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4.51 pm

John Thurso (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross): Before being elected to the House this year, I had a career in the hotel industry, where our greatest desire was to achieve the highest possible degree of customer satisfaction. In our training programmes, we developed what became known as Thurso's law of satisfaction, which is, simply stated, that satisfaction is the difference between delivery and expectation. When I read the White Paper, I thought that it was extremely unsatisfactory, in part because the expectation had been so high and in part because the delivery, when it came, was so timid.

When the Leader of the House opened the debate this afternoon, however, he quite properly called on us all to look for the areas of consensus, and he enunciated two core principles and asked hon. Members to support them. I am happy to assure him that, regarding those two core principles, I shall support whatever legislation is introduced, not because I believe that the legislation will be satisfactory, but simply because some legislation is much more satisfactory than none, and because I believe that reform of the other place is an iterative process and that whatever steps are taken now can be built on in future.

The opportunity that we have in this process in the House and in the other place is to address the problem that several hon. Members have spoken about: the democratic

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deficit that is growing between the political process in the Westminster village and the way in which the electorate perceive it. This is an opportunity to start to build back the public trust in the system.

To ensure that there is no doubt, let me make clear where I stand. I have absolutely no doubt that the second Chamber will be wholly elected one day, and I believe that that is absolutely right. I do doubt whether that will occur in this century or the next. I only hope that I live to see considerable progress towards that end.

Before the reform of 1999 there was a very real consensus for reform and on what that reform should achieve. First, there was a consensus in favour of abolition of the hereditaries. There is no defence for the hereditary principle in Parliament. It works fine for breeding livestock but it does not work very well for delivering legislators.

Secondly, there is a broad consensus in favour of a bicameral system. There is a convincing and powerful intellectual argument, made by the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews), in favour of a unicameral system, but I believe in a bicameral system and I believe that there is a broad consensus for such a system.

Thirdly, there was a consensus that whatever we did should produce a second Chamber that was a fit and effective Chamber for a 21st century Parliament.

The consensus seems to be in danger of breaking apart, because of the weakness of the White Paper, which results from the weakness of the Wakeham commission report. That report was a great lost opportunity; rather than clearing the fog of detail, it added to it. It is a great shame that we went down the royal commission route and did not opt for a Joint Commission of both Houses at that time.

I should like to pull back from the detail to what I believe to be the single most important thing that reform of the other place should achieve, and it involves a very simple test—the test of legitimacy. Too often in another place, and now in this place, I have listened to Members plead the simple fact that the other place is illegitimate as a sole argument for not voting against something of which the Government are in favour. That cannot be the right way to run any parliamentary system. Therefore, whatever we decide to do—whether the second Chamber is wholly appointed, wholly elected or a mixture of the two—we must be able to say that what we have achieved is legitimate. We should never again be able to criticise the legitimacy of the other place here, in the media or in the country at large. If we can pass that test, we shall have done a great deal.

I shall break from the general consensus that appears to have emerged during this debate on one issue—what is described as the supremacy or the primacy of this House. I do not believe that this House needs to inflict primacy or superiority over the other place. The two Houses should act as partners. This House naturally will be the senior partner; it represents constituencies, delivers the Government and bears the result of general elections.

Because of that and because of the differences in the way the two Houses will work and the different functions that they will be required to carry out, this House will always remain the senior partner, but it should not be the dominant partner and it should not have supremacy. The other place should not be like a Victorian wife and be

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asked to honour and obey; the partnership should be much more equal. The conventions of the two Houses and the way in which they work will allow that to happen; legislation is not needed, and I shall briefly touch on some of the details in that regard.

The other place does have certain strengths. Anyone who has sat through debates in the other place will recognise that the quality of debate is strong there and that, very often, the decisions that it takes—in particular, on less controversial matters—are wise and add to the legislation passed by this House, which is so often rushed and perhaps not digested so well as it could have been. Much of the reason for that lies in the manner, customs and way in which the other place works and is composed.

First, the Whips have no power in the other place. They ask Members very nicely whether they would mind coming in to vote and whether they would be kind enough to vote in the way that the party proposes. If the Members say no, the Whips say, "That's absolutely fine." I have heard that things may run differently in some parties in this House, although I have not yet experienced that in my own. The reason why the Whips have no power in the Lords is that membership does not end there, except in rather obvious, strange circumstances. Basically, at the moment, its Members are there for life, so they can ignore the Whips if they choose do so. That helps to provide some of the essential flavour of the House of Lords.

The second reason is the age of those in the House of Lords. It is important that its membership is of a certain, more mature age than is perhaps found in this House. That helps to create a more deliberative and less combative style there. In any solution—my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) has already reflected my views on that—Members should serve for one fixed term as that would remove the problem of the Whips that I have mentioned. Although I am not hung up on any particular limit, that term should be reasonably long. I suggest a term of 12 years, because that figure is divisible by three and one could have one-third rolling elections.

Marrying elections to the other place with elections to the European Parliament would be a great mistake. The elections should be aligned with those to the national and regional assemblies, because they would then be more likely to attract a much stronger turnout.

Ultimately, I would like the entire membership of the second Chamber to be elected. Much has been said about the independence of the Cross Benchers and how wonderful it is to have the great and the good in the other place. My experience suggests that the Cross Benchers are somewhat overrated. In my time in the other place, the hereditary Cross Benchers were largely closet Tories and the great and the good were so great and good that they did not always bother to turn up. It is important to realise what actually happens. Many Members on the Cross Benches are excellent, but overall, they are not quite as great as everyone makes out—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order.

5.1 pm

Jane Griffiths (Reading, East): I do not plan to speak for long in what has so far been an excellent debate. I also do not plan to speak more than is necessary about how pusillanimous and wrong the proposals in the White Paper are. Instead, I intend to return to first principles and to

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show how this debate, which must be the start of a considerable process and is perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, might lead us to the conclusion that we should have a wholly or substantially elected second Chamber.

I remind hon. Members that last June saw the lowest turnout at a general election since 1918. Last year saw the lowest turnout in a by-election since the second world war and the last European election showed a record low turnout as well. The Government's response is to suggest that there should be fewer elections—that the people are not be trusted. Instead, according to the proposals in the White Paper, our second Chamber should somehow be made up of placepeople.

Several hon. Members and people in debates elsewhere have expressed the view that the people who run the country—legislators and the Executive—should look around more. They should not be inward looking but should listen to what the people are saying. The analogy used—I think first by President John F. Kennedy—was that we should look out of the windows of the aeroplane. This analogy was also famously used by Vaclav Havel in his new year's day broadcast to the people of the Czech Republic—Czechoslovakia as it was then—on 1 January 1990, an important day for democracy to which I shall refer again.

To set that point in context, people in the Czech Republic had been used to broadcasts telling them how happy everyone was and how the five-year plan for tractor production had been exceeded. Those were the old certainties. However, Vaclav Havel's broadcast was the first new year's day broadcast since the velvet revolution and his election on 28 December 1989. I believe that the following excerpt is relevant to our debates today.

Vaclav Havel was talking about how the totalitarian system had been

He went on:

The importance of that quotes lies in the last sentence. We cannot underestimate the importance of participation and responsibility to freedom and democracy.

Our response to the perceived lack of faith in our democracy, as shown by the fall in turnout at elections to date, has not, up to now, been fewer elections. The Government have a proud record of introducing devolution for Scotland and Wales. In those countries, the answer has been to trust the people more and to give them a greater say in the running of their affairs.

Britain also has a proud record as a country with one of the oldest Parliaments and oldest franchises. That does not mean that we know everything or that we cannot learn from other countries. Sometimes we can learn from countries that are new to democracy. Just over a year ago, I had the privilege of visiting South Africa as part of a Commonwealth Parliamentary Association group. It was

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a privilege to talk with people who had campaigned and fought so long for something about which we have become so blasé. Who can forget those pictures of the first democratic elections in South Africa—people queuing for hours to vote? That is unthinkable in this country at present.

I cannot forget holding conversations with people from the African National Congress who were interested in our second Chamber. They asked, "How do you manage it? How does it work when people are appointed? Where do you find them from? What about corruption?" They were rightly concerned about those matters. I was humbled, though, talking to those people who had seen members of their family beaten or killed before their eyes and who were now sitting in Parliament opposite people who had been responsible for those beatings and killings. They did so because they knew that it was best for their democracy and their country to sit down with people with opposing views.

I am a democrat. I believe that our freedom and democracy are the responsibility of us all and that participation is the most important part of that responsibility. We are told, and a number of hon. Members said this today, that if the second Chamber is wholly or substantially elected that will challenge the primacy of the House of Commons. I may not be a constitutional expert, but I know that many countries have a second Chamber without having such a conflict. I know of times when there has been conflict between the different Chambers here. I believe that we can learn from examples from around the world.

I cannot believe that it is beyond our abilities to establish a system with a wholly or substantially elected second Chamber in which there is no in-built conflict between the two. I do not want to propose options and get into the detail of the White Paper, because that would bog down the debate; but if the Government are concerned about a crisis in legitimacy between two elected Chambers, it would be reasonable to have a single- Chamber Parliament. I am not a unicameralist, but that would at least be the logically coherent thing to do. We do not prevent a conflict between two Chambers by having one of them stuffed full of people who are placed there under patronage.

In conclusion, I return to Vaclav Havel, because I believe that we can learn from him. He finished his broadcast by saying:

Let us learn from the new democracies in South Africa and eastern Europe. Let us have an elected second Chamber as part of our Parliament. Let us return our Government to the people.

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