Motion to Take Note (Continued)

Part of Draft House of Lords Reform Bill – in the House of Lords at 9:36 pm on 30th April 2012.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Marlesford Lord Marlesford Conservative 9:36 pm, 30th April 2012

My Lords, we have in front of us today two very fine reports. They are both very well written, which makes them easy to read and understand. However, I have one secret wish: I hope that perhaps they will be the last reports on this subject for a decade or two.

The more closely one looks at these coalition proposals for House of Lords reform, the more they seem to resemble the eurozone. First, the design of both contains the seeds of their own destruction. Secondly, they both look as if they may result in the humiliation, or worse, of their architects. Thirdly, the most enthusiastic supporters of both have been among the Liberal Democrats.

I focus on only two of those seeds of destruction. The first is the use of the guillotine as a parliamentary instrument, which has already been referred to by others. In my years as a Parliamentary Lobby correspondent, the use of the guillotine was a media story. It was usually a story of political conflict and the inability of the Government of the day to resolve important legislation and disputes by debate. The guillotine was an instrument of last resort. It was not there to prevent or inhibit parliamentary debate but to limit and contain the use of parliamentary obstruction.

I am afraid that it was Mr Blair, for whom I have much respect, who introduced the guillotine as routine for virtually all legislation. It was not long before the effects on this House became obvious. An avalanche of ill-digested legislation, much of which had been subjected to little or no scrutiny, descended upon us. Of course, the production rate of the House of Commons was hugely increased, but the quality of the output fell.

I had assumed that the lesson had been learnt and that a new Government would scrap the routine timetabling of Bills. To my disappointment, and not to his credit, Mr Cameron has perpetuated this bad practice. Far from improving the presentation and quality of the legislation, it has got even worse. Our efforts have been even more needed to knock it into shape. How long would it be before an elected senate was subjected to a guillotine? It would then be another stepping stone towards the elective dictatorship that the great Lord Hailsham warned us against. We will watch with fascination to see whether the House of Commons allows the Government to timetable this Bill if it is introduced.

The second seed of self-destruction is the anti-elitist argument so widely used by advocates of the replacement of the House with an elected senate. Provided that elites derive from open opportunity, ability, achievement and merit, they are an essential ingredient for all organisations, including Parliament. If there were a criticism, it is perhaps that we are not sufficiently elite. In my view, the anti-elitist culture of recent decades has done much to erode the quality of our Civil Service. To insist that it is more important for Civil Service recruitment to reflect the diversity of Britain rather than be drawn from the ablest of Britain is counter-productive to what it is there for. The superb quality of the 20th century British Civil Service stemmed from the 1855 Northcote-Trevelyan reforms which substituted competitive examination for patronage.

I doubt whether France, with its politicians, would have survived as well had it not been for the unashamed elitism introduced by de Gaulle through ÉNA. I remember that years ago, in order to write about ÉNA, I went to interview its director, Monsieur Pierre Racine. He was remarkable man. I said finally to him, "How is it that you get such marvellous people all wanting to come to ÉNA?". His answer was, "Well, because they end up running France et ca c'est amusant".

One problem is that MPs are so inadequately remunerated. In my view, they should get a salary of about £100,000-about what a GP gets. They should be freed from the arrogant and insulting invigilation of IPSA. IPSA behaves incredibly badly and will quite soon have a serious effect on people wanting to be subjected to that sort of treatment. To invite people to give up 15 years of their lives for £50,000 a year, and subject to IPSA, is hardly going to entice the ablest young people to divert from other careers or enterprises to service in the new second Chamber. Nor are many of those approaching, or who have reached, the pinnacle of their careers likely to be tempted to stand for most of the remainder of their lives as virtually full-time Members of an elected House. I say "virtually full-time" because, even with 450 members, 90 appointed places would not provide anything like the depth or width of expertise and experience which the present House provides.

This really is a potential disaster. In the history of doomed enterprises, it brings to mind the advances of Napoleon and Hitler on Moscow, and the recent repeated attempts to subdue Afghanistan. Fortunately, even if there is reference to the Government's draft Bill in the Queen's speech, it will not be too late to pull the plug on this ill-conceived and rather sordid coalition deal, and perhaps revert to the sort of package of reform referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy. Of course the House of Lords is anachronistic, as is much of our constitution, but it is none the worse for that. I was very surprised when my noble friend Lord Ashdown kept telling us about the strange collection of countries-Belarus and other places like that-that we should emulate. I would suggest that they have not quite got to where we have. Our constitution has evolved over at least 1,000 years since the days of the Witan-that body of notables which advised the Anglo-Saxon kings. What an honour it is to be a Member of a descendant of such a body. I believe that, far from being undemocratic, the present House of Lord underpins our democracy, which is and I hope always will be in the House of Commons.