We must not forget, however, that space travel is extremely dangerous, particularly during take-off and landing. The Challenger disaster in 1986, in which seven astronauts were killed as a result of faulty seals in the solid rocket boosters, is an example of that danger. In describing the dangers of re-entering the atmosphere, I shall refer again to the fluid I mentioned earlier. Let us imagine skimming stones on the surface of a lake. That is what it is like trying to get a spaceship back into the Earth’s atmosphere. It has to enter at a particular angle and at a particular speed. If it gets those things wrong,

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it will bounce off the atmosphere like a skimming stone. If the angle of entry is too steep, it will burn up very quickly. It is a very precise operation. We also remember the Columbia disaster in 2003.

When I was at the Science Museum just before Christmas with all those children, they cheered and shouted as the rocket was launched. I did not cheer and shout at that point, however, and the people in ground control at the European Space Agency also waited until the rocket had got into orbit proper before the celebrations really started. That is the point at which it is considered to have become a lot safer. We must pay tribute to the bravery of these astronauts. Theirs is a dangerous job, albeit a glamorous one.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford) mentioned, Tim Peake is to do his spacewalk tomorrow. He will be outside the space station for more than six hours, which is no small task. It is highly technical and highly dangerous, and we wish him all the very best.

I have been pleased to hear so many Members talk about the importance of science, technology, engineering and maths and of getting girls involved in those STEM subjects However, to do that, we need teachers in place, and a serious policy of recruitment and retention of teachers. We need to think about how we will attract people from other areas into teaching.

A few years ago, I was lucky enough to meet a NASA astronaut, who was talking to a group of my school children. He was asked by one, “What do I need to study in order to become an astronaut?” His answer was great. He said, “It doesn’t matter. You must follow what you are passionate about—be that material science, engineering, physics, chemistry, biology or medicine. Follow what you are passionate about and then other things will follow.” That is an important message for our young people.

Finally, I ask the Minister to commit to the space industry not just financially, but in terms of advertising and ambition. As my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) said, we must have the ambition and we must say to our young people, “This is for you and it is available to everybody.” On the back of Tim Peake’s mission, which has been so inspirational to watch, we really need to get the message out there that space is open for business. I now call on the Minister to make it so.

2.2 pm

Yvonne Fovargue (Makerfield) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Members for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford) and for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) on securing this timely debate and the Backbench Business Committee on allowing it. I also congratulate all hon. Members who have made contributions today on showing such expertise and passion for the subject. I join everyone in paying tribute to Major Tim Peake. We all watched his take-off at the end of last year with fascination and awe, and I wish him every success over the course of his mission, and particularly with his spacewalk tomorrow.

I was particularly excited today to hear that there are ongoing discussions about a live link-up between Parliament and the international space station, not least because I would love to see in Hansard the phrase, “Ground Control to Major Tim”.

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As the first UK astronaut to join the international space station, Tim Peake’s journey is a significant milestone in this country’s involvement in space exploration. I hope that this new interest in space exploration and travel inspires young people across the country and helps them to pursue careers in science and technology.

It is appropriate at this time, as the hon. Member for Glasgow North said, to pay tribute to those who lost their lives in the Challenger disaster, particularly Christa McAuliffe, a teacher, who went into space to inspire young people. On 28 January, it will be 30 years since that disaster, and we pay tribute to all those involved.

Tim Peake’s achievement bears testimony to human ingenuity and progress, and it highlights the potential for the successful collaboration between Government and industry. The UK’s new national space policy, which aims to increase the UK’s share of the global space economy to 10% by 2030, has been worked on by specialists from Government, academia and industry. Its commitment to supporting the growth of the commercial space sector, underpinned by our world-class academic research, is particularly welcome. We on the Labour Benches support that kind of partnership, and believe that the Government should be doing much more of the same in other sectors.

Continued support for the UK’s space industry is vital, as many Members have told us. It contributes some £11.3 billion to the economy, and supports a number of vital public services, including medicine, disaster relief, defence and transport. Although we associate the industry with space travel, it also impacts on all our lives on a day-to-day basis. I am talking about things such as satellite television, smartphones and sat-navs—I would never leave the house without my sat-nav. We are benefiting from technology produced by the UK space industry.

The industry is important to all our lives, so we need a long-term strategic goal for the sector. It is disappointing that the space, innovation and growth strategy reports that the ad hoc nature of Government funding for space programmes has hindered strategic planning. Although the Government’s direct investment in the space industry is welcome, it must be accompanied by a wider strategy for skilling up future generations, and ensuring that the UK is leading the way when it comes to research and development.

We have heard from many hon. Members about the importance of the next generation of scientists and engineers. We must equip them with the skills that will allow them to undertake those jobs of the future. Unfortunately, the widespread shortage of skills in science and technology, the Government freeze on 16-to-19 funding and in the adult skills sector, and the huge upheaval in colleges from area reviews will not be helping that aim. I have particular sympathy with those who talk about bringing more women into this sector. We need to encourage our young girls and women to see that this is not a dirty engineering sector, but an area of great opportunities. I am concerned that we do not do that early enough. When girls are around the age of eight to 10, they are absolutely enthused by science and technology, but by the time they reach 16, the enthusiasm has waned considerably. We need to keep the enthusiasm going. As the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry) said, we need to offer encouragement and to look at the careers advice that we give to young women from all backgrounds.

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Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): May I just say that it is so encouraging to see the number of women pilots in the Royal Air Force, particularly women fighter pilots who are showing not just that they are the equal of men, but that, sometimes, they can beat them hands down?

Yvonne Fovargue: Obviously, as a female myself, I would say that, quite often in many professions, we have to be not just as good as men, but better than men to prove that we are their equal.

We cannot hope to achieve the Government’s target of growing the number of jobs in the space industry if we are not equipping the next generation with the necessary skills. Will the Minister tell the House what assessment he has made of the impact that cuts to the skills budget will have on the future success of the UK space industry? Furthermore, what is he doing to encourage young women to enter the industry?

If our space industry is to prosper globally, we must be pioneers in the field of research and development, but our public investment in R&D has not kept pace with our international competitors. We spend less on research as a share of GDP than France, Germany, the US and China, all of which are increasing their commitment to science and technology. In 2013, UK Government expenditure on civil space research and development was only seventh amongst OECD countries, well behind some of our competitors.

Investment is vital to science, but so is regulation. It is also important that the Government’s regulatory regime creates an environment that enables growth in the satellite and space sector. Will the Minister explain what is being done to enable new players, such as small and medium-sized enterprises and start-ups, to access the market? As in many UK industries, businesses’ ability to access finance remains a concern. What is the Minister doing to improve access to finance for companies in the space industry?

Throughout the debate, we have heard much about the achievements of space travel and innovation, and the considerable benefits they bring to our economy. Tim Peake’s journey to the international space station has the potential to inspire a new generation and reignite the passion for space exploration felt by my generation when we saw man first set foot on the moon. This Government have to capitalise on that in the coming months and years and continue to work in partnership with the sector, allowing us all to reach for the stars.

2.11 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Life Sciences (George Freeman): I thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and the Speaker’s Office for granting the debate, and congratulate the Backbench Business Committee on securing it. I think it shows the House at its very best, capturing the mood of the nation and setting out an inspiring and challenging vision of how in the years ahead this country can do so much more in this exciting field.

As many hon. Members have said, the debate is timely. Major Tim Peake floats in orbit above us, looking down, and tomorrow he will conduct the historic and serious spacewalk. He is the first British European Space Agency astronaut and the first British astronaut to enter the international space station. The debate is also timely because of the sad passing of the iconic

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David Bowie, whose lyrics in so many ways provided a backdrop to my generation’s childhood and captured, at the time of the Apollo missions, the existential challenge and opportunity of pushing the boundaries of space, time and culture. That provides a rather extraordinary and unpredictable but moving backdrop to this moment in space.

Bob Stewart: I rise as the Member for the coolest constituency in the country. David Bowie lived and played in my constituency, and we are hoping that the bandstand where he played will be saved and restored properly. That is not happening at the moment.

George Freeman: I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart), David Bowie’s constituency, rose to speak at that moment.

This debate and story is about more than the space endeavour alone. It is about business—the UK space industry is an £11.8 billion industry, employing 35,000 highly skilled people. It is about extraordinary technology in optics, communications, rocketry and engineering. It is about an activist industrial policy and strategy, for which I am delighted to confirm our support, to encourage leading technologies and industry. I pay tribute to the work done by Paul Drayson and by my great friend and colleague David Willetts, now a Member of the other place, who in 2012 was instrumental with the Chancellor in securing the £80 million for the international space station, which was crucial to securing Tim Peake’s role in it, and in securing the money for the reaction engines programme, on which this country is leading.

This debate is also about science, not just in space, but solar and earth science. Taking in rocketry, engineering, climatology, optics and communications, this is a deep science project to inspire all. It is about women in science, as others have said. Dr Helen Sharman was the first British woman in space, and the Italian Samantha Cristoforetti was the first European Space Agency woman astronaut; she did inspiring work and has becoming something of a legend and a role model for girls and women in science. It is also about our perception and consciousness of our environment. The “Earth dawn” photo changed perceptions of the fragility of the Earth’s ecosystem.

The debate on space is also about geopolitics. Who, in the appallingly dark days of the cold war and intercontinental ballistic missile threats in which many of us grew up, could have imagined that we would now have an international space station in which Americans, Russians and people from across the world work together for the good of all? It is about defining a new common space for all and a new approach to our defence and security through common leadership. It is not a subject I get to speak much about at the Dispatch Box, but today’s debate makes it possible to talk about mankind’s destiny—the questing spirit deep in us all and in society to inquire, discover, imagine, explore and make possible whole new worlds and opportunities.

This debate is also about the power of ambitious, positive, global, purposive and internationalist leadership to inspire and unite to produce a better politics from us all. No one spoke better on that than JFK, in his inspiring inaugural address in 1960, when he famously said, on a frosty morning in Washington at the very height of the cold war,

“my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

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He launched America on a mission of internationalism, and two years later, in his Apollo speech, announced that America chose to go to the moon not because it was easy, but because it was hard. He did so in the spirit of internationalism and of appeal to the best instincts of mankind. It is a beautiful thing, I think, that on the moon is left an inscription stating that mankind came to the moon in a spirit of freedom and peace. That mission captures so much that is best about our society and what we want to achieve.

It is for those reasons that the Prime Minister asked that we harness the inspirational power of Major Peake’s mission to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers and to bring the country together. All of us found it difficult to avoid the excitement associated with the launch and arrival of the first British ESA astronaut at the international space station. We held celebration events in Edinburgh, London, Cardiff and Belfast, at discovery centres throughout the UK, and here in Parliament. The Science Museum in London attracted almost 11,000 visitors, and if the sheer exhilaration of the 5,000-plus primary schoolchildren at the museum translates into an increase in future sciences, Tim Peake’s mission will already have achieved its goal. In all, 35% of the viewing public watched the launch, and a further 3.8 million people watched the Soyuz spaceship dock with the international space station that evening.

Our Government are providing £3 million of support to the education and engagement programme associated with Tim Peake’s mission, and we have been lauded by the ESA as the country doing the most to invest in and promote educational outreach. We will measure whether the excitement inspires young people to take up STEM subjects—several Members rightly commented on that—and increases public understanding of and engagement with science through an evaluation study being undertaken by York University. It is the first such research since the Apollo effect study in the 1970s.

The Peake mission is possible because of a decision made at the 2012 European Space Agency Council of Ministers meeting by the then Science Minister, David Willetts, which resulted in the UK joining the international space station and the related European programme for life and physical sciences—ELIPS. The UK made a further investment at the Council of Ministers in 2014. The total investment, which exceeded £80 million, provides substantial value for money, giving UK scientists access to a laboratory that has cost others up to $100 billion and is testament to international collaboration in science. The three man crew on the Soyuz, which launched on 15 December, comprised Tim Peake, the American Tim Kopra and the Russian commander Yuri Malenchenko. It is early days, and evaluation of UK involvement is ongoing, but the current results are incredibly exciting.

Experiments for the ELIPS and subsequent experiments undertaken on the space station are selected on the basis of science excellence, which plays to UK strengths. We sometimes forget that this is a massive international set of experiments up in space. In the most recent competition, the UK won more than 10% of awards for experiments, although UK involvement in the space station is at about 5% of costs, so we are punching above our weight. About 40 to 80 scientists across the UK are involved.

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Space is not just about national exploration; it is about critical national infrastructure and services, such as weather forecasting, satellite navigation and satellite television. Space-based technologies are used for tackling many global challenges. Satellites can assist with tackling illegal fishing, efficient urban and rural land use, resource management, safe implementation of autonomous vehicles, and myriad further uses underpinning new technologies and new markets. For example, over half the essential climate variables needed to understand climate change derive from our satellite observations.

The UK space sector is undoubtedly a massive and growing success story. There are real prospects for the young people inspired by Tim Peake and the Rosetta mission to work in our very strong and vibrant space economy in the future. It is currently worth more than £11.8 billion to the UK economy. That is growing at about 8% a year, which is three times faster than the average non-finance sector. It is characterised by an incredibly highly skilled workforce of more than 37,000 people, half of whom hold at least a first degree. Those direct jobs each support more than two jobs in the wider economy. The sector has a general value added per job of £140,000, three times higher than the UK average.

To reflect the strategic and economic importance of the sector, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills launched the national space policy on 13 December to coincide with the Peake mission. It showcases how deeply space now impacts on our daily lives, not least in the field of satellite data and information. It describes how the sector is a unique, strategic national capability which delivers science and innovation, national security, essential public services and prosperity. The policy spells out how the UK Space Agency has brought together the roles and responsibilities of 17 different Government organisations and other partners, such as research councils and Innovate UK which are involved with space.

Space-based activity is a long-term endeavour with international collaboration, industrial co-investment, skills development and considerable planning at its heart. Stability and certainty are important, and the national space policy is the Government’s expression of our long-term commitment to seeing it through and to putting in place a policy landscape to support that investment.

The UK’s involvement in space ranges from fundamental underpinning research into the origins of the universe, to understanding and protecting our planet, through to supporting the research that leads to UK companies launching entirely new multimillion-pound telecommunication satellites. Some 25% of the world’s telecommunication satellites are substantially built here in the UK. Satellites operated under the disaster charter and earth observation data procured commercially were critical to effectively targeting the response efforts on the ground in the recent floods.

This is an exciting time for space. In 2016 the UK will be building the main experiment on the Plato mission that will search for new earths orbiting other stars, in pursuit of answers to the profound question about life elsewhere in the universe, and will precipitate key contracts for UK companies. We look forward to a major European Space Agency Council of Ministers meeting in November/December 2016, where we will negotiate to ensure that

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the UK continues to play an influential part and benefits fully from European Space Agency programmes. The programmes that we are looking forward to in particular include the UK-led biomass experiment that will calculate the capacity of the world’s forests to store carbon. As well as improving our ability to control climate change, this offers a considerable opportunity as UK companies are poised to win contracts to provide the craft that will host the experiment in orbit.

2017 will see the launch of the joint European-Japanese BepiColombo mission which will set out on a voyage to Mercury, using a very efficient ion drive electric propulsion engine manufactured by UK firm Qinetiq.

In the field of space flight, through companies such as Clyde Space and SSTL, the UK has become a leader in the manufacture of smaller satellites and has largely secured cost-effective launch by arranging “piggy-back” launches with larger satellites in a competitive launcher market which is not yet sustainable but is growing fast. This is connected to the growth of commercial constellations of tens or even hundreds of low-cost small mass-produced satellites that can provide ubiquitous communications across the globe or near real-time imagery from low earth orbits.

Indeed, we believe that commercial space flight is a market which, when combined with the emerging trend to use large constellations of small satellites, could provide a cumulative economic benefit to the UK of £20 billion by 2030. This will provide new and long-term manufacturing and service jobs and will stimulate high tech growth. This includes exciting developments such as single-stage to orbit launchers, the engines for which are being pioneered by Reaction Engines, a rapidly growing company in Oxfordshire.

This is the context for the UK to explore having a launch capability. We believe there is at least a two-stage process to achieving it. The first part of our ambition is for the UK to become the European hub for commercial space flight and related space sector technologies. The initial focus is on creating the necessary legislative and regulatory framework that will enable commercial suborbital space flights alongside existing civilian and military airspace operations. Alongside this, it is the Government’s intention to select a preferred location for a UK spaceport that will be capable of operating horizontal commercial spaceplanes. We are closely examining what this process will look like, to ensure that it is fair, transparent and robust.

We will seek to draw on established Government approaches to appraisal and will ensure that the preferred location meets a number of key criteria—that it can deliver a spaceport technically capable of operating horizontal commercial spaceplanes, that it will be commercially viable, that it can ensure the safety of the uninvolved public, and that it takes into account the potential environmental impacts of the spaceport and will deliver local and national economic growth. These criteria are likely to form the core of any selection process, though we have not settled on the final criteria.

Drew Hendry: The Minister is outlining an exciting programme of opportunities and economic development. He has heard from a number of Members today about the need to encourage girls and young women to get involved in the industry. Will he take that message away to the Government and do something practical to promote that?

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George Freeman: Yes, I certainly will. There are a number of initiatives in place which I have not had time this afternoon to set out, but I will happily take that point on board. We are seized of the importance of promoting women in the sector.

Developing a UK spaceport and a commercial suborbital operation are crucial steps to building the capability and credibility for a UK launch capability, with the aim of launching small satellites from the UK.

I shall touch on some of the key points that hon. Members made. I congratulate the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford), whose introductory speech set the scene beautifully. I was delighted that she referred to me as a Minister prepared to boldly go where no Minister has gone before. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee) who, in his maiden speech, was quick on to this subject and has been a leading advocate and vice-chairman of the space committee. It is great to see the cross-party support for this project.

A number of colleagues, particularly from Scotland, spoke about the importance of the Scottish cluster. In this field as well as in other technology areas, Scotland has a powerful cluster. Despite a number of powerful bids being made from Scotland, Wales and Cornwall, hon. Members would not expect me today to pre-empt the process of selecting appropriate sites, but I can assure them that we will conduct that process fairly, openly and against proper criteria. All their bids have been heard clearly today.

Let me address some of the key questions that have been raised. There was a question about our priorities. I hope my comments setting out our commitment and the commitments set out in the recently launched space strategy go some way to clarifying that. I was asked about research funding. In the autumn statement the Chancellor announced the historic ring-fenced increased commitment to science capital and revenue, and the Government are in the process of working through with the research councils how that science funding will be allocated to various projects. We will shortly make announcements on how we see that being taken forward.

There were questions about growth and what we are doing to ensure a joined-up strategy for the sector. We are working widely with industry to identify the key markets that we see delivering the main growth. The Space Leadership Council, jointly chaired by my hon. Friend the Minister for Universities and Science and the president of the UK space trade association, is actively working to develop a set of policies, and the blueprint for growth which was set out in our recently published national space policy sets out the framework that we intend to follow.

On the timing of the announcement of the spaceport location, as hon. Members know, this is an entirely new market. It is moving quickly, but there are complex issues to be dealt with in relation to regulations and the legal basis for safe flights that we need to get right. That work is ongoing, and I hope that my comments today have reassured Members that it is being taken seriously. The Government expect to be able to announce how we proceed as soon as we can in 2016.

Important questions were asked about space debris and regulation. This area is governed by the Outer Space Act 1986. No licence is issued to operators of space assets unless they can show that they are compliant and safe,

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and minimising space debris is part of that process. Technical failures do occur, but we remain vigilant. The strategic defence and security review set up a cross-governmental committee, chaired by my hon. Friend the Minister for Universities and Science, to further ensure security in space, particularly in relation to space debris.

A number of hon. Members asked about careers in STEM. We have allocated £3 million to support education programmes to help young people benefit from Tim Peake’s mission, and reaching out to girls and women is an important part of that. The European Space Agency has acknowledged that the UK is doing more to support that work than any other nation in the project. We are providing practical tools for teachers and lecturers.

There was a question about the University of Glasgow and how the Government are engaging with cutting-edge research facilities. Through the work of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, the Natural Environment Research Council and the Science and Technology Facilities Council, we are actively looking at how we can use those research centres to support this project.

The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon)—on a previous occasion he described himself as a stalker of mine, because we appear to speak in all the same debates —made a powerful plug for Northern Ireland. The Government fully recognise the benefit that Northern Ireland’s space industry and universities play in our space policy. That is why we were delighted to convene and take part in an event held in Belfast to mark Tim Peake’s launch.

My hon. Friend the Member for a bit of Cornwall—the precise part escapes my memory right now. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) raised the important issue of Newquay airport. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said previously from the Dispatch Box that he recognises the importance of Newquay in this and in the wider Cornish economy. As I have said, we will look at all bids in time.

We have heard a lot of quotes in today’s debate—some more original than others—not least from David Bowie. I wanted to close with one that we have not heard. In “An Occasional Dream” he sang about

“tomorrows of rich surprise… Some things we could do”

He sang:

“We can be heroes, just for one day”.

I think that this debate, and indeed this whole topic, captures the sense in which good politics can bring

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people together to achieve the very highest goals. I am grateful to colleagues for raising it and pleased to be part of a Department that is committed to this sector and to achieving everything that this country can do in this very exciting race.

2.32 pm

Dr Philippa Whitford: We called this debate to celebrate Major Tim Peake’s spacewalk tomorrow, and obviously the incredible work he is doing to engage children and young people. Many Members have spoken about the need to engage girls, in particular. I do not think that there is really a clash between us on whether Tim Peake or Helen Sharman is the first British astronaut; they are people we should be promoting together. There is no friction between them. Indeed, she has given him her copy of Yuri Gagarin’s book to take there as a souvenir. Having spent 33 years in surgery, I know what it is like to be in a man’s world. I remember being told formally during my third year at medical school that women could not do surgery. We have come a long way.

We have heard from Members from all UK nations bidding for their site, which I think is absolutely right. We have also heard about the incredible breadth of the industry, and there are many things that we have not even thought about today. I am grateful to hear from the Minister that the structure and licensing will be looked at, because I think that is really important. I look forward to the day when our hubs are called not aerospace, but aero-space—aero, hyphen, space—and I expect that we will have multiple clusters and hubs. A time may even come when we need more than one space port; perhaps one for tourism and suborbital parabolic flights to Japan or north America, and one for getting satellites up—satellites that will end up being the size of a packed lunch.

I am grateful to all Members who have taken part in what has been a fascinating debate. We want to encourage our young people simply to aim for the stars.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House notes the scientific, cultural and technological opportunities arising from exploration of outer space and the significant contribution the space industry makes to the UK economy; further notes the increased public interest in space exploration resulting from Major Tim Peake’s mission to the International Space Station (ISS); welcomes the global co-operation that has led to the development of the ISS over the last forty years; takes note of the shortlist of airports and aerodromes that could host a UK spaceport published by the UK Government in March 2015; and calls on the Government to bring forward further advice and support for organisations considering developing such facilities so that they might be operational by the Government’s target date of 2018.

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House of Lords Reform

2.34 pm

Martin John Docherty (West Dunbartonshire) (SNP): I beg to move,

That this House has considered House of Lords reform.

Not since 2011, when the then Deputy Prime Minister presented the case for reform, have Members of the House of Commons been offered the opportunity to debate and discuss the House of Lords on the Floor of this House. Therefore, before proceeding any further, I wish to extend my grateful thanks to the Backbench Business Committee, and to the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) especially, for agreeing to this debate and for some sage advice, which was critical, given my novice plea.

During the general election there were various mentions of House of Lords reform. Critically, the Conservative party limited its vision in its manifesto to addressing only the size of the House of Lords, for clearly size matters to the Tory party. At its present velocity of expansion, the House of Lords will soon exceed the National People’s Congress of China. It has already exceeded the size of the European Parliament, which is elected by over 400 million European citizens. Clearly, Parliament envy will soon see even this House displaced by the Prime Minister’s expansionary tactics.

I know that at the previous general election the British Labour party took a more pragmatic view. I give credit where credit is due by recognising the work the previous Labour Government did to limit the hereditary peerage, although that work was sullied by the cash for honours scandal uncovered by my hon. Friend the Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil). I wonder where my Labour colleagues are today.

At least on these Benches we have spoken with one voice. At the general election the Scottish National party placed our proposal before the entire community of Scotland: “Abolish it!” If this Parliament is to work as an effective and legitimate legislature in the British state, its upper Chamber should resemble less the congress of a communist state and more the revising and advisory role of a Parliament of a 21st century liberal democracy.

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Lab): I agree with the hon. Gentleman about abolition, which is a theme I wish to speak about later. Does he agree that the power of patronage of Prime Ministers to appoint people they choose to the House of Lords is even more pernicious than having hereditary peers, who at least have the advantage of being independent?

Martin John Docherty: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. He need not worry, because I will get there.

Let us return to the hope of many Members of this House—a hope that is shared, in particular, by my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), who cannot be here today—that any future reform of the upper Chamber should not only consider its size, but limit it and remove with haste its ability, as an unelected and unaccountable Chamber, to generate legislation. That is an affront to my constituents and an aberration at the heart of the British political system.

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Only a few months ago the Government were keen to play down any reform agenda. Their latest antics have the right hon. Member for Tatton (Mr Osborne) as Citizen Camembert rather than Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the Prime Minister playing the good cop and leading man as the Black Fingernail. This is indeed a farce, if not a “Carry On”.

While many Members across this Chamber would seek a long-term resolution of the undeniable illegitimacy of the upper Chamber in its present form, the Government tinker at the edges with the Strathclyde review, a botch job done in jig time for Christmas. Although the review offers a way forward, it seems to confuse the role of the House of Lords. Is it to be a mere stamper of Government policy, or is it a revising Chamber that tackles the Government on the tough subjects of the day? Critically, all options would offer an additional burden on the workings of this House and highlight the behemoth that is the Palace of Westminster. If the report were at least linked in some way or form to improvements in working practices such as electronic voting, which would allow us in this place to deliberate more robustly, in more depth, and with reduced recourse to statutory instruments, it would have been a slightly more useful document. For the record, however, I wish to commend Lord Strathclyde and all those involved for seeking to overcome the Government’s obstacles.

While the report is welcome, it highlights the Dickensian, if not medieval, machinations and dubious working practices of this Parliament. It accidentally shows the Alice in Wonderland antics of the so-called liberal democratic practices of the mother of Parliaments. If the review was worth the paper it was written on, it would be my hope, and that of my hon. Friends, that it would seek to uphold the nature of our polyarchy and at least promote its first pillar, namely that control over Government decisions about policy should at all times constitutionally be invested in elected officials—Members of this House elected by their constituents, from whom they derive their political mandate.

Patrick Grady (Glasgow North) (SNP): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate and apologise for being unable to stay for the whole thing. He speaks about the legislative powers of Members of the House of Lords. Does he agree that even more pernicious and insidious is the soft power that is held by unelected Members? They can spend much time in all-party groups, have access to Ministers behind the scenes and all the other trappings that are not visible or even open to scrutiny through live coverage of the Chamber because they happen behind the scenes.

Martin John Docherty: I could not agree more. The way that operates within this Parliament is pernicious.

Sadly, I believe that in this Parliament, at least, the aspiration and will for change are a lost cause, given that in the previous Parliament alone the Prime Minister appointed 200 new unelected, unaccountable members of the peerage, and a further 45 in the short period in which my hon. Friends and I have been returned to this House. Appointees covering the great and the so-called good include, of course, large-scale donors to political parties and former bigwigs of county halls the length and breadth of the country.

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Of the peerage, let me turn specifically to a certain cadre—the archbishops and bishops of the established Church of England. While much has been made of likening their position to that of the theocrats of the Islamic Republic of Iran, my direct challenge to them is this: they have no place in debating—or voting on, should it occur—the civic or religious life of Scotland. I draw Members’ attention to early-day motion 952, submitted by my own hand and signed by many of my hon. Friends from Scottish constituencies, which calls on the Lords Spiritual to desist in their well documented, historical interference in the affairs of the community of Scotland since the times of our late and noble King David. Their interference must end if this Parliament is truly to reflect the broad kirk of representation and communities of this political state.

Let us turn our gaze on the other members of the peerage of the realm. Yes, I will admit, through gritted teeth, that within their ermine-clad utopia there are a few souls who work hard. Yet, as exposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) in a debate in Westminster Hall only a year ago, we can see the limited work of so many who stipulate that their position is to stand for Scotland in the upper Chamber. The peerage has no constituency—we all recognise that—and yet they purport in that unelected Chamber to ensure that our constituents’ needs are met. One prime example is those peers who have given attendance and full participation a cursory glance and claim substantial sums of taxpayers’ money for the privilege of access to the Bishops’ Bar.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): May I ask the hon. Gentleman, and his colleagues, whether he would like to have a member of the SNP in the House of Lords? I think that would be good idea.

Martin John Docherty: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for a good laugh, but the answer is no.

As per convention, I shall name no names, but I direct hon. Members to acquaint themselves with the debate held in Westminster Hall on this very day one year ago, where the record of the peerage is seen to be damning indeed.

Dr Andrew Murrison (South West Wiltshire) (Con): The hon. Gentleman is delivering a great deal of passion in his speech; it is just a pity that his passion is not shared by the public at large, or indeed, evidently, by Labour Members. What would he say to those who do not necessarily disagree with some of what he is saying but for whom, nevertheless, this is a low priority?

Martin John Docherty: Democracy is never a low priority in the Scottish National party. That is why the people and community of Scotland returned my hon. Friends in such numbers.

Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) (SNP): Does my hon. Friend agree that there is little democracy in the fact that those who have been rejected by the electorate can then find themselves along the corridor from us, making law?

Martin John Docherty: I could not disagree with my hon. Friend on that very important matter.

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The upper Chamber and its shenanigans reflect more a debauched imperial Roman senate than a functioning democratic parliamentary Chamber, bowing and scraping in a place in which the modern world is seen as an inconvenience. Since my election to this House, I have visited the unelected, unaccountable Lords, where I took my place in the Members of the House of Commons’ balcony—a lofty vantage point across which to view the stoor and the oose of ages. It would seem that their lordships are followers of the Quentin Crisp school of housework. Like him, they firmly believe that after the first four years, the dirt doesnae get any worse. Four years of accumulating dust is nothing compared with the accumulation of centuries of privilege and unaccountability. It must end.

There are those who will see this as nothing other than Celtic hyperventilation against a conspiracy of anomalies, arrogance, absurdity, vanity and venality that poses as a pillar of the mother of Parliaments—and they may be right.

Patrick Grady: It is not simply a matter of vanity. In 2005, as I am sure Members are aware, the Scottish National party had a democratic vote at its conference never to accept seats in the House of Lords, confirming a convention that had been in place since the 1970s. At no point in the party’s history has it ever considered taking a position in the unelected Chamber.

Martin John Docherty: I certainly agree with my hon. Friend. For as long as I am the Member for West Dunbartonshire and a member of the Scottish National party, that is what I will be sticking to—saying no to seats in the unelected, unaccountable House of Lords.

Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on what has so far been a very colourful speech. He has been very clear about the SNP’s position, but his partners in this House are Plaid Cymru, which does have Members in the other place.

Liz Saville Roberts (Dwyfor Meirionnydd) (PC): We do not have a separate jurisdiction.

Martin John Docherty: My very hon. Friend has given the answer from a sedentary position: Wales does not have a separate jurisdiction. That in itself is a disgrace and one of the main concerns for my hon. Friends in Plaid Cymru.

As I said, all this could be seen as pure Celtic hyperventilation about the unaccountability of the House of Lords, yet there are Members from beyond the Celtic fringe—although I wonder where they are today—who find the unelected and unaccountable nature of the House of Lords an affront to liberal democracy.

Kelvin Hopkins: May I inform the hon. Gentleman that there are some English people—I am English from generations back on all sides—who believe we should have one democratic Chamber, not an unelected Chamber full of place persons and hereditaries?

Martin John Docherty: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I do, of course, count Cornwall in the Celtic fringe.

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Any debate that links the Government and Her Majesty’s Opposition to some of the most damning political consequences and incompetence, as highlighted in the last Parliament by my hon. Friend the Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil), will fill even those Members—those hardy souls—with dread. Cash for honours sends a collective shiver down the spine of this House and, indeed, our parliamentary system. I seriously doubt that we have seen the last of it, not only in the upper Chamber but even here. The appointment process exposes beyond doubt the privileges of those Members of the House of Lords. In reality, there is no substitute for democracy and direct election.

Chris Law (Dundee West) (SNP): I am delighted to join the Chamber to hear my hon. Friend’s speech at such late notice. Does he agree not only that this debate is vital—it is a sheer disappointment that more Members are not here—but that it is incredibly perverse that we are about to reduce the number of democratically elected MPs in this Chamber from 650 to 600, at the same time as the House of Lords is ever increasing?

Martin John Docherty: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his interjection. He raises an important point. I am grateful that the Front Benchers of Her Majesty’s Opposition are here, but where are the great reformers? Where are the Liberal Democrats, the great changers of the British constitution? They are in the House of Lords.

As to the future—I wish to address my hon. Friend’s question directly—one clear clarion call should go out to the British Labour party and the British Liberal party: no more appointments. Enough. Stop. Renew, here today, the commitment to reform—not piecemeal; not lacklustre; not fiddling while the parliamentary democracy of this political state is sullied by the illegitimacy of the House of Lords. Be clear. Be concise: no more Labour or Liberal peers. Call the Government’s bluff. Call the bluff of the unelected, unaccountable mire of cronies and warmehrs. Join us in demanding an end to privilege and patronage at the heart of Government.

There will be Members who will seek a resolution to this issue: unicameral or bicameral, one or two Chambers. I am open to persuasion about a bicameral system, although a unicameral system, as evidence from across the world shows, is no less a robust and decent system of parliamentary liberal democracy. If a bicameral system is to exist, here in this Parliament, then let it be fully elected. Let it be representative of the communities and nations of this political state. Let it reflect the lived experience of my constituents. While I am no Unionist, I believe in the sovereign will of the community of Scotland. If we should remain in this place, my constituents have been clear: change, and soon.

With a Prime Minster appointing more peers than Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair and all before, I doubt that change will come, and the consequences for Scotland and the Union are well known. When unelected and unaccountable peers of the realm can stipulate the governance of Scotland while the evidence and proposals from its elected Members of the House of Commons are thrown in the Thames, the case for the re-establishment of a sovereign, democratic and independent Scotland is made not by members of the Scottish National party,

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but by the very apogee of the British state. It would be easy—indeed, it is easy—for me to vent frustration at the pace of House of Lords reform, but that is not enough.

Today, just like every other day, I am wearing a tie, as deemed by convention in this House. The tie I am wearing today represents to me hope for a more equal and just society, in which the pupils of Bonhill Primary School in the mighty Vale of Leven—whose tie this is—should hope to live. That hope should be placed in a Parliament that reflects them and their peers, not a Parliament in which the oligarchs, cronies and chancers of an upper Chamber go about their business unelected and unaccountable. Let us be in no doubt that those pupils will place that hope closer to their experience and, indeed, to their need at home in Scotland. For sure they know,

A prince can mak a belted knight,

A marquis, duke, an’ a’ that;

But an honest man’s aboon his might,

Guid faith he mauna fa’ that!

For a’ that, an’ a’ that,

Their dignities, an’ a’ that,

The pith o’ sense, an’ pride o’ worth,

Are higher rank than a’ that.

Several hon. Members rose

Madam Deputy Speaker (Natascha Engel): Order. There are nine Members who wish to catch my eye before 4.30 pm, which is when I want to bring in the Front Benchers to wind up. That calculates at roughly 10 minutes each, so if Members can informally keep to about 10 minutes, that would be great.

2.56 pm

Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire (Martin John Docherty) on securing this debate and on his interesting, entertaining and, I think it is fair to say, at times angry speech, quite a lot of which I agreed with, because I would sweep away the House of Lords and replace it with an almost entirely elected Chamber.

I accept the fact that, as my hon. Friend the Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison) said in an intervention, the issue is not exactly top of the charts for our constituents. I have only one constituent who writes to me about it and other issues, such as the changes to the Act of Settlement.

Dr Murrison: My hon. Friend is an extremely assiduous constituency MP and I suspect he spends most of his weekends knocking on people’s doors to get their views. Is he able to recall the last time a constituent on the doorstep badgered him on the subject of House of Lords reform? I am really struggling to remember the last time a constituent troubled me on that matter.

Martin Vickers: My hon. Friend is right. I cannot recall anyone on the doorstep raising this particular issue, even when it was being debated day in, day out in this Chamber. The fact that it is not on the public’s agenda suggests that it will not be on the Government’s agenda—and, of course, it is not. The fact that the public do not care a great deal gives the Government an opportunity to kick it into touch.

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Had I been here in the late 1990s when Tony Blair was tinkering with the House of Lords and sweeping away most of the hereditary peers, I would probably have been opposed to that, as a typical traditional Conservative. It would appear to me that they were doing no great harm, and if we are to be ruled by an unelected body, I would rather it be an unelected House of Lords than an unelected European Commission.

The reality, however, is that we cannot go on as we are. Changes, both significant and minor, have been made to our constitution over the centuries and we have tended to muddle along and accept them. On the whole, I think that the system has evolved into one which, with all its faults, gives us a better existence and life. We are well governed and have a functioning, honest judicial system and the like, so I think we have a lot to be thankful for with regard to the way in which things have evolved over the centuries.

Personally, I would go for a 90% elected upper House—or senate, as I would want to call it. The hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire addressed the issue of bishops, archbishops and so on. My remaining 10%, the unelected Members, would be faith leaders. Mostly, they would be Christian leaders, since we are a Christian nation, but they would include representatives of the Church of Scotland.

Peter Grant (Glenrothes) (SNP): As a practising Christian, I must say that I am not comfortable with defining any nation as a Christian nation, or indeed as a Jewish or an Islamic nation. Is it not more correct these days to say that we are a group of nations historically ruled by people who in their words purported to follow Christianity, but whose actions were very far from the true teachings of Christ?

Martin Vickers: It is certainly true that there are now fewer practising Christians throughout the UK than there were in the past. As the hon. Gentleman rightly says, however, our heritage is of a Christian nature and the eternal virtues taught by the Christian Church are the basis of our society.

Kelvin Hopkins: The hon. Gentleman may have noticed that, in the last census, some 31% of the population said that they had no religion and that they do not feel that they would be represented be people of faith. I am a vice-chair of the all-party humanist group. Does the hon. Gentleman not think that humanists should also be represented?

Martin Vickers: Humanism has always seemed to me to be the absence of faith. We could debate the hon. Gentleman’s rather philosophical point endlessly, and I would be very happy to do so some time.

The hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire referred to a unicameral system. It would be a mistake to move to a system with only one Chamber. However, I would point out that, with devolution, Scotland is almost a unicameral Assembly; I will leave that matter to Scottish National party Members.

Patricia Gibson (North Ayrshire and Arran) (SNP): Although the Scottish Parliament has one Chamber, it has a very strong committee system. It is not an Assembly, but a Parliament in which the Government sit.

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Martin Vickers: In essence, however, it is fair to say that Scotland is becoming almost a unicameral nation.

It is often said that we benefit from the expertise of experts, many of whom are ex-experts. Many people at the other end of the corridor have a great deal of expertise and a lot to offer society, but that does not necessarily mean that they should be Members of the legislature. Over the years, Governments have found ways of including all sorts of people they wanted to bring into the process of governance—by establishing royal commissions, boards of inquiries and committees for this, that and the other—and it would be perfectly possible to get eminent lawyers, scientists and doctors into a group that provided the expertise that those of us in this Chamber certainly need.

Dr Murrison: I am very pleased that my hon. Friend has raised the issue of experts. If the public think about the upper House, they often think of it as a Chamber full of experts. Many of them are experts, but the trouble is that there is nothing more “ex” than an ex-expert. That point supports the argument he is advancing. To avoid the ex-expert phenomenon, should we put a limit on the number of years for which peers serve?

Martin Vickers: I certainly agree that, if we are to continue with an appointed or predominantly appointed House, a time limit would be desirable.

The point about such experts is that they tend to be London-centred experts. The reality is that an expert—a doctor, a scientist or whatever—is far more likely to be appointed to the upper House if they are from Kensington than if they are from Cleethorpes. There are exceptions. A few weeks ago, I was privileged to attend the swearing in as a Member of the upper House of the leader of North Lincolnshire Council, which covers part of my constituency. Not only has Baroness Redfern, as she now is, served the community through elected office, but she has roots deep in the Isle of Axholme, the part of North Lincolnshire from which she comes. However, peers such as the noble Lady are few and far between. It is a very metropolitan gathering.

It is often said that if there were two elected Houses, there would be power grabs by one House over the other. One mistake in the Bill that was introduced three or four years ago was that it said that the powers of the upper House would stay pretty much the same. That is fine, but it should be laid down in statute if we are to move in the direction that I am suggesting. Other countries seem to manage with two elected Chambers that rub along reasonably well, without constant power grabs by one or the other. It is important that the lower House should retain the power over financial matters. Any conflicts between the Houses should not be passed over to the judiciary. That is why the situation should be laid down clearly in any statute.

As I said in response to my hon. Friend the Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison), whether there is an appointed House or an elected House, there should be time limits. If I recall correctly, the Bill that was brought forward by the then Deputy Prime Minister in the last Parliament proposed terms of 15 years. Perhaps that was too long, but it would give people, although many of them may be party people, the independence that is necessary in an upper House.

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Bob Stewart: I seem to remember that under the proposed legislation that was introduced in the last Parliament the elected Members of the House of Lords would have been elected by huge electorates of 3 million or 4 million people. Inevitably, people elected under such a system would say, “I had 2 million people voting for me and you had a poxy 66,000. Whose mandate is more important?” That was one of the problems that I had with the proposed legislation in the last Parliament.

Martin Vickers: I agree. I was not happy with that part of the proposals.

I am an advocate of first past the post when it comes to elections to this House, but I acknowledge that some form of proportional representation would be more appropriate for an elected upper House. Having said that, we must accept that people do not identify with massive areas or regions, such as those to which my hon. Friend refers. They tend to identify with their town or village and their county, as well as with their country. We need to devise a system that recognises those innate loyalties.

In closing, I urge the Government not just to tinker. I suspect that we will have more tinkering with the Strathclyde proposals, which I am not particularly enthusiastic about. The Government should go for it. I would rather have a Conservative Government reforming the House of Lords, because Conservatives recognise the value of evolution within the constitution and do not want to go for a big bang change. We have an opportunity to think carefully about this matter over the next year or two and to put forward serious proposals. We must recognise that an appointed House—an unelected Assembly—is not acceptable in the 21st century. It is time to think seriously about the way forward. I urge the Minister to acknowledge that it should be a Conservative Government who put forward the proposals. I very much hope to hear some dramatic proposals at the end of this debate.

3.9 pm

Steven Paterson (Stirling) (SNP): It is a pleasure to speak in this debate, and I will start by reading an amendment that was moved in this place during a debate on the House of Lords by a former leader of the Labour party. It was to add the words,

“the Upper House, being an irresponsible part of the Legislature, and of necessity representative only of interests opposed to the general well-being is a hindrance to national progress and ought to be abolished”.

I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiments of that former Labour party leader, Mr Arthur Henderson. He tabled that amendment during a debate on the House of Lords on 26 June 1907—never let it be said that Westminster rushes to reform. Predictably, the amendment was defeated, although it was part of a national debate that led to the introduction of the Parliament Act 1911, which made the supremacy of the elected Chamber over the unelected Chamber clear and beyond doubt. That was a very good thing, but we must go further.

I contend that radical change to the constitution is overdue, and that there is no place for a bloated, unelected Chamber of retired politicians, cronies and placemen in the modern day. It is 105 years since the Parliament Act, and I ask the House—not before time—to embrace democracy in all that we do. That means moving to an

14 Jan 2016 : Column 1074

elected second Chamber and the abolition of what we currently have. Democratic change is normal, and we must move towards that.

We must bring the governance of the United Kingdom into line with the 21st-century standards of democratic accountability to be found across the developed world—we would all like to think we are part of that. In 2016 we have a Tory Government who are committed to the protection of this unelected, unaccountable, political establishment, and whose only desire to reform the House of Lords stems from the Lords’ own efforts to stymie and oppose Government legislation. That problem was created because the previous Government were so effective at stuffing the place with their own appointees, and this Government would rather stuff more voting fodder into the already bloated second Chamber in order to get their way. Perhaps they are not content with the fact that the UK has the second largest appointed parliamentary Chamber after the Chinese National People’s Congress, and they want to show the world that when it comes to undemocratic and unaccountable government, nobody does it better than the UK.

In 2015, 45 new peers were appointed to the House of Lords, including 26 on the Government side. Make no mistake, the House of Lords is not impotent, despite the fact that the Parliament Act 1911 has only been used, I think, seven times. The Chamber possesses the ability to halt legislation that affects no fewer than 64 million people. That is not the democratic will of the people; it is the will of 821 unelected, permanent peers, 92 of whom hold their seat for their entire lives simply through an accident of birth.

Mr Douglas Carswell (Clacton) (UKIP): A small clique in Downing Street gets to determine who sits in the Lords. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that gives rise to a fundamental unfairness and means that there is no correlation between the number of votes cast and the composition of the Chamber? For example, it is possible for a party to get 4 million votes in an election, but have zero appointed peers. Is that fundamentally unfair?

Steven Paterson: I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point, and I think that it is fundamentally unfair and that we must move to democracy. Appointing peers is ridiculous and disgraceful in this day and age.

Dr Murrison: I am noting the hon. Gentleman’s comments on appointees, and such appointments are ultimately made by people who are elected. The concern that people overseas have, particularly in countries that are developing their democracies, is that here in the mother of Parliaments we still have as part of our legislature Members of the House of Lords who are hereditary peers. Although I have the greatest affection and admiration for many of them individually, and they give great service, it is a rather difficult thing to explain to people in other countries who are growing their democracies and who look to the United Kingdom for a lead.

Steven Paterson: The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point, and we must move to democracy. That means that the hereditary peers—they really do stick in the craw—will be among many who have to go. We should have elections to determine that, and perhaps we

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should be holding conversations about how, not whether, we do that. I would certainly like us to move towards that point.

Bob Stewart: I support the idea of UKIP having a Member of the House of Lords. It is rather sad that there is no UKIP Member of that House, and I look forward to it happening. May I suggest that it might give the hon. Member for Clacton (Mr Carswell) a certain amount of pleasure if that Member’s first name was Nigel?

Steven Paterson: I will let the hon. Member for Clacton (Mr Carswell) speak for himself on that one. My own view is simply that, whatever the country, people should get the representative Government they vote for. Whether I happen to agree with the hon. Gentleman’s party or not, if people vote for it then that is who they should get as a Government—that is what I believe in terms of democracy.

How does the crooked, anti-democratic nature of the House of Lords manifest itself? To answer that, let us consider for a moment the curious case of the quite inappropriately named Liberal Democrats. The Liberal Democrats were hammered at the ballot box—not before time, many of us would say. That happened first in Scotland in the 2011 Scottish Parliament elections, when they were reduced to a rump of five MSPs out of 129, and was followed up at the UK general election last year when they were reduced to a rump of just eight MPs out of 650. In a democracy, the people speak and the message is sent. That is not the end of the story, however. The Liberal Democrats defy democracy thanks to the House of Lords. There are an incredible 111 of them along the corridor there sitting—or sleeping—on the red benches, grazing, collecting their tax-free £300 when they pass go, occasionally contributing to the debates and maybe even voting. They are down at the other end of that corridor, unelected and unaccountable. They are Westminster’s own political zombies. We really have to move forward. They are not elected and the people’s views must be paramount.

Some would say that the House of Lords provides access to expertise that cannot be found among MPs in the House of Commons. I acknowledge, because I have met some, that there are some Lords who certainly have expertise, but there are many hon. Members in this place and it cannot be beyond the wit of this place to find experts on a range of issues.

Kelvin Hopkins: The hon. Gentleman talks about expertise. It would be possible to have an advisory body of experts. The Lords have legislative power—that is the difference.

Steven Paterson: Indeed. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. There are a number of things we could do and that suggestion is certainly one of them.

One of the many problems with the House of Lords is that it is stuffed to the gunnels with former politicians who failed to win seats but are none the less looked after by the powers that be. One of my predecessors as MP for Stirling is one such. Michael Forsyth has not won an election since 1992. In his 14-year career as MP

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for Stirling, he was democratically chosen by the people of the constituency to serve in that role. He has now spent 17 years in the unelected Chamber along the corridor. This illustrates a fundamental problem. There is a long, long list of such former political big beasts out to pasture at the end of the corridor; former elected politicians of such inestimable stature as Jeremy Purvis, for example. There are then those apparently picked at random, perhaps for saying the right things at the right time to help the party in government, or making the requisite donation to their political party.

Wayne David: The hon. Gentleman makes many trenchant criticisms of the other place, a number of which I agree with. In the interests of even-handedness, however, does he accept that the House of Lords does some good and effective work in holding the Government to account, and that from time to time it makes a very principled stand, such as on tax credits?

Steven Paterson: Even a broken clock is right twice a day, but that does not mean you do not need a new clock.

Margaret Thatcher, at the end of her term as Prime Minister, said:

“I calculate that I was responsible for proposing the elevation to the Lords of some 214 of its present numbers.”

My problem is that some of those 214 are still there after all this time: unelected spectres interfering in legislation to this very day. The serious point here is that they have legislative authority over the lives of millions of people across the UK with no democratic mandate whatever. Radical democratic reform or outright abolition of this tired, antiquated and undemocratic institution is necessary and long overdue. Just as successful reform was passed in 1911, reform in 2016 must effectively represent the necessary change to bring our democracy, kicking and screaming, into the 21st century.

3.19 pm

Liz Saville Roberts (Dwyfor Meirionnydd) (PC): I congratulate the hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire (Martin John Docherty) on securing a debate on this most overdue of reforms to the UK’s political system. As he said, what might seem like Celtic hyperventilation and hyperbole to some, to others is passion to mend that which is wrong.

As we have heard, membership of the House of Lords is fast approaching 1,000. As we have also heard, it is one of the largest Chambers on earth, second only to that in China, which, it is worth remembering, has a population 28 times the size of the UK’s. Of course, not one of the 1,000 peers in the other place is elected by the public, although a few are elected by their peers, which is interesting. The House of Lords does not reflect the political views of the people or society in general. Over three quarters of peers are male and over half are over 70. I wanted to work out their combined age, but it was far too difficult, and we would have got into dinosaur aeons, I suspected. Seats are guaranteed for bishops of the Church of England, but not for the Church in Wales or the Church of Scotland, let alone for any other faith. Do the Government consider a non-Christian to be less of a citizen than a Christian? I hope not, but the existence of the House, in its present form, suggests otherwise.

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I was astounded to learn that the fudged compromise whereby 92 excepted hereditary peers, who survived the cull of 1999, not only continue to attend the House of Lords and influence the democracy of the UK, but are replaced by yet more hereditary peers in in-house elections. I thought they were a tail that would gradually disappear, but, no, they are self-perpetuating. The evident democratic injustice of people being there because they were born to that position is perpetuating itself. The House of Lords is crying out for reform.

Plaid Cymru sees no place for a patronage appointments system in a modern democracy. None the less, for as long as decisions affecting Wales continue to be made there, we will push for Wales to have an equal voice in that Chamber. After all, we are not as fortunate as Scotland. Wales has not had a separate legal jurisdiction since 1536.

Wayne David: I hear what the hon. Lady says about the Acts of Union in 1536 and 1542, but what on earth does that have to do with membership of the House of Lords?

Liz Saville Roberts: Most of the laws made here also affect Wales, and if we are to influence them, we must take part. We have long been cursed with the “for Wales, see England” mentality, although things have changed since 1999 and might well change again in the elections this spring.

The House of Lords should be elected through the single transferrable vote system, with a Welsh constituency and weighting to ensure that Wales is heard in all matters. Some value the apparent freedom with which the second Chamber can hold the Government to account, but I remind them that more than 70% of peers vote along party lines and that 25% of those appointed since 1997 are former MPs who either resigned or were voted out by the public. It is the only legislature in the world where losing an election helps a person win a seat.

I appreciate that many in the other place are considered experts in their fields, but we have heard mention of the ex-experts. I do not accept that this is an argument against democracy. If they are experts in their fields today—as opposed to 20 years ago—they should be persuaded to stand for office in a local public election. I also suggest that the House takes note of figures from the Electoral Reform Society, which found that 27% of peers had “representational politics” as their main profession prior to entering the Lords. Most of them were MPs. A further 7% were political staff, and twice as many peers worked as staff to the royal household than worked in manual or skilled labour, which is extraordinary, given that most people work in the latter.

Bob Stewart: I am listening intently and enjoying this debate a great deal, because I agree with so much of it. Would it be a good idea for sections of society, such as doctors, teachers, dustbin men—if that is the right term these days—and nurses, each to have a part of the House of Lords that they appoint, so that they can decide who represents them?

Liz Saville Roberts: Were we to legislate for such a thing, we would need to consider that in detail, but we ought to consider whether these representative bodies actually represent society, and we should be judging them accordingly.

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The House of Lords is not the oracle of all-encompassing knowledge that many would have us believe. I remind Members that while the Houses of Parliament include almost 1,000 Lords and, at present, 650 MPs—it is interesting to note that the number of Lords is going up and the number of MPs down—the Welsh Parliament, which is responsible for the NHS, education, economic development and many other vital policy fields in Wales, has only 60 AMs. When we discount Welsh Government Ministers and other office holders, only 42 of those 60 AMs are available to hold the Welsh Government to account and scrutinise legislation. That is 42 Members to scrutinise everything from the NHS to education, from business support to inward investment, and—soon—to hold the Government to account on income tax policy. That is 42 Members in Wales in comparison with the Palace of Westminster in England, which has in excess of 1,500 MPs and peers holding the UK Government to account on their performance.

I suggest that a proportionately elected second Chamber with a drastically reduced number of peers, coupled with an increase in the size of the Welsh Parliament, would make the UK a far more modern, balanced and effective democracy. This debate has indeed shone a light on the long-overdue need for reform, but it is now up to the Government to bring forward proposals to ensure that our democracy adheres to modern standards and reflects society and its views.

3.26 pm

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Lab): It is a pleasure to speak in this debate, which I greatly welcome. I particularly enjoyed the speech by the hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire (Martin John Docherty). It was entertaining, but also serious, making many important points. The House of Lords has, of course, been in the news again recently, and the Government are clearly threatening change to rein in our allegedly noble colleagues. Yesterday’s debate in the other place seemed to suggest that even Conservative peers were not entirely happy with what the Government want to do. My interest in speaking today is to argue for a unicameral Parliament. The majority of legislatures across the world are unicameral, and some European nations—Sweden, for example—have chosen to become unicameral. We should at least discuss that possibility and, I hope, move towards that system in time.

When I first entered the House in 1997, the New Labour Government—I emphasise New Labour with a capital N—established a royal commission to consider possible reforms to the House of Lords. Shortly into my time here, I attended a Labour party so-called regional policy forum—I am sure that Mr Deputy Speaker would understand what regional policy forums were like. It was in Watford on a Saturday afternoon with about 25 to 30 party members attending. A chairman had been allocated by the party machine, and we were addressed by a learned professor from the royal commission.

The terms of reference set out by the Government for the royal commission made no mention of abolition of the House of Lords as a possible option. I asked why that was, and suggested that abolition should be a possible option for discussion. Another member suggested that we should have a show of hands to test opinion and see how many members at the meeting favoured abolition—an innocent little test of opinion. At this, the chair became

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very agitated and said, icily, that there would be no votes. Clearly, not even a show of hands in Watford among a small number of Labour party members on a Saturday afternoon—it was no doubt raining outside—was allowed to express a majority view that we should abolish the House of Lords. I suspect that there was probably a majority for abolition in that room, but it was not to be discussed. It was clear that our leaders wanted to keep the House of Lords in some form and that discussing possible abolition was not to be tolerated. It was most interesting.

Some reforms were later enacted by the Blair Government, and remain in place, but abolition is still not being discussed. Some longer-standing Members may recall the later discussions and debates on reform, and the series of votes on possible alternatives that took place in March 2007. One Division effectively permitted a test of opinion on possible abolition of the House of Lords. Among Labour Back Benchers, 169 of my hon. Friends voted for a bicameral Parliament, but 155 of us voted against that, effectively in favour of a unicameral Parliament and the abolition of the House of Lords. That was almost half of the Labour Back Benchers, showing a substantial body of support for a unicameral Parliament. The fact that this option was deliberately excluded from consideration by the earlier royal commission was, I think, a scandal and clearly a political fix.

I tabled an early-day motion to that effect at the time, which received the support of 50 Labour Members, some 14 of whom are still Members today. It was clear that that was due to the simple fact that the Prime Minister at the time wished to retain his power of patronage to appoint Members to the Lords, for a number of reasons. I might add that, subsequently, many argued strongly for an appointed House of Lords, and for retaining a substantial proportion of appointed Members even if it became democratic.

One of those reasons was obviously the ability to offer Members of the House of Commons the prospect of elevation to the Lords, both as a means of keeping control and reducing the potential for rebellion in the Commons and, possibly, to help to persuade older Members with safe seats to agree to retire at a convenient time for the party machine to slot leadership supporters into those safe seats.

Peter Grant: I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman recalls that, last time there was a major review of the boundaries in Scotland, the Kingdom of Fife was reduced from five parliamentary constituencies to four. The then Member of Parliament for Dunfermline, East, by the name of Gordon Brown, found himself without an obvious successor seat. The MP for Kirkcaldy agreed to retire from the House, Mr Brown became the MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, and very shortly afterwards the former MP for Kirkcaldy became a Member of the House of Lords. Is that the kind of democratic process to which the hon. Gentleman was referring?

Kelvin Hopkins: I do not wish to mention particular examples, because there are still hon. Members here who may or may not have experienced this process, but in my party I want individual Members to have the power, rather than party machines, and I certainly do not want leaders to have the power to select candidates.

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I used the word “possibly” about selections of this kind because I cannot prove that such things occurred, and I do not wish to imply any criticism of other hon. Members who may have been selected in strong party seats. That may, of course, occur in other parties as well. It is clearly the case, however, that successive Prime Ministers, before and since, have jealously guarded their powers of patronage. I want to see those powers taken away in the interests of a more vigorous, intensive democracy in this House and outside, and to rein in the excessive power of the Executive.

I think that this is a serious matter, and I hope that, as and when we come to discuss the possible future of the House of Lords, the possibility of a unicameral Parliament and getting rid of this patronage will be raised again.

3.32 pm

Gavin Newlands (Paisley and Renfrewshire North) (SNP): I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for West Dunbartonshire (Martin John Docherty) for securing the debate and opening it in his own inimitable and passionate style, and to the Backbench Business Committee for allocating time for it.

I am grateful for the opportunity to discuss how and why the second Chamber should be reformed to allow Parliament to work more effectively and democratically for the electorate throughout the United Kingdom. In its current form, the House of Lords can only be seen as an affront to democracy, and it has no place in a modern democratic decision-making process.

Since my election in May, I have become familiar with the strange traditions that surround this place. There are many outdated rules and conventions that range from the slightly odd to the ridiculous, and from trivial matters such as fancy dress to much more important issues like 15-minute votes which stifle the democratic process. However, the most outdated relic with which we have to deal is the unelected second Chamber of peers. What does it say about us that here, in the 21st century, we need to rely on an undemocratic body that includes religious leaders, defeated MPs, party cronies and donors to oversee and scrutinise the work of the democratically elected representatives of this place?

That bloated and out-of-date Chamber is the second largest legislative body in the world, with 821 peers. It is second only to the National People’s Congress in China, which has a similarly undemocratic basis. The number of peers in the House of Lords is growing continually, and after the recent election we saw the Government appointing party loyalists to “serve” there. Kenneth Gibson, a Member of the Scottish Parliament, has obtained figures showing that nearly 75% of those appointed to the Lords since the election are defeated, retired or deselected MPs, or former advisers. The United Kingdom also stands out among other western democracies in giving religious leaders seats in its legislature, as of right.

The Scottish National party does not put forward any individuals to be appointed to serve in the House of Lords. We have a long-standing opposition to that costly, undemocratic and bloated Chamber, and will continue to oppose it at every opportunity. In contrast, all the other parties regularly put forward individuals to serve as peers. In fact, 586 of the serving peers come from one of the main political parties that are represented in this Chamber.

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As well as the long-standing democratic outrage, there is the equally long-standing financial cost of having such a ridiculous Chamber. In 2014-15 it cost nearly £95 million to run the House of Lords, with over £20 million going on Lords expenses and allowances. If we contrast that with the £87 million it cost to run the Scottish Parliament, we can easily see why so many of our constituents are royally fed up with the Chamber.

Kwasi Kwarteng (Spelthorne) (Con): I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman is new to the House. I have been here for five years now and I just want to say that not a single constituent of mine has ever mentioned the House of Lords. How many of the hon. Gentleman’s constituents have brought up this subject?

Gavin Newlands: This point was made earlier on. Although many other issues do come up and this is far from being the No. 1 topic of conversation on the doorstep, it has certainly come up many times, and I am about to come on to the question of public levels of support.

It is clear to most people that the second Chamber needs radical reform if we want to be able to call ourselves a true modern democracy. In a YouGov poll of September 2015 people were given a range of options, and it found that 41% believe the House of Lords should be entirely elected, but crucially only 5% thought that the system was acceptable in its current format.

Even though the recently published Strathclyde review did not comment on the composition of the House of Lords, it provides an ideal opportunity to discuss the future of the House of Lords in more detail. This review was hastily announced by a Government in a petty huff following their humiliating defeat on tax credit cuts in the Lords. It is clear that this review was set up to curb the second Chamber’s ability to hold this Government to account. These issues need to be properly debated, not pushed through hastily without the revising Chamber having full powers of scrutiny.

The UK Government want to muzzle the Lords in the same way as they have already muzzled charities and others who have criticised welfare reform and austerity. I accept that the Government have a majority of MPs in this Chamber; however, they should not confuse that with having a majority of wisdom. On matters of parliamentary procedure and set-up, the Government should be willing to listen to, and work with, those with different views, whether they be other MPs, parties or Parliaments, outside organisations, or indeed the second Chamber.

The SNP does not support the current approach to the House of Lords, how we pay those who attend and the privilege associated with it, but we have to acknowledge that on occasion the Lords can be useful, for example in helping to force the recent tax credits U-turn. The recent Lords review on the impact of the planned cuts to employment and support allowance led by Cross-Bench peers is another example of the kind of invaluable review of policy that we need a second Chamber to take forward.

I do not support an unelected second Chamber and believe fervently that the House of Lords must be abolished. In such an eventuality, there is the option of having a unicameral Parliament, as outlined previously, with a beefed-up Committee structure somewhat like

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that of the Scottish Parliament, rather than a bicameral set-up. However, for the purposes of this debate I have presumed there is a settled will for having two tiers. Whatever arrangements are made, we must be able to properly scrutinise and hold this Government to account.

I have to be honest and admit to being very conflicted when we are forced to rely on the unelected Chamber to defend the welfare state against the cuts planned by this Conservative Government. It took the House of Lords, as flawed as it is, to tackle the planned cuts. It may well be down to the second Chamber to face the Government again as they seem determined to cut ESA, further penalising disabled people, some of whom lobbied Members in Westminster Hall yesterday.

It highlights the absurdity of the UK’s current constitutional arrangement that we are relying on unelected peers to protect us from some of the worst aspects of this Government’s policy agenda. This situation has caused a lot of anger in Scotland. Why are we forced to rely on unelected peers to defend our fellow citizens and their families? Scotland has seen unprecedented levels of democratic engagement during and after the referendum, so the idea of having to rely on this outdated, out-of-touch and undemocratic institution to defend the welfare state does not sit well with people—and it does not sit well with me.

The second Chamber in its current form is nothing more than an affront to democracy, and the way successive Governments have used the patronage system to reward party loyalists is only the tip of the iceberg. We recently learned that once again friends of Cabinet Ministers have been rewarded for their services with a place in the Lords. The numerous former MPs, special advisers and party aides who were awarded peerages after the election make the House look like a dumping ground or a retirement plan for party cronies. The numerous expenses scandals involving the Members of the second Chamber also do nothing to improve people’s image of the Lords.

Whatever my feelings on this issue, however, I recognise the benefits of having a second Chamber at Westminster with the current Government in office. We do not need to reinvent the wheel. A range of reviews have been carried out into the current set-up, and several organisations have done a lot of work on the issue and come up with several options. Groups such as the Electoral Reform Society and the University College London constitutional unit have carried out in-depth research into the House of Lords and possible alternatives to it. We need a comprehensive and transparent debate on this matter in Government time, but I imagine that this Conservative Government would be reluctant to grant such a debate, judging by the way in which they have rushed through the Strathclyde review.

Labour and the Conservatives have been guilty in the past of failing to follow through on their intentions to reform the House of Lords. The introduction of the Parliament Act 1911 was the first indication of any Government’s intention to reform the Lords, but after 105 years we are still waiting for any real reform to take place. The recent tax credits U-turn shows that the second Chamber has its place, but we need a Chamber that can hold the Government to account and properly scrutinise legislation. At the moment, the House of Lords is just one more outdated Westminster relic that should be consigned to history. Until that happens, and until we have a second Chamber that actually works, I will continue

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to speak up for change. It is time to ensure that we have a modern and flexible democracy by abolishing the medieval House of Lords. We need to look ahead, not backwards.

3.40 pm

Patricia Gibson (North Ayrshire and Arran) (SNP): When I first wandered into the Chamber today, I thought I had come into the wrong debate, because the Annunciator shows the title of the debate as “House of Lords reform”. Neither my colleagues nor I believe that there can be any reforming of something that is so deeply undemocratic and rotten to the core.

There is no doubt that the general public across the UK are deeply disengaged from and alienated by much of what goes on in this place. It is dangerous for democracy when the very people it is intended to serve lose so much interest and faith in it. We can come up with warm words and grand ideas about how to tackle that, but perhaps the single most important thing we can do to repair some, although not all, of the damaging rift between those of us who serve and those whom we seek to serve would be to hear the calls—a deafening din in Scotland—to abolish the House of Lords. It is no better than a carbuncle on the face of democracy across the United Kingdom, and there is a deep sense of frustration with it across communities in Scotland. It has already been pointed out that this archaic, outdated and mediaeval and anachronistic institution has no place in any state that purports to be a modern, enlightened and forward-looking democracy. Just to be clear, we do not simply object to the personnel in the House of Lords, although we do; we do not recognise its legitimacy or its right to legislate over the citizens of the UK.

Kelvin Hopkins: I agree very much with what the hon. Lady is saying. The hon. Member for Spelthorne (Kwasi Kwarteng) suggested earlier that this subject never came up on the doorstep. Does she agree that that is because people’s first concerns are jobs, housing, poverty and the health service? However, if people are asked about the House of Lords, many would say that we should abolish it.

Patricia Gibson: I absolutely agree with what the hon. Gentleman has just said. When people talk to us on the doorstep, their priorities are of course job security, benefit sanctions and putting food on the table, but if we scratch the surface, we find that the House of Lords is universally hated, across the UK in my view. There might be small pockets of support among what might be called traditionalists, but for the ordinary man and woman in the street, the House of Lords is an affront to modern democracy.

What I am about to say has already been mentioned earlier in the debate. That is one of the disadvantages of being so far down the speaking list. It is bad enough that the House of Lords is unelected, but it really is quite incredible to think that we are the only state in the world apart from Iran that has clerics pontificating on legislation. That further illustrates the absurdity of this relic.

Despite all the plaudits and feeble attempts to justify the other place, perhaps by those who have pals or cronies there or those who seek to retire there themselves

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when the voters reject them, it cannot be justified to retain those who are unelected. They have often been actively rejected by the voters. It is arguably worse that some of them have shied away from presenting themselves to the voters at any time at all, despite having political ambitions. That really makes the House of Lords a laughing stock in the eyes of the rest of the world.

Steven Paterson: Does my hon. Friend share my disappointment that this Government, who made their one MP from Scotland Secretary of State, had to aggrandise or ennoble someone and put them in the House of Lords to fulfil the role of deputy—Under-Secretary of State—in the Scotland Office?

Patricia Gibson: Indeed, I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend. I wish to add my disappointment at the fact that the Leader of the Opposition, who considers himself to have very left-wing credentials, has co-opted Members of the House of Lords into his shadow Cabinet. That is a travesty if ever there was one.

I may have been a huge fan of the political novels of Anthony Trollope in my formative years, but I have no wish to live in the 19th century. Madam Deputy Speaker, if you will indulge me for just a moment, I feel that I must share some figures with the House. My hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) has shamed me into doing this, and marital relations would become strained if I did not mention the fact that the distinguished—certainly he is in my house—MSP for Cunninghame North unearthed some figures that showed that nearly 75% of appointments to the Lords are defeated, retired or deselected MPs or former advisers. After every election, we actually hear the stampede towards the ermine, from this place to that place. If this matter were not so serious, I would be laughing. We have hereditary peers and Church of England bishops—I have often wondered whether that means that God is an Englishman.

Martin John Docherty: Does my hon. Friend agree that if God were a Scotsman, he still would not want a place in the House of Lords?

Patricia Gibson: Absolutely. We have in the Lords cronies, party donors, party-placed men and women—although there are fewer women than men—failed politicians, and retired politicians who are looking for a wee hobby in 2016. Perhaps that was fitting in Anthony Trollope’s time, but, for the love of God—Madam Deputy Speaker, forgive me—let us get a grip. I bet that when we do get rid of this relic, just like the smoking ban we will wonder why it took so long and why we waited so long. No one on these Benches is saying that there are not some folk in the House of Lords who are well intentioned or who have much expertise and skill to offer their country’s legislative process. No one is even saying that we should not enter into a debate about the relative merits of a second Chamber to revise legislation. That is a debate that we could and should have in the future. What we are saying is that anyone who seeks to pontificate over, revise, introduce or influence legislation in our Parliament should be elected by the people whom they purport to serve. It is as simple as that.

I am almost embarrassed to repeat the numbers for China’s National People’s Congress—as I have now made comparisons with China and Iran, I can see that we are in good company with those beacons of democracy.

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Alison Thewliss: In his book “The Point of Departure”, the late Member of Parliament for Livingston recalled an incident at a Europe-Africa summit. A president of one African country said that they could not be criticised for failing to introduce full democracy after only 50 years of independence when Britain had failed to get rid of the hereditary principle after 500 years.

Patricia Gibson: As I have said, we are becoming a laughing stock all over the world.

In addition—and this is a very, very serious point—we are told that these are austere times. We cannot afford to help the so-called “benefit scroungers”, but we can afford to help the “strivers”—and the House of Lords is full of them. We must punish families with more than two children, because everyone knows that if a person has a third child, they are clearly trying to get money out of the taxpayer. Yet here we have in the House of Lords what many of my constituents would call a trough. It is costing £94.4 million. This dripping roast, as my constituents would call it, costs more than the Scottish Parliament—elected, accountable, forward-thinking, enlightened and representative of the people—and has even more Members than the European Parliament.

In my view, Clement Attlee was being extremely kind when he described the House of Lords as

“like a glass of champagne that has stood for five days”.

I much prefer the analysis that the best cure for admiring the House of Lords is to go and look at it. When we sanction vulnerable folk on benefits who are five minutes late for an appointment at the jobcentre, when we hammer women born in the 1950s by moving their retirement age further away, when my constituents see Scotland’s budget being squeezed and we hear this being called “a sustainable economic plan”, I and many others ask how that sustainable economic plan impacts on the waste, the affront to democracy, the dripping roast that is the House of Lords—and these people dare to pontificate on Scotland’s constitutional future. Even the Lords themselves hardly take it seriously: attendance is around 60%, although it has improved recently, perhaps because the dripping roast is drying up and much must be suckled in the dying moments of the House.

What a tragedy it is that the 2015 Conservative manifesto indicated that the party did not consider House of Lords reform a priority. No, let us instead prioritise bashing the vulnerable and taking benefits away from the poor. The Strathclyde review was a wasted opportunity —then again, turkeys do not vote for Christmas. They can tinker at the edges all they like; they will never make this affront to democracy palatable enough for the people in my constituency that they see it as having any legitimacy. Let us abolish this carbuncle on the face of democracy. Let us listen to the people. Then, they may begin to listen to what this place has to say. I urge the Minister to screw his courage to the sticking place, to get a grip and to get rid. It is time the UK grew up.

3.52 pm

Ronnie Cowan (Inverclyde) (SNP): When the first automobile engines were developed, they were dirty, unreliable and inefficient, but they evolved and improved. When I want to get from A to B in a timely, reliable and comfortable fashion, I look to use a suitable vehicle. I do not use the 45-year-old project that I have propped up on bricks in my garage. Although there is a place in

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my heart for the 1967 Sunbeam Alpine with twin Venturi carburettors, a 1725 cc engine with overdrive, a soft top and skinny tyres, I recognise that it does not fulfil the necessary criteria for day-to-day driving. Over the past 100 years, transport, communications, healthcare, education, foreign policy and defence have all evolved and are barely recognisable from their younger selves, yet the House of Lords has not kept pace. Utilising the House of Lords as an effective, efficient second Chamber of this Parliament in this day and age is as practical as using a horse and cart to travel down a busy motorway.

We have continued to govern from a cloistered and privileged place rooted in the past. Parliament should reflect the society it wishes to create. The House of Lords does not reflect any society that I wish to be part of. No doubt, there are capable, compassionate people who wash up in the Lords and who do care, can help to govern and are, in fact, the very people who could and would be democratically elected to a second Chamber, but far too many are there by accident rather than design. We require a second Chamber that reflects the 21st century—a Chamber that represents all religions and none; a Chamber that sits during recognised working hours; a Chamber that is elected and is not inhabited by the fourth generation offspring of long-forgotten generals, admirals and landowning aristocracy; a Chamber where seats cannot be bought for political favour; and a Chamber that is accountable for the behaviour of its Members.

Of course, reform of the House of Lords is not a new idea. The proposal to elect Members directly was first made over 100 years ago. It is probably due for a Second Reading any day now. Much more recently, when the lords a-leaping refused to play ball with the current Government and kicked out the proposals on tax credits, the Government sprang into action and ordered a review—nay, a rapid review, and who better to chair a rapid review of the relationship between the two Houses of Parliament than a former Leader of the House of Lords, a hereditary peer who had never been elected to any Chamber?

The outcome of the rapid review was—hon. Members should not get too excited—a new procedure. This new procedure would

“invite the Commons to think again”.

But Lord Strathclyde did not leave it there. Oh no. With the full force of Parliament he wielded his mighty pen and suggested—yes, suggested—that a review should take place, to be known henceforth as “son of rapid review”. The Government responded and allowed a full debate—in the House of Lords. On the back of this earth-shattering outcome, we all went home for Christmas and forgot all about rapid review and his offspring.

Not surprisingly, MPs continue to ask questions regarding the reform of the House of Lords. As recently as 14 September 2015 the Prime Minister responded to such a question by assuring us that he will be

“looking, with others, at issues such as the size of the Chamber and the retirement of peers.”

By size I presume he meant the number rather than the dimensions, as he is the Prime Minister who has created more peers than any other Prime Minister since the system was overhauled in 1958. I can only presume that he has looked, with others, and decided that we do not have enough.

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There are many ways in which the House of Lords could be reformed—a Chamber composed of Members elected directly by the electorate, set terms for elected Members, a significant decrease in the number of Members, a secular Chamber, a fair distribution of seats for the UK’s nations and regions, and measures to encourage a more diverse range of candidates, designed to represent civil society and minorities. There are many possible changes that could improve the House of Lords, but rather like the old joke, “How many psychiatrists does it take to change a lightbulb?—One, but the lightbulb has to want to change,” the House of Lords has to want to change, and this place has to want to change it.

Is reform required? Unquestionably. Are there many practical ways in which this could be done? Of course there are. Is there a will? If there is a will, let us hope that it did not bequeath a hereditary peer to the next ermine-robed incumbent in a long line of ermine-robed incumbents. Let us make this will a testament to reform. I appeal to this Government. If they genuinely want change, they should put it on the agenda and make it happen. If not, if they are content with the status quo, they should stand up and say so.

3.57 pm

Peter Grant (Glenrothes) (SNP): I commend the Backbench Business Committee for making time for this debate and congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for West Dunbartonshire (Martin John Docherty) on his outstandingly passionate speech. I hope he will not mind my mentioning that he has had other reasons over the past week for earning our warm congratulations and best wishes. We all wish him well in the new life that he is leading. All the best to him.

My hon. Friend started the preparations for the birthday of Robert Burns by quoting from not only the greatest work that Robert Burns ever wrote, but arguably the greatest humanitarian work in the history of literature. I was a bit disappointed because I thought he was going to continue with a section of that song that would almost sum up this debate in a few words:

Ye see yon birkie ca’d a lord,

Wha struts, an’ stares, an’ a’ that,

Tho’ hundreds worship at his word,

He’s but a cuif for a’ that.”

I have to confess, Madam Deputy Speaker, that I was very careful indeed not to check the dictionary before I came in here because I have a nasty feeling that if I had done, I would have realised that the word “cuif” could not be used in the Chamber. I am not entirely sure what it means.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): Order. The hon. Gentleman should know that as far as I am concerned, anything said by Robert Burns can be used in this Chamber.

Peter Grant: I am very grateful indeed, Madam Deputy Speaker, not least because I intend to quote the bard later on.

I find it astonishing that when we started the process of review of and consultation on how to repair the fabric of this undoubtedly magnificent and historic building,

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it was based on the assumption that Parliament would continue to operate in exactly the same way as it presumably always has done. May I suggest that a golden opportunity was missed to start to reform the processes of not only this Chamber, but the second Chamber?

Indeed, this might be an opportunity to ask ourselves why we need a second Chamber at all. Other modern, inclusive, democratic countries manage perfectly well with one Chamber. If we think about it, the argument that the second Chamber is good at scrutinising and checking the actions of the first Chamber suggests that we are saying that the first Chamber is not doing its job, so perhaps we should literally get our own House in order and then consider whether we want another House just down the road.

Kelvin Hopkins: I agree with what the hon. Gentleman has said. In my speech I mentioned Sweden, which has abolished its second Chamber. Does he appreciate that Sweden has not become undemocratic as a result? It is as democratic as it was before.

Peter Grant: The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. Imagine that this Parliament had historically consisted of a single, elected Chamber. Then imagine that someone comes along and suggests that we need a second, unelected Chamber in order to become more democratic. They would be laughed out of court.

I think that there are options available to us if we are prepared to look at having a second elected Chamber, assuming that we need a second Chamber at all. That would give us a chance to elect the House of Lords on a different electoral cycle from that of the House of Commons, in order to avoid the temptation for Governments to time their announcements and legislation with a view to getting re-elected in a few years’ time. It would give us the chance, importantly, to elect a second Chamber by a different electoral method to help even out some of the undoubted inequities that exist in the first-past-the-post system. Yes, the SNP benefited from that system at the general election, but the system was not fair when it worked to our disadvantage, and it is no fairer when it works to our advantage.

Comments were made earlier about the place of the representatives of the Church of England in the House of Lords. I will defend and warmly commend the actions of a number of Churches and faith groups in helping to act as a social conscience of our nations. I think of the important work that various Churches have done in critiquing benefit sanctions and nuclear weapons, or in reminding us that the refugee crisis is about human beings, not burdens on our benefits system. I hope that faith groups, including humanists, who in my view are a legitimate faith group, will continue to do that. However, in this day and age should they have an automatic right to make laws that apply to the majority of citizens in these islands who choose to follow a different interpretation of their faith? I fully appreciate that that will be a difficult conversation for many, but it is one that we really cannot shy away from for very much longer.

It can be argued that there is a benefit in allowing people from all walks of life to play a part in scrutinising legislation, rather than just the relatively narrow “political elite”. There are two problems with that argument. First, the House of Lords is not a representative sample; if anything, it is more dominated by the political elite

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than the House of Commons. Secondly, the House of Lords does not just scrutinise legislation; it can block it. It can even initiate legislation and ask us to scrutinise it.

As the hon. Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins) mentioned, if there are benefits in having experts who are not Members of Parliament, or lay people, advising and scrutinising legislation, why not set up a system that allows appointed people to scrutinise and examine, but not to legislate or to overrule the will of the democratic Chamber? That is an option that I think is well worth further investigation.

There will be those who appeal to a deity called tradition, as if tradition was always a good thing. I think that tradition is important. Our traditions are what make us who we are, and if we lose sight of who we are, then we really are in trouble. But if we allowed tradition to be the judge of what happens in future, we would still be sending children up chimneys and down mines, and we would still be exploiting slaves from other parts of the world. More topically, if we continued to judge things according to the traditions that applied in this Chamber for so long, the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Scotland would have had to resign this week. Thank goodness we have moved away from traditions that were indefensible 300 years ago and are no more defensible today.

What does it say about democracy in this Parliament when the only organisation that consistently blocks any kind of proper reform of the House of Lords is also the one with the biggest vested interest in not reforming it? Most people in these islands simply cannot understand that. Even those who are not 100% convinced that the Lords should be abolished cannot understand why, when what is supposedly the sovereign Chamber in Parliament takes a decision to reform the House of Lords, the Lords itself can block any attempts to do so.

Even without legislation that can still be blocked or delayed indefinitely by the Lords itself, party leaders could give commitments that would get rid of some of the potential abuses, which, let us face it, we all know have happened. Although it is not possible to point to an individual appointment and know for certain that it was based on financial transactions, or on a deal made when somebody was still a Member of Parliament, the fact that the system can be vulnerable to that kind of abuse means that in the eyes of the public it very probably has been abused in that way in the past.

Let us look at the three worst abuses, which cause a lot of concern. I invite the Minister not to commit to dealing with them but at least to give serious consideration to how the parties could, right now, start to make the appointment system of the House of Lords a bit more acceptable, pending a proper and rapid review sometime in the next two or three hundred years. First, politicians who get kicked out by the democratic process can come back, arguably better off than they have been here, by being appointed to the House of Lords. Why not ban appointments of former MPs to the House of Lords, at least for a period of five or 10 years afterwards?

Secondly, there seems to be a high correlation between new appointments to the House of Lords and previous donors to party coffers. I am told that about 25% of all recent appointments by the Prime Minister were of people who had made substantial donations to the party coffers. I do not object to people giving money to causes they believe in, but there is an issue there that

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damages the reputation of this place in the eyes of the public. Why not set a limit and say that anybody who has donated above a certain amount to a political party cannot then take a place in the House of Lords, again possibly with a five-year or 10-year cooling-off period?

Finally, there is an abuse of the system that we have seen here. Page after page of improvements to the Scotland Bill put forward by the people who were elected to represent Scotland were rejected by MPs who have no mandate to represent Scotland, and then promptly reintroduced by those same MPs through their friends in the House of Lords. When the amendments came back to the House of Commons a short time later, the people who had voted against them trooped through the Lobby to vote for them. That is a wrong use of the process. Why not invite the Government to consider the possibility of putting themselves under a voluntary ban whereby they will not introduce major legislation in the Lords unless it has been passed by this Chamber first, and will not introduce large numbers of significant amendments in the Lords when they have had the opportunity to have them considered in this place first?

Even those changes would not go far enough for me, or for a lot of people, but they would at least start to show the people of these islands, in good faith, that the Government are serious about tackling an appointments system, in particular, that has no place in a representative democracy.

Earlier, someone referred to Westminster as the mother of Parliaments. I have heard the story that once, during a hustings debate probably somewhere north of the border, somebody announced in a very pompous manner that he was proud to serve in the mother of all Parliaments, and a voice from the back asked him if he had any idea who the father was. I am not going to say which of those comments I prefer.

I started by quoting the greatest poem, or song, that Robert Burns ever wrote, but I think that the greatest piece of writing by Robert Burns is, surprisingly, not a poem or a song, but a piece of prose:

“Whatever mitigates the woes or increases the happiness of others—this is my criterion of goodness. And whatever injures society at large, or any individual, in it—this is my measure of iniquity.”

The way that Members of the Lords are appointed right now means that we have an iniquitous situation in this Parliament. If the Lords is not prepared to accept fundamental reform, then it can, will and must be abolished.

4.9 pm

Kirsty Blackman (Aberdeen North) (SNP): I am delighted to speak on behalf of the SNP in this Backbench Business debate on the House of Lords. I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for West Dunbartonshire (Martin John Docherty) secured the debate, although I am rather glad that he spoke some time ago, so that everyone could forget how brilliant his speech was by the time it came round to mine.

As has been mentioned, this issue is not something that gets people exercised. However, I would suggest that, in Scotland, membership of the SNP is not insubstantial. There are quite a few members of the SNP, and at the SNP conference in Aberdeen, at which there were 3,500 delegates, there was a huge cheer when it was suggested that the House of Lords should be

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abolished. This is something that gets members of the SNP excited. It is something that genuinely gets mentioned on the doorsteps when we knock on doors. It is perhaps not the first thing that comes up—absolutely not—but parliamentary and constitutional reform come up a lot on the doorsteps in Scotland.

I am particularly pleased that this debate follows the one on space policy, because this place—these Houses of Parliament—is in another world from the one I normally inhabit. I have spoken to people previously about why they should dislike the House of Lords. Within the SNP and among people I have spoken to, there is a visceral, immediate dislike of the House of Lords, but people should not dislike it because the Lords swan along in ermine robes; they should dislike it because of the level of power that the House of Lords has.

This is not a way to run a democracy. Nobody creating a democratic system afresh would come up with the undemocratic, unwieldy and unaccountable second Chamber that we have. The hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) mentioned that the UK muddles along, and that is what has happened. It has happened with parliamentary reform and, as I will mention a little later, with reform of the Standing Orders in this place as well.

This is bicameralism at its worst. Of the 192 parliaments recognised by the Inter-Parliamentary Union, 77 are bicameral and only the UK, Belgium, Zimbabwe and Lesotho have hereditary legislators. Belgium does not really count, though, because its hereditary legislators are related to the monarch and do not vote on anything, so the wonderful United Kingdom—proud defender of democracy; the mother of parliaments—is a member of a very select group that allows landed gentry to make law for our countries. Zimbabwe and Lesotho and us—there is nothing good about this situation.

I would like to take Members back to 1997. It is some time ago now, and things have changed a fair bit since then: I was still in primary school, Hanson were topping the charts with “MMMBop” and the Labour party was popular in Scotland. The Labour manifesto in 1997 said:

“The House of Lords must be reformed…the right of hereditary peers to sit and vote in the House of Lords will be ended by statute.”

Despite a massive majority for the Labour party in 1997 and a clear manifesto commitment to rid our democratic system of hereditary peers, nearly 20 years on we still have 92 of them—92 Lords who are allowed to make legislation because their family owned land.

I was talking to a peer recently about hereditary peerages. The defence mentioned was that there was a hereditary peer who could trace her family back 400 years. The nature of humankind is that all our families can be traced back 400 years; otherwise, we would not be here. It is ridiculous, patronising and wrong to argue that a tithe paid to a monarch hundreds of years ago should qualify any individual to make legislation. The Conservative Government make all sorts of claims about working hard being the best way to get on in life and achieve a high-salary job, for example. There is a wilful downplaying of the inbuilt advantage accorded to those whose families owned large country estates. Many of those estates were won by force and held by oppression. There is not a

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meritocracy in these islands. Working hard does not necessarily get anyone anywhere; where they are born and who their family are does.

Having said that and made clear my absolute disagreement with any system that accords a higher level of importance to anyone simply because of an accident of birth, I want to make clear my absolute lack of regard for the appointments system for life peers. Cross-Bench peers tell me how rigorous the process is for appointing them. I agree that it is thorough and they have to make major commitments to how much time they are going to spend in the House of Lords. However, there is no compulsion on the Prime Minister to ensure that non-Cross-Bench peers—or even Cross-Bench peers, for that matter—are appointed in that way. There is also no limit on the size of the Chamber, and one of the best ways to receive an excellent salary for life is to donate money to either the Conservative or Labour parties and be appointed to the House of Lords.

I want to expand on what my hon. Friends the Members for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson), for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) and for Glenrothes (Peter Grant) have said about former parliamentarians. Since 1997, 152 former parliamentarians have been ennobled. Twenty of them were given peerages within five years of losing an election to the House of Commons. So within five years of being rejected by the electorate, they were given a seat in the other House to make legislation for the people who had rejected them. It is a ridiculous situation.

The reforms enacted in 1999—which I admit were good and took us a step along the way, but nowhere near far enough—did have an effect on the behaviour of the House of Lords, including on the turnout figures. However, they also made the House of Lords more powerful, because peers felt that they had more of a right to be there and to make decisions about legislation, but that is not the case. The House of Lords is still an unelected legislature and it should not be making laws for this country. There is no accountability. Members of the public cannot access the Lords—they do not know who they are. Peers are out of touch. There is no compulsion on them to listen to people in the general community. What they learn about the general community is often garnered from newspapers, and we all know that they are not a true reflection of society.

The House of Lords is also massively lacking in diversity, which has been mentioned by various Members. Only 26% of peers are female, which is even worse than the figure for this place. The record in the House of Commons is deplorable, but the record in the House of Lords is much worse. In June 2015 there were more people who had been peers for more than 30 years than there were peers under the age of 50, and there were only two peers under 40 among the entire 800-odd Members of the House of Lords. That compares hugely unfavourably with elected politics in the UK. It does not constitute representative democracy.

The youngest age at which a current Member of the House of Lords received a life peerage was 32. Although I fundamentally disagree with appointments for life, it is bizarre that half of our legislature should exclude anyone who I would class as young. It is no wonder that, as a result, young people do not trust the democratic system. They look at this place and they see a bunch of old

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people whom they cannot relate to. If we look at elected Members as a whole, we will see that we are still woefully unrepresentative.

As has been said, some peers, particularly Cross Benchers, work very hard, but that cannot be used to legitimise the existence of the second Chamber, which is incredibly expensive. Some Cross Benchers have been, and continue to be, very active in their areas of work and fields of expertise, but there is no check on that. As the hon. Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison) has said, people become ex-experts—their expertise goes away—very quickly.

The House of Commons has utterly failed to amend or rewrite the Parliament Acts to make any meaningful change to the House of Lords, which has not happened for the best part of 20 years. Actually, we have not made much change to the powers of the House of Lords since the Parliament Act 1911 and, subsequently, the Parliament Act 1949, which just tinkered with it. As I have said on previous occasions, I do not believe that the procedures of the House of Commons are fit for purpose. Given the opportunity, I would tear up the Standing Orders and start again, dramatically reducing the Executive privilege accorded to the Government of the day, thus requiring them to use their majority far more often.

The situation in the House of Lords is even worse. It is all done on the basis of convention. The Government got into such a pickle over tax credits because there is a convention—there is nothing in legislation—that the House of Lords does not vote on such things. On paper, the House of Lords is an incredibly powerful institution, and that is something we need to change.

The House of Lords is not a revising second Chamber. Nobody who makes the case for a revising second Chamber can hold up the House of Lords as the place that can revise legislation. It can still introduce primary legislation. It is not elected, but it can introduce legislation on behalf of the people of this country. It should not do so.

Martin Vickers: The hon. Lady is making a powerful speech. As she knows from mine, I share her ambition to do away with an unelected second Chamber. However, can she explain her party’s support for membership of the European Union, where real power lies with the unelected European Commission? The European Parliament is really a sideshow.

Kirsty Blackman: The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point, which I am sure will be discussed at length during European debates. Today, however, we are discussing the House of Lords, which is something that we have the power to change. Members of this place could pass a new Parliament Act. Elected Members have the ability to make mass changes to the House of Lords, and we should make big changes to it.

Peter Grant: Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be beneficial to introduce some of the European Parliament and European Commission’s ways of working to this place? For example, the European Parliament has the power to sack the entire European Commission. Does she support giving the House of Commons the right to sack the entire House of Lords? I think that is what the hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) was referring to.

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Kirsty Blackman: I would be delighted if the House of Commons had the ability to sack the entire House of Lords. In fact, I think the Conservative Government would have been quite keen to sack the entire House of Lords earlier in the Session.

Martin Vickers: I just remind the hon. Lady and her colleagues that this Chamber has the power to sack the Government.

Kirsty Blackman: I am coming to the end of my speech, so I will now wrap up. The power of the House of Lords is dramatically greater than it should be. It has the ability to appoint people who have been rejected at the ballot box. People troop into that House rubbing their hands with glee at the untaxed £45,000 a year they can now earn. The expenses system and the payments system for the House of Lords—getting £300 day, which is classed as an allowance, and is not taxed—are abominable. That should not be happening.

The composition of the House of Lords is ridiculous. It is unrepresentative, and in no circumstances should it include hereditary peers and those appointed by religious organisations, whether from the Church of England or of any other religious organisation. I do not think there is any place for religious appointments in a legislative system. Lifetime appointments to any legislature are undemocratic. There are peers sitting there who have been peers for 70 years, which is an incredible length of time. Some of them are no longer active, but they still have the right to troop into the House and vote. How good is a peer at voting if they have been a peer for 70 years? They have a length of experience behind them—fair enough—but most people want to sit with their feet up and watch TV by the time they get to such an age. Appointments for high heijins and party donors are wrong and should not be happening.

The House of Lords is beyond reform. People have tried to reform it in the past, but it is still not an elected, accountable second Chamber. We need to abolish it.

4.23 pm

Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): I genuinely congratulate the hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire (Martin John Docherty) on opening the debate and on his very colourful and well-informed speech. I must say that many good points have been made. I emphasise the point made by the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson), which is that we must have a debate. It is very important to recognise the complexity and difficulty of reform, and we must begin by having an honest debate.

I congratulate Scottish National party Members on the consistency and uniformity of their arguments, by and large. They showed discipline. The number of times I heard reference to China’s National People’s Congress, I would not like to say. The hon. Member for Inverclyde (Ronnie Cowan) did talk about reform, rather than abolition. I welcome that because it is healthy to have a difference of emphasis within a political group, if not a complete difference.