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Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way, but will he just take a moment to explain to the House how their responsibilities would be far less? My understanding is that if we had only 150 elected members they would have hundreds of thousands of constituents whom they would represent here and that their workload to cover the work that we do in this place would be very considerable indeed.
Lord Goodhart: My Lords, it is in my view perfectly clear that the great amount of social work that Members of Parliament now do in their local bases will continue to be done by them. Members of the second Chamber would be required to deal with constituency work only if someone in their constituency brought up a matter that was a direct responsibility of the second Chamber. I think that it is entirely clear that there would be nothing like the workload for Members of a second Chamber that there is for constituency MPs who are known to their constituents as a channel through which to make complaints or ask for assistance.
We have been offered an historic chance to play a constitutional role which I believe is truly needed. That role is to check abuse of executive powers. We cannot do that if, whenever we challenge the Government, they reply, "They do not count. They are not elected". If noble Lords do not think that the Government will make that reply, I suggest that they read the speech made yesterday in the Commons by Tony Wright.
We cannot do the job that needs to be done unless at least half the Members of the House are elected. That means elected by a system under which the seats are broadly proportional to the votes, and in which voters have the chance to choose between members of a party rather than simply voting for a single party list.
For all too obvious reasons, the Government do not want to see greater legitimacy for the House. If we reject the chance of democratic elections, the Government will use that as an excuse for going no further. Many noble Lords plainly would like that. However, if we are seen to reject democracy, we will end up increasingly as an irrelevant and ineffective body. My Lords, the choice is yours.
My noble friend Lord Higgins, among others, remarked on the huge gulf that exists between this House and another place. The noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, who had carefully read the debate in another place yesterday, as I had, also remarked on the differences. Sometimes it appeared as though they were talking Serbo-Croat, we were speaking Mandarin and there were no interpreters in sight.
For all that, the debate has been far better and more interesting than I had feared. There have been some rich comic moments. It has largely been devoid of sentiment and rancour, although not without some passion. The debate had just a hint of a personal interest in the subject from almost all noble Lords.
I have two impressions of the debate. First, it is clear to me from the past two days that this House is going to vote overwhelmingly for an appointed House. Secondly, I have something to say to the noble Lord the Government Chief Whip as a word of advice and perhaps even a warning, based on what I have heard of the view of most Members of this House about the general awfulness of elections. His regional assemblies Bill? No chance. He can forget about that right now. It might do better if it were on appointed assemblies.
It has also been notable that many Peers have changed their minds over the course of the debate during the past few years. Everyone in the debate has rightly praised the interim report from the Joint Committee, and I too join the congratulations to my noble and learned friend Lord Howe of Aberavon, all other noble Lords involved and those who spoke.
Reform of the House of Lords is a good soundbite. But it is not all quite so easy as it seemed on that glad confident morning in the lost world of the 1990s, when the Labour Party conference roared its approval and Mr Blair derided this House as an "affront to democracy". Then we were promised a more modern, more representative, more democratic House. It has not quite worked out that way, has it? Perhaps the Government never really wanted democracy in the first place.
Of course, in 1999 there was a short-term political aim, which was to cull the numbers of independent and opposition Peers. I suspect that there was a hope on the side of getting away with creating something almost unique in the world, a fully appointed Chamber, at the mercy of executive patronage. In 1999, both Houses, if they wished to, could have voted for that. We could have voted for what many in this debate now say they want: we could have created an appointed House by supporting the Bill of the noble Baroness, Lady Jay of Paddington. But neither House did that. They did not do so because those of us who were here then, while
I still hope for something better, but we will not get there by piecemeal solutions, minor tinkering and simply hoping that we can go on as we are. Unless further reform comes in a Bill which runs far beyond composition and which entrenches the role and powers of this House, enhances its authority and puts safeguards on the misuse of patronage, I fear that the role and authority that so many here want for this House will never come.
Let us face it: the Prime Minister has no interest in a stronger Parliament. The question that we all have to ask ourselves was implicit in the powerful speech of the noble Lord, Lord Richard: do we ourselves want a stronger Parliament? The noble Lord spoke of the moral highground that this House won in 1969 when it voted for reform and another place rejected it. He said how ironic and damaging it would be if the reverse were to happen now. The noble Lord, Lord Sheldon, among many others, told us, in a striking speech, how far another place was now abased before the power of the executive. Parliament, I fear, will find no salvation in another place.
So where do we go now? First, I believe that we should hold firm to principles to which most of us in this House agree, whatever our differences about composition. They came up time and again in our debate and bear repeating. The executive is too strong and Parliament is too weak. We need a stronger Parliament and a stronger House that is able to exercise its authority and work with another place in holding the executive to account. We should accept no reduction in the powers of this House. We should seek more influence over secondary legislation. We will abide no manipulation of our working procedures for the convenience of any government. We want forms of membership that provide a significant degree of independence from party Whips, an independent element that is strong enough to place its stamp on the House, iron safeguards against abuse of government patronage and, of course, no domination by any one party. There is a consensus in this House and outside it for those objectives.
Of course there are differences about the nature of what some call "legitimacy" and others "authority" and how they are conferred. That debate has marked discussions on this House since before Mr Asquith's government laid out their aspirations for democracy in the preamble to the 1911 Act. "Aspirations for democracy"do noble Lords remember that?
I share the view of a number of noble Lords who have spoken. In the 21st century, authority flows from election in a way that it can from no other source. That is why I believe that it should be part of any further reform; that is not because I do not care for this place but because I do.
For all that, as I said earlier, it is clear to me that this House is going to vote for appointment, and that view must be respected. It is a serious view and that course has been recommended by many noble Lordsso many that I shall not mention them all, although we know who they are. There are a lot of them, and they are serious people. That list should be treated with respect.
Whatever the verdict of another place, I hope that the Joint Committee will pursue that option. However, I do not agree with those who say that election is dangerous and may lead this House to challenge the primacy of another place. That argument was dealt with magisterially by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams. She said that the authority of another place rests with the other placewith how it behaves, what it does and how well it does it. That is true for them and it is true for us. Authority has ebbed and flowed between the Houses across the centuries, and it may well do so again.
With reform, our authority and performance may put another place increasingly on its mettle. But is that not the point? Is that not a reason to advocate reform and not to slink away? Let us listen to my noble friends Lord Crickhowell and Lord Forsyth of Drumlean. My noble friend Lord Crickhowell said that he would be more militant if elected. My noble friend Lord Forsyth said that he behaved differently now as an appointed Member of this House. I preferred the old Forsyth. There are of course examples of unelected second chambers around the world that work; there are also examples of elected second chambers that workand work without provoking constitutional catastrophe. Almost every argument in this debate can be turned the other way.
However, appointment is not without its technical problems. In 199899, my noble friend Lord Kingsland and I worked out proposals for how an independent appointments commission might work in practice. It was not easy. I am not at all certain that we overcame all the problems; nor has all the ingenuity of the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Coddenham, been able to resolve them.
I was much taken by the argument of the noble Baroness, Lady Jay. But what would appointment for terms mean for those here now? Would new Members come in for 12 or 15 years, while existing Members would remain here for the rest of their lives? Would the noble Lord, Lord AlliI choose him simply because he is a relatively young Member in this Housewatch generation after generation of newly appointed MLs march to the Dispatch Box to take the oath and leave after their terms? That would be the ultimate definition of "grandfather's rights".
There are also those who want every Member of this House to be elected. That, too, is a fair position. For myself, I fear that the House would lose much if it lost the independent voices on the Cross Benches; nor do I believe that we could dispense lightly with the interventions of the right reverend Prelates. And I do not salivate, as does the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, at the prospect of a supreme court outside Parliament. All that needs careful study. Therefore, I welcome the fact that the Joint Committee intends to proceed to study the place of the judiciary and the faiths.
But the committee should look at an all-elected option, too, as, like it or not, it is a view widely held outside this House. It should work out what such a House would look like. Again, the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, said that we know what an appointed House looks like but few of us know what an elected House looks likethe constituencies, modes of election, forms of representation, terms of office and the like. That is one problem that could arise when we come to a vote on 4th February.
Over 12 months ago, a few weeks after the Government's White Paper was published, the Shadow Cabinet came out with its proposal. We saw great merit in preserving a significant element of non-party voicesthe noble and gallant Lords, diplomats, academics, civil servants and so on. But we concluded that if we were to have elected Peers at all, then all Members of the political House should be elected. Those Members should be buttressed by long termsperhaps 15 years rather than the 12 years suggested by the Joint Committeepossibly with no re-election.
I also believe, unlike the Joint Committee, that we could function with a House with far fewer politicians than is the case today. Even if we numbered 300, we would still be one of the largest second Chambers in the world. However, largely for the reasons given by the noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, and others, we uncompromisingly rejected a hybrid model in which some political Peers would be elected and some not.
Turning to the other options in the Joint Committee report, I wholly reject Option 3in effect, Mr Blair's 80/20 hybrid idea. Even the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, with that blunt candour that the House appreciates so well, has now publicly accepted that that plan is seen as "nonsense".
I also find it hard to understand the case made by Mr Robin Cook and others for a hybrid HouseOptions 5, 6 or 7 of the Joint Committee reportin which the public are allowed to elect some of our political Members but, presumably because it is all rather grubby and difficult, others must be appointed. If election is so good, why should the public not elect all our political Members? If it is bad, why elect any at all? On the other hand, perhaps Mr Robin Cook hopes for a nice appointment on the red leather Benches when he retires. Perhaps, like the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, he will fall in love with the place as well.
In the past few years many new Members have come into the House, some very different from those who were here before 1999. We have even received a self-selected cadre of people's Peers. Many feared that would mean change and decline, but in a remarkable way all have become assimilated to the place. They have joined in our work in the same spirit as those we lost. In all humility, are we so sure that no elected Peer could absorb the spirit of the place and do our job just as the new Members since 1999 have done? The assumption that runs through the vast majority of speeches made in the debate is that they could not. I am not so sure.
No doubt many of us wish that all this uncertainty would go away. I think I am right in saying that all of us believe that another place is crying out for radical reform. It needs an infusion of the independence of mind and the ability to legislate of this House. Perhaps that is the way it was once, to quote countless former Members of another place who rose and spoke to criticise the House of Commons as it is currently.
Here, the Government have succeeded in ending the automatic right of hereditary Peers to sit in this place. That was a giant step. From their perspective the Government can take pride in that. However, as I said in 1998, once constitutional boundary stones are uprooted none of us can know where they will settle again. Is not this debate proof of that?
After the vote on 4th February, we must consider what follows next. I expect that the Joint Committee will want to press on with its work. I believe that it should consider more than one option, including elections. I wonder whether the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor might agree with that. If so, I promise him that we on this side will work with the noble and learned Lord and his colleagues in the search for an achievable consensus. That may not be achieved in the next few months. I think we should be realistic about that; it will take time. But it is surely worth working for. Otherwise, as the caravan moves on we risk subsiding again into relative obscurity, just as we were in the past. That is no fate for this House. Surely, none of us wants that. In the past 10 years, this House has moved forward while another place has continued to subside. We must not allow that situation to be reversed.
The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg): My Lords, I join all noble Lords who have expressed their thanks to the Joint Committee, which is chaired by the right honourable Jack Cunningham, and of which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, is the vice-chairman. The time occupied by the Joint Committee's deliberations has been well spent. A period for reflection concentrates minds wonderfully, not only in the committee but elsewhere in both Houses.
In a debate of over two days with close to 100 speakers, I cannot refer to every contribution, but shall concentrate on the main themes. Plainly, the dominant view of this House expressed over the past two days is in favour of an all-appointed House. However, within each of the parties, there is no common view. Free votes reflect that reality. For example, it has been well noted that on the Liberal Democrat Benches, Members as distinguished as the noble Lords, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, and Lord Phillips of Sudbury, favour an all appointed House, contrary to their own Front Bench.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord McNally, that I have never seen myself as Darth Vader. In fact, some of my noble friends on these Benches have said to meand the noble Lords, Lord Rodgers and Lord Phillips, might well agreethat, on the contrary, they see me rather as Obi-Wan Kenobi and feel the "force" of my mission in this debate to save us from the parliamentary disaster of hybridity, about which their Front Bench is so extraordinarily sanguine. It is not of course for me to claim any of these associations; nor do I.
Despite disagreement within the parties, however, there is a consensus that the House's main role should continue to be as a revising, scrutinising and deliberative assembly with the power to delay, but not to seek to veto, legislation; that the House of Commons should retain its role as the pre-eminent Chamber; and that the test for any Government should continue to be whether it commands the support of the majority in another place. The Government's ultimate objective is to secure a second Chamber that is broadly representative of the Britain of today, a Chamber which will complement the other place by reinforcing Parliament's ability to conduct scrutiny and hold the executive to account; that has a composition distinctive from the House of Commons, neither as a rival nor a pale imitation of it, that is not dominated by the political parties either collectively or singly; that brings to its deliberations distinctive expertise and experience; and which will increase the respect of the public for Parliament because of the distinctive value that it adds.
All the options for composition put forward in the Joint Committee's report need to be judged against those objectives. As has been mentioned, I said in a radio interview a couple of weeks ago that I thought that opinion on this question was polarising around the wholly appointed and the wholly elected options. The debate of the past two days has tended to reinforce that view.
Some noble Lords rightly made short shrift of the argument that part elected, part appointed does not matter because this House has always been hybrid; that is, appointed and hereditary Peers are not the same. This argument was not well taken. Although appointed and hereditary Peers are not the same, they have one characteristic in common: they are not elected by the people. Therefore, they provide no basis for justifying a hybrid House of a wholly different character, one divided between appointed and elected.
The dynamics of a House divided among appointed and elected Peers has to be considered distinctly. But, I first summarise the arguments made against a wholly or substantially elected House. Such a House would change the character of this House for ever. It would be a House of equal legitimacy to the House of Commons, since it would be elected. The rationale for the conventions by which this House came to accept that it is subordinate to the House of Commons, as the sole elected Chamber, would be gone for ever. The arguments go further: to assert that this House would remain content with its present powers unchanged after acquiring elective legitimacy equal to the House of Commons is simply to deny the inevitable dynamics of two elected Chambers whose interaction is conditioned by conventions.
As a matter of history, it was the Royal Commission of the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, which allowed the electoral genie out of his lamp. So, unsurprisingly, the noble Lord yesterday declared that he continued to favour the compromise of a hybrid House. Once out of the lamp, however, the electoral genie could not immediately be pushed back in. The Government, I acknowledge, in their White Paper saw a necessity to concede to the genie a 20 per cent lease of life. That was an attempted compromise that failed and can now be put aside. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor, can now also put that option aside. Apart from that, I agreed with the whole of his devastating speech.
We have since had time for reflection, but once the genie was out of his lamp, there were those who wanted him to fly high. They claimed that a 50/50 outcome around an imaginary centre of gravity could take the trick. But they must acknowledge that 50/50 would be only a staging post in what my noble friend Lord Hughes of Woodside yesterday called an "inexorable dynamic", leading, as I would say, towards a wholly elected House.
So the true issue for today is: all appointed or all elected? As the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, tellingly declared, "Let us not compromise our Parliament". The noble Lord, Lord Butler, said that we should not split differences on an issue of this kind. I agree with both of them, adding that we must now proceed to make the true choice.
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