|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
I fear that the standing of politicians is generally low, and whatever the intention of the White Paper, it will add to that public opinion. The temptation for
meddling by the Whips under any system involving elections, to the extent that debate and scrutiny might be curtailed, would be too great. One thing is surely clear and agreedthat we do not want in the Lords a replica of the system of Whips and party discipline that we have in the Commons. A fully or partly elected upper House would encourage that. If, for example, a piece of legislation was stalled or even blocked by the Lords, it would be difficult for the Whips. It is in their nature not to tolerate such a situation, knowing that they could intervene with their party affiliates to bring them into line if they so chose. Thus the system of checks and balances would be weakened.
These are only hypothetical questions at this stage, but only in the sense that the bridge has not been crossed. If we were to cross it and the decision was taken and implemented, it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, and time consuming to try to reverse it. An all-elected House would present a challenge to our basic system of democracy. The principle of one Member, one constituency would go out of the window, to be replaced by an unpleasant spectacle of rivalry in particular locations between the two Houses. One can imagine that that would be difficult if two people claiming legitimacy in the same area were from different parties, but it might be more difficult if they were from the same party. Even if the geographical boundaries were different, people would still claim legitimacy within a particular area. Legislation proposed by the Executive on a mandate from the Commons could be stalled on a competing mandate from the Lords. Stalemates could ensue and not be broken without back-room deals behind closed doors, away from public view. That is surely not what we want. Far from having increased accountability, we would have less.
A hybrid House would be even worse, with the danger that peers would not only challenge the Commons but challenge each other. Suppose that a vote was forced through on the back of the votes of appointed Members. Elected peers would be justifiably aggrieved. Elected Members might well set up constituency offices; unelected Members probably would not. Elected Members, notwithstanding the various systems of election being floated, could talk of representing their constituents, or make claims to that effect; unelected Members could not. Elected Members could campaign in constituencies, as they saw them, and speak on local issues, vying for attention with MPs; unelected Members could not. That two-tier system would be the worst of both worlds.
Whatever the proportion chosen by election, I have yet to come across a list system that would be clearly understandable by the electorate and offer a real choice of candidates. As Lord Steel has said:
Commons members should ponder what will happen when we have Lords members interfering in their constituency affairs on the grounds that they too have a mandate. They should talk to Scottish MPs and constituency MSPs who have been irritated by the activities of some of those elected to the Scottish Parliament on party regional lists. It is not a happy precedent.
Why risk creating such a situation in England and making it even worse in Scotland and Wales? It is specious to assume that reforming the second Chamber in the manner proposed would reinvigorate our politics and democracy. It is often said that the previous vote was a train crash or a poor day for the House, but in
fact it reflected the view that there was no consensus in the House and that none of the options on offer was better than the status quo. We are told that because previous attempts at wholesale reform have ended in compromise or defeat, we have a duty to finish the job and that anything less will amount to a failure, but that does not account for the changed circumstances of acceptance of the new Lords in which we find ourselves.
In the same way that a convention that no party has an overall majority has been established and accepted following the 1999 reforms, we need evolution, not revolution. We should of course abolish the remaining hereditary peers and ensure that the appointments commission is statutory and has a codified role, as proposed by the campaign for an effective second Chamber. Those are real and substantive reforms that would preserve the best of what we now have. They would also be entirely consistent with manifesto commitments. The proposals in the White Paper, on the other hand, would not serve anyones interests. The test of a good policy is not that it is the one that least dissatisfies the least number of people, which is the most positive argument that has been put forward for many of the proposals. Last year, a Populus poll found that 70 per cent. of people thought that the House of Lords was doing a good job. That is a figure that most primary Chambers would die for.
The elected options before us are all seemingly simple answers to a complex problem, but there is no simple answer other than reforming the present House of Lords on a limited basis. For all the talk of the popular vote as a means to re-engage the public, there is no clamour as regards any legitimacy deficit in the Lords. Nobody mentions it to me on the doorstep; indeed, people are astonished that we do not have better things to do at this time than to be considering this issue. Why on earth it has been brought forward now, I fail to understand. Yes, people are concerned to bring the Executive to account, but that is what checks and balances are for. We do not elect our judges or professors, but they are not illegitimate. The key principles set out in the White Paperthat of a balance between parties, Cross-Bench and independent Members, religious representation, racial and gender balance and regional representationcan all be achieved with a system of appointments. That may not be possible, or possible only at the cost of any real choice through a system involving elections.
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): Lest it be thought that I am approaching this debate on the basis of an undeclared vested interest, let me remind the House that my wife is a life Member of the House of Lords, and I suppose that I have a right to stand for election there as an hereditary peer. I would have to give up my present seat to do so, and I have not the slightest intention of doing that, though I am told that I have the undeclared support of the Whips Office should I change my mind.
Let me begin my substantive remarks by making a few observations on what I have heard in this debate and on previous occasions. They are non-controversialsome would say commonplacebut none the less lead me to certain conclusions. The first and most obvious is that hon. Members in all parts of the House hold very diverse views and hold them passionately. That means that any Bill to be enacted will be long, controversial and arduous. Next, the House of Lords, as currently constituted, undoubtedly performs the modest role allocated to it extremely efficiently. Next, in the modern world, political authority stems from election and election only, and it is certain that if we had an elected or largely elected second Chamber, it would deem itself much more legitimate than it does now. I feel confident, too, that it would seek to take to itself powers that it currently does not have, or alternatively make more robust use of the powers that it does have. It seems to me that those are non-controversial views that would be shared by most right hon. and hon. Members.
From those observations I draw a number of conclusions that have guided my thinking on the matter. If it be the settled will of Parliament that the second Chamber should not possess or exercise greater powers than it has now, then subject to three minor adjustments we would be ill advised to embark upon change. If hon. Members wish the second Chamber to have greater powers or, alternatively put, to make a more robust use of existing powers, then we should support a largely or wholly elected second Chamber. That is the choice that right hon. and hon. Members must make. My own view, as one of those who supports a wholly elected Chamber, is that I do so because I want it to have greater powers or to make more robust use of existing powers.
I recognise that there is an argument in favour of the status quo, and I therefore make three suggestions to those who support that option as to how we can improve the House of Lords as presently constituted. FirstI hope that hon. Members will not misunderstand thisthe presence of the hereditary peerage in the second Chamber cannot be justified. Whether we get rid of it straight away or phase out the by-election system is a matter for debate, but there can be no argument for the hereditary peerage being Members of the legislature.
Secondly, I agree with the Leader of the House when he speaks about a statutory appointments commission. It is very important that the independence of that board be enshrined in statute and convention.
Thirdly, I want to see a diminution in the powers of party patronage. I therefore suggest that when a party puts forward for nomination to the second Chamber candidates from within that party, it should be required to put forward a number in excess of the places to be allocated to it, so that the appointments commission has an unfettered choice from that list. That would diminish patronage.
I favour a wholly elected Chamber, and I shall briefly advance the reasons for that. Throughout the debate, we have referred to the primacy of the House of Commons. Perhaps we should be more modest and recognise that the concept of the primacy of the House of Commons in our constitution is pretty meaningless. It would be meaningful if we had a genuine separation of powers, but when the Executive are part of the legislature, the primacy of the House of Commons is an empty phrase.
We should be honest with ourselves by asking whether we are properly performing the functions that are historically ours. As we all know well, those functions are: to scrutinise the Executive; to scrutinise legislation; and to call Governments to account. We know, if we are honest, that we do not do those things well, because the House has become largely the creature of party. As my father wrote in the 1970s, provided that the Executive retain control over their party, they can do what they please. That is not a proper way to govern in a democratic state.
Some hon. Members claim that we can reform ourselves from within so as to assert the independence of Members of this House. I regret to say that I do not believe that that will happen. It is against history and the practice that we have adopted. The plain truth is that Members of the House of Commons have surrendered their independence to their party. That is the central vice.
Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con): My right hon. and learned Friend is making a powerful case against, to use his fathers words, elective dictatorship. However, how would an elected House of Lords be more likely to be independent in a way that it currently is not? An elected House of Lords would also become a creature of party and exacerbate the problem that he has identified.
Mr. Hogg: My hon. Friend brings me to the exact point that I was about to make. I acknowledge the powerful argument, which he articulated, that an elected second Chamber could replicate the vices that I identified. The amendments that I tabled, which were understandably not selected, try to meet those objections. Mechanisms can be put in place. For example, I would support staggered elections and renewable termsI do not agree with other hon. Members about that. I would choose the second Chamber by a proportional method other than the list system. I would ensure that Ministers were not Members of the second Chamber, to reduce the Executives powers of patronage.
I am willing to admit that there is a risk along the lines that my hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes) expressed, but we must make a choice. If we fail to do our duties, we need at least, in the phrase of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), to shame ourselves. We should use another Chamber to shame ourselves into performing the duties that we should undertake.
Mr. Cash: Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that the House of Lords couldcertainly after Second Reading of a measureimpose, through its Standing Orders, a prohibition or some other method of ensuring that the whipping system was brought under greater control? Indeed, we lost the control in this House in 1886, when we relinquished the Speakers rules and handed over the whole whipping system and Standing Orders to the Executive.
I need to be careful not to get on one of my favourite hobby-horses. I agree with much of what my hon. Friend has said. I have not been an enthusiastic supporter of the Whips Office since I was in itit was not one of the more edifying periods in my career. I shall not get on the hobby-horse because I could become a bore on the subject. [Hon. Members: Go on!] No,
indeed. However, I should like the power of the Whips Office to diminish here and in the other place.
Many hon. Members have said truthfully that, if we go down the road of an elected second Chamber, we will lose much expert and wise counsel that is found in the other place. That is a terrible price to payand we would pay it. For all the reasons that have been given, many persons in the other House would not stand for election.
However, ultimately, we have to make a fundamental choice about powers. Legitimacy requires election. If we appoint, we diminish legitimacy. We cannot have a second Chamber that has greater powers or makes more robust use of existing powers unless it has political legitimacy. That means election. With a heavy heart, I therefore support a wholly elected Chamber to enable another place, by legitimate and democratic means, to face down an over-mighty Executive.
Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House on his handling of the subject and on turning defeat into victorythat is not too ungenerouswhen he retreated from the voting method for tomorrow. It is worth putting on record that the skill with which he tackled the matter did him credit.
If we vote for nothing else tomorrow, we should introduce a measure in the near future to remove the remaining 92 hereditary peers. There is unanimous support for that among Labour Members, and perhaps it is a sign of how times change that so many Opposition Members have also argued in favour of it.
I shall not vote for elections to the other place for two reasons, which I hope I can explain. First, we need to define the function that we want the House of Lords to perform. We can do that only when we have defined the role that we, as Members of the House of Commons, want to perform in scrutinising legislation. What exactly is the role of Back Benchers in the process?
Much has been said about the legitimacy of the other place. I believe that its legitimacy is in its function and how well it performs it. We must therefore define exactly what we want it to do. As the White Paper states, and assuming that we vote for retaining a second ChamberI shall follow my right hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth) in voting for a monocameral systemwe want it to be a revising and reforming Chamber that at times has the power to delay legislation and to ask the House of Commons and the Executive to think again. No one has suggested that we want a weaker second Chamber or that its performance of its current function, when it is not elected, is weak. We are not talking about removing powers from the House of Lords. No hon. Member has suggested that it does not perform as well as it might, even though it is not elected. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House made it clear in his opening speech that we are not considering altering conventions between the House of Commons and the House of Lords and
undermining the supremacy of the House of Commons as the primary legislative Chamber.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) pointed out in an intervention at the beginning of the Leader of the Houses address, Lord Kingsland has said that some Members of the other place believe that having elections to the second Chamber will increase its legitimacy and therefore its power to thwart and defy the House of Commons, and will fundamentally change the relationship between the House of Lords and the House of Commons. We have not had the opportunity to debate that, or to debate our own scrutiny functions. By definition, therefore, we have not resolved what we want from the second Chamber.
We are being invited to approve a 50 per cent. elected and 50 per cent. appointed upper House. Some would say that that is too timid a proposal. According to the White Paper, however, the only way to secure the representation in the legislative process of all sections of the communityethnic minorities, people from different religious backgrounds, all walks of life and professionsis to have some form of appointment in the House of Lords. I presume that those with particular areas of expertise will be appointed to that revising Chamber to perform the reform and scrutiny function and amend legislation, thereby using their expertise in the most beneficial way. As the White Paper states, only by accepting the principle of appointment can we deliver that expertise and the representation of all sections of the community.
When politicians debate the problem of participation in elections, I am always amazed that, in our pompous way, we assume that the answer is another electionthat another election will be the magic bullet that encourages people to turn out and vote. But what are we asking them to turn out and vote for? We are asking them to elect not a legislative body, but a body that scrutinises the legislation that the Government are attempting to introduce. I am not convinced that the electorate will all flood to vote for a body with such limited powers.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Bill Etherington) said that he was in favour of a 100 per cent. elected second Chamber. I would suggest, however, that someone with his independence of mind would not make it on to a party list system as proposed in the White Paper. It is not true to say that we are elected in exactly the same way; we do go through constituency parties, but there is a murky science behind the positioning of candidates on a list. The proposal would not have a dramatic impact on peoples confidence in the democratic process or on turnout.
The role of the House of Commons, and the relationship between Back Benchers and the Executive, needs to be resolved. I am a firm believer in the Select Committee system, which works extremely well, but we have been too reluctant and reticent to build on its success and effectiveness in scrutinising legislation. When the Leader of the House was Home Secretary, he set up the Special Standing Committee for the Immigration and Asylum Bill, which involved people from the wider community with an interest in the subject in making a difficult piece of legislation more effective and acceptable. That is one of the best examples of the process, on which we should build. Back Benchers should have their own committee of appointment, separate from the Executive, to appoint Members to such bodies and co-opt expertise from
outside the House. If we had a debate about the role of the House of Commons, and not just one about the House of Lords, we could address that issue.
I do not accept that Ministers need to be appointed in the House of Lords. If there are to be such MinistersI hope notthe Leader of the House should at least accept the principle that they should come from among the elected Members, if there are any, and not from the appointed Members of the House of Lords.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|