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If we look at what happens in general elections, the fact is that large numbers of Conservative peers are out banging on doors on our behalf. I find nothing wrong at all in saying to those who are members of a political party and who want to sit in a second Chamber that is going to pass laws that they should have one final
gentle brush with the electorate along the lines proposed in the White Paper. That confers a legitimacy that no other process can.
Finally, I want to deal with the other side of the legitimacy coinnamely, the rival mandate argument. I thought that my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) demolished the argument yesterday, so I add but a footnote to what he said. Let us consider the proposition in the White Paper, with 50 per cent. appointed and 50 per cent. elected, and the 50 per cent. elected being replaced a third at a time at European election time. At any one point in time, at most 17 per cent. of the upper House could claim a more recent mandate than that of this House; and of that 17 per cent., some would remain loyal to the Administration. That is hardly a strong platform on which to base a claim for a rival mandate and extra legitimacy over and above this Parliament.
Yet it goes further than that. Members of this House are all elected on the same day on the basis of the same party manifesto; we are elected to the pre-eminent House in Parliament, which sustains the Executive and produces the Prime Minister. We submit ourselves for re-election, which is the countrys verdict on our performance. None of those conditions would apply to the second Chamber as proposed in the White Paper. Elected Members would not be elected all at the same time, but over a longer period. They would have no mandate to rival the mandate of those in this House: indeed, some would be not elected, but appointed. The notion that they could somehow convert themselves into an equally legitimate Chamber that could challenge the authority of this House is strictly for the birds.
In all the proposals for the second Chamber, it is clearly defined as complementary and subordinate to this House. Its only powers are those given to it by this House, which remains pre-eminent. The second Chamber would simply not be ableeven if it wanted tounilaterally to change its powers after reform, any more than it can now.
In common with the hon. Member for Cannock Chase, I find echoes in todays debate of earlier debates in which we heard that the accumulated wisdom of those who govern the country would be lost if the franchise were extended. The good folk of other countries that used to be behind the iron curtain but are now democraciesor, indeed, the good folk of Iraq and Afghanistanmight be surprised to learn that we regard it as a matter of controversy that people should elect those who govern them. This reform is long overdue and, when it has happened, people will wonder what all the fuss was about. We should get on with it tonight.
Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge) (Lab):
It is a privilege to follow the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young), for whom I have a great deal of respect, though I cannot say that I agree with much that he saidapart from his comments about the rather curious position of the Liberal Democrats. The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) descended on the word legitimacy, which was mentioned by a number of
hon. Members, and suggested that the House of Lords was illegitimate because it was not elected. That is a rather curious position for the Liberal Democrats to adopt, given that they want only 80 per cent. of the upper House to be elected, which means, according to their argument, that the other 20 per cent. would be illegitimate. That would lead to one of the conflicts that I foresee with a hybrid House.
I agree very much with the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis), in particular with his central point about whether any changes will add value to the process of governance in this country. We should all consider that crucial point.
I shall support option No. 1 tonight, which calls for a reformed, but non-elected second Chamber. That is not, as some have suggested, a move to support the status quo. The hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) suggested that yesterday, and quoted from a letter that I circulated earlier this week, but he could not have read it very closely because those who signed the letter stated very clearly in bold type:
We are not arguing for the maintenance of the status quo.
The current position is unsustainable. I am in favour of reform and I intend to suggest what I believe to be quite radical changes to the current arrangement. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Frank Dobson) that, in the initial stages, we should be thinking about the powers of the House of Lords. Once we have decided what those powers should be, it would then be the appropriate time to decide on whether we need to change the composition. However, we are where we are.
I am opposed to elections for any part of the House of Lords on the basis that a hybrid Chamber would, as I said, lead to a conflict with some Members claiming legitimacy and others not. I also believe that, as the Father of the House said yesterday, any hybrid Chamber would inevitably lead to a fully elected second Chamber in the long term, which would definitely challenge the primacy of the House of Commons. I cite in evidence of that statement the comments of Lord Strathclyde on the radio this morning, who said that an elected Lords would have the legitimacy to do the job of
stopping bad laws getting through Parliament.
That rather gives the game away, because what Lord Strathclyde might regard as bad lawminimum wage legislation, for examplecould be viewed as a good law by hon. Members in this Chamber. Clearly, Lord Strathclyde believes that elections would legitimise the House of Lords, giving it the power to stop an elected Government carrying out their manifesto commitment.
The system of proportional representation has also been mentioned. It would undoubtedly be used for the election of Members to the upper House, but it is, in fact, just another system of appointmentany list system is a system of appointment by elected party leadersand would lead to a conflict in constituencies between Members of that House and of this Chamber. Some have argued that, apparently, there are no such problems with the election of Members of the European Parliament, but I suspect that that is not true in all cases. Members of the European Parliament are, of course, in a different parliament and we are talking about Members in this Parliament. The proper comparison to be made is that with the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament, particularly in terms of the problems caused by list Members in the constituencies of elected Members. We would encounter the same problem here.
The Leader of the House has prayed in aid public opinion, claiming that it favours elections. As we all know, public opinion depends on the question asked. My hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright) referred earlier to one question that was asked and the curious results that emerged. The public will realise that what is being proposed is the election of at least another 270, perhaps another 500-plus, elected politiciansat an estimated cost, according to this mornings report from Lord Lipsey, of more than £1 billion.
Mr. Straw: May I say that Lord Lipseys estimate is absolute utter balderdash and nonsense? It cannot be the case that a partly elected other place would cost £1 billion when the total cost of this place, according to the most extravagant analysis, is £300 million.
Let me clarify my preferred alternativeit is my personal opinion, which is not necessarily shared by all my right hon. and hon. Friends who signed the circulated letter. I believe that we can satisfy the demands of the Labour party manifesto, which said that Labour believes in a reformed Upper Chamber that
must be effective, legitimate and more representative without challenging the primacy of the House of Commons,
and the demands of the White Paper, which laid down seven principles. Those principles were the primacy of the House of Commons; complementarity of the House of Lords; a more legitimate House of Lords; no overall majority for any partythough I am not sure how that can be guaranteed under any system of electionsa non-political element, although we would certainly not have that in a fully elected House; a more representative House of Lords; and continuity of membership. We can satisfy all those principles and the pledge in the Labour manifesto without moving towards a partly or fully elected second Chamber.
I believe that the hereditary principle should be abolished. If there is any certainty about todays decisions, the proposal to abolish that principle will almost certainly be carried. The system of appointing Members to the House of Lords should be changed to
provide for a much wider franchise so that the Prime Minister does not appoint everybody. The current system is unsustainable. Organisations such as the TUC, the CBI, local authorities and other elected chambers, which play a legitimate and important part in our democracy and have a democratic structure at their centre, should make nominations to the second Chamber. If we had an appointments commission to vet the nominations and ensure adherence to the principles on which the upper House was set up, we could guarantee proper representation of women and ethnic minorities, a broad cross-section of skills and abilities and broad geographical representation, all of which would be much more difficult to achieve under any of the other proposed systems and certainly under the present one.
I believe that we can move towards providing for a second Chamber that fulfils all the criteria in the Labour manifesto and the White Paper, avoids the huge costs of creating another elected Chamber, produces a more representative and legitimate Chamber, which is populated by representatives with broad knowledge and experience, and can carry out the important work that the House of Lords needs to undertake. I believe that that is possible under the new structure that I described.
Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Clelland). He represents the north-east, I come from the north-west and our views on the subject are identical.
I hope that I am not out of order to say to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that perhaps in future, such debates, which last for two days, should not necessarily include speeches from two Front-Bench Members. That applies to speeches by Opposition Front Benchers as well as Government Front Benchers, and, for that matterperhaps I say this with more venomLiberal Democrat Front Benchers. The Liberal Democrat spokesman in todays debate spoke for longer than either the Government or the official Opposition spokesmen. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) does not have to give way to Members if he is claiming that interventions are the reason for the length of his speech.
The hon. Gentleman did not do his case any good by referring to the appointment of former Members of this place to the House of Lords. The Liberal Democrats could be accused of all sorts of things in respect of the people whom they have appointed from this place, including failed politicians or politicians who changed sides, to safe seats in the upper House.
The hon. Gentleman should also examine one or two of the reports of the Modernisation Committee, which the Leader of the House chairs, about Lords messages and the Reasons Committee. Those matters are being discussed by the Modernisation Committee and it does not need an elected element in the House of Lords to put them right.
The hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright) always makes thoughtful speeches. However, I want to pick him up on one point. He referred to a poll that gave the House of Lords great credit. Let me cite another. The ICM poll in 2005 found that 72 per cent. of those questioned thought that the Lords did a good job, meaning very good to fairly good, as opposed to only 23 per cent. who thought that it did a bad job, meaning fairly bad to very bad. The hon. Gentleman chairs an important Committee and I stress to him and other hon. Members that many other Chambers and legislatures would die for such figures. How would election of another set of politicians increase confidence in a second Chamber?
The primacy derives absolutelynot just in partfrom the fact that we are the elected Chamber, and because of that the other House observes conventions.[ Official Report, 6 March 2007; Vol. 457, c. 1427.]
I had the honour to serve on the Joint Committee that dealt with Lords conventions. As I said in an intervention on the Leader of the House yesterday, that Committee stated clearly that if the composition of the House of Lords was changed, another Committee comprising different Members would have to review the position on conventions.
The Father of the House tabled a written question to the Leader of the House asking whether Members of the House of Lords would have the same freedom as Members of the House of Commons to make representations on behalf of their constituents. I shall not go through the majority of the reply, but the last sentence states:
The House of Lords should not duplicate the functions of the House of Commons.[ Official Report, 1 March 2007; Vol. 457, c. 1469W.]
The hon. Member for Tyne Bridge referred to that in a way when he mentioned the complications, problems and conflicts that arise between Members of this House, Members of the European Parliament and especially Members of the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly Members. I have spoken especially to Labour Memberswe have so few Members in Scotlandand they are deeply concerned and often placed in difficult positions by the interference of Members of the Scottish Parliament in matters that relate to the House of Commons.
It is extraordinary to discuss the composition of the House of Lords before we have decided what we want it to do. Surely that is putting the cart before the horse. I believe that we should examine the role of this House first and consider how the House of Commons can hold the Government of the day to account and properly scrutinise legislation. We need to make the role of the Back Bencher more positive and meaningful. It has not been mentionedsurprisingly, not even by the Leader of the Housethat the Modernisation Committee is currently dealing with that matter and also examining how the House might use non-legislative time. That is important. Surely we should put our House in order before we start messing about with the House of Lords.
The House of Lords is exactly what we say we want. It is independent; some of its Members have significant expertise; it has limited power; it does not challenge the House of Commons; and all parties are represented, although none of them has a majority. It does almost everything that we want it to do, but it does not satisfy the test... of whether or not it is democratic.[ Official Report, 6 March 2007; Vol. 457, c. 1434.]
Sir Robert Smith: The hon. Gentleman was a sterling Chairman of the Procedure Committee. However, does he accept that we should not delay reforming the House of Lords because of the time we are taking to try to reform the House of Commons? The two can go ahead as fast as they can in their own right. We should also acknowledge that the way in which election to this House works tends to give the Government an absolute majority and thus control over the business and reform of this House.
Sir Nicholas Winterton: I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman on his last point. He was a member of the Procedure Committee when I chaired it, and still is, I believe. To have credibility, it is critical that the House as a whole takes more control of its time and when and how it debates matters. The Back Bencher is very much an afterthought in this House. The Government control the time of the House and, sadly, the usual channels ensure that that arrangement continues. We should look to this House, and what we want the House of Lords to do, before we deal with the composition of the other place.
Returning to the issue of election, let me quote from a paper produced by Lord Norton of Louth, who holds the chair of government at the university of Hullhe is currently celebrating 20 years of holding that position. He says:
Once one introduces election of a second chamber, the core accountability starts to be challenged.
Election of a second chamber will not necessary render it co-equal with the first.
What it will do, though, is create a basis for the second chamber to claim more powers than the existing House and to employ those powers. Members will have an electoral base and claim to act on behalf of those
John Bercow: I regard that as an absolutely preposterous phantom fear. Can my hon. Friend tell the House the identity of a single Member of the House of Lords who would argue, for example, that a revitalised and elected second Chamber should have control of taxation and expenditure? If there is such a person, surely we are robust enough simply to say no.
Sir Nicholas Winterton:
I have great regard for my hon. Friend, who is one of the more articulate Members of the House, but I am not sure that he has a valid point. We do not know what will happen, because there is not currently an elected House of Lords or an elected element. There is every chance that such matters will develop. Does he give no credit to Lord
Norton, who has held the chair of government at Hull university for 20 years? I would have thought that his view would be respected.
Reference has been made to the cost of the Government proposals by the hon. Member for Tyne Bridge. The Leader of the House leapt up to the Dispatch Box with great alacrity and said that that analysis was absolute nonsense, but he had clearly not read the paper produced by Lord Lipsey. It states:
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