Examination of Witness (Questions 40 -
THURSDAY 10 JANUARY 2002
40. Can I just try that point on you slightly
differently because I think it is a fundamental one. I had difficulties
with parts of the Terrorism Bill and I remember when we were voting
on that, one of the particularly contentious sections of it, we
were all trooping through the lobbies and I heard one of my colleagues,
who was clearly unhappy about all this and the way it was being
done, said to those around him "Never mind, the Lords will
sort it out for us" and we all chuckled. Now when it came
back from the Lords, the Lords having sorted it out for us, and
they played a blinder on the Terrorism Bill, I got a call from
the Whips saying "You know, the Lords are not elected"
and of course my reply was "Yes, but they have got the right
arguments". This is not something that you will understand
as a former Whip.
(Lord Wakeham) I have done all the dirty tricks that
are known. I could write a book about them, but I will not.
41. So is not the need to answer the question
"who are these people" absolutely crucial for us as
well as for everybody else?
(Lord Wakeham) Yes, and if you could answer that question
satisfactorily there would not be the problem because the Whips
would have sorted the House of Lords out as well and the thing
would have gone through with no problem. If there are a lot of
elected Members the Whips will move in and they will take over,
and I think that would be a great mistake. I think that it would
be a great mistake indeed. I recognise that a House that is going
to have that sort of freedom which arises from an authority other
than elected, and we have gone to considerable lengths to make
sure it is not patronage but is a genuine attempt to find people
who have got a contribution to make, if you convert it into an
elected House I am afraid to say the Whips will take over, and
I will tell them how to do it too if they want me to tell them
and then it will do no good at all and the House will hardly be
42. Most other countries do end up with some
form of fully elected second chamber and they do this by rebalancing
the responsibilities or duties of the two chambers. At what stage
in the Committee's deliberations did you give that idea up as
(Lord Wakeham) I think it was very near the end. I
started with a number of members of the Commission in my view
who were horrified that it was not going to be a fully elected
chamber. They assumed that was what they had come there to do.
They also assumed that they had come there to advise Government
to bring a second Bill in to throw out all the life Peers. I will
tell you this, I have never said this publicly I do not think,
I said to themthis was not in deliberation but over a cup
of tea and it is very revealing"If you do that I have
got my doubts as to whether this Government is going to bring
in a second Bill to throw all the life Peers out. Whether it is
right or wrong I do not think they are going to." I said
"Even if you had a transitional period and most others would
agree to that, let us assume a transitional period is 15 years,
which is about one term, at the end of 15 years after the legislation
is passed, how many life Peers will still be around?" and
the answer was 43. I said "What do you want to worry about
that for? It changes". On the different proportions elected
or appointed we made a report and I am not going to advocate anything
different from that, but I could probably live with a different
proportion so long as the arrangements were right, so long as
the elected members did not end up as a threat to the House of
43. Yes, but a lot of what you say relies on
your view that the House of Commons cannot be touched in this,
that you are trying to be extremely helpful in preserving our
legitimacy. It may well be that the relationship should be looked
at in a more fundamental way and the House of Commons is not performing
a totally democratic task.
(Lord Wakeham) Yes, sure. If they had said to me would
I like to be Chairman of a Royal Commission to look at the functions
of Parliament that would have been a different job. I had to do
what I was asked to do and I think it was worthwhile doing. The
other stuff will not happen. You are a young man and I am retiring
and it will not happen in my lifetime, it simply will not happen.
44. Do you think the tail could wag the dog
a little in this?
(Lord Wakeham) I do not know about a little. The truth
of the matter is in the Conservative Party we criticised the Government
but they were absolutely dead right, the only way to have attempted
to reform the House of Lords was to bring in a Bill, to remove
hereditary Peers and then present the problem that had to be resolved.
If you had not done that we would have gone back to 1968 and all
the different attempts, it would never have happened, the Government
would have said "We have not got enough time to waste time
on all this". So they have started and now I think we should
achieve the job. Of course there are all sorts of other things
that could have been done and all sorts of things which would
make for perfection in some people's view but I am in the business
of the art of the possible. I spent a year of my life getting
this report together with a lot of people who were very disparate,
disagreed, and they produced a united report which I think is
a practical way forward. I cannot see a possibility of getting
any alternative which is not pretty near that, the sort that people
could live with. I can see there are a lot of people unhappy with
some of the things we have said, I accept that, and it may be
that nothing is possible.
45. That is the pragmatic view, and I understand
that, but in the theoretical view it would be possible, would
it not, to rebalance the responsibilities of the two chambers
and make both elected, perhaps in different ways?
(Lord Wakeham) Sure, I guess so. I guess you are right
but it is not my world.
46. Your view is if the Conservative Party comes
forward, as we are told it is going to do, with an overwhelmingly
elected proposal this will in fact destroy the legitimacy of the
House of Commons?
(Lord Wakeham) I am certainly not going to answer
any hypothetical questions at this stage.
47. You could not possibly comment.
(Lord Wakeham) I take the view that the right solution
is a House which is partly appointed and partly elected but it
has to be appointed in the proper way, which the Government is
not proposing to do, and it has to be elected in the proper way,
which the Government is not proposing to do. I do not think I
am going to die in a ditch for exactly the proportions as between
one and another, I think that is something to be negotiated.
48. We started on this process, I believe, with
a commitment in the Labour Party manifesto that there should be
an All Party Joint Committee to actually establish a democratic,
accountable second chamber. I would like to ask to what extent
do you feel that the White Paper is meeting this commitment and
also do you see that perhaps by consensus and fudge the Lords'
final act will be as it acted on the Anti-Terrorism Bill and perhaps
achieve what is cross-party consensus but within a most bizarre
way rather than having an all party approach to it all the way
(Lord Wakeham) They are intriguing questions but I
do not know that I know the answers to some of those questions.
I think the Government will say that their commitment to an All
Party Joint Committee was before they set up the Royal Commission
and so on, so they feel they have done it legitimately and the
Conservative Party are still very unhappy about it. As far as
I am concerned I put some proposals on the table and I am prepared
to defend the proposals. I do not think I can get too far down
into the party politics of it all because I do not think my views
are necessarily 100 per cent anybody else's views.
49. You said that your starting point was to
be very positive about an appointed second chamber and you moved
some way from that, but that was your starting point. What are
your feelings about Canada where I understand that the appointed
senate is derided and generally ignored?
(Lord Wakeham) Absolutely. I went to Canada to talk
to them about it and I think they are very anxious to find consensus
to find a different system. Their system simply does not work.
It is patronage in the hands of the Prime Minister, as I understand
it, and he uses it in a way which I think would be totally wrong
in our system. The thing which is remarkable about our system
over the years is the fact has been that Prime Ministers have
had total patronage and the remarkable thing is how well they
have used it considering what they might have done. If you look
back it has not been quite as bad as people think. I am totally
opposed to a system of patronage of that sort. It is not popular
in Canada and I think they are trying to find a way forward, but
as we have already experienced finding a way forward is not that
50. We are into the last few minutes but can
I just warn you, after your time here we started having Thursday
morning sittings which means that in a few minutes' time the bells
are going to ring and then they are going to stop and then they
are going to ring again, but we pretend they do not ring, we just
(Lord Wakeham) You just carry on, okay. I am in favour
of people voting
51. It is not a voting bell.
(Lord Wakeham)not understanding the issues
or anything like that. That is a luxury I thought people should
always have. I am joking.
52. Lord Wakeham, could I go back to the question
of future reform of the Lords looking at the tensions, as you
described it, between various parliaments and assemblies. Is there
not a suggestion that is just a re-invention of yourselves to
(Lord Wakeham) No. When we talked about these ideas
when we were in Scotland a number of the Scottish Nationalists
certainly did not think it was a very good idea, they did not
think the House of Lords has any relevance to what they are interested
in at all. We took the view this was the sort of thing which the
House of Lords could do well, not to tell everybody what to do
but to try to illuminate what is happening in a public way. We
had a similar sort of situation when we considered the constitutional
issues. There is a case for saying that you could perhaps have
different voting levels for constitutional issues or you could
give the House of Lords a greater authority on what is constitutional.
We found that was extremely difficult to know how to define and
whilst we had some sympathy with the view we did not know how
to do it. What we said was consistent with the House of Lords'
view that they are in a way "advisory" and the better
wisdom we can put on to the scene, the more light we can put on
to the scene, the better. So devolution is an area where we can
illuminate some of the things that are happening, some of the
tensions that are there, in the hope to resolve them. When we
have a Constitution Committee again, if they felt, this Committee
of senior experienced people, that the constitutional issues were
not being properly highlighted they could issue a report, possibly
early on before it has necessarily gone through all its stages
in the Commons. I am in favour of them looking at something and
saying "Look, you chaps, you are the ones who have got the
decision but these are some of the very significant issues that
have got to be dealt with". I think that is valuable.
53. Ultimately that would be a matter between
Parliament and the UK Government to be resolved?
(Lord Wakeham) Absolutely, I am not against that.
And ultimately the House of Commons will have its say because
the legislation may have to be got through, sure.
54. You also mentioned the Appointments Commission
and the debate and argument about whether that should be done
on maybe a national or regional basis rather than a London basis.
What were the arguments for this London position at the end of
(Lord Wakeham) I would certainly expect any Appointments
Commission to make sure that it has a proper amount of knowledge
and expertise and interest from regions and the nations, that
is vital. What we felt was not so much that we were in favour
of a London Appointments Commission. As we saw difficulties in
having a plethora of Appointments Commissions around which would
not have necessarily the expertise or the authority, we thought
it was better to have one Appointments Commission.
55. So what are the difficulties then?
(Lord Wakeham) The difficulties?
56. Of having these regional and national Appointments
(Lord Wakeham) I do not know how blunt to be.
(Lord Wakeham) The view I got was a number of people
told us that they thought that it would be extremely difficult
to get the sort of independent view of an Appointments Commission's
role non partisan, independent view, in some parts of the country
because by and large most of the people you would put on the Appointments
Commission would be the people you would probably want to appoint
anyway. So we came to the conclusionI came to the conclusion
and it is presented in this waythat the best Appointments
Commissions in the regions were the people.
58. So London knows best ultimately?
(Lord Wakeham) No, not necessarily, I do not think
that is right at all, but you have got to have a centre. I would
not mind if the Appointments Commission was located somewhere
else. I think it is probably practically better where Parliament
59. I think the next logical question, of course,
is if nobody would accept the legitimacy of regional Appointments
Commissions, why would they accept the legitimacy of a central
(Lord Wakeham) Legitimacy was not the issue, it was
in practice finding the right people to do the job. The view was
that we would do it better this way. The legitimacy, as I have
always said, it is your legitimacy I am trying to protect by these
reforms, not ours. I think our role is a different role. We need
to be representative of British society, we need to be independent
and we need to have knowledge and expertise, you need to be legitimate.