Examination of Witnesses (Questions 180
THURSDAY 17 JANUARY 2002
180. Whilst I was behind you on this I have
ended up in front of you. I would not have changed the original
system nor would I change this one. I think this one performs
the function that everyone is trying to protect and if they cannot
think of another way of doing it the position changes. They should
not change it if it is doing such a good job. Be that as it may.
Many parliamentary systems have two elected chambers and the electorate
have some subtle way of distinguishing between the two. In some
countries they vote on the same day and people vote for different
parties in different chambers at the same time because there is
a sense amongst them that some balance is needed. I increasingly
think it is going to be difficult to have a chamber which has
any elected proportion, unless it is a complete elected chamber,
and of the members who were not elected the legitimacy of the
members will become an issue sooner or later. It is blazingly
obvious to people in the country, you either have an elected the
system or you do not, and then leave the people of the country
to decide if they want to use the second chamber as a chamber
of the government, which is part of the first. You have always
seemed to me to be a very distinctive politician, are you not
uncomfortable with the idea of a hybrid?
(Mr Mitchell) What I put up is a hybrid in that sense.
I think that is the only way of approaching the issue, checking
the executive provided we haveand I agree with Viscount
Thurso on the age level, I think that would be necessarya
different electoral system for the second chamber. People do vote
differently under an STV system and they are more likely to spread
their votes between parties and they are also more likely to pick
out somebody they know of a regional reputation, because it would
be on regional basis. That is a hybrid element which is valuable
in producing differentiation.
181. I am surprised you have not gone for electing
the whole house?
(Mr Mitchell) We have to take this opportunity to
bring in other people with a wider range of ability.
182. Do you think those who have been elected
and those that have not will be regard in the same way by public
opinion and by each other?
(Mr Mitchell) Only time will tell. In New Zealand,
where they have just gone for proportional representationthe
list members are regardedpartly the convention of the House
of Lordsas interfering in people's constituencies as an
interfering nuisance, because they do interfere in constituencies,
and that would be a point of friction between the second chamber
and the first rather than between different members of the second
chamber, I do not know. Just as now you have two elements, still
the remaining hereditary element of 1992, plus all of the nominations,
and these have been able to live and let live for years and get
on with each other, as they have much the same basic role, so
it will be a hybrid second chamber.
183. It now seems clear that the White Paper
proposals attracted support from wherever you look and there seems
to be as many different ideas about the way forward as there are
members of the Commons. That could well be recipe to do nothing,
to abandon the idea altogether, that might well suit some people.
Would it matter if that was the case?
(Mr Mitchell) It would matter because a great opportunity
would be thrown away. I am not sure if the government's proposals
are cynical, so they put in 20 per cent in the knowledge that
they could then offer the sop to those who wanted 30, 40 or 50
by marginally increasing it. I am not sure what the tactic is
but I accept, as you do, the danger that the argument over what
is going to happen could stymie the whole reform altogether and
cause the rien ne dure comme le provisoire, things to hang
on as they are. That would be a mistake. We now have an opportunity
to devise the kind of second chamber that is going to fulfil the
purposes of policy in this country and which is going to be a
considerable improvement on what has gone before, and I do not
think we should pass that up. It is now a question of a sustained
debate so that we can arrive at some agreed conclusion. That is
why, unusually for me, I have put a compromise in there.
(Viscount Thurso) As I said in the debate, I believe
that reform is an iterative process and it will go on until it
arrives at its own conclusion, I think that will be largely or
wholly elected one day, it may take a very long time to get there.
I agree with the point that you are making that the worst possible
outcome would be that this is perceived as being so difficult
that it is kicked into the long grass and it is another 90 years
before we get round to doing anything about it. I would take 20
per cent because that is 20 per cent more than we have now, even
though what I would like to see is something far greater. I think
the biggest danger of the lot is that we will let this fall. The
reason for that is there is a myth that the House of Lords works,
and it does not, in my view. It works extremely well internally,
it is a very pleasant place to be, having sat on the Refreshment
Committee there I can tell you it has excellent service in many
ways. When you have taken an important amendment, as I did to
the Scotland Bill, got it through the Lords, had it kicked back
by the Commons and had been unable to see it through any further,
which is on the number of MSPsand it is a subject we are
now back at, doing consultation on the probability of having to
return to primary legislation on exactly this pointand
there are many other instances where sensible amendments have
been just taken out because in the Commons we can always say they
are hereditary or unelected, therefore they are not legitimate,
which is why ultimately I believe in the legitimacy test. As long
as we can say in the Commons they are legitimate it does not matter
how it is composed, it will work. At the moment the Lords, in
my view, does not fulfil its duty.
184. I agree with you, doing nothing is the
worst option. Do you have thoughts on how you avoid that?
(Viscount Thurso) I think your next witness is the
one you need to push on that, if I may say so.
Chairman: You are probably right.
185. I very much welcome the paper that Austin
submitted as somebody who believes in 100 per cent elected House
of Lords but recognises that that is not an option that commands
a majority and we do need to find a consensus. I was a bit concerned
about this business of creating a superannuated body and a minimum
age for membership of 45 for the second chamber. I notice in your
paper, Austin, you said this would prevent a legislative council.
You call it the second chamber becoming a springboard into the
Commons, as the European Parliament has been. I wonder whether
John Thurso might comment, as somebody who has used the Lords
as a springboard into the Commons, and, perhaps, explain his support
for Austin's 45 year rule and, perhaps, Austin, you can explain
why any young person would want to vote for a body where they
are precluded from standing for election for?
(Viscount Thurso) I should say that when my father
died I was 43, so I was very close to the limit. Yes, I do recognise
when I argue this case I am the living embodiment of the opposite.
I believe that there will be very few others who will follow the
course that I have done. I do not expect many in the next intake,
when the remaining hereditaries go, I do not expect that we will
see many of those coming into the Commons. I think it is noticeable
in modern politics there are an awful lot of people who have gone
to university and studied a subject to do with politics and come
straight here as researchers, and then moved up to advisers. It
has always amused me, they advise, then they move down to become
an MP, they then become a junior MP, and hopefully they work up
the greasy pole and sometimes in their 40s enter the Cabinet and
have effectively done nothing other than be involved in politics.
I have no problem with that for the Commons, we are a professional
political body in that sense. As previous witnesses have said,
one of the strengths of the Lords is the fact that it draws on
the experience of people from what they have done before they
get there, in my case it was a career in the tourism industry,
so I got the tourism brief, which is rather logical and rare.
It did mean that people were talking and did have experience of
being in industry or experience or the law, wherever it might
be. I think also that if you have got to 45 in a system where
you then have this extraordinary benefit of an accident at birth
and you are somebody who does not want the hurly burly of the
kind of election that we go through, first past the post, then
taking part in the gentler form of regional STV or list on a once
in a lifetime basis if you succeed would I think encourage people
who want to give service but do not want to be professional politicians
in the same way as we do. That is my view.
186. That is a very good point that has been
raised, surely in practice it will not be like that? What will
happen is that you make a devastating analysis of professional
political class that has taken over this chamber, all we will
have is a superannuated professional political class taking over
through a party election system.
(Viscount Thurso) I do not think so. It is one of
those things I think is impossible to prove one way or another.
It is really a question of belief rather than establishing facts.
My belief is that a properly composed system with the kind of
age limits and other things that we have both been talking about
would encourage people who would under no circumstances stand
for the Commons. I think also, funnily enough, there would be
a far less of an incentive for parties to actually reward superannuated
members because why bother when you have a pool of different people
who actually want to go and do a good job for you in the second
chamber. I suppose I do have a belief that the system would work.
(Mr Mitchell) If I can add to that, we have to accept
that we are all careerists now, some of us more successful, although
I would say luckier, than others. That is the nature of the modern
game, it is career politics. If we are talking about the 20s,
30s, even 40s, you had a class, some of which pursued a career
in politics, went in young and achieved high office. It has now
become a universal preoccupation and we all want to come in early,
establish ourselves, get on the ladder, that is the ultimate satisfaction
of the political career, to hold power. I think that career politics
is universal now. Secondly, we have to face the fact in this country
we have fewer legislators, fewer slots for career politicians
per capita than any other system, certainly than federal systems
like Australia or the States, where there are other stages to
strut on and other careers to pursue. In that situation any election
provision, whether it is the European Parliament or the second
chamber is going to become part of that struggle. I agree absolutely
on the age barrier as a differentiating factor, because if people
have not made the front bench by the time they are 45 in this
Parliament they might as well give up.
187. You do not think it would put off young
(Mr Mitchell) Let me come to that, that is a separate
issue. I think it is an attempt, this age issue, to bring in a
different kind of person, to bring in somebody who is a more experienced
in life, who has had a career and not committed themselves to
a career in politics and struggled to get in, we need to bring
in the diversity. That will be supplemented by the election system.
188. It will be like a senior golf tour, post
45 they move into that bracket. They will not be a different kind
of person, they will be older.
(Mr Mitchell) They will be different because they
are older and they are not competing for high office, they have
not devoted themselves to a political career, which people do,
by taking jobs which are jobs to fill in time before they get
into Parliament, which is their ambition. These will be people
who had a career. They will have to be people of some regional
standingyou might say regional television personalities
will have an advantage, rather than golf pros, I would not be
adverse to thatrather than be selected as party hacks who
failed to get into Parliament and they are contenting themselves
with second best. I think we can rely on the parties to offer
some choice and a sensible list of members. I think the regional
basis has to be borne in mind as well. Whether it will produce
interest in young people, I have no answer to that question because
no change in the electoral system in the kind of person coming
forward, whether they are in hippy dress like me saying out of
date phrases from the 1960s or pursuing other gimmicks, is going
to do that.
189. You could rename it the Commons Classic,
(Mr Mitchell) We are not going to get young people
interested in the Commons either because they are not particularly
interested in a lot of career politicians fratching.
Chairman: The idea of protecting people of a
certain age is something that a number of us could get increasingly
interested in. We are now into effectively the last five minutes
because we need a little break before we start the next session.
I am going to ask colleagues who have got points to put them and
then both of you to give a quick come back at the end.
Mr Lyons: Austin, can I turn to the paper again,
the question of 500 Members. With Boundary Commission reviews
is it not inevitable that we will finish up with a bigger second
chamber than the whole House of Commons if we stick by 500? Does
it not seem a bit large, 500? You say 20 per cent is a sop. When
does the Government get worried, at what percentage, in your opinion,
in terms of what you have said? The other issue which is important
is 20 members nominated by the TUC, the CBI. Is there not a danger
we will just finish up with the usual suspects in that situation?
The other thing about age is I have been impressed by a lot of
the younger Lords and the contributions they are making, do you
not think that it is just a piece of nonsense that we try and
bar people one day when they are 45 but they are okay two days
later at 46?
Annette Brooke: The more I hear people talking
I really do not understand why you just cannot bring some of these
experts in to have them as part of the debate when you need their
expertise. My colleague here pointed out perhaps somebody is only
popping in once every two years, so why on earth have they got
to be brought in on a formal basis at all?
Mr Prentice: John told us that he held the tourism
brief because he worked in the tourism industry. My question is
who holds the home help brief in the Lords? A question to Austin,
and your paper is absolutely fascinating. How does this regionalism
tie in with devolution? Will the reformed second chamber have
scrutiny powers for legislation passed by the devolved institutions?
This was a point that David Owen picked up in his submission to
Mr Liddell-Grainger: Coming back to the voting
system, it was an interesting comment you made but whatever system
you have, whether it is regional, constituency, whatever, unless
it is a broad one you will get that interference from the Upper
House to the Lower House by virtue of the votes system anyway.
190. What I would really like you to do, and
I am sorry about this, in a minute each just knock the points
in turn if you would.
(Mr Mitchell) Five hundred is an optional figure,
people can put their own figure on it. It seemed to me a reasonably
sized chamber to take on the job and the elements can be adjusted
upwards or downwards if you want a lower or a higher figure. Twenty
per cent, where will the Government stop, I do not know. That
is a question of psychology, do not ask me, ask the Government.
The interest group element, I think it is a good idea. It might
produce the usual suspects but I think it is up to the interest
groups to select good people who are going to put their case adequately
because it is an entry to the legislative process which they have
not had and I am sure they will want to make effective use of
it. Age qualification, I think that is important because it brings
in people with different career paths and different experience
and that is the main thing. I do not want them to be like us,
young, thrusting, dynamic people like myself, coming in on a remorseless
rise to power. I think they are here to do a different job from
that in the second chamber. You could bring experts in but what
I am suggesting in the nominated by an independent commission
section is to bring a wider range of experience and political
background of people who are not going to submit themselves to
the election process but who have a contribution to make. You
can on top of that bring in experts for particular purposes but
bear in mind unless they are Members they will not have the same
status and the same ability. How does it tie in with regionalism,
it ties in very well, regionalism is an emerging trend and it
is going to be a major preoccupation over the next few years,
I think. If we had regional assemblies now you could talk about
regional assemblies nominating but because the regional focus
is developing I am suggesting regional election on a regional
STV system and a great opportunity for debating regional issues
on a regional stage in the second chamber. Is there going to be
interference, yes there is, they are going to argue. Since the
job of the second chamber is essentially different, that is to
say it is checking the Executive and it is dealing much more with
perfecting legislation, I would like to think that there will
not be all that much time for them to start fratching on the ground
over whether I write about Mrs Bloggs' council drains or you do.
191. That was a Grimsby minute.
(Viscount Thurso) I agree 500 is too many, one would
have to work down progressively. I see something nearer 350, 400
as being a more appropriate number. My experience was there were
broadly 275, 300 working Peers when I was there. I take your point
on the age but, like any line that is drawn, it is always made
ridiculous by being one day one side and one day the other side.
I think it is the broad concept of trying to go for people with
maturity and experience. Some young people will be out who could
have done the job but broadly it will be right. Experts, yes,
I see no reason why experts could not be brought in to give evidence
whether it be through the Committee system or some other way.
Again, what we are looking for is people with a breadth of experience
and it is a general experience of life, of industry or of a profession
or of charities, or whatever, that one is really looking for.
That partly answers your question. I was dead lucky that it just
so happened that I arrived when there was a gap for tourism and
I happened to have done it all my life. There will undoubtedly
be somebody, many people actually in the Lords, who have specific
knowledge of home help.
192. Never been one, I bet.
(Viscount Thurso) I am not sure exactly now who does
it in the Lords. My wife actually did it professionally for a
short time for a few years ago to earn some pin money, so if it
was me I would go and ask her about it. On the point of devolution,
there are some interesting things to look at in the devolution
model. One thing I would be wholly against is the devolved assemblies
becoming an electoral college, I think that grossly subtracts
from rather than adds to. Yes, on the interference, they will
interfere and that is precisely what we want them to do because
we want to strengthen the check, but with the Parliament Act ultimately
if the Government really wishes to get its business it will.
Chairman: Thank you very much for that. Thank
you to both of you for a very interesting session indeed. Thank
you both for your papers and for coming along and talking to us
and contributing to the unravelling of this. Thank you very much.