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4 Feb 2003 : Column 181continued
Janet Anderson (Rossendale and Darwen): I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this important debate today. I should first declare a kind of interest, as a member of the Joint Committee that is considering this matter.
When I was first appointed to the Joint Committee, I thought long and hard about how the upper Chamber should be reconstituted as a result of any reform. I decided that if it was right to elect the second Chamber, all its Members should be elected; and if it was right to appoint the second Chamber, all its Members should be appointed. I remain firmly of that view. A hybrid solution, as other Members have mentioned, of the kind before us todayin five of the seven optionsis the worst of all worlds. I cannot for the life of me understand why Members should support any of those options. How can we justify the election of 20 per cent., 40 per cent. or 60 per cent., and vice versa in relation to appointment? It simply does not make any sense.
Some argue that we have a hybrid upper House today. In a sense, we do, but none of its Members are elected. To elect some and not others places the upper House in an entirely different context. How would we elect, and how would we appoint? What would be the relationship between the two groups? To have a proportion elected would surely mean that they would be elected along party lines, whatever the method of election chosen. I presume that that would give them some kind of mandate, but who would elect them and how? How would their accountability compare with those who were appointed?
Let us take my region, the north-west, as an example. Suppose that we ended up with a proportion of peers from my region who were elected, and some who were appointed. Who would speak for whom? Who would have a mandate and who would not? Would an elected member of the upper House have a mandate to speak for my constituency of Rossendale and Darwen? More particularly, would my electors in Rossendale and Darwen want to elect someone else, albeit to a second Chamber, to represent them in Parliament? How would their accountability contrast and compare with someone from that region who had been appointed? Would anyone understand the difference?
Given those dilemmas, I am in no doubt that should a hybrid option be adopted, it would not be too long before there was a move to have the whole of the upper House elected, as was pointed out by my noble Friend Lord Hattersley in his column in The Guardian yesterday. In his words,
Having listened to all the debates in the Joint Committee and in the House, I have come down firmly in favour of an appointed upper Chamber. Let me say that I came to that view long before the Prime Minister expressed a similar one. An elected second Chamber is, of course, an attractive option for those who consider it the only way to secure a democratic alternative to the status quo. It is very easy to say, "Let's elect them." However, if this House is to go down that road, it is important that all the consequences of such a decision be fully taken into account.
It is inevitable that an elected upper Chamber could and would claim a mandate and flex its muscles substantially more than now. As Lord Carter pointed out many times in our deliberations in the Joint Committee, it is a convention well observed in the present House of Lords that the Commons has supremacy. By and large, that makes for a relatively smooth path for the Government's legislation. Sometimes there are one or two hiccups, but the Commons gets it way in the end, and so it should, for we are the only democratically elected Chamber. That would almost certainly not be the case were the Lords to be elected.
There are, of course, other arguments against such a course, and they have been well rehearsed by many Members. However, as I draw my remarks to a conclusion, there are one or two points that I would like to emphasise in relation to the appointed option.
Should the House choose the option of appointment, the Joint Committee will have to decide how to proceed. It would be essential for any method of appointment to be transparent and wholly independent, although I feel that there is probably a case for having some political appointments to reflect the balance of the parties in this House. Within such a system, there could also be a case for indirect elections from the regions, something which has strong support on both sides of the House. It would be easier to secure a gender and ethnic balance. In fact, an appointed House could well end up significantly more representative of the electorate than an elected one. However, it would also be possiblethis is an important pointto retain the valuable experience and expertise that is manifest in the House of Lords today. Our Parliament would be much the poorer should we lose that element.
Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde): I agree with much of what the hon. Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Janet Anderson) said in her excellent speech. I also congratulate the Joint Committee on the good report that it produced.
I am sorry that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) is not in his place. I listened carefully to what he said in support of a wholly elected upper Chamber, but I shall not support that proposition in the Lobby. He seemed to have a brief touch of political amnesia. He has forgotten what it was like to sit on the Government Benches in the Government of my right hon. Friend the former Member for Huntingdon when, because they had little or no majority, they listened, trimmed, adapted and at times adopted ideas other than their own to ensure that they got their business through.
One of the problems that we face in this debate is the background against which we are talking about House of Lords reform. As previous contributors have said, the powers of this House to hold the Executive to proper account have been tempered by so-called reforms of this Chamber. The hon. Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth) suggested that that was an issue for further work, and I agree with him. I very much hope that other Members will embark on that work. To try to talk, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) did in the first debate on the subject, about holding a more powerful Executive to account by means of reforming the other place is automatically to give up the job that we were sent here to do. Legitimising this Houseand not worrying about how we change an institution that already does a rather good jobshould be the top priority.
I wonder about the many opinion polls that the Leader of the House quoted. None of my constituents come up to me and say, "Oh, Mr. Jack, you must change the upper House. It is doing an awful job; it is not elected." My constituents rather like its buccaneer style of occasionally saying to the Government of the day, "So far and no further, or we must amend this Bill. We think that the Government have gone too far." My constituents respect the slightly idiosyncratic nature of the institution. After all, it is rather British. It does an extremely good job. Its debates are of high quality and, although its constitution could clearly be improved, it brings expertise and experience to the issues. However, this House ultimately has supremacy and it is not challenged by the other when it comes to making decisions.
When my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham spoke about the process of election, he conjured up in my mind questions about the basis on which people elected to the upper House would make their appeal. Would they make it as a series of 200, 300 or 600 independent persons, each with their own manifesto, or would they say that they were loosely associated with this or that party? Will they be elected along strictly party lines, or what?
The biggest problem with the debate is that this House is being invited to make a decision about a format and a formula for determining the membership of the upper House while we are in a complete vacuum when it comes to the method of election that is involved in some of the options upon which we will vote. Clearly, the questions of closed and open lists and proportional or non-proportional representation are serious issues that should be decided in concert with the decision as to whether to have elections. I want to know how people will be chosen and how they will be elected. That will determine whether the electoral system has any legitimacy.