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Today, I want to take on the argument made by those who supported the second principle, and who also argued that an elected or largely elected House of
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Lords would not work, because it seems to me that, given the structure of yesterday's debate, if we could assure ourselves that an elected or largely elected House of Lords would work, we would then have what we have all been seeking all this time: consensus. One set of people think that everything should be democratic; another set of people think that everything should work. If it was the case that this elected House of Lords was both democratic and workable, we would all agree on having an elected or largely elected House of Lords.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): Did my right hon. Friend also notice the argument that I and other hon. Members made yesterday, and with which I am sure he would agree—that if we are to have an elected House, it is essential that the elected Members of the other place are not clones of MPs? Does he see any merit, therefore, in ensuring that they are genuinely concerned with scrutiny of the Executive rather than their own ambitions by stipulating that they may not become Ministers of the Crown if they are elected to the other place?

Mr. Letwin: Yes and yes is my answer to that. I shall address that point in a moment, as my hon. Friend will hear. In his own eloquent performance yesterday, in which he successively advanced an argument and then advanced a series of sub-arguments in case he lost the first and then the second and the third, he brought out well a point with which I agree: we will have to take steps to try to make the Members of the upper House as independent as possible. I agree with my hon. Friend that one of those steps could be to prevent them from serving as Ministers.

Let me return to the question whether a largely elected House of Lords could work. There were two sides to that argument yesterday. One side argued that if the upper Chamber were largely or wholly elected there would be a productive tension between it and our House, or between it and the Government. My right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) both made speeches to that effect. On the other side of the argument were those who argued that a largely or wholly elected House of Lords would create deadlock. The right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams), who is not in his place today, made a powerful and eloquent case for the proposition that it would engender deadlock —[ Interruption. ] I am aware that some of my hon. Friends agree with that proposition. Those two positions are at the centre of the debate.

On the question whether an elected House would create a productive tension, some of my hon. Friends and some Labour Members suggested that there was no problem to be solved in the first place. They argued that we did not need to worry about whether the tension would be creative or lead to deadlock because we did not have a problem at the moment. Therefore, they argued, there was no need for change. I do not believe that that argument has much weight. One of the few issues in this whole vexed area on which we can almost all agree is that the Executive have too much power. That is not a reflection on the present Government, or on previous or future Governments, because the simple fact is that we live under a
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Government who are dominated by the Prime Minister of the day because of his powers of patronage. By definition—or by hypothesis in our system, because of our fused arrangements—the Government have a majority in the House of Commons and are, broadly speaking, able to do what they like with insufficient check between elections. That is a problem not only for the people of this country but for the Government of the day who would benefit from being more effectively checked. That is common ground between the occupants of the Front Benches, but it is also a widely shared view in the country and in the House.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): What are you going to do about it?

Mr. Letwin: My hon. Friend is telepathically interpreting the stages of my speech. Some of my hon. Friends and some Labour Members argued that what we needed to do was mainly—some argued wholly—to reform the House of Commons. I have considerable sympathy with that—

Sir Nicholas Winterton: Quite right!

Mr. Letwin: My hon. Friend is doing so well with his telepathy that I may shortly withdraw and allow him to make this speech instead. Unfortunately, he and I will disagree about the conclusion.

My colleagues in the shadow Cabinet and I—and, I suspect, Ministers—profoundly agree that there is a need and scope for reform of the House of Commons. I hope that the Leader of the House, who takes these matters seriously, may be one of those Leaders of the House who takes Commons reform seriously. That would be a wonderful step forward. Will it be enough? I doubt it. In the nature of a fused constitution, the Government have a majority in the House and are therefore unlikely ever to accede to the House being used as a mechanism to check them with sufficient challenge and ferocity. It is possible, but unlikely. It is much more likely that the other place, which has a longer record of independence and a greater distance from the Executive—if its Members were not allowed to be Ministers and had long terms of office, it would be yet more independent—would be able to exercise that check. I suspect that most people, if they examine their consciences and deprive themselves of the glories of rhetorical debate, would agree with that proposition.

Mr. Mike Hall (Weaver Vale) (Lab): I am following the right hon. Gentleman’s speech closely. The primary subject of yesterday’s debate was whether this House had primacy over the House of Lords. The right hon. Gentleman seems to be arguing that we need to give the Lords more power to challenge what happens in this House, but that ignores the point about primacy.

Mr. Letwin: If the hon. Gentleman will bear with me, I am just coming to the point about primacy. My argument so far is that we need to have a House of Lords that has more confidence to challenge the Government of the day. I will explain why primacy is not the issue, although it was raised in the debate yesterday.

The next question is whether being largely elected would give the House of Lords greater confidence to
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challenge the Government of the day. I think that that proposition is unchallengeable. It is clear that if it were largely elected—80 per cent., to choose a figure—it would feel much more confidence in challenging the Government. I do not say that it would be perfect or that it would always challenge the Government, but it would have more confidence.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): I am not sure that I share my right hon. Friend’s confidence that an elected second Chamber would do that. The Leader of the House has indicated that the elections would take place on a proportional representation list system, but the list would be packed with party stooges who would just do the parties’ bidding. The only difference would be that we would lose the expertise and experience in the House of Lords that has been built up, for no positive benefit.

Mr. Letwin: As a matter of the logic of the argument, it is important that my hon. Friend should recognise that we are dealing now with composition and will deal later with the rules governing election. However, as a matter of fact, I share the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) that one has to take steps to make the elected or largely elected members of the upper House independent. One step might be not to allow them to be Ministers. Another might be for them to serve long terms and a third should be for them not to be elected on a closed list system of the type that my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) mentions. There are other possible steps, but it must be possible to devise rules that will make it more rather than less likely that those Members will be independent minded. It must also be the case that if they have a mandate, they will feel more empowered to challenge the Government.

I come now to the salient point made by the hon. Member for Weaver Vale (Mr. Hall). The answer of most of those who spoke in yesterday’s debate, who rejected the proposition despite everything that I have just said, was that the problem did not reside in the House of Lords not having a function, or in it not attaining more oomph and vigour in pursuing the function of challenging the Government as a result of election, but in the fact that the system would work too well. The House of Lords would somehow—in the phrase used yesterday, which the hon. Gentleman repeated—challenge the primacy of this House.

I invite right hon. and hon. Members to reflect on how we look to the outside world. That is a difficult thing to do, because it is difficult to look at oneself. Who on earth in the United Kingdom cares about the primacy of the House of Commons? If I went out in the streets with a big banner that said “I’m in favour of the primacy of the House of Commons.” I would not attract large groups of people to follow behind me—[ Interruption.] Yes, there are some hon. Members who are concerned about that, but my point is that the 60 million people out there could not care less about the primacy of anything, especially the House of Commons. Indeed, if one asked them about the primacy of the House of Commons, they would probably think that one meant whether it should be filled with primates—a very different subject.

The primacy of the House of Commons is, in constitutional terms, neither here nor there. What
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matters is whether the Government can govern, and that is what hon. Members were trying to get at yesterday. That does matter to hon. Members, but more importantly it matters to 60 million people in this country. It matters that when the Government of the day have been elected in a general election they are able to govern and do their business. Forget the primacy of this House and concentrate on the ability of the Government to govern.

The Leader of the House was persuasive and eloquent on this point. The question is whether the Government, if they are in possession of a majority in this House—which they must have in order to form the Government in the first place—and if this House has control of Supply, which it undoubtedly does by convention and deep constitutional theory, and if the House and Government are possessed of the Parliament Acts, as they will be, face any realistic prospect of not being able to get their business through, spend their money and follow their policies. Manifestly, the answer would be no. There is no such prospect and, interestingly, those who opposed large degrees of election did not argue that there was. It is significant that, as part of his conversion, my hon. Friend the Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) withdrew from that position. He considered that things would change in 10, 20, 50 or 100 years, and that somehow the Government of the day would be deprived of the vital powers conferred by the Parliament Acts, the right of Supply and so on.

I do not know what will happen in 100 years. None of us can. However, I do know that, when a new system with a largely elected House of Lords is introduced, the House of Commons will retain the powers needed to ensure that the Government of the day can govern.

Mr. Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): I agree with the right hon. Gentleman’s analysis but, even if no party has a majority in the other Chamber, certain issues could arise about which a broad section of opinion there might believe that the Government must be forced to think again, repeatedly, before taking a drastic step. If the progress of Government business were to be impeded in that way, would not most of the general public believe that that was much more important than any concept of the primacy of the House of Commons?

Mr. Letwin: I very much agree. If we have a House of Lords that is largely elected, under any of the arrangements that we have discussed, it will feel more empowered to challenge. As a result, the Government of the day will be delayed more often. They will always get their way in the end, but will have to take account of the great heat that will be generated in public as a result of the delay. That will be a more effective check between elections on the overweening use of power by the Government of the day. That is the argument that those of us who believe that there should be a largely elected second Chamber want to advance.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): May I suggest to my right hon. Friend that it will not be 100 years before those elected to the other place start to claim an authority that they do not have at the moment? They will say, “We are elected, and we are as legitimate as the people down the Corridor.” They will demand a greater say, including over matters such as the Budget.

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Mr. Letwin: I think that my hon. Friend ignores the fact of what happens at a general election. The theory is that we are sent here as independent representatives of our seats, with no party affiliation, but the fact is that the public elect a Government. They select a person to be Prime Minister, they select the colleagues of that person to be the Government, and they select the party that those people represent to govern them. As long as that is what happens at general elections, I do not believe that the fear that the other place might seek to become the Government of the day is more than fanciful.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Letwin: I shall answer one more question, and then sit down.

Mr. John Baron (Billericay): I am following my right hon. Friend’s argument closely. Does he accept that equating elections with legitimacy means that it is possible that a majority of the elected representatives to Parliament may be in disagreement with the Government? Would not that call the legitimacy of that Government into question?

Mr. Letwin: I am glad that my hon. Friend has raised what I think is the centrepiece of this debate. First, if people know that they are electing a Government when they vote at a general election, it is very unlikely that another set of people will be able to persuade them that it is they who have been elected. The dynamic of media and public opinion will not allow that to happen.

Secondly, it is enormously important to recognise that when a group of people are elected on the basis that they will not form the Government—and, moreover, elected in ways that reinforce the assumption that they will not do so—it would take a heroic effort of self-importance on their part to persuade themselves nevertheless that they did, somehow, constitute that Government. That heroic self-importance would be greater than anything that even we in this House can manage and, God knows, we can do very well in that regard.

I accept that human beings can do strange things, but it is unlikely that the sober-minded people elected to the House of Lords would behave in that way.

Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Letwin: I am sorry, but I am going to sit down now; otherwise I shall be accused of hogging the Dispatch Box.

1.15 pm

Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): I am most grateful to be called to speak, but I have to admit that I do not know what comes over Labour Foreign Secretaries when they are made Leader of the House of Commons. Like Robin Cook, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House was a brilliant Foreign Secretary—by that I mean that I agreed with everything that he did—but, also like Robin Cook, he has come over all funny since he has been Leader of the House. The proposals that he has put before us, the speech that he made yesterday and the letters that he has sent out only confirm my diagnosis.

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Let us be clear: there can be only three logical positions in respect of whether we should have a bicameral or unicameral legislature. The first is that the second Chamber should be abolished. The second is that it should be 100 per cent. elected, and the third that it should be 100 per cent. appointed. All the rest, as set out by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, are gibberish.

Mr. Andrew Tyrie (Chichester) (Con): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir Gerald Kaufman: No, as I want to advance my argument a little.

What is special about 50 per cent., 60 per cent., or 80 per cent.? What is the logic? The Government are trying to involve us in a kind of constitutional sudoku, in which we fill in the blank spaces. Other metaphors for what they are getting us into might be spread betting, or the premium phone-ins on ITV that my good friend Michael Grade is bringing to an end.

This is an utterly irresponsible way to create a new House of Parliament from scratch. After 800 years of the other Chamber’s evolution, the Government basically want to abolish it and to start anew. However, if that is what they intend, they must proceed only on the basis of total logic.

The Leader of the House is my friend as well as my right hon. Friend, but I have to tell him that what he is proposing to vote for this evening is constitutionally disreputable. What is more, the dark warnings that he has given the House of Lords of the terrible fate that awaits it if it obstructs what the House of Commons votes for this evening—assuming that we vote as he wants us to—are useless if there is an elected element there.

The House of Lords has obstructed the House of Commons even when nobody there has been elected. Under the proposals, Members of the other place may secure an elected mandate on the 20 per cent. of the electorate likely to turn out if their polls are held at the same time as European elections. Even so, they will say, “We’ve been voted for. You, friends, get lost!”

Mr. Tyrie: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir Gerald Kaufman: In a moment. Elected Members of the other place will say, “We’ve got as much right to do what we’re doing at out our end of the Corridor as you have at yours.” The same argument applies to the answer to the question put to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House by my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) about whether elected Members of the House of Lords would have the same freedom as hon. Members to make representations on behalf of their constituents. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House replied:

by the way, Jack, you don’t know how to spell complementary—

Dream on, Jack. Anybody—

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