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At a recent meeting of Cross Benchers when, not surprisingly, House of Lords reform was discussed, three phrases came up time and again. They were: independence is good for democracy; form follows function; and it is perhaps too rigid to equate democracy with elections alone, or elections alone with democracy. There are other forms of representation that could be considered to be democratic.
We now have the long-awaited White Paper with draft proposals, and the first thing to say is that the Cross Benchers, on whose behalf I am sure I am speaking, very much welcome the proposed 20 per cent independent element. We cannot but be happy about that and, indeed, about the fact that there is to be a statutory appointments commission. However, it is fair to say that there is concern about the elected way forward for this Chamber. If we agree-and perhaps most of your Lordships do-that the major function of the House of Lords is to revise and scrutinise legislation, an obvious response to the question of how best we can do that is by having available those who have relevant and current expertise in a wide range of areas. This, to my mind, necessarily means a part-time House packed with Members from the arts, sciences and humanities, with writers, film producers, IT experts, legal, medical and social welfare experts, distinguished scientists, philosophers and financiers, and those from the more technical professions to deal with increasingly technical legislation.
It would, I suggest, be difficult to achieve that by elections alone. It is more likely that there would be a greater number of politicians from the parties at the expense of the specialists whom I have already outlined. Although I would certainly not go as far as the late Michael Foot in describing a fully elected second Chamber as a "seraglio of eunuchs", an elected House would mean more politicians-and, as Sir John Major wisely said, if the answer is more politicians, then the question is wrong.
Surely the outcome of an elected House would be to give it more political power than it currently has, despite what is said in the White Paper. That would be the inevitable result of an elected House or even a partly elected House, and I think that it would eventually result in the power of veto, otherwise why undertake such radical change? What would be the point?
Power is, as we all know, a tricky area and will have to be thoroughly addressed and resolved by the proposed pre-legislative committee. The issue of powers is so fundamental and this is so radical a proposed change that it may be justifiable to rephrase the question of reform to one of whether the House of Lords is in fact necessary at all. What I mean by that-it may not be a view shared by the Cross-Benchers but it is my view-is that I would be much more in favour of abolishing the House of Lords altogether and appointing external scrutiny committees than having an elected Chamber because I cannot be convinced that an elected House would be able to do its work better than the present House.
That said, there will be time to examine the proposals in far more detail. Once again, I welcome the inclusion of an independent element, which I trust will emerge as a truly independent element and not merely one for the purpose of rewarding the great and the good.