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Never. When my right hon. Friend was in the Home Office with me and the party decided that it wished to go for a closed-list electoral system, we, as loyal servants of the party, set about advising the House to accept that. After a very long journey, thus was the case. I note that the hon. Member for
North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) now seems to think that there is some merit in the system. He thinks that one thing that endorses the use of the closed-list system for the other place, which I do not support, is the fact that no one knows who the hell the current MEPs are.
May I deal with the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition and the leader of the Liberal Democrat party, and explain why I advise all right hon. and hon. Friends, whatever side of the argument they are on, to vote against it? Under the final motion, we propose
That this House is of the opinion that the remaining retained places for peers whose membership is based on the hereditary principle should be removed.
We can argue about what will happen once the hereditaries are removed, and the subject will come up in any Bill that is introduced. Some say that we should simply end the by-election system and allow the remaining hereditary peers to sit in the Lords as if they were life peers. I think that there is much merit in that suggestion, but I may be in the minority; others have more radical proposals. The issue will have to be sorted out in cross-party discussions in both this House and the other place. A debate on the subject will take place when the next stage of reform takes place.
once elected members have taken their places in a reformed House.
The Opposition parties are wrong to imply, as they do in their amendmentsimply through inadvertence, I thinkthat that was no part of what my noble Friend Lord Irvine of Lairg set out in the House of Lords when he announced the agreement that led to retaining only 92 hereditary Lords. What he said is correctly set out in paragraphs 3.27 and 3.28 of the White Paper. The word election is not mentioned at all; the words that he used were
until the second stage of House of Lords reform has taken place.
For the avoidance of doubt, I spoke to my noble Friend, the former Lord Chancellor, this morning, and he authorised me to say that the passage in the White Paper, at paragraphs 3.27 and 3.28, is a correct summary of the position. He went on to say, and I am authorised to repeat, that what was agreed in 1999 implied no guarantee of any particular stage 2. It was just a guarantee that there would be a legislative stage 2. Before the Front Benchers jump up, the reason for that is that the commitment was made even before the royal commission had reported, and still less before there had been White Papers, Public Administration Committee reports and so on.
We are not seeking to play a trick on hon. Members; we accept that the removal of the hereditaries should take place in the context of a Bill that reflects the views of this House, as expressed in the votes today, the views
subsequently expressed by those in the other place, and any agreement that we can reach. As a matter of historical record, it is simply not the case that what was said in the other place was linked to the inclusion of elected Members in the House of Lords.
Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con): I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for generously giving way. It was absolutely clear from what was said in the other place by the then Lord Chancellor that the hereditary peers would not go until reform of the second Chamber had taken place. Indeed, from what the Leader of the House just said, that is what the noble Lord Irvine has confirmed. What the Government are proposing in their motion is that the hereditary peers should go, without reform having taken place. That is the point addressed by the amendment.
Mr. Straw: Well, I am sorry, I disagree with the right hon. Lady. I have made my point. Hon. Members can vote for any proposal for reform, including the one that my hon. Friend the Member for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Clelland) wishes to pursue, which is an alternative type of reform. It is not true to say that he is not in favour of any reform, although I do not happen to agree with him. Hon. Members could also safely vote for the declaration that simply reaffirms what was determined back in 1999.
Mr. Heath: I am most grateful to the Leader of the House. He knows that we want to get rid of the hereditaries, and he also knows that we believe that it would be entirely perverse if the House voted against a fully appointed House this evening, but the Government then created a fully appointed House by removing the hereditaries without introducing a democratic element.
Mr. Straw: The Government intend to bring forward, after consultation, what I think will be a draft Billthat may take timethat reflects the will of the House and of the other place, as far as we can accommodate them. We will listen with care to what the House of Lords says next week. We have no intention of bringing forward a Bill that simply removes the hereditaries, if the House decides on one of the other alternativeson one of options 1 to 8 on the Order Paper. It would be mad of us to do so, because the House would quickly amend it. As a matter of record, it is not the case that my noble Friend Lord Irvine tied the undertaking to having elected Members, and it is important that we are accurate about that.
May I deal with the point raised by many hon. Members about the preferred semi-open list system or semi-closed list systemI draw particular attention to the hon. Member for Chichesterthat was proposed in the White Paper? I have listened to almost all the 46 speeches that have been made in the Chamber. The best that can be said as a summary of the proposal for the semi-open list system, which has been my
preference, is that it is judged as better than the closed-list system, but not much more.
We are bound to take account of the voices in the Chamber and the serious objections that have been raised to that proposal. When right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House come to vote, they are not being asked at all to endorse the contents of the White Paper. We could have tabled a resolutionI thought about itendorsing the White Paper. We decided not to do so because that would be too contentious and lead to us disappearing down all kinds of rabbit holes. Instead, we tabled very simple resolutions in terms that are clearly understandable. When the House votes on those resolution, I promise that those words, and those words alone, are all that will be indicated as a result of the vote.
Mr. Marshall-Andrews: I accept what the Leader of the House says. Are we not, though, being asked to vote for a majoritya large numberof elected Members, having no idea at all of the system of election that will take place? Is not that the danger?
Mr. Straw: That is like the argument about functions before powers or powers before functions. We can go round and round. If we want to see reform, we must take a key step on the road to reform. I am glad to see the Liberal Democrats nodding. I beg of them to follow their own manifesto commitment, which did not mention 100 per cent., although it spoke of a predominantly elected House, which is 60 per cent. as well as 80 per cent.
Mr. Jenkin: I am extremely grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for delivering his promise. He mentions powers and functions. Can he be clear that those will have to be included in any Bill that leads to any form of election? That will therefore be a large and complex Bill, and a very large constitutional change, perhaps meriting a referendum.
Mr. Straw: Let me deal with that. Central to the argument of those in favour of an elected element in a reformed House is, first, that the current composition or any wholly appointed Chamber fundamentally lacks legitimacy through the consent of the people whom they represent. The right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), in a characteristically robust speech, said:
We are in the 21st century, and if any new state proposed a new constitution, and suggested having an upper House that took the same form as ours, it would be regarded as utterly ridiculous. We are talking about legislators.
a deeper probleman inability . . . to make sense of our new British identity,
we need institutions that reflect our diversity.[ Official Report, 6 March 2007; Vol. 457, c. 1430-58.]
The second argument advanced by those who are in favour of reform is that that could lead to a more vigorous and a more active Lords. I agree. It will lead to a more vigorous and more active Lords. I offer this reflection after 18 years in opposition and 10 years in government. Over that period, thanks to the introduction of departmental Select Committees in 1979 by the then St. John-Stevas and many changes that we have introduced, the level of scrutiny and activity of this place has greatly improved from the 1950s and 1960s. A former senior Commons Clerk, Michael Ryle, stated:
Simple factual comparison with the 1950s and early 60s shows that Parliamentparticularly the House of Commonsplays a more active, independent and influential role in Britain today than at any time for many years.
However, I accept that the appearance is otherwise, for two sets of reasons. First, we had 11 years of strong, big-majority Governments under Margaret Thatcher, as was, and we have had 10 years of strong, big-majority Government under this Administration. One of the strengths of our system is that it usually does deliver strong Governments. By such means, we have avoided the paralysis and decrepitude of so many overseas Governments formed in shaky coalitions.
Secondly, in recent years, for a variety of reasons, government has become stronger in any event. I defend that, too. However, good, strong government requires a strong Parliamenta stronger House of Commons as well as, I suggest, a more vigorous and active reformed Lords. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright) said, quoting Meg Russell and Maria Sciara of the constitution unit,
A stronger upper House does not necessarily mean a weaker lower houseindeed possibly quite the reverse.
Primacy means that the House of Commons must have the final sayI agree with thatbut it also means that we must allow ourselves to be challenged, and not challenged only on those things that it is convenient or okay for us to be challenged on, but on those things that it is difficult for us to be challenged on.[ Official Report, 6 March 2007; Vol. 457, c. 1447.]
The anxiety that the other place will do more of a job than we now expect of it lies at the root of the objection to any elected element in the Lords. It is the great fear that the absolutely fundamental and distinctive feature of our constitutionthat this House has primacywill be challenged and weakened by a mixed House. To put it in the better and more concrete language used by the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin), it is the fear that the monopoly powers of this House, which currently exclusively decides who governs, exclusively decides on Supply and tax and spend, and has the final say on every kind of legislation except on the length of a Parliamenthardly a live issue in British politicswill somehow be challenged by the insertion of some elected Members into the other place. It is the fear that the more the other place does, the less we will be able to do, as though a reformed House would suck the oxygen out of this place. It will not. There is an answer to those who cry, Function before form. We are already
agreed on function. As the White Paper spells out, all parties are agreed that the powers of any reformed Lords in relation to the Commons, and vice versa, should, as the Joint Committee said, be the powers as they are today.
A consequential issue was raised with me a moment agonamely, can those powers be pinned down, and if so, how? Currently, that happens by convention, by resolution and by the Parliament Acts. The question is whether that is adequate. Again, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe gave the answer yesterday when he said:
If there are hon. Members who fear that there would be pressure to abandon some of the conventions, I would be content to address that through statute.[ Official Report, 6 March 2007; Vol. 457, c. 1429.]
The point that I would make time and again is that that is in our power: we have the final say over legislation. If we judge that the conventions are inadequate, as we may, we can insert provisions into the statute.
Whatever view one took then, or takes now, there is no escaping the fact that when, four years ago, the House voted down every conceivable option for change or no change, it did not enhance the reputation of this place as the mother of Parliaments. My hope, above all, is that this evening the House will come to a clear decision. Of course, my preference is for a part-elected, part-appointed House in which elected Members will play a significant part. For that reason, I will vote for a 50 per cent., 60 per cent. and 80 per cent. elected House. I say to the Liberal Democrats that if by the ludicrous tactics they are going to employ we end up with 2003 all over again, they will have only themselves to blame.
However, there is a big difference compared with four years ago. At the most recent general election, all the parties committed themselves to reform. As I said when I opened the debate yesterday, we have a chance to implement not just one manifesto, but three. We can set out a clear direction of travel on the composition of a reformed Chamber for the first time in decades, and we can achieve what has eluded our predecessors for decadesa second Chamber that does not challenge the primacy of this House but which is legitimate, more effective and more representative. I commend the motions in my name.
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