|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Hurd of Westwell: My Lords, I am following the noble Lord's argument with great care. But most people, if the proposition were put to them, would prefer to trust an independent appointments commission to get the political balance right than the Prime Minister of the day.
Lord Richard: My Lords, arguably they may prefer to trust the electoral process rather than the individual whim of the Prime Minister or the opinion of the appointments commission. That has always been my argument.
All I am saying is that it is clear that the Royal Commission, when it found itself in this difficulty, said, "We will get over the problem of lack of legitimacy by having an independent appointments commission, and its independence will rectify the lack of legitimacy that there is in the system of appointments". That is the way in which I put the argument.
We should start by asking ourselves whether the reform strengthens Parliament as a whole. With a dominant executive of whatever party, a second Chamber with the legitimacy from time to time to ask the Government to think again is fundamental to the health of Parliament as a whole. It would also strengthen the House of Commons.
The House of Commons should clearly remain the dominant and superior House. It should make and unmake governments; it should control their finances and have the right ultimately to secure its legislation. I have no problem with any of that. The second Chamber--this is the crux of the argument--must have at least a majority of its Members directly elected on a different voting system from that used for the House of Commons. The House with a majority of either nominated or indirectly elected Members would lack the democratic legitimacy and accountability properly to perform its central function.
Let me deal with one argument we occasionally hear in this connection; that is, what does democracy matter? Why are we insisting on elections? Elections are not necessarily the best way of doing things; but they are the normal way. It is the way the country accepts. It is the basis in our society, indeed in most western countries, of securing representative government. Why not here? What is so special about the second Chamber of the British Parliament? Is it the case that somehow or other, when they get to the doors of this Chamber, the democratic principles which apply outside, which apply to the other Chamber, principles which we proselytise as hard as we can to the rest of the world, cease to have that legitimacy? I do not believe it. The argument is not one against democracy; it is an argument about the relationship between this Chamber and the one down the corridor. That can be dealt with in other ways.
The power of the two Houses and the respective standing of their elected Members should reflect the differences in their functions. It is a total myth that a proper balance between the two Houses is impossible within an unwritten constitution. The balance can and should be defined in legislation--in concordats and procedures--agreed between the two Houses.
Various Members of your Lordships' House have said in the course of this debate that the reform presents a rare opportunity. That is a view I share. I am anxious that that rare opportunity should not be missed. Although the Royal Commission goes some way down the road I wish to travel, it does not go far enough; it does not go fast enough. I should like to see a more democratic system for the second Chamber.
Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, it is an enormous privilege to speak after the noble Lord, Lord Richard. He has thought more about this subject than most people in this House. I have read with admiration what he has written about it. However, I am not sure that I can go along with what he has just said.
Like most speakers, I admire greatly the work of the commission. I consider it an excellent base from which to proceed with the reforms. But I take issue in two respects. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, has left the Chamber because he might have been interested in one of them.
One question I want to consider is how to ensure that the second Chamber has at least some legitimacy, particularly in the eyes of the people in the four countries that make up the United Kingdom. The other point, which, strangely, has not been raised, is whether it is possible now to include, as the commission suggests, the Law Lords as Members of the reformed House and what we can do about that.
Ever since I became a life Peer in 1982 I have felt that our parliamentary system called for a much stronger second Chamber, one perceived by the electorate as being adequately legitimate to do the job that that electorate felt it had to do. In modern circumstances, the electorate knows that the House of Commons cannot do it alone. Until recently, I felt in my simple way that the only solution was to move to an entirely elected Chamber, along with some constitutional mechanism to avoid deadlock between it and the House of Commons. Since taking part in various discussions in Scotland over the consultation period, and since reading and discussing the Royal Commission's report, I have come to agree with my noble friends, Lord Waddington and Lord Norton, and the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf.
The legitimacy of the House and the satisfaction it gives in all parts of the United Kingdom would not be best achieved by elections, either to an all-elected House or partly elected House. Quite apart from whether an all-elected revising Chamber would work in our system, the public would not welcome it in principle. They are, alas, none too sure about what they see of the all-elected House of Commons and are certainly not seeking a replica.
But would people across the United Kingdom be helped in identifying with the new House if it was part-elected, either in one of the ways identified in the report or through having even more elected people, as my noble friend Lord Strathclyde proposed? I wonder for one simple reason. I try to imagine how such an arrangement would appear in Scotland, for example.
Under models A and B in the report, as I understand it, the Scots would find themselves voting only once in every 15 years. If one was 17½ years-old when elections to the second Chamber took place, one would be 32½ years-old before one had a chance to vote. I doubt if that would give much satisfaction or sense of ownership to people in Scotland or, indeed, to anyone in any other part of the United Kingdom. Under model C, the frequency of elections would be a more satisfying five years, but that model would produce a much more party political Chamber. That, I believe, is precisely what most people do not relish.
I believe that in recent years, largely as a result of watching television, the public have come to feel that people are appointed to a revising Chamber because they know what they are talking about and because of their expertise and experience. They have a legitimacy of their own. I hesitate to use the word "legitimacy" after listening to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, but I believe that it is the right word to use in this context.
The main worry among the public is not the fact that Members would be appointed but how they would be appointed. There is scope for corruption or cronyism and, most important, there is the question of whether one's own part of the United Kingdom is or would be adequately represented.
Scots would prefer a wholly appointed House, but with a statutory appointments committee. I say this despite what was said about such committees by my noble friend Lord St John of Fawsley. I believe that people would prefer to see in place a statutory appointments committee required by law to maintain a stated percentage of Members--say, in the case of Scotland, 10 per cent of the whole--who would be the expert and experienced representatives for Scotland. It could be a separate appointments committee or a United Kingdom body charged with the necessary statutory duties. If an overall system could be devised for the United Kingdom into which that could be fitted, I believe that Scots, at least, would welcome it and identify with it.
Furthermore, should in due course the Scottish Parliament find the need for an independent revising Chamber to examine its legislation, such a Westminster Chamber, using its Scots members, might well be acceptable. I suggest that elections be left out of the arrangements and that a statutory appointments system be carefully designed to give a sense of ownership and legitimacy to all parts of the United Kingdom.
On the question of the Law Lords, I wish I could agree with the Royal Commission that they should continue, as at present, to act judicially and as Members of the second Chamber. However, surely the writing is already on the wall. The skilful and helpful way in which they wear their two hats at present, which brings so much to the enrichment of our work, is unlikely to be sustainable for much longer, given the conflicts of interest which will increasingly arise as the Human Rights Act begins to take effect in England. When reading The Times the other day, I noticed that, even in little Guernsey, where it must be difficult to find separate wearers for all the different hats in the legal process, the European Court of Human Rights found that if a judge had a legislative role it could affect his or her impartiality. It seemed that this was not only a judgment about Guernsey. Rather, it was a general statement.
In any case, given the effect of the Human Rights Act, surely it would now be a mistake to include the Law Lords or any sitting judges in the new Chamber. Better, sadly, to ensure by way of the appointments commission that an adequate number of experienced lawyers--not judges--of both jurisdictions of the United Kingdom are appointed as members of the second Chamber. Furthermore, it should be required by law that any Member who becomes a judge or a Scots sheriff or, indeed, one suspects, even a magistrate, should resign. It would be interesting if, in his reply to this enormous debate, the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General could make a short comment about this. A few days ago, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor replied to a Question put by the noble Lord, Lord Desai, on the subject of Guernsey. From his reply, I wondered whether the noble and learned Lord really believed what he was saying about his own position. I suppose I was wrong, but I should be interested to hear what the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General has to say on this point.
The Lord Bishop of Guildford: My Lords, I am sure that we are all immensely grateful for the work done by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, and all the members of the commission. The development of our constitution has been a matter of profound concern to the Church in our nation over many centuries. Bishops have had variable experiences in relation to it. In 1832 they were stoned on the streets for resisting change and in 1688 seven of them were sent to the Tower of London for seeking to defend our constitution against the personal agenda of the monarch of the time. However, unlike the bishops of 1832, I believe that we should not resist change, and like the bishops in 1688, we ought to be defending the principles on which our constitution has been built.
The noble Baroness the Leader of the House has said that our constitution develops by evolutionary rather than revolutionary means. I am sure that that is right. It is our custom to build on past experience, and where we need to change we are careful to ensure that the best of what we inherit is not lost as we chart a new constitutional course.
At the heart of this matter is the principle of representation. I should like to put that comment alongside the very interesting remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, about legitimacy. It is the principle of government, held to account by a parliament, which truly represents the people of this country. As my noble friend the Bishop of Durham has said, Bishops sit here in that role and on the basis of that principle. We are not here to represent the Church of England. We are here to represent the common good in the spiritual values and moral concerns which underpin the life of our whole nation. That can and should only continue to be the case if the people of our country are content with it. All of us are here in the role of servant to the common good of the people. If it were thought, in this age of secular materialism, that the voice of those who speak from a spiritual foundation is not needed or welcome, then so be it. The continuance of the Lords spiritual, in whatever shape or form, needs to be by open understanding of what can be expected from such a contribution in Parliament.
At the heart of representation is the democratic process. A House which is formed by means which are not exclusively electoral must complement but not override the other place, whose authority is rooted in the universal ballot. If we accept that fundamental principle--and there has been wide acceptance of it in this House both this afternoon and this evening--we will have a sound basis for building on the tradition of a House formed in other and complementary ways. I hope that we agree that the electoral process does not exhaust the meaning of representation. Indeed, electoral representation in our modern world risks the tyranny of the majority. The meaning of "democracy" is not a means by which the majority impose their will upon a reluctant minority.
Consensus has been quite widely mentioned in today's debate; indeed, it has been an unpopular word in political dialogue in recent years. But we need to recover it and root it in its fundamental, moral principle, which is concerned with the way in which the many voices of our people come together. Despotism, even under the guise of democratic procedures, is dangerous to our common life and Parliament is the means by which we resist it.
We have only to look at how our elective democracy works in our western culture, and in our own history in particular, to recognise the point. The electoral system, held so much under the control of the political parties, delivers a Parliament in which the Whips are strong and the executive extremely powerful. Yet it is the duty of a representative Parliament to hold the executive to account. That is a struggle when such a large majority in the other place supports the Government. As noble Lords will be aware, the
When one looks at the Houses of our Parliament and asks how representative they are not only of the opinions of the people but also of the diversity of our culture and experience, many questions are bound to be raised. What about the balance of women and men, of people of different culture and creed, of young--dare I say this in this House?--as well as old people and of people from different social classes? In the modern world, these challenges become even harder the more contemporary politics leads to the professionalisation of our political life. They are important matters because it is a dangerous situation to have Parliament legislating for the people when important minorities or sections of the people are missing from its Chambers. All the voices of the people need to be here. I have been conscious on one or two occasions in our debates that the people we are talking about or legislating for are mainly outside our number and beyond our borders. The voiceless should have a voice in Parliament.
We should not be afraid of reform. There has to be confidence in the adequacy of the structure of how we get here, as well as in the quality of the work that we do when we are here. There have been questions about whether anything is going to happen at the end of all these discussions. The quietness of these times might tempt us to take these matters steadily; and, indeed, perhaps they are not quite so important. But the adequacy of our constitution and the confidence of our people in it become matters of immediate concern in times of difficulty and when the nation is under threat. Perhaps I may use a well-known New Testament image: it is when the storms come that the adequacy of the foundations of the structure is discovered. It is in good times that we need to take the action needed to ensure that the structure will stand amidst the certainty of the floods that even our futures will surely bring from time to time.
The noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, has served us well. We need to progress these matters by, first, establishing agreement about the values and principles. I, too, share in the welcome for the style in which this debate has been brought to us this afternoon. As we talk about values and principles, that includes what contribution those who speak on behalf of the spiritual estates of the realm might make to Parliament. Then we can look at the structure for reform and seek, if I may say so, to find consensus on the detail.
I do not know whether I dare say it at this hour of the evening, but we are just a few hours away from Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. Judging by the pace at which this debate is proceeding, it seems that we might begin Lent in this Chamber. Our constitution has deep and long roots in the spiritual history of our people. At this season of the year, Christians are called to put behind them all that hinders our common life
I wanted very much to speak in this debate because I was most impressed by the report of the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, and his colleagues. I was most impressed by the analysis and by many, if not entirely all, of the proposals. First, the commission looked at the role and purpose of your Lordships' House. Perhaps I may treat this in a slightly different way. If we raise our eyes a little--it never does any harm to do so, as the right reverend Prelates will undoubtedly tell us--we shall see around us in the Chamber our predecessors, the Barons, without whom the sovereign was unable to govern. Yes, the Barons had to be drawn together to provide advice; but, frankly, they provided support because they were the most powerful.
The Barons were most powerful because they had control of land and property. Indeed, because of that, they were able to hand on their land and property. The hereditary principle came into being largely because of that capacity to hand on through one's own line. The principle of hierarchy in social circles also developed because of the control of power, land, money, resources and people. Of course, after the Industrial Revolution the situation began to change because power began to reside not just in the control of land but also in the control of business, commerce, property and money. But it could still be handed on, so the hereditary principle remained valid.
However, the situation is changing. In the new age, it is information, communication and relationships that determine those who are powerful and influential--those without whom a government cannot govern. But those things cannot be passed on down a family line or by connection. The characteristic of such a society is not hierarchy but network. Therefore, it is quite appropriate that the composition of your Lordships' House should change to reflect those who have shown some capacity in their lives for
One of the key difficulties that has come before the commission--and before your Lordships as I have listened to the debate in your Lordships' House--is the question of legitimacy. There is some kind of notion that the only legitimacy is that of an electoral mandate. I think that those of us who have been involved in politics for a long time are susceptible to our own mythologies about how much the electoral mandate is persuasive to the people; it is not. Every opinion poll has shown that politicians do not have a particularly high standing in the community in comparison with those who have been successful in professional or academic life, or indeed, those who have shown themselves knowledgeable and to have expertise in, for example, single issue campaigning organisations. They are often much more influential and persuasive.
It is not when an elected politician criticises the Government that the people sit up; the people sit up when someone who has expertise, authority (and particularly a moral authority in the community) makes such a criticism. It seems to me that if we try to find some way to add an electoral legitimacy to your Lordships' Chamber we shall inevitably fail. It is not a question of percentages. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, suggested that a figure of two-thirds might do the trick. But then, of course, if the one-third who were independents were the ones who swung the vote, would it not be the case that the criticism would then arise that they had no right to do that because they did not have an electoral mandate? The problem is searching for legitimacy in an electoral mandate as though it were the only legitimacy. Of course, it is a legitimacy and a profoundly important one, but it is not the only one. There is a moral legitimacy of values and a legitimacy of expertise.
We do not feel that our judges lack legitimacy because we do not elect them. The problems in Northern Ireland would hardly be solved if we merely had more elections for everything. Would the Chief Constable have more legitimacy if he were an elected official in Northern Ireland? In those circumstances, one simply would not have a chief constable. We do not elect doctors. We do not elect professors by universal suffrage. Nevertheless, they have an authority which is real and legitimate and can have an influence that is usefully brought to bear on government.
It is not the case that all second Chambers throughout the whole of the rest of the world are elected. Relatively few second Chambers are Chambers completely elected by universal suffrage. It is not the case that the newest forms of government are always appointed by election and have separation of powers. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, is familiar with Europe where the Commission has both a
There will undoubtedly be those--perhaps among my colleagues--who would go along with what the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, said; namely, that a Liberal conviction must be that of pure election and representation of the people. Perhaps that is the case, but I throw myself on the mercy of William Ewart Gladstone, who was no mean Liberal and no mean Prime Minister of this country, who said that Liberalism was trust of the people tempered by prudence. Trust of the people is represented by the other place; prudence should be represented by your Lordships' House.
I join with others who have offered congratulations to my noble friend Lord Wakeham and to the members of the commission. I do so for a slightly different reason. I offer them congratulations on their dedication and their tenacity of purpose. I cannot offer them wholehearted congratulations on what they have produced, because I go along with only about 90 per cent of that.
My noble friend Lord Waddington made a speech this afternoon with practically every word of which I agreed. I shall return to that in a few minutes. I find myself in the same position as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, who did not speak because most of what he wanted to say had already been said. However, I call in aid the old political adage that if you have an important point you wish to get across, you must make it at least 10 times. I shall deal with that point in a few moments.
I differ from many people on my side of the House, in that I think that the Government handled the early part of this legislation in the proper way. I think they were right to approach this problem in two parts. What I have some doubt about is whether, if, as was indicated by the noble Baroness this afternoon, the Government were to go down the track of having an elected quota in this House, they would not put at risk much of what they profess to see as advantageous in this House.
I should like to counsel the Government on two issues. First, I suggest that it would be a great error to rush into stage two with a new Bill. That is not necessary. This interim House is functioning very well. I see no reason to panic over the second stage, although I can imagine that for a government who have introduced stage one it is natural to want to make progress with stage two in due course.
The second matter on which I wish to counsel the Government concerns the whole question of the composition of this House. I believe that the Wakeham report set out fairly three options as regards having a portion of the House elected. However, it did not point out the dangers of that course. I believe that, as regards the way in which this House works, it does not require an elected element. Indeed, I think it would in many ways be a positive handicap for it to go down that route. I believe that there are benefits in having a wholly nominated House. That the report is unanimous as regards that point does not necessarily indicate that there was unanimity on everything within the report.
Two different categories of Member have been suggested. I find it difficult to see how that could possibly be avoided. Even in some of the constitutional reforms we have undergone already, there tend to be two categories of member. Whether we like it or not, in Scotland, for example, the Scottish press constantly refers in a different way to elected members and to members who are not elected; it refers to the latter as "list members". That is discrimination.
The difficulty of having two different categories of Member in this House is that we could conceivably get elected Members not being content with the House of Lords, as they would see it, playing second fiddle to the House of Commons. They would constantly be looking for ways in which the powers of the House of Lords could be increased. They would consider themselves every bit as legitimate as Members of the House of Commons. For those reasons, it would be a mistake to follow that route.
I believe that there would be a further difficulty--that is, the difficulty of attracting candidates from the most suitable age group. It would be very difficult to find candidates, let us say, between the age of 35 and 50, who, approaching the peak of their career, would willingly give it up for perhaps a 12-year period in Parliament at the end of which it would be very difficult for them to resume their career at anything like the same level as they had left it.
I think the weakness of the Wakeham report is that it has given three options none of which is wholly satisfactory. Before they move on this issue at all, I urge the Government to consider the virtues of having a wholly nominated Chamber. I believe that this is crucially important. If the Government do not do this, there is a real danger that, by introducing even a small number of elected Members, they will concede the principle. Once that principle is conceded, it will not be difficult to build up pressure over the years for the number to be extended.
The noble Baroness, Lady Dean, a member of the commission, made an interesting comment at the very end of her speech--certainly in her closing paragraph, if not her closing sentence. She had been talking about the number of people who might be elected to this House and she said that of course this could be increased at a future time. Therein lies the danger, in my view.
I very much hope that the Government will take on board what I have said, particularly about taking their time. The number of different views about the Wakeham report which have been expressed today indicate that, although the report may have been unanimous, opinions are by no means unanimous at the present moment. The longer the Government dwell on this before they come to a final conclusion, the better for all of us.
Lord Sewel: My Lords, I join other noble Lords in welcoming the report and in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, and his colleagues on its production. I do so primarily because it has got the process of argument right. The report starts by looking at the functions and role of this House and goes on to talk about its composition. That is surely the right way round; the right way to address the issues that confront us.
Perhaps inevitably in recent times we have been more concerned with composition. We have been rather long on who is here and rather short on what we should be doing once we are here. The Wakeham report goes right to the centre of the issue of what the role and the function of the second Chamber should be in a parliamentary democracy. There can be little disagreement with the basic proposition that the role of the second Chamber is to scrutinise, to revise and to give the superior, predominant lower House an opportunity to think again. But it is not part of the
So we come to a position where there is an inter-relationship between composition and function. If we change the composition, I believe that we will inevitably change the effective functions and powers of your Lordships' House.
In the past the debate about reform has been couched very much in terms of legitimacy. In our political culture, that effectively means democratic legitimacy based on election. I am not convinced that democratic legitimacy necessarily sits well with the functions that we expect this House to perform. Such arguments--with which I agree--were well advanced by the noble Lords, Lord Norton of Louth, Lord Alderdice and, most recently, Lord Gray of Contin.
The important point is not the legitimacy of the House but its authority. The two are different. The authority of the House, in terms of the functions we rightly expect it to perform, rests on the basis and the weight of argument founded upon the expertise and experience of the Members who constitute this House. It is not based on some kind of proportion of an elected democratic component.
I wonder also whether a House along the lines of the one advocated by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, and his colleagues would make it possible for us to lose one of the great advantages of this House. It is possible under the present arrangements to bring into your Lordships' House, not career politicians, but people who can make a contribution to the public life of our country, in particular areas or for a particular time, and who can then slip back into relatively decent obscurity. We benefit from the kind of flexibility that allows us to bring people into public life for relatively short periods of time; for them to make a contribution; and then to say, "Thank you very much" and allow them to sink back. I wonder whether the type of House proposed by the Wakeham Commission would enable those advantages to persist.
Along with other noble Lords, I have an underlying concern about the introduction of a democratic element, partly because of the two-tier system that could be created. Those who had come to the House on the basis of an election would undoubtedly wish to advance the claim of superior democratic legitimacy. I do not accept the view that, once here, everyone would be the same. I am afraid that in the former House everyone used to play little tricks and do calculations as to who would have won and who would have lost if the hereditaries had been removed. The same would happen with an elected element. It would be a case of saying that the Government would have lost on the basis of the numbers of elected Peers rather than nominated Peers. That is a recipe for chaos and division.
What concerns me greatly is the way in which that kind of change would undoubtedly disturb the relationship between this House and the other place. We should not disturb that relationship unless we consciously and deliberately wish to do so. I am not convinced at this stage that the balance is wrong. I believe that this House is capable, on something like its present composition, of being an effective second Chamber, able to revise and scrutinise legislation and ask the government of the day to think again. I do not believe that that is dependent upon introducing a new, elected democratic element.
We are already in the process of redefining the nature of a new second Chamber. We are already at stage one. Inevitably, that means that we are redefining the way in which we work and the way in which things are done. We have had the recent example of the Leader of the Opposition, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, basically arguing that, because of the change in composition, the understanding on how to deal with secondary legislation should be put to one side under the present new arrangements. That may be right. I shall not argue against it. But as we go down the road of reform, it is important to recognise that this House works effectively--not necessarily because of conventions, but because of understandings and working arrangements. My wish is that the two Front Benches, through the usual channels, should work out what those proper new understandings and working arrangements are in this the so-called transitional House, and, if necessary, in any House that replaces it. Otherwise, we are not just in complete paralysis; we are likely to be faced with a major confrontation between the two Houses of Parliament. That is not good for the parliamentary process or for wider democracy.
Lord Rees: My Lords, I rise to pay my respectful tribute to the Royal Commission, so skilfully chaired by my noble friend Lord Wakeham. If there is any criticism to be made of its work, it can in part be attributed to the rather peremptory deadline imposed on the commission, and to its rather tightly drawn terms of reference. Neither the commission nor the world would expect us in this Chamber, or indeed Members of another place, to accept all its conclusions. This is only the start of a debate which will no doubt be carried on in the other place, in the Joint Committee and ultimately in the nation outside. So far, I have not noticed in the newspapers anything like the debate that there was on the earlier reform of this House carried out last year.
In view of the lateness of the hour, perhaps I may turn briefly to the powers of the new House, which will in turn condition its composition. Parenthetically, I bear in mind the remark of my noble friend Lord St John of Fawsley, who is sadly no longer in his place, that we must treat the other place with full courtesy, consideration and delicacy. None the less, if the basis of this debate is how to achieve an upper House to complement the activities, the tone, the performance, and the powers of the other place, it
I turn now to the pre-eminence of the lower House. It is not defined with any precision, but one gets the general drift. I accept, as have numerous other speakers, that a government based on the elected majority in the other place must be permitted, broadly, to govern. I shall come in a moment to the Salisbury Convention. That cannot be, nor could it be in the future other than in quite exceptional circumstances, any basis for votes of confidence on the government of the day in this House.
Again, the government of the day, properly elected and conducting their affairs properly, are entitled to expect proper votes of supply, although it may be that a revising Chamber, against the altered background of any reform that may be generated by the Royal Commission, might well be entitled, indeed encouraged, to go through the details of Finance Bills, which it is presently disabled from doing.
The pre-eminence of the lower House cannot be regarded as disabling this House from performing its proper role as a revising Chamber: involving detailed scrutiny of legislation, both primary and delegated, and the right to impose a pause for reflection on the other House where matters of important principle are involved. I hope that I am allowed to say, without sounding too controversial, that governments with large majorities have not all been confined to one party. I quite accept that Conservative governments, too, have been guilty of being a little too dismissive, when they have been worsted on some point that we in this Chamber have regarded as being of importance, a point of principle, and of asserting that that whole matter will be put right at short notice by a further measure from the lower House.
It must be recalled, too, that the provisions of the Parliament Act should not be immune from scrutiny under any new arrangement. After all, it would be possible, whatever the practical difficulties, to introduce a measure three times in the course of one Parliament. I do not say that a government should be limited to one attempt in the course of each Parliament and should wait for the verdict of the electorate; however, I believe that three possibilities are too many.
I turn briefly to the Salisbury Convention. In the absence of my noble friend Lord Cranborne, I appreciate that I am treading on holy ground. I feel that that reflected a little too closely the weakened legitimacy of this House in the post-war years. That would have to be reconsidered. It is important to consider the degrees of importance of the legislation which the government of day would try to force through on the basis of what they may or may not have included in their party manifesto. In regard to constitutional matters, for example, if a government, on the basis of a proposal that they may have included in their manifesto, were to move for the abolition of
I am aware that constitutional questions are difficult to define. Mr Asquith (as he was then) regarded that as a legitimate reason for brushing them aside in the debates on the Parliament Bill in 1911. I doubt that that should be the case. It is not wholly accurate to say that we do not have a written constitution. The devolution legislation, which has been closely considered by Parliament, must be regarded as part of our constitution and certainly can be found in statute. However, other countries have succeeded in isolating categories of measures, particularly constitutional ones, and treating them as matters of legitimate concern for their second Chambers. We must reflect further on that particular question. Equally, together with my noble friend Lord Cranborne I believe that resting with this House a power to call a referendum may be a legitimate weapon in our armoury to deal with matters that fundamentally affect the governance of this country. However, these matters must be looked at in far greater detail if and when we come to legislation in this particular field.
I turn briefly to the composition of the upper Chamber. The dilemma is well known, and no one is better qualified or better able to debate it than the noble Lord, Lord Richard, who brings a wealth of experience to bear on this particular question. If it is an appointed House, there is always the possibility of abuse of political patronage. Although any Prime Minister will be circumscribed by public opinion and matters of that kind, that possibility remains. There is also the question of whether a totally appointed House would command respect and legitimacy. That matter was dealt with in the attractive speeches of the noble Lords, Lord Alderdice and Lord Dahrendorf. It may be possible to invest an upper House with a kind of legitimacy after it has been demonstrated that it performs its functions in a reliable and sensible way.
Perhaps we should look at some foreign precedents. I believe that the Canadian upper House is totally appointed. I am not in a position to say how much legitimacy that Chamber commands. I shall turn to the role of the Royal Commission in that respect. The alternative, which is self-evident, is a process of election. We must be conscious, even in this House, of voter fatigue. To draw on a fairly recent precedent in Wales, I cannot believe that voters west of Offa's Dyke really shared the same degree of enthusiasm that was generated in some of the debates in Westminster, at least on the basis of the numbers who turned out to vote. If we adopted a process of election, clearly we would not want the country to saddle itself, perhaps through inadvertence, with a pale replica of the other place. Therefore, elections would be on a different basis and at different times; otherwise, the same tide that swept into power a party with a particular set of views would be reflected in both the upper and lower Houses and eventually they would not necessarily command much respect in the country as a whole.
The Royal Commission has produced the interesting, although not totally original, idea of an appointments commission. I believe that the practical difficulty of identifying the constitutional paragons required to man this Chamber are under-estimated and that as we investigate the proposals more closely, they will be found to be not wholly realistic.
The only practical suggestion I make is that we look a little further at foreign precedents. It will be said at once that our historical precedents are unique and that we are unlikely to want to impose on Westminster anything that is devised elsewhere, even across the Channel. I do not suggest that we do that. I recognise the practical difficulties. In this particular field, nothing transplants easily from one country to another. I regret that the Commission did not devote a little more thought to that question. I believe that it was a little too dismissive of the idea. We should look at those precedents only to see what general conclusions can be drawn from them that may assist us in trying to solve this very difficult dilemma.
I conclude that the upper House as constituted must command sufficient power and respect to carry out its duties as a proper revising Chamber. This House must not be so emasculated as to allow our constitution to become in substance unicameral, even though it may retain some limited formal vestiges of its honourable bicameral past.
The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, I, too, thank the Royal Commission for its hard work in producing a document which is a superb basis for the debate today. I was struck by the words of the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, in describing the environment in which we live today. Relationships, moral authority and communication are of greater importance than they have been in the past.
The noble Lord referred to inheritance. There may be one good reason for keeping a hold on inheritance to some degree. One can be good at one thing in life; it is extremely hard to be good at two things. If one has a parent involved in political action, one may be a great doctor or chemist, and may be able to slip into the parent's shoes at the same time. Those who are considering the process for appointing new Members of this House might bear that in mind. I think of the noble Baroness the Leader of the House, whose father is a supreme politician. I do not dare to comment on the ability of the noble Baroness, but she has combined a superb career in journalism. Several Peers on the Government Front Bench have achieved that also.
I urge the Government to complete what they have begun. It would be a tragedy if we were left ultimately with a fully elected upper House. I am assured by many noble Lords that the other place would never allow that to happen. However, the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, pointed out that the first choice of the man in the street
There needs to be an authority in the land. Some body is needed to ensure that the right services reach the right people. Members of the House who may have worked in schools in inner cities and have been involved with and taken an interest in young people who have been in residential care will recognise that the right example can transform a young person's life. That is the example that springs to my mind from my experience. However, we have the ability to transform the world about us if we achieve the right services. That transformation depends on having some form of authority to carry it through.
A properly reformed upper House will have more credibility. The prime reason for a partly elected upper House may be that the House will seem more credible to the general public. While we may understand that there are other forms of authority other than democratic authority, I am not sure that the general public would necessarily agree with that. If the House has a democratic element and therefore more credibility, it is less likely to become a political football.
We have an example of an elected upper House in the United States. In my brief experience in the House, I have listened to discussions on the way in which the United States has not met its international responsibilities and has delayed making payments to the United Nations because the government's two Houses could not come to agreement. I understand that it often does not meet its domestic responsibilities. President Clinton's programme to improve the medical service in the United States is one example. One thinks also of President Carter and his energy policies. These are important policies which fall by the wayside because they cannot pass through the parliamentary system.
Lord Selsdon: My Lords, at some time in our lives all of us have a crisis. As I listened to the debate, I wondered why I was feeling increasingly nervous and I realised that I have a crisis of identity. I am not sure who I now am. I know that the right honourable Members of another place are called "right honourable" and I know that technically I am called "the right honourable". However, I am not a Privy Counsellor; I am a hereditary Peer with 37 years' service in this House. Having listened to your
To me, democracy is not a static state; it is either coming or going. There are no extremes; there is a circle in which you move to the right or to the left and then come together. Those of us who remember the 1958 and previous attempts at reform have always supported it. In other debates, on Second Reading and in the evidence I gave to the Royal Commission, I emphasised that the hereditary Peers accepted that they were not legitimate because they were not elected. They felt therefore that they had no right to be here and they wanted reform.
My problem is that I did not expect to be elected. I am not sure that I wanted to be elected. I was asked to submit my name, but on my election address it was spelt wrongly. I spent more than an hour and a half trying to put 42 names in order because I had not understood the result.
I listened to the noble Baroness and remembered that stage one meant that all hereditary Peers would go and that there would be no compromise. Within a short time, at Second Reading someone said, "Actually, we will accept an amendment if it is tabled". The Weatherill amendment was tabled, but I am afraid that I did not support it because I thought that it was morally wrong, dishonest and contrived. I have nothing against the individuals involved in it.
I listened to many people promoting the concept that there were great men and good among the hereditary peerage, including former Foreign Secretaries and members of the Privy Council. We were told that they must go, but, suddenly through the back door, back they come! Why did it have to be this way? Why were so many enemies created when the hereditary peerage was in favour of reform?
There are many misconceptions about all this. Your Lordships will know that of the 650 who went, 60 per cent took no Whip. They were, in a way, independent. Whether or not they came from the first, second or third generation was almost irrelevant. We knew our places. That is why there were conventions.
I am concerned because I do not regard the removal of 600 hereditary Peers as reform. I could almost say that it is a step backwards because we lost a considerable volume of knowledge. I would not persuade your Lordships that the standard of the House has risen since they left. We had instant information as a result of experience rather than the rhetoric which comes from those who have to read a prepared brief. You have to get "run-in" in this place.
I am not sure whether I am now called a hereditary Peer. I no longer like being Lord Selsdon; I prefer "[email protected]". If I am elected, I would rather be that and get rid of the idea that people come here as a reward for past service. They should be here because they have a service to perform. Whether that relates to time, ability or input, whether or not you have outside jobs, you give of your best when you have the time. If you have no time for anything else, it is possible that you do not have the outside experience that goes with it.
There is a worry. As a small winegrower, I have used this phrase before: I am worried that we shall all wither on the vine. The matter of withering on the vine is quite interesting. As we have debated the reform of the House, so the average age of Peers has increased. Fifty per cent of life Peers are over 70 years of age. That is quite interesting. Sixty-five per cent are over 65. Of course, 65 per cent of hereditary Peers are under 65. That is not a political issue on which I wish to score points; I merely point out that the age profile is interesting.
With regard to the vine, in general one takes the harvest 90 days after the flower. Generally, I notice that it takes most people approximately 90 days to begin to absorb the atmosphere, the procedures and the friendliness of this House. There is no need to attack. Rapidly, we all come to know each other's strengths and weaknesses and we speak only of each other's strengths. That gives one a certain folie de grandeur. I always feel insecure so I prefer to have my back to the wall! However, one knows one's weaknesses and what one can say.
At times, it is extraordinarily difficult to be productive without being destructive. Having listened to the debate today, I feel that the consensus of opinion is that we should not have an elected bunch of people here at all. Yet, the very reason for getting rid of the hereditary peerage was that it was not elected. I have found myself in more agreement with more people on more sides of the House and in more disagreement with more people on more sides of the House than ever before. I agree with almost everything said by the noble Lord, Lord Richard.
However, if we do not move to stage two, there will have been more than a certain moral dishonesty. The whole concept behind this was that proper reform should be carried out in order to produce a democratic Chamber. I do not attempt to define "democracy". The ancient Greeks and people through time immemorial have done that. In a way, we could say that we prefer a benevolent anarchy to a malevolent dictatorship. However, if we do not introduce proper
Lord Stone of Blackheath: My Lords, it is not fair. I often have to follow the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon. His background allows him to stand up and speak without notes and without nerves. He is quite right; I have to speak with a prepared brief and with nerves. However, I shall press on.
I remember clearly the first debate which I listened to here, on a minor reform. Two years ago we discussed another report--that of the Select Committee on the Ceremony of Introduction. The House was packed. The ceremony used to last too long and so, it seemed, did the debate. I recall that the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, who was the chairman of the Select Committee, was exasperated because the debate went over old ground and it was two-and-a-half hours before he was able to speak. He said that surely a hand-picked, cross-party committee of experts who had spent 400 man-hours taking evidence and debating that issue should have their recommendations adopted without the House rehearsing all the arguments on the Floor over and over again. I agreed.
On the other hand, the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, was quick to point out that, even when a Select Committee report was thorough and detailed, it was the duty of Parliament to consider the recommendations at a leisurely pace and accept or reject them as it pleased. I agreed with that also. Therefore, we are entitled to take our time here. However, like the ceremony, we cannot go round in circles. We should move on.
The current Royal Commission had to investigate weightier matters than a ceremony. It was composed of excellent representatives from the main political parties. It was put together carefully to include a variety of expertise and knowledge. It has completed a massive task on time. The appendices represent 20 pages of the widest consultation. The CD-ROM is full of detailed submissions, sifted and sorted for us by the commission. The report is pragmatic. It is neither an impractical academic analysis, nor a radical plan to replace us with a senate. The experience and wisdom of the commission has presented us with a useful, detailed document which, after careful and sober reflection, should lead to pragmatic evolutionary progress in reform.
What is more, this diverse commission came to its conclusions consensually and unanimously. It has moved on its thinking, suggesting realistic ways in which patronage can be curtailed by the use of an independent appointments commission. It shows ways to include an elected proportion and it proposes compositions which suit the interests of whole of the United Kingdom.
Reforms that will immediately bring improvements to the workings of your Lordships' House are, first, the proposal to make greater use of our committees. That will help us to work more efficiently and effectively. Our current committees do excellent work and are well respected. We have heard much today about legitimacy. One has first to ask the question, legitimacy for what? If the second Chamber is to act, for example, as a constitutional long-stop, then a House composed in the way suggested that chooses as a select committee from among its Members the best possible assortment of people to monitor constitutional legislation, will have formed a committee with legitimacy.
The report suggests that we set up an over-arching constitutional committee with sub-committees on human rights and devolution. It suggests a committee to scrutinise treaties; a joint committee on pre-legislative scrutiny; and broadening the role of the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee. They are all good suggestions that could be implemented.
When we go down that route, these committees must be properly resourced with facilities and support to make them efficient, with decent conditions of work for the membership and the secretariat. Secondly, very good procedural changes are also recommended. I understand that many of them require only the approval of the Clerk of Parliaments. This House is the master of its own procedures, unlike another place, and we can and should move forward.
I do not agree with all the recommendations in the report. As regards the representation of religious faiths, as a Jew I cannot see how one could possibly imagine that one person, even of the stature of Jonathan Sacks, could represent the views of our argumentative community. I believe that my friends in the Muslim community would also have difficulty with a single spokesman. In addition, if we represent the main beliefs, what about representation of the secular?
However, I believe that these and other issues could be discussed in an informal way and resolved pragmatically by consensus. The commission's report is a good basis for these discussions, full of wisdom and practical alternatives. We should continue the process and try to move forward with the suggestions that it contains that can be put into place and open to further reform. Too radical a change can be dangerous; no change is worse. A steady, evolving constitution has grown to serve us well over the centuries. This report is a good staging post on the way to a more effective settlement.
Lord Naseby: My Lords, I, too, pay respect to my noble friend Lord Wakeham whom I have known for 40 years. Previously, he was a particularly well-known company doctor who has now produced an extremely thorough report with its unique concept of being unanimous but with three variables in it.
I wish to be associated with the speeches of the noble Lords, Lord Waddington, Lord Sawyer and Lord Dahrendorf. Having got that all-party support, I pay tribute also to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, and say how good it is that he has sat on the Bench for the whole of these proceedings. I believe that that reflects well for our future debates.
I, too, was pleased when the commission rejected the idea of a unicameral Parliament. After all, even Cromwell brought back the House of Lords when, in his view, the revived House could be more reflective, had time to consider issues and would not be totally influenced by matters of the moment. That is a doctrine we would do well to think about.
Although it was not part of the commission's brief, it is also right that we reflect in our debates the changed situation in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and, a little way down the track, the English regions. That means, I believe, that the numbers in the other place must be substantially reduced, maybe to around 450. Unless that happens the whole of our parliamentary democracy will be challenged.
I wish to speak mainly about the composition, but I shall say just a few words about scrutiny. Recommendation 35, which makes a very strong case for the enhanced scrutiny of secondary legislation, is so right. There are other sensible proposals in chapter 8, entitled "Holding the Government to account".
Sadly, perhaps because of time, the commission did not have the opportunity to address how the numerous regulators are to have some form of legitimate parliamentary accountability. At the moment, that accountability rests entirely with the sponsoring department. I recognise that it is a relatively new problem and that your Lordships, when debating the Financial Services and Markets Bill, will have to debate to whom the FSA should be accountable to.
The second dimension that was not addressed is whether the Audit Commission should now be amalgamated with the National Audit Office. After all, it was only separated because my noble friend Lady Thatcher felt that the National Audit Office was becoming far too strong and that local government should not be controlled by it. The Audit Commission faces two new challenges in the near future. First, it has to address the Commission for Health Improvement, which is yet another regulatory body, and not far down the track will be the English regions.
Looking at the question of composition and keeping in mind Cromwell's view that the Chamber could be more reflective, having time to consider issues and not being totally influenced by matters of the moment, in my submission to the commission I felt strongly that this second Chamber should be fully appointed. In saying that, I highlighted a number of areas. I shall select only a few of those I put forward in my evidence.
First, the term "full-time politician" produces a certain degree of derision. I submit, however, that amending and scrutinising legislation is not a job for the amateur. One needs some experience of it; otherwise one has no knowledge of how to dig deep and ask the right questions.
Secondly, some citizens are not represented by anyone. I refer to those who are in the dependent territories. There is at least one member of the commission sitting in the Chamber at the moment. I have to say that I was disappointed that the dependent territories were not referred to in the report. They appeared in the evidence I submitted. It is likely that those dependent territories will remain dependent territories. Their populations are relatively small but they still amount to several thousand British citizens. I could argue that had there been somebody in this Chamber able to talk with authority on the Falklands, we would not perhaps have got ourselves into the position that we did. Certainly there should be a voice of some kind for Gibraltar, some of our Pacific possessions, and the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page