HC Deb 31 March 1993 vol 222 cc357-61 3.40 pm
Mr. Peter Hain (Neath)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide for the abolition of the House of Lords and its replacement by a Second Chamber elected on the basis of selections from regional party lists of candidates in proportion to the votes cast for the House of Commons.

The Bill is designed to replace the other place with a democratically elected second Chamber by means of a regional list system of proportional representation.

We have grown comfortably accustomed to the ermine-edged quirks of the other place. They are all good chaps: indeed, mostly they are chaps. Whether out of deference to tradition or sheer apathy, there has been no will to reform the other place. Yet it is an anachronism. It is a rather fey survivor from the pre-democracy days; it is a constitutional dinosaur. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) wryly said: The House of Lords is the British Outer Mongolia for retired politicians. I would go further and suggest that it is proof positive of life after death.

The House of Lords is unique, because no other parliamentary democracy has such an arrangement. No other parliamentary democracy rewards individuals with a seat at the centre of power on the basis of who their great-great-great-great-grandparents were. There are 759 such hereditary Peers, discreetly labelled Peers by Succession, of whom only 17 are women. For the past 35 years, 388 life peerages—only 60 of whom have been women—have been created. They owe their position to prime ministerial patronage rather than to democratic election. If we add 26 archbishops and bishops, 16 hereditary Peers of First Creation and 19 Life Peers under the Appellate Jurisdiction Act 1876, the numerical power of the other place is a staggering 1,208, which is almost double that of this place.

Not surprisingly, most Peers are Conservative. The latest figures show that 478 take the Tory Whip. There are 116 Labour Peers, 59 Liberal Peers and 272 Peers who are Cross-Benchers. Fewer than half of them bother to turn up. Although many are hard-working, the truly powerful are the backwoodsmen who sit idly at home on their huge estates, awaiting the clarion call of the Tory Whips to summon them to overturn the will of the working Peers. When crucial votes take place, like fungi in the dark, the number of Peers mushrooms to save the skin of successive Tory Governments.

This practice has not diminished with the creation of life peerages, as votes in the other place in the 1960s on what was the London Government Bill and on the sanctions order that applied to what was then Southern Rhodesia demonstrated. In addition, the decision of the other place to abolish the Greater London council bears testimony to that. The poll tax is another example. That constitutional monstrosity passed through Parliament with the help of the other place. It is perhaps appropriate that we are celebrating its abolition today.

What a shambles and an insult to the image of democratic government everywhere. Successive Tory Governments—the current one are no exception—have used the House of Lords in the same way as a drunk uses a lamp post—for support rather than 11lumination.

I would not be too fussed if individuals still claimed the title of Lord if they had been awarded or had inherited peerages. That title, however, should not entitle them to a vote at the centre of power. Total abolition is not the answer. There is a need for a second chamber to scrutinise legislation and, more and more importantly, to act as a constitutional check. That does not happen now. The last time the Lords made a fuss and used their power of delay was on the War Crimes Bill in May 1991. They threw it out by 207 votes to 74. The Government merely re-introduced the Bill, using their powers under the Parliament Act 1911.

Although they pay lip service to tradition, the Conservatives regard the Lords as irrelevant—not so much Mr. Balfour's poodle, more Mr. Major's mutt. So we need an elected second chamber. It should be similar to senates in other mature democracies. I think of Australia and America, for example. It should be a check and balance on the excesses of the Executive, but one which does not duplicate—or, more importantly, challenge—the responsibilities of the Commons. It could also draw on the experience of Germany's second chamber, the Bundesrat, which provides a direct regional input from the regional governments, the Landers.

The Lords should be replaced with a new second chamber, or senate, elected from party lists according to the size of the regional vote which each party polled at a general election. It would be simple. The same vote given to a parliamentary candidate locally would be allocated to that party in a regional pool. The percentage of that pool received by each party would determine each party's allocation of second chamber members from the relevant region.

Some may argue, "If this is such a good idea, why not advocate it for the House of Commons, too?" The answer is simple. The objection to the list principle for the House of Commons is that it would break irrevocably the link between the Member of Parliament and his or her local constituency, so undermining democratic accountability. That valid objection does not apply to members of the second Chamber, because they do not have any constituency duties or local representative responsibilities.

I believe that such a list system would not only give a voice to the regions of Britain, but allow action to secure fair representation for women and ethnic minorities. For example, each party could select its regional lists for the second chamber by democratic vote of either regional memberships or regional conferences. It could build in quotas, thus satisfying legitimate claims for equal representation within the party in a way that cannot be enforced, while retaining the local autonomy which is such an important tradition for the selection of Members of Parliament.

The result would be to meet in full aspirations for proportional representation in at least one half of Parliament. A new second chamber could also genuinely claim legitimacy as a constitutional check because it would represent literally all sections of political opinion. By such an approach, we could retain the advantages of single-member seats in the House of Commons—with or without electoral reform here—and the prospect of being able to form a single-party Government, together with a reform of the second Chamber which satisfied the demand for fairer representation.

A reformed second Chamber could have about 400 votes. On the basis of the distribution of votes in the last general election, there would be about 170 Conservatives,

140 Labour, 70 Liberals and 20 others. In Wales, for example, Labour would have 12 seats, the Tories would have six, the Liberals would have three and Plaid Cymru would have two.

Radical reform is vital because, despite this being the mother of Parliaments, British democracy is completely discredited. [Interruption.] Oh yes, it is. Unelected peers reflect an elitist state, which is one of the most unaccountable and secretive in the democratic world. It wields power by a combination of the royal prerogative, massive patronage and centralisation, with only a nod towards democracy.

One thing is certain: the demand for democratic reform will not go away. The question for the House is not whether the Lords will be reformed and replaced, but when. The House should cease acting like Canute holding back the tide of history, and replace its ossified appendage by supporting the Bill.

3.48 pm
Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

What a load of drivel, Madam Speaker. There were three things wrong with the hon. Gentleman's speech and nothing right with it. First, the hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain) wants to enhance the power and prestige of the Liberal party—a political party which in Britain gives more commitment and importance to Brussels, Europe and European institutions than to the House and the country. The hon. Gentleman ought to be ashamed of himself.

Secondly, the hon. Gentleman wants to introduce proportional representation by the list system. That is even after the debates that we have had in the past few days about the Maastricht treaty—the most important thing to happen to Britain for more than 25 years. A few of us, with the backing of our associations and the confidence to say and do what we believe is right for Britain, are able to represent the people of our constituencies and the country in this House because there is not a list system. If there were, would we not all be creatures of the party bureaucracy, the party hierarchy, central office and Walworth road? Is that what the hon. Gentleman wants?

The hon. Gentleman is wrong. He wants to do away with, destroy or do something rotten with the other place. The House of Lords is a very interesting institution—it allows a second bite at the cherry; it allows us a longer period for scrutiny of legislation; it allows us to look at things in better ways.

The House of Lords is constituted in a way that many hon. Members would not support. It is difficult to support the constitution of the House of Lords, but certainly a House of Lords there should be—and I shall explain why. There is one reason above all others. We are faced with the degradation, the dispersal and the finalisation of the United Kingdom as we are sucked into a European federation. We have been told that the matter has been put before the people of this country. When was it put before them? Was it at the last general election, when the Front Benches were vying with each other in their Euro-fanaticism? Is that when the British people had the opportunity to debate and discuss the issue?

Yes, we can debate and discuss the matter here. We have tabled an amendment that would provide the British people with the opportunity to take a view and to vote on this monstrosity. But what about the Whips and the Labour Front Bench? We know what will happen. There is only one hope for us, and it is that the House of Lords will give us the referendum that this House will deny us. God save the House of Lords. I hope that it has the guts to do its popular and constitutional duty.

Sir Nicholas Fairbairn (Perth and Kinross)


Madam Speaker

Order. I can hear only one voice in opposition.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 19 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of public business):—

The House divided: Ayes 79, Noes 77.

Division No. 225] [3.51 pm
Ainger, Nick Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)
Alton, David Jackson, Glenda (H'stead)
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Jackson, Helen (Shef'ld, H)
Ashton, Joe Kennedy, Charles (Ross,C&S)
Barnes, Harry Kennedy, Jane (Lpool Brdgn)
Berry, Dr. Roger Kirkwood, Archy
Boyes, Roland Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Bradley, Keith Llwyd, Elfyn
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Macdonald, Calum
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) McKelvey, William
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Mackinlay, Andrew
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Maclennan, Robert
Cann, Jamie McMaster, Gordon
Carlile, Alexander (Montgomry) Marek, Dr John
Clapham, Michael Marshall, Jim (Leicester, S)
Clark, Dr David (South Shields) Martlew, Eric
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll Bute)
Connarty, Michael Miller, Andrew
Corbett, Robin Moonie, Dr Lewis
Cox, Tom Morris, Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Cunliffe, Lawrence O'Brien, Michael (N W'kshire)
Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral) Pickthall, Colin
Denham, John Pope, Greg
Dixon, Don Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lew'm E)
Donohoe, Brian H. Radice, Giles
Dowd, Jim Raynsford, Nick
Eagle, Ms Angela Roche, Mrs. Barbara
Etherington, Bill Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Fisher, Mark Soley, Clive
Flynn, Paul Steel, Rt Hon Sir David
Foster, Don (Bath) Steinberg, Gerry
Fyfe, Maria Stevenson, George
Galloway, George Strang, Dr. Gavin
Garrett, John Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Graham, Thomas Tyler, Paul
Gunnell, John Wicks, Malcolm
Hain, Peter Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen)
Hall, Mike
Hanson, David Tellers for the Ayes:
Hardy, Peter Mr. Mike Watson and
Harvey, Nick Mr. John McAllion.
Hill, Keith (Streatham)
Adley, Robert Cummings, John
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey) Davies, Quentin (Stamford)
Alexander, Richard Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'l)
Allason, Rupert (Torbay) Donohoe, Brian H.
Ancram, Michael Duncan, Alan
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)
Banks, Matthew (Southport) Evans, Roger (Monmouth)
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Fenner, Dame Peggy
Beggs, Roy Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham) Fry, Peter
Boyce, Jimmy Garnier, Edward
Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes Grant, Sir Anthony (Cambs SW)
Budgen, Nicholas Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Butler, Peter Hawkins, Nick
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Hendry, Charles
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Hood, Jimmy
Congdon, David Hordern, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Cryer, Bob Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Hunter, Andrew Porter, Barry (Wirral S)
Jenkin, Bernard Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S)
Jessel, Toby Ross, William (E Londonderry)
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd, SW) Shaw, David (Dover)
Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine Shersby, Michael
Khabra, Piara S. Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash) Skeet, Sir Trevor
Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n) Skinner, Dennis
Lawrence, Sir Ivan Spink, Dr Robert
Livingstone, Ken Sproat, Iain
Madden, Max Walker, Bill (N Tayside)
Mahon, Alice Waller, Gary
Meale, Alan Wareing, Robert N
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley) Watts, John
Moate, Sir Roger Wheeler, Rt Hon Sir John
Molyneaux, Rt Hon James Whittingdale, John
Mullin, Chris Winnick, David
Neubert, Sir Michael Wolfson, Mark
Nicholls, Patrick
Nicholson, David (Taunton) Tellers for the Noes:
Page, Richard Mr. Nicholas Winterton and
Pawsey, James Mr. Tony Marlow.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Peter Hain, Mr. Nick Ainger, Mr. Roger Berry, Mrs. Anne Campbell, Mr. John Denham, Mr. Paul Flynn, Dr. Kim Howells, Dr. Lynne Jones, Mrs. Jane Kennedy, Mrs. Barbara Roche, Ms Clare Short and Mr. Mike Watson.