Previous SectionIndexHome Page

4 Feb 2003 : Column 174—continued

Mr. Andrew Love (Edmonton): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Jean Corston: I do not intend to give way, as many hon. Members wish to speak and I want to give them time to do so.

My conclusion is that an effective upper Chamber will be one in which there is equality of membership. It follows that I would prefer either a wholly elected or wholly appointed second Chamber. The appointment process is open to debate. It could be ex officio: for example, the chairs of the regional assemblies could be appointed by virtue of having been elected to their positions. I am entirely open as regards the way in which appointments would be made, but we must be sure that we learn from the history of the past 100 years so as to ensure that we do not relive it. We must not have a system in which there is in-built tension between the two Houses. I am not against new methods of nomination.

4 Feb 2003 : Column 175

I do not think that a second Chamber that was not dominated by political parties would be a bad thing. Some people might say that that is because I have gone native, as a consequence of being the Chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. The Committee has Select Committee status and is probably the only one to have members drawn from both the Commons and the other place.

However, it is possible that we are putting the cart before the horse and taking the decision far too early. Preliminary questions must be settled. Some have been raised by other right hon. and hon. Members during the debate. What is the second Chamber for? Is it a revising chamber? Is it one that should seek out the unintended consequences of legislation, which we are not good at doing because we do not have enough time?

Mrs. Laing: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Jean Corston: No, I have already said that I do not intend to give way.

Would an elected chamber be satisfied with a subservient role if its purpose was only to revise legislation and to look for unintended consequences?

Twenty-five years ago, Labour party policy was to abolish the House of Lords because it had so many hereditary peers. However, we have moved on and the debate is different nowadays. Given the abolition of the hereditary element, I am not sure whether, with all due deference to my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth) and other colleagues, their case has yet been made, because we do not have a proper system of pre-legislative scrutiny. If we had such a system, we would not need a second Chamber.

While we are still only in the early stages of assessing the effects of modernisation of this place, we continue to need, in our scrutiny role, a second Chamber. I shall therefore vote only for a wholly elected or wholly appointed House, and I urge my colleagues to think about the consequences of a hybrid second chamber. Ever since the creation of life peerages, there have been tensions in the other place because the hereditary peers thought that they were the only people who knew how to run the place and that life peers were mere upstarts. That attitude continued until the 600 hereditaries left and, who knows, it may still survive.

2.11 pm

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): At the conclusion of the debate, I propose to vote in support of those motions that provide for a wholly or largely elected second Chamber. In doing so, I shall be expressing views that I formed before I became a Member of this House in 1979—views that were reinforced by the 13 years that I spent as a Government Front-Bench Member and further confirmed by the experiences of the past five years in opposition.

Those who argue the case for an appointed second Chamber normally concede that it will lack the legitimacy of an elected one. I find it extraordinary that, at the start of the 21st century, we should be contemplating the creation of a political structure, which by its very act of creation will lack the political legitimacy required either to give it authority or to ensure its survival.

4 Feb 2003 : Column 176

Those who argue against an elected second Chamber do so on the basis that it will erode, if not destroy, the primacy and authority of this House, but such a claim is cruelly deceptive. Those who argue for the primacy of this House need to be more candid with themselves and with the electorate as a whole. Of course, in one sense, this House is sovereign: policies and Bills cannot proceed without the consent of elected Members. That is the form—the theory: but is it truly the substance?

I differ from many of my right hon. and hon. colleagues, because I long ago concluded that this House is in fact but the creature of party. The House is dominated by party, and usually that means the party of Government.

Sir Patrick Cormack: I am most grateful to my right hon. and noble Friend for giving way—[Hon. Members: "Noble?"] He is indeed noble.

Since my right hon. and learned Friend is so passionately keen on an elected second Chamber, can he explain why that, too, would not be dominated by party? How would people be elected if not on party tickets or party lists?

Mr. Hogg: On this occasion, because of time, I am going to stick to the high ground—if my hon. Friend will forgive me—although there are objections that need sensibly to be confronted. In very short order, I would have a different mode of election, a different time of election, fixed-term elections and no serving Ministers in the other place. I could make further suggestions.

To revert to my main argument, provided that a party of Government retains its majority, it can, in reality, do as it pleases. We do not have effective counterweights to the power of the party of Government and we have thus created an elective dictatorship. When looked at carefully, the primacy of this House—the sovereignty of the House of Commons—means little more than the primacy and sovereignty of the party in government, which usually means the Prime Minister.

I am not making partisan points. I realise that I often do so, but I do not propose to make many today. I acknowledge that the problem that I have described is of long standing and that the Government of whom I was a member passed a range of measures which in all probability did not enjoy wide public consent—[Interruption.] We have to be realistic and I advise hon. Members to be realistic about this matter.

The fact that we have a Government with a large majority who have pushed through a range of procedural changes of great importance adds urgency to the need to try to provide more effective controls on the Executive. I want to increase the independence and authority of parliamentarians. I want to diminish the power and influence of party and, as my hon. Friend the Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin), the Opposition Deputy Chief Whip, knows well, I want seriously to dilute the authority of Whips Offices. Above all, I want to impose effective constraints on Government policy and Government legislation.

However, I do not believe that unaided this House will so reform itself as to perform its proper and historic role. It is true that one way of doing so has been to incorporate into domestic law the European convention on human rights. I am a cautious supporter of that

4 Feb 2003 : Column 177

policy, but I am deeply depressed that elected representatives have to look to the judges to stand up for liberty rather than performing that function ourselves.

I want to see a powerful second Chamber. I shall be candid: my preference is, in effect, for a wholly elected senate with authority and competencies equal to our own. I acknowledge that the existence of such a chamber would be a challenge to the authority of this House and I welcome that. I acknowledge, too, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) pointed out, that there will be practical difficulties in bringing about such a change. However, I find it impossible to believe that we cannot sensibly address the problems. In any event, the advantages of such a change outweigh the disadvantages.

To those who say that people such as me will destroy the authority of this House, I say that we shall be creating another authority of equal legitimacy and that thereby we shall effectively curb the power of party and the power of the Prime Minister.

Over many years, including when I was a Minister, the House has ceded to the Executive power and authority that were not ours to cede. In short, we have undermined the democratic legitimacy of the House.

Mr. Levitt: Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hogg: I will not now.

I believe that we now need to create another elected Chamber to fill the void that we ourselves have created, perhaps even to shame ourselves into reforming ourselves, so that we are fully and properly capable of performing our historic role, which, in all conscience, is to safeguard the rights of the individual and to curb the powers of the Government.

2.20 pm

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton): I mean no disrespect to my right hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) and the Joint Committee he so ably chaired when I say that the assignment that they were given was, with two exceptions, impossible. They put forward seven options in good faith and after hard work. The inadequacy of those options has been demonstrated by interventions that have shown that colleagues would like many other options. That is no criticism of the Joint Committee, but five of those seven options are utterly arbitrary and utterly lacking in any kind of logic. The elected proportion options are lacking in logic because, of course, many other numerical options could be plucked out of the air. We could have 75 per cent. or 25 per cent. elected. We could have one third or two thirds elected.

Next Section

IndexHome Page