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5.45 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

The great benefit of the House of Lords as presently constituted is the quality of expertise that resides in it. As a Parliamentary Private Secretary to a Lords Minister

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

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

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

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

I am against any election to the House of Lords, for the reasons set out so excellently by my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon. Remarks made about Lord Wakeham this afternoon have, on reflection, been wide of the mark. The great thing that he achieved was a consensus, from which the Government have now departed. Mention was made of a quote from Lord Wakeham, but the whole quote was not given. I would like to place it on the record, because he was right. He said that an elected Chamber

He said that, in taking evidence

I do not agree with Lord Wakeham's proposals for a limited election, but to achieve that consensus he came up with a far-fetched scheme. I do not believe that it is the right way to proceed, but in order to get the consensus, no doubt he did.

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

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5.53 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who would receive such appointments? To be appointed, people would have to be known to the Prime Minister or the party leader of the day. How does one get to know such people? I do not imagine that too many citizens of Clydebank and Milngavie will ever get to know a Prime Minister and thereby be appointed to a new

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second Chamber. The power proposed to be given to any future Prime Minister or party leader does not honour the Labour party's manifesto commitment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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