§ [Relevant document: The Report of the Royal Commission on the Future of the House of Lords entitled "A House for the Future" (Cm 4534).]
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.— [Mr. Sutcliffe.]
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)
Before I call the Leader of the House, I remind Back Benchers that there will be a 15-minute limit on their speeches.
§ The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mrs. Margaret Beckett)
This debate provides the House with an opportunity to comment on the royal commission report on reform of the House of Lords, entitled "A House for the Future", Cm 4534. I should like to begin by paying tribute to the work of the royal commission and its chairman Lord Wakeham. It completed a challenging task on time, although many people said that that could not be done, and produced a comprehensive and unanimous report which addressed coherently the issues that it had been asked to examine. That report means that debate on the next stage of the reform of the House of Lords, which was first mooted by a Liberal Government in 1911, has advanced significantly.
Of course, that is the second significant advance, the first being the House of Lords Act 1999. I remind the House that the Government made it clear at the outset that we saw this as a two-stage process and were convinced that the issues would never be addressed at all unless they were addressed in two stages. Three things confirm me in that view. First, it took most of the century to get to stage 1, which rather puts the whingeing about the so-called delay on stage 2 into perspective. Secondly, the debate in the House of Lords on the royal commission report provided a clear indication that many there still regret and oppose the demise of the hereditary principle, which sits rather oddly with the Opposition's claimed espousal of democracy. Thirdly, we must consider the sheer scale of the imbalance of the previous House.
After all the carping about Tony's cronies and all the allegations about packing the House of Lords, even after the departure of most of the 750 Members who were there on the basis of heredity, the Conservative party still has 32 more peers than the Labour party in the House of Lords. However, the Wakeham report may help us to move on to stage 2.
§ Mr. Christopher Fraser (Mid-Dorset and North Poole)
Will the Leader of the House confirm that there has never been a majority of hereditary peers in the other place?
§ Mrs. Beckett
I do not quite know what the hon. Gentleman means. If he means that there has never ever been a majority of Conservatives in the upper House, I am afraid that I cannot cast my mind back across all the centuries of its existence and be confident that that is the case. No one with any understanding of how that House operates would dispute that the Conservative party has always and overwhelmingly held control there.
I want to make it clear at the outset that Ministers are here to listen to the views of the House rather than to announce the Government's settled conclusions. As my 49 distinguished predecessor, the noble Lord St John of Fawsley, said in another place on 7 March during the debate on reform of the House of Lords:No one in their right senses would expect a government to come forward with firm decisions on a Royal Commission before there had been a debate in both Houses of Parliament. That would be quite contrary to the spirit of our constitution.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 7 March 2000; Vol. 610, c. 971.]I agree with him.
§ Mrs. Beckett
Yes, on this occasion: I accept that I do not always do so.
I want to make it clear, however, that the Government are minded to accept the broad outlines of the royal commission report; that is, we agree that the second Chamber should be largely nominated, with a minority elected element with a particular remit to represent the regions, and that there should be a statutory appointments commission. On the more specific proposals, such as the size and method of selection of the elected element, or the precise powers and functions of the House and the appointments commission, we have made no firm decisions and will want to hear alternative views.
We have said, too, that we want to proceed, if at all possible, by consensus, and the unanimity of the report encourages us to hope that it may be found. I hope that today's debate will strengthen that view.
§ Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)
Will the right hon. Lady indicate whether, in seeking consensus, she will be seeking the opinions of the National Assembly for Wales, the Scottish Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly?
§ Mr. Wigley
Because of the regional dimension of the report and the need to ensure that we are getting a balanced picture before we come to final conclusions.
§ Mrs. Beckett
I am not sure that anyone has reached a view about asking for any formal response, but of course the Government are interested in hearing views from all quarters and from all who take an interest in the way in which these matters will be decided.
The first and founding principle that the Government made clear is in the royal commission's terms of reference, and it says that its recommendations must have regardto the need to maintain the position of the House of Commons as the pre-eminent chamber of Parliament.Our reason for that requirement was simple. The position of this House is the cornerstone of our democracy. Through elections to it, the people choose who will represent them in Parliament, and through elections to it in aggregate, they choose who will govern them.
One logical conclusion of that is that there is no need for a second Chamber at all. We do not draw that conclusion. The Government believe that there is a role for a clearly subordinate second Chamber, primarily in the legislative process. There has, of course, been criticism of our insistence that the second Chamber should be 50 subordinate. It has been suggested that the primary purpose of the second Chamber should be not to scrutinise legislation and to ask the Government and this House to think again about individual proposals, but rather to hold the Government to account. That is the function of this House. It must be done by the Chamber that has the power to dismiss the Government. To have two Chambers, each with an identical role in that respect, would be bound to lead to conflict and confusion.
§ Mr. John Maples (Stratford-on-Avon)
I completely agree with the right hon. Lady about the proper roles of both Houses, but does she not think that a second Chamber that is subordinate to the House of Commons is wholly incompatible with its being completely elected? If it is completely elected, it will seek parity.
§ Mrs. Beckett
I entirely share that view, as I will make clear in a few moments. It is for precisely that reason that Lord Wakeham and his colleagues came to the conclusions that they did.
The main purpose, as we see it, of the second Chamber in our parliamentary system should be to make a distinctive contribution to the legislative process. Indeed, the fact that it is distinct and different from that of this House has always been one of the principal claims made on behalf of the House of Lords by those who defended it even in its unreformed state. That, therefore, is the role of the second Chamber from which its functions flow, and we asked the royal commission to look first at the role, then at the functions and only finally at the membership required to carry out that role and those functions.
To make a distinctive contribution, we argue, the second Chamber needs to be distinctively constituted. While understanding the political considerations, it should not be dominated by them. Although it would not be representative in the direct sense that Members of Parliament are representative, it should broadly reflect the economic, social, gender, religious and ethnic make-up of society. It must contain enough expertise to make an informed and non-partisan contribution to debate on any subject. We believe that an elected, or largely elected, second Chamber would not deliver that combination of requirements.
§ Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle)
I am left wondering whether the new second Chamber should reflect the social class composition and perhaps the wealth distribution and educational qualifications of the British public.
§ Mrs. Beckett
That is an interesting point, on which my hon. Friend will no doubt want to enlarge during his own contribution to the debate.
The Labour party, in gathering its evidence for the royal commission, and the royal commission itself found that a constant theme ran through the representations that they received: people do not want a second Chamber that is a clone of the House of the Commons or that loses the contribution of a non-party political element.
The Government agree with the royal commission's analysis that the most efficient way to ensure the right mix of political, non-political and diverse Members will be to select the appointed majority individually. That will equip the second Chamber for the job that it should do, but it will not undermine the position of this House as the 51 cornerstone of our political system. We accept the proposition that a high proportion of the appointed membership of the second Chamber should be broadly representative of political parties and that the balance of that membership should be determined according to the votes cast in the preceding general election.
We believe, and strongly endorse, the royal commission's view that no political party should ever have a majority over all the other elements in the second Chamber. Indeed, I hope to hear a strong and clear endorsement and acceptance of that from the official Opposition today. I have repeatedly pressed for such a declaration; I hope that it will come in uncompromising terms. Not only do we reject the notion that any party should have a majority, but, like the royal commission, we reject the proposal for a wholly elected second Chamber in the same united Parliament. That would be bound to lead to conflict and division.
§ Mr. Mark Fisher (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)
Cannot my right hon. Friend conceive of designing a remit for the second Chamber that makes it complementary to this Chamber, not in conflict with it? If she cannot, does she understand that she is saying that democracy has no role to play in the second Chamber? Where does that leave the people of this country? Surely they have a right to elect people who sit in half of our Parliament and it is not for whoever does the selecting—whether the Government, or we in the Chamber—to determine who should sit; it is for the people of this country to decide who sits in the legislature over them.
§ Mrs. Beckett
I know my hon. Friend's strong views on the matter, but I simply tell him that, no, I cannot imagine a remit that would not be a recipe for conflict if there were two elected Chambers in a single Parliament. Indeed, I cannot imagine a remit that would not lead to a conflict between Members themselves about who had the right and the authority and who was elected most recently. All that would be a recipe for division and conflict. Of course I accept the case that my hon. Friend makes; I simply tell him that it is my view—I speak for myself now—that, yes, it is true that democracy is given expression by the election of representatives to serve the people, but democracy is not strengthened by adding another body to which people are elected to carry out exactly the same job. That would produce a different combination of democratically elected Chambers and would lead to conflict. I get the impression that there are some who would welcome that and who, in consequence, support it. I do not put my hon. Friend in that category.
§ Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)
Is it not a fact that, under the recipe proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) and other hon. Members who believe in a wholly elected Chamber of whatever sort, they would find that there was an alternative Member of Parliament for their constituencies who would claim to represent them as much as they did and take up the same cases and claim to be able to deal with them better? [HON. MEMBERS: "What about the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly?] The Members of the two Houses of 52 Parliament would simply strive for greater authenticity, without the outcome of a properly representative two-Chamber democracy.
§ Mrs. Beckett
My right hon. Friend is entirely correct. Following the sedentary interjection by Conservative Members, I would add that the point is that there would be not a Chamber with a different role and remit, but a second elected Chamber in this Parliament—not in another Parliament—and a challenge to the supremacy of the House.
§ Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle)
Why is the United States able to have two directly elected Houses in the same Congress without constitutional deadlock?
§ Mrs. Beckett
My understanding is that the United States suffers constitutional deadlock repeatedly. However, putting that aside, and although I yield to nobody in my pride in that country and its place in our history, I remind the hon. Gentleman that the United States is an entire continent and has what can only be described as a federal system. We are a united kingdom; we do not have a federal system.
§ Mrs. Beckett
That is a legitimate debating point, but I simply say to him that that is a different matter from having two elected Chambers in this Westminster Parliament.
§ Mrs. Beckett
I shall give way to the hon. Members for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls) and for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie), but shall not give way again on this point.
§ Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge)
It will bring the right hon. Lady no comfort to know that I have rather more sympathy with her analysis than she might suspect. However, surely the problem is that the elected Members of a largely appointed House, even if few in number, would assert their authority. Inevitably, there would be a two-tier House, only one of which would have elective authority, with all the problems to which the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) referred. If she wants an appointed Chamber, why does she not seek friends in unexpected quarters and state the case for the logic of making that Chamber wholly appointed and unelected?
§ Mrs. Beckett
The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point. If he has read the Lords debate, he will know that a substantial number of Members, including many Conservatives, made precisely that case. However, the royal commission had to consider a range of issues and proposed a mix of Members. Although I accept that there will be unease about that, the proposal was made unanimously and the Government are not inimical to it.
§ Mr. Andrew Tyrie (Chichester)
The case that the Leader of the House is making against a largely democratic second Chamber appears to rest on the view that there will be gridlock between this place and the other place, but are there not the Parliament Acts? Do not they 53 lay down the limits to that gridlock and state very clearly what a second Chamber may and may not do to challenge this place? Why does she think that those restraints would be swept away if we had an elected or largely elected second Chamber?
§ Mrs. Beckett
The hon. Gentleman might have observed that, even without a wholly elected second Chamber, there are those in the Lords itself, as it is today, who question whether we should have quite the same balance in the Parliament Acts and wonder whether the Lords should be able to reject and not merely delay legislation. My case rather than his is being made.
When I said that I would take interventions only from the hon. Members for Teignbridge and for Chichester, I meant that I would take interventions on that point from those who were on their feet and would then continue. However, I did not observe the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson). I apologise and give way to him.
§ Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury)
I find myself in the uncomfortable position of agreeing with the right hon. Lady. As a believer in democracy, I find it acceptable for the House of Lords to be unelected while its powers are extremely limited. Surely that is the point.
§ Mrs. Beckett
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, although I do not wish to go into it at length. There is also the issue of the powers of the Lords and whether we are discussing those that they currently have and do not exercise or those that they should have and should exercise. That, too, represents a delicate balance that has to be properly considered.
§ Mr. Robert Sheldon (Ashton-under-Lyne)
I agree with my right hon. Friend entirely, but is not there a problem? If we are to have some elected and a large number of non-elected Members, there could be divisions between them. The elected Members could feel that they had greater authority than the others. Will she comment on how that might change the atmosphere in the second Chamber?
§ Mrs. Beckett
I am deeply grateful to learn that my right hon. Friend is in agreement with me, bearing in mind his historic role in wrecking previous attempts to reform the House of Lords. He makes a legitimate point, which was closely examined during the debate in the Lords and will, I expect, be discussed in our debate. The arguments are difficult: I believe that those who say that the cohesion of the second Chamber will not deteriorate into two-tier membership have the balance of the argument, but I accept that there is room for wholly legitimate differences of opinion on that point.
On the issue of whether election and the supremacy of the House of Commons are compatible, I am aware of at least one right hon. Opposition Member who not only supports a wholly elected Chamber, but, in consequence, rejects the supremacy of the House of Commons, believing one to be incompatible with the other. The Government share the view that the two are incompatible. On this 54 interesting issue, one finds agreement in surprising and unprecedented places. For the first time ever, I find myself at one with the noble Lord Waddington, who said:Of course, an elected Chamber composed of the representatives of the people has a special authority. That is why one does not want two of them.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 7 March 2000; Vol. 610, c. 961.]Both the royal commission's recommendations of a mixed part-elected Chamber and the Government's response have attracted criticism and disagreement, not least from the media. The main burden of the criticism is that the proposals are undemocratic. As has become evident in today's debate, there are Members of the House of Commons who have a long and honourable commitment to the idea that all Members of the United Kingdom Parliament, whether it is comprised of one Chamber or divided into two, should be elected. They recognise that such a change would have a profound impact on the whole nature of Parliament, including the House of Commons and its relationship with the other place, and I presume that they either welcome those changes as desirable in their own right, or accept them as a price worth paying. I repeat that the Government accept the basic judgment of the royal commission that a largely appointed House, with an elected element within it, provides the range of expertise and experience that a reformed second Chamber would need to add value to the legislative process.
§ Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)
My right hon. Friend will accept that whether or not the mixed system works will depend wholly on who picks the non-elected Members. It would be helpful to be given some clear information in that respect. Those Members whom I would pick, using my long experience and great knowledge, might not necessarily be the same as those who would be picked by other right hon. and hon. Members.
§ Mrs. Beckett
My hon. Friend's timing is, as ever, impeccable: I was coming to that precise point.
Even with the retention of an appointed element, we accept the royal commission's proposals to reform the process by which such appointments are made, which is known as the process of patronage. We have already begun to do so voluntarily. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is the first Prime Minister to have reduced his powers of patronage over the House of Lords—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I know that the Conservatives hate to be reminded of that, so I shall repeat it: he is the first Prime Minister ever to reduce his powers of patronage over the House of Lords, with the appointment of the interim appointments commission, which, in the words of its chairman, will be "scrupulously independent and rigorous". We accept that, in stage 2, there should a statutory appointments commission.
The royal commission made many detailed recommendations, both on the nature of the statutory appointments commission and on the precise powers and functions of the second Chamber; it also made more detailed recommendations on composition. The Government are continuing to consider those recommendations—all 132 of them—to determine our detailed proposals. Some of the recommendations relate almost entirely to the internal workings of the second Chamber; some would have a profound impact on the 55 House of Commons and on the relationship between the two Chambers; some can be implemented by administrative decisions, whereas others would require possibly complex legislation to effect.
Because of the implications that reform of the House of Lords will have for this House, we suggested in the 1999 White Paper that a Joint Committee of both Houses would be a suitable means of considering the parliamentary aspects of the reform proposals. That is still our view.
§ Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)
Can my right hon. Friend give the House an idea of when the Joint Committee will be established? I expect that she may be about to tell us in her next sentence.
§ Mrs. Beckett
My hon. Friend is right. His timing, too, is impeccable. The Government intend that such a Committee should be established, and it will be established in due course.
§ Mrs. Beckett
If I continue, I may answer the hon. Gentleman's question even before he has got it out. We hope that today's debate will give us a clear idea of how, following publication of the royal commission's report, views have begun to crystallise. It should give us some indication of whether there is any common ground on the basis of that unanimous and thus consensual report on which the Government can build. Does the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) still wish to intervene?
§ Sir Patrick Cormack
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady. Is she committing the Government to establishing the Joint Committee before the general election?
§ Mrs. Beckett
I would anticipate that, but after all, it could still be a considerable time away. It is the Government's intention to appoint the Joint Committee, as I said, to examine the parliamentary aspects of the proposals. All hon. Members will recognise that the proposals are bound to have enormous—I would almost say technical—implications, and we believe that it would be valuable to have the views of parliamentarians on those proposals.
The degree to which common ground can be identified during this debate and beyond it is bound to shape the scope and timing of the Government's own response.
§ Mrs. Beckett
I would have given way to the hon. Gentleman, but I am at the end of my speech. I hope that the debate will be constructive and allow us to proceed with stage 2 of reform.
§ Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire)
The right hon. Lady's search for a consensus has got off to a lively start. I join her in paying tribute to Lord Wakeham and 56 his fellow commissioners for producing the high-quality report that we debate today. It has taken our debate a stage forward and it can serve as a launching pad for stage 2.
It was not, in my view, Lord Wakeham's skills as a former Chief Whip that have been so valuable—the sanctions that go with that position were not available to him—but his skill at chairing Cabinet Committees. I recall his ability to resolve a discussion by finding against a colleague, but to sum up in such a way that the colleague thought that he had won. I commend his diplomacy in identifying a broad consensus from a very wide range of opinions in a very short time.
The Government should not just thank the commission, as we do, but should apologise to it. It is as though the captain of the relay team had instructed the runners of the first legs to sprint around the track at high speed, but when the baton was handed over to the captain for the final lap, he relaxed into a leisurely stroll. Wakeham reported—we read in an article in The Parliamentarian by Baroness Jay—with a week to spare, but his vision of the first election of regional Members taking place at the next general election looks extremely ambitious.
It is shameful that we have had to wait five months for this debate, and even after that interval, the Government have little idea of what to do next. However, in the case of the Burns report on hunting, they knew exactly how to take it forward even before it had reported. On Lords reform, the Prime Minister told us last week that we would have to wait for Labour's next manifesto to find out its plans.
I am reminded of a speech by Michael Foot at the Dispatch Box when he was Leader of the Opposition. He described a conjurer in his Plymouth constituency who invited a prosperous member of the audience to lend him a gold watch. That was placed on a table. Another member of the audience was invited to lend a silk handkerchief. That was placed over the watch. The conjurer brought down a hammer with some force on the handkerchief. He then announced to the audience that, sadly, he had forgotten the rest of the trick. That seems to encapsulate Labour's approach to reform of the House of Lords.
I shall make four short general points. First, there has been a tendency to represent the debate about Lords reform as a one-dimensional contest with the Commons: if one gains, the other must lose. It is perhaps symbolic of that view that our debate takes place on the day of the annual Lords v. Commons tug-of-war, which the lower House should win now that the virile young hereditaries have been banished from the upper House. That is the wrong perspective. The real contest today is not between the Lords and the Commons, but between Parliament and the Executive. In that battle, the Houses are not rivals, but partners.
We believe that any reform should strengthen Parliament as a whole. Much of what the Government have done has weakened Parliament. That is why we set up the Norton commission to examine the way in which Parliament could be strengthened. It will consider the way in which the workings of both the Commons and Lords can be reformed to ensure that Parliament is better able to hold the Executive to account. It will report shortly.
Secondly, it is difficult entirely to ring-fence Lords reform and thus separate it from Commons reform. There is interdependence and interchange between the two 57 Chambers. The commission is considering conciliation, not ping-pong. Proposals that the Lords should set up a constitutional committee or a human rights committee have implications for the Commons. Some have argued that we should reform ourselves before reforming the upper House. The proposal to elect Members to the upper House has implications, to which I shall revert in a moment.
Thirdly, the current position is unsatisfactory. The Government have asserted that the new House will be more legitimate, more effective, more authoritative and more influential. In the Parliamentary Monitor in November 1999, Baroness Jay stated:The House will be able to speak with more authority … A decision by the House not to support a proposal from the government will carry more weight because it will have to include supporters from a range of political and independent opinions. So the Executive will be better held to account.However, there is no sign of the Government respecting the new House. When the Government lose, it is just like old times: more threats and more abuse. The Lords has defeated the Government on several issues. It has protected the right to trial by jury; Londoners from a veto on free leaflets from mayoral candidates; the independence of local authorities from central dictation; and children from unsuitable material in schools. The Government must simply accept the legitimacy of criticism from an effective second Chamber and control their wish to dominate our proceedings.
As the Leader of the House said, the Wakeham commission was unanimous. However, the unanimity disguised a disagreement on the most contentious issue—the composition—and avoided a conclusion on some others. If the commission had had more time, and if Lord Wakeham had had more cigars, it might have reached agreement. However, we must recognise that, while it agreed on a House of mixed composition, the key issue of balance was left unresolved.
§ Mr. Nicholls
My right hon. Friend has reached the crux of the matter. There is no way of deciding who is right in the arguments for and against appointed or elected Members. That is a good reason for doing the bare minimum. It is not possible to achieve a consensus even, I suspect, through the use of a Whip.
§ Sir George Young
I hope to deal with balance in a moment. While I make no claims to be right, we can try and tackle the issue. If the alternative is to remain as we are, that is unsatisfactory.
I want to consider the two issues that should form the focus of our debate. One is process and the way in which we should we handle the next stage; the other is policy and what we should do.
On process, it is an understatement to say that the Government have not handled the issue very well so far. Matters do not seem to be about to improve. The assertion that, by splitting the process in two, the end is attained more quickly than by doing it in one looks rather tattered. In our debate last year, the far-sighted and right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) opined that we would never reach stage 2. History has reinforced his fears. He said:My expectation is that that temporary scheme is likely to become permanent.—[Official Report, 9 June 1999; Vol. 332, c. 668.]58 My right hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk (Mr. MacGregor) agreed.
We made it clear that there should be no stage 1 without stage 2. Lord Hurd observed:It is customary, in an advanced society, to inform passengers of the … destination before they board the train.Lord Weatherill said:before we bulldoze this House we should see the plans—[Official Report, House of Lords, 14 October 1998; Vol. 593, c. 937–652]
§ Angela Smith (Basildon)
The right hon. Gentleman seems to advocate the all-or-nothing approach in reforming the Lords. Does not he accept that, at every stage in our history, that approach has led to no action?
§ Sir George Young
I do not accept that it was right to split the process in two. We think that the Wakeham commission should have been set up earlier so that the House could deal with the problem logically and coherently. We set the pace: we established the Mackay commission, and eventually pressurised the Government into setting up a royal commission.
There is no sign that the Government will handle the future any better than they have handled the past.Many suggestions have been made that the government will shelve the royal commission's report,Lady Jay writes.Nothing could be further from the truth,she assures us. That overstates the case. We can see the long grass opening up to embrace the report. I challenge the Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office to end tonight's debate with the words that he used to end our debate a year ago. He said then:I conclude with some words from the White Paper, as set out in the executive summary. The commission is "being 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.—[Official Report, 9 June 1999; Vol. 332, c. 743.]I challenge the Minister to repeat that commitment tonight.
§ Mr. Kaufman
When we were discussing these very matters in the context of the terms of reference for the royal commission, all its members, including Lord Butler—a former Cabinet Secretary—understood one thing: we, as a royal commission, expected the Government to adhere to the words that the right hon. Gentleman just quoted, stating that the recommendations would be approved by Parliament before the general election. However, no member of the commission—which included Lord Hurd and Lord Wakeham—was for a moment deluded enough to believe that "approved" referred to the enactment of full legislation. We took the view that Parliament, before the dissolution of the current Parliament, would be asked to approve Government policies that would proceed into legislation early in the next Parliament.
§ Sir George Young
I am not asking the Government to commit themselves to what the right hon. Gentleman believes; I am asking them to commit themselves to what they believe. I am asking the Government to reaffirm the 59 commitment that they made last year, when they said that they expected stage 2 to be completed by the time of the general election.
§ Mrs. Beckett
I think the right hon. Gentleman's memory is at fault. We never said that we thought it would be possible to get all the legislation through by the time of the forthcoming general election.
§ Mrs. Beckett
I think that the right hon. Gentleman will find that what we have always said is that we hope the House will have a chance to express a view, and that the direction will be clear. The Opposition pressed us to commit ourselves to the notion that legislation would be on the statute book before the next general election. Indeed, they tried to introduce a sunset clause into the legislation, but that was resisted at every stage.
§ Sir George Young
I suggest that the right hon. Lady refer to the report of our debate on Wednesday 9 June last year, and to what her hon. Friend the Minister said when replying to that debate. Those are the words that I just quoted.
Not only have the Government not handled the process well, there has been a breach of commitment.The rights of hereditary peers to sit and vote in the House of Lords will be ended by statute,said the Labour manifesto; but they have not. Nor have the Government set up the Joint Committee promised—not "suggested", as the Leader of the House said—in the White Paper. We were told:Once the Royal Commission has reported, the Government will then establish the proposed joint committee of both Houses … to examine the Parliamentary implications of the Commission's work. It, too, will be asked to work speedily.How can it work speedily if the Government will not set it up?
We have already heard qualifications of that commitment. In the other place, Lord Williams qualified it by saying:It is idle to think of having a Joint Committee unless the general parameters of agreement in this House have already been established for that Joint Committee.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 7 March 2000; Vol. 610, c. 1031.]In other words, "If you don't agree with us, you can't have a Joint Committee, and we will stay where we are".
I see a Joint Committee as a means of securing agreement. There is currently disagreement about the way forward within the Government, and indeed within the opposition parties. A Joint Committee could tackle that, rather than being set up after a deal between the two Front Benches.
Against that background, with the Government not making good progress, we come to the debate about cherry-picking—making progress with some but not all proposals. If the Government were making good progress with the report, there would be no need to debate cherry-picking. Although Lord Wakeham asserted that the 60 proposals could not easily be separated, the truth is that they could be, and in my view they now should be. I shall return to that shortly, when I deal with policy.
The Government have set up an Appointments Commission, but not on the basis of what Wakeham proposed. Paragraph 13 of the Wakeham report makes it clear that the commission should be statutory, not voluntary. Wakeham reminds us that the Prime Minister will still be able to control the size and the party balance of the interim House.
If the Leader of the House is firm in her commitment to legislation, the Life Peerages (Appointments Commission) Bill is before the House of Lords at the moment. As she gave, I think, a commitment to a statutory commission, I hope that the House can now make good progress with that important legislation. Therefore, on process, we have a rather unhappy record of delay, diversion and indecision, which is not radically changed by anything that we have just heard.
I come to policy. I thought that Lord Wakeham summarised in a sentence what the second Chamber should do:Our ambition for the reformed second chamber is that it should enhance the overall ability of Parliament as a whole to hold the Government to account. It should do this by using its particular strengths to develop arrangements which complement and reinforce those of the House of Commons.That is spot on. To do that, the reformed upper House needs to be at least as strong and independent as its predecessor. We reject the option in the White Paper of reducing its powers.
The report revealed—perhaps surprisingly—agreement on functions. Indeed, there were not a lot of representations on that, nor indeed much dissent about functions in the recent Lords debate.
In the time available, it is not possible to run through all 132 recommendations, so I shall pick out a few key ones. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) will touch on some others in his winding-up speech, particularly those on the Church and the law. I agree with what is said about the Salisbury convention and the supremacy of this Chamber. I agree on the need for a constitutional committee and a human rights committee, and about no Government having an in-built majority in the upper House. In particular, I agree with Wakeham that it is important that procedures in the upper House are not dictated by Government—we have our own experience of that here. I agree that indirect and functional constituencies are unsatisfactory.
In the context of another debate, it is worth mentioning Wakeham's views on the English question:There may well be a separate case for Parliament as a whole to reflect on how business which can be identified as exclusively "English" should be handled in future.It is also worth recalling that Wakeham said that being a Member of the Scottish Parliament or Welsh Assembly wasa full-time job. It would leave no time for regular participation in the work of the second chamber.That must apply with even more force to the work of the first Chamber. 61 Since the report, life has moved on in one respect, which should qualify Wakeham's conclusion. He asserted in paragraph 11.8:The fact is that elections can only be fought effectively by organised political parties which can attract large blocks of voters and who have the resources to organise television broadcasts, publicity, canvassing, public meetings and the like.The hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) has comprehensively disproved that assertion.
The report leaves unanswered the question of how to get the upper House down to 550—it is now nearly 700—and, indeed, how to keep it at 550 if, after each election, more peers must be created to get the balance right.
At the heart of the debate is the issue of composition. We have recognised that there is a range of views within my party and have said that we are likely to end up favouring a higher percentage of elected Members than model C, which had 195 elected Members in a House of about 550.
On that key issue of composition, it was interesting to re-read the two recent debates: that in the upper House on 7 March this year, and that in the House of Commons on 9 June last year. Summing up the latter, my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire pointed out that the majority of speeches argued for a wholly or largely directly elected House. Looking through the other debate, there was some cultural antipathy to the concept of electing Members. If I were to summarise a rather long debate, I would say that the upper House believes that it is doing a very good job, which it is. Its Members want to go on doing that job and they believe that violent change would undermine them. Many had never stood for election and made it clear that they found the prospect distasteful. Others had stood for election and hoped that they had put the experience behind them. There was an unspoken view that, "We don't want the rough trade from the other end of the building up here."
Reading Wakeham again, we get the same impression of "de haut en bas." In paragraph 11, he pleads for the second Chamber not to bea home for yet another group of professional politicians.Later, he asks us to avoid ahunting ground for another tribe of professional politicians.The issue of election goes to the heart of the debate. Two principal reasons are put forward against elections for the upper House. The first we might call the British Rail argument: elections produce the wrong sort of politician. The second is the "rival mandate" theory.
On the first, there is an issue that we all need to address: how do political parties attract quality candidates for election to the upper House? Lord Longford put the point dramatically in the debate in the upper House:We would get the dregs.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 7 March 2000; Vol. 610, c. 955.]Personally, I accept that many of the people who would be first-class Members of the upper House do not belong to a political party and do not want to fight an election, but, if we believe that 195 or more should be elected, we are not talking about many each time—if they are elected every five years for 15 years—and I note that some of the recent appointments to the upper House are exactly those who sought election to the House of Commons and failed.
I believe that the anxiety about elected Members is misplaced. Behaviour in our House is less a function of the sort of people we are and more a function of the role 62 of a Member of Parliament in a dominant Chamber. When the sort of people we are move from this environment to a different one, our behaviour changes. The greatest demonstration of that are two of my noble Friends who were on the commission—Lords Hurd and Wakeham. When they started, they were down here. When they were here, they behaved like Members of Parliament. However, when they were put in a less partisan, more reflective environment such as the upper House, they behaved like peers. Therefore, there is nothing inherently suspect or inappropriate about people who want to stand for election to the upper House.
§ Mr. Robertson
My only concern is that, with a greater number of elected Lords, the upper House would become more like the House of Commons, so they would behave exactly the same.
§ Sir George Young
I am coming to the second leg of the criticism: the rival mandate theory, to which, I think, my hon. Friend is referring. If the second Chamber is elected, it may claim a rival mandate to the Commons.
§ Sir George Young
May I develop the argument?
I do not subscribe to that argument either. The role of the second Chamber is clearly defined as complementary but, in the end, subordinate to this one. The powers are the powers given to it by this House, which is pre-eminent, and they cannot be unilaterally changed. The argument asserts that, if the upper House is elected, that settlement might be challenged, but there would be a world of difference between the two Houses.
Members of Parliament are all elected on the same day, on the basis of a party manifesto for one Parliament, to the pre-eminent House that sustains the Executive and contains the Prime Minister. They submit themselves or their successors to re-election. None of those conditions would exist for the upper House, were it to be elected on the Wakeham basis. Therefore, the notion that electing some or even most of its Members could lead to the conversion of the upper House into a rival Assembly is, in my view, unsustainable. Therefore, on policy, although there are still legitimate areas of disagreement—on which, I hope, this debate might shed some light—there is much agreement where progress could be made.
The story of the Government's reform of the House of Lords is an object lesson of how not to set about constitutional reform. They have shot first and asked questions afterwards. They have not thought through the policy before embarking on it. As with their commitment to hold a referendum on an alternative to first past the post, the constitution section of the manifesto is strewn with unkept promises. There was no talk of seeking consensus when they started on Lords reform, but, now they have got stuck, they are looking around for allies.
We are a generous party. We care about the constitution, so we readily give advice on where we should go from here. First, we should set up the Joint Committee to identify the way forward and we should do it now. We heard a very equivocal response from the Leader of the House to the intervention from my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire. The 63 Government say that they want to identify a consensus—setting up a Joint Committee seems a good start. There is a lot of agreement. Many people agree that the new House should be part elected and part appointed, and there is widespread agreement on what its functions should be, so let us do that soon.
Secondly, a statutory appointments commission should be set up—not the non-statutory one, but a proper one, curtailing the huge rights of patronage that the Prime Minister has retained for himself. Thirdly, we should make progress now with many of the non-compositional recommendations in Wakeham, engaging in the horticultural practice of cherry-picking, because the Government have clearly stalled on compositional reform.
Fourthly, the Government should initiate a wider public debate about stage 2, which they have conspicuously avoided. They hope that the problem will go away, but it will not. They must take progress off the back of the Lord Chancellor's envelope, on to the Floor of the House and out into the country.
As on so many issues at the moment, Ministers are like rabbits in the headlights, not knowing which way to turn. The constitution of this country is not safe in their hands. It will fall to a Conservative Government to restore stability and fairness.
§ 6 pm
§ Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)
I agreed with the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young) on one of his comments, but disagreed with him on another. I agree that, if we are to have a properly functioning two-Chamber democracy that is based on this building, we have to accept that the prime criterion in making change is to make the Government more accountable to Parliament. That criterion motivated the royal commission and led us unanimously to arrive at a report, despite the divergent approaches with which the members entered the royal commission room.
The commission agreed that, ultimately, we were making three different proposals on an elected element—should there be one. I invite the right hon. Gentleman to look at page 188 of our report. I make it clear that, although the three models at the bottom of the page are between recommendation 76 and recommendation 77 on page 189, they are not a recommendation, but possibilities for consideration should it be decided that the electorate should have a voice of one type or another.
§ Mr. Kaufman
I am not sure whether I shall have injury time if I give way to the hon. Gentleman, but I will give way.
§ Mr. Nicholls
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman—who, as always, is most charming and gracious. When he talks about making the Government more accountable, does he mean making them more defeatable during their time in office or making it possible to show even more starkly when they are in error?
§ Mr. Kaufman
I mean both. In recommending that 20 per cent. of the membership of the second Chamber 64 should be Cross Benchers, so that no party should ever have a majority, we are proposing making it more possible for the Government to be defeatable. However, we also proposed in the report creating a series of new ways in which the Government should be accountable to the second Chamber. The Government are not accountable in some of those ways even to the House of Commons.
I disagreed with the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire when he described the way in which the composition of the second Chamber could be re-adjusted after a general election by the creation of more peers. The royal commission was absolutely clear that the second Chamber's link with the peerage should be ended permanently. My own view—which was supported by a considerable number of commission members—is that the second Chamber should be called not the House of Lords, but, perhaps, the House of Senators.
Nevertheless, the royal commission agreed on the crucial point that the second Chamber's link with the peerage should be ended. We also proposed that, in parallel with that change, the Prime Minister's patronage should be ended totally. I am sure that my royal commission colleagues will forgive me for saying that both those proposals—ending the second Chamber's link with the peerage, and totally ending prime ministerial patronage—came from me. The leaders of political parties should not have a greater voice than anyone else in determining whom the independent appointments commission appoints.
§ Mr. Kaufman
I tell my hon. Friend that the royal commission believes, and proposes, that a very much wider spectrum of the population should be eligible to be appointed by the independent appointments commission—which will be statutory, appointed under the Nolan rules and open to applications from members of the general public, and which will scrutinise every single application. The commission was very clear indeed that we did not want a new second Chamber that would be a subterfuge enabling the Prime Minister of the day, whoever he or she might be, to get away with perpetuating his or her patronage.
§ Mr. Prentice
Will not the leaders of the political parties—not only the Prime Minister, but the Leader of the Opposition—still be able to exercise patronage and appoint people to the upper Chamber on the basis of their party connections?
§ Mr. Kaufman
No. My hon. Friend should read the report—the commission ruled out precisely that possibility. We said that the leaders of the political parties, like anyone else, should be able to suggest appointments to the appointments commission, but that the appointments commission need not pay attention to those recommendations. Moreover, we said that it should be open to the appointments commission to appoint not only those who are in political parties, but those who are outside political parties. That includes those who were 65 suggested by political party leaders as well as those who were opposed by them. Therefore, my hon. Friend, for example, might have a chance.
§ Mr. Kaufman
I suggest that the hon. Gentleman should look at it again, as I do not want to take up too much time dealing with matters that he can read about in the report. We are proposing that the system should be independent and analogous to the system that the House has—with the agreement of all parties—approved for the election commission. We wanted and insisted upon an entirely separate structure.
One of the reasons—in addition to others which I shall deal with if I have time—why we proposed that there should be an independent appointments commission, which would appoint certainly the great majority if not all the Members of the second Chamber, is that we wanted to deal with the inadequacies of the way in which hon. Members are elected. We reach this place after a series of competitions within our political parties, and, subsequently, after competition in elections. Certain balances have to be struck in that process.
Despite the welcome number of new women Members elected to this place after the previous general election, women are still very seriously under-represented in this Chamber. Members of the ethnic minorities are extremely seriously under-represented in this Chamber. Therefore—I say it again, and I hope that my commission colleagues will forgive me—at my suggestion, the commission proposed that there should be gender objectives, so that we have about 50 per cent. men and 50 per cent. women in a new second Chamber. That objective could never be achieved in elections to this place. The commission also suggested that there should be ethnic minority objectives, as selection will not substantially deal with the serious under-representation of ethnic minorities in this place.
One of the independent appointments commission's statutory remits would, therefore, be to address the issue of gender equality. Although the commission decided that, because of the United Kingdom's ethnic diversity, we should not specify an exact proportion of ethnic minority Members in the second Chamber, we believe that ethnic minority representation in the second Chamber should be at least proportional to the United Kingdom's overall ethnic minority population.
§ Mr. Kaufman
I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman in a moment, after I have completed reciting my list of the commission's proposals.
As I said in replying to the hon. Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls), the commission also said that there should be a statutory minimum of Cross Benchers so that no political party could ever have a majority in the second Chamber. We proposed, as the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire said, that party 66 representation—but only party representation—in the second Chamber should be in proportion to the votes cast at the previous general election, and that that proportion should be adjusted over time.
Now I shall give way to the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth).
§ Mr. Howarth
The right hon. Gentleman has referred to an independent appointments commission, yet he has given a whole list of prescriptions and caveats. It can hardly be independent if it enters life with all those limitations imposed on it.
§ Mr. Kaufman
It is to be independent of the Government, but not of criteria that would enable the second Chamber to be much more representative of the generality of the population than the current second Chamber or, it must be said—other than in party terms—this Chamber. That is why we suggested that those criteria be laid down. We also suggested that the commission should be appointed according to the Nolan rules to ensure its total independence of the Government. We insisted on that and regarded it as indispensable. When I say "the Government", I do not mean only this Labour Government, although I hope that it will be in office for a very long time, but a Conservative or any other Government.
The issue of composition preoccupies many people, but we wanted also to decide what a second Chamber was to be for. One of the reasons why we came down against an elected Chamber was not only because two elected Chambers would be a recipe for continual conflict but because, if the election for the other place were held at the same time as one for this place, even under a proportional system, the Government who won here would get the predominant number of Members there, and we would not have a balance; and if it were a mid-term election, with a Government who had become unpopular, the second Chamber would always be skewed against the Government of the day. One could never get it right.
That is why we proposed, as one of two possibilities on composition, to have Members appointed in relation to general election votes as regional representatives on general election day, when the maximum number of people vote. The right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire spoke about the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone). One of the facts about the latter is that, far from being an independent, he rose all the way through manipulating the Labour party, first from inside, then from outside.
The same goes for the only independent in the Scottish Parliament, who was elected not because he was independent, but because he was Labour, and the people liked him as Labour, but Labour would not choose him. We should be clear about who would get there: they would all come up through the party system and every one of them would be the same kind of puppet of political parties as my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice), myself and all the rest of us.
We proposed greater powers. Because of the way in which the House is organised, there is simply not time for us to scrutinise European legislation and ministerial responsibility in the European arena. That is why we proposed that the second Chamber should have the right to summon Ministers before they go off to a Council of 67 Ministers, so that they go knowing what a House of Parliament expects of them, and again when they come back, to check on what they have done. We believe that that would make the Government more accountable to Parliament.
We believe that there should be a special human rights committee to monitor the Human Rights Act 1998, which this House, with all the good will in the world, is simply incapable of monitoring.
We looked carefully at the Parliament Acts and decided that one of their major flaws is that, with secondary legislation, all that the other Chamber can do is chuck it out, which it very rarely does, or rubber-stamp it. We recommended a system whereby the Parliament Act delay on legislation would be extended to secondary legislation. That would make the Government more answerable to Parliament.
We proposed that the powers over primary legislation be entirely retained, including not giving the Government what I believe they want: the right to use the Parliament Act procedure with legislation that starts along the Corridor, as well as with legislation that starts here. We deliberately said no. The Parliament Acts were passed to allow the will not of the Government, but of the House of Commons to prevail. We therefore said that the will of the House of Commons only, not the will of the Government through the House of Lords, should be enforceable.
We did not idly reject the idea of a wholly elected second Chamber. Indeed, at least two of the people involved, Lord Hurd and Dawn Oliver, to whom I pay tribute for her marvellous contribution—she came from the Liberal Democrats—came into the royal commission wanting a wholly elected second Chamber, but—
§ Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross)
It is customary in a debate of this kind, in which we are considering the report of a distinguished body of people, to pay tribute to their work. I find that singularly difficult on this occasion, as I regret that the commission, in its analysis and recommendations, was weak and unhelpful in carrying forward the debate.
As could be expected, the report produced a few ideas of substance and merit, and I hope that the House of Lords, as it is at present constituted, will think fit to give effect to some of the proposals, which could be done without legislation. I refer, for example, to the proposal that a committee be established to scrutinise treaties, which are important and should be considered before ratification. That was proposed by my noble Friend Lord Lester of Herne Hill and some other distinguished peers.
It was also proposed that pre-legislative scrutiny of Bills should become the norm in the other place. That also seems to me to have a good deal of merit. It was proposed 68 that a human rights committee be established—not an original idea, and one to which the Government were committed even before the commission reported. The commission also suggested early publication of important statutory instruments, so that they could be scrutinised by people outside the House. That matter is predominantly for the Government, and I hope that they will act on it.
It was further proposed—this was a departure—to permit Ministers from the House of Commons to make statements in the House of Lords and answer questions there. That proposal has great merit and I hope that it will be acted on. It lies nicely with another proposal from my party, which the royal commission did not take up, that no Ministers should be drawn from the upper House and that it should be a purely legislative Chamber, with its own ethos and power to hold the executive arm of Government to account.
The royal commission recommended—here again, I think that it was right—that the link between the peerage and the second Chamber should finally be snapped. I hope that the Government will act on that, too. Having mentioned those few good proposals, I have reached the end of my praise for the commission's work.
It is right to look back on the context in which the commission was set up. It was not envisaged in the Government's manifesto—indeed, something different was proposed. Following the agreement on the future of constitutional reform entered into by the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) and myself on behalf of our respective parties prior to the election, it was suggested that we should act in two stages. I differ from the Conservatives, because I think that it was right to tackle the problem of the hereditaries separately and discretely, and to prevent them from participating in the debate about the ultimate shape of the Chamber that would follow.
It was agreed before the election, and contained in the parties' manifestos, that a Joint Committee of the two Houses should be set up to consider the shape and functions of the new, reformed House. The Government recognised when they published their White Paper that such a Committee could play an important role in seeking to bring to bear on the issue both Houses' experience of their workings. As far as I can make out, the Government have not resiled from that commitment, although they may have it in mind to confine the Committee's role somewhat. Indeed, the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young) seemed to suspect that too, when he spoke of the desirability of using such a Joint Committee to find consensus on the powers and composition of the future House. I hope that the Government will not stand back from the use of a Joint Committee of that kind to seek to achieve consensus.
Constitutional reform should, as far as is possible, carry the Members of this House across the parties. It should also carry the country, because it is desirable to have stable change that will last.
§ Mr. Tyrie
A moment ago, the right hon. Gentleman mentioned the deal that was struck between the Liberal Democrats and the Labour party before the election. Now that he can see all the long grass growing up between him 69 and the creation of a Joint Committee, does he have any regrets about the Liberal Democrats' decision to go along with Labour's plans on Lords reform?
§ Mr. Maclennan
No, none. So far, so good. The House of Lords has been improved by the measures that have already been enacted. That highly significant development would not have taken place in the lifetime of a single Parliament if the whole question of the ultimate future and disposition of the House of Lords had been embarked upon without prior agreement on the small print. It has been helpful to have had that collaboration up to this point, and I see no reason why it should not be constructively continued. Indeed, I would hope that it could be constructively continued across all the parties, because consensus will make for success.
From interventions that we have had in the debate, it is clear that there is little prospect of consensus on the Wakeham recommendations. Lord Wakeham seems to have been too constrained in interpreting his remit. He has been over-burdened by what appeared to be the generally accepted belief that the reformed House should not seek to displace the pre-eminence of this Chamber after the fact. When I gave evidence to the commission and was questioned on the point by Lord Butler, the former Cabinet Secretary—who is perhaps not the last word on the workings of democracy, although he knows a lot about the constitution—I said that this Chamber's pre-eminence was guaranteed by virtue of the fact that it provides the Government. The Prime Minister comes from this Chamber and it has control of supply, which no one has suggested should change.
This Chamber's pre-eminence is not threatened by the creation of a second effective Chamber of Parliament that does what this Chamber has not done, cannot do or would prefer to be done elsewhere. The reality is that this Chamber would regard many matters thus. I have mentioned already, for example, the treaty power. If the House of Lords were to have that power, it might be argued that that was tampering with the supremacy of this Chamber and its right to consider treaty making. However, I do not criticise Lord Wakeham for being inconsistent in that, any more than I criticise him directly for the multiple inconsistencies with which his report is littered, the most serious of which relates to the issue of election.
§ Mr. Kaufman
I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman agrees with the commission's recommendation—I did not have time in my speech to say that I also agreed with it—of a special procedure under which the second Chamber could examine treaties in a way that this House does not have time to do. However, that has nothing to do with the question of the supremacy of this Chamber. If my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) were here, he would mount his hobby horse about the royal prerogative, because that is what treaties come under.
§ Mr. Maclennan
I am glad to have support from the right hon. Gentleman whenever he feels able to give it. Indeed, he makes my point that the commission did not focus on many areas in which it would be possible to strengthen the powers of a second Chamber and give it a useful function in our constitution that in no way diminished the effectiveness or operations of this House. 70 Another example, which my party recommended for consideration, was the system of public appointments, which is also another example of the Government's power to act by way of the royal prerogative. We suggested that, for some significant public appointments with considerable political importance—perhaps, the chairman of the BBC or the heads of executive agencies, such as the Prison Service—it would be desirable that they be scrutinised ex ante, before Ministers impose them on the system. It might be argued that that would remove long-standing powers from this House to scrutinise Ministers with those responsibilities.
§ Mrs. Dunwoody
If we are to extend such a service, surely it should be Select Committees, as recommended by the Liaison Committee, that have the right to examine such appointments. They have the expertise and the breadth of vision, as well as being politically balanced.
§ Mr. Maclennan
That is an arguable point, and I do not necessarily quarrel with it. It might make some sense to have a division of labour in such matters. In some areas, it would make more sense for this House to consider public appointments and, in others, this House might be happy to allow consideration to be conducted in the other place. However, this House should not deceive itself that it is capable of doing the full work of oversight of the actions of Government, or that it has shown any ability to discharge adequately the oversight of subordinate legislation, for example. Here again, the need to strengthen the powers of the upper House is palpable, evident and demonstrable, and I regret that Wakeham did so little to take on board that opportunity. The commission suggested that the existing power to reject statutory instruments altogether should be replaced by a diminished power to hold up their consideration or enactment. However, I did not find that to be profound or advanced thinking about how to improve the operation of our legislative process.
There are many internal contradictions in this incoherent report. It is not logically compelling, nor does it show a perception of how things are done in other countries; indeed, it is highly insular in its approach. The main weakness is in its inability to come to terms with the issue of democracy. I find it impossible to divine what the commission thought it was doing in that respect.
In the report, the commission attempted to put forward the case that the recommendations in total would, in some way, make the House of Lords more democratic because the membership as a whole, excluding Cross Benchers, would reflect the balance of political opinion within the country as expressed at the most recent general election and because the regional Members would be proportionately representative of public opinion within their respective regions. The one missing word is election.
We are talking about an appointed agency, although I am not clear who is doing the appointing. There has been a degree of coy embarrassment over that issue. So far, an executive search firm of a distinguished firm of accountants has been asked to come up with some names of people who might themselves be thought suitable to make appointments. This is putting democracy at two removes from the people, upon whom it rests. Perhaps the "Oxford English Dictionary" has the best definition of democracy—government based upon the people, either exercised directly or by agents elected by the people. It is sad that that 71 is so signally missing from the document. Sadly, that corrupts the whole, and "corrupt" is not too strong a word. It vitiates the strength of the argument that a reformed House of Lords could be more effective and capable of holding the executive arm of Government to account.
It vitiates it because people appointed in that way have no more authority than the man in the street to call in question what is being done by the Government. The man in the street has as much right—although he may not have the soapbox from which to project his views—as anyone appointed for the purpose. The absence of a commitment to democracy in the document is self-serving and oligarchic in its thrust, rather than democratic as it ought to be.
The commission is not even coherent about its views on election. It recommends that there should be an elected element, although there is a signal lack of clarity as to how many or what proportion there should be. It proposes an elected element is because it has recognised—indeed, it cited the experience of taking evidence in Newcastle—that people in the regions and nations would not find their interests acceptably represented by people who had been chosen to do so from the outside.
There was an entirely accurate perception that it had to be people elected from the regions who were to constitute the voice of the regions if that were an important objective. So far as the UK as a whole is concerned, the same argument should appertain. If the voice or the interests of the country is to be expressed, it had best be done by people elected for the purpose.
I fear that the Leader of the House was somewhat distracted by the issue of the dual mandate during her opening remarks. It is patronising and, frankly, wrong to assume that if people are elected for a purpose that is established by constitutional statute and is different from the functions of this House, they are incapable of discharging that role without seeking to arrogate to themselves an entirely different role. Those making that case cannot have studied what happens in other countries or they would recognise the frailty of that point of view.
The Bundestag has two Chambers and the powers of the Bundesrat are totally different from those of the first Chamber—and, it may be thought, not so significant. However, throughout its entire history, the Bundesrat has not tried to claw to itself powers that have been given to the other Chamber. In the United States, there is not a continuing struggle for power or to redraw the lines of duties between the Senate and Congress. If there is a constitutional instrument establishing and defining the new and different roles of the second Chamber, I see no reason why those elected to it will not accept that that is their function and carry it out accordingly.
The argument was been put to me by Lord Butler that we might not get the right people elected into the upper House; we might get the kind of people who would be happy only if they became Ministers in the Government. Therefore, they would be frustrated by their role. That shows the mentality of the ivory tower so to describe the political interests of people of this country.
Many people do not aspire to be members of the Government but are interested in public service. Many people go into local government because they would prefer to represent the interests of their community—and do something about it—at that level. Some people come 72 into this House with no desire to be Ministers, although they are perhaps somewhat fewer than once was the case. However, it is certainly true that not everyone elected to the House of Commons aspires to be the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary or even the Leader of the House.
There is a role for people of a different type from those currently elected to this House in the sort of second Chamber that is envisaged, with revising functions that are amplified by other, new tasks that are appropriate. I do not know about the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone), but I strongly suspect that he feels fulfilled at his election to lead the new authority in London; it may even have been his long-term goal. I think that many people would regard election to the sort of deliberative second Chamber that I have advocated to be a highly desirable way of giving public service.
The report is deeply disappointing, especially as its lack of principle and imagination has stalled the process and made progress much harder. However, I hope that the Government will recognise that the job of reforming the upper House remains half done and needs to be taken forward. It is unrealistic to imagine that, even if this Parliament runs its full course—which some suggest is unlikely—we could have the relevant legislation on the statute book before its end.
It has been suggested that that legislation was promised in a debate. I do not know whether it was and, frankly, I never thought that any legislative proposals would surface in this Parliament, although I hoped that they would do so early in the next Parliament. I am not at all clear that it would be right for such legislation to appear in this Parliament: the reform of one of our two Houses is a matter of fundamental importance that ought to be put to the British people in a referendum or general election, with specific proposals for consideration and approval. That opportunity still exists.
If there is to be consensus, we must go back to the drawing board. Regrettably, we have not received much help from Lord Wakeham. A Joint Committee of the two Houses might do better. The proper time to establish such a Committee may not be now, as was suggested by the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young). I can see some attractions in that option, but I can see also that the next Parliament will be more inclined to act on recommendations drawn from a Committee established by hon. Members in that Parliament. There is therefore a valid case for delay at this time. I should be delighted to discuss these matters with other hon. Members, in any forum that they care to choose.
I shall conclude, as this is a short debate.
§ Mr. Maclennan
Regrettably, my party has few opportunities to intervene in this debate, and I think it reasonable to take a little time. I hope that the debate will have shown the Government that they were right to keep an open mind and to remain ready to listen to arguments from Labour Members, as well as from hon. Members in other parties.
§ Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)
I am glad to have the opportunity to speak in the Commons' first debate on the Wakeham commission report. I do not accept the view expressed by the right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Mr. Maclennan) on a referendum. I am not in favour of extending the use of referendums, and I do not want one to be held on this issue.
I fully support the way in which the Government are handling reform of the House of Lords. I spoke in the debate when the first stage of reform was proposed. If stage 1 had not been put in hand, we would not now be going forward to stage 2.
I delivered leaflets when the Attlee Government were in power and stood in my first local council election 40 years ago. The Labour party has said many times that it would do something about reforming the Lords, but managed nothing in that regard in the century just ended. I began to fear that nothing would ever be done. It is outrageous that, for the whole of the 20th century, our second Chamber consisted mainly of people whose sole right to be Members stemmed from what their forefathers had done. Sometimes those events in history were nothing to be proud of.
Moreover, the House of Lords was withering and in serious decline when life peerages were introduced. That change gave it a new lease of life, but it is time to go forward and move in a positive direction.
Recommendation 1 in the report states:The new second chamber should have the capacity to offer counsel from a range of sources.That is very appropriate. Such sources would not face the same constituency pressures and problems that all hon. Members face, nor would they receive the same heavy postbags. They would offer wide expertise from different backgrounds and would be representative of society as a whole. That recommendation is an objective that we should pursue. I believe that the right way to proceed is to replace the vestige of hereditary privilege that still exists, and to remove the final traces of the 100-odd protected seats.
The report says that the Salisbury convention means that the elected mandate and this House will always have the right to determine policy and to implement manifesto pledges. I agree in this respect with the right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, who said that the new House—whether it is elected, appointed or part-elected and part-appointed—would accept and perform the role that the House of Commons gave it. At one time, I feared that that would not be the case, but my study of the Wakeham report and other items has convinced me otherwise. I believe that the right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross is right and that Members of the second Chamber will accept that this House has the clear electoral mandate. The second Chamber will have the right to delay and improve legislation, but not to block it and thus thwart the will of this House. That is absolutely crucial.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) said that the second Chamber would have powers to scrutinise secondary legislation. That is an improvement on the present situation, and is a positive and sensible move.
§ Mr. Fisher
Why does my hon. Friend say that the second Chamber should have an automatic power to 74 delay? Many hon. Members have said that its role is to improve scrutiny and to hold the Government to account, but delay is not part of that role.
§ Mr. Pike
I can understand my hon. Friend's concern about that, but sometimes a limited amount of delay allows time for second thoughts and is not a bad thing. However, the second Chamber must use any power of delay very warily.
I am a member of the Select Committee on the Modernisation of the House of Commons. The Committee's first report said that its top priority was to improve scrutiny of legislation. So far, we have failed to achieve that objective. There is a long way to go, as hon. Members still make long and meaningless speeches in Committee that do not really contribute to the scrutiny of legislation. I admit that I have done the same in the past, but we must improve our procedures in that regard.
My hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) referred to the Liaison Committee report. I believe that that also offers positive ways forward that must be debated and considered to improve the way in which this House functions.
§ Mr. Nicholls
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, with the best will in the world, Governments—no matter of which party—do not like being scrutinised? Therefore, there must be powers of delay—not of blocking in terms of total rejection—to ensure that the Government pay heed to the scrutiny that has taken place.
§ Mr. Pike
I think that the hon. Gentleman is basically saying the same as I am. I believe that we must try to make Governments, of whatever party, accept scrutiny. I know that the hon. Gentleman had different views when his party was in office. However, we are all parliamentarians, and I strongly believe in the rights of Back Benchers. One of the issues that I keep pressing with regard to modernisation is that we should be able to table written questions to the Executive for 52 weeks a year, and that they should be open to scrutiny, even when the House is in recess.
There are many measures that have to be carried out to improve the way our democracy works. We must ensure that Back Benchers, whatever party they are from, scrutinise the Executive far more than they have done over the years. We have allowed our powers to decline, and we should not allow that to continue. The Liaison Committee report is all about turning back the tide.
We must scrutinise our own procedures. When the reform of the House of Lords goes through, the Government must, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Gorton said, look at Lords' procedures to change and improve them. The opportunity should be used to make the House of Lords and its powers more effective once the reforms take place.
Recommendation 46 indicated that the complementary system of scrutiny of European Union business should continue in the upper House. I believe that that is right. As chairman of the Select Committee on Deregulation in this House, I believe that the House of Lords should continue its joint function of scrutinising deregulation. Not much is going on at the moment, but there will be a new Bill, and I hope that more deregulation measures will be forthcoming.
75 Chapter 9 of the report recommends that the judicial role of the House of Lords should continue. I have no great objections to that, but believe that the issue should be debated further. It is not the main issue before us today—the political issues are the most important. However, the House of Lords performs an important legal role, and I believe that the way ahead needs careful thought.
We must also consider the position of the Churches. I am a member of the Church of England, and at present, 24 bishops and two archbishops automatically enter the upper House. If that House is to have a place for Church representatives, why should not Catholics, Methodists, Muslims and Jews be granted places automatically as well?
§ Mr. Gordon Prentice
Canon law would prevent Catholic priests from sitting in the second Chamber. That is one of the great contradictions, I suppose, in the Wakeham report.
§ Sir Patrick Cormack
The hon. Gentleman must accept that the late Cardinal Hume turned down the offer of a peerage for the very reason that the hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) gave. The presence of the bishops stems from the fact that we have an established Church. Is the hon. Gentleman arguing for disestablishment?
§ Mr. Pike
I am not arguing for disestablishment of the Church, and I am certainly not about to get into an argument with the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) who, of course, voted against the ordination of women. However, we have no women bishops, so it is a single-sex issue. He will remember that on an ecclesiastical committee I argued that if women were to be appointed as priests, they should also be bishops. That is the logical outcome. We need to look very carefully at whether other religions should be represented in the House of Lords, and not just the Church of England. It is a big issue, but it needs debating.
With regard to the regions, the report gives us three methods by which people can enter the second Chamber. As everyone knows, my view is that we have seen enough of proportional representation abroad, we have seen it in Scotland, Wales and London, and we do not want any more of it. So let us not have any PR—I am totally against that.
Instead of having appointed positions, I think that we should consider having representatives of specific areas of expertise elected directly to the second Chamber. What about electing a fixed number of representatives to the second Chamber from the trade unions, the Confederation of British Industry and the Forum for Small Business? If we genuinely want people of expertise in that House, 76 rather than appointing them, should we not allow certain organisations, with a specialist electorate, to be put forward?
§ Mr. Prentice
My hon. Friend reminds me of the situation in Hong Kong, with the functional constituencies, where people represent circus performers. Is he seriously recommending that?
§ Mr. Pike
My hon. Friend, who represents a neighbouring constituency, takes this issue a bit too far. He is opposed to appointments being made. I am simply saying that if we want a truly representative Chamber, we should consider other methods of election.
We have the opportunity to ensure that the second Chamber is representative of the country in the 21st century and that it can play a vital role in our parliamentary democracy. We need to debate these issues. I believe that the Joint Committee should be established to consider the various options. I disagreed with the idea of a referendum, proposed by the right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, but I believe that our manifesto for the next election should contain our proposals for what to do in this respect. In that way, people will know what the future of the second Chamber will be. Then they will be able to choose, and modernisation will mean that this House and the second Chamber will both be able to scrutinise legislation. That will ensure that we do not fall into some of the legislative traps that we have fallen into in recent years.
§ Mr. Kenneth Clarke (Rushcliffe)
I am sure that right hon. and hon. Members will have noticed that in recent months there has been a rising level of disillusion with this Government and their principles and purpose. More importantly, there has also been a rising level of disillusion and cynicism about politics among quite a wide section of the population. That is serious, because it damages our democracy. I think that one of the things from which it stems is a lack of the faith that there used to be in the institutions of our constitution, including this Parliament, which no longer plays the effective role that it used to play in holding the Executive to account.
We see this attitude exemplified most often in the low and ever-decreasing turnout in elections. It is no good thinking that the use of electronics or longer voting times will address the problem of the positive refusal of growing numbers of the public to take part in many of our political activities.
I believe that few things are more calculated to make the public cynical and disillusioned about politics than the way the second Chamber of Parliament has been treated so far in the so-called reforms that have been carried out. The House of Lords—the other place—has been reduced to a quite ridiculous situation. It is hard to explain it to people from overseas with an interest in politics while keeping a straight face.
The present composition of the House of Lords, after the earlier action of the Government, has produced an extraordinary institution of 92 hereditary peers elected by hereditary electors on a most peculiar basis to provide a large constituent element of the upper House. The rest is dominated by a huge number of recent appointments made primarily by the Prime Minister but also by the leaders of 77 other political parties. It must be said that some of these people are of great distinction and merit, but the reputation of all the nominees is of a somewhat uneven quality. As a result, we have a second Chamber that is an extraordinary creation for the beginning of the 21st century.
It is my belief, as it was a year ago—it has been confirmed by the delay that is taking place while we have another debate after the Wakeham report—that the Government began by intending to do nothing further than what they have already done, in getting rid of hereditary peers. We have reached the stage where the Government are not sure whether they like what has happened, so they do not know what to do next.
The Leader of the House told us that she had not come to the Chamber to announce the Government's settled conclusions on this problem. I do not believe that the Government are anywhere near any conclusions. I think that large parts of the Government do not want to do anything further. Fortunately, they have fallen into a trap which I think will make that position difficult to sustain. Our reformed second Chamber regards itself as more legitimate and powerful than it used to be. It is no longer possible for Ministers to do what I did and start making scornful remarks about the non-elected second Chamber when it disagrees with a ministerial decision.
The Government created a second Chamber that is now happily enjoying quite regularly defeating them. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young) that so far it has chosen some pretty good issues on which to defeat them. We have a situation where it can be argued that because of the large majority in this place, the more powerful and effective Chamber is the second Chamber—but it has an extraordinary composition. For that reason, Lord Wakeham and his colleagues have sought to advise us on powers and composition.
I do not want to disparage the work of my noble Friend, who is an old personal friend, as are quite a few members of the commission. I acknowledge that the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) and other members of the commission have put in a great deal of hard work to try to guide the public on the subject. I particularly do not agree, however, with their conclusions on the constitution of the second Chamber. I find myself largely in agreement with the right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Mr. Maclennan). There will be others on both sides of the House of all political parties who do not agree with the Wakeham commission's conclusion.
It seems inescapable that the powerful Wakeham commission set out, on the steer of the Government, to try to head everybody off from the plain and obvious solution to what should be the composition of an upper House in a parliamentary democracy such as the United Kingdom. It is obvious that a directly elected upper House is the only one that will have full political legitimacy and the necessary clout properly to hold the modern Executive to account.
Before I engage in the arguments that the Wakeham commission ingeniously advanced to head off the plain and obvious solution, I must say that I happen to think that it will not head off the British electorate eventually. I am fairly confident that the average British citizen will accept nothing less than elected representatives in the upper House of our Parliament holding the Executive to account.
78 I am usually fairly scornful—sometimes quite disparaging—of the slavish use that is now made of focus groups or opinion polls, but on this occasion I happily suspect that my views are entirely in line with those of a large majority of the public, if it was put to them as an option that we should have an elected upper House.
We must turn to the subtle and diplomatic reasons that the Wakeham commission tries to advance to head us off from a plain and obvious conclusion. The first reason is plainly described as the "central objection" to direct election. It is claimed, at paragraph 11.6, that it willrepresent a challenge to the pre-eminence of the House of Commons.I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire that this is not a zero sum game. If we increase the powers of the upper House—I would not increase them beyond where they are, but I would certainly not diminish them—and strengthen its composition by giving it more legitimacy, by making it elected, that does not necessarily diminish the authority of this place. The 21st century form of Executive is huge and all-embracing compared with older forms of government in this country. Two Houses of Parliament can therefore complement each other in holding it to account. Of course, it is necessary to work out which House is pre-eminent. I shall not repeat arguments that have already been made, but we have already established that position. I am content that we should have legislation to reinforce it. We have the Parliament Acts, and it is important that the second Chamber should have no power over money Bills. It is clear that the Salisbury convention should be reinforced by whatever legislation determines the second Chamber in future.
The only argument against that, as advanced by the Wakeham commission when it confronts the argument that legislation can surely establish the pre-eminence of the lower Chamber in dealing with taxation, public expenditure and Second Readings, is the one set out in paragraph 11.7. It states thatmembers of such a chamberthat is, the upper Housewould not regard the limits as justified.So the only reason Wakeham claims that we cannot make sure it is clear which House is pre-eminent—this place has control of tax and public spending, in particular—is that the other House would complain. Perhaps some there would, but as has been said, I know of no international example of a second Chamber rising against a first Chamber and trying to wrest powers from the lower House which the law of the land plainly does not allow. I think that is fanciful.
There are countless examples throughout the world—most notably in the United States but also in many other modern democracies—where there are two elected Chambers, once there is a bicameral system. That does not give rise to deadlock. If the arguments of the Wakeham commission were put to a politician or legislator in the United States, they would be regarded as ridiculous.
§ Mr. Clarke
I shall give way to the hon. Lady in a moment.
79 I cannot imagine the reception that a member of the Wakeham commission would get if he went to Washington to try to explain how important it was to have an appointed Senate instead of the elected Senate to strengthen the democracy of the United States and make it altogether more suitable than the present system. We should not duck the idea of having two Chambers.
I shall give way to the hon. Lady, but I hope that I shall get injury time.
§ Mrs. Dunwoody
How does the right hon. and learned Gentleman explain the situation that has existed during last half of the Clinton Administration, where specific political moves took place to stymie the "other" Chamber and the President of the United States?
§ Mr. Clarke
They certainly did. The American political system differs in many ways from ours. The Executive cannot automatically assume that they will have their way. Recent events in Germany have also shown what happens when the Government do not have a majority in one Chamber. These democracies are based on checks and balances. Our democracy is dangerously near being based on the tyranny of the majority, for the time being. We avoid that in this place, but it is constantly a danger. It is not beyond the wit of British politicians to strengthen checks and balances in our constitution by having an upper House with clearly delineated powers, which can achieve a satisfactory modus vivendi with the supreme Chamber, which will be this place.
§ Mr. Clarke
I am sorry, I cannot.
The second argument advanced by the Wakeham commission is that there would be domination by professional politicians if they were all elected. The commission is fearful that we would have the sort of people who want to go through the process of being elected, and they would have political parties choosing them. The commission obviously has in mind a broader and higher realm of people in the other place. The pure election of the sort that we go through here is apparentlyunlikely to produce members with the ability to speak for the voluntary sector, the professions, cultural and sporting interests.Certainly, direct elections are unlikely to produce quite as many people from theatre and media land as new Labour has produced in the upper House. It may be that there are not enough footballers in either Chamber; I do not know whether they are required.
I regard this, and the language elsewhere in the commission's report, as extraordinarily funny. They are the statements of an establishment trying to explain that the wrong sort of politician may emerge if we go through a process of election. The commission is not daunted by the fact that many of its members went through that process themselves before they got there, but they have apparently risen above that.
If the commission really is fearful that only party hacks would get into the upper House—I do not think that only party hacks get into this House—it could consider a 15-year term or a limitation on the term of office, which 80 would produce a different sort of party politician who would go straight to the second Chamber for a different sort of public service.
The commission also complains about voter fatigue. There is a lot of that about, but my answer would be unitary local government to cut out some of our current elections, and no more referendums. However, I shall not dwell on that, as I do not have time.
The Wakeham commission's conclusions strike me as an establishment solution aimed at producing PLUs-people like us—drawn from the great and the good who can bring an altogether weightier judgment to bear than the representatives of the people might otherwise be able to command. That would have been rejected at most times in our past: indeed, fortunately it was.
Because political patronage has been so discredited in recent years, the Wakeham commission recommends an appointments system with appropriate terms of reference, so that the majority can be appointed by a commission. That independent commission is the most extraordinary selectorate I have ever heard proposed. How we guarantee balance, exactly who appoints it, and how they are accountable to the general public has never been explained to me. These people will appoint more parliamentarians than the electors of Old Sarum were ever allowed to elect. They will appoint dozens and dozens, no doubt with the help of executive appointment people, an advertising agency and a civil service secretariat. The political parties will not be allowed to choose their nominees for the upper House because we might get the wrong sort of politician. Nominations can come from the political parties, but the independent commission will choose which of them go forward.
All these proposals are supposed to drive us away from direct elections, but then the commission moves away from its own conclusions. Its final recommendation is that we had better have some elected people and some appointed by the Executive's selectors. That will be the second Chamber. In the end, it is yet another compromise to try to buy off the democrats in the lower House and those among the public.
The present arrangements for the upper House and the Wakeham proposals for their reform would be regarded as objects of ridicule if they were suggested by the politicians of any other country in the democratic world. This is too important an issue for such a proposal to be allowed to go forward.
§ Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle)
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will be pleased with me, because he tells Labour Members that we should try to forsake tribal politics. I agree with virtually everything the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) and the right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Mr. Maclennan) said.
To be blunt, I think that the Wakeham proposals are half-baked; they are risible. It saddens me that the Labour Government are likely to embrace them. If we are to have a second Chamber, it should be a small, directly elected Chamber.
In the next election, the Labour Government will be outflanked by the Liberal Democrats—who presumably will propose some form of elected second Chamber—and, 81 astonishingly, also by the Conservatives, because the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe and others speak for the majority of Conservative Back Benchers. If I were to advise the Leader of the Opposition—an unlikely prospect I know—I would tell him to go for the fully elected option, because it makes political sense.
In the nation's consciousness there is an understanding that new Labour is associated with fixes. There was a fix in Scotland, as we all know—[Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Mr. Hope) disagrees. If he wants to intervene, I shall happily give way. There was a fix in Wales. There was manifestly a fix in London. Are we seriously suggesting that we should go into the next election with our political opponents being able to point the finger at us and say, "This is another new Labour fix"?
I mentioned the Prime Minister. I agreed with him in 1996. I was present when he said at the John Smith memorial lecture:We have always favoured an elected second chamber.Times move on, and we apparently no longer believe in an elected second Chamber. I suppose that I am a living, breathing embodiment of what happens when there is election rather than appointment. I am proud of the fact that I am a member of the national policy forum, which meets next month to discuss our policy on the second Chamber. I was elected to the national policy forum by my colleagues in the parliamentary Labour party. There would not have been a possibility in a thousand light years of my getting on to the national policy forum had membership been determined by appointment. It just would not have happened. Election throws up all sorts of interesting people who would never be allowed to emerge from the undergrowth if it were a matter of appointment.
§ Angela Smith
When my hon. Friend was elected to the national policy forum by his colleagues, did he state in his manifesto that he supported an elected second Chamber?
§ Mr. Prentice
I support an elected second Chamber. I say it publicly now. I disagree with my party's position if it proposes to adopt the Wakeham recommendation, which I think is indefensible. If people are appointed to the other place it will be corrupting—the right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross used the word "corruption."
Individuals in this place bite their tongues because they look forward to preferment and elevation to the upper House. In "On the Record" yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) said that towards the end of a Parliament, when the general election is called, there is a spate of resignations. Members say that they will not resign and will continue to the next Parliament, but something happens and they resign. The local party is disenfranchised and the national executive committee steps in and appoints someone. Often, the trade-off is that people resign and when the election is called, they are sent to the upper House. We know about such corrosive, corrupting patronage.
Who will be responsible for appointments to the other place? It will be the House of Lords appointments commission. That is another joke. I have a copy of a letter from the Cabinet Office to Ms Judith Richardson at PricewaterhouseCoopers about contracts for assistance in 82 identifying a range of candidates for House of Lords appointments. I do not know how many people applied, but they had to go through a rigorous selection process. The document says:Applicants invited for an interview with the selection panel will be expected to give a five minute presentation on the skills and attributes they would bring to the Appointments Commission.That is pretty testing, is it not?
The appointments commission is in place, and the letter refers to its draft remit for identifyingpersons to be recommended to Her Majesty for life peerages.They are people who willenhance and sustain its standing as an effective part of our constitutional arrangements.People like Tommy Sheridan—a Scottish Socialist party Member of the Scottish Parliament—would not get a look in. In no way could he be said to be "people like us"—the expression used by the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe.
The appointments commission has to consider the impact that any new appointments would havebearing in mind … the desirability of ensuring that the House includes Members with a wide range of experience, expertise and outlook.We have heard about the gender, age and ethnic background requirements and the need for identification with different parts of the United Kingdom. In an intervention, I asked about wealth requirements. Fifty per cent. of the population own 94 per cent. of the nation's wealth; thus the remaining 50 per cent. own only 6 per cent. Perhaps there is a requirement that poor people should be represented in the upper House.
What about social class? As we have all those other requirements, would it be so unusual for an upper Chamber adequately and properly to reflect the social class profile of Britain? What about all those people who are Oxbridge educated? Will there be some measure for that? Will there be x per cent. of Members from provincial universities, y per cent. from Oxbridge and z per cent. from among those who have not attended university at all? The whole thing is ludicrous. The more we go into the matter, the more we realise that it is completely unsustainable, logically flawed and politically mad; we should be outflanked. My hon. Friend the Member for Corby is muttering. I am happy to give way to him.
§ Mr. Phil Hope (Corby)
We are concerned that we have not understood the force of my hon. Friend's argument. We want to be persuaded as to what he is really thinking.
§ Mr. Prentice
My hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) mentioned the role of the Church in this new constitutional settlement. That is another matter I find difficult to accept. I believe in secular politics and that we should be governed by a secular Parliament. I live with the fact that we have the established Church along the Corridor because of our history, but it would be ridiculous to move to a position in which the Buddhist, the Baptist, the Jain, the Jew, the Muslim and the Sikh have a place in our legislature while Catholics did not because—as I pointed out to my hon. Friend—canon law would not allow it.
§ Mr. Prentice
That is probably true.
83 On the election of regional Members, are we seriously to suggest to the British people that we want a system that will put Members in the other place for 15 years, with the possibility—the probability—that the appointments commission will appoint them for a further 15 years? That would mean 30-year membership of the upper House. That is ludicrous.
We shall be left with a bloated, elephantine upper Chamber. The present life peers will not retire. They will be invited to consider their position, but they will not retire. Every year, there will be an accretion of Members of the House of Lords. It will grow exponentially: 550, 600, 650, 700. When will it stop? In short, it would not be a Parliament for the 21st century.
I shall argue as passionately as I can at the national policy forum next month that the Labour party should abandon its proposals to embrace Wakeham—they would be ridiculed in a general election campaign—and instead propose a democratic alternative.
§ Mr. John Maples (Stratford-on-Avon)
The debate has certainly livened up during the past half hour with the speeches of the hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) and of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke). They have stated as well as can be done the case for a wholly elected House of Lords.
I am about to make a deeply unfashionable speech in favour—roughly—of the status quo. I believe in the old American maxim: if it ain't broke, don't fix it. I think the system works, so there is a strong argument for leaving it alone. However, I agree with almost all hon. Members who have spoken that the issue is immensely important.
If we go for a wholly elected House of Lords, we shall be making a far more fundamental change to the British constitution than was effected by devolution in Scotland and in Wales. The consequences of that change will ripple for a long time and those in favour of it must acknowledge what those consequences would be.
We should move towards a more US-style of government, even perhaps with Ministers who are altogether outside Parliament negotiating with both Houses to pass legislation. In the case of the previous election, for example, the Labour party would have won; the Prime Minister would have had a substantial majority in this place; but even a wholly elected House of Lords—on that extraordinary 15-year rolling basis—would have been able to block substantial amounts of legislation.
The aspect of the Wakeham report on which I agree completely with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe and the hon. Member for Pendle is the idea that there can be a halfway house—there can be two classes of Member. The report reeks of trying to give a little to everybody; there will be a few women, a few ethnic minorities and a few people who are elected. That cannot be the solution. Either the Chamber must be wholly elected and we must learn to live with the consequences, or we should pretty much leave it alone.
I was in favour of removing the voting rights of hereditary peers—I do not understand how anyone can argue against that. The current compromise whereby 84 about 90 of them retain the right to vote is unsatisfactory. Let us give them all life peerages so that there are no more hereditary voting rights.
When we consider the future composition of the House of Lords, we should first examine what the powers and duties of that Chamber should be. At present, they are to revise legislation; to make the Government think again—inasmuch as the Lords can delay legislation for one Session—and to act as a constitutional long stop: for example, by preventing the Government of the day from lengthening a Parliament by postponing a general election. It is also valuable for a Prime Minister to be able to appoint Ministers who can sit in the upper House; if they do not have to be elected Members of the House of Commons, it gives the Prime Minister a much wider pool of talent from which to draw. The Labour Government have made good use of that—as did the Conservatives when we were in office.
I hope that the reformed House of Lords will be called a Senate, because it should be completely divorced from the peerage. If it is to perform the functions I described, it will need two qualities: independence and expertise. The Chamber should be independent of party politics—although it is bound to contain some party politicians. It needs expertise in a range of subjects which for various reasons we cannot provide in this House. The reformed House of Lords must not, however, compete with this place for supremacy. The democratic voice of the people is heard in this House. At every general election, we elect a Government, but every constituency elects a Member of Parliament whose job is to speak for the interests of that constituency. This House is where democracy is heard. A wholly elected House of Lords would result in significant competition. It would end up being full of party politicians.
How does one get elected? One has to have a party machine behind one—especially if we are talking about big, regional constituencies or a system of proportional representation. It is possible that one or two mavericks-independents—would be elected. However, as the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) pointed out, most such people would already have made their name as party politicians in one of the main parties.
To get elected to the reformed Chamber, one will have to be nominated. That will create competition. When people have been elected, they will want secretaries and research assistants. The higher the salary and the more secretaries employed, the more people will want to do the job of Member of that House. We know what the competition in parties is like to achieve nomination as a candidate for election to this House. That will happen in the other place.
There will be an increasing tendency—a self-reinforcing process—for party politicians to be elected; they will demand more facilities, more staff and more power. When those people—good party politicians with party political ambitions—have got themselves elected to the House of Lords, will they be satisfied with a revising role? Will they be satisfied with holding up legislation for a year? Let us suppose that a majority of 80 per cent. in a House of Lords elected by, for example, a system of proportional representation are against something that the Government want to do. Will that House not be able to set its democratic legitimacy against that of the Government? Of course it will. Its Members will be free to do that and they will do it.
85 The next instalment in the process of constitutional reform will be more power—not less. A Government could be elected with a substantial majority—as were the Labour Government at the previous general election—and the clear democratic will of the people that they should be the Government, but they would be unable to get their legislation through Parliament.
§ Mr. Tyrie
It is beholden on people who take the view that my hon. Friend has expressed to explain how the Parliament Acts would be swept aside. After all, the Parliament Acts were created as a result of the only gridlock conflict that we have ever had between the two Chambers. They were designed to end it, and they have succeeded in doing so.
§ Mr. Maples
As I said, a situation will arise in which the two Houses will be in conflict and there may be a substantial majority in an elected upper House which has equal, if not better, democratic legitimacy than this House. The Government might be at the tail end of their term of office and unpopular in the opinion polls, in which case public opinion could arguably be better represented in the Senate or upper House. That might happen and there might be a crunch, as there will be on other constitutional matters.
§ Mr. Maples
No. I hope the hon. Lady will forgive me, but we have limited time and I am sure that she will have the opportunity to make her own speech.
The next stage in the process is the one that concerns me. If the other House is limited to its present powers, the type of people who will want to be elected to it may not be the upmarket politicians whom my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe wants to see in it: it will become a glorified county council.
I completely agree with my right hon. and learned Friend and the hon. Member for Pendle on one point. We cannot have a halfway house. The other House either will be or will not be elected. I do not accept the idea that we can have two classes of Members and that some of them will have a bit of democratic legitimacy while the others do not. The other House should continue to be appointed.
I also agree with my right hon. and learned Friend and the hon. Gentleman about the appointments commission. It is an absolute farce—and completely ridiculous—that we should take away voting rights from the heirs to people who long ago acquired or fought for a title entitling them to vote in the House of Lords, only to give that power to a nominee of PricewaterhouseCoopers.
If we are to have a nominated House of Lords, I should prefer it if the nominations were made by the Prime Minister, who would have to do that in the open. The Prime Minister is answerable to the House and to the electorate, and there have been—and I hope there will be—conventions that govern the use of the power so that it is not abused. Opposition parties should be given a fair crack of the whip and an effort should not be made to pack the House of Lords with Members who support the governing party. The idea of an appointments commission is awful. I would prefer the Prime Minister to continue to have the power of appointment, but perhaps there should be an annual limit on the number of people whom he or she can appoint.
86 There could be an unwritten agreement between the two sides of the House that the holders of certain offices should automatically be entitled to membership of the House of Lords. For example, former Cabinet Ministers, former Archbishops of Canterbury and—dare I suggest it, Mr. Deputy Speaker—Deputy Speakers could automatically be considered for membership. Certainly, former Speakers have almost automatically gone to the House of Lords. Other people, such as the Chief of the Defence Staff, could automatically be given the right, but it could be made formal or ex officio. The Wakeham commission suggested that an enormous number of organisations would claim the right to appoint a nominee to the House of Lords, but it should be pretty easy to draw the line somewhere and say that some organisations should have their interests represented in the second Chamber.
However, if the power to nominate is given to a commission, none of us will know how it is being exercised. The commission would be answerable to a Select Committee only once every couple of years, but I would prefer the Prime Minister to be answerable to this House for the exercise of that prerogative power.
At present, many different interests are represented in the House of Lords. One could argue that the Church and the legal profession are over-represented, so I do not see why other interests in the country should not be represented—without our compiling the sort of ridiculous rainbow house that the hon. Member for Pendle mentioned. Perhaps the president of the CBI, the general secretary of the TUC and the president of the Royal College of Surgeons should be members of the House of Lords. They would certainly provide some of the expertise and independence that the institution will need.
I do not particularly mind whether the period of appointment is for 15 years or for a lifetime. It sounds much the same to people of my age, although I hope that one is longer than the other. If the other House is to be partly elected, I cannot imagine that anyone will want to be a member for more than 15 years.
I hold strong views, however, on what the other House should be called. It should be divorced from the peerage and it should be called the Senate. Its members should be called Senators, and their wives and husbands should not thereby acquire titles. Its Members should be happy to be Senators in the same way as we are happy to be Members of Parliament. I feel strongly about that point, but I do not particularly care whether the Senators serve for 15 years or more.
I return to my central point: either the other House is wholly elected or it is wholly appointed. I prefer the wholly appointed option and for Members to be nominated. There is a strong argument in favour of leaving the powers and functions of the House of Lords as they are set out in the Parliament Acts. There would then be no strong pressure to amend the Acts, but—if there were—we would be able to resist it. The other House would be able to perform its functions of asking or making the Government think again, delaying legislation that may be unpopular and bringing expertise to bear on the fine print of legislation, which is something that this House is rather bad at doing. It would also enable the Prime Minister of the day to appoint as Ministers people who have not been elected to the House of Commons.
87 I can see the attractions of a wholly elected Senate. As the hon. Member for Pendle suggested, I certainly see the short-term political attractions of that for the Conservative party, and that point has not gone without notice. It would be extraordinary if the Conservatives were to outflank the Labour party in making the other House more democratic, but the consequences of that would be very far reaching. We would end up with another 500 or 600 professional politicians, with their staff, research assistants, secretaries and salaries. That would create a process in which those politicians would demand more power and, sooner or later, another constitutional crunch would come in which they would obtain that extra power. If they did not obtain it, the people who would want to continue to be members of the other House would not be likely to be the quality of elected politician that we would like to see.
We have an increasingly presidential style of government. Although the process did not start with this Government, it has got worse under them. The electorate elect a Prime Minister who governs the country and the House of Commons is seen as an inconvenience to him. If we then create a second Chamber that is wholly elected, the Government of the day will have to begin negotiating with that Chamber to get their legislation and business through. Sooner or later, that will create pressures on this House and we shall end up with an American style of constitution. Although there is much to be said for such a constitution, the proponents of a wholly elected second Chamber should recognise that the Government would move away from and outside Parliament, and would negotiate with both Houses of Parliament to get their business through.
I prefer to operate on the basis of the principle, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." The second Chamber works reasonably well with the limited powers that it has. Stage 2 of the reforms should be to remove the voting rights of the remaining hereditary peers, and the power of appointment and patronage should remain with a democratically elected Prime Minister with conventions circumscribing that. However, that power should be out in the open so that we can see how it works.
§ Mr. Phil Hope (Corby)
Having closely followed and been involved in the previous debates on the reform of the House of Lords, in which we made such historic progress, I welcome the opportunity to take part in this debate. It is fascinating that, after those debates, we have not heard anyone—in this House or the House of Lords—speak in favour of a return to the hereditary peerage system.
The hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) said that we should leave the matter well alone and said, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." That argument was voiced a year ago when we debated abolishing the rights of hereditary peers, and my view is that the previous system was broke and did need fixing. The current system needs fixing too.
I join other hon. Members in welcoming the report prepared by the commission. It is a comprehensive 88 document that incorporates an enormous amount of evidence, providing a sound basis for this debate and other debates to come. The all-party nature of the commission, which led to the agreement with which it came forward, gives the recommendations added force. Although I wish to speak at length about some of the detail with which I do not agree, I want to make a couple of broad observations.
One of the points that has irritated me in the debate is the accusation by Conservative Members that the Government have mothballed the crucial second stage of reform. That is ironic and somewhat hypocritical, since those criticisms come from a party that did nothing for many years when it was in office. I am proud that a Labour Government are tackling a fundamental inequality and the elitism and privilege of the second Chamber as previously constituted and as constituted now.
At its heart, the royal commission report recognises the need to create a second Chamber of diversity and vitality and one that is broadly representative of society, bringing together a range of expertise and talents. That point assists the argument of the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon against a directly elected second Chamber.
There is broad agreement that the primary role of a second Chamber is to work with the House of Commons to improve the quality of legislation and to provide effective scrutiny of Government and European legislation. The key, however, is that the second Chamber is subordinate to this Chamber. The more challenging issue considered in the report is how a reformed Chamber can extend its role to give the United Kingdom's constituent nations and regions a formal voice in Parliament, thereby tackling a frequent Opposition criticism to the effect that we need to strengthen the UK's political cohesion.
In considering the role of a second Chamber and how we might extend it, we must be clear about the impact that that might have on the relationship between the two Houses. That is the core of the matter. I am sure that many speakers will agree that any second Chamber must be subordinate to the House of Commons. Indeed, the commission recommends that this House remain the principal political forum, with the final say on all proposed legislation and all major public policy issues. Certainly, when a party is chosen by the electorate to form a Government, the elements of its election manifesto must be respected by a second Chamber of whatever form.
More generally, the second Chamber should be cautious about challenging the clearly expressed views of the House of Commons on any public policy issue. It is wrong, for example, that, in the past, the House of Lords has abused its procedures—and no doubt will do so in future—to delay and obstruct the progress of policies and Bills, such as the forthcoming ban on fox hunting, equalising the age of consent and the repeal of section 28, all of which are issues on which the House of Commons overwhelmingly expressed a view that the House of Lords has delayed and obstructed. I am concerned about the proposal in the report that we should allow the new second Chamber to have its own process and become a self-regulating House.
§ Mr. Malcolm Bruce (Gordon)
Could it not be argued that the House of Lords feels able to obstruct and delay 89 precisely because it is not elected? If it were elected, it would be subject to the same constraints as the House of Commons.
§ Mr. Hope
I agree that we should not have a fully elected second Chamber and I shall point out later why that would create enormous conflict between the two Houses and is certainly not the right way forward. We need a House with proper procedures which are open, transparent and set down for all to see. The proposal to leave well alone in relation to the way in which the second Chamber operates is flawed and needs to be re-examined. Reform should leave the second Chamber with sufficient power and associated authority derived from its new legitimacy to introduce amendments, require the Government to reconsider proposed legislation and provide effective scrutiny.
The dilemma about the role of the second House is less about its role—people are generally happy with the way in which the current House of Lords operates, although its procedures need modernising—and more about the legitimacy of its views given its unrepresentative membership. To say that it is not representative and that we can leave well alone simply will not do.
The present gender balance is grossly inadequate, although we have begun to redress that, most significantly with the abolition of the 635 hereditary peers, of whom only 16 were women. Of course, the most startling fact to emerge when we began the process of reform was that almost half of peers in the House of Lords attended one school: Eton. The authority and legitimacy of a reformed second Chamber will in part be determined by the extent to which it is representative in terms of gender, age and ethnic origin. I welcome the commission's recommendation that each gender should have a minimum representation of 30 per cent. However, we should aim higher and have a 50:50 balance. The report talks about steady progress, but I want rapid progress so that the second Chamber reflects society today. I of course endorse the commission's recommendation that members of minority ethnic groups must be fairly represented.
I am especially concerned that in its deliberations and composition the upper House should reflect the younger generation. The House of Lords, through its base in lifelong offices of tenure—life peerages—will inevitably become an ageing Chamber. I draw Members' attention to page 118 of the report, on which there is a graph of the age profile of existing peers. It marks off ages in periods of five years, starting at about the age of 50, and the number of peers gets bigger and bigger as they get older and older. It is simply unacceptable to have a House of Lords that represents only half the population's age range.
Having looked at other second chambers, the royal commission recommended that the second Chamber should not have a minimum age. So Members of a Second Chamber could be 25 or 30, as I believe they should be. The commission should have gone further, and, in addition to discussing gender percentages, should have given targets for getting young people into the House. Too many young people are disillusioned and alienated from politics today. When they switch on the television and see the House of Lords, they think, "Who on earth do they represent? Certainly not me."
§ Mr. Robertson
I am not sure of its effect on the average age, but people tended to inherit peerages at a much younger age than that at which they were appointed to them.
§ Mr. Hope
I just wish some of those younger peers had turned up once or twice—apart from on those occasions when they were whipped by the Opposition to push its vote through the House of Lords.
We must make sure that the second Chamber is, and appears, relevant to younger people. Any second Chamber must therefore have adequate representation of young people, over the age of 18 perhaps but certainly under the age of 30. The proposed appointments system allows for that flexibility. The second Chamber should give younger people a real voice in Parliament for the first time and should allow them a genuine role in proceedings so that laws can reflect their interests and so that the relevance of our political democracy is there for all to see.
§ Mr. Maclennan
If the hon. Gentleman recognises the importance of young people going to the House of Lords, he will have to do something about the Wakeham recommendation that all existing life peers—who constitute the bulk of the membership that he has discussed—should be allowed to stay there in perpetuity.
§ Mr. Hope
Regrettably, I must agree with the right hon. Gentleman. I do not agree with the royal commission that existing life peers should remain in the House of Lords in perpetuity, but I do agree that new peers arriving after the publication of the report should have only a 15-year term of office. The report says that life peers should have lifelong tenure, but I believe that that is a mistake. If peers are to move forward into the new Chamber, they should all have a limited 15-year term of office. I look forward to hearing the Government's response to that view, which is needed if we are to get a Chamber in which the demographic profile shifts dramatically towards the younger age group and starts to reflect that part of our population.
§ Mr. Hope
There is obviously a deep interest in the matter. I am glad that I have sparked an interest in the important issue of having a Chamber that is representative of the country as a whole. The report discusses gender and ethnic minority representation, but does not address age representation sufficiently. There are various ways of achieving that and, as I have said, I am sympathetic to some of the Opposition's suggestions. However, the report missed the opportunity to provide targets to get more young people into a second Chamber so that they are fully represented.
I am aware of the constraints of time, and shall move on to the question of direct elections and whether we should have a fully elected second Chamber. That would be a major mistake, as such a Chamber would carry within it the seeds of its own destruction. Elections to it would be unlikely to attract a significant interest among voters. If they did, there would be the difficulty of the second 91 Chamber rivalling the democratic legitimacy of the Commons—the Chamber in which we sit. As has been said, direct elections would be fought on party political lines and, inevitably, a wholly elected second Chamber would duplicate this Chamber. What would be the point of that, as such a Chamber would not fulfil its role of being representative? On the other hand, it could challenge the Commons if it had an Opposition majority which, as was said earlier, would happen if elections to it took place between general elections. Of course, a wholly directly elected second Chamber would not achieve the pluralism that is so important.
What are the options? The commission recommends that the second Chamber should have an elected element. I have reservations about that, but I understand the commission's argument. Indeed, I partly accept its view because the options that it recommends include two other key issues: representation of the regions and democratic authority—to pick up earlier points about a wholly appointed Chamber.
I note that of the three recommendations, option B talks about having two different types of proportional representation: one with partially open lists, and one with closed lists—at the same time as elections to the European Parliament. Rather than getting into an arcane debate about the open versus the closed list system, I simply point out that in my view it would be at best confusing and at worst unworkable to have two different methods in use in the same election.
At present, if the second Chamber has to have an elected element, I would favour one based on model A, which the report calls complementary voting, with Members returned from regional lists in proportion to the party share of the vote at a general election. That would achieve regional representation in the second Chamber, but it would prevent all the problems of Members being elected on a different manifesto and claiming a different mandate at a different time from the party of the day.
Given the years of Conservative domination of the Lords, it is tempting to press for a revised second Chamber which allows, shall I say, left-of-centre political forces to dominate in the 21st century in the way that the forces of conservatism did in the 20th century. However, that would be a mistake. The second Chamber should be, at heart, a revising Chamber, and not an alternative Government or a poodle of the Government of the day. Crucially, if we are to avoid, in a new second Chamber, the one-party domination that the Conservatives have in the existing second Chamber, we require a system of appointment and indirect election that will create political balance and make it impossible for any one party to secure an overall majority.
I welcome today's debate. I have emphasised the need to get more young people into a second Chamber. The commission's report was unanimous; it has huge authority, and I hope that all hon. Members will accept it as both the basis for discussion and a reason to accelerate the process of reforming the second Chamber so that we can make it truly modern and relevant to the 21st century.
§ Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge)
The fact that I can say to the hon. Member for Corby (Mr. Hope) that I agreed passionately with some of what he said and 92 disagreed passionately with other things that he said at least saves him from some of the embarrassment that he might feel if I was completely on his side.
That point also confirms that the Leader of the House, who said at the beginning of the debate that she was hoping to find consensus, will find no consensus at all. She will not find consensus among Government Members, and she will not find it among Opposition Members; it simply does not exist. I point out to anyone who feels sorry for the right hon. Lady, who set out in a "little goody two shoes" way to find that elusive consensus, that we have no sympathy for her whatsoever because the most radical thing that she did—abolishing the hereditary peers—was done not through consensus, but out of sheer spite. It was not done to improve the standing of the second Chamber or the processes of government.
When one hears the language that has been used tonight, such as the talk about privilege and the fact that some or all of the hereditary peers went to Eton, given as an argument for doing something to the legislature, one knows that whatever else is on the agenda, improving the constitution is not.
I turn to the first point on which I agreed with the hon. Member for Corby, and in a voice vibrant with insincerity, I shall take it on the chin and say that I am embarrassed about it. He was right to say that a case has never been made for the hereditary peerage system of constituting the upper House. There is therefore an obligation, perhaps on Opposition Members, to make that case, and I am about to make it, if only for reasons of nostalgia.
§ Mr. Nicholls
I am so sought after as a speaker, as my friends and colleagues will know, that I cannot attend every debate. However, if the hon. Gentleman thinks that I am trying to be provocative, I point out that I have made at least one speech in the debates about the reform of the House of Lords, and I promise him that I have made this point before.
It is argued that we must get rid of the House of Lords because it is not democratic. I have even heard members of my own party say that, and they have probably said it in the House tonight. That argument demonstrates a complete misunderstanding about the nature of Parliament; it does not consist only of the House of Commons. In our system, sovereignty lies with the Queen in Parliament, and the three estates of Parliament are the Queen, the House of Lords and the House of Commons.
It is true that the House of Lords was not democratic, any more than the monarch is democratic. It is the overall system of government that must be democratic. At the moment, our system is that at least every five years, adult voters can combine, and if they do not like the judgments and decisions made by those who are charged to make them, they can throw them out, as they did comprehensively in 1997.
In a minor digression, I point out that if we ever go into the federal Europe envisaged by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), 93 the electorate will no longer have the ability to throw out the people who make decisions on their behalf. However, we are not there yet.
Simply to say that the hereditary peerage was not, in itself, democratic is neither here nor there. One can assess the democracy of Parliament only by looking at it in totality. What, then, is the argument for the hereditary peerage? It is simply that it worked. That system evolved through countless centuries and had a certain legitimacy and acceptance. Those who say that its social composition was wholly exclusive ought to read up on the subject properly and consider the composition of today's hereditary peerage.
§ Mr. Nicholls
It is all very well for the hon. Gentleman to make an eloquent contribution to our deliberations by shaking his head, but if one reads "Dod's" and examines the length of hereditary peerages, one discovers the interesting fact that the average hereditary peerage dies out within seven generations. Traditionally, it was then replaced. That ended when the late Lord Wilson stopped giving out hereditary peerages, and that policy was followed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath).
When one looks at the social profile—if that is what one wants to call it—of the hereditary peers, one sees that although they may bear grand names, many of them have had occupations that, while noble in an ordinary sense, are not spectacular. I can think of people who used to bear famous noble names who include a retired corporation gardener, a retired police sergeant, someone who owns a small grocer's shop and a retired care worker.
The point of that system is that there was a mechanism sanctioned by time, not by logic, for producing a wholly representative bunch of people who were completely incapable of having a party—[Laughter.] That shows exactly where Labour Members are coming from. Most people, when they hear an argument that they do not understand, try to think of a logical rejoinder to it, but some of the temporary Members on the Government Benches are obviously incapable of that.
The hereditary peerage, as it stood before it was abolished, contained a social range that was a great deal wider than many people realise, and it was a wholly arbitrary mechanism for producing a body of people who, ultimately, simply could not be whipped or pressurised. In a nutshell, that is the case for it; it is not that if one started out, with a blank piece of paper, to design a country, one would come up with the hereditary peerage. The point of it is the function that it was designed to discharge. I shall come to that function in a moment.
§ Angela Smith
If the hereditary peerage has such a wonderful social balance and gives such impressive service, could we not argue for a hereditary House of Commons as well?
§ Mr. Nicholls
Even by the hon. Lady's standards, that was a singularly unintelligent point. I apologise for speaking too fast and overly flattering Labour Members.
94 My point is that we have to look at the totality of parliamentary institutions to see whether they deliver a democratic outcome.
§ Mr. Nicholls
I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman in a moment, if only because the debate needs some light relief.
My point is that two of the parliamentary estates are subject to the hereditary process, and if that was the case for all three of the estates, there would be no democracy.
§ Mr. Savidge
The hon. Gentleman said that the glory of the hereditary peerage is that it is illogical; may I pay the same compliment to his speech?
§ Mr. Nicholls
That is just about the right comment on the point made by the hon. Gentleman.
As the hon. Member for Corby said, the case for the hereditary peerage was never made, and now it passes into history. Now we have the Wakeham report. To begin with, I thought that I would have to be terribly polite about the report, and I pay tribute to the amount of work that has gone into it. However, the more I read of it, the more troubled I became. I expected that, in the way of these things, it would turn out to be, at best, a curate's egg, but it is a complete dog's breakfast.
I can see all the people on the commission sitting around, saying, "Well, we have to come up with something, but I'm not sure what. What about some of that Committee of the Regions stuff? That's a good idea. Let's have some regional representation." They came up with other ideas, saying, "Well, we'd better have the bishops because some of them are nice old chaps and several of them believe in God, so we'd better keep them in. What about other people? We'll have the Buddhists and the Muslims in there, but isn't that a bit judgmental? Why don't we include communities of faith?" I can almost hear that being said; so many of them speak like that. That was not written by Monty Python; it is in the report. I ask you, what is wrong with being a pagan in this day and age? What is wrong with having no faith? Why should faithless people be deprived of parliamentary representation in the new, marvellous Chamber? Such people are not in there, but everyone else is. The idea seems to be that people can sit around in a peculiar way and fashion a wholly representative institution, almost by drawing lots. The hon. Member for Corby says that the second Chamber must have a better balance of gender, so it had better be half and half right away. It must not be all white, so it will have black and white, but what about brown? What about the Chinese and the sub-divisions of Asians? All that must be included as well. He means that sincerely, so I do not mock him for it. People have tried completely mechanistically to devise a wholly representational Chamber, but that is a total farce because a totally representative Chamber is already available; it is called the House of Commons.
The people vote for their representatives. If they do not exercise their vote, they should not complain. We cannot pretend that we include an example of every group, but we are literally representative because we have been elected by the adult electors of this country. It is far more 95 optimistic and intelligent to face up to that fact, rather than to tell others that they are not truly representative because they do not include enough young, old, black or brown people, or whatever. How much more honest to say that the glory of this country's constitution is that we have largely been able to produce a democratic outcome at a general election for a great deal longer than virtually every other nation on earth.
I am wholly in favour of having an upper Chamber, but what is it supposed to do? I am almost more concerned about what it should do than about who should do it. It should have a degree of legitimacy. For the reasons that I have given, the hereditary peerage had a certain legitimacy simply because it was honoured by time if not by logic. That has now gone. The nearest system that might carry some vestige of that legitimacy would be one that was sufficiently close to that which it had replaced to look reasonably familiar to the people of the country as a whole.
The upper House should look reasonably familiar and have some sort of logic, but that cannot be devised on a piece of paper, as Wakeham has tried to do. It should be able to delay, and only delay. I have been a Minister, and I never wanted to change my mind when a policy for which I was responsible was being, as I saw it, messed around by the House of Lords. That is tough—it is just the way of things. We need to be able to delay the Government of the day. That has to be done for a purpose; not so much to give the Government time to think and change their mind, but to embarrass them into doing what they ought to do. If they will not change their mind, they should be told that sufficient pressure will be applied and their actions will be taken in the full light of day. That is what the current House of Lords is remarkably good at doing, as was the previous House of Lords.
I shall not play constitutional ping-pong with Labour Members because they are not equipped to deal with it, as their interventions have shown. They will have to take my word for it, and perhaps look it up in the Library, that the House of Lords, as presently constituted, has given the Government no harder a time than the old House of Lords gave the Conservative Government. That strikes me as being perfectly right. Those who try to counter that argument by suggesting that we must strengthen the upper Chamber so that it can hold the Government to account are not right.
I am worried when my hon. Friends talk about wanting the Government to be more accountable. We use that language in opposition. Although that is slightly unwise, we do so because we have only 160 seats, but that is not a good reason for constitutional change. The idea that we need an accountable system of government in which we can defeat the Government between general elections is profoundly wrong. I do not expect to defeat the Labour Government this side of the next general election.
§ Mr. Nicholls
The hon. Gentleman makes a subtle and cunning point; he realises that we will not defeat the Government in a Division, but that does not mean that they are not accountable. Indeed, the fact that the Government have such a big majority means that they are absolutely 96 accountable because they cannot put the blame on coalition politics. We hold the Government to account every week. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition does so stunningly effectively every Wednesday, not by winning a Division, but by winning the moral argument. That is what Government accountability should be about.
I am not in the business of trying to devise a system that rejigs the rules to try to make it easier to have a go at the Government when they have been elected democratically with a huge majority. I am in the business of being able to debate and win the moral argument, by having a Chamber up the road that is capable of making it crystal clear that we shall embarrass the Government when they have got it wrong. I am not in the business of ultimately strengthening that Chamber's powers and allowing it to go further than that.
I have said what I want to see in the upper Chamber. I want it to look reasonably familiar and reasonably logical, but I see nothing in the Wakeham report that would enable that to happen. I want the upper Chamber to have the power to delay and embarrass; I do not want it to have electoral authority. That is the point that the hon. Member for Corby made in his speech, and I do not want that to happen. This House, not the other House, is supposed to have the authority. That can be done by having a largely appointed House. The commission is a complete, tawdry fig leaf.
I have enough confidence in my country's constitutional procedures, which have grown up over hundreds of years, to say that those who go to the upper Chamber as life peers should be appointed on the recommendation of the Queen's First Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. That is why I think that the Wakeham proposals are profoundly misguided.
§ 8.7 pm
§ Tony Wright (Cannock Chase)
Listening to the previous speech—entertaining, elegant and absurd, with its glorious eulogy for the hereditary peerage—I finally realised that the danger of this debate, but I hope not its intention, is that it might show such a diversity of views in the House that the Government could conclude that, because there is no settled opinion on such matters, no action is required and no further progress is necessary. Lest that should happen, I hope to make a modestly helpful contribution.
I shall deal with what I take to be the story so far, the key principles, aspects of the Wakeham proposals and the next bit of the story. On the story so far, we promised simply that we would remove the hereditary peers. In fact, we have not removed them. We have not completed stage 1; 92 hereditary peers remain and an absurd process is being created so that they can renew themselves through by-elections. We have not yet done what we said we would do. We are not sure about what to do next; we are of uncertain mind.
§ Mr. Nicholls
I shall help the hon. Gentleman. In fact, 104 hereditary peers are left; it is a jolly good deal.
§ Tony Wright
I accept that intervention on technical grounds. The Government have not yet done what they said they would do and are unsure about what to do next. We know that they are not keen on election, but we are not terribly sure what they are keen on. The Opposition 97 have viewed the enterprise throughout as a kind of political game. They have been keen on whatever the Government were not keen on so that they could try to out-trump and outflank the Government on the issue.
The combination of the Government being uncertain about what they wanted and the Opposition being determined to play games has brought us to this position. That is a tragedy because, earlier in this Parliament, the opportunity existed to create some genuine cross-party consensus on how reform might take place. That is well known; Lord Wakeham has referred to it. That opportunity could have been taken, but was not because of that combination of circumstances. I am afraid that we are paying the price of that now. The royal commission was invented, given an unusual and abbreviated time scale—to which it managed to work—and put in the hands of a great fixer who, allegedly, was to produce a great fix.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) was put on the royal commission, so the dark rumours said, to avoid any flirtation with the elective principle. Well, things did not work out quite like that, as we have heard, and there was not just a great fix, as it happened. Some important work was done. It was not possible to extinguish the grounds for an elective element—that argument was lost. What came out of the commission was different from some of the ingredients that were designed to be put in it, which is greatly to the commission's credit.
I want to say a word about what I take to be the key principles that should inform the debate. Contrary to what has been said from various parts of the House, Wakeham gets it broadly right on those key principles, which I shall describe briefly. Membership of the second Chamber is a job, not an honour. That issue has been the source of endless confusion in the past and it had to be resolved. Wakeham, finally, has resolved it. Without wanting to be difficult, there is no question but that Lord Ashcroft wanted to sit in the second Chamber not because of his desperate desire to take part in Committee proceedings on the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill, but because he wanted a title. Unless we banish that confusion, we shall get nowhere. Wakeham, fortunately, has done that.
The next principle is that strong government needs strong accountability. The second Chamber should contribute to that. This Chamber is good at many things, but awfully bad at accountability. It is good at raw political accountability, but bad at serious scrutiny and serious, continuous accountability. For evidence of that, hon. Members should simply read the Government's response to the Liaison Committee report. If we want an example of how the House and a Government—not just this Government, but any Government—respond to any serious challenge on the ground of accountability, we should consider the brutal dismissal of that report, which asked for more powers for Select Committees. That is the nature of the politics of this institution.
I happen to think that strong government is a good thing, but only if balanced and checked by strong accountability. That is where the deficit in our system has been. We need a driving Chamber and historically that role has always been played by the first Chamber—the House of Commons, which is the Chamber that puts its head on the block. The rascals can always be kicked out of the House of Commons. However, we also need a serious checking Chamber—a controlling Chamber that says, 98 "Will you think again?" We have not had such a second Chamber as ours has never had the legitimacy to enable it to fulfil that role. We need to strengthen the checks and balances and strengthen accountability. That principle is central.
The second Chamber should be neither a rival to, nor a replica of, the first. That has been stated in different ways and both are dangers to be avoided. The roles of the Chambers are complementary. Furthermore, there should be enough election to ensure legitimacy, but enough appointment to ensure independence and expertise. That fundamental balance must be struck. We have a party-driven system and this is a party-driven House. If we simply say that service in the second Chamber—service in public life, indeed—is to be controlled only by those who carry a party card and who stand under a party label in an election, we will disfranchise 95 per cent. of the population and deprive the second Chamber of the independence and expertise that we want it to have. Indeed, if we simply set up a second Chamber that is an imitation or a party clone of the House, we will make overall accountability—the checks and balances in the system—weaker than it is now. I would argue that the secret is balance—a mixture.
I refer to a few of the Wakeham proposals. On powers, Wakeham is clearly right and they should stay broadly the same, although there is scope for more on the constitutional side, perhaps for a constitutional watchdog. Wakeham is absolutely right on the appointments commission. I argued to the first Nolan inquiry that we should set up an independent commission to control all public appointments and end ministerial patronage by taking those appointments away from Ministers. Thank goodness that Wakeham has embraced the principle of ending patronage and setting up an independent appointments commission in relation to appointments to a new second Chamber.
However, Wakeham is wrong on the size and culture of the new institution, which would be far too big, too clubby and too establishmenty. Hon. Members have referred to that, and they are right. The idea that people out on the highways and byways will occasionally drift in to deliberate on the great affairs of state is completely unrealistic. The Wakeham proposal would make the second Chamber 200 Members larger than any other comparable second Chamber. That, too, is completely unrealistic. The second Chamber needs to be tighter, more sharply focused, more collegiate and more full-time, and that flaw in the proposals must be remedied.
The mixed composition is clearly right, but the mix is too ill-defined and the elective element too vague, ranging from 12 per cent. to 16 per cent. to 35 per cent. Those are very different percentages involving very different Chambers. We need a proper balance between election and appointment. I would argue for broad parity, but the mixture must be well conceived, well argued and well thought out and it must meet principles. Wakeham gets the mechanics of election right: the proposals for the organisation of elections and of appointments meet the arguments about the second Chamber being neither rival nor replica as they overcome the disabilities of having two Chambers with the same sort of authority and legitimacy, which hon. Members have identified.
In the language that was used earlier, we need a mixture of rough trade and genteel trade in the way that the second Chamber operates, because one brings legitimacy and the 99 other brings independence and expertise. However, the mixture is crucial. The denser and richer the mix, the less the threat to the supremacy and the driving role of this Chamber. The two Chambers would be different, but complementary.
The Wakeham proposals have clearly ducked some issues, such as the bishops and the Law Lords. The bishops are in the Lords not because they were thought to have a great spiritual contribution to make, but because they were mediaeval landowners. No other legislature in the world thinks that having judges as Members represents a tenable constitutional principle. Those matters were evaded and sit as unfinished business.
On the next part of the story, much of Wakeham—the new committees and the dispute resolution procedure, for example—does not require legislation, and an appointments commission on the Wakeham basis could be established now. We could also move on the delegated legislation and European Union proposals right away. Indeed, there is no excuse for not moving on all those proposals immediately and we should set up a Joint Committee, based on Wakeham, to move further. We need a proper Government response accepting a mixed solution and a Joint Committee further to explore what that means. We should get agreement on that if possible; the Opposition should stop playing games and be constructive. If agreement cannot be achieved, we should move decisively and unilaterally on the basis of what Wakeham has given us for doing just that.
We were wrong to think that there would simply be stages 1 and 2. Partly because stage 1 is still incomplete, it is clear that there will be stages 1, 2 and 3. Stage 2 is the Wakeham stage. That was well stated by the Constitution Unit, the most independent and authoritative observer of these matters, which serviced the Wakeham commission. It states:Given the enormity of the task, and the brevity of the timescale, it is not surprising that the Royal Commission ducked many of the difficult issues, and made only tentative suggestions about what part the Lords might play in underpinning our new constitutional arrangements. The Commission was effectively forced by the circumstances and short deadline into delivering what should be regarded as an interim report. It is a report which is as much about the "modernisation" of the Lords in the short term, and improvements to the transitional chamber, as it is about long term reform.That is the most sensible judgment that has been made on the report.
We now have the basis of potential consensus on a mixed House, on the ending of patronage and on powers. From those three secure platforms, it is possible to move ahead. We have within our grasp a means of resolving the second Chamber issue, which has eluded the House of Commons and our country for a century. History will be, rightly, unforgiving if, with all those advantages, we do not do what has to be done. What is now needed is a lead from the Government: this is the moment, but phrases such as "in due course" do not match the moment.
§ Mr. Christopher Fraser (Mid-Dorset and North Poole)
Five months have passed since the royal commission reported, and today is our first opportunity to debate the issue, but still the Government have not 100 presented their proposals on stage 2 reform of the House of Lords. There is no excuse for such a delay in improvements to the running of Parliament.
The day after the royal commission report was published, The Daily Telegraph reported, accurately:Mr. Blair told the Cabinet that the report was a sensible way forward. He is understood to be pleased it recommended the elected element should be a "minority". His official spokesman denied that the Government planned to shelve the report.Moreover, when the report was debated in another place, Lady Jay, Leader of the House of Lords, said:I open this debate … with great enthusiasm, confident that because of it we will make progress to achieve full-scale reform of this House far more rapidly in this century than we did in the last one.She went on to say:I hope that there is no one either in Parliament or outside who is sceptical of the Government's intentions to act further on reform.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 7 March 2000; Vol. 610. c. 910–17.]Bearing those words in mind, why did the Prime Minister last week give the clearest indication yet that the Government have no intention of proceeding with the second stage of reform this side of a general election? The right hon. Gentleman was asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry) togive an undertaking to the House and to the country that, well before the general election, the Labour party will come clean about what it intends to do by way of long-term reform of the House of Lords;to which the Prime Minister replied:the Labour party will of course make its position at the next election clear in its manifesto.—[Official Report, 14 June 2000; Vol. 115, c. 939–40.]I find that answer peculiar and the sentiments behind it extremely strange.
Such reticence prompts two questions: what is stopping the Government telling us their plans, and why did they have to get rid of the hereditary peers with such unseemly haste when doing so served no purpose, given the lack of knowledge about what was to come after? On the first question, my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young) has made the point about the Government introducing politically correct legislation, but finding no time for important constitutional legislation such as House of Lords reform. On the second question, if there is to be no progress toward stage 2 reform until after the general election, how can the Government explain their action in rushing through the House of Lords Act 1999 to remove most of the hereditary peers without telling the House of Commons what they intended to do afterwards?
How disappointed the Government must be, now that it has become clear that the removal of the hereditary peers and the appointment of a flood of new Labour life peers has not made the Government's life easier in the upper House. In making the case for the removal of most of the hereditary peers under the House of Lords Act, the Government were quick to lay the blame for their legislative defeats in the upper House at the feet of Conservative hereditary peers. That was an inaccurate charge. In the old House of Lords, Conservatives had an overall majority neither of all peers, nor of hereditary peers—a fact that I attempted, unsuccessfully, to tease out of the Leader of the House earlier today. The Government would have won several of the votes that they lost if more 101 of the peers that they have appointed to the Lords had turned up to vote. The current Prime Minister has appointed more life peers than any other in history-191 in only three years, the majority of whom are new Labour acolytes and, in many cases, donors. It is a matter of fact that many of those peers have a poor voting record.
The reforms offer no democracy and no more accountability to the people, and that is something of which the Prime Minister should be mindful. How telling is it that the Government have continued to lose key votes in the Lords after the expulsion of the hereditary peers? The list of lost votes is endless, including on, to name but a few, the Local Government Bill, the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000, the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, the Criminal Justice (Mode of Trial) Bill, the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill, the Representation of the People Act 2000, the Learning and Skills Bill, the Teaching and Higher Education Bill and the Welfare Reform and Pensions Act 1999. Those defeats have happened, not because any one political party enjoys an in-built advantage in the House of Lords, but because peers have drawn on their vast pool of experience and expertise, spotted the fact that key aspects of Government legislation are deeply flawed, and stuck to their guns accordingly.
Other key Bills, such as the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Bill and the Freedom of Information Bill have disappeared in front of our very eyes, not to be seen again in the other place, because the Government, recognising that those measures are systematically flawed, prefer to lose them than to introduce them in the other place and see them voted down. That has helped to ensure that the Government have such a sorry record that one must question their propriety in terms of their behaviour and representation of the people in the House of Commons. It is clear that Ministers were never principally set on strengthening Parliament or making it more relevant to the people, as their hacking about of the House of Lords demonstrates. The longer the Government continue to delay announcing their plans for the full reform of the Lords, the more they compound their error.
It is absolutely clear that the end result of the full reform of the House of Lords must be to strengthen Parliament as a whole. Ministers have systematically attempted to reduce the ability of Parliament to keep a check on the activities of the Government. They routinely make major policy announcements to the media before doing so to Parliament. They have admitted receiving leaked Select Committee reports in advance of publication. They have massively increased the number of political advisers to Ministers paid for out of the public purse, and they have eroded the political neutrality of the civil service. Now they want to "reform" the way in which the House of Commons operates because it does not suit the domestic requirements of some Labour Members of Parliament.
These developments have been hugely detrimental to the vigour of Parliament, and it is time to reverse the trend. Stage 2 reform of the House of Lords is a key element in achieving that. The second Chamber must be there to undertake detailed and effective scrutiny of legislation, both domestic and European, and of the Executive. It must be able to act as an effective safety valve.
102 Surely it is logical to say that only after we have decided what we want the House of Lords to do can we decide the best composition of the House to deliver those objectives. To determine its composition before setting the objectives of the House is rather like building a factory and equipping it with machines before deciding what products the factory is to make. None the less, many of those who will decide the fate of the second Chamber have already declared their preferences as to its composition, without setting out a clear vision of what they want the House of Lords to do. Lady Jay is one such person: she announced that she had come to accept the idea of a small elected element in the Lords. One can only assume that that is an endorsement of what has come to be known as Wakeham B—that is, a token presence of 87 elected peers. Is that now official Government policy? If so, why has that preference been stated without the Government setting out their full intentions in respect of House of Lords reform? If it is the Government's preferred option, what further details can the Government give us today, particularly as the Leader of the House says that the Government are still consulting?
What electoral system will be used? Will it be the same closed-list proportional representation system as was used to elect the 87 Members of the European Parliament, or will the Government specifically rule out that method of election? Will the Government accept that it was widely pilloried during the 1999 European elections and, if ever used for the House of Lords, it would simply be a mechanism for Millbank to reward more of Tony's cronies, as we have heard ad infinitum, and one-term Labour Members who may be thrown out of this place at the next election?
I was hugely concerned to hear from an hon. Member, in a discussion that took place outside the Chamber, about the Government's plans for a closed-list style of PR for electing the Lords. That would surely mean more patronage appointments of the type that we have seen during this Parliament—peers such as the noble Lords Bragg, Warner and Haskins, who have been no less disparaging of the work of the upper House than some Labour Members have been about this House.
I shall give two quick examples. The noble Lord Warner said that he had difficulty with the principle that the great majority of Bills in Committee are taken on the Floor of the other place. He stated:That simply ties up a large number of people unnecessarily in the House in order to keep the Government on edge by playing the voting game.Lord Bragg complained about how inconvenient he found the facilities. The Official Report of the House of Lords records his complaint about the telephones in the corridor. He said:Try to work out a difficult contract with international musicians, as I was doing the other day, while a metre away a noble Lord, whose name will never escape my mind or my mouth, read out in full, fortissimo and with feeling the entire menu of that evening's fare in the Barry Room… It was interminable. I abandoned my contractual negotiations, retreated to the Library and came back some minutes later to find all the phones occupied. Miffed!He continued:It really will not do. If we are invited to come here as working Peers, our outside work should also be taken seriously; more and better phones, faxes, e-mails, privacy and the message system.— [Official Report, House of Lords, 10 May 2000; Vol. 612, c. 1591–1604.]103 Do peers with such attitudes do the parliamentary process a service or a disservice? Do they allow the proper scrutiny of legislation, or do they do that task a disservice? Are they attracted by the ermine and the title, rather than by a desire to serve their country? That is a question which we must all consider.
That leads me to the topic of the appointments commission. The Government announced in early May this year the names of the members of the appointments commission who will propose new peers. The sad fact is that the commission will be a smokescreen behind which the Prime Minister will continue to wield wide powers of patronage. It will not be an independent body. The Prime Minister will be responsible for appointing the majority of the members, including its chairman—a point that has been sadly missed this evening. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary can assure me that that will not be the case, but I doubt whether he can.
Both for appointments to the interim House and for any appointed element of the fully reformed House, we should implement the royal commission's proposal for a statutory commission set up by the House of Lords. No mechanism other than a strong and independent appointments commission that is responsible to Parliament will avoid patronage appointments by the back stairs.
A further piece of evidence that leads me to doubt the Government's intentions with regard to full reform of the House of Lords is the fact that their manifesto pledge to establish a Joint Committee of both Houses to consider full reform of the upper House has vanished into the ether.
We have come to realise, of course, that the Government's election pledges were not worth the mugs they were written on. However, Labour's 1997 manifesto was quite explicit on the subject:A committee of both Houses of Parliament will be appointed to undertake a wide-ranging review of possible further change and then to bring forward proposals for reform.Where is it? Is Parliament not to have a say? Is that yet another example of the Government trying to sideline Parliament, or do they have no intention of moving to further reform? Are they content with an interim House which is increasingly being packed with patronage peers appointed by and loyal to the Prime Minister?
The Lord Chancellor seems to think that any such Committee should examine only the procedural aspects of implementing stage 2. That is not good enough. It is surely time that Members of Parliament in both Houses were given the opportunity to propose and consider full-scale reforms of the upper House.
Where is the evidence that there is to be a constitutional Committee of both Houses that will report on the effect of the constitutional changes made by the Government? When will we see that Committee in place? How will it operate? Peers from all parts of the House supported the principle of creating such a Committee, and the Government have accepted it. The Official Report records that Baroness Jay commented:The Government are attracted by recommendations for a special constitutional Select Committee.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 7 March 2000; Vol. 610, c. 913.]Why has no such Committee been established? What do the Government fear? What possible excuse can there be for delay in the establishment of such a Committee?
104 The absence of Government proposals for stage 2 reform of the House of Lords is inexcusable. The longer they remain silent on the issue, the more it appears that they have no intention of introducing further reform, but wish to retain permanently an interim House of career politicians and representatives of what my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has so accurately defined as "the liberal elite".
Is the Government's objective to extend their own power and reduce the ability of Parliament to hold them to account? If the Government are not to go down in history as a gang of constitutional vandals, stage 2 House of Lords reform must be brought forward to end the uncertainty. After deliberating for five months, the Government must now come off the fence. If they do not, to answer Baroness Jay, yes, there will be many in Parliament and outside who are rightly sceptical of the Government's intentions to act on reform.
§ Angela Smith (Basildon)
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate. I have spent many hours discussing the issue and listening to the debate, along with the few other hon. Members present in the Chamber. It saddens me that so many hon. Members were present when we discussed stage 1 and the removal of the right of hereditary peers to vote, but so few of those who were keen to take part in that debate are in the Chamber tonight to discuss what comes next, which is perhaps more important. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson) points to the Labour Benches. I make no party political point; I merely suggest that as many hon. Members should be present for this debate as attended the previous debate.
Some hon. Members are critical of the fact that we have reached this stage at all. That was evident from the comments of the hon. Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls), who explained why he believed that the hereditary peerage should stay. There is also the argument that we should have all or nothing—we should have stage 1 and stage 2 now, or nothing. That view has prevailed so many times in the past, but produced no reform. By waiting to achieve everything, we lapse into inertia and do nothing.
Today, I came across a copy of the Daily Mirror from June 1927, with the headlineMPs battle over Lords Reform.The article stated that agreement in the Conservative party on the reform of the second Chamber was as far away as ever. It mentioned attempts to water down proposals to placate the younger members of the party, including Mr. Duff-Cooper and Captain MacMillan. Even in 1927, after attempts to secure the agreement of everyone, nothing happened—and we are still waiting for change.
§ Mr. Tyrie
Although there was no consensus in the Conservative party, the vast majority of the party, and certainly the leadership by that time, had moved to the view that some form of elected solution would be required for the second Chamber. Furthermore, by that time the Labour party was firmly committed to the abolition of the House of Lords—a position that it has held intermittently ever since.
§ Angela Smith
How times change. Here we are, in 2000, still debating the issue of hereditary peers. It is right that we move forward and abolish the right of hereditary peers to vote, and then move on to the next stage.
105 I have never said that I considered it an important political point to remove that right; I think it right in principle. My intention is not to undermine or fail to recognise the contribution that peers have made. I believe that it is wrong in principle for people to have the right to vote in our legislature on laws that govern the country, purely on the basis of what their ancestors had done or the position that their ancestors held. However, hereditary peers still sit in the House of Lords. The legitimacy of the House of Lords has not increased.
§ Mr. Gerald Howarth
Given the powers that the hon. Lady ascribes to hereditary peers and accidents of birth, how did Baroness Jay manage to secure such enormous influence over the affairs of our country?
§ Angela Smith
Baroness Jay was appointed to her position on her merits, not on those of the people who came before her. Unless we move forward now, the legitimacy of the second Chamber will be compromised.
We have reached the halfway stage and we are looking forward to the next step. By and large, I welcome the Wakeham report, although I have criticisms of it. It constitutes an important way in which to move forward and inform Parliament. Several hon. Members do not support the concept of a second Chamber or the need for a bicameral system. On balance, I do not share that view. However, I hope that their lordships do not consider the view of this House to be static, and do not believe that they can do anything they wish and continue to be supported as an institution by the House of Commons. The role of the House of Lords is vital in our perception of the system as a whole.
We are not considering the way in which the House of Lords operates with this Government, but the way in which a second Chamber will operate with any Government. The consequences of our deliberations tonight could last for as many centuries as the previous set-up. We must therefore legislate with great care because the impact will be felt for many years.
The House of Lords should not be bent on unconditional support for or confrontation with any Government. Conservative Governments have reeled off long lists of defeats of this Government by the House of Lords. That is irrelevant. If we want to play such games we can visit the Library, where we will find that 80 per cent. of defeats by the House of Lords were under Labour Governments, whereas 10 per cent. or fewer occurred under Conservative Governments. The House of Lords has therefore been partisan. However, that is not relevant to the way in which we proceed.
We want a House of Lords that will consider issues on their merits. That does not mean that it should be non-political or non-partisan. The commission's report deals with that. It is strange that Members of the House of Commons are so frightened of having politicians in the House of Lords. Perhaps they are frightened that politicians will know the tricks of the trade.
A House of Lords that operates under the criteria that the Wakeham report outlines will have more confidence and legitimacy than it has at present. I worry about the future of the second Chamber, and I lean towards the views of my colleagues who argue for no second Chamber when I read that individual Members of the House of Lords have stated that they will try to wreck one 106 Commons Bill not because of its merits or otherwise, but because of a Government policy that they do not like. Lord Kimball was reported as having met Conservative peers to draw up tactics to wreck the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill in revenge for the Home Secretary's announcement of a free vote on hunting in the House of Commons.
If Members of another place want to tackle each issue on its merits and vote for or against it, that is a matter for them. However, to argue that they will wreck legislation in revenge for an unrelated action by the House of Commons brings the second Chamber into disrepute and makes some of us wonder whether we should have a second Chamber. Liberal Democrats are often criticised, perhaps unfairly, for pavement politics. Such language from the House of Lords smacks of the kid who takes his ball away, and is more akin to playground than pavement politics. Lord Wakeham is trying to distance the legislature from that. Such behaviour tests the patience of us all.
If we are to have a truly democratic system of government, we must impress on the second Chamber that its role must be clearly defined. As I said earlier, their lordships should not regard support for a second Chamber as unchallengeable. The politics of the playground simply strengthen the argument of those who would remove any second Chamber.
I do not believe that we should do away with the second Chamber because of differences about the way in which it should be constituted. Some hon. Members have suggested that the difficulties and pressures on deciding our next actions mean that we should do nothing. I do not accept that. The time is right to act, but there are difficulties.
Lord Wakeham and his team tried to marry the old with the new. That creates difficulties. In some ways, it would have been easier to abolish the House of Lords and establish a new Senate. However, this House believed strongly that while we wanted to change some traditions of the House of Lords, we did not want to throw the baby out with the bath water. This House emphasised the importance of tradition. The difficulties in the report arise from trying to marry such difficult concepts.
The House of Commons has faced more gradual modernisation through general elections. We undergo a process of evolution not revolution. Considerable attention, not always wanted, has been focused on the fact that there are more women in this Parliament than ever before. Perhaps more importantly, hon. Members' backgrounds have changed dramatically in the past 100 years. My hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) commented on that earlier. Paying Members of Parliament a salary has opened the way for those who would have been denied a seat in the House of Commons because they had no private means. The change in the franchise made a difference to people's eligibility to stand for election to the House of Commons and who could vote for them. Those changes, together with changes in the education system, have given people from different backgrounds the confidence to stand for election to local authorities and the House. Change has been gradual, and I am sure that it will continue.
We are now trying to bring the House of Lords up to speed. That can be done only through legislation. The starting point for any deliberations is the role of the 107 second Chamber. I have already endorsed many of the recommendations in the report. I was interested to note that the commission accepted the principles of the Salisbury convention and believed that they should continue. I endorse that, but I am not convinced that we should proceed by convention in a second Chamber of the future. I accept the principles of the Salisbury convention, and perhaps they should be enshrined in working mechanisms. If they are wrong, they should not be retained. Sometimes, the withdrawal of the Salisbury convention has been used as a threat. That is inappropriate.
The report clearly identifies the way in which a second Chamber should operate. We must also consider who should be members of the second Chamber. I am comfortable with a mixture of regionally elected Members and appointed Members from the appointments commission. I accept the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) and the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) about the problems of a fully elected second Chamber. We must not appoint Members of a second Chamber as an honour; they must fill working positions. I do not accept that we diminish the legitimacy of the second Chamber by having a mixture of people who are appointed and people who are elected. I am not considering the legitimacy of individual Members, but that which the process gives to the Chamber.
§ Angela Smith
I hope that there will be no personal tensions because we are considering the body as a whole. There could be tensions if we elected Members on a constituency basis; they would perhaps feel that their remit was different. I welcome the time limit that the Wakeham report sets out. No Member of the second Chamber should have a position for life. That would be untenable. Appointments should also clearly be seen to be outside the patronage of the Prime Minister of the day.
I want to consider the election process briefly, and models A, B and C. I oppose proportional representation. The lessons of the European elections are now being learned. Members of the European Parliament are becoming distanced from their electorate because of the way in which they were elected. Who knows who their Member of the European Parliament is? Most people do not. However, there are also problems with models A and B, which the Wakeham report outlines.
Under those models, Members would have an allegiance to a region. While local knowledge would be useful in deliberations, those Members could view themselves as elected representatives for their regions. Model A suggests that political parties would select or, more likely, appoint regional Members, depending on the vote that each party got at the general election. If the purpose is to ensure greater representation for each region by party, the opposite would happen in practice. If regional parties were unrepresented in the House of Commons, that would be compounded by 108 under-representation in the House of Lords. The deficiency also applies to model B, although, if directly electing Members, voters will have the opportunity to vote differently for different Parliaments. All three models have deficiencies. On balance model B may be preferable, but I am not convinced that it is perfect or, indeed, right.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Tony Wright) mentioned the size of the second Chamber. The only purpose of a Chamber of 550 that I can see is to reflect the composition of the House of Commons. Surely we want a Chamber that is completely different from the House of Commons. I feel that if we are to give any legitimacy to a second Chamber, it must be radically reformed. Many of the necessary proposals are in the report, and I think that the mixture of elected representatives from regions and appointments works; but the process must be completed. The Government will stretch the tolerance of the House if progress is not made. It does not take a mastermind to see that it is a case of "We've started, so we'll finish."
§ Mr. Andrew Tyrie (Chichester)
I felt that all the arguments advanced by the hon. Member for Basildon (Angela Smith) pointed in the direction of a largely elected second Chamber. If her conclusion had not been in favour of going along with the Wakeham report entirely, I would have felt able to agree with everything that she said.
§ Angela Smith
I am sorry if I gave the hon. Gentleman that impression. I certainly do not support a majority elected second Chamber. I think that the mix of elected and appointed Members is right, but I think that we need a much smaller Chamber.
§ Mr. Tyrie
I know that I might be given injury time if I responded to the hon. Lady's intervention, but I had better not.
We should have had this debate three years ago, before we had any legislation at all. We should have tried to work out what the end point would be, and then proceeded with a single measure of reform. It is regrettable that that has not happened. After all, although the Government do not seem to have a view now, they came to power with a clear aim: they wanted to get rid of the hereditaries, and to introduce democracy in the second Chamber. The Prime Minister was firmly on record as wanting that personally.
Since the Government came to power, the Executive have squirmed into avoiding any check on their authority. That is why we saw the Blair-Cranborne deal, whereby Labour Members were lined up to vote for hanging on to the hereditary peerage. Just under half the regularly attending hereditaries are in the House of Lords still, despite the passage of the first Bill. Extraordinary arrangements have been put on to the statute book. When an hereditary Labour or Liberal peer dies, the couple who remain can go and work out over a cup of tea who should fill the vacant slot. That is on the statute book as we speak. It is a farce. It is an absurdity, which does no credit to the Government or to Parliament.
Since coming to office, the Government have also tried to lose the commitment to democracy. That is why we had the Wakeham report in the beginning. It seems to me that our only hope of protection against Executive power 109 lay in the possibility that Lord Wakeham would surprise us all, break the habit of a lifetime, and do something that the Executive did not want. Unfortunately, however, he did not do that.
§ Mr. Tyrie
I hope my hon. Friend will forgive me if I make some progress.
There is a lot of detail in the Wakeham report. I agree with some of it, but I take issue fundamentally with one crucial recommendation, which relates to composition. Many others have mentioned this.
Bicameralism—and I am a convinced bicameralist-will work only if the second Chamber has the moral authority to exercise the powers that it has. I believe that the electorate will accept that only if they have had a hand in putting the people there. They will not accept legislators' acting without their being able to participate in some way in putting those legislators in place.
Lord Wakeham offers us only an appointments commission. The commissioners, in their turn, will be appointed by the Executive. In other words, the Prime Minister's shadow will be hanging over the appointments commission.
If we go down that route, we shall create a self-perpetuating oligarchy of the great and the good, best thought up on the playing fields of Eton and nothing to do with a Parliament in the 21st century. Could a Chamber created almost entirely by an appointments commission ever mobilise public opinion sufficiently to be able to ask the House of Commons to think about a measure again? I very much doubt it. We shall be creating a toothless Chamber.
I find it amazing that people think that, in the 21st century, we can go down any route other than the largely democratic route. I am not even sure that Lord Wakeham really believes it. He sometimes hints that he is trying to do the bidding of the Executive—that he is devising something that is the creature of the Executive.
The report's own defence for an appointed House gives the game away, in paragraph 11.11. Lord Wakeham's argument is that elections do not throw up people who—I am almost quoting—are truly representative: who are capable of speaking with authority on, for example, constitutional matters, or on philosophical or moral issues.
Lord Wakeham seems to be arguing that elections would not provide people representative of all sections of society. That is an absurd notion for a royal commission to come up with. If it applies to a second Chamber, why does it not apply to this place? Why do we not have appointments to the House of Commons? The logic would be absurd if it were not slightly dangerous; if this were not a strongly established democracy, I would be worried about its resonance with the arguments once advanced in the former Soviet Union in favour of getting rid of bourgeois democratic structures throughout eastern Europe. Indeed, it was an essential tenet of Marxist-Leninist doctrine that one man, one vote did not generate true representation, and that the only true way of securing representation of a whole society was for the party—the dictatorship of the proletariat—to appoint a Chamber on the people's behalf. That would ensure that every section was represented: peasants, workers and such like.
110 Are we really expected to take paragraph 11.11 seriously? If any hon. Members doubt what I have said, they should have a look at it later. It is astonishing nonsense. It is not only a wholly undemocratic proposal: it is an authoritarian one. Lord Wakeham knows that; so do most people.
When people are asked what they think, they overwhelmingly say the same—in opinion polls, for what they are worth, which I think is not a great deal, and in focus groups, which are probably worth slightly less still. At least three quarters of the population always say that if there is to be a second Chamber, it should be largely or wholly elected. A clear majority of Conservative Members now want a largely or wholly elected second Chamber, and I believe that a majority of Labour Members probably want the same, given the reaction to an early-day motion tabled some time ago. A fair amount of pressure was put on Labour Members not to sign, but a large number did so.
There is one legitimate argument against democracy—only one. It is ultimately a unicameralist argument. It is the argument that there would be a titanic clash between the two Chambers, which would put the country into gridlock and thus prevent any effective government. However, that argument ignores the Parliament Acts. It ignores the fact that there has been only one clash this century. That clash was to define the very rules that would prevent a clash ever happening again.
The Parliament Acts make it absolutely clear that the second Chamber cannot interfere with money Bills, and they limit the power of delay to one year. The second Chamber cannot ultimately challenge the supremacy of this place. It can ask this place to think again only for one year.
It is beholden on those who advance the argument that elections would generate some unsustainable tension between the two places to demonstrate why they think that the Parliament Acts would be torn up. They were created when the House of Lords had no restraint at all. It could have carried on ignoring such restraints. In a democratic age, the source of the Government will be the ultimate source of supremacy and that source will continue to be this Chamber.
A high proportion of the arguments that I wanted to make tonight have already been made, notably by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke). I shall not repeat all the arguments, but I strongly commend my right hon. and learned Friend's speech to those Members who are in the Chamber now who did not hear it. I add only a few further points. With a bit of luck, I will sit down before my allotted time.
My Front-Bench team has moved a long way. I am delighted about that. Not all my hon. Friends have yet come with me. In time, a few of them who have been marching firmly in the opposite direction may yet change their minds on what is an important issue for Parliament.
I agree with the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Tony Wright)—I am sorry that he is not in the Chamber—that there is scope for some consensus on the crucial issue of the composition of the second Chamber, but only if the Government do not stop it forming. If there is one thing that I have noticed in the debate, it is that the Government seem to be firmly against any proposals that would create a second Chamber capable of giving them any trouble—a second Chamber with enough moral authority to ask them to think again.
111 I fear that the last ditchers against meaningful reform of the second Chamber are sitting on the Treasury Bench. It seems that they are becoming the forces of conservatism. That is why we have heard that the Government are to drag their feet on the setting-up of the Joint Committee. That is what I fear was meant when the Leader of the House said that we would get round to setting it up only "in due course."
§ 9.1 pm
§ Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North)
First, I urge that we should have joined-up thinking on reform of the other House. Okay, it is a Government phrase, but it is one that the Government should apply to the matter. We should ensure that the reform of the other House is considered with the reform of the House of Commons and with the other constitutional changes that are being made. Secondly, I accept the general point that seems to be accepted by Wakeham: the House of Commons should have supremacy over the other House, so that we have a balance of powers without the type of gridlock that has occurred in the United States, Australia and other places.
There seem to be two ways in which the House of Commons can have supremacy over the other House. One is to make the other House less legitimate. I had better say that rather than illegitimate because, contrary to the hon. Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls), I thought that illegitimacy was one of the ways in which people used to get into the other House, particularly in the time of Charles II. The other way is to limit the other House's powers by statute.
Wakeham chose to make the other House less legitimate. That was a mistake. If making it less legitimate makes it less legitimate for it to overrule the House of Commons, it also surely makes it less legitimate for it to interfere at all in the doings of this House.
However illegitimate we make the other House, it does not mean that its Members will believe that they are in an illegitimate position. For heaven's sake, even last year, there were hereditary peers who did not realise how illegitimate their position had been ever since "Iolanthe" was written. The hon. Member for Teignbridge still does not. There are Members of the present other House, which was criticised so eloquently by the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), who do not recognise that they are in an illegitimate position because of the present system of appointment.
Other reasons were given for having a predominantly appointed House. It was said that it could be more representative of regional, vocational, ethnic, professional, cultural and religious variations. Of course, the commissioners were aware of the danger that they could be appointing just a quango, but they had a solution: it would be appointed by a superquango. They were aware of the danger that it could be an assembly just of the great and the good, but they solved the problem because it would be the great and good appointed by the very great and the very good.
Therefore, we have the very great and the very good commission appointing the great and the good upper House for all time. Who will appoint the very great and the very good commission? It will be appointed by the great and good upper House, for all time. What could 112 have been more accurate than the comment of the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie)? It is a recipe for a self-perpetuating oligarchy. It is replacing an old boys' act with an old pals' act. It is replacing a House of privilege with a House of privilege.
What was wrong with the old hereditary House of Lords? Well, disproportionate influence was given to the establishment—to the forces of conservatism, with a small "c"; I leave aside those with a large "C"—and to wealth and power. There was uniformity of opinion, but it was a uniformity of opinion that was at odds with public opinion.
What would be wrong with the proposed new upper House? Almost all the same things would be wrong with it. Of course, there would—just to palliate it—be a small elected component. The common people will be allowed to vote—to have a slight influence—once every 15 years, provided that they do not move house. If they do move house, they might get to vote more, or possibly less, than once every 15 years. In other words, the average person who does not move house might reach the age of 30 before having a vote—to have even a slight influence on a slight bit of the upper Chamber.
Why are elections to be held only once every 15 years? That will be done—to paraphrase paragraph 12.16; these are not the exact words of the report—so that Members elected in that manner are not influenced too much by the common hoi polloi. There were times reading the report when I wondered whether the commission had been presided over by Lord Wakeham or by the ghost of the Duke of Wellington.
What is that bizarre formula designed for? It is designed to protect the supremacy of the House of Commons. Why should we do that? We should do that because this place has the representative legitimacy of election in a participative democracy. If that is good enough for the Commons, why—as was so eloquently asked by the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe—should it not be legitimate for the other place?
My own preference is for a democratically elected second Chamber, elected on the basis of proportional representation, to balance the current House of Commons. I do not believe that the risk of gridlock is unavoidable. I also do not believe that there is a risk, as the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) suggested, of an elected upper House not being subordinate to this one. Those risks could be dealt with in statute.
If we were to do that, some people would immediately start shouting that it was the result of control freak tendencies and an elective dictatorship, and the reduction of checks and balances. However, if we combined legitimacy with the current powers of the House of Lords, we would create a second Chamber that had too much power relative to this Chamber. The old House of Lords did not exercise all its powers precisely because it knew that it had limited legitimacy. However, I believe that if we were to limit, de jure, the powers of the new House to those that, de facto, were exercised by the old House, we could retain a reasonable balance.
I believe that one would also have to reform the anarchic Standing Orders of the other place, so that excessive powers of delay were not available for small unrepresentative minorities wasting time. Such powers 113 should reside primarily in votes of majorities in the other place. Some people might feel that similar reform could be made more widely in Parliament.
I should like, ideally, to have a proportionally elected and representative second Chamber to balance the lack of proportionality in this House. Currently, Governments can be elected with absolute majorities and can be re-elected with the support of about 42 to 43 per cent. of those voting in a given election. Currently, because we do not have fixed Parliaments, elections tend to be held at times that are favourable to the Government, so Governments are often re-elected who have mid-term the support of only about 30 to 40 per cent. of the electorate.
Against the background of a Government who have only minority support, the second Chamber can delay controversial, partisan legislation, or the Government can decide to compromise with other parties. Such an arrangement could be good for this country, and it could perhaps have preserved us from the worst excesses of, for example, the poll tax and the peculiar ping-pong over privatisations and nationalisations in previous decades. It could also create a reasonable balance between the majority and minority parties without giving excessive power to either.
§ Mr. Paterson
Does the hon. Gentleman believe that the balance of power between the legislature and the Executive should be shifted in favour of the legislature?
§ Mr. Savidge
The hon. Gentleman is raising some of the issues that should be addressed in a fuller debate. Although the overall subject of constitutional change needs to be examined, in this debate, we are concentrating on the House of Lords.
I should prefer, ideally, proportional representation elections for the second Chamber. I am a pragmatist, however, and recognise that we must deal with the art of the possible. I also recognise that the forces of conservatism are applied most strongly in matters of constitutional change.
I believe that the initial changes to the House of Lords that we made last year, such as abolishing its hereditary element, were historic. However, I also believe that the great Reform Act was an historic change, and recognise that it took more than a century for full universal suffrage and proper enfranchisement of all adults to evolve. I recognise that, although the Act got rid of the rotten boroughs, there were still some pretty eccentric constituencies right until the second half of the last century.
In the same way, in local government reform, it took a long time to get rid of aldermen, deans of guilds and other unelected officers, and to risk having full democracy. Four out of five items in the chartists' charter would now be accepted by almost everyone in the House and are accepted as part of our national constitution, but very few of them lived to see it.
There will probably be compromises and we will end up with a spatchcocked second Chamber to make allowance for those who believe that we must retain the involvement of the Church—with religious and secular representatives—of the Law Lords or of experts of various kinds, and that we cannot do that by having witnesses or advisers to Committees, be they Select, Standing or pre-legislative.
114 People will also be desperately anxious to preserve Cross Benchers and independents. I recognise that there is a need to balance the fear of the slavishly uncritical apparatchiks—not so much wage slaves as page slaves—with independents. As somewhat of an aficionado of "Any Questions?", I find that the independents on the programme can be the worst bigots of all. In some other parliaments, the so-called independents are the worst for vested interests or pork barrel politics. Let me immediately exonerate the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Bell), who is a very honourable exception.
If we are to have such people, let us go against what the report suggests and have voting and non-voting Members. If we have to have a compromise, let voting Members be in strict proportion to votes cast for political parties. The hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon said that it could be useful for us to have the president of the Royal College of Surgeons in the second Chamber. If so, it would be for his expert arguments on medicine, not for the votes that he would cast on any other issue, on which he might be totally prejudiced.
If the voting strength in the second Chamber is proportional, there should be less need for proportional representation for this Chamber—less need for Jenkins. If proportionality is recognised in what may well be a spatchcocked Chamber, let us not spatchcock this Chamber, which is what Jenkins is trying to do by retaining constituencies, but making up for it in other ways. Let us at least not go ahead with that at present.
We have, rightly, had massive constitutional change and we have brought in various different proportional systems to a point where it is possible that the electorate are getting slightly confused. It would do no harm to delay considering proportional representation for this House until we can at least learn from the experience of other elections. At most, let us consider from Jenkins whether the alternative vote or first past the post should be used while retaining the constituencies.
In summary, I want to see joined-up thinking over our constitutional change, especially across the two Houses. I want this House to have supremacy over the other Chamber. Personally, I would like a second Chamber elected by proportional representation. Certainly, its voting strength should be proportional, to balance this House. For the immediate future, I would like this House to retain constituency elections, by the alternative vote or first past the post.
§ Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury)
I pay tribute to the work that went into producing the report, although I regret the fact that it was necessary. I regret that this debate is necessary, despite the excellent speeches that have been made from both sides of the House.
The Government have a record of leaving a constitutional mess. With devolution, we still have the West Lothian problem, with which we have to wrestle to try to recreate the fairness and balance that used to exist in the constitution. We are also wrestling here to find a solution to a problem that need never have existed. When we voted on whether to retain 91 peers in the ridiculous mishmash House of Lords that we now have, I voted against that and would do so again. In an ideal world, we would not start from here, but the fact that the House of Lords and the constitution of this country have been 115 around for such a long time makes them different from the constitutions in other countries. Therefore, direct comparisons with, for example, the USA are not really relevant.
The House of Lords has many strengths that have perhaps not been brought out in the debate. The independence of mind of many of the peers, although they sit technically as Conservative or Labour, has often been demonstrated by the fact that they have voted against measures put forward by this Government and by the previous Conservative Government.
§ Mr. Robertson
I do not think that that is the case, but I shall not try to explain why because I am short of time.
As I said, the House of Lords has many strengths. I am sure that hon. Members listen to, and read the reports of, debates in the House of Lords, the quality of which is sometimes superior to the quality of debate in this House. We should not discard that strength.
People might ask how I can justify the continuance of a House of Lords that is not democratically elected, if I believe in democracy. I can do so because, as has already been pointed out, the House of Lords has virtually no powers. It can delay legislation and send it back here to ask us to think again, but at the end of the day it can do no more. Therefore, I do not mind that it is not elected, so long as—as my hon. Friend the Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls) said—the whole parliamentary package is democratic. Ultimately, the democratic will of this House is always supreme, which is why I can accept an undemocratic House of Lords.
What are we trying to achieve when we talk about democracy? Electing people is democratic, but do we represent the views held across the country? I sometimes wonder whether this House achieves that. Many views are held in Labour constituencies that are not represented by the elected Members for those seats. The House of Lords, in its present form and perhaps in an evolved form, can provide a greater representation of some of the wider views found in the country.
What would we achieve by having a second elected Chamber? Lord Wakeham is a former Conservative Chief Whip and at a meeting I attended, he expressed concern about the whipping arrangements in Parliament. He did not want to reproduce in the House of Lords the whipping arrangements that prevail in the House of Commons, and we should not let that point pass without serious consideration.
If we had now a House of Lords dominated by elected Labour Members who were whipped as such, where would be the check on the Labour Executive in this House? It would not exist. Alternatively, if we had a Conservative-controlled House of Lords of elected Members who wanted to show their strength, we could have gridlock. I do not accept that the Parliament Acts would be safe in such circumstances. Rather, we would leave ourselves vulnerable to the discussions in smoke-filled rooms between certain senior Members of 116 this House and certain senior Members of the House of Lords. Where would we have gone? What would we have achieved?
As time is short, I will finish by making a suggestion. For all its faults, I suggest that we continue with an appointed House of Lords. I am concerned about how those appointments would be made. I am concerned about quotas and would seriously object to them, although I would want to see every opinion in the UK represented. I would balance that by bringing in, on an elected basis, people from organisations; the heads of Churches, charities, employers' organisations and trade unions could provide a balance that might then restrict the powers of the people who would make the appointments.
It is not an easy question to answer. Speaking as someone who will never inherit anything, I think that we should have carried on with what we had. There is an argument for that, but we must now look forward.
§ Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot)
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson) for curtailing his remarks to allow me to speak. He asked what had been achieved by the Government's emasculation of the other place. The answer is absolutely nothing, except mayhem and confusion all over the country.
The institution may have been unique, and possibly eccentric, but it nevertheless commanded respect across the country. It was a repository of a great deal of wisdom and it knew its place. It could only go so far in challenging the principal democratic authority in this country—namely, this House.
That was all torn up by the Prime Minister in the name of so-called modernisation. The Prime Minister is guilty of an act of vandalism and the country will ultimately pass that verdict upon him. He will go down not as a great reforming Prime Minister, but as a man wholly without principle and vision. It is regrettable that, in the name of modernisation, the destruction of one of our institutions has taken place.
I am sorry that I have not participated in the whole debate, but I have been here for a good deal of it. The one feature of the debate has been that there is no consensus on an alternative. There have been all sorts of views expressed, but no consensus. That is why it was so irresponsible of the Government to introduce the measure that removed so many of the hereditary peers from the other place without putting something else in their place.
There is not going to be a consensus on the way forward. There will be no national coming together, despite what the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Tony Wright) said. There will be no coherent, agreed view on the way forward for the second Chamber. There is no enthusiasm in this country for unicameralism, and people do not believe that this House should be the only authority in the land. However, people are increasingly alarmed at the way in which the Government are trying to ram their policies through both Houses—here, where they are heavily whipped, and in the other place, which the Government are packing with large numbers of the Prime Minister's friends.
§ Mr. Paterson
Does my hon. Friend realise how bad the Prime Minister's friends are at turning up to the House 117 of Lords? We heard earlier about young hereditary peers not turning up. Many of the most famous cronies such as Lord Bragg are bad attenders; Lord Bragg missed half of the possible votes in 1997–98. Lord Simpson voted six times out of 157 opportunities, and Lord Sainsbury 38 times out of 161. How can friends of the Prime Minister be imposed as legislators if they do not turn up?
§ Mr. Howarth
My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point, but friends of the Prime Minister merely follow his example. After all, he never turns up to vote in this place.
§ Mr. Savidge
Has the hon. Gentleman also noticed how bad Lord Ashcroft is at turning up in this country?
§ Mr. Howarth
I had not noticed that, as my noble Friend is available more or less whenever I want a meeting with him—and, sad to say, I do not have millions to contribute to the coffers.
There is no consensus on the future. The key question is whether members of the second Chamber should be elected or appointed. My hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) advanced the case for election extremely effectively, although he did not persuade me entirely. However, people who think that a wholly elected upper House would not wish to arrogate to itself powers enabling it to challenge this House are living in cloud cuckoo land.
Regardless of the electoral arrangements, Members of the second Chamber will be elected by the same people who elect us. They will therefore claim an electoral authority and a mandate, just as we claim the mandate here. The existence of legislation to limit their powers and ability to challenge this House will not dampen their ardour for greater powers that will put them on a par with us. The result will be gridlock.
The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Savidge) suggested having voting and non-voting Members of the other House. The hon. Member for Basildon (Angela Smith) suggested that some should be elected and others not—a proposition also advanced by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North.
The Wakeham report proposes that representatives in the second Chamber should be drawn from various regions of the United Kingdom, but states that that would not result in a federal Parliament. That seems to be a contradiction. In believing that an elected second Chamber would want to challenge this House, I am conscious also that the proposal for an appointments commission is seriously flawed. The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North said that the very good and the very great will appoint the good and the great. That memorable expression will probably survive, and it is an accurate representation of what would happen.
The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) said that the commission should be restricted when it came to the sorts of people whom it should appoint. He said that it should take note of ethnic, gender and religious balance so that everyone would be represented. Such a huge prescription would be impossible to fulfil, and the result would be a complete farce. I do not believe that the appointments commission will work.
118 Ultimately, some form of appointment may be the only answer but, like my hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson), I can see that it might be appropriate to have as Members of the second Chamber people who represent a particular walk of life or activity. Conservative Members are very much taken with the idea that members of the Women's Institute might prove a formidable voice in the other place, as of right.
§ Mr. Howarth
They would indeed—an upper House, too.
After five months, we are no further on in terms of finding a solution to replacing the upper House. Ultimately, the nation will grieve that this Government have more or less destroyed the hereditary system. They have taken away from Parliament and the governance of the country men and women who were committed to a sense of duty and to service. They carried out their responsibilities with enormous dignity, and had a huge amount of knowledge that they placed at the disposal of the nation. They were cheap, and they turned up to take part in the affairs of state of this country. I for one mourn their loss, and the fact that there is no alternative in place is an indication of how bankrupt the ideas of this Government are.
§ Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)
I am particularly glad to have the opportunity to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth), for two reasons. First, it is not inappropriate that the final speech from the Back Benches in this interesting, if somewhat curtailed, debate should come from one who was such a stout defender of the former House of Lords. It is also appropriate that we should end with a tribute to those who served there not because they sought to serve there, but because they saw it as their duty, and who rendered signal service in many cases.
The other reason that I am glad to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot is that he, like me, has in the past been a Member of Parliament for Cannock. Indeed, it is 30 years ago to the day that I learned that I had been elected as the Member of Parliament for Cannock. I still have the honour of representing a very large chunk of that constituency for which I was elected, but there was redistribution later, and my hon. Friend had his first parliamentary incarnation as the Member of Parliament representing Cannock and Burntwood. Moreover, another Member of Parliament for the area took part in the debate—the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Tony Wright)—and made an interesting and thoughtful speech.
Trying to sum up a debate such as this is not easy, because where does one find the common threads? The Leader of the House talked about consensus. I completely understand why she has not heard all the debate. With her normal impeccable courtesy, the right hon. Lady let us know that she had to attend to other business. Had she been here—and the hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr. Tipping) will brief her on this—she certainly would have heard a wide array of views; yet three or four things stand out from this debate.
119 The hon. Member for Basildon (Angela Smith) said how sorry she was that the debate was not better attended. I agree with her entirely. This has been a very important debate, and it is a pity that more colleagues from both sides of the House were not here. My hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) said that he thought that the debate was three years too late. I believe that he is right. We should have had a debate on the principles of House of Lords reform at the very beginning of this Parliament. If that had been followed by the establishment of a royal commission, by now we could have been within sight of consensus.
My hon. Friends the Members for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls) and for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson) both talked about our not having a blank sheet of paper, and we must all bear that in mind. We are not devising a constitution from scratch—we are building upon something. I believe that the Government have not handled this well, to put it mildly, but it is in the interests of the country that we now work together to create something that really will serve the people of this country through the coming century.
I will come to the wide range of views in a moment. However, there were one or two matters on which there was a degree of consensus. First, there was a general desire to see the Joint Committee established. A number of hon. Members referred to that. The right hon. Lady said that it would happen in due course, but most of those who commented on that remark, from both sides of the House, did not find it good enough. We believe that that Committee should be established, and established very soon. As the hon. Member for Cannock Chase said, there are matters that it can consider on the basis of a degree of consensus.
There has not been tremendous disagreement on the powers that the second Chamber should have. They should be broadly in line with the powers that it constitutionally enjoys at present, but it should be free and unfettered in the use of those powers, and not feel inhibited and restrained, as it has sometimes in the past. The hon. Gentleman made that point.
Coming through the debate has been a recognition that in the other place there is a degree of expertise and public service that we would be much the poorer without. Those themes have featured from time to time during the past few hours.
When we came to the Wakeham commission, however, not a vast number of Members gave an unrestrained welcome to it. The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) is not in his place, and he explained why—he is celebrating his 30th anniversary of election to the House. I had to opt out of my dinner but he was able to go to his. I feel slightly envious. However, the right hon. Gentleman would say that, would he not? He was the deputy chairman of the Wakeham commission. He filled that role with his normal skill and aplomb, and he made a spirited defence of the commission.
The hon. Member for Corby (Mr. Hope) seemed to be broadly in agreement with the commission, although he made some churlish remarks about the way in which the House of Lords currently uses its powers. He seemed to want a toothless poodle to be replaced by a children's parliament, if I got him right.
120 The hon. Members for Burnley (Mr. Pike) and for Cannock Chase were both broadly sympathetic to the Wakeham commission, but they set it in the context of parliamentary reform. It is important that we recognise that we are considering one House of a bicameral system. We ignore that at our peril.
When we come to those who opposed the Wakeham commission, by Jove, what a galaxy of talent we have. Apart from the speeches of my hon. Friends the Members for Tewkesbury and for Aldershot—it sounds like the beginning of a refrain from a Shakespeare history play—we heard from the right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Mr. Maclennan). By Jove, that was a vicious attack. The right hon. Gentleman is well known as a musician, but this evening he forsook the clavichord for the claymore, and we had a vicious assault on the Wakeham commission. I am sure that when Lord Wakeham reads it tomorrow, he will quake.
My hon. Friend the Member for Teignbridge defended the present system with those qualities of gentle tolerance and sensitivity for which he has become so well known in the House. He did so most eloquently. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) attacked the Wakeham commission from an entirely different standpoint because he wants full-blooded elections. He wants an entirely elected second Chamber.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) also attacked the Wakeham commission, but from a different standpoint again. He wants the status quo, but he wants to call the second Chamber the Senate. He also wants the Prime Minister to retain the powers of patronage rather than to see them bestowed upon PricewaterhouseCoopers, which he thought was the alternative.
The hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice), with that emollience which has endeared him to members of the Government Front Bench, said that he thought that the Wakeham commission's report was half-baked and just another new Labour fix. The hon. Gentleman is in his place and acknowledges that I am quoting him accurately. He will be able to bring out his own edition of how to lose friends and not to influence people when he retires from the House.
My hon. Friend the Member for Chichester said that the electorate will accept only a directly and fully elected House. I have seen little evidence of electoral demand for reform of the second Chamber. That was the position before the general election, during it and since. Nor have I seen much disapproval of the other place. However, my hon. Friend made his case, as he always does, with erudition and force. It is a case that must be listened to carefully.
The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Savidge) wants to have a proportionally representative elected second Chamber. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Mr. Fraser) made some discerning comments about the role of the second Chamber, but he believes that we must move towards reform in the near future.
All those disparate views show that there is no consensus either in the House or in either party. Speaking for my own party, it is clear that there are gradations of view at all levels. Those who advocate a full-blooded, wholly elected Chamber—whether Labour, Conservative 121 or Liberal Democrat—must face the logic of moving towards a system with a separation of powers, fixed terms for Parliament and a written constitution. There is a perfectly valid and legitimate case for that. We do not have such a system in this country at the moment, but I believe that the logic of the argument of those who want a wholly elected second Chamber leads inexorably in that direction.
I also think that we have to answer certain criticisms when we talk of a directly elected House, which is why the present tendency of the official Opposition is to have a form of mixture. What about the Cross-Bench element? Most people would agree that parliamentarians who are independent of party make a special contribution to the other place.
§ Sir Patrick Cormack
I shall explain that to my hon. Friend in detail later, but I cannot do so in the next three minutes. If we are to have two Chambers, to redistribute their powers, and to move towards a fixed-term Parliament, it would be logical to enshrine all that in a constitutional framework, so we would move towards a written constitution.
It is important to have an independent element in the other place, such as the Cross Benches. Most people agree that it makes a unique and special contribution to our parliamentary deliberations. A number of hon. Members on both sides of the House have touched on the position of the established Church and the representatives of other religious faiths. Is there to be a place for them in a second Chamber? I believe that there should be, and that they represent an extremely important constituency. I also believe that we must face up to what we do with the Law Lords. Are we to have a separate supreme court or is it to continue as part of the second Chamber?
All those issues should be addressed by the Joint Committee, which I hope will be appointed very soon. If it is a broadly based Committee—we know nothing, as there have been no discussions on its size, composition or terms of reference—it must be able to address all those issues within a timetable that is not too constraining, and that enables it to report back to both Houses before the end of this Parliament. Otherwise, the promises that have been given are meaningless. I hope that when the Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office winds up the debate, he will give us a clear indication of the timetable.
The word "legitimacy" has been tossed around a lot. I hope that no one in the Chamber would suggest that our present system is not legitimate. Throughout the world, the Westminster system of democracy has been and is admired, and we should be very conscious of that. Up until now, our system has included an unelected second Chamber. Whether we change it is for this House and the other place to decide—principally this House. Do not let us connive at undermining our own legitimacy in the process.
However fast we move towards stage 2—a degree of impatience has been expressed on both sides of the House—what we have at the moment as our second Chamber must be regarded and recognised as such, 122 and we in this place should do all that we can to ensure that it works effectively. We should not snipe at that Chamber in a rather derogatory way, if it asks us—as it has every right and indeed a constitutional duty to do—to think again.
There is much work ahead. I hope that we shall be able to get down to it soon. Although some disparate views have been expressed, I hope that the debate was sufficiently encouraging to the Minister for him to announce the setting up of a Committee in the near future.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office (Mr. Paddy Tipping)
Let me begin where the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) left off. He referred to the impatience for change. There has also been impatience for this debate; hon. Members have pressed for it. The date was changed once for the convenience of hon. Members. However, the debate was worth waiting for; it was lively at some times and thoughtful at others. It is fair to say that there is unanimity neither between parties nor within them.
On occasions such as this, it is customary to praise the royal commission. We were told that the royal commission had been set such a tight timetable that it would never deliver. However, it has done so and we have had the opportunity to discuss its report this evening.
The welcome for the report has been slightly dismissive at times. The report was described variously as "ridiculous", "extraordinary", "bizarre", "deeply disappointing" and "a dog's breakfast"—and that was only from those Members who had the opportunity to speak. I am very conscious that at least two hon. Members sat through the debate and were unable to make speeches—my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr. Love) and the hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson). However, they both made their views known in sedentary and sometimes active interventions.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), who was a member of the commission, gave us some insight into its work. He described how individual members of the commission had changed their views and how, in the end, the report was unanimous and consensual.
It is important to realise that hon. Members, too, have changed their views. There have been substantial changes in the views held by Opposition Members. I remember both the Conservative manifesto, which stated that there would be no radical change for the upper House, and the comments of some hon. Members who supported the hereditary principle. There were dim and distant echoes of that this evening from the hon. Members for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls) and for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth)—
§ Mr. Nicholls
I urge the hon. Gentleman to ignore the ribaldry behind him and to say that, whatever else he thought about my contribution, it was neither dim nor distant.
§ Mr. Tipping
That shows that there is a long way to go before we reach consensus. However, as my right hon. 123 Friend the President of the Council pointed out in her opening remarks, the important point is that we should seek consensus on the matter.
The comments made during the debate make it clear that we shall not achieve consensus on all the issues. The highlight of the debate has been the relatively narrow focus on the composition of the upper House—from the elected element called for by some Opposition Members to the wholly appointed House advocated by others.
§ Mr. Kenneth Clarke
The hon. Gentleman talks about consensus. I am deeply suspicious about this call for consensus before anything more can be done. I remain suspicious that the Government intend to do absolutely nothing further about reforming the House of Lords. Surely, having come this far, they are committed to turning the Chamber into one that is defensible. They should state their view and defend it. Why can we not have the Joint Committee—the next step? Must we wait until a consensus emerges before we can take that next obvious step—on which we are all agreed—of setting up a Joint Committee to discuss the proposals?
§ Mr. Tipping
I would never call the right hon. and learned Gentleman a consensual politician. His attitude on Europe does not command consensus among Conservative Members. However, he will have to wait, because 1 am determined to spell out the way forward at the end of my speech. Let me remind the right hon. and learned Gentleman that significant important changes have been made. After a century of dithering, we have first-stage reform. We set up a royal commission; it reported on time; the House has had an opportunity to discuss its report; and we have set up an interim appointments commission. Change is occurring and it has been driven through by this Government and Labour Members.
§ Mr. Tipping
Let me do that, because there may be an element of consensus between us. I thank the hon. Gentleman for the opportunity to see today the pamphlet that he has published. I would like him to sign it, because there are elements in it with which I agree and that would work across the House. The hon. Gentleman asked me the way forward, so I shall spell out where we have come from and where we are going. We said that we would reform the House of Lords in a two-stage process—as the right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Mr. Maclennan) said, "So far, so good." The agreement was that reform would be carried out in two stages. We have got rid of the hereditary element, we have set up the royal commission and an independent appointments commission and we are going to go further.
The right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young) asked specifically about the Joint Committee. In a sense, the royal commission has done much of the work of the Joint Committee. The right hon. Gentleman asked for a public debate, but what was the process of the royal commission if it did not engender a public debate? It went out and sought evidence. The fact 124 that the debate did not take off may mean that it is not the top delivery issue for some people—that it may not be the most significant issue for people on the doorsteps of Hampshire and Nottinghamshire. However, we have had that debate.
The right hon. Gentleman said that he wanted the debate now, but then qualified that by saying that he wanted the Joint Committee soon. I am not breaking any confidence when I say to the House that he has had at least one opportunity for an informal discussion on the way forward. His colleagues in the other place have also had the opportunity to talk about the way forward. The right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross said that he was willing for discussion and that he would meet us any time, anywhere and any place. "Barkis is willin'," he seemed to say. We will set up the Joint Committee soon.
We have had the debate tonight and we have listened to it. It would have been nonsensical to have a royal commission report and not to have given the House the opportunity to debate it. We have heard the debate tonight. I say to the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire that we shall approach him over the next few weeks about the Joint Committee. The hon. Member for South Staffordshire made important points about what it should consider, and we shall talk to him about it. We shall try to reach a consensus about the size of the Committee, its timetable and its terms of reference. One of the important points that the hon. Gentleman made was that the Joint Committee would have implications for this House, too.
We must consider carefully how the Wakeham report will work in practice to involve people from the rough trade, as it was called, in the discussions. We are therefore going to have discussions with hon. Members about the way forward with the Joint Committee.
§ Sir Patrick Cormack
The hon. Gentleman could never be accused of being from the rough trade. Does "soon" means before the summer recess or after it?
§ Mr. Tipping
We shall have discussions with hon. Members over the summer. We shall work hard to set up the Joint Committee which will do the kind of things that the right hon. Gentleman has asked that it should do.
§ Mr. Maclennan
In the Labour party manifesto, the Minister spoke of the matter as part of a process to make the House of Lords more democratic. Is he prepared to say tonight that the Government firmly intend to make the House of Lords more democratic?
§ Mr. Tipping
Being democratic does not necessarily mean having elections. Let me say directly to the right hon. Gentleman that this Chamber is the important place for democracy, as it is elected by the people and it is from it that the Government are elected. This Chamber is the primary Chamber for democracy.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about the role of the second Chamber. Tonight, there has been consensus that that role is complementary. The second Chamber is not a clone of this Chamber, but adds value to it. There seems to be consensus on a whole range of issues. Clearly, there are differences, but there is consensus on a possible way forward for the second Chamber. The right hon. 125 Gentleman and his party advocate a large elected element in the upper Chamber. Indeed, I believe that they used to advocate a totally elected upper Chamber. However, having read the report of the debate in the other place, that is clearly not the position of some of the right hon. Gentleman's senior colleagues.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Tony Wright) gave a balanced speech in which he said that we should not waste this opportunity for real change. We are going to take that opportunity. Members on both sides of the House who say that we are not going to move forward will be bitterly disappointed. They said the same about stage 1, on which we delivered. We shall deliver on stage 2 as well.
The right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire did not advocate a totally elected Chamber, but the mixed model recommended by my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase. My hon. Friend talked about parity of numbers. I listened carefully to the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire, and shall examine Hansard carefully tomorrow. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to be advocating a mixed approach, which included an elected element of more than 197 Members in the upper House, which is more than is proposed in option C in the report. However, he left the way open for the remaining Members of the Chamber to be appointed by an independent statutory appointments commission.
Although some Members said that we would not, we have set up an interim appointments commission, which is meeting. We are determined to set up a statutory appointments commission that is truly independent and takes the power of appointment from the Prime Minister and gives it to a body that is something akin to the proposed electoral commission. That notion of an appointments commission is on a par with that of the National Audit Office and the Comptroller and Auditor General, which is above suspicion.
In conclusion, there has been widespread agreement, although there has been some disagreement. We are determined to build on the Wakeham report, find consensus and deliver on stage 2.
It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.