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3.43 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I think that once that has been achieved, other developments will result. There will be a more independent House, and there will be different relationships between its

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Members and the electorate and between its Members and the Executive. There will be no potential Government in that House; it will be a House for scrutiny and deliberation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3.54 pm

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

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

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

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

If the Chamber is elected, it will be dominated by political parties. It is not possible to be elected to any organisation in this country without being a candidate representing a political party. There is no worse system for imposing party discipline on candidates than proportional representation in which people are on a party list. Proportional representation is, of course, the only

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system of election to a second Chamber that would produce a Chamber that might defy the Government, but I think that we are in serious danger of simply replicating the House of Commons in one way or another.

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