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Hereditary Peers make a substantial contribution to the work of the Cross Benches and the Conservative Party opposite. Withdraw them and there will be serious difficulty in maintaining the functions of the House, because there will not be sufficient people coming in on a daily basis. If we had elected people, we would get them in, but under an appointments system I do not believe that there is any more guarantee that people who have accepted appointment to the House would necessarily come in and do the daily grind of work that is required. Will the Lord Chancellor give his opinion on how that difficulty might be solved? In the next debate, on 4th February, I shall endeavour to give your Lordships some further figures.
Lord MacGregor of Pulham Market: My Lords, by this stage of the debate, it is inevitable that one is going to repeat arguments already heard. However, if the debates in both Houses this week are to be considered from the point of view of how people will vote at a later stage, I want to make my contribution so that where I stand is known. I shall speak more from the point of view of practical experience than constitutional theory.
I have three main points and two preliminary ones. The first is on legitimacy or, as the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, put it, "acceptability". Some have dismissed the entire issue with the simplistic and sometimes glib assertion that the only method of establishing acceptability is by election. I speak after having spent 40 years either involved heavily in, or standing for, election. I have no doubt that the electoral system and standing for election is an important part of our constitution.
More important than that is the question of fitness for purpose. Like the noble Lord, Lord Carter, I used to argue in another place and here that we should consider role and functions first and then composition. However, I want to turn the argument the other way round. The interesting thing about the Joint Committee's report was that people who came from different points of view as to composition agreed on role and function. That was Part 1 of the report. If that is the case, it is extremely important to the question of composition.
If this House tried to duplicate the House of Commons or did not accept that the House of Commons was wholly dominant, the question of election would be important to this place. That is not actually the position, however, because we all agree that the role and functions of this place are secondary to the House of Commons. The election point applies to the composition of the House of Commons and how its Members are elected and to the composition of the Government that comes through the election system. The roles and functions of this place mean that we need other methods of appointment to this place to ensure that we have both the necessary range of expertise and the time that the House of Commons can no longer give to scrutiny of legislation, and so on.
I shall now briefly make my three main points. Part 3 of the Joint Committee report refers to the qualities required in the make-up of a reformed House. I have already referred to legitimacy. The other four are: representativeness, no domination by any one party, independence and expertise. The paragraphs in the report discussing those matters lead inevitably to the view that a House that was composed by more than 50 per centor even more than 40 per centof elected Members simply will not produce those qualities that were unanimously agreed on by the Joint Committee. I do not have the time to go through them. However, I urge noble Lords who have not read them carefully to do so, and to ask themselves whether, if this House had a substantial majority of elected Members, it would ever produce the composition required by those five qualities.
I turn next to the implications of having a number of elected Members, and first to the implications for the Government and the House of Commons, especially if more than 50 per cent are elected. I think that it is almost inevitable that Members elected to this House would feel that they had a democratic legitimacy, and that the dynamics of politics would entail that the role and the function of this House would be challenged. They would wish this House to have many more of the powers possessed by the House of Commons. After all, they would be elected like Members of the House of Commons. There would inevitably be that sort of demand. I am constantly surprised at the number of Members of another place who do not take that argument on board. I do not believe that the implications for the House of Commons or for the Government have been fully thought through. I have never seen them thoroughly analysed.
The implications for Members of this place also seem fairly clear. As Members elected to this place would be elected by constituencies, there would be constant challenges in those constituencies to the Members of the House of Commons. One need only look at what has happened to Scottish MPs and their difficulties with MSPs to see that that would inevitably be the case. One could argue, of course, that if there were a limited tenure of 15 years or less, the scope for challenge would be reduced because it would not be necessary to fight for re-election. If that were the case, I would question the legitimacy of the election. If they do not need to go in front of the electorate again, they would effectively become appointed Members to this place. Unfortunately, however, because of the type of system that might be chosen, they would be appointed Members appointed by the central parties and not by the electorate as a whole.
So we would end up here with a large number of elected Members who did not fear returning to the electorate, who would become bored with the fact that they did not have the powers of the House of Commons and the same ability to enter the Government, and who would then start to argue for the same type of powers. I think that, in many respects, we would have the worst of all worlds. It seems inevitable that that would happen, and it really would challenge the democratic legitimacy point. If such Members had a fixed tenure but then could not stand for election to another place, it is fairly clear that they would not always respond to the electorate. It is also much more likely that they would be party cronies. I feel that, in most cases, those who were willing to put themselves forward for such a post would themselves come to the conclusion that they were unlikely to get into the House of Commons. Therefore, it would be the second line of politicians who came to this House.
I believe that the arithmetic of a substantially elected House would simply squeeze out the Cross-Bencher element and many of the independent Peers. If people had to give up their career, in mid-career, to be a Member of this place for 12 or 15 yearsin what is effectively not a full-time jobwould we really attract the range of expertise and quality that the Cross-Benchers and appointed Members currently bring to the House? That element would inevitably decline.
Thirdly, I have long regretted that Parliament is increasingly composed of professional politicians who have done nothing much other than politics in their working lives. I believe that, if we had a substantial or even a 40 per cent elected element, that danger would be reinforced. I urge noble Lords who share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Richard, to look at the arithmetic of what they are arguing. Unless we have a very long transition period, the arithmetic would inevitably entail that the Cross-Bench element and the independent element are squeezed out.
For all those reasons, I am clearly in favour of Option 1. However, the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, made the point, both yesterday and in his Royal Commission report, that any solution must have a significant element of compromise. I wish to consider, between now and when we vote, whether one should vote for Option 3, for a 20 per cent elected element, not that I find it attractiveI hope that I have made that clearbut in a spirit of compromise. However, I make it clear that my first choicealthough we are not able to indicate the priority which we assign to our voteswould certainly be for Option 1.
Lord Desai: My Lords, I am an anorak of the House of Lords reform debate. I first spoke on the issue in 1996, and I have spoken about it several times since then. Six years ago, I even wrote a pamphlet about House of Lords reform, pointing out that I favoured an elected Chamber. I do not think that I have heard anything in the last two days, or the last seven years, to change my mind. I am very glad that I find myself firmly behind the leader of the Conservative Party. Every leader needs at least one follower, and here I am.
The argument for why we need an elected Chamber was put very succinctly by my noble friend Lord Richard. It has nothing to do with our expertise, our wisdom, or how handsome we all are, but with the fact that the executive in this country has far too much power. While the House of Commons has traditionally been a good check on executive power, due to various circumstances it is no longer such a check. Our House, which could be such a check, is unable fully to exercise its limited powers. As the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, pointed out yesterday, we do not even use the powers that we now have. We do not do so because we are self-constrained by our lack of legitimacy. I have even heard several noble Lords make that statement after legislation had been returned to us and the House of Commons had rejected our amendments. I heard noble Lords say, "We know that they are wrong and we are right. Of course we are rightwe are wiser. But, as we are an unelected Chamber, perhaps we should not push it so that they have to use the 1949 Act".
The 1949 Act has been used very few times in the last 54 years. It has not been used because this House lacks legitimacy and knows that it lacks legitimacy. It has therefore failed to use its limited powers adequately. If it is to use those powers adequately, it will need greater legitimacy. That is one of the reasons why I have always thought that this House should have an elected element.
All the nice functions that we perform would not end. It is unimaginable that no other body of people could revise legislation as we do. If they were not so capable, they could learn. When I first came to this place, I did not know how to revise legislation, but I picked it up. It is not a difficult thing to do. It requires only the ability to read and write.
Noble Lords have pointed out many difficulties with elections. In the pamphlet which the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, and I wrote in 1997, we said that there were two possible routes to membership. The first was a regional seat based on European Parliament constituencies, and the second was indirect election whereby each local authority elects a Member to come here. There are advantages to such a system. Disastrous policies such as the poll tax would never have been implemented if this House had properly represented the different regions of the country. Because "The Great and the Good", as they call themselves, live in the South East, the outlook of this place is focused overwhelmingly towards the South East. We could do much better if local authorities were represented here more widely. However, that is a matter of detail and I do not want to dwell on it.
When the White Paper was published and suggested that there be 120 elected and 120 appointed Peers, I suggested that we should reduce the size of the present Chamber to 120 in total. I am perfectly willing to contemplate collective suicide; I have no fear of that. Just as we reduced the hereditaries from 750 to 100, we could boil down the life Peers from 600 to 120 by an election procedure. Then we would have proportions of 120, 120, 120. As the life Peers died off, they would be replaced by properly elected persons. To begin with
I do not want to suggest only those figures. It is quite possible to adopt proportions of 200, 200, 200. In the first instance we might have 200 elected members and 200 appointed members. That would make it possible to transfer the entire block of the Cross-Benchers to the appointed element. We could reduce the party hacks in your Lordships' House to 200. That would be a good starting point. Once that process had started, we could transit to a two-thirds Chamber. That process would not be difficult.
I am not a fan of the Joint Committee's report. It is dull and reveals nothing that is new or that we have not heard before. It makes an awful muddle of the options. The proposed voting procedure is the daftest I have seen in a long time and will not result in a decision being arrived at. It is almost an elementary proposition among people who write about voting theory that if people answer yes or no to seven options, a consistent position will not be arrived at. As the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, said yesterday, how would we decide what the House had chosen if a majority was reached on four of the seven options? I could vote for all seven options. I might say yes to all seven options just to wreck the procedure. Why should I not do that? Nothing prevents me from doing so.
The right way to approach the matter is to ask all of us to rank the seven options from one to seven and then add up those rankings. If one's most preferred option is ranked one and one's least preferred option is ranked seven, once the rankings are added up, the option with the lowest total ranking is the preferred option. As the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor, said, we may not all obtain our preferred option. We may have to compromise. That compromise may be our second or third most preferred option. The present system of voting does not allow for that at all.
Given that we are all grown-up people, we still have time to rethink the method of voting. I hope that the Joint Committee will rethink the matter. If its members do not believe me, they can ask an expert on the matter. I could tell them which experts they could ask. There are many such experts and they all say the same thing. We really ought to use a system of ranking alternatives, adding up the rankings and reaching a decision on the rank order criterion. I hope that that will happen; otherwise, another 90 years will pass before this issue is decided.
Lord Rix: My Lords, I suspect that the thrice made speech has the edge on the thrice told tale when it comes to the competition for the wooden spoon of tediousness. However, this issue is both too important for the country, and too close to my own heart for me simply to sit and listen, valuable and pleasurable
Historical anomaly this House may be but, like other historical anomalies such as the Church and the stage, and, dare I say, the monarchy, it has moved with the times and does a credibly decent job. Our national life would be infinitely poorer without it, as it would be without them. Much as I enjoy the writings of W S Gilbert as both farceur and librettist, I do not share in 2003 his perspective at the end of the century before last that the House of Lords does nothing in particular. I might want to associate myself though with the second part of his comment that what the House of Lords does, it does very well.
Should, regrettably, the desire for radical change trump the desire for continuitya desire for "festina lente", if I am to continue quoting from "Iolanthe"I have a set of detailed proposals for a hybrid House, including indirect election, retirement, semi-retirement, appointment etcetera, etcetera, in which the figures and the logic both seem to add up. I find myself regularly fine tuning them when I cannot sleep, which is often, and if the dread day arises when change becomes inevitable, I hope to share my proposals with the Joint Committee. For the moment, though, I am mindful that at the other end of Whitehall I used to raise many a laugh by losing my pants on stage. A lengthy dissertation from me at this stage of the afternoon would, no doubt, reverse that process and I have no desire to bore the pants off your Lordships, especially in view of the mixed company present.
For the nonce, I want to do no more than suggest some principlesprinciples tinged with assertion, but I hope not wholly unpalatable, and, I am sure, already clear and voiced by the majority of noble Lords. First, while it helps no one to have a second Chamber which is guaranteed to be at odds with the other Chamber, it also helps no one to have a second Chamber which is merely a pale reflection of that other Chamber.
Secondly, while some federal legislatures have a very proper base for two elected chambers elected by different constituencies, I doubt that in this country, at this time, knowing our electoral record, we do. Thirdly, it is a great attraction of this House that it has Members who know what they are talking about rather more than they know what they ought to be talking about. With all due respect to the Whips, that can be no bad thing. If I may give an example, on disability related matters Members of this House without, or irrespective of, party allegiance have done great things with education, civil rights, social servicesrecently securing an annual report to Parliament on implementing the White Paper, Valuing Peopleand a wealth of other crucial issues. I want to avoid Mrs Malaprop's "invidious caparisons", but we have sometimes had the edge on another place in this respect.
Fourthly, I suggest that we need a phased approach to change. In the 17th century the portly gentleman whose statue stands, for some rather obscure reason, outside the Palace of Westminster reckoned that driving everyone out instanter was the best approach to reform. That seems unwise. We would do ourselves no favours if, in a determination to modernise, we both lost the distinctive array of talents that we have in this House and created something so modern that 10 years later it had become old-fashioned. Therefore, at this stage of the debate I find myself attracted to what the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, proposed as his Option 1A; that is, a fully appointed House including, where appropriate, those hereditary Peers who still serve your Lordships' House so loyally and so effectively.
It was the American comedian, George Burnswhose retention of wit and verbal ability well beyond their allotted span must greatly encourage the older ones among uswho said: "Too bad all the people who know how to run the country are busy driving cabs or cutting hair". I suspect that there are those among us who have done either or both of these things. There are certainly ladies and gentlemen among us who have succeeded in most branches of human endeavour. It would be sad, indeed, if only their nearest and dearest benefited from their accumulated wisdom and experience.
This dear, anachronistic, cumbersome, awkward, good humoured and often very wise old House still has a great deal to offer to the business of government. Of course, like all ancient institutions it could do with a bit of tidying up and spring cleaning, but it would be a tragedy if, in pursuing change for change's sake, all that was to disappear from the Mother of Parliaments. What a Pyrrhic victory that would be for political dogma and the Fourth Estate.
Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank: My Lords, I too welcome the report, which has justified the appointment of the Joint Committee even if that committee dragged its feet for two rather wasted years. The committee could be accused of ducking or glossing over too many difficult issues, and it would be wholly unsatisfactory if the committee effectively abandoned the rest of its agenda once the composition of the House had been chosen, whatever that may be.
There is a danger about a momentum of complacency, if I can adapt that familiar aphorism of the late Lord Whitelaw. If noble Lords can allow me to say so, I thought that there was a whiff of smugness about some of yesterday's debate as time moved on. Perhaps I put it rather more gently than did my noble friend Lord McNally who was more robust.
The role of secondary legislation, whether the judicial function of the Lords should be in or out, and the spread of regional experience are important matters, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, reminded us. Then there are the bishops, who have been attractively vigorous in this debate, and the place for representatives of other faiths. I have
The committee was right, however, to put forward as soon as possible a series of options, and these seven are as good as any. At first, I was puzzled about the future of the residual hereditary principle, after the Weatherill amendments. I could not find any explicit statement in the report, but I assume that paragraph 34, which refers to,
It is difficult for Members of the House of Commons to have a rounded perspective about the second Chamber. I can make no personal claim about virtue during my 20 years in the House of Commons. I barely listened to a debate in the Lords, and seldom read the Official Report. In Cabinet, the Leader of the Lordsthis was in the 1970swas seen sitting round the table but seldom heard, except when the Lords defeated the government in a Division, which would cause surprise and anger, especially on the part of the losing Minister. I found the existence of the hereditary Peers offensive within a parliamentary system. The dominance of the Conservative Party was wholly unfair.
Time is moving on. The hereditary principle is coming to an end and, as I understand it, there is agreement about a proper balance between parties on the lines of Command Paper 4183 of four years ago, Modernising Parliament. There are already many more outstanding life Peers on the Labour and Liberal Benches, even if too few additional Peers have been appointed to be my noble friends yet.
We are sometimes rather too pleased to show that the quality of debate is highso much higher than in the Commonsand to point to the experts and specialists whose knowledge is outstanding. We are proud of our Select Committees, impressed by the Cross Benches and glad that party loyalties are relaxed. We boast that, for the most part, we reach decisions through consensus and without needless rhetoric. All that is good, and I wholly share the enjoyment of that record of achievement and its character.
Sometimes we overplay our hand, however, and mislead our colleagues in the House of Commons. Yes, the House of Lords is a rather good place, but the essence of the Houseits core, its real justificationis its legislative role. That important role is advisory and persuasivenot less, but no more than that.
As we have frequently been reminded, the Government have been defeated in 165 Divisions since 1997, but on only two occasions have the Parliament Acts been invoked. In a rough way, there is a successful dialogue between the two Houses about legislation. Either one side backs down or they reach a compromise. However, the final word is the
I find it hard to set aside my long-standing instinct for an elected House. I like the campaign, the vote, the ballot box and the choice. I am still attracted by a radical, far-reaching constitutional settlement stretching through both Houses, regional government and very much besides. I have no song in my heart about an appointed second Chamber, but I now think that that fits best into an advisory and persuasive legislative role.
I have tried hard to believe that an intermediate, halfway, hybrid House would work better than the House today. However, having two classeselected and appointedcould do more harm than good, at least until the natural growth of regional opinion demands a place in a second Chamber.
The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth: My Lords, let me begin on an apparently facetious note. The other night I had a dream in which I was in the audience at a production of "The Mikado"; I am glad to come so swiftly on the heels of the noble Lord, Lord Rix. The cast kept coming up on stage and disappearing. Unusually, there seemed to be some kind of interchange between stage and audience, and as we all applauded at the end I kept seeing fellow Members of this House. I saw the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, even though the play was not "Iolanthe". Then the noble Lords, Lord Ampthill and Lord Goodhart, and the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, appeared. Finally, I saw the noble and learned Lord the Lord Privy Seal, who walked past me but then suddenly had a beard. Was I confusing one Welsh Williams with another, the new Archbishop of Canterbury?
I do not offer that dream for psychological analysis, still less for the counselling expertise of my colleagues, which in some cases would be as uninviting as it would be underwhelming. Perhaps it was the dream of a bishop who had enjoyed watching "Topsy-Turvy" on television after Christmas, who was already deep into his three-month sabbatical but who was getting ready for a two-day exeat from it in order to take part in this debate. However, the significance of the dream is clear. As we sit here, we are participants, players and spectators in the evolution of our national life and the development of our democracy, with a libretto that, like the demise of the D'Oyly Carte copyright many years ago, can now vary. That brings me to the focus of the debate: how to change that libretto and narrative in the context of an evolving democracy.
In thanking the members of the Joint Committee for expediting their thankless task so well, particularly in relation to role and functions, I want to look at this changing narrative libretto from my perspectives as a working bishop, a theologian and an historian.
As a bishop, I want to underscore what my colleague the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford said yesterday: we on these Benches would like to take part in a subsequent discussion of the development of the Lords Spiritual. I agree very much with what the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, said about mandated Members from this place; we have given thought to that. No one can tell me how to vote; certainly not the General Synod and least of all God Almighty, the noble Earl, Lord Onslow!
More generally, I want to explain why the debate about our democracy is so important to us. It is because hardly a day goes by in the working life of a bishop without questions of representativeness and participation being raised in one form or another, whether that involves appointing a new vicar or negotiating SRB funding. That is the case at a time when the "democratic deficit" is a more pressing and harsher reality for our political life than in relation to many other aspects of our life together. The Churches are deeply committed to working alongside local networks and partnerships in the burgeoning new styles of democracy, about which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford spoke yesterday. It was interesting to note last year at mayor-making that the Lord Mayor of Portsmouth, who is Jewish, began her formal speech of thanks by singling out the work of the Churches and faith communities in helping to create community in a city that is very far from the sociological and settled character of Barchester.
The Churches and faith communities may not always speak with one voice or always get things right but we take very seriously the political and social structures around us and we want to be seen to be trying to help to revitalise them in the way in which it is agreed in a modern democracy. We are not clinging, for example, to our position here but we want the discussion to be serious and the right things to be done for the best reasons. Sometimes, hard things need to be said. What is now Portsmouth Anglican Cathedral began life within two decades of Thomas agrave; Becket's death in the 1180s as a dockyard chapel dedicated to the martyred saint, who was, in the words of T. S. Eliot, a "troublesome priest". Sometimes we do our job properly only when we are being awkward; and, for some of us, that comes rather naturally.
In the context of democracy, accountability is at a premium, whoever we are. It is just as important that we are seen to deliver and to keep delivering as it is to know and to be comfortable collectively with how and why we got here. In that regard, I echo the words of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester last night.
Secondly, as a theologian, I refer briefly, if I may, to Richard Hooker and his Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, written in the closing years of the 16th century. He developed a dynamic view of order as an evolving librettoa narrativebased on natural law conceived in terms of the heavenly, the cosmic, the earthly and the domestic. I know that many in this place may not view these things as heeded and that others, more confident than myself, would want to limit them solely to the earthly and the domesticor, in the parlance of
Institutional and conceptual self-criticism are about debunking the bogus and stripping away layers of tertiary and secondary importance to first-order issues. That leads me to my third observation. As an historian, I say how unhelpful I find both the use of the term "hybrid"this House has been a mixture from its very inception, and these Benches were hybrid in the Middle Ages, when two quite different groups of people, bishops and abbots, sat hereand the apparent polarisation, which is a real gift to the media, between elected and appointed Members. Here I draw attention to the excellent speech of the noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall, yesterday, which I found ground-breaking as well as debunking. Much more work needs to be done on the many methods of election, which can veer towards appointments, and methods of appointment, which can likewise veer in practice towards election. I do not want to get into a legal tangle with some noble Lords but in practice bishops are electednot by the Crown but by the Crown Appointments Commission.
The subtleties of these kinds of distinctions have yet to be explored sufficiently for a final decision to be made about the future composition of this House, including the many ways of reforming the appointments process, which was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, yesterday, and the different kinds of electoral colleges, which were referred to so eloquently yesterday by the noble Lord, Lord Parekh.
I am not opposed to election to this House; nor do I believe that that is the only form of legitimacy. I hope, by the way, that if there is a mixture, we are all paid. The bishops would have that docked off their stipendsthat is how the Church Commissioners treat usbut other noble Lords would benefit. I am aware of having offered some rather agnostic comments; perhaps they are even "Eeyore-esque", in the style, if not entirely the substance, of the noble Lord, Lord McNally, who spoke earlier.
This whole debate needs to be widened and deepened. It also needs to include the other end of the Corridor in terms of its work and composition. We are not the only part of the problem. I refer to some of the things said in the recent Dimbleby Lecture by the new Archbishop of Canterbury, who, I can assure noble Lordsbecause he said this to meis looking forward to coming here. He is also, I point out to the noble Lord, Lord Rix, a keen Gilbert and Sullivan buff. I am sure that he will make a valuable contribution. We need to think wider and deeper if we are to avoid going
Unlike the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth, my dreams are of the future and of undergoing a rather searching television interview. When future historians write about the process in which we are now participating, they may wonder how we came to hold this debate. Usually, those who discuss constitutions identify a specific function that requires to be addressed. Then they ask themselves what kind of institution would best perform it and what kind of people should compose that institution. Then they proceed to ask themselves: what process of selection would best identify the people with the qualities that are needed?
We have reversed that process. We already have an institution. We then proceeded to ask ourselves what its function should be; but that is not all. We might at least have tried to define the functions before we discussed how to select those best able to perform them, as the committee did. However, as the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor, pointed out, we are discussing what the selection process should be before we are necessarily agreed on the functions"Decide the route first and choose the destination afterwards". That may be because we are a country that mistrusts blueprints and prefers to build where it can on what is there already.
The report of our committeepace my noble friend Lord Desaiwas constrained by our terms of reference. Those who formulated them were the prisonersor the beneficiaries, depending on one's point of viewof past history. Perhaps the major lesson which emerged in the committee, as my noble friend Lady Jay pointed out, was the wide spectrum of propositions on which there was broad agreement. The first was the need for a second Chamberpace my noble friend Lord Elder. That is a thread which runs through virtually all the debates that have taken place about reform of this House.
Historically, of course, the House of Commons exists because there was a clear need for a second Chamber. This House was there first and the House of Commons was the second Chamber. The need for that second Chamber was that this House could not meet the requirements for a first Chamber. It has never been suggested that it might or that it should. As the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, pointed out yesterday, we are not here to duplicate another place. Your Lordships' House is here in its own right and it would be a mistake to redesign it as a poor relation of another place.
I went back to what Sir John Marriott wrote in 1910 in his classic on second Chambers. He discussed the experiment, following the Civil War, of the Barebones Parliamenta model for unicameral government. The conclusion of the portly gentleman, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Rix, was:
What compelled us to undertake this exercise was the clear demonstration that the House, as formally constituted, lacked legitimacy. That is why, when in Part 3 of our report we listed the qualities which the composition process would need to deliver, the very first was legitimacy.
As important as legality is the need to be widely recognised as worthy of being taken seriously. The reason why the House lacked legitimacy in that sense was the total absence of political balance. Any reform had to address that, and thatcertainly now, I believeis a further area of unanimity.
But legitimacy is not synonymous with what we called "representativeness", and certainly not necessarily with an electoral process. General recognition of being worthy to be taken seriously may arise from a whole spectrum of qualities: expertise; integrity; common sense; transparency; and a rapport with our contemporary world. Those are all part of the recipe. If any of them is lacking, legitimacy will be endangered, and it will not necessarily be restored by introducing elections.
One quality that will contribute to legitimacy is representativeness, and that was the next quality that we listed. A major reason that the House had previously lacked legitimacy was that it was perceived asand clearly wasunrepresentative. It came as a surprise to me when I checked and found that the word "representativeness" was in the Oxford dictionary, although I doubt whether it would earn us the Nobel Prize for Literature. But it is a useful word, provided we recognise that it is easier to detect its absence than to agree on a remedy.
I remember a lady urging upon me that we need a third House in our Parliament because the two existing Houses consist of politicians and we need a House to represent ordinary people, who are not politicians. When I objected that Members of the existing Houses had become politicians in the process of representing ordinary people and that Members of a third House would become politicians in their process of representing ordinary people, she gave up the argument as too complicated.
That experience impressed upon me that there is more than one pattern of representation, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford reminded us yesterday. Another placeour first Chamberconsists to an increasing degree of those whose careers have progressed through a hierarchy of elections from local councils and party committees. As some of your Lordships have said, they have made electoral politics their careers. I mean no disrespect; we could not do without them, but, like figgy pudding, they need an element of diluting.
Representations for some interestsparticularly minority interestsare more likely to be achieved, and to be seen to be achieved, not by replicating general elections but by a process of selection. As we emphasise in our report, that process should be undertaken not in obscuritypace my noble friend Lord Brookebut by a balanced and objective appointments commission.
It may be found that the concerns to which many people attach greatest importance, and in respect of which they would most wish to be represented, are not necessarily where they live but are apparent from the causesthe societies, the clubs and the NGOswhich they support. Those are more likely to be reflected by a system of appointment than in direct elections.
Of course, it does not follow that appointments should account for 100 per cent of the membership. Perhaps I may do a deal with my noble friend. I am proposing to vote for a degree of hybridity, but perhaps he and I can settle on a formula. However, the appointed sector will need to be large enough to make provision for representing the interests which do not necessarily emerge from an electoral process. In Mr Balfour's Poodle, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead quoted a well-known hymn:
The third requirement is that the House should not be dominated by one party. That, again, I imagine, is unanimously accepted, and I comment only that an electoral process cannot guarantee that outcome. That, again, can be achieved only by a substantial proportion of appointed Members.
The fourth quality which we list is independence. Since time is against me, I say only that this House should be able to afford, and could afford, that a substantial number of Members are not dependent on party affiliation in order to pursue a career of elections and certainly should not be dependent on political appointments, which is why we recommended the commission.
The final item on our list is expertise. Those of us who came to your Lordships' Chamber after a period in the other place are probably agreed that noble Lords who participate in this Chamber bring a spectrum of experience and expertise which is not likely to be achieved by an electoral process. I do not wish to be misunderstood. I am not saying that elections never produce someone with expertisethere are those in this Chamber whose biographies prove otherwisebut no electoral process can ensure that any particular expertise is present among its composition.
Before our work is completed, we shall need to address a whole number of other issues. We shall have to ensure that the qualities which your Lordships' House already contributes do not go out with the bath water. Therefore, we shall need to leave room to build on existing practices and conventions, where they serve a purpose. Free elections are a vitally important way of choosing governments but, at this moment, I do not believe that I detect a very wide demand for even more elections.
Viscount Goschen: My Lords, if one were looking for an example of clear public policy decision-making, one probably would not choose the recent history of House of Lords reform. But no one can argue that the House of Lords itself has not been extremely diligent in considering the minutiae of all the arguments for and against an elected Chamber and for and against nominated Peers.
We have made limited progress. To my mind, that progress is primarily in that the previous option put forward by the Government in their White Paper for a minority elected element in your Lordships' House has received very little support during this debate. It was seen fairly quickly as being unworkable and as using the veil of democracy to conceal the truththat is, that it would still be a nominated House. Like many noble Lords who have spoken this afternoon, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has himself said that the arguments have become further polarised.
The first thing that struck me, not only in listening to the debate today and yesterday but in reading the beauty of the written word in Hansard, was how many Members of this House who are former Ministers, Secretaries of State, Chief Whips and other office holders in another place have almost to a man criticised the current operation of the House of Commons as a mechanism to hold the executive to account. I do not believe that I have heard one defend the Commons as it is now. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, certainly defended the quality of the people there, but I am not sure that he was making a case that the House of Commons is necessarily an effective Chamber at present for scrutinising legislation.
Surely, only one conclusion can be drawn from that; that is, that neither House can be considered in isolation and that by far the greatest priority that we face as a Parliament in looking at our procedures must be to look at how to improve the effectiveness of the House of Commons.
That Chamber has been moderniseda word totally hijacked by the Government as code for an attack on any potentially challenging organisationto the point where it no longer functions realistically as a body for scrutinising legislation. I really do not believe that the implication of the guillotine Motion has been fully explained and understood outside the Westminster village. If the public discovered, for example, that safety inspectors were invited to have only a quick look around an untested and highly criticised new type of nuclear reactor before being pulled off the job by power company bosses, they might be somewhat alarmed. But that is how legislation is handled in another place. Surely, that is not sustainable. That is not the fault of democracy and an electoral system but of weak or non-existent constitutional safeguards, ruthlessly exploited by a Government with little value for Parliament.
When this process was embarked on we were assured that the 1999 Act would be merely the precursor to more decisive change. There has been a feeling by many noble Lords who spoke in the debate today and yesterday towards the acceptance of a
Strong arguments have been put forward for an appointed House. I would be the first to agree that the strongest possible argument that could be deployed today is that the current House works. It is effective at scrutinising legislation and, indeed, in holding the Government to account. Similarly, the degree of independence is highly unusual, as is the breadth of expertise. I listened carefully to the remarks of my noble and learned friend Lord Howe when he referred to a recent debate on human cloning and the degree of expertise that probably, or incontrovertibly, would not be replicated within an elected House.
There is a further argument: to whom are the arguments put forward in your Lordships' House addressed? When there is a confrontation between the two Houses of Parliament, we do not here ask the public to think again about their choice of Government or Home Secretary; we ask the Commons to think again about its decision. As long as the Government, and, indeed, Members of the House of Commons, can point to this Chamber and say, "They are merely nominees", our view is weakened, no matter how great the expertise here.
We saw that perfectly illustrated during the debate on the anti-terrorism Bill. No matter that this House as currently constituted is the model of the Governmentwe are made in the Government's image at present; this is what they wanted to see: the 1999 Act was their piece of legislation and the House as currently constituted is the Government's responsibilitywhen the House disagreed with the Government, fingers were wagged at us. There are only nominated people here; we are not elected; therefore our views should be discounted.
Surely, at least as important as the question of who is sent here is what arrangements exist to govern numbers. I find that the greatest shock to my guests who visit the House of Lords and want to know about how people arrive here and what is the constitution of your Lordships' House is that, if they feel they are losing votes, the Government are perfectly capable of introducing a few more people to pull on their side of the rope until they overcome the Opposition. I simply do not understand how a nominated House with no check on numbers or structure can be sustainable. Surely, if there was to be a move to settle a nominated House, the issue of constraint on numbers and therefore on patronage would have to be at the top of the agenda.
Therefore, my belief is that we are moving inexorably towards a majority elected House. Such a Chamber, with electoral arrangements, as described by many Peers, of long single terms need not be a clone of another place. There has been much said that such a House would be a challenge to the House of Commons. But I do not see why it should not be enshrined in a constitutional settlement that the two Houses have different roles, with the House of Lords acting as it does currently as a revising Chamber. Members would be elected to this place on that basis and not on the basis that they would be able to challenge the pre-eminence of the House of Commons. The same goes for the procedures. It cannot be that the weakness of the House of Commons, as currently constituted, is a damning indictment of democracy as a whole.
Although this must be the most trodden ground on the political lawn, this debate has been helpful in telling us that our positions are as far apart as they ever have been and that the ground for compromise is extremely slim. I do not envy the work of the Joint Committee.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, if one talks to people outside, the ordinary people of this country who we are here to serve, it is hard to find many who do not want a significant elected element in this House. We would have to be careful before claiming to know better than the people we serve in that respect.
Perhaps I may both congratulate the Joint Committee and be critical of it. It seems to me that seven options is an unmanageable number. As my noble friend Lord Desai said earlier, there is no easy way in which we can sensibly decide and give a pointer to the Select Committee as to what are our views. It will take a genius to interpret the votes on seven options. I wish that the Joint Committee had given us fewer and more manageable options.
Having said that, I suppose that it is impossible, because we are too conservative an institution, to suggest that we should vote on paper and put down our preferences. That is the only common sense way to do it. However, I suppose that years of tradition will prevent us from moving in that direction.
Every solution for reform of this place, including doing nothing, has significant disadvantages. We have to consider a solution which minimises the disadvantages and reflects the mood of the present century. There is no disagreement that by and large our present functions are sensible as a revising Chamber. At the margins we might want to change
In the end the Commons will decide the composition of this House. I hope that we do not enter into a conflict with the Commons. It would not do this House any good if we thought that we knew better than the elected Chamber.
I think that we should have a smaller House. When the Commons debate the matter that will probably be their view. If we are to have a significant elected element in this House, any move towards reducing the size of the House will take time. So we must accept that it might take a number of years before we get to a size that would probably be desirable.
I want to put the case for elections. I do not think that we shall move to an all-elected House, but that we shall have a significant elected element. The case is one of accountability. If elected, we need to be answerable to the people about whose lives we make decisions. Even as a revising Chamber, we are making decisions about the lives of people in this country. It is right that we should be answerable to them for decisions that we make on their behalf that affect their lives. In a nutshell, that is the argument for election. It is also why it is not enough to say that they are elected for 15 years and then that is it, because the need to face people and to stand for election again is surely salutary in terms of what we would call a democratic process.
Paradoxically, I believe that being elected gives one strength and, up to a point, independence, because one can claim to one's party Whips and so on, "I am departing from the party line because I represent the views of my constituency" and/or perhaps "my local political party" as well. That is why I think that the Government are wrong in that respect. It is a point of strength, not of weakness, and it is a way of showing one's independence.
Noble Lords laugh, but anyone who has been in the Commons knows that to be the case and that that is how it works. I am reluctant to give way because of time, but I shall this once.
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