Examination of Witness (Questions 260
THURSDAY 17 JANUARY 2002
260. That would not happen because it would
compound the disproportionality in the elected dictatorship built
into the existing system. What Lord Wakeham did was to take the
Mackay Commission proposal
(Lord Strathclyde)That was on the general election
261.To see what would happen.
(Lord Strathclyde) That is if you take the general
election date, hence why we have offered a choice of it being
on the European elections date.
262. I suspect that these are unfinished proposals,
are they not?
(Lord Strathclyde) As I said earlier on, they are
proposals on which to consult, certainly on some of these details
such as the date of the election or exact constituency boundaries,
and these are the kind of things that we would welcome people's
263. Following on from that, without going into
the pros and cons of different voting systems, you did make a
great deal of the point that reform of the House of Lords was
to give it more legitimacy and enhance democracy. Do you regard
your current proposals as compatible with those two objectives
given, as my colleagues have pointed out, that "first past
the post" with a large constituency is not going to reflect
particularly well the overall wishes of the electorate?
(Lord Strathclyde) On the whole, I think that people
who are elected by the electorate have more authority and more
legitimacy than those that are imposed by party leaders, so the
answer to your question is yes I do.
264. You do not feel tempted to look at a more
perfect match between the people's views and the outcome?
(Lord Strathclyde) You are, of course, enjoining me
in a debate on proportional representation, which I hasten to
add I do not wish to be drawn into. I think the proper place for
that kind of discussion is within a joint committee of both Houses.
When it comes to democracy versus appointment, we have clearly
chosen democracy as being the way forward, although I should add
that if you look historically at the House of Lords, since the
Life Peerage Act was passed in 1958, there have been many excellent
Members of the House of Lords appointed who have done a very good
job. However, in the 21st Century the time has come to change
and move on.
265. There is a lot of cross-dressing on this
issue and I think we ought to be relaxed about itand I
am not going to talk about hairdressers! On the point about flexibility,
the Conservative proposals have got lots of green edges. Yes?
(Lord Strathclyde) Yes.
266. And am I right in thinkingand this
is a point that my colleague Brian White touched on earlierthat
you can carry Conservative Peers on these proposals?
(Lord Strathclyde) I think that if you look at the
debate, what was so remarkable about it was that no Peers on any
side were particularly enthusiastic about democracy. In fact,
the House of Lords is overwhelmingly opposed to more democracy
of any shape, whether it is 20 per cent, 30 per cent or even 80
per cent. There are some of course who are in favour of it. That
is why I say that what is so interesting about this debate is
not the classic Tory/Labour/Liberal Democrat clash, it is that
you get Eric Forth and Ken Clarke embracing each other over these
Mr Prentice: I do not want to hear about that.
267. Not a pretty sight!
(Lord Strathclyde) On the other hand, you have people
who want to maintain appointment, and for sometimes very different
reasons. You have to remember what happened in 1969 when the coalition
between Lord Powell and Michael Foot was created.
268. I just want to get back to the House of
Lords. I want you to tell me that the Conservative Peers do not
have any power of veto here. You have talked about the joint committee
and who is going to serve and I do not know if the joint committee
is ever going to get off the ground. I just want you to reassure
(Lord Strathclyde) Let me reassure you like this:
if the Government wanted these proposals, 80/20, supported by
the Liberal Democrats, they would not need a single Conservative
vote in the House of Lords to get it. If the whole of the Conservative
Party voted against it, it would not make the slightest bit of
difference because it will go through.
269. I will finish on this point, looking at
the Conservative proposals here, it is a senate of much more than
300 members, is it not? You have got the 240 elected in the constituencies,
the 60 independent senators, you keep the Law Lords (and I think
there are over 40 of them when you look at the retired Law Lords
as well as the 12 serving ones), you want to keep the 26 Bishops
on the Bishops' Bench, you want to get people from other faiths
in. I discussed this with Lord Wakeham last week. It is going
to be quite a big senate, is it not?
(Lord Strathclyde) I would view that the Law Lords
and Bishops would form part of the 60. It is, after all, the Government's
proposal that the Bishops should be reduced and I think the Bishops
themselves have largely, but not entirely, agreed to that.
270. No, they have not.
(Lord Strathclyde) The Law Lords are a more interesting
bunch because they have recently made a statement that the serving
Law Lords do not wish to play a full part in every aspect of the
workings of the House of Lords because they sit judicially. So
perhaps they could sit but not vote until they retired. I think
the retired Law Lords play a tremendous part in the second chamber
and the remaining cross-benchers or independents would, of course,
be made up, four terms of 15 years, of all the kinds of people
that currently sit on the cross-benches.
271. For your information, the fall-back position
of the Church of England is a Bishops' Bench of 20. I will finish
on this point about the Supreme Court. The Conservative Party
says that the Law Lords should stay unless/until there is a decision
to set up a separate Supreme Court. Does the Conservative Party
have a policy on this as to whether there should be a separate
(Lord Strathclyde) No, and it is precisely so as not
to get into that debate that I leave the Law Lords in the House.
Of course, if there were a Supreme Court set up it would be different
and it would change the figures.
272. If your proposals come down from a chamber
of 700, or down from a chamber of 800 now down to 300 as you propose
itand it is not, of course, explained in any detail in
your paperdoes it not require vast numbers of Peers to
fall on their swords, and have you got people lined up ready to
(Lord Strathclyde) No. I think the current members
of the House of Lords, including the massive influx of new Peers,
like the red benches and are happy to stay there for as long as
possible, at least for as long as they are required. We would
have to introduce transitional arrangements. There are numerous
ways of doing that. Lord Mackay recommended a transition by lot,
choosing those who would be removed. The hereditary Peers were,
of course, sifted out through election through the Weatherill
Amendment. The Government have come forward with money, either
in terms of resettlement grants or perhaps even pensions and while
I think a "lot" would not gather very much support,
perhaps a combination of the other two might work. Our proposals
are premised very much on a transition over three election periods,
removing a third/ a third/ a third of the current House.
273. Can I ask one specific question first.
A number of people who have objected to the Opposition's plans
have pointed to county constituencies having the same number of
Members each and the point was made that that would mean three
Members for Surrey and three Members for London. How does that
(Lord Strathclyde) It is a very attractive concept
and if we got support for it I think it could be a practical solution,
but there are problems within it. Some people do have difficulty
accepting the idea of the kind of example that you pointed out,
which is why I said that in different parts of the country you
might do different things. The important thing is to make sure
you get something that is acceptable to the electorate, something
which reflects historical customs and traditions, and makes sure
that the people ultimately in the senate have the necessary authority
and ability to represent their people forcibly and volubly in
the new senate.
274. I was trying to suggest that this had not
got much support, in fact no support so far, in the sense that
if you are following a conventional democratic representative
line, then there has to be some sort of equality of numbers between
the voters and the people who represent them. Having said that,
I should say that I did not support the hereditary principle in
public but in the raw carve up of power (which is what this is
all about) I can understand why one might have done. Now I have
moved before my party adopted an official position, I am glad
to say, to an entirely elected system. Whether you have an entirely
elected system for the second chamber or whether you have an 80
per cent, nevertheless it will change the character of the House
profoundly. That is what most of the Peers have said and, as you
and I know, most of the Peers would not wish to see that. Indeed
almost everybody who appears before this Committee has said they
do not really want to change the fundamental balance between the
Houses in particular, they want to change the character of the
House of Lords. All this is inevitable. If you have a large number
of elected members it is going to be a totally different sort
of House and it would regard itself as having a totally different
mandate and a totally different job.
(Lord Strathclyde) Yes.
275. People have appeared before us earlier
today trying to mitigate the facts of this logicwhich is
widely represented in the press as wellhave tried to find
ways in which they can restrain the powers in the House of Lords,
ie keep the supremacy of the House of Commons. It has been suggested
to us that there might be an age bar and nobody could join the
House of Lords before 45 or 50 and therefore would not be trying
to make a career in the House of Commons. It has been suggested
to us, and certainly Robin Cook believes that the whips do not
have much power anyway, which I thought was rather quaint, that
somehow the whips could be restrained in a variety of different
mechanisms being used. It seems to me that is unlikely in any
case and the real world would mean the parties would operate as
ferociously in the Lords eventually as they would in the Commons.
Are there real ways in which one can try and restrain them?
(Lord Strathclyde) No, I do not think so. I think
you have to make a choice. If you want the character of the House
to stay the same you leave it as it is. If you decide that it
must change then you have to accept that the character of the
House is going to change, new people will come forward. The House
at the moment is a relatively old House, the average age I think
is in the late sixties. People argue extremely effectively that
is one of the strengths of the House. Geoffrey Howe said that
the worst thing to do would be to end up with, he saida
memorable phrasethe clones of the clowns of the House of
Commons. I thought it was gratuitously insulting to your House
but there we are. The House would change if you came up with these
proposals and you cannot keep things staying the same unless you
leave the system the same. The House has already changed from
a largely hereditary to an overwhelmingly appointed House. There
is going to be further change in the character and the House will
change with it.
276. How would you anticipate changing the responsibilities
of the two Houses in order to meet the problem that you have two
Houses which both feel they have legitimacy?
(Lord Strathclyde) The best feature of the House of
Lords, of course, is that it does have a slightly more independent
view so the whips do not have such an effect, why, because there
is no de-selection and there is no re-selection. I am sure none
of you would fall pray to these kinds of attacks from the whips
but there is no purpose in the House of Lords because you are
there for life. That was why we tried to build inand that
was common to Wakeham and to Mackaya system whereby there
was no re-selection and people were there for long terms. I think
we do seek to replicate that independence and I think this is
probably the best way of doing so which is why I think the thought
that the Government are going to come forward with shorter terms
and allow re-election, they fall into the trap of not improving
or maintaining the strengths of the current House.
277. I think we are just about done. Just a
last exchange. Listening to you, I cannot help thinking that as
you clearly seem to think that the existing House is rather good,
to take Michael's point, why not just simply argue that we should
keep it and therefore retain all these virtues that we have got
because obviously it will be very difficult to get any agreement
or is there some deep strategy here which is designed to produce
(Lord Strathclyde) If there were a strategy or a ploy,
I would deny it, and since there is no great ploy or strategy
I will deny it in any case! It would be a very high-risk strategy.
After all, you might turn round and say, "This is such a
good idea"and I think it is rather good"that
we will put it into immediate effect," so I would be completely
blown out of the water. I think the time for games of that type
is long past. I think that the old 20th Century attitudes toward
the House of Lords are long gone. The time has come to grasp the
nettle and it is now for a responsible Opposition with the Liberal
Democrats and the party of Government to try and come forward
with a proper long-term solution.
Chairman: That is clearly the note on which
we should end and we are grateful to you for coming along to give