House of Lords: Abolition — [Mr Charles Walker in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:07 pm on 18th June 2018.

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Photo of David Drew David Drew Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 5:07 pm, 18th June 2018

That may be true, but I am an idealist, and I believe that we ought to seek out the best solution. Otherwise, we will always end up compromising—although compromises may well have to be allowed along the way.

Let me concentrate for a moment on the Commons. I have always argued that one of the problems with the Commons is that we pass too much bad legislation and we rely on the Lords to get it right through scrutiny and revision. If we got it right in the first place, we would not necessarily need another Chamber to do that. Again, that may be idealistic, but I feel strongly that the Commons must do its job better. There are all sorts of reasons why we cannot do our job satisfactorily: we are all too busy, so we all multi-task too much. We have Westminster Hall as a second debating chamber, which is great—those of us who argued for it thought it would open up debate for Back Benchers—but we are now criticised all the time by the public for never being in the main Chamber, and no one ever listens to our debates. We have to try to box and cox—we must realise that there is no perfect solution, but that there are solutions we can help along the way.

One of the reasons I would get rid of the Lords is that we have a fundamental problem with this building, which we will have to vacate sometime soon. Now is the time to look at what sort of structure we want. It would be daft to have that debate after we came back into the new building—it will be new, because it will in effect be rebuilt from the bottom up—whatever form it takes. It would be sensible to have it now and to establish what the second Chamber should look like, if we want one.

The one thing I disagree with the petitioners about is their assertion that the decision should be handled by a referendum. Anyone who read what I said last week will know that I do not agree with referendums being used for anything at the moment, given what happened with Brexit. It is about time Parliament reasserted its authority and decided what it wants to do. We would then face the consequences, because the electorate would either vote for us or not. As I said in response to my hon. Friend Alex Sobel, I am not happy with what the Lord Speaker’s Committee has come forward with, which seems like a temporary solution—an aberration—when we need a radical overhaul of the way our Chambers operate.

If I do not want the second Chamber to continue as it is, how do I see it operating, and how do I see that situation being arrived at? Its role should be to scrutinise and to take an overview of legislation. The Lords does that well at the moment, but I do not want a second Chamber that in effect replicates the Commons. I was told many times while Labour was in Government, “The Commons won’t agree to this, but don’t worry—we can get it through in the Lords.” That always made me look pretty stupid, because I would argue the case in the Commons and lose, only for that decision to be overturned in the Lords, where common sense prevailed. That may seem a jolly good reason for having the Lords, but I think it is a negation of what should happen in the Commons. We should take authority, debate and deliberate on things and then pass legislation, but we should do a better job of that.

I am not in favour of an elected second Chamber. I would make it a selectorate, keep it to about 200 people and allow those people to be representative of different ethnic groups, regions and interests. How would that be arrived at? I think Select Committees should interview appropriate people. I do not know whether hon. Members remember the people’s peers. I think we created about six and then the whole idea died a death. That was a daft idea—it was one of new Labour’s, “Let’s share it with the people,” compromises—but in a sense it is about time the Commons decided who is an appropriate Member of the second Chamber. I would make those Members’ period in office time-limited, and they should rotate so there is always some expertise but people move through. People should apply for the role, as they do in other walks of life, and Select Committees are the obvious bodies to interview them. Again, that would put the onus on Members of the Commons.

I am basically saying that we should take the politics out of the second Chamber. That may be idealistic, but I want expertise in that Chamber. I want people who know about science and the arts—people who know about the finer details of legislation, including the law, religion and so on—but who will not challenge the Commons. That is the problem—in effect, we have two Chambers challenging each other. We see that in the attrition over Brexit, but it has happened time after time, because traditionally the Lords has championed opposition to the Government. In normal circumstances—this is not the case at the moment with a hung Parliament—the Government believe they can get their legislation through. Abolishing the Lords would put the onus on the Commons to get that legislation right. If it did not, the Government would pay the consequences.

In conclusion, I feel that this is the right time to have this debate, so I welcome the petition, although I do not want a referendum—I want the issue to be decided by Parliament. That may be where the Lords comes in with its blocking role, but that is for it to decide. It would lose its credibility completely if it were seen to stand in the way of efforts to evolve what I think is the proper bicameral arrangement, in which one element of Parliament is democratically accountable and the other provides expertise and helps the process of the elected people.

My final point is that whatever money we save from the House of Lords should be given to MPs—not in pay but to run our offices. We are all overwhelmed with constituency work. That work gives us our grounding, and it is why we are different. We know what is going on in our constituencies because our constituents tell us. The problem is that we need additional resources to do a decent job, but our resources are capped. I would therefore put the money we saved from the Lords into running our offices, which would allow us more time to do our job in the Commons as we should.