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Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order.

6.20 pm

Norman Lamb (North Norfolk): This has been a fascinating debate in which not a single speaker has spoken in support of the proposals in the White Paper. I suggest that that point also extends to the views of the Leader of the House. It is rare for a set of Government proposals to achieve the distinction of uniting virtually everyone outside their payroll in opposition to the proposals. The Government say that they seek consensus and, ironically, they are achieving consensus—one that circulates around something very different from what is proposed in the White Paper.

I wish to challenge a specific point that the Leader of the House made in the debate on 7 November and which he repeated today. He sought to justify the proposals on the composition of the second Chamber by praying in aid the claim that many second Chambers throughout the world are made up of a mixed membership. That is true, but in virtually all cases the balance is predominantly in favour of the elected element. I accept that, in some cases, indirect election plays a part, but in only 15 countries worldwide is appointment used as the predominant means of selection to the second Chamber.

The only western industrialised country that has a wholly appointed second Chamber is Canada. Its second Chamber is based on our House of Lords, so it is hardly

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the model that we want to follow now. As Meg Russell of The Constitution Unit put it in her 1999 study of second Chambers, the main problem in Canada

We should listen carefully to those wise words.

The same study identifies only two countries—Malaysia and Swaziland—that combine a significant number of appointees with fewer elected Members. Those are the models that the Government seek to follow with these proposals.

The extent of patronage could be even worse. If the 20 per cent. elected element is elected using the closed-list system that operates for the European Parliament, the power of patronage would apply not just to the political appointments but to the elected element as well. The party bosses would determine who was top of the list. The second Chamber would be almost entirely created by patronage and appointment.

I want to deal with the arguments of the Leader of the House about the concern in the shift of power from one House to another. Much has been made of the Government's fear of a significant shift of power from this House to a more legitimate second Chamber. Their solution appears to be to ensure that the proposed second Chamber lacks legitimacy and, therefore, power. Experience from other countries suggests that that fear has been significantly overstated and is without substance. The assertion is made without any evidence to support it.

We all want an effective Parliament; we do not want endless gridlock. However, the correct balance can be achieved by properly designing the role, functions and powers of the second Chamber rather than by neutering it by way of membership by appointment and patronage. The net result of the proposals is not to shift power from one House to the other, but to further that shift from Parliament to the Executive, through the power of patronage. That must be fought at all costs.

Such is the opposition to the White Paper that three options are possible. I cannot imagine that the Government will legislate on the basis of a 20 per cent. elected element. The first option, therefore, is for them to rethink their case in its entirety, to listen to the developing consensus and to return with coherent proposals for reform of Parliament as a whole, including this place, to make us more effective, more democratic and more accountable. That would attract the support of hon. Members on both sides of the House.

The second option is to attempt to buy off internal opposition by increasing the percentage marginally. The third is to withdraw the proposals with no commitment to return with an alternative. The last two options worry me most. There has been much talk of the buy-off option in recent days, with an increase in the elected element of, say, 30 or 35 per cent. It is a common ploy to start with something that will not secure support, because it can lower expectations and set the context for debate. However, the opposition would have been the same had the Government proposed 35 per cent. as a starting point. That is subject to the same criticism of being undemocratic and dominated by patronage and appointment.

To a large extent, we have to rely on the reformers in the Cabinet—if there are any, apart from the Leader of the House—and Labour Back Benchers to stop a

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stitch-up. Well over 100 Labour Back Benchers signed the early-day motion supporting a second Chamber that is wholly or substantially elected. Please let them not go back on that principle. The country is relying on them to hold fast on that.

We also know that the Leader of the House wants something more radical. He was, self-evidently, a signatory to the Cook-Maclennan agreement that gave clear support for a democratic and representative second Chamber. The proposals do not match that test. Today the right hon. Gentleman set himself against a wholly elected second Chamber, but I listened carefully and he did not say that he is against a substantially elected second Chamber. I hope that he will lead the fight for something that is very different from what is set out in the White Paper.

The third option of keeping the status quo appears to have been threatened in the past couple of days by the Lord Chancellor. Most people would find that option abhorrent and it must be resisted. Indeed, it would directly contradict the principle, as stated today by the Leader of the House, of removing the hereditary element in its entirety.

We have an historic opportunity to reform the second Chamber, but we must get it right. There is a great deal of legitimate talk about a loss of trust in the democratic process, as demonstrated by a falling turnout and disillusionment with politics and politicians. Nothing would do more to reinforce those trends than to pack the second Chamber with political appointments. Imagine the turnout for the elected element of such a Chamber. The Cook-Maclennan report stated in 1997:

That is as true today—if not more so—as it was then. Let us consign the White Paper to the dustbin and start again with something that is more legitimate.

6.29 pm

Mr. Chris Bryant (Rhondda): I am grateful to have the opportunity to speak in the debate, not least because I think that I am the only new Labour Member to have been called. I am aware that many others would like to speak.

The case for reform was made cogently by hon. Members on both sides of the House. That is why, above all else, I hope that the Government will not come away from the debate thinking that the situation is impossible and that they cannot introduce reform that will carry the day in this Chamber, proceed to the House of Lords and create a new system.

We need reform because Britain needs a parliamentary system in the totality of which the people can have confidence. My constituents do not have confidence in the whole parliamentary system. They have worries about this House, but they have far more worries about the other House, which they see as a wholly undemocratic and unrepresentative body that regularly acts as a bar to their legitimate political aspirations. Under the new proposals, that situation would not be improved. There is an urgent need for reform because there is only one other country in the world that has the same system as us, and that is Lesotho. It is about time we struck out and joined countries that have a more open, democratic system.

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As many hon. Members have said, the Government's proposals are misguided and wrong. First, the figure of 20 per cent. for the second Chamber's elected Members is marginal and paltry. To offer the people of Britain a 20 per cent. share in the country's democracy is to waste an opportunity. The turnout for such elections would be pathetically small; indeed, we would almost be asking people not to bother to vote. The Government's proposals would lead to a House that was far too large. Surely a second Chamber should have no more than between 250 and 300 Members.

A couple of Members talked about the period of attrition, and I must correct their figures. I am afraid that I must tell the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) that the Liberal Democrat actuary is incorrect, and the rate of attrition would be a little faster than he stated, but then Liberal Democrat figures are often inaccurate. Every year, 18 Members of the House of Lords are gathered up into a place that is, I suspect, rather similar to the Lords, so the grim reaper paces rather faster than the hon. Gentleman believes. None the less, under these proposals, we would be facing at least 10 years in which the second Chamber dwindled into gagadom. The period of attrition would mean also that the Prime Minister would probably not be appointing anybody but the Archbishop of Canterbury to the Chamber in the next 10 years.

Another problem with the proposals which has already been mentioned is that although at the moment we have the same system as Lesotho, we would change to a system the same as those in Malaysia and Swaziland. Surely Britain, as the mother of Parliaments, should be able to devise a better system for the 21st century.

One of the most profound points in the debate was made by the Leader of the House when he asked for a centre of gravity. What we have seen developing today is more a centre of gravity than a consensus. It is fair to say that there is no consensus because people want to make their own specific proposals, but a clear centre of gravity is developing, first and foremost, around the idea that we should have a second Chamber, and secondly around the idea that it should be a small Chamber. Everybody who has referred to the size of the second Chamber has said that it should be small. Thirdly, the Chamber should have no more than secondary, revising powers. I do not see why it should not be called the second Chamber as a means of emphasising its secondary role. It is time we ditched the term "House of Lords". It would be particularly bizarre to call it that if it no longer contained traditional peers.

Another idea around which a centre of gravity has formed is that of offering some measure of redundancy to Members at the other end of the building. As someone in the parliamentary Labour party said yesterday, if we want our turkeys to vote for Christmas, we must offer them a lot of cranberry sauce.

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