House of Lords Reform

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Prime Minister – in the House of Commons at 12:31 pm on 7th February 2007.

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal 12:31 pm, 7th February 2007

On the last point, I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to reflect on what is proposed in the time between now and the main vote. This system is proposed because we had a train wreck last time. I do not think that my right hon. Friend was one of those who was trying to secure that, but there were certainly some who were trying to ensure that no decision whatsoever was made, and they got what they wanted. That is not what this House is for; nor did it enhance its reputation one iota. All that is proposed is a system with which all of us are familiar in other circumstances, whereby we are offered options and list them in order of preference. That is because we must not find ourselves in a situation whereby the best becomes the enemy of the good. We could have an eliminating ballot but that would take hours.

Is not it better for us to indicate our preference? We opt for our first preference and, if that does not command a majority, we go for our second preference and so on. After all, the old system sought to achieve that but it was profoundly unfair—indeed, it was fixed so that people could not exercise a second or third preference properly because gamesmanship applied. The order in which the ballots were put determined the outcome of the result. That is unfair and all hon. Members should reflect on whether they wish to produce a farce like that again.

I understand my right hon. Friend's concern. All those of us who have been in the House for a long time do not move away from established procedures except with care. However, I believe that, in this very specific and particular circumstance, we must adopt the system that I have outlined or something remarkably similar.

My right hon. Friend objects to a fully elected House—I, too, am not in favour of that. However, he claimed that a hybrid House would automatically lead to a fully elected House over time. I do not accept that. Powers are central to the issue. Chapter 5, page 22 of the White Paper provides much information about international comparisons, which show that there is no necessary connection between the composition of a House and the powers that it exercises. The former leader of the Liberal Democrats cited the Canadian Senate this morning. The Canadian Senate is all-appointed but very powerful. Equally, there are all-elected Chambers that lack power. Mr. Clarke said that we could legislate to cement the powers over, for example, money, supply and taxation at the same time as we changed composition.