Examination of Witness (Questions 420
THURSDAY 24 JANUARY 2002
420. You are in denial.
(Lord Irvine of Lairg) I am not in denial. I believe
that if there were a free vote of the Parliamentary Labour Party
on the focus of attention, ie, whether it should be all nominated
or all elected and that were the only choice, just to cut out
all the cackle about a hybrid chamber, my prediction would be
thatand I am willing to lose short betsthat all
nominated would win because I think the more people think about
this, the more they become concerned that focusing on this single
elected percentage issue is really playing with some well worked
out conventions between the Commons and Lords and the superiority
of the Commons. What an advantage it is to know that one House
of Parliament will always ultimately be entitled to have its way.
421. I gather from that that you are willing
to bet Bolton Wanderers are destined to win the League this year.
(Lord Irvine of Lairg) I thought Spurs did quite well
422. Let me turn to something elseyour
disagreement about what is shown in the Parliamentary groups.
If a secret ballot among these members were to produce evidence
that they wanted something under 50 per cent, would you accept
(Lord Irvine of Lairg) I do not think I would be all
that keen on a secret ballot really. If you were talking about
a ballot in which how everyone voted could be seen, that might
be more instructive.
423. Why would you favour that method?
(Lord Irvine of Lairg) I am not favouring it as a
method, I am playing around with an argument. All I am really
saying is that there has been a large number of people who obviously
believe in all elected who have written in to say so and, as I
say, they are self-selecting. I believe that there are very, very
many people in both Parties who do not begin to believe in a majority
elected. Do you know that the overwhelming view of the Conservative
Party in the Lords is opposed to the Government's proposals? I
believebut it is possible that you know more about this
than I dothat there is an enormous opposition in the Conservative
Party to Iain Duncan Smith's proposals and that they are largely
seen as a tactical device to wrong-foot the Government and to
embarrass the Government in this issue of elected, but I think
there is quite a lot of games-playing going on.
Chairman: Thank you for that. Annette?
424. If I could just follow on. If we stay stuck
in the groove of at the moment 20 per cent elected, perhaps we
could just look at how the rest should be nominated. Certainly
I have felt an overwhelming view against the idea of having such
a large proportion appointed on a political basis and I think
the press has made hay with the phrase "Tony's cronies".
How do you feel about that in terms of legitimacy and the implication
that the House of Lords is working so well?
(Lord Irvine of Lairg) First of all, is it really
correct to make the point about Tony's cronies? Let me just answer
the point fairly. If we are talking about a House ultimately of
600, and we are talking of 120 elected and we are talking of 120
independent, and we are talking about the balance being nominated
with the numbers of seats in the Lords which go to each party
being determined by the new statutory Appointments Commission
in accordance with statutory criteria, what we have to realise
is that such a schemewhich is the White Paper schemedoes
signal a huge decrease in the Prime Minister's powers of patronage.
He will lose all rights over the independent members, that is
number one. He will lose all rights over the nominations of other
parties. Most important of all, he will lose all power over how
many nominations his party or any other party may make. Also,
because of the numbers game, which I shall not bore you about
but which I set out in my speech, there is precious little scope
in the transition period, until you get the House down to a size
of 600some people might think 600 is too large but until
you get it down to 600there is precious little scope for
making new Peers by any party. I really do not think the charge
of Tony's cronies actually works but the short answer to your
question is that the political parties would nominate in relation
to the balance, also their current powers of nomination would
be limited because of numbers, 240 having gone to elected and
425. Lord Wakeham when he gave evidence to us
actually said that he thought that was one of the worst proposals
in the White Paper in terms of where it differed from the Royal
Commission. Can you comment on why you moved such a way away from
the Royal Commission?
(Lord Irvine of Lairg) Yes, I certainly can. What
Lord Wakeham and his Royal Commission felt was that the Appointments
Commission should select the party nominees. Now we took the view,
and I think all parties actually would agree with this, that an
Appointments Commission should no more decide who should represent
a party in the Houses of Parliament, should no more decide that
than an appointments committee should decide who wins in the short
list for a constituency selection for membership of the House
of Commons. We thought that was not one of the most politically
switched on suggestions of the Wakeham Commission. I do completely
recognise that party patronage is something which upsets people
and, therefore, there are ways of looking at this. It would be
possible to explore ways round this. One way round it might for
example beand this is just playing with numbers out of
the airsuppose, for example that the Liberal Democrat party
was entitled in a particular round let us say to five, then the
leader of the Liberal Democrats could put forward ten in his order
of priority on the basis, of course, that all who are being nominated
would be acceptable as members of the House of Lords to the Liberal
Democrat party and the Appointments Commission could make its
own selection. In other words it could reorder the priorities,
I think it would be pretty loathe to do so really, to substitute
its judgment for the political party's judgment but that might
give greater public confidence. You could have the proposition
also that if somebody was being unfairly excluded from a particular
list because his face did not fit at any particular time with
the partyand we can all think of examples in the history
of all political parties where people who have made a significant
contribution to parliamentary life answer that descriptionyou
might give the Appointments Commission a power to add to the list.
Then it would be a matter for the political party whether it gave
that individual the whip but you could live with that and it would
be pretty rare, but it would happen, but it would be perhaps reassuring
to the public. I do have an open mind on that but I think really
essentially the selection of people to represent a party in the
Houses of Parliament must be made by the party in just the same
way as the party must make the selection from a selection conference
which will select someone who, if the electorate, agrees becomes
426. I accept that your views are very immovable
(Lord Irvine of Lairg) I am not immovable on anything.
I am just telling you at present how it seems to me.
427. Right. I have to say it seems to me, and
to the general public, that when we look at these great nominations
that it seems absolutely bizarre in this century to be talking
about finding members for the second chamber in this way. You
do not think that the more mechanical and contrived it becomes
to nominateand we heard quite a lot from Lord Stevenson
earlier on which perhaps did not give great confidence in some
(Lord Irvine of Lairg) Sorry, I am not familiar with
his evidence, you will forgive me.
428. Sorry about that. You do not think that
just talking about the deals and so on is actually going to push
the general public much more to a view towards a higher proportion
of elected members in the second chamber if it is going to have
(Lord Irvine of Lairg) No, I do not see that and in
fact when you look at some of the opinion polls it is very striking
that it depends what question you ask people. Looking at some
of them together they support the proposition that the House of
Lords should be much more elected and at the same time it should
be less party political. Well, of course, there is nothing more
political than a chamber which is 100 per cent elected. It is
really quite extraordinary. Just as political parties select who
stands for parliament andunless there is a fantastic shiftcertainly
in safe seats it is known that when a political party selects
it is selecting the next MP, I do not see any difference in that
between the political party selecting who it wants to put forward
to be a member of the Lords. If these procedures are to be improved
I think actually it is a domestic matter for the political parties.
The political parties could have different methods of selecting
those who the party wants to go forward in the next list of nominations
for membership of the Lords. It is almost a matter of domestic
government for parties rather than anything else, as it seems
Annette Brooke: I think I will pass the bat.
429. Lord Weatherill told us about 45 minutes
ago that the Government's proposals, or we are, are collectively
in a mess. You do not agree with him?
(Lord Irvine of Lairg) That is like the prosecuting
counsel who starts off by saying "you are guilty, are you
Mr Prentice: I put it to you
430.that we are in a mess.
(Lord Irvine of Lairg) Not guilty, gov.
431. It was a straightforward question.
(Lord Irvine of Lairg) And it is a very straightforward
432. I do not know whether to call you Lord
Chancellor or Derry, but
(Lord Irvine of Lairg) I am perfectly easy with either.
433. But you are a product of patronage yourself,
are you not?
(Lord Irvine of Lairg) In what sense?
434. You sit on the woolsack because of a decision
by a certain TB, I suppose.
(Lord Irvine of Lairg) And everyone who is a minister
of the Government in the Lords is equally a product of the Prime
Minister's decision who shall be a minister in his Government.
The only difference between ministers who are in the Lords and
ministers who are in the Commons, and there have to be a certain
number of ministers in the Lords, is that they are chosen by the
Prime Minister and the only difference is that MPs are elected
and Peers are not, so the proposition is really a bit of a truism
because you are just saying that Peers are not elected and MPs
are elected and the Prime Minister chooses his Government.
435. So no Appointments Commission to select
future Lord Chancellors?
(Lord Irvine of Lairg) I do not think that is part
of the current debate.
436. And there is no difference in legitimacy
between ministers who are elected by an electorate and those who
are appointed by a Prime Minister?
(Lord Irvine of Lairg) If you accept, as I think is
accepted, that the House of Lords as presently constituted is
perfectly legitimate then equally every minister in the Lords,
and not merely me, the Leader in the Lords and every Minister
of State and junior minister in the Lords, is entirely legitimate.
When you say should the Lord Chancellor be appointed by an Appointments
Commission, that question has as much validity as the question
should the Cabinet be chosen by an Appointments Commission or
should all ministers be chosen by an Appointments Commission and
that is not real world politics, frankly.
437. You spoke earlier about periods of reflection
and Robin when he came before the Committee last week
(Lord Irvine of Lairg) Robin who?
438. Robin Cook. He said that the Government
was going to continue its search for a consensus and the centre
of gravity. Given that you do not think we are in a mess and given
your answers to questions that have been posed just reinforce
the idea that you do not need to give at all,
(Lord Irvine of Lairg) I have not said that at all.
I have not said that at all.
439. Let me come to the point.
(Lord Irvine of Lairg) All I am saying is that in
the current state of debate when you have had these very, very
interesting debates in both Houses when an absolute multiplicity
of inconsistent views have been expressed, and the consultation
period is not at an end, I think it is far too early to start
declaring that there is a mess. There are certain issues in political
life about which everyone has an opinion