Examination of Witness (Questions 240
THURSDAY 17 JANUARY 2002
240. This is what I am inviting you to say,
to move on in this positive spirit. As I say, there is a feeling
abroad that the Government is clearly in some political difficulties
about this and therefore it presents a nice political opportunity
to compound those difficulties, but I think that route will never
give us any kind of basis for reforming the second chamber. I
hope what I am hearing and inviting you to say is that there is
a willingness now to engage in positive, constructive building
of reform of the second chamber.
(Lord Strathclyde) You say there is a willingness
now as there never has been before. We have always offered ourselves
up to the Government to help look for a lasting solution. We have
always complained about what the Government appeared to want to
do, which is to come up with a solution and seek to bulldoze it
through both Houses of Parliament. It is clear to me that that
is no longer going to work. There is a House of Commons EDM, the
Mactaggart EDM, which has nearly 200 MPs as signatories so there
needs to be a re-think. I offer to the Government the best way
of doing that re-think is to bring together such a joint committee
and to use the combined wisdom of parliamentarians in both Houses
to come forward realistically with a solution. I do believe that
is possible. I think there is a sufficient common ground between
the parties to do that.
241. And the paper that you have produced is
to be seen as a contribution to that discussion rather than any
(Lord Strathclyde) Very much so.
Chairman: Thank you. Ian?
242. Can I come back to the joint committee
of the House, where do you see the House in, say, five years'
time, regardless of what the proportion of elected Peers is? What
do you see the House doing in five to ten years' time?
(Lord Strathclyde) Let us assume that a reform has
taken place. I think it will be stronger, more effective, I think
it will be more authorative, it will be listened to more by the
Government when it seeks to make changes to legislation, and I
think it will be more self confident in using the powers it already
has but rarely uses. I think that will be of benefit to the legislation
which ultimately comes out of Parliament. I suspect there will
be less legislation going through and there may be more recourse
to the Parliament Acts in certain instances. I think that will
be the nature of the House. I also think the power will move from
Government back to Parliament and there may be a resurgence of
the independence of the House of Commons, with the example of
the House of Lords. I think all these are eminently good things
and also, ironically, at the end of the day you will get stronger
and better government. I regard all of this as being a win for
Parliament, a win for the House of Lords and a win for the House
of Commons, too.
243. I think one of the interesting things about
the joint committee is what its remit would be. If there is a
joint committeeand Robin Cook has said he has not ruled
it out, it is just that he has not quite got there because nobody
can decide on what the remit should be
(Lord Strathclyde) He has ruled it out, or the Government
has, but I will not labour that point because it may be that they
are going to change their minds and I do not want to rub their
noses in it if they are going to come up with a commendable change
of direction. I have put two proposals forward to the Government.
The first was that they should simply relay the Royal Commission
report to a joint committee and ask them to discuss it in the
widest possible manner. I think that is now probably out of date.
My second suggestion, and more recent one, was that they should
come forward with a draft Bill, perhaps with options in it, and
that should be the basis of a discussion to a joint committee
and then line by line you go through it and make changes. In fact,
the latter is the one that I, on the whole, still prefer. It also
fits in with the flow of what Robin Cook and Gareth Williams in
the House of Lords would like to see, which is more pre-legislative
scrutiny, and this may be a very practical way of offering it
244. You talk about electing 240 senators in
80 constituencies. If that is the case, do you see the potential
problem of direct interferencealthough you say you do not
think there will be because the House of Lords will be rejuvenating
the House of Commonsdo you not think, in reality, it will
start stepping on the toes of the House of Commons because it
is trying to define its own role in life?
(Lord Strathclyde) I think to some extent that could
happen. There may be particularly active senators, there may be
inactive Members of Parliament, and you may find that the constituents
go to a senator rather than a Member of Parliament, but I do not
see that as entirely something to be feared. I think to some extent
it already happens in Scotland between MPs and MSPs and I do not
think that people are overwhelmingly concerned about that and
it sharpens everyone's act up. With the principle of democracy
(and therefore representation) there is always going to be a borderline
between the responsibilities of the two Houses. The only alternative
is to not have democracy.
245. Let me finish on democracy. This has almost
become a witch hunt because nobody can agree as to where we are
going to go. Even our Chairman was misquoted on the radio. Where
are we going to get to? What is happening at the moment is that
everybody is going in different directions, but how are we going
to get to a consensus of any form that is going to make a good
House of Lords or a senate?
(Lord Strathclyde) Two or three years ago there was
a great rush for change. There was a thought, which I shared,
that the current second chamber would be a hopeless and ineffective
body and unable to perform its functions post the removal of hereditary
Peers. Actually, that has proved not to be the case and I think
that the House of Lords has continued to do its job extremely
well, and you only have to look at the terrorist legislation at
the end of last year as an example of that. I am, therefore, not
one who believes we need to rush into a great change in the course
of the next few months. The delay, which I feared meant that a
reform would never happen, has already occurred. I do not think
the Government has been dragging its heels, I think it is force
majeure which has meant that this has occurred. So I go back
to how do you move forward: you set up a committee, you get a
forum of get sensible people together and you give them the necessary
tools to do the work and then it becomes a political decision
by the Government and by other parties as to whether or not they
are willing to co-operate, whether they see the prize of reform
as being sufficiently important.
246. As we have now got to this position where
the issue of the reform of the House of Lords is back under serious
consideration, is it not the case that most of the countries around
the world are unicameral? Why do we need a second chamber or senate
(Lord Strathclyde) I do not know if most of the countries
around the world are unicameral, but certainly modern, civilised
democracies in Europe and the Commonwealth and the United States
are bicameral and seem to find a use for that. It depends if you
think the House of Lords does a useful job, and I think it does.
In fact, I think it is the most effective part of Parliament and
I think if it were not there it would be much missed. You only
have to look at changes in legislation over the last few years
to see that. Certainly if there were no second chamber, it would
need a fundamental reappraisal of the work of the House of Commons
and, in fact, Chairman, I think that what is missing in all these
decisions is that nobody ever talks about reform of the first
House. I was very struck by the evidence and what Shirley Williams
said in her speech last week in the House of Lords about how important
it was to see reform of the second chamber in the context of the
reform of the whole of Parliament and I think that is right.
247. Is not one of the blocks to reform of the
House of Commons the fact that the illegitimacy of the House of
(Lord Strathclyde) At the moment?
(Lord Strathclyde) Do you think that the current House
is more legitimate than the pre-1999 House? No, I agree with you.
I do not think that the current House is any more legitimate than
the 1999 House. But Margaret Jay did, on behalf of the Government,
and she said in 1999 "now that we are rid of the hereditary
House, we have a more legitimate chamber, one that Ministers would
be obliged to listen to more and be stronger and more powerful",
and all this kind of stuff. We tried to prove the point in subsequent
years but it was not the case. The Government did not find that
we were any more legitimate or any more authoritative than we
had been before, yet I think that the problem is that the House
of Commons has the authority and legitimacy to call the executive
to account and does not use it, and the second House does not
have the authority and the legitimacy but does sometimes have
the power to use it. So I think there needs to be a re-balancing
and part of that is to give the second chamber a greater legitimacy
and greater authority and perhaps that will help the House of
Commons use its power better as well.
249. Is there not a myth it is somehow the great
and good of this country in the House of Lords seeking to give
independent judgment on the Government of the day when the reality
is that when it was a Conservative Government the House of Lords
turned things over about half a dozen or a dozen times when it
was a Labour Government in the last Parliament it was 29 to 30.
(Lord Strathclyde) I think that was a very real criticism
of the old House which is no more. I do not know what would happen
if there was now a Conservative Government with the current House
but I hasten to add the Conservative position now is to support
democracy, not the great and the good, as you say. It is the Labour
Party's position to support the great and the good. They want
to have a House which is 80 per cent appointed and even the 20
per cent which is elected is not the people's choice but party
choice. It is appointment by remove because it is through a closed
250. That is why you have gone back to the old
shire boundaries so that in my case by electing under your proposals
three senators, one for every third General Election, I would
be totally represented by a Conservative senator and have no chance
in Buckinghamshire of ever having a Labour representation whereas
if it was by a proportional system every election, there would
at least be one opposition to the two Tory peers.
(Lord Strathclyde) Certainly under proportional systems
you get different results from first past the post. As for the
boundaries, and again I hasten to say this would be all part of
what would come out of a Joint Committee and ultimately a boundaries
commission, we came up with a figure of 80 because that was the
figure that was decided by Mackay and his constituencies were
based on Roy Jenkin's proposals to the Prime Minister on proportional
representation. We believe that you ought to try and fit them
within a historical context. One would perhaps use the shire boundaries
or the great cities or in Scotland and Wales they might do it
differently, Scotland might want to be one great constituency
as it is for the European elections. So we are not entirely prescriptive
on this issue but I think that there could be some genuine new
thinking about how these constituencies fit in and best represent
the people within the constituencies.
251. My final question then is in the debate
in the House of Lords I think there were about 30 odd Conservative
speakers, most of them were condemnatory of the hybrid system,
a mixture. You are putting forward a mixture in the Conservative
proposals, a slightly different mixture but hybrid nevertheless.
How do you think you will get that through given the level of
opposition there is. I think it was Lord St John of Bletso who
said "I can see some merit in an elected chamber. I can see
some merit in an appointed chamber. I can see no merit in a hybrid
(Lord Strathclyde) The bald fact is we want an 80:20
House so in that respect it is a hybrid House but our proposal
is that the political members of the House would all be elected.
So we argue it is 100 per cent elected House for politicians and
the 20 per cent are made up of the independents. I have yet to
find a convincing way of electing independents to a Parliament.
The cross-benchers do perform a valuable function so on the whole
I would favour leaving a proportion there. That is how I justify
that this is in fact not a hybrid House even though at first sight
it looks it. Certainly it is not a hybrid House where it has got
politicians sitting together, one elected and one appointed and
one presumably paid and one unpaid and all the complexities of
one representing a constituency and the other representing themselves.
252. When you make this argument to yourself
about this not being a hybrid House do you convince yourself?
(Lord Strathclyde) Very much so. I am entirely happy
that what we have come forward with is not a hybrid House.
253. Just to follow up on this territory. On
the issue of the electoral system we were just debating which
you have put forward, do you think it would be a healthy thing
if there was an overall majority in both Houses for the same party?
(Lord Strathclyde) We proposed two different days
for the elections to take place. The reason why we proposed two
different days was because we could not come to a conclusion in
the time we had before making this announcement. The two different
days come up with different solutions. If you have them on General
Election day you would tend, I think, to have similar proportions
of the vote being cast in favour of the party of Government, if
you had it on European Election day it would tend to be the opposite,
and there are very good arguments for both. Personally I favour
the General Election day to have the vote because you get the
higher turn out, you tend to get a pro Government vote, although
that would not necessarily be so, I actually think that people
might well, as they did in the Scottish elections, where they
voted on different systems, they voted for different people, different
(Lord Strathclyde) Slightly. The point is this because
we are giving them also long terms of office, even if they were
from the party of Government, they are more likely not to vote
with the whip on highly controversial issues which are, of course,
where the House of Lords does most of its work.
255. Pushing back to the question I asked, is
it not a likely outcome of the system that you are proposing,
unlike a proportional system for the second chamber, from time
to time even with 20 per cent of independently appointed members,
that you will get a situation where the Government party has an
overall majority in both Houses? Is that a consequence you have
thought of and one that you find to be an acceptable consequence
of your proposal?
(Lord Strathclyde) I think it would be extremely unlikely
over three elections.
256. I think it would be highly likely. You
propose large constituencies with first past the post which makes
it even less proportional than first past the post is for the
House of Commons. It makes it even more likely that you will get
a result skewed towards the party, a large percentage of the votes
but not a majority of the votes cast.
(Lord Strathclyde) That is why my first answer was
it depends which day you do it on. I think if you look back over
the last 18 or 20 years, depending on when you had elections to
the Upper House, even if you took exactly the same result, you
would have a very different result if you had it on General Election
day compared with European Election day.
257. The point I would make finally is that
is a greater danger, the outcome which I have suggested, which
is a possible outcome, than your concern about the closed list
because first past the post is a closed list of one. It is a party
choice and the elector gets no choice about the candidate, they
are voting the party line. The greater concern would be the potential
to create an elected dictatorship and that is a great danger in
the Conservative proposals. The rest about the 80 per cent is
neither here nor there, in that sense it could create an elected
dictatorship, that is the flaw in your proposal.
(Lord Strathclyde) If a closed list is such a good
idea why are MPs not calling more for it?
258. I am not saying it is, I am just saying
it is of less danger than your proposal.
(Lord Strathclyde) If one feels really threatened
by democracy then, of course, you do end up going down the route
of a more appointed House and that is not one which I particularly
259. Just on this point, just for the record,
as we say. It is the case, is it not, that the Wakeham Commission
actually looked in detail at this proposal you are now putting
forward and did all the figures on it, produced the table I have
got here, and it says here "We conclude that a senate/Lords
constituted in this manner could not fulfil any useful role as
a revising chamber or as a moderating check and balance mechanism
on the behaviour of the Government with a Commons majority for
precisely the reason that has been identified. It compounds an
elected dictatorship rather than checks it."
(Lord Strathclyde) Lord Wakeham's proposals all came
up with a minority elected element because they wanted completely
to avoid any concern that there would be any difficulty between
the two Houses. I am less concerned about that. I think it might
be a very good thing to have more clashes between the Houses and
for the second chamber, the senate, to exert its authority more
against the Government. I said earlier on I think you would get
better legislation, I think you would get less legislation and
I think that would be to everybody's benefit.