a subordinate role-otherwise it could become a democratic nuisance. There can be too much democracy in a system as well as too little. An appointed House also provides a way for a sample-albeit a somewhat random one-of some of the most successful people of each generation, not exclusively politicians, to continue to make a contribution to the nation's affairs in what my noble friend Lord Cormack well described as a unique forum for public service.
I would like to see the Bill fail and the essence of the present House of Lords survive. Once the Bill has been seen to fail, at whatever stage-but alas, probably not until then-I hope that we may be able to turn to the matter of how to reform the present House, rather than replace it as the Bill sets out to do. I very much agree with the Motion of the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, and in my remaining few minutes I will consider how that sort of reform might be approached.
We have acquired too large a House, and the first priority must be to reduce it. I would agree, perhaps somewhat reluctantly, to the abolition of the hereditary Peers' by-election. This would shut off one tap that is dripping into the overflowing bath. I am also in favour of introducing a right for Members to resign. However,
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I believe that a more drastic measure is required, and I am drawn to the proposal briefly alluded to in paragraph 57 of House of Lords Paper 83 from the Leader's Group on Members Leaving the House; namely, that the size of the House should be reduced by elections among existing Peers. If this was based on party groups, a reduction could be achieved in a way that would guarantee no effect on the party balance, which cannot be said for most other ways that are being canvassed for reducing the size of the membership. Each party, including the Cross-Benchers, might have to reduce their numbers by 30 or 40 per cent. The precedent-as my noble friend Lord Jopling pointed out-would be the elections in 1999 to produce the 90 surviving hereditaries.
To prevent the numbers once again escalating, there should be a statutory maximum limit on numbers in the House. According to the result of the recent interesting Times survey of Peers, a number around 500 would be likely to find acceptance in your Lordships' House. With numbers in the House of Commons set to be painfully levered down from a number that is already lower than that of our own membership, our numbers today are unacceptably high and the need to reduce them is urgent. Our excessive numbers are seriously contributing to the strain on our system of self-regulation, and hence to the demand for a Speaker.
In the light of this, I oppose the proposal in the Report of the Leader's Group on Working Practices to create new Select Committees to make better use of the talent and experience currently available in your Lordships' House. That would create a diversion from the main direction in which we should be travelling, and would create vested interests that would serve as obstacles when we finally got the opportunity to move in that direction. Our working practices should receive minimal change until our numbers have been reduced.
I am sorry that we will have to wait for the improvements that I believe are necessary, but politics must. There must first be one more round of the carousel purporting to pave the way for an elected second Chamber. It has gone round many times. One way or another, this is surely the last.
Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, 41 down and 63 still to go. It is hard enough at the tail end of the first day's debate to manage to find anything fresh to say but I will do my best in the time available to me. It is certainly salutary, looking back on the day's discussion, to see just how little support this draft Bill has in your Lordships' House.
After all, it is a Bill that is remarkably short of pretensions and the Leader of the House was remarkably modest in his description of its virtues when he introduced it. It does not seek to claim that it will produce a House that will work better, or one that is more representative of the nation, or one that will cost the taxpayer less to run. There is no suggestion that the Bill has been brought forward because there is a huge
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Some of my noble friends have argued that the Labour Party has a settled view on the future of this House. Indeed, one of my most senior and distinguished noble friends argued at a private meeting yesterday that the party's position has changed little since 1911. That is not the case. For example, in 1983, the party manifesto-described as the longest suicide note in history-proposed the outright abolition of this place, with nothing put in its place. More tellingly, in the 1960s, party policy was adamantly to oppose an elected House. I recently unearthed a copy of an official Labour Party publication from November 1968 called Talking Points, devoted to the Wilson Government's attempt to reform the Lords. It was written at a time when the noble Lord, Lord McNally, and I were members of the Transport House staff. In a section headed "Why not an elected House?" it says:
"It has been suggested that the Lords should be directly or indirectly elected, perhaps by larger constituencies or for longer or shorter periods than the House of Commons. Those who make this criticism totally misunderstand the new role the House of Lords will be playing in our constitution and they are failing to give proper credit to the independence of mind and action that existing life Peers display. The scope for control by the party machines is extremely limited, and even if a Peer is nominated by his party leader, there is no certainty that he will support him for ever".
"If the upper House is elected, it would inevitably become a rival to the House of Commons, as it would then also possess a mandate from the people. It would be able to claim greater or even equal powers, and in particular to challenge the present control by the Commons of finance".
"An elected House would violate the central principle of the British parliamentary system by which it has been recognised, at least since the beginning of the 19th century, that the Government stands or falls in the House of Commons".
Those arguments are as valid today as they were 43 years ago. This was a genuine cross-party attempt to reform this place in the late 1960s-based on appointment, not election. The political parties understood that the legitimacy of an assembly can be derived in a number of different ways. Certainly, elections are one route-and a number of noble Lords have made that point tonight-but they are not the only one, and legitimacy would not be achieved if we just became a second-rate shadow of the other place, or consisted of a bunch of placemen and women who got here through being put high up on a party list. I would much rather that an independent statutory appointments commission did that job than unaccountable party apparatchiks.
Central to this whole debate is the relationship between this House and the other place. A number of noble Lords have referred to the comments of the president of the Liberal Democrats during the AV referendum campaign when he was quoted in the Times on 23 April. He said:
He said that Peers with a new-found legitimacy would refuse to bow down to MPs in battles over policy. I wonder whether the Leader of the House agrees with that. I suspect that he does, which may be one reason why he supports the creation of an elected senate. The only reason why we defer to the will of the Commons now is because we recognise that because it is elected and we are not, it is entitled to the last word.
Finally, I ask your Lordships to consider the relationship between an elected senator and a Member of the House of Commons at constituency level. Since May 2010, the city of Worcester has been represented in the other place by Robin Walker MP, the son of the late and much respected Lord Walker of Worcester. Both Mr Walker and I care greatly for the city and its people, and we do our best for them but in different ways. I have made it clear to him that, as long as he is an elected Member of Parliament and I am an appointed one, I will not get involved in party politics in Worcester. I do not criticise him or his party colleagues locally. However, I have made it clear to him that all those bets would be off the moment I have to seek election as the senator for Worcester. Whether it was me or someone else who occupied that position, that person would be endlessly vying for local media coverage, and interfering in matters which are currently and correctly the domain of the elected MP. In the case of the senator, he or she would not even have to think about the prospect of being re-elected because there is no prospect for re-election under the terms of this draft Bill.
The solution is not to abolish this House as this draft Bill does, but to complete the process of reform begun in 1911, continued in 1949, strengthened in 1958 and 1962, and significantly changed for the better in 1999. I urge the joint scrutiny committee when it gets going with its work to look carefully at the Bill put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, and to endorse it. I hope that the Government will in due course come to realise that that is the correct way forward. If the noble Baroness tomorrow night decides to test the opinion of the House on her Motion, I would have no hesitation in supporting her.
That, notwithstanding the Government's proposals for the House of Lords set out in Cm 8077, which amount to the abolition of the House of Lords, this House calls on Her Majesty's Government to bring forward proposals for incremental urgent reforms that would improve the functioning of the existing House of Lords.
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