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what the place of residence, at the time of their elevation, was of each peer created since 1 May 1997.
Four hundred and one peers have been created. In percentage terms, the north-west got 5 per cent.; the north-east got 2 per cent.; Yorkshire and Humberside got 5 per cent.; the east midlands got less than 1 per cent.; the east of England got 7 per cent.; the west midlands got 4 per cent.; the south-east got 11 per cent.; the south-west got 5 per cent.; London got an incredible 44 per cent.; Scotland got 7 per cent.; Wales got 3 per cent.; Northern Ireland got 3 per cent., and judicial, which means no home address, accounts for 3 per cent., too. Fifty-five per cent. of the new peers in our second Chamber therefore come from London and the south-east. That is unacceptable and it is essential for the new Lords to reflect more fairly the regions outside London and the south-east.
I regard the Governments hybrid as deplorable: it will entrench the power of London and the south-east. The proposed list system is repellent: it will give power to those who place candidates on the party list and exclude the voters from making real decisions. The regions are also far too large. I would advocate a smaller number of peers being elected in fixed
numberssay, two or three per county or city, regardless of population. I would support a second Chamber elected with maximum terms and rolling election every five years. I would also exclude Ministers from the second Chamber.
Mr. Andrew Slaughter (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush) (Lab): May I say through you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I am grateful to Mr. Speaker for allowing me to be absent for the earlier part of the debate. I shall be accordingly brief.
I have looked carefully at the voting options tonight. As I did so, the spirit of Khrushchev entered me, as I resolved to vote Nyet to them, one by one, until we come to the welcome last option, which allows me to vote yes to the removal of the hereditary principle, which is long overdue.
I have no objection in principle to a second Chamber. I do have an objection in principle to a second Chamber that is not wholly elected. It seems to me inexcusable that part of the legislature in the 21st century could be appointed by whomsoever. The idea that those appointments could include representatives of one or a pot-pourri of religions seems positively mediaeval.
I have no objection to an advisory body on legislation, which might be more persuasive if stocked with people of experience and abilitywithout the baggage of challenging the primacy of the Commonsrelying solely on the power of argument. I cannot vote for a 100 per cent. elected Chamber because of the issue of primacy, notwithstanding all that has been said in the debate hitherto.
Successful second chambers, such as the United States Senate, are elected on a wholly different basis from that of the first chamber. That option, often a federal option, has been specifically rejected in this country, most recently in the north-east referendum.
Tom Levitt: My hon. Friend and various other Members have prayed in aid the American situation. In America, however, as I pointed out earlier, both chambers are subservient to the President, so it is not a parallel to this situation.
However we elect the second Chamber in this country, we are likely to end up with a Chamber elected by broadly the same people, under the same electoral system, but at a different time. It seems to me that that is a recipe for stasis and gridlock. The attempts at variation in the consultation papers are artificial. A 15-year term and a single term for Members of a second Chamber are uneasy compromises between an appointed and an elected role. They are compromises, which any form of hybrid House must involve, that simply do not work.
The major objection to a unicameral Parliament, which I support, is that of the tyranny of the single
Chamber. That seems to suggest that a second Chamber is not a revising chamber, but a delaying chamber, to prevent legislation taking effect that may be intemperate, unwise or ill-thought-out. Again, the issue comes back to ourselves and our trust in this Chamber. I agree with the comment of my right hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth) in yesterdays debate about the light that that shines on necessary reforms of the Commons: in scrutiny, whipping and the role of Government within the Chamber. If, as some Members have said, those issues are simply too large to be tackled, that does a disservice to the House. The abolition of a second Chamber would force us to address those issues. That is why I will be voting for abolition rather for than any of the alternatives that are on show today.
Let me encourage the abolitionists among us by saying that we are not going into the dark. There is a precedent in this country for a unicameral Parliament. On 6 February 1649, the House of Lords was abolished by this House as useless and dangerous to the people of England. I would not go so far as to use those words now, but I will say that for 11 years thereafteruntil the Restorationdespite attempts to revive a second Chamber, this House stood up to the Lord Protector and to military force as it had previously stood up to an absolute monarchy.[Hon. Members: No, it did not!] The attempts were unsuccessful, but at least they were made.
Mr. Slaughter: Perhaps my right hon. Friend did not hear what I said. I said that the Commons Chamber was a force that attempted, unsuccessfully in some cases, to stand up for itself. I spoke with my tongue a little in my cheek, but I nevertheless believe that we should have the courage of our predecessors of 350 years ago in supporting that good old cause, the true democracy of a single-Chamber Parliament elected by the Commons of the United Kingdom.
Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): My starting point is my belief that what is most important is the relationship between the Executive and Parliament, rather than the relationship between this House and the other place. I believe that the Executive is too powerful, not just in terms of the Governments ability to pass legislation but in terms of the accountability of Ministers, and the extent to which we are being supplanted by the 24-hour news media when this House is the place where announcements should be made first. As I have explored some of the options at length during Westminster Hall debates I shall not do so again now, but that is my central point.
What we should be discussing is not merely the reform of the upper House, but the reform of Parliament. Our experience over the past 10 years of other constitutional reformsWelsh and Scottish
devolution, the botched abolition of the Lord Chancellor, and the way in which the Human Rights Act 1998 was introducedsuggests that it behoves us to think the issue through carefully, rather than rushing in and then being confronted by a raft of unforeseen consequences.
Our key task is to consider the role that we want Parliament to have against the Executive, and how much power we want the Executive to have. We should also think carefully about the relative roles of the two Houses. As other Members have said, the House of Commons has a key supply role in providing Ministers, while the upper Houses role will involve scrutiny, revising, and advising this House. Once we have established the respective roles of the Executive and Parliament and the roles of the two Chambers, decisions about composition will become more straightforward.
That is the first debate that we should have, and the arguments in which we have engaged about the different types of election that we favour should flow from it. As was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson), the United States Senate considered a system involving the representation of geographical regions. Depending on the function that we want the upper House to have, similar choices should present themselves in a relatively obvious manner.
It is interesting to consider the position in other democracies around the world, several of which have been prayed in aid. The White Paper studied other legislatures, going around the world in just five paragraphs. I did not think that it did the subject justice: examples seemed to have been chosen to illustrate specific points, rather than to provide a solid base of evidence for this debate. Also, if we have not done that proper analysis of function it is difficult to see how we can properly judge the composition. That is not to say that I am against election. Many Members have made the sensible point that in a modern democracy those who make the laws should be elected. However, we cannot make judgments on the system of election until we have decided on the role that we want the legislature to undertake; discussion on that should take place first.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) and the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso) claimed that if the argument that I have enunciated is adopted nothing will happen and we will have no progress, and they also claimed that by changing the form and composition of the upper House we will in some way start a process that will force Members of this House to take our responsibilities to hold the Government to account more seriously. If I were convinced that that would happen, I might well support motions this evening for some form of election in the upper House, but I do not find that argument convincing. I think that the opposite will happen: I think that if this House decides to reform the other place, that is where the reform will stop. That process will convince many Members that they have had quite enough of constitutional change, and it will provide them with an excuse to do nothing about the processes and procedures of this House. I fear that that would be the case. I have thought carefully about this matter, and
I have listened over the past two days to the arguments of colleagues who hold a different opinion from mine. I challenged myself to find out whether I would come to a different conclusion, but I do not find their arguments entirely convincing.
The Leader of House has gone on at length about the conventions of the relationship between this House and the other place. I believe that those conventions are sound, given the arrangements that we have. The Leader of the House has acknowledged that a change to a more democratic upper House would lead to those conventions being challenged. He says that the Governments position is that those conventions should remain, but I do not think that they would remain. A democratic upper House would challenge those conventions, and because we would not have had a debate about the proper role of the two Houses and the relationship between Parliament and the Executive, we would not be in a good position to make decisions on that.
On the method of election, I agree with Members who said that a closed list system or a partially open list system would be entirely undesirable. That would entrench the power of the parties. Let me close by reading out a quote. It amuses me to quote the Professor of Government at Oxford university, Vernon Bogdanor, as he taught politics to me and to my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron). He says:
For most people in England...the regions are ghosts, administrative constructs rather than constituencies...Perhaps it is because regions have so little relevance that turnout for European elections is so lowonly 24 per cent. in 1999
and just 8 per cent. in some parts of the country. If this House ends up deciding that we need to have an elected upper House, we must make sure that the way we do thatthe role we decide for the upper House, the balance between the Executive and Parliament, and the electoral system and the regions we chooseengages the public, rather than turns them off.
I intend to vote for the status quo, not because I am particularly happy with it but because I want there to be a challenge to this House to take its responsibilities seriously in challenging the Executive. If we do not undertake any reform of the upper House, that will force us in the not too distant future to challenge ourselves and to reform not only the other place, but this place also.
Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): I want to speak briefly in favour of a democratic upper House, and in doing so I find myselffor the first time in my life, I thinkagreeing almost entirely with speeches from Conservative and Liberal Democrat Front Benchers. Until the contribution from my hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon (Mr. Wills), I was, I think, almost entirely isolated on the Labour BenchesI thought that this was the progressive side of the Housein arguing the democratic option. [Interruption.] I apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mark Fisher)I was absent for his contribution. [Interruption.] I am sure that it was very good.
It is difficult to add anything new, but I want to pick up on the two very important points that the Leader of
the House made in his opening statement yesterday. First, he said that there are many different models for second Chambers in different parts of the world, and the evidence is that different models can work in different countries, so there is no uniform, generally agreed form of a successful and efficient second Chamber. It is a matter for each individual nation to decide what kind of upper House reflects its character and purpose. As a nation that prides itself on being the mother of democracy, and which asserts fairly aggressively through its foreign policy the importance of other nations adopting democratic procedures, it would be entirely inconsistent if we did not ourselves support a wholly democratic Parliamentin both its Houses.
Secondly, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said that there is now no public support for the hereditary principlethat the public mood has moved on, which was an argument for his changing his mind and supporting having a greater proportion of the elected element. Just as during the last 10 years those who argued in defence of the hereditary principle have had to change their views completely, so those who argue for the principle of political patronage will in the not too distant future seem equally outdated. What worries me about the concept of a hybrid House is not that it would necessarily be unworkable and inefficient and could not hold the Government to account or carry out its revising functions; rather, it is that the argument for putting in people on the basis of political patronage to act as tools of the Executive in order to undermine the democratic principle seems completely in conflict with the basic principles of our democracy.
I understand the case for having hugely distinguished people in the upper House who have vast experience, and many such individuals have made a major contribution over the years. Indeed, if the argument is good for having such individuals in the upper House, there might be a similar argument for having them in the lower House, but that is not an area that we wish to enter at the moment. It seems odd, however, that we should assume that the only way in which this Parliament can gain the benefit of advice from such experienced and distinguished people is by offering them places in the legislature. In my experience, such people have no problem in making their influence felt from outside the legislature. It is obvious that those of us who are elected need the advice of people whose knowledge on particular subjects is far greater than ours, and whose judgment will obviously be finer than ours. However, merely because they do not have places within the legislature does not mean that we cannot benefit from their knowledge and experience through a whole range of advisory and consultative mechanisms.
At this point another issue must be raised; it may be the one thing that has not coloured sufficient of our debate this afternoon. That is the whole issue of legitimacy. Although we have mentioned legitimacy through election, I am not sure that in the debate, either today or yesterday, we have fully got to grips with the wider issue of the role and perception of Parliament in the country as a whole.
In my view there is almost a collective sense of denial that we have a crisis in our democracy. Without overstating the case, I believe that we do have a crisis. It is not just a question of declining turnouts at general
elections or local government elections, or derisory turnouts in European parliamentary elections; it shows itself in the general issues relating to social exclusion, in the disaffection of young people, and in the increasing sense of the irrelevance of Parliament, democracy and voting among many of our young people. We cannot leave those issues out of the discussion.
I do not argue that simply introducing a strong elected, and preferably a wholly or predominantly elected, element into the upper House would solve that problem, but I do argue that it would make a contribution to solving that problem.
Mr. Marshall-Andrews: Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the primary causes of disaffection out there with the body politic is the power that the public perceive to be exercised by political parties? It is a very strong perception, which comes back to haunt us. Does he therefore agree that if we agree to a form of election, in due course, on a list system of the majority of the House of Lords, we would be doing an enormous disservice to the body politic and to this House?
Mr. Chaytor: I do not accept completely the argument that a list system on a regional basis of the kind that is proposed is so fundamentally different from the kind of list system on which all hon. Members were elected. The only difference is that we were elected on a list of one. We were selected by party apparatchiks of a particular kind. It might be a different kind from those who would determine the membership of a regional list, which is precisely why I support the use of open regional lists, to encourage greater diversity in the candidates who put themselves forward.
To return to the point about the wider crisis of perception, particularly among younger people, of the role of Parliament and the value of our democracy, we have to ask ourselves the question, if we were to move forward on a hybrid Housea House in which the outcome was almost rigged in advance because the decision had been taken to ensure that no party could have an overall majority, and however people voted for the 50 per cent. of elected places, the effect would be undermined completely by the 50 per cent. of appointed placeswill that increase or decrease the level of interest in our democracy? What possible incentive is there for anyone to vote when the chances of influencing the final outcome are so minimal?
I shall bring my speech to a close. I simply repeat that, for a Parliament that prides itself on being the mother of all Parliaments, a Parliament that has exported its democratic potentials, by fair means and some foul means, to the far corners of the earth, not to support a wholly or predominantly elected second Chamber seems to me a great contradiction. It seems that we are reluctant to rock the boat too much.
I am concerned that those who are opposing a greater elected element in the upper House do so because they feel that it would undermine the primacythe legitimacyof this House. I take exactly the opposite view, as did the hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr. Harper) in his speech. That point was also made, very tellingly, by my hon. Friend the Member for
Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright), who quoted the report by the constitution unit at University college London, which spoke of the importance of intercameral partnership.
It is completely misguided to assume that the key issue is the relationship between the Commons and the Lords, and that it is a relationship in which one Chamber necessarily loses out if the other is given greater legitimacy. We have to look at both the Commons and the Lords as part of a partnership, and the key relationship is not between the two Houses but between Parliament and Governmentthe legislature and the Executive.
I do not fear the increasing challenge that may come from the Lords. I do not fear the increasing electoral competitiveness that, without question, would result from the changes that I am proposing, because I think that it will have, in the long run, a wholly beneficial impact on the capacity of this House to conduct its scrutiny functions and to hold the Government to account. We should be arguing for more democratic challenge, not less; more pluralism and diversity in our political system, not less; more regionalism and less centralism; and more modernism and less feudalism.
I hope that as part of the reform package we will concentrate not only on the composition and functions of the Lords, but on many of the archaic, mediaeval and feudal procedures that serve as some of the biggest turn-offs not only for young people, but for citizens of all ages, in their perception of Parliament. We need a modern Parliament. It needs to have modern procedures and it needs to be democratic.
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