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That the House of Peers is useless and dangerous and ought to be abolished,
Why is a second Chamber necessary? The argument in the White Paper, which my hon. Friend the Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) repeated, was simply to do with the size and complexity of the task that faces us. I am afraid that I am not quite convinced by that argument. It would imply, for example, that we should look for a second Chamber for the European Parliamenta proposition that would chill the blood of most hon. Members and most citizens of the European Union.
The real reasons why we need a second Chamber come down to two. One is the need for revision and the other is the need for a political check and balance. I have to say that the role of a revising Chamber by itself is not quite enough, if by revising Chamber one means a Chamber of suggestions, which can improve legislation but without challenging the underlying policy. That strikes me as a council of state function, and if we want the Chamber to have such a function and be made up of experts, the best way to deal with that is the way the French do it. They have competitive examinations to decide who should sit in that body. It is a purely expert function, not the sort of function that the House of Lords has been carrying out.
The present structure of the House of Lordsa Chamber based on patronagedoes not seem to me to be one that can carry out such a function very well. The expertise in the House of Lords is patchy. I sat on the Committee that considered the Companies Bill. It struck me that, although there are many renowned lawyers and business people in the House of Lords, the great experts in company law in this countrywith one exception, who studied company law and researched it with great distinction until the 1960sdo not sit in the House of Lords. If we want a Chamber based on expertise, we have to look elsewhere for the experts.
Why does the hon. Gentleman assume that the appointed Chamber has to be based on some
sort of centralised patronage? Why could we not have employers, trade unions, religious bodies, the professions, students and so on each electing their own Members to the second Chamber, thereby ensuring diversity and expertise, and changing the franchise so that the second Chamber is so different from this place that it will not be a threat?
David Howarth: The hon. Gentleman is suggesting an election system, but with functional rather than geographical constituencies. The big question then is how we make sure that we do not leave people out. A lot of the population would be covered by such constituencies, but not people who do not fit into those particular groups. The employment structure of the country is changing rapidly, so it is difficult to define what those occupational groups would be. In the end, the easiest way to run a democracy is on a geographical basis.
I want to come to the fundamental reason why we should have a second Chamber. It is to be a political check and balance, not just to represent regional and local interests, although the point about the present second Chamber being fundamentally a London-based Chamber has been made several times and very well. The second Chamber should be a check in a legislative process that often operates far too quickly. We legislate at great speed. In the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 and various terrorism Bills we have approached a knee-jerk democracy. The problem with that is that the population of the country needs time to react.
If we are to have any public influence on the political system, the public need time. Most people most of the time pay little attention to politics. Often they do not realise that their fundamental interests and rights may be in danger, so they need time to organiseto come together to put pressure on their rulers. For that to happen, we need the checks and balances provided by a second Chamber whose job is to delay things, to get in the way and to cause creative tension in the system.
If we are to have a body with power to block, even for a short timea year or sohow does that body choose which Bills to block and which to let through? How does it choose to block the Hunting Bill but not the Identity Cards Bill? If a body of people is to have that important power and choice, the only way it can legitimately exercise it is if it is elected. In a constitutional system, as the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) said, there will be other peoplenamely, constitutional judgeswith the power to make Parliament think again, but in our system, we do not have that option at present. All we have is the second Chambers power of delay. Any Chamber that has the power of delay, to allow the population to organise itself into opposition, must be elected; it cannot exist simply by power of patronage.
On the propositions before the House, my position logically leads to my voting for 100 per cent. election, so why should I vote for anything elseapart from the fact that my party wants me to? I am prepared to put up with 80:20, because in a House with 80 per cent. elected, 20 per cent. selected, the likelihood that a proposition would go through because of the votes of the 20 per cent. is quite low. It would be possible for such a House to adopt a procedure that allowed it to think again if that were to be the case. In addition, 80:20 would give a House with a profoundly democratic culturethe 20 per cent. would be exceptional.
David Howarth: That is a good question; it shows the fundamental weakness of any appointments system, which is why I do not want many such people. Perhaps at some point random selection might be used.
I draw a distinction between the 80:20 and 60:40 proposals. I fully understand the arguments for voting for any proposal that introduces some elected element, but the problem with the 60:40 proposal is the high risk that the votes of the 40 per cent. would determine the question. The internal culture of such a House would not necessarily be a culture of democracy, so for me 60:40 is a step too far at this stage. The 50:50 proposal would in no way lead to a predominantly democratic House.
The question will return to the House in a different form later. We shall not be voting on legislation tomorrow, but on what might be called a Straw poll. If I were faced with the choice of 60:40 or nothing, I might come to a different conclusion, but we are not faced with that choice tomorrow, if I understand the procedure we are adopting, so I shall stick to my initial conclusion and vote for 100 per cent. or for 80:20.
Mr. Shailesh Vara (North-West Cambridgeshire) (Con): This is the first time that I have spoken from the Front Bench in a substantive policy debate, so may I say what a privilege it is to follow so many eminent Members of the House across the divide?
The other place has a long and distinguished past. It has had and continues to have many illustrious hard-working Members. We do well to remember that. However, the arguments for a reformed upper House are not new. Indeed, some 60 years ago, a Labour Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, said that the upper House was like a glass of champagne that had been left for five days.
My party believes that there is an overwhelming case for reform. In both our 2001 and 2005 election manifestos, we were committed to a substantially elected upper Chamber. We want a democratic and accountable upper House that reflects the modern 21st century. It is indeed ironic at a time when the public is becoming ever more distanced and disenchanted with the political process that we may inadvertently be assisting that disenchantment by not allowing the public to have a say in the formation of the upper House.
The hon. Member for Wirral, South (Ben Chapman) said that the standing of politicians was low. Although I agree with him on that, I confess that I did not agree with his conclusion about how best to resolve the issue.
A substantially elected upper Chamber would have greater legitimacy to question and amend Government policy. It will also allow for a greater breadth of expertise
and enable its Members to operate with greater independence. My hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) summed it up well when he said that those who make the laws should be accountable to those for whom they are madea sentiment echoed by the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) when she said that those who legislate should be elected by those over whom they legislate.
The arguments for legitimacy and accountability were also put by the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Love), while the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) made clear her support for 50 per cent. and above to be elected members of the upper House.
The arguments for legitimacy and accountability were also ably supported by the hon. Members for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso), for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden) and for Cambridge (David Howarth).
While there has been consensus and good will from all three major parties in favour of reform, it has to be said that the Governments handling of the process has been contradictory and confusing. The 1997 Labour manifesto promised to make the other place more democratic and representative. After removing most of the hereditary peers in 1999, completing the process of reform has slipped down the agendadespite the subject being mentioned in no fewer than seven Queens Speeches.
It is not just procrastination; there has been a serious lack of direction. The 2001 Labour manifesto promised a more democratic upper House. However, four years later in the 2005 manifesto, the word democratic had disappeared and reference was made instead to a more modern and effective House. That change is hardly surprising, given that the Prime Minister voted for a wholly appointed House of Lords in 2003, saying that a hybrid of the two options was wrong and will not work.
Now, with a divided Cabinet, the Leader of the House has come up with a proposal to placate his disunited colleagues. The consequence is a wholly unsatisfactory 50:50 compromise. Incidentally, I am not one to be drawn by idle talkwell, not often, anywaybut there are whispers that the Prime Minister had indicated that, if he were to continue in power, he did not intend to use the Parliament Act in this matter. Given that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is likely to be the next Prime Minister, perhaps the deputy Leader of the House will enlighten us about whether the Chancellor will use the Parliament Act, if necessary.
The White Paper goes nowhere near providing the reformed upper House required for todays Britain. The proposal that 50 per cent. of the other place should be elected on a list system means that party patronage will continue when determining who ranks where on the list. That is appointment by any other name. Add to that the 30 per cent. who would be directly appointed by the political parties and we would have an upper House that was effectively 80 per cent. appointed. So much for lessening the influence of the party machinery and ushering in greater democracy.
Mr. Straw: I am happy to be criticised on what we have proposed, but not on what we have not proposed. Will the hon. Gentleman please desist from the practice of the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) in saying that we propose that the political appointees should be directly appointed by the political parties? That is simply untrue.
Mr. Vara: The individuals will be nominated by the political parties and they will be drawn from a list. I leave the House to form its own conclusion. Incidentally, as far as the list system is concerned, the Liberal Democrats demonstrated their typical duplicity. The hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes), while arguing that the list system supported the patronage system, nevertheless had to concede that his party still supports the list system. It is regrettable that [ Interruption. ] I am afraid that Hansard will [ Interruption. ]
Simon Hughes: We have argued for the single transferable vote, not the list system. If there were a list system, it would have to be a completely open list, but that is absolutely not our first choice.
Mr. Vara: Anyone who knows even the slightest bit about proportional representation would agree that the list system falls into the realm of proportional representation, which is a policy that the Liberal Democrats have espoused for many years.
It is regrettable that the White Paper has not demonstrated the boldness that this subject deserves and that it is a fudge to accommodate a divided Cabinet. In short, it is regrettable that the White Paper is not democratic enough. As for the hereditary peers, my party supports their removal from the other place, but only if they are replaced with elected Members. I very much hope that the Government will honour the then Lord Chancellors commitment.
The issue of primacy is of concern to all Members of the House, but it is not a new or insurmountable issue and it should not be viewed in such cautious terms. The Father of the House, among others, expressed his concern, but primacy has changed over the centuries, as the democratic and representative nature of Parliament has changed. The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) spoke of what we are discussing being the next stage in the evolutionary process.
If there is greater democracy in the upper House, primacy may well come into play once more, but we can deal with that challenge, as the House has in the past. I refer to the comments made earlier by my right hon. and learned Friends the Members for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) and for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), along with the comments made recently by my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (John Bercow). There are some who express anxiety about the future, on the basis that we do not know what the consequences of a more democratic upper Chamber will be. There is the argument that says, If it aint broken, dont fix it.
Those who uttered such sentiments included my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples). He was supported in his concern by my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh), along with my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack). There are others in the House, such as the hon. Members for Eltham (Clive Efford) and for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) who said that the House should first address the concerns of this Chamber, rather than the upper Chamber.
For my part, I will vote tomorrow for an 80 per cent. elected upper House, because I believe that that will bring more democracy and legitimacy and a greater breadth of membership, while still allowing, through a 20 per cent. appointed element, a great depth of expertise and experience. I hope that our deliberations and tomorrows votes will lead to a reformed House that is truly capable of questioning and amending legislation and that is democratic and accountable while, at the same time, providing expertise and independence. Let us have an upper House that is truly ready to address the challenges of the 21st century.
The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Nigel Griffiths): There were many thoughtful and enlightened contributions among the 23 Back-Bench speeches that were made in our debate on the latest constitutional reform proposed by the Government. In the past decade, we have achieved human rights legislation, a freedom of information Act, devolution for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and an elected city government in Edinburgh.
We began the reform of the House of Lords with the removal of most of the hereditary peers. That anomaly is simply not justifiable now, if it was in any age. We have presided over the most significant reform for eight decades. We established the independent House of Lords Appointments Commission, under the chairmanship of Lord Stevenson of Coddenham. We now propose to establish a statutory appointments commission.
Almost everyone accepts that there is unfinished business in respect of the House of Lords. Let no one be in any doubt that what unites us in this Houseacross the political divideand that what unites us with the House of peers is an unshakeable belief in the primacy of the elected House of Commons over any second Chamber, howsoever that is shaped. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House set out precisely how we have sought to secure that. Proposals were made by the royal commission that was chaired by Lord Wakeham, the Public Administration Committee and the Breaking the Deadlock group, which all favoured a part-elected, part-appointed second Chamber. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr. Love) and others for their words of thanks to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House for his genuine responses to those reports.
The Labour party has been committed to root-and-branch reform of the House of Lords for 100 years; others are more recent converts to the cause. The Conservative party and its manifestos were silent on the issue until 2005, although the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) has told his Back Benchers that this reform is a third-term priority. Perhaps that is new Tory speak for manana, and the matter would be placed in the to-do file for about 12 years after his party formed
some future Government. Was that what the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) meant when she said earlier, We want a House of Lords elected by the many, although given the contributions of some of her Back-Bench colleagues, she seems to have used the royal we a little prematurely? Indeed, one experienced and senior Conservative Back Bencher called his partys proposals a crackpot idea.
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