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4.32 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All those are, fundamentally, missed opportunities. The reality is that the proposed House of Lords will lack respect and influence. If one has a Lords that is not doing

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anything substantive and that lacks respect and influence, one will not attract people of wisdom or talent to participate in it—even in the core process of scrutiny.

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

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

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

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

4.42 pm

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

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

I have never been sure whether I favour a second Chamber. There are powerful arguments for the abolition of that Chamber and for strengthening it in the way that

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many hon. Members have described. I tend to favour maintaining the second Chamber, but I want it to be democratised. The difficulty is with that problem area. How do we democratise the exercise of power? How do we ensure that the powers that this House wants to retain can be shared in any way with another House? What role will that other House play in any amelioration of the exercise of power if it is done in an arbitrary and unfair fashion? Those are the important issues and we should face up to them.

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

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

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

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

Ken Davison told me that no magistrates should be allowed to serve on the police authority. I asked why and he said, "Because they are unrepresentative, unelected and unaccountable, and they have no place in a democratic

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society." It seems to me that if Ken was around now to make observations about the House of Lords, he would be able to make a similar comment, as he would if the White Paper's proposals were to be enacted. If those proposals were enacted, we would have in the upper House a majority of people who were unaccountable, unelected and unrepresentative of the people that they claimed to act on behalf of.

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

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

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

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