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I am quite happy for Members of the Lords to have club privileges. They can wine and dine there until the day they die, if they want. I am happy for them to receive some money, although perhaps we should base it on their attendance in the past two years. That would help us to get from A to Z.
Finally, on issues with a substantial centre of gravity, nearly everybody has spoken today about a largely elected second Chamber, which means more than 50 per cent. If the Government introduced proposals for a second Chamber with a 50 per cent. elected element, they would find considerably more support among Labour Members and, I suspect, across the Floor of the House. As a footnote, I should add that I prefer openness to a closed system; I hope that the system for electing Members of the European Parliament will be changed to an open one at the next election.
Many Opposition Members have raised the issue of the challenge to the Commons from a Chamber with a significant chunk of elected Members. That is a red herring and a simple mistake. Any new Chamber that is created, even if its Members are solely nominated, will start to challenge this one. Anyone, even if only the 20 per cent. share of elected Members, will start to challenge the moral authority and legitimacy of this Chamber, but that does not mean that they will have the power to overturn decisions made in the Commons, the bedrock of our democracy, which is based on constituency membership.
There is no reason why a strengthened Parliament Act could not make clear the exact powers of a secondary, solely revising Chamber without the need to write a new constitution, and differentiate them from those of this Chamber. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House was wrong to say that a majority of two-Chamber Parliaments are not directly or indirectly elected. In fact, 31 of the 58 second Chambers are wholly elected; in none of those Parliaments is there a major problem with rowing between the two Chambers.
In conclusionand only one person in the Chamber could say thisas a former priest in the Church of England, I think that it is time the bishops were given their marching orders. It is unlikely that the Government will include in their proposals any suggestion that they will take on the whole Church of England, but since they have moved away substantially from the Wakeham proposals, which would have created Lords Spiritual of various Christian denominations, it is time to have more courage and get rid of the whole Bench of bishops. The days of the rochet and chimere are surely over.
I hope that the Government take the opportunity to return to the House in the near future with proposals for reform. There is a potent argument in favour of reform. My constituents do not often discuss the House of Lords, but they find it bizarre that the House of Commons can vote several times with enormous majorities on issues such as foxhunting and the age of consent, yet their decisions do not become law. We need to change many aspects of the way that we do business in the House so that we can do it better. However, we need to change the House of Lords as a matter of urgency, and I hope that the Government will give us the tools to do so in the next 12 months.
Mr. Andrew Rosindell (Romford): I make no secret of the fact that I oppose reform of the House of Lords. There is a valid case for retaining the strong traditions that have kept our parliamentary system great for so long, including the hereditary principle on which the monarchy itself is founded.
I agree with many of the previous speakersnot least my hon. Friends the Members for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Mitchell) and for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack)that the Government are proposing not a second Chamber, but more of a House of cronies with more elected politicians, as if we have not got enough already. [Hon. Members: "Resign!"] I was a Tory gain, so I shall not be resigning. Equally, I understand that there appears to be no going back on the idea that we should have an elected element in the newly constituted second Chamber, but I believe that this new element should incorporate as many of the existing traditions of the House of Lords and the British Parliament as possible. It seems to me that the Government's proposal lacks a basis of democracy, popular support and international precedents. Their proposals suggest far more sinister motives: a cynical, electorally motivated desire to produce a second Chamber that will be an enfeebled stooge.
I hope that the House will consider alternative options, one of which I should like to suggest now. I believe that the second Chamber should be reorganised on the basis not only of the traditional elements, but of an elected territorial element. I refer not to any notion of the units designed by Labour for regional government or to the artificial boundaries contrived for the House of Commons and European elections, but to the nation's historic counties. With representatives elected from each of the historic counties, using their traditional boundaries, the second Chamber would restore pride, vitality and diversity to Britain's over-centralised system of government, giving electors local links to those in the second Chamber and possibly rekindling a sense of local patriotism without challenging the representative status of their Members of Parliament. Middlesex, Westmorland, Rutland and Huntingdonshire are just a few examples of the counties that could be restored. What an opportunity we have to do that.
The same basis can be extended to our great cities, such as Birmingham, Glasgow, Canterbury, York, Cardiff, Belfast and, indeed, London. The second Chamber could also give a voice to the overseas territoriesa point that was first mooted by my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) in the 22 November debate on the overseas territories. Why should not Gibraltar, the Falkland Islands and all British people have representation in this, the Parliament of the United Kingdom? I would also include the Crown dependencies. Indeed, territorial representation in a second Chamber would be a counterbalance to the population-based representation of the Commons, as the United States Senate is in relation to the House of Representatives.
A second Chamber giving voice to the nation's historic counties would be democratic, historically relevant and easily understood and supported by the public, and would have international precedents. It would also make geographical sense. I hope that hon. Members and especially the Leader of the House will consider my proposal. I urge a radical rethink of this most important of issues so that we get a second Chamber that is representative rather than one that merely speaks the voice of the Government.
The reasons for not holding a longer debate or a two-day debate such as that in the House of Lords are clear from Labour Members' speeches. The debate is of the Government's choosing on proposals of their choosing and at a time of their choosing. Despite all that, how many Labour Members spoke in support of the White Paper? Twelve Labour Members spoke; not one supported it. That is unprecedented in my experience. Even in the days when Lady Thatcher and John Major proposed measures that were considered unpopular in the Conservative party, there was always an element of support in the Chamber. As the debate progressed, we could see some of the edges of the White Paper's pages turning green.
It is not only Labour Members who are unimpressed with the Government's proposals. Lord Richard, the Prime Minister's first appointed Leader of the House of Lords, has described current proposals as "half-baked" and no more than "tokenism". The reason for producing such a dog's dinner was provided by Lord Stoddart, a Labour politician[Hon. Members: "Former Labour politician."]who complained this week about the Prime Minister's "control freakery".
If today's debate is anything to go by, the Government's preferred method of House of Lords reform is rightly lying on the Floor in tatters. The proposals have been universally condemned. No new Labour project has received such a bad press from across the media spectrum. The Mirror, which is usually an enthusiastic cheerleader for the Labour party, stated on 9 November: