For the benefit of the House, I will now set out the procedure to be followed at the end of the debate this afternoon. Under the Order of the House of
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As one who is very glad that you have selected that amendment, I wonder whether you could possibly help those of us who are in a slightly difficult position. If the motion that I favour is not approved, I would rather vote for a unicameral House. Having talked to hon. Members in all parts of the House, I believe that a number of them share the view that, if their own particular preference is not selected, they would rather go unicameral. Would it be possible, therefore, to have that vote at the end of the proceedings, rather than the beginning?
That option is at the beginning, not the end.
I beg to move,
I am conscious of the rich irony that that is the motion for an all-appointed second Chamber.
The other week, I found myself listening to a radio discussion on "Waiting for Godot". I believe that it was celebrating the 40th anniversary of the first production of the play. I was struck by the fact that there is a real possibility that we could drift into House of Lords reform becoming our parliamentary equivalent of "Waiting for Godot", as it never arrives and some have become rather doubtful whether it even exists, but we sit around talking about it year after year. The first attempt to achieve reform of the second Chamber was made in 1911. In our case, this particular performance has been going on for much more than 40 years; it has lasted almost a century. Tonight, the House has an opportunity to bring down the curtain on what has been the longest political indecision in our history. It can make a conclusion and, I hope, a bold decision for a democratic second Chamber that belongs to this Chamber.
If I may, I should like to continue a little longer, as I have only just got into my stride.
The decisions tonight will take place on a free vote. It is to the Government's credit that they have said that this is a parliamentary matter that should be decided by Parliament on a free vote, not a whipped vote. I have been rather struck in the past few days by the fact that the media have found it difficult to find the language to report this process. It has been particularly difficult for some of those in the media who have for years been urging Members of Parliament to be more independent and less dragooned. If we are to have a free vote, we should not be concerned that there will be differences of views. On the contrary, we should celebrate the fact that the free vote is allowing us to express differences of views, rather than deplore it.
As one who supports the right hon. Gentleman on this matter, may I ask him whether he can tell the House that, even if the second Chamber itself votes against a House that is elected either wholly in or in part, the Government will introduce legislation to reflect the will of this House?
We had an extended exchange on exactly that point only half an hour ago during oral questions. As I told the House then, it would be most unwise of me to anticipate at this particular point the votes made in either Chamber in four or five hours' time. As I said on that occasion—I am fortunate that there is now a rather larger audience to hear my plea—what is crucial is that the Commons come to one clear, single and commanding view on the way forward. If we can secure that in the Commons at five o'clock, as Leader of the House I shall certainly seek to do all that I can to ensure that that option is carried through.
It has famously been observed that there is a range of views on what the reform should be. My personal view is that, if we are serious about reform, we should have a largely or wholly elected second Chamber. In the modern world, legitimacy is conferred by democracy. That is why we committed ourselves in our manifesto to a second Chamber that is more representative and democratic. I do not see how it can be a democratic second Chamber if it is also an election-free zone.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. Will he clarify whether his interpretation of election includes indirect election from regional assemblies or other such bodies?
It is the case that a number of countries in Europe have found a way of assembling a democratic second Chamber through indirect elections. That is the case in France, Germany and the Netherlands. I fully respect the fact that a number of hon. Members in the Chamber would want indirect election to be at least part of the way in which a second Chamber could receive a democratic mandate. Personally, I am not unsympathetic to that perspective.
We all need to be clear about our terminology. If colleagues wish to have an indirectly elected Chamber or a partly indirectly elected Chamber, they are opting for an elected Chamber and should vote tonight for one of the elected options. If they vote for an appointed Chamber, they will be ruling out elections, whether direct or indirect.
I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way. As somebody who wanted to vote for a directly elected Chamber, I have great difficulty in voting for a Chamber that is elected on the basis of a list system and not a first-past-the-post system.
There is nothing in the options that specified the precise method of election, but if we want to avoid friction between the two Chambers, it is important that the second Chamber is not elected on exactly the same basis and most certainly not with the same constituencies as the lower Chamber.
If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I must make some progress with my speech.
I said that we had committed ourselves in our manifesto to a democratic second Chamber. On previous occasions, my party has been even more explicit in saying that we want an elected second Chamber. Indeed, in the Plant report of 1993, we observed that
"an elected second chamber is Labour's ultimate aspiration".
The Plant committee had a truly distinguished membership. Among those who were members of the committee in 1993 are four members of the present Cabinet, including the Chief Whip. Lord Plant himself made an eloquent plea for a democratic Chamber in the debate in the other place. He said that
"political power and authority in a free society can be legitimately exercised only with the consent of those over whom power is exercised."—[Hansard, House of Lords, 22 January 2003; Vol. 643, c. 788.]
That consent can be obtained only by free and open elections—a principle that is powerfully entrenched in the attitudes of our country.
I am most grateful to the Leader of the House for giving way. Is not the nub of the point Lord Plant's reference to power? The Prime Minister believes that the second Chamber should be a revising Chamber without the power to revoke. Does the right hon. Gentleman believe that it should be a revoking Chamber or a revising one? If he takes the latter view, how will he get the right number of people with the right expertise to stand for election?
Of course it must not be a revoking Chamber. The one point on which we are all agreed—indeed, I apprehend that even the second Chamber is agreed on this—is that the House of Commons should retain its pre-eminence. I shall turn later to how we can secure that, although I would welcome it if those in the House of Lords who said in their speeches that the Commons should remain pre-eminent had not sometimes indicated in the tone of those speeches that they thought themselves superior.
I was making the point that the attitude to democratic elections is powerfully entrenched in public opinion. When we consulted on the White Paper on the House of Lords a year ago, 89 per cent. of those who responded favoured a majority-elected House. A year later, the latest opinion poll shows that 83 per cent. support a majority-elected House. The public have not wavered in their support for a democratic solution and nor should we.
How is it intended to gauge opinion in this House if there is to be no separate vote to enable those of us who wish to support an indirectly elected Chamber to do so? If we simply vote for an elected Chamber, it will not be possible to distinguish those who are voting for direct elections from those who are voting for indirect elections. Does the Leader of the House agree that that is a major flaw in today's procedure?
The procedure that I am following is the procedure on which the House embarked when we appointed the Joint Committee and invited it to recommend options to us, and I shall put those options before the House tonight. It would have been quite wrong of me to tamper with those options. After the votes, the Joint Committee will consider detailed proposals on the basis of the opinions expressed by both Houses. It is entirely open to my hon. Friend, or to any other hon. Member, to lobby the Joint Committee to ensure that it understands that many of those who voted for an elected option may have wished the democratic mandate to be fulfilled through indirect election. I say to her, however, that if she votes for an all-appointed House, that is what she is likely to get from the Joint Committee or from any other source.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that if appointment—a word that I do not particularly like—came about through regional authorities or devolved assemblies appointing members, and they arrived at their appointees by way of indirect election, that would be entirely in line with our manifesto, because it would be a reformed and more democratic process?
My hon. Friend is describing not a process of appointment but a process of indirect election. The key test is that if indirect election is to be democratic, it should issue from bodies that are themselves elected by universal suffrage and by direct election. If those bodies themselves have direct election, it would be entirely democratic—should that be the way in which we choose to go ahead—for them in turn to elect from their number representatives to the second Chamber. That is the democratic mandate of several second Chambers in Europe. If my hon. Friend wishes to achieve that outcome, he will have to support one of the options for an elected, not an appointed, second Chamber.
On reading the debate in the other place, I was struck by the large number of Members who oppose anybody being elected to the second Chamber on the grounds that the moment one let the democratic principle through its door, that democratic principle would prove to be so powerful and so unanswerable that it would swell until the whole place became democratic. Indeed, one peer, using a rather homely metaphor, described it as letting the genie out of the bottle. I cannot help but feel that if the democratic principle is so powerful and so unanswerable, it might just be the correct principle on which to act. It is odd that those who are most keen on appointment seem to be strikingly lacking in confidence that the virtues of appointment could survive in competition with election.
A number of speakers in the other place argued that appointment could provide for a more representative second Chamber. That is an arguable proposition, but it is not the real point. Legitimacy requires not merely representativeness but accountability, and only election can make those who claim to represent the nation accountable to the nation. We cannot make them accountable by privatising the process of appointment in relation to any variety of independent bodies.
I was under the impression that I had myself quoted the Labour manifesto with approval and as a factor that should weigh heavily with those of us who stood for election on that manifesto. Of course, we have a collective process for producing the manifesto, and we are all bound by the words that we included in it and must attach weight to them when we make our decision.
Is it not interesting that the greatest advocate of appointment is none other than the Lord Chancellor, who seems to have persuaded the Prime Minister in that respect, and who took the precaution of not being elected by anybody? Is there not a delicious irony in the fact that the one person who is the personification of hybridity in the British constitution, managing to combine at least three jobs in one, is the leading opponent of hybridity when it comes to putting together a sensibly mixed second Chamber?
My hon. Friend speaks with particular authority, as he was Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Lord Chancellor for a whole year. All hon. Members look forward with great interest to the time when he writes his memoirs about that particular year. In the meantime, I would say only that the Lord Chancellor is not alone in his views. As far as I can tell, most of those who were appointed to the second Chamber believe that appointment is the perfect way in which to maintain it.
I was dealing with the point that we do not solve the problem of accountability by privatising the process of appointment. Some have argued that we can remove the difficulties involved in appointment through an independent process of appointment. I should remind hon. Members that we have already tested that process—indeed, tested it to destruction. We had an independent commission that proposed a list of independent peers—estimable people—but that list did not command universal respect. Indeed, it was such a major public relations disaster that, two years on, we have never dared to repeat it. That is not a criticism of those who were appointed, nor of those who did the appointing. It is an inherent risk of the process. If we exclude the public from the process of election, we should not be surprised when the public become cynical about those who pose as the people's peers. Trust is a reciprocal quality. If we want the public to trust politicians, we must trust the public to elect the right people.
The fact remains that an appointed Chamber regularly defeats the Government, but this elected Chamber has not defeated the Government since 1997. What is the right hon. Gentleman's personal view of how to make elected members—if that is what we are to arrive at—genuinely independent? How will he remove them from the sources of patronage? Does he think that there is merit in preventing elected members of the upper House from becoming Ministers?
The hon. Gentleman's last point was pressed in the previous debate, and I would welcome the Joint Committee's views on it. On the generality of his remarks, he does not show the commitment to the democratic process that I would have hoped for from a Member of this House. After all, he came here through a process of election, he will be proud of that and he will claim to speak for his constituents on that basis. If we claim our own legitimacy through that process of election, it is not wise for us even to hint that appointment might be a more valid method of appointing representatives of the public in Parliament.
The right hon. Gentleman reiterated the plea that he made on
I have already said four times this afternoon that I do not intend to anticipate the votes. I hope that when we reach that point this evening, we will end up with a majority of more than one for one of the options. I invite the hon. Gentleman to reflect on the substantial hurdles that we have still to negotiate, even after today. We have to introduce a Bill, which will be subject to all the processes of scrutiny in the House. It has to go to the other place—
The thrust of my right hon. Friend's comments supports a directly elected rather than an indirectly elected second Chamber. If he wants a diverse, pluralistic, thoroughly representative second Chamber, it requires a system of election that is based on proportional representation. How long does he believe it will take for it to become clear to everyone that separate electoral systems for the two Chambers are untenable? It is inevitable that a single system of electing Members to Parliament would have to be adopted before long. That system would be proportional representation. [Interruption.]
I am not sure whether my right hon. Friend has carried the House with him. Let me unpack some of the different elements of his point. First, I am not arguing against indirect elections. Indeed, in several debates on reform I have strongly advocated indirect election as part of a mandate for a new democratic second Chamber.
My right hon. Friend made a point about indirect election. He cannot pick and choose the bits of an intervention to which I respond.
Some form of devolved body covers one third of the British island. There is a strong case for representation of the devolved bodies in the second Chamber through indirect elections. That would count as the elected element. Hon. Members must therefore be clear that if that is part of the solution for securing a democratic reformed second Chamber, they must vote for an elected, not an appointed, option.
My right hon. Friend asked about the election of the directly elected element. It has been common ground in the many different reports on reform—the White Paper, the reports of the Wakeham commission and the Public Administration Committee—that the method of election for the second Chamber should not be the same as that for the first. That ensures that there is no rivalry between them and that their mandate and legitimacy are different.
I understand that my right hon. Friend is a robust advocate of the first-past-the-post system. If he is so committed to it, he should show more confidence in it and its ability to survive competition with alternative forms of election in Britain.
My right hon. Friend is wrong. I have never been a robust advocate of the first-past-the-post system. I have flirted with electoral reform, which is not quite the same as proportional representation. However, let me press him further. Are we not expecting a great deal of the electorate if they have to elect Members to two different Chambers of one Parliament, Members of the European Parliament and Members of devolved Administrations through different electoral systems? That is untenable. There will be overwhelming public pressure to converge on one electoral system, and it will prove difficult for my right hon. Friend to resist the argument that it should be proportional. That is the inevitable logic of the course of action that he is urging on the House.
I apprehend from my right hon. Friend's comments that he is not prepared to defend the first-past-the-post system. I therefore suggest to Labour Members to whom he may have hoped to appeal that they should not be seduced by his case, since he is not prepared to defend the basis of their election.
Let me respond to the other point that my right hon. Friend Mr. Mandelson made. [Hon. Members: "Give way."] I must be allowed to respond to one intervention before taking another. That is the way in which we proceed.
I have never been attracted to the argument that our electors are not capable of coping with the complexity of the electoral system or with multiple elections. Other countries such as France, Germany, Spain and Italy have different methods of election to forms of devolved Government; all have elections for a central, national Government and the European Parliament, and many have elections for a second Chamber. We should show confidence in the wisdom and intelligence of the people who sent us here and their ability to handle the idea that they are entitled to democracy in more than one Chamber of this place.
As the only hon. Member who served on the royal commission, let me make it clear that the proposition that my right hon. Friend attributed to its report was not contained in it.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his rebuke, which I take to heart. However, I said that the royal commission did not recommend that there should be elections for the second Chamber on the same basis as for the first Chamber. I believe that my recollection is correct.
If my right hon. Friend refers to the relevant section of the royal commission's report—I had a large hand in drafting that section—it makes no such recommendation. That was deliberate. Lord Hurd and others agreed on that. There was a recommendation before and after the section, but none on the subject to which my right hon. Friend refers.
Who am I to argue with such an august authority? However, I believe that I am correct in recalling that the royal commission proposed the election by regions of a modest number of people on the same basis as elections for the European Parliament. It is difficult to envisage how so few people could be elected for such a large region on the basis of first-past-the-post constituencies.
No, I should like to try to share some of my thoughts with hon. Members.
I fully share the determination of many hon. Members that the House of Commons should remain the pre-eminent Chamber. I have been a Member of it for three decades and I have enjoyed no period more than the past two years, when I have had the immense privilege of being Leader of the House. I have no intention of conniving at any outcome in which the House of Commons does not retain its commanding role. The Chamber must remain the ring in which the clashes of opinion in the nation are fought out. Ability to command the confidence of a majority of Members of Parliament must remain the test for every Government.
There are many ways in which to keep an elected second Chamber in a subordinate place. We could give the conventions that limit the powers of the other place legal force in a reform Act. We could ensure that the size as well as the powers of the second Chamber are limited. The Joint Committee proposes a second Chamber of 600. That is too big—I believe that there is consensus on that. The second Chamber should not be the same size as the Commons. It should be much smaller and therefore weaker in its claims to represent the nation.
Taming a second Chamber is not a new challenge. Countries all around the globe have cracked it. I do not believe that any hon. Member would seriously argue that Britain does not have the constitutional wit to achieve an outcome secured by France, Spain, Italy, Poland, Germany and 40 other countries that have an elected second Chamber that remains subordinate.
My right hon. Friend has not yet referred to the amendment that the Speaker in his wisdom selected and which my hon. Friend Mr. Howarth tabled. It is supported by more than 100 hon. Members. I gather from the tenor of my right hon. Friend's remarks that he does not intend to support our amendment in favour of unicameralism. Does he intend to vote against it, or abstain?
I have to say to my right hon. Friend that I am not persuaded of the case for the amendment. I shall therefore be unable to support it and will naturally cast my vote in opposition to it. Since he raises the issue of the amendment, may I say to him that I sympathise with the second part of it, which calls for further reform of our own legislative procedures? I have always felt that the least impressive case for a second Chamber is that we are so poor at passing legislation that we need someone else to revise our mistakes. But, however perfect we made our procedures, and however perfect this Chamber became, there would always be the case for a second opinion. No other European country of any size has only one chamber. All have two, on the basis that it increases the prospects for scrutiny of government in the modern era.
I understand the growing impatience of my right hon. Friend and a number of others over the length of time that this argument is taking. The longer that we continue to argue over the reform of the second Chamber, the greater will be the risk that more and more people will ask, "Why are we bothering with reform? Why do we not proceed to abolition?" That is why it is in the interest of the other place, as well of this Chamber, that we reach a clear decision this evening on the way forward to reform of the second Chamber.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. As a member of the Joint Committee, I, along with others, will presumably be asked to put together the various views expressed in this Chamber. My right hon. Friend will already be aware of the wide diversity of views, even on individual issues such as total election or large-part election. I suggest to him that, if we want to continue with the reform—which is the point that he was making—the way to do so is to recognise that the second Chamber must be a hybrid chamber, that the Joint Committee must have the flexibility to be able to come back with recommendations, and that we are involved in a process of reform and not in some final solution to be decided today.
I am very much in favour of the Joint Committee having a degree of flexibility to respond to the votes in the House. I am also very attached to the importance of Members of this House showing flexibility when they approach the decision this evening. The procedures that we have adopted will enable hon. Members to vote for their second and third preferences, and not just for their first preferred option. If we are to find the critical mass of the centre of gravity, hon. Members must be willing to compromise on their own preferred option. In particular, I urge those who support a 100 per cent. elected House not to insist on 100 per cent. or nothing, because there would then be a danger of ending up with nothing. I hope that those who want a largely elected House will vote for all the options that would give that result.
I was saying earlier that there are ways in which we can ensure that the second Chamber remains the subordinate Chamber. What is not acceptable is to keep the second Chamber subordinate by keeping it illegitimate. That would not only weaken the second Chamber but undermine Parliament as a whole, when what we need is a democratic partner in the second Chamber to assist us in winning back public respect for Parliament as a whole. I have already expressed my disappointment that some of the speeches in the debate on this issue in the other place a fortnight ago carried the implication that being a professional politician was something to be rather ashamed of, and that there was something disreputable about political parties and something definitely distasteful about the rough trade of popular elections. Out of sheer self-respect, this Chamber cannot give house room to those ideas.
I am proud that I came here by popular election and through the democratic process. All of us went through that process; we all came here through the ballot box. We cannot accept that there is any fairer or more legitimate way of forming a chamber in a democratic, modern Parliament. That is why I shall be voting for the options for a 100 per cent., an 80 per cent. and a 60 per cent. elected Chamber. The precise percentage is not important, however. What is important is the principle that the majority in any parliamentary chamber should be elected by the people for whom it legislates, and I urge the House to vote for that principle tonight.
I almost hesitate to dwell yet again on the stark contradiction that has been pointed to many times today—and before today—between the Labour party manifesto, which stated:
"We are committed to completing House of Lords reform . . . to make it more representative and democratic", and the Prime Minister's astonishing revelation last week that he now believes nothing of the kind. Perhaps hon. Members on both sides of the House will regret the fact that the Prime Minister has not had an opportunity to explain more fully how he arrived at that conclusion, which is in direct contradiction to his own party's manifesto.
First of all, I am far too young to remember that. Secondly, in 1979, I was too busy fighting and winning my own election to the European Parliament, so I was fighting on a different manifesto altogether.
The other thing that I am reluctant to do is to intrude on what is a quite unprecedented public auction for support between the Leader of the House and the Prime Minister. It remains to be seen who will win that auction. I, like the Leader of the House, would not like to guess, because the whole matter is deliciously uncertain at this stage.
While the right hon. Gentleman is stirring, would he like to stir a little in his own pot by explaining what his party's policy is on this issue, and how many Conservative Members in this House and in the other Chamber he expects to vote for that policy?
Yes, I would be very happy to remind the House that our policy is to have an 80 per cent. elected and 20 per cent. appointed upper House of about 300 Members. Of course, I shall be inviting my colleagues—and, indeed, others—to consider supporting that kind of approach, but on a free vote. I am pretty certain that not all my colleagues will necessarily follow that view, but that is different matter altogether from the Prime Minister of the day and the Leader of the House of the day openly contradicting each other and inviting support from their colleagues. [Hon. Members: "It is a free vote."] Labour Members say that it is a free vote, and indeed it is. We shall be intrigued to see what the outcome of that free vote is.
I want to remind the House of what the Royal Commission said on this subject in January 2000. It said:
"We show how the second Chamber can complement and support the decisive political role of the House of Commons while increasing the effectiveness of Parliament as a whole by scrutinising proposed legislation and holding the Government to account".
Those are the key words. In December 2002, the Joint Committee said:
"The aim of maintaining the effectiveness and enhancing the legitimacy of the Second Chamber has become common ground."
That, too, is a key phrase. So we have these strands running through this debate to the effect that we require a legitimate and effective upper Chamber to do what Parliament is expected to do. What puzzles and frustrates me is that so many Members in this House seem to be afraid of that idea. The sad truth is that the main challenge to the House of Commons is the Government. It is they, in my view, who have reduced and diminished the role of this House, rather than any challenge from the upper House, in its present form or in any future form.
Most people here want to be in the Government. How does my right hon. Friend propose to make these elected Members in the other place genuinely independent of the Executive?
I have a great deal of sympathy with my hon. Friend's suggestion that we should at least consider very carefully having no Ministers in a reformed upper House, for exactly that reason. As those of us who have spent any time here know all too well, a combination of patronage, preferment, strict timetabling and all the other things that we have seen developing over the last few years, has resulted in the House of Commons becoming primarily the provider and sustainer of the Government of the day. Sadly, it does not do a very good job of holding the Government to account. Surely, therefore, it is right for us to look to an Upper House with legitimacy and self-confidence to do that job. We are talking about two distinct roles, and I hope that the debate can develop on that basis.
Has my right hon. Friend, with his remarkable persuasive powers, given up all hope of influencing this Parliament to look again at reforms that have done the job of doing down this House's ability properly to hold the Executive to account? Is he already surrendering that power to another place?
I have probably effectively given up in this Parliament, under this Government, with this majority. What I have certainly not given up on is the real possibility that in a Parliament of the near future, under a different Government, we will seek ways of restoring much of the balance between the House of Commons and the Executive of the day. A good Government should have no fear of that. I should like to see the Government of the day—my own Government, preferably—accountable to both this House and the Upper House in different ways.
I am sure many Members on both sides of the House cannot wait for that day; but I hope we will not be diverted to the subject of the role of one man, no matter how eminent he may be. In that very context, however, I was rather alarmed to see, in today's Evening Standard, the following rather sinister report:
"Number 10 officials were pleading with MPs not to 'sleepwalk' into creating a more powerful Upper House that could hamper the Government's ability to put policies into law. The Prime Minister believes elected peers would block controversial Bills —and be less easy to ignore."
That has let several cats out of the bag, and it rather proves the point I am trying to make.
Why is it that we cannot trust the people? Why is it that some Members of this House, and certainly of the other place, are so afraid of giving voters more of a say in both Houses? That is an insult to voters.
In the context of "not sleepwalking", will the right hon. Gentleman answer a question? The Leader of the House said that, in seeking to secure a majority principle from today's votes so that Parliament could speak with a coherent voice, he urged all Members to vote for 60 per cent., 80 per cent. or 100 per cent. Can the right hon. Gentleman say the same to his own supporters?
What I have said is that I hope as many of my colleagues as possible will vote with me for 100 per cent. and 80 per cent., but my judgment is that 60 per cent. is a step too far. My colleagues will, of course, make up their own minds, and I do not doubt that the excellent work of the hon. Gentleman's Committee will be one of the elements they will weigh in the balance before deciding how to vote.
While making recommendations to his colleagues, does the right hon. Gentleman not find it astonishing that the Leader of the House and, now, the shadow Leader should make speeches without referring to an amendment signed by more than 100 Members and selected by Mr. Speaker? What is his attitude to the amendment? Will he oppose it?
I should have thought that, having said what I have said about the sadly diminished role of the House of Commons in the current circumstances and hence the vital necessity of a legitimised, invigorated, self-confident upper House, I could hardly in logic either vote for or urge others to vote for the amendment. I do not believe that unicameralism is the right way forward, given our present dispensation, our present parliamentary provision and our constitutional arrangements.
I am aware that unicameralism works in a limited number of other contexts—not least that of New Zealand, one of my favourite countries. I readily accept that in very different circumstances it can be made to work. I do not, however, think it appropriate for us in our circumstances, at this stage of our constitutional development, for the reasons that I have given.
May I ask my right hon. Friend a question similar to the one that I asked the Leader of the House? In arguing so passionately for elections, does he believe that the second Chamber should be a revising Chamber pure and simple, as the Joint Committee suggests, or does he believe that it should have power to revoke?
I think I prefer the revocation to the revising end of things, for the reason that I have given. I do not shrink from the idea of legitimacy flowing from elections; I find it entirely acceptable.
Let me pick up a point made by John Robertson, and the thrust of what was said by Mr. Mandelson—who I thought was extremely patronising about voters. I have absolute confidence that we can devise a system of elections to an upper House that would make it distinct from this House. There could, for instance, be many fewer Members. Our official policy favours 300, but I would be prepared to consider even fewer. There could be large electorates, which I had as a Member of the European Parliament. There could be long terms of office—eight, nine or 10 years—and perhaps a third of Members could be elected every two or three years to separate the electoral cycle from that of the lower House. There are many ways of achieving elections and legitimacy, while distinguishing the method of election from that of the House of Commons.
Taking up the point made by the right hon. Member for Hartlepool, I would add that we do not need proportional representation to do that. It would be perfectly possible—indeed, I would prefer it—to do what we did in the glorious early days of the European Parliament, when I was resoundingly elected by the wise people of Birmingham, North back in 1979 under the first-past-the-post system with four large electorates. That seemed to me to work perfectly well.
I believe that there are answers to these questions. They all come back, do they not, to the age-old concept of democracy, votes, people participating, and elections. Many have suggested, both in our last debate and in this one, that voters will not understand the system, that they are easily confused, that they will be bored by the whole thing and that they will not bother to turn out. What an attitude to take towards our voters! As the Leader of the House has said several times today, we are the product of those voters—of their judgment and their ability to turn out. It really will not do for us to say now, rather loftily, that all they can manage is to elect us and no one else.
While he is talking about age-old concepts, will my right hon. Friend recognise that some of us are keen to ensure that those who would never consider standing for election but are very distinguished in their own fields, and contribute enormously to debates in the upper House, continue to have a role that could not exist in a 100 per cent. elected House and might not exist in a largely elected House?
I understand the preference of many Members, including my right hon. Friend, for an elected element, but does my right hon. Friend accept that many of us want to pay tribute to the huge contribution made by our hereditary peers over the years? Does he accept that some of us regret the lack of an opportunity to vote to retain the status quo?
I readily welcome my hon. Friend's comments. I agree with much of what he has said, not least his tribute to our hereditary colleagues in another place. I hesitate, however, to be carried away too much by the idea of very important, very distinguished people making a vital contribution. I mean no disrespect by this, but I think it fair to say that the contribution of many of those very distinguished people is at best sporadic. I want a vigorous upper House, vigorously holding the Government of the day to account and making its own distinctive contribution. A sporadic appearance by very important and distinguished people might not quite fit the bill.
/flag I think we must now hear from as many Members as have an opportunity to speak. I will end by saying—here I join the Leader of the House—that I sincerely and devoutly hope that, after the Government have marched us up this constitutional hill, the House will not allow itself to slither down the other side.
I beg to move amendment (b), in line 1, leave out from 'House' to end and add
'declines to approve Option 1 as it does not accord with the principle of a unicameral Parliament.'
The amendment is in the name of myself and more than 100 Members who seek to establish a unicameral legislature. We did not table it because we take issue with the report produced by the Joint Committee under the very able chairmanship of my right hon. Friend Dr. Cunningham. I accept that the seven options that the Committee came up with are entirely consistent with the terms of reference given to it, but we believe that the House should have the option of a vote on abolition. I should say at the outset that I consider the amendment a serious option, although I accept that it may not command majority support when we vote later today. Of course, it is equally possible that it will attract at least as much support as some, or any, of the recommendations.
Those of us who have put our names to the amendment have not, as some have suggested, done so as a cynical spoiling tactic: we believe that there is a serious case for a unicameral legislature. However, I will spend a little time answering those who have criticised our motives. As I have said, one particular criticism is that we have set up our argument for cynical purposes. For such a charge to have any substance, we would have to have some other, undisclosed motive: in other words, we would have to be supporting abolition as a smokescreen for some wholly different purpose. Other than in one or two cases that I shall refer to in a moment, nobody who signed up for this option was asked to support anything other than the option of abolition; nor, in most cases, did they offer an opinion as to what their second preference, if any, might be. So for the most part, I have no idea why my hon. Friends and others supported either the early-day motion or the amendment, other than for the obvious reason that they agreed with the position set out.
I can, however, give some information about my hon. Friend Mr. Kilfoyle and me. His first preference is for abolition, but failing that, he favours a wholly elected second Chamber. Similarly, I favour abolition, but because of the problems posed by a rival Chamber, which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister referred to last week, and because of the inevitable inconsistencies of a hybrid Chamber, my second preference is for an appointed Chamber or for the interesting and novel suggestion of an indirectly elected second Chamber. I suspect that each of my hon. Friends who supports abolition has individual reasons for doing so and for adhering to whatever second preferences they may have.
The second criticism, which has been levelled against Labour colleagues in particular, is that there was a manifesto commitment for reform, not abolition. That is true, but as I understand it, we are in the early stages of a process, and I suspect that we are unlikely to implement any proposal this side of a general election. So who knows what any party's manifesto will contain at the next general election?
In a moment—I want to finish this point.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has shown again today that he is the strongest proponent of the manifesto argument. He may wish to correct me, but as my hon. Friend Mr. Skinner made clear, our manifesto makes no reference to, for example, the principle of top-up fees or, for that matter, to foundation hospitals.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that, just as he has a second preference, so do some of us? Although I shall probably vote against his amendment because it is being called first, I would infinitely prefer a unicameral system with safeguards to a wholly or largely elected House that was a challenge to this one. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that a number of hon. Members share that position?
I think that the hon. Lady needs to listen more carefully.
The final argument against abolition—here, the intervention of Sir Patrick Cormack is of help—is that it lacks intellectual substance. I must confess that I find that the oddest criticism of all. The case for a unicameral Parliament has sound historical antecedents, and there are many contemporary precedents within the UK and abroad. The legislatures of Scotland and New Zealand, and of more than one Scandinavian country, are unicameral, and so far as I can tell, they work well. There is no criticism in Scotland or elsewhere—[Interruption.] Perhaps there is criticism from my right hon. Friend Mr. Foulkes. However, such criticisms may be less about such legislatures' operation than about their actions on certain occasions.
Interestingly, much of the case for reforming the House of Lords stems from criticisms about the House of Commons' lack of effectiveness. Three criticisms are commonly cited: first, that this House is not sufficiently powerful to hold the Executive properly to account; secondly, that we do not scrutinise legislation well enough; and thirdly, that we do not debate the great issues of the day with the passion and consistency that those who elected us would expect. I accept that, to varying degrees, all three criticisms have some currency.
For example, it is true that, under both Conservative and Labour Governments, legislation is often deficient in execution, if not in intent. Similarly, we do not act as what used to be called the "cockpit of democracy". For example, people have different views on Iraq. We have had only a couple of debates on Iraq so far, and I was fortunate enough to be called in one of them. However, hundreds of Members of this House have been unable to express their views on what should or will happen in Iraq—or, for that matter, to vote on the issue.
There is no lack of intellectual substance in our arguments. We believe that the House of Commons should be reformed before we turn our attention to the House of Lords, which we should then abolish.
Before I conclude, I want to discuss the anachronistic nature of the House of Lords, which still contains an hereditary element. I agree that hereditary membership of any part of any legislature is absurd, and that is an important motive for abolition or reform. The question that follows is how to resolve this situation. The simple, and in my view most practical, solution is abolition. As the seven options before us demonstrate, reform leads either to corrosive rivalry—as would inevitably be the case with an elected Chamber—or confusion and inconsistency in the case of a hybrid Chamber. We have yet to discover whether an appointed system or indirect elections can be further developed in such a way as to command widespread support or consensus.
My central argument is that if, as I believe, the pressing deficiency is in this House, reforming the other place is hardly a logical response. The urgent need is for reform of the House of Commons—for reform not of our working hours or of other matters relating to personal comfort, but of the way that we do our job, so that we can do it better. Why do we not take up that task first? I suspect that the reason, which we doubtless all find depressing, is that we as a political class do not enjoy the respect of the public that many of our predecessors enjoyed. However, that is no reason to set off on an odyssey of constitutional reform, the destination of which nobody knows. The better way is to stand up for the work of this House and to reform it, and, once we have done so, to say confidently, "We're doing our job properly. There is no need for a second Chamber."
I am pleased to follow Mr. Howarth because it is right that his amendment should be called for debate and a vote. It is extremely important that the whole House has that opportunity, which I hope will clear the air for votes that may occur thereafter. As I am from a churchgoing family and churchgoing part of the country, I always like to start with a text, in this case:
"We are committed to completing House of Lords reform . . . to make it more representative and democratic."
That commitment was not made by just one or two members of this House or by members of the Cabinet. Every Government Member committed himself or herself to that manifesto pledge. I presume that the hon. Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East admitted some support for that proposition at the last general election and not another proposal. I am certain that no Government Members who stood at the last election asked the public to support an appointed second House. If they did, perhaps they would like to stand up.
It is extraordinary to suggest that, by voting for a wholly appointed second House today, there could be a different form of election. If all Members of the other place were appointed, clearly they would not be there through direct or indirect elections. They will be selected, not elected. It would be absurd for any right hon. or hon. Member to think that indirect election can be achieved by voting for a wholly or partly appointed House of Lords.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the list system, which I presume his party favours as a proportional representation measure, is a form of appointment? It would provide for individuals to be appointed by political parties. The electorate would have no say. Does he further agree that, if the Scottish Parliament were to appoint members of the second Chamber by a form of indirect election, it would be more democratic than the system that we have at the moment?
That would not be a form of appointment. I support the recommendation of the Select Committee in this House that election should be by open list or a single transferable vote. Therefore, the situation that the hon. Gentleman suggests does not apply. The electorate would choose, not the parties.
The purpose of this debate after a period of reflection and a delayed vote is to allow Members of this House to take note of what has been said in the other place. I hope that other right hon. and hon. Members have read the Hansard reports of two days of debate in the other place as I have done—and very interesting they are too.
I hope also that Members of the other place have read the reports of our proceedings—though I doubt it, because some Members of the upper House have a curious idea of this place and the way that we achieve our legitimacy as elected representatives. Some noble Lords clearly have aristocratic disdain for anything so vulgar as elected representatives. I am not just thinking of the Lord Chancellor.
I noted some extremely interesting comments from my noble Friend Lord Goodhart, who said:
"I have never listened to a debate that has been so deeply depressing. The debate has been riddled with complacency and self-congratulation. Time after time, I have heard the voice of Dr. Pangloss—now Lord Pangloss—saying 'All is for the best in the best of all possible Houses'".—[Hansard, House of Lords, 22 January 2003; Vol. 643, c. 822.]
That is an admirable summary of two days' debate at the other end of this building.
Members of this Chamber who feel disposed to support appointed Members of the other Chamber should look to their allies, because they will find that those allies do not support a position with which they would feel comfortable. My noble Friend was being characteristically charitable, because most of the contributions in another place were smug, arrogant, self-satisfied, wholly anachronistic and out of touch with the real world. Even individuals who were Members of this House not long ago have turned their backs on elected representative democracy, which I find depressing and irksome. I urge any right hon. or hon. Members who feel disposed to follow the Lord Chancellor and his colleagues carefully to read their words not just about this House but about parliamentary democracy as a whole.
Surely the real argument against an appointed second Chamber is that it would be an extremely agreeable club where people would sit around telling each other how civilised and intelligent they are. This House and everybody else would regard it as completely irrelevant.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who not only chaired the best analysis of the situation but achieved unanimity in his Committee across all parties on an important element of the proposals—a hybrid, mixed membership second House.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the diatribe just unleashed by Tony Wright is a travesty? Does he agree that the House of Lords as presently constituted does an extremely valuable job in scrutinising legislation that this House does not have the chance properly to consider? Will he reflect on the fact that one of the most powerful contributions to this debate over the past two years or more has been by Lord Dahrendorf, a Liberal Democrat peer who cannot be categorised by any of the pejorative epithets that the hon. Member for Cannock Chase heaped on people?
I listened with care to the hon. Gentleman, who may aspire to a seat in the other place. If he thinks that Tony Wright was indulging in a diatribe, he should read the Lord Chancellor's comments about this House. Of course some of their lordships made distinguished contributions to their two-day debate, but the general tone was smug and arrogant. They seemed to think that, in the 21st century, they can continue precisely as they are. I do not believe that that is a sustainable proposition and hope that other right hon. and hon. Members take the same view.
Opponents of democratic representation harp on about the threat to the pre-eminence of this House. Taken to its logical conclusion, that argument suggests that we must keep the other place weak, unrepresentative and illegitimate—a word used by the Leader of the House. I presume that right hon. and hon. Members in any part of the House who take that view want to retain hereditary peers because that would be the best way to make the other place illegitimate. I am glad that Government Members will be voting my way on that issue as well.
Our own Select Committee carefully argued that this is not a zero-sum game. Both Houses can gain and, by working together, be more effective. The hon. Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East—now that he is no longer a member of the Government—is all in favour of this House being more effective in its scrutiny of Government legislation and Executive action. Great: the more ex-Ministers it has, the better this House seems able to deal with the Government of the day. Both Houses, working together, have a responsibility. I am sure that members of the Select Committee and others accept that this is not a zero-sum game. The ability of both Houses, separately and together, to hold the Government of the day to account can be enhanced. That must be done if Parliament's legitimacy and the respect of the public is to be improved.
The hon. Gentleman touched on the primacy of this House but did not answer the question. If he is advocating that the other place should have a more representative system of election, he is arguing that it should have greater legitimacy than this Chamber. If he is even arguing that the other place should have the same degree of representation in elections, which I suppose is his ultimate aim, that would bring about a clash between the authority of the two Houses and in no way addresses the primacy of this Chamber.
I am surprised to find myself in total agreement with Mr. Forth on this issue. If there is a different system of election on a different day with no chance of it influencing a change of Government—which is the primary responsibility of this House—and it gives the other place the legitimacy that comes from a different type of continuum, I do not see that as a challenge to our supremacy. That is the conclusion reached by all who have studied the issue, not myself. I do not know how the hon. Gentleman dealt with that problem when he faced the electorate at the last general election. Did he tell them that the second House should be appointed in case it became more legitimate and representative? I doubt it. All Labour Members must face the fact that they promised the electorate that they would make the other House more electorally representative.
No, I want to make progress.
What about the Lord Chancellor's sudden alarm call about mixed membership? He used the word "hybridity" as if it were some dangerous new concept. Where has he been? The Government have introduced hybrid Houses for Wales and Scotland and different types of election for government in London. Presumably, they will do the same for the regional assemblies in due course. Also, there is of course a different form of election to the European Parliament.
The Lord Chancellor proposed in the White Paper that 20 per cent. of Members of the upper House should be elected. Why was that massacred in a meeting of the parliamentary Labour party? It was not because of hybridity or mixed membership, but because the proposal was that only 20 per cent.—one fifth—should be elected. How did the Lord Chancellor come to say to Labour Members, "I want a hybrid House, one fifth elected," and then, when told that that was not enough, simply go away and say, "Well, I don't want any then."? That is a ridiculous position.
The proposal was massacred at the PLP meeting, and it was laughed to scorn in this House and by the general public, but there is no real argument against the validity and effectiveness of hybridity. The word is not pleasant, but mixed membership chambers work well in other parts of the world, and elsewhere in this country. There is no reason why the Lord Chancellor should be allowed to get away with blackening the name of hybridity when he failed to make his case.
Labour Members who have suddenly discovered the evils of mixed membership should look at their allies' motives. They should be aware also that the Lord Chancellor may simply be scared of having an elected element of full-timers in the other place because it will show up the inadequacy of the part-timers.
When it comes to the votes this evening, I make a simple appeal to the House. I fully respect the position of the unicameralists, who wish to abolish the second Chamber. Whether they told electors about their purpose when they signed up to the manifesto commitment that I have already cited is up to them and their consciences, not me. I believe that there is real merit in Parliament having two Chambers, as long as they are enabled to work together effectively. That is the critical issue.
I regret that many hon. Members seem to think that, having supported total abolition as their first preference, they can now go for selection—by whom?—to a second House. Heaven help us all if they think that that is legitimate. I ask them to vote firmly against a fully appointed House, which would be a complete abnegation of parliamentary democracy. That way lies eventual irrelevance, and possible disappearance. It would also ensure the continuation of the present unsatisfactory mess. The House should vote against appointment in the first full vote this evening, and for as big an elected element as possible.
Those of us who would prefer a fully democratic second Chamber must also consider whether, having voted for our first preference, we can then vote for a lesser proportion—80 per cent. or 60 per cent.—that we could live with. Without substantial majorities for those options, the forces of reaction will succeed. I mean not just the forces of reaction at the other end of the building, but those in Downing street. They would be able to say, "Oh, there is no consensus or centre of gravity, so we've got to kick the whole thing into the long grass and forget it."
I too noted the item in the Evening Standard today. The article did not refer to the Prime Minister, the Lord Chancellor or any other Cabinet member, but to No. 10 officials. The spin doctors are the ones who are really frightened about what may happen if Parliament regains greater control over the agenda.
After 90 years of dither and delay, the public look to us to finish the job. If we hesitate now, the control freaks will be rubbing their hands with glee.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate, and wish to record my thanks to my right hon. Friend Dr. Cunningham and his fellow members of the Joint Committee on House of Lords Reform for their report. It has helped hon. Members to crystallise our views as we consider the next stage of constitutional reform. We have already abolished the hereditary principle—the right, by virtue of their birth, of more than 600 people to sit in the House of Lords. It is important that we remember that today's proposals are a continuation of that process.
The Joint Committee's report has led me—and I am sure other hon. Members—to ask, "What makes an effective Chamber of government?" Many criticisms are made of this House, by people inside it and outside it. I think that what makes it effective is parity of esteem. All hon. Members are equal. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister may be the first among equals, but the fount of his political legitimacy is the same as mine: we were both elected by our constituents to represent them in this House.
What does that mean for the House of Lords? I originally believed that there should be a percentage elected element. I am sure that other hon. Members have thought about what the proportions should be, as I have. Sometimes the exercise has seemed like "pin the tail on the donkey." How should we choose a proportion? What proportion will get majority support? I recently visited Scotland and Wales and, after thinking long and hard about my experience with the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, to which I have belonged for most of my time in the House, I have had a change of heart.
Last year, I took part in an inquiry in Scotland and Wales by the Joint Committee on Human Rights. When officials were talking about Members of the Scottish Parliament or the Welsh Assembly, or when such Members were talking about each other, they always made it clear whether a Member was elected or appointed. Clearly, at both official and Member level, there are two classes of membership. That division exists, whether or not it is officially stated.
As an active member of the CPA, I know that there are many legislatures in which people are appointed through list systems or other means. Sometimes, that is to do with issues of gender, and I applaud that. However, members of those legislatures talk about each other in a way that makes it clear that they perceive the same two classes of membership that I described earlier. Indeed, a colleague recounted the story of a woman Member of a Commonwealth Parliament, who said that she was a real Member because she was elected, and that others who had been appointed were not real Members. I do not want that to be repeated in the House of Lords.
It is easy to take a pop at the Lords. We can all do it. Like everyone else, I saw the photograph in The Guardian that showed a group of Lords sitting on a bench for the state opening of Parliament looking ridiculous in their ermine robes. I dare say that a gaggle of newspaper editors—if that is the correct collective noun—would look just as ridiculous sitting on a bench dressed like that. That photograph does not move the argument forward.
I do not intend to give way, as many hon. Members wish to speak and I want to give them time to do so.
My conclusion is that an effective upper Chamber will be one in which there is equality of membership. It follows that I would prefer either a wholly elected or wholly appointed second Chamber. The appointment process is open to debate. It could be ex officio: for example, the chairs of the regional assemblies could be appointed by virtue of having been elected to their positions. I am entirely open as regards the way in which appointments would be made, but we must be sure that we learn from the history of the past 100 years so as to ensure that we do not relive it. We must not have a system in which there is in-built tension between the two Houses. I am not against new methods of nomination.
I do not think that a second Chamber that was not dominated by political parties would be a bad thing. Some people might say that that is because I have gone native, as a consequence of being the Chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. The Committee has Select Committee status and is probably the only one to have members drawn from both the Commons and the other place.
However, it is possible that we are putting the cart before the horse and taking the decision far too early. Preliminary questions must be settled. Some have been raised by other right hon. and hon. Members during the debate. What is the second Chamber for? Is it a revising chamber? Is it one that should seek out the unintended consequences of legislation, which we are not good at doing because we do not have enough time?
No, I have already said that I do not intend to give way.
Would an elected chamber be satisfied with a subservient role if its purpose was only to revise legislation and to look for unintended consequences?
Twenty-five years ago, Labour party policy was to abolish the House of Lords because it had so many hereditary peers. However, we have moved on and the debate is different nowadays. Given the abolition of the hereditary element, I am not sure whether, with all due deference to my hon. Friend Mr. Howarth and other colleagues, their case has yet been made, because we do not have a proper system of pre-legislative scrutiny. If we had such a system, we would not need a second Chamber.
While we are still only in the early stages of assessing the effects of modernisation of this place, we continue to need, in our scrutiny role, a second Chamber. I shall therefore vote only for a wholly elected or wholly appointed House, and I urge my colleagues to think about the consequences of a hybrid second chamber. Ever since the creation of life peerages, there have been tensions in the other place because the hereditary peers thought that they were the only people who knew how to run the place and that life peers were mere upstarts. That attitude continued until the 600 hereditaries left and, who knows, it may still survive.
At the conclusion of the debate, I propose to vote in support of those motions that provide for a wholly or largely elected second Chamber. In doing so, I shall be expressing views that I formed before I became a Member of this House in 1979—views that were reinforced by the 13 years that I spent as a Government Front-Bench Member and further confirmed by the experiences of the past five years in opposition.
Those who argue the case for an appointed second Chamber normally concede that it will lack the legitimacy of an elected one. I find it extraordinary that, at the start of the 21st century, we should be contemplating the creation of a political structure, which by its very act of creation will lack the political legitimacy required either to give it authority or to ensure its survival.
Those who argue against an elected second Chamber do so on the basis that it will erode, if not destroy, the primacy and authority of this House, but such a claim is cruelly deceptive. Those who argue for the primacy of this House need to be more candid with themselves and with the electorate as a whole. Of course, in one sense, this House is sovereign: policies and Bills cannot proceed without the consent of elected Members. That is the form—the theory: but is it truly the substance?
I differ from many of my right hon. and hon. colleagues, because I long ago concluded that this House is in fact but the creature of party. The House is dominated by party, and usually that means the party of Government.
I am most grateful to my right hon. and noble Friend for giving way—[Hon. Members: "Noble?"] He is indeed noble.
Since my right hon. and learned Friend is so passionately keen on an elected second Chamber, can he explain why that, too, would not be dominated by party? How would people be elected if not on party tickets or party lists?
On this occasion, because of time, I am going to stick to the high ground—if my hon. Friend will forgive me—although there are objections that need sensibly to be confronted. In very short order, I would have a different mode of election, a different time of election, fixed-term elections and no serving Ministers in the other place. I could make further suggestions.
To revert to my main argument, provided that a party of Government retains its majority, it can, in reality, do as it pleases. We do not have effective counterweights to the power of the party of Government and we have thus created an elective dictatorship. When looked at carefully, the primacy of this House—the sovereignty of the House of Commons—means little more than the primacy and sovereignty of the party in government, which usually means the Prime Minister.
I am not making partisan points. I realise that I often do so, but I do not propose to make many today. I acknowledge that the problem that I have described is of long standing and that the Government of whom I was a member passed a range of measures which in all probability did not enjoy wide public consent—[Interruption.] We have to be realistic and I advise hon. Members to be realistic about this matter.
The fact that we have a Government with a large majority who have pushed through a range of procedural changes of great importance adds urgency to the need to try to provide more effective controls on the Executive. I want to increase the independence and authority of parliamentarians. I want to diminish the power and influence of party and, as my hon. Friend Mr. McLoughlin, the Opposition Deputy Chief Whip, knows well, I want seriously to dilute the authority of Whips Offices. Above all, I want to impose effective constraints on Government policy and Government legislation.
However, I do not believe that unaided this House will so reform itself as to perform its proper and historic role. It is true that one way of doing so has been to incorporate into domestic law the European convention on human rights. I am a cautious supporter of that policy, but I am deeply depressed that elected representatives have to look to the judges to stand up for liberty rather than performing that function ourselves.
I want to see a powerful second Chamber. I shall be candid: my preference is, in effect, for a wholly elected senate with authority and competencies equal to our own. I acknowledge that the existence of such a chamber would be a challenge to the authority of this House and I welcome that. I acknowledge, too, as my hon. Friend
To those who say that people such as me will destroy the authority of this House, I say that we shall be creating another authority of equal legitimacy and that thereby we shall effectively curb the power of party and the power of the Prime Minister.
Over many years, including when I was a Minister, the House has ceded to the Executive power and authority that were not ours to cede. In short, we have undermined the democratic legitimacy of the House.
I will not now.
I believe that we now need to create another elected Chamber to fill the void that we ourselves have created, perhaps even to shame ourselves into reforming ourselves, so that we are fully and properly capable of performing our historic role, which, in all conscience, is to safeguard the rights of the individual and to curb the powers of the Government.
I mean no disrespect to my right hon. Friend Dr. Cunningham and the Joint Committee he so ably chaired when I say that the assignment that they were given was, with two exceptions, impossible. They put forward seven options in good faith and after hard work. The inadequacy of those options has been demonstrated by interventions that have shown that colleagues would like many other options. That is no criticism of the Joint Committee, but five of those seven options are utterly arbitrary and utterly lacking in any kind of logic. The elected proportion options are lacking in logic because, of course, many other numerical options could be plucked out of the air. We could have 75 per cent. or 25 per cent. elected. We could have one third or two thirds elected.
Of course what my right hon. Friend says is absolutely correct. We in the Committee did what we did because we were constrained by the terms of reference imposed on us, which were agreed in this Chamber and in the other place. Of course we could have chosen different options between the two extremes. We chose five—they were quite arbitrary—and we did so in the hope that it would stop dozens of amendments being tabled for this debate and to make the House focus on what we thought was at least something sensible.
As I say, I entirely respect the role that my right hon. Friend and his Joint Committee played, but, nevertheless, it is a fact that all of those proportional, numerical options are arbitrary and subjective, and we could have had dozens of others. The fact is that we are not playing some kind of numbers game; we are creating a House of Parliament, and we have to take that with great seriousness.
As I found from the year that I spent on the royal commission, there are only two logically sustainable options, as my hon. Friend Jean Corston demonstrated. One is a wholly elected second Chamber—advocated today in the press by Baroness Helena Kennedy, which makes one wonder why she humiliated herself by accepting appointment—and the other is a wholly appointed second Chamber. As we have heard in speech after speech in the debate so far, superficially, a wholly elected second Chamber has its attractions.
No, if my hon. Friend will allow me, I shall continue.
If there were a wholly elected second Chamber, who would vote? It is all very well saying that elections are great things and we are all elected, but the electorate have got elections up to their throats.
I will give way to my right hon. Friend, but I should like to conclude my argument first.
The electorate do not want to be bothered with so many elections. They have elections to the devolved Parliaments and Assemblies, the Greater London Authority, the European Parliament and local authorities, with the regional assemblies still to come. How do they respond? In the 1999 European election, 23 per cent. of them polled. In last year's local elections, 33 per cent. polled. In the election to the House of Commons two years ago, 59 per cent. polled. How many or how few would vote for an elected second Chamber?
I will give way to my right hon. Friend in a moment, of course.
Some people advocate that such an election should be held with a general election. If so, even with some fancy proportional system, the second Chamber would be a sort of clone, with the party that wins the general election dominating the second Chamber.
If such an election were held mid-term—which Mr. Tyler advocates, opportunistically, of course, for the Liberal Democrats—it is quite likely that the Opposition would dominate the second Chamber because Governments are unpopular in mid-term. That would mean gridlock between the two Chambers.
My right hon. Friend rebuked me for suggesting that the royal commission report proposed a different form of election for the second Chamber. I have had the opportunity to refresh my memory of the royal commission, and I see that it did recommend that there should be three alternative models for the election, all of which involved a regional list, and that by-elections should be filled by the next person on the regional list. I wonder how my right hon. Friend can really reconcile that with the system of election to this Chamber. Plainly, there is a different election system. As he seems to be making so much of the turnout issue, may I remind him that one of those models included the recommendation that the election could take place on the same day as the general election, when there is normally a high turnout. I do not see my right hon. Friend listed as dissenting from that recommendation.
My right hon. Friend had better read that report again. [Hon. Members: "He has it with him."] Yes, I see that he has it in front of him, with his marking ink on it. I am not absolutely blind, yet. There is no recommendation attached to that paragraph. We did not make that recommendation. We had a recommendation in front of that paragraph; we had a recommendation beyond it.
No, it is not there as a recommendation. My right hon. Friend should not heckle just because he is wrong. He is brilliant; he is an intellectual giant, but, on this, he has got it wrong, so may I proceed in my limited time?
An elected second Chamber, whenever it was elected, would without doubt be a second Chamber that was based on candidates chosen on the party principle. We would have in the second Chamber a group of party hacks, albeit a group of party hacks different from that of which we are members here. One lot of party hacks in two Houses of Parliament is quite enough. Yet, however few people voted, the second Chamber would claim the kind of democratic legitimacy that the hon. Member for North Cornwall wants. It would demand greater powers, not fewer. It might demand rights on money Bills, which the Liberal party took away from the House of Lords 90 years ago. It would be very difficult with an elected second Chamber to use the Parliament Act 1911, which the hon. Gentleman's party introduced.
The problem with hon. Members who support a wholly or partly elected second Chamber is that they are distracted from what a second Chamber is about by the glamour of election, which they all enjoy because they get elected. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, East told us what a second Chamber is about. A second Chamber that is elected in whole or in part would be a constitutional mess, and I therefore recommend to my hon. Friends that they vote for option 1, unless they vote for the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend Mr. Howarth.
I am conscious, having represented Aldridge-Brownhills for nearly 25 years, that there are certain conclusions that one forms as an ordinary Member of Parliament. I have come to fear majoritarianism when majorities can inflict injustice on minorities, curtail personal liberties and support unwise policies. I have come to believe that it is of great importance in a democracy not only to guard society against the oppression of its Government but to guard one part of society against the injustice of another part.
In a sense, I support the Leader of the House, who is our Publius, if I may say so. It is no surprise that that was the nom de plume of the authors of the federalist papers, who, in turn, were taught by the three great professors of moral philosophy at Glasgow university. These arguments therefore come in great part from the Scottish enlightenment. There is only one justification for forming the legislature of a country in a democracy: election. To secure that principle, we should argue for the House of Lords to be wholly elected. There can be no other basis for its authority to challenge Government. After all, that is the very cause that we have handed away so easily. Publius as Leader of the House has done much to curtail the vitality of this House. Through the constant guillotining of legislation, we serve less the function that we were sent here to execute: to represent the people who sent us.
The first principle—that our authority derives from the people—was readily accepted, 225 years ago, by those who benefited from the American revolution: Britons in revolt against the Crown. They set out principles that have taken our country and most of the true democracies of this world by storm. All the time I have been here, however, we have had a quasi-, neutered second Chamber. I believe profoundly in balances and checks. Under the scheme put forward by some that we should reduce Parliament to one Chamber, we would have the majoritarianism of party. If I may take my Publius analogy a little further, although Publius was a nom de plume, the actual Roman overthrew the Tarquin king and helped to secure our liberties. Today, I hope that the Leader of the House is supported by his party in overthrowing the king who seeks a legislature that is not wholly democratic.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not want to misrepresent the case that we are putting forward. Those of us who support abolition do so coupled with the idea that the procedures of this House should be reformed so that we may better hold the Executive to account.
I am always gloomy when one vested interest sets itself that task. I have sat for two Parliaments on the Modernisation Committee, and I have seen it, through both Parliaments, increase the hold and the control of the Executive over the detail of the timetable of this House, so that we may not even debate great matters of state if it is inconvenient to the Executive. That could not be imposed on another House elected by other methods.
As I said, Britons in revolt against the Crown, 225 years ago, constructed a constitution in which there were two legislative Chambers. Those now have equal competence—in fact, one could say that primacy was wrestled away from the lower House, as the upper House took upon itself tasks that were more in tune with what the people of the United States wanted. The importance of the division between or within Parliament—the balance and check within it—is an equal qualification to argue, to check and to provide a check and balance within the legislature. The great threat to us, and the extraordinary thing that has diminished my view of our constitutional arrangements, has been the power of the Executive. The way Parliament exercised great checks, overturned improper laws and defended the personal liberty of the individual citizen now seems a romance, and I can only see that return through a legitimate second Chamber.
I share with the Leader of the House the view that the second Chamber does not need to be large. I accept that the American Senate, with 100 Members, can discharge responsible representative functions for which they are accountable to their constituencies. I do not believe, however, that we are near the end of our process of reform. What I am looking for is the assertion of the sovereignty of the people: those who make their legislation should be accountable to the people themselves.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this important debate today. I should first declare a kind of interest, as a member of the Joint Committee that is considering this matter.
When I was first appointed to the Joint Committee, I thought long and hard about how the upper Chamber should be reconstituted as a result of any reform. I decided that if it was right to elect the second Chamber, all its Members should be elected; and if it was right to appoint the second Chamber, all its Members should be appointed. I remain firmly of that view. A hybrid solution, as other Members have mentioned, of the kind before us today—in five of the seven options—is the worst of all worlds. I cannot for the life of me understand why Members should support any of those options. How can we justify the election of 20 per cent., 40 per cent. or 60 per cent., and vice versa in relation to appointment? It simply does not make any sense.
Some argue that we have a hybrid upper House today. In a sense, we do, but none of its Members are elected. To elect some and not others places the upper House in an entirely different context. How would we elect, and how would we appoint? What would be the relationship between the two groups? To have a proportion elected would surely mean that they would be elected along party lines, whatever the method of election chosen. I presume that that would give them some kind of mandate, but who would elect them and how? How would their accountability compare with those who were appointed?
Let us take my region, the north-west, as an example. Suppose that we ended up with a proportion of peers from my region who were elected, and some who were appointed. Who would speak for whom? Who would have a mandate and who would not? Would an elected member of the upper House have a mandate to speak for my constituency of Rossendale and Darwen? More particularly, would my electors in Rossendale and Darwen want to elect someone else, albeit to a second Chamber, to represent them in Parliament? How would their accountability contrast and compare with someone from that region who had been appointed? Would anyone understand the difference?
Given those dilemmas, I am in no doubt that should a hybrid option be adopted, it would not be too long before there was a move to have the whole of the upper House elected, as was pointed out by my noble Friend Lord Hattersley in his column in The Guardian yesterday. In his words,
"once the wind of change blows along those red leather benches, the breeze will quickly become a hurricane that carries the whole archaic institution into the 21st century."
It would seem to make more sense if those Members who favour election were to support 100 per cent. election now and get it over and done with. I am afraid that I shall not be joining them. As I said, I entered this debate by believing that if it was right to elect the upper Chamber, all its Members should be elected; and if it was right to appoint them, all should be appointed.
If my hon. Friend will forgive me, I will not. Many Members want to contribute to the debate, and we are short of time.
Having listened to all the debates in the Joint Committee and in the House, I have come down firmly in favour of an appointed upper Chamber. Let me say that I came to that view long before the Prime Minister expressed a similar one. An elected second Chamber is, of course, an attractive option for those who consider it the only way to secure a democratic alternative to the status quo. It is very easy to say, "Let's elect them." However, if this House is to go down that road, it is important that all the consequences of such a decision be fully taken into account.
It is inevitable that an elected upper Chamber could and would claim a mandate and flex its muscles substantially more than now. As Lord Carter pointed out many times in our deliberations in the Joint Committee, it is a convention well observed in the present House of Lords that the Commons has supremacy. By and large, that makes for a relatively smooth path for the Government's legislation. Sometimes there are one or two hiccups, but the Commons gets it way in the end, and so it should, for we are the only democratically elected Chamber. That would almost certainly not be the case were the Lords to be elected.
There are, of course, other arguments against such a course, and they have been well rehearsed by many Members. However, as I draw my remarks to a conclusion, there are one or two points that I would like to emphasise in relation to the appointed option.
No, I have already said that I will not give way, because we are short of time and many Members wish to speak.
Should the House choose the option of appointment, the Joint Committee will have to decide how to proceed. It would be essential for any method of appointment to be transparent and wholly independent, although I feel that there is probably a case for having some political appointments to reflect the balance of the parties in this House. Within such a system, there could also be a case for indirect elections from the regions, something which has strong support on both sides of the House. It would be easier to secure a gender and ethnic balance. In fact, an appointed House could well end up significantly more representative of the electorate than an elected one. However, it would also be possible—this is an important point—to retain the valuable experience and expertise that is manifest in the House of Lords today. Our Parliament would be much the poorer should we lose that element.
I agree with much of what Janet Anderson said in her excellent speech. I also congratulate the Joint Committee on the good report that it produced.
I am sorry that my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Hogg is not in his place. I listened carefully to what he said in support of a wholly elected upper Chamber, but I shall not support that proposition in the Lobby. He seemed to have a brief touch of political amnesia. He has forgotten what it was like to sit on the Government Benches in the Government of my right hon. Friend the former Member for Huntingdon when, because they had little or no majority, they listened, trimmed, adapted and at times adopted ideas other than their own to ensure that they got their business through.
One of the problems that we face in this debate is the background against which we are talking about House of Lords reform. As previous contributors have said, the powers of this House to hold the Executive to proper account have been tempered by so-called reforms of this Chamber. Mr. Howarth suggested that that was an issue for further work, and I agree with him. I very much hope that other Members will embark on that work. To try to talk, as my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Clarke did in the first debate on the subject, about holding a more powerful Executive to account by means of reforming the other place is automatically to give up the job that we were sent here to do. Legitimising this House—and not worrying about how we change an institution that already does a rather good job—should be the top priority.
I wonder about the many opinion polls that the Leader of the House quoted. None of my constituents come up to me and say, "Oh, Mr. Jack, you must change the upper House. It is doing an awful job; it is not elected." My constituents rather like its buccaneer style of occasionally saying to the Government of the day, "So far and no further, or we must amend this Bill. We think that the Government have gone too far." My constituents respect the slightly idiosyncratic nature of the institution. After all, it is rather British. It does an extremely good job. Its debates are of high quality and, although its constitution could clearly be improved, it brings expertise and experience to the issues. However, this House ultimately has supremacy and it is not challenged by the other when it comes to making decisions.
When my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham spoke about the process of election, he conjured up in my mind questions about the basis on which people elected to the upper House would make their appeal. Would they make it as a series of 200, 300 or 600 independent persons, each with their own manifesto, or would they say that they were loosely associated with this or that party? Will they be elected along strictly party lines, or what?
The biggest problem with the debate is that this House is being invited to make a decision about a format and a formula for determining the membership of the upper House while we are in a complete vacuum when it comes to the method of election that is involved in some of the options upon which we will vote. Clearly, the questions of closed and open lists and proportional or non-proportional representation are serious issues that should be decided in concert with the decision as to whether to have elections. I want to know how people will be chosen and how they will be elected. That will determine whether the electoral system has any legitimacy.
As we are not able to debate that issue, I shall not answer that question. However, I made my position clear at the beginning of the debate.
How would we determine, in whatever the non-existent electoral cycle might be, how those in the upper House would be replaced? What would happen if they became unpopular? We can imagine that they might fall out with the people who elected them. Terms of 10 or 15 years would be an awfully long time. People make a clear decision for this House and determine once every four or five years what happens in it. They know exactly where they stand.
I would like to make a little more progress.
Several of the options before us involve hybridity. If we move away from a 100 per cent. elected or unelected Chamber, we can imagine how the votes of a new Chamber with a hybrid composition would be reported. There would be two columns in the newspaper: one for the elected and one for the unelected representatives. There would be great debates as to who actually took the decision and whether it had legitimacy. That is no way to proceed. The House must clearly come to a view that is 100 per cent. one way or 100 per cent. the other. The idea that we can have a fudged solution in the middle raises too many questions and gives rise to all kinds of bizarre debates and decision making that would be reported in the newspapers.
The right hon. Gentleman's dire predictions about the newspaper reports of votes are not borne out by what happens in mixed Chambers in countries such as Italy, Ireland and Belgium. Why does he think that they will happen here?
I have my view as to how the press would look at these issues. Inevitability, some people in a hybrid Chamber would be on a party ticket and others would be appointed. That is a recipe for mishmash. Whatever our view, we must make a clear decision one way or the other.
The Joint Committee presented us with the five qualities that it believed were central to a good upper House: legitimacy, representativeness, no domination by any one party, independence and expertise. We can obtain expertise by appointment, and we can undoubtedly achieve independence and no domination by any one party. Representativeness is open to debate, because I recognise that it can be achieved in different ways. However, a good cross-section of opinion that is geographically spread, with the Church and others representing the views of the country, can be obtained. Legitimacy can likewise be achieved, because this House confers legitimacy on the constitution of this country.
Many Members have correctly and understandably referred to the relationship between the House of Commons and those people down the Corridor in the House of Lords. I want to talk about something slightly different—our relationship with the public. It is not a matter of whether we get our Government's policies through or how we tie the hands of a future Government. What we have to remember is that whatever we do, we will be judged on how well we have restored democracy and Parliament in the eyes of the public.
I find myself in a strange situation. I look around at my colleagues and think how 50 years ago my family would not have dreamt of one of its members—let alone more than one—getting a seat in the House of Commons. There are more women, but nowhere near enough. There are members of the ethnic communities, but nowhere near enough. We could say that progress has been made in our representative democracy. Certainly no one could complain that political parties have not put themselves in a position in which they can get their business through the House. I am one of the party hacks that hon. Members mentioned and would defend that role to the hilt. I know that it is the party behind my name on the ballot paper that gets me here. But for all that progress the public are more disillusioned than they were 50 or 100 years ago. That worries me greatly.
I fear that the debate is becoming—in some ways, for all the right reasons—an insular discussion about how our processes and systems work. I respect the fact that the details will have to be worked out. That will fall to the Joint Committee, which produced an excellent report, and we will consider its findings. However, there is a danger in voting because of the detail instead of the principle. I want to mention the principles that are important to me which will guide me in the decision that I make this evening.
I agree in part with Mr. Jack. The House of Lords is doing a reasonably good job and I could defend it. It does not get in our way too much. Governments usually get their way at the end of the day, but it does at key points—I direct my remarks to Mr. Forth—trim our sails, make us rethink legislation and help to tidy up the drafting of legislation. The House of Lords has the most brilliant debates because of its expertise. Any Minister or former Minister who has appeared before a Select Committee of the House of Lords will have done so with trepidation. It is a formidable Chamber. I could make an argument for keeping it the way it is, but I do not because when I go around schools, no youngster—no future citizen—has ever said to me, "Miss, how do I get to be a Member of the House of Lords?" That is why it must change. Children have come up to me and said, "How do I get into politics?" Indeed, I was stopped only a few weeks ago by a group of students just outside the House of Commons and two of them said they wanted to be Prime Minister.
So people talk about how they get to become a Minister in this place, but no one thinks that they might be a Member of the House of Lords. No one thinks that it is for them. One of the strengths of our democracy is that working-class kids—black kids and white kids, girls and boys—are beginning to think that this place might be for the likes of them. That is the most important progress that we can make as we move towards a fully representative and democratic Chamber. The House of Lords loses its legitimacy because few citizens think that they will ever stand a chance of getting into it. The problem is not one of percentages or what philosophers of the past might have thought, but that something does not ring true with the people, and we get into murky waters the minute we divorce ourselves from what does not ring true with them.
My first principle is that the House of Lords has to ring true with the people. At this stage in the development of our nation, the way we get things to ring true is by holding elections. We should not forget that. Although I have much respect for my right hon. Friend Mr. Kaufman, I did not judge that a low turnout in an election meant that people did not like voting. Instead, I judged that they did not think that what they were voting for had the powers to make the changes that they wanted. We are in a difficult position because that is less to do with us and more to do with the way in which our actions and decisions are portrayed to the public through the media. That debate is for another day, however.
Not without a change in the way in which politics is mediated and we debate matters. We need to be far more mature and grown up about our debates. Without change, the elected second Chamber will not achieve what my hon. Friend suggests. By the way, I do not come down in favour of a wholly elected second Chamber.
So my first principle is that the second Chamber has to have a democratically accountable element. My second principle relates to trade-offs. Not all my principles can be met in any one version of a second Chamber. We have to make a trade-off when it comes to what we think is important. I believe in the supremacy of this Chamber. It is the way to get things done. The other thing that will not ring true with the electorate is if we knock on their doors before the next general election and say, "I am awfully sorry that I didn't actually get done what I promised you five years ago, but I was stopped in the House of Commons. I was thwarted by a procedural motion. Five of my Back Benchers were sick and ill." Being able to get the Government's business through the Chamber means that there is no excuse when we face the electorate at the next election for not having got things done.
We need to find a way to ensure that this Chamber remains of paramount importance while introducing a democratically accountable element to the second Chamber. That is why I favour a more than 50 per cent. democratically elected second Chamber that works alongside this Chamber. My compromise is that I would deny it the right to thwart this Chamber by not making it wholly democratically accountable. It is a compromise—it is trimming the sail—but that is how I would get over that difficulty.
Before I came to this Chamber, I could not imagine myself ever making a case for anything other than a democratically elected second Chamber, but I have observed that it works and can see its strengths. It has an independence of mind that is admirable. It finds time to debate issues that we sometimes do not have time to debate. It also has experts who, whether I like it or not, do not choose to stand for election, which is another compromise on my part. I do not want to lose that element from our parliamentary system. It has served us well and is fairly precious. I compromise again by allowing those people to continue to make their contribution.
This is a difficult debate for us all, but for our decision to ring true and for us to have done our jobs in representing one of the major strands in our democracy at the moment—that is elections—we have to be bold enough to say that even though it might make life more difficult for us, we need most people in the second Chamber to be elected. But as we do not want it to challenge our supremacy, it should not be completely elected. By denying it that, we will "keep it in its place." Over the 10 years that I have been in this Chamber, I have learnt to admire and respect the second Chamber. I have seen that the nation and Parliament benefit from its expertise and the representation of different groups there. As a result of that, I would want to maintain a proportion of appointments.
I shall listen to the debate with care when it comes to choosing how I exercise my vote. It has taken us five generations to get to this vote, so no one can pretend that we will consider it again next year. In five generations' time, we will be judged by the principles by which we cast our vote, not who we voted with or who we voted against, or how the party politics looked to play out that evening. That is how history will judge us. When I go around schools or talk to young people in my constituency—the boys and girls who are the future politicians and citizens—I want them to harbour as much ambition to be Members of the House of Lords as they do to be Members of the House of Commons. If we do that, democracy will be well served.
I begin by expressing my delight at having this opportunity to debate and vote on Lords abolition. Like other hon. Members, I was disappointed when the Joint Committee did not include the option for abolition, so I am pleased that the good office of the Speaker has put that wrong right.
When I first asked the Leader of the House why the option of abolition was not included, we first heard about the Labour party manifesto commitment. I said to him that surely the matter was for all Members and should not be left to some flimsy Labour party manifesto commitment. I have had a look at the history of the Labour party's attitude to the House of Lords. Although it is a long time since abolition was at the core of new Labour's mainstream thinking, it was only 10 years ago that a constitutional committee co-chaired by one "Tony Blair, MP" reported that "proper democratic elections" should be introduced for the House of Lords. In the 2001 manifesto, we find Labour saying:
"We are committed to completing House of Lords reform, including removal of the remaining hereditary peers, to make it more representative and democratic".
That is not what the Prime Minister is saying these days. He wants a fully appointed House of Lords—the antithesis of "representative and democratic". The Prime Minister's words are everywhere in the Labour party manifesto. Surely something is fundamentally wrong when a Labour Prime Minister cannot even be seen to support his own manifesto. I find that shocking and quite appalling.
The Leader of the House has not had a particularly good week either. There was a little rally for him yesterday when a number of junior Ministers said that they would support his preferred option, but I get the sense that that is beginning to ebb today. I have seen some of the activity around the Corridors, and the Whips nodding assiduously in agreement whenever there is any mention of appointment. I think that the Leader of the House is on for a bit of a gubbing this evening. Faced with such difficulties, perhaps the Leader of the House would consider joining us in the move for abolition. I suggest that that is one sure way that he can stick it to the Prime Minister and the best way to get rid of this thorny issue of House of Lords reform.
I am listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman's argument for abolition. Does he not acknowledge that the job of Parliament is to hold the Executive to account? Parliament needs to be strong in order to do that, and by its nature a unicameral system is less strong because it has only half the power of a bicameral system. Therefore, there is no logic to his argument.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that intervention. I shall come to that important point.
Like many hon. Members, we in the Scottish National party felt disfranchised over the exclusion of options and when we thought that we would have the opportunity to vote only for our second or third choice. Therefore, we are delighted to have the opportunity to vote on abolition. We know that 108 Members have signed early-day motion 529 calling for the abolition of the House of Lords. That might prove to be the most popular option available this evening. Is it not a disgrace that that might not have been available to us?
No. I said that I would give way only once, and I want to make progress.
I was disappointed in the debate a couple of weeks ago at the response made on unicameralism. It was suggested that only small and insignificant countries had unicameral legislatures. That is disrespectful to the number of legislatures throughout the world that operate such a system. How can we consider robust democracies such as New Zealand and Sweden to be small and insignificant? It is a disgrace that that claim was made.
If we look at the experience of legislatures worldwide, we find that bicameralism is in the minority. Only one comprehensive survey of national legislatures has been done, and that was by the Inter-Parliamentary Union, which identified that, of a total of 178 state legislatures, some 127 were unicameral. So, unicameralism is in the majority.
We do not need to go round the world to find successful examples of successful unicameralism. We need only to cross the border into Scotland. The Scottish Parliament is unicameral and successful. Instead of a second Chamber, it has a powerful Committee structure and practises much more pre-legislative scrutiny. This place can only dream of the accessibility it affords to the public and representative bodies.
Abolition would be very popular with the public. Public opinion on that has not been tested because it was not one of the seven options, but the idea that the public regard the House of Lords with anything like affection is fallacy. The public do not have a clue about what the House of Lords does and are bemused by its activities. In fact, if the public were asked about their predominant view of the House of Lords, I would wager that a good majority would describe some belligerent old soul gently napping while a fellow octogenarian delivered an interminable speech. Being excluded from any democratic control over the new House of Lords would further alienate the public from this Chamber and politics in general. The public would not miss the House of Lords at all.
We understand that this debate is very much a process and that second and third choices will have to be made. I do not expect the amendment to be agreed, but we in the Scottish National party and those representing Plaid Cymru will vote for a fully elected Chamber, and beyond that for any combination that leads to a majority of elected Members. We remain deeply uneasy and suspicious about the issue of appointment. We remain concerned that the indefensible House of Lords will become the unjustifiable house of cronies.
We agree with the Leader of the House when he says that an appointed Chamber must have elections to have legitimacy in the eyes of the public. Indeed, opinion polls show that appointment is the least popular option, even when the question is put in the most favourable way, as it has been on several occasions. The public know what is going on; they just do not like the idea of political carve-ups in smoke-filled rooms behind closed doors. When the public have no say in who inhabits our political institutions, it leads to immediate alienation. When they have no sense of ownership of our political institutions, they view them with justified suspicion.
I do not find the reasons for a fully appointed chamber in any way convincing. The excuse that the public would not be interested in voting for the House of Lords is the flimsiest one around. Voting is a right and it is up to the individual whether to exercise that right or not. Democracy is not abandoned just because people exercise their right to withhold their vote. What would happen if at the next general election less than 50 per cent.—say 40 per cent.—vote? Do we scrap democracy in this place and have an appointed House of Commons? That is a ridiculous argument, which I hope does not merit any further discussion.
The central question is what the Appointments Commission will look like and who will appoint the appointers. The Joint Committee is very unclear about that. Its report gives no suggestion on the type of person who should serve on the commission. In fact, it is very keen on prime ministerial patronage. Its report states:
"We do not take the view that all power should be removed from the Prime Minister and other party leaders."
In fact it goes on to suggest that only the Prime Minister has the right to have nominations concerned. If that is not prime ministerial patronage gone mad, what is? That would be an extension of Tony's cronies.
Appointment is plain wrong. In the hands of a centralising Government who treat this House with contempt, an appointed second Chamber would be the worst type of neutered poodle. Surely no House of Lords is preferable to a neutered appointed House.
We live in a time when the right to choose or dismiss our rulers is beginning to be seen as under threat. It is the standard refrain that the electorate are too bored and too cynical to vote. There is a world of difference, however, between voters choosing whether to exercise their franchise and the politically weak using the fact that people do not do so as a justification for curtailing such franchise. It would be better to have no upper Chamber than to have one that entrenches the political cronyism that has become such a trademark of this Government.
I welcome the fact that, if the amendment preferred by Pete Wishart fails, he will vote for a 100 per cent. elected House. My preference is for a wholly democratically elected Chamber. I am persuaded by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House when he says that, should that fail, those of us who support it should vote for the 80 or 60 per cent. options. I would do so with considerable reluctance because the argument that some have advanced about the problems of hybridity—two tiers of Member—is a real one. Perhaps cynically, I would vote for the 80 or 60 per cent. options in the hope that, once we were over the 50 per cent. mark, it would be a matter of time—perhaps not the first time, but inexorably and inevitably—before we moved, probably in our lifetime, to a 100 per cent. elected second Chamber. With that proviso, I support the smaller options.
I agree with what Mr. Tyler said about that those who support appointments. One or two hon. Members spoke in favour of that, but they made only a negative case. None of them said that they want to tell the electorate in their constituency, "I do not think that you ought to have the right to elect half of Parliament." I agree with the hon. Member for North Cornwall that, had they even glanced at the debate in the other place, they would have undergone an exercise in aversion therapy as regards appointments.
Even at this late stage, when we have been debating the matter both within and without the Chamber for some time, there is still confusion and doubt about the powers and responsibilities of the second Chamber, and the potential for clashes and deadlock with this Chamber. That is a misconception, as it is not at all difficult to devise a remit for the second Chamber that makes it complementary to this one rather than being in conflict with it. Both Houses have the parliamentary job of holding the Executive to account. We have been sent here to form a Government, if we are in a majority party, and to hold the Executive to account. To do so, we need two strong, confident and legitimate Chambers, both in their different ways holding the Executive to account.
Although a delineation of powers between the two Chambers is necessary to underline the primacy of this Chamber, does the hon. Gentleman accept that the self-confidence that would result from a legitimate elected second Chamber could serve the useful purpose of restraining the legislative appetite of this House?
I agree. I believe that we all agree with the Leader of the House that it is important that the Commons retain its primacy, but few of us have discussed why and how that is to be achieved. We should be in prime position because the Government, the Prime Minister and the Executive are located in the Commons. We need to earn and re-earn our primacy—we should not simply gain it—but that primacy can easily be formalised, as several hon. Members on both sides have said, by removing members of the Executive and Ministers from the second Chamber. That would turn the second Chamber into a House of scrutiny and revision, and reduce—indeed, eliminate—the power of patronage. It would widen the type, range and diversity of scrutiny, making it both distinctive from, and complementary to, our work, and give the second Chamber a legitimacy that we should welcome, not be afraid of. Our House would have legitimacy because we are the House of the Executive and the Government.
Together, both Houses would provide good checks and balances. Inevitably, our House would be more sharply party political than the other place, which would not have Ministers or members of the Executive, but it would still include party members, as elections would be party political. It would operate in the same way as Select Committees, which have party bases but in which scrutiny transcends party priorities when necessary. That would provide a greater variety of scrutiny. Removing the Executive from the second Chamber would be good for the Commons, the Lords and Parliament as a whole.
A democratic election for the second Chamber is needed. My right hon. Friend Estelle Morris has a different view from mine, but she said that the matter concerns the people of this country. The decision to elect or appoint Members of a second Chamber is not ours alone—we have to consider whether the people of this country have the right to decide who sits in Parliament. Of course, they have to have that right, which is why we are here.
The system needs to be democratic and nourishing. We learn from our postbags and surgeries every week. We have roots that nourish us all the time, if we care to listen to them and feel them. My right hon. Friend was right that some fine people have been appointed to the upper Chamber. A wise society could, of course, appoint wise and good people, but their wisdom is entirely self-contained—it is not rooted among, or nourished by, the people. For all our constituents' inconsistencies, illogicalities and emotionalism, we learn from them. If we do not, we do not stay in the House, and Governments do not stay in power, for long.
My hon. Friend seems to be suggesting that Members elected to the other place should have links to the community. Is he suggesting that they should have parallel constituencies to those of Members of Parliament? I cannot see that they would otherwise have links to the community, and I do not support such duplication.
I am glad that my hon. Friend asked about that, as such constituencies would not be at all helpful. The way to avoid that outcome is to have far fewer representatives in the Lords. For instance, there would be two Members of the second Chamber for every European constituency—perhaps 150 Members or 240 maximum. People would not represent individuals and would not take up individual caseloads, but would have a feel for the north-west, the south-west, the south-east and so on.
They should have links with or roots in a region. This country has distinct regions, and the world looks very different in Cornwall or Devon from how it looks in the north-east. Members should be nourished by those roots, but they should not represent individual constituencies.
We do not yet have democracy in this country—we have half a democracy. We made progress in the last century: women at last got the franchise, but that century of democratic improvement ended with our having the right to elect only half our Parliament. We now have an opportunity to complete the formal aspect of that democratic change and give people the right to elect their whole Parliament. If they do so in the way suggested by other Members and me, keeping the Executive in the Commons, and making the Lords a house of scrutiny and revision, we would get a better, richer, more diverse and much more self-confident Parliament.
It is a pleasure to follow Mr. Fisher, as I agree with most of his remarks.
I wish to deal with the question of unicameralism, on which we shall vote and for which there is a respectable case. It all hinges on one key point—can we reform this place to make it work effectively and touch a nerve with the public, who are clearly disaffected by the way in which we perform our democratic duties? The answer, I believe, is no.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that there is another key point in the unicameral argument made by me, my hon. Friend Mr. Howarth, and others? We want to avoid the present situation where patronage rules supreme. Many hon. Members who signed the amendment are not against a wholly elected Chamber, but want to remove the routine of placemen and placewomen imposed on the upper House through patronage, whether by the Prime Minister, the Executive or any imaginable mechanism.
I agree to some extent. An appointed House will always ultimately be a House of patronage. An elected House, if people are elected on long and non-renewable terms, will not. I therefore hope to find the hon. Gentleman in the Lobby with me, voting for a largely or wholly elected second Chamber.
Does the hon. Gentleman remember that it was famously said, why look in the crystal ball when you can consult the book? We can consult the book. When this House was asked a few months ago whether it wanted to have its Select Committees controlled by the Executive and the party machines, or to own the Select Committees for itself, it voted for the Executive option. So those who claim that we can abolish a House of scrutiny because we are so vigorous in scrutinising the Executive in this House are talking poppycock, are they not?
The hon. Gentleman makes a point that I do not have time to develop. I agree with every word of it. Perhaps I can begin my speech.
The truth is that we need a second Chamber to perform a constitutional longstop role. We need a second Chamber that can encourage us to think again. The present second Chamber does not perform those tasks adequately. The composition of such a Chamber must command moral authority in the country. In the 21st century, only a democratic, or largely democratic, method of selection, can hope to fulfil that function.
I was pleased to hear the speech of Estelle Morris, who brought to the Chamber a sense of what is going on outside it. We look at ourselves introspectively far too much. We will not be taken seriously as a Parliament if we reject democratic options for reform of the second Chamber.
There are numerous objections to democracy, and I shall deal with some of them in the time remaining to me. The first, which is often heard, is that we will replicate ourselves up the Corridor—the clones of the clowns argument, as Lord Howe put it. That is the argument which says that the Whips will end up controlling the other place just as vigorously as they control this place. That is nonsense. Different systems of election will throw up different compositions. Most other countries seem to get round the problem—the United States, Germany, Italy and Spain, to name but four.
Nor is it true that holding elections on general election day to benefit from a higher turnout will lead to a clone problem. The United States elects a third of its Senate on the same day as its lower house, and although there is a coat-tail effect, the swing is not uniform, and there are certainly not clones of the House of Representatives in the upper house—the Senate. The point made by Mr. Kaufman on that was wholly fallacious. As for the powers of the Whips, as I pointed out, if Members' terms are non-renewable, the Whips will have little influence.
A second argument is that of gridlock—that is, as soon as we have elections up the Corridor, the two Chambers will be locked in mortal combat. That is a load of old tosh. We have a Parliament Act, which was framed to set out the rules and limits of that relationship and to prevent gridlock from ever happening again. The Parliament Act 1911 resulted from the only gridlock crisis that we have ever had in this country. No one in their right mind in this place would ever repeal the Parliament Act. It is in place to protect us from gridlock.
The Prime Minister accepted all those arguments until recently, or at least it seemed so. He had attached himself to a number of manifestos supporting election—
That is an absurd constitutional and semantic non sequitur and therefore not worth replying to in depth. I will buy my hon. Friend a cup of tea. I am sorry to have made such a seemingly dismissive remark, but shortness of time prevents me from pointing out the legal nonsense embodied in his comment.
I shall address one concern that is taken more seriously: the possibility that the House of Lords could end up challenging the supremacy of this place. I favour a largely elected second Chamber, and again I agree with the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley, who said that it would inevitably mean that that Chamber had less legitimacy and could challenge us far less. I fall back once more on the Parliament Act. It seems inconceivable that we could lose a battle while the Parliament Act is in force, and it will not be removed.
The heart of our supremacy derives from the fact that this House is the source of the Executive, and that will not change either. I also support the proposal to remove Ministers from the House of Lords to emphasise the extent to which the other Chamber is a scrutiny Chamber.
There are other arguments against election. One is that there would be a loss of independent expertise. As I mentioned, I favour a minority appointed element that could perform that role. The Prime Minister's objection to that, which is the hybridity argument, is almost certainly an attempt to conceal another view entirely. He does not want a House of Lords that can interfere with what he is doing in the Executive. He wants Executive supremacy and any House of Lords that has moral authority generated from the ballot box will prejudice that supremacy.
That is why the Prime Minister has suddenly come out with the hybridity argument: we can have 100 per cent. elected or none elected. Of course, he does not want 100 per cent. elected. He knows that we will have none elected if Members follow his advice. He controls this place, as everybody knows on both sides of the House, and he wants to make sure that, one way or another, he can neuter the second Chamber. The way in which the Prime Minister intervened in the debate demonstrates the extent to which we need some protection from exactly that kind of presidential power from No. 10.
One more key issue needs to be addressed. Can the existing House, perhaps with the addition of an effective appointments commission, do the job of a second Chamber? Notwithstanding all the arguments that I have presented in favour of democracy, could we devise an appointed Chamber that could do the job? I very much doubt it, for reasons that have already been given. The precedent of the people's peers operation does not augur well. People would soon have the perception, even if it were untrue, that what we had put in place was a self-perpetuating oligarchy of the great and the good.
Nor does the record of the existing House of Lords suggest that it could perform the role. The debate that has just taken place in the other place shows the lack of constitutional imagination on the part of its Members. As has been pointed out, it was an argument that everything is for the best in the best of all possible worlds. It was a collective, ermine-clad Dr. Pangloss speaking. It was, in fact, a parody of Dr. Pangloss. A crucial job for the second Chamber is to think imaginatively and creatively about the constitution. It is a great shame that the House of Lords failed that ultimate test, thereby demonstrating that it cannot do its job.
I am by instinct a Conservative, and it is a fact that most second Chambers are conservative too. One way or another, around the world, they play a more conservative role than the lower House. I beg all Conservatives to think about the role that they want the second Chamber to play, beyond mere reaction to any constitutional proposals from this place. Conservatives believe in the value of organic institutions—institutions that can change and evolve over time. The time has come for the Lords to evolve and change. That process of evolution should have begun a long time ago—nearly 100 years ago—when those who put through the Parliament Act made it clear that they favoured the introduction of greater democracy. They thought that it would come within a few years, but the first world war intervened.
The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley was right. What we have tonight is a vote of principle. The credibility of this institution is at stake. We have an opportunity to send a clear message to a wider electorate that this House is aware of the public's concerns about the state of democracy—that they are wary of presidential government and think that a second Chamber, democratically elected, could play a role in dealing with that. They want a higher quality of parliamentary democracy than they get now.
A largely elected second Chamber would not provide all the answers to our constitutional concerns, but it would point in the right direction. We must take this opportunity tonight, as an institution, to tell a wider public that we have been listening to them.
As the debate has worn on, we have heard few new arguments. The arguments are becoming increasingly familiar, and I will try not to go over ground that has already been covered. Like everyone else, I congratulate my right hon. Friend Dr. Cunningham and his Committee on the work that they have undertaken, but I agree strongly with my right hon. Friend Mr. Kaufman that they were given a dodgy brief. It is hardly surprising if what they have managed to produce reflects the imperfection of what they were given to work on.
I also congratulate my hon. Friend Mr. Howarth on his tenacity and ingenuity in ensuring that the House has the opportunity to vote on the question of abolition in principle. I will be completely staggered if we are successful in the amendment, but it will at least have served the purpose of airing the arguments. We can then put the issue to one side as we attempt to unravel the Gordian knot of what remains after the votes here and in the other place.
Lords reform is not the most important issue that the House has to address. As others have said, it is certainly not the most important issue in the constituencies. I should be surprised if this were a matter of great and heated debate in any constituency in the country. It certainly is not in "The Golden Lion" in Sydenham. I went through my case load yesterday to see how many letters I had received on House of Lords reform, and they numbered three. All the letters had been received since the publication of the White Paper in 2001. For those who have speculated on what we may have said to our respective electorates, I replied to all three that I am a unicameralist and I believe that reform of, and confidence in, this Chamber are far more important than trying to fix problems elsewhere in the building.
For simplicity's sake, I refer the House to the speech made by my right hon. Friend Mr. Foulkes a fortnight ago, because it put the case forcefully, succinctly and, more than anything, briefly, for our having the confidence to move to a unicameralist system and take on the challenges that would then lie before us.
Of all the arguments that would persuade me to vote one way or the other, the exhortations of the Opposition would count the least. For years, those born-again reformers told us that if we tampered with the other place at all, the temple would be rent asunder and reduced to ashes around us. They told us that the Lords was a magnificent institution and that although we would not invent it, it worked. Now they are saying that it does not work, with all the zeal of the convert. Listening to the Opposition reminds me of the story of the mature couple who were spending a few days at a seaside hotel. On the second evening, one said to the other, "The food here is absolutely inedible." The other replied, "Yes, and such small portions." That is the position of the Conservative party on House of Lords reform.
Mr. Clarke spoke a fortnight ago, with his usual eloquence. He said:
"to strengthen Parliament's control over the Executive . . . should be our only guiding motive".—[Hansard, 21 January 2003; Vol. 398, c. 215.]
Reading between the lines, that sounds more like a plea to protect the House from Ministers like him. He was a senior member of the Conservative Government and held some of the highest offices in the land over those 18 years. He is a forceful, courageous and persuasive person. How could somebody now so fired by that zeal have managed to keep a lid on it for all those years? That is an act of restraint that is an example to us all. Nor is the right hon. and learned Gentleman the only Opposition Member of whom that question could be asked. I exonerate Mr. Jack and the hon. Members for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) and for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack)—the latter has not yet spoken, but he has made several interventions—who have stuck more closely to the traditions of the Conservative party.
The Conservatives appear to wish to try to achieve by procedural means that which they cannot achieve by electoral means. Because the British people have twice, by large majorities, shown that they do not trust the Conservative party, it does not want to trust the British people. Instead, it wants to put in place structures that it can then try to exploit.
In 1845, Benjamin Disraeli, probably in this very Chamber—[Hon. Members: "Not this Chamber."] I refer not to this physical place, but to the Commons. I apologise; I was not speaking geographically. At that time, Benjamin Disraeli described the then Conservative Government as an organised hypocrisy. Some 160 years on, he could reflect on the fact that the Conservative Opposition are a disorganised hypocrisy, and they need not expect us to be taken in by it.
There are many examples of democratic systems and models throughout the world, whether they are unicameral, bicameral—even tricameral, for all I know—or presidential, executive or parliamentary. I do not know whether any one is better than another or whether somebody can say that they live in a better democracy because they have a bicameral system as opposed to a unicameral one, or because they have a President as opposed to a Prime Minister and a parliamentary system. I was taken with one of the interventions made from the Opposition Benches, which told us that a bicameral system had twice the power of a unicameral one. In that case, why do we not have a tricameral or even quadricameral system? It could go on and on. That is a ludicrous proposition.
An organisation and institution is as strong as the structures that it has in place. The challenge of unicameralism is to take that on and to have confidence in our ability to hold the Executive to account and take on some of the changes that we have engineered in recent years. Numerous changes have been made in respect of pre-legislative scrutiny and draft Bills. We could even incorporate the interrogatory role of the Select Committees into the legislative process, if we wanted to do so. There are 659 of us, for goodness sake, so we should be able to achieve that degree of change if we believe in it.
The worst option and the one that has taken the heaviest battering today is hybridity. Mr. Tyler does not like the name, but that is what the option is. I wrote in my notes that it was the worst of all worlds, but I noticed that my hon. Friend Janet Anderson said the same thing earlier. I do not know where she got it from. As to other hybrid solutions, or alleged solutions, not only are some of them half-baked, but others are completely unbaked.
Just under 30 years ago, when I was first elected to the London borough council of Lewisham, I remember that we had people called aldermen. I am sure that plenty of hon. Members will remember them. They were abolished—[Interruption.] Indeed, as somebody says, they were appointed. All the councillors were elected, and in the first council meeting after the election, they used to appoint aldermen, who had all the powers of a councillor with none of the responsibilities. They had no electorate or constituents and nothing to equalise their position with that of councillors. Four years later, they were removed and their role was abolished. That was done by general and universal consent, because we could not have two types of councillors. We can only have one type and all the theories about hybridity cannot overcome that problem.
No; although I would get extra time for giving way, it would probably come out of somebody else's speech, so if my hon. Friend does not mind, I shall continue.
The aldermen system went back to the middle ages. It predated representative democracy of any sort and it took centuries to abolish it, so I am surprised that we are being dragged back to it 25 years later. I understand the argument about hybridity as a staging post to other things, but while I usually subscribe to the theory that every wedge has a thin end, I do not believe that everything is wedge-shaped.
The challenge is for this House and each and every Member of it to restore its reputation and the interests of the public in our democratic system by not being timid but being bold, adopting the truly radical option and reforming Parliament itself. That is a task that we should undertake immediately, enthusiastically and imaginatively.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is there any way in which we can be informed of the outcomes of the Divisions that are taking place in the Lords? One has already taken place, and I understand that, contrary to expectations, 335 Members voted for a fully appointed House and 110 voted against, which shows that a much higher than expected percentage are against a fully appointed House. Is there any way in which we can get important information from the other end of the building?
Hon. Members have made many interesting contributions to the debate. There were one or two canters around the clichés, but the vast majority were extremely thoughtful. I was particularly taken with the remarks of Estelle Morris, who talked about the effects on the public. Those of us who are professional politicians and constitutional anoraks would do well to take account of that sometimes. I occasionally give speeches in which I mention reform of the House of Lords, and the question that often arises at the end is, "Why bother? What's the point? Why not concentrate on health, pensions, crime or the other important matters that affect people?" Ultimately, however, until we are able to get our Parliament right, we will be unable to deal effectively with the issues that affect our citizens.
The current system has two central flaws. First, our Parliament is flawed by the illegitimacy of the way in which the other place works. Secondly, people are frustrated by the political process, and find it difficult to understand why we in Parliament cannot arrive at a consensus on much of the detail that is before us. It is therefore vital that reform goes through and is not left for another century.
The amendment tabled in the name of Mr. Howarth refers to unicameralism. There is certainly an argument for that system, and I would not dismiss unicameral Parliaments simply because they have only one Chamber. However, in this country, in this democracy, at this point, it would be virtually impossible to get rid of the other place and to create a unicameral system. If we took that route, it is likely that we would lose what little is good of the other place—there is a need for a revising Chamber—and would be unable to replicate it here. Although I have given the hon. Gentleman's suggestion considerable thought and think that the argument has merit, I shall move on to the other options that are before us.
Before 1995, when I entered Parliament on the death of my father, I was, in principle, broadly in favour of reform, but with a strong streak of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." Many people took that view. Within a very short time of entering the other place, I decided that it needed to be reformed, that it needed to be reformed quickly, and that it needed to have a strong element of election. That was simply because I had realised that it does not work—that it does not fulfil the purpose for which it was designed, namely to offer a decent check and balance and to allow us to revise legislation properly. Too often, a perfectly sensible amendment—not an amendment concerning the principle of a Bill or a wrecking amendment—is knocked back in the ping-pong process simply because a majority of Members in this House have insufficient time properly to consider what the other place has asked them to consider.
I therefore rapidly came to the conclusion that the best option was for a wholly elected second Chamber, which would be my first preference in a vote. I recognise, however, that the option of 80 per cent. elected with 20 per cent. appointed has some attractions. There is an argument that says that the great and the good cannot stand up to the electoral process, poor dears, but ought to be brought into the other place, and I recognise that that has some validity.
Not exactly. I shall deal with that point later. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do so in the appropriate part of my remarks.
I do not subscribe to the argument for the great and the good. The idea that 20 per cent. of the second Chamber can be found among those who are worthy of passing judgment on our laws but are not up to the process of election does not wash. However, I will vote for the option of electing 80 per cent. and appointing 20 per cent. because I understand the arguments for it.
I shall also vote for electing 60 per cent. and appointing 40 per cent. because if at least the majority are elected, the process will work sufficiently well and be so inexorable that my objective will eventually be achieved, probably in three or four generations.
I shall vote against all the other options. The worst of all worlds is surely a fully appointed House. That is simply the status quo. We are right to get rid of the hereditaries—the rest of them should go—but frankly, the current House of Lords is fully appointed except for the few hereditaries, who will be removed.
Let me make some progress. I am keeping an eye on the time. The present House of Lords is broadly appointed. It is interesting to consider the two lines of defence for that. We heard one on the "Today" programme this morning from the Home Secretary, who said that we should stop mucking about with an elected House of Lords, which would get in the Government's way, and concentrate on the archaic procedures of the upper House.
Lord Norton of Louth presented the other argument in the previous debate in the other place. He argued that the House of Commons had full democratic power simply because of the manifesto, which gave it authority over everything that the other place could do. That gentleman has never sought election and I doubt whether he will ever do so.
There are therefore two strands of defence for a fully appointed House. They are represented by those who want to push through their business and those who want to stay in the club for life.
My hon. Friend speaks with great authority. Does he acknowledge that Lord Norton's argument that the manifesto must carry the day puts Labour Members in difficulty today?
My hon. Friend makes a good point, with which I concur.
I support a fully or mostly elected House because people outside must see the second Chamber as legitimate. Having sat in the other place, I know that no method other than election can achieve that.
I do not believe that election threatens the primacy of the House of Commons. First, we must discuss and define its primacy or supremacy. The manifesto is about principles and this House will therefore always have its way on principles, but the other place must have the right to deal with detail. It is important to maintain the conventions between the two Houses, especially the convention that provides that peers, Lords, senators or whatever they become should not get involved in constituency business. That is vital. They must stick to a regional interest. The convention of not voting down manifesto business must also be maintained.
The conventions may have to be strengthened in legislation later, but if they can be maintained, the primacy of the House of Commons will not be in doubt.
I only have a minute left.
The Leader of the House compared Lords reform to "Waiting for Godot". Like him, I fear that we will end up with no change and that the status quo will be perpetuated. It is time to consider another Beckett play—"Endgame".
Instinctively, I am a unicameralist, and it is right that we are considering that option today. Indeed, I was one of those who signed the early-day motion expressing regret that that was not among the original options. Having considered the matter, however, I part company with others who are instinctively unicameralist on the issue of whether embarking on that route at this stage in our development would maintain the pace of reform, and whether it would achieve what the unicameralists wish it to achieve.
The unicameralist argument often states that the key issue is not the relationship between one House and the other but the relationship between Parliament as a whole—the legislature—and the Executive. That is the argument that took me down the unicameralist route, and it is one that we all have to address. It is also true that our political system is highly centralised in character. In many ways, it is increasingly presidential. The political environment that is created in an era of mass communication and instant media leads politics in that direction. This is underpinned and given greater impetus by the changes that are taking place in the global nature of economic and social relations. So to win office at a general election, the message of any political party has to be honed and distilled and, to get that message across, it is important that everyone remain on message.
Meanwhile, the media will constantly try to get below the radar of that message, to create what is perceived to be the best news and the best story, which is—surprise, surprise—a good row. If the good row is between people on the same side, it is better news than one between people on different sides. The impact of that on politics can be very destructive, because the political parties go further into defensive mode, which recreates the problem over and over again. This carries on after the election when a party is in government. Indeed, if members of a party are committed to radical change, the need to keep their eye on the ball and not be deflected from their purpose becomes even stronger. If they try to depart from that purpose at any point, people will have a go at them for that as well. Let us just consider the response that we have seen today to the issue of having a free vote on this matter.
It is not surprising, therefore, that politics becomes centralised or presidential. Nor is it surprising that the Opposition develop a tendency to score points rather than to scrutinise. That is part of the same process. In regard to what my right hon. Friend Estelle Morris said, those are good reasons for the disconnection from politics that exists outside this place. We need to address that issue. If we are to do that, we need to achieve a greater separation between the role of the legislature and the role of the Executive. We could do that by implementing a unicameral solution, but the consequence of that for this place would be far greater than hon. Members might wish. It would almost certainly involve a change in the size of the House of Commons and a change in its voting systems. I would be comfortable with that, but I am not sure that many other Members would. It might also mean, if we were going to do it properly, that we had to elect the Executive separately. There is something to be said for that model, but it is not realistically on the agenda, either today or for some years to come.
If we are going to stick with a system in which the Executive are chosen from the main House of Parliament, that House will always have a dual role. It will always have a principal duty—perhaps rightly—to help the Executive, the Government of the day, to achieve their programme. There is nothing wrong with that, but it is why, in practical terms, we need a second Chamber. That argument leads those who, like me, are instinctively unicameralist to say that if we accept the need for a second Chamber, it must have legitimacy. That legitimacy can be achieved only if all, or at least a majority, of its Members are elected.
We should not be worried about the perceived threat to the primacy of this place. This is the House of Commons. It is the place from which the Government are drawn and, when push comes to shove, the Government will and should have the right to get their manifesto programme through. But surely that does not mean that they cannot be scrutinised properly. It surely does not mean that on occasion the legislature could not exercise some independence from the Executive.
If we are worried about that, we can of course specify limits. We can codify the system, much better than we do at present. But if we are ultimately saying that a second Chamber should in no circumstances have the right to challenge or to question, what are we really saying about the role of the legislature vis-à-vis the Executive? That is today's key question, and that is why I am not troubled by the principle of election.
Different forms of election can be adopted. Many speakers have mentioned the different models that might be used. It is also true that people with less traditional roots should be able to sit in the second Chamber, perhaps through indirect election or perhaps by other means. I certainly think that representation of the regions and the nations of Great Britain should be possible. I also believe that if we are to retain the second Chamber's role as a legislature but also a revising Chamber within a legislature, the suggestion made by several Members on both sides of the House that it should be separate from Government, and that members of Government should therefore not sit in it, has great merit.
As has been said by those who have advanced the unicameralist argument, if we believe in democracy we should have confidence in ourselves. That does not just mean confidence in this place, or in ourselves here and now; it means having confidence in Parliament as a whole, and allowing Parliament to fashion the institutions necessary for that to be achieved.
The purpose of all this is not some dry constitutional one. It is not merely to establish the right precise mathematical relationship between the different Houses. The key issue is democracy, and the people who are most important to democracy are those of whom my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley spoke. Those people are not here; they are not even in the other place. They are the people outside who are losing confidence in the political process. That loss of confidence is not just a threat to us because fewer people turn out to vote in elections; it is a threat to democracy itself. Those of us who worry about the rise of racism and the far right in this country should ask whether there is not a connection between the lack of credibility of the conventional, mainstream political process and the fact that people are turning to those alternatives.
This is a key debate, not a dry constitutional debate. We should strengthen Parliament. We should vote for a second Chamber that is either wholly or substantially elected, and we should seek to change the way in which all too many people outside feel about Parliament as a whole. It is not that they agree with the Commons or with the Lords; they are saying, "A plague on both your Houses". It is time we changed that.
You at least, Mr. Deputy Speaker, were born a Lord and will die a Lord.
I am tempted to say that if we have been chewing over the problem of the future of the House of Lords for 100 years and have not come up with a solution, it may just possibly be because the problem has not presented itself as a particular problem. On the whole, political systems are able to respond to the need for things to be done, and we should be cautious about assuming that an imperative now exists that did not exist before. None the less, I think it sensible to act, and my inclination will be to vote for the "elected" options.
All of us who have been in Government have experience of the House of Lords. My experience is that when it is good it is very very good, and when it is bad it is awful. It is very very good when its members take advantage of a body of expertise and know what they are talking about; it is awful when they just pick up the press release from the lobby group. That may cause them to become insufficiently analytical and too sentimental in their treatment of serious political subjects. I have to say that fisheries comes to mind.
We should also beware the tyranny of the manifesto. At the last general election, I took the precaution of dissociating myself in some regards from my party's manifesto. What is important is to tell the electorate that there are things for which one stands as an individual. I do not believe in the sort of determinism whereby one acts exclusively within the framework of a manifesto. Indeed, as several hon. Members have mentioned, the Labour Government are doing or envisaging things that are miles away from any thoughts that they had at the time of their manifesto's writing.
I should say by way of a preliminary that we should beware of looking for what one Labour Member rather chillingly called the final solution; things shift constitutionally. We are witnessing major constitutional change within the United Kingdom, and eventually we may well wish to reflect those changes. If we go down the route of a much more genuinely federal state, for example, there could eventually be an argument for representing the nations and parts of the United Kingdom in a forum where the diffuse interests of government can be represented, as against the centralised instruments.
The issue is not one of the House of Commons against the House of Lords. It is a mistake to regard this as an inter-Chamber conflict—I am much more interested in the accountability of the Executive and their scrutiny by Parliament itself. If we are to have effective accountability and scrutiny, my own inclination is increasingly towards removing the Executive not merely from the House of Lords, but from Parliament altogether, thereby adopting a much more congressional system of government. I can see the argument for unicameralism. In many ways, a unicameral Chamber would be much more responsible—indeed, it would have to be so—than a Chamber for which a long-stop was present in case it made errors, but the case has yet to be made.
Nor do I think that the relationship between the House of Commons and the House of Lords is incapable of being regulated in such a way as to maintain the supremacy of the House of Commons. A series of measures—including the Parliament Act, which would continue to have force—enables the maintenance of the supremacy of this place. We could, at a pinch, give the House of Commons exclusive competence over certain matters of constitutional importance, in order that we hold the brief entirely within our own hands. However, it is no bad thing if the House of Lords strains against the traces in the process of establishing the customs and practices that determine the practical functioning of our constitution. So I have no problem with a period in which everybody is feeling for where the new relationships lie in the new structures.
Of course, an elected Government must ultimately have their way on issues for which they have specifically sought a mandate, but they must argue for their way. Given that so many political programmes today are aspirational rather than specific, we should, as I said, be somewhat cautious before we elevate the manifesto to the status of biblical truth.
There are, of course, other ways of hobbling the Government. A classic one is simply to have a system of proportional representation, which normally denies Governments a majority made of one particular party. I do not favour that option, but it is certainly available. There is also the genuinely federal structure, and the separation of the Executive from the legislature. There is no single model that would enable us to achieve the supremacy of, or the accountability of, a particular Chamber. I know that colleagues from Wales and Scotland have been somewhat scarred by the notion of competing Parliaments, but devolution does not provide the analogy. Devolved Parliaments are primary legislatures in a limited range of activities, but they are primary legislatures none the less. Even though they may ultimately derive their powers from this place, in practice they are primary legislatures, and nobody is suggesting that the House of Lords should aspire to, or be granted, that status.
I am also slightly suspicious of the use of the word "legitimacy". Legitimacy is divisible—there is no single concept of it. What does it mean in practice? It means that people accept that peers and others in positions of political authority are there by virtue of a particular merit, having gone through a particular process. I am afraid that there are only two ways of displaying merit in the modern, complex, technological state in which we long since abandoned the hope of identifying some form of renaissance man. One is the vulgar method of election, and the other is the Aristotelian method of nomination by elders. The latter is demonstrated in "The Magic Flute", in which a number of people preside over the highest sphere of wisdom, insight and purity, and occasionally invite others to join them. Some of my right hon. and hon. Friends would undoubtedly be candidates for that high office, but it may not be immediately relevant to our present debate. A revising Chamber does not necessarily need the same legitimacy as a primary legislative Chamber. We should not get hooked on some deterministic notion of what constitutes legitimacy.
My inclination is to go for an elected Chamber because that is the simplest outcome. On the whole, simplicity is a virtue in politics—not least because it enables me to understand. I am willing to contemplate a hybrid Chamber, but it would be helpful to know how big it might be. If we assume that an element of nomination is needed to ensure a certain degree of expertise, it would be useful to know whether that Chamber will have 120, 200 or 150 places to distribute that expertise around. I would have liked that question to be settled first because that would have assisted me with my percentages.
As we have gone virtually 100 years without substantial change, I have some hesitation in assuming that in the space of the next decade or so, we shall make such rapid progress as the evolution indicated by the hon. Gentleman. The size of Chamber that he mentioned would be more congenial to me than 600—perhaps one even smaller.
As to the means of election, beware funny franchises. The idea of a non-renewable franchise is a monstrous affront. One would invite people to vote specifically to enable one to renounce any accountability that the electors may have vested in one. One would simply say, "Goodbye. I am not coming back."
On what basis people would vote, I do not know. My inclination would be seven years, which has a certain biblical ring. If there is no better precedent, no doubt that would be reasonably congenial. After all, we are talking about a political body—not some great academic institution that exists to preserve the country's culture. We are not talking about nominations to the Académie Française but about a second political chamber of the British Houses of Parliament. Let us not shun the idea of electing politicians to do a political job.
Of course there will be difficulties. The electorate will ask, "What is at stake?", and there is always a problem when there is nothing specific at stake, such as a change of Government. It is difficult to give a ringing speech such as, "I am standing on a mandate and asking you to give me the power to revise." From the point of view of a political stump, I would rather watch that than perform it, but we must get over such difficulties. There will be no point blaming the electorate if the process lacks sufficient interest.
I am concerned about the implications of nominations. I fear the nomination of the self-promoting and the highly profiled, and defining the expertise required. The individuals who identify the expertise and make the nominations may turn out to be the most powerful people in the land—the real senate. And I hope that we do not get stuck with an obsession with gender, ethnic balance, sexual preference, regional origins and all sorts of other criteria—so that we put a jigsaw puzzle into the House of Lords, then find that the bits do not fit.
The Government have modernised this House and reduced our ability to scrutinise. We depend on their Lordships to deliver the checks that we can no longer provide, but it is unsatisfactory if the primary legislature is merely a vehicle for Government. We need to think in terms of Parliament, not Chamber. We cannot have a combination—the danger we face—of the impotent and the illegitimate. We need to get on with the measured reform that we now have the prospect of achieving.
I will not take up my full time because many colleagues wish to speak.
I feel ground down by this debate. We have discussed the matter exhaustively and I hope that we will reach a resolution, so that at long last something will happen rather than endless navel-gazing.
I have always been in favour of a small, directly elected second Chamber. To paraphrase the Prime Minister, "Let's go for it. We are at our best when we are bold." The Leader of the House has searched for a long time for the centre of gravity, and we can discern it emerging through the mists. Astonishingly, the official Opposition and the Liberal Democrats came down in favour of 80 per cent. elected and 20 per cent. appointed. Despite what the Prime Minister has said, the Labour party has always had an overwhelming majority in favour of an elected second Chamber.
I am a member of the Select Committee on Public Administration, and I was prepared to sink my differences and try to find the centre of gravity. The Committee favoured a ratio of 60 per cent. elected and 40 per cent. appointed. That was not my preference, but I was prepared to sign up to it to get some change. That is what we must hold on to in this debate: we want there to be some movement and some change.
The Joint Committee on House of Lords Reform report proposed a second Chamber of 600 Members. That is completely grotesque. The Leader of the House told us earlier than only five upper Chambers in the world have more than 200 Members. We simply do not need a second Chamber of such elephantine proportions. It would be absurd.
Another thing that sticks in my throat is to hear in debate after debate about all the philosopher kings in the second Chamber. We are told so much about peers' wisdom that there seems nothing that they cannot do, but most are part-timers. The Public Administration Committee inquiry found that 25 per cent.—one quarter—of peers asked 87 per cent. of the questions and made 76 per cent. of speeches and interventions. Most simply do not turn up.
I appreciate my right hon. Friend's support, but I hope there is no more heckling from him.
I shall end with the position of the Prime Minister. It has been comprehensively rejected by the Labour party. I have gone through the all the studies and reports, and all the findings from the commissions and policy forums that have been set up. Not one submission called for a wholly elected second Chamber—
I am sorry, I meant to say appointed. I was getting carried away. I need to chill out.
In 1994, just after the Prime Minister became leader of the Labour party, he said:
"We have always favoured an elected second chamber."
That is not true: between 1983 and 1992, the Labour party was going to abolish the Lords. However, the right hon. Member for Sedgefield went on to say that he wanted there to be in the Lords
"a genuine body of the distinguished and meritorious—with a better, more open and independent means of establishing membership."
That is where he was coming from. That thinking led us to the bizarre recommendations of the Wakeham Commission, religious representation and all that nonsense. That thinking led to the House of Lords appointments commission and the pantomime of the people's peers.
I do not want people's peers. I want a people's Parliament, and that means election not appointment. In that, I think that I speak for the Labour party more than the Prime Minister.
I have sat through every debate on House of Lords reform both in this Parliament and in the last one. Furthermore, in the last Parliament, for three years, I had the honour to be a Front-Bench spokesman and frequently had to give way to interventions from my right hon. Friend Mr. Forth who constantly advocated a senatorial solution—
And always a sartorial solution as well—of course.
As we come to the end of this phase of the debate, there are two logical ways forward. The first is to go for a fully elected House, which means several things. It will inevitably lead to the abolition of the House of Lords as it exists at present, and its replacement by a second Chamber that is differently constituted in every particular. If that second Chamber is to attract people of real calibre to stand as Members, it must have real power. That means a redistribution of powers between our two Chambers and, in effect, that for the first time we have a written constitution.
We must face up to the logic of that argument. Members of the second Chamber would have to be elected on the same day as the general election. They could be elected for eight-year terms, rather like Members of the US Senate who serve six-year terms. We would thus move towards fixed-term Parliaments. Those who advocate a fully elected second Chamber must face up to that logic. The Leader of the House did not do so, but my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst did precisely that when I asked him whether he was really advocating a revising or a revoking chamber. He replied honestly—I commend him for that—that he was really arguing for a revoking chamber, which would have the power to revoke things decided in this place.
I am sorry that my hon. Friend Mr. Tyrie is not in the Chamber, although I have his full authority for what I am about to say. He has apologised to me for his rather dismissive reaction when I said that if we took the route advocated by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst, the Parliament Acts would almost certainly go. That is the opinion of many constitutionalists. What would certainly go would be the Salisbury convention. As hon. Members on both sides of the House know, the Salisbury convention is that the House of Lords, as currently constituted, always gives a Second Reading to every Bill that is referred to in the manifesto of the party in government. It is one of those things that help our delicately balanced constitution on its way.
As we have demonstrated that on this issue—as on others—the Government pay scant regard to their own manifesto, does my hon. Friend agree that we need not be worried by an elected upper House paying scant regard to a manifesto?
I shall not follow my right hon. Friend along that line, except to point out that Members in opposition always behave a little differently from when they are in government. I listened with a degree of amusement both to my right hon. Friend and to my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Hogg, who made a splendid speech. When they were Ministers and I opposed the poll tax—as I did, even for Scotland—I know what they said about me.
I think that I was right.
If Members want a powerful second Chamber, which has the power to revoke, they must face up to all the consequences that I have described and to many more besides. We should have a very different sort of Parliament. I believe in the primacy of this House—as does the Joint Committee. I am sure that almost every Member will agree that the proudest moment of our lives came when we were first elected to this place. To come here to represent a British constituency is the highest honour that anyone can have.
I believe in the primacy of election and in the primacy of this House, but I also believe that there is a case for having a Chamber constituted of people who have rendered signal service to the state in a whole range of fields and disciplines. That is what we have in the House of Lords at the moment. I do not believe that the system of appointment is perfect, and the Joint Committee will have to address that issue with great care and thought, and in detail. Nevertheless, I would rather have a fully appointed, nominated House than one that would inevitably challenge the primacy and supremacy of this House.
As I said in an intervention, I would much rather be a unicameralist, with such things as weighted majorities written into the constitution, than one who supported two elected Chambers. I cannot vote for the unicameral solution. I asked Mr. Speaker whether he could allow such a vote last, but he said that he could not—I fully understand why—so Mr. Howarth will understand why I cannot vote for his amendment, although I am glad that it was selected. That way lies a certain logic; the way that I am arguing lies another sort of logic: a balance between the two Houses—one of the elected representatives of the people and the other to provide the counsel of elders and experts who can revise and scrutinise. Far from criticising the size of the Chamber and the fact that its Members are part-time—they are very cost-effective, too—we should realise that it is a very good thing that people go there and speak when they know what they are talking about, which is not always the case here.
Will the hon. Gentleman take it from those of us who support the abolitionist cause that we are very pleased that he will be with us in spirit if not in person?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his gracious recognition of my position and why I cannot be with him in that Lobby.
I urge all colleagues, wherever they sit in the House, to put aside manifesto commitments and all those other things and look at the merits of the argument. My right hon. Friend Mr. Curry was right about manifestos. I have distanced myself from my party in my own election address manifesto many times—I make no apology for doing so because I am answerable to the electors of South Staffordshire and to no others, and so it must always remain—but I urge Members to put aside all other considerations and say what will give the best Parliament to the nation.
If hon. Members wish to sacrifice power and to have a powerfully elected second Chamber, the logic of that argument is to vote for a wholly elected second Chamber. I respect hon. Members who take that position, but I disagree fundamentally with them. If hon. Members do not believe in such a Chamber, while believing that this House obviously needs reform and improvement because it is not the most effective first Chamber in the world, the logical course is to vote for a wholly nominated or appointed second Chamber, whatever the Prime Minister may do.
I believe that to go for a hybrid is the worst of all solutions for the very honestly adduced reason given by John Thurso, who spoke a little while ago. He said, "Well, I will go for 60 or 80 per cent. elected because I know that that will lead to 100 per cent. being elected in due course."
My hon. Friend, who has been noticeably silent today—most amazing—may say that. Well, okay, but I shall end as I began. There are two logical positions: to have a wholly elected second Chamber with real power, a revoking Chamber, or to have a revising Chamber that is not a challenge to this House but derives its legitimacy from this House. That way would preserve the best of the Parliament that we have at the moment.
I rise with some trepidation since I note that every person for whom I have ever worked has already taken a view on House of Lords reform. All my bosses have taken a view that is contrary to mine. My first boss was the Bishop of Oxford, and I suspect that he has already voted in the other place in favour of a wholly appointed Chamber. My second boss was my right hon. Friend Mr. Dobson, and he has gone down some very odd routes this week. My third boss was John Birt—now Lord Birt—who made a speech two weeks ago. I used to write his speeches, and they have not improved. I note that my present boss also disagrees with me on this subject. It is to the Government's credit, however, that we have a free vote on the issue. It is a great shame that the media have tended to turn this into a personal row between different members of the same party, on both sides of the House.
The truth is that this is a matter of settling the long-term constitution of this country, which is not something that can be drawn on the back of a fag packet. It is entirely right that there should be a free vote and that we should use our consciences. I support democracy and have always done so. I do not know whether that is just because part of my childhood was spent in Spain under Franco and I have strong memories of his dictatorship making sure that nobody had the opportunity to vote. I also spent some time, in 1986, in Latin America—in Chile, Peru and Argentina. Argentina had just come into democracy, Peru was a democracy with terrible problems, and Chile was still under the power of Pinochet, although he only ever appointed 25 per cent. of the Members of his Senate. One of the most bizarre things about sitting on the Joint Committee with my right hon. Friend Dr. Cunningham has been hearing so many lectures, especially from Members of the House of Lords, on the perils of democracy. One could easily have been sitting in the Politburo.
I have also been astounded to hear, and to read in the debates of the other place, how few people seem to have confidence in the concept of political parties. I am passionate in my support of political parties. It is only through political parties that manifestos are delivered. Only through political parties can one prioritise a programme of work. Only through political parties can the cult of the maverick, which is profoundly misguided and tends to be lionised by the media, be avoided. I believe in party politics and the discipline that it provides and I believe that we should say that out loud.
All sorts of things have been said about the House of Lords, but people have tended to forget that the majority of the current Members of the House of Lords are politicians—not elected politicians, but politicians—many of whom used to be in this House or work for political parties in all sorts of different ways in society. They are now able to claim up to £44,000 tax-free in expenses every year. Any politician in the second Chamber should be elected. That seems incontrovertible. If somebody is to be a party politician and take a Whip in the second Chamber, they should be elected.
Many people have referred to the role of the House of Lords. Of course, that is an area in which some of the debate has been a little thin. In the Joint Committee, however, there was a great deal of consensus on the issue. I believe that the primary role of the House of Lords is to legislate—a word that has not been used so far—to scrutinise, to revise and, in main measure, to help the Government make amendments to their legislation. So often, Ministers say in Committee that they will think about a particular amendment, and one knows that that amendment will not appear again until the Bill progresses to the House of Lords. That is a very important part of the processes in the House of Lords.
The role of the other place, as it is presently constituted, also involves the wielding not only of influence but of power. The truth is that it helps decide how people in this country live nearly every aspect of their lives: for example, in relation to issues such as social security or how people are taught in schools. If somebody wants to have the right to decide how I live my life, they should put themselves up for election. If people want to say, "I want power over your life but am frightened of standing for election," they are the first people who should not be put in any second House.
Many arguments have been advanced against democracy in the House of Lords. The first and foremost, and the one that I hear most frequently, is that, if we were to have elections to the House of Lords, it would fundamentally change its character. Well, amen to that, say I. I find it impossible to believe that people cannot see that the House of Lords, as presently constituted—and as it would be constituted if it were wholly appointed—is elderly and sclerotic. Frankly, it reminds one of the days when Colonel Blimp used to run the country from the Turkish baths at the Royal Automobile Club. We need to move to a new generation.
The present House of Lords is fundamentally reactionary. On many issues, the House of Lords has chosen to disagree with the House of Commons. For example, during debates on anti-terrorism legislation a year ago, I believed that we should have a law to prevent religious discrimination. However, the Lords ensured that that did not become law, and I think that they were wrong.
Another argument that many people have advanced against having an elected House of Lords is that there would be gridlock with a rival Chamber. The word "gridlock" comes from the American system. The American system is very different from ours: it is not a parliamentary democracy. The Executive in the United States of America are constituted completely without Congress. The very fact that the House of Commons constitutes the Government of this country, by the majority that the Government enjoy in here, is the fundamental premise on which our primacy must reside.
I am not sure about taking all Ministers out of the second Chamber, but we certainly ought to have a rule that the Prime Minister cannot be a member of the second Chamber. We do not yet have such a rule. It has become custom and practice that the Prime Minister is from this House, but there is no rule to say that that has to happen.
My hon. Friend Mr. Clelland advanced an especially interesting argument in the first debate on this issue two weeks ago. He said that he wanted to vote for a wholly appointed second Chamber so that it would be more democratic. I have always found that argument difficult. It seems to me that it would be difficult to create a more democratic and more transparent appointment system, because political parties will not want their nominations to be subject to a third party—namely an independent commission. Moreover, the people's peers have already been derided.
How would a new set of Lords Spiritual be appointed? Many people have spoken about this issue and suggested that we could have members of other religions and faiths in the second Chamber. However, we would then have to make invidious decisions on which Hassidic Jewish community should be represented, and which Muslim community should be represented. It would be far more sensible to go directly for election. Some people have asked whether we should have indirect elections.
A number of people who have spoken about direct elections have also said that the basis on which people are elected should not conflict with the constituencies that are used in our election to this House. That suggests that direct elections will move to a system of proportional representation and therefore to a party list system. What is the difference between that and appointments? In a PR system, parties would be able to appoint people to a list or to have indirect elections for people from organisations such as the TUC or the CBI, and from regional government or elsewhere.
The point of having an election is that if nobody votes for the political party for which a person is standing, that person will not be elected. If nobody votes Conservative at the next general election and the next European elections, no Conservative will be elected. Amen to that.
Those who support indirect elections should vote in favour of options that include an elected component. If we vote for a wholly appointed Chamber, there will be no chance—as was made clear in the Joint Committee—of having indirect elections.
In my final minute, I want to say a few words about the bishops. The bishops should go. Nobody else has said that today, but they must go. They represent only England, not Wales or Scotland. I believe in a strong Church but I do not believe that a strong Church has to be represented in the legislature.
The commitment to democracy, and to political change through democracy, is at the heart of the historic Labour party. Appointment, nomination, patronage and privilege—whether of birth or of personal connection—have always been inimical to the interests of the ordinary working people whom Labour represents.
Public opinion wants, and natural justice demands, that those who decide how we live our lives should be elected and removable. Our freedoms depend on the secret ballot, universal suffrage and free and fair elections. We turn our backs on democracy at our peril. I urge hon. Members to vote for an option that will give us a wholly legitimate Parliament, albeit with a majority, but partially, elected second Chamber, or to support 100 per cent. election, if only to say to the bishops that they have got to go.
We have a constitutional opportunity of immense importance and a chance to achieve what many believe unachievable: to complete House of Lords reform and provide for a second Chamber that is both democratic and legitimate, but which neither duplicates the Commons nor challenges its primacy. It is an opportunity to provide for a second Chamber that is representative of the people and the regions, but still expert enough to do the job that we give it. It might even be an opportunity to build a consensus on the best way forward and to begin to agree the next stage of the constitutional evolution of the nation at a time when we are so bitterly divided.
I listened to the siren voices against a directly elected second Chamber and agree with much of what I heard. I cannot bring myself to support a 100 per cent. directly elected second Chamber because it would fundamentally undermine our bicameral system of Parliament, which works only if one House has primacy over the other. The Lords had primacy for centuries because the landed aristocracy were perceived to be superior to the lower social orders. It was only with the advent of democracy that this House took primacy because it brought with it legitimacy, and primacy followed that legitimacy. History compels me to the view that, if the second Chamber is directly elected and has a legitimacy equal to that of this Chamber, it will one day assert that legitimacy against the Commons, so I cannot support a directly elected second Chamber.
I cannot support an appointed Chamber either. I am a democrat and as such can see no point in reforming the House of Lords unless it is to make it more democratic. The only thing wrong with the other place is that none of its Members has been elected. It was because the hereditary peers were an affront to democracy that we removed them. Life peers are equally an affront to democracy, and we must remove them as well.
Of course, democracy does not equal legitimacy, but it does confer it. It affords two vital constitutional protections: government by consent and government by representatives. That is why our forefathers fought so hard for the vote and why we still fight for democracy across the globe. It is simply inconceivable that we turn our back today on democracy and embrace patronage instead. If the power of appointment is placed in an independent commission, we will simply have patronage by the great and good for the great and good, and if it is placed in the parties, we will simply have cronyism. Neither would command any respect so I cannot support an appointed second Chamber.
If I cannot support an appointed Chamber or a directly elected Chamber, neither can I support a hybrid that is part directly elected and part appointed. Two half wrongs do not make a right. A hybrid Chamber would certainly not make for a stable constitutional settlement because constitutional stability demands that all Members have the same standing—none is more legitimate than another. Some people claim that the House of Lords is already a hybrid, but they miss a crucial point. At present, all Members of the House of Lords owe their presence to patronage. Their mandate is by appointment only. Not one peer has the legitimacy that democracy alone can confer. Introducing a directly elected element into the second Chamber will create a Chamber of conflicting mandates, and I do not think that it could stand, let alone fly.
I agree with parts of all the speeches that I have heard. All three principal options are objectionable in principle: direct election threatens the supremacy of this House; appointments are not a democratic expression of the will of the people; and a hybrid Chamber would be a constitutionally unstable fudged compromise. What does all that mean? It means that we must recast the entire debate if we are to agree on a way forward. The debate has become far too narrow. The seven motions reduce complex constitutional issues to a set of merely numerical choices. We should be debating principles, not numbers—legitimacy, primacy, expertise and, above all, participation. We need to do more than choose between varying proportions of Members elected and Members appointed.
If mandate is the problem, we must look at the mandate—not percentages. We need to consider the means of election to the second Chamber. We must devise an electoral model that is democratic and will lead to a membership that makes the second Chamber both effective and legitimate, but ensures that it neither duplicates the composition of the Commons nor receives a mandate from the electorate that allows it to challenge the Commons' primacy.
This is a very short debate. If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I shall conclude my remarks.
We need to look to a model of indirect elections to the second Chamber—models not even canvassed in the report of the Joint Committee, on which I served. In choosing our model of indirect election, we must have in mind the crucial need to re-engage the electorate, so that they not only participate in our democracy more fully, but begin once again to trust it, own it and even, Lord forbid, cherish it.
I no longer support the functional constituency model under which Members are elected by discrete representative groups, because that would narrow the electoral base to the vested interests and we would simply have a Parliament of lobbyists. I do not support direct regional elections, with Members elected by those already elected to local authorities or even assemblies, because the regional agenda is too undeveloped. Nor would that encourage the participation of the electorate.
I emphatically support the model persuasively advocated by the singer-songwriter and activist Billy Bragg in his pamphlet, "A Genuine Expression of the Will of the People", which I recommend all hon. Members read if they want to be serious students of constitutional reform. Under that model, MPs would continue to be elected by the first-past-the-post system and enjoy the primacy that only direct elections can confer. However, each vote cast at the general election would carry with it a secondary mandate for a second Chamber. The membership of the second Chamber would then be composed by distributing the seats in proportion to the votes cast for each party in the nations and regions of this kingdom. That would be a democratic expression of political preference.
I hear what my hon. Friend says in support of that model. He will be aware that its distinguished author has listened to much of this debate. I spoke to him earlier, and I think that if he were consulted by my hon. Friend, he would encourage him to vote for one of the largely elected options. To put my hon. Friend right on one point of detail, none of the options says "directly elected". They say "elected" and embrace the option that he is proposing.
I am grateful for that intervention. I have been working closely with Mr. Bragg in preparing this speech. When I served on the Joint Committee, I voted precisely to ensure that indirect elections could continue following this debate. Indeed, I shall be voting for a 100 per cent. elected Chamber in the last resort.
We should have a secondary mandate for the second Chamber. It would then be a democratic expression of political preference. Because it would be only a secondary mandate, it would confer a legitimacy on its Members one step behind the primary mandate of directly elected MPs. The secondary mandate would encourage the electorate to re-engage with the political process because we are much more likely to reinvigorate our participatory democracy if we add more weight to the votes cast than if we impose another tier of elections on an electorate already suffering from election fatigue.
A secondary mandate would add real weight to votes. Currently, the only votes that count at the general election are those cast for the winning candidate. Under the secondary mandate system, all votes would count. More votes would lead to representation, and that representation would be proportional, so that no single party could obtain an overall majority in the second Chamber. Independence could therefore continue in that second Chamber, with smaller parties having their voice, albeit through the legitimate means of the democratic process, not the engineered means of patronage and appointment. Because we would be electing from regional lists, regional representation would also be secured, curing one of the most obvious ills of the second Chamber: government of the nation but not by the nation—by the well-heeled south-east instead.
I accept that we would not have exactly the same expertise in the second Chamber, but Governments appoint experts to Select Committees to advise us as we go about our business. Certainly some experts—perhaps many—will be willing to stand on an indirect basis, providing they can do so. After all, most experts happen to have a political viewpoint. Many are in the Lords already and many take the Whip. Most Cross Benchers have a political viewpoint too, even if they rarely turn up to express it.
I have heard the calls for us to make the second Chamber a politics-free zone, but we cannot take politics out of the legislature, nor can we take parties out of the politics—and nor should it be tried. If the only people we lose from the second Chamber are those who are unwilling to put themselves forward for election in a democratic age, that is no bad thing. We can hardly argue for the need to reinvigorate our participatory democracy, then go out of our way to find room in Parliament for those who refuse to participate in elections and deny all the people any say whatever in their appointment.
I will not take up my full time allowance. It will be an unalloyed pleasure in a few moments' time to go into the same Lobby as the Leader of the House and the shadow Leader of the House. I have never truly understood whether he is a total man or a substantial man. Having listened carefully to him, I am none the wiser, but I have come to the conclusion that it does not matter very much. It will be a joy to be in the same Lobby as him and my right hon. Friend, but before then, I shall have an interesting diversion, as I shall be in the unicameralists' Lobby, together with, I hope, a substantial number of my colleagues.
I am a unicameralist, and would abolish the second Chamber. For the avoidance of doubt, that means removing the bishops and Law Lords from Parliament, and abolishing the office of Lord Chancellor, replacing him with a democratically elected Minister—a Secretary of State for justice, an office that was central to every Labour manifesto for 50 years until 1997, when it mysteriously disappeared. I believe in unicameralism because the House of Lords has been an alibi for our own inadequacies on many occasions.
I echo what my good and hon. Friend Tony Wright said the last time we debated this matter. He spoke about an occasion in the last Parliament when he organised a small but perfectly formed rebellion. I cannot remember what it was about, but I was almost certainly a part of it. He recollected that many people said that they would have supported him, save for the fact that they knew that the Lords would ultimately do their duty.
Something similar happened when we were fighting for jury trial, and there was a large rebellion. Forty Labour Members voted against the Government, and 90 abstained. However, several told me that they would certainly have voted against the Government on jury trial if they had not known full well that the House of Lords in due course would throw the measure out, which it did. I have often reflected on what would have happened if we did not have the House of Lords, and Members who would undoubtedly have fought for jury trial had voted against the Government in the Commons, knowing that it was their last chance to do so. We might easily have beaten the Government, with their vast majority. If we had done so, we would have struck enormous simultaneous blows for parliamentary democracy and the oldest of our civil liberties.
That is the answer to people who say that unicameralism is a dangerous road. The plain fact is that it will concentrate the minds of elected Members of Parliament to a far greater extent than any other superficial reform. However, we are not going to get it, so there is only one option—a fully elected House. There is no other option, and what has been offered as a challenge to this House is pure bunkum. The House of Lords will be a creature of statute, and will be bound by a statute of our making. The behaviour of its Members will undoubtedly deteriorate when they are elected, but there is no sign whatever that there will be an outbreak of mass delinquency. Let us vote for election, because it is a vote against the greatest curse of the British political system—the continuation of patronage in any form, whether deferred or otherwise.
I shall be brief. I support a totally elected second Chamber. I will vote tonight for 100 per cent. elected, but I am also prepared to support a substantially elected body if that means that reform can be achieved. I urge all those who support a fully elected second Chamber to vote for 80 per cent. and 60 per cent. as well, so that we can make progress. It is vital that we make progress on an issue that has been discussed for so long. I hope that we can reach a substantial majority for one of the options tonight. It is good that we have a free vote, so that, within parties, we can express our differing views. It is important for hon. Members to remember that we have a free vote tonight, and that we can vote for what we believe in.
I have no worries about a hybrid House. I do not recognise the description of the Members of the Welsh Assembly given by my hon. Friend Jean Corston. She grossly exaggerated the position in the Welsh Assembly.
A reformed second Chamber must be seen by the public to be democratic. I do not support abolition or unicameralism, and I do not support the amendment to that effect. We need a second Chamber to scrutinise and revise legislation. Even with pre-legislative scrutiny, we need a second Chamber so that a different set of people can scrutinise legislation. We need checks and balances to ensure that the laws that we make are, as near as possible, right.
Many reasons have been given for the election of a second Chamber. Many hon. Members argued that that would give it greater legitimacy. It will not be a place where Members from this place go when they no longer want to go through the electoral process and the hurly-burly of the hustings, or where they and others go if they are not prepared to put themselves in front of the people.
Much has been said about Members of the second Chamber with enormous achievements in other fields. I do not belittle their contribution, but how much time can they give their duties in the other place? It would be interesting to look at the voting records of people with expertise who have been nominated to the other place.
I entirely agree with what the hon. Lady has just said. Does she accept that her point about part-timers and relative inactivity is underlined spectacularly this afternoon by the fact that in the first vote in the other place, only about half the Members bothered to vote?
I believe that it is a myth about brilliant achievers taking part in the second Chamber. If their expertise is needed, they can be co-opted on to Committees in the second Chamber. My hon. Friend Mr. Prentice made the point strongly about the so-called experts.
The public would find it incomprehensible were we to set up a totally appointed House of Lords. Do hon. Members remember the derision that not so long ago greeted the Wakeham report and the proposal for an elected element of 20 per cent.? As the Leader of the House said, public opinion does not suggest support for a move to a totally appointed House of Lords.
Many arguments against an elected House have been heard in the debate today. One of the main ones is that it would challenge the primacy of the House of Commons. That can be dealt with in many ways, as we heard.
Does my hon. Friend agree with the Leader of the House, who told us that a vote for direct elections can also mean a vote for indirect elections? Is she aware that in the Committee that prepared the report before the House, there was only one vote on any option, and that was a vote by those members who favour elections to eliminate any reference in the report to indirect elections?
Indirect elections can be considered as part of the elected whole.
In conclusion, we have an historic opportunity to move forward, and I urge hon. Members to go the way of democracy. Let us have a fully democratised second House.
I congratulate right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House who have taken part in our two days of debate on this issue. On behalf of the official Opposition, I also wish to thank Dr. Cunningham and the members of his Committee for producing the report on which our proceedings are based. We have had an interesting and wide-ranging debate, with many differing views being expressed.
As my right hon. Friend Mr. Forth mentioned, the official Opposition's policy is to support a smaller, but largely democratic House of Lords. We favour a ratio of 80 per cent. elected to 20 per cent. appointed. I thought that the criticism from Jim Dowd of the official Opposition having a policy on the subject was misplaced. We would indeed be open to criticism had we failed to engage in this debate at all. I am happy to confirm that, like Labour Members, we will have a free vote: my right hon. and hon. Friends are free to vote as they choose.
For the first, and perhaps only, time I agree with the conclusions of the Leader of the House on this issue and I intend to vote for all those options that would result in a second Chamber in which more than 50 per cent. of members were elected and against all the other options, including the amendment. I support the bicameral system that we have and I thought that a strong and eloquent case was made by Estelle Morris, in one of the best speeches of the two days of debate. We need a safety valve in our system. We need a second Chamber that enables us to rethink and revisit legislation and acts as a safeguard, not least against this Chamber prolonging its own life.
Some other interesting secondary issues were raised. The more that Mr. Fisher spoke, the more I agreed with him, especially his point that there was a good case for removing members of the Executive from the other Chamber. Mr. Tyler mentioned on a point of order the vote in the other place. I agree with my hon. Friend Mr. Bercow that the fact that only 445 peers voted out of a potential electorate of 700 leads one to ask where the others were. Why were they not in their places to vote on their own future?
Whatever one's view on what is the best option this evening, we all hope that the votes tonight will lead to a lasting resolution of the issue. We need an effective and legitimate second Chamber that is willing and able to scrutinise properly and not afraid to use its powers. For me, and many of my right hon. and hon. Friends, that means a democratic element, not a Chamber of cronies. I hope that, when we vote, the House agrees.
Given the time and the nature of the debate, this will not be a traditional winding-up speech. However, I wish to thank all those who have taken part and I am sure that the Joint Committee will be grateful for all their contributions. It would be invidious to single out one speech, but I must say how good it was to see my right hon. Friend Estelle Morris making her first speech since her sad departure from the Government.
Several hon. Members have suggested that, if one wants indirectly elected peers in the other place, one should vote for a wholly appointed Chamber. That idea needs quashing. To get indirect elections, one would need to vote for some kind of elections and then lobby the Joint Committee to decide that they should be indirect rather than direct.
We are about to vote on the options. There will be eight votes, including the amendment on abolition, which will be taken first. Members may vote for, abstain on or vote against as many of the options as they wish. As has been repeated often, this is a free vote. The Joint Committee will reconvene later this month to consider the results in this Chamber and in the other place, and it will then produce a second, more detailed report. I am sure that all Members of the House look forward to that report and to seeing this House's final word on composition, which we will now deliver.