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7 Mar 2007 : Column 1534

Mr. Speaker: Order. The right hon. Gentleman has been a Member for a long time, and used to tutor me in how to conduct myself in the Chamber. Now the apprentice is telling him.

Sir Gerald Kaufman: As always, Mr. Speaker, I bow to your ruling. Dream on my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw).

If Members of the House of Lords are elected—probably by proportional representation—they will take on our cases. If they win, they will say that they were successful because we could not win the case. If they lose, and there is a Labour Government, as I hope that there will be, they will blame the Government. They will have it every single way there is.

Mr. Tyrie: At the beginning of the right hon. Gentleman’s speech he suggested that there were only three possibilities—

Tom Levitt: Three possibilities in logic.

Mr. Tyrie: Indeed, so why, when the right hon. Gentleman was a member of the Wakeham Committee, did he sign up to a fourth—a mixed House by proportional representation?

Sir Gerald Kaufman: I did not— [ Interruption. ] I specifically did not. If the hon. Gentleman looks at that part of the report he will see, first, that it was not a recommendation but an option and, secondly, that the section to which he refers was supported by a majority of the royal commission. I had that provision included because I told the secretary of the royal commission that I would not sign the report if it recommended election to the other place, so I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to make that absolutely clear.

Mark Fisher (Stoke-on-Trent, Central) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Sir Gerald Kaufman: Of course.

Mark Fisher: I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend, who is also my friend, for giving way.

It is curious that my right hon. Friend says that simply because people in the other House might be elected it would give them the confidence to interfere in constituency matters. Does he have much trouble with his local Member of the European Parliament taking up constituency casework? I do not think that any of us experience such trouble; there may be occasional events, but they are very occasional. MEPs have a different remit.

Sir Gerald Kaufman: As my hon. Friend knows, there are several local MEPs, because of the absurd way in which the European Parliament is elected. One of them, my very good friend, Arlene McCarthy, who is Labour, of course supports everything I do. Others, from different political parties, do not have the same credentials.

I have to tell my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that there is no future whatever for his proposals, regardless of what happens this evening. Whatever happens here this evening, the other place will make its decisions and, in addition, we have to take account of the fact that later this year we shall have a
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new Prime Minister who will not be barmy enough to allow the only full Session of this Parliament before he calls a general election—which Labour will win—to be bogged down with this ludicrous nonsense. Whether it is my right hon. Friend the Chancellor or somebody else, he or she will want to spend the Session presenting excellent, sensible, constructive Labour policies to help us win the election; he will not want it bogged down by the same absurdity that bogged down the Labour Government in 1966—with Michael Foot and Enoch Powell—and the same absurdity that Robin Cook, brilliant as he was, proposed to the House of Commons.

Whatever we decide this evening has no future in this Parliament. However, I want to make it absolutely clear to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that if—as I think quite possible—there is a vote for some elected element, the Government had better not use that vote to put in our Labour party manifesto a commitment that we will carry out the decision on a three-line Whip in the next Parliament. In 37 years I have never voted against the Labour Whip, but if the Government try that on— [ Interruption. ] I have been unanimously reselected in my constituency and if the Government try that on, I shall be there watching—subject to the wishes of the electorate in Gorton, bless them. I tell my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn—I am abiding by the Speaker’s rulings and strictures—that I am very fond of him but I hope that under the new Prime Minister he will move on to a post where he can exercise his talents in a more constructive and sensible way.

1.26 pm

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): It was instructive to hear the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) constructing the obituary of parliamentary democracy: whatever this House decides, a new Executive will ignore it. That was the tenor of the right hon. Gentleman’s speech. Irrespective of the majorities that may be secured in this House, a new Prime Minister will ignore it. That is the argument in a nutshell.

There is a slight sense of “after the Lord Mayor’s show” about today’s proceedings, because we had such an excellent debate yesterday. However, I want to record my appreciation to the Leader of the House for his work on the cross-party group. It was an interesting group on which to serve; we did not always agree, but we found much common ground. The White Paper that resulted from our deliberations was not in every detail what we, the Conservatives or even the Government would have liked, but it gives us a basis on which to discuss the matter.

I proffer apologies to the House from the Liberal Democrats for the fact that we failed miserably to finish the job properly in 1911. The preamble to the Parliament Act states:

The expediency of 1911 has been a matter of much regret since. Here we are, discussing the matter yet again nearly 100 years later.

I agree with all those who say that we should be talking about reform not just of the House of Lords
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but of Parliament. We should also be talking about democratic renewal because there is a great need to revitalise our democratic institutions at all levels. This reform is simply a component part of that process.

Philip Davies: I have been tussling with a conundrum that the hon. Gentleman may be able to solve. Why are he and his party so determined that there must be elections to the House of Lords, which has no powers at all, bar those of revising and advising this place, yet they are more than happy to give more and more powers to the European Union and thus to an unelected European Commission that controls 80 per cent. of UK laws? He and his party have nothing to say about that.

Mr. Heath: The hon. Gentleman is quite wrong to say that we have nothing to say about democratic renewal in the European Union, but that is not the matter before us today.

May I deal with the various points raised in the debate yesterday and today? First, there is the perfectly respectable argument that is put forward by those who favour a unicameral system. Those who believe that we should not have a second Chamber have a degree of logic on their side. It is not a position that I particularly agree with, but at least I can see that there is an internal logic to their argument. Their difficulty lies in establishing how the House of Commons would properly function as a Chamber instigating legislation and revising it in one move. That is done in some legislatures, but the majority of larger countries—countries with more complex legislation and economies—find that there is the need for a revising Chamber that can take some of the work load, although I agree with one of my colleagues, who said yesterday that the work load argument cannot be carried to a conclusion, because we can organise our work more effectively than we do at the moment. At least those who believe in abolition have a clear view—a view that I respect, but do not support.

I have a great deal more difficulty with some of the other arguments that have been adduced. First, it is argued, on the grounds of utility, that the House of Lords does an excellent job and, that being so, that it is unnecessary to make any reform. I am certainly one of the first to say that there should be respect between the two Chambers. I respect enormously the work done by many Members of the House of Lords, as presently constituted in its capacity as a revising Chamber. They do us many favours in looking at legislation that we inadequately scrutinise and often asking this House to think again.

I am not sure, however, that that respect necessarily extends to every current Member of the House of Lords. Many of them appear rarely, if at all. Some are suspected of owing their place more to their cheque book than to their intrinsic merits. Some, frankly, are the dead wood of this House who have been moved to the other place to make way for perhaps more enterprising replacements. Some have been convicted of criminal offences, but retain their seats in our legislature. There is a limit to the arguments about respect.

Secondly, there is the argument about the effectiveness of the other Chamber. Again, having dealt over recent years with difficult Home Office and
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Department for Constitutional Affairs legislation, I have reason to be grateful for the good sense of those in the Lords who have been prepared to defy the Government and say, “Think again.” But I am also conscious of the fact that, at the end of the day, they have always had to give in to this House, without this House properly considering the arguments that have been put. That is a key issue. We have an extraordinary system at the moment—at the end of the Session, when we have the ping-pong—whereby we have a so-called message from the Lords, which we dispose of in an hour’s debate, with most Back Benchers not being able to contribute, scant real debate on the issues and no opportunity for conciliation. That does not demonstrate respect between the two Houses and it does not allow for this House and the other place to do their work effectively.

Mr. Beith: I do not know whether my hon. Friend has ever sat on a Reasons Committee for one of its one or two-minute meetings, at which it sets out the reasons for the Commons disagreeing with the Lords. If he had, he would realise that the extraordinary pointlessness of that exercise demonstrates the cavalier way in which we sometimes treat this process.

Mr. Heath: My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. I have sat on many Reasons Committees. I clearly remember one occasion when it was decided that, “the reason that this House disagrees with the House of Lords is because we do not agree with it.” That was the only argument that could be produced in the little room behind the Speaker’s Chair. We do not agree, so we send the legislation back and eventually we win the day in this House because of the primacy of the Commons. That is not the way to get good legislation and good legislation is what we should be about.

The third argument relates to the unique expertise in another place. Again, there are some wonderful experts in that place, but they are in well-defined areas. We have wonderful lawyers, excellent generals, and a few—not many, and certainly not many in the scientific disciplines—academics, but there are no expert plumbers, carpenters or waste disposal operatives. The other place has a limited range of expertise. A Conservative Member argued yesterday that we should have a House derived from specific guilds, which would provide that expertise. That might be a Platonic ideal, but it is not one that should commend itself to a democratic 21st century country such as the United Kingdom.

Mr. Mike Hall: May I take the hon. Gentleman back to the argument about what happens at the end of the Session, when we have ping-pong, and about the negotiations that take place between the two Houses to get the legislation on to the statute book? We are not going to change that system today; what we are going to change is how the House of Lords is comprised. What has he got to say about that?

Mr. Heath: What I have to say about that is that not all the reforms that I want to see encompassed are within the White Paper or included among the motions on the Order Paper today, but I hope that we can discuss the reform of Parliament in the context of this debate.

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Mr. Letwin: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is a fuller answer to the hon. Member for Weaver Vale (Mr. Hall)? If the House of Lords is largely elected, the relationship between the two Houses will have to be one of greater respect, because it will be more often invoked and it will be necessary for us to negotiate more.

Mr. Heath: The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I was going to come on to that argument in relation to the legitimacy of the other House.

May I dispose of one more argument? There is a broad argument for the status quo. It is heard a lot in the other place from some people who have scrambled up the ladder of privilege to be Members of the House of Lords and who survey the world from the top of that ladder and think that it must be an exceedingly good system that put them there. It is a ladder of privilege. I am not talking about privilege in the normal sense. It is a privilege to serve in our Parliament—in this House and in another place. But that needs to be based on legitimacy. I just wonder whether some right hon. and hon. Members in this House may have their feet somewhere up that ladder of privilege and may be reluctant to let go of the higher rungs.

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): The hon. Gentleman is making a powerful point. Perhaps the House of Lords would have more legitimacy if its Members turned up and did anything. According to, the average number of appearances in the last year for most peers is five. Does he agree that that is not good enough?

Mr. Heath: I certainly agree that there are a large number of people who are created peers of the realm, with a place in the House of Lords, who do not use that place effectively. If people take the privileges associated with the title, they should also accept the duties of the job.

John Bercow: The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) is absolutely right on that point. Surely what we need is a much more concerted and professional focus. Is it not emblematic of the problem of amateurishness and part-time commitment in the other House that 25 per cent. of Members of the Second Chamber ask 87 per cent. of the questions and make 76 per cent. of the speeches and interventions? Vast numbers contribute scarcely at all. That is the reality.

Mr. Heath: The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. I must now make progress because of the limited time.

The issue is not utility, but legitimacy, which is why I want a legitimate second House. I am astonished by some people’s argument that they want a House that is illegitimate—something that cannot be defended—as part of our constitutional settlement. It is extraordinary for people to identify the illegitimacy, yet to say that nothing should be done about that because they are pleased to have an illegitimate House making the laws on behalf of this country.

Sir Nicholas Winterton: It does not make the laws.

Mr. Heath: Despite what the hon. Gentleman says, even under this Government it is still Parliament that passes Acts, and there are two Houses in our Parliament.

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I do not accept that there is a threat to the primacy of this House, about which there has been a lot of debate. I wish that the House would take its primacy more seriously, especially in the area of Supply. My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (David Howarth) said yesterday that we should be doing an awful lot more to scrutinise the Supply functions of the House.

Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Heath: I am sorry, but I cannot at the moment.

We need to recognise that our primacy comes primarily from our ability to make or break a Government. That will be the case irrespective of reform of the other place.

There are those who argue that we must debate function before we can debate form. That circular argument is a delaying tactic that is designed purely to obfuscate, rather than to elucidate. We know the present functions of the Lords. Yes, we would like to see them evolve, but we know what they are and how they could be best suited to the form that we are suggesting.

There are those who argue that deadlock will inevitably emerge from reform. Why? We are not the only country in the world that has ever contemplated having two elected Houses of Parliament. Are all countries with an elected upper Chamber hamstrung and in deadlock? Of course they are not. I reject that argument.

Mr. Gerald Howarth: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Heath: I do not have time.

The slippery-slope argument is precisely the argument that has been used over the years by every reactionary voice against any democratic improvement in this country. We heard about the slippery slope of giving men who were not peers of the realm the vote, for heaven’s sake, and of giving people who were not householders the vote. People said, “Giving women the vote—where will it all end?” The situation has always been the same: the voices of reaction, from wherever they appear in the Chamber, have always sung the same tune.

It is quite wrong that hon. Members should contemplate for one moment a wholly appointed House that would have no legitimacy and would be a House of political patronage. That is not what the people of this country want or what this House wants, as it has demonstrated previously. I am confident that we will reject that option, but if we do so, we must support amendment (c) to the motion on hereditary places. It would be quite perverse for us to reject an appointed House, but to end up with a fully appointed House simply through the removal of the hereditaries. I want them removed—let there be no doubt about that—because there is no case for a hereditary principle in a modern Parliament, but if the hereditaries were removed without any further democratic reform, we would end up with a fully appointed House.

Several hon. Members rose—

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