“They are expressed in the language of high moral purpose”,

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she said,

“but they are really about pretty low politics.”—[Official Report, 9 July 2012; Vol. 548, c. 71-72.]

She was absolutely correct. Having failed to gain an AV armlock on the Commons, the Liberals are aiming for a PR stranglehold on the Lords. Since legislation must pass through both Houses of Parliament, this will require perpetual appeasement of Lib Dem demands, even if the Conservatives or Labour win an overall majority in the Commons at the next election.

Yet much more is at stake than the institutionalisation of third-party power by creating an upper House based on proportional representation, for we will lose the ability to improve legislation—the point made by the right hon. Member for Holborn and St Pancras—by considering amendments purely on their merits.

Yesterday, the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso), a Lib Dem and a former Member of the second Chamber, said at column 54:

“First, in my view the House of Lords is broke. It does not actually work”,

and at column 55:

“Secondly, we need to take the best of what exists. For example, the reason the House of Lords works well is that the Whip is lighter”.—[Official Report, 9 July 2012; Vol. 548, c.54-55.]

I shall now explain from personal experience why he was right in column 55 and wrong in column 54.

In the 15 years since I entered Parliament, I have managed to change the law only once, when the Labour Government allowed a rare free vote on a matter affecting the security of MPs. But in the 15 years before I entered Parliament, I worked closely in connection and in co-operation with a small group of peers and, between 1984 and 1990, it proved possible to alter the law on three important occasions. This was entirely because of the way the House of Lords works.

Consider the Trade Union Act 1984, when we briefed the Lords on the merits of postal ballots for union elections, compared with the counting of heads at tiny branch meetings. Dozens of peers were persuaded and, despite the best efforts of Government Whips against them, an appropriate amendment was carried. Back in the Commons, the same amendment stood no chance of success because of the much tighter controls on Back Benchers. Nevertheless, in response to the Lords amendment, the Government decided to offer a proposal of their own—to try making postal ballots the norm and to create central registers of trade union members. Four years later, this led directly to the introduction of compulsory postal ballots, as the Lords had originally proposed. If the upper House had been predominantly elected, and especially if it had been elected on a PR list system, the initial amendment, which eventually led to the introduction of postal ballots, would never have been passed.

Even more clear-cut were the changes to the Education Bill in 1986 and to the Broadcasting Bill in 1990, both of which were amended in respect of the balanced treatment of politically controversial issues. In each of those cases, the more independent-minded peers were willing to listen to, and be persuaded by, arguments that when such subjects were presented in the classroom or in the media, it must be done in an even-handed manner.

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Such was the strength of their case that the amendments made in the Lords to both those Bills were allowed to remain intact when they returned to the Commons.

An upper House filled mainly from party lists of professional politicians would have been no more receptive to any of those arguments than the House of Commons, where almost all the votes are strictly whipped and where defying the Whip is seen as an act of career-changing rebellion. The willingness of Members of the House of Lords to judge arguments on their merits, and to amend legislation accordingly, stems not just from the limited discipline which can be imposed upon them, however. It derives, in large measure, from the fact that many peers are appointed after reaching the summit of their professions. They therefore have an expertise which full-time MPs might have achieved had they not switched careers to enter the Commons.

It is not the same to be a potential expert who decided instead to become a full-time politician in mid-career as it is to be an actual expert, who entered the Lords after reaching the top of the medical profession, the armed forces, business, the Church or the arts. Even the ex-MPs in the Lords have generally left further career ambition behind them. By contrast, young full-time politicians may well be able to see the strength of an argument for amending a Bill, but their careers are still in front of them and only a minority will put ambition aside.

This dismal Bill would be the end of the House of Lords as a place where laws are fine-tuned, and I urge all colleagues to reject it.

7 pm

Mr Tom Clarke (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (Lab): Like my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Ann Coffey) and others, I served on the Joint Committee on the draft House of Lords Reform Bill and so have heard much evidence on the future of the House of Lords, but I want to refer later to the impact of all these proposals, and perhaps others, on the future of the House of Commons.

When I came into the Chamber this afternoon, I was of a mind—I still am—to support those on my Front Bench and vote for the Bill on Second Reading, but the more I see of the shenanigans on the Government Benches, including what has happened this afternoon on the programme motion, the more I wonder whether I am making the right decision.

What I do believe to be right, and my reason for serving on the Joint Committee, is that there is indeed a challenge and an opportunity for us to look at the House of Lords and come up with better ideas than have emerged thus far. I am comforted in that by “Erskine May”, and my interpretation of what he wrote is that if the Bill collapses, it is unlikely that a similar Bill will be accepted for a long time to come.

The Bill is imperfect. The alternative report, which I signed, indicated some of the difficulties, some of the arguments not addressed and some of the issues that should be put before this House. I came here today to support the Bill’s Second Reading, to support very strongly the referendum and to oppose a programme motion. Whatever else might be said today and whatever other changes might be made, that remains broadly my approach to the matter.

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The alternative report to which I have referred was extremely helpful, and I am sorry that Members have not heard more about it. It mentioned, for example, the Scottish Constitutional Convention and its preparations for the Scottish Parliament. The convention called on the whole of civic society, including politicians, Churches, trade unions, community councils and many others, and on that basis of wide consultation we have the Scottish Parliament as it is today. Why, then, can we reasonably object to the referendum that these issues invite? Do we not trust the people? Time and again we are urged to listen to what people are saying, which I think is right. I hope that the alternative report helped to clarify matters. It did so to the extent that, on the advice of Lord Pannick and Lord Goldsmith—paragraph 227 of the report is the relevant part—reference to the Parliament Acts was included in the new Bill before us in an attempt to make greater sense of the matter.

Jonathan Reynolds (Stalybridge and Hyde) (Lab/Co-op): My right hon. Friend’s reference to Scottish devolution is particularly appropriate in relation to a referendum. The Deputy Prime Minister said earlier today that the case for House of Lords reform was so big that no referendum was needed, yet my right hon. Friend has correctly highlighted the fact that, despite the strength of support for devolution in Scotland, the referendum procedure was still used there. It was used not so much to endorse that change, but to embed it. With an unwritten constitution, it is that embedding of a change that I think is most important.

Mr Clarke: My hon. Friend makes a valid point, and one that is worthy of more consideration.

The Joint Committee sought to serve both Houses in our report, and we were a very mixed group, including independents, Conservatives and Lib Dems. I note that its Lib Dem members voted the whole way throughout the Committee’s considerations, which leads me to think that there might just be another agenda, and some of us have drawn attention to that this afternoon. A number of us signed the alternative report, including six Privy Counsellors and the Bishop of Leicester, the Convenor of the Lords Spiritual. He said that it was not enough simply to talk about bishops because we ought to be dealing with inter-faith matters. This is a diverse society. The House of Commons has not as yet reflected that, but if we get the opportunity to do so in the House of Lords, we ought to take it.

I complained yesterday in an intervention on the Deputy Prime Minister, to which he responded inadequately, that the Joint Committee did not even have the opportunity to consider costs. Even today the Government have been very reticent in the information they have given the House. They refer to the Bill, but it leaves most of the decisions to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. There are varying levels of respect for IPSA in this House, but whether that is the right way to go in these matters is worthy of more thought.

Mrs Laing: Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is simply wrong that the Joint Committee’s report and the alternative report have never been debated in this House and that the debate we are having right now is about the narrow confines of the Bill, rather than the whole issue of parliamentary reform, and does he agree that we need a constitutional convention?

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Mr Clarke: I absolutely agree with the hon. Lady and respect her contribution to the Joint Committee. Like me, she signed the alternative report. I think that we were entitled, and that that House is entitled, to consider the validity of elected Members in both Houses. If the Government succeed in taking the Bill forward, I think that it would be naive in the extreme to think that we could have another largely elected House that would be prepared simply to accept what we have to offer without saying, “Look. We were elected as well.” In some cases its Members will be elected by millions of people, in contrast to the small number who might have elected some of us. So concerned were the Government about those small numbers in this place that, almost without a whimper, we are approaching a situation in which the number of Members elected democratically to this House will be reduced by 50—hardly a democratic way of dealing with modern Britain.

I believe that the legislation governing the relationship between the House of Commons and the House of Lords, or whatever follows it, should include codified mechanisms for conflict resolution. I do not believe that existing conventions are enough, as I think we can see in the United States of America. Despite its difficulties, the House of Representatives found that when things changed it was less important than it had thought it was, and that is something we ought to bear in mind.

We have an opportunity in both Houses. The challenge is there for us to ensure that democratic, representative government applies to every part of our legislature. However, the Joint Committee could not even have the advice of the Attorney-General—my heavens, if there are criticisms of us I would accept that one—but this House is entitled to that advice. I will end on this point: some people ask whether this is the right time, but my question is whether this is the right Bill. On the evidence I have seen so far, it is not.

7.8 pm

Conor Burns (Bournemouth West) (Con): May I begin by warmly welcoming the Government’s decision to withdraw the programme motion this evening? That is unquestionably a victory for this House over the Executive, because we can imagine that the conversation between the Chief Whip, the Leader of the House and the Prime Minister did not go like this: “Well, Prime Minister, we are delighted to assure you that we have got the votes in the bag to pass the motion,” with the Prime Minister responding, “Oh, excellent—withdraw the motion tonight.” This is this House asserting its will over something very important to it. I look forward with interest to hearing more about the threat of the conversation between the usual channels—I always remember Tony Benn’s warning that the usual channels were the most polluted waterways in western Europe.

I want to start with this simple assertion: the House of Lords works. It does its job effectively as a revising Chamber, not as a rival Chamber, and that is demonstrated by the number of amendments made to our legislation in the Lords which we choose to accept here in the Commons.

I want also to deal with one of the arguments—

Mike Gapes rose

Conor Burns: Let me just make some progress.

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I want also to deal with some of the arguments that the Deputy Prime Minister has made. He says of the Lords: “It’s become too big.” I absolutely agree that it has become far too big—so we should stop sending so many people there, then it would not be so big. The average number of peers created under Lady Thatcher was 18 a year, under John Major 26 and under Tony Blair 37, but under the coalition we already average 58. I must say, do not make it too big and then say that is a reason to abolish it. Do not also accuse those of us—

Chris Huhne: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Conor Burns: I am delighted to give way to the right hon. Gentleman.

Chris Huhne: The hon. Gentleman surely avoids a key point, which is that the previous, Labour Government faced an inbuilt Conservative majority in the Lords and tried to compensate for that. The coalition Government then wanted to deal with an equivalent imbalance against them, and the situation is unsustainable. We will go on expanding unless reform is dealt with.

Conor Burns: The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that the situation is unsustainable and untenable, and that is why many of us are in favour of reform: we are in favour of introducing a mechanism for peers to retire; we are in favour of a limit on their numbers; and we are in favour of strengthening the independent House of Lords Appointments Commission. In short, we are in favour of some of the excellent ideas contained in his right hon. Friend Lord Steel’s draft Bill.

Let us deal with the issue of how we legislate for our supremacy. What are the candidates going to do? Are they going to say to their electorates, “Vote for me, for I have no ideas, I am not going to publish a manifesto, I am not going to tell you what I am going to do if I go to the House of Lords”? Of course they are not. We cannot legislate for the supremacy of this House when another House is elected, and some of the people who tell us that we can are the same people who told us that we could insert clauses into the Maastricht treaty that would guarantee stability in the eurozone. We are setting off on the conveyor belt to conflict between this House and the other place, and it is an unsightly and an unseemly act for a Government to carry out.

I have always had a reverence for the institutions of our country and a profound love of history. The right hon. Member for South Shields (David Miliband), the former Foreign Secretary, who has now left the Chamber, talked about this place and about showing it to young people, and when they come here they see how our democracy has evolved and the battles that previous generations of parliamentarians waged to have this place as the supreme will of the people. When we slam the door in Black Rod’s face, that is not some pantomime theatre; that is an assertion of our historic belief in the power and rights of this Chamber.

Stephen Williams (Bristol West) (LD): I thank my hon. colleague for giving way. When he takes his constituents, schoolchildren or otherwise, into the other place, does he think that they all find it extraordinary that the people who sit there are completely unelected—or do they think that it is wonderful?

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Conor Burns: I think they are impressed that we accept more than 80% of the amendments that peers send back to us, and that in the other place there are people with great expertise—world-renowned people who would never dream of putting their names on a party list, going to central office, seeing Gareth Fox and getting on to the candidates’ list. It just would not happen, in any way.

I received a text last night from my old history teacher, who spent his entire career inspiring young people with a love and reverence of our country and its institutions, and he said to me:

“An elected Chamber would be a disaster and lead to the dilution of the Commons.”

I could not put it better myself.

I faced tonight a dilemma that I have finally resolved in my own mind. I cannot support this Bill on Second Reading. I could not look myself in the eye if I voted for it on Second Reading, and clearly that is incompatible with membership of Her Majesty’s Government, so I informed the Chief Whip this morning that I have resigned as Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

I am doing that in order to vote for something that I believe in strongly and on principle. I want to see a fully appointed second House, and I will go into the Lobby with the aim of trying to preserve that, in the same way that other, current members of the Government—17 Ministers and, indeed, the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, my right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Mr Swire), to whom I was PPS back in August 2010—went into the Lobby in 2007 in support of a fully appointed second Chamber. I will go into the Lobby in the same way also that six members of the Conservative Whips Office went into the Lobby in 2007 in support of a fully appointed second Chamber.

What an Alice in Wonderland world we now live in, that voting for something which has been a mainstream view in our party for decades—indeed, generations—now leads to incompatibility with serving in the Government.

Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): If it was such a mainstream Conservative philosophy, as the hon. Gentleman says, how did Lords reform sneak into the party manifesto, the coalition agreement and the Queen’s Speech?

Conor Burns: It is a very mainstream view within the Conservative party, and I totally agreed with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who still has my full support and loyalty, when he told the Association of Conservative Peers that this was a very urgent issue for a third term. As we have yet to win a first term on our own, a third term is quite a way off.

I support this Government in every way, and I bitterly regret the fact that I will vote against the Government tonight. I support the Prime Minister and I support what the Government are trying to do; I even have some coalition-coloured ties to demonstrate that support. I see my friends from Northern Ireland on the Opposition Benches, and I genuinely regret the fact that I will not be able to continue to make such a contribution in the Northern Ireland Office. As someone who was born in north Belfast, who spent the early part of their life there, who is a Catholic and a Unionist and who recognises, understands and, indeed, feels both traditions in Northern

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Ireland, I think that taking such action is a matter of great regret, but I do it with passion and belief, and confident that it is the right thing to do.

I tell the House—and this should worry every single Member, in every corner and on both sides—that the number of comments I have had from people expressing amazement that a Member of this House in 2012 is prepared to resign on a point of principle, shows us how diminished and deluded our politics has become in this country. We need more days such as today, when this House is prepared to assert its will and to tell the Government what they can and cannot do.

I end with this, because I think that she was a great parliamentarian—my hon. Friends think that I am going to quote someone else, but I am not. The right hon. and noble Baroness Boothroyd, who served with distinction in the Chair over many years, said in one of the papers this morning, to those of us who will do what I will do later this evening,

“you are doing the right thing by your constituents, by your country and by Parliament”.

7.17 pm

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): In following the hon. Member for Bournemouth West (Conor Burns), I acknowledge the strength and sincerity of his contribution, but I strongly and sincerely disagree with his views on these matters. I pay tribute, none the less, to his conduct and to his positive contribution as a Parliamentary Private Secretary in relation to Northern Ireland, where his insights and instincts were hugely appreciated by all parties and by people outside of party politics as well.

The Social Democratic and Labour party does not take seats in the House of Lords. As a point of principle, we do not believe in taking seats in a Chamber that is unelected, and in any other situation people in this House would see a wholly unelected Chamber as being anomalous, anachronistic, absurd and, indeed, a constitutional atrocity.

Only a few weeks ago, here in this Parliament, we hosted Aung San Suu Kyi. The majority of the parliamentarians who were present and called to assemble to hear her speech, however, were unelected, and she was talking about the importance of elective democracy. That is an irony which should not be lost on anyone in this House or, indeed, in the other House.

I have listened to many arguments from Members on both sides of the Chamber, and people seem to be turning themselves inside out in relation to the different position that they now hold on programme motions, compared with how comfortable they were with such motions when their party was in government and was the absolute master practitioner of them.

I have listened to Government Members raise queries about the West Lothian question, and they might rightly feel affronted that in this Chamber elected Members who are not from England are able to pass laws that affect England, but they seem to have no problem at all with unelected people from wherever passing laws, or with their numbers being inflated and added to all the time.

There are easy ways of dealing with primacy. The Parliament Act needs to be affirmed, but it also needs to be amended and updated. There is no reason why that could not be done if the Bill receives a Second Reading and we go on properly to amend it. Primacy can also be

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reflected in ensuring that this Chamber is the sole seat of the Executive. There should be no Ministers in the other place. If it is meant to be a revising, second legislative Chamber, its role should be primarily to do with legislation and its revision, and it does not need any Executive membership. Ministers can go to that Chamber and speak to and answer for their Bill, but they need not be Members of the other House.

We have heard the arguments about 15-year terms. If the fixed-term Parliaments had been for four years, then three terms would equal only 12 years, which would be more reasonable than 15 years, but unfortunately we are stuck with that because the legislation gave us five-year terms. However, it is better that people are elected for 15 years than appointed for life.

As regards how we can justify the Parliament Act in terms of maintaining financial privilege in this House, we can do that because the people elected to the other House will be, in some ways, unaccountable. The only people who should have powers over taxation are those who will be accountably representative. The justification is to say that there should be no taxation without accountable representation.

I, like others, would criticise many aspects of the Bill and hope to see them amended and changed if it were to make progress—although of course it now has the “uncommitted” status that the Speaker told us about earlier. Many people have said that there is a strong case for having some appointed Members, but I am not sure about that. If there is such a case, I want to hear it tested and proved further. Perhaps that is the issue that would most justify a referendum. If there is to be constitutional reform with a democratic House of Lords, and if other people will continue to be appointed through some obscure system, perhaps that should be subject to the decision of the people. They will have the right to elect the first set of Members, so perhaps they should have a say in a referendum whether they want the other Members as well.

On the question of the bishops, I am not comfortable with the idea that there should be a Bench of prelates drawn from one Church alone. If there is a case to be made, as I have heard people argue, for a pastoral Bench from which people can speak on the basis of certain ethical and faith-informed values, its Members should not be confined to one denomination or one faith. Perhaps they should not have votes either, because they should not want to be sullied or compromised in relation to party political matters.

Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): The hon. Gentleman diminishes the role that the bishops have played in the other House, but he must accept that on welfare reform they led the charge that brought that matter back to this House and got it to change its position.

Mark Durkan: I would accept the hon. Gentleman’s point if he and his party colleagues had not voted against the bishops’ amendment on child benefit, which said that it should be excluded from the benefits cap. If there is a case to be made for the bishops on the basis of the contribution that they have made, which I do not decry, I still do not know why they should be solely confined to the Church of England and why that is ordained in the Bill.

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Members are telling us that the Bill is not wanted by the public and that it will be a waste of parliamentary time and a distraction, yet some of them would have been prepared to vote against the programme motion to say that they wanted even more time taken up on it in this Chamber and elsewhere. A wise observation is that irony in politics is usually hypocrisy with panache. There is a lot of irony in the strange positions articulated by many Members on both sides of the House, and there is a lot of panache in the way that they have presented their cases, but of course, Mr Deputy Speaker, I have heard no hypocrisy.

7.24 pm

Mr Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): We have heard many fine speeches over the past two days, but one of the finest was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth West (Conor Burns). Of course, I have absolutely nothing to lose personally by voting against the Government tonight, but he has. However, I assured him this morning that the French have a phrase, “Reculer pour mieux sauter”, which means, “To retreat better to leap forward”, and that is what he will do. The House always respects somebody who resigns on a point of principle, and it has always been a matter of great regret to me that I did not do it over Maastricht. I have lived to regret that, but he will not regret his decision, I assure him.

The good speeches have been those based on principle. There has been a lot of criticism of the Deputy Prime Minister, but I thought that he gave a good speech because it was based on his own principles, although I did not agree with him. He was like a young officer at the battle of the Somme, marching forward, assailed on all sides, ultimately to senseless destruction, but there was nothing wrong with what he was arguing for. I do not usually like to be party political, but the two weakest speeches came from the Opposition Front Benchers, who, like St Augustine, said that they want to stop sinning but not yet. They said that they are in favour of the Bill but have not been prepared to answer consistent questions about how much time they want for it.

On a great constitutional issue such as this, one has to be prepared to argue from first principles. I am afraid that I am a Conservative and therefore generally wish to conserve things. Certainly if something is working, I wish to conserve it. I know it is a bit of a cliché, but Lord Falkland’s dictum that when it is not necessary to change it is necessary not to change is true of the House of Lords. Basically, it works, and I do not want to change it. I start from that point of first principle and will not easily be budged from it.

What is so important about this Bill that the Government are prepared to wade through months of purgatory to try to secure it? We heard earlier that apparently the Catholic Church has abolished limbo, but it has not yet abolished purgatory, and if this Bill is allowed to continue our party will be in purgatory, as we were over Maastricht, for week after week and month after month. What is the great point of principle? When the whole country is assailed by such appalling difficulties and problems, when we know that the economy is not going anywhere, when we are constantly having to wade through blood and make cuts where we do not want to make them, what is so important about this Bill? Why have the Government, with, dare I say it, some parliamentary

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incompetence, placed themselves in a position whereby they have handed power to the Opposition? I criticise the Opposition, but they are only doing their job. Labour is a ruthless operation when it comes to opposition—it is much better at it than we ever are—and it is playing this very well in trying to gum up the whole works.

What about all the other Bills? Are they not important? Are we not here to try to achieve something?

Chris Huhne: Is the hon. Gentleman aware that on D-day, when we invaded France, this Parliament was discussing Rab Butler’s Education Bill? Does he not agree that Governments, on balance, should be able to walk and chew gum at the same time?

Mr Leigh: They should, but the Government have got themselves into such a pickle over this that they will not be able to do anything because we will now be talking about it for weeks and months. What is so important about it?

Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman has repeatedly talked about weeks and months. May I assure Members on both sides of the House that the Opposition have made it clear that we do not intend to wreck or filibuster the Bill? This is about genuine debate, and there is no confusion as to the position that the Opposition will be adopting.

Mr Leigh: I think that that was said with a bit of irony and that the hon. Gentleman protests too much. Of course the Opposition are not going to wreck the Bill, which, at an appropriate moment, they will allow to get to the other place—after they have ensured that the country has had the unholy spectacle of our discussing, week after week, while this appalling recession is going on, an issue that, I can assure him, is of no interest whatsoever in the Dog and Duck in Scunthorpe. What on earth are we doing?

What is so wrong with the House of Lords? The point that I make continually is that whereas over the past 15 years, we in the Commons have had the collective courage to defeat the Government only 10 times, our friends in the other place have defeated the Government no fewer than 576 times. That point has been made already, but it is a powerful one.

I argue against this reform from first principles because, inevitably, the people who will be elected to the House of Lords will be politicians. When I made that point to the Deputy Prime Minister yesterday, he said that they would be a different sort of politician. What is a different sort of politician? We are all politicians and we are all ambitious. Although we deny it, we all want office. There is nothing wrong with that. Therefore, to a greater or lesser extent, we are all creatures of the Whips Office. We have to accept that. We come into politics because we have the ambition to become Ministers and to achieve something. The point has been made again and again that many people in the other place are past ambition.

Why do we want to abolish an institution that has held the Government so closely to account that, in the past 15 years, it has defeated them no fewer than 576 times? The fundamental problem is that once the House of Lords is elected, it will become the poodle of the House of Commons. The real problem is not with

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the primacy of the House of Commons, but that the Executive are all-powerful. It is only in the other place that there is any decent scrutiny and that the Government are occasionally defeated.

I am not only worried that the Government will have an easier ride in the reformed House of Lords; we must ask ourselves why our friends in the Liberal Democrat party are so determined to get the Bill through. It is so important to them because once it is passed, half of our legislature will be elected by proportional representation and, therefore, the Liberals will have a permanent lock on half our Parliament. It will be impossible for people such as me who want constantly to come forward with radical ideas from the right and for Labour Members who want to come forward with radical ideas from the left to wade through the dominance of the Liberal establishment in the other place. There would never have been the kind of reforms that Mrs Thatcher achieved in office under that system. Many people in this House may think that that would have been good, but I think that it would have been a great shame.

That is why this is an important Bill, why we should be discussing it up and down the country, and why we have to defeat it. We cannot just measure this argument in terms of programme motions; we have to measure it in terms of what is right for our country. What is right for our country is to retain the system of an elected House of Commons and a revising second Chamber that does an excellent job of improving legislation. We must leave it alone and defeat this Bill tonight.

7.33 pm

Mike Gapes (Ilford South) (Lab/Co-op): We have been here before, in the last Parliament. In those debates, I was one of many Labour Members who voted for the abolition of the House of Lords. In an ideal world, I would have that option today. As that option is not available, I also regret that we do not have the option of an indirectly elected second Chamber.

There are perfectly good and thriving democracies in the world, and indeed constitutional monarchies, that are unicameralist, such as Sweden and New Zealand. There are also indirectly elected second Chambers in some Commonwealth countries. For example, in India, each of the states elects people to go to the Rajya Sabha. Its Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, was elected in that way and has never stood for a direct election anywhere. There are models that we could follow that would improve our democracy. However, instead of learning from international experience and establishing such a constitutional convention, we have this half-baked hybrid, which the Government had attempted to railroad through, until they realised today that it was not acceptable. If we are to have a second Chamber, it should be small and clearly subservient, have limited and defined powers, and should meet only occasionally.

Why do so many amendments come from the House of Lords, as has been mentioned? It is because we do not deal with legislation properly in this House, and because, as the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) said, we have the Ministers in this Chamber. The Executive dominate the parliamentary system. If we had a system like Sweden’s, in which many Ministers are not Members of Parliament, we could have a different relationship with the Executive and the scrutiny role of this House

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would be much stronger. Instead, we have a deal between whichever Government are in power and the Opposition Front Benchers in the House of Lords to get through certain amendments and clauses. Legislation comes back from the second Chamber that this House has never had a proper chance to deal with.

In my 20 years in this House and in my role on Select Committees, I have become increasingly frustrated about these issues. As a Parliamentary Private Secretary in the Home Office and the Northern Ireland Office, I saw the Government face many defeats in the House of Lords, particularly on Home Office legislation. We had the clauses dealt with and when they came back to this House, they were never discussed properly. We need to reform this House and we need to have a stronger definition of the relationship between the Executive and the legislature before we give greater credibility—dangerous credibility—to a second Chamber that will undermine the democratic Chamber.

The Deputy Prime Minister claimed that he was introducing the Bill because people had voted for it in 2010. No they did not. Nobody voted in the 2010 election for these proposals and it is not honest to say that they did.

I also challenge the Deputy Prime Minister’s reference to “fixing” a problem. Yes, there is a fix going on. As the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh) just said, the fix will ensure that people who would never get elected, and might even come fourth, in a parliamentary constituency anywhere in the country will get into the House of Lords for 15 years under the proportional representation regional list system. They will then be able to go around London, or whichever region they represent, cherry-picking issues and appearing at residents’ associations or religious groups, while we are here in this House attending to our parliamentary business. That will not be good for democracy. It will lead to cynicism and undermine the truly representative nature of the constituency link.

Having been in the House for 20 years, I had hoped that there would be a reasoned amendment on Second Reading. There is no opportunity for me to vote for a reasoned amendment. Therefore, for the first time in 20 years, I will go against my party’s Whip and vote in the No Lobby against the Bill tonight.

7.38 pm

Mr Bernard Jenkin (Harwich and North Essex) (Con): I commend the hon. Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes), who is breaking ranks with his party for the first time. It is a big step after such an illustrious career in this House.

The Government may well be withdrawing the programme motion, but I want to address the continuing threat of a timetable motion. Any attempt to force through a constitutional Bill of such significance and controversy represents an abuse of Parliament. Nobody whom I have heard speak in this debate is against reform of some form. Nobody supports the House of Lords as it is. The problem that this House always has to battle with is that, although there may be a consensus in favour of reform, there is no consensus on any particular reform. That is why so many seasoned Westminster watchers are so utterly perplexed about the determination

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with which the coalition is pressing ahead with this suicidal Bill. I suspect that it will prove to be a grievous self-inflicted wound for the coalition, perhaps even fatal, if it persists with it. Today’s dignified retreat nevertheless represents an abject defeat on the Bill, as there is little that saps the authority of an Administration more than an inability to obtain its business.

If a timetable motion were to be passed, it could prove the worst case for the coalition. A cobbled together, under-scrutinised proposal would undoubtedly get through this House in some form and then paralyse the upper House for the rest of the Session, only to be reintroduced in the next Session and forced through using the Parliament Act. I am describing not a worst-case scenario but the Government’s actual plan for conducting the progress of the Bill—to submerge this Parliament in a quagmire of Lords reform.

Sir Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): Do I interpret from the speech of my hon. Friend and neighbouring MP a desire for the coalition to collapse?

Mr Jenkin: It is not as though the Government were not already beset by problems and challenges on an awesome scale, as many Members have said. Economic growth is well below forecast, borrowing is still far too high and the unresolved and unresolvable euro crisis is probably leading us towards some kind of economic precipice. We are facing an economic emergency, as well as all the other challenges of government in a time of recession. This is the last moment for any Government to choose to pick a fight to alter any part of the constitution, when there is clearly no real consensus or common understanding of what needs to be done.

The debate so far can leave no one in any doubt that this is a massive constitutional change, but the Government have utterly failed to address the most fundamental questions about the upper House. What is the House of Lords for? Does it operate effectively as it is? Would the changes be likely to improve or impair its effectiveness? The answers are pretty straightforward. First, it is intended to be a revising Chamber, not a senate or a rival to the House of Commons. Secondly, as the Deputy Prime Minister has himself admitted on many occasions, the current Chamber is very effective. Thirdly, the changes seem to be intended to supplant expertise and experience with more party politics, which is hardly likely to improve the Chamber’s effectiveness.

The Bill addresses no evident crisis of the legitimacy of our constitution, yet it threatens to create a political crisis on top of an economic crisis. There is no public clamour for the change, and there are no crowds in Parliament square crying out their support. That is why the Government fear a referendum on the Bill, because the voters would certainly reject the idea of replacing the current effective, proven and appointed House with more elected politicians, appointed to lists by their respective parties on ludicrous 15-year terms.

So what is the Bill really about? The Deputy Prime Minister should be careful about accusing others of having ulterior motives, because what is his? The Bill is about power. It is about the Government remaining in office now and about the Liberal Democrats building a power base for when they are not in office. It is the product of a stitch-up, a deal between two coalition

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parties to stay in power. It is a bid permanently to shift the balance of power away from this House and towards a more legitimate House of Lords.

May I address the extraordinarily charming and eloquent speech given by the right hon. Member for South Shields (David Miliband)? He said that the Bill’s opponents were trying to have it both ways, but it is its supporters who are trying to have it both ways. They cannot argue that an elected Lords would be more legitimate but in the same breath insist that the relationship between the two Houses would remain the same. The issue of primacy is just one of the fundamental issues that we will need to address before the Bill leaves this House.

That brings me to the continuing threat of a timetable motion. To timetable a constitutional measure under the current circumstances would be unconscionable. I say to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary that the much quoted Winston Churchill would be heaving in his grave with fury and indignation at the mere suggestion. The timetable is a modern invention, only introduced in 1997. The guillotine used to be an absolute exception, and even then was never used on a constitutional issue.

The Bill has 60 clauses and 11 schedules containing a further 158 paragraphs. The Government’s withdrawn motion would have allowed 60 hours in Committee, which would have been taken up by Divisions, urgent questions, statements and points of order as well as debate. That would have left, perhaps, an average of half an hour for each clause, let alone the schedules. Primacy, powers, accountability, remuneration, costs, expenses, staffing support, IPSA, financial privilege, the scrutiny of regulations, elections, voting systems, eligibility, constituencies, the question of a referendum or not—how many other topics will there be to debate, or must we have the freedom to debate should we so choose?

Constitutional measures used to pass through the House before there were timetables. Both the Parliament Acts themselves passed through the House without a timetable or guillotine. No timetable should be imposed, because our ability to scrutinise legislation in full is just about the only real check or balance in our constitution to protect it from the tyranny of a simple Commons majority.

As it stands, we are being asked to give a Second Reading to a Bill that will invite the Government to fast-track a massive constitutional change, which will nevertheless distract us from the crisis that demands our attention, which may fundamentally change the character of the government of our country, which fails to address the most fundamental questions about the upper House, which represents gerrymandering of the constitution and is the product of a stitch-up to stay in power, for which no referendum is to be provided, and on which the Government are determined to curtail debate.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order.

7.46 pm

Sir Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough) (Lab): I am grateful for the opportunity to follow the hon. Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin). I will seek not to respond to what he said but, if possible, to build upon it.

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Like the Leader of the House, I have sat through debates on Lords abolition and reform for many a year. My hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas) said yesterday that the Lords had far too many Members

“who are there simply because of who their fathers were”.—[Official Report, 9 July 2012; Vol. 548, c. 120.]

I remember the late Jack Jones going further in a party conference speech in 1977, saying that in those days three quarters of the Members of the House of Lords had inherited their position by birth, and that their ancestors were, by and large,

“cattle robbers, land thieves, and a few were court prostitutes.”

We are perhaps more subtle in our use of our language these days, as my hon. Friend showed.

The Leader of the House referred to a book that he had written in 2005 on Lords reform. I wrote a pamphlet in 1982 called “How to abolish the Lords”. I have to accept that the title was somewhat sexed-up by the Fabian Society, because it actually dealt with reform rather than abolition of the Lords. I have seen some of the suggested reforms come to pass, notably a Supreme Court of the judicature and the creation of a Ministry of Justice, all under a Labour Government.

I complained in my pamphlet that Labour had introduced only one reform, the Parliament Act 1949, but now I stand corrected. My right hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan) went through a number of reforms that Labour introduced during its term of office from 1997 onwards, and my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) built upon those points.

My hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) told those of us who proposed to oppose the Bill that the current House of Lords was unsustainable, a point reaffirmed by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Ann Coffey). And so say all of us—no one here supports the current House of Lords. We are all for reform, and many reforms have been referred to in the debate. To my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda and others who say that the Lords is unsustainable, I would quote Bernard Shaw, which Lord Kinnock has often quoted: “If your face is dirty you wash it, you don’t chop off your nose.” The Bill would hive off a part of our constitution. The Deputy Prime Minister spoke yesterday of the monarch giving up her prerogatives in relation to the Bill and reminded us that the constitution is the monarch, the Lords and the Commons. Yet a third of it is about to be hived off.

In what the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh) said was a good speech—it actually reads better than the delivery—the Deputy Prime Minister also talked about what I call the alarums and scarums that there have been in the past when the Lords has been about to be reformed, from those who said that there would be an impact on the primacy of the Commons. The actual words that that the Deputy Prime Minister used were “from disaster to apocalypse”. The one thing the Deputy Prime Minister did not say was that, when we talked of a primacy conflict with the Lords in the past—the conflict never happened—the Lords was not elected. That is the difference. The proposals will mean an elected House of Lords, and that conflict is therefore inevitable. It is obvious.

I pray in aid the Liberal Democrats. Lord Ashdown said that an elected upper House would not challenge the supremacy of the Commons, but it would challenge

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its “absolute supremacy”. I can advise him that the only difference between “supremacy” and “absolute supremacy” is the adjective. He also spoke of checks and balances. He was supported by Lord McNally, a Justice Minister, who declared that an elected second Chamber would have the right to say no to the Commons.

I pray in aid further the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron), who declared that Members elected to the Lords by proportional representation would have greater legitimacy than those elected to the Commons under first past the post. I wrote to him yesterday to invite him to correct that statement if it was inaccurate. I have not heard from him.

My hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda picked up the suggestion of a Joint Committee that would be a concordat between the two Houses to resolve the question of the conventions. That can be achieved only if the House of Lords delaying powers in the Parliament Acts, on which the Government rely, can be reduced from 13 months to six months.

I join my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes), who said that he has never voted against the Whip in 20 years. I have never voted against the Whip in 29 years, but I will do so tonight. I will do it on principle, and because I do not believe in anything in the Bill. The Bill is in purgatory and limbo, and it will not survive in its present form.

7.51 pm

Rory Stewart (Penrith and The Border) (Con): It is unfortunate that the debate has turned into an attack on the Liberal Democrats. This is a huge opportunity for reform. There has been a lot of talk about the 21st century and democracy, and there is an important democratic opportunity in the Bill that I hope the Liberal Democrats will lead us in taking.

We have heard much about 21st century democracy. There are many different kinds of democracy. We have the trunk of the democracy, meaning the directly elected legislature, which in our case is this place; the crown of the tree, which is the rule of law; and the root, which is the constitution. The constitution is an example of something on which we can work together.

What kind of democracy do we have in that context? We can have as many different kinds as there are trees: we can have flowers on it, like a cherry tree, or strange brown leaves like a beech in winter, or needles like a pine tree. Within our democracy, we have judges who are not elected, as we have heard ad infinitum, and generals who are not elected. Certain powers are taken away from the House and given to non-elected people as part of our democracy. For example, the Labour Government were proud to take away control of interest rates from Parliament and to give it to an independent central bank. Government Members were proud to take control of economic forecasting away from this place and give it to the Office for Budget Responsibility. Indeed, there was a lot of consensus on taking away investigative powers from the House and giving them to the independent, judge-led Leveson inquiry.

Exactly what balance of elected and unelected people we want within a democratic constitution is an interesting question. Like the Chinese, we could elect our generals; like the Americans, we could elect judges; or, like the

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Canadians, we could have an appointed upper Chamber. What determines that balance in a democracy is what we want to do and the problems we are trying to solve.

The problems of 1909—this is my point about the 21st century—are not, sadly, the problems of today. The Senate in the US was created to deal with an over-mighty sovereign and the problem of the relationship between the territories, such as the states, and the population. The problem that the Liberals tried to solve in 1909 was that the hereditary peerage deliberately blocked financial regulation—the Liberals largely solved it with the Parliament Act 1911.

Since then, our countries and our parties have changed. Many things in our manifestos in 1909 are no longer in our manifestos today, because the nature of our problems has changed. The problems we are dealing with today are not the problems of 1909. We can see that in elected second Chambers throughout the world. The kinds of problems that led to the creation of the directly elected Australian Senate after 1900, which inspired the reforms in the UK, and the problems that led to the creation of the directly elected Italian Senate in 1948, have passed. Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, there was a reduction in the number of bicameral legislatures.

We need to solve the problems of today. They are problems of local democracy, on which the Liberal Democrats should be proud of taking the lead; they are problems of accountability in large multilateral institutions such as the European Union, on which I hope hon. Members together can take a lead; and they are problems of professionalism and expertise.

However, perhaps the greatest democratic challenge for this country in the 21st century—I hope the Liberal Democrats will take the lead on this—is the root, meaning the constitution. It is in that respect that we are behind every other country in the world. Other countries have indirectly elected or appointed bicameral legislatures, but not a single responsible country remains that allows itself to change constitutional law as though it were ordinary law. The constitution protects the citizen from the Government. For that reason, the Government, who are temporary, have no right to interfere with the constitution of the people.

We felt differently about that in 1909. We flattered ourselves that we had a huge constitutional tradition, history and culture in the other place that forced us to debate and investigate those great issues. That time has passed, and today we find ourselves isolated in the world as the only country—the source of constitutionalism —that tries to behave as though there is no difference between constitutional law and non-constitutional law. Other countries, such as the Nordic countries, have a solution—they have a gap between two Parliaments, or they can demand a two-thirds majority or a referendum. In our case, we used to have a free vote and no guillotine motion.

Let hon. Members together take the great opportunity to ensure that constitutional change, which was positioned in the Liberal Democrat manifesto and endorsed by the Deputy Prime Minister and the majority of Government Members, happens in future only through a referendum.

7.57 pm

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): I have been impressed by many of the speeches today and yesterday. I felt rather ashamed of the House last week—the

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debate on the banking crisis was not the greatest day for the Chamber—but these past two days have made me very proud to be a Member because the quality of the contributions has been rather fine, whether I have agreed or disagreed with them.

The hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh)—he and I served as Chairmen of Select Committees on the Liaison Committee and know each other well—said that he was a Conservative and that people would not expect him not to be one. I came into politics as a radical, and hon. Members would expect me to continue as one. I have therefore been worried about my choices for this evening. I ran on the Labour manifesto, which contained a commitment to reform of the House of Lords. Like most hon. Members, I do not like voting against my party, but the fact is that the more I contemplated the situation today, the more I convinced myself—this happened quite early in the debate—that the House of Lords reform pledge in the Labour manifesto would not have resulted in this Bill. I am under no obligation tonight, then, to vote for a piece of legislation that no Labour Government, had we won the last election, would have brought before the House. So I shall not be voting for Second Reading.

Being a radical, I believe that the Liberal Democrats must be given a lot of recognition and admiration. Every way we look, political culture in our country is in a pretty bad way. In 1950, 85% of people were engaged in politics, but now that figure is down to 65%, and 6 million people do not even bother to register. Even in this time of crisis, with the economic challenges creating a serious situation for the people whom we represent, very few people vote in local elections. In general elections, too, there have been very low levels of participation.

Furthermore, membership of political parties is at an all-time low, as Members on both sides know. Labour and the Conservatives have the same miserable membership figures—there is not much between us—and the numbers of active members in our constituencies are not what they used to be. The Liberal Democrats are also struggling. Our political culture is in crisis, yet nothing in the Bill will radically tackle the malaise in our country and political system. In fact, the Bill takes our minds off the worrying aspects of our political system. We have to do something. Being old-fashioned, I would have liked either a constitutional commission or—dare I dig up this idea—a royal commission, the latter being much favoured by former Labour Prime Minister, Harold Wilson.

We ought to give the Liberal Democrats credit, however, for recognising the malaise and coming up with a couple of answers. The first was proportional representation, although they were defeated on that and I did not think it the quick fix, or even the difficult fix, they thought. They have also come up with Lords reform. I think they do it with the best of motives.

Chris Huhne: The alternative vote system can never be described as proportional representation. It is a majoritarian system. PR has never been put to the people of this country.

Mr Sheerman: I was trying to be kind to the Liberal Democrats, but obviously it has not worked.

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By their own lights, the Liberal Democrats are trying to do something about the malaise in our political culture. The rest of us, in the other political parties, have to recognise that there is something deeply wrong with the levels of participation and democratic activity.

Ian Swales: This is not a Liberal Democrat Bill, but a coalition Government Bill.

Mr Sheerman: I understand that perfectly. I know the system and what the coalition Government are about, and I sympathise with the position that the two parties are in. They have to work together and make these agreements, and they are having a problem at the moment, but the fact is, as we all know, that the Liberal Democrats have persuaded the Conservatives to include certain things in the coalition agreement.

I want to look back over my time as an elected representative in this House. We have had more constitutional change in this Chamber in the past 30 years than at any other time in the history of our country, and everyone has become an expert on the constitution. The previous speaker, the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart), is an expert on the constitution. We have had many experts on the constitution. I can remember when people on both sides said that referendums were not British, and I can remember criticising the first referendum on membership of the European Union promoted by Tony Benn. I called it, “Tony Benn out of Benito Mussolini”, because dictators love referendums. They are a way out of the problems of weak leadership. The House does not need referendums for everything.

The Bill could have been amended to constitute a positive reform of the House of Lords. There is no need for an elected Lords filled with party apparatchiks similar to those down here. The danger of the Bill is not that the other place will get strong and flex its muscles and that we will become weaker; my concern is that it will simply become a pale and timid shadow of this place. Nobody wants that. I want a strong, reformed upper House. With the time and the opportunity, we could have reached an agreement on an all-party basis, but tonight I will not be voting for Second Reading.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Order. The time limit is reduced to five minutes.

8.6 pm

Mr Stephen Dorrell (Charnwood) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman). I have the same aspiration as he has for the other place, but I draw the opposite conclusion about the Bill. Over the past couple of days, I have listened to a number of speeches, few of which have been full-hearted in their support for the Bill. I am quite strongly in support of the principles set out in it, however, because I believe they provide an effective answer to the challenge of creating a stronger House of Lords to check the legislative torrent that has become the habit of Executives over-dominant in the House of Commons.

Several speakers have said that the answer to Executive dominance of the Commons is to change the balance in the latter, and reformers have set out to deliver that objective over the 30-odd years I have been here. Let us

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stand back and look at the results. Under Conservative Governments before 1997 and Labour Governments between 1997 and 2010—and even occasionally under this coalition Government—it became too easy for Ministers to bring measures to the House, to get them approved by the House and to pass them without effective check in the House of Lords. It was too easy for those measures to end up on the statute book.

My hon. Friends the Members for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh) and for Dartford (Gareth Johnson) asked what was the question we were seeking to answer. In introducing an elected element into the House of Lords, we are seeking to answer the question first posed not by the coalition or, with respect, by the Liberal Democrats, but by Lord Hailsham 50 years ago when he spoke of an elective dictatorship. Under our system, we have a general election and a Government are elected based on a majority in this place, but that does not provide sufficient checks and balances, particularly on the legislative ambitions of Ministers.

Jesse Norman: It is an interesting solution to an elective dictatorship to propose two elective dictatorships. The Blair Government was defeated four times in the Commons and 460 times in the Lords. Does my right hon. Friend wish to replicate the record of the Commons in the Lords?

Mr Dorrell: My hon. Friend repeats a point made several times in the debate, and I accept that it is a serious point. His point is about the Blair Government. My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough quoted 576 defeats in the Lords, presumably over a slightly different time scale. However, those defeats were over individual measures in a Bill, and they often came back to be reversed by this place.

When we stand back from the matter, we see that the House of Lords cannot be said to provide the check on ill-developed, badly thought out legislation. Too often, Ministers are tempted down the road of trying to create legislative monuments for themselves. Occasionally, when I sat on the legislative committee in the Cabinet—in another existence, many years ago—we heard it argued that we needed a Bill from a particular Department to create a political centrepiece for the Government’s programme. That is not a good reason for proposing legislative change. To be effective, legislation needs to be properly thought out. It is far better seen as a rifle than a blunderbuss.

Mr Leigh: But why should elected people in the other place be any more willing than elected people in this place to vote against the Government? History is against my right hon. Friend.

Mr Dorrell: I do not agree with my hon. Friend. Either the Bill will create a logjam—because people in the other place, with a different mandate and a more leisurely time scale, have the willingness and the capacity to create an effective check—or the other place will merely be a poodle. We can pay our money and take our choice between those two arguments. Personally, I think that the longer mandate, as well as all the other elements of the primacy of the Commons which are included in the Bill, are more likely to create an effective check on the legislative ambitions that I have mentioned. In other

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words, for me, the issue in the Bill is not the balance between the Lords and the Commons; it is the balance between Parliament as a whole and Whitehall. I am a strong supporter of a more effective Parliament, in order to create a more effective check on the legislative ambitions of Whitehall.

We have heard various speeches. Some have argued for a unicameralist approach. I have made it clear why I am not in favour of a unicameralist approach. I am in favour of a strong second Chamber that will create a genuine check on the legislative ambitions of Whitehall. I am persuaded that the best way of providing that is to introduce an elected element into the upper House.

Nick de Bois (Enfield North) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend not find it ironic, however, that he is presenting his case in a Parliament during which, over two years, we have seen more changes in Government policy as a result of effective scrutiny and demand from both MPs and peers?

Mr Dorrell: I am not going to be drawn into developing the examples that we have seen in the last couple of years, but we have seen examples in that time of legislation that has been passed by this House—and, ultimately, passed by the other House—despite it being acknowledged that the ambition could have been achieved without the grand legislative context in which the measures were included.

The question for the House this evening is extremely simple: to elect or not to elect? I am in favour of election.

8.13 pm

Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): I am grateful to catch your eye, Mr Deputy Speaker, in what has been a superb second day of this two-day debate.

I noticed that when the Deputy Leader of the House closed the debate yesterday evening, he referred to the fact that it was “half-time” in the football game. I can only assume that Mike Bassett has been coaching those on the Government Benches on their tactics, given the absurd situation in which we find ourselves. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle), the shadow Leader of the House, pointed out last Thursday, we would have Liberal Democrat Ministers arguing for one case on the first day and Conservative Ministers arguing a different case on the second day. We saw that yesterday, when the Deputy Prime Minister said that we had to have a programme motion and that the Bill would collapse without one because it would be filibustered out. Today we heard the Leader of the House say that, actually, that was not the case at all, and that the Bill would still proceed without one. Perhaps when the Minister sums up he can clarify which of the two parties in the coalition he will be supporting in the months ahead.

It is a great fallacy that this debate is about reformers versus traditionalists. Every Member who has spoken has argued the case for reform. The argument is about what reform should be—or, indeed, the argument of those Members who wish to abolish the House of Lords as it stands. Members on both sides of the House have genuinely wrestled with some deeply held views. I pay tribute to my hon. Friends who, although having reservations, were going to support us on the programme

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motion. I equally pay tribute to hon. Members on the other side of the House who have wrestled with their consciences and their party loyalties long and hard, and have come to the principled decision that the constitution of our country is more important than the narrow party politics of the coalition. Both sides should be equally commended for the principles that they have defended in the last few days.

There are some other fallacies that need to be tackled. This is a Liberal Democrat Bill. We know that from the sheer number of Lib Dems who have sat through the debate.

Chris Huhne: It is very clear that this is a coalition Bill. If the hon. Gentleman had been in the Chamber when the former Justice Secretary and former Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) was speaking, he would know how substantial the resemblance between this Bill and the proposals brought forward by the previous Labour Government is.

Thomas Docherty: I was here throughout the afternoon, but the fact is that a plethora of Liberal Democrat Ministers have been clearing their diaries. Indeed, I cannot recall the last time when so many Liberal Democrat Members were in the Chamber.

Conor Burns: Was it in the tuition fees debate?

Thomas Docherty: They were certainly not here for the tuition fees debate, and they were certainly not here to support the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport either, when that issue was discussed just a few weeks ago.

The hard reality is that this is a bad Bill. However, I intend to vote for it on Second Reading this evening, because I believe that the situation can be salvaged. There are some measures that I hope the very reasonable Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, the hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper) will take back to his boss, the Deputy Prime Minister. One, for example, concerns those who may stand for election. The Government have said, quite reasonably, that no one can serve as a Member of Parliament and stand for the senate, or whatever it will be called—

The Parliamentary Secretary, Office of the Leader of the House of Commons (Mr David Heath): The House of Lords.

Thomas Docherty: Sorry, the House of Lords. However, there is no such provision to stop Members of the senate/House of Lords standing for the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly, the Northern Ireland Assembly or, indeed, a local authority, or vice versa. That will lead, inevitably, to examples of what we have already seen in Scotland, where list MSPs have perched on the shoulders of constituency MSPs, cherry-picking casework and local issues. That will inevitably lead to a challenge to the authority of MSPs, Assembly Members and local authorities. I hope that the Government will reflect on that and make the appropriate changes when we reach the Committee stage, hopefully in the autumn.

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The other thing that has been raised which genuinely needs to be addressed is the issue of Church of England bishops. I do not believe that the Church of England should sit in the House of Lords or the senate.

Lorely Burt (Solihull) (LD): Hear, hear.

Thomas Docherty: The hon. Lady says, “Hear, hear,” yet she will be voting—and will continue to vote, I am sure, throughout the Bill’s progress—to keep the current arrangement. I am sticking to my principles; I am sorry that she has left hers outside. These are some of the issues that need to be examined.

Lorely Burt: Is the hon. Gentleman saying that the idea of a secular Parliament is wrong? If that is the case, I do not quite understand how that is in conflict with the idea of having an elected House of Lords. Perhaps he could enlighten me.

Thomas Docherty: I suggest that the hon. Lady should go and read her Liberal Democrat Bill.

There are many issues that have to be tackled in Committee. When the Minister replies, we would be grateful if he could set out when exactly he will table a committal motion. If that is not to happen in the very near future, I wonder whether he could confirm that the Government intend to take advantage of the gap that may be created to bring forward some other Bills that they had promised to bring forward. They include the private Member’s Bill, which I have helpfully tabled, to introduce a statutory register of lobbyists. Indeed, I know that the Minister is absolutely delighted—[Interruption] —that is why he is not paying attention—about the Bill that we have brought forward.

I will not keep the House any longer, because many Members wish to speak. I congratulate again those Members on both sides of the House who have wrestled with their positions, come to a sensible position and forced the Government to listen to the will of this House.

8.19 pm

Mr Robert Walter (North Dorset) (Con): I support the coalition: I believe that it is the best way to deal with the financial crisis that we inherited from the previous Government. I want the Prime Minister to complete the job, and I want him to be re-elected in 2015, but this Bill is not necessary to deal with that financial challenge or with any of the problems that face our nation.

I was elected to the House just over 15 years ago. In my first 10 years as a Member, I heard nothing from my constituents about House of Lords reform. In 2007, when we last debated the matter in the House, I got two letters: one for, one against. I then received absolutely nothing for five and a half years, until this piece of legislation was introduced. I now get e-mails, of course, and I have received 11 on the subject: three in favour of the Bill and eight against.

I make that point because I understand from my reading of the weekend press that the Deputy Prime Minister feels that the Bill represents a way for the Liberal Democrats to reconnect with their supporters. I have fought four elections in which the Liberal Democrats have run me a very close second, and never have I heard any of the Liberal Democrat candidates who fought me

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talk about this matter. I have never read about it in any of their “Focus” leaflets or election addresses. They have consistently won about 20,000 votes in my constituency, yet they have managed to mobilise only three of those voters to write to me and ask me to support this Bill. I am not sure that “reconnect” is the right term for the Liberal Democrats to be using in this context. Whatever the problem Britain faces, the answer is not more elections or 450 more elected politicians.

The Bill’s supporters kindly sent us all a document yesterday, entitled “Lords Reform: A Guide for MPs”. It opens with a section called “The Problem”, which defines the problem as the number of Members in the second Chamber. I agree that the House of Lords is too big. Let us talk about that. Let us talk about reform and about the size of the Chamber, but we do not need to completely overturn the constitution in order to deal with the size of the other place. The solution is not 450 senators, elected from party lists by proportional representation. We know how that system works, because we have 73 Members of the European Parliament representing the same regions. There are probably Members of this House who can name all the MEPs in their region, but I can tell them that most of my electors cannot name the MEPs in ours.

Those MEPs earn £86,000 a year, plus travel expenses, subsistence and everything else that goes with the job. The proposed elected Lords would be on a basic salary of £32,800, which is about the same as a primary school teacher—I am not saying anything against primary school teachers—and they would get no second home allowance or travel allowances. There is therefore a question of quality and one of legitimacy. I believe that a House elected by proportional representation would challenge the Commons.

The penultimate page of the document that we were all sent yesterday states:

“It may not be the end of the reform story. Perhaps in 15 years’ time…people will want to re-examine the relationship between the Houses to reflect the experience of a substantially elected chamber interacting with the Commons.”

So this would not be the end of the story.

Conor Burns: My hon. Friend is making some incredibly powerful points—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Order. Please would the hon. Gentleman face the House? We cannot hear him.

Conor Burns: I am sorry, Mr Deputy Speaker.

My hon. Friend is making some incredibly powerful points, not least on the centrality of the possibility of an elected Chamber challenging the supremacy of this Chamber.

Mr Walter: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I envisage a situation in which a media campaign against something that we were doing in this Chamber could mobilise public opinion in favour of reforming the Parliament Acts.

The present House of Lords needs reform, but on balance, it does a good job. It is a most effective revising Chamber. It provides detailed scrutiny of legislation, particularly secondary legislation and that emanating from Brussels. Where would we get such a great pool of

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talent—former defence chiefs, ambassadors, judges, Cabinet Ministers and all the other talents from the arts, industry and science—under the proposed new arrangements? Would such people stand for election? I do not think so. I shall simply repeat a phrase that has already been used several times in the debate: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

8.25 pm

Mr Geoffrey Robinson (Coventry North West) (Lab): I will be brief, as many Members wish to speak and time is limited. There are three principal positions that can be adopted in relation to the time-honoured problem that we are debating. People can favour a wholly appointed second Chamber, a wholly elected second Chamber or the abolition of the second Chamber—known euphemistically as the adoption of a unicameral Parliament. There is no prevailing majority in this House for any one of those solutions, so, to put it at its worst, we have to find a way of muddling through, or of evolving the conventions and arrangements that govern our business in this House and in the other place. Over the years, those arrangements have not done us too badly. Many people have criticised them—unjustly, in my view—saying that we cannot get our business through or on the grounds of elective democracy. That is not the problem that this country faces.

Let us look at the evidence from other countries. The US Senate has a carefully constructed, almost European-style, blueprint for checks and balances, but it is almost impossible for Congress to govern. It is impossible for it to pass legislation to deal with the world crisis. It is even impossible for both Houses of Congress to pass a health Bill, as the legality of that legislation is now being challenged. That is the route down which we could go if we are not careful.

There is nothing wrong with the Government’s proposals in principle, because there is no principle about them. They are doing no more than muddling through, and in the worst possible way. Their objections are so bad simply because they do not reflect our genius for evolving our procedures and conventions for dealing with the problems that we face at any particular time.

One thing that we all learn from being in this House is that the language of politics is the language of priorities, and the art of good governance lies in concentrating on our priorities and succeeding in realising them through the management of our problems. House of Lords reform is not a priority—it will probably not be a priority in any Government’s lifetime—and this measure could not have been introduced at a worse time than now, when we face the most threatening international monetary and financial crisis since the second world war.

Comparisons were drawn by an eminent ex-Minister of the Liberal party in respect of chewing gum and thinking at the same time; we managed to carry out the invasion of Normandy at the same time as we were debating the national health scheme, or the education system, as I think he said. Such a comparison is absurd, because of the simple point that Normandy was a national priority; it was the salvation of the country; it was a victory of the second world war; it was absolutely a No. 1 priority. Looking beyond that, what were the two priorities in relation to which the British nation as a whole was fixed? It was fixed, of course, on health and education.

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Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): I know that my hon. Friend speaks with sincerity, but does he really think there will ever come a time when somebody will not cite some particular issue—national or international—as a reason for not having this discussion about the House of Lords? It will always be the wrong time; there will always be more important issues for some people.

Mr Robinson: I take my hon. Friend’s point and accept it, but this is not really a priority. If we accept that the language of politics or the art of government are about achieving our priorities and managing the problems that are in the way of achieving them, I cannot see the House of Lords as a big problem at the moment. It really is not. It may well be an anachronism with its robes, its frumpery and all that; yes, I would love to get rid of it. For those who want reform, as I do, however, the proposals put forward by Lord Steel seem to deal with the matter. They seem to deal adequately with all my principal objections to how the House of Lords works, how it is constituted and how it deals with various aspects of ritual that people either like or do not like. The proposals deal with it all. If we had a set of provisions broadly based on what Lord Steel had proposed, I believe that we could have gained cross-party agreement, but we have not got that. We have a dog’s breakfast of a Bill.

Martin Horwood: Tom Paine first suggested reforms of the House of Lords more radical than those suggested by Lord Steel, and that was in the 1790s. If the hon. Gentleman supports reform, when exactly are we going to make it a priority?

Mr Robinson: I do not see that it is a priority, and I have no intention personally of speaking to it as a priority. It is not a priority; what is it stopping us doing? The priority at the moment is to get agreement between the two parties that form this so-called Government or this so-called coalition. That is what is preventing the Tory majority from carrying through their programme. Every day we read about it, and every Government have the same problems to a greater or lesser extent, and these are the in-built checks and balances of our very system. No Government find it easy to get their business through. The whole problem in government is getting business through, and in most areas we do not apply the guillotine or a timetable motion. I do not see the problem in the same light or from the same perspective as many other Members who see it as a priority.

Let me explain the points I find most objectionable about this Bill. The 15-year term is an affront to the concept of accountability. What legitimacy is conferred by that if no accountability comes with it? Clearly there is none. I intensely dislike PR—it is a personal view, and the issue can be debated across the Chamber, but such matters are in-built. The objective is the same as that which has been sought since Lloyd George first converted to PR way back in 1920 when he realised he would not win by any other means. He was always a man of great principle. That was when PR became Liberal dogma, and it is has remained as such ever since.

Above all, if we are to have a massive constitutional change of this kind, we should have a referendum. That is why I supported Tony Benn—yes, I did—when we had the first referendum on the European Community,

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which amounted to a massive change to the country’s constitutional arrangements. That is why, with a clear conscience and a glad heart, I shall vote against Second Reading tonight—quite simply because a basic element in the Labour party proposals as I remember them was the idea that this matter should be subject to a referendum of the British people. If that were part of the arrangements now, they would probably be kicked out, but above all else one would feel much happier in voting for them. As things stand, I shall vote against Second Reading.

8.32 pm

Andrew Griffiths (Burton) (Con): Having sat through the whole of this debate, let me say first that I am grateful to be called, but secondly that I pay tribute to the way in which this debate has been conducted. It has been thoughtful and, on the whole, respectful. It has actually moved the debate forward.

I rise with some sorrow because I consider myself a loyal Back Bencher. I have tried my best in my two years in this place to support my Government in their legislation, but for the first time I am faced with the decision of having to vote against my Government and against my Prime Minister. I do so with no relish and with a heavy heart, but I think many of us have come to the conclusion that we simply cannot accept this Bill. It is bad for the country, it is bad for Parliament and it is bad for our constituents. For that reason, I will vote against the Government tonight. I do that not to give the Prime Minister a bloody nose, not to send a message about the coalition, not even to upset my Lib Dem coalition colleagues—I always prefer to put work before pleasure.

A number of colleagues have mentioned the e-mails they have received from their constituents—some for and some against the Bill, but all in small numbers. I received an e-mail from a constituent this morning, which said, “Dear Mr Griffiths, Yesterday I was made redundant. Why is Parliament spending its time navel gazing?” That, I think, is the heart of the matter. Parliament is looking inward rather than looking outward, at the challenges that we face in governing the country.

It is difficult for me to reconcile some of the promises that we have been given with what will actually happen. We have been promised that there will be no conflict between this House and the newly elected House of Lords, but that promise fails to take account of the nature of the beast with which we are dealing. We are dealing with politicians, and politicians have a mandate. They want power, they want to make decisions, and they want to represent their constituents.

I will say to an elected House of Lords, “This House has primacy.” The Lords will say to me, “I was elected like you, but I was elected under a more proportional system than you.” They will say, “I have a much bigger constituency than you”—which will be true—and they will say that they have been elected for a longer term than me. Most important, they will say, “We are full-time legislators.” As a constituency MP, I spend some of my time here in the Chamber debating issues and some of it dealing with constituency queries.

Dr Daniel Poulter (Central Suffolk and North Ipswich) (Con): My hon. Friend is making a good speech, but I disagree with him. Does he not accept that a Chamber that is only 80% elected and 20% appointed inherently maintains the primacy of this place?

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Andrew Griffiths: That is rather like saying that someone can be a little bit pregnant. We are changing the relationship between this place and the other place fundamentally, because the other place will have democratic accountability and legitimacy with it.

Christopher Pincher (Tamworth) (Con): Does my hon. Friend not agree that giving more power to the other place without giving it more responsibility is a bit like what Stanley Baldwin described as the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages?

Andrew Griffiths: My hon. Friend has made a very good point, and I commend the work that he has done in opposing the Bill. He has done a fantastic job, and I pay tribute to him and to others in the House.

I also struggle with the idea of having to confront my constituents, who are being expected to deal with austerity. We are expecting people to accept the cuts that the coalition claims are necessary if we are to put the country back on its feet and deal with the mess that we inherited, but at the same time we are telling them that politicians may decide to spend £153 million on more politicians. How can I look my constituents in the eye—the workers in my local council who have been made redundant, and the public sector workers who are having to accept pay freezes and make more contributions to their pensions—and say to them, “Yes, but what is important is for us is to have elected representatives costing £153 million”?

I find it worrying that the Government have tried to persuade us that savings made in the House of Commons can be offset against the extra costs in another place. We all recognise that reducing the number of Members here represents a massive saving, but that money should not be spent on more politicians in another place. I am also worried about the 15-year term. The possibility that Members of an upper Chamber elected in 1997 with Tony Blair’s mandate and Tony Blair’s election result would have only just finished sitting strikes me as undemocratic in the extreme.

Martin Horwood: How, then, can the hon. Gentleman justify defending an institution in which Members appointed by Tony Blair are still sitting?

Andrew Griffiths: Because we all recognise that those people in the other place have expertise and knowledge, and they are not at the whim of the vagaries of the political process. They are not politicians and they are not standing for election; they do not choose to kiss babies and knock on doors. They are there because they are independently minded—

Gavin Barwell (Croydon Central) (Con): Lord Prescott.

Andrew Griffiths: I think we all accept that there are people in the other place we would perhaps not choose, but they continue to do a good job. The Lords have served this country well for 300 or 400 years. We adopt this Bill at our peril, which is why I will be voting against it.

8.40 pm

Rushanara Ali (Bethnal Green and Bow) (Lab): The Labour party has a long and proud history of standing up for our democratic rights—standing up for the rights

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of the people over the rights of the privileged few. As many of my right hon. Friends have mentioned, more than 100 years ago, the 1910 Labour manifesto recognised the need for change in the House of Lords. At that time, the House of Lords was not just unelected, but filled with hereditary peers. The only claim to power those people exerted was a belief in their right to rule due simply to birth. Under the previous Labour Government, we removed 90% of the hereditary peers, and I am incredibly proud of that important achievement. It is one of many achievements that were part of that reform process.

As the mother of Parliaments, Britain has been at the forefront of democratic reform, but it remains one of the few countries to appoint its second Chamber, in an approach seen by many internationally and in the UK as outmoded and lacking in legitimacy. Labour has been arguing for these changes for a very long time, because we believed then and we believe now that it is right that those who make our laws are accountable to the people. We believe that it is right that they should have a democratic mandate that empowers them to decide on the law of the land. That commitment continues, as reform of the House of Lords is just part of our project for rebuilding our politics. This is not a wholesale condemnation of Members of the House of Lords but instead a chance to renew and open up our politics, to learn from the problems of the past and build on what is good.

The House of Lords is just not fit for purpose. If we wish to call ourselves a modern democracy—I believe that all Members agree on that—we need a second Chamber that is fit for purpose. As many experts in this House have pointed out, the second Chamber plays a vital role as a constitutional safeguard, so it is crucial to have a second Chamber that represents the people of Britain—a Chamber that looks like the people it seeks to speak for.

Some 70% of the Members of the second Chamber are explicitly party political, which somewhat undermines the argument that the Lords are independent from the political process. As others have pointed out, many important sectors of our society remain under-represented. I am thinking about those from the fields of education and policing, and the lack of people from working-class backgrounds. Diversity is not a quality we could honestly attribute to the other place; it is not great here, but it is improving. Only 22% of the peers are women, ethnic minority representation remains low and the average age in the other place is 68. All that in a Chamber that is one of the largest in the world, with more than 800 Members.

The Lords still does not have the diversity that it ought to have. House of Lords reform could provide the chance to redress some of the imbalances, and not only in terms of diversity, because we could address some of the big questions raised in the debate today and yesterday about the major challenges of re-establishing trust in our political process and ensuring legitimacy. As many of my colleagues have said, this is an important opportunity to ensure that the House of Lords is fit for the 21st century and that this is genuinely about rebuilding trust in our political process. The debate we are having today and I hope we are likely to have in the coming weeks and months is about addressing some fundamental issues facing our constitution. That is why it is vital that

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we have proper time for discussion and debate and I am glad that the Government have decided to drop the programme motion. I hope that we will have more time for debate.

There are real, important issues about which Members feel passionately and that the country is observing closely, so it is vital that we do everything we can to ensure that House of Lords reform ensures democracy and is fit for this century. I will support the Bill and I encourage others to do the same.

8.45 pm

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (The Cotswolds) (Con): I have sat in the Chamber for two days and I have heard some wonderful speeches, but it was not until my right hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Mr Dorrell) got up that any sort of case was made in favour of an elected House of Lords. He made the case on the basis that we have an over-powerful Executive and that we need a more effective House of Lords to deal with it. From that point onwards, I disagreed with him.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin) pointed out the extreme paradox in the Bill, which is that if one is proposing an elected House of Lords, one inevitably expects those Members to be ever more effective and if they are ever more effective, they will be ever more effective at challenging the primacy of this House. I would have a non-monetary bet with anybody in this House that, if the Bill is passed, within five years we will have a constitutional crisis on our hands along American lines, with gridlock between the two Houses.

Many Members have commented on how effective the House of Lords is at present. They have cited the fact that the Blair Government were defeated 460 times in the House of Lords, whereas we in this House only defeated them four times. I would like to know from the proponents of the Bill what it is about the House of Lords that needs changing. Yes, we can all agree on a lot of things—the numbers, the retirement, the criminals and getting rid of the hereditaries—but what needs fixing at the present time? I would say that very little needs fixing; in fact, there is a lot that is very good about the House of Lords. My hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Mr Walter) pointed out that ambassadors, ex-generals and members of the medical profession sit there. I heard a wonderful speech the other day from Baroness Grey-Thompson, who has won 10 gold medals in the Paralympics and has so much to contribute to the House of Lords. Will such people really be elected under the proposed system? I doubt it.

Let us turn to the Bill. It proposes that Members are elected for 15 years. The hon. Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes) pointed out very clearly what will happen, as they will go around cherry-picking the issues to get publicity. That is not good for democracy. The promoters of the Bill say that they will deal with that problem by not giving them expenses to have a constituency office. Will we have two classes of elected peers––those who can afford to have constituency offices under their own means and those who cannot? That is one of the many flaws in the Bill.

The electoral method proposed for Great Britain in the Bill is the d’Hondt system, deliberately designed in

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Europe to favour the minority parties. Funny, that, is it not? Then we want to confuse the electorate totally, so we give them a different system in Northern Ireland with a single transferable vote. What a way to run a Bill.

We then come on to the whole business of a referendum. I give this House notice that if the Bill reaches Report, I shall table an amendment on a referendum. I am sure that many of my hon. Friends will support a referendum. I was delighted to hear from the right hon. Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan), the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman, that Labour Members would support a referendum. I hope that together, if the Bill gets anywhere near the statute book, we can at least ensure that we ameliorate the worst aspects of it by putting the question to the British people. If the British people approve of it, I will be happy, but I suspect that in a referendum they will not and I will be even more happy if they do not.

We must be very clear about what we need to do and we need a clear vision of what we want both Houses to do. We need the Electoral Commission to work that out. Then, instead of trying to fix one half, let us try to fix the whole thing. There is no doubt that our electorate think that Parliament is not as effective as it should be—that is proved by the fact that turnouts in our elections are decreasing.

I am delighted that the Government have withdrawn the timetable motion. I look forward hugely to debating the Bill in Committee, but I look forward even more keenly to the Government taking a long, hot summer and withdrawing this bad Bill altogether.

8.50 pm

Graeme Morrice (Livingston) (Lab): There can be little doubt that House of Lords reform is pretty low down people’s list of priorities, political or otherwise, but it is important to recognise that the reforms in the Bill, albeit that there is much in it that could be improved—that is an understatement—go right to the heart of how our democracy functions and how we conduct politics in this country.

With the public’s opinion of politicians still at rock bottom, this debate on reforming the second Chamber offers us a chance to present our political process in a new, more modern and transparent way, which will, hopefully, prove attractive to many people. As has been widely pointed out in the debate so far, all three of the main political parties broadly agree on the need for reform—an opportunity that, on balance, it is right for us to seize and make the most of. If we accept that it is important to make this change, we also need to take whatever time is required to make sure that we get it right.

I will focus the rest of my remarks on just three of the many important issues covered by the Bill. First is the question of whether the final reform package agreed by Parliament should be put to the public. Labour’s manifesto was clear on that: we stated that we would put reform proposals

“to the people in a referendum”.

Mr Tom Clarke: In Scotland, we had the convention, then an Act of Parliament was passed by this House and another place and then we had the referendum. Does my hon. Friend agree that that was the right way to deal with it?

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Graeme Morrice: Yes, I totally agree. The process that applied in Scotland was very consensus-based.

There are clear precedents for putting questions of major constitutional change to the people in this way, including devolution in Wales and, as we have just heard, in Scotland, as well as—lest we forget—last year's ill-fated attempt to change the system of election to this House. People will rightly ask why this significant reform of the second Chamber does not warrant the direct endorsement of the public, particularly when it was deemed right to hold a referendum on the afore-mentioned changes. The public debate that would be generated by a referendum and the legitimacy that a strong public vote in favour of reform would give the new Chamber would certainly also help to cement the changes and strengthen our democracy. Whatever the view of the public may be, I am quite sure that most people would feel it is right that they be consulted on such a major constitutional reform. I do not believe that the case against holding a referendum has been articulated in any convincing way so far, and given the enthusiasm of many Government Members for referendums on other matters, I hope that the Government will think again and give voters the final say on House of Lords reform.

The second major question I wish to comment on is the percentage of the new Chamber that is to be elected. Again, our manifesto was clear on this, calling for a wholly elected second Chamber—a position I have always supported. Indeed, it was also the policy on which every Liberal Democrat Member fought the 2010 election, although we know that their manifesto promises do not count for much.

Mr Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute) (LD): Yes, that was in our manifesto, but this is a coalition Government and coalition involves compromise. The compromise that was agreed between the two coalition parties was that 80% be elected—and 80% is an awful lot better than zero, so I hope that, at the end of the debate, the hon. Gentleman will support the Bill.

Graeme Morrice: The Liberal Democrats have compromised their principles on this and many other issues.

We have an opportunity to wipe the slate clean on patronage in the other place and agree a wholly elected, fully democratic Chamber. A partly appointed Chamber will remain open to accusations of cronyism, even if the appointments are made in a much more transparent fashion.

Another point relating to whether to have the wholly elected Chamber that many of my constituents have expressed strong feelings about is the place of bishops in the Lords. My constituents have been unanimous in their view that this reform is an opportunity to end the automatic right of bishops to sit in the Lords. I very much hope that whatever form the new second Chamber takes, it will contain a diversity of representatives, but they should be there because the people have put their trust in them at the ballot box, rather than because they hold a particular religious office.

My final point on elections to the second Chamber relates to the electoral system that will be used. If it has to be a proportional representation system—I understand the rationale for using a different system from that used to elect Members to this House—why not use a fully

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open list system, which puts much more control back into the hands of voters, while remaining relatively easy to understand?

The final question that I want to focus on is the length of the term of membership of the reformed second Chamber. The Bill proposes single, non-renewable, 15-year terms. That long term, coupled with the proposal that Members of the reformed Chamber should not be allowed to re-stand, is a real concern. It would certainly do nothing to improve accountability, and would actually risk undermining the intended aim of making the second Chamber demonstrably more democratic. There is every chance that voters would feel that a vote for a representative who, once elected, would have absolutely no obligation or incentive ever again to listen to the views of their constituents would not be very worth while at all. There is a real possibility that it could have the effect of depressing turnout in elections to the reformed Chamber.

Shorter terms, with the possibility of re-election, would confer greater legitimacy, and give people confidence that we are serious about having a democratic second Chamber, rather than just some sort of Lords-lite. I support the historic opportunity to reform the House of Lords, but we must get it right. As other hon. Members have highlighted, such an opportunity is not likely to come along again in a hurry, so it is imperative that we take our time to consider the detail carefully, and make decisions that will last and best serve the people of the United Kingdom.

8.56 pm

Mr Robin Walker (Worcester) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Livingston (Graeme Morrice), and I agree with him on one point—his strong support for a referendum. If one thing comes out of this debate, it is that issue. My hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart) made the interesting point that we should perhaps look at having a referendum lock on any major constitutional changes in future.

Having listened to well over 12 hours of this debate, I agree with the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) that it has been very good. A number of people who are usually loyalists have spoken out on points of principle, which is hugely important and very welcome. Whatever else is decided tonight, and however the votes go, there has been an important victory for Parliament in our having stopped the programme motion, which it would have been wrong to pass.

Like the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt), I should declare a family interest: after 31 years in this House, 16 of them spent on the Government Front Bench, my father went to the other place and served a number of years there. I do not intend to detain the House with family history, but it is worth noting, for the sake of those who like to characterise the other place as a haven of privilege for the few, as the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Rushanara Ali) did, that Lord though my father may have become, he was not a scion of an ancient family, but the younger son of a factory worker and shop steward—someone who made his own way in the world and earned his place on the green Benches and the red through merit, hard work and experience.

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It seems to me, as a very junior Back Bencher, that much of the debate that I have listened to over the past two days has been about a battle between theory and practice: between the idealistic pursuit of democracy, which is admirable, and an understanding of the way it actually works; and between the many loud voices of political correctness and the calmer voices of political experience. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Nicholas Soames) and the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field) agree, they are generally right. When experienced former Ministers, such as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind), and the right hon. Members for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett), and for Holborn and St Pancras (Frank Dobson), all speak out against a Bill, they should be listened to.

It is notable that a number of distinguished former Speakers of this House, including Lady Boothroyd and, in the past, the late Lord Weatherill, spoke out against unthinking democratic reform, because they knew very well the strengths and the shortcomings of both Houses. It is especially notable that no former Prime Ministers have been championing the cause of reform. Instead, the one Prime Minister in living memory who pushed through changes to the second Chamber while in office now warns, to quote Tony Blair’s recent editorial in the London Evening Standard, that

“there is almost no public appetite for such reforms. And there might be even less as the full implications of the Bill become clear. By making the Lords largely elected, with elections in May 2015, the character of the Upper House would be irrevocably changed. It would be a place dominated by politicians, and probably second-rate ones at that, given the Commons’ continued dominance. It would also be likely to challenge the Commons far more, stringing out the legislative process and embroiling every stage in party-political wrangling.”

Those who unthinkingly argue that we must have democracy in both Houses need to answer those concerns. They also need to bear in mind the role of the second Chamber as primarily a revising and amending Chamber. The expertise of its Members has been adequately addressed by other Members here, but does that mean that there should be no reform of the second Chamber? Of course not. I would strongly support reforms to introduce a term limit for life peers, to create an independent appointments commission and to limit the power of prime ministerial patronage to create peers, as well as the reforms set out by the noble Lord Steel.

We should be seeking reforms that build on the strengths of our second Chamber, broaden its horizons, and eliminate its weaknesses. What we should not do is press on with creating an elected second Chamber without recognising what the consequences would be—another tier of elected politicians more beholden than any before to the party political system, another layer of expensive professional politicians, a group who from the moment of their first election will be itching to take on the authority of this Chamber and to show that they have just as much right, if not more, to initiate and determine the course of legislation, as we do.

I am a proud democrat. I believe profoundly in the representative democracy that this House enshrines. The coalition agreement said that we would seek consensus to bring forward proposals on House of Lords reform. As yesterday’s and today’s debate has shown, there is no

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such consensus. Before this debate I was going to say that given the crises affecting our country and the world, the vital importance of the other work that needs to be done and the irrelevance of this debate to the vast majority of our constituents, I could not in all conscience vote down a programme motion. However, I was persuaded by the arguments in this debate that the only way that we would get the issue properly dealt with would be to do so. I am very glad that the Government have done the right thing and listened to the will of the House on that.

9.1 pm

Mr Michael McCann (East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow) (Lab): The rebellion on the programme motion has ended and the rebels have won. I congratulate those rebels, because it was the right thing to do.

I do not argue for the House of Lords to be reformed. I want it to be abolished. I do not say that to offend or with disrespect to anyone who has served there. I say it because these Houses of Parliament have evolved over 800 years and I believe that our democracy now has the strength, character and history to take that next step and operate as a single legislature. The description “mother of Parliaments” was neither offered nor given as a testament to a monolithic institution incapable of change. It was offered as a compliment to a political system which gave birth to so many others. It was and is able to change.

I accept the proposition that in the 21st century there should be no place for an unelected Chamber, but when I wake up from my utopia I realise that I have to come back to reality—the Government Bill before us. I do not find a plan to modernise; I do not find a plan to improve our democracy. I see a plan cobbled together to keep a coalition partner sweet. I understand that, but the Liberals always pick the wrong issue to sweeten. The Government decided to put their head down and bully-shove this ill-thought reform through—a plan, to use the words of Rudyard Kipling,

“Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools”.

I recognise that my desire for a unicameral system may be a step too far for many in the House, but at least it has the virtue of integrity, a commodity that the Government plan sadly lacks. There are numerous issues that need to be addressed. I shall deal with just one, as time is short. The primacy of the House of Commons has been mentioned several times in the debate. Many Members have commented on this but nobody from the Government Benches who is supporting the proposals has yet offered a legitimate argument that would explain how an elected upper Chamber with a legitimate electoral mandate could be curtailed in its use of that mandate by this place.

Is not the very reason that we seek to introduce democracy in the second Chamber to make it accountable to the people though a ballot box? Is it not that very argument for democratisation, its purportedly strongest point, which also becomes its weakest link? Therein lies the rub for all hon. Members. At best the Bill before us is a stab in the dark. At best it is guesswork about how the relationship between the House of Commons and the second Chamber would develop.

As the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) explained yesterday, the Parliament Act 1911 was passed because until then, apart from on

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matters of taxation, there was an equal right of veto on the business of Parliament. The Parliament Act 1949 merely reduced the amount of time the House of Lords could delay Commons legislation. That argument now goes full circle. With the proposal to have two elected Houses, how is the primacy of this place to be maintained? Clause 2 says absolutely nothing about that. All that would be needed is for one newly elected Member of the House of Lords to stand up and say, “No. I, too, have been elected and the Commons shall not override my views.” What then?

Jacob Rees-Mogg: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr McCann: No, I will not give way, because many other Members want to get into the debate and time is short.

Will the mother of Parliaments becomes the resting place for a constitutional stand-off? There could be nothing worse than everyone in this House, despite knowing the Bill’s flaws, carrying on regardless and saying nothing about it. Even a nude emperor would blush at the stupidity.

In conclusion, I recognise Walter Bagehot’s view:

“With a perfect Lower House it is certain that an Upper House would be scarcely of any value. If we had an ideal House of Commons… it is certain that we should not need a higher chamber.”

What can be more perfect than a Chamber with democratically elected Members representing every part of this United Kingdom? If the second Chamber cannot be improved through consensus, and if those improvements cannot be endorsed by the people in a referendum, then one thing is for sure: having a second Chamber in its current form, with limited power and unable to challenge the decisions of elected politicians, is preferable any day of the week to an ill-thought-out plan that seeks to introduce constitutional change for cynical political advantage.

9.6 pm

Richard Drax (South Dorset) (Con): I learned today from an hon. Friend in the Tea Room that my parentage has been questioned on the PoliticsHome website, apparently because I have voted against the Government on three recent issues. Members will be glad to hear that I shall continue with that illegitimacy in the Division Lobby tonight.

The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) made an interesting point earlier—I intervened at some point—on the electorate not being interested in what we have to say in this place. One of the reasons they are not interested is because clear blue principles have to a large extent been lost to the great god of spin. I believe that the vote tonight is a matter of principle.

The upper House works, and it works well. History proves that it does. Yes, there are issues—too many—such as when Members of the House of Lords retire, and concerns about who is appointed and how, but we do not need another elected House. If elected, surely they must have a manifesto. Can hon. Members imagine having a senator—apparently that is what they might be called—in their constituency with a manifesto, and a manifesto to do what: to revise well; to advise even better? It is ludicrous. Conflict will be the inevitable consequence. Of course, the question is who will stand

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for election. The question of what sort of person might stand for election to the second Chamber has been mooted by many hon. Members tonight. We need an upper Chamber with the knowledge and expertise to revise and advise as it always has, and we have one.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire (Simon Hart) said, we are talking about accountability. Surely it is not the job of Members of the House of the Lords to be accountable to the electorate; we have that role. They are accountable for revising and advising on legislation. So why are we considering destroying a system that has worked well for hundreds of years? Regrettably, I feel that the reason, as Members have hinted strongly, is to appease our coalition partners. The Liberal Democrats have discovered the power of being the piggy in the middle, so it is no accident that they support a form of PR for the upper House: the balance of power could lie in their hands. How can we justify that when we are elected under the first-past-the-post system? The alternative was resoundingly rejected by voters last year.

Let us be clear: we are being asked to cast aside hundreds of years of governance in exchange, I believe, for a partisan raid on our very constitution and democracy. The Deputy Prime Minister says on many occasions that we are the only country not to have an elected second Chamber, and I think he refers to somewhere in darkest Africa, but as always, dare I say, he misses the point. No other country has a long and honourable history like ours, or a democracy like ours.

To allow this Bill to go through would be a capitulation too far. The Daily Telegraph put it neatly yesterday as a stark choice:

“between high principle and low politics.”

We hear that the boundary review could be at risk if we do not push the Bill through. I believe that it would be dishonourable behaviour, were the Liberal Democrats to renege on that particular issue. We gave them a referendum on the alternative vote in exchange for the boundary review. If we agree to this Bill, what will their next demand be? This country, our country, which deserves the very best, will get less.

We have heard tonight the adage, “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.” It isn’t broke, but may I suggest that we fix it very gently?

9.11 pm

Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): This is a complex Bill, but at its heart there is of course a simple principle that those who make the laws for the people should be elected by the people, and that is why I shall certainly support the Bill’s Second Reading.

That principle of election, if it is to be made as real and as complete as possible, also requires accountability, and that is why I have grave reservations about the proposals for 15-year terms with no possibility of re-election. I shall look for amendments to that as the Bill makes its way—eventually—through the House.

I also do not see why election requires 450 Members in the reformed upper House. At an earlier stage, it was suggested that 300 would be sufficient, but even that is on the high side. If the new House is to have Members with a revising role but no constituency responsibilities, it does not need anything like the suggested 450 Members, and, if the number of Members of a second House were

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lower, some of the cost objections that have been raised would be less powerful both in this House in debate and in a referendum.

I support the principle of election, so I also agree with Opposition colleagues who argue against reserved places for Church of England bishops. Many bishops who attend the Lords do offer an independent and critical voice, and it has challenged over-mighty Governments of all parties, but such a challenge should come from those whose authority to speak is derived from election, not from appointment. As many Members have pointed out, the additional objection is that, by giving a privileged place to leaders of one faith group, we discriminate against every other faith group, let alone against agnostics and atheists.

I am glad that the programme motion has been sent away for another day, because it limited, as is normal, not only the total number of days for debate, but the subject for debate on each day. So there were bound to have been occasions when, because of statements or whatever, and after Front Benchers’ speeches, perhaps only six, seven, eight, nine or 10 Back Benchers would have been able to join in the debate, and that would have been unacceptable on an issue about which so many Members have strong views.

Mr Tom Clarke: Does my hon. Friend not agree that the Bill, in many cases and in many places, is opaque? For example, it does not indicate whether, in the other House that is going to emerge, Members will even be paid during the parliamentary recess. Given that so many questions are bound to be asked, it would be ridiculous to confine ourselves to a particular time limit.

Mark Lazarowicz: Indeed. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) said, given that the Bill might end up in exactly the same format going through under the Parliament Act procedures, it is vital that we get it right first time while it is here. It would be ironic if a measure that is designed to improve scrutiny ended up restricting scrutiny here in this Chamber.

The programme motion has been taken away, but that does not necessarily mean that the Bill will not go through this place, although it will certainly take longer to do so. If it does not go through, that will not be because of actions on the part of Labour Members, as some Liberal Democrat Members have suggested; it will be because the Conservative side of the coalition has pulled the rug from under its Lib Dem partners, and the Lib Dems will have to draw their own conclusions about the future of the coalition.

I want to say a few words in support of the call for a referendum. I have not always been as enthusiastic as some colleagues about the case for referendums on almost any constitutional change, but it is now broadly accepted that any major constitutional change should be submitted for endorsement to those it affects. Having seen referendums approved for much less significant changes than this one, I cannot see any argument against a referendum ultimately being agreed to as part of a final requirement of endorsement by the people.

I suspect that the real argument as to why the Government—certainly the Liberal Democrats—are against a referendum is that they fear, particularly after the

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experience of the AV referendum, that they would lose it. I draw a different conclusion from that experience from that which some Liberal Democrats seem to have reached. I supported AV and campaigned for it. However, in the case of the AV referendum, hardly anyone who campaigned for AV really believed that it was the ideal solution, and they did not give it any enthusiastic support. That is the danger that will face the Government if and when this matter comes to a referendum.




Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Order. There is too much background noise—please keep it to a minimum.

Mark Lazarowicz: The Bill is in danger of being a measure that does not have the kind of popular support that would be required. The answer to that problem is not to do away with the idea of a referendum but to improve it to make it more radical and democratic. We should make those changes during the course of the Bill’s passage through this House, and I will certainly support that.

9.17 pm

Alun Cairns (Vale of Glamorgan) (Con): As a strong supporter of the coalition Government and the need for strong government at a time of financial crisis, I find myself in the extremely difficult position of not being able to support them this evening. Within the limited time frame available, it would be difficult to go into all the reasons now. We have heard excellent speeches by Members in all parts of the House. I want to focus on two key issues in the Bill: first, the primacy of the House of Commons; and secondly, the impact on elected Members of this House and their relationship with their constituents.

At a general election, through the first-past-the-post system, the public will decide to support or change the Government. The Government will generally get their way through the manifesto. The other place holds the Government to account according to the manifesto. It will offer advice and often slow things down to enable the Government in the House of Commons to rethink, but by convention this House will always get its way. Electing Members to the other place will change that. The relationship between both places will change, and election to the other House will give its elected Members the moral right to reject legislation that comes from this place. Conventions that have developed and evolved over many generations will become a thing of the past.

Think of it, Mr Deputy Speaker. A new Government might find that they cannot get their way. There will be constitutional deadlock and the ping-pong that we have experienced on some occasions will become commonplace. Some Members argue that that is not the case and that the Parliament Acts will preserve the primacy of this House. However, using the Parliament Acts will become commonplace. It will no longer be a significant step, but merely part of the normal process of any Government in this House who seek to get their way and to force their legislation through.

That means that the elected Members in the other place will be second-class citizens. If this House can simply force its will through, time and again, on every piece of legislation because the Members of the other

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place are not important enough to make a difference, why should Members of this House show them any respect at all? That will create an unsustainable situation.

The second element of my speech, in the limited time that I have, relates to the relationship that there will be between elected Members in the other place, Members of Parliament and our constituents. I have been a regional Member of the Welsh Assembly and have observed the activities of regional Assembly Members of all parties. The result will be that our constituents will have several elected Members who are responsible for the same areas of policy and legislation.

Regional Members will have a habit of picking and choosing the issues that they think are the most important and most popular. They will deal with significant issues when it suits them and will be nowhere to be seen when there are awkward and uncomfortable issues for the electorate. They will accept all the credit, but none of the responsibility. That will undermine the role of the Member of Parliament in relation to their constituents and weaken the Member of Parliament.

The relationship between the Member of Parliament and the elected Members in the other place will become competitive. Regional Members will focus on specific areas in marginal seats. There is nothing in the legislation to prevent an elected Member of the other House from spending all their time and resources in the most marginal part of the most marginal constituency in an attempt to further their cause of being elected to this place.

Jake Berry (Rossendale and Darwen) (Con): I am sure that my hon. Friend is aware that that issue is covered in the Bill. There will be a bar on people going straight from the other place into this House should it become an Act of Parliament.

Alun Cairns: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his contribution. However, the activities of a regional Member will certainly undermine the activities of a Member of Parliament. I will give two examples from the Welsh Assembly. One regional Assembly Member opened two constituency offices in one marginal seat, even though they had responsibility for two thirds of the geography of Wales. Another regional Assembly Member focused all their activities, surgeries, street surgeries and campaign meetings on the most marginal area of the most marginal seat to further their party’s cause. It can therefore be done on an individual or party basis. We should bear it in mind that the elected Members of the other place will by and large be party appointments, so they will be able to focus all of their activity in that way.

The reforms will undermine the independence of the other place and its Members, and lead to constitutional deadlock between the two Houses.