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Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank: My Lords, I do not think that I want to enter into the privacy of those bilateral discussions. The noble Lord and the House can draw their own conclusions. Indeed, I made it as plain as I could within parliamentary language.
Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank: My Lords, I could indeed do that. I have a piece of paper in my pocket now which I could read out to the House. It might be something regarded in a court of law as an affidavit. However, I think that it is in the interests of the Government Front Bench that I do not do so.
I shall say no more about the appointments commission except that it makes good sense. It will help to rebalance the House after each election. My only doubt is whether it is wise and in keeping with the hard-headed nature of the report to expect the nominations of party representatives, party nominations, in this House to be chosen by the commission. Although it is attractive outside the House, it is unrealistic to believe that those who are not members of a party should play any part in choosing who should come here.
One of the proposals could be implemented without delay. I hope that in the further discussions which may take place there will be a proposal to turn the present stage one appointments commission into an appointments commission on the lines of that proposed by the Wakeham report. There is no reason why that should not be done at once.
If there is to be a comparable debate in another place within the next few weeks, and this side of Easter, there is no reason why a Joint Committee of both Houses cannot be set up by the end of May, or soon after, and begin meeting before the Summer Recess. Its terms of reference cannot be limited to the recommendations of the Wakeham commission although no doubt the report will provide a useful agenda. I assume that the terms of reference and the composition of the Joint Committee are matters to be settled by agreement between the parties. We shall play our part in that after consultation with the Cross Benches in this House.
However, I am somewhat confused, as I understood was the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, by the noble Baroness's suggestion that there would be another form of bilateral or multiparty discussion, not with a view to setting up the Joint Committee but to agree on a joint view of some of these issues in advance of the commission being established. If that is the proposal, I hope that the Attorney-General will explain it more fully when he concludes the debate. It is not a proposal we have previously had. Without rejecting it out of hand until we hear the details, we must look forward to the appointment at an early date of the Joint Committee.
I am sorry to disappoint the noble Baroness the Leader of the House, but I at least remain deeply sceptical about the likelihood of any further significant Lords reform requiring legislation within the foreseeable future. But I should be happy to be proved wrong.
Lord Craig of Radley: My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, and the other members of his Royal Commission on their comprehensive and readable report. As they so rightly say in their envoi, the Royal Commission was not set a simple question and the report does not provide a simple answer. There are several key points it did not
Today's debate will not solve the more complex issues such as the model for election, but I hope that the Government will seek to give a clear lead in searching for consensus on many of the issues. It should be an aim to get early agreement on a number of the specific recommendations in the Royal Commission's report.
The House and the Joint Committee will then be able to concentrate on the more complex and controversial issues, knowing how much of a foundation has already been established across the House. Let me touch on a few of the points on which it might be possible to achieve agreement. These are my own thoughts. I do not speak on behalf of others on these Benches.
Recommendations which seek to retain or strengthen the existing arrangements of your Lordships' House seem a good first place to look for agreement. In my list I include the recommendations which seek to protect the constitution, the existing role of the Law Lords and their judicial functions. To these I would add the recommendations that the second Chamber should seek to continue the House of Lords' tradition of open procedures and self-regulation, thus preserving the essential character of what exists at present.
The House has lived through a traumatic period. I sense at times that enough is enough if we are not to lose the special features of this Chamber which also distinguish it from another place. I welcome the view--I think that it is shared on all sides of the House--that this place does not want to end up as a mirror image of the other place. The Royal Commission believes that the new Chamber must be "distinctively different" from the other place.
With so much else in flux there will be temptations, even an anti-traditionalist view, that this place must be modernised and change its ways and manner of working. I fervently hope not. Whether it is the style of introduction, assuming that there will still be such a ceremony, or the modes of address, or adherence to the Companion rules and to Standing Orders, I hope that your Lordships could agree that the new House should set about its business much as it does now. The Royal Commission makes this point succinctly in Recommendation 68. It states that the House,
The intention of the Royal Commission that the 92 hereditaries should all be axed together, at a time when there is a large, new, elected intake will make it difficult to fill Deputy Speakers' lists and the Select Committees and other committees of the House where experience is called for. The hereditaries' collective knowledge of the workings of this place will take time to replace.
Even membership over 15 years may not seem long enough. I have been here nearly nine years and there is still much for me to learn, even with the additional push of being the Convenor of the Cross-Bench Peers to hasten my grasp of all the ways of this House. There is a world of difference between cutting back to the 92 hereditaries, as happened last November, and replacing them all suddenly with a new intake. Most of the 92 who remain are regular participants in the workings of your Lordships' House. An abrupt departure could destroy many of the best features of the present House. Perhaps if a number of the present and former hereditary Peers were recycled by renewed appointment, this problem would not be so great.
The Royal Commission proposes that the independents (less the Law Lords) should be 20 per cent of the membership. In a total Chamber of 550, that would be 25 fewer than the current Cross-Bench strength without the Law Lords. The Royal Commission has stressed the value of non-political independent Members because of their special knowledge and expertise, even if their attendance were only part-time. But at present, committee work does not dovetail well with the programmes of those who are also in full or near full-time employment.
I do not favour Members being paid salaries, which would detract from the sense that attendance is a duty and not a response to payment. It would also equate this House perhaps too much with the other place. For those reasons, I do not believe that 20 per cent of a 550-Member House will adequately ensure the strong, active, independent element which is required. If the concept of a strong, active independent element is to mean anything, proper representation on all committees is essential.
Cross-Benchers, including the 30 hereditary Peers, fill the existing allocation of Deputy Speaker and committee positions. If the Royal Commission's recommendations on additional Select Committees are taken up, I anticipate that there will be a need for more than 20 per cent to ensure adequate independent representation. Recommendation 91 would allow for such adjustments; that is, if the very strong, entrenched independent appointments commission, as proposed by the Royal Commission, were to be accepted. I hope that we shall have all-party agreement to that very soon.
I welcome the Royal Commission's proposals for additional Select Committees. In principle, they are very sound and could add to the respect and authority of the new House. But there are difficulties which will have to be addressed. Resources, both in terms of rooms and Clerks, must be found, as well as appropriately qualified Members willing and able to make a considerable number of hours available each week for committee work.
The relevant House authorities, with the strong encouragement of the noble Baroness the Leader of the House, should be tasked to make proposals of what more must be done to provide resources and high quality support for such committees.
What future should there be for the Salisbury Convention? Should it remain unchanged? The Royal Commission, broadly, says, "Yes". I believe that a case can be made to reserve it for, say, only the first two or three Sessions of each new Parliament.
The original driving rationale was to prevent an in-built majority in this place obstructing the manifesto intentions of a new democratically elected government. If there has been a major swing and change of party in government, it may take the independent appointments commission two or three years to readjust the balance of membership in this House. But, thereafter, there should be no risk of a single opposition party majority. The House should be free to deal with its business as much as possible without any sense of convention restraint. Similar considerations might be applied to statutory instruments.
I welcome the Royal Commission's recommendation on the role for the Convenor of the Cross-Benchers in its independent appointments commission. Apart from any party members who decide to leave their Benches and become independent--and I hope that there will be no bar to such changes of allegiance--every new independent Member will have been selected by the appointments commission.
Ensuring that the independents have a wide range of backgrounds and all the other characteristics favoured by the Royal Commission is only a part of the process of identifying what skills are required. The actual attendance and difficulties existing independent Members have--or may have--in regular attendance should also be considered by the appointments commission as it looks for new Members. The Convenor is well placed to provide such advice. The Royal Commission's arrangement to involve the Convenor should be adopted for the interim appointments commission, which is in the process of being set up.
The Royal Commission was unable to make a unanimous recommendation about the future for life Peers. I support its majority view that existing life Peers should remain for life, with an option to retire. However, Recommendation 103, that Life Peers created following the date of the publication of the Royal Commission report,
Finally, I was disappointed that the Royal Commission was unable to recommend a name for the new Chamber, or the title by which Members would be known. I do not believe the answer is that it should be left to "evolve". It certainly will not evolve unless
Retaining it would chime with the view that the best features of your Lordships' House should be retained. If so, Members might be known as Lords in Parliament, with "LP" after their names. Outside the House, unless they were hereditary or life Peers, they would be known as Mr, Mrs, Dr, Professor or whatever their appropriate title. The comparison with the use in the other place of "honourable Member" and "right honourable Member" only within the Chamber and not outside could be drawn. In debates in this Chamber, references to the honourable Lord, Lord X, or the right honourable Lady, Lady Y, and the existing form for those who are Peers, could be used. Other phrases such as right reverend Prelate, noble and learned and even, sparing my blushes, noble and gallant, should also continue in use. Such courtesies help to engender an air of mutual respect and good manners across the Floor of the House and contribute to the self-regulatory way in which the House goes about its work.
I hope that the cool forces of modernism will not consign such phrases to the dustbin. They all contribute to the atmosphere and ethos of the finest second Chamber of any Parliament in the world. The nation and all Members of the future second Chamber should be proud to continue with the present name. I hope that there can be agreement on that.
The Lord Bishop of Durham: My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate from these Benches. The Church of England, like others, is inevitably digesting the Wakeham commission's report. What I have to say is to some extent provisional. It is good that we have been given this relatively early opportunity to take stock and to get a steer on the Government's mind.
The report deserved a better press than it received immediately following its publication. The issues it addresses are fundamental to the health of our democracy. On many, although not all, of these issues, its conclusions and recommendations are right and provide a good basis for evolutionary change.
It is important to start from first principles. However, the key is whether the proposals will enable Parliament to serve the people better. The report is right to say that a reformed second Chamber should complement the House of Commons. It should not seek to challenge that House's democratic primacy. None the less, the second Chamber should not be a mere cipher. It must have powers to amend legislation, to force reconsideration and to hold the Government effectively to account. In a number of senses, the role of the second Chamber is to provide a different and yet complementary system of representation to that provided by the House of Commons. No doubt, even from these Benches, others will seek to develop that in the course of the debate.
However, given that understanding, we on these Benches welcome the commission's proposal for a part-elected but mainly appointed House. We also welcome the proposed separation of the honours system from membership of the House and the proposal to reduce substantially the Prime Minister's patronage through the establishment of an independent appointments commission.
The report is also right in recognising that the spiritual and religious aspects of our society should be reflected appropriately in the composition of the new Chamber. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, who gave us encouragement to think positively on this issue. We make that assertion not on the basis of history or of constitutional understanding, although both would support such a claim, but on the fact that any Chamber which purports truly to represent contemporary society must not and cannot ignore that dimension. We stand fully alongside the distinguished evidence made to the commission by the Chief Rabbi on this point.
In our own evidence, we agreed that the time had come to extend the contribution made by spiritual leaders of the Church of England to include leaders of other Churches and, indeed, of other faiths. Therefore, we welcome the commission's espousal of this point and we look forward to working with our faith partners in making it a reality.
We are grateful for the report's recognition of the contribution made to this House from these Benches. Bishops have been in the House of Lords since medieval times and the beginnings of parliamentary institutions. Contrary to what some assume, Henry VIII did not put us here. However, the report falls into a major trap in describing that contribution as having been made by Bishops as representatives of the Church of England. We do not see ourselves as representatives of a sectional institutional interest; rather, we have been and are in this House because of the position we hold in relation to the whole community in the dioceses we serve.
In speaking in chapter 15 of the representation of religious faiths, the commission uses, no doubt, a convenient shorthand but risks offering a model for the future which would reduce the contribution of spiritual leaders to the representatives of particular religious institutions. That is a model which my colleagues and I would resist vigorously. The presence of Bishops in Parliament can point to an abiding validity of the Christian tradition to public doctrine and ethical norms. It is the national ministry of the Church of England "by law established" that makes this role possible. Through the dioceses and parishes, through a small army of clergy and licensed lay ministers, through church schools and chaplaincies to many kinds of institutions, the Church of England has a vast constituency of pastoral contact which extends far beyond the core of committed churchgoers. The expression "national church" is not an anachronism.
Conversely, if Bishops are to make such a contribution--and in an episcopally led Church many will argue that they should continue to do so--their involvement in their diocese and wider community (one of the key contributions that we bring to this Chamber) will be unhelpfully curtailed.
I emphasise that our concerns are not about the preservation of vested interest or privilege; they reflect our wish to give the most effective parliamentary service that we can to the nation. Other concerns, which I can mention only in passing but which I know we share with our ecumenical partners, focus on the report's use of baptismal membership as the basis for allocating seats and on the effect of the suggested 15-year rule.
In mentioning some of our concerns about the Royal Commission's report, I do not want to undermine our broad support for many of its conclusions and recommendations. The noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, and his colleagues are to be congratulated on the depth as well as on the speed of their work. It is indeed good that the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, is to speak next, and we look forward with great anticipation to what he has to say. In our judgment, the report of the commission provides a generally sound basis on which dialogue about reform can be developed. We look to play our full part in that. Indeed, we would hope to be represented on any committee of this House or Joint Committee with another place which considers these matters further.
Our aim is not to secure representation of a vested interest at any price; rather, it is to ensure that the evolution of the second Chamber is, by its very constitution, a servant of the people. The Christian contribution to the basis of our society is widely recognised and it is important that it is represented here as effectively as it is in the local communities that we seek to serve.
Lord Wakeham: My Lords, it was a great honour and a privilege to be invited to chair the Royal Commission on the reform of your Lordships' House. It turned out to be both interesting and enjoyable but it was also, as I am sure your Lordships will realise, a great responsibility. The process of reflection and analysis which we went through reinforced my original view that reform of your Lordships' House was a matter of very great importance.
Of course, we were not operating in a vacuum. One of the most notable features of our public consultation exercise was the widespread support for the work of the House of Lords and many of the characteristics of its Members. We were in the fortunate position of being able to build on the best traditions of your Lordships' House in drawing up a blueprint for the future.
I said that it turned out to be an interesting and enjoyable task. That was very much due to the qualities and personalities of my fellow commissioners. I am glad that so many of them are here this afternoon and speaking in this debate. Perhaps the most important point I can make about my fellow commissioners is that they were, collectively, exactly the people one would choose if one wanted to find a politically realistic and workable solution to a complex political and constitutional problem. We worked well together as a team. Because of that we went to considerable efforts to produce an agreed report and one which we could all wholeheartedly sign. We travelled a long journey to reach that point and it was not always easy.
We could not have reached agreement without everyone being prepared to reconsider their initial positions. That would not have been possible without the development of trust, confidence, liking and respect. All the members of the commission contributed to that. I should like formally to record my own appreciation and thanks to my fellow commissioners and I am sure that your Lordships would wish to be associated with that.
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