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4 Feb 2003 : Column 170—continued

Tony Wright: Surely the real argument against an appointed second Chamber is that it would be an

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extremely agreeable club where people would sit around telling each other how civilised and intelligent they are. This House and everybody else would regard it as completely irrelevant.

Mr. Tyler: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who not only chaired the best analysis of the situation but achieved unanimity in his Committee across all parties on an important element of the proposals—a hybrid, mixed membership second House.

Sir Patrick Cormack: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the diatribe just unleashed by the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Tony Wright) is a travesty? Does he agree that the House of Lords as presently constituted does an extremely valuable job in scrutinising legislation that this House does not have the chance properly to consider? Will he reflect on the fact that one of the most powerful contributions to this debate over the past two years or more has been by Lord Dahrendorf, a Liberal Democrat peer who cannot be categorised by any of the pejorative epithets that the hon. Member for Cannock Chase heaped on people?

Mr. Tyler: I listened with care to the hon. Gentleman, who may aspire to a seat in the other place. If he thinks that the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Tony Wright) was indulging in a diatribe, he should read the Lord Chancellor's comments about this House. Of course some of their lordships made distinguished contributions to their two-day debate, but the general tone was smug and arrogant. They seemed to think that, in the 21st century, they can continue precisely as they are. I do not believe that that is a sustainable proposition and hope that other right hon. and hon. Members take the same view.

Opponents of democratic representation harp on about the threat to the pre-eminence of this House. Taken to its logical conclusion, that argument suggests that we must keep the other place weak, unrepresentative and illegitimate—a word used by the Leader of the House. I presume that right hon. and hon. Members in any part of the House who take that view want to retain hereditary peers because that would be the best way to make the other place illegitimate. I am glad that Government Members will be voting my way on that issue as well.

Our own Select Committee carefully argued that this is not a zero-sum game. Both Houses can gain and, by working together, be more effective. The hon. Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East—now that he is no longer a member of the Government—is all in favour of this House being more effective in its scrutiny of Government legislation and Executive action. Great: the more ex-Ministers it has, the better this House seems able to deal with the Government of the day. Both Houses, working together, have a responsibility. I am sure that members of the Select Committee and others accept that this is not a zero-sum game. The ability of both Houses, separately and together, to hold the Government of the day to account can be enhanced. That must be done if Parliament's legitimacy and the respect of the public is to be improved.

Mr. Levitt: The hon. Gentleman touched on the primacy of this House but did not answer the question.

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If he is advocating that the other place should have a more representative system of election, he is arguing that it should have greater legitimacy than this Chamber. If he is even arguing that the other place should have the same degree of representation in elections, which I suppose is his ultimate aim, that would bring about a clash between the authority of the two Houses and in no way addresses the primacy of this Chamber.

Mr. Tyler: I am surprised to find myself in total agreement with the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) on this issue. If there is a different system of election on a different day with no chance of it influencing a change of Government—which is the primary responsibility of this House—and it gives the other place the legitimacy that comes from a different type of continuum, I do not see that as a challenge to our supremacy. That is the conclusion reached by all who have studied the issue, not myself. I do not know how the hon. Gentleman dealt with that problem when he faced the electorate at the last general election. Did he tell them that the second House should be appointed in case it became more legitimate and representative? I doubt it. All Labour Members must face the fact that they promised the electorate that they would make the other House more electorally representative.

Mr. Bercow: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Tyler: No, I want to make progress.

What about the Lord Chancellor's sudden alarm call about mixed membership? He used the word "hybridity" as if it were some dangerous new concept. Where has he been? The Government have introduced hybrid Houses for Wales and Scotland and different types of election for government in London. Presumably, they will do the same for the regional assemblies in due course. Also, there is of course a different form of election to the European Parliament.

The Lord Chancellor proposed in the White Paper that 20 per cent. of Members of the upper House should be elected. Why was that massacred in a meeting of the parliamentary Labour party? It was not because of hybridity or mixed membership, but because the proposal was that only 20 per cent.—one fifth—should be elected. How did the Lord Chancellor come to say to Labour Members, "I want a hybrid House, one fifth elected," and then, when told that that was not enough, simply go away and say, "Well, I don't want any then."? That is a ridiculous position.

The proposal was massacred at the PLP meeting, and it was laughed to scorn in this House and by the general public, but there is no real argument against the validity and effectiveness of hybridity. The word is not pleasant, but mixed membership chambers work well in other parts of the world, and elsewhere in this country. There is no reason why the Lord Chancellor should be allowed to get away with blackening the name of hybridity when he failed to make his case.

Labour Members who have suddenly discovered the evils of mixed membership should look at their allies' motives. They should be aware also that the Lord Chancellor may simply be scared of having an elected element of full-timers in the other place because it will show up the inadequacy of the part-timers.

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When it comes to the votes this evening, I make a simple appeal to the House. I fully respect the position of the unicameralists, who wish to abolish the second Chamber. Whether they told electors about their purpose when they signed up to the manifesto commitment that I have already cited is up to them and their consciences, not me. I believe that there is real merit in Parliament having two Chambers, as long as they are enabled to work together effectively. That is the critical issue.

I regret that many hon. Members seem to think that, having supported total abolition as their first preference, they can now go for selection—by whom?—to a second House. Heaven help us all if they think that that is legitimate. I ask them to vote firmly against a fully appointed House, which would be a complete abnegation of parliamentary democracy. That way lies eventual irrelevance, and possible disappearance. It would also ensure the continuation of the present unsatisfactory mess. The House should vote against appointment in the first full vote this evening, and for as big an elected element as possible.

Those of us who would prefer a fully democratic second Chamber must also consider whether, having voted for our first preference, we can then vote for a lesser proportion—80 per cent. or 60 per cent.—that we could live with. Without substantial majorities for those options, the forces of reaction will succeed. I mean not just the forces of reaction at the other end of the building, but those in Downing street. They would be able to say, "Oh, there is no consensus or centre of gravity, so we've got to kick the whole thing into the long grass and forget it."

I too noted the item in the Evening Standard today. The article did not refer to the Prime Minister, the Lord Chancellor or any other Cabinet member, but to No. 10 officials. The spin doctors are the ones who are really frightened about what may happen if Parliament regains greater control over the agenda.

After 90 years of dither and delay, the public look to us to finish the job. If we hesitate now, the control freaks will be rubbing their hands with glee.

2.4 pm

Jean Corston (Bristol, East): I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate, and wish to record my thanks to my right hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) and his fellow members of the Joint Committee on House of Lords Reform for their report. It has helped hon. Members to crystallise our views as we consider the next stage of constitutional reform. We have already abolished the hereditary principle—the right, by virtue of their birth, of more than 600 people to sit in the House of Lords. It is important that we remember that today's proposals are a continuation of that process.

The Joint Committee's report has led me—and I am sure other hon. Members—to ask, "What makes an effective Chamber of government?" Many criticisms are made of this House, by people inside it and outside it. I think that what makes it effective is parity of esteem. All hon. Members are equal. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister may be the first among equals, but the

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fount of his political legitimacy is the same as mine: we were both elected by our constituents to represent them in this House.

What does that mean for the House of Lords? I originally believed that there should be a percentage elected element. I am sure that other hon. Members have thought about what the proportions should be, as I have. Sometimes the exercise has seemed like "pin the tail on the donkey." How should we choose a proportion? What proportion will get majority support? I recently visited Scotland and Wales and, after thinking long and hard about my experience with the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, to which I have belonged for most of my time in the House, I have had a change of heart.

Last year, I took part in an inquiry in Scotland and Wales by the Joint Committee on Human Rights. When officials were talking about Members of the Scottish Parliament or the Welsh Assembly, or when such Members were talking about each other, they always made it clear whether a Member was elected or appointed. Clearly, at both official and Member level, there are two classes of membership. That division exists, whether or not it is officially stated.

As an active member of the CPA, I know that there are many legislatures in which people are appointed through list systems or other means. Sometimes, that is to do with issues of gender, and I applaud that. However, members of those legislatures talk about each other in a way that makes it clear that they perceive the same two classes of membership that I described earlier. Indeed, a colleague recounted the story of a woman Member of a Commonwealth Parliament, who said that she was a real Member because she was elected, and that others who had been appointed were not real Members. I do not want that to be repeated in the House of Lords.

It is easy to take a pop at the Lords. We can all do it. Like everyone else, I saw the photograph in The Guardian that showed a group of Lords sitting on a bench for the state opening of Parliament looking ridiculous in their ermine robes. I dare say that a gaggle of newspaper editors—if that is the correct collective noun—would look just as ridiculous sitting on a bench dressed like that. That photograph does not move the argument forward.


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