9.18 pm

Paul Maynard (Blackpool North and Cleveleys) (Con): I welcome these proposals but lament the fact that they do not go quite far enough. I am one of that die-hard band of Conservatives who believe in a 100% elected upper Chamber. I joined the party not because it was the Conservative party but because I wanted to be a member of a party of change—a party in favour of changing Britain for the better, rather than keeping what was wrong as it was.

I have listened carefully to the debate. Some clear themes have emerged and I found some common ground with my hon. Friends the Members for Epping Forest (Mrs Laing) and for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg). I want to draw Members’ attention to two important 18th-century individuals, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, who wrote the federalist papers: 85 editions of pure intellectual dynamite that played an important role in the formation of the American constitution. They had great insight into human nature, how to balance competing interests and how to ensure that a constitution worked as a whole. If one mistake is being made today, it is our trying to consider the reform of the House of Lords in isolation from wider

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constitutional change. Ten years ago, I would have had no truck with the idea of a written constitution, which was anathema to me, but such was the tinkering of the Labour party over the past 13 years, with a bit here and a bit there, that I am afraid we are left with no choice but to go back to the drawing board—to the famous blank sheet of paper that the leader of the Labour party constantly brandishes at us—and start to redraw our constitution.

The other key concern that I have heard today is the importance of maintaining the parity of this House with regard to the other House. I entirely accept that, and there must be no question of our becoming a subsidiary Chamber, but my fear is that the Government’s proposals risk that very thing. My fear about using the single transferable vote to elect Members to the senate, or this other House, is that it will create the very debate about legitimacy and who has the greater mandate that we seek to avoid. However, there is a solution, which might appear perverse to many Members and will not please my Liberal Democrat colleagues. I think that the answer is to find an electoral system that is so manifestly unfair, disproportionate, unrepresentative and idiosyncratic that there could be no question whatever of any dispute about which is the pre-eminent Chamber.

Might I suggest that we go back to the federalist papers of Alexander and James and ask ourselves why it is that tiny Delaware has two Senators in the US Senate while mighty California also has two Senators? May I just fly a kite, as we do all the time in politics and hope not to get shot down, as I might be about to—who knows? Could we return to the counties of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland before the Local Government Act 1972? Perhaps we could have a senate with elections for the historic county of Lancashire, reuniting Barrow and bringing Liverpool and Manchester back in. Perhaps we could also recreate Rutland and have Surrey stretching into the Surrey docks as it once did. The system would be full of illogicalities, but surely that is the point, because to maintain the primacy of this Chamber and defend the principle of first past the post—which I will do to my dying day, I have now decided after that fiasco of a referendum—we have to ensure that we have an electoral system that retains the confidence of the people and starts to tie people more into their legislature. I can think of few things that would do that more than having senators for the historic counties.

I may be an MP, but I try not to have too big an ego, and I can cope somehow with having MEPs, county councillors, borough councillors, district councillors, parish councillors, Uncle Tom Cobleighs and all trampling over my local newspapers, talking about things that I have an interest in. I no doubt do the same to them. We can cope with having multiple elected representatives in the areas that we also represent. I think it is important that we support the Deputy Prime Minister as he re-enters the Chamber. These are bold and important proposals and we must back them.

9.23 pm

Andrew George (St Ives) (LD): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard) because he has expressed a view from the Conservative Benches that is probably discordant

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with the views of the majority on those Benches and I shall do the same from mine.

I welcome many of the reforms, such as the removal of hereditaries, the constraint on patronage and the limit on the term, which is probably a matter for debate, and the reduction in the number of peers, which should also be debated further. There are also the Government’s intentions about the maintenance of function and power and about the primacy of the Commons over the other place. In addition, we have the right to retire, which will clearly be welcome, and a beefed-up Appointments Commission. The transitional arrangements have been debated elsewhere.

Unless the other place can do things that we in this Chamber cannot do, or bring into the legislative process something that we in this rather more tribal environment are unable to achieve, frankly we need to ask ourselves the unicameral question: why bother having a second Chamber at all? It would be far better for the country, particularly in these rather straitened times, to turn it into a museum and generate resources rather than for the nation’s resources to be sapped by something that contributes nothing to the process itself.

I have a great passion for democracy, but we do not need to democratise everything that moves. What we are about is improving the primacy of this Chamber. The hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg), who is no longer in his place, rightly emphasised that properly to have a debate about the need for this Chamber to function effectively we need to establish a written constitution that empowers this Chamber in relation to the Executive. It is not necessary to create a mirror image Chamber at the other end of the Corridor that contributes nothing to the legislative process.

There is a debate that we have not properly had. We have leapfrogged over the question of what we want a second Chamber for to how people get into that Chamber. The risk in the Government’s proposals is that we are welding the worst side of what we have in this place—its tribalism—into another place, rather than helping it to achieve the kind of objective that we want and the nation needs in order to balance what we do here with what is required in what should be a revising Chamber, a place for sober second thoughts, and not one that simply reflects the same kind of party tribalism that we have here. It will contribute nothing. We might as well not have it at all.

The potential risk of the seepage of power from this Chamber to the other is addressed in the draft Bill, but not sufficiently. It acknowledges on page 11 that the balance of power is established on the basis of statute to a certain extent, but also convention, and of course convention is changed by convention. One of the conventions that will be under a great deal of scrutiny and is at risk is that if there is no intention to codify the relationship between the two Chambers, powers will seep to another place. There will certainly be a challenge to take those powers to another place. Rather than go through the process of electing members to another Chamber, we should establish and work on a written constitution for this country.

9.28 pm

Simon Hart (Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire) (Con): As is pretty obvious to people who know me well, I am not an academic, a lawyer or a constitutional

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expert, which puts me in a minority of probably one for the purposes of this evening. However, I am a pragmatist from west Wales, and in that spirit I want to offer something constructive to the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper), of whom I have grown rather fond during the past 14 months as we have discussed one constitutional matter after another. Some of my best friends are estate agents and car salesmen, and much as I know them well, like them and enjoy their company— indeed, I was one at one stage—it does not necessarily mean that at the end of the day I want to buy what they have on offer. I fear, and I hope my hon. Friend will forgive me for saying so, that this moment is no different.

Given the limited time that we have, I thought it would be helpful to summarise the debate. I have sat through 50-odd contributions and for the sake of something different to say, I jotted down what I thought the debate had shown. A snapshot of the views expressed across the Chamber reveals that this is not about Lords reform but about parliamentary reform, abolition of the Lords and the relationship between the Lords and this place, between us and the devolved Assemblies and between us and voters. Those are serious matters. This is not some throw-away matter that we can loosely describe to the press as a process of kicking out a few old duffers. This deserves to be taken more seriously.

Another point that has been raised is that there would be long-term effects. There are long-term questions that need to be answered and arguments that have not been properly addressed, and I hope that the Minister will have the opportunity to reply to them. What failure in the upper House are we seeking to remedy? How will elected Members succeed where unelected ones have apparently failed? What improvements are we hoping to achieve? We seem fixated on how the House of Lords, or whatever it will be called, will look, rather than what it should do. That is the nub of the matter, and I must say that this afternoon’s debate has simply confirmed my fears in that respect.

On the other hand, the Government have attempted to make the case that the Lords “lacks sufficient democratic authority”. Mind you, so do many other institutions in which the nation happily puts its trust. That is an absolutely fair accusation if that is what we seek. There have been enough contributions from around the Chamber and the other place to suggest that that is not what we seek, so we must be very careful not to justify these measures purely on the basis of that argument.

There appears to be no public appetite for this, and people have dismissed public appetite as somehow irrelevant. They say, “It may be boring, but it’s important.” Well, many things we do here are boring and important, and some are boring and unimportant, but this is actually boring and very important. I wonder what my friends in The Eagle in Narberth would say tonight if they flicked over from the tennis and saw me standing here. When they are trying to cling on to their public service jobs, or hold on to their house, or get an operation in their local hospital, they will think—I apologise for looking at the camera if this is the case—that this is yet another example of some self-indulgent activity that contributes to people’s disinterest in and indifference to politicians of whatever nature, either elected in this House or unelected in the other.

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There seems to be almost no parliamentary support for the proposals, judging by the statistics in the House of Lords and in this place. There appears to be some coalition interest, and we can only speculate why that might be. There are profound long-term constitutional consequences that need further examination. We are told that there would be significant costs, which one estimate puts in the region of £433 million. I hope that the Minister will reflect on the comments that have been made this afternoon and follow the recommendation that many Members have made, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth West (Conor Burns), which is to proceed with great caution, go for a free vote and remember that it was not long ago that we suggested to the Labour Government that there was a fine line between constitutional reform, which we all support, and constitutional vandalism, which we accused them of achieving. We should bear in mind the wonderful words of the Prime Minister, whom I also commend, who rightly said that this was a fourth-term issue.

Mr Speaker: I call Mr Jesse Norman, to speak until 9.36 pm.

9.33 pm

Jesse Norman (Hereford and South Herefordshire) (Con): I am delighted to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire (Simon Hart) and congratulate him on an excellent speech. This Government will be seen in time as one of the great reforming Administrations, but I must say that I am not an enthusiast for this legislation. I will focus on one argument that goes to the heart of the debate. It has been repeatedly claimed that an elected House of Lords is a commitment set out in all three main party manifestos and that the Government and the Opposition would therefore be justified in using the Whip and the Parliament Act to push it through. If we look at the manifestos, however, we can quickly see that this argument is mistaken. The Liberal Democrat manifesto includes just three references to the House of Lords and includes a commitment to “a fully-elected second chamber”, so Liberal Democrat MPs who vote for an 80% elected Chamber will be voting against their manifesto.

The Labour manifesto does better, because it has five references to the Lords, but its commitment includes a referendum and the Bill does not, so Labour Members can hardly be whipped to vote for an elected Lords without the democratic legitimacy of a referendum.

What does the Conservative manifesto say? There is just one reference to an elected House of Lords, on page 67, and it is not deemed sufficiently important even to be included in the summary at the head of the chapter. It states:

“We will work to build a consensus for a mainly-elected second chamber to replace the current House of Lords”.

That is a commitment not to an elected House of Lords but to

“work to build a consensus.”

We have a White Paper and a draft Bill, so that commitment has been discharged, and on those grounds alone it would be quite wrong to use the Whip or the Parliament Act to force Members of this House to vote for this legislation. There must be a free vote.

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The House of Lords is an imperfect institution, as even its own Members concede. Its powers, composition and legitimacy have all come in for severe criticism over the years from different parts of the spectrum, but I am at a loss as to why anyone should want a Lords that was more party political, less expert and more expensive than it currently is. There is widespread public distrust in elected politicians, but this measure serves only to aggravate that distrust when we should be doing everything that we can to restore it.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: Order. I call Mr Chris Bryant.

9.36 pm

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): It is a delight to follow the hon. Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman), although that was the most casuistical argument based on party manifestos, and I completely disagree with him.

My central argument in favour of reform of the second Chamber is that the current system is unsustainable, in particular because of its effect on this House. At the moment, that House infantilises this House, because all too often Ministers stand up in this Chamber and refuse to give way or to agree to a perfectly sensible amendment, and then the Government go down the corridor and give way in another House.

Quite often, civil servants—whom we all love—say to their Minister, “What are you going to give away when you get down to the other end of the building?”, and that means that we do not do a proper job of scrutiny in this House. We will never do a better job of scrutiny in this House until we reform the other House, and that is why it needs to be changed.

Jesse Norman: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Chris Bryant: I will not, if the hon. Gentleman does not mind, because he has only just spoken. Some 34 Back Benchers spoke, and I want to reply to as much of the debate as possible.

The current system is also unsustainable simply because of the numbers. There are already more than 800 Members down the other end, and if we do not make reforms towards an elected second Chamber, we will end up with another 269.

Dr Julian Lewis: Reduce the number!

Chris Bryant: I hear the hon. Gentleman say, in a rather Tudor way, “Let’s just reduce the number.” What? A kind of cull? Beheadings? We should have Acts of Attainder, perhaps, down this end just to get rid of particular named Members down the other. I am not sure that that is right, and I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones), who said that there are too many Members and we need to ensure that there are fewer. The proposals are right in that regard.

A system that is based on appointment always leads to patronage. It was ever thus, and surprise, surprise, whoever we get to appoint people, they end up appointing

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people who are rather like them. When Lord Home of the Hirsel announced that women were to be introduced to the House of Lords, he rather bizarrely said that

“taking women into a Parliamentary embrace would seem to be only a modest extension of the normal… privileges of a Peer.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 30 October 1957; Vol. 205, c. 590.]

People did not quite understand what he meant, but the following year, when the first four women peers were introduced, one was the wife of a viceroy, another was a daughter of a viceroy and a third was already a Dame of the British Empire.

It was exactly the same in 1997, when the Labour Government decided to ask somebody to draw up a new system of appointments. We asked Herman Ouseley to do so, and he came forward with the House of Lords Appointments Commission, which we now enjoy. Guess who was on the first list of people whom the commission appointed—Herman Ouseley, now Baron Ouseley. To recite an old Robin Cook joke, there is of course Elspeth Howe, who became a Lady when her husband became Sir Geoffrey Howe, a Lady when her husband became a Member of the House of Lords and was then, herself, made a people’s peer, so she was “Once, twice, three times a lady”—[ Interruption. ] Sorry!

Appointment for life is also, in the end, reactionary. It often means that the wisdom and experience that goes into the House of Lords sits there for 20, 30 or 40 years and then becomes out of date and refers to a society of many years before. It was suggested earlier that the House of Lords should be a place of debate for an older generation. My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound) said that that is effectively the Saga version of the House of Lords. We need a far better system to ensure that what it does reflects the will of the whole country. One of the other problems about appointment is that over the past few years the vast majority of appointments have come from London and the south-east of England. It is almost inevitable that those who end up doing the appointing end up appointing in their own likeness.

The system of by-elections for hereditaries is unsustainable, as is reflected by the elections that take place when one of them dies. As I am sure that all hon. Members know, earlier this year, on 11 May, there was a by-election following the death of the 11th Baron Monson. Fourteen hereditaries stood; seven got no votes at all; five—the Earl of Oxford and Asquith, the Earl of Shaftesbury, the Earl of Drogheda, Lord Cromwell and Viscount Colville of Culross—were eliminated because the single transferable vote is already used for the House of Lords; and the Earl of Lytton beat the Duke of Somerset by 15 votes to nine. I have to say that my favourite is still the 2005 by-election in which there were 28 electors, 26 stood, 19 got no votes at all, and in the sixth and final round Viscount Montgomery of Alamein defeated the Earl of Effingham—you couldn’t make it up, could you?—by 11 votes to eight. It was pure “Blackadder”. I am delighted, however, that in the other by-election that took place this May, a Labour candidate, the third Viscount Hanworth, stood against a Liberal Democrat, the Earl of Carlisle, and the Labour man got 233 votes while the Liberal Democrat got only 26. Interestingly, it is sometimes said that people will not stand for election to a second Chamber, but the Earl of Carlisle has not had much luck, as he also stood for the Commons in 1987 and 1992.

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Incidentally, it is inappropriate that we still combine the peerage with the legislature. If the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh) wants to be a baron, a viscount, an earl or whatever, it would make far more sense for him to make his bid and start to get a bit less rebellious, because the Government will not be doling it out to him, and I am sure that Her Majesty will end up giving him a suitable honour.

Several hon. Members referred to experience and expertise. As the hon. Member for Carlisle (John Stevenson) has said, we should not undervalue the expertise and experience in this House. Many of us look to people such as the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart), who have a degree of experience in certain fields, to bring that to this House. It is true that there are not many generals here, but there are majors and people who served in the ranks. One of the best speeches on the military covenant that I have read or heard in either House was made by a Member who has never been a member of the armed forces—my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton North East (Mr Crausby)—as I think that a lot of hon. Members who heard it would agree. As regards the NHS, we have GPs and a gynaecologist, who is in the Chamber now. We have teachers, people who have run their own businesses, people who have built their own businesses and people from the shop floor—we even have a vicar and a former Member of the House of Lords. We should not undervalue the experience that people like to see getting elected to this House.

On the bishops, it is inappropriate that they should represent only the people of England. For me, one of the great moments of the debate was hearing my right hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Paul Murphy), who is a well-known papal knight and a respected Roman Catholic, acknowledge that the bishops of the Church of England are actually bishops—so the job of the Reformation is done. I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Sir Stuart Bell), who served with distinction as one of the Church Commissioners, that the bishops were originally here because they were one of the major land tenants in the country, then because we took into Parliament the business of deciding on religious matters such as transubstantiation and now because people argue, as we have heard, that we need them for spiritual support.

In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, neither the spirit of the land nor the Churches have collapsed because no bishops represent those areas in Parliament. Although some of my best friends are bishops, I honestly think that the time has come for them to depart the House of Lords. That would not signal the disestablishment of the Church of England, just as the fact that there are no representatives of the Church of Scotland in the House of Lords does not prevent it from being established. I say to my bishop friends that they can make a far more effective contribution to society by editing the New Statesman. If that has not helped Conservative Members join my cause to take bishops out of the House of Lords, I do not know what will. I hope that we will see an end to bishops in the House of Lords.

There are some problems with the legislation, as hon. Members have said. First, the powers of the House of Lords must be addressed. I do not think that clause 2 will stand the test. The Salisbury-Addison convention, to all intents and purposes, is now non-existent. It

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cannot hold water when there are more than two political parties in Parliament. It is frankly not worth the paper that it was not written on.

I think that 15 years is too long for somebody to be elected for. It is very difficult to see how somebody can be genuinely representative and accountable when they sit for fully 15 years. As the hon. Members for Crawley (Henry Smith) and for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey) have said, it is important that we have a system of recall. If somebody is elected and hardly ever turns up, abuses their position or gets into some kind of trouble, there should be some system of recall, just as there should be for this House.

Many Members have said that this issue is not a priority and that we should not deal with it, but I profoundly disagree with them. In the end, it is about how we use power. All the other issues that my constituents of course talk far more about, such as jobs, unemployment, benefits, creating a successful economy, transport, teachers and hospitals, depend on whether we distribute power properly. That is why it is important to have change. Having just a system of appointments is reactionary. It means that we always reflect the past and do not offer a greater future, and it also creates the problem of patronage.

The hon. Member for Gainsborough hopes that the radical left and the radical right will combine to see off the proposals. I hope that everyone unites to improve the proposals, because they certainly need improvement. If the Government are too intractable, the measures will die. However, let us not lose sight of the unsustainability of the present arrangements. Surely, if one wants to tell other people how to live their lives, which is in essence what a Member of a legislature does, the least one can do is to put oneself up for election.

9.47 pm

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr Mark Harper): I am very grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s very positive winding-up speech. He clearly listens to the debate in this House, which is unlike that in the House of Lords. Perhaps unsurprisingly, in the House of Lords debate last week, there were 101 Back-Bench speakers, of whom 19 were in favour of a wholly or mainly elected House, at least in principle. I thought that was actually quite encouraging, given the turkeys and Christmas principle. It is worth noting that 68 of those speakers were former Members of this House, which gives the lie to the idea that all those who speak in the other place are disinterested experts; they are largely people who have been in politics and remain in politics. It seems to me that such people would have no problem standing for election.

Our debate was more balanced. Out of 34 Back-Bench speakers, I counted 15 who were broadly in favour of the proposals, 16 who were not in favour and three who were broadly in favour of reform, but had significant concerns about our proposals. It was a fairly balanced debate, which I think is why the Opposition Front Benchers became more enthusiastic about our proposals as the debate proceeded. The right hon. Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan) started very positively by saying that he was committed to a 100% elected Chamber. However, I detected that there was a danger of his letting the best be the enemy of the good.

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The right hon. Member for South Shields (David Miliband) gave a sensible counsel of action. He made it clear that he was in favour of a 100% elected Chamber, as is my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister. However, neither of them wants to let attempting perfection prevent any reform whatever, and both think that ending up with 80% of Members of the House of Lords being elected would be an improvement on the position that we have today. I hope that other Members will pay attention to that.

It is worth reminding everyone at the beginning of my remarks that we are considering a White Paper and a draft Bill. We are carrying out pre-legislative scrutiny, which we were urged to do on previous constitutional Bills. A Joint Committee has been set up, with 13 Members of this House and 13 Members of the other place of varying degrees of enthusiasm for reform. If we look at the Committee in the round, we see that it is broadly representative. I hope that it will consider the issues raised in the House of Lords last week and the House of Commons today. I know that a significant number of its Commons members were present today and listened to the debate either in full or in part.

Mark Durkan: Is the Joint Committee not really going to be just a theatre for screensaver politics, in which images are going to be projected, an impression of activity and movement generated and shapes thrown, but nothing real will actually be achieved?

Mr Harper: I very much hope that the hon. Gentleman is wrong. There are serious people on the Committee, and it is chaired by a very senior Member of the other place, the noble Lord Richard. It has the capacity to consider the matter seriously, examine our White Paper and our draft Bill and bring forward a serious report that we in this House and the other place will consider. It has that opportunity, and it is up to the Committee whether it decides to grasp it or to do what the hon. Gentleman says. From looking at the members of the Committee appointed from this House and the other place, I have confidence that it will take the matter seriously. The Government will listen to it if it engages seriously in the process, and I hope that it will.

A number of Members wondered why are introducing these proposals. The simplest answer is that those who make the laws should be elected. One Member of the other place, who will remain nameless, said last week that she did not believe there was a democratic deficit, or that elections were the only form of democracy. In response, the noble Lord Sharkey said:

“She argued that the scale of the House’s outreach and its collective wisdom constitute a kind of democratic system.”

He continued, in a way that I thought was appropriate to the House of Lords, that that allowed

“a much more flexible definition of democracy than is usual.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 21 June 2011; Vol. 728, c. 1233.]

I agree with him. Democracy is based on direct election to key institutions, and the House of Lords is a key institution that makes laws. It is a legislating body. Having been responsible for steering legislation through Parliament, I am not sure about the idea that the other place simply gives the Government advice, and it is entirely up to us, in a relaxed manner, whether we take it

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or leave it. I am afraid that was not my experience of trying to get legislation through the other place. It is part of this Parliament, so its Members should be elected.

A number of Members suggested today that they had concerns about primacy, including my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth West (Conor Burns), who was the first Back Bencher to speak, and my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds (Mr Ruffley). We have not said in our proposals that there will be no changes if Members of the other place are elected. We have said that there will be an evolution of the relationship between the two Houses, but that ultimately the primacy of this House is guaranteed by the Parliament Acts. We control the supply of money, and ultimately we can pass legislation without the agreement of the other place. The relationship will change, as it has over the past century. It has changed since last year, with the advent of a coalition Government and the fact that the Salisbury-Addison convention does not operate in the same way, if at all. That change will continue, but ultimately this House is supreme, and that is guaranteed by law.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Laura Sandys), supported by the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), made the point that this is not a zero-sum game. Improving the way in which the other place works could mean that our game is raised, and that collectively these Houses will do a better job of holding the Government to account. Many Members have referred to the role of the other place, which is to scrutinise and revise legislation, but also to hold the Government to account. Both Houses have a responsibility to do that, and both could do it better.

I say to those concerned about primacy that we considered carefully how to constitute the other place and examined ways of preventing it from being able to argue that it was more legitimate than this House. We proposed a different system of election, and elections by thirds, so that the House of Lords never has a more recent mandate than the House of Commons. We have said that Members should be legitimate by being elected, but we recognise that they will not be as accountable as us because they cannot be re-elected. They cannot therefore argue that they are more legitimate and usurp our powers.

Let us consider the point about talents and skills. Broadly 25% of the current House of Lords are Cross Benchers; the rest are already party political nominees appointed by the party leaders and the Executive. The idea that the other place is somehow free of politics or party politics is simply wrong. My hon. Friend the Member for North East Hertfordshire (Oliver Heald) explained that elections will be an improvement on patronage.

The hon. Member for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones) said that the House of Lords was larger than all Assemblies except China’s National People’s Congress, which has more than 3,000 Members. That was a particularly topical reference given Premier Wen’s visit today. I will not pass on that news to the Prime Minister—he might think that 3,000 Members is a target for which to aim rather than something to be discouraged.

The serious point is that the other place has talented Members on the Cross Benches and the party political Benches, but I strongly agree with the hon. Member for Rhondda: so does this place. Someone mentioned a

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national health service debate in the other place, in which Lord Howe of Aberavon referred to the number of experts there. We have them in this House, too. We have a practising dentist, a former GP, a former hospital doctor, former nurses, former members of the armed forces, former business people, former opticians—


I skipped over lawyers deliberately, but we have other talented people who can contribute to the House. We should not do ourselves down and pretend that Members of this House do not have a lot to offer.

I have been present for the entire debate and I have read Hansard for the two days of debate in the other place last week. Frankly, I must say that more fresh and considered ideas about improving the draft Bill came out of today’s debate from elected Members of this House than emerged from the debate last week.

One or two hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh), asked why we favoured proportional representation. The answer is simple. First, the Government should not have a majority in the other place. It should not be a carbon copy of this House, so the system should be different. We selected single transferable vote in the draft Bill. We recognise that there is a case for an open list. The STV system would reduce parties’ control and allow Members to be more independent. People said that they liked that aspect of the existing House of Lords.

I agreed with the hon. Member for Luton South (Gavin Shuker) when he said that having first past the post in this House, which he and I supported in the recent referendum, and proportional representation in the House of Lords, forms a solid constitutional settlement. The two Chambers have a different role and should therefore have different electoral systems that play to those different roles.

For the future, we have a draft Bill, and both Houses have appointed a Joint Committee, which can start its work. Both Houses have given the Committee an “out” date—we want it to report by 29 February next year. If the Committee wants more time, it can come back to both Houses, as is usual. The Government will listen to what the Committee states in its report. We have listened carefully to the debate last week and today, and we will continue to listen to hon. Members’ views. We will listen

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and adapt our proposals, and in the next Session we will introduce a Bill to reform the other place, with the first elections in 2015. I hope that we will get the support of as many Members as possible.

Question put and agreed to.


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

Business without Debate


Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No.145),

That this House agrees with the Report [22 June] of the Liaison Committee.—(Mr Dunne.)

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs


That Bill Esterson be discharged from the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee and Cathy Jamieson be added.— (Mr Francois , on behalf of the Committee of Selection .)



That Nadine Dorries be discharged from the Health Committee and Dr Daniel Poulter be added.—( Mr Francois , on behalf of the Committee of Selection .)

Welsh Affairs


That Alun Cairns be discharged from the Welsh Affairs Committee and Mr Robin Walker be added.—( Mr Francois , on behalf of the Committee of Selection .)

Work and Pensions


That Alex Cunningham be discharged from the Work and Pensions Committee and Debbie Abrahams be added.— (Mr Francois , on behalf of the Committee of Selection .)

27 Jun 2011 : Column 727

Community Orchards

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Mr Dunne.)

10 pm

Paul Maynard (Blackpool North and Cleveleys) (Con): I am pleased, both as a Conservative Member of Parliament and as the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys, to speak about this important subject of community orchards. However, I am more pleased still, because I am also a russet, which is not merely a type of apple, but the name given to those who originate from the tiny village of Weaverham in the centre of Cheshire, which is where the Wareham russet was first invented. I am a true Wareham russet.

It is a pleasure to talk about community orchards. My home village of Weaverham was once awash with them. They grew both apples—Wareham russets—and our famous damsons, but in the immediate post-war period, they were all grubbed up to make way for council housing, to provide accommodation for those who went to work at the great Imperial Chemical Industries plant in Northwich.

We lost our community orchards, but sadly, we were not alone in our loss. Since 1945, we have lost 63% of our orchards one way or another. Indeed, in the traditional fruit-growing counties, such as Herefordshire, Kent and Worcestershire, the losses have been greater still.

However, things are stirring in the orchard world—a susurrus whistling through the bows, that some in the House have not yet quite heard. I should like to pay tribute to a very large number of organisations that I have contacted in the past week which have helped me to put my speech together. Common Ground, which is based in Shaftesbury in Dorset, is a particularly worthwhile organisation that has done much to promote apple day, which falls on 21 October, the same day as Trafalgar day. In fact, that gives added credence to the idea of making Trafalgar day our new bank holiday. We could perhaps call it apple day. Other groups, such as the Orchard Network and the Northern Fruit Group—the list is endless—do sterling work to protect heritage fruit species that I feel so passionate about. The People’s Trust for Endangered Species has just completed the national orchard inventory as part of its work to protect the noble chafer beetle. That is an example of biodiversity in action, which encompasses much of what orchards stand for.

However, I am sure the Minister is wondering why I summoned him on a Monday night, to sit here at the end of the day to talk about community orchards. I am sure he is not overly amused, but let me explain why I have come here tonight. This debate is not just about orchards, but about the meaning of localism. There is a need to recognise the distinctiveness of our towns, villages and communities, and orchards are a wonderful way of doing that.

Many people, when they heard that I would have this debate, asked, “What is a community orchard?” and I had to explain that they are orchards that are in the community. Anyone can go in and enjoy them at any time, and those people can come together as a community. They can be the focal point for a village, an estate or even just a block of flats. The concern that animates our national debate on cloned town centres, with their identical chains of shops, is also behind community orchards. We need distinctiveness and difference.

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Jesse Norman (Hereford and South Herefordshire) (Con): I absolutely applaud my hon. Friend in his call for more community orcharding. I come from the county of Herefordshire, which is thrilled to be the largest cider orchard county in the country. Does he share my view that we should not restrict cider and other orchards to rural areas, but encourage them within urban and suburban areas, where they can also give so much joy to local people?

Paul Maynard: Indeed, and I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. My constituency has no green space apart from a golf course plonked in the middle of it, so I would welcome more green of any variety.

It is also important to recognise that the last Government—although no Labour Member is in their place now—did something to recognise that orchards were a habitat at risk, as they were added to the list of 15 biodiversity action plan habitats. However, as no inventory had been made, we were not sure of the starting point for the action plan. The work that has just been done by the traditional orchard inventory project, helped by Natural England, has allowed us to identify 17,000 hectares of orchards, many of them basic community orchards. One sad aspect of that work is that 45% are considered to be in poor condition, and that is where we start to get into the political remit of this issue.

The natural environment White Paper contained a sole, but welcome reference to community orchards, in relation to Tower Hamlets, which is a very urban area. The issue of protection for these orchards is paramount so, with the authority of many of the stakeholders for these orchards, I ask the Minister what more he can do to offer protection to the orchards. Many people have complained to me about the difficulty of obtaining tree protection orders. There is a failure to realise that many fruit trees grow for many hundreds of years. For example, I had no idea that a pear tree could still be maturing after some 300 years.

We also need to ensure that any fruit produced by these trees is not wasted. That means better liaison with the cider industry and within communities. I was pleased to see that the White Paper mentioned local nature partnerships and nature improvement areas, which could encompass community orchards. I hope the Minister will be able to confirm that organisations such as Common Ground and the Orchard Network will be able to start to bid for money to allow them to assist local groups to conserve their older orchards through small grants for insurance, fencing, stakes and gates—all those things that are needed to put the infrastructure together to help us to build a community.

I am sure that the Minister recognises the importance of these orchards to biodiversity. I recall them from my childhood days as being an edible hedgerow, with so many varieties of fruit on offer in the village, but they are also communal assets. Some of the concern stems from the need for more statutory presumption against the grubbing up of these smaller orchards for in-fill development. We often have debates in this Chamber about back-fill, in-fill and bungalows popping up everywhere. Orchards are very susceptible to this, and I hope that the Minister will be able to guarantee that he will give some consideration as to how they can be more protected.

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I recognise that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs cannot do it all. Orchards have a great potential. Indeed, the Department’s fruit and vegetables taskforce came up with a multitude of recommendations for cross-departmental working that will be very helpful. I am one of the few MPs who has managed to wade through the gargantuan Marmot review into healthy living, which is a 300-page leviathan of nanny-state prescriptions, but which made an important observation:

“Improving the good environment involves addressing issues concerning the accessibility of affordable and nutritious food that is sustainably produced, processed and delivered”.

I have referred to the importance of not wasting the fruit that grows in community orchards. My constituency is the fourth most deprived constituency represented by a Conservative MP and includes a particularly poor estate called Grange Park. It was where the Conservative party held its social action project during the 2007 party conference. That is where the fruit trees in my constituency came from—planted by the party as part of that social action project.

The great lesson I took from that experiment was that for many children on the estate, fruit comes in a bag from Iceland. In this week of all weeks, with Wimbledon being played just down the road from here, the notion that fruit such as strawberries have a season would be incomprehensible to many of the children on that estate. The importance of orchards as educational tools should be considered as well.

Although the Slow Food movement is growing in popularity—I was in Ludlow, not too many weeks ago, enjoying a food festival there—it must not become the preserve of the upper middle classes, or something chichi or fashionable. It has to be something that my constituents can access as well. I am pleased, therefore, that at the recent civic trust awards in Blackpool, a fruit-growing project in Blackpool South, Grow Blackpool, won a civic award. I have many other examples from around Lancashire of people who have written to me about their small community orchards.

There is a recognition that fruits and community orchards have a role to play in our local communities, and that, more importantly, localism is not just about what we ask our councillors to do, and what decisions we allow councils to take; it is also about how we see our communities and about this very important idea of particularism. What makes this country special, in my view, is that we manage to cram so much diversity into such a small geographic area. It is that local distinctiveness that makes this country so special. We should never become estranged from the nature at the heart of our communities, and orchards, in the right places, cared for, nurtured and built up, link people with the place in which they live and the history of that place. It certainly linked me to the history of the village I come from, and I very much hope that the community orchard movement will strengthen and grow, with the Government’s support and protection where appropriate. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s thoughts.

10.11 pm

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr James Paice): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard) on obtaining tonight’s debate.

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He wisely commented on—perhaps foresaw—my initial reaction when I saw the subject of tonight’s Adjournment debate on a non-voting night. However, having done the research that it is incumbent on me to do in order to reply—although I have some knowledge as well—I think that he has chosen a subject not only about which he clearly knows a lot, but which is of much greater importance than first sight might suggest.

I know that my hon. Friend has a close involvement with and interest in the subject, and I know that the Grow Blackpool project includes a community orchard and received a Blackpool environmental action award in January—I believe he was present. I also understand that two schools are involved in that activity, demonstrating some of the points to which he referred. He kindly furnished me with a list of some of the issues he was going to raise, so I have been able to prepare properly, I hope, for this debate. I will try to answer some, if not all, the points he made.

So many of the things that my hon. Friend described are encompassed by a phrase that will be close to his heart, as it is to mine—the big society. It is about bringing together a range of different benefits and community gains within the community. I am therefore pleased to have this opportunity to pick up his points. I am sure that he appreciates—he effectively said so— that DEFRA is committed to improving the natural environment and reconnecting people with nature and food. We also have wider responsibilities for Government policy on orchards and, as he and my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman) mentioned, on the cider industry. Community orchards can contribute to all those areas. Obviously, there is no formal record of community orchards but we believe that several hundred have been established throughout the country, largely due, as my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys has rightly said, to the successful efforts of Common Ground and other organisations.

In the process of this research, I discovered that one of my predecessors in my office had been given a book written by Common Ground about orchards. I found the book fascinating and I thoroughly encourage my hon. Friend to read it if he has not done so. The main purpose of a community orchard is not just the production of fruit—although as my hon. Friend said, it should not be wasted—but to provide a valuable green space, a focal point for the community and the opportunity for relaxation. People of all ages and from all backgrounds are concerned about access to and the quality of local green spaces. Research has shown that they are frequently motivated to act together to develop and manage the spaces that they most care about, whether they be community orchards, parks, playgrounds, allotments or other places.

The recent “National Ecosystem Assessment”, which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State published a few weeks ago, put the value of access to open space at about £300 per person, which demonstrates its benefits. My hon. Friend referred to the Marmot review, which also demonstrated that there is a benefit to communities and individuals—and, perhaps in particular, the less well-off, the vulnerable and the disadvantaged, whom the Marmot review targeted—in having access to leisure opportunities such as those provided by a community orchard. The Government’s programme makes a

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commitment to protecting green areas of particular importance to local communities, something that also featured in the natural environment White Paper. My colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government are taking the lead role in encouraging communities to take over the ownership or management of significant community assets, including community orchards. Under the Localism Bill, residents will be able to play a bigger role in planning, designing, managing and maintaining community green spaces for food growing and other purposes.

The vital importance of green spaces—both through their benefits to local communities and as part of our ecological network—is highlighted in the natural environment White Paper. The role of community orchards is recognised in that. Although we do not use the term “community orchard”—the White Paper uses the term “urban orchard”—the nomenclature is designed to cover the same types of orchard. The White Paper showcases the excellent work of Tower Hamlets Homes in providing access to green space and supporting healthy eating through resident-led community food projects, allotments and urban orchards.

The White Paper includes the proposal to create new nature improvement areas. We want to see such areas wherever the opportunities or benefits are greatest, driven by local partnerships. DEFRA will launch a competition for funding to contribute to the first tranche of 12 improvement areas in July. Each application will be judged by a panel of experts chaired by Professor Sir John Lawton against criteria that will be made available on the Natural England website. Among other criteria, the panel will look at areas that restore and join up priority habitats, and areas where identifiable benefits to local communities can be demonstrated. There is therefore plenty of scope for community orchards to be part of a nature improvement area and included in applications for the competition.

Another key feature of the White Paper is the proposal to introduce local nature partnerships. These will be inclusive partnerships working on a landscape scale, using an ecosystems approach. That, too, will give the opportunity to highly valued community orchards to be included in a partnership.

My hon. Friend referred to the superb work done by the People’s Trust for Endangered Species on behalf of Natural England in compiling an inventory of traditional orchards—not specifically community orchards—using aerial photographs. It will be used to target and restore sites, as he rightly said, and to monitor targets and inform local planning policies and development. The five-year project located 35,378 traditional orchards, which equates to just under 17,000 hectares of habitat. I was astonished at the scale of those figures, which demonstrate just how important community orchards are, especially as traditional orchards have declined considerably, as he said—they are believed to have declined by 63% since 1950. However, for the first time we now know their extent and location.

As my hon. Friend also said, traditional orchards are recognised biodiversity hot spots. It is recognised that, without proper protection and sensitive management, they can easily slip into decline. I can tell my hon. Friend that I have a community orchard in my own

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constituency; it is privately owned, but access is given to the community and the community has the fruit from it. These orchards embody all the things that we read about and see in picture books about a traditional old English apple orchard.

If we were to lose this habitat, we would also face losing rare English fruit varieties—another point to which my hon. Friend rightly referred. We would also lose the traditions, customs and knowledge in addition to the genetic diversity represented by the hundreds of species that are associated with traditional orchards. They are a haven for biodiversity. As I said, not all community orchards fall within the definition of a traditional orchard—indeed, many have been planted in more recent years—but they nevertheless have a very valuable habitat and biodiversity role.

My hon. Friend asked about protection and referred to tree protection orders. These are a matter for the local council, but he is right to say that some fruit trees, which are not normally the subject of tree preservation orders, can be very old and ancient trees that are worthy of protection in certain cases. As I say, it is a matter for local authorities.

Community orchards can also have a valuable place, as my hon. Friend said, in maintaining the cultivation of heritage varieties. I am not even going to try to repeat all the ones to which he referred, but there are many more. The book to which I referred earlier lists the origins of many varieties, explaining where they were first bred and listing the individuals who bred them.

Both my hon. Friends the Members for Blackpool North and Cleveleys and for Hereford and South Herefordshire referred to the cider industry. It is probably true to say that relatively few community orchards grow predominantly cider varieties, but they can still have an important role in supporting small-scale, often local, cider producers. Most local cider producers will make cider from any variety of apple, not just the specific cider ones. As many of us, especially members of the all-party cider group, know, there is a growing interest in artisan or craft-scale cider making, which is attracting increasing numbers of people from all over the UK who are keen to make some cider or perry—or indeed something else—from their local fruit.

My hon. Friend also referred to education, and he was right to do so. Community orchards can support and enhance the curriculum by helping children to understand where their food comes from and, as my hon. Friend so aptly said, its seasonality. I am sure he is right that it is not unique to the people of his constituency not to know that fruit is seasonal. I fear that, as with much of our food production, many people are not very aware of its origins or how it comes to be. Community orchards can offer great opportunities to see food growing, for people to experience producing food for themselves and to understand the links between food and sustainability. They are also places where children can learn how food plots support biodiversity, including the important role of bees, about which the House has heard so much in recent years. Orchards have helped to revive British apple varieties, so children can learn about varieties not usually seen in the supermarket.

One of the other goals of Government food policy is to encourage people to eat healthily and there is some evidence showing that children involved in growing fruit and vegetables move towards more healthy eating.

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They have a greater understanding of the dietary composition of fruit and vegetables. As I mentioned earlier, there are also benefits from being outside and gardening—well known for both mental and physical health.

Finally, my hon. Friend will be aware of the Government’s initiative in what we call the big tree plant, which was designed for community woodlands. To the best of my knowledge, there is no reason why it could not also be applied to growing fruit trees. We certainly do not lay down the species of trees that could be grown. There is some assistance available in that regard for communities who want to get involved.

Let me conclude by saying to my hon. Friend that I really congratulate him and I respect him for the amount

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of research that he has obviously done and for the way he presented his points. I do not hold it against him that he has held us here this evening. Frankly, so many of the objectives of DEFRA—local food, fresh air, community spirit, biodiversity—are provided by community orchards. They have the lot to offer. I congratulate my hon. Friend again on allowing us to raise the profile of community orchards this evening.

Question put and agreed to.

10.24 pm

House adjourned .