§ [Relevant documents: The First Report from the Joint Committee on House of Lords Reform, Session 2002–03, HL Paper 17 and HC171, on House of Lords Reform.]
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Heppell.]1.40 pm
§ Dr. Jack Cunningham (Copeland)
It is my duty and privilege to present the first report on House of Lords reform on behalf of the Joint Committee on House of Lords Reform, which I have the honour to chair. I thank the Government for accepting one of our 24 recommendations that we should have the opportunity, both here and in another place, to debate the report fully before votes are taken on motions that may subsequently be tabled. I thank the members of the Committee, many of whom are here today, for their excellent contributions, and pay tribute to the Clerks and their staff for their excellent support.
As the House knows, the report confronts long-standing issues of huge importance and great controversy. The historical background is set out in appendix 1, which mentions a number of important landmarks in parliamentary change. In 1671, the Commons asserted its right to sole control over the levying of taxation. There are a number of other staging posts—the Glorious Revolution, the Parliament Acts and other well-known reforms. Those changes have often taken place in an atmosphere of great controversy, with frenetic exchanges from time to time of great wit. Joseph Chamberlain, said of the House of peers thatthey toil not neither do they spin".The Prime Minister may wish to see that quotation on the office walls of some his Ministers.
Lord Rosebery warned the Liberal Government that itwould be extremely ill advised to touch the composition of the second Chamber until it had settled its powersto avoiddissension in the heart of the constitution".Naturally, the Joint Committee decided to follow that advice, and the first part of our work was to focus on role, function and powers. Lloyd George famously described the House of Lords as "Mr. Balfour's poodle", and Michael Foot, commenting much later, said an appointed Chamber would be "a seraglio of eunuchs".
One of my favourite quotations comes from a debate in February 1969:We do not want to see joint committees having views about the House of Commons which result in our views being watered down by those elder statesmen, often former hon. Members of this House, who, while they command a great deal of respect, are not immediately in touch with the day-to-day life of the country as we are and as we represent it." — [Official Report, 3 February 1969; Vol. 777, c. 113.]Those words from Hansard were spoken by the former MP for Ashton-under-Lyne, my good friend Lord Sheldon. Perhaps those of us who think of life in another place should reflect on the words of the hymn:There is room for new creations in the Upper Place of bliss".188 In our special report, the Committee said:The Committee believes that such a settlement would need to be robust, practical and command broad support in Parliament and beyond if it is to have any chance to endure.It went on to say:
"the Committee is responding to the desire for this highly important matter to be taken forward expeditiously. But we are also conscious of the need to give thorough and diligent consideration to a wide-ranging set of complex issues that have been the subject of public discussion for many decades and have recently led to some widely different conclusions on the part of the Government, the Royal Commission and the Commons Select Committee on Public Administration."
§ Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)
In the context of expeditiousness, to which the right hon. Gentleman has encouragingly just referred, will he tell us how he and the Committee regard the time-scale for forthcoming events, given the considerable amount of further business listed in the report that the Committee feels it still has to do, and the doubt that now seems to exist following the seven options that will be offered to the Commons and another place? Does the right hon. Gentleman hold out any hope that that matter can be resolved in the foreseeable future?
§ Dr. Cunningham
The timetabling of business is a matter not for me but for the Leader of the House and the usual channels to decide. The right hon. Gentleman is right that the Committee anticipated a considerable amount of further work. We all know that the question of whether the Committee embarks on that work will depend on the Government's judgment and decisions here and in another place about which options, if any, are pursued. That is a matter for Parliament to decide, not the Committee.
Our report on parliamentary change and a new constitutional settlement was produced by parliamentarians of considerable knowledge, experience and judgment holding all shades of opinion. We were given pretty strict guidance by our terms of reference, which are set out in the report, and were instructed to consider not only many volumes of evidence but the report of the royal commission, the White Paper and the Public Administration Committee report. As Members will see, those reports were referred to regularly throughout our deliberations and conclusions. In part 2 of the report, we establish a pretty broad consensus on the future role, functions and powers of the second Chamber. Part 3 sets out five tests for the kind of Members who should make up the Chamber; in part 4, we consider composition, tenure and transitional arrangements; and in part 5, we set out the options, but we were restricted by the terms of reference given to us by Parliament. We were obliged to recommend on both a wholly elected and a wholly appointed House, and to suggest options in-between. Consequently, that was not the most taxing part of our work.
Above all, the report does not recommend maintaining the status quo. It accepts the need finally to remove the remaining hereditary peers and find new and adequate ways of appointing Members to the second Chamber, if indeed they are to be appointed. It recommends a statutory independent appointments commission and addresses the need for greater regional 189 balance in the membership of the other place and a much better representation of gender, ethnicity and age. Those recommendations are common to all the options that the House will eventually be asked to consider.
§ Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge)
In confirming that appointment does not necessarily mean the maintenance of the status quo, will my right hon. Friend also confirm that if Members of Parliament voted for an appointed Chamber, it would not restrict the Committee to existing methods of appointment or indeed to those mentioned in the report, as there would be a wider interpretation of appointment?
§ Dr. Cunningham
My hon. Friend the Member for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Clelland) is absolutely right, and I hear the suggestion that we could have a raffle. Even a raffle might be better than the bagatelle that we have at the moment, so it could conceivably be a step forward.
We said at the beginning of our report that there was an historic opportunity to enact a reform that would enable the second Chamber to continue to play an important role that is complementary to that of the Commons, with its future secured after almost 100 years of doubt about what it was there for and was supposed to do. It is important to understand reform in the context of the broad historical sweep to which I have referred. We have sought in our report to inform the debates and votes in both Houses by clarifying what we believe should be the future role, powers and nature of the second Chamber and identifying the implications of our conclusions for its composition. We welcome the Government's decision to ensure that all the proposals are fully considered here and elsewhere before they table the motions on which they will invite the House to decide.
I mentioned that a broad consensus had been established in this area. For the most part, the Committee, which was always good natured and easy to chair, worked with expedition and quickly reached unanimity on these matters. There was almost no dispute of any sort about them.
§ Mr. Mark Fisher (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)
Will my right hon. Friend reconsider the wording that he used a couple of minutes ago in saying that his Committee was considering the best method to appoint the reformed House? Was that not prejudging the issue and putting the weight of his Committee and indeed his report behind some form or proportion of appointment and against the idea of a wholly elected Chamber?
§ Dr. Cunningham
I do not know whether that is a deliberate misinterpretation of what I was saying, but I shall give my hon. Friend the benefit of the doubt and assume that he has misunderstood. I was saying that, if there are to be appointments, there has to be a new arrangement and that the status quo is not an option. If there is to be a wholly or even partially appointed House, we have to have a better way of achieving that than now, so we recommend the establishment of a new independent statutory appointments commission. That is the point that I am making. Of course, my hon. Friend 190 may believe in a wholly elected House. It is fairly obvious that those issues do not arise at all in that context. I hope that everyone accepts that, if there were to be a wholly elected House, a whole lot of other things would fall naturally into place. The bishops and Law Lords would be removed, as would many independents, as they would not stand for election. If there is to be an appointed element, however, we need a new, better and more representative system. That is what the report is saying.
§ Pete Wishart (North Tayside)
The report still says that there will be a prime ministerial system of appointments, so Tony's cronies will still be appointed. Will he explain how what he is describing differs from what is currently happening in appointments to the House of Lords?
§ Dr. Cunningham
If it is necessary for me to explain to the hon. Gentleman what is different, all I can say is that he has not bothered to study the present circumstances or read the report fully. It is true that the Committee unanimously agreed that the Prime Minister of the day, whoever he or she may be, would retain the limited right to nominate people to the House of Lords simply because it might be necessary to do so to establish new ministerial appointments there. That seemed to the Committee a sensible and practical way forward for the Prime Minister of the day.
On conventions and relations between the other place and this House, we thought it important that the conventions should be retained as they are. The two most important conventions are that the House of Commons should have its way and that Government business should be transacted without undue delay. That is what happens now and those conventions have been in place for some considerable time. We believe that they should play a part in any future relationship between the two Houses.
On other roles of the second Chamber—its role as a constitutional long stop, its legitimacy in respect of the public and its representativeness in relation to the regions and nations—we also call for change. We considered the functions of the House of Lords in relation to the fact hat it is a major initiator of legislation rather than a revising Chamber alone, important though the latter role is. We also considered a number of matters to which we shall need to return later in our deliberations, including increasing the effectiveness of pre-legislative scrutiny and the way in which the House of Lords deals with secondary legislation and scrutiny of policy. For example, we will be looking for ways of improving the work of Select Committees. We considered the judicial function of the House a separate and highly important matter that would need expert examination and attention that we did not feel the Committee was qualified to give.
§ Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield)
My right hon. Friend and the Committee have rightly placed a good deal of stress in their report on the second Chamber's role in providing scrutiny and as a constitutional long stop. Scrutiny as between the two Houses is often less important than scrutiny by Parliament of the Executive of the day. Did my right hon. Friend or the Committee feel that more work is 191 needed on that issue, as well as perhaps some greater codification of the roles of the legislature vis-á-vis the Executive?
§ Dr. Cunningham
Yes, we considered the point that my hon. Friend raises, but if he will allow me to do so, I shall deal with it a little later.
When we considered powers, we concluded that we did not believe that the powers under the Parliament Acts needed changing overall, but warned that an eye needs to be kept on how the new carry-over arrangements for future Bills are used by the Government. On composition, as I said, we listed what we described as five desirable qualities. We referred to improvements in the representative nature of the second Chamber and its legitimacy and representativeness, no domination by any one party, independence and the need to sustain expertise. As our report says, the present House is strong in relation to some of those aspects, notably independence and expertise, but considerably weaker in relation to others, notably legitimacy and representativeness. Of course, as I said, it is also weak in terms of gender and ethnicity.
§ Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion)
One of the principles which the right hon. Gentleman mentioned and which is elucidated in the report is that there should be no domination by one political party. Of course, the same principle was also stated in the royal commission report. If this House voted for the option of a fully elected second Chamber, however, how on earth could that principle be achieved?
§ Dr. Cunningham
The hon. Gentleman asks a very important question. It would be very difficult to achieve that aim, but not impossible. We would have to ensure that the electoral and other processes gave some guarantees about that. That is perfectly possible to do. The issue goes to the heart of some of the decisions that we have to make. One can easily see that if an independent commission is making appointments and has been given proper terms of reference, it is possible quickly and easily to move to greater representativeness, gender equality and representation of the ethnic communities, as well as to a better age profile. The appointments commission would be instructed to work to those ends, but it would be more difficult to achieve them by election, and impossible if the election were conducted on the first-past-the-post system, as the Committee acknowledges in its report. It is not impossible to achieve those aims with other electoral approaches, but they would not be as quick or simple to achieve.
§ Dr. Cunningham
I should move on, because many hon. Members want to contribute to such an important debate.
We listed several matters that we had to leave until phase 2 of our work simply because we knew that hon. Members were anxious for us to produce a report as 192 quickly as possible. Those matters include the ultimate size of the House and the nature of the election process that might be used. Part 5 of the report sets out the options.
I have covered some of the pros and cons of a fully appointed House and a fully elected House, but a hybrid is also possible. It is more difficult to be clear about the way in which that would work, but the Joint Committee did not believe that it was impossible to construct a system whereby the House could comprise some elected and some appointed Members.
We drew attention to the fact that none of the previous reports—the royal commission report, the White Paper, the Public Administration Committee report—took account of the costs involved in a change. We referred to that only briefly in our report, but it will be important to consider costs in greater detail when the exact nature of the change has been determined.
We are considering complex, difficult and controversial issues. The Committee acknowledged that it would take some time for a new constitutional balance to emerge. That is always the case when important changes that affect Parliament are introduced.
§ Andrew Mackinlay
When the Committee considered the relationship between the two Houses, did it examine the idea that Ministers who are the architects of specific measures or have an exclusive portfolio should be able to answer questions in both Houses and/or steer legislation through Parliament? That is the pattern in many other Westminster-style constitutions and Parliaments. Such a system makes sense because it gives a Minister charge of a subject instead of our having someone who works off a brief and behaves like a parrot.
§ Dr. Cunningham
No, we did not consider such a proposal.
We are considering a new constitutional settlement between the Houses of Parliament, and between a changed House of Lords and the Government of the day. If changes are made, apart from emphasising that they should be robust, practical and enduring, we should ask ourselves what sort of new relationship we want and how it can best be achieved.
Do we want the new second Chamber to be a replica of the House of Commons? Most people would say no to that. Would a wholly or substantially elected House accept the current role, functions and power of the second Chamber or would elected Members want to assert more authority with regard to the House of Commons or the Government? Would an elected second Chamber with an in-built majority against the Government of the day—it is universally agreed that that should be the case—accept the conventions and restrictions that have been placed on it?
Would a new approach through an independent appointments commission, with a remit to produce regional, gender, ethnic and age balance, give the second Chamber the greater legitimacy and representative nature that we are striving to achieve? How can independence and independents have a secure place and role in a reformed second Chamber?
How would a partly elected, partly appointed House work in practice? Would such an arrangement be sufficiently stable to endure in the long term? We all 193 want that to happen. Is the second Chamber intended to represent the country electorally and politically, like the House of Commons, or should it have a different role?
Let me now speak for myself, not the Committee. I believe that the House of Commons should not tolerate a rival House with similar powers. We should not risk creating such a rival without great care and consideration of what such fundamental constitutional change would bring.
The public do not often get excited about this place and the other place when we contemplate our navels. In my experience, they are not greatly interested in the strategies for enhancing or reducing the powers or status of one House as opposed to another. However, our constituents are concerned about more effective scrutiny of Government—I hope that we all support that, whatever the outcome—more expeditious provision of better governance; more vigilance in defence of constituents' rights and more efficient enhancement of their social and economic well-being. Those outcomes should have priority when we decide whether changes should be made. No Joint Committee could resolve such matters alone; they are questions for Parliament. I am sure that the Government also rightly have a view.
We have an opportunity to reflect on the report and the debate in this House and the other place before voting on options for change. Like other members of the Committee, I shall listen to colleagues with great interest. I end by reflecting on the words of the American comedian, George Burns, who once said that it is too bad that all the people who know how to run the country are busy driving cabs and cutting hair.
§ 2.6 pm
§ Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks)
I pay tribute on behalf of all hon. Members who served on the Joint Committee, including me, to the right hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) for his chairmanship, which he undertook with skill, humour and a few sharp words. He managed a Committee of 24 people, all of whom believed that their opinion was the great, weighty view that had to be delivered on the subject.
The Committee included two former Chancellors of the Exchequer and two former Chief Whips. It was wonderful to observe some young, radical Labour Back Benchers sitting cheek by jowl with long-established hereditary peers and sometimes expressing the same opinions: doubtless they marvelled at the sight of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) and I sitting cheek by jowl and occasionally expressing the same opinions.
Serving on the Committee has been entertaining, enjoyable and, I hope, useful. As the right hon. Member for Copeland said, I hope that the debate will fuel any further deliberations by the Committee with valuable advice. I apologise to hon. Members because I shall unavoidably miss the end of the debate. However, like the right hon. Gentleman, I look forward to listening to or reading the speeches.
We are all conscious of the fact that the debate forms part of a lengthy process. The preamble to the Parliament Act 1911 envisaged that it would be a temporary measure until popular representation was introduced to the upper House. Ninety-two years later, we are still deliberating on how to achieve that, and I 194 cannot say with confidence that hon. Members will not be deliberating on the matter in another 92 years. I am not wholly optimistic that introducing popular representation to the upper House will be the outcome of deliberations in both Houses over the next few weeks.
If we go back further in time, we realise that the process is even lengthier. In the mid-17th century, our predecessors decided to abolish the House of Lords because in 1649 they believed that it was useless and dangerous. That opinion receives a little support today, even though the decision was followed by a military dictatorship and the abolition of the House of Commons; supporters should take account of that cautionary note.
Our report states that there is no evidence of substantial support for unicameralism, but we were probably wrong—there is some support for it in the House. It is important to respect and confront that, and to understand why a properly functioning second Chamber is important. That is often demonstrated in practical ways—for example, in the huge amount of legislative work that is accomplished down the Corridor. The fact that we now go home at a nice early time in the evenings or, at least, that we no longer have debates of quite the open-ended nature that we used to have—reinforces the need for such work to be done by a second Chamber. As the Joint Committee points out, in 2001 the House of Lords spent 53 hours on the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Bill, and many of its amendments were subsequently accepted in this place.
We need a properly functioning second Chamber for practical reasons, and for very good constitutional reasons. Every major country in the world that has set out to produce from scratch a constitution based on liberty and democracy—with the exception of New Zealand—has chosen a bicameral system. The founding fathers who wrote the constitution of the United States, those who crafted the German constitution after the second world war, and even the people who brought the miracle of democracy to India in the 1940s, created bicameral systems so that there would be some check on over-hasty legislation or an over-mighty Executive.
That is why we must face up to the belief held by some Members of this House that the upper House should be abolished altogether. It has one absolute veto remaining, which is a veto over the extension of the life of Parliament. We may think that, these days, we are all so nice and democratic that we cannot imagine voting for the extension of the life of Parliament in circumstances that were not warranted, but can we guarantee that our successors in 50 years' time will not be driven to that by some extremity?
§ Pete Wishart
The right hon. Gentleman will be aware of the survey that the Inter-Parliamentary Union conducted in 1995, which found that, of a total of 178 legislatures, some 127 were unicameral. Unicameralism does exist, and it obviously works.
§ Mr. Hague
It is not normally associated with the balanced and democratic constitutions of the world, however. Yes, we can go to places such as Pyongyang and Beijing, where there is only one legislative body, but we will not find such bodies in many countries that are founded on liberty and democracy. Let us hope that our country remains committed to those concepts.
195 That is part of the case for balance in our constitution. That case must be advanced in this debate because it should also lead us to the right options for reform of the upper House. Governments must be able to govern. They must be able to conduct their own foreign policy, and to manage their budget. That must always involve a matter of confidence in the Government. Is it really necessary, however, for Governments always to be able to get every little bit of legislation through exactly as they want it and exactly according to their timetable? I believe that the answer to that is no.
The powers and ability of this House and of Parliament as a whole—this House and the other House—are inadequate to bring proper balance to our constitution. It is possible to govern with authority without being able to legislate with impunity. Today, however, Governments expect to be able to do both. That is why Parliament as a whole should be strengthened, and that includes the strengthening of the upper House. It also includes the strengthening of both Houses vis-á-vis the Government of the day. This is not a zero sum game. More authority and legitimacy for the upper House will not necessarily reduce the authority, legitimacy or power of the lower House, if we conduct our own affairs by giving proper scrutiny to Government actions and legislation. That is what we should be doing.
The Leader of the House has introduced many reforms. Many hon. Members, including me, have disagreed with some of them, but he has introduced reforms designed to improve the scrutiny of Government decisions, and I give him credit for that. The reforms are designed to improve some of the powers of Members of the House of Commons. I particularly applauded his attempt to take from the party Whips the power to nominate Committees—I have to say something to annoy my Front Bench; I am a former leader of the party, and it is traditional to do so—although that attempt was defeated. I hope that he is only biding his time before making the proposal again, because that is the sort of thing that needs to be done in this House. Such measures should be accompanied by reforms that make the upper House stronger and give it greater authority.
That is the case for electing a large part of the upper House, and it lies in two of the five factors that the right hon. Member for Copeland mentioned: legitimacy and representation. May I, in passing, refer to the comments made in the Committee that the reform of the upper House so far has made it less representative of the United Kingdom geographically? It is a more south-east-centred assembly, now that it is largely appointed. The only respect in which the hereditary peers were representative was that they were scattered across the whole of the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Forth
Does not my right hon. Friend concede, however, that representativeness is in some ways a political will-o'-the-wisp? One could set out to identify all the ways in which any House could be "representative"—in respect of gender, ethnicity, region, profession, politics, religion or anything else—but to achieve such a degree of representativeness is impossible.
§ Mr. Hague
It may be impossible, statistically, to achieve such representation in relation to every possible parameter, but it is not impossible to achieve broad representation of the people in a way that allows them to feel represented and connected with their representatives, even though those representatives may not be exactly the same gender or colour as they are. It is, therefore, possible to improve representation, and to allow people to feel represented.
We must face the fact that this would, however, have the effect of increasing the authority—the boisterousness, the effectiveness—of the upper House. We must vote for it only if we are prepared to face up to that happening. Some hon. Members on the Committee believe that the powers of the upper House will remain as they are written in the rules under the Parliament Acts, but, actually, the powers that have been exercised by the House of Lords throughout history have rarely corresponded to the ones that are written down. Much depends on the confidence with which they are used.
Back in the 18th century, their Lordships had almost equal powers to the House of Commons, except in financial matters. They could throw Bills out in their entirety if they wished—they had a total veto—yet they hardly ever did so. They did so only once during the whole of the 18th century, and that was when the King told them to do so. It is hard to see that circumstance arising now, even in relation to the Hunting Bill. They did not use that power in the 18th century because the power of patronage overrode the power that they had technically. Every peer wanted a step up in the peerage. Every lord wanted to be a marquess; every marquess wanted to be a duke. The most craven of all were the bishops, who all sought a more lucrative diocese and therefore always voted with the Government of the day. Patronage overrode the technical powers held by the House of Lords.
In the last century, their Lordships have rarely used the powers truly available to them. The powers have fallen into disuse by convention, partly because their Lordships have lived in fear of our holding this very debate and debates like it in the House of Commons. They have not wanted to push things too far, or to provoke the House of Commons into following up the Parliament Act. Who can say that that has not been a successful strategy?
The powers that are written down are not necessarily the powers that are used. An elected, or largely elected, Chamber would become a more assertive House, even under existing powers. It would, however, enjoy greater legitimacy in using those powers. The trick, surely, is to create greater legitimacy and representation without 197 losing the independence and expertise that the Committee identified as key attributes of the upper House as it stands today.
We should recognise the value of that independence and expertise. When I was a Minister, the House of Lords was a much more frightening place than the House of Commons. I say that with no disrespect to my hon. Friends and other hon. Members; that is just how it was. If I went along to a House of Commons Select Committee having been briefed for a few hours by a civil servant of a year's experience, I felt that I could pretty much cope with everything. If I went to a House of Lords Select Committee, that civil servant would have to point out that some of the people asking the questions had studied their subject for 30 years and were in the House of Lords because they were a world expert on it, and that the civil service did not know the answer to some of the questions that were likely to be asked. That was a much more frightening thing to do.
In the mid-1990s, when we had a majority of one—and sometimes not even that—in this House and, in theory, a majority of hundreds in the upper House, it was still harder to get legislation through unamended in the upper House than it was to do so here in the House of Commons. It was necessary to work out how to win the vote in this House, but it was necessary to work out how to win the argument down the Corridor.
§ Mr. Chris Bryant (Rhondda)
Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that expertise in the House of Lords is often somewhat out of date? It might have been acquired 10, 15 or 20 years ago. By the very nature of their appointed position, many Members of that House will have made their name quite some time ago.
§ Mr. Hague
That is sometimes the case, but it is sometimes the case here as well. We have often been treated to speeches from Members who picked up their world-beating expertise a good 20 or 30 years ago. That can happen in any Assembly, whatever the system of appointment or election.
The one way to try to retain the necessary elements of independence and expertise, while improving legitimacy and representation, is to adopt a system of election completely different from the system used in this House. Our report refers to election for 12 years, and it is possible that that would be a non-renewable term. Some think the 12-year period too long: my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe, for instance, believes that those elected under such a system would become too independent of party, or even reality. No doubt he will advance that argument later.
Some Committee members voted for an eight-year renewable term. In any event, we all thought that the period should be much longer than a term of election to the House of Commons. We thought that most if not all Members would not envisage standing for re-election—which would create a marvellous feeling of independence—and, in my view, a majority would be elected on that basis. In my view also, an appointed element would be retained to help to preserve the independent experts whom we have just been praising.
Those are the advantages of a mainly elected House, but if we are not prepared to accept and maximise those advantages of legitimacy and independence in the upper 198 House —if we are unwilling to see a stronger second Chamber as part of a stronger Parliament—it would be better for us not to do it at all. It would be better for us to vote for 100 per cent. appointment than to say "Well, we think we want election, but we are not prepared to accept a stronger or more assertive upper House".
According to reports in the newspapers—although such things cannot always be believed—the Government apparently now believe that 100 per cent, appointment is their preferred option. There has been a remarkable change over the years. Some of us remember the 1992 Labour party manifesto, which spoke ofa new elected Second Chamber which will have the power to delay, for the lifetime of a Parliament, change to designated legislation—or even the pledge made at the time of the last election, which referred to a much more current, more representative and more democratic upper House.
"Democratic" usually implies some measure of election. What has happened? We have all experienced political U-turns over the years, but this is a particularly fascinating one. I hope we shall hear from the Leader of the House, either today or in due course, whether the U-turn has happened, and, if it has, what is the basis for it. Has the Prime Minister really enjoyed all that power of patronage and does he want it to continue, or has being in power made the Cabinet less conscious of the need for a stronger Parliament? That could happen to any Government, and probably has happened to every Government. Is it what has happened to the Cabinet of today?
§ Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-on-Tweed)
I hope the right hon. Gentleman will deal with the wholly spurious argument advanced in favour of the U-turn that only a wholly elected or a wholly appointed House of Lords is possible. Given the various elements in the existing composition of that House, there seems to be no evidence for that proposition.
§ Mr. Hague
The 24 members of the Committee would certainly not agree that only one or the other is possible. Otherwise, we would not have presented seven options, live of them involving a mixture of appointment and election. Such options are both practically and politically possible.
No Members should be conned into thinking that that is the choice. I do, however, believe that a choice exists, between a predominantly or, in the view of some, a wholly elected House of Lords and an appointed House. I implore Members not to vote for a 20 per cent, or even a 40 per cent, elected House. As the Committee's Chairman knows, I argued briefly that we should not even put those options to the Houses; but it was pointed out that an amendment could be tabled, or there might be great demand for votes on the options. In my view, they provide a marginal increase in legitimacy and improvements in representation, while also providing a major increase in expense, complexity and, I think, ridicule of Parliament. I do not think that that would be worth voting for.
§ Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East)
Does my right hon. Friend not accept that as the public are in general switching off from politics by not voting— 199 they think we have too many politicians and not enough power—there is a danger that they will all go on strike if they are also expected to vote for elected regional councils and an elected Lords?
§ Mr. Hague
Yes. My hon. Friend anticipates the one further point that I wish to make. I think that unless the majority of an elected upper House's membership had some clout, people would not vote. It might be a struggle to get them to vote even then, but I think it would be impossible if we were electing 20 per cent, of a House that we did not expect to have any teeth.
The idea was floated in our Committee that the vote could be combined with the European elections. The more I think about it, the more I think that even that would not work. We can all imagine the scene. There is a knock at the door; a woman stands there with a child in her arms, while another screams in the background. I am sorry—I am slipping into a stereotype. The dinner is on the stove, while the man of the house is working hard on his DIY. The woman is asked, "Will you vote in the elections for the upper House?" She says "No." "It is combined with the European elections." She is not going to say "Oh well, in that case, of course!"
I believe that only combining this election with a general election would bring people out to vote.
§ Mr. Chaytor
In arguing the case for a hybrid, and given the rule demanding no party majority, would the right hon. Gentleman persuade his constituent that it was worth voting for 60 per cent, r 80 per cent. when the appointed element will override the elected element? How would that galvanise people into voting?
§ Mr. Hague
I think that all constituents are used to the idea that others may override the people whom they elect. Indeed, that has been the experience of my constituents throughout this Parliament and the last. I do not think that that is a show-stopping argument against a hybrid system. In any case, it is one of the reasons for my advocating an elected majority. The hon. Gentleman's argument would have much more force if a majority were appointed: constituents would then be entitled to ask, "What is the point of voting?"
I hope we will rule out the ideas that have been floated by my noble Friend Lord Wakeham and the Lord Chancellor. One can almost see the Lord Chancellor sitting there saying "It is a bore that some of us must be elected. What is the minimum percentage that we think we can get away with? Let us make it 15 per cent., or 25 per cent., or something of that order."
We must either grasp the opportunity of voting for a stronger Parliament and a stronger upper House within a stronger Parliament, or say "Let the Government continue to dominate Parliament in legislation as well as in governing, and have a fully appointed upper House". That is the real choice before us. I certainly favour the majority-elected option, and I hope the vast majority will vote against the minority-elected option. I look forward to hearing the rest of the debate.
§ Mr. Cook
My hon. Friend is too far ahead of his party.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague). I find myself 80 per cent, in agreement with what he said; the other 20 per cent, will be considered by an independent appointments commission, but on this issue 80 per cent, is as close to 100 per cent, as any two Members can manage.
Before I deal with the nub of the issue, let me record the thanks of the Government and, I hope, the whole House, for the work of the Joint Committee. It is not an easy task to get 24 politicians to agree on the time of day; it is even more difficult to get the same number to sign up to a report of substance and authority. It says much for the patience and skill of my right hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) that he should have been successful in getting a consensus in the Joint Committee on the text, with only two divisions on the entire report. As he demonstrated in his speech, in the course of his work, he has become an authority on the distressingly long history of House of Lords reform.
House of Lords reform is frequently presented as an issue of white-heat controversy. I promise to address the controversial issues, but before I do so I note that the Joint Committee's report underlines the broad agreement that exists on many aspects of reform of the second Chamber. First, there is broad agreement on the role of the second Chamber: it should be charged with revision of legislation, independent scrutiny of Executive decisions and deliberation of public policy.
Secondly, there is broad agreement on the relative status of the two Chambers. It has been a feature of all reports on Lords reform that the House of Commons should remain pre-eminent. It is common ground among all Members of this House that the right to form a Government must depend on the ability to command a majority in this place. This Chamber must remain the crucible in which Governments are forged and reputations are made or broken.
The Joint Committee helpfully sets out the conventions that buttress the relative status of the two Houses. Those provide the House of Lords with the right to question and to delay legislation but not to veto it, nor to challenge any part of the mandate in the manifesto on which a Government are elected. I am glad that the Joint Committee will return to the question of how those conventions can be entrenched in any future constitutional settlement.
The last area of agreement is comparatively recent, but I understand that it is now a common agreement between the two Front Benches: both sides of the Chamber now agree that the hereditary principle has no place in a modern Parliament. Whatever principle of composition may be adopted, few people now argue that it should be based on the privilege of birth. There are a few who are still doing it. Last month, Lord Trefgarne, chairman of the Conservative peers in the 201 other place, chided the Joint Committee for ignoring the case for the hereditary principle, which he claimedrepresents the best random selection process".The case against the hereditary principle is that it is not random at all, but highly exclusive, which is why it is common to all the seven options before us that they would remove the remaining 92 hereditary peers.
As the Joint Committee reasonably points out, there are other ways in which reasonable people may conclude that the House of Lords is not truly representative. For example, it remains a rare unrepresentative corner of modern Britain in which the Conservative party is still the largest single party. The Government fully accept the principle set out by the Joint Committee and repeated by its Chairman this afternoon that no one party should dominate the second Chamber. I understand that the Conservative party also supports that principle now that it is in opposition. It is no doubt a matter of deep regret to it that, for 18 years, it never chose to put that principle into practice. It may be helpful, as we approach how to go about choosing between the options on the basis of that agreement, if I deal with procedure before I turn to the areas of controversy.
The Joint Committee has given us options for a more representative second Chamber. No one can fairly accuse it of not giving us enough options. Indeed, it has given us seven different options from which to choose, covering the entire spectrum of alternatives for reform. As the Joint Committee requested, the Government have provided an opportunity today for a general debate on the principles canvassed in the interim report. That will be followed on 4 February by an opportunity for the House to choose between all the options on a free vote.
We shall follow precisely the Joint Committee's recommendations on how those votes should be organised. Each option will be put to the vote in turn. All options will be put to the vote. Members should recognise that it is possible for them to vote for their second or third preference without prejudicing their first preferred option. Voting will not stop just because one option has secured a majority, and they will be free votes.
I do not come to the Dispatch Box today to make the case for an all-appointed House or any other House. The Government will not express a collective view on which option should be chosen. Given that this issue has profound implications for the future of Parliament, it is right that it should be Parliament that resolves what a reformed second Chamber should look like.
§ Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire)
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman what will happen after the vote and take him back to the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague)? Has the right hon. Gentleman seen today's edition of The Times, which says:Blair will press his opposition to elected Lords"?The article says:Tony Blair is preparing to intervene in the debate on Lords reform to make public his opposition to an elected Upper House.The Prime Minister is to scupper demands by Labour MPs for a majority elected second Chamber".202 As one of the guardians of our rights, will the Leader of the House confirm that, should this House vote for a majority of those in the other place to be elected, he will thereafter bring forward the appropriate vehicle to put the House's wishes into effect?
§ Mr. Cook
Personally, I am very keen that we achieve a commanding majority for one of those seven options. Frankly, I cannot abide the prospect of continuing with the issue into another Parliament. I want to get rid of it in this Parliament, and it is in the interests of this Chamber that we do so. What will happen after the votes on 4 February, as the House has already agreed in terms of the Joint Committee's remit, is that the Joint Committee will work up a detailed proposal on the basis of the expression of view in this House and in the other place. I hope that we will give it a clear mandate and a clear steer on what it should work on.
§ Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)
Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the Government will have to take equal note of the votes in both Houses? Will he make it plain that all members of the Government, whether in the Cabinet or not, will be able to exercise a free vote as well as Back Benchers?
§ Mr. Cook
I have no doubt that all members of the Government will express their view and that, on many future occasions, their views will be raised with me by those on the Opposition Front Bench, but it is implicit in the fact that it will be a free vote that Government members must be free to express their view. If we were to reach a collective view, we would no longer have the free vote that I seek in this House.
§ Mr. Arbuthnot
Has the right hon. Gentleman just restated the principle of free votes? It is an important matter if he has.
§ Mr. Bercow
I was rather worried by the way in which, presumably consciously, in responding to the intervention of my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight), the right hon. Gentleman said that he hoped that there would be a commanding majority in this House for one option or another. Will he confirm in terms, as my right hon. Friend hoped he would, that the wish of this House will be reflected in subsequent legislation and eliminate from his reply the weasel word "commanding"?
§ Mr. Cook
I do not intend in any way to be weasel in the use of the word "commanding". On the contrary, 203 I hope that I was demonstrating that what we want to see is the settled will of the House. I hope that those who want reform of the second Chamber will not repeat the mistake that we have been through in the past of being too unwilling and too inflexible to find the centre of gravity on which we can all agree. We must emerge from the seven options not with one that has a narrow majority of one or two over the others; we must establish which one of the seven is most likely to reflect the settled will of this Chamber.
§ Mr. Cook
No. I will proceed.
The right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks referred to the fact that there was some support in the Chamber for unicameralism. Early-day motion 529 records that 90 Members regret that they are not to be offered the Guy Fawkes option of doing away with the House of Lords in its entirety. I understand their impatience with the never-ending saga of reform, but before we send out for 36 barrels of gunpowder, I remind them that right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber fought the last election on a manifesto commitment to make the second Chamber more representative and democratic. We do not have a mandate to abolish it and it would not be proper for us to toy with abolition without first seeking the support of the electorate—which would mean no progress for the rest of this Parliament. I urge all right hon. and hon. Members who do not want the House of Lords to continue in its present form—including all those who might privately prefer to do away with it—to express their preference for a better second Chamber by choosing between the broad options that will be before us.
§ Pete Wishart
As the right hon. Gentleman said, this is a matter for the whole House, not just for the Labour party. He has failed to give an adequate explanation for not providing the option of abolition. Can he explain further why we are not being allowed the option of abolishing the House of Lords?
§ Mr. Cook
Because it is a self-evident fact that only members of the Labour party are bound by the Labour party manifesto. It is repeatedly a distressing experience of mine that other right hon. and hon. Members do not feel bound by the Labour party manifesto. My life would be much simpler if they did.
The options flow from the Joint Committee's recommendations. It would not be proper for me to interfere or second guess what those options should be, but they logically follow from the remit that we gave the Joint Committee—approved by this House—which instructed it to come forward with proposals for reforming the second Chamber, not doing away with it.
§ Norman Lamb
One likely outcome of the votes is that this House will vote in a very different way from the other place, with a strong majority for a substantially elected second Chamber. Given the importance that the Government place on the primacy of this House in any 204 future arrangement, will the Leader of the House and the Government give more weight to the outcome in this House than to that in the other place?
§ Mr. Cook
One reason why the Joint Committee urged upon us this general debate on principle before the vote was so that both Houses could retire to their respective Libraries and study what was said in the other place. I hope that right hon. and hon. Members will take the opportunity of this debate clearly to record the balance of views on a reformed second Chamber, so that the other place may take it into account when it votes. After the votes, in the first instance the matter will go to the Joint Committee, and we look forward to its advice. As Leader of the House, I shall pay particular attention to the views of right hon. and hon. Members. That is partly why it is so important that our decision on reform should reflect commanding and clear evidence of the settled will of this place.
Another point raised by the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks concerned a mixed membership of elected and appointed Members. I offer some comfort to those who are troubled by the idea of a mixed membership. As the Joint Committee observed, the House of Lords has always had a mixed membership. It has happily rubbed along with a mixed membership of hereditary and life peers for half a century. The current House of Lords is a rich kaleidoscope of Members—[HON. MEMBERS: "Very rich."]—They embrace hereditary peers, some very rich; life peers; bishops; and law lords, some of whom are even richer than hereditary peers. They include peers who take a party Whip and a substantial number of Cross Benchers who take none. Nor would it be unusual to have a second Chamber with a mixed membership. About one third of all second Chambers around the world have a mixed membership of elected and appointed members.
The Joint Committee Chairman has just reminded the House that the Committee set out five principles for the second Chamber's composition. It would be difficult to come up with an option that meets all five principles without the result being some form of mixed membership. The first two principles are legitimacy and representativeness. In a democratic society, it is commonly held that legitimacy flows from the accountability and authority that arises from election. No doubt that explains the public's response to consultation on the White Paper, when 89 per cent, called for a second Chamber in which at least a majority of Members were elected.
It might be helpful to remind the House of how we ended up with the current process. It is easy for me to remember because every step along the way is imprinted on my memory. The White Paper's proposal for an elected proportion of 20 per cent, did not command public confidence because it was seen to be too little. Personally, I am deeply sceptical whether we shall capture public confidence by the simple device of removing from the package even the 20 per cent, that was to have been elected. I noticed that yesterday's YouGov poll found that a mere 3 per cent, of respondents favoured an all-appointed second Chamber. That is a slender base on which to build a major constitutional settlement.
Respect for the principle of election is so powerful in our nation that even the hereditary peers have adopted it to fill a vacancy among their ranks: as a result of the 205 death of Viscount Oxfuird, there is to be a by-election. The essential qualification for candidates is to be have been born a hereditary peer. The right to vote is confined to those who are already peers. So that the choice will be popular among the circles in which hereditary peers move, Country Life is helpfully carrying out a poll of its readers on who they would like to see elected. I understand that the runaway front runner is the Duke of Devonshire. That may be democracy, but not as we know it. It seems to me that we will have difficulty carrying the public with us unless our reforms introduce a more substantial democratic element on a rather wider franchise.
Some of my colleagues are concerned that if we let any elected Members into the second Chamber, it will start to get above itself—and the more elected Members, the more uppity it will get. Yet as the Public Administration Committee pointed out, three quarters of second Chambers around the world are wholly or largely elected. Almost invariably, the second Chamber remains the subordinate Chamber—and remains the second Chamber in systems of parliamentary government where the Administration is formed from the majority in the first Chamber.
It is possible to keep a democratic second Chamber subordinate by law and convention; I do not believe that it is sustainable to keep a second Chamber subordinate by denying it legitimacy. That not only weakens the second Chamber, but undermines Parliament.
The Joint Committee pointed out other qualities desirable in a second Chamber. They include independence from the party machine, particularly among Cross Benchers; and the expertise brought to its deliberations by Members who have achieved distinction in professions outside politics. The Joint Committee makes the point that if we are to preserve independent Members in the second Chamber and experts with distinction in other walks of life, it is desirable not to make election the sole route of entry. All of us in this Chamber have difficulty comprehending why that should be the case, but it is a fact of life that only a minority of the population relish standing for election. It would be a mistake if we were to close entirely the door to the second Chamber to people who have acquired a lifetime of expertise but are not attracted to submitting themselves to the roughhouse of the electoral hustings.
The royal commission, the White Paper and the Public Administration Committee all concluded that 20 per cent, of seats in the second Chamber should be filled by independent appointment from outside political parties. As the last of those reports pointed out, a wholly elected Chamber would leave little or no room for people who are independent of party.
§ Mr. Cook
No. I am too long in the tooth to talk myself into the Conservative party and I am not sure that I would be entirely welcome. I was referring to the common ground between all the published views—including the Government's own White Paper—that there should be a 20 per cent. independently appointed 206 element. That does not of course exclude others being appointed on a party political basis and does not necessarily mean that 80 per cent. would have to be elected.
The next stage will be for the Joint Committee to work up a more detailed package. As this debate will help to inform the Joint Committee's future deliberations, I want to take this opportunity before I conclude to invite it to reflect further on a couple of the observations that are included in the report, the first of which is its proposal that the reformed Chamber should comprise about 600 Members. I am glad that the Joint Committee said that it will give that further consideration. I have my doubts as to whether it is desirable to have a second Chamber that is broadly the same size as the first. Personally, I suspect that many members of the public will take some convincing that we require a cast of more than a 1,000 for the membership of the Commons and Lords added together. I fully understand that some temporary increase in the membership of the Lords may be inevitable during the transition process, but I would tempt the Joint Committee to think more boldly about an eventual reduction in the size of the second Chamber. In every other country with a bicameral Parliament, the second Chamber is smaller than the first, usually significantly so. Indeed, there are only five second Chambers in the world with a membership of more than 200.
My second reservation concerns the Joint Committee's conclusion that the period of membership of the reformed Chamber should be 12 years. That strikes me as on the generous side. In the White Paper, we noted that the longest period of membership of any second Chamber was the nine-year period for the French Senate. I can see merit in a membership period that roughly corresponds to two full Parliaments, but I am not attracted to setting a new world record for length of membership of a second Chamber. As this was one of only two matters on which the Joint Committee divided, I am encouraged that some of its members are not attracted to that outcome, either.
Let me end, however, on a point on which I am in enthusiastic agreement with the Joint Committee. Its interim report commences with the warning that, for a century, attempts at reform of the House of Lords have foundered on the lack of agreement on what should replace it. It is a sad lesson of the century since the Parliament Act 1911 that the greatest enemies of reform have often been those most committed to reform. The more strongly Members feel about the case for reform, the more passionately they are inclined to demand agreement to their version of reform. If the current attempt is to succeed, it is essential that all those who want reform show flexibility in supporting whatever option can command the greatest support as the centre of gravity.
It is for Members themselves to decide which option of no matter how many options they are willing to support. I would hope, however, that we can all agree that what is least acceptable is the eighth option of no reform at all. This House now has the chance to set in hand the steps that will lead to a modern, representative second Chamber. I beg all Members to make sure that in two weeks' time, we establish the option that will secure the most support in this House, command the 207 broadest possible confidence among the public, stop us arguing over which option for reform, and enable us to get on with delivering reform of the House of Lords.
§ Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)
I am delighted to follow three such distinguished speeches from three such distinguished parliamentarians. If I may say so, I was particularly struck by the insights and the amusing references in the speech of the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague). He is a classic example of what comes when one is released from the responsibilities of leadership. Perhaps I should suggest to his colleagues that the more who are put into that position in the near future, the more contributions of that weight and clarity will be made in the House.
Because I agree with so much of what was said by the Leader of the House and the right hon. Members for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) and for Richmond, Yorks, I want to underline one or two points and provide some nuances in terms of the issues that have yet to be addressed. I hope that the House as a whole recognises the truth of what the right hon. Member for Copeland said. At the moment, an absurd bagatelle creates the membership of the second House of Parliament, which is extraordinary. The Leader of the House referred to the amazing by-election that is taking place. If we were to describe to anybody else in the world—let alone a visitor from Mars—how a legislator is currently appointed to the second House of Parliament, they would think that we were completely barmy.
Incidentally, the Leader of the House was wrong in one respect. In terms of the electorate and qualification for leadership, membership of one political party is required. That is also slightly curious, given that the particular party in question does not seem to enjoy huge support in the country. If that is democracy, it is a very curious form of it.
§ Mr. Andrew Tyrie (Chichester)
Does the hon. Gentleman think it worth bearing it in mind that the absurd rules to which the Leader of the House referred were put on to the statute book by the Government on a three-line Whip?
§ Mr. Tyler
I was about to illustrate that by pointing out one reason why that happened. Sadly, in the case of the demise of the hon. Gentleman's noble Friend Lord Oxfuird, it happened because we waited so long for this next stage. Many of us feel that we have waited rather too long, and that is a matter of regret. However, I think that the Leader of the House shares that feeling, so I do not want to rub in that point.
The Leader of the House rightly placed great emphasis on the extent of agreement that exists in the House, across the country and to a considerable extent across parties. This is a wonderful opportunity to make progress, and we simply cannot miss it. It contrasts dramatically with the situation in the late 1960s, when there was no real "centre of gravity", to use the Leader of the House's own phrase. However, I was concerned when, in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for 208 North Norfolk (Norman Lamb), he did not take the opportunity to emphasise the pre-eminence of this House in taking this decision. This House has twice had a mandate for reform—not just from the Leader of the House's party, but from my party. Of course, in recent months the position of the Conservative party has also been clarified.
Those who argue that we must arrive at a new constitutional settlement that self-evidently gives pre-eminence to this House, and which secures and maintains it, must therefore surely argue that the vote in this House on 4 February must be seen in a different light from the vote in the other place. Apart from anything else, turkeys that vote for Christmas are not always totally objective. I hope that when we reach that point, the Government, the Leader of the House and the Joint Committee will pay due regard to the respective interests and mandates of this House and of the other place.
I was also interested to hear the Leader of the House say that there is no collective Government view. I do not know whether that means "collective" in the sense in which the term was used in the good old days of socialism, but it is clear that things are different now. It would appear from the article in The Times to which reference has been made that the Prime Minister takes a different view from the collective view of his party and his Cabinet. I hope that at some point we will get clarification as to whether The Times or the Prime Minister is completely off message.
It is a curious fact that, if this is true—I am prepared to accept that The Times may have got it wrong—the Prime Minister is taking a different view from his own White Paper, from the royal commission and even from his Lord Chancellor. In terms of an elected component, the Lord Chancellor wants all or nothing: he is prepared to accept not only nothing, but all, so it is said. If it is also true that the Prime Minister is ignoring the advice of the Public Administration Committee—which, as its excellent letter to us pointed out, unanimously believes that it is certainly possible to design a mixed-membership House and of the Joint Committee, the views of which the right hon. Member for Copeland has expressed clearly, this is surely an extraordinary situation.
Perhaps the Prime Minister simply has not read the Joint Committee report; after all, he has other considerations at the moment, so I would not blame him for that. However, I hope that it will be made absolutely clear today that what the Leader of the House said has to be right: this is a free vote with no collective Government view, that the Cabinet does not have a collective view, and that the Prime Minister is not dictating the terms of that view.
The report is unique in the consideration of the issue. It is the first time, I believe, that there has been such a broadly representative body, chaired, as the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks said, very well indeed by the right hon. Member for Copeland, and it has produced a unanimous report. Yes, there were two small votes, but there is no minority report. There is no mass dissension from the theme of the report. It is the first time that that has happened in the history of this long saga.
209 It is agreed that a hybrid mixed-membership second Chamber is possible and, to a large extent, desirable. As the Leader of the House just said, the second Chamber has had a mixed membership for many generations, so there is nothing new about that. Those who favour a 100 per cent, elected House—there are men and women in this House and in the general public who believe that to be the desirable aim—should recognise that we proceed in this country by evolution, not on the whole by revolution. Even if a 100 per cent, elected House is their long-term aim, I hope that they will not discard the possibility of a major move in that direction. That would give an opportunity and hope to those who do not want to move at all.
§ Mr. Clelland
Does the hon. Gentleman suggest that, if the House voted for a partly elected second Chamber, it would inevitably lead to a wholly elected second Chamber?
§ Mr. Tyler
No, I suggest nothing of the sort, but, as a long-serving Member, the hon. Gentleman knows that no Parliament can commit a future Parliament. We cannot say that there will never ever be a fully elected House. What I am saying is that those who wait for perfection wait a very long time and hand a weapon to those who want to remain with total imperfection. That is important. It may be that the Prime Minister floated the idea that the second Chamber should remain as it is simply to spur those of us who believe that the status quo is not acceptable to move on. I hope that that will be the position of the House.
I want to deal with two myths. The first, to which reference has already been made, is that strengthening the second House of Parliament automatically weakens the first. I draw the attention of hon. Members to the excellent letter from the members of the Select Committee on Public Administration. It is not a zero-sum result. We can create an improved situation for our House and for the other House if we see it as a total parliamentary improvement in our ability to scrutinise both the legislation and the executive action of the Government of the day. The Committee wrote:Reform is not a zero-sum game in which advances for one chamber are inevitably threats to the other.I hope that all hon. Members will take that to heart.
It is extremely important to emphasise the point made by the Chairman of the Committee that a great deal depends on the type of appointment and the type of election. I hope all hon. Members have examined paragraph 53 of the report, in which we say that we want the two Houses to be distinct and complementary, so the method of election needs to be distinct and complementary. One of the few matters on which I disagree with the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks is that I do not believe that if the elections for the two Houses are held on the same day, where one election is by definition to create the assembly that will appoint the Government and the Prime Minister of the day, that will be a healthy context in which to elect the other House to do a quite different job. We still have to think that through carefully. A distinct system and a distinct day for a distinct purpose will help to differentiate the two Houses, and I believe that to be extremely important.
210 I believe that the second Chamber can perform an excellent complementary role to that of the first, and I believe that by making sure that those distinctions are adequately covered by the detail, we can make real progress to achieve that purpose. A former member of a former Administration, the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks, made an interesting comment about the nature of our responsibilities in terms of the Government of the day. I shall quote him, as I thought that his remarks were an admirable summary of the point. He said that a Government with authority do not need to legislate with impunity. I hope that I repeat his words correctly, as that view comes from experience in government, not just on the Opposition Benches.
§ Mr. Tyler
The other myth is the myth of cost. I suppose that we in the House should not be surprised that the media reacted to the Joint Committee report not by considering the major constitutional issues, but by going on about how many hundreds of thousands or millions of pounds it might cost to introduce an element of democracy into Parliament. For goodness sake, what do they want us to do? Do they want us to be more effective, or just cheaper? There is an extremely important issue here that we need to address this afternoon.
The Leader of the House said that a House of 600 would be over the top. I entirely agree. I have expressed that view in Committee and I hope to continue to do so. That figure was a notional possible long-term aim, rather than a transitional short-term necessity that we could remove as soon as possible. It was based on the anticipation that there might have to be a considerable number of appointed part-timers. The two are not necessarily synonymous, I agree: very often, the part-timer may not be appointed, and the appointed Member may not be a part-timer. However, the assumption was that, if there were a large number of appointees, the workload of the second House would require a big House. That applies only if there are a large number of appointees.
Having made that decision, we could not differentiate between the two types of Members in terms of the way in which they are paid. Imagine an elected Member saying, "Look, I am a full-timer in this job. I need a salary comparable to that of House of Commons Members. They are getting £50,000-plus"—this is in a few years' time—"so I must get £40,000-plus." We cannot differentiate between different types of Member, or at least I hope that we will not, so once the elected Member has £40,000-plus, all the appointed Members, who may be part-time, will also demand £40,000-plus. Whatever the total number of appointees, 600 Members will necessarily mean a very expensive House.
However, the opposite applies. The larger the number of elected Members, the smaller the House can be, because it is anticipated that more of them will be full-time.
Let us suppose that, as the Leader of the House suggested, there is a House of some 300 or 400 Members at most. The cost would then come down. I have some figures to illustrate the point. If 80 per cent, of a larger, 600-Member House were appointed and each of them 211 were getting £40,000, the total bill would be £24 million. If one reduces the size of the House by having more elected full-time Members, the bill immediately comes down.
Even in the terms that we set out in the Committee's report, the media have completely misunderstood the point. The more elected Members, the cheaper an effective second Chamber. I hope that we can now dispose of the myth. The expensive option is clearly a continuation of the current flawed patronage system as a component of the second Chamber.
§ Mr. Tom Watson (West Bromwich, East)
Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that there should be 400 Members paid £50,000 a year? Is he including their secretarial and research allowances in his proposition?
§ Mr. Tyler
I am sorry if the hon. Gentleman misunderstood my point. If we have a smaller House because the Members are elected and full-time in the main, it will be cheaper. There is no way that we could differentiate in salary between the elected Members and the appointed Members. Everybody is agreed that if Members of the second Chamber are to be on equal terms, we cannot make such a distinction. I personally believe that our elected second Chamber need be only 100 strong. If the Senate of the United States of America can manage with 100 members, I see no reason why we should not have 100, but I accept that, with that number, it will be difficult to get the mix of appointed and elected Members that some hon. Members wish to achieve.
§ Mr. Stephen McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green)
The hon. Gentleman says that a smaller but fully elected House would be cheaper, and he bases his assumptions solely on potential salary figures. Has he read paragraph 59 of the report, or does he recall discussing that in Committee? Would he care to comment on the figures quoted there—£85,000 as opposed to £380,000 per Member to support elected Members? I think that he will find that that comes to rather more than the figure that he just gave the House.
§ Mr. Tyler
The hon. Gentleman misses the point. It would be possible to have a very cheap house only with retention of the status quo. I suspect that he may be one of the dinosaur fraternity and wishes to retain it.
If there is any elected element in the new second Chamber it will inevitably set the level of remuneration for everybody. Therefore, a larger number of appointed members will necessitate a higher-cost second Chamber. We do not want democracy on the cheap, but we want it to be cost-effective. The most cost-effective House would clearly be one that is predominantly elected and therefore enabled to be a smaller House.
§ Mr. Tyler
I am about to conclude, and I am aware that many hon. Members wish to speak.
The votes on 4 February will clearly be extremely important. We have had a reassurance from the Leader of the House that his party at least will have a free vote. 212 I understand that the Conservatives will have a free vote. I should emphasise that my party will have a free vote. We are rather more united, I suspect, than the other two parties. There will, I hope, be one or two dissidents, just to demonstrate that I am not exerting any undue influence on my colleagues. We believe in the main that, as we have said for a very long time, the elected component should be 80 per cent, or more. That is an absolute minimum. We hope that it will be a smaller House. It would be largely democratic, but it would also be more hard-working.
When we hear people enthusiastically endorse how Cross Benchers bring so much to the House of Lords in its present form, we should bear it in mind that they are not good attenders or good voters. Therefore, it is important to recognise that if we are to expect a second Chamber to exercise a degree of effective scrutiny of legislation and executive action, we need more members taking an active part in its activities.
§ Sir Patrick Cormack
On the one hand, the hon. Gentleman argues for a House a hundred strong but on the other hand, he argues for more people than presently take an active part to take such a part. Maths is not my greatest subject, but I think that he needs to follow the national curriculum more closely than he has.
§ Mr. Tyler
I am sorry, but the hon. Gentleman has completely lost me. I think that he has lost the plot. What I have been arguing is that the more elected members there are who are effectively full-time legislators, the more likely it is that one will gain good cost-benefit from them. Whether or not he agrees, he cannot deny that it is a fact.
The Select Committees, both of our House and the Joint Committee, have very carefully studied all the material brought before the two Houses over many years. They have unanimously recommended that a mixed-membership House can be a practical possibility and bring a real step change to the quality of the work we do collectively in this building in holding the Government to account. What is more, the Committees have both identified a centre of gravity—a centre of gravity that crosses all party boundaries and to a large extent, as the Leader of the House emphasised, is also reflected among the public at large.
Unlike the 1968 debacle, when Mr. Foot and Mr. Powell managed to combine forces—the most unholy alliance, surely, in the history of Parliament—the two parliamentary Houses will, I hope, be able together to make real progress now, because there is no excuse on grounds similar to the situation then, as we have a degree of consensus, a centre of gravity, on which we can make real progress. I hope that we shall now make it.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord)
Before I call on the next speaker, I remind the House that Mr. Speaker placed a 10-minute limit on all Back-Bench speeches from 2.30 this afternoon, so that will apply from now on.
§ Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley)
I thought that the issues before us today were quite clear until the Liberal spokesman intervened. I am really confused now. I shall try to get back on to a straight line.
213 I first confess that my preferred option is the revolutionary one. I support abolition. If a unicameral system works well in Sweden and in New Zealand, as I saw recently, and now also for domestic legislation in Scotland, why should it not also work here? That option is not currently on the agenda, however. For those of us who favour abolition, the next best option is, paradoxically, a fully appointed chamber—
§ Mr. Foulkes
I shall come to that; it is what I am going to talk about.
I favour a fully appointed Chamber as the next best option, provided that the method of appointment is clear and transparent, as the Committee recommends. May I underline to the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) that to say that is not to support the status quo.
I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) that any element of election to the second Chamber is inevitably a threat to the primacy of the House of Commons and will undermine the position of individual elected Members. Just as we can learn from success in Scotland, as we have on pre-legislative scrutiny—as the Leader of the House knows—so we should also learn from the mistakes there. I am thinking, for example, of the list MSPs, a system now universally criticised. List MSPs, elected through party lists in eight regions of Scotland, cherry-pick the high-profile issues; they challenge the position of constituency MSPs, and indeed MPs, and build up a profile and a platform to stand against constituency MSPs in their constituencies.
Elected members of the upper House—let us call them senators for the sake of argument—would do the same. Those senators would interfere in the work of individual MPs, and if they had been elected more recently, as the Liberal spokesman suggested, and on a superficially fairer electoral system, as the Liberals would argue, they would claim a more recent and stronger mandate than the individual Members of Parliament. Members who vote for an elected second Chamber will be creating a huge rod with which to beat themselves. Such masochism may be heroic, but it is also daft.
§ Mr. Forth
I am grateful to the right hon. and charming Gentleman.
Does the right hon. Gentleman not agree that somehow the Americans have rubbed along not too badly for 200 years with two different chambers, the upper one of which has rather more recently become directly elected, largely because of the difference both in constituencies and terms of office? Is that not now very much on offer?
§ Mr. Foulkes
One of the main reasons for disaffection with the democratic process in the United States is the gridlock between the Senate and the House of Representatives.
214 The Commons as an institution—not just as individual Members—will be challenged by the upper House, which could claim new legitimacy and new authority. Since it is also the majority party in the Commons that forms the Government, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said, imagine the constitutional turmoil that could arise, especially if the second Chamber were to be elected more recently and by the system advocated by the Liberals.
We may imagine that we can keep asserting that the Commons is supreme, but huge possibilities of both legal and political challenge open up. If we are to have a second Chamber, it should be complementary to, and not compete with, the Commons. If the vast majority of its members were chosen through the new open and transparent mechanism, we would ensure representation from all walks of life or backgrounds or parts of the country. And paradoxically, a better gender balance and fairer representation of ethnic minorities would be more readily obtainable through an appointed system than has so far been the case with elections.
I agree that some discretion should be left to the Prime Minister and to other party leaders to make direct nominations, as at present, to maintain flexibility of action. It is right to spell out the fact that the role of the second Chamber should also be different from that of the Commons, reducing its powers to thwart the wishes of elected members but clarifying and perhaps enhancing its role in debating, advising, reporting and scrutinising the work of government.
In reality, we have a straight choice between election and appointment. The compromises of part-election are the worst option, with the invidious outcome of two classes of members—elected and appointed. My right hon. Friend said that we had it at present with hereditary Members. There would be an entirely different division and there would inevitably ultimately be pressure for a fully elected option.
Therefore, I urge the House not to be lured by the false and misleading argument that democracy would be enhanced by having two elected Chambers. In my view, it would lead to an undermining of the position of individual MPs and to a constant battle between the two Houses, with resultant constitutional chaos. We should do what we know to be right, and not what is seen to be politically correct.
§ Mr. Kenneth Clarke (Rushcliffe)
I rise to make the case for parliamentary democracy. In this Chamber, that should be as easy as making the case for early release to the residents of Wormwood Scrubs. However, I have the feeling that, as the debate goes on, we will find that there is considerable dissension from the basic principle on which innocent people might believe we were all elected to this House.
I begin by making it clear that I am as big a radical as the right hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes). My ideal would be a 100 per cent, elected upper House, but I shall not devote too much of my limited time to that option, as I am a realist. I agree with all those who say that we must not allow the best to be the enemy of the good when it comes to sensible reform. Therefore, I would also support an upper House in which the elected proportion was 80 per cent., or even 215 60 per cent., if necessary. However, for the reasons that I shall give, I would be very disappointed if the proceedings in this House, which will guide the Joint Committee's work in the future, resulted in an upper House that was anything less than 80 per cent. elected.
Surprisingly, given that my view is so radically different from that of the right hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley, my motives in advocating a largely elected upper House are to strengthen Parliament's control over the Executive. In the public interest, that should be our only guiding motive underlying this debate. I agree with all those who say that it is rather urgent that we address this matter. I do not believe that people are refusing to vote because there are too many elections or because they are weary of politicians and have lost interest in the issues involved. The perception of the electorate is that Parliament matters less and that the Executive are all powerful. People are troubled by the belief that there is little that they can do by way of democratic elections that will have a significant effect on their daily lives. That is why parliamentary reform is a matter of some urgency.
It is inescapably true that, in the years that I have been in the House, the power of the Executive has greatly increased. Modern Executives are much bigger and more all-embracing than they used to be. I regret to say that the power of Parliament—or at least of this House of Parliament—has steadily lessened. There is no conspiracy behind that: I am not saying that anyone intended that to happen, and I do not want to make a party-political point. I have been a member of the Executive longer than I have been without office in this House, but there is no doubt that today's House of Commons is far weaker in its influence on Government and on public affairs than the one that I joined. We need to deal with that matter.
I accept that dealing with the problem that I have set out involves reform of this House as much as of the upper House. That is outside the scope of this debate, but hon. Members have unknowingly allowed too much control over the process of holding the Government to account to pass out of their hands.
In many respects, I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague). This unaccustomed outbreak of unity among Opposition Members should not alarm Labour Members, as there are plenty who disagree with both my right hon. Friend and me about reform of the House of Lords. I agree with my right hon. Friend that the failure of the Leader of the House's recent and well-judged attempt to give back to the House control of the composition of its own Select Committees at least was extremely unfortunate. However, that debate is for another day.
I reject the idea that an elected and therefore stronger upper House will somehow weaken the Commons yet further. Again, I do not have to repeat at great length the arguments against that idea, as only one strong dissenting view has so far emerged. I have never understood the proposition. A stronger upper House would complement this House. The Commons is not being asked to give up any of its privileges. If it wishes, it can entrench its own supremacy, and underline existing conventions and relevant legislation by insisting that the 216 Commons alone can determine levels of taxation and public expenditure. We could leave the upper House with a delaying power only, which could be overridden by the Parliament Acts and which would not amount to an absolute power of veto on legislation. That would be quite sufficient. The fact that Governments would be formed according to their majorities in this House would make it clear that the Commons is paramount in the nation's affairs.
I am sure that the right hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley is an assiduous constituency Member. However, I thought he sounded a little concerned about the risk of personal competition if a more assiduous representative of constituents in his part of Scotland were elected to the upper House. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman has nothing to fear, but Members of this House might benefit from a little competition occasionally. It is not unknown for some to follow the Whip so faithfully and to be so loyally dependant on the patronage of their leaders and the docile following of supporters in safe seats—which certainly exist in parts of south-central Scotland—that the quality of representation declines. A little competition in that respect would do no harm.
§ Mr. Clarke
No, it is not an important enough point.
I emphasise that we are looking for a stronger Parliament. We should not resent the suggestion of stronger competition between the two Houses. The problem facing us is that the necessary checks and balances that ought to exist in a modern constitution and parliamentary democracy are not at present strong enough in this country. The Government have waddled into a situation in which they find that they are reforming far more than they intended. We should take advantage of that and push on to ensure that we produce an elected and stronger upper House—within the lifetime of this Parliament, if we can hold the Government to that.
I agree with those who have said that a stronger upper House needs the legitimacy of democracy, but I also accept that we must guard against the danger of the tyranny of the majority. That danger can arise in a parliamentary democracy, and it is one of the problems that exist at present. I wholly approve of the electoral system for the Commons, but it greatly exaggerates the parliamentary support for the party with the largest percentage of votes. The party system means that Governments strictly control their followers, from whom they derive their power. As regards the checks and balances in the British system, it is difficult to explain to an American, for example, how on earth such amazing presidential power—without clear parliamentary check—is put in the hands of our Prime Minister. People have referred already to the emergence of a presidential system.
The way to avoid that, if one has an elected second Chamber based on elections in which parties will undoubtedly play the major part, has already been answered by others. It is necessary to have a different form of election. It is necessary for it not to coincide with the parliamentary election. It is necessary for the elected membership to rotate, with, for example, a third retiring after a given interval.
217 Although I agree with all that, I was one of those who voted in the Committee against people being too nervous and proposing that there should be tenure of 10, 12 or 15 years. That strikes me as excessive caution. If we had undertaken these reforms a generation ago, would people elected on the political issues current in 1988 retain democratic legitimacy? They would probably have changed half their opinions on those issues by the time they were debating them in 2003. However, a different form of election is certainly required.
We should also consider the situation if the two Houses were in conflict. It is important that there is a system whereby, usually, no one party is in command. I look forward to that; it is the key to the American system and constrains what would otherwise be an impossible presidential system. That would change the political culture in this country. There would be genuine search for agreement and not our current ping-pong, with the convention that the upper House always gives way—although it usually would.
From the give and take that would have to take place between the two elected Houses and the Government would come an altogether more responsive and genuinely pluralistic and democratic system, to which I look forward. I hope that we decide on the options before us and that we give a steer to the Committee. The Committee will have to return with more seriousness to many other issues; it was not unanimous on everything, and for example I agree with everything that has been said about the possibly excessive size of the House. A clear steer is needed so that we can maintain a timetable that produces a result in the foreseeable future—certainly by the end of this Parliament.
§ Tony Wright (Cannock Chase)
I want to talk about a word that has already surfaced many times in the debate and is much used by both proponents and opponents of reform: legitimacy. Those who oppose reform, especially those who oppose election, argue that election is not the only route to legitimacy. That argument deserves to be taken seriously and, if there was time, we could develop it to show that there is truth in it.
I want to set out the problem with that argument, as it goes to the heart of what we are being asked to decide. That requires me to describe what was for me a defining moment. We have many such moments in my party, but this was one of my recent ones. The context was the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, which we passed with great haste—rightly so. However, I had doubts about some aspects of the measure and felt that we might not be taking sufficient care with it. As we trooped through the Lobbies, abolishing habeas corpus in an afternoon, one of my colleagues said, "Never mind, the Lords will sort it out for us."
The Bill went to the Lords and it did indeed sort it out for us. It did a magnificent job to make sure that the legislation was better, but when the Bill came back to this place our friends in the Whips Office contacted those of us who had had doubts. The call that I received was memorable. As it was thought that I might misbehave again, I was told, "Those people aren't elected, you know", to which I replied, "No, they are not elected but I think that they are right—furthermore, I didn't know that it was the view of the Whips Office that they should be elected."
218 I ask those who use the legitimacy argument—especially those in the other place—to think about it from this end. They should think about the type of second Chamber necessary to enable it to perform its proper role in our parliamentary system. If the second Chamber can be routinely rolled over using the argument that "they're not elected, you know", we may as well pack it up. The unicameralists may be right. However, they and we have to address the fact that on any test our system of Executive power is the most concentrated of any system of parliamentary government and that it has got worse. The power of the Executive has increased, is increasing and ought to be diminished. Either we know and believe that, and want to do something about it, or we do not. That power comes through party—of which we are all part—and patronage, but it has changed our system fundamentally over the past half century or so.
We must either redress the balance and do something about that power by using reform of the second Chamber as one part of the package, or not. The Public Administration Committee, which I have the honour of chairing, concluded that it is possible to find a way through by adopting a mixed system. We can be open about the dangers of going too far in certain directions. I concede that it would be possible to construct a wholly elective system that made matters worse rather than better. We might simply have a system of election that was appointment by a different name—through party list systems. If we do not attend to the nature of those elections to ensure that they produce different people from those in the House of Commons, elected differently and for different terms, we shall run into that difficulty.
Some say, however, that we must remember that if we want to secure legitimacy—not that of individuals, which is not in question wherever they come from—the institution must be put on a different footing. There is no question in my mind but that the Select Committee concluded that there should be a mixed system that recognises that there is a place for election and a place for appointment, but in a balance that secures the legitimacy of the institution. That is crucial.
Some people are not comfortable with the options now being offered. Some people may prefer a system of indirect election, with which I have some sympathy. If I were to choose my second preference, it might be the scheme recommended by the Bryce commission, which suggested that the House of Commons should become an electoral college—in the present circumstances, that might include Members of the devolved legislatures in Scotland and Wales— that it would elect 75 per cent. of Members of the House of Lords and that the other 25 per cent. would come through a joint committee of the two Houses. That would be an improvement; there would be more legitimacy through that route, although not as much as the mixture that we recommend would produce.
The mention of Lord Bryce in 1918 reminds us how long we have been going round this circuit. It would be most extraordinary if a Government with constitutional reform as one of their centrepieces—indeed, they have delivered major constitutional reform—and with the current majority did not manage to reform the second Chamber. What a failure of historic proportions that would be.
219 The Leader of the House has issued a challenge to the House of Commons. In a sense, he wants to take the decision away from the Executive and say, "Come on House of Commons, it is up to you. Rise to the challenge." The question is whether the House will rise to the challenge. We shall find that out, at least initially, in a week or so.
The Select Committee on Public Administration has shown that, if the House wanted, we could have a mixed second Chamber, with 60 per cent. elected and 40 per cent. appointed Members, in 10 years. That could be achieved in a way that works through arrangements suitable for that purpose, but it will be done only if the House of Commons recognises that it has both an opportunity and a responsibility to put that process in place.
§ Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)
We all listened with great interest to my friend and neighbour, the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Tony Wright). In his opening remarks, he gave as good an argument against elections as I have heard for quite a long time because the whole scheme that he proposed would rule out that power of party and patronage that inevitably comes with elections.
We all have to thank the right hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) for the way in which he introduced this debate. We have heard some scintillating speeches—most of all that made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague)—but I beg the House to think of the future of Parliament and what will best serve us and those who send us here.
Over the past seven or eight months, a group of us from both Houses and all parties and generations have been meeting regularly as what we call the campaign for an effective second Chamber. We are not status quo merchants, but we strongly believe—this belief has united the group—that the country would be better served by a wholly nominated, all appointed second Chamber.
There is a very respectable case for a largely or entirely elected Chamber, but that would involve drawing up a new constitution and redistributing powers between the two Chambers. If we are to attract men and women of sufficient calibre and quality to stand for election, they must have the opportunity responsibly to exercise real power.
That is not a course with which our group would agree. We would agree with the general conclusions of the Joint Committee that the present role and powers of the House of Lords are about right, and that the conventions governing its relations with this place are about right. Indeed, the Joint Committee chaired by the right hon. Member for Copeland recommends fairly emphatically that the second Chamber should not be given any new significant or additional power. The Joint Committee's report lists the five requirements, which I will not repeat. A close reading of that report indicates that a reasonable degree of consensus was reached that the present second Chamber has those qualities, some of them in good measure.
220 That echoes to some degree the fifth report of the Public Administration Committee, chaired by the hon. Member for Cannock Chase, which stated that the considerable virtues of the present second Chamber should be preserved. Among those virtues, it listed the less partisan debating style, the quality and expertise of House of Lords Committees and its vital role in scrutinising legislation, much of which, as we all know to our cost, leaves this Chamber completely unconsidered. Many others in the House and around the world have commented on the quality of scrutiny, particularly of European legislation, which is widely acknowledged to be of a thoroughness and quality unique in the whole European Union.
Therefore, as we consider the Joint Committee's report, we must remember that we are not debating the Chamber that existed five years ago, with an inbuilt Conservative majority and the right of hereditary peers to sit in the Chamber. That has gone, and those debates are over. What we are considering is a Chamber that is largely composed of people who have been appointed since the Life Peerages Act 1958. Since that date, some 984 peers have been appointed, and no one who scrutinises those appointments with any degree of care, thoughtfulness or objectivity could for a moment dismiss more than a handful as cronies. For almost half a century, many able men and women, from differing backgrounds with different skills, have become Members of the House of Lords. The Joint Committee cites examples from the public services, science, medicine, academic life, the voluntary sector, business and industry—one could add the armed forces and the arts—all of whom have been recognised by appointment. The people who have taken part in debates have brought their expertise—often a current expertise—to them.
Since 1958, and particularly since 1999, we have gradually replaced a council of elders with a council of experts. I often think that Lord Winston perhaps best exemplifies what the House of Lords is all about. He takes the Labour whip, but he informs debates with a tremendous amount of experience, and the quality of hiscontributions—although I disagree with many of them—is immense. A large number of those experts, however, do not take a party whip, and the Joint Committee makes complimentary reference to that fact.
The Public Administration Committee has said that the main cause of widespread disillusionment with our political system is the establishment of virtually untrammelled control of the House of Commons by the Executive. It went on to stress the need to ensure that the dominance of Parliament by the Executive, and by the party political machine, is reduced. Indeed, the hon. Member for Cannock Chase alluded to Dunning's famous motion in his speech:The power of the Crown—or, in this case, the Executive—
has increased, is increasing, and ought to be diminished.Who can suggest seriously that that worthy objective could be achieved by having an elected House of Lords? Who can suggest seriously that many, if any, of those appointed for their expertise would seek election? Elections would be strongly influenced, to put it mildly, by party considerations. That is why the Select Committee wants open lists, long terms and no right to 221 re-election. However, it seeks to replicate by election what already exists while making its own aims incapable of realisation by replacing the present system of appointment by party patronage.
Elections would inevitably bring conflict, and the right hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) referred to that. Other colleagues who represent Scottish and Welsh constituencies have attended our group and told of us their experience. Even those of us with English seats have Members of the European Parliament elected under the dreadful system of closed lists, and we know what it is like when people are on our patch and do and say things that are wholly incompatible with the good of our constituents. I am experiencing precisely that in my constituency at the moment. What legitimacy can my Member of the European Parliament claim when, in my constituency, only about 20 per cent. of people voted in the last European elections? If the elections for the upper Chamber do not take place on the same day as the general election, we will run the risk of a derisory turnout. What sort of legitimacy does that give?
If the purpose of the exercise is to secure a second Chamber as different as possible from the Commons, can it make sense for the most fundamental change to be the one most likely to reproduce the partisan structures that exist here? Given their constituency or representational functions, what time would the elected Members of the second Chamber have for scrutiny? I have already referred to the fact that much of the legislation churned out by Government is not considered in this House, and those Members would have the right, as the Joint Committee makes plain, to expect the same facilities that we enjoy. Whatever the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) says, the costs would be enormous. It would be an extremely expensive, but far less effective second Chamber.
If a second Chamber were elected or largely elected and enjoyed the powers and functions of the present House of Lords, it would be far less well equipped to perform the functions that are performed well at the moment. The hon. Member for Cannock Chase talked about the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 and there are many more examples that we could give from the past five years and, indeed, from the period of Conservative government in which the House of Lords put right legislation that was defective and imperfect in the extreme. Of course, it made mistakes, but any elected or non-elected body will make mistakes. However, the quality of debate and decision in that place has been of a high order. To throw that away would be—
§ Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North and Sefton, East)
I join those who have congratulated my right hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) on the work of his Committee even though I do not agree with its conclusions in their entirety. I also congratulate him on the lucidity of his speech and on the balanced way in which he made his case.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House referred disparagingly to early-day motion 529, of which I was the author. I shall therefore respond to some 222 of the points that he made. He seemed to suggest that the option of abolition that my right hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) and I support should not be a matter for consideration. Indeed, it is not one of the seven recommendations in the Joint Committee's report. I accept that early-day motions are not always the strongest indicator of feeling in the House, but this one attracted the support of 90 Members. I believe that that number is sufficient to make the case for finding the means to debate in two weeks' time the option of abolition that some of us believe at least deserves to be debated.
As a Back Bencher, I hoped that I would be able to table an amendment or motion to enable that opinion to be expressed, but those who know the procedures of the House far better than I do have advised me that that will not be possible because of the way in which the debate will be set up. I do not claim that every hon. Member who has signed the early-day motion agrees with me on the particulars. Indeed, some of them have made it clear that they do not. However, I should like my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to reflect on the fact that 90 Members have signed it. Although I do not expect him to respond to me today, we all think that we should have the option to vote on an amendment or motion that mirrors our views. It is true that many of us might vote for other options as well.
I take slight issue with the way in which my right hon. Friend dealt with the matter. On the one hand, he generously reminded me that we are to have a free vote. I am grateful to him for that. On the other hand, however, he reminded me that it is a manifesto issue. It seems that my right hon. Friend is giving with one hand and, if not taking away with the other, at least putting a hand on my arm before I move it. Like all hon. Members who have spoken, I am realist and do not expect that I will succeed in abolishing the House of Lords by the end of this Parliament. Indeed, I accept that I may never do so, but I should at least like the opportunity to vote in the way that I think is most appropriate.
I am obliged to justify the terms of the early-day motion. I shall not enter into the abolitionist argument because my right hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley put it succinctly and well. The other part of it refers to the fact that the House is not as effective as it should be in a number of respects and it calls for greater reform of the way in which we do our business before we consider how the House of Lords should be reformed, if at all. That is a serious proposition. In his new guise, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) championed the rights and privileges of the House of Commons. I always listened to his speeches carefully when he held high office and he regularly changed his mind. However, he made the serious point that the wider public do not think that we conduct our business effectively. His lapse in logic was that we must reform the House of Lords. My argument is that if we are serious about the problems in the House, and I acknowledge that they exist, let us sort them out first before moving on to decide the most appropriate way of reforming the House of Lords.
We have made a good start on reform of this House. We are better at pre-legislative scrutiny. Some Select Committees are starting to be aware of their role in that. Let us make it a more regular occurrence so that the 223 excellence that is built up in those Committees is used more effectively on every measure. Just as we shall debate this issue within the next few weeks and vote on it, so we shall discuss Iraq, what has happened, and decisions by the Government and United Nations. I doubt whether there will be enough time for everyone who wants to speak to do so. That may be a criticism of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, but the same thing has happened under all Governments. When the Conservative party was in office, huge discussions took place and important issues were determined, yet people waited for hours and never got to say what they felt needed to be said on their constituents' behalf. If the Chamber is going to debate and reflect on the great issues of the day, the way in which it operates must be reformed.
I began by saying that the House could operate effectively in a unicameral system. I still hold that view because nobody has convinced me otherwise. Before we set about reforming the House of Lords we should reform the way in which we conduct our business. The right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) talked about confidence, and from the confident position of a reformed, functioning House of Commons we can go on to discuss the House of Lords. If we do not do so, frankly, we are not credible.
§ Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire)
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth), who has just talked himself out of elevation to the upper House by revealing himself as a unicameralist. The difficulty with his argument is that it would result in our never tackling the House of Lords. If the challenge is to reform the Commons first, we would leave the House of Lords semi-reformed. The Prime Minister would be delighted with that argument, as there would be a strong case for inaction.
When we have these discussions, there is always a risk of portraying the debate as a two-dimensional contest between us and the other place—if one gains, the other must lose. The constitutional contest is not between the Commons and the Lords, but between Parliament and the Executive. In that contest, we are partners, not rivals, and the key issue is the way in which we each perform our task better to hold the Executive to account. The prime question is whether the legitimacy and effectiveness of Parliament as a whole would be enhanced if some Members of the upper House were elected. I believe that it would. In passing, I agree with comments about proposed size—a Chamber of 600 is far too big—and I was delighted to hear from Committee members that that matter will be addressed.
On composition, I was surprised and alarmed to read in The Sunday Times and The Times today of the Cabinet's recent apparent conversion to a wholly appointed second Chamber. That would be a change in the Government's previous policy of a 20 per cent. elected Chamber, but it would show astonishing disregard for the views held in the House. Having been told by the House that their proposal of 20 per cent. was not enough, it would be wrong of the Government to retreat to zero instead of advancing beyond 50 per cent. 224 The two most recent reports on the subject by Lord Wakeham and the Public Administration Committee were unanimous that there should not be a wholly appointed Chamber. A consensual solution is unlikely to be achieved if one starts by rejecting the common ground reached by those reports.
The Leader of the House made a plea for flexibility, and I hope that he will use his persuasiveness to impress on the Prime Minister the need for flexibility if we are to achieve a proper solution. My judgment is that roughly one third of Members in the new House of Lords should be non-political and appointed, and the balance of two thirds should be political and elected. I am not in favour of a 100 per cent. elected Chamber for the reasons that we have heard about—it would exclude many people who do not belong to a political party and do not want to stand for election, but who add enormous value to debates in the upper House. No single party should have a majority in the upper House. A one-third bloc of Cross Benchers would in effect mean that the Government of the day would have to win the argument to win the vote, which is as it should be.
I want to deal head-on with the three main arguments sometimes used to criticise that solution: the Lord Chancellor's argument that oil and water do not mix; the British Rail argument that that solution produces the wrong sort of politician; and the rival mandate argument.
On the argument about two types of Members and their alleged incompatibility, as we have heard, the House of Lords has had two types of Members for more than 40 years: those who got there by accident of birth; and those who got there by achievement after birth. It is difficult to think of two more diverse sources of arrival into the upper House, plus the bishops and Law Lords. We can debate the legitimacy of the hereditary element, but we cannot say that it did not mix with the life peers. Indeed, when the hereditaries were abolished, the life peers were some of their staunchest defenders. Of course, there are other models: the Inner London education authority, which had directly elected and borough-nominated members; the assemblies; and the Scottish Parliament. I am old enough to remember aldermen in local government. So it manifestly is not the case that a body can work only if all its members arrive through the same door.
The British Rail argument is that electing two thirds of Members will produce the wrong sort of politician. There is a view in the upper House that "We do not want the rough trade from the other end of the building up here." A year ago, Lord Wakeham said in his speech on this matter that elections would producea 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.]I am not quite sure how he classified himself in making that comment. The late Lord Longford made the point less tactfully three years ago:We would get the dregs."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 7 March 2000; Vol. 610, c. 955.]I think that that anxiety is misplaced. Behaviour in our House is less a function of the sort of people we are than of the place in which we operate and our role as Members of Parliament in a highly political, dominant Chamber to which we have to be re-elected. When we 225 move from this charged environment to the calmer one at the other end of the building, our behaviour changes. Perhaps the best examples are those of Lords Wakeham and Hurd. If my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) were elevated to the upper House, he would be absorbed into that environment with no difficulty whatever. When we are in our current environment, we behave as Members of Parliament, but in the more reflective environment of the upper House, where Members do not have to be re-elected and Whips have a slender grip on discipline, people behave differently.
I find nothing inherently suspect or inappropriate about people who want to stand for re-election being Members of the upper House. If they are elected on a rolling basis for a fixed term, nor will there be very many to elect at a time, so there will be no shortage of quality candidates. Crucially, if they do not have to be re-elected, they will not have to emulate some of the characteristics of this House to which Members in the other place take such exception.
My last point concerns the rival mandate argument, which alleges that, if we have a predominantly elected second Chamber, it will challenge the supremacy of this Chamber. However, the second Chamber is clearly defined as complementary and, in the end, subordinate to this one. Its powers are given to it by this House, which is pre-eminent, and they cannot be unilaterally changed. There is an argument that that settlement might somehow be subject to moral challenge and that there would be tension between the two Houses if the upper House were elected. I strongly disagree. Here, we are all elected for one Parliament on the same day after a vigorous campaign on the basis of a party manifesto. We are elected to the pre-eminent House that sustains the Executive and produces the Prime Minister, and we submit ourselves for re-election.
None of those conditions would exist for the upper House if it were to be elected on the basis suggested by, for example, Lord Wakeham. Many of its Members would not be elected at all and would have no mandate. Those who were elected would be elected at different times and on different mandates, and it would be impossible for one party to control the upper House if it were elected on the basis that I have outlined. The notion that electing some or even most of the Members could lead to the conversion of the upper House into a rival assembly where one party claims a mandate is unsustainable. Yes, the upper House should be given greater legitimacy in its existing role, but it does not follow that it will acquire a claim to a greater role.
I believe that the right way forward is to seek to reach agreement, but if that fails, to make progress on the basis of what this House decides, but at a pace that does not cause too much turbulence and respects the rights of life peers to remain in the upper House for as long as they want. In other words, there should be a gentle transition to a predominantly elected upper House. Put in those terms and approached with understanding, I believe that a settlement can be reached.
§ 4.4 pm
§ Joyce Quin (Gateshead, East and Washington, West)
So many powerful speeches and telling points have been made that I am glad that my time is restricted and I can concentrate simply on picking up some of them.
226 The contribution of the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) reminded me that serving on the Joint Committee was an interesting and entertaining experience. Our deliberations seemed to cross every known political divide, and old ideological divisions counted for little.
However, the speech of the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) reminded me that the Labour party's view on the matter has changed. Although I thoroughly dislike the facile applications of the labels, "old Labour" and "new Labour", I confess that I feel more attached to the old Labour policy of 1992 on House of Lords reform than to the proposals that the Government presented subsequently.
I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House confirmed that there would be a free vote and that the matter was for the House of Commons to determine.
The right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe said of his motivation for wanting an all-elected House, which I also support, that it would help affirm the House's authority against that of the Government and the Executive. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Tony Wright), who chairs the Public Administration Committee, made the same point. I am sorry if I prevented his escape from the Chamber by referring to him.
My motivation is more basic. We are considering a House of Parliament that is part of the machinery of government and our democracy. The Government and the House of Commons get their authority from the people, and it would therefore be wrong to deny the people a say or influence in the composition of the second Chamber of Parliament. For that reason, I believe strongly in the principle of election. It confers legitimacy, about which my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase made so many interesting comments.
I do not agree that election will automatically lead to competition with the House of Commons. I am comforted in that belief by examining second Chambers around the world, which appear to live within the powers that they have been granted. They cannot change those powers unilaterally. No second Chamber in any system of government that I know about can automatically increase its powers at the expense of the primary Chamber. Achieving any increase—or, indeed, any change—in powers is normally a lengthy process that requires the wholehearted agreement of both Houses of Parliament and the Government of the country.
Several colleagues discussed whether a unicameral system was a good idea. I agree with the Joint Committee's collective view about the importance of two Chambers. I also agree with many of the comments that the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks made about that. My right hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) is right that some countries work well with a unicameral system. However, they tend to have smaller populations and it is probably easier to feed views into the political system, perhaps because of size or other mechanisms.
Most populous countries have second Chambers. An interesting example can be seen among the countries that hope shortly to join the European Union. As far as 227 I am aware, only one has two Chambers, and that is Poland. Poland is the largest of those countries in terms of population, which reinforces my point.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley suggested that a good title for Members of the second House would be "Senator". I hope that that title will not be conferred on them, because I believe that it would add to the unhelpful analogy and comparison that is sometimes drawn between the Chambers of this Parliament and the system in the United States. The United States system, which frequently becomes gridlocked, is very different from ours. It is based on the separation of powers, and both of its Chambers have more or less equal powers, in a way that I do not imagine will ever be the case here. Indeed, one of the striking aspects of the reports on the reform of the House of Lords is that they all felt that we should consider its existing powers for use in the future. In the United States, the upper House is in many ways the senior House, partly because the terms of tenure are a little longer there than in the House of Representatives, which changes every two years—not something that I would want to see in either of our Houses of Parliament—and partly because the two Houses have equal powers. The fact that Senators have a longer term of office therefore gives them greater clout and influence within the overall political system. For that reason, I think that comparison of our two systems is unhelpful.
I would like to see a wholly elected House, but I am not against some kind of compromise, perhaps along the lines that my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase mentioned. It was a compromise that received unanimous support in his Committee, and has been the theme of many other studies carried out on the issue. I hope, however, that we shall not run away from the idea of election altogether. I agree with the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks that it would be completely unrealistic to try to interest the electorate in voting for a second Chamber when they would, in effect, be voting for only 20 or 40 per cent. of its Members.
Many hon. Members have referred to their worries about low turnout. I was glad that, in the course of its deliberations, the Committee agreed with my suggestion that we should look imaginatively at the elections, and that consideration should be given to having full postal ballots, for example, as they have dramatically increased the local government election turnout in my part of the world, and to combining the elections with other elections.
The principle of election is important. I am glad that there is to be a free vote in the House on this issue, but I would appeal to my colleagues who are Ministers to reflect on the fact that the Government have done a great deal to bring about constitutional change in this country. That change has been enormously beneficial, but let us not falter now. Let us deliver a reformed, democratic second Chamber that will stand the country in good stead for the long term.
§ Mr. James Arbuthnot (North-East Hampshire)
It is not a question of faltering now. The problem is that we have no idea where we are going. This is another of the 228 Government's constitutional reforms that was started without any idea of the knock-on effect that it would have on the other parts of our constitution, or of what to do next. It has become a commonplace to say that the train left the station without anyone having any idea of its destination. The problem with this train is that both of its drivers jumped out of the cab as it was hurtling along the tracks. The Leader of the House and the Lord Chancellor, both of whom were trying to drive the train in different directions, suddenly decided to leave the entire problem to the Joint Committee.
The Joint Committee, frankly, does not know the answer. I pay tribute to its Chairman for his admirable job in managing to reconcile a group of very diverse people with very diverse views. Although the Lord Chancellor, in an extraordinary interview on "Today" at around the time of the new year, described the Committee as a genius, I am nevertheless afraid that that is not how it is likely to turn out. There will be problems that the Committee will not be able to resolve.
What shall we do if the House of Lords disagrees with the House of Commons on the solution that we come up with? I expect that to happen. I expect there to be a stalemate between the two Houses, and I expect the Prime Minister, observing that stalemate, to be very happy and to say "Now I will leave it to the Committee to sort out".
Today's edition of The Guardian suggests that for Labour not to reform the House of Lords when it has such a large majority in the House of Commons would constitute a truly epic national failure. That is right, but it takes no account of the extent to which the current settlement suits the Prime Minister. The House of Lords may give the Prime Minister occasional pause for thought, although I suspect that following the introduction of carry-over that will decrease; but I very much doubt that the House of Lords has ever given the Prime Minister a sleepless night.
Thus the Prime Minister is leaving the whole matter to the Joint Committee—that genius—to sort out.
§ Mr. Forth
Might the situation be even worse than my right hon. Friend suggests? Might the Prime Minister be tempted simply to abolish the remaining hereditary peers in order to play to his party gallery, in a rare moment of attempted popularity, and then to set up the so-called statutory appointments commission and say "That's it. Sorted. End of story"?
§ Mr. Arbuthnot
That is clearly possible, but the Prime Minister would be taking the blame himself. I suspect that he would rather leave it to the Joint Committee. So there he is, leaving it to the Joint Committee in the fervent hope that we get nowhere.
That will not do: we need to sort out some of the problems left by the mess we have been in. There are problems, for instance, to do with the relationship between the regions and the House of Lords. The right hon. Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West (Joyce Quin) emphasised the need for regional representation in the House of Lords, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) correctly said that that representation had been diminished by the reforms that have already taken place 229 over the past few years. What about the different tiers of government that we are beginning to amass? We are being increasingly governed as day follows day.
§ Mr. Clelland
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that if Members were elected to the second Chamber they would represent not regions but constituents—and, particularly under a list system, political parties?
§ Mr. Arbuthnot
Yes. They would represent political parties, they would represent people, they would represent regions. They would represent all sorts of entities. It would be an answer, to an extent.
The real difficulty with the Committee's remit is that it was asked to look only at the composition of one of the Houses, whereas it should have been asked to look at the settlement as a whole, because there will be trade-off effects. If, for example, there is a hybrid House of some sort, what will be the knock-on effects on the other parts of that House? If the House of Lords becomes more representative, it should surely follow that the House of Commons can be reduced in size. Actually, that ought to happen anyway—this House should have 300 or 400 Members, not 650—but there ought to be trade-off effects in the whole Palace. The Joint Committee has not been asked to consider that. Some argue that the new House of Lords could usefully contain elements binding our tiers of government together—drawing in, for instance, aspects of European and Scottish representation—but we have not been asked to consider that either.
I have moved a long way since the debate began. I signed the early-day motion suggesting that the House of Lords be largely elected. As has been pointed out, there is something to be said for democracy. However, the Joint Committee strengthened in my mind the view that, in reforming the House of Lords, we run the risk of losing the great talent and experience that, through systems that have evolved through the ages, we have managed to build.
Therefore, I shall vote for a fudge. It will not be a happy fudge. It will not be a sensible fudge because we are not being asked a sensible question and, if one is asked a silly question, sometimes, one has to come up with a silly answer. I am sure that we shall do exactly that.
§ Mr. Clive Soley (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush)
I do not think that the right hon. Member for North-East Hampshire (Mr. Arbuthnot) should be so pessimistic. We are embarked on a period of constitutional reform that started when we were elected in 1997. I am delighted about that. People said that the Joint Committee would kick reform of the Lords into the long grass. They were wrong. We have shown them to be wrong. The process is unstoppable. I do not think that the reforms will stop there, so he should not be too disheartened. I agree that the size of the House of Commons should be reduced, as should the size of the House of Lords in due course, but neither of those things are achievable quickly.
The process is very important. We will be judged harshly by history if we do not get it right. What I would like to say more than anything else is that we must 230 continue that process by giving thought to the options produced not only by this House but by the other Chamber and come up with a compromise.
It will be a compromise. As a number of hon. Members have said, it should be the best one available to us. We should not hold on for ever for the very best, because, as people have pointed out, that has led us to stalemate. We should try to get the best solution that we can, preferably before the next election, and I think that that is possible. But if it is not, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said, it should be carried over into the period after the next election.
No Government, including—I hope that this does not happen—a Conservative Government elected at the next election, could resist the pressure for reform because we have taken such profound steps. One of the next things we must do is to remove the remaining hereditary element from the House of Lords. That is clearly the road on which we are embarked.
On the issue that was touched on by my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Tony Wright), it troubles me a lot that we spend far too little time on some of the underlying issues, which are either taken for granted or get muddled. There are certain assumptions about legitimacy, democracy and liberty. Those concepts not only overlap but come into conflict with each other.
When we talk about legitimacy, we normally talk about the legitimacy of Government. When we ask whether a Government are legitimate, what we mean in the parlance of modern times is whether that Government can be put in place and removed by a democratic vote, which is normally assumed nowadays to be all adults voting in free and fair elections. We do not normally mean by legitimacy that every Chamber of every House must be elected. If that were the case, many countries that we all regard as democratic and free would not be democratic and legitimate. Legitimacy comes from the ability to put in place and remove a Government by democratic vote. It comes from a number of different sources, which may or may not include a democratic voice.
The other issue that is fundamental is the concept of liberty or freedom. I say this particularly to those interested in getting rid of the second Chamber altogether. Freedom is not democracy. Democracy can abandon people's freedom. I remind some of my hon. Friends that there are umpteen examples of that throughout history. Some of them are too easily taken in by the United States constitution. Let us face it, that was a continuation of the English revolution, written by people who came from this island and who were imbued with the arguments of that time. There were many good things about it but why is it so difficult for progressives in the United States to get rid of the death penalty? The answer is that governors, members of both houses and certain members of the police are elected. Significantly, Illinois has just abandoned the death penalty under a governor who is not standing for re-election—an act of retirement.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase made the case well in respect of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 but there are worse examples. Adolf Hitler and Mussolini were elected. Members of two democratically elected chambers in the 231 United States repeatedly voted for the death of no fewer than 90 million north American Indians—and did so consistently for 100 years. If one is in the minority, democracy can be the enemy of liberty. People who are interested in the welfare of minorities should bear it in mind that, at times, all of us need to be in a minority to be reminded that a majority can behave tyrannically.
The second Chamber must have legitimacy but of a kind wider than mere direct election. It needs to be a protector of the constitution and—this is profoundly important—to stand up for minority rights from time to time. A properly appointed, strongly independent sector in the House of Lords is important and I want that to continue.
Over the next couple of weeks, I hope to persuade my right hon. and hon. Friends to focus on my belief—on which I strongly disagree with the Lord Chancellor—that hybridity is a sound principle and that it is a good idea to have a hybrid second Chamber. We ought to look at a balance of 60:40. On that basis, one could not only have legitimacy but protect the strong independent voices from science, various professions and other areas that have made a great contribution through their appointment under an independent system. Vitally, we could also have members of the second Chamber who are there by appointment through a party political route. Political parties are vital to modern democracies. I do not know of any modern democracy that can work without them. It is proper that there should be an element of appointment by political parties in the second Chamber.
One aspect that has been debated far too little in this Chamber is that we have proceeded on a course of parliamentary and constitutional reform since Labour's election in 1997. In a way, the most profound part has been the devolution of power to Scotland, Wales, London and increasingly—I hope and expect—the regions. One of the second Chamber's most important tasks is to bind together the devolved United Kingdom, which is why I want it to include some representatives of the regions.
At present, the Chairs of the Assemblies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are already Members of the second Chamber by chance. They told the Joint Committee that they and their regions find it valuable to sit in the second Chamber. I would like us to consider making sure that, by ex officio appointment, the Chairs of the regions take seats in the second Chamber—which is not dissimilar to what the Spanish are doing progressively as they introduce regions. Another way is indirect election.
I acknowledge all the points that have been made about elections not being wildly popular at times but that arrangement would allow the elected membership to be drawn from the regions. Billy Bragg made proposals that are a bit different from the norm but election from the regions could be achieved in a number of different ways, so that the regions have a voice in the second Chamber, helping to lock the United Kingdom together. Such a structure could work.
If we go down the road of 100 per cent., or even 80 per cent., election, those elected will campaign strongly on the basis that they are as legitimate, if not more 232 legitimate, than Members of the Commons. That would be inevitable, particularly if the electoral system were different. Nor do I believe the argument, advanced by the Liberal Democrats, that it is somehow possible automatically to block people by saying that they cannot stand. Preventing them from resigning from the second Chamber and standing again would be ruled out by the European Court of Human Rights.
I ask Members to look at the 60:40 option, and at the possibility of indirect election or appointment, so that we can establish a good hybrid second Chamber that acts as an effective safeguard for our constitution and our basic freedoms, but also has all the legitimacy that comes from such a structure.
§ Norman Lamb (North Norfolk)
It is worth reminding ourselves that we have completed a very important first stage in the reform process by getting rid of the bulk of the hereditary peers, and the Government deserve considerable credit for that long overdue achievement. The fact that their programme of constitutional reform has often appeared somewhat incoherent probably reflects conflict within Government, but on this matter progress has been made. However, it is now essential that the process be completed. The job is just half done, and there is clearly a risk of the whole issue being kicked into the long grass.
The second stage has already taken far too long, and the White Paper was a misconceived diversion and a waste of time in the reform process. The proposal for a 20 per cent. elected mix was a non-starter, and the cynics among us might conclude that the Lord Chancellor was seeking to shift the debate and opinion away from a wholly elected House to get people to debate a much lower percentage of elected Members. In his latest intervention, just after Christmas, he suggested that opinion ispolarising around whether there should be an all appointed or an all elected HouseAgain, that smacks of dark motives at work. I am not sure where he finds such opinion, but I suspect that it is among his fairly small circle of friends. However, such opinion is not matched by that expressed in this debate, and certainly not by that of the public. The YouGov poll that has already been referred to shows just 8 per cent. support for a wholly or substantially appointed second Chamber.
As has already been alluded to, there is a real risk that differences of view between reformers will be used as a justification for delay. It is therefore incumbent on all of us who favour rapid completion of the process and a wholly or substantially elected second Chamber that we find common ground quickly, ready for the vote in a week or two's time. We must not allow small differences to create a roadblock in this process.
After the disappointment of the White Paper, the Joint Committee process got the operation back on track. It is worth stressing that this report, which I very much welcome, was unanimous, and it is impressive for that reason. It is clear that there is broad agreement on the role, functions and powers of the second Chamber, and it is through the design of those elements that we can deal with anxiety about maintaining the pre-eminence of this House within Parliament. It does not constitute a 233 coherent argument to say that giving the second Chamber greater legitimacy through democracy will take away the pre-eminence of this place.
The report recognises that the present second Chamber lacks legitimacy and suffers from unrepresentativeness. However, it clearly performs its legislative functions pretty well in revising legislation. Reference has been made to the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Bill in 2001, and there have been many other examples. Those who argue for a unicameral system have to face the fact that, without that check and balance, we would have a lot more defective legislation on the statute book. The second Chamber has provided that important check and balance. The challenge, therefore, is to preserve the best of what it currently offers, while giving it real legitimacy. As the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) made clear, the importance of the process lies in strengthening Parliament as a whole, not in taking power away from this place and giving it to a second Chamber. We need to strengthen the effectiveness of Parliament and its ability to hold the Government to account and pass good legislation.
I shall consider briefly the five qualities identified in the Committee report. The report asserts that three qualities are already present—expertise, independence and no domination by any single party. The missing elements are legitimacy and representativeness. By representativeness, the report does not mean democratic representation. It seems to be referring in a narrower sense to gender, age, ethnic mix, representation of the regions and so on.
There is a somewhat disturbing suggestion in the conclusion of paragraph 47, which says that if the second Chamber were just made more representative of the nation, it would somehow gain a new legitimacy. As the Leader of the House made clear, legitimacy cannot come from appointment. Legitimacy flows from democracy. That is the element missing from the five desirable features of a second Chamber. A House wholly or substantially elected is the essential pre-condition for legitimacy.
But that is not enough. Very low turnouts would damage legitimacy. Imagine the turnout with a 20 per cent. elected element. One might choose to vote if a friend were standing, but beyond that, even I could not see much point in going along to register my vote. In the Cook-Maclennan report, the two tasks demanded of a Joint Committee were to produce recommendations for a democratic and a representative second Chamber.
As regards the other qualities mentioned in the present report, if there were a 20 per cent. minority, or perhaps a 40 per cent. minority, appointed by an independent commission, thereby providing an element of independence and expertise, I believe that that mix would meet the demands of the majority of those who want reform. Furthermore, elections based on a proportional system would, in almost all conceivable circumstances, result in no one party dominating the second Chamber.
I was pleased to see specific reference to the single transferable vote, which would give power to the citizen in determining the elected Members of the second Chamber, not power to the party machine. We must avoid at all costs any possibility of the closed list, which 234 has been used in the European elections. It is an abomination and unacceptable to anyone who believes in a democracy in which the citizen has real power.
A mixed membership could achieve all the qualities that the Committee demanded. With reference to numbers, 600 is ludicrous. It would place the UK Parliament second only to the Chinese national people's congress. That would still be ahead as it has 2,970 members, but no other country would get anywhere near the size of our Parliament.
In conclusion, we have a massive opportunity that we must grasp. The greatest risk is for reformers to disagree among themselves. There are dark forces, we are told, that are seeking to frustrate reform. We must not let that happen. When the Government consider the votes that come out of the debate in a week or two, I urge them to give priority to the view of this House. If the Government assert that this House is pre-eminent within Parliament, it must be the will of this House that predominates in the reform process.
§ Alan Howarth (Newport, East)
When the King of Naples wrote to Lord Holland asking him if he would kindly furnish him with a written constitution, Lord Holland replied, in Burkeian, terms that that would not be possible, commentingYou might as well ask me to build you a tree.The Joint Committee has not included in its menu an organic option, and we have embarked upon the genetic re-engineering of our constitution in the expulsion from the House of Lords of the majority of the hereditary peers. A voice is hardly heard these days in support of the status quo. It is clear that we must proceed, whether serendipitously or schematically.
The repeated attempts over the past 100 years to design a rational reform of the second Chamber have, as we all know, not led to a thorough conclusion. It matters very much that this time round we should be successful in pursuing this matter to a sensible conclusion.
I wonder whether there is the consensus, or whether there will be the political will, to do so. But, given the inadequacies of today's House of Commons in holding the Executive to account, arising because of lack of time, and more profoundly because of the professionalisation of the House of Commons, it is ever more important that we should have a second Chamber that is legitimate, capable and confident, and that can make some impact in mitigating the elective dictatorship. That, by the way, is the key argument against an option that the Joint Committee did not offer to us: abolition and unicameralism.
The Joint Committee was right to start with consideration of the role, powers and duties of a second Chamber and of its relationships with this House and other institutions of Government. Judgments about the principle of selection to the second Chamber, its size and the tenure of its members should arise from that consideration, rather than the other way round.
There is at least an extensive consensus that the powers of a reformed second Chamber should be much along the lines of the present powers of the House of Lords. That is a tribute to the impressive work that their lordships do, debating, scrutinising, revising, 235 delaying—there is a case, as the Wakeham report and the Government themselves suggested in their White Paper, for rather increasing the power of delay of a reformed second Chamber—and advising the Government and this House.
The Joint Committee has set forth a list of the attributes that it believes should characterise a second Chamber fitted to carry out these responsibilities: legitimacy, representativeness, the absence of domination by one party, independence and expertise. I think that those are the right benchmarks.
How would a fully or partially elected second Chamber match those benchmarks? Election would confer degrees of democratic legitimacy, according to the proportion of the members who were elected. But it would not follow that election would confer representativeness in very important senses. I share the pessimism that others have expressed about the improbability that there would be a high turnout in the elections to a second Chamber whose powers are expressly intended to be modest and that would not furnish an Executive. It is unlikely that the party activists who would put themselves forward for election would be representative of society at large. Being party members, they would not escape the powerful influence of the party machines, and since, given the tendency of this House, it is very likely that they would be career politicians, it is unlikely that they would command the expertise that appointed members can bring to a second Chamber.
§ Alan Howarth
No. I apologise, but time is short.
The decline in the membership of political parties and people's disaffection with our political processes also mean that it is unlikely that enough people of real ability will be found to populate a reformed second Chamber.
Do we really want a second Chamber that contains a smaller proportion of people with real expertise and authority to speak on various subjects than is the case in the present House of Lords? Do we want a second Chamber which, to the extent that it is elected, is a pale imitation of this elected House of Commons?
I should expect politicians in an elected second Chamber, if they were worth their salt, to aspire to build on their democratic legitimacy to achieve greater powers. I disagree with those of my hon. Friends who say—and I think that I paraphrase only a little crudely—that elections are good and that we should therefore have more of them, but that they would not put up with a second Chamber that would frustrate the will of this elected House of Commons when it came to abolishing fox hunting. That is not the way that the dynamics would drive.
My apprehension is that, if we were to have a second Chamber that was even substantially elected, it would not be long before the two Houses clashed and found themselves at an impasse. We would then be in the position of the US, where in practical terms it is well nigh impossible to carry forward any substantial programme of legislation or reform on domestic policy.
236 Moreover, it is a terrible idea that elected Members should represent the same electors in two Houses of the same Parliament. That can only confuse people and undermine the position of the constituency Member of Parliament. I agree with the Attlee Government in their 1948 White Paper, which held that a reformed second Chamber should be complementary to the House of Commons, and not a rival to it.
How would a reformed and fully appointed second Chamber match the benchmarks set by the Joint Committee? An appointments commission could be charged with the responsibility of forming a second Chamber that was truly representative of the range of interests in our society. It would have regard to occupations, to functional constituencies, business—both employers and unions—public services, academia, the professions, the armed services, the voluntary sector, and the arts.
§ Alan Howarth
It should also be charged with forming a second Chamber that was inclusively representative in terms of gender, race, faith, minorities and the regions. The second Chamber would have to contain a component of spokespersons put forward by the Prime Minister and by party leaders. They would make the case for the policies of Government and the Opposition parties and make sure that legislation and major policy were scrutinised. Apart from that, however, we should seek to create a second Chamber that was a party-politics free zone.
The Government propose in the White Paper that up to half the members of the appointments commission should be politicians. I disagree with that, and with their assertion that it is unrealistic to suppose that a House of Parliament can be immune from party-political influence. We can and should seek to design out most political patronage in a reformed second Chamber. The appointments commission could be fully appointed on Nolan principles, so that it was politically disinterested. Its task, set by Parliament, would be to create a composition for the second Chamber that was representative not in the sense that politics produces representativeness, but in the complementary sense that I have indicated.
The appointments commission would identify the functional constituencies, and they would propose who their members should be. There might or might not be elections within the functional constituencies, but we need not be prescriptive in that respect. The legitimacy of such a second Chamber would arise from its very representativeness. The Chamber would not be dominated by any political party, but would be independent. By definition, it would be expert—indeed, its expertise would be more contemporary than that of the present House of Lords.
§ Alan Howarth
Such a second Chamber would not presume to challenge the primacy of the democratically elected House of Commons. It would indeed be a modern reaffirmation of the ancient principle on which the House of Lords was constructed. It would be a council of the Lords spiritual and temporal, the powers of the land, advising the monarch as the executive.
237 We might even continue to call it the House of Lords.
§ Norman Lamb
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Could you remind hon. Members that if they take an intervention they can have extra time? I think that the rule is that one is allowed to take two interventions and one receives two extra minutes. That might facilitate debate.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
That is correct, but it is up to the individual Member to decide whether to allow the intervention.
§ Mr. Key
I hope that that intervention did not count against me, Madam Deputy Speaker.
I shall argue the case for a largely elected House of Lords from a different perspective. There have been representatives of the people of Salisbury in the House of Commons since 1265, although the nature of that representation has changed radically over the past 800 years. Indeed, the Wiltshire representatives summoned to Runnymede to witness Magna Carta were not elected by anybody, but they represented the people of Wiltshire nevertheless. By 1346, eight Members of Parliament represented what is now my constituency. That continued until 1834 when the county constituency of Salisbury was constituted, with one Member of Parliament.
That perspective illustrates the importance of looking forwards not backwards, because the nature of representation will change. What really matters is that the people of this country are represented and if that means extending democracy, I am all for it. Perhaps after 100 or 800 years, people will have a different view, but I shall not be here to worry about it. I have served nearly 20 years in this place and I doubt that I shall be here for another 20.
It is significant that so far no one has paid tribute to the work of the hereditary peers. My constituency may be different from others—indeed it is—but for the majority of my 20 years in this place, no fewer than five working peers from my area attended the House of Lords on a daily basis. They brought an enormous amount of wisdom on subjects from local government to agriculture and I regret their passing. No doubt the same could be said of other parts of the country.
The work of the hereditary peers deserves credit. It also underlines the fact that we need a second Chamber. About 60 per cent. of the Members should be elected, with 20 per cent. appointed and 20 per cent. ex officio. What matters is legitimacy in the eyes of the electors. That will give the second Chamber its strength.
The current system of election to the European Parliament enormously devalues democracy. I very much reject the idea of breaking the link between a Member—a person—and the people whom he represents. The current system does not make that link possible and it would be regrettable if we were to adopt that form of election.
I want to concentrate on religious representation in the second Chamber. The bishops and other religious leaders play an extremely important part in our 238 constitution. I am wholly opposed to theocracy and wholly in favour of our political parties remaining secular. I do not want to be a Christian Democrat or a Republican on United States lines, with an agenda written for me by southern Baptists, for example.
We should not underestimate the significance of the representation of the bishops and other religious leaders in the upper House. I drew up a list of my bishop's areas of expertise and daily practical experience in two counties: it included, education, employment, health, housing, heritage, defence, foreign policy, moral and ethical issues, justice, international development, finance and pensions, rural affairs, farming, the Home Office, constitutional affairs and urban deprivation. We must not write off the experience and the unique role of the bishops of the established Church. The contribution of other religious leaders in the upper House has also been dramatic, by bringing fresh thinking and giving us a fresh dimension on, for example, inner-urban problems and rejuvenation.
Part of the legitimacy of the upper House comes from the geographical dimension, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) pointed out. The regions need to have some representation on a county basis or a wider regional basis because I happen to believe that, in spite of the Government's wishes, we will not see regional government in most of the regions of England and, if we do, it will mean very little. Perhaps the north-east will be a success story, but the south-west will not even get as far as a referendum, on my reading of how things look. So the upper House can provide a regional dimension that we might otherwise lack. As we have strategic regional authorities, covering issues as diverse as planning, transport, culture and housing, we need to recognise that fact and give them a voice in the second Chamber.
Finally, in considering the future of our constitutional arrangements, we should not be frightened of change. Looking over of the 800-year history of the Members of Parliament for Salisbury, they have undoubtedly contributed in their different ways. In the dark, dingy and sleazy days of the 18th century, Old Sarum in my constituency became a byword for a rotten borough. That constituency, which had two Members of Parliament and five electors, was sold to the then Prince of Wales for £50,000, and he sold it back to the Government interest a few years later at a remarkable profit. That way of doing things seemed appropriate at the time. So I am glad to say that nothing is written in stone when it comes to how people are represented, but the time has come to move forward and the way to do so, given where we are, is to increase democratic representation in a strong second Chamber.
§ Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North)
I congratulate the Government on setting up the Joint Committee because I firmly believe that, as far as possible, we should try to seek cross-party consensus on the constitution. The greatest consensus between the parties and even between the Houses is on the supremacy of the House of Commons. I urge that the supremacy of the House of Commons should apply in deciding the proportion of elected Members of the House of Lords.
239 Given the possibility that the House of Commons will support a predominantly elected second Chamber and that the House of Lords will support a predominantly unelected one, and given the rumours, which the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) referred to in his very entertaining and cogent speech, that Downing street might favour a completely appointed Chamber, it is very important that the Executive should not use a vote in the House of Lords to undermine or dilute a vote in the House of Commons.
The supremacy of the House of Commons can be asserted in various ways, partly because of the general acceptance to which I have referred not just in both Houses of Parliament, but among the public; partly because of the historic tradition, as is chronicled in the report; and partly through statute, such as the existing Parliament Acts. However, it would not be right to assert that supremacy because of the relative illegitimacy of the other House, for two reasons. First, however illegitimate the other House, its Members might not recognise that they are illegitimate—just think of some of the arguments that the hereditary peers used to use. Secondly, the more illegitimate it is for the other House to overrule the House of Commons, the more illegitimate it is for it to interfere in any way.
What about a wholly appointed upper House? We should remember the Lord Chancellor's wise words in 1997:I think it would be very important to avoid the perception of the biggest quango in our nation's history.Some people say that the Appointments Commission is the solution to that. I am sorry, but I do not quite follow the argument that a quango ceases to be a quango if it is appointed by a super-quango, or that the problem of having an assembly of the great and the good is solved if that assembly is appointed by a committee of the very great and the very good.
It has been suggested that the committee of the very great and the very good would probably be heavily influenced by the assembly of the great and the good. That would be a recipe for a self-perpetuating oligarchy. People might say that the upper House could thus be made more representative. However one balances race, creed, gender or all the other different factors, one cannot help but believe that a House appointed by a tiny committee would be unrepresentative. It would be a clique, and it would be liable to represent an elite of the wealthy and successful in this country.
§ Mr. Peter Kilfoyle (Liverpool, Walton)
On that point, does my hon. Friend think that the so-called people's peers were a great success? Did they reflect a balanced series of appointments to the House of Lords?
§ Mr. Savidge
No, I must proceed because of time.
240 Apart from anything else, why should a small group choose the representatives of 60 million people? We have just heard that we got rid of Old Sarum, where seven people elected two MPs, and Dunwich under the sea, where 14 did.
§ Mr. Savidge
Sorry, it was seven on the date that I looked it up, but I accept the hon. Gentleman's point. I say to those whom I would dare to call the forces of conservatism: do they really want to go back not just centuries but to a different millennium?
Should the Appointments Commission appoint party appointees? If so, what right does it have to choose who represents the parties? On the other hand, can one imagine a better way to create meaningless ciphers than to allow the party leaderships to appoint and re-appoint people? The more I read through the royal commission report, the White Paper and the various other appointment proposals, the more I return to Churchill's famous dictum thatdemocracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time".—[Official Report, 11 November 1947; Vol. 444, c. 206.]What we need is election, but not the Conservatives' original proposal for a first-past-the-post system in counties, which would simply increase the landslide in landslide elections, and would disadvantage the minor parties even more. The advantages of the present system of election to the House of Commons are that it provides the constituency link and clear majorities, and it avoids giving excessive power to minority parties, which happens most notably in the Knesset. The weakness of our system is that a party can gain a very large majority on just over 40 per cent. of the vote. Usually—this was not the case in the previous Parliament—a party's popular support slumps during mid-term. Until we have fixed-term Parliaments, Prime Ministers will be able to choose a favourable time for an election, so a party can have a longstanding large majority based on the support of only about a third of the public.
To balance that, we should have a second Chamber that creates greater equity. On that point, I agree with the White Paper: party membership should aim to reflect party strengths in the country. The best way of doing that is proportional representation. I accept the point made by the hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) that a party majority would be possible under that system, but only if that party had more than 50 per cent. support in the country.
Surely expertise is best ensured by improving the Committee system and bringing in relevant expertise, especially for pre-legislative scrutiny. On length of term, I agree with the Leader of the House and the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) that 12 years seems too long. The size of the second Chamber should be reduced. If we have a reduced-size Chamber that is elected on a PR basis with large constituencies, and it is made absolutely clear that Members do not have constituency duties in our sense but legislative duties—and that they will not get the budget or the support to have constituency duties—we would not have the nightmare that was being conjured 241 up by my right hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes). The problem in the Scottish Parliament to which he referred was a result of list MSPs being treated—stupidly—as though they were super-constituency MSPs and given special assistance to interfere in constituencies. That is not necessary. The experience of the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) is an exception: most of us find that MEPs do not frequently interfere in constituency business.
§ Mr. Savidge
I am sorry, but I do not have the time.
I favour a 100 per cent. elected upper House, and one that is elected on a proportional system so that it balances the current system for the House of Commons. Its powers would be limited de jure to those that are exercised de facto by the current House of Lords. I do not believe that it would rival this House or that that would lead to constant battles with this House. I refer to the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and my right hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West (Joyce Quin). Many other elected democracies have elected second Chambers and do not face the nightmares that were conjured up by my right hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley and my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush (Mr. Soley).
Despite my preference for an upper Chamber that is 100 per cent. elected on a PR basis, I recognise that compromise may be necessary. I also recognise that, in this building, constitutional change often moves almost as slowly as the lifts.
§ 5.6 pm
§ Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East)
The most worrying thing about the debate has been the impression given by the great majority of speakers that, if we go ahead with the reform plan, great advantages will result, democracy will be strengthened and we will not face any new problems. As the majority appear to believe that, I hope that they will think about the issue and ask themselves how reform will make things any better.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), who is unfortunately no longer in his place, said that the new system will strengthen our democracy and give us more control over the Executive. However, let us consider the last two days in Parliament. Last night, we had the wonderful debate on herbal foods. There was great discussion but, even if the Conservatives had won the vote, nothing would have happened. The directive would have to apply in any event. What the blazes of a difference would an elected House of Lords make? Last Thursday, the splendid Minister for food told us all about the agreement on fishing that was reached in the European Union. About 20 Members asked him all sorts of questions and demanded more action, but we could do nothing. What difference would an elected House of Lords make?
We must also ask ourselves what is wrong with the current position. The power is here in the House of Commons and the House of Lords might ask us to 242 reconsider an issue, and its suggestions are often sensible. However, the most that it can do in extreme circumstances, if it thinks that there is a threat to freedom or liberty or something agricultural, is to say that it wants to halt a measure for a year. If we change the upper House and make it elected, how will that strengthen our democracy, particularly if its elections have taken place more recently than those to this House? It will say that it has the power that we do not have.
We have introduced many constitutional changes recently without thinking them through. Sadly, they have brought about far more problems than advantages. If we go ahead with the plan, we will simply create a costly nonsense that will further undermine our democracy, which is already dying. That can be seen from the continual reduction in the percentage of people voting in elections. For example, the turnout in the European elections was 25 per cent. and the figure of about 60 per cent. for the general election was down on the previous one. What is even more worrying is the effect on young people. I have the impression that they have switched off from democracy.
In the old days, our strength was that the people who came to this House made laws, passed the taxes and were answerable directly to the people. If the people did not like us, they could chuck us out. The people had real control. Our other strength was that, although the House of Lords did not have any power, it was a wholly independent body that could ask us to think again. Things have changed. We often fail to talk about or even understand the fact that a massive amount of power has gone from the House of Commons because of our European arrangements. We can no longer decide a huge number of things but, instead of facing up to the issue perhaps by reducing the number of Members of Parliament, we have set up whole new armies of politicians and the people are not sure who is responsible for what.
Hon. Members should ask themselves what their constituents would do if some members of the Government got their way and we had Euro MPs who were elected one way or another, and one never knew exactly who belonged to what party. In addition, our constituents will have MPs, an elected House of Lords answerable in some way to their area, people who are elected to regional governments and councillors. If we create the nonsense of a massive democracy, with all kinds of governance, there will be less and less power to share around.
We also have to ask about the cost. Surely we are all aware that although we do not have elected assemblies in England, we have regional government and it is costing a fortune. We know that an elected House of Lords will cost a fortune, and it will be a total disaster. [Interruption.] Someone seems to disagree. Surely not.
§ Mr. Bryant
Many hon. Members would disagree with everything the hon. Gentleman says. However, on the specific contention that an elected second Chamber would cost an inordinate amount, surely that depends on the number of Members, how much they are paid and how they are resourced. That is not written in stone.
§ Sir Teddy Taylor
I accept that, but what good will come from the reform? What damage are we doing to 243 the House of Commons? If the hon. Gentleman is a real democrat, he should be worried that the views of his constituents do not have the slightest effect on most of the decisions that we used to make. He knows that is a fact because of the European factor. [Interruption.] It is not funny but desperately serious. If we think about the amount of money that is spent on destroying food and all the crazy things demanded by Europe, we should be worried, but of course what we think does not matter.
What is the problem with the House of Lords at the moment? It is a strength to the House of Commons. Although it considers our issues, it does not have the overall power to interfere. If we go ahead with the mad plan of creating a 60 per cent. elected House of Lords, we will create a body that is a threat to the House of Commons. If it is elected more recently than us, it will claim to have greater authority and that will be a nonsense for our democracy.
We should all say that our basic duty is to defend our democracy. When we find people switching off from politics and not having the slightest interest in elections and the rest of it, we should ask what is going wrong. More elections and more highly paid elected people, allegedly representing constituents and trying to make decisions on things over which they have no control, will further undermine democracy. How can those hon. Members who want the new House of Lords say that it is democracy if three out of four people do not bother to vote? How can it be democracy if the same thing happens with elected regional councils? Is it a triumph for democracy if only one in five people bother to vote in elections for the House of Lords?
The worst thing of all is the creeping nonsense in the report. Instead of proper direct elections, we will have party lists. Rather than independent people coming to Parliament, we will get people whose sole task is to please their party leaders so that they get up to No. 1 or 2 on the list. Slowly but surely, we are destroying our democracy, freedom and liberty, and undermining what people have fought for many years to achieve. If we go ahead with the nonsense proposals for the House of Lords, we will make things worse, not better, and less representative. We will spend even more money on a democratic system, the powers of which are fading away.
§ Mr. Calum MacDonald (Western Isles)
Much of the debate has focused on the basic question of the role and function of the upper Chamber. That is an appropriate starting point. Indeed, the Joint Committee report began at the same place. If we want the Lords to be a powerful upper House along the lines of the American constitution cited by the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), sharing responsibility for determining and initiating legislation, or helping to decide and control the Government of the day, without doubt it should be directly elected. Only elected and mandated representatives of the people should determine questions of government and legislation.
However, it is not at all clear that a majority of Members want the upper House to have that role. The right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) 244 made it clear that his motive for wanting direct elections was to bring about a more powerful upper House that was better able to challenge the Commons. If all the Members of an upper House, or a majority of them, were directly elected, his prediction about the future relationship between the two Houses would prove much more accurate. Some of my hon. Friends and, indeed, the Leader of the House made the point that, in many bicameral systems, the powers of the two chambers are relatively stable. The situation here is very different for two reasons. Most bicameral systems operate within the context of a written constitution that sets out clearly the chambers' respective powers. We have no such constitution—the powers of our Chambers have evolved over time and will evolve further if there is a directly elected upper House.
The other big difference is that, in almost every other bicameral system, the same principle of election applies to both chambers. Almost always, both are elected through a proportional system of representation. Here, there will be a unique situation in which the Chamber will continue to use a first-past-the-post system of election and the new Chamber will inevitably use a proportional system of election. The Conservatives are deluding themselves if they think that there will be anything other than a proportional system. Such a contrast or conflict would inevitably mean that, in five, 10 or 15 years, either the Commons would have to adopt a proportional system, which I personally favour, or the Lords would assert itself as the true representative voice of the people. Instability is inevitable if we go down the route of a directly elected second Chamber.
To return to the role and function of the upper House, the majority view is that it should remain, as the Joint Committee said, strictly limited. That role is important, but it should remain limited. The upper House is engaged in the necessary but secondary task of scrutinising and revising legislation. In effect, it is an enormous and rather grand scrutiny committee—it is like an audit commission examining legislation passed by Parliament. We should be clear about the role of the upper Chamber because selecting people to perform a scrutiny or audit role is very different from selecting people to produce legislation, or determine public policy and the shape of a Government.
The Joint Committee was therefore right to stress in its report the importance of three key attributes if an effective upper Chamber is to hold the Commons and Executive to account. The first attribute is an independent viewpoint; the second, expertise; and the third, legitimacy. Those three qualities are essential in an effective scrutinising and auditing upper Chamber. I have heard no one argue in favour of direct elections on the ground that that would make Members of the upper House more independent-minded and therefore better able to scrutinise the Commons. On the contrary, the new directly elected Members of Parliament at the other end of the Corridor will be exactly the same as the existing directly elected Members of Parliament here in the lower House, as they will be party loyalists for the most part. They will have a great natural reluctance to act against the party Whip and will depend on party authorities for their present and future political careers. Likewise, nobody has yet argued in favour of directly electing Members to the upper House on the grounds 245 that they will provide a perspective, range of experiences or expertise that is different from those already provided by directly elected Members in this Chamber.
§ Mr. Forth
Is it not perfectly possible that, if the elected Members of an upper House had completely different constituencies and terms of election and a different electoral cycle, and if there were no Ministers in the upper House, so that they did not have to worry about careers or Whips, the result that the hon. Gentleman doubts will occur could be achieved?
§ Mr. MacDonald
I do not accept that view. Such Members would be no more independent than directly elected Members of this place, and no different in type. Extending terms or introducing different constituencies or even electoral principles would not change the type of person who got into the Chamber next door.
Neither the independent scrutiny of legislation nor the breadth, quality and diversity of public debate would be enhanced by establishing what would be a replica Chamber of "Mini-Mes" at the other end of the Corridor. There is only one serious argument for creating a new army of directly elected Members of Parliament: the accepted need to give the upper House the appearance and substance of democratic legitimacy. That important point was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Tony Wright), but direct election is not the only way of bestowing democratic legitimacy. The right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe spoke about the over-mighty Executive, and if direct elections were the only way of achieving accountability and legitimacy, there would be arguments for establishing a directly elected political Executive such as that which exists in many other countries.
Quangos were also mentioned. Most quangos have more power and more money to spend than the upper House, but there is no clamour for directly electing them. There is no such demand because people accept that the democratic legitimacy of quangos and the Executive derives from their accountability to this directly elected House of Commons.
There is no reason why the relationship between the upper Chamber and the House of Commons cannot be built around the same principle. That could be achieved in a variety of ways, some of which have already been mentioned. My hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase mentioned the Bryce commission of 1918, which proposed a system of indirect elections in which the House of Commons would be involved. Such elections might be conducted on a regional basis, or there could be a system of genuinely independent appointments or a mix of those methods. I hope that there would also be a role for the assemblies and Parliaments in the different regions and nations of the UK, but whatever the final mix, the fact that the composition of the upper House would be decided and monitored by this House would be sufficient to achieve the democratic legitimacy that it rightly wants to see there.
On the question of whether there should be a compromise in which 20 per cent. or 40 per cent. of Members are elected, I share a view that has already been expressed: asking people to turn out and vote to elect 20 or 40 per cent. of a Chamber that is essentially limited in power is ludicrous. No rational voter would engage with such a system.
246 In conclusion, I believe that the solution lies in a system of indirect election or genuinely independent appointment that is accountable to the House of Commons. It would have democratic legitimacy and would, above all, maintain the expert, independent, authoritative and different voice that we want in an effective upper Chamber.
§ Mr. John Maples (Stratford-on-Avon)
I share many of the misgivings that the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. MacDonald) expressed about an elected second Chamber, which I oppose. We have heard many interesting speeches, but almost all have a ring of familiarity. Nearly all were made in the previous debate on the House of Lords and they will doubtless be made again. I fear that my speech is about to fall into that category. Whatever the achievements of the Joint Committee that the right hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) chaired, it does not appear to have changed anybody's mind. The Committee members who spoke in the debate and were so anxious to hear the House's views on their proposals have not hung around to listen to them.
§ Mr. Maples
I exempt the right hon. Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West (Joyce Quin). I thought up the line when she was absent from the Chamber and I could not resist using it.
I believed that I was in a small and rather beleaguered minority in opposing an elected House of Lords, which reflects the zeitgeist, but I took comfort today from an article in The Times. It reported that the Prime Minister was joining my side—or, at least, that I was about to be on his side. I shall put renewed effort into the cause because the Prime Minister's presidential style of government has given a new meaning to the phrase, "one man, one vote". If he casts it in the way in which The Times reports, our cause is won. Indeed, he will not need me to help him on his way.
An elected House of Lords is a bad idea because it will challenge the authority of the House of Commons. That is inevitable. It already has considerable powers that it does not exercise, for example, to delay Government business and oppose business in the governing party's manifesto. If it is elected, there is no reason to abide by self-restraining conventions. It is highly unlikely that a group of 300, 400 or 500 elected politicians will issue the self-denying ordinance of not becoming interested in subjects above their station about which they are supposed to show no curiosity.
On some occasions, the democratic legitimacy of an elected House of Lords could he greater than ours, for example, at the fag-end of an unpopular Government who were about to lose the next election and used their dying days to ram through an unpopular measure. The House of Lords might be right to oppose it; it might have the public on its side and be more representative of views outside. That clash would come—in a month, a year or 800 years. I suspect that it would happen before 800 years had passed.
§ Mr. Maples
I want to finish the point. My right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) 247 rightly said that unless we accept that an elected House of Lords will be stronger and more assertive, we should not embark on that course. Sooner or later, the Government in the House of Commons would have to negotiate with an elected second Chamber to get its business through.
§ Mr. Maples
Not for long, because of the Parliament Acts and the self-denying ordinances.
We must ask a few more questions. What sort of people would be elected to the second Chamber? They would comprise those who cannot get into the House of Commons. The intelligence and ability hurdle for entering the House of Commons is not of Olympic proportions. The people who cannot even surmount that hurdle—those who cannot get selected or elected—will run for the second Chamber.
We must also consider who would vote for the second Chamber. The council tax in my county of Warwickshire is on average £1,000 a year and one third of the electorate bothers to vote in county council elections. The county council has genuine power: it runs the education system and social services. A second Chamber will hold little interest for electors, especially if elections are conducted on the basis of proportional representation. The numbers that turn out to vote will resemble those for parish council elections.
We must also consider the sort of people who will be elected. Under a system of proportional representation, we will get a bunch of party politicians. A party list is guaranteed to weed out independents and mavericks. The few independents and mavericks in this place get in by slipping through the net. However, they will not slip through the net of a party list, which will be full of professional party hacks who are not good enough to get in here.
Those elected will get ideas above their station. They will want secretaries, researchers, salaries and office costs allowances. Soon they will want a pleasant building with an atrium and rented trees suitable to their status. They will then, heaven forbid, begin to clutter up the Pugin Room, where they will give their constituents tea. We will not be able to get in there. [HoN. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] That is the clincher.
The Joint Committee set five criteria: legitimacy, being representative, no dominance by one party, independence and expertise. They are mutually incompatible. How can a party list provide independence and expertise? It might grant legitimacy, however, and mean that the elected person is representative. At present, we have a good deal of independence and expertise in the House of Lords, and, I agree, precious little legitimacy or representativeness, but we are living in cloud cuckoo land if we think that we are going to get all five by some magic formula. We will not get that; we will have to settle for one system or the other.
We cannot have a part-elected House. It must be either elected or not. We could leave it roughly the way it is, although I would take out the remaining hereditary peers and detach it from titles. I do not care what we 248 call it; it could be called the House of Lords or not. I certainly have enough of the moderniser in me to see that there is absolutely no legitimacy in hereditary voting rights in Parliament. If, however, the House of Lords is to have limited powers, as is proposed, nominations are the way to go. I hate the idea of an appointments commission. The idea that we are reforming the second Chamber by taking away hereditary voting rights and putting the rights of nomination into some super-quango of the super-good and great is anathema to me.
I would like the Prime Minister to have that right, because he is accountable to this House and to the public. Traditionally, there has been a kind of self-denying ordinance on the exercise of that power, too, in that many in the House of Lords are people of genuine distinction, and the Opposition parties get a few people in there as well. I want this power to be out in the open where we can see it being exercised. No Prime Minister is here for ever, and one of the ways in which they destroy their reputation is by abusing their ability to put people into the House of Lords. Two or three of them have done this. I am not saying that the present Prime Minister will fall into that trap, although he has appointed some pretty odd people, but we need to see that power out in the open. I find it absolutely inconceivable that we should accept the idea of some quango with a couple of retired permanent secretaries, a diplomat, the master of a university college and the senior partner of McKinsey and Company, for example, deciding who will have the right to vote on legislation. I would rather have someone who was democratically accountable to this House, namely the Prime Minister, making that decision.
If, as I suspect will happen, the Prime Minister and I lose this argument—or, if not the argument, at least the vote—and end up with an elected second Chamber, I would like to make a suggestion. If we want to make it really different, let us have no Ministers in there. Let us make a rule that there should be no Ministers and no party patronage. There would then be a really good chance of the upper House behaving more like one of the American Houses of Congress and being a genuine check on the Government. It would be a genuine House of Parliament that could scrutinise the Government and whose Members would not be worried about their careers or what the Whips might tell them to do. That would provide something different. It would be my second choice, but it would almost be worth paying that price.
I say to those hon. Members who are in favour of a second House: do not elect a pale imitation of this one, with people who are half as good, who are hacks, elected on some party list, while getting rid of all the independents, the mavericks and the people who really know about things. Let us at least create a House that will scrutinise the Government.
To return to my main point, I am happy to remove the hereditary peers, but, apart from that, I would like to see the House remain pretty much as it is, with pretty much the same powers as it has now. A change to an elected House will lead to a demand for greater powers, but if we want to keep it as a revising Chamber we should do so. I do not know who first said that to every great problem in politics there was an answer that was simple, obvious and wrong, but this is a case of that.
§ Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge)
There seems to be a preconception among some hon. Members that elections confer legitimacy whereas appointments do not. I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples), because I hope to show that an appointment system can satisfy all the five points relating to desirable qualities described in the report, while elections would not. I shall remind the House of those five qualities: legitimacy; representativeness; no domination by any one party; independence; and expertise. To those, I would add a sixth, which I was surprised to find missing from a report that seems to have been dominated by Members wanting an elected House: accountability. That is not on the list, but I would add it to the qualities needed in the system that I propose, because it is an essential element.
I am not going to be told that I am somehow not a democrat because I oppose elections. As has been pointed out in this debate, we are not a 100 per cent. pure democracy in the United Kingdom. In fact, we believe that democracy is so important that we should not dilute or devalue it by applying it to every aspect of public life. It is reserved for decision-making bodies such as local government, the devolved Assemblies and the House of Commons. They are the democratic institutions. In my view, a second Chamber of Parliament should not be put into that category. As has been said, people would be reluctant to come out and vote for such a Chamber if they were not electing a Government, so we would have all the problems of low turnout and dissatisfaction that apply to other institutions now.
I should explain why I oppose elections, because I count myself as a democrat. Elections for a wholly elected second House would inevitably be fought along political lines, whatever electoral system we might invent for it, and it would therefore divide along political lines. In other words, we would be creating another House of Commons. Much loved though this institution is out there, I see no great demand among the electorate for the creation of another House of Commons.
§ Fiona Mactaggart (Slough)
Does my hon. Friend accept that the present House of Lords—largely appointed, admittedly, by means of a system for which no one here has argued—divides on political lines? Does he not believe that any future appointed House would find itself doing broadly the same?
§ Mr. Clelland
Not always. My hon. Friend should have let me finish: I am going to suggest a system for appointments that may prove attractive to Members who favour election but who are not too blinkered.
we are faced with the possibility of another set of elections to fight and finance. I find no great appetite in the political parties, or indeed in the electorate, for either prospect. We are faced with the possibility of yet another tier of national politicians representing the same people in the same Parliament—MPs who will have fought on the basis of a manifesto and who 250 will have a mandate. Regardless of any attempts to gerrymander the elections, they will have a mandate and they will have constituents to look after.
§ Mr. Bryant
How does my hon. Friend deal with the fact that the Labour party manifesto committed us to a more democratic and representative House of Lords?
§ Mr. Clelland
I hope that, if I am given an opportunity to do so, I will demonstrate that that is what we will have.
With an electoral system, the interests of party politics would undoubtedly dominate in the second Chamber. Frustrating and defeating the Government would take priority over scrutiny and good, considered advice. Such a system would be a recipe for parliamentary gridlock—as other bicameral arrangements around the world have shown—and for bad government. Moreover, as has been said, there is the issue of office costs, allowances, secretaries, salaries and so forth.
Members should also bear it in mind that, out there in the constituencies, two or more MPs may represent the same electors—MPs in the same Parliament too busy scoring points off each other to look to the needs of their constituents. That will apply particularly when elections are approaching, on both sides. We can imagine an Opposition Member using this place to try to embarrass opponents.
What of the five qualities in relation to for elections? Elections cannot guarantee no domination by any one political party. They cannot guarantee independence or expertise. In my view, a partly elected second Chamber would be even worse: it would have all the disadvantages of an elected Chamber, which I have just mentioned, while creating two classes of Member. We can imagine the cries of "Foul!" when elected Members are outvoted by unelected Members. It would be only a matter of time before there was a demand for a wholly elected Chamber, if indeed a majority were elected in the first place. That would, I think, become irresistible.
What, then, do I propose? I want the same as the Members who want elections. I want an end to the hereditary system, and an end to a Chamber dominated by patronage. I want all five of the desirable qualities, plus accountability, in the second Chamber. So why am I going to vote for an appointed second Chamber?
Let me make it clear to the Joint Committee that in voting for that I will not be voting for the status quo. In fact, I am disappointed that the Committee showed so little imagination in considering methods of appointment. I am also sorry that indirect elections did not figure in the final recommendations, although they were mentioned in the report.
I must emphasise that, in promoting and voting for a fully appointed Chamber, I will not be supporting the methods of appointment suggested in the report. I want a wider structure for the appointing bodies. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Savidge) should have given way to me earlier, for I would have agreed with him. The idea of an appointments commission has been tried and found wanting: all that we got were people like the commission's members. That suggests that, given such a commission, the composition of the second Chamber would be in the hands of those who appointed it. We would have patronage by the back door.
251 The problem, as I see it, is that we started from the wrong place. We should have decided long ago what we wanted the second Chamber to be for. We should have decided what it should do before deciding who would sit there and how they would get there. The Joint Committee went some way towards dealing with that question, but it needs more consideration.
I agree with those Members who say that if the second Chamber is to become more embroiled in the legislative process it should be elected, but if it were to do that it would just become a duplicate of the House of Commons. What would be the point of that? Members may as well vote for abolition rather than creating another House of Commons.
There is a role for a properly constituted second Chamber, not as a check on the Executive, as has been suggested—that is the job of the Opposition and Back Benchers in this place—or as a duplicate of the House of Commons, but as an advisory, deliberative and scrutinising Chamber where debates on matters of national importance can be held in full public view, informing and educating. There would still be a role for the second Chamber in the legislative process but not directly. It could suggest amendments, as it does now, but we would not be obliged to consider them. Members in this House would pick them up and move them in this Chamber. We would get far less of what we get at the moment, which is a lot of political posturing and trying to upset the Government's programme. We would get meaningful, helpful amendments that commanded much more respect in the House of Commons.
To achieve that, we must have Members who command respect and are generally recognised as having expertise and experience. How can we assemble those experienced, knowledgeable, respected individuals, independent yet at the same time representative? It can be achieved by widening the responsibility for making appointments, by calling for representatives from bodies such as the Confederation of British Industry, the Trades Union Congress, religious and voluntary organisations, devolved Assemblies, local government and political parties, too—they are an important part of the national system.
The representatives would have a fixed term of office, following which they would either be replaced or reappointed, one third at a time. That would produce a Chamber that had legitimacy and representativeness. It would not be dominated by any political party. It would have independence and expertise. Its Members would be accountable to the appointing body that sent them there. It would be different from the House of Commons, a second Chamber preserving the primacy of the elected Commons but commanding respect in the country and among Members of Parliament.
Such a process of appointment has important advantages, as has been pointed out. Appointing bodies can be required to ensure proper representation of women and ethnic minorities, something that elections have failed to do and will continue to fail to do.
§ Mr. Clelland
I do not have time.
We can be assured that the appointing bodies will wish to ensure that representatives are knowledgeable, 252 able and can articulate their interests in the second Chamber. That will ensure that it is an effective and useful tool in our democracy. It need not be entirely divorced from the electoral process. Appointing bodies such as the devolved Assemblies may want to appoint representatives by way of indirect elections. In that sense, indirect elections could be introduced into the system.
Once the Government have tabled the motion to deal with the issue, which they have not done yet, it may be possible to table amendments to give clearer guidance to the Joint Committee on alternatives such as those that I have described. If not, I appeal to colleagues on both sides to vote for an appointed House, but on the clear premise that the Joint Committee must examine the contents of the debates, not just the results of the votes, and come up with a more imaginative and diverse system of appointments than is currently the case or is on offer in the report before us.
§ Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion)
I apologise to hon. Members, especially those on the Front Benches, for having missed some of the debate. I have been on Committee duty scrutinising the Government without much effect on the Communications Bill. That is relevant to what we are discussing.
It has been dispiriting and disheartening to listen to much of the debate. It was disappointing to hear so many Members advocate an appointments system of which Caligula would have been proud, and turn their backs on a truly democratic opportunity to reform the bicameral system of Parliament.
Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National party are firmly committed to the view that democracy must pervade any representation in this Chamber or the other place, so both parties have turned down opportunities to nominate while the present Gilbert and Sullivan farce continues in the House of Lords. We hold firmly to the principle that all Members of the second Chamber must sit as the result of an electoral process. If one is a democrat, one cannot believe anything else. We sit in this House as the result of an electoral process. Our legitimacy and accountability would be washed away if there were any suggestion of appointment from above by the great and good or of this place serving as a retirement home for people from the TUC or public bodies. That is a sure-fire way of creating a poor second Chamber for review and scrutiny.
We are not debating a bicameral system but a multi-cameral system—with the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly, Northern Ireland Assembly and Greater London Assembly and with regional government for England yet to be introduced. All those chambers provide some scrutiny and, in some cases, legislation.
In reforming the House of Lords, we must address a multi-cameral, semi-federal system. Plaid Cymru wants the abolition of the other place and its replacement by a very different second Chamber. The Scottish National party does not even see the need for a second Chamber in Westminster because the Scottish Parliament fills that important role. The present state of devolution in the Welsh context means that much legislation is still rushed through this House—such as with changes to the criminal justice system and terrorism legislation.
253 A second Chamber can play an important role but it should not be based on heritage, patronage or any type of appointments system. A totally different second Chamber is needed, based firmly on election.
I was disappointed with the Joint Committee's report because the second Chamber cannot be divorced from its make-up, from which flows its legitimacy. At present, the other place provides a convenient excuse for the Government, who can claim that legislation such as the Bill on blood sports has become stuck in the House of Lords, even when that is not true. Ultimately, Government business always gets through. Cronies can be whipped in and independent Cross Benchers can be picked off at will. It is a political urban myth that the other place shows great independence of mind. There are great independents in the House of Lords but on the whole, until recently, its history was one of entrenched conservatism married to the occasional flash of reform.
I agree with the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), that any reformed second Chamber needs teeth to hurt, if not disable, the Executive. That means rejecting one of the Joint Committee's key principles—that the second Chamber must be constructed in such a way that it never has a Government majority. If we accept the principle of election, the Government would occasionally enjoy a majority in the second Chamber but that would be rare.
§ Mr. McCabe
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that an elected second Chamber should have the right to overturn legislation passed by the Welsh Assembly?
§ Mr. Thomas
Unfortunately, with its present make-up the Welsh Assembly does not have the power to initiate primary legislation so that situation could not arise.
It follows that, on occasion, any party could have a majority in the second Chamber—that could be the party of government or of opposition. The second Chamber should have much the same powers as now but entrenched more in a closer approach to a written constitution—in effect, a new Parliament Act. It should be able to initiate or amend legislation and to veto secondary instruments. It should also have the right to debate all matters relating to public life in the United Kingdom.
In that context, all those things are subject to the primacy of the House of Commons, and we would need a new Parliament Act to sketch that out. Of course, the Commons would also need to retain complete control over Finance Bills, but more important than delivering some form of in-built non-majority for the Government or the Opposition is the principle of divorcing the second Chamber completely from the Executive and the judiciary. No Member of the reformed second Chamber should be a member of the Government. Elections to a second Chamber should be for a period longer than that for elections to this House—perhaps for a period of two Parliaments—and they should not be constituency-based. Members of a second Chamber do not have a constituency role in this regard. Rather, we should take the opportunity to introduce regional proportional representation and look to what has happened in Scotland and Wales, where PR has changed the nature of the Chambers, particularly by introducing younger people and many more women.
254 Despite some of the comments made during this debate, such a system would attract independents and prominent individuals to stand for election to a reformed second Chamber. As the experience of city mayors in England shows, it is not always the case that such reforms lead to the Labour party's, or any other party's, getting its candidate in place. We have seen that in London, Gateshead and all over the place in England. The second Chamber will have its element of strong independence.
§ Mr. Thomas
I accept that correction, but it was certainly true of other places in the north-east.
It follows that the second Chamber should be much smaller—certainly no more than 200 Members—and that its Members should be remunerated for their work in scrutinising legislation and the Executive, but not for constituency work. Constituents are well provided for by MPs, Assembly Members, Members of the Scottish Parliament, and—perhaps increasingly—regional assembly members.
§ Mr. Clelland
The hon. Gentleman suggests that Members should be elected. Presumably, people will elect them, and people are constituents. We cannot avoid that link. If we are to avoid the link between people and election, where is the democracy?
§ Mr. Thomas
The hon. Gentleman has to realise that what I am advocating is a regional PR list involving large regions, in which it would be very difficult to deliver such constituency business. We could employ the same convention that exists in this House, whereby a constituent with a problem is simply referred to the Member of Parliament for that constituency. That is what happens informally in the relationship between MPs and AMs, and it could well be done in the new reformed second Chamber. Of course, the final part of the reform is the establishment of a supreme court. We cannot allow Law Lords to remain within that second Chamber.
A completely elected second Chamber is the most democratic option, but I must admit that the principle that all Members should be elected allows some flexibility. It is possible to conceive of the indirect elections to which reference was made, and perhaps the National Assembly or the Scottish Parliament could have a small role—certainly no more than 20 per cent.—in an elected second Chamber. However, I prefer a completely elected second Chamber. Patronage and nomination by political parties is totally unacceptable in the 21st century, as we try to establish a reasonable level of scrutiny of the Executive's performance.
The final element is ending automatic membership of the Lords for Church of England bishops. They should not be barred from standing for election—I should love to see bishops stand for election—but they should not be Members by right.
§ Mr. Thomas
Indeed. All faith communities should be able to stand for election to a reformed second Chamber. Of course, the Church in Wales has been disestablished for more than three quarters of a century.
255 Such reform would provide a new and very different model from the House of Lords. It is true that it would cost more, but that is the cost of democracy. I understand that the House of Lords has a nice throne and lots of gold; I am sure that we can find somebody to sell that off, which would create a little income stream to provide for the initial establishment costs of a more democratic House of Lords.
We would also need to change the name. This is the House of Commons, and "Commons" means communes or communities. We are indeed "the House of Communities", and I hope that the second Chamber will become either "the Senate", or "the House of the Nations and Regions of the United Kingdom."
§ Fiona Mactaggart (Slough)
I feel a heavy responsibility in this debate: I am one of many Labour Members who support a more democratic second Chamber, but one of the few of them who have been called to make the case. I hope that some of my colleagues who share my view will have a chance to contribute to the debate. Down at the other end of the Palace, peers will read the report of our proceedings. They will not know how many Members who would have argued for democracy had they had the opportunity to do so.
It is important that we grab the opportunity to deliver a democratic reform of the second Chamber, not just because it is in the Labour party's manifesto, but because it goes to our sense of ourselves as a nation. For me, the key issue of principle is who chooses our legislature. I do not see democracy as a kind of bolt-on mechanism for delivering good government. It is a value that should inhere in our Government. Strengthening the democratic institutions of governance is a critical part of the process of expressing our values in practice.
When we vote on the options before us, I will not simply vote for my favourite option. I believe that it is incumbent on us to grab the opportunity to find a solution, so I will vote for all the options, however flawed, that offer a substantial element of election in the second Chamber. I am determined that we should not repeat the mistake that has been made so many times before, and lose the opportunity for reform because the perfect reform is not available.
Some have questioned whether the people share our commitment to democracy in this era of declining turnouts. Let me state explicitly that they do. Surveys of political opinion demonstrate a massive interest in politics, particularly following 11 September 2001. Where elections are hard fought, engage people in issues and make it easy to participate, that engagement is reflected in participation. Every time people are asked whether they want to elect the second Chamber, they say they do, in huge majorities—73 per cent. in the YouGov poll today, and 84 per cent. in earlier polls. Even when they were asked by Lord Norton of Louth whether they would prefer an expert on a particular subject to decide on a specific piece of legislation, or an elected Member, people said that they would prefer elected Members.
256 It is clear that that is what the people of Britain prefer. If we do not make sure that they remain in the driving seat for both Chambers, they will feel that their right to decide who runs the country has been rejected. We will confirm their growing suspicion of the political class.
§ Mr. Clelland
Does my hon. Friend recognise that the outcome of polls depends on the question that is asked? How does she imagine people would react if they were asked whether they wanted a Chamber full of experienced, knowledgeable people, or a Chamber full of MPs? What does she think the result would be then?
§ Fiona Mactaggart
That is almost exactly what Lord Norton of Louth asked. He asked in his question, which got the smallest majority in favour of elections, "What do you prefer—a specific expert or an elected person?" and people preferred the elected person. At every opportunity to ask people, they have made it clear that they want election.
There is a myth growing that the Lords are automatically better at scrutiny of legislation. I do not agree. The failures of this House at that function arise not from the fact that we are elected but from our working practices and Standing Orders. I confidently predict that the growth of pre-legislative scrutiny introduced by the present Leader of the House and the other changes that we are making through modernisation will hugely increase the rigour of scrutiny in the Commons.
I am grateful to the Lords for the way in which they pick over the detail of Bills. Some of the changes that they have made to Bills since I have been in the Commons have been changes for which I argued in the Chamber, but too often age and tradition have led the Lords to prevent reforms which are popular, such as the fox hunting ban, or which would end injustice, such as their failure to support the abolition of clause 28.
In the debate taking place today and tomorrow, claims will be made that we fail to scrutinise in this House because of the power of the Whips. But what power do Whips have? They do not have the power of hiring and firing. That is in the hands of our constituents. They have influence over promotion and opportunities to join Committees or study tours. However, such patronage is what underpins the whole existence of the House of Lords; it is at the heart of that place. I do not accept the assurances of some that if we find different methods of appointment, the super-quango route, they will be completely free of it. The opportunity for appointment to the Lords at present is used as just another goody by the Whips. I think that it would still be used even if there were an independent appointments commission.
If amending legislation were just a technical role requiring expertise, the people could choose to elect experts to do it. The power is not technical, and should lie with them.
There are many other things to commend in the Joint Committee report. Like every report on this subject, it concluded that the Commons, with its current mandate and its role in providing the Government, must be pre-eminent. That is one of the reasons—that we provide the Government—why we do not risk the deadlock that troubles other legislatures. But I cannot accept the view 257 put forward earlier today by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush (Mr. Soley) that somehow appointed members are automatically more expert advocates of the liberties of the people. If we look at those bicameral systems that have appointed second Chambers, do we believe that their citizens' human rights and civil liberties are better defended? Let me go through the list: Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Bahrain, Belize, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Burundi—I have not even got past the Bs. The point is simply made by the list.
Before I conclude, let me share my concern about the size that the Committee report suggests for the second Chamber. I think that 600 is extreme. Other hon. Members have compared it to chambers such as the Chinese legislative assembly, the only one that will be bigger. It is striking that the next largest second chamber is almost exactly half the size proposed—that of Spain, with 324 members. The vast majority of second chambers have around a hundred, or maybe slightly more. We should not make the mistake of having a huge second Chamber. There is an argument for having a large Commons. When we have constituency elections, and that constituency link, our electors can grab us, as they do me in Tesco's in Slough and say "And another thing, Fiona, why haven't you sorted out this?" That is one of the powerful—
§ Fiona Mactaggart
Indeed, it does. I hope that at the end of our deliberations the Joint Committee will go back to that question. If we get rid of the embarrassment of an inherited element in the second Chamber, I do not want us to have the embarrassment of an over-huge second Chamber.
I hope that the House of Lords will ensure that the views of the Commons are respected in its vote. I do not think that the debate has been wholly reflective of those views. It is disappointing that so many of the minority of the Commons who do not support elections have been called to speak, because it is inevitable—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)
Order. The hon. Lady has now made that point twice. I remind her that if she wishes to criticise the selection of the Chair she must do so on a substantive motion.
§ Fiona Mactaggart
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for reminding me of the proper procedure. I will follow it in future.
Inevitably, the decision of the members of the House of Lords will be affected not only by their belief of what is best for the governance of Britain, but by the effect upon their lives. What decision we make about the future of the second Chamber will hugely affect the lives and working conditions of the people who are in it now, not just people for whom election was fine when they were in this place, and who suddenly found that it was not quite what they liked as they went down the 258 Corridor, but also other people who argued compellingly for elections before they themselves were appointed to the House of Lords. Lord Lipsey used to be a clear advocate of such elections, and is an example of someone whose views have been changed by experience. I urge people to listen to the view expressed by the majority in this House.
At the beginning of my speech, I said that I intended to avoid making the quest for the perfect solution the enemy of the good solution. I have a perfect solution for the composition of this Parliament's second Chamber, but I have not put it forward, as we need a solution around which we can unite. The process that is under way gives us an opportunity to make that happen. All of us will have to make sacrifices, but we can make progress towards a modern democratic state in which the power is in the hands of the people. If we miss this opportunity, we may not have another for the next 100 years.
§ 6.5 pm
§ Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough)
I apologise to the House for missing the early part of the debate. The point that I want to make has hardly been made this afternoon, although it has been alluded to by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), the shadow Leader of the House, and by my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples).
We are losing sight of an essential problem with our legislature. We should not spend so much time arguing about the mix between elected and appointed Members in the other place. We should direct our attention to the quality of those Members, and their ability and wish to hold the Executive to account.
The problem with our House of Commons is that too many hon. Members want to become Ministers. It was said that every private in Napoleon's army had a field marshal's baton in his knapsack. In the same way, every young Member of Parliament coming to the House believes that he has a ministerial red box in his knapsack.
§ Mr. Leigh
My hon. Friend says that I did. That is true of many of us, although we may deny that ambition. The point was put charmingly by Mr. Speaker when he was bidding for his present post. He said that he had never become a Minister, but also that no one had ever asked him to. Many of us share the genuine and proper ambition of playing a part in governing the country, but what does that mean for Parliament? The Executive is drawn from the legislature, and that means that it has overwhelming power when it comes to getting its will through the House.
How often do hon. Members seriously test the Executive? We have wonderful debates on occasions like this, and free votes on hunting and other matters, but how many first-class debates are there on substantive issues, with Government policy at stake? How often are substantial numbers of hon. Members prepared to rebel against their parties? It is very rare, as too many of us are former or would-be Ministers.
When we consider the composition of the other place, we should not concern ourselves only with the mix. I am a Fabian gradualist in this matter. The consensus seems 259 to be that we should get rid of the hereditary peers. I am a traditionalist and therefore regret that, but that appears to be the settled will of this House. I am prepared to have an elected element in the other place, but the problems with that solution have been set out.
For example, who will comprise the elected element? I believe that it will be made up of people who cannot get into this House. People will probably be elected on a closed list of proportional representation. That appears to be the Executive's favoured way to proceed. There are many devices—lengthy terms of election, or different forms of election—by which we can try to prevent them being party hacks. I support all those options, but the fundamental problem remains. It is that the people who go into the other place will be young 30-somethings or 40-somethings. The other place will have a Whips' Office, and those people will be ambitious to become Ministers.
A model exists for the second Chamber—the American model. That may not be popular with the House. Colleagues seem to reject any argument based on what the founding fathers tried to achieve in the 18th century. Should we spurn the model of the US Senate? Members there are elected for six years, and cannot be part of the Executive. They therefore have genuine independence, which we do not have in this place. It is inevitable that we shall move to some form of election for the upper Chamber, but I echo the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon. Please, let us not replicate what we have here; we must not create a new cadre of young, ambitious politicians. We must try to ensure that there are independent men and women in the second Chamber.
§ Mr. Forth
May I remind my hon. Friend and the House of the words of James Madison, one of the founding fathers? He said that the idea of the upper House wasto protect the people against their rulersand thetransient impressions into which they themselves might be led".Surely, that makes the argument as well as anyone could.
§ Mr. Leigh
Yes, especially when it is expressed in the fine and eloquent English spoken by so many of the American founding fathers in their debates.
Members of the upper House may be elected, but let us make them genuinely independent. I agree that it is useful for the Executive to be able to appoint technocrats as Ministers in the other place. Sometimes, there is a shortage of people who are capable of holding the position of Attorney-General and suitable people can be drawn in from the legal profession and placed in the House of Lords and made Ministers. I am happy with that arrangement.
However, perhaps the elected element of the upper House should be told that they cannot become Ministers—although I realise that the Government will not give us a final answer on that. We could create an assembly, such as the US Senate, that can advise and give consent, for example, on senior appointments such 260 as permanent secretaries or ambassadors. Such a House would have limited powers; it could scrutinise measures without being too party political. Its appointed Members would be in their senior years, and their personal ambition would be spent. They would want to consider the detail of our legislation.
One of the finest Members of the other place, Lord Renton, has been a Member of this and the other place for between 50 and 60 years. In his 90s, he is still working in the House of Lords, tabling amendments. What a great man. We want more people like him, who are not personally ambitious. We want such people to be the elected Members, not young ambitious politicians who are thinking only of themselves and wanting to become Ministers.
§ Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend)
I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham), the Chairman of the Joint Committee, and all its members for bringing us their report in a timely fashion. Their critics claimed that the Joint Committee was established to kick the issue into the long grass. The critics have been proved wrong and, instead, the report offers options on which the Committee was able to agree, with the promise of further work to fine-tune and develop the process if the House votes firmly—as I believe it will—for a second Chamber with a majority of elected Members.
The effrontery and brass neck of some Opposition Members never cease to amaze me. In opposition, they plead that we need to bring the Executive under control, yet for 18 years, while they were in government, they did everything possible to ignore the legislature and to ensure that the Executive remained over-mighty. It is good that they have changed their minds.
The Opposition failed to mention, however, that this debate is a sign that the Commons are seeking to establish their power and credentials against the will of the Executive as expressed in the White Paper. Labour Members told their Government that the White Paper was unacceptable, so the Joint Committee was set up. We are holding the debate because this House has concern for parliamentary democracy. That is why we need reform of the second Chamber and democratic elections to it.
I should like the second Chamber to be 100 per cent. elected, but I appreciate that, for the sake of consensus, I may have to settle for 80 per cent. or, perhaps at worst, 60 per cent. If 80 per cent. of hon. Members voted for 80 per cent. of the second Chamber's Members to be directly elected, there would be no need for me to support any lesser option because it would be very clear that the broad consensus in the House was in favour of that proposal.
Much play has been made of the fact that those who do not want the second Chamber to be directly elected want total appointment or most of its Members to be appointed. I am surprised that hon. Members—some of them are my right hon. and hon. Friends—lack the confidence to allow a second Chamber to exist with the powers that it broadly has now while making both Houses of Parliament democratic. I have the feeling that a large element of democracy is being interpreted through the perspective of the benevolent despots of the 261 19th century, who at the time were regarded as a step forward but who certainly did not have a lot to do with concepts of democracy.
The idea that wholly or mainly electing the second Chamber will somehow lead to conflict with this House is not upheld by history or experience. There can be such gridlock in the United States because its constitution was framed exactly to prevent the Executive from becoming over-mighty. That was a deliberate choice of the founding fathers and James Madison, who, perhaps more than anyone else, can be regarded as the writer of the American constitution, wanted it that way, as the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) has kindly pointed out to hon. Members. However, other second Chambers around the world do not challenge the first Chambers. In fact, the Canadian second Chamber, which is appointed, has proved to be the most difficult for that country's first Chamber.
§ Mr. Greg Knight
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that temporary gridlock is sometimes a good thing if it leads to better scrutiny and better legislation?
§ Mr. Griffiths:
I do not deny that that can happen, but I am trying to make a point about the opposition to a democratic second Chamber. I do not call it an upper House. In fact, one of the historical problems is that the House of Commons was the junior partner for much longer than it has been the senior partner. The earlier reference to Old Sarum reminded me that the House of Lords owned the House of Commons at one time. We have swept all that away. We have taken about 100 years, from the first Reform Act of 1832 to the legislation under which women over 21 got the vote in 1928, to create something akin to a modern democracy in this country.
A fellow Celt, Lloyd George, was instrumental in significantly reducing the power of the second Chamber, and we now have the opportunity, led by the Leader of the House, who is a fellow Celt, to finish the job that Lloyd George began. Let us set aside the argument about permanent conflict because it is not true. With another Parliament Act, we could ensure that the House of Lords has the job of scrutiny and bringing the Executive to account and, yes, let us ensure that no Minister sits there because that will help that process.
I have also been rather upset by the way in which one or two Members have almost denigrated us in comparison with experts in the other place, which is not fair. There are plenty of experts on a diverse number of subjects on both sides of the House who are as good as any in the upper House. In relation to the experts in the upper House, it is a pity that the Joint Committee did not have an attendance register of the appointed life peers to show us which of those experts were regular attenders and which were not. I am sure that we would find that most of the life peers were not regular attenders. If we want those particular experts, they can be called before Select Committees or Committees considering drafting legislation.
§ Jim Knight
Does my hon. Friend also agree that if a political party wants to have such experts in a second Chamber, it would be perfectly open to it under a list 262 system to nominate those experts to appear on the list, so that they can be elected as part of the democratic process?
§ Mr. Griffiths
Yes. With a wholly or mainly directly elected second Chamber, it will be up to the political parties to act responsibly in drawing up their list of candidates to make sure that they achieve representation across the United Kingdom, which will help to reflect the make-up of our land.
§ Mr. Griffiths
I think that I have already given way twice, which is the accepted number of times. May I give way again, Mr. Deputy Speaker?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman can certainly give way again, but he will get no additional time for it.
§ Julie Morgan
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is very worrying that those Members who support nomination have implied that that is the only way of achieving good gender representation? Does not he agree that if the political parties want women in Parliament and in power, they are able to ensure that?
§ Mr. Griffiths
Under the new legislation, there should be no reason for that not to be done.
The Joint Committee was wrong to suggest 600 Members: about 200 should be an absolute maximum. In that context, the issue of cost should not be a problem. When people talk about the cost of democracy, they are perhaps wavering about the value of democracy. We should push ahead and have a wholly or mainly elected second Chamber and trust in our political parties and our judgment to get the job done. The fact that we have held this debate today shows that we are already making some of the right decisions about bringing the second Chamber into the 21st century.
§ Mr. Bill Wiggin (Leominster)
The most outstanding contribution in this debate has probably been from my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young), who said that this was a question of Parliament against the Executive rather than the Commons against the Lords. I am speaking on the basis that, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." My experience of the Animal Health Bill was that the other place was extremely effective in holding the Government to account and editing the Bill to such an extent that it became quite—sadly, only quite—acceptable.
§ Mr. Wiggin
I am afraid that I have only a short time.
If we elect a second Chamber, the consequence will unquestionably be to introduce competition. If we have elections, we must have something for which the voter must vote. If we elect on the basis of proportional representation, we will introduce compromise to the 263 system. It would be a huge mistake to introduce election. If we do so on any system apart from first past the post, the whole system will be based on compromise.
Legitimacy is not the key to better government. I agree with the earlier comments that squaring the circle will be impossible. What we need is wisdom. If legitimacy is considered to be more important than wisdom, it will not be long before the Parliament Acts are repealed, and one political party could, after a landslide, occupy both Houses. That would create a risk for the minorities in this country. We must also consider which House provides the best form of government. At the moment, it is clearly this House but, if the system is changed, which House will be the best one to sit in if we want to make a difference?
The most important result of the proposal relates to cost. As Members of Parliament representing our constituents, probably the most significant thing that we can do is to restrict the amount of money spent on the democratic process outside this House. We need to ensure that, when we spend money on elections, it is spent wisely. Establishing an elected upper House would not necessarily provide the wisdom that is so important. It is absolutely vital that, when we are given the choice, we act like Solomon and choose wisdom.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The winding-up speeches must begin at 6.30 pm, so I ask the hon. Gentleman whom I am about to call to respect that fact. I call Mr. Lazarowicz.
§ Mr. Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith)
I shall speak in support of an elected House of Lords, and, in so doing, I will respond to those arguments that have been made in this House and outside that suggest that we should not have an elected House of Lords because the public would be bored by the prospect and would not turn out in the elections to it. That is a counsel of despair. Of course, we should all be concerned about declining turnouts, but are we accepting that they are a permanent state of affairs in British politics? Are we really suggesting that we could not get the British public to take an interest in elect ions to the upper House? After all, it will take important decisions that will affect their daily lives. Are we really suggesting that people in Britain are somehow inferior in their intelligence and ability to understand the political process than people in the United States and many parts of Europe who frequently vote for lower Houses, upper Houses, local government, mayors, provincial government, regional government and, sometimes, for many other elected officials—and sometimes also in referendums.
There is a problem with voter turnout, but the question that we should ask is what is wrong with our political process; what is wrong with us and with the system that means that people do not turn out to vote? The answer may not be dramatic. It might not have anything to do with the fundamentals of our democracy. Much of the problem, I suspect, is the result of the way in which we organise elections. We now know from 264 sexperiments that we can achieve turnouts of as high as 60 per cent. even in local government by-elections because of the use of postal votes. In the summer, I came across a community council in Scotland, roughly the equivalent of a parish council in England, where the turnout was 64 per cent. in the elections to it. The Electoral Commission's recent report on the Scottish elections of 1999 showed that, of the 40 per cent. or so who did not vote in the Scottish Parliament elections, two thirds did not do so because they had commitments at work, faced travel problems or had moved house. It was not that they had chosen not to vote; it is rather that the electoral system does not take account of the way that people live now. That is one of the issues that we must address if we want to encourage higher voter turnout.
One sure way of bringing about greater public disillusionment with the political process would be to replace the hereditary House of Lords with an appointed House of Lords that would inevitably, under any system of selection, be dominated by members of the political class and predominantly by members of the metropolitan political class. They might be joined by a few adjuncts from places such as my city, which sometimes tends to function as an offshore island to the metropolitan establishment. That political class would not face the ultimate sanction of removal from the upper House in the way that we all face removal from this Chamber.
I support a House of Lords that is elected by a form of proportional representation. I do not accept the argument that it might present an unreasonable challenge to the authority of this House. I do not think that it is a bad thing to place restraints on a Government who are elected by a minority, as most Governments inevitably are, which sometimes allow the majority public opinion to hold back the minority voices. My hon. Friends who are enthusiastic about the untrammelled power of the House of Commons and a Government based on a minority of the popular support should remember what happened not so many decades ago when a Government with a big majority in the House and a minority of popular support in the country did not act in a way that we found acceptable.
§ Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst):
The issue is in danger of becoming a sorry saga. Let us hope that the debate, which has been positive, will save the Government from themselves and put us back on the right track.
I recall the heady days of the Government's manifesto in 2001, to which one or two other hon. Members referred. In it, the Labour party said:We are committed to completing House of Lords reform, including removal of the remaining hereditary peers, to make it more representative and democratic".It made that commitment to the voters before the 2001 election. In the White Paper that appeared later that year, the Labour party said:The Government will welcome responses to this White Paper by 31 January 2002. It intends to introduce legislation thereafter, incorporating decisions on the issues raised in the consultation.265 One would have thought that we were set fair for a move towards reform, which the Government told us was important to them and the electorate, yet a year on we are still debating the principles of the direction that we should take.
We have been arguing about the labours of the Joint Committee for some time and are duly grateful that it has completed the first phase of its work. However, in the same document of November 2001, the Prime Minister himself said:A credible and effective second chamber is vital to the health of Britain's democracy … The Government is determined to proceed with this wider reform of the House of Lords.The introduction said:The Government intends to complete reform of the House of Lords early in this Parliament".Fine words, but what has happened? In The Times today we read an astonishing account, which no one has denied:The Prime Minister is to scupper demands by Labour MPs for a majority elected second chamber by making a statement declaring his opposition to a 'hybrid House': part elected, part appointed.Even more astonishingly—although knowing the Prime Minister as we now know him, perhaps it is not much of a surprise—it goes on to say that the Prime Ministerwill make plain that he has always favoured and continues to believe in a wholly appointed chamber.Where did all the words about democracy come from in the manifesto and the White Paper? The Prime Minister obviously did not read them because otherwise he would not have let them go ahead.
We have come from heady aspirations—words of determination—to where we are now. In fairness, the House has been given the chance to debate the issue yet again, and the Lords will debate it today and tomorrow. We will then have the votes. But what happened to the House of Lords as an affront to democracy, an idea that was bandied around fairly freely before 1997? Are we to believe that a wholly appointed House would not be an affront to democracy? One or two hon. Members had the gall to argue that an appointed House would, mysteriously, be pretty well democratic. Although they have tried hard to explain that, I have yet to come fully to terms with it. That is the sort of argument to which hon. Members have been driven.
However, in contrast to that negative aspect of the debate, the House has demonstrated that it is capable of positive thought. I was encouraged by the tone and content of our discussion. Perhaps to the surprise of many, the House has demonstrated that we have the collective capability to look at such an issue and try to find as much common ground as possible. The Leader of the House made a plea for common ground in the early stages of the debate, and I am sure that he will be as gratified as me that nearly every Member who has spoken said that although they had a distinct preference, they would now be prepared to consider something other than that preference in the cause of advancing the debate. I think that that is new, and I am sure that many of my hon. Friends feel the same. Although they may have strong, fixed views, they want something to happen and, to that end, are prepared to support something 266 other than their preferred option. I expect that that will be reflected in the voting that will take place in about two weeks.
§ Mr. Foulkes
While the right hon. Gentleman is talking about voting, will he confirm for the avoidance of doubt that Conservative Members will be given a completely free vote?
§ Mr. Forth
In a moment, but I want to help my hon. Friend first. For the avoidance of doubt, I shall vote for a 100 per cent. elected House and an 80 per cent. elected House. Unless I hear something persuasive to the contrary in our debate or the debate in the other place, I will probably vote against all the other options.
§ Sir Patrick Cormack
When my right hon. Friend last addressed the House on this subject, he told us that the party had no policy, but announced one within 48 hours, much to the annoyance of many of us. Will he confirm that some members of the shadow Cabinet take the same line as me and others, that they will have the same freedom, and that he will not attempt by any means to force his extreme views on other people?
§ Tony Wright
I cheered up when the right hon. Gentleman said in his new spirit of consensus-seeking that people had changed their position and were willing to support views that they had not supported before in the search for common ground. However, curiously, he went on to say that he will not support the one bit of common ground established by all the surveys—the 60 per cent. option.
§ Mr. Forth
My consensuality only goes so far. Good Lord, this is enough of a transformation—I cannot reinvent myself overnight. As I said, I am prepared to study our debate, although I have been here for most of it. I want to hear what the Lords say—I hope that we all do—so that we can take a view on it. There is a great willingness to move. Even the Leader of the House said in his opening remarks that he was "80 per cent. in agreement" with my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), which set the tone for the whole day. For example, most people who expressed a view about the size of the upper House—this may not please the Chairman of the Joint Committee and his colleagues—were not happy with the idea of 600 Members. We have had bids ranging from as few as 100 to 300, which is our policy. Although there was not very much support for the Joint Committee's position, 267 Members expressed helpful and positive views, and I am sure that we shall find a fair amount of agreement on the issue.
Similarly, in the argument about length of term for Members of a revised upper House, although not everybody was happy with a period of 15 or 12 years, the Leader of the House suggested that he would be prepared to contemplate a term equivalent to two terms in this House, which could be interpreted as eight or 10 years. Again, many Members would coalesce around using a figure of that magnitude to differentiate the term of office of Members of an elected upper House from that of Members of this House.
I also detect movement on the argument about a hybrid Chamber. Although some months ago most hon. Members would have preferred either a wholly appointed or an elected House—that was certainly my position—there is now a lot of agreement about hybridity and perhaps a more relaxed attitude to it, whether the proportions are 80:20, 20:80, 60:40 or whatever.
§ Sir Patrick Cormack
How could that have been my right hon. Friend's position when the official policy was 80:20?
§ Mr. Forth
I took that position before the policy was 80:20.
My right hon. Friends the Members for Richmond, Yorks and for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young), the hon. Members for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) and for Cannock Chase (Tony Wright), and the right hon. Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West (Joyce Quin) all said in terms that they believed that a hybrid Chamber of some sort could be acceptable if we did not end up with their preferred solution. I exonerate my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) in that regard, as he said that he could not quite go that far. None the less, those contributions show the tone of this debate.
§ Mr. Bryant
I do not know how much the right hon. Gentleman knows about gardening, but will he confirm that hybrids are the strongest plants around and that there might indeed be significant added strengths in a hybrid Chamber?
§ Mr. Forth
We must be careful before getting into genetic modification, but I shall accept the hon. Gentleman's advice.
What has emerged from this debate is that most hon. Members are prepared to give some consideration to hybridity, but the debate will continue to be about where the majority membership should lie, which is a more difficult issue. Although the percentage that should be elected or appointed is the crux of the matter, a surprising degree of movement has again been evinced in that respect by hon. Members as varied—if I can put it that way—as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) and the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths), who concluded his speech a few minutes ago. There were indications that hon. Members would be prepared to consider the 268 80 per cent. option or the 60 per cent. option to which the Chairman of the Public Administration Commit tee has just alluded. We can see that there is a fair degree of agreement.
Unfortunately, such agreement breaks down elsewhere, and it is obvious why. Time and again, Opposition Members heard arguments about the need to strengthen Parliament as a whole, as opposed to the Executive. Not every Labour Member agreed with those arguments, which illustrates a point that has repeatedly been well made and of which I am, perhaps, a living example: the perspective that one has when sitting on the Government Benches is often rather different from that which one has when sitting on the Opposition Benches. There is nothing wrong with that; it happens. Those of us who have moved in one direction or another will have had that experience and will understand it.
However, that does not belie the fact that there has to be a serious debate about our view as parliamentarians on the relationship between the Executive of the day and the Parliament of which we are all honoured to be part. That must be part of our debate about the upper House. We cannot have that debate in isolation. A key aspect of a number of speeches was that, in looking at the relationship between an upper House and our own House now or in future, we must look very seriously at our relationship with the Government. We are the providers and sustainers of the Executive. Although one of our important responsibilities is to scrutinise, examine and hold to account the Government of the day, the fact that we provide and sustain the Government must inevitably compromise that role. It is not unreasonable, therefore, to look to an upper House to give strength and relevance to that role. I hope that that will be part of what we do—a view expressed in a number of speeches. If we can try to avoid a party element or overlay in that respect, so much the better, although whatever we say about it must be informed by who we are and where we sit in the Chamber.
I want to ask the Government and the Parliamentary Secretary, who will wind up the debate, a few questions about where we go from here. Several speakers have alluded to that. Do the Government still have a policy? Sadly, it appears that they do not. I use the word "sadly" because we believed that they had a policy, but now it seems that they do not. It is all very well for them to claim that they had a policy to which no one signed up and that they therefore no longer have one. It is all very well for the Lord Chancellor to say on the radio that he was no genius, could not work matters out and would therefore leave it to the Joint Committee. However, that leaves us a mite rudderless.
The Lord Chancellor also referred tothe nonsense of a hybrid House".I hope that he will study today's debate and thus be better informed.
§ Mr. Robert Marshall-Andrews (Medway)
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that one reform would receive overwhelming support in the House and in the country? It is that the House of Lords should consist of 0.16 per cent. of elected Members—the Lord Chancellor.
§ Mr. Forth
The hon. and learned Gentleman is a braver man than me in reducing the Lord Chancellor to 0.16 per cent.
269 We are entitled to know the Government's view of our current position, our starting point and, more important, our destination. The Leader of the House tried to be helpful by saying that there would be votes in two weeks and reference back to the Joint Committee. However, the Government's terms of reference to the Joint Committee will be crucial. In his opening remarks, the Committee's Chairman told us that it was constrained by the terms of reference that it was given initially. It is therefore important to know the terms of the Government's marching orders to the Committee, if they intend to issue such orders, for events after the votes in the House of Commons and in another place.
It is crucial to know what happens if the House of Commons produces a centre of gravity—to use the Leader of the House's favourite term—which is radically different from that of another place. I suspect that that will happen. If two different views are expressed at each end of the building, what will the Government conclude? Where will that lead us, via the Joint Committee, in future? What is the timetable? Much work remains to be done. After reading the Joint Committee report, one wonders whether we are near any sort of conclusion.
Will there be Ministers in a reformed upper House? The answer is crucial, not only to the constitutional dispensation, the relationship between the Houses and the Government of the day, but to whether we could have directly elected but relatively independent Members in an upper House. Without Ministers, that could happen because there would be no promotion ladder, arm-twisting or Whips, whose position would be rendered meaningless. I should like to add that issue to the list that the Joint Committee will consider. I hope that it will examine it seriously.
I hope that the debate will help the process. Its tone gives ground for optimism, but that could be tempered by the Government's attitude. If the report from The Times, which no one has refuted, about the Prime Minister's attitude is accurate, I am profoundly pessimistic about the process. It is up to Labour Members to do their best to ascertain what is happening. If they are unhappy, they should use their influence. We have done our bit in the debate. We must wait and see what Members of another place have to say, but in the end, as always, it will be for the Government to decide where they want to take us, how they will get us there and how they will work with and through the Joint Committee. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary is about to give us as many answers as he can and that he will not leave us believing that the Government are divided, have no clue about their destination and do not want to get us there.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office (Mr. Ben Bradshaw)
Our debate has been excellent, good humoured and, at times, humorous. That is not unusual when we discuss a matter that will be subject to a free vote. I am in a slightly unusual position because we are considering a subject about which the Opposition have a policy, whereas the Government have no view, at least on composition. I emphasise that because some hon. Members have drawn attention to a couple of recent newspaper articles, referred to dark forces or to people who want to kick reform into the long grass. I 270 assure them that that is not the case. The Government do not have a view on the vote that we shall have in two weeks' time on composition, but they are certainly of the view that they want to get Lords reform concluded in this Parliament. That was a manifesto commitment, and we shall try to stick to it.
I would like to thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) and the other members of his Committee for their excellent work. I also want to thank those members of the Committee who have contributed to the debate this afternoon, as well as non-members who have done so. I am sure that they have all heard the interesting and constructive contributions made by a number of right hon. and hon. Members, including the shadow Leader of the House, which will help them in their further work when we have got over this interim stage of voting on the composition of the upper House.
It is worth noting that, in this debate, a large majority of Members have spoken in favour of a largely or wholly elected upper House. In doing so, they have reflected opinion in the country and the findings of the surveys that have been conducted previously by Members of this House. They have done so from a variety of perspectives—some, such as the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) and the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), from what sounded like a Damascene conversion to the need for a stronger check on the Executive and for more pluralism, as the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe put it. That is very nice, coming from two former Members of a Government who commanded a massive majority not only in this House but in the other place—something that the Labour party has never done. But we should welcome converts where we find them.
The same point about the importance of checking the Executive was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Tony Wright), who has at least been consistent in his concern about the power of the Executive. Drawing on the excellent report produced by his Public Administration Committee, he also extended the democratic argument. The desire to extend democracy has been shared by most right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken in favour of a largely or wholly elected House. They include the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young), my right hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West (Joyce Quin), the hon. Members for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler), for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb), for Salisbury (Mr. Key), and for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) and my hon. Friends the Members for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Savidge), for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths), and for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mr. Lazarowicz).
I have to say that, when I go round schools in my constituency—as I do increasingly, following the introduction of citizenship studies—and when I travelled abroad in my previous capacity as a Minister in the Foreign Office, I have had a problem, in a personal capacity, explaining to emerging democracies in other parts of the world, for example, that I was trying to sell the value of democracy while defending a system in which the membership of one of the two Houses of our Parliament was based solely on appointment.
271 The right hon. Member for North-East Hampshire (Mr. Arbuthnot) called a mixed or hybrid system with a majority of elected Members a fudge, although he said that he would vote for it. My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush (Mr. Soley) used a different term, calling it a sensible compromise. He, and a number of other hon. Members, saw an opportunity to improve the regional and, in some cases, the Scottish and Welsh representation in the upper House. Coming from a part of England that is seriously under-represented in the other place, I share that desire.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) and my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth) tied their banners firmly to the abolitionists' mast, with, in the case of the former, a wholly appointed Lords as his second preference. He was supported by my right hon. Friend the Member for Newport, East (Alan Howarth), and my hon. Friends the Members for Western Isles (Mr. MacDonald) and for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Clelland), and by the anti-election contingent on the Opposition Benches in the form of the hon. Members for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack), for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples), for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir Teddy Taylor), and, I think, for Leominster (Mr. Wiggin), although I was not quite clear whether that was his position. I think that he is nodding in assent.
Much of the opposition to elections, particularly on this side of the House, seems to stem from a fear that a more democratic second Chamber would challenge the supremacy of this place. I have to tell my hon. Friends that that fear was not shared by other hon. Members who spoke this afternoon, or by others who share the desire to maintain the supremacy of this place. Nor was such a fear expressed in the report of the Public Administration Committee, which looked into this matter.
§ Mr. Bradshaw
That, along with a number of other interesting suggestions made this afternoon, will be first and foremost a matter for the next stage of the Joint Committee's work. Anything recommended in its final report will of course be taken on board by the Government.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Newport, East and my hon. Friend the Member for Tyne Bridge introduced the idea of syndicalism. The Joint Committee might like to take that up as well, but it does involve enormous challenges and complications. That is another reason why it too was not favoured in the Public Administration Committee's report. Interestingly—as far as I am aware; I was not present for a couple of speeches, although I watched them on my screen—no speaker supported the idea of electing a minority element.
The right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire, the hon. Member for North Norfolk and one or two others were troubled by reports that the Government 272 might seek to delay change. Some raised a couple of recent media reports that the Government, or members of the Government, were retreating into favouring an all-appointed second Chamber. I can reassure them that that is not the case. As I said earlier, the Government have no policy on composition, and there will be a genuinely free vote. I must, however, tell those who have that fear, wherever they may be in this House, that the best way of preventing—or avoiding—such an eventuality is for this House to send the clearest possible message in a fortnight, when the options will be voted on.
§ Jim Dowd (Lewisham, West)
I am somewhat confused. There will be seven votes a fortnight from now, and my hon. Friend says that we should send the clearest possible message. How on earth can we send a clear message on the basis of seven votes producing seven results—for if any are identical I shall be astonished—and what on earth do we expect the Committee to do after receiving the seven results if the House gives it no clear direction on priorities?
§ Mr. Bradshaw
I am sure my hon. Friend knows that Members will have more than one vote. They will not have to vote for just one option; they can vote for all seven.
I was simply reinforcing a point made by a number of other speakers. However much individual Members may favour a particular solution, it is important for them to be willing to compromise a little so that the Commons can send a strong signal of its settled will—not least to make the Joint Committee's further work easier. My hon. Friend is right: if we send mixed messages, or if the results of the votes on the two most popular options are very close, that may make the Committee's life much more difficult.
§ Mr. Kenneth Clarke
Will the Minister confirm that the Government still hope to resolve the issue by the end of the current Parliament? Will he perhaps indicate to the Joint Committee that it might seek to conclude its labours by the end of the present Session, so that that timetable seems realistic?
§ Mr. Bradshaw
It would be extremely helpful if the Committee could do that—and yes, the Government still intend to wrap up the issue during the current Parliament. I sincerely hope that we can.
This is not the last word on the Joint Committee's report, of course. A similar debate has been held in the other place today. I am sure that Members of this House will want to read Hansard to see what was said there, just as I hope that their lordships will pay close attention to our proceedings today and to some of the excellent speeches that were made. We will return to the issue on 4 February. We will have a shorter debate, Members will have a chance to vote on the seven options, and the Joint Committee will note what has been said and resume its work. I look forward to that debate, and hope we can send both the Committee and the House of Lords a good strong signal.
It being Seven o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed without Question put.