Previous SectionIndexHome Page


4 Feb 2003 : Column 210—continued

Mr. George Howarth: Will the hon. Gentleman take it from those of us who support the abolitionist cause that we are very pleased that he will be with us in spirit if not in person?

Sir Patrick Cormack: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his gracious recognition of my position and why I cannot be with him in that Lobby.

I urge all colleagues, wherever they sit in the House, to put aside manifesto commitments and all those other things and look at the merits of the argument. My right hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry) was right about manifestos. I have distanced myself from my party in my own election

4 Feb 2003 : Column 211

address manifesto many times—I make no apology for doing so because I am answerable to the electors of South Staffordshire and to no others, and so it must always remain—but I urge Members to put aside all other considerations and say what will give the best Parliament to the nation.

If hon. Members wish to sacrifice power and to have a powerfully elected second Chamber, the logic of that argument is to vote for a wholly elected second Chamber. I respect hon. Members who take that position, but I disagree fundamentally with them. If hon. Members do not believe in such a Chamber, while believing that this House obviously needs reform and improvement because it is not the most effective first Chamber in the world, the logical course is to vote for a wholly nominated or appointed second Chamber, whatever the Prime Minister may do.

I believe that to go for a hybrid is the worst of all solutions for the very honestly adduced reason given by the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso), who spoke a little while ago. He said, "Well, I will go for 60 or 80 per cent. elected because I know that that will lead to 100 per cent. being elected in due course."

Mr. Bercow : Excellent.

Sir Patrick Cormack: My hon. Friend, who has been noticeably silent today—most amazing—may say that. Well, okay, but I shall end as I began. There are two logical positions: to have a wholly elected second Chamber with real power, a revoking Chamber, or to have a revising Chamber that is not a challenge to this House but derives its legitimacy from this House. That way would preserve the best of the Parliament that we have at the moment.

4.24 pm

Mr. Chris Bryant (Rhondda): I rise with some trepidation since I note that every person for whom I have ever worked has already taken a view on House of Lords reform. All my bosses have taken a view that is contrary to mine. My first boss was the Bishop of Oxford, and I suspect that he has already voted in the other place in favour of a wholly appointed Chamber. My second boss was my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), and he has gone down some very odd routes this week. My third boss was John Birt—now Lord Birt—who made a speech two weeks ago. I used to write his speeches, and they have not improved. I note that my present boss also disagrees with me on this subject. It is to the Government's credit, however, that we have a free vote on the issue. It is a great shame that the media have tended to turn this into a personal row between different members of the same party, on both sides of the House.

The truth is that this is a matter of settling the long-term constitution of this country, which is not something that can be drawn on the back of a fag packet. It is entirely right that there should be a free vote and that we should use our consciences. I support democracy and have always done so. I do not know whether that is just because part of my childhood was spent in Spain under Franco and I have strong memories of his dictatorship making sure that nobody

4 Feb 2003 : Column 212

had the opportunity to vote. I also spent some time, in 1986, in Latin America—in Chile, Peru and Argentina. Argentina had just come into democracy, Peru was a democracy with terrible problems, and Chile was still under the power of Pinochet, although he only ever appointed 25 per cent. of the Members of his Senate. One of the most bizarre things about sitting on the Joint Committee with my right hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) has been hearing so many lectures, especially from Members of the House of Lords, on the perils of democracy. One could easily have been sitting in the Politburo.

I have also been astounded to hear, and to read in the debates of the other place, how few people seem to have confidence in the concept of political parties. I am passionate in my support of political parties. It is only through political parties that manifestos are delivered. Only through political parties can one prioritise a programme of work. Only through political parties can the cult of the maverick, which is profoundly misguided and tends to be lionised by the media, be avoided. I believe in party politics and the discipline that it provides and I believe that we should say that out loud.

All sorts of things have been said about the House of Lords, but people have tended to forget that the majority of the current Members of the House of Lords are politicians—not elected politicians, but politicians—many of whom used to be in this House or work for political parties in all sorts of different ways in society. They are now able to claim up to £44,000 tax-free in expenses every year. Any politician in the second Chamber should be elected. That seems incontrovertible. If somebody is to be a party politician and take a Whip in the second Chamber, they should be elected.

Many people have referred to the role of the House of Lords. Of course, that is an area in which some of the debate has been a little thin. In the Joint Committee, however, there was a great deal of consensus on the issue. I believe that the primary role of the House of Lords is to legislate—a word that has not been used so far—to scrutinise, to revise and, in main measure, to help the Government make amendments to their legislation. So often, Ministers say in Committee that they will think about a particular amendment, and one knows that that amendment will not appear again until the Bill progresses to the House of Lords. That is a very important part of the processes in the House of Lords.

The role of the other place, as it is presently constituted, also involves the wielding not only of influence but of power. The truth is that it helps decide how people in this country live nearly every aspect of their lives: for example, in relation to issues such as social security or how people are taught in schools. If somebody wants to have the right to decide how I live my life, they should put themselves up for election. If people want to say, "I want power over your life but am frightened of standing for election," they are the first people who should not be put in any second House.

Many arguments have been advanced against democracy in the House of Lords. The first and foremost, and the one that I hear most frequently, is that, if we were to have elections to the House of Lords, it would fundamentally change its character. Well, amen to that, say I. I find it impossible to believe that people cannot see that the House of Lords, as presently

4 Feb 2003 : Column 213

constituted—and as it would be constituted if it were wholly appointed—is elderly and sclerotic. Frankly, it reminds one of the days when Colonel Blimp used to run the country from the Turkish baths at the Royal Automobile Club. We need to move to a new generation.

The present House of Lords is fundamentally reactionary. On many issues, the House of Lords has chosen to disagree with the House of Commons. For example, during debates on anti-terrorism legislation a year ago, I believed that we should have a law to prevent religious discrimination. However, the Lords ensured that that did not become law, and I think that they were wrong.

Another argument that many people have advanced against having an elected House of Lords is that there would be gridlock with a rival Chamber. The word "gridlock" comes from the American system. The American system is very different from ours: it is not a parliamentary democracy. The Executive in the United States of America are constituted completely without Congress. The very fact that the House of Commons constitutes the Government of this country, by the majority that the Government enjoy in here, is the fundamental premise on which our primacy must reside.

I am not sure about taking all Ministers out of the second Chamber, but we certainly ought to have a rule that the Prime Minister cannot be a member of the second Chamber. We do not yet have such a rule. It has become custom and practice that the Prime Minister is from this House, but there is no rule to say that that has to happen.

My hon. Friend the Member for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Clelland) advanced an especially interesting argument in the first debate on this issue two weeks ago. He said that he wanted to vote for a wholly appointed second Chamber so that it would be more democratic. I have always found that argument difficult. It seems to me that it would be difficult to create a more democratic and more transparent appointment system, because political parties will not want their nominations to be subject to a third party—namely an independent commission. Moreover, the people's peers have already been derided.

How would a new set of Lords Spiritual be appointed? Many people have spoken about this issue and suggested that we could have members of other religions and faiths in the second Chamber. However, we would then have to make invidious decisions on which Hassidic Jewish community should be represented, and which Muslim community should be represented. It would be far more sensible to go directly for election. Some people have asked whether we should have indirect elections.


Next Section

IndexHome Page