Time to Abolish the House of Lords

Here is my speech in the House of Lords debate on Tuesday 10 July 2012

7.33 pm

Mike Gapes (Ilford South) (Lab/Co-op):

We have been here before, in the last Parliament. In those debates, I was one of many Labour Members who voted for the abolition of the House of Lords. In an ideal world, I would have that option today. As that option is not available, I also regret that we do not have the option of an indirectly elected second Chamber.

There are perfectly good and thriving democracies in the world, and indeed constitutional monarchies, that are unicameralist, such as Sweden and New Zealand. There are also indirectly elected second Chambers in some Commonwealth countries. For example, in India, each of the states elects people to go to the Rajya Sabha. Its Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, was elected in that way and has never stood for a direct election anywhere. There are models that we could follow that would improve our democracy. However, instead of learning from international experience and establishing such a constitutional convention, we have this half-baked hybrid, which the Government had attempted to railroad through, until they realised today that it was not acceptable. If we are to have a second Chamber, it should be small and clearly subservient, have limited and defined powers, and should meet only occasionally.

Why do so many amendments come from the House of Lords, as has been mentioned? It is because we do not deal with legislation properly in this House, and because, as the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) said, we have the Ministers in this Chamber. The Executive dominate the parliamentary system. If we had a system like Sweden’s, in which many Ministers are not Members of Parliament, we could have a different relationship with the Executive and the scrutiny role of this House would be much stronger. Instead, we have a deal between whichever Government is in power and the Opposition Front Benchers in the House of Lords to get through certain amendments and clauses. Legislation comes back from the second Chamber that this House has never had a proper chance to deal with.

In my 20 years in this House and in my role on Select Committees, I have become increasingly frustrated about these issues. As a Parliamentary Private Secretary in the Home Office and the Northern Ireland Office, I saw the Government face many defeats in the House of Lords, particularly on Home Office legislation. We had the clauses dealt with and when they came back to this House, they were never discussed properly. We need to reform this House and we need to have a stronger definition of the relationship between the Executive and the legislature before we give greater credibility—dangerous credibility—to a second Chamber that will undermine the democratic Chamber.

The Deputy Prime Minister claimed that he was introducing the Bill because people had voted for it in 2010. No they did not. Nobody voted in the 2010 election for these proposals and it is not honest to say that they did.

I also challenge the Deputy Prime Minister’s reference to “fixing” a problem. Yes, there is a fix going on. As the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh) just said, the fix will ensure that people who would never get elected, and might even come fourth, in a parliamentary constituency anywhere in the country will get into the House of Lords for 15 years under the proportional representation regional list system. They will then be able to go around London, or whichever region they represent, cherry-picking issues and appearing at residents’ associations or religious groups, while we are here in this House attending to our parliamentary business. That will not be good for democracy. It will lead to cynicism and undermine the truly representative nature of the constituency link.

Having been in the House for 20 years, I had hoped that there would be a reasoned amendment on Second Reading. There is no opportunity for me to vote for a reasoned amendment. Therefore, for the first time in 20 years, I will go against my party’s Whip and vote in the No Lobby against the Bill tonight.

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