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4 Feb 2003 : Column 213—continued

Caroline Flint: A number of people who have spoken about direct elections have also said that the basis on which people are elected should not conflict with the constituencies that are used in our election to this House. That suggests that direct elections will move to a system of proportional representation and therefore to a party list system. What is the difference between that and appointments? In a PR system, parties would be

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able to appoint people to a list or to have indirect elections for people from organisations such as the TUC or the CBI, and from regional government or elsewhere.

Mr. Bryant: The point of having an election is that if nobody votes for the political party for which a person is standing, that person will not be elected. If nobody votes Conservative at the next general election and the next European elections, no Conservative will be elected. Amen to that.

Those who support indirect elections should vote in favour of options that include an elected component. If we vote for a wholly appointed Chamber, there will be no chance—as was made clear in the Joint Committee—of having indirect elections.

In my final minute, I want to say a few words about the bishops. The bishops should go. Nobody else has said that today, but they must go. They represent only England, not Wales or Scotland. I believe in a strong Church but I do not believe that a strong Church has to be represented in the legislature.

The commitment to democracy, and to political change through democracy, is at the heart of the historic Labour party. Appointment, nomination, patronage and privilege—whether of birth or of personal connection—have always been inimical to the interests of the ordinary working people whom Labour represents.

Public opinion wants, and natural justice demands, that those who decide how we live our lives should be elected and removable. Our freedoms depend on the secret ballot, universal suffrage and free and fair elections. We turn our backs on democracy at our peril. I urge hon. Members to vote for an option that will give us a wholly legitimate Parliament, albeit with a majority, but partially, elected second Chamber, or to support 100 per cent. election, if only to say to the bishops that they have got to go.

4.35 pm

Mr. Paul Stinchcombe (Wellingborough): We have a constitutional opportunity of immense importance and a chance to achieve what many believe unachievable: to complete House of Lords reform and provide for a second Chamber that is both democratic and legitimate, but which neither duplicates the Commons nor challenges its primacy. It is an opportunity to provide for a second Chamber that is representative of the people and the regions, but still expert enough to do the job that we give it. It might even be an opportunity to build a consensus on the best way forward and to begin to agree the next stage of the constitutional evolution of the nation at a time when we are so bitterly divided.

I listened to the siren voices against a directly elected second Chamber and agree with much of what I heard. I cannot bring myself to support a 100 per cent. directly elected second Chamber because it would fundamentally undermine our bicameral system of Parliament, which works only if one House has primacy over the other. The Lords had primacy for centuries because the landed aristocracy were perceived to be superior to the lower social orders. It was only with the advent of democracy that this House took primacy because it brought with it legitimacy, and primacy followed that legitimacy. History compels me to the

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view that, if the second Chamber is directly elected and has a legitimacy equal to that of this Chamber, it will one day assert that legitimacy against the Commons, so I cannot support a directly elected second Chamber.

I cannot support an appointed Chamber either. I am a democrat and as such can see no point in reforming the House of Lords unless it is to make it more democratic. The only thing wrong with the other place is that none of its Members has been elected. It was because the hereditary peers were an affront to democracy that we removed them. Life peers are equally an affront to democracy, and we must remove them as well.

Of course, democracy does not equal legitimacy, but it does confer it. It affords two vital constitutional protections: government by consent and government by representatives. That is why our forefathers fought so hard for the vote and why we still fight for democracy across the globe. It is simply inconceivable that we turn our back today on democracy and embrace patronage instead. If the power of appointment is placed in an independent commission, we will simply have patronage by the great and good for the great and good, and if it is placed in the parties, we will simply have cronyism. Neither would command any respect so I cannot support an appointed second Chamber.

If I cannot support an appointed Chamber or a directly elected Chamber, neither can I support a hybrid that is part directly elected and part appointed. Two half wrongs do not make a right. A hybrid Chamber would certainly not make for a stable constitutional settlement because constitutional stability demands that all Members have the same standing—none is more legitimate than another. Some people claim that the House of Lords is already a hybrid, but they miss a crucial point. At present, all Members of the House of Lords owe their presence to patronage. Their mandate is by appointment only. Not one peer has the legitimacy that democracy alone can confer. Introducing a directly elected element into the second Chamber will create a Chamber of conflicting mandates, and I do not think that it could stand, let alone fly.

I agree with parts of all the speeches that I have heard. All three principal options are objectionable in principle: direct election threatens the supremacy of this House; appointments are not a democratic expression of the will of the people; and a hybrid Chamber would be a constitutionally unstable fudged compromise. What does all that mean? It means that we must recast the entire debate if we are to agree on a way forward. The debate has become far too narrow. The seven motions reduce complex constitutional issues to a set of merely numerical choices. We should be debating principles, not numbers—legitimacy, primacy, expertise and, above all, participation. We need to do more than choose between varying proportions of Members elected and Members appointed.

If mandate is the problem, we must look at the mandate—not percentages. We need to consider the means of election to the second Chamber. We must devise an electoral model that is democratic and will lead to a membership that makes the second Chamber both effective and legitimate, but ensures that it neither

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duplicates the composition of the Commons nor receives a mandate from the electorate that allows it to challenge the Commons' primacy.

Mr. Boris Johnson (Henley): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Stinchcombe: This is a very short debate. If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I shall conclude my remarks.

We need to look to a model of indirect elections to the second Chamber—models not even canvassed in the report of the Joint Committee, on which I served. In choosing our model of indirect election, we must have in mind the crucial need to re-engage the electorate, so that they not only participate in our democracy more fully, but begin once again to trust it, own it and even, Lord forbid, cherish it.

I no longer support the functional constituency model under which Members are elected by discrete representative groups, because that would narrow the electoral base to the vested interests and we would simply have a Parliament of lobbyists. I do not support direct regional elections, with Members elected by those already elected to local authorities or even assemblies, because the regional agenda is too undeveloped. Nor would that encourage the participation of the electorate.

I emphatically support the model persuasively advocated by the singer-songwriter and activist Billy Bragg in his pamphlet, "A Genuine Expression of the Will of the People", which I recommend all hon. Members read if they want to be serious students of constitutional reform. Under that model, MPs would continue to be elected by the first-past-the-post system and enjoy the primacy that only direct elections can confer. However, each vote cast at the general election would carry with it a secondary mandate for a second Chamber. The membership of the second Chamber would then be composed by distributing the seats in proportion to the votes cast for each party in the nations and regions of this kingdom. That would be a democratic expression of political preference.

Mr. Robin Cook: I hear what my hon. Friend says in support of that model. He will be aware that its distinguished author has listened to much of this debate. I spoke to him earlier, and I think that if he were consulted by my hon. Friend, he would encourage him to vote for one of the largely elected options. To put my hon. Friend right on one point of detail, none of the options says "directly elected". They say "elected" and embrace the option that he is proposing.

Mr. Stinchcombe: I am grateful for that intervention. I have been working closely with Mr. Bragg in preparing this speech. When I served on the Joint Committee, I voted precisely to ensure that indirect elections could continue following this debate. Indeed, I shall be voting for a 100 per cent. elected Chamber in the last resort.

We should have a secondary mandate for the second Chamber. It would then be a democratic expression of political preference. Because it would be only a secondary mandate, it would confer a legitimacy on its Members one step behind the primary mandate of directly elected MPs. The secondary mandate would

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encourage the electorate to re-engage with the political process because we are much more likely to reinvigorate our participatory democracy if we add more weight to the votes cast than if we impose another tier of elections on an electorate already suffering from election fatigue.

A secondary mandate would add real weight to votes. Currently, the only votes that count at the general election are those cast for the winning candidate. Under the secondary mandate system, all votes would count. More votes would lead to representation, and that representation would be proportional, so that no single party could obtain an overall majority in the second Chamber. Independence could therefore continue in that second Chamber, with smaller parties having their voice, albeit through the legitimate means of the democratic process, not the engineered means of patronage and appointment. Because we would be electing from regional lists, regional representation would also be secured, curing one of the most obvious ills of the second Chamber: government of the nation but not by the nation—by the well-heeled south-east instead.

I accept that we would not have exactly the same expertise in the second Chamber, but Governments appoint experts to Select Committees to advise us as we go about our business. Certainly some experts—perhaps many—will be willing to stand on an indirect basis, providing they can do so. After all, most experts happen to have a political viewpoint. Many are in the Lords already and many take the Whip. Most Cross Benchers have a political viewpoint too, even if they rarely turn up to express it.

I have heard the calls for us to make the second Chamber a politics-free zone, but we cannot take politics out of the legislature, nor can we take parties out of the politics—and nor should it be tried. If the only people we lose from the second Chamber are those who are unwilling to put themselves forward for election in a democratic age, that is no bad thing. We can hardly argue for the need to reinvigorate our participatory democracy, then go out of our way to find room in Parliament for those who refuse to participate in elections and deny all the people any say whatever in their appointment.

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