House of Lords Reform

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:24 pm on 10th January 2002.

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Photo of Lord MacGregor of Pulham Market Lord MacGregor of Pulham Market Conservative 8:24 pm, 10th January 2002

My Lords, since discussions on this subject began in 1997, I am greatly disappointed that so little attention has been given to the role and powers of this place and so much to composition. I very much agree with the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, and my noble friends Lord Baker and Lord King, that those topics should have come first before we looked at composition. I shall say a bit more about powers later if I have time.

The role and powers of the House are highly relevant to its composition. I start, however, with composition, mainly because there is a powerful wind blowing down the corridor in the other place in favour of a wholly or largely elected second Chamber. My noble friend Lord King complimented the Lord Privy Seal on attending nearly all of the debate. So do I. My noble friend said that the noble and learned Lord would have to be a master magician to be able to draw a consensus out of the debate, or even to find much support for the Government. As a bit of a magician myself, I offer him one crumb. I shall be highly unusual in complimenting the Government on a major aspect of the White Paper and supporting them on it.

I am an out-and-out supporter of the supremacy of the House of Commons. I was highly privileged to be a Member there for 27 years. I greatly regret the decline in the power of the House over the executive and the bypassing and steamrollering of the House that has happened particularly in the past five years. I also greatly regret the decline in the esteem in which that House is held. However, those are points for debate another day. I also relish elections. I have been heavily involved in 11 of them, including seven in my own constituency. I in no way move away from the concept of the importance of elections.

However, from that basis and experience, I challenge some of the assumptions and arguments for a wholly or largely elected House. It is too easy to say, somewhat glibly, that in a 21st century democracy only elections confer legitimacy and to cite opinion polls in support of that view. I strongly agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, said. I find it highly interesting that more Liberal Democrat Members have spoken against a wholly or largely elected Chamber than have spoken for it. The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, is the only Liberal Democrat to have spoken powerfully in favour of the idea. I very much agree with some of the arguments that have been put forward from those Benches.