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Mr. Mark Fisher (Stoke-on-Trent, Central): Does the hon. Gentleman accept that if, like me, he supports a wholly elected Chamber, none of those problems should arise? Even if there is a transition with a small element of non-elected people, the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Mr. Wyatt) that they should select their own small number, just as with hereditary peers, is a very simple solution and would work perfectly well.
We must accept that the objective for the end of the transitional period should be a smaller House, perhaps of 300 Members but certainly not much more. We should go for a House that is free of all direct party political patronage and that has minimal obligation or deference to the Executive. That point has already been made by several hon. Members. There should be no Member of Parliament clones or aspirant Members of Parliament. It has been suggested that a minimum age should be set for Members of the other Chamber. I am not sure whether that is acceptable. However, if they are to be elected, we must try to ensure that candidates do not simply want to climb the greasy pole.
What should we do? First, elections must be fixed term, and whenever possible they should not coincide with general elections. If they happen on the same day, it is almost inevitable that we shall have clones at the other end of the building. Secondly, elections must be carried out through an effective system of proportional representation, and I hope that the recommendation for the single transferable vote will be accepted. Thirdly, it is important to provide for partial changeover so that we do not have "all out" at the same time and thus make continuity difficult.
I believe that there should also be one-term limits so that, once there, Members are not beholden to the party hierarchy for their return. I believe that most of my colleagues in both Houses support that. If half the House is elected on the same day as the European Parliament, the limit should be for 10 yearsfull stop, fixed term. There is thus no question of climbing back into favour with the party hierarchy.
The suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso) is good for the longer term. He speaks with the authority of the only former hereditary peer who sits in this HouseI remind hon. Members that he does that with a democratic mandate. If elections for the second Chamber coincided with those for the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly, the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Greater London Assembly, and I hope, English regional elections on a four-year cycle, and a 12-year period was allowed so that only one third was elected at any time, that would provide for consistency and continuity but free Members of ambitions for office and of party loyalty.
We perceive no need for retaining separate religious or legal representatives. The case for a supreme court is separate, and we have not examined it properly yet. However, there is no argument for Law Lords. Religious
If, at the end of the transitional periodwhether 10, 12 or 15 yearsthere is representation by but not from the devolved institutions, that should not replace the elected component. The former may be supplementary; there are some advantages to electoral colleges in the regions of England and the other national institutions. They could provide an extra element to the second Chamber, but that must not happen to the disadvantage of those who are directly elected.
The White Paper proposals constitute the worst sort of wishy-washy compromise. They satisfy nobody, and there is no majority in either House for them. By the end of today, I believe that we shall find that the Leader of the House is well aware that that applies to Members of the House of Commons as well as to his colleagues in the other part of the building. Almost 200 hon. Members have signed the early-day motion; most are Labour Back Benchers.
Liberal Democrat Members will work with others in all parties and in both Houses to achieve legislation that will encompass five principles. First, we should develop a comprehensive approach to parliamentary revitalisation in both Houses. Secondly, we should resist any dilution of the role of the second Chamber in dealing with primary and secondary legislation as well as scrutinising Executive action. Thirdly, we should extend parliamentary scrutiny to cover aspects of government that neither House currently examines. Fourthly, after the transitional period, we should end all party political patronage, which is no longer acceptable for a 21st century legislature. Fifthly, elections should be conducted on a PR system that gives maximum voter choice and achieves broad proportionality for voters' party support.
Fiona Mactaggart (Slough): I am worried about House of Lords reform not because I am a geek about structuring the second ChamberI can be; I have all sorts of ideasbut because I believe that we have a specific responsibility to democracy. It is not extreme to suggest that democracy is going out of fashion; it is frail and fragile. Participation in the last general election was poor, and, as those who carry the flame of democracy, we have a responsibility to feed it. I am worried about the proposals for reform because they could do the opposite. Not reforming the House of Lords would certainly do that. It is important that proposals emerge from the debate to provide for reform that reinforces democracy.
Why is democracy important? It asserts the primacy of people in making decisions. I was interested in the contribution of Lord Norton of Louth, who said in the upper House that democracy was a bit overrated. He said that when people were asked whether they would prefer decisions to be made by an absolute expert on a subject or an elected person, 49 per cent. said that they favoured an elected person and 43 per cent., an absolute expert.
Our behaviour in the Chamber is one of the reasons why people's confidence in the electoral system has been damaged. We are very tribal; our behaviour is summed up by "These guys are right, those guys are wrong." The House of Commons works on that basis. There is a role for that in politics. Sticking to a party line and manifestos keeps politicians straight, and it is important. However, it is not the only thing that makes politics sensible. When picking over detail and carefully considering measures that are part of a Government's programme, rather than forming that programme, it is good for people to point out that the emperor has no clothes, that a provision will not have the intended effect, and to suggest alternatives.
It is important that such people should be at the heart of the second Chamber. They should make the major decisions. We should encourage those who are prepared to be a bit sceptical and do not necessarily follow a party line. The Wakeham committee's proposals for long terms and not allowing people to hop between Houses provided a reasonable model for rewarding and encouraging the sceptics. Ours should be the primary Chamber. We should be the people who act as tribunes of our constituencies and as the voice of the people, but the people should choose the éminences grises, the reflectors and those who say, "Hey, hang on a minute. Let's stop and think." That should be the fundamental role of the second Chamber.
What is most depressing about the White Paper is the fact that it envisages that, in a House of 600 people, 332 will be appointed by the political parties nominating them. That number is not mentioned in most of the papers that we have been discussing, but that is what would result from the proposals in the White Paper. The White Paper and its companion documents also argue that elections are a bad thing, which is very much against the traditions of my party and of this place, and not something that we should stick to.
I welcome the Leader of the House saying that we had to work out some fundamental principles on which to go forward. There is a job to be done here, and the White Paper can be a starting point, but we have to find a way of introducing legislation. I am one of those who believe that we have to legislate, and that we cannot continue with the hereditary element that remains in the second Chamber.
The four principles proposed by the Leader of the House are a start. Let me remind the House of them. The first is to abolish the hereditaries. The second is to have elections, and in that respect I must stress that people will expect at least half the Members of the Chamber to be decided by the people, if we are to have elections with which people can engage and towards which they can make a commitment. The third principle is to reflect the political balance in the country. That is best done by elections, frankly. The fourth is to retain an independent element.
I accept that there can be a place for a Cross-Bench independent element. It should not be huge; indeed, the White Paper does not propose that. It proposes an independent element of 20 per cent., which I would be
We have an historic opportunity here. In 1911, Parliament said, "We have to have a popularly decided second Chamber." Ninety years later, we got rid of the hereditary bit, which went half way towards achieving that, although we kept a few of them in order to get there. Now is our opportunity to create a genuinely popular second Chamber, and we must do it. If we do not, we will reinforce the process by which the people of Britain lose confidence in their legislature. If they do so, and if we contribute to that, we will damage the constitution and the fabric of the government of this country for centuries to come.