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Last Updated: Sunday, 8 February, 2004, 12:20 GMT
People's Peers
Jeremy Vine interviewed Lord Falconer, the Lord Chancellor on Sunday 08 February 2004.

Please note BBC Politics Show must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

Lord Falconer, the Lord Chancellor
Lord Falconer

Jeremy Vine: I'm joined now by the Cabinet Minister, Lord Falconer who is responsible for constitutional reform.

We saw Max wearing ermine there. Will the new House of Lords have ermine.

Lord Falconer: Well the changes we're making at the moment are to remove the hereditary peers and also to take away from any Prime Minister of the day, the power to determine what the size of each party in the House of Lords is; ermine will continue but that's not the critical thing that the House of Lords does.

The critical thing that the House of Lords does is determine what legislation looks like and we need to be sure that each party is properly represented.

After two landslides, the Conservatives, Labour landslides, the Conservatives remain the single largest party in the Lords.

Jeremy Vine: But the criticism that is being levelled at you is that you know what you want to with the 92 hereditary peers, get rid of them. But you haven't got a clue what comes after that.

Lord Falconer: We need to try and form some consensus in relation to what happens next. Getting rid of the hereditary peers, making sure that any Prime Minister of the day hasn't got the power to say what the size of each group is, is very very important.

But we do need to find a way forward. You know what happened last year, almost a year ago to the day, neither the Lords nor the Commons could agree on a way forward. We need to look at ways forward.

The Big Conversation that's going on in my party is one form which is being debated. There was a joint committee of both Houses, I hope that can be re-established, and we .....

Jeremy Vine: Well just on that one point.

Lord Falconer: Yeah.

Jeremy Vine: That's what Max, the news Max brought us there was that the Tories and Lib Dems are not going to play ball with you until you come up with a plan.

Lord Falconer: Well, I, I heard that on the clip. That's, that's disappointing. We are keen to see the joint committee set up again, so it can consider ways forward in relation to Lords reform; so it can for example consider whether or not a part of the House of Lords should be determined by reference to what the results were in the General Election.

We need to look at these issues, not because they're necessarily the right way forward, but because we need to continue to see how we make the House of Lords a more acceptable place to make legislation.

Jeremy Vine: Well, Peter Hain the current House of Commons Leader said last year, In the long term a fully appointed chamber is not a sustainable solution to the problems. You've just mentioned this new idea that's being floated, of possibly putting peers in to the House of Lords on the basis of the share of the vote at general elections. Correct.

Lord Falconer: Yeah.

Jeremy Vine: Would that could as appointing them or electing them.

Lord Falconer: Well it would depend how it was done, it's something that we need to discuss properly. For example, I think the Joint Committee could look at that with, with considerable utility.

Jeremy Vine: You like that idea.

Lord Falconer: I, I think it's an idea that needs to be properly and fully debated because we are absolutely determined to make it clear that the reform of the House of Lords, doesn't end with the removal of the hereditary peers and the setting up of the Statutory Appointments Commission, both of which are important, and both of which I would have thought, most political parties would accept.

What I'm very keen to avoid is what in a sense the Tories are seeking to achieve, which is 'end it there' but sound more progressive. We need to be progressive about that.

Jeremy Vine: If you went and had that system that you've mentioned where the Lords go in on the basis of General Election results, would they then go out again at the next election.

Lord Falconer: I think that would, that would almost certainly have to be. It wouldn't necessarily be at the next General Election, but you would need some proportion .... have to go out, in order to make sure the House reflected the votes.

Jeremy Vine: We don't know what you want to do, this is the problem here. You are the government, you're supposed to know.

Lord Falconer: But we've spent a considerable period of time, we've set up a Royal Commission, we've put up a Joint Committee, or we proposed it, and it was appointed by parliament.

Jeremy Vine: Committees and commissions don't tell us what you think.

Lord Falconer: But we need to try and build a consensus, that's what we need to do. We need to try to get support for what is one of the most important parts of our Constitution.

Jeremy Vine: Do you think the Prime Minister supports a wholly appointed chamber because he suggested last year that he did.

Lord Falconer: He indicated the last time this was debated, that he was keen to avoid the House of Lords becoming a rival chamber to the House of Commons, because I think most people would agree the House of Commons should be prime in relation to this.

But what is important is there should be a proper debate and what is important is that people should not sense that reform has come to an end.

Jeremy Vine: Let me move on if I can to war and inquiries and these comments from Hans Blitz today, the former UN Weapons Inspector, who basically is saying that politicians misused the intelligence, exaggerated the case for war. How do you as a cabinet minister respond to that.

Lord Falconer: I don't think that that is right but I think the important thing now is to provide all relevant material to Lord Butler's inquiry, and let Lord Butler form a view, Lord Butler and his team form a view in relation to this. We shouldn't go on and on and on discussing the precise detail of this.

Instead we should let the inquiry proceed, not monster it in advance, but wait for it to reach conclusions. Because what we're getting is bits and pieces from here and there.

Whereas there's now an inquiry that can look at the whole picture and see what discrepancies there may be between what's found in Iraq and what was said before. How the intelligence was gathered, how it was used, all of those matters are matters for Butler.

We should let Butler do this work and wait to see what comes out of that because although these are important issues, to a very large extent they are crowding out in the debate, other important issues, such as schools, hospitals, the fight against crime.

Jeremy Vine: Well I want to ask you about that because you are apparently the cabinet minister who suggested Lord Hutton would be a good person to chair the Hutton Inquiry.

Lord Falconer: That's correct.

Jeremy Vine: And it's proved to be extremely controversial and strangely, although the government's been cleared, the public seem to have lost confidence in you.

Lord Falconer: I think Lord Hutton, as an inquirer, is really beyond reproach in terms of the fact that he is an objective judge of great experience. The task that he was set was to investigate the circumstances leading to the tragic death of Dr Kelly.

Jeremy Vine: Do you concede he made a controversial judgement.

Lord Falconer: Well he, there's great controversy about what he said, I fully accept that but what he did do was irrefutably conclude that the dossier was not sexed-up in the sense of having material put in to it, that the government knew to be false.

And he also concluded that the government had not acted dishonourably in the way that Dr Kelly's name came in to the public domain.

Jeremy Vine: I'm asking why is it that having been vindicated, the government is now in a position where it looks a polls to-day and you're falling in the polls.

Lord Falconer: Well I don't think Lord Hutton, in reaching any conclusion, should be influenced by what the polls had done, what might be done.

Jeremy Vine: He wasn't .....

Lord Falconer: Exactly, he wasn't. What he's got to do is reach a conclusion on the evidence and that's what he ....

Jeremy Vine: (overlaps) But I'm asking why, why are you less popular as a result of being vindicated. After the Hutton Inquiry comes out, why is the government slipping in the polls.

Lord Falconer: Well I think people are concerned about a whole range of issues, and indeed a government seven years on is inevitably, as it is making decisions which are controversial, for example like the decision support the use of force in Iraq, that inevitably causes controversy. But we must continue to do those things that we think are right.

Jeremy Vine: But it's, it's almost as if and this has an impact on the Butler Inquiry isn't it. It's almost as if the public look at Hutton, they look at Butler and they say well, Typical of the government, can't trust them to run an inquiry in to themselves.

Lord Falconer: I don't think there's any doubt at all that the Hutton Inquiry was run completely objectively by Lord Hutton and nobody else.

I think issues such as, Was the dossier deliberately falsified or was there impropriety in the release of the name, are something, in order to avoid long debate in which other theories come forward, in order to avoid that happening, it's absolutely right that inquiries are set up.

Again, in relation to the discrepancies between what may be found in Iraq and the intelligence and how it was used, it's right that a definitive inquiry like that of Lord Butler should be set up.

One can do no more than that. It allows both the evidence to be made public, in so far as it's not confidential, and for a definitive authority of view to be expressed.

NB: this transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy.

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