HC Deb 10 January 2002 vol 377 cc702-79

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Woolas.]

1.59 pm
The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Robin Cook)

When I presented the White Paper on reform of the House of Lords, I promised that the Commons would have a full opportunity to debate the Government's proposals within the consultation period. We are within the consultation period and this debate fulfils that commitment. The contributions to the debate can inform the period of reflection that must follow the end of the consultation period.

There would not be much point in our providing this day for debate if it did not permit Members who favour a different design for the second Chamber to express those views. I anticipate that we will hear from a number of them this afternoon. The White Paper is, after all, a consultative paper. It invited views on its proposals—

Mr. Chris Bryant (Rhondda)

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Cook

I have hardly begun, but if my hon. Friend will bear with me a little, I promise to give him priority.

The White Paper invited views on its proposals and, on some questions, it set out options for discussion. However, there are two points on which the White Paper is robust and on which the Government will not compromise.

The first is that the hereditary principle has no place in a modern Parliament. In the last Parliament, the Government took the historic step of breaking the dominance of the hereditary vote in the House of Lords. However, there remain 92 hereditary peers. We are the only Parliament in Europe which still permits members of the legislature to vote on the laws of the nation on no other basis than that of privilege of birth. The White Paper finally severs the link between the hereditary peerage and a seat in the House of Lords.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)

Given the vehemence of the right hon. Gentleman's statement about the hereditary peers and the support that he has from his colleagues, will he therefore guarantee that there will be a Bill on the reform of the House of Lords during this Parliament, and that under no circumstances will he allow the hereditaries to remain beyond this Parliament?

Mr. Cook

I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that it is indeed our intention to make sure that a Bill is brought before the House of Commons and the House of Lords in the course of this Parliament. That, after all, is the whole point of this debate—to establish the weight of gravity that will enable us to bring forward such a Bill.

Mr. Andrew Tyrie (Chichester)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Cook

I think that I owe it to my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Mr. Bryant) to give way first to him, as I promised to give him priority.

Mr. Bryant

I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way. Does what he is saying about the consultation process mean that if the consultation showed that people wanted a wholly or substantially elected second Chamber, the Government would then bring forward such proposals?

Mr. Cook

I will address the question of a wholly elected second Chamber in the course of my remarks. I have grave concerns about a wholly elected second Chamber for reasons that I shall put before the House. On the broad principle, of course we will listen to what is said during the consultation period. In the period of reflection that will follow, we will see where we can find the centre of gravity in order to move forward with reform.

The second core principle of the White Paper is that the second Chamber of Parliament must reflect the broad political balance in the country. The Conservative party remains the largest single party in the House of Lords, despite successive record defeats in general elections. I hope that, even among the Conservative party, this debate will establish that there is a consensus that a modern second Chamber must more fairly represent the balance of how Britain votes.

That is why the White Paper proposes a new statutory appointments commission that will determine independently the proportion of political appointments to the Lords in line with the distribution of votes for the parties cast at the previous general election. That will remove from the Government of the day the right to determine for themselves the political balance of new appointments. Never again will it be possible for a Government to use their political patronage to guarantee themselves a secure majority in the House of Lords, as the Conservative party did throughout its 18 years in office.

Indeed, given the distribution of votes in general elections, never again will any one party hold an outright majority in the second Chamber. That will make it a real check and balance on the majority in the Commons, which it was not during those 18 years of a Conservative majority in both the Commons and the Lords.

I am confident that the great majority of Members will welcome the removal of the hereditary principle and will support a second Chamber that is more broadly—

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot)


Mr. Cook

I may well turn out to be wrong. I will happily give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Howarth

I am most grateful. If the Leader of the House wants the other place to be an effective check on this place, why has it proved necessary for the Prime Minister to appoint so many people of his own persuasion to enter that place, thereby reducing significantly its capacity to act as a check on this House?

Mr. Cook

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has given me the opportunity to respond to that misconception. Throughout the Conservative years, there were two Conservatives to every Labour person appointed to the other place. Throughout the years since 1997, we have made only a minority of the political appointments to the House of Lords—a restraint that was never shown by the last two Prime Ministers.

Mr. Tyrie


Mr. Cook

I will bear in mind the hon. Gentleman's wish to intervene, but at the moment I want to make progress.

Mr. Tyrie

It is on that point.

Mr. Cook

How can I resist?

Mr. Tyrie

If the right hon. Gentleman looks at the facts he will find that, until last year, it was not the case that only a minority of Labour peers were appointed. This Prime Minister was the first ever to appoint a majority from his own side in his first three years in office. Secondly, the main reason why such a small number of Labour life peers were appointed during the 1980s was that Labour refused to nominate any.

Mr. Cook

I assure the hon. Gentleman that he is wrong on that last point. However, he has confirmed that over the four and a half years of this Labour Government we have appointed only a minority of Labour peers. We still do not have the majority that he attributes to us in the House of Lords. We are still only the second largest party there. I very much doubt whether Baroness Thatcher would have tolerated for four and a half years her party, through appointment, being only the second largest in that Chamber.

I said that I was confident of a welcome for the two core principles. Of course, I recognise that not all Members who support reform and those principles of the White Paper will necessarily support all the solutions by which it achieves those principles. What is now urgent is to find the package that would establish the greatest consensus among those Members of Parliament and the public.

The sole reason why Westminster has entered the 21st century still dignified by the presence of hereditary peers is that those who wanted reform could never agree on what to put in its place. I have heard many references in the past 48 hours to the alliance in the 1966 Parliament between Michael Foot and Enoch Powell to halt the proposals for reform. One of them wanted more reform and the other wanted no reform. Between them, they stopped any reform for 30 years. We must not let history repeat itself. The year 1911 is so long ago that many Members may have forgotten the preamble to the first Parliament Act—

Peter Bradley (The Wrekin)

Not in the Lords.

Mr. Cook

I defer to my hon. Friend's greater wisdom on that matter.

The preamble to the Parliament Act 1911 stated: it is intended to substitute for the House of Lords as it at present exists a Second Chamber constituted on a popular instead of hereditary basis, but such substitution cannot be immediately brought into operation". The authors of the Act turned out to be correct. It was another 90 years before the hereditary basis of the House of Lords was broken. I do not want the next stage of reform to be delayed another 90 years because we cannot agree on an alternative.

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North)

Does my right hon. Friend envisage that the Bill that will be introduced will provide a permanent solution to the reform of the House of Lords, or will it be an interim stage towards yet further reforms in the years ahead?

Mr. Cook

I personally do not see much point in our introducing a Bill if it does not stand a reasonable test of time. However, no Bill introduced on any subject or any issue of public debate can necessarily be the last word. It is in the character of Parliament that we evolve over the decades and centuries. What is important is that we achieve the right balance between a Bill that pretends to be the ultimate statement and a Bill that will nevertheless stand for a reasonable period and achieve progress that those who back it regard as worth while and worth the effort.

Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge)

Does the Leader of the House agree that any Bill must clearly state the ultimate aim of proportional representation for the House of Lords but also allow for a transitional phase to enable us to see how those proportions will be achieved over time?

Mr. Cook

Obviously, any Bill that is presented must in its legal text seek to give effect to its purpose but, having studied the matter over the past six months, I see no way in which reform can be achieved without a transitional period. That is not to say that the Bill should not in itself state what will be the situation at the end of that transitional period.

I was saying that although there is support for the principles, we must ensure that we find sufficient agreement on one alternative to make progress. I would therefore ask those who have come to the Chamber not to praise the Government's package but to bury it at least to be clear in their mind about the alternative that they would put in its place. That applies particularly to the official Opposition.

Last night, the Conservative leader in the Lords braved "Newsnight". He was asked whether he agreed with the statement: Your MPs are split from what your peers are saying", to which the noble and candid Lord replied, "Oh, absolutely."

This morning—[Interruption.] Conservative Members are pointing at us, but in these circumstances there is comfort in numbers. This morning I read in my Daily Telegraph that last night the shadow Cabinet decided on a policy. I would ask the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth): do tell. Let us know the new policy. For a century the Conservative party has championed the hereditary principle. In their time in government, the Conservatives never once proposed that there should be a single elected Member of the House of Lords. [Interruption.] Indeed, I see that some of them are still not up on the new policy agreed last night. In the last Parliament, they sacked Lord Cranborne for pulling the embroidered rug from under the feet of the hereditary peers—an action for which he deserved applause, not his P45.

The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst himself said in the debates in the last Parliament that he had no problem defending the long-standing hereditary element of the House of Lords".—[Official Report, 10 November 1999; Vol. 337, c. 1190.] He and his party have a lot of words to swallow if they are to be convincing when they say that they are now the champions of a democratic second Chamber. I would only suggest that they make a start today on that process of swallowing.

I recognise that the question of composition is the issue on which there has been most debate on the White Paper. Before I address that question, we should first be clear about what we see as the functions of a second Chamber. We cannot decide on the composition of a second Chamber unless we first decide what is its function.

The Government's view is that the second Chamber should remain a Chamber of revision of legislation, of scrutiny of Government decisions, and of deliberation on public policy. It should have the capacity to recommend policy and it should have the power to delay legislation that requires second thoughts, but it should not have the right to compel the Commons to change the view of its elected majority.

If the second Chamber is to discharge those functions in the public interest, it is essential that it should contain some members elected by the public. That is why the White Paper proposes for the first time that there should be members directly elected by the public to the second Chamber.

That principle of direct elections to the second Chamber has been broadly welcomed. The precise proportion proposed by the White Paper of those to be directly elected has not enjoyed quite such a welcome. That will be one of the issues on which the Government will need to reflect in light of the views expressed in this debate and in the country.

However, I would place firmly on the record my anxiety about a wholly elected second Chamber. I have served three decades in the House of Commons and I do not wish to see the supremacy of this place undermined. The White Paper starts from the principle that the House of Commons will remain the pre-eminent Chamber. It will retain the right to the final decision on whether legislation can become law and it will retain the sole right to decide legislation on taxation. The right to form a Government of the United Kingdom will depend on whether the Government can command a majority in the House of Commons alone.

David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that when it appeared to be the case, in the late 1980s, that our party was in favour of a directly elected second Chamber, I was among those Labour MPs who argued that we should not go down that road because, whatever might be written in the powers, the fact would remain that the directly elected House of Lords would be in direct competition with this House? Will he bear it in mind, however, that if there is to be a directly elected element—I firmly believe that there should be, as I argued in written evidence to the Wakeham commission— it should be more than 20 per cent. and a minimum of one third? Under no circumstances should the second Chamber be entirely directly elected; it would be wrong to take that path.

Mr. Cook

My hon. Friend and I have, broadly speaking, similar periods of service in the House and I fully share his concern to preserve the pre-eminence of this House and his anxiety that it would be impossible to do so in the event that there was a wholly directly elected second Chamber. No written document would be strong enough to withstand the challenge to the supremacy of the Commons by a second Chamber that felt that it had equally good democratic legitimacy. Over time, a wholly elected second Chamber would seek to approach parity with the Commons—perhaps even, as in the case of the United States Senate, to achieve more than parity with the Commons.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle)

Many Labour Members simply do not accept that. It is an assertion, not a statement of fact. If the powers and functions of the second Chamber are to be tightly circumscribed, what is wrong with having an elected upper House?

Mr. Cook

Plainly, I have failed to carry my hon. Friend with me and I must try harder. I fully admire the extent to which he is vigilant about his rights to represent the people who sent him to this place and active in using the House to pursue those interests. I ask him to contemplate how he would react if he found himself returned as a member of a wholly elected second Chamber and was then told that he had no right to vote on the taxation of his electors, no right to block—rather than delay—any law that was binding and no prospect of questioning Cabinet Ministers running the public services. I know my hon. Friend well enough to know that in those circumstances he would commence a vigorous campaign to ensure that he had the rights to do those things and to represent his people.

Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North)

I seem to remember that when we debated the Scotland Act 1998 a number of people made similar points, arguing that the Members of the House who came from Scotland would try to interfere with the Scottish Parliament. Most of us recognise fully what we are elected to this place for, and we vote on that basis.

Mr. Cook

I am not sure that I recognise that as a parallel case in the circumstances. I would also say to my hon. Friend and to my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) that of course we can—I would be enthusiastic about it if I were ever faced with such an outcome—write down and tabulate in statute what should be the limited functions of the House of Lords. I just do not believe that that tablet of stone would stand the test of time when confronted by a wholly democratically elected House of Lords that was pressing to change it, and which might sometimes find itself pressing for changes with the support of public opinion. But there is another reason why—

Several hon. Members


Mr. Cook

I fully understand that many of my hon. Friends wish to intervene on that point, but I shall make progress because many of them also wish to take part in this debate.

The limited functions of a second Chamber do not require it to mirror the democratic mandate of the House of Commons. On the contrary, the second Chamber will be better able to fulfil its role of deliberation and a more valuable forum in which difficult issues can be discussed openly if its debates are informed by the expertise and authority of people with a lifetime of distinction.

Parliament can benefit from a forum that can tap the experience of people who have devoted their lives to courses other than Parliament, such as science, the arts, the voluntary sector and business. This may seem strange to me, and perhaps to some of my colleagues, but it is a fact of life that only a minority of the population actually enjoy the prospect of standing for election. If we want to preserve and improve the standing of the second Chamber as a place that can draw on the expertise and first-hand knowledge of those who have not stood for election, we need to preserve an alternative entry to the House of Lords for independent Members.

That is why the White Paper proposes for the first time that there should be a new statutory appointments commission that takes the appointment of those independent Members out of political patronage. The White Paper proposes that the commission should have the duty to appoint independent Members to form 20 per cent. of the new reformed second Chamber. There has been much media criticism of the first batch of Members chosen by the present Appointments Commission.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Cook

No, I shall finish this point.

I invite hon. Members to consider the individuals who were brought into the House of Lords through that new transparent system. They include Valerie Howarth, chief executive of Childline, which she built up from a small charity to a national body. She has brought her expertise to proceedings in the House of Lords on child poverty. They include Mr. Amir Bathia, who has a long record of voluntary work, including as trustee of Oxfam. He has brought that voluntary sector experience to debates in the House of Lords on immigration and pre-school education.

Those people also include other distinguished members of Britain's ethnic communities, such as Dr. Michael Chan, who has a distinguished lifetime of contributing to the NHS as a paediatrician and as a professor in ethnic health. The House of Lords has benefited from his expertise in its debates on health. The truth is that those people would never have been likely to put themselves forward for election as party candidates and that they could not have taken part in those debates without an alternative entry system.

Mr. Harold Best (Leeds, North-West)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that such elected expertise probably exists in this Chamber and that it could equally exist in another elected Chamber?

Mr. Cook

As Leader of the House, I would be the last person to undermine the status, experience, expertise and the calibre of the House of Commons. No one is saying anything other than that the House of Commons is the wholly democratically elected Chamber, on which its prerogatives rest. If we were to exclude those voices altogether, the debates in the second Chamber would be poorer, and it does not seem unreasonable that 20 per cent.—only a fifth of the total membership—should be available to those independent voices.

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Cook

I shall give way, but then I must make progress.

Michael Fabricant

The Leader of the House will be aware that voting shares and non-voting shares exist under company law. Why has he not considered allowing certain people—such as the Lords Spiritual, the Lords Temporal and, indeed, the Law Lords—to attend and debate in the House of Lords without having a right to vote?

Mr. Cook

The hon. Gentleman's suggestion has been reflected in some of the responses to the consultation exercise, and it is obviously open to us to consider and to the House to reflect on that suggestion. I am not sure whether I would necessarily wish to constitute a second Chamber in which there was a very clear cleavage between the status, standing and rights of its individual Members, but that is obviously a consideration.

For those reasons, we believe that the right solution for House of Lords reform is to have a mixed membership of elected and appointed Members. That principle of mixed membership also appears to have the support of a majority of the public. The two most recent opinion polls show that only 30 per cent. of the public supports a wholly elected membership of the second Chamber. However, that still leaves us with a very difficult judgment—it must be a matter of judgment—about where the balance should be struck between elected and appointed Members. That is why the first of the six questions posed in the White Paper is whether the proposed balance between elected and appointed members is right.

Many hon. Members have already made it clear to me—some of them on more than one occasion—that they do not think that the proposed balance is the right one. I hope that today's debate can take us an extra step beyond that by establishing whether there is an alternative that would command a centre of gravity of opinion in support of reform.

Mr. Chaytor

Is it not the case that the composition of the overwhelming majority of bicameral Parliaments in the world is wholly elected? Is there any evidence that those countries have worse records of government or social stability than the United Kingdom, or that there is permanent gridlock between their two Houses?

Mr. Cook

I considered that matter carefully last summer, when we were developing the White Paper, and it is not the case that most bicameral Parliaments are wholly elected. Many of them, probably the majority, have a significant elected element, but many draw their democratic mandate not from direct elections, but from indirect elections. Indeed, in our closest comparators in Europe, it is commonplace in France, Germany, Spain and the Netherlands for the composition of the second Chamber to come predominantly from indirect elections from regional government.

I am conscious that some of my colleagues view that as a way to increase the democratic element in the House of Lords, but when the Wakeham commission investigated that option, it found no support for it among the regional or devolved bodies. One of the issues that can be resolved in the consultation exercise is whether that remains the case and whether the regional and devolved bodies would be interested in a route of indirect election as a supplement to direct elections and the democratic mandate of some of the second Chamber's Members.

There are several subsidiary questions. I shall not detain the House with them for long, but it is important to put them before the House for debate. One of the other issues raised in the White Paper is whether the 15-year term of membership proposed by the Wakeham commission is too long for the elected or appointed members. Is it necessary to change the remuneration of Members of the second Chamber from the present system of daily allowances, especially if there is a wish to elect more of its Members?

Finally, the White Paper invites views on the circumstances in which Members should be expelled from the second Chamber. Members of the House of Commons can be expelled on the grounds of imprisonment under a sentence of more than one year. No similar provision exists for the present House of Lords. If we seek a reformed second Chamber that will command respect, we must protect it against Members who bring it into disrepute.

The Government have put House of Lords reform out to consultation because we want to build on the basis of the broadest possible consensus for reform. This is the national Parliament of the British people. That is why we seek the widest consultation on the design of its second Chamber. A number of hon. Members have differences with some of the proposals in the White Paper, and we want to explore those differences in this debate, but most Members want reform to proceed, and I ask the House to recognise the far-reaching extent of reform on which the White Paper is based.

The reforms will secure four objectives of principle: they will remove the last of the hereditary peers from Parliament; they will introduce the first ever elected peers into the House of Lords; they will put the appointment of independent Members outside political patronage; and they will secure a political balance in the House of Lords that reflects the views of the British public in the most recent general election. I invite support for those four objectives of principle from all hon. Members who want a modern second Chamber—one that will not compete for power with the House of Commons, but will complement the House of Commons as a Chamber of revision and be in touch with the Britain of today, not the Britain of yesterday.

2.29 pm
Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)

Madam Deputy Speaker, The House of Lords should be replaced by an elected second chamber". These are the words of the Prime Minister in Cardiff in 1994. Labour will abolish the House of Lords and replace it with a proper democratically elected second Chamber with a new electoral system to go with it". These are the words of the Prime Minister at the 1993 Labour party conference. I think it would be very important to avoid the perception of the biggest quango in our nation's history". These are the words of the Lord Chancellor in 1997.

Having set the background to the debate, let me do that very modern, but for me rather uncharacteristic thing, and try to identify common ground between the Opposition and the Government.

Mrs. Anne Campbell

Does the shadow Leader of the House recall that, in 1999, he stated that he had no problem defending the long-standing hereditary element in the House of Lords? Does he still agree with that view?

Mr. Forth

I think that I said that in the context of our response to what the Government were then doing. My view then and my view now is that the hereditary element provided a splendidly robust and independent counterweight to the Government and to the House of Commons. I still hold to that view.

Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Forth

Let me answer the first intervention. I ask the hon. Lady to be patient.

The issue now is how we can best replace the robustly independent element that served this country well for centuries with something that is at least effective. I am not here today to say that we should return to a hereditary element; I am here to look forward. However, I have no hesitation in confirming that those were the words that I said then, and I have explained why I said them.

Glenda Jackson

Does the right hon. Gentleman's definition of independent in the context of the House of Lords apply to a body that during my lifetime—and, I would argue, for the whole of the last century and even before—was firmly tucked in the pocket of the Conservative party?

Mr. Forth

I wish that had sometimes been the case. Those of my right hon. and hon. Friends who had the privilege, as I did, to serve in government for a number of years will well recall that one of the primary questions asked during the preparation and passage of legislation was, "Will this get through the Lords? Will the Lords accept it?" As those Labour Members who have had the privilege of being here for more than one or two parliamentary terms will recall, the Conservative Government were, indeed, held to account very frequently by the House of Lords even when it was predominantly a hereditary body. My recollection in and out of government—as a Minister and Government Back Bencher—is somewhat at odds with the hon. Lady's.

Mr. Savidge

The right hon. Gentleman says that the House of Lords could be awkward to Conservative Governments, but surely he is an ideal exemplar of how awkward Conservatives are still Conservatives.

Mr. Forth

I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that high praise. I hope that I can continue to meet his description.

I was saying that I wanted to try to seek common ground between the Opposition and the Government, and I believe that there is some. We agree that there should be a second fully effective parliamentary Chamber. Indeed, we agree with the sentiments of the Prime Minister and the Lord Chancellor that I quoted a moment ago when they said that the second Chamber should at least be substantially elected to give it democratic integrity and credibility. We agree with the Lord Chancellor when he said in 1997 that the second Chamber must be "above patronage". It should be visibly and palpably above criticism, not a quango.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)

When my right hon. Friend says that we agree that the majority of the second Chamber should be elected, for whom is he speaking?

Mr. Forth

I did not say that. I said that the second Chamber must at least be substantially elected. Those were the words I used; those are the words I read. That is why I am, uncharacteristically, going to read most of this speech. It will save me from exactly the sort of pungent point that my hon. Friend has just made.

Mr. Chaytor

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House the range of percentages between which his definition of "substantially" falls?

Mr. Forth

No. It will not surprise you, Madam Deputy Speaker, to learn that I had anticipated that I might be asked that question, so I have armed myself with the words that were used by my noble Friend Lord Strathclyde in another place in yesterday's debate. He said that Her Majesty's Opposition in both Houses had accepted the invitation made by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and laid out in the consultation; that is, that we should respond by the end of the month."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 9 January 2002; Vol. 630, c. 570.] That is what we shall do.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough)

Perhaps I can help the right hon. Gentleman. As the originator of an early-day motion that has been signed by many Members and that refers to the word "substantially", I have discussed with colleagues what they mean by that. The overwhelming view of all those to whom I have spoken—most of the signatories—is that "substantially" must mean at least half the Members of the second Chamber.

Mr. Forth

I am grateful to the hon. Lady, and I am in substantial agreement with her. However, she and the House will learn by the end of the month what we mean by "substantially". I will not be tempted to tell her today.

Peter Bradley

Will the right hon. Gentleman reveal to us the temperature of those on the Conservative Benches? I have signed the early-day motion that my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) mentioned, but I am not aware of any Conservative signing it to support the principle of substantial election.

Mr. Forth

I must correct the hon. Gentleman—there are a number of Conservative signatories to the early-day motion. We have gone to some lengths to allow for the opinions of my parliamentary colleagues in both Houses to be expressed and to be gathered. Meetings and consultations have been held and, in whatever direction we proceed, it will be in full knowledge of the views held by my colleagues in both Houses. That is the way in which we proceed, and that is the way in which we have proceeded in this case. I hope that all my right hon. and hon. Friends will agree that they have had ample opportunity to express their views on this matter.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)

I have read with interest the Hansard reports of the debate in the other place and I have failed so far to find any Conservative speaker who wished to have any elected element at all. Can the right hon. Gentleman confirm that that is the case?

Mr. Forth

It is fair to say that the perspective of Members in another place is somewhat different from the perspective of colleagues in this place. That is necessarily as it should be, but we should always bear that in mind when we give great weight and consideration, as we will, to the views expressed in another place about its future.

Mr. Tyrie

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Forth

I will, but the House will want me to make progress because many Members wish to speak.

Mr. Tyrie

The hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) might care to take a look at the speech of Lord Goschen and a number of other speeches made by Conservatives. They all supported the principle of election.

Mr. Forth

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point.

I was about to say that we agree with the sentiments expressed in 1993 in "A New Agenda for Democracy—Labour's Proposals for Constitutional Reforms". It stated: a second chamber is a necessary and important check on the power of the first". However, if I am to be criticised for going too much into the past—fortunately, it is about the only thing for which I have not yet been criticised—and for selecting quotations made mysteriously before the Labour party was in government, I shall refer to the early-day motion that the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) tabled, which has attracted 177 signatures.

The early-day motion was initiated by six of the hon. Lady's colleagues in the Labour party and, by my reckoning, more than 130 Labour Members have signed it. It states: this House supports the democratic principle that any revised Second Chamber of Parliament should be wholly or substantially elected. It is in that context that we are entitled to assess the direction in which the White Paper wishes to take us.

If we take the assertions of the Prime Minister and the Lord Chancellor in their earlier incarnations and the contents of the early-day motion, it is true to say that the proposals in the White Paper are inadequate. I will argue that they are incoherent and lack consistency and credibility. Eight key proposals are enumerated on page 7 of the White Paper. I could probably endorse three or four of them, but by no means every one. There is some shared ground, but I fear that there are substantial differences on the essential elements, which I suspect will be reflected in the debate.

I challenge much of the analysis that underpins the Government's proposals. It is apparent from some of the statements in paragraph 16 on page 9 where their ideas start to go astray. For example: General Elections return individual MPs who are expected to look to the interests of their constituents irrespective of Party affiliation. Tell that to the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Mr. Marsden); he did not seem to think that. In fact, he thought so little of it that he left the Labour party to cross the Floor of the House, as he said at the time, to have the freedom that the White Paper asserts should belong to all Members of Parliament.

How about the statement:

The Party which secures a majority has the right to form a Government and … to carry through the programme set out in its election Manifesto"? Does that mean irrespective of all changes in circumstances? Does it mean only the measures in the manifesto? Does it mean regardless of any revisions that may be made by the second Chamber, which is crucial to this debate? All those matters are important glosses on what appears on the face of it to be an unarguable statement.

It is no surprise to me that the Government wish to reassert so vigorously, as indeed the Leader of the House just did, the doctrine of the absolute primacy of the House of Commons. However, they have made the Commons their creature to an unprecedented extent, and they continue that process through the so-called modernisation procedure. A combination of the routine timetabling of Bills, deferred Divisions, the elimination of debates on money resolutions, timetable motions and so on, and the almost regular delay in answering parliamentary questions or the non-answers given to them, set in context the repeated assertion that the House of Commons must be supreme. What I suspect that really means in today's context is that the Government in the House of Commons shall be supreme. It is against that criterion that we have to measure the White Paper's contents.

That would be bad enough, but when we examine the Government's attitude to what they call the reformed second Chamber, as revealed on page 11 of the White Paper, we see that the upper House has the duty, and the power, to press the Government hard to justify its actions". That is hardly an impressive endorsement of the powers of an effective upper Chamber. It goes on to state: The House of Lords is a powerful deliberative assembly". That is hardly a ringing endorsement of the concept of checks and balances to which the Leader of the House claims he is so attached. The House should notice that the other place is referred to not as a legislative body, but as a deliberative body. That important distinction gives an important insight into the Government's real thinking.

The White Paper goes on: The second chamber can question and criticise individual Ministers". Well, that is a real concession—except, of course, that only those Ministers who are Members of the upper House can be questioned on the Floor of that Chamber, which sets a limit on that power. It also states: There is no case for giving specific new functions to the House of Lords. That is an assertion; it does not make the case. I pray in aid again what Lord Strathclyde said in yesterday's debate: The House"— the House of Lords— should not have its powers reduced, as the White Paper proposes. It should retain the power to reject secondary legislation; the White Paper proposes removing it. It should have more power to consider and advise on financial matters; the White Paper has nothing to say on that matter whatever. The White Paper is nothing to do with authority, with legitimacy, with democracy or even with the core proposals of the Royal Commission's report."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 9 January 2002; Vol. 630, c. 569.] There is a case for at least looking, within the context of the balance of the powers between this place and another place, at perhaps increasing the role and participation of the upper Chamber, not reducing it as proposed.

Having said that, the greatest difficulty arises—as the Leader of the House was characteristically generous enough to accept—on the issue of the composition of the upper House. Hardly anyone seems to support the Government's proposal on that, except the payroll and some of the wannabes on the Labour Back Benches. Funnily enough, page 17 also contains eight points—the Leader of the House seems to have a thing about eight; perhaps it is his lucky number. I can agree with five of them, but that does not get the Government off the hook. The proposal for a majority of nominated Members creates the difficulties that follow in the rest of the White Paper. For example, the statement, It is sometimes argued that only direct election can provide legitimacy for the second chamber. This was not an argument accepted by the Commission or by the Government", sits oddly with the repeated assertion by the Prime Minister and others, including the right hon. Gentleman today, that a hereditary element in the House of Lords is an affront to democracy. It is beyond me how the Government can go on to assert that a nominated element in the House of Lords is not an equal affront to democracy, and that has never been satisfactorily explained.

In paragraph 38, the Government argue: a second chamber constituted on the same elected basis as the first chamber would be superfluous and dangerous. That may be so, but I am not aware that anyone is arguing that a second Chamber should be elected on the same basis as the House of Commons. Many people argue that the upper House could have a different electoral arrangement, different constituencies, a different electoral cycle and so on, and I suspect that we will hear those arguments today. However, the assertion in the White Paper does not deal with them; instead, it deals with the completely different argument, which I have heard no one make, that the upper House should be elected on the same basis as the House of Commons.

In paragraph 39, we get to our old friend, the bogey of gridlock in the case of A parallel elective basis of authority for two chambers with parallel functions". The Government reinforce that with a further threat that if the second Chamber were wholly elected, but on a different system from that used for the House of Commons, the two elected Chambers within the Westminster system would be a recipe for gridlock and the Government therefore joins the Royal Commission in rejecting this option. That is a familiar argument, and it is well understood here and in another place. In some ways, it is at the heart of the differences between the Government and nearly all the Opposition parties and more than 130 Labour Back Benchers.

Surely gridlock is not always a bad thing. It may sometimes provide an extra opportunity for deliberation, scrutiny and second thoughts before legislation is hurried through the parliamentary process. I freely admit that it would require a formal conciliation procedure between the two Houses if disagreement and gridlock arose, but that is not beyond the wit of man. We all know that the system has operated for nearly 200 years in the United States and in other contexts as well. That is not a final or definitive argument. Gridlock can, indeed, provide a safety measure if a party with a large majority in the House of Commons tries to force through a measure that is unpopular or unacceptable. That would apply whatever party was in government. In all those ways, the concept of gridlock is not necessarily the unacceptable or negative idea that is construed in the White Paper.

Sir Patrick Cormack

For clarity, will my right hon. Friend say whether he believes, as he did a year or so ago, that we should have an American-style system, with a directly elected Senate-type Chamber? He argued passionately for that before.

Mr. Forth

I believe what the shadow Cabinet believes. If I did not, I would not last long in it. My thought process, as my hon. Friend knows, is legendarily dynamic. I am capable of making infinite adjustments to my view on this and other matters.

The White Paper asserts in paragraph 40 that a mainly elected chamber would mean that independent members would virtually disappear and we would risk losing the potential the Lords provides to bring to Parliament the expertise and experience of those who are leaders in a wide range of national endeavours". But I notice that the Leader of the House, picking his words carefully as he always does, referred throughout his contribution only to a wholly elected Chamber.

To my recollection, the right hon. Gentleman did not address the argument about a substantially elected Chamber, which could include a significant number of independent and appointed Members, so he failed to address, as did the White Paper, what is probably the preferred option of the majority of people. Very few people are saying that the upper House should be elected on the same basis as the lower House, and very few would deny that a substantially elected House could contain a significant number of independent Members, thus answering the point that the Leader made.

It is when we turn to the White Paper's proposals on composition, however, that we see the real absurdity, because it tries to say that there will be a limited or capped membership that will be largely nominated, which, as I said earlier, must surely be an affront to democracy in the sense in which the Prime Minister and others have referred to it over the years, but at the same time, by some process that I cannot for the life of me understand, there will be representation of political parties reflecting the votes cast in the preceding general election. I cannot see how those elements can be squared.

The White Paper goes on to talk, in a sinister way, about regional elections on the same proportional system as is used for the European Parliament. Oh, dear. If that means closed lists, then we are back, effectively, to nominations through another route. How are we to square the inherently contradictory and conflicting principles of a limited membership and a membership that reflects the result of each general election? How on earth could a House whose membership is largely nominated but fixed reflect a change as dramatic as the one that occurred in 1997? In 1974, we had two elections in quick succession, in February and October. How could the upper House reflect that degree of alteration in its composition?

The Government's most difficult task, however, is to solve the problem of transition—the polite name for the question of how we deal with the lifers while introducing the Government's proposals. In a rare moment of realism, the White Paper says: there will be a real challenge both to work towards a reduction in numbers and rectify the clear imbalance in strengths of the two main political parties in the Lords. It goes on to offer, as an alleged solution, provision for members formally to retire before the end of their term. Anyone who listened to the debate in the other place, as I did, and read the account of it, as Members here have, will agree that it is unlikely that Members of another place will be persuaded, even by the charm of the Leader of the House, formally to retire from the upper House before their life term naturally expires. That is one of the great difficulties inherent in the White Paper's proposals.

Mr. Derek Wyatt (Sittingbourne and Sheppey)

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that a solution would be for life peers to vote themselves out, just as hereditary peers had to do?

Mr. Forth

That is a positive, interesting proposal, which will have to be considered. I am sure that the Leader of the House will want to pursue it.

Mr. Robert Marshall-Andrews (Medway)

Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the subject of composition, will he reflect on the following point? As I understand it, he is a substantial man, but not a total man. We all understand the rush of blood to the head that we get when we have the legitimacy granted by the electorate and the problems that it would cause in the House of Lords. Under these principles, some Members of the Lords will suffer from those urges, and some will not we are to have two species of Member, one superior to the other. Are the appointed Members to act as a brake on those who have urges inflicted on them by the electorate?

Mr. Forth

That is a fair question. It will depend very much on the length of the term served by elected and appointed Members in a hybrid House, which will affect considerably their attitude towards each other. It is a legitimate question, and there are answers to it, but it remains to be seen whether different sorts of Members in a hybrid House will manage to find accommodation with each other, and it will depend on the length of term, electoral cycles and the like. Whether the appointed will envy the elected or vice versa is an interesting question to which I cannot give a ready answer.

We still believe that the way forward is to have a joint Committee of both Houses consider the matter, to see whether we can expand the common ground that undoubtedly exists and build on the contents of the early-day motion, on what has been said in another place and on what we will hear in this debate. We want to make a genuine attempt not only to find a means of having an effective, reformed upper House but seriously to consider the role that the Commons plays in the parliamentary context. Let us not imagine that that can be done by focusing on the nature, composition and powers of the upper House without looking equally seriously at the role of this House, its relationship to the Government of the day and the dynamic that is created by one Chamber of the legislature producing the Executive and the Executive being part of it.

Until we deliberate on all those factors together, it will be very difficult for the Government to find a way forward. We make a genuine offer. We would want to play a positive role in a joint Committee. We urge it to be set up because we fear that the White Paper is going nowhere. I do not want the Government to use the fact that their White Paper has so little support as an excuse to shelve any further reform of the upper House. That cannot be allowed to happen, and I ask the Leader of the House to give serious consideration to a joint Committee.

2.57 pm
Mr. Chris Smith (Islington, South and Finsbury)

Let us remind ourselves what, at heart, this debate is about and why it is important. It is about power and the nature of that power, how it is exercised, who determines who wields it and how the people of this country are involved in that process. Surely, what we are seeking to achieve is greater democratic and representative legitimacy in the way legislation is framed and passed and the way the Government are held to account. That must be the test of any proposals. I am afraid that I do not believe that the Government's present proposals pass that test. Quite simply, the Government have not got it right.

There are some things on which virtually all of us can agree. First, there is no place for the hereditary principle in the legislative process. It must go. Secondly, I believe that the primacy of the Commons must be clearly established and confirmed. There can be no substitute for the direct relationship between MPs and their constituents. There is an important objective in avoiding legislative gridlock. Of course the Opposition like the idea of gridlock—it is a recipe for permanent Conservative bias in the system—but effective government requires that we seek to avoid, as far as possible, the prospect of gridlock.

Thirdly, there ought to be a second Chamber. The Commons does not always get everything 100 per cent. right. Fourthly, the powers of the second Chamber should be broadly similar to those at present: to revise, to advise and to hold to account, but not to overturn or override the main thrust of legislation. Let us not forget that the other place has considerable powers. For example, to my grief over many years, its Members have caused enormous damage to our lesbian and gay citizens. I do not wish to remove those powers from it, but it is important to maintain its revising role, rather than a principal role of initiating and passing legislation. Finally, it makes sense to divorce the honour of a peerage from membership of a legislative assembly.

There is broad agreement on both sides of the House on all those points. Beyond that, we enter more difficult territory, but that should not deter us from making the attempt. There will be a multitude of proposals on how to proceed, but the worst thing would be for us to do nothing as a result. We should have a genuine debate about how to achieve better democratic legitimacy without sacrificing the important principle of the supremacy of the Commons.

I shall offer some basic principles for consideration. Any new Chamber needs to be substantially elected. In my book, "substantially" means at least 50 per cent; 20 per cent. will not do. Surely there is also a need for representatives to be sought from regional assemblies, national Parliaments and assemblies and local government. Their appointment or nomination should not be made by party leaders, but should come directly from local or regional bodies. Is there not also scope for seeking representatives who are drawn directly from other parts of society—business, trade unions, voluntary and charitable sectors and faith communities? In that context, we should end the unjustified automatic inclusion of a number of Church of England bishops. We should divorce the judicial system from the legislature, establish a separate highest court and end the automatic inclusion of judges. We should aim at a much smaller overall membership of the second Chamber. There is talk of 750 Members as a transitional figure, and 600 Members as a final total; but those figures are far too high.

One problem that the Government have brought upon themselves has arisen from the fact that they started from the status quo, which they tried to push, pull and squeeze in a more rational direction, rather than starting with a set of principles and working from that point. We should not let the present composition and nature of the House of Lords dictate what happens in the long term. Of course, getting consensus will not be easy and there will be different options to consider. However, the present set of proposals is not the right starting point. I urge my colleagues in government, with understanding and respect, to make another start on their proposals.

Madam Deputy Speaker

I remind Members that Mr. Speaker has imposed a 10-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches.

3.4 pm

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)

I agree with a great deal of what the right hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) said. Rather to my surprise, I found myself agreeing also with a great deal of what the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) said, particularly in his peroration—specifically, we are in danger of isolating our discussion if we do not see it in the context of the reform and modernisation of Parliament as a whole.

I want to concentrate for a moment not on the role of the House of Lords, but on that of Parliament. What is its job and how can we make it more effective? I was interested that in his evidence to the Select Committee on Public Administration this morning, Lord Wakeham admitted that his remit did not permit him to consider the reform of the House of Lords in the context of that of Parliament as a whole which, he said, was above his pay grade. That was unfortunate but perhaps inevitable, because a royal commission has to concentrate on certain things, which is another good reason for a Joint Committee of both Houses to look at the issues in the round.

It is a happy coincidence that we are discussing reform of the House of Commons in parallel with the proposals. It is an even happier coincidence that the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), who has a long record as a parliamentary reformer, is at present Leader of the House. I remind him that he was the joint author of an agreement with the Liberal Democrats before the 1997 general election—the so-called Cook-Maclennan agreement—in which he committed himself to recommendations for a democratic and representative Second Chamber". The White Paper before us this afternoon does not fulfil that promise.

A holistic approach to the reform of Parliament, reviving and strengthening both Houses to enable us to hold the Executive to account, is the context in which we should be operating and is in the interests of the whole electorate. This is not necessarily an esoteric issue of interest only to the chattering classes. Every single citizen of this country should be interested in making Parliament a more effective vehicle for their concerns. Until now, I fear, the reform of the House of Lords has been of personal interest to the chattering classes, their friends and relatives—ermine-fringed anoraks, as it were—as it has concerned their own expectations. It should not be so; we should go much further.

Before dealing with recruitment to that body, I wish to look at Parliament's job. What is this whole place about? First, it is to represent the people, constituency by constituency, by having free and open elections. That is our principal job in this House. Secondly, it is effectively to scrutinise and influence legislation and policy proposed by the Government; both Houses should be involved in that. Thirdly, it is to hold the Executive to account for all their actions. Fourthly, it is to protect the rights and liberties of citizens and, in parallel, encourage other countries embarking on parliamentary democracy. Finally, it is to provide a reservoir of able men and women from which Ministers may be recruited.

Mr. Forth

Should not the hon. Gentleman have put providing the Government first on his list? Does he not agree that a genuine difficulty that we face in the reform of Parliament is how to deal with the fact that this House or legislature creates and sustains the Government at the same time that it has to hold them to account and scrutinise their activities? The fact that we in Parliament provide the Government gives rise to some of our greatest difficulties.

Mr. Tyler

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman; I was just coming to that point. Democracies in other parts of the world have approached the separation of powers in a very different way, but in this country we have dodged the issue for years. There is a good case for examining it in the round in both Houses; I accept the point that he made.

The reform of the second Chamber, proceeding in parallel with the reinvigoration of this Chamber, must achieve greater democratic legitimacy—surely, we all share that common ground—so that its work is complementary to that of the Commons: together we can hold the Government to account more effectively. The creative tension is not between the two Houses; that is a new Labour pink herring. The creative tension is between both Houses and Whitehall. That is what it is all about, and what it should be all about. It was extraordinary that the Leader of the House again paraded the issue of the supremacy of the Commons; nobody is questioning that. What we are saying is that the supremacy of Parliament over the Executive is critical in a parliamentary democracy.

Given that he is a great internationalist, it was not good enough for the Leader of the House to say that other bicameral systems in other parts of the world had somehow got it wrong. We in this country have a great deal to learn from other countries in that respect.

We should be seeking to complement the work that is done in each House rather than to compete. Good government and effective scrutiny go together, as the Leader of the House has said on several occasions. That means the whole of this building will be involved if we are to achieve better government.

Judged against those objectives, we found the royal commission recommendations woefully timid and desperately disappointing. However, in our worst nightmares we could not have believed that the Government would water down Wakeham. It was bad enough at the start, but to find that the White Paper is even worse is extraordinary.

Paragraph 24 has already been quoted. It states: There is no case for giving specific new functions to the House of Lords. Who says? If new democratic legitimacy is being given to the other part of Parliament, why should such proposals not be considered? There may be issues that neither place currently considers properly—a point to which I shall return.

Surely, if greater legitimacy is given to a democratic assembly, the right of that part of the democratic system to do more work rather than less and to have more responsibility must at least be considered. For example, the Government are currently suggesting that the reserve power to veto—it is only a reserve power—should be taken away on secondary legislation. We need some checks and balances in the system, especially on European legislation. At the moment, that is an important part of the second Chamber's function. We should not be weakening an arm of Parliament in relation to its responsibilities to consider what the Government are up to, but seeking to strengthen it. We should again look at the Parliament Acts in that respect and we must learn from other bicameral assemblies that have done that most effectively.

Mr. Bryant

The hon. Gentleman referred to the reserve power being taken away on secondary legislation. Is not a three-month delay a stronger power than a veto that is never used?

Mr. Tyler

The veto has been used in the recent past, although I admit that it has happened only once. Hon. Members may recall that it was used very effectively and achieved a major change in respect of the government of London. As the power was rarely used and the Lords showed that they felt so strongly about the matter that it had the maximum effect, I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman.

There are a number of areas where Parliament is currently failing but where the second Chamber could have an important role. It could have such a role with regard to increased use of pre-legislative scrutiny, perhaps through Joint Committees in some cases. Cross-party business planning would ensure that we did not have some of the absurdities mentioned by the Leader of the House in the context of the modernisation of this House. There could be a Select Committee on treaties. As my right hon. Friend Baroness Williams of Crosby has pointed out on a number of occasions, it is ludicrous that we have no right to examine treaties in either House. A Joint Committee may be the answer, but it is outrageous to have nobody in that role. Treaties as important as those relating to the World Trade Organisation are of great interest to our constituents, but we cannot deal with them. Perhaps there is no room on our agenda here, but there might be room in the other place.

The royal prerogative is a huge area in which Parliament is not doing its job. Gradually and incrementally, successive Governments have expanded the royal prerogative in a completely undemocratic way. There is no answerability or accountability to us. The House of Lords, especially in the sort of format that we are considering, would have a very important role in that regard. For example, it would have a role in relation to public appointments and to providing effective questioning of what quangos are doing in the name of the Government.

Finally, there is a role with regard to protection of some of the fundamental principles of our constitution. We are edging towards a constitutional settlement, with devolution to different parts of the United Kingdom. There must be some quasi-constitutional court to ensure that, in the process, our civil liberties are not severely diminished.

My colleagues and I are not suggesting a huge increase in powers, but we will certainly resist any attempt to dilute the powers that the House has at the moment and we will look for ways to improve the situation.

I deal now with the democratic legitimacy of the second Chamber. I was interested in the reference to 1911. I do not recall it, but I think that I am right in saying that it was my colleagues in the Liberal Government who had the great problem with the House of Lords at the time. I think that they were right to say that the contrast and choice were between a popular Parliament and a hereditary one. We cannot go on dodging the issue. In the end, either we want our Parliament to be answerable mainly—not substantially, but predominantly—to the electorate, or we will be fudging the issue. My colleagues and I believe strongly that we should proceed firmly and expeditiously to a second Chamber that takes its authority from its democratically elected mandate—full stop. By the end of the transitional period, there should be no more political appointments. Perhaps that period will be 10 years or even longer, but at the end of it we cannot have any more corrupt patronage. That must go. In the meantime, we must ensure that we are moving in that direction.

It was extraordinary this morning to hear Lord Wakeham referring to this situation. At one stage, he spoke about rejecting the idea of an appointments commission for those coming from the regions and nations of the United Kingdom. He said that the people should be the appointments commission, but then backtracked again. If the people are to constitute the appointments commission, that will reflect the logic for the majority of Members of the House to be elected. I do not deny that there is a case—although I think that it is limited—for allowing a minority of independent Members of the House to sit as Cross Benchers. Incidentally, I see that Charter 88 estimates that only 10 per cent. of current life peers in the other place have any expertise that is not already available to the House, so I think that the role is limited.

Given those circumstances, I found a recent briefing to the parliamentary Labour party extraordinary. I have a copy of the briefing and very interesting reading it makes. It states, in ringing terms: A wholly or largely elected second chamber would be neither right nor practical". The last four words are underlined, which shows how strong those feelings are. I understand from a number of hon. Members that the briefing did not get universal applause at yesterday's meeting of the parliamentary Labour party. It contains no logic to follow up the statement that I have mentioned. It has been made—and, indeed, it is underlined—but there is no rationale to follow it. That is extraordinary. After all, this is the party that, for generations, and ever since I have been interested in politics, has attacked the House of Lords as undemocratic. If anything goes wrong there, there is a tendency to say, "They're unelected; you needn't take any notice of them." If 70 or 80 per cent. are still going to be unelected, that will be a very difficult problem.

I accept that there is a problem in terms of transition. Getting rid of peers at speed—let us put it mildly—will not be easy. I understand that somebody at the parliamentary Labour party meeting who was asked how many peers there should be referred to the number of lamp posts in the United Kingdom, as if stringing them up would be the quickest way to achieve attrition. I must warn the House that, even if that is thought to be too dramatic and drastic, leaving the matter to the attrition of the grim reaper will take a long time. The actuarial assessment of one of my noble colleagues in the other place—he may be slightly morbid, as well as mathematically expert—is that it will be well into the middle of this century before we get down to a sensible number. The average age of peers before they eventually decide to go not just to another place but another world is increasing. In those circumstances, we simply cannot accept the idea that a House of 700 or 750 Members will exist throughout our political lifetime.

Mr. Mark Fisher (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that if, like me, he supports a wholly elected Chamber, none of those problems should arise? Even if there is a transition with a small element of non-elected people, the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Mr. Wyatt) that they should select their own small number, just as with hereditary peers, is a very simple solution and would work perfectly well.

Mr. Tyler

I agree and accept that that may be a good way forward.

We must accept that the objective for the end of the transitional period should be a smaller House, perhaps of 300 Members but certainly not much more. We should go for a House that is free of all direct party political patronage and that has minimal obligation or deference to the Executive. That point has already been made by several hon. Members. There should be no Member of Parliament clones or aspirant Members of Parliament. It has been suggested that a minimum age should be set for Members of the other Chamber. I am not sure whether that is acceptable. However, if they are to be elected, we must try to ensure that candidates do not simply want to climb the greasy pole.

What should we do? First, elections must be fixed term, and whenever possible they should not coincide with general elections. If they happen on the same day, it is almost inevitable that we shall have clones at the other end of the building. Secondly, elections must be carried out through an effective system of proportional representation, and I hope that the recommendation for the single transferable vote will be accepted. Thirdly, it is important to provide for partial changeover so that we do not have "all out" at the same time and thus make continuity difficult.

I believe that there should also be one-term limits so that, once there, Members are not beholden to the party hierarchy for their return. I believe that most of my colleagues in both Houses support that. If half the House is elected on the same day as the European Parliament, the limit should be for 10 years—full stop, fixed term. There is thus no question of climbing back into favour with the party hierarchy.

The suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso) is good for the longer term. He speaks with the authority of the only former hereditary peer who sits in this House—I remind hon. Members that he does that with a democratic mandate. If elections for the second Chamber coincided with those for the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly, the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Greater London Assembly, and I hope, English regional elections on a four-year cycle, and a 12-year period was allowed so that only one third was elected at any time, that would provide for consistency and continuity but free Members of ambitions for office and of party loyalty.

We perceive no need for retaining separate religious or legal representatives. The case for a supreme court is separate, and we have not examined it properly yet. However, there is no argument for Law Lords. Religious and legal representatives might be eligible to make up some of the small number of independent Cross-Bench Members.

If, at the end of the transitional period—whether 10, 12 or 15 years—there is representation by but not from the devolved institutions, that should not replace the elected component. The former may be supplementary; there are some advantages to electoral colleges in the regions of England and the other national institutions. They could provide an extra element to the second Chamber, but that must not happen to the disadvantage of those who are directly elected.

The White Paper proposals constitute the worst sort of wishy-washy compromise. They satisfy nobody, and there is no majority in either House for them. By the end of today, I believe that we shall find that the Leader of the House is well aware that that applies to Members of the House of Commons as well as to his colleagues in the other part of the building. Almost 200 hon. Members have signed the early-day motion; most are Labour Back Benchers.

Liberal Democrat Members will work with others in all parties and in both Houses to achieve legislation that will encompass five principles. First, we should develop a comprehensive approach to parliamentary revitalisation in both Houses. Secondly, we should resist any dilution of the role of the second Chamber in dealing with primary and secondary legislation as well as scrutinising Executive action. Thirdly, we should extend parliamentary scrutiny to cover aspects of government that neither House currently examines. Fourthly, after the transitional period, we should end all party political patronage, which is no longer acceptable for a 21st century legislature. Fifthly, elections should be conducted on a PR system that gives maximum voter choice and achieves broad proportionality for voters' party support.

We are prepared to talk to everybody on that basis and we believe that there is a consensus in the House that will achieve it.

3.24 pm
Fiona Mactaggart (Slough)

I am worried about House of Lords reform not because I am a geek about structuring the second Chamber—I can be; I have all sorts of ideas—but because I believe that we have a specific responsibility to democracy. It is not extreme to suggest that democracy is going out of fashion; it is frail and fragile. Participation in the last general election was poor, and, as those who carry the flame of democracy, we have a responsibility to feed it. I am worried about the proposals for reform because they could do the opposite. Not reforming the House of Lords would certainly do that. It is important that proposals emerge from the debate to provide for reform that reinforces democracy.

Why is democracy important? It asserts the primacy of people in making decisions. I was interested in the contribution of Lord Norton of Louth, who said in the upper House that democracy was a bit overrated. He said that when people were asked whether they would prefer decisions to be made by an absolute expert on a subject or an elected person, 49 per cent. said that they favoured an elected person and 43 per cent., an absolute expert.

Whatever happens, we will not get a Chamber of experts on every measure, because that is not possible. However, when offered a House of experts, the majority of people would prefer Members whom they pick. We must tell people that they have the right to choose because they are good at it, and better than the Government at picking those who should hold them to account. In reforming ourselves, we should acknowledge people's ability to choose well.

Our behaviour in the Chamber is one of the reasons why people's confidence in the electoral system has been damaged. We are very tribal; our behaviour is summed up by "These guys are right, those guys are wrong." The House of Commons works on that basis. There is a role for that in politics. Sticking to a party line and manifestos keeps politicians straight, and it is important. However, it is not the only thing that makes politics sensible. When picking over detail and carefully considering measures that are part of a Government's programme, rather than forming that programme, it is good for people to point out that the emperor has no clothes, that a provision will not have the intended effect, and to suggest alternatives.

It is important that such people should be at the heart of the second Chamber. They should make the major decisions. We should encourage those who are prepared to be a bit sceptical and do not necessarily follow a party line. The Wakeham committee's proposals for long terms and not allowing people to hop between Houses provided a reasonable model for rewarding and encouraging the sceptics. Ours should be the primary Chamber. We should be the people who act as tribunes of our constituencies and as the voice of the people, but the people should choose the eminences grises, the reflectors and those who say, "Hey, hang on a minute. Let's stop and think." That should be the fundamental role of the second Chamber.

What is most depressing about the White Paper is the fact that it envisages that, in a House of 600 people, 332 will be appointed by the political parties nominating them. That number is not mentioned in most of the papers that we have been discussing, but that is what would result from the proposals in the White Paper. The White Paper and its companion documents also argue that elections are a bad thing, which is very much against the traditions of my party and of this place, and not something that we should stick to.

I welcome the Leader of the House saying that we had to work out some fundamental principles on which to go forward. There is a job to be done here, and the White Paper can be a starting point, but we have to find a way of introducing legislation. I am one of those who believe that we have to legislate, and that we cannot continue with the hereditary element that remains in the second Chamber.

The four principles proposed by the Leader of the House are a start. Let me remind the House of them. The first is to abolish the hereditaries. The second is to have elections, and in that respect I must stress that people will expect at least half the Members of the Chamber to be decided by the people, if we are to have elections with which people can engage and towards which they can make a commitment. The third principle is to reflect the political balance in the country. That is best done by elections, frankly. The fourth is to retain an independent element.

I accept that there can be a place for a Cross-Bench independent element. It should not be huge; indeed, the White Paper does not propose that. It proposes an independent element of 20 per cent., which I would be prepared to accept, if that is the way to build consensus. Those Members should be genuinely independent, and they might help to make the Chamber the more deliberative, consensual and thoughtful place that we require. We should also consider other matters, such as the scope of the work of the Chamber. We are being unconfident in not giving it more powers to reflect on issues such as the World Trade Organisation.

We have an historic opportunity here. In 1911, Parliament said, "We have to have a popularly decided second Chamber." Ninety years later, we got rid of the hereditary bit, which went half way towards achieving that, although we kept a few of them in order to get there. Now is our opportunity to create a genuinely popular second Chamber, and we must do it. If we do not, we will reinforce the process by which the people of Britain lose confidence in their legislature. If they do so, and if we contribute to that, we will damage the constitution and the fabric of the government of this country for centuries to come.

3.33 pm
Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire)

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), and I have much sympathy with many of the points that she made.

It is almost exactly two years since Lord Wakeham's commission produced its report, a task that it was challenged to do within a year. It responded well, and no doubt hoped that the momentum urged on it by the Government would be matched by that Government. It is worth reminding the House that Wakeham envisaged the first elections for the upper House happening in June last year. In June 1999, we were told by Ministers that the Commission was 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."—[Official Report,9 June 1999; Vol. 332, c. 743.] So after a brisk sprint round the first lap by Lord Wakeham, the baton was handed over to a jogger in rather poor shape, and it has taken the Government nearly two years to produce their response, optimistically entitled "Completing the Reform." Reading the foreword by the Prime Minister, one would have thought that the Government had simply accepted the Commission's views. He summarises Wakeham and then says: The Government strongly endorses the Royal Commission's vision of the role and importance of the second chamber. It also accepts the Commission's broad framework for composing its membership. There is no hint there of any disagreement.

Of course the Government do not accept the broad framework, however. They want something quite different that would undermine the legitimacy, independence and effectiveness of the second Chamber. Only when we get to the small print of the White Paper do we read some words that the late Sir Nigel Hawthorne would have enjoyed delivering: There are however a number of areas where further consideration of the practical effects of certain recommendations has led the Government to consider some modification of the precise recommendations so as to ensure implementation of the Commission's principles in the most effective way possible. In a sentence, those words emasculate the Appointments Commission and propose shorter terms, undermining the independence of the second Chamber.

I want to make a number of brief points indicating the way forward. First, there has been a tendency to represent the debate about Lords reform as a two-dimensional contest between the Lords and the Commons: if one gains, the other must lose. But the true picture is multidimensional, and the real contest today is not between the Lords and the Commons but between Parliament and the Executive. In that battle, the two Houses are not rivals but partners. Without waiting for the Government to determine what to do next, the two Houses need to develop stronger links with each other.

We have an increasingly influential Liaison Committee in this House, and perhaps that should open a dialogue with the comparable body in the Lords to discuss matters of common interest. One issue about which we could talk to their Lordships is paragraph 5 of the White Paper, which says: Labour supports modernisation of the House of Lords' procedures to improve its effectiveness. We have tasted some of Labour's modernisation down here, and although I do not criticise all of it, the motive has been the expedition of Government business, rather than better scrutiny of legislation. My strong advice to their Lordships is that they, not the Government, should decide how to improve their effectiveness.

Secondly, the current position of a wholly appointed Chamber is unsatisfactory. The Government have asserted that the House that we now have is more legitimate and more effective. However, there is no sign of the Government respecting the new House; nor do I think that they will until its composition is changed. When the Government lose, it is just like old times: more threats and abuse. The Lords have recently defeated the Government on anti-terrorism legislation, and quite rightly so. The Government must accept the legitimacy of criticism from an effective second Chamber, and we need a House with more authority than the present one, and a Government who respect it when they lose the argument.

My third point is on numbers. Wakeham proposed 550 Members, and the White Paper says 600. That strikes me as rather high. We have 660 Members here, a number that is scheduled to go down when we lose the presence of a number of Scottish colleagues. Even with 630, I believe that the lower House will still be too big. It is difficult to see why the revising Chamber has to have 600. No one has proposed that it should carry out the demanding constituency role that we carry out; nor is it proposed that it should provide more members of the Executive than it does at the moment. I would aim at the Wakeham maximum or below it.

The White Paper does not make it clear how we would keep the number at 600, if more peers are to be created to get the balance right after each election. To take an unlikely scenario, let us suppose that the Liberals were the largest party after the next election. They would be entitled to more peers than the largest Opposition party—that is, 222 instead of 65. But if the number of Members is capped at 600, how on earth would we achieve that proposal?

My fourth point is on composition. I believe that the new House should be one third non-political and appointed, and two thirds political and elected. I accept that many 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—hence the one third. I also believe that no single party should have a majority in the upper House. Keeping one third of Members non-political while dividing up the political two thirds between the major parties should ensure that no party has a majority in the upper House.

There is an extraordinary passage in the White Paper seeking to reject this option which deserves quotation: A mainly elected second Chamber would have the following, further, practical disadvantages: The independent members would virtually disappear. That is manifestly absurd. In my example of one third appointed and two thirds elected, the appointed Members—the independents—could number about 200 and might form the largest bloc in the upper House.

I would like the two thirds who are politicians to be directly elected by open rather than closed lists. By definition, those people will not be political innocents and there is no reason for them not to go through the single gentle encounter with the electorate proposed by Lord Wakeham—an encounter much less taxing than anything we have to go through—which brings me to my next point, which is the British Rail argument: that produces the wrong sort of politician.

There is an unspoken view in the upper House, which is, "We don't want the rough trade from the other end of the building up here." In his speech yesterday, Lord Wakeham said that that would produce a second Chamber that was a clone of the other place, full of professional politicians".—[Official Report, House of Lords, 9 January 2002; Vol. 630, c. 582.] Lord Longford put the point less tactfully two years ago: We would get the dregs."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 7 March 2000; Vol. 610, c. 955.] 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 of a Member of Parliament in the highly political dominant Chamber to which we must get re-elected.

When the sort of people we are move from this environment to another one down the other end, our behaviour changes, and the greatest examples of that are Lords Wakeham and Hurd. When they were here, they behaved like Members of Parliament, but in the less partisan, more reflective environment of the upper House, they behave like peers. There is therefore nothing inherently suspect or inappropriate about people who want to stand for election being Members of the upper House; our former colleague, John MacKay, was one of the outstanding performers in the upper House until his untimely death last year.

That brings me to my penultimate point—the rival mandate argument: if we have a predominantly elected second Chamber it will challenge the mandate of this Chamber. The second Chamber is clearly defined as complementary, but in the end subordinate to this one. Its powers are those given it by this House, which is pre-eminent, and they cannot be unilaterally changed. The assertion is that that settlement might be challenged and that there would be tension between the two Houses if the upper House were elected, but Members of Parliament are all elected on the same day on the basis of a party manifesto and for one Parliament. We are elected to the pre-eminent House that sustains the Executive and produces the Prime Minister. We submit ourselves for re-election.

None of those conditions would exist for the upper House were it to be elected on the basis that I suggest or, indeed, that suggested by Wakeham. Many of its Members would not be elected at all and they would have no mandate, while those who were elected would be elected at different times on different mandates; so 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 unsustainable.

So what do we do next? The only sensible way to resolve the issue is by a free vote on the various options, starting with the most radical—all Members elected—and then working down. On this side of the House, it is known that there is a variety of views and I see no reason for them to be restricted by the Whips. On the contrary, it would injure the standing of Parliament if either side became heavy handed.

Thanks to the early-day motion, we know that a significant body of opinion on the Government Benches disagrees with the Government on the percentage to be elected. As a party politician, I would love the Labour Chief Whip to exercise the diplomatic skills that achieved prominence last year to dragoon her party into line, but that would be absurd, so I look forward to a sensible debate followed by unconstrained Divisions leading to legislation that passes to the statute book quickly.

3.43 pm
Mr. Mark Fisher (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)

I believe that in a democracy the public should decide who represents them in Parliament. For that reason, I favour a wholly directly elected second Chamber, and I suspect that there is a growing and approaching consensus for a wholly or substantially elected Chamber, as the early-day motion suggests. The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) chose his words carefully, but I take it that that position is about to take hold among Her Majesty's Opposition, which is right and proper. Primacy between the two Houses has been much discussed, but the real primacy in our democracy lies with the people. Strangely, however, the electorate are not mentioned in the White Paper, or in any previous document on the subject; it is all about membership, not people's right to have a say in who represents them.

Greater steps have been taken by the Government in the White Paper and over the past four years than at any time since 1911, so they should be congratulated, but by the end of the debate they will gain the impression that the White Paper is not "it". I doubt whether a single Member in any part of the House will speak uncritically in favour of the White Paper, and I am sure that the Leader of the House will note that.

I want to persuade the House of four points. First, we should consider the remit and responsibilities of both Chambers. Secondly, those, rather than the method of election or the membership, are the key to it all. Thirdly, distinct roles are possible and if we achieve them we shall avoid gridlock by design. Fourthly, we need a robust and effective second Chamber, not one that is artificially constrained because we are worried about its achieving primacy.

On the first point, we must consider the role of the second Chamber in relation to how we change the role and responsibilities of this Chamber. We all recognise that Parliament is both seen to be, and probably is, failing to impress the public with its ability to hold to account and scrutinise the Executive. The balance between the Executive and Parliament and between the Executive and this Chamber has skewed unnaturally and wrongly, and we and the Government are all the weaker for it. We must consider reforming the two Houses together, because their complementary nature is the key.

The White Paper does not take that perspective, and its other great strategic mistake, from which many problems flow, is that it asks the wrong questions. It asks how we should get rid of the hereditary element and find an alternative basis for membership rather than the crucial questions of how to establish Chambers that will perform better democratically and how to find remits that are complementary, not competitive. I welcome the Leader of the House's having made it clear that the role of the second Chamber is much more important than the debate on membership of it. That demands that we consider the roles first, then the membership.

What are the two roles? The hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) rightly considered an earlier stage—the relationship between the Executive and Parliament, which has weakened—and only after such consideration can the roles of the two Houses be dealt with. The second Chamber surely must be a House of scrutiny, a point excellently described by the Leader of the House, and a better House of scrutiny than at present.

There is no case for introducing legislation in the second Chamber. This is the House of the Executive, and leaving aside private Members' Bills, it is the Government's responsibility to introduce legislation, which, first and foremost, should come from here. I hope that the Leader of the House's proposals on loosening the spill-over are accepted. If they are, the ability to introduce Bills in the second Chamber will no longer be important.

Those proposals would establish a different role and relationship, but the most crucial difference, which would solve so many of the problems that we are chewing over this afternoon, is excluding members of the Executive from the membership of the second Chamber. Ministers should not sit in that Chamber. This is the House of the Executive and our role is to hold the Prime Minister and the leading Ministers to account in person. We do not do that well enough, but that is our responsibility.

As soon as we removed Ministers from membership of the second Chamber, it would truly become a Chamber of parliamentary scrutiny. There would be no need for Members to get on the bandwagon and pursue a parliamentary career, so the Whips would be relieved of their powers. The White Paper wants to achieve an independent Chamber, but does not know how to do so. Independence would change all the balances between the two Chambers and resolve the gridlock almost at a stroke, because the Houses would become distinct. Clearly primacy is here, with the Executive, but the other House has an important scrutiny role.

I think that once that has been achieved, other developments will result. There will be a more independent House, and there will be different relationships between its Members and the electorate and between its Members and the Executive. There will be no potential Government in that House; it will be a House for scrutiny and deliberation.

I also think that the House of Lords should be far smaller. There is no need for it to contain more than 300 people. Indeed, there is no need for this House to contain more than about 400. [Interruption.] The House should be smaller. Anyone who does not recognise that should consider the matter objectively, leaving aside his or her own job or career. Both Houses of Parliament are far too big. [Interruption.]

The Leader of the House demurs. Surely our responsibility in regard to this democracy is rather wider, and rather more important, than our responsibility for our own jobs. Perhaps it is easier for those who are approaching the end of their time in this House to see that.

Both Houses are too big, and the idea that the second Chamber should contain more than 700 Members is a nonsense that must be laughed out of court.

Mr. Wyatt

My hon. Friend said earlier that the turnout in some elections was so low that there was cynicism among the electorate. The lowest turnout was for the European elections. Could MEPs be nominated to the House of Lords? Could they sit there for one week a month, perhaps?

Mr. Fisher

I often agree with my hon. Friend, but as I have made clear, I favour direct election rather than nomination. The House of Commons has experienced a system of nominations to the European Parliament, and it was not a great success.

Mr. Michael Connarty (Falkirk, East)

I hoped that my hon. Friend would elaborate on a small caveat that he issued earlier. He referred to a wholly elected House of Lords, and then mentioned the possibility of a majority-elected House. I hoped that he would recognise the new context in which all democracies involved a devolved democratic process.

It seems to me that unless there is some way of allowing the devolved parts of the United Kingdom to participate in processes down here by means of a second Chamber, there will always be a problem. Those parts of the UK will see their role purely as a competitive role in relation to us. Is there not some justification for nominations allowing representation of regional assemblies in the scrutiny to which my hon. Friend has referred?

Mr. Fisher

I am not sure whether I am allowed time off for interventions, but in any case I will not follow my hon. Friend down that line, because I do not believe in indirect elections.

Another advantage of a second Chamber that is not based on patronage is the fact that it would have confidence in itself. The danger currently posed by the White Paper is that, to create an artificial primacy for the House of Commons, it deliberately constrains arrangements in the second Chamber by providing for fewer resources and no payment, and making a number of matters convoluted. To establish that primacy, it provides for a feeble second Chamber that would jump at its own shadow. That is not in the interests of any of us.

The Leader of the House is getting so much right. If we are to consider modernisation here together with modernisation of the other House, he should surely be responsible for the overall policy. He could then proceed much more confidently, and be assured of the confidence of the whole House.

Each of us is here only because of democracy. I believe that today we should put our trust in democracy, and ensure that the second Chamber is democratically elected—not in competition with us, and not without the involvement of the Executive—so that we can truly strengthen the scrutiny of Parliament by both Houses and ensure that they have both distinct and complementary roles.

3.54 pm
Mr. John Maples (Stratford-on-Avon)

Along with every other speaker, the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) made a powerful case for a substantially or wholly elected second Chamber; but think that he and others have overlooked some important second and third-order aspects of their proposals that would result in a fundamental change in our constitution. This is why it has taken us 90 years to get around to the third stage of House of Lords reform. Everyone knows that it is ridiculous for us to have a House of Lords with no democratic legitimacy, but it has suited us all quite well: the lack of democratic legitimacy has enabled the Lords to survive with very limited powers. I believe that once it is given democratic legitimacy, it will acquire much more power by one means or another.

The second Chamber must be either elected or nominated. There cannot be two classes of Member. There cannot be some who have lots of democratic legitimacy because they have been chosen by the electorate and some who have none—who are there because they have been nominated as Bishop of Winchester, or because they have been nominated by the Prime Minister or my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. It must be one or the other.

It is in that regard that I consider the White Paper to be fundamentally misconceived. It seems that the Government want democracy, but do not want it quite yet. They want a bit of democracy, but not the whole lot. They want a rainbow House consisting of elected Members, party nominees, ex officio Members, a couple of bishops and some independent people appointed by a commission about which I shall have more to say.

The Government claim that they want the House of Lords to be representative of society as a whole. I do not know about anyone else here, but I do not want it to be representative of society as a whole; I want there to be some wisdom in it. The current Prime Minister appointed about a third of its Members, so if it is lacking in wisdom that is at least partly due to him. What we need, surely, are people who can credibly say to the Government, "You have got it wrong; think again." That involves two essential ingredients—independence and expertise.

If the Chamber is elected, it will be dominated by political parties. It is not possible to be elected to any organisation in this country without being a candidate representing a political party. There is no worse system for imposing party discipline on candidates than proportional representation in which people are on a party list. Proportional representation is, of course, the only system of election to a second Chamber that would produce a Chamber that might defy the Government, but I think that we are in serious danger of simply replicating the House of Commons in one way or another.

Mr. Tyrie

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Maples

I must make some progress. I have only 10 minutes, and I want to make a few more points.

The basis on which the election will be different will, in fact, provide for only minor differences. I think that we will find that the second Chamber is full of party politicians—perhaps people who are better than those here, and perhaps people who have failed to get here, but who are party politicians none the less, with all the party patronage and all the involvement of the Whips that accompany membership of this place.

When politicians are elected, they are not satisfied with the facilities that they have elsewhere. They want offices, secretaries and researchers. Those who do not believe that should bear it in mind that when I entered the House—I have been here for only a short time; the Leader of the House has been here for much longer—the allowance was just enough to pay for one secretary, whereas I can now employ three or four members of staff, have three computers, and have £1,000 a month left over to spend on other things.

I want more office space. Everyone does, because of all the staff they have. These people will want the same—and, dare I say, they will also want salaries. They will end up duplicating our role, to a large extent. They will start holding surgeries, writing articles in their local papers and writing to their constituents. They will start doing the same things that we do. There are already 659 of us doing that, and I do not think that we need any more. Indeed, I agree with the Members who have said that fewer could do it here.

Those people will not just want offices, researchers and secretaries; they will want more power. An elected second Chamber will have as good a democratic mandate as this place, and will not be satisfied with a revising role and the right to a 12-month delay. It may not happen immediately, but there will come a time when the second Chamber will challenge the role and primacy of the House of Commons.

Let us suppose that the Chamber was elected on a different basis and at a different time. Let us suppose that 80 per cent. of its Members opposed a Government Bill, and that the Government were in the dog days of a Parliament, lagging way behind in the opinion polls and probably heading for defeat in the next general election. The second Chamber would be able to argue that it had greater democratic legitimacy than this plac—that it had a democratic right, and that it was representing the people of this country better than the legitimate Government. That represents a fundamental change in our constitution, which could result in a Government with a significant majority in this place having their legislation blocked.

Some Members may say that that would be a good thing; but if we are to move down that road, let us recognise that it would not merely represent a minor change in the constitution: it would be a move towards an American-style constitution, in which the Government would have to negotiate their programme with the legislature. If that is to be done, let us do it openly. I am a great fan of the American system, largely because it stops Governments doing very much—and since Governments usually mess things up, that is probably a good idea. Let us not pretend that making the House of Lords wholly elected would be merely tinkering with it. It would be a very big change.

Those people who have made the case for a substantially or wholly elected House of Lords have an attractive case on the ground of democracy, but nobody has dealt properly with the second and third-order issues that, to my mind, mean that the case for an elected second Chamber has not been made.

Mr. Patrick Hall (Bedford)

The hon. Gentleman said that an elected second Chamber would inevitably demand more powers. Surely that could not occur unless this House agreed.

Mr. Maples

Yes, but the case for those powers might be overwhelming. We could have a hung Parliament or significant popular demand for it could be expressed. The history of this House has been the acquisition of more and more powers over the past several hundred years, first from the Crown and then from the House of Lords. We cannot set the situation in aspic, and any new set-up will be organic and take on a life and agenda of its own. To suggest anything else is fanciful.

If we are to have an elected House of Lords—a second Chamber, or whatever we will call it—I agree with the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central that it should be a proper legislature. In other words, it should have no Ministers, because then it has some chance of being really different from the House of Commons. People would not try to pursue careers as Ministers by pleasing the Whips and the party hierarchy, but could concentrate on examining what the Government were doing.

People should not be elected for 15 years and not allowed to run again. That is the worst kind of democratic representation, because people would not be responsible to those who elected them. The proposed appointments commission is a real horror. I cannot see how it would advance democracy to take away the rights of hereditary peers and hand them to a commission consisting of the chairman of a building society, a couple of goods and greats from the charity world and a partner in PricewaterhouseCoopers. Why should they have the right to decide who votes in the second Chamber, any more than the accident of birth of the 800-odd people who happen to be hereditary peers—two of whom now sit in this Chamber—should be used to decide who has those votes?

The nominations should not be made by some quango but by the Prime Minister, who is accountable to Parliament. He has to make the nominations openly, and conventions give leaders of other parties the right to appoint working peers. Conventions also give certain people—such as former Cabinet Ministers—the right to go the House of Lords if they want to and those conventions should be extended to, for example, the president of the Trades Union Congress, the chairman of the Confederation of British Industry and presidents of the royal colleges. Such people would add independence and expertise.

If we are to have ex-officio members of the House of Lords, why should that include only a few bishops and judges? There is a good argument for judges having nothing to do with the legislature, and there is no argument for just having bishops of the Church of England. I would be happy to see the ex-officio principle extended so that those members of the House who were nominated could be produced other than by nomination by the Prime Minister. However, it is farcical to suggest that we should create a quango to which we should hand over the rights of the electorate.

While a persuasive case can be made for a wholly elected second Chamber, it does not deal with the second and third-order issues, which make the proposals a far more fundamental change to our constitution than its proponents recognise. I would prefer a nominated House without the hereditary peers—for whose presence there is no justification—with the same limited powers that it now has. The only way to provide the independence, expertise and—if I dare say it again—wisdom is to have a nominated, not elected, House.

4.3 pm

Mr. James Plaskitt (Warwick and Leamington)

I am happy to follow the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples), my constituency neighbour, but I disagree with most of what he said. It is becoming evident—if it was not easily anticipated—that the White Paper is in some trouble. That is because it is a mix of principle and old-fashioned political fixing. The problems arise when constitutional reform is more of the latter than the former.

The best constitutional reforms in history are those that proceeded from a core principle, such as devolution. That was achieved by this Labour Government from clear first principles, was well established and has taken root as a settled part of our constitutional arrangements. However, when constitutional arrangements are changed as part of a political fix, they tend to be unstable, fail to take root and do not work. The White Paper is a mix of the two.

When my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House introduced the White Paper, he was on solid ground because he referred to core principles that are not negotiable—such as getting rid of hereditary peers. That is the easy part. However, the White Paper slides too quickly from certain principles into political fixes, and that is where the problems start. We need to achieve as much of the reform as possible on the basis of clear principle—why we are reforming the second Chamber and what its purpose will be. If we are clear about those principles and work from them, we will be able to achieve good and lasting reform, which will not happen if we mix up principle and political expediency.

All constitutional reform—and certainly this reform—should attempt to tackle the lack of esteem in which Parliament is held. I refer my right hon. Friend to his excellent document, "Modernisation of the House of Commons: a reform programme for consultation", in which he says, in the final paragraph: There are many factors which have contributed to the decline in turnout at the General Elections, but one of them has been the long term decline in esteem for Parliament. That is right, and in reforming the House of Lords we are reforming Parliament. I therefore urge that we heed the message of the 59 per cent. turnout in the general election and the point that my right hon. Friend makes about esteem, and link our reform of this House with what we wish to achieve through reform of the upper House. If we think of the reform of Parliament in its entirety, we will do better than if we try to keep the reform of the House of Lords in a separate box. That is why we are heading towards difficult territory.

The public have a problem with Parliament. They see it as outmoded, and in large part irrelevant and weak. Some of that perception is about this Chamber, but it includes the House of Lords. The public understand and support us when we reform on principle—such as putting an end to the hereditary peers—but if we are to concentrate on the esteem of Parliament, we should consider how the public will perceive our reform of the upper Chamber. Will they understand our aims if we get rid of the hereditary peers but retain a majority of appointed members? I do not think that we will take the public with us on that. They want us to continue reform, but it must be on broadly acceptable terms. The public will simply be baffled by the complex reforms proposed in the White Paper.

We are trying to rebalance the legislative and executive branches and addressing issues of accountability. Democracy must be the default position. We must start from the assumption that a house of a legislature should be elected unless a good case can be made for it not to be elected. The Government have two key arguments in favour of the White Paper. One is the gridlock argument and the other is the loss of independence and expertise. They are important points and worthy of consideration.

The gridlock problem arises only if the two Houses have similar powers. It is clear that they need not do so. The White Paper gives the example of America when it mentions the problem of gridlock, but that is an unfair point because the American constitution is fundamentally different in its structures and principles. That is not a valid defence of the point about gridlock. We can resolve the issue by having a clear definition of the functions of the two Houses. They will not be duplicate functions. The second Chamber will have a scrutiny and refinement role that is quite different from that of this place. The Executive will remain enshrined in this Chamber and the money power will rest here. Even if there is conflict between the two Houses, we are not incapable of devising ways of resolving that. Mediation processes can be brought into play.

We have not heard a lot about the second point: the argument about the loss of independence and expertise. Why is that deemed important? A number of reasons emerge from a reading of the White Paper, including the volume of legislation and the complexity of governing in the modern state. That is prayed in aid of the need for expertise if scrutiny of legislation is to be effective. But in this Chamber, we legislate and scrutinise, and yet the argument about bringing in independence and expertise is never used in respect of this House. We are deemed adequate, as elected Members, to write legislation, but somehow when it comes to scrutiny, there has to be independence and expertise brought to bear. There is some inconsistency in that.

The problem arises because the Government are trying to fit independence and expertise into membership of a legislature. Independence and expertise are needed to support the work of parliamentarians, but they do not have to be inside the Chamber. In the context of parliamentary reform as a whole, we must ask what we do to support ourselves with independence and expertise in all the scrutiny work that this Chamber does and that an upper Chamber would do. We can provide Select Committees—of this or that Chamber alone, or joint Committees, or pre-legislative Committees, all of which are needed and envisaged in the context of Commons reform—with permanent standing committees of experts and advisers on whom they can draw. There is a role for that, but we start to get into problems when we argue that that expertise has to be contained within a Chamber, rather than working in support of that Chamber. There is an answer to that impediment as well. The points about gridlock and expertise are fair, but if we think coherently and stick to the democratic principle, they can be overcome.

I am concerned about the inherent instability of the White Paper's proposals, which will not bring an end to the argument about what the upper Chamber should be like. There is nothing inherently logical about having 20 per cent. of the Chamber elected, or 33 per cent., 50 per cent. or 66 per cent. If it is not a simple, clear, logical and coherent solution, it will be the subject of permanent argument. If we get stuck on that, we will get distracted from other things, and we will not do anything to help rebuild esteem for Parliament, which is what we should be in the business of doing.

4.13 pm
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)

The hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Plaskitt) made a thoughtful speech, but I am bound to say that I found the speech of his neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples), a very much more convincing one. My hon. Friend outlined the real dilemma that faces the House today: because of the Government's inept and clumsy handling of constitutional matters, we are—rather like the Irishman—not where we want to be, but we are here and we have to face facts. The facts are as was lucidly annunciated by my hon. Friend.

If we are to reform Parliament, we have a choice. We either seek to improve what we have or we seek to create something entirely different. The logic of the former position of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), the shadow Leader of the House, was entirely right; indeed, it was impeccable. He believed that we needed to re-write—or, indeed, to write—our constitution. He believed that we should have a second Chamber that had real power and was directly and wholly elected. He believed that the relationship between the two Houses should be broadly similar to the relationship between the two Houses of Congress in the United States. That is an impeccably logical position and a perfectly honourable and honest one.

It happens to be one with which I do not agree. I am an evolutionist. I believe that we should concentrate on improving what we have and not create something different. I do not want a wholly written constitution. I recognise that if we move towards a wholly elected second Chamber, all the consequences to which my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon referred, and many others besides, are inescapable. At a stroke, we would move towards the disestablishment of the Church of England and towards the establishment of a supreme court, both of which may be desired by many Members.

I am not seeking to argue that they are not logical things to want, but the House must face up to the consequences of its own actions and proposals.

It is fatuous to suppose—my hon. Friend was again entirely right on this—that we would be able to create a wholly elected second Chamber that was permanently and perpetually subordinate to this House. If we had people of real calibre seeking election to that place, and if they had a mandate, they would, over time, inevitably come to challenge us. If they were elected on the same day, we would merely have a replication—two elected Chambers, one subordinate to the other. If they were elected at a different time, we could have an unpopular Government of the day, wanting to get what they considered essential parts of their mandate through, while, at the other end of the Corridor, we had people with mandates stretching many years ahead who believed that they could overturn and challenge that. The prescription for gridlock, and worse, is there and we have to face up to that fact.

I believe that it would be far better to go down the road referred to by my hon. Friend. I would prefer a wholly nominated House. I do not believe that one can dismiss as pleasantly and lightly as did the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington the question of expertise. I do not believe that it is sufficient to have experts who are merely advisers to Select Committees and individual Members. I believe that it is right and proper to have people of real intellectual quality and ability in the other place. The country as a whole does not regard us as being less than admirable because of the activities at the other end of the Corridor; it does so because of the activities at this end of the Corridor.

I also believe that the argument about legitimacy is spurious. If we look around the world, we see that many second Chambers are not directly elected. Nobody questions that France is a democracy, but it has an indirectly elected second Chamber. The same is true of Germany. In Canada—where the second Chamber has the power of total veto—there is a wholly appointed second Chamber, with senators serving for 15 years. In my view, we would be far better building upon what we have, and having a second Chamber that is wholly nominated.

Such a Chamber would not be illegitimate. When one goes around the world, nobody suggests that this country is not regarded as a democracy. Indeed, we are held up in many places as being the fount of democracy. We hear—it is frequently misquoted—that this is the mother of Parliaments. It is not; the Bright quotation is that England is the mother of Parliaments. Other countries look upon us as a great democracy, and they do not believe that that position is invalidated for half a second because we have a second Chamber that is not directly elected.

Fiona Mactaggart

Yes, they do.

Sir Patrick Cormack

I am sorry; I do not think that that is the case. As I have said, there are many second Chambers around the world that are not directly elected.

I agreed completely with my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst on one point: we must remind the Government of their oft-repeated promise that a Joint Committee of both Houses would be established once the first stage of reform had been completed. That Joint Committee would look at all the implications and possible varieties and permutations of change. It is incumbent on the Government to honour that promise, which seems to have been forgotten and abandoned.

We should have a Joint Committee of both Houses, but there is no hurry about the matter. The second Chamber exists and functions effectively. The Joint Committee should look carefully at the various options. We should decide whether to have a written constitution in this country, which would entail a reorganisation and reordering of the respective powers of the two Houses. If that is the decision, we should move towards having a wholly elected second Chamber. If we decide that what we have is too good to throw away totally, we should safeguard and improve it. The only sensible way to do that is to follow the advice of my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon.

Hon. Members talk about elections as though the public love them, but a certain election fatigue has set in. People expect Parliament to scrutinise, supervise and hold the Government to account. They vote for us to do that, but far fewer people voted last June than in previous general elections. The percentage polls for the number of people voting for other assemblies such as local government or the European Parliament invite several questions. Do we really think that people would vote for the sort of second Chamber envisaged in the White Paper? That directly elected Chamber would have no more powers than the Government were willing to allow.

Would that directly elected second Chamber attract the necessary calibre of candidate or the enthusiasm of the population? It would not. Would a derisory turnout of 25 per cent. confer great legitimacy on that body? Would not having directly elected people in the second Chamber give more power to the political parties than even the patronage system gives? After all, everyone in the second Chamber would owe their position to one party or another.

I urge the House to approach this matter with great caution. We are talking about the constitution of our country, and we must get it right. The Government have not been especially helpful in setting us on the right road, but we can still redeem the position. However, we will not do so by going for the gimmick, or by rushing something through before the next general election.

4.22 pm
Mr. Robert Marshall-Andrews (Medway)

It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Members for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) and for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples), who spoke earlier. Their Thermopylae speeches, if I might call them that, were as fine a defence of the indefensible as it is possible to imagine.

Before I continue, I shall do as I did in 1999. I shall come out straight away and say that I am an unreconstructed, unrepentant and practising unicameralist. I do not believe that there is a need in modern democracies such as ours for a second Chamber. However, I am also a realist, and I understand as well as anyone that unicameralism, like heavenly bliss, is not for this world; at least, it is certainly not for this Parliament, so other matters need to be addressed.

Mr. Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North)

My hon. Friend has at least one supporter in the Chamber—me. Does he agree that the speeches made today make our case even stronger than it was before?

Mr. Marshall-Andrews

Yes, I do. However, before I deal with that I wish to make a brief plea for the unicameralist position, if only to ensure that the argument does not go by default. It has always seemed to me that having a single Chamber would avoid in the most dramatic way the false dichotomy involved in deciding whether a second Chamber should have too much legitimacy by being all elected, or whether it should have no legitimacy because it would be the product of nepotism, croneyism, patronage, or whatever one wishes to call it.

Secondly, in the limited time that I have been in the House it has always seemed to me that the existence of a second Chamber is often used as an alibi for this House's inadequacies. For example, we had some fine debates in this House on jury trial. There was considerable resistance among Labour Members to the proposal to remove the right to trial by jury. In the end, 80 Labour Members either abstained or voted against the measure.

The overall effect of that vote may have been slight in this House, but the effect on the House of Lords was more considerable. A considerable number of Labour Members told me how deeply worried and distressed they were about the legislation. Weeping through the Lobbies is a well known characteristic of new Labour Members, who said that they would support the Government because they knew that the House of Lords would chuck out the proposal in the end.

We should consider what would have happened if the House of Lords did not exist. Those Labour Members would have gone ahead and voted against the Government, and there is a good chance that the Government would have been defeated. Who knows what would have come from that sudden outbreak of testosterone among Labour Members? Who knows what would have been the long-term effect of the House taking control of the Executive for the first time?

I turn now to the White Paper. The real iniquity in its proposals is that 80 per cent. of the membership of the projected second Chamber would be chosen by a system of patronage. Patronage in any guise is the curse of the British political system. The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) made a compelling point when he said that patronage had its roots in the system that we have. We select our Executive, by a system of patronage, from the legislature. The result is animmediate and obvious conflict of interest, which is well overdue for review. The most crude manifestation of that conflict was evident in the disgraceful attempts to manipulate the Select Committee system.

Patronage in this House has always had a corrosive effect, on Government and on individual Members of Parliament. However, I have considerable sympathy for my fellow hon. Members. A few of us came here late in life, having had the enormous fortune—in my case, the good luck—to pursue reasonable careers beforehand.

We happy band of brothers do not give a fig about preferment of any sort, and would not accept it if it were offered. In my case, that is very lucky.

However, we are comparatively few in number. I understand very well that other hon. Members are professional politicians, and much younger than I am. Their entire careers rely on the fact that they are bound to that form of patronage, which colours and configures their behaviour as Back Benchers. There is no dishonour in that, but patronage represents the only chance that such hon. Members will have to serve.

The same applies to the House of Lords. Many hon. Members will have noticed, as I have, what happens when senior Members of this House discover that they are not going to be the junior Minister in charge of paper clips, or that they do not want to hold such a post again. In their case, the power of patronage is exerted in respect of elevation to the House of Lords. Anyone who has not seen that happen with senior Members of this House over the past five years must be very myopic indeed. We must set our collective face against the principle of patronage.

Finally, I want to explode the idea that a wholly elected second Chamber would in some way conflict with the primacy of this Chamber. That proposition has been touched on by several Labour Members. It is a specious argument. This House sets the parameters and the circumscriptions for that House. We may not get people of the highest possible calibre standing for election if they know that the House of Lords has very circumscribed powers. So be it. My bet is that we will, but that does not matter much. The principle is the main thing.

Of course people may want an office, a telephone and a secretary. I appreciate that those things matter to the patrician side of the Conservative party. They may even write to the local newspapers about it, and that will not conflict with me at all. In any event, we will have a proper and duly elected assembly.

The worst thing is to have part and part. What happens if part of the second Chamber is elected and part of it is not? We all get a rush of blood to the head when we suddenly find that we represent real people; we get the urge to take on the Government, or anybody else, and to make trouble, if necessary, on behalf of our constituents. What happens if part of the House of Lords suffers from that malaise and affliction and the other part does not? What happens if there is an alien body in the soft belly of the House of Lords that is permanently for insurrection and usurping the House of Commons? That only needs to be said for us to realise the absurdity of the position. I agree that one option or the other must be chosen, and it can only be one. The overwhelming view and wish of the people is that we should have a wholly elected second Chamber.

The Government have a choice. They can change the Bill markedly and substantially. I have never said this before, and I hope that I will be taken seriously, but it is my perception that if they do not they will lose it, for the first time ever, notwithstanding their majority. Alternatively, they can push it through as it is or they can sulk and say that even if we do not like it they will not bring it back. That was touched on by the Lord Chancellor yesterday or the day before.

I hope that the Government do not take that option and that they listen to this debate. Most of the contributions have been outstanding. I hope that we will ultimately have a Bill that will give us an elected second Chamber of which we can be proud.

4.32 pm
Mr. Archie Norman (Tunbridge Wells)

I agree with many of the points made on both sides of the House, particularly those of my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young). I am not in complete agreement with the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples). However, he made the powerful point that whatever we do in reforming the House of Lords will represent a substantial constitutional shift. I believe that that is long overdue and should be embraced. That is the historic opportunity with which we are presented.

Many right hon. and hon. Members will believe that the constitutional shift should be minimised. The change in the composition of the House of Lords is inextricably bound up with what it does, and we should face that as part of the process. That is where the White Paper falls short.

Along with other right hon. and hon. Members, I recently listened to the Leader of the House give a very erudite and wholly convincing exposition to the Hansard Society on the need for change in the conduct and proceedings of the House of Commons to deal with the fact that we are facing a decline in democratic respect for, and legitimacy of, the public process. His trenchant remarks, with which I wholly agree, seem not to have been applied in the same way to the White Paper on the process of reform. Perhaps his thoughts have moved on since the White Paper's publication. If he could provide the same vision of and enlightened approach to the reform of the House of Lords that he provided for modernisation, we would all be much better off.

The test that should be applied to reform of the House of Lords is whether it provides for the 21st century an increase in respect for Parliament, the public processes and democratic representation, whether it provides the required balance between the power of the Executive and that of the state, whether it provides us with greater ability to attract men and women of wisdom, ability and talent into the public process and whether it can be achieved with a reasonable degree of consensus, which transparently does not exist at the moment. The White Paper fails on all counts.

I do not want to dwell on points that have already been made, but when it comes to respect for Parliament, this peculiar concoction of various manners of appointment to the House of Lords will be greeted with perplexity and derision by the public. I would find the White Paper very hard to explain to my constituents—it needs a White Paper to do that. It is too complex, but the worst thing about it, and the essence of the problem, is not that it proposes a primarily nominated House, for which a respectable case can be made, but that the bulk of it entrenches the power of patronage of the political parties. There is no respect or support for that in the country at large.

We should be asking not whether patronage of political parties should be predominant in this process but whether it has any place at all in appointments to the House of Lords. I am in favour of a largely elected House of Lords, but that is only one way to go. The central point is that entrenching the power of the political party in this demeaning process of patronage, which the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) referred to, should be abolished once and for all. It has been abused in the past by political parties on both sides and it will be abused again in the future.

More seriously, my concern is about the failure to address in any substantive way the roles of the House of Lords and the House of Commons. We are on the slippery slope, and the White Paper gives no sense of a permanent stopping place; it is simply the start of the process. I am sure that right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House would rather face the issue now and have a substantive debate to see whether we can arrive at a solution that will endure at least for some years to come.

It is beyond dispute that this House has primacy. However, primacy is not as absolute as some Members have sought to pretend. For decades, the House of Lords has acted as a restraining and redirecting influence, and if we have a more capable House of Lords, so should it do in the future.

We have a system of government that is far more centralised than those of many of the countries that have been mentioned. Because of that, there needs to be an appropriate counter-balance. It is, I believe, a shared view that our system of government tends to produce too much regulation which is complex and often conflicted. There is a failure to confront the archaeology of regulation, by which I mean regulation that was produced many decades ago upon which are layered other forms of regulation. We never pull it up by the roots, review it and establish a comprehensive and simple process that meets today's needs.

Bearing in mind the media in this country, we are far more subject to the influences of short-term political pressures that can produce legislation that does not stand the test of time. The role of the House of Lords should be to address each of those issues. That has to do with far more than scrutiny; it is to do with limiting and constraining the supremacy not just of this House but of the Executive as a whole. Instead of reinforcing that process and addressing it, the White Paper diminishes the powers of the Lords. It removes the veto on secondary legislation, and although I understand the issues surrounding that, the House of Lords has a role to play in secondary legislation. The White Paper fails to provide a mechanism for amending ministerial regulation, of which there is more and more. It fails to address the failure of both Houses to scrutinise adequately the way we put European directives into practice. It does nothing to enable the Lords to instigate reviews of outdated legislation and to put forward proposals for simplification of the legislative process, and it fails to provide any enhanced role in protecting individual liberties and the vexed question of future changes to the constitution.

All those are, fundamentally, missed opportunities. The reality is that the proposed House of Lords will lack respect and influence. If one has a Lords that is not doing anything substantive and that lacks respect and influence, one will not attract people of wisdom or talent to participate in it—even in the core process of scrutiny.

The failure to attract talent is a broader issue in public life today. We are seeing a narrowing of the political class. As the hon. and learned Member for Medway said, fewer and fewer of us come to this House with a prior career. There are still some of us, but we are something of a dying breed.

In amending the role of the House of Lords, we should enhance that process. Some hon. Members see that as an argument for nomination. I do not. The truth is that what will attract people to serve in the House of Lords meaningfully is the belief that they will have a meaningful role there. What puts people off coming into public life after a career? It is the futility of participating in a process in which their talents are not used or valued, the domination of the party machinery, the imposition on their family and lifestyle and the fact that they are often under-resourced and incapable of doing a good job.

Many former business colleagues of mine, as well as peers and people from other walks of life—men and women of achievement—will willingly stand for election to the House of Lords, particularly if there is a simplified election process in which they will not have a narrow constituency as we do, if they believe that they will have a substantial role to play and a fixed term of office and if they are not subject to quite the extent of democratic scrutiny that we are. The Wakeham proposal went some way towards meeting those criteria, but I am afraid that the White Paper does not.

The White Paper is short on vision and disappointing in its scope. If implemented in this form—I am sure that it will not be because there is clearly no consensus for it—it will represent a further step in the decline in public life and respect for it. The time has come, therefore, to have a rethink. That should not simply be a question of negotiating on the finer points of the arithmetic of the elected membership; it should be about the whole nature of the Lords, the balance between the two Houses and how we make that Chamber important and meaningful.

4.42 pm
Mr. Harold Best (Leeds, North-West)

Like my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews), I had a career before I arrived in the House. I worked as an electrician. I have not come across another electrician in the House. Something that could be said for elected democracy, among other things, is that many different types of people are elected to office.

It is important to bear another factor in mind when we discuss the possible role of the second Chamber and how it might be made up. I was first elected to office a long time ago as the shop steward on a large construction site. The first lesson that I learned was that being elected to office did not mean being elected to power. Being an office holder was one thing; exercising power was another matter altogether. We must realise that we are talking about the exercise of power—where it might be exercised and by whom. It is almost like swearing in church to mention power on these occasions, but the debate is about that very subject.

I have never been sure whether I favour a second Chamber. There are powerful arguments for the abolition of that Chamber and for strengthening it in the way that many hon. Members have described. I tend to favour maintaining the second Chamber, but I want it to be democratised. The difficulty is with that problem area. How do we democratise the exercise of power? How do we ensure that the powers that this House wants to retain can be shared in any way with another House? What role will that other House play in any amelioration of the exercise of power if it is done in an arbitrary and unfair fashion? Those are the important issues and we should face up to them.

I regret that the White Paper proposes that the second Chamber should still be dominated by the unelected—those whom some call the good and the worthy. There are the virtuous people there too: the good bishops of the Church of England and the judiciary represented by the Law Lords. There are also people who are said to be independent or politically neutral. The elected people proposed in the White Paper would form a minority of the membership of the second Chamber. In short, the proposal would amount to very little, if any, real change to the social, economic and political interests that exist in the other House. In reality, we are talking about continuity in the exercise of power.

I find it difficult to accept the notion that there are independent people—independent of thought and judgment. That isolation of intellectual activity I have always found interesting as an idea but it should not be followed through in practice, unless, of course, these people are like God and have an abundance of knowledge, if not total knowledge, and a judgment system to match. Perhaps, these independents come from some other place, such as Mars. The idea that they are somehow more virtuous is interesting. It has not been my experience that people who are "independent" are any more virtuous when it comes to the exercise of power than people who obviously and manifestly show the colours on which they seek election.

The political independence and influence of the dominant socio-economic forces in our society will continue, whether here or in the other place. I have always found the idea of political neutrality interesting—from my time as a shop steward right through to the level of activity in which I am now engaged. Neutrality says more about the neutering of political activity than a neutral position, and, again, that is relevant to the exercise of power. How are we to manage that power and have a reviewing body? The White Paper has failed miserably in its proposals for meeting the needs of a second Chamber, which on balance is a system that I would favour.

In the 1980s, I had the pleasure of serving as a member of the police authority of West Yorkshire. Another member of that authority was a first-class Tory councillor called Kenneth Davison. Sadly, he died about 10 years ago. He was an amazing character and working with him was an enlightening process for me. He was diametrically opposed to me, politically, in many ways. However, we shared a great deal. Since I came to this place in 1997, I have discovered to my pleasant surprise that Opposition Members hold views about democracy and how it might be exercised with which I can concur. I find the liberal, right-wing view very attractive sometimes. That exercise of liberal democracy has something to be said for it.

Ken Davison told me that no magistrates should be allowed to serve on the police authority. I asked why and he said, "Because they are unrepresentative, unelected and unaccountable, and they have no place in a democratic society." It seems to me that if Ken was around now to make observations about the House of Lords, he would be able to make a similar comment, as he would if the White Paper's proposals were to be enacted. If those proposals were enacted, we would have in the upper House a majority of people who were unaccountable, unelected and unrepresentative of the people that they claimed to act on behalf of.

I am of the opinion, therefore, that only one course of action would be acceptable to the people of the United Kingdom. Hon. Members should understand that we are talking about democracy and the exercise of power. If we had an elected Chamber just down the hallway from here and an elected Chamber here, they would both be elected democratically. We are really talking not so much about the democracy, but about who will exercise the power—where the final decision will be taken and who will take the decisions behind the scenes. We all know that that goes on.

Our democratic process needs to be enriched. That can be done by abandoning the White Paper proposals and ensuring 100 per cent. elected representation in the other place, or getting as close to that 100 per cent. as possible and acknowledging that, as has been said, other aspects of democratically elected government might reasonably find a place in that Chamber. I am thinking of representation from regional government, the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales and so on. I favour such an extension of democracy, influencing the distribution and exercise of power.

I look forward to the Government's adoption of what seems to be the dominant view in the House at the moment and is likely to be so for the foreseeable future—that the present proposals are thoroughly inadequate and do not address the needs of the people of the United Kingdom.

4.51 pm
John Thurso (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross)

Before being elected to the House this year, I had a career in the hotel industry, where our greatest desire was to achieve the highest possible degree of customer satisfaction. In our training programmes, we developed what became known as Thurso's law of satisfaction, which is, simply stated, that satisfaction is the difference between delivery and expectation. When I read the White Paper, I thought that it was extremely unsatisfactory, in part because the expectation had been so high and in part because the delivery, when it came, was so timid.

When the Leader of the House opened the debate this afternoon, however, he quite properly called on us all to look for the areas of consensus, and he enunciated two core principles and asked hon. Members to support them. I am happy to assure him that, regarding those two core principles, I shall support whatever legislation is introduced, not because I believe that the legislation will be satisfactory, but simply because some legislation is much more satisfactory than none, and because I believe that reform of the other place is an iterative process and that whatever steps are taken now can be built on in future.

The opportunity that we have in this process in the House and in the other place is to address the problem that several hon. Members have spoken about: the democratic deficit that is growing between the political process in the Westminster village and the way in which the electorate perceive it. This is an opportunity to start to build back the public trust in the system.

To ensure that there is no doubt, let me make clear where I stand. I have absolutely no doubt that the second Chamber will be wholly elected one day, and I believe that that is absolutely right. I do doubt whether that will occur in this century or the next. I only hope that I live to see considerable progress towards that end.

Before the reform of 1999 there was a very real consensus for reform and on what that reform should achieve. First, there was a consensus in favour of abolition of the hereditaries. There is no defence for the hereditary principle in Parliament. It works fine for breeding livestock but it does not work very well for delivering legislators.

Secondly, there is a broad consensus in favour of a bicameral system. There is a convincing and powerful intellectual argument, made by the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews), in favour of a unicameral system, but I believe in a bicameral system and I believe that there is a broad consensus for such a system.

Thirdly, there was a consensus that whatever we did should produce a second Chamber that was a fit and effective Chamber for a 21st century Parliament.

The consensus seems to be in danger of breaking apart, because of the weakness of the White Paper, which results from the weakness of the Wakeham commission report. That report was a great lost opportunity; rather than clearing the fog of detail, it added to it. It is a great shame that we went down the royal commission route and did not opt for a Joint Commission of both Houses at that time.

I should like to pull back from the detail to what I believe to be the single most important thing that reform of the other place should achieve, and it involves a very simple test—the test of legitimacy. Too often in another place, and now in this place, I have listened to Members plead the simple fact that the other place is illegitimate as a sole argument for not voting against something of which the Government are in favour. That cannot be the right way to run any parliamentary system. Therefore, whatever we decide to do—whether the second Chamber is wholly appointed, wholly elected or a mixture of the two—we must be able to say that what we have achieved is legitimate. We should never again be able to criticise the legitimacy of the other place here, in the media or in the country at large. If we can pass that test, we shall have done a great deal.

I shall break from the general consensus that appears to have emerged during this debate on one issue—what is described as the supremacy or the primacy of this House. I do not believe that this House needs to inflict primacy or superiority over the other place. The two Houses should act as partners. This House naturally will be the senior partner; it represents constituencies, delivers the Government and bears the result of general elections.

Because of that and because of the differences in the way the two Houses will work and the different functions that they will be required to carry out, this House will always remain the senior partner, but it should not be the dominant partner and it should not have supremacy. The other place should not be like a Victorian wife and be asked to honour and obey; the partnership should be much more equal. The conventions of the two Houses and the way in which they work will allow that to happen; legislation is not needed, and I shall briefly touch on some of the details in that regard.

The other place does have certain strengths. Anyone who has sat through debates in the other place will recognise that the quality of debate is strong there and that, very often, the decisions that it takes—in particular, on less controversial matters—are wise and add to the legislation passed by this House, which is so often rushed and perhaps not digested so well as it could have been. Much of the reason for that lies in the manner, customs and way in which the other place works and is composed.

First, the Whips have no power in the other place. They ask Members very nicely whether they would mind coming in to vote and whether they would be kind enough to vote in the way that the party proposes. If the Members say no, the Whips say, "That's absolutely fine." I have heard that things may run differently in some parties in this House, although I have not yet experienced that in my own. The reason why the Whips have no power in the Lords is that membership does not end there, except in rather obvious, strange circumstances. Basically, at the moment, its Members are there for life, so they can ignore the Whips if they choose do so. That helps to provide some of the essential flavour of the House of Lords.

The second reason is the age of those in the House of Lords. It is important that its membership is of a certain, more mature age than is perhaps found in this House. That helps to create a more deliberative and less combative style there. In any solution—my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) has already reflected my views on that—Members should serve for one fixed term as that would remove the problem of the Whips that I have mentioned. Although I am not hung up on any particular limit, that term should be reasonably long. I suggest a term of 12 years, because that figure is divisible by three and one could have one-third rolling elections.

Marrying elections to the other place with elections to the European Parliament would be a great mistake. The elections should be aligned with those to the national and regional assemblies, because they would then be more likely to attract a much stronger turnout.

Ultimately, I would like the entire membership of the second Chamber to be elected. Much has been said about the independence of the Cross Benchers and how wonderful it is to have the great and the good in the other place. My experience suggests that the Cross Benchers are somewhat overrated. In my time in the other place, the hereditary Cross Benchers were largely closet Tories and the great and the good were so great and good that they did not always bother to turn up. It is important to realise what actually happens. Many Members on the Cross Benches are excellent, but overall, they are not quite as great as everyone makes out—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)


5.1 pm

Jane Griffiths (Reading, East)

I do not plan to speak for long in what has so far been an excellent debate. I also do not plan to speak more than is necessary about how pusillanimous and wrong the proposals in the White Paper are. Instead, I intend to return to first principles and to show how this debate, which must be the start of a considerable process and is perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, might lead us to the conclusion that we should have a wholly or substantially elected second Chamber.

I remind hon. Members that last June saw the lowest turnout at a general election since 1918. Last year saw the lowest turnout in a by-election since the second world war and the last European election showed a record low turnout as well. The Government's response is to suggest that there should be fewer elections—that the people are not be trusted. Instead, according to the proposals in the White Paper, our second Chamber should somehow be made up of placepeople.

Several hon. Members and people in debates elsewhere have expressed the view that the people who run the country—legislators and the Executive—should look around more. They should not be inward looking but should listen to what the people are saying. The analogy used—I think first by President John F. Kennedy—was that we should look out of the windows of the aeroplane. This analogy was also famously used by Vaclav Havel in his new year's day broadcast to the people of the Czech Republic—Czechoslovakia as it was then—on 1 January 1990, an important day for democracy to which I shall refer again.

To set that point in context, people in the Czech Republic had been used to broadcasts telling them how happy everyone was and how the five-year plan for tractor production had been exceeded. Those were the old certainties. However, Vaclav Havel's broadcast was the first new year's day broadcast since the velvet revolution and his election on 28 December 1989. I believe that the following excerpt is relevant to our debates today.

Vaclav Havel was talking about how the totalitarian system had been a sin we committed against ourselves". He went on: If we accept it as such, we will understand that it is up to us all, and to us only, to do something about it. We cannot blame the previous rulers for everything, not only because it would be untrue but also because it could blunt the duty that each of us faces today, namely the obligation to act independently, freely, reasonably and quickly. Let us not be mistaken: the best government in the world, the best Parliament, cannot achieve much on its own. And it would also be wrong to expect a remedy from them only. Freedom and democracy include participation and therefore responsibility from us all. The importance of that quotes lies in the last sentence. We cannot underestimate the importance of participation and responsibility to freedom and democracy.

Our response to the perceived lack of faith in our democracy, as shown by the fall in turnout at elections to date, has not, up to now, been fewer elections. The Government have a proud record of introducing devolution for Scotland and Wales. In those countries, the answer has been to trust the people more and to give them a greater say in the running of their affairs.

Britain also has a proud record as a country with one of the oldest Parliaments and oldest franchises. That does not mean that we know everything or that we cannot learn from other countries. Sometimes we can learn from countries that are new to democracy. Just over a year ago, I had the privilege of visiting South Africa as part of a Commonwealth Parliamentary Association group. It was a privilege to talk with people who had campaigned and fought so long for something about which we have become so blasé. Who can forget those pictures of the first democratic elections in South Africa—people queuing for hours to vote? That is unthinkable in this country at present.

I cannot forget holding conversations with people from the African National Congress who were interested in our second Chamber. They asked, "How do you manage it? How does it work when people are appointed? Where do you find them from? What about corruption?" They were rightly concerned about those matters. I was humbled, though, talking to those people who had seen members of their family beaten or killed before their eyes and who were now sitting in Parliament opposite people who had been responsible for those beatings and killings. They did so because they knew that it was best for their democracy and their country to sit down with people with opposing views.

I am a democrat. I believe that our freedom and democracy are the responsibility of us all and that participation is the most important part of that responsibility. We are told, and a number of hon. Members said this today, that if the second Chamber is wholly or substantially elected that will challenge the primacy of the House of Commons. I may not be a constitutional expert, but I know that many countries have a second Chamber without having such a conflict. I know of times when there has been conflict between the different Chambers here. I believe that we can learn from examples from around the world.

I cannot believe that it is beyond our abilities to establish a system with a wholly or substantially elected second Chamber in which there is no in-built conflict between the two. I do not want to propose options and get into the detail of the White Paper, because that would bog down the debate; but if the Government are concerned about a crisis in legitimacy between two elected Chambers, it would be reasonable to have a single-Chamber Parliament. I am not a unicameralist, but that would at least be the logically coherent thing to do. We do not prevent a conflict between two Chambers by having one of them stuffed full of people who are placed there under patronage.

In conclusion, I return to Vaclav Havel, because I believe that we can learn from him. He finished his broadcast by saying: I want to be a President who will speak less and work more … To be a President who will not only look out of the windows of his airplane but who, first and foremost, will always be amongst his fellow citizens and listen to them well … The most distinguished of my predecessors opened his first speech with a quotation from the great Czech educator Comenius. Allow me to round off my first speech with my own paraphrase of the same statement: 'People, your government has returned to you! Let us learn from the new democracies in South Africa and eastern Europe. Let us have an elected second Chamber as part of our Parliament. Let us return our Government to the people.

5.9 pm

Mr. Andrew Tyrie (Chichester)

I have believed for a long time that democracy is the right way forward for the second Chamber. I will not rehearse all the arguments in favour of that now. Nor will I go into the manifest shortcomings of the White Paper, because others have already done so. I want to make only one point.

Contrary to what many people thought, to what the Prime Minister suggested yesterday in the House when he said that there were as many views on Lords reform as there were MPs, and to what the Leader of the House said today when he implied that lack of agreement might be a basis for preventing any change at all, consensus is emerging in the House on the most contentious issues. Many hon. Members have alluded to that fact, including the right hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) and the hon. Members for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso), and for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler), my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young) and the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher), with whom I had the pleasure in the last Parliament of jointly sponsoring an early-day motion on this issue that secured widespread support throughout the House.

What are the most contentious issues? First, do we really want a second Chamber? Secondly, what powers should it have? Thirdly, what composition is required to enable it to exercise those powers effectively? On the first issue, there used to be complete disagreement throughout the House. There were many unicameralists, but now even the unicameralists are saying that they are prepared to be realists. The hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews), who is no longer in his place, has made a welcome conversion to that position, and as far as I know, he was the last remaining significant unicameralist in the House. The Conservatives have always been bicameralists, and we seem now to have been joined by the whole of the Labour party. On the first fundamental issue, therefore, there is widespread agreement.

There is also widespread agreement on powers. We do not want radically to alter the existing powers. The plain fact is that the House of Lords does not feel able to use the powers that it has at present because it does not have the moral legitimacy to do so. It rarely uses the power of delay. It has used its power under the Parliament Acts only three or four times this century, and there is very little chance of its wanting to do so again on a major issue. I would like to see some of its powers increased. I would support the beefing up of the second Chamber's role as a constitutional longstop, but I would not go to the stake for that if it were the price of getting a measure through. We largely agree, therefore, that the existing powers are roughly right.

Composition is the key issue. What composition of the Lords will enable it to fulfil a bicameral role in our constitution? In the 21st century, only a House that has the legitimacy of the ballot box behind it can hope to play a meaningful role in this country. The truth is that a wholly appointed House of Lords is no more than a consultative quango. It is not a House of Parliament, and to argue that we should retain an appointed House is really an argument for a form of unicameralism. Only a largely elected House can hope to take on the Executive in this place.

That is the central flaw of Lord Wakeham's proposals. He wants an appointments commission to deal with the problem of patronage. Perhaps it would be possible to create such a body to prevent the growth of patronage, but at the very best an appointments commission would be a self-perpetuating oligarchy of the great and the good. It would command no more moral authority than the existing House. That is also the fundamental flaw in the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Stratfordon-Avon (Mr. Maples), who argues for a House appointed by patronage, with the Prime Minister retaining all his powers of appointment. Such a House also would have no moral authority.

Many hon. Members have alluded to crucial objections to the argument that I have just made. I will not rehearse all the arguments, but I will deal with two. The first is that an elected House of Lords could duplicate what goes on here, and the second is that there is a risk of gridlock. Both those arguments are largely false. There will be duplication only if the electoral system and the terms of office are the same, but nobody is suggesting that they should be. We will of course elect Members of the Lords on longer terms—I favour non-renewable terms—and as a result the Lords will have a fundamentally different culture. In any case, the House of Commons will remain the major source of Executive authority, as the Government are formed from its Members. The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central would like to beef that up by removing Ministers from the House of Lords altogether; I support that.

The gridlock argument is also false. We have the Parliament Acts and there is no practical chance of them being removed from the statute book. We shall therefore get our way after a year at worst; this House will remain supreme. I urge people who disagree to look at the detailed argument on this set out by Lord Mackay in his report; he concluded that the gridlock argument was "a sterile debate" and I largely agree.

I have outlined quite a lot of consensus on powers, composition, functions and bicameralism. There is also growing consensus on the practical steps to take us from where we are now to where we want to be. Most Members on both sides of the House would be prepared to accept the setting up of an all-party consultative body such as those established in 1948 and 1968. In 1948, consultation led to further amendment of the Parliament Act, but in 1968 it failed. However, the Government are rejecting all possibility of a joint Committee, which I deeply regret.

Once we have thought about it a bit, most of us would be prepared to accept a long transition to a substantially—that is the favoured word these days and I am a "substantially" man—elected House of Lords. There is no need for brutal or instant expulsion of current Members. People have said that the existing members of the House of Lords will be around for a long time if we do not do something more brutal, but they probably will not. There is a low drop-out rate among life peers with an average age of 70, but if they are not replaced, they start falling off the shelf rather faster once they get to 80.

Mr. Bryant

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Tyrie

If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I will not.

In any case, the participation rate of the over-80s is well under half that of the rest of the House of Lords. We should be prepared to compromise on the period of transition.

Most important of all, most of us are prepared to compromise on the size of the elected element. I am a "largely" man, and favour an elected element of 80 per cent. or so. There is a role for a small remaining element that is appointed or, better, co-opted. I am prepared to compromise on that, but the elected element must be more than half to command moral authority in the country.

There has never been greater consensus than we have now. The majority of the Labour party, but not those on the Government Front Bench, want to go down the road of much more election—at least 50 per cent. The majority of the Conservative party want to go down the same road, but not just yet our Front-Bench Members, although I am optimistic that they will. An overwhelming majority of the wider public want to go down that road.

I am afraid that for much of the 20th century, Parliament—both the Lords and Commons—behaved as if it were in the 19th century. We now have a tremendous opportunity to take advantage of growing support on both sides of the House and in the country to create a second Chamber for the 21st century; let us not miss that opportunity.

5.18 pm
Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle)

I shall not use my full 10 minutes, as I know that many colleagues wish to contribute to our debate. However, there are a number of things to which I wish to draw attention.

Labour Members are being told by their own Government to support the White Paper; we are told that the Labour party supports the conclusions of the Wakeham report and will seek to implement them as effectively as possible. I do not believe that; I do not think that there is a majority in the parliamentary Labour party—I do not know, because we do not vote in the parliamentary Labour party—in favour of the Government's proposals and, indeed, those in the Wakeham report. I suspect that there is no support whatever in the wider Labour party for what is being proposed. Yesterday, however, the Lord Chancellor, opening a debate in the other place, said: We have not followed every detail, but we believe our basic approach to be the commission's."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 9 January 2002; Vol. 630, c. 563.] What a strange state of affairs. The Government are saying that they agree with the royal commission, while Lord Wakeham is repudiating their response to his report. On page 21 of today's Daily Mail, there is a picture of Lord Wakeham in all his robes with the Government's plan, which we are being invited to support. He states: Labour would create a second Chamber of cronies and then gives his reasons for saying so.

I do not think much of the Government's White Paper, and I did not think much of the Wakeham proposals either. My hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Plaskitt) said that it was a fix. We all know that what has been proposed for the other place was just a fix. The fascinating thing now is that it is all beginning to unravel. We are getting suggestions from the leadership that nothing is preserved in aspic or set in stone and that the Government are now going to listen. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said that they were going to search for the centre of gravity. That is great. They should have done that searching and looked for a consensus ages ago, because a consensus does exist out there.

What is my position? I have always believed in a small, directly elected second Chamber. We do not need an interim House of 750. What a joke. That could never be sold to people outside. We do not need a House of 600. That is another joke. We need a small second Chamber. If the United States Senate can get by with 100 Members, why can we not get by with a second Chamber of 100 or 200 Members? We certainly do not need what is being proposed. I want a separate supreme court. I want the bishops to be invited to leave the other place. I definitely disagreed with Wakeham—this proposal has been turned down by the Government—that the second Chamber should be opened up to religious representation in terms of the Buddhist, the Baptist, the Jain and the Jew. We do not need that. My politics are entirely secular. What a perverse consultation exercise it must be that proposes religious representation in this day and age in a Chamber of the Houses of Parliament. Most of all, however, I was against the proposals because I am sick of the patronage state. Many of my Labour party colleagues say that it is corrupting. It is not only corrosive but corrupting that there are people here who think that if they want to get into the second Chamber, they must religiously follow the Government line even when they know that the Government are wrong. It is corrupting and completely wrong.

I want the House of Commons to retain its primacy. It is perfectly possible for it to do so, as long as the powers and functions are properly defined. That has been mentioned by colleagues in all parts of the House. Yet we get fed this stuff from the Front Bench saying that we cannot do anything too radical. I exclude the Leader of the House from that, as he is an ally. [Laughter.] I think that I have fatally wounded my right hon. Friend. Yes, I think that we need a second Chamber and I am relaxed about giving it some additional powers. I am relaxed about scrutiny of public appointments. The Liberal Democrats recommend scrutiny of World Trade Organisation treaties. Why not? I am completely relaxed about that. I do not go to bed at night saying, "We must retain all the powers that we now have in the House of Commons." I am chilled out about it, and I believe that that applies to many Labour Members. I do not accept the assertion that the Commons would be fatally undermined.

I believe that we shall move towards a largely elected second Chamber. The Liberal Democrats want 80 per cent. of it to be elected and 20 per cent. nominated. The right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young), who is not in his place, and other Conservative Members said that 75 per cent. of the Conservative parliamentary Labour party—that was a Freudian slip; I meant the parliamentary party—want a wholly or mainly elected second Chamber. The right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire, who carries a great deal of weight, said that his personal preference was for direct election of two thirds of Members of the other place. Although it is denied by a few at the top of the Labour party, a huge majority of the parliamentary party supports a wholly or substantially directly elected second Chamber.

How do we get there? I was disappointed in the Government when it was not possible to establish the Joint Committee. I took up the matter some time ago with the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department, my hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon (Mr. Wills), who said in a parliamentary reply: it was not possible to reach agreement with the other main political parties as to the terms of reference for the Joint Committee."—[Official Report, 6 December 2001; Vol. 376, c. 508W.] The Government were saying that they would set up a Joint Committee if we supported their position. It is understandable that the Conservative party and members of other opposition parties refused to participate on that basis. The shadow Leader of the House said that he was relaxed about the establishment of a Joint Committee. I want the Government to participate in that Committee and not set parameters and terms of reference that so bind other parties that it will never get off the ground.

If the Joint Committee gets nowhere, and Government obfuscation and foot dragging mean that it runs into the sand, Labour Members should demand a Bill to reform the other place. Opposition Members would support that. I would prefer a multi-option Bill. We have been down that road with Sunday trading and hunting. Such a measure would allow hon. Members to vote on an issue about which we have been prevented from expressing an opinion for years because that is not what new Labour does.

I want to end with appointments.

Michael Fabricant

The hon. Gentleman has run out of time.

Mr. Prentice

Those comments will have to wait for another time.

5.28 pm
Michael Fabricant (Lichfield)

I do not know how I can follow that act, apart from agreeing with most of the comments of the hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice).

It is useful to recall the way in which we reached the current sorry state of affairs. I have been looking at other Parliaments and other nations that have gone through such procedures. We all know about the long, hot summers in the 1780s and 1790s in Philadelphia when the American constitution was discussed. I have recently come back from Australia, where Australians have been celebrating 100 years of federation. I took the opportunity to find out how they reached the current position.

The Australian constitution was written by delegates to the 1897 federal convention, which was open to the press and to the public. Its work was reported, debated and subject to public criticism and, at its completion, copies of the constitution were sent to the electors to be voted on. That was the democracy practised in Australia.

What are we doing in the United Kingdom? The second sentence of the Prime Minister's introductory remarks to the White Paper states: The Government began reform of the House of Lords two years ago with the removal of the rights of the hereditary peers to an automatic seat in Parliament. How was this achieved? My personal bible is Andrew Rawnsley's book, "Servants of the People", in which he describes the process rather well. I shall read a few sentences from the relevant chapter: Irvine was sanctioned to up his offer to the survival of seventy-five of the hereditary peers pending the second stage of Lords' reform. 'We really do want a deal.' Cranborne had come down to 100. To bridge the gap between them, the Viscount wondered if the government would throw in the fifteen hereditaries who held offices. 'I'll talk to young Blair,' replied Irvine. The next day, Cranborne heard from Irvine: 'Done.' Cranbome asked: 'Will you give me the Earl Marshall and the Lord Great Chamberlain?' Irvine: 'Done.' The Viscount and the Cardinal, these peers of the realm, bargained about the future composition of one half of parliament with the sophistication of a couple of used-car dealers. Thus was British constitutional history made. This is where we find ourselves today, discussing the future of the other place.

I have to be honest and say that if it had been up to me, I would not even have embarked on this change. I have a sense of history, and I believe that if something works, we should not try to fix it and we should not break it. I have heard the arguments that the House of Lords did not work, that it was not fair and that it had an in-built Conservative majority, but I have also heard arguments, which I know to be true, that on many occasions during Conservative Administrations, the House of Lords blocked legislation coming from the Conservative Government.

I argue that the House of Lords did work, but I accept that the caravan has moved on and that we cannot turn the clock back. There now has to be reform of the House of Lords. My hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) asked whether there had been consensus in today's debate. There has not been consensus; there has been unanimity, on one issue at least: that the White Paper is wholly unacceptable because it is neither one thing nor the other. Accepting realpolitik, and the fact that the House of Lords must be reformed, I have no option but to say that it now has to be wholly elected. There is no other choice, because it needs legitimacy.

The Leader of the House asked how it would be possible for the House of Commons to have primacy if the House of Lords were wholly elected. Others have argued that that could be made possible by enshrining the appropriate provision in law. The Leader of the House argued back, "Ah, but if you make laws here, and the people are elected there and have some legitimacy, they will argue for change, and change will come about." That is merely a question of detail relating to how we structure the House of Lords. It could be structured in such a way that, even though it were democratically elected, it would not have quite the legitimacy of the House of Commons, in which we represent constituencies.

A number of people have mentioned the Senate in the United States. One possible example—I do not suggest that it is the only one—of how things might be done would be to say, "All right, we will elect one or two people per administrative area, per county or per unitary authority, regardless of population." That would involve democratic election, but because there would be an imbalance between the number of people electing each representative, such representatives would not have the legitimacy that we enjoy here in the House of Commons.

The point is that there is a range of formulae by which we can contrive to elect people to the other place, give it legitimacy and give it fairness while ensuring that primacy remains here in the House of Commons. I believe, however, that the House of Commons can have its own legitimacy only if the House of Lords is also a respected organisation, and that cannot be the case if only 20 per cent. of its Members are elected or, indeed, even if two thirds are elected.

I intervened on the Leader of the House to raise an argument that I want hon. Members to consider. There is considerable expertise in the House of Lords among hereditary and life peers and we would be unwise to reject the influence that they can have on our lives, so will he seriously consider this option? If we have a wholly elected House of Lords, which I would like, and if those elected Members have a vote, will the right hon. Gentleman introduce an arrangement, which might be only transitional, giving existing Members, for as long as they are alive and able to make a useful contribution, the right to attend debates and present their arguments without having a vote?

I do not see why people should be frightened of that proposal. I accept the argument that the Leader of the House put to me when I made my intervention—that it would result in two classes of Member, voting and non-voting—but there are precedents for that in other Chambers and in company law. There is no reason for not retaining current Members of the House of Lords with expertise during the transitional period so that they may participate in debates but not vote. If nothing else, that would ensure a smoother transition than any abrupt change.

At the beginning of the 21st century, it would be unacceptable to have another Chamber in this Parliament to which only 20 per cent. of members were elected. Any figure that we may announce, whether it be 20 per cent. or 80 per cent., will be merely arbitrary. Furthermore, whether we like it or not and whether we choose 80 per cent. or not, the figure will be transitional—eventually, it will be 100 per cent. Therefore, I say to hon. Members on both sides of the House that we must accept that the caravan has moved on, whether or not we admit that the House of Lords worked as it was and whether or not we liked or admired it. There must be a wholly elected Chamber and let us move forward on that basis.

5.38 pm
Andrew Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

I am grateful for the opportunity to address the House. The White Paper, deservedly, has had a pretty bad day and I cannot recall a single speech in favour of it. Even the Leader of the House was somewhat hesitant, so I suspect that the best future it can expect is that of a sand castle on a beach as the tide comes in—it will be washed away. However, I hope that my right hon. Friend has the courage to put it on firmer foundations and bring it back. Whatever the arrangement for achieving that—a joint committee, for example—we must consider the issue in the round. We must think about not just changing the House of Lords, but what Parliament does, because, in a sense, what we do down here is just as important. It is also part of the balance with what may go on in a second Chamber.

The House must recognise that, since the 1911 settlement of powers between the two Houses, much of the power in Parliament has drained away. It is no good us saying that that is a matter of presentation or of methods. It is a fundamental fact that this Parliament no longer has anything like the power it had in 1911 to influence the behaviour of and opportunities for constituents. We must recognise that democracy needs power to energise it. Any one who has tried to run a school council or works council, in which people have no genuine powers, knows that making democracy work in such circumstances is extremely difficult.

A declining Parliament is inevitable, because so many of the decisions that affect our constituents are no longer local or United Kingdom issues. We must face the fact of globalisation, and accept that many of the issues affecting our constituents are now controlled by world organisations such as the United Nations and its agencies and the World Trade Organisation, or by multinational companies. Much as we would like to democratise such institutions, it will not be easy, so we must concentrate on trying to make Parliament relevant to circumstances in which so much of the power has drained away.

It is in those new circumstances that we want to make Parliament effective. Its energy has seeped away not just because of the changing, globalised world but because it has often allowed successive Governments and Prime Ministers to reduce us to lobby fodder. We must do something about that.

The fundamental duty of Parliament now is to consider reforming all our procedures rather than merely tinkering with the House of Lords, and certainly rather than giving even more power and privilege to Prime Ministers or party leaders, as the White Paper seems to recommend. We must bring about change in order to create an effective democratic process.

Many of my hon. Friends would say that electing far more people to the House of Lords would work, but I fear that that would be a fourth or fifth-rate solution. If necessary, I will probably vote for it on the ground that it is the least-bad option, but I feel that we should ask ourselves whether, in a changing world, we need more than 1,200 parliamentarians split between two Houses. That strikes me as a ridiculously large number. It may have been perfectly all right in 1911, when MPs were not paid, most were part-time, and people did not have the opportunities we have now; but if we want an effective Parliament, 600-plus is more than enough. We could have a very effective Parliament with just one Chamber—this Chamber—if we ensured that it performed properly the job that is now done ineffectually by two Houses.

I would not go quite as far as abolishing the House of Lords. I would leave it with a residual function—the supreme court function—along with powers to allow this House to extend the life of a Parliament beyond five years, albeit only in exceptional circumstances. I would also leave it with the power to insist that this House spend sufficient time scrutinising legislation, and that sufficient time should be allowed for effective scrutiny outside. Given that simple limiting of the powers of the House of Lords, I think that we could do everything perfectly effectively here. We do not need two Chambers.

That means, however, that this House must change its attitude. We have tried to make it increasingly exclusive; we should be trying to make it inclusive. I do not think that anyone here remembers an occasion on which someone has come to the Bar of the House to address the Chamber, but in the past—quite a long time ago—people had an opportunity to do that, and even now Select Committees ask witnesses to address them. We could take some of the expertise that—allegedly and only in small quantities—exists in the House of Lords and make it available to this House, if we wanted to.

I plead with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to examine the situation as a whole and to decide that we need a small, effective legislature, directly accountable to the electorate. That body should have the self-confidence to be inclusive and not exclusive.

My right hon. Friend should take away these proposals and come back with a new look at Parliament that would make it effective for the 21st century.

5.45 pm
Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield)

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Bennett). Although I disagree with much of what he said, I agree that this is a Parliament issue and not only a House of Lords issue. The Leader of the House said that he is counting heads and seeking to find a new equilibrium and a new approach. My views on that correspond closely to those of my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples), who made an excellent speech. At the beginning of the debate, I assumed that I was in a minority of one and it is good to know that others oppose, in principle, any elected Members in the House of Lords.

I strongly support the two key parameters laid out by the Leader of the House. In particular, it has been clear for a long time, despite the badinage between the two sides of the House, that the day of the hereditary peer has gone, although some would provide good service in a reconstituted House of Lords in the future.

We should begin with the question of what the House of Lords is for. Its role as a revising Chamber has become increasingly important in recent years. The Government have rightly said that pre-legislative scrutiny is becoming more important, and we need better scrutiny of Bills, which are often ill thought through when they come before the House and are not necessarily improved in Committee. Such Bills would benefit from pre-legislative scrutiny and the expertise of the House of Lords. Another function of the House of Lords is to act as a brake on this Chamber, but it should not be a definitive one. It can also, in certain circumstances, provide constitutional protection. Those are all beneficial functions, but the House of Lords should not challenge this House.

I fear that the Government's proposals are a dog's breakfast. They could have proposed a senate with 100 members and a House of Commons with 400 members, and I strongly agree with the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) that our number should be significantly reduced, because there are far too many of us. However, if the Government's proposals are accepted—amended by what appears to be the majority view in the House—we would have more than 1,000 elected legislators, and that is indefensible.

Wider reforms have led to elected parish councils, elected district councils, elected county councils, elected regional councils, an elected Parliament in Scotland and an elected Assembly in Wales—not to mention the European Parliament—but politicians have become less and less respected by their constituents, as everyone acknowledges. If the answer to any question is that we need more elected politicians, we should look more carefully at the question in the first place.

The proposal for a mixed membership, part appointed and part elected, is—as several hon. Members have said—the worst of all possible worlds. Of course the elected members down the Corridor will press for more powers—including ones that this House would not be willing to cede—but having two different types of members would be a recipe for disaster.

The great benefit of the House of Lords as presently constituted is the quality of expertise that resides in it. As a Parliamentary Private Secretary to a Lords Minister many years ago, I often went to watch debates in the other place and I was genuinely astonished by the sheer quality of expertise. In debates on defence, for example, field marshals, generals and other senior former service men were taking part. In debates on education, we had vice-chancellors and others from the educational establishment speaking. There was also expertise in debates on medical matters. These were high-quality debates that are not always replicated in this House. We should not lose sight of that.

The great strength of many of those down the Corridor is that they have expertise, but, unlike all of us, they would recoil from the hustings and would be deeply unwilling to stand for election. If we were to proceed on the basis of an elected second Chamber, I ask colleagues: who will stand for election? It will not be the repositories of great expertise that are in the other place at the moment.

The point was well made by the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) and my hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Norman). Not enough people come into this place with genuine and deep experience of trades outside of politics. The blunt truth is that the House needs more people like the hon. and learned Gentleman and my hon. Friend.

I spent two years as the vice-chairman of the Conservative party in charge of the candidates department. The difficulty in getting people who are not part of the political scene or the political groupings in society to come into politics and take an interest is enormous. All three of the main political parties find that to be true. We will have more and more professional politicians trying to come down to Westminster, and it will be those who cannot get in here who will proceed down the Corridor to try to get elected to the House of Lords. We will have a Chamber of research assistants and special advisers; we will have an assembly of the skimmed milk of British politics. That would be a serious danger.

I am against any election to the House of Lords, for the reasons set out so excellently by my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon. Remarks made about Lord Wakeham this afternoon have, on reflection, been wide of the mark. The great thing that he achieved was a consensus, from which the Government have now departed. Mention was made of a quote from Lord Wakeham, but the whole quote was not given. I would like to place it on the record, because he was right. He said that an elected Chamber would inevitably compromise the role of the other place as the United Kingdom's decisive political forum. It would produce a second Chamber that was a clone of the other place, full of professional politicians and dominated by the political parties. He said that, in taking evidence nobody—but nobody—thought that that would be a desirable outcome. Such a chamber would either be a compliant rubber stamp for Government legislation or a source of legislative gridlock."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 9 January 2002; Vol. 630, c. 582.] I do not agree with Lord Wakeham's proposals for a limited election, but to achieve that consensus he came up with a far-fetched scheme. I do not believe that it is the right way to proceed, but in order to get the consensus, no doubt he did.

Ultimately, legitimacy comes from democratic election, but democratic elections are not the only source of that legitimacy.

5.53 pm
Tony Worthington (Clydebank and Milngavie)

Like all my right hon. and hon. Friends, I was gravely disappointed by the White Paper. Like many, one of the reasons that I came into politics was to enhance and extend democracy. The White Paper does not do that but extends the very damaging system of patronage that runs through our system. Rightly, we are throwing out the patronage of the past by discarding the hereditary peerage in Parliament, but we are replacing it with the patronage of the present.

At least 60 per cent. of the Members of the new House of Lords will be chosen by party political leaders without reference to the parties or to the people at all. That totally ignores what Wakeham said, and not enough detail has been given of some of the other changes proposed in that respect. The present life peers are there for life, by definition. Some go back to the early 1960s, and have been appointed by eight different Prime Ministers. Some have come through a party political route, but many have come via other routes. It is sometimes difficult to see the links that life peers who are registered with a political party have had with that party in the past.

The proposed powers of the Prime Minister and other political leaders are worth examination. The number of nominated political Members in the second Chamber will probably be 332, and page 21 of the White Paper makes it clear that the Government want them to serve for terms of only four to five years.

If it had been established in time to reflect the pattern of voting at the last election, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister would have been required to find about 140 Members of the proposed new House of Lords. The Tory leader would have had to choose about 100 names, and the Liberal Democrats would have had to find more people than they have MPs. I was therefore delighted to hear the Liberal Democrat party disown that possibility.

The Prime Minister personally would have to appoint more than 140 Members of the House of Lords over a period of four or five years. The appointments would be short term and subject to the Prime Minister's definition of good behaviour. The appointments would also be subject to the whim of the electorate in terms of increased or decreased share of votes. A party could do well in the polls but people could lose their places in the Lords because one voter—the party leader—did not reckon them.

As at present, Members of the new House of Lords would receive no salary, only expenses. There would be no pension or resettlement allowance, so Members would be totally dependent on the patron. The motto would be, "Vote with me, or you're out. I shall not renew your licence."

In my view, that is far worse than the rotten borough system—at least Old Sarum had seven voters. For 140 Members of the future House of Lords, there would be one voter. He or she would decide whether a Member remained in the other Chamber.

Who would receive such appointments? To be appointed, people would have to be known to the Prime Minister or the party leader of the day. How does one get to know such people? I do not imagine that too many citizens of Clydebank and Milngavie will ever get to know a Prime Minister and thereby be appointed to a new second Chamber. The power proposed to be given to any future Prime Minister or party leader does not honour the Labour party's manifesto commitment.

I do a lot of work on international development and creating constitutions for developing countries. If people in such a country as Afghanistan produced a proposal like this, they would be laughed out of court. The moral to that story is that I hope that the good Lord Irvine is never sent to Afghanistan as a peacemaker, as that would only cause more problems.

Another of the major flaws in the White Paper deserves mention. It is rightly accepted that the nations and regions of this country should be recognised in the membership system of the House of Lords. It is proposed that one fifth of the Chamber—120 Members—should be elected on that basis. That election would probably happen at the same time as a general election and be based on European election constituencies. Scotland would therefore have eight Members, Wales four and Northern Ireland three.

I think that that proposal is deeply flawed. The whole membership of the House should reflect the nation and all its regions, not just 20 per cent. of it. It is inevitable that a system of personal patronage for 60 per cent. of seats will mean that political appointments will reflect the networks and friendship patterns of London. Appointments will go to people who operate around Whitehall and are known here. Having a separate box for the nations and regions is an example of tokenism, and it exposes the realisation that the appointed Members would be based, overwhelmingly, in London and the south-east.

Also, large constituencies, such as the European constituencies, have proved disastrous when it comes to preserving the link between politicians, people and parties. They have failed for Europe.

I know that Members of a second Chamber should not do the same job as MPs, but that can be dealt with by sensible legislation and administrative rules. The list system is deeply unpopular with political parties and with the people, as it is seen to centralise power and increase patronage. Also, I am sure that the role of the party leaderships would remain evident in the regions and nations if we went down the route of having a list system. An alternative exists, however, in respect of both regional Members and of those chosen by patronage.

After the culling of the Scottish MPs, we will have about 640 Members of this House. One of the simplest ways of dealing with this would be to have one Member of the House of Lords for every two Members of Parliament. The House of Lords would then have about 320 Members which I think is too big, but many people have referred to the ludicrous system of having 750 or 600 Members of a revising Chamber. However, I do not believe that the representation of regions and nations should be dealt with in a separate box.

What is most objectionable about the proposal is the idea of patronage. We should reject it. The consensus that is emerging is the only way forward. The whole second Chamber, or a substantial proportion of it, should be made up of people who are elected in the normal way.

6 pm

Pete Wishart (North Tayside)

On behalf of the Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru, I welcome this debate on Lords reform. I share the views of many who have spoken about the lack of democratic accountability in the proposed new House of Lords.

We see this as a lost opportunity for the Government. If they had been clever, Lords reform could have been used as an exercise to re-engage the electorate and show that the House is concerned about voter apathy and the perception that the political institutions are beyond the control of the British public. Lords reform was the Government's big opportunity to show that they are prepared to address what is seen as a widening democratic deficit between the governing Executive and the governed electorate.

With Lords reform, we could have started to re-engage the public with the whole process of government. What do we have in its place? It is proposed that the institution will have only a small minority of its membership directly elected. The unelectable House of Lords will be transformed into the indefensible new Labour house of cronies.

We already know what the public think. Only some 14 per cent. of the public support the White Paper's proposal that the second Chamber should have a majority of appointees and only a minority of elected Members. It is easy to see why. The public do not like the idea of political carve-ups and fixes in smoke-filled rooms behind closed doors. When the public have no say in who inhabits our political constitutions, it leads to immediate alienation. When the public have no sense of public ownership of our political institutions, they view them with justified suspicion.

The majority of places in the new House of Lords will be decided by a statutory, independent, Appointments Commission. Am I the only one to see that as a fig leaf for extended prime ministerial patronage? The majority of people who will serve on the commission will be Labour party members who, I suggest, will be informed by the Government. Is there any real difference between Government and prime ministerial patronage? If there is, I should like to hear what it is.

We can also presume that there will be no place for minority parties on the commission. We in the SNP and Plaid Cymru are the main Opposition parties in our nations, yet we have no meaningful role within the United Kingdom Government. I am not making a pitch to be involved in part of the process but simply showing that, given the House's careless establishment approach, any new Chamber must be a decision for the public and not subject to a centralised decision-making process.

The one question that has to be asked and which has been missing from the debate, other than being put by the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews), is whether there is a need for a second Chamber at all. If we asked the public what their predominant image of the House of Lords was, I would wager that a majority of the responses would describe a belligerent old soul napping while listening to an interminable speech by a fellow octogenarian. The belief that the House of Lords is viewed with any great affection is misplaced. There is genuine bemusement as to what it does and what function it performs.

The Scotsman helpfully reminded us recently of the chorus of the peers, as sung by Gilbert in "Iolanthe". It goes:

  • "The House of peers,
  • Throughout the years,
  • Did nothing in particular,
  • And did it very well".
The House of Lords has excited in the public an unusual and curious form of dismissive apathy. That is why I find some of the views of some Conservative Members curious. There is no Conservative Front-Bench view of what should happen with the new House of Lords, but we see from their 18 years in government that that House was sometimes presented as a paradigm of democratic virtue. I can understand why some Conservative Members feel that way. For a long time, they have had a large Conservative majority there. Even now, when their membership of this House is at its lowest and their poll ratings are at an all-time low, there is still a Conservative majority in the other place. If that is democracy Conservative-style, we are well rid of it.

Do we need a second Chamber at all? Let us look at the experience elsewhere in the world. Bicameral legislatures are in the minority. A comprehensive survey of national Parliaments undertaken by the Inter-Parliamentary Union in 1995 identified that, of a total of 178 state legislatures, about 127 were unicameral. Indeed, bicameralism seems to be some strange historic throwback to pre-democratic days—often, as with the existing House of Lords, a desire to reflect deep class differences. It is even argued that originally bicameralism was a means to incorporate different classes in government. The lesson of bicameralism that the United Kingdom has to offer is that it has ensured the maintenance and accentuation of class differences. It has done little to ensure that the Government and Executive of the day are held to proper account.

Lords reform is also an important issue for the self-government and independence movements of the United Kingdom nations. We are faced with the possibility of another layer of elected Government. In Scotland, for example, we will have elections for this place, for the Scottish Parliament, for the European Parliament, for the local authority and for this new House of Lords. The SNP's solution for this democratic smorgasbord is to have direct elections to a normal, independent Scottish Parliament and to the European Parliament, with scrutiny provided by strong pre-legislative committees in the Scottish Parliament.

The committee system of the Scottish Parliament shows that unicameralism can work. That system is one of the Parliament's main successes and, because of it, Scotland does not require a second Chamber to scrutinise the large Scottish domestic health, education and criminal justice Departments. Pre-legislative committee scrutiny means that most of the work is done before the legislation even reaches the Chamber.

Pre-legislative scrutiny by powerful committees can allow for expert witnesses to be called and for a proper examination of all the issues involved. Powerful pre-legislative committees could combine the roles of the Standing and Select Committees of this House. They could be given extra powerful functions. Those committees could initiate their own legislation, scrutinise primary and secondary legislation and conduct inquiries into matters as the Administration and Executive require.

That is a modern, 21st-century solution that would eliminate the need for a second Chamber. It is an illustration that what is needed is not Lords reform, but Lords abolition. I appreciate that abolition is not an option for this Government. It is a long time since there was a strong abolitionist wing in the Labour party. However, we are not too far from the days when the Labour party believed in a fully democratic second House. In its 1992 manifesto, the party promised the replacement of the House of Lords with a new elected second chamber". The Labour party constitutional committee, which was co-chaired by one Tony Blair MP in 1993, reported that "proper democratic elections" should be introduced for the House of Lords.

The main line of argument that is now deployed by Ministers is that a full and democratic House of Lords would be a challenge to this place. Why did they not think of that when they were in opposition and they were suggesting full democratic elections? Why did it only occur to them when they came to government?

Furthermore, the argument is fundamentally flawed because the proposed plan for the second Chamber is to diminish its powers and not to strengthen it. If this House cannot, and should not, withstand the challenge from another element of the parliamentary system, why should we bother with a second Chamber at all?

We live at a time when the right to choose or dismiss our rulers is beginning to be seen as under threat. It is the standard refrain that the electorate are too bored or too cynical to vote. We only need to think of the turnout at the general election last year to realise that that may be the case. There is a world of difference, however, between the voters choosing whether to exercise their franchise and the politically weak using that fact as a justification for curtailing it. It would be better to have no upper Chamber than to have one that entrenches the political cronyism that is in danger of becoming such a trademark of this Government.

It is difficult to know what is being attempted by the second Chamber. It will still be a House of Lords but it will be dissociated from the peerage, and those who sit in it will not be Lords but will still be MLs—Members of the Lords. It seems to be the worst of both worlds: a Chamber that is neither democratic nor fully meritocratic.

Modernisation has proved something of a difficulty for the self-styled modernising new Labour Government. Modernisation, whether in this place or in the other House, seems to have been one long-drawn-out fudge with no focus or any clear attempt to define what it is hoped to achieve. Scrutiny is important, but so is democracy. What is proposed for the second Chamber is a shabby compromise, which will satisfy absolutely no one.

6.10 pm
Peter Bradley (The Wrekin)

I cannot pretend to be able to pack as much into 10 minutes as the hon. Member for North Tayside (Pete Wishart) did, but I will do my best.

Until I heard the speech by the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack), I did not think that I would hear one that actually strengthened the arguments for the proposals in the White Paper. However, whatever the deficiencies in the proposals, about which we have heard plenty from Members from both sides of the House, we should pause and reflect, and concede that we would not even be debating the possibility of Lords reform were it not for the Government, and that they deserve some credit for that.

The Lords has required reform since the day of its inception, precisely because it has provided privileged access not just to wealth but to political power, irrespective of the merit of those who wield it and irrespective of the will of those over whom they have exercised it. It must be said that it has been a privilege that has been largely upheld, and indeed shared, for centuries by the Conservatives—those same Conservatives who have opposed Labour's attempts to reform the House of Lords for the past 100 years.

Now the caravan has moved on and we cannot turn back the clock, as was memorably said this afternoon, and the Conservatives are yet again demonstrating their unerring instinct for survival in the face of constitutional change. I welcome that, and Opposition Members have made some thoughtful and important contributions to the debate.

This is an historic opportunity, which brings with it historic responsibilities. It is not, in my view, a time for tinkering. It is not, in my view, a time for equivocation, or for incremental change that will require yet more hand-wringing and anguish and further incremental change year on year. We have a duty to get this reform right. We have a duty, indeed, to bring about a radical break with the past that shows that this Parliament—and the broader society that we represent or seek to represent—is forward-looking, confident and progressive. If that means that we must find ourselves in conflict with vested interests, whether the Law Lords or the bishops, that is unfortunate, but so be it. In the House of Lords, or the second Chamber—or the house of correction or whatever it is known as in future—no one should enjoy privileged access to their seat in our legislature.

The Government have a right to be proud of the programme of constitutional reform that they have pursued over the last four or five years and of the way in which they have ceded rights and influence to people outside Westminster. They have been much more radical than they have received credit for being. We have had the Human Rights Act 1998. We have had devolution to Northern Ireland, to Scotland, to Wales and to London. We have had the Freedom of Information Act 2000. We have had the first crucial phase of Lords reform. But in most of those measures—certainly in devolution to Wales and to London, and in the Freedom of Information Act—there has been a real difficulty for Government in simply letting go. This White Paper is constipated beyond most people's experience of anal retention.

There is a flaw at the heart of the White Paper. At paragraph 15, it poses a rhetorical question. It says: 'Whom do you choose to govern you?' The UK's political system is built around that principle. That is absolutely right, but if it is true of one Chamber it must follow logically that it is true of the other. However, the thesis of the White Paper seems to be to ask, "Why should the upper Chamber be elected?" rather than, "Why should it not be elected?" The proof that has to be the test of the quality and legitimacy of the second Chamber is whether it is elected, and an exceptional case has to be made for its Members who are not elected. Unfortunately, the White Paper puts that proposition the other way around.

The second Chamber has to embody some key principles. It must be distinctive in its role and function, as many hon. Members have said today. It must not replicate, imitate or duplicate the work of the House of Commons. It must be complementary, not competitive, so it must inevitably have subsidiary powers. It must be legitimate, and much of that legitimacy will come through election, whether whole or substantial. It must be representative of society and the nation at large. Indeed, it must be efficient. There have been many arguments for a smaller Chamber than that proposed, which would be in the interests of efficiency, as well as those of democracy and accountability.

The problem with the White Paper is that it would not confer legitimacy of election on 20 per cent. of the membership; nor would the political patronage that it would preserve. It is absurd to claim that introducing democracy to the second Chamber would somehow undermine the democratic credentials of the first Chamber. It would strengthen the legitimacy of Parliament, and it would be good for the second Chamber, as well as for the House of Commons.

As many hon. Members have suggested, introducing such democracy would strengthen not only the confidence that the electorate have in their Parliament, but their rights to hold Parliament to account. Too little has been said not only about our vested interest in holding the Executive, the second Chamber or Parliament to account, but about the interests of the people who send us here.

Election, not appointment, must be the principle on which the second Chamber is founded. It is perfectly possible to preserve the democratic principle of election without challenging the primacy of this place. The latter is the chief argument against election made in the White Paper.

What makes our legitimacy special is the constituency link. We are elected by and accountable to defined communities, which we seek to represent. It is perfectly possible to elect people indirectly in a way that confers a legitimacy on them that is not confrontational or equal to our own in this place. However, I accept the role of appointment in improving and extending the representativeness of the second Chamber to encompass not just the regions and nations of this country, but the various walks of life and professions, whether those involved are humble—perhaps I should not use that word—are engineers or professors of medicine.

Representativeness is important, but we know that the vagaries of the electoral system cannot guarantee it. We complain and wring our hands in this place, saying that we are not sufficiently representative of the community at large, so there must be a role for appointment, but no more than a third of the second Chamber' s membership should be appointed. I agree with much of what the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young) said in that respect.

If the second Chamber were to have a membership of 450—I suggest that it should be smaller, but 450 is the upper limit—on the basis of the national share of the vote at the general election in June there would be 122 Labour, 95 Conservative, 55 Liberal, 28 other and 150 appointed Members. Even the governing party would have no overall control, and the largest group would be appointed and, no doubt, independent Members. That would preserve the electoral principle, but it would also secure the principle of subsidiarity, representativeness and, indeed, independence.

Finally, we need a truly modern second Chamber. I spoke earlier about the need for radical reform. If we ask people to sit, or if they ask us to allow them to sit, in our legislature, they should regard that as their principal occupation, and they should be paid for it. They should be expected to attend or face disqualification. In no way should the bishops or the Law Lords believe that they have a moral entitlement automatically to be given seats in the legislature, but there is nothing to prevent them—as nothing prevented the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso)—from putting themselves forward for nomination or, in theory, election; and the same applies to all current peers.

All the peers should go, but if they wish to seek election or nomination, they should be free to do so; otherwise they should be given the same severance payments as Members of Parliament enjoy when we retire or are defeated in the polls.

The warning that I would issue to my colleagues is that we must build a consensus that goes beyond the consensus that simply opposes the White Paper. As has been repeated in the debate, previous reforms have foundered precisely because of lack of agreement about the shape of the second Chamber. That is the last defence of those who support the White Paper.

We should also warn those who support the White Paper that there is agreement on one issue: that the White Paper does not provide the basis for reform.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal)


6.20 pm
Norman Lamb (North Norfolk)

This has been a fascinating debate in which not a single speaker has spoken in support of the proposals in the White Paper. I suggest that that point also extends to the views of the Leader of the House. It is rare for a set of Government proposals to achieve the distinction of uniting virtually everyone outside their payroll in opposition to the proposals. The Government say that they seek consensus and, ironically, they are achieving consensus—one that circulates around something very different from what is proposed in the White Paper.

I wish to challenge a specific point that the Leader of the House made in the debate on 7 November and which he repeated today. He sought to justify the proposals on the composition of the second Chamber by praying in aid the claim that many second Chambers throughout the world are made up of a mixed membership. That is true, but in virtually all cases the balance is predominantly in favour of the elected element. I accept that, in some cases, indirect election plays a part, but in only 15 countries worldwide is appointment used as the predominant means of selection to the second Chamber.

The only western industrialised country that has a wholly appointed second Chamber is Canada. Its second Chamber is based on our House of Lords, so it is hardly the model that we want to follow now. As Meg Russell of The Constitution Unit put it in her 1999 study of second Chambers, the main problem in Canada is the lack of public respect for the senate due to its appointed basis. It is not seen as democratically legitimate. Appointees are seen as recipients of cynical patronage. We should listen carefully to those wise words.

The same study identifies only two countries—Malaysia and Swaziland—that combine a significant number of appointees with fewer elected Members. Those are the models that the Government seek to follow with these proposals.

The extent of patronage could be even worse. If the 20 per cent. elected element is elected using the closed-list system that operates for the European Parliament, the power of patronage would apply not just to the political appointments but to the elected element as well. The party bosses would determine who was top of the list. The second Chamber would be almost entirely created by patronage and appointment.

I want to deal with the arguments of the Leader of the House about the concern in the shift of power from one House to another. Much has been made of the Government's fear of a significant shift of power from this House to a more legitimate second Chamber. Their solution appears to be to ensure that the proposed second Chamber lacks legitimacy and, therefore, power. Experience from other countries suggests that that fear has been significantly overstated and is without substance. The assertion is made without any evidence to support it.

We all want an effective Parliament; we do not want endless gridlock. However, the correct balance can be achieved by properly designing the role, functions and powers of the second Chamber rather than by neutering it by way of membership by appointment and patronage. The net result of the proposals is not to shift power from one House to the other, but to further that shift from Parliament to the Executive, through the power of patronage. That must be fought at all costs.

Such is the opposition to the White Paper that three options are possible. I cannot imagine that the Government will legislate on the basis of a 20 per cent. elected element. The first option, therefore, is for them to rethink their case in its entirety, to listen to the developing consensus and to return with coherent proposals for reform of Parliament as a whole, including this place, to make us more effective, more democratic and more accountable. That would attract the support of hon. Members on both sides of the House.

The second option is to attempt to buy off internal opposition by increasing the percentage marginally. The third is to withdraw the proposals with no commitment to return with an alternative. The last two options worry me most. There has been much talk of the buy-off option in recent days, with an increase in the elected element of, say, 30 or 35 per cent. It is a common ploy to start with something that will not secure support, because it can lower expectations and set the context for debate. However, the opposition would have been the same had the Government proposed 35 per cent. as a starting point. That is subject to the same criticism of being undemocratic and dominated by patronage and appointment.

To a large extent, we have to rely on the reformers in the Cabinet—if there are any, apart from the Leader of the House—and Labour Back Benchers to stop a stitch-up. Well over 100 Labour Back Benchers signed the early-day motion supporting a second Chamber that is wholly or substantially elected. Please let them not go back on that principle. The country is relying on them to hold fast on that.

We also know that the Leader of the House wants something more radical. He was, self-evidently, a signatory to the Cook-Maclennan agreement that gave clear support for a democratic and representative second Chamber. The proposals do not match that test. Today the right hon. Gentleman set himself against a wholly elected second Chamber, but I listened carefully and he did not say that he is against a substantially elected second Chamber. I hope that he will lead the fight for something that is very different from what is set out in the White Paper.

The third option of keeping the status quo appears to have been threatened in the past couple of days by the Lord Chancellor. Most people would find that option abhorrent and it must be resisted. Indeed, it would directly contradict the principle, as stated today by the Leader of the House, of removing the hereditary element in its entirety.

We have an historic opportunity to reform the second Chamber, but we must get it right. There is a great deal of legitimate talk about a loss of trust in the democratic process, as demonstrated by a falling turnout and disillusionment with politics and politicians. Nothing would do more to reinforce those trends than to pack the second Chamber with political appointments. Imagine the turnout for the elected element of such a Chamber. The Cook-Maclennan report stated in 1997: There is today a pressing need to renew democracy in Britain. That is as true today—f not more so—s it was then. Let us consign the White Paper to the dustbin and start again with something that is more legitimate.

6.29 pm
Mr. Chris Bryant (Rhondda)

I am grateful to have the opportunity to speak in the debate, not least because I think that I am the only new Labour Member to have been called. I am aware that many others would like to speak.

The case for reform was made cogently by hon. Members on both sides of the House. That is why, above all else, I hope that the Government will not come away from the debate thinking that the situation is impossible and that they cannot introduce reform that will carry the day in this Chamber, proceed to the House of Lords and create a new system.

We need reform because Britain needs a parliamentary system in the totality of which the people can have confidence. My constituents do not have confidence in the whole parliamentary system. They have worries about this House, but they have far more worries about the other House, which they see as a wholly undemocratic and unrepresentative body that regularly acts as a bar to their legitimate political aspirations. Under the new proposals, that situation would not be improved. There is an urgent need for reform because there is only one other country in the world that has the same system as us, and that is Lesotho. It is about time we struck out and joined countries that have a more open, democratic system.

As many hon. Members have said, the Government's proposals are misguided and wrong. First, the figure of 20 per cent. for the second Chamber's elected Members is marginal and paltry. To offer the people of Britain a 20 per cent. share in the country's democracy is to waste an opportunity. The turnout for such elections would be pathetically small; indeed, we would almost be asking people not to bother to vote. The Government's proposals would lead to a House that was far too large. Surely a second Chamber should have no more than between 250 and 300 Members.

A couple of Members talked about the period of attrition, and I must correct their figures. I am afraid that I must tell the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) that the Liberal Democrat actuary is incorrect, and the rate of attrition would be a little faster than he stated, but then Liberal Democrat figures are often inaccurate. Every year, 18 Members of the House of Lords are gathered up into a place that is, I suspect, rather similar to the Lords, so the grim reaper paces rather faster than the hon. Gentleman believes. None the less, under these proposals, we would be facing at least 10 years in which the second Chamber dwindled into gagadom. The period of attrition would mean also that the Prime Minister would probably not be appointing anybody but the Archbishop of Canterbury to the Chamber in the next 10 years.

Another problem with the proposals which has already been mentioned is that although at the moment we have the same system as Lesotho, we would change to a system the same as those in Malaysia and Swaziland. Surely Britain, as the mother of Parliaments, should be able to devise a better system for the 21st century.

One of the most profound points in the debate was made by the Leader of the House when he asked for a centre of gravity. What we have seen developing today is more a centre of gravity than a consensus. It is fair to say that there is no consensus because people want to make their own specific proposals, but a clear centre of gravity is developing, first and foremost, around the idea that we should have a second Chamber, and secondly around the idea that it should be a small Chamber. Everybody who has referred to the size of the second Chamber has said that it should be small. Thirdly, the Chamber should have no more than secondary, revising powers. I do not see why it should not be called the second Chamber as a means of emphasising its secondary role. It is time we ditched the term "House of Lords". It would be particularly bizarre to call it that if it no longer contained traditional peers.

Another idea around which a centre of gravity has formed is that of offering some measure of redundancy to Members at the other end of the building. As someone in the parliamentary Labour party said yesterday, if we want our turkeys to vote for Christmas, we must offer them a lot of cranberry sauce.

Mr. Forth

What about stuffing?

Mr. Bryant

That's an idea.

I am quite happy for Members of the Lords to have club privileges. They can wine and dine there until the day they die, if they want. I am happy for them to receive some money, although perhaps we should base it on their attendance in the past two years. That would help us to get from A to Z.

Finally, on issues with a substantial centre of gravity, nearly everybody has spoken today about a largely elected second Chamber, which means more than 50 per cent. If the Government introduced proposals for a second Chamber with a 50 per cent. elected element, they would find considerably more support among Labour Members and, I suspect, across the Floor of the House. As a footnote, I should add that I prefer openness to a closed system; I hope that the system for electing Members of the European Parliament will be changed to an open one at the next election.

Many Opposition Members have raised the issue of the challenge to the Commons from a Chamber with a significant chunk of elected Members. That is a red herring and a simple mistake. Any new Chamber that is created, even if its Members are solely nominated, will start to challenge this one. Anyone, even if only the 20 per cent. share of elected Members, will start to challenge the moral authority and legitimacy of this Chamber, but that does not mean that they will have the power to overturn decisions made in the Commons, the bedrock of our democracy, which is based on constituency membership.

There is no reason why a strengthened Parliament Act could not make clear the exact powers of a secondary, solely revising Chamber without the need to write a new constitution, and differentiate them from those of this Chamber. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House was wrong to say that a majority of two-Chamber Parliaments are not directly or indirectly elected. In fact, 31 of the 58 second Chambers are wholly elected; in none of those Parliaments is there a major problem with rowing between the two Chambers.

In conclusion—and only one person in the Chamber could say this—as a former priest in the Church of England, I think that it is time the bishops were given their marching orders. It is unlikely that the Government will include in their proposals any suggestion that they will take on the whole Church of England, but since they have moved away substantially from the Wakeham proposals, which would have created Lords Spiritual of various Christian denominations, it is time to have more courage and get rid of the whole Bench of bishops. The days of the rochet and chimere are surely over.

I hope that the Government take the opportunity to return to the House in the near future with proposals for reform. There is a potent argument in favour of reform. My constituents do not often discuss the House of Lords, but they find it bizarre that the House of Commons can vote several times with enormous majorities on issues such as foxhunting and the age of consent, yet their decisions do not become law. We need to change many aspects of the way that we do business in the House so that we can do it better. However, we need to change the House of Lords as a matter of urgency, and I hope that the Government will give us the tools to do so in the next 12 months.

6.38 pm
Mr. Andrew Rosindell (Romford)

I make no secret of the fact that I oppose reform of the House of Lords. There is a valid case for retaining the strong traditions that have kept our parliamentary system great for so long, including the hereditary principle on which the monarchy itself is founded.

I agree with many of the previous speakers—not least my hon. Friends the Members for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Mitchell) and for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack)—that the Government are proposing not a second Chamber, but more of a House of cronies with more elected politicians, as if we have not got enough already. [HON. MEMBERS: "Resign!"] I was a Tory gain, so I shall not be resigning. Equally, I understand that there appears to be no going back on the idea that we should have an elected element in the newly constituted second Chamber, but I believe that this new element should incorporate as many of the existing traditions of the House of Lords and the British Parliament as possible. It seems to me that the Government's proposal lacks a basis of democracy, popular support and international precedents. Their proposals suggest far more sinister motives: a cynical, electorally motivated desire to produce a second Chamber that will be an enfeebled stooge.

I hope that the House will consider alternative options, one of which I should like to suggest now. I believe that the second Chamber should be reorganised on the basis not only of the traditional elements, but of an elected territorial element. I refer not to any notion of the units designed by Labour for regional government or to the artificial boundaries contrived for the House of Commons and European elections, but to the nation's historic counties. With representatives elected from each of the historic counties, using their traditional boundaries, the second Chamber would restore pride, vitality and diversity to Britain's over-centralised system of government, giving electors local links to those in the second Chamber and possibly rekindling a sense of local patriotism without challenging the representative status of their Members of Parliament. Middlesex, Westmorland, Rutland and Huntingdonshire are just a few examples of the counties that could be restored. What an opportunity we have to do that.

The same basis can be extended to our great cities, such as Birmingham, Glasgow, Canterbury, York, Cardiff, Belfast and, indeed, London. The second Chamber could also give a voice to the overseas territories—a point that was first mooted by my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) in the 22 November debate on the overseas territories. Why should not Gibraltar, the Falkland Islands and all British people have representation in this, the Parliament of the United Kingdom? I would also include the Crown dependencies. Indeed, territorial representation in a second Chamber would be a counterbalance to the population-based representation of the Commons, as the United States Senate is in relation to the House of Representatives.

A second Chamber giving voice to the nation's historic counties would be democratic, historically relevant and easily understood and supported by the public, and would have international precedents. It would also make geographical sense. I hope that hon. Members and especially the Leader of the House will consider my proposal. I urge a radical rethink of this most important of issues so that we get a second Chamber that is representative rather than one that merely speaks the voice of the Government.

6.44 pm
Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire)

The debate has been interesting but all too short. The Government should have allowed more time for our deliberations. Those of us who have been part of the usual channels were not surprised that the Government conveniently scheduled a statement today, thus further curtailing our debate. The Opposition would have viewed favourably a proposal by Leader of the House to suspend the decision to end the debate at 7 o'clock.

The reasons for not holding a longer debate or a two-day debate such as that in the House of Lords are clear from Labour Members' speeches. The debate is of the Government's choosing on proposals of their choosing and at a time of their choosing. Despite all that, how many Labour Members spoke in support of the White Paper? Twelve Labour Members spoke; not one supported it. That is unprecedented in my experience. Even in the days when Lady Thatcher and John Major proposed measures that were considered unpopular in the Conservative party, there was always an element of support in the Chamber. As the debate progressed, we could see some of the edges of the White Paper's pages turning green.

It is not only Labour Members who are unimpressed with the Government's proposals. Lord Richard, the Prime Minister's first appointed Leader of the House of Lords, has described current proposals as "half-baked" and no more than "tokenism". The reason for producing such a dog's dinner was provided by Lord Stoddart, a Labour politician—[HoN. MEMBERS: "Former Labour politician."]—who complained this week about the Prime Minister's "control freakery".

If today's debate is anything to go by, the Government's preferred method of House of Lords reform is rightly lying on the Floor in tatters. The proposals have been universally condemned. No new Labour project has received such a bad press from across the media spectrum. The Mirror, which is usually an enthusiastic cheerleader for the Labour party, stated on 9 November: Robin Cook made a reasonable fist of presenting New Labour's 'reforms' of the House of Lords. Which is all the more surprising, say Labour MPs, because the Leader of the House doesn't believe a word of the script. This mish-mash of patronage, rigged elections and gerrymandering has gone down like a cup of cold sick. It is a transparent attempt by the government to swap the old permanent Tory majority in the upper chamber for a permanent New Labour majority.

Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give the House the Conservative alternative to the White Paper?

Mr. Knight

The White Paper allows until the end of the month for the conclusion of consultations. We have a position, but it has not been published yet. It will be made clear before the end of January.

On 8 November, The Times stated: Tony Blair has secured his place in history already as the most prolific dispenser of prime ministerial patronage in the House of Lords since life peers were created, in 1958 … In his brief four and a half years of power, Mr. Blair has appointed 248 peers, easily more than the 216 created by Baroness Thatcher in her 11-year tenure. In a House of Lords containing just over 700 peers, more than a third owe their places in Parliament to one Prime Minister. The Evening Standard, which supports reform, has been no less critical. On 7 November, it stated: a principally nominated House can never command serious authority as the second chamber … Any government will feel free to override its views at will. Second, the House of Lords will be increasingly dominated by peers appointed because of their relationship to the political leaders of the day … Such figures have always existed and often been honoured, but their role will now be expanded. Many interesting points have been raised in the debate, but, sensing the difficulties that lay ahead, the Prime Minister yesterday appeared to justify his proposals by saying that there was no clear-cut alternative and by implication that the existence of a wide spectrum of views meant that the House should accept the package, warts and all. That is an interesting theory, and it reminds me of the curate's egg—an appropriate metaphor in this case.

The Prime Minister's statement reminds me of the bishop offering the curate an egg that is good in parts and bad in others. The curate must eat the egg, so as not to offend the bishop. I think that the Prime Minister was hoping that the House would do something similar today. I have to tell him that many Opposition Members do not want to eat that egg at all. On the other hand, many Labour Members are so afraid of offending the bishop that they would eat almost anything put before them. This issue, however, represents one rotten egg too far for many Labour Members. I believe that the majority of Labour Members are prepared to say, with us, "We like eggs, but we would like one that is primarily not bad, one that is substantial and that is worth waiting for. Take this away and bring us another!"

6.50 pm
The Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office (Mr. Stephen Twigg)

Lacking a public policy, my shadow chose not to address any of the issues that have been raised in today's debate. I have 10 minutes in which to try to do so. This has been a very constructive debate, and I am pleased to be responding to it on behalf of the Government. We have heard some excellent, thoughtful speeches from both sides of the House.

Constitutional reform has been one of the greatest achievements of this Government since we were elected in 1997. We have introduced the Human Rights Act 1998, the Freedom of Information Act 2000, devolution in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the restoration of elected city government in Greater London, opportunities for communities to opt for local, directly elected mayors, the setting up of the Electoral Commission, and legislation going through Parliament at the moment to enable political parties to take positive action to increase the number of women candidates.

The goal of removing the hereditary principle from the House of Lords is one that this party has striven for since our foundation more than 100 years ago. I remember people saying to me before 1997 that, once elected, we would not proceed with constitutional reform or with the first stage of Lords reform. Well, we did. I remember, once we had completed that first stage, we were told that we would not proceed to the second. Well, we are doing so.

I welcome the fact that the Conservatives are now engaging with this issue, and that some have converted to the cause of reform. As recently as the 1997 general election, they were still defending the hereditary principle in the upper House of this Parliament, and for 18 continuous years of Conservative government, no proposals for the reform of the second Chamber were introduced.

Mr. George Osborne (Tatton)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Twigg

No, I have very little time.

We are told that the Tories have secret proposals that will be published soon. In today's debate, three Opposition Members called for a fully appointed second Chamber, three called for a wholly or largely elected second Chamber, and the hon. Members for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) and for Romford (Mr. Rosindell) wished that we had not started the reform process. Indeed, I got the impression that the hon. Member for Romford hankered for the good old days before the signing of Magna Carta.

Certain basic principles have been accepted by all speakers in the debate—or certainly by most. They are that there should be two Chambers; that we should remove the hereditary element; that we should assert the pre-eminence of the House of Commons; that we should have a second Chamber that reflects the balance of public opinion between the parties; and that there should not be a fundamental change in the powers of the two Chambers.

Like many who have spoken today, my personal instincts have been in favour of a fully elected second Chamber—[Hon. MEMBERS: "Aah!"] Hold on a sec! I have another six minutes to fill. The argument that persuaded me against that is that an appointed element brings expertise to a second Chamber. A number of speakers on both sides of the House made good arguments about the expertise that comes into the second Chamber via appointment, whether through party appointees or Cross Benchers.

Mr. Richard Bacon (South Norfolk)

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Twigg

No, I have only five minutes.

Secondly, an appointed element ensures the pre-eminence of the House of Commons, which is very important. Finally, it plays a part in achieving a Parliament that looks more like the public whom we serve and, in particular, in ensuring proper representation of women and diverse communities in our country. No speaker addressed that issue. I would prefer election to secure such representation, but we have only to look around us to see that election alone does not have a track record of delivering proper representation of women and minority ethnic communities. The appointed element may play an important role in that.

Wakeham proposed in option B that 87 of 550 second Chamber Members be elected, while the White Paper proposes a slightly higher proportion—120 of 600. Nevertheless, I accept that it is clear that Members on both sides of the House strongly support the proposals involving a larger elected element. I take that on board and shall feed it back in, but I want to respond to some specific points during the debate in the Government before bringing proposals before the House.

A number of Members raised the question of the method of election and spoke in favour of open lists, including the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young) and my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Mr. Bryant). I believe that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House of Lords is on record as saying that we have no closed mind on closed lists. This is clearly a matter still to be resolved.

There is also the question of the length of an elected Member's term and the debate is between the desire for independence as set out in the Wakeham proposals, which suggest a very long term, and the need for those elected to Parliament to be accountable. I think that a 15-year term without the right to stand again would reduce the accountability of the democratically elected element in the second Chamber, so it makes far more sense to have shorter terms for Members with the right to stand for re-election. That is a more democratic way to ensure that there is an elected element in the second Chamber.

The White Paper raises the issue of indirect representation in the new second Chamber, and various Members made proposals for achieving it. The difficulty is that, although there are Assemblies in Wales and Northern Ireland and a Parliament in Scotland, there is no regional representation in England. However, the proposal is worthy of consideration as the debate moves forward.

Let me briefly address the question of prime ministerial patronage and appointees to the new second Chamber. The Government carefully considered Lord Wakeham's proposal that party political appointments be made by an independent commission, but we do not believe it appropriate for party political rather than independent representatives to be appointed in that way.

There has been a great deal of talk in the debate about prime ministerial patronage, but the proposals in the White Paper represent a significant reduction in those powers: the elected element would be 20 per cent., 20 per cent. would be appointed by an independent commission and about 55 per cent. would be appointed by parties, with most of those being appointed by opposition parties.

Currently, the majority of new Members of the Lords are directly appointed by the Prime Minister, so the proposals represent a significant reduction in the powers of patronage. [Interruption.] I recognise from the noises coming from behind that it does not go quite as far as many of my colleagues would like.

This is an important debate and, as many people have said, it is about not just the future of the other place, but the reform of Parliament itself. The purpose of reform, both here through my right hon. Friend's modernisation proposals and in the Lords, is to create a Parliament that is more effective and more representative of the people we serve. The 59 per cent. turnout last year is a clear warning to us all: renewing our political institutions is not some sideshow and it strikes at the heart of why we are here in Parliament.

This Government are listening to the concerns expressed here today and in the other place yesterday. The public consultation will continue for another three weeks and the debate is an important contribution to it. I am grateful to all Members who took part.

It being Seven o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.