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4 Feb 2003 : Column 177continued
Dr. Jack Cunningham (Copeland): Of course what my right hon. Friend says is absolutely correct. We in the Committee did what we did because we were constrained by the terms of reference imposed on us, which were agreed in this Chamber and in the other place. Of course we could have chosen different options between the two extremes. We chose fivethey were quite arbitraryand we did so in the hope that it would
Mr. Kaufman: As I say, I entirely respect the role that my right hon. Friend and his Joint Committee played, but, nevertheless, it is a fact that all of those proportional, numerical options are arbitrary and subjective, and we could have had dozens of others. The fact is that we are not playing some kind of numbers game; we are creating a House of Parliament, and we have to take that with great seriousness.
As I found from the year that I spent on the royal commission, there are only two logically sustainable options, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, East (Jean Corston) demonstrated. One is a wholly elected second Chamberadvocated today in the press by Baroness Helena Kennedy, which makes one wonder why she humiliated herself by accepting appointmentand the other is a wholly appointed second Chamber. As we have heard in speech after speech in the debate so far, superficially, a wholly elected second Chamber has its attractions.
If there were a wholly elected second Chamber, who would vote? It is all very well saying that elections are great things and we are all elected, but the electorate have got elections up to their throats.
The electorate do not want to be bothered with so many elections. They have elections to the devolved Parliaments and Assemblies, the Greater London Authority, the European Parliament and local authorities, with the regional assemblies still to come. How do they respond? In the 1999 European election, 23 per cent. of them polled. In last year's local elections, 33 per cent. polled. In the election to the House of Commons two years ago, 59 per cent. polled. How many or how few would vote for an elected second Chamber?
Some people advocate that such an election should be held with a general election. If so, even with some fancy proportional system, the second Chamber would be a sort of clone, with the party that wins the general election dominating the second Chamber.
If such an election were held mid-termwhich the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) advocates, opportunistically, of course, for the Liberal Democratsit is quite likely that the Opposition would dominate the second Chamber because Governments are unpopular in mid-term. That would mean gridlock between the two Chambers.
Mr. Robin Cook: My right hon. Friend rebuked me for suggesting that the royal commission report proposed a different form of election for the second Chamber. I have had the opportunity to refresh my memory of the royal commission, and I see that it did recommend that there should be three alternative models for the election, all of which involved a regional list, and that by-elections should be filled by the next person on the regional list. I wonder how my right hon. Friend can really reconcile that with the system of election to this Chamber. Plainly, there is a different election system. As he seems to be making so much of the turnout issue, may I remind him that one of those models included the recommendation that the election could take place on the same day as the general election, when there is normally a high turnout. I do not see my right hon. Friend listed as dissenting from that recommendation.
Mr. Kaufman: My right hon. Friend had better read that report again. [Hon. Members: "He has it with him."] Yes, I see that he has it in front of him, with his marking ink on it. I am not absolutely blind, yet. There is no recommendation attached to that paragraph. We did not make that recommendation. We had a recommendation in front of that paragraph; we had a recommendation beyond it.
Mr. Kaufman: No, it is not there as a recommendation. My right hon. Friend should not heckle just because he is wrong. He is brilliant; he is an intellectual giant, but, on this, he has got it wrong, so may I proceed in my limited time?
An elected second Chamber, whenever it was elected, would without doubt be a second Chamber that was based on candidates chosen on the party principle. We would have in the second Chamber a group of party hacks, albeit a group of party hacks different from that of which we are members here. One lot of party hacks in two Houses of Parliament is quite enough. Yet, however few people voted, the second Chamber would claim the kind of democratic legitimacy that the hon. Member for North Cornwall wants. It would demand greater powers, not fewer. It might demand rights on money Bills, which the Liberal party took away from the House of Lords 90 years ago. It would be very difficult with an elected second Chamber to use the Parliament Act 1911, which the hon. Gentleman's party introduced.
The problem with hon. Members who support a wholly or partly elected second Chamber is that they are distracted from what a second Chamber is about by the glamour of election, which they all enjoy because they get elected. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, East told us what a second Chamber is about. A second Chamber that is elected in whole or in part would be a constitutional mess, and I therefore recommend to my
Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills): I am conscious, having represented Aldridge-Brownhills for nearly 25 years, that there are certain conclusions that one forms as an ordinary Member of Parliament. I have come to fear majoritarianism when majorities can inflict injustice on minorities, curtail personal liberties and support unwise policies. I have come to believe that it is of great importance in a democracy not only to guard society against the oppression of its Government but to guard one part of society against the injustice of another part.
In a sense, I support the Leader of the House, who is our Publius, if I may say so. It is no surprise that that was the nom de plume of the authors of the federalist papers, who, in turn, were taught by the three great professors of moral philosophy at Glasgow university. These arguments therefore come in great part from the Scottish enlightenment. There is only one justification for forming the legislature of a country in a democracy: election. To secure that principle, we should argue for the House of Lords to be wholly elected. There can be no other basis for its authority to challenge Government. After all, that is the very cause that we have handed away so easily. Publius as Leader of the House has done much to curtail the vitality of this House. Through the constant guillotining of legislation, we serve less the function that we were sent here to execute: to represent the people who sent us.
The first principlethat our authority derives from the peoplewas readily accepted, 225 years ago, by those who benefited from the American revolution: Britons in revolt against the Crown. They set out principles that have taken our country and most of the true democracies of this world by storm. All the time I have been here, however, we have had a quasi-, neutered second Chamber. I believe profoundly in balances and checks. Under the scheme put forward by some that we should reduce Parliament to one Chamber, we would have the majoritarianism of party. If I may take my Publius analogy a little further, although Publius was a nom de plume, the actual Roman overthrew the Tarquin king and helped to secure our liberties. Today, I hope that the Leader of the House is supported by his party in overthrowing the king who seeks a legislature that is not wholly democratic.
Mr. George Howarth: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not want to misrepresent the case that we are putting forward. Those of us who support abolition do so coupled with the idea that the procedures of this House should be reformed so that we may better hold the Executive to account.
Mr. Shepherd: I am always gloomy when one vested interest sets itself that task. I have sat for two Parliaments on the Modernisation Committee, and I have seen it, through both Parliaments, increase the hold and the control of the Executive over the detail of the timetable of this House, so that we may not even
As I said, Britons in revolt against the Crown, 225 years ago, constructed a constitution in which there were two legislative Chambers. Those now have equal competencein fact, one could say that primacy was wrestled away from the lower House, as the upper House took upon itself tasks that were more in tune with what the people of the United States wanted. The importance of the division between or within Parliamentthe balance and check within itis an equal qualification to argue, to check and to provide a check and balance within the legislature. The great threat to us, and the extraordinary thing that has diminished my view of our constitutional arrangements, has been the power of the Executive. The way Parliament exercised great checks, overturned improper laws and defended the personal liberty of the individual citizen now seems a romance, and I can only see that return through a legitimate second Chamber.
I share with the Leader of the House the view that the second Chamber does not need to be large. I accept that the American Senate, with 100 Members, can discharge responsible representative functions for which they are accountable to their constituencies. I do not believe, however, that we are near the end of our process of reform. What I am looking for is the assertion of the sovereignty of the people: those who make their legislation should be accountable to the people themselves.