[Relevant Document: The Seventh Report from the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, Seminar on the House of Lords: Outcomes, HC 961.]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the matter of House of Lords reform.
On 17 May, the Government published a draft Bill and White Paper proposing a reformed House of Lords. Since then, there has been considerable debate on the content of the proposals—I, of course, welcome that debate. These are significant constitutional changes and so demand proper and full scrutiny. As the debate unfolds, however, it important for us to step back for a moment and remind ourselves why we are doing this. First, very few people seriously believe that the status quo—an unelected second Chamber—makes sense in a modern democracy. [Interruption.] Most people agree with that, anyway.
During last week’s debate in the other place, someone said that elections are not
“the only form of democracy”.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 21 June 2011; Vol. 728, c. 1165.]
The suggestion that democracy can somehow exist without elections reminded me that there is a fundamental principle at stake here—a basic choice. Do we believe that people should choose their representatives in Parliament, or do we not? Should citizens choose the people who make the laws of the land, or should they not? Every hon. Member must now decide which side of the argument they support.
I apologise for intervening so early in the Deputy Prime Minister’s speech, but it is important to pick up his statement that everyone presumes that the status quo is not an option. What evidence does he have? The status quo is precisely the option for which I will vote.
If I remember correctly, my hon. Friend voted for 100% election to the House of Lords when this subject was last up for discussion, which suggests that he might be more willing to entertain change than his question implies. Even the advocates of minimal change—even those in the other place, as was witnessed in last week’s debate—accept that some change is now unavoidable.
We have all promised change—every major party committed to Lords reform in their manifestos last year—so there is a legitimate expectation that we will now deliver it. Liberals and Liberal Democrats have long pursued Lords reform as part of a wider renewal of our political arrangements; the Labour party has advocated it as a blow to patronage and privilege; and the Conservative party has, especially in recent years, pushed for putting more direct power in the hands of voters.
In that regard, was my right hon. Friend struck by the contributions in the other place of Lord Whitty and Baroness Quin, which made clear both the need for reform and how it should be taken through, and which represented fine examples of what their party so often stood for in the past? Will my right hon. Friend encourage Labour Members to return to their roots by taking that as their example now?
The contributions of Lord Whitty and Baroness Quin were, indeed, excellent, and I look forward to hearing support for the ideas that they set out last week from Labour Front Benchers today.
Turning to the second key reason for change, if we do not modernise the other place, a question mark will continue to hang over our second Chamber. We have passed the point of no reform, and to come this far and give up is to condemn our upper House to enduring doubt about its legitimacy. Yes, Lords reform has been debated for a century and, yes, our second Chamber has evolved over that time, but the other place cannot afford another 100 years in limbo. Reform is overdue, and it is time to bring this chapter to an end.
I must confess that I think the House of Lords has done a pretty good job over the past 100 years, and I am glad that the Deputy Prime Minister acknowledges that it does, indeed, do a good job. I invite him to consider that House of Commons Library figures show that the average Member of Parliament costs the British taxpayer about £257,000 a year, whereas the average unelected appointed peer costs well under £100,000. Is now the right time to start demanding that we spend more money on more politicians, more expenses, more secretaries and more office space, when the House of Lords is doing a perfectly good job as it is?
I agree with my hon. Friend that the other place is oversized—it is far too large. That is why one of the centrepieces of the proposals worked up by the cross-party Committee, which I chaired, was that we radically cut the number of politicians in the other place right down to 300, so it would be less than half the size of this Chamber.
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Will you look into the House’s sound system? I distinctly heard the right hon. Gentleman the Deputy Prime Minister refer to the size of the House of Lords, when my intervention made no mention of that whatever, so he must have misheard me.
I will respond to that point of order, however. The issue of cost is, of course, directly related to the number of Members serving in the House of Lords; the larger it is, the more expensive it will be. Under our reform proposals, the size of the House of Lords will be cut to 300, less than half the size of this Chamber.
The Prime Minister and I are committed to reform, but the reform will go with the grain of the evolution that we have already witnessed in the Lords; it will be steady, ordered and careful; and it will be built on the widest possible consensus. That is why our proposals build on the work of countless others from both sides of this House as well as the other place over recent decades. The Wakeham commission, the Straw committee and the Cunningham report have all made hugely important contributions, and I pay tribute to the work of reformers on all sides of the argument. Without them, the case for change would already have been lost.
I also thank the cross-party Committee established to consider this matter last year. We reached agreement on most elements of the proposed package and in the end there were only two issues relating to the content of the reforms on which we did not reach final agreement. On both, we have left our options open in the White Paper.
Let me return my right hon. Friend to the cost of these reforms. He will be aware, no doubt, of Lord Lipsey’s estimate that 300 or so new Members of the upper House would cost about £430 million in the 2015 to 2020 Parliament, which is enough to employ some 21,000 nurses. Does my right hon. Friend believe that the British people would rather have 21,000 additional nurses or some 300 fully expensed and fully paid identikit politicians?
With the greatest of respect to Lord Lipsey, I think that his figure was a guesstimate rather than an analysis. There are all sorts of unknown quantities involved, such as what the final size of the House of Lords will be, how many Members will be elected, the time scale and the transitional arrangements for those elected and for those who depart. Until those things have been decided, which I hope will happen in the coming months, it is impossible to come up with an accurate figure.
Let me make a little progress, if I may.
If we are to continue in the spirit of co-operation, it is essential that we are pragmatic. House of Lords reform has constantly been blighted by an inability to compromise, because of either pessimism on the one hand or purism on the other. Both must now give way. When we differ on the detail, we must not lose sight of our overarching aim, which is a more democratic and legitimate upper Chamber.
Members know my preferences for reform: I support a fully, rather than mostly, elected House and believe that Members should be elected by the single transferable vote to give the other place greater independence from party control. I shall continue to argue strongly for both, but I will not make the best the enemy of the good. I shall remain open-minded and realistic, and I hope that Members on all sides of the debate will do the same. On that note, I give way to the hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis).
The Deputy Prime Minister is being very courteous in giving way. Does he accept that to elect two Houses by different electoral systems will lead to arguments over relative legitimacy? Will he put this particular voting system to a referendum? Why should we have a referendum on the voting system for this House and not one on the voting system for the other House?
On the first point, we have an array of different electoral systems already in this country, from that used for the European Parliament to that used here in London and those used in the devolved Assemblies. Those systems all co-exist. I do not think that we need perfect consistency of electoral systems, as we do not have it anyway. On the second point, when all three parties have committed to something in their manifestos, such as House of Lords reform, the situation is unlike that with electoral reform to this place, so there is not a similar case for a referendum.
A range of issues will no doubt come up today, and many of them have been brought up already. There are two particular areas of concern, however, that have frequently come up in debates so far, and I want to address them in turn. The first is that the Government’s proposals risk creating a second Chamber that is too powerful and the second is that Members will be elected but not properly accountable.
On the question of the balance of power between the two Chambers, it is simply not the case that the other place will rival the Commons—with 300 Members, it will be half the size. That is the number that we judge to be right, although we are listening to views on that question. Whatever number we settle on, however, the Commons will remain significantly larger, as is the case in the vast majority of bicameral systems around the world. Members of the other place will serve long single terms of 15 years with no prospect of re-election, keeping them a step removed from the electoral cycle of this House. They will be elected according to a different voting system, which will be proportional and will have, we propose, larger multi-Member constituencies, giving them an entirely different mandate from MPs. Their elections will be staggered, so that they will be either elected or elected and appointed in combination in thirds. That will mean that they will never have a more recent mandate than the Commons.
The two Chambers will remain entirely distinct. The Commons will continue to assert its authority through the Parliament Acts, through MPs’ decisive right over the vote of supply and through the Government’s need to retain the confidence of MPs in order to remain in office.
The right hon. Gentleman knows my interest in this matter, which is to protect the power and functioning of this House. I do not know of any bicameral system that works as efficiently as the arrangements that we have at the moment. Every other bicameral system that I know ends up being deeply conservative and with the elected, mandated Government in the lower House being frustrated in implementing their manifesto by a second Chamber that becomes increasingly powerful over the years.
And for direct, full election, which is obviously something that I welcome—we are at one on that. To address the hon. Gentleman’s point, anyone in doubt should remember that there are 61 elected second Chambers in the world, and the overwhelming lesson is not the one that he has underlined but that they do not threaten the primacy of the first Chamber. As Baroness Quin, who was rightly cited earlier as having delivered an excellent speech last week, eloquently put it:
“Experience from abroad shows that second Chambers generally live within their powers. They cannot increase them unilaterally and they do not cause gridlock on the whole…Surely our Parliament, with its long and proud democratic tradition, is capable of creating a democratic, competent and respected second Chamber for the future.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 21 June 2011; Vol. 728, c. 1233.]
On the 61 countries in which the second Chamber is elected, does my right hon. Friend acknowledge that in those countries there is a written constitution that clearly enshrines the relative powers between the first and second Chambers? I welcome many of these reforms, but I have many misgivings about that particular aspect.
The right hon. Gentleman says that the Parliament Acts are the reason why this House will retain primacy, but they apply only to legislation that starts in this House, not to that which starts in the House of Lords or to secondary legislation. When the House of Lords overturned a piece of secondary legislation concerning large casinos that this House had supported, the right hon. Gentleman supported the House of Lords and not the House of Commons. That was the first time that that had happened since the Southern Rhodesia issue.
Perhaps I have not followed the hon. Gentleman’s point carefully enough, but that arrangement will not change. The asymmetry between the two Chambers rests not only on the Parliament Acts but on the different mandates, different terms and different electoral cycles of the two Houses, as occurs in the vast majority of the 61 bicameral, elected systems around the world, which seem to rub along perfectly well.
The hon. Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer) has said that this House has the capacity to overrule the other place only in respect of legislation that starts here, but it would be a very simple matter to change the law so that this House had the power to overcome the House of Lords whether a Bill started here or in the other place.
That is one of the many options available to both Houses to ensure that the deliberate imbalance between the two Chambers persists. As I have said, all the evidence from bicameral systems around the world indicates that that imbalance is perfectly well understood, whether the Chambers are elected or not.
On accountability, given that we are proposing single, fixed, 15-year terms, some Members have asked, “If someone cannot stand for re-election, how can they be held to account?” That is a reasonable point to make and a concern that I understand. It is important to strike the right balance between increasing the democratic legitimacy of the reformed Chamber and preserving its independence from the Commons, and these arrangements are essential for that.
The longer non-renewable terms ensure that serving in the other place is entirely different from holding office here, separate from the twists and turns of our electoral cycle and more attractive to the kinds of people whom we wish to see in the other place—people who are drawn more to public service than party politics and who are not slavishly focused on their eventual re-election. That system guards against—dare I say it?—an element of political selfishness, ensuring that Members of the other place are there to do a job, not simply to pursue their own electoral ambitions.
The right hon. Gentleman has explained the accountability issue very well, but if somebody in the other place has no accountability, no electorate to whom to be answerable and no prospect of overturning anything that is done by this House, which is what the right hon. Gentleman has just promised, why on earth would anyone of any standing wish to become part of such a House?
As I know as a leader of a party, people are queuing up to get in there right now without elections, and I suspect that that will continue, because the House of Lords does an excellent job as a revising and scrutinising Chamber. There is a place in politics for people who do not want to become Members of this Chamber, but who want to play a role as serious scrutineers of legislation and holding the Government of the day to account.
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, I represent Huddersfield, and presumably one of these 15-year senators, or whatever they will be called, would, theoretically, float above the two constituencies of Huddersfield and Colne Valley. They would be elected only every 15 years. My successor or I would be fighting an election every four or five years, whereas this person, who presumably might be from another party, would not get involved in my election, campaign in general elections, have any political will or conduct any activity at all. Is that what he is saying? A kind of neutered politician would float—
The hon. Gentleman has, say, six Members of the European Parliament floating around, as he puts it, in his area already, and I assume that relations are perfectly cordial. I do not want to cast aspersions on the future reformed House of Lords by comparing it too directly to the European Parliament, but the idea that politicians with different mandates, elected on different cycles and different systems, cannot co-exist, is patently not the case. It happens now, and I think it will happen in the future.
By reforming the upper House so that it is more legitimate but still independent, we can ensure that it continues to function as an effective revising Chamber, able to hold Government to account, but with a new democratic mandate. We can preserve everything that is good about the other Chamber—expertise, independence and wisdom—but at the same time we can inject democracy into the mix and reform the Lords so that it is fit for modern times.
I am probably in a minority on the Government Benches, but I support a democratic House of Lords. Does the right hon. Gentleman not realise, however, that the complications that he has already put in place in the 20 minutes that he has spoken so far will help opponents of reform to frustrate what he is trying to achieve, whether it be 15-year terms, a partly elected or fully elected Chamber, or a proportional representation system? It is literally seven and a half weeks since the people of this country, in a plebiscite, had a chance to say, overwhelmingly, that they did not want a PR system in our Parliament. How can he possibly consider that this is the right way forward for democratising the House of Lords?
The two issues are wholly separate. More than that, if my hon. Friend has other ideas about how we can arrive at our shared objective of a wholly or mainly elected House of Lords, that is precisely why we are now creating a Joint Committee. That is precisely why we have published not a final Bill but a draft Bill with a White Paper and why that followed a process of cross-party discussion in a Committee that I chaired, and which in turn built on many recommendations of a cross-party nature over the years and the decades. It was not just an invention of this Government. The Wakeham commission, the Straw committee and others came up with many of the recommendations that we are now suggesting. If he thinks they are too complicated, I look forward to his suggestions about how they can be made simpler.
If I may make a little progress, because I know many others wish to speak.
Our proposals are a comprehensive blueprint for change—there are 68 clauses and nine schedules. There is a lot to discuss. The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper) will respond to points raised in the debate in his closing speech.
The next stage, as I have just mentioned, is pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft Bill and White Paper on a cross-party basis by a Joint Committee of both Houses. I am sure that the Committee will take note of today’s debate in its deliberations, and we look forward to hearing its conclusions in due course. The Government’s plan is then to introduce a Bill next year in order to hold the first elections to the reformed House in 2015. There is clearly a lot of detail to be hammered out between now and then, and I hope that both sides of this House and of the other place will work together constructively as we move forward.
The truth is that no one seriously supports the status quo. [Interruption.] The vast majority of people do not support the status quo. I am delighted, by the way, by the enthusiasm for change from Opposition Members, which is excellent progress compared with the previous debate. Everyone has committed to change and we must now be pragmatic on the detail, never losing sight of the basic principle at stake: in a modern democracy, people must choose their representatives. Let us complete the long journey of Lords reform once and for all.
I believe in a fully elected House of Lords. It is right and proper in this day and age that both Houses of Parliament are directly accountable to the electorate. I would like to remind the House where Labour stood on Lords reform at the general election. Labour’s manifesto stated:
“We will ensure that the hereditary principle is removed from the House of Lords. Further democratic reform to create a fully elected Second Chamber will then be achieved in stages.”
The Deputy Prime Minister has often suggested that the best is sometimes the enemy of the good—he used the phrase today—as justification for the proposals contained in the draft Bill presented to Parliament, which falls short of his own party’s manifesto commitment, but I feel very passionately that there is a principle at stake, the fundamental principle of having a 100% elected upper House. That is the right and proper outcome, and one which will deliver the democratic system that the people of this country deserve.
Does the right hon. Gentleman not accept that the single most important function of our second Chamber is the revision and improvement of legislation? If we remove hundreds of people who are experts in their field and substitute them with hundreds of professional party politicians, what will make the latter better qualified to revise legislation in that Chamber than we amateurs are in this Chamber?
I do not think that the second point necessarily makes the first point impossible; it is possible to have a second Chamber that is a revising Chamber and for all its Members to be elected. Of the 61 other bicameral Parliaments, none has an appointed upper Chamber. All of them are elected and seem to be doing a pretty decent job.
I am concerned that in other areas of constitutional change the Government have shown themselves willing to be less principled and more partisan. For example, we will see the number of MPs reduced from 650 to 600 at the next election, with no evidence for why we should lose 50 Members, which will simultaneously increase the power of the Executive. We have had 117 new unelected peers appointed to the House of Lords since last May, with more promised. Each peer costs £108,000 a year—we can all do the maths. There are now almost 830 unelected peers in our Parliament. We have seen boundaries re-fixed according to out-of-date electoral data that exclude 5 million eligible voters. We have seen Parliaments fixed at five-year terms, which was mentioned by neither coalition partner before the election, but is now mysteriously favoured by both. We have seen the political fudge of establishing a commission on a Bill of Rights, papering over the cracks between the coalition partners on human rights, and we have seen a failed referendum on the alternative vote. Those are some of the reasons why those of us who should be the natural allies of the Deputy Prime Minister’s plans to reform the House of Lords are suspicious of his plans and of him.
I, like the right hon. Gentleman, would like to see a 100% elected House of Lords, but if the choice were between 0% elected and 80% elected, given that so far we have waited 100 years, I would like us to make some progress and to get to 80% elected at least. In that situation, what would he choose?
I would make sure that my leader, if he were the Deputy Prime Minister, negotiated properly for a fully elected second Chamber so that the problems that have been highlighted did not occur. What has happened—[Interruption.] I hear the chuntering both from Government Front Benchers and from Liberal Democrat Members, whose concerns and aspirations I will come to in a moment. We remember the sanctimony of Liberal Democrat Members when we were in government. I will talk about the progress that has been made over the past 13 years, but I accept that there was not enough.
We have also heard that 100 years is too long to wait for those who sit in the Lords to be elected, and those of us who want a fully elected second Chamber understand the wish to proceed sooner rather than later, but there are many issues that the Deputy Prime Minister has not addressed in the draft Bill or in the White Paper, and with the best will in the world it is simply unrealistic to expect the Joint Committee to have resolved them by February, as he wants it to.
If the right hon. Gentleman is in favour only of 100% election as a matter of great principle, why when the House last determined the matter in 2007 did he vote for all the elected options that were on offer?
The hon. Gentleman might not recall, but in 2003 this Chamber rejected all seven options, so it was important to ensure that some proposals went through. They went through, and both the party that he is now in coalition with and our party had in their manifestos a promise of a 100% elected second Chamber. We are not in government; the Liberal Democrats are.
The genuine obstacles and difficulties that remain require solutions, but they are not limited to the two areas to which the Deputy Prime Minister referred. First, we must identify exactly what we want a reformed House of Lords to do. My view, and I agree with some of the interventions from Government Members, is that it should continue as a revising Chamber that seeks to finesse legislation and, yes, on occasions, to act as a check on this House. We might not like it, and when in government we might all prefer to push our legislation through without any opposition from the second Chamber, but its role is an important check on this House and on the Executive, and that is right and proper and part of a healthy democracy. Too few checks are bad for all of us, and it is important that we preserve the balance.
May I invite the shadow Minister to rise from the short grass and the detail of exactly what is going to happen and, for a second, before he moves on to the detail of his speech, to address a fundamental question? Which aspect of the work of the House of Lords, as currently constituted, does he dislike or think unsatisfactory? If he can point to some part of the work of the House of Lords that is wrong, will he explain how it would be improved by electing 100% of its Members?
The hon. Gentleman heard the speech from the Deputy Prime Minister, who gave a number of examples whereby the other Chamber—[Interruption.] I will give the hon. Gentleman an example. Is it right that we have 828 Members in the other place, all of whom, except for the 92 who by good fortune of their DNA have to go through elections, are not elected? That is not acceptable in a modern democracy.
There are those who have, I accept, legitimate concerns that a directly elected upper Chamber might seek to assert its newly found democratic mandate by facing down the Commons, and it is critical that the Joint Committee addresses that issue. After all, the primacy of this House must remain. It currently rests on two principles, the first of which is legislative. The Parliament Acts removed the powers of the Lords over money Bills and empowered the Commons to override the Lords on non-money Bills. The second principle underpinning the primacy of the Commons is drawn from the elected nature of its Members, so if we move to a directly elected upper Chamber it is not unreasonable for some to ask whether this House faces a threat to its primacy.
I will try to have another go at the point I made to the Deputy Prime Minister. In today’s edition of The Times, the previous leader of the Liberal Democrats, Paddy Ashdown, says that the newly reformed House of Lords—the Senate—would be able to stop this House doing what it wanted on a manifesto commitment. I was completely against the poll tax, but it was in the Conservatives’ 1987 manifesto. The Liberal Democrats want more power to go to the other place. How would my right hon. Friend guarantee the primacy of this House on non-legislative matters?
There are big questions about the powers and functions of the second Chamber, and my hon. Friend has given one example of the anomalies that arise. The hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr Field) gave another example of the issues that those of us who are in favour of a 100% elected second Chamber need to address if we are going to win the argument not only in this House but in the other Chamber. That is why a simultaneous debate on powers, conventions and the relationships between the two Houses is absolutely fundamental if we are to get the reform right so that it delivers the bicameral system that serves our democratic needs effectively. Form and function go together, and I am afraid that there is scant evidence that that is recognised in the draft Bill and in the White Paper.
The right hon. Gentleman is a reformer within his party and has a good political tradition, and the newly elected Labour leader has a similar view on this issue. Will he therefore be very clear to the House that he supports, and the Labour party supports, a bicameral Parliament with primacy in this Chamber and an elected second House, and that during this Parliament Labour will work with the Government to achieve that so that we can have elections in 2015?
The right hon. Gentleman may not have heard everything I have said—it has not been that great so far—but I think I highlighted in the first 30 seconds the Labour party’s policy, and my views, on this issue. He can take it from us that we will do business with those who keep promises and whom we can be sure have a real commitment to a properly elected second Chamber.
It is obvious that many of the conventions that have stood us in good stead over decades are becoming increasingly defunct and will not serve us at all should reform proceed as planned. For example, the convention whereby the Lords will not continue to oppose legislation based on manifesto commitments for which there is a mandate faces a new test under the coalition given that it is not clear what can be considered its manifesto. Is it each party’s manifesto or the coalition agreement, which the electorate did not vote on? We will need to ensure that the rules and regulations that allow a reformed upper Chamber to continue to revise and scrutinise are in place, while continuing to recognise the role of the Commons. The second Chamber must continue as a revising Chamber, not a rival Chamber.
Given the right hon. Gentleman’s strong commitment to honouring manifesto commitments, will his party honour its own manifesto commitment to insist on a referendum on any Bill on an elected House of Lords?
The hon. Gentleman makes a good intervention. It is important that the Joint Committee respects party policy and manifestos, and I hope that it will do so in its recommendations.
The draft Bill does not adequately address these issues. Clause 2 simply states that nothing in the Bill
“affects the primacy of the House of Commons”.
That is inadequate and ignores work done on rules and conventions by previous Committees, including the Joint Committee on Conventions chaired by Lord Cunningham of Felling. The new Joint Committee will need to recognise this fact and seek to open up the issue of powers and conventions; otherwise, the reform process runs the risk of being fatally flawed.
Another area of concern is the length of term of those elected to a newly reformed upper Chamber. Increasing the democratic accountability of the Lords has to be one of our key objectives, but I am unclear how this will be best served through single 15-year terms for those elected. What do we do in a situation where some less diligent individuals are elected and recognise, almost straight away, first, that the next 15 years are now sorted and, secondly, that they do not need to worry about what the electorate believe or want because they will never need to face them again at the ballot box? Is this what we want in our second Chamber?
We also face the tricky constitutional issue of the future of the bishops. I recognise that we have an established Church and that a move to a fully elected upper Chamber would not accommodate our current system. Some have argued that if we allow the bishops to stay in the reformed second Chamber, we should allow representatives of other major religions to have seats. However, there are major practical difficulties, not least the fact that some religions do not have such obvious hierarchical structures as others, so it is unclear who would be their representatives—let alone whether it is right for organised religion to play such a central part in our political system. It is right and proper that this House and the Joint Committee debate such issues if we are to get reform of the second Chamber right.
My right hon. Friend is making a very good speech. At the beginning, I was a little concerned that those of us who have consistently, even when we have voted tactically to frustrate some of the motions—[Hon. Members: “Ah!”] Yes, Members on both sides of the House have done that. Some of us resent the suggestion that we are anti-democratic. Those of us who believe in the primacy of this House want either the abolition of that place or a very weak upper House. That is the democratic position and it is due some respect from both Front Benches.
My hon. Friend makes his point very well.
Another area that the Joint Committee will have to examine is the transition. What will happen to the existing Members of the House of Lords? One option is to allow them to continue until they choose to leave by their own volition or die. Even the option of a phased move over time leaves the question of which Members to keep and which to ask to leave. That would not be easy to manage and would not be cheap.
Is there not a precedent from what happened in 1999, when the hereditary peers whittled down their own number from 650 to 92? Will the shadow Secretary of State and his party support a similar situation if there is any sense of frustration from this Bill in the years to come, whereby the massively over-bloated House of Lords is reduced from 800 or so Members to 300, allowing each group, including the political parties and the Cross Benchers, to choose their Members on a pro rata basis? Might that not be an important poisoned pill to ensure that we get reform with some speed and alacrity?
It is very unusual for me to be fair to the Deputy Prime Minister, but he did include that very option in the White Paper. The Joint Committee will have to look into that before a Bill is finally published in February, as the Government hope.
We are also faced with the cost. Each peer, as I have said, costs £108,000 a year. The 117 new peers who have already been announced will cost £63 million over this Parliament. A transition that involves a 15-year phasing out of existing peers would therefore result in a substantial cost to the taxpayer. Other areas that need resolution are the size of the second Chamber, the impact of early elections, the electoral system to be used, and the need for a referendum for such a big constitutional change.
Between 1997 and 2010 a number of parliamentarians, including some very good ones, stood where the Deputy Prime Minister just made his speech from and argued for reform of the House of Lords. During that time, we made some progress in reforming the House of Lords. We removed 90% of the hereditary peers, created the post of elected Lord Speaker, separated our judiciary from the Lords by creating our first ever Supreme Court, and created people’s peers. We clearly did not go as far as we would have liked. However, as I am sure has happened and will happen to the Deputy Prime Minister, we encountered opposition to our proposals at every turn, most tellingly from his new political bedfellows. The Conservatives opposed our attempts to remove the hereditary peers from the Lords, most recently in the passage of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010. They undermined our attempts to reach a cross-party consensus on Lords reform throughout our 13 years in government. The irony is that this Government are embarking on Lords reform at a time when citizens up and down the country are more preoccupied with fears about job losses, their pensions and cuts to public services. They expect us to prioritise those bread and butter issues as well.
One great parliamentarian who stood where the Deputy Prime Minister just stood and argued for major change to the House of Lords was Robin Cook. When I look at the draft Bill and the White Paper presented by the Deputy Prime Minister, and when I think of the task facing the Joint Committee, I think of the words of Robin Cook on the evening in 2003 when the House of Commons rejected all seven options for reform that had been presented by another Joint Committee:
“We should go home and sleep on this interesting position. That is the most sensible thing that anyone can say in the circumstances.”
He went on to say that
“the next stage in the process is for the Joint Committee to consider the votes in both Houses. Heaven help the members of the Committee, because they will need it.”—[Official Report, 4 February 2003; Vol. 399, c. 243.]
Reflecting on those comments, I sincerely wish the members of the Joint Committee and the Deputy Prime Minister the best of luck in the challenge ahead.
Order. I thank both Front Benchers for making short contributions so that more Back Benchers are able to get in. There is a seven-minute limit with two minutes of injury time, but Members do not need to take interventions or take their seven minutes.
An Opposition Member referred in an intervention a few moments ago to something called the poll tax. Known, as I am, as a doughty defender of Baroness Thatcher, may I point out that she is recorded as saying that she was a great fan of the Polish people and would never have tried to tax them?
May I begin by saying to the Deputy Prime Minister, who concluded his remarks by saying that no one is in favour of the status quo, that I am in favour of the status quo, as I know many Conservative Members are? In that context, it is vital that as we have this debate we remember the words of Lord Denning, who said that two reasonable men may hold opposing views without surrendering their right to be considered reasonable. The tone in which the debate is conducted is incredibly important, and having known the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper), for more than 20 years, I know that he will handle it with great tact and dignity.
I welcome the establishment of a Joint Committee. Many of us on the Conservative Benches, and on the Opposition Benches, are open to reform of the other place but opposed to its abolition. To say that it has become too big, or that it is becoming increasingly political, is true, but that has happened not because of the other place but because of people down here sending too many people there. It is wrong to look to total abolition because of failures at this end of the building.
I am totally in favour of examining ways to improve the effectiveness of the other place. I hope to develop that argument over the coming months and feed it into the Joint Committee. We should consider retirement mechanisms, a cap on numbers and enshrinement of the proportion of Cross Benchers. We should also consider attendance criteria, because far too many Members do not come into the other place.
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman is not aware that his noble Friend Lord Heseltine has not even made his maiden speech in the House of Lords. “Part-time” would not be a good adjective to describe him. Can the hon. Gentleman think of one?
I can think of many, and it is not often that I am accused of being on the same side as Lord Heseltine. I remember telling Lady Thatcher a couple of years ago that he had not made his maiden speech, having been in the Lords for nine years at the time. Her reply was, “Well, look on the bright side, at least we haven’t had to listen to it.” Lord Heseltine is a very good example of my point—he says that he took his membership of the other place because he wanted the honour, but he did not want to participate. He has participated in fewer than 20 Divisions in the 10 years that he has been a Member of the other place. That was why I found it absolutely disgraceful that he came in the other night to vote against the referendum lock in the European Union Bill, which is going through the other place. Such examples show that the other place needs some reform.
Does my hon. Friend accept that there would be no more accountability under the current proposals than there is at present, because someone who underperformed in the other place would have been elected democratically for just one term of 14 years and could not be voted out again?
My hon. Friend, as always, puts his finger on it. I will come to that precise point in a moment.
I remember some years ago knocking on a door when I was standing for Southampton city council for the first time, and somebody said to me that they thought there should be one major constitutional innovation in this country, which they deemed would improve our politics dramatically. They said that anyone who actually wanted to stand for Parliament should be barred from so doing. I have to say, sometimes when I look around and listen, I have some sympathy with that. The point of the other place is that it brings into Parliament people who would not dream of putting their name forward.
My noble Friend, and my predecessor’s predecessor, Lord Eden of Winton, asked some fundamental questions in a speech in the other place last week. On what basis would candidates put themselves forward for election to a revised second Chamber? Would they bear a party ticket, and would they be answerable to any form of mandate? By what form would they be chosen by the political parties? Would there be a risk that we would be putting more and more power into the hands of the party apparatchiks? Government and Opposition Members have seen what that manipulation can mean.
I do not know whether the Deputy Prime Minister has seen the suggestion of my right hon. Friend the noble Lord Eden that the Deputy Prime Minister should be based permanently in the other place and subjected to regular parliamentary oral questions. I suspect that if he thinks the response he is getting here is fierce, it would be considerably fiercer at the other end of the building.
I wish to deal briefly with the argument that reform was in every party’s manifesto. It was, to some degree, and the Liberal Democrats, who had the most pro-reform manifesto commitment, got 23% of the vote in the general election. Labour, which was slightly more lukewarm, got 29%, and the Conservatives, who were the most lukewarm, got 36%. There is almost an argument that if we want to do things on the basis of what was in the manifestos, we should remember that the most people voted for the party that was most lukewarm on the issue.
We have to ask ourselves, as at the time of Maastricht, when all three Front-Bench teams are united on something, how do those who dissent make their view known? I say to Opposition Members that they could do no better than listen to the words of the former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, who was very clear in saying that
“the key question on election is whether we want a revising Chamber or a rival Chamber”,
which was why it was a question
“not for one Parliament, but for the long term.”—[Official Report, 29 January 2003; Vol. 398, c. 877-878.]
Despite manifesto commitments, he twice committed himself to a free vote in the House of Commons so that every hon. Member could put their points across.
My biggest worry is that we will create a rival to the House of Commons and to the supremacy of this place, which we will come to regret. We will have the problem of mandate creep. It may start innocuously, but I point out the words of the noble Baroness Williams when the matter was last debated in the Lords, in 2003. She said that
“I want to say simply that, having listened to many speeches on the issue of the right of a non-elected House to challenge the other place, Members on these and many other Benches in this House declare that it is not our wish to be a non-elected House.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 26 November 2003; Vol. 655, c. 18.]
In other words, when that place gets more democratic power under an electoral system, which the Deputy Prime Minister is on record as saying he believes to be more constitutionally robust and right, its Members will not sit there and happily accept that they have no power at all.
And I say in response to my hon. Friend that it is at the core of Conservative beliefs that if something is working, one does not mess around with it. The other place is working, as is shown by the fact that we in this place accept more than 80% of the amendments that it sends back to us. It is playing its proper role as a revising Chamber.
There is one point of consensus on all sides. We want to see an effective second Chamber that works. I welcome the Deputy Prime Minister saying that he is open to ideas for reform and improvement, and as the Joint Committee embarks on its important work, I hope that it will consider ideas for improving the second Chamber from those of us who want to improve the status quo. We all want it to work in the interests of our constituents, but I am not convinced that the proposals that the Government have on the table at this point will achieve that objective.
I apologise to the House for having to absent myself for a short period this evening.
It is nice to be able to speak in the House in full and enthusiastic support of the manifesto on which I was elected, and consistent with my previous votes in the House for 100% election and 80% election to the Lords, in 2003 and 2007. I look forward to getting the chance to vote on the matter again.
I wish first to dispose of three very bad arguments against proceeding towards an elected House. The first is that we need to sort out the functions of the House of Lords before doing so. The truth is that there is agreement on that point. The House of Lords is a revising Chamber not equal to the House of Commons, prevented by statute from pre-empting the supremacy of this House and established by law and by practice to persuade and restrain this House.
The second argument is that the public have got other things on their mind. The idea that the Government have a bad economic policy or health policy because they are distracted by House of Lords reform is frankly risible. We are elected to this place to debate the big issues of the time, and I do not believe that it is sufficient to say that this is not people’s main preoccupation.
The third bad argument is by far the most tempting. It is: because the Deputy Prime Minister is in favour of an elected House, is sponsoring the debate and will sponsor the Bill, it must be a bad idea. That view has many supporters in both main parties, as we will discover, and one can see the force of the point. When the right hon. Gentleman said before the election that he wanted to unite the nation, he could scarcely have imagined that people of all shades of opinion would come together so quickly to agree that he is not a very lovable rogue. However, although that is a tempting argument, I hope that my colleagues, especially Labour colleagues, will not fall for it. The right hon. Gentleman needs no help from either of the two so-called main parties to administer his fate, and there is a much bigger game here than the temptation to kick a man when he is down. The roadblock to reform is not, in this case, the right hon. Gentleman, but the Government’s puppetmaster, the Prime Minister. We should not be diverted by the temptation of kicking smaller fry.
The fundamental issue at stake is whether a stronger, more assertive, more legitimate House of Lords will be good for the governance of the country, not just in democratic theory, but in real life and practice. I believe that it would. I am a believer in strong government. I also believe that a strong Government get stronger and better when they are more accountable to a strong legislature. That is what we are debating today. That is a recipe not for gridlock but for better government.
Legislative strength is, in part, the way in which this House functions. Personally, I would have liked to see electoral reform of this House and the second Chamber on the same ballot paper in a single referendum, because we should debate the Parliament of the United Kingdom as a whole. The House of Commons and the House of Lords exist in relation to each other, not simply separately. However, following the alternative vote fiasco, that opportunity has been missed. None the less, it is striking that many of those who argue that reform will make no difference to the public also contend that it will mean the end of the House of Commons as the voice of the public. They cannot have it both ways.
Reform of the House of Lords is important to the strength and effectiveness of the legislature as a whole. That is why I argue for it.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for reciting such a compendium of errors. If he is giving us a lecture on logic, how does he explain the contradiction of a Prime Minister, who is allegedly, in the right hon. Gentleman’s view, a puppetmaster, yet also an enthusiastic advocate of the proposed legislation?
The hon. Gentleman tempts me and I will deal with that exact point shortly.
To those who say that an elected House of Lords will be stronger, I reply, “Good.” It will be good for the House of Commons and good for Governments of any stripe to face more effective and assertive scrutiny, and, where necessary, revision of their legislation from the House of Lords. That is not the same as advocating the overthrow of the primacy of the House of Commons, or as saying that the House of Lords will be a rival to the House of Commons. This country’s democratic problem is not neutered Government, emanating from the House of Commons, but under-scrutinised, under-accountable, over-centralised and over-confident Government.
In the first minute of his speech, the right hon. Gentleman said that the House of Lords would not be more powerful; in the fifth minute, he said it would be. I think that it would not be a bad thing if the House of Lords were more powerful, but we ought at least to recognise what we are doing.
I am sorry to disappoint the hon. Gentleman, but I have my speech in front of me, and I did not say that the House of Lords would not be more powerful. I made the logical point that the House of Lords could have a stronger voice in the nation’s affairs; that it would not become a rival to the House of Commons, but that it could provide more effective scrutiny of legislation proposed by a Government elected to this House.
The problem in the current system of an over-centralised and under-accountable Government would be significantly reduced by an elected House of Lords. The simplest and most principled case is for a wholly elected House. It has my support. However, I do not accept the argument that the reservation of 20% of seats for independent voices, independently selected, torpedoes the purpose of reform. It is less pure than a wholly elected House, but it may be more practical. The argument that it creates a hybrid House is not strong, given the current composition of the House of Lords, in which the hereditary peers and the non-party peers are in a class of their own.
Let me conclude with some history, which addresses the point that the hon. Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman) made. I had the pleasure of writing with Lord Irvine of Lairg the 1997 Labour manifesto that committed the new Government to removing hereditary peers from the House of Lords. The wording was designed to pre-empt any queries from the other place on Salisbury convention grounds. However, we did not bank on the willingness of Viscount Cranbourne and his backwoodsmen to threaten the whole of the Government’s programme if we proceeded with the abolition of all hereditary peers. That was the origin of the then Government’s acceptance of the so-called Weatherill amendment, which reprieved 92 hereditary peers.
In speaking to the historic motion to remove some 650 hereditary peers from the Lords, Lord Irvine said that the compromise in respect of the 92
“would guarantee that stage two would take place”.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 30 March 1999; Vol. 599, c. 204.]
One reason for its not taking place is that, until now, the Conservative party has been officially opposed to an elected House of Lords. However, the Conservative Opposition in the House of Lords in 1999, in reply to Lord Irvine, said that it was absolutely crucial that one amendment to the Bill should be a timetable setting out exactly when stage two would be put in place.
Twelve years on, we are still waiting, to the shame of all parties in this House. Many of us fear that the Deputy Prime Minister’s Joint Committee will be another recipe for foot dragging. However, for the first time in centuries, the Conservative party has been dragged to support an elected House of Lords. Let us get on with bringing it about.
It is a great privilege to have the opportunity to speak in favour of the long overdue reform of the second Chamber. I welcome the publication of the draft Bill and the appointment of the Joint Committee. I am sure that its members, given their background, will do an excellent job of scrutinising the proposed legislation.
Although the draft Bill may not be the direct product of the joint discussions that have taken place so far, it reflects broad areas of agreement. I hope that, more importantly, there will be an opportunity for thorough pre-legislative scrutiny, to which hon. Members of all parties will contribute in order to make it successful. It is a privilege to follow the right hon. Member for South Shields (David Miliband), who reminded us that progressive forces operate on both sides of the Chamber.
As the draft Bill makes clear, those of us who are reformists do not want the new second Chamber to compete with this House, but to retain its role as a revising Chamber. However, it is important—and a fundamental principle for many of us—that Members of that House have legitimacy through an election. That is only way in which they can have legitimacy.
Perhaps the House of Lords has become marginally more legitimate with the abolition of the hereditary principle. The right hon. Gentleman rightly alluded to the fact that that was an evolutionary process. Attempts were made to remove all the hereditary peers in one go, but that could not be achieved and 92 remained.
Liberal Democrats passionately believe in a 100% elected Chamber, but we appreciate the opportunity for evolutionary change: 80%, with 20% appointed, must not be squandered—it is a huge step in the right direction. However, we must emphasise that this House retains primacy. As well as Members being elected for the single 15-year terms, we will have a different electoral system, which will ensure that power remains in this place.
My hon. Friend makes the important point, as several others have done, that we must not upset the balance of power between the other place and us. Does he agree with the comments that Lord Ashdown made last Tuesday? He said:
“The fact that we do not have democratic legitimacy undermines our capacity to act as a check and balance on the excessive power of the Executive backed by an excessive majority in the House of Commons.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 21 June 2011; Vol. 728, c. 1190.]
I do not understand what the hon. Gentleman means. I have great sympathy with my noble Friend’s comments.
The Government’s critics have mentioned a lack of pre-legislative scrutiny of other Bills, but that is precisely why we have set up the Joint Committee, which is about to undertake such work, and why it is important to have a robust House of Lords, which will continue its function in scrutinising legislation. As someone who worked in the other place many years ago, I understand the sort of detailed scrutiny that was undertaken.
The expertise in the other place has been mentioned. I must say that that debate is 20 years out of date. When I was there 20 years ago, I had the privilege of sharing an office with a former lecturer at the London School of Economics, a former chairman of the Independent Broadcasting Authority, a former chairman of the National Coal Board and a former Minister for the arts. The composition of that House is very different now. It is dominated by people who have served in this place. Without being rude to those people, they spend a short time on the red Benches and go native.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the expertise of the other place is a myth, because in fact there are many elected experts in this House? Experts have nothing to be afraid of in standing for election to this House. They could gain legitimacy to add to their expertise.
I thank my hon. Friend for that contribution, with which I of course agree. I simply observe that the points made about expertise in the other place are largely historical ones.
When the House of Lords operates well, it can make significant improvements to legislation, as we have seen recently in the passage of the Public Bodies Bill. I would hazard a guess that that will be vastly improved when it comes here shortly. That scrutiny role is vital, which is why we need to be clear on the role and responsibilities of a reformed second Chamber. My hon. Friend the Member for St Ives (Andrew George) mentioned the codification of those roles in a written constitution, but as my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister said, that is not the direction in which we are going.
Despite what some Opposition Members have said, the Parliament Act makes clear the primacy of this House. However, we need to make it clear to the public, who may not be as engaged in the debate as some of us would wish, that we expect senators or Lords, or whatever the Joint Committee decides to call them, to have a very different role.
Doubtless there will be questions about the size of a second Chamber. In this climate, the Government are absolutely right to have a streamlined House with committed Members. In the 2009-10 Session, only 281 out of 792 peers attended more than 75% of sittings; 85 attended less than 10%; and 46 did not attend at all. We need to ensure that the membership of the House is large enough for it to function adequately, and so that it can provide members for all its Committees and ensure healthy debate. I am not sure whether the agreed number will be 300, but that problem needs to be addressed by the Joint Committee. Importantly, the draft Bill alludes to the statutory appointments commission and independent 10-year terms for commissioners.
There is a risk of competing mandates, which should be avoided. My experience of Welsh devolution and the National Assembly for Wales is that there is no problem of legislatures and those who make laws knowing about their responsibilities. However, 12 years on, public confusion on the role of MPs and AMs remains. Perhaps that will wane in time.
The hon. Gentleman cites devolution. I am sure he accepts that in Scotland there has been constant mission creep by MSPs on to Westminster territory, leaving aside the Scotland Act 1998. What guarantees can he give us that this House will not experience such mission creep by the other place?
I can give the hon. Gentleman no guarantees, but that is one concern that the Joint Committee will address. I accept that risk, and it needs to be addressed. There needs to be specific reference to the four or six senators elected in Wales in the first tranche not undertaking constituency duties, and not competing with MPs or AMs to get on to the front page of local newspapers. Again, that points to the importance, as the Deputy Prime Minister said, of having different electoral systems and different term lengths to suit the different roles. Those guarantees will come from that legislation.
Although Members of the second Chamber ought not to have a constituency role, it is important to elect representatives from the regions and nations of this country and to provide a guaranteed presence, to end the bias towards London and the south-east. We have had some notable peers from Wales—the list is endless—and many still function there, but critically, they have had to rely on the patronage of the Prime Minister.
This is an historic opportunity to give legitimacy to the second Chamber and to remove the power of patronage. I accept that I have not had a huge number of e-mails or letters on this subject, but as the right hon. Member for South Shields said, that is not a reason to ignore the reform proposals.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I will not, because time is very short.
During today’s debate, the proposals—[Interruption.] I anticipated being called to speak somewhat later—[Interruption.] I was about to say that the proposals have been characterised as a Bill. I would certainly lay that charge at noble Lords in another place. This is not a Bill but a draft Bill. There is much work to do, but it gives us the basis to develop a legitimate second Chamber which can undertake that scrutiny role. I was surprised that the Leader of the Opposition in another place described the proposals as a bad Bill. I sincerely hope that after the Joint Committee has finished, it will not be a bad Bill. She will have the opportunity to label it a bad Bill when the Committee’s work is done.
The draft Bill represents a huge step forward, and I hope that progressives on both sides of the House play their part in developing reform. I hope that we are not subjected to a Michael Foot-Enoch Powell 1968 holy alliance that stops otherwise sensible reform.
I do not complain, Mr Deputy Speaker.
This is both a bad Bill and a half-baked Bill, and I shall certainly vote against it. It is not improvable in that sense because of the principles on which it is based. Admittedly, we are in strange territory with the new coalition, but some very strange policies and constitutional principles are coming out. First, in the name of democracy we are reducing the number of elected MPs and increasing the number of Members of the other place. That is pretty strange.
Secondly, the Deputy Prime Minister—I am sorry that he has left the Chamber—annunciates, as the basis of his support for many policies, that he can support any policy he wants, even if it is in contradiction to his manifesto, because he did not win the election. Who ever expected the Lib Dems to form a Government on their own? He is saying that because they were not going to form a Government on their own, he can support any policy he wants, irrespective of what he said to the electorate.
Thirdly—this is a difficult but fundamental point—reform of the House of Lords was in the manifestos of all three parties. However, that means that there was no differentiation. The electorate could not choose to vote for one party or another on the basis of what was in a manifesto. We have just had a fairly ridiculous referendum between first past the post and the alternative vote, but how much more important are making fundamental changes by introducing a voting system and changing the balance of power between this House and the other place? Are we having a referendum on that? No we are not, even though the electorate had no choice during the general election.
The hon. Gentleman may not have noticed, but all the parties lost the election. Nobody got a majority.
What is the problem? Is the problem in our democracy really the relationship between this House and the other one? I do not think so. Where has all the power gone from these Houses of Parliament? It has gone to Europe. Depending on which area people are in, 60% or 70% of our legislation is now passed by Europe. The proposals do not deal with that, but it is one of the most fundamental problems.
Within the power structure of our constitution—I accept that a lot of that power has gone away—the problem is not the House of Lords but the Privy Council, the royal prerogative and the fact that there is no separation between Ministers and Members of the legislature, which is almost never talked about when we compare Parliaments. It is fairly unusual in Parliaments around the world for Ministers to be accountable to themselves within a legislature. That is a big problem, and one reason why there is less Government accountability than one might expect, so the arguments for it are second rate and do not deal with the main problem.
Most of the debate we have had today has been about whether these reforms would affect the primacy of the House of Commons. If we introduce a democratic element into the House of Lords, it is bound to undermine the primacy of this House for several reasons. First, what would happen if we introduced proportional representation—STV or any other form of PR? Some Members of this House believe that PR is a superior and more democratic system to first past the post. The electorate disagreed, but that is those Members’ honest and openly held view. If we were to elect the other place by PR, it seems reasonable that they would then argue primacy.
Secondly, is it more democratic to elect people who never have to go back to the electorate who elected them and account for themselves? I do not think so. It is just a method of appointment. Democracy implies not only the ballot box, but accountability in terms of justifying which way Members have voted. Otherwise Members could vote any way they wanted without any consequences.
In the election to this Chamber, someone could be elected on a Thursday night and on Friday announce to the world that they had no intention of seeking re-election five years later. Where is the accountability there, according to the hon. Gentleman’s argument?
It is difficult to argue that the fact that individual Members of this House could say that they would not stand again is a justification for every Member in the other place never standing again. That would be a very odd argument to make.
My third point is one that the Deputy Prime Minister made a great deal of, and it is that the elected senators or Lords in the other place would never have a fresher mandate than we have in this place. However, that cannot be guaranteed. Even the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill contains mechanisms that allow for elections and one could still have elections twice a year, so we could get out of phase with the other place and their mandate would be fresher. They would then argue that they had primacy. I have never come across anyone standing for election who does not really believe that their view is the right view or who does not want to prosecute that view as hard as they can. Otherwise, why stand for election in the first place?
My final point is about how this House would assert its primacy if the other place were 80% or wholly elected. If legislation started in this place, it would be subject to the Parliament Acts. That process takes a long time and is of limited use. Further, some lawyers would argue that there are real difficulties with the second Parliament Act of 1949.
Much discussion and debate is not about legislation, but about policy. It is about secondary legislation, and some Conservative Members were pleased when the House of Lords overturned the decision of this House on a statutory instrument on the super-casino. That was not a principled issue of this House against the other place—people who did not like very large casinos voted against it, even though the primary legislation had been passed in this House. The House of Lords overturned a detailed decision—and that happened before they had elections.
I can see no situation in which an elected house would not want to have more power. That would mean that we would have less and we would not be dealing with the fundamental issues. These proposals do not deal with the biggest issues facing our society at the moment. International experience is prayed in aid of the Bill. In nearly every international case there is a written constitution, often set up by the British Government after wars or revolutions, when people have to define the various powers of the president, the legislature and the Government. We do not have such a constitution and the real fight in history has been between the House of Commons and the Government, of whatever stripe. Unfortunately, increasing the power of the House of Lords is likely to reduce the power of the House of Commons and all elected Members to the benefit of the Government. That is why this is a very bad Bill.
I agree with the hon. Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer) that over the years power has gone from this place—to the EU, to the Government and to the devolved assemblies. It is important to bear that in mind, and the balance between Parliament, the Executive and those other bodies is something that we should debate in some detail on another day.
A respectable case can be made that the House of Lords works well. In recent years, we have had the issues of 90 days’ detention, attacks on jury trials and the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act 2006, which would have given Ministers the chance to overturn laws just by signing an order. On those occasions, the Lords came to the rescue of the country and did the right thing. It is an excellent revising Chamber and it does not try to rival what we do here. One has only to think of the contributions that people make there—we can point to Lord Heseltine, but I can think of other people who have gone from this place to the Lords, such as Lord Boswell, who is a member of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly, and others who do a very good job. The mix in the Lords is something that would never be invented, with all those landed aristocrats mixing with the bishops, a dose of Labour trade union leaders—[Interruption.] Yes, that includes Tommy McAvoy and other former MPs. It does work.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth West (Conor Burns)more or less said, “If it ain’t broke, why fix it?” But he suggested what I would call maintenance work—just servicing the vehicle so that it does not break down. Some changes could usefully be made, such as to the retirement age, and I personally believe that there is a case for a minimalist approach to voting. That is probably where I would fall out of step with my hon. Friend.
The last time we debated this issue fiercely—between 1995 and 1997—the background was the scandal of loans for peerages, as it became known. There was much concern that the method of appointment to the Lords was part of the problem. The right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) had a working party—of which I was a member—and we looked at all the issues. There was a feeling that we wanted to keep the 20% made up of the great surgeons and lawyers and others who make such an important contribution, so we needed an appointed element, but for the political Members there was a case for election. That could be as minimalist as simply saying that at the general election people would get another vote for a party—Conservative, Labour or Lib Dem—and the seats would be filled from the parties’ lists in that proportion. In many ways, it would be very similar to what we do now, but it would give an added respectability to the method of appointment.
My hon. Friend is eloquently making the argument that we should consider a range of options, as we have done in the past. This House and the other place should consider a number of options, rather than just one, so I hope that the Minister will assure those of us with ideas for improving the system that we can look at a broad range of ideas, rather than just the one. There might be an argument for a small element of election, but I am not convinced.
The hon. Gentleman is 10 years out—I think he means 2007, not 1997. Is not the most bizarre element in the argument against any form of election the fact that 70% of the present House of Lords take a party Whip, and 85% of those who attend on a daily basis take a party Whip? Surely those people at least should be elected.
Yes, the case for election is this: it would give the appointment mechanism for the political element of the other place an added respectability. I agree passionately that we do not want to set up a rival Chamber. It is important that we do not run the risk of two people, both in Parliament, representing the same area, and one interfering with the work of the other. I do not think that would be satisfactory. I am gradually coming round to the idea of a national list system: a voter would decide at a general election whether they were Conservative, Labour or Lib Dem, and the lists would be devised in proportion to the votes cast. However, I am quite happy to agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth West that we should consider a range of options. Some people say that we could improve selection.
It depends how we view the people appointed under the current system. I happen to believe that the current system works pretty well but needs some maintenance. Those who think that the people appointed to the other place have been the wrong people, or that it has not worked well, might take a different view, but the benefits of a national list system are that it gives us elections, it does not create constituency rivalries and it recreates what we have now but in a way that has an elected element to it. It therefore answers one of the problems. It is just a thought, but it might be something to look at.
When we voted last time, in 2007, there was no clear outcome. There was actually a lot of support among Conservative Members for the status quo, and quite a lot of support among Conservative Members for 80:20. Then, at the end of the day, everybody—apart from me—voted for 100%. I am not sure why, but it was curious—
It might have been, but I think it unlikely. I am not going to give the hon. Gentleman the credit because he mentioned 1997—or perhaps I did. What was I thinking? It was a terrible year.
I think that the Committee will do useful work. There are a lot of options to be considered, and I think we should show respect for the work of the other place, and the fact that it does an excellent job and has saved us when we needed it.
Article 21 of the universal declaration of human rights declares:
“The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.”
I cannot believe that in the 21st century anyone could seriously argue for a wholly or mainly appointed second Chamber. I believe that the nation should move to a 100%—or, if that is not possible, at least an 80%—elected Chamber. That the Deputy Prime Minister is fronting this charge should not prejudice us unduly. I, for one, would be pleased were we to see the end of that very British creation—peer creation. Under the Blair Government, the number of peers increased by 37 per year, but let us not forget that it was that Government who abolished 555 hereditary peerages—so a net reduction of 181. Under the Government of my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown), on average 11 peers were added per year, but under this Prime Minister—the Prime Minister who wishes, by non-consensual methods, to abolish 50 Members of this House—the number of peers in the House has increased by 117.
I would welcome the hon. Gentleman saying that he would support the consensual method for retaining the number of MPs. I thank him for that.
Let us consider where we are with the House of Lords at present. It is the second largest parliamentary Chamber in the world behind only—would you believe it?—China’s National People’s Congress, which has 3,000 members, and which meets for two weeks a year. It is not an upper Chamber. The House of Lords is the biggest upper Chamber of the 80 upper Chambers recorded by the Inter-Parliamentary Union, and the United Kingdom is the only bicameral country in which the second Chamber is bigger than the lower. It has been argued in this debate that somehow, as if by osmosis, the House of Lords works rather well. We have heard how it brings in the shy who would never stand for election—those rare creatures who suddenly, by osmosis, will find themselves in the second Chamber. I cannot accept that, and I cannot accept that we can seriously be thinking of any Chamber in this Parliament being predominantly or wholly un-elected.
The House of Lords reform White Paper plans to reduce the size of the Lords to 300 Members, but let us not forget the coalition agreement—even if, sometimes, the coalition partners do. The agreement states:
“Lords appointments will be made with the objective of creating a second chamber that is reflective of the share of the vote secured by the political parties in the last general election.”
However, such proportionality might give us 86 more Tory peers and 99 more Liberal Democrats, and therefore a Chamber of 977 Members if no new Labour or independent peers were created. Some of the proposed transition arrangements to the new system would leave all the current peers alongside the new peers for several Parliaments, which would mean approximately 1,000 or more Members next door.
We have to go down the route of a more democratic upper Chamber. I would be slightly concerned to see 60 appointed Members. For all the good that the Bishops do as individuals, there is a case for giving the matter some consideration. I say that even though I am a member of the disestablished Church in Wales. We also need to consider whether the single term of 15 years allows proper electoral accountability. I was interested to hear that when the new Iraqi constitution was drawn up, the west commended it because it was democratic. There was a strong commitment to elections, but there was no mention of an upper House, and there was certainly no mention of an appointed Chamber. It is extraordinary that as so many countries around the world are exploring democracy—just think of the middle east—we are sitting in this House and seriously suggesting that there can be any merit in a wholly or mainly appointed second Chamber. The modernisers need to speak in this place for a new and modernised pluralistic Britain.
Thank you for calling me, Mr Deputy Speaker, in this important debate. By speaking today, I am breaking a little pledge that I made to myself: I assured myself, when I was elected just over a year ago, that rather than be tempted to speak in every one of the interesting and exciting debates that we hold in this Chamber, I would limit myself to those debates concerning a particular constituency issue, or where my constituents were particularly concerned. I wanted to be the voice of the people of Burton and Uttoxeter, and in order to do that I was going to champion their views in Parliament.
By speaking in this debate, I am breaking that pledge, because not a single constituent has contacted me to discuss Lords reform. Not one e-mail, either pro or anti, not one telephone call, not one letter and not one person attending my surgeries has brought the burning issue of Lords reform to my attention. That is why I am so concerned to speak in this debate, because not only has that not happened in the past 12 months of my being an MP, but it did not happen in the previous four years, when I was busy knocking on doors and kissing babies as a parliamentary candidate. Indeed, in the 10 or 20 years that I have been an active member of the Conservative party, campaigning regularly, nobody has ever raised the issue of Lords reform with me.
In support of what my hon. Friend is saying, let me point out that in response to a Liberal Democrat comment in The Southern Daily Echo in favour of House of Lords reform, I wrote an entire column saying why the House of Lords should remain appointed and not be elected in any way, shape or form. Not only was not a single blog post or letter of dissent directed towards me, but nothing was put in the paper, which only goes to show what a non-issue this is, in either direction, for the electorate.
I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. He makes the exact point that while we are devoting valuable time in this Chamber to the subject—we will devote more time to this discussion over the coming months and probably years—our constituents want us to talk about things such as employment.
I cannot agree with my hon. Friend. In fact, I have received quite a lot of letters about fixed-term Parliaments. Most of them came from Liberal Democrat activists who wanted me to vote in favour, so that point is not quite right. The reality is that our constituents want us to spend our time in this Chamber producing legislation that will have an impact on the things that matter to them. They want us to talk about jobs, the economy, schools and the health service. Above all, they want the legislation that comes out of this place to be the best possible legislation with the best chance of making the kind of difference that they want.
When my hon. Friend and I were candidates knocking on people’s doors during the previous Parliament, does he recall the number of people who raised with us subjects on which the House of Lords was expressing their opinion and who urged this place to think again?
I concur with my hon. Friend. We heard earlier about a number of issues that the other place has led on, saving the nation in many respects. I commend wholeheartedly not only the work of the other place, but my hon. Friend’s earlier speech. My speech will be considerably shorter, because he covered many of the things that I want to say, and he did so more passionately and more eruditely.
If one of my hon. Friend’s constituents was unlucky enough to flick over from the tennis this evening and instead watch him in action, what does he think their reaction would be? Does he agree that this debate simply contributes to the idea that what we do here is quite often irrelevant and a vast distance away from what we should be doing?
As my hon. Friend is, like me, a member of the Select Committee on Political and Constitutional Reform, he will know how passionate we both are about political and constitutional reform. We want to see a better Chamber and a better politics come out of this place, but all too often we are navel gazing by talking about the things which turn us on as political anoraks, but which have no impact whatever on the general public and voters at large.
Does my hon. Friend share my view that the process of scrutinising the Bill is likely to take days, if not weeks, of parliamentary time? Does he also share my view that it will be impossible to account to the electorate for how that time was spent when there is a fire in the economic engine-room?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We should focus on the issues that matter to our voters. I return to the original point: we are here today to debate the future of another place. Fundamentally, we should be asking ourselves what we want it to do. What is it there for? Fundamentally, it is there to improve the legislation that we put before it. It is there to polish—I remember the phrase, “You can’t polish”—[Interruption.] I cannot remember the end to that phrase. The House of Lords is there to improve the legislation that we send to it. It is a revising Chamber. It is there to scrutinise the work that we do.
Among all the people in this debate, both for and against—those in the other place, Ministers and experts—absolutely nobody has suggested that the other place does not do a good job in scrutinising the legislation that is put before it. To repeat the saying that has been used so often, “If it ain’t broke, why fix it?” One of the reasons why the other place works so well is the experts contained within it. We have heard from some people who suggest that perhaps that point is out of date, but when I look at the quality and the level of the debate that takes place in another place—
Sometimes the Lords have excellent debates, but quite often they do not. I remember a debate on the Communications Act 2003 in which several hon. Members down that end of the building spent all their time talking about black and white television licences. Honestly, sometimes their expertise is rather out of date.
The hon. Gentleman is an assiduous attender in this Chamber. If he can honestly say that he has never heard anyone make a spurious speech or move away from the point in any of the debates that he has attended, he has obviously not been to some of the debates that I have sat through in the past 12 months.
I do not know whether my hon. Friend agrees with me, but one can go to a debate in the other place and hear Lord Pannick, a top lawyer, talking about the detail of a legal issue, or Lord McColl, a wonderful surgeon who has been involved in Mercy Ships. There is some marvellous knowledge there.
I should throw away the rest of my speech, because my hon. Friend has hit the nail on the head. The quality of the debate in another place is so high, because of the experts there. When another place has a debate on the NHS, it can rely on the comments of people such as Lord Winston. When it debates the economy, it can rely on captains of industry, ex-chairmen of the CBI and people who have taken small businesses and turned them into nationally successful businesses. When Members in another place talk about sport, they can listen to the views and opinions of a number of gold medal winners. Those are the kinds of people who are best placed to polish and improve the legislation that this place sends to it.
I have taken a number of interventions, and I will now draw my speech to a conclusion. We should return to the central point, which is that we wish to send the best possible legislation from this place, with the best chance of improving the lives of our constituents. The contribution that the other place makes to that is crucial.
I will not follow the hon. Member for Burton (Andrew Griffiths), but I will refer to him later in my speech.
The first ghost that I should like to lay to rest in this debate is the ghost of manifesto commitments past. It is a well known and well subscribed to constitutional position that the sovereignty of Parliament lies in the fact that Parliament cannot bind its successors. It follows that it cannot be bound by its predecessors. The point was made by the Deputy Prime Minister in response to a question from the Opposition Benches. The hon. Member for Bournemouth West (Conor Burns) has also referred to it, as have my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (David Miliband) and my hon. Friend the Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer). Thus, the vote in the last Parliament that there should be an elected second Chamber on the basis of 100% elected Members does not bind the present Parliament. That was the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) and by the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr Gray). Nor, I should add, are manifesto commitments binding when entered into by a party that has lost the election. Were that to be otherwise, I would have fought successive general elections on a 1983 manifesto commitment unilaterally to disarm our nuclear deterrent and to withdraw from the European Economic Community.
If a manifesto commitment is supposedly written in stone by the Labour party, which lost the election, why is the party carrying out a review of all policy—a review that is taking place over a year? My right hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan) tried to put forward a position for the Labour party as best he could, but he did nothing other than put forward a position that was entirely his own. It is not the position of the Labour party, and only when the Labour party comes out with its review at the end of the year will its position be clear. Otherwise, what is the purpose of the review? Why have it and waste one’s time. Why have a review on a policy when we already have one? How can that be?
The lack of logic on the part of my Front-Bench team is astonishing. [Interruption.] Any manifesto commitment by the Liberal party might have—[Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) makes a sedentary intervention. He was a great supporter of the alternative vote, and we know where that went. He now says he will commit the Labour party to a 100% elected Senate. I can tell him now that if he wants to divide his party, he should go ahead. We almost divided the party on the alternative vote—that did not happen thanks to those who supported the “No to AV” side, as we kept our heads down when the leadership supported AV. If my hon. Friend is telling the House that the Labour party has a commitment that it does not have for a 100% elected Senate, he will split the party. It is as simple as that.
My hon. Friend knows that in political parties there are quite often issues that divide. One such issue is Europe, although he and I are on the same side on that. When it comes to the House of Lords, this policy was not devised without reference to party members; it went to a national policy forum, which increased the percentage from 80% to 100%. Until such time as our policy changes, that is our policy.
It is not our policy, and my hon. Friend would do well to realise it. He replied to the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, the hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper) about debates in the other place. I will write to my hon. Friend, so he can read last week’s debate and the statement made by Baroness Royall, which said that the Labour party is divided on this issue. Whatever forum made an agreement, it does not bind the party until we come out with a new set of policy commitments, which will not take place before the end of this year. I can tell my hon. Friend now that if he wants the Labour party to go down the road of having a 100% elected Senate, he will not have my support.
The hon. Gentleman makes the point that the Labour party is divided on this issue, but so is every party. That is why this issue has always been subject to a free vote in previous Parliaments. Does he agree that the coalition should be encouraged to do the same this time?
As ever, my hon. Friend has been illuminating the House from a position of great wisdom and experience. When he talks about parties being split, however, does he not accept that the Labour party might be split on the detail, the minutiae and the sub-clauses of the Bill, but that there is absolutely no man, woman or child in the Labour party who is against the principle of House of Lords reform in some way, shape or form?
I would have reached that part of my speech, if I had not been interrupted from the Labour Front Bench by my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda. Of course we want reform of the House of Lords. The noble Lord Steel has proposals for the reform of the House of Lords. If it is a question of reforming the House of Lords, the proposals are already there. Why go to the expense when even the Deputy Prime Minister—he made an eloquent contribution today and the other day—cannot quantify the cost of a new House of Lords or Senate, as it will become.
I certainly voted for an 80% elected Upper Chamber, but never on the basis of proportional representation—never! A number of votes were taken on that occasion, but Members who were present at the time know that they were no more than wrecking votes or wrecking amendments. [Interruption.] My right hon. Friend the Member for Tooting voted for every motion put to the House that night. [Interruption.] He said so earlier.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that he and every other Member has the right and the privilege to change their mind as circumstances change and that whatever the right hon. Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan) did or voted for in the past, he is entitled to vote for something completely different today?
Just as Parliament does not bind its successor, I do not bind myself by a vote that took place in the previous Parliament.
Constitutional issues are the most important issues that the House faces tonight and that it will face in the future. The Deputy Prime Minister has said that this is a constitutional Bill, and he referred to it as such again tonight. It is so constitutional that it passes by the prerogative of the Whips, who cannot control how this House will vote when it comes to the abolition of a third of Parliament, as we understand it. Parliament, as we understand it, consists of the monarch, the House of Lords and the House of Commons. If we talk about democratic deficits for the Lords, when are we going to get around to the democratic deficits for the monarch? [Interruption.] If the Liberals wish to debate the democratic deficits of the monarch—[Interruption.] They should not say no. I am not going to see it in my generation, but future generations might see it.
I have witnessed anti-establishment of the Church of England views being put by Labour Members seeking the disestablishment of the Church through this constitutional debate. The time might come when someone says that there is a democratic deficit for the elected leader of this entire country. As I have said, these issues of constitutional importance cannot be dealt with by Government Whips or by a whipped vote on the Opposition side. The established Church has hardly been mentioned, but this is the reason why I have never voted for a 100% elected upper House. The established Church is part of our constitution. It is in every interstice of our life throughout the parishes of the land, and the Queen is head of the Church and Head of State. To start dismantling the established Church and to take away a third of the Parliament—and to keep the name of the House of Lords, when it will really be a Senate—is all part of the Government’s obfuscation, and they are being helped by my own Front-Bench team.
There will be a battle royal on this issue. If the Government wish that, so be it. If the Labour party wants to go down the road of proportional representation to allow the Liberal Democrats and their friends on our Front Bench to achieve for the second Chamber what they could not achieve for the first, it can count me out.
The draft Bill before us is not the solution to a 100-year-old problem, but it might be the precursor to many new problems being introduced into British politics. From it could spill unintended consequences: first, that the upper Chamber will become a less good scrutinising body; and, secondly, that the primacy of this Chamber will be fatally undermined.
The Bill assumes that the upper House’s composition should be decided predominantly by universal suffrage. I was struck by what the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Sir Stuart Bell) said. The reductio ad absurdum is that if this concept of closing a democratic deficit by having a universal suffrage franchise is adopted, it could result in the election of a head of state. I do not think that any Conservative Members are interested in that, but that is what we are dealing with.
The Bill’s proponents seem to be saying that because universal suffrage is good enough for this Chamber it must be good enough for the upper Chamber, but the upper Chamber does something radically different. It revises, it amends, it delays Bills to make us think again in extreme cases, and it has no control over money Bills. Because of its very nature, however, that revising Chamber requires a different set of talents.
We heard eloquent speeches from my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth West (Conor Burns), my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Andrew Griffiths) and others about the unique contribution that men and women with skill, experience and expertise bring to the process of revising and amending measures that we send them in order to make them better. I know many individuals with such talent and experience who speak and revise well in the upper Chamber, and they would not stand for election. Distinguished medics, Nobel prize winners and members of the arts community would simply not put themselves through the process.
I have a great deal of sympathy with what my hon. Friend is saying. I have had a chance to review all the appointments to the House of Lords since the general election. What proportion does my hon. Friend believe to fall into that category of independent-minded people who have never stood for election and have no party-political involvement?
I want to make some progress.
It seems that we are being required to duplicate the mandate of this House, but why should we do that, particularly when it would lead to confusion and conflict? As night follows day, elected Members of an upper Chamber would be able to claim as much legitimacy as Members of this House. [Hon. Members: “No!”] An elected Lord, from my party or any other party, would be entitled to turn up in my constituency, or any Member’s constituency, claiming that he had a mandate on almost any issue he chose. What would the public make of that, and what kind of mandate would it be? Would it be based on proportional representation? There are two problems with that. First, any kind of electoral reform was—the last time I looked—rejected fairly decisively by the British people in a referendum earlier this year. Secondly, as I think my hon. Friend the Member for Burton observed, the system would be the creature of party machines—dare I say it, Whips—who would ensure that, on a national or regional list, troublemakers, perhaps independent-minded existing peers, were not placed on such a party list.
I want to make some progress.
The final objection to such a system, of which we have heard much today, is that an elected peer would be elected for a 15-year term, and during that period would be accountable to no one. Even on its own terms, the democratic argument seems defective.
According to the White Paper published earlier this year,
“The Government does not intend to amend the Parliament Acts or to alter the balance of power between the two Houses of Parliament.”
I must say, with respect, that that utterly misses the point. A democratised upper House would be stronger, and would have its own view about the balance of power. Once the power has been given to them, what Ministers “intend” is irrelevant. The Minister has said that there would be no change in the balance of power. How precisely does he intend to enforce that?
That is an excellent point. We heard some sensible observations along those lines from other Conservative Members earlier. It would be a case of mission creep. It is not something that anyone would specifically intend and it would not be explicit in a Bill, but it would be implicit in the granting of powers to a new set of elected individuals who would claim legitimacy and a democratic mandate. I ask again why we should wish to duplicate the mandate that elected individuals have when those individuals are here, in this Chamber?
When it was studying the upper House, the Joint Committee on Conventions said that if the conventions between the Houses were to change—which would be inevitable if there were elections to the upper House—all the conventions and Acts involved in their relationship would have to be examined again. Will the Minister undertake to re-examine the conventions and Acts governing the delicate balance between this Chamber and the upper House?
Many of us are not luddites. We know that practical reform of the upper House could be effective in certain respects, and could make it more efficient. My hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth West gave us a flavour of some of the changes proposed by Lord Steel, who suggested the establishment of an independent commission that would limit the number of peers. He also suggested that the 92 hereditaries, as and when they died off, should not be replaced, and that peers who did not attend for a defined period should lose their right to speak and vote, as should those who committed serious criminal offences.
I consider it unacceptable, in this day and age, that in the last year 137 peers did not table a question or make any contribution to debates in the upper House. We can change that, and we can do so along sensible, practical lines that most Members of both Houses would sign up to tomorrow. The upper House should not be pickled in aspic—we should not be luddite in any way—but, although it can be improved, the Bill is not the way in which to do that. We fumble with the rich and delicate texture of our constitution at our peril, and we should beware the law of unintended consequences.
Before the Minister leaps up and tells me how I have voted on various debates on the House of Lords over the years, let me say that, like my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (David Miliband), I eventually voted for a 100% elected House, but for very different reasons. According to a rather bizarre tactic—I must confess that I did not quite see the logic of it—if I voted for that, the establishment of a directly elected House of Lords would somehow be prevented. [Laughter.] There it is; we were told that at the time.
Nevertheless, I want to put on record that I do not believe in a directly elected House of Lords. I am not attracted to the idea because I believe that we would elect a rival to this House of Commons, and I do not think that we would have a revising Chamber anywhere near as good as the one that we have now, although I do believe that there is a strong case for reforms of the House of Lords as it stands.
A Member mentioned Australia earlier. The lower House is elected by alternative vote—that is another story—and the upper House by single transferable vote, but over the years there have been serious differences of opinion and almost gridlock between the two Houses on various issues such as climate change. That could well occur were the upper House in this Parliament to be elected. The Prime Minister’s tutor Vernon Bogdanor, who recently wrote a book on the coalition and constitutional change, has said that in the event of disputes between the two Houses,
“a directly elected second Chamber would decrease, not increase, the power of the voter, by insulating Parliament even further from the voter than it is already.”
I am not persuaded in that regard.
The hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr Williams) and others have observed that the House of Lords does not contain the sort of expertise that it might have years ago, and that today it is packed with place-people from various parties. I am not sure that I agree with that. In last week’s debate in the other place, Lord Howe of Aberavon cited contributions to a debate on the national health service by
“two former deans of university medical schools, a practising dentist, a consultant obstetrician, a consultant paediatrician, a former GP, a former professor of nursing, a former director of Age Concern and the president of Mencap.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 21 June 2011; Vol. 728, c. 1195.]
I do not believe that a House of Lords whose Members were elected in the way suggested could provide such expertise.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that even if the number of experts diminished over time with the increased number of appointees, that would be an argument not for the abolition of the House of Lords but for returning to having more people of expertise appointed to the House of Lords?
It is an argument for reform, not abolition. The bishops are another case in point. I am a Roman Catholic, not an Anglican, but I believe that the bishops of the Church of England offer a tremendous amount of expertise and experience to Parliament, and that they should still be Members of the House of Lords.
Does the right hon. Gentleman think that bishops voting in the House of Lords adds in any way to the expertise they are able to offer through what they say in that Chamber, and might they find it easier to remain in that Chamber if they were to desist from taking part in Divisions?
That is possible; obviously, such matters would have to be addressed.
Whatever our views about the Bill, I have to say to my Front-Bench colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), that I entirely agree with the Opposition Front Bench on a number of points—for example, a 15-year term of election is completely dotty. I hope that will be reconsidered, because it would give Members a long time in the other place without any proper mandate. As they are to be paid and their job will therefore be a profession, most of them will, presumably, be about 51 years of age upon election now that the pension rules have been changed, so that they can retire at 65. I hope that that proposal will be jettisoned, therefore.
I want to conclude with a few comments about process. When this House considered the constituencies Bill, the coalition was not a bit interested in consensus. Every time contributors to the debates both here and in the other place talked about the need for major constitutional changes to have a bedrock of consensus, the coalition Government refused to take any notice, but now that they want their way on the House of Lords consensus is the order of the day. I wonder whether this is a consensus of convenience, therefore. I believe that my own Front-Bench team should be rather sceptical about a Joint Committee and about being drawn into a consensus that in my view is convenient. We should not be gulled by that, and I think this particular constitutional change needs more than a Committee; it probably needs a royal commission to deal with it, rather than a Committee of politicians. Whatever sort of body it is, however, we must be very careful.
In all the years I have been a Member of this House, there has been a free vote on reform of the House of Lords. That should be the case whatever the manifesto commitments—and I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Sir Stuart Bell) that our manifesto commitment fell when we lost the election—and whatever the policies of the parties. Over the years, there were manifesto commitments and party principles and policies, but there was always a free vote for all the parties in this House of Commons and in the other place, and I believe that there should be a free vote on this issue.
Finally, I wish to raise the referendum issue. Some 100 years ago when the then Liberal Government introduced their first reform of the House of Lords, there was, to all intents and purposes, a referendum in that there was a general election on a single issue: whether the House of Lords should be reformed. Therefore, it is completely logical that we, too, should have a referendum on reform of the House of Lords. We had a referendum on whether we should remain a member of what was then known as the Common Market. We had referendums on elected Assemblies in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland. We had a referendum only this year on whether the powers of the Welsh Assembly should be extended—they were—and we also had a referendum on the alternative vote.
Lord Ashdown referred in his speech in the other place and in The Times today to people who hold my views on the matters under discussion as war horses, and to those who agree with me on the alternative vote as dinosaurs. Whichever animals we might be, the dinosaurs won the argument with the people on the alternative vote, and the war horses have the following in common with the dinosaurs: we want the people of this country to decide the constitutional future of this country in respect of the House of Lords, so let us have a referendum on this Bill.
May I start by warmly endorsing that suggestion, although I am afraid that a referendum would result in the triumph of hope over experience? I fear that the knowledge that this proposed reform of the House of Lords to a primarily elected or all-elected Chamber would not get past a referendum ensures that no referendum will be offered to the British people.
I have been trying to think of what I might contribute to this debate that has not been said before and that might not be repeated subsequently, and in the end I have come up with a little personal experience, which I hope the House will indulge me in discussing. It has often been my silent boast to myself that I did far more in affecting legislation before I became a Member of Parliament than I have managed subsequently. In fact, I have only once managed to affect legislation going on to the statute book since I was elected to this House in 1997, and that was over the issue of MPs’ home addresses not being made public in response to freedom of information requests. I was able to win that change only because the then Labour Government had the decency to give the House a free vote.
I influenced legislation on three occasions prior to becoming a Member of this House, however, thanks to the House of Lords and the way in which it functions. The first of the three occasions was to do with the Trade Union Bill of 1984. The then Thatcher Government did not propose to make postal ballots for trade union elections compulsory. The issue was passionately raised in the House by Conservative Back Benchers, and most prominently by my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh)—who was in the Chamber until very recently but has sadly slipped out just at the wrong moment—but their arguments were brushed aside. In the House of Lords, however, an amendment that trade unions should conduct their elections by postal ballot rather than the raising of hands in unrepresentative branch ballots was discussed in great depth and at great length, and that amendment was carried on the strength of the argument. Of course, there was no question of that surviving into legislation without the agreement of the democratically elected lower House. Precisely because Members in the upper House had recognised the strength of the argument and had taken the trouble to amend the Bill, when it came back to the lower House, although the Government did not accept the amendment in full, they at least made a determination that trade union postal ballots should become the norm. In subsequent years they did not become the norm, however, so in 1988 that measure was brought in against that test, which would not have been in place but for the intervention of the upper House. Subsequently, trade union postal ballots were made compulsory in the 1988 Act. My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough has now returned to the Chamber, having just missed my recent reference to him.
The second campaign was to do with the fact that in the 1980s many ideological disputes and divides were finding their way into the school classroom. Once again, we could not get an amendment considered seriously in the lower House, but it was taken very seriously in the upper House. The Bill that became the Education Act 1986 was amended in the upper House to ensure that political issues were raised in the classroom in a balanced and responsible way. When the Bill returned to this Chamber, the amendment’s merit was recognised and it was kept.
Finally, the same thing happened with the Bill that became the Broadcasting Act 1990. Questions of due impartiality for politically controversial subjects were enshrined in law as a result of changes made in the upper House.
The whole point is that in the upper House there are not only experts but people who can make changes to Bills that would be whipped out of existence if they were introduced in the lower House. If we go down the road of having a fully elected upper House, we will simply increase the number of Members of Parliament by a total of 300. They will be whipped in that place in the same way as they are in this place and the prospects of their being able to make changes that will survive the process in the democratic lower House will be lost.
I am partly giving my hon. Friend an opportunity to finish his argument in the time allowed to answer my intervention, but I also ask him to consider the model in the draft Bill, which is 80% elected and 20% appointed. That does not seem, at least from the study I have done of the appointments since 2010, to be that different from the ratio in the upper House at the moment between political appointees and those who might be classified as independent experts. Why does he think there is a danger with the 80:20 model?
My hon. Friend makes a fair point, which was made by Lord Ashdown in his article in The Times. He said:
“As for wisdom versus democracy, well I concede that there is a reservoir of expertise in the Lords.”
He went on to say that
“maybe we should preserve this 20% if they are independently appointed”,
much though he would prefer to follow the 100% model.
On the question of experts, nobody is denigrating the potential expertise of people who become party political professionals when they enter this House. I am not saying that the average level of intelligence or articulateness in this House, whatever people might think, is lower than the average level of the same qualities in the other House, but the fact remains that those of us who chose in our 30s or 40s to become professional politicians gave up the chance of reaching the pinnacles of expertise that we might have reached if we followed other careers. If we make the proposed change, we will find that people who reach the pinnacles of their profession will no longer be part of the legislative process and that will be our loss.
After many years of debate on this issue, it might be thought that there is little new to say. It is important, however, and the first thing we should do is leave aside the argument that because the subject is not raised very often on the doorstep and because other pressing issues face our nation we should somehow set it aside. If we took that view, we would never carry out any constitutional reform, so I do not think it should be the starting point for the debate.
The debate is important because in the past the House of Lords has been at the heart of sometimes titanic struggles with the Commons. If we look at our history, we can see that the Lords stood for old interests and old power. That is less so today, but historically it was true. When the great reforming Labour Government were elected at the end of the second world war and there were practically no Labour peers in the House of Lords, they felt the need for the Salisbury convention, which said that the House of Lords would not oppose manifesto commitments carried through by the elected Government of the day.
The discussion about reform always starts with composition and percentages. Indeed, as we have heard, when we discussed this matter a few years ago we had a series of votes on the percentages—20%, 40%, 60%, 80% and so on—with little discussion about the relationship between the two Houses.
The first point to be made about the argument on an elected Parliament is that we already have a 100% elected House of Commons. The discussion often takes place as though the House of Commons does not exist, but that must be the starting point for debate. It is a crucial part of our democratic system that general election day is the decisive democratic moment for the country. That is valued by the voters and if anyone doubts it, they need only look at the referendum result a couple of months ago.
The second and closely related flaw in the traditional argument is the assumption that we can change the democratic legitimacy of the upper House and nothing else will change. The Government’s document and draft Bill repeat that assertion, and clause 2 states:
“Nothing in the provisions of this Act…affects the primacy of the House of Commons”.
It is simply not possible, however, for a second Chamber to be elected without the power relationship between the two Houses being changed. There is no way that politicians elected to the second Chamber will not do their job by asserting themselves and claiming the authority that comes from democratic election in doing so. I have some experience of such reform as an adviser during Labour’s first term of office, when we removed the bulk of the hereditary peers. Even that fairly minor reform was responded to with the threat that from that moment on, the Salisbury convention would be taken off the table. If that was the response to a fairly minor reform, there will also be a similar response to a much more far-reaching reform, such as the one under discussion.
We can decide whether we want a second Chamber that is 80% or 100% elected, but we must also follow the logic of that argument. This is not a cosmetic change. After all, what would be the point of asking the public to take part in elections for the second Chamber if they did not really matter? They will matter. An elected second Chamber would mean a recasting of the relationship between both Houses and would certainly claim greater legitimacy and alter the nature of general election day in the future. Some Members may welcome that, as my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (David Miliband) did earlier, but let none of us deny that it will be the case.
There are other consequential changes, some of which are discussed in the Government White Paper, to do with pay, pensions and so on. I do not believe that they are fundamental and I think we should take the decision on its merits, not by adding up the cost of a Member of the House of Lords or House of Commons. I mention in passing that the Government will give this elected second Chamber the gift of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, and I wish its future Members all the best with that relationship.
There is one difference between the proposals and the situation for Members in the Commons and that is that the second Chamber will be given democratic legitimacy but not accountability, because of the single 15-year term. The accountability that informs us daily will not inform the Members of the second Chamber.
The second Chamber is in need of reform. It is too big and too many people do not turn up, and we ought to be able to do something about such things. There is also the question of the separation of peerage and membership of the House of Lords. I do not stand here opposed to all reform, but I do say that although Parliament can choose to have an elected second Chamber, we must follow the logic of what that will mean. If the Government say that such an alteration will not change the relationship, they will have to do far more in their Bill to ensure that that is the case.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden) and I think I agreed with virtually everything he said. There have been some outstanding independent-minded speeches from hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber, including three excellent speeches: the last speech and those made by the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Sir Stuart Bell) and the right hon. Member for Torfaen (Paul Murphy). I agree with them all. It is a bit of a pity, if I might say so, that the Deputy Prime Minister did not stay for longer, because this is an important constitutional issue. I know that a lot of people in the Dog and Duck are not very exercised about it, but why should they be? It is an important debate and it is important that the Government should listen to it. I know the Minister is listening. Virtually every speech we have heard has been thoughtful and very critical of the proposals and it would be highly regrettable if the changes were forced through on a three-line Whip. I believe that the House of Commons should consider all the options very carefully and by all means come to some sort of compromise, but it would be regrettable to force this through on a three-line Whip, with people who have taken no part in the debate, who perhaps have very little interest in it and who have their careers to look after, being poured in, especially given that the proposal was not in a manifesto. Let us consider that.
I sympathise with the Deputy Prime Minister in a sense, because he has an impossible task. In the absence of a written constitution he is trying to create an elected second Chamber that is not a rival to the House of Commons, but that is a virtually impossible task. He has therefore come up with the idea, which was well summed up by the right hon. Member for Torfaen as “dotty”, of electing people for a single, 15-year term. We really have to kill that idea; I am not aware of any other major legislature in the world that does that. The points have been made again and again, so I do not need to repeat them. Those people will be elected but unaccountable, and what sort of life will they lead if they are in the House of Lords for 15 years and never have to stand again? Is the senator for the east midlands, which is a vast area, really going to want to go and talk to Poverty Action in Nottingham on a rainy Saturday night, or to their local party in Leicester on a wet Friday evening? That is not going to happen. Those people will be sitting in the Lords knowing that they are never going to be allowed to stand again—so, unaccountable in that sense—but they will claim that they are elected, and it is for the birds to suggest that they will not take on this House. Of course they will, especially if they think they are more representative because we are elected under this old-fashioned, first-past-the-post system—which by the way people quite like, but let us forget the people for a moment—and they are elected under a much more democratic, proportional representation-type system.
I think it is the worst possible system and I say to the Minister that it does not address the real problem. The problem is not a great constitutional dispute between the people and the House of Commons or between the House of Commons and the House of Lords: the problem is that there are too many Members of the House of Commons who are not sufficiently independent, because, yes, they are elected but, quite rightly, they are ambitious and they want to be Ministers as the only outlet for their energy. I suspect that once the people in the Lords are elected for their 15-year term, they will start off with all the joys of spring but will very soon be like the rest of us—they will want to become Government Ministers and they will be as much under the thumb of the Executive as most Members of Parliament are. So what will the changes achieve? Having just got rid of 50 Members of Parliament, because, apparently, too many of us are under the thumb of the Executive, why are we creating another 280-odd up there who, after a couple of years, will also want to become Ministers?
Why, if the other Chamber is to be a revising Chamber, should there be Ministers in a reformed House of Lords? This Chamber could be well distinguished as having primary powers by being the only seat of Government Ministers—not the other Chamber.
That was an excellent intervention. There are many other legislatures in the world, such as the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate, in which one cannot be a Minister. That is why Senators in the United States are much more independent of the Executive than Members of Parliament here are. If we were to create an elected Chamber, why not have a rule that nobody up there who was elected could become a Minister? Then, perhaps, they would be free from the powers of patronage, which strongly militate against genuinely free debate in this Chamber.
What we should be talking about is what the House of Lords is for and what it should be doing, but all we are talking about is whether it should be fully elected, fully appointed or 80:20. We should really be concentrating on what its key role is.
That is absolutely right. Perhaps we have spent too much time, even this afternoon, talking about methods of election rather than about the sort of men and women whom we want in the second Chamber and what sort of job we want them to do. Apparently, the sort of men and women we want are people of expertise who are good at revising legislation, and I submit that we have very large numbers of dedicated Members of the second Chamber who do precisely that. Of course, there are some who are lazy, corrupt or bad—and some are good, some are old and some are young—but there are scores of people up there who do their job as men and women of expertise in revising and improving legislation. Let us concentrate on the sort of people we want up there rather than being absolutely obsessed by the methods of election.
The hon. Gentleman rightly says that one of the most important things in the second Chamber is having a number of people of independent mind. Is it his experience that party leaders, when recommending people to go into the second Chamber, primarily think about their independence and their voting record in this House?
I suspect that a lot of the people taking part in this debate would quite like to end up in the other place—we all have fallible human natures. No doubt Prime Ministers reward their acolytes, friends and people who have been in the Cabinet—we all know that goes on—but before we get terribly excited about the concept of an independent appointments commission, let us consider whether it would produce a House of Lords that was necessarily superior in intellect or whether it would just produce the same old great and good from the liberal establishment and ensure that nobody of idiosyncratic views, such as myself, perhaps, or my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), would ever end up in the other place. I am not sure I accept that the concept of prime ministerial patronage is altogether wrong.
Why is the Deputy Prime Minister fixated on the concept of PR? It will not only ensure that the Lords will claim democratic legitimacy but will allow our right hon. and hon. Friends on the Liberal Democrat Benches to have a gridlock on legislation. It will make it more and more difficult for those on the radical left or the radical right to come up with ideas that will actually get into legislation. Why do we want that kind of gridlock? In the remaining seconds of my speech, I contend that what we have in the House of Lords is not so very bad. It reflects our history and traditions and I would have thought that, as Conservatives, that is what we are about. We are about preserving what is best in our history and I very much hope that as this debate proceeds to its final conclusion, there will be a blocking mechanism from the old left and the old right to throw this proposal into the dustbin of history, where I believe it belongs.
I follow the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh) perhaps agreeing with his last observation—that what we will see is a coalition of reaction against reform and change from the traditional right and the traditional left. Essentially, when we talk about House of Lords reform, we have a situation in which so many people consistently aspire to a democratic Chamber but then consistently conspire to sustain the undemocratic status quo. That is happening on both sides of the House. I agree with other hon. Members that this has been a good debate up to a point. I do not know how many Lords-in-waiting we have heard from in the debate, but we have definitely heard from some, and—surprise, surprise—it is clear where they stand. They see themselves moving into a slightly adjusted, slightly reformed Chamber, but certainly not a democratic one.
To my mind, the Joint Committee is going to be a mixture of hypocrisy meeting up with futility on the way back from apparent amnesia about people’s positions, and it will be detained by self-interest in various forms. We have a situation in which people who said they were committed to democratic reform of the House of Lords in the past now say that they did not mean to vote for it because it was just a tactic and they cannot even remember why the tactic was needed. That is not a very believable case against reform. As I said on the day that the Deputy Prime Minister made his statement about the draft Bill, I fear that this is going to be another situation where we have a penalty shoot-out in which no one scores, with everyone putting their case for reform.
Some say there cannot be reform without consensus, but the same people also say, “And by the way, because we don’t trust consensus, we want to make sure that there are free votes on any proposals.” We also had the nonsense of the scratchcard idea. Everybody could vote for different proportions of electability to the second Chamber, safe in the knowledge that there would never be a sufficient cluster around any one for there to be a clear outcome. So I am not impressed with some of the arguments that I have heard.
I have some sympathy with some of the arguments against some of the proposals. We run up against the tensions that have been created by the constituencies part of the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill. House of Commons constituencies will change every five years, possibly significantly. If Northern Ireland loses a seat, all our constituencies will change relatively significantly, and MPs may feel that it is more difficult for them to deal with changing constituencies if there are elected Members of the other House who sit there for 15 years without having to worry about boundary changes or anything else. I accept that point only in relation to how it affects the position of MPs, but I do not accept that this Chamber would be at all undermined by an elected second Chamber if that second Chamber had a clear, limited role in relation to qualitative revision of legislation. That is one reason why I do not agree with the proposal in the draft Bill for supernumerary Members to accommodate the appointment of temporary Government Ministers.
As the Bill stands, I fully accept what the hon. Gentleman says, but is there not the potential for a creep in that over time? In the event of a conflict, if both Houses were elected and one had a fresher mandate, it could claim that it had an equal voice in the debate.
I do not share the hon. Gentleman’s worry that the danger lies there. I believe that the danger lies in this Chamber. Many hon. Members, including my hon. Friends, have asserted the primacy of this Chamber, but they are the same people who slavishly accept the bizarre convention that operates in this House that the Government will not accept amendments in this Chamber, even when they accept that they are right and logical and make sense, but will instead concoct their own version. The unelected Chamber then gets this great score rate of all the significant amendments, precisely because that is the way this Chamber accepts it. This Chamber accepts being bound and trussed with programme motions that everyone complains about but then votes for, just as everyone says they want House of Lords reform, but manage then always to conspire against it, and somehow there is a sufficient coincidence of objection to one proposed reform or another. I would worry whether this Chamber is up to the challenge. Perhaps the challenge of an elected Chamber next door is what this Chamber needs for it to assert itself a bit more against the Executive. Moreover, if the Executive seek to have Government Ministers only in this Chamber, that too would be an improvement.
The hon. Gentleman makes a good argument in favour of reform of this Chamber. Does he not accept that in the White Paper, under the section on powers, it is clear that the Government have no intention of addressing the issue of the existing conventions? There is no intention to codify them in any form, so there is a chance of the leach of power from one Chamber to the other.
That is only if the measures go forward as they are in the Bill. That is not an argument for the status quo; it is an argument for getting necessary change and getting it right, making sure that there are clearly distinct roles and powers. Those distinctions will be clear in the minds of Members of the respective Chambers and in the minds of the public who will be separately and distinctly electing people.
There is the idea that one form of election will trump another. In Northern Ireland, even those parties that defend the first-past-the-post system for elections to this House all agree that the elections for our three seats in the European Parliament should be by single transferrable vote, because it is fairer, better, safer and avoided geo-sectarian tensions and everything else. At no point are the mandates of MEPs used to trump or override the individual mandates of MPs in any sense. If we clearly distinguish between the two Chambers in how we work and function, there will not be a problem.
There is also the issue of other supernumerary members, not just those appointed temporarily as Ministers, but the bishops from the Church of England. I do not believe that that should be the case. However, from my own background and experience, I am obviously very aware of religious and constitutional sensitivities. If representation is to continue, there is no reason why there should not be some sort of pastoral Bench in the second Chamber, for, yes, Church of England bishops, but for other faith interests as well, perhaps without the right to vote, but with the right to address issues so that they can offer their sincere reflections without being trapped into various procedural devices and partisan ruses. Many of those pastoral interests might prefer to speak without the bother of the vote or being caught having to decide between amendments here and particular votes there. If we have 80% election, part of the 20% could be elected or approved indirectly through some of the devolved Chambers, and perhaps that could include some of the faith interests and some pastoral representation as well.
We need to think reform through a lot more than is provided for in the Bill, and we need to use the Committee to improve it. Unfortunately, I note that the only two parties in the Chamber that have never appointed anybody to the House of Lords—that have always refused to do so on principle—are not involved in the Committee. We are serious about reform; I am not sure if anybody on the Committee is.
On 18 August 2011 it will be the 100th anniversary of the Royal Assent of the Parliament Act, which has been used on only seven occasions. It is probably one of the most important, if not the most important, Acts of Parliament, for the simple reason that it establishes the primacy of the House of Commons over the House of Lords.
Having read some of the debates from 1910 and 1911 on the Parliament Bill, I find it interesting that at that time further change was expected. Indeed, the preamble to the Bill actually states this. No less a person than Winston Churchill said that the Parliament Bill was not meant to be the last word but the first. Speaking in the 1911 debate, he said that further legislation would include
“a measure for creating that fair and evenly constituted second chamber.”—[Official Report, 22 February 1911; Vol. 21, c. 2036.]
It is clear that when the Parliament Bill was being debated back in 1911, further reforms were intended. At that time, some suggested the abolition of the House of Lords and that we should have just one Chamber but generally, overall, the view was that there should be two Chambers, and that view still prevails today. Interestingly, during the last 100 years we have effectively had a muddle. We had legislation in 1949, 1958, 1963, and more recently in 1999, but we have ended up in a thoroughly unsatisfactory mess. We now have an opportunity to put that right.
All three main parties in their manifestos have made a commitment, however lukewarm, to reforming the House of Lords. We have been talking about reform of the House of Lords for years, and it is about time that we got on and reformed it in such a way that we do not need to be debating it for the next 100 years but have a settled will. To achieve that, two key issues need to be dealt with. The first is the principle of reform, and the second is the practicalities of reform—the composition of the House of Lords and its powers. For today’s purposes, the most important is just getting across the principle of reform. To deal with that there are three key issues.
The first and most important issue is, quite simply, that we live in a democracy and power belongs to the voters. Voters exercise that power through the ballot box. As democratic authority derives from the electorate, the composition of any chamber or council should be decided by the people. It is extraordinary that we elect members of councils, MEPs, Members of devolved Assemblies and parish councillors, we even elect captains of golf clubs—
We are talking about the democratic institutions that make laws and byelaws, so I would take a different view on that point. We elect Members of this House, but for whatever reason we do not elect those who sit in the second most important part of our democratic institutions. For that reason, the House of Lords lacks true legitimacy and accountability. However great its expertise, diversity or experience, it is simply not elected. Of the 71 major Parliaments around the world, 61 have an elected or partly elected second Chamber. In fact, Canada is the only other major democracy with a fully appointed upper Chamber.
That is an interesting point that I did not know, but it helps to support my argument. As someone who lives in a democracy, I think it is absolutely right that I should have the opportunity to stand for any elected Assembly in that country. As someone from this country, I should have the right to stand for election to the House of Lords. It is completely wrong that membership can be determined by a person’s religion. Interestingly, there have been comments about the Church of England, but as a member of the Church of Scotland I take a slightly different view.
It is established, but not represented in the House of Lords. Members of the House of Lords are appointed by Prime Ministers past and present, and there is still the hereditary element. The composition of the House of Lords has also been mentioned. It is interesting to note that the average age of a peer is 69 and that the vast majority live in the south-east of England. I am not ageist, and I have nothing against people who live in the south of England, but that demonstrates that there are pluses and minuses to the composition of the House of Lords. Ultimately, it is right and proper that the House of Lords should be democratically elected because, quite simply, we live in a democracy.
Secondly, there is a lot of talk about the experience, expertise and, indeed, wisdom of Members of the House of Lords. I fully accept that there are some very able people in the House of Lords, far more able than myself, but they would not lose their expertise by being excluded. They could still be members of commissions and produce reports for the Government. Lord Hutton recently produced a report on pension reform, but he did not need to be a Member of the other House to do that, so I am not so sure about that argument. More importantly, we forget that this Chamber, too, has expertise. We do this Chamber a disservice when we talk about the expertise in the other Chamber, because the same expertise exists here. Indeed, Members develop that expertise over the years they are here, and I see no reason why that would not be replicated in an elected House of Lords.
I do not believe that access to that expertise would be removed, because those people could still produce reports and be members of commissions and we could still debate their advice and act upon it.
Thirdly, there is the challenge between the House of Commons and the House of Lords, which could be termed the power struggle. Yes, the conventions will undoubtedly change and a democratically elected House of Lords might assert itself more, but I do not think that that would necessarily be a bad thing. Indeed, it might be a good thing for our democracy. Ultimately, to go back to where I started, in 1911 the Parliament Act gave primacy to this Chamber, and that will remain the case however the conventions change.
In 1911, an MP called Herbert Samuel said that there might be
“common agreement as to the necessity for a reform of the other House… But there is no common agreement as to the character of that reform.” —[Official Report, 2 March 1911; Vol. 22, c. 669.]
In many respects that has been the issue ever since. There is no perfect solution, but we must find common ground as best we can so that we can conclude the reform. One hundred years ago the Member for Carlisle voted for the Parliament Act and supported the reform of the House of Lords; one hundred years later the Member for Carlisle would like to see that completed and will support the reform of the House of Lords.
Let me begin by doing something that Members on the Opposition Benches do not do very often: congratulating the Deputy Prime Minister on the approach he has taken so far in the formation of legislation. He said that it was impossible to defend the status quo. I disagree that it is impossible, but it is very difficult. The principle that legislators should be elected and hold popular legitimacy is one that we would want to see across the world and in our Parliament.
Let me be specific about what I welcome in the proposals. First, I welcome having an elected upper Chamber. Secondly, I welcome the Chamber being elected by proportional representation. I proudly voted no to the alternative vote and was glad to see that the people spoke resoundingly against that system, which I think would have been awful. One of the reasons people voted against it is that it would not correct what many consider to be the inherent unfairness in our system, even if I might want to defend first past the post, which is that AV is inherently disproportional. I think that there is scope for us to look at the arrangements between the House of Commons and the other place to address that by maintaining a strong system of first past the post in this Chamber and one of proportional representation in the other. I will go on to explain why PR would be a good option for the upper Chamber.
Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that there is a danger in that, because many people believe proportional representation to be more legitimate than first past the post? If we were to elect a proportion of the Members at the other end of this building by a system that many people regard as more legitimate, the other place could claim more legitimacy.
The hon. Gentleman anticipates the point that I was just about to make. Some people in this country view proportional representation as a more legitimate system of representation, although I and many Members of this House would disagree, so there must be safeguards to prevent the second Chamber taking on the mantle of that legitimacy. In my view, a wholly elected upper House would be the best way to manage that change. Specifically, what would be of most benefit would be to ensure that there was no constituency link between Members of that Chamber and the places they sought to represent.
The hon. Gentleman and I obviously have different opinions on the definition of that legitimacy. There is a type of legitimacy that is very important—the legitimacy of being able to look people in the eye, having stood for election, and hold the mandate of being elected. Equally, there is an issue of accountability. If the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) were here, I am sure he would stand up and say that the most accountability and legitimacy he would have would be with Mrs Bone, because he has a particular one-to-one relationship. [Interruption.] Obviously, I should not speak about him when he is not here. I hold a level of legitimacy and authority with the constituents I represent—100,000 or so—and believe that that would be an unfair level of legitimacy, accountability and authority to bestow on the other place in its new and revised form. I think that that indirect accountability is probably the best way to achieve the balance between having an elected House and not threatening the rights and responsibility of Members in this House to represent their constituents. I think that a party list system would probably be the best way to achieve that. There are many arguments for and against it, and I look forward to the Joint Committee looking at that in more detail.
I want to discuss one other area in relation to which I feel that a 100% elected system would be best: the selection of bishops in the House of Lords. I am a Christian. I am quite overt about that and very proud of my Christian faith. I want to see more Christians and people from other faiths coming into Parliament, but I find it very difficult to defend a system under which we choose a certain group over-represented or to always have a seat in that Chamber. I buy into the liberal idea that there is a round table around which we all get to come together and make our voices heard, and, although I do not feel that that position is always held in this Chamber or in the other place, I believe that that second Chamber could be a place where people go with their own representational legitimacy to make their case, and to make it well, without relying on the fact that they are there simply because of who they are in their own organisations or through right of birth.
The proper way to get more people of faith into our institutions is to encourage more people of faith to stand and make their case for election.
I am extremely impressed, as I am sure the House is, by my hon. Friend’s speech. I do not claim to speak either ex cathedra or for the Roman Catholic Church, but I can confirm that it is the policy of the Roman Catholic Church not to seek Catholic bishops in the House of Lords, because quite simply we believe in the sound Augustinian principle of the separation of Church and state. There should be good Catholics in the House of Lords, but not as bishops.
My hon. Friend speaks as a good Catholic.
In summary, we will need to resolve the issue of whether 80% or 100% of Members should be elected, and we will need to ensure that this Chamber is predominant in our discussions, while extending greater legitimacy to the other House so that its Members can look people in the eye and say that they have been elected and chosen to go there.
I believe that 100% elected is the best way as we choose to go forward as a House with the other place.
I am very grateful for your calling me to speak in this debate, Mr Deputy Speaker, although I admit that for the first time in 13 months I do so with some trepidation, because, given the interventions and sedentary comments of those sitting close to me, I suspect that this is one of those arguments on which we will respectfully have to agree to disagree.
In case it has escaped anybody’s notice, we are at the beginning of the second decade of the 21st century, and in a democratic country it is anathema that both Houses of Parliament should not both be democratically elected. The ultimate question in a democratic system is, “Who appoints the representatives?”, and the ultimate answer is that only the people should be empowered to do so.
We have heard about the 61 other bicameral Parliaments throughout the world and how the vast majority have two fully elected Chambers, and that is absolutely right. Throughout the world, throughout the Commonwealth and, although it pains me to say it, throughout Europe, we see that that democratic structure is the norm. The United States Congress, with its House of Representatives and its Senate, is probably the predominant example, and 49 of the 50 American states have fully elected bicameral systems, too. There we have systems that work extremely well and, indeed, provide a greater check and balance than we have in our own Parliament.
In the Commonwealth, perhaps the best example is the federal Australian Parliament with its House of Commons and Senate, a system that, although no system is perfect, works extremely well for the people of Australia. That system goes for most Australian states as well.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful and interesting speech, but he is surely aware that the vast proportion of the legislatures that he describes operate under codified constitutions that explicitly prevent power leaching from one side to the other. Does he propose a codified constitution in this case? That is surely the counterpart of the undoubted change in conventions that would occur if there were an elected Lords.
My hon. Friend anticipates the remarks that I hope to make in a few moments.
Several weeks ago I was in Poland, where I was fortunate to meet the Speaker of the Polish Senate. That country saw its Senate abolished under the Communist totalitarian regime but, happily, had it democratically restored approximately two decades ago, and again it is a system that works very well.
My main point—I hope this answers my hon. Friend’s question— is that I do not look to the rest of the world to tell me the best way to construct our Parliament; I look to our proud British history. We have had Parliaments in these islands for the best part of 1,000 years, and I am struck by the coincidence that 2015 will be the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, which is probably one of those points that set us off on our constitutional journey.
Since then, we have had the civil war, which in a greater way established the sovereignty of this Parliament, the Bill of Rights, the Reform Acts starting in 1832, the Parliament Act exactly a century ago, universal suffrage for women following the first world war and the Parliament Act 1949.
We are an evolving constitution, and we are a country that to its credit has proudly developed the principles of liberty and participative democracy over the best part of many centuries, but, as we are at the beginning of the second decade of the 21st century, an evolving constitution to my mind says that the only legitimate second Chamber for this Parliament is a wholly elected second Chamber, because 100% is the most legitimate and best way forward.
I do, however, want to make a couple of remarks about the draft Bill. I am pleased to note that it is a draft Bill, and I congratulate the Government on that and on the Joint Committee, because it is important that we feed in as many views as possible to what is an important constitutional change.
Time does not allow me to elaborate too much on the pros and cons of 15-year terms, but I suggest, first, to the Government that there should be a power of recall over any future elected Member of the House of Lords. I am sure that the vast majority of them will diligently carry out their duties on behalf of this Parliament and the country.
Just as Bagehot said that
“the cure for admiring the House of Lords was to go and look at it,”
may I advise the hon. Gentleman to read the House of Lords record on those occasions recently when recalcitrant peers have been identified as breaching the rules? He will suddenly see that the wagons circle around them and, far from a power of exclusion, there is a power of holding tight to the ermined bosom. That comes across loud and clear.
I wish I had the hon. Gentleman’s eloquence, based on that final comment. There are some infamous examples of noble Lords who have behaved in a less than noble way, but most Members of the other place do a very diligent job, and I am sure that future Members, under whatever system, will do so as well. It is important, however, that we have a mechanism like that in local authorities, whereby, if somebody does not participate for six months, excepting ill health or some other legitimate reason, there is a power of recall or replacement for that individual.
My second remark is about an 80% versus a 100% elected second Chamber. I think that 300 Members is about the right number for a second Chamber, but my concern is that if only 80 Members are elected at the beginning of every Parliament, that will not be terribly representative of the smaller regional constituencies proposed in the draft Bill. Having 100% election and 100 Members elected at the start of every Parliament would ensure that there was far greater representation in the other place. It would also mean that we had a second Chamber that was not dominated by any one party, not only because of the system of single transferable votes but because of its term stretching over the course of three Parliaments.
With regret at not having more time to elaborate on my arguments, I very much support the Bill and look forward to Members’ contributions making it even better.
It is a pleasure to be called to speak in this debate and to follow an extremely fine speech by the hon. Member for Crawley (Henry Smith). I agreed with practically every word.
Prior to being elected to this House, I was a lecturer in constitutional law. [Hon. Members: “He’s an expert!”] Perhaps not an expert, but certainly a lecturer. One of the highlights each year was to delight, if that is the right term, students with the subject of the composition of the other place and to observe their look of astonishment that in the first decade of the 21st century, as it then was, so many Members were there by virtue of the hereditary and appointive principles rather than the elective principle.
I rise to give expression to the commitment that was first given by Keir Hardie from the Labour Benches more than 100 years ago in favour of a completely elected second Chamber. Like many Members, I believe that that is the most legitimate form of composition of a second Chamber. I believe in the important principle that those who make the laws to which others will be subject should do so as a result of the elective principle. I hope that, as the hon. Member for Crawley has said, we can improve the draft Bill further by electing not 80% but 100% of the Members of any revised second Chamber.
This debate has been extremely useful as a discussion of the powers and functions that a second Chamber should have. I want to direct Members back to the very impressive royal commission report that Lord Wakeham helped to draw up in 2000. He mentioned two important functions that it is important to put into the debate, the first of which is scrutiny of the constitution and of human rights. Having viewed the experiences of other second chambers across the world, he believed that the second Chamber was uniquely placed to be able to give particular scrutiny to those parts of our public policy, and he was right to point that out.
It is also important that the second Chamber should be a voice for the regions and nations of the UK. Of course, that is characteristic of second chambers in federal states. Given that so many parts of the UK have embraced the joys of devolved legislatures or assemblies, it is important that the second Chamber moves away from the south-east-centric nature of its composition and gives a voice to other parts of England, to Scotland, to Wales and to Northern Ireland. Such a second Chamber would help to bring the Union together.
I accept that a completely elected second Chamber would change the nature of the relationship between the two Houses, but it would not necessarily become a rival to this elected House. Drawing on our experience of devolution, there is a Scottish Parliament; there is, as the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) has pointed out, a Northern Ireland Assembly; there is a National Assembly for Wales; and there is devolution in London. None of those institutions means that Members of Parliament in this House have less work to do than we did before—it is different work, certainly, but it is not less. A completely elected second Chamber would not be a rival to this House, and we should not try to stymie reform on the basis of that argument.
We must look at the conventions between the two Chambers. The interpretation of the Salisbury-Addison convention, which has been alluded to many times, has changed over the past century, and that will have to continue if we move to a completely elected second Chamber.
I support a written constitution, which would be a way of enshrining more comprehensively many of the conventions that are part of our system. It would also set out much better the relationship between the state and the citizen, between this House and the other place, and between this Parliament and the devolved parts of the United Kingdom. That will be outwith the remit of the Joint Committee, but I hope that the Government will move towards a commitment to such a constitution as this Parliament continues. Labour Members will continue to point out the benefits that that would have.
The proposals in the Bill are fine, as far as they go, but they would be much improved by being bolder in moving towards an entirely elected second Chamber. We have waited 100 years for this change, and we must not baulk at it now. I believe that an entirely elected second Chamber is what this country and many Members of this House will expect us to achieve during this Parliament.
I am not entirely opposed to reform of the House of Lords, but I am deeply sceptical about the idea of an elected House of Lords. The simple fact is that there is far more to a successful democracy than elections. Many people have said that the reason why we must have elections for the House of Lords is to give it legitimacy. That is not the right argument. Lots of institutions in our democracy do not need elections to make them legitimate. Judges and magistrates are not elected, and we have a monarch who is not elected. All these parts of our constitution play a very important role despite the fact that they are not elective.
It is not true that judges do not have a role in making the law. For 700 years, common law judgments have been made in difficult cases that have laid down what is the law as a result. This position has always been understood by the judges. A famous lecture was given on the topic by Lord Reid in the 1960s. I am sure that my hon. Friend agrees that we should have no truck with the idea that judges do not have a thoroughly legitimate, though unelected, place in the constitution.
I have given way a couple of times and I am going to continue.
The reason for having elections is not to give legitimacy but to deliver accountability. People say that we need to have greater legitimacy for the House of Lords, but if we gave it democratically elected legitimacy, it would then become a rival to this Chamber. That is one of the problems that is overlooked.
The proposals will not deliver accountability. There will be single terms of 15 years, and there is no chance of a failing lord being thrown out at the end of it. Accountability works when one can fire people who fail; if one cannot do so, it defeats the object of the exercise. We ended up with the stipulation of 15-year terms, because even the advocates of this reform recognise that as a consequence of having a democratically elected second Chamber people’s independence might be compromised, because they would have to jump to the electoral cycle and would be more in hock to the parties that sponsor them.
The proposed Chamber would have a mixed nature, with some people being appointed and 80% being elected. Who would be blamed if they failed? Would it be the fault of the ones who were elected or of the ones who were appointed? That would cause confusion where there should be clarity. It should be either all elected or all appointed.
We must also consider how the elections would work in practice. People will typically make these judgments on the same day as a general election. They will not necessarily vote for the best people to scrutinise Parliament in the House of Lords. It will be rather as it is with the European Parliament at the moment—a national opinion poll on whether the Government are doing well or badly. People will therefore not be selected on their ability to scrutinise the Government.
No; I have given way a couple of times and want to make some progress.
What is legitimate about electing people based not on their own performance or ability, but on the performance of the governing party or the Opposition? That is not the right way to select a Chamber that is, after all, there to revise.
My hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (John Stevenson) has said that the average age of Members in the other place is 69. The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) was also rather scathing about the advanced years of some Members in the other place and the quality of the debate. However, the House of Lords is the forum that we provide for debate for the older generation and people who have experience. [Laughter.] This is an important point, if Members will hear me out. I believe that the dynamic between the other place and this place should be akin to that between a non-executive chairman and a chief executive, or between a father and a son. It is a natural dynamic. This place makes the decisions as new Governments come in with fresh ideas that they want to implement. However, we must not fool ourselves into thinking that we are so clever that we do not need another Chamber of people who can bring to bear their experience and say, “Well, we tried that in the ’70s and the ’80s and it didn’t work.” That is the reason for having a revising Chamber.
I do not think it necessarily matters that not everybody in the other place is of a completely independent mind, such as those with a political background or former politicians. The key thing is they have independence of mind coupled with experience. Retired politicians who go to the other place are often of the view that they have been told what to do for long enough by the Whips and that they will use their experience to change legislation sensibly, which must be a good thing. If we change to an elected House, we will lose some of that. The types of people who will stand for election to the House of Lords will tend to be people like us. They will be of the same generation as us and might include people who were unsuccessful at the last general election and so decide to stand for the House of Lords instead. We will lose the natural dynamic between the two generations, which is important.
To conclude, I will say a little about the areas that could be meaningfully reformed without having an elected Chamber. First, we could make the Lords smaller. Secondly, we could limit the time that people are there, so that they serve 10 or 15 years and then retire. Thirdly, we could tighten the appointments criteria, so that there are more independent people, if that is what we want to achieve. The single most important thing that we can do is to expect people to attend and participate. All too often in the past 10 years, people have been granted a peerage in recognition of something that they have achieved in life, but not with the expectation that they will work and attend debates. If we changed that, it would be a more meaningful and important reform than having an elected upper Chamber.
In years to come, when the proud constituency of Camborne and Redruth is mentioned, one speech will spring to the memory: the glorious suggestion of the Saga Chamber or the pensioners’ Parliament, where the old, the tired and the formerly famous can shuffle off to some distant spot where they will do no harm; where the dust will slowly settle, the clocks gently unwind and the ermine capes float through the detritus of torn Order Papers and House of Lords Hansard; where, like in the dying days of the court of Emperor Haile Selassie, no wages are paid; and where, like in the great zoos of Addis Ababa, giant pachyderms sink to their knees and surrender to starvation. There, in the House of Lords, a few people with their last breath will say, “Well, at least we weren’t out there causing trouble. We had been put somewhere safe. And who have we got to thank for it? Let us look to Camborne and Redruth.”
I suggest that there are other, better ways. I am not entirely sure that we suffer from a democratic deficit; I think we suffer from a flipping democratic surfeit. I, as an honest burgher of a sophisticated west London borough—Ealing, obviously—am represented by three first-class councillors; an MP of certain qualities, that is to say myself; a member of the Greater London authority; Members of the European Parliament; and Tony Blair, who certainly represents me in some forum somewhere, because he represents us all all the time. Do I really want somebody to be trailing his escutcheon through my constituency every few years, touting for votes, presumably on vellum and hand-engraved? There would be nothing so vulgar as an election, but I am sure that there would be some process, which would no doubt be worked out in North East Somerset. Do we really want that? I think that we probably have too much democracy.
There have been a few occasions on which people have sat down and thought about whether they actually needed a second chamber. One thinks obviously of the great Philadelphia convention, but some of us also think of the 1937 constitution of the Republic of Ireland. Those great legislators sat down and said, “Do we need a second chamber?” They came to the conclusion that, by and large, it was a fairly good idea to have one. I will not ascribe any ignoble motives to that, but it might have been a form of care in the community. To this day, Ireland has the vocational panels. The original idea was that there would be vocational panels to represent all aspects of modern Irish life. That is why people such as Oliver St John Gogarty, in between being thrown in the Liffey, and W. B. Yeats were Members of the Seanad Eireann. To this day, Ireland has the cultural and educational panel, the agricultural panel, the labour panel, the industrial and commercial panel, the administrative panel, and, of course, the national university of Ireland panel and the university of Dublin panel. I miss people such as A. P. Herbert who were elected to this place from the universities. Why does the university of West London not elect someone? If it cannot elect them to here, let it be to the other place.
Let us ask ourselves the most simple, basic, obvious question: is it really true that the only way in which experts can bring their light to bear is in the upper place? Did the noble Lord Ara Darzi achieve more as one of the finest and most famous surgeons in Europe than as a Member of the House of Lords? Look at the single greatest social change of the 20th century. The person behind that—Beveridge—was not in the House of Lords. He did not have to sit as a Member of the upper House to come up with the extraordinary idea of the national health service. The upper House is not the sole repository of wisdom, and it is not the only place where the great, the good, the bright and the brilliant can go and shine. There are so many other ways.
So do we need the House of Lords? I am not entirely sure, in all honesty, that we do, but as with so many things in this country, let us leave well alone. It is some glorious, great Gormenghast of a building that no one would ever build nowadays, but around which accretions, crenellations, towers and ramparts have emerged over the years. Hardly anybody knows what the original purpose was, but it does little harm, it is attractive, and on occasion it can actually add to the limited pool of intelligence and expertise that exists in this place.
I want to say that I have no ambitions whatever.
At least not this week, no. The difficulty, obviously, would be what level of expertise I would bring to the House of Lords. However, I have to say that I am instinctively opposed to the idea of a replicate second Chamber. We cannot have a dual mandate and have the same level of accountability in two places at once. Man cannot serve two masters; Parliament cannot have two masters.
It is a real privilege to follow the hon. Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound).
I begin by declaring an interest, because I have two noble kinsmen in another place, one a Cross Bencher and one actually on the Labour Benches. I feel it would be unhelpful of me to try to abolish them. Generally speaking, as I am sure you would agree, Mr Deputy Speaker, our noble kinsmen should not be abolished.
I am concerned about the draft Bill, because I do not think it tackles the fundamental constitutional issue that we ought to be considering—the fact that there used to be a balanced constitution, with the Crown, the House of Lords and the House of Commons, each having considerable power, authority and influence. In the 19th century the Crown lost its power, and over the 20th century the Lords lost its power, so now all the power in the constitution is theoretically vested here in the House of Commons. Of course, it is not, because it has gone back to the Prime Minister. Effectively, the Crown is more powerful than it has been since the time in the 18th century when the House passed the motion saying that the power of the Crown
“has increased, is increasing, and ought to be diminished”.
My concern about the draft Bill is that it has been introduced without an examination of how that constitutional imbalance ought to be reformed and improved to get a better-working constitution that does not put all the power in the hands of essentially one person. Our coalition has changed that a bit at the margins—it is sort of one and a half people—but that really is not a very satisfactory constitutional settlement.
We have heard a lot of talk today about the Parliament Act 1911, without, as far as I know, anyone reading it out. I feel that I must put good that omission. The preamble to the Act is very clear, stating:
“Whereas it is expedient that provision should be made for regulating the relations between the two Houses of Parliament:
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 be immediately brought into operation:
And whereas provision will require hereafter to be made by Parliament in a measure effecting such substitution for limiting and defining the powers of the new Second Chamber”.
We have not got that. That is the absolute nub and crux of the debate. We need to decide whether a fully elected House of Lords will have such legitimacy that it will then be an equal partner with this House of Commons, as it was prior to 1911 and the Parliament Act. Her Majesty’s Government argue at the moment that that will not be the case, and that all will remain the same. I simply do not think that is credible.
An Opposition Member said that since the removal of the hereditaries, the House of Lords has exercised its muscle more. Why? It has done so because it feels legitimate. It questioned the Salisbury convention. Why? It did so because the life peers thought that they had a greater legitimacy than the hereditaries. We know that secondary legislation is not covered by the Parliament Act, under which we cannot force things through until a year after the end of the current Session. Had their lordships dug their heels in on the alternative vote referendum, nothing could have been done until after the Queen opened Parliament about a year from now. Their lordships did not do that, because they recognised that it would have been an abuse of their non-elected power against the elected House.
As it happens, I am all for an elected second Chamber on that basis. I believe that a lot of legislation that is passed is bad, and I like what happens in the United States, where there is gridlock, and the mad ideas of one politician who happens to be in office for a short time are gummed up. In particular, that would make it difficult to effect major constitutional change on the whim of a junior partner in a coalition based on 23 words of his manifesto—23 words of the Liberal Democrat manifesto against a total, helpfully counted for me this morning, of 21,668. Of those 23, “House of Lords” is repeated twice. Once that is taken out, there is virtually no policy on the Lords in the Liberal Democrats’ manifesto, yet they say that that is enough to change our constitution fundamentally. That is an absolute scandal. We have already had a referendum on their pet project of AV.
Of course, the Labour party is right in its manifesto: if we are to make the change, it can be made only if it is put to the British people. They have to be given a choice about that constitutional settlement, and we have to be realistic about the fact that it will completely change the relationship between the two Houses. It will mean a strong House of Lords that will exercise its power, and if one thinks that that is a good thing, one may wish to support Her Majesty’s Government. However, those who want this House to remain primary must oppose the change. The Government’s statement in their draft Bill that Lords will not interfere in our constituencies is fair old bunkum. Of course they will—they are politicians. It will give them a chance, in exactly the same way as we interfere in matters that rightly belong to the councils. I oppose the proposal as it stands.
I welcome the debate. I have listened with interest and sometimes amusement to hon. Members’ speeches. I support the principle of a second Chamber or upper House that is 100% elected. However, my response to those who argue that we should pull back from the proposal because it is not enough is that securing 80% elected Members of the second Chamber would represent great progress compared with what has been achieved in the previous 100 years.
As Labour Front Benchers pointed out, a change was made to remove hereditaries some time ago, but that merely meant that people who were appointed at the whim of their Executive were considered better than the descendants of those appointed by previous Executives. That does not represent anything like a significant change. Moving to an elected second Chamber would achieve that change, which many Members would like.
I welcome the sensible phasing of elections because it could overcome the point about both Houses being elected on the same day, which feeds into the debate about rival mandates.
Although cost is not fundamental to what we are debating today, it will undoubtedly be raised by the forces of reaction, who, as the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) said, are present among us and very vocal today, as they were when electoral reform was debated here. It is therefore crucial that the proposal would reduce considerably the number of Members in the other place.
Case work and acquiring a new role in constituencies that would conflict with that of Members of the House of Commons have been raised. It would be useful to have a clear indication, as we have now when a Member of Parliament is expected not to take up case work from another Member. A similar principle could apply to Members of a second Chamber.
I find the idea that there is something different about people who do not face election, that they are somehow superior and that standing for election is a nasty, grubby business, utterly preposterous. I stumbled across an item on Radio 4 on Saturday, in which Baroness Bakewell said that it was much better not to have politicians in the House of Lords. It is ludicrous to claim that, just because people are not elected, they are not politicians. If they sit in Parliament and they legislate, they are politicians. They are merely unelected politicians. When I look at the House of Lords, I see parties in operation, Whips, Ministers and many of the things that we recognise in this House, but I do not see people who are elected by the people. That is what the draft Bill seeks to change.
I come from Cornwall, where there is strong tradition of independence in local government. There is a debate to be had on the role that Cross Benchers play in the other place. Their role is not superior. Cross Benchers often function and work together as a group—they are just as political as the party political groups—just like independent groups in local government.
As we proceed to debate this matter in more detail, and as the Joint Committee looks at it, I hope that we can come up with a solution that will deliver an elected second Chamber. I think that that is what the people want, even if it is not at the top of their agenda when they are looking for better employment opportunities, or to secure decent health care and a good education for their children. When asked, people will say that they believe in that change, and I hope that we can deliver it for them.