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Andrew Griffiths: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We should focus on the issues that matter to our voters. I return to the original point: we are here today to debate the future of another place. Fundamentally, we should be asking ourselves what we want it to do. What is it there for? Fundamentally, it is there to improve the legislation that we put before it. It is there to polish—I remember the phrase, “You can’t polish”—[ Interruption. ] I cannot remember the end to that phrase. The House of Lords is there to improve the legislation that we send to it. It is a revising Chamber. It is there to scrutinise the work that we do.

Among all the people in this debate, both for and against—those in the other place, Ministers and experts—absolutely nobody has suggested that the other place does not do a good job in scrutinising the legislation that is put before it. To repeat the saying that has been used so often, “If it ain’t broke, why fix it?” One of the reasons why the other place works so well is the experts contained within it. We have heard from some people who suggest that perhaps that point is out of date, but when I look at the quality and the level of the debate that takes place in another place—

Chris Bryant: Have you been there?

Andrew Griffiths: I have indeed, on many occasions, and I suggest that the hon. Gentleman examines the quality of some of the debates that take place there.

Chris Bryant: Sometimes the Lords have excellent debates, but quite often they do not. I remember a debate on the Communications Act 2003 in which several hon. Members down that end of the building spent all their time talking about black and white television licences. Honestly, sometimes their expertise is rather out of date.

Andrew Griffiths: The hon. Gentleman is an assiduous attender in this Chamber. If he can honestly say that he has never heard anyone make a spurious speech or move away from the point in any of the debates that he has attended, he has obviously not been to some of the debates that I have sat through in the past 12 months.

Oliver Heald: I do not know whether my hon. Friend agrees with me, but one can go to a debate in the other place and hear Lord Pannick, a top lawyer, talking about the detail of a legal issue, or Lord McColl, a wonderful surgeon who has been involved in Mercy Ships. There is some marvellous knowledge there.

Andrew Griffiths: I should throw away the rest of my speech, because my hon. Friend has hit the nail on the head. The quality of the debate in another place is so high, because of the experts there. When another place has a debate on the NHS, it can rely on the comments of people such as Lord Winston. When it debates the economy, it can rely on captains of industry, ex-chairmen of the CBI and people who have taken small businesses and turned them into nationally successful businesses. When Members in another place talk about sport, they can listen to the views and opinions of a number of gold medal winners. Those are the kinds of people who are best placed to polish and improve the legislation that this place sends to it.

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I have taken a number of interventions, and I will now draw my speech to a conclusion. We should return to the central point, which is that we wish to send the best possible legislation from this place, with the best chance of improving the lives of our constituents. The contribution that the other place makes to that is crucial.

6.48 pm

Sir Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough) (Lab): I will not follow the hon. Member for Burton (Andrew Griffiths), but I will refer to him later in my speech.

The first ghost that I should like to lay to rest in this debate is the ghost of manifesto commitments past. It is a well known and well subscribed to constitutional position that the sovereignty of Parliament lies in the fact that Parliament cannot bind its successors. It follows that it cannot be bound by its predecessors. The point was made by the Deputy Prime Minister in response to a question from the Opposition Benches. The hon. Member for Bournemouth West (Conor Burns) has also referred to it, as have my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (David Miliband) and my hon. Friend the Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer). Thus, the vote in the last Parliament that there should be an elected second Chamber on the basis of 100% elected Members does not bind the present Parliament. That was the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) and by the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr Gray). Nor, I should add, are manifesto commitments binding when entered into by a party that has lost the election. Were that to be otherwise, I would have fought successive general elections on a 1983 manifesto commitment unilaterally to disarm our nuclear deterrent and to withdraw from the European Economic Community.

If a manifesto commitment is supposedly written in stone by the Labour party, which lost the election, why is the party carrying out a review of all policy—a review that is taking place over a year? My right hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan) tried to put forward a position for the Labour party as best he could, but he did nothing other than put forward a position that was entirely his own. It is not the position of the Labour party, and only when the Labour party comes out with its review at the end of the year will its position be clear. Otherwise, what is the purpose of the review? Why have it and waste one’s time. Why have a review on a policy when we already have one? How can that be?

The lack of logic on the part of my Front-Bench team is astonishing. [Interruption.] Any manifesto commitment by the Liberal party might have—[Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) makes a sedentary intervention. He was a great supporter of the alternative vote, and we know where that went. He now says he will commit the Labour party to a 100% elected Senate. I can tell him now that if he wants to divide his party, he should go ahead. We almost divided the party on the alternative vote—that did not happen thanks to those who supported the “No to AV” side, as we kept our heads down when the leadership supported AV. If my hon. Friend is telling the House that the Labour party has a commitment that it does not have for a 100% elected Senate, he will split the party. It is as simple as that.

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Chris Bryant: My hon. Friend knows that in political parties there are quite often issues that divide. One such issue is Europe, although he and I are on the same side on that. When it comes to the House of Lords, this policy was not devised without reference to party members; it went to a national policy forum, which increased the percentage from 80% to 100%. Until such time as our policy changes, that is our policy.

Sir Stuart Bell: It is not our policy, and my hon. Friend would do well to realise it. He replied to the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, the hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper) about debates in the other place. I will write to my hon. Friend, so he can read last week’s debate and the statement made by Baroness Royall, which said that the Labour party is divided on this issue. Whatever forum made an agreement, it does not bind the party until we come out with a new set of policy commitments, which will not take place before the end of this year. I can tell my hon. Friend now that if he wants the Labour party to go down the road of having a 100% elected Senate, he will not have my support.

Conor Burns: The hon. Gentleman makes the point that the Labour party is divided on this issue, but so is every party. That is why this issue has always been subject to a free vote in previous Parliaments. Does he agree that the coalition should be encouraged to do the same this time?

Sir Stuart Bell: We have to be careful about free votes, because one does not know where they will end up. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda has made a series of remarks from a sedentary position, which I heard and which I will not forget.

Chris Bryant: What?

Sir Stuart Bell: My hon. Friend knows what they were, and I will not forget them.

Chris Bryant: I did not say anything.

Sir Stuart Bell: Yes, you did.

Stephen Pound (Ealing North) (Lab): As ever, my hon. Friend has been illuminating the House from a position of great wisdom and experience. When he talks about parties being split, however, does he not accept that the Labour party might be split on the detail, the minutiae and the sub-clauses of the Bill, but that there is absolutely no man, woman or child in the Labour party who is against the principle of House of Lords reform in some way, shape or form?

Sir Stuart Bell: I would have reached that part of my speech, if I had not been interrupted from the Labour Front Bench by my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda. Of course we want reform of the House of Lords. The noble Lord Steel has proposals for the reform of the House of Lords. If it is a question of reforming the House of Lords, the proposals are already there. Why go to the expense when even the Deputy Prime Minister—he made an eloquent contribution today and the other day—cannot quantify the cost of a new House of Lords or Senate, as it will become.

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Mr Harper: The hon. Gentleman has explained the difficulties with the Labour party’s position. Given that he voted in 2007 for an 80% elected House of Lords, will he confirm whether that is still his position?

Sir Stuart Bell: I certainly voted for an 80% elected Upper Chamber, but never on the basis of proportional representation—never! A number of votes were taken on that occasion, but Members who were present at the time know that they were no more than wrecking votes or wrecking amendments. [Interruption.] My right hon. Friend the Member for Tooting voted for every motion put to the House that night. [Interruption.] He said so earlier.

Mrs Laing: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that he and every other Member has the right and the privilege to change their mind as circumstances change and that whatever the right hon. Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan) did or voted for in the past, he is entitled to vote for something completely different today?

Sir Stuart Bell: Just as Parliament does not bind its successor, I do not bind myself by a vote that took place in the previous Parliament.

Constitutional issues are the most important issues that the House faces tonight and that it will face in the future. The Deputy Prime Minister has said that this is a constitutional Bill, and he referred to it as such again tonight. It is so constitutional that it passes by the prerogative of the Whips, who cannot control how this House will vote when it comes to the abolition of a third of Parliament, as we understand it. Parliament, as we understand it, consists of the monarch, the House of Lords and the House of Commons. If we talk about democratic deficits for the Lords, when are we going to get around to the democratic deficits for the monarch? [Interruption.] If the Liberals wish to debate the democratic deficits of the monarch—[Interruption.] They should not say no. I am not going to see it in my generation, but future generations might see it.

I have witnessed anti-establishment of the Church of England views being put by Labour Members seeking the disestablishment of the Church through this constitutional debate. The time might come when someone says that there is a democratic deficit for the elected leader of this entire country. As I have said, these issues of constitutional importance cannot be dealt with by Government Whips or by a whipped vote on the Opposition side. The established Church has hardly been mentioned, but this is the reason why I have never voted for a 100% elected upper House. The established Church is part of our constitution. It is in every interstice of our life throughout the parishes of the land, and the Queen is head of the Church and Head of State. To start dismantling the established Church and to take away a third of the Parliament—and to keep the name of the House of Lords, when it will really be a Senate—is all part of the Government’s obfuscation, and they are being helped by my own Front-Bench team.

There will be a battle royal on this issue. If the Government wish that, so be it. If the Labour party wants to go down the road of proportional representation to allow the Liberal Democrats and their friends on our Front Bench to achieve for the second Chamber what they could not achieve for the first, it can count me out.

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Several hon. Members rose

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Order. To assist the process of more Back-Bench Members contributing to the debate, the time limit is reduced to six minutes, but injury time for two interventions remains.

6.58 pm

Mr David Ruffley (Bury St Edmunds) (Con): The draft Bill before us is not the solution to a 100-year-old problem, but it might be the precursor to many new problems being introduced into British politics. From it could spill unintended consequences: first, that the upper Chamber will become a less good scrutinising body; and, secondly, that the primacy of this Chamber will be fatally undermined.

The Bill assumes that the upper House’s composition should be decided predominantly by universal suffrage. I was struck by what the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Sir Stuart Bell) said. The reductio ad absurdum is that if this concept of closing a democratic deficit by having a universal suffrage franchise is adopted, it could result in the election of a head of state. I do not think that any Conservative Members are interested in that, but that is what we are dealing with.

The Bill’s proponents seem to be saying that because universal suffrage is good enough for this Chamber it must be good enough for the upper Chamber, but the upper Chamber does something radically different. It revises, it amends, it delays Bills to make us think again in extreme cases, and it has no control over money Bills. Because of its very nature, however, that revising Chamber requires a different set of talents.

We heard eloquent speeches from my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth West (Conor Burns), my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Andrew Griffiths) and others about the unique contribution that men and women with skill, experience and expertise bring to the process of revising and amending measures that we send them in order to make them better. I know many individuals with such talent and experience who speak and revise well in the upper Chamber, and they would not stand for election. Distinguished medics, Nobel prize winners and members of the arts community would simply not put themselves through the process.

Gavin Barwell (Croydon Central) (Con): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr Ruffley: I will, very briefly.

Gavin Barwell: I have a great deal of sympathy with what my hon. Friend is saying. I have had a chance to review all the appointments to the House of Lords since the general election. What proportion does my hon. Friend believe to fall into that category of independent-minded people who have never stood for election and have no party-political involvement?

Mr Ruffley: So many people are being appointed nowadays that I would not hazard a percentage, but I will deal with the point about nominations later.

David Mowat (Warrington South) (Con): Will my hon. Friend give way?

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Mr Ruffley: I want to make some progress.

It seems that we are being required to duplicate the mandate of this House, but why should we do that, particularly when it would lead to confusion and conflict? As night follows day, elected Members of an upper Chamber would be able to claim as much legitimacy as Members of this House. [Hon. Members: “No!”] An elected Lord, from my party or any other party, would be entitled to turn up in my constituency, or any Member’s constituency, claiming that he had a mandate on almost any issue he chose. What would the public make of that, and what kind of mandate would it be? Would it be based on proportional representation? There are two problems with that. First, any kind of electoral reform was—the last time I looked—rejected fairly decisively by the British people in a referendum earlier this year. Secondly, as I think my hon. Friend the Member for Burton observed, the system would be the creature of party machines—dare I say it, Whips—who would ensure that, on a national or regional list, troublemakers, perhaps independent-minded existing peers, were not placed on such a party list.

David Mowat: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr Ruffley: I want to make some progress.

The final objection to such a system, of which we have heard much today, is that an elected peer would be elected for a 15-year term, and during that period would be accountable to no one. Even on its own terms, the democratic argument seems defective.

According to the White Paper published earlier this year,

“The Government does not intend to amend the Parliament Acts or to alter the balance of power between the two Houses of Parliament.”

I must say, with respect, that that utterly misses the point. A democratised upper House would be stronger, and would have its own view about the balance of power. Once the power has been given to them, what Ministers “intend” is irrelevant. The Minister has said that there would be no change in the balance of power. How precisely does he intend to enforce that?

Jesse Norman: Is my hon. Friend as concerned as I am by the example of Scotland? Although Mr Salmond has no mandate to call a referendum on Scottish independence, it seems absolutely certain that he will do so in the next two to three years.

Mr Ruffley: That is an excellent point. We heard some sensible observations along those lines from other Conservative Members earlier. It would be a case of mission creep. It is not something that anyone would specifically intend and it would not be explicit in a Bill, but it would be implicit in the granting of powers to a new set of elected individuals who would claim legitimacy and a democratic mandate. I ask again why we should wish to duplicate the mandate that elected individuals have when those individuals are here, in this Chamber?

When it was studying the upper House, the Joint Committee on Conventions said that if the conventions between the Houses were to change—which would be inevitable if there were elections to the upper House—all the conventions and Acts involved in their relationship would have to be examined again. Will the Minister

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undertake to re-examine the conventions and Acts governing the delicate balance between this Chamber and the upper House?

Many of us are not luddites. We know that practical reform of the upper House could be effective in certain respects, and could make it more efficient. My hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth West gave us a flavour of some of the changes proposed by Lord Steel, who suggested the establishment of an independent commission that would limit the number of peers. He also suggested that the 92 hereditaries, as and when they died off, should not be replaced, and that peers who did not attend for a defined period should lose their right to speak and vote, as should those who committed serious criminal offences.

I consider it unacceptable, in this day and age, that in the last year 137 peers did not table a question or make any contribution to debates in the upper House. We can change that, and we can do so along sensible, practical lines that most Members of both Houses would sign up to tomorrow. The upper House should not be pickled in aspic—we should not be luddite in any way—but, although it can be improved, the Bill is not the way in which to do that. We fumble with the rich and delicate texture of our constitution at our peril, and we should beware the law of unintended consequences.

7.7 pm

Paul Murphy (Torfaen) (Lab): Before the Minister leaps up and tells me how I have voted on various debates on the House of Lords over the years, let me say that, like my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (David Miliband), I eventually voted for a 100% elected House, but for very different reasons. According to a rather bizarre tactic—I must confess that I did not quite see the logic of it—if I voted for that, the establishment of a directly elected House of Lords would somehow be prevented. [Laughter.] There it is; we were told that at the time.

Nevertheless, I want to put on record that I do not believe in a directly elected House of Lords. I am not attracted to the idea because I believe that we would elect a rival to this House of Commons, and I do not think that we would have a revising Chamber anywhere near as good as the one that we have now, although I do believe that there is a strong case for reforms of the House of Lords as it stands.

A Member mentioned Australia earlier. The lower House is elected by alternative vote—that is another story—and the upper House by single transferable vote, but over the years there have been serious differences of opinion and almost gridlock between the two Houses on various issues such as climate change. That could well occur were the upper House in this Parliament to be elected. The Prime Minister’s tutor Vernon Bogdanor, who recently wrote a book on the coalition and constitutional change, has said that in the event of disputes between the two Houses,

“a directly elected second Chamber would decrease, not increase, the power of the voter, by insulating Parliament even further from the voter than it is already.”

I am not persuaded in that regard.

The hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr Williams) and others have observed that the House of Lords does not contain the sort of expertise that it might have years

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ago, and that today it is packed with place-people from various parties. I am not sure that I agree with that. In last week’s debate in the other place, Lord Howe of Aberavon cited contributions to a debate on the national health service by

“two former deans of university medical schools, a practising dentist, a consultant obstetrician, a consultant paediatrician, a former GP, a former professor of nursing, a former director of Age Concern and the president of Mencap.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 21 June 2011; Vol. 728, c. 1195.]

I do not believe that a House of Lords whose Members were elected in the way suggested could provide such expertise.

Conor Burns: Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that even if the number of experts diminished over time with the increased number of appointees, that would be an argument not for the abolition of the House of Lords but for returning to having more people of expertise appointed to the House of Lords?

Paul Murphy: It is an argument for reform, not abolition. The bishops are another case in point. I am a Roman Catholic, not an Anglican, but I believe that the bishops of the Church of England offer a tremendous amount of expertise and experience to Parliament, and that they should still be Members of the House of Lords.

Duncan Hames: Does the right hon. Gentleman think that bishops voting in the House of Lords adds in any way to the expertise they are able to offer through what they say in that Chamber, and might they find it easier to remain in that Chamber if they were to desist from taking part in Divisions?

Paul Murphy: That is possible; obviously, such matters would have to be addressed.

Whatever our views about the Bill, I have to say to my Front-Bench colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), that I entirely agree with the Opposition Front Bench on a number of points—for example, a 15-year term of election is completely dotty. I hope that will be reconsidered, because it would give Members a long time in the other place without any proper mandate. As they are to be paid and their job will therefore be a profession, most of them will, presumably, be about 51 years of age upon election now that the pension rules have been changed, so that they can retire at 65. I hope that that proposal will be jettisoned, therefore.

I want to conclude with a few comments about process. When this House considered the constituencies Bill, the coalition was not a bit interested in consensus. Every time contributors to the debates both here and in the other place talked about the need for major constitutional changes to have a bedrock of consensus, the coalition Government refused to take any notice, but now that they want their way on the House of Lords consensus is the order of the day. I wonder whether this is a consensus of convenience, therefore. I believe that my own Front-Bench team should be rather sceptical about a Joint Committee and about being drawn into a consensus that in my view is convenient. We should not be gulled by that, and I think this particular constitutional change needs more than a Committee; it probably needs a royal commission to

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deal with it, rather than a Committee of politicians. Whatever sort of body it is, however, we must be very careful.

In all the years I have been a Member of this House, there has been a free vote on reform of the House of Lords. That should be the case whatever the manifesto commitments—and I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Sir Stuart Bell) that our manifesto commitment fell when we lost the election—and whatever the policies of the parties. Over the years, there were manifesto commitments and party principles and policies, but there was always a free vote for all the parties in this House of Commons and in the other place, and I believe that there should be a free vote on this issue.

Finally, I wish to raise the referendum issue. Some 100 years ago when the then Liberal Government introduced their first reform of the House of Lords, there was, to all intents and purposes, a referendum in that there was a general election on a single issue: whether the House of Lords should be reformed. Therefore, it is completely logical that we, too, should have a referendum on reform of the House of Lords. We had a referendum on whether we should remain a member of what was then known as the Common Market. We had referendums on elected Assemblies in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland. We had a referendum only this year on whether the powers of the Welsh Assembly should be extended—they were—and we also had a referendum on the alternative vote.

Lord Ashdown referred in his speech in the other place and in The Times today to people who hold my views on the matters under discussion as war horses, and to those who agree with me on the alternative vote as dinosaurs. Whichever animals we might be, the dinosaurs won the argument with the people on the alternative vote, and the war horses have the following in common with the dinosaurs: we want the people of this country to decide the constitutional future of this country in respect of the House of Lords, so let us have a referendum on this Bill.

7.15 pm

Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): May I start by warmly endorsing that suggestion, although I am afraid that a referendum would result in the triumph of hope over experience? I fear that the knowledge that this proposed reform of the House of Lords to a primarily elected or all-elected Chamber would not get past a referendum ensures that no referendum will be offered to the British people.

I have been trying to think of what I might contribute to this debate that has not been said before and that might not be repeated subsequently, and in the end I have come up with a little personal experience, which I hope the House will indulge me in discussing. It has often been my silent boast to myself that I did far more in affecting legislation before I became a Member of Parliament than I have managed subsequently. In fact, I have only once managed to affect legislation going on to the statute book since I was elected to this House in 1997, and that was over the issue of MPs’ home addresses not being made public in response to freedom of information requests. I was able to win that change only because the then Labour Government had the decency to give the House a free vote.

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I influenced legislation on three occasions prior to becoming a Member of this House, however, thanks to the House of Lords and the way in which it functions. The first of the three occasions was to do with the Trade Union Bill of 1984. The then Thatcher Government did not propose to make postal ballots for trade union elections compulsory. The issue was passionately raised in the House by Conservative Back Benchers, and most prominently by my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh)—who was in the Chamber until very recently but has sadly slipped out just at the wrong moment—but their arguments were brushed aside. In the House of Lords, however, an amendment that trade unions should conduct their elections by postal ballot rather than the raising of hands in unrepresentative branch ballots was discussed in great depth and at great length, and that amendment was carried on the strength of the argument. Of course, there was no question of that surviving into legislation without the agreement of the democratically elected lower House. Precisely because Members in the upper House had recognised the strength of the argument and had taken the trouble to amend the Bill, when it came back to the lower House, although the Government did not accept the amendment in full, they at least made a determination that trade union postal ballots should become the norm. In subsequent years they did not become the norm, however, so in 1988 that measure was brought in against that test, which would not have been in place but for the intervention of the upper House. Subsequently, trade union postal ballots were made compulsory in the 1988 Act. My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough has now returned to the Chamber, having just missed my recent reference to him.

The second campaign was to do with the fact that in the 1980s many ideological disputes and divides were finding their way into the school classroom. Once again, we could not get an amendment considered seriously in the lower House, but it was taken very seriously in the upper House. The Bill that became the Education Act 1986 was amended in the upper House to ensure that political issues were raised in the classroom in a balanced and responsible way. When the Bill returned to this Chamber, the amendment’s merit was recognised and it was kept.

Finally, the same thing happened with the Bill that became the Broadcasting Act 1990. Questions of due impartiality for politically controversial subjects were enshrined in law as a result of changes made in the upper House.

The whole point is that in the upper House there are not only experts but people who can make changes to Bills that would be whipped out of existence if they were introduced in the lower House. If we go down the road of having a fully elected upper House, we will simply increase the number of Members of Parliament by a total of 300. They will be whipped in that place in the same way as they are in this place and the prospects of their being able to make changes that will survive the process in the democratic lower House will be lost.

Gavin Barwell: I am partly giving my hon. Friend an opportunity to finish his argument in the time allowed to answer my intervention, but I also ask him to consider

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the model in the draft Bill, which is 80% elected and 20% appointed. That does not seem, at least from the study I have done of the appointments since 2010, to be that different from the ratio in the upper House at the moment between political appointees and those who might be classified as independent experts. Why does he think there is a danger with the 80:20 model?

Dr Lewis: My hon. Friend makes a fair point, which was made by Lord Ashdown in his article in The Times. He said:

“As for wisdom versus democracy, well I concede that there is a reservoir of expertise in the Lords.”

He went on to say that

“maybe we should preserve this 20% if they are independently appointed”,

much though he would prefer to follow the 100% model.

On the question of experts, nobody is denigrating the potential expertise of people who become party political professionals when they enter this House. I am not saying that the average level of intelligence or articulateness in this House, whatever people might think, is lower than the average level of the same qualities in the other House, but the fact remains that those of us who chose in our 30s or 40s to become professional politicians gave up the chance of reaching the pinnacles of expertise that we might have reached if we followed other careers. If we make the proposed change, we will find that people who reach the pinnacles of their profession will no longer be part of the legislative process and that will be our loss.

7.22 pm

Mr Pat McFadden (Wolverhampton South East) (Lab): After many years of debate on this issue, it might be thought that there is little new to say. It is important, however, and the first thing we should do is leave aside the argument that because the subject is not raised very often on the doorstep and because other pressing issues face our nation we should somehow set it aside. If we took that view, we would never carry out any constitutional reform, so I do not think it should be the starting point for the debate.

The debate is important because in the past the House of Lords has been at the heart of sometimes titanic struggles with the Commons. If we look at our history, we can see that the Lords stood for old interests and old power. That is less so today, but historically it was true. When the great reforming Labour Government were elected at the end of the second world war and there were practically no Labour peers in the House of Lords, they felt the need for the Salisbury convention, which said that the House of Lords would not oppose manifesto commitments carried through by the elected Government of the day.

The discussion about reform always starts with composition and percentages. Indeed, as we have heard, when we discussed this matter a few years ago we had a series of votes on the percentages—20%, 40%, 60%, 80% and so on—with little discussion about the relationship between the two Houses.

The first point to be made about the argument on an elected Parliament is that we already have a 100% elected House of Commons. The discussion often takes place as though the House of Commons does not exist, but

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that must be the starting point for debate. It is a crucial part of our democratic system that general election day is the decisive democratic moment for the country. That is valued by the voters and if anyone doubts it, they need only look at the referendum result a couple of months ago.

The second and closely related flaw in the traditional argument is the assumption that we can change the democratic legitimacy of the upper House and nothing else will change. The Government’s document and draft Bill repeat that assertion, and clause 2 states:

“Nothing in the provisions of this Act…affects the primacy of the House of Commons”.

It is simply not possible, however, for a second Chamber to be elected without the power relationship between the two Houses being changed. There is no way that politicians elected to the second Chamber will not do their job by asserting themselves and claiming the authority that comes from democratic election in doing so. I have some experience of such reform as an adviser during Labour’s first term of office, when we removed the bulk of the hereditary peers. Even that fairly minor reform was responded to with the threat that from that moment on, the Salisbury convention would be taken off the table. If that was the response to a fairly minor reform, there will also be a similar response to a much more far-reaching reform, such as the one under discussion.

We can decide whether we want a second Chamber that is 80% or 100% elected, but we must also follow the logic of that argument. This is not a cosmetic change. After all, what would be the point of asking the public to take part in elections for the second Chamber if they did not really matter? They will matter. An elected second Chamber would mean a recasting of the relationship between both Houses and would certainly claim greater legitimacy and alter the nature of general election day in the future. Some Members may welcome that, as my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (David Miliband) did earlier, but let none of us deny that it will be the case.

There are other consequential changes, some of which are discussed in the Government White Paper, to do with pay, pensions and so on. I do not believe that they are fundamental and I think we should take the decision on its merits, not by adding up the cost of a Member of the House of Lords or House of Commons. I mention in passing that the Government will give this elected second Chamber the gift of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, and I wish its future Members all the best with that relationship.

There is one difference between the proposals and the situation for Members in the Commons and that is that the second Chamber will be given democratic legitimacy but not accountability, because of the single 15-year term. The accountability that informs us daily will not inform the Members of the second Chamber.

The second Chamber is in need of reform. It is too big and too many people do not turn up, and we ought to be able to do something about such things. There is also the question of the separation of peerage and membership of the House of Lords. I do not stand here opposed to all reform, but I do say that although Parliament can choose to have an elected second Chamber, we must follow the logic of what that will mean. If the Government say that such an alteration will not change the relationship, they will have to do far more in their Bill to ensure that that is the case.

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7.28 pm

Mr Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden) and I think I agreed with virtually everything he said. There have been some outstanding independent-minded speeches from hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber, including three excellent speeches: the last speech and those made by the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Sir Stuart Bell) and the right hon. Member for Torfaen (Paul Murphy). I agree with them all. It is a bit of a pity, if I might say so, that the Deputy Prime Minister did not stay for longer, because this is an important constitutional issue. I know that a lot of people in the Dog and Duck are not very exercised about it, but why should they be? It is an important debate and it is important that the Government should listen to it. I know the Minister is listening. Virtually every speech we have heard has been thoughtful and very critical of the proposals and it would be highly regrettable if the changes were forced through on a three-line Whip. I believe that the House of Commons should consider all the options very carefully and by all means come to some sort of compromise, but it would be regrettable to force this through on a three-line Whip, with people who have taken no part in the debate, who perhaps have very little interest in it and who have their careers to look after, being poured in, especially given that the proposal was not in a manifesto. Let us consider that.

I sympathise with the Deputy Prime Minister in a sense, because he has an impossible task. In the absence of a written constitution he is trying to create an elected second Chamber that is not a rival to the House of Commons, but that is a virtually impossible task. He has therefore come up with the idea, which was well summed up by the right hon. Member for Torfaen as “dotty”, of electing people for a single, 15-year term. We really have to kill that idea; I am not aware of any other major legislature in the world that does that. The points have been made again and again, so I do not need to repeat them. Those people will be elected but unaccountable, and what sort of life will they lead if they are in the House of Lords for 15 years and never have to stand again? Is the senator for the east midlands, which is a vast area, really going to want to go and talk to Poverty Action in Nottingham on a rainy Saturday night, or to their local party in Leicester on a wet Friday evening? That is not going to happen. Those people will be sitting in the Lords knowing that they are never going to be allowed to stand again—so, unaccountable in that sense—but they will claim that they are elected, and it is for the birds to suggest that they will not take on this House. Of course they will, especially if they think they are more representative because we are elected under this old-fashioned, first-past-the-post system—which by the way people quite like, but let us forget the people for a moment—and they are elected under a much more democratic, proportional representation-type system.

I think it is the worst possible system and I say to the Minister that it does not address the real problem. The problem is not a great constitutional dispute between the people and the House of Commons or between the House of Commons and the House of Lords: the problem is that there are too many Members of the House of Commons who are not sufficiently independent, because, yes, they are elected but, quite rightly, they are

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ambitious and they want to be Ministers as the only outlet for their energy. I suspect that once the people in the Lords are elected for their 15-year term, they will start off with all the joys of spring but will very soon be like the rest of us—they will want to become Government Ministers and they will be as much under the thumb of the Executive as most Members of Parliament are. So what will the changes achieve? Having just got rid of 50 Members of Parliament, because, apparently, too many of us are under the thumb of the Executive, why are we creating another 280-odd up there who, after a couple of years, will also want to become Ministers?

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): Why, if the other Chamber is to be a revising Chamber, should there be Ministers in a reformed House of Lords? This Chamber could be well distinguished as having primary powers by being the only seat of Government Ministers—not the other Chamber.

Mr Leigh: That was an excellent intervention. There are many other legislatures in the world, such as the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate, in which one cannot be a Minister. That is why Senators in the United States are much more independent of the Executive than Members of Parliament here are. If we were to create an elected Chamber, why not have a rule that nobody up there who was elected could become a Minister? Then, perhaps, they would be free from the powers of patronage, which strongly militate against genuinely free debate in this Chamber.

Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab): What we should be talking about is what the House of Lords is for and what it should be doing, but all we are talking about is whether it should be fully elected, fully appointed or 80:20. We should really be concentrating on what its key role is.

Mr Leigh: That is absolutely right. Perhaps we have spent too much time, even this afternoon, talking about methods of election rather than about the sort of men and women whom we want in the second Chamber and what sort of job we want them to do. Apparently, the sort of men and women we want are people of expertise who are good at revising legislation, and I submit that we have very large numbers of dedicated Members of the second Chamber who do precisely that. Of course, there are some who are lazy, corrupt or bad—and some are good, some are old and some are young—but there are scores of people up there who do their job as men and women of expertise in revising and improving legislation. Let us concentrate on the sort of people we want up there rather than being absolutely obsessed by the methods of election.

Chris Bryant: The hon. Gentleman rightly says that one of the most important things in the second Chamber is having a number of people of independent mind. Is it his experience that party leaders, when recommending people to go into the second Chamber, primarily think about their independence and their voting record in this House?

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Mr Leigh: I suspect that a lot of the people taking part in this debate would quite like to end up in the other place—we all have fallible human natures. No doubt Prime Ministers reward their acolytes, friends and people who have been in the Cabinet—we all know that goes on—but before we get terribly excited about the concept of an independent appointments commission, let us consider whether it would produce a House of Lords that was necessarily superior in intellect or whether it would just produce the same old great and good from the liberal establishment and ensure that nobody of idiosyncratic views, such as myself, perhaps, or my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), would ever end up in the other place. I am not sure I accept that the concept of prime ministerial patronage is altogether wrong.

Why is the Deputy Prime Minister fixated on the concept of PR? It will not only ensure that the Lords will claim democratic legitimacy but will allow our right hon. and hon. Friends on the Liberal Democrat Benches to have a gridlock on legislation. It will make it more and more difficult for those on the radical left or the radical right to come up with ideas that will actually get into legislation. Why do we want that kind of gridlock? In the remaining seconds of my speech, I contend that what we have in the House of Lords is not so very bad. It reflects our history and traditions and I would have thought that, as Conservatives, that is what we are about. We are about preserving what is best in our history and I very much hope that as this debate proceeds to its final conclusion, there will be a blocking mechanism from the old left and the old right to throw this proposal into the dustbin of history, where I believe it belongs.

7.37 pm

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): I follow the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh) perhaps agreeing with his last observation—that what we will see is a coalition of reaction against reform and change from the traditional right and the traditional left. Essentially, when we talk about House of Lords reform, we have a situation in which so many people consistently aspire to a democratic Chamber but then consistently conspire to sustain the undemocratic status quo. That is happening on both sides of the House. I agree with other hon. Members that this has been a good debate up to a point. I do not know how many Lords-in-waiting we have heard from in the debate, but we have definitely heard from some, and—surprise, surprise—it is clear where they stand. They see themselves moving into a slightly adjusted, slightly reformed Chamber, but certainly not a democratic one.

To my mind, the Joint Committee is going to be a mixture of hypocrisy meeting up with futility on the way back from apparent amnesia about people’s positions, and it will be detained by self-interest in various forms. We have a situation in which people who said they were committed to democratic reform of the House of Lords in the past now say that they did not mean to vote for it because it was just a tactic and they cannot even remember why the tactic was needed. That is not a very believable case against reform. As I said on the day that the Deputy Prime Minister made his statement about the draft Bill, I fear that this is going to be another situation where we have a penalty shoot-out in which no one scores, with everyone putting their case for reform.

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Some say there cannot be reform without consensus, but the same people also say, “And by the way, because we don’t trust consensus, we want to make sure that there are free votes on any proposals.” We also had the nonsense of the scratchcard idea. Everybody could vote for different proportions of electability to the second Chamber, safe in the knowledge that there would never be a sufficient cluster around any one for there to be a clear outcome. So I am not impressed with some of the arguments that I have heard.

I have some sympathy with some of the arguments against some of the proposals. We run up against the tensions that have been created by the constituencies part of the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill. House of Commons constituencies will change every five years, possibly significantly. If Northern Ireland loses a seat, all our constituencies will change relatively significantly, and MPs may feel that it is more difficult for them to deal with changing constituencies if there are elected Members of the other House who sit there for 15 years without having to worry about boundary changes or anything else. I accept that point only in relation to how it affects the position of MPs, but I do not accept that this Chamber would be at all undermined by an elected second Chamber if that second Chamber had a clear, limited role in relation to qualitative revision of legislation. That is one reason why I do not agree with the proposal in the draft Bill for supernumerary Members to accommodate the appointment of temporary Government Ministers.

Conor Burns: As the Bill stands, I fully accept what the hon. Gentleman says, but is there not the potential for a creep in that over time? In the event of a conflict, if both Houses were elected and one had a fresher mandate, it could claim that it had an equal voice in the debate.

Mark Durkan: I do not share the hon. Gentleman’s worry that the danger lies there. I believe that the danger lies in this Chamber. Many hon. Members, including my hon. Friends, have asserted the primacy of this Chamber, but they are the same people who slavishly accept the bizarre convention that operates in this House that the Government will not accept amendments in this Chamber, even when they accept that they are right and logical and make sense, but will instead concoct their own version. The unelected Chamber then gets this great score rate of all the significant amendments, precisely because that is the way this Chamber accepts it. This Chamber accepts being bound and trussed with programme motions that everyone complains about but then votes for, just as everyone says they want House of Lords reform, but manage then always to conspire against it, and somehow there is a sufficient coincidence of objection to one proposed reform or another. I would worry whether this Chamber is up to the challenge. Perhaps the challenge of an elected Chamber next door is what this Chamber needs for it to assert itself a bit more against the Executive. Moreover, if the Executive seek to have Government Ministers only in this Chamber, that too would be an improvement.

Andrew George: The hon. Gentleman makes a good argument in favour of reform of this Chamber. Does he not accept that in the White Paper, under the section on powers, it is clear that the Government have no intention of addressing the issue of the existing conventions?

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There is no intention to codify them in any form, so there is a chance of the leach of power from one Chamber to the other.

Mark Durkan: That is only if the measures go forward as they are in the Bill. That is not an argument for the status quo; it is an argument for getting necessary change and getting it right, making sure that there are clearly distinct roles and powers. Those distinctions will be clear in the minds of Members of the respective Chambers and in the minds of the public who will be separately and distinctly electing people.

There is the idea that one form of election will trump another. In Northern Ireland, even those parties that defend the first-past-the-post system for elections to this House all agree that the elections for our three seats in the European Parliament should be by single transferrable vote, because it is fairer, better, safer and avoided geo-sectarian tensions and everything else. At no point are the mandates of MEPs used to trump or override the individual mandates of MPs in any sense. If we clearly distinguish between the two Chambers in how we work and function, there will not be a problem.

There is also the issue of other supernumerary members, not just those appointed temporarily as Ministers, but the bishops from the Church of England. I do not believe that that should be the case. However, from my own background and experience, I am obviously very aware of religious and constitutional sensitivities. If representation is to continue, there is no reason why there should not be some sort of pastoral Bench in the second Chamber, for, yes, Church of England bishops, but for other faith interests as well, perhaps without the right to vote, but with the right to address issues so that they can offer their sincere reflections without being trapped into various procedural devices and partisan ruses. Many of those pastoral interests might prefer to speak without the bother of the vote or being caught having to decide between amendments here and particular votes there. If we have 80% election, part of the 20% could be elected or approved indirectly through some of the devolved Chambers, and perhaps that could include some of the faith interests and some pastoral representation as well.

We need to think reform through a lot more than is provided for in the Bill, and we need to use the Committee to improve it. Unfortunately, I note that the only two parties in the Chamber that have never appointed anybody to the House of Lords—that have always refused to do so on principle—are not involved in the Committee. We are serious about reform; I am not sure if anybody on the Committee is.

7.46 pm

John Stevenson (Carlisle) (Con): On 18 August 2011 it will be the 100th anniversary of the Royal Assent of the Parliament Act, which has been used on only seven occasions. It is probably one of the most important, if not the most important, Acts of Parliament, for the simple reason that it establishes the primacy of the House of Commons over the House of Lords.

Having read some of the debates from 1910 and 1911 on the Parliament Bill, I find it interesting that at that time further change was expected. Indeed, the preamble to the Bill actually states this. No less a person than

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Winston Churchill said that the Parliament Bill was not meant to be the last word but the first. Speaking in the 1911 debate, he said that further legislation would include

“a measure for creating that fair and evenly constituted second chamber.”—[Official Report, 22 February 1911; Vol. 21, c. 2036.]

It is clear that when the Parliament Bill was being debated back in 1911, further reforms were intended. At that time, some suggested the abolition of the House of Lords and that we should have just one Chamber but generally, overall, the view was that there should be two Chambers, and that view still prevails today. Interestingly, during the last 100 years we have effectively had a muddle. We had legislation in 1949, 1958, 1963, and more recently in 1999, but we have ended up in a thoroughly unsatisfactory mess. We now have an opportunity to put that right.

All three main parties in their manifestos have made a commitment, however lukewarm, to reforming the House of Lords. We have been talking about reform of the House of Lords for years, and it is about time that we got on and reformed it in such a way that we do not need to be debating it for the next 100 years but have a settled will. To achieve that, two key issues need to be dealt with. The first is the principle of reform, and the second is the practicalities of reform—the composition of the House of Lords and its powers. For today’s purposes, the most important is just getting across the principle of reform. To deal with that there are three key issues.

The first and most important issue is, quite simply, that we live in a democracy and power belongs to the voters. Voters exercise that power through the ballot box. As democratic authority derives from the electorate, the composition of any chamber or council should be decided by the people. It is extraordinary that we elect members of councils, MEPs, Members of devolved Assemblies and parish councillors, we even elect captains of golf clubs—

Mr Andrew Turner: Does my hon. Friend think that there would be any objection to electing magistrates?

John Stevenson: We are talking about the democratic institutions that make laws and byelaws, so I would take a different view on that point. We elect Members of this House, but for whatever reason we do not elect those who sit in the second most important part of our democratic institutions. For that reason, the House of Lords lacks true legitimacy and accountability. However great its expertise, diversity or experience, it is simply not elected. Of the 71 major Parliaments around the world, 61 have an elected or partly elected second Chamber. In fact, Canada is the only other major democracy with a fully appointed upper Chamber.

Andrew Percy: My hon. Friend will be aware that the Conservative Government in Canada have just introduced a Bill in the Canadian Parliament to ensure that the Senate is elected for periods of nine years.

John Stevenson: That is an interesting point that I did not know, but it helps to support my argument. As someone who lives in a democracy, I think it is absolutely right that I should have the opportunity to stand for any elected Assembly in that country. As someone from this

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country, I should have the right to stand for election to the House of Lords. It is completely wrong that membership can be determined by a person’s religion. Interestingly, there have been comments about the Church of England, but as a member of the Church of Scotland I take a slightly different view.

Chris Bryant: But it is also established.

John Stevenson: It is established, but not represented in the House of Lords. Members of the House of Lords are appointed by Prime Ministers past and present, and there is still the hereditary element. The composition of the House of Lords has also been mentioned. It is interesting to note that the average age of a peer is 69 and that the vast majority live in the south-east of England. I am not ageist, and I have nothing against people who live in the south of England, but that demonstrates that there are pluses and minuses to the composition of the House of Lords. Ultimately, it is right and proper that the House of Lords should be democratically elected because, quite simply, we live in a democracy.

Secondly, there is a lot of talk about the experience, expertise and, indeed, wisdom of Members of the House of Lords. I fully accept that there are some very able people in the House of Lords, far more able than myself, but they would not lose their expertise by being excluded. They could still be members of commissions and produce reports for the Government. Lord Hutton recently produced a report on pension reform, but he did not need to be a Member of the other House to do that, so I am not so sure about that argument. More importantly, we forget that this Chamber, too, has expertise. We do this Chamber a disservice when we talk about the expertise in the other Chamber, because the same expertise exists here. Indeed, Members develop that expertise over the years they are here, and I see no reason why that would not be replicated in an elected House of Lords.

Mrs Laing: On my hon. Friend’s point about lord Hutton, if someone has expertise that we as a legislature need, the system he is describing would prevent them from exercising their expertise in Parliament.

John Stevenson: I do not believe that access to that expertise would be removed, because those people could still produce reports and be members of commissions and we could still debate their advice and act upon it.

Thirdly, there is the challenge between the House of Commons and the House of Lords, which could be termed the power struggle. Yes, the conventions will undoubtedly change and a democratically elected House of Lords might assert itself more, but I do not think that that would necessarily be a bad thing. Indeed, it might be a good thing for our democracy. Ultimately, to go back to where I started, in 1911 the Parliament Act gave primacy to this Chamber, and that will remain the case however the conventions change.

In 1911, an MP called Herbert Samuel said that there might be

“common agreement as to the necessity for a reform of the other House… But there is no common agreement as to the character of that reform.” —[Official Report, 2 March 1911; Vol. 22, c. 669.]

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In many respects that has been the issue ever since. There is no perfect solution, but we must find common ground as best we can so that we can conclude the reform. One hundred years ago the Member for Carlisle voted for the Parliament Act and supported the reform of the House of Lords; one hundred years later the Member for Carlisle would like to see that completed and will support the reform of the House of Lords.

7.54 pm

Gavin Shuker (Luton South) (Lab/Co-op): Let me begin by doing something that Members on the Opposition Benches do not do very often: congratulating the Deputy Prime Minister on the approach he has taken so far in the formation of legislation. He said that it was impossible to defend the status quo. I disagree that it is impossible, but it is very difficult. The principle that legislators should be elected and hold popular legitimacy is one that we would want to see across the world and in our Parliament.

Let me be specific about what I welcome in the proposals. First, I welcome having an elected upper Chamber. Secondly, I welcome the Chamber being elected by proportional representation. I proudly voted no to the alternative vote and was glad to see that the people spoke resoundingly against that system, which I think would have been awful. One of the reasons people voted against it is that it would not correct what many consider to be the inherent unfairness in our system, even if I might want to defend first past the post, which is that AV is inherently disproportional. I think that there is scope for us to look at the arrangements between the House of Commons and the other place to address that by maintaining a strong system of first past the post in this Chamber and one of proportional representation in the other. I will go on to explain why PR would be a good option for the upper Chamber.

Conor Burns: Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that there is a danger in that, because many people believe proportional representation to be more legitimate than first past the post? If we were to elect a proportion of the Members at the other end of this building by a system that many people regard as more legitimate, the other place could claim more legitimacy.

Gavin Shuker: The hon. Gentleman anticipates the point that I was just about to make. Some people in this country view proportional representation as a more legitimate system of representation, although I and many Members of this House would disagree, so there must be safeguards to prevent the second Chamber taking on the mantle of that legitimacy. In my view, a wholly elected upper House would be the best way to manage that change. Specifically, what would be of most benefit would be to ensure that there was no constituency link between Members of that Chamber and the places they sought to represent.

Rory Stewart (Penrith and The Border) (Con): I am perplexed by the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion that we should confer legitimacy on the upper House and then prevent it taking on the mantle of that legitimacy.

Gavin Shuker: The hon. Gentleman and I obviously have different opinions on the definition of that legitimacy. There is a type of legitimacy that is very important—the

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legitimacy of being able to look people in the eye, having stood for election, and hold the mandate of being elected. Equally, there is an issue of accountability. If the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) were here, I am sure he would stand up and say that the most accountability and legitimacy he would have would be with Mrs Bone, because he has a particular one-to-one relationship.




Obviously, I should not speak about him when he is not here. I hold a level of legitimacy and authority with the constituents I represent—100,000 or so—and believe that that would be an unfair level of legitimacy, accountability and authority to bestow on the other place in its new and revised form. I think that that indirect accountability is probably the best way to achieve the balance between having an elected House and not threatening the rights and responsibility of Members in this House to represent their constituents. I think that a party list system would probably be the best way to achieve that. There are many arguments for and against it, and I look forward to the Joint Committee looking at that in more detail.

I want to discuss one other area in relation to which I feel that a 100% elected system would be best: the selection of bishops in the House of Lords. I am a Christian. I am quite overt about that and very proud of my Christian faith. I want to see more Christians and people from other faiths coming into Parliament, but I find it very difficult to defend a system under which we choose a certain group over-represented or to always have a seat in that Chamber. I buy into the liberal idea that there is a round table around which we all get to come together and make our voices heard, and, although I do not feel that that position is always held in this Chamber or in the other place, I believe that that second Chamber could be a place where people go with their own representational legitimacy to make their case, and to make it well, without relying on the fact that they are there simply because of who they are in their own organisations or through right of birth.

The proper way to get more people of faith into our institutions is to encourage more people of faith to stand and make their case for election.

Stephen Pound: I am extremely impressed, as I am sure the House is, by my hon. Friend’s speech. I do not claim to speak either ex cathedra or for the Roman Catholic Church, but I can confirm that it is the policy of the Roman Catholic Church not to seek Catholic bishops in the House of Lords, because quite simply we believe in the sound Augustinian principle of the separation of Church and state. There should be good Catholics in the House of Lords, but not as bishops.

Gavin Shuker: My hon. Friend speaks as a good Catholic.

In summary, we will need to resolve the issue of whether 80% or 100% of Members should be elected, and we will need to ensure that this Chamber is predominant in our discussions, while extending greater legitimacy to the other House so that its Members can look people in the eye and say that they have been elected and chosen to go there.

I believe that 100% elected is the best way as we choose to go forward as a House with the other place.

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8.1 pm

Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con): I am very grateful for your calling me to speak in this debate, Mr Deputy Speaker, although I admit that for the first time in 13 months I do so with some trepidation, because, given the interventions and sedentary comments of those sitting close to me, I suspect that this is one of those arguments on which we will respectfully have to agree to disagree.

In case it has escaped anybody’s notice, we are at the beginning of the second decade of the 21st century, and in a democratic country it is anathema that both Houses of Parliament should not both be democratically elected. The ultimate question in a democratic system is, “Who appoints the representatives?”, and the ultimate answer is that only the people should be empowered to do so.

We have heard about the 61 other bicameral Parliaments throughout the world and how the vast majority have two fully elected Chambers, and that is absolutely right. Throughout the world, throughout the Commonwealth and, although it pains me to say it, throughout Europe, we see that that democratic structure is the norm. The United States Congress, with its House of Representatives and its Senate, is probably the predominant example, and 49 of the 50 American states have fully elected bicameral systems, too. There we have systems that work extremely well and, indeed, provide a greater check and balance than we have in our own Parliament.

In the Commonwealth, perhaps the best example is the federal Australian Parliament with its House of Commons and Senate, a system that, although no system is perfect, works extremely well for the people of Australia. That system goes for most Australian states as well.

Jesse Norman: My hon. Friend is making a powerful and interesting speech, but he is surely aware that the vast proportion of the legislatures that he describes operate under codified constitutions that explicitly prevent power leaching from one side to the other. Does he propose a codified constitution in this case? That is surely the counterpart of the undoubted change in conventions that would occur if there were an elected Lords.

Henry Smith: My hon. Friend anticipates the remarks that I hope to make in a few moments.

Several weeks ago I was in Poland, where I was fortunate to meet the Speaker of the Polish Senate. That country saw its Senate abolished under the Communist totalitarian regime but, happily, had it democratically restored approximately two decades ago, and again it is a system that works very well.

My main point—I hope this answers my hon. Friend’s question— is that I do not look to the rest of the world to tell me the best way to construct our Parliament; I look to our proud British history. We have had Parliaments in these islands for the best part of 1,000 years, and I am struck by the coincidence that 2015 will be the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, which is probably one of those points that set us off on our constitutional journey.

Since then, we have had the civil war, which in a greater way established the sovereignty of this Parliament, the Bill of Rights, the Reform Acts starting in 1832, the

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Parliament Act exactly a century ago, universal suffrage for women following the first world war and the Parliament Act 1949.

We are an evolving constitution, and we are a country that to its credit has proudly developed the principles of liberty and participative democracy over the best part of many centuries, but, as we are at the beginning of the second decade of the 21st century, an evolving constitution to my mind says that the only legitimate second Chamber for this Parliament is a wholly elected second Chamber, because 100% is the most legitimate and best way forward.

I do, however, want to make a couple of remarks about the draft Bill. I am pleased to note that it is a draft Bill, and I congratulate the Government on that and on the Joint Committee, because it is important that we feed in as many views as possible to what is an important constitutional change.

Time does not allow me to elaborate too much on the pros and cons of 15-year terms, but I suggest, first, to the Government that there should be a power of recall over any future elected Member of the House of Lords. I am sure that the vast majority of them will diligently carry out their duties on behalf of this Parliament and the country.

Stephen Pound: Just as Bagehot said that

“the cure for admiring the House of Lords was to go and look at it,”

may I advise the hon. Gentleman to read the House of Lords record on those occasions recently when recalcitrant peers have been identified as breaching the rules? He will suddenly see that the wagons circle around them and, far from a power of exclusion, there is a power of holding tight to the ermined bosom. That comes across loud and clear.

Henry Smith: I wish I had the hon. Gentleman’s eloquence, based on that final comment. There are some infamous examples of noble Lords who have behaved in a less than noble way, but most Members of the other place do a very diligent job, and I am sure that future Members, under whatever system, will do so as well. It is important, however, that we have a mechanism like that in local authorities, whereby, if somebody does not participate for six months, excepting ill health or some other legitimate reason, there is a power of recall or replacement for that individual.

My second remark is about an 80% versus a 100% elected second Chamber. I think that 300 Members is about the right number for a second Chamber, but my concern is that if only 80 Members are elected at the beginning of every Parliament, that will not be terribly representative of the smaller regional constituencies proposed in the draft Bill. Having 100% election and 100 Members elected at the start of every Parliament would ensure that there was far greater representation in the other place. It would also mean that we had a second Chamber that was not dominated by any one party, not only because of the system of single transferable votes but because of its term stretching over the course of three Parliaments.

With regret at not having more time to elaborate on my arguments, I very much support the Bill and look forward to Members’ contributions making it even better.

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8.10 pm

Mr William Bain (Glasgow North East) (Lab): It is a pleasure to be called to speak in this debate and to follow an extremely fine speech by the hon. Member for Crawley (Henry Smith). I agreed with practically every word.

Prior to being elected to this House, I was a lecturer in constitutional law. [Hon. Members: “He’s an expert!”] Perhaps not an expert, but certainly a lecturer. One of the highlights each year was to delight, if that is the right term, students with the subject of the composition of the other place and to observe their look of astonishment that in the first decade of the 21st century, as it then was, so many Members were there by virtue of the hereditary and appointive principles rather than the elective principle.

I rise to give expression to the commitment that was first given by Keir Hardie from the Labour Benches more than 100 years ago in favour of a completely elected second Chamber. Like many Members, I believe that that is the most legitimate form of composition of a second Chamber. I believe in the important principle that those who make the laws to which others will be subject should do so as a result of the elective principle. I hope that, as the hon. Member for Crawley has said, we can improve the draft Bill further by electing not 80% but 100% of the Members of any revised second Chamber.

This debate has been extremely useful as a discussion of the powers and functions that a second Chamber should have. I want to direct Members back to the very impressive royal commission report that Lord Wakeham helped to draw up in 2000. He mentioned two important functions that it is important to put into the debate, the first of which is scrutiny of the constitution and of human rights. Having viewed the experiences of other second chambers across the world, he believed that the second Chamber was uniquely placed to be able to give particular scrutiny to those parts of our public policy, and he was right to point that out.

It is also important that the second Chamber should be a voice for the regions and nations of the UK. Of course, that is characteristic of second chambers in federal states. Given that so many parts of the UK have embraced the joys of devolved legislatures or assemblies, it is important that the second Chamber moves away from the south-east-centric nature of its composition and gives a voice to other parts of England, to Scotland, to Wales and to Northern Ireland. Such a second Chamber would help to bring the Union together.

I accept that a completely elected second Chamber would change the nature of the relationship between the two Houses, but it would not necessarily become a rival to this elected House. Drawing on our experience of devolution, there is a Scottish Parliament; there is, as the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) has pointed out, a Northern Ireland Assembly; there is a National Assembly for Wales; and there is devolution in London. None of those institutions means that Members of Parliament in this House have less work to do than we did before—it is different work, certainly, but it is not less. A completely elected second Chamber would not be a rival to this House, and we should not try to stymie reform on the basis of that argument.

We must look at the conventions between the two Chambers. The interpretation of the Salisbury-Addison convention, which has been alluded to many times, has

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changed over the past century, and that will have to continue if we move to a completely elected second Chamber.

I support a written constitution, which would be a way of enshrining more comprehensively many of the conventions that are part of our system. It would also set out much better the relationship between the state and the citizen, between this House and the other place, and between this Parliament and the devolved parts of the United Kingdom. That will be outwith the remit of the Joint Committee, but I hope that the Government will move towards a commitment to such a constitution as this Parliament continues. Labour Members will continue to point out the benefits that that would have.

The proposals in the Bill are fine, as far as they go, but they would be much improved by being bolder in moving towards an entirely elected second Chamber. We have waited 100 years for this change, and we must not baulk at it now. I believe that an entirely elected second Chamber is what this country and many Members of this House will expect us to achieve during this Parliament.

8.16 pm

George Eustice (Camborne and Redruth) (Con): I am not entirely opposed to reform of the House of Lords, but I am deeply sceptical about the idea of an elected House of Lords. The simple fact is that there is far more to a successful democracy than elections. Many people have said that the reason why we must have elections for the House of Lords is to give it legitimacy. That is not the right argument. Lots of institutions in our democracy do not need elections to make them legitimate. Judges and magistrates are not elected, and we have a monarch who is not elected. All these parts of our constitution play a very important role despite the fact that they are not elective.

Stephen Williams: Judges and magistrates exist in our constitution to pass judgment over people who have broken laws. They are not there to make laws, which is what the House of Lords is for.

George Eustice: I accept that to some extent, although judges often make public policy decisions, and those judgments influence our legal system. However, my point is that we do not need elections for these institutions to be legitimate.

Jesse Norman: It is not true that judges do not have a role in making the law. For 700 years, common law judgments have been made in difficult cases that have laid down what is the law as a result. This position has always been understood by the judges. A famous lecture was given on the topic by Lord Reid in the 1960s. I am sure that my hon. Friend agrees that we should have no truck with the idea that judges do not have a thoroughly legitimate, though unelected, place in the constitution.

George Eustice: I share my hon. Friend’s view entirely.

Mark Durkan rose—

George Eustice: I have given way a couple of times and I am going to continue.

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The reason for having elections is not to give legitimacy but to deliver accountability. People say that we need to have greater legitimacy for the House of Lords, but if we gave it democratically elected legitimacy, it would then become a rival to this Chamber. That is one of the problems that is overlooked.

The proposals will not deliver accountability. There will be single terms of 15 years, and there is no chance of a failing lord being thrown out at the end of it. Accountability works when one can fire people who fail; if one cannot do so, it defeats the object of the exercise. We ended up with the stipulation of 15-year terms, because even the advocates of this reform recognise that as a consequence of having a democratically elected second Chamber people’s independence might be compromised, because they would have to jump to the electoral cycle and would be more in hock to the parties that sponsor them.

The proposed Chamber would have a mixed nature, with some people being appointed and 80% being elected. Who would be blamed if they failed? Would it be the fault of the ones who were elected or of the ones who were appointed? That would cause confusion where there should be clarity. It should be either all elected or all appointed.

We must also consider how the elections would work in practice. People will typically make these judgments on the same day as a general election. They will not necessarily vote for the best people to scrutinise Parliament in the House of Lords. It will be rather as it is with the European Parliament at the moment—a national opinion poll on whether the Government are doing well or badly. People will therefore not be selected on their ability to scrutinise the Government.

Andrew Percy: Will my hon. Friend give way?

George Eustice: No; I have given way a couple of times and want to make some progress.

What is legitimate about electing people based not on their own performance or ability, but on the performance of the governing party or the Opposition? That is not the right way to select a Chamber that is, after all, there to revise.

My hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (John Stevenson) has said that the average age of Members in the other place is 69. The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) was also rather scathing about the advanced years of some Members in the other place and the quality of the debate. However, the House of Lords is the forum that we provide for debate for the older generation and people who have experience. [ Laughter. ] This is an important point, if Members will hear me out. I believe that the dynamic between the other place and this place should be akin to that between a non-executive chairman and a chief executive, or between a father and a son. It is a natural dynamic. This place makes the decisions as new Governments come in with fresh ideas that they want to implement. However, we must not fool ourselves into thinking that we are so clever that we do not need another Chamber of people who can bring to bear their experience and say, “Well, we tried that in the ’70s and the ’80s and it didn’t work.” That is the reason for having a revising Chamber.

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I do not think it necessarily matters that not everybody in the other place is of a completely independent mind, such as those with a political background or former politicians. The key thing is they have independence of mind coupled with experience. Retired politicians who go to the other place are often of the view that they have been told what to do for long enough by the Whips and that they will use their experience to change legislation sensibly, which must be a good thing. If we change to an elected House, we will lose some of that. The types of people who will stand for election to the House of Lords will tend to be people like us. They will be of the same generation as us and might include people who were unsuccessful at the last general election and so decide to stand for the House of Lords instead. We will lose the natural dynamic between the two generations, which is important.

To conclude, I will say a little about the areas that could be meaningfully reformed without having an elected Chamber. First, we could make the Lords smaller. Secondly, we could limit the time that people are there, so that they serve 10 or 15 years and then retire. Thirdly, we could tighten the appointments criteria, so that there are more independent people, if that is what we want to achieve. The single most important thing that we can do is to expect people to attend and participate. All too often in the past 10 years, people have been granted a peerage in recognition of something that they have achieved in life, but not with the expectation that they will work and attend debates. If we changed that, it would be a more meaningful and important reform than having an elected upper Chamber.

8.24 pm

Stephen Pound (Ealing North) (Lab): In years to come, when the proud constituency of Camborne and Redruth is mentioned, one speech will spring to the memory: the glorious suggestion of the Saga Chamber or the pensioners’ Parliament, where the old, the tired and the formerly famous can shuffle off to some distant spot where they will do no harm; where the dust will slowly settle, the clocks gently unwind and the ermine capes float through the detritus of torn Order Papers and House of Lords Hansard; where, like in the dying days of the court of Emperor Haile Selassie, no wages are paid; and where, like in the great zoos of Addis Ababa, giant pachyderms sink to their knees and surrender to starvation. There, in the House of Lords, a few people with their last breath will say, “Well, at least we weren’t out there causing trouble. We had been put somewhere safe. And who have we got to thank for it? Let us look to Camborne and Redruth.”

I suggest that there are other, better ways. I am not entirely sure that we suffer from a democratic deficit; I think we suffer from a flipping democratic surfeit. I, as an honest burgher of a sophisticated west London borough—Ealing, obviously—am represented by three first-class councillors; an MP of certain qualities, that is to say myself; a member of the Greater London authority; Members of the European Parliament; and Tony Blair, who certainly represents me in some forum somewhere, because he represents us all all the time. Do I really want somebody to be trailing his escutcheon through my constituency every few years, touting for votes, presumably on vellum and hand-engraved? There would be nothing so vulgar as an election, but I am sure

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that there would be some process, which would no doubt be worked out in North East Somerset. Do we really want that? I think that we probably have too much democracy.

There have been a few occasions on which people have sat down and thought about whether they actually needed a second chamber. One thinks obviously of the great Philadelphia convention, but some of us also think of the 1937 constitution of the Republic of Ireland. Those great legislators sat down and said, “Do we need a second chamber?” They came to the conclusion that, by and large, it was a fairly good idea to have one. I will not ascribe any ignoble motives to that, but it might have been a form of care in the community. To this day, Ireland has the vocational panels. The original idea was that there would be vocational panels to represent all aspects of modern Irish life. That is why people such as Oliver St John Gogarty, in between being thrown in the Liffey, and W. B. Yeats were Members of the Seanad Eireann. To this day, Ireland has the cultural and educational panel, the agricultural panel, the labour panel, the industrial and commercial panel, the administrative panel, and, of course, the national university of Ireland panel and the university of Dublin panel. I miss people such as A. P. Herbert who were elected to this place from the universities. Why does the university of West London not elect someone? If it cannot elect them to here, let it be to the other place.

Let us ask ourselves the most simple, basic, obvious question: is it really true that the only way in which experts can bring their light to bear is in the upper place? Did the noble Lord Ara Darzi achieve more as one of the finest and most famous surgeons in Europe than as a Member of the House of Lords? Look at the single greatest social change of the 20th century. The person behind that—Beveridge—was not in the House of Lords. He did not have to sit as a Member of the upper House to come up with the extraordinary idea of the national health service. The upper House is not the sole repository of wisdom, and it is not the only place where the great, the good, the bright and the brilliant can go and shine. There are so many other ways.

So do we need the House of Lords? I am not entirely sure, in all honesty, that we do, but as with so many things in this country, let us leave well alone. It is some glorious, great Gormenghast of a building that no one would ever build nowadays, but around which accretions, crenellations, towers and ramparts have emerged over the years. Hardly anybody knows what the original purpose was, but it does little harm, it is attractive, and on occasion it can actually add to the limited pool of intelligence and expertise that exists in this place.

I want to say that I have no ambitions whatever.

Mark Durkan: For now.

Stephen Pound: At least not this week, no. The difficulty, obviously, would be what level of expertise I would bring to the House of Lords. However, I have to say that I am instinctively opposed to the idea of a replicate second Chamber. We cannot have a dual mandate and have the same level of accountability in two places at once. Man cannot serve two masters; Parliament cannot have two masters.

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8.30 pm

Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con): It is a real privilege to follow the hon. Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound).

I begin by declaring an interest, because I have two noble kinsmen in another place, one a Cross Bencher and one actually on the Labour Benches. I feel it would be unhelpful of me to try to abolish them. Generally speaking, as I am sure you would agree, Mr Deputy Speaker, our noble kinsmen should not be abolished.

I am concerned about the draft Bill, because I do not think it tackles the fundamental constitutional issue that we ought to be considering—the fact that there used to be a balanced constitution, with the Crown, the House of Lords and the House of Commons, each having considerable power, authority and influence. In the 19th century the Crown lost its power, and over the 20th century the Lords lost its power, so now all the power in the constitution is theoretically vested here in the House of Commons. Of course, it is not, because it has gone back to the Prime Minister. Effectively, the Crown is more powerful than it has been since the time in the 18th century when the House passed the motion saying that the power of the Crown

“has increased, is increasing, and ought to be diminished”.

My concern about the draft Bill is that it has been introduced without an examination of how that constitutional imbalance ought to be reformed and improved to get a better-working constitution that does not put all the power in the hands of essentially one person. Our coalition has changed that a bit at the margins—it is sort of one and a half people—but that really is not a very satisfactory constitutional settlement.

We have heard a lot of talk today about the Parliament Act 1911, without, as far as I know, anyone reading it out. I feel that I must put good that omission. The preamble to the Act is very clear, stating:

“Whereas it is expedient that provision should be made for regulating the relations between the two Houses of Parliament:

And whereas it is intended to substitute for the House of Lords as it at present exists a Second Chamber constituted on a popular instead of hereditary basis, but such substitution cannot be immediately brought into operation:

And whereas provision will require hereafter to be made by Parliament in a measure effecting such substitution for limiting and defining the powers of the new Second Chamber”.

We have not got that. That is the absolute nub and crux of the debate. We need to decide whether a fully elected House of Lords will have such legitimacy that it will then be an equal partner with this House of Commons, as it was prior to 1911 and the Parliament Act. Her Majesty’s Government argue at the moment that that will not be the case, and that all will remain the same. I simply do not think that is credible.

An Opposition Member said that since the removal of the hereditaries, the House of Lords has exercised its muscle more. Why? It has done so because it feels legitimate. It questioned the Salisbury convention. Why? It did so because the life peers thought that they had a greater legitimacy than the hereditaries. We know that secondary legislation is not covered by the Parliament Act, under which we cannot force things through until a year after the end of the current Session. Had their lordships dug their heels in on the alternative vote referendum, nothing could have been done until after

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the Queen opened Parliament about a year from now. Their lordships did not do that, because they recognised that it would have been an abuse of their non-elected power against the elected House.

As it happens, I am all for an elected second Chamber on that basis. I believe that a lot of legislation that is passed is bad, and I like what happens in the United States, where there is gridlock, and the mad ideas of one politician who happens to be in office for a short time are gummed up. In particular, that would make it difficult to effect major constitutional change on the whim of a junior partner in a coalition based on 23 words of his manifesto—23 words of the Liberal Democrat manifesto against a total, helpfully counted for me this morning, of 21,668. Of those 23, “House of Lords” is repeated twice. Once that is taken out, there is virtually no policy on the Lords in the Liberal Democrats’ manifesto, yet they say that that is enough to change our constitution fundamentally. That is an absolute scandal. We have already had a referendum on their pet project of AV.

Of course, the Labour party is right in its manifesto: if we are to make the change, it can be made only if it is put to the British people. They have to be given a choice about that constitutional settlement, and we have to be realistic about the fact that it will completely change the relationship between the two Houses. It will mean a strong House of Lords that will exercise its power, and if one thinks that that is a good thing, one may wish to support Her Majesty’s Government. However, those who want this House to remain primary must oppose the change. The Government’s statement in their draft Bill that Lords will not interfere in our constituencies is fair old bunkum. Of course they will—they are politicians. It will give them a chance, in exactly the same way as we interfere in matters that rightly belong to the councils. I oppose the proposal as it stands.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. I will drop the time limit to five minutes. It would be helpful if hon. Members shaved a little off their speeches—there is a load of Members to get in.

8.36 pm

Dan Rogerson (North Cornwall) (LD): I welcome the debate. I have listened with interest and sometimes amusement to hon. Members’ speeches. I support the principle of a second Chamber or upper House that is 100% elected. However, my response to those who argue that we should pull back from the proposal because it is not enough is that securing 80% elected Members of the second Chamber would represent great progress compared with what has been achieved in the previous 100 years.

As Labour Front Benchers pointed out, a change was made to remove hereditaries some time ago, but that merely meant that people who were appointed at the whim of their Executive were considered better than the descendants of those appointed by previous Executives. That does not represent anything like a significant change. Moving to an elected second Chamber would achieve that change, which many Members would like.

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I welcome the sensible phasing of elections because it could overcome the point about both Houses being elected on the same day, which feeds into the debate about rival mandates.

Although cost is not fundamental to what we are debating today, it will undoubtedly be raised by the forces of reaction, who, as the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) said, are present among us and very vocal today, as they were when electoral reform was debated here. It is therefore crucial that the proposal would reduce considerably the number of Members in the other place.

Case work and acquiring a new role in constituencies that would conflict with that of Members of the House of Commons have been raised. It would be useful to have a clear indication, as we have now when a Member of Parliament is expected not to take up case work from another Member. A similar principle could apply to Members of a second Chamber.

I find the idea that there is something different about people who do not face election, that they are somehow superior and that standing for election is a nasty, grubby business, utterly preposterous. I stumbled across an item on Radio 4 on Saturday, in which Baroness Bakewell said that it was much better not to have politicians in the House of Lords. It is ludicrous to claim that, just because people are not elected, they are not politicians. If they sit in Parliament and they legislate, they are politicians. They are merely unelected politicians. When I look at the House of Lords, I see parties in operation, Whips, Ministers and many of the things that we recognise in this House, but I do not see people who are elected by the people. That is what the draft Bill seeks to change.

I come from Cornwall, where there is strong tradition of independence in local government. There is a debate to be had on the role that Cross Benchers play in the other place. Their role is not superior. Cross Benchers often function and work together as a group—they are just as political as the party political groups—just like independent groups in local government.

As we proceed to debate this matter in more detail, and as the Joint Committee looks at it, I hope that we can come up with a solution that will deliver an elected second Chamber. I think that that is what the people want, even if it is not at the top of their agenda when they are looking for better employment opportunities, or to secure decent health care and a good education for their children. When asked, people will say that they believe in that change, and I hope that we can deliver it for them.

8.40 pm

Mrs Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest) (Con): I welcome the Government’s publication of the draft Bill. As many hon. Members have said this evening, the House of Lords needs to be reformed. Much in the White Paper is very good. We need to reduce the number of Members of the other place; to introduce mechanisms for retirement and for dealing with peers who never attend; and, for those of us who are disestablishmentarians, we need to consider the role of the bishops—it is not fair that antidisestablishmentarians get to use the longest word in the English language. I managed to use it in my speech anyway—that was my challenge.

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The Deputy Prime Minister is right to modernise, but he is not right to destroy the House of Lords. We do not need a copy of this House, and not just because of the cost, or because normal people out there are not paying attention to what we are debating. Nobody will be paying attention if Andy Murray is still playing. The rest of the country knows what is going on at Wimbledon; only those of us in the Chamber do not have a clue because we are concentrating on the debate—[Hon. Members: “He’s through!”] That is wonderful news! A Scotsman is on his way to winning Wimbledon—[ Interruption. ] I shall correct myself. A British player is on his way to winning Wimbledon. We need something different from this House not just because people will be appalled at the creation of a few hundred more full-time politicians—that is abhorrent to the man in the street—but because the value of a bicameral system is that the two Houses should be different from one another. They should be complementary, but not a mirror image.

The value of the House of Lords is its cumulative wisdom and experience. Most of its Members have unique value to bring to the House and to Parliament precisely because they are not elected, and not politicians seeking votes. That is their independence and strength. Make them stand for election, and they will become politicians, when they will lose their independence and their unique value.

Election is not the only route to democratic legitimacy. As my hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice) rightly said, many people are part of our working democracy, and in their valuable, well-held positions, through methods other than election. What matters is not democratic legitimacy, but democratic accountability. That does not come about because someone is elected for one long term, with no opportunity for re-election.

If the House of Lords is elected, the delicate balance between our two Houses will be destroyed. No amount of assurance or clauses in Bills or examination of the Parliament Act will change the reality of that. It matters not that the Deputy Prime Minister says that the balance will not be changed; we all know that it will. Changing the House of Lords changes Parliament as a whole, and we should be considering the future of Parliament as a whole.

In their 13 years, the previous Labour Government tinkered with the constitution for short-term political gain. I have every confidence that this coalition Government, when they consider the consequences, will not make the same mistake.

In his conclusion, the Deputy Prime Minister said that in a modern democracy people must choose their representatives. That is absolutely right. We in this House of Commons are those representatives. The House of Lords is not the representative of the people. The Members of the House of Lords are not the people’s representatives: they are something different, and long may they remain so.

8.45 pm

James Wharton (Stockton South) (Con): I am broadly in favour of the Government’s proposed reforms—at least, I was until the right hon. Member for South Shields (David Miliband) appeared also to be, at which point I wavered a little. I am coming back round as the debate goes on.

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I have listened carefully to what hon. Members have had to say and we have heard strong arguments on both sides, which have served to highlight that this is a very difficult issue with which the House has been asked to grapple. However, that is not a reason for shying away from doing what I believe is—broadly speaking—the right thing. I agree with many of the Government’s objectives—I agree that the other place grows too large and that it raises issues of accountability and balance in how people are appointed—and I have looked at the proposed reforms and read the White Paper. It contains some good ideas. Indeed, I support 15-year elected terms, on condition that Members cannot seek re-election and the House is elected by thirds. That is a positive step that will tackle many of the issues that have been raised today.

My support is still slightly tentative, however, because I have a very serious reservation about the method of election proposed for the other place. At the moment, the proposed method is the single transferable vote. If one believes in proportional representation—and let us set aside the merits or otherwise of PR itself—STV has some advantages. It is relatively proportional and it allows individual members of the public to rank the candidates whom they want within a party slate, and so diminishes the power of parties to influence directly who gets elected—in a way that the closed list system does not, for example. STV gives the public the power to choose, but in the context in which we are now talking it is fatally flawed.

If we are looking at electing 180 senators—or MLs, Lords, peers, whatever they will be called—we must be looking at huge electorates in each constituency. In order for STV to be proportional, constituencies of four or more members are necessary. The larger the constituency—in terms of the number of members representing it—the more proportional the outcome of an STV system. In Northern Ireland, when STV was introduced, there were constituency sizes of six elected members. There have been debates in Ireland about the best size of constituency, and indeed wherever STV or a version of it is used across the world that is a long-running topic of debate. STV, therefore, would deliver elected members representing upwards of 500,000 people—voters—each, in which the public would be expected to rank candidates of their choice based on their preference.

In the north-east region, we would have four, possibly five, members of this new Chamber. As well informed an electorate as we have in the north-east, people would struggle to pick between party candidates on an individual candidate basis, because candidates would have to appeal to an electorate of some 2.5 million. Studies have shown, therefore, that an STV system discriminates against people whose names, by accident of birth, place them towards the end of the alphabet. I declare an interest, having a surname that places me at the end of the alphabet. When people are asked to rank in an STV system, many of them vote by party, as we know. The good, right-thinking people of the north-east would look for the Conservative candidates and rank them 1, 2, 3 and 4 in the order in which they appeared on the ballot paper—[ Interruption. ] Opposition Members shout “Shame!”, but those few people who may be confused and choose to vote for them would do the same. Therefore, this system discriminates almost directly against people

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based on where their name appears in the alphabet, and I urge the Government to think very carefully about introducing it.

This discrimination is well observed and indeed the Electoral Commission, in a report on ballot paper design in 2003, observed it. When Professor Dunleavy gave evidence to the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, he also raised this issue. If we are even to discuss STV, we need to find a way to state clearly that this problem would be tackled, so as not to introduce a biased system, on the basis that it was an improvement, that would discriminate against people based on their surname. For many of the reasons discussed today, I broadly support much of what has been said on both sides of the argument, but in my own mind I still fall more or less on the side of the Government and am likely to support their proposals. However, I will not support them if they contain STV in an unreformed form, so I hope that the Government will think carefully about the electoral system that they use.

8.50 pm

Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con): If my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton South (James Wharton) were to propose that names appear on the ballot paper in reverse order, I would happily support him, given that my surname begins with V.

When these proposals were first made, I used the same phrase as my hon. Friend—I said that I broadly supported them—and having examined them more closely, I endorse them almost without reservation. I have some reservations, however, which I will come to later. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Andrew Griffiths), I think I am right in saying that no one in my constituency has contacted me about this matter, either for or against, and despite my efforts, using my column in the Grimsby Telegraph, to bring attention to it, all I have succeeded in doing is to stir up apathy.

One of the strangest things to emerge in recent weeks, as this matter has been debated, has been the argument by those in the upper House who keep declaring that their role should continue to be one of scrutiny, but who then declare their total opposition to the Bill in principle, despite it appearing in the manifestos of each of the three main parties. Had I been a Member of the House in the late 1990s, I would probably have opposed the proposals that were made then, but life has moved on, and we now have a totally unacceptable situation in the upper House, which is completely reliant on patronage. I happen to believe that in a free country, representatives should be elected, and one of my objections is that the current proposals suggest that 20% remain unelected. I would prefer 100% elected, although I hold the rather idiosyncratic view that the bishops should remain. Even were they to remain without voting rights, they would offer spiritual guidance beneficial to our deliberations.

Those who argue that two elected Houses will lead to conflict and a power grab by the upper House—or Senate, as I hope it would be called—I would say that the lower House will retain control of money Bills, and of course the Parliament Acts will remain. Why should this country alone among nations with two elected Houses be unable to meet the challenge of those two Houses co-existing? The draft Bill acknowledges that

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the relationship between the two Houses is governed to a great extent by convention, and I am pleased that that will be retained. It would be a backward move were conflicts to be resolved by the judiciary.

On the question of expertise, it is interesting to note that, as has been said, expertise can be drawn on through the setting up of boards of inquiry and royal commissions, to which the great and the good can be appointed. The logic of saying that only experts should decide is that we pack our bags, go home and leave it all to the experts down the corridor.

On the 15-year term of office, it has been suggested that once elected, Members will be unaccountable. Governments with a working majority could be said to be unaccountable, although of course they constantly renew their mandate with support from this House. Those who come up for election to the upper House will stand or fall by the popularity of the Government, in the same way as MEPs and councillors are swept to one side if the Government happen to be unpopular. The same will happen in elections to the upper House.

Whatever electoral system is eventually settled on, I sincerely hope that it will not include a closed list. Closed lists are the complete negation of democracy, which is what we are trying to improve and encourage in this process. They give power to party officials, and, as someone who played a minor role as a party official, I speak from some experience. I have previously questioned the electoral districts, and the Minister knows my concerns about them. I hope that the districts will be as small as practicable to operate in a proportionate system. I support the proposal.

8.55 pm

Mr Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): To start at the end of my speech—if there is time, I will move towards the beginning—the main problem with the House of Lords is not a lack of accountability, independence or democratic accountability, it is the sheer number of peers. Let us take the number of peers appointed since the last election as an example. The former Prime Minister appointed 58 new peers in his working peers and dissolution honours lists. In November, the current Prime Minister appointed another 54. This is not sustainable, but there is no reason in law why it cannot go on for ever.

We should set a limit on the number of peers by Act of Parliament. That would prevent a Prime Minister from overriding the limit without changing the law. I believe that the limit could be 850 or 450, but let us take 850 to see how such peers would emerge. If we start with the current figure of 828 peers and, for argument’s sake, let us say that 20 peers die over the course of this Parliament, there would be 42 vacancies to fill in 2015. If the turnout at the next election was 60%, then 40% of voters would have chosen not to vote for any political party. Let the Prime Minister—or better, someone else—appoint that 40% of new peers from among people with no political affiliation. That means that 17 of the newly appointed peers would have no political affiliation, leaving 60%—or 25 seats—to fill with political appointees.

If the Conservative party won a majority of, say, 60% of seats in the House of Commons, the Conservative Prime Minister could appoint 60% of the remaining vacancies in the House of Lords—that is to say,

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15 peers. The Leader of the Opposition, having won, say, 25% of the seats, could nominate that 25% of the remaining vacancies, or six peers, and so on. Therefore, the outcome in the House of Lords would be proportional to the number of seats in the House of Commons, thus representing the views of voters and those who did not vote. That would be a much more efficient way of achieving the Deputy Prime Minister’s aim of creating an independent, accountable and democratic upper Chamber.

Let me turn to how the House of Lords can be more democratic. An elected upper Chamber would, in fact, confound our democracy. The Parliament Acts of 1911 and 1949 emphasise the supremacy of the House of Commons as the representative body of the people. However, if these reforms go ahead, that statement will no longer apply. The second Chamber, also elected by popular vote, will have as much of a democratic mandate as the House of Commons. It would quite justifiably claim to be a representative body of the people. As representatives of the people, those in the elected upper Chamber would have as much right to refuse to ratify legislation as we in the lower House do. That would cause a constitutional crisis of epic proportions. That would be the danger if the newly elected upper Chamber, with as much of a democratic mandate as the House of Commons, decided to amend statutory instruments. That would be the consequence of making an unelected House an elected House.

8.59 pm

Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con): I thank hon. Members who will serve on the Joint Committee for listening to the contributions of other Members—particularly my hon. Friends the Members for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell) and for Epping Forest (Mrs Laing), who I believe have listened to every contribution.

Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Andrew Griffiths), I did have one constituent—a gentleman from Kelsale—bring up the issue of Lords reform when I was canvassing in the general election. As I told him then, although I had not had a thought about it and did not feel particularly strongly about it, I would listen to the debate—and that is what I am doing now and for the future.

I agree with several things in the Bill. If we are to reform the House of Lords, for example, I agree with capping the number. I agree with the idea of its Members not being for life, and I agree with the idea of the transition. I quite like option 1. My favourite is the option to move to a smaller Chamber straight away, and I firmly rule out option 2 in favour of aspects of option 3.

As my hon. Friends have already said, it seems peculiar to say that there is accountability when people are not re-elected. There is, however, an opportunity to include recall powers, perhaps if Members do not show up. That happens in councils: if people do not show up for a certain period of time, they are automatically disqualified.

I welcome the idea of having ministerial Members, but will the Minister clarify whether these would be voting Members? Otherwise, there is nothing in the draft Bill to stop the Government of the day packing the upper House with a huge number of Ministers who could then vote.

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I am not so sure of the need for Lords Spiritual. As others have suggested, there could be a role for a chaplain and it would be possible for people to speak as non-voting Members. As for having appointed Members, although I respect people’s expertise, there is as much of it in this House as in the upper House. So-called experts could be called as witnesses, although there is a risk of Buggins’s turn. A large number of ex officio appointments seem to be made when people retire from certain roles. That is wrong. Today, the Secretary of State for Defence has ruled that out for elements of our military forces.

As for where I strongly disagree, in common with my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton South (James Wharton), I believe that having the single transferable vote is wrong in this context. I would go further and suggest to the Minister that if we are having the elections on the same date, why bother having two separate votes? Having two voting systems on one day is completely unnecessary. We could use the proportion of the national vote—or the vote within a region, if regions are insisted on—to determine the election of Members to the upper House.

On the issue of whether we need regions or electoral districts, I strongly support other Members’ views on how, frankly, we do not want people floating around our constituencies, especially when they can say that they are also the representative in Westminster. I am not suggesting that our electorate is not intelligent enough to know the difference, but—how can I put it?—one election leaflet after another can sometimes be put across in a certain way. I will not go any further; I think hon. Members know what I mean.

Stephen Pound: Printed in yellow!

Dr Coffey: I could not possibly comment on that.

Let me move on to deal with the powers. I made this point when the Deputy Prime Minister originally raised the issue. I disagree with the right hon. Member for South Shields (David Miliband), as I think we should be careful before we say definitively what the powers are going to be. I sympathise with hon. Members who are worried that giving legitimacy to the House of Lords by making it elected will lead its Members automatically to accept the idea that that is their lot in life so they will not look for any more. The European Parliament used to be appointed, then it became elected and over time it has gradually grabbed more and more powers. Indeed, it has an insatiable desire for more power, which the hon. Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer) mentioned earlier. During this Parliament, we have seen the Welsh Assembly gaining more power and the Scottish Parliament demanding more power.

People will be elected for 15 years on the basis of a common manifesto. As I may learn, perhaps to my downfall in future, manifestos change every five years. If someone were elected for one term of Parliament, they might not feel bound to support the Government later on in their time. That said, Members elected for 15 years will at least be able to say to the Whips, “This is what I was elected on; this is my credibility; I will vote as I choose.” On that note, I support further discussion.

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9.4 pm

Laura Sandys (South Thanet) (Con): It is a great honour to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey), and I agree with much of what she said.

Obviously Parliament is not just this House, but it appears that this House, the legitimate House, is the House that lacks confidence in itself. The big fear is that giving more legitimacy to the House of Lords will diminish powers here, but the reforms that we are discussing, which will mean greater legitimacy for the other place, give us an opportunity collectively to hold the Government to greater account: to examine, cajole, petition and more effectively, not less effectively, ensure that there is greater scrutiny of Government. We need to claim back more powers collectively, and with a legitimate other place we can add to Parliament’s powers without any erosion of the powers in this Chamber.

It is not a zero sum game. If we have a stronger and more representative secondary Chamber, this place will not be diminished. Not only is it defeatist to think that we might be diminished, but such thinking does not reflect the history or tradition of Parliament. As my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) so eloquently observed, Parliament is here to take power away from the Executive. That is why it was created, and one of my ancestors spent a bit of time in the Tower of London as a result.

The proposed reform would also remedy a long-standing sore at the heart of our Parliament: the power of patronage. Since the inception of Parliament, the main thread linking generation to generation in this Chamber has been the fight against patronage. There is nothing more invidious than the patronage that accompanies the bestowal of membership of the House of Lords. It is much worse than the system of hereditary peers, it is much more open to questionable donations, and it allows Members of Parliament to be moved from this place to make way for high-fliers. In my view that system is not tolerable, and should have been reformed decades ago.

Nevertheless, I am not entirely uncritical of these proposals, but we need to think about the name that we give to the new version of the upper House. It must be defined as the junior Chamber: it must be seen not as upper or superior but as secondary, and, as many Members have suggested, the role of that secondary Chamber must be understood in relation to constituency MPs. We must decouple the issue of membership from that of honours. Sitting in a secondary Chamber is a job of work, not a fast track to aggrandisement.

There are two more fundamental issues with which the Committee’s consultation must deal. If we are to strengthen Parliament, we need more, not less, scrutiny of long-term planning by Government. I think that 15 years is an excellent term during which to examine a Government’s strategic policies, rather than examining their immediate legislation as we do. Most fundamentally, the secondary Chamber must not be able to initiate legislation. It should be able to petition Members of this House to introduce legislation, but it must not initiate it by means of private Members’ Bills, ten-minute rule Bills or any other mechanism.

This is one Parliament with two Chambers, one of which has its hands tied behind its back. We need to release it from its lack of legitimacy. Let us worry less

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about powers moving between the two Chambers, and spend more time thinking about the overall power that both Houses of Parliament should wrest back from the Executive.

9.9 pm

Rory Stewart (Penrith and The Border) (Con): Why are we discussing constitutional matters in this way? Is this how we should talk about our constitution? Is this how we think such matters should be discussed? Have we forgotten what a constitution is? Do we really think that something which constitutes the rules of the game, and which is supposed to protect our citizens against us, is something that we can somehow arrange in darkened rooms on the basis of 22 words out of 20,000 and three-line-whip through on a rainy afternoon? If we are here for the purpose of democracy, let us deal with the issue in a democratic way.

All of us in this House believe that there is a crisis of accountability and democracy. Let us make not only the outcome democratic; let us make the process democratic too. Let us have the confidence to open it up. Let us accept that constitutional issues are not like other laws, and that we cannot push through constitutional change in the same way that we change the treatment of wild animals in circuses. There is a reason for that.

Constitutions have traditionally emerged either from revolutionary fervour or slow historical evolution, yet we now behave as though they can simply be downloaded from the internet and, with a single press of the “replace all” key, be adjusted to any nation. We are going around the world doing that to other people, and now we are going to do it to ourselves. We are sending out British consultants to lecture Kenyans on governance and Egyptians on democracy, and we are writing constitutions for Iraq and holding elections for Afghanistan, and we are about to do it for ourselves with the same lack of success, because we lack the same thing. In all these cases, we fail because we fail to engage with the nation—with its imagination and desires. Instead, we treat this as a technical exercise. All the issues that have been raised today—who should be in that other House, what that House should do, how its Members should be selected, why it should be changed—are important not just because they are technical details, but because they matter for our country. They matter for our citizens, and the citizens should be allowed to speak about them.

The question of who is to be in the other place is not about what we in this House think should be the balance between elected politicians and the people down the other end of the corridor; it is about what the people think. Do they agree with the shadow Minister that our debates are of a far higher quality and that our expertise can be ranged against that of the other place; or if they were to spend some time in both this House and the other place might they think that teachers, policemen, professors and scientists have something to contribute that matters to them—that is valuable and that they appreciate?

What are we trying to create? Who are these senators with their 15-year terms? What will people make of these monsters of pride, with all the disadvantages and all the unaccountability—they will never stand for election again—sitting on their red Benches, swathed in their ermine robes, without the expertise of others, and

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able to claim a mandate from the people that conveys power without responsibility? Why are we doing this? We are doing it because the public is angry with us. Under the cloak of democracy and legitimacy, we are switching things around. It is as though our constituents had asked us to repair a leak in the school roof, and we have said, “Don’t worry, we’ve repaired a leak in the church.”

Please let us put our democratic principles into the process. Let us have a free vote at least. Ideally, two thirds of this House should vote for a constitutional change. The Labour party gave us a free vote, and I say to the shadow Ministers that they should stick to it. We should have a free vote on constitutional issues.

Finally, let us accept that if no crisis demands it, and if the public is indifferent and the other side is uninterested, then this reform is uncalled for. We should not let unfocused measures detached from urgent needs or our nation drive us towards a decision that will undermine trust, which is the only foundation of our legitimacy.

9.14 pm

Duncan Hames (Chippenham) (LD): It is a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart), not least because I can hope that the reason for our disagreement is that he has not yet had the chance to hear my speech.

I do not trust Governments—not this Government, not the last Government, nor any I have known. I am, after all, a Liberal. If, in common with many of my constituents, one distrusts Governments, then one must think it important to have checks on their power that protect people from their tyranny, be that a tyranny of the majority or, as is often the case in this country, a minority—of the old left and the old right as the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh) described them earlier.

Chief among those checks on power in our country’s proud history has been the strength of Parliament, and in this debate we hear much about the relative strength of each House of Parliament. I do not want to see an end to the primacy of the Commons, but it is more important to rebalance power between the Executive and Parliament as a whole and to do so in Parliament’s favour, as argued by my neighbour, the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg), and more strongly by the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan).

I, for one, appreciate the valuable work done by members of the House of Lords, and recognise that it is most unlikely, and in certain cases most undesirable, that those from some walks of life, whose wisdom or expertise is cherished there, would stand for election to a reformed second Chamber. For that reason, I can see how I could support the continued presence of a group of unelected members of a second Chamber, so that they could attend, advise, speak and no doubt persuade elected Members with the force of their argument. So powerful would these contributions be, however, that I see no reason why these unelected Members would need to cast a vote when the House divided.

The contribution of the House of Lords as a revising Chamber has been both welcome and necessary, but we cannot afford to leave it at that. I suspect its ability to be a revising Chamber is dependent on the powers with which it can persuade this Chamber to accept its revisions.

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Parliament’s second Chamber needs the political legitimacy confidently to act as a brake against the unfettered power of an Executive who wield a majority in the House of Commons that they dominate first by their presence and then by their patronage. The Public Administration Committee noted in its recent report the increasing size of the “payroll vote”, as it is not entirely accurately called, to 141 MPs, which is already half the votes the Government have needed to win most of the Divisions in this Parliament. That dominance might grow further when the total number of MPs is reduced for the next Parliament.

It is an unwarranted concentration of power to have a second Chamber that is primarily appointed by the leaders of the political parties, at least one of whom will be at the head of the Government, as well as a Commons Chamber in which a quarter of MPs owe their roles in government to a similar process—and in which many more hope to. Such power is felt not just during Divisions in the Commons, but through programme motions that guillotine debate and through influence via the Committee of Selection in the appointment of Members to Public Bill Committees and those that decide on delegated legislation.

Some say that turkeys will not vote for Christmas and that that means we cannot hope to persuade the House of Lords to accept reform, but I say that for that same reason it is even less likely that this House will ever escape the dominance of the Executive. Our best hope of strengthening Parliament in the face of the Executive is to reform the Lords and to let the people decide who is to go there and vote on the laws of this land, a case that was made eloquently by the hon. Member for Carlisle (John Stevenson), my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Dan Rogerson) and the hon. Members for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) and for Crawley (Henry Smith). In this way, party leaders can be made to cede power to the voters and the second Chamber can grow confident in the use of its existing powers, with greater public acceptance. Parliament will again be able to stand tall before the Executive.