My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the House of Lords Reform Bill, has consented to place her prerogative and interest, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. The rules of the House require me to begin in that way, but it might be more accurate if I were to move that the Bill be now read for the umpteenth time. In fact, this will be the fourth debate that we have had on this, as the Bill is substantially the same as the one that I first introduced way back in July 2007.
I know that this debate has been eagerly anticipated. My noble friend Lord Strathclyde, the Leader of the House, said the other day that the House was looking forward to this debate with "inestimable pleasure". The mind boggles to think what alternative attractions have kept him away on this occasion. On the opposition Benches, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, also said that he looked forward to the debate. I have been wondering about this eager anticipation. I worked out that it is rather like booking to go to a concert where a particularly favourite symphony is to be played. Looking forward to it gives you a pleasurable glow of anticipation at revisiting a favourite work.
However, there is a difference today, as some new Members of your Lordships' House are participating. We look forward in particular to the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, who is a practitioner in these matters. Also, it is a particular pleasure for me to welcome my noble friend Lord Lothian, who is a former constituent of mine, although I do not think that I ever persuaded him to vote for me when he had the capacity to do so. I look forward to hearing what he has to say.
We shall also have the pleasure of hearing from a former Speaker of the House of Commons, the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, and from a former Deputy Prime Minister, my noble and learned friend Lord Howe. Without in any way being disloyal, I hope that the current Deputy Prime Minister will read carefully what he has to say. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, will of course recognise that a symphony is a work of four movements. The Bill that I have introduced consists of four movements-three of which his colleagues, shamelessly and without attribution, adapted in their own way in the constitutional reform Bill introduced by the previous Government. These three proposals were lost in the wash-up.
I begin by saying that this debate is not about whether in future we will have an elected or non-elected House. When I heard the decision of the coalition Government to create an all-party committee to work on a Bill, my original inclination was to say, "Let's drop the Bill and wait for the Government to come forward with their own proposals". We were promised them by Christmas, then January, then February. The latest promise is "early in the new year"-but which year is not specified. I was prevailed on by Members in all parts of the House to proceed with my Bill on the basis that we are getting a little impatient, and that even if the coalition Government's proposals in draft form were to proceed smoothly and to timetable, the earliest moment at which the House could begin to enact them would be late in 2012. In the mean time, members are increasingly concerned that the House goes unreformed.
It is important that we relay to Members in the other place that, contrary to the conventional wisdom, we are not sticks-in-the-mud who are saying that this House is perfect. We are willing to embrace sensible reforms and we are anxious to proceed with them. I was interested the other day to hear one of the new Members opposite, the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, who has a distinguished record of service in the other place, say this:
"When I came to the other place, quite a long time ago, I did not have much time for this place and did not understand it. I thought that this place was undemocratic, illogical, irrational and all the rest of it. That was quite a naive attitude to take and was based on a lack of knowledge of this place".-[Hansard, 16/11/10; col. 740.]
That is quite common in the other place-and I speak from personal experience. Although I led the Liberal Party for 12 years, and therefore had a close association with my opposite number in this place, at the end of that time I still did not understand how the House of Lords worked, even though I was responsible for nominating new Members to it. That is the problem: we have not got across to the other place how we operate. I hope that, by embracing this Bill, we will signal to Members there that we are keen to press on with updating our procedures and composition.
A moment ago, I said that the Bill consisted of four movements. This metaphor has outlived its usefulness, so let us say four substantial sections. The first is the one that the previous Government dropped, which deals with the statutory Appointments Commission. It was not in the Labour Government's Bill, primarily because the phrase "wholly or mainly elected" still applied and they had not made up their minds-any more than the present Government have-whether a future Chamber should be wholly or mainly elected. Of course, were it to be wholly elected, there would be no need for an Appointments Commission. That was the argument of the previous Government. However, I still believe that if we move in future to a mainly elected House, a statutory Appointments Commission will still be required. In the mean time, it will be required until we get to that point. Therefore, my Bill sets out both the composition of the commission, the principles under which it operates, and in particular the important one that the Government of the day, whether they be a single party or a coalition, should not have a majority in this place. That would set it in statute for the first time.
The noble Lord, Lord Jay, who is not with us today but who has spoken on previous occasions, is the chairman of the present Appointments Commission. He supports strongly the idea that the commission should have a statutory basis. One obvious reason for this is provided by the case of Lord Laidlaw, who promised the commission that he would give up his tax exile status if given a peerage, but went back on that. The commission had no power to do anything about it. The case for making the Appointments Commission statutory is strong: that is the first section of my Bill.
The second section brings to an end the by-elections for hereditary peers. These were introduced as a temporary measure in 1997 and were to last for "a couple of years"-that is the phrase that appeared in Hansard. The system has now lasted for nearly a decade and a half. Clearly, it is completely out of date, and while the election of hereditary peers passes muster-just-in the Conservative Party and on the Cross-Benches, the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats view it as a farce. One has perhaps three or four electors and 10 candidates. A Member can be elected to Parliament by something like two votes to one, which makes Old Sarum look like a model of democracy. It is time that this came to an end.
The third section of the Bill deals with the vexed question of whether we should provide for leave of absence or remove those Members who never attend. I will quote from the report of the committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, which states:
"The House currently has before it relevant legislative proposals in the shape of Part 3 of the House of Lords Reform Bill ... introduced by Lord Steel of Aikwood and awaiting Second Reading. Clause 11 of the bill would allow members to apply for permanent leave of absence; clause 12 provides that a member who fails to attend the House during the course of a session should be deemed to have taken permanent leave of absence; clause 13 provides that a person granted permanent leave of absence shall no longer be a member of the House of Lords. A number of members who responded to our consultation reiterated their support-previously expressed in debate on comparable bills introduced by Lord Steel of Aikwood in previous sessions-for the provisions contained in the current Bill".
The committee came to the astonishing conclusion that, in order to deal with the excess numbers in the House, one would need primary legislation. This is the primary legislation: it is here and available, and we would be sensible to adopt it.
The committee does not specify how the proposals would be introduced. It refers to the fact that the House of Lords, by standing order, would have the ability to introduce a scheme, but that it would be up to the Government to devise the equivalent of a silver handshake. In our debate on the proposals of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, my noble friend Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope rightly pointed out that any actuary could provide a simple method of calculating redundancy pay that would benefit the taxpayer and not be an excess burden on them. As far as concerns removing non-attenders, even though they do not occupy space on these Benches, they receive all the papers, some of them have desks and lockers in your Lordships' House, and there is no case for retaining their services. Therefore, the third section of the Bill provides for the first time the capacity for Members to leave this place with dignity and honour after they had given a reasonable amount of service, or after they have reached a certain age.
The fourth and last section is the simplest. It would bring the House of Lords into line with the other place by removing those convicted of offences that carry a sentence of more than one year in prison.
These are the four provisions of the Bill, with which the House is now probably painfully familiar. I will conclude by quoting the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, who spoke in a previous debate. He was responsible for the drafting of this Bill, which has been expertly done. He said that there would be those in the House who regarded the Bill as necessary but entirely insufficient, and others who regarded it as necessary and wholly sufficient. He said that noble Lords could disagree on that, but that the one thing on which they should agree was that it was necessary.
My Lords, the House has had the privilege of hearing my noble friend Lord Steel proposing, supporting and explaining this Bill on a number of occasions. On each occasion, the case becomes clearer. I pay tribute, as I am sure many colleagues do, to the energy, intelligence, integrity and determination with which he has continued to present this case. It has formidable support in this House, which should be taken fully into account by Members of the Government. I do not propose to add anything to what he has said in support of the propositions contained in his Bill because they are all now clearly understood and it is hard to see that any of them are challenged. There has been a curious inertia and unwillingness on the part of both Governments to whom he has presented the case, and it is time that it was accepted.
I therefore propose to address my short remarks to one issue that he did not discuss; namely, the case for or against the arrival of elected Members in this House. The existence of two Houses of Parliament goes way back into history, and it is not quite clear which was on top when, but it is clear that the democratic House that emerged in the late 18th or early 19th century has grown in strength and legitimacy, and nobody now challenges the right of the lower House to override anything that is done in this House.
This House has changed significantly as that has gone on. This House has had the benefit of two steps that increased its legitimacy-if that is not the wrong word. The first was the invention by Harold Macmillan, the distinguished predecessor of the present Prime Minister, of the nominated Peer, which injected stimulating yeast into the existing organisation. The second step was taken by the Government recently in power under the leadership of Prime Minister Blair: the removal, subject to an intelligently struck deal, of the great bulk of the hereditary Peers. Against that background, we now have to proceed as quickly as possible with the implementation of this Bill and finally address whether there should be elected Members. That is why I propose to take a minute or two to talk about that.
One does so on the foundation of the commendation of this House as it presently exists and the identification of the cause for concern about it. The basic proposition is endorsed by the fifth report of the Wright committee in the other place, which I have quoted many times. It is an enthusiastic endorsement of the quality and importance of this House and a warning that it is all too easy to see qualities of that kind disappearing if fashion changes. It is in that context that I quote the current Leader of the House Sir George Young MP when he said that,
"the real contest today is not between the Lords and the Commons but between Parliament and the Executive. In that battle, the two Houses are not rivals but partners".-[Hansard, Commons, 10/1/2002; col. 728.]
That insight was subsequently endorsed by the Wright committee in its fifth report. The presumption that sits uneasily alongside the Wright committee's thinking is 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".
That is the consequence of the link between the Executive and that House through the democratic system. That is what we are dismayed and disturbed about.
If we have both Houses increasingly looking like each other with a large or substantial or growing percentage of elected Members in this House, the difference between them would be destroyed, the superiority of the Commons would increasingly be involved in conflict with this House because the Houses would be growing in strength alongside each other and no good purpose would be served that would enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of this House. That is why the Wright committee, whose report I quoted last time I spoke about this subject, said that there is a need,
"to ensure that the dominance of Parliament by the Executive, including the political Party machines, is reduced and not increased'".
That is essential if we are to get the benefits of the proposals contained in my noble friend's Bill. The second point that the Committee made is:
"The Second Chamber must be 'neither rival nor replica, but genuinely complementary to the Commons' and, therefore, 'as different as possible'".
It is fundamental to the beneficial prospect of what my noble friend is proposing for us to stand firmly upon those propositions. It is not that I have any hostility towards election or democracy. Like many Members of this House, I respect the importance of the other place, but the importance of the other place needs to be liberated from the dominance of the Executive, and one of the agencies through which that can be assisted is the continued independence and difference of this House. It surely cannot make sense for the most fundamental change proposed to the second Chamber-the introduction of elected Members -to be the one most likely to extend the influence of the elected dictatorship that so manifestly provokes disenchantment with the present elected House.
I have dealt only with that one issue. It is not irrelevant to the Bill proposed by my noble friend but is an important foundation for securing its benefits. I enthusiastically endorse the work that my noble friend has done and invite the House to accept the other premise on which that work will be allowed to flourish.
My Lords, another year, another Steel Bill. We should all be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, for his dogged persistence in trying to secure some much needed incremental changes along the road to Lords reform. As ever, it is a well drafted and commendably short Bill, a perfect symphony in four movements, as he said.
The previous time that this Bill had its Second Reading, the noble Lord, Lord Steel, said that it was,
"intended as a spur to the Government, in the hope that they will take over these measures and proceed with them".-[Hansard, 27/2/09; col. 431.]
There was much frustration at that time, and in the following months, because it was felt that the then Government, the Labour Government, were ignoring the important issues raised in debate on the Bill. I pay tribute to my noble friend, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, for a well honed balancing act in response to the debates.
We well understood the critical need for Parts 2, 3 and 4 of the Bill, and the noble Lord was right to say that we did not include a statutory appointments commission because of the ongoing discussion about whether there should be a wholly or partly elected House. Subsequently, these parts were included in key clauses of our Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill. I can already hear the echoes round the Chamber of "too little, too late", but the fact is that those important clauses were part of a Bill that was eventually given Royal Assent. Sadly, the clauses relating to the House of Lords were washed out in the wash-up. We all agree that the wash-up is a complex, untransparent and unsatisfactory process that needs to be examined, but the fact is that if those clauses had survived, we would be in a better place on the issue of further reform of your Lordships' House. The parts of the Steel Bill that we included in our Bill but which were removed on the insistence of the party opposite would, for example, have given us a means of addressing the growing size of the House. Indeed, perhaps the Leader of the House, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, would not have had to set up the retirement group under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral. I am sure that whatever views noble Lords might hold about radical reform, there are few among us who are in are in favour of a House of more than 800 Members, and I believe that shortly we will have 836 Members.
When answering a supplementary question on Wednesday, the noble Lord, Lord McNally, implied that during his period as Prime Minister Tony Blair had added more than 300 Peers to the Labour Benches. It is the case that during his time as Prime Minister Mr Blair created 375 Peers, but fewer than half were Labour Peers. Indeed, as Prime Minister, Mrs Thatcher created a higher proportion of Conservative Peers than Labour. I would ask the Minister to confirm that my figures are correct.
The noble Lord, Lord McNally, said on Wednesday:
"The new appointments since the general election are entirely consistent with the coalition's programme for government, which set out the objective of creating a second Chamber that is reflective of the share of the vote secured by the political parties at the last general election".-[Official Report, 1/12/10; col. 1473.]
Following the noble Lord's worrying comment, can the Minister tell us how many new Peers will be appointed in the future?
The burgeoning size of the House presents us with logistical challenges. For some, it also damages our reputation and opens us to ridicule. Most importantly, it disturbs the balance that has benefited both this House and politics more broadly where no single party has had an overall majority. In the new year, the coalition Government will have a political majority of 72, which means that the role of this House as a revising Chamber is changing profoundly to that of a rubber stamp for policies from the coalition Government, which were not even voted for by the people of this country.
It is no secret that I am currently a member of the Clegg committee that is charged with producing a draft Bill on Lords reform. I have no doubt that this Bill will be published in the spring and it will then go into a joint pre-legislative scrutiny committee, which is the correct way for Bills of constitutional importance to be considered. It is indeed precisely the way in which the Parliamentary Voting Systems and Constituencies Bill should have been considered, and likewise the Fixed-Term Parliaments Bill. I have to say, however, that pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill on Lords reform is likely to take some time. That is not because most people will wish to employ delaying tactics, although some might, but because the issues that have to be addressed are complex and of crucial importance to the governance of this country. An example is the issue of powers and the relationship between the two Houses of Parliament. In looking at these issues, the Joint Committee on Conventions, chaired by my noble friend Lord Cunningham of Felling and approved by all parties in both Houses, rightly concluded:
"Should any firm proposals come forward to change the composition of the House of Lords, the conventions between the Houses would have to be examined again".
I entirely agree with that conclusion, not as a reform refusenik but as someone who wants reform and wants it to work.
I realise that noble Lords, especially those on the Benches opposite, are anxious for reform and would like a Bill to whizz through in 2011 to mark the anniversary of the first Parliament Act. But proper consideration of these complex issues takes time. Hundreds of hours must be spent in discussion in Cabinets, Cabinet committees and working groups trying to find solutions to problems which on the face of it are simple, but as soon as you drill down become seemingly intractable. That is not an excuse for delay, it is the reality. Perhaps that is the attraction of the noble Lord's Bill. It is not just for those who want to retain an appointed but reformed House, but for those who want radical reform and see the provisions in the Bill as an incremental step. Again, I look forward to hearing the views of the Government.
It is, of course, difficult to place a timescale on Lords reform. As I say, we will shortly have a tangible draft Bill, but perhaps some incremental legislation will be necessary in the mean time. For example, as the noble Lord himself suggested, the House of Lords retirement group will conclude that a legislative means is necessary to reduce numbers in this House. In the debate held during the wash-up on the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill, when many noble Lords were frustrated because the clauses on our House had been cut, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said of the clauses on the expulsion and suspension of Members that:
"If we are the next Government, we will certainly wish to find an early opportunity to put this right".-[Hansard, 7/4/10; col. 1610.]
I would be grateful if the Minister could tell us when that early opportunity might be, and in what legislative vehicle.
Sometimes in debates on House of Lords reform there is a perceived tension between those who want radical reform and those who merely want the current House to work better. For instance, the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, suggested in a radio programme on Sunday evening that those of us who want an elected or mainly elected House might not wish to support, for example, an improved committee system in the House because it would weaken the arguments in favour of radical reform. I take this opportunity to say that while I want an elected or partially elected House, I think that this House does a terrific job, but with improved procedures it could do even better. I want us to excel at what we do. That would be good for the Lords, good for Parliament, good for governance and good for democracy.
Naturally I look forward to the maiden speeches of the two noble Lords that we shall hear later in the debate, and I am sure that we will benefit from their wisdom and experience both today and in the future.
My Lords, for my noble friend Lord Steel of Aikwood and perhaps a number of other noble Lords present, this really must feel like "Groundhog Day". With his usual eloquence and good humour, my noble friend has today moved the Second Reading of more or less the same Bill for the fourth time since July 2007, or what he says feel like, "for the umpteenth time". We must all admire his persistence in promoting some good principles in relation to reform of this place, while many of us also hope for the promises made by people in all parties in relation to other reforms of your Lordships' House to be delivered sooner rather than later. We hear a lot in politics about pledges. Today, we should remind ourselves of Mr Asquith's pledge in 1910 to abolish the hereditary principle for membership of this House. One hundred years later, this Bill offers us a further small step towards the eventual implementation of that pledge.
Like many noble lords, I take great pleasure in occasionally being able to show visitors around this place. Sometimes they are parliamentarians from other countries. Often they ask, "How do you become a Lord?". When you begin by explaining that perhaps your ancestors fought with the king in battle hundreds of years ago, or perhaps that they were what have been called "special friends" of the King, these visitors look at you in amazement. Then I find that they ask, "How did you come to be here?". I have to explain that I was appointed on the recommendation of my noble friend Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon. I have to explain that his motive was to keep me working for the election of candidates from my party to the other place and that he did not want me to pursue my ambition to enter what must be called the other place, because that would have prevented me doing my job of electing people from my party to the other place. I tell them that there are three ways in which he could legally have prevented me from standing for election to the other place. I could have been declared insane, I could have been sent to prison, or I could become a Member of your Lordships' House. So I say that I was quite lucky, really, with the route that he pursued.
But visitors to what many consider to be the mother of parliaments simply cannot understand that we either inherit our titles or we are appointed mostly by party leaders. Sometimes I illustrate the progress of reform when I meet visitors in the cloakroom. I can tell them that when I first came here in 1999, there were more than 1,400 Peers and that it was one coat peg between two. With the removal of all but 92 of the hereditary Peers, I can proudly show them that we now have our own coat pegs. But I think that they expect rather more in the way of reform.
This Bill takes some very modest steps towards reform that I believe should command the greatest degree of consensus. There is possibly nobody in this country who has loved by-elections more than I have over the past 30 years. But the farcical process we have in this House of holding by-elections to elect hereditary Peers brings the House into disrepute. These by-elections have little more resemblance to democracy than the campaign run by Lord Blackadder when he ran the by-election campaign to elect Baldrick in the rotten borough of Dunny-on-the-Wold, where Blackadder was the only elector.
In the new year of 2011 we will see a draft Bill for fundamental reform of your Lordships' House, and I believe that we will see a Bill for reform of this House included in the Queens Speech in May 2012. Then we will see the first Members elected to it by 2015. If a new House becomes fully elected, then, as my noble friend Lord Steel of Aikwood, said, there will be no need for an appointments commission along the lines put forward in this Bill. But if there is a non-elected element, I believe that this proposal has much to commend it, and I hope in particular that such a commission would help to ensure that there is proper regard to the need for diversity in any new House. The proposal to end the by-elections for hereditary Peers may make us a little less subject to ridicule in future. This proposal was, of course, in the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill of the previous Parliament.
Those in your Lordships' House who have become my noble friends as a result of the coalition may care to explain today why this sensible measure and other measures were blocked in the rather absurd process of the so-called "wash-up" of legislation at the end of the previous Parliament. As the noble Baroness, Lady Royall of Blaisdon, said, it could and should have been agreed at that point.
Provision to exclude Members who never attend is simply common sense. There is provision for members of local authorities to be excluded from membership of them if they fail to attend council meetings, without good reason, for six months. If Members of your Lordships' House break the law in serious ways, then, just as for Members of the other place, they should cease in future to be law makers.
The provisions in the Bill should have been passed some years ago. However, much more substantial reform must follow if we are to be able to say to visitors in future that we have a democratic system in this country of which we can all be proud.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Steel, on his tenacious efforts to reform this House. His Bill does so in a way that would improve our role as a revising Chamber without tearing up the constitution and turning us into a second rate version of the House of Commons. Unfortunately, the noble Lord's party leader, the Deputy Prime Minister, favours the destruction of this House and his Cabinet remit includes the complex subject of constitutional change.
On taking office, Mr Clegg expressed his irritation at our continued existence. Indeed, he admitted his impatience at his first appearance as a coalition Minister at the Dispatch Box in June. He said then that Lords reform was more than,
"100 years overdue", and that,
"People have been talking about Lords reform for more than a century".
He went on to say:
"The time for talk is over".-[Hansard, Commons, 7/6/10; col. 48.]
I do not wish to be uncharitable. Mr Clegg has heavy responsibilities and was propelled into high office, in unusual circumstances, at a time of economic crisis. Even so, he should know better than to declare that time is up on Lords reform before we have seen a word of the draft legislation to replace this House from the cross-party committee that he chairs.
In June, he promised we would see the committee's proposals by the end of the year; now we hear we must wait until the spring. Until then, Parliament is denied access to his committee's agenda and minutes and we on the Cross Benches, those on the Back Benches of the three main parties and the bishops are excluded from its deliberations. As far as I am concerned, it is a cabal. So let us hear no more about the Government's determination to "push through" the reform of this House. "Push through" are Mr Clegg's words, not mine; they come from his statement in June. He may push as hard as he likes but there are many in your Lordships' House who will not be pushed into submission.
The Deputy Prime Minister talks as if this House has been set in aspic since Mr Asquith was Prime Minister. Does he not realise that it has been in a state of continual change for many decades, as we have already heard? Also, does he not understand that we are eager to accept further changes provided they make sense, as the noble Lord, Lord Steel, and many of your Lordships throughout these debates have made clear? This Bill offers an excellent way forward; an elected Chamber rivalling the Commons does not. The longer the debate about our future continues, the stronger our case becomes.
This weekend, the Parliament Channel will broadcast a televised debate on Lords reform, which I and many of your Lordships attended. To my delight, Shami Chakrabarti, the director of the human rights body Liberty, gave us a ringing endorsement. She said that the Government should not tinker with part of the constitution without regard to what happens to the rest of it. Those are wise words. She believes that the courts would become more powerful without us, and I agree. We already have a Supreme Court across the way; if we want an American-style Supreme Court, the Government are going the right way about it. Mrs Chakrabarti also praised this House for protecting vulnerable minorities and fundamental rights and freedoms. Britain, she said, would be "a lot less free today" without us. Does Mr Clegg seriously dispute it? Does the Prime Minister not understand the damage that the destruction of this House would cause under the spurious guise of greater democracy?
The Americans have an apt phrase for my advice to the Government: they should "get real" about this place. We do not live in another world as our blinkered critics would have us believe; we do not hanker for the faded aristocratic glories of past centuries-when I leave here, I get the No. 11 bus home. Mr Clegg, not us, is out of date when he talks about 1911. It is a smokescreen for packing this House with new Peers on a scale never before known.
Let us consider the recent intakes that have been referred to. The three main parties have gained 105 new Peers in the past six months, with the coalition taking the lion's share. It will not stop there unless better counsels prevail. Meg Russell of the UCL's constitution unit reckons that the Conservatives need another 86 new Peers and the Liberal Democrats another 99 before this House fully reflects the way people voted in the last election-and that is conditional on Labour's strength being frozen for the remainder of this Parliament.
The scale of what is happening is astonishing. When the latest intake has taken the oath, this House will have more than 800 Members-assuming that those of us who are already here survive this winter. That is our biggest membership since hereditary Peers lost their right to sit here 11 years ago. It is already an absurd number. Meg Russell estimates that the Government will need to increase our numbers to nearly 1,000 if they want to get control of this place before the next election. It will be unmanageable. It will cost more and we shall lose the country's respect. When families in our country are called upon to make sacrifices to pay off the national debt, surely the last thing we need is a Chamber of 1,000 Peers or anywhere near that number.
I urge the Government to think again. Forget party dogmas. Britain's freedoms are at stake. I warmly support the Bill as a more responsible way forward for us all.
My Lords, it is with a certain trepidation that I rise today to address your Lordships' House for the first time. After 36 years, on and off, in the other place, I have come to know and respect the great fount of wisdom and experience that resides within this Chamber. I am therefore hesitant to trespass upon it, and today I will not do so for long.
I have been very touched by the welcome that I have received in this House since my introduction. I find myself here in somewhat unusual circumstances. Following the House of Lords Act 1999, I was the second hereditary Peer to be able on his father's death to continue to hold a seat in the other place without renouncing my peerage. Thus, I think that I am the first hereditary Peer from the other place to be created a life Peer in this House. This is a strange, and certainly unintended, anomaly arising from that legislation.
I was first elected to Parliament in February 1974, since when I have represented seats in Scotland and Wiltshire. I was lucky to hold ministerial office in the Administrations of both the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, and Sir John Major, latterly at the heart of the peace process negotiations in Northern Ireland. Subsequently, I was the chairman of my party, shadow Foreign Secretary and deputy leader of the Opposition in what I affectionately call the midnight watches of my party's recent history.
I realise that I must not be controversial today. Luckily, we are debating the principle rather than the substance of this interesting Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, so I can avoid becoming embroiled at this stage in its details. I have long been involved in debates on the future of this House. I have generally resisted change but not because change was not needed; it is in the nature of the development of human institutions that change is not only necessary but inevitable. My objections have usually been to the reasons for change, which have too often been advanced not out of necessity but from political ideology or partisan expedience. I note what the noble Lord, Lord Steel, said about the necessity of the Bill.
I wish today to set out what I believe should be the basic criteria against which any proposals for reform of this House should be judged. First, reform should never challenge the democratically mandated authority of the other place. While that is not an issue in this Bill, it could be significant in any future legislation that seeks democratically to elect either in whole or in part your Lordships' House.
Secondly, reform should always seek to enhance rather than diminish the ability of this House to hold the Government of the day to account. It is hard for the other place ever effectively to do so, because, by definition, the Government have the support of the majority in the other place and only in exceptional circumstances can the Government fail to have their way. That is why the inherent and indisputable value of your Lordships' House is that it can, and does, both hold the Executive to account and suggest to it in the most courteous way to go away and think again.
Accountability is a key element in any healthy democratic system, and in ours it is this House that can truly provide that. Any reform that weakens that role does our democratic system no favours. Equally, any reform that seeks to create of this House a political echo of the other place, with a loyal and in-built government majority, not only dilutes the ability of this House to deliver accountability but reduces, if not eliminates, its ability to ask the Executive of the day to think again. In securing reform, it is vital that nothing is done that would reduce the breadth and depth of experience and expertise that epitomise this House.
However, the greatest strength of this House in my political lifetime has been the indefinable spirit of independence which, whatever its political make-up, has allowed the House to challenge the presumption of the Government of the day. In my experience, government reactions have usually been of irritation, but they are often followed by a realisation that something outside what the late Lord Hailsham of Marylebone called "the elected dictatorship" has spoken in the best interests of the nation. In my humble view, reform of your Lordships' House should always seek to enhance rather than diminish that spirit.
I finish by reiterating the belief, which I expressed in my valedictory speech in the other place, that the greatest obligation of public service is stewardship: namely, to leave to those who come after us that which we received from those who went before us in as good a state, if not better, than we received it. I reflected ruefully on that occasion that in my political lifetime our score in this regard was not impressive. Within that concept of stewardship, reforms should address not so much how they will affect us today but what improvements they will bring for those who come after us. Stewardship must apply not only in what we do to our environment, our economy and our society but in what we do to our constitution.
My Lords, it is a great privilege and an honour to follow the maiden speech of the noble Marquess, Lord Lothian. As expected, it was superb. This House is renowned for having distinguished individuals who are the best of the best in their fields, with oceans of experience. In Michael Ancram, we are truly fortunate to have a distinguished lawyer, a Queen's Counsel and, as he has told us, a former chairman of the Conservative Party, a former shadow Secretary of State for Defence and a former shadow Foreign Secretary. He was also a Minister. He fought, lost and won parliamentary seats on many occasions. In fact, he first tried for West Lothian and did not succeed, but he won East Lothian. Then, he may not quite have become Prime Minister himself, but he defeated the future Prime Minister Gordon Brown to win Edinburgh South. He is a true politician's politician, who has bounced back time and again and never given up, and always with a smile. As Nelson Mandela said,
"The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall".
Many of us know that the noble Marquess is an accomplished musician who has often played his guitar in front of thousands at Conservative Party conferences. I am afraid that we could not break with 800 years of tradition and allow him to use a guitar to accompany his maiden speech, but he will certainly be music to our ears over the coming years.
Next year, we celebrate the centenary of the Parliament Act 1911. A hundred years ago, it was decided firmly to establish the supremacy of the House of Commons. Since then, as the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, said, we have had evolution, not revolution. Arguably, the House of Lords operates more effectively today than it has ever done. Whenever we debate the reform of the House of Lords, we tend to focus on its legislative role, but our role is much wider. The House of Lords is defined on our parliamentary website as:
"A forum of expertise, making laws and providing scrutiny of Government".
We are a check and balance on the other place. There is no question that, during the past 100 years, there has been evolution in the other place as well, but that has unfortunately created a House of Commons where career politicians predominate, many of whom have had no careers outside politics.
It is amazing that the breadth and depth of expertise of Members of this House, particularly, I am proud to say, among the Cross-Benchers, give this House the ability and the capacity authoritatively to scrutinise legislation every day and challenge the Government of the day, whether that be in our debates, our daily Questions, our Statements or our hugely respected committees. That is the guardianship role of the House of Lords, and it is done at a quarter of the cost of the other place.
There is no question about the fact that many accuse our democracy and our elections of creating, as we have heard from our maiden speaker, elected dictatorships. Many feel that the Government have become too powerful. Many feel that the Government of the day, though the whipping system, can always have their own way due to the majority that they hold in the House of Commons, as the noble Marquess, Lord Lothian, has pointed out. I remember from my days in the Cambridge Union the classic motion that we debated at least once a year: "That this house has no confidence in Her Majesty's Government". In the real world, how often do the Government lose a vote of confidence? You can count the number of times that it has happened. Who is there credibly to challenge the power of government? The role of the House of Lords is to do that in a way that is independent and with an objective frame of mind.
I admire the noble Lord, Lord Steel, for persevering with this Bill-this may be the nth time lucky. The reforms that he suggests are certainly worthy of consideration, in particular the proposal to make the House of Lords Appointments Commission statutory. However, most important, this Bill is about evolution, not revolution.
As your Lordships know, a debate was arranged last week by the independent Cross-Bench Peers-I thank our Convenor, the noble Baroness, Lady D' Souza, and her team for that-at the Royal Opera House with Intelligence Squared. At the beginning of what was a public debate, the chairman, Nik Gowing, took a show of hands on the audience's views on the motion, "That an elected House of Lords will be bad for British democracy". The show of hands at the beginning could be divided roughly into thirds-for, against and undecided-although there may have been a little bias towards those in favour of the motion. At the end of the debate, after several speakers and questions, the chair's conclusion was that the show of hands had moved towards the motion. Time and again, whenever I have conducted my own straw polls of members of the public, I have found that they initially say that they prefer an elected House of Lords, because it feels and sounds more democratic, but when you explain the role, function and composition of the House, they invariably change their minds and prefer for it to stay appointed. That is exactly what happened in the Royal Opera House debate last week, in spite of superb contributions from the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, who surprisingly said that the House of Lords was toothless. If we are toothless, why are 40 per cent of our amendments accepted by the House of Commons?
It is clear that we have not thought through clearly the aftermath of a decision to have an elected or partially elected House of Lords. There is no question that there would be needless duplication, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, said. There would be conflict with the Commons and there might even be, as was pointed out by Professor Vernon Bogdanor at the Royal Opera House debate, deadlock and gridlock between the two Houses, as has happened in Australia. There is no way that the House of Lords, if elected, would settle for less power than the House of Commons. If an elected second Chamber were to materialise, we would almost definitely end up with a written constitution and an appointed Supreme Court. We already have such a court, but as in the United States the Supreme Court would then have strike-down powers. In such an instance, what would we clamour for next? Elected judges in the Supreme Court? What is more, do we want to vanish into anonymity via the route of proportional representation, as has been suggested, in the European mould? As I have said before, how many members of the public know their MEPs? The MEPs are out of touch with their constituencies and their constituents. This is a road to ruin, not the road to reform. Do we really want to become House of Commons-lite?
This country is unique in not having a written constitution, but our democracy has evolved over centuries. We are regarded as the mother of Parliaments around the world and, regardless of all the scandals, we are still one of the most respected Parliaments in the world. We do not have to copy anyone. Let us not throw the baby out with the bath water; let us, as the Bill suggests, strengthen our appointments system, our independence, our expertise and our ability fearlessly and unwaveringly to question, challenge and hold to account the Government of the day every day.
To conclude, I am really proud to serve as a Member of this House. It brings out the best in Britain, and this House is the best for Britain. We are in many ways the guardian of the nation. This unelected Chamber is, ironically, the cornerstone of our democracy. Only through evolution, not revolution, will we able to continue to protect the fairness, justice, freedom and liberty of our great nation.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, for the way in which he moved his Bill again. I get closer and closer to some of his arguments. As I look down the speakers list, I see that out of the 25 speakers probably six or seven of us believe that the Bill is insufficient. I have spoken from that position on previous occasions when we have had the Bill before us, and I continue to do so, but I shall try to be positive to a degree because I recognise that there is much in the Bill that needs to be addressed by the Government if they intend to move forward with proposals that would remedy the deficiency in the Bill as I see it.
I make the point for the record, so that nobody says that noble Lords have not spoken for an elected Chamber, that some of us still believe in standing by party-political manifestos. I know that that may not be particularly fashionable in some quarters these days, but I believe in that. All the parties went to the British electorate at the last election with the very clear mandate that they wanted to reform the House of Lords and, in so doing, wanted to move towards a more democratic and accountable House than we have at the moment. I stand by that. I believe that if we are to build and restore trust with the public, there are a number of areas in which we can do that-and one in particular is by standing by manifesto commitments. Those who do not will suffer in due course, I believe. I wrote my notes at midnight last night and wrote some rather harsh things about some of our friends on the Lib Dem Benches which I shall not repeat today. But I believe that it is an important factor in the nature of the relationship between Parliament and the public.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, went through the history of how the House has changed. It is worth recalling that there has been a considerable change in attitude in the House of Commons to its relationship with this House since the 1990s. We have seen a whole series of attempts to affect change, but among the major changes that have taken place in the other place has been a move towards a majority in favour of an elected Chamber, although I am not certain whether it is wholly elected or partially elected. But that is a big change. If we believe in the supremacy in the Commons, we should take note of it-but, more particularly, we should take note of the votes that have been taken there, because never has there been anything like a majority vote in favour of a wholly appointed House. There is no indication at all that there is any support for that.
I move to one question that I need resolving fairly soon from the Government. Are we going to have a wholly elected House in the draft Bill that will come before us, or will we have a partially elected House with 20 per cent coming in by appointment and perhaps to the Cross Benches? If we are, that would answer many of the arguments that have been advanced so far against the way in which the quality of the House will be undermined if we move towards elections. I should like to have a response on that.
There is much merit in the major points made in the Bill. Yes, we need to have a change on hereditary Peers, and I believe that a majority here are in favour of that. Yes, we need a change on the leave of absence or retirement policy. Then there is what we do with people who commit certain acts and may be sent to prison. Yes, we need a change on that front.
Then we come to the major issue-the statutory appointments committee. I share the view that we need to move toward one, particularly if we have the 20 per cent appointed under the arrangements that may come this way. Does the noble Lord, Lord Steel, believe that what he has proposed so far is sufficiently open and transparent on the basis of the commission that he has advanced to date? We are now seeing the Commons call into account some of the appointments made to public bodies by the Government of the day. I think that we will find ourselves in a very strange position. We see a change recently by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who is now saying of the committee of which the noble Lord, Lord Butler, was chair that in future the House of Commons will have a right to veto who is appointed to the committee that will deal with budgetary control. It would be strange if we moved to set up a statutory committee to make appointments in this House that was done like the Star Chamber-in secret, with no access. We made the point about Lord Laidlaw, who made promises. Promises of that nature, when a committee requires people to give commitments, should be made in the public domain and be accessible by the public and be open to question by the public, rather than being done in secret, with debates afterwards about the nature of the exchanges that have taken place between people seeking to come into the House under this commission. Would the noble Lord, Lord Steel, consider the possibility that we might move more towards the kind of arrangements that they have in the United States, where congressional sessions are able to address in the public domain candidates for a particular post? They can see precisely where they stand and what they are prepared to do in future. That would be an important point worth considering and, one would hope, acceptable to most of the people interested in this. That is a positive change that we could look to in future.
I come back to the work that is being done. The noble Lord, Lord Wills, will speak later. He missed the brief Question that we had earlier this week-the discussion on the Lords-when we talked about how the conventions will be addressed. I have been pressing this for quite some time, but I have been told that I must wait. Had I had the opportunity of coming in earlier in the week, I would have asked the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, why if the previous Government under the Prime Ministership of Gordon Brown were able to set up a committee to do work on the conventions that was disbanded only when we came to the general election, and why if the Members of this Government saw the need for that work to be undertaken, are they now arguing that it does not need to be done until we have the draft Bill before us? The noble Lord, Lord Wills, asked that question, and as yet we have not had an answer, so I would be grateful if the Minister could give a response today.
My Lords, I begin my remarks with how much I welcome the maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Lothian, who spoke to us a few moments ago. I had the privilege of serving with the noble Marquess in the Administration of the then Mrs Thatcher. I also had the privilege of serving in your Lordships' House when his father was a Member here a number of years ago, and I very much welcome his arrival here now.
This is the fourth time-is it?-that my noble friend Lord Steel has introduced a Bill along these lines, but I am sorry to say that his Bill is no more timely now than it was on the previous occasions. That said, I do not necessarily quarrel profoundly with some of its provisions, although I have some detailed points to make. I am not against reform of your Lordships' House per se and I am looking forward to the government Bill coming forward in draft, as we now hear that it will next year. However, why are some of your Lordships, such as my noble and learned friend Lord Howe and the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, so opposed to the concept of an elected House? While I recognise the potential difficulties, which have been described, they seem to me to have been overcome with considerable success in the United States, for example. I will not dwell on the differences now, but that model is one which I must confess that I am attracted to.
I shall now refer briefly to some of the provisions in my noble friend's Bill which may need further clarification, amplification or even revision. The noble Lord refers to a new Appointments Commission; of course we already have an informal Appointments Commission appointing the so-called people's Peers. It seems to have worked comparatively well. It leaves the Prime Minister able to make his own appointments, if he so chooses, while allowing the appointment of people whom we very much welcome in your Lordships' House: for example, the retired Chief of the Defence Staff, who generally comes here as a matter of course. That is not part of any formal commission, which I suppose would be the case if these provisions became law.
I shall also refer to the question of the hereditary Peer by-elections, as your Lordships would no doubt expect. I need to remind your Lordships that the 1999 Act was passed with the concurrence of the then hereditary Peers in this House, who had a majority and who could have opposed the Bill and prevented it from passing at that time. No doubt it could then have been passed by the Parliament Act, had that been thought necessary, but it was definitely thought that that was too difficult and that a deal therefore had to be struck. A deal was struck that allowed the 92 hereditary Peers to remain, including the by-elections, which were to remain until House of Lords reform was complete. I am happy to accept that undertaking, which was given at the time and which has been repeated by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, on at least one occasion and, indeed, by my noble friend Lord Strathclyde.
I put it to your Lordships that the by-elections should remain as part of the deal-the undertaking that was given to secure the passage of the 1999 Act-and that when House of Lords reform is complete, the by-elections will cease. That is well understood. Incidentally, I am looking forward to hearing about the grandfather arrangements that my noble friend Lord Strathclyde has referred to. However, I dare say that they will not include by-elections and I shall not be insisting that they do. Sooner or later, the hereditary Peers will, I fear, be on their way but not, I suggest, under the provisions proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Steel.
The noble Lord proposes in his Bill some statutory arrangements for leave of absence. I am not in favour of those but I would not oppose some more rigorous arrangements of an informal kind for leave of absence. For example, Peers could automatically be considered to have taken leave of absence if they did not appear for an extended period of, perhaps, six months or a year, or it may be that the Clerk should write to them at the end of the year, asking, "You have not been for a whole year. Would you like leave of absence?" or something of that nature. However, I am not in favour of statutory arrangements.
I understand what my noble friend is saying. I am thinking-I confess that I need to apply more thought to it-of some more informal arrangement where Peers could be persuaded to take leave of absence as a matter of course if they did not appear for an extended period.
I did have a problem with one aspect to which the noble Lord referred. I think that he mentioned some silver handshake arrangements. That will cause me very considerable difficulty because, in 1999, there were no silver handshakes and 600 Members of your Lordships' House went without as much as a penny. It would therefore be very difficult to introduce a new silver handshake arrangement if that was what was now proposed. The noble Lord also referred to arrangements for Peers to be removed or disqualified for serious misbehaviour. It is very difficult for anybody to quarrel with such arrangements or provisions although I point out that recently, when there were some serious allegations against certain noble Lords, the matter was dealt with very effectively without any new legislation. I hope that that, too, can be borne in mind.
I make the general point that a Private Member's Bill-no matter how distinguished the proposal, if I may say so-is not really the way to introduce major reforms of a constitutional kind. I am therefore, as I say, looking forward to the Government's Bill coming forward. It will, of course, receive our very close attention. We will be moving into a Committee stage soon and I dare say that I shall have some suggestions to make to this Bill when that time comes. In the mean time, I can do no more than say how much I am looking forward to the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy.
My Lords, it is a pleasure and an honour to join your Lordships' House. It is a pleasure because of the immense kindness already shown to me in abundance by all who legislate and work here, and it is an honour to be able to work here with so many of your Lordships who I have greatly admired, first, as a journalist writing about government and, later, as an outside observer of the British constitution from my academic home in the school of history at Queen Mary, University of London.
I have long had a fascination for the hidden wiring and the moving parts of our constitution, and now I find myself a small new particle of a very big and significant part of the British constitution-your Lordships' House. The fascination began almost 44 years ago on an autumn evening in the library of St John's College, Cambridge, where I spent my undergraduate years. What triggered it? My first reading of Walter Bagehot's 1867 classic, The English Constitution, a magnificent work, brimming with brio and insight into this most ethereal of governing phenomena. Finding the British constitution has been, in one professional guise or another, an elusive quest for me ever since that evening in Cambridge-a fascination, I have to confess, that has not always been fully understood by less than empathetic colleagues and friends, who tend to see in it a dash of the young trainspotter that I was in the glorious days of steam.
In the context of today's debate, it is intriguing and, I think, useful to plunder Bagehot's chapter on the House of Lords, even though it was written in the mid-19th century, and I shall come to that in a moment. On the theme of utility, it is sometimes only in long historical perspectives that we can discern the retrospective work of your Lordships' House. For example, it turned out to be the prefect receptacle when our country mercifully shed its habit of executing those it had come to regard as failed politicians. I made this point a couple of weeks ago to the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, when we were companions on a journey returning from the University of Aberystwyth. We partly filled the long slog home across mid-Wales by contemplating the value of your Lordships' House and what might await in future. The noble Lord responded to my historical depiction of the House of Lords as an alternative to execution, and I have his kind permission to relay our conversation, by saying that he had made a similar point to the Russians while on a visit in his capacity as Secretary-General of NATO a decade or so after the Cold War had ended. He told his hosts that what Communist Russia had lacked was a House of Lords of its own into which it could have decanted the likes of Leonid Brezhnev. "If you had possessed such an institution," the noble Lord told the Russians, "you might still have a Soviet Union".
Back to the real thing, though: your Lordships' House. In 1867, Bagehot saw it as a Chamber of,
"temporary rejectors and palpable alterers", of draft legislation. It was imperative, he wrote, that the House should contain a "class of respected revisers". He regretted that Lord Palmerston's proposal for the appointment of life Peers had been rejected, and warned that without such an infusion of persons with professional knowledge and experience, the House of Lords could find itself in peril. He wrote:
"Its danger is not in assassination, but atrophy; not abolition, but decline".
It took another 91 years before Bagehot's prescription was fulfilled with the passage of the Life Peerages Act 1958, almost certainly the most transforming incremental reform of your Lordships' House in its long history, with a powerful and cumulative effect that has made it what it is today-Bagehot's House of respected revisers. That, in my judgment, is the crucial test to be applied to any of the new configurations of your Lordships' House that may be proposed: could the Members of a reformed Chamber still be seen as respected revisers?
I was once in favour of an elected Chamber-a British senate of 100 legislators, elected on the basis of proportional representation by huge constituencies that embraced city, town and countryside, with one-third up for election or re-election every five years. I have changed my mind; indeed, it would have been improper to have applied for appointment to the Cross Benches of your Lordships' House if I had not. There are two chief reasons why I have changed my mind. First, there is the high and continuing utility of having a group of people somewhere in the legislative process who are sensitive to politics and government but are not themselves partisan in a party-political sense. Secondly, in most trades, crafts, professions and walks of life, we are ever keener to widen the confluence of backgrounds, knowledge and experience when recruiting. In my judgment, appointment rather than election will remain the best and primary instrument for achieving this if it is a goal that we share.
Quite apart from election, which would create the danger of a replica Chamber that, by its very existence, would promptly inspire a tussle in terms of relative power with the other place, it is very difficult to imagine that elections would sustain the flow of experience and knowledge that the appointments system provides for your Lordships' House, especially regarding those with a background in science and technology, business and industry. To rise in the other place, you need first to make your way there in your 30s or early 40s. With the best will in the world, that is usually too soon and too young to have acquired fully professional depth in the laboratory or the boardroom.
I know that undue controversy has no place in a maiden speech, and horizon-scanning is a perilous craft. I hope, however, that your Lordships will allow me a concluding thought on the Bill before us. Once we have seen a debate on the coalition Government's proposals on reform of your Lordships' House and they contain, as we expect, a dominant element of election in them, if the two Houses of Parliament find that they cannot reach a consensus on a new DNA for the revising Chamber, and if in the approaching twilight of their term the coalition Government are unwilling to reach for the Parliament Act, we have in the House of Lords Reform Bill in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, a rational, valuable and relatively readily implementable alternative for worthwhile improvement that cuts with the grain of past changes-a means, in short, of effecting organic reforms as an alternative surgery.
Much of the British constitution remains unwritten, though a good deal of it, since I first read Bagehot in 1966, has moved from the back of an envelope to the front of a code and then to the face of an Act of Parliament. I have in mind particularly the Civil Service element in the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010. Yet much remains as magical and mysterious as when Bagehot picked up his pen to describe what he saw.
Constitutional statutes, when they are drafted and brought forward, are, in effect, the Companies Acts of the British way of government. They are often what Bagehot called the "latent part of legislation", laden with unanticipated implications for other parts of the British constitution and dripping with the possibility of unintended consequences. Their scrutiny calls for the most special care.
My Lords, it is not very often that I get the privilege of following a maiden speaker in your Lordships' House and to be given the opportunity to pay a tribute to him. It is even rarer to follow a new Member of such exceptional talent and distinction as the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield.
The noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, is known to all of us as a broadcaster and writer; and, in the case of my noble friend Lady Hayter, as her PhD supervisor. For 20 years he was a journalist, working as a leader writer and Whitehall correspondent on the Times, and lobby correspondent on the Financial Times. We listened to him as the presenter of the "Analysis" programme on Radio 4.
In 1992 he joined the department of history at Queen Mary in the University of London and, since 2001, has been the Attlee Professor of Contemporary British History. In 2008 he won the Times Higher Education's lifetime achievement award, when he was described by the acting principal as,
"an inspiration to all those students fortunate enough to have been taught by him and a hugely supportive colleague. He has the unusual combination of intellectual rigour and media know-how, which he exercises to full advantage as an independent critic of the government and establishment".
The Guardian, in a leader column in 2007, said:
"Prof Hennessy is not like anybody else ... He is simultaneously both scholar and journalist, traditionalist and radical, conservative and liberal, patriot and subversive".
We have just listened to a brilliant maiden speech full of humour. I am sure that I speak for the whole House when I say that we look forward to hearing from him many, many times in the future, especially when we are debating constitutional issues. The noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, will be a huge asset to your Lordships' House, and I congratulate the Appointments Commission on making such an inspired choice.
My Lords, that leads me neatly into expressing my complete support for the Bill again introduced so ably by the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood. I congratulate him on his patience and perseverance.
I reread the Hansard report of the debate on the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, on
Many noble Lords warned in February 2009 that if there were no provision for retirement, a change of Government would trigger the appointment of large numbers of new Peers, making the membership of the House intolerably large. That is exactly what is happening. Frankly I doubt whether many of your Lordships were reassured by the answers given by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, in response to my noble friend Lord Dubs's Question on Wednesday. Perhaps the most extraordinary statement made by the Minister in those exchanges was that the "dilemma"-his word-of too many Members in your Lordships' House has been created by the House itself. I was under the impression that it was not this House which put forward recommendations for Peerages, but the Leaders of the political parties, plus, in the case of a handful of Cross-Benchers each year, the Appointments Commission.
At the very least, I hope that the party leaders will accept the advice offered by Dr Meg Russell of the UCL Constitution Unit in her paper of
"For as long as the system of appointment for life continues, the proportionality goal must therefore simply be forgotten, before serious damage is done".
That is a compelling reason for the retirement provisions in the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Steel.
What is of paramount importance in any discussion of how we change the House is that we do not diminish its effectiveness in holding the Government to account, scrutinising and revising legislation, and drawing on the experience and knowledge of its Members to investigate subjects of national concern through our Select Committee system. Completely absent from the debate about election or appointment is any evidence that an elected House would do that job better. The legitimacy of an assembly can be achieved in several ways. Elections are certainly one route but they are not the only one. That would certainly not be the case if we became just a second-rate shadow of the other place, consisting of a bunch of placemen and placewomen who had got here through being placed high up on a party list.
I would have much more faith in a statutory appointments commission being able to produce a Chamber in which ethnic minorities, people with disabilities, representatives of the regions and nations of the United Kingdom, as well as outstanding leaders of the professions, such as academics, senior police and service chiefs, and all the other distinguished people who make up the Cross Benches were to have a place. That is why I cannot believe that it would be right to go down the 100 per cent elected route. Central to the future of this House and its effectiveness is the continued presence of independently minded Cross-Benchers, such as the noble Lord whose maiden speech we heard just a moment ago.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, not least because I think I agree with every single word he said. I am therefore able to restrict my own remarks to a rather shorter length. In particular, I am happy to agree with him on how fortunate it is that the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, has joined us. The noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, mentioned several of his previous roles. He may suddenly find himself in the role of politician. None the less, it is fortunate that we have his advice and wisdom at this stage. We are debating a considerable number of constitutional matters at present. It would not be a great exaggeration to say that we are in considerable danger as far as constitutional matters are concerned.
I will make only one or two brief points on the overall question of reform of your Lordships' House. I was very surprised when a colleague of mine on these Benches, in a discussion that we had on this issue a little while ago, said, "It's really very difficult to explain to people because, as Mr Clegg says, changing to an elected system would make it more democratic". I replied, "I think that is profoundly wrong". What is proposed by way of election to this House will in no way increase democracy, which already exists, 100 per cent, in the House of Commons. What it will do is divide the operation of democracy and make it less effective. I see no reason at all why one should go along with the views expressed by Mr Clegg and reinforced repeatedly by the noble Lord, Lord McNally.
I am also particularly concerned about the way in which the arrangements for the coalition give a preponderance of emphasis to views supported by Mr Clegg and my noble friend Lord McNally. One has only to look at the events of the past week to realise what this danger is-that we may, as a result of trying to hold the coalition together, go down extremely dangerous paths. Earlier this week, the coalition Government put forward a proposal not simply for a referendum-during my 33 years in the House of Commons I always found such proposals very dangerous-but a mandatory referendum. The other night, your Lordships agreed to a mandatory referendum. This strikes at the heart of one's feelings about the issue. Edmund Burke must be rotating in his grave at a very rapid rate. We have a representative system of democracy and Members of the House of Commons are representatives, not delegates. We cannot have mandatory referendums as the dangers of doing so are very great. To start with, pressure would soon be applied to hold a mandatory referendum on capital punishment. I have no great doubts that such a referendum would result in a far bigger majority than is likely in a referendum on the alternative vote. The coalition agreement has set a major constitutional precedent, which is dangerous, and the same is true as far as your Lordships' House is concerned.
I am very glad that my noble friend has reintroduced his Bill and I hope very much that attitudes towards it will change. The composition of your Lordships' House is dynamic and changing, particularly with regard to the number of noble Lords. As several speakers have pointed out, the large number of Peers is creating serious problems. Indeed, I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, said that we were in danger of being held up to ridicule. I do not know whether this is a conspiracy but it is certainly the effect of having an increased number of Peers. My noble friend's Bill is even more timely than it would have been previously as it helps in two respects. First, it suggests that there should be a statutory commission rather than the existing arrangement, which has presided over the enormous number of new Members. Perhaps the quickest way to solve this dilemma is to abolish the present commission and delay the introduction of a new one. My own view is that we should have a moratorium on the introduction of new Peers until such time as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, who has produced an excellent preliminary report, has reconciled these matters.
There is a serious lack of data on how many Members might take advantage of the proposal in my noble friend's Bill to retire from the House. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, has already concluded that we need primary legislation and, as my noble friend has just pointed out, this matter constitutes an excellent example of where that is needed. There is no need to wreck the Government's programme; we can simply go along with my noble friend's arrangement. The Bill also provides for a statutory appointments commission, which could take into account the constitutional position. It is very strange that we have never had a limit on the size of your Lordships' House, and it is high time that we did. The statutory appointments commission could take that matter into account and enable noble Lords who wish to leave to do so. If the arrangements made in that regard were cost neutral, it would not be unreasonable for compensation to be paid to those who leave the House. I think that would be a saleable product. It may not be very easy to gain acceptance for it, given the attitude of the press generally but it could mean that we get a significant increase in Members retiring. However, we do not know to what extent that may happen. We look forward to the report of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, which I gather is making rapid progress. In the mean time, for the reasons that I and other noble Lords have given, we should proceed urgently with my noble friend's Bill and get it on the statute book as soon as possible.
My Lords, we have heard two remarkable maiden speeches from Peers who will clearly be enormous assets to this House. I wonder whether we would have had that benefit if this had been an all-elected House. I rather doubt it. This is one of the great strengths of the House we have. If I may say so, the news of the conversion of the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, was not just music to my ears but a veritable ode to joy.
I have sometimes been tempted to think of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, as Sisyphus rolling his stone up the hill, only to see it falling back again, down the hill. Of course, Sisyphus was not at all a nice man. The noble Lord, Lord Steel, on the other hand, is an extremely nice man and he will not be following Sisyphus into Hades, but into that pantheon of politicians who never give up on a good cause.
There is a principle which we ignore at our peril, which is that one should not tear down and replace an institution unless one is sure that the defects in the existing institution rendering it insufficiently fit for purpose cannot be corrected. If you believe, as I do, that the creation of a fully or mostly elected second Chamber presumes the abolition of the present institution, in order to create a wholly different one, you will understand why I support the Bill. It seeks to put right some obvious defects and introduce some real improvements, and the means proposed and the ends desired are eminently sensible and achievable. What is more, they can be put in place without prejudice to the discussion we absolutely must have about the purposes of a second Chamber before we tackle the divisive question of its composition.
There is already broad support in this House for most of the measures proposed in the Bill. I know that there is unhappiness in some quarters over the proposed ending of by-elections to fill hereditary vacancies, because of the solemn undertaking given in 1999-of which the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, reminded us. As a hereditary Peer fortunate enough to have been given a life peerage, I share the discomfort of those who feel that a promise made to them risks being broken. On the other hand, it was never foreseen that a second stage of reform would still not have been reached 11 years later.
Our hereditaries make a contribution to the work of this House out of all proportion to their numbers. They contribute individually as Ministers, shadow Ministers, Deputy Chairmen and Deputy Speakers, committee activists, and Front-Bench and Back-Bench experts in many fields of human endeavour. I do not wish to see them go, but in an already inflated House an occasional reduction in their number through natural causes does not seem to be unreasonable. Those remaining should be allowed to serve on as Peers for life, and their continuing contribution should be welcomed on all sides of the House.
As to the Bill's other proposals, their objectives seem to be subjects of a growing consensus among your Lordships. The case for a statutory appointments commission has been made time and time again and I have no wish to weary the House with further rehearsal of its obvious merits. The case for a permanent leave of absence, one of the options currently under consideration in the group of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, is likewise familiar to the House and I need to make no further comment on that. The provisions in Part 4 for cases of conviction of a serious criminal offence seem to be proportionate, fair and sensible, and I believe that I am far from alone in that view.
So what should we be asking the coalition Government to do? The noble Lord, Lord Steel, was surely correct in suggesting some time ago that these are issues not normally considered to be suitable for a Private Member's Bill, but it is absolutely right that we now carry it forward as a means of making the Government aware of the strength of feeling in many parts of this House that certain measures of reform should not be delayed further. The Minister will doubtless urge us to wait patiently for the delayed draft Bill now promised for early in the new year. Is that a guarantee that the modest reforms proposed in today's Bill will reappear in some similar form in the later Bill, and, if they do, will we then have to wait years for them to be implemented?
I entirely share the doubts expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, that enactment of any Bill based on the coalition's awaited draft will have to wait until some time in 2012, and yet we are called upon to be patient. Perhaps I should remind the House, as the poet Dryden wrote:
"Beware the fury of a patient man".
If the coalition does not agree with the aims of these proposals, it must say so, and, if it does, it must assure us that it will not seek to delay or obstruct their implementation. As I said at the outset, they do not prejudice the outcome of the future debate on the purposes of this House and the composition that will enable us to fulfil those purposes. We are simply trying to ensure that, unless and until this House is, God forbid, abolished and replaced, we have a scrutinising and revising second Chamber even better equipped to do the excellent job that it currently does.
I wish the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, a fair wind and I hope that his stone will remain at the top of the hill.
My Lords, I suppose that I should thank the noble Lord, Lord Steel, for the opportunity to put one's thoughts on the record. I am sorry not to have done so before now but I always felt that there were quite enough people on the list to speak in these debates. I am not sure why we are discussing this Bill when the three parties with a democratic mandate are going to put forward their ideas in the near future. Perhaps it is so that, long into the future when everything has gone wrong, some researcher will be able to look at your Lordships' comments and say, "What wise words of wisdom were uttered by that noble Lord".
The trouble with the Bill is that it attempts to preserve the appointed life Peers through a pre-emptive strike, but that is not what Parliament intended. It removes several incentives for change. I am one of the hereditary Peers who was elected to stay here, and I accepted that because the purpose was to make sure that proper reform would take place in the future. The hereditary element left was the incentive for change. The trouble is that, when you remove the incentives, people stop moving in the direction in which you want them to go. If we allow the hereditary Peers to die out, steadily and slowly the whole House will become under the control of unaccountable people who appoint those who come here-a theme that has cropped up throughout these debates.
Perhaps we could look, first, at the future of an appointed House. As I said, people are driven by incentives. We also know the mantra that, if you have no democratic authority, all power will be removed, and therefore there will be no purpose in people coming to sit in this House. If people sit and debate in this House without the power to affect legislation, they will simply stop bothering to come, and this place will just be a club for those who like waffling on. The wise people will walk away and that will be sad, because we will not get the sort of people who are being appointed at the moment.
The trouble is that in our constitution there is nothing to prevent that happening, although we thought that there was. The closest thing to it is in the oath of a privy counsellor on the Front Bench. That oath is supposed to be binding, yet there have been attempts to overturn it on many occasions-in fact, this Bill seeks to do just that. Therefore, one realises that our constitution provides no way of binding any future Parliament, so that, whatever we do, it can be changed, and that is the real problem. We cannot put in proper protections.
The Commons supremacists welcome this. They think it is a very good idea to have a House of Lords with all its powers removed because it is a nuisance to them. However, democracy is not a unicameral system, especially when the Executive sits in that one elected Chamber, which is supposed to have primacy when it comes to legislation. The problem is that, when a large party has a majority, Prime Ministers sometimes forget that they are the Prime Minister not of Parliament but of the majority party, as leader. They are Prime Ministers of the Executive, which Parliament is supposed to control. The number of Members of another place who had some form of Executive appointment in the previous Parliament was astonishing. I believe that it was in three figures-and it has got bigger. That is not how the legislature should be behaving. It is there to set the controls and boundaries for the Executive.
We must have a balance. We need a bicameral system and must keep the checks and balances in it. I do not know how we would do that if we were to start appointing in this place. We know that Ministers in the Commons are already irritated by us; they do not even bother to read our debates when we get into that ping-pong session. We do not send things back to the Commons lightly but they cannot be bothered to find out the reasons. We will be completely ignored.
The other thing that worries me is that the Bill, rightly, tries to set out the concept of the Appointments Commission, make it independent and give it the right objectives. But the real control is who you put into it, and the real problem then comes as the commission will tend to appoint the great and the good. I am sorry that the rebels are slowly disappearing. We get very wise people but we also need the rebels and agents for change-those who will push the boundaries or resist what sounds terribly sensible on the surface but has hidden dangers.
We must have checks and balances. If we are to have an appointed House we must separate powers in the other place. We should look at the American model far more closely. I never thought that I would say that. It would have been anathema 15 years ago but I am very worried about the consolidation of power now. If we opt for an elected House, we assume that we will get failed politicians, or whatever, but why? America seems to survive, which another noble Lord said earlier. Maybe we might for a while, but do we assume that the public will permanently be idiots? I am certain that something good will come out of it. There are lots of different ways of electing Lords. People think about it and I am sure that we can achieve something that is not a mere mirror of another place.
I do not want to lose the expertise or the independence but we must have that democratic authority to survive. Otherwise all residual power will have been removed or stifled within the next 10 to 20 years. If we want to preserve some places for experts the 80:20 model-80 per cent elected, 20 per cent appointed-looks quite attractive. As a Cross-Bencher I would say that, wouldn't I? That is always the trouble.
I shall refer briefly to some other bits in the Bill. On ex-prisoners and people who have been to prison being Members of your Lordships' House, I always thought that we had a principle of rehabilitation and that after a while people have paid their debt to society. We should remember that when putting something like this together. As we are about to give votes to prisoners should they not have someone in Parliament to represent them since they cannot sit in the other place?
Why are there so many new Peers; why this huge influx? It really worries me. Is it because they do not matter; is it because they are seen as Lobby fodder; or is it because they will be abolished quite soon? I do not understand what is going on. It is ridiculous.
On the other hand I have great hopes. It is amazing how independent people can become once they are no longer beholden to a master, so I look forward to welcoming a huge number of recruits to the cause of a truly bicameral Parliament with power balanced properly between the two Houses, exercising proper control of the Executive through legislation and scrutiny.
My Lords, I have taken no part in previous debates about the future of this Chamber, but I have listened to many of the speeches and have read most them. As a result, like the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, as he said in his outstanding maiden speech, I have changed my mind. I used to be in favour of an elected, or largely elected, Chamber and am now persuaded that we should remain an appointed one. I have been influenced particularly by the arguments on expertise and independence.
One expertise, let me give one example which I find extremely persuasive. A year or more ago, our admirable Speaker, strangely designated the Lord Speaker, called a meeting of those who were scientists, who were especially interested in science, like me, or who were science journalists. One of the latter, who I believe was the editor of Nature, observed at the end of the meeting, "The Lords are probably the most scientifically numerate legislative Assembly anywhere". He then asked, "How many of the scientists here would stand for election?". The answer, of course, was none. The overwhelming consensus view of the science journalists was, "For God's sake, keep the Lords as an appointed Chamber". That argument applies to many other forms of expertise.
As for independence, elected politicians, certainly in the United Kingdom, tend to be strongly tribalist. Disraeli formulated what is almost a golden rule in the House of Commons:
"Damn your principles! Stick to your party".
I have never found that a particularly appealing doctrine. The Lords are, on the whole, much less tribalist, but if elected, contrary to what the noble Earl has just implied, Members would face the usual party pressure: "You are here because your party voted for you to represent them. You should vote the party line".
Of course we need reform. We need reform in the way in which we are appointed, the terms of our appointment and when the appointment should come to an end. That is why so many of us support this Bill. There is something strange and wrong with the idea of a life Peer. We are a strange kind of constitutional mule, with neither pride in ancestry nor hope of posterity. It is almost assumed that age cannot wither us, unless we recognise our own failings. We urgently need to find a way in which to cull our numbers and persuade existing Peers to retire. Given the large number of new Peers, speeches in time-limited debates will soon be down to two minutes or so, major debates will go on until the early hours of the morning or for several days and there will be an interminable queue for Parliamentary Questions.
The House is quite good at self-regulation, but it is quite a lot to ask that we must form our own judgment of when the time has come to go. Until a new solution has been found, which will take some time, perhaps we could bear in mind some guidelines. Age is not necessarily the major issue; certainly many speakers seem to be unaffected by it. When I first came here, Lord Longford, for one, continued to make very useful contributions as he neared his century. He was also self-disciplined enough to keep within the time limit. I remember that, when new Labour was at the peak of its popularity and the enthusiasm for it had spread even to this House, he made a speech that was definitely politically incorrect. He apologised and said: "I suppose this view is rather old Labour, but if I'm not entitled to be old Labour I don't know who is".
At a dinner given by my Lib Dem colleagues some two years ago for those of us who had joined the octogenarians, I proposed some signs that we might heed in judging for how long we should go on. I am sorry to repeat them to my Lib Dem colleagues who are present, but most of my colleagues are on an away day and, anyway, if politicians are not allowed to repeat themselves, they might have very little to say. I have five suggestions of the signs that we should heed to accept that the time has come to retire: first, when candid friends tell you that each of your speeches is getting better than the next; secondly, when what your speeches lack in depth they more than make up in length, although, of course, that is not peculiar to elderly Peers; thirdly, when you stop to think and forget to start again; fourthly, when your doctor advises you to buy day returns rather than season tickets; and, fifthly, when you get out of breath playing chess. No doubt others can add to this list.
Meanwhile, we await what the Government propose. When, as now seems inevitable, they propose that this House should become an elected Chamber and if that proposal is passed, we may be surprised by the consequences. As Ernie Bevin once said and as George W Bush might well have said:
"When you open that Pandora's box, you never know what Trojan horses will jump out".
My Lords, much of the debate implicitly circles around a remark made by the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, who is just about to desert us but might stay for a minute. I think I am right in saying that he put up the dichotomy of whether to elect or to appoint by cabal. However, there is a third way, and it is very important that people do not go on repeating the fallacy that there is only this choice. The third way concerns how the statutory Appointments Commission would work.
One idea came out of the Labour Group four years ago after Tony Blair had come along and invited us, as it were, to put our ideas on a postcard. We agreed on four points to put to the Prime Minister. These were essentially the same as those in the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Steel. I drafted a letter, which included ideas about the statutory Appointments Commission, including the fact that it should be responsible for endorsing or at least registering the fact that the party had transparent criteria through which it would bring forward candidates. This would be a total change from leaders' patronage. We drafted a more detailed scheme and put it to the Labour Party general secretary. As noble Lords may know, the Labour Party has a federal constitution. The national executive has sections for trade unions, constituencies and others. Our suggested policy was to select candidates in a transparent trawl once people had put forward their names or those of other people.
Clearly, there would then have to be a confidential stage in the process. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Jay, is not here. It would probably be for a committee like his to do this. However, it would be very important that the remit was clear. The present remit for the Appointments Commission for the Cross-Benchers is not clear at all. The "people's Peers" are supposed to be representative in some way-that is why they were so called by the tabloids. However, according to the Sutton Trust, 75 per cent of Cross-Benchers went to public schools. Only 7 per cent of pupils in the country go to public schools, but 75 per cent of Members on the Conservative Benches and Cross-Benches went to public schools. The figure for the Lib Dems is somewhat below that, and that for the Labour Party much below. Therefore, people must be careful about the remit of the Appointments Commission.
My noble friend Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe thought that we were still proposing a cabal. I ask noble Lords to take something on board. My noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath and I had about 10 attempts to understand each other on this. He has finally taken on board the fact that there would not just be five people on an Appointments Commission selecting all the party candidates. That has never been part of our scheme. Clearly, the Labour Party would throw out a scheme immediately if it consisted simply of five independent people choosing their preferred candidates. My final point on this matter is that for this reason we cannot have US-style primaries: they would not work within the constitutional set-up of our parties.
Secondly, I shall touch on the assertion of my noble friend Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe that we are ignoring the firm views of our colleagues in the House of Commons. With great respect to all concerned, this is not a hot topic in the House of Commons. For 99 days out of 100, I doubt whether MPs give it a moment's thought. One of the reasons they do not give it a moment's thought is that when they knock on doors in the constituencies, no one there is giving it a moment's thought. It is not a hot topic at all, so the idea that we are contradicting the settled view of the House of Commons has to be very seriously questioned.
Thirdly, an elected House would wake up the House of Commons quite considerably in terms of its lessened role. If the new representatives in the second Chamber did not have case work, how would that get them nearer the people than the present arrangements? The reason why we do not have conflicting duties with our colleagues in the Commons is that case work is for them. We deal with broader industrial responsibilities. That has to be thought through.
Finally, I shall touch on money Bills. We had an interesting dry run earlier this week on the problem caused by the Speaker's unilateral decision, in line with 1911 Act, that a Bill was a money Bill. Two questions immediate arise that must be looked into. First, would that survive an elected second Chamber? I would say it clearly would not. I cannot think of any way in which it would. Secondly, we have to be very careful, and it is time to say this clearly. In principle, I cannot see why a Speaker of the House of Commons could not wake up one day, say that MPs do not want the House of Lords to amend the Transport Act, the Energy Act, the Agriculture Act, the Social Security Act or the Health Services Act, and so say that they are money Bills. That is on the agenda, and I do not know how we expect the Bill in the spring-or the summer or the autumn-to handle a very important constitutional issue such as that.
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in welcoming this Bill which proposes a series of reform measures for this House that are positive, not destructive, and I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Steel, on bringing the Bill back to this House for the umpteenth time.
There are four elements to the Bill. I will focus on the first which is that there should be a statutory Appointments Commission responsible for all appointments to a life peerage and consequential membership of this House. Under the present arrangements, there is no control on numbers of new appointments and, consequentially, no limit on total numbers in the Chamber. Following the large numbers of recent new appointments, the size of the House is definitely too large. The Bill defines the required distribution of membership among the various political parties and, happily, calls for at least 20 per cent of the membership to consist of Members who are independent of any registered political party.
The Bill says nothing about total numbers, except that the total membership should not exceed that of the House of Commons. I do not see any special reason why membership should be restricted to being less than that of the Commons, but I think that the Appointments Commission should be given an optimal total target membership. The optimal number is, I think most people would agree, considerably smaller than current total membership. I believe it should be somewhere in range of 300 to 500.
Obviously, if an optimal number is to be agreed that is much smaller than the present membership totals, a substantial transition plan would be required to spread the number of required reductions over, say, a five-year period. The Bill proposes that provision could be made for Members to be granted permanent leave of absence. My own view is that while welcoming this, it would not be used sufficiently to achieve a significant reduction in total membership. In a sense, there is already a system of voluntary retirement in that a Member may simply stop attending. I believe that a long-term reduction in the number of existing Members can be achieved only by a system of compulsory retirement, and that can be based only on the age of the Member or period of service. I do not think that age is the right choice. People age at different rates, so the only fair and workable system would be a compulsory period of service for all Members which, in my view, should be 20 years. Given a fixed period of 20 years, it should be possible for a Member reaching the limit and still performing a valuable role in the House to be given an extension of service of one to five years on application, I suggest, to the Lord Speaker. Given that 161 Members of the present House have periods of service in excess of 20 years, the introduction of such a system would require a transition period of at least five years. I would hope to put forward a detailed scheme at the hoped-for Committee stage.
The Bill contains provisions for dismissal on conviction of a serious criminal offence, which are acceptable. Lastly, it calls for the abolition of the process of electing replacements for the 92 hereditary Peers when they die. While I am lucky to be one of those 92 Peers, I do not think that heredity can, on its own, justifiably be a qualification for membership of this House any longer.
This is a constructive Bill which I believe meets the current needs of House of Lords reform, and I wish it well.
My Lords, I, too, salute the indefatigability of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, on bringing this Bill forward again. His admirable persistence has become one of the enduring characteristics of this debate. If the Bill could be considered independently of the wider context of a debate about the future of this House, its proposals are sensible and they are welcome. But as we have heard over and over again in the speeches today, the Bill cannot be viewed independently of that wider context. I have to say, however, that it is a measure of the ingenuity, creativity and indeed the long legislative experience of the noble Lord that his Bill can be viewed with equal plausibility either as a bridge towards further reform or as a block to it. It can be seen either as an important attempt to tackle the issues that need to be dealt with as a prelude to the great battle over fundamental reform-and we have heard many times that it will be a great battle-or as a tidying-up exercise which, by absorbing legislative energy, will postpone for even longer a fundamental debate about the future of this House.
I have said it before, but I believe that the great battle should be joined without further delay. Fundamental democratic reform of this Chamber has been pending for over a century, and whatever the merits of the way that the House currently functions-they are clearly considerable and we have heard them rehearsed again in the debate-there can be no substitute for the accountability of legislators to those whom they serve. That is the fundamental and irreducible question which lies at the heart of this debate. For all the arguments for appointment, again rehearsed powerfully in, among others, two important maiden speeches, the question of democratic accountability by legislators is fundamental.
At every stage of this country's long journey towards an effective representative democracy for all citizens there have been compelling arguments against reform. On reading Hansard, one can see that in the great debates about democracy in the past these arguments were powerfully advanced. However, in time, they were all overcome: all adult males eventually got the vote and then all adult women; and the democratically elected House of Commons became the pre-eminent Chamber. Who today wishes to revisit the arguments advanced at the time against those changes and say that our predecessors made the wrong decisions? We should have their courage and take the next important steps towards making those in power-including all of us in this Chamber in this instance-properly accountable to those we serve. For all its merits, this Bill does not form part of this fundamental process.
The coalition Government have set out their view of this process in their coalition agreement. They said:
"We will establish a committee to bring forward proposals for a wholly or mainly elected upper chamber".
I agree that that is where the debate over reform of the House of Lords should be located, but the agreement went on to say:
"The committee will come forward with a draft motion by December 2010".
I am sure the noble Baroness is aware of the widespread belief that when in opposition the Prime Minister put a comradely arm around the shoulders of the Leader of this House and assured him that he had no need to fret because reform of the House of Lords was, "a third term issue". However, despite repeated attempts by me and others before the general election to get Conservative Front-Benchers in the other place to confirm or deny this comradely agreement, they wriggled away from it; we got no answer. So, when the noble Baroness replies, I would be grateful if she would now confirm or deny that the basis on which the coalition Government are operating is that whenever proposals are produced, delivery of them will be postponed until such time-if ever-as there is a third term of this Government. I am sure her answer will be scrutinised with great care.
I hope also that the Minister will at some point set out how she intends to address the serious concerns that have been frequently rehearsed in this House by my noble friend Lord Grocott, and by the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, today, on the issue of how a democratically elected second Chamber-which would, without any doubt, acquire greater legitimacy-might challenge the pre-eminence of the House of Commons. As I have said previously-I am pleased that my noble friend Lord Brooke referred to this today-I believe that the way to resolve this important issue is to codify the functions of this House; to put beyond doubt the respective roles of the two Chambers and their relationship. I hope the noble Baroness will forgive me if, once again, I renew my plea to the Government-I join with my noble friend Lord Brooke on this-to reconstitute the working group set up by the previous Government to look at the issues around codification. It would be a great help to the Government and I do not know why they have not yet done so.
Finally, I remind the noble Baroness-although she probably does not need reminding-that the current situation is untenable. Again, my text on this occasion is the coalition agreement, which states that, before fundamental reform,
"Lords appointments will be made with the objective of creating a second chamber that is reflective of the share of the vote secured by the political parties in the last general election".
Quite apart from the signal that this sends about the determination of this Government to aggrandise power to the Executive, this commitment is ludicrous unless it is unbreakably a one-off measure and coupled unbreakably with rapid movement to an elected House of Lords. Otherwise, following through this principle, enunciated with such conviction in the coalition agreement, we are faced with the proposition that either the House of Lords will grow ever larger at every general election-and the larger the swing at the general election, the larger the Chamber will swell; 1,000, 2,000 and so on and on; or, alternatively, large numbers of existing Peers will be summarily ejected after the general election. Incidentally, how will the victims be determined, an issue on which, along with so many others, the Government have so far been silent? Or will we see some equally arbitrary and equally profoundly unsatisfactory combination of the two?
In their first six months the Government have, I am afraid, displayed an insouciance towards constitution proprieties which is malign, reckless or both. I hope they will take time over this Christmas break to reflect on this approach, and come back refreshed in the New Year and produce a comprehensive and principled approach to reform of this House.
My Lords, this has been a remarkable debate. In the 26 years that I admit to your Lordships that I have been here, I have not enjoyed a debate as much. I walked three-and-a-half miles through the snow to get here this morning because I do not like public transport and I cannot get my motorcycle off its parking space. I admit to being 75, which is nowhere near the age of my noble colleague. I do not think that we should be judged in this House on age alone, but that is a minor part of the subject that we are addressing today.
We all know what a marvellous and experienced politician my noble friend Lord Steel is. His persistence and the adroit way in which he has ridden through this storm four times, adjusting to the changes which have taken place since 2007 when he first introduced his Bill, are quite extraordinary. The speeches today have been very encouraging.
We have heard two remarkable maiden speeches today, one of which I would regard as, if not the best, certainly very close to the best of any maiden speech that I have ever heard-which is not to say that the other maiden speech was not excellent also. The prescience of Bagehot, which was put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, was very appropriate. He foresaw the need for some kind of enlivening of the proceedings of your Lordships' House, and we had to wait until the 1958 Act to get the life Peers in here.
When I first came into your Lordships' House, I intended to stay only for a maximum of three months, because I was going, as we all do, through certain problems at that time involving my personal life and work. I joined the SDP. It was the party formed by my noble friend Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, on whom I always look as one of the most reliable sounding boards if I have any problems in this House. I found the SDP to be very agreeable and full of very expert people, both hereditary and life Peers. I thought to myself, "Maybe I should give it a bit longer. Maybe I can combine it with some other things", which I did for a while. Being here has been the most remarkable experience of my life. I am always attracted to things which work but for which there is no logical explanation of how they work. In my early days, I was persuaded to volunteer to go to talk to schools about how our bicameral system worked. It was always difficult when sixth-formers asked me how the House of Lords worked, how it worked with the House of Commons and why it persisted with an hereditary element. All those things were very difficult to explain.
Now, after 26 years, I have to say-maybe it is old age, but I do not think that it is-some anxieties are creeping in. The noble Earl, Lord Erroll, asked why so many Peers are being created. I can give him what may appear a cynical answer. It is very difficult to alter an institution, particularly one involved with the constitution, if it is working very well. When I came into the House, it was working very well, and it has been working very well until recently. The party with which I sit is made up of very nice people, as noble Lords know, and the majority of them want radical reform of your Lordships' House. If something is working well, the logical way in which to deal with it is not make it not work so well-and it is not working so well at the moment. If you cannot think of clever ways in which to make it not work so well, then just crowd it out and make it uncomfortable. That is exactly what is happening.
I do not know on what basis people have their interviews for this place, when they are told, "We are thinking of putting you into the House of Lords". But I was struck by the candid way in which my noble friend Lord Steel told us that when he led the Liberal Party he knew nothing about went on in your Lordships' House, yet he had to put people up to come here. I shall have to ask him afterwards what the tenor was of the discussion that he had with these people. Obviously, he came to the right decision, because we had some jolly good people. But what is the tenor of the conversation now?
The noble Baroness was being extremely kind to the Deputy Prime Minister, who has done far worse than say that we should push on. He said that this place was a democratic outrage. His whole policy is based on his personal view, obviously, but I am very worried about this because it has caught on with my colleagues. A most charming colleague whom you all know but whom I shall not name this week, in a moment of being tired and emotional, made a most curious attack-or what could be construed as an attack-on the Cross Benches. Any reform of your Lordships' House without the Cross Benches is unthinkable. We have appointed Peers such as the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, and others, who have that inbuilt independence; they are intelligent and independent and will come to the right conclusions as individuals, as we hereditary Peers do. I was told by my noble friend Lord Lester of Herne Hill that I was being discriminatory even to raise that. I was not being discriminatory-we are all equal here-but I do think that hereditary Peers have an element of independence that is worth keeping.
It is the role of Parliament in properly holding the Executive to account that appeals to me. What angers me now is that it is getting increasingly difficult to do that. I shall stand up here, I hope, since I have voted twice against the coalition so far and have made myself seem to be a rebel. I do not think of myself as a rebel; I spent a long time on the Front Benches, and I could not understand why Lord Jenkins put me there, although we got on enormously well, but maybe it was to defuse my rebel instincts. I catch the eye of the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe. It may have been an accident, but when he was talking about having an independent aspect of 20, he said "perhaps" Cross-Benchers. Was it a mistake to say "perhaps"? Surely he means essentially Cross-Benchers?
This has been a fascinating debate. Everything has been said, and I shall not add anything further. The speeches have been extraordinary. I shall fight, personally, for rejecting an elected House in any form; the nation expects us to do the proper job that we do, within the powers and functions that we have, with the wonderful mixture that we have had in the past. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, that we can adopt with profit the ending of the hereditary elections, so that it dies out by natural wastage. All the other things I agree with. I am not sure about leave of absence-that goes back to my comments on age, and so on. But since the noble Lord has got thus far with the principal points in his Bill, why do we not adopt them? I really cannot accept that we cannot go ahead with an interim step because the Government feel that we are likely to have an elected second Chamber. That is absolutely crazy. I leave it there.
My Lords, we must thank the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, for refining his Bill into ever more satisfying harmonies, echoed today by the sweetly plucked strings of the noble Marquess, Lord Lothian. I congratulate the noble Marquess and the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield, on their very fine maiden speeches. Both of them have a deep knowledge of Parliament and of our institutions of government and will make invaluable contributions in your Lordships' House.
I support entirely the purposes of the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, in his Bill. I will refrain from repeating the case for an appointed as opposed to an elected House-we will have, I fear, all too many opportunities for that in 2011 and 2012-save for saying one thing. I believe that the tests of proposals for reform of your Lordships' House should be that they would improve the performance and the reputation of Parliament. Proposals for an elected second Chamber would not improve either the performance or the reputation of Parliament. Proposals for an appointed House, reformed through the measures in this Bill, would, however, make us both more competent and more "respected revisers"-in the phrase of the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, drawing from Bagehot.
The Appointments Commission, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Jay of Ewelme, does very good work indeed as we have seen, for example, in its decision to recommend the appointment of the two noble Lords who made their maiden speeches today. Yet it is unsatisfactory, in principle, that the Appointments Commission is the creation of Downing Street and has to make up the rules as it goes along.
The Bill would legitimise the Appointments Commission. We will continue to need, for the foreseeable future at the very least, to have an Appointments Commission. The Bill would put it on a statutory footing and make its membership independent of Downing Street patronage. Appointments by the Speakers of both Houses would be above reproach. The criteria set out in Clause 5 for the appointment of new Peers and the guidelines that the Appointments Commission might follow, as dealt with in Clause 6, would both have to be approved by both Houses of Parliament. That goes a long way towards dealing with the charge that an appointed House could not be legitimate in a democratic age. It is not a charge that I accept-there are other sources of legitimacy-but it deals pretty effectively with that point. In parenthesis, I hope that among the criteria which might be adopted by the Appointments Commission and approved by both Houses of Parliament would be that big donors to the political parties would be excluded from membership of your Lordships' House. I hope that we can come to that once we have finally been able to tackle the funding of political parties.
Clause 8(1) also provides for transparency, in that the Appointments Commission would have to give reasons for why it proposed particular individuals for appointment to your Lordships' House. Clause 8, as a whole, addresses real and important problems. Clause 8(2)(b) stipulates that,
"the Commission shall have regard to", the principle that,
It is damaging to the character of this House and to the quality of our proceedings that the coalition parties together now have a majority in this House. We stumbled accidentally, as is often the case with constitutional change in Britain, into something of a golden age in the period after 1999 with the emerging constitutional principle that neither the Government nor any other party should have a majority in this House. That has meant that the Government have had to win their case reasonably, by argument and not by force, but since the coalition parties have had a majority in this House they are able to bulldoze your Lordships' House, and are doing so. We are becoming the upper House of the legislative sausage machine.
I wonder if the means by which this evil is to be eradicated, as set forth in the Bill, are almost too ingenious and elaborate. I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, has sat down at his computer to stress-test, as the bankers say, the compatibility of some of the different provisions in the Bill. It is not obvious to me how we would square the requirements that no one party should have a majority; that the majority of a coalition should be no more than 3 per cent of the membership of the House; that membership of your Lordships' House, now well over 800, should be no larger in future than the House of Commons, whose membership may indeed be reduced to 600; and that this should be achieved within two full Parliaments, with the hereditaries departing one by one, decapitated by the Grim Reaper but not by any other means, and departures on permanent leave of absence being only voluntary. The measures in this complex section of the Bill are finely tuned but may possibly want some retuning in Committee.
I strongly approve of the principle that the Cross Benches should hold no less than 20 per cent of the membership of your Lordships' House, but 20 per cent of 600 is only 120, a great many fewer than the 182 Cross-Benchers whose presence and companionship we value so much in our House at the moment. I would be happy to see the Cross-Benchers as a larger proportion of the House. The strengths of the House of Lords ought to complement those of the House of Commons, in that this House represents, in some real sense, the great interests of the land-professional, economic, social and spiritual. If we are to be an advisory House, then the authority and quality of our advice should be marked by professional authority, intellectual standing, specialist expertise, general experience and the reputation of the individuals who are Members of this House. Those are qualities that will not be supplied in any House of Parliament by election, but can be by appointment.
I favour the phased departure of the hereditary Peers, not least because I believe that there should be gratitude and courtesy in politics. It would be wrong for them to be removed summarily and brutally.
The provisions for permanent leave of absence address a pressing and important problem, made more important by the packing of this House by coalition patronage. In the 21st century, the principle of peerages for life is no more acceptable than the hereditary principle for membership of the legislature. Knowledge dates, and wisdom does not invariably grow with the years. The House will need new blood. We may need to find more effective means than are put forward in the Bill. Permanent leave of absence, as proposed in the Bill, should be given only to people who have volunteered for it. Clause 12 deals with those fail to attend, but it will be too easy for them to turn up for one day in a Session for five minutes only and escape that censure. We should not constrain the deliberations of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, and his committee; there is no easy answer to this problem. It is a nettle that the House needs to grasp, and I am not convinced that Part 3, as it is, grasps it.
I hope that the coalition Front Bench will take time out from its conspiracy to create an artificial consensus between the Front Benches in support of an elected House to look at the real merits of the Bill, which is capable of further improvement, and will facilitate the passage into law of the Bill or, at least, of the provisions contained within it.
My Lords, at this stage in the debate I do not want to go back over all the issues that have been discussed in what has been an exceptionally interesting debate so far, but I support the thanks that have been addressed to my noble friend Lord Steel for his tenacity and skill at keeping this subject before us and bringing forth, year after year-there seems to be an annual rhythm to these Bills-new aspects that need to be addressed.
As the great-grandson of one of the proposed Liberal Peers in Asquith's list 100 years ago, I have always taken a great interest in constitutional change. Throughout that time, the position has been that it is so difficult that you should not really attempt it unless you cannot do anything else. Nothing I have heard this afternoon persuades me to think otherwise. I will therefore pick on a few points that have struck me, as the debate has proceeded, as needing a bit more emphasis.
First, legitimacy does not depend on election. It is thought by many to do so, but that is a fundamental misunderstanding, particularly when you have a fully appointed judiciary. To say for this one purpose that the only sort of validity you can have is electoral seems not only wrong, but to have unfortunate consequences. It makes people look at the future of the House of Lords as if it mattered not what the role of the House should be but rather what the nature of its Members should be. That is starting at the wrong end of the issue. We need to tackle this head on. People tend to imply that election is a magic democratic potion, but it is very different. Incidentally, if elected and unelected Houses are compared, why is the unelected House of Lords held in greater respect than the elected House of Commons? That is obviously an opinion, but one will find it frequently expressed.
There have been a number of references in the debate to the lack of understanding outside this place about what it actually does. One cannot point to a better illustration of that than remarks sometimes made by Members of another place who seem to think that reaction against the idea of an elected House of Lords is driven by personal concerns. That is not at all the impression I have got when discussing this subject over a longish time with many other colleagues. I do not believe that this House would object to anything which its Members felt was better than the present situation. That ought to be the necessary starting point. We have not got there yet, and there is a lack of understanding between the Houses on that issue.
There seems to be an increasing awareness in another place of the danger of creating a potential for endless squabbling between the Houses if they both have this so-called electoral legitimacy. There is no doubt that anyone elected to a second Chamber would want to demonstrate that it had not only good ideas, policies and so on, but that it could challenge the House of Commons as and when it thought fit. The present system will undoubtedly be changed in some way; we just do not know how. However, that is an important matter for individual Members of another place. They do not yet seem fully to have got behind it.
Finally, there is the question of why so many new peerages have been created, with more to come. This past week, several colleagues may have found themselves unable to get into the Chamber on a Division because of the press of numbers, despite an eight-minute timescale. That figure was set when Peers were much less numerous. Now Peers have to queue in the Lobby outside because they cannot get into the House to vote, which is a practical illustration of the sort of problems that are developing over this huge number of new arrivals.
I hope this debate will not have to be repeated in a year's time but if it is, I feel confident that the noble Lord, Lord Steel, will take it forward in the way that he has done so successfully recently. We thank him for that.
My Lords, here we go again with the noble Lord, Lord Steel, and his Bill. I am reminded of the famous tenor who sang at La Scala. He received a thundering encore for his aria, and then another, and then another. Finally he said, "Signori, signore, I cannot go on. I am exhausted". Someone from high above said, "You will sing until you get it right". That may be the message to the noble Lord, Lord Steel. My views on House of Lords reform are well known and I shall not repeat them in full. I believe in a wholly elected Chamber because, like most other noble Lords, I believe in the primacy of the House of Commons. If the House of Commons has decided that it wants a substantially elected Chamber, so be it.
As my noble friend Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe said, while I do not doubt the sufficiency of the Steel Bill, I am not persuaded of its necessity. I have lost faith in the coalition's ability and good will on reform of the House of Lords. It may be a strange thing to say but the coalition has dilly-dallied and I am not sure that its Bill will appear by February or March. As my noble friend Lord Wills said, the timetable for this is increasingly beginning to look impossible. I have always believed-and have said so before in your Lordships' House-that no Bill for the reform of the House can pass unless the Government are willing to use the Parliament Act 1949. It will take two rounds. It is the declared intention of the Liberal Democrat members of the Cabinet not to vote for a Bill that they have themselves put forward in another place, so who knows? Will the Lib Dems vote for the House of Lords Reform Bill? If they do, will the Conservatives vote with them or will they say, "You voted against higher education fees so we are going out this way". It is chaotic. We will all spend much good time-I would love to speak yet again-on the House of Lords Reform Bill but I do not believe that the coalition is serious. After wasting two years on this, we will have to fall back on this substitute, as the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield, said in his excellent maiden speech. That is why I believe we should take this Bill seriously, as I do.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, which is itself an uncommon event, in his rejection of Part 2 of the Bill. I agree with him that you cannot achieve substantial constitutional reform through a Private Member's Bill. I also agree that a pact was made with the hereditary Peers to accept the retention of 92 of their number on the condition that they would all go when the full reform was completed. It was not a matter of by-elections; they would all go. However, under Part 2 of the Steel Bill, they will stay until the Grim Reaper does his job. I prefer to wait and see them all go together, perhaps with a silver or golden handshake.
As my noble friend Lord Howarth of Newport, has said, Clause 8 is very interesting. We ought to pay attention to it as it says something about the total size of the House. I am impressed that the Deputy Prime Minister so hates the House of Lords that he has decided to add more and more people to it. I do not know whether this is how he takes revenge on his friends, but he is clearly adding lots of Liberal Democrats to the House, so he must hate it very much indeed. Therefore, I wish him luck if it is abolished. I am sure that there is a misprint in Clause 8(7)-I say that as I am trying to prove that I have read the Bill diligently-and that it should refer to "subsection (2)(c)" rather than to "subsection (2)(5)". That is my signal contribution. That is what happens when you are an academic; the first thing you do to prove that you have read essays is to find all the typos in them.
I am somewhat against coercive retirement. I am glad that Clause 12(2) enables Peers to explain their absence from the House. It may be due to illness, for example. As Clause 12(1) does not say something like, "fails to attend without reasonable cause", Clause 12(2) is essential as it would allow Peers to explain that there are legitimate reasons for their absence. Clause 13 is too harsh. Peers who have taken voluntary permanent leave of absence or who are ejected, as it were, for one reason or another, should be allowed to retain club rights. That could act as an incentive to take voluntary permanent leave of absence.
The noble Lord, Lord Steel, has introduced the Bill for the fourth time and my calculations show that at least two more years will elapse before we deal with it seriously. However, I wish him God speed with it. Perhaps, before I reach the age of 75 in five years' time, the Steel Bill will be passed.
My Lords, I find myself in the unenviable position of being one of the last speakers to contribute to the debate. However, the brilliant and learned maiden speeches to which we have been treated are a hard act for any of us to follow. I agree with everything that the noble Lord, Lord Steel, said, save only that I do not see the Bill as a symphony; rather, I see it as scratching at two itches-overcrowding and political balance.
I declare an interest as one who was appointed to your Lordships' House by the existing House of Lords Appointments Commission. Therefore, I am naturally inclined to think that it does a good job. As background to the Bill, I call attention to the pride that we take in this House and its history, which leads me to think that we must-as the Bill does-identify, root out and punish misconduct, and be seen to do so. We must police ourselves; other measures do not seem to work.
The country needs to have confidence in this organ of government. Confidence is not the same as trust. Trust is belief that is not necessarily evidence based; confidence is generated by proof of sound governance in relation to past behaviour and guarantees about the future. In saying this, however, I remind myself of the very persuasive thesis of my noble friend Lady O'Neill, whose Reith Lectures in 2002, "A Question of Trust", were so prescient. She said:
"Perhaps the culture of accountability that we are relentlessly building for ourselves actually damages trust rather than supporting it".
She said that, in the end, there has to be some trust. That trust would be enhanced by taking the measures in this Bill, which would demonstrate that this House deserves the confidence of the nation.
We have to ask in what way this House could improve itself. We could certainly do so by talking not about an elected House but about its status quo. Hence, Part 4 of the Bill should, for the avoidance of doubt, include the power to suspend or even expel Members for breaches of the Code of Conduct and the expenses rules, even if they do not necessarily amount to criminal conduct. Clause 5, which sets out the criteria for appointment, should have added to it the willingness to abide by and understand the code. Arguably, the conditions for termination of membership in Part 4 are too narrow.
There is a welcome reminder of diversity in Clause 5(4). Appointment to this House is the best way to get more women and minorities into government, since the House of Commons has not wholly succeeded in that aim and the electoral process will always make that difficult. It is noticeable that recent political appointments to this House include relatively few women. Since January 2003, there have been 215 purely party-political appointments to this House, of which 150 are men and 65-that is, less than half-are women. That is a foretaste of what an elected House would be like: it would be more male and probably have fewer disabled Members. It cannot but be welcome that the statutory commission proposed in the Bill would be responsible for filtering all appointments, including political recommendations. That would certainly put a stop to any suspicions in the media about donations and peerages. The requirement of "conspicuous merit" as a criterion in Clause 5(2)(a) would serve as a comfort and guarantee to those nominated.
Genuine democracy would be strengthened by the provisions in Clause 8, which seek to ensure that no one party or coalition would have a majority by appointments and that the government party should have only a small majority. That would serve to ensure genuine debate, for which this House is best suited. The Cross-Benchers would continue to play their important part in standing by whatever argument in debate is the most convincing and in voting accordingly. However, the more influential the Cross-Benchers are, the more one hears disparaging remarks elsewhere in the House about the way in which they split or how they can be unpredictable. That is the most important and heartening element of the Cross Benches and the most attractive to the outside world. There is nothing more disheartening than seeing a majority put together by those who have not thought for themselves about the implications of what they are doing. That charge can never be made against Members of the Cross Benches, who set a lead in terms of quality and action that the Bill would confirm.
A statutory commission with overarching control over the membership ought to have the power to achieve what has been called for on all sides-namely, a moratorium on new appointments. Not only is the membership of this House too large, the struggle by each party to gain proportional representation equates with an attempt to secure an elected House by other means. A cap at around 700 Members would be a good start. In approving appointments on conspicuous merit, a requirement to reflect proportionality as represented in the results of the most recent election should not be a factor, although proportionality in a cohort of appointments might be.
Your Lordships are well acquainted with the arguments for and against paying Members of this House for their services, on which we have recently been through a review. I advert to the issue because it is linked with retirement and the need to move people along at a certain age. We have reformed our expenses regime in reaction to recent events, so this is not the time to change it again, but, sadly, we will not attract younger Members without providing recompense for what they may have to give up in their professional lives in order to attend. Expenses is an unpopular issue, and one of the strengths of this House is its relative economic efficiency. However, candidates are excluded if they cannot afford to attend, especially if they do not live in London. I hope that the statutory commission, when it comes about, can promote the viability of membership of this House among those who live outside London and who therefore necessarily incur extra expense.
I support the Bill because it recognises that the strength of this House is its expertise, its dedication and its understanding of its relative place in the constitution alongside the House of Commons. The House provides government through expertise, dedication to civil liberties, experience and passion to get it right. The House can be a great forum for the scrutiny of the Executive only if it has recognised competence, integrity and authority, which this Bill could enshrine in the House's membership. The noble Lord, Lord Steel, is to be congratulated on persisting with this worthy reform.
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I wish to intervene in the gap, albeit that I had hoped to be well north of the border by now.
I feel very privileged to have heard the maiden speech of my former MP, the most noble Marquess, Lord Lothian, and indeed that of my noble friend Lord Hennessy. Like others, I applaud my neighbour and friend of many years, the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood.
I wish to make only one point, concerning the hereditary by-elections. It is important to remember that nobody ever thought that by-elections would come into existence, in that in the early days we relied on the top-up scenario. We 90 plus two were elected to remain in situ until stage two of the reforms was implemented. I shall strongly resist any proposal to remove that part of the 1999 Act and shall support any amendment to that effect in Committee.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Steel, on his perseverance in bringing this Bill-his fourth effort-to your Lordships' House. I very much look forward to his fifth effort in the next Parliament.
All of us who have taken part in the debates on the noble Lord's Bills have many happy memories of past Fridays spent debating the details. Assuming that we give it a Second Reading today, I hope that the noble Lord will seek to bring his Bill into Committee at an early stage. From the debate that we have had today, it is clear that there are some very interesting and detailed matters to be discussed.
In a previous life, I sat where the noble Baroness is sitting. I say to her that I felt I did not always enjoy the unanimous support of my noble friends behind me on this issue, but I was always compensated by the sight of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, enjoying similar treatment at the hands of his Back-Benchers. Alas, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, has retreated from the field of battle but we welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Vadera, who is taking his place this afternoon.
I am so sorry. I am already overcome by the tension in winding up on the noble Lord's Bill.
I also welcome the noble Marquess, Lord Lothian, and the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, and congratulate them on their excellent maiden speeches. I hope that they will contribute to our future debates on Lords reform, and I am sure they will find one or two more opportunities to do so in the months ahead.
The noble Lord, Lord Steel, deserves congratulation on finally persuading the previous Government to allow for retirements and ending hereditary Peer by-elections. It was disappointing in the wash-up that the Conservative Party would not agree to those provisions going through. I suspect that it now wishes that it had allowed them, and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, would not now have the arduous task of helping the House to come to a view on how noble Lords might be encouraged to leave your Lordships' House. No doubt the noble Lord, Lord Steel, is now hopeful, as he is now in the coalition, that his colleagues in that Government will be somewhat more sympathetic to him than they were in the past, and we very much look forward to hearing the noble Baroness perhaps saying that she accepts the principle of the Bill.
I do not think that there can be any doubt about the Government's concern about the size of your Lordships' House. That is why a Leader's Group has been established, under the excellent chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral. I also have the honour to serve under him and we are examining ways of encouraging Members to leave your Lordships' House. Our first report was published on
One cannot help pointing out the irony of the situation in which we find ourselves. On the one hand, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, the Leader of the House, is evidently concerned about its size and has asked the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, to lead a group to see how it can be reduced. On the other hand, he has presided over a massive increase in the appointment of life Peers. We are promised many more. Indeed, as a number of noble Lords, including my noble friend Lady Royall and the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, pointed out, only two days ago we had the promise from the noble Lord, Lord McNally. He reiterated the coalition Government's intention to have a second Chamber reflective of the share of the vote secured by the political parties at the general election. The noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, quoted from the work of Meg Russell, who estimates that if that were to be the case we would end up with a House of 977 Members. Apart from the sheer impracticality of that, it would make reform much harder to achieve. It certainly would make the transition arrangements much more difficult.
The noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, said that there is method to this. He believes that it is the coalition Government's intention to show that the House of Lords is not working and that is why more substantive reform should take place. I have another view on why the coalition Government want to create many more Peers. Earlier in this wonderful debate, we heard from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, the noble Marquess, Lord Lothian, and the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, who talked about the impact and effectiveness of this House as a revising Chamber. However, we are in different circumstances. Already we see that with the size of the coalition Benches, and the evident intention of the Government to create dozens of new Peers on top of that is to ensure that they cannot be defeated in your Lordships' House. The problem is that I do not think this House can do its job effectively if the Executive are virtually guaranteed to win every vote that takes place. You cannot be a revising Chamber unless you can revise. You cannot revise unless you have a decent chance of defeating the Government from time to time.
Let us consider the Public Bodies Bill, which gives draconian Henry VIII powers to Ministers. Noble Lords on all sides of the House know that it is a bad Bill. They also know that if my party in government had produced the Bill, it would have been ripped to shreds. There will be a test of the coalition partners in this House over the next few weeks. A number of Peers from the coalition parties have told me of their horror at the Bill. Unless it is substantially changed, how can this House claim to be an effective revising Chamber?
The noble Lord, Lord Steel, clearly recognises that. I acknowledge the careful drafting that he has undertaken. A number of noble Lords referred to Clause 8(2), in which the noble Lord sets out that a coalition of parties forming a Government shall not have a majority of Members in the House of Lords. He goes on to state that in the event of a coalition, the largest party in the coalition shall be entitled to a larger number of Members than the Official Opposition but that the majority of the larger party should normally be no more than three per cent over the Official Opposition party. Clearly, the noble Lord has gone into this matter carefully. I ask him nonetheless whether a coalition, whatever parties are it, would still have an effective majority because of the relatively low voting turnout of the Cross-Benchers. I take on board the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, who spoke of the careful judgments made by Cross-Benchers when they come to vote. However, their turnout is roughly 20 per cent, compared with the turnout of Members of the main parties, which is more than 50 per cent. This is a matter for consideration in Committee but it is a factor when one comes to a view about getting the right balance between the parties and the Cross-Benchers in your Lordships' House. I would suggest having more Cross-Benchers, but of course we are trying to reduce the number of noble Lords.
Perhaps I may suggest that the important thing is that, when all Cross-Benchers vote in one direction, it shows that one side has got it wrong. It is not the regularity of the voting that matters, but certain critical votes in which the Cross-Benchers really show that someone has got it wrong.
My Lords, that is a significant point, although in the end the numbers count as well. The matter is one for Committee.
I would also appreciate the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, on Clause 1, which ensures that only the commission can make recommendations to the Crown for the appointment of new life Peers. Will he clarify whether, when it comes to party leaders' appointments, he expects the commission to be able to choose from the nominees put forward by the party leaders, or whether it will simply accept the number of names on the list that it has asked for. I note that in Clause 9 the commission has to satisfy itself about the procedures to be followed by the party leaders. I have some reservations about what is essentially a quango, however august, having to look into the procedures of the political parties. I have concerns about the consequences, but that is more a matter for Committee than it is in terms of the principles of the Bill.
I turn to the most important matter-the relationship between the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, and the committee on Lords reform chaired by the Deputy Prime Minister. I detected in the initial words of the noble Lord that he thinks that the Government's timetable might be slipping and he therefore argues that there is a strong case for passing his Bill in the interim. I suspect that the interim period could be anything from two to 200 years. Will the noble Baroness say what the current timetable is? When do the Government expect to bring forward a substantive Bill following pre-legislative scrutiny by a Joint Select Committee of both Houses? Does she believe that it is the Government's intention to seek consensus with your Lordships' House after they publish a draft Bill or are they prepared to use the Parliament Acts? What is Her Majesty's Government's intention on the transitional arrangements? Is she prepared to give a definitive definition of what "grandfathering" actually means? Finally, can she assure me that powers will be looked at by the Deputy Prime Minister's group?
I am pro-reform and have consistently voted for an elected House, but I am convinced that the powers of an elected Chamber will need to be codified. My noble friends Lord Brooke and Lord Wills made that point. I am convinced that the House's current notional powers will have to be reduced if primacy is to be retained by the House of Commons. Under a mostly or wholly elected second Chamber, the current conventions will not hold for one moment because they are constraints voluntarily adopted by a House that understands itself to lack the legitimacy of election. It is abundantly clear that an elected House will not operate within those conventions. I believe that my party was also unrealistic on this matter, but simply to maintain that an elected House can live alongside the voluntary conventions we have is impractical and, in the end, it is dishonest about what an elected House will achieve in future.
We will be interested in the Minister's response to the noble Lord, Lord Steel. For our part, we wish the noble Lord well and look forward to debating this Bill in Committee on many Fridays to come.
My Lords, this is the first time that I have had the opportunity to respond to this debate on your Lordships' House, so I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Steel, for providing this opportunity to debate his Bill. I shall start by congratulating my noble friend Lord Lothian and the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, on their wonderful and thoughtful maiden speeches. The noble Lords bring great expertise and value to this House and will be huge assets. As we progress with this Bill, we will have more opportunities to hear from them.
My noble friend Lord Steel's proposals relate to issues presently under consideration by the cross-party committee chaired by the Deputy Prime Minister. I will try to respond to the points raised today, but if I fail to do so because of lack of time, I will write to noble Lords. A number of the measures put forward demonstrate a sense of shared purpose with the objectives of this Government, which is why it is so valuable to hear the views of noble Lords in this debate.
The Government are committed to bringing forward proposals for a mainly or wholly elected second Chamber-I reassure the noble Lords, Lord Wills and Lord Desai, and the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, on that-and the Deputy Prime Minister has made clear that reform of this House is a priority for the Government. The Bill puts forward proposals in the context of a wholly appointed House, so the Government are obliged to express reservations about the Bill. Notwithstanding that, each of its four substantive parts represents a commendable contribution to the debate about reform of this House.
In the debate in June, my noble friend Lord Steel stated that his objective had been, not to have his Private Member's Bill passed during the previous Sessions in which he has introduced it, but to bring pressure to bear on the Government to act on the issues. Let me reassure noble Lords that this Government are taking action and will publish a draft Bill early next year. There will be an opportunity to examine the draft Bill during pre-legislative scrutiny. I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, that Back Benchers and Cross Benchers will be given ample opportunity to feed in their views at that stage.
I turn first to Part 1 of the Bill, which would provide for a statutory Appointments Commission. The Government recognise that there are good arguments for placing the Appointments Commission on a statutory basis and that a number of such proposals have been made over the years, including by the Wakeham commission in 2000. There are several important considerations that the Government are compelled to take into account when considering the provisions in the Bill for a statutory Appointments Commission that would apply to a fully appointed House. Moreover, the provisions would establish the system of appointments more firmly in legislation. Let me remind noble Lords that reform of this House is a priority, but an Appointments Commission designed for a fully appointed House may have a useful life of only a few years.
Some noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Rennard, may consider that taking this Bill forward would set the ball rolling on reform and that the provisions on a statutory Appointments Commission could be adapted in the event that they are needed in a reformed second Chamber. It is of course possible that the cross-party committee will come forward with other recommendations-
Will the noble Baroness confirm that this Bill is not about an elected House, so the role that the proposed statutory Appointments Commission would have vis-à-vis the parties, is not to be judged on how the commission might relate to an elected House?
My Lords, if the noble Lord lets me make progress, he will see that I shall address the point that he has just raised. It is of course possible that the cross-party committee will come forward with proposals for a statutory Appointments Commission if it decides in favour of a mainly elected second Chamber. I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, that the cross-party committee has not decided whether the proposals will make provision for a wholly or mainly elected second Chamber.
It is unlikely, however, that adapting the Part 1 provisions on a statutory Appointments Commission to fit alongside proposals for a mainly elected second Chamber could be done without very significant amendment to the legislation. We note, for example, that the provisions of this Bill provide a role for the statutory Appointments Commission to make political appointments. The cross-party committee may decide that the political balance should be determined by the outcome of votes cast in elections to a reformed second Chamber and that the Appointments Commission should be involved solely in non-political appointments.
There remain many fundamental decisions yet to be made by the cross-party committee, including whether an Appointments Commission will be needed, whether it should be statutory, and what its role and functions would be. The Government therefore consider that it would be an ineffective use of parliamentary time to take these provisions forward at this time.
The provisions in Part 2 provide for any vacancy resulting from the death of a hereditary Peer to remain unfilled. In this way, the hereditary Peers would eventually be phased out. There has been speculation among noble Lords that proposals for the reform of this House will allow all Peers to remain for life. This has been prompted by the reference in the coalition agreement to
"a grandfathering system for current Peers".
However, the intention set out in the agreement was much broader-simply that there should be an orderly transition where existing Members and newly elected or appointed Members would work together to ensure the exchange of expertise and knowledge from the current House to new Members of a reformed second Chamber. The cross-party committee has yet to come forward with proposals to take this intention forward. Among other things, the committee will need to consider the implications for the size of the second Chamber and its ability to continue to function effectively. However, I can tell my noble friend Lord Trefgarne and the noble Lord, Lord Desai, that it is not yet possible to say whether the committee will decide that hereditary Peers should leave the second Chamber during the transition period in the manner proposed by my noble friend Lord Steel in Part 2 of the Bill.
The provisions in Part 3 on permanent leave of absence provide that this House would be able by standing order to make provision for Members to cease membership upon application, and that absence during the course of a Session which exceeds three months' duration would result in loss of membership.
The Government recognise that the present size of the House is a long-standing concern to its Members. Many have cited practical considerations for desiring a smaller House, such as the shortage of seats in the Chamber and the demands on the House facilities and administration. There is also concern for the reputation of the House in view of the proportion of Members who do not attend regularly yet fail to avail themselves of the leave of absence scheme.
The noble Baroness, Lady Royall, asked about the number of Peers created by the former Prime Minister. I can confirm that from 1997 to May 2010, the Labour Party then created 203 Labour Peers, 84 Conservative Peers and 64 Liberal Democrat Peers. The number of Peers to be created in the future is, of course, a matter for the Prime Minister. I remind the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, that even when all new Peers are introduced, his party will have 244 Peers, the Cross Benches 183 and the coalition combined 316.
The Leader's Group on Members leaving the House, chaired by my noble friend Lord Hunt of Wirral, was established to identify possible options for Members to terminate their membership and leave the House. Its interim report, published on
It is possible to conclude that so far there is no clear consensus on options for ending membership in the present House. Proposals on both voluntary and compulsory options have been put forward. While the responses received by the Leader's Group showed popular support for an attendance provision, alternative options presented include retirement on the grounds of age or length of service. There are differences of opinion concerning the relative merits and disadvantages of the options, and these will require further consideration.
I turn to the provisions in Part 4 on expulsion for those convicted of serious criminal offences. The Bill provides that anyone found guilty and sentenced or ordered to be imprisoned or detained for more than a year or indefinitely shall cease to be a Member of this House. It is right that such important issues are addressed. The good name of this House is important to all of us who serve in it. The Government recognise this and want to ensure that the House has the ability to safeguard its reputation. We must all have confidence in the probity of our legislators. We must also have confidence in our ability to deal with those whose conduct is judged to have fallen below the standards expected.
The Government recognise this and the House has acted swiftly when confronted with controversy. Only a few weeks ago, the House agreed to three suspension Motions. However, I am sure we would all agree that we need to have more robust sanctions at our disposal. That is why the cross-party committee is considering provisions to address improper conduct and conduct leading to a serious criminal conviction. I am sure there is widespread agreement among Members of all parties and groups on the need to act in this area.
We should do this, however, in the context of the reform of your Lordships' House. The noble Baroness, Lady Royall, asked whether the Government would bring forward early legislation on this issue. The Government are acting; we are producing a draft Bill. The previous Government had 13 years in which to take forward the suggestions that the noble Baroness makes. My noble friend Lord Higgins does not believe that there should be a mandatory referendum on the voting system for the other place. The Government believe that the choice of voting systems has profound implications for the country. A referendum giving voters a direct say on this issue is crucial.
The noble Lords, Lord Wills and Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, called for the conventions to be codified. The noble Lord, Lord Lea, raised the related issue of money Bills. I understand that the group proposed by the previous Government did not meet. I can reassure noble Lords that the cross-party committee is considering conventions, including whether it is necessary to codify them.
I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Steel and all noble Lords for their excellent contributions to this debate. I felt very much like the stand-in conductor in the symphony. I have learnt very quickly that your Lordships' House is a place of great learning on subjects with which I am not overly familiar. Therefore, I take this opportunity to ask noble Lords for forgiveness if I have not covered all the points in the detail that they would have wanted, but if there are any outstanding questions, I assure noble Lords that they will be answered through written processes and copies put in the Library. Members of both Houses on all sides, and with all the different views that they may have, will have an opportunity to discuss the proposals on reform during pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft Bill to be published early next year. I for one will take an even greater interest in the debates held then.
My Lords, I think that everyone will agree that this has been a very interesting debate. In fact, I have to say that, of all the debates on my Bill, this has been much the most interesting and constructive, because there has been much more agreement on the need for the measures that it proposes than has been exhibited in the past.
I do not propose to refer to everybody's speeches, because, for me, it is not a question of when I get home but whether I get home, and I am anxious to make a move as soon as possible. However, it was quite interesting that, out of the 25 speeches, we had only two which were opposed to the Bill. I say to the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, and the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, that I have much more sympathy with their arguments than they would suppose, because a perfectly good case can be made out for scrapping the House of Lords as it is and having instead a small senate, on the American pattern, which would then be a complement and a competitor to the House of Commons. But that would mean a rewriting of the conventions on a much larger scale even than we have been contemplating up till now. That circumstance would lead us ever closer towards a written constitution, which I am in favour of, and would mean, I suspect, a resumption of financial powers of that senate, which we do not have at the moment.
However, that is a debate for another day. My Bill does not cut across such an eventuality if that is what were decided. The cheerful thing about this debate is that more and more Members have come round to the view that these provisions are necessary and that we would like to explore them further.
The debate was greatly enhanced by two quite outstanding maiden speeches, from my noble friend Lord Lothian and the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy. Strangely enough, they seemed to dovetail in their approach. My noble friend spoke very wisely about the principles of governance which should direct us, while the noble Lord was very instructive on the history and updating us to what he called a Chamber of "respected revisers", a very different view from that put forward by the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, and my noble friend Lord Trefgarne. The question is how we update our composition and procedures to make that more a reality.
I am not opposed to my noble friend's Bill as a matter of principle, except for the passage on the removal of the hereditary Peer by-elections. The other passages have some short-comings, but perhaps they can be improved in Committee.
I am most grateful to the noble Lord for that clarification.
The noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, along with one or two others, questioned the precise drafting of the statutory commission proposals. I had some sympathy with his view that it should be more open and transparent, perhaps on the lines of the United States. I am very sympathetic to any amendments that may come forward along those lines when we get to Committee. The noble Lord, Lord Wills, raised the whole question of democratic accountability, which again I think is the debate that we are still to address.
I particularly welcomed the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Desai, because he is a conversion to support for the Bill. He was quite right that we should retain the same sort of occasional club rights that we have for the hereditary Peers who have gone. My Bill does not in any way trespass on that.
The important thing that we have to recognise is that two things will happen, whatever happens to this Bill. There are two pieces of work going on that this Bill does not trespass on and which I would argue it assists. One is the work of my noble friend Lord Hunt of Wirral and his committee. They have to continue to work, even under the proposals of my Bill, which would provide the primary legislation that the report recommended, because the House of Lords would still have to come forward with a standing order. The details of that obviously have to be worked out in conjunction with the Government. My Bill does not trespass on that work or on the work of the cross-party committee, to which frequent reference has been made.
I very much welcomed the very honest speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, at the beginning of the debate, when she talked about the time that would be required to bring forward the Bill for prelegislative scrutiny. The combination of what she said and what the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, said makes me more and more anxious about how long this is going to take. We now discover that they have not yet decided whether it is to be a wholly or mainly elected House. Well, hang on a minute, that is a pretty fundamental issue. If we have not got past that gate, how long is it going to take? The noble Baroness, Lady Royall, who is a member of the committee, underlined my point when she talked about the Bill being introduced in the spring. That is the latest definition that we have had. The spring is an elastic thing; it could be late April, I suppose, but it was to happen before Christmas. The noble Baroness, Lady Verma, talked about the number of issues that the committee was still considering and deciding. I do not see the Bill coming forward for prelegislative scrutiny for some considerable time. With the amount of time that it will take for the prelegislative scrutiny to take place and then the actual introduction of the Bill, it will be very long indeed.
On previous occasions, I gave up on this Bill after one Committee stage. That is why I referred to four debates. This is the third Second Reading, but we also had a Committee day. I saw no point in going on with those days because the Bill was being obstructed, but if there is consensus in the House that we need these measures, let us put it into Committee and try and fine-tune it before passing it on to the other place. We can say, "Look, this Chamber is willing to see reforms". While these more fundamental issues are still being discussed, let us send it down to the other end of the building and see what the House of Commons makes of it. I hope that it will be sympathetic. For that reason, I beg to move.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.