HC Deb 10 February 2004 vol 417 cc1264-5
26. Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con)

What estimate he has made of the level of support for a wholly elected House of Lords. [153655]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Mr. Christopher Leslie)

When Parliament voted on the composition of the second Chamber last year, both Houses rejected the "wholly elected" option, in the Commons by 289 votes to 272 and in the Lords by 329 to 106. Because no consensus was reached, the Government are drawing up proposals enabling us to make progress where we can, including a proposal for the removal of the remaining hereditary peers.

Bob Spink

Last week the Prime Minister wanted no democratically elected element at all. What is his view this week?

Mr. Leslie

If the hon. Gentleman catches your eye, Mr. Speaker, he will be able to ask the Prime Minister at Question Time, but this is the Government's view: we want a further debate after consideration of the Bill, because we do not want the door to be closed to composition considerations. It is important for us to look to the future and at other options, such as indirect elections. The key issue is the need to reconcile Commons primacy with the need for more legitimacy in our second, revising Chamber. If we can achieve consensus on that, perhaps further reform will be possible.

Andy Burnham (Leigh) (Lab)

I do not know whether the Minister, like me, is a Billy Bragg fan, but is he among the growing number of people who feel that his secondary mandate proposal, whereby the House of Lords would be comprised proportionally and indirectly according to the share of the vote at general elections, is the answer to the question of Lords reform? Would not that system combine election and appointment with the advantages of both, reassert the primacy of this House and, crucially, give people more of an incentive to vote?

Mr. Leslie

I know that my hon. Friend is a vocal advocate of the secondary mandate, which is indeed worthy of consideration. We need to ensure that this House is seen clearly as the democratic chamber—that it is plain that we are accountable, and this is where the buck stops when it comes to decisions and responsibility in our constitution. But if we can find a way of improving the legitimacy of our revising chamber by other means, suggestions to that effect will merit further consideration.

Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield) (Con)

Does the Minister agree that we have far too many elected politicians in this country already? They are elected at European level, to this place, at regional level and at metropolitan. county, district and parish level. If he or any of his hon. Friends are really saying that we need more elected politicians—if that is the answer to the question—many of our constituents will want to have a very good look at what the question is.

Mr. Leslie

That is a strange argument. Presumably in that case the hon. Gentleman would prefer hereditary peers to be retained in the revising chamber. But if he does not want that, he will obviously support our Bill when it is presented to Parliament.

I believe that we have a duty to consider seriously what the composition of the second Chamber should be, but given that there was no consensus last February we must make progress where we can, and remove the hereditaries from the second Chamber.