|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
The basis on which the election will be different will, in fact, provide for only minor differences. I think that we will find that the second Chamber is full of party politiciansperhaps people who are better than those here, and perhaps people who have failed to get here, but who are party politicians none the less, with all the party patronage and all the involvement of the Whips that accompany membership of this place.
When politicians are elected, they are not satisfied with the facilities that they have elsewhere. They want offices, secretaries and researchers. Those who do not believe that should bear it in mind that when I entered the House I have been here for only a short time; the Leader of the House has been here for much longerthe allowance was just enough to pay for one secretary, whereas I can now employ three or four members of staff, have three computers, and have £1,000 a month left over to spend on other things.
I want more office space. Everyone does, because of all the staff they have. These people will want the sameand, dare I say, they will also want salaries. They will end up duplicating our role, to a large extent. They will start holding surgeries, writing articles in their local papers and writing to their constituents. They will start doing the same things that we do. There are already 659 of us doing that, and I do not think that we need any more. Indeed, I agree with the Members who have said that fewer could do it here.
Those people will not just want offices, researchers and secretaries; they will want more power. An elected second Chamber will have as good a democratic mandate as this place, and will not be satisfied with a revising role and the right to a 12-month delay. It may not happen immediately, but there will come a time when the second Chamber will challenge the role and primacy of the House of Commons.
Let us suppose that the Chamber was elected on a different basis and at a different time. Let us suppose that 80 per cent. of its Members opposed a Government Bill, and that the Government were in the dog days of a Parliament, lagging way behind in the opinion polls and probably heading for defeat in the next general election. The second Chamber would be able to argue that it had greater democratic legitimacy than this placethat it had a democratic right, and that it was representing the people of this country better than the legitimate Government. That represents a fundamental change in our constitution, which could result in a Government with a significant majority in this place having their legislation blocked.
Some Members may say that that would be a good thing; but if we are to move down that road, let us recognise that it would not merely represent a minor change in the constitution: it would be a move towards an American-style constitution, in which the Government would have to negotiate their programme with the legislature. If that is to be done, let us do it openly. I am
Those people who have made the case for a substantially or wholly elected House of Lords have an attractive case on the ground of democracy, but nobody has dealt properly with the second and third-order issues that, to my mind, mean that the case for an elected second Chamber has not been made.
Mr. Maples: Yes, but the case for those powers might be overwhelming. We could have a hung Parliament or significant popular demand for it could be expressed. The history of this House has been the acquisition of more and more powers over the past several hundred years, first from the Crown and then from the House of Lords. We cannot set the situation in aspic, and any new set-up will be organic and take on a life and agenda of its own. To suggest anything else is fanciful.
If we are to have an elected House of Lordsa second Chamber, or whatever we will call itI agree with the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central that it should be a proper legislature. In other words, it should have no Ministers, because then it has some chance of being really different from the House of Commons. People would not try to pursue careers as Ministers by pleasing the Whips and the party hierarchy, but could concentrate on examining what the Government were doing.
People should not be elected for 15 years and not allowed to run again. That is the worst kind of democratic representation, because people would not be responsible to those who elected them. The proposed appointments commission is a real horror. I cannot see how it would advance democracy to take away the rights of hereditary peers and hand them to a commission consisting of the chairman of a building society, a couple of goods and greats from the charity world and a partner in PricewaterhouseCoopers. Why should they have the right to decide who votes in the second Chamber, any more than the accident of birth of the 800-odd people who happen to be hereditary peerstwo of whom now sit in this Chambershould be used to decide who has those votes?
The nominations should not be made by some quango but by the Prime Minister, who is accountable to Parliament. He has to make the nominations openly, and conventions give leaders of other parties the right to appoint working peers. Conventions also give certain peoplesuch as former Cabinet Ministersthe right to go the House of Lords if they want to and those conventions should be extended to, for example, the president of the Trades Union Congress, the chairman of the Confederation of British Industry and presidents of the royal colleges. Such people would add independence and expertise.
If we are to have ex-officio members of the House of Lords, why should that include only a few bishops and judges? There is a good argument for judges having nothing to do with the legislature, and there is no argument for just having bishops of the Church of England. I would be happy to see the ex-officio principle extended so that those members of the House who were nominated could be produced other than by nomination by the Prime Minister. However, it is farcical to suggest that we should create a quango to which we should hand over the rights of the electorate.
While a persuasive case can be made for a wholly elected second Chamber, it does not deal with the second and third-order issues, which make the proposals a far more fundamental change to our constitution than its proponents recognise. I would prefer a nominated House without the hereditary peersfor whose presence there is no justificationwith the same limited powers that it now has. The only way to provide the independence, expertise andif I dare say it againwisdom is to have a nominated, not elected, House.
Mr. James Plaskitt (Warwick and Leamington): I am happy to follow the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples), my constituency neighbour, but I disagree with most of what he said. It is becoming evidentif it was not easily anticipatedthat the White Paper is in some trouble. That is because it is a mix of principle and old-fashioned political fixing. The problems arise when constitutional reform is more of the latter than the former.
The best constitutional reforms in history are those that proceeded from a core principle, such as devolution. That was achieved by this Labour Government from clear first principles, was well established and has taken root as a settled part of our constitutional arrangements. However, when constitutional arrangements are changed as part of a political fix, they tend to be unstable, fail to take root and do not work. The White Paper is a mix of the two.
When my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House introduced the White Paper, he was on solid ground because he referred to core principles that are not negotiablesuch as getting rid of hereditary peers. That is the easy part. However, the White Paper slides too quickly from certain principles into political fixes, and that is where the problems start. We need to achieve as much of the reform as possible on the basis of clear principlewhy we are reforming the second Chamber and what its purpose will be. If we are clear about those principles and work from them, we will be able to achieve good and lasting reform, which will not happen if we mix up principle and political expediency.
All constitutional reformand certainly this reformshould attempt to tackle the lack of esteem in which Parliament is held. I refer my right hon. Friend to his excellent document, "Modernisation of the House of Commons: a reform programme for consultation", in which he says, in the final paragraph:
The public have a problem with Parliament. They see it as outmoded, and in large part irrelevant and weak. Some of that perception is about this Chamber, but it includes the House of Lords. The public understand and support us when we reform on principlesuch as putting an end to the hereditary peersbut if we are to concentrate on the esteem of Parliament, we should consider how the public will perceive our reform of the upper Chamber. Will they understand our aims if we get rid of the hereditary peers but retain a majority of appointed members? I do not think that we will take the public with us on that. They want us to continue reform, but it must be on broadly acceptable terms. The public will simply be baffled by the complex reforms proposed in the White Paper.
We are trying to rebalance the legislative and executive branches and addressing issues of accountability. Democracy must be the default position. We must start from the assumption that a house of a legislature should be elected unless a good case can be made for it not to be elected. The Government have two key arguments in favour of the White Paper. One is the gridlock argument and the other is the loss of independence and expertise. They are important points and worthy of consideration.
The gridlock problem arises only if the two Houses have similar powers. It is clear that they need not do so. The White Paper gives the example of America when it mentions the problem of gridlock, but that is an unfair point because the American constitution is fundamentally different in its structures and principles. That is not a valid defence of the point about gridlock. We can resolve the issue by having a clear definition of the functions of the two Houses. They will not be duplicate functions. The second Chamber will have a scrutiny and refinement role that is quite different from that of this place. The Executive will remain enshrined in this Chamber and the money power will rest here. Even if there is conflict between the two Houses, we are not incapable of devising ways of resolving that. Mediation processes can be brought into play.
We have not heard a lot about the second point: the argument about the loss of independence and expertise. Why is that deemed important? A number of reasons emerge from a reading of the White Paper, including the volume of legislation and the complexity of governing in the modern state. That is prayed in aid of the need for expertise if scrutiny of legislation is to be effective. But in this Chamber, we legislate and scrutinise, and yet the argument about bringing in independence and expertise is never used in respect of this House. We are deemed adequate, as elected Members, to write legislation, but somehow when it comes to scrutiny, there has to be independence and expertise brought to bear. There is some inconsistency in that.
The problem arises because the Government are trying to fit independence and expertise into membership of a legislature. Independence and expertise are needed to support the work of parliamentarians, but they do not have to be inside the Chamber. In the context of parliamentary
I am concerned about the inherent instability of the White Paper's proposals, which will not bring an end to the argument about what the upper Chamber should be like. There is nothing inherently logical about having 20 per cent. of the Chamber elected, or 33 per cent., 50 per cent. or 66 per cent. If it is not a simple, clear, logical and coherent solution, it will be the subject of permanent argument. If we get stuck on that, we will get distracted from other things, and we will not do anything to help rebuild esteem for Parliament, which is what we should be in the business of doing.