I remind the House of its rule that debates on the Adjournment should not relate directly to proposed legislation. A Bill about the second Chamber of Parliament has been published and is scheduled for debate, possibly in the near future. I invite hon. Members—I shall insist if necessary—not to focus on that Bill in discussing House of Lords reform. More general references to reform proposals, from whatever source, will be in order.
The Chair has received notification of five right hon. and hon. Members who will seek to catch my eye, and three Front-Bench spokespeople will speak. I therefore appeal to everyone, including the Member introducing the debate, to bear those points in mind when making their contributions and accepting or responding to interventions.
I am grateful to Mr. Speaker for selecting this topic for debate today. It could not be more timely, because on Monday several of us, including many who are currently in this Chamber, presented a combined report on the way forward for reform of the House of Lords. Our package has attached to it a draft Bill; I am mindful of your comments, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is fair to say on behalf of all of us who presented the Bill that we do not have a lively expectation that it will be passed in this Parliament, but we did it as a contribution to the debate, and it is in that spirit that I shall proceed with my remarks.
Before going any further, let me say that we very much appreciate the financial sponsorship of the Rowntree Trust, which made it possible for us to produce both the report and the Bill. We also acknowledge the active support of the Constitution Unit, particularly the work of Dr. Russell, who turned our imprecise ideas into the lucid prose in the report.
It is a cross-party report, and I am pleased that hon. Members from all parties who support it are present. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister will forgive me, however, if I begin with a shamelessly partisan observation. At the last general election, he and I stood on a manifesto that promised the nation a more representative and democratic House of Lords and the removal of the remaining hereditary peers. He will be as aware as I am that the remainder of this Parliament can be measured in weeks and that we have only a short time in which to fulfil that manifesto obligation. I hope that he will find the report a helpful way of covering the final furlong of the progress that we promised. The package would deliver both objectives, starting with the removal of the remaining hereditary peers.
We are now well into the 21st century. It is possible for the Americans to put a man on the moon and to get him back again; it is possible for us to put Beagle 2 on Mars, even if we cannot get it back again. It is extraordinary that in this era we still have sitting in either of our Chambers of Parliament people who are there because they come from the political class of hereditary peers. Some obtained their title and privilege as a result of services provided by their male ancestors in the middle ages; a few did so because of services of a different kind that their female ancestors provided during the Restoration. We know of only one other country in the world in which hereditary chieftains still have a guaranteed place in Parliament—Lesotho. It is time that we took Britain out of that slightly embarrassing bracket. Everyone now agrees that we should break the link between heredity and the House of Lords. One change that has happened during my period in Parliament is that there is no longer any substantial body of opinion in any of the parties in Parliament that defends the hereditary principle for the House of Lords. The perplexing thing is that although everyone agrees that the hereditary peers should go, apparently no one knows quite how to achieve it.
At Prime Minister's questions a couple of weeks ago, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister maintained that there was "no consensus" on the way forward for reform of the House of Lords. I hope that the report will help to meet that argument and show that there is such a consensus. It is signed by senior figures from all three parties, including four former Cabinet Ministers from Governments of different colours and two former leaders of the major parties—the party in Government and the party of the official Opposition. The key to the consensus that it expresses is our belief that the majority of Members in a reformed second Chamber should be directly elected. As I am conscious of the distinguished presence with us in this Chamber, I stress the word "directly". Some have argued that it might be possible to take the votes for a general election and to convert them indirectly into the composition of the second Chamber. I fully understand the good faith in which that is put forward as a compromise proposal, but all of us who signed this package are firmly of the view that if we want to have a democratic second Chamber, the people of Britain must have a vote for it—their votes for the Commons cannot be taken and translated as if they had been voting for the second Chamber at the same time.
May I act as devil's advocate for a second? What does my right hon. Friend think of the idea that the merit of the proposal that he mentions is that it would achieve the consensus that has eluded us thus far?
I understand that that is the spirit in which the proposal is presented and that it has that objective, but I am not sure that it quite commands the consensus that was its objective. Indeed, in putting forward our proposal, we agreed that for us—I should like to think that we represent a significant slice of cross-party opinion—any realistic consensus must be built on direct elections, partly because any consensus must carry the public with it. We know from all the opinion poll surveys and investigations that 80 to 90 per cent. of the public want a vote for the second reformed Chamber. Our proposal also locates what I once described as the "centre of gravity" in the Commons.
I will probably carry to my grave the memory of
I was one of those who voted for an 80 per cent. elected House. My right hon. Friend may—to return to the comments of my hon. Friend Mr. Love—underestimate the consensus on the indirect election model, which, among other things, enshrines and preserves the primacy of the House of Commons. That is a weakness in the report's proposals. Can he be sure that a proportionally elected Lords would not threaten Members of the Commons, who are more personally and individually accountable to their electorate?
I concur with my hon. Friend on the importance of preserving the primacy of the House of Commons. I have been in this place for more than 30 years, and I am passionately attached to it. I have no intention of doing anything to undermine its supremacy or of ending my days in the House of Lords—although given my conduct in recent years I have small chance of doing so.
I put it to my hon. Friend Andy Burnham that whatever we do to entrench the supremacy of the Commons, we should not do it by denying legitimacy to the second Chamber. There are many other ways in which one can ensure that the lower House is the superior one—indeed, Britain has done so all around the world. In our retreat from empire, we covered the face of the globe with bicameral Parliaments where we ensured in the constitution that the lower House was superior. It is curious that now that we have retreated to Britain we have forgotten how to do what we did in so many other countries. I am confident that as long as the Government are formed from Members of the lower House and can be dismissed by them, the lower House will, rightly, remain the superior body.
I agree with my hon. Friend on one point. If the two Chambers are to be distinct and different, it is important that the second Chamber should not be elected on the same basis as the Commons. That is why we propose that the second Chamber should be elected on a regional basis using a form of proportional representation. We are not dogmatic about what that should be, although on balance we prefer the single transferable vote system because it would avoid the difficulty of party lists, which could quickly take us back to the same problem of patronage as exists under the appointments system. I am confident that such a Chamber, with a regional rather than a constituency basis and a proportional rather than a first-past-the-post election system, would be very different from the Commons. In those circumstances, it would be up to the Commons to preserve its present supremacy by showing that it provided a more intimate relationship with and service to its Members' constituents.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that a significant attraction of what we will shortly be able to call the Billy Bragg proposals is that people would be encouraged to vote in greater numbers in constituencies where the result was probably a foregone conclusion because they would be confident that their vote would count indirectly towards a secondary mandate for the House of Lords?
My hon. Friend touches on the important issue of encouraging more people to turn out on general election day. We propose that the second Chamber should be elected on the same day as the Commons in a general election because that is when the highest turnout tends to occur, although I share my hon. Friend's concern that it is not as high as those of us here today would wish. I believe that our proposals would help to increase turnout because electors would have an opportunity not only to vote for a representative in the House of Commons, but to know that their votes would shape a second Chamber in which, because of the proportional system, no one party would have a guaranteed majority.
In response to the specific question posed by my hon. Friend David Taylor, if we are to argue that general election day is important because electors can shape the second Chamber, it is unanswerably the case that they should be given a second vote to shape that Chamber. Indeed, if there were only one vote for both Chambers, electors might well have difficulty in deciding which party to cast their vote for. For the sake of argument, I shall use the example of the Green party, as it is not represented in the Chamber and therefore nobody can take offence. There may be members of the public all over the country who are inclined to vote for the Green party but, on a constituency basis, are minded to vote for their Labour MP because there is no prospect of a Green MP's being elected. If we said to such an elector, "The vote that you cast for the Commons will also count towards the composition of a second Chamber", they might vote Green to maximise the chances of having a Green representative in the second Chamber. I see no reason why we should oblige electors to make that judgment and to cast their vote according to which Chamber they want to influence most. Surely, if we are going to say that a person's vote in a general election will determine the make-up of the second Chamber, the logic is to give them a second vote on the same day to do precisely that.
I shall return to my argument, as I am conscious that several colleagues wish to speak and I do not wish to detain the Chamber indefinitely. We propose that a majority, but not all, should be elected. We are anxious to build the broadest consensus, and I think that we have been moderate in proposing that 70 per cent. of the second Chamber should be elected, with other routes of entry into it. That is why we propose a statutory appointments commission to appoint independent members of ability and why we recognise, in the spirit of trying to find a broad consensus, that some bishops should remain. In what is possibly an excess of moderation, we also argue that the Prime Minister should have the right to make a small number of nominations, who would comprise the Ministers in the second Chamber.
Nevertheless, the organising principle must be that the majority of the second Chamber is elected. In a free society, legitimacy comes from the consent of the public, which in modern times is measured through the democratic process of votes in a ballot box. If we want a second Chamber that is taken seriously, it must be taken seriously by the Government because it represents not their appointments but the choice of the people. Over the past few months, I have noticed that "choice" has become a very important Government buzzword, and it is impossible for a Minister to make a speech without using that word at least once, if not multiple times. No choice could possibly be more important than the public's choice of who represents them in Parliament, so if we are serious about having a modern second Chamber, it should be one in which they have that choice.
I have sketched out the major principles of the package, but I would not do it justice if I did not say that this is a comprehensive report that addresses many questions of detail, some of which took up an amount of time out of all proportion to their importance. Having agonised over the name of the second Chamber, we came to the common-sense view that it would be sensible to call it the second Chamber, although we are open to other suggestions. However, that is not a matter that should determine whether we go for reform—what the Chamber does and who sits in it are much more important than what it is called.
I am conscious that the Parliament that is about to be elected in the next few months will run almost until the centenary of the Parliament Act 1911. In the preamble to that Act, Lloyd George wrote that it was necessary to regulate the relations between the two Houses because it was "not immediately practical" to constitute the House of Lords on a more popular basis. I rather suspect that it never entered his head when he wrote those words that 100 years later it still would not have been constituted on a more popular basis.
The reform of the second Chamber has been the longest running soap opera in the west end, and it is time that we brought down the curtain. I do not imagine that the Minister will be able to do that today by endorsing our proposals; indeed, I would worry for his future were he to be so bold and innovative. I hope, however, that he will be able to welcome them as a serious contribution to the debate. I hope, too, that in future at least no one will be able to say that there is no consensus on a way forward if they really do want to find it.
Order. Five right hon. and hon. Members have given prior notice, and I see that no one else has joined them. That leaves us with 42 minutes before the field is opened to the Front-Bench spokespeople.
I begin by congratulating Mr. Cook on his choice of subject for this morning's debate and on the way that he introduced it. There is an opportunity now to show that there is an all-party consensus on the way forward. There is not unanimity—I respect the fact that there are dissentient voices in all parties—but there is a consensus that will break the deadlock of the past couple of years. I hope that the debate will give the Front-Bench spokesmen of the three main parties an opportunity to download their House of Lords speeches, freshen them up and explain their party policy on this important issue.
I hope that the Minister, whom I welcome to the debate, is not going to tell us that there can be no progress on composition until we have resolved the issue of powers. That would be universally seen as a cop-out, and our report would have landed on a snake rather than a ladder. We have had extensive reviews of the second Chamber and there has been remarkably little dissent about the powers. The difficult question has been that of composition. So, I hope that he welcomes the report and agrees that it shows the way forward.
"There are however a number of areas where further consideration of the practical effects of certain recommendations has led the Government to consider some modification of the precise recommendations so as to ensure implementation of the Commission's principles in the most effective way possible".
To give the debate an historical context, it is worth remembering that in 1998 the Government told us that stage 2 would be approved by Parliament by the time of the last general election. Indeed, Lord Wakeham assumed that the first round of elections to the reformed upper House would take place in June 2001. To have gone through not one but two general elections before achieving stage 2 has something of Lady Bracknell about it. Her husband was, I am sure, a distinguished Member of the unreformed upper House.
Whoever said no stage 1 without stage 2 was absolutely right: at the beginning, the fear was expressed that if we had stage 1 the momentum would stall and it would not carry through to stage 2, and a working, if imperfect, model would be destroyed. The interim House—the wholly appointed House—would, by default, become the long-term solution.
When I pressed the Government on the matter at the time, I was told by the then Leader of the House that breaking the process into two made it more likely that stage 2 would be embarked on. We were told that the 92 hereditary peers would be the grit in the constitutional oyster that produced the pearl of reform—a colourful metaphor, but one that was entirely inaccurate.
There is a second important lesson to be learned from what has happened so far. Although we should be clear where we want to end up, we should also be flexible about speed and transitional arrangements. That is reflected in the report that the right hon. Member for Livingston referred to and to which my signature is appended. It is more important to secure agreement on what sort of House we should end up with than to try to get there too quickly. Indeed, we are more likely to secure that agreement if we are flexible about how we get there.
The main Conservative objectors to a predominantly elected House are in the House of Lords, and we should try to carry them with us. Several hundred people have been made life peers; they believed that that meant what it said. We should avoid another unceremonious dumping of the hereditaries, which was undiplomatic and discourteous. Even if it makes the journey a bit longer, we should be flexible and generous with the existing life peers, as our report proposes.
I strongly endorse what the right hon. Gentleman said about the opponents of reform, which is that they tend to treat the debate as a one-dimensional contest: if one House gains in legitimacy, credibility or authority, by definition the other must lose. It can be compared to the annual House of Commons-House of Lords tug-of-war on the Green, which the lower House has won ever since the virile young hereditaries were banished from the upper House.
The reality is that the two Chambers are partners in a joint endeavour to hold the Executive to account. Lord Wakeham put it well in his report:
"Our ambition for the reformed second chamber is that it should enhance the overall ability of Parliament as a whole to hold the Government to account. It should do this by using its particular strengths to develop arrangements which complement and reinforce those of the House of Commons."
I want briefly to address the two main arguments on what we propose—what I call the rival mandate argument and the British Rail argument, which is, "It will produce the wrong sort of politician." The rival mandate argument alleges that a predominantly elected second Chamber would challenge the supremacy of the House of Commons, a point mentioned by the Prime Minister shortly before the vote in 2003. However, the second Chamber is clearly defined as complementary and in the end subordinate to the Commons; its powers are those that are given to it by the House of Commons, which is pre-eminent, and they cannot be unilaterally changed.
There is a related argument that that settlement might be subject to a moral challenge if the upper House contained an elected element and there could be tension between the two Houses if both claimed democratic legitimacy, especially if the lower House was approaching an election and the Government were unpopular.
I disagree with that analysis. In the Commons, we are all elected on the same day for one Parliament after a vigorous campaign on the basis of a party manifesto. We are elected to the pre-eminent House that sustains the Executive and produces the Prime Minister, and we submit ourselves collectively for re-election, at which point the nation passes its verdict on us.
None of those conditions would apply to the second Chamber proposed in our report, so the premise for a moral challenge does not exist. Many of its Members would not be elected at all and would have no mandate. Those who were elected would be elected at different times and on different mandates, and it would be impossible for one party to claim that it had control of the upper House. The notion that electing some or even most Members could lead to the conversion of the upper House into a rival Assembly, where one party claimed a competing mandate, is simply unsustainable.
The second argument is the British Rail argument that electing two thirds of Members would produce the wrong sort of politician. There is a view in the upper House that it does not want the rough trade from the other end of the building. Lord Wakeham said in his speech on the matter that elections would produce
"a second Chamber that was a clone of the other place, full of professional politicians".—[Hansard, House of Lords, 9 January 2002, Vol. 630, c. 582.]
I am not sure how he classified himself in making that comment.
The late Earl of Longford made the point less tactfully five years ago:
"We would get the dregs."—[Hansard, House of Lords, 7 March 2000, Vol. 623, c. 955.]
Again, I do not agree. Behaviour in our House is less a function of the sort of people we are than of the conditions under which we operate. We are Members of Parliament in a highly political, dominant Chamber, to which we have to be re-elected. When we move from the charged environment of the lower House to the calmer one at the other end of the building, our behaviour changes. Perhaps the best examples of that are Lords Wakeham and Hurd. While MPs in our current environment, we behave as MPs, but translated to the reflective atmosphere of the upper House, where, crucially, one does not have to be re-elected and the Whips have a looser grip on discipline, people behave differently. They make shorter, more courteous speeches that are less flavoured by political invective. I disagree with the rival mandate argument.
Let me conclude with a question to the Minister. Four weeks ago, we had the bombshell from Lady Amos in The Daily Telegraph. Asked whether the long-awaited plan on future composition would be in the manifesto, she said:
"No. I think there is still more work to be done because if you put four different people in a room, regardless of which party they come from, there will not just be four different views but you'll probably get eight different views about composition."
Will there really be nothing in the Labour party manifesto about House of Lords reform? If there is to be a vacuum in that chapter of the manifesto, I can think of no better way of filling it than by endorsing the report introduced by the right hon. Member for Livingston.
Whatever else our little group of reformers can be accused of, we cannot be charged with being premature. As my right hon. Friend Mr. Cook said, in 1911 MPs were told that the Bill being introduced was simply a transitional measure that would be in place until they arrived at a fully popular House, yet here we are in 2005, producing yet another report on how we might reform the House of Lords.
I was talking last night to the Father of the House, my hon. Friend Mr. Dalyell. When I asked what he thought about all this, he said that he made a vow 40 years ago to have no engagement with House of Lords reform. When I asked why, he said, "I was Parliamentary Private Secretary to Richard Crossman when he tried to reform the second Chamber, and I saw what happened to him." He was deserted by colleagues, and people did not go near him because of his endeavour to reform the second Chamber.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston has experienced not the same thing, but something not exactly unlike it. Instead of recoiling from the issue, to have emerged as the leading continued advocate of serious reform is something that we should all acknowledge and commend.
One thing that dogs the argument and confuses our discussions on different preferred schemes is the lurking feeling, certainly in our Chamber, that whatever we do must not damage the primacy of the House of Commons, and that anything that even begins to suggest such a consequence is to be resisted. That is a fundamentally misconceived argument.
I apologise for doing so, but I shall quote just one section of a report—not the one we are discussing today, but one that the Committee that I have the privilege of chairing produced on these issues almost exactly three years ago. We tried to nail the issue fairly comprehensively:
"Reform is not a zero-sum game in which advances for one chamber are inevitably threats to the other . . . We believe that the real task is rather to increase the effectiveness of both chambers in holding the Government to account for its actions and policies. The focus should be on the capacities of the institution as a whole."
We need to understand that, and to understand what is the particular deficit in our governing arrangements that needs to be filled. It is simply this: for all sorts of reasons that we know, we have—and have traditionally had—a system of what is familiarly called strong government. The Government can pretty much do what they want, as long as they can get enough warm bodies through the Division Lobby, as someone once said.
That produces a huge scrutiny deficit and, if we are honest, we do not remedy it very well in our side of the business. We have to match a system of strong government with one of strong accountability. We can do that only if we use all the resources at our disposal in both Houses. Among other things, that means attending to matters in our Chamber too, but we are also required to find a way to give our second Chamber sufficient legitimacy to enable it to help to remedy the scrutiny deficit in our system. If we understand that, and realise that we are engaged in a common enterprise, some of those difficulties begin to fall away.
That—if I may say so in the margin—is the fatal difficulty with the so-called secondary mandate idea. I commend my friend Billy Bragg for his enthusiasm in promoting House of Lords reform over the years. He has made a huge contribution, but the fact is that the secondary mandate idea confuses the notion of a House of government with that of a House of scrutiny. Also, it assumes that a person can vote—at the same time—for two Houses with different but complementary purposes. That is a fatal flaw in that approach; the idea would collapse once it was tested. It is not appropriate to ask voters to cast the same vote for different institutions that perform different but complementary purposes. There is simply no way round that argument.
So, we must return to the fundamental point: we need an effective House of scrutiny. That House will essentially be the House of Lords, which will complement the scrutiny work that we do here. We are at the rough end of the trade, as I have often heard Sir George Young say. We need a different bit of the trade down there to complement the work that we do here, so that together we can do the job of providing the strong accountability that is needed.
On any test, we are talking about the biggest bit of unfinished constitutional business there is. My Government have a proud record of bold constitutional reform to their credit. I am bound to say that we did not achieve that record by giving people free votes. That is not how we got devolution for Scotland and Wales, the Human Rights Act 1998 or freedom of information; we got them by having a coherent position that we believed in and that we argued for. The truth is that we do not have that on second Chamber reform. Until we do, that reform will not come.
I am heartened that the Lord Chancellor—the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs—said recently that he thinks reform will have to end up taking a democratic, elected direction. If that is to be our destination, let us at least begin the journey. I think we have shown how that journey can be started. It is no longer the case that we do not know how to do that; now, we must consider the question whether we have the political will to start that journey seriously. I think that the report that a number of us have produced enables it to be confidently begun.
I share the views of those who have spoken so far with whom I collaborated on the project. I am surprised that we are still debating such a subject in 2005. I was a student of politics when Harold Wilson's Government agreed with Edward Heath, the then Leader of the Opposition, on an approved package of reform of the House of Lords, and I watched with amusement when I saw it destroyed by a strange combination of Michael Foot and Enoch Powell, who did not agree on the ultimate fate of the second Chamber. However, I, like those members of the public who think about such matters, expected that the process would have been resolved, and the anomaly of the present House of Lords dealt with, long before the end of the 20th century.
Given the way in which this Parliament started in 2001, I thought that it would see the whole matter completed. At the time, all three political parties stood on platforms that commended, in slightly daring terms, the election of an upper House and the final reform of the House of Lords. Such reform was particularly urgent because the first stage that was carried through before 2001 had left the House of Lords in, if anything, an even odder position than it was before.
I was one of the few Members of Parliament who voted against the extraordinary arrangement brilliantly negotiated by my noble Friend Lord Cranborne, whereby we still had an hereditary element in the upper House but they were elected hereditaries. As we have seen from various by-elections for that distinguished position, we have created something that is even more Gilbert and Sullivan than the original notion of hereditary membership. It seemed obvious that we were about to go on to the second stage, and it is very much to be held against this Parliament that we have not completed it, given that we are about to have another election.
Mr. Cook was a reforming Leader of the House who gave a strong lead on the matter in line with the policy of the Government of whom he was a member. I agreed to join a Joint Committee of both Houses, which we were satisfied would pave the way for a consensus to emerge on a Government Bill in due course. The whole process was then halted in an extraordinary way by the vote in the House of Commons, which did not distinguish itself and failed to produce a majority for anything. I must confess to playing a part in that. My right hon. Friend Mr. Hague and I were abroad at the time, in different countries. Had we been here to take part in the Division, the 80 per cent. option would have been lost by a majority of one.
The idea that because of that vote the process should be delayed—or, if we were not careful, suspended—did not cross my mind even then. It has been said that there was no difficulty in proceeding and that, if the momentum of reform had picked up, our House would have reached a conclusion. The problem was, however, that the Prime Minister astonished all his colleagues by revealing hitherto unexpected serious reservations about whether he wanted an elected House. However, I shall not inject a partisan spirit into the debate; the Prime Minister is certainly a parliamentary democrat, and perhaps subconsciously feels that a stronger upper House might be something that he would like to see after his own period of office and holding of Executive powers.
I am sure that people who have the opportunity of exercising great power see the case for restraining such power more strongly before they take office and again when they leave office. Several of us in this Chamber have held office, and I am sure that we have all experienced frustration when those who hold us democratically accountable do not properly understand what we are trying to do.
I strongly suspect that the Prime Minister is in a minority in his own Government. Conservative Members have been restrained by the understandable reluctance of life peers from our party to contemplate such matters, at too early a stage, as the end of their being legislators for life. As my right hon. Friend Sir George Young explained, they will be phased out generously and their distinguished position in the Chamber will not be seriously threatened in the short term.
The purpose of producing the pamphlet and the draft Bill to which passing reference has been made was to breathe life into the subject and, most immediately, to ensure that the three political parties reaffirm their commitment to a democratic upper House during the next general election. Whoever wins that election, I hope that this unfinished business will be completed and that our constitution will be sorted out during the next Session.
My right hon. Friend Sir George Young urged generosity towards the remaining hereditary peers and existing life peers, and my right hon. and learned Friend seems to concur with that view. Perhaps I am missing something, but is not the danger of that approach that it will take too long to achieve the proportion of elected Members that we seek; or, alternatively, that the Chamber will artificially have to be made much larger than it would otherwise be?
The pamphlet tries to address both those relevant points. As I said, in the past the country could hardly be accused of rushing to reform the upper House. It is true that phasing in a fully reformed House of Lords with 70 per cent. of its Members elected and the remaining Members appointed would mean that it would not come fully into effect for 12 years. However, there are some merits in a transitional period. Not least, too rapid a change might affect the best qualities of the House's traditions and the amending powers that it tries to exercise at present. There is no doubt that the current life peers are distinguished people who have many years of public service before them, and it is not necessary to embark on the precipitate removal that occurred in the case of the hereditaries.
I said that one purpose of the pamphlet is the immediate one, but I wish to remind hon. Members of much more important purposes that ought to inspire us: the strengthening of Parliament; the restoration of a proper system of effective democratic accountability for the Executive of the day, whichever party is in power; and the restoration of public confidence in our political system and the belief that the public must have that there is a proper system of checks and balances, as well as various ways in which, by voting, they contribute to its being affected in the right way.
The modern Executive are becoming more powerful year by year, and there is a greater need to ensure that proper democratic constraints are in place. Undoubtedly, the role of Parliament in our public life has decreased in recent years. As a revising and delaying Chamber, the upper Chamber is an important aspect of effective parliamentary control, but its authority is fatally weakened by doubts about its legitimacy and the continuing lack of any direct link with an electorate of its own. Although there is agreement on the general principles, it seems that delay must continue as there is still work to be done on its powers and difficulty in reaching a consensus, as illustrated by the recent comments of Lady Amos that were quoted by my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire.
The existing powers of the second House are perfectly satisfactory and could be exercised with more legitimacy and effectiveness were its membership improved. They are being exercised more than they were in the past because without the hereditaries the semi-reformed House of Lords feels more confident in doing so. We will discover in the next few days whether it will exercise any restraint on the Government on a very controversial matter, but it will be constrained—and no doubt criticised, if it pushes its powers too far—by its lack of basic legitimacy. An elected House would still have only delaying powers, because the Parliament Act will remain in place. It would not be able to block Government business, but would perform an even more valuable function when exercising its powers if it had a different membership.
We sought to achieve consensus in the publications that we have put before the House. Although not all the proposals will attract universal consent, there is a consensus that would easily get a majority in principle from the present House of Commons, and probably from any House of Commons that is likely to be elected in May this year.
The Billy Bragg solution suggests that it might be preferable to appoint people in line with the vote on general election day. That argument is open to serious objection. Reform should set out to create a different type of Member of the upper House. They should not be people who can go straight to the House of Commons when they have finished their period of office; indeed, there should be a delay before they are even eligible to go to the upper House to ensure that they are not just trying to find a way into the Commons. They should be people who are a little apart from the party game, and not pursuing ministerial careers but interested in the public service of having a platform to hold the Government to account and to delay legislation where necessary.
A separate ballot paper would give people the opportunity to reflect on who they wanted in the upper House and would attract a different sort of candidate who was not dependent on party patronage. On the eve of the election, I might point out that it is always a mistake to treat the electorate as though they are complete idiots. Many people would contemplate dividing their vote if there were two separate ballot papers. Perhaps they would look for a different sort of personality in their regionally elected representatives in the upper House as compared with those whom they were electing to the Commons. Someone with the sort of personality not to make a natural, party political, House of Commons man might be able to emerge through a separate ballot held on the same day in a way that would not happen if there were one vote and the parties nominated a particular set of people to take the places in the upper House.
I commend reform to the House as, no doubt, have hundreds and hundreds of Members of Parliament over the years. I am astonished that it has taken so long. The most important point is that we are not just tidying up an historical accident. We are not merely dealing with an anomaly or undertaking a routine piece of modernising reform—it is an important step towards strengthening Parliament at a time when our parliamentary democracy as a whole is in a fairly unhealthy state. Public confidence is at a very low level, cynicism is widespread and all three of the political parties are among the most unpopular institutions in the United Kingdom. No one knows quite what kind of political institutions they wish to see or what kind of politicians they want to re-inspire their confidence. Sorting out the institution of the upper House will be an important step in sorting out parliamentary democracy and making it more capable of holding the Government to account and securing public confidence.
As a former Government special adviser, and the perfect embodiment of the wrong kind of politician, it is perhaps appropriate that I have a chance to contribute. I welcome the debate and the report. What is encouraging, as evidenced by so many Conservative Members speaking up in favour, is the fact that a democratic solution is where the momentum is, and there is clear travel in that direction.
We have an opportunity to carry through Lords reform because there is more that unites people who want a more democratic House of Lords. We must not allow that opportunity to be broken down, leaving us unable to find the compromise that has eluded us. Compromise is the watchword, because everyone will have to compromise eventually if we are to have a workable solution.
Even since the vote in the House that has been mentioned, feeling has swung decisively against an appointed House, which is clearly no longer an option. The broader context involves asking why this matter is important, and Mr. Clarke referred to that. Some people say, "Why is House of Lords reform important? There are more significant issues to deal with." However, it is right to put things in that broader context.
We live in an increasingly anti-politics era. There is a feeling out there that this place is not particularly well connected to the constituencies that we represent. The north-east vote on a regional assembly is the most obvious demonstration of that fact: people do not want more politicians, political institutions or structures; they want those that they have to work much harder and more cleverly for them. Everyone in this House and in the other place has to think about that and about how what we do here in going forward can be much more connected to the people who we seek to represent. If we fail to do that, it will damage our democracy in the long term.
We need a second House that is fit for purpose. I am absolutely confident that we could get much better value for money from the £66 million a year in tax pounds that we spend on running it if it was more democratic and regionally constituted so that the voice of the regions rang out through this place.
I am wholly committed to a more democratic second Chamber, and I am committed to one that may unsettle the way that we operate in the Commons—a Chamber that may push us and challenge established practice. Such practice can be flabby and some things that we do in the Commons can be too disconnected. Such change would be a good thing. This is the nub of the question that we are considering and which reformers have to deal with.
There is consensus in favour of election and in favour of preserving the primacy of the Commons. There is probably also consensus on the powers as they stand today being roughly appropriate. The issue involves the relationship between the two, and the way that Members are elected to the Lords will dictate how that relationship plays out.
Five parliamentarians or more have put their names to the report, and there are others here today who have far more experience of this place than I have. Reference has been made to people leaving office, but I would say to those who made that point that I have hopes to be in this place for some time yet and I do not necessarily want to be a Member of a House of Commons that is undermined, challenged or perhaps constantly threatened by the House of Lords. I refer people to page 11 of the report that has been issued this week, in which the committee acknowledges this point:
"However, there has been concern amongst some that the second Chamber could become 'too' legitimate, with the result that it challenged the House of Commons too frequently. Despite the existing safeguards to Commons' primacy, we acknowledge there is some foundation to these concerns."
The proposed system threatens to destabilise the balance and threatens the primacy of the House of Commons. People could argue that it would be more proportionate and, therefore, more democratic—that it would more reflect the will of the people. Therefore, when votes were passed in that place, they could be considered more legitimate. That presents problems to us as politicians, individually and as people who are accountable to their electorate.
The Achilles heel of the system we are considering is that it seriously threatens the primacy of the House of Commons. Any compromise solution must deal directly with that point. As I said in my intervention on my right hon. Friend Mr. Cook, I believe that the secondary mandate solution is the right compromise around which people can unite and that there is more support for it than has perhaps been reflected in the comments made so far in today's debate.
I am following what my hon. Friend says with care. Does he understand that a number of objections that many of us have to the secondary mandate principle, although we appreciate the sincerity of those who make that proposal, relate to the fact that it does not represent election at all? It represents a system of appointment, whereby the proportions in which people are appointed are decided through a vote, but there is no election at all, direct or indirect.
I do not believe that that is necessarily correct, because it would be for the parties to decide which of their members was placed on a list of candidates. The challenge for our political parties is to ensure that the right kind of people—not the wrong kind—are on those lists and that they are elected to this place. That is a challenge to the political parties to strengthen the vibrancy of their internal democracy to ensure that there is good competition and a healthy vote on putting people in a certain order on the parliamentary list for the second Chamber. I do not accept my hon. Friend's argument at all.
I do not accept some other arguments made against a secondary mandate, either. My hon. Friend Tony Wright made a point about the two institutions, but let us think about that for a second: we are electing Parliament, which does the job of passing legislation, and we could argue that it is one institution. There are two separate parts to that institution, but we elect one Parliament.
On tactical voting, I think that what I am proposing would make it much more likely that people used their votes more wisely and thought even harder before casting their vote, so I do not accept that argument either. [Interruption.] I see Mr. Deputy Speaker looking daggers at me, so I shall conclude.
We must not let this opportunity pass; as democrats, we must seize the opportunity to create a more democratic House. My final plea is that we should let the Commons decide on three options: appointed, indirectly elected—according to the secondary mandate—or directly elected. Then we would have our answer.
Andy Burnham has been grappling with one of the real difficulties, but I think I will be the only dissenting voice in today's debate. I take some comfort from the fact that there is another dissenting voice, which is that of the only person who really matters in this argument—the Prime Minister. As long as the two of us agree, we will probably get our way. I am sorry to dissent from a list of people with whom I normally agree, but I take that as proof that if one puts a group of incredibly clever people together they can come up with a pretty ridiculous answer from time to time.
One talks about horses designed by committees, but this camel seems to have wings and flippers, and it can lay eggs too. It has a little something for everybody. We want an elected House of Lords, but one that is just 70 per cent. elected. There is a very good argument for not having any Ministers in there, but we will let them stay. The Prime Minister should not have the power of appointment, so we will let him appoint four people. There is no real argument for there being any bishops in there, but let us just cut the number from 26 to 13. As for the Law Lords, perhaps they should stay, but perhaps they should not.
There is a strong argument for a wholly elected House of Lords and a strong argument, which I shall try to put, for a wholly appointed House of Lords, but there is no argument for a halfway house compromise of this kind whereby we try to give a little to everybody. There are some fundamental problems with it.
The hon. Member for Leigh is right: an elected House of Lords—one that is 70, 80 or 100 per cent. elected—would challenge the legitimacy of the House of Commons. There would be times when it was more in tune with public opinion, perhaps when it had a more democratic mandate at the fag end of the term of an unpopular Government who were trying to push through controversial legislation. In the long run, such a second Chamber would not be satisfied with the powers proposed for it, but my real objection is to the way of electing Members to it.
Proportional representation leaves the lists in the control of parties. Is that what we really want—a second Chamber full of people who make it on to a party list? Two characteristics that we say we want in the House of Lords are independence and expertise. It has those, I would argue, although it does not have legitimacy and it is not representative. Parties do not put such people on their lists. The former Foreign Secretary, Mr. Cook, would not get on his party's list, nor would the interesting people in the House of Lords get on a party list.
Also, those on a list would be people who cannot get elected to the House of Commons for their party. The standard of intelligence—or of industry and ability—needed to get into the House of Commons are not of Olympic proportions, as we all know. So, the people who would get into the House of Lords, or whatever we were to call it, would not be good enough to get into the House of Commons, but who had the Good Housekeeping seal of approval from their party.
The argument for a democratic House of Lords, which sounds wonderful in theory, falls apart when we think about how we would elect it. Of course, if we did not have proportional representation and people were elected in single-Member constituencies using first past the post, the second Chamber would look exactly like the House of Commons and we would say, "What on earth is the point of having it?".
That is the main, fundamental objection to such a system, but I also hate the idea of an appointments commission. Why should legislators be appointed by some committee of former permanent secretaries and senior partners in KPMG, or whatever the Government would come up with? I would rather the Prime Minister did it. Then at least we would know who was making the appointments. If he appointed people who gave his party a lot of money or his drinking buddies or complete cretins, we would know who was responsible for it. If we ended up with some committee of the great and the good, nobody would be responsible and it would come up with even more milk-and-water people than parties would for their lists.
I do not believe that there can be two classes of Member: either people are democratically elected or they are not. If there were two classes of Member in the House, one group would have a democratic mandate and people would start to add things up. They would say, "Okay, there was a majority in the House of Lords. Was the majority of the elected Members or did it rely on the Prime Minister's appointees, the remaining bishops or whatever?" There would be two classes of Member with different degrees of legitimacy. Sooner or later, it would challenge the House.
There is an argument for a fully appointed House of Lords, which I have made on many occasions, including this one, albeit briefly. There is also an argument for a fully elected House of Lords, but may I make this plea? If the Prime Minister and I eventually lose the vote—we will not lose the argument—and we are to have an elected House of Lords, let us make it both fully elected and a proper legislature. Let us have no Ministers there; let there be no patronage.
The two things that the House of Commons does not do well are detailed examination of legislation and holding the Executive to account. We are too busy to carry out detailed examination and we do not hold the Executive to account because most Government Members who are not in the Government want to be, so they are reluctant to hold the Government to account. Those are things that would be done by a wholly elected House of Lords, so if we are to have an elected House of Lords let it be wholly elected and let us ensure that there are no Ministers there so it behaves like a proper legislature.
The problem with the House of Lords is that it works in practice but not in theory. That is anathema to intellectuals so they have to come up with an alternative, but it works pretty well. I once met an American scientist, a physicist, who said that he could prove pretty conclusively that anything that had the shape and configuration of a bumble bee could not fly. Fortunately for the bumble bee, it could not understand the equations and it happily flew away. The House of Lords is in that category as something that works. Let us not fix it.
This has been an interesting debate, and I hope that those who signed up to the report, which includes people who are listed here as well as the five of us, feel fully justified in—we hope—renewing interest in the subject.
Mr. Maples described our committee as having designed a camel. He went slightly further and described some of the camel's characteristics. I must plead guilty, in that I was the facilitator for the group and I brought together my four colleagues from the different parties. I feel fully justified in so doing, not because we have designed a curious animal, but because at long last we have got this subject back on the agenda. The contributions made today, not least that from the hon. Gentleman, show how important it is to try to clear the field of some misnomers and misunderstandings that have surrounded the issue for so long.
Let me address one point that the hon. Gentleman made: we do not advocate a list system and we do not advocate giving patronage to the parties. We advocate STV precisely because it takes power away from the parties and gives it to the elector; the elector has a great deal more choice. The chances of Mr. Cook going to the reformed second Chamber, should he wish to do so, would thereby be greatly increased, as would be those of the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon. There is no question of adopting a list system. Unfortunately, far too many people think that proportional representation means list systems and that list systems mean proportional representation. That is not true and we address that issue.
My principal contribution today is to be brief, because so many of the arguments have been so well handled by my colleagues, but perhaps I can deal with one or two myths. The first, which has been perpetuated quite regularly, is that the House of Commons came to no conclusions whatever and could never achieve a consensus on this issue. It is true, as has been said, that in February 2003 we did not manage to go through the same Lobby on the same issue, but there was a consensus in favour of majority election to the second Chamber.
I plead guilty, as I was a member of the Joint Committee that decided it was necessary to put a number of options to the House of Commons. Clearly, that was not the best way to achieve any consensus or conclusion. Andy Burnham is right: there must be some opportunity for the House of Commons to express its support in principle for what is to happen to the House of Lords, before we go on to the second stage.
It is also true that on that fateful evening the House of Lords achieved no consensus whatever. There are Members of the House of Commons who retreat behind the idea that, despite the need for pre-eminence of the Commons, the House of Lords should somehow or other be enabled to retain its veto over any reform. I do not believe—I hope that all Members of this House agree—that turkeys should have a veto on the timing of Christmas. If we believe that the House of Commons should be the predominant House, it should have the last word on this issue. It would be ridiculous to allow the vote of the House of Lords to be pre-eminent.
The pre-eminence of the Commons is a constant concern, which we address in the report. I fully accept the point made by the hon. Member for Leigh, who said that we should examine that concern carefully. We did. Gathering together four very distinguished Members of the House of Commons and acting as their convenor taught me a few lessons about how the House of Commons operates. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that there is no question of those four Members, or those on the long list of other distinguished Members, seeking in some way to subordinate the House of Commons to a new second Chamber.
We propose an election system with a very limited regional link, rather than a constituency link. Some Members—particularly, perhaps, those from Scotland and Wales—have understandable anxieties about there being two layers of Member for a constituency. However, I believe that that would be an important distinction between the two Houses and would enable the Commons to retain its pre-eminence.
Does the hon. Gentleman not think that the secondary mandate would make people think harder when they cast their vote at a general election? Does he accept that one potential weakness of his system is that the vote for the second Chamber could become a real repository for frivolous protest voting and that that Chamber could end up being strangely constituted?
As a democrat, I have some difficulty with the concept that the elector who makes a choice that does not suit the conventional party machines is being frivolous.
I shall come to the point about the so-called secondary mandate in a moment, but for now I shall continue to point out the difference between the two systems. There would be continuity, as under our proposals the second Chamber would be elected in three tranches. There would be no sudden swing from one party to another and the second Chamber would have no role whatever in the selection of a Government. The point made by Tony Wright is absolutely right: the two Chambers have two distinct roles, as is true of most bicameral systems throughout the world. I strongly endorse the point that we need two Houses that work in co-operation, rather than competition, and enhance the strength of Parliament as a whole to hold the Government to account.
I have real problems with the so-called secondary mandate. Anyway, that is a misnomer: if somebody is forced to do two things with one vote, that is a primary, not a secondary, mandate. We would be trying to persuade the elector to do two quite distinct things at the same time, on the same day, in the same circumstances and in the same polling booth. That seems to be a recipe for voter schizophrenia.
It would be extremely difficult for any member of the public who sought to use his or her vote intelligently for tactical voting for the Commons to know what to do. Once we had tried to adopt the principles of a secondary mandate, it would be extremely difficult to argue against having two ballot papers. If we are to have two ballot papers, why not go the whole hog and adopt the system we suggest?
The secondary mandate would inevitably give more power to the parties and more patronage to the party leaders, who would effectively be able to say precisely who would be on which list, in which region and at what point in that list. That would damage the process that we are trying to enhance.
I am grateful for the thoughtful contribution made by the hon. Member for Leigh, who said—I paraphrase him—that consensus requires compromise. I agree; I have compromised. I think I can speak for all those who have signed up to the document: in different ways we have all compromised, because that is the parliamentary tradition. I am very surprised at the reaction of the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon, who seems to want either a fully appointed or a fully elected House. He wants perfection in one leap.
The hon. Gentleman is a Conservative—I am not—but as a reformer I simply do not believe that that is how Parliament works. My background is in history, not political theory. I have studied the history of Parliament, which has developed by a slow process—a very slow process, in this particular case—by compromise and by developing consensus. That is what we did in the group.
I have not achieved in this document everything that my Liberal Democrat colleagues and I would wish to achieve, but I believe that the report has provided the centre of gravity that the then Leader of the House, the right hon. Member for Livingston, was seeking two years ago. I believe that all those who, in the best traditions of Parliament, want to try to secure some agreement and progress can focus on it as a way forward. The current House of Lords is a halfway house and, in effect, illegitimate. It will do the health of our democracy no good if it remains in that state for much longer.
I pay great tribute to the right hon. Member for Livingston for how he introduced the debate and for keeping the issue alive, inside and outside Parliament. He referred to this as a long theatrical performance. It is indeed a Whitehall farce that has gone on for 90 years. It should be brought to a conclusion before it reaches its centenary.
I start by congratulating Mr. Cook and his colleagues on their initiative, which I welcome. He was right to say that it is extremely helpful in trying to build a broad consensus on the way forward.
It has long been my view that a smaller substantially elected second Chamber is the way ahead. My hon. Friend Mr. Maples was rather unfair on the camel, which is a highly sophisticated, useful animal. If it had the wings and flippers that he suggested as well, it would be a fantastic beast.
The Conservatives propose 80 per cent. directly elected Members for long terms, with no re-election and no right to proceed to the House of Commons. It is important to ensure freedom from the insidious pressures of deselection and the Whips, and to have the independence that my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon mentioned. The important scrutiny role requires expertise, too, and Tony Wright made that a feature of his remarks.
Let me consider the principles that we think important. No reform is acceptable unless it carries consensus. The House of Commons let down the right hon. Member for Livingston in 2003 when he pushed forward with proposals that seemed the right way ahead. A reformed House must be at least as effective as the present one. We would wish the Executive to be held fully to account, which means that although there should not necessarily be new powers for the other place, there should be no loss of its the existing powers. It requires broad public consent in using its powers, and that would happen only if there were a direct election for the substantial body of the new Chamber.
A largely elected House of Lords would not take away the right to cast a vote in person for which generations fought and died. It is on that basis that the Conservative party proposes 80 per cent. direct election, with long terms and no re-election. We do not suggest that the proposals should necessarily come in at one go; there is a case for the transition period to which my right hon. Friend Sir George Young referred. It is important that the Cross-Bencher element of the House of Lords should remain.
Andy Burnham, Billy Bragg and others have suggested an indirect election, but that would create confusion. Billy Bragg and, perhaps, the hon. Member for Leigh are supporters of tactical voting, and it is difficult to see how there could be effective tactical voting in a general election for the House of Commons with a regional party list system in the same election. That does not take full account of the role of independents.
I do not have time to take an intervention.
One need only think of what happened in Wyre Forest in the last general election to see that an independent candidate can gain considerable support. In such circumstances, those votes would not necessarily count for the party that an individual voter supported for the region.
The hon. Members for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden) and for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) mentioned the different considerations between the two Houses, which is important. We would certainly not support an indirect election and would have considerable doubts about proportional representation, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon said.
Personally—this is not party policy—I think that there is a lot to be said for having a franchise based on counties and cities. People say that America has a very strong Senate, but there is much to be said for the American system. For a start, there is less legislation. We push through vast reams of legislation these days, much of it of poor quality. The United States has managed to be quite a powerful country while having a pretty bizarre mathematical franchise for the Senate. We should consider the way in which people identify with particular areas and regions. Many people in this country have a much more genuine recognition of the city or county in which they live than of some region. In the eastern region, as it is known, Hertfordshire has little in common with some of the other counties, particularly those to the far east, and I think that that is true of other regions—people do not identify with them. In building a consensus for the proposals that I have outlined, there might be a case for a Speaker's Conference.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire said, we are determined that Lord Irvine's commitment that the remaining 10 per cent. of hereditaries will go only when stage 2 has taken place should be adhered to. We would not want anything less than that.
I want to say something about the Prime Minister's position. Before he became Prime Minister, he was very clear that the House of Lords should be replaced by an elected second Chamber. We are now told that he is not in favour of that and that the matter is subject to Cabinet battles in which the Leader of the House and the Chancellor are in favour of an elected second Chamber and the Prime Minister and others are against it. It is worth reflecting on why the Prime Minister might have that attitude. He has created a House of appointees and has made it clear that he wishes to have a mainly appointed House; one need only consider the fact that he has personally appointed two thirds of the Labour peers and 310 peers overall—that is, 45 per cent. of the other place. Henry VIII would have been proud of a record like that. It is not surprising that the Prime Minister, who has enjoyed and still enjoys all that patronage, wants to continue with it, but it is not the best way forward for our country.
I would be suspicious if, in addition to what has already happened, the Prime Minister continued with his recent policy of appointing even more Cross Benchers. That is causing wide concern. Can the Minister confirm that there is a firm limit on the number of Cross Benchers that the Prime Minister will appoint in addition to the Labour nominations? If not, a bad trend could be made significantly worse.
I welcome the initiative and say all power to the elbow of the right hon. Member for Livingston.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend Mr. Cook on securing the debate and endorse the comments made by my hon. Friend Tony Wright, who commended him on the persistence with which he has taken up this case month after month, year after year.
My right hon. Friend has been passionately supported in the debate by Mr. Clarke, Sir George Young and Mr. Tyler, all of whose views are on the record. On this occasion, they are supporting the document published on Monday, but they have contributed to the debate over many months and years. We also heard my hon. Friend Andy Burnham speak in support of the secondary mandate; and even though he numbered only one, Mr. Maples made the case for an appointed Chamber with much force.
My right hon. Friend said that one of his main purposes was to stimulate debate in advance of the expected general election. Clearly, the number of Members who wanted to contribute today—and, I suspect, in the days remaining as we head towards a general election, whenever it is called—suggests that the document and the debate will do that. I very much welcome the considered and measured tone of the paper published on Monday, which recognises the difficulty of the issues that need to be addressed and the way in which others, including the Government, have wrestled with them.
My hon. Friend knows that it would be wrong of me to pre-empt any part of the manifesto. However, he contributes to those discussions, as do I and all members of our party, and we look forward to seeing the manifesto when it is produced.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston and his colleagues have produced a serious contribution to the debate which deserves, and I am sure will get, appreciative consideration even from those who do not agree with its conclusion. My hon. Friend the Member for Leigh was right to say that we have to move forward on the basis of consensus. I do not think that my right hon. Friend would seriously expect me to say that the Government can commit themselves to the proposals that he has put forward, and I am grateful for that. However, we have made it clear that we will return to the subject in our manifesto.
The proposals have the support of hon. Members across all parties. That is important. One ongoing difficulty is that House of Lords reform does not divide opinion on party lines. It would probably be possible to put together a cross-party coalition in support of an alternative set of proposals, including proposals for a wholly appointed House, but it is important to have regard to the seniority of those who have endorsed the recommendations before us. I note that the hon. Member for North Cornwall has introduced a private Members' Bill to give effect to the proposals outlined by my right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston.
The starting point for the proposals, as one would expect from Members of this House, is the need to ensure that the reform of the Lords does not undermine the primacy of the Commons. Members also recognise that it is important not to undermine the relationship between each MP and his or her constituents. The two Chambers of Parliament must be distinct, and the one must not simply be
"a pale imitation of the other", to quote from my right hon. Friend's paper.
The Government entirely agree; indeed, how best to reform the House of Lords and still respect those propositions lies at the heart of the debate about the composition and powers of the second Chamber. It is important that increasing the powers of the House of Lords is not done at the expense of those of the House of Commons. It is also important that the powers of the second Chamber are given to it by the Commons and cannot be changed unilaterally by the second Chamber, although they can be changed unilaterally by the Commons. Another point made in the paper is that even after reform, the second Chamber will continue to respect the primacy of the Commons because its electoral mandate will be much more dilute than that of the Commons. My right hon. Friend underlined the point that the way in which the second Chamber operates will continue to be less political than the Commons because its atmosphere will continue to be different.
The hon. Gentleman knows that the Government stood on that platform in our last manifesto following the proposals of the Wakeham commission, and he knows what was the position of the House at that time. We await the position of all parties at the next general election.
I did not want to be too partisan, but I agree with my hon. Friend. Much has been said about the powers of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, but much could also be said about the official Opposition's recent position, which they were not prepared to take on hereditary peers. Let us try to continue the debate in a mode of consensus.
Such a radical change in composition will undoubtedly have some effect on the second Chamber, so the critical issue is getting the change right. The statutory powers of the House of Lords are not the issue. Of course, those powers are less than those of the Commons and the Lords cannot increase them unilaterally, but it does not use them much and rarely presses an issue to the point at which they become relevant. If it did so routinely, the business of the Government would soon become impossible. The Lords normally operates under voluntary and non-statutory constraints—those, not the Parliament Acts, make the system work. The potential vulnerability of those constraints to a radically changed composition needs to be taken seriously. Will a House that is 70 per cent. elected take the constraints of the Salisbury convention as seriously as an appointed House, even if some of the elections took place 11 years previously? If it will not, is the answer to let it exercise more power, or is it to do what every other country with a bicameral Parliament does by spelling out in detail, and in statutory form, the powers that the second Chamber should have? If we did that, how far away would we be from a written constitution?
As for how political the second Chamber will be, there is a legitimate question about whether those of its Members who had to get the approval of their party to be put forward for election will be inclined to adopt the gentlemanly behaviour of the Lords, especially if they were elected by single transferable vote. The hon. Member for North Cornwall said that this is not about the list system, but the fact that candidates would have to fight for first preference in their party would lead to certain kinds of Member. That gives rise to legitimate questions about how the nature of the people who end up in another place might change.