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4 Feb 2003 : Column 184—continued

Mr. Jack: As we are not able to debate that issue, I shall not answer that question. However, I made my position clear at the beginning of the debate.

How would we determine, in whatever the non-existent electoral cycle might be, how those in the upper House would be replaced? What would happen if they became unpopular? We can imagine that they might fall out with the people who elected them. Terms of 10 or 15 years would be an awfully long time. People make a clear decision for this House and determine once every four or five years what happens in it. They know exactly where they stand.

Mr. Love: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Jack: I would like to make a little more progress.

Several of the options before us involve hybridity. If we move away from a 100 per cent. elected or unelected Chamber, we can imagine how the votes of a new Chamber with a hybrid composition would be reported. There would be two columns in the newspaper: one for the elected and one for the unelected representatives.

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There would be great debates as to who actually took the decision and whether it had legitimacy. That is no way to proceed. The House must clearly come to a view that is 100 per cent. one way or 100 per cent. the other. The idea that we can have a fudged solution in the middle raises too many questions and gives rise to all kinds of bizarre debates and decision making that would be reported in the newspapers.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough): The right hon. Gentleman's dire predictions about the newspaper reports of votes are not borne out by what happens in mixed Chambers in countries such as Italy, Ireland and Belgium. Why does he think that they will happen here?

Mr. Jack: I have my view as to how the press would look at these issues. Inevitability, some people in a hybrid Chamber would be on a party ticket and others would be appointed. That is a recipe for mishmash. Whatever our view, we must make a clear decision one way or the other.

The Joint Committee presented us with the five qualities that it believed were central to a good upper House: legitimacy, representativeness, no domination by any one party, independence and expertise. We can obtain expertise by appointment, and we can undoubtedly achieve independence and no domination by any one party. Representativeness is open to debate, because I recognise that it can be achieved in different ways. However, a good cross-section of opinion that is geographically spread, with the Church and others representing the views of the country, can be obtained. Legitimacy can likewise be achieved, because this House confers legitimacy on the constitution of this country.

2.49 pm

Estelle Morris (Birmingham, Yardley): Many Members have correctly and understandably referred to the relationship between the House of Commons and those people down the Corridor in the House of Lords. I want to talk about something slightly different—our relationship with the public. It is not a matter of whether we get our Government's policies through or how we tie the hands of a future Government. What we have to remember is that whatever we do, we will be judged on how well we have restored democracy and Parliament in the eyes of the public.

I find myself in a strange situation. I look around at my colleagues and think how 50 years ago my family would not have dreamt of one of its members—let alone more than one—getting a seat in the House of Commons. There are more women, but nowhere near enough. There are members of the ethnic communities, but nowhere near enough. We could say that progress has been made in our representative democracy. Certainly no one could complain that political parties have not put themselves in a position in which they can get their business through the House. I am one of the party hacks that hon. Members mentioned and would defend that role to the hilt. I know that it is the party behind my name on the ballot paper that gets me here. But for all that progress the public are more disillusioned than they were 50 or 100 years ago. That worries me greatly.

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I fear that the debate is becoming—in some ways, for all the right reasons—an insular discussion about how our processes and systems work. I respect the fact that the details will have to be worked out. That will fall to the Joint Committee, which produced an excellent report, and we will consider its findings. However, there is a danger in voting because of the detail instead of the principle. I want to mention the principles that are important to me which will guide me in the decision that I make this evening.

I agree in part with the right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack). The House of Lords is doing a reasonably good job and I could defend it. It does not get in our way too much. Governments usually get their way at the end of the day, but it does at key points—I direct my remarks to the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth)—trim our sails, make us rethink legislation and help to tidy up the drafting of legislation. The House of Lords has the most brilliant debates because of its expertise. Any Minister or former Minister who has appeared before a Select Committee of the House of Lords will have done so with trepidation. It is a formidable Chamber. I could make an argument for keeping it the way it is, but I do not because when I go around schools, no youngster—no future citizen—has ever said to me, "Miss, how do I get to be a Member of the House of Lords?" That is why it must change. Children have come up to me and said, "How do I get into politics?" Indeed, I was stopped only a few weeks ago by a group of students just outside the House of Commons and two of them said they wanted to be Prime Minister.

So people talk about how they get to become a Minister in this place, but no one thinks that they might be a Member of the House of Lords. No one thinks that it is for them. One of the strengths of our democracy is that working-class kids—black kids and white kids, girls and boys—are beginning to think that this place might be for the likes of them. That is the most important progress that we can make as we move towards a fully representative and democratic Chamber. The House of Lords loses its legitimacy because few citizens think that they will ever stand a chance of getting into it. The problem is not one of percentages or what philosophers of the past might have thought, but that something does not ring true with the people, and we get into murky waters the minute we divorce ourselves from what does not ring true with them.

My first principle is that the House of Lords has to ring true with the people. At this stage in the development of our nation, the way we get things to ring true is by holding elections. We should not forget that. Although I have much respect for my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), I did not judge that a low turnout in an election meant that people did not like voting. Instead, I judged that they did not think that what they were voting for had the powers to make the changes that they wanted. We are in a difficult position because that is less to do with us and

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more to do with the way in which our actions and decisions are portrayed to the public through the media. That debate is for another day, however.

Mr. Clelland: Does my right hon. Friend believe that an elected second Chamber will have the powers to make the changes that the people want?

Estelle Morris: Not without a change in the way in which politics is mediated and we debate matters. We need to be far more mature and grown up about our debates. Without change, the elected second Chamber will not achieve what my hon. Friend suggests. By the way, I do not come down in favour of a wholly elected second Chamber.

So my first principle is that the second Chamber has to have a democratically accountable element. My second principle relates to trade-offs. Not all my principles can be met in any one version of a second Chamber. We have to make a trade-off when it comes to what we think is important. I believe in the supremacy of this Chamber. It is the way to get things done. The other thing that will not ring true with the electorate is if we knock on their doors before the next general election and say, "I am awfully sorry that I didn't actually get done what I promised you five years ago, but I was stopped in the House of Commons. I was thwarted by a procedural motion. Five of my Back Benchers were sick and ill." Being able to get the Government's business through the Chamber means that there is no excuse when we face the electorate at the next election for not having got things done.

We need to find a way to ensure that this Chamber remains of paramount importance while introducing a democratically accountable element to the second Chamber. That is why I favour a more than 50 per cent. democratically elected second Chamber that works alongside this Chamber. My compromise is that I would deny it the right to thwart this Chamber by not making it wholly democratically accountable. It is a compromise—it is trimming the sail—but that is how I would get over that difficulty.

Before I came to this Chamber, I could not imagine myself ever making a case for anything other than a democratically elected second Chamber, but I have observed that it works and can see its strengths. It has an independence of mind that is admirable. It finds time to debate issues that we sometimes do not have time to debate. It also has experts who, whether I like it or not, do not choose to stand for election, which is another compromise on my part. I do not want to lose that element from our parliamentary system. It has served us well and is fairly precious. I compromise again by allowing those people to continue to make their contribution.

This is a difficult debate for us all, but for our decision to ring true and for us to have done our jobs in representing one of the major strands in our democracy at the moment—that is elections—we have to be bold enough to say that even though it might make life more difficult for us, we need most people in the second Chamber to be elected. But as we do not want it to challenge our supremacy, it should not be completely elected. By denying it that, we will "keep it in its place." Over the 10 years that I have been in this Chamber, I

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have learnt to admire and respect the second Chamber. I have seen that the nation and Parliament benefit from its expertise and the representation of different groups there. As a result of that, I would want to maintain a proportion of appointments.

I shall listen to the debate with care when it comes to choosing how I exercise my vote. It has taken us five generations to get to this vote, so no one can pretend that we will consider it again next year. In five generations' time, we will be judged by the principles by which we cast our vote, not who we voted with or who we voted against, or how the party politics looked to play out that evening. That is how history will judge us. When I go around schools or talk to young people in my constituency—the boys and girls who are the future politicians and citizens—I want them to harbour as much ambition to be Members of the House of Lords as they do to be Members of the House of Commons. If we do that, democracy will be well served.


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