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I concentrated, and suggest to the House that we concentrate, on the particular issues on which we are voting tomorrow. The key questions are whether we should have an elected element, and how big it should be. I will vote for anything more than 50 per cent.60, 80 or 100 per cent.and I hope that we settle that big issue in principle. The real devil lies in the detail, and we will find that there is no unanimity, either among reformers
or among non-reformersI will not call them reactionarieson all the other issues that would be raised in a Bill. That will make the legislative process fascinating.
I do not like the party list system of electing, and I do not like the elections taking place on the day of the European Parliament elections; that is an ill-chosen time. I still prefer the idea that the Breaking the Deadlock group came up with, which was for a rolling re-election by thirds every 12 years, rather than every 15 years. The period has to be long enough to make sure that those elected are independent, and long enough to prevent them from deciding how to get themselves re-elected for a second term. They should be immune to the Whips, but we have to be careful, because after 12 years, a persons views may be very different from the views that they held in year one, when they were first elected, and too many mavericks could create difficulties. There are many details of that kind to consider.
I hope that the Government and my party will allow a free vote on all the issues, and I hope that the Liberals will go in for just a little less rigid political discipline on some of them. We will complete the process of reform only if everybody is prepared not to allow the best to become the enemy of the good, to use the now wearied words of Voltaire, which we have all quoted. The whole process is only worth embarking on if we are all prepared to agree that as long as an adequate system of reform is introduced, it is our duty to go ahead and produce an upper Housea senatemore suitable for the politics of the 21st century.
Bill Etherington (Sunderland, North) (Lab): It is a great pleasure to follow the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke). As we are always told, there are strange bedfellows in politics, and like him, I would like a 100 per cent. elected second Chamber. There is a certain irony in the situation that we are discussing. Let me place it on record that I believe that the present incumbents in the House of Lords do an exceptionally good job. They are admired for what they do, and I am reminded of the old adage, If its not broken, dont fix it. However, that is not the issue. The issue is that the Labour party said in its manifesto that it would reform the House of Lords, although it did not say how, and that is one of our problems; it has been transfixed to some degree.
It surprises me how many of us in a House of elected representatives are frightened of an election for the second Chamber. I am well aware that everyone is apprehensive of any change that might alter their circumstances, although it is not immediately apparent how it would alter them. I disagree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams), who fears that the second Chamber would take precedence over the Commons. That would depend on the second Chambers initial terms of reference. I am using the term, second Chamber, not the House of Lords, because if I had my way it would be a second Chamber. We have not heard very much about it, but how on earth do other countries with two elected Chambers manage? They seem to manage as well as Britain. The United States does not have any problems with two separate Houses, even though they have different political balancesin recent years, that has been a significant
factorand we need not fear any encroachments by a second Chamber on our powers in the Commons.
It is up to us, but whatever happens in the votes tomorrow, a tremendous amount of work will be needed afterwards. It is only the beginning of a very big changeprobably the biggest constitutional change in the country for hundreds of years. I am mindful of the fact that this is the eighth year of the 21st century, yet the Lords is based on a feudal system. Like the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe, I am part of a small minority, but that does not matter. What matters is coming to the House to say what we believe; it is for others to come to their own conclusions, or not. I am concerned about the proposal that people should be elected for 15 years. Why can we not have a system in the second Chamber similar to the system of periodic elections to the Commons? Those elections could be held every five yearsI am a great believer in fixed terms, but they are not popular with those who are in power. If we wish to try to attract the right people to serve in the second Chamber, offering them a 15-year term is not as satisfactory as offering them a lifetime of service in the second Chamber. In the past, we have not discussed limiting the time that someone spends in the House of Lordsthey are there for life. That is wrong, but if we introduce an electoral system, that argument falls by the wayside, because they can be removed by the will of the people.
The situation is not simpleit is extremely complex, and no one can say that if we go down a particular route success is guaranteed. Whatever we introduce, it will need quite a lot of revision, perhaps over a number of years, before we get it right. It is a tremendously big change. I will not be popular for saying so, but as we are getting rid of the hereditaries in the House of LordsI assume that we shall do so, and that we will make the upper House a second Chamberperhaps we should take a look at the monarchy, too. I do not see why the Head of State should have that role just because they belong to a particular family. I would much prefer to have an elected president, because we cannot compartmentalise democracy. We have a democratic House of Commons, but an undemocratic second Chamber and an undemocratic Head of State. We are not a proper democratic republic, and that is not satisfactory. I hope that those things will be addressed in the years ahead.
I do not have a great deal to say on the issue, as I have made my views known. Anything less than a Chamber that is 100 per cent. elected will be a problem for ever. Things will not settle down. Some people will be elected, and some will benefit from patronage, so I do not know how such a system would work. If we do not have a Chamber that is 100 per cent. elected we would do better to keep a system of appointments. I do not really believe that, but it would be logical to take that step. It is not satisfactory to have a Chamber that is 50 per cent. or 80 per cent. elected. The only satisfactory number is 100 per cent. Much as I like the idea of a second Chamber, if it is not fully elected, I would sooner see it abolished.
Mr. John Maples (Stratford-on-Avon) (Con):
I hope that the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Bill
Etherington) will forgive me if I do not go down the same route as him, as I do not agree with his point about 100 per cent. election. We could have an interesting debate about the future of the monarchy, but that would complicate the already extraordinarily complicated number of options before us.
I agree, however, with the right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams). We ought to bear in mind the fact that the British constitution is an extraordinarily complex organism that has developed over a long period. The notion that we can take one piecethe House of Lordsand reform it significantly without second and third-order effects on the rest of the constitution is a dangerous one to adopt. I should have thought that such effects were obvious from the Governments constitutional reforms in Scotland and Wales, the abolition of the office of the Lord Chancellor, the creation of a supreme court and the Human Rights Act 1998. Individually, each seems to be a good idea, but they have left a trail of toxic waste with which we are grappling and with which we will have to deal in future, as those measures have left behind a number of issues that were not dealt with at the time. If we reform the House of Lords so that it is elected or substantially elected, a trail of toxic waste will come through Central Lobby into the Chamber, and we will have to deal with it for a long time to come. No one, not even someone as wise as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), can predict what the second and third-order effects will be.
The House of Lords is exactly what we say we want. It is independent; some of its Members have significant expertise; it has limited power; it does not challenge the House of Commons; and all parties are represented, although none of them has a majority. It does almost everything that we want it to do, but it does not satisfy the testapparently, it must do soof whether or not it is democratic. We have a solution in search of problem. There is not a problem that has to be solved, but people have provided a solutionthe second Chamber is a legislative body, although it does not have very much power, so it ought to be electedand tried to impose it in circumstances in which it is neither necessary nor appropriate to do so.
Dr. Tony Wright (Cannock Chase) (Lab): I am interested in what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but he implies that we can have a second Chamber as long as it is not legitimate. One only has to state the argument to know that it is ludicrous.
Mr. Maples: The second Chamber does not have any power. If it had power, of course it should be elected, but all that it can do at the moment is say to the Government, Think again and, in extremisthis power is very rarely exercisedmake the Government introduce the legislation again in a different Session. I agree with the right hon. Member for Swansea, West that the second Chamber will accrue greater power. Even if the conventions under which it operates are put into statute, there are ways around them, and it could screw up the legislative process by using its existing powers. An elected upper House would, quite properly, seek to appropriate more power, because it will argue that it is more legitimate and more reflective of public opinion. On many occasions, it will have the support of the media, because the majority in the Commons is inevitably whipped by the Government.
Mr. Maples: I should like to complete my point. The second Chamber will accrue more powers and, at some point, it may challenge the Parliament Acts. Those Acts are not set in stone, and the statute could be changed. The trail of toxic waste may eventually lead to a change in the Parliament Acts. The democratic legitimacy argument is a double-edged sword, so people should be careful about using it. The situation is not static, and once we start to make changes, we do not know where those changes will lead.
The proposal that the second Chamber should be is 20, 30, 60 or 80 per cent. elected is nonsense. Either it is elected, or it is not. I would prefer that it remained a 100 per cent. appointed Chamber, but if that is not possible, it should be 100 per cent. elected. We do not want two classes of Members, with the press and commentators calculating whether a measure was passed by Tony and Davids cronies, or whether the elected Members were against it. In such a system, some Members would have democratic legitimacy, and some would not. If the failure of the Second Chamber rests on the fact that it does not have democratic legitimacy, how can we make it democratically legitimate by making it 50 or 60 per cent. elected? Either it is wholly elected or not elected at all. What sort of people will run for election?
Mr. Maples: I was going to say that the sort of people who will run for election to the House of Lords, the Senate or whatever it is called will be people who cannot enter the Commons. I say this with modesty and as much graciousness as I can: the standards of intelligence, talent and ability needed to get into this House are not superhuman or of Olympian proportions. So if the other House consists of people who are not smart enough or good enough to get into this place, what will be up there? Who will want to run for the other House? It will have no power. It will not be a Chamber of talented, independent people holding the Government to account. It will be made up of people who cannot get into this place.
What we will lose in the process is the independence and experience of people in the Lords. I know that many Members are party politicians, but a defence debate or a foreign affairs debate in the House of Lords is very well informed by people who have been senior diplomats or senior military officers. That will go. Such people will not run for election to some organisation that has no power, and anyway, they probably do not want to run on a party ticket. The only way to get electedthe only way one can get elected to anything in this country, with the very odd exceptionis by being a party candidate in an election.
Once people have been elected to the other House, they will start interfering on our turf as Members of Parliament. They will pick up constituency cases and local issues because they will want to get into the
papers, just like we do. People will go to them and ask for their help, and we will have competition, just as I understand our Scottish colleagues do now, in an extremely inconvenient and annoying way. I suppose Members of the other place will want offices, secretaries, researchers and large office buildings with atriums and rented trees in them. The cost will go through the roof, and there is no evidence at all that people want more expensive Government than they have at present.
I reserve whatever vitriol I can muster in the debate for the ghastly appointments commission. We are all agreed that hereditary peers should go from that place. It is nonsense that because his ancestor fought with the Black Prince at the battle of Crecy, the great-great-great-great-grandson should have powers of legislation, just as much nonsense as if the great-great-grandfather had given some money to Lloyd George, the great-great-grandson should have legislative powers. But if those are not reasons for having legislative powers, why is being appointed by some statutory commission a reason for having legislative power?
Who will be on the commission? It looks tailor-made for my good friend Sir Hayden Phillips, and a more admirable public servant I cannot envisage. But that Hayden Phillips and a committee of people like him should have the power to decide who should be legislators and who should not, I find nonsense and abhorrent. I would much rather the Prime Minister had that power, because when the Prime Minister exercises the power, we know who has exercised it, the public knows who has exercised it, we know who is responsible for it and we can see it being done openly. If we have a commission, it will sit in private.
The Appointments Commission sometimes comes up with extremely odd recommendations. On the first lot that it came up with, it said, We wanted to make sure that all these people felt comfortable in here, because it had appointed a lot of people just like its own members. That is what a statutory commission would do. Nolet us have the Prime Minister of the day make appointments. If he wants to appoint 359 cronies or donors or whatever this Prime Minister has done, we know who did it. The electorate can hold him to account for that and so can the press. When my party is in power, as I sincerely hope it will be soon, our leader will be accountable for the exercise of that power. Let us have it out in the open, where we can see it being exercised.
The problem is that we have set incompatible objectives for the House of Lords. We want it, apparently, to have democratic legitimacy, and to be representative but to have independence and expertise. It requires only a moments thought to realise that one cannot find all four qualities in an individual, and certainly not in a body of individuals. At present there is a great deal of independence and expertise in the Lords, but no democratic legitimacy and precious little representativeness.
If we go to an elected House, we will have a great deal of legitimacy and representativeness, but very little expertise and virtually no independence. We will not have the sort of expertise that we get from the retired diplomats and generals whom I mentioned, speaking in foreign affairs and defence debates, and we will not get independence because the only way to be elected will be on a party ticket.
Todays debate has a great ring of familiarity about it. It is like coming in on a movie that one has seen three
times before being repeated on BBC4, and I confess that I am making much the same speech as I made before, as the right hon. Member for Swansea, West said he did. Perhaps we should leave the debate to those who were elected at the last election, to see whether they have different opinions. They may be the people who change the vote. I very much doubt whether anybody except the Leader of the House, who is standing on his head on the issue, will have changed their mind about it. Most of us thought about it very seriously indeed.
Last time the House voted for no change, which I thought was a sensible decision. I rather hope that it will do so again. What we have is something that works. The problem of the House of Lords is that although it works in practice, it does not work in some arbitrary theory. It works, so let us not try to fix it.
effective, legitimate and more representative without challenging the primacy of the House of Commons.
I readily accept that. The point at issue is how we achieve it. For me, any proposal that contains an elected element could not achieve that manifesto requirement. A small but significant amount of reform to the House of Lords as it currently exists would achieve those requirements.
It has been much said that the post-1999 House of Lords, though in need of further reform, is doing a good job. Most people with an opinion on the subject say that. It is not broke. Statistically, it has not given the Government an easy ride. The number of rebellions, if that is the right term, between 1992 and 1999 was 133. Since then it has exceeded 350. There is widespread agreement that the 1999 reforms were a shot in the arm. We have an invigorated second Chamber, working to scrutinise and hold the Government of the day to account. It is more effective, more legitimate and more representative. Many of the options before us would damage the crucial tenets of the manifesto.
The question that has been asked is how an all-appointed House of Lords can be seen as legitimate. That presumes that an all or partly elected Chamber would, of necessity, be more so. Why? Elections are an essential component of a participative democracy, but they are not the sum total of that democracy. If elected peers took the party Whip and were less prepared to challenge the Executive, would that make them more legitimate? If the turnout for their elections did not break the 30 per cent. barrier, would that make them more legitimate? If a list system prevented a clear positive vote for a single candidate, would that make it more legitimate?
The convention that no one party should enjoy an overall majority has boosted confidence in the upper Chamber, as has the removal of all but the 92 hereditaries and the increasing number of people not taking the Whip. As has been said,
legitimacy may come from other places than those you would immediately think.
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