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Lord Monkswell: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. He feels that the Russian communists are broken and defeated as a result of achieving only 42 per cent. in the polls. Would he say the same of the Liberal Democrats as a result of achieving only 18 or 19 per cent. in the polls?
Lord Holme of Cheltenham: My Lords, it is very nice of the noble Lord to give us 18 or 19 per cent. I believe that the current polls are slightly lower than that. But I appreciate his intervention. We shall struggle on in our own small way, trying to advance arguments in the public interest and not simply making partisan points.
The point I am trying to make is this: when thinking about measures of constitutional change, what is the issue of principle? This applies particularly to electoral reform. Some noble Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, and I dare say some members of the public, will think that the Liberal Democrats want electoral reform because it will advantage their party. It
I wish to advance a different argument: it would make every voter equal and ensure that every vote counted equally towards the result. It would mean that people began to own the House of Commons rather than feel, as we all know, rather alienated from it; in other words, although I accept the noble Viscount's definition of consent, I do not believe that consent is enough. If we want to bridge the gap between Parliament and the people, we need participation and an equal stake in the system for everyone. We might then begin to shrink the distance between the people and their political leadership.
I shall finish by saying that the noble Viscount ended with a little summary of economic change and political stability. I dare say that that prefigures part of the basis of the election campaign. It is an interesting way of expressing it. I should like to advance a different proposition: if we want to be truly economically successful in this country, we would do better to open up our system, to treat people as having a full stake in their system of government, to think about enablement and empowerment, in every way that we can.
Looking at modern business it is interesting to discover that the very ideas which our best companies use--which do not seem to creep into the British system of government: ideas of open information, shared decision-making, participation and finding common ground--are still alien to the political process. Although on all sides of the House we would share the view that economic change is essential in an intensely competitive world, we would do a great deal better by trying to create an open system--a system of genuine political stakeholding and not just economic stakeholding; a system in which information is shared and power comes from the grass roots. Let us not be too proud to learn from business and other societies, then we might begin to make the transition, which I believe is essential, from a culture of dependence, where people are still subjects, to one in which they are fully citizens.
Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, as a hereditary Peer, I consider that I am here foremost to serve the interests of the people of this nation and not just my party. I am not opposed to reform. Indeed I welcome the suggestion of my noble friend the Lord Privy Seal for a Select Committee. I would be happy to give up my place in this House, but only if I were certain that the daunting task of unravelling parts of it would not destabilise an interim chamber before the next stage of reform.
I am concerned however that with no clearly identified timetable that may never happen. We have the duty to consider alternatives to the status quo, but we are entitled to have those alternatives clarified. That leads me to ask a number of questions of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey. I do not expect him to
Lord Monkswell: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. I hope that he will appreciate that the Top Salaries Review Body has just reported, and that in its report it has considered whether Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen in this House should receive extra secretarial and office assistance to enable them to perform their duties. Unfortunately it has decided that they should not. On that basis, it is rather unfortunate for a Back-Bencher on the government side to raise the question of opposition Front-Benchers writing to them in the way that Back-Benchers from this side--
After the first stage of reform, will there be changes to the system of nomination and who will make the appointments? Will the Prime Minister, as Head of the Executive, claim the right to choose one branch of the legislature? Who will decide the party balance? What will be the revised chamber's powers and functions? How many Peers will there be and will they be able to maintain the necessary levels of activity with a reduced membership? If there are to be many newly-appointed Life Peers how will they be formally introduced into the House? Is the Opposition Front Bench concerned that when the Tories are inevitably returned to power they will swamp the Labour majority with new creations in their term, as the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, suggested in a recent letter to The Times?
I turn to a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill. Will membership be an honour, with no requirements to attend, or a job? If the latter is the case, will there be some form of compulsion to attend? If so will Members receive salaries, expenses and research services comparable to MPs? Would an incoming Labour Chancellor wishing to maintain tight control of public expenditure accept the increased parliamentary cost of that? What role will there be for the Cross-Benchers? What will be the voting rights of the Law Lords and Bishops? What will happen to the three Royal Peers--
Mr. Blair, in his speech on 7th February, admitted that some hereditary Peers participate regularly and make positive contributions and as the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, also said, they could be made Life Peers. But how many and how would they be chosen? Would a new government ensure that the Opposition are involved in preliminary discussions as to the nature of the proposals?
Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, I am asking some very pertinent questions. Would the lower House cede real power to an elected body? Many in the House of Commons resent the growing powers of the European Parliament and could have Scottish and Welsh Assemblies to contend with. When would elections take place? Would they take place at the same time as general elections? What would happen if the second Chamber were of a political colour different from the Commons? Democratically elected Opposition Members would surely have no hesitation in throwing out government legislation at every turn.
Further, under what electoral system would Members be elected and for what term? Should Members represent something? If so, would the powers of the House of Commons be reduced? All those questions must be addressed. Unless they are, I cannot see how such reforms would succeed. Constitutional questions are complex and politicians take them up at their peril.
The Earl of Kintore: My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount the Leader of the House for introducing today's debate. I fear that there may be a lack of Scottish Peers taking part, not from lack of interest but because many will be doing duty at the Royal Garden Party in Edinburgh.
I declare an interest as an hereditary Peer. The Earldom of Kintore was granted to my family by Charles II in 1677 in recognition of our role in preserving the Regalia of Scotland from falling into the hands of Oliver Cromwell. Of course, since 1707, the honours of Scotland are part of the United Kingdom's
If hereditary Peers are to lose their right to sit, speak and vote in this House, I, for one, would miss my time and work here, but would hope that my experience gathered over the past five or six years could be used on Select Committees or other committees off the Floor of the House, or as a Commissioner in Scotland on inquiries under the Private Legislation Procedure (Scotland) Act 1936.
I hope to persuade the noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham, that I have something new to say. There is a much more urgent reform to which I hope whichever party wins the next election will attend; namely, the matter of pay. I am not thinking of the amounts that are being recommended today for the other place. I propose that the Front Bench spokesmen of all parties in this House should be paid an amount to reflect their considerable input in getting business through the House. I also propose a modest stipend for the Convenor of the Cross Bench Peers and, if it is not too administratively difficult, pay for Back-Benchers when they are speaking in a Front Bench role or in strong support of their Front-Benchers. I do not propose payment for any other Peers and hope that the attraction of membership of this House will continue to be the ability to perform public service.
However, if, at some time in the future, it is decided that all Peers should be paid, there would also have to be a compulsory retirement age which would probably be 75 as for Lord Lieutenants and, I believe, High Court judges.