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Michael Fabricant: The hon. Gentleman has run out of time.

Mr. Prentice: Those comments will have to wait for another time.

5.28 pm

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): I do not know how I can follow that act, apart from agreeing with most of the comments of the hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice).

It is useful to recall the way in which we reached the current sorry state of affairs. I have been looking at other Parliaments and other nations that have gone through such procedures. We all know about the long, hot summers in the 1780s and 1790s in Philadelphia when the American constitution was discussed. I have recently come back from Australia, where Australians have been celebrating 100 years of federation. I took the opportunity to find out how they reached the current position.

The Australian constitution was written by delegates to the 1897 federal convention, which was open to the press and to the public. Its work was reported, debated and subject to public criticism and, at its completion, copies of the constitution were sent to the electors to be voted on. That was the democracy practised in Australia.

What are we doing in the United Kingdom? The second sentence of the Prime Minister's introductory remarks to the White Paper states:

How was this achieved? My personal bible is Andrew Rawnsley's book, "Servants of the People", in which he describes the process rather well. I shall read a few sentences from the relevant chapter:

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This is where we find ourselves today, discussing the future of the other place.

I have to be honest and say that if it had been up to me, I would not even have embarked on this change. I have a sense of history, and I believe that if something works, we should not try to fix it and we should not break it. I have heard the arguments that the House of Lords did not work, that it was not fair and that it had an in-built Conservative majority, but I have also heard arguments, which I know to be true, that on many occasions during Conservative Administrations, the House of Lords blocked legislation coming from the Conservative Government.

I argue that the House of Lords did work, but I accept that the caravan has moved on and that we cannot turn the clock back. There now has to be reform of the House of Lords. My hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) asked whether there had been consensus in today's debate. There has not been consensus; there has been unanimity, on one issue at least: that the White Paper is wholly unacceptable because it is neither one thing nor the other. Accepting realpolitik, and the fact that the House of Lords must be reformed, I have no option but to say that it now has to be wholly elected. There is no other choice, because it needs legitimacy.

The Leader of the House asked how it would be possible for the House of Commons to have primacy if the House of Lords were wholly elected. Others have argued that that could be made possible by enshrining the appropriate provision in law. The Leader of the House argued back, "Ah, but if you make laws here, and the people are elected there and have some legitimacy, they will argue for change, and change will come about." That is merely a question of detail relating to how we structure the House of Lords. It could be structured in such a way that, even though it were democratically elected, it would not have quite the legitimacy of the House of Commons, in which we represent constituencies.

A number of people have mentioned the Senate in the United States. One possible example—I do not suggest that it is the only one—of how things might be done would be to say, "All right, we will elect one or two people per administrative area, per county or per unitary authority, regardless of population." That would involve democratic election, but because there would be an imbalance between the number of people electing each representative, such representatives would not have the legitimacy that we enjoy here in the House of Commons.

The point is that there is a range of formulae by which we can contrive to elect people to the other place, give it legitimacy and give it fairness while ensuring that primacy remains here in the House of Commons. I believe, however, that the House of Commons can have its own legitimacy only if the House of Lords is also a respected organisation, and that cannot be the case if only 20 per cent. of its Members are elected or, indeed, even if two thirds are elected.

I intervened on the Leader of the House to raise an argument that I want hon. Members to consider. There is considerable expertise in the House of Lords among hereditary and life peers and we would be unwise to reject the influence that they can have on our lives, so will he

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seriously consider this option? If we have a wholly elected House of Lords, which I would like, and if those elected Members have a vote, will the right hon. Gentleman introduce an arrangement, which might be only transitional, giving existing Members, for as long as they are alive and able to make a useful contribution, the right to attend debates and present their arguments without having a vote?

I do not see why people should be frightened of that proposal. I accept the argument that the Leader of the House put to me when I made my intervention—that it would result in two classes of Member, voting and non-voting—but there are precedents for that in other Chambers and in company law. There is no reason for not retaining current Members of the House of Lords with expertise during the transitional period so that they may participate in debates but not vote. If nothing else, that would ensure a smoother transition than any abrupt change.

At the beginning of the 21st century, it would be unacceptable to have another Chamber in this Parliament to which only 20 per cent. of members were elected. Any figure that we may announce, whether it be 20 per cent. or 80 per cent., will be merely arbitrary. Furthermore, whether we like it or not and whether we choose 80 per cent. or not, the figure will be transitional—eventually, it will be 100 per cent. Therefore, I say to hon. Members on both sides of the House that we must accept that the caravan has moved on, whether or not we admit that the House of Lords worked as it was and whether or not we liked or admired it. There must be a wholly elected Chamber and let us move forward on that basis.

5.38 pm

Andrew Bennett (Denton and Reddish): I am grateful for the opportunity to address the House. The White Paper, deservedly, has had a pretty bad day and I cannot recall a single speech in favour of it. Even the Leader of the House was somewhat hesitant, so I suspect that the best future it can expect is that of a sand castle on a beach as the tide comes in—it will be washed away. However, I hope that my right hon. Friend has the courage to put it on firmer foundations and bring it back. Whatever the arrangement for achieving that—a joint committee, for example—we must consider the issue in the round. We must think about not just changing the House of Lords, but what Parliament does, because, in a sense, what we do down here is just as important. It is also part of the balance with what may go on in a second Chamber.

The House must recognise that, since the 1911 settlement of powers between the two Houses, much of the power in Parliament has drained away. It is no good us saying that that is a matter of presentation or of methods. It is a fundamental fact that this Parliament no longer has anything like the power it had in 1911 to influence the behaviour of and opportunities for constituents. We must recognise that democracy needs power to energise it. Any one who has tried to run a school council or works council, in which people have no genuine powers, knows that making democracy work in such circumstances is extremely difficult.

A declining Parliament is inevitable, because so many of the decisions that affect our constituents are no longer local or United Kingdom issues. We must face the fact of globalisation, and accept that many of the issues affecting

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our constituents are now controlled by world organisations such as the United Nations and its agencies and the World Trade Organisation, or by multinational companies. Much as we would like to democratise such institutions, it will not be easy, so we must concentrate on trying to make Parliament relevant to circumstances in which so much of the power has drained away.

It is in those new circumstances that we want to make Parliament effective. Its energy has seeped away not just because of the changing, globalised world but because it has often allowed successive Governments and Prime Ministers to reduce us to lobby fodder. We must do something about that.

The fundamental duty of Parliament now is to consider reforming all our procedures rather than merely tinkering with the House of Lords, and certainly rather than giving even more power and privilege to Prime Ministers or party leaders, as the White Paper seems to recommend. We must bring about change in order to create an effective democratic process.

Many of my hon. Friends would say that electing far more people to the House of Lords would work, but I fear that that would be a fourth or fifth-rate solution. If necessary, I will probably vote for it on the ground that it is the least-bad option, but I feel that we should ask ourselves whether, in a changing world, we need more than 1,200 parliamentarians split between two Houses. That strikes me as a ridiculously large number. It may have been perfectly all right in 1911, when MPs were not paid, most were part-time, and people did not have the opportunities we have now; but if we want an effective Parliament, 600-plus is more than enough. We could have a very effective Parliament with just one Chamber—this Chamber—if we ensured that it performed properly the job that is now done ineffectually by two Houses.

I would not go quite as far as abolishing the House of Lords. I would leave it with a residual function—the supreme court function—along with powers to allow this House to extend the life of a Parliament beyond five years, albeit only in exceptional circumstances. I would also leave it with the power to insist that this House spend sufficient time scrutinising legislation, and that sufficient time should be allowed for effective scrutiny outside. Given that simple limiting of the powers of the House of Lords, I think that we could do everything perfectly effectively here. We do not need two Chambers.

That means, however, that this House must change its attitude. We have tried to make it increasingly exclusive; we should be trying to make it inclusive. I do not think that anyone here remembers an occasion on which someone has come to the Bar of the House to address the Chamber, but in the past—quite a long time ago—people had an opportunity to do that, and even now Select Committees ask witnesses to address them. We could take some of the expertise that—allegedly and only in small quantities—exists in the House of Lords and make it available to this House, if we wanted to.

I plead with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to examine the situation as a whole and to decide that we need a small, effective legislature, directly accountable to the electorate. That body should have the self-confidence to be inclusive and not exclusive.

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My right hon. Friend should take away these proposals and come back with a new look at Parliament that would make it effective for the 21st century.

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