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21 Jan 2003 : Column 261continued
Mr. Griffiths: I do not deny that that can happen, but I am trying to make a point about the opposition to a democratic second Chamber. I do not call it an upper House. In fact, one of the historical problems is that the House of Commons was the junior partner for much longer than it has been the senior partner. The earlier reference to Old Sarum reminded me that the House of Lords owned the House of Commons at one time. We have swept all that away. We have taken about 100 years, from the first Reform Act of 1832 to the legislation under which women over 21 got the vote in 1928, to create something akin to a modern democracy in this country.
A fellow Celt, Lloyd George, was instrumental in significantly reducing the power of the second Chamber, and we now have the opportunity, led by the Leader of the House, who is a fellow Celt, to finish the job that Lloyd George began. Let us set aside the argument about permanent conflict because it is not true. With another Parliament Act, we could ensure that the House of Lords has the job of scrutiny and bringing the Executive to account and, yes, let us ensure that no Minister sits there because that will help that process.
I have also been rather upset by the way in which one or two Members have almost denigrated us in comparison with experts in the other place, which is not fair. There are plenty of experts on a diverse number of subjects on both sides of the House who are as good as any in the upper House. In relation to the experts in the upper House, it is a pity that the Joint Committee did not have an attendance register of the appointed life peers to show us which of those experts were regular attenders and which were not. I am sure that we would find that most of the life peers were not regular attenders. If we want those particular experts, they can be called before Select Committees or Committees considering drafting legislation.
Mr. Griffiths: Yes. With a wholly or mainly directly elected second Chamber, it will be up to the political parties to act responsibly in drawing up their list of candidates to make sure that they achieve representation across the United Kingdom, which will help to reflect the make-up of our land.
Julie Morgan: Does my hon. Friend agree that it is very worrying that those Members who support nomination have implied that that is the only way of achieving good gender representation? Does not he agree that if the political parties want women in Parliament and in power, they are able to ensure that?
The Joint Committee was wrong to suggest 600 Members: about 200 should be an absolute maximum. In that context, the issue of cost should not be a problem. When people talk about the cost of democracy, they are perhaps wavering about the value of democracy. We should push ahead and have a wholly or mainly elected second Chamber and trust in our political parties and our judgment to get the job done. The fact that we have held this debate today shows that we are already making some of the right decisions about bringing the second Chamber into the 21st century.
Mr. Bill Wiggin (Leominster): The most outstanding contribution in this debate has probably been from my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young), who said that this was a question of Parliament against the Executive rather than the Commons against the Lords. I am speaking on the basis that, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." My experience of the Animal Health Bill was that the other place was extremely effective in holding the Government to account and editing the Bill to such an extent that it became quitesadly, only quiteacceptable.
If we elect a second Chamber, the consequence will unquestionably be to introduce competition. If we have elections, we must have something for which the voter must vote. If we elect on the basis of proportional representation, we will introduce compromise to the
Legitimacy is not the key to better government. I agree with the earlier comments that squaring the circle will be impossible. What we need is wisdom. If legitimacy is considered to be more important than wisdom, it will not be long before the Parliament Acts are repealed, and one political party could, after a landslide, occupy both Houses. That would create a risk for the minorities in this country. We must also consider which House provides the best form of government. At the moment, it is clearly this House but, if the system is changed, which House will be the best one to sit in if we want to make a difference?
The most important result of the proposal relates to cost. As Members of Parliament representing our constituents, probably the most significant thing that we can do is to restrict the amount of money spent on the democratic process outside this House. We need to ensure that, when we spend money on elections, it is spent wisely. Establishing an elected upper House would not necessarily provide the wisdom that is so important. It is absolutely vital that, when we are given the choice, we act like Solomon and choose wisdom.
Mr. Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith): I shall speak in support of an elected House of Lords, and, in so doing, I will respond to those arguments that have been made in this House and outside that suggest that we should not have an elected House of Lords because the public would be bored by the prospect and would not turn out in the elections to it. That is a counsel of despair. Of course, we should all be concerned about declining turnouts, but are we accepting that they are a permanent state of affairs in British politics? Are we really suggesting that we could not get the British public to take an interest in elections to the upper House? After all, it will take important decisions that will affect their daily lives. Are we really suggesting that people in Britain are somehow inferior in their intelligence and ability to understand the political process than people in the United States and many parts of Europe who frequently vote for lower Houses, upper Houses, local government, mayors, provincial government, regional government and, sometimes, for many other elected officialsand sometimes also in referendums.
There is a problem with voter turnout, but the question that we should ask is what is wrong with our political process; what is wrong with us and with the system that means that people do not turn out to vote? The answer may not be dramatic. It might not have anything to do with the fundamentals of our democracy. Much of the problem, I suspect, is the result of the way in which we organise elections. We now know from
One sure way of bringing about greater public disillusionment with the political process would be to replace the hereditary House of Lords with an appointed House of Lords that would inevitably, under any system of selection, be dominated by members of the political class and predominantly by members of the metropolitan political class. They might be joined by a few adjuncts from places such as my city, which sometimes tends to function as an offshore island to the metropolitan establishment. That political class would not face the ultimate sanction of removal from the upper House in the way that we all face removal from this Chamber.
I support a House of Lords that is elected by a form of proportional representation. I do not accept the argument that it might present an unreasonable challenge to the authority of this House. I do not think that it is a bad thing to place restraints on a Government who are elected by a minority, as most Governments inevitably are, which sometimes allow the majority public opinion to hold back the minority voices. My hon. Friends who are enthusiastic about the untrammelled power of the House of Commons and a Government based on a minority of the popular support should remember what happened not so many decades ago when a Government with a big majority in the House and a minority of popular support in the country did not act in a way that we found acceptable.