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The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, will the noble and learned Lord give way?

The Lord Chancellor: No, my Lords, I shall not. I have a long way to go and a long debate to which to reply.

Elected Peers would be as representative of the electorate as today's MPs and would claim the same prominence and representative entitlements in their constituencies as MPs enjoy today, not to mention equal pay, financial benefits and support services. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, that all that would be highly divisive.

On the other hand, the arguments for a wholly appointed House were that it would enable this House to retain its attractiveness to those who were expert and distinguished across the broadest range of experience outside politics. The composition of this House does bring a unique mix of expertise to bear on the critical evaluation of legislation—businessmen, farmers, lawyers, academics, scientists, faith leaders, doctors, nurses, journalists, trade unionists, former civil servants and Cabinet Ministers, local government leaders and heads of the Armed Services, to name but some.

A number of noble Lords asserted that more and more MPs appear to be drawn from a single class—a class of professional politicians, it was said, without a deep hinterland of employment experience behind them. If I may say so, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester cautioned us wisely to abstain from being overly self-regarding and unduly critical of the qualities of another place. That was a feature of some of yesterday's speeches. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Elton, on that.

In my view, the elected Chamber is the heart of our democracy, the politically supreme Chamber, and is in touch with the people in a direct way that we are not. MPs know intimately, in a way that we do not, the daily problems of their constituents as victims of crime, anti-social behaviour, intimidation, discrimination, debt or family breakdown. They know about social exclusion in a direct way that we do not.

So the two Houses complement one another. An appointed House, chosen in accordance with criteria that will make it more representative of the nation as a whole, can add real value to the high value that the House of Commons itself brings. So I see nothing illegitimate about an appointed second Chamber, subordinate to the elected Chamber, bringing huge collective experience, to the benefit of Parliament as a whole, but not seeking to rival the House of Commons by being equally representative of the electorate. It is a working servant, not a rival, of the other elected place, to which by convention it defers.

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Above all, an appointed House would not threaten the pre-eminence of the House of Commons. Arguments about whether a more recently elected second Chamber should have the power to defy the first or whether a proportionally elected chamber would be more legitimate than one elected on a first-past-the-post system simply would not arise. The House would be free, and able, to make its views known and would have the authority deriving from the quality of its composition to command attention, but it would not have the power to challenge the elected Chamber. The conventions under which we presently operate would continue to work. There would be no need to think about putting the relationship between the Houses on to a statutory footing. There would be no danger of gridlock.

Those arguments address properly the question of what the second Chamber is for and how best its composition should serve that purpose. The only question mark against it is legitimacy. But we do not, in this country, maintain that the only legitimate route to public office is election. We do not, for example, elect our judges. It is generally agreed that their independence would be hopelessly compromised, if they were to be elected and subject to continuous populist pressure. The noble Lord, Lord Winston, yesterday listed a broad range of appointments that are legitimate, though not elected, not least among them those in government, in the Civil Service. In this country, we are pragmatic about our constitutional arrangements. We support what works. This House works because, through its unique composition, it adds value that another place does not replicate.

All the options between all-appointed and all-elected have been more or less criticised for producing a hybrid House. Such a House has been described in earlier debates as a "nonsense". The critical question is whether, in a hybrid House, we could continue as a House of Peers, in which we would regard each other as equals, when those who were elected could and inevitably would claim in debate greater legitimacy for their views and, equally inevitably, would have dramatically better terms and conditions than those appointed. In her splendid contribution yesterday, the noble Baroness, Lady Knight of Collingtree, characteristically denounced the unworkability of,

    "a fish-and-fowl, half-and-half House".—[Official Report, 21/1/03; col. 667.]

Each of the hybridity options is an attempt to mix a pragmatic and a theoretical basis for the House, a mix that does not work in practice because hybridity cannot work. For pragmatic reasons, there is a wish to retain a significant appointed element. That is seen as the best way of ensuring that the House retains a large number of expert and independent Members, rooted in their outside interests and free of the party machines. At the same time, there is unease about the status of the House if it contained no elected Members, even though those who came through the elected route would be less well suited to the role that they would like the House to continue to fulfil. My own opinion is that any of those options would prove itself to be a

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transitional option, leading eventually to a wholly elected House. So, I repeat the real question: wholly appointed or wholly elected?

If it was the purpose of the debate to come up with a consensual solution, it was doomed from the outset to fail. But it was not. The purpose was for all who wished to speak to set out their views on the best way forward in the light of the Joint Committee's report. In the past two days, we have given the issues a thorough airing. I am sure that all your Lordships, many of whom have listened attentively to the whole—or almost the whole—debate, will now depart and consider carefully which option or options—only one, I hope—they might be able to support, when we come to our votes next month.

I have not sought to conceal that I believe the true choice to be between an all-appointed and an all-elected House. I personally on this free vote will be voting alongside those who have declared that they will vote for all-appointed and against every other option.

We pride ourselves in this House on listening to the arguments and then making up our minds. On this subject, par excellence, this is our historic duty. What is needed is not a fudged centre of gravity around a half-way house, around a hybrid House, an unstable evanescent compromise, but a long-lasting settlement for the future of this House which will preserve, not prejudice, the enduring stability of our long-lived Parliament.

11.36 p.m.

Lord Howe of Aberavon: My Lords, the debate which we have enjoyed during the past two days has been fascinating and revealing beyond my wildest expectations. It is customary for Members making such speeches at this stage in the debate to pay tribute to the extraordinary quality of everything that has been said. I refrain from doing that because I take account of the warning given by my noble friend Lord Selborne against repeating the litany of our strengths. None the less, it has been fascinating to hear the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor making such a forceful and persuasive presentation of a view that is wholly out of line with that presented by his colleagues in the Cabinet and in another place. That in itself is a remarkable tribute to the splendid eccentricity of this House.

To hear my noble friend Lord Strathclyde making an elegant presentation of a case with which he knows the bulk of his supporters lack sympathy or enthusiasm was another striking insight.

Finally, I say with regret that to hear the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, who was one of my colleagues on the Joint Committee, describing this debate as "profoundly depressing" and making, if I may say so, a rather graceless and hectoring speech, made me wonder whether he might not be seeking re-selection in an elected House. There was something alien about its tone.

I refrain from further comment. I thank all noble Lords who have participated in the debate. I thank them for their tribute to the Joint Committee, of which

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I am no more than a spokesman. I thank the Government for having made the debates in both Houses, and the votes that are to come, possible in response to our recommendations. I am sure that all members of the Joint Committee in this House will join me in expressing our appreciation of the illuminating, if not unanimous, advice we have received to guide us in our further deliberations.

The advice that we have received on the questions has been outstanding, particularly that from the noble Lord, Lord Desai. However, it does not diminish the need for us to find real genius to answer the questions. Perhaps I may be allowed to comment on one question. It is that which we considered least of all—indeed, scarcely at all—and which we took as part of the acquis communautaire of this establishment—the agreed common ground—as to the fate of the remaining hereditary Peers.

In what I said in my opening remarks, and in what others detected in the Joint Committee's report, almost nothing was said about the future of the surviving hereditary Peers because we had taken it as part of the "done deal" of the Weatherill/Cranborne transaction. Events have moved on since then and the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, drew the attention of the House to a passage in the speech by the Convenor of the Cross-Bench Peers, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley. I hope I may be forgiven for repeating it:

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    "As Convenor, I am extremely dependent on—indeed, I could not function without—the willing and totally voluntary assistance of a number of Cross-Bench hereditary Peers in discharging my responsibilities . . . Departure of all the remaining hereditaries in one go would leave a very, very considerable gap indeed—a gap that could affect for some time the ability of the new House to perform as well as does the present one. It would be perverse if stage two were to end in a debasement of the present capability of the House to carry out its roles and functions".—[Official Report, 21/1/03; col. 589.]

The same point was referred to by our noble friend Lord Elton. I hope that in one way or another the Joint Committee and both Houses may be able to handle that issue in such a way as to be able to reassure my noble friend Lord Elton and others that there may be some considerable time before they have to begin contemplating their demobilisation leave. That emerges—to my surprise, I hope—as something like common ground from a debate which has illuminated the issues but has not found much other common ground. On that basis, I commend the Motion to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Hereford Markets Bill [HL]

Nottingham City Council Bill [HL]

Presented and read a first time.

        House adjourned at eighteen minutes before midnight.

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