My Lords, as my name is one of those being put forward to serve on the Joint Committee, I shall not address the detail of the Bill; instead, I shall address the wider context. The Joint Committee will look in detail at the specific contents, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester provided us yesterday with an excellent template for assessing the Bill.
It might be helpful for my noble friend to clarify a number of points relating primarily to the demand, purpose and consequences of the Government's proposals. I begin with demand. I detected yesterday a whiff of the cod liver oil approach; it is good for you whether you like it or not. I distinguish between demand and support. I also distinguish between support for a principle and support for the means to deliver on that principle.
I have a specific question: what clear empirical evidence is there of demand for the Bill? I hear the argument that we should not let the views of the public determine the issue, but if we are to do things in the interests of voters in this particular form, it would at least be appropriate to consider their views. The last in-depth survey I saw was the Ipsos MORI poll of 2007. Do the Government have more contemporary data?
Could my noble friend also tell us what the identifiable problem is that the Bill is intended to address? Various justifications are offered. One is clearly that the election of the second Chamber is the democratic option. That is advanced as if it is self-evidently true. My noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway raised a fundamental question yesterday; democracy is a contested concept-a point that was developed by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Exeter. If we take the definition of representative democracy offered by Schmitter and Karl-that it is,
"a system of governance in which rulers are held accountable for their actions in the public realm by citizens, acting indirectly through the competition and co-operation of their representatives"- the draft Bill before us is not the democratic option, because there is election but no accountability.
In any event, in a situation of asymmetrical bicameralism, in which the elected Chamber enjoys primacy, it does not follow that Members of the second Chamber necessarily have to be elected for the system to be judged to be democratic. Indeed, if the accountability of government is the basis of the definition, it is possible to argue that an elected second Chamber undermines the core accountability at the heart of our existing system. Of course there is a counterargument, but that merely serves to make my point: that we are dealing with a contested concept. We cannot proceed on the basis of an assumed agreement as to its meaning.
The same could be said about the concept of legitimacy. It would be helpful to know how the Government define the concept and then relate that to how they believe the legitimacy, once defined, of the elected 80 per cent will embrace the unelected 20 per cent-or will the 20 per cent be somehow illegitimate?
On definition, it would also be helpful to know how the Government define primacy in the context of the relationship between the two Houses. Despite the general saving clause, Clause 2, my noble friend Lord Strathclyde and the Deputy Prime Minister have both conceded that the relationship between the two Chambers will change over time. The noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, told us that one can have an elected second Chamber but maintain the primacy, if not the supremacy, of the Commons. He also told us that an elected second Chamber may have prevented an unwise war. I am not sure how one can reconcile those two statements. Where does primacy begin and end?
The noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, also introduced a comparative element. Only a minority of second Chambers are wholly elected. Elected second Chambers are to be found predominantly in federal nations. It is not clear what purpose would be served by an elected second Chamber in a unitary state, where electors would be voting for members of that Chamber in exactly the same capacity as they would be voting for members of the first. It injects an element of redundancy into the system. I thus invite my noble friend to tell us precisely what problem is being addressed by the Bill.
I turn from the perceived problem to the proposed solution. There is a profound difference between situations where a second Chamber is crafted as part of a new constitution and where a change is made within the context of an established polity. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Exeter raised this yesterday. Very few studies have been undertaken of second Chambers as second Chambers, let alone of changes to them in established democracies. In drawing together the findings of one study of changes to second Chambers in leading western nations, Meg Russell and Mark Sandford concluded, in an article in the Journal of Legislative Studies-I declare an interest as editor of the journal-
"These examples suggest that the design of second Chambers is very difficult to get right. They may be criticised for having too little power, or on the other hand of having too much; for being too democratic, or not democratic enough; for being sidelined and irrelevant or for being a carbon-copy of the lower house. When considering why upper house reform has not happened, one of the first answers has to be lack of clarity over the purpose of the upper house ... As Mughan and Patterson have put it, second Chambers remain 'essentially contested institutions'".
In essence, it is very difficult to get right. This points to the crucial importance of ensuring that change is well grounded in an understanding not only of what is required-that is a clear and accepted goal-but also of a clear recognition of the means for achieving it. Could my noble friend therefore tell us what studies have been undertaken or utilised by government of practice elsewhere, in terms of moving from one second Chamber to another, in order to determine that this measure is the best means for achieving the Government's goals? In short, I think it would be of value to the House, and to the Joint Committee, to know what studies have been undertaken or commissioned by the Government as to the demand for, and consequences of, the Bill. That will provide a solid basis for the detailed work that is now to be undertaken, and to which I for one, will devote myself on behalf of the House.
I know that those who do not share my views would wish that that was so. I think I would have been similarly tempted if I had followed the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, in the debate yesterday-she said it all. The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, follows me and he might take a two-word speech as a sign of infirmity, or maybe even a lack of stamina, and encourage him in his view, expressed here in this Chamber just a couple of years ago, that,
"your Lordships' House is the best geriatric day care centre in the country".-[Hansard, 27/2/09; col. 451.]
Just a week short of year ago, on
General de Gaulle once remarked that since politicians rarely believe what they are saying, they are always surprised when other people believe them-a cynical observation maybe, but one that is not without a grain of truth. I wonder how many of the professed abolitionists in this House really believe in the claims that they are making in defence of their case. I would understand their surprise at finding many to share their beliefs; believers in these reforms appear to be in quite short supply in this debate. That is no surprise. How can anyone rationally claim that the purpose of this legislation is to reform the House, not abolish it, that the supremacy and authority of the other place will not be challenged by an elected second Chamber, and that senators elected by PR for a single 15-year term will not claim greater legitimacy than MPs and equal accountability to the electorate? Are the Bill's supporters telling us that these wholly irrational claims are in fact rational?
One is tempted to equate coalition policy on the future of this House with the doctrine of intentional irrationality that the Dadaists and Surrealists embraced in both art and literature as a means to reject logic and reason, which some insisted were the causes of many contemporary social problems. Perhaps the coalition sees this House as a contemporary social problem. I do not think that either the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, or the noble Lord, Lord McNally, cut particularly Surrealist figures-well, not always-but looking for reason and logic in their arguments in favour of abolition is as fruitless as searching for rationality in Salvador Dali's limp, melting watches.
Time permits me to take but one example: the charge that this House lacks democratic legitimacy. What do we mean by legitimacy? Recently, during Report on the European Union Bill, my noble friend Lord Liddle, who I am pleased to see is in his place, spoke wisely from our Front Bench when he said, in relation to the European Union, that,
"there are two ways of looking at legitimacy. One is to think about it in terms of how decisions are approved, but the other is to think about whether the institution is effective at doing the job that it is supposed to do".-[Hansard, 13/6/11; col. 583.]
He could have been speaking of this Chamber. This draft legislation reflects the monistic view held by its framers that you need to look only at the composition and decision-making methods of a political institution and no further to determine whether it has democratic legitimacy. I emphatically reject this. The nature of a political institution is a cardinal factor in assessing its legitimacy, but it is the quality of the outcomes that weighs heavier in the balance. If that quality is found wanting, if outcomes fall far short of what is agreed by the people to be for the common good, the claim to democratic legitimacy is of course undermined. To fail to deliver is, after all, to fail the people. It is wrong, however, to determine that as a matter of ideological principle a political institution cannot claim legitimacy, whether or not its outcomes approximate the perceived optimum, simply on the basis of its composition.
In last June's debate I spoke of my belief in the fundamentally important constitutional role played by your Lordships' House, the House that we are now invited to abolish. My belief in that role has only strengthened since then. We seek to meet the electorate's requirement that the legislation proposed by the party that wins office is fashioned to the highest possible standards, consistent with the will of the elected Chamber, whose primacy we unquestionably acknowledge. With few powers to exercise, and rightly so, we draw on our experience and apply our expertise to help ensure that Parliament delivers to the people what they have the right to expect: high quality, implementable Acts of Parliament. Perversely, though, we are told that an appointed House is disqualified from performing that crucial democratic function and so must be pulled down. Where is the coalition Government's sense of proportion in all this?
I make this plea to the coalition: away with irrationality, embrace logic and reason, and invite all sides to work together on a programme of incremental reforms that will enhance this House's ability to perform its role as a revising Chamber that is already the envy of parliaments across the world. That is the path to pursue if we are to ensure the high quality legislation to which the people have a democratic right.
My Lords, when she was speaking yesterday, the noble Baroness, Lady Royall of Blaisdon, said approximately 20 times that the draft Bill that we are considering today was a bad Bill. I believe it is a very good Bill.
This Bill proposes that a Committee of the House of Lords should, as now, appoint Cross-Benchers. I strongly support that and I am strongly opposed to the idea of having 100 per cent elected. The series of other important changes, however, is necessary. There are four matters in particular that need substantial change. All four will be improved by this Bill.
The first of these changes is that we should end the special rights of hereditary Peers. Existing elected hereditary Peers should be treated as ordinary appointed Peers and there should be no further elections of hereditary Peers. The rights of the 92 hereditary Peers were introduced by the House of Lords Act 1999 as a short-term compromise, pending a further stage in reform that was expected in the next Session. That, as we all know, did not happen. We are now a decade overdue for removing the special treatment of hereditary Peers.
The second change is that life membership of your Lordships' House for Members is wrong. There should be a time limit for both appointed and elected Members. Cross-Bench Members are generally appointed for their expertise. Expertise has a sell-by date. All Members should get a substantial but not lifelong period of membership. The period suggested in the Bill is a non-renewable membership for 15 years. I agree with this. Existing life Members should be entitled to remain until they have completed 15 years but not necessarily longer. My own 15 years, if anyone wants to know, will end in November next year.
The third change is that the number of Members in your Lordships' House, as everyone knows, is too large and needs to be reduced. This Bill proposes 300 Members as a target, although I think that is rather too few. A better target might be to have 300 elected Members, and 75 appointed Members-the Cross-Benchers.
The fourth change is the change to the present system of appointment for future political Members. It is by far the most controversial of these four changes. The present system is that the Prime Minister allocates numbers of new appointments to his own party and to other parties. The leaders of each of the parties to which the allocations have been made then appoint individuals up to the allocated number. That is what happened to me. In July 1997 Tony Blair told my noble friend Lord Ashdown that he could nominate 11 new Members and I was chosen as one of them. Something like that has happened to most of us in your Lordships' House.
The present system gives an immense power to the Prime Minister. That power can be abused. The noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, was notorious for giving very few peerages to anyone other than Conservatives. This power has not been abused in recent years, but there are no rules as to how these allocations are calculated and the system could be abused again. If political Members of your Lordships' House are elected by PR, this problem disappears. Having an election would mean that the choice of the new party Members of your Lordships' House would be both simple and fair. Continuing to have allocations, a number of which are within the power of the Prime Minister, would be neither. If things are left as they are, there are real dangers to any political party that finds itself in opposition. I do not believe that that is acceptable. It is absolutely right that we should have elections not only for that reason but because I think they give people what they would prefer.
Those are the four main changes that are needed for your Lordships' House, and they are all within the scope of the draft Bill. I should add that only one feature of the Bill is, in my view, wrong-the retention in your Lordships' House of the Bishops. In an age when in the United Kingdom there are several different religions, many different faiths within those religions and many people, including me, with no religion, I can see no justification for retaining the right of Bishops, and only English Bishops, to speak and vote in your Lordships' House. Of course, there would be no objection to daily Prayers being conducted by Anglican clergy.
I understand why many Members of your Lordships' House feel strongly that membership should be permanent and should continue to be by appointment under the present system in all cases. However, that is not the answer. Changes are needed and it is no good saying, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it". It is broke and, if we do nothing, that will become all too obvious all too soon.
My Lords, I was gratified and flattered to hear the noble Lord the Leader of the House, speaking on the radio recently, put first among the categories of experts whose contribution to the House he would like to retain the former Cabinet Secretaries. I am tempted to say to the noble Lord, "Flattery will get you nowhere, my Lord, but please go on trying".
We argue endlessly about the composition of the House and the way in which its Members are chosen, but we ought first to discuss the powers and functions of the House. How can we come to a good decision about who we should be and how we should be chosen without first deciding what we should be doing? As it is, we seem just generally to assume without much question or debate that the powers and functions of the House should remain just as they are. Perhaps that assumption flows from our tradition and our assumption of subordination to the House of Commons.
Then we are told that an assembly that makes laws for the governance of the people ought to be elected by the democratic suffrage of the people. In this country we have an assembly that makes laws for the governance of the people and which is elected by the democratic suffrage of the people. It is the House of Commons. The House of Lords can and does suggest revisions of draft legislation, but it cannot in the end enforce those revisions against the will of the House of Commons. We are a revising Chamber and a debating Chamber, and valuable in both functions, but we cannot prevail against the House of Commons if it wishes to insist. The House of Commons is sovereign in the matter of law-making. Therefore, we do not need to make the second Chamber electable by popular suffrage to give it representative legitimacy.
I shall not dwell, because many others have done so, on the dangers of elected Members of the second Chamber competing with Members of the House of Commons in their constituencies as well as at Westminster. I pass over, as Cicero might have said, the probability that an elected House of Lords would not for long be content to accept its subordination to the House of Commons. Under the Government's proposals, as far as I can see, the Government of the day would find getting their business through a good deal more difficult and tiresome. We have seen recently how trying Ministers find our well meant attempts to improve their legislative proposals. That would be like a vicarage tea party in comparison with the frustrations that the Government of the day would undergo if the House of Lords were to be reformed-perhaps "destroyed" is a better word-as Ministers are now proposing. I foresee serious breakdowns in the relationship between the Commons and the Lords, and the River Thames running under Westminster Bridge with much blood.
Where is the pretence of democratic legitimacy in a Chamber whose Members would have security of tenure for 15 years and no risk of being regularly called to account by their electorate? Does it make sense for both Houses of Parliament to spend endless days, weeks, months and perhaps even years discussing what has been stigmatised in this debate as a bad-and, as my noble friend Lord Grenfell said, miserable-Bill?
I suppose that no one starting with a blank sheet of paper would invent the House of Lords as it is today. It is as it has grown up to be as a result of successive piecemeal changes over the centuries. As it is, it functions reasonably well. If we are going to change it, we can afford to take the time needed to devise incremental or evolutionary changes that make sense and that provide constructive reform. We need a second Chamber that complements the House of Commons and enriches the work of Parliament, not something that competes with the House of Commons, in the constituencies as well as at Westminster, and that is a pale and ineffectual carbon copy of the House of Commons, unlikely to command respect in the country or to be attractive to the people of the quality and distinction whom we should want to have as Members.
Over the centuries, the role of the House of Lords has been to represent in Parliament the principal economic and social interests and activities of the country. As at present constituted, we have to admit that we do that rather haphazardly. In an earlier debate I suggested how we might create a House-or reform the House-to reflect and represent the economic, industrial, social and cultural interests and activities of the country in an up-to-date way, with Members chosen to represent the various strands of our contemporary society: industry, commerce, the trade unions, the health professions, the legal professions, the academic and educational professions, the cultural professions, the Church of England and other churches and faiths, and so on. Members to represent those interests could, where possible, be chosen by processes of indirect election. We need to have a system that ensures that the nations and regions of the United Kingdom and the political parties are represented in a balanced way. We could even gladden the heart of the noble Lord the Leader of the House by leaving room for the appointment of experts such as former Cabinet Secretaries and Chiefs of Staff of the Armed Forces. A House so constituted would have representative legitimacy, even without popular suffrage.
Having taken note this evening of the pipe dreams of the Deputy Prime Minister and his colleagues, let us give them a respectful and honourable quietus. Let us take a little time to work out a scheme of reform that will offer the prospect of a second Chamber that would represent the various strands that constitute the fabric of our society and complement rather than compete with the House of Commons, and whose contribution would enrich the work of Parliament and make a useful and significant contribution to the work of improving legislation and debating great issues.
We need to work up these ideas into specific and detailed recommendations. We need a body, not necessarily but possibly a royal commission, that should include, of course, representatives of the main political parties and people with a sense of history and an understanding of the strengths and subtleties of our constitutional system. With a good supporting staff, such a body would be able to produce within two years a blueprint for significant and constructive reform for an effective House of Lords that could command a wider extent of consensus than the proposals of which we are being invited to take note in this debate.
My Lords, it is a privilege to speak after the noble Lords, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, Lord Norton and Lord Grenfell. The analysis put forward this morning is really all that is required to support the argument for maintaining the appointed House. Like everyone who spoke yesterday in favour of an appointed Chamber, the noble Lords have far greater authority and experience than me. I therefore need expend no effort on repeating support for the principle.
However, I should like to say a word about yesterday's discussion on democracy. Democracy is almost undefinable but, if you want to use the term, you must try to define it and that was not done. This Bill was drafted without a constitutional Bill, without new legislation and with deviant disregard for established conventional usage. That was so that it could be presented to Parliament by the right honourable gentleman the Deputy Prime Minister. That is a very strange conception of democracy because it has the taste of a ministerial diktat.
It is right that what happened should be said. A committee was set up by the right honourable gentleman the Deputy Prime Minister to report on implementation of an elected second Chamber. The report was served by way of an instruction to parliamentary counsel to draft the Bill. In those circumstances, the Deputy Prime Minister was enabled to do what he wished to do, which was to present the Bill. This was all very well but it was considered to be an abuse of due process, and not only by those noble Lords who took the point. Long before the Joint Committee was set up, a series of Oral Questions was taken and spoken to by Conservative, Labour and Cross-Bench Peers. This was to challenge this abuse of process, but it was in vain. The challenge was rejected out of hand on each occasion without discussion. Discussion and pre-legislative scrutiny were perhaps trashed by the twitter in the Rose Garden. There was to be no delay, and no delay there was.
The questions arise of whether it is in the interests of the people and Parliament for an unelected Government, without any consultation, to present a constitutional Bill, and whether the ethos and revised role of the appointed House could remain with an elected Chamber, as asserted by my noble friend Lord Strathclyde, who, I am afraid, is not in his place but who agreed that it should remain. I shall say no more about that. However, why should the challenge on the abuse of process have been made and why was it rejected? These are matters for consideration.
In conclusion, the Joint Committee will take note of this debate and of the questions on the Statement. In particular, it will take note of the truly remarkable, reasoned speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Royall of Blaisdon, which, in the interests of the people and Parliament, sought to safeguard the primacy of another place from elected authority in this House. Is it within the remit of the acknowledged function of your Lordships' House to delay this Bill to seek to safeguard the constitution for further consideration in another place? The Bill should be withdrawn until the next general election.
My Lords, over the weekend I completed 20 years in your Lordships' House, so I am, by the Goodhart criterion, five years past redundancy and I shall await the chop falling on my head when the Bill is passed.
Over those 20 years I have never been persuaded of my own perfection as a legislator or of the perfection of your Lordships' House as a Chamber. We are, as the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, said, a weak second Chamber. As the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, reminded us, if we were democratically more legitimate, we could provide a stronger check on the Executive than we do at present. The British Executive do not receive a sufficient check from the House of Commons alone; we need the House of Lords.
I recall how the reputation of your Lordships' House went up when, during the many years of Mrs Thatcher's prime ministership, petitioners for halting some of the changes had to come to the House of Lords. I particularly remember the abolition of the ILEA and arriving here in those days to lobby Bishops to do something about that. I think that the reputation of this House has grown in more recent times because the Executive have become more powerful as the Whips at the other end have become more powerful. Therefore, we should see our strength more as a reflection of the imperfection in the system rather than as an example of its perfection.
I have always supported reform of your Lordships' House. I believe in a 100 per cent-elected House. However, I quite agree with all the noble Lords who have said that this Bill is an abolition of the House of Lords as it is at present. I do not see why the Government or the Liberal Democrat party are being so shy about their radicalism. We are about to replace the House of Lords with a senate. If that is the programme, let us say so openly.
Such a replacement cannot be done piecemeal by saying, "We shall retain the primacy of the House of Commons". It is obvious that we shall not. During the debates on the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill we passed an amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, that said that since no Parliament can bind any future Parliament, each Parliament should reaffirm the fixed-term decision. Would we like each Parliament to reaffirm the primacy of the Commons in the future? That is what would be required once we had replaced the House of Lords. As a reformer, I do not want to soften the blow; doing so would get us not good reform but muddled reform. After all, we have been discussing this for 20 years, and I have been speaking about Lords reform for about 15 years non-stop. There is a great continuity of ideas in the royal commission's report. The draft Bill and White Paper have not come out of nowhere; they come from the royal commission under Jack Straw and should not have surprised anyone.
If we want to retain the primacy of the Commons, we should follow what the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, said yesterday: there should be a statutory provision, in a separate Bill that is somehow in a form that future Parliaments cannot easily amend, affirming the primacy of the Commons, not just in Clause 2 of this Bill.
We are going to have elections but the various reports have been timid about the basis for them. I agree that if you make constituencies-whether large or small-the basis for electing a second Chamber, you are repeating what already exists in the Commons. Here is an opportunity to do something completely different and not rely on, for example, European Parliament constituencies. I would take up the idea that the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, has suggested, but I would make electoral constituencies the basis. He has suggested-as I think did the noble Lord, Lord Low of Dalston, in a previous debate-that we should have constituencies other than territorial constituencies as the basis for electing people to this House. It could be the Royal Society, the British Academy, the CBI or the TUC.
Over the 12 years since we passed the previous House of Lords reform Bill, British politics has become much less unitary than used to be the case; we now have three devolved Assemblies. This trend towards quasi-federalism ought to be given a further push. We ought to make Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales constituencies from which, senate-style, 20 Members can be elected to your Lordships' House-directly or indirectly; it does not matter. We now have many elected mayors in English cities. Perhaps every city with an elected mayor should be asked to send a representative-again, it would not matter if they were directly elected by PR or not. Why do we not use some imagination and fancy, and create a different type of representation? It has already been remarked-I think that my noble friend Lady Quin said this yesterday-that the Midlands and the north of England are underrepresented here. We should look at how we can achieve regional representation indirectly by means of representatives from local authorities or cities. We should aim to have a much richer mix of representatives here who will be elected but will not be able to challenge the House of Commons on the basis of territorial representation. Members of the House of Commons will remain accountable to constituents as defined on a territorial basis whereas the new senate that is to replace your Lordships' House could have another kind of representation based on regional, commercial, industrial or cultural factors. The Joint Committee, which will be chaired by my noble friend Lord Richard, will have plenty of time to think about these alternatives. There are ways of achieving an elected House of Lords which are not enshrined in stone in the draft Bill. We may yet be able to fashion a better bicameral system that is more accountable than the present one. I predict that that will not happen in this Parliament but it may happen in the next.
I am very confused. I am not being wicked about this, but I did not understand what the noble Lord was saying. Is he suggesting that we should abolish this House?
I am saying that any proposal to have an elected House involves abolishing this House and replacing it with a senate. Whether or not you call that reform does not really matter; it is de facto abolition and we should say so.
My Lords, one of the charms of this place is that one can never tell what is going to happen next. Having listened to one remarkable speech after another yesterday, I found it difficult-indeed, impossible-to believe that any elected Chamber would have produced a debate of this quality.
The debate has been helpful in focusing the arguments on both sides. What has emerged clearly is that there is a very large number of arguments against the Bill but fundamentally only two in favour of it, although I have waited with anticipation to hear another. The first argument is that an elected Chamber would be more democratic. I believe that that is fundamentally untrue. We already have a democratic constitutional system which is 100 per cent democratic. Transferring responsibility from the House of Commons to this Chamber would undermine the fundamental democratic responsibility of the other place. The second argument is that a democratically elected second Chamber would be more legitimate. Yesterday, Member after Member pointed out that legitimacy takes many forms, be it representation from doctors, lawyers or whoever it may be. The reality is that the expertise and experience in this place makes us more legitimate as a revising Chamber than would be the case with an elected Chamber that lacked those fundamental attributes.
I say in passing that we keep on talking about this Chamber as a revising Chamber. However, it has been a lot more than that since 1998 because successive Governments-I regret to say that it is still true of this one-have undermined the situation in the other place through the imposition of programming. My own experience on the Front Bench for eight or nine years has been that time and again it is this Chamber, in clause after clause in a Bill, that actually fulfils that primary responsibility. If we are to reform anything, it is that aspect of the House of Commons that is in desperate need of reform.
I will put the matter into some political context. It is well known that time and again in opposition Mr Cameron said that House of Lords reform would be a matter for the third term. None the less, a proposal for reform turned up in the last manifesto, not the manifesto for three Parliaments' time. It is very puzzling to know why that should be, because the idea that somehow putting that into a manifesto would give a real boost to the votes of the party putting it in-not least because all the parties put it in-is doubtful. None the less, that has been the position of the present leadership of the Conservative Party.
One of the features of the debate over the past 10 years has been the way in which the leadership of each party has become divorced from the views of the majority of the members. That was true for the so-called indicative vote, which Mr Straw introduced in the other place. We still have a difficulty in communicating our views to the leadership.
The other aspect of the debate relates to Mr Clegg. It seems quite clear that Mr Clegg sees his place in history as the great constitutional reformer. We started off with the referendum on the AV vote, and we all know where that got to. Moreover, the coalition agreement says:
"Lords appointments will be made with the object of creating a second chamber reflective of the share of the votes secured by the political parties in the last election"- another of Mr Clegg's enthusiasms, no doubt, but quite disastrous. I am not clear whether it was a conspiracy by him to undermine the position of this House, but in all events that has been the effect; we find our membership enormously increased, with all the problems that that has created.
The third of Mr Clegg's enthusiasms is of course the abolition of this House and its replacement by a totally different system. While, as I say, there are only two arguments for this, there are many arguments against, not least because of the defective aspect of the Bill, which was created after apparently seven closed sessions. We have not seen the minutes of what was evolved, but we now have a Bill that in many respects-these have been pointed out time and again yesterday and today-is extremely defective.
We have here a Bill that is to be considered by committee. One aspect that the committee must consider was not raised at all yesterday; there is no mention of costs in the proposals. I think the House would be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, for having made calculations that show against a background of economic stringency that we are in danger of creating a Chamber that is vastly more expensive than the present arrangement. I very much hope that those in committee who will consider this will pay close attention to that.
Strangely enough, in almost all our affairs, the murky hand of the Treasury-I speak as one who has been involved in it-is pervasive. It seems to have been absolutely silent about the Bill, and I look forward to the noble Lord, Lord Sassoon-or, at any rate, my noble friend who is to wind up the debate-perhaps spelling out exactly what the costs of this expensive, unnecessary and dangerous exercise are likely to be.
It has been said by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, that the settled view of the Commons has been expressed. That is not so; the whole matter is open, and anyway the House of Commons is a vastly differently place from what it was in the last Parliament. I hope that, as the realisation of what is involved grows in the Commons, and as the dangers to its Members at both constituency level and in the House itself become more apparent, they will join Parliament as a whole in rejecting this Bill, which is dangerous, unnecessary and fails to build on the progress we have made over the last 100 years. Before the election and the increase in numbers, this House was working better than it has probably ever worked before. The important thing now is to preserve it and improve it on the lines set out by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, and others. To go the way this Bill proposes is fundamentally wrong.
My noble friend spoke with great clarity about the disgraceful continuation of this Government in ensuring that every piece of legislation in the House of Commons is automatically guillotined. How does he square that fact with a comment made in your Lordships' House by my noble friend the Leader of the House, when he said that his main reason for wanting to reform the House of Lords was,
"a more assertive House with the authority of the people and an elected mandate"?-[Hansard, 17/5/11; col. 1279.]
They have an elected mandate at the other end; they have the authority but they are not assertive. Would it not be reasonable to expect my noble friend to persuade his colleagues in the Cabinet to end the ridiculous automatic guillotining of every piece of legislation that comes through this Parliament?
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, has given us perhaps the only argument in favour of this Bill-that those who make the laws should be answerable to the public and, in the public's view, we do make laws in this House. That is why I have always spoken in favour of an elected House. I have also pointed out, however, that this is an ideal, an objective. It is an objective to be achieved not in one huge leap but by a series of steps. It is a series of steps because of the complex constitutional issues that have to be resolved and which we have been debating here.
In 1999, together with my noble friend Lord Stone, I wrote a submission along these lines to the royal commission of the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham. In our paper we spoke of stages of reform, of mixed composition with full and part-time Members, and of how the House would have to perform additional functions. The Labour Government took this route of incremental change. They removed 90 per cent of the hereditary Peers; they created the post of an elected Speaker; and they separated the judiciary and the House of Lords. I still think that we should continue in this careful way-dealing with the issues one at a time and, most importantly, carrying the public with us.
I agree with other noble Lords that the main issue is the primacy of the House of Commons. The Government say that this is secured because of its privilege over financial matters and because of the Parliament Act. The noble Lord, Lord Marks, sternly told us that this is the law. The reality is that the House of Commons has primacy because it is elected and we are not. We have conventions that respect this. If this House were to change, the conventions would change, and it is ridiculous to say otherwise.
I find the proposed method of election a big obstacle to reform because it presents a contradiction which other noble Lords have pointed out. The Government's argument for reform is legitimacy, but election also means accountability. A 15-year single term destroys any accountability and, as other noble Lords have said, it encourages the opposite. I think that it rather demeans the electorate.
In addition, the proposed system of election will not produce people with the knowledge, the experience, the talents and the will to scrutinise the work of the Government-tasks that the Government say should be the main function of this House. I agree with others that the election system proposed would just produce a political clone of the other place.
There are further dilemmas, and in its paper, Eight Key Obstacles on the Road to Lords Reform, the Constitution Unit of University College London, lists some of them. For instance, why are the Bishops here? Is it to add spirituality to our deliberations, as the right reverend Prelate suggested? The transition to 300 senators will be tricky, but is 300 the right number? Will they fill all the committee places and do all the other work on and off the Floor of the House, which the noble Baroness, Lady D'Souza, described as "outreach". Like her, I do not think so.
The Government's Bill does not come anywhere near to dealing with those issues; nor does it deal with the checks and balances necessary when there are two elected Chambers. This Bill is just another example of the coalition's unthinking and reckless "big bang" approach to constitutional legislation. As my noble friend Lady Royall said, it is a bad Bill and we deserve better.
The Motion of the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, points the way forward. Indeed, for one moment I thought that the Government might withdraw their Bill after she effectively demolished it in eight minutes flat. As she said, part of this reform process is getting our own House in order. My noble friend Lord Grocott said that another part of the process is for the House of Commons to reform itself so that it, too, can work with an elected second Chamber. The Steel Bill deals with some of these issues, so the Government should accept the noble Lord's offer and take over his Bill.
We have sensible proposals to improve our working practices, so let us get on with those. There are proposals to allow for retirement. Let us strengthen them and make them a bit more imaginative, using them as a way of starting to deal with reducing the number of Peers. There is polling to find out what we think, but what do the public think? Probably not much, as the noble Lord, Lord Norton, suggested, but let us find out. Meanwhile, let us see whether the Joint Committee can produce a consensus on solving some of these dilemmas.
An elected House is an honourable and democratic objective. Let us work towards it issue by issue, but not by this bad and unworkable Bill.
My Lords, if I upset many of my noble friends on these Liberal Democrat Benches, I am sorry, but I remain opposed to a wholly or partially elected House. That was my view when I joined this House nearly 20 years ago and, since then, it has remained broadly the same. As a former leader of the Liberal Democrat Peers, and to avoid any misunderstanding, I told the Deputy Prime Minister last summer where I stood. The publication of the draft Bill and the appointment of yet another committee have strengthened my conviction.
Many noble Lords will remember, and will have experienced in the House of Commons, the 1968 Bill on reform of the Lords, which was abandoned. I fear that this Bill, as it stands, will also run into the sand. With a coalition heavy legislative programme for this Parliament, Lords reform will inescapably block or delay more important issues. There will be no consensus, which there ought to be on a very major change in the nation's constitution.
On the day when the Deputy Prime Minister made his Statement about the Bill on
As the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, has reminded us, the Deputy Prime Minister drew attention in his Statement to what he called the "roots" of the coalition's proposals. He referred to the preamble of the Parliament Act 1911, by which Herbert Asquith's Government intended to substitute the House of Lords for,
"a Second Chamber constituted on a popular instead of hereditary basis".
Nick Clegg continued:
"There has been progress in the intervening years ... We should see ourselves as completing that work".-[Hansard, Commons, 17/5/11; col. 155.]
However, "completing that work" is not the right approach. If we are to have a better second Chamber, in whatever form, the starting point for legislation should be now-how things are-not 100 years ago, when the circumstances were very different.
In 1911, the choice was between a wholly hereditary House and an elected House. That was all. There was no suggestion of a peerage that could last only one generation. Today, and since 1958, we have very many life Peers.
Asquith never considered or imagined the option now available, and he would have been amazed by the range of professions and talents that we now have-the diversity, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, and others have put it-with a great deal of differing experience. We do not know what Asquith would think about reform in 2011, but we certainly cannot assume that he would have preferred an elected House.
As for a "popular" basis in 1911, "popular" meant only men. At that time, Asquith, was, in his own words,
"a strenuous opponent of the extension of the political franchise to women".
He was certainly not a model for women today.
The Parliament Act was not a carefully considered proposal, a long prepared democratic measure, but a by-product of the 1909 Budget and a constitutional crisis. The economic, social, moral, cultural and political climate of those times was very different. History is history; Asquith was Asquith. Reform of the Lords should be judged on merit in the year 2011, not in the spirit of the Liberal high noon in the Edwardian twilight.
For many years, despite the 1958 life peerages legislation, reformers assumed, in one breath, that getting rid of the unacceptable hereditary principle meant an elected House, but that was never the choice. My own preference then, and now, was for ending the hereditary principle and for necessary reform built on a life-Peer House.
In yesterday's debate, we were reminded of the events in 1999, when the House agreed to retain the hereditary principle through electing 90 "excepted" Peers. I shall not bother going further into the complications and course of the Weatherill amendment-there is a very good House of Lords Library Note on it-but it was nonsense from the start. The proceedings for by-election under
It follows that I join in the widespread support in the House for my noble friend Lord Steel's Bill, and I would much prefer action now rather than a long examination of this coalition's draft document and, I am afraid, fruitless conclusions.
The House of Commons and the House of Lords are joined together in a single Parliament. The balance of powers, including the powers of the Executive, works very well despite some rough edges. After scrutiny, debate and negotiation in Committee, including the ping-pong, the elected House of Commons and overall democratic legitimacy eventually wins, and so it should be.
My Lords, at this stage of any marathon, aching limbs are foremost. I regret to say at this stage of this marathon, my voice has given up. I apologise for the way in which I am speaking.
We have heard a great deal in this debate about what we as individuals believe to be the purpose of this assembly. When I look at the Bill and the White Paper before us, I find it very difficult, as the noble Lord, Lord Norton, reminded us a short time ago, to understand the precise reason for doing this. As the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, reminded us yesterday, there is a sense that we are talking in a circle. Coming from the Cross-Bench position, I am confused as to the real purpose of this move by the Government. Anyone who heard the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester speak yesterday could not fail but be impressed by the tests that he put before us. Reflecting on what he said overnight, I find that it becomes plainer and plainer that there is vagueness and obscurity in the reason for being asked to look at this proposed Bill and White Paper. One cries out for clarity as to what the Government are asking us to do.
One of the privileges of being a Cross-Bencher is that you are part of a small community within a community, and the relationship of that smaller community to the rest of this House is, to say the least, enlightening. One is conscious of the need of the two main parties in this House to gain support from the Cross-Benchers when they debate and propose legislation. In that more apparent use of our position, it has become very clear to many of us that we possess something unique that is in danger of being lost in what is being proposed: that is, independence.
In an elected upper Chamber, I know that many of my colleagues on these Benches would never dream of seeking to be candidates in an election. We would simply feel that this goes totally against our reason for being here at present. If this is to be the way forward, I feel fairly certain in predicting that a lot of the present Cross-Benchers will not feature in any future upper House.
Secondly, there has been a great deal of talk in this debate about the relationship between two elected Houses. There was reference yesterday to the position in the United States between the House of Representatives and the Senate. Many years ago as an academic law lecturer, I took on the task of examining the relationship between the two Houses in the United States. Yes, on the surface, they had reached a formula that allowed democracy, in their terms, to be produced. Yes, they had found a relationship for working together. The more I delved into the situation, though, it became apparent to me that that was only part of the story. An enormous amount of time and energy was, and I believe continues to be, devoted by the representatives of both those Houses to achieve that end, and the time and energy expended on it far outweigh any purely party political discourse. At that stage, all those years ago, it struck me how much better it would be if that time could be allocated to the production of democracy, the preparation of legislation and preparation for debate, so it is not as easy as it seems for that great democracy to achieve what it does. My fear for two elected Houses in our Parliament would be that the tensions that soon surfaced between Members of the same political persuasion and in programming would be such that it would be a cause of regret if we went down that road.
I return to the position of the Cross-Benchers. As I say, I do not believe that many of us, if any, would wish to seek election to a new form of House. In the terms of the life of this smaller community within the larger community, we see that there is trust in each other's independence, each other's judgment and in what we hope we came here to achieve. My fear is that, in the wording of the proposed Bill and particularly the wording of the White Paper, that very uniqueness, that trust, could be lost. I would find that very regrettable, and I suggest that it would be detrimental to what this Parliament stands for in the eyes of the world.
It is a well known fact that if you are teaching in a theological college and you prepare a sermon, if the point that you wish to make to your congregation is not very plain, you raise your voice and surround that point with bland expressions. I am afraid that that is how I view much of what is before us at this moment. I commend the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, and I hope that the Steel proposals will win the day.
My Lords, I have two preliminary points. First, in eight minutes it is inevitable that one can touch only on certain issues, and after a long debate it is also inevitable that one will be repeating many of the comments made on the key issues. I make no apology for that because it indicates the strength of feeling on these issues. Secondly, when I was in the other place I consistently held and expressed the same views and support for an appointed House that I hold now-a House, of course, greatly enriched and changed by the reforms relating to life and hereditary Peers.
The noble Lord, Lord St John of Fawsley, said yesterday:
"What on earth is this House doing spending two precious days debating an issue that has no interest outside the Westminster village and for which there is no demand in this country at a time when we are facing a domestic crisis of major proportions?".-[Hansard, 21/6/11; col. 1208.]
I take issue with that. I think that he was wrong; these two days have been very well spent. I agree, though, about the reaction that there will be in the country when we spend two years and much parliamentary time dealing with this issue when the country is still having to face the inevitable and continuing economic and other pressures in dealing with the fiscal deficit and many other things. This leads to a point that the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, made, when he said, in justification of the Bill:
"The public have made it very clear that they do not trust our electoral system in its present form".-[Hansard, 21/6/11; col. 1189.]
I was in the other place for 27 years. I go along with many others who say the same as me: I never had a single letter on House of Lords reform during the time when I was there and I get very few representations even now. Such reaction as one does get to the House of Lords, when people know that one is in it, is largely favourable. The adverse public reaction concerns the House of Commons. I regret that because I have a deep respect and affection for the House of Commons, which has been unfairly denigrated in many ways in recent years. However, there is no doubt that the Commons expenses issue and the kind of yah-boo politics that is inevitably conveyed in prime-time television coverage has greatly diminished the public's respect for the House of Commons. Therefore, it is the House of Commons which gives cause for concern, not the House of Lords.
I am constantly told by many members of the public who talk to me about House of Lords reform that the last thing they want is a clone of the House of Commons. I say this as someone who, as I say, has deep respect for the House of Commons. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, that if we had a referendum on reform of the House of Lords as proposed, I am fairly certain that the public would give the same response as they did in the AV referendum, and they would do so because so much of the media comment from serious newspapers and other commentators is against these proposals. Therefore, there would be heavy pressure against these proposals in any referendum.
There has been a subtle move in the language from democratic accountability to democratic legitimacy, and I can see why. Earlier proposals on House of Lords reform ran into considerable difficulties because they were based on regular elections to the House of Lords on the same basis as elections to the House of Commons. This caused great concern among Members of the House of Commons in relation to the challenge posed to their position in their respective constituencies and in the House, as this House would be elected on the same basis. There was also a concern that those who wanted to come to this place might well be those who had failed to get into the House of Commons and therefore might use this as a stepping point to getting into the House of Commons. Those two fears and criticisms were dealt with by proposing a 15-year term and no re-election. However, that immediately removed any question of democratic accountability. There is no democratic accountability if you are elected for a single term. I somewhat suspect that there is no democratic legitimacy either as many Members, knowing that they were here for 15 years with no possibility of re-election and no possibility of getting to the House of Commons, might not even attend very often because no one would demand that they did. That is very different from being a Member of the House of Commons and having to face re-election. I take very much the point that the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, made on this. The democratic legitimacy versus democratic accountability argument has lost a lot of its credibility because of these proposals.
The key weakness of the Bill is Clause 2, which relates to functions and powers. This part of the Bill has already been holed in the water, and I think is already dead in the water. It is simply unsustainable. Inevitably, there will be clashes as the Lords asserts its democratic legitimacy. The noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, said yesterday in favour of House of Lords reform:
"I cannot imagine that the decision to introduce the poll tax and the decision to take this country to war would have got through a Chamber elected on a different mandate and in a different period".-[Hansard, 21/6/11; col. 1190.]
They would certainly not have been challenged by this Chamber on the basis of the proposals in this Bill because it would have no power or rights to do so. They could have been challenged only-this is the giveaway-if the House of Lords asserted the powers to do that, which it has not got but which it will have if it is democratically elected. I am constantly surprised that Members of the House of Commons have not understood this point in the past, but I think that they do now. There is a growing understanding in that regard. It was very significant that in response to Mr Clegg's Statement in the House of Commons on
I wish to make two other points in that regard. One concerns finance and supply. It seems to me inevitable that if this House were elected it would demand many more powers in relation to finance and supply. Already there are demands from outside Parliament that this House should play a much more substantial part in scrutinising Finance Bills. That would become inevitable if this House were elected.
A point that I do not think has been made already is about Ministers. I am a little perplexed by the paragraph on Ministers but it seems to me to be absolutely clear that there would be a need for a growing proportion of Ministers in this House if this House had democratic legitimacy. I pay great tribute to Members, on both sides, on the Front Bench for the roles that they play and have played as Ministers. They do a tremendous job under huge pressures but the job would become much bigger if this House was democratically elected. There would be a need for many more Ministers in this House from individual departments. We could not have one Minister responding for six departments. There would be many fewer Ministers in the other place and those who aspire to being Ministers in the other House should think about that point.
"I fully expect the conventions and agreements between the Houses to change, to evolve and to adapt to different circumstances".-[Hansard, 17/5/11; col. 1279.]
He talked of a more assertive House here. I think that it would happen very quickly. I was much struck by the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Wills, speaking in favour of an elected House but making clear that the absolutely wrong part of this Bill is the lack of powers. That seems the most indefensible part of the Bill and will need to be fully addressed by the Joint Committee, taking into account the report by the Joint Committee on Conventions carried out under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Cunningham.
In conclusion, I agree that change is needed. I very much support the Steel Bill. One of the most vulnerable parts of this House, as we enter the debate about House of Lords reform, is the size of it. We will have to address that in the debate next week. I welcome the decision of the Government to publish the Bill and to set up the Joint Committee. Publicising the Bill has clearly indicated the defects in the proposals. There is immense detail in it, and much to be challenged. I wish the Joint Committee well in this huge task. If more time is required, I hope that the committee will take it. It is too important for its work to be rushed.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor, who is my old boss from many years ago and for whom I have always had the highest regard. It is impossible to address this subject without taking note of the extraordinarily contradictory behaviour of the Government in relation to the fundamental principles of this Bill over the past few months. One of its main purposes is to reduce our size from 800 to 300 Peers. But the Government have been making unprecedented increases in the numbers in this place over the past year. I recognise that I am one of them, of course, but that does not change the argument. In other words, the Government have massively contributed to a problem, which they now say needs to be urgently redressed. There is something slightly peculiar about that.
The Government have brought forward the EU Bill, in which some of us have been taking part. It provides for at least 56 referenda on different matters relating to our membership of the European Union and including such esoteric questions as whether or not we have qualified majority voting to decide the future of the public prosecutor's office in the EU. Is it not extraordinary that the Government, who say that they want up to 56 referenda on those sorts of subjects-although a lot of people do not take it very seriously-do not provide for referenda on major constitutional reforms of the kind now being proposed? The only logical explanation is that the Government think that the change that they propose in the House of Lords is less significant than the use of qualified majority voting on the public prosecutor's office in the European Union. That does not seem very convincing.
There are some difficult issues here. They might be the result just of confusion, hastiness or lack of thought, or of something more slightly more sinister. It has become a pervasive suspicion in the country as a whole, which is very regrettable in terms of people's confidence in our system, that the only reason for bringing forward this very important and momentous constitutional measure is to give Mr Clegg a boost to his amour propre after the humiliations of the past few months. I hope that that is not true. I believe that I will carry the whole House with me when I say that constitutional legislation above all legislation needs to be considered extremely carefully. It must not be brought forward hastily or wantonly, let alone cynically. It must be brought forward reflectively and with an eye for the long term.
Although I do not agree with all aspects of the Bill, as I shall explain, I am not against an elected House of Lords. I have always been in principle in favour of an elected second Chamber and I have become more in favour of such a Chamber since I have served here for nearly a year. The reason for that is simple. I am not sure whether election would increase the legitimacy of this House with the public as a whole. As far as I can see, there does not seem to be much wrong with the legitimacy of this House in the eyes of the public as a whole. But I am convinced that it would increase the legitimacy of this House in our own eyes. It would give us the courage of our convictions. I have been very struck by the extent to which we do not have the courage of our convictions. When it comes to ping-pong with the other House, after one or two sessions we throw in the sponge and we say, "Oh, we have to give way to the elected House". I do not quite know why we do that because we are observing conventions like the Salisbury convention, which were offered up at the end of the 19th century as a substitute for statutory parliamentary reform, or perhaps to head off statutory parliamentary reform.
When we had the reform, which the House of Commons wanted, imposing the rules that it decided-that is, the restrictions on financial discussions, the time limitation in which we could hold legislation and so on-we had a set of rules imposed on us with which the House of Commons was happy. There is no reason not to observe those rules, which we have to, and to give up the previous conventions. It is an anomaly that we observe those conventions as it is but I am convinced that that anomaly would disappear if we were an elected House.
When I asked why we were not being a bit tougher and a bit more robust about standing up to the Commons, I was told, "Oh, but it is an elected House. Therefore, we feel that we cannot". That is a very important reason and on that basis I am very happy to have an elected House of Lords. But I have some conditions for that. The first is that it would be a fully elected House. I cannot conceive of anything more absurd than legislating on the principle that you require election for legitimacy and then having 20 per cent of the House that, by definition in terms of that governing principle for the Bill, are illegitimate. That seems to me to be an extraordinary anomaly, which could not be justified for a moment. The House must be 100 per cent elected.
Secondly, the House should not be elected by PR, which is the worst possible form of election if you want to maintain the independence of the House of Lords. Of course, it is vital that we do so. Thirdly, for the same reason, I am opposed to the idea of allowing Members of the House of Lords to be Ministers. The offer of the potential of ministerial jobs is far and away the most constraining factor limiting the independence of Members of the House of Commons. I had experience of it myself. I knew when I voted against John Major over the Scott report that I was completely removing any possibility of my joining that Government. I was very upset about that and it was a very difficult issue. I was much less worried about deselection or being defeated at the next general election. I was confident that I would be able to explain what I was doing to my constituents and to carry them with me. If we want to have an independent House, we should exclude the Ministers. The idea of having temporary Ministers here, as the Bill proposes, is appalling. They really would be the placeman of the 18th century writ large.
There is a fundamental contradiction in the Government's mind about whether you can be elected and not have representational functions. Yesterday, I heard several statements from the Government which implied that they thought that it would be possible to have an election and then for the elected Members of the House of Lords not in any way to conflict with the House of Commons in their representational functions. That is unrealistic. Once you have been elected, you cannot possibly turn around to those who have elected you and say, "Thank you for electing me. I am now going to enjoy my salary for the next 15 years but I'm not interested in your problems at all because I am not standing again for re-election, so you can get lost". If there was a contribution that we could make to ensuring that we really undermined confidence in our democracy in this country, it would be exactly that. It would be to say, "Here is a class of politicians who have no responsibility to the people who sent them there and take no interest in their problems or their representations".
Of course, once you start taking an interest in people's problems and representations, you are obviously conflicting with the House of Commons. I am not offended by that but we should face that fact. Just as in the United States you can talk to your Congressman and if you do not get any help there you can talk to your Senator, exactly that situation would prevail in this country. I am happy with it but we have to face up to the fact and be honest with the House of Commons and say that there would obviously be a conflict. There is no mileage at all in trying to pretend schizophrenically to those who want election, "Yes, that's fine, we can provide you with election", and to those who are worried about a conflict with the House of Commons say, "Don't worry. There will be no conflict with the House of Commons". We have to be honest about this. Clearly, representation follows election. That has always been the case and it would be the case in the future.
My Lords, I seem to have travelled a rather different road to the one travelled by many noble Lords, but at the end of the day I have arrived at precisely the same destination. We have had quite enough constitutional change in recent years. I agree entirely with my noble friend Lord MacGregor that, with the country facing so many pressing problems, it will look quite extraordinary if we spend days and days of parliamentary time on legislation on the lines of the draft Bill.
Then there is the matter of the Parliament Act, already mentioned a few times in this debate, particularly by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Aberavon. If this House were to reject this Bill, could the Parliament Act be used to force it through second time round? The question is simple: could an Act passed with the consent of both Houses to resolve disputes between an elected and an unelected House be used to change entirely the composition of the second Chamber so that it was no longer even based on the peerage whose wings the Parliament Act was passed to clip?
It would be very strange indeed if the Parliament Act could be used and I would like to hear the Government's view on this. When the Deputy Leader of the House sums up, I hope that he does not just brush the matter aside and say that no one can know now whether or not a Bill will get through this House. It would be very difficult to find anyone in this place who thinks that the Bill would have much of a chance. If it really would not be possible to use the Parliament Act, should the Government not be considering whether they are justified in pressing ahead and wasting a lot of time on this matter?
Having said that, I am not in principle against an elected second Chamber. I can see the case for creating an elected House so that it can have powers that would not be proper to give to an unelected House. I am dead against creating an elected second Chamber and then requiring it to do no more than we can do perfectly well now. Let us look for one moment at the opportunity we are missing. Noble Lords have been very polite about the Commons in this debate-with the exception of my noble friend Lord Higgins. In truth, the other place, which is supposed to be a check on the Executive and whose primacy noble Lord after noble Lord has determinedly championed, has become pretty feeble in the role that it is supposed to perform.
Governments, particularly those with big majorities, are able to get almost any measure through the Commons. The Commons is often little more than a tool of the Executive-and things are getting worse, not better. It is not just a matter of the power of the Whips, and the power of patronage-which of course has grown much bigger as a result of the introduction of life peerages. Governments and Oppositions nowadays even busy themselves with trying to dictate who can stand for their respective parties, regardless of the wishes of local people. People have even been thrown out of Parliament for appearing to voice disagreement with party policy. That happened to my noble friend Lord Flight, when he was Howard Flight, back in 2005, and it was a disgraceful affair. Systems have recently been set up to prevent people who have fought good fights under the party banner from being able even to offer themselves for reselection. That has just happened to the person who fought, and fought well, in the constituency where I live. Of course, a more powerful second Chamber would not stop that sort of abuse of power, but it does show how great the power of the Executive is over the Commons.
There is a case for an elected second Chamber but it is not the case being put forward by the Government. There is a case for a second House which would not be just a revising chamber, still less one dedicated to no more than making the legislative sausage machine run nice and smoothly. There is a case for a Government having to win not just the support of the Commons but of another body composed and elected in a way that would make it far more independent of government than the Commons has become. There is a case for an elected House having new powers with regard to legislation; but also perhaps specific powers for the House to exercise on its own, like some of the powers given to the US Senate.
However, none of this is on offer. Out of fear that any hint of an increase in powers would scupper the Bill, those who have brought it forward have bolted the door against worthwhile reform. As a result they are trying to win an unwinnable argument. They have set themselves the task of trying to convince the public that it is good in itself to create more elected politicians even if they are not allowed to do anything that is not done perfectly well now. They are on a hiding to nothing.
My Lords, yesterday my noble friend Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon made arguments for legitimacy through democratic elections. I believe his arguments are unanswerable and I wish to echo the sentiment. A noble Lord commented afterwards that all Liberal Democrat candidates would write down his speech and deliver it in hustings over the next few years. There have also been comments that nobody outside this House is interested in possible reform.
When the coalition document was published last year, I had not just telephone calls but an irate voter in Watford, where I had stood for Parliament, knocking on the door to say that the coalition document was not strong enough on reform of the House of Lords. I hasten to point out that this was not a Liberal Democrat member but a member of the public who had heard me espousing the reasons that this Chamber should become fully elected at various hustings; it also came up during questions at those hustings. For some people-more than we suspect, I think-reform is an important issue.
I wish to make clear that my personal view is that I support 100 per cent elected, and I agree with the sentiments expressed earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Stamford. However, I am more of a pragmatist than him and suspect that the draft Bill's proposal of 80 per cent will move us in the right direction while retaining the expertise of the Cross-Benchers. I will come back to that in a minute.
The noble Lord, Lord Davies of Stamford, also referred to the issue of constituencies. It is important to recognise that with any list system on a regional basis, the constituency work of MEPs is very different from the constituency work of MPs in the other place. It is simply the nature of the geography: if you a Member for a large region you will not have the close contact that you do with constituents in a smaller constituency.
Does the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, agree that the difference is that MEPs are elected to handle issues falling under the jurisdiction of the EU? In the case of the Lords and the Commons-or in the future, elected Lords and the Commons-the jurisdiction will be the same, and the issues will be the same. Therefore, there would be the conflict which I drew attention to.
The point I am trying to make is that it is not purely about jurisdiction, it is about the practical application of having a constituency of 5 million people as opposed to 75,000.
I turn now to issues of diversity in a future House that is either partially or wholly elected. In an elected House, we need to ensure that recommendations from the Speaker's Conference to improve the diversity of the other place are taken into account by the scrutiny committee over the next two years. In our present format we do not represent the country in all its diversity. Some of the appointments in recent years have attempted to deal with that, but, partly because there is no retirement, we still do not reflect the country that we represent.
There is also an issue about the geographical diversity that is needed. If we looked at where most Peers come from, I suspect that we would find a heavy southern bias. I was speaking with colleagues in the north-east the other day who feel that they do not have access to many Peers; they have some, but not the same as those who live among the large concentration in London and the south-east.
As for the conventions governing the relationship between the two Houses, we all agree that those are not absolute. I do not take the view that they will stand still, and my noble friend the Leader of the House must have been right yesterday when he said that the conventions will evolve and that the relationships between the two Houses may change. However, that is nothing new. Conventions have evolved over the years and the relationship between the Houses changes with time.
This House is much more muscular than it was a few decades ago. For example, in the decade up to 2000 the Government were defeated 155 times; in the decade up to 2010 the Government were defeated 422 times-nearly a threefold increase. Granted, cause and effect cannot be proved. It may be that the change in government in 1997 was influential and the reforms which saw the departure of the majority of the hereditary Peers should be noted.
However, we have not seen this House attempting to depart from any of the conventions since then. Furthermore, Clause 2(3) of the draft Bill makes it clear that the conventions governing the relationship between the two Houses are to remain unaffected, and there is no reason to suppose that that aim will not be achieved. However, if a future Parliament were of the view that the conventions needed to be explicitly codified to protect their efficacy, legislation could be brought forward to bring that about, as was proposed in the 2005 Labour manifesto.
I am concerned that a House of 300 could deal adequately with the workload of the House, particularly if there were to remain some who are not full-time politicians. I suspect that many in this House, and the public at large, regard the presence of some who are not full-time as one of the strengths of this House. The pride that is rightly taken in the House's expertise derives largely from having here many who are active in other spheres, and I am not sure that it is intended that we should sit on many more days than we currently do.
Pride in the expertise of the Members of this House does not derive solely from the presence of Cross-Benchers, much as I respect their expertise. It is unfair to assert as a generality-and I have heard it said-that those who are unelected or without party affiliation hold a monopoly on expertise. A glance around this Chamber certainly proves that wrong.
As for the system of election, as a committed supporter of STV for parliamentary elections I nevertheless feel that-in the larger constituencies that will be appropriate for proportional elections to this House of, say, 80 to 120 new Members across the country at each election-an open list system has much to commend it. In particular, we would be far more likely to achieve a membership that is more diverse, as I mentioned earlier, and more representative of Britain as a whole with an open list system than we might with STV. That is why we should consider that system for elections. However, whatever the system of election, a democratically legitimate upper House, as part of a democratic Parliament of the United Kingdom, is a goal that we should pursue and achieve.
My Lords, I did not participate in any of the earlier debates over the years on the reform of this House. I thought that I would wait until the traffic eased up a bit and the pressures died down, so that I would be able to dilate at leisure. Clearly I waited in vain. I am now being lapped by many noble Lords, in some cases for the third or fourth time. However, I at least have the comfort of knowing that, if I bore your Lordships on this subject, I shall be doing so for the first time.
My noble friend the Leader of the House proclaimed yesterday that this reform was promised in the Conservative manifesto at the last election. I say with the greatest respect to my noble friend, who is not in his place, that that does not necessarily make it right. Given what my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said before the last election, I find myself surprised to discover how quickly we seem to have reached our third term.
On reading the draft Bill, so many thoughts crowded in on me as to what was wrong with it that I remained baffled. What, for example, is the point of a Bill that seeks to bring increased democratic legitimacy to this House through election but would deny the elected the right to exercise that legitimacy? Surely that is unsustainable. What is the point in bringing into this House, hot from the hustings, elected and politically motivated Members, as they would be, who had probably tried and failed to be selected for and elected to the other place, and forcing them to confine their energies here to the detailed scrutiny and revision of legislation that is at present done so well by existing Members-and to do that all in the name of the holy grail of democratic legitimacy? I shall return to that issue shortly.
By common consent, this House has a diverse range of expertise and experience that the House of Commons lacks. Every Member of this House has been appointed because he or she has something to offer. The electorate will not benefit if we destroy that, and nor will democracy. Incidentally, 300 Members would not be enough. There may be only 300 to 400 Members, on average, active in the House at the present time, but they are not always the same ones. To change this would inevitably lead to frustration among the new, elected Members and then to challenge. It could destroy the invaluable equilibrium between the two Houses that is afforded by the present arrangements.
There seems to be an aggressive antagonism towards this place, implicit in the Deputy Prime Minister's proposals. Surely that is entirely the wrong way to go about reform, which should be gradual and consensual. Consideration of reform should not be only about this House or that House, conducted in isolation with no thought for the constitutional ripples between and beyond the two. We have a bicameral system of government. We are two Houses of the same Parliament that have evolved together over centuries. I do not think that enough has been said about that bicamerality. Of course there has been passing reference, but, in this House, in our system, it has a particular and special quality. Our two Chambers interact in a unique way. They are like the two ventricles of a human heart; they share the same heartbeat. Cut into one and the other will suffer as well; complementarity and equilibrium will have been destroyed.
The bigger the change in the make-up of this House, the greater will be the need to re-examine the balance of powers and the conventions that operate between the two Houses. Together, these two Houses represent a parliamentary democracy-asymmetrical, certainly, but highly functional. It is not a textbook democracy of abstract, theoretical perfection, but a living, practising one. To those who would suggest that only elections can bring legitimacy, it is worth pointing out the obvious: this House has never been elected and yet its democratic legitimacy has over the years been deemed fit for purpose.
We acknowledge that the elected House has primacy and in any dispute must ultimately prevail. I want us to retain an appointed upper House precisely because I respect the primacy of the other place. That way we can continue to differ from it but defer to it. Democratic legitimacy is not bestowed simply by ticking the directly elected box; it is achieved by time, by custom and practice, by function, by performance and by popular acceptance. I believe that this House has popular acceptance. If it did not, it would not have endured. Those noble Lords who have spoken in support of the draft Bill seem to be saying that this House should become an elected one in order to make us as popular as the House of Commons. I believe that we can do better than that.
Still less is legitimacy achieved by the added twist of proportional representation. After all, was it not Lloyd George who described proportional representation as a "device for defeating democracy"? As to the 80 per cent elected option, quite apart from the difficulties of a hybrid and two-tier House, if an elected House is the Deputy Prime Minister's guiding principle, then 80 per cent elected is four-fifths of a principle, which is rather like being four-fifths pregnant.
It is unprincipled to contemplate changing the membership of this House without first considering and agreeing what we want this House to do. If the powers and role are to remain the same, then so should the membership. If we change the membership, then the powers and role will assuredly change, irrevocably. I cannot believe that that is what the other place wants.
There is much need for reform within this House-reform of the way we are appointed, of our numbers, of some of our procedures and perhaps even of our length of tenure. One senses a clear consensus on that. We should press on with deciding on those and other reforms in our traditional, evolutionary way. This Bill, by abolishing the House as at present constituted and replacing it with something quite different, would enforce the unprovoked disruption of our constitution. It would cut into the very bone and marrow of our parliamentary democracy. I believe that it is an affront to our country's constitutional integrity and we should have nothing to do with it.
My Lords, I follow the noble Lord, Lord Lang, feeling suitably put in my place, because I have form in these debates. I will try to temper that by at least being brief. I have four points to make. First-and I always say this with some nervousness in this House-I was and remain a unicameralist. However, if that is not to be the outcome of the constitutional changes ahead of us, I do not wish to see anything other than an unelected House, which is unable to challenge the elected House in the Commons. A well informed but unelected revising Chamber, with the power to ask the elected Chamber to think again, should be maintained. I say that because I believe in the primacy of the House of Commons. I do not for a moment believe that it is possible to safeguard that primacy against the wishes of another elected House, unless of course we have a written constitution or, as the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, said yesterday, some statutory limitation of the second Chamber's powers, neither of which is on the agenda. That will be an inevitable consequence of a second elected Chamber.
We are deluding ourselves if we think that an elected Lords will not challenge the elected Commons-a point made yesterday by my noble friend Lord Grocott with his usual powerful candour. I suspect that, should the proposals in this White Paper come to fruition, the Liberal Democrats would not be able to restrain themselves from pointing out that a Second Chamber elected by STV rather than first past the post was, in their view, more legitimate than the other place. You cannot believe in proportional systems for as long as they have and then keep quiet when a highly proportional House is sitting beside one elected by first past the post. It would be seen as a more proportional and a better system, by them at least. They would see the House elected by that system as more legitimate. That is a recipe for disaster.
I also question the idea that the proposed House, with Members elected for one 15-year term, would somehow be more accountable than this House. Accountability comes not from election but from re-election, which is expressly ruled out in these proposals. Indeed, I fear that a 15-year term with no possibility of re-election begins to look like a sort of parliamentary version of a big lottery win. When one thinks of what some of the people who were elected did in terms of claims and expenses down the other end of the building, one wonders what the consequences might be if there was no possibility of re-election.
Secondly, I would like to say a few things about timing. I know that the coalition is for five years. However, am I alone in thinking that, with AV lost, this other most cherished part of Liberal Democrat thinking looks to be on a timetable that happily keeps reform just over the horizon for most of the rest of this Parliament? If at the end of that time it fails, well, that is not for one of the partners in the coalition so great a disaster. This is a very attractive carrot for the larger coalition partner to dangle before its less numerous friends.
Thirdly, I believe that it is absolutely fundamental to our constitutional settlement that such a fundamental change to that settlement should be the subject of a referendum. I know that all three parties suggested reform in their manifestos, but giving the British people no choice, which is effectively what that meant, does not seem a satisfactory way forward in a democracy. The mere fact that the British electorate had no choice but to vote for a political party that believed in reform does not necessarily mean that they agree with that reform. I absolutely believe that we should have a referendum on so fundamental a change.
Fourthly, and finally, when the proposals made by the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, were first put forward, I regarded them as a trifle thin. However, unusually for constitutional proposals, with the passing of time they have managed to look much more substantial, much more sensible and much more worth while. They can certainly be agreed and can be implemented quite quickly. I would wholeheartedly support that happening. They look increasingly good-and they will look better still when the current proposals, in due course, collapse under their own weight.
My Lords, it concerns me that this debate is being conducted, and indeed reported, as though it were a battle in which the protagonists are the House of Lords and the House of Commons. It is not. We are standing too close to the canvas. It is part of the war between Parliament and government. Consider the origin of Parliament. It was invented to control the Crown in the days of absolute monarchy. Until George I came to the throne, no Minister of the Crown was allowed into Westminster without permission or an invitation. Now, we have-if you count PPSs-150 members of the body that Parliament is supposed to be controlling inside the controlling body and their power there accumulates. As the main protagonist, government is not just Ministers; it is the whole machine of government-thousands of people, all with their own views and programmes, tuned in a certain direction. As a Minister, I came across senior civil servants who regarded Parliament as a nuisance and a distraction. They of course are willing allies of government Ministers, who want to get programmes through against the will of the elected majority.
The first thing that the Government have to do in this war, which has continued since the 13th century, is to get rid of entrenched power. The opening line was of course the Parliament Act 1911 and the subsequent Parliament Act, which have definitively drawn the teeth of this House in the constitutional battle, although the question of the Parliament Acts remains open. The next thing was to control the elected power in the House of Commons. That has been done in a succession of ways. One that has been alluded to is the growing use of the guillotine-the Programme Motion, I think that it is called-in the House of Commons, which is now routine and which muzzles the elected representatives for a great deal of the time, with the result that we have to do their work.
Then again there has been the changing nature of the House of Commons. When I stood for Parliament 38 years ago, I was in a cohort of people all of whom had a profession, trade or something else in which they had been brought up and to which they could return. The rewards, when you got to Parliament-if you did, which I did not, twice-were insubstantial. Members were not paid any money at all until relatively recently. Therefore, if you were threatened with being thrown out, it did not matter; what mattered was that you were not going to get promotion. However, that has changed, because now Members of Parliament increasingly come in without a trade or profession, with nothing to go back to, and subsist on the substantial income that is given to them as Members, with increments when they take office or have special posts and with supplementary benefits, which have caused a good deal of public interest. To lose that in the middle of what should be a career, possibly with many young to pay for, is a disaster.
The result is that the Government, through the party system, have an enormous hold over the voting strength in the House of Commons. That was beautifully illustrated when Tony Blair got the 90-day clause through the House of Commons; he had a majority of, I think, 161 on paper, but he got the clause through by 14 votes. When the measure came to this House, we started discussing it on a Thursday at 3.05 and finished on the Friday at 7.31. We exerted the democratic force that the House of Commons was unable to do. We have to take a care with what we do about this House because what we do is part of the great campaign of the Government to try to swallow Parliament, while Parliament tries to remain at liberty to defend the British electorate.
The great threat of deselection is real. It attaches to any proposal to have a party system in this House in which Members could be deselected-hence the charm of the 15-year tenure of an elected Member of this House under the Bill. However, that immediately destroys its legitimacy. Other noble Lords have dealt extensively and successfully with the threat of the Bill to the procedure between the two Houses. I repeat that this discussion and its reporting have been represented as a battle, not a war. My appeal is not to all our colleagues in the Dining Room but to editors and producers around the country to wake up, to look at history, to see what is going on and to alert the country to it and to our role in preventing this ending in an anti-democratic calamity in which parties of all colours join. Every Government within 18 months become set on reducing the power of Parliament to interfere with their decisions. My noble friend Lord St John of Fawsley was swift to get to Margaret Thatcher and set up the departmental Select Committees, which were a step back on the ratchet of power going from Parliament to the Government. He got that through before she was tainted with the poison that overtakes all Governments, which I tasted briefly but which I survived.
My Lords, it is a challenge to follow that learned contribution by the noble Lord, Lord Elton.
The first question is whether there is a need for a second Chamber. If we believe that there is, the second task is to define clearly what that need is and what its purpose is. What is deplorable about this legislation is that it tackles neither of those fundamental questions. The answers to the questions can be found only in the additionality in terms of quality that a second Chamber brings to strengthening democracy. We then come to the issue of what composition is necessary to fulfil that purpose and what are the most effective arrangements for enabling it to work well. One thing has come out very clearly from this debate. There seems to be total agreement-and I find myself 100 per cent with those who argue this-that the supremacy must lie with the elected Commons. There can be no question about that. The House of Commons must be free to accept or reject whatever is put to it by a second Chamber.
How does a second Chamber prove its worth? That must be by the quality of the advice that is offered. This, of course, covers scrutiny. Many of us have watched with distress over recent years just how real that challenge has become. The amount of legislation that arrives in this place totally unscrutinised is a constitutional and democratic disgrace. If ever there were a case for a second Chamber, it lies there, and that job must be well done.
One of the things that I reflect on is that any honest look at the society in which we live demonstrates that it is not just chunks of people living together in particular places together with a representative. The reality of our living community in the United Kingdom is the interplay of different interests and experiences. That is true professionally, socially and ethnically. It is also true in terms of the different traditions of faith and indeed of humanist activity. I will digress for a moment to say that, in this sphere of my concern, I find the proposition before us astounding. I am an Anglican but I simply cannot understand how a Bill can come before us entrenching just one denomination of one faith with a guaranteed representation in the democratic process. It just does not reflect Britain as it is. Of course I understand the history and the anxieties about the establishment of the church. I am an Anglican who comes from a Church of Scotland background and I should point out that the established church in Scotland has no direct representation in the parliamentary system of that country. There does not need to be this connection and, if there is, it must be more representative than just one denomination of one faith.
My point is that the job of the second Chamber is to be representative of that matrix in our society. I cannot see a better way than to have a genuinely independent statutory commission with the task of ensuring that there is a representative body of that kind in our deliberations. It is important to recognise that, if it is to be socially representative, it is right-and in this the draft Bill is correct-that it must be remunerated, because some people would simply not be able to contemplate participating in what would be demanded of them other than on a remunerated basis. It is also rather like the example of judges. The intention is to make sure that the members of that body will be free from the temptations that always go with political office, so that they can stand genuinely independently and be seen to be independent, with their integrity beyond question.
I now come to the issue of the title. I am disappointed at the mealy mouthed words in the proposed legislation. A great deal attaches to a title. "House of Lords" is part of our history. There has been too much confusion in public life about public service and the siren calls of social status. Surely any lasting, effective change should grapple with this. The satisfaction of us all should come from a sense of public service in the cause of a strong democracy. The status of the institution should lie not in the title but, as I have argued, in the quality of a job well done. Why not call it "Senate", or just "Second Chamber"? These issues have not been grappled with at all.
My last point is simply to say that our democracy is in crisis and we know it. There is a widespread sense of public alienation from the democratic system. What is this about? Of course, expenses and all the other things that have happened are part of it, but it is not just that. It is a feeling among the public that somehow politics has become a closed profession and that it is mainly staffed by people who have done nothing but politics-student politics, a bit of political research and perhaps time on a local council. They become a candidate and then a Member of Parliament. Where is their experience of life? When have they ever touched the realities of life lived by most people in society?
It is from that standpoint that a great opportunity has been missed in this rather pathetic piece of legislation that we have before us. It was a chance to regenerate the democratic principle and reassert the primacy of the directly elected body of the Commons-not to go on confusing the issue. When we talk to the world about the indispensability of democracy, let us for God's sake avoid the pitfall of tokenism. I see nothing more guilty of tokenism than the disastrous proposition that because a person has been elected they have a mandate for 15 years. That is nonsense. How on earth can you know, when you elect a person on day one, that they will be the right person 10 years hence, let alone 15 years hence? That is to demean the whole concept of democracy. I have been astounded again to hear Liberals whom I thought I respected coming forward and arguing that that is the case. If these elected people were not to get down to the job of really mixing with their constituency and representing it, in which of course they would be in direct conflict with Members of the other place, what on earth would the quality of this democracy be?
The greatest danger of what is before us is that it misses the whole nature of the crisis and the size of the challenge. It is just a bit of meddling, fixing and buying a little more time at God knows what future expense.
My Lords, a large number of Members, perhaps even 100 or so, in this longest day of the year debate, have commented-or will comment directly-on the merits of an appointed or a largely elected House. But as we have on the table a draft Bill that would abolish this House of Lords and, over a period of 15 years, replace it with a differently composed House, I would like to target my short speech on three points only.
First, an essential point that has been thoroughly referred to but is essential in our discussion of this draft proposal is the question of the primacy of the other House, as it is normally described. It may be better described as the balance of power between the two Houses. Of course, the primacy of the other House based on the control of the finance and the Parliament Act will continue, but the balance of power is quite another thing. The balance of power is what happens in practice between the two Houses. There is no reference to any change in the balance of power in the 194 pages with which we were presented before this debate and which some of us have read. The draft Bill, on the contrary, states in Clause 2:
"Nothing in the ... Act ... affects the powers, rights, privileges or jurisdiction of either House of Parliament, or the conventions governing the relationship between the two Houses".
In the summary of the proposals, the Government state specifically that there will be no change in the functions of the current House. But as others have said, and as I would like to emphasise, what is missing from these statements is a brief study of human nature.
It is inconceivable that Members elected to a new House of Lords on a longer and larger mandate from bigger constituencies than those of the House of Commons would refrain from seeking a higher profile role and responding strongly to the wishes of those who elected them. It would take time for the change in the balance of power between the two Houses to work through, but gradually the stage would be set for some interesting clashes between the two Houses. The House of Commons would have the greater power, but the new House of Lords would be more legitimate. The results of disagreements would probably depend more on which House received the greater backing of public opinion. In my view it is highly probable, if that ever happened, that it would be necessary to set up some more formal conciliation procedure between the two Houses. That is what would happen. Our references-oh so discrete references-to ping-pong would need to be changed to kung-fu, or all-in wrestling, or some other phrase that would better describe the relationship between the two Houses, at least on primary legislation.
I think that that would extend also to subsidiary, secondary legislation, which we hardly ever discuss. Perhaps we should do so, because there were 2,366 statutory instruments made in the last Session. Those are figures that I got from the Library. A small number, 94, directly implemented European Union law, but the remaining 2,272 were the usual avalanche of national legislation. What do we do? We pass Motions of regret, and I vote for them-but what do they have? They have the impact of a feather duster. If the new House of Lords were largely elected, some at least of those SIs would be challenged or, more probably, simply deleted.
Secondly, I have observed over the past 12 years that the most important people in the House are the ministerial Members. I have seen rather little comment on the provisions of the draft Bill about ministerial Members in any new House of Lords. Under the draft Bill, the number of elected, appointed, transitional and spiritual Members would be capped at each stage of the reduction in numbers and in the final House. The number of ministerial Members, however, is limitless. Clause 34 states:
"The Prime Minister may by order"- here we come again with statutory instruments-
"make provision as to ... the appointment of ministerial members", and their number. The prospect of ministerial office is just what we need to encourage good men and women to seek election to a new House of Lords, and I would certainly argue that at least in the final stage, if a new House of Lords were created, the Minister should be appointed solely from among the Members of the government party or coalition in the House of Lords and not be bussed in by the Prime Minister.
Thirdly, it is not surprising that as a former Convenor of the independent Cross-Bench Peers I welcome the recognition by the Government in the draft Bill of an independent appointed element in their proposals on composition. This is emphatically not a selfish point because under the Government's proposal I and all the independent Cross-Bench Peers have been served with our redundancy notices, to be worked out over the transitional period. I note with satisfaction that Clause 24 states that the House of Lords Appointments Commission, which would be responsible for recommending new appointed Members,
"must take account of the principle that ... the role of an appointed member is to make a contribution to the work of the House of Lords which is not a party political contribution".
If, as many suggest, there ends up a referendum on the question of the abolition of this House and the creation of a new one, we could have a second question in the referendum to ask the British public whether they thought it would be a good idea to have at least some element that was not a party-political element. I think that it would be a shoo-in for a yes vote on that point.
I content myself in this long debate with those three points only.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, in this debate and to pick up the point that he has just made on ministerial appointments. He is quite right that the proposals in the draft Bill provide for the Prime Minister to make an unlimited number of appointments to a largely elected House. Well, hang on a tick. If there is no legitimacy in being an appointed Member and you need to be elected, what is the logic of arguing that Ministers in this House can be appointed by the Prime Minister? This is to turn the constitution on its head. My understanding of the position of Ministers is that they remain Ministers so long as they command the confidence of Parliament. This is turning it the other way round so that in order to be a Minister you have to be a Member of Parliament, and while the Prime Minister can appoint you to be a Member of Parliament, you will cease to be a Member of Parliament as soon as the Prime Minister has lost confidence in you. This is a complete inversion of the constitutional principles and accountability that are the heart of our parliamentary system.
Indeed it is; I entirely agree with my noble friend, who I thought made an absolutely splendid speech. I see on the front page of the Telegraph today-if I can be a candid friend to my right honourable friend the Prime Minister-that he is quoted as saying,
"You do the fighting, I'll do the talking".
If I can give him a bit of advice, a bit of listening might be in order here, otherwise some of us will start doing a bit of fighting. My noble friend, whom I have never really regarded as a great rebel, is absolutely right to say that this is about Parliament and its role.
My noble friend Lord Steel of Aikwood, in his speech, described the draft Bill as a dog's breakfast. I know that he breeds Labradors, and that Labradors will eat absolutely anything. However, I suspect that his dogs would find this pretty hard to digest, because it is a complete shambles from start to finish.
If the politics of this are, as I read in the newspapers, that this has been put forward as a consolation prize to the Deputy Prime Minister after the debacle of the AV referendum, I would have to say that it is more of a poisoned chalice than a consolation prize. Listening to and reading the speeches made so far, I would have to say that there is no way in which this legislation will get through this House and on to the statute book.
My noble friend the Deputy Prime Minister would do very well to listen to the proposals that have been put forward by my noble friend Lord Steel of Aikwood. My noble friend's proposals are about reform; the Deputy Prime Minister's proposals are about the abolition of this Chamber and the creation of a new House of 300 paid and pensioned Members. This Government have a curious sense of timing. At the very moment when they are telling people in the public sector that we cannot afford their pensions and we are short of money, they are proposing to create 300 new politicians, all with index-linked pensions. It beggars belief how we are expected to explain that to a public who are already sceptical about our political process.
I have been thinking, "What would it be like to be one of these elected Members of this House? What would I do if I were an elected Member of this House?". The first problem I thought of is, "Which manifesto would I be bound by-the one that I was elected on, which would last for 15 years, or would it be a manifesto which changes?". I shall give an example. My own party has had a series of positions on tuition fees: we have been for them and been against them, all within a 15-year period. If you were elected on a manifesto that said that you were in favour of tuition fees, what would you do if, at the next election, the party changed its policy? Which manifesto would prevail?
If there are going to be 300 Members of this House, presumably one of them will represent an area where there are three constituencies. A sacred part of our constitution is the ability of Members of Parliament to be elected for whatever party but to represent their whole constituency. You don't say, "Don't come to my surgery if you didn't vote Tory". We say that we represent them all. We have some experience in Scotland of what happens when you get that kind of effect. The list Members start playing politics in the constituency and try to undermine the Member of one party. That leads to a waste of public money, to officials getting letters from every corner of the geographical area and to utter cynicism on the part of the constituents.
I return to my question: how would I behave? I would think, "I am there for 15 years. The average tenure of a Member of Parliament is about eight years; perhaps it might be a little longer with fixed-term Parliaments. I am going to be the incumbent. I am going to be the person whom everybody knows. So what am I going to do? I am going to do everything I can to ensure that my party wins the constituencies in my areas-that is what I am going to do". The idea that we will be like Members of the European Parliament, as the noble Baroness suggested a moment ago, is ridiculous. And, in behaving like that, we would undermine the whole nature of this place.
The Deputy Prime Minister says that he is bringing forward these proposals in order to restore trust in Parliament. They are based, he says, on a principle that they will not alter the way in which Members of Parliament behave. But of course they will. If I am elected, I will have constituents; and they are going to come to me with problems, and I am going to do everything that I can to advance their cause. Even if that means making life difficult for those down the corridor, of course I am going to do it.
By the way, the most ignorant part of the statements made in support of this legislation has come from those who have said that the conventions and powers will remain the same. The powers of this House are unlimited. Do those in the other place who support these proposals understand just what we are capable of doing if we have democratic legitimacy? That is the message for the House of Commons, which was made so powerfully and effectively by that champion of Parliament, the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, in her excellent speech yesterday.
No, we want no part of abolition. But we do want reform, and reform is there. I advise those members of the Joint Committee, who have been handed a hospital pass, that at their first meeting they should conclude that there is nothing to be done except to pass the Steel Bill. It would reform this House. It would let the hereditaries wither away by getting rid of the by-election system. It would allow retirement and remove on permanent leave of absence those who do not come here. It would provide for an independent Appointments Commission. That is a sensible piece of reform that we could pass tomorrow. It is ludicrous that Parliament should be treated as a kind of political football in a game which, at its roots, comes from the failure of the Liberal Party to retain the trust of the people because it did not keep the promises it made at a general election. There is no criticism of the work of this House. The implementation of a regular guillotine has undermined the work of the House of Commons and made it all the more important that we fulfil our constitutional duty.
My Lords, it is always a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord. Whether one agrees with him or not, he always speaks with conviction, elegance and a great deal of humour. I must begin my remarks with a confession: when I was in the other House, I voted for a fully elected House of Lords. We had a series of debates and votes, and a number of us on the Labour Benches thought that it would be a good tactic if we all voted that way because that would kick it into the long grass-fools that we were. When my right honourable friend Jack Straw came to the next meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party he entered like Caesar into Rome, triumphant and convinced that the power of the arguments had convinced so many of his colleagues to support an elected House. After a while, a number of us felt that we should not let him go on living in that illusion and started to tell him that we had only voted that way tactically. I remember telling him at the end, "Jack, you are more likely to witness the second coming than you are to get agreement on reform of the House of Lords".
Looking at the draft Bill, I can think of no other set of proposals that has come before your Lordships' House pretending to be one thing whereas, on examination, it is something completely different. This so-called House of Lords Reform draft Bill is definitely a case of mutton dressed as lamb. If we are honest, it is more about House of Lords abolition than House of Lords reform. We are told in the foreword written by the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister that replacing this House with an elected second Chamber is necessary because the present House lacks sufficient democratic authority. However, will these proposals make a real difference and correct this supposed lack of democratic authority? I do not believe that they will. This is why the document needs very careful reading.
I take us back a step or two-in fact, as far as 1832. The Deputy Prime Minister has been on record as saying that the Government's constitutional change agenda builds on the Great Reform Act 1832. We do not go in for great constitutional change all that often in this country. When we do, we tend to exaggerate what we have achieved at the end of the day. The Great Reform Act is a point in question. True, it did increase the franchise. The electorate rose to a massive 813,000, with 335,000 more voters. However, the population was 24 million. In fact, only four of every 100 men- women were certainly not allowed to vote-had the vote. Despite the Act, the number of MPs in southern England was disproportionately high and 73 rotten boroughs remained in existence. There was no secret ballot, and MPs were still able to bribe the electorate. The right to vote-which we now take as a basic right-then depended on ownership of land. In truth, by today's standards, the Great Reform Act was not that great and only scratched the surface of reform.
I give it as an example because I see similarities with the claims that the Government now make for their proposed changes. The Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister say that this House as constituted lacks democratic authority. Their solution to this lack of democratic authority is a senate in which members will be elected for 15 years. For the life of me, I cannot see that a senator elected for 15 years and not able to seek re-election enhances our democracy. Once elected, these senators need take account of no opinion or view other than their own. How are they to be held to account? How does that give them democratic authority? A senate where members sit for 15 years without the electorate being able to hold them to account will have no greater democratic authority than this appointed House of Lords has now.
Then we have the proposal for a part-elected, part-appointed House. It is already clear that a 15-year term denies the elected senator democratic authority. On the Government's own definition, an appointed House of Lords also lacks democratic authority. Therefore, if the proposals in the draft Bill were to become law, both elements in the new House-the elected and appointed-would lack democratic authority. This begs the question: why are we making this change? If the House is partly elected and partly appointed, I am sure that the elected element will think that, as it has been sent to Parliament by the people, it has greater legitimacy than those who are appointed. Where will that lead us?
What if party A decides to elect as its leader a member of the senate? What if that leader leads the party to victory in a general election? The Prime Minister would sit in the senate and the Leader of the Official Opposition would sit in the Commons. This would put an end to the weekly gladiatorial combat between Prime Minister and Leader of the Official Opposition. Many would say that that is a good thing. However, we have been used to the Prime Minister of the day being held to account by the alternative Prime Minister of the day because we think that that is a good thing. All that would disappear.
I ask the Minister who has the unenviable task of replying to this debate: why not save us all a lot of time and go back to the drawing board? If the Government do that, I urge them to think of strengthening the present Chamber by introducing an element of indirectly elected members-a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster.
In a previous incarnation I served on Gwent County Council. In those days the health service was delivered by a board, which was made up of members of the county and borough councils, who were indirectly elected. It was complemented by appointed members- medical professionals and the like. This way we delivered a very effective health service. However, there was an element of indirect election to the way that the board was constituted. If we had an indirectly elected element in this House, the representatives could come from the nations and regions of the United Kingdom. At a time when there is much talk of an independent Scotland, and of English MPs-and possibly English Peers-alone being allowed to vote on matters affecting England-and we see the Welsh and the Northern Ireland assemblies vested with new powers, surely anything that strengthens our union is a good thing. A House that would have representatives from the nations and regions would benefit and strengthen the union.
The proposals before us are no great reform. They should be scrapped. With the best will in the world, the Government should think again and listen to us.
My Lords, yesterday's debate-plus all the debates that we have had since I joined the House-confirms my view that some things never change, and highlighted the old adage, "If it is not necessary to change, it is not necessary to change". As I am 63rd in the list and after some truly amazing speeches, it is difficult to say anything novel on this subject. It is particularly difficult if one goes back through the literature on previous attempts in the 20th century to reform the House of Lords. Not one of these attempts was put forward with the claim that it would in any way improve the House of Lords. Surely the purpose of reform-particularly political reform-is to improve something so as to benefit the community at large. Improvement must be well thought out and not just an exercise in change for change's sake.
Many of the speeches yesterday and today, together with many of the speeches in previous debates, dealt with-or purported to deal with-the demand for greater legitimacy and/or repairing the democratic deficit of the House of Lords. We have been told that there is a demand for change. Where is the demand coming from? Where is the evidence of a great swell of concern? What is negative in our operational efficiency now? If we accept that scrutiny is our most important task, is this affected by the lack of legitimacy or by the democratic deficit?
Last weekend I tried to distance myself from the rather frenetic and fetid mood in the House as I prepared for the debate this week. I decided to try to ascertain what the political atmosphere was in which the arguments and processes of the Parliament (No. 2) Bill in 1968-69 were undertaken.
There is a riveting description in the biography of Enoch Powell by Simon Heffer, Like the Roman. When the Bill was introduced, it was apparent that the Government had not made clear their detailed intentions because, according to the author, the Government "did not itself know". According to Simon Heffer, the Bill was so poorly drafted and such a provocation to the Back-Benchers that even after three days in Committee hardly any progress had been made; and the Government, embarrassed and angered by this, and not least by the guerrilla tactics operating from their own side, began to show the first signs of cracking.
That is a relevant warning from the past to the Government as the similarities between the two Bills, 43 years apart, are striking, although one is in draft. Both are of similar length. Both are very badly drafted; and both were produced on the back of cross-party parliamentary discussions that were discontinued. It did not work then; does the Minister think it will work now?
The end of the Parliament (No. 2) Bill was a devastating defeat for the Wilson Government. After 13 days in Committee, only five clauses had been dealt with. It was jamming up the legislative programme and was, finally, dumped. Not only was the other place disaffected, it was clear that there was neither demand nor desire from the public for House of Lords reform. I defy anyone to put up a good argument to defeat my assertion that there is no more public demand or desire now than there was then for House of Lords reform.
In the closing section of this contribution, I wish to move from an historical analysis to the issue of the experience and expertise available in this House, which is greatly appreciated by the selfsame public and, markedly so, by academics, EU member states and further afield. There is an office in this building-and I am sure it is not unique-which houses 10 noble Lords, 10 desks, each with a two-drawer integral filing cabinet and 15 stand-alone two-drawer filing cabinets. The office is a model of political correctness as it has an equal gender balance. Prior to entering the House of Lords, each of the 10 occupants had individual offices, secretaries, assistants et cetera. There has never been a complaint about our working conditions. Why is that? It is because each of us is so absorbed in the work of the House, particularly scrutiny, so busy in preparing for Committee sessions, so involved in attending various meetings and in working in the Chamber that we have no time to think about being caged up in a cramped office, 96 steps from the entrance with a dodgy lift. The lights are normally on at 8 o'clock in the morning-and they were on earlier this morning-and are never off before 10 pm. They went off at 11.15 pm last night. The occupants have never complained about the working hours. Why would they? They are honoured to have the opportunity to work very hard for this country in scrutinising legislation and ensuring that, using their experience and expertise, they can influence such legislation for the better.
In this case, the experience and expertise of the Peers is quite astonishing. Where would one get a group of 10 elected Members-call them what you will-who between them have: combined membership of the House of Commons totalling 85 years: held a position as a professor of government and acknowledged constitution expert and have well over 30 years of academic teaching: served as a Treasury Minister; served as a Health Minister; served as an Education Minister; served as Paymaster-General; served as a Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons; served as local government leaders, as two have done; operated in the charity sector as administrators and fundraising experts, as four have done; and hands-on business experience of agriculture, food, retailing, air transport, communications and utilities? I reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, who unfortunately is not in her place, that that experience and expertise resides in a Conservative office, not a Cross-Bench office, and I suspect there are plenty of offices like that in all parts of the House.
Do the Government think that if this draft Bill succeeds in its present form those 10 Peers could, or would, be replaced by others with such varied experience and expertise, all of which is used in the important work of this House? Would they work as hard? Would they achieve as much? Those who would stand for election to this House, almost certainly as their second option, having been defeated in attempts to be elected to the House of primacy, are hardly likely to possess such a range of skills, or does the Minister think they might, and how much does he think it might cost?
My Lords, it was on
The Government have given themselves a life raft, if you like, by publishing, somewhat unusually, a White Paper alongside the Bill. You are meant to have made up your mind what is in a Bill before you publish it, but innovation is always a good thing. They have the life raft there because they recognise that once you go into detail, support for election, which is a wonderful slogan, disaggregates like snow off a dyke. The fact is that the Opposition and Cross Benches could take the day off, and this Bill, put to a secret ballot of the government Benches, would be defeated overwhelmingly in this House, and the Government know it. I am not asking for a secret ballot-that would be unreasonable-but it is at least reasonable to expect that the Government will give their membership a free vote. Let me say, and I mean no disrespect to our Whips, that if they do not give us a free vote, I am taking one, and I will be voting against the Bill. There have also been rumours that the Parliament Act might be used. Frankly, I think the Government would be well advised to dissociate themselves from that position very quickly. It smacks very much of an elective tyranny, and it would be wholly inappropriate for a constitutional Bill.
However, let us look at the Bill we have. After all, it has been in germination since 1832 and is the greatest reform Act we have ever seen, so one accepts that the Government have given it their best shot. This is the best that they can do, so what have they come up with? First, let us be quite clear that, as the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, said, they are abolishing the House of Lords, not reforming it. I refer them to page 10, paragraph 1 of the White Paper. Secondly, they have gone for single, 15-year terms with no re-election. Let us recognise that that gives us no accountability whatever, not a scintilla. The reason they did that, I presume, is to try to make the system of election so divorced from that for the Commons that MPs will not feel threatened. Otherwise, they know the Bill will be defeated in the Commons.
The noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, made the point yesterday evening that he wants to go further and have recall provisions. If I am elected for Scotland-because I gather that that is one big constituency nowadays for this Bill-I am going to make sure that I am not going to be recalled, so I am going to take steps, and I am going to demand powers to ensure that I am shown in a good light to my electorate. The Daily Telegraph and the Sunday Times will have the equivalent of bird-watching cameras trained on the door of the House to make sure that people elected turn up at least once in their 15 years and do not have their cheques sent to some bank account in Barbados.
The fact is that people will be wholly unaccountable. They will certainly be no more accountable than we are. Again, although the noble Lord, Lord McNally, visibly showed dissent about this, I remind the Government about the achievement of the Joint Committee on Conventions. If there is any doubt about it, at page 23, paragraph 61 of its report, it is spelled out, in terms, that this was an agreement based on the existing composition and if an elected element, let alone 80 per cent or 100 per cent, came in here, all bets were off, and it was a new deal. If we really want to clog up Parliament with the sort of nonsense that will go on, I suspect that the reputation of politics, which is already low, will plummet.
I follow the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, who used to be my MP-
I think I may have. I found the Labour Party quite difficult to support in the 1970s and 1980s, as, indeed, did most of the Labour Party.
Let us go back to this campaign. How am I going to fight an election? How am I going to differentiate myself from everybody else who is standing and appear the better candidate? Am I going to promise things? If so, how are people going to know whether I have delivered on the promises? How am I going to deal with the heckler who says, "You say you are going to do that, but do you have the power to do it?"? If I do not have the power, I am quickly going to find a way of getting that power. The fact is that it creates instability in the political system and will eventually create gridlock.
I shall make a quick jibe about the fact that Members are going to be salaried. For a start, it rather intrigues me. I thought salary went with a job and did not depend on the way that you were put into that job. The public might think, "Hold on, if the present House of Lords is not paid, and this new crowd are paid, are they doing more? Have they more powers?". The impression will certainly be that you have to justify that salary by making more noise than perhaps we currently do. Certainly the impression will be that you have to justify that salary by making more noise than perhaps we currently do.
Let us get rid of a couple of myths. First, there is the great mantra that it was in all three party manifestos. Please remind me which party manifesto was ringingly endorsed by the electorate at the last election? It seems to me that uniquely nobody really got a clean bill of health. I quite genuinely do not want to be unkind to the Liberal Democrats but they are the most associated with House of Lords reform. They have genuine pedigree on it. They did very badly at the election. The next party that did very badly was frankly the Labour Party. It had cottoned on to an elected House somewhat late in the day. Let us say that the view was sincerely held by many people. That party was rejected by the electorate. The only party that did tolerably well was the party that was most lukewarm about House of Lords reform, the Conservative Party. I would not pretend for a minute that the election swung on House of Lords reform but had it gone the other way, all three Front Benches would have been claiming that it was because of House of Lords reform that they were all elected and that they had a mandate. You cannot have it both ways.
Finally, I want to endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, said. The other myth is that this is the settled will of the House of Commons. That is absolute nonsense. In the 2007 vote a majority of Conservative MPs and a majority of Labour MPs voted against 80 per cent election. Indeed, in the 2003 vote the most popular option-all seven options were voted against, by the way, so much for a settled will of the Commons-or the one that was least unattractive was an all-appointed House.
I think we are looking for some political courage here. All three parties have had a go at this and all three have failed. You cannot square the circle. You cannot have an elected House of Lords without diminishing the power of the House of Commons. There might come a time when the electorate wants that but I do not think it is yet. I therefore do not want this kicked into the long grass. I want somebody to get the lawnmower out, clear a circle and give it a decent burial.
My Lords, I am one of the many speakers who believe that the draft Bill we are debating today is not about House of Lords reform; it is about House of Lords abolition and replacement by an 80 or 100 per cent elected Chamber or senate. It is unlikely that many Members of the present House would wish to stand for election and so the new senate would not have the benefit of the experience and expertise that this Chamber enjoys and given that the new senators would be salaried, the proposed senate would cost several times as much as the present House. There can be little doubt that an elected senate would threaten the primacy of the House of Commons and, for this reason alone, I am surprised that any Member of the House of Commons supports the idea of an elected upper House.
To reject the proposals in the Bill is not to say that this House is not in need of some reform. Indeed, the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, lists a number of reforms, all of which would or should be welcomed. The most urgent and important of these is the creation of a statutory appointments commission which would be responsible for all appointments to a life peerage and a consequential membership of this House. The commission should choose candidates from a publicly recognised range of experience and expertise with an agreed annual maximum number of appointments. Under present arrangements, there is no control on numbers of new appointments and consequentially no limit on total numbers in the Chamber. Following the exceptionally large number of recent new appointments, the House is definitely too large and one hopes that the excessive number of new appointments is not a deliberate tactic of those advocating an elected senate to weaken the present House.
There is no doubt that the present House of nearly 800 is too large and the Steel Bill suggests a system of voluntary retirement. While welcome in principle, I do not think that such a scheme could achieve the long-term reduction in membership that is required. 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 existing membership can be achieved only by a system of compulsory retirement. This could be based either on the age of the Member or on period of service. Personally, I do not think age is the right choice. People age at different rates and I believe that 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 service of 20 years it should be possible for a Member reaching 20 years and still performing a valuable role in the House to be given an extension of service of, say, one to five years on application, I suggest, to the Lord Speaker. Implementing such a 20-year period of service would need to be accompanied by agreement on an optimal total size of the House, which is probably around 300, and a phased programme of retirement for the 150 Members of the present House with a period of service in excess of 20 years.
A further reform in the Steel Bill is the ending of the electoral process for choosing replacements for the 92 hereditary Peers when they die. While I am lucky to be one of the 92, I do not think that heredity can any longer justifiably be on its own a qualification for membership of this House. These suggested reforms are readily implementable. The Bill which is the subject of this debate must be rejected. It is a waste of time and money to set up yet another commission to investigate its merits.
Finally, if the coalition decides to proceed with the Bill, it is a major constitutional issue and could not be introduced without a referendum. In last year's election, the manifestos of all three parties called for an elected upper Chamber so the public have not yet had the chance to express a view. A referendum could be the last way left to defeat the Bill. The Bill before us must be rejected: reform, yes; abolition, no.
My Lords, I am not at all surprised that this debate has been conducted with such restraint and moderation. This House is well known for its courtesy and politeness, and for the measured and deliberative conduct of proceedings. None the less, I hope that no one will be deceived by the fact that this has been reasonably and calmly conducted. There is an underlining strength of feeling which has permeated all the speeches, most of which have been against what is proposed in the Government's White Paper. The strength of feeling derives from the respect noble Lords have, and have acquired, for this place since they have been Members here. I am certainly no exception to that. I am saddened that the proposals have been brought forward by the present Government and appear to have been so little thought through. Frankly, the case for the fundamental changes contained in the White Paper has not been made out. It is simply not good enough to go on repeating the need for legitimacy, for a democratic mandate and for greater accountability without examining what those words could actually mean in practice.
Many noble Lords have referred to what might actually happen. Just how democratic would it be to have the list system, and on what basis would candidates put themselves forward for election? Would they bear a party ticket? Would they be answerable to any form of a mandate? How would they be selected-by the political parties or by whom? To whom would they be accountable? They would certainly not be accountable to the electorate that elected them, as has been made clear, because the electorate would have absolutely no sanction whatever, once a Member was elected. There would be enormously increased power, I suspect, for the political parties. There would be increased patronage for them.
I am therefore dismayed by what is proposed because it would do no good to this place and it would do little good for our democratic objectives. The Deputy Leader of this House has been very attentive throughout this debate and will be winding up tonight. I hope that he has taken careful note of what has been said so far. I hope that he has genuinely been listening and has not blocked his ears to what has been said, simply because he in favour of the proposals in the White Paper.
I trust the Joint Committee that has been established. I am sure that it will give a very thorough examination of what is proposed. However, when it considers these matters, it should have in mind that we are in a new world of communications. Here, we are concerned with ourselves, with our relationship with the other place and with our responsibilities in holding the Government to account, but we also need to have in our minds what is sometimes described as "the outside world"-the world beyond. It is not so much parliamentary speeches that influence attitudes outside, but the new means of electronic communication by the blogs, Twitter and whatever other means are available. That is what captivates people, and the media are fastening onto that, as they well know, because they are replicating it for their own purposes. We therefore need to reach out to them by other means, but it is not the purpose of this Chamber to do so. If this Chamber is to be a revising Chamber-which it is-let us focus on that and continue to do the work here.
I hope that the Government will not persist with the draft Bill as presented because it has no chance of getting through this place anyway. I hope that instead they will go for the incremental changes, some of which are contained in the draft Bill and others that are in the Steel Bill.
I could add a few more. If the Government are looking for advice, let me give a little advice of my own. In addition to the proposals in the Steel Bill, there should be no automatic linkage with membership of this House on elevation to the peerage. That can happen straight away. There should be an increased use of general debates on topical issues and on matters demanding urgent consideration, for which this House is very well suited. There could be much-extended use of the committee structure, so well exemplified by our European Union Committee. There should be more committee powers to summon Ministers. Sometimes, on major issues, Ministers could even be summoned to the Floor of this House. I have a suggestion that might appeal to my noble friends on the Liberal Democrat Benches. I suggest that the Deputy Prime Minister-given that Deputy Prime Ministers seem to be in vogue-should always be a Member of this House. He should then be subjected to regular parliamentary Oral Questions and have a long session of them once a week in this place. Perhaps my right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister might volunteer to come forward and try this out in this place.
In those ways, along with the incremental changes in the Steel Bill, and with other suggestions that could be put forward-all of which could happen fairly quickly-this House would be enormously strengthened. It is the strengthening, not the weakening, of this House that would effectively demonstrate, not for the first time, that it is this House that properly speaks for all the people.
My Lords, I am somewhat embarrassed. As a Liberal Democrat, I believed myself to be a member of the sensible party, and on nearly all issues I still believe that I am. However, in the case of House of Lords reform, my official party's proposals make no sense to me at all.
I have always believed-and I thought that this was a fairly general view-that the House of Lords justified its existence by being a very effective revising Chamber. Its primary purpose was to scrutinise and improve government legislation and not, like the House of Commons, be a party-political slanging shop. The House of Lords succeeds in being an effective revising Chamber largely due to the quality and variety of its inmates. It is composed of the wise and the good, experts in an infinite number of fields, and representatives of nearly every ethnic group and religion in the country. Why should we want to exchange this for a Chamber of second-rate politicians who will feel that they have the democratic authority to challenge the supremacy of the House of Commons, where most of the first-rate politicians can be found?
Yet, say the architects of the draft Bill, this new second Chamber is still to remain subservient to the lower House and retain its functions as a revising Chamber. Second-rate professional politicians will be revising the work of first-rate professional politicians. It does not make any sense. We are told that this all has to be done in the name of democracy, but some in my party have a narrow definition of democracy. They are trying to push through a Bill that should be entitled "Let's reform the House of Lords at any cost because it is not democratic and then see what happens after that". That is the Bill that they seem to want to put through.
However, as many noble Lords have pointed out, this is not a reform of the House of Lords-I wish that the leaders of my party would be honest about this-it is abolition of the House of Lords and its replacement by a senate. I cannot think of a better example in modern politics of attempting to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Fortunately, not everyone in my party is bent on constitutional vandalism. My noble friend Lord Steel of Aikwood, has a Bill that is a serious attempt to reform the House of Lords-not to abolish it but to rid it of some of its anachronisms, indiscipline and absurdities while at the same time ensuring that it retains its primary function as an effective revising Chamber. My noble friend makes it clear that the only way to retain this carefully balanced House is by appointing Peers, not electing them.
Then, however, the delicate question in this case is: who does the appointing? Here, I disagree with my noble friend Lord Steel's role model for a statutory appointments commission. I am proposing that the members of the appointment commission-the people responsible for appointing new Peers-should be the ones who are elected. When I say "elected", I do not necessarily mean they should be elected by the people, I also mean indirectly elected, elected by their own association or group, or ex-officio appointments based on previous elections.
For instance, the Prime Minister or his representative would have to be on the commission. So, too, would the leaders of the other main parties. Members of the existing House of Lords might elect a Back-Bencher from each party to represent them; importantly, that would also apply to the Cross-Benchers. Under my proposal, that would be the extent of professional politicians' representation. Other members of the appointments commission might be selected through election from key professions or important interest groups-the CBI and the TUC being the most obvious examples-and from leaders of important ethnic and religious groups.
If one must keep the commission to fewer than 25 members, which would be more than enough, there would clearly be some argument and competition over places. I personally like the idea of having, say, two people's Peers, possibly elected directly through the media, and I will be rooting for one elected hereditary, literally elected from among the 1,000 or so Peers. His presence would give the appointed Chamber some historical continuity and justify the House continuing to call itself the House of Lords. Whoever the members of the proposed commission turn out to be, I ask the committee set up to consider the House of Lords White Paper seriously to consider the possibility of an elected appointments commission. I hope that that will go some way to satisfy the leader of my party's diktat that anyone in any legislative position of power or influence and should be democratically chosen by and accountable to the people.
I believe that a second Chamber that, more or less, represents the best of British society as a whole in all its complexity is just as democratic and a good deal wiser than a second Chamber made up largely or entirely of elected politicians.
My Lords, the road to parliamentary hell is paved with good intentions translated into sloppily drafted, ill prepared, insensitive legislation. We have had a plethora of it over the past year. The White Paper and Bill do not even have the redeeming feature of good intentions. Perhaps the most scandalous revelation we have had in this debate was that by the Leader of the Opposition, when she told us how the members of the Joint Committee set up to produce the proposals were treated. They met only seven times-the last time six months before publication-and neither saw nor approved the draft White Paper or the Bill. I am amazed that they did not resign in indignation at that treatment.
I shall focus on just two points. The first is the practical constitutional one, which we have talked about, which is the balance of power between the Legislature and the Executive. Secondly, I shall suggest how to reduce the size of the House of Lords in a way that is voluntary, democratic, compassionate and cost-effective.
It was in his 1976 Dimbleby lecture that Lord Hailsham described Britain as an "elective dictatorship". "Parliament", he said,
"is now largely in the hands of the Government machine, so that the executive controls the legislature and not vice versa".
He went on:
"Owing to the operation of the guillotine and other regulations designed to curtail debate, much of the programme is often not discussed at all".
Although at that time the House of Lords had a massive built-in Tory majority, the constitutional conventions inhibited its use. In 1997, this situation took a serious turn for the worse. The Blair Government decided to use the guillotine routinely on all legislation so as to maximise the flow of legislation, with little regard to the consequences.
I was for 16 years in the Lobby. Indeed, I must confess that, apart from a few years as a party fonctionnaire, I cannot claim to be a proper politician at all. I was a mere observer of and commentator on the political scene, and I suppose that that is all I remain. However, I remember clearly that when there was an important Bill that was running into real difficulties, we used to speculate that the Government might be forced to introduce a guillotine. In those days, that had real political significance.
I had hoped, and indeed was confident, that one of the first things the coalition would do would be to end the automatic use of the guillotine on legislation. To my disappointment and to Mr Cameron's shame, there is no sign of that happening, so our people remain ever more reliant on the House of Lords to subject legislation to proper scrutiny untrammelled by timetables. Since the 1999 reform, this House has had growing confidence in doing so.
Who can doubt that if Mr Clegg's dreams were enacted it would not be long before that opportunity for scrutiny would be emasculated? All Governments are ruthless when they can be, and a regular guillotine would arrive with the senate. That, incidentally, is why the Opposition should never repeat the disgraceful filibuster tactics that they used here last year-although I admit that they had much provocation.
I come to the best way of keeping the size of the membership of the House within reasonable limits. I do not buy the idea that it is making the House harder to operate. An overcrowded Question Time is no bad thing. After the House of Commons was bombed, the new Chamber was designed precisely to achieve that. However, our membership is now more than 800, although the daily attendance is 450. I would set a limit of about 500. None of the alternatives in the Leader's Group report on the issue of Members leaving the House, which we will discuss in due course, seems to be acceptable. I believe the proposal for group elections put forward in the excellent speeches by my noble friends Lord Jopling and Lord Reay involve compulsion, would have undesirable consequences.
One reason that voluntary retirement on its own would not work is the new daily tax-free allowance of £300. I most warmly congratulate my noble friend Lord Strathclyde on his courage in introducing it, because it has ended once and for all the risk of further scandals on expenses-in this House, anyway.
My proposal is that on taking permanent retirement, any Peer should receive a tax-free single-sum gratuity for public service. Each Peer would receive the amount he or she asked for-provided, of course, that no one was prepared to accept a lower sum. One way of operating it would be for the Government to open it for, say, 50 retirements. Anyone could apply and the sums paid out to those who succeeded would of course be published; the unsuccessful bids would not. Bids would be accepted up to a limit of 50 seats or so or until the sum available had run out. The process could be repeated periodically until the number was down to the required total.
That may be an unusual suggestion, but I believe that once it had been thought through by the media and the public it would be seen as being transparent, truly voluntary and, most importantly, cost-effective.
I never attempt to write editorials for other papers.
Mr Cameron has a problem. In this package, he is offering Mr Clegg a sum of Danegeld that he cannot pay; his cheque will bounce. As has been made clear, there can be no question of whipping this Bill through this House. The simplest solution would be for the House of Commons, where there is, in any case, a growing number of Members opposed to Mr Clegg's best guess, to be offered a free vote at Second Reading, if ever it gets that far, and for the Conservative Whips to indicate that the Prime Minister would not be heartbroken if it were defeated. After all, it is the supremacy of the House of Commons that we are debating.
On the point about us not being representatives, many people in this House have been elected representatives for a long time, but now we are all servants of the people. That is no dishonourable title.
My Lords, it may be helpful to the House if I indicate that, after we have heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Howe of Idlicote, I propose to adjourn the debate for a short while so that we may convene for Questions. I shall make appropriate announcements at that stage.
My Lords, I regret that yesterday I was unable to be present for a number of contributions from your Lordships. Therefore, I ask for the indulgence of the House if I repeat points already made by noble Lords yesterday and today.
I wish to focus my contributions on one very simple and, to my mind, fundamental issue: that neither House is perfect and that any fundamental review of the parliamentary institutions of this country should involve both Houses. That review should be much deeper and more comprehensive in nature than that delivered in the hastily prepared and superficial measure which we are now considering, and which, as the noble Baroness, Lady Royall-I echo my noble friend Lord Marlesford-has informed us, apparently even by-passed members of the committee of the House. I respectfully remind my noble friend the Leader of the House that the Prime Minister stated, more than once, when Leader of the Opposition, that any reform of Parliament should start in the Commons. There is clearly no prospect of a review of this nature or depth taking place at present and, therefore, we are where we are: two Houses, neither of which is perfect either in composition or functioning.
Several of your Lordships have pointed out that government in this country can be said to be, in practice, almost unicameral. Your Lordships must, at least for the time being, continue to remain subordinate to the Commons and the object, in this Parliament, must surely be to endeavour to succeed in making this House the most effective, but junior, partner in the legislative function. I am personally of the view that in the 10 years since the passing of the House of Lords Act, this House has probably been working more effectively than at any time in the whole of its history, a view enunciated by my noble friend Lord Higgins, who is not in his place.
Quite a short time ago, if you were speaking in your Lordships' House after 5.30, it was customary to start by saying, "I will not detain your Lordships unduly". I also intend not to delay your Lordships unduly but for a different reason. I am speaker number 69 and 31 are still to speak. If this view is accepted, it is all the more regrettable that a Bill should be proposed to abolish this House-if anyone is in any doubt about that, the historic intervention by the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, will live in all our memories-without, apparently, taking any significant steps to reform the other place. Rather we should be building on the undoubted efficiency of this House in servicing the Commons and most particularly in the process of scrutiny and in calling the Government to account. At the same time-this is fundamental-we should not pose a challenge to what is, in practice, the supreme legislative sovereignty of the Commons.
Assuming this Bill fails, breathing a sigh of relief and doing nothing is not an option. The way forward must surely be through measured evolvement and improvement. Perhaps it is fortuitous that, at present, we have three admirable initiatives which-dare I say?-show the intention of giving effect to that process. These are, as many noble Lords have pointed out, the Bill proposed by my noble friend Lord Steel, together with the two documents prepared under the chairmanships of my noble friends Lord Hunt and Lord Goodlad. If, as is possible, the proposed Bill does not leave the Commons, the shortcomings which it embraces will fall away, not least of which is the question of powers in the Bill which have been the subject of a delicate body swerve.
Perhaps I may briefly refer to the so-called democratic deficit, or lack of democratic accountability, raised by so many noble Lords. Very briefly, I suggest to your Lordships that such accountability is one thing that this House positively does not need and that the scrutiny of legislation and business in this House is much more effectively done without such accountability. That is a circular argument because, as several noble Lords have pointed out, democratic accountability goes out of the window with a 15-year election with no re-election at the end. I invite your Lordships to consider the feeling of freedom which an elected Member will feel on day one after election to such a reformed House.
One problem which will need to be addressed in any evolvement of your Lordships' House is the question of appointments. I shall not go into the detail, already mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Glasgow, but there can surely be no doubt that a strong appointments commission with statutory powers is an essential component in any way forward. It must be pro-active in looking out for suitable independent Peers and reactive in vetting political appointees. That is not me speaking-it is far too clever-but my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth. The commission, in its present form, so admirably chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Jay of Ewelme, provides a fine example on which to build. I am very pleased to note that this is incorporated within the Bill of my noble friend Lord Steel.
This House is aware of its shortcomings and it weaknesses. They are being continually addressed in this House. This hastily and badly thought-through Bill-a theme running through this debate-will have the effect, not of reforming, but of abolishing this House. I suggest that is not the right way to go about it. If anyone, in support of the Bill, needs to give it further thought, I commend the research done by the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, on the costs of this operation.
My Lords, when I think of the sheer value and quality that your Lordships bring to our legislative process, I think of a tribute paid to my noble friend Lady Warnock by a new Cross-Bench Peer, the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, in a debate on disability and SEN. Referring to the struggle that her parents had to get her into a secondary school of the quality able to develop her talents to the full, she said that it was the Warnock report that had been responsible for opening the right doors for her to develop her potential. Of course, we cannot all claim to have quite the same considerable record as the noble Baronesses, Lady Warnock and Lady Grey-Thompson. Indeed, one or two of us may have slipped in under the wire-an expression used last night-but that is the kind of quality that this country would lose from the Cross Benches if we passed this draft Bill.
I became aware of those qualities when I first entered the Chamber in 2001, as one of the first tranche of people's Peers, appointed to the Cross Benches by that newly created and still not statutory Appointments Commission. Even more significantly, I came to realise the diversity and range of expertise and experience that was on hand. One change that new group of 14 or so Cross-Benchers achieved was to pilot a somewhat wider role in your Lordships' House than those on the Cross Benches had taken previously. We were told that usually Cross-Benchers took part only in those Bills and debates on issues covered by their expertise and experience. However, a number of us in that new intake decided to play a slightly wider role, being prepared to listen to all the arguments and take a very full part in proceedings. That practice is much more prevalent than it was. I suppose that I should be thankful that 20 per cent of Cross-Benchers are to be retained in the Chamber, so there would still be a small degree of expertise and experience to draw on.
My second point is obvious and has been mentioned often; none of us can claim to be here because we have been chosen by the people through any form of election. In short, there is no way that we can claim to be specially chosen. Therefore, in the jargon, we are illegitimate. However, we should not be dismayed by that analysis, for, as many others have pointed out, both today and yesterday, legitimacy comes-as the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, said-in many forms. The second Chamber has always included groups of nominees, chosen for example by the monarch or by the Prime Minister, and today by the Appointments Commission.
The draft Bill can clearly be seen to have significantly damaging effects on the future shape, style and performance of the House-so much so that it has been described very accurately by many noble Lords as providing not for the reform of the House but for its abolition. I stress again the special, positive quality of the House and its huge range of specialist experience and expertise. Two hundred Cross-Benchers out of 750 would help to determine the quality of wisdom of the points that we lay before the other place-many of which, as we know, are rightly accepted. One thing is clear about the so-called reformed House; only one-fifth of Members will be nominated rather than elected. Therefore, the great bulk of those talents will disappear, and the volume and diversity of independent specialisms and expertise will shrink almost out of sight.
I come to my first question. Why on earth is this being done and what benefit is it going to achieve? How is it going to improve the results and performance of what we need a second Chamber to do-if we need one at all? That is the alternative question: why have a second Chamber if it is not going to perform the sort of role that we have now? Under the new regime, in the brand new House, 240 Members-five out of every six-will be able to say, "We are on exactly the same terms as those in the other place, so why should we continue to regard the Commons as superior to us?". Clearly, the risk of gridlock is very serious indeed.
I come to my third and final point. Why incur the lunatic extra costs-apparently £177 million in the first year alone-of paying the salaries and expenses of the new senators' staff? What on earth will we gain? I would rather go along with the auction that was suggested; at least that would be an amusing way to pass the time as we look toward our demise. As the noble Lord, Lord Norton, said, it is quite clear from opinion polls that this so-called reform has absolutely no interest for the public-and, surprisingly, precious little for the press-yet we are facing the important and potentially very damaging prospect of losing a uniquely valuable and quite irreplaceable institution.