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I am not very impressed with the JAC, in part because there is not enough feedback for people who apply for posts. By and large, the same civil servants who ran the system at Selborne House are running the present system.
There has not been a mass recruitment of new people. I hope that those who serve on the Committee considering the Bill will probe Ministers about what is happening with the JAC. I do not want to pick a quarrel with the Lord Chancellor about removing the Prime Minister from the process, but he needs to accept the importance of accountability.
We simply cannot have members of the judiciary choosing themselves. There are lay members of the JAC, but they are likely to defer to a senior judge's views on any appointment. The result will be that the same people will select themselves: sadly, that is what we have had in recent months, and that is why the overall balance of the judiciary has not changed.
I turn now to the public order provisions in the Bill. I am not sure what they are. The Lord Chancellor said that the present restrictions will be lifted, but that there are to be more restrictions. That will have to be probed in Committee: people have a right to go into Parliament square to have their say about the great issues of the day.
I have many members of the Tamil community in my constituency. During the conflict in Sri Lanka, many Tamils demonstrated in Parliament square against the Sri Lankan Government in the belief that they could influence our Government to do more than they were doing. In fact, the demonstration lasted several months and cost the taxpayer £7.5 million. When the Home Affairs Committee took evidence from the Mayor and the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, it was pointed out that police resources for that demonstration had been moved in from other parts of London.
I do not want to try to stop people demonstrating, but perhaps we should try to find another focal point where they can do so without causing so much disruption. That would also prevent the amount of resources used on the Tamil demonstration from having to be used in future. Obviously, it would be very nice if people did not shout at Members of Parliament as they moved in and out of the Palace-although I know that the Lord Chancellor is very used to standing on a soapbox and using a megaphone. He does so every week in Blackburn; I have witnessed him standing in the middle of the town square, shouting at everyone who goes past-
Keith Vaz: My right hon. Friend engages with his constituents, and they engage with him. It is always very friendly and polite, but that is quite different from what happens in Parliament square. We need to look at the matter and get the balance right, but we must also remember that there are policing aspects to it. There is a big cost to policing: when demonstrations take place, we must make sure that they are properly policed, without necessarily using too many resources.
My final point concerns the ratification of treaties. This is an excellent initiative on the part of the Lord Chancellor, although of course it is Parliament that must make a final decision on these matters. I only wish that we had given the US-UK extradition treaty the same level of scrutiny.
The hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Burrowes) was here a moment ago. His constituent Gary McKinnon is facing removal to the US under the US-UK treaty.
The Home Affairs Committee today decided to hold evidence sessions to look at the treaty again, as I believe very strongly that the Americans got the best of the deal. I am not alone in believing that: as I made clear when we discussed these matters recently, my view is shared by a former Home Secretary. It is possible that treaties will be subject to better scrutiny if they are brought before the House, and I welcome what the Lord Chancellor proposes.
There have been huge constitutional changes over the past 12 years, and I am very proud to have served in, and supported, the Government who made them. However, some of us are disappointed with the Bill, from which we expected more but which lacks a big idea. The Prime Minister took over in June 2007, and he talked about the new constitutional settlement. At the time, I said to him, "What we need is a new Magna Carta. We've done so much, but we need to join it all together." He agreed, and said that that was exactly what we needed. I said the same thing to the Minister of State, but the problem appeared to be that people objected to paying the £1 million proposed for the consultation exercise. Of course, the Magna Carta did not cost so much.
We need to join all the bits together-whether through a written constitution, a new Bill of rights, or a new Magna Carta. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright) said, this is a moment in our history. It would be great if we could join together all the changes that we have made, and thereby leave an impressive legacy of constitutional reform.
Mr. Andrew Tyrie (Chichester) (Con): I shall confine my remarks almost exclusively to part 3 of the Bill, on the House of Lords. I agree with most of the Bill and with quite a number of the remarks that I have heard this evening suggesting that some good things that should have been in the Bill were left out-concerning the Attorney-General, for example. Several people suggested that after the Prime Minister's speech announcing all these wonderful constitutional changes, it must be Christmas-but it turned out to be Christmas in the workhouse, not the Christmas that most of us are fortunate enough to enjoy these days.
The Lords provisions are pretty meagre, as I have just said, but at least clause 26, which will slowly remove the hereditary peerage, is on the right track. It is certainly overdue and it will finally break the link between the House of Lords and the hereditary principle. That must be right. There are those who still challenge the constitutional notion that in the 21st( )century only those who have been put into Parliament by the electorate should have the right to make our laws, but there are now very few takers indeed for the notion that people should inherit the right to legislate-although, who knows, there may still be a few.
It is often forgotten that clause 26 is necessary, and that the hereditaries are still in place, because it suited the Blair Government's purpose to keep them there. Not only did the Blair Government beat a hasty retreat from their pre-election promises of democracy for the Lords, but Tony Blair personally negotiated and stitched up a backroom deal with Lord Cranborne to perpetuate the hereditary peerage. That deal was subsequently given legislative effect in clauses in the House of Lords Act 1999.
I broke a three-line Whip to vote against those provisions, finding myself voting against both my party and the Labour party. In fact, in all three of the major rebellions that I have undertaken since I became an MP, I have been in the happy position, over 12 years, of voting against both the major parties. It is those provisions in the 1999 Act that clause 26 will reverse. If there is a vote on them, I certainly shall not vote against clause 26.
It is worth reminding ourselves just how pernicious what was done in 1999 is. It enables deceased hereditaries to be replaced by an electorate restricted to hereditaries of the same party. Lord Steel gave an interesting description of this. He said:
"had six candidates for a by-election and four voters. Before the Great Reform Bill of 1832, the rotten borough of Old Sarum had at least 11 voters. In the Labour Party, there were 11 candidates and only three voters, and we had the spectacle of the Clerk of the Parliaments declaring to the world that a new Member had been elected to the British Parliament by two votes to one."-[ Official Report, House of Lords, 20 July 2007; Vol. 694, c. 485.]
The effect of removing the remaining hereditaries and the clauses on the removal and resignation of Members will reduce the size of the House of Lords. That is much needed, for many reasons. First, the House of Lords is the second biggest Chamber in the world. The only larger Chamber claiming to have any democratic legitimacy at all, and that is pretty thin, is the Chinese National party congress. Moreover, the UK is the only bicameral country where the second Chamber is larger than the first.
The second reason why the House of Lords needs to be reduced in size is that the problem of size has got worse under Labour. That is because the Government have created peerages at an unprecedented rate. Most of the hereditaries who were removed in 1999 never attended anyway. Half the active hereditary peerage survived in 1999 and became more active. Meanwhile, the Labour Government have appointed a huge number of peers- 386 out of a total of about 740. More than half the Members of the current House have come in since 1997. Labour, albeit understandably, because it was under-represented in the Lords, has been packing the second Chamber since it came in.
Kelvin Hopkins: Is not that the real problem with the House of Lords-the power of the Prime Minister to appoint people to it, which gives him a control over older Back Benchers in this House and friends in business outside? My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) has made the point that these creatures of the Prime Minister are even less legitimate and less independent than the hereditary peers, who exercise a degree of independence in voting, and may be better politicians than some of the creatures of the Prime Minister.
Mr. Tyrie: If I did not know the hon. Gentleman better, I might believe that he was a convert to the hereditary principle, but I presume that he is not. Appointment is, by a short head, better than heredity, but democracy is far better than both. I shall come to that in a moment.
The Labour deficit that existed in 1997 has been replaced with a Labour majority over the Conservatives of a little under 10 per cent. in the House of Lords. The third reason why size is such a problem is that that has inadvertently created a ratchet. I do not think Labour intended that. When the Conservatives come in, whether now or later, we will not let matters rest. We will rightly want to match Labour's number with new creations, then we will probably want to create a modest majority of our own. So in an effort to achieve parity and beyond, the overall size of the Lords will increase, because those will be life peerages, and so it will go on. Each time there is a change of Government, there will be tit for tat. We cannot carry on like that, with an ever expanding House of Lords.
There is one radical solution, to which I referred a moment ago and for which I have argued since I was first elected to the Commons. Let us have a smaller, democratically elected second Chamber. This view is strongly held across the House of Commons-59 per cent. of Conservative MPs voted in the 2007 Divisions for at least one of the options for a largely or wholly elected second Chamber. The equivalent figures for Labour were 76 per cent. and for the Liberal Democrats 98 per cent.
Furthermore, as the Lord Chancellor suggested earlier, when it comes to much of the detail, there is a striking amount of agreement about the type of elected Chamber that we should put in place. I was initially sceptical about the work being done on the basis of the White Paper that was published, but I am now much more optimistic that it has made a considerable contribution to the debate.
However, if the chances of securing democracy in the near future were already relatively slim, they can now be considered virtually non-existent, as a consequence of the economic crisis. That has changed everything. Any Government who tried to make such a change in such an economic climate would be accused of having the wrong priorities, and the accusation would probably stick. People would become all the more vitriolic if, as I suspect would happen and a number of Members have implied would happen, introducing such a Bill precipitated a constitutional crisis.
There are a good number of last ditchers in the other place and they will throw out such a Bill. We will be into a constitutional crisis, with huge amounts of parliamentary time, energy and activity taken up with trying to get it through. It will be a rerun of what happened 100 years ago. Can we afford to engage in that while we are trying to tackle the biggest economic recession since the war, when the debt-to-GDP ratio has just doubled and we are running a deficit unprecedented in peacetime history? I do not think the country would understand that, and any party that tried to achieve it would be making a huge political and governmental mistake.
However, the choice need not be between the measures in part 3, on the one hand, and full democracy on the other. There is another measure, very limited and with immediate effect, which could control the ratchet on the number of peerages created, improve the working of the existing House, and at the same time lay the foundations for a more radical democratic House, should a subsequent Parliament decide to go down that route. That measure
would be the introduction of term peerages: peerages conferred for a fixed period. I have held to the view for some years that it might be necessary as an interim measure.
My right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) is now the shadow Leader of the House, but earlier in the year, when he was still a Back Bencher, he and I published a paper setting out the proposal, with some detail attached to it. Term peerages would adopt the approach, already agreed between the parties, that a predominantly elected second Chamber would comprise those serving a single, non-renewable term of three Parliaments. The term of those appointments would therefore be the same as that which we would eventually introduce for a democratic second Chamber: three Parliaments. I do not support varying the term to take account of a Government's particular needs at a particular time to put in a Minister whom they might want for a short period. The term should be fixed and, perhaps, salaried, and it should be understood that getting a place in that Chamber would involve work and commitment. It would not be a status appointment.
The advantages of the measure would be apparent very quickly. It would end the ratchet and emphasise that those people were active working politicians. Lord Jay, the Chairman of the House of Lords Appointments Commission, recently emphasised that the appointments process should
"move further along that curve from honour to job."
Another reason why we should support the proposal is that, unlike most proposals for democracy, it would leave existing life peers unaffected. One might find it surprising that I should say that, but any proposal that would fundamentally alter the life peerage will meet such a wall of opposition that proceedings on it will take over this place for a year or two at a time. By agreement between the parties, however, new life peerages could be brought to an end, and we could restrict appointments to interim peerages-much as, over time, hereditary peerages were largely but not entirely replaced by life peerages after the 1958 change.
Almost everyone agrees that the current arrangements for the House of Lords are unsatisfactory to say the least-almost everyone, that is, except a majority in the House of Lords itself, who are a somewhat interested party in this matter. However, an increasing number acknowledge my earlier point that an early move to democracy is unrealistic in this economic climate, so term peerages would be a practical means of invigorating the Lords while addressing many of its current problems, strengthening our Parliament and constitution and retaining some continuity with the best of the current House.
I shall table an amendment in Committee to give effect to term peerages. In doing so, I should very much like the support of my Front Benchers and, I hope, Labour Members as well as Liberal Members. I hope and believe that it is an idea whose time has come.
There has been a great deal of gloom, some of which we have heard today, about the British constitution, about Parliament and about the public's loss of confidence in us. The proposal that I have outlined will not overturn all that, but by demonstrating that we can work together on a relatively modest, yet in the long run far-reaching,
change, we will do something to show that we in this Chamber are working for the common weal, and we will do just a little bit to help restore the public's confidence in us.
Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab): I very much appreciate the speech by the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie), but I assure him that I am actually a unicameralist who voted accordingly in our series of votes in the Chamber. I voted for unicameralism and against everything else, as did a number of my comrades on the Labour Benches. Indeed, half of all Labour Back Benchers voted for that amendment, despite the attractions of being put out to grass towards the end of their careers. They still voted in a principled way for unicameralism, and I was very pleased by that.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak, and even more pleased to be a member of the Select Committee on Public Administration, which my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright) so splendidly chairs. It has really been an experience: we have discussed these matters at length on many occasions and interviewed many senior figures from politics and Government.
I want to cover several issues, but I start with the right to statutory protection for an independent civil service. The civil service has certain problems. This view may be unfashionable, but I do not like the idea that the civil service should be permeated by business and outside interests. It is absolutely accepted that we should have staff of the highest intellectual calibre in the senior civil service, but they should be career civil servants who see themselves as lifelong, committed people-committed to the service of the public and the state. They should not have one foot in business, nor should they be politicised. They should not look for financial advancement or advantage at any stage; they should see themselves as servants of the state and have a moral compass-to coin a phrase-in respect of their attitude to the job. The post of senior civil servant should be a special calling, not something tainted by association with making money and the like.
I am worried about drift in the civil service. Some people see it as beneficial to the service, but I do not. It has been suggested to me, for example, that there is an in-house corporate lobby for the six big energy producers, meaning that civil servants resist proposals for localised renewable energy systems by dragging their feet and making life difficult for those involved. It is not without significance that we have less renewable energy than every other European country apart from Malta and Luxembourg, and I suspect that civil servants have had a part to play in that. I do not blame all civil servants, but the accusation has been put to me and I suspect that there is a basis to it.
Some years ago, a leading business man was employed by a company to secure private finance initiative contracts from the Department of Health, and all of a sudden he was appointed as the Department's industrial director, levering out PFI schemes from the inside to his friends on the outside. He subsequently went off to become a banker. The civil service should not consist of such people. They should be in banking, no doubt, and in private business, but they should not be representing the public interest from inside the civil service. That has concerned me for a long time.
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