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4.50 pm

Mr. David Jones (Clwyd, West) (Con): This has been a fascinating debate and it is clear from contributions from Members on both sides of the House that there is overwhelming support, with a few exceptions, for the continuance of a bicameral Parliament. The issue that falls to be considered by the House today, however, is not the function of the second Chamber, but its composition and the means of arriving at that composition. That is the wrong approach.

If the proposal is that the second Chamber of this Parliament is to be elected, whether wholly or in part, its functions should first be defined. Other hon. Members have commented, and I agree with them, that if the Lords are to derive membership of their House from election, constitutional tensions will inevitably arise in the absence of clearly defined functions. Even if the functions are defined, experience suggests that elected bodies have a tendency to seek to acquire increasingly greater powers for themselves. A case in point is the Welsh Assembly. Less than eight years after its inception, the clamour for additional powers was such that Parliament passed a second Government of Wales Act in 2006.

The principal problem is the use of the word “legitimacy”. The White Paper presupposes, and Members appear to accept the proposition, that legitimacy derives from democratic election, and that is understandable, given that the legitimacy of this House derives from a popular mandate. It is wrong, however, to take it for granted that the legitimacy of all elements of our constitutional arrangements derive from
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election. Indeed, many important elements do not, the most obvious example being the judiciary. Nobody elects a High Court judge or a Law Lord, but they are enormously important elements of our constitution. They make hugely important decisions in terms of public policy and are themselves lawmakers through the process of precedent. The importance of the other place to our legislative system is unquestioned, but whether the Members of that House should also be elected is dubious.

The process of election proposed by the White Paper is also fraught with difficulty. It is proposed that Members of the House of Lords should be elected on a rolling basis, at five-yearly intervals for 15-year terms. It is said that that will legitimise the Chamber, but if legitimacy is equated with accountability it will do nothing of the sort. If a Member of the House of Lords is elected for a 15-year term with no prospect of re-election, it cannot be said that he or she is in any sense accountable. Once that Member is in, he is in. He cannot be removed unless he does something truly dreadful. He will, however, be at liberty, if he so wishes, to break whatever manifesto commitments he has made and embark upon a wholly erratic course with impunity. That Member will not have hanging over his head the sword of Damocles that hangs over the head of every Member of this House, which is the prospect of seeking re-election in four or five years’ time.

I also have enormous reservations about the validity of the list system as a means of electing a Member of the Lords. If a Member of the Lords is to be elected for a 15-year term, it means that, potentially and as my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) pointed out, the next member of the list can be called to do service many years after the election, in the event of the death or resignation of the sitting Member. During that time, the replacement may have lost those attributes that rendered him a suitable candidate for elected office in the first place. Nevertheless, that individual, unless he has blotted his copybook very severely in the meantime, will automatically become a Member of the House of Lords. Indeed, I am a living example of that phenomenon. The way the list process operates meant that I was called to be a Member of the Welsh Assembly almost three and a half years after the election in which I stood. I can tell the House that being telephoned out of the blue one afternoon and asked, “Are you joining us tomorrow morning?”, is not a happy experience.

Members of the second Chamber need to bring to their task calibre, wisdom and, in some cases, specialist expertise. We do not need another cadre of elected politicians, because they would often be people whose hearts are probably really in being Members of this House.

4.55 pm

Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire) (Con): We have had an excellent debate, and it is clear that hon. Members have a range of passionately held views. Tributes to the work done in the other place have come from all sides. For example, the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright), who argued passionately for a democratically elected second Chamber, paid his tribute, as did hon. Members, such as the hon. and
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learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews), who want no change at all. They agreed that the Lords does good work and performs an important and well known function. Speaking from the Opposition Front Bench, I should like to echo those sentiments.

For some years, the Conservative party has supported the building of a consensus in favour of a substantially elected second Chamber. That is the view of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, and of his recent predecessors—my right hon. Friends the Members for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) and for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith), and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard).

Of course, I fully accept that that view is not shared by every Conservative. As he made clear only a moment ago, it is not the view of my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack), who referred yesterday to a little electoral difficulty of his own. I do not agree with him in this debate, but I should like to wish him well in that struggle. It is not the view of Lord Norton either, but people in this place who have studied and discussed constitutional matters in this place—and I am thinking of people like my hon. Friends the Members for Stone (Mr. Cash) and for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd)—have made common cause in this debate with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke).

Again, my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) have made common cause with my hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson). A substantially elected second Chamber was favoured by the late Eric Forth, and it is supported by me and by my right hon. Friends the Members for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) and for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin).

In the debate held on 4 February 2003, Eric Forth said that

That point has been made time and again in this debate. It is vitally important that we reform not only the second Chamber but this one as well. I know that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe intends to bring out proposals to that effect, and my hon. Friends the Members for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) and for Stone spoke about that possibility in the debate. Yesterday, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham rightly said that we must tackle the problem of the elected dictatorship, about which his father famously spoke so many years ago.

Sir Nicholas Winterton: What would my hon. Friend do to rectify the dictatorship by Government? If he had told us something about that, we might have been more sympathetic to his point of view.

Mr. Heald: As my hon. Friend knows, I take the view that we should be strengthening the Committees of the
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House of Commons. A good start has already been made recently, as he said earlier, but there is much more we could do. Our Committees could investigate breaches of the ministerial code, for example, which would certainly improve the way in which the House operates.

Sir Nicholas Winterton: Tinkering.

Mr. Heald: It is not tinkering, and there is much more that I could say to my hon. Friend about those proposals if they were the subject of the debate.

It is important to bear in mind the fact that part of the Conservative tradition is to try to make the second Chamber effective, so that it is capable of effectively revising our legislation, and with the introduction of life peerages and the work on disclaimers, the Conservative party has always been determined to ensure that effectiveness. Winston Churchill was in favour of an elected second Chamber as long ago as 1924, so it is time we attended to it. The views of Winston Churchill at various times of his life have been quoted during the debate— [ Interruption. ] They did change, but I am confident that for most of the century he was on my side of the argument in this case.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) said, it is important to bear it in mind that today we are debating the composition of the second Chamber, and not the White Paper. I agree with some of the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, West (Mr. Jones) a moment ago, when he criticised the list system. Several Members have criticised that system—the hon. Members for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Clelland), for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) and for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mark Fisher), the hon. and learned Member for Medway and almost everybody who spoke from the Conservative Benches. I do not agree with the list system and I certainly would not want it to be thought that we were endorsing the White Paper tonight. We are not. I do not agree with 50:50, which is in the White Paper; nor do I agree on a number of things, such as the way the Appointments Commission works, the idea that we would end up with a House of Lords of 800 Members, cost issues and so on. However, we are not talking about that tonight; we are talking about the composition of the second Chamber—whether we want it to be a Chamber that is about democracy, with enhanced legitimacy, or whether we want to support the status quo.

An issue raised by several Members, including the hon. Members for Sunderland, South, and for Tyne Bridge and my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield was whether it was right for Members of the second Chamber to be elected to serve only one term. We cannot have it both ways. We cannot say on the one hand, “I don’t want somebody called Lord Sunderland poking his nose into my constituency”, while on the other saying, “Oh, but those people will not be accountable because they won’t have to fight an election”. The reason why they should serve only one term is so that they do not poke their noses into constituency work or try to do the work of the Commons. The one-term proposal is a protection, to stop that happening.

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Sir Patrick Cormack: How on earth could one guarantee that a man or woman elected for 15 years would not poke his or her nose into things? They would have total freedom to do whatever they liked—for example, to embarrass the sitting Member, especially if he were of a different party. What my hon. Friend says is nonsense.

Mr. Heald: How many of the MEPs in my hon. Friend’s region can he name?

Sir Patrick Cormack: All of them.

Mr. Heald: My hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) seemed almost to imply that people who are elected are inevitably duffers. We should have a little more self-respect than that. Obviously, there is a case to be made for certain great individuals who could add something to Parliament; there could be a small percentage—perhaps 20 per cent.—of absolutely superb figures such as those who have been described. However, I rather agreed with the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Paul Holmes)—although it is not something I make a habit of doing: in this Chamber we have people of genuine ability who can speak with authority in major debates. If I think about military issues—I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot accepts this point—we have people with fine military careers, who have served in recent conflicts, and who can come and talk in debates. Those people are elected. Equally, on the economy, we have people in this House who are former FTSE 100 company directors, stockbrokers, City solicitors—

Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West) (Con): Spivs?

Mr. Heald: No, not spivs. People who have been experts in economic matters, such as analysts with the major broking houses. When it comes to medicine, we have people in this House who are surgeons, physicians, general practitioners, former nurses, dentists and pharmacists. In information technology, we have heads of computer units from major institutes and directors of IT. In science, we have research chemists. This place is not somewhere that attracts people with no ability, no skills and nothing to offer. We should be proud of the composition of this House.

Dr. Julian Lewis: It is absolutely true that we have many people who were well on their way to becoming experts, but who were then diverted into a full-time parliamentary career and therefore could not reach the top of their profession. For example, with the greatest respect to my colleagues who served in the armed forces, perhaps they could have become Chiefs of the Defence Staff one day, but they did not. The question is: are we to be deprived of the wisdom and knowledge of Chiefs of the Defence Staff who are currently serving and able to help us in the other place?

Mr. Heald: That is the reason for the 20 per cent., but let us not kid ourselves: the people who have been there on the front line doing the work are in this House. [ Interruption. ] I have paid a tribute to the other place, so I do not think that I should be criticised for being churlish about it. I am not being churlish, but I do think that we should be a little more proud of what we have in this House.

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The other point that I would make about the all-appointed option is that it means removing the hereditary peers with absolutely no reform. We were promised that it was a binding commitment by Lord Irvine that the hereditaries would stay as the guarantee of reform. Are we really going to accept the all-appointed option? The hon. Member for Tyne Bridge must accept how unfair it would be. By 2010, Labour would have a 10 per cent. lead in the other place, by 2017 a 15 per cent. lead and by 2027 a 20 per cent. lead. The pernicious side to his proposal is that he would fix in stone the current demography of the House of Lords, which is disadvantageous to the Conservative party.

Mr. Clelland: The hon. Gentleman obviously did not listen to what I was saying. I am not arguing for the status quo; I am arguing for a reformed second Chamber. If he looks at the White Paper and the proposals before us, he cannot miss the word “reform” in the context of the reformed appointed Chamber.

Mr. Heald: What the hon. Gentleman suggests is disadvantageous to the Conservative position. The hereditaries would go and the current membership of the other place would be fixed so that, taking into account the fact that the Conservative peers are older than the others, we would be stuck with the situation for ever. The new appointments system is extremely damaging. It would be bad news for the Conservative party.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex) (Con): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Heald: No, I will not. I am still replying to the hon. Member for Tyne Bridge. I have not got long.

In the old days, they used to talk about the old Conservative backwoodsmen. They did not turn up all that often, but they used to sway the votes. That is what it would be like in the other place under the hon. Gentleman’s option. The Labour or Blair backwoodsmen—all those people appointed over the last few years—would come in to sway the votes and ruin things for a Conservative Government.

Mr. Jenkin: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Heald: I have not really got time. I am sorry, but I am on an agreement.

I agree that both the House of the Commons and the other place do excellent work and that our politics is basically decent. That point was made many times in the debate. But there has been considerable public speculation about sleaze and concern about donations, favours, cash for peerages and that sort of patronage. The 80:20 option in the other place would mean that the politicians would be elected and the other 20 per cent. would not be party people. We would squeeze out the patronage and that would give us a clean start. We need a Parliament that is about the people, rather than the politicians.

5.9 pm

The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Jack Straw): We have had an interesting two days of debate. I am glad that 46 hon. Members from both sides of the House, excluding Front Benchers, have spoken. We have had a vigorous debate, and I am pleased that it
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was possible to ensure that we had two days of debate, rather than the customary one. It is worth pointing out that I accepted 24 interventions during my opening speech yesterday, given that I will not be able to take quite as many today, although I have made a couple of promises.

There were many speeches that I could commend, especially that made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman). I did not agree with a word of it, but he entertained the House hugely, mainly at my expense. He went on to describe, with his customary understatement, the proposals that are the centrepiece of the White Paper—we hope that they will be the subject of the majority votes—for a mixed-membership House as “gibberish” and “constitutional suduko”. To paraphrase him, albeit only just, he said that they put at risk 800 years of the evolution of this House. My right hon. Friend was good enough to say that I was not only his right hon. Friend, but his good friend, and the same applies to him. I have got to know him extremely well over the past 30 years. One thing that I have found out about him is that he uses his most extravagant language when his points are weakest.

Sir Gerald Kaufman: You ain’t heard nothing yet.

Mr. Straw: Touché. My right hon. Friend was the Front Bencher who led for the Opposition in the first Bill Standing Committee on which I served, so I have learned at his feet, and I think that I know him pretty well. He dismissed a point made by the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) when he asked my right hon. Friend why he had not expressed his reservations about a mixed-membership Chamber in the terms that he used today in the royal commission report that he signed. It was uncustomary that my right hon. Friend said that if one examined the small print with very great care, or listened carefully, one could spot the odd word or two that distinguished him from all the other members of the royal commission. That might be the case, but although we have all gone on journeys of conversion during the course of this great argument about Lords reform, given that he signed up to the report, given that it included a whole chapter on mixed membership, and given that there was not a single word expressing a note of dissent signed by him, it is self-evident, I suspect, that at the time at which he agreed to the report, he thought that there might be an itsy-bitsy bit of merit in a mixed-membership Chamber of the kind that we are proposing.

Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North and Sefton, East) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Straw: Another friend. My right hon. Friend will have to be terribly brief because I do not have much time.

Mr. Howarth: Will my right hon. Friend remind us of the point of his political evolution at which he changed his mind on proportional representation?

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