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Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): It is ironic that we face a ten-minute Bill from the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) suggesting that people should not have the right to vote, because his last one called for people to have the right to vote in a referendum. He had some success in persuading the Government that we should have a referendum on the European constitution—although I suspect that the decision was not directly related to his ten-minute Bill on the subject. He will not have as much success with this Bill.

It is also ironic that the hon. Gentleman suggests that people should not have the right to vote the day before we have elections for the European Parliament and local councils around the country. I am sure that people will notice the reactionary note that he has struck today and will reject his party convincingly tomorrow. The hon. Gentleman also referred to the 245 Members who voted
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with him in favour of a wholly appointed House of Lords. Ironically, that was the least popular option in this Chamber by a considerable margin. It is also the least popular option in the country. The people of Britain do not want people appointed for life to decide how others can live their lives, if they are not prepared to put themselves up for election.

The hon. Gentleman advanced the two arguments that can be made for an appointed second Chamber. The first is that appointment is the only way to ensure that the right people become Members and the second is that it is the only way to ensure the primacy of the House of Commons. However, both arguments are fundamentally flawed. On the first argument, the truth is that the second Chamber is at present wholly unrepresentative of the country in which I live. The Lords is full of elderly generals and a bunch of other people who would not be recognised by the wider country.

An appointments system for the second Chamber will always reflect the generation just gone by. It will always appoint people who used to be politicians and captains of industry. The end result will always be a reactionary second Chamber. It is not surprising that the occasions since 1911 on which the Parliament Act has had to be used have all been to counter reactionary moves. The first time was the opposition to the Welsh Church Disestablishment Bill in 1914, and the second was the opposition to the change in the age of consent. Now the Lords want to ensure that we do not use the Parliament Acts to push through a ban on hunting.

We know that the second Chamber will always be reactionary while it is staffed solely by people who have been appointed. It is also largely representative of the south-east of England and London, rather than the whole of the United Kingdom. That is what happens when the great and the good appoint the great and the good. They know each other because they live in the same streets in Hampstead and Islington—[Interruption.]

It is also wrong to appoint people for life. We used to have a society in which people were appointed for life as professors in universities or as clergy, but surely we have now realised that the whole idea of patronage for life is not only undemocratic but wrong. The words of Isabella in "Measure for Measure" come to mind:


Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. The House must come to order.

Chris Bryant: I am glad that the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) is close to apoplexy. Those words of Isabella's should apply to all politicians, and we should not have ermine for life.

Debates in the House of Lords, which I urge other hon. Members to attend, are always the last refuge—[Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. The House must come to order.

Chris Bryant: Debates in the House of Lords are always the last refuge of the vested interest. The hon.
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Member for Stratford-on-Avon said earlier that the great advantage of the House of Lords is that it is independent and full of expertise and mavericks. However, 60 per cent. of those appointed in recent years have taken a party Whip. That end of the Palace is no more independent than this.

The second reason given for keeping an appointment system for the House of Lords is to sustain the primacy of the Commons. That is simply untrue. How does it best serve the interests of Parliament to continue to ensure that part of it is illegitimate?

The hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon said that it would be best to retain that illegitimate situation as it does not challenge the powers of this House, but the truth is that the House of Lords has substantial powers. Because of the way that the 1911 and 1949 Parliament Acts were drafted, the powers of the House of Lords increase exponentially in the second half of a Parliament and wreak havoc not merely with individual Bills but with the whole programme of an elected Government. That means we have stop-go government and that is unacceptable.

If we want to make sure that the primacy of the House of Commons is maintained, instead of everything being governed by convention, with gentlemen's agreements that were signed in some gentlemen's club back in 1915, we should codify the relationship between this House and the other House. Instead of the 10-minute Bill proposed today, we should have a proper Bill to bring in a new Parliament Act, which would codify the relations between this House and the other Chamber, establish the primacy of the House of Commons and give us proper powers over the second Chamber.

Secondly, such a Bill should establish a proper conciliation process between the two Chambers. We are the only country in the world with a bicameral system that has no proper means of reconciling disagreements between the two Chambers. The current ping-pong arrangements bring the parliamentary system into disrepute.
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Thirdly, a new Parliament Act should bring in what the 1911 Act promised:

the Act noted with some irony—

Of course, we need a second Chamber based on a popular system of election—whether direct or indirect election, or wholly or substantially elected. Many Members may disagree, but the whole idea of having an appointed second Chamber must be something for the history books.

I have two further points. First, it is curious that membership of the legislature is still associated with the peerage. Surely, we should be taking titles away from members of the second Chamber. It seems bizarre that we are still living in a country where lords and ladies, barons, dukes and earls still carry titles as they go into meetings as Ministers of the Crown. We should have a more egalitarian system in our second Chamber. The days of 1066 and all that are over.

Finally, many countries in Europe are relatively new to voting. Spain, Portugal, Greece and the eastern bloc have all returned to democracy from dictatorships of the left or the right during my lifetime—many of them during the last 10 years. Few countries in Europe have a constitution that is more than 60 years old. Surely, it is time that we, who have perhaps grown a little flabby in our constitutional arrangements and have got rather over-used to voting, should finally decide for ourselves that we want a wholly or substantially elected second Chamber.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 23 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of public business), and negatived.
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Veterans' Affairs

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Gillian Merron.]

1.45 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Ivor Caplin): I am delighted to be able to open this debate. This is the first time that the House has had the opportunity to debate veterans' affairs. It is, I believe, a significant day for the House and it offers us a chance to reflect on not just last weekend but the wider matters relating to veterans' affairs across the United Kingdom.

I have been in post for about a year, and I intend to look back at what we have done during that time and to look forward to future strategies. As I do so, a recurring theme will be partnership—with veterans' organisations as well as across Government—so I am very pleased that the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman), is here today to wind up our debate, showing the cross-Government approach that we take.

I am sure that the House would also expect me first to say something about last weekend. In doing so, I record my certain belief that all of us in the House recognise the huge debt owed to all those veterans who served during the second world war and who did so much to secure the freedoms that we enjoy today.

I recently had the pleasure and honour of attending the 60th anniversary commemorations of the campaigns at Monte Cassino, as well as spending three days in Normandy with our veterans, and I certainly look forward to attending further events leading to the final VE-VJ day commemorations next July.

Last weekend's commemorations of the Normandy landings received huge support from veterans and many other people from across the United Kingdom. We estimate that at least 20,000 people travelled to Normandy for the weekend. I was very glad to be able to provide logistical support from our armed forces to the Normandy Veterans Association in managing that huge and significant event. The result was a weekend of ceremonies that were a fitting commemoration of a most historic event and which will be a lasting memory for all who were there and, I hope, for the millions of people in this country and around the Commonwealth who saw the excellent television coverage.

I know that the whole House, together with the Normandy Veterans Association and the Royal British Legion, were pleased at the attendance of Her Majesty the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh, the Prince of Wales and other members of the royal family during the weekend. The success of the events is attested by the words of the veterans themselves, one of whom said to me:

The House will recognise that such events are very much a team effort, but I should like to mention a few individuals, in particular the special efforts of General Martin and Leslie Frost, the president and chairman respectively of the Normandy Veterans Association, Air Vice-Marshal Pocock, the Defence Services Secretary in
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the Ministry of Defence, and Brigadier Shouesmith, Commander 102 Logistic Brigade, whom I thank for all their and their teams' hard work and commitment, which ensured the success of last weekend's events.

During my visits to Normandy and other anniversary events, I had the privilege of meeting a large number of second world war veterans. They are remarkable for their modesty in recalling personal achievements, for their comradeship, and for their pride in the forces in which they served. I was moved by the comment of one Normandy veteran, who said: "I can tell you for a fact that we are not the heroes; it's the chaps who died who are the heroes." Such people are an example to us all, and our society has much to learn from them.

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