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4 Feb 2003 : Column 167—continued

Mr. Howarth: In a moment—I want to finish this point.

My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has shown again today that he is the strongest proponent of the manifesto argument. He may wish to correct me, but as my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr.

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Skinner) made clear, our manifesto makes no reference to, for example, the principle of top-up fees or, for that matter, to foundation hospitals.

Sir Patrick Cormack rose—

Mrs. Laing rose—

Mr. Howarth: I give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Sir Patrick Cormack: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that, just as he has a second preference, so do some of us? Although I shall probably vote against his amendment because it is being called first, I would infinitely prefer a unicameral system with safeguards to a wholly or largely elected House that was a challenge to this one. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that a number of hon. Members share that position?

Mr. Howarth: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention—he makes a perfectly reasonable point very effectively. As the 10-minute restriction applies to me, I do not intend to give way any further.

Mrs. Laing: Just once more.

Mr. Howarth: I think that the hon. Lady needs to listen more carefully.

The final argument against abolition—here, the intervention of the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) is of help—is that it lacks intellectual substance. I must confess that I find that the oddest criticism of all. The case for a unicameral Parliament has sound historical antecedents, and there are many contemporary precedents within the UK and abroad. The legislatures of Scotland and New Zealand, and of more than one Scandinavian country, are unicameral, and so far as I can tell, they work well. There is no criticism in Scotland or elsewhere—[Interruption.] Perhaps there is criticism from my right hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes). However, such criticisms may be less about such legislatures' operation than about their actions on certain occasions.

Interestingly, much of the case for reforming the House of Lords stems from criticisms about the House of Commons' lack of effectiveness. Three criticisms are commonly cited: first, that this House is not sufficiently powerful to hold the Executive properly to account; secondly, that we do not scrutinise legislation well enough; and thirdly, that we do not debate the great issues of the day with the passion and consistency that those who elected us would expect. I accept that, to varying degrees, all three criticisms have some currency.

For example, it is true that, under both Conservative and Labour Governments, legislation is often deficient in execution, if not in intent. Similarly, we do not act as what used to be called the "cockpit of democracy". For example, people have different views on Iraq. We have had only a couple of debates on Iraq so far, and I was fortunate enough to be called in one of them. However, hundreds of Members of this House have been unable to express their views on what should or will happen in Iraq—or, for that matter, to vote on the issue.

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There is no lack of intellectual substance in our arguments. We believe that the House of Commons should be reformed before we turn our attention to the House of Lords, which we should then abolish.

Before I conclude, I want to discuss the anachronistic nature of the House of Lords, which still contains an hereditary element. I agree that hereditary membership of any part of any legislature is absurd, and that is an important motive for abolition or reform. The question that follows is how to resolve this situation. The simple, and in my view most practical, solution is abolition. As the seven options before us demonstrate, reform leads either to corrosive rivalry—as would inevitably be the case with an elected Chamber—or confusion and inconsistency in the case of a hybrid Chamber. We have yet to discover whether an appointed system or indirect elections can be further developed in such a way as to command widespread support or consensus.

My central argument is that if, as I believe, the pressing deficiency is in this House, reforming the other place is hardly a logical response. The urgent need is for reform of the House of Commons—for reform not of our working hours or of other matters relating to personal comfort, but of the way that we do our job, so that we can do it better. Why do we not take up that task first? I suspect that the reason, which we doubtless all find depressing, is that we as a political class do not enjoy the respect of the public that many of our predecessors enjoyed. However, that is no reason to set off on an odyssey of constitutional reform, the destination of which nobody knows. The better way is to stand up for the work of this House and to reform it, and, once we have done so, to say confidently, "We're doing our job properly. There is no need for a second Chamber."

1.49 pm

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth) because it is right that his amendment should be called for debate and a vote. It is extremely important that the whole House has that opportunity, which I hope will clear the air for votes that may occur thereafter. As I am from a churchgoing family and churchgoing part of the country, I always like to start with a text, in this case:


That commitment was not made by just one or two members of this House or by members of the Cabinet. Every Government Member committed himself or herself to that manifesto pledge. I presume that the hon. Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East admitted some support for that proposition at the last general election and not another proposal. I am certain that no Government Members who stood at the last election asked the public to support an appointed second House. If they did, perhaps they would like to stand up.

It is extraordinary to suggest that, by voting for a wholly appointed second House today, there could be a different form of election. If all Members of the other place were appointed, clearly they would not be there

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through direct or indirect elections. They will be selected, not elected. It would be absurd for any right hon. or hon. Member to think that indirect election can be achieved by voting for a wholly or partly appointed House of Lords.

Mr. Clelland: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the list system, which I presume his party favours as a proportional representation measure, is a form of appointment? It would provide for individuals to be appointed by political parties. The electorate would have no say. Does he further agree that, if the Scottish Parliament were to appoint members of the second Chamber by a form of indirect election, it would be more democratic than the system that we have at the moment?

Mr. Tyler: That would not be a form of appointment. I support the recommendation of the Select Committee in this House that election should be by open list or a single transferable vote. Therefore, the situation that the hon. Gentleman suggests does not apply. The electorate would choose, not the parties.

The purpose of this debate after a period of reflection and a delayed vote is to allow Members of this House to take note of what has been said in the other place. I hope that other right hon. and hon. Members have read the Hansard reports of two days of debate in the other place as I have done—and very interesting they are too.

I hope also that Members of the other place have read the reports of our proceedings—though I doubt it, because some Members of the upper House have a curious idea of this place and the way that we achieve our legitimacy as elected representatives. Some noble Lords clearly have aristocratic disdain for anything so vulgar as elected representatives. I am not just thinking of the Lord Chancellor.

I noted some extremely interesting comments from my noble Friend Lord Goodhart, who said:


That is an admirable summary of two days' debate at the other end of this building.

Members of this Chamber who feel disposed to support appointed Members of the other Chamber should look to their allies, because they will find that those allies do not support a position with which they would feel comfortable. My noble Friend was being characteristically charitable, because most of the contributions in another place were smug, arrogant, self-satisfied, wholly anachronistic and out of touch with the real world. Even individuals who were Members of this House not long ago have turned their backs on elected representative democracy, which I find depressing and irksome. I urge any right hon. or hon. Members who feel disposed to follow the Lord Chancellor and his colleagues carefully to read their words not just about this House but about parliamentary democracy as a whole.


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