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The Lords debates Lords Reform, Day Two: More Tory hostility to an elected second chamber

By Jonathan Isaby
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I picked out the highlights of the first day's debate on the Government's plans for the second chamber on Wednesday. Here are extracts from some of the speeches from the Tory benches during the second and final day's debate on the topic (for now)...

The Marquess of Lothian (Michael Ancram)
ANCRAM MICHAEL "It could be said that the proposal on which we are asked to take note must rank among the most inappropriate political events since Nero fiddled while Rome burned. That is not to criticise the quality of this debate, which, at least until now, has been superb, although for all I know the melody played by Nero might also have been superb. The simple fact is that this proposal is the wrong answer to the wrong question at the wrong time and, in my view, is being addressed in the wrong way. Its proponents seem to challenge the doubters, such as me, to show why it should not be adopted. That approach is perverse. Surely it is for the proponents to show why these proposals should be adopted-something that they have so far singularly failed to do. I was taught many years ago that constitutional propositions should be tested against basic criteria.

"First, are these proposals wanted? Like many others here, in over 40 years in active politics I have never met anyone outside the refined and elitist quarters of the political class who has ever even remotely raised the question of House of Lords reform with me. Anyway, it is not for us to show that it is wanted; it is for its proponents to show that it is wanted. So far they have failed to do so, because they cannot.

"Secondly, will these proposals repair something that is not working? Even the paper that we are debating accepts that your Lordships' House is currently working well and it contains no apparent proposals for making it work better. Indeed, the only proposals for that are those advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, in his Bill, which I strongly support.

"Thirdly, will these proposals improve the governance of this country? Given that the role and powers of the second Chamber are to remain unchanged, even its most ardent proponents are not arguing that reform will improve the governance of this country; they are arguing only that it will be more democratically authoritative, whatever that is meant to mean in this context. I have yet to hear a remotely convincing explanation of that.

"Fourthly, will this improve the scrutiny that is brought to bear on legislation? On the contrary, it will in time remove that vast well of specialist expertise that is the key to the effectiveness of this House and replace it with journeymen political hacks. That is a prediction that I confidently make if these proposals go through.

"Fifthly, will it improve the lives or quality of life of the citizens of our country and, if so, how? I have yet to meet any member of the public who thinks that their lives will be improved by these proposals; indeed, I have not yet heard in this debate from the proponents of these proposals any suggestions as to how they will improve lives. Again, it is not for us to show that these proposals will not produce a benefit for people in this country; it is for the proponents to show that they will. Once again, they have not, because they cannot.

"Sixthly, will the proposals, as claimed, strengthen the accountability of this House? What on earth is accountable about electing someone for 15 years, being unable to get rid of them during that period, however bad they are, and not being able to keep them after that period, however good they turn out to be? This is at a time when Parliament is looking to enable the recall of unsatisfactory MPs, who, anyway, are always changeable every five years at election time. That is a paradox of which Lewis Carroll would have been proud.

"Seventhly, is reform really a legislative priority today? We are currently involved in two wars, in one of which many British lives have been lost; we are facing the gravest economic situation that this country has endured in my political lifetime; and we are trying to reform the welfare state, the National Health Service and our education service, all of which are creaking under the strain of overweening bureaucracy. The thought that we could spend months deliberating on this half-baked scheme simply beggars belief. It is not good enough to argue that the reason why we have to do this is that it has been on the constitutional agenda for 100 years. The longevity of a misguided concept does not make any less misguided."

"This dog's breakfast-and dog's lunch and dog's dinner-is not a serious proposition but the product of a belief by the Liberal Democrat leadership that after the failure of the AV referendum it needed another constitutional flagship within which to shelter its increasingly tattered credibility. This, then, is what these proposals are-unseaworthy, unwanted and unsafe.

Lord Higgins
"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."

Lord MacGregor of Pulham Market
"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... 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... 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... 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."

Lord Waddington
"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.

Lord Lang of Monkton
"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?"

"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."

"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."

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean
FORSYTH MICHAEL "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."

"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.... 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."

"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?"

"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."

Baroness Berridge
"I am in favour of reform, but the reforms in the draft Bill are deeply flawed and could lead to our finely balanced constitution, which operates like a beautiful clock, being tampered with one too many times and jamming altogether. In my brief time in your Lordships' House, I have come to view the relationship of this House to the other place rather like a boxer and his trainer. The other place throws a democratic punch, to be met by a mitt labelled delay, scrutiny or review. Perhaps another punch or two is thrown, but eventually, the boxer gets the prize. The trainer is there only to improve the boxer. By electing this Chamber, the trainer will become another boxer and the two will end up fighting or, worse still, they will be on the same team and there will be no fight at all, no scrutiny, review or delay."

"The public want a House that functions. I would support a fully elected House, with proper recognition of the democratic power of the people and a means to resolve disputes between Chambers. However, I am not convinced that we will ever come up with such a solution. On the options presented to me, I would support a wholly appointed Chamber based on a statutory Appointments Commission, and I would submit myself to reselection if required."


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