Examination of Witness (Questions 460
THURSDAY 24 JANUARY 2002
460. You can avoid all this argument, of course,
if you abolish the House of Lords full stop and have a unicameral
(Lord Irvine of Lairg) I did say that in my opening
remarks but I think that you were busy elsewhere.
461. It strikes me, Lord Irvine, that the time
when you became most animated and excited in giving your evidence
was when people said there was the possibility of having nobody
elected at all to the second chamber. You said "There is
a heck a lot of people . . ." and then you went on to name
some of the usual suspects from the House of Lords "... who
would favour that". Would that personally be your position
that you would rather not have any elected element to the second
(Lord Irvine of Lairg) First of all, I have not been
conscious of any senseand this is not in the least offensive
to the Committee I hopeof animation or excitement throughout
the whole of our discussions. I have been extremely interested
and I have enjoyed them all. Whereas there are very powerful arguments
for no elected at all and whereas I respect the opinions of those
who regard hybridity as very difficult because it creates two
different classes of Members of the one House
462. But you sincerely do believe
(Lord Irvine of Lairg) Let me finish.
463. I do not want to prolong this. You do believe
that there is a place for a small proportion that is elected?
(Lord Irvine of Lairg) Yes.
464. Have you had any sense at all of surrealism
about this because I have in all of these discussions? We have
had a number of ornithological references throughout the afternoon
and throughout the evidence. We have heard of Robin, we have heard
of turkeys voting for Christmas with Cranborne sauce, we have
heard of dead ducks and, indeed, we heard of a dead parrot earlier
on. Have you had any sense that you are the man trying to sell
the dead parrot as far as your proposal is concerned when it is
a dead proposal and there is no support for it out there at all?
You said earlier on that it has been road tested, you said that
you seriously believe it is still in contention. Do you honestly
believe that anything resembling the proposals that are in the
White Paper could command anywhere close to a majority in the
House of Commons?
(Lord Irvine of Lairg) Yes.
465. And on what evidence do you support that
(Lord Irvine of Lairg) First of all, I am not honestly
impressed by epithets like Cranborne sauce or anything else. They
add to the gaiety of nations but they do not progress the argument.
I do think when people take time to reflect and consider the very
central point that I have tried to make that the superiority of
the House of Commons is at the heart of the stability of our Government
and that it will be prejudiced by an excessive elected element,
I think that as people really think very hard about that central
proposition minds are likely to change. If I am wrong, I am wrong,
it is not the end of the world. As you and I know there are bread
and butter issues that affect the British people of inordinately
more importance than House of Lords reform. One of the things
that has actually amazed me is how animated and excited Members
of the House of Commons have become about this issue when there
are so many other issues to be really much more animated and excited
about. I do not really think actually that Constituency Labour
Parties do so vastly care about this issue, but you represent
a constituency, I do not, you have got a better feel for that
than I about it. If this is a bird that does not fly in this plumage
or somewhat different plumage it is not the end of the world,
we get on with life.
Kevin Brennan: I suspect it is nailed to the
466. Can I just apologise, I, like Brian White,
was on a Standing Committee as well. Very quickly, in regard to
what you have just said about you oppose an excessive elected
element in the second chamber, that seems to be out of kilter
with what we hear the Prime Minister is actually moving towards
now, that he does not accept that the White Paper as it is is
going to go through, probably more like 40 to 60 per cent.
(Lord Irvine of Lairg) I do not know where you got
467. That is the view that seems to be coming
forward, whether it is true or not remains to be seen. Would you
find it extremely difficult to support anything over the 20 per
cent elected representatives within the House of Lords or could
you accept that, if that was the overriding view coming forward
from the House of Commons, if you could see that was the only
(Lord Irvine of Lairg) Of course you pay the highest
importance, obviously, to what would get through the Commons and
you give the highest weight to the collective view of the PLP
if you can ascertain it. At the end of the day the Government
has to decide what it thinks is proper to bring forward. If the
predominant view of my colleagues was for a larger percentage
than 20, a significantly larger percentage than 20, I would not
stand in its way. The only consensus within Government at that
moment was to put forward the 20 per cent proposition which the
White Paper put forward. As I said at the outset when you were
not here, we do read, we do listen, we do know what is going on
in the PLP. We learn from the debates, we learn from the consultation
exercise and we will have to think again, and I have said that
468. Earlier on we had Lord Stevenson here and
he answered a host of questions regarding the Commission, the
problems that we perceive with the selection of what we term now
as the People's Peers, or as was at that time.
(Lord Irvine of Lairg) In fairness to Lord Stevenson,
I do not think that was an expression that he chose.
469. I am not saying it was by any stretch of
the imagination, it is an expression that seems to have been adopted
certainly by the ordinary public outside which obviously was concerned.
Do you not think that has done some damage to the perception that
the Commission actually select ordinary people to represent them?
(Lord Irvine of Lairg) Because the idea got round
that the independent Peers were People's Peers, then obviously
when it turned out that these 15 Peers were all eminent in one
way or another in their public lives that to an extent got this
interim Appointments Commission a bad name. I think it was a bit
hard on them actually because typically in relation to independent
Peers what you are looking for are people who bring an independent
mind and great experience of some area of life into the House
of Lords. If actually you are looking for People's Peers in the
sense of people who are closer to the coalface of life rather
than very eminent people like the Stevenson Peers, then the most
natural way for them to go forward is via the political parties.
I do not want to get into the question of whether they should
be elected or whether they should be nominated but either way
you get People's Peers by that route. The independent Peers are
typically thought of as people who will bring to the legislative
process great experience of other walks of life. This is actually
what makes the House of Lords different from the House of Commons.
Although Members of the House of Commons bring great experience
also to public life, it is from a different source usually and
these peoplelet us take some of them: Chan on medical teaching
and research, Condon, the police, Greenfield, medical teaching
and the chap who was the Chief Executive of Centrepoint, Adebowaleare
all people who bring particular experience to the House of Lords
and very relevant experience to all the legislation that goes
through, but of course you cannot describe them as People's Peers.
My point is that you should look for People's Peers from the political
470. Thank you for that. We are rounding off
now. I am sorry for detaining you for so long.
(Lord Irvine of Lairg) It has been an hour and a half
but I have enjoyed every minute of it.
471. Do not get too excited. We are almost there.
If I could just ask a couple of things very quickly and if you
could give very quick answers, even though they are very large
questions. There are those who would put a fundamental objection
to your whole approach, and your approach is one that says "we
cannot do anything that would imperil the balance between these
two Houses and any substantial elected element would do that".
The evidence that we have heard from many sources says that is
a completely misconceived position because if you have a second
chamber with quite different powers, elected quite differently,
different terms, staggered elections, so it is a completely different
institution, there is no question of it being a threat, it is
just entirely different, it will become complementary, so why
is that not the answer to your central worry?
(Lord Irvine of Lairg) Because I think you are completely
wrong. I think a substantial elected House of Lords elected by
a different method of election, PR, which would be claimed to
be superior would inevitably upset the conventions which caused
the House of Commons to be accepted as superior, conventions which
were premised upon the House of Lords being unelected which in
practice would prove to be swept away over time if we had a substantially
elected House of Lords. It is a question of judgment. It is not
actually a question of evidence or how many people say it. What
you have to do in this area is not number opinions, you have to
respect the number of people who have an opinion in a similar
sense but you actually weigh them, you do not number them, it
is a question of judgment. I may be right, I may be wrong.
472. I am following you. Secondly, in your contribution
to the Lords, you go through the figures in the Lords at the moment
and you come up with 120 elected. You say "What these figures
show is there is no scope at present for more than 120 elected"
that is to say people might want it but the figures just do not
allow it to happen.
(Lord Irvine of Lairg) Yes. I was really saying therefore
in the real world there is an argument for tomorrow.
(Lord Irvine of Lairg) We cannot bind our successors.
Why not get rid of the 92 hereditaries, let us go ahead with the
120 elected and then let the future take care of itself at the
same time as the Grim Reaper plus the pension will be laying scope
for a different view being taken by our successors. What is wrong
474. No, no, the Grim Reaper has featured largely
in our discussions today and I do not want to revisit him or her.
(Lord Irvine of Lairg) Well, why not end on a morbid
475. Because I am not quite ended and I am chairing
this. What I want to know from you is whether this is a technical
problem you have got or whether it is a problem of principle?
(Lord Irvine of Lairg) The latter.
476. So even if we could come up
(Lord Irvine of Lairg) Look, I have made it clear,
have I not? There is a technical problem today because the scope
for more than 120 is not there. There is also a question of principle
as to what percentage level of elected you can safely go to without
reaching what is my datum line, I do not know if it is your datum
line, I do not ask you questions, you ask me which is fair enough.
477. That is the arrangement.
(Lord Irvine of Lairg) But without prejudice to the
datum line which for me is the pre-eminence of the House of Commons
is essential to the stability of British Government. That is a
question of judgment, it seems to me, and a question of principle
but there is a technical problem as well, the numbers, which is
a problem for the present.
478. We are very grateful for hearing that judgment
in the way you have described it to us. I am sorry that we have
not been able to provide you with animation and excitement.
(Lord Irvine of Lairg) You have indeed but I just
479. I think we would certainly put on record
our animation and excitement at the proceedings. We must get our
thrills in different ways.
(Lord Irvine of Lairg) I think you should have a further
inquiry into that.