33. Some of the written and oral evidence available
to the Committee re-iterated positions that were already well
known, but some of those who made submissions to us had recently
changed their position somewhat. The Rt Hon Lord Howe of Aberavon,
for example, had been impressed by the performance of the House
since the departure of most hereditary peers, and no longer saw
a powerful case for an elected element.
34. Lord Lipsey was another who had recently changed
his view as a result of experience. He told us that he saw merit
in most of the White Paper's proposals, but, having observed their
reception in the country and in both Houses, he nevertheless described
the White Paper to us as a "dead duck ... on its back in
Parliament with its legs in the air".
"If the Government ploughs ahead with proposals
based on its current proposals ¼
they are unlikely to get through Parliament, at least without
doing terrible collateral damage to the rest of its legislative
35. There was a broad consensus that the roles, powers
and functions of the two chambers were not the main current focus
for discussion, and that it was the question of composition and
related issues that constituted the main obstacle on the road
to reform. We agree with this view. Argument about composition
and the pre-eminence of one House over another can distract attention
from Parliament's key task of holding the Government to account.
The pre-eminence of the House of Commons is not in doubt.
36. This underlines one very important principle.
Reform is not a zero-sum game in which advances for one chamber
are inevitably threats to the other. That is where the White Paper
is fundamentally misconceived, as was the Royal Commission, in
its oft-repeated determination to ensure the pre-eminence of the
House of Commons. No-one is casting any doubt on that pre-eminence.
We believe that the real task is rather to increase the effectiveness
of both chambers in holding the Government to account for its
actions and policies. The focus should be on the capacities of
the institution as a whole.
37. It is clear that there is general agreement that
the White Paper as it stands commands insufficient support, but
it remains to establish what does. The Government is especially
sceptical about the prospect of establishing a shared view as
an alternative to that proposed in the White Paper. The Lord Chancellor,
The Rt Hon Lord Irvine of Lairg, told the Committee: "What
is really awfully significant in this area is that there are as
many opinions as people".
38. Our inquiry has persuaded us that there is much
greater agreement on the fundamentals than the Prime Minister
or the Lord Chancellor allow. The role, powers and functions of
the second chamber are not in dispute. It is only on the details
of composition that real disagreement remains. However even on
this there is evidence of shared views.
39. The evidence of public opinion suggests that
there is also a broad measure of agreement in the country at large.
In December 2001, ICM, on behalf of the Democratic Audit, asked
a sample of the public for their views on the composition of the
future second chamber. 54 per cent supported either a wholly or
a majority elected chamber, with 14 per cent supporting the Government's
option of a majority appointed House and 9 per cent backing a
wholly appointed chamber.
ICM/Democratic Audit Poll December 2001
In your view, which of these proposals, if any, is the best course for a future second chamber?
A mixed House, with a majority of elected members
A wholly elected House
A mixed House, with a majority of appointed members
A wholly appointed House
ICM interviewed a random sample of 1,000 adults aged 18+ by telephone
between 14-16 December 2001.
HC 494-II, LR 24 Back
HC 494-ii, Q123 Back
Ibid, Q123 Back
HC 494-iii, Q390 Back
HC 494-II, LR 52 Back