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4 Feb 2003 : Column 155—continued

Mr. Cook: The procedure that I am following is the procedure on which the House embarked when we appointed the Joint Committee and invited it to recommend options to us, and I shall put those options before the House tonight. It would have been quite wrong of me to tamper with those options. After the votes, the Joint Committee will consider detailed proposals on the basis of the opinions expressed by both Houses. It is entirely open to my hon. Friend, or to any other hon. Member, to lobby the Joint Committee to ensure that it understands that many of those who voted for an elected option may have wished the democratic mandate to be fulfilled through indirect election. I say to her, however, that if she votes for an all-appointed House, that is what she is likely to get from the Joint Committee or from any other source.

Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Cook: I will, because I know of my hon. Friend's great interest in this matter. Then, if I may, I will continue my speech.

Mr. Clelland: Does my right hon. Friend agree that if appointment—a word that I do not particularly like—came about through regional authorities or devolved assemblies appointing members, and they arrived at their appointees by way of indirect election, that would be entirely in line with our manifesto, because it would be a reformed and more democratic process?

Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend is describing not a process of appointment but a process of indirect election. The key test is that if indirect election is to be democratic, it should issue from bodies that are themselves elected by universal suffrage and by direct election. If those bodies themselves have direct election, it would be entirely democratic—should that be the way in which we choose to go ahead—for them in turn to elect from their number representatives to the second Chamber. That is the democratic mandate of several second Chambers in

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Europe. If my hon. Friend wishes to achieve that outcome, he will have to support one of the options for an elected, not an appointed, second Chamber.

On reading the debate in the other place, I was struck by the large number of Members who oppose anybody being elected to the second Chamber on the grounds that the moment one let the democratic principle through its door, that democratic principle would prove to be so powerful and so unanswerable that it would swell until the whole place became democratic. Indeed, one peer, using a rather homely metaphor, described it as letting the genie out of the bottle. I cannot help but feel that if the democratic principle is so powerful and so unanswerable, it might just be the correct principle on which to act. It is odd that those who are most keen on appointment seem to be strikingly lacking in confidence that the virtues of appointment could survive in competition with election.

A number of speakers in the other place argued that appointment could provide for a more representative second Chamber. That is an arguable proposition, but it is not the real point. Legitimacy requires not merely representativeness but accountability, and only election can make those who claim to represent the nation accountable to the nation. We cannot make them accountable by privatising the process of appointment in relation to any variety of independent bodies.

Pete Wishart (North Tayside): The Labour party manifesto says that reform of the House of Lords will make it more representative of a democracy. Its author was one Tony Blair, Prime Minister. Can the Leader of the House explain why the Prime Minister now favours an appointed House, given his commitment in the Labour manifesto?

Mr. Cook: I was under the impression that I had myself quoted the Labour manifesto with approval and as a factor that should weigh heavily with those of us who stood for election on that manifesto. Of course, we have a collective process for producing the manifesto, and we are all bound by the words that we included in it and must attach weight to them when we make our decision.

Tony Wright (Cannock Chase): Is it not interesting that the greatest advocate of appointment is none other than the Lord Chancellor, who seems to have persuaded the Prime Minister in that respect, and who took the precaution of not being elected by anybody? Is there not a delicious irony in the fact that the one person who is the personification of hybridity in the British constitution, managing to combine at least three jobs in one, is the leading opponent of hybridity when it comes to putting together a sensibly mixed second Chamber?

Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend speaks with particular authority, as he was Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Lord Chancellor for a whole year. All hon. Members look forward with great interest to the time when he writes his memoirs about that particular year. In the meantime, I would say only that the Lord Chancellor is not alone in his views. As far as I can tell, most of those who were appointed to the second Chamber believe that appointment is the perfect way in which to maintain it.

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I was dealing with the point that we do not solve the problem of accountability by privatising the process of appointment. Some have argued that we can remove the difficulties involved in appointment through an independent process of appointment. I should remind hon. Members that we have already tested that process—indeed, tested it to destruction. We had an independent commission that proposed a list of independent peers—estimable people—but that list did not command universal respect. Indeed, it was such a major public relations disaster that, two years on, we have never dared to repeat it. That is not a criticism of those who were appointed, nor of those who did the appointing. It is an inherent risk of the process. If we exclude the public from the process of election, we should not be surprised when the public become cynical about those who pose as the people's peers. Trust is a reciprocal quality. If we want the public to trust politicians, we must trust the public to elect the right people.

Mr. Leigh: The fact remains that an appointed Chamber regularly defeats the Government, but this elected Chamber has not defeated the Government since 1997. What is the right hon. Gentleman's personal view of how to make elected members—if that is what we are to arrive at—genuinely independent? How will he remove them from the sources of patronage? Does he think that there is merit in preventing elected members of the upper House from becoming Ministers?

Mr. Cook: The hon. Gentleman's last point was pressed in the previous debate, and I would welcome the Joint Committee's views on it. On the generality of his remarks, he does not show the commitment to the democratic process that I would have hoped for from a Member of this House. After all, he came here through a process of election, he will be proud of that and he will claim to speak for his constituents on that basis. If we claim our own legitimacy through that process of election, it is not wise for us even to hint that appointment might be a more valid method of appointing representatives of the public in Parliament.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): Will the Leader of the House give way?

Mr. Cook: How could I resist the hon. Gentleman?

Mr. Bercow: The right hon. Gentleman reiterated the plea that he made on 21 January for a commanding majority in favour of a substantially elected second Chamber. Although that is understandable, some of us find it worrying. Given that, as Churchill used to say, a majority of one is enough, does the right hon. Gentleman accept that if the House—by a majority of only one, if need be—voted for a majority elected second Chamber, it would be intolerable if we were eventually to be denied such a thing?

Mr. Cook: I have already said four times this afternoon that I do not intend to anticipate the votes. I hope that when we reach that point this evening, we will end up with a majority of more than one for one of the

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options. I invite the hon. Gentleman to reflect on the substantial hurdles that we have still to negotiate, even after today. We have to introduce a Bill, which will be subject to all the processes of scrutiny in the House. It has to go to the other place—

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): It will be a long, twisted road.

Mr. Cook: It will be long, with several obstacles, but I am not sure that it will be twisted. Before we embark on it, I should like to know that a commanding majority supports us. The larger the majority, the greater the ease with which we can bulldoze obstacles out of the way.

Mr. Peter Mandelson (Hartlepool): The thrust of my right hon. Friend's comments supports a directly elected rather than an indirectly elected second Chamber. If he wants a diverse, pluralistic, thoroughly representative second Chamber, it requires a system of election that is based on proportional representation. How long does he believe it will take for it to become clear to everyone that separate electoral systems for the two Chambers are untenable? It is inevitable that a single system of electing Members to Parliament would have to be adopted before long. That system would be proportional representation. [Interruption.]

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