29 June 2010: Lord Strathclyde moved That this House takes note of the case for reform of the House of Lords.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester:

My Lords, I am sorry that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, the Leader of the House, has temporarily left his place, because I was going to start by congratulating him on the way in which he opened the debate. It was, typically for him, a smooth and polished performance. I felt that if he were to visit a turkey farm in November he would have no difficulty in convincing the residents that Christmas was really a time for rejoicing and that all of them should be grateful for the humane way in which they were going to be dispatched. However, he is not here, so perhaps his Chief Whip will pass that comment on to him. I had hoped that the new Government would have tried harder to achieve a consensus on Lords reform. When my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer of Thoroton was Lord Chancellor, he made it clear that Members of your Lordships' House were to be part of the consensus which would deliver change. That made particular sense in the aftermath of the votes in the other place in 2003, when no majority could be assembled for any of the options on offer.

That approach was shattered, which made me sad, following the votes in the House of Commons on 8 March 2007, and from then on the views of Back-Bench Peers were largely ignored in the discussions about our future. Quite why the 2007 votes mattered so much, and why the failure to agree on any option in 2003 was of so little consequence, has never been satisfactorily explained to me. The noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, referred to this matter in his speech. I have a strong suspicion that, had a Bill been published before the recent election, it would have contained provision for the eventual expulsion of all existing Members as we moved to an all-elected House. I do not know how many of your Lordships are familiar with the TV game show "The Weakest Link". I suspect that the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, may be, because he seemed to suggest that noble Lords should vote other noble Lords out because they were not contributing enough-very much the theme of that programme, as noble Lords will know if they are familiar with it.

Let us be quite clear about one thing. Those of us who are opposed to an elected House are not against reform. This House has already demonstrated that there is very considerable support for the measures contained in the Private Member's Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood. It is very regrettable that its merits were not recognised until it was too late in the last Parliament to do anything about it. If the noble Lord, Lord Steel, wishes to press his Motion to a vote later, I shall certainly support him. His Bill goes a very long way towards modernising this House, as the previous Government recognised in their Constitutional Reform Bill. One of its immediate benefits would have been to reduce the total number of Members, to which a number of noble Lords have referred, as they took advantage of the provisions for retirement. Until now we have had to rely only on the Grim Reaper as a means of reducing our number.

Unless something like the bubonic plague were to make a reappearance, the Grim Reaper would not be able to keep up with the lists of new appointments that seem to come through week after week at the moment. So I wish the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, well with his group, but I think that the provisions in the Private Member's Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, will be an essential part of any new arrangement for retirement.

I have a great deal of respect for the point of view that elections confer legitimacy, but I argue too that elections are not the only way in which legitimacy can be achieved. The role of this Chamber, which is primarily to scrutinise legislation and hold the Government to account, derives its legitimacy from the way in which we do that job and from the people who carry it out. It would not be enhanced if every Member, or nearly every Member of this House, were elected. It is necessary in doing the job that we involve substantial numbers of people who are not part of the normal party-political establishment.

At present we can credibly say, during the passage of legislation and the final stages of ping-pong, "We know our place". That is a point that the noble Lord, Lord Cope, made. When inadequately scrutinised legislation is presented to us, we are able to suggest improvements and revisions to it, but we know and accept that the final word lies with the elected Chamber. The moment when authority is conferred on an assembly through election, it would be necessary to rewrite the conventions between the two Houses. Where would you stop? On what basis would you deny an elected House the right to debate supply and agree the Budget, for example? That point was made with great force by my noble friend Lord Rooker.

I hope that honourable Members in the other place will read very carefully the words of the noble Earl, Lord Onslow. As we heard this afternoon, the noble Earl is a great enthusiast for elections. But the reason why he is such a great supporter of them is that he wants this House to be really powerful and to challenge the will of the Commons. I hope that the House of Commons will come to terms with the fact that many more Members will take the same view as the noble Earl. It seems to me that there is barely a glimmer of understanding of that in the other place. They seem to believe that opposition at this end of the building to an elected House is motivated purely by self-interest and will somehow melt away if we can be bought off by some vague offer of grandfather rights for existing Members, which I have to say I find pretty insulting. The great majority of us are opposed to a predominantly or entirely elected House because we believe that the effectiveness of the second Chamber will be irretrievably weakened if it is replaced by an elected body from which Cross-Bench Peers are absent and whose Members are chosen by the party machines.

It would be invidious to name individual members-mostly, but not entirely, they are on the Cross Benches-whom we would lose if they had to stand for election. Yet who can imagine how groups such as former university vice-chancellors, eminent scientists, distinguished medical practitioners, retired police chiefs and permanent secretaries, generals, air vice-marshals and admirals-with the possible exception of my noble friend Lord West of Spithead, who I can see on the hustings-would offer themselves as political party candidates in elections to this place? They would disappear and the character and effectiveness of the House would change totally.

I wish that when we discuss these matters we would use the English language accurately and truthfully. What is being proposed is not reform, it is abolition. It is the replacement of what we have now with something totally different. Anyone who questions that has only to read Mr Clegg's rhetoric. I cannot believe that the overwhelming majority of noble Lords on the Conservative Benches, who voted by margins of almost 6 to 1 in favour of an appointed House in 2007, are going to allow their temporary coalition partner to destroy an institution in which they so strongly believe and to which they make such a powerful contribution. © Lords Hansard 29 June 2010 - - - - - - - - - - - - - -