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Defence Reform

4.29 pm

The Secretary of State for Defence (Dr Liam Fox): Last August I asked Lord Levene to undertake a fundamental review of the way in which the Ministry of Defence is structured and managed. Today I am publishing the independent report led by him. Copies of the report will be placed in the Library of the House. I would like to thank him and all the members of his steering group both for that excellent report and for setting us all an example by delivering it early.

Lord Levene’s group has recommended a radical new approach to the management of defence, and I am pleased to say that I agree with him, as do my ministerial colleagues, all the chiefs of staff and my permanent secretary. We have already taken forward some of the recommendations.

No one in this Government was under any illusions about the scale of the challenge that we inherited in defence, which Lord Levene’s report confirms. We have already introduced changes to budgetary control, the reform of procurement, export promotion, small and medium-sized enterprise development and changes to our armed forces. The strategic defence and security review set a clear direction for policy and will deliver coherent, efficient and cutting-edge armed forces fit for the challenges of the future. As a result, Britain will remain in the premier league of military powers.

However, the vision of the SDSR cannot be achieved without tackling the drivers of structural financial instability and the institutional lack of accountability in how defence is managed, and Lord Levene’s report provides the blueprint for the necessary transformation. Before I set out his recommendations in more detail, let me first acknowledge the great strength that resides within our people in defence. They are professional, committed and often frustrated by a system that all too frequently lets them down. Among other things, the report describes a Department bedevilled with weak decision making and poor accountability, in which there is insufficient focus on affordability and proper financial management. Lord Levene’s steering group proposes a new, simpler and more cost-effective model for departmental management, with a clear allocation of responsibility, authority and accountability. That will build on the strengths of the individual services within a single defence framework that ensures that the whole is more than the sum of its parts. It will be underpinned by a number of core themes.

First, to date individuals in defence have been asked to deliver defence outputs, but not given the means with which to do so effectively and efficiently. Authority must be aligned with responsibility, and budget holders should have the levers that they need in order to deliver. They should then be held robustly to account. In the past, the decisions that should have been made centrally have been ducked, and head office and Ministers have delved into tactical-level detail.

The defence reform unit recommends a strengthened decision-making framework for defence, centred on a new, leaner defence board based around the Defence Secretary, who will chair it and make the decisions. He will be supported by the permanent secretary and the Chief of the Defence Staff, who will bring to the

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meeting the views of the single service chiefs. I have already established that new board, and I chaired the first meeting last week. The new group will offer the type of decisive and focused strategic direction that has been so lacking in recent years.

Secondly, financial management must be tightened and a risk-aware and cost-conscious mentality must permeate every level of the MOD. The review recommends a new planning and financial model. Within that framework, we will empower the chiefs to run their individual services. Our single service chiefs are the custodians of their services, the fundamental building blocks of defence. Sadly, they are currently forced to devote far too much of their time to trying to influence policy and haggle over funding in London, which is a pointless waste of time and talent.

In the new model, the service chiefs will get clearer direction from the defence board, carry out the detailed military capability planning needed across equipment, manpower and training, and then propose how best to deliver that strategic direction. Once that is agreed, they will be given greater freedom to veer and haul between priorities within their own service to deliver what is needed in defence. They will enjoy long-denied freedoms, and they will be held robustly to account for doing so.

Allowing the chiefs to spend more time with their service reduces the requirement for commander-in-chief appointments, which will be phased out as part of a general reduction in senior posts. We will work closely with the Treasury on how to deliver that major change, but I am confident that when they are properly supported, trained and directed, our people at the point of delivery are best placed to run their business, not those at the centre. Micro-management must be consigned to the past.

Thirdly, the service chiefs have an established role as advocates for their service, but powerful single-service advocacy can sometimes be at the cost of joint or cross-cutting capability. The report has recommended that we create a new Joint Forces Command. It will manage and deliver specific joint enabling capabilities and set the framework for other joint enablers within the single services. It would include the permanent joint headquarters and be led by a new four-star commander. Joint Force Command will therefore be an important organisation in its own right but also have a symbolic purpose, reflecting our view of how conflict will develop, and providing a natural home for some of the capabilities of the future, such as cyber, as well as reinforcing joint thinking, joint behaviours, and the new generation of officers in defence. It offers a new opportunity for career progression right to the top and a challenging and intellectual career for those who otherwise may not have been attracted to defence. It is a fundamentally meritocratic reform. It may also be a path for service personnel who are injured on operations and unable to serve on the front line, but who are still determined to serve their country.

Fourthly, the report rightly challenges us to consider whether we maximise talent across defence. Be it in promotion, the development of key skills, or helping our people choose the right career path, more can and should be done. The report has concluded that we must pursue more vigorously the principle that posts be filled

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by the right person, with the right skills, for the right length of time. Buggins’s turn must not interfere with the promotion of the right person for the job. Nor can we have the sort of musical chairs that occurred in the past.

Lord Levene has therefore recommended that we move to a system whereby most senior civilian and military individuals stay in post for longer than at present, as a rule for up to five years. That will allow our people to establish themselves in their roles, and invest the time they need to make a real difference to defence and be held to account for their performance.

To ensure that we maximise delivery on the front line, Lord Levene has recommended that we review all non-front-line posts across defence, beginning at the senior and management levels, including an assessment of the most cost-effective balance of regular military, reservists, civil servants and contractors. We are top heavy and that must end.

Most significantly, Lord Levene recommends that we adopt a new, more “joint” model for the management of senior military personnel to make the promotion and appointment processes more transparent and standardised, and to encourage the development of officers with strong joint credentials.

Lord Levene’s report covers far more than I have been able to address here. It is a thorough and compelling analysis that deserves close attention. I am confident that when the people in defence review the recommendations, they will recognise this work not as a criticism, but as a constructive critique of a Department in need of reform, and that they will relish, as I do, the challenges that it represents.

Mr Jim Murphy (East Renfrewshire) (Lab): I thank the Secretary of State for his statement and Lord Levene and his team for their work in recent months.

It is right to start by paying tribute again to our armed forces. They defend our values and secure our interests. Today, in Afghanistan, Libya and around the world brave men and women are doing just that: protecting our national security and that of others. With armed forces day still in mind, we must all reflect on and give thanks for their patriotism and sacrifice. We all have a responsibility to ensure that they have the support and equipment they need to do their job.

Reform of the Ministry of Defence is a vital element of that. Successful reform should strengthen the bottom line and bolster the front line, enhancing Britain’s ability to project force and tackle new threats, and to do so cost-effectively. It is important that efficiencies are sought for that purpose and not for reasons of strategic shrinkage by stealth.

Based on the limited details in the Secretary of State’s statement—we look forward to debating them at a later date—we welcome the focus on cyber, widening the pool of promotion, making chiefs more accountable for spending and, in principle, some of the changes in MOD structure.

On streamlining in the senior ranks, Labour Members agree with measures to balance the higher levels of the military. Of course, no two situations are the same, but as our force numbers continue to fall, it cannot be right that the US Marine corps, which is 15% larger than all our armed forces put together, has five times fewer

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senior officers. Efficiency must run from top to bottom. The difficulty will be in the implementation, but we support the introduction of a Joint Forces Command. A joint approach to structures is welcome as that reflects how operations are now routinely conducted.

Let me consider the changes to the defence board. Single service orientation must not be an impediment to decisions about equipment and acquisition programmes, which must be tied solely to defence policy objectives. However, does not the fact that the Secretary of State has chosen to act on inter-service rivalry after the strategic defence and security review demonstrate, at least in part, the problem of that inter-service rivalry?

Of course, there are strong arguments in favour of the reform of the defence board, but last week, unfortunately, the Prime Minister told service chiefs:

“I’ll do the talking…you do the fighting”.

Unfortunately, today’s announcement of the removal of the three service chiefs from the defence board will be seen by some as a structural confirmation of that strident sentiment. It is beyond doubt that there is now at least a partial fracture in the relationship between Ministers and service chiefs, and the Secretary of State must make the case more carefully in the next few months than his boss has done in the past few days. Will the Secretary of State therefore confirm that service chiefs were wrong when they said that services are running hot and will be unable to sustain the current tempo of operations in Libya beyond September? Will he tell us how he will better incorporate military advice into those new decision-making procedures?

On MOD finances, I agree with the Secretary of State when he says that successful MOD operations are dependent on the defence budget being on a stable footing. However, today in the media, for hours on end, the Secretary of State blamed the previous Administration for the cuts that he has chosen to make. Let me remind the House that he agreed with each of our spending decisions on defence, and called for even greater spending on a bigger Army, Navy and Air Force, and more equipment for all three services. Is not the truth that, owing to the rushed and arbitrary decisions taken in the defence review, the Government have created their own black hole? They saw efficiency savings where they could not find them, and are engaged in events that they did not foresee.

The Secretary of State has his own financial legacy to deal with. In opposition, he spent just as much time demanding more as he has spent in government providing less. Will he therefore answer the following questions? First, will he tell the House whether there is any truth to reports that the mismatch between the MOD’s assumptions and the spending settlement is up to £10 billion, which would be a greater overall cut than was made in the SDSR? Secondly, will he confirm that there are to be further cuts to the size of the Army in this Parliament? Thirdly, will he say what work will cease within the MOD in order to cut the number of civil servants by 25,000?

On procurement, the positions that the Government currently hold of using open competition on the open market, buying off the shelf and promoting exports, are inconsistent. Will the major projects board have as its remit the maintenance of a competitive, highly skilled UK defence industry? In that spirit, what sovereign capabilities does he believe the UK should maintain and promote over the longer term?

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In conclusion, the Opposition welcome much of today’s statement, and we look forward to scrutinising it in detail and discussing it in the House. However, the Secretary of State must know that there is real disappointment not about what is in the statement, but about something that is not in it. On this, the 100th day of operations in Libya, in which forces are using equipment that the Government had previously planned to scrap, it is surely now time once and for all to have a new, post-Arab spring chapter of the defence review. Such an announcement would be welcomed on both sides of the House and throughout the country.

Dr Fox: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his broad welcome of the report and its contents. It is an important report and it is very detailed, and there will be opportunities for the House to debate it more fully, not least because the Government will want to look at some of the report’s more detailed recommendations and tell the House how we intend to implement them.

I was particularly keen that the shadow Defence Secretary accept the proposal for the Joint Force Command, which he has done. The command is a good way forward for our armed forces, and represents a strong consensual basis for moving forward on defence policy in the UK. Of course, we are all aware of the contribution of our armed forces—today, many of us would like in particular to pay tribute to the RAF Regiment and its contribution.

On the right hon. Gentleman’s specific questions, the defence board proposal is not a reaction to anything that has happened in the short term. This has been 10 months in gestation. Lord Levene and his team, including the vice-chief of the defence staff and the second permanent under-secretary, were very clear that we needed a simpler, more manageable defence board. It is of course fed by both the ministerial committee and the chief of staff committee, through the Chief of the Defence Staff and the Minister for the Armed Forces, into the committee representing other ministerial and the chiefs’ views.

When it comes to plans for the Army, we have no plans to reduce its size in this Parliament. On the 25,000 cut in the civil service, I regret that we are having to make reductions of that size, but we recognise that we have to do it to deal with the financial legacy that we inherited from the previous Government. However, we believe that we can make the cut while maintaining our full function. We believe that the best way to help the British defence industry is to support British defence exports.

Finally, on the question of Libya, when we make statements about Libya we must be careful about the messages. Colonel Gaddafi and his cronies will be listening to the messages we send, and the only message that we should send is that we have the military capability and the political and moral resolve to see through the task that the international community has begun. Anything else would risk civilian lives in Libya.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: Order. Understandably, there is intense interest in this statement, but I have also to protect time for the heavily subscribed debate that is to follow. Therefore I must insist on brief questions and brief answers.

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Mr James Arbuthnot (North East Hampshire) (Con): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on what is a truly radical shake-up of the Ministry of Defence, which it has needed for decades. I am delighted especially to hear that the chiefs of the armed forces will get more control over their budgets. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that the Treasury shares my delight and will honour this promise?

Dr Fox: Whether or not the Treasury is delighted by the proposals that I have put forward, it has certainly given its agreement. Therefore, the spirit in which it has done so is not really my concern.

Mr Bob Ainsworth (Coventry North East) (Lab): I congratulate the Secretary of State and Lord Levene, and I welcome the broad thrust of what is proposed. The Green Paper that we produced in the winter of 2009-10 flagged up the need for a joint command of the type that will now be introduced, and it is the right thing to do. How real and how deep will that jointery be? It is no good if it is not real and people’s allegiances belong entirely and exclusively to the single services.

The other thing that is needed is transparency. How can we have the kind of reforms that will be necessary in order to put the Ministry of Defence where it needs to be if we do not have transparency? The Secretary of State effectively abolished 3 Commando Brigade without ever admitting having done so. How can we introduce real transparency?

Dr Fox: One of the reasons why I was keen that we should have the Joint Forces Command with its own four-star at the top was that I believe that people who are involved in defence at any level—in logistics, in ISTAR, in defence intelligence or in defence medical—should have a chance to rise to the top of the tree, if they have the talents to do so. I want to create a fourth pillar precisely to create a more meritocratic structure. That will be much more transparent than what we had before, because we will not be able to have the stovepiping that gives primary allegiance to single services rather than defence as a whole.

Sir Menzies Campbell (North East Fife) (LD): I hope that my right hon. Friend will excuse me if I sound a note of caution. I have lost track of the number of occasions on which I heard his predecessors stand at the Dispatch Box and promise us accountability, responsibility and efficiency. How can we be sure that these necessary qualities will arise as a consequence of the implementation of Levene?

To go from the abstract to the particular, when senior commanders, both in public and in private, express reservations about the sustainability of current operations, does the Secretary of State have not a scintilla of doubt about the match between commitments and resources?

Dr Fox: We have already put in place some of the recommendations, including the defence board, and we have begun implementing some of the other changes. We have put into place the major projects board, which will give greater accountability in terms of the running of the major projects. As for Libya, I repeat the point that I made earlier. While we will constantly look at the resources available, the public message must be simply

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that we understand the mission that we are undertaking, its legality and its moral force, and we have the political will and military wherewithal to see it through.

Dan Jarvis (Barnsley Central) (Lab): I welcome many of the proposals in the report, but should not the reorganisations announced today and the forthcoming review of reserve forces have been conducted in parallel with the SDSR? This combined with the Arab spring means that the case for a new chapter is overwhelming. Does the Secretary of State agree that the world has moved on and that defence policy and resources should move with it?

Dr Fox: The VCDS leads the reserves review and was a key member of the steering group, so there is no lack of continuity. The hon. Gentleman asked why these things were not done at the time. We had to complete the SDSR because the comprehensive spending review was running at the same time, and because we had to deal with the huge deficit left by the previous Government. I know that the Labour Benches remain populated by deficit-deniers, but that does not reduce the responsibility on the Government to deal with the problem.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): As I understand it—perhaps I am wrong—service chiefs lost the right some time ago to go directly to the Prime Minister. What right does a service chief have when he or she feels strongly about something outside the normal chain of command?

Dr Fox: There is no change in the constitutional position under which chiefs of staff—or, indeed, the CDS or VCDS —have a direct right of access to the Prime Minister of the day.

Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): I appreciate the advance copy of the Defence Secretary’s statement, in which he said that the senior ranks are “top heavy”. That is not true in Scotland, however, where only 2.1% of the most senior ranks are stationed. Under this report and the plans that will follow it, will there be even fewer decision makers in Scotland, or will the number remain at the same derisory level?

Dr Fox: The hon. Gentleman always fails to point out that across the piece far more people in the defence industry are based in Scotland and a disproportionate amount of defence industry spending goes to Scotland. Scotland might have fewer positions in terms of military rank, but these are Crown forces and their footprint is spread evenly, one way or another, across the United Kingdom.

Mr Bernard Jenkin (Harwich and North Essex) (Con): May I commend my right hon. Friend for getting down to the unglamorous business of how his Department works, and may I welcome the Levene report as the kind of corporate change programme that the Public Administration Committee is seeking to recommend for every Department? Will he bear it in mind, however, that such corporate change takes years and depends on united, consistent and sustained leadership from the top and throughout the Department in order to bring about the necessary cultural change that I am sure his people want to see?

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Dr Fox: I fully accept that this is the unglamorous but no less necessary part of the business. It might mean that I have to bore the House witless—but some would say that is no break with precedent. On the corporate change programme to which my hon. Friend referred, may I specifically thank him for the encouragement he has given me through his focus on corporate change programmes? That has been instrumental in giving us the will to drive through the reforms to this point.

Mr Speaker: The Secretary of State should not be quite so hard on himself.

Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab): Will the Secretary of State tell us more about how these reforms will deter future cyber-attacks?

Dr Fox: I was keen to discuss at length with Lord Levene how to create a structure within defence that could offer careers to those who might be attracted to the intellectual, if you like, side of defence—electronic warfare and so on—but who might not want to become commandos. We need to create a pillar inside defence that can grow as the nature of conflict changes. We want to create that expertise and attract those young minds who have a different view of what the electronic and cyberspaces look like and who are interested in a defence career. It is essential that we change how defence does business in order to reflect the genuine threats out there. As we develop that expertise, so we will have a greater ability to deter the sorts of attacks to which the hon. Gentleman referred.

John Glen (Salisbury) (Con): One of the issues that needs clarification is the practice of individuals being appointed to sensitive roles in large procurement processes for just two years. Will that be reviewed, so that the period of the role suits the project, rather than an arbitrary career path?

Dr Fox: The specific work on that is currently being done by Bernard Gray but, as I said in the statement, it is now important that we increase the length of tenure of many such posts, otherwise we are wasting talent. If the MOD were a private company, it would be number three in the FTSE. The idea of having the most senior people in the private sector stay for 18 months or two years, and then rotating them round because it is “good for their career experience” would not hold water in the private sector, and it no longer holds water in the MOD.

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): The Secretary of State started his statement by referring to our being in the premier league of military powers. In the view of the three chiefs of the services, we are currently not a full spectrum power. If these reforms are implemented, will we again be a full spectrum power, and if so, when?

Dr Fox: I refute the idea that the United Kingdom is not among the leading defence powers in the world. We have the fourth biggest defence budget, and we have extraordinarily capable armed forces, which are among the most professional and best trained. If that does not put us in the premier league, I do not know what does.

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Mr Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): I endorse the statement in the strongest possible way. In particular, I would like to pick out my right hon. Friend’s comments about the length of tenure in important jobs. It really is astonishing that we change people over every two years. If we are to make the progress that he wants to make, this will involve not just the most senior jobs, but other sensitive key positions in the organisation.

Dr Fox: It is important, as my hon. Friend says, that all those in key positions remain there to maximise what they learn in the job and that they can therefore give back as much as they can—I will be encouraging the Prime Minister to read Hansard on that point.

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): The statement is welcome because it recognises the waste and inefficiencies arising from rivalries between the three services, but should the Secretary of State not take the next logical step that the realities of modern warfare demand, which is to aim to create a single, unified service?

Dr Fox: No one can deny the intellectual logic behind the hon. Gentleman’s point, but anyone who has spoken to a Canadian Defence Minister in recent years will have got a strong message: “Whatever you try, don’t try that.” There are differences in the approach of the single services, sometimes differences in the ethos of the single services and, clearly, differences in their history too. As we are asking our servicemen and women to do so much for us, the last thing that we want to do is to destroy that important emotional attachment to their heritage.

Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): I welcome that response from my right hon. Friend. He knows that he is assured of my personal support for the work that he is doing, but I remain convinced that there is a difference between the management of defence procurement and the formulation of military strategy at the highest level. What bothers me is that the single service chiefs are increasingly separated from the Chief of the Defence Staff, and that is no way to end inter-service rivalry. We ran the second world war with a committee of three, and we ought to be running these wars with a committee of four, not with a CDS on his own on a defence board, even if supplemented by the Minister for the Armed Forces.

Dr Fox: But of course this is not a process that is run by the CDS. As part of the defence board, we have purposely set up the chiefs of staff committee so that the views of the chiefs of staff can be discussed collectively before the defence board and reflected to it by the CDS, not formulated unilaterally by the CDS.

Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): The Secretary of State referred to a “radical new approach to the management of defence” and a “new, leaner defence board”. In that spirit, how many ministerial posts are going to be axed?

Dr Fox: As my hon. Friend knows, it is not for me to determine the number of Ministers in Her Majesty’s Government. What we have said, however, is that when we have had time to address the Levene report in greater detail, we may well look at the designation of Ministers—

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their titles and specific roles—to see whether we can bring the organisation of the ministerial team better into line with the organisation of the Department.

Mr Ben Wallace (Wyre and Preston North) (Con): I welcome the good report by Lord Levene. It is long overdue and prompts the question of what the Labour party was doing over the past 13 years. As a result of the report, a number of key figures in the Ministry of Defence are worried about the future, and there will be some uncertainty. Will the Secretary of State please let us know what time scale he envisages to put these reforms in place?

Dr Fox: Some reforms have already been put in place; some are being put in place; and others will be put in place as quickly as possible. I hope that by the time the Department has made a full review of the report and given its full response, we will not be much past September.

Oliver Colvile (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend help me to understand how this can improve our relationships and our discussions with our NATO allies?

Dr Fox: Our discussions at both ministerial and official level are already full and fruitful. This will allow us to translate anything decided collectively into action in a much more disciplined and cost-controlled way. It is about the effective and efficient running of defence in the United Kingdom rather than any change in doctrine for dealing with our international partners.

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): How will these structural changes affect the role of the reserves, who are equally as professional and as committed as anyone else in the armed services?

Dr Fox: The reserves review, which is headed by the vice-chief of the defence staff and which will report to the Prime Minister in the near future, will set out a number of options on the balance between regular forces, reserve forces, civil servants and contractors. I hope to report on that to the House at the soonest possible date.

Gordon Birtwistle (Burnley) (LD): Is the Secretary of State confident that the Puma helicopter upgrade being carried out overseas is on target and on budget? Is he confident that, when upgraded, those helicopters will carry out their intended role? Does he agree that it might be a better option to scrap the upgrade and use the money to buy new state-of-the-art helicopters from AgustaWestland, which will carry out their intended role and have a service life of 40 years?

Dr Fox: I confirm that the programme is on track after some early difficulties. Of course, while we would always like to and prefer to purchase new aircraft, using the Puma life extension programme was the most effective way of providing the capability we required.

Oliver Heald (North East Hertfordshire) (Con): I welcome this businesslike statement, particularly the setting up of the joint force command, but will my right

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hon. Friend go a little further in explaining what other capabilities, apart from cyber, might be included? For example, what is going to happen with complex weapons, which can come from different platforms but share quite a lot of capability and infrastructure?

Dr Fox: My hon. Friend raises a good point. I have already mentioned defence intelligence as a key element within that pillar and that defence medical is being brought together for the first time. We will want to see what other elements we can introduce that fall within the broad joint arena, not least because we owe it to the younger generation of officers, who have a much more joint approach, to ensure that they have a genuine career structure and that those involved in areas such as logistics, who are invaluable to the delivery of our service, are not regarded as ineligible for some of the top posts in defence.

Mr Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): I share the Secretary of State’s unequivocal support for this report. Given the streamlining to which he has referred, will he take this opportunity to guarantee that defence procurement will be both more efficient and more cost-effective in the future than it has been in the past?

Dr Fox: Yes.

Stephen Gilbert (St Austell and Newquay) (LD): Inter-service rivalry and single service lobbying is a key tradition of the British armed forces. Is the Secretary of State convinced that the single service chiefs will have confidence in the CDS to represent their branches fairly, and how will he prevent noises off?

Dr Fox: The single service chiefs will, through the chiefs of staff committee, always be able to have a robust debate among themselves and with the CDS ahead of the CDS reporting their views to the defence board. They also have access to me, as Secretary of State, if they have a particular grievance that they feel has not been listened to. My door is open to them at any time.

Matthew Hancock (West Suffolk) (Con): During the year for which I have been a member of the Public Accounts Committee, I have often been shocked by the poor management of the budget in the Ministry of Defence, so I warmly welcome the report. Will the Secretary of State explain how the new joint command will be held to account, and will he reassure me that the establishment of a new command will not reduce accountability?

Dr Fox: All parts of the armed forces will be subject to regular and rigorous review. Although, as I have said, we are devolving power to the single service chiefs in terms of their budgets—which will allow them sometimes to exchange manpower for equipment, for example—they will be subject to quarterly review by the CDS and the PUS, who will consider both the military impact and the financial implications of any decisions that are made.

Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con): Will the Secretary of State confirm that he, not the PUS, will be in charge of the defence board?

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Dr Fox: Oh, yes. I fully intend to chair both the defence board and the major projects board. I have done so once already, and on that occasion was both elated and depressed: I was depressed, because so many of my fears about poor project management were shown to be correct; and I was elated by the fact that we seemed to have identified the problem and put the appropriate solution in place.

David Rutley (Macclesfield) (Con): In Macclesfield, we are fortunate enough to have many skilled engineers in the military aviation sector, which is so important in the north-west. Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that his plans will focus more on allowing them to apply their skills, and less on unnecessary layers of bureaucracy?

Dr Fox: I want to end the presumption that those at the centre know better how to micro-manage the services than those who are trained and have spent a lifetime in those services. We need to accept that, while politicians have a particular role in policy, the application of that policy should fall to those with the real expertise, namely the armed forces chiefs themselves.

Stephen Phillips (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): Like all Conservative Members, I welcome the statement, not least because it deals with so many of the inadequacies with which my right hon. Friend was left by the previous Administration. Does he believe that his statement, and the publication of the report in full, tell us all that we need to know about behaviour of the present Government as opposed to that of the previous Government, who tried to bury bad news in the form of the Gray report?

Dr Fox: Perhaps the greatest difference between us is that the Labour party tried to bury the Gray report, whereas we gave Bernard Gray a leading job in the Government. That shows that we have faith in the analysis.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): We will now proceed to the debate on House of Lords reform. Before I call the Deputy Prime Minister, let me inform the House that, because the debate is not only well subscribed but over-subscribed, we have introduced a seven-minute limit, which is likely to be reduced later. I ask Front Benchers to take that on board when considering the length of their speeches, and I ask for restraint in interventions, which will clearly lengthen the Front-Bench contributions. I also request that no Members approach the Chair to find out when they will be called in this over-subscribed debate.

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House of Lords Reform

[Relevant Document: The Seventh Report from the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, Seminar on the House of Lords: Outcomes, HC 961.]

5.8 pm

The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Nick Clegg): I beg to move,

That this House has considered the matter of House of Lords reform.

On 17 May, the Government published a draft Bill and White Paper proposing a reformed House of Lords. Since then, there has been considerable debate on the content of the proposals—I, of course, welcome that debate. These are significant constitutional changes and so demand proper and full scrutiny. As the debate unfolds, however, it important for us to step back for a moment and remind ourselves why we are doing this. First, very few people seriously believe that the status quo—an unelected second Chamber—makes sense in a modern democracy. [Interruption.] Most people agree with that, anyway.

During last week’s debate in the other place, someone said that elections are not

“the only form of democracy”.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 21 June 2011; Vol. 728, c. 1165.]

The suggestion that democracy can somehow exist without elections reminded me that there is a fundamental principle at stake here—a basic choice. Do we believe that people should choose their representatives in Parliament, or do we not? Should citizens choose the people who make the laws of the land, or should they not? Every hon. Member must now decide which side of the argument they support.

Mr James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con): I apologise for intervening so early in the Deputy Prime Minister’s speech, but it is important to pick up his statement that everyone presumes that the status quo is not an option. What evidence does he have? The status quo is precisely the option for which I will vote.

The Deputy Prime Minister: If I remember correctly, my hon. Friend voted for 100% election to the House of Lords when this subject was last up for discussion, which suggests that he might be more willing to entertain change than his question implies. Even the advocates of minimal change—even those in the other place, as was witnessed in last week’s debate—accept that some change is now unavoidable.

We have all promised change—every major party committed to Lords reform in their manifestos last year—so there is a legitimate expectation that we will now deliver it. Liberals and Liberal Democrats have long pursued Lords reform as part of a wider renewal of our political arrangements; the Labour party has advocated it as a blow to patronage and privilege; and the Conservative party has, especially in recent years, pushed for putting more direct power in the hands of voters.

John Thurso (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD): In that regard, was my right hon. Friend struck by the contributions in the other place of Lord Whitty and Baroness Quin, which made clear both the need for

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reform and how it should be taken through, and which represented fine examples of what their party so often stood for in the past? Will my right hon. Friend encourage Labour Members to return to their roots by taking that as their example now?

The Deputy Prime Minister: The contributions of Lord Whitty and Baroness Quin were, indeed, excellent, and I look forward to hearing support for the ideas that they set out last week from Labour Front Benchers today.

Turning to the second key reason for change, if we do not modernise the other place, a question mark will continue to hang over our second Chamber. We have passed the point of no reform, and to come this far and give up is to condemn our upper House to enduring doubt about its legitimacy. Yes, Lords reform has been debated for a century and, yes, our second Chamber has evolved over that time, but the other place cannot afford another 100 years in limbo. Reform is overdue, and it is time to bring this chapter to an end.

Mr Bernard Jenkin (Harwich and North Essex) (Con): I must confess that I think the House of Lords has done a pretty good job over the past 100 years, and I am glad that the Deputy Prime Minister acknowledges that it does, indeed, do a good job. I invite him to consider that House of Commons Library figures show that the average Member of Parliament costs the British taxpayer about £257,000 a year, whereas the average unelected appointed peer costs well under £100,000. Is now the right time to start demanding that we spend more money on more politicians, more expenses, more secretaries and more office space, when the House of Lords is doing a perfectly good job as it is?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I agree with my hon. Friend that the other place is oversized—it is far too large. That is why one of the centrepieces of the proposals worked up by the cross-party Committee, which I chaired, was that we radically cut the number of politicians in the other place right down to 300, so it would be less than half the size of this Chamber.

Mr Jenkin: On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Will you look into the House’s sound system? I distinctly heard the right hon. Gentleman the Deputy Prime Minister refer to the size of the House of Lords, when my intervention made no mention of that whatever, so he must have misheard me.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): That is not really worth responding to.

The Deputy Prime Minister: I will respond to that point of order, however. The issue of cost is, of course, directly related to the number of Members serving in the House of Lords; the larger it is, the more expensive it will be. Under our reform proposals, the size of the House of Lords will be cut to 300, less than half the size of this Chamber.

The Prime Minister and I are committed to reform, but the reform will go with the grain of the evolution that we have already witnessed in the Lords; it will be

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steady, ordered and careful; and it will be built on the widest possible consensus. That is why our proposals build on the work of countless others from both sides of this House as well as the other place over recent decades. The Wakeham commission, the Straw committee and the Cunningham report have all made hugely important contributions, and I pay tribute to the work of reformers on all sides of the argument. Without them, the case for change would already have been lost.

I also thank the cross-party Committee established to consider this matter last year. We reached agreement on most elements of the proposed package and in the end there were only two issues relating to the content of the reforms on which we did not reach final agreement. On both, we have left our options open in the White Paper.

Mel Stride (Central Devon) (Con): Let me return my right hon. Friend to the cost of these reforms. He will be aware, no doubt, of Lord Lipsey’s estimate that 300 or so new Members of the upper House would cost about £430 million in the 2015 to 2020 Parliament, which is enough to employ some 21,000 nurses. Does my right hon. Friend believe that the British people would rather have 21,000 additional nurses or some 300 fully expensed and fully paid identikit politicians?

The Deputy Prime Minister: With the greatest of respect to Lord Lipsey, I think that his figure was a guesstimate rather than an analysis. There are all sorts of unknown quantities involved, such as what the final size of the House of Lords will be, how many Members will be elected, the time scale and the transitional arrangements for those elected and for those who depart. Until those things have been decided, which I hope will happen in the coming months, it is impossible to come up with an accurate figure.

Conor Burns (Bournemouth West) (Con): Will the Deputy Prime Minister give way?

The Deputy Prime Minister: Let me make a little progress, if I may.

If we are to continue in the spirit of co-operation, it is essential that we are pragmatic. House of Lords reform has constantly been blighted by an inability to compromise, because of either pessimism on the one hand or purism on the other. Both must now give way. When we differ on the detail, we must not lose sight of our overarching aim, which is a more democratic and legitimate upper Chamber.

Members know my preferences for reform: I support a fully, rather than mostly, elected House and believe that Members should be elected by the single transferable vote to give the other place greater independence from party control. I shall continue to argue strongly for both, but I will not make the best the enemy of the good. I shall remain open-minded and realistic, and I hope that Members on all sides of the debate will do the same. On that note, I give way to the hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis).

Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): The Deputy Prime Minister is being very courteous in giving way. Does he accept that to elect two Houses by different electoral systems will lead to arguments over relative legitimacy? Will he put this particular voting system to

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a referendum? Why should we have a referendum on the voting system for this House and not one on the voting system for the other House?

The Deputy Prime Minister: On the first point, we have an array of different electoral systems already in this country, from that used for the European Parliament to that used here in London and those used in the devolved Assemblies. Those systems all co-exist. I do not think that we need perfect consistency of electoral systems, as we do not have it anyway. On the second point, when all three parties have committed to something in their manifestos, such as House of Lords reform, the situation is unlike that with electoral reform to this place, so there is not a similar case for a referendum.

A range of issues will no doubt come up today, and many of them have been brought up already. There are two particular areas of concern, however, that have frequently come up in debates so far, and I want to address them in turn. The first is that the Government’s proposals risk creating a second Chamber that is too powerful and the second is that Members will be elected but not properly accountable.

On the question of the balance of power between the two Chambers, it is simply not the case that the other place will rival the Commons—with 300 Members, it will be half the size. That is the number that we judge to be right, although we are listening to views on that question. Whatever number we settle on, however, the Commons will remain significantly larger, as is the case in the vast majority of bicameral systems around the world. Members of the other place will serve long single terms of 15 years with no prospect of re-election, keeping them a step removed from the electoral cycle of this House. They will be elected according to a different voting system, which will be proportional and will have, we propose, larger multi-Member constituencies, giving them an entirely different mandate from MPs. Their elections will be staggered, so that they will be either elected or elected and appointed in combination in thirds. That will mean that they will never have a more recent mandate than the Commons.

The two Chambers will remain entirely distinct. The Commons will continue to assert its authority through the Parliament Acts, through MPs’ decisive right over the vote of supply and through the Government’s need to retain the confidence of MPs in order to remain in office.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): The right hon. Gentleman knows my interest in this matter, which is to protect the power and functioning of this House. I do not know of any bicameral system that works as efficiently as the arrangements that we have at the moment. Every other bicameral system that I know ends up being deeply conservative and with the elected, mandated Government in the lower House being frustrated in implementing their manifesto by a second Chamber that becomes increasingly powerful over the years.

The Deputy Prime Minister: No doubt, those are the reasons why the hon. Gentleman voted for 100% election last time this matter came up for vote.

Mr Sheerman: I have several times voted for the abolition of the House of Lords, and I want that to be on the record.

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The Deputy Prime Minister: And for direct, full election, which is obviously something that I welcome—we are at one on that. To address the hon. Gentleman’s point, anyone in doubt should remember that there are 61 elected second Chambers in the world, and the overwhelming lesson is not the one that he has underlined but that they do not threaten the primacy of the first Chamber. As Baroness Quin, who was rightly cited earlier as having delivered an excellent speech last week, eloquently put it:

“Experience from abroad shows that second Chambers generally live within their powers. They cannot increase them unilaterally and they do not cause gridlock on the whole…Surely our Parliament, with its long and proud democratic tradition, is capable of creating a democratic, competent and respected second Chamber for the future.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 21 June 2011; Vol. 728, c. 1233.]

Andrew George (St Ives) (LD): On the 61 countries in which the second Chamber is elected, does my right hon. Friend acknowledge that in those countries there is a written constitution that clearly enshrines the relative powers between the first and second Chambers? I welcome many of these reforms, but I have many misgivings about that particular aspect.

The Deputy Prime Minister: It is the view of the Government that this reform, which is long-overdue and long-debated, can take place without the embellishment and framework of a written constitution.

Graham Stringer (Blackley and Broughton) (Lab): The right hon. Gentleman says that the Parliament Acts are the reason why this House will retain primacy, but they apply only to legislation that starts in this House, not to that which starts in the House of Lords or to secondary legislation. When the House of Lords overturned a piece of secondary legislation concerning large casinos that this House had supported, the right hon. Gentleman supported the House of Lords and not the House of Commons. That was the first time that that had happened since the Southern Rhodesia issue.

The Deputy Prime Minister: Perhaps I have not followed the hon. Gentleman’s point carefully enough, but that arrangement will not change. The asymmetry between the two Chambers rests not only on the Parliament Acts but on the different mandates, different terms and different electoral cycles of the two Houses, as occurs in the vast majority of the 61 bicameral, elected systems around the world, which seem to rub along perfectly well.

Sir Menzies Campbell (North East Fife) (LD): The hon. Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer) has said that this House has the capacity to overrule the other place only in respect of legislation that starts here, but it would be a very simple matter to change the law so that this House had the power to overcome the House of Lords whether a Bill started here or in the other place.

The Deputy Prime Minister: That is one of the many options available to both Houses to ensure that the deliberate imbalance between the two Chambers persists. As I have said, all the evidence from bicameral systems around the world indicates that that imbalance is perfectly well understood, whether the Chambers are elected or not.

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On accountability, given that we are proposing single, fixed, 15-year terms, some Members have asked, “If someone cannot stand for re-election, how can they be held to account?” That is a reasonable point to make and a concern that I understand. It is important to strike the right balance between increasing the democratic legitimacy of the reformed Chamber and preserving its independence from the Commons, and these arrangements are essential for that.

The longer non-renewable terms ensure that serving in the other place is entirely different from holding office here, separate from the twists and turns of our electoral cycle and more attractive to the kinds of people whom we wish to see in the other place—people who are drawn more to public service than party politics and who are not slavishly focused on their eventual re-election. That system guards against—dare I say it?—an element of political selfishness, ensuring that Members of the other place are there to do a job, not simply to pursue their own electoral ambitions.

Mrs Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest) (Con): The right hon. Gentleman has explained the accountability issue very well, but if somebody in the other place has no accountability, no electorate to whom to be answerable and no prospect of overturning anything that is done by this House, which is what the right hon. Gentleman has just promised, why on earth would anyone of any standing wish to become part of such a House?

The Deputy Prime Minister: As I know as a leader of a party, people are queuing up to get in there right now without elections, and I suspect that that will continue, because the House of Lords does an excellent job as a revising and scrutinising Chamber. There is a place in politics for people who do not want to become Members of this Chamber, but who want to play a role as serious scrutineers of legislation and holding the Government of the day to account.

Mr Sheerman: As the right hon. Gentleman knows, I represent Huddersfield, and presumably one of these 15-year senators, or whatever they will be called, would, theoretically, float above the two constituencies of Huddersfield and Colne Valley. They would be elected only every 15 years. My successor or I would be fighting an election every four or five years, whereas this person, who presumably might be from another party, would not get involved in my election, campaign in general elections, have any political will or conduct any activity at all. Is that what he is saying? A kind of neutered politician would float—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Order. Interventions should be brief.

The Deputy Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman has, say, six Members of the European Parliament floating around, as he puts it, in his area already, and I assume that relations are perfectly cordial. I do not want to cast aspersions on the future reformed House of Lords by comparing it too directly to the European Parliament, but the idea that politicians with different mandates, elected on different cycles and different systems, cannot co-exist, is patently not the case. It happens now, and I think it will happen in the future.

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By reforming the upper House so that it is more legitimate but still independent, we can ensure that it continues to function as an effective revising Chamber, able to hold Government to account, but with a new democratic mandate. We can preserve everything that is good about the other Chamber—expertise, independence and wisdom—but at the same time we can inject democracy into the mix and reform the Lords so that it is fit for modern times.

Mr Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): I am probably in a minority on the Government Benches, but I support a democratic House of Lords. Does the right hon. Gentleman not realise, however, that the complications that he has already put in place in the 20 minutes that he has spoken so far will help opponents of reform to frustrate what he is trying to achieve, whether it be 15-year terms, a partly elected or fully elected Chamber, or a proportional representation system? It is literally seven and a half weeks since the people of this country, in a plebiscite, had a chance to say, overwhelmingly, that they did not want a PR system in our Parliament. How can he possibly consider that this is the right way forward for democratising the House of Lords?

The Deputy Prime Minister: The two issues are wholly separate. More than that, if my hon. Friend has other ideas about how we can arrive at our shared objective of a wholly or mainly elected House of Lords, that is precisely why we are now creating a Joint Committee. That is precisely why we have published not a final Bill but a draft Bill with a White Paper and why that followed a process of cross-party discussion in a Committee that I chaired, and which in turn built on many recommendations of a cross-party nature over the years and the decades. It was not just an invention of this Government. The Wakeham commission, the Straw committee and others came up with many of the recommendations that we are now suggesting. If he thinks they are too complicated, I look forward to his suggestions about how they can be made simpler.

Mr Gray: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

The Deputy Prime Minister: If I may make a little progress, because I know many others wish to speak.

Our proposals are a comprehensive blueprint for change—there are 68 clauses and nine schedules. There is a lot to discuss. The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper) will respond to points raised in the debate in his closing speech.

The next stage, as I have just mentioned, is pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft Bill and White Paper on a cross-party basis by a Joint Committee of both Houses. I am sure that the Committee will take note of today’s debate in its deliberations, and we look forward to hearing its conclusions in due course. The Government’s plan is then to introduce a Bill next year in order to hold the first elections to the reformed House in 2015. There is clearly a lot of detail to be hammered out between now and then, and I hope that both sides of this House and of the other place will work together constructively as we move forward.

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The truth is that no one seriously supports the status quo. [ Interruption. ] The vast majority of people do not support the status quo. I am delighted, by the way, by the enthusiasm for change from Opposition Members, which is excellent progress compared with the previous debate. Everyone has committed to change and we must now be pragmatic on the detail, never losing sight of the basic principle at stake: in a modern democracy, people must choose their representatives. Let us complete the long journey of Lords reform once and for all.

5.31 pm

Sadiq Khan (Tooting) (Lab): I believe in a fully elected House of Lords. It is right and proper in this day and age that both Houses of Parliament are directly accountable to the electorate. I would like to remind the House where Labour stood on Lords reform at the general election. Labour’s manifesto stated:

“We will ensure that the hereditary principle is removed from the House of Lords. Further democratic reform to create a fully elected Second Chamber will then be achieved in stages.”

The Deputy Prime Minister has often suggested that the best is sometimes the enemy of the good—he used the phrase today—as justification for the proposals contained in the draft Bill presented to Parliament, which falls short of his own party’s manifesto commitment, but I feel very passionately that there is a principle at stake, the fundamental principle of having a 100% elected upper House. That is the right and proper outcome, and one which will deliver the democratic system that the people of this country deserve.

Dr Julian Lewis: Does the right hon. Gentleman not accept that the single most important function of our second Chamber is the revision and improvement of legislation? If we remove hundreds of people who are experts in their field and substitute them with hundreds of professional party politicians, what will make the latter better qualified to revise legislation in that Chamber than we amateurs are in this Chamber?

Sadiq Khan: I do not think that the second point necessarily makes the first point impossible; it is possible to have a second Chamber that is a revising Chamber and for all its Members to be elected. Of the 61 other bicameral Parliaments, none has an appointed upper Chamber. All of them are elected and seem to be doing a pretty decent job.

I am concerned that in other areas of constitutional change the Government have shown themselves willing to be less principled and more partisan. For example, we will see the number of MPs reduced from 650 to 600 at the next election, with no evidence for why we should lose 50 Members, which will simultaneously increase the power of the Executive. We have had 117 new unelected peers appointed to the House of Lords since last May, with more promised. Each peer costs £108,000 a year—we can all do the maths. There are now almost 830 unelected peers in our Parliament. We have seen boundaries re-fixed according to out-of-date electoral data that exclude 5 million eligible voters. We have seen Parliaments fixed at five-year terms, which was mentioned by neither coalition partner before the election, but is now mysteriously favoured by both. We have seen the political fudge of establishing a commission on a Bill of Rights, papering over the cracks between

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the coalition partners on human rights, and we have seen a failed referendum on the alternative vote. Those are some of the reasons why those of us who should be the natural allies of the Deputy Prime Minister’s plans to reform the House of Lords are suspicious of his plans and of him.

Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD): I, like the right hon. Gentleman, would like to see a 100% elected House of Lords, but if the choice were between 0% elected and 80% elected, given that so far we have waited 100 years, I would like us to make some progress and to get to 80% elected at least. In that situation, what would he choose?

Sadiq Khan: I would make sure that my leader, if he were the Deputy Prime Minister, negotiated properly for a fully elected second Chamber so that the problems that have been highlighted did not occur. What has happened—[ Interruption. ] I hear the chuntering both from Government Front Benchers and from Liberal Democrat Members, whose concerns and aspirations I will come to in a moment. We remember the sanctimony of Liberal Democrat Members when we were in government. I will talk about the progress that has been made over the past 13 years, but I accept that there was not enough.

We have also heard that 100 years is too long to wait for those who sit in the Lords to be elected, and those of us who want a fully elected second Chamber understand the wish to proceed sooner rather than later, but there are many issues that the Deputy Prime Minister has not addressed in the draft Bill or in the White Paper, and with the best will in the world it is simply unrealistic to expect the Joint Committee to have resolved them by February, as he wants it to.

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr Mark Harper): If the right hon. Gentleman is in favour only of 100% election as a matter of great principle, why when the House last determined the matter in 2007 did he vote for all the elected options that were on offer?

Sadiq Khan: The hon. Gentleman might not recall, but in 2003 this Chamber rejected all seven options, so it was important to ensure that some proposals went through. They went through, and both the party that he is now in coalition with and our party had in their manifestos a promise of a 100% elected second Chamber. We are not in government; the Liberal Democrats are.

The genuine obstacles and difficulties that remain require solutions, but they are not limited to the two areas to which the Deputy Prime Minister referred. First, we must identify exactly what we want a reformed House of Lords to do. My view, and I agree with some of the interventions from Government Members, is that it should continue as a revising Chamber that seeks to finesse legislation and, yes, on occasions, to act as a check on this House. We might not like it, and when in government we might all prefer to push our legislation through without any opposition from the second Chamber, but its role is an important check on this House and on the Executive, and that is right and proper and part of a healthy democracy. Too few checks are bad for all of us, and it is important that we preserve the balance.

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Sir Menzies Campbell: I am having some difficulty following the right hon. Gentleman’s logic, but perhaps he will help me in this respect. Is he saying that he is so committed to a 100% elected House of Lords that he would vote against an 80% elected House of Lords?

Sadiq Khan: What we have before us is a draft Bill, but we have also a very good Joint Committee, and I look forward to it doing the work that is required, within a sensible time scale, to come back with a Bill that we can all accept with cross-party consensus.

Mr Gray: May I invite the shadow Minister to rise from the short grass and the detail of exactly what is going to happen and, for a second, before he moves on to the detail of his speech, to address a fundamental question? Which aspect of the work of the House of Lords, as currently constituted, does he dislike or think unsatisfactory? If he can point to some part of the work of the House of Lords that is wrong, will he explain how it would be improved by electing 100% of its Members?

Sadiq Khan: The hon. Gentleman heard the speech from the Deputy Prime Minister, who gave a number of examples whereby the other Chamber—[ Interruption. ] I will give the hon. Gentleman an example. Is it right that we have 828 Members in the other place, all of whom, except for the 92 who by good fortune of their DNA have to go through elections, are not elected? That is not acceptable in a modern democracy.

There are those who have, I accept, legitimate concerns that a directly elected upper Chamber might seek to assert its newly found democratic mandate by facing down the Commons, and it is critical that the Joint Committee addresses that issue. After all, the primacy of this House must remain. It currently rests on two principles, the first of which is legislative. The Parliament Acts removed the powers of the Lords over money Bills and empowered the Commons to override the Lords on non-money Bills. The second principle underpinning the primacy of the Commons is drawn from the elected nature of its Members, so if we move to a directly elected upper Chamber it is not unreasonable for some to ask whether this House faces a threat to its primacy.

Graham Stringer: I will try to have another go at the point I made to the Deputy Prime Minister. In today’s edition of The Times, the previous leader of the Liberal Democrats, Paddy Ashdown, says that the newly reformed House of Lords—the Senate—would be able to stop this House doing what it wanted on a manifesto commitment. I was completely against the poll tax, but it was in the Conservatives’ 1987 manifesto. The Liberal Democrats want more power to go to the other place. How would my right hon. Friend guarantee the primacy of this House on non-legislative matters?

Sadiq Khan: There are big questions about the powers and functions of the second Chamber, and my hon. Friend has given one example of the anomalies that arise. The hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr Field) gave another example of the issues that those of us who are in favour of a 100% elected second Chamber need to address if we are going to win the argument not only in this House but in the other Chamber. That is why a simultaneous debate on

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powers, conventions and the relationships between the two Houses is absolutely fundamental if we are to get the reform right so that it delivers the bicameral system that serves our democratic needs effectively. Form and function go together, and I am afraid that there is scant evidence that that is recognised in the draft Bill and in the White Paper.

Simon Hughes (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (LD): The right hon. Gentleman is a reformer within his party and has a good political tradition, and the newly elected Labour leader has a similar view on this issue. Will he therefore be very clear to the House that he supports, and the Labour party supports, a bicameral Parliament with primacy in this Chamber and an elected second House, and that during this Parliament Labour will work with the Government to achieve that so that we can have elections in 2015?

Sadiq Khan: The right hon. Gentleman may not have heard everything I have said—it has not been that great so far—but I think I highlighted in the first 30 seconds the Labour party’s policy, and my views, on this issue. He can take it from us that we will do business with those who keep promises and whom we can be sure have a real commitment to a properly elected second Chamber.

It is obvious that many of the conventions that have stood us in good stead over decades are becoming increasingly defunct and will not serve us at all should reform proceed as planned. For example, the convention whereby the Lords will not continue to oppose legislation based on manifesto commitments for which there is a mandate faces a new test under the coalition given that it is not clear what can be considered its manifesto. Is it each party’s manifesto or the coalition agreement, which the electorate did not vote on? We will need to ensure that the rules and regulations that allow a reformed upper Chamber to continue to revise and scrutinise are in place, while continuing to recognise the role of the Commons. The second Chamber must continue as a revising Chamber, not a rival Chamber.

Jesse Norman (Hereford and South Herefordshire) (Con): Given the right hon. Gentleman’s strong commitment to honouring manifesto commitments, will his party honour its own manifesto commitment to insist on a referendum on any Bill on an elected House of Lords?

Sadiq Khan: The hon. Gentleman makes a good intervention. It is important that the Joint Committee respects party policy and manifestos, and I hope that it will do so in its recommendations.

The draft Bill does not adequately address these issues. Clause 2 simply states that nothing in the Bill

“affects the primacy of the House of Commons”.

That is inadequate and ignores work done on rules and conventions by previous Committees, including the Joint Committee on Conventions chaired by Lord Cunningham of Felling. The new Joint Committee will need to recognise this fact and seek to open up the issue of powers and conventions; otherwise, the reform process runs the risk of being fatally flawed.

Another area of concern is the length of term of those elected to a newly reformed upper Chamber. Increasing the democratic accountability of the Lords

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has to be one of our key objectives, but I am unclear how this will be best served through single 15-year terms for those elected. What do we do in a situation where some less diligent individuals are elected and recognise, almost straight away, first, that the next 15 years are now sorted and, secondly, that they do not need to worry about what the electorate believe or want because they will never need to face them again at the ballot box? Is this what we want in our second Chamber?

We also face the tricky constitutional issue of the future of the bishops. I recognise that we have an established Church and that a move to a fully elected upper Chamber would not accommodate our current system. Some have argued that if we allow the bishops to stay in the reformed second Chamber, we should allow representatives of other major religions to have seats. However, there are major practical difficulties, not least the fact that some religions do not have such obvious hierarchical structures as others, so it is unclear who would be their representatives—let alone whether it is right for organised religion to play such a central part in our political system. It is right and proper that this House and the Joint Committee debate such issues if we are to get reform of the second Chamber right.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): My right hon. Friend is making a very good speech. At the beginning, I was a little concerned that those of us who have consistently, even when we have voted tactically to frustrate some of the motions—[Hon. Members: “Ah!”] Yes, Members on both sides of the House have done that. Some of us resent the suggestion that we are anti-democratic. Those of us who believe in the primacy of this House want either the abolition of that place or a very weak upper House. That is the democratic position and it is due some respect from both Front Benches.

Sadiq Khan: My hon. Friend makes his point very well.

Another area that the Joint Committee will have to examine is the transition. What will happen to the existing Members of the House of Lords? One option is to allow them to continue until they choose to leave by their own volition or die. Even the option of a phased move over time leaves the question of which Members to keep and which to ask to leave. That would not be easy to manage and would not be cheap.

Mr Field: Is there not a precedent from what happened in 1999, when the hereditary peers whittled down their own number from 650 to 92? Will the shadow Secretary of State and his party support a similar situation if there is any sense of frustration from this Bill in the years to come, whereby the massively over-bloated House of Lords is reduced from 800 or so Members to 300, allowing each group, including the political parties and the Cross Benchers, to choose their Members on a pro rata basis? Might that not be an important poisoned pill to ensure that we get reform with some speed and alacrity?

Sadiq Khan: It is very unusual for me to be fair to the Deputy Prime Minister, but he did include that very option in the White Paper. The Joint Committee will have to look into that before a Bill is finally published in February, as the Government hope.

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We are also faced with the cost. Each peer, as I have said, costs £108,000 a year. The 117 new peers who have already been announced will cost £63 million over this Parliament. A transition that involves a 15-year phasing out of existing peers would therefore result in a substantial cost to the taxpayer. Other areas that need resolution are the size of the second Chamber, the impact of early elections, the electoral system to be used, and the need for a referendum for such a big constitutional change.

Between 1997 and 2010 a number of parliamentarians, including some very good ones, stood where the Deputy Prime Minister just made his speech from and argued for reform of the House of Lords. During that time, we made some progress in reforming the House of Lords. We removed 90% of the hereditary peers, created the post of elected Lord Speaker, separated our judiciary from the Lords by creating our first ever Supreme Court, and created people’s peers. We clearly did not go as far as we would have liked. However, as I am sure has happened and will happen to the Deputy Prime Minister, we encountered opposition to our proposals at every turn, most tellingly from his new political bedfellows. The Conservatives opposed our attempts to remove the hereditary peers from the Lords, most recently in the passage of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010. They undermined our attempts to reach a cross-party consensus on Lords reform throughout our 13 years in government. The irony is that this Government are embarking on Lords reform at a time when citizens up and down the country are more preoccupied with fears about job losses, their pensions and cuts to public services. They expect us to prioritise those bread and butter issues as well.

One great parliamentarian who stood where the Deputy Prime Minister just stood and argued for major change to the House of Lords was Robin Cook. When I look at the draft Bill and the White Paper presented by the Deputy Prime Minister, and when I think of the task facing the Joint Committee, I think of the words of Robin Cook on the evening in 2003 when the House of Commons rejected all seven options for reform that had been presented by another Joint Committee:

“We should go home and sleep on this interesting position. That is the most sensible thing that anyone can say in the circumstances.”

He went on to say that

“the next stage in the process is for the Joint Committee to consider the votes in both Houses. Heaven help the members of the Committee, because they will need it.”—[Official Report, 4 February 2003; Vol. 399, c. 243.]

Reflecting on those comments, I sincerely wish the members of the Joint Committee and the Deputy Prime Minister the best of luck in the challenge ahead.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Order. I thank both Front Benchers for making short contributions so that more Back Benchers are able to get in. There is a seven-minute limit with two minutes of injury time, but Members do not need to take interventions or take their seven minutes.

5.50 pm

Conor Burns (Bournemouth West) (Con): An Opposition Member referred in an intervention a few moments ago to something called the poll tax. Known, as I am, as a

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doughty defender of Baroness Thatcher, may I point out that she is recorded as saying that she was a great fan of the Polish people and would never have tried to tax them?

May I begin by saying to the Deputy Prime Minister, who concluded his remarks by saying that no one is in favour of the status quo, that I am in favour of the status quo, as I know many Conservative Members are? In that context, it is vital that as we have this debate we remember the words of Lord Denning, who said that two reasonable men may hold opposing views without surrendering their right to be considered reasonable. The tone in which the debate is conducted is incredibly important, and having known the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper), for more than 20 years, I know that he will handle it with great tact and dignity.

I welcome the establishment of a Joint Committee. Many of us on the Conservative Benches, and on the Opposition Benches, are open to reform of the other place but opposed to its abolition. To say that it has become too big, or that it is becoming increasingly political, is true, but that has happened not because of the other place but because of people down here sending too many people there. It is wrong to look to total abolition because of failures at this end of the building.

I am totally in favour of examining ways to improve the effectiveness of the other place. I hope to develop that argument over the coming months and feed it into the Joint Committee. We should consider retirement mechanisms, a cap on numbers and enshrinement of the proportion of Cross Benchers. We should also consider attendance criteria, because far too many Members do not come into the other place.

Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): Perhaps the hon. Gentleman is not aware that his noble Friend Lord Heseltine has not even made his maiden speech in the House of Lords. “Part-time” would not be a good adjective to describe him. Can the hon. Gentleman think of one?

Conor Burns: I can think of many, and it is not often that I am accused of being on the same side as Lord Heseltine. I remember telling Lady Thatcher a couple of years ago that he had not made his maiden speech, having been in the Lords for nine years at the time. Her reply was, “Well, look on the bright side, at least we haven’t had to listen to it.” Lord Heseltine is a very good example of my point—he says that he took his membership of the other place because he wanted the honour, but he did not want to participate. He has participated in fewer than 20 Divisions in the 10 years that he has been a Member of the other place. That was why I found it absolutely disgraceful that he came in the other night to vote against the referendum lock in the European Union Bill, which is going through the other place. Such examples show that the other place needs some reform.

Dr Julian Lewis: Does my hon. Friend accept that there would be no more accountability under the current proposals than there is at present, because someone who underperformed in the other place would have been elected democratically for just one term of 14 years and could not be voted out again?

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Conor Burns: My hon. Friend, as always, puts his finger on it. I will come to that precise point in a moment.

I remember some years ago knocking on a door when I was standing for Southampton city council for the first time, and somebody said to me that they thought there should be one major constitutional innovation in this country, which they deemed would improve our politics dramatically. They said that anyone who actually wanted to stand for Parliament should be barred from so doing. I have to say, sometimes when I look around and listen, I have some sympathy with that. The point of the other place is that it brings into Parliament people who would not dream of putting their name forward.

My noble Friend, and my predecessor’s predecessor, Lord Eden of Winton, asked some fundamental questions in a speech in the other place last week. On what basis would candidates put themselves forward for election to a revised second Chamber? Would they bear a party ticket, and would they be answerable to any form of mandate? By what form would they be chosen by the political parties? Would there be a risk that we would be putting more and more power into the hands of the party apparatchiks? Government and Opposition Members have seen what that manipulation can mean.

I do not know whether the Deputy Prime Minister has seen the suggestion of my right hon. Friend the noble Lord Eden that the Deputy Prime Minister should be based permanently in the other place and subjected to regular parliamentary oral questions. I suspect that if he thinks the response he is getting here is fierce, it would be considerably fiercer at the other end of the building.

I wish to deal briefly with the argument that reform was in every party’s manifesto. It was, to some degree, and the Liberal Democrats, who had the most pro-reform manifesto commitment, got 23% of the vote in the general election. Labour, which was slightly more lukewarm, got 29%, and the Conservatives, who were the most lukewarm, got 36%. There is almost an argument that if we want to do things on the basis of what was in the manifestos, we should remember that the most people voted for the party that was most lukewarm on the issue.

We have to ask ourselves, as at the time of Maastricht, when all three Front-Bench teams are united on something, how do those who dissent make their view known? I say to Opposition Members that they could do no better than listen to the words of the former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, who was very clear in saying that

“the key question on election is whether we want a revising Chamber or a rival Chamber”,

which was why it was a question

“not for one Parliament, but for the long term.”—[Official Report, 29 January 2003; Vol. 398, c. 877-878.]

Despite manifesto commitments, he twice committed himself to a free vote in the House of Commons so that every hon. Member could put their points across.

My biggest worry is that we will create a rival to the House of Commons and to the supremacy of this place, which we will come to regret. We will have the problem of mandate creep. It may start innocuously, but I point out the words of the noble Baroness Williams when the matter was last debated in the Lords, in 2003. She said that

“I want to say simply that, having listened to many speeches on the issue of the right of a non-elected House to challenge the other place, Members on these and many other Benches in this

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House declare that it is not our wish to be a non-elected House.”—[

Official Report, House of Lords,

26 November 2003; Vol. 655, c. 18.]

In other words, when that place gets more democratic power under an electoral system, which the Deputy Prime Minister is on record as saying he believes to be more constitutionally robust and right, its Members will not sit there and happily accept that they have no power at all.

Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole) (Con): I say to my hon. Friend that the Australian Senate is elected on a different, more proportionate electoral system, and it does not have that problem.

Conor Burns: And I say in response to my hon. Friend that it is at the core of Conservative beliefs that if something is working, one does not mess around with it. The other place is working, as is shown by the fact that we in this place accept more than 80% of the amendments that it sends back to us. It is playing its proper role as a revising Chamber.

There is one point of consensus on all sides. We want to see an effective second Chamber that works. I welcome the Deputy Prime Minister saying that he is open to ideas for reform and improvement, and as the Joint Committee embarks on its important work, I hope that it will consider ideas for improving the second Chamber from those of us who want to improve the status quo. We all want it to work in the interests of our constituents, but I am not convinced that the proposals that the Government have on the table at this point will achieve that objective.

5.58 pm

David Miliband (South Shields) (Lab): I apologise to the House for having to absent myself for a short period this evening.

It is nice to be able to speak in the House in full and enthusiastic support of the manifesto on which I was elected, and consistent with my previous votes in the House for 100% election and 80% election to the Lords, in 2003 and 2007. I look forward to getting the chance to vote on the matter again.

I wish first to dispose of three very bad arguments against proceeding towards an elected House. The first is that we need to sort out the functions of the House of Lords before doing so. The truth is that there is agreement on that point. The House of Lords is a revising Chamber not equal to the House of Commons, prevented by statute from pre-empting the supremacy of this House and established by law and by practice to persuade and restrain this House.

The second argument is that the public have got other things on their mind. The idea that the Government have a bad economic policy or health policy because they are distracted by House of Lords reform is frankly risible. We are elected to this place to debate the big issues of the time, and I do not believe that it is sufficient to say that this is not people’s main preoccupation.

The third bad argument is by far the most tempting. It is: because the Deputy Prime Minister is in favour of an elected House, is sponsoring the debate and will sponsor the Bill, it must be a bad idea. That view has many supporters in both main parties, as we will discover, and one can see the force of the point. When the right

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hon. Gentleman said before the election that he wanted to unite the nation, he could scarcely have imagined that people of all shades of opinion would come together so quickly to agree that he is not a very lovable rogue. However, although that is a tempting argument, I hope that my colleagues, especially Labour colleagues, will not fall for it. The right hon. Gentleman needs no help from either of the two so-called main parties to administer his fate, and there is a much bigger game here than the temptation to kick a man when he is down. The roadblock to reform is not, in this case, the right hon. Gentleman, but the Government’s puppetmaster, the Prime Minister. We should not be diverted by the temptation of kicking smaller fry.

The fundamental issue at stake is whether a stronger, more assertive, more legitimate House of Lords will be good for the governance of the country, not just in democratic theory, but in real life and practice. I believe that it would. I am a believer in strong government. I also believe that a strong Government get stronger and better when they are more accountable to a strong legislature. That is what we are debating today. That is a recipe not for gridlock but for better government.

Legislative strength is, in part, the way in which this House functions. Personally, I would have liked to see electoral reform of this House and the second Chamber on the same ballot paper in a single referendum, because we should debate the Parliament of the United Kingdom as a whole. The House of Commons and the House of Lords exist in relation to each other, not simply separately. However, following the alternative vote fiasco, that opportunity has been missed. None the less, it is striking that many of those who argue that reform will make no difference to the public also contend that it will mean the end of the House of Commons as the voice of the public. They cannot have it both ways.

Reform of the House of Lords is important to the strength and effectiveness of the legislature as a whole. That is why I argue for it.

Jesse Norman: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for reciting such a compendium of errors. If he is giving us a lecture on logic, how does he explain the contradiction of a Prime Minister, who is allegedly, in the right hon. Gentleman’s view, a puppetmaster, yet also an enthusiastic advocate of the proposed legislation?

David Miliband: The hon. Gentleman tempts me and I will deal with that exact point shortly.

To those who say that an elected House of Lords will be stronger, I reply, “Good.” It will be good for the House of Commons and good for Governments of any stripe to face more effective and assertive scrutiny, and, where necessary, revision of their legislation from the House of Lords. That is not the same as advocating the overthrow of the primacy of the House of Commons, or as saying that the House of Lords will be a rival to the House of Commons. This country’s democratic problem is not neutered Government, emanating from the House of Commons, but under-scrutinised, under-accountable, over-centralised and over-confident Government.

Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con): In the first minute of his speech, the right hon. Gentleman said that the House of Lords would not be more powerful;

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in the fifth minute, he said it would be. I think that it would not be a bad thing if the House of Lords were more powerful, but we ought at least to recognise what we are doing.

David Miliband: I am sorry to disappoint the hon. Gentleman, but I have my speech in front of me, and I did not say that the House of Lords would not be more powerful. I made the logical point that the House of Lords could have a stronger voice in the nation’s affairs; that it would not become a rival to the House of Commons, but that it could provide more effective scrutiny of legislation proposed by a Government elected to this House.

The problem in the current system of an over-centralised and under-accountable Government would be significantly reduced by an elected House of Lords. The simplest and most principled case is for a wholly elected House. It has my support. However, I do not accept the argument that the reservation of 20% of seats for independent voices, independently selected, torpedoes the purpose of reform. It is less pure than a wholly elected House, but it may be more practical. The argument that it creates a hybrid House is not strong, given the current composition of the House of Lords, in which the hereditary peers and the non-party peers are in a class of their own.

Let me conclude with some history, which addresses the point that the hon. Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman) made. I had the pleasure of writing with Lord Irvine of Lairg the 1997 Labour manifesto that committed the new Government to removing hereditary peers from the House of Lords. The wording was designed to pre-empt any queries from the other place on Salisbury convention grounds. However, we did not bank on the willingness of Viscount Cranbourne and his backwoodsmen to threaten the whole of the Government’s programme if we proceeded with the abolition of all hereditary peers. That was the origin of the then Government’s acceptance of the so-called Weatherill amendment, which reprieved 92 hereditary peers.

In speaking to the historic motion to remove some 650 hereditary peers from the Lords, Lord Irvine said that the compromise in respect of the 92

“would guarantee that stage two would take place”.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 30 March 1999; Vol. 599, c. 204.]

One reason for its not taking place is that, until now, the Conservative party has been officially opposed to an elected House of Lords. However, the Conservative Opposition in the House of Lords in 1999, in reply to Lord Irvine, said that it was absolutely crucial that one amendment to the Bill should be a timetable setting out exactly when stage two would be put in place.

Twelve years on, we are still waiting, to the shame of all parties in this House. Many of us fear that the Deputy Prime Minister’s Joint Committee will be another recipe for foot dragging. However, for the first time in centuries, the Conservative party has been dragged to support an elected House of Lords. Let us get on with bringing it about.

6.6 pm

Mr Mark Williams (Ceredigion) (LD): It is a great privilege to have the opportunity to speak in favour of the long overdue reform of the second Chamber. I

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welcome the publication of the draft Bill and the appointment of the Joint Committee. I am sure that its members, given their background, will do an excellent job of scrutinising the proposed legislation.

Although the draft Bill may not be the direct product of the joint discussions that have taken place so far, it reflects broad areas of agreement. I hope that, more importantly, there will be an opportunity for thorough pre-legislative scrutiny, to which hon. Members of all parties will contribute in order to make it successful. It is a privilege to follow the right hon. Member for South Shields (David Miliband), who reminded us that progressive forces operate on both sides of the Chamber.

As the draft Bill makes clear, those of us who are reformists do not want the new second Chamber to compete with this House, but to retain its role as a revising Chamber. However, it is important—and a fundamental principle for many of us—that Members of that House have legitimacy through an election. That is only way in which they can have legitimacy.

Perhaps the House of Lords has become marginally more legitimate with the abolition of the hereditary principle. The right hon. Gentleman rightly alluded to the fact that that was an evolutionary process. Attempts were made to remove all the hereditary peers in one go, but that could not be achieved and 92 remained.

Liberal Democrats passionately believe in a 100% elected Chamber, but we appreciate the opportunity for evolutionary change: 80%, with 20% appointed, must not be squandered—it is a huge step in the right direction. However, we must emphasise that this House retains primacy. As well as Members being elected for the single 15-year terms, we will have a different electoral system, which will ensure that power remains in this place.

Mel Stride: My hon. Friend makes the important point, as several others have done, that we must not upset the balance of power between the other place and us. Does he agree with the comments that Lord Ashdown made last Tuesday? He said:

“The fact that we do not have democratic legitimacy undermines our capacity to act as a check and balance on the excessive power of the Executive backed by an excessive majority in the House of Commons.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 21 June 2011; Vol. 728, c. 1190.]

Mr Williams: I do not understand what the hon. Gentleman means. I have great sympathy with my noble Friend’s comments.

The Government’s critics have mentioned a lack of pre-legislative scrutiny of other Bills, but that is precisely why we have set up the Joint Committee, which is about to undertake such work, and why it is important to have a robust House of Lords, which will continue its function in scrutinising legislation. As someone who worked in the other place many years ago, I understand the sort of detailed scrutiny that was undertaken.

The expertise in the other place has been mentioned. I must say that that debate is 20 years out of date. When I was there 20 years ago, I had the privilege of sharing an office with a former lecturer at the London School of Economics, a former chairman of the Independent Broadcasting Authority, a former chairman of the National Coal Board and a former Minister for the arts. The composition of that House is very different now. It is

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dominated by people who have served in this place. Without being rude to those people, they spend a short time on the red Benches and go native.

Stephen Williams (Bristol West) (LD): Does my hon. Friend agree that the expertise of the other place is a myth, because in fact there are many elected experts in this House? Experts have nothing to be afraid of in standing for election to this House. They could gain legitimacy to add to their expertise.

Mr Mark Williams: I thank my hon. Friend for that contribution, with which I of course agree. I simply observe that the points made about expertise in the other place are largely historical ones.

When the House of Lords operates well, it can make significant improvements to legislation, as we have seen recently in the passage of the Public Bodies Bill. I would hazard a guess that that will be vastly improved when it comes here shortly. That scrutiny role is vital, which is why we need to be clear on the role and responsibilities of a reformed second Chamber. My hon. Friend the Member for St Ives (Andrew George) mentioned the codification of those roles in a written constitution, but as my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister said, that is not the direction in which we are going.

Despite what some Opposition Members have said, the Parliament Act makes clear the primacy of this House. However, we need to make it clear to the public, who may not be as engaged in the debate as some of us would wish, that we expect senators or Lords, or whatever the Joint Committee decides to call them, to have a very different role.

Doubtless there will be questions about the size of a second Chamber. In this climate, the Government are absolutely right to have a streamlined House with committed Members. In the 2009-10 Session, only 281 out of 792 peers attended more than 75% of sittings; 85 attended less than 10%; and 46 did not attend at all. We need to ensure that the membership of the House is large enough for it to function adequately, and so that it can provide members for all its Committees and ensure healthy debate. I am not sure whether the agreed number will be 300, but that problem needs to be addressed by the Joint Committee. Importantly, the draft Bill alludes to the statutory appointments commission and independent 10-year terms for commissioners.

There is a risk of competing mandates, which should be avoided. My experience of Welsh devolution and the National Assembly for Wales is that there is no problem of legislatures and those who make laws knowing about their responsibilities. However, 12 years on, public confusion on the role of MPs and AMs remains. Perhaps that will wane in time.

Thomas Docherty: The hon. Gentleman cites devolution. I am sure he accepts that in Scotland there has been constant mission creep by MSPs on to Westminster territory, leaving aside the Scotland Act 1998. What guarantees can he give us that this House will not experience such mission creep by the other place?

Mr Williams: I can give the hon. Gentleman no guarantees, but that is one concern that the Joint Committee will address. I accept that risk, and it needs to be addressed. There needs to be specific reference to the

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four or six senators elected in Wales in the first tranche not undertaking constituency duties, and not competing with MPs or AMs to get on to the front page of local newspapers. Again, that points to the importance, as the Deputy Prime Minister said, of having different electoral systems and different term lengths to suit the different roles. Those guarantees will come from that legislation.

Although Members of the second Chamber ought not to have a constituency role, it is important to elect representatives from the regions and nations of this country and to provide a guaranteed presence, to end the bias towards London and the south-east. We have had some notable peers from Wales—the list is endless—and many still function there, but critically, they have had to rely on the patronage of the Prime Minister.

This is an historic opportunity to give legitimacy to the second Chamber and to remove the power of patronage. I accept that I have not had a huge number of e-mails or letters on this subject, but as the right hon. Member for South Shields said, that is not a reason to ignore the reform proposals.

Simon Hart (Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Williams: I will not, because time is very short.

During today’s debate, the proposals—[ Interruption. ] I anticipated being called to speak somewhat later—[ Interruption. ] I was about to say that the proposals have been characterised as a Bill. I would certainly lay that charge at noble Lords in another place. This is not a Bill but a draft Bill. There is much work to do, but it gives us the basis to develop a legitimate second Chamber which can undertake that scrutiny role. I was surprised that the Leader of the Opposition in another place described the proposals as a bad Bill. I sincerely hope that after the Joint Committee has finished, it will not be a bad Bill. She will have the opportunity to label it a bad Bill when the Committee’s work is done.

The draft Bill represents a huge step forward, and I hope that progressives on both sides of the House play their part in developing reform. I hope that we are not subjected to a Michael Foot-Enoch Powell 1968 holy alliance that stops otherwise sensible reform.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Order. I have never before heard an hon. Member complain about me calling them early, but there is a first time for everything.

6.16 pm

Graham Stringer (Blackley and Broughton) (Lab): I do not complain, Mr Deputy Speaker.

This is both a bad Bill and a half-baked Bill, and I shall certainly vote against it. It is not improvable in that sense because of the principles on which it is based. Admittedly, we are in strange territory with the new coalition, but some very strange policies and constitutional principles are coming out. First, in the name of democracy we are reducing the number of elected MPs and increasing the number of Members of the other place. That is pretty strange.

Secondly, the Deputy Prime Minister—I am sorry that he has left the Chamber—annunciates, as the basis of his support for many policies, that he can support

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any policy he wants, even if it is in contradiction to his manifesto, because he did not win the election. Who ever expected the Lib Dems to form a Government on their own? He is saying that because they were not going to form a Government on their own, he can support any policy he wants, irrespective of what he said to the electorate.

Thirdly—this is a difficult but fundamental point—reform of the House of Lords was in the manifestos of all three parties. However, that means that there was no differentiation. The electorate could not choose to vote for one party or another on the basis of what was in a manifesto. We have just had a fairly ridiculous referendum between first past the post and the alternative vote, but how much more important are making fundamental changes by introducing a voting system and changing the balance of power between this House and the other place? Are we having a referendum on that? No we are not, even though the electorate had no choice during the general election.

Duncan Hames (Chippenham) (LD): The hon. Gentleman mentions the lack of differentiation in the manifestos, but in actual fact one manifesto called for a referendum on the subject—the manifesto was for a party that was defeated at the election.

Graham Stringer: The hon. Gentleman may not have noticed, but all the parties lost the election. Nobody got a majority.

What is the problem? Is the problem in our democracy really the relationship between this House and the other one? I do not think so. Where has all the power gone from these Houses of Parliament? It has gone to Europe. Depending on which area people are in, 60% or 70% of our legislation is now passed by Europe. The proposals do not deal with that, but it is one of the most fundamental problems.

Within the power structure of our constitution—I accept that a lot of that power has gone away—the problem is not the House of Lords but the Privy Council, the royal prerogative and the fact that there is no separation between Ministers and Members of the legislature, which is almost never talked about when we compare Parliaments. It is fairly unusual in Parliaments around the world for Ministers to be accountable to themselves within a legislature. That is a big problem, and one reason why there is less Government accountability than one might expect, so the arguments for it are second rate and do not deal with the main problem.

Most of the debate we have had today has been about whether these reforms would affect the primacy of the House of Commons. If we introduce a democratic element into the House of Lords, it is bound to undermine the primacy of this House for several reasons. First, what would happen if we introduced proportional representation—STV or any other form of PR? Some Members of this House believe that PR is a superior and more democratic system to first past the post. The electorate disagreed, but that is those Members’ honest and openly held view. If we were to elect the other place by PR, it seems reasonable that they would then argue primacy.

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Secondly, is it more democratic to elect people who never have to go back to the electorate who elected them and account for themselves? I do not think so. It is just a method of appointment. Democracy implies not only the ballot box, but accountability in terms of justifying which way Members have voted. Otherwise Members could vote any way they wanted without any consequences.

John Stevenson (Carlisle) (Con): In the election to this Chamber, someone could be elected on a Thursday night and on Friday announce to the world that they had no intention of seeking re-election five years later. Where is the accountability there, according to the hon. Gentleman’s argument?

Graham Stringer: It is difficult to argue that the fact that individual Members of this House could say that they would not stand again is a justification for every Member in the other place never standing again. That would be a very odd argument to make.

My third point is one that the Deputy Prime Minister made a great deal of, and it is that the elected senators or Lords in the other place would never have a fresher mandate than we have in this place. However, that cannot be guaranteed. Even the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill contains mechanisms that allow for elections and one could still have elections twice a year, so we could get out of phase with the other place and their mandate would be fresher. They would then argue that they had primacy. I have never come across anyone standing for election who does not really believe that their view is the right view or who does not want to prosecute that view as hard as they can. Otherwise, why stand for election in the first place?

My final point is about how this House would assert its primacy if the other place were 80% or wholly elected. If legislation started in this place, it would be subject to the Parliament Acts. That process takes a long time and is of limited use. Further, some lawyers would argue that there are real difficulties with the second Parliament Act of 1949.

Much discussion and debate is not about legislation, but about policy. It is about secondary legislation, and some Conservative Members were pleased when the House of Lords overturned the decision of this House on a statutory instrument on the super-casino. That was not a principled issue of this House against the other place—people who did not like very large casinos voted against it, even though the primary legislation had been passed in this House. The House of Lords overturned a detailed decision—and that happened before they had elections.

I can see no situation in which an elected house would not want to have more power. That would mean that we would have less and we would not be dealing with the fundamental issues. These proposals do not deal with the biggest issues facing our society at the moment. International experience is prayed in aid of the Bill. In nearly every international case there is a written constitution, often set up by the British Government after wars or revolutions, when people have to define the various powers of the president, the legislature and the Government. We do not have such a constitution and the real fight in history has been between the House of Commons and the Government, of whatever stripe.

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Unfortunately, increasing the power of the House of Lords is likely to reduce the power of the House of Commons and all elected Members to the benefit of the Government. That is why this is a very bad Bill.

6.25 pm

Oliver Heald (North East Hertfordshire) (Con): I agree with the hon. Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer) that over the years power has gone from this place—to the EU, to the Government and to the devolved assemblies. It is important to bear that in mind, and the balance between Parliament, the Executive and those other bodies is something that we should debate in some detail on another day.

A respectable case can be made that the House of Lords works well. In recent years, we have had the issues of 90 days’ detention, attacks on jury trials and the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act 2006, which would have given Ministers the chance to overturn laws just by signing an order. On those occasions, the Lords came to the rescue of the country and did the right thing. It is an excellent revising Chamber and it does not try to rival what we do here. One has only to think of the contributions that people make there—we can point to Lord Heseltine, but I can think of other people who have gone from this place to the Lords, such as Lord Boswell, who is a member of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly, and others who do a very good job. The mix in the Lords is something that would never be invented, with all those landed aristocrats mixing with the bishops, a dose of Labour trade union leaders—[ Interruption. ] Yes, that includes Tommy McAvoy and other former MPs. It does work.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth West (Conor Burns)more or less said, “If it ain’t broke, why fix it?” But he suggested what I would call maintenance work—just servicing the vehicle so that it does not break down. Some changes could usefully be made, such as to the retirement age, and I personally believe that there is a case for a minimalist approach to voting. That is probably where I would fall out of step with my hon. Friend.

The last time we debated this issue fiercely—between 1995 and 1997—the background was the scandal of loans for peerages, as it became known. There was much concern that the method of appointment to the Lords was part of the problem. The right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) had a working party—of which I was a member—and we looked at all the issues. There was a feeling that we wanted to keep the 20% made up of the great surgeons and lawyers and others who make such an important contribution, so we needed an appointed element, but for the political Members there was a case for election. That could be as minimalist as simply saying that at the general election people would get another vote for a party—Conservative, Labour or Lib Dem—and the seats would be filled from the parties’ lists in that proportion. In many ways, it would be very similar to what we do now, but it would give an added respectability to the method of appointment.

Conor Burns: My hon. Friend is eloquently making the argument that we should consider a range of options, as we have done in the past. This House and the other place should consider a number of options, rather than just one, so I hope that the Minister will assure those of

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us with ideas for improving the system that we can look at a broad range of ideas, rather than just the one. There might be an argument for a small element of election, but I am not convinced.

Oliver Heald: I welcome that intervention, and I agree with my hon. Friend. In fact, when we came to the votes in 1997, an unclear picture emerged.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman is 10 years out—I think he means 2007, not 1997. Is not the most bizarre element in the argument against any form of election the fact that 70% of the present House of Lords take a party Whip, and 85% of those who attend on a daily basis take a party Whip? Surely those people at least should be elected.

Oliver Heald: Yes, the case for election is this: it would give the appointment mechanism for the political element of the other place an added respectability. I agree passionately that we do not want to set up a rival Chamber. It is important that we do not run the risk of two people, both in Parliament, representing the same area, and one interfering with the work of the other. I do not think that would be satisfactory. I am gradually coming round to the idea of a national list system: a voter would decide at a general election whether they were Conservative, Labour or Lib Dem, and the lists would be devised in proportion to the votes cast. However, I am quite happy to agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth West that we should consider a range of options. Some people say that we could improve selection.

Andrew Griffiths (Burton) (Con): Surely my hon. Friend would agree that a national list system would actually hand all the power back to political parties, which would put their placemen at the top of the list.

Oliver Heald: It depends how we view the people appointed under the current system. I happen to believe that the current system works pretty well but needs some maintenance. Those who think that the people appointed to the other place have been the wrong people, or that it has not worked well, might take a different view, but the benefits of a national list system are that it gives us elections, it does not create constituency rivalries and it recreates what we have now but in a way that has an elected element to it. It therefore answers one of the problems. It is just a thought, but it might be something to look at.

When we voted last time, in 2007, there was no clear outcome. There was actually a lot of support among Conservative Members for the status quo, and quite a lot of support among Conservative Members for 80:20. Then, at the end of the day, everybody—apart from me—voted for 100%. I am not sure why, but it was curious—

Chris Bryant: It was because of my speech.

Oliver Heald: It might have been, but I think it unlikely. I am not going to give the hon. Gentleman the credit because he mentioned 1997—or perhaps I did. What was I thinking? It was a terrible year.

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I think that the Committee will do useful work. There are a lot of options to be considered, and I think we should show respect for the work of the other place, and the fact that it does an excellent job and has saved us when we needed it.

6.33 pm

Susan Elan Jones (Clwyd South) (Lab): Article 21 of the universal declaration of human rights declares:

“The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.”

I cannot believe that in the 21st century anyone could seriously argue for a wholly or mainly appointed second Chamber. I believe that the nation should move to a 100%—or, if that is not possible, at least an 80%—elected Chamber. That the Deputy Prime Minister is fronting this charge should not prejudice us unduly. I, for one, would be pleased were we to see the end of that very British creation—peer creation. Under the Blair Government, the number of peers increased by 37 per year, but let us not forget that it was that Government who abolished 555 hereditary peerages—so a net reduction of 181. Under the Government of my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown), on average 11 peers were added per year, but under this Prime Minister—the Prime Minister who wishes, by non-consensual methods, to abolish 50 Members of this House—the number of peers in the House has increased by 117.

Mr Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): Is the hon. Lady aware that 50 of those were appointed by the current Prime Minister, and 54 by the former Prime Minister?

Susan Elan Jones: I would welcome the hon. Gentleman saying that he would support the consensual method for retaining the number of MPs. I thank him for that.

Let us consider where we are with the House of Lords at present. It is the second largest parliamentary Chamber in the world behind only—would you believe it?—China’s National People’s Congress, which has 3,000 members, and which meets for two weeks a year. It is not an upper Chamber. The House of Lords is the biggest upper Chamber of the 80 upper Chambers recorded by the Inter-Parliamentary Union, and the United Kingdom is the only bicameral country in which the second Chamber is bigger than the lower. It has been argued in this debate that somehow, as if by osmosis, the House of Lords works rather well. We have heard how it brings in the shy who would never stand for election—those rare creatures who suddenly, by osmosis, will find themselves in the second Chamber. I cannot accept that, and I cannot accept that we can seriously be thinking of any Chamber in this Parliament being predominantly or wholly un-elected.

The House of Lords reform White Paper plans to reduce the size of the Lords to 300 Members, but let us not forget the coalition agreement—even if, sometimes, the coalition partners do. The agreement states:

“Lords appointments will be made with the objective of creating a second chamber that is reflective of the share of the vote secured by the political parties in the last general election.”

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However, such proportionality might give us 86 more Tory peers and 99 more Liberal Democrats, and therefore a Chamber of 977 Members if no new Labour or independent peers were created. Some of the proposed transition arrangements to the new system would leave all the current peers alongside the new peers for several Parliaments, which would mean approximately 1,000 or more Members next door.

We have to go down the route of a more democratic upper Chamber. I would be slightly concerned to see 60 appointed Members. For all the good that the Bishops do as individuals, there is a case for giving the matter some consideration. I say that even though I am a member of the disestablished Church in Wales. We also need to consider whether the single term of 15 years allows proper electoral accountability. I was interested to hear that when the new Iraqi constitution was drawn up, the west commended it because it was democratic. There was a strong commitment to elections, but there was no mention of an upper House, and there was certainly no mention of an appointed Chamber. It is extraordinary that as so many countries around the world are exploring democracy—just think of the middle east—we are sitting in this House and seriously suggesting that there can be any merit in a wholly or mainly appointed second Chamber. The modernisers need to speak in this place for a new and modernised pluralistic Britain.

6.38 pm

Andrew Griffiths (Burton) (Con): Thank you for calling me, Mr Deputy Speaker, in this important debate. By speaking today, I am breaking a little pledge that I made to myself: I assured myself, when I was elected just over a year ago, that rather than be tempted to speak in every one of the interesting and exciting debates that we hold in this Chamber, I would limit myself to those debates concerning a particular constituency issue, or where my constituents were particularly concerned. I wanted to be the voice of the people of Burton and Uttoxeter, and in order to do that I was going to champion their views in Parliament.

By speaking in this debate, I am breaking that pledge, because not a single constituent has contacted me to discuss Lords reform. Not one e-mail, either pro or anti, not one telephone call, not one letter and not one person attending my surgeries has brought the burning issue of Lords reform to my attention. That is why I am so concerned to speak in this debate, because not only has that not happened in the past 12 months of my being an MP, but it did not happen in the previous four years, when I was busy knocking on doors and kissing babies as a parliamentary candidate. Indeed, in the 10 or 20 years that I have been an active member of the Conservative party, campaigning regularly, nobody has ever raised the issue of Lords reform with me.

Dr Julian Lewis: In support of what my hon. Friend is saying, let me point out that in response to a Liberal Democrat comment in The Southern Daily Echo in favour of House of Lords reform, I wrote an entire column saying why the House of Lords should remain appointed and not be elected in any way, shape or form. Not only was not a single blog post or letter of dissent directed towards me, but nothing was put in the paper, which only goes to show what a non-issue this is, in either direction, for the electorate.

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Andrew Griffiths: I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. He makes the exact point that while we are devoting valuable time in this Chamber to the subject—we will devote more time to this discussion over the coming months and probably years—our constituents want us to talk about things such as employment.

Andrew Percy: I want to ask my hon. Friend whether anybody in his constituency had ever written to him about fixed-term Parliaments or the electoral system, and whether he voted for those Bills.

Andrew Griffiths: I cannot agree with my hon. Friend. In fact, I have received quite a lot of letters about fixed-term Parliaments. Most of them came from Liberal Democrat activists who wanted me to vote in favour, so that point is not quite right. The reality is that our constituents want us to spend our time in this Chamber producing legislation that will have an impact on the things that matter to them. They want us to talk about jobs, the economy, schools and the health service. Above all, they want the legislation that comes out of this place to be the best possible legislation with the best chance of making the kind of difference that they want.

Conor Burns: When my hon. Friend and I were candidates knocking on people’s doors during the previous Parliament, does he recall the number of people who raised with us subjects on which the House of Lords was expressing their opinion and who urged this place to think again?

Andrew Griffiths: I concur with my hon. Friend. We heard earlier about a number of issues that the other place has led on, saving the nation in many respects. I commend wholeheartedly not only the work of the other place, but my hon. Friend’s earlier speech. My speech will be considerably shorter, because he covered many of the things that I want to say, and he did so more passionately and more eruditely.

Simon Hart: If one of my hon. Friend’s constituents was unlucky enough to flick over from the tennis this evening and instead watch him in action, what does he think their reaction would be? Does he agree that this debate simply contributes to the idea that what we do here is quite often irrelevant and a vast distance away from what we should be doing?

Andrew Griffiths: As my hon. Friend is, like me, a member of the Select Committee on Political and Constitutional Reform, he will know how passionate we both are about political and constitutional reform. We want to see a better Chamber and a better politics come out of this place, but all too often we are navel gazing by talking about the things which turn us on as political anoraks, but which have no impact whatever on the general public and voters at large.

Jesse Norman: Does my hon. Friend share my view that the process of scrutinising the Bill is likely to take days, if not weeks, of parliamentary time? Does he also share my view that it will be impossible to account to the electorate for how that time was spent when there is a fire in the economic engine-room?