House of Commons
Wednesday 7 March 2007
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Duchy of Lancaster
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster was asked—
Personalisation is crucial to the effectiveness of public services and tackling social exclusion. We have taken significant steps forward, for example, through direct payments for disabled people and those requiring social services. Personalisation also requires good information and advice to support individuals in deciding what is appropriate to meet their needs, and the Government are taking steps to ensure that that is available.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that response. What involvement and assistance are the Government giving to the voluntary community sector to enable it to work with the public services in the state sector to support the most hard to reach individuals?
My hon. Friend is right that we have to work closely with the voluntary community sector, especially to reach people who have, for whatever reason, become excluded from many aspects of our life. We are working closely with the third sector to ensure that it is able to provide services and act in different ways. One of the results emerging from the third sector action plan, which we published last November, is that we will train 2,000 commissioners in the public sector to work effectively with the third sector to provide services in a very personalised way. When people have a real problem, they need someone who will be able to engage with them, and that is often someone in their local community or voluntary organisation.
I am sure that the right hon. Lady’s sentiments are impeccable, but I wish that I could say the same for her language. Can we start putting these things into language that the ordinary people of this country can understand?
I am really not sure to which bit of my language the hon. Gentleman objects. The voluntary and community sector knows what we are talking about and it wants to be involved in designing and delivering services. That is what commissioning means and the sector understands it well. It wants to work with us to ensure that it can play its part in providing real opportunities for the socially excluded.
It is possible that the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) was referring to the word “personalisation”. Will my right hon. Friend take great care to ensure that when we speak of personalisation we do not really mean depersonalisation? I remind her that in the tax credits system we have had to bring back case workers—real people—because relying on computers did not provide a satisfactory service for tax credit claimants. Let us ensure that personalisation means that people have the ability to contact real people about their problems in the round.
I understand absolutely what my hon. Friend means. Personalisation does mean that an individual who has a particular challenge—be they a child in care, someone with a disability or an elderly person—is able to have contact with someone who will really address their individual needs. I ask my hon. Friend to look at what is being done by the Department for Education and Skills in relation to schools, where individual tuition will be given to those children who are not making the grade, as it were, in their reading. This whole agenda is aimed at ensuring that we address such problems in a very personal way.
Does the Minister agree that one of the biggest barriers to truly personalised back-to-work support services is the fact that the range of support available to claimants depends too much on which benefit they claim, and not enough on individual needs? In his recent review, David Freud discussed moving towards a single working age benefit. Does she agree that that would help to break down some of those barriers, and make it easier to ensure that the help that people get depends on their needs and not on the benefit that they claim?
That is how the pathways to work scheme operates. It looks much more closely at the individual needs of unemployed people, and addresses those needs accordingly. I was interested to hear that David Freud had returned to the idea of a single benefit. Many previous Governments have considered that possibility and found it very difficult to achieve. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is looking at that option but, regardless of whether we are able to introduce it, we must still achieve much more personalisation. That is especially true of the unemployed, as we must determine—and then overcome—the barriers that prevent a person from getting back to work.
The Minister will be aware of the groundbreaking report on free automated teller machines produced before Christmas and supported by industry, consumer groups and Parliament. In her discussions with local authorities, will she encourage them to try to attain the target of 600 free ATMs in low-income areas, as people who are excluded financially are excluded socially as well?
I thank my right hon. Friend for that question. The Department is part of a working group being set up by the Treasury, and I assure him that we will pursue the agenda that he and his Committee raised in that very useful report. I promise to keep in touch with him about our progress.
The Minister says that the voluntary sector has a vital role to play in tailoring public services to individual needs, but there is a problem. The Charity Commission has said that the terms offered by the state to voluntary sector providers undermine their financial stability and independence. Only 12 per cent. of charities are being paid the full costs of their services, and only a quarter of them felt able to make decisions without pressure from public sector funders. When will the Government properly trust the voluntary sector to do the job at a local level?
I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman has intervened, as I thought that the way that he voted last week in respect of a Bill designed to increase voluntary sector involvement signalled a change of direction on his part. Perhaps he was not happy at being asked to vote that way, and so is renewing his support for the voluntary sector this week. We have discussed the question of full cost recovery at length with the voluntary and community sectors, and the Charity Commission recognises that there has been significant improvement. The situation is getting better and, with the hon. Gentleman’s support, will continue to do so. However, he had an opportunity to support the voluntary sector last week, and did not take it.
In November 2006, the Government launched a social enterprise action plan to support the work of social enterprises and co-ops, both as ethical businesses in the private sector and as partners delivering public services. Key parts of the plan included a higher profile for social enterprise in the school curriculum, improved advice and finance for social enterprises starting up, and greater access to finance to support their work.
The ABLE partnership in my constituency is funded by the green business network, Wakefield primary care trust and the social care charity Turning Point. The partnership is transforming 100 acres of brownfield site donated by Yorkshire Water into a hazel coppice and a fish farm which, in three years’ time, will produce Wakefield’s first caviar. Will the Minister join me on a visit to the environmentally sustainable transformation achieved by that social partnership, which demonstrates how Wakefield is leading the way in social enterprise?
I look forward to joining my hon. Friend in tasting Wakefield caviar; I am sure that it will be a great experience. She is right about the great work that social enterprises do in reaching out to the most excluded people in our society. The key is that the state should continue to fund public services adequately, and not use social enterprises as an excuse to abdicate its responsibility in that regard. In addition, as my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office said, we support the work of social enterprises in deed as well as in word, and that is why it was so regrettable that the Opposition voted against the Offender Management Bill last week.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Much of the income for the third sector comes from local government. The key thing is culture change on the ground, so that commissioners understand the role that social enterprises can play. We see that in waste and recycling, for example, where we want councils not just to go for the conventional private sector option but to understand the contribution that third sector and social enterprise organisations can make. That is why, as my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office said, our programme for training 2,000 commissioners is so important, because that will achieve the culture change on the ground that we need.
Coming from Rochdale, I would much rather the Minister used the word “co-operative”. What is he doing to support credit unions? I commend to him the work of the Rochdale credit union, Streetcred, which in the light of the Farepak collapse has in the past few weeks launched a Christmas savings scheme. Does he think that there is a role for such groups in helping people to save?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about the role played by credit unions, which I, too, see in my constituency. The Treasury is conducting a review of the co-operative sector, which has been called for over a long period and will include the work of credit unions, to consider how the structure can be reformed to the advantage of co-ops and credit unions. Many of the most successful social enterprises are themselves co-ops, so our general work to support social enterprises will help co-ops, too.
In my constituency, a number of social enterprises are run by tenants of the Duchy of Lancaster. When will the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster embrace her other role as guardian of the tenants and of the land she holds on behalf of Her Majesty the Queen and visit those tenants and social enterprises, instead of skulking away in Downing street?
Regrettably, I am not in charge of my right hon. Friend’s diary, but I know that she has visited many tenant farmers and others, such as those to whom the hon. Gentleman referred. I am sure that she has heard his request and will give it the consideration that it deserves.
Deputy Prime Minister
The Deputy Prime Minister was asked—
The House will be aware that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister hosted an evening at No. 10 Downing street in January to launch the Government’s package to mark 200 years since Parliament passed legislation—brought in by the Member of Parliament for Hull, William Wilberforce—to outlaw the slave trade in the British empire.
The Government’s approach to the bicentenary has been to encourage and facilitate grass-roots organisations, faith groups, the voluntary sector and local authorities—particularly in the port cities of Liverpool, Bristol, London and Hull, whose histories are so closely linked with this important event—to commemorate the year in a manner appropriate to their own communities. A national service of commemoration will be held in Westminster abbey on 27 March, and the House authorities are arranging for an exhibition to take place in Westminster Hall, to be launched on 23 May.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. I am sure that he will join me in congratulating the regional Trades Union Congress for Yorkshire and the Humber, which is holding a conference on 23 March to mark the abolition of slavery. Our right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has signed the Council of Europe convention on action against trafficking in human beings, but does the Deputy Prime Minister agree that this opportunity is the best time for us to ratify the convention and give protection to the 4,000 women and children who have been trafficked into this country for sexual slavery?
I very much agree with my hon. Friend about the role of the Yorkshire conference organised by the TUC. It is most appropriate and reflects the fact that 200 years ago other people, such as workers in various Yorkshire towns and other parts of the UK, were campaigning to get rid of that terrible trade. It gives us the opportunity to remember in our commemorations many other people who played a part in getting rid of slavery—a terrible trade of human trafficking. I hope that not only will we sign the convention, as the Prime Minister said, but that we will discuss how it is to be implemented. The important part is ratification; indeed, this afternoon I am meeting the Home Secretary—my mate—to discuss that.
Will the right hon. Gentleman acknowledge that William Wilberforce—about whom I wrote a short life history and my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) is about to produce a magisterial work—was in fact the Member for Yorkshire, not Hull, at the time of the abolition? Does he agree that the most fitting parliamentary memorial would be to erect a statue to William Wilberforce within the parliamentary precincts?
I agree very much with what the hon. Gentleman is saying. There are a number of groups looking at various statues that could be erected to people who were involved in the campaign. I will be encouraging that. As for the writing of the article or booklet, by himself and indeed by the—I was going to say the Leader of the Opposition; I should be careful—the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), I will attend the launch of the book in Hull to commemorate that event. I am looking forward to that. I can assure him that I will not put in a bill of £16,000 to attend.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that young people often know how to celebrate most effectively and with an international perspective? Does he agree that the fact that a group in Hull known as Freedom Road has produced a three-track CD to mark Wilberforce, the proceeds of which will be used to bring a blind choir from Sierra Leone to Hull to sing with Freedom Road, truly marks this as an international celebration?
It is important that young people are involved in the commemoration. Indeed, we are organising a debate that could probably take place in the House—if the authorities agree—involving young people from various parts of the Commonwealth, who will discuss not only the commemoration of the abolition of slavery, but the whole issue of the human trafficking that is going on today. The activities of Hull in twinning with Freetown, and the schools that are involved—that is called class-to-class connection—form an important part of that. When I visited Sierra Leone only a few weeks ago, I saw the important role played by the British Council in encouraging schools and local authorities to come together. That would be a worthwhile legacy to come out of the commemorations this year.
May I express the strong support of the Opposition for the commemoration by local authorities, schools, trade unions and the Government, in the bipartisan spirit of the bicentenary of the abolition of the Atlantic slave trade? Does the Deputy Prime Minister agree that it is a time to remember the terrible crimes and unspeakable inhumanity of the Atlantic slave trade, but also to note that it was the early development in Britain of a free Parliament, a free press and a public conscience that allowed our country to lead the way among European nations in removing that scourge from the earth?
I could not agree more with what the right hon. Gentleman has said. On my recent visits to Ghana and Sierra Leone, I found it interesting to see those two independent Commonwealth countries commemorating, not only in Ghana the 50th anniversary of independence, but a piece of what could be said to be colonial legislation passed by this Parliament 200 years ago to abolish the slave trade. I very much agree with what he says and we shall do all that we can to see that the commemorations extend further than this country. I am glad that he also said that it was a wider level of support in the community that brought the abolition about, but Mr. Wilberforce was the man who was effective in bringing the legislation to the House.
Would not the best monument to the efforts of 200 years ago be a cross-party resolve to confront the traffickers involved in modern human trafficking, in its new and wicked form? We welcomed and called for the Government’s announcement that they will ratify the Council of Europe’s convention on trafficking in human beings. Will the Deputy Prime Minister say whether the Government have any plans to strengthen the protection of victims through safe houses and special helplines, as advocated by my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary? Will he establish with the Home Secretary a UK border police force, without which the war against traffickers cannot be won?
Again, I agree with an awful lot of what the right hon. Gentleman has said. I am having a meeting with the Home Secretary later this afternoon to look at exactly what we have to do to implement and ratify the Council of Europe’s convention. That is important. Some of the measures that the right hon. Gentleman has referred to are being actively considered by the Home Office and, as he knows, it is about to announce its action plan to meet some of the requirements. Hopefully, the House will then be able to debate the proposals involved. We have already made some proposals in regard to housing, which is indeed one of the recommendations of the Council of Europe’s convention.
All overseas and domestic travel will be accounted for in the usual way.
In the past six months, I have undertaken a number of overseas visits on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in addition to those already announced to the House. Among the most recent was a visit to Romania and Bulgaria in January, when I had meetings with the Prime Ministers and Presidents of both those countries following their accession to the European Union. We discussed key areas of co-operation, such as managed access to the labour market for different categories of workers in the European Union.
Last week, I met representatives of the World Health Organisation in Geneva to discuss the serious implications of climate change for public health. I had discussions with a number of UN agencies, including the International Labour Organisation, about people trafficking and the Government’s intention to sign the Council of Europe convention on action against trafficking in human beings.
The Deputy Prime Minister has been given a role in responding to climate change. He has given us a litany of the travel that he has undertaken in the past six months, yet he has not answered my question about the cost of that travel—it is a considerable cost to the public purse. Does he have any concerns about the environmental impact of such travel? While the Government have a carbon offsetting scheme, which is worthy in its own right, the cost of that is also borne by the British taxpayer.
The hon. Lady is making a point about the cost of travel, and she will get the figures for the year, which will be produced in the normal way. I have compared our travel costs with those of the previous Administration, as set out in a parliamentary reply. Between 1993 and 1996, the average Government expenditure on overseas travel was £6.6 million, while between 2003 and 2006—the last three years of this Government—the expenditure was more than £1 million a year less. We not only spend less, but we are more effective in international operations, especially on climate change.
Has the Deputy Prime Minister noticed that the list of ministerial responsibilities describes his own as:
“Oversight and co-ordination of Government policy across the full range of domestic … areas”?
Does he think that the Prime Minister allows him to wander around the world so as to fill up his day because he does not seem to have enough to do on domestic policy, which is, by definition, the job that he is appointed to do?
The job that I do is at the request of the Prime Minister, as was true of every Deputy Prime Minister, whether that was Mr. Heseltine acting at the request of Mr. Major, or me. The job is defined by the Prime Minister—that is what comes with the title of Deputy Prime Minister.
As for travelling abroad, what I am doing is relevant to the Cabinet Committees for which I have some responsibility. I mentioned human trafficking in reply to a question asked by the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague). It was appropriate for me to have a meeting with the ILO and other UN bodies in Geneva to inform myself of the proper measures that the Government should be introducing so that we could implement them. It is relevant to travel to learn what other parties and Governments are doing right across a range of issues—climate change and others—so that we can give leadership, as we do, in all those areas.
What use do the Government make of video conferencing and other new technology to avoid the need for domestic and international travel for face-to-face meetings? What impact does that have on reducing the carbon emissions that contribute to climate change?
By definition, using the available technology leads to a reduction in carbon emissions. It might shock the House to know that I have it in my office. I use that technology from time to time, but there are times when face-to-face meetings are needed, which means travel. Indeed, I understand that the Leader of the Opposition has travelled to Europe to discuss climate change and other matters. In reality, although a lot of fuss is made about this, air travel is necessary in the global world.
How far do travel costs explain the extraordinary 30 per cent. inflationary increase in the Deputy Prime Minister’s supplementary estimate, taking it to £2.5 million? When public spending growth and increases in nurses’ pay are being kept below the rate of inflation, how can he justify that extravagance?
As I understand it, the hon. Gentleman’s profession is accountancy. If that is his reading of the figures, I would suspect most of his other arguments on the economy. In reality, as he must know if he has looked at the figures, there are no extra costs involved whatever. It is a transfer that, according to the auditor, needs to be made. Instead of other Departments paying, the figure is now attributed to my Department. Exactly the same money is used, in terms of total expenditure; it is just apportioned differently. I am amazed that he, as an accountant, did not know that simple fact.
Mr. Speaker, you will recall the enthusiasm and the high quality of the discussion that took place when, as Deputy Speaker, you chaired a debate for young people whom I had brought together some years ago to examine environmental policy. I am hoping that a similar debate will be arranged as part of our plans to commemorate the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade. I am discussing with various authorities, including the British Council, which does excellent work on the issue, the possibility of getting young people from a number of Commonwealth countries, as well as younger people from across the United Kingdom, to participate in that debate, which I hope will take place in the Houses of Parliament. The debate will allow our young people, who live in an increasingly interconnected world, to share their thoughts and experiences of life in a discussion on the growing problem of human trafficking. They will be able to reflect on the past, and look to the future.
My right hon. Friend is right to seek to hold that debate. Will he inform the House of how his discussions with young people in Sierra Leone and Gambia have informed his thinking on the debate, and will he meet me to discuss how the subject of modern-day slavery could play a part in the discussions?
I most certainly will meet my hon. Friend to discuss the matters. Indeed, the House will have a chance on 20 March to debate the issue of slavery. The importance of bringing young people together was impressed on me during our visit to the classrooms and schools in Sierra Leone and Ghana. In a powerful commemoration of the bicentenary, a slave scene was enacted, in which people dressed in chains, like the slaves of that time, and were chained to a person with a whip. One of the lines that was said, to which everybody should give thought, was that not every white man was guilty and not every black man was innocent. In those circumstances, if we saw the broader picture of the problem of slavery, we could start a proper debate about the issues, instead of about the total shame that we feel about the actions that took place more than 200 years ago.
The Prime Minister was asked—
I am afraid that before listing my engagements I must ask the whole House, again, to join me in sending our condolences to the family and friends of those members of our armed forces who have fallen in the line of duty in the past week. Private Jonathon Wysoczan of the 1st Battalion the Staffordshire Regiment died on Saturday as result of injuries sustained last week in Iraq. He was a brave soldier and we pay tribute to him. We also send our condolences to the family and friends of Lance Bombardiers Liam McLaughlin and Ross Clark, both of 29 Commando Regiment, Royal Artillery, and of Marine Benjamin Reddy of 42 Commando Royal Marines, who were killed in Afghanistan helping to ensure that the project on the Kajaki dam went ahead. That will bring electricity to 1.8 million people in the south of Afghanistan and make a huge difference to the lives of people there and to the economy. The work that they were doing is of enormous importance, and I think our armed forces who are, at the present time, in the south of Afghanistan are displaying a heroism that, even given the rich history of the British military, is almost unparalleled, and we pay tribute to all of them.
This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others, and in addition to my duties in the House I will have further such meetings later today.
First, may I associate not only myself but, I am sure, all Members on this side of the House with the Prime Minister’s message of condolence? [Interruption.] Members on both sides of the House; I beg hon. Members’ pardon.
€50 to visit a GP; €85 per month in prescription charges; 25 per cent. VAT; 50 per cent. income tax; and, hardest of all for some people to swallow, £8 for a pint of beer; does my right hon. Friend believe that the Scottish people would accept those characteristics, all of which are drawn from small European countries regularly used for the purposes of comparison by Members of Parliament who advocate independence for Scotland?
My hon. Friend makes his point very well. The truth of the matter is that England benefits from Scotland being in the United Kingdom, and Scotland benefits from being in the United Kingdom. In the past few years, we have seen dramatic falls in unemployment and rises in employment. Some 200,000 extra jobs have been created, and there is a strong Scottish economy. About £11 billion-worth more money is spent on public services in Scotland and it is raised by taxes, so wrenching Scotland from the UK would be very serious for the Scottish economy and the living standards of the Scottish people.
I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to the soldier who died following his service in Iraq. We pay tribute, too, to Lance Bombardier Ross Clark, Lance Bombardier Liam McLaughlin and Marine Benjamin Reddy, who were killed in Afghanistan. They died taking part in a NATO operation enforcing a UN mandate, and helping a democratically elected Government. As the Prime Minister said, they were in the front line against terrorism.
This week, NATO launched a significant offensive in the south of the country. With spring approaching, many people expect the intensity of the fighting to increase. Are the Prime Minister and the Cabinet confident that British forces are sufficiently backed by other NATO countries, are properly reinforced and adequately equipped, not just to withstand attack but to secure peace and security throughout Helmand province?
I believe that the additional contribution that we are making and the contributions of other NATO countries are immensely important. For example, Sweden has made a decision today to reinforce its armed forces in the north of Afghanistan. Other countries are providing assistance for reconstruction and extra equipment such as helicopters and so on. All of that is important, but it is fair to say that, yes, of course, we want our NATO partners to do even more, which is why in the meeting in Seville a short time ago we pressed for that, and we will continue to press for it. The important thing about our own reinforcements in Afghanistan is that they are there not just to complete our mission but to protect our troops.
I am grateful for that answer. Britain has 5,500 troops in Afghanistan, but does the Prime Minister agree with me that this year, there will be significant pressure for further reinforcements unless we encourage other NATO countries to do more and, vitally, if we remove the caveats on many of the NATO forces in Afghanistan? Will he update us on progress on those two vital objectives?
As I said, other countries such as Australia are committing forces and additional equipment. However, it is important that we recognise that the extra 1,400 troops whom we are sending in as reinforcements will play a vital role, not just in securing the southern part of Afghanistan but in ensuring that our own troops are better protected. It is correct that some countries have lifted caveats, but others have not, and we continue to press them to do so the entire time. Yes, of course, I want more to be done by other NATO countries, and that will be part of informal discussions, I do not doubt, at the European summit as well as in any NATO meeting. In the end, we must make sure that we discharge our responsibility, which is not dependent on what others can do with us, although we press them to do more. We believe—this is probably the reality—that it is only the British forces who can make a real difference in south Afghanistan. It is tough for them, as we can see. Anyone who has read the accounts of what British forces are doing, particularly in the northern part of Helmand, will have read an extraordinary story of heroism and courage. We believe that we have to do it—we think that it is right for the world—and, yes, we will continue to press others to come in with us. In the end, however, we are doing what we need to do, and we are proud of doing it.
The Prime Minister is right that our troops are doing a magnificent job in the south, but with reference to his last answer in particular, we know that NATO commanders in the south have asked for two additional battle groups. We are providing one of them, but last week the Secretary of State for Defence was unable to say who would provide the other. Can the Prime Minister update us on that? More generally, given that last year in Helmand we saw attacks on soldiers increasing, high levels of insurgency, a rising poppy crop and the governor dismissed, how confident is he that over the next six months we will see real progress on all those fronts?
We should not ignore the progress that has already been made. The Afghan economy is double what it was a few years back. There are millions more girls now in school. We have reconstruction projects that are refurbishing schools and opening health clinics in Afghanistan. As important as anything else, it is not just the British forces and the forces of many other nations that are fighting down in the south of Afghanistan and elsewhere—it is an Afghan national army as well, whose capability is being built the whole time. Yes, we must press for the additional battle group from elsewhere. We are continuing to do that. At present we do not know the exact provenance of that battle group, but we are sure that in the end we will be able to get the support that we need. The important thing is to understand, as I am sure the right hon. Gentleman would agree, that there has been real progress in Afghanistan. What our troops have been doing there is remarkable, but what the Afghan people themselves have been doing down in the south of Afghanistan is incredible, standing out against the bullies of the Taliban. We know that just a few months ago, for example, a teacher was taken out and executed in front of his class for teaching girls in school. That is the battle of values in which we are engaged. I entirely agree that we need to ensure that the whole world faces up to its responsibility, but I am primarily responsible for our contribution, which I think is right and proportionate. We will continue to work closely with other allies. It is worth pointing out that there are soldiers from many, many other nations working alongside us. They are doing an excellent job as well, and we continue to press for more.
Will my right hon. Friend celebrate international women’s day by committing the Government to support the private Member’s Bill, the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Bill, introduced in the other place by the Lord Lester of Herne Hill? I recognise that the Bill will not stop families forcing young people into unwanted marriage, but it will send a strong message that we are on the side of the victims of this wicked practice.
First, it would be right to pay tribute to the work that my hon. Friend has done to make sure that we tackle forced marriages, which are an iniquitous practice. As I think I have indicated, although much has been done, not least the establishment of the forced marriages unit a couple of years ago, which assists about 300 victims of forced marriage a year—I pay tribute to the work of the unit—because we fully support the aims of the private Member’s Bill on forced marriage, we are looking to see how we can support the Bill and make sure that it is in order. I know that there is a strong feeling in all parts of the House that we should do all we can to end the practice.
I join the Prime Minister in his expressions of sympathy and condolence. We owe all these brave young men an enduring debt of gratitude. Does the Prime Minister agree with the Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer, that the position of the Attorney-General, in his words, is not maintainable?
In the light of recent controversy in relation to Iraq, BAE and now cash for honours, is it not essential that the functions and responsibilities of the Attorney-General should be separate—[Interruption]—so that decisions about prosecution can be taken entirely independent of Government?
First, it will be a very good thing for the whole of Europe to celebrate 50 years of the European Union, which has brought peace and prosperity to a continent that used to be ravaged by war. I think that we should celebrate our own position in the European Union. I look forward to going to the European Council tomorrow in order to bring forward proposals for climate change, where I am pleased to say that at least this Government will have some allies in ensuring that the battle against climate change is taken to a proper fruition.
Last night, the BBC broadcast the Prime Minister’s political obituary; I am sure that it will be the first of many. In it, his senior foreign policy adviser in No. 10 Downing street, Sir Stephen Wall, speaking of his time working with the Prime Minister, said:
“You got the very clear impression…that they could not govern without Gordon but they could not really govern with him either”.
Why would someone at the heart of Downing street say that?
People say many things, particularly after they leave. What I can say is this: fortunately, thanks to the Chancellor’s 10-year stewardship of the economy—which I am afraid is the weakness of the right hon. Gentleman’s position—he has delivered us the strongest economy, with 2.5 million more jobs, lower interest rates, the lowest unemployment and rising living standards. Actually, I am delighted to have had that record in government.
The Prime Minister is very good at praising the Chancellor, but the Chancellor is not so good at praising the Prime Minister.
It is not just his senior foreign policy adviser who says this—it is also the Cabinet Secretary, who sat next to him for five years in the Cabinet. Lord Wilson said this about the Chancellor:
“He states with absolute certainty what the position is…threatening…anyone foolish enough to interrupt…without any hint that”—
he—“might listen to” other “departments”. Does the Prime Minister think that there is any prospect of a return to Cabinet government when the Chancellor takes over?
As a matter of fact, the best thing about having a strong economy is that it enables one, when one is taking one’s Cabinet decisions, to make the investments in health and education, for example, that we want to have. The good thing is that we have had a consistent economic policy.
Can I give the House an update on the Conservatives’ policy on the married couples allowance? A few days ago, the chairman of the Conservative party was asked whether it would apply—[Interruption.]
Talking about policy making, the chairman of the Conservative party says that married couples allowance applies to couples without children. The Tory leader’s office then says:
“Francis was confronted on a particular point and was trying to answer the question…but he wasn’t sure…the truth is that it is…still being worked out.”
Then a couple of days ago the shadow Chancellor says that he is not sure whether it will apply to married couples without children, but for it to apply to gay couples in a civil partnership, they have to have children. We have this Chancellor with 10 years of a strong economy, and we have that shadow Chancellor with his policy making; perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would like to explain the difference.
The Prime Minister might have noticed that we are ahead on the economy.
I asked the Prime Minister a question about Cabinet government, but he will not answer, so let us ask the Cabinet. Who thinks that they will have more of a say round the Cabinet table when the Chancellor takes over? Come on—hands up! Is not that the problem—they all know it is going to be dreadful, but none of them has the guts to do anything about it?
First of all, I should remind the right hon. Gentleman of some experience that we had in the 1980s. Opposition parties can often be ahead in opinion polls in mid-term, but that does not mean that they win an election. In the end, let me tell him what will win an election—strength of policy.
I just gave an example about the shadow Chancellor, so let me give one about the right hon. Gentleman from his great speech on Europe yesterday in which he said how he was going lead Europe in the battle on climate change. Who is his ally? The ODS party in the Czech Republic, whose founder says that global warming “is a false myth”. This is serious politics. The right hon. Gentleman wants to form an alliance with a party that thinks global warming is a false myth and he will not go into the same political room as the Chancellor of Germany, who is the leader of the Conservative party, the President of the European Union and believes that global warming should be tackled. So when it comes to serious policy making, the right hon. Gentleman is simply in the kindergarten. We have got the answers: that is the difference between a serious political party and an Opposition party.
Staying with Europe, did my right hon. Friend have the opportunity to watch the outstanding display of football at Anfield stadium last night? Is it not about time that we marked the memory of the late and great Bob Paisley with an honour? Will my right hon. Friend read early-day motion 1038 signed by Members of the House—both red and blue?
I look forward to reading that. I did watch the match last night. Congratulations to Liverpool, who did absolutely brilliantly. Congratulations also to Chelsea—we should congratulate the blues as well as the reds on this occasion. Let us hope that we have two other teams going through as well—[Interruption.] As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary reminds me, there is also Celtic, and we wish it good luck, too.
Surely, in the end, it has to be a decision for the local authority. The hon. Gentleman talks about funding, but there is an extra £1,350—I stress, extra—per pupil for the funding of education in his area. Surely it has to be a local authority decision. That has been the case under the previous Government and under this Government. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that if a child is best placed in specialist provision, that is where they should go. They should go into mainstream provision only if that is suitable for them. I do say again, however, that it has got to be a decision for the local education authority.
My hon. Friend raises an immensely important point. I think that we are well placed, actually, because of our bilateral relationship with China today. I also think that the work done through the G8 and the G8 plus 5, which includes China, is also important. The China taskforce is, of course, an important part of our bilateral relationship. However, as well as that bilateral relationship, the key thing is to recognise that both our alliance with America and our membership of the European Union are important parts of building a strong relationship with a country that will soon comprise 1.3 billion or 1.4 billion people and be the largest economy in the world—a country of immense importance as a superpower in the world. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that we should make sure that we are well positioned with China. In part, however, for a country such as ours in the early 21st century, that will happen through our alliances as well as on our own merits.
As I understand it from my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, the matter is discussed in the House of Commons Commission and it will come before the House at the end of the month. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will put forward proposals that are just and fair.
My right hon. Friend will know of the serious concerns about Quiz Call television and shows that have premium lines for interactive viewer participation. Does he agree that ITV has done the right thing in pulling from our screens all its premium line shows for an independent health check? Will he urge all other broadcasters to do the same to ensure that their customers—our constituents—are not being ripped off?
The point that my hon. Friend raises causes a great deal of concern to many members of the public. I welcome ITV’s temporary suspension of all premium rate interactive services on all ITV channels. My hon. Friend will wish to know that the regulatory body for the premium rate telecommunications industry is currently investigating complaints about several television shows, and I understand that the broadcasters are meeting later this week. It is obviously important that they come together with the relevant telecommunications companies and make sure that the service is provided in a reliable and trustworthy way. I understand and share my hon. Friend’s concerns.
Whatever system is involved—a catchment area or a lottery—there will always be parents who do not manage to get their first preference, although the vast majority do. For once, I agree with the shadow spokesman on education who said that the most important thing, whatever system is chosen, is to increase the number of good schools. Whereas in 1997 I believe that only 80 secondary schools in the country got more than 70 per cent. good GCSEs—five good GCSEs—today the figure is more than 600. That is a huge improvement in the past 10 years, not least in the area that the hon. Gentleman represents. Of course, there will always be parents who are disappointed but the most important thing is to improve the quality and standards in our schools. That is precisely what the Government are doing.
For obvious reasons, I do not think that I would accept that any could be better governed than the United Kingdom, though that might be open to some dispute. However, I said at the time of the election, and our manifesto stated, that we would try to seek a consensus on House of Lords reform. The purpose of the vote later today is to ascertain whether we can do that. We said that we would facilitate that; that is precisely what we shall try to do.
For obvious reasons, I can say nothing at all about the issue.
Let me simply say to the hon. Gentleman that it is extraordinary that the Scottish National party is aiming to be the Government of Scotland after the election on 3 May—that Government will handle the economy, health, education and law and order—yet the SNP has nothing to say about the economy because it knows that independence would wreck the Scottish economy, nothing to offer on health and education, and its law and order policy is a disaster. The hon. Gentleman and his colleagues are campaigning on a police inquiry conducted by the London Metropolitan police. I think that that says everything about the SNP and its fitness to govern.
Along with hon. Friends, I applaud Monday’s announcement of an extra £2 million to tackle domestic violence. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that the Government will remain focused on that important policy area, especially on supporting victims through the legal process to bring their attackers to justice?
I assure my hon. Friend that our strong and co-ordinated set of policies on domestic violence will continue. According to the most recent British crime survey, domestic violence has fallen by about 60 per cent. in the past 10 years. Although more domestic violence offences are being recorded, their prevalence has fallen significantly, partly as a result of our additional investment, and partly, as she says, because we are treating the issue more seriously and offering more protection to people within the courts system. We should maintain our focus on the issue, which continues to be a serious one, as we approach international women’s day.
I am sure that there will be opportunities for people to raise and debate those issues. We are well aware of the problems that have arisen over payments to farmers, however, and we have said on many occasions that we are doing all that we can to speed up that system. We are not in a position of difficulty with the European Commission. It is also correct that there will be enormous budget pressures on the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and other Departments. The Conservative party, however, has committed itself to putting half the money that goes on public spending into tax cuts—[Interruption.] Yes, the extra money from growth—[Interruption.] The extraordinary thing is that I seem to know more about Conservative policy than Conservative Members. Their policy is to share the proceeds of growth between tax cuts and spending. Therefore, whatever figure we have for investment, the Conservative party would have less.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on her work on this issue. We have increased our investment in the DRC from, I think, just under £6 million to almost £70 million. We are doing that precisely to support the democratic process there and to give humanitarian assistance. I hope that people in the country understand that when I refer to that extra investment in Africa, I deliberately use the word “investment”. If those countries are riven by civil war and large numbers of people are displaced and become refugees, all the evidence of the modern world is that, sooner or later, that becomes a problem for countries such as ours in Europe. Therefore, when we bring peace and stability to parts of Africa, as with the DRC, that is an investment not only in those countries but in our own future.
Points of Order
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. On 21 February, in reply to a question about antenatal services, the Prime Minister said:
“we are also increasing the number of midwives in training.”—[Official Report, 21 February 2007; Vol. 457, c. 260.]
In January 2006, however, we were told by the Minister of State, Department of Health, the hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) that the number of students who entered midwifery training during 2004-05 was 2,374. But in October 2006 it was reported that there were 2,220 midwifery training places for 2005-06, which is a fall of 154 training places, and the Council of Deans estimates a further 10 per cent. fall on top of that. What can we do to ensure that the Prime Minister returns to the House to correct the misleading statement that he made in answer to my question?
The hon. Lady has had a good go at putting the matter on the record as a point of order; it was not really a point of order or a matter for the Chair. I urge her to table more questions to the Prime Minister: she is able to table written questions as well as seeking oral answers.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Yesterday the Secretary of State for Health announced that there would be a review of the unfolding disaster that is “Modernising Medical Careers”. What indication have you had that the Secretary of State will come to the House to explain her plans, and to tell us why she has supervised so much of the chaos that has been inflicted on junior doctors and our national health service?
Pensions (unclaimed Assets)
Mr. Frank Field, supported by Dr. Tony Wright, Derek Wyatt, Kate Hoey, Sandra Osborne and David Taylor, presented a Bill to establish an Unclaimed Assets Agency; to confer powers on the Agency to obtain information from banks and building societies relating to unclaimed assets; to make provision for the transfer of a proportion of unclaimed assets to the Agency for distribution among certain members of occupational pension schemes; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 15 June, and to be printed. [Bill 74].
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide for the establishment of an indicator for rural tranquillity; to provide for the protection of rural tranquillity in the planning process; and for connected purposes.
In the past week, I have distributed tranquillity maps to every Member of Parliament in England. I hasten to add, Mr. Speaker, that you were not discriminated against because you are a Scottish Member; nor was I discriminating against the Welsh. It is simply that the Bill would apply only to England—unless a Member of either the Scottish or the Welsh Executive has the wit and intelligence to take up the issue, as I hope one of them will.
The maps that I distributed did something that was both new and importantly different. For the first time ever, they provided a quantified, logically evidenced and robust way of measuring tranquillity across the country. I should pause here to record my thanks to the Campaign to Protect Rural England, which, in concert with some heavyweight academics, has done an enormous amount of work to quantify tranquillity and to provide us with a robust and logically sensible evidence base on which the Bill can be built.
Before we become too caught up in pretty tranquillity maps, however, we ought to ensure that we understand precisely what “tranquillity” means. Put simply, it is peace and quiet. It is the ability to find a part of the country that is free from intervention by man. Let me give some examples. If you go out at night and look around, do you see street lights or starlight? If you go out looking for peace and quiet, what do you hear, jumbo jets and juggernauts or birdsong? If you want to find a beautiful view and you go out and lift up your eyes unto the hills, do you in fact see hills, or high rises? If you take a deep breath of fresh air, do you smell wild flowers or the kebab van on the corner? That is what tranquillity is all about, and why it is so important. It is not just about preserving green spaces; it is about the way our country feels. It is about why it is good to be in our country. It is about the quality of life and the quality of our environment, and that is why it is important to preserve it.
It is important also to bear in mind that while there is more tranquillity in the countryside, it is not exclusively a countryside issue. There are significant pockets of tranquillity in our towns and cities as well. Urban parks and suburban gardens are essential green lungs which make our urban environments better to live in than they would otherwise be. They deserve protection just as much as green belts and areas of outstanding natural beauty in the countryside as a whole.
I am not saying, and the Bill is not saying, that everywhere must be tranquil. There are plenty of places that we want to have bright lights and loud music. If we go out on a Friday night to meet our friends, we probably want to go somewhere that has a buzz and an excitement to it. In my constituency, the seafront on Friday and Saturday nights is vibrant and exciting, and full of people enjoying themselves. We do not want to change that, but—particularly if we have had a very good Friday night—on a Saturday morning we may be in search of a place where we can find some tranquillity. It is therefore important for the country to contain both types of place: places that are lively and vibrant, and places where tranquillity exists. We need a Britain where wildlife and nightlife can co-exist.
The crucial point is that tranquillity is fragile. The pace and the hustle and bustle of modern Britain destroy tranquillity; the two cannot coexist.
There are some very startling and frightening statistics on the extent to which tranquillity is on the retreat throughout the country. The statistics on road transport show that that is projected to increase by between 20 per cent. and 30 per cent. in the next eight years. In the last 15 years, air travel has exploded and it is expected to continue rising for many years to come. The worst statistic I saw is that in England alone we are every year concreting over an area of land the size of Leicester. Clearly, we cannot carry on doing that indefinitely. Also, light pollution rose by 24 per cent. between 1993 and 2000, and the sad fact is that in only 11 per cent. of England’s land mass is it now possible to go outside at night and see a sky that is lit only by the moon and stars, as opposed to by man.
What is to be done? The Bill is very simple—and, I hope, the more powerful because of that. It has only two clauses, the first of which says that the Government should report on and publish the results of the measurement of tranquillity, probably along the lines of the system that I have just described which has been put together by the Campaign to Protect Rural England. That will allow us to track tranquillity to see where it is strong and where it is weak and where it is advancing and where it is retreating. Having tracked and measured tranquillity effectively, the second clause is equally simple. It says that the Government should put a duty on planning authorities to protect, preserve and enhance tranquillity in every decision that they take.
The good news is that the Government should be onside on this issue. They have been using the word “tranquillity” in approving tones since as long ago as when the rural White Paper was produced, in 2000; they have mentioned it several times since in many different sorts of official environmental documentation. I therefore hope—even expect—that the Government will be able to support the Bill either by providing it with time or by picking up on this issue and including measures to address it in some of their future legislation. I certainly hope that we will be pushing at an open door, and I encourage Members of all parties to take them at their word: they say that tranquillity is important, so let us give them the chance to act on their words.
If there is only one reason why Members of all parties choose to support the Bill, let it be the following one. I have said that tranquillity is under threat: it is retreating throughout the country. If we do not act now, tranquillity will soon be nothing but a folk memory. All those wonderful quiet places free from human interference that everyone knows of will be gone—all Members probably have places near our homes in our constituencies where we like to go. If for no other reason, we owe it to our children and grandchildren to turn from merely uttering warm words to taking action to preserve tranquillity. If we do not act now, the things that we take for granted today will be denied to them tomorrow. Tranquillity is important, and it is in trouble. It deserves our attention and requires our help and protection. I commend the Bill to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill ordered to be brought in by John Penrose, David Taylor, Mr. John Gummer, Mr. Nick Hurd, Norman Baker, Derek Wyatt, Mr. Philip Dunne, Mr. John Whittingdale, Mr. Frank Field, Kelvin Hopkins and Jeremy Wright.
John Penrose accordingly presented a Bill to provide for the establishment of an indicator for rural tranquillity; to provide for the protection of rural tranquillity in the planning process; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 18 May, and to be printed [Bill 73].
Orders of the Day
House of Lords Reform
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.