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John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): It is a privilege to open a debate on House of Lords reform, the first such debate in this House since that which was initiated on 23 February last year by the then right. hon. Member for Livingston, the late and much lamented Robin Cook. He was truly an outstanding parliamentarian and a superb ambassador for the House. How fitting it is that an issue so important to him and of such continuing concern to many Members in all parts of the House should be kept on the agenda in the way that today's opportunity is providing for it to be.
Pressing the fast forward button, we find that 92 years later, the Government presented seven options to the House on the future of the second Chamber. Each option was defeated, but it is relevant to recall that the option of an 80 per cent. elected and 20 per cent. appointed House came within three votes of being approved. It was defeated by 284 votes to 281. No fewer than 336 Members voted for 60 per cent., 80 per cent., or 100 per cent. election. However, it was not to be. A noble cause was put on the back burner.
In late 2004, Lord Falconer signalled that the final stage of Lords reform could be expected to take place early in a third Labour term. Since then, internal division within the Government, and possibly some lethargy to boot, have combined to produce no significant development. The most recent utterance that I have encountered was from the Minister of State at the Department for Constitutional Affairs, whom I welcome to the debate. In response to a written question from my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell), the right hon. and learned Lady said that the Government intended to go ahead with
Separately from that commitment, she underlined that the Government also intended to press ahead with plans for a time limit on consideration by the Lords of any Bill, with the proposed abolition of the remaining hereditary peers and with a free vote on the future composition of the second Chamber.
It is important that the momentum for reform be maintained and accelerated. Today, I want to argue for the sort of second Chamber that is suitable to a modern democracy. In other words, I am describing the way ahead. The first issue on which I wish to focus is that of functions and powers. It is my view, and I am convinced that there is almost consensus in the House, that the second Chamber should be a House of review, scrutiny and deliberation. In other words, whether it will in future be called the House of Lords or something else, it
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should continue to be complementary, but not duplicatory, to the work of the House of Commons. The logical corollary of that proposition, for which there is general support, is that the powers of the second Chamber should be broadly the powers that it possesses today.
Thirdly, I wish to make a suggestion of which I am not the original author. When there are genuine and continuing controversies, a dispute resolution committee to resolve them should be established. It would make sense for that to be a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament, tasked with the responsibility to propose compromise amendments to legislation on which ping-pong between the House of Commons and the House of Lords was taking place.
Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire) (Con): As for a dispute resolution committee, how many pings and pongs does my hon. Friend envisage before reference would take place? Would it still be necessary under the new dispensation slightly to change the amendment each time there was a ping or a pong, or would he go for a much more transparent arrangement?
John Bercow : On the whole, I favour transparency, but I am open to persuasion. I do not have a definite view about the number of pings and pongs that should take place or be allowed to happen before the committee is invoked. There is something to be said for its being invoked slightly earlier than the arrangement at the moment, which allows for protracted exchange and continuing controversy.
Several such thoughts have been articulated eloquently in the pamphlet published last year by University College, London entitled "Reforming the House of Lords: Breaking the Deadlock". It was a cross-party publication authored by the late Robin Cook, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young), the then hon. Member for North Cornwall, Paul Tyler, and the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright).
Mr. Sadiq Khan (Tooting) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) on introducing such an important debate. During the past eight months, I have been troubled as a new Member of Parliament by the number of times I have agreed with him. I have not had the benefit of reading the pamphlet to which he referred, but how many other countries with upper Houses have a disputes resolution committee?
John Bercow : That is a question of the quality to which we have become accustomed from the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Khan). It is one of those questions that is asked ordinarily by someone who knows the answer to it, although now might be an exception. I must admit that I do not know. I think that there are about 69 second Chambers throughout the world, 47 of which have a mixed membership. However, that is a different point, and I admit that it is somewhat irrelevant to his question. Perhaps one of the authors of the report can answer him.
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Almost irrespective of that which applies elsewhere, there is an argument for trying to break the logjam and to ensure that there is a mechanism whereby people of good will can abandon megaphone diplomacy, sit round a table and try to resolve issues in a civilised way, perhaps in a fashion that members of the public engaged in a continuing argument would employ.
Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. Does he share my worry that in discussions about House of Lords reform, the good work carried out in a modest way by the House of Lords to revise our legislation is often overlooked by the public, who tend to concentrate on what the membership of the upper House should be, rather than the function that it undertakes?
I wish to talk about the principles of composition of the second Chamber. For a long period, I felt strongly that we should, in a modern democracy, have a fully elected second Chamber. I have not departed from that view, but I reckon that the prospect of achieving agreement to it in political reality is somewhere between minimal and non-existent. I have, therefore, come to the conclusion that there is something to be said for fashioning a proposal for a mixed, predominantly elected, second Chamber. That is the view of a number of colleagues here today, and it happens to be mine.
We can argue the toss about what the precise distribution should be, but my suggestion is that to have 70 per cent. elected and 30 per cent. elected is reasonable and would command widespread support. There has been widespread support in the House and in opinion poll after opinion poll for a predominantly elected second Chamber, but the notion of a mixed composition, respecting the principle of democracy and retaining the principle of existing, but unelected, expertise should unite colleagues rather than divide them.
The second principle is that the second Chamber, once reformed, should be a great deal smaller. At the moment, the House of Lords comprises 728 Members. I do not believe that we suffer from under-government in this country, but there is a compelling argument that in important respects we are materially disadvantaged by over-government. If we are to have a Chamber that is in any case principally about review, scrutiny and deliberationin many cases, the attempt to reach consensusa smaller group of people is almost certainly desirable. I suggest a Chamber of approximately 300 Members.
Thirdly, there is merit in the principle that the Chamber should, in formal terms, be hung. That is to say, no one party should ordinarily enjoy a majority in that Chamber, and it would be possible to construct a revised House of Lords so as either to render that impossible or to make it highly unlikely that one party would command an overall majority.
My fourth principle is that Members of the revised and reformed second Chamber should serve much longer terms than those in the House of Commons. This is another example of how, in terms of character and
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ethos as well of function and expectation, it would be a very different Chamber from the House of Commons. The notion that we are just mirroring the House and providing for duplication or guaranteeing rivalry and unhealthy tension is rebutted by the fact of those desirable arrangements. Between 12 and 14 years would probably be the right period for someone to serve.
My fifth principle, and it is incredibly important that this should be included in the arrangements, is that membership of the second Chamber should be for a non-renewable term. Not only should it be non-renewable in the sense that someone who was elected and has served should not then be able to serve another term in the second Chamber, but no such individual should have the right immediatelyif at allto go for election to the House of Commons. We need to establish and preserve the distinctiveness of the second Chamber that we seek to establish.
If there is to be patronage on the part of the Prime Minister in the appointment of people to the upper House or the revised second Chamber, whatever its designation, that patronage should be kept to a minimum. The suggestion has been made that the Prime Minister should be entitled to appoint up to four people a year, and I concur, but it should not be more than that.
There is real merit in having the elections taking place on the same day as elections to the House of Commons, but on a regional basis and via a system of proportional representation, the better to conduce to precisely the non-partisan, consensus-seeking political culture that is desirable.
I do not feel strongly about specific categories of people who are currently part of the appointed element of the House but, overall, I confess that there is a lot to be said for including the Law Lords, who have a very distinctive and valuable contribution to make, attributable to their particular expertise, which is relevant to legislation, the approach to human rights issues and a miscellany of other matters.
On the whole, though I would not go to the wall over it, I am much less sympathetic to the notion that special places should be preserved for the bishops. They undoubtedly might be, and frequently are, sources of great ecclesiastical wisdom, but that does not mean that they should also be sources of political authority.
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): I am listening very carefully to the hon. Gentleman's arguments and agree with almost all that he says. I would like to be clear on one thing: when he says Law Lords, does he mean serving Law Lords or former ones? Former Law Lords make an inestimable contribution to the present House of Lords. The serving Law Lords are constrained by their judicial role and intervene very little in debate on matters of the day.
We have a pretty clear idea of what could constitute a set of principles for a predominantly elected second Chamber. There is, of course, the very important question of our approach towards the appointed element of the House. My view is that there should be a statutory appointments commission, the responsibility
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of which would be to recommend names. The names recommended should then go before a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament for determination.
As a second principle when dealing with the appointed peers, it is desirable to suggest a minimal focus on party. Of course people should be entitled to have a political preference, and perhaps even a publicly stated party affiliation, but one wants to keep that to a minimum because we seek to provide for the appointment of a set of people of distinction and expertise that is not driven by or particularly related to party political loyalty.
My third point on the appointed element is that it is long overdue and politically essential that we break the link between the peerage and Parliament. If the honours system is to be preservedthere is a powerful case for doing sopeople can be made Lords, and will be, from time to time. If the Queen is pleased to approve recommendations for peerages for individuals, so be it. It should not follow that because someone is entitled to call himself a Lord, or herself a Lady, that individual should enjoy a seat in Parliament. We have a great and historic opportunity to break a link that has become increasingly discredited. Let us take it.
I should like to say something about the status of the second Chamber in the new circumstances that I envisage regarding salaries and allowances. Let us be clear: the second Chamber at present isI say this not pejoratively but as a statement of facta House of amateurs. That is unfortunate, anachronistic and in practical need of early replacement. The premise on which it is constituted is very clear. There are mainly gentlemen and, in some cases, lady amateurs who come in and contribute from time to time. No salary is paid or expected, accommodation is poor, facilities are inadequate and allowances are paltry. The underlying supposition is that most of the people in the second Chamber have means by which to sustain themselves: either they have inherited wealth or they have been successful in making money in industry, commerce or the City. In 2006, that seems quite wrong.
The related point is that allowances are very poor. My research suggests that if a Member of the House of Lords were to attend every single sitting day in a parliamentary Session and it ran to its full length, he or she would be entitled to £13,000 in secretarial assistance. That is woefully inadequate. We accept, of course, that Members of the upper House do not have constituency responsibilities, but, if they are regularly to participate in important debates and undertake Committee scrutiny on public issues, why should we work on the assumption that they have nil or minimum contact with the outside world? That reinforces the notion that the upper House is just a club to which people come and in which they converse with each other without any sort of relevance to the country whose interests are at stake.
I strongly believe that the Senior Salaries Review Body should consider the possibility of making the upper House essentially a professional House. That does not mean that there would necessarily be an expectation that people would serve full time, but there is something to be said for formally recognising the idea that a job is being done and that a salary should be paid. That salary would probably be somewhat less than in the House of Commons because
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there would not be an expectation that the work would be full time and there would not be a constituency element, but it would be a salary none the less. There should also be a decent sufficiency of allowances to ensure that, in a modern democracy, that constituent partthe revised second Chambercould discharge its responsibilities effectively, irrespective of whether Members had means of their own on which to draw.
The intention is to encourage the emergence and growth of a class of people of all political persuasions and, as I have emphasised, of none, who are more active in pursuit of their responsibilities. A study by the Public Administration Committee showed that 25 per cent. of Members of the House of Lords ask 87 per cent. of the questions and make 76 per cent. of the speeches or interventions. Now, I can almost hear the sedentary and unspoken intervention from any number of colleagues that that is probably not dissimilar to the position in the lower House. I am sorry to be anorakish about this, but there is an important difference: there is a much smaller number of Ministers in the House of Lords and therefore a much larger pool of question askers, speech makers and intervention contributors. In those circumstances, the fact that such a small fraction of the House is doing so much of the work on its Floor seems wrong. We want to encourage a different culture.
I genuinely believeI say this in all sincerity and with all respect to the Minister, who I suspect is on the side of the angels in this matterthat the issue of powers is a smokescreen put up in a determined but ultimately doomed attempt to conceal the division and indecision at the heart of the Government on this important matter. People of good will, sitting round a table, could resolve the issue of powers in the space of an afternoon. The matter could certainly be decided with no great difficulty on the Floor of the House in a similar time.
Mr. Khan : To be fair to those on the side of the angels, one reason why the review of powers is taking place is that we have a thing called a manifesto, and one of the things guaranteed in that manifesto was the review that the hon. Gentleman has talked about. I would also suggest that his party was slightly busy between July and December, which meant that Conservative Members were not as robust as they could have been as far as this matter was concerned.
John Bercow: The hon. Gentleman is partly right on both counts. There was a manifesto commitment, but I would argue that it is not necessary for a Joint Committee to take very long about the matter. He makes a fair point about the intervention of the Conservative leadership election and the inevitable delay that that caused. If the Minister is prepared to give an explicit commitment today that the Government will press ahead with all due speed in the matter, I will be greatly reassured.
John Bercow : I stand rebuked by my hon. Friend. He is obviously less suspicious and sceptical than I have been up until now. Again, I wait with interest to hear what the Minister has to say.
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I think that we are clear that the House of Lords, in its revised form, will continue to have a very important role to play, but with powers essentially comparable to those that it enjoys at present. It is essential that we do not, as the late Robin Cook said in the big debate last February,
Let us be explicit. A seat in Parliament should not be a prize for historic battles won, services rendered or favours done. A seat in Parliament should not be a mark of approval by the great and the good that someone is suitable to join their number. A seat in Parliament should be the result of a choice by voters that an individual has the equipment and can be relied on to deliver.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer has talked many a time and oft about the merits of a progressive consensus. Well, many of us on the Conservative Benches are sympathetic to such a notion, and certainly many Conservatives are sympathetic to a progressive consensus on reform of the House of Lords. None is more distinguished in our House than my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe. However, we are in a curious situation. There is a progressive consensus between sizeable numbers of Conservative Members, and, in fairness, the Liberal Democrats, who need a little recognition and sympathy at the moment and whose commitment is of long standing. The progressive consensus also enjoys the support of sizeable numbers of Labour Members of Parliament, presumably including the very considerable number who voted for a fully or partially elected Chamber in 2003. Oddly, however, the progressive consensus currently does not enjoy the support of the Government, even though one of the most senior members of that Government is its most enthusiastic advocate.
In the modern world, we have to have legitimacy and credibility in the exercise of power and scrutiny functions. That is why we have to move in the direction of a predominantly elected second Chamber. Let us have that progress soonbring it on now. I shall listen enthusiastically and with respect to the reply from the Minister.
Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): When my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) rose to his feet at 11 o'clock, he was confident that he would catch your eye, Mr. Caton. He does not always have such confidence that he is going to be successful when he jumps up from his seat in the Chamber. We are grateful to him for initiating this important debate on House of Lords reform. It is a little bit like "Groundhog Day", which I think will be quite soon. We have had a number of debates about the next stage for the House of Lords. My hon. Friend mentioned that nearly a year ago the late Robin Cook initiated a debate at which he launched a document"Reforming the House of Lords"that bears the names of a number of Members present. I just want to add a few footnotes to what my hon. Friend said.
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When the Prime Minister begins to think about his legacy, he will find the page with "House of Lords reform" at the top of it as yet incomplete. If he wants to leave a legacy of which he can be proud, he will have to do something quite quickly. If one puts the matter in context, in retrospect, the Government should have heeded the advice of people such as Bob Sheldon, who warned them against initiating stage one without stage two. If the Minister casts her mind back to the debate during the 1997 to 2001 Parliament, many people warned the Government that if they split the process in two, they would not get further than the first hurdle. The argument was turned around, and we were told that if we tried to do it all at once, we would fail and get nothing; but if we split it into two digestible sections, we would be more likely to complete the reform.
It is worth reminding Members that when Lord Wakeham wrote his report during that Parliament, he was hoping that the first regional elections to the House of Lords would take place in 2001. That was the pace at which reform was expected. In the Government's response to the Wakeham report, they said that they would
During the last Parliament, there was the fiasco of the vote to which my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham referred. My hon. Friend is a very generous man, because he might have reminded Government Members that there was a commitment in the 2001 Labour party manifesto to a more democratic and accountable House of Lords. Presumably, the Prime Minister had some passing connection with the drafting of that commitment.
It is astonishing that between 2001 and 2003, the Prime Minister made a complete U-turn. When it came to the vote, he voted for a wholly appointed House of Lords. How he reconciled that with the manifesto commitment to a more democratic and accountable House of Lords escapes me.
Sir George Young : My hon. Friend is moving into a less generous mode than that which he exhibited when he was on his feet. It is astonishing, given the rebukes that should have fallen on the Prime Minister for that complete U-turn on a major constitutional proposal, that he escaped quite lightly. As my hon. Friend said, the key division on the 80 per cent. proposal was lost by three votes. It would be fair to say that there was a certain amount of confusion and tactical voting that evening. The important conclusion is that if one considers all the Divisions, there was a majority for a predominantly elected second Chamber.
We should have taken a warning that the Government were not going to make fast progress from their response to the Wakeham report. There is a sentence that is worth reading out, but before I do, let me say that it does not come from "Yes, Minister".
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Giving the impression that the Government accepted the Wakeham proposals, they said:
"There are however a number of areas where further consideration of the practical effects of certain recommendations led the Government to consider some modification of the precise recommendations so as to ensure implementation of the Commission's principles in the most effective way possible."
Sir Humphrey could not have bettered that paragraph. In the ensuing eight or nine years, whoever drafted it has probably become a permanent secretary somewhere. It is a remarkably skilful exposition. Indeed, we have not made much progress since then.
I am reminded of a story that Michael Foot told the House about a conjuror in his Plymouth constituency who asked a member of the audience to produce a gold watch. Another member of the audience produced a silk handkerchief, which was placed over the gold watch. The conjuror produced a mallet, and brought it down with some force on the handkerchief and the watch. He then said, "I'm frightfully sorry, but I've forgotten the rest of the trick." In a sense, that is what the Government have done with the House of Lords. They have abolished what was there, and they have not got round to the second half of the performance.
My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham came up with some recommendations for what a new Chamber might look like. The authors of the document before us are flattered that his proposals bear some resemblance to what was in the document: in particular, he mentioned a much smaller upper House, which would be predominantly elected. We want to get from this debate some idea about the speed of and the commitment to the process by which we shall move on from where we have been for five or six years.
In the Norton report, the Wakeham report and the unanimous Public Administration Committee report, there is not much controversy about powers. I am deeply suspicious if the Government are now saying, "We can't make progress until we look at the powers." I am afraid that that is equivalent to putting the matter in the long grass. There is broad consent about powers. All the reports are roughly agreed. Yes, we must do something about ping-pong, but that need not arrest the process of moving towards a more legitimate second Chamber.
I want to make one point about the argument that is always held against those such as myself and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) who prefer a predominantly elected second Chamber. We are told that there is a risk of a rival mandate, and that another Chamber with an elected element will somehow challenge this House. However, in the proposals in our document, the second Chamber is clearly defined as complementary and subordinate to this House. Its only powers would be those given to it by this House, which is and would be pre-eminent. The second Chamber would not be able unilaterally to change its powers.
None the less, there has been an assertion that members of a second Chamber, were they elected, would have some moral authority that enabled them to challenge the authority of this House. I do not accept that. Members of this House are all elected on the same day on the basis of the same manifesto, and we are
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elected for one Parliament to the pre-eminent House, which sustains the Executive and produces the Prime Minister. We submit ourselves for re-election. None of those conditions would apply to the second Chamber as proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham and those who produced the report. Members of a second Chamber would be elected not all at the same time, but over a certain period. They would therefore have no mandate, and some would be not elected at all, but appointed. The notion that they could somehow convert themselves into an equally legitimate Chamber that could challenge the authority of this House is simply for the birds.
We welcome the Prime Minister's commitment to give Government Members a free vote. No doubt, it will release some of them from any shackles of loyalty to the Prime Minister that they may have felt before. I hope that the Minister will explain in which of the Lobbies she personally will vote, if there is a free vote, as we are entitled to know that and to have it on the record. I also hope that she will give us some idea of when the vote will take place. Finally, I hope that she will provide a commitment that the necessary legislation for a legitimate second Chamber will be on the statute book by the end of this Parliament. If we can obtain that, my hon. Friend will have secured a debate of enormous value to the House.
Mr. Kenneth Clarke (Rushcliffe) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) on raising the debate and agree with practically every proposition that he has put forward. The debate on House of Lords reform has been going on interminably, although fortunately the pace has stepped up slightly during the past two Parliaments. There is always a danger that people will want to put this subject into the long grass, and I am delighted that my hon. Friend has mown the grass a little, and given us the opportunity of hearing the Minister explainwith a little more clarity than has been evident, I hopeprecisely where the Government are and how they intend to proceed.
I very much agree with almost all the points that my hon. Friend made. I worked with my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young), together with Robin Cook, Paul Tyler and others from all parties during the last Parliament, to produce the proposals in the document on reforming the House of Lords to which my hon. Friend referred. I am pleased and flattered to listen to my hon. Friend and realise that, with minor exceptions, he is very close to those proposals.
The authors of that paper were not unanimous on every point when we started. Our objective, genuinely, was to do a little trading and reach some compromise in order to produce proposals that would command the widest possible support across parties in the House of Commons. At various stages, we all compromised with the others with whom we were working to achieve that.
My hon. Friend's speech encourages me to believe that we got near our objective. He expressed what is not exactly consensus across the House of Commons, but I do not believe that anything he said would be violently objected to by Members of Parliament of any party who
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have taken a genuine and close interest in the subject recently. While the Government have, with great respect, dithered and moved far more slowly than they should on the subject, a body of opinion is forming, and people are becoming impatient to move pretty much in the direction that my hon. Friend recommended today.
I shall be slightly churlish and comment on the one thing on which I did not wholly agree with my hon. Friend and on which I have some doubts. Like my hon. Friend, I start from the position that I would prefer a wholly elected Chamber. However, I have been persuaded that that is not only unrealistic but that some good arguments can be made in favour of having an appointed element, so long as the appointments are free from patronage and party political content. There are good arguments for the present House of Lords, which has moved on from Gilbert and Sullivan's day, when it
At present, it plays a more powerful role in Parliament by raising some important points about the quality of legislation, about civil liberties and so on. There is an argument that it is the most effective part of Parliament in holding the Executive to account in the interests of John Citizen and in making us all reflect on some of the extraordinary things that are passed by the House of Commons.
One reason why the House of Lords is able to do that is that it is not reserved for the professional politician. I am not so old-fashioned as to believe in the Victorian concept of the amateur being the best person to do everything, but the House of Commons has lost the knights of the shires, the trade union activists and the gentlemen with political interests who had their activities outside and came to the House to do their duty. Although many Members of the House of Commons have outside interestsnot as many as used towe are, largely, professional politicians. We are criticised for becoming a closed community of professional politicians with an increasing number who have never had any career but politics from the moment they left university.
At present, the House of Lords benefits from the expertise to which my hon. Friend referred. If we accept the argument that there should be appointed peers, we must ask exactly what sort of men and women we are thinking of. There is a case for the man or woman who, throughout the 12 years of officeif that is what we decideremains predominantly scientists, academics, lawyers or business men, and who are not able to attend the House of Lords every day and to immerse themselves in full-time political careers. Plainly, if we were to start putting in place full-time salaries and large staffs, if we were to make decisions on the basis that a smaller number of peers would all be professionals, such people would be driven away.
If we are to accept the idea that some men and women in the upper Housea minoritywould not stand for election but would be there for their independence, expertise or prestige, we must allow some room for the sort of person who will probably take part only in debates that are within their medical interest, or their business experience, or whatever it may be. I would be a bit cautious about saying that in order to get the legitimacy that we all want the upper House should be
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composed of full-time professional politicians who are different from those in the House of Commons only because they do not want to pursue the career of politics.
However, the fact that I am not repeating my hon. Friend's arguments does not mean that I wish to undermine them in any way. I was pleased to hear them and would be absolutely delighted were we to proceed on the basis that he described. If he were whipping a Bill through the House of Commons, he would get my support, and we would have an improved, more powerful, more effective Parliament as a result.
Let me say what I expect from the Minister on this important occasion. I, like my hon. Friend, am prepared to be generous and to wait to hear a helpful contribution from the Minister. However, she must deal with my suspicions about where the Government are going. I have taken part in such discussions over the years, and my feeling is that the Prime Minister long ago regretted ever raising the subject of House of Lords reform, and that many members of the Cabinet deeply regret taking the lid off a Pandora's box. They have been trying to put it back on, and they have been trying to kill reform ever since it started. The more they have come to love Executive power, the more they have decided that improved accountability for Parliament is, perhaps, something that should wait for a future Administration of which they are not membersthey are not ready for it at present.
My right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire referred to past manifesto pledges, and the expectation that the second stage would follow the first stage fairly promptly. All that is obviously all fading away. I hope that the Minister can allay my unworthy fears. There are times when I believe that the Government have just two objectives. One is to get rid of the remaining hereditary peers who, in my opinion, are in the upper House as a result of a most peculiar arrangement negotiated with great skill by my right hon. and noble Friend Lord Cranborne. No other country in the world could have produced, in a modern constitution, elected hereditary peers with only an hereditary electorate.
However, people of remarkable quality have emerged from that ugly Mickey Mouse system, which would be derided as an example of a reactionary, undemocratic process if it were introduced by some leader of a Government in sub-Saharan Africa. Nevertheless, if it pleases the Back Benchers, the Labour party will be alongside them to get rid of the remaining hereditaries. Personally, I think that the hereditary principle is dead in contemporary politics, and I would not defend the continued existence of hereditary peers. Plainly, people should not be in the upper House of a modern legislature by virtue of birth.
The Government's only other interest is to reduce the powers of the House of Lords. That is what the present review is about, and there will probably be another Joint Committee of both Houses on it. The Government want an entirely appointed upper House with fewer powers and less ability than the present House of Lords has to slow the scrutiny and flow of legislation. I am afraid that I am becoming more and more convinced that that is the agenda of the Prime Minister and a large proportion of the Cabinet.
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For that reason, we should obstruct any attempt to move in that direction if there is no sign that the Government are prepared to consider the wider issues of the legitimacy of the Lords, improvements in its composition and things that might give it more power and authority. I would probably even find myself voting for and defending the hereditary peers, not because I believe that they should remain a moment longer than is necessary after proper reform is undertaken, but because I would resist the Government's being allowed to get rid of them without paying the price of introducing more democratic elements and more elected members.
The key argument, which has been made over and over, is unanswerable: to make Parliament more powerful, our revising Chamberthe upper Housemust have more legitimacy, and, in the modern world, legitimacy comes from the fact that the man or woman has his or her own mandate based on a section of the population who have been persuaded to send them to Parliament. The House of Lords carries out its present task very well, but it would be a more formidable influence if most of its Members had the legitimacy that comes only with democratic election.
Edward Miliband (Doncaster, North) (Lab): The right hon. and learned Gentleman waxes lyrical about the Executivean overweening Executive, as he sees it. I am interested in his contribution to this debate, but will he tell us how his views have evolved during the past 20 or 30 years? It strikes me that between 1979 and 1997 nothing happened on the issue of House of Lords reform. Was he arguing for change, democratic legitimacy and a reformed House of Lords but simply ignored by his colleagues in Government, or have his views changed since that period?
Mr. Clarke : I accept that the Governments of whom I was a member took the view that we could not touch the subject because there was such a wide range of opinion. Opinion, however, has moved on. It was the Pandora's box argument. The 1911 settlement was described as temporary, but almost a century of Governments decided that the temporary had better remain, because no one could agree on any alternative.
Even 20 years ago, in both Houses there would have been people flatly against any reform. The House of Lords reforms agreed by all parties, introduced so long ago as to be before my time here, were destroyed by Michael Foot and the orthodox Labour party, who were in favour of unicameralism and did not want a second Chamber at all, and by Enoch Powell and the Tory traditionalists, who thought hereditary peerage a fine and defensible part of our constitution. All that put everybody off for many years.
During our time in office, the Executive grew ever more powerful and Parliament began to grow weaker. That has continued and, in my view, has accelerated in the past seven years; the urgency of the issue has therefore got greater and greater as time has gone by. Most of us believe in parliamentary democracy, and
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quite a lot of democrats from all parties in this Chamber today think the time has come to put a further check on the Executive into the House of Lords.
Mr. Heald : The Conservatives, of course, introduced life peers in the 1950sabsolutely nothing happened during the Labour years of the 1960s. The criticism from the hon. Member for Doncaster, North (Edward Miliband) was not particularly well judged.
Mr. Clarke : My hon. Friend is right; that was a very important change. It was astonishing that the flow of hereditary peers continued to be fed until a Conservative Government abolished them. My predecessor as Conservative Member for Rushcliffe became a hereditary peer and his son still holds the title, although he has not been elected to the upper House. Reform came from outside, and that was the most significant change.
It is important that we settle this issue. If the argument of the hon. Member for Doncaster, North (Edward Miliband) is that we Conservatives are playing a double game and that if we were to win the next election, a Conservative Government would decide immediately that they did not want to weaken the Executive and would not go ahead and reform, all I can say is that at least four Conservatives here would be utterly outraged and that position would be indefensible. We are committing ourselves to a process whereby it would be absolutely impossible for a Conservative Government not to tackle the subject and move on to the second stage.
John Bercow : I put it to my right hon. and learned Friend that the sort of proposals that I have outlined this morning, which are closely modelled on his and his colleagues' outstanding pamphlet of last year, are in the best traditions of Conservative reform. Such proposals seek to preserve the best and improve the rest, and to adapt Conservative principles for proper application to the circumstances of our time.
Mr. Clarke : I am not sure that the late Robin Cook would have agreed entirely with that. I think that the proposals are in the best Conservative traditions, although Robin obviously thought that they were in the best traditions of the radical elements of the Labour party as well.
Robin and I always got on well personally, but I thought we were politically like chalk and cheese until we suddenly found ourselves in total agreement on House of Lords reform and, as it happens, on the invasion of Iraq. The fact that people such as Robin Cook, my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham and I could be brought to such close agreement shows that the time is right for such reform.
Finally, I should say that my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham has chosen the right day to raise this issue. Later today, we shall discuss a highly controversial Bill on the Floor of the House. In my opinion, views on that Bill cut across parties, because it raises all kinds of ethical and legal issues in such a way that one cannot automatically assume which way a member of the Labour, Liberal Democrat or Conservative parties will go on it.
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In the heat of publicity, we are being made to think again about and take a final decision on the content of that very difficult Bill. That has been an achievement for the upper House; over and over, the House of Lords has made us rethink things during the lifetime of this Government.
However, if the Bill had been sent back in its amended form by a House of Lords that was largely elected and able to thunder that, like the Commons, it had democratic legitimacy on its sidealthough of a different typethe prospects of that Bill's being rewritten in a sensible form would have been hugely improved. The public would benefit from a House of Lords that had its present powers but was genuinely able to amend, scrutinise and put the Government's feet to the fire, even when the Government had a majority in the House of Commons.
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): It is a great pleasure to follow the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) and to agree with almost everything that he said, the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow), whom I congratulate on securing the debate, and the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young). Judging from their interventions, I suspect that I would also agree with the hon. Members for Tooting (Mr. Khan) and for Doncaster, North (Edward Miliband).
The hon. Member for Tooting asked what other legislature in the world has an hereditary upper House. The answer was given in a speech made by the late Robin Cookthe legislature of Lesotho is the only one that can be found. I cast no aspersions on the Government of Lesotho, but merely suggest that it is odd that the two countries that share this characteristic are the United Kingdom and Lesotho.
There is enormous frustration for those of us who, after 90 or however many years, see reform of our upper House as a priority, and wish to continue and finish the work done by David Lloyd George in introducing the Parliament Act 1911. Those of us who see that as a necessity if our parliamentary system is to have any legitimacy find ourselves constantly having to stand back in amazement and admiration for the work done by the unelected House of Lords. The right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe is absolutely right: at the moment, it acts as a bulwark for the rights of the citizen and for human rights.
I have had more reason than most to welcome that, given the work that I have done in recent years on home and constitutional affairs. We have been constantly aware that we have friends in another place who are doing their jobs very well. However, in no way does that constitute legitimacy for an unelected House. It is time we made progress.
I pick up the hon. Member for Buckingham on one thing in his otherwise extremely good speech. He talked about maintaining the momentum for reform, but there is no momentum; the reform process has the momentum of a garden slug. No progress is being made at the moment, and the reason is, I am afraid, that forces of
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reaction are determined that we should not make progress. Against that, we have the shining light of those who are genuinely engaged in the debate on reform, such as the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe, my noble Friend Lord Tyler, the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright) and many others who are looking seriously at ways forward.
Why is there this impasse? It is because there is a view that progress can be made only when we all absolutely agree. Well, we are not all absolutely going to agree. The spectrum of opinion is a mile wide, between those whose view is unicameralistalthough it is not a view that I share, many legislatures are unicameralist, and it is a proper and respectable positionand those who would prefer to go back to the hereditary principles and think that it is a great shame that we made even the minimal progress that we did. That overlooks the fact that there is a clear centre of gravity, certainly within this elected House, as demonstrated in the convoluted system used on the last occasion for voting on the different options. I think that the system was devised intentionally by the Government Whips to avoid our reaching a clear view. The hon. Member for Tooting was not in the House at the time, but let me tell him that the Government Whips had a clear role in frustrating the will of the majority in the House. It was a great sadness to see the then Leader of the House frustrated in his ambitions by other Ministers who wanted no progress. It was clear that there was a centre of gravity for a predominately elected Housemy preference is for a wholly elected onearound which we could agree.
We can make progress on a series of things if we approach them in a spirit of consensus. We need to consider the method of election, and I agree with the hon. Member for Buckingham that the logical view is that a proportional system should be used. A single transferable vote system, perhaps on a regional basis, as he describes, is most likely to give an appropriate result. That is a matter of detail. I understand the need for a system that means that the upper House reflects the genuine state of opinion across the country and does not give an artificial majority to a single party in a revising Chamber.
There is a genuine issue about the length of mandate. Again, I agree with the hon. Member for Buckingham that a long mandate without renewal provides for an independence of Members of the upper House that would not otherwise occur. At a stroke, such a mandate removes many of the powers of patronage that would otherwise exist. There is a downside that we should recognise: such a mandate would also reduce the accountability to the electorate. Nevertheless, I can see an advantage in such a proposal.
There is a discussion to be had about duplication of function between the two Houses. Most of us see the primary role of the House of Lordsor an upper Houseas that of a revising Chamber. It allows for greater scrutiny, which will perhaps be extended into areas of appointment in a way similar to the United States Senate. It performs a number of functions that are simply not possible for this House to do adequately within the constraints of time and the continuing process of legislation under which we operate.
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I am not sure that the upper House needs to continue replicating some of the things that we do. I have always thought it complete nonsense that a statement in our House from a Cabinet Minister is then solemnly read out in the other Chamber a few minutes later by a Minister there. I cannot see the point of that; it is not necessary for a revising Chamber to respond to the announcement of the day from a Minister. Indeed, I would question whether we need Ministers in the House of Lords at all. I see no reason why they should not go to the House of Lords to present legislation, but if they were not drawn from the ranks of the membership of the upper House, it would remove an area of patronage that is not helpful to the independence of that Chamber.
We need to re-examine disqualification. It is extraordinary that someone can be a Member of the British Parliament having served a sentence for a criminal offence of sufficient seriousness to require imprisonment. If it is not allowed for us, it should not be allowed for any Member of this legislature. That needs to be addressed.
The Minister said that she would seek to entrench the primacy of this House. That is right, but primacy will be established if we are clear about the relative functions. As was said earlier, it is right that we do not establish primacy by establishing illegitimacy on the part of one half of our legislative system.
John Bercow : We are agreeing about so much that it does not matter if, periodically, there is something about which we disagree. I return to the principle of the rehabilitation of offenders. On the assumption that someone who has served a prison sentence is able to secure public support, there should not be an objection to such an individual serving in the upper House.
If we are to retain any element of patronage, we must stop its abuse. It is a corruption of the political process for major donors to political parties to be admitted to the legislature apparently only because they donated large sums of money to any one of the parties. That does enormous harm to Parliament as a whole.
We need to avoid the minutiae. There will be a long and, I suspect, involved debate in another place this afternoon about the Lords speakership. I have my views on whether the Lords should have a Speaker, but it is a peripheral issue. We need to talk about the basic form and function of the Lords. That is my concern about the proposed Committee of both Houses and it is why we have raised questions with the Leader of the Lords
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about its remit. There is a danger that the Government want to divert attention on to complicated issues of the marginal powers of the House of Lords rather than to look holistically at form and function, which is what is required.
I want the Joint Committee to have a clear remit covering all those issues and a clear time scale, so that the danger of the subject being kicked into the long grassa situation that has been describedis avoided. I have a nagging suspicion that the alacrity with which some noble Friends of the hon. Member for Buckingham wished to join the Joint Committee was simply to maintain it in existence for as long as possible and avoid the reality of reform. That might have been at the back of their minds.
We need better terms of reference, a time scale and a draft Bill at the earliest opportunity, as part of a democratic renewal that goes beyond reform of the Lords, Commons, European Union, civil service and voting system, and which involves a reinvigoration of our democracy in this country. That is what we should all be about.
Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire) (Con): We are all grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) for giving us the opportunity to debate House of Lords reform. He presented his arguments with his customary eloquence and force of argument.
I remember the similar debate that we had a year ago, which was opened by Robin Cook. He referred to the pamphlet, "Reforming the House of Lords: Breaking the Deadlock", which has made a good contribution to building consensus. It was excellent that we were able to have contributions from my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) and my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young), both of whom were part of the team that produced that pamphlet.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire said, that was repeated in the 1997 and 2001 Labour manifestos in pledges to make the second Chamber more democratic and representative. Instead, in his ninth year in office and as he approaches the end of his premiership, the Prime Minister has given us a second Chamber that is more dependent on patronage than it was in the day of Pitt the Younger. That is because the Government failed, at the outset, to grasp the nettle and have a full reform. At the time, Conservatives did not oppose getting rid of hereditary peers, but we argued that there should be a full reform with the consensus that is necessary for success behind it. We were mindful that in 1911, in the days of David Lloyd George, who was quite dodgy on the patronage front by all accountsalthough he is a colossus in constitutional history
We have made it clear that we would like to move forward and build consensus, and that a substantially elected second Chamber is required. Since 1999, we have had two White Papers, a royal commission, a Joint Committee, free votes and, most recently, Lord Falconer's ill-fated proposals, which he withdrew in March 2004. We are not much nearer to solving the problem than we were in 1997. It is time that we tried to find a balance. As has been said, that balance is very much around the idea of a substantially elected chamber.
Perhaps the Minister will tell us whether we are to go any further down that route. The Prime Minister has appointed 46 per cent. of the current House of Lords, including 70 per cent. of Labour peers and 65 per cent. of Liberal Democrat peers. He has created 100 more peers in eight years than Lady Thatcher created in 11 and a half. He is the uncrowned king of the ermine. I think that he has a taste for it; perhaps when one is Prime Minister, patronage seems like a jolly good thing when one is exercising it. We deserve better.
If one considers the way in which the House of Lords has performed, one sees that it has been the bulwark that has stood up for human rights and civil liberties in recent months. Control orders under the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 are essentially a form of house arrest and an abuse of habeas corpus, and we would not have had the sort of thorough review of that legislation that we ended up with, or the need for further parliamentary approval in 12 months' time, were it not for the active approach of the House of Lords.
As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe said, it is the Lords who have ensured that the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill has been substantially amended. Although other issues are to be discussed this afternoon, the improvements that have been made to that Bill, which I am sure that the Government will trumpet this afternoon, saying that it is now a better Bill, are the result of the work of the House of Lords. It is the Lords who are exposing all the inadequacies, loopholes and impracticalities of the legislation on identity cards. Although there are concerns on both sides of the House of Commons about that, it is only in the Lords that anything is done. Those are a few examples of the shame of the House of Commons, which is that although the elected Chamber consists of people who were sent here to debate such issues and fight for civil liberties where they are being oppressed, we are unable to tackle those issues seriously because of severe guillotining and all the problems that the Government visit on us; the other House is doing that valuable work.
and on proposals to introduce limits on the time that Bills spend in the second Chamber, we are suspicious. There has been no delay from us. We got into negotiations about the form of the Committee with the
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Government and nobody has criticised us for not being speedy about it, so I want to make it clear that we have been prompt and willing to get on and consider the issues. If the Liberal Democrat spokesman, the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath), was suggesting that that is in some way a problem, I say to him that it is not. We are prepared to be genuine and to consider these issues, but we are suspicious.
I am not convinced that the commitments are really a new determination by Labour to improve scrutiny and accountability, and I am concerned that they are an attempt to stop the House of Lords from doing what it has been doing: scrutinising Government legislation effectively. With the Lords disabled, a Prime Minister who loves patronage, and a Government who silence debates with guillotines, the worry is that arrogance will become a greater feature of our system than it has been. We will resist that. Hopefully, it will be possible for the Joint Committee to have a sensible discussion about the powers, as my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham suggests, but the Minister should not think that we do not have our suspicions, because we do. I hope that there will be a genuine process of trying to achieve a better second Chamber. We believe in accountable Government and want proper, final reform of the Lords. We want a second Chamber with legitimacy and the authority to stand up to Ministers, and we want to build consensus that supports that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham talked about the composition of the second Chamber and how it would operate in the new world. I agree that a mixed composition is probably the most acceptable solution. I voted for 100 per cent. elected membership but am prepared to consider a mixed solution. My hon. Friend suggested that there should be 300 members; that number is not far off a sensible sort of levelperhaps there could be a few more. I doubt whether proportional representation is the answer. It would be good if the second Chamber could have representatives of the counties and the big cities, and I doubt whether we need the single transferable vote to achieve that. It would be possible to elect directly, using the first-past-the-post system, representatives of our cities and counties[Interruption.] Our Liberal Democrat spokesman is not keen on that, but of course he has to speak up for the STV, as his party has for 100 years.
Breaking the link with heredity is inevitable, although we should consider what some of the hereditary peers have done in recent years and recognise that they have not done nothing. Some have, in effect, given their lives to doing a good job in the other place, and they have done it under the rules of our constitution. That should not be diminished. I hope that the best of what the hereditary and other peers have achieved can be continued in the new era with an elected, or substantially elected, second Chamber.
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The Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs (Ms Harriet Harman) : I start by saying, as have other hon. Members, how much we miss Robin Cooknone more so than me, who worked closely with him on this matter as we took it forward. I do not doubt that he would agree, as hon. Members have said, that this is an important occasion, and I thank the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) for choosing this subject for debate. This is the first time since the general election that we have had an opportunity to debate it, and I want to say more about the role of Westminster Hall in taking that forward.
There are two ways in which we can go about the matter. We can try to work together to find consensus in the House and make progress, or we can try to score points off each other. The hon. Member for Buckingham knows how to score points, but he chose not to on this occasion because he wants to make progress. I have seen him, blue in tooth and claw, and in party political point-scoring. He is a party political fighter, but he wants to make progress. I, too, am not averse to knocking spots off my political colleagues, but I do not think that that is how we will make progress in this debate. The Tories may say that it is all about the Prime Minister being greedy for power and the king of all ermine, or the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) might say that the debate has been interminable and challenge our good faith. We might respond by saying, "You did nothing before 1997 and anyway you did not even take part in the 2003 vote." We can all do that, but those of us who want to make progress on constitutional issues must leave that baggage at the door, and I intend to do so. I want to work with all my colleagues in the House on this matter.
Mr. Heald : As the right hon. and learned Lady knows, I always try to be constructive. Is it seriously her case that the Prime Minister would refuse to take action simply because he had been called the uncrowned king of ermine and was sulking?
Ms Harman : This is about the House as a whole and how we in all parties can work together to achieve constitutional consensus and pass it into law. That is something that people in the country can respect and approve of. Everyone has an important role in the debate, and that includes the Prime Minister of course, but also Opposition parties and each and every Member of the House of Commons. We need to ensure that we take the right tone and the right approach to the debate. That is the last thing I shall say about that.
Mr. Love : I apologise for arriving late for this incredibly important debate. I came here today mainly to be reassured that it would be the start of an energetic process in this Parliament to bring forward options for both Houses. We have not talked much about the other place, and we must take that into account. I would like
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some reassurance that the Front Bench considers the issue important and that it will be brought forward in the near future.
From this point on, if right hon. and hon. Members from other parties engage in party political point scoring, I will not respond and will not be provoked. That will not be easy for me, but I will not be provoked. If my hon. Friends engage in party political point scoring, I shall make it clear to everyone that that is not the line I take and it is not a good way to make progress.
Mr. Kenneth Clarke : I am sorry if I upset the right hon. and learned Lady by being partisan, but we are both capable of that on occasion. May I remind her that, after 1997, I and many of my colleagues were completely non-partisan on this subject? I openly acknowledged that I agreed with what the Labour party's manifesto said on the issue and that I thought there should have been such a proposal in ours. I worked closely with the then Leader of the House, Robin Cook, on producing his proposalsI practically took the Whip from him. I served on a Joint Committee of both Houses, which produced proposals that then went into the sand.
We are entitled to ask whether it is still Government policy to have a largely elected upper House. Has the Prime Minister gone back to where he originally was, or does he still hold the view that it is impossible to have a mixed House and that it must be either wholly appointed or wholly elected? With respect, it was the Prime Minister who brought the process grinding to a halt on the day when we had all the votes.
The debate is timely. It gives me the chance to update the hon. Member for Buckingham and other colleagues on where we are. The debate is important because it is about how we legislate in our democracy. The right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young) and the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe have long track records on this issue. New hon. Members are also present at the debate: I am happy to welcome my hon. Friends the Members for Doncaster, North (Edward Miliband) and for Tooting (Mr. Khan), who will play an important part.
The problem is that the House of Lords has a legislative role in our democracy, but it is not democratic at all. There is general agreement that to give people a role in our legislature by virtue of their birth is simply not defensible. We cannot have a central part of our democracy that is not democratic. That is why we legislated to end the hereditary principle. Now, all but 92 hereditary peers have gone, and we have a commitment in our manifesto, which we will carry out, to abolish the right of the remaining hereditary peers to legislate. However, we have to agree on what will replace the hereditary principle as the way to select people for the second chamber.
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There is general agreement that we must ensure the primacy of the House of Commons. We want a clear line of accountability from Parliament to the people, and a clear line for the accountability of the Government to this House. That is where the Government's authority comes from. The Government must have authority and legitimacy or they cannot do their job. The difficulty comes with the concern that we all have to achieve two things. We need an effective second chamber, as the hon. Member for Buckingham said, for additional review, scrutiny and deliberation. However, we must be careful that, in our enthusiasm to say that we need a second chamber, we do not do a disservice to this House by underestimating the importance of the review, scrutiny and deliberation that happen here. We want an effective second chamber, but we do not want it to undermine or threaten the primacy of this House.
That is why the question of composition is difficult and inextricably linked to the role and powers of the second chamber. I do not agree that the work of the Joint Committee is a smokescreen. The issue is not a problem for me: when I came to vote in 2003 without the powers all laid out and codified, I thought, as the hon. Member for Buckingham did, that we could sort that out afterwards. The problem is that not all hon. Members took that view, and we could not reach consensus. I approach the issue in the firm belief that the Joint Committee's work is not a smokescreen but a necessary precondition to reassure those hon. Members who feel that, otherwise, we will not deliver on our commitment to ensure the primacy of this House. That is why we will set up an all-party Joint Committee to codify the powers of the second chamber, ensuring, for example, that the Salisbury convention will be respected and that we have reviews and scrutiny
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