§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Hanson.]3.46 pm
§ The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mrs. Margaret Beckett)
Although it is, of course, right and proper that we debate the White Paper, I doubt whether hon. Members will find much new in what I propose to say. The legislation that the White Paper accompanies is very much stage 1 of an enduring process. Although the White Paper provides the context for the legislation that it describes, it also sets the framework for a royal commission and for further legislation. That first stage of reform is still being debated in the House of Lords—the House of Lords Bill will return to this House—while the second stage is now with the royal commission.
The legislation reforms the House of Lords by abolishing the right to sit and vote there on the basis of heredity alone, without regard for the personal qualities or qualifications of the inheritor. As the White Paper identifies, the effect of that decision—should it be carried through into law—will be to create a transitional House of about half the present size, in which every Member will sit as a result of their own achievement and reputation.
That is certainly preferable to the present position, but it still in our view has serious flaws. Although it diminishes the permanent in-built Conservative majority, there would still be, for example, a wholly disproportionate representation of the main parties—even in a transitional House that is created solely by the removal of hereditary peers. That is because of the exploitation of the Prime Minister's sole power of patronage during the 1980s and 1990s, which led to the creation of infinitely more Conservative life peers than those of any other party, and exacerbated the in-built Conservative majority among hereditary peers.
That position is certainly unacceptable to my party, although I have noted that, in the many debates on this matter in the House of Lords, the proposal to remove that in-built majority has been described pejoratively as acting "to our own"—the Labour party' s—"advantage". On the contrary, we strongly believe that it is to the country's advantage that no political party has an overall majority in the House of Lords. That is the principle that we are enshrining in the arrangements for the transitional House, seeking only parity with the Conservative party.
Such a principle has, on occasion, been espoused by the Conservative party itself, but it has been most notable that, whether in this House or in the House of Lords, today's Conservatives have been most reluctant to accept that national interest should override the political interests of the Conservative party.
Rather than following the precedent created by his Conservative predecessors, the present Prime Minister is determined to diminish the unfettered power of patronage that he now enjoys—although nobody would think so to listen to some of the rubbish that has been uttered from the Opposition Benches during many of our debates. The Prime Minister is, for the first time ever, to forgo his power to object to the names of those nominated by other party leaders.
654 We are to set up an appointments commission—using machinery devised by the previous Government, to ensure a proper process of appointment—with a suitable independent element, as well as representation from the political parties. That appointments commission will take over the job of scrutinising proposals for adding Members to the House of Lords. The whole process will, therefore, be much more transparent and independent than ever in the past, and will represent the first ever diminution of the sole power of patronage enjoyed by a Prime Minister in Britain's history.
Against the background of the creation of the transitional House, the Government have also proposed the setting up of the royal commission—itself chaired not by a Labour, but by a Conservative peer, and with a balanced and independent-minded membership. We have given the royal commission a tight timetable, and we acknowledge that. However, those who criticise us for the timetable being too tight are, in many cases, the very same people who said that unless the royal commission worked to a tight timetable, it would prove that the Government had no intention of going beyond stage 1 and the transitional House. They really cannot have the argument both ways. The tight timetable for the royal commission is itself evidence of the Government's good faith in seeking proper and fundamental reform of the House of Lords. It is also evidence of our practicality in trying to ensure that, on this occasion, after more than a century of debate, it is actually achieved.
§ Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)
Will the right hon. Lady acknowledge that Conservative Members were calling for a royal commission for more than a year before it was established?
§ Mrs. Beckett
I acknowledge that Conservative Members have called for a royal commission, although I also acknowledge that they nevertheless resist any attempt at change. As I shall say later in my speech, one of the Government's objectives is to ensure that the royal commission will be able to take account of other constitutional change. The commission would not have been able to do that if it had been established earlier.
The Government have established some broad principles against which the royal commission should begin its work. It is asked to consider, first, the role of a second Chamber; then, the powers required to fulfil that role; and, finally, the composition of the body that should be established to exercise those powers and perform that role. That seems to us to be the only sensible and logical way in which to hold a proper debate on the new second Chamber. We have never had such a debate in Britain before.
All previous discussions have tended to begin with the matter of composition, partly because the composition of the current House is so self-evidently unjustifiable. They have also been dominated by composition because—perhaps unsurprisingly—the principle preoccupation of many Members of the current House of Lords has been their own role in a new second Chamber, and whether and to what degree they might continue to exercise legislative power. Therefore, the stranglehold that they have enjoyed over any previous attempt at reform has ensured that the debate has almost always begun with composition, and been driven very heavily by what they were prepared to 655 accept in a successor body. That has created an artificial context for previous debates, so that what a second Chamber ought to be has never been properly considered.
The House of Lords Bill cuts that Gordian knot. It allows us to begin as we should, by considering what Britain needs and not what hereditary peers are prepared to accept. However, just as the House of Lords Bill enables us to separate stage 2, and what should come in the future, from stage 1 and the first steps of the reform process, it is extremely important to encourage the new debate without allowing it to be bogged down in comparisons, valid or otherwise, with the current House of Lords.
§ Dr. Liam Fox (Woodspring)
Perhaps for the sake of clarity, will the right hon. Lady tell us whether, in general, she believes that a reformed upper House should have more, the same or fewer powers than the current one?
§ Mrs. Beckett
I shall tell the hon. Gentleman that later in my speech. If he will forgive me, I shall not do so now, as I want to make a specific point that should underpin the debate.
I very much hope that we—by which I mean not only those participating in the debate, but everyone who engages with the issue—shall free ourselves from looking at the House of Lords as it is and saying what we should make different, whether in its powers or its composition, and instead begin from first principles, by considering not what people have been criticising or even campaigning for, but what type of new second Chamber Britain actually needs.
§ Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross)
I am extremely encouraged to hear the Leader of the House speak in those principled terms about the role of the House of Lords. Does she think that, conformable with those terms, the commission should not listen to siren voices suggesting that a reformed upper House should depend on actions taken in this House to reform itself, but that—although there are connections between the two Houses' roles and functions—the commission's job is one that can properly be carried very far by simply examining the functions of the second Chamber?
§ Mrs. Beckett
The right hon. Gentleman is right. The commission would find it difficult to get engaged in that area of argument and doing so would make it very difficult for it to report within the time required.
§ Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham)
While it is right that the commission should address the functions of the second Chamber, in determining what those functions are, should it not consider the extent to which this House properly performs its democratic role of holding the Executive to account?
§ Mrs. Beckett
No. That is not the business of the commission. It was set up to consider the role of the second Chamber. If there is concern about the operation of this House, it is for this House, not a royal commission to tell us what to do.
§ Mr. Letwin
I do not want to detain or distract the right hon. Lady, but does she not recognise that there is an 656 intrinsic relationship between the two issues? The role of the second Chamber must depend to an extent on the effectiveness of the lower Chamber.
§ Mrs. Beckett
I do not accept that point and I shall explain why. There is clearly a relationship between this Chamber and the second Chamber. When the hon. Gentleman talks about the effectiveness of this Chamber, I suspect that, like his right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), he is seeking to pursue the ridiculous Conservative argument that the present Government cannot be scrutinised in the way that previous Governments were, and that that shows some in-built failing in the House. The effectiveness with which we conduct our business is a matter for Members of Parliament, not for the royal commission.
§ Mr. Robert Sheldon (Ashton-under-Lyne)
I am sorry to ask my right hon. Friend so many questions at this stage in her speech. Does she agree that the role of a second Chamber is not to remedy the deficiencies of this Chamber? There have been many changes over the past 20 years and more. Should we not make sure that the system is brought into line with what is required rather than using the other Chamber to cope with our deficiencies?
§ Mrs. Beckett
I share my right hon. Friend's view that if there are deficiencies in this House, it is for this House to address and deal with them. It is strange to argue that we have to set up another House to do so. There is a different role for a second Chamber.
That intervention ties in neatly with the point that I was about to make—and may yet make. The starting point in the debate for some people is to ask whether we need a second Chamber. They are the so-called unicameralists, who can be found on both sides of the House, although not in substantial numbers, I think. No doubt that will emerge over time. Those of us who accept that there is a need and a role for a second Chamber must explain why.
It has always been argued that the value of a second Chamber is to provide not merely an alternative group to scrutinise and comment on Government activity, particularly the legislative programme, but a group with different experiences and perspectives. Those who have argued for some of the virtues of the existing House of Lords have almost always said that they lie in some of the differences between that Chamber and this one. In particular, they have argued strongly for keeping some people from outside the mainstream world of politics that leads to the House of Commons and for there to be at least some people in that House who do not take a party Whip. As the Government have pointed out in the terms of reference of the royal commission, the creation of the new devolved bodies, and the growing role and increasing powers of the European Parliament have created a different context in which the role of a new second Chamber should be considered.
We do not seek to dictate answers in the White Paper. We seek to address the issues that should inform the shaping of those answers and we try to set out some of the principles that any proposals should meet. The first is that this House must continue to be the pre-eminent Chamber of Parliament. That is a principle which I hope that every Member of this House would wholeheartedly endorse. I am unashamedly a House of Commons woman 657 through and through, and it has been most noticeable that one of the most potent weapons of those who have opposed change down the years has been any threat, real or potential, to the pre-eminence of the House of Commons. That suggests that Members of this House through the decades have shared the Government's view on this important point.
We have not nor would we ever propose to change the power of the second Chamber to veto any extension of the life of a Parliament. The legitimacy of government comes from the endorsement of the people and, of course, it must be renewed at regular intervals.
My brief summary of the Government's approach to the issues of role, powers and composition is that there is a role for a second body and a second process of scrutiny, and that the needs of that process should direct the powers that it requires. It is only then that one comes to consider what should be the nature of the body to exercise those powers, how such a body might be composed and how its members might be chosen.
I do not propose to say much about the powers that would be needed by a second Chamber retaining the important roles of revision and scrutiny, but, picking up the question asked by the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox), one important point is that there is enormous confusion, particularly outside the House, in much of what has already been said about the powers that a new second Chamber should have.
Almost every time I hear somebody comment on powers, I find myself wondering whether they are referring to the powers that the House of Lords has now or to the powers that it currently exercises. It is somewhat strange to hear those who argue against any change, because the present House of Lords does a brilliant job, going on to argue—as some do—that that job cannot be done adequately without fresh powers that the House of Lords does not exercise at present. They cannot have it both ways. Either the present House of Lords is not doing much of a job—which I do not myself argue—or what is the justification for saying that more powers will be required in future to do the job it does now.
Let me make it clear, as does the White Paper, that the House of Lords has almost all the powers enjoyed by the House of Commons. If it gets more, it will probably have more power than the House of Commons. Is that really what some Conservatives are asking for? If so, they are in danger of saying that a new second Chamber should supersede this one and that it should be the pre-eminent Chamber. That is a dangerous and damaging argument.
I suspect that that is not what most of them think, but I also suspect that on this issue, as on many others, sheer opportunism and the inability to look further than the ends of their noses is leading them gleefully to advocate ideas on the basis of what they hope will embarrass the Government in the short term, without their apparently giving any real thought to the impact of what they are proposing on the country in the long term. That is playing with fire and if it persists with those tactics, the Conservative party will go down in history as the party that sought to undermine the authority of the elected House of Commons.
658 Without going into the detail of what should be the composition of a new second Chamber, there are some principles we could identify which might attract a degree of agreement and common ground.
§ Mr. John MacGregor (South Norfolk)
On the point about powers, is the right hon. Lady saying that she would not wish any new powers to be given to the House of Lords?
§ Mrs. Beckett
I do not want to pre-judge any view that the Government might wish to express at some time, but given that the House of Lords has almost all the powers enjoyed by the House of Commons—although it does not exercise them all—if the right hon. Gentleman is asking me to agree to more powers for that House, he is in danger of putting those who advocate this case in a position of arguing for more powers for the second Chamber than for the House of Commons. I do not support such a proposition and I would be surprised if the right hon. Gentleman did.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
Will my right hon. Friend forgive me if I ask a question that I have been asked by one of my constituents—a serious constituent—and will she give me some advice on how to answer it? My constituent asked whether it is proper that the Speaker of the Holyrood Parliament should also be a Member of the House of Lords, and whether that creates some problems of interface between the House of Lords and the Holyrood Parliament? I do not expect my right hon. Friend to answer this somewhat arcane question off the top of her head, but perhaps she might write to me at her convenience.
§ Mrs. Beckett
I am deeply grateful to my hon. Friend for allowing me the courtesy of writing to him about it. He is right. I fear that it is not a matter on which I feel emboldened to venture off the cuff. It is, indeed, a serious constitutional point, not only for the House of Lords or indeed for this Parliament, and it is certainly interesting. I am not surprised that my hon. Friend is not sure how to answer it; I am not either, but I shall take advice.
Without getting into the detail of what should be the composition of a new second Chamber, we can identify some principles that might attract a degree of agreement and common ground. The body itself should be more legitimate than it is now; it should be stable; it should be a suitable body to revise and scrutinise; it should be distinctive and embody real expertise. It should represent a range of economic and social interests and have independence—both in the sense that its members should feel free to express their opinions honestly and in the sense that no political party should command a majority.
Hon. Members will be aware that, although the Government have not given evidence to the royal commission, the Labour party has. I have not been part of that consultation process, but I have talked with some of those who have. The process seems to have been most interesting, both in its conduct and in its outcome.
I am told by those who attended the Labour party's regional consultation that there was a thorough, well-informed and practical debate. Much to the surprise of some who took part in that consultation, there was apparently little appetite for the prospect of and potential 659 for that confrontation which seems to be the chief hope and expectation, perhaps inevitably, of many media commentators.
Ordinary members of our party were interested in a process where voices other than those of the House of Commons could be heard; experience other than ours could be aired and points of view different from the points of view naturally held and expressed in this Chamber could be taken into account. I am told that there was little if any appetite for duplicating this Chamber and none for a built-in process of confrontation. Mature debate, and mature and considered decision taking seem to be what members of the Labour party who gave evidence to our consultation seek, and what they urge on the royal commission.
It is a reminder to us, irrespective of party, of what our citizens expect of Parliament—mature debate, and mature and considered decision taking. I believe that the White Paper and the process it sets in train is an important step along the road of creating a better forum for decision and debate in the future—a forum that will not merely replace, but greatly improve what we have now.
§ 4.8 pm
§ Dr. Liam Fox (Woodspring)
I am grateful that the Leader of the House has finally got round to having a debate on the White Paper and grateful, too, for the tone of her speech, which was much more conciliatory than the one that she used on the launch of the White Paper. It is healthy that the debate is being conducted more in today's atmosphere rather than in that of the unfortunate first opening salvo.
It is rather strange that the right hon. Lady should not only fail to say anything new today, but effectively apologise for the Government having no views on taking forward one of the flagship proposals in their manifesto. We are finally getting to talk about stage 2 of the reform, but all that we are getting is a clear admission that the Government have embarked upon it without knowing what they actually want. We always suggested that that was the case—that the Government had no idea of what they wanted as part of the process that they set out in their manifesto —and today we have heard the clearest possible admission that that is the case.
§ Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)
If my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House had said exactly what we wanted to do at the second stage, would not the hon. Gentleman have accused us of setting up a royal commission on a totally false basis? The Government have quite rightly appointed a royal commission to look at the issue and the Labour party, as a political party separate from the Government, has submitted views.
§ Dr. Fox
The hon. Gentleman, who has attended some of our previous debates, will know that the Opposition's position is that a royal commission could have been set up two years ago, when the Government came to power. We could now have been at the conclusion of that royal commission, and discussing the move towards single-stage reform by consensus. That opportunity was lost by the Government. The Opposition pushed for a royal commission, which the Government did not want, at the outset of the reform process. The Government were pushed into it by the Opposition's demands.
§ Mrs. Beckett
Before the hon. Gentleman gets too carried away with the notion that we might have had 660 consensus about single-stage reform, may I remind him that the Conservative party went into the last election saying that it wanted to keep the hereditary principle?
§ Dr. Fox
The right hon. Lady will know that we have said consistently that we would look at reform that we thought was in the national interest and that improved the way in which the UK was governed. However, we have always opposed stage 1 reform without any idea of what stage 2 would entail. Clearly, the Government have no idea what they are embarking upon, but that goes for all of their constitutional changes. They have not thought through any of their policies, and we will suffer as a result. However, that is par for the course for the Government, who start projects with no idea of how they are to finish.
The royal commission could have been finished by now, but there is delay. The initial deadline was December this year, but perhaps the Leader of the House can tell us whether that will now be as late as March or April next year. There are rumours that the royal commission will be allowed to sit longer if it Nishes. How much longer will it be given? How long will the Joint Committee take?
All hon. Members will have worked out that the timetable will take us perilously close to the next general election, almost certainly making sure that no legislation could be proposed to implement stage 2 before that election. Therefore, we will go to the general election not knowing the outcome of that election in terms of the composition of the House of Commons, and not knowing the nature of the Parliament in terms of its structure. That is entirely unacceptable. There is a suggestion that the Government want to kick this matter into the long grass to prevent divisions in their own party on the subject, in the run-up to the next election.
I want to take the Leader of the House to task on some of the points that she raised because—as with the Prime Minister at Question Time today—rather than dealing with the real policies of the Opposition, she simply invented Opposition policies to try to knock them down.
We must look at the role of Parliament as a whole. I fundamentally disagree with the Leader of the House when she says that reform of the House of Lords can be looked at in isolation. What happens in one part of Parliament necessarily impacts on the functioning of the other. Therefore, we need to look at Parliament as a complete entity. We cannot deal with one Chamber in isolation.
The assumption from the remit of the royal commission is that the House of Commons will not be reformed, and that therefore the commission has to make changes to the House of Lords to increase its powers of scrutiny or to get it to work better. Given that the royal commission is not able to look at the workings of the House of Commons, that is the only assumption that I can make. We have said that we must look at a series of relationships, and not only that of the two Chambers in this Parliament. Given the other changes to our constitutional framework, other relationships must be looked at.
The first of those is the relationship between Parliament and the Executive. The Leader of the House said that the Opposition were pretending that, in some way, this Government were not being scrutinised as well as 661 previous Governments. Our argument has been that Parliament as a whole has been unable to scrutinise any Executive in recent years, and that is a fundamental flaw. Governments in office—including Conservative Governments—necessarily think that, having got the power, they do not want it scrutinised too much.
If we are to have a meaningful debate on reform, the House of Commons must get some of its self-respect back and decide that the Executive need to be brought to account better for the sake of the good governance of the United Kingdom. We will have to make sure that the House of Lords has suitable powers of scrutiny to bring the Executive to account.
Having spent two years in the Government Whips Office, I am all too aware of the power that the Whips exert, partly because there is no alternative career structure to the patronage handed out by the Executive. We must include that in our consideration of the way in which Parliament as a whole operates.
§ Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough)
I understand that the Opposition are veering towards having an elected element in the second Chamber. If we give the second Chamber an advise and consent role, we must ensure that the elected politicians in it should not themselves be the beneficiaries of any ministerial or other patronage. It is absolutely vital that we do not create a new cadre of ambitious elected career politicians.
§ Dr. Fox
I will deal later with the Conservative proposals under the Mackay commission, but my hon. Friend's general point is extremely important, and I hope that he will expand on it later in the debate.
Parliament must consider other relationships. One of the factors that makes the Leader of the House wrong to say that we can undertake reform of one Chamber in isolation is the role of the judiciary. Given the Human Rights Act 1998 and other changes in the political nature of the judiciary, it is inevitable that there will be a new relationship between the judiciary and both Houses of Parliament. We cannot divorce one from the other.
§ Mrs. Beckett
How does the hon. Gentleman square his expressed desire for stage 2 to be implemented before the next general election with his further list of things that he thinks that the royal commission should scrutinise before stage 2 reform takes place?
§ Dr. Fox
That has to be part of a wider process. I would welcome a broader remit to consider how the whole of Parliament works and how all the changes are to be implemented. It was not the Conservative party but the Government who set the artificial timetable for the changes. We would all have been better served if they had started the process two years earlier and taken account of the broader arguments. It is unfortunate, in terms of the wider picture, if the Government really think that we can reform one Chamber in isolation.
We must also consider the relationships between Parliament and other bodies that have arisen as a result of Acts of Parliament: not least, the devolved bodies in Wales and Scotland. The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) mentioned the relationship between the 662 Presiding Officer's roles in both the Scottish Parliament and the House of Lords. That is a valid point that must be considered, as must Parliament's relationship with Europe.
The Leader of the House mentioned the legislation that comes from the European Union. I wonder whether there are many hon. Members who believe that we really fulfil our primary duty to scrutinise the way in which we legislate in the name of the people whom we are chosen to represent. With the vast amount of secondary legislation that goes through Parliament, do we believe that we are performing our democratic role of ensuring that it is all properly scrutinised and that we are not passing legislation affecting our fellow citizens that we are unhappy about?
It would be an ideal role for the second Chamber to play a greater part in the scrutiny of secondary legislation. I hope that that will be considered as a positive suggestion. It is not true that, to increase the powers of scrutiny of the second Chamber, one has necessarily to reduce the powers of the House of Commons. It is entirely possible to increase the powers of scrutiny of the House of Lords at the expense of the Executive without in any way diminishing the House of Commons.
§ Mr. Hogg
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend's point, but would it not be better if the House were to take unto itself the power to amend statutory instruments? One of the most objectionable features of secondary legislation is that it is incapable of change unless it is laid before the House in draft form, and then it depends on the will of the Government to change the draft.
§ Dr. Fox
That is an extremely important point, and we shall all have to think seriously about it in the context of the wider reforms. The shadow Leader of the House is considering it as part of the Conservative party's review of those wider subjects, and we are right to do that. My right hon. and learned Friend may want to make an internal submission to contribute to the thinking and policy development of the Conservative party, which is showing all the signs of being light years ahead of any development on the Government side.
The idea that the only way to increase the power of the House of Lords is at the expense of the House of Commons is false. It is an argument used by the Executive to protect their power from increased scrutiny.
As I have said, we must seriously consider whether we give Members of the House of Commons an alternative career structure that does not depend on keeping the Whips happy. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) said in a previous debate, the present system of getting rid of the hereditaries, but keeping the powers of the Whips, simply means, "Out with the ermine and in with the straitjackets."
We do not want the power of the Executive to increase as a result of what the Government are doing. We must still believe that the results of their actions, if not their intentions—I have great doubts about those—will not weaken Parliament as a whole in relation to the Executive.
I hope that the Leader of the House will accept the fact that we have never questioned the legitimacy of the Government's carrying out their manifesto commitment to abolish the voting rights of the hereditary peers. We have always said that we welcome reform if it results in 663 the better governance of this country. However, we have questioned the wisdom of what the Government are doing, their timetable and their motives, because we believe that they are motivated not by an interest in improving the way in which Parliament works but in further sidelining Parliament to the benefit of Ministers. That will result in a move towards de facto single-chamber government.
There is a suspicion among the Opposition that many people within the Government would welcome that. The way in which the House of Commons has been treated by members of the Executive can only strengthen that suspicion. To set up a House of Lords chosen entirely by nomination by the Prime Minister or by agents appointed by him would undermine the independence of the upper House.
There seems to be a disturbing pattern of authoritarianism in the Labour proposals. That includes the other constitutional changes, as voters will find out tomorrow, when they realise that they cannot choose which candidate to vote for. That is all about centralising power; it increases the power of politicians while diminishing the power of the voters.
It is therefore difficult for us to have faith that the Government's intention in the reform of Parliament is not to weaken Parliament to the benefit of the Executive. There is little support out there for creating an appointed House. It is hard to find anyone who supports the Government in their option of an appointed Chamber, even as an interim measure.
Lord Irvine, the Lord Chancellor, said:I think that it would be very important to avoid the perception of the biggest quango in our nation's history".That is exactly what will be created if the policies in Labour's submission are carried forward, and many of us believe that that is exactly what the Prime Minister wants. There is a great risk of creating a compliant halfway house of yes men, which the Prime Minister, in particular, would like to last as long as possible.
According to reports, the Prime Minister does not bother to take particularly seriously either his duties in the Palace of Westminster, or his duties to attend Cabinet. As we all know, he is increasing the central power of the political machinery at the expense of the parties in the country and of individual voters.
Anthony Barnett, the former director of Charter 88, said:Surely Labour should first decide how it will replace the Lords with a democratic Chamber? Otherwise it will create an Upper House that is so pliant and illegitimate that it will expose the government to the charge of dictatorship".Charter 88 said that, not the Conservatives.
§ Mr. Bill Rammell (Harlow)
If the hon. Gentleman opposes an appointed second Chamber, does that mean that the Conservative party will support a wholly elected second Chamber? If not, what proportion of the new Chamber's composition will be derived through elections?
§ Dr. Fox
The hon. Gentleman makes an utterly illogical leap from one position to the other. He can look at the Conservative party's submission to the royal commission, but this problem was created by the Government. He should not look to the Opposition for ways out of the hole 664 dug by the Government. That is what Governments are for and, when the Minister replies to the debate this evening, we shall expect some answers.
§ Dr. Fox
I shall come to the Mackay commission and the proposals put forward by the Conservative party in a moment. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will bear with me a little.
I want to mention one other opinion on the appointed Chamber. Vernon Bogdanor, professor of politics at Oxford university, has said:It is by no mean obvious why the ability to defer the wishes of one's party leader constitutes a better title to a place in a legislative chamber than the claims of hereditary. Labour's proposals for a purely nominated chamber would involve a quite unacceptable increase in prime ministerial patronage.We are supposed to believe that, because the Prime Minister will give up his ability to nominate Cross Benchers, that will be all right. However, that is more than offset by the exclusion of any independent element. I shall return to that in moment.
We have always advocated that there must be an independent element in any upper Chamber for it to be effective.
§ Mrs. Beckett
I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not pretending that the Government are taking out the independent element in the upper House. Is he arguing that the only people who can be independent are the hereditary peers? If so, most of the rest of the House of Lords would find that very insulting.
§ Dr. Fox
One reason for the Government's keenness to press ahead with the changes is that they do not like any independent criticism. They will find that many peers—hereditary and otherwise—will have the courage to do what Labour Back Benchers did not have the courage to do over the Welfare Reform and Pensions Bill. I am sure that the electorate will thank them for that.
By their every change to our constitutional arrangements, the Government are trying to diminish the power of those who are able to influence the political process but who do not belong to a political party. That is one of the most disturbing trends of the Government's proposals.
§ Dr. Fox
The right hon. Lady shakes her head, but I shall give her an example. The people who are able to choose who will sit in the European Parliament are not the voters in an election but the party bosses in their party headquarters. That increases the power of the parties, and decreases the power of any independent element, including that of the electorate.
§ Mrs. Beckett
I look forward to the next general election, when—the hon. Gentleman seems to be saying—every constituency will be offered a choice of Conservative candidates. If that is not what the hon. Gentleman is saying, he is making a stupid point-not for the first time. He pretends that, in some way, the electorate have lost a power, which they enjoyed in 665 the past, to choose individual candidates from political parties. In his constituency, the hon. Gentleman stands as the sole representative of the Conservative party, as I stand as the sole representative of the Labour party in mine. There is nothing unusual about that.
With regard to the possibility of making a different change, all hon. Members are worried about the level of interest in, and concern about, the European elections, because we all recognise that the European Parliament has important powers. Given the present size of ballot papers, does the hon. Gentleman agree that people would be put off if they were also asked to pick out individual candidates? I am sure that people could do so, but whether they could be bothered is quite another matter.
§ Dr. Fox
I thought that the right hon. Lady was going to keep up her conciliatory tone for an entire debate, and not descend to her usual level. I am reassured to find that she has done so in the end.
What will happen in tomorrow's European elections is symptomatic of what the Government are doing, in that the power of the parties over the electorate will be increased, as I shall describe. If one of those elected under a list system drops out, it is up to the political parties to decide who should replace him or her. The electorate have no say: that is a clear example of how the parties are trying to centralise their authority.
We had the utter nonsense of the recent debate in the Scottish Parliament, in which list members were told that their job was not to represent constituents—for which they get less money—but to represent the political parties. What sort of democratic obscenity is it when Parliament is supposed to represent the politicians rather than the people? Democracy is being stood on its head by the Government's arguments. Labour Members will have a real difficulty when the Bill comes back from the House of Lords. Let me remind the House of what Labour's manifesto said:The House of Lords must be reformed. As an initial, self-contained reform, not dependent on further reform in the future, the right of hereditary peers to sit and vote in the House of Lords will be ended by statute.We have all heard Ministers mocking hereditary peers and saying how unacceptable it is that they sit in the House of Lords. The Home Secretary said that the first fundamental objection to the position of the hereditary peers was that they were hereditary. He said that we shouldimagine lying open-mouthed in the dentist's chair as the dentists drilled into the gum instead of the teeth. That would raise questions about his skills. Imagine if, when asked to produce his certificate of competence, he brought out one awarded in 1860 to his great great uncle William, but said not to worry because the skills had been transmitted through the genes."—[Official Report, 30 November 1998; Vol. 321, c. 571.]I remember hearing howls of laughter from Labour Back Benchers, the same Back Benchers who trekked through the Lobby to vote down the Weatherill amendment when it was offered in this House. We know that, once the proposals have been accepted in the House of Lords, the same Back Benchers will, on the instruction of their Whips, vote for them, in direct contravention of their manifesto.
§ Mr. Rammell
As we are in the business of trading embarrassments, will it not be a greater embarrassment 666 for the Conservatives and their leader to vote for a proposal for which the Leader of the Opposition sacked the Conservative leader of the Lords?
§ Mr. Hogg
My hon. Friend has precisely described why this House is failing to discharge its role of holding the Executive to account. It is true of all Governments, not only the present one, that they use their Whips to ensure that Back Benchers do whatever the Government want. In this case, that means either voting for or against the Weatherill amendment. That is what is so destructive of truly accountable Government.
§ Dr. Fox
What is most damaging about this episode is that the Government have not even pretended to act from a point of principle. They said that they would do whatever was necessary. If that meant countermanding their manifesto, they would tolerate that. If it meant blatantly forcing Members to go back on what they had previously voted for, the Government would force them to do so. Perhaps the Leader of the House will confirm that the Government intend to march their troops through the Lobby to vote for the Weatherill proposals. That seems the only logical position given that the Government backed those proposals in the House of Lords. Will the Leader of the House tell us that?
§ Mrs. Beckett
I certainly shall not comment and nor shall my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office. The hon. Gentleman may not have noticed, but the other place has not yet finished with the Bill.
§ Mrs. Beckett
Let me explain to the hon. Gentleman in words of one syllable what I meant. Amendments have been tabled to the Weatherill amendment, and none of us knows whether they will be carried.
§ Dr. Fox
We have a fair idea of the Government's position. I do not know whether it is appropriate—perhaps it is against the rules of the House—to offer the Leader of the House a wager. I shall wager £10 for her favourite charity that she ultimately forces her Back Benchers in precisely the opposite direction to that which they took when the Weatherill proposals were previously debated in this House.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)
Order. Perhaps it would be better if that wager were kept metaphorical.
§ Dr. Fox
I am not a gambling man, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have never even been to a bookie.
667 Let me return to the point made by the hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Rammell). The Conservative position has been clear throughout the debate. We saw no need for reform of the House of Lords. There was nothing about it in our manifesto. However, we have accepted that the Government are implementing the proposals in their manifesto and that the status quo is no longer an option. As the Leader of the House has pointed out, I have also said that the Conservative party will not reintroduce hereditary peers after we win the next general election. We must therefore consider ways of introducing an independent element into the upper House.
I commend the Mackay report to Labour Members who have not read it. It is an elegant and extraordinarily interesting discourse that takes the debate on House of Lords reform to levels never achieved by the Government. It proposes two models. It is not a question of an entirely elected or an entirely appointed House. One of the Mackay options is a partly elected House. Members could be elected in many different ways. Another option is to move to an almost fully elected House with a proportion of Members appointed by the Executive so that Ministers could work in the upper House. It is an interesting document and we will consult on it in the Conservative party to find how our party thinks reform should be taken forward.
I hope that the hon. Member for Harlow will give us credit for having moved the debate much further than have the Government. The contributions in print of several of my hon. Friends have added much to the debate on the House of Lords on both sides of the argument. I am genuinely sorry that the Government were not more willing to outline some of the options that the Labour party, if not the Government, might consider for stage 2 reform.
The Government's contribution has been extraordinarily sterile. They have proposed a change with no idea of how to carry it through. They have muddled along. They do not know how they want our constitutional framework to look and have little idea of what the Executive's relationship with people or Parliament should be beyond having more power centralised and more power given to political parties for the Prime Minister to exercise greater control through those organs.
I hope that this debate marks the beginning of the House of Commons re-establishing a little of its self-respect. In the wider process of reform, let us remember that our primary duty is the scrutiny and production of legislation and the provision of a framework for what we are meant to do: to govern wisely and well those whom we are elected to represent.
§ Mr. Robert Sheldon (Ashton-under-Lyne)
I agree with one aspect of what the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) said. On the proper use of Back Benchers, there is a need for the alternative career structure that he mentioned. The Select Committee that I have the privilege to chair, the Liaison Committee, is considering that. It is examining what changes should be suggested halfway through a Parliament for the future role of Select Committees and considering how they can carry out their investigative role, which cannot easily be reproduced in any other forum. They can question the people responsible for important decisions and come back at them again and 668 again. They can seek memorandums and have the power to call for whatever persons, papers or records we require. Something is happening on that and I await the results in due course.
§ Mr. Sheldon
My view is that the Select Committees are doing very well. They were set up two years ago and this is a suitable time to consider whether there can or should be changes to make them even more effective. That is what is being done through our consultations.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House opened this debate in a way that wholly commended itself to me and many others when she said that she is a House of Commons woman through and through. That is what the Leader of the House should be and I welcome that assertion. Of course, I knew it already, but it is nice to hear it once again. My right hon. Friend also mentioned that the powers of the House of Lords are great—far too great in the opinion of many Labour Members. The only limit on the activities of Members of the House of Lords is the way in which they exercise those powers. My right hon. Friend was right to draw attention to that point.
My view of the proposed legislation, as it comes back from the House of Lords, is that it would produce a transitional House; these are the first steps. My expectation is that that temporary scheme is likely to become permanent. I am sorry to disagree with some of my colleagues, but, as time goes on, the enthusiasm for constitutional reform is not likely to increase. In my experience—I have seen a fair amount of such matters in my time—that enthusiasm is likely to terminate fairly early on.
Lord Cranborne showed himself to be a most powerful and inventive person. Given the way in which he carried out his work, he is obviously the lost leader of the Tories in this generation. He knew that, as Sir John Harington put it in the 16th century:Treason doth never prosper, what's the reason?For if it prosper, none dare call it treason.That is the point. The noble Lord's work will almost surely prosper. We may reach agreement on losing the hereditaries, save for the 90 or 92, whatever the number is, but further moves to abolish them are likely to die through the difficulties of constitution making, where there are as many solutions as there are Members of Parliament. The likelihood is that after the noble Lord's work, which he carried out to the annoyance—even the anger—of Members on the Opposition Front Bench, he could see that there was a cause worth fighting for. If he could not save all the hereditaries, he was going to save a substantial number of them.
There will be slippage. As was mentioned earlier, the second stage is likely to continue well beyond December. The matter is unlikely to be resolved in this Parliament—possibly not even in the next one. As colleagues have pointed out, we should not try to remedy the defects of the House of Commons by making changes in the House of Lords. The House of Lords should remedy not the 669 deficiencies that we see at present, but those that might be regarded as more permanent. If there are defects in this House, they need to be put right before we grant the House of Lords more powers to remedy those problems.
§ Mr. Hogg
What if the defects in this House are not essentially procedural, but stem from the fact that we do not have a separation of powers and that the Executive are Members of this place? Because the Executive, through the Whips Office, can control the majority party, this House is incapable of exercising proper control of the Executive. That is not procedure; it stems from an inherent characteristic of the constitutional settlement that is in place.
§ Mr. Sheldon
That has been the position for the past 250 years. It was a wonderful solution, because, as long as Members of Parliament had feelings of independence, they could form part of the Executive as well as holding the Executive to account. When we considered the problems in the United States, we used to congratulate ourselves on how well we had organised matters. What has happened during the past 30 years is that Members of Parliament have become much more full time and are looking to a career structure. It is that career structure that has tended to corrupt the system. That is the problem.
§ Mr. Andrew Rowe (Faversham and Mid-Kent)
The right hon. Gentleman has made half the point that I was about to make. Is it not true that Members of Parliament were much more independent when they were of independent means?
§ Mr. Sheldon
Now, we have large numbers of Members of Parliament who have little in the way of outside interests and outside concerns. As a result, they look to the ordinary routes of promotion and envisage themselves forming part of the Government. In the past, many Members of substance and standing would come into the Chamber to listen to the debate; now, most Members come to the Chamber to speak in a debate. There is nothing wrong in that, but we should recognise that there was formerly an element that produced the sort of House of Commons that it was our privilege to inherit, but which we have, to a certain extent, distorted. That is the real problem.
We have been at this stage before in respect of House of Lords reform. I strongly opposed the proposals in 1968–69. At that time, there was an agreement between the two Front-Bench teams, but it was my good fortune and privilege to spot, right from the start, that there was a way to divide them in such a way as to ensure that they could never get the guillotine. By using one device or another, the opponents of the proposals ensured that that happened. The Government Back Benchers railed against Ministers and the Opposition Back Benchers railed against their Front Benchers, with the result that the legislation fell.
I could see that the legislation could not be revived, because a poll produced at the time showed that there was little support for the proposals. The House sat 14 days and nights-at that time, we had the Dick Crossman reforms, so we sat morning, afternoon, evening and night—but after those 14 days, we had reached only clause 6 of a 20-clause Bill, so the Bill was dropped.
670 The deficiencies in that legislation were far greater than the deficiencies in the current Bill. At least in the current Bill, we can see the first stage and what will happen during that period, whereas the 1968—69 legislation simply gave huge powers of patronage to two Front-Bench teams operating together. If it had been passed, not only would it have distorted the House of Lords, but, more important, it would have distorted the House of Commons by creating an aldermanic bench.
I have had some experience of an aldermanic bench. People who have been elected as councillors wait for a certain number of their colleagues to die off so that they can acquire a position in which they will never have to face another election. It is a tempting prospect: permanent positions that carry power, but no responsibility—lovely. I could foresee the result of the 1968 proposals: some Members of Parliament would have been anxious to obtain one of those aldermanic posts, so there would have been patronage in this place, because Front Benchers would have been able to offer an attractive combination of power with security and pay. We must concern ourselves with both powers and composition, even at the first stage.
§ Mr. Andrew Tyrie (Chichester)
The right hon. Gentleman has thoroughly described the shortcomings of the 1968 proposals. Does he take issue with the Labour party submission which states:There is a great deal of wisdom in these earlier proposals for House of Lords reform which would repay careful examination today"?
§ Mr. Sheldon
Given that I spent a great deal of my political life fighting such proposals, I am not likely to change my mind 30 years on. Those proposals were flawed. At the time they were debated, the House could not get the guillotine—it could not even get 100 Members to move the closure; it got only 99, and that was the end of that.
The whole point is that Back Benchers have been underappreciated. Back Benchers are not always wrong, even on the big issues. In my time, we have had devaluation, which should have occurred far sooner; we have had the east of Suez policy, when the Government said that this country's frontiers were on the Himalayas, which was a load of nonsense and I fought against it; we have had the poll tax, against which we should have fought harder. On those and many other issues, Back Benchers knew better than the Government of the day, but the House of Commons failed to turn that general feeling into decision making. It was not the House of Commons or the system that was weak; it was the individuals who failed to put right what was wrong.
What needs to be done? We must consider the scrutiny of legislation by the House of Commons, which is the backbone of its work. We perform two types of examination of legislation—one is examination to see whether it is efficient, economic and effective. That is the Public Accounts Committee work of ensuring that everything that is done is done in the best possible way. The other role concerns aspects of policy, and the role of Government Back Benchers is even more important when the Government have a large majority. Francis Pym, who lost his position for his pains, was right to point out the dangers of large majorities. I welcome the Labour party being in power, but we must be careful that we understand 671 the difficulties of a large majority and find a role for Members of Parliament so that they can use their abilities to the full.
What is the solution? We must use the House of Commons more effectively, as both a debating and a decision-making body. Some in the Government have always believed that, in the interests of party unity, different views should not be openly expressed, but should be conveyed quietly to the relevant Ministers for their reconsideration. With many Ministers that is an effective way to achieve change, as we have seen in the past day or so. What if it does not work? Should the alternative views not be put? Should Members of Parliament have to bite their lip, swallow their pride, grumble in private and await the next means of persuasion? That is not the way for a sovereign House of Commons to proceed. This is a national forum for debate and open discussion, and for argument that brings out issues openly for the people to see and decide. Anyone who believes in open government and open dissent must be a part of that.
Are Governments always right? Of course they are not. The question is whether we should exchange the pressure of Members of Parliament for pressure from the unelected peers in the House of Lords. Of course not. I have always believed in the need to maximise one's powers of persuasion. An opponent of a Government can find his or her views readily dismissed, but Government Back Benchers can have an enormous influence if they make use of their voice sensibly, moderately and sustainedly. The task of a Government Back Bencher is not to be considered outside the pale but to have it believed—including by the Whips—that one is redeemable and interested in looking for good solutions.
§ Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle)
What should the loyal Government Back Bencher do if they find themselves totally opposed to the Government's proposals, say, for example, on whether the upper House should be directly elected?
§ Mr. Sheldon
I can only answer from my own experience. I was against the Government on devaluation and on the east of Suez policy. At the time of devaluation, I was the chairman of the economic and finance group. I spoke in the House in favour of devaluation, and nine other members of the economic and finance group of the parliamentary Labour party spoke in my support on devaluation, but there was nobody in the Press Gallery and it was never reported. It was all in Hansard, but not in the papers. The House of Commons must return to being the centre of debate and argument to convince the people what is right and what should be done.
Government Back Benchers should put the arguments sensibly and clearly. If they get the debate going, they may persuade their colleagues and the Government of the need for a change. Nothing is fixed irredeemably. However, one should make one's point with courtesy and persistence.
In the 1969 debates on House of Lords reform, I was concerned the proposals would make the position of Members of the House of Lords more attractive. It would have given them powers as well as salaries. I considered the revising powers of the House of Lords and I was impressed by the arguments of Professor Griffiths who showed that nearly all the substantive amendments in the Lords were the result of Government actions.
672 I accept that the position has changed in the past 30 years. Government legislation is now more hurried and requires more amendments. Nevertheless, the fault for defective legislation lies with the House of Commons. Legislation is defective not because it has not been examined properly in the House of Lords but because the 659 Members in this place have not highlighted the flaws. That is a problem of application and of principle.
The only legislation that requires amendment from an outside body is the quinquennial Act. We clearly cannot change that Act ourselves: we cannot legislate to continue as Members of Parliament without calling a general election. I am also concerned about the domination of this Chamber by the Executive. Reference has been made to that problem, which has existed for 30 or 40 years—although it was not such a powerful obstacle when I was first elected to this place. Today, almost all Members of Parliament are full-time Members and they want a career structure. That leads to dominance first by the Executive and then by central party organisations. That is a serious matter.
I was not expected to be chosen to contest my seat of Ashton-under-Lyne: it was purely accidental. I only went along for the ride. I never expected to be a Member of Parliament—it was just one of those strange things that happens. I am not sure that that sort of thing will occur again—although there are many people in a similar position. We should have Members of Parliament from different backgrounds. A central party organisation produces clones too readily, and we do not want that in this place. Members of Parliament should have diverse views and characteristics.
Faced with those problems, people look to the second Chamber to provide solutions. However, the second Chamber can also be influenced by the Executive. The Executive have the power and may find themselves forced to exert in the other place the control that they wield in the House of Commons.
§ Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome)
The right hon. Gentleman is talking about the powers of the Executive in this and in another place. Does he believe that the Executive should be represented in the other Chamber if it is to carry out its legislative scrutiny role properly? Why should the Executive be represented in another place?
§ Mr. Sheldon
We look forward to seeing the royal commission's report. I do not see how those serving on a royal commission can agree about an issue such as this. If I were to put the people I know on a royal commission panel, I would assemble as many views as there were commission members. It will be interesting to see how the royal commission will come to some agreement and whether its members will be prepared to compromise their views.
The major question is how to ensure that hon. Members have the reasonable level of independence necessary to secure good legislation and an active debate that represents the views in the country and focuses the nation on the issues that concern it most. In this connection, the only alternative to the dogfight between two sides of the House—which is necessary, but not sufficient—is the role of Government Back Benchers.
There will be no satisfactory solution so long as the House of Commons does not fulfil its traditional role, which has existed at least since the Reform Act of 1832. 673 If it fulfils that role, the House of Lords will be less important and a new system may be devised more readily. The message is that the House of Commons must fulfil its function and then look to the House of Lords to fill in the far fewer gaps in our constitution.
§ Mr. John MacGregor (South Norfolk)
I shall begin by making two comments on points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox). They are points that I have made in the past, but they are worth repeating in any debate on the House of Lords.
First, I agree with all the criticism of the Government for proceeding with phase 1 without knowing what phase 2 will be. They have put the cart before the horse. It is clear that the Government gave no thought beforehand to the long-term consequences of their proposals. The speech by the Leader of the House made that particularly clear, because she dodged all the issues of what phase 2 might consist of, and resorted to leaving that question to the royal commission and then to the Joint Committee and the House. That is a fundamental criticism of the Government.
Secondly, I agree also with the right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon). I suspect that we shall be stuck with phase 1 for a long time, partly because of the run-up to the next election and the processes that must be gone through, and partly, as the right hon. Gentleman said, because of the difficulties of reaching any agreement, not least in the royal commission, and in the House, about what a long-term phase 2 should be. I believe that the House of Lords as it will be constituted under the House of Lords Bill will be in place for a very long time, which I find deeply unsatisfactory.
I was not sure how the right hon. Gentleman would conclude his speech, because he spent most of his time talking about the House of Commons, rather than the House of Lords. I suspected that he would say, as he did, that, if the Commons reformed itself correctly in a number of the ways that he outlined, it would not matter too much what the House of Lords was like because it would not have many functions. I do not share his optimism—if there is optimism, which I doubt—that the Commons will be able to address some of the points that he made. It is therefore important to consider the composition and powers of the second Chamber.
§ Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield)
Does my right hon. Friend agree that nothing would provide a greater incentive for reform of the House of Commons than the reformed House of Lords doing its job correctly?
§ Mr. MacGregor
I agree, and I shall return to that point later.
The right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne referred to the increasing dangers of the power of the Executive over the legislature and the centralisation of powers. If we leave in place a weakened House of Lords, which I suspect we shall have, and an unreformed House of Commons, which we shall probably have also, the power of the Executive will continue to increase. That is why we 674 need to consider a stronger House of Lords and, perhaps, a reformed House of Commons. However, a reformed Commons will not, on its own, be sufficient.
§ Mr. MacGregor
It might, and I just agreed with my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) on that very point. It is much more likely that the Commons will reform itself if we have a House of Lords that is different from that envisaged in the Bill going through Parliament at present.
Having made two points that have frequently been made and with which I strongly agree, I turn now to the future and the royal commission and its report. Lord Wakeham's royal commission began in an excellent manner. I have read the consultation paper several times, and it raises most of the big issues, only a few of which I shall have time to refer to today. I am encouraged by the fact that it has not assumed certain points, particularly those relating to powers, but is raising all the fundamental issues relating to powers as well as composition. I shall comment on the criteria, the powers and the composition.
On the criteria, I absolutely share the position of the Leader of the House and agree with her about the pre-eminence of the House of Commons. I am an out-and-out House of Commons man, and the only difference on that point between me and the right hon. Lady is one of sex. I shall comment on one criterion that is included in the consultation paper and one that is not. The first, which I want particularly to single out, is the importance of the second Chamber complementing, rather than duplicating, this Chamber.
§ Mr. MacGregor
That criterion leads to a number of conclusions, and although the Leader of the House nodded on that point, I thought that her remarks about powers demonstrated that she has a closed mind about the second Chamber complementing the Commons. If she takes that point seriously, it will lead her to consider more powers for the House of Lords.
On page 6 of the White Paper, the Government say thatthe second chamber must have a distinctive role",and on page 7 they refer to a "fundamental transformation" of the constitutional processes, including the way in which the House of Lords is reformed. The complementary nature is a key criterion, and will underline everything that I shall say about powers and composition.
A criterion that is not listed, but which is very important, is that the second Chamber must attract high-calibre people who have a wide range of experience and expertise. I agree with the Leader of the House on this; she mentioned the issue, but did not follow it through. If we are honest, perhaps too much of the House of Lords is in the nature of what my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) described in a recent article in the Evening Standard as:A pleasant club and a debating chamber made up of people who are reluctant to retire from public life but don't want to go through the process of election any more.675 That is something of a caricature, although there is an element of truth in it. It does not lead me to the same conclusion as that drawn by my right hon. and learned Friend, which was that the second Chamber should be wholly elected—I shall come to that—but it is an important point in considering what we want the House of Lords to do.
Attracting high-calibre people who have a wide range of experience and expertise is fundamental. We need to do so if we are to have a stronger Chamber than now—and one that is respected. As the right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne said, it is becoming more and more difficult for this House to attract people in the middle of, or slightly later on in, their careers, who have considerable experience and expertise from a range of walks of life. This House—I regret this—is therefore composed more and more of people who are full-time politicians, from the time they leave their educational experiences to their retirement from this Chamber. In other words, we are increasingly politician-dominated.
People with outside careers, who in the past have entered the House in their late 30s and contributed a great deal, must now choose between that outside career and a much lower salary and—frankly—poorer pensions. That is partly because we make it more difficult for people to have outside interests, but mainly because if people lose their seats in their late 40s or early 50s, they find it extremely difficult, given the nature of the world of work today, to pick up the threads, have anything like an attractive career in the run-up to their retirement and secure a reasonable pension.
I speak with some feeling on the matter because, as chairman of the House of Commons trustees pension fund, I see acute cases among ex-colleagues who have lost their seats in their late 40s and early 50s. People outside the House are aware of that, and, as a result, do not want to enter it. The House of Lords could assist in bringing in such outside experience, thus complementing and supplementing this place.
We will not fulfil either key criteria unless we recognise the need to tackle the question of powers. If the reform is to be proper, thorough and long term—that ought to be the Government's aim—the second Chamber must make a contribution to the political life of the nation that is noticed and respected. The media must take notice of it, and the establishment, the Government and the civil service must take it into account. It must also affect decisions⁁that means changing as well as influencing Government policy.
I accept that one of the weaknesses of the strong hereditary composition of the House of Lords was that, in practice, it constrained that body in its exercise of such functions. Therefore, even when it had such powers, it did not exercise them very fully. If I am honest, speaking as a former Minister with 15 years' experience in government, I also know that, quite often, the belief that the House of Lords has a powerful influence over policy and the practice are two different things. Therefore, it is important to strengthen the House of Lords in that regard. If the House of Lords is to act as a better second-Chamber check on the Executive than it does now, it must have strengthened powers. I hope that I have shown that I believe that it is crucial to tackle the question of powers first, and composition second.
I was critical of the White Paper because it gave much more attention to composition than to powers. In fact, at some points, it talks of weakening the powers of a second 676 Chamber. Indeed, I was a little concerned that the Leader of the House was going down that route today when she said that she did not believe that the House of Lords should have more powers than it has at present. I am very glad that the royal commission is not approaching its task in that way.
If I were at all critical of the excellent report from Lord Mackay and his colleagues—it was instituted by the Conservative party, and is an excellent contribution to the debate; it has certainly moved the arguments on considerably—I would say only that it tended to take the view that the powers of the House of Lords should be left as they are and should evolve organically, rather than being tackled now. I believe that there will not be a third chance to consider the powers of the other place. Indeed, today we have already argued that there is a danger that there will not be a second opportunity to do so. It is therefore important to consider the matter of powers now.
What should the powers be? Moreover, how will the powers be used, and will they be used?
§ Mr. Maclennan
Before the right hon. Gentleman deals with those matters, will he perhaps lend support to his argument by instancing examples, drawn from his long 15-year experience of government, of when the Government might have been assisted by the House of Lords exercising powers, and when he believes that, ultimately, amendments for the better would consequently have been made? Will he give some examples? An admission that Governments have got it wrong is very rare in this Chamber.
§ Mr. MacGregor
I shall list four issues related to powers additional to those already held by the House of Lords, and, in doing so, I should answer the right hon. Gentleman's question. All the issues arise from my own feelings and experience in government.
Secondary legislation is the first issue. I am delighted that, in its submission to the royal commission, the Conservative party has highlighted the importance of strengthening both Houses—although, in this debate, we are talking only about the House of Lords—in their handling of secondary legislation. I am delighted also that, in one of its questions, the royal commission asked aboutproviding for the Second Chamber's opposition to any subordinate legislation to result in delay and reconsideration (by the Commons), rather than rejection.I think that the way in which Parliament as a whole deals with secondary legislation is now a disgrace. The situation has become very much worse because of the habit of all Governments, but very much of the current one, of addressing so many key issues in secondary legislation because they do not have the time or do not wish to think through the consequences in primary legislation. As the practice has become so much more intensively practised, it has become much more important to answer the question of how this Chamber and the other Chamber should handle secondary legislation.
§ Mr. Letwin
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the prevalence of so-called Henry VIII clauses, in which secondary legislation is permitted to amend or revoke primary legislation, has almost got to the stage of turning the tables by making secondary primary, and primary secondary?
§ Mr. MacGregor
That is not always the case, of course, but very often it is. It must be a subject of great 677 concern for all of us, as it has greatly strengthened the Executive's powers and made almost non-existent the legislature's powers of scrutinising.
As we all know, this House is able either to reject in to or to accept in toto secondary legislation—statutory instruments—but cannot amend it. In Committee, when one is under pressure on a particular aspect of a Bill referring a matter to secondary legislation, the big concession that one makes—I have been guilty of it—is to agree that it is important, and therefore to agree that it should be dealt with by affirmative rather than by negative resolution. Big deal. When a Government have the majority that the current Government do, affirmative resolution does not amount to a row of beans. Therefore, there is no opportunity for either this House or the other House, which has a convention on secondary legislation, properly to scrutinise secondary legislation. There is no opportunity for this House to examine and amend in detail those crucial pieces of secondary legislation.
§ Mr. Grieve
I ask this as someone serving on the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is most extraordinary that, even when scrutiny—which is limited to identifying whether legislation has been properly drafted—reveals that legislation is defective and deficient, it is still open to the Government to decide, as they very frequently do, to continue with the statutory instrument in that form, with the mere assurance that, at some later date, it will be corrected?
§ Mr. MacGregor
I agree. The practice underlines just how few powers of scrutiny the House now has over secondary legislation. I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree that much worse than the example he gave is when there are real criticisms of one policy aspect of the secondary legislation, but hon. Members are asked to accept the whole thing or nothing at all. As I said, with the current Government's majority, it is well known that that entails accepting the whole legislation.
§ Mrs. Beckett
I do not particularly want to make a partisan point, and agree with much of what the right hon. Gentleman has said—perhaps more than he has recognised. However, the notion that the practice has been introduced by the Government and is a consequence of our majority—[Interruption.] It is not a consequence of our majority. The practice has been growing over very many years, and I think that we all recognise that it has defects. Although I understand the astonishment of the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) to hear the Government saying, "Yes, this is defective, but we will come back to it at some other time", I assure him that, to my knowledge, the practice has been going on for at least 15 years.
§ Mr. MacGregor
I thought that I had already said that all Governments have done it. However, I also said that the practice is worse now, primarily because there is increasingly a tendency to put legislation into secondary form, but also because of the Government's large majority.
§ Mr. Hogg
I must ask my right hon. Friend whether there is not a further dimension to the matter. Secondary 678 legislation is the vehicle for expressing in statutory language decisions applicable to the United Kingdom and emanating from the European Union, either in directives or in regulations. In respect to a whole body of that, there is—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. and learned Gentleman, but I am sure that he knows that he should be addressing the occupant of the Chair.
§ Mr. MacGregor
That was going to be my second point. I should first finish dealing with secondary domestic legislation.
§ Mr. MacGregor
I hope that hon. Members will forgive me for not giving way again for a while. There are things that I want to say on composition. I do not want to speak for too long, and there have already been interventions in my speech.
I just want to underline the fact—I am glad that all the interventions, including that of the Leader of the House, have supported it—that we have to address the issue of how secondary legislation should be dealt with.
The House of Lords may have more time than we do to consider secondary legislation, and if the other place attracts people with outside experience and expertise, it may have a greater ability to consider secondary legislation. I therefore believe that the House of Lords has a particularly important role in dealing with secondary legislation. It should be given powers to amend it, and certainly to delay it, to give Governments time to think again.
The second issue relating to powers that I should like to raise—European legislation—was just mentioned briefly by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg). To be very brief, I shall simply say that we have, of course, developed mechanisms for scrutinising European legislation. This House's mechanisms for scrutinising such legislation are fairly extensive, and are probably more extensive than those of other democratic institutions in the European Union. Nevertheless, I think that there are matters on which we could go further and in which the House of Lords could have a specific role to play.
The role of the House of Lords should include consideration of issues that will be decided in the Council of Ministers and in European legislation, but well before those decisions are taken. I stress the importance of consideration well before the decisions are taken. In my experience—as a former Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and as a former Secretary of State for Transport—the House of Commons far too often debates issues that are almost already settled in a negotiating framework in Brussels. Anyone who has experience of how the Brussels system works will know that to be true.
In one sense, therefore, there are limitations to what the House of Lords could do on European legislation before final decisions on that legislation are taken, not only for 679 the reason that I have given—which could be dealt with by considering the issues very early—but because every Minister has to engage in negotiation with other Ministers and cannot himself or herself entirely achieve the wishes of this Chamber or the other Chamber.
The House of Lords could also play a much bigger part in the implementation of European legislation. As we all know, it is a common cry that the United Kingdom tends to implement legislation much more extremely and thoroughly than other member states do. Clearly, there is a role not only for the second Chamber but for this Chamber in ensuring that we do not burden ourselves with consequential legislation that goes way beyond what is needed. The second Chamber should also have a role in subsequently examining how European legislation has worked. The other place should have powers in performing that important role.
My third point is that more use should be made of the revising power of the second Chamber. Two years' breathing space on legislation may well be desirable. I do not often agree with Earl Russell, but I agree with what he wrote recently in The Sunday Telegraph about the House of Lords:It is only because we have the power to vote that the Commons ever listens to anything we say. Only if the functions of the reformed House include the right to revise legislation, against the wishes of the Commons, will it be worth bothering with.There is a grain of truth in that. The revising powers need to be looked at.
My fourth suggestion relates to the Select Committees of the second Chamber, which do a splendid job and have a substantial reputation. They are one of the second Chamber's current strengths, particularly because they enable unelected people who have spent a long time in other careers to bring their experience to bear. They are highly regarded, but I wonder how much influence their reports have. They are read by the experts and civil servants, but I must admit that they are not always the first documents that a Minister reads when dealing with policy issues in this place.
We could strengthen the powers of the Committees by building on the excellent work of the Joint Committee on the Financial Services and Markets Bill, with reports to inform both Chambers. Pre-legislative Select Committees in the House of Lords, given the composition that I hope for, could have a substantial role. I hope that that answers the right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Mr. Maclennan) by showing some areas in which the powers could be extended.
§ Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster)
I shall be brief. Having given evidence as a Minister to Lords Committees, does my right hon. Friend agree that it is potentially the most frightening experience that a Minister can have?
§ Mr. MacGregor
I must have been lucky, because I do not recall that being the case. I certainly found the Committees stimulating and prepared heavily for them, as Ministers do for anything in this Chamber. However, if that was my right hon. Friend's experience, it strengthens my view that the Committees add to the ability of the second Chamber to contribute by dealing with pre-legislative issues.
I am doubtful about the concept of a wholly directly elected second Chamber. First, it would duplicate this Chamber. Secondly, as the White Paper pointed out, 680 it would be a recipe for conflict. The endless tensions are one reason why this Chamber would never agree to it. Unfortunately, such a Chamber would divide too often on purely party lines, duplicating what happens here. Thirdly, the second Chamber would expect a real and different role. If it did not get one, those who stood for election to it would, if they will forgive me, be the failed candidates for membership of this House, regarding it as a stepping stone towards their hope of coming here. Such a Chamber would not be a step forward. If it did not have powers, it would not attract people with a wide range of experience and careers to its wholly elected posts. It would certainly not be independent—that is an important element that many people have referred to—even under the ingenious Mackay proposals whereby Members would be elected for 15 years in total, with one third being elected every five years. That would remove some of the conflict and duplication, but it would not address my criticisms.
Those criticisms do not apply so much to a partly elected Chamber, but there are still difficulties that would need to be thought through, including the proportions and the possibility of there being two classes of Member. I do not have the same overall objections to a partly elected second Chamber.
The greatest merit lies in a mix of indirectly elected and nominated members. I stress the need for indirect election. I share the views of those who think that a Chamber that was wholly appointed, either by the Prime Minister or by his appointees, would be most undesirable. There are two advantages in Members being indirectly elected—independence and expertise. In his consultation paper, Lord Wakeham refers to the case for some Members to be active in other walks of life. I would go further than that: there is a strong case for a lot of Members to be active in other walks of life.
§ Mr. MacGregor
As there should be in this place, but, alas, for reasons that we have discussed, that is too often not the case these days.
The bodies that would be involved in the process of indirect election are a matter for debate, and I shall not waste time on that now, but there are obvious professions, including the Church and the law, that could contribute to the indirectly elected element.
§ Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)
Does my right hon. Friend accept that if we lay too much emphasis on people who are active in other walks of life, they may not pay much attention to their duties in the second Chamber, which would diminish the ability of that Chamber to provide effective scrutiny of what the Government are doing?
§ Mr. MacGregor
I was coming to that. With a mix of indirectly elected, partly elected and nominated Members, there would be a considerable number of Members who could fulfil more of a full-time role. If we want to attract people with wide experience who have a lot to give to the process of legislation and debate, we have to accept that some of them can be there only part-time.
§ Mr. Tyrie
My right hon. Friend has argued for increased powers for the House of Lords so that it has the 681 ability to challenge the Executive and call it to account. Does he believe that a mish-mash House could have the necessary moral authority to challenge the authority of an Executive elected on a huge Commons mandate?
§ Mr. MacGregor
I have already said that there are grave difficulties with a wholly elected Chamber. It would duplicate the work of this Chamber. I do not accept that the only people with any moral authority are those who have been directly elected.
I have already said that Church representatives are important. I would remove the judicial role from the House of Lords and have it purely as a legislative and policy advisory Chamber, but I accept that there would need to be a substantial mix of lawyers in the indirectly elected element, because their expertise would be valuable, particularly in the scrutiny of secondary legislation. The proposals that I have outlined would provide the best mix of a second Chamber that complemented this one and attracted good people.
I cannot see the justification for the proposals regarding representatives of the devolved bodies in Scotland and Wales and the European Parliament. The proposals would duplicate the work that those Members should be doing in their own bodies. Regional interests are well represented in this House, and we should beware of excessive duplication and layers of government. The devolved bodies need to bed down first.
The proposals also raise the question of how the English regions would be represented. Representatives from regional assemblies would not be the way forward. Most of all, the proposals are wrong in principle, because there is no purpose in having a second Chamber composed of people from other elected Chambers. Absurdly, some elected representatives from this place would have to sit in the other place to represent England, complementing those from the Scottish Parliament. The case has not been made.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) said that people from other walks of life might be only part-time members. Some life peers, including former colleagues from this place and some noted industrialists, hardly ever participate in the work of the House of Lords. The same is true of some hereditary peers. That has to be addressed. Members of the other place must agree to give a certain proportion of their time to the work of that place. I agree with the Mackay commission that some salary and allowance for secretarial and other help must be given, although I do not agree with the proposal that the allowances should be the same as those in this place.
I believe that this issue poses a great challenge to the House of Commons and particularly to the Government and the Government Whips. If the process is to be more than simply a device to pander to certain left-wing prejudices and get rid of the hereditary element, and is to be a genuine reform with a real purpose to improve our constitutional system and the control over the Executive, involving some of the most experienced and knowledgeable in our nation, the Government must face up to that and accept that it will mean real powers and real changes in the second Chamber. If that is not the case, we will have a House of Lords that is not much 682 different from now, except that the independent hereditary element will be displaced by appointed cronyism and even more concentration of power. That would be a hugely backward step, and I share the fear of the right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne that that might happen. I must tell the Leader of the House that the Government will be judged on their response.
§ Mr. Peter Temple-Morris (Leominster)
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. MacGregor). I am pleased to tell him that I agree with the vast majority of what he said. The spirit of his speech and its bipartisan nature—that applies also to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon)—is necessary in what is essentially a consultative debate. This is the House's road to Lord Wakeham. Doubtless his commission will take heavy note of what we say across the Floor of the House. The right hon. Member for South Norfolk concentrated on powers, but he had quite a bit to say on composition. I hope to complement him by saying a little more on composition. He will hear echoes of his speech in what I say, and I hope that I can advance some of his arguments.
Let me dispose of one point immediately by saying that House of Commons reform is relevant to whatever upper House we have ultimately. As other hon. Members have remarked, House of Commons reform is notoriously difficult to bring about. I am pessimistic about it in the shorter term, but optimistic in the longer term. The Modernisation Committee, which is a noble effort to improve matters, does not move with the speed of an Olympic 100 m sprinter, to put it mildly. Reform will take time. However, I agree with the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) that if we create a reformed upper House, which will inevitably come, it will be a great spur to the House of Commons to speed up its reforms.
In reverse order to the right hon. Member for South Norfolk, I will deal first with composition and then deal with functions and powers.
§ Mr. Temple-Morris
I want to make some progress. The hon. Gentleman has made a number of interventions; I will give way later.
I want to state how I see the upper House, and I shall begin with what we do not want. I agree with the right hon. Member for South Norfolk that we do not want an all-elected Chamber. It would inevitably challenge the House of Commons and its method of election could make it almost an embarrassment to this place. There have been suggestions that it should be elected, in whole or in part, under proportional representation. We must bear in mind the electoral system that prevails for this place and which results in its various characteristics, such as, for example, the lack of Conservatives in entire tracts of the country. Under proportional representation, the Conservatives have now become represented again, but there would immediately be a clash. We cannot get round that, even with some fancy system of staggered long terms, because there would still be a claim that they should be more representative at any given moment. Please, no all-elected Chamber.
683 We do not want an all-appointed Chamber. Anyone who looks at matters in a somewhat old-fashioned way might see certain attractions in the power of patronage and appointment. It might be seen as an admirable concept under which there could be a great variety of people. However, the public perception, which is all important, is that it would be cronyism gone mad. It would have no legitimacy; the Canadian Senate is a good example. That goes out.
What do we want? There are some interesting guidelines in the admirable White Paper, which is a fair document. Page 6, paragraph 6 states:But the second chamber must have a distinctive role and must neither usurp, nor threaten, the supremacy of the first chamber.That point was raised by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. It is important that this Chamber remains supreme.
Page 6, paragraph 9 of the White Paper states:The most distinctive and important role of the present House of Lords is the specialist expertise and independent perspective it can bring to the scrutiny of legislation. But the House of Lords and the work it carries out suffer from its lack of legitimacy".It then goes on to deal with the House of Lords as at present constituted.
We need to strike a balance between the necessary expertise and legitimacy in the eyes of the public. It follows from those guidelines that we need a mixed Chamber, and I believe that, at the end of the debate, many hon. Members will favour that. The difficulty, as hon. Members agree, is to decide on what mix one has.
Let us look at some criteria for a mixed Chamber. It is essential that we should have the necessary expertise and a relatively independent collective attitude. The last thing we want is a copy of this place. We need part-timers with outside interests—they functioned here until comparatively recently. We must institute a system whereby they can continue to function because those whom we want to get in would not be interested in a Chamber that was any different from that. I welcome the White Paper's view that there should be no automatic party majority, which is very much part of the same point.
§ Mr. Andrew Rowe (Faversham and Mid-Kent)
The hon. Gentleman says that it is self-evident that the Members should have the necessary expertise. Would he define what he means by "expertise" and tell us how they acquire it?
§ Mr. Temple-Morris
All will be revealed as my speech continues. That was a helpful intervention, but if I answered the hon. Gentleman now, I would lose the sequence of my speech. I hope that I will have dealt with it in some depth by the end of my speech.
We also need depth of representation to supplement this place. I am already beginning to answer the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) because, however we achieve that depth of representation, we need to deal with aspects such as occupation, region, gender, ethnic origin and so on.
I shall now deal with the mixed Chamber—part appointed and part elected, directly or indirectly.
§ Mr. Grieve
The hon. Gentleman has said that he is moving on to deal with a part-appointed and part-elected 684 Chamber, by which he clearly accepts that part of the Chamber needs to be appointed. Might there be a possibility that the elected Members, who should be the vast majority, co-opt those who are not elected, thereby removing the power of patronage entirely and enhancing the legitimacy of the Chamber?
§ Mr. Temple-Morris
Much as I respect the interventions that the hon. Gentleman makes on my speeches, my answer is no, no, no. One has only to look at the Irish Senate and the political nature of the electorate there to realise that an admirable system can go wildly wrong. The last thing we want is for those who are elected, by whatever means, to reproduce themselves by way of appointment.
§ Mr. Temple-Morris
I will not give way again. I have not even answered the hon. Gentleman yet.
It is important that, to a certain extent, the power of patronage, well controlled by way of an independent appointments commission, stays with us in order to get the people we need who would not dream of coming forward under any other form of election.
The proportions within a mixed Chamber have been mentioned. It is important to remain flexible at this stage. On Second Reading, I talked about 70 'per cent. being elected—the vast majority—and 30 per cent. being appointed, or one third being appointed, one third being elected and one third being functional constituencies, or colleges of interest as I called them. I am sorry to distress the hon. Member for Beaconsfield, but now I tend to go for more appointed Members. I would even go up to about 40 per cent. We need flexibility of appointment to get the right people in—I return to the point about expertise and independence of view, and the Cross-Bench element.
The period of appointment is directly relevant to the continuity of the House and its independence. It is a difficult subject which was touched on by the right hon. Member for South Norfolk. Particularly if we want younger people in, we have to consider the possibility of reappointment, but that limits independence. I have thought about the matter as, no doubt, have others, but, at the end of the day, rather than any particular term, appointment should be for life or the age of 75. We hope that all the Members have a happy and healthy retirement. I see that element of appointment as the foundation or the permanent feature of the new House of Lords.
I now turn to the elected part of the upper House. Touching again on a point raised by the right hon. Member for South Norfolk, direct election, whether it is regional or anything else, would produce the dreadful danger of party hacks. The upper Chamber would become a second division and, like the Irish Senate, to use an example that I know very well, in some ways it would be a waiting room for those who wanted to get down to this end of the building. In my view, direct elections should be avoided at all costs.
That leaves us with indirect elections, which need to avoid a political electorate. I referred briefly to that in reply to an intervention. The Irish Senate operates by way of functional constituencies. It is lovely on paper and it could work very well. Sometimes the system is criticised without the realisation that it is not the system, but the 685 electorate that is wrong. The electorate comprises the Members of the Dail and members of Irish local authorities, who form one of the most highly political electorates in the country, and the same would apply here.
There is nothing wrong with functional constituencies provided that we get the electorate right. In regard to the electorate, the answer is quite simple: they should elect themselves. The indirect system of election involves colleges of interest or functional constituencies. They could include representatives of the main areas of activity, such as business, the professions, trade unions and so on. The European Parliament could be a functional constituency, not in terms of electing its own Members, but it could elect a representative. The devolved Parliament and Assemblies of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland could also be involved.
I entirely agree with the right hon. Member for South Norfolk that when Members of the European Parliament were first elected in 1974, many hon. Members standing said that there could be a dual mandate. If I remember rightly, after the first European election in 1979, only one solitary MEP remained a Member of Parliament after 1984.
§ Mr. Grieve
I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way again. In the spirit of the debate, which is more a discussion, is there not a difficulty with the system of colleges of election? The Irish one began in the 1930s. Is it not the truth that it derived from a fascist form of government? I do not mean that pejoratively, but that was its origin: the idea of an estate of the realm made up of corporations. Is not the problem that the system typecasts people into categories, whereas all the evidence is that today's society is very fluid and that people are not typecast in that fashion?
§ Mr. Temple-Morris
I do not think that bringing fascism into the debate is particularly helpful. I do not find the Republic of Ireland a particularly fascist state. Having dealt with that rather extreme part of the hon. Gentleman's intervention, I should say that the election should be conducted democratically. There is no earthly reason why it should not be—I hope that the hon. Gentleman would agree that the Bar Council, for example, would be perfectly capable of putting people up to go to the upper House and electing such people at its annual meeting. Any professional, business or equivalent body in the country would have no difficulty in doing that. Such an election is a way to get in people in a representative capacity other than by appointing them by power of patronage, from wherever it comes. In addition, it would provide the opportunity for indirect election from regional councils in order to get regional representatives.
With regard to period of office, I do not think that there is anything wrong with having two different types of Members of the upper House. Appointed Members should be for life or until the age of 75. It is a matter for discussion, but a fair term of office for those indirectly elected by way of functional constituencies would be for the duration of a Parliament. Indeed, many of those representing such constituencies may not want to do so permanently; they may want to do a spell in Parliament.
Finally, I wish to make a few specific points about functions and powers. First, the Law Lords have been mentioned. As I said on Second Reading, I do not 686 believe that the Law Lords belong to the legislature. Their presence is almost an accident of history; at one point, no one else had the skill to try such significant cases. They could quite easily continue as a supreme court of appeal, sitting in the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, as they do today on certain matters. However, that is no bar to senior judges being nominated to the House of Lords. Inevitably, many of them will be and, no doubt, there will be plenty of lawyers in that Chamber.
Secondly, I know that there are constitutional complications in respect of the bishops, but I do not think that they belong in a modern legislature. That problem needs to be addressed. In some cases, they could be nominated. Indeed, the Churches could be functional constituencies. As a member of the Church of England, let me make the point that we need representatives of more Churches and faiths than just the Church of England by constitutional right.
Thirdly, the position of Ministers crept in by way of an intervention. I see no reason why Ministers need to be Members of the House of Lords. The concept of having Government spokesmen, as occurs in most other Parliaments of the democratic world, could easily apply to the Lords. Ministers should be firmly in the House of Commons. There seems to me no earthly reason why Ministers could not, where necessary, have a right of audience in the House of Lords. That occurs in many other democratic Parliaments.
The upper House should seriously consider allowing rights of audience or outside participation. The right way to deal with our devolved Parliaments and Assemblies is not to appoint their representatives there, although they may be colleges of interest, but to allow First Ministers, and so on, a right of audience in the upper House, if they so wish, in respect of crucial legislation. That occurs not only in the European Parliament, but in other Parliaments.
Finally, I wish to make an important general point with regard to powers. We have to get it right as it is a serious matter. While we want a vigorous and strong House of Lords which must play its part in controlling the Executive, we should be under no illusion; whatever powers we give Members of the upper House at the end of the process will be used. I emphasise that. There will not be any of the present deference or standing back; almost by definition, the new upper House will use whatever clout we give it. Therefore, the House must take the matter seriously, and I welcome the careful process that the Government have set in train by appointing the royal commission, which shows every promise of producing a good and constructive report, and then involving the Joint Committee and both Houses of Parliament. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne said, the process will take some time. I have no doubt from the debate thus far that we are taking it seriously. It is an important process that will improve our governance for the future.
§ Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross)
The right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) said that this was one of those occasions when the House of Commons tended to make speeches rather than listen to them. I congratulate him on sitting throughout the debate with evident interest.
I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman is here, because I want to address an issue of great importance, which he raised. He had a somewhat world-weary view about the 687 prospect of reform of the upper House, based on his 30 years in this House, and one could have a degree of sympathy with that. However, he showed a perhaps surprising radicalism in his belief that the Liaison Committee might succeed in creating a new career track for Members of the House of Commons, which would so transform the work of this place that it might become a significant check on the Executive in a different manner from that which it has exercised during our time here.
One can exaggerate the extent to which there has been a falling off from a golden age of the House of Commons, which has been exceedingly partisan in the past and not just within the memory of those sitting here today. Historically—on issues such as the reform of the House of Lords during the first decade of this century, home rule for Ireland and many other matters—the House of Commons has shown itself to be a partisan place; perhaps that is its function.
As people are anxious to preserve the authority and distinctiveness of the House of Commons as the fount of Executive Government, it would seem likely that that will remain. Our approach to the reform of the House of Lords should take into account the probability that the House of Commons will remain similar to its present form. Whatever may be the developments in the Liaison Committee—about which the right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne spoke-I hope that they will be progressed. The House of Lords has the potential to become more effective in the discharge of a different role from its present one.
For that reason, I was glad to hear the Leader of the House say that the royal commission should focus on that role, and should approach the matter fundamentally and—she did not use this word, although she clearly intended it—radically. That is an entirely desirable approach. That caution should prevent the royal commission from being lost in the deltoid sands at the outturn of a river—something that would occur if it waited to see how this House reforms its procedure to make it more effective.
The Leader of the House reflected the approach of the Prime Minister, before he became Prime Minister, in his John Smith speech in 1996, when he said that the Labour party had always favoured an elected upper House. That message would not be appropriate for the Government to enunciate in terms today. Having set up a royal commission, it would be wrong to follow the advice of the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) and tell the royal commission what it should do, for the reasons given so effectively by the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike). None the less, the royal commission will have in mind the fact that the clear view, as stated by the Prime Minister, that the Labour party has always favoured an elected second Chamber.
The right hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. MacGregor) and the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris) produced a kind of consensus, but I hope profoundly that that consensus does not inform the thinking of the royal commission. I could not have disagreed more with the view of the hon. Member for Leominster that it makes sense to go towards a system of election from functional constituencies. For the sake of avoiding academic discussion, I will not address the issue of whether the idea has fascist roots or not. However, it is clear that it is an impractical suggestion.
688 The hon. Member for Leominster spoke about the sense of giving a member of the Bar Council a position in the House of Lords as of right—but why? I am a barrister, but I cannot see why the legal profession—if that is what the hon. Gentleman is proposing-should be represented by somebody from the Bar. Why not somebody from the Law Society, or from the magistrates' clerks?
§ Mr. Maclennan
Why not indeed? We could have six, seven, eight, 10 or a dozen people with some claim from a functional constituency to represent the law in its workings, and that could be true of every other profession. In terms of the medical profession, is it to be the president of the Royal College of Surgeons or the president of the Royal College of Anaesthetists? Are we to get the entire medical profession together? Are we to have the patients, as a functional constituency, electing someone to represent them in the upper House? Tourism is a huge industry, and represents tremendously important earnings capacity in this country. Who is to speak for it?
§ Mr. Hogg
I very much agree with the right hon. Gentleman. Is there not an added vice, to which he may shortly come—that the members chosen by some functional college would regard themselves in some way as delegates of that functional college, and would not approach matters in the broader way that I hope that Members of the second Chamber would adopt?
§ Mr. Maclennan
I entirely agree. Not only would there be a problem with the latitudinarianism of those who would claim to be the spokespersons for a sector of opinion, but there would be the problem of their becoming out of date. How long can they go on claiming to speak for that functional constituency? The issue has been too easily used as a kind of halfway house towards the election of the upper House.
I think that it is an evasion—an evasion of an issue that was put directly by a previous Conservative commission, led by Sir Alec Douglas-Home in 1978, on the composition of the upper House. That report completely refuted the speech of the right hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. MacGregor), a former Leader of the House, in terms. It stated:Moral authority can only come from the direct election of its Members.There is the point. We have not heard enough in the debate about the virtues of democracy.
The Leader of the House talked about the importance of legitimacy, and that is a function of democracy. However, if the new, reformed House is to speak with authority, it must draw its legitimacy from direct elections. If it is not to be a reflection of this House—there is some consensus on that, although not on how that is to be achieved—I would suggest, praying in aid the Douglas-Home commission, that it must be elected in a different manner from the House of Commons.
Douglas-Home was not squeamish about urging a proportional system; nor would I be about advocating the single transferable vote for such elections, as it would ensure the probability that not only would no single party dominate that House but that its Members would represent substantially different constituencies, drawn from a much 689 wider geographical base. If the experience of other countries with the single transferable vote is any guide, it would also bring in that very mix of people that it is our common wish to see elected.
§ Mr. Letwin
I am puzzled by the right hon. Gentleman's remarks because I understood his party to favour that system for this House. How would its introduction in the second Chamber differentiate it from the first if his desires for the first were also achieved?
§ Mr. Maclennan
The hon. Gentleman is running a little behind, which is surprising from him, as he is one of the most acute members of the Conservative Front Bench. The Liberal Democrats happily welcomed the Jenkins report's recommendation of alternative vote plus for this House, which would build on existing parliamentary constituencies—that is its virtue—but that is something entirely different from what is being advocated for the upper House. We are observing the rubric of the Douglas-Home commission, which seems to make eminently good sense.
§ Mr. Temple-Morris
The right hon. Gentleman knows that I am a supporter of electoral reform, but does he seriously think that the House would create an upper House that could in many ways be argued to be more representative than this place? Does he honestly think that that is on, or practical?
§ Mr. Maclennan
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for acknowledging that the single transferable vote is an eminently democratic system of election, but I would not for a minute suggest that it is more democratic than the proposal of the Jenkins commission, which will be the subject of a referendum. That is how the matter should be decided, and how the Government have undertaken that it will be decided. I do not doubt that the House can live with a touch of democracy, if that is what he is inferring that it might not be prepared to accept.
Most of today's speeches have, rightly, focused on what is the point of the upper House, what it should do that it is not doing and whether it needs more powers to do it effectively. It is fair to say that the House of Lords has many powers that it feels constrained from using because it lacks legitimacy. I do not set my face against change, and there are several areas in which I think that it would be desirable—for example, involving the upper House, as has been suggested by many of its Members, in greater scrutiny of treaty making, and giving it more of a role in scrutinising secondary legislation—but the real inhibition on the effectiveness of the upper House concerns not its powers but the sense that, if it were to seek to face down the Government, its wings would be clipped.
That is why I asked the right hon. Member for South Norfolk the question, which he did not answer, whether there were occasions on which he would now, with the benefit of hindsight, say that it would have been a good thing if the Government of which he was a distinguished member for a long time had been faced down by a reformed second Chamber. He has not said so, so we must take it that it is his view that the present balance of power between the Executive and the legislature, in its 690 manifestation in the House of Lords, is about right. That is why he did not advocate anything more fundamental or radical than he did.
§ Mr. MacGregor
I should have thought that the four areas that I listed showed where I thought that the upper Chamber, and to some extent this House, was deficient in its scrutiny of the Executive.
§ Mr. Maclennan
I acknowledge that the right hon. Gentleman has argued that there are deficiencies, but he has not said how he would give the upper House the authority to deal with them effectively. By espousing the minimalist changes that he has recommended, he fortifies the belief that he is broadly content with the current balance of power between the Executive and the legislature.
§ Mr. Hogg
The right hon. Gentleman is asking, fairly, whether those who have been in government can identify measures that we think that the upper House should have rejected. I most certainly can: for example, the ability that we instituted to try people for war crimes committed during the second world war; that was wrong in principle and I wish that the second Chamber had voted it down. As a rather more dramatic example, with hindsight, the community charge was a disaster and I very much wish that the other place had voted that down, too.
§ Mr. Maclennan
Not for the first time, the right hon. and learned Gentleman has shown himself to be more robust and outspoken than some of his colleagues, but his example of the war crimes legislation was a rather surprising one, because it was an occasion on which the upper House did indeed vote down the Government, although it was not of course able to carry its way because, ultimately, the Parliament Act was invoked.
We have not had a debate about the Parliament Act and whether it should be more widely open to the House of Lords to have the last word. If the pre-eminence of the House of Commons in our polity flows from anything, it is first from the fact that it is the bed from which Ministers are plucked, and secondly from the fact that we have the last word on legislation, save in the extraordinary case, referred to specifically by the Leader of the House, of the possibility of extending the life of a Parliament beyond five years.
There are other matters over which it might be reasonable to consider that the House of Lords should be able to exercise such a power. The essence of the power that it has is in respect of major constitutional change, and that principle might be embraced for issues such as any suggestion of tampering with the Representation of the People Acts and the provisions for secret voting.
§ Mr. Grieve
I earlier said that I did not consider the Irish model a particularly good one, but may I extol one virtue of it—the possibility of a conflict on a constitutional issue being the trigger for a referendum?
§ Mr. Maclennan
That is an entirely sensible suggestion, and I would be happy to endorse it.
On constitutional matters, because of the dominance of this Chamber by the Government, which I believe to be virtually inevitable, it is valuable to have another 691 Chamber with a checking power. It should not be a power to stand in the way for all time if there is consensus for reform, but if there is doubt about that consensus—about the view of the public—it would seem appropriate to give the House of Lords the ability to block legislation. For example, it would have been appropriate to block the winding up of the government of London without the calling of a referendum of the kind referred to by the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve).
The composition of the second Chamber should embrace the principle of democratic legitimacy. The argument deployed against that by the proponents of a partially, or even predominantly, appointed upper House is that the great virtue of the House of Lords as it stands is its expertise.
It is true that there are people of quality of mind and of experience—business experience, and so forth. I do not deny that we have been able to enjoy contributions of great merit and moment from such people in the past. I think they have probably given the raft, or the afflatus of oxygen, that has kept the place alive, but I feel less certain whether we should look to that as the crucial test in the future. That is partly because of the difficulties associated with functional constituencies, which will spill over however we decide to appoint, rather than to elect, the Members.
If we are to appoint people of experience, how do we choose them? That is made no easier by removing the political element from the choice and putting the function at arm's length from the Government by setting up an appointments commission, itself perhaps appointed by the Government. There is still a real problem of choice. The wisest people in the world, choosing among the wisest people available, would still not be able to satisfy us that those people were, by virtue of their expertise, more legitimate than many who were not appointed. That is an impossibilist course to advocate.
It makes sense for people to put their trust in democracy. If the upper House is drawn from a different base, and elected by a different franchise and method of election, and if it has clearly demarcated functions, it will attract a different kind of person.
I have heard the arguments across the Chamber about whether there should be Ministers in the upper House. Personally, I think that there are powerful arguments against their being there. If there were no Ministers in the upper House, that would remove at a stroke people who desire to be involved in the career patronage there, which is a pale reflection of what happens in this House but still to some extent colours that House's proceedings. That is a meritorious argument, worthy of consideration.
If the avenue of the revitalised upper House is not the primary route to ministerial office, that House will in any event have a different flavour and function, and could attract different people. It might prove attractive to public spirited people who have made their mark in other walks of life, and who wish to give some direct public service at a later stage, perhaps, than the younger professional full-time politicians who, it has been suggested, now 692 dominate our debates, although to me that charge seems a slight exaggeration. That would certainly be a different sort of upper House, and that is where I would put my trust.
I hope that, in considering the functions and the reform of the upper House, Lord Wakeham and his colleagues will not be too sensitive about the possibility of the House of Commons bolting because of its fear of what a revitalised upper House might do. It would be a discreditable stance for this House to say that the legitimacy of the other House should, in perpetuity—or even as far ahead as we can see—remain tarnished by other than democratic principles. To put it more simply, the upper House should become as democratically legitimate as this House.
§ Sir Patrick Cormack
The right hon. Gentleman is making an interesting speech, but how, in his directly elected upper House, would he ensure that those who do not belong to a party would have the opportunity of being elected? How could he ensure that elections would not be conducted on party lines? If he could not, he could not guarantee the presence of any independents.
§ Mr. Maclennan
That problem has exercised me; that is why I have retained a residual commitment to an element involving appointed Members. There is a case—perhaps not a very strong one—for such an element, to accommodate just such people. That has always—or at least, for the past decade or so—been my party's position, and I see the point of it.
When we consider the performance of the upper House today, we see that one can exaggerate the significance of that independent element, as it now exists, in shaping policy and reactions to the Government. The participation rates of the so-called independents and Cross Benchers, both in votes and in other ways, are substantially lower than those of the partisan Members who accept a Whip. We also have to weigh in the balance the concern that the more one increases the independent Cross-Bench element, the more one decreases the right of the House to be listened to on equal terms with this House as an expression of genuine democratic opinion.
§ Mr. Grieve
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman the question that I asked the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris), about co-option? Surely there would be more legitimacy if the Members who had been elected, by whatever means, were required to co-opt a certain percentage of Members of the upper House to deliberate with them. That would introduce the independent element that is so desirable.
§ Mr. Maclennan
It is asking too much, even of altruism, to expect people to co-opt independents. Even in the sort of House that I am talking about, I cannot imagine that the Whips would play no part.
§ Mr. Grieve
Suppose that we had a system in which co-option was done by two-thirds majority voting, with the aim of ensuring that independent Members were brought in. That might work quite well, and we would be mistaken to ignore the possibility.
§ Mr. Maclennan
I ignore nothing, and I shall certainly explore that idea—but I tend to think that if partisanship 693 were not the quality sought by those doing the co-opting, clubability might replace it, and I am not sure that that would be any better.
On the other hand, it is right to emphasise to the Wakeham commission our overriding desire that the main defects of the upper House should be removed. Despite its expertise, the quality of its best debates, and the assiduity of its tireless Members, who sit through the night and sometimes long into the summer, the importance of the House of Lords is diminishing in our scheme of things, because it is not democratic. There is no way of reversing that by tinkering. Either we accept the need for democracy in that Chamber or we shall have to start thinking in terms of unicameralism and other ways of bringing the Executive to task, for we cannot look to that House in its present form to do that.
I do not think that this House can, or should, behave very differently from the way that it behaves already. That is not a matter of complacency. I have found its ways so unappealing at times that I have even been forced to change my political party, so I do not make that remark lightly. However, in reality, a House that is the avenue to Executive office will always be one in which the Government have great and overwhelming influence, except when an accident of electoral fate results in a narrow majority.
That being so, we would do well to use this great opportunity to reform the House of Lords that the Government are giving us to see whether we can include more checks and balance in our system, and build in greater balance between the Executive and the legislature. That is certainly long overdue.
§ Mr. Mark Fisher (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Mr. Maclennan), especially as I agree with so much of what he said. Indeed, many elements of the debate appear to be agreed by hon. Members from all parts of the House. There seems to be agreement that we should have a reformed and modern second Chamber, that it should be independent, representative, distinctive and non-competitive—that is, that the second Chamber should complement rather than challenge this Chamber's authority and primacy.
However, I said that hon. Members appear to agree on those points, because I suspect that those characteristics mean different things to different people. For example, there is the question of independence. I suspect that the deputy shadow Leader of the House, the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack)—and the Leader of the House in her opening remarks—used the word "independence" to mean "of no party". To me, and I sense to many others, it is much more interesting and important that independence should refer to independence of government.
That is hard to achieve, because the power of government in both Chambers, as exercised by the Whips and as described many hon. Members in this debate, is reinforced by the understandable ambitions of people—in this House and in the other place, and regardless of whether they are in opposition—to achieve government. Therefore, the only way to ensure true independence for 694 a second Chamber is to remove the Government from it, and to make it a House of parliamentarians, in which parliamentary scrutiny is an end in itself.
I was interested that the hon. Member for South Staffordshire implied that that would not be attractive to people. I agree with the right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross and believe that it would be attractive. It is an important and fascinating role, and the enthusiasm and skill with which Select Committees in both Houses fulfil it shows how important and satisfying it could be.
There is general agreement that the power of the Executive has grown under all Governments, both in general and in particular. Reference has been made to the enormous growth over recent Parliaments in the numbers of statutory instruments, and to the fact that they cannot be amended. I disagree with those who seem to criticise the House of Commons, at least by implication, for not doing a decent job in holding the Government to account. Faced with Governments and Executives, of both parties, who have skilfully and successfully found it to be an imperative of government in a difficult and complex state to take more power to themselves, the House of Commons does its scrutiny work well. That is evident in the work of the Select Committees and, often, in debate.
It is regrettable that Question Times have become almost a farce. Their style is reminiscent of Japanese Noh theatre, with the Minister knowing what the question will be and hon. Members knowing what the answer will be. They are of little democratic interest and are not effective in holding the Government to account, but in other respects the House of Commons does a good job. However, a second Chamber, especially one freed from the Executive and with scrutiny as its prime role, could and would perform differently. In doing so, it would augment the quality of our Parliament, and vary the type of scrutiny to which the Executive are subjected.
There is also the question of representation. It is right that a second Chamber must be representative, but representative of whom, and accountable to whom? If the second Chamber is appointed, it can be representative only of the will of the person, or of the commission of selection, who appointed it. However much the Prime Minister wants to place that commission at arm's length—a laudable aim—it will be appointed by government and inevitably will be made up of the great and the good. It is their stamp, therefore, that will be on that Chamber.
Most crucially, not only will the Chamber not be representative of anyone but the commission, but it will not be accountable to anyone. That idea is ridiculous and an affront.
§ Mr. Fisher
The right hon. and learned Gentleman anticipates my next point: a Chamber that is neither representative nor accountable has no roots in our nation, and so has no democratic legitimacy. I strongly believe in a Chamber that is democratically elected and accountable to people. That is how we all came to be here, and it is 695 therefore the source of the legitimacy of half of Parliament. The task, as we enter a new century, is to determine how to finish democracy's job and extend that democratic accountability beyond this Chamber to the whole of Parliament.
§ Sir Patrick Cormack
On a point of clarification, is it implicit in the hon. Gentleman's remarks that the Head of State should also be elected?
§ Mr. Fisher
Certainly not: we are talking about our Parliament, all of which I believe should be accountable to the people of this country. At present, people are denied any say in half of our Parliament. In all the debates, media articles and speculation on the subject—which the Government and the royal commission have rightly stimulated by at long last facing up to the problem—we have heard little about the rights of the people.
That is true, too, about this evening's debate. Much has been heard about the theoretical virtues of different bases of representation and composition, but where do people fit in? There is a distaste for, or a lack of interest in, what people in this country are being denied that I find extraordinary. Surely the right to vote for the people who will determine and scrutinise legislation is at the core of our democracy. We have just created Parliaments for Scotland and for Wales, and there is one in Northern Ireland. We are reforming local authorities and tomorrow we will elect people to represent us at the European Parliament.
It would be outrageous if, in forming the new Parliaments and renewing our representation in the forums that already exist, we said that part of the representation in those forums should be by appointment. No one has suggested that that should happen by appointment. No one has suggested that it would be better if the Parliament in Scotland had been partly appointed, or indirectly elected through the Scottish local authorities. People in Scotland wanted a voice in their Parliament, and I believe that the people of the wider United Kingdom have a right to a say over everyone who sits in their legislature.
§ Mr. Fisher
It may be so, but a Parliament such as Scotland's, which contains a comparatively small number of Members, would find it difficult to define two distinct roles. The right hon. Gentleman asks an open and interesting question, but, given that we have a complicated United Kingdom Parliament augmented by separate Parliaments in Scotland and Wales, the people of Scotland made the right decision.
We have tried appointed systems in the past. Our first Members of the European Parliament were appointed from this Chamber, not elected. We were right to abandon that system, saying that the people had the right to say directly who should represent them in the European Parliament. We were right, too, to get rid of the aldermanic system. There used to be functional constituencies in the universities and we were right to get rid of those.
696 The history of our democracy has been of a slow clawing back from the Executive—first, the monarch, then the lords and the aristocracy—the right of the people to have a say. We completed that process only in this century when, between the wars and at long last, women got the vote. Universal democracy is a recent innovation, but we have never had it in full. It has applied to only half of our legislature. We have an opportunity to say that everyone who discusses legislation and affairs of state should be elected. Anything less is unacceptable.
I respect my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris), who clearly disagrees with me. He and others will have to tell their constituents that we are modernising the House of Lords, but that they should have no say in who should sit in it. They will have to tell their constituents that the choice should be made for them and that someone should appoint those who sit in it. Can any hon. Member on either side of the House seriously look his or her constituents in the eye and tell them that they are not sufficiently wise or competent to decide who should sit in the second Chamber during the next century?
§ Sir Patrick Cormack
With the greatest respect to the hon. Gentleman, for whom I have a real affection, that is precisely what his Government will make people do tomorrow. No one will be directly elected. No voter in any constituency will vote for an individual.
§ Mr. Fisher
I rather agree with the hon. Gentleman. I was not happy with the closed-list system and I do not like being unable to distinguish between individual representatives. Some representatives of each party do a good job, and others do not. People in our towns and cities know very well who the competent people are, but they will not be able tomorrow to ensure that the competent return to Brussels while the incompetent return whence they came.
We need to establish that people have the right to a say. The Government are fond of the expression "the many, not the few". It is becoming a mantra, and I would willingly never hear it again.
§ Mr. Fisher
I do not disagree with the spirit of the expression, merely with the way in which it trips off the tongue, sucked of almost all meaning. The principle is correct, of course, but it is ironic that a Government for whom the many, not the few is a mantra should appear so uncertain about giving the many—the democracy—the right to vote rather than giving it to the few, or the oligarchy.
If we have an appointed or even an indirectly elected second Chamber, we shall turn away from democracy, which is government by the people, to oligarchy, which is government by the select few. Will we really enter the 21st century by modernising our second Chamber so that we have an oligarchy? Is that the way to express our country's needs? It is absurd. We are a democratic people and we have fought hard for centuries to try to extend democracy. Thanks to the Government, it is at long last within our grasp, but we seem uncertain about whether we wish to grasp the opportunity.
The most compelling argument against an elected second Chamber made tonight and by the Government has been that the authority conferred by elections to both 697 would create gridlock, threatening the primacy of the Commons and undermining the clarity of government. The authority of government resides in this Chamber, and it is here that the Government are rightly held to account. I do not accept that argument. That need not happen as long as the rules and the functions of the two Chambers are distinct.
Over several decades, we have made the mistake of establishing primacy in this Chamber by the illegitimacy of the membership of the other Chamber. Except for a few diehards who love the hereditary principle, the other place is cautious about exercising its many and considerable powers because the world and the Members of the other place know that it is illegitimate. We have been content that that has been so because it has established our authority, but our primacy should not rely on a broken-backed composition of the other Chamber. It should depend on clarity in the roles and functions of the two Chambers. The way in which to establish that clarity is by enacting a new Parliament Act.
§ Mr. Tyrie
The existence of the Parliament Acts is the reason why gridlock would be unlikely. They give supremacy to this House and, in the event of a clash, the Commons can always win by exercising the Acts. Only once has there been gridlock in the modern history of the two Houses, and that arose over the definition of the rules of the Parliament Acts themselves.
§ Mr. Fisher
Some people would say that we have come close to gridlock in recent weeks. I agree with much of what the hon. Gentleman has said—and has written extremely well—about the House of Lords, but the Parliament Acts are deficient in some key respects. If we are to establish clear and distinct roles for the two Chambers, which must be the aim of any reform, we need a new Parliament Act that will recognise and enshrine the primacy of the Commons and legislate on areas currently covered by the Salisbury convention.
The growth of that convention since 1945 is the reason why the Parliament Acts are unsatisfactory. It is wrong to distinguish between the two Chambers by convention alone. It would be clearer and simpler to have their roles detailed in primary legislation that would maintain for the second Chamber the power to amend and delay—though possibly for a shorter period—and that would extend that Chamber's powers to secondary and European legislation. A new Act should remove some of the inflexibility of the present Acts with regard to unamended Bills, and it should extend to House of Lords Bills and delegated legislation. It should also provide procedures for mediation. Of course, if the Government were removed from that Chamber, its power to initiate legislation would have to be removed.
§ Mr. Grieve
The hon. Gentleman is making a well-reasoned and powerful speech. Does he agree that if the Lords were elected for fixed terms with rotational election so that a certain proportion were up for election at any given time, the chance of a clash would be minimised because its role would be seen as wholly distinct from that of this Chamber, whose mandate is renewed when the Government go to the country?
§ Mr. Fisher
Yes, but it would be essential that the Chambers were not elected at the same time, to emphasise 698 the distinction between the two. However, that is less important than having very different functions in relation to the Executive. The most encouraging element of this debate has been the agreement among hon. Members on both sides of the House on removing the Executive from the second Chamber. That would at a stroke transform its nature, improving it radically. It would also enormously improve this Chamber and scrutiny of the Executive.
Perhaps I misunderstood, but I was surprised when the Leader of the House said that we were considering only reform of the House of Lords. The two Chambers are interdependent and their reform must be considered together. We are talking about one Parliament and how the two Chambers can work together to represent the views of our people and ensure that we are well governed. What happens in the upper Chamber affects what happens here.
I believe that such changes would recreate a modern, independent, representative, accountable, non-competitive second Chamber of which we could be proud and which this Chamber need not fear. We would benefit from its intelligence, wisdom and scrutiny, while this Chamber would continue to be the locus of government and therefore the source of power of the Executive. Those objectives depend on a democratic route to giving our people a voice that I believe to be long overdue. I hope that it will soon come to pass.
§ Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham)
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher), with whom I have had a long friendship going back to the earliest times. I regret that he is no longer a Front Bencher.
§ Mr. Hogg
That may be true, but I am sure that he would be urging his case as strongly within the Government. The House is the poorer for his no longer being a Front Bencher.
I do not know whether it is strictly necessary but to avoid possible criticism I declare a personal interest in that my wife and father sit in the other Chamber and I stand to inherit a hereditary peerage. I hasten to add that I have always intended to remain in this House if my constituents are willing to make it possible.
Perhaps partly because of my background but also because of a long-standing interest in historical matters and the constitution, I have always been interested in reform of the House of Lords. I have long held first, that we should substantially increase the powers of the second Chamber and secondly, that we should therefore confer proper political legitimacy on it. That goes back to the points made by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central. The only legitimacy that exists in Britain today stems from direct election. I shall explain in more detail later, but I therefore conclude that the second Chamber should have substantially increased powers and be largely—or as I would prefer, wholly—elected.
Discussion of the composition of the second Chamber must begin by focusing on powers and functions. The Government's approach has been criticised because it deals with composition separately from functions and 699 purpose. We cannot consider functions without also considering how this House performs its function of holding the Government to proper account. If this House is discharging its functions well, we need to make relatively little change to the powers of the second Chamber; it is only if this House is not exercising its functions well that we need substantially to enhance them. If we are content to leave the second Chamber with its powers largely as they are now—this is not my position—I would argue that there is no real case for changing its composition either.
In fact, there is an argument for the present composition of the second Chamber. There are advantages in a mixed system of hereditary and appointed peers. Most obviously, there is a measure of independence to be found among the hereditary peerage that should be acknowledged by this House. We must also acknowledge that appointment does not by itself confer any more obvious legitimacy than the hereditary principle, but it does confer on the Government very extensive powers of patronage that I regard as undesirable. However, I do not have to defend the status quo on composition because I want the second Chamber's powers to be greatly enhanced.
I have come to this view—to be fair to myself, I held it as a Minister over 13 years—because I do not believe that this House will or can properly hold a Government and Executive to account. It is not just a lack of will, but an inherent inability that stems from the constitutional settlement that has existed for very many years. The right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) was right about that.
We do not have a separation of powers. From that, it follows that the Executive are in this Chamber. Provided that the Executive can control their own party, they can do as they please, subject to relatively few external constraints. There are some, which I shall mention shortly but only touch on now. The European Union has a measure of control, as does the European convention on human rights. Subject to those, the Executive who control their own party can do what they please. That is inherent in the constitution. Of course, the problem is aggravated by a Government with a very large majority as we have now, but we have had a Conservative Government with a very large majority. It is further aggravated—this is probably the only party political point that I shall make—if we have a Prime Minister and Ministers who have a highly developed contempt for this House.
In substance, the problem has nothing to do with the Labour party, but is inherent in the constitutional settlement that has been in place for decades. It stems from the fact that there is no separation of powers. In that respect, I have always held that the American model was infinitely preferable. However, I am not foolish enough to suppose that we shall ever bring it about—at least not in my lifetime, and probably not in the lifetime of my children or my grandchildren.
An Opposition Whip, my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mr. Day), is sitting in front of me, so I am sorry to have to say that the very tight control that parties exercise over their Back Benchers undermines democracy. 700 I thought so when I was a Conservative Government Whip, although, having taken the Queen's salt, I performed my functions with enthusiasm.
§ Mr. Hogg
As my hon. Friend says, I was dreadful. I was certainly a vigorous Whip, but I acted disapproving of myself. Furthermore, if I may say so, I did not necessarily have a high regard for those of my colleagues to whom I gave instruction. The tight control that the Whips exercise over their parties positively diminishes the reputation of this place and indeed our ability to control the Executive.
§ Mr. Letwin
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the fault lies mainly not with the people who are doing the whipping, but with the recipients, in that the system does not provide for the recipients to resist the whipping by giving them an alternative career course?
§ Mr. Hogg
I remember articulating the same argument back in 1979 when the noble Lord St. John of Fawsley—or Mr. St. John-Stevas as he was then—introduced the Select Committee system. At that time, we articulated the argument that Back Benchers would have an independent career structure that would make them readier to resist the power of the Whip. I do not believe that that has really worked. As long as the Executive are Members of this place, the ambitions, fears and inhibitions of right hon. and hon. Members will always dilute their ability to speak their own mind and to do what they would do if they were to follow their consciences.
§ Mr. Rowe
My right hon. and learned Friend makes a powerful and interesting point. Does he agree that there has been an enormous escalation in the practice of the popular media highlighting "disloyalty" when people stand up for their principles, and that that is a nonsensical undermining of democracy?
§ Mr. Fisher
I agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman's critique, but he seeks to place all the blame on the Government. Does he not feel that this Chamber shares some of the blame? It is perfectly within the powers of this Chamber to insist, by a vote, that it should elect members of Select Committees, rather than leaving that power to the Whips. Much of the power that has been 701 removed from this Chamber to the Executive has been with its agreement—or, at least, with its nodding and tacit consent.
§ Mr. Hogg
The hon. Gentleman is correct. If this House wanted to exercise its powers, it would be a truly sovereign and democratic institution. However, for a variety of reasons—some of which I have tried to identify—this House does not choose to employ the powers that we, as Members, could exercise if we were to vote according to our individual beliefs.
The point that I have been trying to make is that those defects are not merely theoretical; they are real and they distort the way in which business is carried out. I will give two examples from the Labour Government's period in office and, to be fair, will cite two examples from the previous Conservative Government's time in office. In relation to the Labour Government, if the House had voted in accordance with its actual wishes, rather than those of the Whips, the Government would not have put through a substantial portion of their welfare legislation. To take the other example—in respect of which the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) was in the Chamber at the beginning of the debate—we should not have passed the European Parliamentary Elections Act 1999 with the possibility of the closed list system. Those measures would not have been passed.
During the period that the Conservative Government were in office, I do not believe that the legislation relating to the Maastricht treaty would have been approved by this House—certainly not without a referendum clause—had the House spoken in accordance with its wishes. Furthermore, the community charge legislation would not have passed if the House had spoken according to its wishes. We should acknowledge those facts.
§ Mr. Gareth Thomas (Clwyd, West)
I am sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will have anticipated my question and I shall be interested to hear his answer. Would not that strict party control exercised by the Whips be a feature of an elected second Chamber, even one that did not have an Executive element, bearing in mind the fact that the need for enforcing party discipline and unity would still be an argument that could be deployed?
§ Mr. Hogg
I shall develop that point later, but will give a brief answer now. There might be a degree of such control, but, because there would not be the same scope for ambition, the influence that the Whips could exercise in an elected second Chamber would be much less.
I have focused on the big issues, but we need to keep in mind that this defect also extends to the small issues—the detail of Bills. The grip that the Whips maintain on their parties is as great in Committee as it is in the Chamber. What happens in Committee in relation to the detail of legislation is frequently as important as what happens during the major debates on policy or on Second Reading.
To develop that point further, we need to understand that there is nothing in our constitution that guarantees minority rights. Provided that the Government of the day retain their control over members of their parliamentary party, they can do much as they please. Minority rights 702 are not entrenched under our system—although they are entrenched in many other systems—and I regard that as a serious defect in the way in which we conduct our affairs.
§ Mr. Grieve
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that, if anything, minority rights are threatened even more nowadays, because of the growth of the belief that when the people have spoken through the mandate of an election, any opposition to that expressed wish becomes improper in some way?
§ Mr. Hogg
My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point, about which I make two comments. First, I have always regarded the manifesto doctrine as complete rubbish. The fact that detailed policy propositions may be set out in a manifesto does not give the Government a blank cheque to carry out those policies. Truth to tell, only a tiny proportion of Members of Parliament will read their party's manifesto—far less the electorate as a whole. The manifesto doctrine is rubbish.
Secondly, I believe that minorities have rights that they are entitled to assert even against majorities. All Governments and Members of this House should realise that they have a limited right to effect change.
§ Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough)
I apologise to my right hon. and learned Friend for interrupting him. He mentioned his views on the principle behind the manifesto doctrine. Might not the same be said for the votes taken in this House at 10 o'clock? A huge proportion of Members do not listen to the debates, but simply go into the Lobby to which they are directed. Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that there is at least a possibility—although it is no more than that—that the Human Rights Act 1998 may entrench the rights of minorities in a way that has not previously been the case?
§ Mr. Hogg
I was just coming to the second proposition that my hon. and learned Friend makes, but his first reinforces my basic point, which is that the House of Commons is not an effective defender of rights, and nor does it provide an effective method of holding Governments to account. Let us not get personal—we should all admit to flocking in at 10 o'clock and asking a Whip which way we should vote, even though that is not a proper way in which to discharge our functions.
I said that there were one or two external controls, and my hon. and learned Friend has mentioned one: the European convention on human rights. The concept of a Bill of Rights is one way in which to entrench rights; I am broadly in favour of incorporating the European convention into domestic law and glad that that has happened. Although that gives judges a policy-making role, they have had such a role ever since we first subscribed to the convention. The question is whether they should be based in the UK or in Strasbourg; my preference is that they should be UK-based, subject to appeal. That is a constraint of which I am broadly in favour. A second lies in our membership of the EU, which carries both rights and obligations, and I am bound to say that I am less enthusiastic for that model of control, because the democratic underpinning is far less good than it ought to be.
That brings me to my main point. I believe that we ought to create a bicameral system in which the second Chamber has powers that are very similar to those of this 703 House. Let me be candid: my objective is to create in the second Chamber an elected body that has a genuine ability to constrain and restrict the power of the Executive. I want to create a body or forum in which there will be more effective scrutiny of the detail of legislation than is exercised in this place. Finally, I want the second Chamber to provide effective entrenchment of minority rights.
To create a second Chamber with such extensive powers, one must confer legitimacy on it, and that takes me back to my intervention on the hon. Member for Stoke–on–Trent, Central, with which he was good enough to agree. Where Parliaments and representative bodies are involved, the only legitimacy that is now accorded respect is that which stems from election. Therefore, I am in favour of a second Chamber that is elected either wholly or to a very large extent, certainly by direct franchise.
Right hon. and hon. Members have expressed criticism of such a system and I have some sympathy with their views. I agree that we must not create a facsimile of the House of Commons in the other place—that would be a tragedy. Therefore, those right hon. and hon. Members who say that the Executive should not be represented in the other place are absolutely right. Ministers from this place can go to the other place to answer questions and participate in debates there, but we want to remove the ministerial career structure from that place. To answer the hon. Member for Clwyd, West (Mr. Thomas), I think that such an arrangement would diminish the Whips' control in the other place.
I also want different electoral arrangements. To the right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Mr. Maclennan), I say that I am not hostile to the use of proportional representation in respect of the other place, even though I am wholly opposed to its use in respect of the House of Commons. I am sorry that I cannot carry my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) with me on that point. I should also like elections to the second Chamber to be staged: that is, a rolling programme with one third of Members subject to election at a time.
§ Mr. Garnier
The problem with using proportional representation or some other form of election for the other place is that it would confer a different degree of legitimacy. Although I agree with much of my right hon. and learned Friend's argument, if we had different systems of election for each House, I fear that the other place would be criticised by Members of the House of Commons as lacking the quality of legitimacy that we have.
§ Mr. Hogg
I am not sure that I agree with that criticism. The reason why I am opposed to PR being used in elections to this place is not that it confers less political legitimacy on the outcome, but that it makes good government almost impossible. That is a different problem altogether. Because PR can result in an equally representative—perhaps more representative—body, it would not be open to Members of this place, who are elected by first past the post, to say that those who were elected by PR are less representative. I do not want PR here, but not because it would create a less representative body.
My final point relates to the risk of creating the potential for deadlock. There is a danger of deadlock, but it is perfectly possible to create anti-deadlock 704 mechanisms. The exact mechanism, its shape and weighting, depends on the balance one wishes to strike between the two Houses. However, one would have to bear in mind the fact that we are talking about having two elected Chambers—two democratic Chambers; having recognised that, one begins to realise that those who assert the primacy of this House have not faced up to the fact that there would be another House of equal respectability. Such a House is what I want to create.
I cannot say that I am optimistic. I believe that what will emerge from the process is a model that does not satisfy the aspirations of those of us who want there to be a second Chamber with greatly enhanced powers and, therefore, one that is wholly or largely elected. However, if that is what emerges, we will have missed a great opportunity, so we should not be backward about asserting our beliefs, even though people will say that I am advocating the removal of powers from the House of Commons. In fact, if my analysis is correct and acted on, it would diminish the powers of the Executive and, in the words of the great and historic resolution passed by this House, the power of the Executivehas increased, is increasing, and ought to be diminished.
§ 7.7 pm
§ Mr. Alan Hurst (Braintree)
I am grateful to be able to speak in this debate and to follow so many distinguished and erudite right hon. and hon. Members who have long experience of constitutional matters. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon), other than with his distaste for Governments with large majorities—it is harder for one whose constituency majority is only 1,500 to accept that view. That matter aside, there was merit in his somewhat pessimistic assessment of the whole question of House of Lords reform.
We have to consider composition. In an ideal world, we would start with powers and then move on to composition, but each form of composition has a different effect on the outcome. There are three forms of composition on offer: election, appointment and the hybrid form, one possible manifestation of which was described by my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris), who dipped his toe into functionalism.
The idea of the second Chamber being elected is gathering a head of steam, especially among the Opposition, but it has inherent problems which can be seen in countries with a history that is somewhat similar to our own. One hundred and thirty years ago, the United States Senate was a shadow of its current self: all the action after the American civil war was led by the House of Representatives, which overshadowed the Senate at that time.
The balance of power between those two bodies has changed since then, as a consequence of the change from Senators being indirectly elected to their being directly elected. Until about 1914, they had been elected from the state assemblies; thereafter, the American Senate had the ability to take to itself power and authority that it had not had before. If we go down the route of having a directly elected upper House, we should be aware that such a House will take to itself powers additional to those that we give it, because that is what constitutional bodies always do if they believe that they have the authority to do so.
705 If we take that approach, the question then is what method of election we adopt. We perhaps saw the House of Lords at its worst on the question of the European elections. Five or six times it ping-ponged back to this House the European elections legislation because, in the first place, it did not approve of any form of proportional representation. Once it had accepted proportional representation, the argument was about whether the list should be open or closed. We ended up with a closed list which, I suspect, has a very small minority of support in this House and in the House of Lords. When the House of Lords had the opportunity, because of the time pressure on the European elections legislation, it funked it and did not act as a check or barrier to the power of the Executive.
If we adopt a system of proportional representation for the upper Chamber and hold the elections at different times from those for this House, we will move almost inevitably into gridlock because both Houses will try to assert their power. I understand why those of a Conservative disposition would not be averse to gridlock. I do not mean to be offensive when I say that it has always been the position of the Conservatives, at least until the past 20 years, to avoid undue change.
Historically, Conservatives have been supporters of upper Houses or second Chambers, and radicals have normally been opposed to them. That is because radicals wish to move matters along and Conservatives wish to slow everything down or wish for nothing to change at all. If that is still the case, support for a second Chamber is to be anticipated on the right of politics but is more surprising on the left. The right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) claimed that more powers should be given to an upper House, and that fits logically with the gridlock approach to democracy.
Why are we considering an upper House at all? It is because we want to put a check on the Executive and on democracy itself.
§ Mr. Maclennan
I would not favour gridlock, and I take seriously the criticism the hon. Gentleman makes. Does he agree, however, that, on occasions, gridlock might reflect the public wish, as in the case of the poll tax? Gridlock can be dissolved by public opinion when an election is imminent. Those who are sustaining opposition to the Executive can be punished at the polls if they do so unreasonably.
§ Mr. Hurst
I understand the right hon. Gentleman's view, but I submit that the disadvantages of gridlock outweigh the protection he suggests. He mentioned the poll tax, but the party that introduced that tax was not punished at the polls subsequently. It was returned to office.
In other countries, such as Australia, which has an upper House, a double dissolution is the most common way to resolve disputes between the two Houses. Often, the dispute is not resolved, because one House is elected on a variation of our electoral system and the other by proportional representation. The upper House seldom has an overall majority.
706 If we have an elected upper House, we will let a genie out of a bottle and people will rue the fact that they cannot put it back in.
§ Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North)
Does my hon. Friend agree that gridlock could be avoided if one had sufficiently strong Parliament Acts?
§ Mr. Hurst
I have, I hope, learned the phraseology of the House in the time that I have been here, so I tell my hon. Friend that I shall come to that point later in my speech.
The other option is an appointed upper House, which runs into the barrage set up by the word "patronage". Sometimes we appear to live in a squeaky-clean intellectual world in which we believe that policies can operate entirely without patronage, party Whips, party loyalty or any other aspects of the glue that makes effective government possible. The argument against an appointed Chamber is that it would lead to patronage. How would its members be appointed fairly? Would the Prime Minister be completely unbiased, and would the Leader of the Opposition put forward the best names available? Would a commission be impartial? Who is to appoint the impartial commission? All those problems argue against an entirely appointed upper House.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leominster proposed a notion that was interesting both historically and intellectually. He suggested a combination or hybrid system. He said that the elected system had defects and the appointed system had defects and that we should therefore have a combination of the two. However, that is like saying that if one has one bad egg and adds another to it, one somehow achieves a good egg. In my submission, one achieves a doubly bad egg, unless my biology is in error. Any argument against an elected system or an appointed system applies twofold to any hybrid or combined system. However, it is only by going outside an elected system that we could bring in to the House the experts, the wise men, the Solomons of our time who would deliberate and hold back from foolishness, and ensure that we did not destroy the prospects for the future of this nation.
§ Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the model whereby some Lords sit ex officio, as the bishops do, is useful? They have authority because of the office they hold, and that is not resented. It also serves a useful function in this House by sparing us the deliberations of the clergy of the established Church.
§ Mr. Hurst
That is an interesting point. It was well said by Bagehot that if we had an ideal House of Commons, it is certain that we should not need a higher Chamber. To paraphrase more modern authors, as Simon and Garfunkel said in "Mrs. Robinson":Every way you look at it you lose".We would lose with an elected upper House, with an appointed upper House and with a hybrid upper House.
Why are we going through such heated discussion and intellectual strain to achieve an upper House? It is because we believe that we are failing in two ways. We are failing to operate the House of Commons effectively and also failing to control the Executive. That is why we endlessly 707 discuss what to do about the upper House. We should not put off the day when we consider the real problems before us—this House and control of the Executive—but we delude ourselves by thinking that we can solve the problem by creating a strange new upper House.
§ Mr. Grieve
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that if we reform the upper Chamber correctly, it will provide a powerful incentive for the reform of this House?
§ Mr. Hurst
If we attempt to reform the upper House, we will put off till doomsday any consideration of the reform of this Chamber or any effective controls on the Executive. I was pleased that the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham mentioned the words of Dunning about the powers of the Executive increasing and needing to be diminished. I remember reading that in an A-level history examination in 1963—not in a contemporary question, but in one that related to the 18th century. That problem has been with the House for centuries and, until we can tackle it within this place, it will continue.
§ Mr. Letwin
I have a great deal of sympathy with the hon. Gentleman's observations about the need to check the Executive within the House, which has been a theme common to many speeches this afternoon. Is he optimistic that enough can be done in this place—without diluting the Government's ability to govern—to cure the problem in the absence of an effective second Chamber?
§ Mr. Hurst
I am grateful that the hon. Gentleman has ascertained where my remarks are leading: we do not need a second Chamber. We have believed throughout modern times that we needed a second Chamber, but the majority of democracies do not have one. It is argued that single Chambers work only in small democracies. There are normally second Chambers in federal situations and, despite what Opposition Members might say, we are not yet in that situation.
If we had single-Chamber government, we could apply our minds to reforming the problems in this place. As a comparatively new Member of Parliament, one of the main problems seems to me to be that, when a Bill leaves the Floor of the House and goes into Committee, the party system operates as sternly in Committee as in this place. A solution might be to have a single Chamber—the Lords within the Commons, if I may put it that way—and not to allow party majorities to operate in the Committee system. It could draw instead upon a pool of independent experts and those who are learned in particular subjects.
Matters could be debated in a non-partisan manner in Committee, and those involved could seek to improve rather than destroy the Bill. The Government of the day might then accept or reject amendments to the Bill on Report without the rancour of partisanship. If we approach the matter in that way, we might make real progress towards increasing the power of the House rather than chasing the will-o'-the-wisp of second-Chamber reform.
§ Mr. Andrew Rowe (Faversham and Mid-Kent)
I have been astonished by the frequent references to the reform of this place—I thought we were perfect, and popularly 708 perceived to be so. The serious question is: would any Government seek a reform of this place that made it a more effective brake on the Government? That is the crux of the matter. I do not believe that, beyond tinkering with various procedural matters, any Government of any hue will take seriously any attempt to reform this place to make it a more effective check on Government.
The hon. Member for Braintree (Mr. Hurst), who made an interesting and entertaining speech, advanced a rather strange proposition. He basically said that this place works so badly that, if we destroy the only mechanism—however frail—of checking our bad behaviour, we will be so frightened by our behaviour that we will be forced to reform ourselves. That is an interesting and an ingenious argument, but it did not carry me altogether.
I think that we have accepted rather too readily the proposition that the primary role of the House is the creation and scrutiny of legislation. Apart from anything else, I think we legislate far too much, and I wonder what proportion of each legislative programme is spent making good the mistakes of previous programmes rather than introducing new legislation. I believe the Government spend far too much time worrying about announcing their business and organising their timetable, rather than ensuring that a smaller body of legislation is scrutinised properly so that it does not have to be repealed two legislative programmes down the track.
I think that our job is also to call the Executive to account for the way in which they perform their functions. Above all, my constituents want me to chase the Government about the way in which they and their agencies deliver on policies and on legislation that has been passed. Most of my correspondents and my constituents are concerned about oppressiveness, inefficiency, bureaucratic delay and all the other elements of a creaking administrative system for which Ministers are responsible. I am not sure that we have effective mechanisms in this place to address those problems, but that is as much a part of the House's role as passing legislation.
I think also that our purpose—this is manifestly borne out by the interest of the media, which is notably lacking in most of what we do—is to be seen to debate the great issues of the day. It does not matter very much whether there is a vote at the end of a debate. This place is still seen to be the centre of national debate on issues such as genetically modified food, euthanasia or any other subject that seriously exercises the public. Indeed, it is one of the few areas of debate in this place that the media take the trouble to cover.
§ Mr. Garnier
Does my hon. Friend believe his concerns will be exacerbated by the removal of many debates from this Chamber to the Grand Committee Room? Will those debates be reported more widely than those that take place in this Chamber?
§ Mr. Rowe
It will be a shame if, in the mad rush to pass legislation through this place, debates that are central to the national interest are removed from this Chamber. I would rather see the legislative programme trimmed so that we may hold the main debates of our time in the House. For example, the media have been covering our debates on Kosovo—an area where the House has virtually no power—with meticulous care. In fact, 709 much of the action has taken place under prerogative power in which the House has no role. However, our debates have been covered carefully.
I share the Mackay commission's view that if we are to have a second Chamber—I believe that we should—it must have its own programme. The commission is right about that. It is ridiculous that two Chambers that share the same building should engage in so little joint action. The two Chambers should co-operate much more when the new second Chamber is created. I agree with those who argue that the second Chamber should not include representatives of the Executive.
We must explore whether the traditional pattern of Chamber service is the only way to go. My right hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk (Mr. MacGregor) painted an all too accurate picture of the disincentives to serving in this place, and it seems to me that those disincentives will operate with almost equal force in the second Chamber. I reckon that I am wholly unemployable in the outside world after 16 years in this place—I may have been unemployable when I escaped here in the first place, but that is certainly the case now. The same will be true of people who have served 15 years or so in the other place, so we need to think of ways to attract the lively specialists on whose expertise we all seem to be anxious to rely.
I wonder whether we could acknowledge how Members behave now and allow those who bring especial expertise mainly to attend the debates in which they can contribute that expertise. The practical difficulty with that would be voting. If there is an insistence, as there is in this place, that votes take place frequently, people who have been appointed because they are experts in social services or heavy engineering will feel inhibited about taking the job. If they could take part only in the debates to which they could make a specialist contribution, they might be delighted to do so, but if they had to turn out for regular votes, they might be reluctant to take the job. We need to examine that practical problem and to consider changes to the procedures for voting in the second Chamber.
I wonder whether there could be a much closer link between the second Chamber and the European Parliament. One of the most lamentable features of our parliamentary process is the fact that we have an almost entirely separate team with their own agenda and view of life who nominally represent us but have little contact with us. There is no time for that contact here, and our procedures do not make it easy to establish contact, but there is no reason why, in a revised second Chamber, it should not be possible, for example, for Members of the European Parliament to have a right of audience or to attend by invitation.
I remember vividly the meeting at which the Conservative party hierarchy decided that we would not allow Members of the European Parliament even to have a room at 32 Smith square because they were such undesirable, grossly overpaid characters and we were jealous of them and did not want them. That did enormous damage to the Conservative party because the divide between the Conservative team in the European Parliament and the rest of the party was unnecessarily exacerbated, and it led to a number of troubles on which I shall not dwell.
710 On the composition of the second Chamber, I am entirely in favour of direct elections. I agree with the right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Mr. Maclennan) that we must have a different franchise and that the Members should be elected for a different period. The Mackay commission suggested multi-Member constituencies for at least part of the Chamber's constitution. That is a possible method, but we should have direct election of one sort or another. Like the American Senate, the second Chamber should be elected for a different period and in a different election year.
It is nonsense to suggest that direct elections give institutions equal authority. Authority is defined by the rules. For example, nobody believes that local authorities, which are directly elected, have power or influence equal to that of this place, because the powers of local authorities are defined by this place. If we define the powers of the second Chamber, there is no reason why we should create a Frankenstein's monster that will gobble us up sooner or later.
Finally, we should be much more imaginative and discover new ways of finding and electing the Members of the second Chamber. I shall give one example, which relates to an experiment so tentative that I mention it with care. The embryo United Kingdom youth Parliament is experimenting with the idea of having virtual members. Young people can be given a form of ID and can click onto the website and take part in debates. That may develop into a pool of young people whom one could not only ask for ideas about what might be on the agenda of a youth Parliament, but use as a source of potential candidates.
I understand that that is a radical suggestion, and I am aware that it may not work, but we are moving into a world in which there is an enormous amount of electronic interaction and in which information and choice are offered electronically. It might be worth at least considering the harnessing of that technology to the second Chamber because it is such a hassle to introduce even simple communication methods into this building of which we are all so fond and, rightly, proud—one must find an electricity socket and get someone to bring a slide projector or whatever one needs—that we are the laughing stock of the general public. The revised second Chamber might give us an opportunity at least to experiment with new devices.
§ Dr. Tony Wright (Cannock Chase)
I am about to make some high-minded and non-partisan points, so I shall begin with a thoroughly partisan point. The process of reforming the second Chamber—which is entirely to be welcomed, and I applaud the way in which the Government are making progress—has caused us to forget why we are doing it. The reason is that we have a second Chamber that, in its present form, is entirely indefensible.
There are people who doubt whether stage 2 will ever happen. We have heard hon. Members say with some authority that the transitional stage may become the final stage, which is a genuine fear. Nevertheless, we must not think of the current second Chamber as a faded antique that we simply have to touch up. It is fundamentally unsatisfactory. The idea that, at the end of this century, we still have a second Chamber composed in large part of an hereditary element is an outrage. We must tell ourselves that throughout today's rather high-minded discussion.
711 To remind myself and other hon. Members of that, I turned to the history of the other place, which I shall take a moment to recount. It involves the history of the Conservative and Liberal parties early in the century when they were merrily selling places in the upper Chamber. I shall give two examples before I move on to the high-minded part of my speech. The Bonar Law papers provide conclusive proof that honours were bartered for subscriptions to party funds in the early part of the century. When Bonar Law became Leader of the Conservative Opposition in 1911, he received a memo—
§ Dr. Wright
Not until I have made my point. Bonar Law received a memo from the party manager, Arthur Steel-Maitland, on the state of the party's organisation and finances. The document reported that the party had a nest egg of £300,000 and thata year's peerages are hypothecated".Steel-Maitland went on to say that he hoped for an income of between £120,000 and £140,000 by the end of 1913.
§ Mr. Grieve
I am trying gently to encourage the hon. Gentleman to move on to the high-minded bit by reminding him that, although he is talking about the hereditary system of peerage at that time, there is a great deal of evidence that similar things have been happening under the appointed system of peers. I therefore fail to understand how he sees anything more legitimate about the appointed system.
§ Dr. Wright
I am interested in that intervention. If any hon. Member does not find the sale of peerages the most outrageous thing concerning the second Chamber this century, they do not quite understand what has been happening in that institution or, indeed, our political system. I shall, therefore, give the hon. Gentleman the second bit of low-mindedness, which refers to the Liberal party and Lloyd George's sale of the century: the 1922 birthday honours.
I refer particularly to the case of Sir Joseph Robinson, who was to be elevated to the peerage. It was discovered that he had been engaged in all kinds of shady business dealings in South Africa. Indeed, the South African Supreme Court asked him to repay £500,000 as a result. That caused some consternation; there was a debate in the House of Lords in which it was discussed how on earth a man of such a disreputable character could have been offered a peerage. It was announced in a further debate that Sir Joseph had written to the Prime Minister asking to be allowed to decline the peerage offered to him.
§ Dr. Wright
Just a second.
Lloyd George's reply to Sir Joseph, accepting his decision to refuse a peerage, was delivered to Robinson at the Savoy hotel by an official of the National Liberal party. Sir Joseph misunderstood the message, reached for his cheque book and asked, "How much more?" I am afraid that that is the history of the institution in the early part of this century; that is the outrage and that is the motivation for ensuring its reform.
§ Sir Patrick Cormack
Although I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, my constituency neighbour, for 712 giving way, he is dredging up selective history—it is extremely selective—in order to advance a case about which nobody in this House is arguing. Nobody is arguing for the sale of peerages. The House of Lords Bill has gone through this House and to another place. We are not seeking to defend the automatic right of hereditary peers. The hon. Gentleman is walking on extremely thin ice because, not long ago, his own party gave peerages to a range of slightly odd characters, many of whom are on record as fairly major donors to it. What credit is he bringing on anybody by dredging up this rubbish?
§ Dr. Wright
I can understand why such issues should be unsettling, but it is important that we get the history right. Only the Labour party has not been involved in the sale of peerages. That is simply the case. If we want to bring the story slightly up to date—
§ Dr. Wright
I shall finish answering the previous intervention. It was only in the previous general election campaign that the Conservative party defended the rights of hereditary peerages and argued for the status quo. We may argue about history and how right it is to refer to it when talking of reform, but the fact nevertheless remains that the Conservative party was so wrong on so much so recently concerning this issue that it is difficult to take it entirely seriously when it argues for the positions for which it seems to be arguing—although not terribly coherently.
§ Dr. Wright
I confine myself to the point at issue—[Interruption.] It is a rather important point at issue. I do not want to be detained by it, but the fact is that the Conservative party went into the election defending the hereditary peerage and opposing reform of the House of Lords, just as it opposed a freedom of information Act, devolution and a human rights Act—all things that are making our political system more democratic and decentralised.
§ Dr. Wright
In order that I may endeavour to find some common ground, I would rather move on and give way later. Perhaps I should not have stirred things up, but there it is.
It is rare that we have an opportunity to think freshly about a political institution. We make modest reforms here and there, but, on this occasion, we are being asked to think freshly about what we want to do with a central institution of the political system. We can do so only if we are fairly clear about the issue—what we think are the difficulties and the problems to which a reformed institution might be the answer. Unless we do that, we shall get into all kinds of difficulties.
It is possible to invent a second Chamber that might be able to do all kinds of interesting things and might be composed in all kinds of interesting ways. We might 713 look around the world at other second Chambers and borrow this from there and that from here. In all sorts of ways, that would be mistaken because second Chambers are usually responses to particular situations in particular political systems. Sometimes, they are a way of trying to heal religious or regional differences, or of bringing the country together. We must be clear about the central problem; if we do not know what it is, we shall not know what reform might be the solution to it.
I agree very much with those who say that the central problem is that of an Executive who have too much power, and that the agencies and institutions that are there to check have too little. There is nothing original in saying that. It has been the standard critique of our political system for as long as I can remember. Twenty years ago, Lord Hailsham famously described our system as an elective dictatorship. He was right then; the analysis is true now.
Parties wax and wane on the issue depending on whether they are in government or in opposition. As we have seen in this debate, a party in opposition is terribly interested in issues of scrutiny and accountability—all things in which they had no interest when in government. Similarly, a party in government rapidly loses interest in issues of scrutiny and accountability in which it had great interest in opposition. I am afraid that that is one of the truisms of political life.
The central fact nevertheless remains that we have a peculiar system of what is often called strong government—a Government who have concentrated Executive power. Because we do not have a separation of powers, and because the Executive are drawn from the dominant party in the House of Commons, if we are not careful, we almost necessarily have a supine House of Commons. Necessarily, the House of Commons is controlled by the Executive.
That is our system and I see no immediate prospect of changing it. Such facets are characteristics of a system of strong government. I simply argue that if that is our system, and if we want it to continue, we must at least balance it with a system of strong accountability. We must have strong government on the one hand, because that gives coherence, direction and some crude political accountability. However, it will work satisfactorily and meet the tests of scrutiny and accountability only if it is matched by strong accountability. If this House of Commons cannot provide that by itself, it must be provided in a range of other ways, of which this House will be part.
We are creating a range of mechanisms that are beginning to help in achieving those objectives. Devolution helps to achieve them, by beginning to decentralise power. The Human Rights Act 1998 helps to achieve them, by beginning to give basic rights to citizens and against the Executive. I hope that a freedom of information Act also will help, by checking the Executive and making them less secretive. However, a reformed second Chamber also can help, by doing the general job of recognising that we have a system of strong Executive power that is tolerable only if it is always matched by institutions of strong accountability.
§ Mr. Grieve
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making the interesting point on the Human Rights 714 Act 1998—the introduction of which, as he may be aware, I broadly supported. What most worries me is that the Government, having passed that Act, are now chickening out in implementing it. Does that not bring us back to the point, which he himself made—that the longer Governments are in power, the more reluctant they are to initiate change? Therefore, on the broad issue of House of Lords reform, Opposition Members are anxious that, the further into this Parliament we go, the more apparent it is becoming that removing the hereditary principle is only an opportunity to substitute a purely appointed principle, which is equally bad.
§ Dr. Wright
I had planned on dealing with that point in a moment. For the moment, however, in my search for non-partisanship on the issue, I shall not be distracted from the argument that I was trying to develop.
If it is true that we need institutions of strong accountability, we shall have to create a second Chamber that—to put it in a nutshell—is neither a rival nor a replica of the first one. There is no question but that we have a primary Chamber in the House of Commons, and that is as it should be. This is the primary Chamber, which initiates, directs and governs. However, the virtues of having a primary, Executive-dominated Chamber are realised only if that Chamber is matched by other institutions that hold it to account. That is the real opportunity in reform of the second Chamber.
There is no great need to revisit the powers of a second Chamber. As other hon. Members have already said—I shall not go over the same ground—a reformed second Chamber will be more confident in using its powers. That will be the major change. A reformed second Chamber will have to be taken seriously, and conventions currently inhibiting the use of the powers of the unreformed second Chamber will not be sustainable. Those conventions will go, and the second Chamber will do the things that it should be doing.
In constitutional matters, however, there is a case for saying that the second Chamber should have a more developed role. We already give it a specific role in dealing with any attempt to extend the life of a Parliament; we already use it to provide that basic constitutional protection. However, I should go further and say that, if this place wants to do anything that offends basic constitutional rights—for example, if it were to seek systematically to erode the rights of Opposition—the second Chamber should act as a constitutional backstop. In any consequent conflict, a referendum could perhaps decide the issue. Nevertheless, I agree with those who have said that, in dealing with more usual situations, it might be more useful to develop routine anti-gridlock mechanisms.
We have to be able—having had a discussion about powers and activities—to address the underlying issue of legitimacy. People may ask of the second Chamber, "Who are these people? Why should they be taken seriously, listened to or be able to exercise a delaying power?" Unless we can answer that question in terms of legitimacy, ultimately, the second Chamber will be ineffective. Any fundamental reform will have to grapple with that fundamental point.
We shall, therefore, have to balance a range of often competing interests and issues, some of which have already been mentioned in the debate. We need to have 715 sufficient election to provide sufficient legitimacy—without which we shall not be able to answer the question of who those people in the second Chamber are. Nevertheless, I am absolutely clear that if we had simply a purely elective system, producing in the House of Lords a clone of the House of Commons, we shall only make the position worse rather than better.
I am equally clear that a party nominee, closed list system is substantially no different from a system of direct appointments. The closed list system may seem better and feel more legitimate, but—as the European elections show—that may not necessarily be so.
In thinking about those issues, I started by being rather keen on indirect election. Many years ago, I was very keen on ideas of functional representation—which, for much of this century, was a sub-current in British thought on those issues. I am not sure whether it was Sidney Webb or Winston Churchill who once talked about a "house of industry". Nevertheless, many people have explored the idea of trying to establish a system of functional representation alongside our system of direct representation.
The problem is that it is fiendishly difficult to work out how to create such a system. Therefore, in my own mind, reluctantly, I have had to move away from some of those fancy schemes of indirect and functional election, as I simply could not see how they would work in practice.
My conclusion—it is not an original one, but I reached it after trying to think my way through the issues—is that it would make sense to try to have the best of both worlds, and not the worse of two bad eggs. We want the merits of election without the demerits of total election, and we want the merits of appointment without the demerits of total appointment. Such a system necessarily entails an exploration of a mixed system that has to be—I phrase this carefully—predominantly elected, so that it must be taken seriously and passes the test of basic legitimacy. Beyond that, we need sufficient appointment to guarantee independence and expertise.
§ Mr. Gareth Thomas
I am following with great interest my hon. Friend's cogent points. However, is he not really advocating a system in which all Members of the second Chamber are legitimate, but in which some are more legitimate than others?
§ Dr. Wright
No. I think that we create legitimacy in different ways. We do not, for example, elect magistrates or juries. We have different ways of finding people to serve in public office. The challenge of finding a mixed system demands that we be reasonably imaginative and inventive.
We should not assume that one may have only election or only appointment—which is how the argument usually begins. I think that we can have not only the merits of election—thereby creating a predominantly elected House to reflect the party element of this place, and ensuring the legitimacy of election—but sufficient nomination to ensure that we create the non-party and independent element, and the range of expertise that we know that a second Chamber needs if it is not simply to be a replica of the House of Commons. That is the essence of the position at which I have arrived.
I shall detain the House only briefly with some further thoughts, some of which have already been expressed. If my argument is right, there is a case for not having 716 Ministers in a second Chamber. If we are serious about strong accountability, the lures of office and patronage should be dispensed with. The Executive have grown large over the years and are well able to attend upon a second Chamber, too.
We need to attend to the problems of the bishops and the Law Lords. I hope that those issues will not be fudged because they are serious ones. The present position is unsatisfactory and now is the time to remedy it. The position of the Lord Chancellor is unsustainable. I speak as a former Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Lord Chancellor. Even in a system that loves anomalies, his position is an anomaly too far. Reform of the House of Lords should be the moment when we attend to that.
It is no small matter to find our way through in a manner that commands as much consensus and assent as possible. Considering the history of attempts to reform the second Chamber, we shall need enormous political will and substantial consensus to achieve it. The history of failed attempts to reform the House of Lords shows that we know how not to do it. We have spent much of the 20th century failing to reform the second Chamber. We need a combination of political will and broad consensus. I do not doubt the Government's political will to see the matter through. The challenge for all of us across the House is whether we have the imagination and determination to produce a solution that can be implemented and will stand the test of time.
§ 8.2 pm
§ Mr. Andrew Tyrie (Chichester)
I agree with the last remarks of the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright), even if not with the first, but I shall not delay the House by taking issue with them, as I had momentarily intended to do.
I was walking across College green the other day when I bumped into a recently created life peer. I have known him for a long time and he has always been in favour of election to the second Chamber. He knew that I was, too. He buttonholed me and said, "Andrew, you are quite wrong about elections, you know. Quite wrong about having an elected House." "Why is that?" I asked. "Well," he replied, "if you are going to have any kind of proportional representation system, it means a list, which is basically an appointed system, because the party puts people on the list. That is no different, so I have decided I am against it." A large number of life peers are suddenly converting to the principle of nomination, having believed in the principle of election for many years. While the hereditaries were there they were safe, because there was a buffer zone between them and any threat of democracy, but they have twigged that the fresh air of democracy will be as much of a threat to life peers as the House of Lords Bill is to the hereditaries.
The life peers are a powerful vested interest—as powerful a vested interest as the hereditary peers have been over the years. The hereditaries are doing their best to cling on through the Cranborne-Weatherill amendment. It was only recently made public in an interview that Lord Cranborne negotiated a life peerage for himself as part of the deal to secure the amendment. He is in a Morton's fork. He will lose his right to sit because he sits by virtue of a writ of acceleration, so he is not ready even to be considered for election as part of the elected element in his scheme, but he does not have a life peerage either, 717 so he would have gone were it not for the special personal offer by the Prime Minister. That again shows the power of vested interests.
We, too, are a powerful vested interest.
§ Mr. Tyrie
In a moment.
This House has a monopoly of democratic authority. If we gave any elected authority to the second Chamber, we would have to share it.
The most important vested interest is the Executive. The Government have a huge vested interest in ensuring that no impediments are put in the way of pushing through legislation. That has been true of all Executives. I am not making an assault on this Government. It has been the case since the 1911 reform.
The power of vested interests on this issue is huge. We are talking about a large number of Members of Parliament, the Executive, life peers and hereditary peers. If we are to secure democratic reform, we must take the issue away from the vested interests and give it to the electorate to decide.
§ Sir Patrick Cormack
I am sorry to take my hon. Friend back, but he made a categorical statement about Lord Cranborne. I do not know whether he is right, but is he sure that he knows precisely what took place in a private alleged conversation between Lord Cranborne and the Prime Minister?
§ Mr. Tyrie
It is rather tedious to go through all this, but I have a transcript of Lord Cranborne's interview on "Breakfast with Frost". Since my hon. Friend has raised the issue, I suppose that I shall have to read it out. He said:Very kindly, the Government made it clear that … I could stay on if I wanted to as a life peer and I think it would be a bit churlish to turn that down—that general offer—particularly when there was a memorandum in the attached Bill making it clear they wanted to get rid of me. It is nice that they have changed their mind on that, too.I think that that is a fairly clear answer to my hon. Friend.
This is our first debate on an issue that we should have debated two years ago—whether we want an upper House that is largely or wholly directly elected or one that is indirectly elected or wholly appointed. I have tried to answer that in various pieces that I have written over the past two years. It is worth going through some of the arguments briefly. Many of them have been mentioned today.
We need to be clear about whether we want a second Chamber. There are many unicameralists in the House, but most of them are not here today and their voice has scarcely been heard in the debate. I respect their views, but I find the arguments for bicameralism compelling. The Executive have become more powerful in recent decades. Many factors have contributed to that. The right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon), who is no longer present, alluded to some of them, including the growth of the payroll vote, the professionalisation of Commons politics, the increase in the power of the Whips, the decline of the independent Back Bencher and the Executive's almost complete control over the Standing Orders of the House.
718 Our scrutiny of legislation is inadequate. After two years here, I am appalled by how shoddy legislation gets on to the statute book. I do not want to suggest that that has arisen only in the past two years. We also rely too much on the self-restraint of the Executive to protect our freedoms. A second Chamber can help to improve scrutiny and can act as a constitutional long stop.
Unicameralists may ask, "Why do we need the Lords to do those jobs? Why not reform the Commons?" That is a strong theoretical argument, but I do not think that such reforms will see the light of day. It is just possible that the Executive may be persuaded to support some improvement in the effectiveness of the Lords, but it is inconceivable that they will allow themselves to be restrained by radical reform of the Commons. My right hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk (Mr. MacGregor) made a similar point, and I agree with him.
§ Mr. Letwin
Does my hon. Friend agree that there are grounds for a little more optimism than he is expressing in that, as an Opposition, we now have an opportunity to bind ourselves to reforms of this place which, when in government, we would be forced to implement?
§ Mr. Tyrie
That is a welcome suggestion, and I will now give greater thought to how the House of Commons might be reformed so that I can add to that debate.
As things stand, a second Chamber that works is the only way to tackle the problem of an over-mighty Executive.
Before moving on to consider election, we have to ask ourselves whether an interim House such as that being created by the first Bill or a largely appointed House—or something very similar—could do the job of scrutiny. I do not believe so. I believe that stage 1 reform will leave the lower House controlled by the Executive and the upper House effectively appointed by them. Abolishing the hereditaries achieves very little. It merely ensures that ancient patronage is replaced by modern patronage. What quality of scrutiny could we hope to obtain from that?
When it is created, it will be a Chamber of virtually no legitimacy. It will be no more than an interim rump, effectively on death row. If there is any trouble, the Government will be able to threaten to press the stage 2 button and eject as many as they want from the remainder of the Chamber.
I do not believe that tweaking a few dials such as creating an appointments committee, can create a modern appointed Chamber that will command widespread public respect. Without that public respect, no second Chamber would be able to exercise its powers. That is the central flaw in the argument of my right hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk. He said that he wanted an increase in powers, but he did not want any increase in the moral authority of the Chamber in exercising them. He argued for some indirect election and some appointment. That would carry no more moral authority than we have now—in fact, it may carry less. By virtue merely of longevity, the existing House has come to serve some sort of constitutional role, although not a wholly adequate one. Once that has been removed—or even if there is only a moderate reform—what is left will have no moral authority.
719 The plain fact is that we live in a democratic age and only democracy can supply legitimacy. In the 21st century, parliamentary legitimacy must come largely from the ballot box. The public will find it increasingly unacceptable that parliamentarians should be created by a committee and given the power to legislate over them. Such a committee would amount to little more than a self-perpetuating oligarchy of the great and the good.
Sometimes I catch myself wondering why making that case should sound so radical. When I first raised this subject 18 months ago—shortly after I published my first article in The Times in favour of an elected House—an elderly colleague prodded me in the shoulder and said, "You're a republican." I can assure the House that I am not a republican and that I believe that it is entirely reasonable to envisage two parliamentary Chambers—directly elected or largely directly elected—while retaining the monarchy in its present form.
I believe that, only a few years ago, the vast majority of Labour party members, certainly those on the Front Bench, would have agreed that there should be more direct democracy in the House of Lords. Two years of being the Executive seems to have spawned a few doubts. After the election, there were still a few nods in the direction of democracy, but most of those have disappeared from Labour rhetoric.
I want to be slightly partisan in taking issue strongly with the Labour party's submission on reform of the House of Lords. It tells its own story. It is a profoundly anti-democratic document. It is replete with boxes of Labour party members' views—56 views are listed. I cannot find one Labour party member who is in favour of democracy—not one. On reading the boxes, one would believe that no one in Labour's grass roots believes in election. The press release that accompanied the document states:any proposals … for an elected second Chamber"—that is proposals from the Conservative party—arenaked opportunism masquerading as argument.I find it appalling that the Labour party should produce a document suggesting that, if any Conservative such as myself stands here arguing for election—most of us have done it today—we should be accused of naked opportunism.
To read the Labour party document, one would believe that democracy was no way to achieve representation of the people. It calls for a "fully representative" Chamber of different interests and says that, above all, the House of Lordsshould be representative of the people as a whole.That representation should be achieved not by election but by appointment. It is an outrageous abuse of language to talk about a representative Chamber that is wholly undemocratic. It is quite absurd.
§ Mr. Forth
I wonder whether my hon. Friend is flattered that the Labour party should assume that Conservatives should be opportunistic in arguing for 720 democracy. That means that the Labour party accepts that we would be the gainers from any democratic process. I find that flattering and encouraging.
§ Mr. Grieve
Does my hon. Friend agree that one or two of the contributions from some Labour Members today mark an evolutionary stage in Labour party thought? The hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright) was fascinated by the idea of corporatist elected Chamber, but we have a proposal for a corporatist Chamber that is not elected but appointed.
§ Mr. Tyrie
I have got to know quite a large number of Labour Members who strongly support direct elections and I do not want to suggest that I am portraying all Labour Members in that light—far from it. I have had some fascinating conversations with people who follow pretty much the same line of argument as I, in favour of a largely or wholly directly elected Chamber.
What is more, although it is well concealed, the Labour party document rules out a second Chamber of mixed composition. It is worth bearing that in mind. I notice that one Labour Member is frowning, so I shall read the relevant passage. It says:Its Members should have equal standing and there should be no opportunity for some to assert that they have a greater legitimacy than others.That can only mean that those who might have legitimacy as a result of being elected cannot sit alongside those who have been appointed. I should be interested if the Minister could enlighten me on what that sentence means, if it is anything other than my interpretation.
So where do we stand? The Executive seem to be determined to prevent even a whiff of democracy in a reformed second Chamber. They have issued a Labour party document that calls for a wholly appointed House, but they do not have the courage to say that that is what the document means.
Does democracy stand any chance at all? I have to say that I am not very optimistic, and I share the views of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) on that. I am sure that the royal commission was originally appointed with the idea of trying to kick the issue into the long grass. None the less, there are two sources of hope. One is the royal commission, which might surprise us by embracing democracy. The other is the existing House of Lords which might force commitments out of the Government with the passage of the stage 1 Bill.
On the royal commission, I am hoping for the best but fearing the worst. I am most impressed with the way in which its members are going about their work and I have already given evidence to them in writing and orally.
It is worth looking briefly at the composition of the royal commission. Some of its members have expressed quite clear views about an elected House. Only recently, 721 Lord Wakeham was reported as being sceptical about election. That was in The Times earlier this year. The Bishop of Oxford is completely againsteven a partially elected elementin the second Chamber, as he made clear in a speech just under a year ago. I do not know the views of Sir Michael Wheeler Booth and Anthony King. Professor Oliver will almost certainly be in favour of some form of election.
I was also greatly heartened by some typically erudite remarks on the danger of appointed Houses from Lord Butler, the former Cabinet Secretary, when he quoted Gibbon's "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire". Gibbon wrote of Augustus:The principles of a free constitution are irrevocably lost when the legislative power is nominated by the Executive".Lord Butler went on to say:I think it of the highest importance, in the absence of hereditary Peers, for the Royal Commission to find a way in which to select Members of your Lordships' House which does not depend solely on the patronage of the Executive".—[Official Report, House of Lords, 25 November 1998; Vol. 595, c. 42.]Of course he has had the benefit of seeing successive Executives exercising that power of patronage and I wonder whether that had any influence on his decision to express that view. I am not overly optimistic about the royal commission, but I am not yet overly pessimistic.
The other hope—which is a genuine one and not to be wholly ignored—is the possibility that the House of Lords itself in its present form might yet force commitments from the Government for direct democracy. The hereditary peers can do a great deal before they depart. They can and should force through two important amendments. First, they could demand a referendum. The Lords could demand that, whatever the content of stage 2, the Government should be required to hold a referendum on their stage 2 proposals. They should be forced to let the people decide.
Many Opposition Members, including me, are not particularly attracted to referendums as a matter of principle, but the Government have always said that they believe in them. If the Government believe that the end point of this reform should be an appointed upper House, as the Labour party's submission so clearly elucidates, let them take that issue to the people. They have had referendums on Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and London. Indeed, the White Paper refers to them glowingly. They have promised us referendums on economic and monetary union, and proportional representation.
In the local government White Paper, the Government promise to allow local authorities to hold referendums. If local authorities are to be allowed to hold referendums on whether to charge for home helps, what possible argument can the Government have against giving people a chance to decide something as fundamental as the reform of Parliament? Why cannot the people be given a chance to endorse the biggest change in the legislature this century?
The second amendment that the Lords could pass, which would add pressure for direct election, is a democratic one—a clause that would force the Government to bring forward a democratic stage 2 within, say, three years of the passage of the stage 1 Bill. That would open up the debate on democracy in the House and in the country in a big way.
722 If they did that, the 750 hereditary peers who are threatened by the stage 1 Bill would have an opportunity to be remembered not as a group who were clinging on to what the wider public consider unacceptable privileges in a democratic age, but as the people who brought the Executive to accept some constitutional restraint through election. They could be remembered as the people who checked the Government and reduced the risk that we could be left floundering with unicameralism in all but name, which is what the stage 1 Bill will bequeath us.
So we must hope for the best from their lordships and from the royal commission, but nobody should underestimate the power of the forces acting against democracy.
I believe that all of us who believe in an elected House and a largely or fully elected second Chamber should go out and try to make the case to a wider public. If the Executive were forced to go beyond Westminster, where they reign supreme, and talk to the people directly and explain that they intended to impose a largely or wholly appointed second Chamber, I have no doubt that they would soon produce proposals for a largely or wholly elected second Chamber.
§ Mr. Bill Rammell (Harlow)
I welcome the opportunity to participate in a thoughtful debate. I used to be sceptical about the passion that people brought to constitutional issues, but, having attended all the Committee sittings on the Bill and the two days of debate on Second Reading and participated in numerous discussions, I am becoming as obsessive about the issue as many others. It is a bit like becoming a train spotter late in life. I apologise to any of my constituents who happen to be train spotters.
It is an interesting debate and we should not underestimate the degree of historic change that we are witnessing. I should like to follow some of the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright). We are ending the indefensible—people voting in one of our Houses of Parliament simply on the basis of the family into which they were born. We are ending the deformity of one of our Houses of Parliament, whereby its members come predominantly from one background and from one class with one set of beliefs and one set of values, and certainly support one political party. Many Opposition Members underestimate the power of that criticism of the current make-up of the House of Lords and the resentment that many people feel about it.
We are also rightly ending the party political abuse of the second Chamber. It is not about independence and detachment, but about the naked abuse of party political power. Two thirds of peers who take a party Whip in the House of Lords take the Conservative Whip. It is not about independence, scrutiny and a check on the Executive; it is and has been for centuries about the domination of the second Chamber by Conservative peers who have used their power to frustrate the will of democratically elected Labour Governments.
It is also about ending unrepresentativeness. We will have a debate about whether representativeness can be achieved solely by dint of election, but the current make-up of the House of Lords, with only 2.5 per cent. of its members being women and very few coming from ethnic minority backgrounds, presents a real problem. I 723 hope that the process that we have set in train will bring that to an end. It is worth underlining what we are doing. We are making a change that is long overdue and demonstrates the radical constitutional nature of the Government.
Before I talk in detail about my views on the form and composition of the new Chamber, it is worth dealing with some of the criticisms from Conservative Members. I was interested to hear the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) say that the only positions in public life that are legitimate in the eyes of the public are those that result from direct election. Despite that sincerely held view, elected office is probably held in lower esteem than it has been at any time in recent memory. Therefore, it is at least worth considering that elections—although crucial to the make-up of the House of Commons—are not a panacea and are not appropriate to every nook and cranny of our constitutional settlement.
Some of the comments concerning the domination of this place by the Executive have been interesting. It is at least fair to say that those concerns were not voiced fully by Conservative Members of Parliament when their party was in power. Perhaps opposition releases people from the constraints of office and allows them to think more liberally.
I was interested to hear the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham say that he did his duties as a Whip reluctantly—presumably, he told people that what he was doing was hurting him far more than them. Conservative Members would know better than I. However, there are concerns about domination by the Executive, but these come when one party has a large majority.
It is interesting to reflect that in three of the previous four general elections, one party has been elected with a majority of more than 100. It is in those circumstances that concerns about domination by the Executive come to the fore. We could resolve that by moving to a fairer voting system in which views are more fairly represented. However, there are different ways of dealing with the matter rather than by simply looking to elect a second Chamber. That is an answer to a question that is not being posed.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Ashton–under–Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) and Conservative Members referred to the need for an alternative career structure within this House. That is a legitimate point which could deal with some of the concerns and tensions about domination by the Executive. However, I do not think that that is in any way dependent on reform of a second Chamber. Such ideas should be debated in any case.
I was interested in the claim made by a number of Conservative Members that, if the Government had simply brought forward the matter immediately after the general election and set up the royal commission at that stage, we could have had consensus on a reformed second Chamber. I hope that Conservative Members will forgive my scepticism about that. The debate about the nature of the House of Lords has been going on for 88 years. In the 18 years in which the Conservatives were in power, they never once proposed any detailed substantive reform for the House of Lords. I do not believe that, immediately following the general election, the Conservative party was serious about reform.
724 Conservative Members referred to the old chestnut that the Government should have brought forward the two-stage reform in one stage. That is a flawed argument. Over the past 88 years, Members of the Conservative party have claimed to support House of Lords reform, but said that they needed to see the endgame before they could commit themselves. The lack of agreement on the endgame is always what thwarts the process of reform, so I do not believe that that argument carries much credence.
I wish to refer to what kind of second Chamber we want, what its functions should be, how it should be established, what its role and procedures should be and its relationship to this House. The first point, alluded to by my hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (Mr. Hurst), was whether we should have a second Chamber at all. I listened with interest to my hon. Friend and, on balance, I think that we need a second Chamber. We need within our constitutional settlement the possibility of asking the Government to think again.
We need a second Chamber to allow us to bring in the outside expertise that we do not necessarily get through bringing in professional politicians. We need a second Chamber in which it is possible to get greater detachment and independence from the party Whips—my apologies to my hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn (Mr. Pope) on the Front Bench—which would come from the second Chamber not having the vast majority of its Members relying for their living on their seat within that House. We certainly need a second Chamber to check abuse of power by the Executive.
Fundamentally—this concern was not addressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Braintree—we need a second Chamber as the ultimate guarantor to stop this House extending its term of office and postponing or abolishing elections.
Having dealt with these issues, the key question becomes one of the composition of the second Chamber. As someone who believes that the hereditary principle is an abomination—a view that I have held all my political life, as has my party—my instinctive reaction is that the answer should be direct elections. I hope now to set out my scepticism about that. The more I have become involved in the process, the greater my concern has been about direct elections to the second Chamber.
Those concerns stem from fact that I do not want the pre-eminence and superiority of this House to be challenged. It is in this House that the Government are accountable. It is in this House that we are the primary legislators. I do not want to undermine that. My concern with the current status of the House of Lords is that democratically elected Governments of the left have had their programmes obstructed by the undemocratic nature of the House of Lords.
I do not want to throw the baby out with the bath water and have a situation where democratically elected Governments of the left find that their legitimate mandate is thwarted by a second Chamber with an equally powerful electoral mandate which seeks to frustrate the legitimate aspirations of the Government as stated in their manifesto.
§ Mr. Grieve
Why should those aspirations be frustrated if there is an elected second Chamber? For instance, it might be that, two years into the elected period of the Government—when their mandate is becoming a 725 little stale—fresh Members of the upper House may say not that they wish to thwart that mandate, but that they disagree with some aspects of it and wish to make the Government think again by exercising to the full their powers under the Parliament Acts. What is the matter with that?
§ Mr. Rammell
The hon. Gentleman underlines one of my key concerns: that elections to the other place would be conducted in mid term and people elected with a fresh mandate would argue, however small the proportion of elected Members, that their mandate was stronger than the Government's. We would be in danger of constant gridlock and the blocking of the legitimate mandate won by a Government in a general election.
§ Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)
The important element of the elections is that they would be rotational. If a third retired at each fixed-term House of Lords election, every Member would have legitimacy to cause reflection, but there would not be a mandate to block completely the will of the House of Commons, whose view must ultimately prevail. There would never be the snapshot of time that gives us in the House of Commons a mandate. Members of the other place would never be able to claim supremacy, although each Member would have legitimacy.
§ Mr. Rammell
We would need to think through the detail. Even if only a third were elected at any one time, clearly there would be others in that House under the same party label who would draw inspiration and encouragement from the electoral mandate that that third of the House got. I am not ruling out elections, perhaps for a proportion of Members, in all circumstances, but I am highlighting the fact that we need to think long and hard before automatically and instinctively responding to the inadequacies of the current make-up of the House of Lords by replacing it with an elected second Chamber. Before we knew where we were, we would have constitutional gridlock between the two Houses and the Government of the day, democratically elected with a significant mandate, would be unable to implement their programme beyond a period of two years.
§ Mr. Savidge
As my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) said, if the legislation says that the other House can only delay and cannot create gridlock, there is a perfectly good reason why a Government, who no longer have the support of the country should be made to think again.
§ Mr. Rammell
As we all know, the power of delay can be extremely significant and can affect the rest of a Government's legislative programme.
We also need to consider what is the role of a second Chamber in relation to this Chamber. This is where we hold the Government to account and where we are the primary instigators of legislation. Conservative Members may say that that is not the situation at present, and perhaps that is one of the problems with the current constitutional set-up, but I do not think that the right response is necessarily direct elections.
726 The role of the second Chamber should be tightly circumscribed. It should be a constitutional long stop, checking abuse and asking this place to think again. I am not convinced that to carry out that role one must necessarily be elected. We do not have a political culture and system in which every form of public office in every nook and cranny of our constitution is elected. We do not elect the dog catcher and we do not elect the judiciary. We should pause for thought.
Where is the enthusiasm for elections among the electorate? Perhaps my experience of the current European parliamentary election campaign has been unique, but I do not detect massive enthusiasm in the electorate for voting in local or European elections. If we add a further set of elections for a reformed second Chamber, we may find that people lose interest more and more and the turnout becomes lower, which would not advance anybody's cause.
§ Mr. Rammell
That is one possible solution and it would certainly deal with the concern about elections taking place in mid term. I am not certain that the answer to the current inadequacies of the House of Lords is to move to a wholesale system of direct elections.
The concerns that I am voicing have been expressed consistently every time the House has considered these issues. The Brice conference in 1917—18, set up by Lloyd George, rejected the option of a directly elected second Chamber on the ground that such a Chamber would inevitably become a rival to the House of Commons. That same concern was expressed when the 1945–51 Labour Government considered the issues in 1948, and in 1968, when my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne was involved in the campaign, and people such as Michael Foot voiced their reservations from a very democratic perspective.
If the second Chamber is not to be wholly elected, what should its composition be? There are certainly strong arguments for reflecting the new constitutional settlement, with representatives from the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly, the Northern Ireland Assembly, once it is established, and the English regions. Those people would be there to ensure that the overall constitutional settlement was taken into account.
There is also a strong case for Members of the European Parliament to be represented—[Interruption.] It is hardly surprising that that idea causes concern on the Conservative Benches. We should remember that 25 per cent. of our laws, and a much higher proportion of our business legislation, are derived from Europe, and we need to ensure that the interlocking between this place and the European Parliament, and our scrutiny of European legislation, take place on an informed basis. I do not think that anyone either in this House or the other place could say that that happens at the moment.
§ Mr. Grieve
I am wondering whether we shall hear anything from the hon. Gentleman about functional constituencies, which have been touted by the hon. Members for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris) and for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright). Those would be 727 corporatist—and is it not as corporatist to include, as of right, Members of the European Parliament, the Scottish Parliament or the Welsh Assembly, as it would be to include groups from industry, the law, the trade unions, the medical profession and so on?
§ Mr. Rammell
If that is done on a limited basis, I am not sure that, in view of the role that we are prescribing for the second Chamber, it would necessarily be a bad thing. There is at least a case to be made for a small element of representation from sectional interests, whether those be trade unionists, business people, doctors, teachers or whatever. We should explore the idea.
We also need to think long and hard about religious representation. Religious belief is part of the fabric of our society, and nobody suggests that the Church of England should be removed from the second Chamber. Britain today is a multi-ethnic, multicultural and multi-religious society, and it is important that, without the position of the Church of England being undermined, those views are represented in the second Chamber.
Inevitably, within the kind of set-up that I envisage, there will be a process of appointment. That is not necessarily wrong, so long as appointments are made openly and fairly. The move towards an independent appointments commission is important, as is the fact that the Prime Minister has voluntarily given up some powers of patronage.
We need to go further. If there are to be processes of appointment, political parties need to be far more open about how people can come forward and seek nomination for peerages or places in the second Chamber. We should advertise to tell people how to go about seeking a nomination; publicising the process will be important.
The view that nomination is wrong in all circumstances is not shared by most people, especially if the job is not to be primarily one of initiating legislation. That is not a role that we seek for the second Chamber. Despite the fact that this is one of the criticisms most frequently made, nomination does not necessarily mean domination by the Executive, especially as the Government, rightly, have said that no one political party will have a majority in the second Chamber.
No evidence has been produced to suggest that nominated peers, once established, are supine creatures who automatically do the will of their political parties. Let us take some examples of recently created life peers from both parties. No one could plausibly argue that the likes of Lord Hattersley, Lord Shore and Lord Tebbit are there as tame party poodles to carry out the will of the political parties that appointed them.
Under the current system of appointment, once people are appointed they are not accountable to the person or party that put them there—a view that the history of life peers in the House of Lords supports.
I turn now to some of my concerns about the relationship between the two Chambers after the reforms have been instituted. I am worried that too much of what we do happens by convention, which does not always work. Reference has been made to the Salisbury convention, but, in debates on the European Parliamentary Elections Bill, the House of Lords sailed close to the wind in terms of challenging that convention. The Conservative peer Lord Kingsland said recently that abolition of hereditary peers was a solution to a problem that he did 728 not recognise. He considered that the Opposition would be entitled to think most carefully about whether the Salisbury convention applied to that Bill.
So, regardless of what 13.5 million people voted for in the Labour manifesto—the biggest Labour party landslide this century—Lord Kingsland considered that the gentlemen's agreement that is the Salisbury convention did not apply. I argue that the other gentlemen's agreements that police the relationship between this House and the House of Lords should not be allowed to continue.
§ Mr. Tyrie
The primary purpose of the Salisbury convention, as it was adopted after the war, was to deal with the disparity and imbalance between the two parties. The Government intend to impose parity in the interim House: does the hon. Gentleman think that the Salisbury convention should fall, or does he think that there should be a doctrine of the manifesto to trigger an arrangement similar to the convention and thus ensure that the Government always achieve what is contained in their manifesto?
§ Mr. Rammell
I think that there should be a doctrine of the manifesto. I was interested to hear a Conservative Member earlier pooh-poohing the notion that what appears in a manifesto is of any interest to politicians or the people who elect them. That attitude risks losing something that is unique about our democratic process. It is important that a party that gets a majority in this House has the opportunity to put into practice what is contained in its election manifesto. Even if there were parity between the parties in a reformed second Chamber, we would need firmer rules to ensure that what is in a manifesto can prevail.
I am also worried about the lack of an effective timetable in the other place. I am aware that if the second Chamber is allowed to have the power of delay, the Government cannot introduce a guillotine and thus remove that right. However, that power of delay must be circumscribed and confined, so that the rest of the legislative programme is not blocked, as has happened often in the past. In short, we need a new constitutional settlement to govern the relationship between this House and the House of Lords.
Finally, although there will be a debate about the form of the second Chamber and about how far elections should play a part in it, we need a second Chamber that really works in its limited role. The example of the Bill that became the War Crimes Act 1991 was mentioned earlier. That was a classic example of a proposal from the Government of the day that the second Chamber should have been able to challenge legitimately. It was a deeply emotive issue, but it was not a manifesto commitment and there were party divides on both sides of the House. One would have thought that the age and experience of Members of the second Chamber put them in a better position to form a judgment on the matter, but the second Chamber was flawed and seen to be illegitimate as a result of the involvement of hereditary peers, and the Government of the day simply brushed it aside by invoking the Parliament Acts.
If, in limited circumstances, the second Chamber is to have the right to challenge the will of this House, it must have legitimacy, openness and fairness in its composition 729 that allows it to be respected and listened to by the public and by the House of Commons. I hope that we can achieve that in future debates as the legislation is introduced.
§ Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)
The trouble with debates such as this is that it is easy for Members to agree with superficially attractive propositions. We have heard much of that tonight. There has been near unanimity on some simple propositions, most obviously the idea that it is essential to our political system to have a second Chamber that provides an effective check on and scrutiny of the House of Commons. One or two unicameralists among us did not share that view, but there has been widespread agreement that a second Chamber should scrutinise legislation and hold the Government to account.
Another view widely, but easily, shared is that the second Chamber should be legitimate and accountable. Such words are widely used and it comforts politicians to be able to say them. However, the consensus goes no further. As soon as we have to put hard substance around those words, it becomes more difficult to reach agreement. I find it difficult to understand how Labour Members such as the hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Rammell) can stress accountability and democracy, yet support an appointed second Chamber.
In fairness, I should say that some braver spirits on the Labour Benches have not done that. The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) robustly supported an elected Chamber, as I do. It is difficult to understand how anyone, whether in my own party or in any other, can, in an era of allegedly open government, democracy, accountability and political legitimacy—all the things to which we say we subscribe—can say that the second Chamber of the legislature should be largely or even wholly appointed. That is unconscionable.
Few Members—the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple–Morris) is an exception—mentioned whether appointed legislators in another Chamber should have a fixed term or serve for life. The hon. Gentleman, in what was almost a throwaway remark, said that they should serve for life. That begs some interesting questions about how the composition of the Chamber could ever change to reflect changing circumstances. Presumably, it would have to happen by attrition if the number in the Chamber were to be limited. Alternatively, there might be no limit on the number, in which case we could return quickly to something perilously similar to the present arrangement.
§ Mr. Forth
I was with my hon. Friend until his final words. I do not share the obsession with youth. When I had an element of responsibility for young people during the previous Government I was frequently told that our youth were our future. When I looked at some of them, I thought, "My God, I hope not", and I cannot agree with my hon. Friend.
730 In fact, I am tempted by the idea that there should be a higher age limit on eligibility for the second Chamber so that we could do the opposite of what my hon. Friend suggests, ensuring that the upper Chamber would be, by definition, mature and experienced and that its Members could not spend too long in it. That would provide an automatic renewal mechanism whether the Chamber was appointed or, as I would prefer, elected.
An appointment system raises real difficulties. Quite apart from lack of legitimacy and accountability, difficulties arise over numbers, the variability of the composition when circumstances change and the removal of Members who are no longer appropriate. There is also the vexed question—hardly covered in our debate, but one of the key considerations before us—of who would do the appointing, and who would appoint those who do the appointing, and who would appoint them. Despite the claims of Labour Members who are loyal to their Prime Minister, how could we guarantee that the Prime Minister would—as he has said he would—stand aside and allow the process to be non-political? I do not believe that and I suspect that even many Labour Members do not. For an appointed Chamber to be valid, we would have to be satisfied that appointments would be free of the patronage that has so often been mentioned tonight. Like so many of my hon. Friends, I readily argue for an elected second Chamber. To my mind, that is the only approach that we can countenance at this stage in our political history and constitutional development.
The second Chamber should be composed of a multiple of 87 Members. That number was not chosen at random, as cognoscenti will understand. We have a ready-made political map of 87 constituencies. They happen to be European constituencies, I might add sotto voce, but, for the purpose of my proposal, I will accept that. We could use that map almost immediately without needing a boundary commission. I would prefer a small Chamber, but I would be prepared to accept twice or even three times that number if that was deemed to be appropriate to the Chamber's functions.
I suggest long terms for Members of the Chamber, probably nine or 12 years, to give them some independence of the Government. That is important. A third should be elected every two or three years or perhaps a bit longer to make the Chamber responsive to the electorate and changes in their views and to make it a distinctive political entity with a validity distinct from that of the House of Commons and the Government.
As many hon. Members have argued, there must be no Ministers in the upper House, which would therefore become genuinely independent of the Government. It would reflect the electorate's views and gain legitimacy and accountability. There would be no power of patronage in the upper House because the Government would not determine what happened there. Because Members had long terms of office, they could act genuinely independently. We could thus meet many of the requirements that many hon. Members say that they seek—but often shrink from—in a revised second Chamber. I do not shrink from the implications of saying that the Chamber should be powerful because I want it properly to scrutinise and hold to account the Government of the day.
Some colleagues may know that I spend a lot of time in the Chamber. I am one of those eccentrics who attends on Fridays. Not everyone welcomes that, but I believe that 731 I can therefore say that I do my best to be a good Member of this House. That does not mean that I have blind faith in it or in the idea that everything begins and ends here. Nor do I accept without criticism the argument about the primacy of the House of Commons. I regret what I am about to say, but it is true. Many of those Members who talk about this House's primacy do not come here to support it. The thin attendance at this debate is an example, as is the pathetically small attendance on Fridays and on many other occasions. All the talk about the House's vital importance is regrettably not borne out by the actions of its Members.
§ Mr. Hogg
I very much agree with what my right hon. Friend says. With regard to Fridays, does he accept that private Members' Bills often diminish the rights of individuals to a marked extent? An obvious example was the attempt to prohibit foxhunting; another example is the Fur Farming (Prohibition) Bill. However, as a general rule, the House is not well attended on the occasions when those measures are discussed—albeit that their consequence is greatly to diminish individual liberty.
§ Mr. Forth
I share the view of my right hon. and learned Friend and I am grateful to him for making that point. Many private Members' Bills would limit considerably the powers of individuals, or would introduce a large degree of regulation. However, few Members of the House turn up voluntarily to participate in the debates on those measures.
I do not necessarily agree with those who say that the House is so wonderful that it must never be challenged. I am prepared to countenance an elected upper House with enormous powers and ability to challenge what happens in the House of Commons. As so many hon. Members have pointed out, the real difficulty and the sadness about the modern House of Commons is that it is so much in the total control of the Executive of the day. That cannot be changed in the foreseeable future, so we owe it to the electorate to provide them with the assurance that there will be a second Chamber that can effectively challenge the Executive and hold them to account, in a way that I regret that the House of Commons rarely, if ever, now demonstrates that it is capable of doing.
Those are my arguments and, in view of the time, I shall draw them to a close. To complete them, I join the few Members who have highlighted the judicial role currently played by the House of Lords. That role can be, and should be, swept aside, along with the reforms that we are considering. We should have a supreme court, modelled closely on the one that has played such a distinguished role in the development of the United States throughout almost its entire history. The US Supreme Court is one of the most fascinating political institutions of the past 200 years; its role has been dramatic and remarkable. We would do well to emulate that court. If, as I suggest, we establish a wholly elected, accountable second Chamber, we should sweep away the unnecessary representation of the Church and other interests—I should be happy if that were gone, and the sooner the better. I should also be happy to see the judicial role of the upper Chamber brought to an end and replaced by a supreme court, modelled closely on that of the United States and able to play a similar role.
I am glad that the proposals that I have briefly outlined are shared by many of my colleagues. I hope that they find increasing support from Labour Members.
§ 9.8 pm
§ Mr. Gareth Thomas (Clwyd, West)
The debate has been genuinely interesting. It has helped me to formulate my views—albeit tentative ones—on a subject that raises difficult issues, especially when one deals with the vexed question whether the second Chamber should be elected or nominated. I had thought that I was reasonably knowledgeable on the subject, but, having heard the wide range of rather good-quality contributions, it is clear to me that I must bow to the greater specialist knowledge of several hon. Members.
I am a relatively new Member, having been elected in 1997. I represent a Welsh constituency and am committed to Welsh devolution. I am aware that there is a wide programme of constitutional reform and that reform of the second Chamber also has to embrace the reforms in that programme. I welcome the fact that a royal commission has been appointed and I expect it to produce a comprehensive and well-argued report.
The first of my conclusions is that there is a need for a second Chamber. I do not accept the rather intriguing argument employed by my hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (Mr. Hurst). However, I do accept the arguments of my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright). A second Chamber is a reflection of what is required in a particular country. In our jurisdiction, there is a strong Executive and a strong first Chamber—the elected Chamber. As a corrective to an over-mighty Executive, it is essential to have a second Chamber charged with the tasks of revising legislation and complementing the scrutiny role of the elected Chamber by bringing to bear specialised knowledge.
That is my starting point. Given the public demand for strong and accountable government exercised through the House of Commons, it is unrealistic to expect this Chamber to do all that is required to produce good-quality legislation. Unfortunately, there have been many examples of poor legislation, which, in themselves, provide ample justification for having a second, revising Chamber. I make no apologies for taking a somewhat minimalist view, for my second conclusion is that there is no strongly rooted case for revising the essential roles of the second Chamber. I disagree with the analysis of the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), who would like the role of the second Chamber to be greatly expanded.
I agree that there is an inherent problem in having an elected second Chamber that could contest the will of our elected Chamber, but my third conclusion is that there must be a strong independent element in any second Chamber. Although I was almost persuaded by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher), who offered an extremely good analysis of why, in the latter half of the 20th century, we must conclude that legitimacy is normally derived from the ballot box, I take the view that, to preserve the independence of the second Chamber and to ensure that it effectively fulfils its revising and scrutiny roles, it is necessary for it to consist of a wide range of people who reflect different experiences. I am sceptical that the conventional electoral system, which involves people working their way through conventional political parties, would produce the sort of people we want in the second Chamber.
733 In addition, like my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Mr. Rammell), I am concerned that the increased number of elections for different levels of government has resulted in voter fatigue. If the second Chamber is to have a limited role, which I would support, turnout in elections for it might be drastically low, which would undermine its legitimacy. The best way to ensure that we have an independent second Chamber is to have an appointments commission that is seen to be dispassionate, independent and detached from the Executive. Like the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), I hope the Minister will tell us more about how the Government propose to give teeth to such a commission.
In Wales and Scotland, there has been debate about whether there should be territorial representation in the second Chamber. I support the view expressed many years ago in the Kilbrandon report that that would be undesirable. I am in favour of a broad spread of geographical representation, but not in any formalised way, because that might lead to confusion about the functions of the House of Lords—incidentally, I see no reason why its name should be changed.
A balance must be struck between, on the one hand, tradition and stability and, on the other, the need to create a second Chamber that is more representative and fulfils its role more effectively. Provided that we can deal with the overriding objection to the current system—that there is an in-built Conservative majority in the House of Lords—I would feel comfortable with a nominated House of Lords, so long as the system for nominations was truly detached and dispassionate and ensured good-quality, independent representation.
§ Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield)
I shall have to be brief and I have only myself to blame if I am called last. I must apologise to the House for having missed the opening speeches. The reason, I must confide to the House, is that I was attempting to maintain my independence by carrying out some of my professional duties instead of attending the House, although I had hopes that I might be able to get here slightly earlier than I did. Perhaps I am paying the penalty for that, although I was reassured to hear several Labour Members suggest that it was not necessarily a bad thing that I should have some independent interests.
I start from the premise that I am a great believer in parliamentary democracy. That does not mean that I am a believer in pure democracy, because only the ancient Athenians had pure democracy and they tended to chop off the heads of members of the Executive whom they had democratically mandated at the end of each term. Parliamentary democracy works especially well in this country and in the structure of this Chamber because there is a reasonable degree of consensus about and acceptance of the decisions that we take. However, there are many flaws in the way this Chamber operates. I do not want to go into them in this speech, which will deal mainly with the upper House, but the way we carry out our functions is in need of massive reform. That that is so does not alter the need for us to consider what goes on in the House of Lords.
We have been offered a package that goes only part of the way. I accept what is said about the hereditary peers being anachronistic, but they are an independent element. 734 We are getting rid of that independent element and we will end up—it appears at the moment—with only nominated Members.
The functions of the upper House need to be strengthened—not enormously, but slightly. What I found most interesting in the contributions of Labour Members was not that they did not want the other place to have enhanced powers. Their fear was that the result of the reforms would be that the upper House might suddenly start to exercise the powers that it already has in a way that it would be wholly entitled to do. It could use its powers to scrutinise and, if necessary, delay legislation. That would be a good thing. I can think of few instances in which delaying legislation would result in some catastrophe, given the legislation that has passed through this Parliament since the second world war.
On constitutional issues, if there is disagreement between the upper House and this place, it is desirable that the upper House should have the power to block legislation and, if it blocks it twice, for the matter to be referred to a referendum to resolve it. That would be a powerful enhancement of democracy. If we take that approach—it is the only one we can properly take in a democratic society—it is axiomatic that the House of Lords will have to be principally an elected Chamber. It must be an elected Chamber. No other solution that has been put forward could command the legitimacy that the Chamber must have if it is properly to fulfil its functions.
§ Mr. Swayne
I ask my hon. Friend to extend that principle. Will he accept that apostolic succession is a form of election in a purer and more ancient sense, and it is highly desirable that it should be preserved in the new system that he is developing?
§ Mr. Grieve
I am not sure that I feel wholly qualified to comment on the apostolic succession. On the basic issue of the form that the upper House must take, I am convinced that election is the only solution and the only one that the electorate will accept. There are many ways in which that can be achieved, and I am certainly willing to consider a form of proportional representation.
For the reasons eloquently stated by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), there is no great philosophical debate about whether the system should be first past the post or proportional representation—it is a matter of practicality. I believe it is essential that we preserve the first-past-the-post system in this place. However, for a revising Chamber, in which perhaps no members of the Executive will sit, I have no objection to the idea of selection through some form of proportional representation.
We could have a rotating Chamber. One third of Members could have fixed terms of considerable length—nine or 10 years has been suggested—and others could have single terms. In those circumstances, I believe that we can create a vibrant second Chamber that has the capacity to revise legislation, to hold the Government to account, to generate its own legislation when the Government do not have time to do so, and to call a halt in certain circumstances unless a referendum were held. That would be a powerful enhancement of democracy.
I disagree entirely with the comments of the hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Rammell) that the manifesto somehow confers great legitimacy on political parties, 735 which entitles them to ride roughshod over minority views during their period in office—especially when one considers that opinions often change. I was struck by the hon. Gentleman's failure to mention that what appears in a manifesto often does not reach the statute book. Is that omission so shameful that we should insist that every policy in the manifesto becomes legislation and that Governments cannot change their mind? Why on earth should we always allow Governments to have it their own way?
I do not have time to develop all my arguments, but I wish to touch on a matter that I raised by way of several interventions. I have always accepted that a purely elected system has one considerable drawback: the loss of the independent element in the form of those who have a great deal to contribute but will not necessarily be willing to stand for election.
It has been said that a great strength of the upper House is its ability to involve in political discussions and policy formulation appointed and hereditary peers who have no party political affiliations, who would not stand for election and who do not wish to wear the label of any political party. If we are to go down the road of electing members to the second Chamber, the greatest drawback will be the possibility a producing a replica of this place.
I have an open mind about this issue, but I do not wish to see appointed peers or Members of the House of Lords. The exercise of prime ministerial patronage is a deeply corrupting process. I was fascinated to hear the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright) criticise the sale of hereditary peerages when the appointed system has its own inherent corruptions that many Labour Members appear happy to see continue.
I believe that there is mileage in considering the notion that if we are to have non-elected Members of the House of Lords, they should be co-opted by elected Members. Dozens of bodies and organisations up and down the land both co-opt and elect members. My right hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk (Mr. MacGregor) argued that, in such circumstances, the party with the majority would co-opt its own placemen to supplement its numbers. That is not, however, likely to happen because there are two ways in which it can be prevented. First, if there is a system of proportional representation, it is unlikely that any party will have a majority to bring in its placemen because there will have to be a measure of agreement with others about who should enter the Chamber. Secondly, there is absolutely no reason why, in framing legislation, the House should not introduce a clause stating that the co-option should be done by two-thirds majority.
We belittle the upper House and its capacity as an elected Chamber to perform a role different from our own if we think that the views of its Members will be dominated by party political considerations. If we frame the legislation properly, we can allow those Members to carry out the co-option of possibly a quarter or even a third of their number to enable them to bring into the upper House for a similar period those who are willing to serve and have a contribution to make. If we are considering having unelected Members, that is the only way in which a reasonable level of legitimacy can be conferred. I should be prepared to consider and back that proposal because it has merit, and would have merit with the electorate.
736 I turn now to the point that was touched on by my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne), who asked me about apostolic succession. There are two groups within the upper House who currently come from what can only be described as a slightly corporatist background: the first is the bishops and the other is the Law Lords.
I have great regard for the presence of the Law Lords in the upper House because it significantly enhances the quality of debate there and the whole approach and ethos by marrying, at the top end, the legislature and the judiciary. I do not believe in the separation of powers. One of this country's unique features is the extraordinary way in which we have maintained such links and the fact that they have been of benefit. Given the small number of seats involved, I would be willing to make an exception for the Law Lords and allow them to remain in the upper House by virtue of their office.
I regret to have to tell my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West that I have rather more serious doubts in respect of the bishops. There should be representation of religious organisations and organised religion, but that should be achieved by the co-option process that I have suggested rather than by enshrining in legislation a place for those of a particular denomination.
I could go on at great length on a large number of topics, but I shall refrain from doing so. I shall conclude by addressing the corporatist aspects of the debate. Frankly, I was shocked to hear some hon. Members suggest that Members of the upper House should be drawn from interest groups. That was a popular notion and may even have been popular with Churchill at the turn of the century. At that time, I regret to tell the House, some fascist notions had a certain degree of popularity and continued until, thankfully, they disappeared in the 1930s. Until then, the Webbs and many socialists were interested in those ideas. They are very cosy; they relate to the setting up of corporate groups that have interests that are exclusive to themselves and at variance with others outside.
Nobody has yet explained to me what happens to what I suppose might have been described as the lumpen proletariat, who are not supposed to form part of any interest group at all. Frankly, I am horrified that a democratic body should even be contemplating having an interest in those structures. I say to the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris) that although such structures may well work in Ireland because it is a small country, they are treated as archaic and they cause embarrassment to those who know the origins of the idea. It originated in an interest in fascism in the Republic of Ireland.
I see that 9.30 pm is approaching, so I shall obey the time constraint.
§ Mr. Grieve
Indeed; I shall respect that.
I urge the House to bear in mind the fact that only a primarily elected second Chamber will command the legitimacy required to provide the necessary scrutiny of legislation.
§ Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)
I should make two brief apologies. First, I apologise to the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty). I had hoped that he might have just a minute or two in which to speak. Secondly, I apologise to the House in general because, as the Minister and I agreed to cut our winding-up speeches from 20 minutes to 15, I fear that it will not be possible to give way if one is to try to deal with all 15 Back-Bench speeches. I greatly regret that because, as most hon. Members present know, I rather enjoy interventions.
I suppose that one should begin by saying that we would not have started from here. We do not believe that the Government have handled this issue well. The royal commission should have been established two years ago. In fact, the debate should have taken place at roughly the same time as those on the White Papers on devolution in the summer of 1997. If that had been so, we would perhaps have been able to make a more logical progression towards reform of the second Chamber.
But we must be where we are. We have had a good debate in what one must acknowledge is a thin House. Nevertheless, 15 Back-Bench speeches have been made—all of them thoughtful and stimulating, and some of them quite amusing. It is wonderful to hear ex-Ministers speak. We listened to the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher), my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) and my right hon. and buccaneering Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth). With the constraints of office removed from them all, they were able to talk about holding to account, when no Ministers were more tyrannical than they were. There is more joy in the House of Commons over one ex-Minister who repenteth than over 90 and nine others.
I believe that the Leader of the Opposition has the right to take some credit for establishing the Mackay commission. It is right that its extremely thoughtful document should have been submitted to the royal commission as part of our submission. It is right—indeed, it would be grossly discourteous if we did otherwise—to give ample time for discussion in our party of the two alternatives, as well as the others, before coming to a definitive conclusion. As we called for the establishment of the royal commission, and much as we regret the tardy implementation of that policy, it would be grossly discourteous if we did not await Lord Wakeham's final report before coming to a definitive conclusion. All my remarks in this debate must be against that background.
Of course, I am rather relieved to be able to say that. The hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright) said that we needed enormous political will and consensus if we were to move to agreed reform. We have heard the expression of quite a number of political wills, some more enormous than others, but we have certainly not seen any consensus on either side of the House. Several hon. Members have said that they think that stage 1 will last indefinitely. Although we are not here to debate stage 1, I say in parenthesis that it is incumbent on us all to do everything that we can at least to ensure that it works for as long as it lasts, because it will be the second Chamber for the foreseeable future.
Some diverse views have been expressed. The hon. Member for Braintree (Mr. Hurst) was the only unicameralist to take part in this debate, although we all 738 know that a number of colleagues on both sides of the House share his view. My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) made an extraordinarily diverting speech. Towards the end of a most entertaining peroration, he seemed half to advocate a virtual Parliament. I do not quite know what he means by that, although we shall doubtless discover if he develops that idea in speeches and writings.
Various themes have run throughout the debate. The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central said—and he said it very slowly and deliberately, and was right to do so—that we must remember that we are talking about one Parliament which has two Houses. It is impossible properly to discuss in isolation the powers, functions and composition of one House without having regard to the other House, or the effect that one has upon the other. That was the underlying theme of much of today's debate.
A number of hon. Members talked about the inadequacy of our scrutiny procedures. My hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) went so far as to call them "shoddy", but I think that we would all accept that they could definitely be improved.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham—picking up on a most admirable speech by the right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon)—talked about the problems of holding the Executive to account. I tell the right hon. Gentleman that, if he could recast his speech into an article on how to be a Back Bencher and distribute it on both sides of the House, hon. Members would benefit greatly from it. He has great experience, and was able to demonstrate, going back as far as 30 years, how the independence of Back Benchers is crucial if one is to have an effective Executive.
A supine legislature provides for a bad Executive, and Government Back Benchers should always remember that. It is only by articulating principles and being prepared—as the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) is so regularly prepared—to speak out that the Executive are kept on their toes. Would that more hon. Members emulated his example.
We had a particularly interesting and thoughtful speech from the former Leader of the House, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk (Mr. MacGregor). He is not an advocate of direct elections, but favours a mixed-composition House. He also expressed the very real need for improving our powers of scrutiny, particularly of secondary legislation. He talked about Henry VIII clauses, but I should tell him that I have rather rechristened them as Louis XIV clauses, as the current Government so often seem to think that "L'état c'est moi." However, their predecessor was not entirely without blemish in that regard.
My right hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk also talked about the need to improve scrutiny of European legislation, and perhaps to re-examine the revising powers of the House of Lords and the length of time that it should have to delay legislation.
My right hon. Friend was not alone in advocating a non-elected or mixed-composition House. The hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Rammell) made an extremely long speech—28 minutes—on that particular subject. My former hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris)—who is still a friend, but who, in 739 parliamentary terms, can no longer deserve the epithet of hon. Friend—also made an interesting speech on that type of House.
One has to accept, however, that the majority of speeches—particularly those made by Opposition Members—argued for either a wholly or largely directly elected House. That message was quite clear in the speeches of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham, my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester—who has written, lectured and broadcast so extensively on the subject—and my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve), who made the final Back-Bench speech in the debate. One of the themes that they all took up—as did some of those who argued for a mixed-composition House—was that, in a mixed second Chamber, it would perhaps be advisable not to have Ministers. That point was echoed on both sides of the House.
It is crucial that we should reflect carefully on what the royal commission says; study, analyse and debate its findings; and do so mindful of what has been said in the House in this debate. However, it is crucial to the future of our democracy that we should not rush to judgment, either before or immediately after the royal commission reports. We should consider, as part of our discussion process, all those views, and we have to recognise the strengths and weaknesses in every argument.
We should be honest with each other. I am of a conservative persuasion, but those of us who tend to favour the more cautious, evolutionary approach must beware of the pitfalls of patronage, which have been talked about eloquently by many of my hon. Friends and Labour Members. If there are to be appointed peers, the system of appointment must be beyond the control of party leaders, although it can never be beyond their legitimate influence.
We must recognise that there are many who believe that those arguments are deeply flawed. However, those who propose a radical solution must be aware that a wholly elected Chamber, notwithstanding any transitional stages, would sweep away those who currently serve in the other place.
§ Sir Patrick Cormack
It may be, but it would not be inappropriate to say a word from the Dispatch Box in recognition of the sterling service that the life peers, like the hereditary peers, have performed over the years. It would be churlish not to recognise that there is a great reservoir of talent there: political, academic, industrial, commercial, military—you name it, it is there. To sweep it away without complete regard for what we are doing would be a serious step.
The right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Mr. Maclennan)—or Easter Island, as was once said—acknowledged that some appointments might be necessary to ensure that there were some independent members. Without some such mechanism, a directly elected House would mean the end of the Cross Benchers. Such a House could also deliver greater power to the party machines than any appointment system, particularly if the elections were held with the crass system that we are to have tomorrow. It would dramatically transform relations 740 between the Houses, leading almost inevitably to the creation of a supreme court and a written constitution. It would also create a situation in which only the Head of State was not elected.
None of those is an insuperable obstacle. All matters are open for discussion. My party has not closed its mind to the option, but we must recognise that there are serious issues to debate. We also have to consider who would seek election to such a body. If its powers remained as the White Paper envisages, there would be little incentive for those of high talent and real ability to seek election. The need to seek election and satisfy constituents would seriously reduce the time that members had for scrutiny. If we are to give United States-style senatorial powers, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst forthrightly advocates, we have to ask what we would be doing in this Chamber and what our relations would be with the other House. All those profound questions have to be addressed.
It is important not to be seduced by arguments of superficial legitimacy. What matters is the system as a whole. No one seriously suggests that, because we are a constitutional monarchy with a non-elected upper House, we are not a proper parliamentary democracy. We are, and for the best part of the past 200 years we have been held up throughout the world as an example of a true parliamentary democracy.
The hon. Member for Harlow used the old cliché about throwing out the baby with the bath water. We have to be careful that we do not demolish the bathroom as well. Out of our deliberations must come a strengthened parliamentary system. We must create two Houses in which the Executive are held properly to account and all legislation—primary, secondary, European, the lot—is thoroughly and properly scrutinised. We must be able to deliver something that is better than the current system. That is our only legitimate aim and that is my definition of legitimacy. Over the next few months, as we wait for Lord Wakeham's commission to report, I ask the House to have as broad a discussion as possible in all our parties. We must face up to the real issues involved, some of which I have tried briefly to refer to this evening.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office (Mr. Paddy Tipping)
This debate has been delayed, but it has been well worth waiting for. There have been 18 speakers and, as the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) said earlier, it has been in the nature of a discussion. I have sat through almost all of it and I have learned a great deal. The discussion has helped to crystallise my thinking.
As well as discussion we have had confessions. I was struck by the confession of the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) who told us about his life as a Whip. I welcome a sinner who repents. I turn to my colleagues and ask them to look closely at his words and to repent before midnight.
We have also had tutorials. I got slightly alarmed when my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) was giving a coaching lesson to my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice). My hon. Friend is certainly not a clone and giving him tips on how to offer more effective opposition was dangerous.
Anybody who thought that there would be some sort of consensus arising from the debate would have been disappointed. I was struck by the comment of my hon. 741 Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris) who said that he hoped the commission would listen to our collective views. I am not sure what our collective views are. Different people have expressed different views. We have heard from unicameralists, those who want an elected second Chamber, those who want an appointed second Chamber and those who want a mixed second Chamber. There has been talk about people being elected to represent communities of interest and that there should be functional representatives and representatives from different parts of the United Kingdom. There has been a good deal of talk, highlighted by the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack), that the second Chamber should not include Ministers but should have a purely scrutinising and revising role.
What has struck me most about the debate is how self-critical it has been. Hon. Members from both sides of the House have expressed a real desire to check the role of the Executive and to scrutinise legislation more closely. No one has been partisan about that as the views have been expressed on both sides of the Chamber. There has been an understanding that the situation has prevailed for many years and I sensed tonight a real desire for change.
In part answer to the criticism, my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne and the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) told us to look to ourselves and to use our existing devices and powers to achieve our aim, but other steps can be taken, too. The right hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. MacGregor) mentioned pre-legislative scrutiny. 1 am delighted that that is beginning to happen and that draft Bills are being considered by Select Committees and Special Standing Committees involving Members from both Chambers.
I was struck by the comment of the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) who, as well as talking about information technology and Members pushing buttons, made a telling point about what his constituents want from him. They want to ensure that the services delivered by the Government and their agencies—as he put it—make things better. After all, government is about making things better. The hon. Gentleman also drew attention to the need for Parliament to discuss the issues of the day—not simply to resolve them, but to highlight them and give them air. There is a wider point here. We need to develop the role of the House to consider and check what has been done and how far what has been promised has been achieved. At the moment, we are not particularly good at that.
A number of hon. Members drew attention to the democratic deficit and the desire for closer scrutiny which can be achieved only by increasing powers to the second Chamber. Let me reinforce a point that has been made several times within the debate: we need to look at the powers available to the House of Lords and the powers that are actually used. I believe that that reform will give us an opportunity to codify that and put practices and traditions on a better footing. A reformed upper House will have new confidence. The sign of a good relationship is the ability to fall out but still continue to talk. Reform will give us the opportunity to do just that.
Some have argued for new and increased powers for the second Chamber. However, a more sophisticated and persuasive argument would press the case for different 742 and complementary powers for the second Chamber. A number of suggestions have been made as to what they should be and I anticipate that the royal commission will look at them closely.
It is significant that we are having this debate at all and that we are having it now. Its tone shows that change will happen. The House of Lords Reform Bill is making progress in the upper House. I followed its Committee stage with interest—all seven and a half days of it and all 180 amendments. Its Report stage starts next week. Some of the issues that the House of Lords will be considering have been raised tonight. They include the powers of the House of Lords and its relationship with the Commons, the status of any appointments committee, the size of a reformed House of Lords and the arrangements to govern the relative strengths of the parties within it.
Let me stir it up, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright) said earlier. His neighbour, the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) said, "We would not have started from here". Some of us would reply, "You would not have started at all". We need only look back at the Conservative party campaign guide, the Conservative manifesto and in particular the views expressed by the chairman of the party in his submission to the royal commission last month. He said:We did not seek to change the House of Lords",but the debate has moved forward.
I read the Mackay report and I found it thoughtful and temperate in its approach. It said that many of the powers currently exercised by the House of Lords should be maintained, but that it should not be given any greater powers. I noted that it stressed the primacy of the House of Commons.
We have not had an opportunity to discuss in detail the submission by the Conservative party to the royal commission. The hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) invited us to get a copy. I tried and it was extremely difficult. I asked for a copy from Conservative Central Office. We wrote and begged for one and it did not come, but today we managed to get a copy of "A Stronger Parliament". Let me refer to some of its contents. The Conservatives wanted at least a directly elected element. They were not attracted to indirect representation from the Scottish Parliament or the Welsh Assembly. They wanted increasing powers over secondary legislation, no age limit, no quotas, an opening size of around 659 members and a kind of monthly question time. Some of the things in that submission appear to be in contrast to what the noble Lord Mackay has said.
I wish to stress something that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said. We are committed to ensuring that no party has an overall majority in the upper Chamber. I do not accept the disparaging remarks of Opposition Members on either that commitment or on the appointments commission. For the first time ever, we have a Prime Minister who is giving up powers. [Interruption.] Conservative Members may scoff, but I have looked carefully at the appointments made by previous Conservative Prime Ministers, which deserve scrutiny. The royal commission will examine closely the need for parity of parties and the work of the appointments commission.
Along with the right hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. MacGregor) and the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie), I have been impressed with the start that the 743 royal commission has made. During the debates, there has been criticism of the timetable. The royal commission has been given a tight timetable—I acknowledge that. Nevertheless, we expect its report around the end of the year. I have been impressed by the commission's desire to gain views from outside the magic political circle. It published a consultation paper which set out the questions that the commission thought needed to be addressed as part of its evidence-gathering. It is available on a web site.
In addition, the commission has been out on the road. I understand that these events have been positively received, despite what some newspaper reports have said about poor attendance. Those who attended felt that it was worth while and that their views were listened to properly. The road shows received extensive coverage in the local media. I was particularly impressed by a double-page spread in the Peterborough Evening Telegraph on 25 May. Not only was the coverage extensive, it was thoughtful, informative and spread the debate to a much wider audience. All of that bodes well for the royal commission's report, which I look forward to reading at the end of the year.
The House of Lords Bill has proved the trigger for change, and I hope and expect that the Bill will complete all its stages shortly. The two-stage approach will prove to be manageable and successful. It is, after all, in our long tradition of gradual change. Some have argued for a big bang approach. However, a manageable approach, taken in stages, will prove to be correct. After a century of debate, we will be able to deliver the goods.
The debate tonight has looked further forward, and I hope that the royal commission will take note of the views expressed. It has a tough timetable to meet, but let me point out to doubters on both sides of the House that the tough timetable is an indication of the Government's good faith and of our intention to seek a proper and fundamental reform of the House of Lords. It is also clear evidence of our desire that, after more than a century of debate, this time that will be achieved.
I conclude with some words from the White Paper, as set out in the executive summary. The commission isbeing asked to report by the end of 1999, to enable the Government to make every effort to ensure that the second stage of reform has been approved by Parliament by the time of the general election.That remains our firm intention.
It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.