I beg to move,
That this House
supports the principle of a bicameral Parliament.
With this we may take the following motions: Options for Reform of Composition: No.1—
That this House is of the opinion that a reformed House of Lords should be fully appointed.
Options for Reform of Composition: No.2—
That this House is of the opinion that a reformed House of Lords should be composed of 20 per cent. elected members and 80 per cent. appointed members.
Options for Reform of Composition: No.3—
That this House is of the opinion that a reformed House of Lords should be composed of 40 per cent. elected members and 60 per cent. appointed members.
Options for Reform of Composition: No.4—
That this House is of the opinion that a reformed House of Lords should be composed of 50 per cent. elected members and 50 per cent. appointed members.
Options for Reform of Composition: No.5—
That this House is of the opinion that a reformed House of Lords should be composed of 60 per cent. elected members and 40 per cent. appointed members.
Options for Reform of Composition: No.6—
That this House is of the opinion that a reformed House of Lords should be composed of 80 per cent. elected members and 20 per cent. appointed members.
Options for Reform of Composition: No.7—
That this House is of the opinion that a reformed House of Lords should be fully elected.
That this House is of the opinion that the remaining retained places for peers whose membership is based on the hereditary principle should be removed.
Amendment (c) thereto: in line 2, at end add
'once elected members have taken their places in a reformed House of Lords.''
It is 98 years sincere a wholly hereditary House of Lords plunged the nation into one of its worst ever constitutional crises as it vetoed the right of a democratically elected Government to set a Budget. It took two general elections in a single year and the Parliament Act 1911 to resolve the crisis.
In 1999 the House of Lords underwent the most significant reform since the 1911 Act, with the removal of the vast majority of hereditary peers and the establishment of a second Chamber in which no single party should command an overall majority. Those changes have produced a more independent and active House of Lords. It has been a major advance, but as a reform it is far from complete.
Those who believe that the United Kingdom should have a unicameral Parliament will have the opportunity to express that view in the votes tomorrow night. It is not a view that I support. Strong government must be balanced by a strong Parliament, and that means, among many other things, an effective, revising second Chamber, subordinate to but complementary to the House of Commons.
Almost all countries the size of ours or larger have bicameral Parliaments, because of the weight and complexity of the business before them. This House already sits for longer and for more days than most comparable legislatures. If it were serious about doing the work of two Houses combined, it would mean—besides many other things—much shorter recesses, no light Thursdays and many fewer constituency Fridays. I suggest to Members on both sides of the House that that is a sure-fire recipe for detaching Members of Parliament from their voters.
My preference, and that of the main Opposition parties, is for a reformed House of Lords containing a substantial proportion of elected Members alongside appointed Members with special expertise and experience. I believe that by such means we can create a more representative, effective and legitimate second Chamber without challenging the primacy of this House.
Despite the 1999 reforms and other changes to the House of Lords since 1911, such as the introduction of women Members and life peers, this House has so far found it impossible to reach a substantive conclusion on the most appropriate membership and framework for a reformed second Chamber. There are those who say, even now, that what we need to do is pause and reflect "maturely" on the next step. I rather think that 98 years is long enough for such reflection.
We have not been short of debate over the past 98 years, just results. All-party talks in the late 1940s fell away. All-party talks in the late 1960s were thwarted first by a Lords decision to block sanctions against what was then Southern Rhodesia and is now Zimbabwe, and following that by an extraordinary alliance—a kind of Faustian pact—between the late Enoch Powell and Michael Foot. More recently, after a royal commission with a distinguished membership had presented a thorough and wide-ranging report in 2000, and after a White Paper in 2001 and a comprehensive inquiry by the Public Administration Committee and a Joint Committee of the Commons and Lords in 2002, the House in early February 2003 managed to vote down every possibility for reform, from doing nothing to having an all-elected House and every alternative in between. It was not a good day for the reputation of this House or of Parliament.
I shall shortly come on to our proposals for composition and the role of the statutory appointments commission, as well as the method of election.
On legitimacy, did my right hon. Friend read the remarks made by Lord Kingsland on
"We have concluded that, in our judgment, it would be wrong for us as an unelected House, having faced two repudiations from the elected House, to send this back one more time...If we were an elected House, I am sure that our decision would be different."—[ Hansard, House of Lords, 7 November 2006; Vol. 686, c. 654.]
Is that not the nub of the problem? An elected House or a part-elected House would be used to undermine the legitimacy of this House.
My hon. Friend is correct that that is a key part of the central argument. If he will allow me, I shall develop my point and in doing so I hope to give him an answer that will provide some satisfaction.
Given that the Government's model still leaves enormous powers of patronage with party managers, would not the second Chamber better represent society if an independent commission were instructed to fill the Lords with representatives of organisations that best reflect society—in other words, if we were to create a second Chamber of the country's talents in which individuals could represent such organisations?
I do not for a second accept the first part of what the hon. Gentleman says. There are many possible formulae, including the model of the Irish Senate, which he has, in effect, just described. I do not accept that that is the best way forward.
Returning to the remarks of Mr. Mullin, what would be the point of a revising Chamber that could carry out only those revisions that this House wanted it to carry out?
It is right to ask that, and in my judgment it is perfectly possible to put in place safeguards to protect the primacy of this House while changing the Lords' composition. This point is central to the issue under discussion, and I will develop it shortly.
My right hon. Friend has already moved on to the composition of the House. Should we not be spending more time on what the functions of the other Chamber should be, and then consider whether the current composition matches what we want from those functions—and if it does not then consider what changes we require?
I have moved on to the composition of the House because I took interventions. The composition and the functions run together, and some Members of this House and the other place take the view that if the other place is simply a revising Chamber it follows as clearly as night follows day that it must be an appointed Chamber. That view is not shared across the world in almost any other country, and it is not a view that I accept. I shall now make progress.
When my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister asked me to take on the issue of Lords reform 10 months ago, he encouraged me to— [Interruption.] No, the phrase was "hospital pass" and not "legacy", actually. My right hon. Friend encouraged me to search for a consensus with the other parties and to make proposals. This two-day debate and tomorrow's votes are the culmination of the first stage of that process.
Four years ago, when the House last debated this issue, I voted for an all-appointed House and against the alternatives. I did so for several reasons, one of which was mentioned by my hon. Friend Mr. Mullin. I feared the impact of introducing an elected element into the other place. I had concerns that that could impinge on the primacy of this House, and that it could create a new breed of politician, rivalling the role of Members of this House both here and in their constituencies. I am well aware, of course, that some Members still have these concerns.
However, I have to tell the House that, having thought deeply about this subject, I am now convinced that my fears of 2003 were misplaced, and that there is a very solid case for a part-elected, part-appointed House.
No, if the hon. Gentleman will excuse me.
Tomorrow night, I shall vote for a 50 per cent. elected, 50 per cent. appointed hybrid House—my personal first preference, and where I think consensus might lie— and then for a 60 per cent. and 80 per cent. elected House, as well. I shall vote against the other alternatives.
As I have just mentioned, the principal reason I previously supported a wholly appointed House was that I considered that the introduction of any elected element into the Lords could, by virtue of that fact, inevitably challenge the primacy of this House, which is fundamental to our democracy. However, as I read the royal commission report, the associated research evidence and much other material, I was presented with facts about other countries' experience that simply did not support my view of an automatic link between an elected element in the Lords and an erosion of the primacy of this place. The evidence shows instead that a country can have a powerful elected second Chamber—the United States, for example—or a weak elected second Chamber, four examples being Japan, Spain, Poland and the Czech Republic. A nation may have an appointed second Chamber with relatively limited powers, or an appointed second Chamber with relatively substantial powers. There are, in truth, no iron rules linking composition and power, except the rule that allows self-confident democracies to set their own rules—their constitutions—and to change them when they judge it right to do so.
Having considered the evidence, I was struck by two other things. First, after extensive deliberation the royal commission, the Public Administration Committee and the unofficial but authoritative Breaking the Deadlock group each came down in favour of a hybrid House of part-elected, part-appointed membership—albeit of different proportions. Each of these all-party committees had thought long and hard about how a hybrid second Chamber could be established in such a way as to avoid competition with this House. They made recommendations to that end, which have greatly informed the conclusions of the Government and of the cross-party group.
If we had a hybrid House—the worst of all possible options—would my right hon. Friend care to speculate which group of Members would have the greater legitimacy: the elected or the appointed?
I will deal with that point. I know that my hon. Friend has read the royal commission report and the other two reports, so he will recognise that a great deal of effort and work was put into ensuring that, by the means of election and by the fact that such individuals would sit for a single term, without the prospect of re-election for a long term, their relationship with those who had elected them and with their peers—literally—would be a different one. The truth is that there are partly appointed, partly elected Chambers elsewhere in the world, and the evidence suggests that whether or not they work satisfactorily depends on the other ground rules that are established alongside them. In the end, it will be for this House, because it does have primacy, to decide those ground rules. I do not think that we have anything to fear in that regard.
I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. He has looked at the evidence from around the world and spoke of the United States as a having a strong second House. The relationship between a Member of Congress and their constituents is inevitably influenced by the fact that they are elected from a constituency of more than 500,000 electors. We have a very much closer and more precious relationship with our constituents, in my opinion. Could we not look closer to home and learn from the experience of Scotland? Having extra Members of Parliament in Scotland has created a degree of uncertainty and confusion that a lot of Labour Members certainly would not welcome here.
I agree that we should learn from that experience and we have done so, because there are no proposals in those three reports or in the White Paper that have any parallel with the overlaying representation in the Scottish and Welsh Assemblies, with people elected through different methods to representation in the same Assembly.
I wish to make some progress, but I will give way to the right hon. and hon. Gentlemen shortly, if time allows. I have given way eight times already.
When the Government brought forth their previous White Paper on Lords reform in 2001, they proposed a limited elected element of just 20 per cent. But, as the latest White Paper delicately puts it, that 2001 proposal
"failed to command widespread support".
In fact, 89 per cent. of the more than 900 respondents to the 2001 White Paper wanted a House that was 50 per cent. or more elected. That level of public rejection of the principle of an all-appointed or mainly appointed House in favour of a significantly or wholly elected House is a consistent feature of recent tests of public opinion. A thorough opinion survey last month for the Hansard Society, which itself has no axe to grind on this issue, showed that just 6 per cent. favoured an all-appointed House, and 82 per cent. a wholly or partly elected House.
In the end, on this issue as on any other, this House has to make its own decisions, and answer for them. But I think there is one reason above all why the instinct of the public is so clearly against a wholly appointed second Chamber, and that is because they doubt the legitimacy of a key institution of a democratic Parliament if they are denied any say through the ballot box over who should sit in that second Chamber.
The Leader of the House knows full well that that Hansard Society survey also showed that more than 50 per cent. of the respondents had very little idea of what the House of Lords did. That is an important point. What would his reaction be if, in a keenly contested vote in the other place, the day was carried by the non-elected?
My view is that we can establish the rules about the nature of the operation of the other place. Every other Parliament with a second chamber has done that, and all parties are agreed—as Wakeham recommended—that regardless of any change in composition, the primacy of this House should be maintained. I shall come on to that point. I also point out that it is dangerous to suggest that we should dismiss the public's view on the grounds of ignorance. That was the view that was taken by our predecessors in opposing any extension of the franchise in 1832. Leaving that aside, the hon. Gentleman quoted the Hansard poll at me, but it also shows that of those who have a grasp of the issues—the poll's words, not mine—many more people support the proposal that the Government make today.
If this House votes for a House of Lords that is substantially elected and that takes the form of legislation, at some stage the British electorate will be invited to vote for a third of a proportion of the House of Lords. What does the Leader of the House think will be at stake in those elections to motivate the electorate to turn out and vote?
What I think will be at stake in those elections is representation of part of the second legislative Chamber. Everybody in this House agrees that the other place performs a very important function, regardless of its composition, and I think that those elections will generate considerable interest.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that under any of the models that include elected members for the House of Lords, he is talking about a single election for a 15-year period? While that would give the legitimacy of being elected, how on earth would it ensure the accountability of those members?
I do confirm that. My hon. Friend is right to say that it would give legitimacy to their position in the other place, and change the relationship between them and their "constituencies". As my right hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree said, that is the whole point. Those who know the US system will be aware that the different relationship between Congressmen and their constituents is due not to the size of the constituency but to the intensity of elections. The fact that they have elections to the House of Representatives every two years means that Congressmen never stop electioneering and are more attached to their constituents than any of us are.
I need to make progress, as many other hon. Members want to get in.
It is the issue of legitimacy that was the second factor behind my change of mind. Society has changed dramatically in recent decades, and Parliament must keep up with those changes. I simply do not believe that in this less deferential, more assertive age the public will tolerate a wholly appointed chamber for much longer. The choice in my judgement is stark: it is change or wither away.
If the Leader of the House believes that appointed Members are illegitimate, why is he recommending that they should continue to represent half of the upper House?
I do not agree for a second that they are illegitimate, and I have never suggested that or used that word.
Does the Leader of the House agree that the House of Lords has perfectly good powers at present? Its Members can revise and delay legislation, but the primacy of this House means that they cannot veto it. Earlier, Mr. Mullin quoted Lord Kingsland. Does not that quotation show that, even when dealing with very important questions of human liberty, Members of the House of Lords refrain from exercising their full power of veto because they are not elected and so cannot challenge the more legitimate lower House? Does not that quotation confirm in full the point that a reformed upper House would have more courage and confidence to use its powers?
It might, and I shall develop the point in a moment. Such a House might indeed be more assertive, and the House of Lords has already become more active since the changes of 1999. I have gone on record as saying that I do not mind that at all: I think it is a good thing, as long as it does not challenge the primacy of this House. We can protect that primacy by convention and by the use of law.
I am going to make some more progress.
Two parallel processes have been undertaken over the past year towards establishing a consensus on this issue. One has been the Joint Committee on Conventions under the Chairmanship of my noble Friend Lord Cunningham of Felling, and the other has been the cross-party group on Lords reform that I have chaired. Good progress has been made in both groups.
The Cunningham Committee reported last November. Its conclusions are an invaluable template, setting out very clearly its current understanding of the powers of this place that established its primacy, and the conventions that ensure that that primacy is delivered. The Committee's conclusions were unanimous, and were subsequently endorsed by both the Houses without Division.
In shorthand, the primacy of this House depends on three key elements: first, the exclusive right of this House to determine who forms a Government; secondly, this House's exclusive right to raise taxation and to allocate public spending; thirdly, the right of this House to the final—and pretty prompt—say over any legislation that is the subject of dispute between the two Houses.
The Cunningham Committee made it clear that its conclusions—not on those powers, which were a given, but on the conventions underpinning them—related to the Lords as it is currently constituted. However, the House will be reassured that all members of the cross-party group that I chaired were agreed on the fundamental principle of the primacy of the Commons, and that any reformed Lords should be a complement to this House, and not a rival to it. That echoes similar key conclusions of the royal commission, the Public Administration Select Committee, and the Breaking the Deadlock reports.
The cross-party working group met eight times between July 2006 and January this year. I hope very much that, if we reach clear conclusions tomorrow, it can be reconstituted.
Paragraph 4.11 of the White Paper states that
"current conventions are the right ones for a reformed House to deal with, certainly early in its life".
If the upper Chamber is primarily or significantly elected, how "early in its life" does the Leader of the House expect there to be pressure for a change in those conventions? Would not it be more appropriate to ensure that they are enshrined in law before he rushes headlong into the process of determining how the upper House should be composed?
The hon. Gentleman may be right about that. I said at paragraph 22 of the Government's response to the Cunningham 2 report "Conventions of the UK Parliament":
"The extent to which there needs to be additional steps to secure that"— in other words, these conventions—
"would need to be addressed if there was any suggestion that the major parties did not support this approach in the context of a new House."
But these things are perfectly possible. The crucial thing is that no one is arguing about the current practice of the powers of the two Chambers. There may be a debate about whether the conventions which in part underpin those powers—they are also in part underpinned by the resolutions of this House and by the Parliament Acts—are sufficient. I am very happy that we should have that debate. Indeed, I hope that we can because I hope that we can reach a result tomorrow night for the first time in 98 years.
In a recent interview in The House Magazine the right hon. Gentleman said that, assuming that there was a clear outcome in the votes tomorrow night, we would inevitably return to the issue of the powers of a reformed second Chamber. As far as I am aware, he has not made that so explicit before. Is it his intention after tomorrow night, if there is a clear outcome, to set up cross-party talks about the powers of the second Chamber?
That was a shorthand way of saying what we said in respect of the Cunningham 2 report—that we would need to deal with this issue. I am happy to say today—indeed, it was my very next sentence—that I hope that, if we reach clear conclusions tomorrow, the cross-party group can be reconstituted. I want to try to work by consensus here, as the right hon. Lady knows that we have been seeking to do, and we have been pretty successful over the past 10 months.
Is not the difficulty that our constitutional settlement is of course unwritten and my right hon. Friend supposes that the position at the end of the process that we are going through will be fixed? The lesson from devolution in the United Kingdom is that there is immediate pressure from the institution to change the constitutional arrangements again. If there is an elected element, that pressure will be immediate and constant, and we will be coming back every year to have this debate.
I agree with part of what my hon. Friend says. I do not agree with the implication that we have something to fear from a partly elected second Chamber. Other countries manage very well with having one House which has primacy and a partially or wholly elected second Chamber. I said in my evidence to the Cunningham Committee a few months ago that if we have a partly or wholly elected second Chamber—I do not support a wholly elected second Chamber—the appetite to challenge the power of this place will increase. We have to anticipate that when we are drawing up the framework in which a partly elected House should operate, but we have the ultimate say because of the Parliament Acts.
We are not in the position of some other first Chambers in other countries; we can decide. My view is that we ought to decide. It comes back to the answer that I gave to the hon. Member for St. Ives. No one is arguing; everyone is agreed that the current powers of this place in relation to the powers of the Lords or any second Chamber should remain the same. The only issue is the means by which they are delivered, because in part they are delivered by conventions. If we believe that those conventions are likely to be too weak, we can supplement them by resolutions and underpin them by statute.
As a member of the Joint Committee on Conventions, I think that it is important that the House be aware that the Joint Committee stated clearly that, if the composition of the Lords were changed, the Committee or another joint committee would have to review the conventions, because the conventions apply to the present House of Lords and the composition of the present House of Lords. It is quite wrong that this House should assume that that Committee, which sat at great length and considered the matter in great depth, had any other view than that the current conventions covered the current House of Lords.
I fully accept what the hon. Gentleman says, but he will also recognise that at paragraph 61, which discusses how or whether the conventions could operate in a changed House, his Committee said that the matter was "outside the remit" of the Committee. The predecessor Cunningham Committee said that, even with elections, it envisaged
If we make a decision for a partly elected element, there will of course be cross-party talks, because all three main parties will have agreed on the direction in which we should move and, to reassure my hon. Friend Ian Lucas, we will be able to do a better job than was done on devolution, which happened much more rapidly, not in 98 years—or even in 98 months. As someone who took part, in opposition and then in government, in the discussions on devolution, I realise that speed was necessary because of the pent-up feeling for devolution, but if we had had more time, we could have done a better job.
I need to make progress, because I have already given way about a dozen times.
There was agreement among all in the group in favour of a hybrid House, with a significant elected element, although the precise level was left to free votes. There was agreement within the cross-party group that a reformed House should consist of at least 20 per cent. non party-political Members, and that no political party should be able to hold a majority of the whole House or of the party political Members of it.
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way on that point?
I will give way in a second. I know that the hon. Gentleman wants to ask me about the bishops— [ Interruption ]—or at least that is my guess. Whatever it is, I am happy to take his question, but perhaps he will let me catch my breath before I take the next intervention.
There was agreement, too, about the need to ensure that membership of the reformed House reflected the gender and racial diversity of the United Kingdom, and the range of religious opinion. All agreed that the special arrangements for membership of the House by a limited number of hereditary peers should come to an end. The group agreed that a long transition, with new Members phased in, would be essential to the success of any reform, and that Members should serve a lengthy, single term of office. Restricting the period of office to one term with no prospect of re-election was a key royal commission recommendation to ensure that elected Members of the second Chamber played a different role from that of MPs, and to prevent them from becoming rivals competing for popular support.
I am sorry to disappoint the right hon. Gentleman, but my question is not about bishops. I want to take him back a few sentences in his speech. In this round of House of Lords reform, is not the elephant in the room cash for peerages and the public's great concern that the House of Commons can put people into the other legislature on ability to pay? What recommendations on party political appointments will the right hon. Gentleman make to ensure that the upper House is not full of cronies and funders?
The hon. Gentleman has a particular view on that matter, although I do not think the point was a particularly worthy one, but there is an issue— [ Interruption. ] There is an issue and I shall deal with it in a second.
There was also agreement on many other issues.
Will the hon. Gentleman allow me to make progress?
There was agreement on issues such as breaking the link between the peerage and a seat in Parliament, disqualification and resignation, and having a quarantine period to restrict former members of the upper Chamber standing as Members of Parliament.
To answer Pete Wishart, a central recommendation to which all are agreed is that there should be a statutory Appointments Commission. The current commission, with Lord Stevenson of Coddenham and his colleagues, has done an excellent job; but its remit is limited. In our view, its independence should be guaranteed by statute, and it should have the duty to assess the merits as well as the probity of nominees who are members of political parties, as it does for those who are of no party allegiance.
I ask my question from a genuine desire to know the answer. As someone who would like to abolish the House of Lords—although I realise that the first motion may pass—I am concerned that if I vote for a wholly elected House I will tie myself to accepting a particular form of election. Can my right hon. Friend clarify that point, and confirm that whatever the arguments or discussions about the composition of the House, the form of election is still to be decided and will be fully discussed and debated in this place?
Yes, I can, and I will spell out in more detail for my hon. Friend where we are on the method of election.
No, I want to make some progress, if I may.
The current House of Lords is justifiably commended for the distinction of some of its Members, but there is sometimes an implication that distinction and the holding of a party card are incompatible. That is palpably untrue. I favour a hybrid House partly because I want to see those without party affiliation continue to make an important contribution to the House of Lords, but also because I want to see in the other place some of those expert and experienced in their field who have a party affiliation but whose profession or career make it difficult for them to take part in the electoral process. I am satisfied that with a statutory appointments commission in place, that could be achieved without charges of cronyism.
I am going to make some more progress.
An additional reason why my preference is for a 50 per cent. elected House is that it will ensure the widest diversity. With list systems, it is possible, for example, to require that half those elected are women, but it is virtually impossible to make similar provision for ethnic and other minority representation. In practice, for a long time, fair representation of minorities in the second Chamber could be achieved only by appointments.
I want to deal with the issue of election.
There was no agreement in the cross-party group about the method of election. The Conservatives favoured large, first-past-the-post constituencies on the old European election model and the Liberal Democrats favoured multi-member single transferable vote constituencies. The Government said that we favoured
"a partially open regional list system".
That system was favoured by a majority of the Wakeham royal commission.
I ask my hon. Friend to hear me out. The same issue applies when it comes to whether the public had a choice over how he was selected to stand for the Labour party or how Tory or Liberal Democrat Members were selected.
I thank my right hon. Friend. I want to explain what occurs to me when he refers to the appointment of experts. One expert could be an Army general, but what does he know about the health service or the education system? Are these appointed experts going to be confined to giving their opinion only on subjects about which they are expert and are they going to be allowed to vote only on those subjects?
In the White Paper, the first-past-the-post system is dismissed on the grounds that the arguments in favour of it are relevant only to the Chamber in Parliament that delivers the "Government of the day". What does the right hon. Gentleman mean by that? Surely he recognises that the element of appointment by the party leadership, which is inherent in the partly open list system that he proposes, would automatically give an enormous amount of power to those who run the parties in question.
I certainly do not accept that. Let me spell out that our proposal is not for the current system in use for the European parliamentary elections. In that closed list system, in practice, voters have to vote for all members of a party's list if they vote for one. Under the partly or semi-open list system, that is not the case. Voters may, if they wish, vote for a list or they may allocate their vote to a specific individual candidate. The result is that voters can influence which candidates are elected as well as which party. In other words, they can "break the list".
To those people, such as the hon. Gentleman, who claim that this system is no better than appointment by party leaders, I say that there is a world of difference. There is as much voter discretion under this system as under the first-past-the-post system, where in each constituency it is the party that selects the candidate, not the voter. The semi-open list system is our current preference, but if the House can come to a conclusion on composition, I am certainly ready and willing to consider alternatives to it.
The votes tomorrow night are on the resolutions on the Order Paper—no more and no less. The White Paper is there to inform the debate and to provide the context for it. But there is no resolution to seek endorsement of the White Paper, and, in any event, we ultimately will give effect to the wishes of the House by legislation, not by a White Paper.
No, I am coming to the end of my remarks.
There are two limbs to the case of those who argue against a significant elected element of a reformed Lords. One, which I have already referred to, relates to fears that such a reformed Chamber would challenge the primacy of this place. It need not and it will not. The second is to argue that the current appointed Chamber does such a good job that it would be difficult or impossible to improve it. Let me now deal with that second issue.
I applaud the work of the Lords in revising legislation, in holding the Government to account and in acting as a forum for distinguished peers, who are expert and experienced in their fields. But that said, I do not believe that the Lords as currently constituted has reached such a state of grace, either in terms of its activity or its membership, that it requires no change. Self-evidently my view is also the view of both main Opposition parties. One of the distinctive and commendable features of this country's constitutional arrangements is that they normally produce strong Governments. But strong government requires a strong Parliament.
Over the past 30 years, this House and the other place have notably and noticeably improved the way in which the Government are held to account. But there is much more that this House can do to improve its effectiveness without paralysing good governance, and the same is true of the other place. This is not a zero-sum game. There is no fixed quantum of activity of this Parliament such that if the Lords does something, by virtue of that fact that is going to undermine the Commons or to suck power from it. With government as complex as it is today, and the issues of public concern as great, there is quite enough for both Houses to do without one becoming a rival to the other.
Over the decades since the crisis between the Lords and the Commons 98 years ago, my party has called for a reformed Lords. We did so again at the last election when we said we wanted "a reformed upper chamber" that had to be
"effective, legitimate and more representative without challenging the primacy of the Commons".
For the first time that I can recall, both the main Opposition parties are now in a similar position, agreeing the need for a reformed second Chamber and agreeing much, if not all, of the means to achieve that. We can make huge progress tomorrow and move to implement not just one manifesto commitment, but three. Doing so will require all who wish to see progress not to make the best the enemy of the good, and to raise their sights to believe that after a century of argument we have it in our hands to deliver a second Chamber that is more effective, more legitimate and, above all, more representative.
The other place has a long history and a proud record of providing a check on the powers of Government and no Government can be immune to its challenges. For example, in the relatively short lifetime of this Government, the House of Lords has protected ancient liberties, such as the right to trial by jury, and that is how it should be. A second Chamber should have the confidence and the ability to make Governments think again. But the other place does need to change. The political parties' power of patronage, and with it the risk of abuse, must be removed. If we are to strengthen Parliament as a whole, the other place needs greater democratic legitimacy if it is successfully to challenge Government policy.
When we reform the other place, we must keep what works well, but we must stay mindful that it can still be improved. As we debate this issue, I suggest that hon. Members would do well to remember Edmund Burke's standard of a statesman:
"A disposition to preserve, and an ability to improve, taken together".
Reform to the other place would change how its members are chosen and would set out its role and its powers. It would have consequences that would last beyond our generation. Indeed, it would affect legislation not yet conceived, to address issues that have not yet emerged. It would change the nature of the relationship between the Government and Parliament.
May I put to my right hon. Friend the point that I wished to make to the Leader of the House? By any standards, this represents a major constitutional change. It is certainly much more significant than deciding, for example, whether to have an elected mayor in Colchester. On that basis, should not there be a referendum on the outcome of the House's deliberations?
As my hon. Friend makes that point, I cannot help but think about what happens in Canada, where the predilection for having constant referendums is such that they are now known as "neverendums". I do not agree with my hon. Friend; it would not be appropriate for this to be the subject of a referendum.
There are those who argue that strengthening the upper House by increasing its democratic legitimacy would threaten the primacy of this House. I do not accept that argument and I ask hon. Members not to be seduced by it. As the Leader of the House made it clear, one thing on which all who participated in the cross-party talks were agreed was that the primacy of the Commons should remain as the basis of our democracy. However, the primacy of this place comes from its powers, not merely the process by which its membership is chosen. The fear of challenge is a sign of weakness, not strength. We should not fear reform of the Lords. We should welcome it as a means of strengthening Parliament and our democracy.
If my hon. Friend has a predilection for referendums, I am sure that he will be able to find several other issues that should be put to them. However, I do not agree that this issue should be subject to a referendum. The matter should be debated, considered and decided by the House.
May I take the right hon. Lady back to the point that she made about the convention of the House of Lords, and thus its role and powers, vis-à-vis this House? My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House seems to make the understandable assumption that there is an understanding among the main parties on maintaining the convention. However, I hear in the right hon. Lady's words—I certainly heard this in the words of Mr. Clarke and I have heard it over and over again from Liberal Democrats during the 20 years in which I have been in the House—that the convention that this House is supreme and cannot eventually be overturned by the House of Lords is actually not accepted. Will she confirm that she believes that the Conservative party supports the conventions that apply at present and that would be presumed to apply to a second Chamber that was elected in part or whole?
I am happy to confirm to the right hon. Gentleman that I was not suggesting what he has inferred from my comments in any way. As far as we are concerned, the primacy of the Commons is the basis of our democracy and that situation should remain. That was the opinion of all three parties involved in the cross-party talks.
I congratulate the Leader of the House on his work in bringing forward the proposals. They are, after all, the fruit of the years of work by the Government that started back in 1997. At the 1997 general election, the Labour party promised
"to make the House of Lords more democratic and representative".
In 2001, it said:
"We are committed to completing House of Lords reform".
Indeed, the White Paper before the most recent one was called "The House of Lords: Completing the Reform". As we debate the Leader of the House's proposals, we must judge them by the Labour party's standards and decide whether they would make the other place democratic and representative.
Although those considerations are a good starting point for judging the Leader of the House's work, I would add further tests for the proposals. Reform should create an upper Chamber that is capable of challenging and revising Government policy, that is democratic and accountable, and that is expert and independent. That was the spirit in which we entered the cross-party talks because, as the Leader of the House said, all three parties are committed to reforming the other place. The open spirit in which the Leader of the House began the process was welcome. As he said, we need consensus to complete reform.
I am extremely grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. On the one hand, she says that she wants a more effective and powerful second Chamber, but on the other, she wants to enshrine the primacy of this Chamber. Is that not an incompatible wish?
No, it is not, and I would say to hon. Members that when we discuss and consider primacy, it is important that we separate the issue of the primacy of the Commons, and the legitimacy of the Lords challenging the Commons, from the issue of the legitimacy of the Lords challenging the Government. I want a stronger Parliament that gives the Lords greater power to challenge the Government. The issue is not the balance of primacy in the Commons and the Lords.
Suppose that the right hon. Lady had her way and the House agreed to change the composition of the Lords in the way that she wishes. Which of the measures taken in the past year does she think that the Lords would have changed against our wishes, and which of those changes does she think would be totally compatible with our being the sovereign body?
I want the House of Lords to achieve greater democratic legitimacy, and I do not intend to go over measures taken in the past year and decide in which cases the Lords, in a different form, might have voted differently. I repeat that we need to strengthen Parliament to ensure that it is better able to hold the Government to account, and to ensure that there are the right checks and balances on the primacy of the Government.
Is it not one of the cardinal principles of our constitution that the Government are responsible to the electorate? They can only be responsible to the electorate through a party system. We have a system in which Members on both sides of the House are elected on different programmes, but if we churned that programme up, and then the House of Lords churned it up, at the end of the Parliament, the Government would have every right to say, "Well, that's the sort of constitution we have." There is no way that we can hold a Government to account via the electorate if we are prepared to allow party election pledges to be overturned, either here or in the other place.
First, as is pointed out to me by colleagues, Governments bring forward many things that are not in their manifestos, and the electorate cannot refer to them when they vote for a particular party. Indeed, we would not expect everything that Governments brought before the House to be put in a manifesto. Few enough people read manifestos as it is, without them making reference to every single thing that the Government want to introduce.
Does my right hon. Friend share any of my distaste for the idea of regional lists, using European boundaries, being used to elect people to a House that is meant to be independent and to exercise independent judgment? How can we believe that the party hacks going through that system will be amenable to taking on an independent role, and how can we avoid cash for elections?
I am happy to say to my right hon. Friend that I will come to the issue of the list system for elections, about which I have real concerns, and to which, in fact, I object. I was interested to hear the Leader of the House's comments today, because it was the Leader of the House who forced us to adopt the closed list system for the European parliamentary elections.
Does the right hon. Lady agree that the mandate idea—the idea that electors read party manifestos, and that is how we get here—is entirely fictional, and that the essence of the supremacy and primacy of this place is its power to make and break Governments? Nobody is challenging primacy in that sense.
I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman's last point. I also agree that the idea that a lot of voters read manifestos is purely fictional, although of course in the case of some parties, their manifestos are pure fiction.
If the right hon. Lady's proposal is accepted and there are direct elections and manifestos, would we retain the Parliament Acts, as there could be a conflict?
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that no one is proposing any reform that would allow legislation to reach the statute book unless the Commons has voted for it? The House of Lords can challenge it and send it back to us, but unless the House of Commons approves it it cannot become law. All that the House of Lords can do if we defy it is delay legislation for the period set out in the Parliament Acts. Mr. Field suggested that the Lords could change the law on a whim which, as far as I am aware, no one has proposed at all.
I shall make progress before giving way. I have already accepted a number of interventions.
Turning to the substance of the Government proposals, the White Paper recommends, as has been said, that in the other place 20 per cent. of Members should be appointed by a statutory appointments commission; 30 per cent. should be appointed by political parties; and 50 per cent. elected by a list electoral system, representing, as my right hon. Friend Mr. Redwood said, the European regional constituencies. The Leader of the House likes to present his proposals as a sensible compromise that would strengthen Parliament, but in reality they are a messy compromise that would weaken Parliament. Far from making the Lords more independent, the proposal puts composition in the gift of political parties. Far from strengthening Parliament, it risks the loss of the present benefits of the Lords. Far from removing cronyism, it perpetuates it.
We want a House of Lords that is elected by the many but, under the proposals, it would be selected by the few. Yes, 50 per cent. of peers would be elected, but the Government propose to use a list system . [ Interruption. ] [Hon. Members: "Oh!"] It is probably a good job that I did not hear the sedentary intervention by Fiona Mactaggart.
Yes, under the Government's proposals 50 per cent. of the new peers would be elected, but the Government propose that those elections should use a list system. Effectively, therefore, the parties choose who is elected, so peers would owe their place in the Lords to their party bosses. Crucially, it would make it much harder for independent candidates to run for office successfully. We should do all that we can to encourage independent elected Members in the other place, and I doubt that the Leader of the Opposition believes that a list system would make for a truly independent upper Chamber.
I sympathise with some of the right hon. Lady's arguments, which is why I would prefer either an 80 per cent. elected upper House or a fully elected second Chamber. May I return to her argument about how important it is that the Lords should be able to challenge the Government? I hope that she wishes to resile from that position a little bit, as it is important for the primacy of the Commons that it is the only House that can hold a vote of no confidence in the Government, and that the second Chamber cannot do so.
I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman. A vote of no confidence should be held in the Commons, not the House of Lords, but that does not mean that we should not have a strong House of Lords that can challenge and revise Government legislation as it proceeds through the House.
The right hon. Lady knows that in the discussions between the parties there was extensive consensus that it was important not to challenge the primacy of the Commons. Does she agree that if we are to make progress today the central question is whether we should have a substantially elected second Chamber. Once we have decided that, the secondary, albeit important, issue is what the constituency boundaries are, how we choose Members and how long they serve, but unless we overcome the first hurdle, we will not have the chance to have that debate at all.
Obviously, in relation to the motions on which we will vote tomorrow night, the questions that we will be asked are about the nature of the composition of the upper House, but the debate has arisen on the basis of the Government White Paper, which explores other options as well. It sets out a means of election, and I believe it is important that we look at that when we are considering how the House should be composed.
My right hon. Friend has made it plain, and I agree, that this is not a matter for a referendum, but does she agree that it is of such importance that if a Bill is introduced, it should be determined exclusively on the Floor of the House, and not put into a Committee upstairs?
I shall make further progress.
I understand that some people take the view that the reformed House of Lords should be a pale imitation of the Commons. That is true. Others take the view that it should not be too different from the Commons, because that would lead to questions about which Chamber was the more legitimate. That is also true. We need to find a middle way between those two extremes, but the proposals from the Leader of the House are not a middle way. We must not allow proportional representation to be used, first as a stick for the Lords to beat the Commons, and secondly as a base from which to campaign for PR to be introduced in respect of this House.
As for the voters, with the Government's list system they would be left with a crude choice between parties, and they would have little or no relationship with their elected representative. In elections to the European Parliament, where a list system is used, nine out of 10 voters have no idea who their MEP is. I would be surprised if even, dare I say it, the political anoraks in the House know who all their MEPs are in their area. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that his list system would not be good for democracy.
The White Paper also proposes that the election should be held using the large and remote European regional constituencies. We have already established that voters will not be able to identify with their elected representatives, but how many voters would identify themselves as coming from those large regional constituencies? I am from Maidenhead, but there is a world of difference between Maidenhead and Margate. I was born in Eastbourne, but there is a world of difference between Eastbourne and east Berkshire. People feel an affinity to their town, city or county, and whatever any bureaucrat says, there is no entity called the south-east, apart from on the European electoral map. The Government's proposals might be a nod in the direction of democracy, but Labour's version of democracy empowers the political parties, not the people.
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for giving way on that point. In her earlier comments, she said that she wanted to see a more independent element among the elected Members of the House of Lords. Is she saying that the Conservative party would not field candidates in those elections?
I have not had that discussion yet with any members of my party, but I do want to see an electoral system that would encourage independent people to stand for the House of Lords and encourage that ethos. One thing that I am certain about is that a party list system will not encourage independent people to stand for the House of Lords.
I am reflecting on the proposals to allow an elected element into the House of Lords. Given my right hon. Friend's legitimate desire to see more independent people in the House of Lords, does she not think that that might involve the election of the British National party or other parties that this House might consider undesirable elements of the second Chamber?
I ask my hon. Friend to wait a moment. There is indeed an issue about the election of extremist parties to the Lords, or finding extremist parties in the Lords, which I shall shortly come to.
I shall deal now with the 50 per cent. of peers who would be appointed—30 per cent. by the political parties and 20 per cent. by the statutory appointments commission. Back in 2003, the Prime Minister said that prime ministerial patronage should go. Since then the only thing that has changed is the cash for honours scandal. So why is the Leader of the House proposing that in addition to their control over the election lists, the parties should also appoint 30 per cent. of the new Members of the House?
Let me be clear about this. As the right hon. Lady knows very well, we are not proposing that the parties should appoint 30 per cent. of the House but that the parties should be able to nominate people. There is a world of difference. Decisions will be made by the statutory appointments commission, which, as I spelled out in my speech, would have the same power in respect of political nominees as of non-political nominees in assessing their merits and their probity, and would have to select from a wider range of nominees than there were places in the Lords.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, but of course, as he knows, the statutory appointments commission's responsibilities in relation to the politically appointed Members of the House will be to vet those Members on the basis of recommendations by the political parties. We have an independent appointments commission at the moment, but there are several Members whose appointments to the House have not been stopped by that.
At the moment, the independent Appointments Commission under Lord Stevenson assesses the merits and the probity of candidates who are nominated for non-party representation, but it can only assess the probity of those who are on the party lists. We are proposing something completely different—to remove the Prime Minister's power of patronage, or decision, and that of the other party leaders. In place of that, the Prime Minister of the day and the other party leaders will be able to make nominations to the statutory appointments commission, which will assess the merits of those applications, as well as their probity.
That still leaves 30 per cent. of the upper House being appointed as party political Members based on decisions taken by party political bosses as to which names should be put forward.
Another aspect is that the 30 per cent. of Members would be distributed according to the parties' respective shares of the vote at the previous general election. I am worried that that would allow extremist parties into the Lords even when they had not won a direct election into the Commons. Advocates of a system of appointment claim that it enhances the expertise of the other place, but does democracy really leave us with less qualified legislatures? If that were so, there would be a case to be made against local elections, elected Governments and even a democratic House of Commons. I am sure that Members of this House do not consider themselves inexpert, so why do some think that elected Members of the other place would be?
In a moment.
Let us imagine that an appointed Lords would somehow give us a Chamber of enlightened philosopher-kings. Even if that were so, how should one decide which interests and groups should be represented? An expert in one field is not necessarily an expert in another.
Does the right hon. Lady agree that there is something very wrong with this idea that we require the great and the good—our betters—to help us to legislate? Is not that a throwback to some pre-democratic age?
The hon. Gentleman was probably longing to make that intervention, but I suggest that he actually listen to what I am saying.
I have looked into a few other democracies that appoint their upper Chambers. In Slovenia, membership is divided between representatives of local interest groups and non-commercial activities, employers, employees, farmers, tradesmen and craftsmen, and independent professionals. Hon. Members might think that that is a hangover from Slovenia's communist past, but I think that it demonstrates the absurdity of trying to predict and provide experts for a legislature.
The proposals set out in the White Paper would create an upper Chamber that is insufficiently democratic and insufficiently independent. To be fair to Labour Members, many of them understand that and want a more democratic other place. Some of them are even in the Cabinet. Last time round, in 2003, the Secretaries of State for Transport, for Northern Ireland and for Health voted for a wholly elected upper Chamber, and it has since emerged that the International Development Secretary agrees with them. However, tellingly, last time around, the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and the Leader of the House disagreed and voted for a wholly appointed House of Lords. According to the former Minister for Europe, Mr. MacShane, it was an open secret that the Prime Minister had ordered the Whips to mobilise votes to stop any reform that reduced his power of patronage by nominating Lords.
I suggest that the division in the Cabinet is the genuine reason for the messy compromise that the Leader of the House has presented. Only four years ago, the Prime Minister said:
"Do we want an elected House, or do we want an appointed House? I personally think that a hybrid between the two is wrong and will not work."—[ Hansard, 29 January 2003; Vol. 398, c. 877.]
Now the Government make the very proposal that the Prime Minister once described as
"wrong and will not work."
My hon. Friend provides some telling statistics for the House's benefit.
The Leader of the House likes to present his proposals as a sensible compromise. He is fond of quoting Voltaire, which he did again today, when he repeatedly says that
"The best is the enemy of the good."
However, that is not the point and it presupposes that his proposal is a good one. It is not. It is not a sensible compromise that offers at least some reform. It would weaken the other place and maintain political patronage, masquerading as democratic reform.
I have a more down-to-earth test for the Leader of the House. Do his reforms pass the Ronseal test? Do they do what it says on the tin? The label might state that the contents are modern and democratic but they are more of the same—more political patronage and more Government dominance over Parliament.
Tomorrow, we will vote on not only the Government's proposals but a range of options, as we did last time around in 2003.
I shall ask the shadow Leader of the House the question that I would have asked the Leader of the House, but he did not give way. We have said much about legitimacy today. Does the right hon. Lady agree that it is disgraceful that a United Kingdom Parliament will hold crucial votes when all Northern Ireland Members of Parliament are involved in elections? That would not happen if elections were taking place in any other part of the United Kingdom. If one vote goes through with a majority that is less than that for which Northern Ireland Members would account, will that be taken on board? What does she feel about that illegitimacy?
I share the hon. Lady's concerns. It is unfortunate that the votes will be held when Northern Ireland Members are involved in the Assembly elections. It would be far preferable for them to be taken when all hon. Members can be present.
Conservative Members will have a free vote tomorrow. I shall not vote for the Leader of the House's proposed 50:50 split—I want genuine reform in the upper House. I shall vote for 80 per cent. of the Members of the other place to be elected, as I did in 2003. Last time around, we came painfully close to achieving that outcome and I hope that we shall succeed this time. Indeed, last time around, the proposal for a 50:50 split was so unpopular that it was negatived without even being pressed to a vote. I hope that, unlike last time, Labour Whips will not put pressure on Labour Members to support the 50:50 proposal but allow a truly free vote.
If my right hon. Friend accepts that the second Chamber cannot challenge the primacy of this Chamber, why are elections important? Surely the emphasis should be on a second Chamber full of experts and talent, not on providing another layer of politicians.
I hoped that I had explained the reason for my belief that we should hold elections for the substantial proportion of Members of the upper Chamber. That would give it greater democratic legitimacy, and it is important that the upper Chamber can challenge and revise Government policy and legislation. The upper House should have the democratic legitimacy that enables it properly to challenge the Government.
This point is central to our constitution, which, unlike that of France or the United States, embodies the Government or Executive as part of the House. If greater legitimacy in challenging Government involves greater power, and if greater direct democracy through election to the House of Lords so empowers the second Chamber, can the right hon. Lady square the circle with adherence to and advocacy of the primacy of this House?
Indeed, I can— [Interruption.] The primacy of this House does not come simply from the fact that its Members are elected. Therefore, having elections to the second Chamber will not somehow give it equal legitimacy. The primacy of this Chamber comes from its powers to decide whom the Government should be and its powers over financial legislation. Neither the Government's proposals nor mine contain any suggestion that those powers should be changed.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. Accepting that this Chamber may have more power than the other Chamber, how would we cope with a situation in which the other Chamber had, for example, 80 per cent. elected Members who had less power than us but had been elected more recently and took a different view, or had been elected under a different system and took a different view? If this Chamber were divided, and that Chamber relatively united, would not that be a recipe for tension that can only weaken the democratic process? Why is it that more than 70 per cent. of people think that the other place is doing a good job, but a rather smaller proportion think that this place is doing a good job?
I have no difficulty with the concept of tension within the democratic process, as it leads to better legislation and the right challenge to Government. However, my hon. Friend also referred to the possibility of a different electoral system for the upper House, which might somehow claim greater electoral legitimacy. I do not agree that proportional representation provides greater legitimacy, but I fear that a PR system in the upper House would lead some in this House to claim that it had greater legitimacy, and lead to pressure for PR in this Chamber, which I would reject.
To conclude, I want to refer to our penultimate vote tomorrow night, which, as Mr. Speaker has set out, will be on the amendment in my name and that of my right hon. Friend Mr. Cameron, Sir Menzies Campbell and other right hon. and hon. Members in relation to hereditary peers. Let me make it clear that we support the removal of the hereditary peers, but they must be replaced by elected Members. That, after all, is what the Government are honour-bound to deliver. As the former Lord Chancellor said when all but the 92 hereditaries were removed,
"a compromise negotiated between Privy Councillors on Privy Council terms and binding in honour on all those who have come to give it their assent...the 10 per cent."— the 92 remaining hereditary peers—
"will go only when stage two has taken place. So it is a guarantee that it will take place."—[ Hansard, House of Lords, 30 March 1999; Vol. 599, c. 207.]
I apologise to my hon. Friend, but I have said that I will not take any more interventions.
The stage two to which the noble Lord Irvine referred was, of course, democratic reform. Therefore, we will vote tomorrow tonight on an amendment that would hold the Government to their promise, which, I remind the Leader of the House, was binding in honour. If we did not hold the Government to their promise, we would immediately find ourselves with a wholly appointed upper Chamber, the outcome previously favoured by the Leader of the House and the Prime Minister. Given the Chancellor's remarkable record of silence on the issue, for all we know that is what he would like as well.
A cynic might suggest that with the hereditaries out of the way, the opportunity for democratic reform might not reappear because the Government would have what they want: a wholly appointed Chamber—appointed by the political parties—with no accountability, no independence and no democracy.
Do the right hon. Gentleman's proposals pass the tests that I set out earlier? Would they produce an upper Chamber capable of challenging and revising Government policy, democratic and accountable, expert and independent? No, they would not. A substantially elected upper Chamber would be more independent of the party machines, would have more legitimacy when challenging Government policy, and would not deter Members with the expertise needed for the revision of legislation. We oppose the Government's proposals because, far from strengthening Parliament, they would weaken it.
The Leader of the House often says that if the reforms are not accepted, we will not have another opportunity for a generation. That simply is not the case, but even it were, it would not be a reason for supporting bad reforms. I am not opposed to reform, but I am opposed to bad reform.
Almost a century ago, the Conservatives opposed reform of the other place because they defended the powers of the hereditary Chamber. They were called ditchers and diehards. We oppose these reforms not because we are ditchers and diehards but because we are democrats—and, as democrats, we cannot support proposals that continue the principle of patronage and the emasculation of Parliament.
It is a pleasure to follow Mrs. May, who made a very good job of trying to describe something that, in the end, does not work. I fear that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, to whom I extend the hand of sympathy, has attempted to square a constitutional circle and retain two Houses at the same time, one partly elected and one composed of appointees for various reasons such as independence, expertise, ecclesiastical position and place in the legal system. In my view, his conclusion that the best solution is hybridity is flawed. It pains me to say that, because I agree with him so often. The problem with hybridity is that it is neither one thing nor the other. That is not the way in which we should look to the future of the country's constitution, or to Parliament's future operation.
I signed an amendment—on which, apparently, we shall not have an opportunity to vote—supporting the principle of abolition of the House of Lords rather than its continuation in one form or another. I believe that there is a good symbolic argument for abolition, and, if we take the longer view, a good constitutional argument. I shall say more about that shortly; in the meantime, it is fair to say that the House of Commons is not in a fit state for us to abolish the House of Lords without making some reforms of the way in which we operate.
In the White Paper on House of Lords reform, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House listed seven principles on which a reformed Chamber should be based. I shall concentrate on two of them. The first is the primacy of the House of Commons, and the second is that the House of Lords needs to be more legitimate.
We have already had a fair amount of discussion of House of Commons primacy through interventions on the opening speeches, but I ask the House to imagine what it would be like if what my right hon. Friend proposes came to pass. We would have 270 elected peers, or whatever title we decided to give them. Presumably they would be elected on some kind of prospectus—dare I call it a manifesto? To an extent, both the right hon. Member for Maidenhead and my right hon. Friend dismissed the idea of a manifesto as an all-encompassing document. However, without a manifesto and without political parties, on what basis would we be asking people to decide who to vote for? What would be the programme that candidates stand for? What would they intend to do, if elected? We need manifestos, principles and policies so that people know exactly what would happen.
Let us suppose that, quite against the wishes of this House, the people who stand for election to the House of Lords decide to stand on a manifesto, and let us suppose that the House of Lords that is elected—for 15 years in the first instance—is elected on a different manifesto from that on which the majority of the House of Commons has been elected. What will that produce? Will it produce agreement between the two Houses? I think not. What it will produce is an invitation to stasis—an invitation to the two Houses to lock horns and never be able to agree on anything.
My right hon. Friend is creating something of an Aunt Sally, because the truth is that nobody is proposing that the entire second Chamber be elected in one fell swoop. There will be a rolling programme of elections every five years. That means that there will not be any one moment when the whole second Chamber is changed and its Members are replaced, so my right hon. Friend's argument falls.
My hon. Friend makes an interesting point and, to be fair to him, he is consistent: he has, I think, consistently taken the position that he would prefer a 100 per cent. elected upper Chamber. However, the point he makes is also to do with legitimacy, which I shall address shortly.
We could end up with one House elected on one manifesto and another House elected on another, and it is beyond me how anything could get done in those circumstances. That the right hon. Member for Maidenhead and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House think that that is in some way possible does not bode well for future agreement across the House.
My right hon. Friend seems to be missing the point that one House can have the final say. That is where primacy is derived from. Is he saying that a second Chamber should not have the right to question or revise? If he is saying that, it is suspect from a democratic point of view.
Clearly, the second Chamber must have the right to question and to revise. My second point, which has been the subject of both interventions on me, is to do with legitimacy.
Anybody who is elected to a legislature—no matter how they are elected, whether on a first-past-the-post basis, a regional list system or an alternative vote system—is bound to claim a level of legitimacy that the House of Lords does not currently have. If they did not claim that, they would not be self-respecting elected politicians. No matter what my hon. Friends the Members for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) and for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden) and anybody else might think, it is inevitable that they would claim some such legitimacy, and the definition of what constitutes revising legislation or questioning the Government could be stretched almost to infinity in those circumstances. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has, in all good faith and with his customary good humour, tried to do a good job of squaring the circle, but he has failed. The prospectus he offers the House is a flawed one.
For many centuries—my right hon. Friend talked about the past 98 years, but the period in question is much longer—the House of Lords has been a bastion of privilege. Over the centuries, it has been reviled by ordinary people for the role that it has played in making their lives more difficult by blocking and opposing reform. That there should be a symbolic break with that past is an argument whose time has come.
I accept that if we abolished the House of Lords tomorrow we would have real difficulties, because this House as it currently operates is not fit for purpose. However, there are many good ideas on how this House could be reformed. We need a breathing space in which it can be reformed, so that, at the end of that process, it operates as a unicameral Chamber. I urge all those who support and believe in that point of view to oppose the bicameral principle, which is the first option that we will vote on tomorrow night, and to vote in favour of removing the remaining hereditary peers. Failing that, there is no other reasonable option for those of us who believe in that point of view other than to support an appointed House. That is how I will vote, and I hope that others will join me in the Lobby for that purpose.
Mr. Howarth made a perfectly good theoretical case for a unicameral Parliament, which other countries have, but the Leader of the House made the much better point. Bluntly, in a very busy modern democracy consisting of four countries and much local government, one House of Parliament would not be able to do the job sufficiently. Secondly, the tradition and history of recent years is that we have not done the job well, and we have needed a second Chamber, not to overrule us, but to correct us and make us think again, and to ensure that legislating and holding the Executive to account were done better. It is my honest view that without a second Chamber, Parliament would be held in much lower esteem than even it is now.
This could be an historic week, and it will be if we do not make the mistake of February 2003—if we seize the moment and decide to complete the key reform that, as we have all been repeating, was set out nearly 100 years ago. We tried in 2003 and nearly succeeded, but did not. My first call is to colleagues in all parts of the House, from all parties and traditions, regardless of their views about electoral systems and the various other differences. If they are believers in progressive politics and they want a well represented, multiracial, multi-faith, pluralist Britain in which people can really express their preferences for parties or individuals, I ask them to give us the opportunity to achieve that by passing these reforms. That is the challenge, and I hope that we do not back away from it at the end of tomorrow's debate for fear of something that certainly will not be worse, and which will in all probability make Parliament much better.
Was not the mistake of 2003 that a lot of people allowed the best to be the enemy of the good and ended up voting for only one democratic option? Is it not true that the Liberal Democrats are now considering not voting for a 50 per cent. and a 60 per cent. elected Chamber? If so, are they not going to take us straight back into the trap into which we fell in 2003?
Let me deal with that point head-on. Our party has had a consistent position on this issue in many of our manifestos, including the last one, the previous one and the one before that. Our position has been that if people read the manifesto, they could vote for us knowing that we would vote for a wholly, substantially or predominately—those are the only three words that were ever used—elected second Chamber. We have had discussions and reached an agreement, and we believe that the only way that we can reflect that in our votes is by voting for an 80 per cent. or 100 per cent. elected second Chamber—a wholly, substantially or predominantly elected second Chamber. Other options, such as a 50:50 Chamber, are clearly not a wholly, substantially or predominantly elected second Chamber. We are therefore going to live up to our manifesto promises; I just hope that the friends of Mr. Tyrie—who all stood on a manifesto that said that they would support a substantially elected House of Lords—will also honour the commitment that they made to their electorate.
The answer is that this issue does not, of course, come ahead of health, education and housing. However, we do not necessarily need to have people on huge salaries; indeed, we already pay people in the House of Lords. Even the Leader of the House's proposal would involve far fewer Members in the second Chamber than there are now. That is our proposal too. If the right hon. Gentleman believes, as the Leader of the House does and says, that we need a strong, democratic and legitimate Parliament to hold the Executive, of whatever colour, to account, this is the opportunity to achieve that.
The hon. Gentleman will accept that I was not elected on a manifesto that talked about 80:20, but does he also accept that a significant proportion of his colleagues in the other place— including Lord Steel of Aikwood, who has more parliamentary experience than most people here—are emphatically in favour of an all-appointed House?
On all the evidence, there is a small number of my colleagues in the Lords and three of my colleagues in this House who did not last time support the wholly or substantially elected proposal. Yes, one of them is a former leader of the party, who has gone native and forgotten that he was once elected on that position over and over again. As has been said, we do not choose to listen to dinosaur tendencies, be they in the Conservative party, the Labour party or on our own Benches.
I wish to press the hon. Gentleman on the point that was raised by Mr. Tyrie. Let us put aside the 50 per cent. option. The memory of Simon Hughes appears to be failing him about what is in his manifesto. It is entirely silent—according to the copy I have before me—on support for a wholly elected Chamber. Instead, it talks about a "predominantly" elected second Chamber. It would be entirely consistent with that for the hon. Gentleman to accept the advice of the hon. Member for Chichester not to make the best the enemy of the good, and to vote not only for the 80:20 option, but for the 60:40 one as well.
I have copies of the right hon. Gentleman's manifesto, the Conservatives' manifesto and ours for the past three general elections. The phrases used in ours are "directly elected", "predominantly elected" and "substantially elected". Our last manifesto talked of a "predominantly elected" second Chamber. We have had a consistent view about what that meant in practice and we have come to a collective decision that we will vote for that. When people see how the votes go tomorrow, they will see that the Liberal Democrats vote for the position on which they stood for election.
Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the reasons for the outcome in 2003 was that we had put the cart before the horse? We were asked to consider the composition before we considered matters of convention—before we decided what the second Chamber was for. That should have been settled before we made the decision about its appropriate composition.
My hon. Friend knows that I think that he is wrong about that, because in 2003 we argued—as we do now—that there should be no diminution of the powers of the House of Lords. We argued for a strengthening of the powers of both Houses against the Executive—a point also made by Mrs. May. We have never dissented from that.
The good news is that since then the Joint Committee on Conventions, with representation from all three parties and independent Cross Benchers, has confirmed that we want no diminution —[ Interruption. ] No, we would never argue differently, but the Joint Committee confirmed the position, and all parties—including the governing party—hold to that. We come to this debate having firmed up the position that we had four years ago. There is no suggestion that I have heard from any of the representatives of the three major parties, or anyone else, that there should be a reduction in the powers of the second Chamber or of Parliament vis-à-vis the Executive.
No, "predominantly" clearly does not mean 100 per cent. It means more than 50 per cent., but not 100 per cent. I have argued that we have been consistent on this issue. The three words that we have used—"substantially", "predominantly" and "wholly"—have meant that our position has always been to prefer 80 per cent. or 100 per cent. Colleagues will vote accordingly. We are voting according to our manifesto, and if colleagues in other parties do not, that is their problem. We are clear that we want to deliver a predominantly elected House of Lords, and we will do so.
The hon. Gentleman began with an impressive appeal to the reformers in the House. They were a majority in the previous Parliament, but lost because they all voted for one option and against all the others. He appealed to all those who believed in progressive politics to be more flexible and to vote for a wider range of options to make sure that a majority in favour of some composition of elected upper House was secured. However, he went on to say that the Liberal Democrats would not follow that excellent maxim, because they are bound by their manifesto. That means that they will continue their folly of voting only for 80 or 100 per cent. How reasonable is that?
We argued for a voting system that would have allowed the House to make a succession of preferential votes. It is not our fault that that system of voting is not available. The House must therefore make a choice. We have made what we want clear, and I hope that progressive colleagues vote for a substantially, or predominantly, elected House of Lords.
The hon. Gentleman knows that we have set a slightly higher threshold than the 50 per cent. option preferred by the Leader of the House. Four years ago, we missed securing an 80 per cent. elected second Chamber by three votes, and we know that others have since moved in that direction. If people vote for what they really believe in, and do not play games, we will be able to deliver that proportion this time.
No, as I want to make progress.
We support a bicameral Parliament, and want a predominantly elected House of Lords or second Chamber. We want the hereditaries to go but, as the right hon. Member for Maidenhead indicated, her party and mine want to make sure that we do not get the worst possible option in that regard—that is, abolishing the hereditaries tomorrow and replacing them with more people appointed by the patronage of the Prime Minister rather than with people who have been elected.
No, as I want to make progress.
The Leader of the House has made a thoughtful and serious attempt to bring to the House proposals that represent the greatest degree of consensus. I compliment him on that, and am grateful. I pay tribute to him, and to Lord Falconer who preceded him and who shared the task with him. I also pay tribute to those in the Labour party—and the Leader of the House is one—who realise that they must move on from 2003.
It is good news that the Conservative party has also moved on in recent years, and the right hon. Member for Maidenhead and the new Conservative leader have both been influential in that respect. The progressive forces in the Conservative party have moved the party towards support for a predominantly elected second Chamber— [ Interruption. ] Redoubts of the old positions remain, but that is why there is now the chance of achieving consensus among all three major parties. I hope that we can build on that consensus, and send a clear message to the other end of the building. If we are clear about what we want in terms of the primacy of the Commons, the Lords must understand that it is our view that must prevail.
Mr. Clelland circulated a letter signed by 20 Labour MPs to all colleagues. It advocated keeping the status quo, more or less, and its first argument was basically, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." I accept that the Lords does a good job, but it is mere invention to suggest that it would do a less good job if it were predominantly elected.
No, not yet. There is no reason at all why that should be the case. Indeed, democratic legitimacy will allow the House of Lords to do a better job and—as Mr. Clarke said—to do so with the authority of people who have been returned to Parliament by electors.
Of course, those who want a stronger Executive less accountable to the people's representatives do not want that change. Of course, the people who do not want a two-Chamber Parliament do not want that change. But those of us who do want a two-Chamber Parliament that legislates better and holds the Government to account more will see a huge benefit in changing from having hereditary and appointed people running the second Chamber and in the majority to having elected people in the majority.
Not for a second.
I take exactly the phrase that has been put into the debate by the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe. The view on these Benches is that the second Chamber should revise, improve and delay, but not veto. That will remain its position when it is elected.
I have heard no argument from any quarter of this House or the other that the relationship between the Lords and the Commons should change—that the primacy of the Commons should be changed. We have a settled constitutional position. This Chamber is where Governments gain their vote of confidence, where Governments can be defeated and where Prime Ministers fall. This is where the Prime Minister and Ministers account to Parliament. There has not been any argument that that should change. We do not argue it; no other party argues it. So I hope that people understand that this is not about changing the primacy of this place. This place will remain the primary House of Parliament; the other House will be complementary and will help us to do our job better.
The last point was picked up in the previous debate. If the other place was elected by thirds, that would also weaken any potential challenge. No one could arrive there saying, "We have a majority, we are elected by the people all over Britain, and we can challenge the Commons." They would come in as a partly returned group, and they would not have the same authority as we have after being elected on the same day from all over the country, on the basis of manifestos, with everyone knowing that from us the Government will be chosen.
The convention that this House effectively appoints the Prime Minister is only a convention; it is not set down in any statute. It evolved over time and it may evolve in another direction. If the House of Lords used its existing powers to their limit, it could bring this House to a standstill. How can the hon. Gentlemen give any assurance that if it has so-called increased legitimacy caused by the election of Members of the upper House, that is not what it will do?
The hon. Gentleman makes two points. The first is that we do not have written down the fact that it is to this House that the Prime Minister has to come to gain a vote of confidence. In our view, we should. That is why some of us have argued for a written constitution for many years. We are moving in that direction by virtue of the fact that we had the Joint Committee on Conventions, which agreed certain things, including the fact that the Parliament Acts could be used, but only to enable the second House to delay things for a year and to act within certain limits. That is now written down. It was agreed. Everybody—the Conservative party, the Labour party, our party and the independents—signed up to that. It has been confirmed by this place. We took note, with approval, of that report just a few weeks ago.
"should any firm proposals come forward to change the composition of the House of Lords, the conventions between the Houses would have to be examined again."?
The answer is yes, of course, because we all signed up to the report. The right hon. Gentleman also knows, because he was present throughout the sittings of the Committee, that paragraph 12 says:
"We therefore strongly support the continuation of the existing conventions. When the views of the Houses on composition are made known, we will return to the detailed matter of how these important conventions should be maintained in a new constitutional settlement between the Houses."
Parliament is an evolving place; it has evolved in the past 10 years. The nature of the Lords has changed. Ian Lucas made the point that Parliament would go on changing. However, there was not a single argument that this House should not be the primary Chamber; that this should not be where Governments are made and broken or that this should not be the place where Ministers come to give account on a day-to-day basis.
The question of primacy is settled. There was no argument about it in our Committee; not one voice suggested anything different. Electing some people—be it 50, 60 or 80 per cent.—or all to the second Chamber, by thirds, for a single term, will make it an entirely different place from this one. In this place, we have to go back to the electorate for re-election and the Prime Minister and Ministers come here; it is entirely different. The right hon. Gentleman must not fear that an elected second Chamber would change that fundamental position.
The right hon. Gentleman argued for a unicameral Parliament, but all the things his colleague, the hon. Member for Tyne Bridge, and others argue for in their circular can be achieved under the Liberal Democrat proposals. They argue for primacy of the Commons. We agree. They argue for complementarity of the Lords and the Commons. We agree. They say that no party should have an overall majority. We agree. They want continuity of membership. We agree. They want a non-political element. We are happy to agree—up to 20 per cent. They want a more legitimate and more representative House of Lords. We agree, but it can be achieved only if we vote for a predominantly elected second Chamber.
I want to follow up some of the points made in the Government's proposals. There is some debate about the size of the Chamber. We say that, to reduce cost, it should have 450 Members; the Government say it should be bigger. We say that people should be elected for a term of 12 years, with a third being elected every four years.
There are different views about when the elections should be held. They should certainly not be held on the same day as the general election, which would be confusing and would challenge the authority of this place. The European election day would not be a good choice, either; it would be better to hold the election on the day when we elect the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly—as we shall be doing this year—and when local elections are held throughout England. People could vote for the second chamber, their national Parliament and their local government on the same day, but we can debate those points in due course.
We believe that in future life peers should be able to step down so that transition is easier, but that a Member of the upper House should not be able to resign their seat to stand as a Member of this place, using their membership of the Lords as a platform to build a career here; the careers and the jobs are different. We want good people who are willing to give up 12 or 15 years of their life to scrutinise legislation and hold the Executive to account but who will not serve a second term. That will give them more independence from the Whips than we have in this place. That is a good thing. They will have been elected—as Independent, Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat or Nationalist Members—but they will be freer from the pressures that we face here.
If we want an end to hereditary Members and if we want people to be drawn from all ages and backgrounds, we can achieve that as well by election as we ever could by appointment.
I want to make two more points, and then I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman as he has been so persistent.
I endorse the strong point that the right hon. Member for Maidenhead made about patronage. The real weakness of the 50 per cent. option, and of the 60 per cent. option—where we share the view of the right hon. Lady—is that if we go down that road we shall fail to deal with one of the issues that is undermining the ethics and reputation of the body politic of our time. This debate is being held against the background of rolling news about cash for peerages. We do not know whether the allegations are true or whether anybody will be found guilty, but we do know that we must put an end to the idea that a person can have a title for life merely because they are a legislator and appointed as the nominee of the Prime Minister or another party leader. Although we said that we would be content for 20 per cent. of the Members of the upper House to be appointed, they must not get in on the say-so of party leaders or the Prime Minister of the day. Whoever they are, whatever their faith—whether they are bishops or leaders of other faiths—they must go through the independent Appointments Commission, which justifies their membership of the House of Lords.
Given that we all agree about the primacy of this Chamber, I find it difficult to understand why anybody would advocate elections for the other place. If the House of Lords had been elected during the past year, what Bill does the hon. Gentleman believe would have been changed because of that election?
That question was asked earlier— [Interruption.] How do I know? The answer is that people will be free to choose what they do. The whole point is that the Liberal Democrats trust the voters and the people; we believe that democracy comes from individual citizens being allowed to choose. Let me tell Mr. Baron not only that he stood on a manifesto in respect of these issues but that this is the 21st century! We are a modern democracy, and in a modern democracy we cannot defend a Parliament in which people sit on the basis of birth or patronage. That is not acceptable. The hon. Gentleman cannot argue as an elected Member of this House that other people who are elected are less likely than him to do a proper job of holding the Government of the day to account. That is simply not a credible, sustainable or intellectually coherent position.
The hon. Gentleman is so passionate about the purity of his principles that I feel obliged to take him back to the subject of the amendment co-signed by Sir Menzies Campbell and the hon. Members for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) and for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Burstow)—though notably not by him. The amendment says that the hereditary peers should be removed only when the "elected members" have "taken their places". Will the hon. Gentleman clarify whether he is arguing that the hereditaries should be removed when all the elected Members have been elected, or only when some of them have? I confess that I do not find either proposition very attractive, but the long-stop position is completely insupportable.
I understand the hon. Gentleman's position. The six names appended to the amendment are only a selection of elite supporters from the hon. Gentleman's party and mine. The Order Paper would not have been long enough to include all the supporters of the amendment. The more serious answer to the hon. Gentleman's question is that there was a debate about the issue in the other place, which was led by Lord Strathclyde. An understanding was reached that abolishing the hereditaries without at the same time effecting democratic renewal was not acceptable to the majority in the House of Lords, which comprises a coalition of independents, bishops and other party member peers.
We support the amendment as it provides a lock to ensure that Parliament does not find that, having voted for 50 per cent., 60 per cent. or 80 per cent. of elected members, it then votes for a provision that scraps the hereditaries, but results in even more patronage. To answer the question of John Bercow, I am insistent and clear that the day that sees the first people elected to the second Chamber is the same day that the hereditaries leave. If they then want to stand for election, they can; and if they want to be nominated through the Appointments Commission to come and contribute as great and good people, they can apply. I am clear on that and I hope that it answers the hon. Gentleman's question.
Other important principles remain about the size of constituencies and the nature of the electoral system. The Liberal Democrats are clear that they want a proportional or representative electoral system—not just for our party, but for all parties, independents and the rest. There is an argument for starting with the European constituency boundaries, as the Leader of the House proposes, but I have to say that we are open to discussing that matter further. My hon. Friend Mr. Heath who has worked with me on these issues over recent months is very clear that in his region, the south-west, there is, bluntly, no commonality of interest with Gloucestershire or Scilly—a point also made by my hon. Friend Andrew George. My hon. Friends in the south-east will tell us that someone in Kent does not feel an immediate commonality of interest with someone in Berkshire.
We are up for discussing the possibility of smaller regions, but we do not want to end up with constituencies that are so small that we do not get representative outcomes, which the right hon. Member for Maidenhead proposed, or where the role of MPs is duplicated. If this place is to be challenged, the boundaries should be similar to those of this place, but we do not want that. We do not want a Cleveland or a Durham or a Southwark constituency. We believe that the constituencies have to be bigger than that. We also believe that the people elected to the other place should not be paid to do constituency case work or housing cases because they should be doing a different job. They should be doing a one-term job of holding the Executive to account and legislating. They are not meant to be second-tier members of the House of Commons representing individual voters and registering their concerns.
The hon. Gentleman referred to my earlier remarks on this issue, so for further clarification, I should say that we believe that we have commonality of purpose in seeking to provide for an electoral area that is large enough not to challenge and compete with Members of this House while at the same time being small enough to be recognisable to the people who vote in the elections. The European parliamentary regions are not readily understood, so we suggested counties and cities because those geographical areas are understood by the electorate.
I absolutely understand the good faith of that and I am one of the great defenders of the counties and the cities, and of local identity. The only thing that the right hon. Lady has not yet conceded is that, under the system that she continues to advocate—the most antediluvian of voting systems: the first-past-the-post system—we would get the least representative outcome, in a much bigger area. We will have to discuss that. We may not get a perfect solution. But I share her view that a list system whereby the parties select the names and the voters cannot choose is the worst of all possible worlds. We believe that there ought to be either a system under which people choose the candidates as individuals or a system under which they choose the order of people on the list completely freely. That is our second-best option.
Does my hon. Friend agree—partly on the principle of having different roles for the two Houses and a different approach—that it is also important when considering the composition of the constituencies to bear it in mind that a new second Chamber should reflect the regions more, and be less population based? Being population based is more the role of this House, which has a direct link with its constituents.
I am sympathetic to that view. In the second Chamber, the people who come to Parliament could more logically come from Scotland and speak for Scotland, whether it is the highlands, the lowlands or the central belt. Or someone could speak for Wales, whether it is south, mid or north Wales, or for the west country, or for the north-east. That is an entirely reasonable proposition.
There is lots of agreement among the three major parties. There is agreement about two Chambers and the primacy of the Commons, and about there being no challenge to MPs in their duties and responsibilities, and no weakening of Parliament. I hope that there is lots of consensus that there should be a stronger, more legitimate and more representative Parliament. I hope that we can agree that those are the principal issues that should lead people to vote in favour of radical change tomorrow. The other matters are secondary.
We will proceed in the same constructive spirit and I hope that, between us, we will get the best possible outcome. I hope that colleagues will be brave and will vote to end hereditary entitlement to be part of the legislature and to end party political patronage, which is tarnishing our British political system as we speak. I hope that colleagues will go back to what they say every time they go to face the voters, which is that they trust the British people. On these Benches, we do trust them, and we will vote accordingly.
I will be, I hope, commendably brief. I want to address only one real issue. It is right to say that there is unanimity about the primacy of this House in the present context, but anyone who thinks that, if the proposed legislation goes through, that primacy will remain, is living in a dream world. The primacy derives absolutely—not just in part—from the fact that we are the elected Chamber, and because of that the other House observes conventions. It therefore follows—it seems a rather simple issue to me—that if we go down the path of producing what, if this takes place at all, will eventually turn into an entirely elected House of Lords, the concept of primacy will disappear. I think that the Government recognise that, and that that is why they have gone for this rather strange compromise position.
I have said this before, but I like repeating what I have said before: hybridity is not a solution. It is a holding position and a stalling of the inevitable. It is unsustainable in the long term. Just think of the realities of a political Chamber where the elected Members—whatever percentage there happen to be—time and again find that the unelected Members are swinging the majority away from them. What will happen in such a situation? The more emotive and high-profile the issue, the more likely it will be that the elected Members of the other place, backed by some Members of this House, will demand even more elected Members, and so the process will go on. Once we start down this road, we will eventually arrive at a fully elected House of Lords.
Paragraph 1.7 of the White Paper states that
"it would ... be up to Parliament ... to alter the proportion of elected members, if that was thought desirable".
Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that, given the inevitable dynamics involved, if Parliament were ever under pressure to reconsider the proportion of elected Members of the second Chamber, that pressure would be to increase it, rather than reduce it?
It seems to me that this is quite simple. I have unconventional views about devolution, and I warned that it would be a slippery slope and that the legislation that we passed would not be the end of the story. I feel very much the same about this matter.
It is inevitable that whatever the proportion at which we start, the House of Lords will eventually become fully elected, which brings us to the constitutional conundrum that was raised earlier. Once the House of Lords is fully elected, what will happen when one party has a majority in this House and another party has a majority in the other House? As politicians, it is ludicrous for us to think that there will not be manifestos for such elections. An election will be a political event, rather than an election to a social club, so there will be manifestos; one House could thus be in political conflict with the other House.
Such a situation would raise the interesting question of which House, if both were elected, would reflect the view of the electorate. Who would judge which House was prime? One might say that that would be the House with the most recent mandate, but that would not be satisfactory. I suspect that when there is a fully elected House of Lords, there will be a challenge, initially on key issues, to this House.
The other House has muscle; it just does not use it. This is not a matter of giving it muscle, because all it has to do is to scrap the conventions and use the Parliament Act to gridlock the House of Commons. An Opposition party in the other House could oppose Bill after Bill to the extent allowed by the Parliament Act. If I had been a Member of the other House back in the Thatcher years, I would have done anything in my power to block some of that Government's legislation, and it is unreasonable to think that other politicians will not try to do the same. If we go down such a route, we will, at some time—this will be a long time away, and I will be dead and buried when it happens—be stuck in constitutional deadlock. How would we deal with that? Have the Government given us any indication of their plans for coping with a situation in which the House of Lords adopted a policy of non-co-operation that would leave us absolutely stuck?
Some hon. Members might say that that is fanciful, but I draw their attention to paragraph 61 of the report that was agreed unanimously by the Joint Committee on Conventions, which states:
"If the Lords acquired an electoral mandate, then in our view their role as the revising chamber, and their relationship with the Commons, would inevitably be called into question, codified or not."
That is why I am making my brief speech. If we start down this path, as I am horribly afraid that we might, it will put us in peril. We do not need to strengthen the House of Lords—it does a good job as it is. If we start down this route, we cannot be sure where it will end. However, I do not think it will end without a degree of political chaos.
The basis of all my strong views on the subject is my belief that we need a stronger Parliament, vis-à-vis the Government, than we have at the moment. We all realise that regardless of the party that is in power, the modern Executive and the modern state have a tendency to get ever more powerful and all embracing. Most of the public sense that our parliamentary institutions are no longer powerful enough to make the Executive as accountable as they should be. We need more transparency, more honesty and more democratic accountability, which is why I want a stronger upper House of Parliament. At the moment, we have a Commons that has lost its powers and an upper House that is something of an historical anachronism, which restrains it in exercising its powers.
There is nothing wrong with the present powers of the House of Lords and I would prefer to leave them unchanged. I think that we would find that any debate about those powers would lead to a frustrating inability to achieve any consensus on moving in one direction or the other. I would certainly resist any idea of weakening the existing powers of the upper House, so I am glad that the Government have so far been frustrated in their attempts to impose on the upper House the kind of timetabling of legislation that has done much to weaken the legislative process in this House, for example.
Mr. Williams does not object to those powers either. He said, as others have done, that those powers are quite right, but he expressed a fear that if the upper House were elected, its powers would, in some extraordinary way, get stronger. I fail to see that. At present, the Parliament Acts ensure that it has only a delaying power, rather than any kind of veto. As far as I am aware, the Parliament Acts secure that the Commons has the monopoly on Supply. It should be made absolutely clear that only the Commons decides matters of taxation and public expenditure, and that should not be changed.
If there are hon. Members who fear that there would be pressure to abandon some of the conventions, I would be content to address that through statute. If, when we have the Government's Bill, someone were to table an amendment to provide that the upper House should not, in any circumstances, be able to pass a vote of censure on the Government, I would support it. There are all kinds of other conventions with which we are familiar, such as the convention that the upper House should in no circumstances refuse to give a Second Reading to a Bill that formed a major part of a manifesto on which a Government were elected. If anyone could produce a satisfactory legal definition of that doctrine, I would support it. However, I do not believe that the Lords, if it becomes more elected, will be able by pressure to move its powers in the way in which the right hon. Gentleman suggests. The next step that we need to get to in the constitution of the United Kingdom is to persuade their lordships to use more effectively the powers that they already have.
What could their lordships have done over the past two years? Although I do not want to go into the controversial things that bring about party divisions, some of the legislation that has been introduced on criminal justice, anti-terrorism and human rights has, in the opinion of many people, justified the Lords sticking to its guns and, if nothing else, trying to get the Government and this House to think again and again about where we are going. Although Members of the Lords felt strongly, they did not use all their powers to the full because they felt inhibited by the fact that we were elected and they were not and the feeling that that gave us more legitimacy.
I align myself with all those who say that to get the upper House to behave more confidently and to use its powers, we have to give them more legitimacy, which means making sure that they are wholly or largely democratically elected. My preference, which I have expressed on all kinds of bodies over the past few years, including the first Cunningham Committee, is for 100 per cent. election; that is the logic of my position, and I shall vote for that tomorrow. I should add that I long ago accepted that the chances of such a measure being enacted in 2007 are absolutely nil.
Reformers of all parties formed a group, which we called Breaking the Deadlock, and we produced the excellent Second Chamber of Parliament Bill of 2005. The group included my right hon. Friend Sir George Young, Dr. Wright, the late Robin Cook and the Liberal MP Paul Tyler, now Lord Tyler. We had to compromise, because no agreement could be reached on the details, even between such stout reformers. We came up with a proposal for a 70 per cent. elected Chamber. I hope that that makes the Liberals feel guilty about continuing to stick rigidly to their position. I hope that by tomorrow they will have decided that it might be worth considering at least the 60 per cent. proposal, so that we do not all defeat each other in our anxiety to ensure the perfect reform of the upper House.
I do not want the right hon. and learned Gentleman to get too pious on the subject of the Liberal Democrats, because although I wholeheartedly support his speaking on the subject, as I recall, he did not manage to vote last time.
Alas, my right hon. Friend Mr. Hague and I, both ardent reformers, found that we had other engagements that took us out of the country. The 80 per cent. option was defeated by three votes on the last occasion, so if my right hon. Friend and I been able to break our unbreakable engagements, and if we had been in the House and voted as we should have done, it would have been defeated by only one vote. I assure Chris Bryant that I will be here tomorrow to do penance for my absence on the last occasion.
Let me address a key argument that inspires an extraordinary amount of resistance to what I regard as a fairly self-evidently necessary reform. We are in the 21st century, and if any new state proposed a new constitution, and suggested having an upper House that took the same form as ours, it would be regarded as utterly ridiculous. We are talking about legislators. We are all legislators, and we are servants of the people, by whom we are elected. No one should be a legislator because they inherited or bought the post. No one should become a legislator for life as a young man, and never have to account for their actions.
No one should be a legislator because they are a member of the great and the good, and a leading figure of the establishment, having been appointed by a committee composed of other distinguished members of the establishment. The argument against the 1832 reform of the House of Commons was that the wrong sort of people would be elected, and distinguished experts would no longer find a place. I am glad to say that the wrong sort of people have consistently been elected to the House ever since; that is called parliamentary democracy. We have legitimacy because of our debt to the people and because of what we said when we were elected. That enables us to exercise powers that we could not otherwise use.
Let me address the question of whether we are somehow weakening the Commons, or aiding the Government by giving them a more powerful House upstairs, while down here, an emasculated Commons is adversely affected by the competition in the Lords. I do not believe that that is the case. As the Leader of the House said, it is not a zero-sum game. The powers of the House of Commons are not dependent on, or made greater or less by, our "sharing" them in some way with the upper House. The issue of the powers of the Commons needs to be addressed, and reform of the House of Lords should not be regarded as the alternative to the necessary reform of this place, which should be made more effective in holding the Government to account in the modern world.
I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. On his last point, does he think that Members of the House of Commons would be in a better position to vote on the future of the House of Lords if there had been a detailed debate about future reform of the House of Commons and the role of Back Benchers in scrutinising legislation?
I agree with that, and in subsequent debates on the subject, I hope that we make that point to the Leader of the House. When—or if, on this occasion—we get on with reform of the House of Lords, it will put pressure on the House of Commons to examine its own procedures. We should react to the fears expressed by the right hon. Member for Swansea, West and others by asking ourselves whether the Commons has not allowed itself to be emasculated in recent years. If we envy what we see as a restoration of the House of Lords powers imagined by the creators of the 1911 Act, it should reassure us to think that we will address the issue of our own powers.
A beneficial effect of reforming the House of Lords should be to greatly increase the pressure on us to not only talk about reform of the House of Commons, but get on with it. If anything happens to confirm the fears of the right hon. Members for Swansea, West, and for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth) and others, the answer is obvious: it will be in our own hands to consider how to strengthen the Commons against the Executive, in line, of course, with the fact that the Government have a duty to govern, and must have their business in the end. However, they should be scrutinised and made more accountable than they are under our current processes. That is, I hope, the most likely outcome of our proceedings.
I concentrated, and suggest to the House that we concentrate, on the particular issues on which we are voting tomorrow. The key questions are whether we should have an elected element, and how big it should be. I will vote for anything more than 50 per cent.—60, 80 or 100 per cent.—and I hope that we settle that big issue in principle. The real devil lies in the detail, and we will find that there is no unanimity, either among reformers or among non-reformers—I will not call them reactionaries—on all the other issues that would be raised in a Bill. That will make the legislative process fascinating.
I do not like the party list system of electing, and I do not like the elections taking place on the day of the European Parliament elections; that is an ill-chosen time. I still prefer the idea that the Breaking the Deadlock group came up with, which was for a rolling re-election by thirds every 12 years, rather than every 15 years. The period has to be long enough to make sure that those elected are independent, and long enough to prevent them from deciding how to get themselves re-elected for a second term. They should be immune to the Whips, but we have to be careful, because after 12 years, a person's views may be very different from the views that they held in year one, when they were first elected, and too many mavericks could create difficulties. There are many details of that kind to consider.
I hope that the Government and my party will allow a free vote on all the issues, and I hope that the Liberals will go in for just a little less rigid political discipline on some of them. We will complete the process of reform only if everybody is prepared not to allow the best to become the enemy of the good, to use the now wearied words of Voltaire, which we have all quoted. The whole process is only worth embarking on if we are all prepared to agree that as long as an adequate system of reform is introduced, it is our duty to go ahead and produce an upper House—a senate—more suitable for the politics of the 21st century.
It is a great pleasure to follow Mr. Clarke. As we are always told, there are strange bedfellows in politics, and like him, I would like a 100 per cent. elected second Chamber. There is a certain irony in the situation that we are discussing. Let me place it on record that I believe that the present incumbents in the House of Lords do an exceptionally good job. They are admired for what they do, and I am reminded of the old adage, "If it's not broken, don't fix it." However, that is not the issue. The issue is that the Labour party said in its manifesto that it would reform the House of Lords, although it did not say how, and that is one of our problems; it has been transfixed to some degree.
It surprises me how many of us in a House of elected representatives are frightened of an election for the second Chamber. I am well aware that everyone is apprehensive of any change that might alter their circumstances, although it is not immediately apparent how it would alter them. I disagree with my right hon. Friend Mr. Williams, who fears that the second Chamber would take precedence over the Commons. That would depend on the second Chamber's initial terms of reference. I am using the term, "second Chamber", not the House of Lords, because if I had my way it would be a second Chamber. We have not heard very much about it, but how on earth do other countries with two elected Chambers manage? They seem to manage as well as Britain. The United States does not have any problems with two separate Houses, even though they have different political balances—in recent years, that has been a significant factor—and we need not fear any encroachments by a second Chamber on our powers in the Commons.
It is up to us, but whatever happens in the votes tomorrow, a tremendous amount of work will be needed afterwards. It is only the beginning of a very big change—probably the biggest constitutional change in the country for hundreds of years. I am mindful of the fact that this is the eighth year of the 21st century, yet the Lords is based on a feudal system. Like the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe, I am part of a small minority, but that does not matter. What matters is coming to the House to say what we believe; it is for others to come to their own conclusions, or not. I am concerned about the proposal that people should be elected for 15 years. Why can we not have a system in the second Chamber similar to the system of periodic elections to the Commons? Those elections could be held every five years—I am a great believer in fixed terms, but they are not popular with those who are in power. If we wish to try to attract the right people to serve in the second Chamber, offering them a 15-year term is not as satisfactory as offering them a lifetime of service in the second Chamber. In the past, we have not discussed limiting the time that someone spends in the House of Lords—they are there for life. That is wrong, but if we introduce an electoral system, that argument falls by the wayside, because they can be removed by the will of the people.
The situation is not simple—it is extremely complex, and no one can say that if we go down a particular route success is guaranteed. Whatever we introduce, it will need quite a lot of revision, perhaps over a number of years, before we get it right. It is a tremendously big change. I will not be popular for saying so, but as we are getting rid of the hereditaries in the House of Lords—I assume that we shall do so, and that we will make the upper House a second Chamber—perhaps we should take a look at the monarchy, too. I do not see why the Head of State should have that role just because they belong to a particular family. I would much prefer to have an elected president, because we cannot compartmentalise democracy. We have a democratic House of Commons, but an undemocratic second Chamber and an undemocratic Head of State. We are not a proper democratic republic, and that is not satisfactory. I hope that those things will be addressed in the years ahead.
I do not have a great deal to say on the issue, as I have made my views known. Anything less than a Chamber that is 100 per cent. elected will be a problem for ever. Things will not settle down. Some people will be elected, and some will benefit from patronage, so I do not know how such a system would work. If we do not have a Chamber that is 100 per cent. elected we would do better to keep a system of appointments. I do not really believe that, but it would be logical to take that step. It is not satisfactory to have a Chamber that is 50 per cent. or 80 per cent. elected. The only satisfactory number is 100 per cent. Much as I like the idea of a second Chamber, if it is not fully elected, I would sooner see it abolished.
I hope that Bill Etherington will forgive me if I do not go down the same route as him, as I do not agree with his point about 100 per cent. election. We could have an interesting debate about the future of the monarchy, but that would complicate the already extraordinarily complicated number of options before us.
I agree, however, with Mr. Williams. We ought to bear in mind the fact that the British constitution is an extraordinarily complex organism that has developed over a long period. The notion that we can take one piece—the House of Lords—and reform it significantly without second and third-order effects on the rest of the constitution is a dangerous one to adopt. I should have thought that such effects were obvious from the Government's constitutional reforms in Scotland and Wales, the abolition of the office of the Lord Chancellor, the creation of a supreme court and the Human Rights Act 1998. Individually, each seems to be a good idea, but they have left a trail of toxic waste with which we are grappling and with which we will have to deal in future, as those measures have left behind a number of issues that were not dealt with at the time. If we reform the House of Lords so that it is elected or substantially elected, a trail of toxic waste will come through Central Lobby into the Chamber, and we will have to deal with it for a long time to come. No one, not even someone as wise as my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Clarke, can predict what the second and third-order effects will be.
The House of Lords is exactly what we say we want. It is independent; some of its Members have significant expertise; it has limited power; it does not challenge the House of Commons; and all parties are represented, although none of them has a majority. It does almost everything that we want it to do, but it does not satisfy the test—apparently, it must do so—of whether or not it is democratic. We have a solution in search of problem. There is not a problem that has to be solved, but people have provided a solution—the second Chamber is a legislative body, although it does not have very much power, so it ought to be elected—and tried to impose it in circumstances in which it is neither necessary nor appropriate to do so.
I am interested in what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but he implies that we can have a second Chamber as long as it is not legitimate. One only has to state the argument to know that it is ludicrous.
The second Chamber does not have any power. If it had power, of course it should be elected, but all that it can do at the moment is say to the Government, "Think again" and, in extremis—this power is very rarely exercised—make the Government introduce the legislation again in a different Session. I agree with the right hon. Member for Swansea, West that the second Chamber will accrue greater power. Even if the conventions under which it operates are put into statute, there are ways around them, and it could screw up the legislative process by using its existing powers. An elected upper House would, quite properly, seek to appropriate more power, because it will argue that it is more legitimate and more reflective of public opinion. On many occasions, it will have the support of the media, because the majority in the Commons is inevitably whipped by the Government.
I should like to complete my point. The second Chamber will accrue more powers and, at some point, it may challenge the Parliament Acts. Those Acts are not set in stone, and the statute could be changed. The trail of toxic waste may eventually lead to a change in the Parliament Acts. The democratic legitimacy argument is a double-edged sword, so people should be careful about using it. The situation is not static, and once we start to make changes, we do not know where those changes will lead.
No, I should like to make progress. I have given way once, and I will probably not do so again.
The proposal that the second Chamber should be is 20, 30, 60 or 80 per cent. elected is nonsense. Either it is elected, or it is not. I would prefer that it remained a 100 per cent. appointed Chamber, but if that is not possible, it should be 100 per cent. elected. We do not want two classes of Members, with the press and commentators calculating whether a measure was passed by Tony and David's cronies, or whether the elected Members were against it. In such a system, some Members would have democratic legitimacy, and some would not. If the failure of the Second Chamber rests on the fact that it does not have democratic legitimacy, how can we make it democratically legitimate by making it 50 or 60 per cent. elected? Either it is wholly elected or not elected at all. What sort of people will run for election?
I was going to say that the sort of people who will run for election to the House of Lords, the Senate or whatever it is called will be people who cannot enter the Commons. I say this with modesty and as much graciousness as I can: the standards of intelligence, talent and ability needed to get into this House are not superhuman or of Olympian proportions. So if the other House consists of people who are not smart enough or good enough to get into this place, what will be up there? Who will want to run for the other House? It will have no power. It will not be a Chamber of talented, independent people holding the Government to account. It will be made up of people who cannot get into this place.
What we will lose in the process is the independence and experience of people in the Lords. I know that many Members are party politicians, but a defence debate or a foreign affairs debate in the House of Lords is very well informed by people who have been senior diplomats or senior military officers. That will go. Such people will not run for election to some organisation that has no power, and anyway, they probably do not want to run on a party ticket. The only way to get elected—the only way one can get elected to anything in this country, with the very odd exception—is by being a party candidate in an election.
Once people have been elected to the other House, they will start interfering on our turf as Members of Parliament. They will pick up constituency cases and local issues because they will want to get into the papers, just like we do. People will go to them and ask for their help, and we will have competition, just as I understand our Scottish colleagues do now, in an extremely inconvenient and annoying way. I suppose Members of the other place will want offices, secretaries, researchers and large office buildings with atriums and rented trees in them. The cost will go through the roof, and there is no evidence at all that people want more expensive Government than they have at present.
I reserve whatever vitriol I can muster in the debate for the ghastly appointments commission. We are all agreed that hereditary peers should go from that place. It is nonsense that because his ancestor fought with the Black Prince at the battle of Crecy, the great-great-great-great-grandson should have powers of legislation, just as much nonsense as if the great-great-grandfather had given some money to Lloyd George, the great-great-grandson should have legislative powers. But if those are not reasons for having legislative powers, why is being appointed by some statutory commission a reason for having legislative power?
Who will be on the commission? It looks tailor-made for my good friend Sir Hayden Phillips, and a more admirable public servant I cannot envisage. But that Hayden Phillips and a committee of people like him should have the power to decide who should be legislators and who should not, I find nonsense and abhorrent. I would much rather the Prime Minister had that power, because when the Prime Minister exercises the power, we know who has exercised it, the public knows who has exercised it, we know who is responsible for it and we can see it being done openly. If we have a commission, it will sit in private.
The Appointments Commission sometimes comes up with extremely odd recommendations. On the first lot that it came up with, it said, "We wanted to make sure that all these people felt comfortable in here," because it had appointed a lot of people just like its own members. That is what a statutory commission would do. No—let us have the Prime Minister of the day make appointments. If he wants to appoint 359 cronies or donors or whatever this Prime Minister has done, we know who did it. The electorate can hold him to account for that and so can the press. When my party is in power, as I sincerely hope it will be soon, our leader will be accountable for the exercise of that power. Let us have it out in the open, where we can see it being exercised.
The problem is that we have set incompatible objectives for the House of Lords. We want it, apparently, to have democratic legitimacy, and to be representative but to have independence and expertise. It requires only a moment's thought to realise that one cannot find all four qualities in an individual, and certainly not in a body of individuals. At present there is a great deal of independence and expertise in the Lords, but no democratic legitimacy and precious little representativeness.
If we go to an elected House, we will have a great deal of legitimacy and representativeness, but very little expertise and virtually no independence. We will not have the sort of expertise that we get from the retired diplomats and generals whom I mentioned, speaking in foreign affairs and defence debates, and we will not get independence because the only way to be elected will be on a party ticket.
Today's debate has a great ring of familiarity about it. It is like coming in on a movie that one has seen three times before being repeated on BBC4, and I confess that I am making much the same speech as I made before, as the right hon. Member for Swansea, West said he did. Perhaps we should leave the debate to those who were elected at the last election, to see whether they have different opinions. They may be the people who change the vote. I very much doubt whether anybody except the Leader of the House, who is standing on his head on the issue, will have changed their mind about it. Most of us thought about it very seriously indeed.
Last time the House voted for no change, which I thought was a sensible decision. I rather hope that it will do so again. What we have is something that works. The problem of the House of Lords is that although it works in practice, it does not work in some arbitrary theory. It works, so let us not try to fix it.
The 2005 Labour manifesto requires us to reform the upper Chamber so that it is
"effective, legitimate and more representative without challenging the primacy of the House of Commons."
I readily accept that. The point at issue is how we achieve it. For me, any proposal that contains an elected element could not achieve that manifesto requirement. A small but significant amount of reform to the House of Lords as it currently exists would achieve those requirements.
It has been much said that the post-1999 House of Lords, though in need of further reform, is doing a good job. Most people with an opinion on the subject say that. It is not broke. Statistically, it has not given the Government an easy ride. The number of rebellions, if that is the right term, between 1992 and 1999 was 133. Since then it has exceeded 350. There is widespread agreement that the 1999 reforms were a shot in the arm. We have an invigorated second Chamber, working to scrutinise and hold the Government of the day to account. It is more effective, more legitimate and more representative. Many of the options before us would damage the crucial tenets of the manifesto.
The question that has been asked is how an all-appointed House of Lords can be seen as legitimate. That presumes that an all or partly elected Chamber would, of necessity, be more so. Why? Elections are an essential component of a participative democracy, but they are not the sum total of that democracy. If elected peers took the party Whip and were less prepared to challenge the Executive, would that make them more legitimate? If the turnout for their elections did not break the 30 per cent. barrier, would that make them more legitimate? If a list system prevented a clear positive vote for a single candidate, would that make it more legitimate?
The convention that no one party should enjoy an overall majority has boosted confidence in the upper Chamber, as has the removal of all but the 92 hereditaries and the increasing number of people not taking the Whip. As has been said,
"legitimacy may come from other places than those you would immediately think."
I fear that the standing of politicians is generally low, and whatever the intention of the White Paper, it will add to that public opinion. The temptation for meddling by the Whips under any system involving elections, to the extent that debate and scrutiny might be curtailed, would be too great. One thing is surely clear and agreed—that we do not want in the Lords a replica of the system of Whips and party discipline that we have in the Commons. A fully or partly elected upper House would encourage that. If, for example, a piece of legislation was stalled or even blocked by the Lords, it would be difficult for the Whips. It is in their nature not to tolerate such a situation, knowing that they could intervene with their party affiliates to bring them into line if they so chose. Thus the system of checks and balances would be weakened.
These are only hypothetical questions at this stage, but only in the sense that the bridge has not been crossed. If we were to cross it and the decision was taken and implemented, it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, and time consuming to try to reverse it. An all-elected House would present a challenge to our basic system of democracy. The principle of one Member, one constituency would go out of the window, to be replaced by an unpleasant spectacle of rivalry in particular locations between the two Houses. One can imagine that that would be difficult if two people claiming legitimacy in the same area were from different parties, but it might be more difficult if they were from the same party. Even if the geographical boundaries were different, people would still claim legitimacy within a particular area. Legislation proposed by the Executive on a mandate from the Commons could be stalled on a competing mandate from the Lords. Stalemates could ensue and not be broken without back-room deals behind closed doors, away from public view. That is surely not what we want. Far from having increased accountability, we would have less.
A hybrid House would be even worse, with the danger that peers would not only challenge the Commons but challenge each other. Suppose that a vote was forced through on the back of the votes of appointed Members. Elected peers would be justifiably aggrieved. Elected Members might well set up "constituency" offices; unelected Members probably would not. Elected Members, notwithstanding the various systems of election being floated, could talk of "representing their constituents", or make claims to that effect; unelected Members could not. Elected Members could campaign in constituencies, as they saw them, and speak on local issues, vying for attention with MPs; unelected Members could not. That two-tier system would be the worst of both worlds.
Whatever the proportion chosen by election, I have yet to come across a list system that would be clearly understandable by the electorate and offer a real choice of candidates. As Lord Steel has said:
"Commons members should ponder what will happen when we have Lords members interfering in their constituency affairs on the grounds that they too have a mandate. They should talk to Scottish MPs and constituency MSPs who have been irritated by the activities of some of those elected to the Scottish Parliament on party regional lists. It is not a happy precedent."
Why risk creating such a situation in England and making it even worse in Scotland and Wales? It is specious to assume that reforming the second Chamber in the manner proposed would reinvigorate our politics and democracy. It is often said that the previous vote was a train crash or a poor day for the House, but in fact it reflected the view that there was no consensus in the House and that none of the options on offer was better than the status quo. We are told that because previous attempts at wholesale reform have ended in compromise or defeat, we have a duty to "finish the job" and that anything less will amount to a failure, but that does not account for the changed circumstances of acceptance of the new Lords in which we find ourselves.
In the same way that a convention that no party has an overall majority has been established and accepted following the 1999 reforms, we need evolution, not revolution. We should of course abolish the remaining hereditary peers and ensure that the appointments commission is statutory and has a codified role, as proposed by the campaign for an effective second Chamber. Those are real and substantive reforms that would preserve the best of what we now have. They would also be entirely consistent with manifesto commitments. The proposals in the White Paper, on the other hand, would not serve anyone's interests. The test of a good policy is not that it is the one that least dissatisfies the least number of people, which is the most positive argument that has been put forward for many of the proposals. Last year, a Populus poll found that 70 per cent. of people thought that the House of Lords was "doing a good job". That is a figure that most primary Chambers would die for.
The "elected" options before us are all seemingly simple answers to a complex problem, but there is no simple answer other than reforming the present House of Lords on a limited basis. For all the talk of the popular vote as a means to re-engage the public, there is no clamour as regards any "legitimacy deficit" in the Lords. Nobody mentions it to me on the doorstep; indeed, people are astonished that we do not have better things to do at this time than to be considering this issue. Why on earth it has been brought forward now, I fail to understand. Yes, people are concerned to bring the Executive to account, but that is what checks and balances are for. We do not elect our judges or professors, but they are not illegitimate. The "key principles" set out in the White Paper—that of a balance between parties, Cross-Bench and independent Members, religious representation, racial and gender balance and regional representation—can all be achieved with a system of appointments. That may not be possible, or possible only at the cost of any real choice through a system involving elections.
I want to end by urging caution. These constitutional arrangements are not ephemeral. The House of Lords has been around for hundreds of years. In the past few years it has done a much better job—
Lest it be thought that I am approaching this debate on the basis of an undeclared vested interest, let me remind the House that my wife is a life Member of the House of Lords, and I suppose that I have a right to stand for election there as an hereditary peer. I would have to give up my present seat to do so, and I have not the slightest intention of doing that, though I am told that I have the undeclared support of the Whips Office should I change my mind.
Let me begin my substantive remarks by making a few observations on what I have heard in this debate and on previous occasions. They are non-controversial—some would say commonplace—but none the less lead me to certain conclusions. The first and most obvious is that hon. Members in all parts of the House hold very diverse views and hold them passionately. That means that any Bill to be enacted will be long, controversial and arduous. Next, the House of Lords, as currently constituted, undoubtedly performs the modest role allocated to it extremely efficiently. Next, in the modern world, political authority stems from election and election only, and it is certain that if we had an elected or largely elected second Chamber, it would deem itself much more legitimate than it does now. I feel confident, too, that it would seek to take to itself powers that it currently does not have, or alternatively make more robust use of the powers that it does have. It seems to me that those are non-controversial views that would be shared by most right hon. and hon. Members.
From those observations I draw a number of conclusions that have guided my thinking on the matter. If it be the settled will of Parliament that the second Chamber should not possess or exercise greater powers than it has now, then subject to three minor adjustments we would be ill advised to embark upon change. If hon. Members wish the second Chamber to have greater powers or, alternatively put, to make a more robust use of existing powers, then we should support a largely or wholly elected second Chamber. That is the choice that right hon. and hon. Members must make. My own view, as one of those who supports a wholly elected Chamber, is that I do so because I want it to have greater powers or to make more robust use of existing powers.
I recognise that there is an argument in favour of the status quo, and I therefore make three suggestions to those who support that option as to how we can improve the House of Lords as presently constituted. First—I hope that hon. Members will not misunderstand this—the presence of the hereditary peerage in the second Chamber cannot be justified. Whether we get rid of it straight away or phase out the by-election system is a matter for debate, but there can be no argument for the hereditary peerage being Members of the legislature.
Secondly, I agree with the Leader of the House when he speaks about a statutory appointments commission. It is very important that the independence of that board be enshrined in statute and convention.
Thirdly, I want to see a diminution in the powers of party patronage. I therefore suggest that when a party puts forward for nomination to the second Chamber candidates from within that party, it should be required to put forward a number in excess of the places to be allocated to it, so that the appointments commission has an unfettered choice from that list. That would diminish patronage.
I favour a wholly elected Chamber, and I shall briefly advance the reasons for that. Throughout the debate, we have referred to the primacy of the House of Commons. Perhaps we should be more modest and recognise that the concept of the primacy of the House of Commons in our constitution is pretty meaningless. It would be meaningful if we had a genuine separation of powers, but when the Executive are part of the legislature, "the primacy of the House of Commons" is an empty phrase.
We should be honest with ourselves by asking whether we are properly performing the functions that are historically ours. As we all know well, those functions are: to scrutinise the Executive; to scrutinise legislation; and to call Governments to account. We know, if we are honest, that we do not do those things well, because the House has become largely the creature of party. As my father wrote in the 1970s, provided that the Executive retain control over their party, they can do what they please. That is not a proper way to govern in a democratic state.
Some hon. Members claim that we can reform ourselves from within so as to assert the independence of Members of this House. I regret to say that I do not believe that that will happen. It is against history and the practice that we have adopted. The plain truth is that Members of the House of Commons have surrendered their independence to their party. That is the central vice.
My right hon. and learned Friend is making a powerful case against, to use his father's words, elective dictatorship. However, how would an elected House of Lords be more likely to be independent in a way that it currently is not? An elected House of Lords would also become a creature of party and exacerbate the problem that he has identified.
My hon. Friend brings me to the exact point that I was about to make. I acknowledge the powerful argument, which he articulated, that an elected second Chamber could replicate the vices that I identified. The amendments that I tabled, which were understandably not selected, try to meet those objections. Mechanisms can be put in place. For example, I would support staggered elections and renewable terms—I do not agree with other hon. Members about that. I would choose the second Chamber by a proportional method other than the list system. I would ensure that Ministers were not Members of the second Chamber, to reduce the Executive's powers of patronage.
I am willing to admit that there is a risk along the lines that my hon. Friend Mr. Hayes expressed, but we must make a choice. If we fail to do our duties, we need at least, in the phrase of my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Clarke, to shame ourselves. We should use another Chamber to shame ourselves into performing the duties that we should undertake.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that the House of Lords could—certainly after Second Reading of a measure—impose, through its Standing Orders, a prohibition or some other method of ensuring that the whipping system was brought under greater control? Indeed, we lost the control in this House in 1886, when we relinquished the Speaker's rules and handed over the whole whipping system and Standing Orders to the Executive.
I need to be careful not to get on one of my favourite hobby-horses. I agree with much of what my hon. Friend has said. I have not been an enthusiastic supporter of the Whips Office since I was in it—it was not one of the more edifying periods in my career. I shall not get on the hobby-horse because I could become a bore on the subject. [Hon. Members: "Go on!"] No, indeed. However, I should like the power of the Whips Office to diminish here and in the other place.
I hope that my hon. Friend will forgive me, but I am conscious of time.
Many hon. Members have said truthfully that, if we go down the road of an elected second Chamber, we will lose much expert and wise counsel that is found in the other place. That is a terrible price to pay—and we would pay it. For all the reasons that have been given, many persons in the other House would not stand for election.
However, ultimately, we have to make a fundamental choice about powers. Legitimacy requires election. If we appoint, we diminish legitimacy. We cannot have a second Chamber that has greater powers or makes more robust use of existing powers unless it has political legitimacy. That means election. With a heavy heart, I therefore support a wholly elected Chamber to enable another place, by legitimate and democratic means, to face down an over-mighty Executive.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House on his handling of the subject and on turning defeat into victory—that is not too ungenerous—when he retreated from the voting method for tomorrow. It is worth putting on record that the skill with which he tackled the matter did him credit.
If we vote for nothing else tomorrow, we should introduce a measure in the near future to remove the remaining 92 hereditary peers. There is unanimous support for that among Labour Members, and perhaps it is a sign of how times change that so many Opposition Members have also argued in favour of it.
I shall not vote for elections to the other place for two reasons, which I hope I can explain. First, we need to define the function that we want the House of Lords to perform. We can do that only when we have defined the role that we, as Members of the House of Commons, want to perform in scrutinising legislation. What exactly is the role of Back Benchers in the process?
Much has been said about the legitimacy of the other place. I believe that its legitimacy is in its function and how well it performs it. We must therefore define exactly what we want it to do. As the White Paper states, and assuming that we vote for retaining a second Chamber—I shall follow my right hon. Friend Mr. Howarth in voting for a monocameral system—we want it to be a revising and reforming Chamber that at times has the power to delay legislation and to ask the House of Commons and the Executive to think again. No one has suggested that we want a weaker second Chamber or that its performance of its current function, when it is not elected, is weak. We are not talking about removing powers from the House of Lords. No hon. Member has suggested that it does not perform as well as it might, even though it is not elected. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House made it clear in his opening speech that we are not considering altering conventions between the House of Commons and the House of Lords and undermining the supremacy of the House of Commons as the primary legislative Chamber.
As my hon. Friend Mr. Mullin pointed out in an intervention at the beginning of the Leader of the House's address, Lord Kingsland has said that some Members of the other place believe that having elections to the second Chamber will increase its legitimacy and therefore its power to thwart and defy the House of Commons, and will fundamentally change the relationship between the House of Lords and the House of Commons. We have not had the opportunity to debate that, or to debate our own scrutiny functions. By definition, therefore, we have not resolved what we want from the second Chamber.
We are being invited to approve a 50 per cent. elected and 50 per cent. appointed upper House. Some would say that that is too timid a proposal. According to the White Paper, however, the only way to secure the representation in the legislative process of all sections of the community—ethnic minorities, people from different religious backgrounds, all walks of life and professions—is to have some form of appointment in the House of Lords. I presume that those with particular areas of expertise will be appointed to that revising Chamber to perform the reform and scrutiny function and amend legislation, thereby using their expertise in the most beneficial way. As the White Paper states, only by accepting the principle of appointment can we deliver that expertise and the representation of all sections of the community.
When politicians debate the problem of participation in elections, I am always amazed that, in our pompous way, we assume that the answer is another election—that another election will be the magic bullet that encourages people to turn out and vote. But what are we asking them to turn out and vote for? We are asking them to elect not a legislative body, but a body that scrutinises the legislation that the Government are attempting to introduce. I am not convinced that the electorate will all flood to vote for a body with such limited powers.
My hon. Friend Bill Etherington said that he was in favour of a 100 per cent. elected second Chamber. I would suggest, however, that someone with his independence of mind would not make it on to a party list system as proposed in the White Paper. It is not true to say that we are elected in exactly the same way; we do go through constituency parties, but there is a murky science behind the positioning of candidates on a list. The proposal would not have a dramatic impact on people's confidence in the democratic process or on turnout.
The role of the House of Commons, and the relationship between Back Benchers and the Executive, needs to be resolved. I am a firm believer in the Select Committee system, which works extremely well, but we have been too reluctant and reticent to build on its success and effectiveness in scrutinising legislation. When the Leader of the House was Home Secretary, he set up the Special Standing Committee for the Immigration and Asylum Bill, which involved people from the wider community with an interest in the subject in making a difficult piece of legislation more effective and acceptable. That is one of the best examples of the process, on which we should build. Back Benchers should have their own committee of appointment, separate from the Executive, to appoint Members to such bodies and co-opt expertise from outside the House. If we had a debate about the role of the House of Commons, and not just one about the House of Lords, we could address that issue.
I do not accept that Ministers need to be appointed in the House of Lords. If there are to be such Ministers—I hope not—the Leader of the House should at least accept the principle that they should come from among the elected Members, if there are any, and not from the appointed Members of the House of Lords.
There is one commanding principle—certainly for me—about the making of laws: those who make the laws should be accountable to those who bear the laws. That theme ran through the Labour party, and has run through most democratic, common law societies.
The United States provides an instance of a second chamber that was elected with the thought that it might be less powerful than the House of Representatives. In the telling of that tale, we also learn that what we think we are doing might not be that which comes about. It is difficult to see the United States Senate as subordinate to the House of Representatives. It has taken on a duality of roles and an equality of purpose in the making of laws.
I rather hope that that will be one of the consequences of an elected second Chamber. I am not afraid of the Executive in the House of Commons being blocked by those who have the legitimacy of election in the Lords or the second Chamber. I believe in that tension.
During the 20th century, the high tide mark has been reached for party government. A leader of a party with a majority in the House of Commons has effectively been able to do almost anything, and we have harrumphed that. I have always been a Back Bencher—and for compelling reasons—because I am nervous of the great men on white horses who want to go to war, I am nervous of those with great schemes, and I want to ask the question, "Why?"
I believe in this society, and I believe it to be a great one. Over recent years, however—I have been here for 28 years—I have seen the rise of the Executive almost unstopped. I have watched the parties—good men and women, elected and accountable to whole constituencies, areas and regions—lay themselves down in front of an Executive and ensure by their vote that what may not be a representative opinion prevails. I have heard about the mantra of the manifesto, which is mostly read—only read—by those who write it, from end to end. That is one of the truths. I came long ago to the judgment that a mention in a 78-page manifesto should not make it the compelling document that drives public policy in this country.
I want to see the legitimacy of a second Chamber. However, the Leader of the House is perhaps ill-suited to steer us in the ways of elections, having saddled us with the most derided electoral system for elections to the European Parliament. I believe that there should be clarity when a representative is elected. The question "Who makes the law" and the question that follows it—"How do I get rid of them?"—along with all the other questions, melt into that great scheme of things.
The Americans, in a logical, sensible way—those English gentlemen, largely, who were in revolt against the Crown—set out to consider what should be a second Chamber.
I will not, if the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me.
What those gentlemen thought can be read in the federalist papers. It is well set out and well argued. One does not have to agree with it, but it is clear that what the Americans have had for 200 years is a second Chamber that is accountable. That is why I believe that excluding the ministerial team from our second Chamber so that no powers of patronage can reach it is an important development.
The Leader of the House has suggested that the House of Lords should have 540 Members. Ours is an extraordinary country, if we think about it. With 1,400 Members of Parliament, we should be drowning under elected people. Why not 150 Members? America seems to run a second Chamber with 100.
I am fearful of what might happen if we are not clear about what we want to achieve. I am quite clear about what I want: I want Governments to fight for their business. I want them sometimes to lose their business. That does no harm to the greater entity. We are now living in a world in which the House of Lords is held in higher esteem as it blocks measure after measure from the Government that touches on our liberties and freedoms, and I think it important for us to retain that check.
I know that this is only the beginning of a process, but I profoundly believe that the House of Lords should be 100 per cent. elected. It is true that, as was said by my right hon. Friend Mrs. May, we shall lose some very distinguished expertise, but are we not capable, as a people, of governing ourselves? Those who feel passionate about the processes of public life will engage in them properly, through election, through pamphleteering, through the ways in which laws are changed. I seek, passionately, a real check on the power of the Executive in this Chamber, for given the nature of human beings and the nature of our own history, I too have reached the conclusion that men and women are driven by patronage and the desire for office.
The very function and purpose that sent us here to be representative has increasingly become something that we put to the back of our minds. The history and interests of Scotland, the north-east, the north-west, the midlands and the south-east are in many respects very different. We now have an appointed House of Lords that is essentially an SW1, W14, south-east House—a London House. How can we revitalise our nation? Where are the people who live in the midlands and come down to speak in the House of Lords? By and large, they are the political appointees who have retired from this House.
I want an upper House—another place—that is representative of our country, from Scotland and Northern Ireland and from Wales to the south-west. I want a House whose Members are chosen by their people. That is why I think that something along the lines of the first European electoral areas would be satisfactory, with two Members who are elected "a third and a third" over six years. It is nonsensical for someone to stand for election for 12, 14 or 15 years with no possibility of ever being re-elected. There is no accountability in that. I can tell any lie to an electorate to be voted in—
It is a pleasure to follow Mr. Shepherd, who made a characteristically thought-provoking speech.
I want to speak about an issue that has arisen time and again today, the primacy of this Chamber. Let me put my cards on the table: I agree that this Chamber should have primacy, but I think it worth exploring what we mean by that. We should ask what is the primacy that we fear we shall lose if we have a predominantly elected second Chamber, what it allows us to do, and what the main function of this Chamber is.
A number of those who argue most passionately against an elected second Chamber are those who are often also most passionate about the "majoritarian" system here in the House of Commons. It is no secret that I am not a great fan of our current electoral system, but there is a logic that tells us that if we go along with it and our party wins under first past the post, the role of the majority party is to deliver the Government's programme for that Parliament. Conversely, the role of the Opposition is to oppose and seek to thwart that programme.
As I have said, I am not a fan of the current electoral system, but I do not have a particular problem with that arrangement. As a Labour MP, I want my Government to succeed. However, it is not as simple as that, is it? We have another role in this Chamber, and Parliament as a whole has another role: the role of scrutiny, even scrutiny of a Government who are the same colour as us. There are examples of that working quite well—I agree with those who have said the Select Committee system works pretty well—but when it comes to key issues, especially legislative issues, Parliament's scrutiny role can all too easily come into conflict with our role in delivering or, indeed, opposing a Government's programme.
We saw an instance of that last week. It is no particular secret that the Offender Management Bill was somewhat controversial from the point of view of all parties. When Ministers and Whips tried to win around those of us who had one or two reservations, much of their effort consisted of trying to persuade us to exercise our scrutiny role in what they considered to be a better way—to persuade us, in other words, of the arguments in favour of the Bill.
I do not think I am revealing too many trade secrets if I add that sometimes other arguments are brought to bear. We may be told, "We have made certain concessions on this Bill, and the time has come to back off. Do you really want the Government whom you support to be defeated?"—defeated, that is, in this place. In such circumstances, the issue of loyalty—loyalty to what we believe in, loyalty to our party, loyalty to the overall cause—is tied, and the test becomes whether we follow the party line on a measure. We are told that our responsibility is to support the Government not just when we consider them to be doing the right thing, but when we do not.
Those pressures apply in opposition as well. In many ways, opposition is the mirror image. I am sure that some Opposition Members thought there were some rather good things in the Offender Management Bill: indeed, I could quote Opposition spokespeople who said many of those things a few months ago. However, there was also a temptation, or a pressure, to take the opportunity to inflict some damage if there was a chance of doing so. That is the role of an Opposition.
All that is not entirely wrong. We are living in the real world, a world of 24-hour media. The ability of a Government to deliver their programme is important to their credibility, and the ability to inflict damage and, if possible, defeat a Government is important to an Opposition who wish to build up their own credibility; but we are kidding ourselves if we think that that does not compromise our ability to scrutinise. We can react to that in different ways, and the process often conspires to push us into the role of either loyalist or rebel: both are entirely possible, and in a sense quite easy, in this Chamber. However, I believe that if we are to do our job as parliamentarians we should not perform one or other of those roles, because we must be both part of the legislature—we are representatives of our parties—and we must scrutinise as well. Because of the pressures on us, we cannot do that properly and effectively on our own. Primacy means that the House of Commons must have the final say—I agree with that—but it also means that we must allow ourselves to be challenged, and not challenged only on those things that it is convenient or okay for us to be challenged on, but on those things that it is difficult for us to be challenged on.
Therefore, the debate about the role and composition of the second Chamber is not to do with the relationship of one House to the other House. In my view, it is about the relationship between Parliament and the legislature on the one hand and the Executive on the other. Some say that if we were to accept that there is a need for revision and a democratic second Chamber—one that claims democratic legitimacy—that would create a problem for us. I do not agree; I think that to hold that view is to cling to a comfort blanket, and that does not reflect the real world. I take the opposite view: if we believe that a second Chamber must have the important constitutional role of scrutiny and revision, it must have a democratic legitimacy, although a different one—it needs term limits and a different method of election and a system that minimises, and probably eliminates, the chances of any party having an overall majority. If we were to have all of that, that would give us the chance of having a Chamber with a different composition and, hopefully, greater independence.
I also think that there is a role for a minority of non-elected people, to retain some of the expertise that exists in the current House of Lords. In terms of an elected element, I say to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that I can live with a list system, but I do not think that we will get the independence that is wished for if it is a closed list system—or, indeed, just a partly open list system. An open list system is the route that should be chosen—or something similar that achieves that end.
The presence of non-elected people can add to the strength and the role of the second Chamber. However, to those who say that we should retain the voices of such people in that Chamber—the voices of people who do not want to stand for election but who have something distinctive to contribute—and who say that the way to achieve that is by appointment and only by appointment, I say that if the second Chamber is to have the role proposed for it, it must be able to say something important to the people outside Parliament. In the last Parliament when Baroness Morris was a Member of this House, she gave a powerful speech in favour of a predominantly elected second Chamber. She said that it had to ring true with the people out there, and I agree. One of the things that will allow it to ring true is if it offers opportunities for anybody in this country who wants to have a role in the process of scrutiny, a role in the process of revision and a role in our democratic process, but who wants to have different roles from those entailed by standing for election to this House. Such people can put themselves forward to an appointments commission—and perhaps they can get appointed as a result of that. However, they should also have the right to stand for election and to say to the people in their region—or whatever the boundary is—that they want to perform those roles. If that were the case, that would be a part of what would make that second Chamber legitimate, and that would also add to its role of helping Members of this House to scrutinise legislation and to provide a check on the Executive. It would also be a stimulus to this House to do its job better and give greater clarity to the roles of Parliament and the Executive.
May I make it clear at the outset of my speech that my preferred option is a 100 per cent. elected Chamber? I used to believe in the predominantly elected option, which I defined as about 80 per cent. or 70 per cent. elected, until I attended a public meeting, and having stated that I wanted that little headroom for the great and the good who would not stand for election, somebody in the audience asked me to name them, and I could not. I therefore decided that 100 per cent. was the proper proportion. However, like Mr. Clarke, I am fairly certain that that will not be the outcome, and I will therefore happily accept a lower percentage of elected Members than 100 per cent.
I am also on record as having said that I believe that Lords reform is a process and not an event. I believe that from the moment when elections are introduced, that will become an unstoppable process—I am in favour of that—and that we will eventually end up with an elected element of about 80 per cent. or 100 per cent. Therefore, I have a slightly different view from that of some of my colleagues, who might feel bound not to vote for a lower percentage. However, they are doing a very good job of trying to persuade me, and at the end of tomorrow night, having listened to the debate, I shall take my own counsel and decide what I should do.
I also wish to make a point at the outset about hybridity. A number of Members have said that a hybrid House would be bound to fail. In response to that, I just point out that for 50 years the House of Lords was a hybrid House in that its Members included those who got there by an accident of birth and those who got there by an accident of patronage, and they co-existed perfectly happily. I believe in the good will of the men and women who will find themselves in that House, and I believe that they will be able to co-exist.
It is important for those of us who believe in reform to state why we believe in that. Several Members have tonight used the old adage, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it". It is seductive to think of the House of Lords as somewhere where diligent scrutiny work is done and wonderful debates are held and to believe that it is best left alone, but to think that is to make a very great mistake, because the House of Lords is fundamentally broken. It is the lack of legitimacy, which many Members have referred to, that makes it broken. For anybody who has sat in the other place and experienced hours and hours of work in Committee—with, I have to say, greater diligence than I have ever experienced in a Committee in this place—and on Third Reading and Report, it is sad to then see that work cavalierly tossed aside by a House that has rushed in to vote with no knowledge of what they have done, which is what happens. That 90 per cent. of such work goes to waste is not a particularly good recommendation.
Any second Chamber that is not composed predominantly, or wholly, of an elected element will not be considered legitimate by us, by the media or by the public. It must have such legitimacy, and that is why I reject the idea that there should be an appointed House.
Although many peers work exceptionally hard and regularly demonstrate immense expertise, does the hon. Gentleman not agree that, on the whole, the most vociferous champions of an unreformed second Chamber are current Members of the unreformed second Chamber, and that on the principle that no one should be judged in his own cause we should not pay too much attention to that particular form of special pleading?
I agree. What happens is extraordinary; I have watched many people, including some members of my own party, go native very rapidly. There is a practical point in this—it is one of the reasons why I believe in introducing rolling elections. I would get rid of none of the appointed life peers. I would let them just quietly die off.
Let me turn briefly to the unicameral system, which several Members have mentioned. For a unicameral system to work it has to be able to take a decision that goes against the Government—the Executive—and to be able to take that decision without bringing that Government down. That might work in small countries, but I do not think that it can work in large countries. Even with proportional representation and modernisation, it would not be possible to arrive at a situation where that could be made to work. In parenthesis, I should say that in my judgment the experience of the Scottish Parliament highlights that, because what happens there is that the elections under PR result in a negotiation at the beginning and there is then created through partnership the same sort of elected dictatorship as we get in this place with the first-past-the-post system.
Does the hon. Gentleman not also agree that having a unicameral Parliament is particularly dangerous in cases where the Government are drawn from the principal Chamber? The situation might be slightly different in a presidential system, where all the Ministers are outwith the Chamber, but it is very dangerous when they are drawn from it.
I completely agree with the Leader of the House.
I therefore come to the only option left: an elected Chamber. Several Members have said that we should look at function before form. It is a good architectural principle that function dictates form, but therein is a dead-end and a trap that must be avoided at all costs. This is the fourth or fifth major debate on House of Lords reform in which I have taken part in one or other of the Houses. I used to think that function should come first and form should follow, but I have come to understand that that is the way of no progress. Our start point, rather, should be to say, "We are broadly content with the work that the second Chamber does today, and we should therefore allow its function to evolve once we have given it its form." In looking at that form, I suggest that we need to look at its strengths and weaknesses.
There are strengths in the other place. One is that no one party has overall control, which is important. The light whipping—one cannot whip someone whom one cannot get rid of—is also important and leads to independence. Peers have no constituencies and therefore have a regional or national view, and they can devote a lot of time to legislation. The most striking difference between our two Houses is that in the other place, all the work centres around the Chamber. Peers get paid only if they sit; if they are in the House but they do not sit, they do not get paid. Here, much of our work is constituency-based, outside the Chamber.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Let me be clear: he is saying that he wants Lords who spend their time in the Chamber, who do not have constituencies and who are not answerable to parties. How would they be democratically accountable to anybody?
If they are elected, they will be highly democratically accountable—a point that I will come to.
The other side of the coin is the weaknesses, one of which is legitimacy. The current House is unrepresentative. When the hereditaries were there, we had innumerable debates on salmon fishing, rather than on the common fisheries policy. The current composition is heavily weighted towards Oxbridge, former Members of this House and lawyers. Election would certainly help there. The other place is also heavily weighted towards older Members, if I might put it that way. A single long term of 12 years, with a composition renewable by one third every four years, would give a system that best mirrors the House's current strengths. Such a system is most likely to deliver a House that will do the work that we require of it, and in a legitimate way that will enable it to stand up to this House to a certain extent.
I turn to primacy, about which Richard Burden made some points. We have to be clear what primacy actually means. The White Paper gives three criteria, the first two of which I can happily agree with. First, this House is directly elected at a general election and therefore forms the Government—I would add in parenthesis that it also supplies the Ministers—and secondly, we are in charge of the money. However, I question, at the very least, the third reason given. It is ridiculous to expect a reformed legislative House to have its views rejected as often and in as off-handed a manner as we have been wont to do. Although this House may rightfully expect to prevail on major manifesto commitments, we must expect to give way more often; otherwise, what on earth is the point of reform? So I say, primacy, yes, but supremacy, no. We want a strong Parliament, which requires a strong House of Lords.
I return to the practical point of how we get from an endless debate on how to reform, to achieving that reform. There are many things that I have not attempted to address this evening, such as the size of the constituencies and the manner in which we would hold such elections; they can wait for what the Leader of the House described as the sunny uplands—if we ever get there. The practical point is that Members of the other place have a genuine self-interest in this regard. If we tell them that they are all safe and we provide for them to resign, quite a lot of them will; they will retire gracefully. If we feed in one third over a 12-year period, we will end up with a slightly smaller House—certainly a lot smaller than the one that I was in. That might be pork-belly politics, but it is a small price to pay for achieving our goals.
It is unthinkable that our great democracy should continue to live in a time warp of heredity and patronage. It is time to reform. It is time to put our trust in the people, and it is time, frankly, for a stronger Parliament.
I am more than delighted to follow John Thurso. He is the living embodiment of what can happen when somebody goes native when changing from one Chamber to the other—of what a good thing it can be to be subjected to the process of election.
I start with a point that the hon. Gentleman made well. If we want a strong Parliament, we cannot have a partly illegitimate Parliament. We can have a strong Parliament that is able to do a proper job by its Government—incidentally, I believe that good government can happen only when Parliament does a good job by it—only if we make sure that it is not hampered, hobbled and crippled by part of its very constitution.
There are significant problems with the way in which the House of Lords is currently constituted. It is extraordinary that some Members have argued today that part of our Parliament should be deliberately illegitimate. It is extraordinary that we are happy to see so unrepresentative a second Chamber as we presently have. I merely note the fact that the average age of Members of the second Chamber is 68. In the 19th century, this House had to introduce legislation to protect children from being sent to work at the age of 10 or 12. We should be protecting the ancient, the elderly and the decrepit, who should not be forced still to work at the age of 85 and 93. We should be enabling them to retire or to resign. It is extraordinary that people appointed to the second Chamber have their jobs for life. Of course, that means that somebody convicted of perjury, for instance, cannot be sacked and removed from the second Chamber. For that matter, peers cannot retire. One Liberal Democrat peer has tried to retire—sort of; he is just not attending any more—but officially and technically, he is still a Member of the second House.
One Member pointed out earlier that the second Chamber now represents London almost exclusively. Of the 323 new peers appointed since 1997, 147 come from London and 38 come from elsewhere in the south-east of England; only three come from the north-east, and only five from the east midlands. It is wholly unrepresentative because appointment very rarely leads to anything other than an unrepresentative selection of people.
I have a technical point for the hon. Gentleman. Peers may take leave of absence, which means that they cannot get fees and cannot vote, but there is no way out other than in a box or through the House of Lords Act 1999.
Indeed. The hon. Gentleman makes my point for me.
The most extraordinary point—I find it odd that it has not been mentioned today so far—is the process of by-elections for hereditary peers. We already have a hybrid Chamber, with people who are elected to it, some who are there by appointment and the bishops, who are halfway between election and appointment, because each diocese has a process to determine support for them to be put in their posts.
There are only 91 hereditary peers at present, and a by-election is being held. Forty-seven people could stand—they also form the electorate—and 43 of them are standing. All of those people are busily going around trying to persuade others to vote for them—and sometimes trying to persuade themselves to vote for themselves. It is hoped that some people will get more than their own vote. In any event, it is an extraordinary process. The last time we had a by-election for a hereditary peer, the Viscount Montgomery of Alamein—who is in favour of elections for the second Chamber—defeated an earl after a fifth redistribution of the votes. It is the only election in the British electoral system that uses the alternative vote.
All of that brings the system into disrepute, and that is because it is based on three fundamentally flawed principles. The first is heredity. None of us—Sir Patrick Cormack may enlighten us later about whether he is an exception—believes that heredity is a principle that should be embodied in our constitution. Few of us would now choose a plumber because his father was also a plumber. It is bizarre that we should choose to believe that someone should be a legislator because his father was a legislator.
Nor is appointment a suitable system. Many people have referred to expertise. Indeed, they have gloried in the expertise of the second Chamber. However, my experience of the Communications Act 2003 and the debates in both Houses was that although the debate in the House of Lords was informed by seven or eight former director-generals of the BBC or people who had run various broadcasting organisations, all their expertise referred to the 1960s, 1970s or 1980s. They were still talking about cathode ray tubes and whether the black and white television licence was too expensive, when we were trying to talk about embedded phonograms and other issues of today. The process of appointment, especially for life, will inevitably mean that the second Chamber will always be reactionary and out-of-date in its expertise.
Another problem with appointment—and it affects all parties, not only the Labour party—is that it is like the proverbial tar baby. It is remarkably difficult to devise a system of appointment that does not collapse into cronyism or dodgy deals. That is why it would be almost impossible for any political party represented in this Chamber to suggest people for appointment to the second Chamber. Probably even Mother Teresa would not be able to be appointed to the second Chamber now, such is the level of distrust in the nation with the process of appointment.
It has not been mentioned much, but every time the public are asked how the second Chamber should be composed, they say it should be by election—
The Leader of the House corrects me. That is not to say that a single person has ever approached me in Treorchy market and said, "Listen, Chris. The most important thing you have to deal with is the House of Lords." Nobody does that, but when people are asked, they say that they prefer election. I know that some hon. Members have pooh-poohed that suggestion and said that it is because the public do not know better, but I think that we should trust the people more than that.
The third principle by which people get to sit in the second Chamber is through the reserved seats for the bishops. I am glad that we are not voting on that tomorrow. I would personally prefer to remove the bishops, because I do not think that theocracy is a very good way to run a country, but I am glad that we are not having that vote tomorrow. Instead, we will divide on a set of clear proposals.
There are two better principles for determining who sits in the second Chamber. First, many hon. Members have referred to the primacy of the Commons, and I also believe in that. The hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross said that it should be primacy, but not supremacy. I believe that it should be primacy, but not exclusivity. It is vital—and we should enshrine it in statute, not just some gentleman's agreement as at present—that the Government of this country should be formed only by virtue of its majority in this Chamber and, for that matter, that the Prime Minister, and several other members of the Cabinet, can only be elected Members of this Chamber. That is not our constitutional settlement and that is something that we should change. It is important that when we do have elections, we do not have the whole second Chamber elected in one go, because that runs the danger of having the two Chambers at loggerheads because they have different mandates, both clearly established by election. That is why it is important that we have a rolling system of elections to the second Chamber.
Many people focus primarily on the revising job and the confrontation that the second Chamber might have with the Government. However, it is often the Government who use the second Chamber to introduce amendments that they have had more time to think about. That is a very important role and one of the reasons why we need a second Chamber. Another is the process of scrutiny in a different environment, away from the rigours of the constituency focus that we have in this House, and that can be done better in a second Chamber.
The other principle, which should be our primary principle, is democracy. I was partly brought up in Spain under Franco, and many people from other countries, if they were to listen to British people talk about democracy today, would be bewildered and saddened. They would ask why we are so jaded about democracy. What is wrong that we are able to insist on democracy in Iran, Iraq or elsewhere in the world, but are not prepared to stand by it in this country? Have we been voting for too long? Do we take it for granted?
Reform of the House of Lords is part of a steady progress from the end of the absolute monarchy under the Stuarts to the abolition of the rotten boroughs, the introduction of extended and then universal male suffrage, the secret ballot and, finally, votes for women. This will be seen as the next stage in an important process of change in Britain.
It is always a pleasure to follow Chris Bryant, even though I do not agree with everything—or indeed anything—that he says. He sometimes gets carried away by the exuberance of his rhetoric. To suggest that in the well informed debate on the renewal of the BBC licence the other place was talking about black and white sets and cathode ray tubes is absurd. Everybody recognises that their debates are often—in fact, usually—much better than our own.
As politicians we are naturally obsessed with composition, but before we worry too much about that we should ask what we are trying to achieve. What is the House of Lords for? What does it do badly? What could it do better?
"nobody cared a damn for the House of Lords".—[ Hansard, 14 March 1968; Vol. 760, c. 1612.]
He also suggested that that sentiment should be incorporated in legislation reforming the House of Lords. Whatever our obsessions are, the public are generally apathetic about it. The truth is that the House of Lords does its job well, it is worthy and much of it is dull. If the House of Lords were in an office block down the road with a spartan canteen attached, I sometimes wonder whether Members of Parliament would sell their souls to join it or rich men would spend oodles of their own money to get into it. It does a good job, much of it boring, but it is not a fundamental issue that is dividing the British public.
Indeed, every survey shows that the British public are vague about what the House of Lords does. In the 1968 debate, Enoch Powell was asked what the House of Lords was for. He replied:
"It is not for anything, it just is, like an oak tree. You don't ask what an oak tree is for, do you?"
There is a lot in that. I think that the House of Lords exists to correct Governments, not to change them. It does that correcting job well.
I know that high Tory principles are no longer popular, but we believe that if it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change. What is wrong with the House of Lords? Is it extravagant or wasteful? What is its cost per Member, compared with the House of Commons—or, dare I ask, the European Parliament? Is it bad at its job of amending legislation? Does it lack independence? Is there a lack of quality in its Members? Are its debates second rate? Is it a creature of the Executive?
The answer to all those questions is no. The House of Lords does its fairly dull job well. Perhaps, before we start reforming the other place—before we look at the mote in its eye—we should think of the beam in our own. Forty years ago, Tom Galbraith, that left-wing firebrand, quoted Hilaire Belloc's lines:
"And always keep a hold of Nurse
For fear of finding something worse."
He reminded the House of Commons that we should
"stop scratching at the pimple of privilege in the Lords, and take a good strong dose of salts that will flush out the constipated workings of our own Chamber."—[ Hansard, 19 November 1968; Vol. 773, c. 1214.]
Forty years later, there is still a lot of truth in that.
No doubt there are rogues and scoundrels, lazy people and good ones in the House of Lords, but a couple of hundred Members there charge the electorate very little for doing a damn good job. We should leave them alone.
This Chamber is the most supine lower House in the western world, the one most under the thumb of the Executive. Our Select Committees are among the weakest in the world, and are nothing like the Congressional Committees. We have minimal control—
The hon. Lady can say that, but of course I cannot. I was about to say that this House has minimal control over the estimates, even though that was the function for which it was originally created hundreds of years ago.
So what is wrong with the House of Lords as it is? We are told that it is not democratic and that only elections confer respectability. Apparently, the public are all in favour of an elected upper House. At least, that is what all the focus groups say, but focus-group policies always ensure that liberal orthodoxy wins in this House. That is why I am always on the losing side in every free vote that we have.
Be that as it may, I spent some minutes talking to some of my constituents earlier today and they asked some sensible questions. Is there any appetite for elections to the House of Lords? Does it do a good job already? What would the turnout be in elections for a third, or half, of half a Parliament, which could delay legislation for one year?
What on earth would be the interest among the public for elections that would be much the same as those for Members of the European Parliament? I wonder whether any hon. Members in the Chamber—apart from those with London constituencies—can name a London MEP?
Well, it would have to be an anorak from the Liberal party. No sane person takes any interest in what MEPs do. The partly open, partly closed system being proposed will ensure that 100 people from the east midlands will go to a cinema in Nottingham to select a few people—who cannot get into this House—to be Members of the House of Lords. That is what the reality will be.
No one in this debate has answered the point made 40 years ago by Reggie Maudling, that
"The problem of the second Chamber is not so much a potential challenge to us but the fact that it would reflect the political composition of the House, in which case it would be a rubber stamp, or a different political composition, in which case there would be a constant conflict between the two Houses."—[ Hansard, 19 November 1968; Vol. 773, c. 115.]
At present, the House of Lords is a revising Chamber. Its Members make their points sensibly and well and then, after hours of debate, they back down and accede to the elected Chamber. The system works pretty well.
No one has given a convincing explanation of what will happen when elected people in the other place say that they have greater democratic legitimacy and refuse to back down. Will the Government invoke the Parliament Act every year, on just about every Bill? What would that do for democracy?
I accept that I might lose that argument, and that people really might want elections to the House of Lords. For the moment, let us assume that elections will make this place more vigorous. I do not understand the argument that to ensure that we become more vigorous we must reform the other place, but the elections that are held should be based on the system that people understand. We should have senators for Lincolnshire, or London, or Derbyshire: we do not need them to be elected to represent enormous regions that no one understands.
Moreover, it is absurd that people should be allowed to serve for 15 years. Where did that idea come from? Even President de Gaulle, who wanted to be a republican king, did not want to serve for 15 years without an election.
I can tell the hon. Gentleman that the idea came from a former Conservative Chief Whip.
That may not be a recommendation. It is still a daft idea. No one can accept it.
Why are we cursed with the principle that all the electoral regions must be the same? Under the American constitution, both Rhode Island and California send two Senators to the US Congress. People in America understand who their Senators are.
However, let us assume that I lose that point as well. I shall try to persuade the House about my final point. It is very important: it is at the heart of the amendment that I tabled, and I think that the Leader of the House may agree with it.
I beg the House to ensure that the House of Lords is not filled with clones of the Members in this place. We in this House are creatures of the Executive. Most of us, whatever may be said in public, privately want to be one thing and one thing only—a Minister of the Crown.
I urge the Leader of the House to drop the daft idea of the 15-year term. He should consider the amendments that would prevent people elected to the other place from being allowed to serve as Ministers. If we are to have an elected other place, that provision would make it much more like the US Senate. People would serve in the upper House who were interested not in becoming Ministers but in holding the Executive to account.
Those are the sort of people whom we need. My good friend the late Eric Forth was interested in going to an elected place for precisely that reason. In many conversations he told me that he had no more interest in being a Minister, but that he wanted to hold the Executive to account.
Not now, as I must finish in a moment.
Do we really want to have a load of ambitious 30- or 40-somethings in the other place who want to become Ministers? That is the crucial question. Even if they are appointed for many years, that insidious ambition will creep into their souls. The option should be taken away from them. They should be told that their job is to advise and consent. If necessary, they could be given a role in approving the appointment of ambassadors, as happens in the US Senate, or in delaying legislation. They could have all the revising powers, but they must not be creatures of the Executive.
In the past 20 years, the Opposition have defeated the Government of the day only a handful of times. The other place works when it comes to holding the Executive to account. We must not throw the baby out with the bathwater. If we are going to have an elected Chamber, we must at least ask what it is for, and ensure that is genuinely independent.
I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in the debate and to follow Mr. Leigh.
One of the constitutional innovations of the new Labour Government was to allow ordinary people to give evidence to royal commissions. I was the first so-called ordinary person to give evidence to the Wakeham commission on reform of the House of Lords in 1999. I am glad to say that arriving here has not changed my fundamental attitude to the way in which the upper House should be composed.
As other hon. Members have said, Britain is an unusual country. It is a multinational state built up over 500 years from England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland and, in the past 50 years, it has become a multi-ethnic country. At the moment, 5 per cent. of the population belongs to a non-white minority community, and the proportion is much higher among young people. Yet this diversity is hardly reflected in the House of Lords. Why is it that only one parliamentarian in five is a woman? Is it right that ethnic minorities are under-represented? Is it right that 26 places are reserved for Anglican bishops and that we retain 92 hereditaries? As my hon. Friend Chris Bryant said, the average age of a peer is rising 70.
Although we have no bishops and peers, the position in this Chamber is not much better. So, with institutions that look like this, is it any wonder that only 37 per cent. of young people voted in the last general election? These inadequacies in our reflectiveness of the general population represent a deeper problem—an inability so far to make sense of our new British identity. To do this, we need not only laws relating to individual citizenship, rights and responsibilities; we need institutions that reflect our diversity.
Unless we happen to be a bishop or an hereditary peer, the only part of our identity that counts for political purposes in this country is the geographical constituency within which we live. The House of Commons represents us by providing representation for the community in which we live—rural, urban, industrial or by the sea. But for most people, that is only part of their definition of themselves. Other aspects of our lives such as gender and race matter too. Arguably, economic and social changes mean that the geographical communities are becoming less significant over time.
I believe that House of Lords reform represents an opportunity to right some of these wrongs. We could establish a second Chamber that complements the Commons and the make-up of which suits its revising functions and focus on individual rights. I am therefore sympathetic to those who argue for option 1—a reformed appointed Chamber which represents all regions, classes, faith communities, the voluntary sector, ethnic minorities, gender balance and, I would add, young people. However, I cannot agree that the Members should be appointed. It is a basic principle in a country that claims to be democratic that those who legislate should be elected by those for whom they legislate. That consideration overrides all others.
My preference, therefore, would be for elections by colleges and to allow people to choose for themselves which they belong to, in a similar way to the system in the United States, where people can register as a Republican or a Democrat. So if a large number of people wished to define themselves as women, they could vote in that college, whereas if they wanted to represent themselves as members of the Church of England, they could vote in that college.
So I was disappointed when I read the White Paper and saw in section 7 the brief dismissal of what have been called indirect elections. I do not believe that they are as impractical as has been suggested. It is the system, roughly speaking, that is used for the Irish Senate. As far as I understand it, it is a system that we designed and that the Irish have used for 90 years. However, it is not on the agenda today. If nothing succeeds in getting through, I hope that we can look again at so-called indirect elections.
As that option is not on the table, therefore, I shall vote for a predominantly elected Chamber—options 4, 5 and 6; 50 per cent. elected, 60 per cent. elected and 80 per cent. elected. I shall not vote for 100 per cent. elected because I am not confident that the system of elections or the political parties will be capable of producing the diversity that we need in our legislature. Appointments are needed to make up the deficits.
I also agree with the amendment that Dr. Palmer tabled, which unfortunately we will not be voting on. It suggests that either none or all the major belief systems should be represented. For example, if we went down the route of electing 80 per cent. of the Members, the Anglican bishops would take a fifth of the share of appointments. I do not think that it is right, as some people have suggested, to say that no longer reserving 26 places for the Anglican bishops necessarily means the disestablishment of the Church of England. Most of the bishops to whom I have spoken admit that they do not have time to do justice to the role. It is objectionable to many of us, and even to many who belong to the Church of England, that the sexism in the Church is brought into the legislative process here for the whole nation.
It would be perfectly reasonable for us to require the Church of England to elect its representatives as well and for us to look more widely at the other faith communities having elections. Notwithstanding the fact that we are not going to vote on that, I hope that the Leader of the House will ask the faith communities to consider that now, so that we have some proper preparations and when we come to legislation the problem will have been addressed.
In considering this debate and listening to the many speeches that we have heard today, I am still no further forward as to exactly what the House of Lords is expected to do, what functions it performs, whether it represents value for money and whether it is necessary at all. We live cheek by jowl with our be-ermined Friends, who exist a few hundred metres along the corridor. We refer to the House of Lords as the other place, but to me it is totally other-worldly. Look who inhabits that place. We have the landed gentry, the bishops, the odd ex-MP bumped off to make way for Cabinet Ministers and boundary reviews, but more than anything else we have those who are described as "the great and the good"—the appointed peers. We appoint them as our betters and expect them to ensure that our legislation is improved.
It strikes me at times that all the people who inhabit that place are, first, incredibly wealthy. They are unrepresentative of our general community. I do not know how many multimillionaires there are in the communities of hon. Members here, but there is certainly a number of them down the road. At times it seems to me that the House of Lords exists to emphasise class difference, to suggest a separateness. This belief that we should expect our betters to help us legislate suggests a throwback to a pre-democratic age, and it should have no place in a modern 21st-century legislature. For what it is worth, I believe that the House of Lords is an unnecessary, underworked, overpriced institution whose standing in the eyes of the public, contrary to what has been said here, has never been lower as a result of how the public have observed the House of Lords in the past year through the cash for peerages scandal.
How does the hon. Gentleman account for the poll showing that more than 70 per cent. of people think that the House of Lords does a good job, and how does he account for the fact that the people who seem to be taking the blame for cash for peerages are Members of this House, not least the Prime Minister?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for mentioning that poll. The reason why the public responded to the question as they did is because of the comparison with this place. Never before has the House of Commons been so unpopular, given the daily kicking we receive from the media and the way that people are encouraged to think about us.
If we asked ordinary members of the public to give their predominant image of the House of Lords, they would describe two things. The first would be some belligerent old soul gently napping on those comfortable red Benches while listening to an interminable speech by a fellow octogenarian. A more sinister image would be of the House as a repository for one of the millionaire chums of one of the main parties in the cash for peerage and honours scandal. I am certain that the ordinary public do not view the House of Lords with any great affection; they do not even know what its functions are.
We can test that statement. Is it not curious that among all the electoral options before us no one has suggested a stand-alone election to the House of Lords? The election has to be combined with another election. Let us imagine the excitement on Lords election day. The hustings would be packed to the gunwales. There would be no holding back. Everybody would be rushing off to the ballot box to re-elect the Baroness Billington of Boxington, or whatever, to reward that noble peeress for the fine work she had done while gently napping on the red Benches.
The major context for this debate on reform of the House of Lords is the cash for honours scandal. Never before has the membership of the House of Lords been under such scrutiny from the public. More importantly, never before has the case for appointment by Prime Minister and by party been so undermined and so tarnished. In its opinion poll, the Hansard Society found that only 6 per cent. of the public favoured a fully appointed House. That shows the public's grave concerns about the potential abuse of appointment and about political parties stuffing the place full of their cronies and funders. The very suggestion that someone could sit in our legislature on the basis of having given a significant amount of money to a political party is as appalling as it is unacceptable. The defence we hear from No. 10 and others is that those people are in the House of Lords solely as party political appointees, which completely destroys any argument for political appointment.
In the course of the next few weeks, days or perhaps hours, the Metropolitan police will determine whether that system is illegal. They should be left to get on with their work, on which I support them. However, we should use the opportunity for reform to ensure that never again will there be a whiff of suspicion that people can enter our legislature solely due to their ability to pay. The Scottish National party will not support any party political appointment and we encourage other Members not to accept that practice.
What does the House of Lords cost? Do we get value for money? According to its annual report it cost a cool £106 million in 2005-06. At a time when we are holding back public sector pay, when nurses cannot even have an inflation-rate pay rise and our salaries and expenses are under such scrutiny, perhaps we should suggest that our friends in the press and the public have a look at what is going along at the other end of the building.
Does the House of Lords give value for money? I asked the House of Commons Library for a breakdown of the peers' working day but it could not give me that information, so I put together my own study. I made a list of all the peers and selected all those who had taken the name of a place in Scotland as part of their title—we all know how much peers like their titles. I found 36 such peers and checked them up on the excellent TheyWorkForYou.com website. In the past year, 24 of them had made fewer than five contributions. More staggering and more appallingly, 10 of them had made no contribution at all. There is something quite out of kilter with the view of an over-worked peer even in what I admit was an unscientific, unreliable study. None the less, I believe it is quite representative of what actually goes on down there.
There are obvious honourable exceptions. The Lords Forsyth, Foulkes, Campbell and Pearson have made more than 50 contributions each, but with the exception of those four peers the remainder of the 36 made fewer than 200 contributions over a year. To put that in perspective, TheyWorkForYou.com shows that my modest contributions to debates this year amount to 54, which is more than a quarter of the total contributions of those 36 peers. Apart from a few distinguished Members, those be-ermined bods do next to zilch.
I am reminded of the chorus of the peers in "Iolanthe"—I promise I will not sing it to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker:
"The House of peers,
Throughout the years,
Did nothing in particular,
And did it very well."
That perfectly sums up the House of Lords in its current incarnation.
Let us contrast that picture with the House of Lords annual report, where we find that on an average sitting day 400 peers turn up. Of course, as we have heard, they have to turn up to qualify for their allowances, but what happens between turning up and making a contribution? For goodness' sake, simply asking for the window to be opened counts as a contribution. While Members consider that quandary, they should remember that their lordships' expenses cost the taxpayer a whopping £15 million in 2005-06.
With more than 640 Members of Parliament surely we can find a new 21st-century solution to legislating. We need only look northwards to the Scottish Parliament—as has been mentioned already—to see that unicameralism can work. There are powerful Committees which indulge in all sorts of excellent pre-legislative scrutiny. Why cannot we have such powerful Committees in the House of Commons? We could combine Select and Standing Committees to make new powerful bodies that could take expert evidence and call expert witnesses. That is the 21st-century solution to the House of Lords quandary. It calls for scrapping the whole shooting match and starting the work ourselves.
I am disappointed that we shall not have the opportunity to vote on the bishops—I join Helen Goodman on that. It is an absolute disgrace that in our multi-faith society we continue to favour one faith over all others. The fact that we are alone among western democracies in having religious representation in our legislature reinforces the view that the House of Lords is some sort of strange, eccentric, medieval throwback. We live in a multicultural, multi-faith society. Modern Britain is a society with great diversity of religions and non-religious beliefs, and continuing to privilege one denomination over others is preposterous and anti-democratic. If we are serious about modernising the House of Lords there can be no place for unelected bishops.
I will vote for abolition, because I think it is the right way forward in this new century, but if we are to have a House of Lords I will also support a fully elected House as I favour that over an all-appointed House. However, my colleagues and I will not support any option that gives control of places in the House of Lords to political parties. We have seen how badly wrong that system has gone over the past few years. There can be no place in our legislature for the party funders or the cronies. Cash for peerages should be a wake-up call about the danger of appointments. I hope that the House heeds that call.
In a debate in this place on
Things have moved on since then, however, and now I am considering how I should vote on the options. I have agonised over the question. I am a natural democrat so I want everything to be elected. However, I need to consider the question of the primacy of this House—a term that has been used umpteen times in today's debate. I have news for right hon. and hon. Members: primacy has moved on. No longer does the House of Lords threaten the primacy of the House of Commons; the threat is from the overweening power of the Executive. That is what we should be debating. Unless we deal with that, discussion of the second Chamber is almost irrelevant.
The fact of the matter is that at present the Executive increasingly control the House of Commons. We all know that after every Second Reading there is a programme motion. I have voted for most of the programme motions—after all, I cannot vote against my Government all the time, so I give them a little concession here and there. The fact is that Committee and Report stages in this House are tightly controlled. The House of Lords spends far more time considering legislation. How long do we debate a Bill on Report? The answer is a day, perhaps only for about six hours. At the end of that time, some amendments have not even been reached or debated, let alone voted on. They go to the House of Lords and, on occasions, Report can take as many as 11 days. That tells us an awful lot about what we need to do in the House of Commons.