Previous SectionIndexHome Page

4 Feb 2003 : Column 161—continued

Mr. Cook: I am very much in favour of the Joint Committee having a degree of flexibility to respond to the votes in the House. I am also very attached to the importance of Members of this House showing flexibility when they approach the decision this evening. The procedures that we have adopted will enable hon. Members to vote for their second and third preferences, and not just for their first preferred option. If we are to find the critical mass of the centre of gravity, hon. Members must be willing to compromise on their own preferred option. In particular, I urge those who support a 100 per cent. elected House not to insist on 100 per cent. or nothing, because there would then be a danger of ending up with nothing. I hope that those who want a largely elected House will vote for all the options that would give that result.

I was saying earlier that there are ways in which we can ensure that the second Chamber remains the subordinate Chamber. What is not acceptable is to keep

4 Feb 2003 : Column 162

the second Chamber subordinate by keeping it illegitimate. That would not only weaken the second Chamber but undermine Parliament as a whole, when what we need is a democratic partner in the second Chamber to assist us in winning back public respect for Parliament as a whole. I have already expressed my disappointment that some of the speeches in the debate on this issue in the other place a fortnight ago carried the implication that being a professional politician was something to be rather ashamed of, and that there was something disreputable about political parties and something definitely distasteful about the rough trade of popular elections. Out of sheer self-respect, this Chamber cannot give house room to those ideas.

I am proud that I came here by popular election and through the democratic process. All of us went through that process; we all came here through the ballot box. We cannot accept that there is any fairer or more legitimate way of forming a chamber in a democratic, modern Parliament. That is why I shall be voting for the options for a 100 per cent., an 80 per cent. and a 60 per cent. elected Chamber. The precise percentage is not important, however. What is important is the principle that the majority in any parliamentary chamber should be elected by the people for whom it legislates, and I urge the House to vote for that principle tonight.

1.24 pm

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): I almost hesitate to dwell yet again on the stark contradiction that has been pointed to many times today—and before today—between the Labour party manifesto, which stated:

and the Prime Minister's astonishing revelation last week that he now believes nothing of the kind. Perhaps hon. Members on both sides of the House will regret the fact that the Prime Minister has not had an opportunity to explain more fully how he arrived at that conclusion, which is in direct contradiction to his own party's manifesto.

Sir Patrick Cormack: Before my right hon. Friend makes too much of this point, does he remember that, in 1979, we had a manifesto commitment to devolution?

Mr. Forth: First of all, I am far too young to remember that. Secondly, in 1979, I was too busy fighting and winning my own election to the European Parliament, so I was fighting on a different manifesto altogether.

The other thing that I am reluctant to do is to intrude on what is a quite unprecedented public auction for support between the Leader of the House and the Prime Minister. It remains to be seen who will win that auction. I, like the Leader of the House, would not like to guess, because the whole matter is deliciously uncertain at this stage.

Mr. Chris Bryant (Rhondda): While the right hon. Gentleman is stirring, would he like to stir a little in his own pot by explaining what his party's policy is on this

4 Feb 2003 : Column 163

issue, and how many Conservative Members in this House and in the other Chamber he expects to vote for that policy?

Mr. Forth: Yes, I would be very happy to remind the House that our policy is to have an 80 per cent. elected and 20 per cent. appointed upper House of about 300 Members. Of course, I shall be inviting my colleagues—and, indeed, others—to consider supporting that kind of approach, but on a free vote. I am pretty certain that not all my colleagues will necessarily follow that view, but that is different matter altogether from the Prime Minister of the day and the Leader of the House of the day openly contradicting each other and inviting support from their colleagues. [Hon. Members: "It is a free vote."] Labour Members say that it is a free vote, and indeed it is. We shall be intrigued to see what the outcome of that free vote is.

I want to remind the House of what the Royal Commission said on this subject in January 2000. It said:

Those are the key words. In December 2002, the Joint Committee said:

That, too, is a key phrase. So we have these strands running through this debate to the effect that we require a legitimate and effective upper Chamber to do what Parliament is expected to do. What puzzles and frustrates me is that so many Members in this House seem to be afraid of that idea. The sad truth is that the main challenge to the House of Commons is the Government. It is they, in my view, who have reduced and diminished the role of this House, rather than any challenge from the upper House, in its present form or in any future form.

Mr. Leigh: Most people here want to be in the Government. How does my right hon. Friend propose to make these elected Members in the other place genuinely independent of the Executive?

Mr. Forth: I have a great deal of sympathy with my hon. Friend's suggestion that we should at least consider very carefully having no Ministers in a reformed upper House, for exactly that reason. As those of us who have spent any time here know all too well, a combination of patronage, preferment, strict timetabling and all the other things that we have seen developing over the last few years, has resulted in the House of Commons becoming primarily the provider and sustainer of the Government of the day. Sadly, it does not do a very good job of holding the Government to account. Surely, therefore, it is right for us to look to an Upper House with legitimacy and self-confidence to do that job. We are talking about two distinct roles, and I hope that the debate can develop on that basis.

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde): Has my right hon. Friend, with his remarkable persuasive powers, given up all hope of influencing this Parliament to look again at reforms that have done the job of doing down this

4 Feb 2003 : Column 164

House's ability properly to hold the Executive to account? Is he already surrendering that power to another place?

Mr. Forth: I have probably effectively given up in this Parliament, under this Government, with this majority. What I have certainly not given up on is the real possibility that in a Parliament of the near future, under a different Government, we will seek ways of restoring much of the balance between the House of Commons and the Executive of the day. A good Government should have no fear of that. I should like to see the Government of the day—my own Government, preferably—accountable to both this House and the Upper House in different ways.

Mr. Bercow: Does my right hon. Friend agree that a substantially elected second Chamber that was a Minister-free zone would not just be a good thing in itself, but would carry the additional boon of enabling us to be free of the services of Lord Irvine?

Mr. Forth: I am sure many Members on both sides of the House cannot wait for that day; but I hope we will not be diverted to the subject of the role of one man, no matter how eminent he may be. In that very context, however, I was rather alarmed to see, in today's Evening Standard, the following rather sinister report:

That has let several cats out of the bag, and it rather proves the point I am trying to make.

Why is it that we cannot trust the people? Why is it that some Members of this House, and certainly of the other place, are so afraid of giving voters more of a say in both Houses? That is an insult to voters.

Tony Wright: In the context of "not sleepwalking", will the right hon. Gentleman answer a question? The Leader of the House said that, in seeking to secure a majority principle from today's votes so that Parliament could speak with a coherent voice, he urged all Members to vote for 60 per cent., 80 per cent. or 100 per cent. Can the right hon. Gentleman say the same to his own supporters?

Next Section

IndexHome Page