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Moreover, before we substantially alter the composition of the upper House, we should, as many other Members have said, discuss what it should do. That point was reflected in the intervention of the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) and the speech from my hon.
Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh). If we want to challenge the authority of this House, we should settle that first. It is not right to let it simply flow from any decision that we make about composition. We are already paying the price for a programme of disjointed constitutional reforms in isolation, such as Scottish devolution and the Human Rights Act, without regard to their wider consequences.
The main argument for elected peers that we keep hearing is an argument that I think we should call democracy for its own sake. I heard what was said by the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) about the virtues of accountable democracy, but that is delivered through this House; the other House does not need to be similarly democratic in order to fulfil its functions.
The implication of the democracy for its own sake argument is that an appointed upper House is somehow incompatible with what the White Paper rather fetchingly calls a modern democracy. In an excellent paper entitled A House Built of Straw, Lord Norton of Louth points out that the White Paper offers no definition of democracy, or any distinction between what is democracy and what is a modern democracy. Quite why modernaccording to the Leader of the Housemeans 50 per cent. elected rather than 100 per cent. elected, or 80 per cent. elected as advocated by my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May), is not explained.
I believe that a mixed mandate for the upper House reflects mixed motives, and would be the worst option. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack). Either we want a revising Chamber or we want a senate and all that flows from it, but we must make up our minds. If we vote for an elected element, we will end up with senators who claim a democratic mandate. If such senators have single terms once elected, they will hardly be more accountable. Who can foretell how they will behave? I have a vision of not so much a revising Chamber as a rogue Chamber.
The legitimacy and authority of the second chamber continue to be called into question.
Mr. Jenkin: I do not accept that. Polls upon polls have shown the public to believe that the upper House is doing a far better job than this House. It has far better poll ratings than our House. If people do not want an elected senate, democracy for its own sake becomes rather an unconvincing argument.
I refer to polls merely to demonstrate the fact that there are polls and polls. I am confident that if any proposal for electing peers were to be decided by a referendum, the more the voters thought about it, the more likely they would be to vote against it. Everyone thought that the Australians would vote against the monarchy, until they considered the alternatives. The Government thought that the north-east would vote for an elected assembly, until the people of the north-east counted the cost of more elections and more elected politicians. There is no public clamour for this change.
The most superficially alluring reason for supporting elections is to rebalance the constitution. People say that the House of Commons is too powerful, and needs a more powerful elected upper House to hold it in check. I am impressed by the number of Members here
who have raised that question, but it is the Executive who have gained far too much power, not this House.
The glorious revolution of 1688 represented a settlement between the Crown and Parliament designed to ensure that Parliament controlled the law, that the judges would be impartial and that the machinery of government would be subject to the law. That arrangement has been subverted. Todays Prime Minister is immeasurably more powerful than the monarchy that was overthrown by Parliament in the civil war. Charles I never exercised a fraction of the power over Supply and legislation that is enjoyed by modern Prime Ministers. Even when Lord Hailsham coined the phrase elective dictatorship, he can never have imagined a House of Commons as cowed by the Executive as the House of Commons today.
The real problem is the Executives grip on the Commons timetable, under which every Bill in this House is subject to a guillotine. It will be interesting to see whether that applies to this Bill, should it actually begin its progress. That grip is reinforced by whipping on almost every matter, by the promise of high office in return for obediencean interest that we do not have to include in the Register of Members Interestsand by the threat of deselection under the terms now applied by the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. As has been pointed out, we are little more than an electoral college for the office of Prime Minister. Whatever happened to the ideal that we should sit here in accordance with the Burkean tradition as representatives of our constituents exercising our judgment, rather than as delegates of centralised political parties? Ironically, if we implement a system for elections to the upper House, we will be implementing the same vice-like control of party over entry into that upper House. An appointed House can deal with that only through a proper appointments commission, and not by party-driven elections.
John Bercow: How does my hon. Friend suppose that the point that he has just made is consistent with the point about which he was complaining a few moments ago, namely that if someone served for a long but non-renewable term, that person would not be accountable to the electorateor, indeed, apparently to anyone else?
Mr. Jenkin: I do not think for a minute that that is the system that we will finish with in the long term. There might be that intention at the start, and it might even reach the statute book for a period, but if we start down the track towards having an elected House we will finish up with a fully fledged Senate, with all that flows from that.
Who could possibly argue that embroiling the upper House in the same mind-numbing party antics as we engage in so much in this Chamber will increase the authority and legitimacy of that House? Parliament is already held in enough contempt. This will accelerate the process. Election turnouts for these elections are likely to be the same as for elections to local government or, even worse, the same as for the European Parliamentwhich is pitiable.
If we want to recover respect for Parliament, we in this House need to improve what we do. That can be achieved only by recovering our independence from the Executive and initiating a process of separation between the Executive and this House. The payroll
should be limited and we should consider whether some Ministers should be recruited from outside Parliament, rather than from within it. Our timetable should no longer be under the control of Government, and we should consider how it could be determined by a Committee elected by this House, rather than, as now, handed down by the Executive. Those two measures would do far more to address the imbalance in our modern constitution than any change to the composition of the other place.
I urge the House to vote to retain our respected revising Chamber as primarily an appointed House. If we vote for an elected House, let there be a referendum. After all, this would be a far greater change than a mere regional assembly or elected mayor, and those who have voted for referendums on those matters would be honour-bound to vote for a referendum on this issue.
I shall not be the least embarrassed if this occasion turns out to be another so-called train wreck. That will simply reflect that there is no consensus for reform, which is a very good reason not to reform at all. It should be hard to change our constitution, and I am glad that it is. I shall vote for the maintenance of our bicameral Parliament but for the other place to become wholly appointed. My support for that proposition in respect of any Bill that might be introduced will depend on the means for appointment. Unless one of the propositions for reform is approved I will vote to retain the remaining hereditary element, in line with the assurance given by the Governmentby the Lord Chancellorback in 1999 that that should go only when stage 2 has taken place. With no stage 2, the remaining hereditaries should remain, in line with the Governments assurance. I regret that I cannot support the amendment of my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) because that would imply that I support the principle of elected peers, which I hope that I have explained I do not.
John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): My starting point is that unicameralism equals monopoly and that monopoly spawns arrogance. The antidote to that monopoly and arrogance is a legitimate, credible, self-confident, and thereby effective, second Chamber. I listened with interest and respect to argument enunciated once again by the right hon. Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth) in favour of abolition of the House of Lords. I do not agree with that view. At this stage of our constitutional arrangements, it is essential that we retain, strengthen, embolden and respect a second Chamber and derive very much more from it.
That second Chamber is incredibly important and if we are to have it, we have to decide the fundamental question. Do we preserve a wholly appointed Chamber or go for a variant on the theme of election and democracy? My strong, passionate and insistent preference is for a predominantly electedor better still, wholly electedsecond Chamber. I simply do not buy the argument that we can continue with the status quo. I acknowledge the frequency with which one hears the argument invoked that the House of Lords is doing a thoroughly good job. I said earlier in an intervention on the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso)
that although some peers work exceptionally hard and frequently demonstrate great expertise, the most vociferous voices in support of the excellence of the existing House of Lords are existing Members of the House of Lords. On the principle that no one should be judge in his own cause, we should not attach much weight to that kind of special pleading.
My view is that we have to move very much in favour of election, and in holding that view I immediately confront the argument that if we do so, we will somehow face the threat of a rival mandate. That is a fundamentally nervous, under-confident and grievously and unnecessarily apprehensive position for this House to take. Why should there be that problem? It is said that the primacy of this Chamber is based on, derived from and exclusively dependent on the fact only of our being the elected House. I do not agree with that. There are all sorts of bases of the primacy of this House, and that argument ought to be strongly and repeatedly asserted. The reality is that the Commons is the source of the Government of this country. The Commons is the body that controls Supply. The Commons is the organisation that exclusively has the power to tax and to spend. The Commons is the body that has the final say on legislation. The Commons decides both its own powers and those of the other House. The notion that, simply because we entertain and then go for reform, we will somehow immediately resile from, repudiate or put at risk that essential pre-eminence is fundamentally wrong.
The truth is that people who argue that position, whether they know it or not, are really arguing against significant change of any kind, and they are probably for the most partwith the notable exception of my hon. Friend the Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin)people who have always been of that position. We can retain primacy, and we can and should assert distinctiveness and separateness. One manifestly effective way in which to do so would be to say, We will not have Ministers as Members of the House of Lords. They can appear before, but they shall not sit in, that second Chamber. That would serve to reinforce and underline the reality that the second Chamber is performing a function complementary to, but not duplicatory of, the House of Commons.
Mr. Jenkin: I put it to my hon. Friend that the fact that Ministers sit in the House of Lords and could sit in it if it were elected is not the problem. The problem is that there are too many Ministersand too many people in this House who hope to be Ministerssitting in this House. My hon. Friend is addressing the wrong problem if he wants to strengthen Parliaments relationship with the Executive.
John Bercow: The problem that underlies my hon. Friends thesis is that he is not prepared to consider the possibility that there might be several sources of our existing weakness and, therefore, a multifaceted solution. I respect the fact that my hon. Friend has changed his mind. Goodness knows, as right hon. and hon. Members will know, I have on several occasions changed my mind on issues, and I do not regard that as an admission of weakness. I certainly do not castigate my hon. Friend, but he is guilty of the zeal of the convert. He now subscribes to the view that there is a panacea for dealing with the ills of the inadequacy of representation, the democratic deficit or the excessively domineering style or capacity of the Executive.
Yes, we should reform this House, and I do not believe for one moment that reform of the Lords and reform of the Commons are mutually exclusive and that never the twain shall meetfar from it. It is my passionate conviction, which I put to the Leader of the House, who is one of the best Leaders of the House in recent times, that a good House of Lords reform Bill should very soon be followed by a good House of Commons reform Bill to boot. Let us take the process seriously and respect the fact that each House needs to change, albeit probably in somewhat different ways.
Sir Patrick Cormack: As always, my hon. Friend makes a passionate, persuasive and eloquent speech. He is a man of real logic, so I ask him whether it is really sensible to impose a change on the other place before we have thought through the changes that we should introduce for this place.
John Bercow: I do not think that there is a problem with that. I would like to have had further and better reform of this place at an earlier stage, but the reforms that we envisage as necessary for the Lords remain necessary and could act as an inspirational or competitive spur to this House to do what is necessary in respect of its own proceedings.
There is an unreal and unjustified concern about the form of elections that might take place. Whatever one opts for, there will be people who object. My own view is that it would be much better to proceed with the elections to the revised second Chamber through open, transparent processes that offer the electorate more choice. I am also persuaded that there is a strong imperative for some sort of proportionality in the system, given that the normal objection that my hon. Friends and I make to proportional representation applies in the context of the Chamber from which the Government are drawn and on which they depend for their majority. The same argument does not apply to a second Chamber with palpably and permanently different functions.
If we want more independence and more of a mix of representation in the second Chamber, we should have a different electoral system. We should also say, categorically, that we want a smaller second Chamber. There may be scope for reducing the size of this institution, but whatever size the second Chamber ends up, it should be smaller than at present.
I wish to make two final points that are relevant to the culture of the revised second Chamber. I said earlier that I was quizzicaland at best, uncertainabout amendment (c), in the name of my right hon. Friends the Members for Witney (Mr. Cameron) and for Maidenhead (Mrs. May), which is also supported by several Liberal Democrats. The time for the hereditaries to sit in the second Chamber has passed and they should leave sooner rather than later. The notion that the whole process might take 10, 12 or 15 years is incredible and unsustainable and it is not a notion that I can support. I say that as someone who respects the contribution that those individuals have made. They have worked hard and shown their expertise and they are genuinely dedicated and loyal in the service of the other place, but they cannot continue to be present there for any reasonable period. That is not on. The notion that they can be used as a bargaining chip in an elaborate game is neither credible
nor modern politics. We have to judge the issue on its merits, intellectually and ethically. If we do so, we will recognise that the hereditary peers cannot be allowed to stay for long. By all means let us be generous with them, give them pay-offs, show our thanks and be appreciative, but they cannot continue.
My final point has been touched on intermittently in the debate by a couple of colleagues. In 2007, there is no case to be made for reserved, ex officio, guaranteed religious representation in the second Chamber. The argument simply does not hold water. The Leader of the House proposes keeping a reduced number of bishops, but that would require us, in all conscience, decency and equity, to incorporate a good many other people who represent the other faiths in this country. It has been calculated that of the order of 77 such people would have to be included.
I suppose that one could argue that all the faiths should be accommodated, or none of them. The notion that there should be a privileged position for a small number of bishops in a decreasingly religious country simply will not wash. Again, those people should be thanked, appreciated and respected, but they should be told, You might be part of an appointed element on merit, but ex officio, guaranteed representation is for the birds. We need a genuine, effective and committed reform of the House of Lords, and it should happen without significant delay.
I will not let the best be the enemy of the good. Like the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), I will vote for 100, 80, or 60 per cent. I will even vote for 50 per cent., because we must make progress.
David Howarth (Cambridge) (LD): I have come to a conclusion that is similar to that of the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow); it is not quite the same. I believe that the upper House has to be 100 per cent. elected, and my reasons are very similar to those given by the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) and the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd).
The central point is that the primacy of the House of Commons comes down to its power to make and break Governments, and to decide who the Government shall be. However, that source of strength is also its source of weakness. The Government depend for their existence on the confidence of the Commons, but that very fact renders the Commons not very good at scrutinising legislation. That job needs a second Chamber.
Several hon. Members have talked about the power of the House of Commons over Supply. I am a new Member of the House, but I am struck by how weak our power over Supply has become. Formerly, the House was able to control expenditure, but that power has been reduced to a series of formal debates. Decisions about where money should or not be spent are at the heart of policy, but the House cannot now debate different spending plans. There is no way that we can debate in this Chamber, as council chambers can up and down the country, what the Government want to spend taxpayers money on as opposed to the Opposition parties. That is the reality of the situation of Supply, rather than the form.
We need a second Chamber to carry out those tasks, but it has been argued that this Chamber can be reformed to produce similar results. Reforms are
necessary, but they will never be enough. The Government of the day depend for their existence on the confidence of the House, so the power of the Whips will always be with us. That power will always be necessary to ensure that the House is run in the way that it has to be in order that its functions are carried out. As a result, we will never be able to hold the Government to account to the extent that a fully independent House of Commons could.
The issue in the end comes down to why we want a second Chamber in the first place. While the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) was speaking about the 17th century, it occurred to me that, as the successor to Oliver Cromwell as the Member for Cambridge, I might have something to say about that. This House in 1649 passed a resolution:
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