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4 Feb 2003 : Column 217—continued

4.45 pm

Mr. Robert Marshall-Andrews (Medway): I will not take up my full time allowance. It will be an unalloyed pleasure in a few moments' time to go into the same Lobby as the Leader of the House and the shadow Leader of the House. I have never truly understood whether he is a total man or a substantial man. Having listened carefully to him, I am none the wiser, but I have come to the conclusion that it does not matter very much. It will be a joy to be in the same Lobby as him and my right hon. Friend, but before then, I shall have an interesting diversion, as I shall be in the unicameralists' Lobby, together with, I hope, a substantial number of my colleagues.

I am a unicameralist, and would abolish the second Chamber. For the avoidance of doubt, that means removing the bishops and Law Lords from Parliament, and abolishing the office of Lord Chancellor, replacing

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him with a democratically elected Minister—a Secretary of State for justice, an office that was central to every Labour manifesto for 50 years until 1997, when it mysteriously disappeared. I believe in unicameralism because the House of Lords has been an alibi for our own inadequacies on many occasions.

I echo what my good and hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Tony Wright) said the last time we debated this matter. He spoke about an occasion in the last Parliament when he organised a small but perfectly formed rebellion. I cannot remember what it was about, but I was almost certainly a part of it. He recollected that many people said that they would have supported him, save for the fact that they knew that the Lords would ultimately do their duty.

Something similar happened when we were fighting for jury trial, and there was a large rebellion. Forty Labour Members voted against the Government, and 90 abstained. However, several told me that they would certainly have voted against the Government on jury trial if they had not known full well that the House of Lords in due course would throw the measure out, which it did. I have often reflected on what would have happened if we did not have the House of Lords, and Members who would undoubtedly have fought for jury trial had voted against the Government in the Commons, knowing that it was their last chance to do so. We might easily have beaten the Government, with their vast majority. If we had done so, we would have struck enormous simultaneous blows for parliamentary democracy and the oldest of our civil liberties.

That is the answer to people who say that unicameralism is a dangerous road. The plain fact is that it will concentrate the minds of elected Members of Parliament to a far greater extent than any other superficial reform. However, we are not going to get it, so there is only one option—a fully elected House. There is no other option, and what has been offered as a challenge to this House is pure bunkum. The House of Lords will be a creature of statute, and will be bound by a statute of our making. The behaviour of its Members will undoubtedly deteriorate when they are elected, but there is no sign whatever that there will be an outbreak of mass delinquency. Let us vote for election, because it is a vote against the greatest curse of the British political system—the continuation of patronage in any form, whether deferred or otherwise.

4.49 pm

Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North): I shall be brief. I support a totally elected second Chamber. I will vote tonight for 100 per cent. elected, but I am also prepared to support a substantially elected body if that means that reform can be achieved. I urge all those who support a fully elected second Chamber to vote for 80 per cent. and 60 per cent. as well, so that we can make progress. It is vital that we make progress on an issue that has been discussed for so long. I hope that we can reach a substantial majority for one of the options tonight. It is good that we have a free vote, so that, within parties, we can express our differing views. It is important for hon. Members to remember that we have a free vote tonight, and that we can vote for what we believe in.

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I have no worries about a hybrid House. I do not recognise the description of the Members of the Welsh Assembly given by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, East (Jean Corston). She grossly exaggerated the position in the Welsh Assembly.

A reformed second Chamber must be seen by the public to be democratic. I do not support abolition or unicameralism, and I do not support the amendment to that effect. We need a second Chamber to scrutinise and revise legislation. Even with pre-legislative scrutiny, we need a second Chamber so that a different set of people can scrutinise legislation. We need checks and balances to ensure that the laws that we make are, as near as possible, right.

Many reasons have been given for the election of a second Chamber. Many hon. Members argued that that would give it greater legitimacy. It will not be a place where Members from this place go when they no longer want to go through the electoral process and the hurly-burly of the hustings, or where they and others go if they are not prepared to put themselves in front of the people.

Much has been said about Members of the second Chamber with enormous achievements in other fields. I do not belittle their contribution, but how much time can they give their duties in the other place? It would be interesting to look at the voting records of people with expertise who have been nominated to the other place.

Mr. Bercow: I entirely agree with what the hon. Lady has just said. Does she accept that her point about part-timers and relative inactivity is underlined spectacularly this afternoon by the fact that in the first vote in the other place, only about half the Members bothered to vote?

Julie Morgan: I believe that it is a myth about brilliant achievers taking part in the second Chamber. If their expertise is needed, they can be co-opted on to Committees in the second Chamber. My hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) made the point strongly about the so-called experts.

The public would find it incomprehensible were we to set up a totally appointed House of Lords. Do hon. Members remember the derision that not so long ago greeted the Wakeham report and the proposal for an elected element of 20 per cent.? As the Leader of the House said, public opinion does not suggest support for a move to a totally appointed House of Lords.

Many arguments against an elected House have been heard in the debate today. One of the main ones is that it would challenge the primacy of the House of Commons. That can be dealt with in many ways, as we heard.

Mr. Clelland: Does my hon. Friend agree with the Leader of the House, who told us that a vote for direct elections can also mean a vote for indirect elections? Is she aware that in the Committee that prepared the report before the House, there was only one vote on any option, and that was a vote by those members who favour elections to eliminate any reference in the report to indirect elections?

Julie Morgan: Indirect elections can be considered as part of the elected whole.

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In conclusion, we have an historic opportunity to move forward, and I urge hon. Members to go the way of democracy. Let us have a fully democratised second House.

4.54 pm

Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire): I congratulate right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House who have taken part in our two days of debate on this issue. On behalf of the official Opposition, I also wish to thank the right hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) and the members of his Committee for producing the report on which our proceedings are based. We have had an interesting and wide-ranging debate, with many differing views being expressed.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) mentioned, the official Opposition's policy is to support a smaller, but largely democratic House of Lords. We favour a ratio of 80 per cent. elected to 20 per cent. appointed. I thought that the criticism from the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Jim Dowd) of the official Opposition having a policy on the subject was misplaced. We would indeed be open to criticism had we failed to engage in this debate at all. I am happy to confirm that, like Labour Members, we will have a free vote: my right hon. and hon. Friends are free to vote as they choose.

For the first, and perhaps only, time I agree with the conclusions of the Leader of the House on this issue and I intend to vote for all those options that would result in a second Chamber in which more than 50 per cent. of members were elected and against all the other options, including the amendment. I support the bicameral system that we have and I thought that a strong and eloquent case was made by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Estelle Morris), in one of the best speeches of the two days of debate. We need a safety valve in our system. We need a second Chamber that enables us to rethink and revisit legislation and acts as a safeguard, not least against this Chamber prolonging its own life.

Some other interesting secondary issues were raised. The more that the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) spoke, the more I agreed with him, especially his point that there was a good case for removing members of the Executive from the other Chamber. The hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) mentioned on a point of order the vote in the other place. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) that the fact that only 445 peers voted out of a potential electorate of 700 leads one to ask where the others were. Why were they not in their places to vote on their own future?

Whatever one's view on what is the best option this evening, we all hope that the votes tonight will lead to a lasting resolution of the issue. We need an effective and legitimate second Chamber that is willing and able to scrutinise properly and not afraid to use its powers. For me, and many of my right hon. and hon. Friends, that means a democratic element, not a Chamber of cronies. I hope that, when we vote, the House agrees.

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