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Last Updated: Sunday, 11 March 2007, 11:21 GMT
Lords reform
On Sunday Sunday 11 March, Andrew Marr interviewed Lord Falconer

Please note "BBC Sunday AM" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

Lord Falconer
Lord Falconer

ANDREW MARR: Welcome ..

LORD FALCONER: Hello Andrew.

ANDREW MARR: .. Lord Falconer. Let's start off talking about Lords reform.

LORD FALCONER: Yeah.

ANDREW MARR: You are kicking off tomorrow's debate ..

LORD FALCONER: Yeah.

ANDREW MARR: .. in the Second Chamber. It would be surprising if their lordships were keen on an all elected Second Chamber.

Are we bound to get a ping pong confrontation between the Commons and the Lords?

LORD FALCONER: Well I think there may well be a different answer from the Lords from that which was given by the Commons. But there's going to be a two day debate in the Lords.

And I think it's right that before any conclusions are reached we wait to hear what the Lords say. There's going to be a, I think more speakers in this debate in the Lords than any debate in the Lords in recent times. We as a country have done well by intense debate in Parliament addressing constitutional issues.

And although I think probably they will come up with a different answer from that given in the Commons their views and the views of the Commons have got to be put together and then we've got to see how we move forward in relationship because I feel strongly that there is a sense that this may be an opportunity to make changes in respect of which you can get a consensus.

ANDREW MARR: And you yourself, are you pro election?

LORD FALCONER: I am pro election. I am not pro one hundred per cent. I supported the position of fifty per cent cos I think a hybrid house is the right way to go forward, hybrid meaning ..

ANDREW MARR: Mixed, yeah.

LORD FALCONER: .. some elected and some appointed because I think the Lords does add value. I think the Lords adds value in part because there are people who as Ken Clarke was saying aren't from a traditional political background but come from a range of places.

You need much more of a democratic element to make it accountable. But put the two together in a way that I think would really add value for the process. But let's have the debate. And I think of all the places in the country where the voice needs to be heard, it's the voice of the Lords in this debate because they know how the system works.

ANDREW MARR: Now some people as you know say here is the Blair government wanting to neuter or put down the Lords because it's been a thorn in the government's flesh and they're going to do the same with the Political Appointments Committee and the Honours Scrutiny Committee and all those things which have caused trouble for the Executive are going to be tranquilised.

LORD FALCONER: I think that's completely wrong. And I think the effect for example of the removal of most of the hereditairies in nineteen ninety nine was to mean that nobody had a majority in the House of Lords.

That means when two political parties coalesce against the government they can defeat the government. So far from making the Lords a weaker place we've made it in my view rightly a stronger place. And we need to see whether or not we want to consolidate and see how we could make it more democratic.

ANDREW MARR: And now this is on the table, is this business that Labour must finish? Must Gordon Brown actually deliver a reformed Second Chamber?

LORD FALCONER: Well I think it's a Labour Party issue but it's a national issue as well. I think as a government we are committed to trying to find a solution. But it won't be a party political solution.

It will be one that stretches right across the political firmament because what we're trying to do is to reach agreement on how our constitution works which is for parties but it's also for us to operate in the national interest in that respect.

ANDREW MARR: A lot of people thought that one of the reasons that so many MPs voted for a heavily elected second chamber was the tarnishing effect of the cash for honours enquiry and all the reporting of that. Do you think that the - you sit there and you see the spate of stories day by day.

Do you think the process of the investigation has been in any way corrupted or do you think we will come to a proper outcome? LORD FALCONER: I mean I, I don't want to comment at all on the detail of the cash

ANDREW MARR: Sure.

LORD FALCONER: .. for honours thing. The right thing to do in relation to the cash for honours thing, as I've said, in fact the last time I was here was to say let the investigation take its course and reach its conclusion.

ANDREW MARR: But I'm asking, I'm just asking ..

LORD FALCONER: As far as ..

ANDREW MARR: .. whether you think the investigation is still as it were legitimate or vergo-intacto or whatever?

LORD FALCONER: Well I mean it, the investigation's got to take its course. And the conclusions it reaches will be the conclusions ...

ANDREW MARR: And the leaks, the leaks haven't destroyed the process of the investigation?

LORD FALCONER: Well I don't think they have. I think, I think ..

ANDREW MARR: No.

LORD FALCONER: .. that the less said the better. I think we've just got to let that investigation take its course. As far as whether it's affected the Lords reform debate you'd have to ask people in the Commons.

I think on the Lords reform debate there has been a gradually changing position over time. I mean over the last ninety eight years but over the last ten years as well.

ANDREW MARR: The Lord, the Attorney General rather has come under a certain amount of flak or criticism or comment over the question of whether or not eventually he will be involved in the decision as to whether to prosecute if there is any, if there are any suggested prosecutions in the cash for honours question.

Now you said at one point that he would not be involved in that decision as a political player and then he jumped in and said ooh, I might be involved in that decision. There seemed to be a disagreement between you.

LORD FALCONER: Well it's a matter entirely for the Attorney General as to the role that he plays. I'm absolutely sure that he will play a role consistent with his obligation to justice in relation to it. And the decisions are for him.

ANDREW MARR: Do you think it is possible to have somebody any longer who is such a political player because he sits in Cabinet, although he's not a voting member of Cabinet, taking these kind of decisions?

LORD FALCONER: Well the Attorney General has made clear that he operates in a non-political way in those public interest functions that he's got. The Constitutional Affairs Select Committee at the moment is looking at models for different sorts of Attorney General. I think there should be a debate about it. But I'm quite sure he does his role in accordance with justice.

ANDREW MARR: I mean he says that. In one of the papers today, in the Sunday Telegraph he's written a very interesting article in which, if one reads it very closely, he seems to be conceding that it might be necessary for the Attorney General's role to be removed from that mainstream cabinet position as long as there is somebody holding that title and role still somewhere in Parliament, potentially in the House of Lords. He seems to be moving a little bit.

LORD FALCONER: Well isn't the debate part of a much wider debate about what roles people fulfil? So for example making the fixing of interest rates independent by the Bank of England. As time moves on, as people have different views about politics the roles that people play have to change.

For example my role as Lord Chancellor used to involve me being both a Cabinet Minister and the head of the Judiciary and the head of the final Court of Appeal in this country. Plainly in modern time that combination of roles is impossible. And we are good at changing our constitution to fit modern times.

ANDREW MARR: And do you think that Lord Goldsmith is as it were accepting the same sort of logic and that therefore we will see a shift in the position of the Attorney General in future?

LORD FALCONER: Well I'm saying ..

ANDREW MARR: The role of the Attorney General?

LORD FALCONER: I'm saying it's right that we debate that issue. I welcome the Select Committee's enquiry into it. We've reached no conclusion whatsoever in relation to it. But I think it's right it should be debated because times change.

ANDREW MARR: Tony Blair's your, famously your old mucker and mate. Do you now know when he's leaving? LORD FALCONER: No. I've no idea when he's leaving.

ANDREW MARR: And are you prepared to say that you think Gordon Brown should be his successor?

LORD FALCONER: Well he will be an excellent successor if he becomes the successor. But you said in your introduction there's still a hell of a lot going on on a day to day basis here and I always say when asked the question let's focus on the things that matter which are the things that really involve changing the way the country is run.

ANDREW MARR: Sure. Sure. Last week here John Hutton said he thought that a contest nonetheless would be a healthy thing for the Labour Party and the government. Do you share that view?

LORD FALCONER: Well a contest where there were two real or two or more real candidates yes. But you can't create a contest where there isn't going to be one.

So it's a matter for the players themselves to determine whether or not they will stand against Gordon.

ANDREW MARR: And would you yourself like to carry on under a new regime?

LORD FALCONER: I am happy in the job that I am doing at the moment.

ANDREW MARR: Finally returning to the whole question of Lords reform, if we do get an election Second Chamber and people are starting to use the word "senate" about it, do you think that it's got to be A, elected in a different way from the House of Commons and B, probably considerably smaller than it is now?

LORD FALCONER: I think it will have to be smaller. Cos I think, I think it's currently in excess of seven hundred people. I think there's a question about how the transitional arrangements would work. But at the end I think it should be smaller.

I think it should be elected in a different way from the Commons because I think you don't want the two just to reflect each other. There needs to be a different Second Chamber bringing different skills to the constitutional process.

ANDREW MARR: And of course the Commons remains kind of an un-chancy(?) place in many ways. You've got the Trident vote this week haven't you?

LORD FALCONER: Indeed. And that's an important vote. The government have been absolutely clear in their position that we should renew.

The, we've been clear that we've got to do it now because the best advice we are receiving is that if we don't take the decision now it will be too late to take it at a later stage. Our position is clear. I am sure we'll get support in the House of Commons ...

ANDREW MARR: From the Conservative benches. I mean that's the embarrassment.

LORD FALCONER: And substantially from our own benches as well. Of course there will be, there will be people who take a different view but I very much hope that what we demonstrate is that we are broadly unified on the need to go forward with the debate.

ANDREW MARR: If, if you didn't get a numerical majority of Labour MPs on Trident do you think it would be acceptable for a Labour government to go ahead and commission the next generation anyway?

LORD FALCONER: Well I'm not going to, I, I am sure we will get very, very substantial support on the Labour benches ..

ANDREW MARR: Majority? Majority?

LORD FALCONER: .. for this particular - well, let's wait and see. But I'm pretty sure that there will be very strong support because I think we will demonstrate that we are broadly unified on this.

ANDREW MARR: And I, I should ask - I always, I always try this one. Whatever comes out of the investigation Tony Blair and all of you have been damaged by the cash for honours business.

That's partly why this whole House of Lords business has come back up again isn't it?

LORD FALCONER: Well it's in the papers all the time. It's something where the results of the investigation will determine what effect it's had. So I think let's not speculate.

On the House of Lords thing as I say maybe it's had some effect. But I think the question of whether or not the House of Lords to be reformed is a much, much more long term debate that's been going on which I think is now reaching a climax.

ANDREW MARR: All right. Well we'll talk a little more later but for now thank you very much indeed Lord Falconer.

LORD FALCONER: Thank you.

INTERVIEW ENDS


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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