Examination of Witness (Questions 1 -
THURSDAY 10 JANUARY 2002
1. Can I welcome our witness this morning, our
first witness in the short inquiry which we are doing into the
government's proposals of the reform of the House of Lords. We
are delighted to have Lord Wakeham with us, who chaired the recent
Royal Commission, we have a particular interest in your views
and expertise in this matter. I understand that you do not want
to make a preliminary statement. We will just fire off as we only
have you for an hour. I have not read your speech in the Lord's
yesterday yet. I think it would be helpful if you could very quickly
tell the Committee in outline the reservations that you have about
the government's proposals in relation to what you proposed in
the Royal Commission.
(Lord Wakeham) There were really three
main reservations that I have. I welcomed a great deal of what
the government wants to do but there are three main reservations.
First, if there is to be, as I want, and the government seem to
want, an appointed element in the House of Lords then in our view,
the Appointments Commission, in my view, and it was very much
in our report, that the Appointments Commission has to be wholly
independent of the government. That is not to say, of course,
that in practice the parties will have a very big influence as
to who they nominate and who they get. I have tried to say to
the government it would be rather smart of them not to take full
responsibility for the Appointments Commission. I remember my
days as the chief whip, when I was chief whip it was obviously
quite convenient to say, "I will do my best for you, old
boy, it is not for me, it is the Appointments Commission. I do
not think it was very smart of them to have such tight control.
I think it would be better administratively and produce a better
result if the Appointments Commission was wholly independent.
Part of the reason is that there are, in my view, two sorts of
people in broad terms who may fall by the wayside under the way
the government proposes. If they are saying they are the ones
who are responsible, as will the Conservative Party and the Liberal
party for the party nominees, the Appointments Commission is only
concerned about the cross-benchers there is a whole bunch of people,
in my view, who fall between the two who could make a very important
contribution in the House of Lords. We can all think of political
figures who have fallen out with their party leadership who would
make a very eminent contribution in the House of Lords. They cannot
pretend to be cross-benchers, they are active political people,
just out of line with their own party. Are they going to be excluded
unless their party leader thinks they should go into the House
of Lords. I think that is bad. Secondly, there are a number of
people whose primary reason for being in the House of Lords is
they have great expertise in some field or another, they might
be an eminent professor or a doctor or something of this sort
who happened to have played in their ordinary life a part in politics,
a minor part, chairman of their local branch, a political activist,
are they to be called cross-benchers or are they to be excluded
and cannot be chosen. I think the Government is making a big mistake
by insisting on that very narrow regime of an Appointments Commission,
that is not to say I do not expect in practice the government
and the other parties to get whips of their people into the place,
it would not work unless they did. That is the first reservation.
The second reservation is about the elected element. I think one
of the things that is more or less emerging is the consensus,
is there going to be some appointed and some elected, that was
a big debate as to what the proportion should be. Our view about
the elected is that we have to be extremely careful about the
sort of people that we get elected because what we do not want
are people, who when elected would use the House of Lords as a
staging post to get to where the real action is. Anybody who wants
real action in politics wants to get in the House of Commons,
that is where the big jobs, that is where the big opportunities
in service are, whichever way you would like to phrase it. What
we think would be disastrous for the House of Lords is for it
to be a staging post for ambitious politicians who have not quite
made the grade for Westminster. I can take you back to when I
was leader of your House over the original European Members of
Parliament, when it was thought that a good many of them were
only European Members of Parliament because they were trying to
get to Westminster. They were in the business or it was thought
they were in the business of undermining Westminster Members of
Parliament in all sorts of ways, they had big cash grants, all
sorts of things and there was a lot of tension. At one time I
was put forward a proposal that Members of the European Parliament
should be able to use their Strasbourg pass in order get into
Westminster and there was a very, very strong back-bench view
in the House of Commons which said, "this is disgraceful,
let the fellows stand out in the rain like the public and wait
their turn". It would be very bad to produce a House of Lords
which was full of people who all they wanted to do was to get
to the House of Commons. We put various safeguards into it, one,
we wanted a long term. We said 15 years. That is one of the reasons.
There are two reasons for that, one was it made them as near as
possible to the appointed members in terms of time, so they were
appointed for 15 years or elected for 15 years. Secondly, we said
that there must be a time, a further 10 years, after they leave
the House of Lords before they can get to the House of Commons,
that is another inhibition. The third one is open lists, we felt
it was important there should be an open list, not a closed list.
It was all designed to do that. That was our second reservation.
We recognise that there has to be an elective element, there can
be a debate as to what size it can be and in that debate. I have
to say, to draw a distinction between an elected list from a closed
list on a PR basis and an appointment by the Appointments Commission
you need to be a fine political scientist to work out what in
practice is going to be the difference between the guys who get
there on the wish list or another. We are in favour of an open
list which we think would be a better form of election than a
closed list. That is the second reservation. The third reservation
was that we felt that the government should have taken up our
points in the areas of protecting the constitution, in a nutshell
no power to amend the Parliament Act within a Parliament, which
leads to if you are going to have a major change in the constitution
at least the electorate should have a chance of expressing a view
between one and the other. Those are the three reservations.
2. I am very grateful for those, not least because
they come with shrewd ex chief whip credentials. I like the idea
that these chaps that you do not really want to get on, and you
say, "it is not up to us but we will put your name forward".
(Lord Wakeham) It is the real world, I promise you.
3. This is the world we live in. Can I ask one
or two questions about what you said, on the Appointments Commission,
does that mean that parties will not necessarily get their people
because the Appointments Commission, on your view, should have
the ability to appoint party nominees who were not, in fact, the
nominees of the parties?
(Lord Wakeham) Yes. My view is I am not obsessed,
as some people are, about total numbers. I think you can fiddle
about with the numbers on the margin and I do not think it matters
too much as long as the proportions are right. One can conceive
of a situation if there is a statutory basis for the number and
the party leader puts forward somebody, some very distinguished
person who most people think should be there and is not there
the Appointments Commission may have to do a deal with the other
parties and put another one on to achieve that and to keep everyone
happy. Yes, on the margin there will be one or two people who
might be a Conservative supporter or a Labour supporter, or any
other party for that matter, who would not be the party nominee.
You would still have to play to keep the balance right, I think
on the margins it would not be too difficult.
4. I think it would be possible for somebody
of the kind you describe who would not be sound enough to be on
the party's list nominees to be able to apply directly to the
Commission and say, "I am actually a party person, I do not
want to go on their list but I want to be a party nominee".
(Lord Wakeham) Absolutely. Also I would expect the
Appointments Commission to be proactive and to recognise that
X is retiring from a distinguished career in the House of Commons
that has not necessarily followed conventional lines. I think
public life is better if they have a place to express their views
and continue to give their advice. I do not think a party leader
who does not like them should have the power to keep them out
of the House. That is essentially what I am looking at. It will
5. I thought it was interesting what you said
about election that there seems to be a consensus now that there
is some kind of balance between election and appointment in the
territory we are all in. What I would like to know, you obviously
had this discussion at great length inside the Commission and
did not come to one view, you reached that with a spread, I think,
including 12 per cent and 35 per cent of elections, which would
suggest that it is not easy to come to a view on this. What I
am not clear about on this is why on the logic of your argument
in the Commission you needed an election at all because although
the argument goes it is to represent the nations and the regions
surely an Appointments Commission could appoint people from the
nations and regions too. Why throw in the electoral element at
all and why did you have so much difficulty coming up with the
(Lord Wakeham) First of all, I have publicly stated
since the report that I do not mind which of the percentages we
put in our report we have as long as the basis on which they are
elected is the type of election we want. I would object to any
if they were on five year renewable terms because I think they
would disrupt the place in a way that would make it hardly worth
having. I would not mind if the percentage was slightly from what
we proposed, and let me tell you why. I started with a Commission
some of whom were utterly opposed to any elected members and some
of whom wanted it wholly elected. We reached an united view. The
interesting thing was nothing in the report at all but the dialogue
that went on that created the basis on which we would achieve
agreement. I think the first breakthrough was a realisation by
those who were in favour of a wholly elected House. The reality
was that you would not attract into it the sort of people who
would be able to make the sort of contribution that the country
would need from a revising chamber. First of all you would say
that the brightest and the best would probably still seek to get
to the House of Commons, the second 11 might go the regional and
national Parliaments and the third 11 might go to Europe and we
would end up with an elected bunch of guys in the House of Lords
who were the fourth 11, and who is going to take any notice of
them? What good are they to anybody? That was one way of looking
at it. The second way was if you are going to want the House of
Lords to make a real detailed and useful contribution which is
an add on to what the House of Commons does you have to attract
in, for example, the finest lawyers on human rights who would
not possibly give up a career as a lawyer to go to the House of
Commons but would go to the House of Lords, perhaps, where they
could really make a contribution. Across the board it is vital
that the House of Lords is a part-time House and not a full-time
House where you could get that sort of expertise. That was the
reason. Why did we recognise an elected element? From my point
of view I went from in the discussions from a wholly appointed,
which is where I started, to saying, the next thing to do is to
have a series of Appointments Commissions round the nation so
that the Scots could produce their own, Northern Ireland could
produce their own and the Welsh could produce their own. I was
told, not in evidence but outside by some very distinguished people
that I must be joking to think it would be possible to have a
regional Appointments Commissions that would have the weight and
the standing that was necessary to send people to the House of
Lords. They would inevitably get caught up in politics. I took
the view, this is me, not what is in report, it would not be possible
to get the right sort of credibility for regional and national
representatives in a House if they were appointed by a Central
London Appointments Commission and thus I came to the conclusion
that let us use the people as the Appointments Commission, let
them choose but let the people who get there not be elected in
the sense that they were accountable to the electorate in the
traditional sense, that is the job of the House of Commons. There
is no reason why people who are going to do a similar job as appointed
members should not be appointed by the people in their regions.
That is basis that I came to conclusion. Others will have had
a different way of getting there, it was that recognition that
your regional representatives would not have been effectively
appointed by one central body in London. That is how it works.
6. Finally on that, having had this revelation
of let the people be the Appointments Commission, if people took
that further and said, let there at least be a majority of people
acting as an Appointments Commission so we will have a majority
of the House elected would that be consistent with what you have
argued in the Commission or undercut it?
(Lord Wakeham) I think it would be inconsistent in
the sense that we took the view that one of the values of the
Appointments Commission was seeking out and finding particular
expertise that we felt the House of Lords needed which was the
sort of expertise which was not available in the House of Commons.
There is absolutely no point in replicating in the House of Lords,
it is just a waste of time if we are going to be the same as the
House of Commons. You have to produce something different that
has a different perspective. We, by and large think, definitely
think, you would not get that by a form of election but by appointment.
The system for the regions and the nations we thought was unique
for regions and the nations whereas we think the Appointments
Commissioner is the best way of finding that sort of expertise
which we think would be hard to persuade to go there without some
proactive effort out by an Appointments Commission
Chairman: I am sure colleagues will want to
explore these points with you.
7. Lord Wakeham, I am interested in the government's
response to your recommendations. The Lord Chancellor yesterday
in opening the debate in the Lord said, "We have not followed
every detail but we believe our basic approach to be the Commission's".
What do you say to that?
(Lord Wakeham) I said in the debate that I thought
that some of the things that he said were good and some were bad.
I do not want to repeat myself. Certainly the fact that he wants
it substantially appointed, the government want it substantially
appointed, is, in my view, right. The role and functions of the
House of Lords are very similar to the way that we reported. It
is the distortion of the method of appointments were recommended
and the distortion of the position of elected members that are
my principle concerns. In other words, if I can put it another
way, which I think is helpful, in the House of Lords there are
not too many people in favour of an elected house, they want an
appointed house, down here you might well say the opposite is
true, there is a very significant number of people who would like
an elected house. I think the government has in its way fallen
into the trap of presenting the case for each, both of which there
is a case for, in the worst possible light. There is a case for
appointed members, there is a case for elected members. It seems
to me the Government has made a mistake of presenting both of
them in their least attractive light.
8. I understand that. What I am trying to get
at is the government is saying it is following the Wakeham proposals
and the Daily Mail quotes you today as saying, "If
the government proposals go through it could fatally undermine
(Lord Wakeham) Sure.
9. That is the position, is it not, we are talking
about the government taking a different line in crucially important
areas than the Royal Commission?
(Lord Wakeham) Sure. If I may say so, your election
manifesto took a different line from what the government has taken
as well, but that is a matter for you and not for me.
10. In the Commission's Report you said on 7th
March 2000 you cautioned against cherry picking, you said "Our
recommendations are coherent and interrelated." Do you stand
(Lord Wakeham) Yes, I standby that. I think one has
11. There is a qualification coming.
(Lord Wakeham) No. We are all politicians and the
most important thing I have always believed is that this is a
compromise and I have been, right from the beginning, trying to
persuade as many people to accept a few things they do not really
want to in order to get the things they do want.
12. I am interested in this question of coherence
and whether the Royal Commission came forward with coherent proposals.
Do you maintain that it was coherent?
(Lord Wakeham) Yes, we do, we definitely do. We came
to the conclusion that partly appointed and partly elected was
the right way forward and that would get the best balance of people
to do the job.
13. What about religious representation? The
government says in its response that the Royal Commission's proposals
on religious representations were unworkable.
(Lord Wakeham) Far be it from me to say the government
are not entitled to their view, they are entitled to their view.
14. I am interested in your view.
(Lord Wakeham) My view is in the Report and I am disappointed
they have not taken that view up. You could argue, this is relevant
15. Is this on the religious representation
point, because I want to stick with that?
(Lord Wakeham) Yes. You could argue that if you were
starting from absolute scratch to find a second chamber with nothing
on the table at all that it is not necessarily clear you will
get a consensus for putting the established church in as one place.
We start where we are. I actually want to reform the place and
make progress. We start where we are and in my view what we proposed
was a coherent way forward.
16. How much time did you spend in the Commission
considering the question of religious representation in the upper
(Lord Wakeham) I do not think I can put a number on
it, quite a lot. We had quite a lot of evidence from the established
church, from those who were totally opposed to it, from leaders
of free churches, from Jewish faiths, quite a lot. We had a very
distinguished Bishop on our Commission
17. Bishop Harris
(Lord Wakeham)who wrote for our educationI
do not know whether it was put in the evidence or nota
very substantial paper so we could attack the problem.
18. I want to finish on this point, you have
read the House of Lords supporting documents, where the government
actually sets out the reasoning which leads it to the conclusion
that the Royal Commission's proposals are unworkable.
(Lord Wakeham) Which page is that on?
19. This is page 62. If you were to tell the
Committee that you had read it, you disagreed with it and you
stick to your position that the Commission's proposals were workable
then we can end it there.
(Lord Wakeham) I have not read it, so that is very
simple. As far as that is concerned I have seen nothing which
makes me change my view.