I beg to move,
That this House supports the principle of a bicameral Parliament.
With this we may take the following motions: Options for Reform of Composition: No.1—
That this House is of the opinion that a reformed House of Lords should be fully appointed.
Options for Reform of Composition: No.2—
That this House is of the opinion that a reformed House of Lords should be composed of 20 per cent. elected members and 80 per cent. appointed members.
Options for Reform of Composition: No.3—
That this House is of the opinion that a reformed House of Lords should be composed of 40 per cent. elected members and 60 per cent. appointed members.
Options for Reform of Composition: No.4—
That this House is of the opinion that a reformed House of Lords should be composed of 50 per cent. elected members and 50 per cent. appointed members.
Options for Reform of Composition: No.5—
That this House is of the opinion that a reformed House of Lords should be composed of 60 per cent. elected members and 40 per cent. appointed members.
Options for Reform of Composition: No.6—
That this House is of the opinion that a reformed House of Lords should be composed of 80 per cent. elected members and 20 per cent. appointed members.
Options for Reform of Composition: No.7—
That this House is of the opinion that a reformed House of Lords should be fully elected.
That this House is of the opinion that the remaining retained places for peers whose membership is based on the hereditary principle should be removed.
Amendment (c) thereto: in line 2, at end add
‘once elected members have taken their places in a reformed House of Lords.’’
It is 98 years sincere a wholly hereditary House of Lords plunged the nation into one of its worst ever constitutional crises as it vetoed the right of a democratically elected Government to set a Budget. It took two general elections in a single year and the Parliament Act 1911 to resolve the crisis.
In 1999 the House of Lords underwent the most significant reform since the 1911 Act, with the removal of the vast majority of hereditary peers and the establishment of a second Chamber in which no single party should command an overall majority. Those changes have produced a more independent and active House of Lords. It has been a major advance, but as a reform it is far from complete.
Those who believe that the United Kingdom should have a unicameral Parliament will have the opportunity to express that view in the votes tomorrow night. It is not a view that I support. Strong government must be balanced by a strong Parliament, and that means, among many other things, an effective, revising second Chamber, subordinate to but complementary to the House of Commons.
Almost all countries the size of ours or larger have bicameral Parliaments, because of the weight and complexity of the business before them. This House already sits for longer and for more days than most comparable legislatures. If it were serious about doing the work of two Houses combined, it would mean—besides many other things—much shorter recesses, no light Thursdays and many fewer constituency Fridays. I suggest to Members on both sides of the House that that is a sure-fire recipe for detaching Members of Parliament from their voters.
My preference, and that of the main Opposition parties, is for a reformed House of Lords containing a substantial proportion of elected Members alongside appointed Members with special expertise and experience. I believe that by such means we can create a more representative, effective and legitimate second Chamber without challenging the primacy of this House.
Despite the 1999 reforms and other changes to the House of Lords since 1911, such as the introduction of women Members and life peers, this House has so far found it impossible to reach a substantive conclusion on the most appropriate membership and framework for a reformed second Chamber. There are those who say, even now, that what we need to do is pause and reflect “maturely” on the next step. I rather think that 98 years is long enough for such reflection.
We have not been short of debate over the past 98 years, just results. All-party talks in the late 1940s fell away. All-party talks in the late 1960s were thwarted first by a Lords decision to block sanctions against what was then Southern Rhodesia and is now Zimbabwe, and following that by an extraordinary alliance—a kind of Faustian pact—between the late Enoch Powell and Michael Foot. More recently, after a royal commission with a distinguished membership had presented a thorough and wide-ranging report in 2000, and after a White Paper in 2001 and a comprehensive inquiry by the Public Administration Committee and a Joint Committee of the Commons and Lords in 2002, the House in early February 2003 managed to vote down every possibility for reform, from doing nothing to having an all-elected House and every alternative in between. It was not a good day for the reputation of this House or of Parliament.
Will the right hon. Gentleman explain how, under his proposals, a serving Prime Minister could be completely detached from the selection procedure in his party for peers, and might it not cause tensions if there were disagreement on the general attitude?
On legitimacy, did my right hon. Friend read the remarks made by Lord Kingsland on 7 November 2006? In his concluding comments in a debate on the Police and Justice Bill, which had ping-ponged a couple of times between the Lords and Commons, he said:
“We have concluded that, in our judgment, it would be wrong for us as an unelected House, having faced two repudiations from the elected House, to send this back one more time…If we were an elected House, I am sure that our decision would be different.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 7 November 2006; Vol. 686, c. 654.]
Is that not the nub of the problem? An elected House or a part-elected House would be used to undermine the legitimacy of this House.
Given that the Government’s model still leaves enormous powers of patronage with party managers, would not the second Chamber better represent society if an independent commission were instructed to fill the Lords with representatives of organisations that best reflect society—in other words, if we were to create a second Chamber of the country’s talents in which individuals could represent such organisations?
My right hon. Friend has already moved on to the composition of the House. Should we not be spending more time on what the functions of the other Chamber should be, and then consider whether the current composition matches what we want from those functions—and if it does not then consider what changes we require?
I have moved on to the composition of the House because I took interventions. The composition and the functions run together, and some Members of this House and the other place take the view that if the other place is simply a revising Chamber it follows as clearly as night follows day that it must be an appointed Chamber. That view is not shared across the world in almost any other country, and it is not a view that I accept. I shall now make progress.
When my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister asked me to take on the issue of Lords reform 10 months ago, he encouraged me to—[Interruption.] No, the phrase was “hospital pass” and not “legacy”, actually. My right hon. Friend encouraged me to search for a consensus with the other parties and to make proposals. This two-day debate and tomorrow’s votes are the culmination of the first stage of that process.
Four years ago, when the House last debated this issue, I voted for an all-appointed House and against the alternatives. I did so for several reasons, one of which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin). I feared the impact of introducing an elected element into the other place. I had concerns that that could impinge on the primacy of this House, and that it could create a new breed of politician, rivalling the role of Members of this House both here and in their constituencies. I am well aware, of course, that some Members still have these concerns.
However, I have to tell the House that, having thought deeply about this subject, I am now convinced that my fears of 2003 were misplaced, and that there is a very solid case for a part-elected, part-appointed House.
No, if the hon. Gentleman will excuse me.
Tomorrow night, I shall vote for a 50 per cent. elected, 50 per cent. appointed hybrid House—my personal first preference, and where I think consensus might lie— and then for a 60 per cent. and 80 per cent. elected House, as well. I shall vote against the other alternatives.
As I have just mentioned, the principal reason I previously supported a wholly appointed House was that I considered that the introduction of any elected element into the Lords could, by virtue of that fact, inevitably challenge the primacy of this House, which is fundamental to our democracy. However, as I read the royal commission report, the associated research evidence and much other material, I was presented with facts about other countries’ experience that simply did not support my view of an automatic link between an elected element in the Lords and an erosion of the primacy of this place. The evidence shows instead that a country can have a powerful elected second Chamber—the United States, for example—or a weak elected second Chamber, four examples being Japan, Spain, Poland and the Czech Republic. A nation may have an appointed second Chamber with relatively limited powers, or an appointed second Chamber with relatively substantial powers. There are, in truth, no iron rules linking composition and power, except the rule that allows self-confident democracies to set their own rules—their constitutions—and to change them when they judge it right to do so.
Having considered the evidence, I was struck by two other things. First, after extensive deliberation the royal commission, the Public Administration Committee and the unofficial but authoritative Breaking the Deadlock group each came down in favour of a hybrid House of part-elected, part-appointed membership—albeit of different proportions. Each of these all-party committees had thought long and hard about how a hybrid second Chamber could be established in such a way as to avoid competition with this House. They made recommendations to that end, which have greatly informed the conclusions of the Government and of the cross-party group.
I will deal with that point. I know that my hon. Friend has read the royal commission report and the other two reports, so he will recognise that a great deal of effort and work was put into ensuring that, by the means of election and by the fact that such individuals would sit for a single term, without the prospect of re-election for a long term, their relationship with those who had elected them and with their peers—literally—would be a different one. The truth is that there are partly appointed, partly elected Chambers elsewhere in the world, and the evidence suggests that whether or not they work satisfactorily depends on the other ground rules that are established alongside them. In the end, it will be for this House, because it does have primacy, to decide those ground rules. I do not think that we have anything to fear in that regard.
I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. He has looked at the evidence from around the world and spoke of the United States as a having a strong second House. The relationship between a Member of Congress and their constituents is inevitably influenced by the fact that they are elected from a constituency of more than 500,000 electors. We have a very much closer and more precious relationship with our constituents, in my opinion. Could we not look closer to home and learn from the experience of Scotland? Having extra Members of Parliament in Scotland has created a degree of uncertainty and confusion that a lot of Labour Members certainly would not welcome here.
I agree that we should learn from that experience and we have done so, because there are no proposals in those three reports or in the White Paper that have any parallel with the overlaying representation in the Scottish and Welsh Assemblies, with people elected through different methods to representation in the same Assembly.
I wish to make some progress, but I will give way to the right hon. and hon. Gentlemen shortly, if time allows. I have given way eight times already.
When the Government brought forth their previous White Paper on Lords reform in 2001, they proposed a limited elected element of just 20 per cent. But, as the latest White Paper delicately puts it, that 2001 proposal
“failed to command widespread support”.
In fact, 89 per cent. of the more than 900 respondents to the 2001 White Paper wanted a House that was 50 per cent. or more elected. That level of public rejection of the principle of an all-appointed or mainly appointed House in favour of a significantly or wholly elected House is a consistent feature of recent tests of public opinion. A thorough opinion survey last month for the Hansard Society, which itself has no axe to grind on this issue, showed that just 6 per cent. favoured an all-appointed House, and 82 per cent. a wholly or partly elected House.
In the end, on this issue as on any other, this House has to make its own decisions, and answer for them. But I think there is one reason above all why the instinct of the public is so clearly against a wholly appointed second Chamber, and that is because they doubt the legitimacy of a key institution of a democratic Parliament if they are denied any say through the ballot box over who should sit in that second Chamber.
The Leader of the House knows full well that that Hansard Society survey also showed that more than 50 per cent. of the respondents had very little idea of what the House of Lords did. That is an important point. What would his reaction be if, in a keenly contested vote in the other place, the day was carried by the non-elected?
My view is that we can establish the rules about the nature of the operation of the other place. Every other Parliament with a second chamber has done that, and all parties are agreed—as Wakeham recommended—that regardless of any change in composition, the primacy of this House should be maintained. I shall come on to that point. I also point out that it is dangerous to suggest that we should dismiss the public’s view on the grounds of ignorance. That was the view that was taken by our predecessors in opposing any extension of the franchise in 1832. Leaving that aside, the hon. Gentleman quoted the Hansard poll at me, but it also shows that of those who have a grasp of the issues—the poll’s words, not mine—many more people support the proposal that the Government make today.
If this House votes for a House of Lords that is substantially elected and that takes the form of legislation, at some stage the British electorate will be invited to vote for a third of a proportion of the House of Lords. What does the Leader of the House think will be at stake in those elections to motivate the electorate to turn out and vote?
What I think will be at stake in those elections is representation of part of the second legislative Chamber. Everybody in this House agrees that the other place performs a very important function, regardless of its composition, and I think that those elections will generate considerable interest.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that under any of the models that include elected members for the House of Lords, he is talking about a single election for a 15-year period? While that would give the legitimacy of being elected, how on earth would it ensure the accountability of those members?
I do confirm that. My hon. Friend is right to say that it would give legitimacy to their position in the other place, and change the relationship between them and their “constituencies”. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree said, that is the whole point. Those who know the US system will be aware that the different relationship between Congressmen and their constituents is due not to the size of the constituency but to the intensity of elections. The fact that they have elections to the House of Representatives every two years means that Congressmen never stop electioneering and are more attached to their constituents than any of us are.
Straw: I need to make progress, as many other hon. Members want to get in.
It is the issue of legitimacy that was the second factor behind my change of mind. Society has changed dramatically in recent decades, and Parliament must keep up with those changes. I simply do not believe that in this less deferential, more assertive age the public will tolerate a wholly appointed chamber for much longer. The choice in my judgement is stark: it is change or wither away.
Will the Leader of the House give way?
Does the Leader of the House agree that the House of Lords has perfectly good powers at present? Its Members can revise and delay legislation, but the primacy of this House means that they cannot veto it. Earlier, the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) quoted Lord Kingsland. Does not that quotation show that, even when dealing with very important questions of human liberty, Members of the House of Lords refrain from exercising their full power of veto because they are not elected and so cannot challenge the more legitimate lower House? Does not that quotation confirm in full the point that a reformed upper House would have more courage and confidence to use its powers?
It might, and I shall develop the point in a moment. Such a House might indeed be more assertive, and the House of Lords has already become more active since the changes of 1999. I have gone on record as saying that I do not mind that at all: I think it is a good thing, as long as it does not challenge the primacy of this House. We can protect that primacy by convention and by the use of law.
I am going to make some more progress.
Two parallel processes have been undertaken over the past year towards establishing a consensus on this issue. One has been the Joint Committee on Conventions under the Chairmanship of my noble Friend Lord Cunningham of Felling, and the other has been the cross-party group on Lords reform that I have chaired. Good progress has been made in both groups.
The Cunningham Committee reported last November. Its conclusions are an invaluable template, setting out very clearly its current understanding of the powers of this place that established its primacy, and the conventions that ensure that that primacy is delivered. The Committee’s conclusions were unanimous, and were subsequently endorsed by both the Houses without Division.
In shorthand, the primacy of this House depends on three key elements: first, the exclusive right of this House to determine who forms a Government; secondly, this House’s exclusive right to raise taxation and to allocate public spending; thirdly, the right of this House to the final—and pretty prompt—say over any legislation that is the subject of dispute between the two Houses.
The Cunningham Committee made it clear that its conclusions—not on those powers, which were a given, but on the conventions underpinning them—related to the Lords as it is currently constituted. However, the House will be reassured that all members of the cross-party group that I chaired were agreed on the fundamental principle of the primacy of the Commons, and that any reformed Lords should be a complement to this House, and not a rival to it. That echoes similar key conclusions of the royal commission, the Public Administration Select Committee, and the Breaking the Deadlock reports.
The cross-party working group met eight times between July 2006 and January this year. I hope very much that, if we reach clear conclusions tomorrow, it can be reconstituted.
Paragraph 4.11 of the White Paper states that
“current conventions are the right ones for a reformed House to deal with, certainly early in its life”.
If the upper Chamber is primarily or significantly elected, how “early in its life” does the Leader of the House expect there to be pressure for a change in those conventions? Would not it be more appropriate to ensure that they are enshrined in law before he rushes headlong into the process of determining how the upper House should be composed?
The hon. Gentleman may be right about that. I said at paragraph 22 of the Government’s response to the Cunningham 2 report “Conventions of the UK Parliament”:
“The extent to which there needs to be additional steps to secure that”—
in other words, these conventions—
“would need to be addressed if there was any suggestion that the major parties did not support this approach in the context of a new House.”
But these things are perfectly possible. The crucial thing is that no one is arguing about the current practice of the powers of the two Chambers. There may be a debate about whether the conventions which in part underpin those powers—they are also in part underpinned by the resolutions of this House and by the Parliament Acts—are sufficient. I am very happy that we should have that debate. Indeed, I hope that we can because I hope that we can reach a result tomorrow night for the first time in 98 years.
In a recent interview in The House Magazine the right hon. Gentleman said that, assuming that there was a clear outcome in the votes tomorrow night, we would inevitably return to the issue of the powers of a reformed second Chamber. As far as I am aware, he has not made that so explicit before. Is it his intention after tomorrow night, if there is a clear outcome, to set up cross-party talks about the powers of the second Chamber?
That was a shorthand way of saying what we said in respect of the Cunningham 2 report—that we would need to deal with this issue. I am happy to say today—indeed, it was my very next sentence—that I hope that, if we reach clear conclusions tomorrow, the cross-party group can be reconstituted. I want to try to work by consensus here, as the right hon. Lady knows that we have been seeking to do, and we have been pretty successful over the past 10 months.
Is not the difficulty that our constitutional settlement is of course unwritten and my right hon. Friend supposes that the position at the end of the process that we are going through will be fixed? The lesson from devolution in the United Kingdom is that there is immediate pressure from the institution to change the constitutional arrangements again. If there is an elected element, that pressure will be immediate and constant, and we will be coming back every year to have this debate.
I agree with part of what my hon. Friend says. I do not agree with the implication that we have something to fear from a partly elected second Chamber. Other countries manage very well with having one House which has primacy and a partially or wholly elected second Chamber. I said in my evidence to the Cunningham Committee a few months ago that if we have a partly or wholly elected second Chamber—I do not support a wholly elected second Chamber—the appetite to challenge the power of this place will increase. We have to anticipate that when we are drawing up the framework in which a partly elected House should operate, but we have the ultimate say because of the Parliament Acts.
We are not in the position of some other first Chambers in other countries; we can decide. My view is that we ought to decide. It comes back to the answer that I gave to the hon. Member for St. Ives. No one is arguing; everyone is agreed that the current powers of this place in relation to the powers of the Lords or any second Chamber should remain the same. The only issue is the means by which they are delivered, because in part they are delivered by conventions. If we believe that those conventions are likely to be too weak, we can supplement them by resolutions and underpin them by statute.
As a member of the Joint Committee on Conventions, I think that it is important that the House be aware that the Joint Committee stated clearly that, if the composition of the Lords were changed, the Committee or another joint committee would have to review the conventions, because the conventions apply to the present House of Lords and the composition of the present House of Lords. It is quite wrong that this House should assume that that Committee, which sat at great length and considered the matter in great depth, had any other view than that the current conventions covered the current House of Lords.
I fully accept what the hon. Gentleman says, but he will also recognise that at paragraph 61, which discusses how or whether the conventions could operate in a changed House, his Committee said that the matter was “outside the remit” of the Committee. The predecessor Cunningham Committee said that, even with elections, it envisaged
“a continuation of the present role of the House of Lords, and of the existing conventions governing its relations with the House of Commons.”
If we make a decision for a partly elected element, there will of course be cross-party talks, because all three main parties will have agreed on the direction in which we should move and, to reassure my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas), we will be able to do a better job than was done on devolution, which happened much more rapidly, not in 98 years—or even in 98 months. As someone who took part, in opposition and then in government, in the discussions on devolution, I realise that speed was necessary because of the pent-up feeling for devolution, but if we had had more time, we could have done a better job.
In view of my right hon. Friend’s response to the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton), does he still stand by paragraph 21 of the Government’s response to the Joint Committee?
I need to make progress, because I have already given way about a dozen times.
There was agreement among all in the group in favour of a hybrid House, with a significant elected element, although the precise level was left to free votes. There was agreement within the cross-party group that a reformed House should consist of at least 20 per cent. non party-political Members, and that no political party should be able to hold a majority of the whole House or of the party political Members of it.
I will give way in a second. I know that the hon. Gentleman wants to ask me about the bishops—[Interruption]—or at least that is my guess. Whatever it is, I am happy to take his question, but perhaps he will let me catch my breath before I take the next intervention.
There was agreement, too, about the need to ensure that membership of the reformed House reflected the gender and racial diversity of the United Kingdom, and the range of religious opinion. All agreed that the special arrangements for membership of the House by a limited number of hereditary peers should come to an end. The group agreed that a long transition, with new Members phased in, would be essential to the success of any reform, and that Members should serve a lengthy, single term of office. Restricting the period of office to one term with no prospect of re-election was a key royal commission recommendation to ensure that elected Members of the second Chamber played a different role from that of MPs, and to prevent them from becoming rivals competing for popular support.
I am sorry to disappoint the right hon. Gentleman, but my question is not about bishops. I want to take him back a few sentences in his speech. In this round of House of Lords reform, is not the elephant in the room cash for peerages and the public’s great concern that the House of Commons can put people into the other legislature on ability to pay? What recommendations on party political appointments will the right hon. Gentleman make to ensure that the upper House is not full of cronies and funders?
The hon. Gentleman has a particular view on that matter, although I do not think the point was a particularly worthy one, but there is an issue—[Interruption.] There is an issue and I shall deal with it in a second.
There was also agreement on many other issues.
Will the hon. Gentleman allow me to make progress?
There was agreement on issues such as breaking the link between the peerage and a seat in Parliament, disqualification and resignation, and having a quarantine period to restrict former members of the upper Chamber standing as Members of Parliament.
To answer the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), a central recommendation to which all are agreed is that there should be a statutory Appointments Commission. The current commission, with Lord Stevenson of Coddenham and his colleagues, has done an excellent job; but its remit is limited. In our view, its independence should be guaranteed by statute, and it should have the duty to assess the merits as well as the probity of nominees who are members of political parties, as it does for those who are of no party allegiance.
I ask my question from a genuine desire to know the answer. As someone who would like to abolish the House of Lords—although I realise that the first motion may pass—I am concerned that if I vote for a wholly elected House I will tie myself to accepting a particular form of election. Can my right hon. Friend clarify that point, and confirm that whatever the arguments or discussions about the composition of the House, the form of election is still to be decided and will be fully discussed and debated in this place?
No, I want to make some progress, if I may.
The current House of Lords is justifiably commended for the distinction of some of its Members, but there is sometimes an implication that distinction and the holding of a party card are incompatible. That is palpably untrue. I favour a hybrid House partly because I want to see those without party affiliation continue to make an important contribution to the House of Lords, but also because I want to see in the other place some of those expert and experienced in their field who have a party affiliation but whose profession or career make it difficult for them to take part in the electoral process. I am satisfied that with a statutory appointments commission in place, that could be achieved without charges of cronyism.
I am going to make some more progress.
An additional reason why my preference is for a 50 per cent. elected House is that it will ensure the widest diversity. With list systems, it is possible, for example, to require that half those elected are women, but it is virtually impossible to make similar provision for ethnic and other minority representation. In practice, for a long time, fair representation of minorities in the second Chamber could be achieved only by appointments.
I want to deal with the issue of election.
There was no agreement in the cross-party group about the method of election. The Conservatives favoured large, first-past-the-post constituencies on the old European election model and the Liberal Democrats favoured multi-member single transferable vote constituencies. The Government said that we favoured
“a partially open regional list system”.
That system was favoured by a majority of the Wakeham royal commission.
I thank my right hon. Friend. I want to explain what occurs to me when he refers to the appointment of experts. One expert could be an Army general, but what does he know about the health service or the education system? Are these appointed experts going to be confined to giving their opinion only on subjects about which they are expert and are they going to be allowed to vote only on those subjects?
I will give way to the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), as long as he does not ask me about the European Union. What my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby said is an argument for an all-elected Chamber, which is not an argument that I favour, because I want a mixed Chamber.
In the White Paper, the first-past-the-post system is dismissed on the grounds that the arguments in favour of it are relevant only to the Chamber in Parliament that delivers the “Government of the day”. What does the right hon. Gentleman mean by that? Surely he recognises that the element of appointment by the party leadership, which is inherent in the partly open list system that he proposes, would automatically give an enormous amount of power to those who run the parties in question.
I certainly do not accept that. Let me spell out that our proposal is not for the current system in use for the European parliamentary elections. In that closed list system, in practice, voters have to vote for all members of a party's list if they vote for one. Under the partly or semi-open list system, that is not the case. Voters may, if they wish, vote for a list or they may allocate their vote to a specific individual candidate. The result is that voters can influence which candidates are elected as well as which party. In other words, they can “break the list”.
To those people, such as the hon. Gentleman, who claim that this system is no better than appointment by party leaders, I say that there is a world of difference. There is as much voter discretion under this system as under the first-past-the-post system, where in each constituency it is the party that selects the candidate, not the voter. The semi-open list system is our current preference, but if the House can come to a conclusion on composition, I am certainly ready and willing to consider alternatives to it.
The votes tomorrow night are on the resolutions on the Order Paper—no more and no less. The White Paper is there to inform the debate and to provide the context for it. But there is no resolution to seek endorsement of the White Paper, and, in any event, we ultimately will give effect to the wishes of the House by legislation, not by a White Paper.
No, I am coming to the end of my remarks.
There are two limbs to the case of those who argue against a significant elected element of a reformed Lords. One, which I have already referred to, relates to fears that such a reformed Chamber would challenge the primacy of this place. It need not and it will not. The second is to argue that the current appointed Chamber does such a good job that it would be difficult or impossible to improve it. Let me now deal with that second issue.
I applaud the work of the Lords in revising legislation, in holding the Government to account and in acting as a forum for distinguished peers, who are expert and experienced in their fields. But that said, I do not believe that the Lords as currently constituted has reached such a state of grace, either in terms of its activity or its membership, that it requires no change. Self-evidently my view is also the view of both main Opposition parties. One of the distinctive and commendable features of this country’s constitutional arrangements is that they normally produce strong Governments. But strong government requires a strong Parliament.
Over the past 30 years, this House and the other place have notably and noticeably improved the way in which the Government are held to account. But there is much more that this House can do to improve its effectiveness without paralysing good governance, and the same is true of the other place. This is not a zero-sum game. There is no fixed quantum of activity of this Parliament such that if the Lords does something, by virtue of that fact that is going to undermine the Commons or to suck power from it. With government as complex as it is today, and the issues of public concern as great, there is quite enough for both Houses to do without one becoming a rival to the other.
Over the decades since the crisis between the Lords and the Commons 98 years ago, my party has called for a reformed Lords. We did so again at the last election when we said we wanted “a reformed upper chamber” that had to be
“effective, legitimate and more representative without challenging the primacy of the Commons”.
For the first time that I can recall, both the main Opposition parties are now in a similar position, agreeing the need for a reformed second Chamber and agreeing much, if not all, of the means to achieve that. We can make huge progress tomorrow and move to implement not just one manifesto commitment, but three. Doing so will require all who wish to see progress not to make the best the enemy of the good, and to raise their sights to believe that after a century of argument we have it in our hands to deliver a second Chamber that is more effective, more legitimate and, above all, more representative.
The other place has a long history and a proud record of providing a check on the powers of Government and no Government can be immune to its challenges. For example, in the relatively short lifetime of this Government, the House of Lords has protected ancient liberties, such as the right to trial by jury, and that is how it should be. A second Chamber should have the confidence and the ability to make Governments think again. But the other place does need to change. The political parties’ power of patronage, and with it the risk of abuse, must be removed. If we are to strengthen Parliament as a whole, the other place needs greater democratic legitimacy if it is successfully to challenge Government policy.
When we reform the other place, we must keep what works well, but we must stay mindful that it can still be improved. As we debate this issue, I suggest that hon. Members would do well to remember Edmund Burke’s standard of a statesman:
“A disposition to preserve, and an ability to improve, taken together”.
Reform to the other place would change how its members are chosen and would set out its role and its powers. It would have consequences that would last beyond our generation. Indeed, it would affect legislation not yet conceived, to address issues that have not yet emerged. It would change the nature of the relationship between the Government and Parliament.
May I put to my right hon. Friend the point that I wished to make to the Leader of the House? By any standards, this represents a major constitutional change. It is certainly much more significant than deciding, for example, whether to have an elected mayor in Colchester. On that basis, should not there be a referendum on the outcome of the House’s deliberations?
As my hon. Friend makes that point, I cannot help but think about what happens in Canada, where the predilection for having constant referendums is such that they are now known as “neverendums”. I do not agree with my hon. Friend; it would not be appropriate for this to be the subject of a referendum.
There are those who argue that strengthening the upper House by increasing its democratic legitimacy would threaten the primacy of this House. I do not accept that argument and I ask hon. Members not to be seduced by it. As the Leader of the House made it clear, one thing on which all who participated in the cross-party talks were agreed was that the primacy of the Commons should remain as the basis of our democracy. However, the primacy of this place comes from its powers, not merely the process by which its membership is chosen. The fear of challenge is a sign of weakness, not strength. We should not fear reform of the Lords. We should welcome it as a means of strengthening Parliament and our democracy.
If my hon. Friend has a predilection for referendums, I am sure that he will be able to find several other issues that should be put to them. However, I do not agree that this issue should be subject to a referendum. The matter should be debated, considered and decided by the House.
May I take the right hon. Lady back to the point that she made about the convention of the House of Lords, and thus its role and powers, vis-à-vis this House? My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House seems to make the understandable assumption that there is an understanding among the main parties on maintaining the convention. However, I hear in the right hon. Lady’s words—I certainly heard this in the words of the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) and I have heard it over and over again from Liberal Democrats during the 20 years in which I have been in the House—that the convention that this House is supreme and cannot eventually be overturned by the House of Lords is actually not accepted. Will she confirm that she believes that the Conservative party supports the conventions that apply at present and that would be presumed to apply to a second Chamber that was elected in part or whole?
I am happy to confirm to the right hon. Gentleman that I was not suggesting what he has inferred from my comments in any way. As far as we are concerned, the primacy of the Commons is the basis of our democracy and that situation should remain. That was the opinion of all three parties involved in the cross-party talks.
I congratulate the Leader of the House on his work in bringing forward the proposals. They are, after all, the fruit of the years of work by the Government that started back in 1997. At the 1997 general election, the Labour party promised
“to make the House of Lords more democratic and representative”.
In 2001, it said:
“We are committed to completing House of Lords reform”.
Indeed, the White Paper before the most recent one was called “The House of Lords: Completing the Reform”. As we debate the Leader of the House’s proposals, we must judge them by the Labour party’s standards and decide whether they would make the other place democratic and representative.
Although those considerations are a good starting point for judging the Leader of the House’s work, I would add further tests for the proposals. Reform should create an upper Chamber that is capable of challenging and revising Government policy, that is democratic and accountable, and that is expert and independent. That was the spirit in which we entered the cross-party talks because, as the Leader of the House said, all three parties are committed to reforming the other place. The open spirit in which the Leader of the House began the process was welcome. As he said, we need consensus to complete reform.
I am extremely grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. On the one hand, she says that she wants a more effective and powerful second Chamber, but on the other, she wants to enshrine the primacy of this Chamber. Is that not an incompatible wish?
No, it is not, and I would say to hon. Members that when we discuss and consider primacy, it is important that we separate the issue of the primacy of the Commons, and the legitimacy of the Lords challenging the Commons, from the issue of the legitimacy of the Lords challenging the Government. I want a stronger Parliament that gives the Lords greater power to challenge the Government. The issue is not the balance of primacy in the Commons and the Lords.
Suppose that the right hon. Lady had her way and the House agreed to change the composition of the Lords in the way that she wishes. Which of the measures taken in the past year does she think that the Lords would have changed against our wishes, and which of those changes does she think would be totally compatible with our being the sovereign body?
I want the House of Lords to achieve greater democratic legitimacy, and I do not intend to go over measures taken in the past year and decide in which cases the Lords, in a different form, might have voted differently. I repeat that we need to strengthen Parliament to ensure that it is better able to hold the Government to account, and to ensure that there are the right checks and balances on the primacy of the Government.
Is it not one of the cardinal principles of our constitution that the Government are responsible to the electorate? They can only be responsible to the electorate through a party system. We have a system in which Members on both sides of the House are elected on different programmes, but if we churned that programme up, and then the House of Lords churned it up, at the end of the Parliament, the Government would have every right to say, “Well, that’s the sort of constitution we have.” There is no way that we can hold a Government to account via the electorate if we are prepared to allow party election pledges to be overturned, either here or in the other place.
First, as is pointed out to me by colleagues, Governments bring forward many things that are not in their manifestos, and the electorate cannot refer to them when they vote for a particular party. Indeed, we would not expect everything that Governments brought before the House to be put in a manifesto. Few enough people read manifestos as it is, without them making reference to every single thing that the Government want to introduce.
Does my right hon. Friend share any of my distaste for the idea of regional lists, using European boundaries, being used to elect people to a House that is meant to be independent and to exercise independent judgment? How can we believe that the party hacks going through that system will be amenable to taking on an independent role, and how can we avoid cash for elections?
I am happy to say to my right hon. Friend that I will come to the issue of the list system for elections, about which I have real concerns, and to which, in fact, I object. I was interested to hear the Leader of the House’s comments today, because it was the Leader of the House who forced us to adopt the closed list system for the European parliamentary elections.
Does the right hon. Lady agree that the mandate idea—the idea that electors read party manifestos, and that is how we get here—is entirely fictional, and that the essence of the supremacy and primacy of this place is its power to make and break Governments? Nobody is challenging primacy in that sense.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that no one is proposing any reform that would allow legislation to reach the statute book unless the Commons has voted for it? The House of Lords can challenge it and send it back to us, but unless the House of Commons approves it it cannot become law. All that the House of Lords can do if we defy it is delay legislation for the period set out in the Parliament Acts. The right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) suggested that the Lords could change the law on a whim which, as far as I am aware, no one has proposed at all.
I shall make progress before giving way. I have already accepted a number of interventions.
Turning to the substance of the Government proposals, the White Paper recommends, as has been said, that in the other place 20 per cent. of Members should be appointed by a statutory appointments commission; 30 per cent. should be appointed by political parties; and 50 per cent. elected by a list electoral system, representing, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) said, the European regional constituencies. The Leader of the House likes to present his proposals as a sensible compromise that would strengthen Parliament, but in reality they are a messy compromise that would weaken Parliament. Far from making the Lords more independent, the proposal puts composition in the gift of political parties. Far from strengthening Parliament, it risks the loss of the present benefits of the Lords. Far from removing cronyism, it perpetuates it.
We want a House of Lords that is elected by the many but, under the proposals, it would be selected by the few. Yes, 50 per cent. of peers would be elected, but the Government propose to use a list system. [Interruption.] [Hon. Members: “Oh!”] It is probably a good job that I did not hear the sedentary intervention by the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart).
Order. I suspect, too, that it is a very good job that I did not quite hear it.
Yes, under the Government’s proposals 50 per cent. of the new peers would be elected, but the Government propose that those elections should use a list system. Effectively, therefore, the parties choose who is elected, so peers would owe their place in the Lords to their party bosses. Crucially, it would make it much harder for independent candidates to run for office successfully. We should do all that we can to encourage independent elected Members in the other place, and I doubt that the Leader of the Opposition believes that a list system would make for a truly independent upper Chamber.
I sympathise with some of the right hon. Lady’s arguments, which is why I would prefer either an 80 per cent. elected upper House or a fully elected second Chamber. May I return to her argument about how important it is that the Lords should be able to challenge the Government? I hope that she wishes to resile from that position a little bit, as it is important for the primacy of the Commons that it is the only House that can hold a vote of no confidence in the Government, and that the second Chamber cannot do so.
I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman. A vote of no confidence should be held in the Commons, not the House of Lords, but that does not mean that we should not have a strong House of Lords that can challenge and revise Government legislation as it proceeds through the House.
The right hon. Lady knows that in the discussions between the parties there was extensive consensus that it was important not to challenge the primacy of the Commons. Does she agree that if we are to make progress today the central question is whether we should have a substantially elected second Chamber. Once we have decided that, the secondary, albeit important, issue is what the constituency boundaries are, how we choose Members and how long they serve, but unless we overcome the first hurdle, we will not have the chance to have that debate at all.
Obviously, in relation to the motions on which we will vote tomorrow night, the questions that we will be asked are about the nature of the composition of the upper House, but the debate has arisen on the basis of the Government White Paper, which explores other options as well. It sets out a means of election, and I believe it is important that we look at that when we are considering how the House should be composed.
My right hon. Friend has made it plain, and I agree, that this is not a matter for a referendum, but does she agree that it is of such importance that if a Bill is introduced, it should be determined exclusively on the Floor of the House, and not put into a Committee upstairs?
I shall make further progress.
I understand that some people take the view that the reformed House of Lords should be a pale imitation of the Commons. That is true. Others take the view that it should not be too different from the Commons, because that would lead to questions about which Chamber was the more legitimate. That is also true. We need to find a middle way between those two extremes, but the proposals from the Leader of the House are not a middle way. We must not allow proportional representation to be used, first as a stick for the Lords to beat the Commons, and secondly as a base from which to campaign for PR to be introduced in respect of this House.
As for the voters, with the Government’s list system they would be left with a crude choice between parties, and they would have little or no relationship with their elected representative. In elections to the European Parliament, where a list system is used, nine out of 10 voters have no idea who their MEP is. I would be surprised if even, dare I say it, the political anoraks in the House know who all their MEPs are in their area. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that his list system would not be good for democracy.
The White Paper also proposes that the election should be held using the large and remote European regional constituencies. We have already established that voters will not be able to identify with their elected representatives, but how many voters would identify themselves as coming from those large regional constituencies? I am from Maidenhead, but there is a world of difference between Maidenhead and Margate. I was born in Eastbourne, but there is a world of difference between Eastbourne and east Berkshire. People feel an affinity to their town, city or county, and whatever any bureaucrat says, there is no entity called the south-east, apart from on the European electoral map. The Government’s proposals might be a nod in the direction of democracy, but Labour’s version of democracy empowers the political parties, not the people.
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for giving way on that point. In her earlier comments, she said that she wanted to see a more independent element among the elected Members of the House of Lords. Is she saying that the Conservative party would not field candidates in those elections?
I have not had that discussion yet with any members of my party, but I do want to see an electoral system that would encourage independent people to stand for the House of Lords and encourage that ethos. One thing that I am certain about is that a party list system will not encourage independent people to stand for the House of Lords.
I am reflecting on the proposals to allow an elected element into the House of Lords. Given my right hon. Friend’s legitimate desire to see more independent people in the House of Lords, does she not think that that might involve the election of the British National party or other parties that this House might consider undesirable elements of the second Chamber?
I ask my hon. Friend to wait a moment. There is indeed an issue about the election of extremist parties to the Lords, or finding extremist parties in the Lords, which I shall shortly come to.
I shall deal now with the 50 per cent. of peers who would be appointed—30 per cent. by the political parties and 20 per cent. by the statutory appointments commission. Back in 2003, the Prime Minister said that prime ministerial patronage should go. Since then the only thing that has changed is the cash for honours scandal. So why is the Leader of the House proposing that in addition to their control over the election lists, the parties should also appoint 30 per cent. of the new Members of the House?
Let me be clear about this. As the right hon. Lady knows very well, we are not proposing that the parties should appoint 30 per cent. of the House but that the parties should be able to nominate people. There is a world of difference. Decisions will be made by the statutory appointments commission, which, as I spelled out in my speech, would have the same power in respect of political nominees as of non-political nominees in assessing their merits and their probity, and would have to select from a wider range of nominees than there were places in the Lords.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, but of course, as he knows, the statutory appointments commission’s responsibilities in relation to the politically appointed Members of the House will be to vet those Members on the basis of recommendations by the political parties. We have an independent appointments commission at the moment, but there are several Members whose appointments to the House have not been stopped by that.
At the moment, the independent Appointments Commission under Lord Stevenson assesses the merits and the probity of candidates who are nominated for non-party representation, but it can only assess the probity of those who are on the party lists. We are proposing something completely different—to remove the Prime Minister’s power of patronage, or decision, and that of the other party leaders. In place of that, the Prime Minister of the day and the other party leaders will be able to make nominations to the statutory appointments commission, which will assess the merits of those applications, as well as their probity.
That still leaves 30 per cent. of the upper House being appointed as party political Members based on decisions taken by party political bosses as to which names should be put forward.
Another aspect is that the 30 per cent. of Members would be distributed according to the parties’ respective shares of the vote at the previous general election. I am worried that that would allow extremist parties into the Lords even when they had not won a direct election into the Commons. Advocates of a system of appointment claim that it enhances the expertise of the other place, but does democracy really leave us with less qualified legislatures? If that were so, there would be a case to be made against local elections, elected Governments and even a democratic House of Commons. I am sure that Members of this House do not consider themselves inexpert, so why do some think that elected Members of the other place would be?
In a moment.
Let us imagine that an appointed Lords would somehow give us a Chamber of enlightened philosopher-kings. Even if that were so, how should one decide which interests and groups should be represented? An expert in one field is not necessarily an expert in another.
I am taking a lot of interventions, but I have said that I will give way to the hon. Gentleman in a moment.
For example, I doubt that there is anybody more expert in human fertility than Professor Lord Winston, but is he as expert about the other 99.9 per cent. of the other place’s business?
The hon. Gentleman was probably longing to make that intervention, but I suggest that he actually listen to what I am saying.
I have looked into a few other democracies that appoint their upper Chambers. In Slovenia, membership is divided between representatives of local interest groups and non-commercial activities, employers, employees, farmers, tradesmen and craftsmen, and independent professionals. Hon. Members might think that that is a hangover from Slovenia’s communist past, but I think that it demonstrates the absurdity of trying to predict and provide experts for a legislature.
The proposals set out in the White Paper would create an upper Chamber that is insufficiently democratic and insufficiently independent. To be fair to Labour Members, many of them understand that and want a more democratic other place. Some of them are even in the Cabinet. Last time round, in 2003, the Secretaries of State for Transport, for Northern Ireland and for Health voted for a wholly elected upper Chamber, and it has since emerged that the International Development Secretary agrees with them. However, tellingly, last time around, the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and the Leader of the House disagreed and voted for a wholly appointed House of Lords. According to the former Minister for Europe, the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane), it was an open secret that the Prime Minister had ordered the Whips to mobilise votes to stop any reform that reduced his power of patronage by nominating Lords.
I suggest that the division in the Cabinet is the genuine reason for the messy compromise that the Leader of the House has presented. Only four years ago, the Prime Minister said:
“Do we want an elected House, or do we want an appointed House? I personally think that a hybrid between the two is wrong and will not work.”—[Official Report, 29 January 2003; Vol. 398, c. 877.]
Now the Government make the very proposal that the Prime Minister once described as
“wrong and will not work.”
My hon. Friend provides some telling statistics for the House’s benefit.
The Leader of the House likes to present his proposals as a sensible compromise. He is fond of quoting Voltaire, which he did again today, when he repeatedly says that
“The best is the enemy of the good.”
However, that is not the point and it presupposes that his proposal is a good one. It is not. It is not a sensible compromise that offers at least some reform. It would weaken the other place and maintain political patronage, masquerading as democratic reform.
I have a more down-to-earth test for the Leader of the House. Do his reforms pass the Ronseal test? Do they do what it says on the tin? The label might state that the contents are modern and democratic but they are more of the same—more political patronage and more Government dominance over Parliament.
Tomorrow, we will vote on not only the Government’s proposals but a range of options, as we did last time around in 2003.
I shall ask the shadow Leader of the House the question that I would have asked the Leader of the House, but he did not give way. We have said much about legitimacy today. Does the right hon. Lady agree that it is disgraceful that a United Kingdom Parliament will hold crucial votes when all Northern Ireland Members of Parliament are involved in elections? That would not happen if elections were taking place in any other part of the United Kingdom. If one vote goes through with a majority that is less than that for which Northern Ireland Members would account, will that be taken on board? What does she feel about that illegitimacy?
I share the hon. Lady’s concerns. It is unfortunate that the votes will be held when Northern Ireland Members are involved in the Assembly elections. It would be far preferable for them to be taken when all hon. Members can be present.
Conservative Members will have a free vote tomorrow. I shall not vote for the Leader of the House’s proposed 50:50 split—I want genuine reform in the upper House. I shall vote for 80 per cent. of the Members of the other place to be elected, as I did in 2003. Last time around, we came painfully close to achieving that outcome and I hope that we shall succeed this time. Indeed, last time around, the proposal for a 50:50 split was so unpopular that it was negatived without even being pressed to a vote. I hope that, unlike last time, Labour Whips will not put pressure on Labour Members to support the 50:50 proposal but allow a truly free vote.
I hoped that I had explained the reason for my belief that we should hold elections for the substantial proportion of Members of the upper Chamber. That would give it greater democratic legitimacy, and it is important that the upper Chamber can challenge and revise Government policy and legislation. The upper House should have the democratic legitimacy that enables it properly to challenge the Government.
This point is central to our constitution, which, unlike that of France or the United States, embodies the Government or Executive as part of the House. If greater legitimacy in challenging Government involves greater power, and if greater direct democracy through election to the House of Lords so empowers the second Chamber, can the right hon. Lady square the circle with adherence to and advocacy of the primacy of this House?
Indeed, I can—[Interruption.] The primacy of this House does not come simply from the fact that its Members are elected. Therefore, having elections to the second Chamber will not somehow give it equal legitimacy. The primacy of this Chamber comes from its powers to decide whom the Government should be and its powers over financial legislation. Neither the Government’s proposals nor mine contain any suggestion that those powers should be changed.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. Accepting that this Chamber may have more power than the other Chamber, how would we cope with a situation in which the other Chamber had, for example, 80 per cent. elected Members who had less power than us but had been elected more recently and took a different view, or had been elected under a different system and took a different view? If this Chamber were divided, and that Chamber relatively united, would not that be a recipe for tension that can only weaken the democratic process? Why is it that more than 70 per cent. of people think that the other place is doing a good job, but a rather smaller proportion think that this place is doing a good job?
I have no difficulty with the concept of tension within the democratic process, as it leads to better legislation and the right challenge to Government. However, my hon. Friend also referred to the possibility of a different electoral system for the upper House, which might somehow claim greater electoral legitimacy. I do not agree that proportional representation provides greater legitimacy, but I fear that a PR system in the upper House would lead some in this House to claim that it had greater legitimacy, and lead to pressure for PR in this Chamber, which I would reject.
To conclude, I want to refer to our penultimate vote tomorrow night, which, as Mr. Speaker has set out, will be on the amendment in my name and that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) and other right hon. and hon. Members in relation to hereditary peers. Let me make it clear that we support the removal of the hereditary peers, but they must be replaced by elected Members. That, after all, is what the Government are honour-bound to deliver. As the former Lord Chancellor said when all but the 92 hereditaries were removed,
“a compromise negotiated between Privy Councillors on Privy Council terms and binding in honour on all those who have come to give it their assent…the 10 per cent.”—
the 92 remaining hereditary peers—
“will go only when stage two has taken place. So it is a guarantee that it will take place.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 30 March 1999; Vol. 599, c. 207.]
I apologise to my hon. Friend, but I have said that I will not take any more interventions.
The stage two to which the noble Lord Irvine referred was, of course, democratic reform. Therefore, we will vote tomorrow tonight on an amendment that would hold the Government to their promise, which, I remind the Leader of the House, was binding in honour. If we did not hold the Government to their promise, we would immediately find ourselves with a wholly appointed upper Chamber, the outcome previously favoured by the Leader of the House and the Prime Minister. Given the Chancellor’s remarkable record of silence on the issue, for all we know that is what he would like as well.
A cynic might suggest that with the hereditaries out of the way, the opportunity for democratic reform might not reappear because the Government would have what they want: a wholly appointed Chamber—appointed by the political parties—with no accountability, no independence and no democracy.
Do the right hon. Gentleman’s proposals pass the tests that I set out earlier? Would they produce an upper Chamber capable of challenging and revising Government policy, democratic and accountable, expert and independent? No, they would not. A substantially elected upper Chamber would be more independent of the party machines, would have more legitimacy when challenging Government policy, and would not deter Members with the expertise needed for the revision of legislation. We oppose the Government’s proposals because, far from strengthening Parliament, they would weaken it.
The Leader of the House often says that if the reforms are not accepted, we will not have another opportunity for a generation. That simply is not the case, but even it were, it would not be a reason for supporting bad reforms. I am not opposed to reform, but I am opposed to bad reform.
Almost a century ago, the Conservatives opposed reform of the other place because they defended the powers of the hereditary Chamber. They were called ditchers and diehards. We oppose these reforms not because we are ditchers and diehards but because we are democrats—and, as democrats, we cannot support proposals that continue the principle of patronage and the emasculation of Parliament.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May), who made a very good job of trying to describe something that, in the end, does not work. I fear that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, to whom I extend the hand of sympathy, has attempted to square a constitutional circle and retain two Houses at the same time, one partly elected and one composed of appointees for various reasons such as independence, expertise, ecclesiastical position and place in the legal system. In my view, his conclusion that the best solution is hybridity is flawed. It pains me to say that, because I agree with him so often. The problem with hybridity is that it is neither one thing nor the other. That is not the way in which we should look to the future of the country’s constitution, or to Parliament’s future operation.
I signed an amendment—on which, apparently, we shall not have an opportunity to vote—supporting the principle of abolition of the House of Lords rather than its continuation in one form or another. I believe that there is a good symbolic argument for abolition, and, if we take the longer view, a good constitutional argument. I shall say more about that shortly; in the meantime, it is fair to say that the House of Commons is not in a fit state for us to abolish the House of Lords without making some reforms of the way in which we operate.
In the White Paper on House of Lords reform, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House listed seven principles on which a reformed Chamber should be based. I shall concentrate on two of them. The first is the primacy of the House of Commons, and the second is that the House of Lords needs to be more legitimate.
We have already had a fair amount of discussion of House of Commons primacy through interventions on the opening speeches, but I ask the House to imagine what it would be like if what my right hon. Friend proposes came to pass. We would have 270 elected peers, or whatever title we decided to give them. Presumably they would be elected on some kind of prospectus—dare I call it a manifesto? To an extent, both the right hon. Member for Maidenhead and my right hon. Friend dismissed the idea of a manifesto as an all-encompassing document. However, without a manifesto and without political parties, on what basis would we be asking people to decide who to vote for? What would be the programme that candidates stand for? What would they intend to do, if elected? We need manifestos, principles and policies so that people know exactly what would happen.
Let us suppose that, quite against the wishes of this House, the people who stand for election to the House of Lords decide to stand on a manifesto, and let us suppose that the House of Lords that is elected—for 15 years in the first instance—is elected on a different manifesto from that on which the majority of the House of Commons has been elected. What will that produce? Will it produce agreement between the two Houses? I think not. What it will produce is an invitation to stasis—an invitation to the two Houses to lock horns and never be able to agree on anything.
My right hon. Friend is creating something of an Aunt Sally, because the truth is that nobody is proposing that the entire second Chamber be elected in one fell swoop. There will be a rolling programme of elections every five years. That means that there will not be any one moment when the whole second Chamber is changed and its Members are replaced, so my right hon. Friend’s argument falls.
My hon. Friend makes an interesting point and, to be fair to him, he is consistent: he has, I think, consistently taken the position that he would prefer a 100 per cent. elected upper Chamber. However, the point he makes is also to do with legitimacy, which I shall address shortly.
We could end up with one House elected on one manifesto and another House elected on another, and it is beyond me how anything could get done in those circumstances. That the right hon. Member for Maidenhead and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House think that that is in some way possible does not bode well for future agreement across the House.
My right hon. Friend seems to be missing the point that one House can have the final say. That is where primacy is derived from. Is he saying that a second Chamber should not have the right to question or revise? If he is saying that, it is suspect from a democratic point of view.
Clearly, the second Chamber must have the right to question and to revise. My second point, which has been the subject of both interventions on me, is to do with legitimacy.
Anybody who is elected to a legislature—no matter how they are elected, whether on a first-past-the-post basis, a regional list system or an alternative vote system—is bound to claim a level of legitimacy that the House of Lords does not currently have. If they did not claim that, they would not be self-respecting elected politicians. No matter what my hon. Friends the Members for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) and for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden) and anybody else might think, it is inevitable that they would claim some such legitimacy, and the definition of what constitutes revising legislation or questioning the Government could be stretched almost to infinity in those circumstances. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has, in all good faith and with his customary good humour, tried to do a good job of squaring the circle, but he has failed. The prospectus he offers the House is a flawed one.
For many centuries—my right hon. Friend talked about the past 98 years, but the period in question is much longer—the House of Lords has been a bastion of privilege. Over the centuries, it has been reviled by ordinary people for the role that it has played in making their lives more difficult by blocking and opposing reform. That there should be a symbolic break with that past is an argument whose time has come.
I accept that if we abolished the House of Lords tomorrow we would have real difficulties, because this House as it currently operates is not fit for purpose. However, there are many good ideas on how this House could be reformed. We need a breathing space in which it can be reformed, so that, at the end of that process, it operates as a unicameral Chamber. I urge all those who support and believe in that point of view to oppose the bicameral principle, which is the first option that we will vote on tomorrow night, and to vote in favour of removing the remaining hereditary peers. Failing that, there is no other reasonable option for those of us who believe in that point of view other than to support an appointed House. That is how I will vote, and I hope that others will join me in the Lobby for that purpose.
The right hon. Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth) made a perfectly good theoretical case for a unicameral Parliament, which other countries have, but the Leader of the House made the much better point. Bluntly, in a very busy modern democracy consisting of four countries and much local government, one House of Parliament would not be able to do the job sufficiently. Secondly, the tradition and history of recent years is that we have not done the job well, and we have needed a second Chamber, not to overrule us, but to correct us and make us think again, and to ensure that legislating and holding the Executive to account were done better. It is my honest view that without a second Chamber, Parliament would be held in much lower esteem than even it is now.
This could be an historic week, and it will be if we do not make the mistake of February 2003—if we seize the moment and decide to complete the key reform that, as we have all been repeating, was set out nearly 100 years ago. We tried in 2003 and nearly succeeded, but did not. My first call is to colleagues in all parts of the House, from all parties and traditions, regardless of their views about electoral systems and the various other differences. If they are believers in progressive politics and they want a well represented, multiracial, multi-faith, pluralist Britain in which people can really express their preferences for parties or individuals, I ask them to give us the opportunity to achieve that by passing these reforms. That is the challenge, and I hope that we do not back away from it at the end of tomorrow’s debate for fear of something that certainly will not be worse, and which will in all probability make Parliament much better.
Was not the mistake of 2003 that a lot of people allowed the best to be the enemy of the good and ended up voting for only one democratic option? Is it not true that the Liberal Democrats are now considering not voting for a 50 per cent. and a 60 per cent. elected Chamber? If so, are they not going to take us straight back into the trap into which we fell in 2003?
Let me deal with that point head-on. Our party has had a consistent position on this issue in many of our manifestos, including the last one, the previous one and the one before that. Our position has been that if people read the manifesto, they could vote for us knowing that we would vote for a wholly, substantially or predominately—those are the only three words that were ever used—elected second Chamber. We have had discussions and reached an agreement, and we believe that the only way that we can reflect that in our votes is by voting for an 80 per cent. or 100 per cent. elected second Chamber—a wholly, substantially or predominantly elected second Chamber. Other options, such as a 50:50 Chamber, are clearly not a wholly, substantially or predominantly elected second Chamber. We are therefore going to live up to our manifesto promises; I just hope that the friends of the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie)—who all stood on a manifesto that said that they would support a substantially elected House of Lords—will also honour the commitment that they made to their electorate.
The answer is that this issue does not, of course, come ahead of health, education and housing. However, we do not necessarily need to have people on huge salaries; indeed, we already pay people in the House of Lords. Even the Leader of the House’s proposal would involve far fewer Members in the second Chamber than there are now. That is our proposal too. If the right hon. Gentleman believes, as the Leader of the House does and says, that we need a strong, democratic and legitimate Parliament to hold the Executive, of whatever colour, to account, this is the opportunity to achieve that.
The hon. Gentleman will accept that I was not elected on a manifesto that talked about 80:20, but does he also accept that a significant proportion of his colleagues in the other place— including Lord Steel of Aikwood, who has more parliamentary experience than most people here—are emphatically in favour of an all-appointed House?
On all the evidence, there is a small number of my colleagues in the Lords and three of my colleagues in this House who did not last time support the wholly or substantially elected proposal. Yes, one of them is a former leader of the party, who has gone native and forgotten that he was once elected on that position over and over again. As has been said, we do not choose to listen to dinosaur tendencies, be they in the Conservative party, the Labour party or on our own Benches.
I wish to press the hon. Gentleman on the point that was raised by the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie). Let us put aside the 50 per cent. option. The memory of the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) appears to be failing him about what is in his manifesto. It is entirely silent—according to the copy I have before me—on support for a wholly elected Chamber. Instead, it talks about a “predominantly” elected second Chamber. It would be entirely consistent with that for the hon. Gentleman to accept the advice of the hon. Member for Chichester not to make the best the enemy of the good, and to vote not only for the 80:20 option, but for the 60:40 one as well.
I have copies of the right hon. Gentleman’s manifesto, the Conservatives’ manifesto and ours for the past three general elections. The phrases used in ours are “directly elected”, “predominantly elected” and “substantially elected”. Our last manifesto talked of a “predominantly elected” second Chamber. We have had a consistent view about what that meant in practice and we have come to a collective decision that we will vote for that. When people see how the votes go tomorrow, they will see that the Liberal Democrats vote for the position on which they stood for election.
Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the reasons for the outcome in 2003 was that we had put the cart before the horse? We were asked to consider the composition before we considered matters of convention—before we decided what the second Chamber was for. That should have been settled before we made the decision about its appropriate composition.
My hon. Friend knows that I think that he is wrong about that, because in 2003 we argued—as we do now—that there should be no diminution of the powers of the House of Lords. We argued for a strengthening of the powers of both Houses against the Executive—a point also made by the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May). We have never dissented from that.
The good news is that since then the Joint Committee on Conventions, with representation from all three parties and independent Cross Benchers, has confirmed that we want no diminution—[Interruption.] No, we would never argue differently, but the Joint Committee confirmed the position, and all parties—including the governing party—hold to that. We come to this debate having firmed up the position that we had four years ago. There is no suggestion that I have heard from any of the representatives of the three major parties, or anyone else, that there should be a reduction in the powers of the second Chamber or of Parliament vis-à-vis the Executive.
No, “predominantly” clearly does not mean 100 per cent. It means more than 50 per cent., but not 100 per cent. I have argued that we have been consistent on this issue. The three words that we have used—“substantially”, “predominantly” and “wholly”—have meant that our position has always been to prefer 80 per cent. or 100 per cent. Colleagues will vote accordingly. We are voting according to our manifesto, and if colleagues in other parties do not, that is their problem. We are clear that we want to deliver a predominantly elected House of Lords, and we will do so.
The hon. Gentleman began with an impressive appeal to the reformers in the House. They were a majority in the previous Parliament, but lost because they all voted for one option and against all the others. He appealed to all those who believed in progressive politics to be more flexible and to vote for a wider range of options to make sure that a majority in favour of some composition of elected upper House was secured. However, he went on to say that the Liberal Democrats would not follow that excellent maxim, because they are bound by their manifesto. That means that they will continue their folly of voting only for 80 or 100 per cent. How reasonable is that?
We argued for a voting system that would have allowed the House to make a succession of preferential votes. It is not our fault that that system of voting is not available. The House must therefore make a choice. We have made what we want clear, and I hope that progressive colleagues vote for a substantially, or predominantly, elected House of Lords.
The hon. Gentleman knows that we have set a slightly higher threshold than the 50 per cent. option preferred by the Leader of the House. Four years ago, we missed securing an 80 per cent. elected second Chamber by three votes, and we know that others have since moved in that direction. If people vote for what they really believe in, and do not play games, we will be able to deliver that proportion this time.
No, as I want to make progress.
We support a bicameral Parliament, and want a predominantly elected House of Lords or second Chamber. We want the hereditaries to go but, as the right hon. Member for Maidenhead indicated, her party and mine want to make sure that we do not get the worst possible option in that regard—that is, abolishing the hereditaries tomorrow and replacing them with more people appointed by the patronage of the Prime Minister rather than with people who have been elected.
No, as I want to make progress.
The Leader of the House has made a thoughtful and serious attempt to bring to the House proposals that represent the greatest degree of consensus. I compliment him on that, and am grateful. I pay tribute to him, and to Lord Falconer who preceded him and who shared the task with him. I also pay tribute to those in the Labour party—and the Leader of the House is one—who realise that they must move on from 2003.
It is good news that the Conservative party has also moved on in recent years, and the right hon. Member for Maidenhead and the new Conservative leader have both been influential in that respect. The progressive forces in the Conservative party have moved the party towards support for a predominantly elected second Chamber—[Interruption.] Redoubts of the old positions remain, but that is why there is now the chance of achieving consensus among all three major parties. I hope that we can build on that consensus, and send a clear message to the other end of the building. If we are clear about what we want in terms of the primacy of the Commons, the Lords must understand that it is our view that must prevail.
The hon. Member for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Clelland) circulated a letter signed by 20 Labour MPs to all colleagues. It advocated keeping the status quo, more or less, and its first argument was basically, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” I accept that the Lords does a good job, but it is mere invention to suggest that it would do a less good job if it were predominantly elected.
No, not yet. There is no reason at all why that should be the case. Indeed, democratic legitimacy will allow the House of Lords to do a better job and—as the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) said—to do so with the authority of people who have been returned to Parliament by electors.
Of course, those who want a stronger Executive less accountable to the people’s representatives do not want that change. Of course, the people who do not want a two-Chamber Parliament do not want that change. But those of us who do want a two-Chamber Parliament that legislates better and holds the Government to account more will see a huge benefit in changing from having hereditary and appointed people running the second Chamber and in the majority to having elected people in the majority.
Not for a second.
I take exactly the phrase that has been put into the debate by the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe. The view on these Benches is that the second Chamber should revise, improve and delay, but not veto. That will remain its position when it is elected.
I have heard no argument from any quarter of this House or the other that the relationship between the Lords and the Commons should change—that the primacy of the Commons should be changed. We have a settled constitutional position. This Chamber is where Governments gain their vote of confidence, where Governments can be defeated and where Prime Ministers fall. This is where the Prime Minister and Ministers account to Parliament. There has not been any argument that that should change. We do not argue it; no other party argues it. So I hope that people understand that this is not about changing the primacy of this place. This place will remain the primary House of Parliament; the other House will be complementary and will help us to do our job better.
The last point was picked up in the previous debate. If the other place was elected by thirds, that would also weaken any potential challenge. No one could arrive there saying, “We have a majority, we are elected by the people all over Britain, and we can challenge the Commons.” They would come in as a partly returned group, and they would not have the same authority as we have after being elected on the same day from all over the country, on the basis of manifestos, with everyone knowing that from us the Government will be chosen.
The convention that this House effectively appoints the Prime Minister is only a convention; it is not set down in any statute. It evolved over time and it may evolve in another direction. If the House of Lords used its existing powers to their limit, it could bring this House to a standstill. How can the hon. Gentlemen give any assurance that if it has so-called increased legitimacy caused by the election of Members of the upper House, that is not what it will do?
The hon. Gentleman makes two points. The first is that we do not have written down the fact that it is to this House that the Prime Minister has to come to gain a vote of confidence. In our view, we should. That is why some of us have argued for a written constitution for many years. We are moving in that direction by virtue of the fact that we had the Joint Committee on Conventions, which agreed certain things, including the fact that the Parliament Acts could be used, but only to enable the second House to delay things for a year and to act within certain limits. That is now written down. It was agreed. Everybody—the Conservative party, the Labour party, our party and the independents—signed up to that. It has been confirmed by this place. We took note, with approval, of that report just a few weeks ago.
The hon. Gentleman, like me, served on the Joint Committee that looked at the conventions of the UK Parliament. Does he still agree with paragraph 61 of the report, which said that
“should any firm proposals come forward to change the composition of the House of Lords, the conventions between the Houses would have to be examined again.”?
The answer is yes, of course, because we all signed up to the report. The right hon. Gentleman also knows, because he was present throughout the sittings of the Committee, that paragraph 12 says:
“We therefore strongly support the continuation of the existing conventions. When the views of the Houses on composition are made known, we will return to the detailed matter of how these important conventions should be maintained in a new constitutional settlement between the Houses.”
Parliament is an evolving place; it has evolved in the past 10 years. The nature of the Lords has changed. The hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas) made the point that Parliament would go on changing. However, there was not a single argument that this House should not be the primary Chamber; that this should not be where Governments are made and broken or that this should not be the place where Ministers come to give account on a day-to-day basis.
The question of primacy is settled. There was no argument about it in our Committee; not one voice suggested anything different. Electing some people—be it 50, 60 or 80 per cent.—or all to the second Chamber, by thirds, for a single term, will make it an entirely different place from this one. In this place, we have to go back to the electorate for re-election and the Prime Minister and Ministers come here; it is entirely different. The right hon. Gentleman must not fear that an elected second Chamber would change that fundamental position.
The right hon. Gentleman argued for a unicameral Parliament, but all the things his colleague, the hon. Member for Tyne Bridge, and others argue for in their circular can be achieved under the Liberal Democrat proposals. They argue for primacy of the Commons. We agree. They argue for complementarity of the Lords and the Commons. We agree. They say that no party should have an overall majority. We agree. They want continuity of membership. We agree. They want a non-political element. We are happy to agree—up to 20 per cent. They want a more legitimate and more representative House of Lords. We agree, but it can be achieved only if we vote for a predominantly elected second Chamber.
I want to follow up some of the points made in the Government’s proposals. There is some debate about the size of the Chamber. We say that, to reduce cost, it should have 450 Members; the Government say it should be bigger. We say that people should be elected for a term of 12 years, with a third being elected every four years.
There are different views about when the elections should be held. They should certainly not be held on the same day as the general election, which would be confusing and would challenge the authority of this place. The European election day would not be a good choice, either; it would be better to hold the election on the day when we elect the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly—as we shall be doing this year—and when local elections are held throughout England. People could vote for the second chamber, their national Parliament and their local government on the same day, but we can debate those points in due course.
We believe that in future life peers should be able to step down so that transition is easier, but that a Member of the upper House should not be able to resign their seat to stand as a Member of this place, using their membership of the Lords as a platform to build a career here; the careers and the jobs are different. We want good people who are willing to give up 12 or 15 years of their life to scrutinise legislation and hold the Executive to account but who will not serve a second term. That will give them more independence from the Whips than we have in this place. That is a good thing. They will have been elected—as Independent, Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat or Nationalist Members—but they will be freer from the pressures that we face here.
If we want an end to hereditary Members and if we want people to be drawn from all ages and backgrounds, we can achieve that as well by election as we ever could by appointment.
I want to make two more points, and then I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman as he has been so persistent.
I endorse the strong point that the right hon. Member for Maidenhead made about patronage. The real weakness of the 50 per cent. option, and of the 60 per cent. option—where we share the view of the right hon. Lady—is that if we go down that road we shall fail to deal with one of the issues that is undermining the ethics and reputation of the body politic of our time. This debate is being held against the background of rolling news about cash for peerages. We do not know whether the allegations are true or whether anybody will be found guilty, but we do know that we must put an end to the idea that a person can have a title for life merely because they are a legislator and appointed as the nominee of the Prime Minister or another party leader. Although we said that we would be content for 20 per cent. of the Members of the upper House to be appointed, they must not get in on the say-so of party leaders or the Prime Minister of the day. Whoever they are, whatever their faith—whether they are bishops or leaders of other faiths—they must go through the independent Appointments Commission, which justifies their membership of the House of Lords.
Given that we all agree about the primacy of this Chamber, I find it difficult to understand why anybody would advocate elections for the other place. If the House of Lords had been elected during the past year, what Bill does the hon. Gentleman believe would have been changed because of that election?
That question was asked earlier—[Interruption.] How do I know? The answer is that people will be free to choose what they do. The whole point is that the Liberal Democrats trust the voters and the people; we believe that democracy comes from individual citizens being allowed to choose. Let me tell the hon. Member for Billericay (Mr. Baron) not only that he stood on a manifesto in respect of these issues but that this is the 21st century! We are a modern democracy, and in a modern democracy we cannot defend a Parliament in which people sit on the basis of birth or patronage. That is not acceptable. The hon. Gentleman cannot argue as an elected Member of this House that other people who are elected are less likely than him to do a proper job of holding the Government of the day to account. That is simply not a credible, sustainable or intellectually coherent position.
The hon. Gentleman is so passionate about the purity of his principles that I feel obliged to take him back to the subject of the amendment co-signed by the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) and the hon. Members for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) and for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Burstow)—though notably not by him. The amendment says that the hereditary peers should be removed only when the “elected members” have “taken their places”. Will the hon. Gentleman clarify whether he is arguing that the hereditaries should be removed when all the elected Members have been elected, or only when some of them have? I confess that I do not find either proposition very attractive, but the long-stop position is completely insupportable.
I understand the hon. Gentleman’s position. The six names appended to the amendment are only a selection of elite supporters from the hon. Gentleman’s party and mine. The Order Paper would not have been long enough to include all the supporters of the amendment. The more serious answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question is that there was a debate about the issue in the other place, which was led by Lord Strathclyde. An understanding was reached that abolishing the hereditaries without at the same time effecting democratic renewal was not acceptable to the majority in the House of Lords, which comprises a coalition of independents, bishops and other party member peers.
We support the amendment as it provides a lock to ensure that Parliament does not find that, having voted for 50 per cent., 60 per cent. or 80 per cent. of elected members, it then votes for a provision that scraps the hereditaries, but results in even more patronage. To answer the question of the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow), I am insistent and clear that the day that sees the first people elected to the second Chamber is the same day that the hereditaries leave. If they then want to stand for election, they can; and if they want to be nominated through the Appointments Commission to come and contribute as great and good people, they can apply. I am clear on that and I hope that it answers the hon. Gentleman’s question.
Other important principles remain about the size of constituencies and the nature of the electoral system. The Liberal Democrats are clear that they want a proportional or representative electoral system—not just for our party, but for all parties, independents and the rest. There is an argument for starting with the European constituency boundaries, as the Leader of the House proposes, but I have to say that we are open to discussing that matter further. My hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) who has worked with me on these issues over recent months is very clear that in his region, the south-west, there is, bluntly, no commonality of interest with Gloucestershire or Scilly—a point also made by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Andrew George). My hon. Friends in the south-east will tell us that someone in Kent does not feel an immediate commonality of interest with someone in Berkshire.
We are up for discussing the possibility of smaller regions, but we do not want to end up with constituencies that are so small that we do not get representative outcomes, which the right hon. Member for Maidenhead proposed, or where the role of MPs is duplicated. If this place is to be challenged, the boundaries should be similar to those of this place, but we do not want that. We do not want a Cleveland or a Durham or a Southwark constituency. We believe that the constituencies have to be bigger than that. We also believe that the people elected to the other place should not be paid to do constituency case work or housing cases because they should be doing a different job. They should be doing a one-term job of holding the Executive to account and legislating. They are not meant to be second-tier members of the House of Commons representing individual voters and registering their concerns.
The hon. Gentleman referred to my earlier remarks on this issue, so for further clarification, I should say that we believe that we have commonality of purpose in seeking to provide for an electoral area that is large enough not to challenge and compete with Members of this House while at the same time being small enough to be recognisable to the people who vote in the elections. The European parliamentary regions are not readily understood, so we suggested counties and cities because those geographical areas are understood by the electorate.
I absolutely understand the good faith of that and I am one of the great defenders of the counties and the cities, and of local identity. The only thing that the right hon. Lady has not yet conceded is that, under the system that she continues to advocate—the most antediluvian of voting systems: the first-past-the-post system—we would get the least representative outcome, in a much bigger area. We will have to discuss that. We may not get a perfect solution. But I share her view that a list system whereby the parties select the names and the voters cannot choose is the worst of all possible worlds. We believe that there ought to be either a system under which people choose the candidates as individuals or a system under which they choose the order of people on the list completely freely. That is our second-best option.
Does my hon. Friend agree—partly on the principle of having different roles for the two Houses and a different approach—that it is also important when considering the composition of the constituencies to bear it in mind that a new second Chamber should reflect the regions more, and be less population based? Being population based is more the role of this House, which has a direct link with its constituents.
I am sympathetic to that view. In the second Chamber, the people who come to Parliament could more logically come from Scotland and speak for Scotland, whether it is the highlands, the lowlands or the central belt. Or someone could speak for Wales, whether it is south, mid or north Wales, or for the west country, or for the north-east. That is an entirely reasonable proposition.
There is lots of agreement among the three major parties. There is agreement about two Chambers and the primacy of the Commons, and about there being no challenge to MPs in their duties and responsibilities, and no weakening of Parliament. I hope that there is lots of consensus that there should be a stronger, more legitimate and more representative Parliament. I hope that we can agree that those are the principal issues that should lead people to vote in favour of radical change tomorrow. The other matters are secondary.
We will proceed in the same constructive spirit and I hope that, between us, we will get the best possible outcome. I hope that colleagues will be brave and will vote to end hereditary entitlement to be part of the legislature and to end party political patronage, which is tarnishing our British political system as we speak. I hope that colleagues will go back to what they say every time they go to face the voters, which is that they trust the British people. On these Benches, we do trust them, and we will vote accordingly.
I will be, I hope, commendably brief. I want to address only one real issue. It is right to say that there is unanimity about the primacy of this House in the present context, but anyone who thinks that, if the proposed legislation goes through, that primacy will remain, is living in a dream world. The primacy derives absolutely—not just in part—from the fact that we are the elected Chamber, and because of that the other House observes conventions. It therefore follows—it seems a rather simple issue to me—that if we go down the path of producing what, if this takes place at all, will eventually turn into an entirely elected House of Lords, the concept of primacy will disappear. I think that the Government recognise that, and that that is why they have gone for this rather strange compromise position.
I have said this before, but I like repeating what I have said before: hybridity is not a solution. It is a holding position and a stalling of the inevitable. It is unsustainable in the long term. Just think of the realities of a political Chamber where the elected Members—whatever percentage there happen to be—time and again find that the unelected Members are swinging the majority away from them. What will happen in such a situation? The more emotive and high-profile the issue, the more likely it will be that the elected Members of the other place, backed by some Members of this House, will demand even more elected Members, and so the process will go on. Once we start down this road, we will eventually arrive at a fully elected House of Lords.
Paragraph 1.7 of the White Paper states that
“it would … be up to Parliament … to alter the proportion of elected members, if that was thought desirable”.
Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that, given the inevitable dynamics involved, if Parliament were ever under pressure to reconsider the proportion of elected Members of the second Chamber, that pressure would be to increase it, rather than reduce it?
It seems to me that this is quite simple. I have unconventional views about devolution, and I warned that it would be a slippery slope and that the legislation that we passed would not be the end of the story. I feel very much the same about this matter.
It is inevitable that whatever the proportion at which we start, the House of Lords will eventually become fully elected, which brings us to the constitutional conundrum that was raised earlier. Once the House of Lords is fully elected, what will happen when one party has a majority in this House and another party has a majority in the other House? As politicians, it is ludicrous for us to think that there will not be manifestos for such elections. An election will be a political event, rather than an election to a social club, so there will be manifestos; one House could thus be in political conflict with the other House.
Such a situation would raise the interesting question of which House, if both were elected, would reflect the view of the electorate. Who would judge which House was prime? One might say that that would be the House with the most recent mandate, but that would not be satisfactory. I suspect that when there is a fully elected House of Lords, there will be a challenge, initially on key issues, to this House.
The other House has muscle; it just does not use it. This is not a matter of giving it muscle, because all it has to do is to scrap the conventions and use the Parliament Act to gridlock the House of Commons. An Opposition party in the other House could oppose Bill after Bill to the extent allowed by the Parliament Act. If I had been a Member of the other House back in the Thatcher years, I would have done anything in my power to block some of that Government’s legislation, and it is unreasonable to think that other politicians will not try to do the same. If we go down such a route, we will, at some time—this will be a long time away, and I will be dead and buried when it happens—be stuck in constitutional deadlock. How would we deal with that? Have the Government given us any indication of their plans for coping with a situation in which the House of Lords adopted a policy of non-co-operation that would leave us absolutely stuck?
Some hon. Members might say that that is fanciful, but I draw their attention to paragraph 61 of the report that was agreed unanimously by the Joint Committee on Conventions, which states:
“If the Lords acquired an electoral mandate, then in our view their role as the revising chamber, and their relationship with the Commons, would inevitably be called into question, codified or not.”
That is why I am making my brief speech. If we start down this path, as I am horribly afraid that we might, it will put us in peril. We do not need to strengthen the House of Lords—it does a good job as it is. If we start down this route, we cannot be sure where it will end. However, I do not think it will end without a degree of political chaos.
The basis of all my strong views on the subject is my belief that we need a stronger Parliament, vis-à-vis the Government, than we have at the moment. We all realise that regardless of the party that is in power, the modern Executive and the modern state have a tendency to get ever more powerful and all embracing. Most of the public sense that our parliamentary institutions are no longer powerful enough to make the Executive as accountable as they should be. We need more transparency, more honesty and more democratic accountability, which is why I want a stronger upper House of Parliament. At the moment, we have a Commons that has lost its powers and an upper House that is something of an historical anachronism, which restrains it in exercising its powers.
There is nothing wrong with the present powers of the House of Lords and I would prefer to leave them unchanged. I think that we would find that any debate about those powers would lead to a frustrating inability to achieve any consensus on moving in one direction or the other. I would certainly resist any idea of weakening the existing powers of the upper House, so I am glad that the Government have so far been frustrated in their attempts to impose on the upper House the kind of timetabling of legislation that has done much to weaken the legislative process in this House, for example.
The right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) does not object to those powers either. He said, as others have done, that those powers are quite right, but he expressed a fear that if the upper House were elected, its powers would, in some extraordinary way, get stronger. I fail to see that. At present, the Parliament Acts ensure that it has only a delaying power, rather than any kind of veto. As far as I am aware, the Parliament Acts secure that the Commons has the monopoly on Supply. It should be made absolutely clear that only the Commons decides matters of taxation and public expenditure, and that should not be changed.
If there are hon. Members who fear that there would be pressure to abandon some of the conventions, I would be content to address that through statute. If, when we have the Government’s Bill, someone were to table an amendment to provide that the upper House should not, in any circumstances, be able to pass a vote of censure on the Government, I would support it. There are all kinds of other conventions with which we are familiar, such as the convention that the upper House should in no circumstances refuse to give a Second Reading to a Bill that formed a major part of a manifesto on which a Government were elected. If anyone could produce a satisfactory legal definition of that doctrine, I would support it. However, I do not believe that the Lords, if it becomes more elected, will be able by pressure to move its powers in the way in which the right hon. Gentleman suggests. The next step that we need to get to in the constitution of the United Kingdom is to persuade their lordships to use more effectively the powers that they already have.
What could their lordships have done over the past two years? Although I do not want to go into the controversial things that bring about party divisions, some of the legislation that has been introduced on criminal justice, anti-terrorism and human rights has, in the opinion of many people, justified the Lords sticking to its guns and, if nothing else, trying to get the Government and this House to think again and again about where we are going. Although Members of the Lords felt strongly, they did not use all their powers to the full because they felt inhibited by the fact that we were elected and they were not and the feeling that that gave us more legitimacy.
I align myself with all those who say that to get the upper House to behave more confidently and to use its powers, we have to give them more legitimacy, which means making sure that they are wholly or largely democratically elected. My preference, which I have expressed on all kinds of bodies over the past few years, including the first Cunningham Committee, is for 100 per cent. election; that is the logic of my position, and I shall vote for that tomorrow. I should add that I long ago accepted that the chances of such a measure being enacted in 2007 are absolutely nil.
Reformers of all parties formed a group, which we called Breaking the Deadlock, and we produced the excellent Second Chamber of Parliament Bill of 2005. The group included my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young), the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright), the late Robin Cook and the Liberal MP Paul Tyler, now Lord Tyler. We had to compromise, because no agreement could be reached on the details, even between such stout reformers. We came up with a proposal for a 70 per cent. elected Chamber. I hope that that makes the Liberals feel guilty about continuing to stick rigidly to their position. I hope that by tomorrow they will have decided that it might be worth considering at least the 60 per cent. proposal, so that we do not all defeat each other in our anxiety to ensure the perfect reform of the upper House.
Alas, my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) and I, both ardent reformers, found that we had other engagements that took us out of the country. The 80 per cent. option was defeated by three votes on the last occasion, so if my right hon. Friend and I been able to break our unbreakable engagements, and if we had been in the House and voted as we should have done, it would have been defeated by only one vote. I assure the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) that I will be here tomorrow to do penance for my absence on the last occasion.
Let me address a key argument that inspires an extraordinary amount of resistance to what I regard as a fairly self-evidently necessary reform. We are in the 21st century, and if any new state proposed a new constitution, and suggested having an upper House that took the same form as ours, it would be regarded as utterly ridiculous. We are talking about legislators. We are all legislators, and we are servants of the people, by whom we are elected. No one should be a legislator because they inherited or bought the post. No one should become a legislator for life as a young man, and never have to account for their actions.
No one should be a legislator because they are a member of the great and the good, and a leading figure of the establishment, having been appointed by a committee composed of other distinguished members of the establishment. The argument against the 1832 reform of the House of Commons was that the wrong sort of people would be elected, and distinguished experts would no longer find a place. I am glad to say that the wrong sort of people have consistently been elected to the House ever since; that is called parliamentary democracy. We have legitimacy because of our debt to the people and because of what we said when we were elected. That enables us to exercise powers that we could not otherwise use.
Let me address the question of whether we are somehow weakening the Commons, or aiding the Government by giving them a more powerful House upstairs, while down here, an emasculated Commons is adversely affected by the competition in the Lords. I do not believe that that is the case. As the Leader of the House said, it is not a zero-sum game. The powers of the House of Commons are not dependent on, or made greater or less by, our “sharing” them in some way with the upper House. The issue of the powers of the Commons needs to be addressed, and reform of the House of Lords should not be regarded as the alternative to the necessary reform of this place, which should be made more effective in holding the Government to account in the modern world.
I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. On his last point, does he think that Members of the House of Commons would be in a better position to vote on the future of the House of Lords if there had been a detailed debate about future reform of the House of Commons and the role of Back Benchers in scrutinising legislation?
I agree with that, and in subsequent debates on the subject, I hope that we make that point to the Leader of the House. When—or if, on this occasion—we get on with reform of the House of Lords, it will put pressure on the House of Commons to examine its own procedures. We should react to the fears expressed by the right hon. Member for Swansea, West and others by asking ourselves whether the Commons has not allowed itself to be emasculated in recent years. If we envy what we see as a restoration of the House of Lords powers imagined by the creators of the 1911 Act, it should reassure us to think that we will address the issue of our own powers.
A beneficial effect of reforming the House of Lords should be to greatly increase the pressure on us to not only talk about reform of the House of Commons, but get on with it. If anything happens to confirm the fears of the right hon. Members for Swansea, West, and for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth) and others, the answer is obvious: it will be in our own hands to consider how to strengthen the Commons against the Executive, in line, of course, with the fact that the Government have a duty to govern, and must have their business in the end. However, they should be scrutinised and made more accountable than they are under our current processes. That is, I hope, the most likely outcome of our proceedings.
I concentrated, and suggest to the House that we concentrate, on the particular issues on which we are voting tomorrow. The key questions are whether we should have an elected element, and how big it should be. I will vote for anything more than 50 per cent.—60, 80 or 100 per cent.—and I hope that we settle that big issue in principle. The real devil lies in the detail, and we will find that there is no unanimity, either among reformers or among non-reformers—I will not call them reactionaries—on all the other issues that would be raised in a Bill. That will make the legislative process fascinating.
I do not like the party list system of electing, and I do not like the elections taking place on the day of the European Parliament elections; that is an ill-chosen time. I still prefer the idea that the Breaking the Deadlock group came up with, which was for a rolling re-election by thirds every 12 years, rather than every 15 years. The period has to be long enough to make sure that those elected are independent, and long enough to prevent them from deciding how to get themselves re-elected for a second term. They should be immune to the Whips, but we have to be careful, because after 12 years, a person’s views may be very different from the views that they held in year one, when they were first elected, and too many mavericks could create difficulties. There are many details of that kind to consider.
I hope that the Government and my party will allow a free vote on all the issues, and I hope that the Liberals will go in for just a little less rigid political discipline on some of them. We will complete the process of reform only if everybody is prepared not to allow the best to become the enemy of the good, to use the now wearied words of Voltaire, which we have all quoted. The whole process is only worth embarking on if we are all prepared to agree that as long as an adequate system of reform is introduced, it is our duty to go ahead and produce an upper House—a senate—more suitable for the politics of the 21st century.
It is a great pleasure to follow the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke). As we are always told, there are strange bedfellows in politics, and like him, I would like a 100 per cent. elected second Chamber. There is a certain irony in the situation that we are discussing. Let me place it on record that I believe that the present incumbents in the House of Lords do an exceptionally good job. They are admired for what they do, and I am reminded of the old adage, “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.” However, that is not the issue. The issue is that the Labour party said in its manifesto that it would reform the House of Lords, although it did not say how, and that is one of our problems; it has been transfixed to some degree.
It surprises me how many of us in a House of elected representatives are frightened of an election for the second Chamber. I am well aware that everyone is apprehensive of any change that might alter their circumstances, although it is not immediately apparent how it would alter them. I disagree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams), who fears that the second Chamber would take precedence over the Commons. That would depend on the second Chamber’s initial terms of reference. I am using the term, “second Chamber”, not the House of Lords, because if I had my way it would be a second Chamber. We have not heard very much about it, but how on earth do other countries with two elected Chambers manage? They seem to manage as well as Britain. The United States does not have any problems with two separate Houses, even though they have different political balances—in recent years, that has been a significant factor—and we need not fear any encroachments by a second Chamber on our powers in the Commons.
It is up to us, but whatever happens in the votes tomorrow, a tremendous amount of work will be needed afterwards. It is only the beginning of a very big change—probably the biggest constitutional change in the country for hundreds of years. I am mindful of the fact that this is the eighth year of the 21st century, yet the Lords is based on a feudal system. Like the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe, I am part of a small minority, but that does not matter. What matters is coming to the House to say what we believe; it is for others to come to their own conclusions, or not. I am concerned about the proposal that people should be elected for 15 years. Why can we not have a system in the second Chamber similar to the system of periodic elections to the Commons? Those elections could be held every five years—I am a great believer in fixed terms, but they are not popular with those who are in power. If we wish to try to attract the right people to serve in the second Chamber, offering them a 15-year term is not as satisfactory as offering them a lifetime of service in the second Chamber. In the past, we have not discussed limiting the time that someone spends in the House of Lords—they are there for life. That is wrong, but if we introduce an electoral system, that argument falls by the wayside, because they can be removed by the will of the people.
The situation is not simple—it is extremely complex, and no one can say that if we go down a particular route success is guaranteed. Whatever we introduce, it will need quite a lot of revision, perhaps over a number of years, before we get it right. It is a tremendously big change. I will not be popular for saying so, but as we are getting rid of the hereditaries in the House of Lords—I assume that we shall do so, and that we will make the upper House a second Chamber—perhaps we should take a look at the monarchy, too. I do not see why the Head of State should have that role just because they belong to a particular family. I would much prefer to have an elected president, because we cannot compartmentalise democracy. We have a democratic House of Commons, but an undemocratic second Chamber and an undemocratic Head of State. We are not a proper democratic republic, and that is not satisfactory. I hope that those things will be addressed in the years ahead.
I do not have a great deal to say on the issue, as I have made my views known. Anything less than a Chamber that is 100 per cent. elected will be a problem for ever. Things will not settle down. Some people will be elected, and some will benefit from patronage, so I do not know how such a system would work. If we do not have a Chamber that is 100 per cent. elected we would do better to keep a system of appointments. I do not really believe that, but it would be logical to take that step. It is not satisfactory to have a Chamber that is 50 per cent. or 80 per cent. elected. The only satisfactory number is 100 per cent. Much as I like the idea of a second Chamber, if it is not fully elected, I would sooner see it abolished.
I hope that the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Bill Etherington) will forgive me if I do not go down the same route as him, as I do not agree with his point about 100 per cent. election. We could have an interesting debate about the future of the monarchy, but that would complicate the already extraordinarily complicated number of options before us.
I agree, however, with the right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams). We ought to bear in mind the fact that the British constitution is an extraordinarily complex organism that has developed over a long period. The notion that we can take one piece—the House of Lords—and reform it significantly without second and third-order effects on the rest of the constitution is a dangerous one to adopt. I should have thought that such effects were obvious from the Government’s constitutional reforms in Scotland and Wales, the abolition of the office of the Lord Chancellor, the creation of a supreme court and the Human Rights Act 1998. Individually, each seems to be a good idea, but they have left a trail of toxic waste with which we are grappling and with which we will have to deal in future, as those measures have left behind a number of issues that were not dealt with at the time. If we reform the House of Lords so that it is elected or substantially elected, a trail of toxic waste will come through Central Lobby into the Chamber, and we will have to deal with it for a long time to come. No one, not even someone as wise as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), can predict what the second and third-order effects will be.
The House of Lords is exactly what we say we want. It is independent; some of its Members have significant expertise; it has limited power; it does not challenge the House of Commons; and all parties are represented, although none of them has a majority. It does almost everything that we want it to do, but it does not satisfy the test—apparently, it must do so—of whether or not it is democratic. We have a solution in search of problem. There is not a problem that has to be solved, but people have provided a solution—the second Chamber is a legislative body, although it does not have very much power, so it ought to be elected—and tried to impose it in circumstances in which it is neither necessary nor appropriate to do so.
The second Chamber does not have any power. If it had power, of course it should be elected, but all that it can do at the moment is say to the Government, “Think again” and, in extremis—this power is very rarely exercised—make the Government introduce the legislation again in a different Session. I agree with the right hon. Member for Swansea, West that the second Chamber will accrue greater power. Even if the conventions under which it operates are put into statute, there are ways around them, and it could screw up the legislative process by using its existing powers. An elected upper House would, quite properly, seek to appropriate more power, because it will argue that it is more legitimate and more reflective of public opinion. On many occasions, it will have the support of the media, because the majority in the Commons is inevitably whipped by the Government.
I should like to complete my point. The second Chamber will accrue more powers and, at some point, it may challenge the Parliament Acts. Those Acts are not set in stone, and the statute could be changed. The trail of toxic waste may eventually lead to a change in the Parliament Acts. The democratic legitimacy argument is a double-edged sword, so people should be careful about using it. The situation is not static, and once we start to make changes, we do not know where those changes will lead.
No, I should like to make progress. I have given way once, and I will probably not do so again.
The proposal that the second Chamber should be is 20, 30, 60 or 80 per cent. elected is nonsense. Either it is elected, or it is not. I would prefer that it remained a 100 per cent. appointed Chamber, but if that is not possible, it should be 100 per cent. elected. We do not want two classes of Members, with the press and commentators calculating whether a measure was passed by Tony and David’s cronies, or whether the elected Members were against it. In such a system, some Members would have democratic legitimacy, and some would not. If the failure of the Second Chamber rests on the fact that it does not have democratic legitimacy, how can we make it democratically legitimate by making it 50 or 60 per cent. elected? Either it is wholly elected or not elected at all. What sort of people will run for election?
I was going to say that the sort of people who will run for election to the House of Lords, the Senate or whatever it is called will be people who cannot enter the Commons. I say this with modesty and as much graciousness as I can: the standards of intelligence, talent and ability needed to get into this House are not superhuman or of Olympian proportions. So if the other House consists of people who are not smart enough or good enough to get into this place, what will be up there? Who will want to run for the other House? It will have no power. It will not be a Chamber of talented, independent people holding the Government to account. It will be made up of people who cannot get into this place.
What we will lose in the process is the independence and experience of people in the Lords. I know that many Members are party politicians, but a defence debate or a foreign affairs debate in the House of Lords is very well informed by people who have been senior diplomats or senior military officers. That will go. Such people will not run for election to some organisation that has no power, and anyway, they probably do not want to run on a party ticket. The only way to get elected—the only way one can get elected to anything in this country, with the very odd exception—is by being a party candidate in an election.
Once people have been elected to the other House, they will start interfering on our turf as Members of Parliament. They will pick up constituency cases and local issues because they will want to get into the papers, just like we do. People will go to them and ask for their help, and we will have competition, just as I understand our Scottish colleagues do now, in an extremely inconvenient and annoying way. I suppose Members of the other place will want offices, secretaries, researchers and large office buildings with atriums and rented trees in them. The cost will go through the roof, and there is no evidence at all that people want more expensive Government than they have at present.
I reserve whatever vitriol I can muster in the debate for the ghastly appointments commission. We are all agreed that hereditary peers should go from that place. It is nonsense that because his ancestor fought with the Black Prince at the battle of Crecy, the great-great-great-great-grandson should have powers of legislation, just as much nonsense as if the great-great-grandfather had given some money to Lloyd George, the great-great-grandson should have legislative powers. But if those are not reasons for having legislative powers, why is being appointed by some statutory commission a reason for having legislative power?
Who will be on the commission? It looks tailor-made for my good friend Sir Hayden Phillips, and a more admirable public servant I cannot envisage. But that Hayden Phillips and a committee of people like him should have the power to decide who should be legislators and who should not, I find nonsense and abhorrent. I would much rather the Prime Minister had that power, because when the Prime Minister exercises the power, we know who has exercised it, the public knows who has exercised it, we know who is responsible for it and we can see it being done openly. If we have a commission, it will sit in private.
The Appointments Commission sometimes comes up with extremely odd recommendations. On the first lot that it came up with, it said, “We wanted to make sure that all these people felt comfortable in here,” because it had appointed a lot of people just like its own members. That is what a statutory commission would do. No—let us have the Prime Minister of the day make appointments. If he wants to appoint 359 cronies or donors or whatever this Prime Minister has done, we know who did it. The electorate can hold him to account for that and so can the press. When my party is in power, as I sincerely hope it will be soon, our leader will be accountable for the exercise of that power. Let us have it out in the open, where we can see it being exercised.
The problem is that we have set incompatible objectives for the House of Lords. We want it, apparently, to have democratic legitimacy, and to be representative but to have independence and expertise. It requires only a moment’s thought to realise that one cannot find all four qualities in an individual, and certainly not in a body of individuals. At present there is a great deal of independence and expertise in the Lords, but no democratic legitimacy and precious little representativeness.
If we go to an elected House, we will have a great deal of legitimacy and representativeness, but very little expertise and virtually no independence. We will not have the sort of expertise that we get from the retired diplomats and generals whom I mentioned, speaking in foreign affairs and defence debates, and we will not get independence because the only way to be elected will be on a party ticket.
Today’s debate has a great ring of familiarity about it. It is like coming in on a movie that one has seen three times before being repeated on BBC4, and I confess that I am making much the same speech as I made before, as the right hon. Member for Swansea, West said he did. Perhaps we should leave the debate to those who were elected at the last election, to see whether they have different opinions. They may be the people who change the vote. I very much doubt whether anybody except the Leader of the House, who is standing on his head on the issue, will have changed their mind about it. Most of us thought about it very seriously indeed.
Last time the House voted for no change, which I thought was a sensible decision. I rather hope that it will do so again. What we have is something that works. The problem of the House of Lords is that although it works in practice, it does not work in some arbitrary theory. It works, so let us not try to fix it.