House of Lords
To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they are satisfied that all young people, both girls and boys, when they leave secondary schools in England or Wales understand what their responsibilities will be if they become parents.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools (Lord Hill of Oareford): My Lords, the Government are committed to supporting good parenting, but we do not believe that it is the Government’s role to tell parents exactly how to raise their children. As such, we are funding services that offer advice and support to all parents, but we do not plan to prescribe how or what skills schools need to teach their pupils, or to test pupils’ knowledge about parenting when they leave school.
Lord Northbourne: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for that amount of comfort, but does he not agree that responsibility for the quality of parenting in our society is basically shared between the parents of the child and the state in its various forms and through its various agencies? It is essential that parents should understand the responsibilities for which they are responsible. The obvious place for them to learn that is in secondary school as they grow up. However, as the noble Lord confirmed when I asked a Question on 17 May, the Government are determined that secondary schools should not be obliged to teach parenting skills. I hope that I can persuade the Government to think again on this subject, both on the question of whether those skills should be taught in school, and secondly on the urgent need for a cadre of teachers to be developed that is skilled in dealing with that subject.
Lord Hill of Oareford: My Lords, I agree very much with the point the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, makes about the importance of parenting. He is absolutely right that schools can play an extremely important part in helping to prepare young people and helping them to understand some of the issues that he discusses. Our difference of opinion is over the degree of prescription that there should be. As he knows, rather than adding things to the national curriculum, we are trying to take things out of it, partly to provide more space for the teaching of these sorts of issues that he refers to.
Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, while welcoming the Government’s recent statement that they intend to try to ensure that when a family breaks up, both parents have the opportunity to fulfil their parental responsibilities to the child—after all, that is the child’s right—will my noble friend the Minister confirm that in any legislation the safety and best interests of the child will remain upfront and centre?
Lord Hill of Oareford: My noble friend is exactly right in both her points. We should try to have a legislative framework whereby the involvement of both parents in the upbringing of children is made as easy as possible. She is absolutely right that the core and underlying interest in all this legislation is to make sure that the interests of the child are at the heart of whatever arrangements one makes.
Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top: My Lords, is the Minister able to reassure the House that any of the money that is being committed to spending on vouchers for parenting will be spent exclusively on evidence-based programmes that we know work?
Lord Hill of Oareford: I believe that the parenting trials to which the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong, refers are being delivered by well established and well respected providers. It is important that what is provided is, as far as possible, evidence-based. I take that point. If I can find out more information about who the providers operating the trials are, I will make sure that the noble Baroness has it.
Lord Hill of Oareford: We should say many things to young children in schools. For all education, my starting point would be the importance of English and maths. A decent grounding in those matters is most likely to lead children to have successful lives, and many of the desirable outcomes that we all want from education are more likely to appear.
Baroness Butler-Sloss: My Lords, while I accept that English and maths are extremely important, does the Minister accept that the public have an interest in the upbringing of children, because if children are not well brought up we pay for it in all sorts of ways? Consequently, in so far as citizenship or anything akin to citizenship is taught in schools, will the Minister not consider whether parenting should be part of citizenship?
Lord Hill of Oareford: Certainly, I agree with the noble and learned Baroness’s underlying point that we all have a shared interest in making sure that children are brought up as well as possible. It is a point that the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, made as well, so we have a common interest. On the specific point about citizenship and the content of that within the curriculum, as the noble and learned Baroness will know we are
looking at the whole question of the national curriculum. I will relay her point to my honourable friend Mr Gibb for him to reflect on.
The Lord Bishop of Liverpool: My Lords, is the Minister aware of the Children’s Society’s Good Childhood report in which parenting features considerably? Is he further aware of the number of primary schools that already offer parenting courses for pupils’ parents? Is his department able to tell us how many schools across the country offer such parenting classes?
Lord Hill of Oareford: I do not know how many schools offer that and I do not know how easy it would be to find out, but I will certainly ask the question. I am aware of how much work is being done in primary and secondary schools and the way in which many schools, particularly primary schools, are finding ways of bringing parents into schools and educating them at the same time as the children. I agree with him on the importance of schools developing ways of encouraging that.
Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe: My Lords, given the changes in the benefits regime and the ideas being floated over the past few days about further changes that will affect in particular young people and their lifestyles, and given what the Minister has already said about not moving on parenting advice, will he say whether there is any intention to draw these changes to the attention of young people? Will he also say whether some thought might be given to giving some well placed advice on servicing tax liabilities and responsibilities at some point, too?
Lord Loomba: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I take the opportunity to declare an interest as founder and chairman trustee of the Loomba Foundation.
Baroness Northover: My Lords, widows and their children are among the poorest and most vulnerable in societies across the world. The Government have put girls and women at the heart of their development assistance. We provide targeted support to widows at
country level and through programmes supporting women’s economic, social and political empowerment more broadly.
Lord Loomba: I thank my noble friend the Minister for her Answer and I am grateful for the consideration that the Government have given to this Question. However, the Answer does not tell the whole story. Does the Minister recall that the UN has designated 23 June as International Widows’ Day as a global day of action to end all discrimination against widows, to facilitate wide economic empowerment, and to enable them to enjoy their full human rights? Does the Minister accept that part of future aid budgets relating to women should be ring-fenced for widows who suffer discrimination and disadvantages?
Baroness Northover: My Lords, I pay tribute to my noble friend for all his work in this area, in particular through the Loomba Trust, which supports widows and their children in many developing countries, and for his work in securing that UN designated day for widows on 23 June. I recognise his point about double discrimination. Although it would not be appropriate to ring-fence money specifically for widows, it is extremely important that we identify in-country those women who are suffering from that double discrimination in the way that he indicates so that they can be supported.
Lord Bilimoria: My Lords, ever since the inception of the Loomba Foundation in 1988 by Raj Loomba, I have chaired its advisory council. On International Widows’ Day on Saturday, 23 June, the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, made the best speech that I have ever heard him give.
Lord Bilimoria: In that speech, he asked why no one had highlighted the plight of widows around the world until Raj Loomba did all those years ago. Can the Minister tell us what the Government’s priorities are, where DfID is concerned, in the billions of pounds of aid that we give every year to help the 245 million widows and the 500 children, particularly with the education of poor widows’ children around the world?
Baroness Northover: I am glad that the noble Lord heard yet another stunning speech from my right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister. Of course, my right honourable friend was quite right, as is the noble Lord, that the Loomba Foundation has done a huge amount in emphasising the particular challenges faced by widows through double discrimination. As my noble friend mentioned in the previous Question in relation to the United Kingdom, it is absolutely right that education is so important in terms of children’s prospects. We recognise that internationally as we as we do nationally. We are especially aware that when somebody is widowed or loses their partner for any other reason, it is girl children in particular who suffer. That is why DfID emphasises the support of girl children.
Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale: My Lords, about 40 per cent of adult women in the eastern Congo are widows. Many of them have suffered from sexual violence during the conflicts that have occurred in that region. What are the Government doing as part of our bilateral aid programme to the DRC to ensure that the rights of those widows to shelter, security and in particular to land are able to be used by them in a way that gives them the opportunity to rebuild their lives following the conflicts in that area over the past 30 years?
Baroness Northover: The noble Lord is right. DfID does indeed identify the particular problems of widows in the DRC and has programmes to support them. Again, he is right that widows often lose their land when widowed, and one of the programmes that DfID is carrying out not only in the DRC but elsewhere is to support the rights of women in that situation to land when widowed.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: Returning to my point, I was for many years the chairman of the UK branch of PLAN International, which has a programme of helping to educate children and also provides great help to widows in many countries. I am glad that the Minister mentioned that the Government are doing what they can but one very big problem arises in countries where all inheritance goes to a male relative. Women find that they suddenly have nothing because their husband’s brother or one of their husband’s brother’s sons has inherited everything. I hope that she will press the Governments of the world on this matter. I think that Uganda has changed this law and that has made a dramatic difference to women. Will she press Commonwealth countries and other countries in general to look into this further?
Baroness Northover: My noble friend is right, and it follows on from the previous Question about equal rights, whether to land or other property. I do not know what hereditary Peers would make of that. Nevertheless, that is what we support.
Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead: My Lords, can the Minister give at least some detail of specific DfID policies designed to tackle the abuse and discrimination faced by widows of all ages, their children and their grandchildren, for whom they are often also responsible? The Minister mentioned focusing on women and girls but are the challenges faced by widows an integral part of DfID’s policy? Finally, what specific data does
DfID have on the situation of widows and their daughters, and will she place those data in the Library of the House?
Baroness Northover: I will answer the noble Baroness in detail through a letter but I can tell her and noble Lords that DfID has programmes in Rwanda, Pakistan, India and the DRC, as well as elsewhere, targeted specifically at widows. However, given the time, I shall write to her with many more details.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Astor of Hever): My Lords, the Armed Forces covenant sets out the principles that those who serve in the Armed Forces, whether regular or reserve, those who have served in the past and their families should face no disadvantage compared with other citizens and that special consideration is appropriate in some cases, especially for those who have given most, such as the injured and the bereaved. Any discrimination against members of the Armed Forces community is to be abhorred, and we will continue to be alert to any cases which are brought to our attention. I believe that the vast majority of the population are hugely supportive of those who defend them.
Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, I agree with the Minister about that wide support. Saturday is Armed Forces Day. It will be a day of celebration. Never in recent times has the level of approval of the Armed Forces been so high. Nevertheless, despite the efforts of both parties, some members of the Armed Forces still have problems. The splendid report of the noble Lord, Lord Ashcroft—I never thought that I would find myself saying that—found that in the past five years 20% have suffered verbal abuse, 5% have suffered violence or attempted violence, 18% have been refused service in hotels, pubs and elsewhere when wearing the uniform in the UK, and more than 25% have been refused a mortgage, loan or credit card. My right honourable friend Jim Murphy, the shadow Secretary of State, wrote to the Secretary of State on 27 May to urge him to hold cross-party talks on how to end discrimination against our Armed Forces and their families, including the option of introducing new legal protections for the services community. Will the Minister assure the House that this request will receive the fullest possible consideration?
Armed Forces that he mentions. The report provides pointers to areas requiring attention. We believe that education rather than legislation is the most effective way to combat discrimination. We can lead this if we work together on a cross-party basis in Parliament to celebrate the contribution of our Armed Forces. An example of this is having troops marching into Parliament on their return from Afghanistan and being given refreshments and tours by MPs and noble Lords. This is the initiative of the All-Party Group for the Armed Forces. In his letter to Jim Murphy, the Secretary of State said:
Lord Addington: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that it is not now that is the problem, as the Armed Forces have a high profile since they are engaged in combat and we have casualties coming back? We must do something that guarantees that we continue to take an interest when this conflict is over because discrimination usually increases during times of ignorance. Peace in Afghanistan may well bring this.
Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, the worst discrimination I ever suffered was shortly after meeting my wife, when she told me that the two most useless things in a sailing boat are an umbrella and a naval officer. Joking aside, the Minister referred to education. We need to educate young people about the importance of the services and one of the best ways of doing that is the cadet forces. Are we going to put more effort into getting CCF and other units into a broader spectrum of schools to try to encourage this?
Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, first, I would tell them to get in contact with their chain of command, which will work closely with the civil police or other bodies, as appropriate, to address any problem. I understand one of the problems that they encounter is with mortgage lenders. Service personnel facing credit-rating difficulties because of time spent abroad should approach prospective mortgage lenders, and all prospective landlords or letting agents, to instruct their credit reference-checking agencies to undertake a manual check of the individual circumstances.
Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde: Does the Minister agree that discrimination can take many forms? With the repositioning of Armed Forces personnel from Germany over the coming years, one area of concern may well be about the opportunity for their children to have access to the schools that their parents want them to go to and to get on the doctor’s list in the area that they wish. Does he agree that we may need to review the covenant, which is an extremely good initiative, to ensure that the families of Armed Forces personnel are not indirectly discriminated against?
Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, I agree with my noble friend. A great deal can be done by local communities. Community covenants are voluntary statements of mutual support between the civilian community and its local Armed Forces community in the form of a written pledge. These local partnerships are usually made between the Armed Forces in an area and the local authority and joined by local business organisations, charities and other public bodies as appropriate.
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they will take in the light of the finding of the Care Quality Commission’s recent unannounced inspections of care homes and treatment centres for people with learning disabilities, that around half of those inspected were not meeting essential standards of care.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Earl Howe): My Lords, the CQC’s findings show unacceptable levels of care. On Monday a Department of Health report set out 14 national actions to improve care and support for people with learning disabilities or autism and behaviours that challenge. All parts of the health and care system have a role to play in driving up standards, stopping abuse and transforming local services.
Baroness Wheeler: My Lords, in its inspection of care homes and assessment centres in the light of the serious abuse and appalling standards of care at Winterbourne View hospital for people with learning disabilities, the CQC found that of the 150 inspections it carried out, independent healthcare providers were twice as likely to fail to meet the required standards as NHS providers. How does the Minister account for
that? Can he say specifically what steps he will be taking to ensure that clinical commissioning groups tackle the problems the commission found over lengths of stay in services, failure to review care plans so that residents can be moved on to community-based services, and the very worrying overuse of restraint of patients?
Earl Howe: My Lords, it is true that CQC inspectors found that for the kind of services they inspected, there was more non-compliance in services run by the private sector. But the information the CQC gathered for its report does not enable it to analyse the reasons for that. I would simply say that all providers of services, whether in the independent sector or the NHS, need to ensure that they comply with essential standards. The noble Baroness summarised a number of the areas where the CQC found failings and I endorse her view that there is a fundamental failing across the system, not just in providers but in terms of commissioning as well. The examples of poor care show up a fundamental need for commissioners to review commissioning plans and care plans, and make sure not just that the providers are capable of offering and providing care to the right standards but that they are actually doing so at the right level for the patients and service users they look after.
Baroness Campbell of Surbiton: My Lords, in 2008 the Joint Committee on Human Rights produced a shocking report which highlighted some of the most degrading experiences endured by adults with learning disabilities in health and residential care settings. Four years on we are debating the same human rights abuses—this time highlighted by the CQC report, which shows excessive use of restraint and seclusion in assessment and treatment facilities. Will the Minister assure us that he will return to the JCHR and CQC reports and tell us what measures the Government will take now to protect the liberties and safety of this highly vulnerable group so that we do not sit here again in four years debating how we have failed for a third time?
Earl Howe: The noble Baroness’s remarks will resonate with many noble Lords. We have been here before. One of the emerging issues from the review is around poor practice on the use of restraint, as she rightly mentioned. CQC inspectors found that only 73% of locations met requirements on physical intervention or restraint. There was ineffective monitoring of restraint data and learning from incidents. Staff were not always trained and restraint was not always delivered in line with the care plan. There are real lessons to be learnt by providers about the use of restraint. We have flagged this up as one of the actions that we will take in the department to work with the Department for Education, the Care Quality Commission and others to drive up standards and promote best practice in the use of positive behavioural support and ensure that physical
restraint is only ever used as a last resort. The report published on Monday is an interim report and we will be publishing a final report later in the year.
Baroness Barker: My Lords, does the Minister agree that this report calls into question the role of local safeguarding adult bodies? What are they doing now while people are being mistreated in a way that the CQC has uncovered? Does the Minister think that it is time to revisit the legal bases of those organisations?
Earl Howe: My Lords, my noble friend is right to call that matter into question. My department will be working with the NHS Commissioning Board Authority to agree by January next year how best to embed quality of health principles in the system using NHS contracting and guidance. Those principles will set out the expectations of service users in relation to their experience. We are taking a range of other action—the 14 national actions to which I referred in my initial Answer—which I would suggest my noble friend looks at. We are clear that there is a need not just for providers but for everybody in the system to focus on their responsibilities and to work together to drive up standards in the way that we all wish to see.
Baroness Browning: My Lords, given the number of years that have passed since we saw the Mencap report Death by Indifference, and the fact that these reports show an inadequate level of improvement, I find myself in the strange position of asking my noble friend if he would please reconsider a proper register, professionally supervised by those working in the care industry?
Earl Howe: My Lords, as my noble friend knows, we committed in the Health and Social Care Act to facilitate a voluntary register for care workers and health workers. We believe that the system should be tried before we think about any statutory regulation. However, I understand the urgency and strength of feeling around this issue and it is a matter that we will keep under regular review.
Relevant documents: 58th Report from the Merits Committee, Session 2010–12; 43rd Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, Session 2010–12; 1st and 4th Reports from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, considered in Grand Committee on 25 June.
Lord Owen: My Lords, I know that other important business awaits so I will be very brief. However, there is a procedural question of some importance under the European Union Act 2011, which we are discussing, and the Explanatory Note relating to referendums.
Treaty referendum is becoming a very live subject now that the Finance Minister of Germany has announced that there could be a referendum on a rather more urgent timescale than has been considered—presumably in relationship to the single European banking supervision system which is being proposed by some people. However, my point goes much wider than that. Under the circumstances, it is possible for a Minister under the simplified revision procedure to make a statement under Section 5 of the Act that, although a transfer of power from the UK to the EU falling within Section 4 of this Act has taken place, the proposed change is considered not significant. There are circumstances in which it might be very urgent, during the present crisis over the eurozone, for the British Government to give powers, and I think that they have overall adopted a very conciliatory attitude to those members of the eurozone to the effect that we do not wish to stand in their way on making changes that we may not ourselves wish for but which are related purely to the eurozone. So it is quite possible that a decision might come that is not considered significant in terms of the Act, but if passed by this House would allow the European Union treaties to be amended and action to take place urgently. That might be helpful.
However, in the same circumstances, the Government, not using the 2011 Act, might consider that the implications of these changes are of such importance that they wish to call a referendum under the general powers, although not in a way that would stop the rest of the European Union living under the treaty amendments they had agreed. When the Bill comes back on Third Reading, will it possible to clarify the not-significant clause in a helpful way towards the
European Union? We could also hold our own referendum under different legislation which, if you like, would deal with our own political problems but would not stand in the way of a resolution to the eurozone crisis, which we might all agree might be necessary in a matter of days.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Howell of Guildford): My Lords, the noble Lord has raised wider issues of great importance, ones that your Lordships will no doubt wish to debate. Indeed, it is possible that he may have an opportunity to raise them at Third Reading. However, this Bill is concerned merely with amending Article 136 of the Lisbon treaty, and there being no amendments to it on Report, I beg to move.
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, it has been agreed that the Statement which is about to be given by my noble friend Lord Strathclyde should follow the extended procedure for Back-Bench contributions. Perhaps I may remind the House that this means that after my noble friend has made his Statement and the Leader of the Opposition has made her speech, my noble friend will respond to her. At that point we shall have 40 minutes for the Back-Bench speeches—
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: Questions—I am prompted on an absolutely correct point. We want to include as many participants as possible in this debate, and I know that many noble Lords are keen to ask questions. In Statements we normally ask two questions for elucidation; we do not make speeches.
When we reach the 40 minutes for questions, it has been decided that it would be helpful to the House if we followed the normal procedure for extended debates whereby the first person to ask questions will be the Convener of the Cross Benches, followed thereafter by a right reverend Prelate. Today I understand that it will be the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester. Following him will be my noble friend Lord Dholakia, and then the noble Lord, Lord Richard, as the chair of the Joint Select Committee.
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, I am glad to be able to announce that, as will shortly be made clear on the annunciator, the proceedings in Grand Committee will not go ahead until 4.45 pm, which permits those noble Lords who intend to take part in the first day of the Committee stage of the Civil Aviation Bill to be present in the Chamber.
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Lord Strathclyde): My Lords, the Government have today published our response to the report from the Joint Committee on the draft House of Lords Reform Bill of last Session. We have reflected, and we are now in a position to introduce a Bill. The House of Commons has today given a First Reading to a House of Lords Reform Bill introduced by the Government and copies are available in the Printed Paper Office. The Government, after a White Paper, joint pre-legislative scrutiny and many debates, have taken the next step in the legislative process and put the proposals before Parliament. The Government will ask another place to give the Bill a Second Reading before the Summer Recess.
The development of the Government’s Bill has benefited from the detailed scrutiny of the Joint Committee on the draft House of Lords Reform Bill so valuably chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Richard. The Government are grateful to the Joint Committee for its report. We have considered its report and we have accepted many of its conclusions and recommendations.
I hope it might be helpful for me to set out the key respects in which the Bill introduced today differs from the original draft Bill, and to identify the central elements of the Bill that have not changed. The Joint Committee and the Government are in agreement on key features of our proposals. We are agreed that 80% of members of the reformed second Chamber should be elected on the basis of proportional representation; that the reformed House should be smaller than the current House of Lords; that Members should serve for a single 15-year, non-renewable term; and that there should be no change to the powers and functions of the two Houses.
We have none the less made a number of significant changes to the Bill we have introduced today. The draft Bill recommended reducing the size of the House to 300 Members. The Joint Committee recommended 450 Members, and we have accepted its recommendation. The Joint Committee also recommended that the 90 appointed Members should not necessarily be expected to attend the reformed House every sitting day. The committee argued that allowing individuals to maintain relevant professional expertise would strengthen the reformed House, as it does the present House. The Government have accepted this recommendation, and consider that the same logic should apply to elected Members. To reflect this, the Bill provides that IPSA must pay Members according to their level of participation in the work of the House.
On the recommendation of the Joint Committee, we have also significantly altered Clause 2 of the Bill. It is no longer a declaratory statement that nothing in the Bill affects the primacy of the House of Commons, the powers of each House and the conventions. Instead, it now clarifies the continuing application of the Parliament Acts in the context of a reformed second Chamber.
A further substantial change intended to provide a clear differentiation between the role of MPs and that of elected Members of the reformed House is that the areas from which elected Members will be returned are now larger regions rather than the smaller electoral districts proposed in the White Paper. Using these regions means that there will be a larger number of seats in each district, which in turn would have led to significant practical issues if an STV system had been used. The Government share the Joint Committee’s view that the complexity of the electoral system is an important consideration, and that voters should have the option of simply voting for a party. The Government therefore consider that the most appropriate electoral system for the reformed House in Great Britain is a regional, semi-open list, and that is what is now proposed.
In many other respects the draft Bill and the Bill introduced today are the same. Elections to the second Chamber will happen in thirds to coincide with general elections. There will be a transitional period with existing Members leaving in thirds, as each set of elected Members arrives. Membership of the reformed second Chamber will no longer be linked to the peerage. There will be a continuing role for Church of England bishops, but in reduced number. A statutory Appointments Commission will make nominations for the 20% of appointed Members who would be expected to be non-party political. The Bill includes provision for Members of the House to be able to resign, it provides for disqualification from membership of the House, and it gives the House a power to suspend or expel Members.
Finally, the fundamental principle behind the Bill has not changed. The Government believe that those who make the laws of the land should be elected by those to whom the laws apply, and that a democratic mandate—obtained through direct elections—would afford the House greater legitimacy and thereby enhance the House’s ability to perform its core functions of revising legislation and holding the Executive to account.
I am conscious that Members around the House have taken a close interest in the cost of the Government’s proposals for reform. As promised, the Government have today published their full cost estimates alongside the impact assessment for the Bill. These, too, have been placed in the Printed Paper Office.
I hope that this overview has served to highlight the main respects in which the Government’s proposals have evolved since the publication of the draft Bill and the publication of the Joint Committee’s report on that Bill. I reiterate the Government’s thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Richard, and the other noble Lords who served on the Joint Committee, whose report has had a significant influence on our final proposals.
I said before that there is only one way to test whether a consensus on the second phase of reform of this House exists or can emerge, and that is to introduce a Bill and allow Parliament to take a view. Today, that process is under way.
of Lords Reform Bill, which has been introduced today in the other place and given a First Reading. I am grateful, too, for an advanced sight of the Statement. I thank the Leader and the government Chief Whip for offering to extend to 40 minutes the normal period for Back-Bench contributions to the debate today.
This country is facing enormous difficulties. We are in a double-dip recession; we have no economic growth; unemployment, especially youth unemployment, remains high. The Governor of the Bank of England did not mince his words yesterday when he spoke of the depth of the economic crisis. Further efforts will be made this week at the EU summit to try to resolve the eurozone crisis. We need jobs and we need growth; we need a change of economic strategy. Those are the country’s priorities and those are the Opposition’s priorities. What are the Government’s priorities? Apparently, they centre on further reform of your Lordships’ House. Not only is reform of your Lordships’ House not at the top of the priority list of the people of this country; it is not even at the bottom of the priority list. In fact, it is not on the list at all, because it is not a priority. Even the most positive polling figures suggest that less than a fifth of the people of this country regard further House of Lords reform as in any way urgent. Yet this is what this Government have placed at the heart of their legislative agenda; this is what the Government are focusing on today. Why are the Government making reform of your Lordships' House such a priority in the light of the economic challenges facing us?
We do not from these Benches say that constitutional reform is unimportant. From 1997 onwards in government, we brought forward a serious programme of constitutional reform, including major changes such as devolution in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Constitutional reform, including further reform of the House of Lords, goes to important questions about how Britain is governed. We on these Benches did not seek a Bill on further reform of your Lordships' House to be included in the Government’s legislative programme, but it has been; it is there; and we as the Opposition must respond to it.
Labour’s commitment to a fully elected second Chamber was explicit in its manifesto at the last general election. Labour has a long commitment to reform and has enacted that commitment. We want to see reform, but we want to get that reform right. For the Labour Party, that means a fully elected second Chamber. It means getting the powers and role of the House of Lords right, not only in itself but in relation to the House of Commons. We believe, too, that the issue is of such importance that it should be put to the people of this country in a referendum, a commitment which is strongly supported by the public according to opinion-poll evidence.
We will want to examine in detail the Government’s revised version of the House of Lords Reform Bill. The first version of the Bill, published last year, was a bad Bill. We thought so; the Joint Committee on the Bill thought so; and the alternative report from the Joint Committee’s minority group thought so. Pretty well everyone thought so, apart from the Deputy Prime Minister.
The Government are proposing their revised Bill in the face of serious and searching criticisms of their first attempt. We will need to consider how far this version gets in dealing with the very big questions which need to be resolved, including those about the primacy of the House of Commons. The Government’s revised Bill today attempts to shore up in various ways the wholly discredited Clause 2 of the original Bill, on Commons primacy, by scrapping the provision entirely and replacing it with a statement in the Bill about the applicability of the Parliament Acts. The Bill also repeals the preamble to the Parliament Act 1911. Are there any further constitutional implications of repealing the preamble? I look forward to hearing the views on this issue of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and of my noble and learned friend Lord Goldsmith.
On the applicability of the Parliament Acts, can the Leader of the House explain why, in the Government’s response to the report of the Joint Committee, which has also been published today, they refer on page 7 to their response to recommendation 84 of the Joint Committee, on the Parliament Acts, when their responses to the recommendations go from 82 to 86, without recommendation 84 being included at all? That is interesting.
There are also questions about the powers of the second Chamber; about the exact proportion of elected Members, the length of their terms, whether they should be renewable; about the system of election; about the relationship between the Lords and the Commons, about the position of this House in relation to the outcome of a referendum in Scotland on independence; about the place of bishops or other religious representation; about transitional arrangements, and about the costs of the Government’s reforms.
On the question of costs, the Government have, as the Leader of the House said, finally published the costings today on their revised proposals. I note that these include provision for a number of allowances for Members of an elected House, including an accommodation allowance and a staffing allowance. The costings do not, however, include the cost of elections for the House, put separately by the Government at £85.7 million for each of the elections proposed. Will the Leader tell the House what the Government believe the total net cost of all their proposals will be?
Can the Leader of the House explain to Members of your Lordships’ House what the position will be in an elected House in relation to remuneration? The Government have been briefing the media heavily in the past few days that Members of the new elected House will not be paid a salary but will instead have a daily allowance before tax of £300. However, new Section 7A of Clause 46 of the Bill specifies that,
“members of the House of Lords are to be paid … on a monthly basis in arrears”.
Of huge importance to my party and to the Joint Committee, the revised Bill does not contain a referendum. There is little logic in a position which says that we have referendums to decide whether we have city mayors, but not to decide whether to alter radically the composition and structure of our Parliament. We shall see whether the Government’s present non-inclusion of a referendum
in the Bill survives whatever parliamentary processes the Bill faces. However, can the Leader of the House say why he believes that 55%—according to the latest opinion poll—of the people of this country are wrong in wanting to have their say on these matters in a referendum?
On these matters, Labour, whether in the other place or in your Lordships’ House, will seek as an Opposition to scrutinise, amend and improve the Bill during its passage through Parliament. Lords reform is a serious issue and we expect the Government to take Parliament seriously, too, in considering it. That is why we want to see proper scrutiny of the Bill in the other place, where it will be taken first. That is why we will oppose in the other place the proposed timetable for the Bill, which would, effectively, guillotine debate. However, we are a party in favour of reform, which is why Ed Miliband also announced yesterday that Labour in the Commons will be voting for a Second Reading of the Bill. For a Bill about which we have real reservations, this is an unusual step for an Opposition. There is indeed plenty of precedent for legislative proposals being opposed at this stage.
For example, in 1999, the party opposite, including 11 members of the current Cabinet, proposed and voted for a reasoned amendment and against the Second Reading of the Labour Government’s 1999 House of Lords Bill on hereditary Peers. We know that there are members of my party, both in this House and the other place, who would wish to vote against the Bill for reasons of principle. I respect those who hold this view, but the shadow Cabinet, of which I am a member, disagrees with them, and Labour will vote for a Second Reading in the other place later this month.
We know, too, that there are great differences of opinion—vast gulfs of opinion—between the constituent parties of the coalition, and within the ranks of the Conservative Party, both in the other place and in this House. As the Prime Minister said in the other place earlier today, there are those in all parties who oppose further reform of the House of Lords, just as there are those who support further reform. We shall see how those differences emerge as the Bill goes through its Commons stages.
It is likely that those stages will be protracted. The Bill is, I suspect, many months away from coming before this House, if indeed it manages to get out of the Commons. Given the dates for Second Reading in the other place, it is likely that the House of Commons will go into Committee on the Bill when it sits in September. Recently the noble Lord the Leader of the House all but issued as a threat the possibility that this House would have to sit in September to deal with the Financial Services Bill. Can I inform him that in order to deal with a range of matters, such as the Government’s legislative programme and their record on jobs and growth, we on these Benches would welcome sitting in September when the Commons will be deliberating on this Bill. I ask the Leader of the House to arrange now that this House should indeed sit in September to consider these important matters.
On the overall matter of further reform of your Lordships’ House, there are wide differences of opinion across the House. That was clearly demonstrated right across the House in the days of debate we have had on the issue recently, both in considering the report of the Joint Committee and the alternative report and in the days devoted to the constitutional issues during the debate in this Chamber on the gracious Speech. However, what was also demonstrated in those debates was a seriousness about this issue—a determination that it should be considered properly, and a clear intention to scrutinise fully whatever proposals the Government place before Parliament. Can the Leader of the House give us a commitment that if this Bill does get to your Lordships’ House, the Members of this House will have all the time they need to scrutinise the proposals fully and properly?
We have revised proposals before us today. In this House we have time—possibly a good deal of time—to consider these proposals while they are in the House of Commons. That is what I expect that many individual Members of this House will wish to do. For our part, both in the other place and, if necessary, in your Lordships’ House, we will ensure that the Government’s proposals are properly debated, properly considered, properly questioned and properly scrutinised. That is the job of the Opposition; and starting from the publication of the Bill today, that is the job that we will be getting on with.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, having read what Mr Miliband said in support of the prospect of reform, I was surprised by much of what the noble Baroness said this afternoon. I was very impressed with what Mr Miliband said yesterday. He pledged the Labour Party’s support for the Second Reading of the Bill, even before he had had an opportunity to see it. Perhaps when he has read it, he will decide to support a programme Motion to rush it through the House of Commons and into this House as quickly as possible.
The noble Baroness asked whether this should be a priority. It has been hanging around for so long that we have to get around to it at some stage. It started in 1998-99 as a great priority of the previous Government. They published their last White Paper in 2008. I dare say that if the Labour Party had won the election it would have brought forward a Bill. This coalition has decided that it is time to bring this debate to an end and to ask Parliament what its view is, and it is right that we should do so.
There is also the bizarre suggestion that when important things are happening, Parliament cannot decide on other important issues. It is worth reflecting that on 6 and 7 June 1944, the House of Lords was debating the all-important Butler Education Act on Second Reading. Of course, getting growth into the economy is important, but that is not going to be done just in Parliament; it is going to be done by businesses and entrepreneurs up and down the country.
as did the Joint Committee. Although she did not say that the powers between the Houses should be codified, I think that is what she meant. Again, respectfully, we disagree. She said that there should be a referendum. We see no case whatever for a referendum on the issue. Parliament should decide. It would cost £80 million to have a referendum on this issue, which was included as part of all three main parties’ political manifestos. I urge the Opposition to have more confidence in their manifesto, which is only two years old. I hate to point out to noble Lords opposite that there were no referendums in 1958 or 1999, when the composition of the House was changed, and we see no case for one now.
On the question of primacy, it is true that the Joint Committee had a substantial debate on Clause 2, helped by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, and the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and the Government reflected on that. That is why we have changed the Bill in this way. This is in part because this Bill is about the composition of a reformed House of Lords and the transition arrangements for getting there. It is not about the functions, powers and role of the two Houses, which we would like to see remain unaffected by that change. The Bill clearly states that the Parliament Acts of 1911 and 1949 will continue to apply after the introduction of elected Members.
The Parliament Acts underpin the primacy of the House of Commons in statute. They limit the legislative power of the Lords and ensure that any Administration with a majority in the Commons can ultimately pass legislation without agreement of the House of Lords. We are not aware of any further constitutional implications of repealing the preamble to the 1911 Act.
On the questions of cost raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, she rightly pointed out that the cost of election was excluded from the cost of the House; it stands at £85.7 million every five years. We believe that at the end of the transition period the projected additional annual cost of the House of Lords will be £13.6 million. Of course there will be other associated costs during the course of transition. As for pay, there is something inherently useful about the current arrangements whereby Peers have a daily allowance, and we wish to replicate that through a per diem salary that would be paid monthly in arrears but would be assessed on daily attendance in this House.
In the course of the next few months, there will be many opportunities to discuss some of these issues, but it is also right for the House of Commons now to take its view. I have no idea when the House of Commons is going to discuss these issues, and whether it will be early or late in the autumn. We also have work to do and we should get on with that before dealing with the Bill when it gets to us some time in the winter.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, for the avoidance of doubt can I say explicitly that if my Government had been in power now and had faced the economic situation which the country faces now, this would not have been at the top of our priorities and we would not be discussing this Bill in the House of Commons today?
Lord Laming: My Lords, I will be brief. I, too, thank the Leader of the House for repeating this Statement on a Bill that will clearly repay careful study, and for agreeing to this extended time of questioning.
It was entirely understandable that the new coalition Government introduced a full and challenging legislative programme that required an extended first Session. Inevitably some of that legislation was controversial. Does the Leader agree that every one of those Bills was carefully scrutinised in this House? Does he agree that, thanks to the hard work of colleagues from all around the House, each one of those Bills was greatly improved, so much so that during the period of scrutiny the Government had time to reflect on points that had been made and brought forward very many changes to their own legislation? As a starting point, does the Leader agree that this House has demonstrated time and again its ability to fulfil its responsibilities in the scrutiny and improvement of legislation?
Secondly, does the Leader agree that the House has changed greatly in recent years, and that time and again it has shown its willingness to change? Indeed, across the House there is agreement that further incremental change is still there for the taking.
Thirdly, will the Leader accept that my colleagues and I welcome that the Bill will endorse that 20% of the membership of the House will be appointed, but will he assure the House that the appointed Members will be genuinely independent and without any party political allegiance?
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I am grateful for the Convenor’s questions. Of course I agree with him: the House of Lords, not just since the general election but broadly since 1999, has done a good job of scrutiny and worked well on Bills. I have put on record many times that this is not about the current effectiveness of the House of Lords, which is recognised as having done its job extremely well and having improved legislation. The Government’s view is to improve the legitimacy of the House—indeed, to strengthen its ability to hold the Government to account and to challenge the decisions of the House of Commons.
On the noble Lord’s second question, yes, the House has changed substantially throughout the 20th century, most recently in 1999, and has always accepted such changes. Many of my colleagues in the coalition regard the transitional period as being extremely long. There was no transitional period, or not a very big one, in 1998-99, but there will be a substantial one for the new House to get used to the new arrangements over three electoral cycles.
The Lord Bishop of Leicester: My Lords, I am grateful to the Leader for his clarification of the Government’s proposals. We on these Benches recognise the need for some reform of this House, and welcome the opportunity that the Bill will give for a thorough
debate about the future of Parliament. In particular, we are pleased to see that the Government endorse the Joint Committee’s recommendation on the continuing contribution of the Lords spiritual to a reformed House, albeit that the decision to raise the proposed size of the House to 450 from the original proposal of 300 suggests that the proportion of Bishops, at the number of 12, may be too low if the total number is revised upwards.
We have always said that we will assess the proposals on the basis of what makes for the good governance of Britain. I therefore raise two questions. First, as a member of the Joint Committee, I remained puzzled throughout the course of its work about how the Government’s expressed desire for a more assertive House could be squared with the confident assertion that a reformed House could be relied upon to exercise the necessary self-restraint required to guarantee the primacy and effectiveness of the House of Commons. Will the Leader help us to be as certain as he appears to be that the Parliament Act will prevent the serious risk of dysfunction in the relationship between the two Houses?
Secondly, as your Lordships will be aware, the Church of England has always argued for diverse religious representation in this House so that it properly reflects the diversity of civil society as a whole. The Government appear not to have accepted the Joint Committee’s recommendation that it is necessary for the Bill to make explicit reference to the inclusion of major faiths in a reformed House. How is it proposed that the Appointments Commission can ensure that a reformed House will reflect the religious heritage and cultural diversity of Britain today?
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I reiterate a view that I have long held and which the Government also hold: the Lords spiritual play a valuable and important role in the House and make an important contribution. The right reverend Prelate wonders about the numbers. I think it was the Joint Committee that suggested a reduction to 12 Bishops. The proposal in the Bill is that there should be five named Bishops and Archbishops, and then seven others chosen by the Church of England.
On two key questions of self-restraint and how this can be achieved, of course nothing can be guaranteed. It depends on the House evolving, and its new relationship with the second Chamber, which either will or will not change. It will be up to the new House, and the House of Commons, to decide how best to govern itself.
On the second question the right reverend Prelate raises, he is right to point out that we have not accepted that there should be an explicit condition on the statutory Appointments Commission to put in Peers of other faiths and make sure they are represented. There is no such view on the current Appointments Commission, yet it works extremely well. Other faiths have been introduced into the House, and I hope that that will continue.
member of the Liberal Democrat Benches to speak after the noble and right reverend Bishop. It was my error in saying “my noble friend Lord Dholakia”. I apologise; I should have said “my noble friend Lord Tyler”—which I did say—followed by “the noble Lord, Lord Richard”.
Lord Tyler: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Dholakia is not able to be here, and I have been asked to respond. I am very sorry if I am holding up the noble Lord, Lord Richard, because I am looking forward very much to his response. He and other members of the committee will agree that the Government have in the main responded to our report.
Has my noble friend the Leader noted very intriguing variations in consistency on this issue? He will have noted, I think, that David Cameron and George Osborne voted for the 80/20 hybrid House as long ago as February 2003, as indeed I did. However, a great many others seem to have changed their minds since. I particularly welcome—and I think that other members of the Joint Committee will join me in this—the fact that the Government have taken such trouble with a very robust and comprehensive analysis of the cost projections to lay to rest the otherwise very speculative scaremongering expenditure estimates that were given to us previously. That is very helpful. That also responds to the report recommendations.
May I ask my noble friend the Leader to expand in due course, not necessarily now, on the true comparison between the Government’s proposals in this very useful document on the projection of cost and what would otherwise happen if the Government’s proposals did not go through? If the size of the House continued to expand, the cost of this House would of course also increase dramatically.
Lord Strathclyde: Yes, my Lords, we most certainly can. My noble friend is entirely correct. There has been a very robust analysis of the cost, including an examination of what the cost might have been if no reform had taken place—it would increase substantially. I said in reply to the Leader of the Opposition that the net cost in the first year after transition would be an extra £13.6 million per year, and I stand by that amount. I am very happy to write to my noble friend about how the costs have been robustly examined. I think the House will find that when it looks at the Explanatory Memorandum and the reply to the Joint Committee of both Houses, it will see very clearly how those costs have been reached and how they are substantially different from the ones proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey.
Lord Richard: My Lords, it was indeed a privilege and a pleasure, although perhaps not a treasure beyond measure, to have been asked to chair the Joint Committee. It was a fascinating experience, and I greatly enjoyed it. We exposed a very large number of issues in the course of it, some of which I am happy to say the Government have taken on board. It is now proposed that the size of the House should be 450 rather than 300. That is thoroughly sensible. However, the main issue that the Joint Committee spent a great deal of
time on was raised by the noble and right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester: namely, the primacy of the House of Commons and the relationship between the two Houses.
The Government are quite right to put in the provision clarifying totally the issue of the Parliament Acts. There was a lacuna there, and it was clearly pointed out to the Joint Committee by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith. The Government have put that right, and that is to be welcomed, but I am not sure whether merely dealing with primacy in that way, and only in that way, in the Bill will be sufficient. I ask the Leader of the House whether he will look at this issue of primacy again, and at whether there are ways in which one could perhaps not exactly buttress the primacy of the House of Commons but at least harden it.
There was one Joint Committee recommendation which the Government did not accept, and I would be grateful if the Leader of the House could tell me why. It came originally from the Cunningham report, and was that you could not codify the conventions dealing with the relationship between the two Houses and that you should not put them in statute. That I entirely agreed with. On the other hand, as we suggested, each House could almost simultaneously pass resolutions in identical terms spelling out what that relationship is and what the conventions underlying that relationship were. In other words, you would have a concordat spelt out in two documents between the two Houses that would set out the basic relationship between the two. I am not suggesting that that is immutable and can inevitably last in perpetuity, but I do say that although you cannot guarantee the primacy of the House of Commons in perpetuity—it cannot be done—you can produce a set of proposals that make it far more likely that that primacy will last than if you do not have those proposals in the Bill.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, the noble Lord is of course entirely correct that a large part of his report and the evidence that he received was on precisely this point about powers and primacy. There is a difference of opinion. My view, and the Government’s view, is that we should not worry too much about this at this stage. There is no need to do so. What could be a potential outcome of this? We could end up with an elected House having less power than the current House. That would be completely absurd. In the Bill, the Government have protected the current rights and privileges of the House of Commons and the House of Lords and have asserted that the Bill is about composition and not about powers at all.
The noble Lord, Lord Richard, has made an entirely sensible observation: that one way around this is to look again at the conventions that exist between the two Houses, and to ask each House to pass some sort of resolution. Well, maybe that is exactly what will happen, but there is no need for it to happen now or before Royal Assent of this Bill, or indeed before 2015,
which is the anticipated date of the first elections. However, it is certainly a suggestion that a successor House may well wish to look at sensibly.
Lord Harries of Pentregarth: My Lords, I appreciate the way that the Government have taken on board the main principles of the Joint Committee. I note that the Bill now overlaps in most significant respects with the recommendations of the royal commission chaired a few years ago by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, but with one significant difference. The Wakeham commission allowed for the possibility of at least a few experienced politicians being appointed to the new second Chamber. How does the Leader of the House envisage providing, under the Bill, for people who have perhaps stood for election to the House of Commons two or three times and who would not necessarily be tempted to stand again for election to this House but who have a huge amount to offer in the way of political experience and wisdom? If there was no such provision in a new Chamber, would he not say that this was a significant loss?
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, makes two valuable points. First, he is entirely correct that there is a firm line of thought between the conclusions of the royal commission chaired by my noble friend Lord Wakeham, the White Papers produced by the Labour Party when it was in government, the draft Bill and, indeed, the Bill that we have published today. That is why I have said that very little is new in all this; the noble and right reverend Lord is entirely correct. The second point that he raises is more difficult and more intriguing. It is right that unless former distinguished Members of the House of Commons were prepared to stand for election under their party label, we would lose some of that expertise. Having said that, I do not think that it would be beyond the terms of reference of the statutory Appointments Commission to select a small number of most eminent politicians—a very select few—who might be interested in serving the nation and this House without a party political label.
Lord Howe of Aberavon: My Lords, my noble friend will surely remember that it is only a few years ago that the Public Administration Select Committee of the House of Commons concluded that the principal cause of today’s widespread public disillusionment with our political system is the virtually untrammelled control by the Executive of the elected House of Commons. The committee reached important conclusions. First, that there is a need to ensure that the domination of Parliament by the Executive, including the political party machines, is reduced and not increased and, secondly, that,
“the second chamber has to be neither rival nor replica … but genuinely complementary”,
to the Commons, and therefore, “as different as possible”. On that very sound basis, coming from the other place, would my noble friend take note of the fact that the principle underlying this Bill is one which will have to be examined critically and seriously, because it is fundamental to the good working of this constitution as we have enjoyed it for so many years?
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I agree with my noble and learned friend that this Bill should be fully examined and I know that it will be. I agree with the examples that he uses: the control of the Executive in another place, the domination of Parliament by the Executive and the need for differences between this House and the House of Commons. However, I come, and the Government have come, to a different conclusion. I see these reforms as strengthening this House by giving it the authority of the electorate to be more assertive and occasionally to be more beastly to the House of Commons, to hold it to account and to challenge the decisions that it takes. This House will be able to do that far better having been elected than simply having been appointed.
Lord Lipsey: My Lords, I have no wish to extend discourtesy in public life, as the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, did when he described my costings of the Richard report as complete nonsense. I will not apply those words to the Government’s costings. However, would the noble Lord the Leader of the House accept that their costings of £220 million omit a large number of costs that will certainly arise under the Bill—for example, the costs of election—and therefore do not stand a moment’s close scrutiny? If he will not, will he agree to refer those costings to an independent referee, such as the Institute for Fiscal Studies, which can examine their costings of their proposals and my costings of the Richard report, and give the public the correct assessment of the costs that they will have to pay through their pocket as VAT, income tax and so on?
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, the underlying assumptions and cost projections are in the public domain today. I fully expect that they will be given robust scrutiny by the IFS, the TaxPayers’ Alliance, the Labour Party and anyone else who wishes to examine them. Of course, the Government will reply to any questions raised on costs, which I believe have been reached in a robust manner.
Lord Deben: My Lords, does the Minister accept that the decision to have a list system will mean that this House would be in effect appointed by the political parties in many cases? The people they would appoint would be those who would not in other circumstances be chosen for this House. Many of those who work in this House would not wish to fight an election in those circumstances. This proposal makes for the worst conceivable kind of appointment to this House. That is why, above all, we should look at this Bill extremely carefully and, I hope, recognise that that which is, although illogical, is better than that which would just be fatal.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, apart from powers, one of the key areas will be the electoral system, which is different from the one originally proposed in the draft Bill. It is different from what was suggested by the Joint Committee, although the committee suggested some improvements to the original system on which this is based. Under this system, it is difficult for independents to be elected, which is why we have reserved 20% of the House to independents who will be put here through the statutory Appointments Commission. It is beyond
doubt that it is a proportional system. Therefore, there will be no natural majority for any Government, which will preserve one of the strengths of this House.
Lord Reid of Cardowan: Will the Leader of the House at least consider that, after the White Paper and all the deliberations, consultations, and discussions he has made a bad Bill worse? First, as has just been pointed out, the new senators will be less independent than originally proposed because not only will the list system make them more loyal to parties but they will have to be determined on the list by the party leaders. Secondly, they will be more likely to intervene in the legislative process and the work of the House of Commons because they will have no constituency work to do and can spend all their time dealing with matters of politics and legislation.
Thirdly, I am sceptical about the cost. I do not know what the Leader of the House would think of any new company which starts up with 450 employees and bases its overheads and costs assessment on the hope that they would not turn up to work, which seems to be what he is doing. Above all, will the Leader of the House explain—if he knows it but Members of the other House do not—that you cannot ring-fence by regulations or by law the natural dynamic of politics? If you choose 300 senators with constituencies 10 times as big but with no constituency work for a term three times as long, whatever the regulations that will become through the dynamic the primary House. If there is scepticism from the Members of the House of Commons about this cast-iron guarantee that they have been given, will he refer them to the cast-iron guarantees that were given by Mr Straw that the Freedom of Information Act would be ring-fenced so that it did not apply to MPs allowances?
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, the noble Lord says that Peers elected under this new system will be even less independent. We are not calling them senators at the moment: we are not calling them anything. I think that the Bill calls them Members of the House of Lords, but they will not necessarily be Lords.
The noble Lord’s charge is that they will be less independent than they are today. I am not sure that that holds water at all. At the moment, Peers get appointed by their party leaders and presumably act accordingly. Under this arrangement they will be elected by the electorate, but once they are here they will not need to be reselected to stand again because it will for one term only. Do I agree with the noble Lord that they will intervene in improving scrutiny of legislation? I think they will. This Bill is now in the House of Commons. It is up to Members of the House of Commons to decide whether the noble Lord is right and whether that will aid the scrutiny of legislation or improve it. I believe that it will improve it and that elected Members of this House will be more assertive than the current House.
Lord Woolf: My Lords, I hope that the Leader of the House will agree that there has been a long tradition that when Law Lords retired they made a significant contribution to the deliberations of this House and
that it is an important tradition to maintain. Will he tell me whether the special position of the Law Lords has been given consideration in the present Bill? It seems to me that it will be very difficult—if not impossible—for former Law Lords to become Members of this House through the appointment system.
Law Lords do not retire at a particularly youthful age. If the application for appointment to this House is to be made subsequent to their retirement, as one would expect, the prospects of obtaining Law Lords in this House is going to be remote. I understand that at present the appointment of independent Cross-Bench and other Members is at the rate of four a year. That will be reduced to two a year, which is hardly consistent with dealing with a category of that sort.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I have every sympathy with what the noble and learned Lord says because I am one of many who voted against the constitutional vandalism of tearing out the Law Lords from this House five or six years ago. However, it is a bit like toothpaste; you cannot put it back into the tube. I think we miss the Law Lords and I think they probably miss us, which is why the noble and learned Lord is suggesting that we should find a way back. I have to tell the noble and learned Lord that there is no guarantee that they would be appointed by the Appointments Commission. However, I do not believe that because they are old they are of no further use to Parliament and to the nation, and after 2015 it may be that particularly eminent Law Lords will still be appointed.
Lord Cormack: My Lords, my noble friend has repeatedly told the House that at the last general election all parties had some form of commitment to election of this House in their manifestos—they were markedly different, I would remind him. That being the case, no elector in this country had the opportunity of expressing concern on this issue. How, therefore, in all logic can someone who prides himself on his democratic credentials—namely, Mr Clegg—possibly argue against the validity and fairness of a referendum on this very important constitutional subject?
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, my right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister is really not at all convinced that there is a strong case for a referendum on this matter. Earlier, I said that the cost of a referendum would be around £80 million. At a time of economic austerity, this seems—
Lord Strathclyde: It is all very well noble Lords laughing at this. The public will see that they are laughing at a huge amount of public money being spent on a referendum when all three parties and the coalition manifesto said that there should be reform of this House.
page 36 of the Bill the enormous constituencies that are proposed for electing Members of this House. There are eight of these huge constituencies and it will take the votes of millions of people to send Members to your Lordships’ House in the future. Does the noble Lord the Leader of the House really think that people sent here for 15 years with the backing of millions of votes are going to defer to Members of the House of Commons, who will be sent to represent constituencies with electorates of no more than 80,000 on a minute proportion of the votes for only five years? Self-evidently, Members of this House will be much more powerful than colleagues at the other end of the Corridor. I hope that the noble Lord will answer that in terms of how it will automatically affect primacy. I do not think that Members of this House will go on deferring to the Members of that House in the way that we do while we are unelected and they are elected.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I agree with some of what the noble Baroness says: I think that elected Members will probably defer less than is the case with the current House. That of course is something that the House of Commons will need to take into account when it comes to its conclusions on this, and it is right that it should do so. There would be no point in doing this if this House were less assertive than it currently is. The fact that Peers will have been elected will give us an authority and legitimacy that we do not have at the moment. However, I think it will be argued by Members of the other place that the House of Commons has ultimate legislative supremacy because of the provisions of the Parliament Acts, because the Government of the day is formed from the party or parties that can command a majority in the House of Commons and because the House of Commons has control of financial matters. These are the protections for another place.
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, I strongly endorse what the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, has just said. Certainly, if I am elected to this House, I shall be very assertive. However, looking at the way that the list system operates, I am not sure that the Prime Minister will put me on the list, thereby completely destroying the independence of this House, upon which our constitution depends. I say to my noble friend that it is very important that this debate is conducted in accurate terms. I therefore ask him and his colleagues to desist from saying things which are simply not true; for example, the assertion, as contained in the Statement, that those who make the laws should be elected. This House does not make the laws; the other place makes the laws. Nothing gets passed into law without the agreement of the other place. If this is the principle upon which the Government are founding their ridiculous Bill—that those who are elected must make the laws—then does the reverse apply? If it does, how on earth can the primacy of the House of Commons be maintained?
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I have made the point about the primacy of the House of Commons and I stand by it. Of course it is an essential principle of democracy that those who make the law should be
elected and of course it is true that this House makes the law, as we are going to be doing later this afternoon. My noble friend is right. No law becomes law without the agreement of the House of Commons. This afternoon, this law cannot become law without the agreement of the House of Lords.
Lord Williamson of Horton: My Lords, I am aged 78 and I expect personal decomposition before we ever agree on the composition of this House. I welcome what is in the Bill about the independent Members and the statutory commission but I raise one single question. How can the noble Lord the Leader of the House justify the phrase in the Bill that,
“present party political activity or affiliation does not necessarily preclude selection”,
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I think the whole House would agree that the noble Lord looks to be in robust health and I wish him continuation of that for very many long years. The line he takes is the point made by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries. It is our view that non-party political Members will be appointed. There may be a case for saying that former eminent politicians who have no interest in continuing a party political role could be selected by the Statutory Appointments Commission, but it is a statutory commission and not one which is guided by party politicians.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, why did the Government ask Her Majesty the Queen to appoint a record number of new life Peers, all of whom are of course personally very welcome, so that we now have a record number of some 660 life Peers? Why did they do that when they were already planning to reduce us so drastically, perhaps to some 300? What has the Government’s logic been in this process?
Lord Strathclyde: I do not think that there is any difference. We decided there should be a transition arrangement over three parliamentary terms. That will give the existing House, including any new Peers appointed since 2010, the opportunity to remain here until 2025 if they survive that long and if they survive the process of transition.
Lord Howarth of Newport: My Lords, will the Leader of the House reconsider the reply that he gave just now to the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth? Will he accept that there are few, if any, who dispute the principle that those who make the laws of the land should be elected by those to whom the laws apply? But in the interests of ensuring that the Deputy Prime Minister does not mislead the House of Commons or the country, will he undertake to find an opportunity to explain to the Deputy Prime Minister that Members of the present House of Lords do not make the laws of the land but confine themselves to advising those who do—the elected Members of the House of Commons? Therefore, the whole project of this Bill is based on a fallacy, and a dangerous fallacy at that, because it
would confuse and diminish the present clear-cut accountability of the Government to the people through their elected representatives in the House of Commons.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, all I can say is, you could have fooled me. I have seen the noble Lord robustly defend or indeed attack a piece of legislation in this House. But I meet with the Deputy Prime Minister very regularly and I shall draw the noble Lord’s remarks to his attention.
Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: My Lords, what makes the Government think that, if this House is to continue to do what it is doing at present, 300 Members will be sufficient to service the committees and the offices that have to be serviced? I have worked out that 300 would not be nearly enough and that it would take 450 Members to do the job. Would the noble Lord care to comment?
Lord Strathclyde: I am delighted to end on a high note. The noble Lady is entirely correct in her assumption. That was also seen by the noble Lord, Lord Richard. The Government took that advice and there will now be not 300 Members but 450.
Lord Pannick: My Lords, in moving Amendment 117, I shall also speak to Amendments 118, 131 and 132, which address an issue of constitutional concern. The Bill would allow the Lord Chancellor to sit as a member of the appointments commission for the posts of Lord Chief Justice and president of the Supreme Court. The amendments would deny the Lord Chancellor such a role. The amendments are also in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, former chairman of the Judicial Appointments Commission, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, a former Lord Chief Justice, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jay of Paddington,
who is the distinguished chairman of the Constitution Committee, all of whom I am pleased to see in their places.
At present the Lord Chancellor can ask the appointments commission to think again about a proposed appointee, but the Lord Chancellor is not a member of the commission. The Constitutional Reform Act 2005 rightly recognised the need for a clearer separation of powers between the Executive and the judiciary. The change proposed by the Government would regrettably go back on that and it would have substantial disadvantages. First, it would increase the danger of political partiality in the appointment of a senior judge. I recognise, as I am sure will all noble Lords, that the present Lord Chancellor would not contemplate acting in such a manner, but even Mr Kenneth Clarke cannot continue in political life for ever. He is already above the retirement age for judges—a matter that we will be discussing later this afternoon. It would be highly undesirable to give a future Lord Chancellor the power so actively to influence the appointment of the senior judiciary.
The second disadvantage is that the Government’s proposal would undermine the appearance of political independence of the senior judiciary. There is a real danger that a new president of the Supreme Court or a new Lord Chief Justice would be undermined in the eyes of the public by being seen as the Lord Chancellor’s man or the Lord Chancellor’s woman. That would be most regrettable. Appearances matter in this context. There is a third disadvantage, which is that the Judicial Appointments Commission would inevitably find it more difficult to conduct an objective assessment of the rival candidates if it has the Lord Chancellor as one of its members. Indeed, the Bill implicitly recognises the dangers involved because it provides that the Lord Chancellor, if he does sit as a member of the appointments commission, may not chair it. It is unnecessary to give the Lord Chancellor the power to sit on the appointments commission with all the dangers that I have identified.
The Lord Chancellor undoubtedly has a proper interest in the appointments process and needs to work with the Lord Chief Justice. The Lord Chancellor and the Government need to have confidence in the president of the Supreme Court. However, the Lord Chancellor’s and the Government’s interests are fully met by the ability of the Lord Chancellor to be a consultee during the appointment process and by the current position which gives him the right of veto.
Your Lordships’ Constitution Committee, of which I am a member, conducted an inquiry into judicial appointments, on which we reported in March. The conclusion we reached in that report has been repeated in our report on the Bill, which was published on 18 June. In each of those reports, we stated, in relation to the role of the Lord Chancellor in the appointment process that any closer involvement—that is, closer than currently exists,
“risks politicising the process and would undermine the independence of the judiciary”.
Baroness Prashar: My Lords, I endorse the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick. I expressed my concerns about this provision in the Bill at Second Reading, so I will not repeat them this afternoon. However, following the Second Reading debate, the noble Lord, Lord McNally, very kindly copied me into the letter he sent to the noble Baroness, Lady Jay of Paddington, which explains in more detail the Government’s reasoning behind the proposed change. I read it very carefully and I am not convinced by the rationale it advanced. The issue in question is the appropriate involvement and accountability of the Lord Chancellor. In my experience, the current arrangements work fine. If the consideration or rejection of the recommendation is based on clear and sound reasons, this presents no difficulty. Indeed, it helps to concentrate the minds both of the selection panel and the Lord Chancellor. It is very helpful to the parties concerned. Furthermore, the Lord Chancellor has appropriate involvement in the course of the selection process as he is consulted at relevant stages.
Under the proposed changes, the Lord Chancellor might choose to sit on a panel and lose his veto or choose not to sit on the panel in order to retain his veto. On what basis will the Lord Chancellor make that decision? I fear that his decision to sit on the selection panel will raise questions and suspicions which may not be healthy—both for the selection process and for the perception of why the decision has been made. I am therefore concerned both on constitutional and practical grounds. I do not see why we need to disturb the finely crafted balance of accountability and involvement that was arrived at in 2005.
Lord Goodhart: My Lords, the role of the Lord Chancellor is very different from that which existed before the 2005 Act came into effect. We have no certainty at all that future Lord Chancellors will take an equivalent role to that of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, who was an outstandingly strong and determined Lord Chancellor. The role of Lord Chancellor is now entirely different because it is, in effect, as ordinary a role as a Minister of the Government. It is not a role equivalent to that of the Lord Chancellor before the 2005 came into force.
Lord Woolf: My Lords, I agree entirely with what has been said so far about the inappropriateness of altering the Lord Chancellor’s position from that contained in the 2005 Act. I do not propose to repeat the reasons for that, since they have already been given. I will try to identify, however, one or two further reasons why the same conclusion should be reached.
The relationship between Parliament and the judiciary is central to the operation of our constitution and the Lord Chancellor’s ability in the future. I endorse what has been said about the present Lord Chancellor and I recognise his good motives, but the constitution as devised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, and myself, first in the concordat and then in the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, referred specifically to the role of the Lord Chancellor being limited to giving either an affirmative response or applying a veto.
That was done because it needed to be clear beyond peradventure that he had the responsibility of saying no to a recommendation of the Judicial Appointments Commission, if anyone was to do so. Because of that, if he did not exercise that power, the situation would be one where it could not be said afterwards that the Government of the day had not given consent to an appointment which was in fact made.
Secondly, there is a provision in the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 which provides that if the Lord Chancellor decides to exercise his veto, he has to do so openly and give reasons for it. If he is a member of the commission responsible for the appointment, the part that the Lord Chancellor plays will not be known. The experience in other jurisdictions is clear. One of the problems of having an independent appointments commission is that deals will be done. For example, if the Lord Chief Justice and the president are both up for appointment at the same time, it is only human nature for the commission to come to a decision. If the members of the commission do not all agree, they will give the Lord Chancellor either the Lord Chief Justice or the president, as long as they have the other appointment. That would be highly undesirable.
For example, it can be seen clearly in other jurisdictions that the Executive can control what the judiciary does if it can only achieve a senior judge who is sympathetic to its cause. I will cite but one example. One could assign a judge who is regarded as giving unhelpful decisions to parts of the jurisdiction that are unattractive in which to operate. So far, that has not happened here. We do not want to make it easier for it to happen than is the position at the present time.
My final point is this. The amendment must be looked at in conjunction with the amendment we considered on Monday whereby the Lord Chancellor would give up any responsibility for the appointment of the great majority of judges. We are going to have a situation where he does not exercise any powers in regard to a large number of judges and, in addition, he does not openly take an active part in the appointment of very senior judges. I suggest that such a position would be a retrograde one, and therefore the amendment is one that the Committee should look upon favourably.
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I am pleased to follow the noble and learned Lord in the constitutional points that he and others have made in supporting this amendment. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, summed it up very well in his Second Reading speech when he said that if this provision in the Government’s Bill went through, the Lord Chancellor would be in a position of giving advice to himself, which in itself is anomalous, if nothing more.
As other noble Lords have made the constitutional points most effectively, I wonder whether I could raise just an administrative question with the Minister. It seems to me surprising that the Government should propose such a potentially flexibly arrangement for the Lord Chancellor in relation to these very senior appointments as it seems to be the Lord Chancellor’s personal choice whether he takes part in a selection panel or not. As far as I can make out from reading the Bill, this may mean that he decides to sit on appointment body “A” but not on appointment body
“B”. A question arises about the consistency of the appointing panel’s approach. There is also the rather bizarre question about what happens if the Lord Chancellor decides that he will not be a member of that panel and the panel has been constituted, as we understand it, in the legislation. Who replaces him, how is that replacement chosen, and to whom is he responsible? For all the reasons that noble Lords have given, I suggest that this is both constitutionally and administratively inappropriate. That is why I would be very happy to support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, should he ask the Committee to give an opinion on it today.
I make one further point to reinforce the point which the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, was making about the change in the Lord Chancellor’s position. This was confirmed in the hearings that the Constitution Committee held on this matter by the present office-holder himself, the right honourable Kenneth Clarke, when he said:
“I think that we will have a Lord Chancellor who is not a lawyer. The lawyers that we have, including me, will not be as senior and distinguished as they used to be ... A better understanding of my role would be to describe me as Secretary of State for Justice”.
Baroness Butler-Sloss: My Lords, I agree entirely with what has already been said but I wonder whether I might add another point. I refer to a situation where a Lord Chancellor is not a lawyer or a very senior person but perhaps wants to make his mark in the political world and is much more overtly political than the present Lord Chancellor, who is very distinguished in his own right in the law. I ask the Minister to visualise the meeting of the commission. The Lord Chancellor is a member of the commission. He has a role as the Secretary of State for Justice, but he is only a single member among a number of people. Either he is going to be very powerful and he is going to override what everybody else wants, or he is not going to be very powerful, and he is going to be very dissatisfied with not being able to carry the commission with him. Either way would be extraordinarily unsatisfactory for someone who is head of the administration of justice in running the courts and has some responsibility for the judiciary. It is yet another point that leads me to support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick.
Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws: My Lords, I too wish to support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick. I see this part of the Bill as being one of those ideas which starts with good intent but has risks attached to it: it is the law of unintended consequences. I can understand that those who have looked at the appointment of senior judiciary and have seen the absence of women, for example, have thought that perhaps if somebody—the Lord Chancellor—were sitting on that panel, he would be able to represent more vociferously public concerns about the way in which appointments are recreating the same people. I can see that that was the intention of giving a role to the Lord Chancellor in the current appointment procedures.
However, we must be very conscious of the risks. We should be concerned about the way in which this could be detrimental to our constitutional arrangements and could be the beginning of a much more politicised role for the Secretary of State as Lord Chancellor sitting on such committees. I say this because, regarding the slide to such things, we always say, “Oh, it could not happen here”. I have just heard the decision made in Europe today that the new judge to be appointed to the European Court of Human Rights will not be the preferred candidate coming forward from Britain. The person appointed was pushed by the Conservatives in Europe and supported by Russia and Serbia. The best candidate, Ben Emmerson, one of our most distinguished human rights lawyers, did not get that role because of politicking of the ugliest kind. He was considered to be too protective of human rights.
We should be ashamed of what has happened in that appointment process and we should be aware of what happens when politics enters the fray in judicial appointments and how it can often lead to unsatisfactory outcomes. I raise this as a warning because it happens all too easily. The best candidate has been lost to the European Court of Human Rights and it has happened because of an ugly form of politicking.
Baroness Falkner of Margravine: My Lords, I fear that I will be in a minority of one, which is always a rather brave position, but it is important to put another perspective. That is what the House of Lords is very good at, so I rise to put that other perspective.
The Government’s position is essentially about whether the so-called nuclear option is the way forward or, as I would put it, whether the power to reject after the process, or influence, is the right way forward. I should have declared at the outset that I, too, am a member of the Constitution Committee, but I was not a member when its most excellent report on judicial appointments came out earlier this year.
I note the Constitution Committee’s recommendations in this regard. It states that the Lord Chancellor’s inclusion on a selection commission risks politicising the process, an argument which we have heard today. I draw noble Lords’ attention to the text of that report, which shows that the committee’s witnesses were in two camps; it was not a straightforward matter even at the time. There were those who thought that the current system was the only way to preserve the independence of the judiciary and there were those who believed that the political angle was invariably part of the greater balance of considerations. Among those who felt that the Lord Chancellor should have an increased role were Lord Justice Goldring, Jack Straw MP, a former Lord Chancellor, and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Hale.
Even when resisting greater involvement, the Constitution Committee states at paragraph 25 of its report that it is important to maintain the connection between Parliament, the Executive and the judiciary partly so that,
“the government cannot entirely wash their hands of what is happening”—
“and partly to enable the Lord Chancellor better to defend the judges from attack by taking responsibility for the system which appointed them”,
which I believe were the words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer. The issue then is the extent to which the independence of the senior judiciary will be compromised if the Lord Chancellor sits as a non-chairing, non-voting member of the selection commission. We are talking of two instances only. We are talking of the positions of the President of the Supreme Court and the Lord Chief Justice.
Six years to evaluate the current system is a very short time—I am talking about the six years since the Constitutional Reform Act—but, in the longer term, a given Lord Chancellor may wish to exercise the right to reject or ask for reconsideration of a nomination. We also need to remember, in that context, that this Lord Chancellor, whoever he or she may be, will get only one name coming forward. He will not have a choice of three candidates, hierarchically or non-hierarchically ordered, and make a judgment as to which of those two or three might be the best candidate. He will have the very stark choice indeed of exercising the nuclear option—rejection—and I suggest that, as things stand under the Constitutional Reform Act, it would be virtually impossible to exercise that nuclear option. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, himself explained to the House that you have to give your reasons in writing for doing so.
Baroness Prashar: To describe the question of rejection or reconsideration as “the nuclear option” is not really appropriate because it is part of the process. I would use the word influence. In fact, the Lord Chancellor has the opportunity to discuss the process, is consulted at appropriate times during the process and is able to give a view of the kind of person he or she would like. So it is not right to call it a nuclear option. He has the opportunity to be involved and have a say in the process.
Baroness Falkner of Margravine: I am afraid that, unusually, I have to disagree with the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar. It is widely referred to as a nuclear option—we could call it the veto, perhaps, but it is very well known that it is a veto and a very final kind of veto, in that not only does one exercise the veto—if one chooses to do so—but one has to give reasons in writing for arriving at that decision. It is a very tough position to take. The pool from which the candidate would be drawn is so small and so intimately known to one another—the judges of the Supreme Court, for example—that a rejection would be known and would, indeed, indicate a significant level of political interference. It would inevitably get out that a veto had been exercised and people would draw their own inferences as to what had happened. I suggest that that would indicate a huge level of political interference. It would probably leak to the media; there would be wide speculation in and around the legal profession. It would truly be seen, I am afraid, as a nuclear option.
“accountable to Parliament for the overall appointments process”.
Baroness Butler-Sloss: Taking up what the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, said, as I understand it this is not just a question of a name going to a Lord Chancellor who has no idea what has gone on before. If there was to be the slightest doubt that this candidate was not suitable, there would have been enormous discussions at a much earlier stage. It is almost inconceivable that somebody would go forward who was known to have reasons for not being acceptable and unless those reasons are such that the Lord Chancellor felt that he could say that, they ought to have been known already.
This does not work in isolation; the judges and the Lord Chancellor discuss a large number of matters extremely carefully over quite a long time. There is no isolation of the Lord Chancellor and his team from the senior judiciary and the appointments commission which is discussing this. I think that the noble Baroness is assuming that the Lord Chancellor is in an ivory tower, not knowing anything until the name comes to him. That is not the position.
Baroness Falkner of Margravine: I say to the noble and learned Baroness that if that non-transparent process that she describes, which sounds like the old game of clubbing together to fix it all up, is indeed accurate, there should be no reason for the amendment. In that case, if it is all so chummy, why not have the Lord Chancellor sit on the panel?
The power to veto seems to contradict Section 3(6)(a) of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, which places a statutory duty on the Lord Chancellor to defend the independence of the judiciary. Not for the first time, one part of an Act—the duty to defend the independence of the judiciary—sits uneasily with the process as defined. Moreover, the process requires the Lord Chancellor to put his reasons in writing. I have already commented on that. It would be far better in increasing transparency and enhancing accountability for the Lord Chancellor to be a member of the selection commission —listening, participating and evaluating the candidate being questioned, without a veto over the appointment—than, after the fact, disagreeing with the selection commission.
In conclusion, I touch on the point made that either a very powerful Lord Chancellor would sit on the commission panel and influence it to go in the direction that he wanted; or, if the Government got their way, that the Lord Chancellor, having sat on the selection panel, could not persuade the panel of his views on an individual candidate and would be deeply dissatisfied because he did not carry the selection panel with him.
I argue that his potential for dissatisfaction would be greater if he had not exercised the veto and was therefore stuck with someone he found it difficult to work with. In fact, it could be said that he would take greater responsibility for working with a candidate with whom he did not entirely agree if he were on the selection panel and had been overruled. He would have been part of the decision-making, he would have
been there and heard the argument why the majority of the commission wanted to go in a certain direction and would therefore have to suck it and see. On that basis, I have a lot of sympathy with the Government on the amendment.
Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, going back some 25 years, I remember being warned in 1987: “You realise, don’t you, that Mrs Thatcher has never appointed anybody as a High Court judge who has been overtly political?”. I was about to stand for the 1987 election. I stood; I lost for the eighth time; but that did not dissuade me. My point is that then, how the system worked was completely opaque. You did not know what recommendations were being made. You did not know when you had scored a black mark. I recall a close colleague once seeing his file in the Lord Chancellor’s Department, which said in terms that he had fought and lost eight elections as a Liberal candidate—he was so close a colleague that he had been mixed up with me. I am sure that that held him back for a long time from obtaining the appointment that he ultimately did.
I was slightly shocked to hear that we still have a non-transparent system whereby the Lord Chancellor is consulted and becomes involved in the appointment of judges, although there is nothing formal about it. I did not know that. It is opaque. The Bill makes it absolutely transparent that the Lord Chancellor will play a part, and I think it is very good that he should. He should listen to other people who are high in the profession and to what a lay person thinks of a particular appointment. His view may change. I do not think that the Lord Chancellor would necessarily dominate such a selection committee, certainly not if he has a political angle. There may be a toing and froing of views within that committee but we will know that it is happening because he is on it. Consequently it will be a far more satisfactory system than what we have heard is happening now: the Lord Chancellor, without it being in any statute, is involved in some way. That is wrong and I think that the Bill is preferable.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: I was rather appalled by the mischaracterisation by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, of what the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, said. My experience as Lord Chancellor, when not making the appointments, was that I remained regularly in touch with the judiciary. If I had not remained regularly in touch with the judiciary on issues such as the funding of courts and the difficulties that the judges were facing, I would have regarded myself as not performing my job as Lord Chancellor correctly. If you are a Lord Chancellor—or now, Secretary of State for Justice—who does not know the leadership of the judiciary, that would be a very bad thing. Indeed this idea expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford—that it is in some way a sort of secret-sounding basis—is wrong. I am sure that his misunderstanding was not deliberate. He was looking back to a time 20 years ago when he was looking for a position.
Perhaps I may explain why we take that view. The basis of the settlement reached and approved in the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 was that the time had come for the appointment of judges to be clearly depoliticised. The justification for the process that then existed was that although the Lord Chancellor was Labour or Tory and appointed by the Prime Minister, he nevertheless had especial independent roles that made it possible for a political appointment to appoint the judiciary.
We in the then Government took the view, supported by the Liberal Democrats and endorsed by both Houses of Parliament, that in a period of time and a generation where people had to have complete confidence that the judiciary was not being appointed on a political basis, there needed to be a structure in which people would have confidence that you were appointed on your merits as a respected judge. That was the basis of the constitutional settlement reached. Those who considered it in detail were of the view—and I agreed with this view—that the state, the Executive, had to have a stake in the appointment of judges so that there was part of the Executive in Parliament that would defend the system and defend the appointments. That is why the Lord Chancellor has the power to veto some appointments and to reject others.
It is incredibly important for the standing of the judiciary and the separation of powers that that essential separation—that essential constitutional settlement—not be affected. The proposal made by the coalition goes right to the heart of that constitutional settlement. Bringing the Secretary of State into the process would not even have the redeeming feature of the old-style Lord Chancellors, which is that they had an independent role as a judge as well as being a politically appointed Minister. What Ken Clarke said about his role—my noble friend Lady Jay has quoted it—exactly reflects what the constitutional settlement envisaged; namely that he should be a member of the Cabinet with a particular statutory duty as imposed in Section 1, but essentially a political Minister without anything else to distinguish him from other Ministers in the Government. The two roles that we are talking about here are the president of the Supreme Court and the Lord Chief Justice. The president of the Supreme Court is probably the most important judge for the whole of the United Kingdom. The Lord Chief Justice is undoubtedly the most important judge for England and Wales.
The proposal envisages that the commission appointing the president of the Supreme Court should consist of one person who is not legally qualified, one judge of the court, one member of the Judicial Appointments Commission for England and Wales, one for Scotland and one from Northern Ireland, and, if he chooses, the Lord Chancellor. I know Ken Clarke well and admire him greatly. I have absolutely no doubt that, in a group such as that, he would have no difficulty in ensuring that his choice was obtained. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, is shaking his head, but I tell noble Lords that Ken Clarke’s choice would prevail. It would not just be a matter of appearance; it would be a matter of actuality. Go forward in time and imagine someone not of the ethical quality and standard
of Ken Clarke as Lord Chancellor. For example, there is the example given by the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws: “I don’t want the best lawyer; I want the person who is most against the Human Rights Act”. That is a perfectly conceivable position for a Lord Chancellor to take.
The noble Baroness, Lady Falkner of Margravine, says: “Oh well, let’s make it all more transparent”. She was not listening to the detailed evidence given to the Constitution Committee—actually, she may not have been on the committee, so I withdraw my suggestion that she was not listening—about the occasion when my successor specifically objected to the appointment of a particular head of division where he had a veto. I am not going to go into the detail of the case but it was transparent, and the views of the appointment panel eventually prevailed. What was absolutely clear was that there was an independent process judging who was the best among the candidates, with absolutely no political interference of any sort. The Lord Chancellor expressed a view, there was then a discussion that was recorded in correspondence and the original view prevailed—absolute transparency. The noble Baroness suggests, “Oh, let leaks and newspapers provide the transparency”. Sorry, she disagrees; what was being suggested?
Baroness Falkner of Margravine: That is absolutely not what I said; that is a mischaracterisation entirely. I said that if a Lord Chancellor exercised a veto and rejected a candidate and, as he would have to, gave his reasons for doing so in writing, given that it is such a small and intimate community, not only would everyone else know that this had happened but inevitably it would leak into the legal papers. That is what I was saying. I was not saying that the transparency would come from the leak but that huge damage would be done by that happening.
Baroness Falkner of Margravine: Forgive me. I am describing what could potentially happen; I am not saying that that would be transparent. All I am trying to say is that very few vetoes are exercised. There are vetoes in other positions as well—the Prime Minister has the power of veto over several other appointments, for example—but apparently they are seldom used; I could find the figures for the noble and learned Lord. I think that one of the reasons why they are so infrequently used is the damage that it might do if it got out that they had been used.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: I think that there is a misunderstanding here. As I understand it, the noble Baroness is saying that when the veto is used it is kept secret. It is not, so there is no question of gossip. The Lord Chancellor is willing to use that veto where appropriate. I have no problem with that and it does not cause difficulty. In the proposed system, there would be no transparency about the role that the
political Minister had played; indeed, it would be assumed that he or she was the person who had dominated the process. It would profoundly undermine the settlement. At the moment, I can see no benefit from it. I have not had the pleasure and privilege of reading the letter that was sent to the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar. I have heard the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, which was very persuasive in many respects. However, I am unable at the moment to see the basis for departing from a constitutional settlement that is intended to ensure the sanctity of the process. It is an independent process in which one is judged on one’s merits, and it keeps politics out of it except for the exercise of a transparent veto.
Lord Thomas of Gresford: Would the noble and learned Lord not agree that it was not the best moment in the appointment of the judiciary, and that it does appear that political influences were coming into the question of who was to be appointed? Would it not have been better for the difficulties and the problems between the Lord Chancellor and the appointments commission to have been sorted out in a committee, such as that proposed in this Bill?
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: Game, set and match to this side. As I understand it, the noble Lord is asking whether it is so wrong that people might think that political influences have been brought to bear on the appointment, because the Lord Chancellor, performing a constitutional role, says explicitly “I don’t want”, or “I am thinking of vetoing”, the choice that has been made on legal merits. As I understand it, the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, and the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner of Margravine, are saying, “Let’s keep all the political influences secret”. The noble Lord is shaking his head; I am not sure what he has in mind.
Lord Thomas of Gresford: I am not saying that. I am saying that had the Lord Chancellor been able to discuss in a committee—such as that is proposed—the merits of the particular candidate, we would not have had something which did not do the judiciary any good.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: If the Lord Chancellor said “I want this candidate” and persuaded everybody, none of that would have been apparent. People would doubt the independence of the appointment from the political situation, or the political influences on the position. Do not be under any illusion; if the Lord Chancellor proceeds with this proposal, those people who have had dealings with the constitutional settlement will think that he is, without properly understanding it, going against the basis of the constitutional settlement which the noble Lord, Lord McNally, worked so hard to get through. As he said on Monday, the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, was one of the main Liberal Democrat architects of the constitutional settlement, as was, as he also acknowledged on Monday, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf. What on earth is the reason for so undermining the political independence of the judiciary?
that the Minister reconsiders the Government’s position on this, and the Lord Chief Justice’s position. It would be a really bad idea if people thought that a Conservative or Labour Secretary of State for Justice, not the Lord Chancellor, had appointed the Lord Chief Justice and the president of the Supreme Court.
The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord McNally): My Lords, I am grateful to those who have taken part in this, which is an interesting and important debate on a very important constitutional issue. I am not sure that I share the analysis of these proposals. As I said before, the Lord Chancellor is determined to defend the separation of powers and the independence of the judiciary. We are committed to the constitutional settlement that was brought in by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, when he was in office. But, as I said earlier, we are making proposals which, with the passage of time, improve on that settlement. The debate today is part of that.
Interestingly enough, I was flicking through Hansard for Monday evening. The noble and learned Lord is always passionate and eloquent, but he was particularly passionate and eloquent then. He was urging us not to take the Executive out of decisions on appointments in the lower courts. Well, that is what it says.
Lord McNally: Yes. Perhaps the noble and learned Lord would like to turn to column 112 of the Hansard of 25 June when, as I say, he was quite passionately making the case for the Executive being involved.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: Indeed I was. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, was agreeing with me that the way you do it is to have an independent process of appointment which the Executive must endorse, or not, so that there is somebody responsible in Parliament to defend it. Does the noble Lord agree with that approach?
Lord McNally: The noble and learned Lord was saying that the Executive should be kept in the process. The noble and learned Lord is marvellous; he spends half his interventions twisting the words of people who disagree with him, and when anybody tries to put him right, he starts protesting.
Of course the Lord Chancellor is accountable to Parliament. That is central to the settlement. He is responsible to the public for the overall process of judicial appointments and the effective working of the judicial system. It is important, at this very senior level of the judiciary, that as well as possessing first-rate judicial skills, candidates for the leadership roles are alive to the management and administrative issues that affect the administration of justice and are able to work with the Government on developing the system. This is an area where the view of the Lord Chancellor is likely to be of particular importance. This is therefore a legitimate role for the Lord Chancellor to play in the most senior judicial appointment.
Lord McNally: Well, if he is happy to change it, perhaps he will listen to the argument for making just the smallest tweak in the perfect construction that he left for us. That means that it should be balanced appropriately against judicial and lay input into the process. It should respect, as I have said, the independence of the judiciary.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: Lay input is how you get management experience, I agree. What is wrong with the non-legally qualified person, the member of the Northern Ireland commission, the member of the Scottish commission and the member of the English commission? There is a quite substantial balance of lay people already.
Lord McNally: We had a very vigorous discussion about this when we had a second go in front of the Constitution Committee. Looking at those three top jobs—the presidency, the Lord Chief Justice and the Lord Chancellor—I was struck by the fact that it is not just judicial excellence but a whole fingertip interrelationship that makes those three jobs work. That is why the Lord Chancellor is arguing, and I am convinced of this—it is not just a matter of me saying, “The Government believe”—that an input into the selection process at the selection board—
Lord Woolf: I speak as one of the three the Minister refers to. Does he not agree that there is a danger of those three being too cosy? That would be in a situation where they do not feel that they can take a separate line from the Lord Chancellor, who controls the resources and is particularly powerful. All I can say is that if he does take that view, he should remember that my very distinguished predecessor, on one particular occasion, refused to see the Home Secretary of the day and the Home Secretary was deeply offended. That was because he did not think much of that sort of cosiness, which I know to the Minister is very attractive. With my experience, I am bound to say that he is wrong. He should listen; there are times to be cosy and times not to be cosy. That is something that needs to be taken into account.
Lord McNally: This is my problem as a simple lad dealing with these Silks. I have never used the word “cosy” about the relationship. I have had a chance look at the relationship in the last two years; the last way I would describe the relationship between the Lord Chancellor, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Phillips, is “cosy”. It is businesslike; it is working; but it has an interrelationship which I think is important.
Giving the Lord Chancellor a role in these appointments is not new. As has been said, he already has a role in deciding whether to accept or reject the recommendation of a selection panel. The question is, therefore, how should that input be realised? I understand the different views put forward in the debate, but the Government’s view is that, for these two most senior appointments, given their significant role in the
administration of justice, the most appropriate way of achieving this input is to allow the Lord Chancellor to sit on the panels. He can then consider the views of other panel members, submit his own views and engage with the panel members in a meaningful discussion about candidates.
The current system allows the Lord Chancellor to veto a selection panel’s recommendations. This is in itself a major role, but may be viewed as something of a nuclear option—that is what it says in my briefing notes. I think that that option is the one that could only be used in exceptional circumstances and with potentially a heavy price for the relationship with the judiciary and perception of political interference. I do not necessarily agree that these perceptions would be justified, but they are certainly factors which would inhibit the use of the veto. In place of the veto, Schedule 12 provides for a more effective engagement.
A fear has been expressed that this would give the Lord Chancellor disproportionate influence and that the present Lord Chancellor would dominate the proceedings. Perish the thought. Being on the panel, or even having that Lord Chancellor on the panel, would not necessarily mean that the Lord Chancellor would ultimately get his way on the individual appointed, but it would mean that he would have the opportunity to be engaged in the process and make his views known to the other panel members. We are talking about a panel of heavy hitters—a lay chair, plus senior members of the judiciary and appointment commissioners who are strong and independent-minded individuals. They will not simply fall into line with the Lord Chancellor of the day. The Lord Chancellor would have an opportunity to make his case but could also be persuaded of a contrary case by other panel members. However, where the Lord Chancellor does make a persuasive case of the merits of a particular candidate, this could be weighed in the balance in the same way by other panel members.
There are, of course, other possible ways of securing the input of the Lord Chancellor, but we do not consider that any are as effective as our proposal. We could, for example, allow the Lord Chancellor to select a candidate from a shortlist, or through some form of parliamentary hearing. However, we consider that the risk of politicisation of the process from these options is far more acute.
Another option would be to consult the Lord Chancellor at the start of the process. There is nothing wrong with that, but we consider that this is not as effective as having the Lord Chancellor be a member of the panel and be able to put forward his views, listen to the views of others and engage with them in a meaningful way.
Baroness Butler-Sloss: I wonder whether the Minister could answer a point that he has not yet answered, which has been made by several people. There is a perception that if the Lord Chancellor is on the panel, the appointment will be politicised. For those who do not know the process but see that the Lord Chancellor has been one of those who has appointed the Lord Chief Justice, there will be a perception, certainly among lawyers and much more widely, that the Lord
Chancellor has had a very large part to play in making that person the Lord Chief Justice and that it would be the sort of person who would suit him.
Lord McNally: I was about to come to the interventions of the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, and the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar. I do not think that my noble friend Lady Falkner got it wrong at all, despite her being bullied by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: I apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner of Margravine, who I have never thought of as someone who it was possible to bully. However, if the noble Lord, Lord McNally, was under that impression, that just goes to show how wrong perceptions can develop.
Lord McNally: Turning to the other noble Baronesses, to get them going as well, there did seem to be a suggestion of, “Don’t worry, because the present system already has the nudges, nods and winks that will get”—
Baroness Prashar: I do not want to go into detail but, as the noble Lord knows, I had the privilege of being involved in some of these selection processes. When a selection panel is set up, there is a proper, transparent way of consulting at the appropriate time. There were no nudges and nods. In my initial submission, I said that I think that the present system works because, if there is a rejection or a reconsideration, it focuses the mind and is done in an open way. It is the inability of the people to be discreet that muddies the water. It is a most gossip-ridden world. In other worlds, when appointments are made, people respect confidentiality. However, the process was very open and transparent. Therefore, there is no question of nudges and nods.
Lord McNally: If it is such a gossip-ridden world, the better it would be to have the Lord Chancellor fully and transparently in the process. I am afraid that all that one can say is that strong opinions are held.
Baroness Jay of Paddington: I am a non-lawyer who, I am glad to say, was not part of the constitutional settlement in 2005. If the noble Lord described himself disingenuously as a simple lad, I am even worse as a simple laddess. I am trying to get a vision of this construct that the Minister has explained of either my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer or the present holder of the office of Lord Chancellor, the right honourable Kenneth Clarke, being subdued members of a totally egalitarian panel on which the merits of the candidates are discussed in a constructive and totally relaxed way, and the subdued and reticent Lord Chancellor finds himself in a minority. Should the panel recommend that Judge X becomes a member of the Supreme Court, the Lord Chancellor, having been
this subdued and reticent member of the panel, could feel that it is wrong. What, then, are the prospects for effective working between them?
Lord McNally: Quite often in politics, in the law and in other parts of life, one finds oneself working with someone whom you do not particularly like. The difference this time is that there would be no political veto to that committee’s decision. It is worth putting on record that this would be a Lord Chancellor withdrawing his veto from those appointments. Yet, with his silken sophistry, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, implies that this is an extension of political power. It is just the opposite of the extension of political interference.
Lord McNally: It is simply not true, and anyone who is looking at this sees that it is a move away from a politician being able to exercise a veto to a politician transparently taking part in a process. If the Members of this Committee cannot see that, we will presumably withdraw it or take it back.
Lord McNally: I have explained before that this unique triumvirate is very important, and that that is why we have adopted a very distinctive way of making this selection. I am not sure how far I can take the Committee, except perhaps to read from the letter that I wrote to the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, said he had not had the pleasure of sharing. In that letter I said: “At the present the Lord Chancellor decides at the end of the selection process whether to accept or reject the name put forward by the panel or to ask for the panel’s decision to be reconsidered. In practice, under these current arrangements it may be difficult to make use of the veto in these high-profile cases without risking perception of politicisation of the process. This difficulty was acknowledged by Lord Phillips and others in their evidence to your committee”—that is, the committee of the noble Baroness, Lady Jay. “The Government therefore considers that allowing the Lord Chancellor to sit on the panel will enable his accountability to be exercised in a more direct and effective way. You will, of course, be aware that the Lord Chancellor’s involvement as a member of the selection panel was supported in evidence to the Constitutional Committee by both the Lord Chief Justice and the president of the UK Supreme Court”. So I am not isolated in this view.