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Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, I was glad to hear parts of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan. My profession at the Bar was many years ago, but I was reminded of a very distinguished silk who usually addressed the public galleries behind him rather than the judge in front of him.
The noble Lord referred to the theme that has run through much of this debate: the primacy of the House of Commons. For me, it was eloquently and convincingly spelled out in the alternative report. It rests on the fact that it is elected and we are not. That is the position from which one must start, as I do.
Earlier in this debate we listened to two dazzling speeches-from the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, and from my noble friend Lord Ashdown-both of which I enjoyed tremendously. I found very little common ground between them, but I hope that my noble friend will forgive me for saying that I found the arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, rather more persuasive.
We also listened to a remarkable and eloquent speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman. I had told her that I was going to refer to her evidence to the Joint Committee, as she did herself. Many of us must surely agree with her main point that this House needs a continuing process of reform. On Thursday, my noble friend Lord Denham spelled out what has happened in the past, but it surely cannot stop now. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, told the Joint Committee, if we try to do everything at once, we shall end up with,
In her eloquent speech this afternoon, she reiterated that fear, which is a fear that I share. I support the proposal which has come from many parts of the House that we concentrate first on the things on which the great majority agree. The noble Baroness spelled that out in her speech this afternoon and I perhaps do not need to repeat it all.
We must reduce the size of this House. It has become in many respects unmanageable. I find it distasteful that there are often, but not at the moment, Members of the House sitting beyond the Bar where they are not able to take part in debates. That is simply a consequence of overcrowding, of which there are many other features. We must have a proper, transparent system of appointment, which has also been discussed at length, and we must have proper provision for retirement.
I would like to say a few words about retirement. I realise that in the draft Bill which was considered by the Joint Committee there were some quite elaborate proposals about how we might reduce the size of the House. I checked the numbers this morning and at the moment there are 797 noble Lords, excluding those on leave of absence. I support the figure of 450, or thereabouts, that the Joint Committee came out with. It is about right. That implies that a lot of us are going
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Some people have suggested that it should be up to the party groups to decide how best to reduce their numbers so as to match what may be the overall total at any one point in the process. I do not know whether that is practical. Noble Lords may remember that that is what happened when the question arose of electing 92 Peers under the interim process. It was left to the individual groups to decide who they should be. However, I believe that this must happen.
I should like to make a point of which I have given the Minister notice. As an essential part of the process, I would encourage the proposition, originally put forward in the report by my noble friend Lord Hunt of Wirral, that there should be some financial provision. I understand that this has been discussed at some length with the authorities by my noble friend Lord Steel of Aikwood. He argued for some kind of severance payment. This cannot possibly be at the cost of the taxpayer. The financial logic is that the savings in allowances, travel costs and so on, which would be incurred by someone remaining a Member of the House, would be balanced by the amount of the severance payment so that, in the end, there would be nil extra cost. The question that I put to my noble friend is: where do we now stand on that? Could he indicate where the discussions have got to and what prospect there is of something coming from them? I come back to the point that having that sort of severance payment would substantially increase the rate of retirement.
There are other points in the Bill in the name of my noble friend Lord Steel. I do not see why a Bill along the lines that the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, indicated, covering all the things on which we agree, some of which were in the original Bill-I stress the word "original"-of my noble friend Lord Steel, should not be a perfectly good fulfilment of the pledge in the Queen's Speech to reform the composition of the House. It would be infinitely preferable to the draft Bill that was considered by the Joint Committee. As several speakers on Thursday and today have said, if anything like that Bill were to go forward, it would be hugely divisive, take an enormous amount of time and create enormous acrimony. I cannot see that we are in a position where we could afford that sort of thing. Therefore, we should start with the things about which most of us agree and get ahead
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I shall make my other point rather more briefly. When my right honourable friend Oliver Letwin gave evidence to the Public Administration Select Committee in the other place last February, he was asked why the Government were giving such priority to the draft Bill on House of Lords reform. I was very struck by his answer to question 262 in the report. He said:
I have to say that I find that completely bizarre. Is not one of the most serious concerns for the public who follow these matters the extent to which, in the other place, Parliament appears to be subservient to the Executive? I am sure I am not the only Member who has pointed out to visitors the picture in the Lords corridor of King Charles standing by the Speaker's Chair, demanding the surrender of the five Members of Parliament whom he had accused of plotting against him. The first thing that Parliament passed after the Restoration, and which remains true to this day, was that never again must the royal sovereign be entitled to set foot in the House of Commons. Since she became Queen, our present Queen has never been able to do that.
However, what do we have? In the other place, nearly 100 Members are members of the Administration or direct supporters of it. There is the full panoply of the Whips, who seem able always to get their own way. We have had a system of guillotines and timetables that has made this House-the House that does not have such things and is not so fiercely under the control of the Whips-far better able to hold the Government to account.
A few weeks ago I was struck by a letter to the Times from the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant. Noble Lords will remember that he played a notable part in the debates on the Health and Social Care Act. His letter showed what the House of Lords had achieved. We had made what was seen at the beginning as a thoroughly dangerous Bill far more acceptable. If I may say so, my noble friend Lord Howe played a very notable part in achieving that. The sting was in the tail of the letter of the noble Lord, Lord Walton. He wrote:
"As the end of this marathon is in sight, I cannot but speculate with deep apprehension as to what fate the Bill would have suffered if, on emerging from the Commons in the form that it did, it had then been considered by a politically dominated and elected Upper Chamber".
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, who has had such a distinguished career, mostly in another place. I remember it very well. Listening to his powerful and eloquent speech today reminded me of the dilemma that I faced over the weekend. I was standing in the shower-not a pretty sight, I know-having heard many of the speeches in
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I thought in the shower of the traveller in Ireland who got lost and asked one of the locals the way to Dublin. After the local had contemplated all the options, he stroked his beard and said, "You know, if I was going to Dublin I wouldn't start from here". If we were setting up a legislature, we would not necessarily start from where we are now, but we do not have a clean sheet. Even those of us who like a lot of the aspects of the House would not sit down and come up with a composition such as we have at the moment, with only English Bishops, 90-odd hereditaries and those strange by-elections that take place. I do not think that we would do that or that any of us accepts that it is an ideal option.
We are not like the founding fathers in the United States who were able to start with a clean sheet. They could have the separation of powers and a bicameral legislature but with clearly different kinds of elections and powers. As we have seen, there are those who advised post-war Germany in setting up its constitution with a federal system and the Bundestag and direct elections, and the Bundesrat representing the states of Germany. In each case, they have different powers and a written constitution to deal with any problems that arise. Like the traveller in Ireland, we are where we are and we have to start from the status quo.
What are the options? One perfectly valid option that we need to consider-I think that it was one of the options proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips-is abolition. For a while, I thought that that was the best option, but I will explain why I do not think that now. Why do we need a second Chamber? Some countries work pretty well with unicameral legislatures; for example, New Zealand and, I am advised by my noble friend Lady Ramsay of Cartvale who knows Scandinavia very well, all the Scandinavian countries. It has many attractions. There is no question that it would save a lot of money. The issue of primacy would not arise and there certainly would not be any gridlock.
Abolition has a superficial attraction but I have been put off by the most recent experience-the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, will know why-at Holyrood, which reminds us of the dangers of one-party control of the Executive and the legislature without any checks and balances whatever. The electoral system in the Scottish Parliament was supposed to make sure that no party had overall control of the legislature but that has not worked. We have a unicameral system in Scotland which is becoming more and more authoritarian and creates problems. On balance, we need to look at a bicameral system, which would be better.
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: It has been suggested that we should set up what could be described as a "House of Lairds", which one might consider. I am
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Another argument is for a different kind of second Chamber to represent the diversity of the United Kingdom. We have devolution to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Perhaps we should have it to England. I would prefer devolution to England as a whole whereas some others would prefer it to the regions of England. But increasingly, as was said earlier, there will be more pressure to have devolution within England. We need to think ahead because, as so many people have said, our constitutional revision has been tinkering and piecemeal, and we have not thought ahead. An indirectly elected second Chamber might counterbalance the centralisation which can come from a unitary system. None of those options has been looked at by the Government or the Joint Committee. I absolve the Joint Committee of any blame because it was given a limited remit to do its work and therefore cannot be blamed.
My preference-I have said this on other occasions in previous debates and keep saying to the Liberal Democrats that they should think more about it-is for a federal United Kingdom. It is one of only three stable constitutional options for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. We used to have one of the stable options-a centralised, unitary state whereby London controlled everywhere in the United Kingdom. That has been abandoned but it was stable. The other stable option would be to let Scotland, then inevitably Wales and then inevitably Northern Ireland secede. That is not a preferred option. It is a frightening thought. The United Kingdom has been one of the most successful economic unions anywhere in the world and we should fight hard to preserve it. But separation is a stable option.
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: I think that that argument will come with the referendum debate. Along with my noble friend I will be strongly against it but it could be
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However, we cannot achieve that quickly, which is why I think that now there are two ways forward-a long-term way and a short-term way. As regards the long-term way forward, the alternative report shows the way. The noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, finished his peroration strongly supporting a constitutional convention, as have many others. It would look at the Lords and the Commons-the other place needs looking at as well in terms of its functions, powers and responsibilities-in the context of devolution and in the context of the committee set up under Bill McKay to look at the West Lothian question. When I intervened in the debate the other day, the Ministers were rather taken aback. But in replying I hope that the Minister might have a more coherent answer to how that fits into the Government's constitutional thinking. All that needs to be looked at in a constitutional convention.
Meanwhile, in the short term, as was said by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, and others, let us move forward on those reforms on which we can agree, including arrangements for retirement, more transparent appointments and-this might be more controversial-getting rid of the remaining hereditary Peers but making those who are making a really good contribution life Peers. Who are they? Clearly, they are all those who are here, and those who attend regularly and contribute. In other words, in the short-term we should have a beefed up Steel Bill. While the constitutional convention looks at the longer term and all its implications, the beefed up Steel Bill will deal with the immediate arrangements.
Lord Martin of Springburn: The noble Lord has mentioned the forthcoming referendum that we are going to have in Scotland. Does he agree with me that there should be one question and one question alone?
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: Absolutely. There is no sense to having two questions. There is a suggestion that there should be for or against separation or something devo-max. Devolution, even if it is devo-max, is an entirely different concept from separation. Whatever the level of devolution, Scotland would still be part of the United Kingdom, whereas separation is irreversible. It is a completely different concept. As someone said, you cannot be partly pregnant, and you cannot be partly independent-you have to be totally independent. My noble friend is absolutely right.
The worst of all options-I have mentioned a few of them and some people will agree on some aspects and disagree with me on others-is the Clegg Bill, with the list system proposed. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, pulled it apart brilliantly. If the closed list is selected by the leadership of the party, what difference does that make from appointment to the House of Lords? It is exactly the same thing. Then if you are elected for 15 years and not subject to re-election, that is very similar to where we are now. So it is not really democracy at all.
Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon: I hear what the noble Lord says and have some sympathy with it, but is not the system that he described exactly the system brought in by the previous Government for the European election?
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: Indeed, and I am not very comfortable with that. One thing that we ought to do is to learn from our mistakes in the past, look at the problems that have arisen from things that we have done and not do it again. That is what I am arguing very strongly. It would be an entirely nonsensical system, just as it is nonsensical to suggest that an elected Chamber would not demand extra powers. That goes against every principle of politics. Look at the devolved Parliaments-they are asking for extra powers, saying, "We are elected and we want more powers". That is just so obvious that it should be accepted by all politicians. A hybrid House would have real problems in terms of having two classes of Members.
Lord Reid of Cardowan: I wonder whether the noble Lord has given some thought to this question, which could be part of his constitutional convention's considerations. Given that in this country, unlike many other countries in the world, the Executive are not elected separately-the Government are the Government because they command a majority in the elected House-if there were two elected Houses, which one would determine the Government?
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: That is a very good question, and there is no answer that I can give to it and no answer given by the proponents of the Clegg Bill. What the noble Lord, Lord Reid, says is yet another argument. Day by day, week by week and month by month, the arguments accrue in favour of a constitutional convention to look at all these things to get some coherence into our constitutional changes instead of the piecemeal changes that we have had in the past.
My fourth point about the Clegg Bill is that no account is taken of the possibility of Scottish independence or indeed of the West Lothian question and the McKay commission. So let us abandon the Clegg Bill and find another way forward-in the short term, as I have suggested, with the beefed-up Steel Bill, and the constitutional convention in the long term. It is not just the extra problems of the economy and others that are facing the Government. We could do with a little less legislation considered a little more carefully and we could spend more time dealing with legislation that really matters to our people. We could also continue to fulfil the other important role of this House, which we share with the other House, of keeping a check on the Executive-and my goodness that is needed more and more each day.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: I will follow up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, before I turn to the issue of this House. The amount and complication of legislation is a far more serious long-term issue for this Parliament than we generally recognise. Although
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"The growing sense of indifference to politics ... appears to have hardened into something more serious this year: the trends in indicators such as interest, knowledge, certainty to vote and satisfaction with the system of governing are downward, dramatically so in some instances".
We need to pay much more serious attention to that piece of evidence-and there is much more like it-because we cannot go on as we are going. I suggest that one major cause of this tsunami of legislation is indeed the system that prevails in the other, superior, Chamber. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, touched on it when he spoke about the way in which that Chamber conducts its business. Some may recollect that, in the reform debate that we had last week, I referred to the degree of holding to account by the Commons. My noble friend Lord Wallace said that he would answer my questions in this debate, and I much look forward to that. I got from the helpful Library staff comparable figures for Lords and Commons over the last 10 parliamentary Sessions, from 2001 to 2012. I thank Patrick Vollmer here and Paul Lester there. In that period in the Commons there were 3,078 Divisions, of which the Government lost six-one every two years. Is that holding the Executive to account? It is a farce; it is a rubber-stamp machine down there. Whatever one says about this extraordinary place, although it certainly could not withstand scrutiny by a panel of academics drawn from across the realm, at least in 1,455 Divisions we defeated the Government 425 times, or one in every three or four votes, compared down the other end with one in 513 votes. I fear that I am out of step with the majority on these Benches, but before we take this astonishingly pregnant step of electing Members to this place, we must address what is already a fundamental defect in our parliamentary system.
We are therefore between the devil and the deep blue sea. The devil would be to go ahead with election to this House without seeking to ensure that it did not become a replica of the other place. I am afraid to say
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Lord Reid of Cardowan: Although the noble Lord makes the point very well, he underestimates the problem because at least under the system of election at present, although there is a party influence, there are different ideas and opinions within each party constituency, so there is a degree of separation between the patronage of the leadership and local communities. Under the list system, it is completely in the gift of the party leadership. Therefore, even before someone got in here under the list system, they would already be the creature of the ideological and political leadership of the party.
Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon: Before my noble friend moves on to his next point, I hope that he will allow me to make two points. Some 60% of the Members of this place are appointed here as Members of Parliament from the other end by their party leaders. That is pure patronage, not patronage which is diluted in any way by democracy. Even though he points out flaws in the democratic system, with some of which I agree, surely a system which has some contact with democracy is better than one which has none and is based on pure patronage.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: Hang on, I have not finished my point. My noble friend got absolutely no encouragement from me to think that I would be a good little boy and follow my party Whip night in, night out-and I bloody well don't. I am sorry.
Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon: I am grateful to my noble friend for giving way. The fact that I put him here does not make the system any better; it makes it worse because I had to put him here to enable us to fulfil our functions. Although he did not give me any undertakings, I remind him that he came here to represent a party which has had this issue in its manifesto for 100 years. He must have known what was expected of him.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: Well, headmaster, to be honest, I did not. If my noble friend had taxed me on that point, he would have realised that I was then not certain as to what my views were on election. Having been here, I am afraid that my views are now certain: I want heavy reform of this place but not direct election. He and I will have to differ on that. Of course, the place is stuffed with party patronage but we can reform in a way that does something about that and that makes this place more representative of the nation as a whole but does not destroy its two signal virtues vis-à-vis the other place. First, there is here a depth of experience of the real world, which, sadly, Members of the other place have less and less-fine men and women though they are. Secondly, we have that level of independence that is an essential counterbalance to what goes on down there, which is one defeat of the Executive every two years. We have to exist; without us the situation would be appalling. If this place were directly elected, frankly, I would have great anxiety about the possibility of there being majorities in both places. What would happen to the volume of legislation then because the manifesto theory looms large down the other end-and reasonably so up to a point? However, when you have modern manifestos of more than 100 pages for each party, packed with 1,000 commitments to every interest group in Christendom, I fear to think what could happen if these two Chambers were aligned politically. You would see an amount of legislation-
Lord Campbell-Savours: The noble Lord refers to two defeats in two years. However, he is conveniently forgetting that many amendments are accepted by the Government in the other House. They do not go to a Division.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: That is true, my Lords, but many of those concessions derive from amendments to Bills made in this place, which gives the boys and girls down there a bit of leverage over Ministers. Indeed, you hear it said that a lot of the most contentious stuff in relation to education Bills, health Bills and so on, is left for us to deal with because it is then somehow easier for them to deal with it when it goes back.
As I say, these are complex issues. I repeat that I have come to a slow but certain conviction that to elect this place directly would not even be a leap into the unknown because we know what is happening at the other end and we know that the partisanship would come up here. We also know that if you had a different majority at each end, that would constitute the deep blue sea. What would happen then? The pretence that legitimacy would be retained, as many noble Lords have said, is a total figment of the imagination because legitimacy lies not in the written word but in the hearts and minds of the people of this country. It is in the eye of the beholder. If we were elected, the man in the street would accord equal credence to us as he does to
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Lord Lloyd of Berwick: My Lords, I agree wholeheartedly with what the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, has said about the volume of legislation. Twenty-five years ago the Acts passed in a single year could be contained in a single handy volume, which, as I have said before, one could, if so disposed, read in bed. Today, a year's statutes can be contained only in five massive volumes, one of which I can scarcely lift. We have come to believe that legislation will solve every problem but we are wrong about that.
I wish to touch on two separate points, the first of which has not been mentioned so far. Therefore, like the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, mine may come as something of a relief from Lords reform. I refer to intercept evidence and whether or not such evidence should be admitted in court in order to convict terrorists and others accused of serious crime. The basic facts on that issue are agreed. We are the only country in the world to exclude such evidence. I have argued that the ban should be lifted since a report I wrote on the subject of terrorism in 1996. There is little doubt in my mind that the ban would have been lifted years ago but for the resistance of MI5 and GCHQ. Their case has always been that the lifting of the ban would prejudice their main purpose in life, which is gathering intelligence. However, in 2006, the movement for reform started to gain pace. Several very powerful reports were produced in that year by Justice, the Joint Committee on Human Rights and others.
In addition, there was a debate in this House in March 2007 on a Private Member's Bill that I had introduced. One noble Lord was kind enough to say in the course of that debate that I had "demolished" the case for maintaining the ban. The noble Lord in question was none other than the noble Lord, Lord Henley-speaking, it has to be said, at some length on behalf of the Conservative Party in reply to the debate. He was teased with having changed his mind from what he had thought before. He replied-I thought with some dignity-that it was legitimate for the Conservative Party to change its mind, and that that is what it had done. I can only hope that the Conservative Party will not change its mind back again.
As a result of increasing pressure for reform, the Government appointed a committee of privy counsellors, known as the Chilcot committee-which might perhaps be referred to as the Chilcot committee number 1, to distinguish it from the Chilcot committee number 2, which has still not reported. That was in July 2007. In January 2008, the Chilcot committee came down in favour of lifting the ban, provided that certain conditions were met. The Government accepted that report and asked the committee, in effect, to get on with it. Its favoured approach came to be known as public interest immunity-plus. This has many advantages, not least that it will be consistent with the operational requirements of MI5 and GCHQ.
Then, in 2009, there came a bolt from the blue. The preferred approach was abandoned-not because of pressure from MI5 and GCHQ but because of certain
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My view, for what it is worth, is that back in 2009 the Chilcot committee took a wrong turning. It gave much too much weight to the decision in the European Court of Human Rights on the Finnish case and, in order to test the legal position and get things moving again, I hope to obtain leave next week to introduce another Private Member's Bill along similar lines as my earlier one. I am aware that the Chilcot committee has been advised by an independent QC of great distinction. I have been allowed to see that advice but, since it is concerned largely with legal matters, I hope it might be possible-with his consent of course-that that advice be made generally available before the Second Reading of my Bill, so that we can all understand the nature of the legal difficulties that are said to have arisen, and perhaps help to resolve them.
I come now to my second point, which, needless to say, is on Lords reform. I suggest that I might have something slightly different to say on that. My views have remained the same as they were in 2011, in 2007 and, even earlier than that, I think, in 2002, when we first debated this matter. I am against a mainly elected House and the 80 per cent option, but I am equally against a wholly appointed House. I am in favour of a partially elected House, such as that which was favoured by the royal commission chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, 12 years ago, soon after the first-stage reform was completed.
The authors of the alternative report now call for a constitutional convention; and that call has been echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, and my noble friend Lord Elystan-Morgan. The request is that the constitutional convention should,
However, that is exactly what the royal commission did 12 years ago. All the crucial issues that would now be considered by the constitutional convention, summarised carefully for us in paragraph 5.54 of the alternative report-including, above all, the impact of House of Lords reform on the House of Commons; in other words, the primacy question that has occupied so much of our time-were considered at length and in detail by the royal commission. It offered a solution. What purpose could then be served by having 12 years later another royal commission under a different name?
So far as I am aware, there was no reference to Wakeham in the alternative report; which is hardly surprising because there was no reference to Wakeham in the Joint Committee report-or, indeed, in the Leader's speech when he opened this debate on Thursday. This is, of course, because the Joint Committee was asked to report on the Bill and nothing but the Bill.
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What, then, did the royal commission recommend? It proposed that 15% of the House should be elected by proportional representation to represent the regions. In a House of 450 Members, that would produce 65 elected Members. Alternatively, with 20% elected Members, we would have 90 such Members-by a happy coincidence, exactly the number of hereditary Peers whose presence among us is still so welcome, but is also so anomalous. Nobody, I think, would argue that the presence of 90 elected Members would present a challenge to the powers of the House of Commons-more especially given that the constituencies that they would represent would be so large that they would not have to face, like Members of the House of Commons, their constituents every weekend. The primacy of the Commons would remain as it is under the existing conventions. There would be no need for a written constitution or for a concordat between the two Houses. On that view, there is nothing wrong with Clause 2, except-this is vital-that the Government have got their numbers wrong.
Moreover, a limited influx of elected Members would actually improve the quality of our debates. Here, I know that I shall be treading on thin ice, but, at present, there are in the House too many ex-Members of Parliament. In the recent two-day debate on Lords reform at the end of April, there were 37 speakers in all, of whom 22 were ex-MPs and 11 were hereditaries. We can do better than that. I accept, of course-
I accept that the Wakeham proposals, which I support, rested on a compromise-of course they did-but you will never, ever reach consensus on a disputed issue unless there is compromise on both sides. Therefore, I beg the Government to think again about the Wakeham proposals before introducing a further Bill, as I hope they will do. A 20% elected House would of course fall far short of what the Deputy Prime Minister wants but it would at least represent a step in the right direction and as such should, I suggest, be accepted by the Labour Party in the House of Commons. As the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, mentioned, it would make the House of Lords more representative but without challenging the primacy of the House of Commons.
If a Bill along those lines were introduced in the House of Commons, I would expect it to get through and, if it did, I hope that it would be accepted by your Lordships in this House. Surely that would be far better than forcing the present Bill down our throats by having resort to the Parliament Acts. Let us do
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Lord Norton of Louth: My Lords, the Royal Commission on the Reform of the House of Lords was precisely that-the clue is in the title. Since then, there have been significant changes to the constitution of the United Kingdom. A constitutional convention would address the constitution holistically and not one particular part looking outwards.
Lord Lloyd of Berwick: I should be grateful if the noble Lord would indicate what changes there have been since 2012. The only one that I can think of is the progress of devolution. The fundamental questions relating to primacy which we have been discussing are still exactly the same as they were.
Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, I want to follow up and embroider upon my contribution to the debate on Lords reform which took place on 30 April. I shall concentrate on issues of primacy and, in particular, gridlock, dealt with supposedly under Clause 2 of the draft Bill.
My position is clear. I support an elected House-perhaps as a compromise an indirectly elected one. I support the thrust of the Richard report and I also strongly support a referendum. However, those of us who support an elected House, hybrid or otherwise, have to address the issue of gridlock. Until we confront that, we cannot win the argument. I have sat through four days of debate, primarily on Lords reform, and there has been very little discussion on that particular subject. Personally I am not greatly troubled by it, and my reasons are simple. The first is that I believe that the conciliation procedure, which has been referred to in this debate, will grow out of gridlock. I am not convinced that you can predetermine a conciliation procedure in advance, as such a procedure will by definition need to be finely tuned and carry the nuances and ambiguities that may on occasion be essential to deal with the sensitivities that conciliation requires. Secondly, I am convinced that a constitutional crisis arising out of gridlock will abate to meet public expectation and market movements as Parliament backs off from sustained open conflict between the two Houses.
However, the questions in my mind remain. Can we avoid gridlock? Can we protect primacy of the Commons? Can we build into reform a mechanism for controlling the pace of change as the newly elected Chamber increasingly and justifiably seeks to increase its influence?
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On statutory codification, it is argued that a means will be found to undermine codification in the courts, despite Article 9 of the Bill of Rights and the reluctance of the judiciary to intervene. On the concordat, it is argued that such an agreement, approved in this unelected House, could find itself tested to destruction in a newly elected House where Members claim greater legitimacy. For those reasons, I proposed in the debate on Monday, the 30th, the amendment of the oath as a constitutional lock.
The oath that we all take at the commencement of each Parliament is a solemn promise made to Parliament to show allegiance to the monarch as part of our constitutional arrangement. It is the product of a constitutional settlement and it already provides a constitutional lock on allegiance to the monarch. Similarly, we need to find a mechanism for reinforcing any constitutional settlement agreed between the two Houses prior to the election of the second Chamber-effectively, a new lock. The current wording of the oath is as set out in Section 1 of the Parliamentary Oaths Act 1866, as amended by Schedules 8 and 10 to the Promissory Oaths Act 1868, with further amendment for affirmation under a consolidated Oaths Act of 1978. The oath has a long history. It has grown out of a series of revisions and amendments over the centuries from an oath of supremacy, an oath of allegiance and an oath of abjuration to today's oath. At one stage in our history, Members took three separate oaths. Interestingly, the oath introduced in 1829, which removed restrictions on Catholics entering Parliament, imposed limitations on the actions of Members, which is what I am advocating.
So what am I advocating? I argue that the parliamentary oath should be amended to include an obligation or duty to accept the constitutional settlement between the two Houses. The settlement would be underpinned in statute. The 1866 Act, as consolidated, would be amended and the constitutional settlement, which would include limitations on the statutory and non-statutory powers as set out in paragraphs 39 and 40 of the Richard report, would, where necessary, be defined in the legislation-that is, the Bill about to be presented to Parliament. I argue that the oath could then provide us with a constitutional lock.
I am not advocating that the newly elected House could not debate for increased powers. However, I am advocating an arrangement under which the Lords would be unable to threaten to delay, or actually delay, legislation with a view to securing greater powers. Nor would the Lords be able to bring an amendment to the constitutional settlement. Under the terms of the settlement, the process of amending the settlement could be initiated only in the Commons under its primacy. The Commons, protecting its primacy, could influence the pace of change.
What about the arguments against? We are told that Parliament cannot bind its successors, but of course that would not be the case if the constitutional settlement provided for Parliament having the right to amend, which would be the case under Commons
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My proposal is for an internal parliamentary arrangement to be made in the form of a constitutional settlement between the two Houses, establishing a process for the handling of legislation. It is an internal parliamentary arrangement. There is no question of outside interference in freedom of speech. A summary of "The Parliamentary Oath" research paper produced by the House of Commons in 2000 states that,
So, as it stands, the lock keeps out those who are not prepared to show allegiance to the Crown. In the oath we already have a constitutional lock in practice, but that raises the issue of challenges to the requirement to take the oath.
We have the Bradlaugh v Gossett case of 1884, which involved a challenge to the Parliamentary Oaths Act 1866. The court held that the matter related to the internal management of the procedure of the House of Commons and the court had no power to interfere. We have the Prebble v Television New Zealand case in 1995, in which the Privy Council ruled:
"In addition to Article 9 itself, there is a long line of authority which supports a wider principle ... that the courts and Parliament are both astute to recognise their respective constitutional roles. So far as the courts are concerned they will not allow any challenge to be made to what is said or done within the walls of Parliament in performance of its legislative functions and protection of its established privileges".
"The requirement that elected representatives take an oath of allegiance to the monarch forms part of the constitutional system of the respondent State, which, it is to be observed, is based on a monarchical model of government. For the Court, the requirement that elected representatives to the House of Commons take an oath of allegiance to the reigning monarch can be reasonably viewed as an affirmation of loyalty to the constitutional principles which support, inter alia, the workings of representative democracy in the respondent State ... In the Court's view it must be open to the respondent State to attach such a condition, which is an integral part of its constitutional order, to membership of Parliament".
Interestingly enough, the Northern Ireland Assembly Members do not take the oath, but they have to sign the Assembly's role of membership and take a pledge
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Following the last debate, I encountered, quite naturally, some hostility to the proposal that I put to the House, essentially from those opposed in principle to an elected House. However, there are those in favour of an elected House who have a more open mind. I seek an objective debate on the proposition that I have put forward.
Baroness Boothroyd: My Lords, I was most interested in the deliberation of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, particularly his reference to the oath of allegiance and to Sinn Fein taking the matter to the Court of Human Rights. I was the Speaker in the Commons who ruled against Sinn Fein coming into the Commons. They took my ruling to the High Court of Northern Ireland and to the Court of Human Rights and they failed. I hope that the noble Lord will forgive me if I do not follow his very detailed examination, as I have a very simple message to put to the House and to place on the record.
If I had any doubts about my refusal to destroy the way that this House serves Parliament, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, put them to rest in his remarkable interview with the Financial Times on the eve of the gracious Speech. The Leader of this House rated the Government's chances of reforming the Lords at no more than 50-50-hardly a clarion call to set the pulses racing. But my eyes popped out when I read on. He warned that an elected second Chamber could be more aggressive than your Lordship's House; that it could frustrate key pieces of legislation; and that it would be more expensive to run. The Financial Times was so taken aback that it said that the noble Lord's comments seemed almost calculated to further incite MPs to oppose reform. I agree. His message to the Commons was clear: proceed at your peril. I applaud his frankness and I agree with him.
If the new Bill is passed, however much it is dressed up, it will destroy this House as a revising Chamber and replace it with a wrecking Chamber. From my non-partisan observations of both Houses over the past 20 years, the Government stand no chance of getting a consensus on this measure from both sides in either House, let alone within the 10-week timeframe which they seek.
Indeed the coalition shows every sign of wanting this thorn removed from its side as quietly as possible and with minimum risk to its unity. The signs of retreat are already visible. The blame game for the impending fiasco has already begun. The Prime Minister's lukewarm comments in the Commons debate on the gracious Speech underlined the weakening of the
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Until the fog lifts, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, can be counted on to fight a rearguard action bravely and with his usual panache. If I may say so, his first shot at consensus was almost quixotic. After appealing for all-party agreement, he pitched into the Opposition, whose support he seeks. He accused the Labour Party of "conniving and collective spinelessness". How about that? He said that he could already detect their spines quivering. I have to confess that mine quivered at his audacity. We all know where we are coming from, but what matters is where we are going.
The Government know that the country is not listening to them. The majority of ordinary people do not care about parliamentary reform and novel ideas of governance. Outside Westminster a consensus already exists about what really matters: jobs, homes, education for their kids and their quality of life. Messing about with the constitution does not bring about consensus out there.
However, the coalition ploughs on. The Liberal Democrats have 1911 written on their hearts. Never mind that voters rejected AV last year by a majority of 7 million votes; and never mind this month's overwhelming vote against directly elected mayors in nine of the 10 cities that held referendums across England. A million people voted. More than 600,000 of them said no. Ministers do not need their media contacts and special advisers to tell them what is going on.
The Westminster drama of Lords reform has been running for as long as "The Mousetrap", but it has no relevance outside. Most people are already detached from politics. Very sadly, apathy is rife and growing. The turnout in elections is about one in three and will stay like that until the political parties reconnect with ordinary people and reflect their views and their priorities in life.
The French had an 83% turnout in their recent election because they cared about the outcome. We have not matched a figure like that in our general elections for 60 years-since 1951. After the AV referendum, the Prime Minister said that the coalition would get back to governing in the national interest. He was contrite again after the local elections about the Government's remoteness from public opinion. He said that he had got the message. I doubt it. Still they press on with the most contentious and irrelevant legislation in the gracious Speech. The Prime Minister said that,
Simon Hughes MP, who speaks for the Liberal Democrat grass roots, urged Tory MPs to support Lords reform in almost desperate terms. He acknowledged in the Commons that your Lordships' House was a
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Apparently the new Bill is still being drafted, with some difficulty. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, admitted that the Conservative Party was visibly split. Clearly, the Labour Party is in no mood to help out, and the Joint Committee that examined the draft Bill asked pertinent questions that can no longer be dodged. Senior Ministers in the Commons cannot escape their responsibilities by running away from the mess that they created and leaving it to Parliament to clear up.
The coalition's misbegotten intention remains what it was from the start-to abolish this House, jeopardise the primacy of the House of Commons and throw a spanner in the constitutional works, while the perpetrators saunter off claiming that it is not their fault.
I for one will do no such thing. I will not connive with the abolition of this House to suit the partners in a temporary coalition. I shall support sensible reform, in favour of which I have already spoken many times in this House, outside it and in the media. But I will not be a party to the wrecking of Parliament-and nor, I trust, will the House of Commons.
Baroness Knight of Collingtree: My Lords, what a privilege to follow my noble and very true friend Lady Boothroyd. She was one of the most remarkable Speakers of the House of Commons that I ever sat under. Her reputation and knowledge were so impressive, and we are all fortunate to have in the House two former lady Speakers. We heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and now we have heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, with whom I share quite a past. We both trod the boards, as it were, some years ago-although not the same boards and not quite at the same time. Perhaps that always gave me great fellow feeling with the noble Baroness. I salute her and I agree very much with her position on the Bill.
I cannot for the life of me comprehend how the Lords reform Bill ever came within a country mile of the Queen's Speech at this time. The electorate have no interest whatever in it and have never demanded it. They are shocked that parliamentary time will now be tied up for weeks and months while the country is in a financial mess and real people have real problems in their real lives. Not a scrap, jot or tittle of what is in the Bill will help a single one of them.
Unless we are stone deaf and totally blind, we cannot have missed the marches, chants and flags of demonstrators just across the road outside this building. Almost on a daily basis, and not just for the past couple of years but for many years, they have gone on telling us about their problems. Currently there are problems with the police, pensions, education and health. They are among a whole raft of matters that occupy voters' minds at this time. Has any noble Lord seen a single banner waved or heard a whisper of a chant from Joe Public asking for Lords reform? The silence from noble Lords who have heard such things is deafening.
Apparently there can be such a thing as a supporter of the Bill who talks about his support coming from a love of democracy, and from the fact that the House is to be democratised-yet at the same time he does not seem to worry about finding out what the people want. Supporters of the Bill are very loud in their claims that they are the true democrats who seek democracy. The recent referendum was referred to, in which the voters-as the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, reminded us-made it absolutely clear that they did not want any change in the system of voting. So why does the Bill, supported by all these democrats, thumb its nose at the people's expressed wish and force them to accept it in the matter of Lords reform? A fat lot of democratic activity there is in that-or in the extraordinary belief that by some nifty rule that is not in being yet they will be able to ensure that although the Members of the Lords will have to fight and win elections to get here, they will not have the same rights over the passage of legislation as Members who are elected to the Commons. What is democratic about that?
As was said, we always yield to the will of the Commons. The people outside do not always recognise that. How can they call us undemocratic when in our work we always bow our heads to the fact that the House of Commons is an elected House?
It has fascinated many of us to see the way in which Members of the Commons have gradually changed their view on the Bill over the past few months. They did so because it dawned on them loud and clear that if the Bill goes through, they will lose their primacy; there is no question about that. It does not make sense to imagine for a moment that we would accept or that there would be even a tiny modicum of agreement about this. If, God forbid, we should ever be elected, we would have to be allowed to vote. If the electorate gave us the right to do so, why should we not?
I am concerned, too, that supporters of this Bill do not seem to have made any effort at all to find out much about this House. I asked Mr Clegg, when he came to one of our Committee Rooms to speak, if he realised the breadth and depth of the knowledge that many of the Peers here were able to bring to our deliberations because they had so much experience. Bless my soul-he assured me airily that MPs were just as clever. I have no doubt that there are lots of very clever people in the Commons, but that is not the same as having had a lifetime of experience. You can have youth and cleverness, but youth and experience cannot sit together: it is a contradiction in terms. The fact is that we are able to receive advice from people
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However, it becomes daily more apparent that such people will not stand for election. Why should they? Why take on a load of constituency duties, which as many here will know, are extremely heavy. One has to have surgeries and visit schools, hospitals and factories. You must plant trees and lay foundation stones. You must speak at meetings. The list is endless. You can forget altogether about having any free time at weekends. Why ruin a peaceful retirement to take on a life like that?
Next, I asked the Minister, Mark Harper, what cuts in expenditure and from precisely which department he was planning to obtain the very large extra amount that it would cost to pay the elected Peers. Noble Lords will not believe this, but it is true. He said that our daily allowance was about the same as the amount that MPs were paid. I dropped my jaw at that happy statement. He seemed to have absolutely no idea that we could claim only for the days when we were seen in the Chamber-even the Corridors will not do, we must be in here. That is not a rule that applies to MPs, I promise you. An MP is paid not a bad salary on the whole whether he is there or not. Mr Harper did not know that. Why was some effort not made to find out a little more about what our House is and does?
Apparently, it had not occurred to Mr Harper that with a new load of constituency work, we would have to be provided with full-time secretaries and various other help. I heard the other day that nowadays in the House of Commons, because of the e-mail system of contact for MPs, an extra PA has to be employed to make sure that the person writing to the MP is in fact a constituent. That never happened when I was in the Commons. Can you imagine how expensive that is? If you are going to saddle Peers with constituency duties, the cost of all that back-up, never mind the cost of the extra salaries, will be very heavy. Surely the elected Peers would not be the only ones to be paid. The unelected ones would have to do an awful lot of committee work to make up for the others who will be busy in their constituencies. It would be a colossal mess if it ever came to be.
I am sorry but I have something to confess. I regret to say that my noble friend Lord McNally, ever ready with a merry quip or jest, severely tested his political friendship with me when he claimed that those of us against the present Bill were just smug about the good that was done here. He seemed to be saying that we were smug lot. I can assure him that because we recognise that many Bills sent to us for scrutiny are indeed improved by our amendments, that does not brand us as smug. I wonder what he thinks of the QC who wrote recently to the Times. He said that his work often requires him to peruse Hansard when having to deal with a complicated piece of legislation. Perusing Hansard,had taught him that,
He went on to say that he valued the specialist knowledge of Members of the Lords because they are able to do deploy that knowledge together with the absence of party politics. Is that is a smug comment? It is a very real comment.
That is one reason why I value so much, as so many of us do, the Cross-Benchers in this House. They contribute so much, not only from their knowledge and experience, but from the fact that they are Cross-Benchers. Nobody ever quite knows which way a Cross-Bencher will vote. That is what it is all about. That is a good answer. They will go because in order to get elected you have to have a powerhouse of party behind you. In all the years-it is now nearly 50-that I have been in one part or another of this House, I only ever remember two in the other place. One was a famous television reporter who wore a white suit, as I recall, and the other came about because his hospital was very much loved in his local area and he campaigned on that one issue alone. But it is true that without the power of a political party behind you, it is virtually impossible to get elected. So many of us recognise that what we gain and what our country gains from our Cross-Benchers is certainly worth saving.
I am not saying for a moment there is no need for some reform of this House, but not in the way that is before us here. Instead of pursuing the Bill as drafted, why not deal with the numbers question? We all know perfectly well that there are certainly not 800 Peers working daily here, but that is what the press print and that is what the public believe. Why not consider adopting, for instance, a policy that non-attendance for more than a set period would automatically mean retirement? We all know many Members of the House who it would be lovely to see now and then, but we never do. Why not recognise that instead of saying they are Members and that is one of the reasons why something must be done about us? If we adopted a system like that, we would be down to 300 or 400 in no time at all.
The threatened Bill before us was born out of ignorance; it has never been costed, justified, demanded or thought through. It would deprive Parliament and quite needlessly burden the taxpayer. It must not pass.
Lord Davies of Stamford: My Lords, this has been a stimulating and, from my personal point of view, instructive debate. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, in our debate on this subject just before Prorogation, said in his rather world-weary way that he had not heard any new questions being put and implied that it was something of a failure on the part of those who have problems with the Bill to come up with serious objections to it. I think the problem is the other way around. So far, we have not had anything like enough answers. If the Government feel that some of the objections that are being raised are not valid, it is up to them explicitly to take the time to refute them, and if they cannot do so, to recognise that it is necessary to think again and come back with something better. It is only on that basis that we will make any progress on this particularly difficult issue.
I have always been a supporter of a 100% democratically elected House of Lords. I have taken that line throughout my political career. I have spoken along those lines in another place, but hitherto I have not had an opportunity to do so in this place. I voted along those lines in the House of Commons whenever I had the opportunity. I can also remember speaking along those lines to Gordon Brown both before and after he was Prime Minister, so I have a consistent record. But I could not possibly support the Bill that is now before the House. Indeed, I read it with complete astonishment as it seems to be deeply flawed. It is flawed in three places, or perhaps more, but certainly in three places it is in glaring contradiction with its own principles. That is a very serious weakness in a Bill and it would be a great mistake on our part if we put it on to the statute book. Clearly I need to justify that statement, and I intend to do so.
Let us take, first, a membership of 80% elected and 20% appointed. It is clear to me that you cannot have it both ways. Either democratic election is necessary for political legitimacy, which is the argument behind the White Paper and the Bill, or it is not. You cannot say that it is a principle that must be applied to some people but not to others, that democratic legitimacy can only be conferred on me by election, but on my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours it does not have to be conferred by election. You cannot possibly have a so-called "universal principle" which is selectively applied. In putting forward that idea, the Bill destroys its own argument and we should not proceed on that basis. It is entirely unjustifiable.
The practical point of view-if noble Lords think that that is a theoretical point, it is actually very important to get the theoretical points right and get our thinking clear on this subject-is whether we in this place, either elected or nominated, would rival in some way members of the House of Commons in their constituency functions. Another point made the other day at some length and with a lot of quotations by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace-and there is a widespread view in this country to this effect-was that the British public have lost faith in their institutions and have lost confidence in their politicians and people in public life, and that we need to do something about it. His suggestion was that we need this Bill in order to do that. Can you imagine a situation in which you introduce a Bill to have 80% of people elected to the House of Lords for a 15-year term who then, as the Government think will happen, refuse to take up any personal or local cases brought to them by their electors? Presumably they would say to those who had elected them, "Thank you for electing me, it was very good of you. But actually I have a 15-year term and I cannot stand for re-election, so you can get lost". If we behaved along those lines, can anyone in the House think of a way more calculated to reinforce any cynicism there may be about people in public life or encourage a greater degree of rejection of our institutions and of us individually?
The second problem I have with the Bill has already been referred to by several other speakers. Clause 2 suggests that there would be no change in the constitutional position or the powers of the House of Commons if we became an elected or a largely elected
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There is a third area in which the Government seem to be in contradiction with themselves, and that is in relation to a referendum. I cannot make out what has happened to the Liberal Democrats on this because they fought the last election, as we did, saying in their manifesto that they were in favour of a referendum on this subject. Now, as part of the coalition, apparently they are no longer in favour of a referendum on a House of Lords reform Bill, and the Deputy Prime Minister goes around saying that he does not think that one is necessary. I also have a consistent record throughout my career of not liking referenda. My very first political campaign, which I enjoyed taking part in and am very proud to have done so, was the 1975 referendum on our membership of the European Community, as it was then called. But even at the time I personally regretted that that decision was taken by a referendum and not by Parliament. However, it would be less than honest not to recognise that over the past 30 or 40 years, the constitution of this country has evolved and there is now a general acceptance that major constitutional Bills cannot simply be passed through Parliament, as has happened down the centuries, but that they require a referendum. That would be the case if we left the European Union or, I think by universal agreement, if we joined the euro. Over the past few decades it has always been the case for devolution.
Moreover, noble Lords will recall that we have had referenda on much more minor issues like whether to have elected police commissioners or mayors. We had the referendum on AV this summer. It is really quite extraordinary that we now have a proposal to make a major constitutional change without a referendum. I think that that is very suspect and curious. What is more, it comes just a few months after we voted through the Europe Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, and I spent some time debating matters on that Bill which, as I recall, provided for 39 different circumstances in which there could be a referendum in this country, some as relatively trivial as changing the rules on the appointment of the Court of Auditors at the European Commission. That Bill is now an Act-a very bad one, in my view, but I will not go into that now-that provides for the possibility of referenda on extraordinarily
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This is the moment when one is right to remember the famous question put by Lenin. I emphasise that I am not a Marxist-Leninist. Indeed, unlike my noble friend Lord Grocott or a number of other people in this House, I cannot say that I have always been in the same party, but I have never been in a Marxist-Leninist party. Lenin had a point when he said the key question to ask about any proposal was, "Who, whom?"- "Kto kogo?" Who benefits and at whose expense? I think that people up and down the country, given this extraordinary dog's breakfast of a Bill, with its mass of self-contradictions and breach of its own principles, will naturally ask that question. They will ask who had the incentive to bring forward this extraordinary legislation at the present time. The answer to that is quite obvious: it is the Liberal Democrats. We all know that the Liberal Democrats have dreamt for decades of introducing proportional representation for House of Commons elections, which would give them the balance of power in the House of Commons for the rest of time and therefore leverage and lien over, and probably membership of, every Government for the rest of time. It is clear that they have now despaired of introducing PR nationally; after the AV referendum, they despaired even of getting something in the direction of PR nationally; so this is now the next great agenda. The idea is that, since they cannot do it with the Commons, they should improve the standing of the Lords vis-à-vis the Commons by making the Lords directly elected, as will inevitably happen, and making sure that, through PR, they get their permanent blocking minority in the House of Lords for the rest of time. It is a very simple agenda, and I can see that it is very alluring for the Liberal Democrats. They see it as much more important than any individual piece of legislation that might go through in this Parliament; this is the long-term, historic prize; this is the great existential change for the Lib Dems if they can achieve it-and what a wonderful opportunity, being in coalition with the Conservative Party which is dependent on them for survival, to get this through. I think that that is really what it comes down to. I cannot believe that, without such an agenda, anybody would have come forward with such a self-contradictory and messy Bill.
I am worried that, if we proceed on this basis, there will be exactly what the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, predicts; that is, increasing cynicism on the part of the electorate about our priorities, the way we do things and how we cook up initiatives. It will be widely seen that this fundamental change in the constitution, accompanied by all these anomalies, is going through because it meets a party-political agenda. That will be seen as extremely squalid and, I fear, contribute to exactly the disease which the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, described the other day.
Lord Rennard: My Lords, in the debate on the gracious Speech two years ago, I made the mistake of
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There has been much debate about the future of this House since the much quoted Parliament Act 1911, which followed the controversy over this House blocking what became known as the "People's Budget" when a Liberal Government, with Lloyd George as Chancellor, first introduced the old-age pension in the face of great opposition from the largely Conservative hereditary Peers who were of course Members of the House at that time. It has been said many times in this House that the House of Lords merely revises legislation and invites the other place to think again. Many of those most opposed to reform frequently say that this House does not block the will of the elected House. However, in many ways, the current controversy about the future of this House goes back all that time to the attempts to block the introduction of national insurance and the old-age pension. These came not long after Gladstone's attempts to introduce home rule for Ireland.
Lord Rennard: I defer to the perhaps greater knowledge in this respect of the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth. However, I recall seeing the paintings of the debates in 1893 that hang outside the Bishops' Bar. I thought that it was at that point that the House of Lords was blocking home rule for Ireland.
Lord Norton of Louth: The first home rule Bill was blocked in the House of Commons, not the House of Lords. The House of Lords under the Liberal Government had let through such matters as old-age pensions. Those matters which were clearly popular outside, it let through.
Turning to more recent times, I would dare to suggest that opposition to the Government's legislative programme in the past two years has often gone well beyond polite exhortations to the Commons to reconsider. This House has real purpose and real power, even if limited today to the significant power to delay non-financial matters. The power to delay can in practice often be the power to prevent.
The issue of legitimacy for this House to exercise its powers has been debated for more than 100 years. It is frequently suggested that we may now be moving too rapidly to conclude that debate. As I have said previously, it is probably only in this place that a Government intent on proceeding with a principle contained in all
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Proposals for reform appear to have shocked many noble friends to my left in this Chamber-I do not mean to my political left, of course-as well as a few around me. Some of those around me should recall that we have two words in our party title. The first word is "Liberal", which takes us back to the party of Lloyd George and Asquith and that fight to end the hereditary principle and, at least in Asquith's case, to replace it with the popular principle for membership of the House.
Lord Rennard: Indeed they did, and some of us accepted life peerages. Some of us who I know were strong supporters of the principle of democracy and elections to this place accepted peerages because it was the only way in which we might have a voice in these debates and eventually a vote to support those principles.
For Members around me perhaps looking for a little further guidance as to where our party should be on this issue, I suggest that there is a clue in the second word of our party name, "Democrat". I take a simple view about the nature of representative democracy: I strongly believe that those who approve the laws should be elected by those who have to obey them.
As for noble Lords who take a more Conservative position, I understand that it took a long time for their predecessors to accept such principles as the universal franchise, the secret ballot and the abolition of rotten boroughs, but I might remind them of what their party has said in more recent times. Under the leadership of Mr William Hague in 2001, the Conservative Party manifesto stated:
Lord Cormack: I know that my noble friend likes to be accurate, so would he acknowledge that in 2007, when another place voted on these proposals, more Conservative Members voted against the party's official policy of 100% elected than for it? That policy, enunciated in manifestos, has been repeatedly repudiated by the majority of Members of the Conservative Party.
Lord Rennard: Indeed, but the question must be put as to why the party stood on that manifesto in 2010 as clearly and unequivocally as it did. The Conservatives stood on that basis over 10 years, with three manifestos-
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It will be to the relief of the House that I will not quote every Labour manifesto on the subject of House of Lords reform. The noble Lord, Lord Grocott, tried to refer to 11 of them in brief. I will quote just one, which happens to be the one on which the last Labour Government was elected. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, is not in his place. He suggested that whenever the Labour Party advocated Lords reform, it lost. I seem to recall that the Labour Party won the 1997 general election, and did so decisively with a majority of 179.
Lord Davies of Stamford: I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I have noticed-as has the whole House-that he has not attempted at all in his remarks to contest my hypothesis that the Lib Dem party is, in this matter, pursuing an entirely selfish party-political agenda. While we are quoting manifestos, can the noble Lord explain to the House why the Lib Dem party appears to have abandoned its commitment in favour of a referendum on this issue, which was certainly in its most recent general election manifesto in 2010?
Lord Rennard: With the greatest respect to the noble Lord, there was absolutely no promise of a referendum on the issue of Lords reform in the Liberal Democrat manifesto in 2010. I believe in representative democracy. I think there are many problems with referendums, as I shall elaborate. The Liberal Democrats did not promise any such thing in 2010.
In answer to the noble Lord's basic premise that the Liberal Democrats are acting out of pure self-interest in this matter, I point out the major flaw in his argument. In common consensus around the Chamber tonight, we have talked about there being perhaps 400 or 450 Members of this House who are particularly active. I draw noble Lords' attention to the fact that there are now 90 Liberal Democrat Peers. That is not far off some 23% of the active membership of this House. I also point out to noble Lords that many people who talk about the effectiveness and work of this House have said that it is effective because no one party has an overall majority. No one party has an overall majority if you have a system of proportional representation.
Lord Rennard: I will give way to the noble Lord in a moment. It is not inconsistent for the Liberal Democrats to argue that there should be a system of proportional
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Lord Rennard: Indeed it has. That is because the Scottish National Party secured almost a majority of the votes. My noble friend serves also to remind me of the other flaw in the argument advanced by some noble Lords during this debate that proportional representation would mean that the Liberal Democrats were permanently in government. That was suggested a few moments ago. As the noble Lord, Lord Norton, said, we have PR in Scotland and Wales and the Liberal Democrats are not in government there. That does not follow.
Given the Labour Party's recent history on House of Lords reform, I am surprised by this new-found enthusiasm for a referendum on the issue. I note that that was in the Labour Party's manifesto in 2010 but not previously. In the 1996-97 period, leading Liberal Democrats such as my noble friend Lord Maclennan of Rogart, together with the late Robin Cook and other noble Lords and Baronesses-some of them present in the House tonight-agreed a fundamental reform of the House of Lords in the event of the Conservatives losing the 1997 general election. There was no suggestion that there should be a referendum on the proposals. It seems that if there is to be a referendum on the issue it would be because parliamentarians in the other place have failed to do the job that they were elected to do.
Lord Cormack: How does my noble friend square his championing of the referendums for electing mayors of our cities and for AV with resolutely being against a referendum for the biggest constitutional change in the composition of our Parliament that we will have seen for over a century?
Lord Rennard: My noble friend and other noble Lords will never have heard me argue the case for referendums for mayors. Noble Lords present during the debates last year on the Localism Bill will have heard me express strong reservations about referendums. There are often major problems with the conduct of referendums. The only exception I have thought of to my general belief in representative democracy above referendums is that the system by which Members are chosen in the place that has primacy should be chosen not by those Members themselves but by the voters.
A number of noble Lords have suggested this evening that electors a year ago chose first past the post and rejected proportional representation-that was the implication of a number of arguments. I remind noble Lords that the option of proportional representation was never offered to the voters last year because noble Lords from other parties and Members of another place were too fearful that people might decide to have that system rather than first past the post.
Lord Campbell-Savours: Is not one of the advantages of a referendum on House of Lords reform that, if the vote is won in favour of reform, Parliament is then locked into that decision? Parliament would find it very difficult to say no when the people have said yes.
Let me first refer the noble Lord back to the report on referendums by your Lordships' Constitution Committee. In the debate in this House on that report, it appeared to be generally agreed by almost all noble Lords present that referendums should be rare and that there were significant problems with holding them-not least the propensity of the electorate to vote in response to a different question from that which appeared on the ballot paper. However, the report concluded that it would be appropriate to hold a referendum if abolition of either House of Parliament was considered. It is probably on that basis that some noble Lords consider the justification for a referendum. Yet when we look back to the 1911, 1949, 1958 and 1999 Acts, they were never considered to be Acts of abolition, even though they significantly changed both the powers and the composition of the House.
Gradually reforming composition does not amount to abolition. The draft Bill and the proposals of the Joint Committee suggest a transitional period that would not be complete before 2025-some 114 years after the 1911 Act and 15 years after all main parties promised in their manifestos to work for such an outcome. Ending the hereditary principle, removing patronage from party leaders and allowing people to choose their legislators do not amount to abolition of this House, so I do not see any case for a referendum before 2015. In the mean time, I believe that in 2015 we should begin the first phase of real reform by electing a small proportion of the membership of your Lordships' House and finally ending completely the hereditary basis for membership. There may be more of a case for a referendum later, on proceeding to the second or final stages of reform.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: Can the noble Lord clarify that? Earlier in our debate, the proposition was made that the coalition is now considering a new option, which is essentially to go for a small number of elected people in 2015-rather following the Wakeham and Irvine proposals at the beginning of the previous decade-and then pausing to ponder whether we move on from that position, perhaps by referendum.
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Lord Rennard: My Lords, I hope to speak with authority, but I have to say that I speak for myself on this issue. It is logical that if we were to consider a reform which meant that 92 hereditary Peers were no longer Members of your Lordships' House-which was of course the aim of the 1999 legislation-and if, for the sake of argument, we were to elect 120 Peers in 2015, that would not be a great change. It would not be revolutionary and it would not justify a referendum. We might consider it at some point in the following Parliament-perhaps on the same day as the country was voting in the European elections in 2019, to minimise the cost of a referendum. Then, when people saw the House working effectively without an hereditary element-although I have great respect for many hereditary Members of this House-with a small elected element of, say, 120 Members, that would not be dissimilar to the initial proposals of the commission of the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham. We could then say, "That is how it is working. Do you want to proceed with the remaining life Peers going in phases and a wholly elected House?". We could vote on that at some point. Complete change is abolition of this House. I suggest that if we were proceeding along that way by 2015, there would be no need for a referendum before then.
I have spoken a number of times about the important issue of individual voter registration. I would like to say little about that as it was also referred to in the gracious Speech, but I will be brief. It is of considerable importance in all elections that we have a complete and accurate electoral register.
Lord Rennard: I have indeed. I have lost about 30 seconds, but I will not worry too much about that. I simply want to say that I welcome the change in approach by the Government since the publication of the White Paper, which originally proposed treating the list of people entitled to vote as little more than an optional mailing list to which people could subscribe if they could be bothered. The principle that it should be a legal requirement to be on that register, subject to a fine if you do not comply with a registration officer's request to be on the electoral register, is long established, going back to 1918. Labour and Conservative Governments have subsequently significantly increased the fines for not complying with the registration process. Relatively recently, we have had the implementation of individual electoral registration in Northern Ireland maintaining the principle of a fine of up to £1,000 if you do not comply. I simply draw the attention of the Minister to my view that we would need to see the detail and secondary legislation of exactly how new civil penalties might be applied in the registration process before we can say that we support the principle of the Bill. Finally, I believe that that Bill may also be an opportunity to have a proper debate about how we
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Lord Armstrong of Ilminster: My Lords, I am not proposing in this debate to rehearse yet again my proposals for the reform of the composition of this House. On two previous occasions in this Chamber I have set out ideas for the composition of a reformed House. Those ideas were also set out in a memorandum of evidence which the right honourable Frank Field MP and I submitted to the Richard committee, the Joint Committee, and which is published in the appendix to that committee's report.
My concern today is with questions of procedure and process. The Government's draft Bill seems to be founded on a syllogism: parliamentary law-making bodies should be elected by universal suffrage; the House of Lords is a parliamentary law-making body; therefore, the House of Lords should be elected by universal suffrage. That syllogism has a beautiful simplicity, but it does not stand up to the complexities and challenges of real life as it is lived.
What is deficient about that syllogism? First, there are numerous examples in other countries of parliamentary systems which work satisfactorily with second Chambers whose Members are not elected by universal suffrage. Secondly, in our system it is questionable whether the House of Lords is rightly to be regarded as a law-making body for these purposes. In this House we can propose laws and we can propose to revise laws; but under present arrangements at the end of the day we can be overridden by the other place. We cannot by ourselves make laws. We can propose, but the House of Commons has primacy and can dispose. Laws can be made only by and with the consent of the House of Commons, which is of course elected by a process of universal suffrage. As I read somewhere recently: "The Lords isn't really a legislature, so why don't we cease fretting about its composition?". I do not go quite as far as that.
Thirdly, even the Government's draft Bill responds to the widespread view that there is merit in retaining an element of appointed and non-elected independent Members in the second Chamber. Only the Opposition can now claim the purity of calling for 100% directly elected Members.
Mr Tony Blair, who accepted in principle the need for House of Lords reform, was wont to say that it should depend on achieving consensus. There have been statements from government sources in recent days which have stressed that progress depends on consensus. The Prime Minister himself said last Wednesday,
"If we are going to achieve this reform, we will have to work together across the parties to try to deliver what I think will be progress for our constitution".-[Official Report, Commons, 9/5/12; col. 23-4.]
If discussions in both Houses of Parliament in recent weeks have made anything clear, it is that the prospects of meaningful parliamentary consensus on the proposals in the Government's draft Bill are not 50:50, they are infinitesimally small. The heart sinks at the thought of the hours, days and weeks that will be spent, first in the other place and then, if the Bill survives there, in this House, debating the details of the Bill, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman and the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, said, generating much political sound and fury but getting nowhere in achieving meaningful consensus.
Some of the participants will no doubt enjoy the fun; but the public, whose reaction to the subject of Lords reform can be summed up as an uninterested and uncomprehending yawn, will wonder why their representatives are not using the time for measures which address the problems which matter to them.
There is nothing there about the role and functions of the House of Lords. And yet, as many other noble Lords have said, how can we hope to achieve consensus on whether the composition is fit for purpose unless we have first achieved consensus on the purpose which the House is to serve?
The assumption behind the Government's Bill is presumably that the role and functions of the House of Lords will remain as they are, but, if the House becomes a wholly or largely elected body, its role and functions will not remain as they are. If Members of this House were to be elected by a process of universal suffrage, they would not for long accept the continued primacy of the House of Commons. If they were elected for geographical constituencies, even if those were not coterminous with existing parliamentary constituencies, Members of Parliament-MPs-would be likely to find themselves in competition in their constituencies with Lords of Parliament-LPs, or whatever they are to be called.
There is also the question of costs. The noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, has produced figures showing that a directly elected and salaried House of Lords would cost the taxpayer a great deal more than the present House does. No doubt any reform will cost some extra money but we should, in thinking about reform, have regard not only to fitness for purpose but also to value for money. We need first to achieve and articulate consensus on what we want the reformed House of Lords to be and to do-in other words, on its role and functions-then, having first done that, to achieve consensus on who we should like to carry out that role and those functions-in other words, on its composition.
When I was a private secretary in 10 Downing Street there was, hanging on the wall of the private office above my desk, a piece of paper, mounted and framed, on which Mr Harold Macmillan had written in his own hand:
I remember looking up at that piece of paper during the last weeks of 1973, at the time of the three-day week, and saying to myself: "Well, Uncle Harold, I hope you're right". At that time there was lots of deliberation, but not all of it was either quiet or calm. I believe that House of Lords reform is a knot that should and can be disentangled by quiet calm deliberation.
My proposal today-indeed, my plea to the Government-is that they should defer bringing forward a Bill for the reform of the composition of the House of Lords until there has been a serious attempt to arrive by quiet and calm deliberation at proposals on what should be the purposes, role and functions of the House of Lords and then at proposals on its composition, designed to make it fit for those purposes. This task could be entrusted to a body created and designed for the purpose, which should not be a purely parliamentary committee. It should of course include Members of both Houses, from all the main political parties and from the independent Cross-Benchers in the House of Lords, but not be confined to parliamentarians. It should include non-parliamentarians with suitable qualifications and experience, and be chaired by a non-parliamentarian. It could be a royal commission, a constitutional convention-as the alternative report has suggested-or a committee of privy counsellors. Whatever it is, it should be as small as possible: certainly, smaller than the Joint Committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Richard. It should be equipped with a strong but small team of expert advisers, including constitutional experts such as Professor Vernon Bogdanor, Professor Robert Hazell and people with relevant experience such as former Clerks of this House.
Lord Lloyd of Berwick: I wonder whether the noble Lord would explain how the group he envisages would differ in any way from the royal commission which sat in 2000. I have a list of the people who were in that royal commission; they exactly comply with what he wants.
Lord Armstrong of Ilminster: I do not know that it would differ in essentials but, as other noble Lords have pointed out, since the royal commission chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, history and life have moved on. There is a new set of circumstances and new considerations to be taken into account.
The expert team would be responsible for producing papers analysing the issues and making recommendations for consideration by the main body. That body should first consider and make recommendations on the role and functions of a reformed House, and its report on those matters would be published and considered by both Houses of Parliament. It could be laid down as a given that the role and functions of a reformed House of Lords should respect and be compliant with the primacy of the House of Commons. Once there was broad consensus on role and functions, the expert advisers could analyse and make recommendations on the composition of the House of Lords. They could be asked to consider whether, and if so how best, to provide for an element of representativeness-possibly, but not necessarily, by direct election-and an element of independence. They would need to make recommendations on the role and functions of a commission or committee on the appointment of
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The conclusions and recommendations of the expert advisers would once again be considered by the main body, and that body's conclusions and recommendations would be reported to Parliament and the public. This process could be undertaken with urgency. Even so, it would be bound to take some time but, as the Prime Minister has said,
However difficult it may be to justify the House of Lords as it is, it is not working too badly. We can afford to do the job of deciding about reform properly and sensibly, and get it right. It is worth taking the time required for thorough analysis and serious discussion. This would, as I believe, provide the foundation for achieving broad consensus on how best to go forward with reform of the House of Lords and thus for bringing forward a Bill which, unlike the present draft Bill or a revised Bill on similar lines, could command a wide measure of support on all sides in Parliament and would not need to disrupt the flow of more urgent parliamentary business, which bears on the pressing problems of the times in which we live.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, after I had listened to the Queen's Speech I listened to the BBC interviewing a Scottish nationalist about it. The Scot nat referred to, "this awful conservative Queen's Speech". I thought, "He must have been listening to a different speech from the one I was listening to", because I could not discern anything particularly conservative in the speech at all. Indeed the speech, if one is to be kind, can only be described as drab. It had no real content that would excite the people of this country.
I also thought, "Well, we have just had local elections where the ruling parties suffered very serious losses". I thought that they would want to take notice of what the people were saying-that they were not satisfied with the progress of the coalition. I thought I would perhaps hear that the Government were considering the fact that an extra 1 million people-lower management sort of people-were to be put into the 40% income tax band. There was nothing about that. There was no move, as far as I could see, to restore child benefit to those same hard-working people. There was nothing about that in there at all, or about dropping the granny-or perhaps it should be grandfather-tax. There was something about paternity leave, but nothing about providing more work. I should have thought that the Government would want to provide work rather than persuade people not to go to work, which of course paternity leave is all about.
On Europe, I had expected that we would hear something from the Government that was going to prevent us being sucked further into the European construct and, in particular, into the eurozone. But what do we see? There is a Bill in the Queen's Speech
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Not only that; we are also apparently to have a Bill to ratify the accession of Croatia to the European Union-yet another eastern European state to be added to the EU, all of whose people will of course have the right of admission to this country. That will lead on eventually to the admission of Turkey, with 90 million people all having admission to this country. As I say, I can see nothing conservative in this Speech.
The Government claim that their priority is getting the economy right, yet reform of the composition of the Lords is to be part of their centrepiece. They hope to get consensus for reform, although any hope of that has not only been dispatched in this House but been dashed in the other place as well. There is no sign of any consensus and, frankly, we are wasting our time in discussing it. I suppose that we have to, though, to show the Government just how opposed Parliament is as a whole to what they are proposing.
If the second Chamber is to be fully accountable, it has to be wholly elected. There is no way that you can get away from that; if it is to be fully accountable, any second Chamber has to be fully elected. You cannot have first-class and second-class Members; that will not work, as anyone knows who has sat on a local authority with an aldermanic bench. Furthermore, the idea that the primacy of the House of Commons can be maintained with an elected second Chamber is simply preposterous. Where are the people who say otherwise? Do they not realise that every body that becomes elected, and this includes the European Parliament, wants power? Not only do they want power, they want more power. Believe me, if this Chamber becomes elected, it will demand power and it will deserve it. If it does not get it then the people who elected it will have been cheated, and that is not what democracy is all about. In the long term, that would be completely unsustainable.
At present we have a unicameral system that is posing as a bicameral one. The House of Lords does not make laws and the House of Commons is thus sovereign. Anything that we do here can be overturned by the Commons, and the Government are responsible to the Commons alone. There is no doubt in anyone's minds, either in this House or in the country, that the House of Commons is supreme under the present situation. We have an almost perfect system where one House is sovereign but the other-that is us-can give powerful advice and guidance, and that is exactly what we do.
The House of Lords is a cheap second Chamber, if I may put it that way. If it becomes elected, make no mistake: the costs will go up. I think that the Deputy Prime Minister imagines that Members of the new House of Lords would get a salary of £60,000 and no
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If we are going to have reform, let us have a proper reform in which one House shares power with the other. As the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, and others have pointed out, however, that would require the powers to be written down and set in stone in a written constitution. Indeed, the four days of debate in this House and the erudite reports that we have received show that the question of reform is not the simple matter that the Deputy Prime Minister appears to think it is.
It is not only Parliament that makes laws. The judiciary makes laws-they make the common law, which are often serious laws indeed-so should they be elected? I very much doubt whether supporters of Lords reform would agree to that. Quangos also make laws. Do we elect the quango boards? People would get fed up with all these elections. You cannot say that the House of Lords must be elected because it has to be accountable but all these other people should not be accountable.
Does the present situation work? Yes, and it does so very well. Is there a demand out in the country for Lords reform? We know that there is not. It should not be a priority because there is no demand for it. It would be far better if the Government listened to all the voices, including that of the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, who spoke before me, and scrapped this piece of legislation and got on with dealing with the desperate financial and economic crisis. Any House of Lords reform under these circumstances should be put off until the next Parliament and not dealt with in this one at all, and, when it arises, it should be subject to the will of the people.
Lord Thomas of Swynnerton: My Lords, it is a pleasure to speak after the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon. He may remember that we first collaborated some 30 years ago in an attempt to oppose the idea of televising Parliament. We put up a gallant fight, but we were defeated. We were defeated but, as Lord Avon-Nicholas Eden, the son of the great Prime Minister-told us, we would have won if it had not been for the payroll vote. Perhaps that gives an indication of what we may have to do in future in this House and perhaps in other Houses, as indicated by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin. In this debate, I must first apologise for not being present at the opening on Thursday. I am afraid that I misunderstood our timetable and supposed that this debate would begin after lunch, not after breakfast.
I wish to propose a compromise: we all are aware of the feeling among the Liberal Democrats, in the Labour Party and, indeed, in some parts of the Conservative Party in favour of a democratically elected House of Lords, but we are also all aware that there is doubt in all parts of our House and in the other place
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We should certainly recognise the achievements of this House over the 54 years of the life peerage system. I am fortunate in that I can recall, in the 30 years for which, to my astonishment, I have been here, a number of remarkable events, not just reviewing legislation and correcting badly phrased documents coming from the House of Commons, but hearing marvellous speeches made by noble Lords on a diversity of matters. A few recollections may help noble Lords making up their mind about whether the House of Lords has been a worthy undertaking.
I remember, for example, the admirable contributions of Lord Stewart-Michael Stewart, an ex-Foreign Secretary-in challenging the Soviet Union and supporting the western nuclear deterrent. No one did it better than he. Noble Lords will not be surprised to know that I remember some extraordinary speeches by Lord George-Brown. I can remember hearing Lord Stockton berating the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, for selling off the family silver, by which I think he meant the coal industry. I did not agree with him, but I admired his oratory, which was especially impressive since he had become blind. I can remember Lord Thorneycroft's speech in the Maastricht debate-his last public utterance, I think. He leant against the barrier, because he was lame, and defended his support for Europe in the 1950s. In the same debate there was a remarkable speech by Lord Sherfield, in which he accepted that when he was a government official he had been wrong to oppose British membership of the Common Market. I recall a speech-it was on a different level, but nevertheless I recall it well-by the unjustly forgotten Lord Kennet, who thought that NATO should have been abolished with the end of the Soviet threat. He was the only Member of either House of Parliament who argued so.
More recently, I can remember the speech by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, opposing a new generation of nuclear weapons. Many of us will remember the eloquent wit and style of Lord Russell, who spoke as if he were still in the 19th century. I also recall the fine speech of Lord Callaghan against the War Crimes Bill and the many remarkable speeches by my then colleague Lord Beloff about Russia. How splendid was the last speech by Lord Annan, in which he compared the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, to Comus, who noble Lords may recall was presented by Milton as a pagan god who waylaid travellers and turned their faces into the faces of wild beasts. I am sure that that is an inappropriate moral for the surviving hereditary Peers.
I remember with affection Lord Whitelaw, who told us that although he had become a viscount there was no chance that he could be succeeded by any of his daughters. The eloquent wit of the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, will be long remembered. There is no need to be too maudlin about that. I remember that the speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, against the Iraq war were splendid and those of another great friend of mine, the noble Lord, Lord Weidenfeld, from an opposed point of view, were also most worth while. I will not forget Lord Jenkins of Hillhead telling us that the decision on whether to support the Gulf War was the most difficult in his long career. I have heard many admirable speeches by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, who was in his place for a short time this afternoon, and several by Lord Home. The speeches by ex-Foreign Secretaries, such as the noble Lord, Lord Owen, have often been remarkable. We have had debates in which three ex-Foreign Secretaries took part. Is there any other country in the world where such a thing would be possible-ex-Foreign Ministers meeting in a debating Chamber, tranquilly discussing the problems of the time, after their time?
All these occasions-there have been many more-were major creative undertakings by gifted people who, had it not been for the House of Lords, would not have had a chance to express themselves in an appropriate setting. As a rule, they were not reported in the press, since our newspapers-trying hard, as they have for many years, to be the second, not the fourth, estate-have long preferred not to speak of the good things that happen in Parliament. Should we legislate away even the chances of such oratory, through a Bill such as the one proposed?
We can enjoy the best of both worlds-an elected House and a House of achievement-if we adopt a radical and original suggestion. I should like to see what might be called a corporate approach to any elections in our House. This was touched on by my noble friend Lord Low in a speech in this House on 30 April but only, I think, for 20% of any new House. I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, was going to speak similarly. I suggest that in future we should have not party lists for election to this House but lists of doctors, soldiers, teachers, ex-Members of the other place, ex-Cabinet Ministers, writers, bankers, trade unionists, certainly historians and-why not?-poets and musicians. The poet Auden supported the idea that a Government should be elected and supported by lot-a very good reason for having poets in our House.
We could do worse than start from where we are now. Every existing Lord might declare that he is from a certain profession. As the present House functions happily, a new list of Peers could reflect present origins. For example, I could insist that I speak for the historical profession. My noble and learned friend Lord Lloyd of Berwick would represent the judiciary. Of course we should have Bishops and leaders of other faiths, including Catholicism. However, to be logical, the Bishops should be retired as generals are, and not people en poste. I leave that matter open for the moment.
If we need to, we can consult on exactly who we are by reading the excellent study from March 2010 by Meg Russell and Meghan Benton of the Constitution Unit of University College London, which can easily be brought up to date. Something like that could be the best way ahead.
As noble Lords will recall, the religious settlements of the 16th and 17th centuries were built on compromise. The Anglican compromise of the 1560s under Queen Elizabeth I led to the Church of England. Let our future legislative system be based partly on a similar method of election and selection. In that way, we will fulfil the demands of all parties, and do so in a way that resolves any difficulties that might otherwise deflect us by making us think of the difficulties of the transitional arrangements.
Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords, I have a possible compromise suggestion. If there were to be functional constituencies, as in Hong Kong, I suspect that the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, would be head of the historians' functional constituency. Indeed, I am sad that there were not more historians or people with a historical background among those who drafted the Bill. It would have come out very differently. We have clearly come to the time in the debate when everything that can be said has been said, but I have not yet said it so I will have a go.
As a Welsh nonconformist, I always like to base a speech on a text. The text that I have chosen comes from a traffic sign that we all know. It says this, which may be one of the high points of political wisdom: "Do not enter the box unless your exit is clear". Certainly, the coalition partners entered the box in 2010 when they went through a form of marriage in the gardens of No. 10. Indeed, they reaffirmed their vows in an Essex factory last week. One reflection might be: unhappy are the couple who deem it necessary to reaffirm their vows after a mere two years of marriage.
I think that there may be an exit from this commitment in sight. Is abandonment politically feasible? Is it already in sight? Is it when, for example, the guillotine Motion, the timetable Motion, fails in the House of Commons, or when even a consensus, as defined by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, is not obtained and trench warfare of Passchendaele proportions arises? Will the Liberal Democrats eventually be bought off by stopping the constituencies Bill, which threatens to decimate their numbers?
Pace the three manifestos, no one really is happy with all the provisions of this Bill. Yet the Liberal Democrats appear, alas, committed to the elections. It is a curious obsession on their part as regards constitutional structures. They are not great negotiators. In other countries, in Germany for example, the federal democrats emerged with a key department. There is a Foreign Minister. The Liberal Democrats did not emerge with any such departmental position. They yielded to the Conservative agenda on legal aid, welfare cuts and the NHS, so long as the cherished package of constitutional reform was achieved. But it may be that, ultimately, all that they have gained will crumble
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I would normally intervene in matters of international affairs but there is very little of that in the Queen's Speech. Even for the Commonwealth, so beloved by the other side, there is no mention, save in the succession to the Crown.
There are one or two other important matters, including, obviously, electoral registration. But there is nothing in relation to Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales or any attempt to meet the problem of what might happen if the Scottish referendum in a couple of years opts for independence. Clearly, that would have the most profound implications for any change in the House of Lords.
There is no mention of powers or functions, as if they are wholly unrelated to the composition of this place. The Queen's Speech is very short. What would happen if the House of Lords Bill were to be abandoned during the course of the year? There would be an enormous hole in the legislative programme. It would be rather like the problems we had in this House in February and March of this year as regards the poor management.
The background is that we had the Joint Committee proposals, the alternative report and the high-quality, one-and-a-half-day debate. Since then, as they say in another place, an amendment has been moved. That amendment was the verdict of the people in the local elections. I would not be so adventurous as to claim that there was a direct relationship between the way in which the people of this country voted in the local elections and their views on House of Lords reform. But surely there is an indirect effect in that they were protesting, in part, against the way in which this Government were unwilling to listen to their views and had got totally out of touch with public opinion. Who in the broad public, apart from the UK equivalent of the belt around Washington, is seriously interested in reform of this place?
The illusions of the Government have surely been shattered. Clause 2(1)(b) on the primacy of the House of Commons, as if by a simple declaration, is sufficient to ensure that that is so. The assertion that this will be more democratic is absurd. Anyone who has been in the other place, as I had the privilege to be for 30 years, knows that the democratic responsibility of a Member of Parliament arises from direct contact regularly-a point well made by the noble Baroness, Lady Knight-with members of their constituency in order to be as a bridge to relay their views to the Executive and to relay back, as appropriate, the views of the Executive. If one is elected for 15 years, non-renewable, and if one manages to find one's way on to a party list, how in any way is that likely to be more democratic?
I suspect that if we ask who is likely to be elected, many will see this place as a springboard for getting to the House of Commons and will resign under Clause 57 of the Bill. And is it not likely that those who put themselves forward will be those who are already in
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The other problem is that the House of Lords as presently constituted is composed of those who are beyond ambition. I wonder if that will continue if people are elected and may well seek to find their way into another place. It is clearly also likely that this place will be far less expert, as I notice that according to the Bill the Cross Benches will be reduced in 2015 to a mere 20. I would not like to have the job of working out who those 20 lucky people will be. Perhaps there will be a lottery.
So those illusions are shattered. But equally worrying is the manner in which this Government do constitutional change. There seems to be an unwillingness to have a sense of history or politics-although the noble Lord, Lord Norton, would no doubt correct me on this. We do things in this country in a different way; I do not demand reverence for our constitution, but surely we should have a certain respect for our constitution. Traditionally in the UK we make our constitutional change after a non-partisan debate and on the basis of consensus, not the consensus as defined by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, as what the Chief Whip in the other place happens to decide at any one time. That is not real consensus. We move from precedent to precedent in an incremental way, as was shown extremely well in the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman. The Bill smacks of a political fix and glue and an unwillingness to consider the wider ramifications and the effect on the other place or on the devolved Assemblies. In short, there is case for a convention. I shall not proceed with this argument, although I could speak at great length, but are we moving inexorably along the road to a quasi-federal system, and an unwillingness to look at comparative legislature.
One part that I enjoyed very much in the speech given by the noble Lord, Lord Norton, was his reference to the article by Meg Russell in the January edition of Political Quarterly, which surely exploded much of what the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, and others claimed in seeking to bring forward evidence for their own views. Even now, in a spirit of incrementalism and the true spirit of constitutional change, the Government can obtain on the basis of consensus a substantial part of what is wanted-by looking at the Steel Bill and the original Bill in which proposals were set out so well by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman. They could show some good will by yielding gracefully on the referendum issue. On that one recognises that the rules of the game have been changed, even more so than on the AV matter. But no-for partisan reasons and as a result of a deal they are determined to sleepwalk in what is clearly a constitutional minefield. We will look only at the composition of the House of Lords until, probably, they will be forced to seek an exit strategy from the box in which they have impaled themselves.
Surely at a time of austerity, as the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, said, this Government are presented with a golden opportunity to make the kindest and least controversial cut of all-that cut being to abandon this Bill.
Lord Kakkar: My Lords, I fear that, once again, I have to start by putting a question to Her Majesty's Government which I have put on a number of previous occasions when speaking on this important issue of reform of your Lordships' House-that is, exactly what is the purpose of the reform Bill? Have the Government concluded that your Lordships' House has failed, and continues to fail, the people of our country because it is unable to undertake scrutiny and revision of legislation, as I think all noble Lords understand its purpose to be; or is the Bill an attempt to overcome the accusation that your Lordships' House is an affront to democracy? If it is the latter, the proposal to elect 80% of this Chamber for a fixed term of 15 years with no recourse to the electorate, and most interestingly no opportunity for these elected representatives, paid for by the taxpayer, to undertake any work on behalf of constituents, does not add up to democratic accountability. It is vital that the Government are able to understand clearly, and answer, that important question. There is no purpose at all in throwing this Parliament into turmoil by formally introducing this Bill for consideration in the other place, and ultimately in your Lordships' House, unless its purpose is clearly understood.
During this debate a consensus has arisen on three important concerns which must be addressed. First, we must try to understand the constitutional ramifications of the Bill. These were well identified in the Joint Committee report and the alternative report. Secondly, we must try to identify actions that might be taken to mitigate those serious constitutional ramifications. The interesting contribution of my noble friend Lord Laming focused on the standing of Parliament and the view of our fellow citizens with regard to how we spend our time and use the resources that they as taxpayers make available to us. The third concern is that both Houses of Parliament should be able to communicate the fact that they work justly and fairly in the interests of the people of our country.
Much has been made of the fact that there are 77 parliaments in the world that are bicameral in nature. In the debate that took place on 1 May, following the publication of the Joint Committee's report, I asked three questions: how many of those bicameral parliaments have no written constitution; how many of them have no definition of the powers of the two elected Chambers; and how many of them fail to provide a protocol to resolve disputes between the two elected Chambers? I have checked the latest available information on an Inter-Parliamentary Union database, and it indicates that 77 parliaments in the world are bicameral in nature. We have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Norton, that 21 of them are wholly elected, 17 are indirectly elected, 15 are wholly appointed and the remainder are a mixture of appointment and election. However, only three countries in the world do not have a written constitution: Israel, New Zealand
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If we are to dispose of the conventions, we must be sensitive to the wise advice provided in the preamble to the Parliament Act 1911. It states with absolute clarity that Parliament will have to make provision for limiting and defining the powers of a second Chamber elected with a popular mandate. It is not possible to ignore what was said in that preamble. So much of everything else regarding the relationships between the two Chambers-the conventions built from the 1911 Act-is fundamental to the way in which this Parliament conducts itself. It would be rather foolish, and lacking in decency and honesty, to disregard that important advice.
It has been said by Members of the other place who are particularly interested in this legislation that we should just get on with it. My noble friend Lady Boothroyd commented on what Vince Cable said with regard to getting on "quickly and quietly" with House of Lords reform. However, those who propose that that should be the disposition of this particular legislation-quiet acquiescence delivered quickly-fail to recognise what they are asking for, which is that we should commence to write the most important elements of our country's constitution in the Chambers of the House of Commons and your Lordships' House. What should we do when we come across serious and complicated issues that discussion, even in these two great Chambers of this great Parliament, cannot resolve? Would it be wrong to deliver those parts of a Bill to a special Select Committee? Would those taking that responsible decision be accused of wasting time and trying to undermine the passage of the Bill?
Surely it is much more sensible to proceed in a reasoned fashion, as suggested in the alternative report, through the creation of a constitutional convention that would allow all the issues that have been identified so far-as well as many of the other issues that have not been addressed-to be addressed fully and properly. One interesting issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Reid, concerned how a Government should be formed when we have two elected Chambers. How would our fellow citizens-the taxpayers-view the situation where no party leader in the elected House of Commons after a general election was able to command the confidence of that Chamber, but where a leader in an elected House of Lords was perfectly able to command
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Other important constitutional issues currently confront our country. The question of independence, or potential greater devolution, in Scotland will have an important impact on the future of an elected second Chamber. If the Scottish people elect for independence, the people of Wales and Northern Ireland will rightfully be concerned about their constitutional position in a Parliament dominated by the country of England. If the Scottish people-not that I am suggesting that there should be two questions in the referendum in Scotland-moved to the devo-max solution, there would be important questions about whether we were moving to a more federal nation and whether an elected second Chamber should reflect that. These matters are not currently considered.
Interestingly, the question of asking the people of our country whether they support the proposals has been put only in terms of a post-legislative referendum. However, this fails to pay any attention to the 2011 referendum on voting systems for the other place. The people of our country rejected the AV system. What implications does that have for selecting the voting system for an elected second Chamber? Should we interpret the results of that referendum as the people of our country telling this Parliament that their preferred method of election is first past the post or should we have two questions in any future referendum related to the introduction of an elected second Chamber, the second question putting to the people of our country a choice of voting system for elections to that Chamber?
My noble friend Lord Laming raised the issue of the standing of politics, and here I think there is a vital question. Are the people of our country likely to hold in contempt politicians who single-mindedly push forward constitutional reform such as reform of your Lordships' House, having initiated a period of debate and scrutiny on their proposed Bill over a year earlier and that scrutiny having told us that the Bill is wanting in many ways, is fraught with constitutional hazard and probably should not proceed as currently proposed; or are they more likely to hold in contempt political leaders who say, "We have offered this Bill for early scrutiny to our Parliament. Parliament has decided that the Bill is wanting in many ways and is fraught and dangerous, and it is inappropriate to proceed at this time. We are therefore going to proceed with a Bill that will deal with many of the anomalies relating to membership of the House of Lords in terms of expulsion, retirement, resignation, term of office and so on"? I suspect that the people of our country will be much more impressed if our political leaders are able to take the latter course, accept that what they have proposed will not work and does not enjoy support or consensus, and do what enjoys consensus and will be warmly received in both Chambers of this Parliament.
We currently ask many of our citizens to make great sacrifices for our country. We ask our brave servicemen potentially to sacrifice their lives in the longer-term interests and security of our nation. We are asking the people of our country to accept and experience austerity so that the national debt can be resolved and our nation can once again be put on a firm footing. We are asking our public servants, for instance, to have the terms and conditions of their service and pensions changed so that, once again, our country can enjoy secure finances. It is only right that the people of our country are able to ask their political leaders and those who represent them in this Parliament to focus on the interests, needs and anxieties that the people are facing at the moment, and that our politicians and Members of both Houses in this Parliament give their undivided attention to dealing with issues such as job creation, growth, living standards and reducing the debt-all issues that the Prime Minister has himself identified as key priorities.
It is interesting to speculate on how debate on the future of the House of Lords may distort priorities during this Session of Parliament. You have only to look at the allocation of time for debates following the humble Address. Two days have been devoted to constitutional affairs, with 54 speakers contributing principally on the question of reform of your Lordships' House. Tomorrow we have a day devoted to education, culture, home affairs, health, law and justice and welfare, a single day of debate during which 69 noble Lords will try to make their contributions. Members of both Houses in this great Parliament need to be sensitive to the feelings, anxieties and needs of the people of our country at this time. This Bill as currently presented does not enjoy consensus and it would be wise to withdraw it.
Lord Elton: My Lords, I do not know whether I was more surprised by the Queen's Speech or by the debate that has so far followed it. Perhaps I can resort to metaphor. Your Lordships' House is used to thinking of the constitution as being the house in which we live, where we are kept warm and dry and safe from our foes. It seems to me that both the Government and most of your Lordships' House have spent their time in the sitting room, arranging how it should look so that it is a bit more efficient, without looking out of the window and discovering that we are no longer in a mansion standing in its own grounds. We are not even in a semi-detached; we are incorporated in a vast condominium which, in part, overlaps the structure in which we are living and the roof of which hovers over our heads as I speak. I was astonished to find that out of the 48 people who have so far spoken in this debate, only two have regarded Europe as significant to our constitution. But Europe is almost in flames. The wing at the other end of this row of apartments has serious subsidence and, very shortly, may burst into flames and disappear. It is the same structure. We cannot start rejigging the sitting room until we know whether we can keep the building in which we are used to living intact and efficient.
Why is there a rush to do this? We are deeply affected by what is going on. We said at the beginning
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In order to get out of this mess and structure a new Europe, there will have to be a treaty, or maybe several treaties, and under the present system treaties cannot be made without the signatures of all the members. That puts us on an equal bargaining basis with every other country in Europe. As the situation is desperate, there will be very serious negotiations ahead. I would like to know, as I think your Lordships would like to know, what the Government's aims are. What powers, if any, do we intend to repatriate? What part of our sovereignty do we regard as inalienable? What formula do we propose to limit the net amount of money that we pay to our neighbours next door? How will we define, or redefine, those things that are our concern only and not the concern of bureaucrats in Brussels? How will we engage those bureaucrats with some of the realities of the things that they are regulating so that fewer absurdities come from there?
All that is trivial compared with the question of fiscal union and federalism, both of which will necessarily, and the latter essentially, affect our constitutional position. I do not know how the present Bill can be drafted to take that on board when the ball has not yet hit the pitch in front of the crease. I do not wish to mix my metaphors. I was warned a moment ago when the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, suggested that the Government should look for an exit from the box on which they had impaled themselves. I am still trying to work out how one can impale oneself on a box, unless it is a very odd shape-so I will drop my metaphor before I get into similar trouble.
I remind noble Lords that Europe and Britain are entirely different creatures. Europe has a revolutionary history and constitution; ours are evolutionary. Europe has a secular constitution; our constitution embodies-usually more visibly than it does now-the Church of England. Europe's courts are based on Roman law, ours on common law. We are a monarchy. Europe-I must not say "they" because I would pre-empt my position-is a republic with a number of monarchical enclaves, including ourselves. European countries are recent; Germany was not 60 years old when I was born. Incidentally, unification started with a customs union, which is exactly what started the European process. That is why a few of us historians said at the time that this would be where it all finished. However, I had no idea that it would be such a mess.
We the Government have a duty to lead the British people, who are not awake to the precipice on the edge
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I have asked questions and pointed out dangers. Now I will add, in case my UKIP friends begin to scent a convert, that there is a deep motive for preserving Europe. I will illustrate it briefly and dramatically by reminding noble Lords that it all began with the European Coal and Steel Community, which was invented simply to tie Germany and France so closely together that they could never fight again. My father fought in the First World War, and lost two-thirds of his male friends. He was the only survivor of the sixth form of Rugby School, of which he was head boy in his final year. We do not want to risk anything like that happening again-not only now but perhaps after an awful, shambolic slide into chaos over 20 years. Who knows what will happen? We need a strong Europe.
That is the premise for what I will say briefly about the constitutional house that is at present in danger. I cannot help repeating myself in one or two particulars. I remind noble Lords that Parliament was invented to control government, and for no other reason. I remind them that in 2005 the then Government proposed to lock up British citizens on the say-so of one Secretary of State and the advice of one chief police officer. We can imagine the power that that would have given a corrupt Government-and it would have applied to all Governments still to come. The measure was taken repeatedly through the House of Commons and rejected repeatedly by this House-although it was anathema to noble Lords in the party opposite.
How was it that the Government got it through the Commons and could not get it through here? What was the difference? It was that Members of the other place not only had a great interest, because of their terms and conditions of employment, in maintaining their places there, but could only maintain them if they were not deselected. In other words, Members of the House of Commons do not have secure tenure and we do. I do not want to denigrate anybody, but I can see the power that a Chief Whip would have if I had a mortgage and children and no other profession to which to turn if I lost my job. That is the situation there.
Now the proposal is that we should have an elected House. At present it is proposed that the term of election should be 15 years. I would prefer it to be 20. Also, for the reasons that I have made clear, if anyone retired early they should be debarred from any government appointment, government employment or employment in any organisation receiving government funds until the expiry of the term that they had been elected for, and thereafter there should be a moratorium of another five years. The noble and learned Lord looks extremely surprised, but I hope that he is encouraged. What I am talking about is incredibly important. Parliament took power from government in the 13th century and government has been taking it back ever since. The only turn of the ratchet in the other direction in my lifetime was when Norman St John-Stevas, as he then was, got departmental Select Committees in under the
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I could go on at great length, but I beg your Lordships to realise that what we are talking about are two important things. One is the future of this country in relation to Europe-we really have to get that sorted in the next 18 months at the latest. The other is that we are preserving the electorate from a Government who would overrule the people who elected them. That is why I stayed in 1999. I admit I enjoyed the place tremendously; I would probably have stayed anyway, but my justification and main motivation was that I reckoned that this was coming. There would be a day when we had to recognise that there was nothing substantial between the domination of politics by a single party for the whole term of a Parliament and quite possibly beyond if it had absolute control.
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