§ 2 pm
§ Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North) (Lab)
Given the number of hon. Members from all parties who have taken the time to be here this afternoon, we can see that reform of the second Chamber is an important issue. Three colleagues have said that they wish to make contributions to the debate and hope to catch your eye, Mr. Cook, as well as the Front Benchers. As we progress, I shall be pleased to take interventions from other colleagues. There is still a great deal of interest in the House about further reform, the need for which is manifest. Although there are many ways forward, few colleagues want to defend the second Chamber's current composition.
The reform that reduced the number of hereditaries was welcome, as are the proposals that may be introduced in the next week or so. However, those proposals must be followed rapidly by further, clear recommendations for reform that will introduce some broader aspects to our second Chamber. On the basis of press reports, it seems that the Government will soon be issuing a Bill on the reform of the second Chamber, and we are all interested to see what it contains.
What might the Bill contain? Judging by the consultation paper that the Government produced in September 2003, we can expect it to do at least two things. First, it will remove the remaining hereditaries. The House of Lords Act 1999 removed all but 92 of the 750 hereditary peers from the House of Lords and did away with the right to inherit a place in the Lords. It is hard to believe that such a relic of feudalism survived as long as it did. It is harder still to believe that the Conservative party, now supposedly the champion of a democratic second Chamber, wanted to leave it the same. The only partisan remark that I shall make today is to refer to the party of my colleague who sits on the side of the Chamber that I am sitting on today, the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve). The issue needs to command consensus in the House and beyond.
§ Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield) (Con)
The hon. Gentleman is being a trifle unfair because the position of the Conservative party was that the arrangements in 1999 should continue until there was a permanent settlement of the reform of the second Chamber. In the absence of a permanent settlement, there was no reason to interfere with the agreement that was reached in 1999. There was no desire to keep an elected element of hereditary peers until the end of time.
§ Mr. Allen
I am reassured by the hon. Gentleman's comments and I hope therefore that a more permanent settlement of the type that I shall float this afternoon will attract the attention of the Conservative party and, indeed, all other parties in the House, so that we make more progress towards a more permanent settlement.
Secondly, the forthcoming Bill is expected to set up an appointments commission on a statutory footing to determine the number and timing of appointments to the House, to select independent Members and to oversee party nominations. The composition and role of the second Chamber will also be affected by the 98WH Government decision that was announced in June 2003 to abolish the post of Lord Chancellor and to establish a new Supreme Court. That will be in another imminent Bill. It represents the beginning of a proper separation of powers that is long overdue and that, contrary to press reports, was not dreamt up overnight; it had a long gestation period. Indeed, I am proud to say that it was part of a package that I drew up for the Prime Minister when he held the shadow Home Secretary brief more than 10 years ago. That is likely to be the programme.
What are the Government's red lines? They seem to be that an upper Chamber will becomposed of a membership appropriate to its revising and deliberative functions, and not duplicate or clone the Commons.It will bepolitical in approach—but not dominated by any one political partyandrepresentative of independent expertise and of the broader community in the UK—but not disrupt the relationship between elected members of the Commons and their constituents.I am sure that I speak for many hon. Members in all parts of the House when I say "Amen" to that.
§ Mr. Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab)
I am interested in Government red lines and I agree with my hon. Friend's thoughts that there should be no structural interference between the people and their democratic representatives. Why then did the Government, our leaders and our party choose to exclude even discussing the possible abolition of the House of Lords, let alone advancing the arguments for and against? That would have solved such problems.
§ Mr. Allen
My hon. Friend is far better connected to the Prime Minister And those at No. 10 than I am, and I am sure that he will make a point of asking them those questions. My hon. Friend the Minister may also touch on those questions in his reply, although I hope that he does only touch on them because I want to persuade Members from all perspectives that going back over the old ground of who said what, why and who voted for which option is a recipe for no progress whatsoever. Although I know the strength of feeling of my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Mr. Hopkins), I could say the same of every hon. Friend. All of us have a perfect answer that would be the right way forward, if only the other 649 Members could see any common sense. However, this is politics and, if we are to make any progress, all of its will have to compromise to a large degree. Otherwise, we could retain our purity and make absolutely no progress.
§ Andrew George (St. Ives) (LD)
I certainly say "Amen" to that. As an enthusiastic democrat, I am keen to apply democracy where it is appropriate. I share the hon. Gentleman's view that we should apply the best possible democratic system to the way in which we elect this Chamber. Does he share my concern that much of the debate about the reform of the second Chamber is about its composition and how that will be achieved? There is an obsession with means rather than ends. Does he not agree that we must concentrate on ensuring that we have neither a lapdog nor a logjam Chamber, but a 99WH Chamber for sober second thought and for holding the House of Commons properly and effectively to account? We should not be too obsessed about how its Members are chosen.
§ Mr. Allen
A great number of difficulties need to be overcome if we are to make any progress whatsoever. The hon. Gentleman has touched on several of them.
We also need to be careful not to try to create, as an answer, a complete package that, which tries to solve the problems all at once. We will make progress only through a step-by-step approach. Whether we address composition first, as I suggest is necessary, or consider something else, we need to be extremely careful that—I come back to this repeatedly—we do not make perfection the enemy of progress. We need to try to achieve consensus, as far as is humanly possibly, on what may be some very modest fist steps, but I hope that such steps will command broader support than has hitherto been the case.
I quoted the Government's approach in their document. Nothing that they said precludes some form of additional democratic determination of the membership. Although the Government's proposals are all welcome and necessary, I would like to consider what the consultation paper refers to as the goal of "representativeness". Rather than having a commission straining to achieve representativeness through meeting a series of quotas set by somebody, would it not be better for all of us to achieve at lea it some of that by a more democratic approach? Certainly it is the historic ambition of the Labour party, the Liberal Democrats and now, as we have heard, the Conservative party to bring an end to an unaccountable, unelected upper Chamber. How can we all work together to achieve that?
The key rule is that the proposal for reform—whatever it is, however modest it is—must command the support of the Executive and the legislature. No one can, on their own, impose a solution on everybody else. The key is to make progress on the basis of agreement between the Executive—by that, I mean Governments of all political complexions—and Parliament. It is no longer possible to make policy in this area by multiple choice, just as it is not possible to make policy on health, education or taking the nation to war by multiple choice.
A year ago, a number of options were put before us. It was no surprise to any of us that none of them gained sufficient support. The Executive were not on side for those proposals and the Prime Minister was in one of his screen-saver modes, if I may put it like that. Many of us felt that the opportunity for reform had been lost, possibly for a generation, and that any serious proposal for change might never come again in our political lifetime. I was very depressed at that prospect. However, the Bill to be proposed this week opens the possibility for progress again. Quite rightly, people are saying "Okay, we can have this change in terms of the hereditaries and perhaps an appointments commission, but where are we going in the near term on the issue?" People are right to ask that question and to request that the Government attach that vision to proceedings after that Bill has been dealt with.
100WH The Bill opens up the possibility for progress, which some of us thought had been lost. Again, I underline that the aim should be progress, not perfection, and achieving a step forward, rather than making claims for a scheme that will never fly.
§ Mr. Clive Soley (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush) (Lab)
My hon. Friend has said many things that I have argued for some time, including the fact that there is not, and never has been, a big bang solution. First, does he accept that we are looking for a policy process that enables us to reach a settlement, rather than the other way round? In my view, the Joint Committee of both Houses ought to be part of that. Secondly, does he accept the principle that, if the Second Chamber is a hybrid one, it has a better chance of being adopted— that is, mixed backgrounds to the way that one gets there? Thirdly, bearing in mind what the Government are doing in devolving power generally, does he accept that there should be a strong reflection of the regions to bring the United Kingdom back into the second Chamber?
§ Mr. Allen
There is a lot to be said for all three points that my hon. Friend, with his great experience, brings to bear. Process is very important. Since this is a matter that involves Parliament's rights and those of the second Chamber, that is a stumbling block that we should avoid. I hope that all of us—me above all—have learned the lessons from previous attempts, and certainly from the process last year, which did not show Parliament at its best, to put it in the kindest of terms. How we move forward in the process that my hon. Friend talks about is extremely important. It is incumbent on my hon. Friend, the Minister and his colleagues to take very careful soundings of all parties in this House to ensure that we can move together—however slowly—to achieve consensus. This is one of those issues where anybody can take their ball away and spoil the party, so the negotiation and the process itself will be important.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush (Mr. Soley) mentioned the Joint Committee. There is a role for that, although I am not sure that it should be the same Joint Committee that we had in February last year with all the connotations that that brings with it. I do not wish to show any disrespect to anyone who served on it, but it was associated with what happened then. However, there should be a joint body. A Joint Committee with all parties involved would make a lot of sense. It would help Ministers to move the process forward and represent all the different views in both Houses on the matter.
§ Andrew George
I feel a strong sense of frustration that a lot of this debate has still concentrated on composition—on how people get into the second Chamber—and has not addressed why we should have the Chamber at all. I would like the hon. Gentleman and the Minister to talk about that. We are debating how people get into that place, but what does it do? What is its purpose? We are arguing about how it will be composed but it must have a purpose and unless we are clear about that we cannot offer advice, or even consider how that Chamber might be best composed.
§ Mr. Allen
I am content to rest on current purpose and current powers. I say that not because I do not want any 101WH change, but because we should not get sucked into the details of how things might change. That would pre-empt the discussions of those who might come into the Chamber on a more legitimate basis. That argument is the same as an argument about devolution—about having a Scottish Parliament or assemblies for the English regions. If we decide in favour of devolution and a particular group of people is elected, it is incumbent on them to make certain decisions. We will often not approve of those decisions—that has been the case with some of the devolved organizations—but once we let go we have to let them take on some responsibilities.
That goes back to John Smith's original concept of introducing an elected element. I worked with him many years ago on that matter. His view was that, if we created a directly appointed element in the second Chamber, which was what was intended at the time, that element would be the engine for further change. However, that is less the case now than in those days. I am going to propose a slightly different way forward.
We can get hung up on specifics and details about changes that are not yet on the cards, so I shall focus on current powers and purpose until we get the one small step forward on the composition of the second Chamber. Other issues will then start to be smoked out. They will be dealt with by a process of reconciliation between the second Chamber, ourselves, and the Government. That is how a proper democracy should operate. I am deliberately avoiding both the hon. Gentleman's question and supplying answers to it, because it is appropriate for those answers to be given not by us but by people a little further down the line.
§ Pete Wishart (North Tayside) (SNP)
I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's attempt to build consensus on the issue but what part would we who believe in the abolition of the House of Lords play in the process? How would our concerns be addressed, and how would we be a part of any consensus?
§ Mr. Allen
I am unsure whether that "we" refers to a party position or a personal one. I have spoken to a number of the hon. Gentleman's colleagues, and I think that he might wish to make it clear that he is expressing a personal view.
I have a strong personal view about direct election. Given the chance, I would pass a Bill tomorrow for 100 per cent. direct election to the second Chamber. That is not going to happen. I can take my ball away and pontificate about that up and down the land and get lots of cheers in halls everywhere, but that will not make a blind bit of difference to the progress of things in this House. That is not what I see as my role in this House. My role is to move the show forward. I would rather move it forward one step than pretend that there is a revolutionary answer that I can institute tomorrow.
The answer to the hon. Gentleman is that I hope that he, like me, sees this in political terms and wants to move his political cause forward as the whole show moves forward in the second Chamber. Under the proposals that I will elaborate on in a moment, that will have tremendous benefits for his political viewpoint and his political party.
§ Mr. Hopkins
My hon. Friend says that a fully elected Chamber is not going to happen. Is not the reason for 102WH that simply because our Government, and possibly a future Government of a different colour, do not want a fully elected second Chamber? Yet, if it were an option, the majority of the population and of MPs would vote for it.
§ Mr. Allen
I hope that my hon. Friend, knowing me as he does, will not expect me to take second place to anybody in respect of the efforts that I put in last year to create a wholly elected, second Chamber. My credentials are clear. However, I have looked again at the six-way car wreckage that we saw last February, and I feel that we cannot reconstruct a Rolls-Royce from the nuts and bolts that are littered on the motorway. Where we are is where we are. We need to get together a coalition to ensure that we move the show on a little further than before. Ultimately, who knows what might happen? However, my immediate goal is to make the second Chamber something that more of us in British politics can be proud of than are at the moment.
§ Mr. Soley
I intervene on my hon. Friend only because of the last few exchanges—I remain here to comment on them at even greater risk to my other appointments.
Hon. Members, and the Liberals in particular, should bear it in mind that there are two cases for having the second Chamber. One is that it is a revising Chamber and the other is that it is a backstop to an over-weaning Government. On that score, when my hon. Friend and some of the Liberals talk about a fully elected Chamber, I ask them to remember that democracy and freedom are not the same things. Democracy is a majority, and a majority can be pretty brutal to smaller groups—the Liberals ought to be aware of that danger. The trick is to get the balance right between democracy and protecting minorities.
§ Mr. Allen
My hon. Friend speaks wisely. The current second Chamber is a backstop. Through the Parliament Act 1911, the second Chamber can prevent the Government in the first Chamber from extending their own life. Some of us would like that backstop power to be extended to things such as human rights or the ability of local government to be constitutionally independent of the first Chamber. I make no bones about the powers that exist, but these are arguments that we need to have with our colleagues when we can genuinely call those in the second Chamber our colleagues. That is no disrespect to the hard-working Members of the current second Chamber.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush made the point about the need for a hybrid version. One of the lessons that I have the humility to say I have learned is that a 100 per cent. Solution—whether it is all elected, all nominated, or all singing, all dancing—is not the way forward. If we are 103WH to make progress, we must ensure that there is some form of hybridity and joint action that is acceptable to all those who have an interest.
The final point that my hon. Friend made was about the regions. It is insulting that there seems to be a sense that people from the north-east, the east midlands or anywhere else—whether Scotland, Wales or any of the English regions—do not have a valid contribution to make. I do not wish to talk in the language of class warfare about people who have been born into certain situations. I would rather be positive, look at the people around and the talent available in the nations and regions, and say, "Let's put these people to work."
What fantastic brain-power we have in our regions. We know what great strides have been made in Scotland, Wales and the regions of England, even given the partial devolution settlement ill the past few years. If we put those people to work, they will be tremendous assets not only to our economic system, but to our political system. What variety they could lend. What sensitivity and experience they could bring to issues, based on their localities and areas. No Government should stand accused of wasting that talent.
We must accept that the Executive dominate our Parliament and that, although we can influence Government, without Government support no proposal will make progress. As I have said, it is impossible to create that proposal out of the wreckage of last February. The percentage gain is finished. Fully elected versus fully appointed is fully expired. The effort has to move on. In both Houses, an alliance has to be created between the legislature and the Executive and within parties to unify all those who care about the issue.
I was encouraged to read the words of the Lord Chancellor last week. He said:I am genuinely, personally very committed to seeing real progress on the Lords made beyond this bill"—that is, the Bill to abolish the rest of, the hereditaries—"and there is widespread support in government for that.He said that that Billis not the fundamental reform…I do rot exclude any option, but the one that needs particular examination is indirect elections.That involves talking not about a percentage of the second Chamber, but a real number of, let us say, 300 people whom we would want in the second Chamber. It involves not a direct election, but an indirect one; not the perpetuation of a metropolitan elite, but recognition of the need to represent the diversity of all the regions and nations of our country. We need not a rival to the Commons, but a complement and a partner, with sufficient legitimacy to command public respect, but not so much as to threaten the first Chamber. Those with good will towards a reformed second Chamber should encourage the Government to think further along those lines and encourage them in their search for consensus.
The Leader of the House recently said:What I favour is the secondary mandate. The same votes cast in general elections would go into a regional pool".He seemed positive about that possibility. Under that system, there would still be one election to Parliament: there would be a general election. However, the votes 104WH cast, as well as determining who was returned to the Commons, would count towards determining some Members of the second Chamber.
I am sure that the following figures are etched on everyone's memory, although I did not recall them—I was helped out on them just before the sitting started. At the last election, 43 per cent. voted Labour, 31 per cent. voted Conservative, and 18 per cent. voted Liberal. I do not have the breakdown of figures for Scotland and Wales; I hope that colleagues will forgive me. They will know what the percentages were better than I do.
§ Andrew George
I fear that the second Chamber would be the cause of logjam if its make-up were politically opposed to that of the first Chamber, and a lapdog that rubber-stamped things if, politically, it shared the views of the first Chamber. If the hon. Gentleman follows that line, he will certainly propose a situation in which the second Chamber is likely to prove a lapdog to the Government. I have some serious concerns about that proposal from that perspective. The second Chamber should be holding the primary Chamber to account. It should be scrutinising what the first Chamber is doing, and providing independent sober second thoughts.
§ Mr. Allen
The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point. That is an obvious worry, to which we have given considerable thought. I hope that he will join us in thinking through the matter, so that we do not get the very problem that he has highlighted. That is the last thing that I want. I will leave the more detailed explanations to those who have been more intimately involved than I. However, there are many ways through that problem. A certain number of the Members of the current. Chamber could be retained, for example. The election could be staggered, so that a percentage of the votes came from this one, the previous one or even further back, depending on how complicated one wished to make it.
§ Mr. Stinchcombe
Does my hon. Friend accept that one of the advantages of the secondary mandate system is that no single party could ever have majority control of the second Chamber? If the party of the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) were returned to power, that system would ensure that for the first time in history his party would not have a majority in both Houses when in power.
§ Mr. Allen
It is unusual for one party to get more than 50 per cent. of the electorate's vote under any system. One of the advantages of the proposed scheme is that, although my party has devolved power to areas in which we have been fairly sure that there would be a Labour majority under the first-past-the-post system, devolution has led to shared power in more instances than not. The proposal could provide a coalition that was not Labour-based for the first time, if one looked at 105WH it like that, in a generous light. My hon. Friend is right and I hope that hon. Members such as the hon. Member for St. Ives (Andrew George), who feel passionately about the democratic agenda, will lend us their expertise to ensure that people are reassured about where the project could lead.
I know that people will chip in later to fill out the detail if they catch your eye, Mr. Cook. This proposal is not cast in stone. It is a possible way forward that might command consensus. I ask Members not to take me too literally. To continue the example, each region and nation could have 25 seats, which could be allocated to the parties on the basis of the percentage of votes cast for them. A national top-up list would also figure in the model to reach a more precise proportionality. lf there were 25 seats, and one seat were allocated for every 4 per cent., there would be a bit of leeway or leftover that a national list would help to bring as close to proportionality as possible. A variety of rules for the regional lists could be added; for example, alternation between male and female candidates, closed lists, open lists —there are many possible options.
There are many disadvantages to the scheme. Last February, I could have come up with many such disadvantages if we had talked about two options: that proposal and a directly elected system. Colleagues who supported other options could have done the same. This is a wonderful game because there are 100,000 ways to say no, but probably only one way to say yes. That proposal might be the basis of one way in which we could all say yes to progress on the issue of the second Chamber.
When I was a Front-Bench spokesman in the then shadow Home Secretary's team, I served my time on the Plant commission, which Labour Members will remember. I know that there is no such thing as a perfect system, and that is what has decided my pragmatic view that there are different systems appropriate for different circumstances and institutions. Let nobody look for the perfect answer. Let us try to provide a progressive answer.
§ Mr. Hopkins
I accept that finding a perfect answer to satisfy us all will be extremely difficult. However, does my hon. Friend accept that there are certain dangers that should be avoided in any system? The main danger is that the second Chamber could become simply a place of patronage and control from Downing street—it could become no more than a Downing street cipher.
§ Mr. Allen
Yes, I do. I agree that we must be aware of that great danger. If we are to show good will to the proposal, we must all be involved and ensure that that eventuality does not happen. However, the biggest danger is that in search of the perfect answer we retain a system of appointees in the second Chamber, either because of past prime ministerial patronage or future appointments commission patronage, believing that the people of our country do not have the wisdom or maturity to be involved in that process. The perception, rightly or wrongly, that that attitude is displayed in our political society is a reason why fewer people participate in our democracy. That worries colleagues in all parts of 106WH the House. The proposal may help to restore confidence and make people say, "Yes, my region has a voice in the second Chamber."
§ Mr. Grieve
Is there not a danger in the interesting model that the hon. Gentleman is proposing that a degree of democratic accountability will not exist? If people are selected from regional lists put together by political parties, where is the extra layer of democratic choice?
§ Mr. Allen
We must be aware of all the dangers that the hon. Gentleman refers to, and we must eliminate them through discussion and consultation to ensure that indirect election is as democratic as possible. For example, the process could include primaries, which his party is experimenting with. It could involve all sorts of possibilities. It is incumbent on us to ensure that we do not end up with a system that flies in the face of what we are trying to achieve through reforming the second Chamber. We must all compromise to make progress. Taking our ball away and protecting our pet scheme from adulteration is the easiest option.
I want to underline the positive elements in the proposal. There are many advantages. Every vote cast would have a value and would be recognised, possibly for the first time in a parliamentary election. That would reduce one of the negative aspects of the first-past-the-post system, which should not apply to a second Chamber. The proposal would rule out the need for separate elections to a second Chamber. I hope that it will also ensure that there is no ambiguity about the primacy of the House of Commons.
The proposal would provide balanced regional and national representation, which is absent from the upper Chamber. Only two of my colleagues, one of whom is the Lord Chancellor have an east midlands connection in the second Chamber. That is an outrage and should not continue. The Lord Chancellor is an able and eminent individual but he does not, sadly, carry the whole region with him when he speaks in his official capacity in the second Chamber. We want other colleagues to help him while he devotes himself to government.
The means by which each region determines the allocation of candidates could be decided by that region. The Scottish Parliament might want to nominate candidates. There might be primaries of registered supporters in the east midlands. There could be drawing of lots in the north-east. In other words, we should respect whatever method a region or nation chooses to deliver its Members, to the second Chamber. Let those people decide. In the first instance, it may be in order to ensure a sense of direction; perhaps a closed system might be the model. I should like to float the idea that our regions and nations must be trusted to agree with their people their own system of indirect election to the second Chamber.
This is probably the last chance that we shall have before the next general election to make some serious progress on the issue; it may be the last for a generation. I hope that the Minister will respond positively about departmental thinking on the matter. If he gives any word of encouragement, I hope that he will consider a serious process of pre-legislative scrutiny involving all 107WH the different views that are represented in both Houses, Government, Parliament, and the country. The process should be on-line, so that a serious, considered, rational debate can take place in the atmosphere of pre-legislative scrutiny rather than in standing Committee. It could take place under a newly constituted Joint Committee of both Houses, with wide representation but without any of the burdens of the work that was so heroically done by the previous Joint Committee before February last year. Thereafter, that Committee should be requested by Government to distil one option into a draft Bill, which could be put out h further consultation in this House and beyond. It would then be required, like a normal Bill, to come back to this House for a yes or a no.
We have all learned a lot of lessons in recent years, which has been difficult in many respects. However, I hope that the experience gained will enable us all to make a serious contribution to what we all want—a second Chamber that works well for its incumbents and for Parliament and that, above all, works well and enjoys the respect of the people who helped to put some of the people into it.
§ Mr. Frank Cook (in the Chair)
Order. During these Adjournment debates in this Chamber, it is conventional to start the first of the three winding-up speeches 30 minutes before conclusion. That means I have to call the spokesman for the minor Opposition party in 17 minutes. I ask Members, who want to speak or to intervene to bear that in mind when they make interventions or contributions or respond to them.
§ Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge) (Lab)
I shall try to be brief. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) on securing this important and timely debate and on bringing the issue to the fore again. In the Labour party manifesto at the last election—I do not have it with me—we said that we wanted to produce a more democratic and more representative second Chamber. I wholeheartedly agree with that, and I was pleased to hear my hon. Friend's remarks, because I think that we are coming together on the issue.
There was a bit of a knee-jerk reaction to that manifesto promise, and hon. Members immediately thought that if the second Chamber was to be more democratic and more representative, it must be elected. That is, in my view, not necessarily so. A more democratic Chamber could be obtained simply by getting rid of the hereditary peers. It would then be entirely appointed by the Prime Minister, but, as he is elected, it would be more democratic than before. We can certainly have a more democratic; Chamber without having direct elections, although I am not advocating that policy.
The Government's proposals for an appointments commission are in breach of the manifesto, because that method of appointing people to the House of Lords is not a more democratic solution. Without taking the directly elected option, a more democratic solution would be to widen the responsibility for making appointments. A democratic appointments system would give us a better and more balanced House.
108WH An important question was asked: what is the second Chamber for? We should have started with that question before we came to the issue of how to get Members into the second Chamber. I liked what the hon. Member for St. Ives (Andrew George) said from the Liberal Benches—the second Chamber should provide sober second thoughts, which is a good way of putting it, but he also said that the second Chamber should hold the Executive to account. There we part company.
§ Mr. Clelland
Yes, holding the Executive to account is a job for Parliament, not the second Chamber.
The second Chamber should be advisory and deliberative, and it should add value to our system of government. Elections cannot guarantee a Chamber composed of people who would add value. If people are to advise, deliberate and help the House of Commons in its work, they need experience, expertise and knowledge to be able to do so, but, as we know, the process of election does not necessarily guarantee that they have those qualities. A lot of people in the House of Commons are able and talented, a lot are not so able and talented, and a lot think that they are able and talented.
We need a system that would guarantee that the second Chamber was made up of people who were respected by the country and by the House of Commons for their views. How can we get such a system? If we held elections, we could end up with another Chamber like the House of Commons, which is full of teachers and lawyers, because there is no guarantee of a good spread of expertise and knowledge. Elections produce the candidates that the political parties decide to throw up; there is not necessarily a good balance of people. To achieve that, a planned system is needed. I strongly agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North, who said that we need to ensure that we have good representation.
We need a second Chamber that represents the whole United Kingdom. As my hon. Friend said, very eloquently, the current second Chamber certainly does not do that. The devolved assemblies and the English regions should decide whether to appoint or elect representatives to the second Chamber, which would give a good geographical balance. Local government, too, should be represented in the second Chamber.
Political parties are an important part of our democracy, but that does not mean that we are entirely reliant on elections. Many voluntary organisations, professional bodies, business organisations and trade unions play an important and legitimate role in a democracy, but they are not directly elected by the people. Those organisations should also be represented in the second Chamber.
The secondary mandate that was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Stinchcombe) would mean the political parties deciding on their representation in the second Chamber, but I do not agree that it should be composed entirely of politicians, as a broader expertise is needed.
We can produce a more democratic, representative second Chamber that adds value to the political process by including more people in the system of appointments. 109WH If we take that route, or a combination of my thoughts and those of my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North, we can achieve a consensus that will move the issue forward and result in a second Chamber that commands respect and adds value to the political process.
§ Mr. Paul Stinchcombe (Wellingborough) (Lab)
Thank you, Mr. Cook, for allowing me to contribute to this important debate.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) on securing the debate. He and I recognise that the imminent publication of a Bill to remove all the hereditary peers from the second Chamber presents us with a political challenge and a constitutional opportunity of historic importance. The challenge is simple: it is to prevent the second Chamber from becoming a House of cronies. The opportunity is even greater: it is to achieve what so many for so long have considered unachievable—building a consensus across a divided House of Commons on how properly to complete House of Lords reform and provide this country, with its nations and regions, the second Chamber that it needs. It needs a second Chamber that is both more democratic and more legitimate than today's, but not so democratic or so legitimate that it can challenge the primacy of the Commons.
If we are to start that process of consensus building, we must find ways of reconciling the various factions that divided the House of Commons last February. That requires us in turn to not only understand but respect the reasons why hon. Members voted as they did in rejecting first a directly elected House, then an appointed House and then a hybrid House that was partly directly elected and partly appointed.
I voted for elections. Those who voted against a directly elected second Chamber last year did so not because they are not democrats. First, they wanted to protect the supremacy of the Commons, which is democratic and is supreme precisely because it is democratic. Secondly, they wanted to prevent our parliamentary democracy from being brought into disrepute by Parliament imposing on an election-weary electorate another tier of elections that they would not turn out to vote in.
If those who voted for an appointed Chamber did so because they considered themselves democrats, so more surely did those who voted for a directly elected second Chamber. As democrats, they could see no point in reforming the House of Lords unless it was to make it more democratic. They believe that, although democracy may not equal legitimacy, it at least confers it. It affords two vital constitutional protections: government by consent and government by representatives.
Indeed, it is precisely because the hereditary peers are an affront to democracy that we are soon to be asked to vote to remove them. But as soon as we vote to remove the hereditary peers we are confronted by the next problem: what to do about the life peers, who are also undemocratic. They are there only by reason of patronage. They have never been voted in and they do 110WH not have the legitimacy that only election can confer. That is why hon. Members voted against an all-appointed Chamber
Hon. Members also voted against a hybrid Chamber. They did so because that may be the worst possible outcome in many respects. The unelected element would still remain illegitimate, and the elected element might also be illegitimate if the turnout was so low that the whole process was tainted in the eyes of the public. More fundamentally, we have to ask ourselves whether a stable constitutional settlement can ever be based upon a Chamber of Parliament in which Members have different legitimacies. Many of us believe that stability demands that all Members have the same standing and that none is more legitimate than any others. A hybrid House is not an answer, but a fudge, and two wrongs rarely make a right; they often simply make two wrongs.
When this House considered on 4 February last year the options for composing the second Chamber that the Joint Committee put before it—a directly elected, an all-appointed and a hybrid House—it rejected each for reasons of principle. We may not agree with all those reasons, but there were objections of principle to all those options. It was the fault of the Joint Committee that that happened. I served on the Joint Committee and I assume my fair share of the blame for that. We allowed the debate to become too narrow. We reduced complex constitutional issues—primacy, legitimacy and participation—to a mere set of choices between varying proportions of Members elected and Members appointed, all apparently plucked from the air. We gave Members the opportunity to restate their prior positions, but in truth, we never gave them an opportunity to reconcile them.
If we are ever to build consensus out of the wreckage to which my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North referred in respect of the February votes, that is precisely what we have to do. We have to ask one critical question that we have never asked ourselves before—not what proportion of MSCs we elect, but how we elect them. He is absolutely right. We need to devise an electoral model that will be democratic, but that will also ensure through the nature of the election itself that the second Chamber neither duplicates the composition of the Commons nor receives a mandate from the electorate that allows it to challenge its primacy. That must mean that we need to develop a model of indirect elections for the second Chamber.
Under my hon. Friend's proposed model of secondary mandate. Members of Parliament would continue to be elected by a first-past-the-post system and enjoy the primacy that only direct elections can confer, but each vote cast at the general election would carry with it a secondary mandate for a second Chamber. As he says, that Chamber could be could be 300 strong, with each of the 12 regions and nations of the UK having 25 seats. It would be composed by distributing the seats in direct proportion to the votes cast for each party in the general election in each of the 12 nations and regions. As well as being a democratic expression of political preference, the secondary mandate would be just that—secondary—in conferring a legitimacy one step removed from those elected by the first-past-the-post system. As such, Members of the second Chamber could never challenge the prime mandate of directly elected MPs.
111WH As my hon. Friend also noted, the secondary mandate would underscore the primacy of the Commons because it would encourage the electorate to re-engage with the democratic process by voting at the general election. That is crucial, and it is the unique selling point of the system. Turnout is threatening to fall to American levels of non-participation, and this model is the only one that encourages people to vote in our general elections. Rather than add another tier of elections to an election-weary electorate when they are increasingly ignoring the elections that we already have, we should simply add weight to the votes that are already cast.
The ballot paper would look the same as it does today. Only one mark would be made, against the candidate of one's choice. As present, only the votes cast for the winning candidate count. I voted in Beaconsfield in 1997 for the Labour candidate, and it did not count. In the future, all votes would count, and all would lead to representation, including regional representation to cure the appalling ill that has been referred to—government of the nation not by the nation, but by the south-east instead.
§ Mr. Grieve
Only one cross would be made on the ballot paper. Is not the implication of making that cross that the elector would be sanctioning the move into the upper House of a group of people who were selected only by the party of the MP for whom he or she votes?
§ Mr. Stinchcombe
I will come to that point after I have completed the point on representation.
The proposed system would also lead to proportional representation, so that no single party could ever command the majority of the House of Lords or second Chamber, as I would call it. It would also be far more pluralistic, with smaller parties able to find their voice through the democratic process rather than the engineered means of patronage and appointment.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North said, no system is perfect. There will be problems with the secondary mandate model. As the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) suggested, the lists will be closed, but that does not mean that they will not be democratic or transparent. We could have primaries and ensure that the party members choose their list and its order, with each member having one vote. We could re-engage people at an earlier stage with participatory democracy.
Let me deal with another potential worry. The system might mean that the British National party has more people standing and gains more representation. However, we should beat the BNP through democracy rather than run away from democracy because of it. Let us see what candidates it is forced to field if it wants to stand in every constituency in a region, let us see how many articulate skinheads it can find and let us expose it for what it is under the spotlight scrutiny that only elections can bring. Let us watch its protest votes dissipate to the other, more respectable parties, including the United Kingdom Independence party or socialist parties, and let us see it waste its money on lost deposits as it is finally defeated.
I accept that no system is perfect. The secondary mandate system is not perfect, but perfection should be the enemy only of the bad and not of the good. The 112WH secondary mandate system is not just good; it is the best that we have on offer. It is simple and meets all our objectives. It underscores the primacy of the Commons, encourages people to vote at the general election and would make a second Chamber more legitimate than it has ever been while denying it the equal authority of the Commons. It secures regional and independent representation, pluralism and the continued presence of the experts needed to make the Chamber effective.
Most importantly, such a system would bridge the divide that was so evident in the Commons in February last year, so that we can finally move on and go into the next election with more to offer the British people than a House of cronies. As Lord Falconer said, this model will fly.
§ Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall) (LD)
I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Stinchcombe), because of his thoughtful contributions both to the debate this afternoon and to the Joint Committee. I hold up my hand as one of the other guilty persons on that Committee for failing to identify clear choices on which the two Houses could have taken a view on 4 February last year.
I want to make it clear that my Liberal Democrat colleagues in both Houses are determined to do everything they can to assist the Government in fulfilling what they said in their election manifesto. As other hon. Members have pointed out, Labour Members of Parliament were elected at the last election on a manifesto commitment to make the second Chamber more democratic and more representative. As several hon. Members have said this afternoon, that task still remains to be completed.
I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen), not just for his speech today, but for the single-minded way that he has worked to try to find practical and pragmatic ways in which we can move forward. However, my colleagues in both Houses and I do not believe that we can make real progress unless from now on we have a road map. It is not good enough to stick with the Bill that is to be published later this week.
As the hon. Member for Nottingham, North made clear, that legislation will provide a transitory solution, which will not be sustainable in the longer term. As a responsible and constructive Opposition, we therefore feel that unless we can clearly see the continuum and momentum thereafter, it would be wrong for us to support that Bill in its current form.
As the Minister will know, my colleagues and I have suggested to the Secretary of State that there should be not only that Bill, but a further draft Bill soon to cover the next stages. We cannot complete the process for this stage of the continuum unless we have that draft Bill for pre-legislative scrutiny now. By "now", I mean not next week, but certainly within the next few weeks, so that we can make real progress this Session—although, of course, that Bill could be carried over into the next Session.
I read the proceedings of a debate in this Chamber in which the hon. Member for Nottingham, North led on the issue of pre-legislative scrutiny. This issue is a classic 113WH case in which that would help to narrow the options and to reach consensus between and within the parties as to the way forward that he and other hon. Members have been promoting this afternoon. Without that, the Government cannot rely on Liberal Democrat support to remove the remaining hereditaries.
The tinkering legislation that we expect to be published this week will almost certainly fail, either during consideration in Committee, which must take place on the Floor of the House because the measure is constitutional, or in the House of Lords. Without a road map, I believe that the Bill is doomed, in one House or another. I cannot believe that the Government, in the dying days of this Parliament, would try to use the Parliament Act to push through, against the other parties and some of their own Members, a temporary solution to what is a long-standing problem. I hope that the Secretary of State is listening to the Liberal Democrats because, as he knows, we may not have the swing votes on many issues in the House of Commons, but we often do in the other place, unreformed as it is.
The option of an all-appointed Chamber was the one major casualty of the parliamentary pile-up that occurred on 4 February last year. Although that vehicle was driven by the Lord Chancellor, with a co-driver from No. 10, it left the motorway with sensational results and disappeared out of sight. It would be ridiculous if the House of Commons were now to ignore that vote and, by voting through this temporary Bill without any promise of further reform, ended up with an all-appointed House.
§ Mr. Clelland
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that what was defeated was not necessarily the principle of appointment, but the status quo?
§ Mr. Tyler
I would not agree. It was quite clearly put to the House by the Leader of the House and by Members on both sides that an all-appointed option was not a goer—and it left the motorway.
I should also say in response to hon. Members who mentioned abolition that a unicameral system also disappeared without trace—that vehicle was a complete write-off. The only vehicles with some semblance of continued existence were those heading for a hybrid solution. I am not wedded to a figure of 60 or 80 per cent. All I am convinced of is that if we are to move forward, the Government must make a firm proposition for a form of election.
I support the view, which has been expressed during the debate, that we must examine the different forms of election. I say to the hon. Member for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Clelland) that that does not include the election of interest group representatives. That would take us back to 1832, as it is the legitimacy that supposedly existed for the pre-1832 Parliament in which the landowning interests were thought to be the only important sectional interests in the country that deserved representation.
I believe that Cornwall then had more seats than Lancashire. Indeed, in my constituency, Bossiney had a seat, which had previously been represented by Sir Francis Drake—one of my illustrious predecessors. That hardly constituted legitimacy or legitimate 114WH representation. Therefore, we must discard the idea that somehow democracy can be served by having a better system of appointment by different interest groups. I think that it was the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) who said in the House that in this country talking of democratic appointment means election and anything else would be a misuse of the phrase.
We need to make real progress. I believe that there is good will in the Government. All the signs that we have seen in recent weeks from the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs—in this capacity he is the Secretary of State as far as I am concerned, rather than the Lord Chancellor—from No.10 and from the Leader of the House are that there is an opening now.
I endorse the comments made by the hon. Member for Nottingham, North that if we do not take this opportunity, it will be lost until after the general election. Imagine the situation if the three parties produce their manifestos for the next election with this issue unresolved and no progress made. It would be ludicrous. I say to the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) that it would be a great irony if the Conservative party which is split down the middle on the issue, were to occupy the moral high ground of being able to say to the Government, "Look, you are not doing anything like what was in your manifesto, as with all your other manifesto promises. Maybe you have torn them up." Surely we can persuade No. 10 and the Minister that this issue is something on which real progress can be made.
I turn to the issue of different forms of election. There is merit in examining the proposals that have come forward from Mr. Billy Bragg, and from hon. Members present, for some form of election that is different from that to the Commons. I have come round to the view of the different parts of the United Kingdom having some equality of representation. That would distinguish between the two Houses very effectively. If Cornwall were to become a region, I would expect 25 Members for Cornwall. Whatever the appropriate way to do it, there is merit, as in the American model, in giving precise regional and national representation in the second Chamber to distinguish it from the first.
We must recognise the fact that there is concern over primacy and supremacy in this House. I accept that, and it is why the votes last year must be taken into account. A Government who refuse to take note of the fact that the House of Commons voted against an all-appointed second Chamber—just as the vote went against its abolition—would be a Government who were trying to undermine the primacy and supremacy of the House of Commons. I do not believe that to be the case, so distinguishing between the two Houses is a helpful way forward.
I am convinced that Members from all parties will want to be involved in the process. The right way for that process to take place is within Parliament. We have had enough consultation papers; we have had enough royal commissions It is time to have some concrete proposals to narrow the options down. Clearly, the option that I have referred to needs to be involved.
I have some doubt as to whether secondary mandate or indirect election is the precise description that we should adopt, because "mandate" implies a mandate 115WH not just for the individual constituency representative, but for a Government. For that reason, I have concerns about the suggestion that there should be only one ballot paper and one vote, and that those should be counted for both purposes. Once someone is in a polling booth, there is merit in having two ballot papers, or two sections to the ballot paper, so that one would vote for the Government one wanted and the constituency Member on one paper, and for the second Chamber representative of the party on the other.
My speaking time is up. I am delighted that the debate has taken place this week because it gives the Government a great opportunity to come clean and tell us what they intend to do.
§ Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield) (Con)
The length of the contribution of the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) does not suggest that there is a fixed view about the best way in which to approach the problem.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) on securing the debate. I repeat that he has been assiduous, not only in respect of today's debate, but in promoting the reform of the second Chamber, something that he believes in passionately.
I start from the view expressed by the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush (Mr. Soley), who I am sorry to see has left the Chamber. In an intervention, he asked about the purpose of a second Chamber. It is obvious that it is not to achieve pure democracy. If we were in a state of pure democracy, we would be voting annually on whether to execute the Minister on the basis of whether he had succeeded in fulfilling his mandate and promises over the previous 12 months, which would be along the lines of the Athenian model. Mercifully, we do not do that.
We have parliamentary government. The democratic element introduced to it is the first-past-the-post system under which we are elected and the electorate's opportunity to express their view every five years. The purpose of the second Chamber is to revise and preserve freedoms, and freedom and democracy are not necessarily the same thing. Democrats can be oppressors just as much as tyrants. I start from that premise. Speaking personally, if we consider whether the present House of Lords and, for that matter, the House of Lords before the hereditary peers departed, has succeeded in fulfilling that purpose, it seems to me that is rather good at doing its job.
There is no overall majority in the second Chamber. There must be some movement among people of different political allegiances in corning together if the Government are to be defeated. As we have seen consistently during the past year or two, it has been successful in getting them to think again about important matters. Moreover, it is obvious to those who believe in a unicameral legislature that we do not have the time to carry out proper legislative scrutiny, let alone revision. The hon. Member for Nottingham, North, with whom I have had the pleasure of sitting on many a Committee, knows that the House of Commons is still not succeeding in properly scrutinising legislation. It would be disastrous to believe that we can wave a magic wand and make the second Chamber disappear.
116WH Can the second Chamber be improved? At the outset of the last election, the Conservative party's commitment was to a mainly elected second Chamber. I suspect that that is the majority view within my party, although, as was rightly said, others hold different views, as they do on the Labour Benches. Indeed, a diverse view has been expressed this afternoon. 'There is a respectable argument for saying that we can have a wholly appointed second Chamber, although if we follow that route it will be difficult to justify current levels of prime ministerial patronage. Indeed, we would have to become reliant on something similar to a judicial appointments commission, such as a Lords appointments commission, set down with parameters enshrined in statute determining what it is supposed to do.
We could argue that such parameters would ensure that there was no overall majority, that the Chamber was broadly representative of the make-up of political parties nationally, and that there was an independent element. We could introduce other measures. such as a ceiling on the total number of Members of the House of Lords, allowing political parties to put forward their nominees without guaranteeing that they would be accepted, and setting a date for retirement from being an active Member. Those are perfectly logical suggestions. Another option is to have a broadly elected second Chamber. I shall return to that because it is important. The hon. Member for Nottingham, North put forward a variant of that proposal.
On the hybrid arrangements. I was a little surprised to hear the comments of the hon. Member for North Cornwall because it has always struck me, from both anecdotal conversation and what I heard in the House when we debated this last year, that a hybrid solution—having a substantial mix of elected and appointed people—is the option that commends itself to the fewest people. It raises enormous difficulties about the legitimacy of the appointed as against the elected element. and it would turn out to be undesirable. However, if we were to have a largely elected second Chamber, I can appreciate that there might be an argument for having a mechanism for introducing a very small top-up of independent appointees, or even of people co-opted by the House, to add certain areas of expertise.
§ Mr. Grieve
The voting that took place in the Chamber was quite mysterious and illustrated the diversity of views. However, it is increasingly not my impression—certainly the more I look at the current make-up of our colleagues—that the hybrid option commends itself. Many Members of all parties might have taken some pleasure in voting for entirely contradictory options one after the other because they did not want any great progress to be made. The hon. Gentleman might want to speculate on that, or to look at the voting figures in that debate.
117WH I want to do justice to the hon. Member for Nottingham, North's contribution by addressing his proposal for indirect elections. I hope that he will forgive me if I deliver something of a critique. The proposal is perfectly reasonable because it protects the supremacy of the House of Commons. What bothers me, however, is that it is a recipe for a House of placemen. If there are closed lists, the people who are put on them will be entirely at the behest of the political parties who put them there.
I noted with interest the suggestion that parties might, with great generosity, hold primaries or have other systems, but I do not understand how Parliament can impose that on them. My experience of politics suggests to me that if parties are left to their own devices there will be closed lists, with the most loyal placemen rewarded with a position at the top.
We will end up with an unsatisfactory solution if we pursue that route. Although it fulfils the hon. Gentleman's objective, which I share, of providing a greater degree of public choice, it also withdraws that because when closed lists are introduced the public have no choice. We know from European elections that that lack of choice is reflected in low turnouts. When people come to vote on election day and they put their cross next to the person they want to elect as their MP, they will not pay a blind bit of notice to the list or to who is going into the upper House, or whatever we happen to call it. The electors will then complain that those people are unrepresentative of their views, and those people who have been elected will know that they are beholden to no one except their political party for putting them back on top of the list when the next election comes around. That is the reason for my rooted objection to the proposal.
I was interested to hear what the hon. Member for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Clelland) had to say. He had another model: corporate representation by groups within society that are regarded as stakeholders which elect their representatives to Parliament. That is the original fascist model. I hope that he will forgive me for saying that, as I do not mean it pejoratively. That model survives in one country in particular—the Republic of Ireland. When it was set up there in the 1920s it had some vaguely fascist affinities. Irish people might be embarrassed to realise that. His proposal is not completely idiotic, but it does introduce a sclerosis, because who chooses those groups?
We must give the subject careful consideration. I think that we could go for a form of direct election, but there must be straightforward accountability, with constituencies or at least counties returning a certain number of people and identifiable individuals being sent to Parliament to serve. I would decouple that from the general election process. I would have a separate system involving rotation, with one third coming up for election at different intervals. That model commends itself to me quite a lot. Alternatively, if we cannot do that, for goodness' sake let us get rid of prime ministerial patronage and at least have an appointed second Chamber that is not seen as consisting entirely of the Prime Minister's henchmen.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs(Mr. Christopher Leslie)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) on securing this important debate. He made a thoughtful, constructive and detailed contribution on many seemingly intractable issues, and I appreciate the points that he made. Having heard the contribution made by the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve), I am not sure exactly what Conservative party policy is, but perhaps a longer conversation with him will elucidate that.
Obviously, many hon. Members referred to what happened last February. My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North called it a six-way car wreckage. I am not sure that I would characterise it as such, but in any case there was a failure to record a majority in favour of any option. Some have speculated as to the motives of those who voted. As the Joint Committee has suggested, perhaps the multiple choice system that sought to break down the proportion of elected versus appointed Member; was not the best approach to take.
I suspect that there are other routes towards finding consensus and forming a final view on what our second Chamber should look like. Many ideas about those potential routes have had an airing today. There is no doubt that there are significant flaws in the current system. The events of last February significantly changed the landscape of where we stand, and a Bill making a variety of proposals will be published shortly. We cannot, for example, continue to have a hereditary element in our second Chamber. That is simply intolerable. Surely all people with democratic instincts see that as the most obvious point. We have recently seen a small number of hereditary peers selecting another hereditary peer to represent them. I would not call it an election; I would call it a selection. How long can such a system be sustainable? Choosing from hereditary peers who have had experience in the second Chamber is one thing, but choosing hereditary peers who have had nothing to do with the second Chamber takes us into particularly difficult circumstances.
We have an Appointments Commission process, but on a non-statutory and informal basis. It is a matter of policy, not statutory law. Again, there are disadvantages to that situation, given its impermanence. I hope that the current Bill will stabilise the second Chamber, remove hereditary peers, put the Appointments Commission on a statutory footing, introduce rules for disqualification and allow peers to resign their membership without resigning their peerage. Nothing in that Bill need block off any road towards further reform. Nothing in the package is designed to lead to the entrenchment of the current system. We want to Keep the route open for further ideas and we intend to keep working on reform.
I hope that one benefit of this debate will be that we can begin to forge a consensus on a solution that will spread across as many different political parties and corners of parties as possible. The Secretary of State said in the introduction to the consultation paper that we issued last September that"there is more to be done on Lords reform…Parliament is clearly divided",119WH but we hope that we can now shape a consensus on the way forward.
I should like to comment on several important contributions that were made today. First, there was the idea that there could be a regional component in the composition of a future second chamber and that regionalism could be part of the reform process. Regional identity is becoming increasingly important in our country. Referendums are occurring in October for the three northern regions, and this country has a strong tradition of local democracy elsewhere too. Regions form the basis of many different aspects of our life not only in economic, development and planning terms, but in our representation in the European Parliament. I believe that, if that proposal were developed more thoroughly, regions could have a number of advantages as the basis for membership to a second Chamber. They could provide a different but none the less geographical focus for Members' interests, and they would provide a sufficiently broad base not to undermine the position of constituency Members of Parliament as the primary form of democratic representation in Parliament.
It is also important to comment on a second related aspect, which was clearly brought out by my hon. Friends the Members for Nottingham, North, for Wellingborough (Mr. Stinchcombe), and Tyne Bridge (Mr. Clelland) and other colleagues—the route of indirect elections, which can take several different forms. The idea of the secondary mandate has been floated not only by the royal commission, but by Mr. Billy Bragg, who is to be commended for putting this proposal into an easily obtainable form. Today, the Fabian Society is holding a debate in this very Chamber, and it will he interesting to see how that develops.
It is feasible to consider indirect elections as a way forward. They are used in many other democracies across the world, including in European countries. Germany has a particular system and France has an electoral college. Indirect elections can serve purposes that direct elections cannot. They can contribute to 120WH establishing a proper hierarchy among the institutions of Parliament. They are pertinent to precisely the arguments over which we are wrestling with the House of Lords, and they deserve a much fuller examination.
There will be a number of deep-seated problems if we stick to the approach of fully elected versus fully appointed, and my hon. Friend the Member for Tyne Bridge mentioned many of them in his contribution. There is the idea of the Commons' supremacy and how we deal with that issue if people feel that an elected component undermines it. That supremacy is cherished, and there is widespread consensus that we need to preserve it. The Government understand those concerns, and we must face up to the fact that a fully elected second Chamber might not automatically defer to the elected House of Commons. There must be a proper understanding of what its roles and functions would be and of the extent to which it could refuse to agree to legislation to which this House had agreed.
Other questions have been raised about diversity of representation. What added value is brought by the second Chamber? Again, some of the questions about hybridity are important; they cannot be dismissed and need to be thought through carefully.
Unicameralism was an option that arose last February, and it was defeated, but I sensed from the hon. Member for St. Ives (Andrew George) in one of his interventions about the point of a second Chamber that there were questions about whether we need to continue with it. I suspect that that is a debate for another day. We want to see further moves. A Joint Committee is important, and I earnestly appeal to other parties to consider taking part in it to drive forward the consensus in the long term.
The key to the issue is finding a way of reconciling the Commons' supremacy with a more legitimate revising Chamber of Parliament. We can find ways forward, and I hope that all hon. Members and all parties share a belief in that entirely reasonable and feasible prospect. I look forward to the debate continuing in that manner.