A royal commission, or a commission or convention, will get things wrong. What they recommend will be found not to work. Even the founding fathers of the

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United States of America, those preternaturally wise constitution-makers, failed to anticipate the power of the Supreme Court within their system. They failed to anticipate the impasse created by having two elected Houses of the Congress. The members of the National Convention that was established in the French revolution thought that they could rebase French history at the year zero. Their work proceeded amid the utmost bitterness and its products were proved unstable in practice. In the end, much of what they did was undone. The members of the Scottish Constitutional Convention, the architects of devolution, thought that they had designed a system which would be proof against one party and one man dominating the Scottish Parliament and driving Scotland on a reckless path towards the break-up of the United Kingdom. They failed to foresee the future.

The phrase “constitutional settlement” always rings an alarm bell with me, as it did when I saw it in the report. There is no such thing as a constitutional settlement. Written constitutions are in due course amended or indeed overthrown; unwritten constitutions continuously adapt and develop organically in response to new events and needs. That is their great merit. My noble friends were right to call for gradualism: for an incremental, pragmatic and cautious approach of testing opinion, seeing what works and beginning to descry what may be appropriate at the next stage. However, they contradicted themselves by then saying that there ought to be a commission to report within two years by working at breakneck speed—the grass would be far too short—and then that there should be legislation within the next Parliament. If we were to proceed that way, I fear that way constitutional madness would lie.

As politicians, we are guardians and trustees of our constitution. If Parliament, after much debate, concludes that major constitutional change is needed and that there ought, for example, to be an elected second Chamber then it would be right that that proposition should be put to the people in a referendum. The constitution belongs to the people and not to the political class.

1.59 pm

Lord Lea of Crondall (Lab): My Lords, I, too, strongly welcome the report. My noble friend Lady Taylor of Bolton and my good friend Lord Grenfell, now ensconced in Paris, have done a remarkable job. They have taken on board a clear change of mood in the country about the question that we are trying to answer. A degree of repetition and predictability had come into the debate regarding elect/appoint, to which the answer was primacy or non-primacy. You cannot get on a horse called Primacy of the House of Commons while at the same time getting on another horse going in the exact opposite direction called Elect, without having to have a kind of Supreme Court role in the middle.

It is indicative of the value of the report that the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, a speaker of some distinction on these matters on the Conservative Benches, has expressed his appreciation for the open-mindedness with which the members of the Labour Party commission have approached this question. I think that that is significant.

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Something whose significance I do not know—maybe a member of the commission could answer this later—is that for the past couple of hours, the annunciators have referred to the Labour Peers’ Working Group report on the future of the House of Lords and its place in “a wider constitution”. The actual terms of reference were to consider long-term proposals for reform of the House of Lords and its place in “the wider constitution”. I have been thinking about that. “The wider constitution” suggests that we have a fixed constitution and we have to find how the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle fit within it. If we are starting to use the phrase “a wider constitution”—although it may be that I am just picking on an accidental usage of the indefinite article on the annunciators—given what is happening in so many related debates at present, that may be apt. I think that we are indeed now talking about the place of reform in “a wider constitution”—in other words, a constitution that does not look exactly like the one that we have at the moment. That has been an interesting change in the past few months.

To mention one context, whatever happens in the Scottish referendum, there will be shifts in some ways between the balance in London and Edinburgh. Need one say that the role of the Treasury comes into this? Then there will be knock-on effects of any Treasury changes in the rebalancing of the north and south of England and so on and looking at whether there is too much centralisation in the great wen called London.

That relates to the discussions that we have had about how people get into this House and the imbalance in the socioeconomic groups that they come from. We have exacerbated that problem by the way in which, as some people have pointed out, our expenses system makes it pretty tough for people living in the north of England, who have a genuine need for a second home, to keep up a second home here for 365 days a year for only 120 days’ expenses. That is also relevant to how we see our role fitting in with the changing perceptions around the country of what we want politicians for, whether we in this House are politicians and so on. I say to my noble friend Lord Whitty that simply electing “another lot of politicians”, selected in exactly the way that the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, referred to, prima facie cannot be the answer to the question that has been posed.

All these thought-provoking problems lead us to the criticism that has been made that it is not really a sensible idea to throw everything under the sun into a convention. We all have experience of these matters in different fields. Surely the point can be made that we could have some sort of umbrella framework commission to see precisely how things interact within the scope of those examinations. I do not think that it would mean a royal commission report volumes thick; it would not need to be much longer than this report, as clear thinking by people with experience is what is needed.

I have two other remarks to make. One is about size. I hope that the Liberal Democrats will appreciate the hubris of their demand in 2010 that the proportions in this House reflect the results of the previous election; it is most unlikely, if one were to take that literally, that that would be very good news for them a year from now. I am not saying this in any spirit of trying

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to be clever about it but it simply shows that one needs a long-term interparty agreement, possibly chaired by the chairman of the statutory Appointments Commission once it becomes statutory—not, by the way, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, in order to have anyone else select which members of the Conservative Party become Conservative Members of this House but simply to get the balance between the parties. That is certainly overdue.

My other remark is that we have to look at the internal workings of the House. I support some of the points made by my noble friend Lord Whitty about our committee structure. If we are going to elect everyone, we might start by electing members of our committees.

2.07 pm

The Earl of Caithness (Con): My Lords, I have listened to and read our debates on the gracious Speech with interest. I was struck by the catalogue of omissions that this Government had made and what should have been done. I am therefore delighted that the first debate in Labour time is a navel-gazing exercise on reform of the House of Lords. It is also the first debate on reform of the Lords that I have taken part in where Conservative Peers have been outnumbered by Labour Peers by over five to one.

I found the report a very interesting document and a useful contribution to our ongoing debate about reform of the Lords. I have one criticism of it: I thought that the way in which the recommendations were set out made it difficult to tie them in with the places in the text where they appeared. That could have been clearer.

However, we ought not to be considering reform of the Lords without the wider context. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby said, reform of the other place is just as important as reform of this one. While I am on Bishops, or indeed past Bishops, I say to the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, that defeats are but a small part of what this House does. When I was a Minister I was much more interested in getting a compromise with the other side. There was therefore no Division and it did not strike a headline, but it was actually better for the country to do it that way round.

People change when they come to this House. It is noticeable how many Members from another place change when they come here. Therefore, I say to my noble friend Lord Stephen that he should not be surprised that some in the Labour Party have changed their position, from being abolitionists of this House, to wanting an elected House, to wanting something a bit more democratic, a bit more in touch. That is quite normal when people come here and see the advantage of this House and that it should be maintained.

Where I disagree profoundly with the report is on the question of hereditary Peers, and I do so on a point of principle. I take your Lordships back to 1999 when we discussed this and what the then Lord Chancellor, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, said. He was referring to the Weatherill agreement:

“The noble Lord’s amendment would provide for the interim retention of one in 10 of the hereditary Peers, 75 out of the existing 750, plus 15 hereditary office-holders, until the second

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stage of House of Lords reform has taken place. The amendment reflects a compromise negotiated between Privy Councillors on Privy Council terms and binding in honour on all those”—

I stress “all those”—

“who have come to give it their assent. Like all compromises it does not give complete satisfaction to anyone. That is the nature of compromise”.—[

Official Report

, 30/3/99; col. 207.]

A lot of people who had served this country well left this House as a result of that. There was no alternative to that compromise. It was a fait accompli. We were not allowed to amend it. It would be quite wrong for the hereditary Peers to be removed and for by-elections to be stopped until we have stage two. I see it as somewhat similar to Russia being able to tear up an international agreement about Ukraine when something binding in honour in the House on which we voted is summarily torn up. I will fight that—

Lord Howarth of Newport: My Lords—

The Earl of Caithness: No, I am not going to give way to the noble Lord. I have limited time, and I will debate this with him at length on another occasion.

The report suggests that attendance should be three-fifths of the working time. That happens already. If one looks at the latest figures, since the 2010 Session the figure is already more than 60%, and I am glad to report that the hereditary Peers are higher than the rest of the House. It just shows that the hereditary Peers are taking their duties more seriously than the life Peers. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Richard, that it is the hereditary Peers who are the block to stop the subtle creation of an appointed House. He and I want an elected House; therefore, I say to him that we should keep the hereditary Peers because we are his best chance of getting the elected House.

On the size of the House, I think 450 is too large. I would like to see a House half the size of another place. I shall make two suggestions about how we can get to whatever figure is agreed, be it 450, 300 or half the other House. We have had an election of hereditary Peers, so why do we not have an election of life Peers? That would reduce the numbers quite happily.

My second suggestion would be that no MPs are allowed to be made Peers until five years after they have ceased to be an MP. One could offer them a peerage without the right to sit in this House, but I think it would help the House if there were rather fewer former MPs. Our debates have changed in character enormously due to their influence. A lot of that is to the good, but there is quite a lot that is to the bad.

I disagree about money Bills. I think the House of Lords should now discuss money Bills. I would say that we are better qualified, having listened to the work of some of our committees, to discuss money Bills than those in another place. I hope that we will be able to discuss them.

Let us take a step back to look at the future. Some people have talked about a constitutional convention or committee to look at this. Whatever happens in Scotland on 18 September, the constitution of this country has to change. We cannot stay with the status quo. Therefore, it might be that this Chamber becomes the chamber of the regions in due course. It would be

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a very good use of this Chamber. There will have to be fewer Scottish MPs in the other place and there will have to be more self-governance for Wales and perhaps other parts of the United Kingdom, so this Chamber could be transformed to a chamber where all those features came together to discuss things which would not be discussed in another place. We could also continue our role of looking at Europe in a critical way, which we do so effectively in our sub-committees and Select Committees.

2.15 pm

Lord Lipsey (Lab): My Lords, the House does not often spend a day debating a report by a committee of one of the parties in it. Naturally, as a member of my noble friend Lady Taylor’s group, I hope that the quality of our report justifies it. Certainly under the admirable joint chairmanship of my noble friends Lady Taylor and Lord Grenfell—goodness, we miss him—we did not approach our task in a partisan spirit.

There is another good reason why this House should address a Labour report on this subject. We are not going to see fundamental reform of this House under a Tory Government, not under one in coalition with the Liberal Democrats and not under a majority one. Tory Back-Benchers crushed the misbegotten Clegg Bill, and the humiliation is not one that any Tory Prime Minister is likely to wish to repeat. However, it is perfectly possible that a Labour Government would contemplate fundamental Lords reform, particularly if the party required the support of any Lib Dems who may remain in the new Parliament to form a Government. What form should that fundamental reform take? That is the question our report addresses.

As several noble Lords have said, our group did not opine on election to the Lords. We agreed instead on two related propositions: first, that Lords reform needed to be looked at by a broad constitutional commission; and, secondly, that any move to election should be subject to a referendum.

We did canvass one major objection to election, which has come up in this debate; namely, that it would lead to a power struggle between the two Houses of Parliament. That part of the case has been immeasurably strengthened as a result of recent developments. We do not now have, or we cannot be sure we are going to have, a three-party system in England. We have a four or perhaps five-party system emerging. It is perfectly possible that the next Government will be formed by a party with, say, 30% to 35% of the Members of the House of Commons on a turnout of say 66%, a Government who have the support of only about a fifth of the electorate. If at the same time you had a Lords elected on a proportional basis, which has always been the proposal for this House, its Members would be sure to go for a power grab. That is what elected people do. If you have any doubts, see the present bid by the European Parliament to seize control over who becomes President of the European Commission. Unlike the situation in the French Senate, which has been referred to, we do not have a mechanism in this country to resolve contested issues where the two Houses disagree, although our report suggests that such machinery be created. So the danger of stasis

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would be very great indeed. The Americans, of course, put up with that, but theirs is a country which wants government to be weak. We, mostly, do not.

I add one other point on the relative roles of the two Houses, which was not considered in our report and which bears on election. Since I joined this House 15 years ago—it seems unbelievable—it has become more assertive and more successfully assertive. The evidence is laid out in Meg Russell’s magisterial The Contemporary House of Lords. This is not surprising. The removal of most hereditary Peers—the speech just made by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, will serve as a threnody to their joys—has increased the legitimacy of the House greatly while that of the House of Commons, I am afraid and regret, has unquestionably declined.

The result is a distinct shift in the balance between the two Houses. In most cases, but not all, that has been hugely to the benefit of our national governance—blocking, for example, populist snap measures in response to some alleged movement in public opinion at the cost of fundamental civil liberties. However, what we have had to throw out is as nothing compared to what would have happened if there had not been a House of Lords. Governments would then have had no need to stop at anything. I would fear for the nature of our democracy in a situation under which the House of Lords was a great deal weaker. In other words, I favour a balance of power between the two Houses. Of course, the Commons should retain ultimate supremacy, but the balance now is a great deal better than it was when I first came into politics when, frankly, the Commons got its way, this House had low attendance and with a large proportion of hereditaries was largely ignored by Ministers. The balance we have now is one thing in our constitution which is working correctly.

I have a couple of points on which to end. The Leader of the House manages to say that there is no problem with numbers. You cannot come into this House every day and believe that there is no problem with its numbers. You cannot sit through debates in which people are making one or two-minute speeches, or sit through the bear-garden that is now Question Time, and think that there is no problem with numbers. We have a double-pronged approach to this: retirement after the Parliament after which you turn 80 and a minimum attendance of 60% of sittings. There is no ideal way of getting these numbers down but, frankly, these are hardly draconian measures. The alternative is a House that grows and grows, when the aim should be to shrink the membership to 450.

My final point is that when the constitutional commission meets, it will not face a Cleggian choice between an elected House and the present House. There are many ways in which the House could be chosen. There has today been a lot of canvassing of a more federal House, such as the German Bundesrat. There is a case for that, although I have doubts about whether it is a good idea to have both Houses chosen on a geographical basis, because the House of Commons is chosen by MPs sitting for constituencies. There is a case for a different basis here. I am quite interested in an occupational basis, which is something a constitutional commission could look at.

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Whatever option might be chosen, there are complex questions involved in any method of choosing the House about the interrelationship between the basis for membership and party allegiance. For there is one thing upon which our group was absolutely unanimous, and which I hope would command unanimity in this House: we do good work—by God, we do good work —only because in the House of Lords the Government can never be sure of winning.

2.23 pm

Lord Rennard (LD Ind): My Lords, when future assessments are made of this Parliament, I suspect that the biggest disappointment for many—but certainly not all—Liberal Democrats will be our failure to achieve substantial reform of this House. For over 100 years, Liberals have fought to complete a reform that was begun with the Parliament Act 1911 to move this place from depending upon the hereditary principle to resting upon the popular principle.

Only in this House could 100 years be too short a period to consider properly making such a change. I suspect, however, that our failure to achieve House of Lords reform will not be such a concern to the wider electorate. The failure of the House of Lords Reform Bill came as a relief to many Members of this House. Nevertheless, among most Members there is at least widespread agreement, as this debate has shown, that the size of the House is now too large.

Failure to achieve reform means that there also remains significant concern about the powers of patronage exercised by the major party leaders to put their loyal friends and supporters into Parliament. This power of patronage may make the numerical problem even greater in the near future. We could perhaps be heading for a series of Parliaments in which power changes regularly, and each new Prime Minister will wish to add to his or her ranks in the House of Lords to reward their followers, sustain support in their party and assist the swift passage of new legislation.

In the latter part of the 20th century, the Conservative and Labour parties both won large majorities in the House of Commons, which took long periods to ebb away. In the 30 years between 1979 and 2009, we had had only three Prime Ministers. However, in the next 30 years we may have many more than three Prime Ministers, and with each new occupant of 10 Downing Street might come new waves of appointments to this place. The House of Lords could become simply incredible because of its increased size, and much less respectable in public perception than it is today.

Something therefore needs to be done, and it needs to happen soon. I do not think that a lengthy commission is required to work out what should happen; we already have too many dust-gathering reports on this subject. Most of these reports have come to some broad conclusions: that the number of Peers must be contained and eventually reduced; that elections should take place for at least some of the future places in the House of Lords; and that any elections should at any one time elect no more than a third of the Members of the House. Most recent reports have also suggested that Members should serve a single long, non-renewable

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term, thereby preserving the independence of the House and the primary accountability to the electorate of the House of Commons.

The Government presented Parliament with a Bill that would have done all these things two years ago while retaining a strong contingent of Cross-Bench Peers. Despite strong support in all three parties and an overwhelming majority at Second Reading in the House of Commons, that Bill could not make progress. As it became clear that the idea of more democracy was too much of a threat for some to let a Bill such as that progress, I came to the conclusion that any plan for reform must be rather more pragmatic while retaining a clear aim and purpose.

I would hope that the parties could agree in advance of 2015 that there should be no new lists of politically appointed Peers beyond the Dissolution Honours List.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: Would that include the current list that is in preparation?

Lord Rennard: My Lords, I have no knowledge of the current list. My proposal was simply that there should be an agreement that there should be no more lists of that nature beyond the Dissolution Honours List in 2015. In the mean time, we should pledge to stop the absurd practice of the hereditary by-elections. The idea of “topping up” to keep their number at 92 is simply ridiculous. The hereditary presence in the House should therefore be ended for all but some of the most active hereditary Peers.

We should let voters elect 120 Members of the House early in the next Parliament. Such an election could coincide with the devolved elections in 2016, including in Scotland if it remains a part of the United Kingdom. Such an election could be held rapidly, as indeed Members of the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly were elected shortly after the 1997 general election. Each of these Members should be elected for a single, non-renewable term of 15 years. At the same time, the number of appointments made through the Appointments Commission should be limited to 30 over the course of a five-year Parliament. That is probably enough for one Parliament. Those in both Houses who prophesied that the sky would fall in if we elect a number of Members of this House, rather than have them appointed by party leaders, will see if their prophecies prove true.

If they do not, it will be after 2020 before Parliament has to think again and consider whether to elect, say, another tranche of 120 Members in that Parliament, or whether to return to a system of patronage. In the mean time, we would be joined by elected Members who would contribute to the work of the House. Such a number could not and would not fundamentally change the character of the House as a revising “think again” Chamber. If the sky has not fallen in by 2020, the parties could agree again not to make any patronage appointments, and a further set of elections for, say, 120 Members could happen soon after the 2020 general election. At this point, the number of life Peers—by a process that it is quite hard to find appropriate and polite words to describe—will have reduced significantly.

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The use of proportional representation in the elections will ensure the continuation of a healthy balance of opinion in the House, in which no single party has a majority. Those of us who believe that elections to this House can happen without a fundamental upset to the balance between the two Houses will have a chance to prove our point before further stages of election are considered, and everybody will be able to examine the evidence of such an arrangement working over time.

2.30 pm

Lord Maxton: My Lords, first, I thank my genuinely noble friend Lady Taylor for the way in which she introduced the report, and for the report itself. It is also a great pity that we do not have her joint chairman, Lord Grenfell, with us. I might not have agreed with his contribution, but it would have been well worth hearing—and as my noble friend says, extremely eloquent.

I have a slightly different point of view from the rest of the speakers so far. I do not believe that we can go on tinkering around with Lords reform without having, as the report quite rightly says, a constitutional commission that looks at the way in which our whole country is governed, how those people who are part and parcel of the elected Houses—I emphasise the plural—are elected, and finally, whether we should be in this building at all.

I will address those three points. First, being in the modern world, we have to have a written constitution. We have to lay down exactly what powers this place has and how much power we devolve to other parts of the United Kingdom—not just to the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly or to Northern Ireland, but to other parts of the United Kingdom as well. To me, devolution was always about devolving power to the people, not necessarily to the institutions that represent those people. First, therefore, we ought to have that part of our constitution in the Bill.

Equally, the changes that have taken place in our society in the past 100 years since we first reformed the House of Lords have been quite remarkable—so much so that we do not appreciate just how much change there has been. In this place there were no women, but there were also no motor cars or aeroplanes, you could not travel the world, there was no internet, telephones, television or radio—none of those things existed 100 years ago. We have achieved all that in part because of democracy: because we are a democratic, free society that allows people to develop new ideas, new thoughts, and new ways of doing things. However, our democracy is now in danger of failing to keep up with that rate and pace of change.

In particular, our younger people do not understand why they should go to a ballot box in some strange school down the road, pick up a pencil and put a cross on a piece of paper to vote, when they could do it with their iPads, mobile phones, or whatever. I suggest that we reintroduce compulsory ID cards, which would form the register and then be part and parcel of electronic voting. That would allow people to vote wherever they want, using some form of encryption to make sure that they are the right people, and would ensure that we had a system which at least our

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younger people and those who are more adept, shall we say, with the new technologies, could understand and use.

A noble Lord: Hear, hear.

Lord Maxton: My noble friend says “Hear, hear”, but he is younger than me, and I know how to use those things. We have to keep pace with our younger people in society, moving our constitution forward in a way that allows our young people to say, “That is how we ought to be operating. It’s part and parcel of our life—why isn’t it part of parcel of their lives?”.

That is also to do with the policies in our society. We debate education both down the Corridor, in here, in the Scottish Parliament or wherever it might be. However, no one seems to be aware that the whole of the world’s knowledge is available to me on this tablet—not just the facts, but the ideas as well. Our young people understand that and want to use it, but other people do not.

We are moving to an age when the first person to live to 150 almost certainly is now in their mid-30s or mid-40s. That will become the norm. As politicians we need to be aware of those things and think about them.

My next point is that part of that written constitution has to be to move out of this old building. It is falling apart at the seams and we will have to be shipped out anyway. Why do we not just take the much bolder step of moving out completely? This Chamber and this whole building—certainly for those of us on this side of the House—is riddled with the class system. It is part and parcel of a system of class. It was built for an age when the things I have already mentioned did not exist. We ought to be thinking of building a brand new Parliament somewhere else, which is relevant to the modern age, built for the modern age, in which people can genuinely use the new technologies that have already been developed and will continue to be developed.

I fully support the minor tinkering in the report which can be done without legislation. However, the real part of the report is the establishment of a constitutional commission. That will look at our constitution and draw up a written constitution, which will enable us to relate to the new democracies and the new technologies that are part of democracy. That will make sure that we live in the modern world, that we have policies that are adapted to the modern world, and that we are—if you like—moving forward. The tinkering can no longer take place. The gradual change of our constitution in a world that is changing so rapidly is no longer relevant. We have to ensure that we are part of that change and that change takes place.

2.38 pm

Viscount Tenby (CB): My Lords, at this time in the debate, most of one’s birds have been shot—or, in the case of the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, blasted out of the sky very skilfully. I see that the noble Lord is not in his place; I would be grateful if his colleagues would tell him that that remark was made in an entirely admiring way.

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I will begin by declaring a long-standing family interest in these matters, and an additional interest as having had the privilege of being a member of a small group, chaired by the late Lord Carnarvon, which was set up some 19 years ago to discuss the reform of this House. Looking through its deliberations, I was struck by the similarity between the concerns expressed then and those in the thoughtful analysis that we are debating today. Apart from the departure of the hereditary Peers, comparatively little has changed in that time. Plus ça change, as they say in Brussels.

As other noble Lords have said, this well balanced report deserves the closest attention and is a major contribution to the debate. There are many worthwhile recommendations which will command the support of noble Lords on all sides and none. Given the composition and quality of the working group—in particular the co-chairs, Lord Grenfell, much missed already, and the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor—this is hardly surprising.

As other noble Lords have said, the report deserves the closest attention. One development that has emerged in the past 15 years is that the greater the change in the make-up of the second Chamber, the more it will flex its muscles—a point already made this afternoon. I suggest we have seen this since the removal of most of the hereditary Peers, in itself in the modern order of things an unremarkable and overdue nod to modern democratic governance, but the result has been to give this House more authority and self-confidence. How much more these attributes would increase, were the House to become fully or largely elected is what makes many of us firmly opposed to such a reform. Nor would trying to placate both camps by splitting its composition into, say, 60% elected and 40% appointed be any more viable. It would merely create an unwelcome divide between the so-called democratic Peers and those who are there for their expertise—or, some might say, the haves and the have-nots.

On particular points, I very much welcome the strong backing for the setting up of a constitutional commission and favour the hybrid option, which seems most attractive to me. I sincerely hope that this pragmatic proposal will be accepted by all parties as the election approaches. The constitution is too important to be steered into unknown waters by ill considered legislation —a fact of life which has, alas, become all too apparent in recent years.

Should there be any proposal that such a commission be submitted to a referendum—as the report suggests—one ought, as a believer in parliamentary democracy, be able to give an unequivocal “yes” to such a proposition. My only hesitation lies in the fact that poll after poll and survey after survey have shown that the topic of reform of this House has come very low in the list of voter concerns, and consequently one wonders whether such indifference and, indeed, ignorance are the best basis for rational judgment when the time comes.

While on the subject of the commission, I express some disagreement with the report’s view on the House of Lords Appointments Commission. While strongly agreeing with the report’s findings that diversity should be a vital element in the wish list, I believe that since its inception—I suppose I would say this given where I come from—it has produced a small stream of extremely

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gifted professionals who have added considerably to the work of this House and to its reputation outside.

I conclude by reverting to the two reports with 15 years between them, and list some of the agreements: the desirability of no one party having an absolute majority—we said that 15 years ago; the importance of keeping independent representation; the creation of a suitable total of committed working Peers to deal with the increasing workload. As an aside, a total of 450 seems about right, but as with the thorny problem of retirement, absolute cut-off figures can sometimes be an albatross around the neck if circumstances change in any way. The final point of agreement, the worst scenario of all that we envisaged was ineffectual tinkering with the constitution over a number of years.

As has been said already this afternoon, the Parliament Act 1911 was intended as an interim measure, pending comprehensive reform. I suppose that 104 years is a tad excessive, but I am confident that with reports such as the one we are debating we shall reach the promised land before long.

2.44 pm

Lord Borrie (Lab): My Lords, it is a delight—as it would have been on other occasions—to follow the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby. We have known one another for many years now and I am not surprised that he has given a measured and generally favourable comment on the report that we are debating. He has said all I need to say about the excellence of this report. My noble friend Lord Lipsey need not fear that the only people round the House who would welcome the report would be those in one particular political party. We have found this afternoon that many of the comments, and many of the conclusions of the report, have been supported on all sides. I am sure that my noble friend Lady Taylor must be very pleased with the outcome of this debate.

I want to comment on two matters, both of which the group regarded as either too difficult, and therefore put into the “too difficult” tray, or in some other way not appropriate for it to go into, perhaps owing to a large number of disagreements.

The first is the matter of religious groups. Here I come in to attack the Bishops’ Benches, and I am glad that there are two of them there now because there was a danger a short while ago that nobody would be there. In recent years various religious groups have increasingly found membership of this House by the Appointments Commission, and the rest of us in this House have welcomed that a Sikh, a Muslim or two, rabbis from the Jewish faith and, of course, quite a few non-conformist Christian groups have been so represented. In other words, Bishops are no longer the only people representing a particular religious faith.

Perhaps, of course, I should emphasise that the Bishops have a specially privileged position. The matter has been raised by a number of noble Lords this afternoon and my understanding is that, at any given moment, the two Archbishops, the Bishops of Winchester, London and Durham, plus 21 other Bishops in accordance with the seniority of their appointment, are eligible to

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sit in this House. That is a total of 26. Compared with the other religions that I mentioned, which may have some limited representation through the Cross Benches, that is an extraordinary number which could hardly be justified in the long term. However, when changes are made in this House, the short term seems to become the long term. I am not sure whether the Bishops would agree with me but surely, in any new House, the representation of Bishops must be changed. [


.] There we have the usual mix of views from the Liberal Democrat Benches.

Lord Lea of Crondall: I ask my noble friend Lord Borrie to note not only the long history of many centuries but that the established church is part of the equation, as are prayers at the beginning of the Sitting. This would widen considerably what the constitutional commission would look at. Could this not be considered by a different constitutional commission? That needs to be thought about.

Lord Borrie: I note what my noble friend is saying. My feeling is that, despite this being a difficult question in terms of history—and it certainly seems to be regarded by a number of colleagues through the House of Lords generally as an embarrassing question to raise—I would like to hear whether the Bishops have any agreement at all with me as regards the 26 Bishops who are entitled to sit being a permanent feature of this House.

The other matter in the group’s report that I want to mention was one that was put off for some future discussion—the position of the Lord Speaker. Since we changed from having a Lord Chancellor, we went fairly quickly into creating a Lord Speaker, who, together with the work of the deputies, some of whom we have seen today, does a remarkably good job. However, a matter alluded to several times this afternoon is the large number of Lords and the fact that, at Question Time in particular, there is great competition between large numbers of new Members in particular to catch the eye of the powers that be. It is not the eye of the Speaker, as it would be in the House of Commons. There may be four or five people on one side and two or three on the other—but the job of choosing between them is not that of the person sitting where he or she would best be able to see where the voices are coming from but of someone sitting on the Government Front Bench. Nearly half of those in the House are sitting behind that person and therefore cannot be seen; the Leader of the House or the Whip tasked to consider that matter does not know who is getting up behind him or her. Of course, it is so often the case that the person with the loudest voice is the one heard best.

Would it not be better if the task that we give to a non-independent person, the Leader of the House or the Whip, no matter how fair they try to be, was done by the Chairman or Speaker? We have put that issue aside as the years have gone by. I can see that the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, in his role as Deputy Speaker, is doing what I do not think he is supposed to do—he is shaking his head. I do not think that he is supposed to give an indication of his view. Perhaps he can nod, but not shake.

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There are certain matters that the group considered and put into the “too difficult” box, and it is a pity that it will be years before we get any conclusion.

2.52 pm

Lord Cormack: My Lords, this has been quite an interesting debate. I am sorely tempted to allow myself to be provoked by the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, and I will return to him in a moment. However, I begin, as almost everyone has, by congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, not only on her chairmanship of the group and therefore her part-authorship of the report but on the very measured, judicious and tactful way in which she introduced it. I would like her to pass on my thanks, as others have, to Lord Grenfell, who is indeed sorely missed. His valedictory address in this House a few weeks ago was a tour de force, and a memorable occasion for all of us privileged to hear it.

I would just say to the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, that the Bishops are here because we have in this country an established church, and everyone who lives in this country—regardless of his race, colour or creed—is entitled to the ministrations of that church. There is a case, although it is one that I would strongly refute, for disestablishment. But while we have establishment, the Bishops are here. That is why the group that produced this excellent report was entirely right—

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: My Lords—

Lord Cormack: I shall give way in a minute. It was entirely right to put that issue on one side, because it is another issue, and there are powerful arguments on both sides.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: When the noble Lord says “this country”, can he make it clear that he means England?

Lord Cormack: Yes, of course I do—and next week we shall be joining forces and talking about the United Kingdom.

Although I was driven to go and get a glass of water when the noble Lord, Lord Maxton, was talking about pulling down this very edifice—or at least vacating it—we have had some interesting and thoughtful contributions. My own position is fairly well known. I should probably declare an interest as chairman of the Campaign for an Effective Second Chamber, which my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth convenes and which we together founded more than 12 years ago. Many of your Lordships are regular members and attenders of that group.

We have demonstrated, in the trust that we have shown in each other, that there is a degree of consensus in this House on a number of things. First, there is a strong consensus in this House that there should be primacy of the House of Commons within the United Kingdom Parliament. I believe that that primacy is best safeguarded by having an unambiguous democratic mandate, which they hold. We are here for a complementary but different purpose, which is touched on in the report and has been touched on in many speeches during the past few hours. We revise and

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bring to our debates a degree of experience and expertise, which is a valuable add-on for the general public. I would very much regret the ending of this appointed House and its replacement by something which would be either a clone of or a rival to the other place in constitutional terms.

I put that on one side, because the report makes it plain that some of its authors would favour an elected House, and others would not. The general majority in the Labour Party, it is assumed, would not—and I am sure that the general majority in this House would not. But there are things that we can do in the mean time. It is for that reason that the report is so valuable to us all.

We need to address the subject of size. I would not agree with a membership of 450, because I doubt that it would give enough for all our committees to be effectively manned. I say that particularly because I agree very much with the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, who would like to see our committee system extended. Given the expertise in this House, to have a foreign affairs or a foreign affairs and defence committee could only add value to the whole constitutional process in our country. I would very much like to see that. But again the report makes it plain that it is not saying 450 and that is it; the group is merely putting it forward as a suggestion. I think that the House should not be larger than the House of Commons, and a figure of around 600 would probably be right.

The report talks about retirement. This is a very difficult and sensitive subject. I would tackle it in a rather different way. I am halfway through my eighth decade, and I probably will want to step down at the age of 80—but I do not know. But in future, when new Peers come to this House, it would be sensible for the Writ of Summons to be sent for a period of 20 or 25 years, or until the age of, say, 85, or whichever comes sooner. That would be a sensible way of bringing down the age gradually, over a period. But we have so many amazing contributions from people in their 80s—we have had some in this debate—that I think that to have an arbitrary age limit would not be the right way for us to go. I think that that would carry most colleagues.

I believe that those who are here as hereditary Peers should stay, but the by-election system, particularly when there are more candidates than electors for a particular party, as sometimes happens, does not exactly enhance the reputation of the House of Lords. I am very concerned about the reputation of the House of Lords; it is something that means a very great deal to me.

What has struck me most in the few years that I have been here is how we have been able to look at issues truly on their merits. I was told when I came here that in the House of Lords, unlike in the House of Commons, you have to win the argument. There is a degree of whipping, but many of us take it with a degree of discretion, and it is very good that the Government of the day are defeated from time to time. That is what we are here for. If the Government of the day were never defeated on the Floor of the House of Lords, there would be no point in having this House at all. However, it is right that, at the end of the day, we should give way to the elected Chamber.

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I am also struck by the lack of party-political acerbity in this House, symbolised by our Long Table, where we sit and eat together regardless of our political, religious or any other affiliations. That brings us together as people and enables us to get to know each other as individuals, as is the case with the group which meets on a regular basis to campaign for an effective second Chamber, which is what we should all seek to do.

3 pm

Lord Gordon of Strathblane (Lab): My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Cormack. I am happy to say that I have been a member of his group campaigning for an effective second Chamber virtually since its inception. Therefore, I am broadly in sympathy with what he has said today.

I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, on a report which is all the more remarkable for being unanimous. I started off with that opinion but it is even stronger, having listened to the sincerely held differences of view expressed by noble Lords on these Benches, let alone the House at large. Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, who thought that the report represented some sort of abject failure on the part of the Labour Party, I think it is to that party’s credit that it decided to devote a Labour debate to an issue that might improve the working of the House of which we are all part. Therefore, I congratulate the Labour Party on that.

Like others, I regret the absence of Lord Grenfell, who decided to practise more than what the report preaches by retiring at the unusually early age of 79. As someone who clocked up his 78th birthday just over a month ago, I feel rather like a turkey on the first Sunday of Advent. I accept that an age limit is probably the least bad system of culling. About 15 years ago, I sat a couple of rows behind the late Lord Longford, who said, “I love this place. I suppose if you had to have an age limit, you might make it 90—anything else would be sheer carnage”. I tend to agree with that view but I will go along with 80, as that might be the best solution if having an age limit is the only way to tackle this issue. It is a regrettable and artificial solution but it is cleaner than most other methods that might be proposed.

The other method of culling that was mentioned was that of barring those Peers who did not have a 60% attendance rate. I support that concept and think that I easily surpass it each year but it is quite a high bar, particularly for Peers who live outside London. It would mean that noble Lords would virtually have to be full-time Peers despite the recommendation to support part-time Peers mentioned elsewhere in the report. Those two recommendations somewhat conflict and I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, that you end up getting retired people rather than younger people. I could not have come to this place 10 years earlier than I did as I had a full-time job which I could not, and did not want to, give up. Fortunately, I had retired as a chief executive a couple of years before I was invited to join this House. I was delighted to accept that invitation and have never regretted doing so. However, only people of a certain age can afford to join this House.

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I hope that I can mention finance without lowering the tone of the debate. When we looked at allowances about four years ago, we achieved unanimity on paying noble Lords a fixed sum irrespective of whether they lived in London, Orkney or Shetland. Frankly, that is ludicrous. I had tabled an amendment that would have introduced differing payments but withdrew it because I felt that there was a danger of rocking the boat at a time when the House had reached agreement and might be able to bury a subject that was causing it embarrassment. However, if we are sincere in saying that we want Peers from all over Britain, we cannot go on with a system which ignores the fact that those who live outside London have to meet the cost of living there out of their own pocket, given that it is not the cheapest place in the country.

I also slightly take issue with the report on the 450 target. I do so not for the reason given by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, although I endorse that as well, but simply because I see no logic in it. If the House of Commons is X, I see no reason why we should be X-minus if we are part time. In many ways, what we should be looking for is a daily average of X, which you achieve by having X plus 25% or something like that, with only the Peers who are interested in the subject under discussion attending on that day. The shelf life of knowledge is very short nowadays. It is important to attract people who are not able to attend the House every day of the week; otherwise, you will get Peers whose knowledge rapidly becomes out of date.

I endorse the report’s recommendations on the role of the Lord Speaker and do not think that they represent the end of civilisation as we know it. As the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, pointed out, it is most unfair on the party which is in power because the government Whips do not have eyes in the back of their heads, although they come remarkably close to it on occasion. It is unseemly and ill mannered of this House, which normally sets such an example to everyone, to allow those who shout loudest and longest to win the right to ask a question.

I endorse the idea of a constitutional convention not because I am in favour of unmowable long grass but simply because we face a number of problems. The House of Lords is one of them but is by no means the most important. It would not even be in the top 10. I consider that the issue of how we deal with European legislation would be quite high up the list, as would that of how we deal with the increased devolution throughout the country. The House of Commons itself is far from perfect. We are not perfect but we are in a lot better shape than is the House of Commons. For example, are MPs elected to hold the Executive to account or to be part of it? How can the House of Commons hold the Executive to account when fully one-third of the government party is on the government payroll, another one-third wishes that it was, and you are left only with the people who have been kicked out of office being prepared to express an impartial view on how the Government are doing? Therefore, we have some major problems.

However, I broadly endorse the report because it takes the right approach. If we wait for the perfect solution, we will wait for ever. The Liberal Democrats

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keep saying that we have waited 100 years. Frankly, if the Clegg Bill is the best they can produce after 100 years, we will need a millennium to pass before we get it right. I think that the incremental approach is the best way forward. My test is this: would the House of Lords be a better place if these recommendations were implemented? I think that it would. I commend the report to the House.

3.07 pm

Lord Phillips of Sudbury (LD): My Lords, I, too, thank the Labour Party for having brought its group together and congratulate it on the outcome of its deliberations. Like every other speaker, I cannot resist mentioning the affection in which I held Lord Grenfell. I am sure that he will read this debate and note how many noble Lords thanked him for his part in all this.

I would like to draw to the attention of the House the broad political context in which we are holding this debate and looking at these issues, which has not been much mentioned. That context is one of considerable crisis in this country, not just in the political sense. By all the yardsticks, at no time since the last war has politics been held in such confused and, I am afraid, low repute, and it behoves us to look at the issues we are discussing in the light of that. I share the concern about young citizens expressed by a number of noble Lords. The society that we have constructed is of such barbaric complexity that it is almost impossible to get to grips with it, particularly as our schools do not have a compulsory citizenship programme; in fact, it is being cut back as we speak.

I do not know about other noble Lords but, time without number, when friends and acquaintances discover that I am a Member of the House of Lords, they say, “Thank God for the House of Lords; it at least shows a bit of independence”. Much as I am naturally inclined to support an elected House—it seems on every conceivable, theoretical basis to be the obvious thing—as things stand in this country, and as the Commons is now, an elected House is not an option.

The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, gave some statistics about the occasions when we in the Lords have defeated the Government in the Lobbies. I obtained some statistics a couple of years back from the Commons research department, and they are even more striking than his. In the 11 years up to 2012, we defeated the Government 503 times. In the same period in the Commons, the Government were defeated six times—once in every two years. That allows production-line legislation, which in turn has led to us having the fattest statute book in the whole of the free world, which in turn leads to citizen perplexity, which in turn leads to the impossibility of normal, interested citizens being able to engage with what we do here, because the legislation flashes past in droves so fast that many of us sometimes think, “My gosh, has that already come before the House?”.

Preservation of our independence here is, therefore, the first and foremost priority. That is closely related to what many noble Lords have mentioned—most recently the noble Lord, Lord Cormack—the flight path of Peers getting into this place. Let me emphasise that I do not wish to denigrate the House of Commons or MPs in any way; they are a fine lot of people. I am

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talking about a system. The fact is, however, that if you come into this place having been a businessman, a doctor, a judge, a vet, a teacher or whatever, you have a complete experiential wisdom that, I am afraid, is not available to young men and women, however able, who have led their entire lives in the House of Commons.

Lord Maxton: Very few MPs spend their whole lives as Members of Parliament. I was a teacher before I became an MP. Others I knew were doctors, lawyers, miners et cetera. The range of experience in the House of Commons is wider than the noble Lord suggested.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: The noble Lord would have to agree that the trend—statistics have been published in the press in the past three days—is very much towards full-time politics, I am afraid. The number of MPs who have been in politics before they came into the Commons is increasing all the time.

As I say, independence is inconsistent with being a full-time Member of this House. I am anxious about the numbers game because if you are going to have only 450 Members, let alone the 312 suggested by my party, that is not consistent with people having a duty and presence here while continuing their careers in whatever walk of life. Those people are infinitely valuable to this place. Again and again, every day, we are beneficiaries of that experience which is brought into our arena, and is bang up to date.

I therefore hope that we will resist the temptation to have a specific number of Peers. I absolutely agree that we have to reduce numbers. For that reason, I am in favour of a cut-off at 80 years of age—which does not leave me with many years—and although I fear that all age limits are to some extent arbitrary, this proposal is a reasonable compromise and avoids any possibility of judging retirement on any other basis.

I should like to say a word about secondary legislation, which the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, referred to and is important. We should do more to make our oversight of secondary legislation, which is much greater in volume than primary legislation, more effective. Our inability to amend secondary legislation is weird. Is there another legislature in the world that prevents such amendments? It was only dreamt up to prevent the House of Lords being an obstruction to the smooth passage of Commons legislation, but that is not good enough. In fact, some noble Lords may not know that it is possible to put in primary legislation a provision that allows amendment of secondary legislation to be built on the back of that primary legislation. It has happened in only six or 10 statutes—I remember the India Act of the 1920s, for example. We should put in all major legislation, under which huge powers are left to secondary legislation, a power for Parliament to amend it. I also agree with the proposal for a three-month delay, which need not be at the expense of rejecting a piece of secondary legislation altogether. We have done that only half a dozen times in our history.

As a low and doubting Anglican, I cannot resist mentioning the reverberating debate about the Bishops. I do not see why—indeed, I see every reason to the contrary—the Bishops cannot be paralleled by the

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leaders of other faiths. I would like to see a leading Hindu or Muslim or two and so on. That would add to the richness of our debates. Finally, I cannot resist taking up the challenge of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, who, I think, wanted to abolish titles altogether. That might never see the light of day, but why on earth can we not have an option to choose whether we take a title when we come in here? That at least would ease the feelings that some of us have.

3.16 pm

Lord Haskel (Lab):My Lords, I begin by joining all noble Lords in saying what they are thinking: “Finally, the last speaker”.

Lord Winston (Lab): Not quite.

Lord Haskel: Secondly, I add my thanks to my noble friends who wrote this report. As they say, the House needs reform.

The noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, reminded us that reform of this House has been debated for more than 100 years. Until 1949 the debate was about the powers of the House. From 1950 onwards the debate was about membership, and in 1999 this was settled to some extent. The reform debate should again turn to powers. Surely the question is: what are we for? Are we here to make the law or to check it over, to revise it? Are we here to hold the Government and perhaps the House of Commons to account? What is our relationship with the House of Commons and does it need to change, as other noble Lords have suggested? This decision is central to whether we have an elected House of Lords or not. As the paper points out, it is important to carry out these reforms while maintaining the primacy of the House of Commons.

Perhaps I may say to my noble friend Lord Richard that those of us who have been visitors to the United States over the past 20 years will have witnessed Congress, with two elected Houses, slowly disintegrating into pointless partisanship. It is where political debate has been marginalised in favour of last-minute deals—even on important matters such as the budget. That is no way to run a country and I join my noble friend Lord Howarth in thinking that there is a warning for us there.

Lord Richard: My Lords, my noble friend was kind enough to refer to me. Perhaps he would answer a question from me? He has observed the United States, as I have done. Does he really think that it would have been better governed in the past 20 years if the Senate had been nominated by political parties?

Lord Haskel: The answer is: that is beside the point.

We have been struggling with reform since the hereditary Peers left. We have had a royal commission, four White Papers, two Bills at attempted reform of the House and reports from several Select Committees, academics and think tanks. One must also not forget the very sensible proposals made by the Clerk of the Parliaments in December 2012. Little progress has been made because there has been very little consensus.

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That is why the working group’s paper is valuable. It makes sensible proposals for full reforms, around which it is possible to build consensus. My noble friend Lady Taylor told us how, the more the committee debated, the more consensus emerged. I agree with the proposed constitutional committee to look at the wider constitutional picture and say where we are, as the noble Lord, Lord Norton, put it. I also agree with most of the recommendations regarding composition, size, membership, appointment, political balance, and rules for attendance, retirement and procedure. These are all sensible suggestions, but the question is the practical one: how do we put them into effect?

In view of the lack of consensus, I see absolutely nothing wrong with slow and careful incremental reform, taking one thing at a time. One follows logically from the other: each reform will lead to a further reform—the “inevitability of gradualism”, as Fabians would say. The Steel Act is one such step. We need further steps. For instance, the Government could announce, without legislation, a numbers cap and a timetable for reduction of Members. We cannot go on just growing like this. Reduction could then be achieved perhaps by using the same procedure as when the hereditaries left: each group deciding on who would stay and who would go. That would lead to a formula for sharing new appointments between the parties and the Cross-Benchers. The formula would be managed by a strengthened Lords Appointments Commission and in this way the political balance of the House would be maintained.

All this touches on the funding of political parties. A reform of House of Lords membership may even help precipitate a reform of funding. Procedural reforms lie in our own hands and there are very sensible recommendations before us to consider.

This step-by-step reform has to be brought together in a narrative that explains what we are trying to do and why this has become important. It has to be part of our outreach. My noble friends Lady McIntosh and Lady Bakewell both referred to the importance of this, and they are right. In fact, we are quite progressive on outreach in this House: we were the first House to let TV in; we have a Chamber event for non-Members each year; and Parliament Week leads to public engagement and events where people learn about Parliament. We have an excellent website and we are active in all the social media.

As unelected legislators, I have always felt it is part of our duty to explain who we are and what we do, through not only the excellent work of the Information Office staff through their website and social media, but personal contact. People like to meet Peers. Some of us speak at regional meetings of organisations, such as the WI or Rotary. Peers in Schools is flourishing—my noble friend Lady Bakewell spoke of this and she is right. The 150 of us who do visits get the impression that there is little appetite for increasing the number of elected politicians in Westminster after we explain what we do. Indeed, I find that people welcome this House giving Government the opportunity to bring people into government from outside Parliament. However, we have to be a lot more effective in holding the Prime Minister to account for his choice, be it good or bad.

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If we are effective in harnessing all this work to explain the narrative of our reform and how we are doing it step by step, it will help lead to consensus in the House and a better informed and more supportive public outside the House. Most importantly, we have to persuade our political leaders to get away from the adrenalin of big reform Bills and be satisfied with a narrative of small reform Bills, which in the end will achieve the same objective.

3.25 pm

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I, too, start by congratulating my noble friends Baroness Taylor and Lord Grenfell on their co-chairmanship of the group, and indeed all members of the group, on their work. I should inform the House that I, too, was a member of the group, although I was nominated by the leader of my party. I am not altogether confident, if I were to put my name forward for election that my colleagues would have elected me, given my views on Lords reform. None the less, it was a great privilege to serve on the group and I think we have had a very good debate indeed. It may not be the last word on Lords reform, but it seems to me to set some sensible proposals on which we could make progress. I hope the Minister will be positive in responding. In fact, I hope he might invite my noble friend Lady Royall and the Convenor of the Cross Benches for a cross-party discussion on how we might take forward some of these proposals.

A number of noble Lords have said that many decent proposals have been put forward and, essentially, the Government of the day have rejected them because they have said substantive reform is round the corner and other proposals would get in the way of it. I am guilty of that as much as anyone. Like my noble friend Lord Whitty, when I was appointed in 1997 I remember telling my wife that I would be here for only three years because by then we would have had a substantive reform Bill. Here we are, many years later. Who, hand on heart, can say that substantive reform will be with us any time soon? In view of that, the argument for incremental reform becomes much more persuasive. I was grateful for the contribution made by my noble friend Lord Richard on that particular matter.

My own party is committed to democratic reform, but we also want to see progress in dealing with the issue of the ever increasing size of the House. I have no doubt that my colleagues’ report can enable us to make a great deal of progress. The noble Lord, Lord Stephen, with some late support from the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, was a lonely champion of the 2012 Bill, in his fascinating tour round Labour Party manifestos. The problem with the 2012 Bill was that it simply did not deal with the big issue of the function and powers of this House if there were to be two elected Chambers. I have consistently voted in favour of Lords reform, but I do not think it can happen without explicit agreement about the respective powers of the two Chambers and how disputes are dealt with between two elected bodies in one Parliament. Those who have argued that that can be done say that the Lords will carry on as it currently does, but we do not use all our powers because we are not elected. If we have an elected House, it is bound to use those powers up to the limit. There you reach the problem.

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I do not buy the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, for that reason. He accepts it may not be possible to go all the way, so he would add 120 elected Members to what we currently have. The problem with that is, the moment elected Members are added to this House, the dynamic changes. My noble friend Lord Rooker is right: there is no getting away from the fact that those who want substantive reform—I count myself among them—have to be very explicit about powers and functions.

It is good that there is general consensus about the size of the House. Not everyone agrees we should come down to 450; in particular, the noble Lord, Lord Norton, and the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, made points about that. However, it seems to me that there is a general consensus that we need to reduce the size of the House over time. This is where I should like to ask the Minister whether the Government are seriously proposing to make another long list of appointments. I can hardly believe that they will do so but I ask him to confirm, with a yes or no, whether that is the Government’s intention. Also, does he accept Meg Russell’s analysis that adopting the coalition’s formula of making the membership of this House dependent on the votes cast at the previous general election will lead to an existential increase in the size of this House and to it being completely unmanageable? My noble friend Lord Lipsey pointed out some of the consequences of what we have now.

I also challenge whether this House should be a mirror image of the House of Commons. That is essentially what would happen if you had a formula basing membership on votes cast at the last election.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: The noble Lord may not have noticed that the House of Commons is not entirely composed on a proportional basis because of our current electoral system. Therefore, the House of Lords would not entirely duplicate the House of Commons.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: None the less, both Chambers would be elected based on the votes cast at the same election. I think that that would be a pretty odd formula on which to base two separate legislatures, and the more you examine it, the less it stands up.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: Does what the Minister has just said imply that he is about to accept the request from the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, for a large number of UKIP Peers?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: That would be the inevitable consequence of having a half-baked formula for deciding the size of your Lordships’ House. The Government might resist the UKIP argument for one term, but I doubt whether they could resist it long term. They have a coalition agreement and it is pretty explicit in saying what the membership of this House should depend upon.

There is one other factor that we also need to consider and it is probably one of the most important—that is, the role of this House. The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, generously recognised that we cannot be a

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revising Chamber unless the Government not only fear defeat but are actually defeated. However, there is a great risk that if the Government continue to appoint many more of their own Members, those defeats will become more difficult. We know that at the moment the Government have lost about 18% of the votes in this Parliament compared with 33% during the period from 1997 to 2010. This is a serious issue. The House must feel that it has the ability to defeat the Government in order to make sure that the kinds of compromises that existed when the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, was a Minister take place. I have certainly noticed in opposition that Ministers are much less ready to talk to the Opposition and to compromise. That is because the debate is between themselves and their coalition partners to the exclusion of the Opposition and other Members of the House. We have to consider that.

On the question of retirement at 80, not all noble Lords are in favour of that and some think that we should have an election among the party groups. However, being an observer of the hereditary elections, I am not entirely convinced that that is something that we ought to follow. My noble friend Lord Gordon said, in essence, that it is the least worst option, and I think that that is the best way to describe it.

There is, I think, general agreement on people having to commit themselves to the work of this House. I understand what my noble friend Lady Bakewell said—that some people with busy careers could not commit themselves in that way—but I think it is right to expect people in a legislature to devote their time to it.

There is a lot of agreement about secondary legislation. The irony is that we have an absolute veto on secondary legislation but we hesitate to use it because we are not elected. Giving ourselves a delaying power—I think that we need to pick up the issue of amendments—would give the House far greater scrutiny powers in relation to secondary legislation. Of course, when the Parliament Act was passed in 1911, secondary legislation was perhaps not as frequent as it is now, and that is the big difference in parliamentary scrutiny and accountability.

On the question of the Bishops, one treads carefully. However, like the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, I think that it is inevitably entwined with the establishment of the Church of England, the position of Her Majesty the Queen as Supreme Governor and the fact that many legislative measures that come from the church have to be approved by Parliament. I suspect that until the Church of England itself wishes to be disestablished, which I do not think can be ruled out in the long term, Bishops will continue to play a valuable role in your Lordships’ House, and we should certainly extend membership to other religions. However, this is a cul-de-sac down which I would not particularly wish to go.

There is some support for reviewing the role of the Speaker, particularly at Oral Questions. Having spent two years trying to assist the House at Question Time, I detect an emerging consensus that the Speaker’s role might be extended in that way.

My noble friend Lord Maxton made a very important point about what might be discussed in a convention. Not all noble Lords are in favour of such a proposal,

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but we cannot consider Lords reform in isolation from the many other pressing issues that we face in relation to the constitution, not least, as my noble friend said, in today’s era of new technologies, and also, as the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, said, in view of young people’s disengagement from politics. My noble friend Lord Maxton wants to move out of this Chamber. I can only tell noble Lords that a warm welcome awaits them in the beautiful city of Birmingham.

On the Appointments Commission, I understand the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, concerning what he described as a quango making appointments to a legislature of the UK Parliament. On the other hand, when it comes to political appointments, there is a case for some external scrutiny. However, I certainly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Norton, about protecting the independence of the Appointments Commission.

The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, raised the interesting issue of hereditary Peers and referred to the agreement of 1999, from which he quoted. I was the government Whip on the Bill at the time and I remember it well. That was of course 15 years ago and we have had three general elections since then. I say to the noble Earl that stage two of the reform has never been defined. At least in relation to the by-elections, I certainly sense that there is a consensus for those to come to an end.

In conclusion, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part. From all sides of the House they have been generous about the work of the working group and that is very much appreciated from this side. I hope that the Minister will be able at the very least to say that the Government are prepared to consider these issues and that they will invite my noble friend who is sitting on the Bench beside me and the Convenor of the Cross Benches to a meeting to see whether we can agree to take these measures further.

3.37 pm

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, when I first heard that we were to have another five-hour debate on Lords reform, my heart sank. After the long series of debates that we had on Lords reform in 2011-12, I had a nightmare that I had been condemned to wind up a Lords debate once a week. The person sitting opposite me was rather fuzzy in my nightmare but I fear that it was probably the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, whom I was responding to on each occasion.

However, this is a constructive, useful and modest report, which makes a number of, on the whole, rather conservative proposals. I note that the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, said that it is a report to, and not from, the Labour Party. Yesterday, I looked at the speech that Stephen Twigg had made to the Electoral Reform Society last month. On Lords reform, he said:

“What I can say is this: Labour is committed to a democratic second-chamber. Ed Miliband has shown that he is a leader with a radical zeal—and this will be true for Lords reform”.

I think that this report is a little bit like Talleyrand’s remark, “Pas trop de zèle”.

Stephen Twigg also said in his interesting speech that one problem with the Lords as currently constructed is that more than 40% of the Peers who regularly attend the House are based in London or the south-east,

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compared with some 2% in the West Midlands and some 4% in Yorkshire. We all recognise that the Lords, as currently constituted, has a range of problems and that it does not, as the report says, reflect in very many ways the diversity of the United Kingdom. We also recognise, as the noble Lord, Lord Gordon, remarked, that that is partly because it is so much cheaper and more convenient if one is based in London. Therefore, there is an incentive to move to London once appointed.

I had the great advantage of having been offered a post in the London School of Economics three months before my party leader suggested that he might nominate me for the Lords. It was therefore possible to combine a career with membership of the House of Lords. The noble Lord, Lord Sewel, was appointed on the same day as me. He was vice-principal of the University of Aberdeen and found arranging his life to fit in with Lords business a little more difficult than I did.

The report states that,

“reform of the Lords is not an issue that can be tackled in isolation from other constitutional issues”.

I strongly agree with that, and a number of noble Lords said it in this debate. Before commenting on the specific proposals, I shall address some of the broader contexts of constitutional change within the United Kingdom. The other day, a number of us had a useful debate in the Moses Room on exactly that issue. I hope that I will not embarrass the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, if I tell him that my opinion of his expertise on constitutional issues continues to rise every time I hear him speak. That will do him no good at all with his colleagues, but never mind.

A new all-party group chaired by my noble friend Lord Purvis, and the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, is looking at the implications of devolution for the overall constitution. That is exactly the sort of thing we all need to address and will have to address after the Scottish referendum when, as we hope, the Scots vote against independence but expect further devolution, as the Silk commission promises the Welsh—and indeed, there are questions on Northern Ireland.

The English question has come up a number of times in this House. I regard the English question as partly the London question and a question for the whole of the United Kingdom. How do we counterbalance the economic, political and social dominance of London? If you do your politics in Yorkshire, you are acutely aware that the north of England loses out very heavily from the extent to which the devolved Parliaments have begun to establish their independent voice. I go to meetings inside government in which I hear the Scottish dimension, the Northern Irish dimension and the Welsh dimension, but no one mentions the Yorkshire, north-western or south-western dimensions. That is a problem which we all face and which we all have to address.

I hope that all noble Lords will have noted the Government’s various proposals on city deals and the attempts being made, starting with Manchester and following on with Leeds and others, to devolve and decentralise to the major city regions within England financial powers and powers over economic growth. If that is carried through, that would begin to resolve some parts of the English question. Furthermore, it would carry further implications for the governance of

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the United Kingdom. If the centralisation of England is reduced, we will need fewer departments and fewer civil servants in London. We may then perhaps need fewer Ministers in Parliament. Therefore, perhaps there would be a House of Commons that sees its job less as preparing for service in government and perhaps a little more as checking and controlling the Executive.

We are now engaged on a whole set of questions. The Fixed-term Parliaments Act also has implications. There have been some rather interesting reports from parliamentary committees and from the Institute for Government on how we might use the last year of government to prepare for the next Session. It could be along the lines already adopted on national security strategy where we have agreed—the previous Labour Government set this out—that each new Government should define a national security strategy on the basis of work conducted in the last year of the previous Parliament.

The Institute for Government’s report suggests that in the last year of a Parliament, we should not rush through great masses of additional legislation, as I recall the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, demanding that we do, but that we should discuss some of the dilemmas that whoever is elected will have to face—for example, the rising costs of the National Health Service and how it is funded and some of the other huge questions that will face any Government—and look therefore at a scrutinising role.

Public disengagement was mentioned in the report and by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, in her opening speech, as well as by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips. When I read the Hansard Society’s recent Audit of Political Engagement I was shocked that only 24% of 18 to 25 year-olds think that politics has any relevance to them.

Lord Richard: The noble Lord is describing a constitutional process that clearly will be lengthy. The agenda he has given to the Constitution Committee is long. It will take a lot of examination and discussion. There will be a lot of evidence and thinking. Does he really think that House of Lords reform should wait until all that is done?

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: I have in my notes that I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Richard, that further progress in Lords reform does not have to wait for the conclusions of any constitutional convention. However, I would just make the point that we are moving into a situation where various dimensions of British politics are changing, and we need to discuss how they relate to each other.

Public engagement very much concerns us. The decline in the reputation of the House of Commons should also concern us. I love listening to the noble Lord, Lord Rooker. He is a romantic for the House of Commons as it should be, and he was one of the best House of Commons men that we had. I fear that the new generation does not produce as many House of Commons men who are as good as he was.

We have the decline of the two-party system and of parties as such. All political parties now are small compared with where we were some 20 years ago. It is

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quite possible that the outcome of this coming election, as has been suggested, will not be a two or three-party system but a four or five-party system. With the Northern Irish and Scottish parties, there are already multiple parties in the House of Commons. We could have an awkward situation after the next election in which Labour emerges with the most seats and the Conservatives emerge with the most votes, and no two parties alone would be able to form a majority. That is getting into very uncharted territory as to how we would then proceed. I read the

New Statesman

and listen to Labour people talking about a Labour mandate and how Labour could form a minority Government with a clear mandate. A mandate on, say, 33% of a 60% turnout is not exactly clear.

The case for a commission or convention is out there. There was an excellent report by the House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee last year which suggested that the Government have no view on this issue at present. However, personally and as a Minister, this is a question that we ought to be debating in the last year of this Parliament. I welcome what the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, and others are doing. It is one that we all need to consider because we need to look at how all of this runs together.

Recommendation 1 of this proposal is that we need to think about a constitutional commission or convention. There is not time within the next three months or even nine months to define exactly what we want, but it is precisely the sort of thing to which we might return in future debates between now and the election.

On Lords reform, we have been here for a long time. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, after all, chaired the Joint Committee and the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, reminded us that he was on the Wakeham commission. The Government remain committed to comprehensive reform, as indeed does the Labour Party officially. The noble Lord, Lord Stephen, remarked that the 2012 Bill, criticised sharply from the Labour Benches, closely followed Jack Straw’s White Paper.

The Byles/Steel Act has now introduced some useful interim reforms, and if we accept the proposals in this report as interim and not intended to avoid more comprehensive reform, there are a number of useful and constructive proposals for the interim, some of which are familiar and some of which are relatively new. Quite a number of them can be agreed by this House without requiring further legislation through the normal procedures and usual channels. We are of course open to further discussion on that. On the proposals in the report—

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall: Since the Minister has been good enough to acknowledge that these proposals could be brought forward and agreed by the House without the need for legislation, would he be prepared to say whether the Government would support such a move?

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: The House has a structure of committees that regularly discuss House procedures. I am not able to give any commitment. We have

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already discussed within this Parliament the question of the role of the Lord Speaker, for example, and the House decided at that point that it did not wish to move further. It is unlikely between now and the next election that major changes will be agreed and made, but it is certainly quite appropriate that further discussions should continue.

On the question of the size of the House, the figure of 450 Members suggested in this report was in the Government’s Bill. In the long run, we might also have a smaller House of Commons if more power is devolved to the regions and the nations. Indeed, the Conservative proposals that fell saw a House of Commons of 600 rather than 650. How to move from here to there is of course the most difficult issue. Do we go for an age limit or for a time limit—or, as the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, suggested, a post-election weeding out within each group, which would be a wonderful series of bloodlettings within each of the two groups?

A member of the Supreme Court talked to me some months ago about the statutory age of senility. It is a wonderful concept which, for judges, is slowly being reduced from 75 to 70. The suggestion is made here for the Lords’ statutory age of senility to be 80. I realised the last time we debated this that I will hit 25 years of service in this House within a couple of months of reaching the age of 80—and that, clearly, is the point at which I should do what Lord Grenfell did so gracefully and retire. We should all accept that we cannot move from where we are to where we would like to be without a number of us retiring. The suggestion that I think I got from the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, that those of us who are here already should somehow be exempt from the changes, is not possible.

The reason I will not give any commitment about future lists, although I am not aware of any list at the present, is that we need to keep renewing and refreshing the House. As the noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, said, experience and expertise go stale. When I joined the House, it had an average age of 67. It now has an average age of 70—I have just passed it. It has 139 Members over the age of 80 and only 131 under 60. That House is a little difficult to defend.

Lord Lea of Crondall: Does the Minister not accept that most people think that the major motive of Governments in having extra lists is that they will have a net increase in their number here. The idea that it is motivated by renewal of the House is not how the dark arts of 10 Downing Street operate.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I am not an expert on the dark arts of Downing Street—perhaps the noble Lord is. I simply stress that the question of age balance is important, and the idea of a House that stops recruiting new Members and simply grows older and older relatively gracefully is not one that we would accept or recognise.

The Earl of Sandwich (CB): I am grateful to the Minister. He rather dismissed the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Norton, but does it not cope with the problem of topping up after the election? He has not addressed that.

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Lord Wallace of Saltaire: It is one way of addressing the question of topping up after the election. We also have to grasp the question of retirement. It was intended, when the retirement proposals came in, that a larger number of Peers would take the option of retirement and follow the excellent example of Lord Grenfell in that respect, but that has not actually transpired so far.

There were a number of recommendations in the report about the appointments process. I note that the appointments process will remain centralised and largely agreed by party leaders, although that is itself a question. The Bill that the Government put forward proposed to make the House of Lords Appointments Commission a statutory commission and, in any comprehensive reform, that would happen. The question of political balance is one of the most difficult ones. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, that if UKIP establishes itself as a significant party in British politics, it would of course be appropriate to have a number of UKIP Members in this House. He might have wished to add that given the level of attendance of the current UKIP Members, both here and in the European Parliament, we might not notice the difference. We already have a Green Member of the Lords, which recognises that British politics is shifting. That is also part of what is appropriate to reflect the changing political balance.

The need to reflect diversity across the UK is a tremendous problem, which election on a regional basis would resolve, as of course would indirect election. I am struck by the number of Peers who raised the question of indirect election in this debate, as it has not received very much attention until recently. The noble Lords, Lord Foulkes and Lord Trimble, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby and other noble Lords mentioned it. The noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, talked about it having an occupational or functional basis—a sort of guild socialist approach. The Cross Benches, after all, are well organised: the academies, in particular the medics, always put forward their members. Incidentally, when it comes to lobbies, I have to say to right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby that the biggest lobby in this House is the academic lobby—I hope he has noticed that I used to be part of it myself.

As to working Peers, part of the reason that attendance has risen in recent years is because one is asked, before one comes in, whether one is prepared to work hard. However, those of us who were appointed when we still needed to earn our pensions would like to go on working until we have finished earning them, so the Government do not intend to produce a high bar of the sort that is proposed here. It is a matter of judgment the extent to which Members should be full-time or part-time but, again, if we want Members under the age of 60 who still have children to bring up and careers to finish, we have to consider how much we insist on their attending all the time.

The House can decide to end the wearing of robes. I have much sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, that it would be a little more radical to suggest that we might end the use of titles, but that would be a more deliberative step.

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Do we need a referendum on Lords reform? The Government’s view is that, since each of the major parties had it in their manifesto last time, it was a clear consensual commitment and a referendum is therefore not necessary. A number of procedural reforms were proposed in the report which, as I have already said—

Lord Cormack: To be entirely fair, would my noble friend acknowledge that the Labour Party did have a commitment to a referendum in their manifesto?

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: I have to admit that I do not recall whether the party had a commitment to a referendum on Lords reform. If it did, that is fine.

I will wind this multifaceted debate up as quickly as I can. The House of Lords has changed a great deal over the past 20 years. Certainly, since I came in, in 1996, we have become a much more effective revising Chamber and a much busier Chamber. We have become the area through which the lobbies outside know that they can get things. Figures were quoted about the number of government defeats, although my figures do not entirely agree with those of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and we might perhaps exchange ideas outside the Chamber. As a Minister taking Bills through, I am conscious that we are always saying to Commons Ministers, “You won’t get that through the Lords unless …”. As we all know, a great deal of what happens in the Lords is about bargaining and about the Government bringing back proposals to meet criticisms that have been made.

Let us treat this as a final-year-of-Parliament debate. There is not time for legislation before the general election but ideas such as those produced can feed into the thinking of the next Government—whoever they may be—and perhaps even build a consensus across the parties on the way forward.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: The Minister has not addressed directly the suggestion put forward by my noble friend Lord Hunt that the Leader of the House might get together with the Leader of the Opposition and the Convenor of the Cross Benches to discuss the way forward. That seems a very sensible suggestion and it would be helpful if the Minister could indicate assent to that.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I am sure that the Leader of the House would be very happy to meet, as he regularly does, the leaders of the other groups in the House, and that this could be part of an informal, or perhaps a more formal, conversation.

I end by simply reminding the House—in particular the noble Lord, Lord Richard, whom I remember laughing as I said it—that in answer to a rather sharp question some time ago on why the Church of England had not got around to appointing women bishops, I suggested that the Church of England might well appoint its first woman bishop before we achieved the next significant stage of House of Lords reform. I think it is quite possible that we shall have half a Bench of women bishops here before we achieve the next stage of House of Lords reform, but let us keep going and hope to achieve it soon.

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4.01 pm

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, I thank everybody who has participated in this debate. Obviously, I am very pleased that there has been a general welcome for the report and that our discussions have, by and large, been on a non-party-political basis, which most of us think is the only way forward. The debate has been very wide-ranging, touching indeed on the very nature of democracy, which is no bad thing. But I think the one thing that all the contributions have shown us, and there are many dimensions to this, is that we cannot look at these problems in isolation. I was reassured by some of the Minister’s remarks a moment ago.

I should very much like to have time to go through all the comments that have been made but that is impossible. I have some sympathy with what my noble friend Lord Dubs said about Bishops. He may have noticed that since he made those comments there have been reinforcements, so perhaps he had better watch out. I want to comment on what my noble friend Lord Rooker said. He is always perceptive and it is a reckless Government or party that ignores his comments. I should have liked to follow up what my noble friend Lord Foulkes said about indirect elections. It is something that I have been interested in for a very long time and I think there is increasing momentum in that area. Those possibilities really need exploring.

I cannot respond to everybody but I want to say just a word about what my noble friend Lord Richard said about a constitutional convention or commission. He has long held the view that any such commission would be kicking the issue into the long grass—the unmowable grass, I think he said on this occasion. I would counter that by saying that if we do not have a commission, we will have a quagmire of piecemeal changes that do not hold together and are an absolute mess. Incidentally, I must point out to him and others that, so far as Labour Party manifestos are concerned, for the whole of the 20th century Labour Party manifestos clearly recognised the danger of having an elected second Chamber. The commitment to election is indeed very recent.

Several colleagues went into some detail about the Clegg Bill, and I think lessons are very slowly being learnt there, in particular the need to look at the bigger picture and not focus on just one area of change. I was reassured when the Minister said in his closing remarks that we have to look at Lords reform in the context of wider constitutional change. I hope he may be able to persuade his leader that that is the case and that you cannot write solutions on the back of an envelope and expect them to get through. We really need to take a comprehensive approach. Looking forward to see where we could get co-operation before an election is no bad thing and something that people will be willing to look at. As the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, said, I hope that we can have sensible and realistic commitments in all the party manifestos for the election. That is the only way forward, and putting that in the context of a constitutional commission would be the way to deliver it.

To say just a word on our short-term proposals, I hope that we will see progress along the lines that many have said would be acceptable and would improve

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the working of this House. I hope that the Minister will follow through on the suggestion of all-party support. Once again, I thank everyone who has participated in a very important and useful debate.

Motion agreed.

Middle East: Jihadism

Question for Short Debate

4.06 pm

Asked by Lord Dykes

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the threat from the spread of militant aggressive jihadism in the Middle East.

Lord Dykes (LD): My Lords, I am very grateful that I succeeded in getting this debate—a brief debate on a very deep and important subject, particularly at this very moment. I am most grateful to all those participating in it, particularly my noble friend for coming here. I embarrass her deliberately by saying that she is an incredibly hard-working Minister with far too many tasks, and I am grateful that she is fitting this one in as well. I am equally grateful to the Leader of the Opposition for attending and herself responding to this debate.

Just over a week ago, in a searing moment of immensely chilling import, the West as a whole realised yet again just how futile and tragic had been the originally illegal US-UK invasion of Iraq 11 years ago. Although it had to be later certificated ex post by a hog-tied and embarrassed United Nations, the invasion had left a broken country with many thousands of innocent civilians killed. The Daily Mirror yesterday, referring to Tony Blair, estimated the total now to be 650,000 since the invasion. It left a judicially murdered dictator, a demolished professional army and a deliberately wrecked civil service infrastructure. Never before, even including the humiliating defeat of the US in Vietnam, had the United States looked so incompetent in its government and military structures.

I remember with some pride that we as an entire political party marched officially with a million and a half people down Piccadilly to try to stop that wretched invasion. Blair ignored those passionate entreaties, and has for ever lost his reputation as a formerly very effective and distinguished national leader.

We must all have enormous sympathy now for the efforts of President Obama to deal with this subject. Of course, the publication of the Chilcot report later this year will throw what I guess will be an ominous light on the crafty dealings between President Bush and Prime Minister Blair on why they went to war: the US spluttering indignantly about the threat of a French veto—the first ever major one, if they were to exercise it—against the background of more than 30 American vetoes since 1968, allowing increasingly extreme Israeli Governments of growing right-wing tendency to flout international law at will in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Indeed, we are all now led to believe that there has been meddling at the highest level between Washington and London to stop enormous amounts of revelations about the Bush-Blair conversations in the Chilcot

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report text. I ask myself whether they would also reveal details of collusion between other countries in the Middle East—Saudi Arabia perhaps; I do not know—as occurred in the Suez debacle, when the US, with a virtuous President, stopped Britain and France from geopolitical insanity.

More recently, we were able to witness common sense at last in resisting the strident calls for western military intervention in Syria—less wisdom, of course, in handling Libya, where another dictator ended up murdered without even a show trial, and the usual complete paralysis now over what is happening in Egypt. Meanwhile, the sinister expansion of militant jihadism has been fuelled not least by the geopolitical blunders of the western powers, who have all too often found it impossible not to interfere in the wrong way in other people’s countries, relentlessly telling them what to do as if our democracies were both perfect and powerful.

The latest situation in Iraq is terrifying. I hope that there is no worse news on the military side today; I have not had a chance to see the morning news yet. Least of all can the West ever intervene successfully in what is a medieval struggle between militant and vicious Sunni and Shia factions, whose mindsets are literally unfathomable to occidental minds. Only a part of this imbroglio can be blamed on the USA and its unusually obsequious acolytes, of which the UK is usually one, sadly. The Americans themselves perceive, as we all do, how starkly the isolation of Iran for many reckless reasons was such an enormous blunder by the West. It must have had endless well intentioned senior State Department officials weeping with frustration. Once again, we need to thank President Obama warmly for his valiant efforts to achieve a settlement, aided by a moderate Iranian head of government.

If the geopolitical wreckage is huge, the solutions are very difficult to perceive. Just how does the West help the sea of moderate, peaceful citizens in these hapless and tragic Arabian countries who surely want democracy to arrive to help them but are not experienced in bringing it about, particularly as our record of intervention has been so negative for them? Above all, I am sure, we grieve for the fate of women and children in these tragedies. Only little Tunisia, a small country, seems to be progressing as a good example, if the good will is there.

I agree with David Aaronovitch, who wrote in the Times last Thursday about the “brave journalists” covering these conflict areas and that,

“it is practically impossible to get a good idea of what goes on in areas ‘controlled’ by groups such as Isis”.

In the mean time, the growth of militant jihadism of both Sunni and Shia varieties is spreading not only in the full conflict zones such as Syria and now, alas, Iraq. It is gaining ground in the Muslim areas of west Africa, perhaps slightly more slowly in the Maghreb countries, and of course among Muslim communities in western and some Asian countries, as well, of course, as in Kenya, Nigeria and Pakistan.

Above all, it remains to be seen how this will play out in Afghanistan, where western intervention was at its most supine and foolish. I am glad that British forces are now leaving at long last. The USA was obsessed with the equally unwise invasion by the Soviet

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Union of that complex country and worked with the previous generation of Taliban to drive the Russians out—ironically ending, at the same time, the best civil society that women with jobs and children in schools had ever enjoyed in that sad country. In the infamous film “Charlie Wilson’s War”, those in Hollywood conveniently failed to mention the Taliban at all, yet their country is now fighting the Taliban.

President Obama has at last espoused non-direct intervention, although even in his second term he has to wrap up the rhetoric in case the wrong people in Washington and elsewhere seek to undermine and make mischief. I fervently pray that this will be the permanent American doctrine from now on, replacing Theodore Rooseveltian imperialism with modern international self-restraint and a devotion to the genuine wishes of the whole UN, not just to partial and limited lobbies nagging the Security Council endlessly. We must for ever remember the startlingly sagacious warning of President Eisenhower in his valedictory: “Beware the inexorable rise of the military-industrial complex”. His advice was totally ignored for reasons of oil, money, imperialism and the helping of the rise of the aggressive form of Zionism which is letting down the marvellous country of Israel itself.

No longer can we therefore leave all this chaos in the febrile hands of one country, let alone the USA. A major problem right now is handling the Iraqi PM, Mr al-Maliki, who has apparently been far too fierce as a partisan and authoritarian Shia leader. He is deeply unpopular as well with many Iraqis who are not very political, such as the Sunni minority and a lot of people in the Kurdish entity. Some locals think that human rights are more abused nowadays than they were by Saddam Hussein. Incidentally, on the only visit that I have paid to Iraq, in 1988, he was then the chief friend of the USA—so much so that we recall that the Americans publicly declared that the Halabja killings had been done by the Iranian regime since Iran was then the devil, as it was later. Saddam himself was a client of the US and the UK. Who in the Middle East and elsewhere, I wonder, persuaded them to change their minds about this person?

All this confusion and cynical manoeuvring leaves the broad public of the western countries in a state of total bewilderment. Having accepted with some reluctance the need to fight al-Qaeda after 9/11, the outrage in America which gave us all enormous sympathy for the United States, they now see other groups with strange names springing up both in the ghastly Syrian civil war and elsewhere. The trouble is that we all rush to denounce them as terrorists—for those who wish to offend, there is an even worse description—but we never bother to ask what they want of their own countries and of the West. I do not recall a single TV or radio programme where a senior Taliban person has been allowed to air their views on the western media. We know that the Taliban, all too brutally, discourages women from having human rights and equality, but is this hyperbole from the western media as well? Is there any rationale to it? Why do we not know? We are ignorant of the facts. We urgently need to secure further guidance and information from Turkey in this multifaceted contextual struggle. I take no pleasure in echoing the conclusion of many western

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observers that somehow the errors and blunders of the West have spurred on the spread of the jihadi impetus. That conclusion seems unfair to a well intentioned western society, but we need to probe its depths.

However, we can start with some initiatives. For a start, the UN, especially its Security Council, can no longer be the plaything of the leading powers in the old historical context. I want to say something at the risk of offending other people who, like myself, are long-standing friends of Israel: I have been a friend of Israel ever since I went there in 1970 and it is a fabulous country with a wonderful people, but they are increasingly badly let down on foreign policy and policies towards Palestine by an increasingly extreme, right-wing Government, sadly doing the wrong things and making the wrong decisions. I say that even now, after the tragic kidnapping of the three young Israeli seminary students; I hope that they will be released as soon as possible, but the way to deal with that is not the way in which the Israeli Government are doing it.

The Palestinians must have their place in the sun and we should respect, not denounce, their common Government of technocrats and Hamas. The quartet has been hopeless in this sense for many years; it has simply betrayed the Palestinians, whose elections have been postponed for far too long by President Abbas. After all, Palestine cannot be the only country in the world literally without its own Government and elections. The UN has to respond if this tragic situation continues.

We also need to accept that the eventual outcome in Syria will be the Syrians’ decision, not ours, and that President Assad is as legitimate, unfortunately, as most leaders in Arabia. The US seems never to criticise Saudi Arabia despite appalling human rights abuses there, especially those visited on women. I hope fervently that the UN will act to halt the mass executions now threatened by the courts in Egypt. Has the US said anything about this?

New elections must now surely be held in Iraq to seek to secure a moderate sectarian outcome, which will need to be supervised by the UN in what is still a broken country. I hope too that the European Union will try to play a greater role in helping Arabia out of its agonies, first of all having apologised for being so hopeless in the quartet set-up, as the EU can now earn more respect in the area than, sadly, the US does—despite Obama’s heroic efforts, for which we should wish him well.

4.17 pm

Lord Desai (Lab): My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, for getting time to introduce this subject. I am going to take a very different stance from him. I spoke in the two debates that we had on Syria on 1 July and 29 August last year. I think that we are witnessing one of the biggest tragedies for Muslims in the world. Let us forget about the idea that we are responsible for everything bad in the whole world, and we should forget about asking, “What are we going to do about solving the problem now?”. This tragedy has been going on for about 40 years, if not since the Sykes-Picot affair of 1917.

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Modernity has been a challenge to Islam. There have been different responses to it, especially since the three defeats that the secular and socialist Arab Governments faced against Israel in 1948, 1967 and 1973. There has been a revival of fundamentalism, a return to religion, and within that we have noticed the rise of Islamism, which is more of an enemy of Muslim majority states than of anyone else. The Islamists’ whole programme has been to undermine civilian Governments of Muslim majority nations, whether they be democratic or authoritarian. This latest phase of the tragedy has been going on since the Syrian civil war started. I remember saying in the two previous debates that this was bound to spill over into Iraq. It is a Sunni/Shia war, and Sunni/Shia wars are not something that any western nation, with whatever intention, can solve.

My concern is not what we did or did not do. My concern is whether the world can somehow devise a way of saving the civilian population who are currently suffering a lot of misery. There are refugees in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan because of the Syrian war. The latest phase of the war in Iraq is causing a lot of misery. Obviously we are reluctant to intervene as western nations. No one has a desire to maintain the international order, as we did. That will has gone. We did not intervene in Syria, and we are not going to intervene in Iraq. We are not going to send armies. We might not even bomb the place.

However, we have a duty to protect to human lives. The question is what are we doing on that. I do not think we can go around saying, “The good guys are Iran and the Iraqi Shias, and the bad guys are the jihadists who are the Sunnis”. That is the wrong way of looking at the problem. The problem is a human tragedy and it has to be prevented to the extent that we can through humanitarian efforts, peacemaking efforts and rehabilitation efforts.

One presumes that the United Nations should be somewhere in the centre of the action. Until now, in the public discussions that we have seen, the United Nations has not been mentioned. The United Nations Security Council failed to do anything in the Syrian case because there was a conflict of interest among the permanent members. It is very much the responsibility of our Government and any other Governments who have force in the United Nations to start a big proposal to do something about humanitarian aid and the protection of the civil population because this war is not going to stop any time soon. To the extent that we can reduce harm or people’s misery, we should do so. What are the Government doing about that?

Right now, this problem may look like it is in Syria and Iraq, but it has reached as far as Pakistan. In Pakistan, the battle going on between the Taliban in the north-west and the democratically elected Government has just entered a new phase. At the same time there is a tremendous Shia/Sunni conflict going on in Pakistan. It happened in Karachi not all that ago, and it goes on. Whether these jihadists are a danger to us is a separate question. The question right now is about what can we do as members of the international community to reduce suffering, solve the refugee problem, alleviate the situation and along the way, if we can, propose a solution to the political problem.

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I shall repeat what I said once before. The noble Baroness has rejected the suggestion twice, so I am expecting a third rejection, but the world needs a general conference on all the Middle Eastern countries’ problems: the problems of Iran and Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Kurdistan, the Shia/Sunni conflict and the Israel/Palestine problem. All those problems are interconnected—we have not taken that seriously. We have taken them piecemeal. That may or may not happen. I feel the more urgent task is to devise a strategy for relieving suffering. If we can do that, we will have done our best.

4.24 pm

The Lord Bishop of Derby: My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, on securing this timely debate. I want to look at the Motion as it is set out. It concerns,

“the assessment of the threat from the spread of militant aggressive jihadism in the Middle East”.

I take the point that our priority is the humanitarian challenge, with so much chaos and destruction. We must invite the Minister to make every constructive response she can to that challenge.

I will talk about the dramatic advance of ISIS and the danger of the collapse of the Iraqi state. Of course, some of the problems stem from what could be called poor government and a lack of common good, diversity and military organisation. However, we must confront a deeper issue. As we have heard, ISIS is transnational. It is not just in one place; we have heard that its kind of jihadism extends to Pakistan. ISIS does not fight a war but operates through acts of terror, which is a very different way of trying to resolve disputes. There is a danger that this is setting up a model of battlegrounds of terror within existing states, without any way of trying to sort that out—things just rise up from below.

What is at issue is the future of the state as a political organisation. ISIS has a totally different set of values. It sees itself as the embryo of what it might call an Islamic state but is challenging the notion of a political state as one that holds together diversity. It says instead that there is only one way to have a state, which is on a much narrower basis. That is a dangerous pitch to make in a world of increasing diversity and pluralism. It sees this Islamic state emerging from the actions of small bands of fighting scholars. That is why we see these frightening interrogations of captives about their faith. It is a bold bid for a totally different understanding of political organisation; not a state that holds together diversity, works with it and puts humanitarian needs first, but a version of a state that is narrow, uncompromising and brutal in its desire for conformity.

That political question raises some important issues which I invite the Minister to address. Is the policy of funding moderate opposition in Syria working? Do we need greater international co-operation across this whole area, as the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, suggested? Could more be done to engage with Gulf states about the funding of this kind of extremism?

I offer one brief comment about foreign fighters caught up in the jihadist movement. It is estimated that there are 12,000 foreign fighters from 78 countries.

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The word on the street in Derby, where I work, is that people from our community are fighting there; some have come back and then returned. I can understand the Prime Minister and others talking about the danger that that kind of involvement in this anti-political movement could bring into our own country. However, I offer a word of caution about the way we express that risk and danger. In the Netherlands, they have a sophisticated debriefing system so that when people come back they are not immediately confronted as criminals but engaged with, and there is an exploration of what they are about and where they are going. I tell noble Lords from my own experience that if we are too heavy-handed we risk further radicalising families and communities at the grass roots, if some of their young are treated without any notion of a trial or evidence—all those British things that we try to stand for. We must handle this matter very carefully. We must have evidence if we are to criminalise people and we must try to engage with the issue they have got caught up in, which runs counter to the state as we know it, rather than trying simply to fight back and crush them as they would crush other people.

Finally, I ask the Minister: what is the role of the local community, not just the Government, in addressing this aggressive phenomenon? How can we help young Muslims engage in democratic debate about politics? A lot of the energy comes from feeling excluded from that possibility. Have any lessons been learnt about the unforeseen consequences of the way in which we conduct foreign policy? Can we think critically and creatively about ourselves and how we conduct foreign policy? If it is having this effect, are there lessons to be learnt about how we present it? I also have a question that is significant to the work in which I am involved: what is the future of European Islam in the mix, across the world? We hear a lot of voices speaking for all kinds of Islamic approaches to faith. There is in Europe a sophisticated, engaged and rich tradition of Islamic thinking and practice. Are we able to engage that voice more creatively in the debate?

4.30 pm

Lord Parekh (Lab): My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, for securing this debate, and congratulate him on introducing it with such eloquence. Rightly, he referred to the war on Iraq. I shall not talk about that at length, but I will begin by saying that, although Mr Blair led us into the war, the Conservative Party had already agreed to support it. Therefore, it was not merely the Government or the Labour Party; the two major parties agreed on that. It is also rather pathetic and saddening to see ex-Ministers falling over each other, trying to tell us that they regret that mistake. That is depressing for two obvious reasons.

First, if they were capable of making that kind of mistake, because of which hundreds of thousands of people were killed, can they ever be trusted to make sensible judgments in political life? In classical Athens, there was a tradition that if a politician misguided his people or was guilty of an egregious mistake of that kind, he would be sent into exile, because he was unfit to be a fellow citizen. We should find some way of dealing with people who are capable of making that kind of mistake. Secondly, if they could make that

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kind of mistake, why did they do so? It is no use telling us that Mr Blair lied—he said the same thing to all of us, and some of us were simply not taken in. We opposed the war in Iraq at the time, and some of us felt so strongly that we almost resigned our party Whip. All that suggests that nobody misled innocent people. Those leaders were prepared to believe certain things and were simply willing accomplices to what was going on.

Having got the question of Iraq off my chest, I turn to the question we are debating today. Since the early 1980s, it has been a practice for Muslims to go to foreign theatres of war to support those sides with which they sympathise. That started with Afghanistan when the Soviets were involved there, then spread to Iraq a few years later and has now spread to Syria, and at every stage the numbers have increased. In Afghanistan, the number of foreign Muslims who fought there was around 3,000 to 4,000. In Syria today, the number is estimated to be about 11,000, and although some are leaving, others are coming in. Those who leave do not outnumber those who come in, so the number remains pretty much the same. It is estimated that, of the 11,000 foreign Muslims who are fighting in Syria, about 400 are Britons.

That is not the end of the story. With the turmoil in Egypt, I expect that something worse will happen. The army has declared war—not a virtual war, but a real one—on the Muslim Brotherhood. That simply will not work. The Muslim Brotherhood has global appeal among Muslims and, being highly ideologically motivated, it will not be crushed or put aside as easily as others might. Therefore, as far as I can gaze into my crystal ball, in two or three years’ time, we will see a situation in Egypt that will be no different from what we now see in Syria and Iraq. That will pose some very acute problems, because Egypt is one of the largest countries in the Middle East and faces some very acute problems.

Those who fight abroad get good training; they are angry because they have gone through the suffering of fighting in a war and they build up global networks. When they return home, therefore, they pose a danger—although not necessarily. It is a mistake to think that, when those who have fought in Syria come back, they will necessarily engage in terrorist activities. If I think of students with whom I have had some dealings, sometimes the opposite happens. Having fought in a war in Syria, Iraq or elsewhere, they have seen enough suffering and do not want to be involved any more, or their family put pressure on them not to. Nevertheless, generally, when people who have fought in wars abroad come home, they have a slight tendency to be part of a certain network and to engage in terrorist activities in the domestic sphere. The two recent cases bear this out. The 29 year-old Mehdi Nemmouche, who shot and killed three people at a Jewish museum in Belgium, had been in Syria for more than a year. In our country, Mashudur Choudhury, who was convicted of terror offences in Syria, had of course been there.

MI5 informs us that about half of its casework involves preventing Syria-related terrorist activities. About 200 Britons have returned from Syria and we are told that dozens of them are suspected and have been arrested. Even if all these conflicts—including

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the one that I foresee in Egypt—were to end tomorrow, the world in which we live would not be stable. Historical memories of the wars that were initiated by the West, historical memories of the shady business deals in which we engaged in Iraq and elsewhere and memories of the humiliation we inflicted on a lot of people, not only in Abu Ghraib but in lots of other places, will linger, and rightly so. How can one expect people to forget what they have seen and what they have heard? As long as these memories last, we cannot afford to assume our world is entirely safe simply because that world over there is safe. It is not safe now; it was not safe for 40 years, as the noble Lord, Lord Desai, said. During those 40 years we did lots of things we should not have done.

That is the situation and the question is what our response should be. In the minute and a half I have at my disposal, I want to prescribe my remedy. New wars, limited or unlimited, will not help. The kind of thing that Mr Blair has been trying to press upon our attention will only exacerbate the situation. We should provide help when that is asked for—that is right—but at the same time we should remember that we should not get caught up in domestic rivalry and domestic conflict. If the Government make a complete mess of the situation and alienate people and there is a civil war, as in Syria, and they ask us to help against ISIS, we need to be careful that we are not being manipulated.

Secondly, we must keep a keen eye on the terrorist activities in Britain but should not presume that everybody who has been to Syria, Iraq or elsewhere is necessarily a potential terrorist. That can lead to heavy-handed activities and could alienate the Muslims.

Thirdly, we should do nothing to demonise the entire Muslim community or to alienate it in a variety of ways, as we have tended to do, as in the case of schools in Birmingham. Ofsted produced one report and two or three months later there was a completely opposite kind of report. There is also the constant mistake of equating conservative views with extremism. This is only done in relation to Muslim schools. What about other faith schools where similar things might be going on? Those of us with some experience would know that it does. To single out a particular community and its schools can create an estranged, deeply alienated, deeply bitter community, and that is to store up trouble for the future.

Finally, unless the problems in the Middle East are brought under control—not solved; they will not be solved—we will not be able to find much peace there or here. If they are going to be dissolved, that cannot be done bilaterally by the Americans linking up with the Iranians in order to counter the Iraqis. That game has been going on for the past 40 years and it has not taken us anywhere. We should be thinking in terms of some kind of regional conference where all the parties involved are represented, where we can work out some kind of mechanism for conflict resolution and where we can lay down certain principles which no side would violate, whatever its grievances. Then we can think of an Arab peacekeeping force or an Arab reconciliation commission of the kind we have seen in other parts of the world. In other words, we need to decentralise the way these things function, try to organise

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a regional conference within a global context and aim for a long-term strategy based on good sense and wisdom, which I am afraid has been so rare in the past few years.

4.39 pm

Lord Ahmed (Non-Afl): My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, for securing this timely and important debate. It is my pleasure to follow such distinguished and learned noble Lords. I put down my name in this debate to seek some knowledge. I am neither an Arab nor indigenous English, and jihadism for me is difficult to understand, as “jihad” is in Arabic and “Islamism” is in English. What does it really mean? As I read it in the Koran, jihad means “struggle for justice”, and it has two main categories. First, there is the inner struggle against evil, bad habits and temptations, and to strive for good deeds. The struggle for justice means a jihad against poverty, illiteracy, sexual violence—and, yes, there is a concept of a just war, where people are suffering from brutal regimes. Some scholars say that it is a duty to rescue people from that situation. I am sure that this does not mean individuals from Croydon or Luton who could go and declare jihad.

Sadly, words like jihadism and Islamism are used to describe despicable violent extremists and terrorists who proclaim to be Muslims. Let us have a look at two examples. ISIS, of which we know little, although it is much talked about, is led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi but is made up of members of the Baathist party, former Saddam Hussein soldiers, militant Sunni fighters and Sunni youth, who have suffered from poverty and alienation, and terrorists. None of them has the same causes or beliefs, but they have two main enemies—the Maliki regime and the Assad regime.

Then we have Boko Haram, a terrorist organisation that commits the most heinous crimes. The word Boko means western culture and Haram means forbidden—so it means rejection of western culture. Then there are the terrorists in Pakistan, Tehreek-e-Taliban, which attacked the Karachi airport; all those fighters were from Uzbekistan. They are no representatives of Islam or Muslims, just as the Lords Resistance Army is not representative of Christians, nor are the RSS or VHP representatives of the great Hindu religion, nor is the Buddhist 969 movement in Burma or the activities of Buddhist monk Gnanasara in Sri Lanka, whose organisation Bodu Bala Sena, or BBS, has allegedly killed seven Muslims, including a child with a sword, in the past two days.

Professor Hossein Askari of George Washington University conducted a research into 208 nations and states. He said that Muslim countries used religion as an instrument of state control. He said:

“We must emphasize that many countries that profess Islam and are called Islamic are unjust, corrupt, and underdeveloped and are in fact not ‘Islamic’ by any stretch of the imagination”.

He went on to say:

“Looking at an index of Economic Islamicity, or how closely the policies and achievements of countries reflect Islamic economic teachings—Ireland, Denmark, Luxembourg, Sweden, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Singapore, Finland, Norway, and Belgium round up the first 10”.

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The nearest Muslim country is represented at 33, Malaysia, with Kuwait at 48. He added:

“If a country, society, or community displays characteristics such as unelected, corrupt, oppressive, and unjust rulers, inequality before the law, unequal opportunities for human development, absence of freedom of choice (including that of religion), opulence alongside poverty, force, and aggression as the instruments of conflict resolution as opposed to dialogue and reconciliation, and, above all, the prevalence of injustice of any kind, it is prima facie evidence that it is not an Islamic community”.

I hope that we have learnt that we cannot impose our form of democracy and expect other cultures and tribes to follow it, as was experienced by Mr Bush and Mr Blair in Iraq and Afghanistan. We are just experiencing the fallout in Libya after Colonel Gaddafi’s downfall.

The French rejected the legitimate elections won by the Islamic FIS Party in Algeria in 1991, the Americans refused to accept Hamas in Palestine and a large part of the world rejected the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. My point is that the international community withheld recognition of legitimate elections even while it accepted Sisi in Egypt, as well as sheikhdoms and kingdoms in the Middle East, as legitimate Governments. These are political struggles that require political solutions and invasions or bombings do not result in long-term solutions.

I was in Iraq last year and met many leaders. I also met the Speaker of the Iraqi Assembly, who told me about the isolation of the Sunni community, how Maliki had ignored the Sunnis in the north, and how he thought it was the Shias who were siphoning off all the wealth and had all the power. In most Arab countries, including Iraq, there is rough justice. If you look at some of their judicial systems, you find that confession-based evidence, forced through torture, is a norm.

Finally, at the risk of losing friends, I fear that unless we engage Saudi Arabia and Iran in all these states from Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Bahrain and Yemen to Lebanon, we may, unfortunately, see an even longer period of sectarian violence than Europe experienced during the 30-year war in the 17th century.

We should not feel threatened by any economic or trade organisation between Muslim states because in my view, if Europe can be at peace due to the creation of a common market, there is a huge potential for the Muslim world to create peace. There is potential for $4 trillion a year business between it and the rest of the world, and peace among 1.5 billion people, as well as the rest of the world.

4.46 pm

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon (Lab): My Lords, in tabling this debate the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, was clearly following the advice of Pierre Trudeau, who said:

“The essential ingredient of politics is timing”.

This was an important topic when the QSD was tabled but now it is uppermost in much of the world’s mind. I say to my noble friend that, in this debate, I interpret jihadism as the right reverend Prelate did.

Although the jihadist maelstrom is centred on the Middle East, it is also part of a global uprising by extremists in other countries further east and in Africa.

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It attracts young Muslims from the West and from south-east Asia as well as from the countries where the violence and atrocities are being perpetrated.

Today we have heard many shocking facts and figures, especially in relation to Syria and to Iraq, whose integrity as well as security is under threat. The brutality and atrocities have intensified as individuals, families, communities and countries are torn apart. ISIS is a threat to all citizens in Iraq: Sunnis, Shias and non-Muslims, including Christians. There are reports of ISIS members killing 12 Sunni scholars who refused to pledge allegiance to them, and they have burned many churches and killed members of the Christian community.

I hope that there is still an opportunity for the citizens of Iraq to unite and defeat the jihadists. Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, a Shia scholar revered by all sections of Iraqi society, has called for Iraqi citizens to put their religious differences aside and fight to save their country from falling into the hands of ISIS.

Sectarian violence between Sunni and Shia Muslims is undermining the stability of the entire region, and the impact on the whole world is potentially great. The Muslim world can deliver great things. However, as my right honourable friend Ed Miliband stated in the other place yesterday, we need to focus on other countries in the Middle East which have a huge responsibility for igniting sectarian tensions in the region. Their roles have been centred round providing support both financially and militarily.

We need to pay attention to monitoring hate preachers online, and especially ISIS Twitter accounts that have been promoting their cause. The tools of the 21st century which we use to improve the quality of our lives and the connectedness of our world, including the internet and social media, are now used also by ISIS to rally support and appeal to young men and Muslims in various parts of the world to protest or to travel to Iraq to fight.

The world view of ISIS is vehemently anti-Western. I was interested in the right reverend Prelate’s comments about the state. ISIS is estimated to have 2,000 recruits from Europe. On Monday, the Foreign Secretary said that approximately 400 British nationals might be fighting in Syria, including some with ISIS, the insurgent force which is now attacking Iraq. Two men who were under criminal investigation appear to have absconded from the UK, intending to join jihadists in Syria. Yesterday, No.10 said that 65 people have been arrested in the past 18 months for Syria-related jihadist activities. I pay tribute to our police and security forces.

The Prime Minister said that ISIS fighters are not only threatening the Government in Baghdad but plotting terror attacks on the UK. As the BBC pointed out, it would take just one order from a commander to send some jihadists back to Britain to carry out an attack. Even without such an order, who knows what might be in the minds of radicalised young fighters when they return to this country? However, I accept that we have to deal with them very carefully. It was interesting to hear about what is being done in Holland.

This is a deeply disturbing situation. Many of us will have heard vox pops with young Muslims who say that they would like to go and fight with their Muslim

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brothers in Syria and Iraq, and some talk about wanting to fight against America. These are young British Muslims, not in work, education or training. Many of them do not realise that it is Muslims fighting against Muslims. We need to understand that the Muslim community is made up of different sects with each adopting a different set of beliefs. Historically in Britain they have lived in harmony, but recent events stemming from the Middle East are causing widespread concern. There is a real threat of sectarianism reaching our shores due to many factors, including the trickle-down effect of Middle East politics and the role of hate preachers and terrorist accounts on social media.

In anticipation of this threat, an understanding needs to be built around the language and vocabulary associated with hostile sectarian views and the activities of individuals, both here in the UK and abroad, who are purposefully dividing communities. As well as keeping an eye on the activities of jihadists online, we need to give greater support to community cohesion initiatives that exist to counteract the negative influences on other platforms, on which their hateful and divisive views are advocated.

Although we cannot control the increasingly sectarian conflict outside our borders, we need to engage in a more positive and constructive dialogue with the Muslim community, and engage it in our political system. This includes ensuring that different parts of the British Muslim community continue to work together, with an attempt to put aside international differences and co-operate on promoting interfaith values. A fine example of this is the unity statement signed last year by British Muslim leaders from different sects affirming their commitment to working side by side. Moreover, we must be dedicated to promoting our values, which include tolerance, respect and the appreciation of a diverse society.

The humanitarian threat is clearly great. The Government’s announcement of £5 million is welcome, but the number of refugees in the region has now reached a completely intolerable level not only for those who have been displaced or had to flee their country but for the regions and countries that have received them either in camps or in communities. As many as 500,000 men, women and children have fled their homes in the past week in the wake of escalating violence in Iraq. Many families reported leaving to protect their daughters, fearing sexual violence, kidnappings and forced marriage. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the Foreign Secretary, the Government and campaigners for their work on this issue. The present situation is deplorable for those who have fled, but their future must also seem fraught with fear and insecurity. What hope of an education and jobs for their children?

This is not a matter for political disagreement. We must continue to work together to find solutions in our home and foreign policy that will address these extraordinarily complex, interrelated problems that affect our communities, our country and our world.

4.53 pm

The Senior Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Warsi) (Con): My Lords, I thank my

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noble friend Lord Dykes for a timely debate and I thank him and other noble Lords for their wide-ranging contributions. I cannot think of another debate that I both fear and relish answering in equal measure. As the Minister at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, as the Minister responsible for communities and faith domestically, as a British Muslim with Sunni and Shia roots, and as someone who was fiercely against the Iraq invasion in 2003, many of the issues raised come to the fore in answering this debate.

Her Majesty’s Government are deeply concerned by the spread of militant groups in the Middle East. Only this week there was a reported massacre of 1,700 Shia air force recruits by ISIL. The sexual violence that was perpetrated in this conflict was further evidence of the brutality of militant extremist groups in the region. These groups are killing large numbers of innocent civilians, displacing many more from their homes and stoking sectarian violence across the Middle East. We have heard examples of that from noble Lords.

This debate has no simple answer because the problems and challenges are not simple. The noble Lord, Lord Desai, referred to the challenges as a sectarian dispute—the oft-quoted Sunni-Shia dimension. I disagree with that simplistic analysis. The vast majority of Sunnis are as appalled as everyone else at the conduct of ISIL—a group that even al-Qaeda distanced itself from last year. Where I do agree with him is that not everything can be distilled to a very simplistic view that everything is either the fault of western intervention or the fault of western non-intervention. It is right that regional responsibility should be taken for what we are seeing.

Overspill from the conflicts in Syria and Iraq risks destabilising the wider Middle East. However, the prime responsibility lies with regional states, which need to work together, because they are all at risk in various ways if this matter is not resolved. We must use our diplomacy to encourage regional co-operation. The strongest way to do that is to encourage, support and challenge Governments in the Middle East to be truly reflective of the people who make up their nations. We have seen this in Iraq, where the Government have to be representative of all sects, all religions and both men and women to make people feel that they are part of a nation state.

The noble Lord, Lord Parekh, gave his detailed analysis of the extent of the problem and how it poses a threat to the United Kingdom. Her Majesty’s Government are also concerned about the potential for violent groups in the Middle East to present a threat to the United Kingdom. As the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs stated earlier this week, we estimate that the number of UK-linked individuals who have travelled to Syria to fight is approximately 400. Not all of them are fighting alongside extremist groups, but inevitably some are fighting with ISIL. We are working with community and faith leaders and charities to better understand and tackle the issues of UK-linked individuals travelling overseas to fight.

The noble Baroness, Lady Royall, asked how we are dealing with this problem and about the Government responses. Our priority is to dissuade people from

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travelling to areas of conflict in the first place. Our Prevent strategy includes work to identify and support individuals who are at risk of radicalisation. However, extremists should be in no doubt that we are prepared to take action to protect national security. That includes confiscating passports, not allowing people to travel and prosecuting those who break the law. The intelligence agencies and the police are working to identify and disrupt potential threats. That includes the UK border police interviewing individuals who are under suspicion of being involved in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby raised an important point: how do we deal with these individuals, either before they go out or when they come back? How do we ensure the broader Muslim community is kept on board during this time? Noble Lords may be aware of Pew research and Gallup polls that show the British Muslim community’s trust in institutions, including the judiciary and Parliament, is higher than that of other groups. It is important that we preserve that element of trust, belief in the rule of law and sense of fairness that are fundamental British values. The research shows British Muslims are already signed up to those British values.

It is important that the role of the community is not underestimated. That could be mums—including mums who have lost sons to extremism—working together and talking about the impact that travelling overseas will have on the lives of their families. We must also show young Muslims—I think the right reverend Prelate asked this question—that they must engage in this through a democratic debate. You do that by showing that democracy works.

The noble Lord, Lord Parekh, referred to the situation in Birmingham schools. We must make sure that in this process we do not lose the governors, those who have become involved in parent teacher associations and those who have become teachers. These are the very people whom many, including me, have been encouraging over the past decade to get involved in the process. We must not do anything to disengage people from the process; we must keep encouraging them to engage.

I was also asked how we do foreign policy. We do it consistently and in a principled way, and we make sure that we are transparent. Of course, something that successive Governments probably have not done so well is communicate what we do and how we do it. When we hear young Muslims, as we did on Radio 4 yesterday, say that they have to go out to fight alongside their Muslim brothers and sisters, it is clear that they have no sense that both sides in the dispute are Muslims. I think that we have a role in communicating that.

The right reverend Prelate asked: what is the future of European Islam? The only way that I can reference that is by using an analogy that I have used many times. Islam is like a river and it takes the colour of the bed over which it flows. It is not culturally or geographically specific. Therefore, Chinese Muslims will look very different from North African Muslims, Pakistani Muslims and European Muslims. The bed over which European Islam will flow is Europe.

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Of course, Iraq is a serious issue. Territorial gains have been made by ISIL. It has unfortunately benefited from the ongoing conflict in Syria and is now able to operate in both countries across a very porous border. ISIL is seeking to impose its rule on people using violence and extortion, and it is stoking sectarian violence throughout the Middle East. Our wish is for the people of Iraq to live in a peaceful, stable and secure environment, and the actions of ISIL are in direct contradiction to this. Our objective is to see a prosperous and stable Iraq. As well as a strong security response by the Iraqi forces, there needs to be a strong, inclusive political solution.

We have also responded by providing humanitarian support. Noble Lords may be aware that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs informed the House of Commons on Monday that the United Kingdom is providing £2 million to NGOs for emergency relief following ISIL’s advances, and £1 million to the UNHCR for mobile protection teams and to establish camps. On 18 June, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister announced an additional £2 million to bring the UK’s contribution up to £5 million in humanitarian assistance.

The Syrian conflict—which, again, was referred to by a number of noble Lords—is not, and has never been, primarily about terrorism. At its heart, it is a struggle between, on the one hand, the Syrian people and their desire for the basic rights of freedom and dignity, and, on the other, a regime which has responded to these legitimate demands with escalating violence and brutality. As a result, Syria has become the number one destination for many extremist fighters anywhere in the world, and it poses a threat to the region and beyond.

The noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, spoke about the definition of “jihad”. He raised an important point about using accurate and measured language in trying to find a solution to these matters. It is a subject that I spoke about earlier this year in a speech at the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque in Muscat. To fight for freedom of religion or belief wherever it may be and whichever religion an individual chooses to follow or, indeed, not to follow is a government priority. Dare I say that making freedom of religion and belief my own human rights priority is my jihad?