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My right hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right. It is important that the House of
Lords should have the legitimacy to challenge and delay Government legislation as it proceeds through Parliament.
Turning to the substance of the Government proposals, the White Paper recommends, as has been said, that in the other place 20 per cent. of Members should be appointed by a statutory appointments commission; 30 per cent. should be appointed by political parties; and 50 per cent. elected by a list electoral system, representing, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) said, the European regional constituencies. The Leader of the House likes to present his proposals as a sensible compromise that would strengthen Parliament, but in reality they are a messy compromise that would weaken Parliament. Far from making the Lords more independent, the proposal puts composition in the gift of political parties. Far from strengthening Parliament, it risks the loss of the present benefits of the Lords. Far from removing cronyism, it perpetuates it.
We want a House of Lords that is elected by the many but, under the proposals, it would be selected by the few. Yes, 50 per cent. of peers would be elected, but the Government propose to use a list system . [ Interruption. ] [Hon. Members: Oh!] It is probably a good job that I did not hear the sedentary intervention by the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart).
Mrs. May: Yes, under the Governments proposals 50 per cent. of the new peers would be elected, but the Government propose that those elections should use a list system. Effectively, therefore, the parties choose who is elected, so peers would owe their place in the Lords to their party bosses. Crucially, it would make it much harder for independent candidates to run for office successfully. We should do all that we can to encourage independent elected Members in the other place, and I doubt that the Leader of the Opposition believes that a list system would make for a truly independent upper Chamber.
Chris Bryant: I sympathise with some of the right hon. Ladys arguments, which is why I would prefer either an 80 per cent. elected upper House or a fully elected second Chamber. May I return to her argument about how important it is that the Lords should be able to challenge the Government? I hope that she wishes to resile from that position a little bit, as it is important for the primacy of the Commons that it is the only House that can hold a vote of no confidence in the Government, and that the second Chamber cannot do so.
I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman. A vote of no confidence should be held in the Commons, not the House of Lords, but that does
not mean that we should not have a strong House of Lords that can challenge and revise Government legislation as it proceeds through the House.
Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): The right hon. Lady knows that in the discussions between the parties there was extensive consensus that it was important not to challenge the primacy of the Commons. Does she agree that if we are to make progress today the central question is whether we should have a substantially elected second Chamber. Once we have decided that, the secondary, albeit important, issue is what the constituency boundaries are, how we choose Members and how long they serve, but unless we overcome the first hurdle, we will not have the chance to have that debate at all.
Mrs. May: Obviously, in relation to the motions on which we will vote tomorrow night, the questions that we will be asked are about the nature of the composition of the upper House, but the debate has arisen on the basis of the Government White Paper, which explores other options as well. It sets out a means of election, and I believe it is important that we look at that when we are considering how the House should be composed.
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): My right hon. Friend has made it plain, and I agree, that this is not a matter for a referendum, but does she agree that it is of such importance that if a Bill is introduced, it should be determined exclusively on the Floor of the House, and not put into a Committee upstairs?
Mrs. May: Yes. As my right hon. and learned Friend knows better than I, with his long experience, constitutional Bills are usually taken on the Floor of the House, and I would expect the Government to abide by that normal courtesy to the House.
I understand that some people take the view that the reformed House of Lords should be a pale imitation of the Commons. That is true. Others take the view that it should not be too different from the Commons, because that would lead to questions about which Chamber was the more legitimate. That is also true. We need to find a middle way between those two extremes, but the proposals from the Leader of the House are not a middle way. We must not allow proportional representation to be used, first as a stick for the Lords to beat the Commons, and secondly as a base from which to campaign for PR to be introduced in respect of this House.
As for the voters, with the Governments list system they would be left with a crude choice between parties, and they would have little or no relationship with their elected representative. In elections to the European Parliament, where a list system is used, nine out of 10 voters have no idea who their MEP is. I would be surprised if even, dare I say it, the political anoraks in
the House know who all their MEPs are in their area. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that his list system would not be good for democracy.
The White Paper also proposes that the election should be held using the large and remote European regional constituencies. We have already established that voters will not be able to identify with their elected representatives, but how many voters would identify themselves as coming from those large regional constituencies? I am from Maidenhead, but there is a world of difference between Maidenhead and Margate. I was born in Eastbourne, but there is a world of difference between Eastbourne and east Berkshire. People feel an affinity to their town, city or county, and whatever any bureaucrat says, there is no entity called the south-east, apart from on the European electoral map. The Governments proposals might be a nod in the direction of democracy, but Labours version of democracy empowers the political parties, not the people.
Mr. Hall: I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for giving way on that point. In her earlier comments, she said that she wanted to see a more independent element among the elected Members of the House of Lords. Is she saying that the Conservative party would not field candidates in those elections?
Mrs. May: I have not had that discussion yet with any members of my party, but I do want to see an electoral system that would encourage independent people to stand for the House of Lords and encourage that ethos. One thing that I am certain about is that a party list system will not encourage independent people to stand for the House of Lords.
Miss Julie Kirkbride (Bromsgrove) (Con): I am reflecting on the proposals to allow an elected element into the House of Lords. Given my right hon. Friends legitimate desire to see more independent people in the House of Lords, does she not think that that might involve the election of the British National party or other parties that this House might consider undesirable elements of the second Chamber?
Mrs. May: I ask my hon. Friend to wait a moment. There is indeed an issue about the election of extremist parties to the Lords, or finding extremist parties in the Lords, which I shall shortly come to.
I shall deal now with the 50 per cent. of peers who would be appointed30 per cent. by the political parties and 20 per cent. by the statutory appointments commission. Back in 2003, the Prime Minister said that prime ministerial patronage should go. Since then the only thing that has changed is the cash for honours scandal. So why is the Leader of the House proposing that in addition to their control over the election lists, the parties should also appoint 30 per cent. of the new Members of the House?
Let me be clear about this. As the right hon. Lady knows very well, we are not proposing that the parties should appoint 30 per cent. of the House but that the parties should be able to nominate people. There is a world of difference. Decisions will be made by the statutory appointments commission, which, as I spelled out in my speech, would have the same power in respect of political nominees as of non-political
nominees in assessing their merits and their probity, and would have to select from a wider range of nominees than there were places in the Lords.
Mrs. May: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, but of course, as he knows, the statutory appointments commissions responsibilities in relation to the politically appointed Members of the House will be to vet those Members on the basis of recommendations by the political parties. We have an independent appointments commission at the moment, but there are several Members whose appointments to the House have not been stopped by that.
Mr. Straw: At the moment, the independent Appointments Commission under Lord Stevenson assesses the merits and the probity of candidates who are nominated for non-party representation, but it can only assess the probity of those who are on the party lists. We are proposing something completely differentto remove the Prime Ministers power of patronage, or decision, and that of the other party leaders. In place of that, the Prime Minister of the day and the other party leaders will be able to make nominations to the statutory appointments commission, which will assess the merits of those applications, as well as their probity.
Another aspect is that the 30 per cent. of Members would be distributed according to the parties respective shares of the vote at the previous general election. I am worried that that would allow extremist parties into the Lords even when they had not won a direct election into the Commons. Advocates of a system of appointment claim that it enhances the expertise of the other place, but does democracy really leave us with less qualified legislatures? If that were so, there would be a case to be made against local elections, elected Governments and even a democratic House of Commons. I am sure that Members of this House do not consider themselves inexpert, so why do some think that elected Members of the other place would be?
Let us imagine that an appointed Lords would somehow give us a Chamber of enlightened philosopher-kings. Even if that were so, how should one decide which interests and groups should be represented? An expert in one field is not necessarily an expert in another.
Does the right hon. Lady agree that there is something very wrong with this idea that we
require the great and the goodour bettersto help us to legislate? Is not that a throwback to some pre-democratic age?
I have looked into a few other democracies that appoint their upper Chambers. In Slovenia, membership is divided between representatives of local interest groups and non-commercial activities, employers, employees, farmers, tradesmen and craftsmen, and independent professionals. Hon. Members might think that that is a hangover from Slovenias communist past, but I think that it demonstrates the absurdity of trying to predict and provide experts for a legislature.
The proposals set out in the White Paper would create an upper Chamber that is insufficiently democratic and insufficiently independent. To be fair to Labour Members, many of them understand that and want a more democratic other place. Some of them are even in the Cabinet. Last time round, in 2003, the Secretaries of State for Transport, for Northern Ireland and for Health voted for a wholly elected upper Chamber, and it has since emerged that the International Development Secretary agrees with them. However, tellingly, last time around, the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and the Leader of the House disagreed and voted for a wholly appointed House of Lords. According to the former Minister for Europe, the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane), it was an open secret that the Prime Minister had ordered the Whips to mobilise votes to stop any reform that reduced his power of patronage by nominating Lords.
Do we want an elected House, or do we want an appointed House? I personally think that a hybrid between the two is wrong and will not work.[ Official Report, 29 January 2003; Vol. 398, c. 877.]
wrong and will not work.
Mr. Cash: Does my right hon. Friend accept that, in 2005-06, 170 life peers who were non-Law Lords voted in fewer than 10 per cent. of Divisions and that 76 of them did not take part in a single Division?
The best is the enemy of the good.
However, that is not the point and it presupposes that his proposal is a good one. It is not. It is not a sensible compromise that offers at least some reform. It would weaken the other place and maintain political patronage, masquerading as democratic reform.
I have a more down-to-earth test for the Leader of the House. Do his reforms pass the Ronseal test? Do
they do what it says on the tin? The label might state that the contents are modern and democratic but they are more of the samemore political patronage and more Government dominance over Parliament.
Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab): I shall ask the shadow Leader of the House the question that I would have asked the Leader of the House, but he did not give way. We have said much about legitimacy today. Does the right hon. Lady agree that it is disgraceful that a United Kingdom Parliament will hold crucial votes when all Northern Ireland Members of Parliament are involved in elections? That would not happen if elections were taking place in any other part of the United Kingdom. If one vote goes through with a majority that is less than that for which Northern Ireland Members would account, will that be taken on board? What does she feel about that illegitimacy?
Mrs. May: I share the hon. Ladys concerns. It is unfortunate that the votes will be held when Northern Ireland Members are involved in the Assembly elections. It would be far preferable for them to be taken when all hon. Members can be present.
Conservative Members will have a free vote tomorrow. I shall not vote for the Leader of the Houses proposed 50:50 splitI want genuine reform in the upper House. I shall vote for 80 per cent. of the Members of the other place to be elected, as I did in 2003. Last time around, we came painfully close to achieving that outcome and I hope that we shall succeed this time. Indeed, last time around, the proposal for a 50:50 split was so unpopular that it was negatived without even being pressed to a vote. I hope that, unlike last time, Labour Whips will not put pressure on Labour Members to support the 50:50 proposal but allow a truly free vote.
Mr. Baron: If my right hon. Friend accepts that the second Chamber cannot challenge the primacy of this Chamber, why are elections important? Surely the emphasis should be on a second Chamber full of experts and talent, not on providing another layer of politicians.
Mrs. May: I hoped that I had explained the reason for my belief that we should hold elections for the substantial proportion of Members of the upper Chamber. That would give it greater democratic legitimacy, and it is important that the upper Chamber can challenge and revise Government policy and legislation. The upper House should have the democratic legitimacy that enables it properly to challenge the Government.
Mr. Blunkett: This point is central to our constitution, which, unlike that of France or the United States, embodies the Government or Executive as part of the House. If greater legitimacy in challenging Government involves greater power, and if greater direct democracy through election to the House of Lords so empowers the second Chamber, can the right hon. Lady square the circle with adherence to and advocacy of the primacy of this House?
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