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the Leader of the House’s—

I wonder whether that would also cover the cost of all the secretaries, personal assistants and research assistants. I say to the people of this country that I would prefer to spend that money on hospitals, roads, police and schools than on an elected House of Lords. I hope that the House will stand up for the Lords as they sit today.

2.54 pm

Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton). I agreed with most, but not all, of his points, especially when he quoted Lord Norton of Hull—

Sir Patrick Cormack: Louth.

Mr. Mullin: I apologise. Hull was where the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) and I went to university.

I wish to follow the trail blazed by my right hon. Friends the Members for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) and for Holborn and St. Pancras (Frank Dobson) and my hon. Friend the Member for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Clelland). For the avoidance of doubt, let me say that I am not against reform, but I am against “big bang” solutions. I shall refer to that in more detail in a moment.

I agree with the comment of my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras that we are starting in the wrong place. The question that we should ask ourselves is not how we can create some sort of democratic utopia, but what function we want it to fulfil. Surely the answer is that we want a second Chamber that scrutinises, revises and, to a limited extent, challenges this place and certainly the Executive.

As one or two other Members have said, however, the public are not clamouring for more elected politicians, as many of us from the north-east discovered when a referendum was held on whether to have a directly elected North East assembly. Although the rulers of the north-east had talked of little else for
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the preceding 15 years, when we put the matter to the ballot we discovered that the public were not too enthusiastic. I suspect that the public would, however, like to see more effective government, and who can say that they are wrong about that? Imperfect though it is, the House of Lords is already relatively effective, and could be made more effective with a few modest reforms that I might mention in a moment.

I was present at the Channel 4 awards the other day, and the award for “Peer of the Year” went to our noble Friend Lord Rooker, who has been a distinguished Minister in both this and the other place, in many Departments. He made the point, even at the risk of upsetting some Members of this House, that he found the House of Lords, as currently functioning, more vigorous in its scrutiny of Government than this House when he was a Minister here. I am not convinced that a second Chamber filled with those who failed to get into this end of the building will necessarily be more effective than the one that we have already.

Mr. Clelland: To return to the referendum in the north-east, there is a parallel, because although the Conservative and Liberal Democrat manifestos contained proposals to introduce an elected element in the House of Lords, the Labour manifesto did not mention anything about it. Could the Government introduce the radical proposals in the White Paper without having a referendum first?

Mr. Mullin: Talking of “big bang” solutions, to which I shall return, I am certainly not anxious to see the matter put to a referendum, for which I suspect that the public are not especially enthusiastic.

In particular, I do not want to see a Lord Sunderland floating about, who will have opinions on everything and responsibility for nothing. As one of my hon. Friends said—my hon. Friend the Member for Tyne Bridge, I think—the correct comparison is not with Euro MPs, with whom, by and large, we function well, but with what happens in Wales and Scotland, where we trip over Assembly Members and MSPs every five minutes.

Derek Conway (Old Bexley and Sidcup) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Mullin: I would like to make a little progress.

To give one little warning to those who are so keen on elections, the list system, with which we might end up, means 100 per cent. appointment, not 100 per cent. election. There is no way that the party apparatuses would let such an opportunity slip.

To elaborate on the point about “big bang” solutions, history shows that we make progress when we stick to what a majority agree about. That is especially the case with Lords reform. Everyone in this House has a different opinion on what the other House should look like. We have heard a good many interesting opinions today—notably from that thoughtful gentleman the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin), who wants to get rid of Ministers—but history shows that those who try to shake things up by applying the “big bang” method achieve nothing in the end. Nothing changes.

The one time over the past few Parliaments when we did make a bit of progress was when the present Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member
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for Derby, South (Margaret Beckett), was Leader of the House. She focused firmly on an issue on which most people in the House of Commons and outside it agreed, removal of the hereditaries. She was besieged from all sides with suggestions as to how she might improve her proposals, perhaps by making them more elaborate—suggestions that she opt for a 100 per cent. elected, a 50 per cent. elected or some other form of elected House—but she focused firmly on what she and the Government intended to achieve, and having declined to be distracted, she secured 90 per cent. of what she was after.

That, I think, is the model to adopt. I am in favour of small steps, and sticking by and large to what most of us agree on and what is easily defensible. I support the removal of the remaining hereditaries, as, I think, do most members of most parties. I do not suggest that those 92 hereditaries need have their heads chopped off and exhibited on spikes; I favour a merciful solution. I do not even mind allowing them to retain access to the club facilities during their remaining years, or making some of them life peers. However, I think that everyone agrees that the hereditaries must go.

The hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) shakes his head. He is probably an exception. I am also not certain about the Liberal Democrats, and others who put their names to amendment (c) to motion 11. I think that the amendment could cause nothing to change, although those who signed it say that they want everything to change.

Sir Patrick Cormack: Does the hon. Gentleman not agree with me and with Lord Steel of Aikwood, the former Liberal leader, that the best way of dealing with the 92 is to end the absurd, ridiculous by-elections and just let them die?

Mr. Mullin: I am a bit more radical and ambitious than that. I am told that the youngest will survive until 2030. But, one way or another, I would like to see the back of them.

I favour—I think we all do—some form of arm’s length appointment system to avoid the controversies in which successive Governments have become embroiled over the years. I also favour some form of redundancy scheme, not necessarily involving much money. I would start with those who have not shown up for the last few months: that would remove several hundred. A redundancy scheme to reduce the numbers would be necessary, because 750 would clearly be a ludicrous, indefensible number in any second Chamber anywhere in the world.

John Bercow: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Mullin: I will not, if the hon. Gentleman does not mind.

After we have taken those modest steps, we can have another look at the position. I fear, however, that if we opt for something that is far too ambitious and enters unknown territory, we will end up with no change at all. That has been the history of House of Lords reform, and that is why many of the proposals that were talked about in 1911 took about 100 years to be implemented.

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This evening I will vote for the retention of a bicameral Chamber, for a fully appointed Chamber and for the removal of hereditaries, and will vote against the other motions.

3.3 pm

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): It is a delight to follow the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin). I can see that, in a future Conservative Administration, a place will be reserved for him—somewhere else.

I have something of a handicap, in that I am an unashamed traditional Tory. That is why I shall be voting to retain a wholly appointed Chamber, and voting for the continuation of the hereditaries. As a Conservative, I believe in a fundamental principle: if it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change. Nothing I have heard in the debate—I was here for a large part of it yesterday, and have been here for all of it so far today—convinces me that change is what is needed now. Have I received a shedload of letters about this from my constituents?

Sir Patrick Cormack: Not one.

Mr. Howarth: I have not received a single one. Is there any appetite for another round of elections among my electors in Aldershot? I see no evidence of it. Do they want another, more expensive House? [Hon. Members: “No!”] I see no evidence of that either.

I must correct the Leader of the House, who estimated the cost of this House at £300 million. That is an understatement. According to the most recent costing, this place costs £360 million, while the other place costs £106 million. At a time when we are awaiting a further squeezing of public expenditure by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the idea that we should we say to our electors, “By the way, we want to reproduce the House of Commons. It will cost you a lot more money and involve you in a lot more elections” is strictly for the birds.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Howarth: I will give way, but not yet.

John Bercow rose—

Mr. Howarth: I will give way to my hon. Friend, who has the qualities of a jack-in-the-box. I would like him to demonstrate that now, although I am a very good friend of his.

John Bercow: My hon. Friend spoke of his support for the retention of the hereditary peers. If he seriously believes, in 2007, that a seat in Parliament should be a prize for historic battles won, services rendered or favours done, would he, in arguing the case for the status quo, care to confirm that he opposed the Reform Act 1832, and would still oppose it?

Mr. Howarth: I agree that some of the characteristics my hon. Friend has mentioned qualify people for membership of the other place. What he must explain, however, is how it will come about that, under the arrangements that he supports, those who are “elected” will be political appointees from a list. For that is what will happen.

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Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Howarth: I will not give way.

Philip Davies: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Howarth: Of course I will give way to my hon. Friend.

Philip Davies: Will my hon. Friend reinforce his point about none of his constituents being bothered about House of Lords reform by confirming that when our constituents do complain about Parliament, it is not those in the House of Lords about whom they complain, but us in the House of Commons? Perhaps we should take the log out of our own eye before we start taking the speck out of the eye of the House of Lords.

Mr. Howarth: As always, I agree 100 per cent. with my hon. Friend, who is a very sound man and demonstrates some of the great characteristics and qualities of Yorkshire.

Overwhelmingly, our present system works. First and foremost, it holds this place to account. Between 1999 and 2005 the Government were defeated in the other place on some 300 occasions, and in four out of 10 of those cases this House decided to accede to the wisdom of the other place. The idea that the other place is supine is absurd.

There is universal agreement in this House that primacy resides with us. That is unquestioned, but I think it is at risk of being put in jeopardy. In interventions on the excellent speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin), I questioned the idea that somehow, if Members were elected, they would not assert the same rights as we enjoy here. It may well be, as was suggested yesterday by my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples), that the kind of people who will put themselves up for election to a place with little power are the kind of people who will not pass muster here. As was posited by the hon. Member for High Peak (Tom Levitt), the first thing they will do is demand parity with this place, and they will get the newspapers on their side. The whole dynamic has been hugely underestimated by those who feel that there must be an element of election in the upper House.

The idea of a partly elected and partly appointed House will lead to the most incredible problems. The hon. Member for Sunderland, South alluded to them. There will be two classes of Member, and those who were appointed will be made to feel inferior to those who were elected under whatever phoney electoral system enabled them to make their way to the upper House. They will be made to feel second-class. As someone said yesterday, if a Government motion is defeated in the other place on the back of the appointed Members, those in this place will be able to say “They were appointed, so the decision has no legitimacy.” Therefore, what will the proposals create? [Interruption.] As my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) says, they will create a dog’s breakfast, and there will be the huge potential that resentment will be caused between the two classes of peer created. The hon. Member for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Clelland) rightly pointed out what already happens in Scotland and Wales, with MSPs and AMs
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marching all over Members’ territory. The idea that elected Members will not interfere in constituencies or regions is wrong. They will charge all over our territory.

I want to talk briefly about why I believe that the hereditaries are important. I was against what my noble Friend Lord Cranborne did a few years ago, but I think that the outcome was beneficial, because I believe that if the hereditaries are completely removed, the position of the sovereign will be exposed as the only hereditary office in the land. I put it to some of my hon. Friends whom I know believe in the role of a constitutional monarchy—there are some in other parties who do not, as they are republicans—that that is an issue. Therefore, I am afraid that on this matter my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) is rather too radical for me.

John Bercow: That is the first and last time that that will be said.

Mr. Howarth: I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire did not feel that that was a disparaging remark.

We need to think long and hard before we remove appointed Members in the other place. As the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Frank Dobson) said, they have experience. Let me compare them with the Members of this House. The other place has military people, lawyers and doctors. Lord Winston has been mentioned. That he is in the other place is a fantastic contribution to our legislature, and other countries that do not have the same sort of system as us are impoverished by not having such figures. One of the issues that I am concerned about is that increasingly in this House we do not have Members with a broad range of experience of life in our country. We have a growing number of people who come through the political system. Therefore, this House currently has 60 Labour Members who have been politicians or political organisers of some sort, and we have 20 such Members in my party. Increasingly I see in our own party people who come up— [Interruption.] My right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) worked for five or six years in a very important industry and one that is very successful in our country. Let me also say that 38 per cent. of my hon. Friends have had experience in business, compared with 7 per cent. of Labour Members. Yet in the other place there are military personnel for instance. As a Defence spokesman, I find it incredibly valuable that I am able to call on their knowledge. The debates that are held in the other place are much better informed by virtue of the fact that there is such experience, not only from the military but from business men.

I wish at this point to salute a splendid appointee. He has been a great contributor to the Labour party, but I believe that Lord Drayson—who as Minister for Defence Procurement is in a sense my opposite number—has done a splendid job. That demonstrates the benefit of bringing into the other place business men who would not stand for election to this House or the other place.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

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