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The Government with the largest number of defeats by the Lords was the 1974 to 1979 Labour Government,
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which had 343 defeats. The lowest number of defeats for a Labour Government was 108; that was immediately after the 1997 elections. I think that the other place felt that it would be a bit embarrassing to defeat us too much after that landslide, so it lay low. To claim that the increased number of defeats of the Labour Government since then reflects the fact that Members of the other place feel more legitimate is absolute nonsense. It has nothing to do with that; it is to do with the fact that the Lords are getting back into their old habits, and nothing else.

Simon Hughes: I have no doubt that the hon. Lady is right about her statistics, but she ignores the central point, which is that it is only in the past 10 years that the House of Lords has been reformed so that there is no party majority. In the old days, there was a big Tory majority, so Labour Governments had a harder time, but that is not the position now, and everybody agrees, as far as is possible, that there will never again be a single-party majority in the Lords.

Fiona Mactaggart: There is not the kind of majority that there used to be, but there is still a predominance that does not reflect the situation in the country, as it was at the last election. Let us consider the habits of the other place when the Conservatives are in government. The largest number of defeats of a Conservative Government by the House of Lords took place in the dog days of the Thatcher Government, when there were 82 in total in a Parliament. The fewest was 26 in the 1970 to 1974 Parliament. There is no evidence to support the suggestion that elections by themselves somehow encourage the other place to disagree.

In addition, the suggestion that elections will automatically result in the other place achieving equivalence with the House of Commons is refuted by the experiences of other countries. The excellent work of Dr. Meg Russell makes it quite clear that in many countries with a wholly or predominantly elected second Chamber, the second Chamber is effectively subordinate to the main Chamber. It is true that most of those countries have written constitutions, and, as we all know, Britain is an exception in that regard, so there are not many places that have constitutional arrangements that we can compare with ours. So far, we have managed to achieve the things that countries with written constitutions have achieved, and I see no reason why we should not do so in relation to reform.

I was glad to hear the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman). Her proposition that we elect people in a different way to represent what I called in an article that I wrote in 1999 “constituencies of the mind” has a great deal of merit. I do not believe that the only constituencies around which we organise our lives are those on the ground. Our relationships and our attitudes are important factors and, for the first time, new technology makes it possible to envisage alternatives to geographical constituencies. There is an urgent need to decide the principal matter, but I supported the initial proposal from my right hon. Friend Leader of the House for a preferential voting system. It did not survive our great traditions in the House, but it is peculiar, to say the least, that the party
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that argued for such a system and that would presumably have included proportions such as 50 and 60 per cent., however unsatisfactory, on the ballot paper, is not prepared to vote for those options as well as its preferred options tomorrow. I shall do so, even though I do not like them any more than the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath), because we cannot allow the problem to last for a century. In two years, a century will have passed since it arose, and that is not acceptable.

People often ask me to speak about this subject. If feels as though I am on a seesaw with the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack), because we often face one another as opponents. I soon run out of things to say—I am glad that there is a time limit on speeches in this debate—because I have only one argument. The people of this country are the best people to decide who should make its laws and who should hold the Government to account. There is no better authority than the people of this country, and if we start to undermine their authority and suggest that there are alternatives to it, we do not deserve the power that they give us in Parliament. We have a responsibility to make a decision, and to make a democratic second Chamber. I would prefer it to be wholly elected, but I will tolerate a Chamber that is largely elected, mostly elected or even 50 per cent. elected, because that is the way to come to a solution.

8.42 pm

Andrew George (St. Ives) (LD): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart). I missed her earlier sedentary intervention, and she did not repeat it in her speech. She demonstrated that everyone, whatever their perspective, can get into contortions and adopt tortured logic to defend their position. She concluded that the people are in the best position to determine the resolution of such issues, and she made a cry for democracy to speak out. I entirely agree, but as I shall explain, we are asking the wrong question. I am not hectored in the streets by constituents who want to know what I am going to do about Lords reform. They do want to know, however, what we can do as their elected representatives to hold the Government to account. That is a different question and, as we are starting from a different position, reform of the second Chamber, which must be dealt with at some point, is a long way down the list. I fear that the Government will lead us a merry dance today and tomorrow. We are looking at an entirely subordinate issue, as they have diverted us from the primary issue with which the Chamber must deal.

I speak in the debate with some caution and trepidation because I take a different view from those on my Front Bench. It is not that I am unconvinced by my hon. Friend the Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes), or that I cannot be convinced, but I am not convinced yet, because I do not believe we have reached the point where the issues before us need to be decided. We are required to take subordinate decisions before the primary decision has been taken, which is illogical.

The problem is that this “cart before the horse” approach, the obsession with process rather than product, the infatuation with means rather than end, and the zealotry behind the belief that we should resolve how people get into the second Chamber before we decide what they are there to do, leapfrog the logical decision
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that we would otherwise have taken, had the Government not sent us down the route of resolving the subordinate issues before the primary one is addressed.

The primary issue that we should deal with was addressed by the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) in his contribution—he is no longer in his place. We should discuss how we improve the effectiveness of parliamentary scrutiny and revision. That is what we want the second Chamber to do, and we feel that we need to strengthen that because we are incapable of doing it ourselves. If we were able to do the job ourselves, we would not worry quite so much about the functions and composition of the second Chamber and its ability to save our bacon.

I am not making an argument for a unicameral system. It would not be appropriate to deal with manifold issues of such weight and gravity as we deal with. I will not vote for it because I believe that a bicameral system is required. We need to start by looking at ourselves. This Chamber should be more accountable than it is. As the House would expect, I take the opportunity to argue that we should have a more representative Chamber, which would inevitably lead to more consensus and compromise. Ministers should respect and fear this place, rather than treating it with disdain, as they seem to do these days.

When we have dealt with the matter of what we do in the primary Chamber, we can move on to discuss what we want a second Chamber to do. If we want a second Chamber, as I believe we do, it is not to compete with what we do, but to complement it and add to it. That debate should be held in this place and another place before we consider and decide how best that place is to be composed. That is why I am angry that we have been led by the nose by the Government into lengthy debates about the subordinate issue of the composition of the second Chamber, whereas we should be addressing issues of effective scrutiny, revision and holding the Executive to account. That is not improved by the changes discussed in the White Paper.

We should ask ourselves how we can ensure that the second Chamber can provide scrutiny, revision and sober second thought. An element of democracy may well be relevant to such a Chamber. However, I would need to be convinced that we had properly addressed the issues as regards the tension between the primacy of this Chamber and the legitimacy of Members of the second Chamber, and the need for that Chamber to have representatives who complement the skills of this Chamber in being able to engage in sober second thought. Earlier, I asked the Leader of the House whether, in the words of the White Paper, the

The implication is that the current conventions will remain, but we do not know whether they will be challenged, as the primacy of this House is likely to be challenged—that is one of the tensions in the debate—if the second Chamber is largely or wholly elected.

We do not know what would be the nature of the elections. As party tribalists, we are all aware of the inevitability of how candidates would emerge, particularly in regional list systems. As a Cornishman representing Cornwall, I would say that the Government’s regions were created on the basis of bureaucratic convenience, as there is no community of
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interest in the south-west region. Of the MEPs representing the south-west, the nearest to my constituency lives about 150 miles away. It would not necessarily be in my area’s best interests to have representatives in a second Chamber who claim to represent Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly but live in Swindon, Bournemouth, Winchester, or wherever.

I am not sure that the process would result in people with strong revisionary skills or those capable of independent thought—talents that are clearly needed in the second Chamber. I imagine that the election literature would not be a thoughtful exposition of the need for sober second thought and revisonary skills, but would comprise the usual party political soundbites, attacks on Opposition leaders and claims of loyalty or defiance as regards the Government of the day.

I have many concerns about how the debate has been handled, particularly the fact that we are taking it the wrong way round. If we had put the horse before the cart, many Members who have already determined that they will vote one way or another for a Chamber of the composition of their choice might have taken a different view.

8.53 pm

Mr. Andrew Love (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op): I start by congratulating my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, who, sadly, is no longer in his place, on the way in which he introduced the debate and took so many interventions. I also congratulate him on the energy that he has shown in bringing the matter back to the House so early on in this Parliament. I congratulate him primarily on admitting that he has had a rethink and come to a conclusion. I am pleased that he has done that and glad that there are others—I have it on good authority—who will do the same, although we need more if we are to get a resounding majority for change.

Let me make a plea, particularly to Members who do not want any change. Parliament has failed in the past—in 1949, in 1968, and most recently in 2003. On each occasion, there was stalemate and we were not able to take matters forward. Nevertheless, recognising that historical experience, we can all say that the status quo is unsustainable and that this issue will not go away. Democracy is beating at the door of the Houses of Parliament and will not be satisfied with no change.

We must avoid the fiasco of 2003 and what Robin Cook described as a legislative train wreck. Parliament must show a will, and it can do that tomorrow when we vote. I believe that we should make the second Chamber more accountable. As an Opposition Member said, those who make the laws of the land should have a mandate from the people to do so. That is a simple principle.

The second Chamber should be legitimate. No one has spoken a great deal about public opinion, but it has been consistent over the years. As Conservative Members will tell us, a poll conducted in the past few days confirmed again that the electorate would like a wholly or mainly elected second Chamber.

The House of Lords needs to be representative. Hon. Members have spoken of elderly men in the other place, the lack of ethnic minorities and its domination by people from the south-east. We need to change that to make it reflect our society more.

The first question that I asked myself was whether our system should be bicameral. My emphatic answer
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is yes, but only on the basis of the primacy of the House of Commons. I am not sure why there has been to-ing and fro-ing about the matter because there is more consensus about it than any other issue.

The House of Lords should reflect the diversity of the United Kingdom—its nations, regions and new communities. There is a distinct lack of women and—dare I say it—working people, who remain greatly under-represented, in the other place. Of course, it should not be a mirror image of the House of Commons. I shall revert to that point.

I reject the idea of a fully appointed Chamber, which would simply mean the status quo. Those who argue for that option claim that, otherwise, it would interfere with the House of Commons. However, we are considering reform of the House of Lords, not the House of Commons.

It is also argued that we already have an effective House of Lords, which revises legislation. However, if we consider the past few years, Government amendments account for 90 to 95 per cent. of those made in the House of Lords. They are made on the whim of the Whips. The other place is an effective second Chamber in which the Government can play around with legislation.

In the case of an appointed second Chamber, how would we get rid of the hereditaries? We have recently experienced the abomination of an election for a vacant place for the hereditaries. We need to get rid of them, and I believe that there is consensus about that.

I am worried about the appointments commission. The fiasco of the people’s peers has been mentioned. An appointments commission appoints people who reflect its members and does not fulfil the need to reflect society. I have a specific problem with the criteria for appointments. It has been suggested that they will override political nomination, which is currently the only link with democratic accountability. If the commission is set up, there will be no accountability.

Let me be clear: I favour 100 per cent. election for reasons of legitimacy, accountability and gaining the support of the electorate, who understand and trust democracy. It is important that they give their overwhelming backing to the reform. However, given the speeches that we have heard today—I suspect that they reflect the views of Parliament—I recognise that the proposal for 100 per cent. election is unlikely to succeed. I shall therefore vote for a predominantly elected second Chamber. Let me repeat the plea that has come from all parties and all quarters, with reference to Voltaire: the best should not be the enemy of the good. I emphasise that especially to Liberal Democrat colleagues. I was saddened at the beginning of the debate when it appeared that the party’s formal position is to support only 80 per cent. or more election. That does not reflect a recognition of the realities in the Chamber. I hope that Liberal Democrat Members will think clearly about the need to ensure a good result tomorrow night.

Of course, the proposal will result in a hybrid House. Will it change the balance between the two Houses? Let me reject all the doomsday scenarios, which the Father of the House first raised and which Members on both sides of the House have discussed. Of course, the balance will be changed over time, but the concerns
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expressed can be addressed. The conventions that exist between the two Houses have been drawn up and published: they are known and transparent, and at this point in time are agreed between the two Houses.

The Leader of the House suggested that we have a debate about the appropriateness of the conventions; we could go further and think about legislating in relation to those conventions. If we consider the international experience, however, we will see that on many occasions there is no direct relationship between the so-called democratic legitimacy of a second chamber and the powers that it holds. Often, second chambers have a great deal of democracy with few powers; sometimes, they have a lot of powers with little democracy. We should be reassured that we can create the arrangements between the two Houses that are necessary to ensure that the primacy of the House of Commons continues to be recognised.

I have a particular concern, which other Members have reflected, about the recommendation that elected Members of the second Chamber should serve for one term of 15 years. I agree with those who produced the 2005 report, who are represented by the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), that a shorter term of 12 years might be more appropriate. My primary concern, however, is the lack of accountability: what happens after the person is elected? They cannot be re-elected, so they cannot be held accountable to the second Chamber or to their so-called electorate. That would undermine the legitimacy of the second Chamber.

The issue will not go away. Tomorrow evening, we have the opportunity to make the change that will take the Houses of Parliament, and particularly the second Chamber, into the 21st century. That can be achieved only if we have a substantially elected second Chamber, and I commend that to the House.

9.2 pm

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex) (Con): The hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Love) mentioned public opinion, but I am not sure that there is a public clamour for a debate on this issue. Therefore, I am not sure that the large numbers of right hon. and hon. Members in the Chamber are reflecting public opinion by having this debate.

In 2003, I voted in favour of every option on the Order Paper calling for some or all of the peers to be elected. I wanted to speak in this evening’s debate because, rather like the Leader of the House—I am flattered to find myself in such august company—I have completely changed my mind.

The best reason for leaving the upper House largely as it is, is that it serves its purpose as a revising Chamber better than any alternative that we can envisage. It works, and it has patently worked better since 1999. It revises with a measured deference to the elected Chamber, with a thoroughness that we elected politicians seldom demonstrate, with a breadth of expertise that we cannot pretend to emulate, and with a legitimacy that can only exist apart from the daily thrust of party politics. Those qualities would be lost were the peers elected.

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