Previous SectionIndexHome Page

4 Feb 2003 : Column 191—continued

Mr. Bercow: Although a delineation of powers between the two Chambers is necessary to underline the primacy of this Chamber, does the hon. Gentleman accept that the self-confidence that would result from a legitimate elected second Chamber could serve the useful purpose of restraining the legislative appetite of this House?

Mr. Fisher: I agree. I believe that we all agree with the Leader of the House that it is important that the Commons retain its primacy, but few of us have

4 Feb 2003 : Column 192

discussed why and how that is to be achieved. We should be in prime position because the Government, the Prime Minister and the Executive are located in the Commons. We need to earn and re-earn our primacy—we should not simply gain it—but that primacy can easily be formalised, as several hon. Members on both sides have said, by removing members of the Executive and Ministers from the second Chamber. That would turn the second Chamber into a House of scrutiny and revision, and reduce—indeed, eliminate—the power of patronage. It would widen the type, range and diversity of scrutiny, making it both distinctive from, and complementary to, our work, and give the second Chamber a legitimacy that we should welcome, not be afraid of. Our House would have legitimacy because we are the House of the Executive and the Government.

Together, both Houses would provide good checks and balances. Inevitably, our House would be more sharply party political than the other place, which would not have Ministers or members of the Executive, but it would still include party members, as elections would be party political. It would operate in the same way as Select Committees, which have party bases but in which scrutiny transcends party priorities when necessary. That would provide a greater variety of scrutiny. Removing the Executive from the second Chamber would be good for the Commons, the Lords and Parliament as a whole.

A democratic election for the second Chamber is needed. My right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Estelle Morris) has a different view from mine, but she said that the matter concerns the people of this country. The decision to elect or appoint Members of a second Chamber is not ours alone—we have to consider whether the people of this country have the right to decide who sits in Parliament. Of course, they have to have that right, which is why we are here.

The system needs to be democratic and nourishing. We learn from our postbags and surgeries every week. We have roots that nourish us all the time, if we care to listen to them and feel them. My right hon. Friend was right that some fine people have been appointed to the upper Chamber. A wise society could, of course, appoint wise and good people, but their wisdom is entirely self-contained—it is not rooted among, or nourished by, the people. For all our constituents' inconsistencies, illogicalities and emotionalism, we learn from them. If we do not, we do not stay in the House, and Governments do not stay in power, for long.

Caroline Flint (Don Valley): My hon. Friend seems to be suggesting that Members elected to the other place should have links to the community. Is he suggesting that they should have parallel constituencies to those of Members of Parliament? I cannot see that they would otherwise have links to the community, and I do not support such duplication.

Mr. Fisher: I am glad that my hon. Friend asked about that, as such constituencies would not be at all helpful. The way to avoid that outcome is to have far fewer representatives in the Lords. For instance, there would be two Members of the second Chamber for every European constituency—perhaps 150 Members or 240 maximum. People would not represent individuals and

4 Feb 2003 : Column 193

would not take up individual caseloads, but would have a feel for the north-west, the south-west, the south-east and so on.

Mr. Clelland: Is my hon. Friend suggesting that individuals should be elected, but have no link with or responsibility for the people who elect them?

Mr. Fisher: They should have links with or roots in a region. This country has distinct regions, and the world looks very different in Cornwall or Devon from how it looks in the north-east. Members should be nourished by those roots, but they should not represent individual constituencies.

We do not yet have democracy in this country—we have half a democracy. We made progress in the last century: women at last got the franchise, but that century of democratic improvement ended with our having the right to elect only half our Parliament. We now have an opportunity to complete the formal aspect of that democratic change and give people the right to elect their whole Parliament. If they do so in the way suggested by other Members and me, keeping the Executive in the Commons, and making the Lords a house of scrutiny and revision, we would get a better, richer, more diverse and much more self-confident Parliament.

3.18 pm

Mr. Andrew Tyrie (Chichester): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher), as I agree with most of his remarks.

I wish to deal with the question of unicameralism, on which we shall vote and for which there is a respectable case. It all hinges on one key point—can we reform this place to make it work effectively and touch a nerve with the public, who are clearly disaffected by the way in which we perform our democratic duties? The answer, I believe, is no.

Mr. Kilfoyle: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that there is another key point in the unicameral argument made by me, my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth), and others? We want to avoid the present situation where patronage rules supreme. Many hon. Members who signed the amendment are not against a wholly elected Chamber, but want to remove the routine of placemen and placewomen imposed on the upper House through patronage, whether by the Prime Minister, the Executive or any imaginable mechanism.

Mr. Tyrie: I agree to some extent. An appointed House will always ultimately be a House of patronage. An elected House, if people are elected on long and non-renewable terms, will not. I therefore hope to find the hon. Gentleman in the Lobby with me, voting for a largely or wholly elected second Chamber.

Tony Wright: Does the hon. Gentleman remember that it was famously said, why look in the crystal ball when you can consult the book? We can consult the book. When this House was asked a few months ago

4 Feb 2003 : Column 194

whether it wanted to have its Select Committees controlled by the Executive and the party machines, or to own the Select Committees for itself, it voted for the Executive option. So those who claim that we can abolish a House of scrutiny because we are so vigorous in scrutinising the Executive in this House are talking poppycock, are they not?

Mr. Tyrie: The hon. Gentleman makes a point that I do not have time to develop. I agree with every word of it. Perhaps I can begin my speech.

The truth is that we need a second Chamber to perform a constitutional longstop role. We need a second Chamber that can encourage us to think again. The present second Chamber does not perform those tasks adequately. The composition of such a Chamber must command moral authority in the country. In the 21st century, only a democratic, or largely democratic, method of selection, can hope to fulfil that function.

I was pleased to hear the speech of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Estelle Morris), who brought to the Chamber a sense of what is going on outside it. We look at ourselves introspectively far too much. We will not be taken seriously as a Parliament if we reject democratic options for reform of the second Chamber.

There are numerous objections to democracy, and I shall deal with some of them in the time remaining to me. The first, which is often heard, is that we will replicate ourselves up the Corridor—the clones of the clowns argument, as Lord Howe put it. That is the argument which says that the Whips will end up controlling the other place just as vigorously as they control this place. That is nonsense. Different systems of election will throw up different compositions. Most other countries seem to get round the problem—the United States, Germany, Italy and Spain, to name but four.

Nor is it true that holding elections on general election day to benefit from a higher turnout will lead to a clone problem. The United States elects a third of its Senate on the same day as its lower house, and although there is a coat-tail effect, the swing is not uniform, and there are certainly not clones of the House of Representatives in the upper house—the Senate. The point made by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) on that was wholly fallacious. As for the powers of the Whips, as I pointed out, if Members' terms are non-renewable, the Whips will have little influence.

A second argument is that of gridlock—that is, as soon as we have elections up the Corridor, the two Chambers will be locked in mortal combat. That is a load of old tosh. We have a Parliament Act, which was framed to set out the rules and limits of that relationship and to prevent gridlock from ever happening again. The Parliament Act 1911 resulted from the only gridlock crisis that we have ever had in this country. No one in their right mind in this place would ever repeal the Parliament Act. It is in place to protect us from gridlock.

4 Feb 2003 : Column 195

The Prime Minister accepted all those arguments until recently, or at least it seemed so. He had attached himself to a number of manifestos supporting election—

Next Section

IndexHome Page