Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [6 March], That this House supports the principle of a bicameral Parliament.
Question again proposed.
It is something to speak following a speech on tranquillity, given that that word will probably not be used to describe this particular debate. That said, yesterday’s debate was very entertaining, and since it took place my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has been described as having the courage of 300 Spartans. Whether that makes the rest of us part of the 700 Thespian volunteers, I do not know.
Yesterday’s debate reminded me of the football pools: one could perm any eight from 10 in terms of the views expressed in the House. As we know, this is a debate of two halves, and it falls to me to blow the whistle to start the second half today. The House will forgive me if I express the hope that the second half does not last quite as long as the first, not least because there is another game of two halves in which I have a great interest: Celtic versus AC Milan this evening. [Interruption.] I hope that that sedentary intervention was said with the light-heartedness with which it appeared to be said.
Mr. Speaker, the House will be grateful to you to know that when the votes take place, the monitors will indicate exactly which motion Members are voting on. That is already a break with the past, and one which I hope will help to steer Members into the appropriate Lobby for each vote.
If the monitors are going to indicate which motion we are voting on, that will be very helpful to Members. However, can we be assured that, when reference is made on the monitors to “the appointed House”, the word “reformed” will be included?
The title given on the monitors will explain exactly what each motion is on. I hope that the situation will be sufficiently clear, but I am sure that there will be plenty of Members in the Chamber and elsewhere guiding their friends and colleagues into the Lobby.
A considerable amount of work has already been done on this issue. There is the excellent report of the Joint Committee on Conventions, chaired by my right hon. and noble Friend Lord Cunningham of Felling, and, of course, the substantial work done by the cross-party working group, chaired by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. I hope that today’s debate will be another major step in a century’s-worth of steps on the road to reform. Members will be relieved to know that I will not be giving them a year-by-year account of the history of reform—[Hon. Members: “Go on!”] Well, otherwise, there will be no time for any of this evening’s votes, and as I have said, I must get away in time to see Celtic defeat the mighty AC Milan. However, there are some points along the time line that I would like to highlight.
The first such point was the Parliament Act 1911, which was a response to the crisis arising from the Lords’ rejection of the 1909 Budget. That Act ensured that money Bills could receive Royal Assent without the approval of the other place, and it shortened the maximum length of a Parliament from seven to five years. Public Bills, with some exceptions, were to receive Royal Assent without the consent of the Lords if they had been passed by this House in three successive Sessions. The Parliament Act 1949 reduced that period to two Sessions, and reduced the period between the first Second Reading and the final passage of a Bill to one year. Those Acts are key pillars of the primacy of this House and they are fundamental to its relationship with the Lords.
Then there was the development of the Salisbury-Addison convention. The 1945 general election produced a Labour Government with a massive majority of 156, but of course, at that time there was only a small number of peers—16 out of 831—who took the Labour Whip. That imbalance had to be addressed. The then Viscount Cranbourne, Leader of the Opposition in the Lords and fifth Marquis of Salisbury, and Viscount Addison, the Labour leader in the Lords, came to an agreement that we now refer to as the Salisbury-Addison convention. They agreed that, because major Government legislation had been put before the country at the general election, and the people, with knowledge of those proposals, had returned a Labour Government, the Government had a mandate to introduce their key proposals, and the Lords should not oppose them.
The Joint Committee on Conventions has given an excellent description of the convention as it stands today and I commend its report to the House. That Salisbury-Addison convention gives effect to the primacy of this House, and it is vital to how the other place responds to manifesto legislation. Parliament would be very different without it.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the primacy of one Chamber over the other is as much about perception as about legislative framework, and that it is for that reason that many of us feel that a largely or wholly elected Chamber would claim a degree of legitimacy that the present Chamber could not, which could be to the detriment of the Chamber? Does she agree that the Salisbury-Addison convention was a voluntary arrangement between both Houses, and that a completely different House at the other end of the corridor may wish to seek another sort of convention?
I have much sympathy with what my hon. Friend says; politics is very often about perception. But I should say to him, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said yesterday, that should the House decide to go for a partly or wholly elected second Chamber, whatever it decides it will also decide the rules by which that Chamber is governed, so I hope that my hon. Friend will accept, as I do, that it would be for the House to decide what those rules are likely to be.
The hon. Lady said that perception is extremely important. It should be remembered that there is a perception in the country that gradually over the years—especially in the last 10 years but also before then—the Executive have been seen to grab more powers to the Executive and become less accountable to Parliament as a whole, and that the reform of the House of Lords is part of the process of giving more accountability again to the Executive, which in the long run will benefit the Executive as well by keeping them more in touch.
I can agree with the hon. Gentleman in one sense: I agree that making these reforms will make the Executive, and Parliament as a whole, more accountable. I would say to him too, however, that over the past 10 years the Executive have probably been more accountable in many ways than any previous one, so I would not accept his point on that.
I want to move on to the third key point along the timeline—the Life Peerages Act 1958 and the Peerages Act 1963. They allowed life peers to sit in the other place; the Lords would no longer be limited to those with an hereditary title; and they even allowed women to sit there too. The 1963 Act also famously allowed hereditary peerages to be disclaimed for life or relinquished for a period of time.
Fundamental and far-reaching reform did not come, however, until this Labour Government came to power in 1997. The House of Lords Act 1999 removed the majority of peers who sat in the other place as a right of heredity. It was an absurdity in a modern democracy and it had to go. I see from yesterday's debate that both sides of the House agree that this should be so, although I do recall the campaign literature for the Conservative party in 1997, drawing attention to the advantages of the hereditary peers.
Our job was incomplete, however. Running through these parliamentary reforms demonstrates that which is obvious but which may also be so close to us that we miss it. Those reforms are now embedded in our culture and conventions. The Salisbury-Addison convention, the introduction of life peers and women peers and the removal of the majority of hereditary peers have all strengthened the other place, and in so doing have strengthened Parliament as a whole. It is quite clear that where reform is necessary, the Houses do not crumble but are reinforced.
This history demonstrates something else, loud and clear. Reform of the second Chamber has been on the agenda for too long. We must now today have the courage of our convictions, as our predecessors did. We must today complete that to which our manifestos commit us. It is time to complete the job that the Government started in 1999. I therefore urge Members today to remember that, and not to allow the fine detail of reform, which there will be ample time to debate later—
The hon. Lady mentioned convictions and I am hugely interested in hers. My recollection is that she was not in support of election last time. If I am wrong, I am happy to be corrected, but I do not think that she supported the election options last time. Will she, like the sinner that repenteth, her right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, support elected options this time?
I am perfectly happy to tell the hon. Gentleman that last time I voted for abolition and for a fully appointed second House. I shall do the same this time. However I will, in order that we do complete reform of the House of Lords, vote for a 50 per cent. elected House should we get to that stage. But I urge Members today not to allow the fine detail of reform—which we shall be able to debate in due course—to get in the way of the important decision on the composition of the other place. That is why I shall be voting in the way that I shall tonight.
I am now going to blow the whistle, step back from play and let the second half commence.
Yesterday we had a very long and very interesting debate. Some of the issues that were not clearly in focus at the start of it actually emerged during the debate, which was an unusual process in the House. I want to dwell on what I think we learned from yesterday's debate, and address some of the points that hon. Members made.
Interestingly, yesterday’s debate was not a debate about a principle; there was a clash between two principles. Many Members, mainly on the Labour Benches, although there were one or two on my own side, argued that we should have an elected or largely elected House of Lords on the grounds of the principle of democratic legitimacy. They argued that it was necessary for a group of people who had an influence on law making to be democratically elected. Interestingly—I was here for the great bulk of what happened yesterday and I read the report of the remainder—no voice was raised against that principle. On reflection, that is not terribly surprising; anyone in the House who objected to the principle that law should generally be made by those who have been elected would find themselves in an odd position, as they are here by virtue of having been democratically elected themselves. So that principle was accepted on both sides.
The other clash centred on the principle advocated by my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) and some of my other hon. Friends. In a very eloquent speech, my hon. Friend, who is not in his place now but was present for yesterday's debate, argued persuasively that we should not worry about whether an item conforms to a general democratic principle, but should worry about a different question—whether our constitution works and whether it is calculated to deliver results that are in the interests of our people. The clash between those two principles—the principle of democracy and the principle of what works—formed the basis of much of yesterday’s debate.
Today, I want to take on the argument made by those who supported the second principle, and who also argued that an elected or largely elected House of Lords would not work, because it seems to me that, given the structure of yesterday's debate, if we could assure ourselves that an elected or largely elected House of Lords would work, we would then have what we have all been seeking all this time: consensus. One set of people think that everything should be democratic; another set of people think that everything should work. If it was the case that this elected House of Lords was both democratic and workable, we would all agree on having an elected or largely elected House of Lords.
Did my right hon. Friend also notice the argument that I and other hon. Members made yesterday, and with which I am sure he would agree—that if we are to have an elected House, it is essential that the elected Members of the other place are not clones of MPs? Does he see any merit, therefore, in ensuring that they are genuinely concerned with scrutiny of the Executive rather than their own ambitions by stipulating that they may not become Ministers of the Crown if they are elected to the other place?
Yes and yes is my answer to that. I shall address that point in a moment, as my hon. Friend will hear. In his own eloquent performance yesterday, in which he successively advanced an argument and then advanced a series of sub-arguments in case he lost the first and then the second and the third, he brought out well a point with which I agree: we will have to take steps to try to make the Members of the upper House as independent as possible. I agree with my hon. Friend that one of those steps could be to prevent them from serving as Ministers.
Let me return to the question whether a largely elected House of Lords could work. There were two sides to that argument yesterday. One side argued that if the upper Chamber were largely or wholly elected there would be a productive tension between it and our House, or between it and the Government. My right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) both made speeches to that effect. On the other side of the argument were those who argued that a largely or wholly elected House of Lords would create deadlock. The right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams), who is not in his place today, made a powerful and eloquent case for the proposition that it would engender deadlock—[Interruption.] I am aware that some of my hon. Friends agree with that proposition. Those two positions are at the centre of the debate.
On the question whether an elected House would create a productive tension, some of my hon. Friends and some Labour Members suggested that there was no problem to be solved in the first place. They argued that we did not need to worry about whether the tension would be creative or lead to deadlock because we did not have a problem at the moment. Therefore, they argued, there was no need for change. I do not believe that that argument has much weight. One of the few issues in this whole vexed area on which we can almost all agree is that the Executive have too much power. That is not a reflection on the present Government, or on previous or future Governments, because the simple fact is that we live under a Government who are dominated by the Prime Minister of the day because of his powers of patronage. By definition—or by hypothesis in our system, because of our fused arrangements—the Government have a majority in the House of Commons and are, broadly speaking, able to do what they like with insufficient check between elections. That is a problem not only for the people of this country but for the Government of the day who would benefit from being more effectively checked. That is common ground between the occupants of the Front Benches, but it is also a widely shared view in the country and in the House.
My hon. Friend is doing so well with his telepathy that I may shortly withdraw and allow him to make this speech instead. Unfortunately, he and I will disagree about the conclusion.
My colleagues in the shadow Cabinet and I—and, I suspect, Ministers—profoundly agree that there is a need and scope for reform of the House of Commons. I hope that the Leader of the House, who takes these matters seriously, may be one of those Leaders of the House who takes Commons reform seriously. That would be a wonderful step forward. Will it be enough? I doubt it. In the nature of a fused constitution, the Government have a majority in the House and are therefore unlikely ever to accede to the House being used as a mechanism to check them with sufficient challenge and ferocity. It is possible, but unlikely. It is much more likely that the other place, which has a longer record of independence and a greater distance from the Executive—if its Members were not allowed to be Ministers and had long terms of office, it would be yet more independent—would be able to exercise that check. I suspect that most people, if they examine their consciences and deprive themselves of the glories of rhetorical debate, would agree with that proposition.
I am following the right hon. Gentleman’s speech closely. The primary subject of yesterday’s debate was whether this House had primacy over the House of Lords. The right hon. Gentleman seems to be arguing that we need to give the Lords more power to challenge what happens in this House, but that ignores the point about primacy.
If the hon. Gentleman will bear with me, I am just coming to the point about primacy. My argument so far is that we need to have a House of Lords that has more confidence to challenge the Government of the day. I will explain why primacy is not the issue, although it was raised in the debate yesterday.
The next question is whether being largely elected would give the House of Lords greater confidence to challenge the Government of the day. I think that that proposition is unchallengeable. It is clear that if it were largely elected—80 per cent., to choose a figure—it would feel much more confidence in challenging the Government. I do not say that it would be perfect or that it would always challenge the Government, but it would have more confidence.
I am not sure that I share my right hon. Friend’s confidence that an elected second Chamber would do that. The Leader of the House has indicated that the elections would take place on a proportional representation list system, but the list would be packed with party stooges who would just do the parties’ bidding. The only difference would be that we would lose the expertise and experience in the House of Lords that has been built up, for no positive benefit.
As a matter of the logic of the argument, it is important that my hon. Friend should recognise that we are dealing now with composition and will deal later with the rules governing election. However, as a matter of fact, I share the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) that one has to take steps to make the elected or largely elected members of the upper House independent. One step might be not to allow them to be Ministers. Another might be for them to serve long terms and a third should be for them not to be elected on a closed list system of the type that my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) mentions. There are other possible steps, but it must be possible to devise rules that will make it more rather than less likely that those Members will be independent minded. It must also be the case that if they have a mandate, they will feel more empowered to challenge the Government.
I come now to the salient point made by the hon. Member for Weaver Vale (Mr. Hall). The answer of most of those who spoke in yesterday’s debate, who rejected the proposition despite everything that I have just said, was that the problem did not reside in the House of Lords not having a function, or in it not attaining more oomph and vigour in pursuing the function of challenging the Government as a result of election, but in the fact that the system would work too well. The House of Lords would somehow—in the phrase used yesterday, which the hon. Gentleman repeated—challenge the primacy of this House.
I invite right hon. and hon. Members to reflect on how we look to the outside world. That is a difficult thing to do, because it is difficult to look at oneself. Who on earth in the United Kingdom cares about the primacy of the House of Commons? If I went out in the streets with a big banner that said “I’m in favour of the primacy of the House of Commons.” I would not attract large groups of people to follow behind me—[Interruption.] Yes, there are some hon. Members who are concerned about that, but my point is that the 60 million people out there could not care less about the primacy of anything, especially the House of Commons. Indeed, if one asked them about the primacy of the House of Commons, they would probably think that one meant whether it should be filled with primates—a very different subject.
The primacy of the House of Commons is, in constitutional terms, neither here nor there. What matters is whether the Government can govern, and that is what hon. Members were trying to get at yesterday. That does matter to hon. Members, but more importantly it matters to 60 million people in this country. It matters that when the Government of the day have been elected in a general election they are able to govern and do their business. Forget the primacy of this House and concentrate on the ability of the Government to govern.
The Leader of the House was persuasive and eloquent on this point. The question is whether the Government, if they are in possession of a majority in this House—which they must have in order to form the Government in the first place—and if this House has control of Supply, which it undoubtedly does by convention and deep constitutional theory, and if the House and Government are possessed of the Parliament Acts, as they will be, face any realistic prospect of not being able to get their business through, spend their money and follow their policies. Manifestly, the answer would be no. There is no such prospect and, interestingly, those who opposed large degrees of election did not argue that there was. It is significant that, as part of his conversion, my hon. Friend the Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) withdrew from that position. He considered that things would change in 10, 20, 50 or 100 years, and that somehow the Government of the day would be deprived of the vital powers conferred by the Parliament Acts, the right of Supply and so on.
I do not know what will happen in 100 years. None of us can. However, I do know that, when a new system with a largely elected House of Lords is introduced, the House of Commons will retain the powers needed to ensure that the Government of the day can govern.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman’s analysis but, even if no party has a majority in the other Chamber, certain issues could arise about which a broad section of opinion there might believe that the Government must be forced to think again, repeatedly, before taking a drastic step. If the progress of Government business were to be impeded in that way, would not most of the general public believe that that was much more important than any concept of the primacy of the House of Commons?
I very much agree. If we have a House of Lords that is largely elected, under any of the arrangements that we have discussed, it will feel more empowered to challenge. As a result, the Government of the day will be delayed more often. They will always get their way in the end, but will have to take account of the great heat that will be generated in public as a result of the delay. That will be a more effective check between elections on the overweening use of power by the Government of the day. That is the argument that those of us who believe that there should be a largely elected second Chamber want to advance.
May I suggest to my right hon. Friend that it will not be 100 years before those elected to the other place start to claim an authority that they do not have at the moment? They will say, “We are elected, and we are as legitimate as the people down the Corridor.” They will demand a greater say, including over matters such as the Budget.
I think that my hon. Friend ignores the fact of what happens at a general election. The theory is that we are sent here as independent representatives of our seats, with no party affiliation, but the fact is that the public elect a Government. They select a person to be Prime Minister, they select the colleagues of that person to be the Government, and they select the party that those people represent to govern them. As long as that is what happens at general elections, I do not believe that the fear that the other place might seek to become the Government of the day is more than fanciful.
I am following my right hon. Friend’s argument closely. Does he accept that equating elections with legitimacy means that it is possible that a majority of the elected representatives to Parliament may be in disagreement with the Government? Would not that call the legitimacy of that Government into question?
I am glad that my hon. Friend has raised what I think is the centrepiece of this debate. First, if people know that they are electing a Government when they vote at a general election, it is very unlikely that another set of people will be able to persuade them that it is they who have been elected. The dynamic of media and public opinion will not allow that to happen.
Secondly, it is enormously important to recognise that when a group of people are elected on the basis that they will not form the Government—and, moreover, elected in ways that reinforce the assumption that they will not do so—it would take a heroic effort of self-importance on their part to persuade themselves nevertheless that they did, somehow, constitute that Government. That heroic self-importance would be greater than anything that even we in this House can manage and, God knows, we can do very well in that regard.
I accept that human beings can do strange things, but it is unlikely that the sober-minded people elected to the House of Lords would behave in that way.
I am most grateful to be called to speak, but I have to admit that I do not know what comes over Labour Foreign Secretaries when they are made Leader of the House of Commons. Like Robin Cook, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House was a brilliant Foreign Secretary—by that I mean that I agreed with everything that he did—but, also like Robin Cook, he has come over all funny since he has been Leader of the House. The proposals that he has put before us, the speech that he made yesterday and the letters that he has sent out only confirm my diagnosis.
Let us be clear: there can be only three logical positions in respect of whether we should have a bicameral or unicameral legislature. The first is that the second Chamber should be abolished. The second is that it should be 100 per cent. elected, and the third that it should be 100 per cent. appointed. All the rest, as set out by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, are gibberish.
No, as I want to advance my argument a little.
What is special about 50 per cent., 60 per cent., or 80 per cent.? What is the logic? The Government are trying to involve us in a kind of constitutional sudoku, in which we fill in the blank spaces. Other metaphors for what they are getting us into might be spread betting, or the premium phone-ins on ITV that my good friend Michael Grade is bringing to an end.
This is an utterly irresponsible way to create a new House of Parliament from scratch. After 800 years of the other Chamber’s evolution, the Government basically want to abolish it and to start anew. However, if that is what they intend, they must proceed only on the basis of total logic.
The Leader of the House is my friend as well as my right hon. Friend, but I have to tell him that what he is proposing to vote for this evening is constitutionally disreputable. What is more, the dark warnings that he has given the House of Lords of the terrible fate that awaits it if it obstructs what the House of Commons votes for this evening—assuming that we vote as he wants us to—are useless if there is an elected element there.
The House of Lords has obstructed the House of Commons even when nobody there has been elected. Under the proposals, Members of the other place may secure an elected mandate on the 20 per cent. of the electorate likely to turn out if their polls are held at the same time as European elections. Even so, they will say, “We’ve been voted for. You, friends, get lost!”
In a moment. Elected Members of the other place will say, “We’ve got as much right to do what we’re doing at out our end of the Corridor as you have at yours.” The same argument applies to the answer to the question put to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House by my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) about whether elected Members of the House of Lords would have the same freedom as hon. Members to make representations on behalf of their constituents. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House replied:
“Members of the House of Lords are not there to represent constituencies. Paragraphs 6.8 to 6.15 of the White Paper…explains that one of the key principles that should underpin a reformed House is the complimentary”—
by the way, Jack, you don’t know how to spell complementary—
“nature of the House of Lords. The House of Lords should not duplicate the functions of the House of Commons.—[Official Report, 1 March 2007; Vol. 457, c. 1468-9W.]
Dream on, Jack. Anybody—
As always, Mr. Speaker, I bow to your ruling. Dream on my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw).
If Members of the House of Lords are elected—probably by proportional representation—they will take on our cases. If they win, they will say that they were successful because we could not win the case. If they lose, and there is a Labour Government, as I hope that there will be, they will blame the Government. They will have it every single way there is.
I did not—[Interruption.] I specifically did not. If the hon. Gentleman looks at that part of the report he will see, first, that it was not a recommendation but an option and, secondly, that the section to which he refers was supported by a majority of the royal commission. I had that provision included because I told the secretary of the royal commission that I would not sign the report if it recommended election to the other place, so I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to make that absolutely clear.
I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend, who is also my friend, for giving way.
It is curious that my right hon. Friend says that simply because people in the other House might be elected it would give them the confidence to interfere in constituency matters. Does he have much trouble with his local Member of the European Parliament taking up constituency casework? I do not think that any of us experience such trouble; there may be occasional events, but they are very occasional. MEPs have a different remit.
As my hon. Friend knows, there are several local MEPs, because of the absurd way in which the European Parliament is elected. One of them, my very good friend, Arlene McCarthy, who is Labour, of course supports everything I do. Others, from different political parties, do not have the same credentials.
I have to tell my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that there is no future whatever for his proposals, regardless of what happens this evening. Whatever happens here this evening, the other place will make its decisions and, in addition, we have to take account of the fact that later this year we shall have a new Prime Minister who will not be barmy enough to allow the only full Session of this Parliament before he calls a general election—which Labour will win—to be bogged down with this ludicrous nonsense. Whether it is my right hon. Friend the Chancellor or somebody else, he or she will want to spend the Session presenting excellent, sensible, constructive Labour policies to help us win the election; he will not want it bogged down by the same absurdity that bogged down the Labour Government in 1966—with Michael Foot and Enoch Powell—and the same absurdity that Robin Cook, brilliant as he was, proposed to the House of Commons.
Whatever we decide this evening has no future in this Parliament. However, I want to make it absolutely clear to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that if—as I think quite possible—there is a vote for some elected element, the Government had better not use that vote to put in our Labour party manifesto a commitment that we will carry out the decision on a three-line Whip in the next Parliament. In 37 years I have never voted against the Labour Whip, but if the Government try that on—[Interruption.] I have been unanimously reselected in my constituency and if the Government try that on, I shall be there watching—subject to the wishes of the electorate in Gorton, bless them. I tell my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn—I am abiding by the Speaker’s rulings and strictures—that I am very fond of him but I hope that under the new Prime Minister he will move on to a post where he can exercise his talents in a more constructive and sensible way.
It was instructive to hear the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) constructing the obituary of parliamentary democracy: whatever this House decides, a new Executive will ignore it. That was the tenor of the right hon. Gentleman’s speech. Irrespective of the majorities that may be secured in this House, a new Prime Minister will ignore it. That is the argument in a nutshell.
There is a slight sense of “after the Lord Mayor’s show” about today’s proceedings, because we had such an excellent debate yesterday. However, I want to record my appreciation to the Leader of the House for his work on the cross-party group. It was an interesting group on which to serve; we did not always agree, but we found much common ground. The White Paper that resulted from our deliberations was not in every detail what we, the Conservatives or even the Government would have liked, but it gives us a basis on which to discuss the matter.
I proffer apologies to the House from the Liberal Democrats for the fact that we failed miserably to finish the job properly in 1911. The preamble to the Parliament Act states:
“And whereas it is intended to substitute for the House of Lords as it at present exists a Second Chamber constituted on a popular instead of hereditary basis, but such substitution cannot immediately be brought into operation.”
The expediency of 1911 has been a matter of much regret since. Here we are, discussing the matter yet again nearly 100 years later.
I agree with all those who say that we should be talking about reform not just of the House of Lords but of Parliament. We should also be talking about democratic renewal because there is a great need to revitalise our democratic institutions at all levels. This reform is simply a component part of that process.
I have been tussling with a conundrum that the hon. Gentleman may be able to solve. Why are he and his party so determined that there must be elections to the House of Lords, which has no powers at all, bar those of revising and advising this place, yet they are more than happy to give more and more powers to the European Union and thus to an unelected European Commission that controls 80 per cent. of UK laws? He and his party have nothing to say about that.
The hon. Gentleman is quite wrong to say that we have nothing to say about democratic renewal in the European Union, but that is not the matter before us today.
May I deal with the various points raised in the debate yesterday and today? First, there is the perfectly respectable argument that is put forward by those who favour a unicameral system. Those who believe that we should not have a second Chamber have a degree of logic on their side. It is not a position that I particularly agree with, but at least I can see that there is an internal logic to their argument. Their difficulty lies in establishing how the House of Commons would properly function as a Chamber instigating legislation and revising it in one move. That is done in some legislatures, but the majority of larger countries—countries with more complex legislation and economies—find that there is the need for a revising Chamber that can take some of the work load, although I agree with one of my colleagues, who said yesterday that the work load argument cannot be carried to a conclusion, because we can organise our work more effectively than we do at the moment. At least those who believe in abolition have a clear view—a view that I respect, but do not support.
I have a great deal more difficulty with some of the other arguments that have been adduced. First, it is argued, on the grounds of utility, that the House of Lords does an excellent job and, that being so, that it is unnecessary to make any reform. I am certainly one of the first to say that there should be respect between the two Chambers. I respect enormously the work done by many Members of the House of Lords, as presently constituted in its capacity as a revising Chamber. They do us many favours in looking at legislation that we inadequately scrutinise and often asking this House to think again.
I am not sure, however, that that respect necessarily extends to every current Member of the House of Lords. Many of them appear rarely, if at all. Some are suspected of owing their place more to their cheque book than to their intrinsic merits. Some, frankly, are the dead wood of this House who have been moved to the other place to make way for perhaps more enterprising replacements. Some have been convicted of criminal offences, but retain their seats in our legislature. There is a limit to the arguments about respect.
Secondly, there is the argument about the effectiveness of the other Chamber. Again, having dealt over recent years with difficult Home Office and Department for Constitutional Affairs legislation, I have reason to be grateful for the good sense of those in the Lords who have been prepared to defy the Government and say, “Think again.” But I am also conscious of the fact that, at the end of the day, they have always had to give in to this House, without this House properly considering the arguments that have been put. That is a key issue. We have an extraordinary system at the moment—at the end of the Session, when we have the ping-pong—whereby we have a so-called message from the Lords, which we dispose of in an hour’s debate, with most Back Benchers not being able to contribute, scant real debate on the issues and no opportunity for conciliation. That does not demonstrate respect between the two Houses and it does not allow for this House and the other place to do their work effectively.
I do not know whether my hon. Friend has ever sat on a Reasons Committee for one of its one or two-minute meetings, at which it sets out the reasons for the Commons disagreeing with the Lords. If he had, he would realise that the extraordinary pointlessness of that exercise demonstrates the cavalier way in which we sometimes treat this process.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. I have sat on many Reasons Committees. I clearly remember one occasion when it was decided that, “the reason that this House disagrees with the House of Lords is because we do not agree with it.” That was the only argument that could be produced in the little room behind the Speaker’s Chair. We do not agree, so we send the legislation back and eventually we win the day in this House because of the primacy of the Commons. That is not the way to get good legislation and good legislation is what we should be about.
The third argument relates to the unique expertise in another place. Again, there are some wonderful experts in that place, but they are in well-defined areas. We have wonderful lawyers, excellent generals, and a few—not many, and certainly not many in the scientific disciplines—academics, but there are no expert plumbers, carpenters or waste disposal operatives. The other place has a limited range of expertise. A Conservative Member argued yesterday that we should have a House derived from specific guilds, which would provide that expertise. That might be a Platonic ideal, but it is not one that should commend itself to a democratic 21st century country such as the United Kingdom.
May I take the hon. Gentleman back to the argument about what happens at the end of the Session, when we have ping-pong, and about the negotiations that take place between the two Houses to get the legislation on to the statute book? We are not going to change that system today; what we are going to change is how the House of Lords is comprised. What has he got to say about that?
What I have to say about that is that not all the reforms that I want to see encompassed are within the White Paper or included among the motions on the Order Paper today, but I hope that we can discuss the reform of Parliament in the context of this debate.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is a fuller answer to the hon. Member for Weaver Vale (Mr. Hall)? If the House of Lords is largely elected, the relationship between the two Houses will have to be one of greater respect, because it will be more often invoked and it will be necessary for us to negotiate more.
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I was going to come on to that argument in relation to the legitimacy of the other House.
May I dispose of one more argument? There is a broad argument for the status quo. It is heard a lot in the other place from some people who have scrambled up the ladder of privilege to be Members of the House of Lords and who survey the world from the top of that ladder and think that it must be an exceedingly good system that put them there. It is a ladder of privilege. I am not talking about privilege in the normal sense. It is a privilege to serve in our Parliament—in this House and in another place. But that needs to be based on legitimacy. I just wonder whether some right hon. and hon. Members in this House may have their feet somewhere up that ladder of privilege and may be reluctant to let go of the higher rungs.
The hon. Gentleman is making a powerful point. Perhaps the House of Lords would have more legitimacy if its Members turned up and did anything. According to TheyWorkForYou.com, the average number of appearances in the last year for most peers is five. Does he agree that that is not good enough?
I certainly agree that there are a large number of people who are created peers of the realm, with a place in the House of Lords, who do not use that place effectively. If people take the privileges associated with the title, they should also accept the duties of the job.
The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) is absolutely right on that point. Surely what we need is a much more concerted and professional focus. Is it not emblematic of the problem of amateurishness and part-time commitment in the other House that 25 per cent. of Members of the Second Chamber ask 87 per cent. of the questions and make 76 per cent. of the speeches and interventions? Vast numbers contribute scarcely at all. That is the reality.
The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. I must now make progress because of the limited time.
The issue is not utility, but legitimacy, which is why I want a legitimate second House. I am astonished by some people’s argument that they want a House that is illegitimate—something that cannot be defended—as part of our constitutional settlement. It is extraordinary for people to identify the illegitimacy, yet to say that nothing should be done about that because they are pleased to have an illegitimate House making the laws on behalf of this country.
Despite what the hon. Gentleman says, even under this Government it is still Parliament that passes Acts, and there are two Houses in our Parliament.
I do not accept that there is a threat to the primacy of this House, about which there has been a lot of debate. I wish that the House would take its primacy more seriously, especially in the area of Supply. My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (David Howarth) said yesterday that we should be doing an awful lot more to scrutinise the Supply functions of the House.
I am sorry, but I cannot at the moment.
We need to recognise that our primacy comes primarily from our ability to make or break a Government. That will be the case irrespective of reform of the other place.
There are those who argue that we must debate function before we can debate form. That circular argument is a delaying tactic that is designed purely to obfuscate, rather than to elucidate. We know the present functions of the Lords. Yes, we would like to see them evolve, but we know what they are and how they could be best suited to the form that we are suggesting.
There are those who argue that deadlock will inevitably emerge from reform. Why? We are not the only country in the world that has ever contemplated having two elected Houses of Parliament. Are all countries with an elected upper Chamber hamstrung and in deadlock? Of course they are not. I reject that argument.
I do not have time.
The slippery-slope argument is precisely the argument that has been used over the years by every reactionary voice against any democratic improvement in this country. We heard about the slippery slope of giving men who were not peers of the realm the vote, for heaven’s sake, and of giving people who were not householders the vote. People said, “Giving women the vote—where will it all end?” The situation has always been the same: the voices of reaction, from wherever they appear in the Chamber, have always sung the same tune.
It is quite wrong that hon. Members should contemplate for one moment a wholly appointed House that would have no legitimacy and would be a House of political patronage. That is not what the people of this country want or what this House wants, as it has demonstrated previously. I am confident that we will reject that option, but if we do so, we must support amendment (c) to the motion on hereditary places. It would be quite perverse for us to reject an appointed House, but to end up with a fully appointed House simply through the removal of the hereditaries. I want them removed—let there be no doubt about that—because there is no case for a hereditary principle in a modern Parliament, but if the hereditaries were removed without any further democratic reform, we would end up with a fully appointed House.
I am sorry, but I am not going to take any more interventions because the debate is time limited. I know that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, would want me to conclude soon.
We have a clear manifesto commitment to a predominantly elected House, which I interpret as one in which at least 80 per cent. of Members are elected.
The word “predominantly” does not mean half and half, but will the hon. Gentleman explain how, according to the Liberal Democrat lexicon, it means wholly elected, but not 60 per cent. elected?
If the right hon. Gentleman believes that appointing four out of every 10 peers by a political process will result in a predominantly elected House, I fundamentally disagree with him. In a debate in which we are being asked to express our preference, I will not vote for an option that would result in a House that would be unsupportable and unsustainable.
It is a shame, that.
I think that the hon. Gentleman’s argument is that he is trying to be true to his manifesto. However, the manifesto said nothing about a wholly elected second Chamber, so I assume that that was not supported by the Liberal Democrats. Why are the Liberal Democrats thus saying that they will vote for a wholly elected second Chamber, which is palpably not consistent with their manifesto, yet that they will not vote for a 60 per cent. elected second Chamber, which, it is highly arguable, would be consistent with what their manifesto said?
Perhaps it is difficult for the right hon. Gentleman to conceive of the idea that my hon. Friends might have looked at the manifesto and the proposals before us and decided that 60:40 would not be something that they would wish to support. Those who want that option as an expedient because they think that it might scrape its way through the House are basing their position on the wholly optimistic view that that option would inevitably result in a higher proportion of elected Members. I take the totally pessimistic view that if such an option were passed by the House, some in Government circles would be happy to grab that proposal and say that it was the end of the story. We would thus end up with a House that was almost 50 per cent. composed of Tony’s cronies, and I will not vote for that.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I only hope that he can carry a majority of his hon. Friends with him. I have the quaint idea that manifestos should mean something to Back Benchers; even they should feel a sense of shame when they do not support the view expressed in them.
Three parties are committed to the democratic reform of the House of Lords. We will find out later whether that translates into a majority in the House. I worry about the siren voices who say that they want democratic reform of the House of Lords, yet want the new Members of the House of Lords to look as much as possible like Members of the House of Commons, with constituencies near to the size of those of hon. Members, and want those Members to be elected by the same system used for elections to the House of Commons. We should resist those siren voices because we know that that would be unacceptable to the House.
The House should take a clear view. It would be a great shame if we were unable to do so. If we are unable to reach a clear conclusion, it will be because of the voting system that will be used. It is instructive that the people who were vociferously against the preferential voting system proposed by the Leader of the House are exactly the same people who are expressing the view that they want no change—over their dead bodies will they see change in the House of Lords. I regret that. They took a potentially dishonest view. However, even within the constraints of a very poor voting system, the House can take a view, and that view should be for reform.
If the Commons votes for electing some or all Members of the House of Lords, we are likely to be heading for a constitutional shambles with two sets of elected representatives in perpetual conflict. I want Lords reform—I go further: I want a lot more parliamentary reform—but we will not get that if we vote for such an option. We would be changing the membership of the Lords without clarifying and codifying its functions. As a result, when the Prime Minister moves out of Downing street to concentrate on his memoirs and lectures, his successor would be left with a parliamentary mess on top of all the other problems of government.
A House of Lords that was wholly, or even partly, elected would change the whole basis of our parliamentary system. At present, the House of Commons always gets its way, providing it can tolerate delay. However, most of the constraints on the Lords are voluntary conventions that peers have had to accept because they have no democratic legitimacy. People elected to the House of Lords would have democratic legitimacy. Indeed, if the new Lords are elected by any system other than first past the post, supporters of proportional representation will tell us that the House of Lords has more legitimacy than the House of Commons. The dynamics of the Lords, and of the relationship between the Houses, will change. No self-respecting elected peer will be bound by conventions arrived at before they took their seats. That is why I believe that what is proposed is likely to lead at worst to a major constitutional crisis, and at best to debilitating and protracted friction between the two Houses, which will add further delay to the workings of Government. Instead of bringing about much-needed improvements to Parliament’s process of legislation and scrutiny of the Executive, it would make matters worse.
Before we decide how the House of Lords should be made up, we need to decide what job we want it to do, and what limits there will be to its powers. Until that is decided, we cannot sensibly say how its Members should be chosen. It would be like being asked to pick a team before we knew whether it would play rugby league, with its orderly play the ball rules, or rugby union, with its disorderly rucks and mauls—or, for that matter, before we knew which of any pair of virtually irreconcilable games was being played. If we want to retain the ultimate supremacy of the Commons over the Lords, we will have to thrash out each Chamber’s powers and responsibilities and enshrine them in statute law; conventions will not do.
The usual arguments put forward for the House of Lords refer to its three distinct functions. The first function is to act as a revising Chamber that amends parliamentary Bills, yet the vast majority of the amendments agreed to in the Lords are proposed by the Government. It is really more of a Tipp-Ex Chamber, correcting things that the Government got wrong or forgot in the Commons. The House of Lords makes up for the Government’s failure to produce well thought out and well drafted Bills, and for the inadequacy of Commons procedures for scrutinising Bills. The next argument is that the House of Lords is there, in sporting parlance, to mark the Commons—for example, to prevent a Government from using their Commons majority to ride roughshod over basic human rights. However, as Winston Churchill pointed out as long ago as 1910, there can be no democratic justification for giving hereditary peers the right to thwart the will of the elected House of Commons. The same principle must apply to appointed peers.
No, I shall not. I want to get on, and other people want to speak. I understand that my hon. Friend spoke yesterday.
The converse of the proposition that non-elected peers have no right to interfere with the Commons is the proposition that elected peers would claim that right. The remaining argument is that some peers bring to debates an expertise that is not generally available in the Commons. There is some truth in that. For example, no Commons Members have expertise and distinction to compare with that of, say, a former president of the Royal College of Physicians or a fellow of the Royal Society. Such expertise would clearly be eliminated from a wholly elected House of Lords, and much diminished in a partly elected one.
Before we decide on the membership of the Lords, we need to sort out its powers and duties, but a much bigger job is needed if we are to turn back the rising tide of public dissatisfaction with our democratic institutions—with Parliament in general, and with the House of Commons in particular. We must strengthen Parliament’s relationship with the Government. We need to augment and strengthen the law making powers and procedures of the House of Commons. We frequently produce faulty laws that cannot possibly be understood by the lay people who are expected to implement them. Just as importantly, many Acts of Parliament do not, in practice, have the effects intended by the Government of the day, and messing about with the membership of the Lords will not change that.
Very few people have ever complained to me about what the House of Lords is doing wrong. They complain about the failure of the House of Commons to do its job properly. We are failing to take on the real issues of how we improve our own procedures, and how we could do a better job for the people of the country. We are diverting our efforts into messing about with the House of Lords. Ultimately, the House of Lords will need to be changed, but we need to sort out what we are doing first. We must do that, as a proper response to growing concerns about the effectiveness of our system of government. We are at the heart of that system, which needs sorting out, as our current set-up is not satisfactory. The people of the country deserve better, especially at a time when all the main parties say that they are open to fresh ideas. The public want our country to be better governed, and they are right. Making any of the changes that are proposed today will have precious little impact on that, and it will not be a worthwhile exercise.
I begin my short contribution with a confession: as a legislator—but not, I hope, as a parliamentarian—I have been an abysmal failure since I entered Parliament in 1997. [Hon. Members: “No!”] I appreciate the noises of protest, but it is true. Not one piece of legislation has been changed as a result of my presence in this House for nearly 10 years. I suspect that that would have been the case, even if I had been fortunate enough to sit on the Government Benches—as a Back Bencher, at any rate—but perhaps that is not the case.
It was not always thus. Back in the 1980s, I had the privilege of acting as specialist adviser to a small group of peers, one of whom was Baroness Cox. Sadly, the other four are no longer with us.
I am not sure why the hon. Gentleman finds that amusing. I think that when distinguished Members of the other House pass away, we ought to show some respect. The other four with whom I worked were the late Lord Beloff, the late Lord Kimberley, the late Lord Orr-Ewing and, in the latter part of the late 1980s, the late Lord Wyatt of Weeford. As I say, it was an immense privilege to know and work with those gentlemen and that lady, who were of various parties. I worked with them to consider legislation that was being considered in the Commons in a party political way, but that could benefit from amendment on a cross-party basis in the other House.
As a result of that work, the Trade Union Act 1984 was amended after a revolt in the House of Lords. The Lords introduced registers for properly secure postal ballots for trade union elections. Postal ballots for trade union elections were made law in the Employment Act 1988. The Education Act 1986 was amended, against the wishes of the Government, to prevent political indoctrination in the classroom. The revolt in the House of Lords was so strong, and the arguments so compelling, that when the Bill came back before the House of Commons, the House of Commons and the Government listened and the law was changed. Similarly, in the Local Government Act 1988, measures were introduced to prevent indoctrination and propaganda about the rates. Those measures still hold good today, and they have been good enough to be carried forward in subsequent legislation. In the Broadcasting Act 1990, detailed provisions were included to ensure impartiality on television. Although the provisions are not always observed, they at least set a benchmark and set out what should happen when controversial, politically contentious issues are aired in the mass media.
As a result of the Lords’ ability to combine expertise and cross-party commitment to a cause when considering a Bill, it was possible to amend legislation. I have to ask myself whether that job of revision, improvement and refinement would be in any way improved if we had a wholly or partly elected upper House. I answer my own question with a resounding no. Yesterday, I experienced another failure. Despite trying on 11 separate occasions to persuade the Leader of the House to give way to me, I was not successful. That is rare, as he is usually extremely courteous.
If the hon. Gentleman wants to ask his question now that the positions are reversed, as it were, he is welcome to do so. May I point out that I accepted 24 interventions, so my speech, which was scheduled to last less than 20 minutes, ended up as a 40-minute speech?
I am delighted that the Leader of the House has responded as I calculated that he would, and I shall proceed to ask him what I was trying to ask him yesterday. On reflection, does he wish to give me a slightly different answer from the one that he gave to the question that I asked in the meeting of peers and Members of Parliament that he kindly attended on 30 January? I asked how precisely would the function of the House of Lords be improved as a result of the incorporation of an elected element. As I recall, he said that in the 21st century, it was no longer legitimate to have a purely appointed House. If I missed something, I will happily give way so that he can clarify that response.
As I spelt out yesterday—I am glad that the hon. Gentleman was listening—a fundamental argument in favour of change is the issue of legitimacy. People can make up their minds, but I do not think that it is acceptable, this time, to have a wholly appointed Chamber. That is my opinion. I believe, too—I spelt it out yesterday—that as the second Chamber becomes more legitimate so its scrutiny of Government will increase. I do not fear that, because it is perfectly possible to accommodate it without challenging the primacy of the Commons and its ability to sustain a Government.
That is a classic case, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) said in his excellent speech yesterday, of a solution looking for a problem. There is a determination in different parts of the House, including among Ministers, to introduce an elected House of Lords because they think that is right. I am indebted to the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath)—we should all be grateful to him—for stating that the issue is not utility but legitimacy. There is a visceral or emotional rejection of the notion that the upper House should be appointed, as we have not heard a rational explanation of how an elected Chamber would perform the function of the upper House any better. Indeed, if it is elected under any conceivable electoral system discussed in the long hours of debate yesterday and today, we can be sure that independence and cross-party co-operation will vanish in a puff of smoke. We will end up with a situation that no one in their right mind would vote for if they were asked whether they thought that the House of Commons had too few—not too many—professional politicians, and if they were asked whether it should be doubled in size.
We are being asked to double the community of elected politicians, and put them in two Chambers, rather than one. We are expected to believe that the second Chamber, having secured the same legitimacy as the Commons Chamber—everyone is anxious to give it that legitimacy—will be content to be regarded as the subordinate Chamber. That shows breathtaking naivety, but I do not think that everyone who has enunciated that proposition believes it. I recall a conversation with a profound Front-Bench thinker in my party.
Indeed. I suggested that that proposition was in danger of creating deadlock between the two Houses, and it would undermine our ability to function if we ever came to power. He gave a purist, nihilist response: “Julian, you must realise that if you oppose interference by Government that would be a very good result.”
No, it was not. In fact, it was someone who has taken part in this debate.
It took a great deal of effort for me to enter the House, and I did not do so to sit around playing a deadlocked game of chess or draughts. I wanted to try to improve things as best I could for my constituents and, perhaps in a small way, for the country. We have been told that the upper House does not include experts in everything. The logic of that argument is that because it does not have experts in everything it should not have experts in anything. As a shadow Defence Minister, I believe that we get far more out of a second Chamber in which the Chief of the Defence Staff, who served under the Prime Minister during his first four years in office, now serves. He has been released from his shackles or harness to serve in the House of Lords, and he can say what he thinks the Government are doing right, and what they are doing wrong. To replace Lord Guthrie with a list-elected party political hack is absolutely absurd. If they are to carry the argument, people who want an elected second Chamber must do better. They must show how elected Members will improve the role of the second Chamber to revise and improve legislation. The role of the Commons Chamber is to introduce legislation, and that complementary role will be served in future, as it has been in the past, only by an appointed second House of Parliament.
I would have been more impressed by the contribution of the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) if I had not just reread the debates on the Reform Act 1832. The arguments about the catastrophic consequences of introducing democracy in the House of Commons find a striking echo in the arguments about introducing a degree of democracy in the second Chamber.
We have been here many, many times before. I sometimes think that these debates on the House of Lords are the parliamentary equivalent of predictive texting. We need only hear a certain word and we know the speech that will follow. It must be easy for Hansard reporters, as they hear the words “legitimacy” or “gridlock” and off they go, knowing everything that will follow. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House can claim to have listened to us, because he is probably the only Member of the House who has come before us and said, “I’ve thought about the issue again, and gone back to first principles. I have read and thought my way through it, and I have submitted a proposition that is different from the one in which I used to believe, but I have been persuaded by the arguments.” That gives him a particular kind of authority.
We ought to be resolute and fixed about the purpose of any reform, but flexible about the means of achieving it. In a sense, that is a second order issue. In many respects, the compositional question is a second order issue. We ought to be resolute about the purpose of the second Chamber and the purpose of reform.
I can claim some slight affinity with my right hon. Friend—I have changed my mind several times on the compositional issue. Before I was a Member of the House, I wrote to The Guardian saying that the second Chamber should be composed on the basis of random selection. I remember that my letter was decorated with a cartoon which showed two readers of The Sun talking to each other at the public bar. One was saying to the other, “Cor blimey! Look, I’ve just been put into the Lords.”
I have believed in functional representation. I have even believed in this House being the electoral college that should choose Members of the second Chamber—not an entirely absurd suggestion, by the way, because it was recommended also by an official commission in 1919. So I have been round the circuit on the issue, but the fixed part of the argument has always been that the House of Lords—the second Chamber—can help us to strengthen our democracy, if we get the design of it right.
As it happens, the public can help us not at all on the matter. There was a splendid Populus poll for The Times about a year ago, which found that 75 per cent. of people believed that
“The Lords should remain a mainly appointed house because this gives it a degree of independence from electoral politics and allows people with a broad range of experience and expertise to be involved”—
the kind of thing that we have heard many times. In the same poll, though, 72 per cent.—almost exactly the same proportion—believed that
“At least half of the members of the House of Lords should be elected so that the upper chamber of Parliament has democratic legitimacy”.
The public are entirely unhelpful to us on these compositional questions, except that they seem to be saying that they want a House of Lords that will be effective. We are required to use our judgment to work out how to get an effective House of Lords, which I believe is what most people want. That means that we need to give attention to the design features. Some of those that we are not discussing are as important as those we are debating. Length of tenure, for example, is extremely important for some of these issues, and the compositional question is not the only one of significance. We want a second Chamber that is neither a rival to nor a replica of this House, but which genuinely complements it.
That is why I say that we should not give excessive attention to the question of election and appointment. There are other questions too. It is quite possible to conceive of a wholly elected House that would be utterly useless if it simply finished up as a clone of this House. We would have made the system worse, rather than better. Similarly, it is possible to conceive of an appointed House that was so lacking in legitimacy that it was quite useless as a complement to this House.
Legitimacy is a funny word. It is not like pregnancy. There can be more or less legitimacy. Since the reforms that we put in place in 1999, the House of Lords has become more legitimate. It is silly for people who argue for election to say that it has not. It has, which is why it is behaving in a rather more confident way than was the case before. Those who want a second Chamber that is not at all legitimate should have defended the hereditaries. That would have guaranteed a Chamber that was so illegitimate that it could be rolled over routinely by this place and caused us no difficulty at all. The fact that people did not, on the whole, attach themselves to that position indicates that they believed there was a need to move in a more legitimate direction.
My view is that we can be reasonably intelligent in the way we design the second Chamber. We need enough election to get enough democratic legitimacy, because there is a quaint idea in this country—this goes back to 1832—that those who are engaged in some way in making the laws of the land should have some connection to a democratic process. So there is the argument for enough election to secure enough legitimacy, but at the same time I have always believed that there was a case for enough appointment to get sufficient independence and expertise.
In that sense, we can have more than one good thing. If we design the second Chamber properly, we can get two good things. We can get a mixed House that gives us enough election to give us enough legitimacy, and we can get enough appointment to give us enough independence and expertise. In a curious way, because the powers of the House of Lords reflect a kind of hybridity—that is, they have an ability to delay, but not to decide—there is a certain kind of sense in matching that with a mixed membership, a hybrid membership that reflects the kind of House that it is.
That is why I say that the design features such as office renewability matter. I hope that when we get the Bill, we shall give our attention to those aspects.
What matters fundamentally is the purpose of the House of Lords in our whole system, and that is what we should be fixed about. We have a system where Governments are peculiarly strong.
May I pick up the point raised a moment ago by my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford)? There is an assumption in what is said that we are all immortal—all of us go on for ever being subject to re-election. Does my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright) notice that the fact that some Members are likely or due voluntarily to retire at the next election does not in any way reduce their activity rate or their ability to represent or speak up for those who elected them?
That is a sensible point, which I am glad my right hon. Friend has made.
We have often been described as having the strongest system of government in the western world. That is because we draw our Governments out of Parliament. Routinely, therefore, the Executive controls Parliament, and that gives a particular character to our system. Although we talk about scrutiny in a rather high-minded way, most of the real argument goes on inside governing parties in this country, because that is where the power lies and where votes are ultimately decided. That means that we have a scrutiny gap across the system as a whole.
Take the world of quangos. Much of the government of this country is done by unelected bodies—quangos. Who scrutinises those bodies? We do not, in any serious way. Sometimes we dip our toes in the water, but in no serious way do we do it. One of the jobs that a reformed House of Lords could do is the most detailed, robust scrutiny of unelected government.
There is no shortage of scrutinising jobs that an effective second Chamber ought to do, which we know we will not do because that is not in our bloodstream. Governments propose something, Oppositions oppose it and brokerage disposes it. That is how this place is and always will be. I do not hear those who are resisting reform of the second Chamber proposing alterations to our political system that would make this place different. That will not happen.
In thinking about the design of the second Chamber, we need to bear in mind the complementary relationship between ourselves and the second Chamber in relation to a Government and an Executive who are uniquely strong. We have not referred much to evidence in the debate, but some good evidence has been found by the constitution unit at University college, which has been analysing in detail exactly what the semi-reformed House of Lords has been doing since 1999. Its conclusion is interesting:
“A stronger upper house does not necessarily mean a weaker lower house—indeed possibly quite the reverse. Although ministers try to present arguments as Lords versus Commons, the far more interesting dynamic is that of Parliament versus executive. The existence of the Lords as a serious longstop has given a greater confidence to MPs to extract concessions from ministers, and the greater rebelliousness of the Commons also acts to boost the power of peers.”
The final sentence is the crucial one:
“This inter-cameral partnership, if it continues and grows, could represent a real shift of power within the British Westminster system.”
That, for me, is the issue. Do we want to shift the power between the Executive and Parliament? If so, we will support these proposals.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright). It is worth reminding the House that during the last Parliament the Select Committee that he chairs produced a unanimous report outlining the way forward, with proposals not wholly dissimilar to those in the White Paper. If his eloquence can secure unanimity in his Select Committee, perhaps he can make similar progress in the House this afternoon.
Anyone watching this debate unfold over the past two days might ask themselves what on earth MPs are doing arguing about a subject that does not resonate outside, on which it is difficult to secure agreement, and which generates friction within the two parties. “Why not leave it all alone?”, I hear them say. To which good question there are two good answers. First, the last time the House voted on this, the option that secured the fewest votes was that of a wholly appointed House, and it is perverse of the House to stick with an option that it rejected. Secondly, less than two years ago, the three main parties went to the country on a proposition that they would reform the upper Chamber and replace it with a more democratic one. One of the themes in the debate over the past two days has been our unique relationship with the electorate, and it is sensible to seek to honour an obligation that the three main parties took on in the last election.
If, despite those manifestos, the House now wants an all-appointed Chamber, it should vote openly for that in the second vote tonight. If it rejects that, it should then alight on one or more of the elected options. We would be greatly assisted in that task if the Liberal Democrats reflected further on the meaning of the word “predominantly”, as in “predominantly elected”. They interpret it to mean 100 per cent. elected, which most of us would regard as exclusively elected, but to exclude 60 per cent., which most of us would regard as predominantly elected. I do not want to be discourteous to the Liberal Democrats, and I appreciate that anything over 20 per cent. is a percentage to which they are unaccustomed—
In a moment.
However, if they want to reach their goal of 80 per cent., they will need a Bill, and they will not get that unless we alight on one of the options this evening. At this late stage, I hope that their spokesman will tell the House that, on reflection, they will vote for additional options over and above 80 per cent.
Let me simply repeat that 80 per cent. elected is our manifesto commitment. It is what we have argued for throughout this process and what the vast majority of my colleagues will vote for this evening. The difficulty lies not with how we vote but with how the right hon. Gentleman’s colleagues and those of the Leader of the House vote, in terms of whether they are prepared to support a properly reformed House.
The trouble is that we all seem to know more about the Liberal Democrat manifesto than the hon. Gentleman does. The word that it uses is “predominantly”, and I hope that he will stick to that.
A word to those in my party who are, even at this late stage, still undecided as to how to vote: having seen the problems caused for this Administration now that the genie of Lords reform is out of the bottle, I would want the process to be completed before my party takes over in government. It has the capacity to divide and destabilise a party; that is bad enough in opposition, but far worse in government. The stated position of our leader, the next Prime Minister but one, is that it is time to move on. Even though there was some dissent, the party’s official view for the past three general elections has been to move in the direction of the White Paper. We have repeatedly said that when the Government do the right thing, they should be supported. I believe that they are, belatedly, doing the right thing, and that is why I propose to support them.
Does my right hon. Friend recall that there was an overall majority of 30 for some form of predominantly elected House? The votes for democracy were divided around various options—a problem that the Liberals do not seem to have grasped. Furthermore, last time four Conservative Members succeeded in voting for 60 per cent. and 100 per cent. They thought they were voting for 80 per cent. but got themselves into the wrong Lobby by mistake.
I thank my hon. Friend. I hope that the House can exercise some collective ingenuity this evening and avoid the errors of four years ago.
When the Prime Minister contemplates his legacy, the chapter on constitutional reform will be incomplete. When he set out on this journey 10 years ago, he was warned not to do stage 1 without stage 2—in other words, that before he removed the hereditary peers, he should have a clear vision of what was to be put in their place. He was told that if he did not do that, the process would stall, as indeed it has. In their response to the Wakeham report, the Government said that they would
“make every effort to ensure that the second stage has been approved by Parliament before the next general election”—
that is, the 2001 general election. Subsequently the Prime Minister made a further inexcusable mistake. He was elected in 2001 on a manifesto that he wrote, in which he committed himself to a “more representative and democratic” House of Lords. A week before the vote on that commitment, he announced that he had changed his mind and wanted a wholly appointed House. Whatever diminishing influence he may now have within his party, had he voted in line with his manifesto four years ago, I am sure that 80 per cent. vote would have been carried. Now he has changed his mind.
I want to make three brief points. In this debate, some people have taken a two-dimensional view of the relationship between the two Houses, whereby if one Chamber gains in authority, the other must lose it. However, as the hon. Member for Cannock Chase said, the dynamics are far more complex. For 90 per cent. of the time, we are not rivals to the upper House, but partners in holding the Government to account. The House of Lords adds weight and value to arguments that we have adduced in this House or arguments that we have not had time to deploy. I would argue that over the past 10 years, the House of Lords has gained in authority, and that it has done so not at the expense of this House, but at the expense of the Executive. I would further argue that, if its legitimacy were enhanced by the injection of some democracy, its authority would be further enhanced—again, not at our expense, but at the expense of the Executive. A stronger House of Lords is a threat not to the Commons but to the Executive. For that reason, we should welcome, not obstruct, a more effective second Chamber.
On composition, my view is that there is a role in the upper House for an appointed element—those who served in the armed forces, the generals, the surgeons, the lawyers, the mandarins, and the professors. I agree with everything that has been said about their contribution to the proceedings, and I would want them to remain—at a level of about 20 or 30 per cent. However, the party political peers, whatever the percentage, should be elected. Unlike the Cross Benchers, they are political animals; they are not political virgins. If we look at those who have been appointed since 2001, we find that 69 per cent. previously fought an election—either general or local, devolved or European. If we look at some of the party peers who have not fought an election—the Lord Chancellor, for example—we find that they would have liked to do so, but could not find a constituency to select them!
If we look at what happens in general elections, the fact is that large numbers of Conservative peers are out banging on doors on our behalf. I find nothing wrong at all in saying to those who are members of a political party and who want to sit in a second Chamber that is going to pass laws that they should have one final gentle brush with the electorate along the lines proposed in the White Paper. That confers a legitimacy that no other process can.
Finally, I want to deal with the other side of the legitimacy coin—namely, the rival mandate argument. I thought that my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) demolished the argument yesterday, so I add but a footnote to what he said. Let us consider the proposition in the White Paper, with 50 per cent. appointed and 50 per cent. elected, and the 50 per cent. elected being replaced a third at a time at European election time. At any one point in time, at most 17 per cent. of the upper House could claim a more recent mandate than that of this House; and of that 17 per cent., some would remain loyal to the Administration. That is hardly a strong platform on which to base a claim for a rival mandate and extra legitimacy over and above this Parliament.
Yet it goes further than that. Members of this House are all elected on the same day on the basis of the same party manifesto; we are elected to the pre-eminent House in Parliament, which sustains the Executive and produces the Prime Minister. We submit ourselves for re-election, which is the country’s verdict on our performance. None of those conditions would apply to the second Chamber as proposed in the White Paper. Elected Members would not be elected all at the same time, but over a longer period. They would have no mandate to rival the mandate of those in this House: indeed, some would be not elected, but appointed. The notion that they could somehow convert themselves into an equally legitimate Chamber that could challenge the authority of this House is strictly for the birds.
In all the proposals for the second Chamber, it is clearly defined as complementary and subordinate to this House. Its only powers are those given to it by this House, which remains pre-eminent. The second Chamber would simply not be able—even if it wanted to—unilaterally to change its powers after reform, any more than it can now.
In common with the hon. Member for Cannock Chase, I find echoes in today’s debate of earlier debates in which we heard that the accumulated wisdom of those who govern the country would be lost if the franchise were extended. The good folk of other countries that used to be behind the iron curtain but are now democracies—or, indeed, the good folk of Iraq and Afghanistan—might be surprised to learn that we regard it as a matter of controversy that people should elect those who govern them. This reform is long overdue and, when it has happened, people will wonder what all the fuss was about. We should get on with it tonight.
It is a privilege to follow the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young), for whom I have a great deal of respect, though I cannot say that I agree with much that he said—apart from his comments about the rather curious position of the Liberal Democrats. The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) descended on the word “legitimacy”, which was mentioned by a number of hon. Members, and suggested that the House of Lords was illegitimate because it was not elected. That is a rather curious position for the Liberal Democrats to adopt, given that they want only 80 per cent. of the upper House to be elected, which means, according to their argument, that the other 20 per cent. would be “illegitimate”. That would lead to one of the conflicts that I foresee with a hybrid House.
I agree very much with the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis), in particular with his central point about whether any changes will add value to the process of governance in this country. We should all consider that crucial point.
I shall support option No. 1 tonight, which calls for a reformed, but non-elected second Chamber. That is not, as some have suggested, a move to support the status quo. The hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) suggested that yesterday, and quoted from a letter that I circulated earlier this week, but he could not have read it very closely because those who signed the letter stated very clearly in bold type:
“We are not arguing for the maintenance of the status quo”.
The hon. Gentleman should get his facts right before he makes such comments—[Interruption.] Yes, he is a Liberal, that is true.
The current position is unsustainable. I am in favour of reform and I intend to suggest what I believe to be quite radical changes to the current arrangement. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Frank Dobson) that, in the initial stages, we should be thinking about the powers of the House of Lords. Once we have decided what those powers should be, it would then be the appropriate time to decide on whether we need to change the composition. However, we are where we are.
I am opposed to elections for any part of the House of Lords on the basis that a hybrid Chamber would, as I said, lead to a conflict with some Members claiming legitimacy and others not. I also believe that, as the Father of the House said yesterday, any hybrid Chamber would inevitably lead to a fully elected second Chamber in the long term, which would definitely challenge the primacy of the House of Commons. I cite in evidence of that statement the comments of Lord Strathclyde on the radio this morning, who said that an elected Lords would have the legitimacy to do the job of
“stopping bad laws getting through Parliament”.
That rather gives the game away, because what Lord Strathclyde might regard as bad law—minimum wage legislation, for example—could be viewed as a good law by hon. Members in this Chamber. Clearly, Lord Strathclyde believes that elections would legitimise the House of Lords, giving it the power to stop an elected Government carrying out their manifesto commitment.
I am not giving way, because other Members are anxious to contribute and there is not much time left.
The system of proportional representation has also been mentioned. It would undoubtedly be used for the election of Members to the upper House, but it is, in fact, just another system of appointment—any list system is a system of appointment by elected party leaders—and would lead to a conflict in constituencies between Members of that House and of this Chamber. Some have argued that, apparently, there are no such problems with the election of Members of the European Parliament, but I suspect that that is not true in all cases. Members of the European Parliament are, of course, in a different parliament and we are talking about Members in this Parliament. The proper comparison to be made is that with the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament, particularly in terms of the problems caused by list Members in the constituencies of elected Members. We would encounter the same problem here.
The Leader of the House has prayed in aid public opinion, claiming that it favours elections. As we all know, public opinion depends on the question asked. My hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright) referred earlier to one question that was asked and the curious results that emerged. The public will realise that what is being proposed is the election of at least another 270, perhaps another 500-plus, elected politicians—at an estimated cost, according to this morning’s report from Lord Lipsey, of more than £1 billion.
My right hon. Friend does not understand that Lord Lipsey is talking about the costs over the suggested 15-year period. They come to more than £1 billion.
Let me clarify my preferred alternative—it is my personal opinion, which is not necessarily shared by all my right hon. and hon. Friends who signed the circulated letter. I believe that we can satisfy the demands of the Labour party manifesto, which said that Labour believes in “a reformed Upper Chamber” that
“must be effective, legitimate and more representative without challenging the primacy of the House of Commons”,
and the demands of the White Paper, which laid down seven principles. Those principles were the primacy of the House of Commons; complementarity of the House of Lords; a more legitimate House of Lords; no overall majority for any party—though I am not sure how that can be guaranteed under any system of elections—a non-political element, although we would certainly not have that in a fully elected House; a more representative House of Lords; and continuity of membership. We can satisfy all those principles and the pledge in the Labour manifesto without moving towards a partly or fully elected second Chamber.
I believe that the hereditary principle should be abolished. If there is any certainty about today’s decisions, the proposal to abolish that principle will almost certainly be carried. The system of appointing Members to the House of Lords should be changed to provide for a much wider franchise so that the Prime Minister does not appoint everybody. The current system is unsustainable. Organisations such as the TUC, the CBI, local authorities and other elected chambers, which play a legitimate and important part in our democracy and have a democratic structure at their centre, should make nominations to the second Chamber. If we had an appointments commission to vet the nominations and ensure adherence to the principles on which the upper House was set up, we could guarantee proper representation of women and ethnic minorities, a broad cross-section of skills and abilities and broad geographical representation, all of which would be much more difficult to achieve under any of the other proposed systems and certainly under the present one.
I believe that we can move towards providing for a second Chamber that fulfils all the criteria in the Labour manifesto and the White Paper, avoids the huge costs of creating another elected Chamber, produces a more representative and legitimate Chamber, which is populated by representatives with broad knowledge and experience, and can carry out the important work that the House of Lords needs to undertake. I believe that that is possible under the new structure that I described.
I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Clelland). He represents the north-east, I come from the north-west and our views on the subject are identical.
The speeches in the debate so far have been outstanding. They have shown commitment to democracy and to this House and displayed a sense of history. That is right in any such debate.
I hope that I am not out of order to say to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that perhaps in future, such debates, which last for two days, should not necessarily include speeches from two Front-Bench Members. That applies to speeches by Opposition Front Benchers as well as Government Front Benchers, and, for that matter—perhaps I say this with more venom—Liberal Democrat Front Benchers. The Liberal Democrat spokesman in today’s debate spoke for longer than either the Government or the official Opposition spokesmen. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) does not have to give way to Members if he is claiming that interventions are the reason for the length of his speech.
The hon. Gentleman did not do his case any good by referring to the appointment of former Members of this place to the House of Lords. The Liberal Democrats could be accused of all sorts of things in respect of the people whom they have appointed from this place, including failed politicians or politicians who changed sides, to safe seats in the upper House.
The hon. Gentleman should also examine one or two of the reports of the Modernisation Committee, which the Leader of the House chairs, about Lords messages and the Reasons Committee. Those matters are being discussed by the Modernisation Committee and it does not need an elected element in the House of Lords to put them right.
The hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright) always makes thoughtful speeches. However, I want to pick him up on one point. He referred to a poll that gave the House of Lords great credit. Let me cite another. The ICM poll in 2005 found that 72 per cent. of those questioned thought that the Lords did a good job, meaning “very good” to “fairly good”, as opposed to only 23 per cent. who thought that it did a bad job, meaning “fairly bad” to “very bad”. The hon. Gentleman chairs an important Committee and I stress to him and other hon. Members that many other Chambers and legislatures would die for such figures. How would election of another set of politicians increase confidence in a second Chamber?
The Father of the House went to the heart of the matter yesterday when he said:
“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.”—[Official Report, 6 March 2007; Vol. 457, c. 1427.]
I had the honour to serve on the Joint Committee that dealt with Lords conventions. As I said in an intervention on the Leader of the House yesterday, that Committee stated clearly that if the composition of the House of Lords was changed, another Committee comprising different Members would have to review the position on conventions.
The Father of the House tabled a written question to the Leader of the House asking whether Members of the House of Lords would have the same freedom as Members of the House of Commons to make representations on behalf of their constituents. I shall not go through the majority of the reply, but the last sentence states:
“The House of Lords should not duplicate the functions of the House of Commons.”—[Official Report, 1 March 2007; Vol. 457, c. 1469W.]
The hon. Member for Tyne Bridge referred to that in a way when he mentioned the complications, problems and conflicts that arise between Members of this House, Members of the European Parliament and especially Members of the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly Members. I have spoken especially to Labour Members—we have so few Members in Scotland—and they are deeply concerned and often placed in difficult positions by the interference of Members of the Scottish Parliament in matters that relate to the House of Commons.
It is extraordinary to discuss the composition of the House of Lords before we have decided what we want it to do. Surely that is putting the cart before the horse. I believe that we should examine the role of this House first and consider how the House of Commons can hold the Government of the day to account and properly scrutinise legislation. We need to make the role of the Back Bencher more positive and meaningful. It has not been mentioned—surprisingly, not even by the Leader of the House—that the Modernisation Committee is currently dealing with that matter and also examining how the House might use non-legislative time. That is important. Surely we should put our House in order before we start messing about with the House of Lords.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) said yesterday:
“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… of whether or not it is democratic.”—[Official Report, 6 March 2007; Vol. 457, c. 1434.]
The hon. Gentleman was a sterling Chairman of the Procedure Committee. However, does he accept that we should not delay reforming the House of Lords because of the time we are taking to try to reform the House of Commons? The two can go ahead as fast as they can in their own right. We should also acknowledge that the way in which election to this House works tends to give the Government an absolute majority and thus control over the business and reform of this House.
I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman on his last point. He was a member of the Procedure Committee when I chaired it, and still is, I believe. To have credibility, it is critical that the House as a whole takes more control of its time and when and how it debates matters. The Back Bencher is very much an afterthought in this House. The Government control the time of the House and, sadly, the usual channels ensure that that arrangement continues. We should look to this House, and what we want the House of Lords to do, before we deal with the composition of the other place.
Returning to the issue of election, let me quote from a paper produced by Lord Norton of Louth, who holds the chair of government at the university of Hull—he is currently celebrating 20 years of holding that position. He says:
“Once one introduces election of a second chamber, the core accountability starts to be challenged.”
Therefore, on that issue, I disagree fundamentally with my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young). Lord North continues:
“Election of a second chamber will not necessary render it co-equal with the first.”
On that, we may have some common ground. He goes on:
“What it will do, though, is create a basis for the second chamber to claim more powers than the existing House and to employ those powers. Members will have an electoral base and claim to act on behalf of those”—
I regard that as an absolutely preposterous phantom fear. Can my hon. Friend tell the House the identity of a single Member of the House of Lords who would argue, for example, that a revitalised and elected second Chamber should have control of taxation and expenditure? If there is such a person, surely we are robust enough simply to say no.
I have great regard for my hon. Friend, who is one of the more articulate Members of the House, but I am not sure that he has a valid point. We do not know what will happen, because there is not currently an elected House of Lords or an elected element. There is every chance that such matters will develop. Does he give no credit to Lord Norton, who has held the chair of government at Hull university for 20 years? I would have thought that his view would be respected.
How can anyone consider that electing an individual for 15 years just once makes that person in any way accountable to the electorate? It is an absolute nonsense.
Reference has been made to the cost of the Government proposals by the hon. Member for Tyne Bridge. The Leader of the House leapt up to the Dispatch Box with great alacrity and said that that analysis was absolute nonsense, but he had clearly not read the paper produced by Lord Lipsey. It states:
“The costs which follow are those for the 15 years from the first elections and are based on—
the Leader of the House’s—
“preferred option of 50 per cent. elected.
Cost of elections…£90m. Cost of elected members £1,301m. LESS: saving on fewer life peers…£402m NET COST £899m…Cost of redundancy package for retiring peers… £54m. Cost of additional accommodation…£49m TOTAL COST over 15 years £1,092m”.
I wonder whether that would also cover the cost of all the secretaries, personal assistants and research assistants. I say to the people of this country that I would prefer to spend that money on hospitals, roads, police and schools than on an elected House of Lords. I hope that the House will stand up for the Lords as they sit today.
I apologise. Hull was where the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) and I went to university.
I wish to follow the trail blazed by my right hon. Friends the Members for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) and for Holborn and St. Pancras (Frank Dobson) and my hon. Friend the Member for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Clelland). For the avoidance of doubt, let me say that I am not against reform, but I am against “big bang” solutions. I shall refer to that in more detail in a moment.
I agree with the comment of my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras that we are starting in the wrong place. The question that we should ask ourselves is not how we can create some sort of democratic utopia, but what function we want it to fulfil. Surely the answer is that we want a second Chamber that scrutinises, revises and, to a limited extent, challenges this place and certainly the Executive.
As one or two other Members have said, however, the public are not clamouring for more elected politicians, as many of us from the north-east discovered when a referendum was held on whether to have a directly elected North East assembly. Although the rulers of the north-east had talked of little else for the preceding 15 years, when we put the matter to the ballot we discovered that the public were not too enthusiastic. I suspect that the public would, however, like to see more effective government, and who can say that they are wrong about that? Imperfect though it is, the House of Lords is already relatively effective, and could be made more effective with a few modest reforms that I might mention in a moment.
I was present at the Channel 4 awards the other day, and the award for “Peer of the Year” went to our noble Friend Lord Rooker, who has been a distinguished Minister in both this and the other place, in many Departments. He made the point, even at the risk of upsetting some Members of this House, that he found the House of Lords, as currently functioning, more vigorous in its scrutiny of Government than this House when he was a Minister here. I am not convinced that a second Chamber filled with those who failed to get into this end of the building will necessarily be more effective than the one that we have already.
To return to the referendum in the north-east, there is a parallel, because although the Conservative and Liberal Democrat manifestos contained proposals to introduce an elected element in the House of Lords, the Labour manifesto did not mention anything about it. Could the Government introduce the radical proposals in the White Paper without having a referendum first?
Talking of “big bang” solutions, to which I shall return, I am certainly not anxious to see the matter put to a referendum, for which I suspect that the public are not especially enthusiastic.
In particular, I do not want to see a Lord Sunderland floating about, who will have opinions on everything and responsibility for nothing. As one of my hon. Friends said—my hon. Friend the Member for Tyne Bridge, I think—the correct comparison is not with Euro MPs, with whom, by and large, we function well, but with what happens in Wales and Scotland, where we trip over Assembly Members and MSPs every five minutes.
I would like to make a little progress.
To give one little warning to those who are so keen on elections, the list system, with which we might end up, means 100 per cent. appointment, not 100 per cent. election. There is no way that the party apparatuses would let such an opportunity slip.
To elaborate on the point about “big bang” solutions, history shows that we make progress when we stick to what a majority agree about. That is especially the case with Lords reform. Everyone in this House has a different opinion on what the other House should look like. We have heard a good many interesting opinions today—notably from that thoughtful gentleman the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin), who wants to get rid of Ministers—but history shows that those who try to shake things up by applying the “big bang” method achieve nothing in the end. Nothing changes.
The one time over the past few Parliaments when we did make a bit of progress was when the present Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Margaret Beckett), was Leader of the House. She focused firmly on an issue on which most people in the House of Commons and outside it agreed, removal of the hereditaries. She was besieged from all sides with suggestions as to how she might improve her proposals, perhaps by making them more elaborate—suggestions that she opt for a 100 per cent. elected, a 50 per cent. elected or some other form of elected House—but she focused firmly on what she and the Government intended to achieve, and having declined to be distracted, she secured 90 per cent. of what she was after.
That, I think, is the model to adopt. I am in favour of small steps, and sticking by and large to what most of us agree on and what is easily defensible. I support the removal of the remaining hereditaries, as, I think, do most members of most parties. I do not suggest that those 92 hereditaries need have their heads chopped off and exhibited on spikes; I favour a merciful solution. I do not even mind allowing them to retain access to the club facilities during their remaining years, or making some of them life peers. However, I think that everyone agrees that the hereditaries must go.
The hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) shakes his head. He is probably an exception. I am also not certain about the Liberal Democrats, and others who put their names to amendment (c) to motion 11. I think that the amendment could cause nothing to change, although those who signed it say that they want everything to change.
I am a bit more radical and ambitious than that. I am told that the youngest will survive until 2030. But, one way or another, I would like to see the back of them.
I favour—I think we all do—some form of arm’s length appointment system to avoid the controversies in which successive Governments have become embroiled over the years. I also favour some form of redundancy scheme, not necessarily involving much money. I would start with those who have not shown up for the last few months: that would remove several hundred. A redundancy scheme to reduce the numbers would be necessary, because 750 would clearly be a ludicrous, indefensible number in any second Chamber anywhere in the world.
I will not, if the hon. Gentleman does not mind.
After we have taken those modest steps, we can have another look at the position. I fear, however, that if we opt for something that is far too ambitious and enters unknown territory, we will end up with no change at all. That has been the history of House of Lords reform, and that is why many of the proposals that were talked about in 1911 took about 100 years to be implemented.
This evening I will vote for the retention of a bicameral Chamber, for a fully appointed Chamber and for the removal of hereditaries, and will vote against the other motions.
It is a delight to follow the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin). I can see that, in a future Conservative Administration, a place will be reserved for him—somewhere else.
I have something of a handicap, in that I am an unashamed traditional Tory. That is why I shall be voting to retain a wholly appointed Chamber, and voting for the continuation of the hereditaries. As a Conservative, I believe in a fundamental principle: if it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change. Nothing I have heard in the debate—I was here for a large part of it yesterday, and have been here for all of it so far today—convinces me that change is what is needed now. Have I received a shedload of letters about this from my constituents?
I have not received a single one. Is there any appetite for another round of elections among my electors in Aldershot? I see no evidence of it. Do they want another, more expensive House? [Hon. Members: “No!”] I see no evidence of that either.
I must correct the Leader of the House, who estimated the cost of this House at £300 million. That is an understatement. According to the most recent costing, this place costs £360 million, while the other place costs £106 million. At a time when we are awaiting a further squeezing of public expenditure by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the idea that we should we say to our electors, “By the way, we want to reproduce the House of Commons. It will cost you a lot more money and involve you in a lot more elections” is strictly for the birds.
My hon. Friend spoke of his support for the retention of the hereditary peers. If he seriously believes, in 2007, that a seat in Parliament should be a prize for historic battles won, services rendered or favours done, would he, in arguing the case for the status quo, care to confirm that he opposed the Reform Act 1832, and would still oppose it?
I agree that some of the characteristics my hon. Friend has mentioned qualify people for membership of the other place. What he must explain, however, is how it will come about that, under the arrangements that he supports, those who are “elected” will be political appointees from a list. For that is what will happen.
Will my hon. Friend reinforce his point about none of his constituents being bothered about House of Lords reform by confirming that when our constituents do complain about Parliament, it is not those in the House of Lords about whom they complain, but us in the House of Commons? Perhaps we should take the log out of our own eye before we start taking the speck out of the eye of the House of Lords.
As always, I agree 100 per cent. with my hon. Friend, who is a very sound man and demonstrates some of the great characteristics and qualities of Yorkshire.
Overwhelmingly, our present system works. First and foremost, it holds this place to account. Between 1999 and 2005 the Government were defeated in the other place on some 300 occasions, and in four out of 10 of those cases this House decided to accede to the wisdom of the other place. The idea that the other place is supine is absurd.
There is universal agreement in this House that primacy resides with us. That is unquestioned, but I think it is at risk of being put in jeopardy. In interventions on the excellent speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin), I questioned the idea that somehow, if Members were elected, they would not assert the same rights as we enjoy here. It may well be, as was suggested yesterday by my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples), that the kind of people who will put themselves up for election to a place with little power are the kind of people who will not pass muster here. As was posited by the hon. Member for High Peak (Tom Levitt), the first thing they will do is demand parity with this place, and they will get the newspapers on their side. The whole dynamic has been hugely underestimated by those who feel that there must be an element of election in the upper House.
The idea of a partly elected and partly appointed House will lead to the most incredible problems. The hon. Member for Sunderland, South alluded to them. There will be two classes of Member, and those who were appointed will be made to feel inferior to those who were elected under whatever phoney electoral system enabled them to make their way to the upper House. They will be made to feel second-class. As someone said yesterday, if a Government motion is defeated in the other place on the back of the appointed Members, those in this place will be able to say “They were appointed, so the decision has no legitimacy.” Therefore, what will the proposals create? [Interruption.] As my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) says, they will create a dog’s breakfast, and there will be the huge potential that resentment will be caused between the two classes of peer created. The hon. Member for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Clelland) rightly pointed out what already happens in Scotland and Wales, with MSPs and AMs marching all over Members’ territory. The idea that elected Members will not interfere in constituencies or regions is wrong. They will charge all over our territory.
I want to talk briefly about why I believe that the hereditaries are important. I was against what my noble Friend Lord Cranborne did a few years ago, but I think that the outcome was beneficial, because I believe that if the hereditaries are completely removed, the position of the sovereign will be exposed as the only hereditary office in the land. I put it to some of my hon. Friends whom I know believe in the role of a constitutional monarchy—there are some in other parties who do not, as they are republicans—that that is an issue. Therefore, I am afraid that on this matter my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) is rather too radical for me.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire did not feel that that was a disparaging remark.
We need to think long and hard before we remove appointed Members in the other place. As the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Frank Dobson) said, they have experience. Let me compare them with the Members of this House. The other place has military people, lawyers and doctors. Lord Winston has been mentioned. That he is in the other place is a fantastic contribution to our legislature, and other countries that do not have the same sort of system as us are impoverished by not having such figures. One of the issues that I am concerned about is that increasingly in this House we do not have Members with a broad range of experience of life in our country. We have a growing number of people who come through the political system. Therefore, this House currently has 60 Labour Members who have been politicians or political organisers of some sort, and we have 20 such Members in my party. Increasingly I see in our own party people who come up—[Interruption.] My right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) worked for five or six years in a very important industry and one that is very successful in our country. Let me also say that 38 per cent. of my hon. Friends have had experience in business, compared with 7 per cent. of Labour Members. Yet in the other place there are military personnel for instance. As a Defence spokesman, I find it incredibly valuable that I am able to call on their knowledge. The debates that are held in the other place are much better informed by virtue of the fact that there is such experience, not only from the military but from business men.
I wish at this point to salute a splendid appointee. He has been a great contributor to the Labour party, but I believe that Lord Drayson—who as Minister for Defence Procurement is in a sense my opposite number—has done a splendid job. That demonstrates the benefit of bringing into the other place business men who would not stand for election to this House or the other place.
I am sorry, but I have given way twice. If the hon. Lady will forgive me I shall not do so again, as I am not qualified to extend my time if I give way to her.
I also support the idea of the bishops remaining because I think that they are essential to the preservation of the Christian faith as a central part of our national life. I also believe that former Members of this House have a role to play. Lord Rooker has been mentioned; he is doing splendid work in the other place. I would also single out my noble Friends Lord Howe, Lord Hurd and my great friend Lord Forsyth—and Lord Steel from the Liberals. They are all making a valuable contribution. If we do not have them in the House of Lords, we deny the public the right to have the benefit of their experience. I believe that that adds to our country, rather than removes from it.
I also believe that the hereditaries provide continuity to our country. When my noble Friend Lord Astor stood up in the debate about “the shot at dawns” he was able to inform the House about the discussions that he had had with his grandfather—the Earl Haig—about that matter. We throw out such continuity at our peril. Let me also say, in parentheses, that 70 per cent. of the hereditary Tory peers are aged between 40 and 60, and only 60 per cent. of Labour peers are aged between 40 and 60, so we in the Tory party have a vibrant young hereditary peerage.
The argument that the Prime Minister has stuffed the other place with cronies is entirely true. However, he can be held to account for that. [Interruption.] As has been said, he is paying the price for that. My hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon made exactly that point yesterday. Like my hon. Friend, I do not want an independent commission. As they ask in Walthamstow, “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” Such commissions mean that we hand over to somebody else. Let me recite what my hon. Friend said yesterday about Sir Hayden Phillips. He said
“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.”—[Official Report, 6 March 2007; Vol. 457, c. 1436.]
I rest my case.
I believe that change is unnecessary, and therefore I shall be supporting the status quo tonight. Those who argue for change have a duty to this House and to the country to set out what the powers of a changed House of Lords should be before imposing that on the people of our country.
I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth), although I find myself in disagreement on almost every point that he has just made. However, I agree with him on one point: we should vote on this matter tonight as a matter of principle.
When this issue last came before this House, I voted against all the options because I felt that the proposals had been formulated in such a way that they were bound to end up in the way that they did. I wished to signal my disquiet, and I did so in the hope—indeed, the expectation—that the House would soon have another opportunity to consider the question in a way better designed to achieve progress. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House on his brave efforts to do that.
I have no idea what the outcome of the votes tonight will be, but this time I shall vote not symbolically or tactically, but for what I believe to be the best option. The right to vote remains the most potent protection of the individual against the powerful. Democracy built on universal suffrage is the foundation of our nation. That principle, for which so many fought so hard and for so long, needs to be enshrined—not put aside.
Over the past two days we have heard several speeches, from Members whose personal democratic credentials are impeccable, against any form of election in the House of Lords. That argument rests on the premise that the democratic principle can be compromised because the second Chamber revises and scrutinises but remains subordinate to the House of Commons where the democratic principle remains paramount. However, the task of revising and scrutinising legislation is not negligible. It still represents the exercise of considerable power and it needs to be able to command consent from the citizens of this country. The primary qualification for anyone in either Chamber who seeks to legislate on behalf of the people of this country must be that they have been chosen by the people of this country to do so.
Usually, I would happily sit down to allow my hon. and learned Friend to illuminate the House, but I have little time and there are still other Members who wish to speak, so I shall continue if I may.
Some might argue that a principle can remain substantially intact even if it is embellished somewhat, but such embellishment must justify its existence. I am not convinced that it does so in this case. There are many distinguished Members of the House of Lords who make invaluable contributions, and tribute has been paid to them by Members of all parties in this House. However, we should not make a principle out of a particular. Distinction in one sphere of public life is not axiomatically a qualification to pronounce with authority, or contribute usefully, to debate on every issue that comes before a legislature. Experience and status do not always generate wisdom. They can also generate rigidity and self-righteousness. Of course all legislation and legislators benefit from guidance and advice from experts, but nothing has ever prevented members of either House from availing themselves of such advice as they need it. There is no need to compromise the precious principle of democracy in order to be able to do that.
We have heard time and again in the past two days that the main concern of those opposed to applying the democratic principle to the second Chamber is that a democratically elected second Chamber will threaten the primacy of this House and lead to legislative deadlock. I am not in favour of any threats to the primacy of this House or of legislative deadlock, but I see no reason why either of these unwelcome outcomes need follow the House of Lords becoming democratically elected. We should not confuse conflict and tension with gridlock. Conflict and tension are inevitable in any bicameral system. Indeed, one of the cardinal virtues of a bicameral system—and the reason why I support one—is precisely that the second Chamber can act to fetter the power of the first. The idea that conflict and tension do not occur under the current arrangements and that the House of Lords is a subservient creature of this Chamber is a curious one to anybody who has observed how the other place has deployed the power of the timetable and exploited every Government’s understandable reluctance to wield the Parliament Act too frequently in order to hinder, obstruct and defeat the passage of legislation. Indeed, several distinguished Members have highlighted the way in which the two Chambers have co-operated in seeking to fetter the Executive.
Nor would a hybrid second Chamber remove the possibility of conflict and tension; indeed, it would make such conflict just as likely—only slightly more complex. In practice, any majority of the elected Members of the second Chamber will feel that they have democratic legitimacy in challenging the House of Commons, and any form of hybrid solution is an unstable stew. So those who are concerned that a wholly elected House of Lords would produce legislative deadlock should, following their own logic, be opposed to any system that would allow the possibility of democratically elected Members securing a majority in the House of Lords.
Of course, democratically elected Members of the second Chamber may well feel they have greater legitimacy in challenging the Government, and that may generate more conflict and tension, which could become debilitating. However, the way to deal with that possibility is not to sacrifice the democratic principle, but to define with greater clarity the respective roles of the two Chambers. This is needed, and it is an essential companion to reform of the composition of the House of Lords. However, I am afraid that I disagree with all those who have argued that that should be the first instalment of House of Lords reform and that the Government are approaching the issue the wrong way round. “Clarify and reform the functions of the House of Lords first,” it is argued, “and then deal with the secondary issue of the composition of the second Chamber.” However, composition is not a secondary issue—it goes to the heart of the legitimacy of everything that the second Chamber does. Whatever improvements are made to its functions of scrutiny and revision, they will not command consent unless they are perceived to be legitimate.
There is a practical argument for starting with the composition of the second Chamber. In any complex and contentious negotiation, there is always a case for starting with the issue that is most likely to be agreed most readily. However excruciating this House has found the question of the House of Lords’ composition, discussion of its functions is likely to be at least as contentious and certainly more complex. If agreement can be reached on composition, that could create momentum towards the further reform of the functions of the House of Lords that I and many other Members believe is much needed.
Finally, I turn to the argument that an elected second Chamber will somehow turn into a home for supine party hacks, and that the gutsy independent appointees who scrutinise legislation without fear or favour will be lost. I add two notes of caution to that argument. First, I suspect that few current Ministers would argue that election on a party ticket guarantees acquiescence in the Chamber or support in the Lobby. As for appointment producing fearless and rigorous scrutiny and improving legislation—sometimes it does, and sometimes it does not. Sometimes, it simply produces futile whim and prejudice. What actually drives that argument is a belief, which I share, that the burgeoning power of the Executive over many years needs to be cut back, along with a belief that a House of Lords appointed in whole or part would somehow help that process. The solution to the problem lies not that way, but in a more comprehensive rebalancing of power between the Executive and the legislature. However, that is an issue for another day.
If reform of the composition of the House of Lords is completed, this issue is unlikely to be revisited this century. However, should this House fail again to resolve it—unwelcome as such a failure would be—it is highly likely for many reasons that it will revisit it again in the not too distant future. In these circumstances, I hope that Members will not vote tactically tonight in a wearily resigned determination to get something through. I hope that they will vote for what they believe is the right option for Parliament and for the country. Parliament and the country deserve better than options ranging from the unacceptable to the second best, and for that reason I shall vote against all those unpalatable options and for a wholly elected second Chamber.
In 1973, a long time ago, I was a schoolboy aged 16, studying A-level politics, history and economics. In history, I was enthused by reading about the Liberal Government of 1906 and their battles with the people’s Budget, the two general elections that followed and their success in getting that Budget through, along with the Parliament Act 1911, which undertook the first reform of the House of Lords. However, in studying A-level politics I was appalled to learn that 62 years after the 1911 Act, which was the first stage of reform, nothing else had happened and the Lords was completely unreformed.
In 2001, aged 44, I entered this place for the first time—90 years after the 1911 Act—and found that very little had changed. There had been one limited reform, in that most of the hereditaries had gone, to be replaced largely by appointed political peers. I listened in astonishment to arguments advanced in the 2003 debate, when the House unfortunately failed by just three votes to get an 80 per cent. elected Lords, and to some advanced in yesterday’s and today’s debate. Some people have questioned why we need a second Chamber at all—why not have a unicameral Parliament?—although many Members have rebutted that question.
The answer to that question is fairly clear. First, we want a second Chamber because it fulfils, as people have explained, an excellent scrutiny role in examining legislation emanating from this House. Secondly, the second Chamber provides time to reflect—an opportunity to pause to consider controversial or badly drafted legislation coming from this House. Although that check and scrutinising role will be strengthened by having an elected second Chamber, that does not mean that it will try to overturn everything emanating from the House of Commons.
By electing the second Chamber for a 15-year term, which was suggested in the White Paper and was originally the suggestion of a former Conservative Chief Whip, or by electing Members in rolling thirds, or by electing them on the basis of constituencies that do not reflect the small single-Member constituencies but larger regional areas, or by electing them with some form of proportional representation—hopefully not the disastrous closed list system—we could create a second Chamber that, in its composition and attitude, is quite different from this Chamber. We could ensure that it always acted within the conditions of the Parliament Act 1911 that limit any delay or check to a maximum of two parliamentary Sessions—as we saw with the Hunting Act 2004—and of course was unable to delay or affect at all any legislation to do with finance.
People have asked why the second Chamber should be elected. I find that incomprehensible, because we are a democracy in the 21st century. I am a citizen, not a subject. I want the people who pass the legislation that affects my life and the lives of my children and future grandchildren to be elected politicians, not appointees.
No, I will not. There is not time, because a lot of people wish to speak.[Interruption.] I could give way only at the expense of other people.
This Parliament should not be a feudal hangover from 400, 600 or 800 years ago. As one or two hon. Members have said, all the arguments that we hear as to why the second Chamber should not be elected are the exact mirror image of everything that was said back in the 19th century, when at various stages reform of this place proceeded very slowly, like extracting teeth very painfully from unwilling people. In 1832, when a radical proposal to extend the franchise from 2 per cent. of rich landowning men to 5 per cent. of rich landowning men was put forward, people in this House fought it tooth and nail. It was first proposed in the 18th century, but it was some 40 years before the House even got to consider that proposal. The same arguments were advanced in 1867, when the franchise was extended further, although still not to all men, let alone to women, which did not come until the 20th century.
In 1874 we heard all these arguments when it was suggested that we should have a secret ballot. How outrageous that voters should be able to vote in secret! Much better that they could vote in public, so that their employer could exercise due influence by sacking them if they voted the wrong way; so that their landlord could exercise due influence by evicting them if they voted the wrong way; so that the mob in the street could exercise due influence by beating them up if they voted the wrong way when they stood on that public platform. Those were things that happened all the time in the 18th and 19th century. It is appalling that, in the 21st century, in 2007, people come up with all these arguments as to why we should not have democracy.
Then we heard the argument that we should not democratise the second Chamber because it is full of experts. A number of hon. Members have referred to this, and pointed out that if, for example, someone is appointed to the second Chamber because they are an expert on in vitro fertilisation and health issues in general, that does not make them an expert on the other 95 per cent. of discussion, debate and legislation that is considered in the House of Lords. If someone is there because they are an ex-vice-admiral, ex-air vice-marshal or defence expert, does that mean that they are qualified to talk on the health service and so on?
If we want expert advice, we employ expert advice. We bring expert witnesses before Select Committees. Both Government and Opposition use experts to draft legislation. We do not appoint experts to govern our lives. I know that that is something that is creeping into the democracy of this country. A lot of local government has had its power stripped away; it is being given now to the quangocracy. There is the Learning and Skills Council, which spends £9 billion of public money and is accountable to no one. If I ask a Minister about the Learning and Skills Council I am told, “Oh, you have to ask them; that is not our business any more,” but it is spending £9 billion of taxpayers’ money. There are the primary care trusts, and the regional development agencies. There are the Government regional officers who march with their jackboots into the housing department of Chesterfield borough council, wanting to know why we have not privatised the council housing, although the council tenants have voted overwhelmingly not to do so. If it was down to me and to my party, all that power would be devolved back to accountable, democratic bodies. And there is the idea that experts should run the whole of local government, and run the second Chamber—why not this Chamber?
One hon. Member even made a very eloquent case this afternoon, virtually saying that this Chamber was ineffective, and that the only effect he had ever managed to achieve was to get some appointed Members in the second Chamber to change legislation. It sounds to me like a superb case for abolishing elections to the House of Commons and appointing everyone who is here as well, which is simply ridiculous and outrageous.
I realise that reversing all this to reintroduce democracy into local government, let alone into the second Chamber, seems very radical, but in the rest of Europe and across the United States they seem to manage it somehow. The idea that in the UK we cannot cope with democracy and self-government and devolution of power is incomprehensible.
My preference tonight is clear. I would prefer to see a 100 per cent. elected second Chamber, in keeping with the manifesto that I, among others, was elected on in 2001, which said clearly that we wanted a directly elected second Chamber—not partly, but directly elected, 100 per cent. Equally, our manifestos of 1997 and 2005 said that we wanted a predominantly elected second Chamber. So as a second-best option, I will go for the 80:20 split, but I would much prefer to see a fully elected second Chamber.
No, I will not give way because I have very little time and other people wish to speak.
If we do get the 80:20 split, which we missed by only three votes last time—there are more Liberal Democrat MPs than last time, and more hon. Members from the two other large parties have said that they have changed their mind, so there is a good chance of that—the 20 per cent. appointed should under no circumstances contain reserved batches for certain preferential interest groups. They should all be subject to the independent Appointments Commission. The idea that we should take a particular religious group and give them an automatic position in that legislature is outrageous. No one else in Europe has it. Some people say, “But it is traditional since the days of Henry VIII and the reformation.” Well, it was traditional to have an absolute monarch, and we got rid of that with the civil war and the glorious revolution. It was traditional to allow only 2 per cent. of the population to vote, but we got rid of that. I hope that tonight we can finish what the Liberal Government started in 1911.
It is a pleasure to follow my Derbyshire colleague, the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Paul Holmes), although I reach different conclusions on this issue as on many others. Having said that, I am in accord with my next-door neighbour, the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton), and with my hon. Friends the Members for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Clelland) and for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) and my right hon. Friends the Members for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) and for Holborn and St. Pancras (Frank Dobson). One of the issues that they all mentioned was that this debate should first be about what we want the other Chamber to do. It should have a role in revision, scrutiny and holding the Government to account, and it has had a role in the pre-legislative scrutiny procedure that has been developed in recent years. However, the gaping hole in our procedures is post-legislative scrutiny, and as my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright) said, scrutiny of the quangos.
The reason we have to have the argument about the powers of the Lords first is that different people will be attracted to serve in the second Chamber—whatever the mechanism for getting there—depending on what we decide we want it to do. We all agree that the second Chamber must be subservient to this Chamber, but it follows that the structure must ensure that. I have to say to my very good friend the Leader of the House that simply saying, time after time, that the other Chamber will be subservient will not make it so; hence we have to have a structure that will do so.
I do not believe that a fully elected Chamber can be anything other than a rival to this Chamber. That will be how it sees itself, how the media see it and how the general public see it. Some people have said that it is possible to have two chambers that are both elected but are not rivals. They say, “Look at the United States, look at France.” But in both those cases, both chambers are subservient to the President and that is a completely different scenario.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her intervention and I hope that what I have to say towards the end of my speech will give her some cheer. I am in favour of accountability, although I would not want the same universal franchise to be used.
Just as each one of us claims a mandate for being here because we were elected on a manifesto and because of the commitments that we made to our electorate, so would anyone elected to the other place. There is no way round that. The Minister, in her opening speech, prayed in aid the Salisbury-Addison convention, which is the basis of current subservience. However, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras pointed out, there is no way in which a differently elected Chamber would regard itself as being bound by that same convention. A Chamber with a different structure will demand, and reasonably expect, a different relationship with this Chamber. The Minister implied that a relationship defined by this Chamber alone would be acceptable, but I doubt that it would be acceptable even now to the present House of Lords.
Another issue is that of legitimacy within constituencies, a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South. I do not want an elected Lord, voted in on the popular franchise from a regional or local list, wandering around my constituency with a contrary mandate in his pocket but no casework in his briefcase, in effect campaigning against me seven days a week and serving to undermine my democratically elected position and that of all the Members of the House of Commons. That sort of behaviour would further reduce Parliament to a bear pit in the eyes of the public, and I believe that such a constitutional rival would undermine me and hinder the discharge of my legitimate responsibilities to my constituents. That is why I want to reject a largely elected element in the House of Lords.
This is the second day of this debate, but so far no one has argued for a small elected element in the House of Lords, as that would not achieve the aims of any side in the argument. The result is that we have only two options, a hybrid second Chamber, or an appointed one. However, the hybrid option presents many problems.
Among others, the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) argued eloquently yesterday that the hybrid option was in many ways the worst possible. A hybrid second Chamber would pose the same difficulties in respect of legitimacy and challenge as I described earlier, but they would not be confined to its relationship with the House of Commons. On the contrary, those problems would exist within the second Chamber itself, and could lead to recurring stalemates there.
For example, the Labour party in 1997 was committed to electoral reform. We asked Lord Jenkins to look at the options, and he produced a very good report that was ruined by its proposals for top-up Members—an arguably inferior category of Member. Exactly the same thing would happen in any hybrid House of Lords.
In a couple of interventions yesterday, I mentioned the suggestion that people should be elected to the House of Lords for a single, 15-year term. I noted then that we are made accountable by the fact that we are elected, but that we are held to account by the fact that we must put ourselves up for re-election. It is when we put ourselves up for re-election that we ask that we be judged by what we have achieved.
However, a period of 15 years in the second Chamber would allow plenty of time for people to forget what someone had done. In addition, the fact that it would not be possible for Members to be re-elected means that there could be no true accountability.
I had not appreciated that nuance, but it certainly adds to my argument.
I believe that an elected Chamber at the other end of the Corridor would be bad for the Commons, and that a hybrid arrangement would be bad for the House of Lords. Therefore I can vote for only one of the options—an appointed Chamber. However, the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) was setting up an Aunt Sally when he described that arrangement: asking for a system of appointment is not the same as asking for a system of patronage, which would mean that a small group of people or an individual could appoint Members of the second Chamber.
We need to create a framework in which employers, unions, religious bodies, universities, councillors, public servants, young people’s organisations, the professions, the political parties, charities and the voluntary sector are allocated a number of seats. They would then be told to create their own systems for electing people in their virtual constituencies to the second Chamber. They would devise ways to hold those people accountable, decide how much time must pass before they must face re-election, and so on.
In tonight’s votes, I shall vote to retain the second Chamber. I shall also vote for the appointed option although, for the reasons that I have set out, that will not be a vote for the status quo. I shall vote against all the hybrid options, and for the removal of hereditary element, sooner rather than later. I should like to be able to vote for the removal of the bishops’ automatic right to sit in the House of Lords, but that amendment has not been selected.
I hope that we will be able to look at the interpretation of the word “appointment” to ensure that the second Chamber is genuinely accountable and diverse, with positive powers of scrutiny. We need to achieve for it a truly democratic system that neither challenges the primacy of the Commons nor sows the seeds of its own destruction in the Lords.
Everybody has their favoured constitutional arrangement. We have just heard another one. No scheme is perfect, so all we need to decide is whether we can do better than the current House—not whether a perfect House can be created. For that we need answers to three questions—on functions, powers and composition—and we have already come close to answers to two of them.
We need an effective second Chamber, particularly because no doctrine of powers buttresses freedom in Britain. We have no body of higher law so we are uncomfortably dependent on the exercise of self-restraint by the Executive. More than most countries we need a constitutional long stop. That is especially the case under this Prime Minister, although the accretion of power to the Executive at the expense of the Commons has been taking place for a long time.
There are unicameralists in the House and their case needs answering. Some say that the answer is to beef up the Commons, which is theoretically plausible but unlikely to succeed, judging from the experience of the past 30 years. Nor is the current House of Lords capable of performing the constitutional role I would ask of it, and the evidence of the 100 years since the Parliament Act supports that view.
There is increasing agreement in this place about powers. The existing powers of the House of Lords would probably enable it to do a decent job, but the problem is that it does not have the self-confidence to exercise those powers. The Parliament Act has rarely been used, and in 100 years the power of delay for one year has hardly ever been called on, so if the House of Lords had the self-confidence to use its powers, that suggests that it has concluded that all but the half dozen pieces of legislation on which the Act has been exercised in a century were all right. Of course, we all agree that that is not the case. In retrospect, we all think that the House of Lords could have done a better job on the poll tax and on some of the Home Office legislation of the past few years.
We probably have agreement on the powers, but we do not have a mechanism for the House of Lords to use them effectively, and that all comes down to composition, which we are discussing today. It is indeed the only issue we are discussing today. We are not signing up to the White Paper; we shall be giving an indication of the composition we think the House of Lords should have.
In the 21st century only a Chamber backed by the legitimacy of the ballot box can hope to perform a meaningful constitutional role. The principle that the electorate should decide upon whom to bestow authority to legislate over them seems to me quite unanswerable. However devised, an appointed House will always be perceived as an adjunct to the Executive or as the creation of establishment patronage. There is no evidence that an appointed House would feel more empowered than it does now to perform the functions we want it to perform. An independent Appointments Commission certainly could not do the job.
Where does my party sit on all this? I note that for the past five years the Conservative party has supported election. I note, too, that the current leader of the Conservative party has strongly supported a largely elected second Chamber, as has the leader in the Lords. However, when some of us put forward such arguments, we are sometimes treated as dangerous radicals, as if we were taking great risks with the constitution.
For most of the last 100 years the considered position of the Conservative party has been that there should be considerable further reform of the House of Lords. Churchill, Hailsham, Carrington, Alec Douglas-Home, Lord Blake and Lord Mackay all came out in favour of a largely elected second Chamber. That is quite a long list, over quite a long period of time. The Conservative party has been quite consistent, but has not implemented what it has consistently argued. It has been bicameralist, reformist and largely democratic. That is what I hope that we will vote for tonight.
The customary arguments against that view have been adduced. I will go through them briefly and just say a word about them. Most of them are bogus arguments, but some have some strength and need careful thought. First, there is the gridlock argument, which says that as soon as there is any election in the other place, there will be stalemate in British political life. But that is to ignore the Parliament Acts, which ensure that the delay can last for only one year. The matter was examined in considerable detail by Lord Mackay of Clashfern and he concluded that this was a “sterile debate” and dismissed it as an issue that should not be seriously considered.
Then there is the issue of the replication of the House of Commons and the idea that we will end up with two Houses that look identical. Different electoral systems, involving long and non-renewable terms, will create different Houses. Every other country that has a bicameral system has discovered that and it seems to work perfectly well in most of them. Some argue that the people whom we will get in the other place are the wrong people. As has been pointed out throughout the Chamber, that has been the argument against democratic reform for 150 to 200 years. That is what democracy is all about: we just have to accept the kind of people who will come forward. Incidentally, in criticising the kind of people the electorate put forward and claiming that the electorate have got it wrong, we are criticising ourselves.
I have already alluded to the third argument against doing anything, which is that the primacy of the House of Commons would be undermined. We are the sole source of government. I see no practical way in which that could be challenged. Our elections provide, and will continue to provide, judgment day, when a Government can be thrown out. Some say that, even if the primacy will not be eroded, there will be a rivalry between the two Houses. I favour some competition between the two Houses. I want an element of friction to help to revive this place, which is dangerously weak in its ability to hold the Executive to account.
I have been passed a message to say that we are pressed for time to get all the speeches in, so I will not linger much longer, except to say that, as another speaker pointed out a moment ago, this issue is not going to go away if we do not get a clear answer tonight. We will be back here—I have already been here several times over the last 10 years—having the same debate all over again. Most people are agreed that our democracy is not in as healthy a state as we would like. It needs improving. Reform of the Commons and the Lords can play a part in that. The electorate clearly are not content with what they are getting. We must respond to that. All three major parties in the House of Commons say that they favour at least some election. Surely now is the time to send a clear signal and to vote for more than one of the democratic options tonight to secure some fundamental change to our constitutional arrangements.
If we vote tonight for a second Chamber that is either 80 or 100 per cent. elected, we will be taking a long stride towards completing our democracy—a process that we have stuttered towards for hundreds of years. Heretofore, the people of this country have been denied any say in who sits and governs in half of our Parliament. That is completely against the spirit of what we have been trying to achieve democratically. We have had half a democracy and half a democratically elected Parliament. We have the chance tonight to end that and I hope that we do so.
As other hon. Members, especially my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Frank Dobson), have said, this is only part of a much wider democratic debate that we should be having. It is thus a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie), with whom I find myself in permanent agreement on constitutional and political matters, on which he has always written and spoken good sense. The changes that we are considering do not represent all the political and democratic reform that this country needs, but they will form a significant part of it.
Yesterday’s debate focused on the composition of the second Chamber. Can we start calling it a second Chamber, by the way, and not the House of Lords? The White Paper says that we must get rid of the peerages, and we are considering the second Chamber of our Parliament. Given that the debate focused on composition, it inevitably gave rise to a consideration of primacy, or, more properly, the crucial question of whether reform would inhibit the power of the Government to govern. I make it clear that I will be voting for a composition of 100 per cent. or 80 per cent. elected Members. I am always amazed when people who have been elected as Members of the House through the democratic process have scruples or doubts about the usefulness of that process. I hope and expect that, unlike in 2003, the House will decide on 80 per cent., at least.
When the time comes, I hope that we will be decisive on other aspects of the White Paper. It is regrettable that we are talking about only composition today because there are other important matters in the thoughtful and wide-ranging White Paper. Given that the White Paper is so thoughtful, however, I am amazed—and rather depressed—by the timidity of proposing a transitional period for the new democracy of about half a century. The very youngest Member of the House, and even the child of the youngest Member, will be long since gone by the time that we reach the democratic position that I hope that we all want. I hope that we will be more decisive on the transitional period.
I also hope that we will not go for a closed-list system because that would undermine everything. That system would be a complete disaster, as has been proved by our experience of the European elections. As other hon. Members have said, such a system gives power to the political parties, but not to the people of this country.
I hope—this is crucial to any consideration of remit and powers—that we will be considering a much smaller second Chamber. It is nonsense that the House of Lords has 740 Members, most of whom do not take part in debates. It does not need that many Members. I suspect that most of the work up there is done by between 200 and 250 people. A House of 200 people—a senate, as it were—could do its job very well. Although this might be uncomfortable for hon. Members, this Chamber is too big as well. We could well do our work with 400 people.
The remit of the second Chamber is crucial. If we can get it right, it will resolve all the questions of primacy and competitiveness between the Houses. That is the wrong way in which to look at the two Houses. We are one Parliament. The job of Parliament, irrespective of the House, is to hold the Executive to account, to monitor what they do and to try to pass good legislation. The Houses are working together, but it has long been an appalling characteristic of both Houses that we do not talk to each other—politically, if not socially—and see ourselves as being in competition. We must rid ourselves of that stupid and limited attitude. We are both aiming for the same thing: to improve the quality of government and to hold the Government to account.
This House has achieved primacy over the past 250 or 300 years by controlling Supply. Indeed, that has been the case for much longer than that. King John chose to go to Runnymede to sign up to a Magna Carta that he absolutely did not agree with a word of because he needed Supply. Of course, he reneged on everything that he had agreed within weeks, but Magna Carta is seen, historically, although totally erroneously, as the fundamental source of all our liberties.
Although the control of Supply is one element of what gives this House its great power, the other element is the fact that, for the past 200 or 250 years—since Mr. Walpole—we have been the location of the Executive, rather than the monarch. That, in a way, determines the remit of both Houses. The Commons is the House of the Executive—of the Prime Minister, the Ministers and the Cabinet—and the other Chamber has a natural remit, not as the House of the Executive, but as the House of scrutiny.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright) said in a typically excellent contribution, and as other Members have said, there are many types of scrutiny that we do not do well, and there are many areas where we could do more. They include post-legislative and pre-legislative scrutiny, and scrutiny of the arm’s length agencies and quangos that increasingly work on behalf of the Government, but that are not held accountable. Ministers duck questions and pass them on to those bodies. Much scrutiny that will, I suspect, never be carried out in this Chamber could be done in the second Chamber.
Things would work much better, and it would clarify the distinction between the two Houses, if the other House had no members of the Executive—no Ministers—at all. We do not need Ministers in the other House; this is the House of the Executive and Ministers. If the second Chamber were free from Government patronage and careerism, and its Members were really free, within the bounds of parliamentary and political philosophy, to be independent, rigorous scrutineers, it would hugely improve the clarity of the distinction between the two Houses, and it would allow us to work much more complementarily. I notice that the White Paper mentions that point in passing, in almost just a line, but surely we must come back to the issue. Let us get the Executive out of the second Chamber and free that Chamber to be a rigorous House of scrutiny.
I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras that today’s debate ought to be part of a much wider political debate on reform. Hon. Members on both sides of the House are, at the moment, in a critically weak parliamentary position. The imbalance between the Executive and the legislature has become critical, and any decision made today could play a small but significant part in improving that.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) said that the debate is otiose because nothing will happen, and asked what new incoming Prime Minister would want to get bogged down in the issue. I hope that he is wrong. It is incumbent on Members on both sides of the House to ensure that, either before or after the next election, any new Prime Minister is encouraged to see, indeed is shown, how important reform is, and how popular it could be. The Prime Minister who changes the balance between the Executive and the legislature and creates a fully democratic Parliament could go down as a great reforming Prime Minister. There is an opportunity to be taken.
We need a new settlement, a new covenant, a new Magna Carta that would clarify the democratic role of both Houses and the relationship between the Executive and the legislature. We will not have this opportunity very often; we are lucky. We may be unfortunate enough to be in a House that is decrepit, in terms of the provision of parliamentary scrutiny and the balance between the Executive and the legislature, but we are lucky to be here at a moment when we can influence it, perhaps in a way in which it has not been influenced since Wilkes. This evening will, perhaps, be a great moment. I hope that the House will have the courage to take that step, to rebalance our democracy, and to ensure that the voice of the people is heard in both Houses.
This has been a fascinating debate. It is now generally agreed by Members on both sides of the House that Parliament as a whole, and not just the House of Lords, must be reformed. I add that there should be a reduction of the overweening power of the Executive and the Whip system. That must be done on the great principles of democracy; independence of judgment; public interest; the self-government of the United Kingdom; the supremacy of our Westminster Parliament, based on the primacy of the House of Commons as the Chamber of government; legislation derived from opinions, judgment and democratic principles within the framework of the rule of law; and, above all else, the will of the electorate through general elections.
The arguments presented by those who are against a democratically elected House of Lords have, I fear, a resonance in the reactionary arguments that were heard in the run-up to the Reform Act 1832, the reform of the House of Commons, against the repeal of our corn laws, and again in 1867, 1874, the late 19th century, 1911 and 1926, when it was thought by some inconceivable that women should have the vote.
We must complete the democratic process after 100 years of debate. Even in the 18th century, the economic reform movement paved the way to removing the rotten boroughs, which were based on purchase by patronage and appointment by the Crown. I recall Dunning’s famous motion of 1780 that the power of the Crown has increased, is increasing and ought to be diminished.
What is wrong, some ask, with an appointed House of Lords? After all, it is true that many of them have performed and continue to perform an assiduous and distinguished role in the political life of the nation. But surely, it is argued, it is in the public interest to have experts appointed to legislate in their specialised field. Unfortunately, the appointments system does not stand scrutiny. It is based on patronage and, at its worst, is corrupted by the whiff of scandal.
As to expertise, I read, for example, that one noble Lord tells us that he would not tend to vote in areas where he knew nothing about the issue in question. This is one of the so-called people’s peers. I think he knows little about parliamentary ways. Legislators have an obligation to learn to participate in the process as a whole. This particular peer regards himself as an expert in matters of the European Union, but is significantly out of kilter with public opinion on the subject.
On the more general question of appointment, as I said yesterday in an intervention, in 2005-06—this is telling—170 life peers who are not Law Lords voted in less than 10 per cent. of the Divisions, and 76 of them did not take part in any Division whatsoever. That is a disgrace. They are part of the legislative process. Why are they there at all? Furthermore, from figures that I have from the Library in relation to claims for the daily allowance, the median rate of attendance based on allowance claims was 67 per cent., whereas the median participation in Divisions was half of that—a mere 36 per cent. That cannot be right.
The House of Lords is often described as a revising Chamber. That generalisation deserves proper study. In the past few years, few Bills have been rejected by the House of Lords and subjected to the Parliament Act. In respect of amendments to Bills, most amendments are made by the Government. The problem comes from the disgraceful number of Bills guillotined in this House, which must be stopped. This is not a reason in itself to glorify the House of Lords as a revising Chamber. Indeed, many amendments that are returned to the House of Commons are a product of the votes of Cross-Benchers with Liberal Democrats, with their zeal for certain types of legislation, including human rights legislation and some of the most permissive legislation that has gone through recently.
Direct elections would make the House of Lords more responsive to public opinion in respect of matters relating to both the European Union and human rights. It is noticeable that the Committees in the House of Lords are dominated by acknowledged Euro-enthusiasts. I have no objection to their views. I would defend their right to express them, but I would ask that they take a rational view of the basis on which the arguments are presented. Most are contrary to public opinion.
There is an even deeper question here. Through the European Communities Act 1972 the House of Lords and even the Law Lords are overarched in the legislative process and as a supreme court by the European treaties. The Leader of the House knows that I am right. Therefore, the House of Lords is, like the House of Commons, very much within the influence of the European Union, which is itself undemocratic and unaccountable.
I object to the proposed open-list system—we will have to sort that out when the Bill comes before the House of Commons at a later stage—and I am extremely concerned that we are not being presented with a first-past-the-post system. I am profoundly against the patronage of the party list system, which, even if independents were allowed to stand, would in practice result in excessive control by the party leadership over the judgment of those who are elected. There is a strong case for a democratically elected House to be required to prohibit whipping in the upper Chamber in respect of legislative matters after Second Reading. If that were done by Standing Orders, it would buttress people’s ability to make decisions based on their own judgment, not driven by the party Whips system.
As for 15 years’ tenure, I cannot understand why it should not be a mere five years. That would enable a more natural transition from the existing House and allow those of good standing to remain for the time being.
On possible conflicts between the Houses, I have argued for more than a decade that it is easy to avoid that by having different electoral cycles and different constituencies, and a hybrid House of 80:20 or 60:40. However, if Lords elections and boundaries were coterminous with European elections and boundaries, I fear that that would lead to the former being dominated by European issues, which would be absurd. As my amendment shows, I would have preferred that the Chamber’s functions be determined before its composition, but we are where we are. There must be drawn up in the Bill a schedule of important but restricted functions for a democratically elected House of Lords, with primacy clearly founded in statute to ensure that the House of Commons is the democratically elected Chamber of Government, with financial matters clearly reserved to it. I am afraid that I do not agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) that people are not concerned about primacy; I believe that they are. Because primacy and functions are inseparable, we must not merely rely on the conventions, but insist on statute to bring into effect a directly elected Chamber, in order to ensure that this House remains the Chamber of Government and determines questions of taxation and public expenditure.
I have argued for more than a decade for a directly elected House of Lords, and it is time for us to make certain that that takes place.
I start in a spirit of repentance, as foreshadowed by the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow). In the 1999 debate on this subject, I strongly supported and spoke in favour of the unicameral option. In the 2003 debate, I strongly supported and spoke in favour of a substantially elected second Chamber—“substantially” then being the mot juste. Tonight, I will support the status quo. It will be immediately obvious that I have had a double apostasy, which has been a remarkably painless process. All those who undergo life-changing operations want to speak about it, so that is what I want to do.
Let me offer a mea culpa and explain why I have arrived at this position having traversed the whole breadth of the options that are available to us. When I strongly supported a unicameral Chamber, it was for the simple reason that I believed that the House of Commons should take responsibility for its own actions and its own votes. I was reinforced in that by the fact that immediately beforehand I had been trying to persuade some of my hon. Friends to vote against the Government. Unlike my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman), I cannot boast of 37 years of never voting against the party Whip—nor 10 years, for that matter, nor even six months. On that occasion, I was hoping to persuade many of my colleagues to vote against the first Criminal Justice (Mode of Trial) Bill, which my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House may remember very well. A surprisingly large number of them told me that they were entirely in agreement with my view and were entirely against the Government’s attack on this aspect of civil liberty, but that they would none the less vote with the Government because they knew full well that in due course the House of Lords would do its duty, which it did.
It seemed to me that that in itself was an abnegation of the responsibilities of this House. It also seemed to me at the time that a unicameralist position would do much to reverse that. I have observed what subsequently happened and what has happened to other Bills that have passed into the House of Lords. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) for pointing out that on 400 occasions the House of Lords has reversed serious parts of Government legislation, the majority of which have affected civil liberties in one way or another. On most occasions, the other place sought to affect the civil liberties aspects of Bills that the Government had passed. It is worth reflecting that this Government have passed more Bills affecting civil liberties than were passed in the whole of the 19th and the first part of the 20th century. Such Bills can be passed in this House by a majority of one vote. Bills on constitutional matters can be passed without a two-thirds majority.
As I grew up, I suppose, it seemed to me that the essence of the House of Lords was indeed to object to that type of attack on constitutional issues, so I changed my mind and voted for a largely or substantially elected upper House. The reason I did so was on account of the belief that I have always had that the true curse of the British political system is patronage—patronage in whatever aegis or whatever system it comes. I am talking about patronage in appointments to ministerial office and patronage in appointments to the House of Lords. Because I believed that so strongly, I voted for a wholly or substantially elected second Chamber.
That patronage, however, has been immeasurably increased in the short time that I have been here by the growth of the professional politician. There is nothing wrong with the professional politician. It is an honourable vocation: despite the predations of the fourth estate, we have an honourable vocation. However, it is unanswerable that those who come into politics as their only profession—wishing, of course, to succeed in their only profession—are vulnerable to the powers of patronage to a far greater extent than others. As a result of the catalyst of those two things, patronage has increased immeasurably.
For that reason, I find myself—paradoxically and perversely, in many ways—changing again. I am always encouraged by the expression on the face of the hon. Member for Buckingham when I get into this kind of strife. I changed again for a reason that can be seen in the White Paper, particularly in relation to the form of election in the second Chamber. The postulation of that election is that it should be by closed or semi-closed or open list—
I would like to say to my hon. and learned Friend, as I made clear in my opening speech, that the proposal in the White Paper is only a proposal at the moment. All that we are voting on tonight are the words on the Order Paper and I have already given an undertaking that, if we get to a point where we have agreed to have an elected element, I will then sit down with other parties to discuss how the election process should take place.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend and of course I accept that. I acknowledge that this is simply a paper and that it will require endorsement as legislation later. Of course that is the case, but at the moment, it is the Government’s proposal and I will not align myself with bringing into effect a wholly or partly elected House, while it is still a possibility. If we had held a vote in the House and had, before now, set our faces against a closed or partly closed list system for electing Members of the House of Lords, my position would be different. However, a closed list is effectively a biometric passport for the professional politician into the House of Lords for 15 years.
I asked myself if, in the past 15 years, professional politicians, especially from the Labour and Conservative parties, had been elected to the second Chamber on a list system, the House of Lords would have set its face against the Criminal Justice (Mode of Trial) Bill and the Criminal Justice (Mode of Trial) (No. 2) Bill, and whether it would have opposed the removal of the right to elect for trial by jury. My view is that it would not have done so. For that reason, at this stage, I will support the status quo.
I am somewhat alarmed by arriving at a position that the Prime Minister supported in previous votes. However, I take comfort from the fact that, while I have been travelling in one direction, he has been travelling in the other. I am grateful to have been called to speak.
It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews). He is good value. I do not agree with him on this occasion but it is interesting that he has been to Damascus. However, I have not.
We are tackling the problem backwards. We have heard much in the past few days about the primacy of this House, but the problem is the overweening power of the Executive. Fifty Home Office Bills have been introduced since 1997 and we have experienced the nonsense of clauses in some measures being overtaken by succeeding Bills. As the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright) said, we have quangos. We also have European legislation. I served on the European Scrutiny Committee and, one day, we met at 4 o’clock and adjourned two minutes later, having passed 78 documents. This House is not restraining the Executive or scrutinising legislation effectively and my constituents continually complain about over-regulation.
We should establish the function of the House of Lords first, but that is not the point of the debate. I would welcome a stronger House of Lords that made life more difficult for the Executive and galvanised the House of Commons into doing its job better.
The experience of the United States Senate does not bear out the alarm of those who fear an elected House of Lords. It was originally appointed by various mechanisms. An age threshold of 30 was set and the Senate was excluded from issues of Supply—raising and spending money. It was intended to be the junior House, with the House of Representatives being the proportionate House. Now that the Senate is elected, it has inevitably increased its power. It is inevitable that any elected element will give a new House authority. However, mechanisms have been devised, such as the Conference Committee, to resolve deadlock. I do not fear deadlock. We have too much law and some parliamentary setbacks might have a beneficial effect on an overbearing Executive. I would welcome some tension.
The US Senate’s most brilliant innovation was to allocate two Senators per state, regardless of population. That was originally intended to ensure that the thinly populated rural states were not overwhelmed in the legislature by the populous states that were dominated by the commercial interest. That was a clever rationalisation of the geographical distribution that the hereditary peerage provided in Great Britain.
I have asked the Prime Minister a series of parliamentary questions, the answer to which shows a spectacular disfranchisement of the United Kingdom outside London and the south-east. I asked the Prime Minister on 14 September 2004, 24 March 2005 and 6 March 2007—I thank his office for replying this morning—
“what the place of residence, at the time of their elevation, was of each peer created since 1 May 1997”.
Four hundred and one peers have been created. In percentage terms, the north-west got 5 per cent.; the north-east got 2 per cent.; Yorkshire and Humberside got 5 per cent.; the east midlands got less than 1 per cent.; the east of England got 7 per cent.; the west midlands got 4 per cent.; the south-east got 11 per cent.; the south-west got 5 per cent.; London got an incredible 44 per cent.; Scotland got 7 per cent.; Wales got 3 per cent.; Northern Ireland got 3 per cent., and “judicial”, which means no home address, accounts for 3 per cent., too. Fifty-five per cent. of the new peers in our second Chamber therefore come from London and the south-east. That is unacceptable and it is essential for the new Lords to reflect more fairly the regions outside London and the south-east.
I regard the Government’s hybrid as deplorable: it will entrench the power of London and the south-east. The proposed list system is repellent: it will give power to those who place candidates on the party list and exclude the voters from making real decisions. The regions are also far too large. I would advocate a smaller number of peers being elected in fixed numbers—say, two or three per county or city, regardless of population. I would support a second Chamber elected with maximum terms and rolling election every five years. I would also exclude Ministers from the second Chamber.
We have an over-mighty Executive; I shall vote for 80 per cent. and 100 per cent. as a small step to start reining it in.
May I say through you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I am grateful to Mr. Speaker for allowing me to be absent for the earlier part of the debate. I shall be accordingly brief.
I have looked carefully at the voting options tonight. As I did so, the spirit of Khrushchev entered me, as I resolved to vote “Nyet” to them, one by one, until we come to the welcome last option, which allows me to vote yes to the removal of the hereditary principle, which is long overdue.
I have no objection in principle to a second Chamber. I do have an objection in principle to a second Chamber that is not wholly elected. It seems to me inexcusable that part of the legislature in the 21st century could be appointed by whomsoever. The idea that those appointments could include representatives of one or a pot-pourri of religions seems positively mediaeval.
I have no objection to an advisory body on legislation, which might be more persuasive if stocked with people of experience and ability—without the baggage of challenging the primacy of the Commons—relying solely on the power of argument. I cannot vote for a 100 per cent. elected Chamber because of the issue of primacy, notwithstanding all that has been said in the debate hitherto.
Successful second chambers, such as the United States Senate, are elected on a wholly different basis from that of the first chamber. That option, often a federal option, has been specifically rejected in this country, most recently in the north-east referendum.
That only makes my point more strongly, with regard to the be-all and end-all of the legislative system.
However we elect the second Chamber in this country, we are likely to end up with a Chamber elected by broadly the same people, under the same electoral system, but at a different time. It seems to me that that is a recipe for stasis and gridlock. The attempts at variation in the consultation papers are artificial. A 15-year term and a single term for Members of a second Chamber are uneasy compromises between an appointed and an elected role. They are compromises, which any form of hybrid House must involve, that simply do not work.
The major objection to a unicameral Parliament, which I support, is that of the tyranny of the single Chamber. That seems to suggest that a second Chamber is not a revising chamber, but a delaying chamber, to prevent legislation taking effect that may be intemperate, unwise or ill-thought-out. Again, the issue comes back to ourselves and our trust in this Chamber. I agree with the comment of my right hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth) in yesterday’s debate about the light that that shines on necessary reforms of the Commons: in scrutiny, whipping and the role of Government within the Chamber. If, as some Members have said, those issues are simply too large to be tackled, that does a disservice to the House. The abolition of a second Chamber would force us to address those issues. That is why I will be voting for abolition rather for than any of the alternatives that are on show today.
Let me encourage the abolitionists among us by saying that we are not going into the dark. There is a precedent in this country for a unicameral Parliament. On 6 February 1649, the House of Lords was abolished by this House as “useless and dangerous” to the people of England. I would not go so far as to use those words now, but I will say that for 11 years thereafter—until the Restoration—despite attempts to revive a second Chamber, this House stood up to the Lord Protector and to military force as it had previously stood up to an absolute monarchy.—[Hon. Members: “No, it did not!”] The attempts were unsuccessful, but at least they were made.
Perhaps my right hon. Friend did not hear what I said. I said that the Commons Chamber was a force that attempted, unsuccessfully in some cases, to stand up for itself. I spoke with my tongue a little in my cheek, but I nevertheless believe that we should have the courage of our predecessors of 350 years ago in supporting that good old cause, the true democracy of a single-Chamber Parliament elected by the Commons of the United Kingdom.
My starting point is my belief that what is most important is the relationship between the Executive and Parliament, rather than the relationship between this House and the other place. I believe that the Executive is too powerful, not just in terms of the Government’s ability to pass legislation but in terms of the accountability of Ministers, and the extent to which we are being supplanted by the 24-hour news media when this House is the place where announcements should be made first. As I have explored some of the options at length during Westminster Hall debates I shall not do so again now, but that is my central point.
What we should be discussing is not merely the reform of the upper House, but the reform of Parliament. Our experience over the past 10 years of other constitutional reforms—Welsh and Scottish devolution, the botched abolition of the Lord Chancellor, and the way in which the Human Rights Act 1998 was introduced—suggests that it behoves us to think the issue through carefully, rather than rushing in and then being confronted by a raft of unforeseen consequences.
Our key task is to consider the role that we want Parliament to have against the Executive, and how much power we want the Executive to have. We should also think carefully about the relative roles of the two Houses. As other Members have said, the House of Commons has a key supply role in providing Ministers, while the upper House’s role will involve scrutiny, revising, and advising this House. Once we have established the respective roles of the Executive and Parliament and the roles of the two Chambers, decisions about composition will become more straightforward.
That is the first debate that we should have, and the arguments in which we have engaged about the different types of election that we favour should flow from it. As was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson), the United States Senate considered a system involving the representation of geographical regions. Depending on the function that we want the upper House to have, similar choices should present themselves in a relatively obvious manner.
It is interesting to consider the position in other democracies around the world, several of which have been prayed in aid. The White Paper studied other legislatures, going around the world in just five paragraphs. I did not think that it did the subject justice: examples seemed to have been chosen to illustrate specific points, rather than to provide a solid base of evidence for this debate. Also, if we have not done that proper analysis of function it is difficult to see how we can properly judge the composition. That is not to say that I am against election. Many Members have made the sensible point that in a modern democracy those who make the laws should be elected. However, we cannot make judgments on the system of election until we have decided on the role that we want the legislature to undertake; discussion on that should take place first.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) and the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso) claimed that if the argument that I have enunciated is adopted nothing will happen and we will have no progress, and they also claimed that by changing the form and composition of the upper House we will in some way start a process that will force Members of this House to take our responsibilities to hold the Government to account more seriously. If I were convinced that that would happen, I might well support motions this evening for some form of election in the upper House, but I do not find that argument convincing. I think that the opposite will happen: I think that if this House decides to reform the other place, that is where the reform will stop. That process will convince many Members that they have had quite enough of constitutional change, and it will provide them with an excuse to do nothing about the processes and procedures of this House. I fear that that would be the case. I have thought carefully about this matter, and I have listened over the past two days to the arguments of colleagues who hold a different opinion from mine. I challenged myself to find out whether I would come to a different conclusion, but I do not find their arguments entirely convincing.
The Leader of House has gone on at length about the conventions of the relationship between this House and the other place. I believe that those conventions are sound, given the arrangements that we have. The Leader of the House has acknowledged that a change to a more democratic upper House would lead to those conventions being challenged. He says that the Government’s position is that those conventions should remain, but I do not think that they would remain. A democratic upper House would challenge those conventions, and because we would not have had a debate about the proper role of the two Houses and the relationship between Parliament and the Executive, we would not be in a good position to make decisions on that.
On the method of election, I agree with Members who said that a closed list system or a partially open list system would be entirely undesirable. That would entrench the power of the parties. Let me close by reading out a quote. It amuses me to quote the Professor of Government at Oxford university, Vernon Bogdanor, as he taught politics to me and to my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron). He says:
“For most people in England…the regions are ghosts, administrative constructs rather than constituencies…Perhaps it is because regions have so little relevance that turnout for European elections is so low—only 24 per cent. in 1999”
and just 8 per cent. in some parts of the country. If this House ends up deciding that we need to have an elected upper House, we must make sure that the way we do that—the role we decide for the upper House, the balance between the Executive and Parliament, and the electoral system and the regions we choose—engages the public, rather than turns them off.
I intend to vote for the status quo, not because I am particularly happy with it but because I want there to be a challenge to this House to take its responsibilities seriously in challenging the Executive. If we do not undertake any reform of the upper House, that will force us in the not too distant future to challenge ourselves and to reform not only the other place, but this place also.
I want to speak briefly in favour of a democratic upper House, and in doing so I find myself—for the first time in my life, I think—agreeing almost entirely with speeches from Conservative and Liberal Democrat Front Benchers. Until the contribution from my hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon (Mr. Wills), I was, I think, almost entirely isolated on the Labour Benches—I thought that this was the progressive side of the House—in arguing the democratic option. [Interruption.] I apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mark Fisher)—I was absent for his contribution. [Interruption.] I am sure that it was very good.
It is difficult to add anything new, but I want to pick up on the two very important points that the Leader of the House made in his opening statement yesterday. First, he said that there are many different models for second Chambers in different parts of the world, and the evidence is that different models can work in different countries, so there is no uniform, generally agreed form of a successful and efficient second Chamber. It is a matter for each individual nation to decide what kind of upper House reflects its character and purpose. As a nation that prides itself on being the mother of democracy, and which asserts fairly aggressively through its foreign policy the importance of other nations adopting democratic procedures, it would be entirely inconsistent if we did not ourselves support a wholly democratic Parliament—in both its Houses.
Secondly, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said that there is now no public support for the hereditary principle—that the public mood has moved on, which was an argument for his changing his mind and supporting having a greater proportion of the elected element. Just as during the last 10 years those who argued in defence of the hereditary principle have had to change their views completely, so those who argue for the principle of political patronage will in the not too distant future seem equally outdated. What worries me about the concept of a hybrid House is not that it would necessarily be unworkable and inefficient and could not hold the Government to account or carry out its revising functions; rather, it is that the argument for putting in people on the basis of political patronage to act as tools of the Executive in order to undermine the democratic principle seems completely in conflict with the basic principles of our democracy.
I understand the case for having hugely distinguished people in the upper House who have vast experience, and many such individuals have made a major contribution over the years. Indeed, if the argument is good for having such individuals in the upper House, there might be a similar argument for having them in the lower House, but that is not an area that we wish to enter at the moment. It seems odd, however, that we should assume that the only way in which this Parliament can gain the benefit of advice from such experienced and distinguished people is by offering them places in the legislature. In my experience, such people have no problem in making their influence felt from outside the legislature. It is obvious that those of us who are elected need the advice of people whose knowledge on particular subjects is far greater than ours, and whose judgment will obviously be finer than ours. However, merely because they do not have places within the legislature does not mean that we cannot benefit from their knowledge and experience through a whole range of advisory and consultative mechanisms.
At this point another issue must be raised; it may be the one thing that has not coloured sufficient of our debate this afternoon. That is the whole issue of legitimacy. Although we have mentioned legitimacy through election, I am not sure that in the debate, either today or yesterday, we have fully got to grips with the wider issue of the role and perception of Parliament in the country as a whole.
In my view there is almost a collective sense of denial that we have a crisis in our democracy. Without overstating the case, I believe that we do have a crisis. It is not just a question of declining turnouts at general elections or local government elections, or derisory turnouts in European parliamentary elections; it shows itself in the general issues relating to social exclusion, in the disaffection of young people, and in the increasing sense of the irrelevance of Parliament, democracy and voting among many of our young people. We cannot leave those issues out of the discussion.
I do not argue that simply introducing a strong elected, and preferably a wholly or predominantly elected, element into the upper House would solve that problem, but I do argue that it would make a contribution to solving that problem.
Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the primary causes of disaffection out there with the body politic is the power that the public perceive to be exercised by political parties? It is a very strong perception, which comes back to haunt us. Does he therefore agree that if we agree to a form of election, in due course, on a list system of the majority of the House of Lords, we would be doing an enormous disservice to the body politic and to this House?
I do not accept completely the argument that a list system on a regional basis of the kind that is proposed is so fundamentally different from the kind of list system on which all hon. Members were elected. The only difference is that we were elected on a list of one. We were selected by party apparatchiks of a particular kind. It might be a different kind from those who would determine the membership of a regional list, which is precisely why I support the use of open regional lists, to encourage greater diversity in the candidates who put themselves forward.
To return to the point about the wider crisis of perception, particularly among younger people, of the role of Parliament and the value of our democracy, we have to ask ourselves the question, if we were to move forward on a hybrid House—a House in which the outcome was almost rigged in advance because the decision had been taken to ensure that no party could have an overall majority, and however people voted for the 50 per cent. of elected places, the effect would be undermined completely by the 50 per cent. of appointed places—will that increase or decrease the level of interest in our democracy? What possible incentive is there for anyone to vote when the chances of influencing the final outcome are so minimal?
I shall bring my speech to a close. I simply repeat that, for a Parliament that prides itself on being the mother of all Parliaments, a Parliament that has exported its democratic potentials, by fair means and some foul means, to the far corners of the earth, not to support a wholly or predominantly elected second Chamber seems to me a great contradiction. It seems that we are reluctant to rock the boat too much.
I am concerned that those who are opposing a greater elected element in the upper House do so because they feel that it would undermine the primacy—the legitimacy—of this House. I take exactly the opposite view, as did the hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr. Harper) in his speech. That point was also made, very tellingly, by my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright), who quoted the report by the constitution unit at University college London, which spoke of the importance of intercameral partnership.
It is completely misguided to assume that the key issue is the relationship between the Commons and the Lords, and that it is a relationship in which one Chamber necessarily loses out if the other is given greater legitimacy. We have to look at both the Commons and the Lords as part of a partnership, and the key relationship is not between the two Houses but between Parliament and Government—the legislature and the Executive.
I do not fear the increasing challenge that may come from the Lords. I do not fear the increasing electoral competitiveness that, without question, would result from the changes that I am proposing, because I think that it will have, in the long run, a wholly beneficial impact on the capacity of this House to conduct its scrutiny functions and to hold the Government to account. We should be arguing for more democratic challenge, not less; more pluralism and diversity in our political system, not less; more regionalism and less centralism; and more modernism and less feudalism.
I hope that as part of the reform package we will concentrate not only on the composition and functions of the Lords, but on many of the archaic, mediaeval and feudal procedures that serve as some of the biggest turn-offs not only for young people, but for citizens of all ages, in their perception of Parliament. We need a modern Parliament. It needs to have modern procedures and it needs to be democratic.
This has been a fascinating debate and it is clear from contributions from Members on both sides of the House that there is overwhelming support, with a few exceptions, for the continuance of a bicameral Parliament. The issue that falls to be considered by the House today, however, is not the function of the second Chamber, but its composition and the means of arriving at that composition. That is the wrong approach.
If the proposal is that the second Chamber of this Parliament is to be elected, whether wholly or in part, its functions should first be defined. Other hon. Members have commented, and I agree with them, that if the Lords are to derive membership of their House from election, constitutional tensions will inevitably arise in the absence of clearly defined functions. Even if the functions are defined, experience suggests that elected bodies have a tendency to seek to acquire increasingly greater powers for themselves. A case in point is the Welsh Assembly. Less than eight years after its inception, the clamour for additional powers was such that Parliament passed a second Government of Wales Act in 2006.
The principal problem is the use of the word “legitimacy”. The White Paper presupposes, and Members appear to accept the proposition, that legitimacy derives from democratic election, and that is understandable, given that the legitimacy of this House derives from a popular mandate. It is wrong, however, to take it for granted that the legitimacy of all elements of our constitutional arrangements derive from election. Indeed, many important elements do not, the most obvious example being the judiciary. Nobody elects a High Court judge or a Law Lord, but they are enormously important elements of our constitution. They make hugely important decisions in terms of public policy and are themselves lawmakers through the process of precedent. The importance of the other place to our legislative system is unquestioned, but whether the Members of that House should also be elected is dubious.
The process of election proposed by the White Paper is also fraught with difficulty. It is proposed that Members of the House of Lords should be elected on a rolling basis, at five-yearly intervals for 15-year terms. It is said that that will legitimise the Chamber, but if legitimacy is equated with accountability it will do nothing of the sort. If a Member of the House of Lords is elected for a 15-year term with no prospect of re-election, it cannot be said that he or she is in any sense accountable. Once that Member is in, he is in. He cannot be removed unless he does something truly dreadful. He will, however, be at liberty, if he so wishes, to break whatever manifesto commitments he has made and embark upon a wholly erratic course with impunity. That Member will not have hanging over his head the sword of Damocles that hangs over the head of every Member of this House, which is the prospect of seeking re-election in four or five years’ time.
I also have enormous reservations about the validity of the list system as a means of electing a Member of the Lords. If a Member of the Lords is to be elected for a 15-year term, it means that, potentially and as my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) pointed out, the next member of the list can be called to do service many years after the election, in the event of the death or resignation of the sitting Member. During that time, the replacement may have lost those attributes that rendered him a suitable candidate for elected office in the first place. Nevertheless, that individual, unless he has blotted his copybook very severely in the meantime, will automatically become a Member of the House of Lords. Indeed, I am a living example of that phenomenon. The way the list process operates meant that I was called to be a Member of the Welsh Assembly almost three and a half years after the election in which I stood. I can tell the House that being telephoned out of the blue one afternoon and asked, “Are you joining us tomorrow morning?”, is not a happy experience.
Members of the second Chamber need to bring to their task calibre, wisdom and, in some cases, specialist expertise. We do not need another cadre of elected politicians, because they would often be people whose hearts are probably really in being Members of this House.
We have had an excellent debate, and it is clear that hon. Members have a range of passionately held views. Tributes to the work done in the other place have come from all sides. For example, the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright), who argued passionately for a democratically elected second Chamber, paid his tribute, as did hon. Members, such as the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews), who want no change at all. They agreed that the Lords does good work and performs an important and well known function. Speaking from the Opposition Front Bench, I should like to echo those sentiments.
For some years, the Conservative party has supported the building of a consensus in favour of a substantially elected second Chamber. That is the view of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, and of his recent predecessors—my right hon. Friends the Members for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) and for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith), and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard).
Of course, I fully accept that that view is not shared by every Conservative. As he made clear only a moment ago, it is not the view of my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack), who referred yesterday to a little electoral difficulty of his own. I do not agree with him in this debate, but I should like to wish him well in that struggle. It is not the view of Lord Norton either, but people in this place who have studied and discussed constitutional matters in this place—and I am thinking of people like my hon. Friends the Members for Stone (Mr. Cash) and for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd)—have made common cause in this debate with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke).
Again, my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) have made common cause with my hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson). A substantially elected second Chamber was favoured by the late Eric Forth, and it is supported by me and by my right hon. Friends the Members for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) and for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin).
In the debate held on 4 February 2003, Eric Forth said that
“we require a legitimate and effective upper Chamber to do what Parliament is expected to do. What puzzles and frustrates me is that so many Members in this House seem to be afraid of that idea. The sad truth is that the main challenge to the House of Commons is from the Government.”—[Official Report, 4 February 2003; Vol. 399, c. 163.]
That point has been made time and again in this debate. It is vitally important that we reform not only the second Chamber but this one as well. I know that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe intends to bring out proposals to that effect, and my hon. Friends the Members for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) and for Stone spoke about that possibility in the debate. Yesterday, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham rightly said that we must tackle the problem of the elected dictatorship, about which his father famously spoke so many years ago.
As my hon. Friend knows, I take the view that we should be strengthening the Committees of the House of Commons. A good start has already been made recently, as he said earlier, but there is much more we could do. Our Committees could investigate breaches of the ministerial code, for example, which would certainly improve the way in which the House operates.
It is not tinkering, and there is much more that I could say to my hon. Friend about those proposals if they were the subject of the debate.
It is important to bear in mind the fact that part of the Conservative tradition is to try to make the second Chamber effective, so that it is capable of effectively revising our legislation, and with the introduction of life peerages and the work on disclaimers, the Conservative party has always been determined to ensure that effectiveness. Winston Churchill was in favour of an elected second Chamber as long ago as 1924, so it is time we attended to it. The views of Winston Churchill at various times of his life have been quoted during the debate—[Interruption.] They did change, but I am confident that for most of the century he was on my side of the argument in this case.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) said, it is important to bear it in mind that today we are debating the composition of the second Chamber, and not the White Paper. I agree with some of the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, West (Mr. Jones) a moment ago, when he criticised the list system. Several Members have criticised that system—the hon. Members for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Clelland), for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) and for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mark Fisher), the hon. and learned Member for Medway and almost everybody who spoke from the Conservative Benches. I do not agree with the list system and I certainly would not want it to be thought that we were endorsing the White Paper tonight. We are not. I do not agree with 50:50, which is in the White Paper; nor do I agree on a number of things, such as the way the Appointments Commission works, the idea that we would end up with a House of Lords of 800 Members, cost issues and so on. However, we are not talking about that tonight; we are talking about the composition of the second Chamber—whether we want it to be a Chamber that is about democracy, with enhanced legitimacy, or whether we want to support the status quo.
An issue raised by several Members, including the hon. Members for Sunderland, South, and for Tyne Bridge and my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield was whether it was right for Members of the second Chamber to be elected to serve only one term. We cannot have it both ways. We cannot say on the one hand, “I don’t want somebody called Lord Sunderland poking his nose into my constituency”, while on the other saying, “Oh, but those people will not be accountable because they won’t have to fight an election”. The reason why they should serve only one term is so that they do not poke their noses into constituency work or try to do the work of the Commons. The one-term proposal is a protection, to stop that happening.
How on earth could one guarantee that a man or woman elected for 15 years would not poke his or her nose into things? They would have total freedom to do whatever they liked—for example, to embarrass the sitting Member, especially if he were of a different party. What my hon. Friend says is nonsense.