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Sir George Young: I am coming to the second leg of the criticism: the rival mandate theory, to which, I think, my hon. Friend is referring. If the second Chamber is elected, it may claim a rival mandate to the Commons.
I do not subscribe to that argument either. The role of the second Chamber is clearly defined as complementary but, in the end, subordinate to this one. The powers are the powers given to it by this House, which is pre-eminent, and they cannot be unilaterally changed. The argument asserts that, if the upper House is elected, that settlement might be challenged, but there would be a world of difference between the two Houses.
Members of Parliament are all elected on the same day, on the basis of a party manifesto for one Parliament, to the pre-eminent House that sustains the Executive and contains the Prime Minister. They submit themselves or their successors to re-election. None of those conditions would exist for the upper House, were it to be elected on the Wakeham basis. Therefore, the notion that electing some or even most of its Members could lead to the conversion of the upper House into a rival Assembly is, in my view, unsustainable. Therefore, on policy, although there are still legitimate areas of disagreement--on which, I hope, this debate might shed some light--there is much agreement where progress could be made.
The story of the Government's reform of the House of Lords is an object lesson of how not to set about constitutional reform. They have shot first and asked questions afterwards. They have not thought through the policy before embarking on it. As with their commitment to hold a referendum on an alternative to first past the post, the constitution section of the manifesto is strewn with unkept promises. There was no talk of seeking consensus when they started on Lords reform, but, now they have got stuck, they are looking around for allies.
We are a generous party. We care about the constitution, so we readily give advice on where we should go from here. First, we should set up the Joint Committee to identify the way forward and we should do it now. We heard a very equivocal response from the Leader of the House to the intervention from my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire. The
Secondly, a statutory appointments commission should be set up---not the non-statutory one, but a proper one, curtailing the huge rights of patronage that the Prime Minister has retained for himself. Thirdly, we should make progress now with many of the non-compositional recommendations in Wakeham, engaging in the horticultural practice of cherry-picking, because the Government have clearly stalled on compositional reform.
Fourthly, the Government should initiate a wider public debate about stage 2, which they have conspicuously avoided. They hope that the problem will go away, but it will not. They must take progress off the back of the Lord Chancellor's envelope, on to the Floor of the House and out into the country.
As on so many issues at the moment, Ministers are like rabbits in the headlights, not knowing which way to turn. The constitution of this country is not safe in their hands. It will fall to a Conservative Government to restore stability and fairness.
Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton): I agreed with the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young) on one of his comments, but disagreed with him on another. I agree that, if we are to have a properly functioning two-Chamber democracy that is based on this building, we have to accept that the prime criterion in making change is to make the Government more accountable to Parliament. That criterion motivated the royal commission and led us unanimously to arrive at a report, despite the divergent approaches with which the members entered the royal commission room.
The commission agreed that, ultimately, we were making three different proposals on an elected element--should there be one. I invite the right hon. Gentleman to look at page 188 of our report. I make it clear that, although the three models at the bottom of the page are between recommendation 76 and recommendation 77 on page 189, they are not a recommendation, but possibilities for consideration should it be decided that the electorate should have a voice of one type or another.
Mr. Nicholls: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman--who, as always, is most charming and gracious. When he talks about making the Government more accountable, does he mean making them more defeatable during their time in office or making it possible to show even more starkly when they are in error?
I disagreed with the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire when he described the way in which the composition of the second Chamber could be re-adjusted after a general election by the creation of more peers. The royal commission was absolutely clear that the second Chamber's link with the peerage should be ended permanently. My own view--which was supported by a considerable number of commission members--is that the second Chamber should be called not the House of Lords, but, perhaps, the House of Senators.
Nevertheless, the royal commission agreed on the crucial point that the second Chamber's link with the peerage should be ended. We also proposed that, in parallel with that change, the Prime Minister's patronage should be ended totally. I am sure that my royal commission colleagues will forgive me for saying that both those proposals--ending the second Chamber's link with the peerage, and totally ending prime ministerial patronage--came from me. The leaders of political parties should not have a greater voice than anyone else in determining whom the independent appointments commission appoints.
Mr. Kaufman: I tell my hon. Friend that the royal commission believes, and proposes, that a very much wider spectrum of the population should be eligible to be appointed by the independent appointments commission--which will be statutory, appointed under the Nolan rules and open to applications from members of the general public, and which will scrutinise every single application. The commission was very clear indeed that we did not want a new second Chamber that would be a subterfuge enabling the Prime Minister of the day, whoever he or she might be, to get away with perpetuating his or her patronage.
Mr. Prentice: Will not the leaders of the political parties--not only the Prime Minister, but the Leader of the Opposition--still be able to exercise patronage and appoint people to the upper Chamber on the basis of their party connections?
Mr. Kaufman: No. My hon. Friend should read the report--the commission ruled out precisely that possibility. We said that the leaders of the political parties, like anyone else, should be able to suggest appointments to the appointments commission, but that the appointments commission need not pay attention to those recommendations. Moreover, we said that it should be open to the appointments commission to appoint not only those who are in political parties, but those who are outside political parties. That includes those who were
Mr. Kaufman: I suggest that the hon. Gentleman should look at it again, as I do not want to take up too much time dealing with matters that he can read about in the report. We are proposing that the system should be independent and analogous to the system that the House has--with the agreement of all parties--approved for the election commission. We wanted and insisted upon an entirely separate structure.
One of the reasons--in addition to others which I shall deal with if I have time--why we proposed that there should be an independent appointments commission, which would appoint certainly the great majority if not all the Members of the second Chamber, is that we wanted to deal with the inadequacies of the way in which hon. Members are elected. We reach this place after a series of competitions within our political parties, and, subsequently, after competition in elections. Certain balances have to be struck in that process.
Despite the welcome number of new women Members elected to this place after the previous general election, women are still very seriously under-represented in this Chamber. Members of the ethnic minorities are extremely seriously under-represented in this Chamber. Therefore--I say it again, and I hope that my commission colleagues will forgive me--at my suggestion, the commission proposed that there should be gender objectives, so that we have about 50 per cent. men and 50 per cent. women in a new second Chamber. That objective could never be achieved in elections to this place. The commission also suggested that there should be ethnic minority objectives, as selection will not substantially deal with the serious under-representation of ethnic minorities in this place.
One of the independent appointments commission's statutory remits would, therefore, be to address the issue of gender equality. Although the commission decided that, because of the United Kingdom's ethnic diversity, we should not specify an exact proportion of ethnic minority Members in the second Chamber, we believe that ethnic minority representation in the second Chamber should be at least proportional to the United Kingdom's overall ethnic minority population.