HC Deb 19 June 2002 vol 387 cc338-83 7.14 pm
The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Robin Cook)

I beg to move, That the Lords Message [10th June] relating to House of Lords Reform be now considered. That this House concurs with the Lords in the said Resolution. That a Select Committee of twelve Members be appointed to join with a Committee appointed by the Lords as the Joint Committee on House of Lords Reform

  1. (1) to consider issues relating to House of Lords reform, including the composition and powers of the Second Chamber and its role and authority within the context of Parliament as a whole, having regard in particular to the impact which any proposed changes would have on the existing pre-eminence of the House of Commons, such consideration to include the implications of a House composed of more than one 'category' of member and the experience and expertise which the House of Lords in its present form brings to its function as the revising Chamber; and
  2. (2) having regard to paragraph (1) above, to report on options for the composition and powers of the House of Lords and to define and present to both Houses options for composition, including a fully nominated and fully elected House, and intermediate options; and to consider and report on—
    1. (a) any changes to the relationship between the two Houses which may be necessary to ensure the proper functioning of Parliament as a whole in the context of a reformed Second Chamber, and in particular, any new procedures for resolving conflict between the two Houses; and
    2. (b) the most appropriate and effective legal and constitutional means to give effect to any new Parliamentary settlement;
and in all the foregoing considerations, to have regard to—
  1. (i) the Report of the Royal Commission on House of Lords Reform (Cm.4534):
  2. (ii) the White Paper The House of Lords—Completing the Reform (Cm.5291), and the responses received thereto;
  3. (iii) debates and votes in both Houses of Parliament on House of Lords reform; and
  4. (iv) the House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee Report The Second Chamber: Continuing the Reform, including its consultation of the House of Commons, and any other relevant select committee reports.
That the Committee shall have power—
  1. (i) to send for persons, papers and records:
  2. (ii) to sit notwithstanding any adjournment of the House;
  3. (iii) to report from time to time;
  4. (iv) to appoint specialist advisers;
  5. (v) to adjourn from place to place within the United Kingdom; and
That Janet Anderson, Mr. James Arbuthnot, Mr. Chris Bryant, Mr. Kenneth Clarke, Dr. Jack Cunningham. Mr. William Hague, Mr. Stephen McCabe, Joyce Quin. Mr. Terry Rooney, Mr. Clive Soley, Mr. Paul Stinchcombe and Mr. Paul Tyler be members of the Committee. This motion fulfils the commitment that I gave the House before the recess that we would establish a Joint Committee to take forward the next step in reform of the House of Lords and that we would put its proposals to a free vote in both Houses of Parliament. That commitment was broadly welcomed in this Chamber and in the wider media beyond Westminster, where a broad welcome these days is unusual. It puts Parliament itself in the driving seat on how we approach reform of Parliament's second Chamber.

Tonight's debate is on the narrow point of how we set up the Joint Committee. I am painfully aware that progress on reform of the House of Lords can be measured in centuries, but even in the context of House of Lords reform, three hours should be sufficient time in which to set up a Committee. I have no doubt that some Members will wish to use the debate to rehearse some of the wider questions on the future composition of the House of Lords, and I make no objection to that. Practice makes perfect, and the future debate, on a free vote, will be all the better the more that Members try out their arguments on us tonight. I simply remind Members that the debate to decide what we do with the House of Lords will be taken after we receive the report of the Joint Committee and not before we even appoint it.

The House is fortunate that Members of great standing on both sides of the House have been willing to serve on the Joint Committee and to prepare its report.

Pete Wishart (North Tayside)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Cook

I will happily give way to any distinguished Member.

Pete Wishart

I am grateful to the Leader of the House for giving way. The Joint Committee of 24 people will consist of 12 members of the Government, seven Members from the Conservative party, three Liberal Democrat Members and two Cross Benchers of the House of Lords. The Cross Benchers represent no particular constituency and have no democratic mandate; the minority parties represent some 1.5 million people, yet we have no place on the Committee considering this vital constitutional reform. How can that be fair?

Mr. Cook

May I gently correct the hon. Gentleman on one point? There are no members of the Government on the Committee, although it is perfectly true that there are 12 members of the Labour party. On the arithmetic, of course I understand the hon. Gentleman's point. He and his party have been through this matter with me on a number of occasions and, as he knows, I do not have a closed mind. However, it remains the fact that 95 per cent. of the membership of this House belong to parties that are represented among the 12 members whom we are appointing from the House of Commons. As the minority parties represent, in total, 5 per cent. of the membership of the House of Commons, a pro rata division would entitle them to membership of a Committee of 20, not of 12. Traditionally, the minority parties were always dealt with using the same arithmetic and on the same basis as the Liberal Democrat party. The Liberal Democrats have one place on the Committee; it is up to the minority parties, if they so wish, to try to press the Liberal Democrats to give them that place.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

For someone who is making a reputation for himself as a defender of the interests of all parts of the House of Commons, does the Leader of the House not appreciate that, given that arithmetical logic, there will be no minority party representative on any Joint Committee that is set up in this Parliament? If 5 per cent. of the House of Commons with a democratic mandate are represented by the minority parties, should not there be at least one member on a Committee of 24 to consider a matter of such vital interest? Can the right hon. Gentleman not find it within himself to agree and do something about it?

Mr. Cook

I am not responsible for the 24 members of the Committee. I am responsible, and my motion is responsible, for the 12 members from the House of Commons, and 5 per cent. of 12 does not really add up to a place. However, I am not unsympathetic to the hon. Gentleman's point. Indeed, it is precisely so that we can get the broadest possible coverage across the House that the Committee is so large, with 24 members. Over the totality of a Parliament, I think that it would be entirely reasonable for minority parties to look for representation on a Joint Committee, but they cannot, on the basis of the arithmetic, demand a place on any one Joint Committee when that Committee has only 12 members.

I should like to make progress. The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) is right that it is my role to defend all interests in the House, and I have defended the place of 95 per cent. of the membership of the House of Commons who are represented on the Committee. From the Opposition Benches, we have the nomination of a former Conservative Leader and a former candidate for Conservative Leader. I am gratified that the Liberal Democrats regard the Joint Committee as so important that they have proposed my shadow to the Committee. On the Labour side, our nominations are headed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham), who has the double distinction of having been a Cabinet Minister in this Government and of being one of only half a dozen serving Members who served as Ministers in the Callaghan Government.

The Labour members also include a number of those who have followed our debates on the House of Lords closely over the past year, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Mr. Bryant), who has come close to being the shop steward for those who favour reform. I am pleased that the list includes my right hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West (Joyce Quin), who was my number two on foreign affairs for a number of years in opposition and in government. The House can have full confidence that that distinguished membership will discharge the duty that we are placing on it with care and commitment.

Before I turn to the task that we are asking of Committee members, I will deal with the issues raised in the amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Tony Wright), which would impose a timetable on the proceedings of the Joint Committee. At the time of my statement to the House last month, I said in response to the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) that it would be wrong for us to predetermine a specified date by which the Committee had to respond. It is for the eminent members of that Committee to determine the speed at which they can make progress on the remit. For that reason, the motion does not impose an external limit on their proceedings.

Moreover, even if it were thought acceptable in principle to impose a deadline, the timetable set out in the amendment would be tough—it would require a report by 17 July, which might not be realistic given that the Joint Committee will not even meet until July. Having said that, the Government would welcome the Committee tackling its task with expedition. Members of the Public Administration Committee, nearly all of whom have signed the amendment, provided a sterling example of such expedition. They commenced their study of the Government's proposals in mid-November and published a report in mid-February. They demonstrated that it is not necessary for a Committee, to borrow the phrase of Harold Wilson, to take minutes and to last years, even on this topic.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)

I almost entirely follow the reasoning of the Leader of the House, but will he say whether there is any length of time that might expire during the deliberations of the Committee that he might eventually regard as unacceptable? Would he be prepared to keep an eye on its deliberations and perhaps come back to the House at some point if he feels that it is dragging on for too long?

Mr. Cook

I am happy to assure the right hon. Gentleman that I will keep both eyes firmly on the Committee's proceedings. I have no doubt that if hon. Members felt that the process was continuing for an unreasonable period of time, they would bring the matter before the House even if I did not.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Cook

I seem to be inundated with demands to intervene. I will give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase.

Tony Wright (Cannock Chase)

The Public Administration Committee decided to take evidence only in December and it reported in February, so it was even quicker than my right hon. Friend suggested.

I refer my right hon. Friend to the statements that he made to the House on 13 May, when he said that the best thing that we can all do in the next two months is to ensure that we find a way forward that establishes a centre of gravity that can be supported in both Chambers. Later in the debate, he said A vote before the summer recess is certainly possible if the Joint Committee gets down to work quickly, and presents us with the options in good time."—[Official Report, 13 May 2002; Vol. 385, c. 525–28.] Surely the amendment tabled in my name and that of other members of the Public Administration Committee is merely trying to give effect to his own words.

Mr. Cook

I very much apologise if I understated the expedition with which my hon. Friend's Committee tackled its task. I am glad that we got on the record the speed with which it is possible to reach a consensus.

On whether a report could be produced by the end of the summer, I do not resile from anything that I said at that time. It certainly remains possible. However, my hon. Friend's deadline would make it mandatory, which is a different kettle of fish altogether. I am aware that a number of the hon. Members who will serve on the Joint Committee are present in the Chamber and I welcome the fact that they will understand from our proceedings the urgency with which hon. Members wish them to approach the task. Indeed, it is for that reason that the motion gives the Committee the remit to sit during the recess, should it choose to do so.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)

Does the Leader of the House accept that if the Joint Committee is to have any chance of carrying the House with it, which is necessary if we are to move forward, it is important that it is not operating under too many time constraints? Does he also accept that just as the Public Administration Committee, chaired by the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Tony Wright), thought it proper to take evidence, we hope that the Joint Committee will feel that it has the time to take evidence and to consider it.

Mr. Cook

The hon. Gentleman expresses the view that I have put to the Chamber—that it would not be right for us to impose an external deadline. However, we are entitled to invite members of the Joint Committee to have regard to the House's view that we should proceed with all expedition. The Committee will, of course, have the power to take evidence—that is provided for in the motion. Whether it does so and how much it wishes to call is a matter for the Committee.

Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the expedition with which the Public Administration Committee delivered its verdict may not necessarily be a virtue, given that some of us think that it came to the wrong conclusion?

Mr. Cook

The report was never put to the House and my hon. Friend is right to point out that it would not necessarily have commanded the unanimity in the House that it commanded in the Committee. Having said that, I remind him that the first task of the Select Committee is not to recommend a preferred option but to put before the House the options on which the House can vote. Certainly, in the first stage, that will be a simpler task than that undertaken by the Select Committee.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle)

My right hon. Friend anticipated the point that I was about to make, but I will say it again. Had I been appointed to the Joint Committee—[Interruption. I would have been prepared to sit throughout August and September. Does he expect this important Committee, full of distinguished Members of Parliament, to sit during the summer so that we can have the options as soon as we come back?

Mr. Cook

We did not require a signed undertaking from those named in the motion that they would sit during August, but we have provided them with the option that they can meet during the recess. I anticipate that they will want to have a break and a holiday. Indeed, I am sure that their deliberations will gain from any holiday or time for reflection that they have. However, it is open to them to meet during the recess; they do not need to wait until the House returns.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff, West)

My right hon. Friend has been extremely generous in giving way. Given his remarks, will he say whether he still stands by his statement on 13 May, in which he made two comments? The first was that he agreed that he could have had the options ready by about 7 pm that evening if he had been charged with the task and locked in a room; and the second was that there was nothing new to say about the composition options for the House of Lords.

Mr. Cook

I was not inviting the House to lock me in a room and throw away the key. Any one of us could probably write down what those options might be. I am not sure whether it is possible for 24 people to reach agreement with the same speed as I could achieve in an empty room. It is worth putting one matter on the record, however. The Joint Committee will, of course, have the immense advantage, in making good speed, that it is not starting with a blank sheet of paper. On the contrary, as the motion spells out, it is starting out with a small library of previous publications: the report of the Wakeham commission, the recent White Paper and the report of the Public Administration Committee.

Brian White (Milton Keynes, North-East)

The Leader of the House has just answered my question, which was whether he would ensure that the Committee did not reinvent the wheels of the evidence of that commission and the Public Administration Committee.

Mr. Cook

I apologise if have already taken the lines of hon. Members, but I am glad that there is so much agreement among us. Honourable Members who have been appointed to the Committee will be aware of the need for a business-like approach. It is worth putting on the record that we will be able to legislate in the next Session only if we receive a final report by the turn of the year. The longer into spring that the Joint Committee deliberates, the more difficult it will be for us to produce a Bill in the next Session. I am sure that that will help concentrate the minds of the Joint Committee on the need to approach the task with care and deliberation, but also with expedition.

I referred to previous reports on the question. It is worth reminding ourselves that there is a lot of common ground in all those reports.

Mr. Andrew Tyrie (Chichester)

The Leader of the House said that if the Joint Committee does not reach agreement by the end of the year, we will not get legislation in the next Session. Is not that a huge sting in the tail and an opportunity for delay and prevarication by those on the Committee who would prefer not to have any legislation? Does not that argue strongly in favour of establishing a timetable?

Mr. Cook

I said that the longer it takes to produce a report, the more difficult it will be to introduce a Bill. That is self-evident. We can all work that out for ourselves, so it will not come as a blindingly new piece of information to anyone who has contemplated the matter. I am not in favour of an external limit. We propose to trust the 24 members of the Committee, from this House and the other place, to apply themselves with expedition and commitment. As I said earlier, members of the Committee are very distinguished, and I have full confidence that they will wish to apply themselves diligently and, having heard these exchanges, with expedition.

The three reports that I cited contain much common ground. They have established a broad consensus on most aspects of the future of the second Chamber, with which the great majority of Members of this Chamber would agree. First, there is broad agreement on the role of the second Chamber. It should be a deliberative assembly with the role of revising legislation and supporting the Commons in the scrutiny of the Executive. Secondly, it is common ground that the Commons should continue to be the pre-eminent Chamber. The test of legitimacy of the Government for Britain shall continue to be whether they can command a majority in the Commons. Thirdly, all three documents are agreed on the powers of the new second Chamber. It should have the power to delay legislation and to prompt second thoughts, but it should not have the power to frustrate the will of the majority in the Commons, nor to oppose the mandate of the elected Government.

It is right that the Joint Committee should be invited by the motion to consider the powers of the second Chamber, but it would be surprising and contentious if it came up with an answer different from all its predecessors. Its first task will be to define the options for the composition of the new second Chamber, particularly the balance between elected and appointed Members. It will be difficult to make progress on other questions of reform of the second Chamber until the issue of composition is resolved. It is for that reason that the remit will not require the Joint Committee to present one comprehensive report, but to report from time to time. That will enable the Joint Committee to present an interim report on the options for composition in advance of its considered report on other aspects of reform. It would assist with the debate on reform if the Joint Committee could establish a consensus on composition, but it will not be required to do so by the terms of the remit. It is required to recommend the options on which both Houses can decide on a free vote. It is set out in the remit that these options should include a fully nominated House, a fully elected House and at least one intermediate option.

Thereafter, there are a number of further issues on which there is no established consensus and on which the advice of the Joint Committee would be of value in the light of the decisions of both Houses on composition. For example, what will be the precise electoral system used for any elected element? How do we ensure that it is clear that those elected have no specific constituency role that would compete with the representative function of this Chamber? Should any such elections take place on the same day as the general election or any other established polling day?

Most of those who expressed a view in the consultation period on the size of the new second Chamber were concerned that it would be too large. We would welcome the views of the Joint Committee on what might be the optimum size of a reformed second Chamber. We would be grateful if it could also explore the transitional arrangements that would take us to a reformed, smaller membership of the second Chamber.

There have also been some new developments since the White Paper. For example, the recent White Paper on regional government has proposed elected assemblies in those regions of England that want them. It is open to the Joint Committee to revisit the regional dimension to a reformed second Chamber in the light of that development.

Reform of the House of Lords has been long in gestation. It is more than 90 years since the preamble to the Parliament Act called for the House of Lords to be placed on a more popular, representative basis. Those years include 18 years in which the Conservative party was in power and never once proposed a single elected peer. They also include a further four years when the Conservative party resisted every suggestion we made to break the block vote of the hereditary peers. However, I come to this debate as a member of a generous and fair-minded party. We are willing to overlook that dismal record of recalcitrance, and make common cause with the Conservatives in a Joint Committee to find the way forward. We invite them now to join us in the search for a broad parliamentary consensus for reform. I put this motion before the House, not as the basis for any delay, but in order that we can make the fastest possible progress to the broadest possible consensus. It is in that spirit that I hope that the Members nominated in the motion will accept their mandate and it is also in that spirit that I commend it to the House.

7.36 pm
Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)

I happily pick up the challenge that the Leader of the House has laid down. The official Opposition welcome the motion, not least because it is something that we have urged on the Government for some time. Although I understand the courteous but firm reprimand that the Leader of the House has just offered us, I could reciprocate and say that I welcome the Government's late conversion to the idea of a Joint Committee as the way forward. It is sad that it has taken the Government so long to realise that, but I welcome their late conversion to something for which we have long argued.

I also welcome the terms of reference, which are appropriate. They are appropriately broad, and at the same time they are appropriately focused. That is the right approach. I would differ from them only in one small but important regard—and this is a personal point, rather than on behalf of my party. I make my point as a self-confessed anorak and lifelong devotee of the House of Commons. I have devoted the past 19 years of my life to the House of Commons and, indeed, many of those present may feel that I have spent too much time here. The Leader of the House mentioned the pre-eminence of the House of Commons and said that most Members of this House accept that almost without argument. However, I regret to say that I believe that even that principle should now be considered. To the extent that the role of the Commons has been diminished—and I believe that it has been—and its primary role is now the provision of, and support for, the Government of the day, there is at least an argument for an enhanced role for a reformed upper House, with stronger powers to offset the diminution of the role of this House in the scrutiny of the Government. I put the point no more strongly than that, but I wished to add that footnote to the debate and leave it to the members of the Joint Committee whether they want to pursue that issue.

In that respect and in others, it will be interesting to see whether the joint membership of the Committee will bring a different perspective to its considerations than the single-dimensional focus of Members of this House, who readily accept the idea that the House of Commons should be pre-eminent in all legislative matters.

It is with some slight regret that I say that I cannot recommend to my colleagues that they should support the amendment tabled in the name of the Chairman and members of the Public Administration Committee. As the Leader of the House said, we should at this stage be prepared to allow the Joint Committee to perform its task in the way it sees fit. An arbitrary time limit on its deliberations would therefore not be appropriate at this stage. However, we should also make it clear that the House will feel free to return to the issue if the Committee appears to be delaying unnecessarily or unduly in its deliberations. We are giving the Committee an important remit and responsibility and it is right to respect its freedom of action at this stage. As the Leader of the House has said, however, and as I would wish to endorse, it is not unreasonable, given the amount of work that has already been done, not least by Committees of the House, and the amount of deliberation in both Houses, to expect their work to proceed with proper expedition.

On membership, I hope that the House will accept that the Members of the House and of another place that the official Opposition have put forward reflect the seriousness with which we take this Committee's work and deliberations. The Leader of the House has been kind enough to pay respect to those Opposition Members and I would like to reciprocate, as the Labour Members and the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) are of sufficient seniority and seriousness—with a leavening of freshness, if I may say so, with regard to the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Bryant)—that we can expect proper weight to be given to the Committee's work.

I was intrigued that the press contained speculation about who might be the Chairman of the Committee. Does the Leader of the House know something that the rest of us do not? I presume that the Committee is free to establish its own chairmanship. I have noticed that the name of the right hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) has been mentioned in this regard. I would imagine that his qualifications for being Chairman are many. I looked up his entry in "Who's Who", and, first, I saw that he has a PhD in chemistry, which, in a peculiar way, might suit him well to guiding the Committee in its deliberations. Furthermore, the right hon. Gentleman was shadow Leader of the House in a previous existence, which surely must give him the qualifications to add to the lustre of the Committee and its proceedings.

Most intriguingly, however, the last recreation that the right hon. Member for Copeland lists in "Who's Who", after fell walking, fly fishing, gardening, classical and folk music and reading—which must keep him very busy, although not too busy, I hope, to spend a lot of time on the work of the Committee—is listening to other people's opinions. I shall leave the House and, more appropriately, the Committee to decide whether that is a qualification for chairmanship. It will, at least, give members of the Committee something to work on if the right hon. Gentleman should emerge as their choice for Chairman. I am sure, however, that the right hon. Gentleman would be the first to concede that there are other Members on the Committee with almost equal seniority and experience in parliamentary matters.

Having said all that, I am sure that we all wish the Committee, its members and whoever becomes its Chairman well. We are placing a great responsibility on the members of the Committee. They will be in no doubt—and they will still be in no doubt, I suspect, by the end of the debate—about the seriousness of the task that faces them and the expectations that we lay on them. I hope that they will be able to discharge their responsibilities fully but reasonably quickly. I hope that we will see the first products of their deliberations—it will be a multi-phase process, as has been laid down—in the very near future.

The Leader of the House has given an interesting hint—if I may so describe it—about the possible constraints on the timing of the Committee's deliberations. I cannot and would not want to add to that. We should all listen carefully, however, to what the Leader of the House has said and consider what is in his mind.

Having said that, I thoroughly commend the resolution to the House. As this is a free vote, being on a House of Commons matter, I hope that my hon. Friends will support the resolution. Sadly, however, I would recommend that, if it is put to the vote, they do not support the amendment that has been selected.

7.44 pm
Tony Wright (Cannock Chase)

This is not a moment to explore the substance of the issues in relation to the House of Lords. It is the moment, however, to say a few words about process.

I commend the final section of the report of the Public Administration Committee, which I have the honour of chairing, which is simply called, "Getting from here to there". Historically, getting from here to there has been the most difficult thing of all. There has been no difficulty in coming forward with schemes for House of Lords reform; indeed, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House referred to Harold Wilson and the 1960s. The lesson of all that is that one can easily not achieve reform. The task and challenge for the House is whether we can devise a process that will get us to where we would like to be from where we are now, given the diversity of opinions.

Without intending to seem churlish, I want to express a note of regret that it has not been thought possible to include a member from the Public Administration Committee on the Joint Committee. I can think of Members from all parties who were represented on the Committee who have developed a good deal of expertise in this area. That expertise would have been well put to the service of the House.

I also want to offer the experience of the Public Administration Committee's deliberations to the Joint Committee. When we began our work, we felt a sense of urgency, as one of the paradoxes is that we were told from the beginning that reform of the second Chamber was very urgent. Hon. Members will remember that the Wakeham commission was told that it had to proceed with enormous urgency. Indeed, it was told that it had to report within a year—by the end of 1999—because reform of the second Chamber was so urgent. It has all gone funny since then.

We must reclaim that spirit of urgency now. The Public Administration Committee felt an obligation to be urgent in our deliberations and to come to a conclusion that would be helpful to the House so that the process of reform could continue. We also felt an obligation not simply to repeat previous positions. There we were, representing the three major parties, all with different views. Some people wanted to abolish the second Chamber; some wanted a wholly elected second Chamber; some wanted a wholly appointed second Chamber; and some wanted a variety of intermediate positions. The question was: would we simply repeat our previous views, or would we seek to reach a position that would enable the process of reform to continue? I say "process" deliberately, because, if one thinks that one is concluding the process of reform, one will not be successful. So much is changing in the wider landscape that all that one can hope for is to achieve a reasonably secure next phase of second Chamber reform.

My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House referred to the fact that we may be moving to an era of seriously devolved government inside England as well as in the wider United Kingdom. If that is the case, different kinds of options will become available in the longer term as to how we might compose a second Chamber, and there will he different reasons for doing so.

Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion)

The hon. Gentleman has just outlined how devolution might properly impact on what the second Chamber might do. Does he therefore have faith in the membership of the Committee, given that the Government in Northern Ireland are not represented on it, the Opposition in Wales are not represented on it, and the Opposition in Scotland are not represented on it? How can the Committee consider the impact of devolution in the nation states of the United Kingdom if there is no way for the minority parties in those constituent parts of the UK to feed in their views?

Tony Wright

The hon. Gentleman makes the point that he wants to make. I do not believe that the Committee will avoid the obligation to think widely. I entered my note of regret, and he must enter his own.

My point, however, is that, despite a wide spectrum of views, it was possible, nevertheless, to seek to ascertain in a reasonably serious way what Members of the House felt was their preferred direction of reform and to take that into account in framing our position. It was also possible, in seeking to reconcile such initially different positions, to produce a position that might provide a basis for the House to move forward to a next stage of second Chamber reform. If that is the spirit in which the Joint Committee engages with the work, we have a prospect of success.

Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight)

The hon. Gentleman has spoken of the next stage of second Chamber reform and, earlier, he suggested that there would not be a finishing point. Is not one of the most important objectives to settle the status of the other place, so that it is not an issue for party political bickering and perhaps one in which parties move around—I hope that they will not—for party political advantage?

Tony Wright

The hon. Gentleman runs two points together. There is no need to bicker about these things. It is perfectly possible to have sensible discussion while acknowledging that we may not have the final answer. That is a sensible way to approach the matter.

We know very much what the key principles are, and we do not need to explore them now. We do not want a second Chamber that is a rival to or a replica of the first Chamber, but we want a Chamber that has enough legitimacy to be taken seriously and enough independence to secure expertise and a different kind of input. That led me and the Select Committee eventually to think that a mixture would be the right way to achieve our aims. The question is what sort of mixture should that be.

I offer the Joint Committee one piece of evidence only. It does not come from our report, but from evidence that was submitted in response to the Government's consultation document. Sir Michael Wheeler-Booth was not only a member of the Wakeham commission, but the official most centrally involved in making the proposed reforms of the 1960s work. In his response to the consultation, he says: In the previous Lords reform attempt, in 1968–9, the reformers were unwilling to reconsider their plans in the light of criticisms, notably after the collapse of the Inter-Party talks, and again after the debates in the two Houses on the White Paper. In retrospect I think this was a mistake (although I must take a share of the blame). I give credit to the Government on that point. They have understood the deluge of criticism that their proposals have received and that has enabled them to move forward or to give the House the opportunity to more forward in a slightly different direction.

Sir Michael's second point is absolutely central. He says: A second failure was not to recognise that it was essential to have the wholehearted support of government backbenchers in the Commons. Inter-Party consensus was thought to be the key to a constitutional reform of the kind intended while in fact what mattered was the support of the party in the Commons. Historically most constitutional reforms have been carried on a party vote…and then accepted by all". That is an important observation from someone who was engaged in the last abortive attempt to reform the second Chamber. The conclusion to be drawn is that we must know what the will of the House of Commons is. We must know the direction of advance that it would like to take place. Around that, the House of Lords will have a chance to respond, and we can construct reasonably durable proposals.

It is significant that, when we took evidence on the views of Members of Parliament, we found that 75 per cent. of them across the parties wanted a composition that was 50 per cent. elected or more. We therefore have to be clear about that before we begin to do what we have to do on the other issues. That is why it is crucial to have an initial vote on composition as soon as possible. Unless we have that vote as soon as possible, it is unreasonable to expect the Joint Committee to carry out the second stage of reform. That would simply not be possible, because so much of the reform package hangs together. We must know what the key buildings blocks are before we can begin to erect the larger architecture.

That is not a pedantic point, but one that is designed to get the process under way. I shall not explore the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House about being able to do things by 7 o'clock in the evening, but the fact is that we know what the options are. We know that some favour the option of a wholly elected second Chamber, that others favour the option of a wholly appointed one and that there are several intermediate options. It is not difficult to bring to the House an initial menu of options for Members to vote on. I simply do not understand how the Joint Committee can begin to do its work seriously until the choice about the fundamental options has been resolved. I have not heard anyone explain to me how it will be possible to proceed without having done that.

Someone seeing our amendment and seeing the date on it rather unkindly pointed out that no year was attached to it. Some people have suggested that that is all part of the picture whereby we do not hear much about the issue again. When some people saw how the Joint Committee was being constructed, they were given encouragement in thinking that that we might not hear much more about the issue. I do not share that view. At one time I probably did, but I now believe that the Government want to make progress to bring the issue to a conclusion. I know that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House wants to do that, and he could not have made that point clearer.

This is the moment when we have to stop talking about reforming the second Chamber and have to start doing it. A crucial part of doing it is making sure that we have a timetable under which some form of reform can take place.

7.56 pm
Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)

I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Tony Wright). I accept precisely what he has said about process and timing. Although I cannot speak for all my colleagues because it will be a free vote, I think that they will be minded to support the amendment that he and his colleagues have tabled. We believe that we should make progress as fast as possible.

Although I would be happy for the Joint Committee to meet in August or September—as long as it came to Cornwall—that should not be necessary. We should be able to complete the first phase of the process and come back with clear options to the House by the date that has been suggested.

Before I come to the issue of process, I wish to refer briefly to some of the misapprehensions about the choices before the Joint Committee and that will eventually be before the House. The Lord Chancellor said in the other place: It would be wrong and dangerous to put the pre-eminence of the House of Commons at risk by having this House wholly or substantially directly elected so that it could maintain that it had the same, or substantially similar, political legitimacy as the House of Commons."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 9 January 2002; Vol. 630, c. 564.] That view is misguided—it ain't necessarily so. The link suggested between the proportion of Members elected and any challenge to this House is entirely wrongly thought through. In setting up the Joint Committee, we must clear out of the way some of the misunderstandings that have grown up.

I pay tribute not just to the Select Committee chaired by the hon. Member for Cannock Chase but to the Government. The consultation exercise was as thorough and as effective as that on any public issue that I can recall in my time in the House. In particular, the report on the consultation will be extremely helpful to the Joint Committee. We do not start from scratch; it is not a blank piece of paper. It does not even mean looking at the history books because we can look at the position here and now. Public opinion as well as Members' opinions have been reflected.

The response makes it clear that 89 per cent. of the respondents thought that the other House should be at least 50 per cent. elected. There should be a degree of majority rule in that sense. That is extremely important but, equally, it should not be seen as a challenge to this House or as a problem. It should be an opportunity that provides a new strength in Parliament's relationship with the Executive. That is why the type of election, to which the Leader of the House referred, and the cycle of elections are so important.

Significantly, the second largest response rate on any of the issues in the consultation process was on the method of election. Some 56 per cent. said that the single transferable vote was their preferred method. A further 10 per cent. stated that they preferred an unspecified form of proportional representation. Those are big figures. Some 6 per cent. preferred an open-list system. That type of system was clearly in people's minds, as it was in the mind of the Select Committee. Incidentally, only 2 per cent. of respondents favoured the first-past-the-post system, and for good reasons.

STV has huge advantages in the context of the second Chamber. I am not arguing that it is right for any other type of assembly or in any other election. It maximises voter choice and minimises the power of the parties because they do not prioritise who should be at the top of the list. The voter does that and the parties cannot pre-empt that choice. STV enables voters to cast their votes so that they can ensure that there is a truly representative second Chamber, especially in terms of area, gender and ethnic background. It is the best system that can be devised for that purpose for that assembly. Most important of all, STV encourages independence of mind in the Members who are elected.

By contrast, the House of Commons Library established that were first past the post used at the same time as the 2001 election for this House, the Labour party would have had a majority of 60 per cent. in the other place on a 41 per cent. poll. I am surprised that the Conservative party is in favour of that outcome and hope that it will think again.

The most important issue to consider is that first past the post would inevitably replicate the constituency representation that we have in this House. Those Members who represent Scottish and Welsh constituencies will be aware that duplication and overlap can be embarrassing. That is a problem not just when Members who are elected by different means come from different parties, but when they are elected from the same party. It is extremely important that the second Chamber of this Parliament does not replicate the constituency responsibilities of Members of this House. That is the inevitable result if first past the post is used.

Mr. Forth

Is the hon. Gentleman prepared to accept that the American experience demonstrates that it is possible that voters can take a sufficiently discriminating attitude to elections? One state in the United States can have one balance of representation in the House of Representatives, a different or mixed representation in the Senate, which has a different electoral cycle and different voters, and yet another in the governorships. Those are all elected on the first-past-the-post system. What he is saying is not necessarily true. The one template we have suggests that it need not be the case.

Mr. Tyler

I understand that and I will look with interest at what evidence is put before the Committee. However, if we elect on the same day to both Houses on the same system, we are likely to end up with the same results. That would challenge not just this House as a whole but each and every Member of the House because someone else at the other end of the building could claim the same mandate. That would be extremely dangerous and I hope that the Committee will look hard at the problem. The issue is important and is mentioned in all the documents that will come before the Committee.

Kevin Brennan

While I may have some sympathy with the hon. Gentleman's comments, does he agree that although the issue is important, it is certainly not the first one that needs to be tackled? If his first contributions to the Committee reflect his obsession with a minutiae of the electoral system, the process will turn out to be as long as the trial of Warren Hastings and we will never get a result.

Mr. Tyler

I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, but I am trying to remove a major misunderstanding. It is not just the number of people who are elected to the other House that could challenge the pre-eminence of this House. The challenge also comes from the way in which they are elected and the time when they are elected. Problems will arise if they are elected on the same day as the general election. Incidentally, I was first elected to the House in February 1974. There was another election in October, when I am afraid I was unelected. Is it being suggested that every time this House has an election the other House has to have an election too? Surely that does not make sense.

I am in favour of an electoral cycle that is not directly related to the election to this House and the election of a Government. That is important. I would prefer the election to take place on the same day as the elections for the devolved Assemblies, every four years. In due course, we will no doubt have English regional elections every four years, too. We could elect one third of the other place every four years and also have a 12-year one-term election. However, it is for the Committee to consider that idea. The false analysis by the Lord Chancellor is dangerous and I hope that it will gather no currency.

Both the timing of the election and the way in which Members are elected are important. However, we may decide that we want to hold back on the issue of indirect elections until the devolved regional assemblies are up and running. It would be absurd if Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and London could elect indirectly to the second Chamber, but other parts of the country could not because regional devolution has not rolled out in England. If a number of Members of the second House are not going to be directly elected, we may need to reconsider indirect elections in due course by the devolved Assemblies, not from them. The principle of a dual mandate has become discredited in this country and there may be a good case for looking at that suggestion.

As I intimated, I am sympathetic to the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Cannock Chase and his colleagues on the Committee. There is a great deal of material on the subject and we should be able give the House clear options before the summer recess. I cannot anticipate what the Joint Committee will decide, but there will have to be options. I cannot believe that we need to wait for months to get those. Surely we can clear away some of the debris from previous considerations and produce the options.

This is a defining moment. I know that politicians and the media always say that, but if we get it right both ends of the building will do their job together more effectively. That is the challenge. It is not a challenge between the two Houses, but of the two Houses together, with complementary powers and responsibilities. The challenge that we face is not among ourselves, but with the Executive.

If we can get that right, the Government, this House and the other House will have taken a great opportunity to demonstrate that in the 21st century we can develop and evolve a more effective pluralist parliamentary democracy. If the process gets bogged down, however, members of the Executive—not us—will go home laughing because we will have failed to create a genuinely effective scrutinising Parliament to ensure that they do their job properly.

I hope that tonight and in the next few weeks we will complete the work that the Leader of the House put his hand to in 1997 in the discussions that led up to the agreement between our two parties on constitutional reform. We have a great opportunity. We can ensure that we not only guarantee better scrutiny of legislation and Executive action but, by so doing, improve the governance of this country.

8.9 pm

Mr. Clive Soley (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush)

I am very pleased to speak in this debate, and I am delighted that the Joint Committee is being set up. Many months ago, I wrote to the Prime Minister, among others, suggesting this approach. I also asked to be a member of the Committee. [HON. MEMBERS: "Ah."] Yes, although I did not ask that of the Prime Minister. As my name is among the suggested members on the Order Paper, it will come as no great shock to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to hear that if the matter is forced to a Division, I will be voting with him.

I feel very strongly about this issue because, as I have said many times in the House, even way back in the 1980s, Britain has a remarkable history of reforming its constitution. We did so year after year, decade after decade, and in that way we managed to preserve our freedoms very well. Suddenly, at the beginning of the 20th century, we stopped, and that is tragic. Throughout the 20th century, there was no significant change to the constitution after the pre-first world war Liberal Government, until the special exception of the Single European Act, introduced by Margaret Thatcher. That was an enormous constitutional measure, but I do not think that she saw it as such at the time. The Conservatives have changed their view since then.

While we were not reforming our constitution in the way that we had in previous centuries, we were writing constitutions for other countries, and some of them were incredibly successful. One of the points that I shall go on to make about process concerns one such successful constitution, that of West Germany after 1945.

Mr. Tyrie

The hon. Gentleman said that there were no major constitutional changes after the last Liberal Government. I suppose those who saw the creation of Northern Ireland and the independence of Eire might take a different view, as might those who benefited from the extension of universal suffrage to women in 1918 and 1928, and all the life peers along the Corridor, whose position was created in 1958.

Mr. Soley

The example of women's suffrage is powerful, but frankly I think that the other changes are more decorative than real. The life peers changed the system, but they are an example of the problem that we got into, and particularly of the problem that the Labour party got into. The failure to reform was primarily a Conservative failure because the Conservatives were the party in government throughout most of the 20th century, but our failure was to promise to get rid of the hereditary peers but not to do it until a few years ago.

The present Government took a big step forward by avoiding the trap that Michael Foot and others, with enormously good intentions, had fallen into by arguing all the time about the details of the change but not making the first, vital change of getting rid of the hereditary peers. By smashing up the shop, the Government have created a situation in which we must reform the second Chamber. I have never shared the anxieties of some of my colleagues that we will not go on to reform. We will have to go on reforming the second Chamber, whether under this Government or a future one, because it will not stay as it is for much longer, and most of us know that. Sooner or later, it would run into a crisis.

The argument for reform is won. The problem is getting there. I say to the Leader of the House that I have every interest in seeing this done quickly. I do not want delays and I will not be working for them. If it is any help to my hon. Friends on the Back Benches, I am prepared to sit during the recess, although I exclude August, which would be vetoed by my children because they are anticipating a holiday. August is out but anything else is in.

Having said that, I also want to get this right because it is no good saying that we must simply come back here with a set of options. Any one of those options could box us in on a particular reform. If we get that wrong, we will be sad and sorry that we rushed the process. I shall be pushing to get through the business effectively and efficiently, but I also want to return to this place with a number of options, any one of which, with any refinements that we wanted to make, would work.

On a point that fits with what I was saying about the history of reform, my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Tony Wright) said that reform cannot stop here, and I agree that it must go on. I do not want to lay out a blueprint for any one of the options or for a group of options. If I end up being a member of the Committee, as I hope, I ought to go in with an open mind to discuss the various proposals that are made.

Turning back to the West German constitution, however, which we wrote so effectively, I point out that we inserted in that document representation of local government, the Lander. We did so with good reason—to prevent authoritarian Government arising again. For the past 15 years, I have argued in the Chamber and at Labour party conferences that the second Chamber ought to include representation of local government, and now also regional and devolved Government. Indeed, I would argue the case for considering European representation too. As my hon. Friend said, the changing constitutional situation means that it will be even more difficult for us to stand still in future. The House needs to have methods by which we can continue to examine and evolve our constitution.

Kevin Brennan

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Soley

In a moment. I want first to finish this point, because it is linked to my earlier remarks.

I sat on the Modernisation Committee in the last Parliament because I felt that the other thing that we had failed to reform in the 20th century was the procedures in this place. Consequently, in several ways, we allowed this place to become devalued and, at some stages, a laughing stock. We failed to get through any of the reforms that we wanted. There is an awful lot of devil in the detail in this matter, and one approaches what one thinks is the obvious question, but it turns out not to be.

As the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler), who was very helpful on this matter, will be aware, the Modernisation Committee in the last Parliament spent a lot of time, probably too much, trying to work out how we could deal with the ridiculous problem of voting, speaking and passing legislation in the early hours of the morning. After a number of those meetings, I came to the conclusion that we were asking ourselves the wrong question. We needed to ask ourselves how we could get some of this Chamber's business out of the Chamber. I then wrote a paper on what I called, rather inelegantly, the "Primary Committee", which the clerks, in their infinite wisdom and subtlety, finally called Westminster Hall. That is where the idea came from, as the hon. Gentleman will know, and it came about for reasons of time.

When considering reform of the Lords, we must ask ourselves whether it is simply a revising Chamber. I have no doubt that it ought to be, in part, a revising Chamber, but I also believe strongly that part of its activities must focus on protecting and enhancing aspects of our constitution. That is why I highlight the importance of having representation of organisations such as local government. We cannot rush through such consideration, which is why I think that 17 July is nonsense, but that does not mean that we should drag our feet. I am sorry, I have moved on a bit since the point at which my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Kevin Brennan) tried to intervene.

Kevin Brennan

My hon. Friend is making very thoughtful points, but does not he accept that many of the issues that he is raising have been covered in great detail by the Wakeham commission? A big difference in West Germany, whose constitution we helped to write, is that it was a Federal Republic, with a federal constitution that included a lower Chamber elected by proportional representation.

Mr. Soley

My hon. Friend is right on the latter point, but he ought to bear it in mind that some aspects of our actions, on devolution in Scotland and Wales, make this country federal. [Interruption.] I agree that it is not federal, and I did not say that it was, but it has federal aspects.

Because we do not have a written constitution, the British have been very good at making things up as we go along. That is messy but it works quite well, which is why I return to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase that we should not leave things there but continue to move forward. We should not do what we did in the 20th century—stand still and tell ourselves that we have a wonderful Parliament, the best in the world, while everybody else is overtaking in the fast lane.

I acknowledge that a lot of the legwork has been done, although I am not such a fan of the Wakeham commission's report as my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Kevin Brennan) seems to be. I am not knocking its work: some of it was good, although I am less keen on other parts. However, some of the other things that have been written and said do offer us a way forward. What I am trying to say is, yes, I want the work to be done as fast as possible, but I also want workable solutions that recognise the complexity of the issues.

The unspoken argument—of which we as party politicians are all aware but do not talk about much—is that as much as we want Parliament to be a good Parliament that holds Governments to account and all the rest, we know that if we win an election on a party manifesto, we expect to be able to carry out that manifesto without the second Chamber constantly blocking us, which is what happened to Labour Governments throughout the 20th century. We had better come up with a system that recognises that; to do otherwise would be to put the parliamentary aspects wholly above the party aspects, whereas the reality that we have to take on board, whether we like it or not, is that no modern democracy works without political parties.

We want it to be possible to govern effectively and we want the second Chamber—and, I might add, the first—to be able to hold the Government to account, but we also want the second Chamber to be able to protect and enhance aspects of the constitution. The aspect about which I feel strongly is local government, because—unlike some of my hon. Friends, although people outside certainly saw it—throughout the 1980s I watched Governments smash up local government, abolish local government, and impose the poll tax.

I learned a lesson when I entertained a group of West Germans who were fascinated about docklands. Having heard how Michael Heseltine, then Secretary of State for the Environment, had overruled all the local authorities to build docklands, even though the local authorities were all saying no, they asked me how he had the power to do that, saying, "Under West Germany's constitution, he would not have been allowed to do that—yet you wrote our constitution for us." I did not say it at the time, but I thought of the magic saying that the British occasionally utter, "Don't do as we do, do as we tell you."

The issues are complex. That is an argument not for delay, but for very clear and hard thinking. That thinking should focus on matters such as the role of the second Chamber—what it exists to do. I think that it should not only act as a revising Chamber, but serve to protect and enhance parts of the constitution. We might need to take a more radical approach from time to time if we are to avoid falling into the trap that claimed the Modernisation Committee when it spent several meetings considering how we could change the times that this House sat, not focusing on the central issue which was how to get some of the time-consuming business out of this Chamber and into what is now Westminster Hall.

I am very proud of Westminster Hall. The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) thinks that we devalued Parliament in creating Westminster Hall, but I think that it has done wonderful things for Back Benchers. In the long term, it will enable us to enhance the role of this Chamber—but that will only happen when other parts of the constitution are reformed.

I have spoken for longer than I intended. I do not want to lay down blueprints, but I ask hon. Members to recognise the importance of the steps that we are taking and to understand the need for an ongoing process of constitutional reform. We must not get stuck as we did in the 20th century. However much the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) thinks I underestimate some of the reforms that occurred then, historians looking back at the past four centuries would regard the 20th century as the one of least movement.

8.24 pm
Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)

I am grateful for being called and pleased to follow the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush (Mr. Soley)— I almost said for Hammersmith. I shall not follow him down the corridor of his views on our changing constitution and what the role of the second Chamber should be. Instead, I shall concentrate on the terms of the motion, which is to do with setting up a Joint Committee.

I recently joined the Select Committee on Public Administration. I wish that I could take credit for having been a member of the Committee when it published its original report, but I was not. On a personal note, I greatly regret that the Chairman of that Committee, the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Tony Wright), is not to be a member of the Joint Committee, but I realise that not everybody can be.

I support the amendment, but I hope that members of the Public Administration Committee will allow me to point out that I support it to make a consensus. I strongly believe that there should be a limited time scale for the deliberations of the Joint Committee, but I should have preferred a requirement that it report by the end of the current Session, or, for want of a better description, by the end of October. None the less, I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we really should be able to get a decision on the composition of the second Chamber and the element of election to it, if that is to be the case, first and then we can sort out the other matters. I hope that the members of the Joint Committee will bear that in mind.

I started the debate believing that a timetable was preferable. Having heard the Leader of the House, I believe that a timetable is essential. As he put it, it will be necessary for the Committee to report and this House—and, presumably, the other House—to make a decision if legislation is to be presented in the 2002—03 Session. I hope that that might encourage the Joint Committee to act faster rather than slower.

I have one or two, perhaps over-simplified, observations to make. We are all modernists now—

Mr. Forth

No we are not.

Sir Sydney Chapman

Well, almost all of us are, although I include myself in the minority.

I understand that from next Session the House is to sit in September as a matter of course. I think it would be an extraordinarily good thing to have a dry run by inviting the Joint Committee to sit in September.

I apologise in advance for the fact that my next point is slightly party political in nature. The Government, rightly or wrongly, have adopted a procedure whereby before every Bill goes into Committee, its Committee stage is timetabled, as are remaining stages. I should have thought that that made more powerful the case for setting a timetable for the Joint Committee.

There is also something injudicious in the fact that while we in the Commons can see the point of reaching conclusions sooner rather than later, I imagine that Members of the other place—on the principle that turkeys do not vote for an early Christmas—might think that they need to take a long time to determine all the options that they should present to the Commons and the Government.

In trying to adopt an all-party approach, if that is possible, let me refer to the point made by the Scottish National party Members. I might be wrong, but looking at the 12 Members of the House of Commons who have been proposed as members of the Joint Committee, it seems to me that all the regions are covered, with the exception of Scotland. I am more concerned that there is not a Scottish MP on the Committee than that a particular party is not represented.

I am sure that the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush would join me in reminding the House that, in population if not in size, London is considerably larger than Scotland. From a party political viewpoint, I feel strongly that the second party in London should have a representative on the Joint Committee, but I realise that its size makes it impossible to achieve the balance needed to satisfy all the interests.

As the Leader of the House said, there is general consensus on the need for a second Chamber and on its having the sort of powers that the other place currently has. Essentially, the argument centres on composition and what degree of election or appointment there should be to that revised second Chamber.

If it was the responsibility of the Joint Committee to draw up the blueprint for the second Chamber, it would need longer to deliberate. But as it is required to put options, whether there are two or a range—my experience is that there are as many views as there are Members of the House about exactly what the second Chamber should be—the Joint Committee can and should come to its conclusions sooner, rather than later. In short, we all know the arguments. We have rehearsed them for years, particularly over the past year or two. Now it is time to reach decisions.

8.30 pm
Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle)

The terms of the motion are very narrow indeed—to agree or reject the membership and to consider an amendment concerning the timetable. I supported the establishment of the Joint Committee and the Government's decision to leave the matter to Parliament. I did so because the Government's track record on the issue is particularly poor.

The Wakeham commission was a disaster. Anyone who read the responses to the Wakeham report realised that Wakeham got it completely wrong. We all know that the Lord Chancellor was living on another planet when he presented his preferred options. He was not speaking for the parliamentary Labour party or the Labour party but for a very few Members of the House of Lords.

We had the disaster of the people's peers, proposed by my own Government, to huge ridicule. The House of Lords Appointments Commission was ridiculed. The whole episode has been a disaster, so I welcome the decision by the Prime Minister to leave the matter to Parliament.

We have picked over the issue endlessly, and I shall not follow my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush (Mr. Soley) and others by rehearsing the options. We know broadly what they are, but I enter a caveat. My heart sank when my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Tony Wright), I think, mentioned new developments: the regional dimension. Goodness me! We are still consulting on the regions. The regional Green Paper is out to consultation until August. The Government's proposals for the regions are opaque.

It is a characteristic of the Government that on certain difficult issues—this is a difficult issue—there never comes a point where matters crystallise and we are asked to decide. There is always more consultation, more navel-gazing. It is depressing and debilitating. What people out there want, and what I want from my own Government, is clarity of vision and purpose.

I attached my name to the amendment because it concerns me—less so now than before the debate started—that no time frame is mentioned in the motion. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase mentioned, when we tabled the amendment we made the mistake of not specifying the year. The hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler), speaking for the Liberals, and my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush both told the House that they believe, as we believe, that it is possible to bring forward options by 17 July. We are not asking people to go back to the drawing board and produce a blueprint—

Mr. Soley

With respect to my hon. Friend, I said that 17 July was a nonsense date.

Mr. Prentice

Forgive me, I am confusing my hon. Friend with another hon. Member—I shall call him my hon. Friend on the Public Administration Committee—the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Sir Sydney Chapman). He said, I think, that it should be possible to bring forward options at an early date.

Sir Sydney Chapman

I said that I went along with the consensus of the Committee in specifying the date of 17 July, but I personally would have preferred to submit a report by the end of the Session—say, by the end of October.

Mr. Prentice

I have got it all seriously wrong. Clearly, I am speaking of what I want to happen. This is a kind of Vulcan mind meld. I do not know whether we are all Trekkies, but some of us are.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)

Order. May I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that he would help himself by talking about what he wants, rather than recapitulating what other hon. Members have been saying?

Mr. Prentice

It should be possible to bring forward proposals by the end of July. I have no doubt about that. Anyone who reads the Public Administration Committee report would be convinced that it is possible to find a consensus where, perhaps, it was thought previously that none existed.

That is the case in the report from the Select Committee. My hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase reminded the House that we started to take evidence in December and I think that we produced our report on 14 February. No doubt I will be corrected if I am wrong. The Select Committee encompassed a range of views, but we settled on a recommendation of 60 per cent. directly elected. We thought in our wisdom that that would find favour with the Government, although we state in the report: Had we started with a clean slate…the majority preference on the Committee would have been for a wholly elected and much smaller second chamber", which is my preference.

I have no problems with the membership of the Joint Committee. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that its members are all distinguished and of great standing. However, we need to consider how the members of Joint Committees are selected in future. I had not realised, until my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush told the House, that he had applied. I made a very public application last Thursday to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, and I thought that he was seriously considering it, but there we are.

Finally, I return to the matter that I touched on earlier—the centre of gravity. I do not want people from the other end inventing their own centre of gravity. I want them to look at the evidence. The Conservative party's position is that 80 per cent. should be elected and 20 per cent. indirectly elected or nominated. The Liberal party's position is that 80 per cent. should be elected, and 20 per cent. nominated. The Public Administration Committee recommended that 60 per cent. should be elected.

Perhaps I was expecting too much of the Joint Committee in hoping that it could meet during the summer. Having listened to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, I believe that a realistic deadline for a final report would be the turn of the year, so that legislation can be introduced. I hope that the House will endorse that approach.

8.38 pm
Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion)

The only issue that I agree with so far is that we are discussing a key constitutional matter that needs to be settled. As the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush (Mr. Soley) said, reform of the House of Lords is essential because the present situation is untenable. The Government have interfered with processes in the other place and they now have to finish the job. That should be a matter for Members of this place rather than for the Government. The Government have failed miserably to take Back-Bench Labour Members with them, let alone the rest of the House.

Unless one is a member of one of the three largest parties in the House, the motion is entirely unacceptable. It contains no recognition of the minority parties in the House. The Leader of the House danced on the end of a pin to justify the motion in terms of logistics and statistics. He ignored the fact that there will be a Committee of 24, a number that would legitimately require a minority party member to be on it. He said that 12 members will be nominated by the House, and only the 12 will count. By that logic, no Joint Committee will ever have a minority party Member on it. We will never count in those terms. That is unacceptable for Members of minority parties, and I suggest that it should be unacceptable for anyone who takes the Chamber seriously and for the process of democracy.

The Leader of the House has suggested that these Joint Committees should become a more obvious feature of our constitutional arrangements in the House, and that we should be doing more jointly with the other place. When we arrive at a reformed House of Lords that will contain at least a majority of elected Members, I expect that we will work much more closely with it. As a member of the Catering Committee, which is my highest standing in this place at present, I know that we cannot agree with the House of Lords about co-ordinating the opening and shutting of our catering facilities. There is much to do to improve relations between this place and the other place. Future Joint Committees have had a worrying precedent set this evening.

Mr. Stephen McCabe Birmingham, Hall Green)

There are already differences between this place and the other place, as there are between parties in this place. What special or unique bearing would a minority party bring to the debate? Surely the purpose of a Joint Committee is the recognition that there are differences within parties in this place, and that we are seeking consensus.

Mr. Thomas

That was a disappointing intervention. It suggests that minority parties never bring anything to this place. If the hon Gentleman's logic is taken to a reasonable conclusion, representation does not count. Yet we represent 1.5 million voters. In opposing the motion, I am arguing that representation of the different constituent parts of the United Kingdom should be reflected in the Committee. I do not mind whether it is a member of my party, the Scottish National party, the two Unionist parties or the Social Democratic and Labour party. I want the House to recognise that there is a representational role in respect of the individual nations that form the United Kingdom that has not been reflected in the proposed Committee.

It has been pointed out that there will no representative of a Scottish constituency on the Committee. I have a slightly more sophisticated argument than that because there will be a Welsh Member. I may not want him to be on the Committee, but at least he is there. I know that his views will be different from those that I would like to be explored. I shall explain why I take that view.

There has been an underlying debate about the House of Lords interacting in some way with regional devolution in England and national devolution in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland. That argument has been advanced by two senior Members who will be members of the Committee if the motion is agreed to: the hon. Members for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush and for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler). That means that there is a crucial role for the minority parties in this place because we stand for election in only one country in the United Kingdom.

We are minority parties not because of the votes that we receive but because we concentrate on only one area of the United Kingdom. I do not represent a minority party in Wales because my party is the official Opposition in the National Assembly for Wales. We got within a whisker of the Labour party's vote in the European elections.

The SNP is not a minority party in Scotland because it is the official Opposition in the Scottish Parliament. The Ulster Unionists and the SDLP are not minority parties in Northern Ireland but parties of government that are essential to the process there.

Ms Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley)

Surely the hon. Gentleman is missing the point. It is not the purpose of the Committee to produce a solution. It is a mechanism that will enable all Members of this place, from whatever party, to express their views on composition. The motion may be regrettable from the hon. Gentleman's point of view, but his view will be able to be expressed as will mine or that of any Member who is not on the Committee.

Mr. Thomas

I think that the hon. Lady has missed the point. I regret that the view that I have tried to get across has gone over her head. The clear message from the motion is that there is no place for any minority party on a Joint Committee. That is the message and the dangerous precedent that is being set. She may be right in terms of the Committee's report, as we will all have a chance to debate it. However, I shall say a little more in a moment about why I think that she is incorrect even on the narrow point that she made.

The logic of the dangerous precedent that is being set is that of excluding the minority parties from constitutional debates, and we can see the same thing in another area. We were told recently that the Prime Minister will soon grace the Liaison Committee with his presence. The Committee, which I think has 34 members, will therefore cross-examine and question the Prime Minister about his work, but no member of any minority party will be present, as we have no Chairmen. We have never had a Select Committee Chairman in this place, so we have had no role on the Liaison Committee. Therefore, a Committee of 34 members, which should have at least one, if not about 1.6, minority party members, does not have any minority party representation. I ask the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Ms Munn) whether that is an acceptable situation. The Liaison Committee is being promulgated by the Government as a huge, modernising step forward—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I can understand an allusion to that matter, but it is outside the terms of the motion that we are discussing. May I urge the hon. Gentleman back to the confines of the motion on the Order Paper?

Mr. Thomas

I shall certainly return to the motion, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I was trying to deal with the dangerous precedent that is being set. Until then, I had confined my remarks to the establishment of the Joint Committee. I shall not even touch on what the recommendations should be, as that is another matter that we will come to in future.

Kevin Brennan

I understand why the hon. Gentleman and his party might feel left out of the process, because they are not represented, but is he really saying that his commonality of interest is so powerful that he would be happy to be represented by the Democratic Unionist party on the Committee that is dealing with such an important constitutional matter?

Mr. Thomas

I am arguing for inclusion on the Committee and other Joint Committees—and, indeed, the Liaison Committee—of a member of a minority party. Once the principle is accepted that Joint Committees of more than 20 members should include a minority party member, I am sure that as more Joint Committees are established, the time for Plaid Cymru will come, just as for the Scottish National party and the SDLP. I am not concerned about which party takes the one place in question now, because I am arguing about the principle and not individual membership.

I do not blame the Leader of the House or the Opposition for the current situation, as I think that it is a result of the abject failure of the reform process and the way in which we go about our business in the House and select Select Committee members. We all recall the stitch-up of a few weeks ago, when proposals made by the Leader of the House, which I fully supported, were scuppered by the underhand actions of the Whips Office. The stitch-up was cooked in the Whips Office and served up by compliant Back Benchers.

Mr. Robin Cook

It was not cooked up.

Mr. Thomas

It was undercooked, but served up by compliant Back Benchers who were anxious to be seen to be doing the Whips' bidding in a so-called free vote. I am not surprised that we have not got the arrangements right for the House properly to select members of Select Committees, Joint Committees, the Liaison Committee and whatever other Committees. I am very concerned, as are hon. Members from all the minority parties of this House—

Kevin Brennan

Where are they?

Mr. Thomas

The hon. Gentleman will see them when we vote.

I am very concerned about the precedent that we are establishing. I thought that even the narrow point made by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley was incorrect because we know already what the options are. One option is a fully elected House and another is a fully nominated House. It is the third option that we are charging the Committee to propose, and that is the crucial option. because whatever side of this spectrum we are on—I am on the fully elected side—we know that it will somehow carry the day, as it will be the only one that can muddle through the processes that we have established to decide these matters. We will use it to make the final decision on the proportion of elected Members in the House of Lords and it will be produced by the Joint Committee. We have heard protestations all along that the Joint Committee will not come up with a blueprint, but it will. Once it does, the pragmatic reality is that the third option is the only one likely to go through.

Mr. Tyler

The hon. Gentleman may have misread the motion before the House which talks about a number of intermediate options. There will not necessarily be just a third option, but a fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth option if the Joint Committee recommended that.

Mr. Thomas

I did not misread the motion. The reality is that a preferred option will sneak its way through, so the point made by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley falls. Whether we have just one option or the number of options to which the hon. Member for North Cornwall referred, the Joint Committee will produce the blueprint. The lack of any representation of any minority party on that Committee is a backward step in the modernisation the House. It fails both devolution and our representational and territorial role as minority parties in these debates.

8.51 pm
Fiona Mactaggart (Slough)

I congratulate the Government on ditching the White Paper, with its scandalous accusations that elections would be a bad thing for the second Chamber. They have accepted the weight of public and parliamentary opinion that that solution would not be acceptable and would stick in our throats. In revising the constitution, the Government need to bring Parliament and the public with them.

I urge swift progress towards a vote for options on the composition of the second Chamber. Some people suggest that deciding composition is a secondary matter deriving from the powers of the second Chamber. At present, we are going about that in the right way. There is a broadly settled view about powers. The proposals and reports produced every decade since the beginning of the last century on reform of the second Chamber overwhelmingly endorse a second Chamber which is a deliberative, revising Chamber that contributes to scrutiny of the Executive. There are marginal variations at different periods, but that is the continuing theme of reports and proposals from Governments of all parties for reform, most of which have not got anywhere.

Mr. McCabe

I want to agree with my hon. Friend, but the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) has a different view on the powers of the second Chamber. If his view commanded a broader majority in the Conservative party, would that not mean that the consensus on which my hon. Friend is relying would not exist? In those circumstances, to argue about composition before we have agreed on functions, role and powers would be an error.

Fiona Mactaggart

My hon. Friend is jumping into a trap created by the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst. That is something that the right hon. Gentleman frequently does with great charm and aplomb. He takes one position one day and another the next day to wind us up, and at the moment he is succeeding. That makes him very happy. I suggest that we should not fall into his trap and should not be wound up. It is interesting to watch the right hon. Gentleman's journey on this subject. It has consistently reflected his commitment to this Chamber—which is deeply held—and to Parliament, but it is also about how he can do the best thing for his party. That is not an unrespectable position to take, and it is not one that he has always taken, but it is the role that he plays as shadow Leader of the House. We should enjoy watching it, but not fall into his heffalump trap.

History shows that although the function is broadly a settled question, the issue that has caused controversy in every decade, especially recently, is that of where the second Chamber derives its authority from. That is the underlying issue in respect of composition. There needs to be a clear decision about the source of that authority. Does it come from the people, through voting; from other institutions of civic society—as my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush (Mr. Soley) suggested in terms of the involvement of local government—or from the appointment of the great and the good, following on from life peerages and people's peers?

That seems to be a chronically unsettled question, yet in practice it is settled both in public opinion and in the opinion of the House. Every time the public are consulted, it is clear that they think that the people should give permission and authority to legislators in the second, as well as the primary, Chamber of the House. The view of this House has been made clear by the breadth and depth of support for early-day motion 226, tabled by me and some of my hon. Friends, which has gained more than 300 signatures—a clear majority of the 571 Members of Parliament who are neither Ministers nor Government Whips.

Mr. Andrew Turner

The hon. Lady talks about public opinion. Does it surprise her to learn that of the 60 million or so people in this kingdom, fewer responded to this consultation than to a consultation by Isle of Wight council on the pedestrianisation of Newport high street?

Fiona Mactaggart

Not at all. That is not because people are not interested in how they are governed, but, I am afraid, because the White Paper was rightly treated with derision by the public as it was such a flawed piece of work. The grown-up aspect of what the Government are doing—it is unusual for a Government, and worthy of praise—is to say, "We were wrong; we are prepared to look again and think again on this matter." Public opinion is not often expressed in specific responses to a consultation on a deeply flawed White Paper. It is expressed in other ways, and every time that it has been measured on this subject it has been clear.

Let me urge the Committee, in giving us the opportunity speedily to achieve what my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House called a centre of gravity in relation to the composition of the second Chamber and the source of its Members' authority, to take a leaf from the book of those of us who tabled early-day motion 226—that is, to concentrate on finding what we agree on rather than what divides us. If we consider the history of the debate, we realise that the search for perfection has been the enemy of progress.

We are parliamentarians and we therefore hold opinions. I urge members of the Joint Committee, who will all approach their deliberations with a view of the perfect solution, to submerge perfection and build consensus, which can be the platform for progress. Unless we do that, we shall simply be this decade's example of failure to make progress on an important constitutional question.

The debate about the irrelevance of politics and about politicians being self-serving, boring and more interested in whether they can outflank the royal family will be fuelled by our failure to take responsibility and say that we can improve the way in which the country is governed. We have a duty and an opportunity to do that now. I wish the Joint Committee well, but warn it not to delay. We must act now.

9.1 pm

Mr. Andrew Tyrie (Chichester)

I have been an Opposition Member since 1997 and it is therefore refreshing to listen to speeches from all parties with which I can largely agree. I hope that that happens more often in future.

I congratulate the Government on introducing the proposal. The Leader of the House has done a marvellous job in getting the motion on the Order Paper today. I support the motion, for which I shall vote if there is a Division. I have been pressing my party and arguing in the House for such an approach for more than five years. I am delighted that we have got this far.

That leaves the question of whether to support the amendment if it is pressed to a Division. I do not instinctively support restrictive timetabling for measures of constitutional reform; I sympathise with the views of the shadow Leader of the House on that. However, I have listened carefully to the arguments tonight and I believe that I am persuaded of the case for the amendment, for three reasons.

First, it deals only with the need for clarity on the narrow issue of composition, which is the basic building block for subsequent reform. Without that, we cannot proceed far. Secondly, composition has been aired and debated fully. There is no need for extensive further consultation and hearings by the Committee. It already has the requisite information to draft a proposal to put before the House. Thirdly, and most important, some Committee members—their names are on the Order Paper—will be determined to prevent meaningful progress. Indeed, several members have said on the record that they do not support any change and will be obstructive. Lord Weatherill said that keeping the status quo was, a consummation devoutly to be wished. I have no reason to believe that he has changed his view.

Mr. Forth

Given our current position and that the measure has to go back to another place for final resolution before the Committee is formally established, is it reasonable to expect the Committee to meet for the first time, elect its Chairman, settle its procedures, survey the progress made today and determine sensible options for the House by the date that the amendment specifies? Does my hon. Friend, with his customary thoughtfulness, truly believe that?

Mr. Tyrie

I thank my right hon. Friend for his final remark. I believe that a month is a reasonable time for determining the basic point. However, if hon. Members agree with my right hon. Friend, perhaps the time could be extended until the end of the Session. I should certainly support that, too. We have, however, reached the point at which we must push this matter forward. There has been interminable delay on every aspect of this reform, as other hon. Members have pointed out.

I would like clarification on one point, and I would be grateful if the hon. Member for Cannock Chase would nod his head if I am correct in assuming that I am supporting an amendment that refers to direct elections rather than just elections.

Tony Wright

indicated assent.

Mr. Tyrie

I am getting the affirmation that I was looking for, and I can therefore wholeheartedly—or, at least, reasonably heartedly—support the amendment.

I have one other brief point to make to the hon. Gentleman, which comes under the heading of "Getting from here to there". Whether or not his amendment is passed, I hope that, in an effort to speed things up, the Public Administration Committee would consider submitting a draft proposal to the Lords Committee, setting out how the proposal for voting could be implemented by both Houses of Parliament. I suggest that his Committee do some of the work right away—in a sense to disprove the point that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) has just made—to show that this work can be done expeditiously and that it is relatively simple to draft the motion on composition.

I recommend that the hon. Gentleman and his Committee draft that motion and submit it as a proposal of a Select Committee of the House to the Committee on House of Lords reform. That would concentrate the minds of the Lords Committee on the need to get on with this, even if we do not get the hon. Gentleman's amendment. I hope that he will give consideration to that proposal. I realise that he and his Committee might have other investigations under way, but it is not asking a great deal of the Committee to consider such a draft.

I have one last point, which I want to communicate to the members of the Committee as they think about what to do. In this attempt at Lords reform, we are in new territory in the crucial area of composition. There is a very high degree of agreement among people in many parts of the country about what to do. In all previous reform attempts, that has not been so. In the 1960s, people were all over the place. Indeed, the current Prime Minister would have been right to say of that time that there were as many proposals as there were Members of the House. However, that is not true this time.

I am sure that far more members of the Labour party support election than ever before. There has been a sharp decline in the Labour party of support for unicameralism—for abolishing the Lords altogether. Many might still hanker after that, but a very high proportion now seem in favour of election. In the Conservative party, there has been a transformation. In 1997, it was certainly against election. It is not now. I would say that three quarters of the present parliamentary party support majority election for the House of Lords.

I have tabled an early-day motion on this matter, as has the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart). As she points out, the combined effect of all this work on early-day motions is to show that more than half of all Back Benchers are even prepared to put their head above the parapet and sign on the dotted line for majority election. In so doing, they are, of course, in line with public opinion. More than three quarters of the public support election. They have done so in opinion polls, which have been phrased in different ways at different times to different groups, using different samples, but which broadly speaking have consistently come up with the same answer. The polls have always shown that between three quarters and 85 per cent.—occasionally 90 per cent.—of those questioned were in favour of at least a majority elected second Chamber of Parliament.

If the Lords reform Committee fails to permit Parliament to express its opinion on this crucial issue of composition—if it lets us down—it will also be letting the wider public down, and, in the long run, the growing number of us who want constitutional reform on this issue will not forgive it.

9.10 pm
Kevin Brennan (Cardiff, West)

Time is brief and I shall try not delay the House so that other Members can speak before the winding—up speech. I welcome the motion before us, and I hope that the Joint Committee will indeed be established. However, on reading the motion carefully, it seems that, despite tonight's debate, the ordering of paragraphs has put the cart before the horse—or perhaps I should say the Lord before the cook. Paragraph (1) states that the Joint Committee should consider issues relating to House of Lords reform, including the composition and powers of the Second Chamber and its role and authority within the context of Parliament as a whole". Not until paragraph (2) is it stated that the Joint Committee's first task—a task that need not delay us for months or years—is to define and present to both Houses options for composition, including a fully nominated and fully elected House, and intermediate options". I agree with the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) that we could have more than one intermediate option, but I hope that he was not serious in talking about six, seven, eight or nine options. To go down that road would, along with his detailed exegesis of proportional representation, ensure delay in the introduction of composition options.

Mr. Robin Cook

I raise not a point of disagreement but a technical footnote on which it is important to reflect. If the Joint Committee recommended just one intermediate option, involving certain percentages of the elected and the appointed, it would of course be amendable. Any Member of the House could suggest different percentages, and table an amendment to that effect. In practical terms, the offer of one intermediate solution therefore opens the way to others. That is why I share my hon. Friend's view that it would be helpful if the Joint Committee were under no pressure to produce six different alternatives.

Kevin Brennan

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that intervention, and having heard it I now understand why he said that he could spend two minutes in a room and come up with the three options being presented to the House. Of course, any option could be amended to take account of the proposal put forward unanimously by the Public Administration Committee, which includes Labour and Opposition Members. I should add that we on the Committee were not in agreement in approaching this issue. We came from many different perspectives, but we did agree that progress must be made and that we must take this opportunity to bring about reform.

I do not care what positions prospective members of the Joint Committee held on this issue, but I hope that they adopt the same attitude as we did, and approach it in the same spirit—that of bringing about reform. If the House does not want reform, it can vote accordingly, but it must be given an early opportunity to vote. Perhaps the House does not agree with the date suggested in our amendment, but, as was pointed out, we should not set a date of July 2003 or 2004. We know what would happen if such a date were set.

I reiterate that the first job is to produce composition options, but I should also point out that it is possible to proceed quickly. You will undoubtedly know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that when my home county, Glamorgan, played Surrey today in a one-day match on the other side of the river, at the Oval, more than 850 runs were scored in 50 overs. That shows that, with the right attitude, it is possible to dispatch the ball to the boundary and make quick progress. However, if many players on this particular team are determined to present a straight bat to every proposal, we will make no progress, perish, and end up with a boring draw.

I turn briefly to the membership of the Joint Committee. I agree that the proposed names represent a distinguished group of hon. Members; among them is my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Mr. Bryant), who is new to the House. However, 303 hon. Members signed the early-day motion in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart). I congratulate the person who, according to the House's mysterious processes, was responsible for selecting the membership of the Committee, as that person was able to find 11 hon. Members who did not sign that early-day motion.

That is extraordinary. I checked the 303 signatories, and I apologise if I have missed someone. I am willing to stand corrected, but as far as I can tell the only member of the Committee who signed the early-day motion proposing that we should have a second Chamber that is wholly or substantially elected was my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda.

Mr. Gordon Prentice

What about my right hon. Friend the Member for Tyneside, North (Mr. Byers)?

Kevin Brennan

His name does not appear on my list.

Fiona Mactaggart

My right hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West (Joyce Quin) is also a signatory.

Mr. Tyler

As am I.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome)

The hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Kevin Brennan) should provide a number of options.

Kevin Brennan

I am providing a number of options, as the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) suggests. The shadow Leader of the House, the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), is clearly right not to trust the modern technology that provided me with the print-out.

I hope that members of the Joint Committee will read tonight's debate. If the amendment is not pressed, I hope that that will not be taken as an excuse for delay, because delay means no change. If the tactic is to delay, there will be no change. We must be clear and honest about that.

If reform is prevented by delaying tactics and the deliberate use of the straight bat, Parliament will lose its credibility as an institution, because we will not be doing what we claim to he doing. We will not be being straight and honest with the public. The issue may not be of great importance for people in high streets around the country, but when they lose faith that politicians will do what they say that they will do, we will all perish.

9.17 pm
Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight)

The question of how we rule ourselves is probably the second most important of all those that could come before the House, the most important being whether we rule ourselves. The composition of the upper House and its functions, powers and legitimacy are of course of great importance in the matter of how we rule ourselves.

I must, however, immediately dispute the assertion made by the hon. Members for Cardiff. West (Kevin Brennan) and for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush (Mr. Soley) that we have to move on. The hon. Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush made what I thought was both an astonishing admission and an astonishing attack on his Government, although I am sure that it was not intended as such. He applauded the way in which the Government had waded in and—I think that these were his words——"smashed up the shop". He said that it was therefore necessary that something be done to put the shop back together again.

The Government have certainly made changes to the upper House that I and many others regret, but their action could not be described as "smashing up the shop". We still have a perfectly effective, functioning and legitimate House of Lords. It is certainly as legitimate as anything that may be cobbled together as a result of this motion.

The House of Lords presents no threat to the Government's business. It scrutinises legislation and holds the Government to account perhaps a little more effectively than this House.

Mr. Forth

A lot more effectively.

Mr. Turner

From a sedentary position. my right hon. Friend says that it does so a lot more effectively, and I concur with him. However, the House of Lords does not obstruct the Government's legislation unnecessarily—indeed, it improves it, as I am sure that the Home Secretary, for one, would admit, in retrospect.

Mr. Tyrie

Is my hon. Friend aware that more than three quarters of so-called improving amendments are tabled by the Government to patch up shoddy legislation brought in here and then bunged up there for subsequent improvement?

Mr. Turner

My hon. Friend is right. The House of Lords debates and accepts those amendments, and a further quarter of their own devising, in many cases improving the quality of legislation.

The only serious problem with the House of Lords is its size and the capacity that the Prime Minister of the day has to pack it if he wishes, although heaven forfend that I suggest he does. I should not criticise the unrepresentative nature of some recent appointments to the peerage because the peerage is not meant to be representative. However, it is noticeable that a huge proportion of recent appointees to the peerage live in the south-east of England and a tiny proportion live in other regions of England.

May I say to the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Kevin Brennan) that there are worse things in life than a boring draw, as I am sure members of the England team would have agreed after their boring draw with Sweden in the early rounds of the World cup? Worse than a boring draw would be a worse upper House. It might be more representative and present more of a challenge to this House and its members but it might obstruct the Government's business for no good reason and exclude many of the able and intelligent people, represented largely by life peers at present, who would not dream in a month of Sundays of putting themselves forward for election.

The fact that so few people responded to the consultation contained in the document—1,113 out of a population of 60 million—may be, as the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) said, because the White Paper was treated with derision. Or it could simply be that there is no overwhelming demand across the country for a wholesale reform of the House of Lords. There certainly is not in the pubs and clubs or on the beaches of the Isle of Wight. The consultation is wholly unrepresentative. It is not even as representative as the Isle of Wight council's consultation on the pedestrianisation of Newport high street, to which 1,135 people out of 130,000 responded.

The hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) suggested that we should not consult any more. The Government appear to have a strategy of consulting to death, until the people in the final consultation are such a tiny distillation of the political classes that the Government can, if they wish, ignore the result. However, on this occasion, the Government and the Joint Committee, if it is established, should ignore the result.

We need proper consultation on the powers of the House of Lords or its replacement, its functions and its composition. That consultation should be undertaken by the Joint Committee in the regions, involving real people, not just the political classes, so that they have a genuine say, an accessible opportunity to give their views on this important element in our constitution. [Interruption.] Labour Members seem to treat with derision the idea of people in the regions having a genuine say.

Fiona Mactaggart

I was not laughing at the proposal to consult people in the regions, as the Wakeham commission did. That consultation has continued, and I fear that the hon. Gentleman is arguing for consultation because he is not eager to make progress.

Mr. Turner

The hon. Lady is right— [HON. MEMBERS: "Ah!"]—I am not willing to make progress in the wrong direction. My hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) said that one quarter of the parliamentary Conservative party was not in favour. As one of the four hon. Members to have spoken from the Conservative Benches, I probably am that one quarter. However, we must understand the profound conservatism of the British people, who do not want their constitutional arrangements to be upended for no good reason. I am not sure that that has come through in the consultations so far.

On the functions of the House of Lords, of course, it is important that it should scrutinise legislation and hold the Government to account. It is still more important that it should protect and enhance our constitution and provide a constitutional longstop to the Government's ability to get constitutional changes through this House on a whipped vote. It is also important that the House of Lords should represent those people who would not dream of standing for election. I believe that the established Church should also be represented in that House.

I take my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) seriously when he says that the House of Lords might take on a greater role in holding the Government to account. That is certainly the only justification that I can think of for a larger elected element, accountable to the people.

The other issue is the range of options that the Committee is asked to produce. I am unsure that it is right that it should start, as hon. Members on both sides of the House seem to have accepted, by determining the composition of the other place. It has to start by determining the powers; then it must consider the different elements of the composition. That is not a one-dimensional question. It is not simply a question of 100 per cent. nominated at one end and 100 per cent. elected at the other. The nominated category encompasses an infinite variety, ranging from the retention of existing life peers to a big bang nomination of 100 per cent. by the Government of the day, the political parties, regional assemblies where those exist, Uncle Tom Cobleigh and all—the corporate institutions, the Confederation of British Industry and the trade unions.

The question of composition is not one-dimensional at the nominated end of the spectrum, nor is it one-dimensional at the elected end. Does elected mean directly or indirectly elected? Although we have the nod from the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Tony Wright), I am not sure that we have the nod from anyone on the Treasury Bench as to whether "elected" in the motion refers only to directly elected.

It is a widely held view that there are too many politicians in this country already— [Interruption.] That is, politicians of all parties. A 100 per cent. elected House of Lords would simply be a job creation scheme for second-rate politicians. Although I do not wish to go into the details of voting systems, the single transferable vote proposed by the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) would be the worst possible form of election because the only way in which one could be elected if one did not have a constituency interest would be by publicity seeking or representing more and more extreme views of one type or another.

I hope that the Joint Committee will consider not only the type of elected individual, if it is considering elections, but also the means of election. We cannot make these decisions separately; we must make them together. If it takes longer to take a better decision, it is right that the Committee should take longer.

9.29 pm
Mr. Chris Bryant (Rhondda)

I am delighted to speak in this debate as the last Back Bencher to be called. This is the second time that I have achieved that honour in debates on Lords reform. I am also delighted, if the motion is approved tonight, to achieve the honour of providing some freshness on the Committee—in the words of the shadow Leader of the House—and to act, in the words of the Leader of the House, as a shop steward or convenor for the forces of progress.

I had been delighted with the whole thrust of the debate until the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) spoke. He took us down several avenues that are not likely to help the Committee. Indeed, they might have been specifically designed to hinder the Committee in the progress that it might make. It is worth remembering that the major reason for the Committee—and why I welcome the Government's decision to set it up—is that the House of Lords still seems to the vast majority of people more like something out of a Shakespearean play, rather than a legislative body. It still contains the Bishop of Chester and the Bishop of Carlisle—characters from "Richard II", "Richard III", "Henry IV", parts I and 2, and "Henry VI", parts 1, 2 and 3, who are all still forming legislation for this country.

David Winnick (Walsall, North)

They must be pretty old by now.

Mr. Bryant

The personnel change, but they retain the titles. It is as if Bushy, Bagot and Green will come in at any moment and offer their allegiance to the king.

The House of Lords still feels wholly unrepresentative. One might expect the second Chamber to look more like the country from which it is drawn.

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury)

It does.

Mr. Bryant

It does not look anything like it. It may look like the planet from which the hon. Gentleman has come, but it does not look like the country from which the rest of us have come. The second Chamber, as presently constituted, still has significant powers but without authority, accountability or legitimacy. That must be a fundamental problem for the British constitution.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush (Mr. Soley) made the point well that Britain has taken great pride in its constitution by virtue of its ability to adapt, reform and change. We now need to make additional change. In the words of the Leader of the House in the first debate held on the issue since I was elected, a centre of gravity already exists, certainly in this Chamber. It is intriguing that those who argue for no change often do so on the basis that they want to retain the primacy of this Chamber. However, they are often prepared to pray in aid the views of the second Chamber as if it should hold primacy on this sole issue.

The centre of gravity on the issue has been evident in many of the debates that we have already had on this subject. It includes the belief that we should have a second Chamber that is a secondary and revising House, without significant additional powers of any kind. I believe that the majority of Members of this House think that any additional powers that it has should be exercised with legitimacy. There is also a centre of gravity around the belief that the second Chamber should be smaller, with transitional arrangements to take us from the present situation to a better one.

Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings)

The hon. Gentleman seems to be arguing that the only form of political legitimacy is democratic legitimacy. Surely he is far too intelligent to believe that. If he did, he would have to argue that the monarchy, and our head of state, were not politically legitimate.

Mr. Bryant

The monarchy and our head of state as currently constituted attract the support of the vast majority of the people in this country, as was demonstrated when Her Majesty visited the Rhondda last week. However, I personally believe that the best form of legitimacy for any country is democracy, and we should push arguments for democracy more strongly, especially when democracy is having a difficult time.

As one who, I hope, will be put on the Committee by the end of this evening, I want to issue a couple of warnings. First, the Committee has been referred to by many in the press and the media, including the BBC website, as the "long-grass Committee". I am something of an expert on long grass, as I have not cut the grass in my garden for some time. I bought a strimmer last week, however, and, in recognition of how strong the grass is in my garden, a bush cutter. Perhaps it would be a good idea if all members of the Committee were issued with strimmers to make sure that it does not stay long in the long grass and that we can get it right back in the middle of the lawn.

My second warning is that there is no point in the Committee repeating the work of previous Committees. There has been a royal commission and endless different Committees of the House and of the other place. Various different organisations and think tanks have been round these bushes so often that it is time that we cut through the Gordian knot. That will not best be done by trying to repeat the work by calling a vast array of witnesses who have already given evidence to Select Committees. It is most important that we move forward.

On the best way to move forward—perhaps the Minister will reply to this later—there still seems to be uncertainty about what stage 1 and 2 are. My understanding is that stage 1 puts a simple series of questions—not fully worked out options—about the composition of a new second Chamber. For instance, will the composition be 0 per cent., 60 per cent., or 100 per cent.? We shall vote on those and any amendments but not on a wholly worked-out system. That is the building block for the second stage. Once the Committee knows whether the composition is to be 0 per cent., 60 per cent., or 100 per cent., it can put forward a whole set of proposals with recommendations about the electoral system, length of service, transitional arrangements and other issues that will need to be addressed.

If the Committee spends a large amount of time in its first months deliberating about all those other issues, it will never manage to achieve the most important first step of establishing the building blocks of what the composition should look like. Above all, the final outcome—this must be a kind of lodestar for the Committee—is a historic opportunity to create a settled constitution. A parliamentary system that commands authority, respect and legitimacy, not just in one part but in its entirety, can only bring greater respect and legitimacy to the whole of the political endeavour, which can only be good for democracy and for Britain. I also believe that it cannot be beyond the wit of the men and women on the Committee, and of the whole political system of this country, to devise a parliamentary stem that is complementary, in which the two Chambers work together, not in competition, but have separate roles.

Many members of the Labour party might say that these constitutional issues are largely irrelevant compared with the bread-and-butter issues of law and order, health, education and transport. In many ways, I agree. The Labour Government will stand or fall on those issues far more than on this one. The question of how we choose to run the country, however, is about the way in which we use power. I shall make no apologies, as the Member of Parliament for the Rhondda, for spending what I estimate will be a considerable part of the summer and other parts of the year ahead working on this matter, if only because the first Member of Parliament for the Rhondda, William Abrahams—who was known by all as Mabon—spent all of his maiden speech, and much of his parliamentary career, trying to seek the disestablishment of the Church of Wales, as it then was, and, subsequently, of the Church in Wales, and trying to make sure that the bishops of the Church of England were removed from the House of Lords.

I hope that we can finish the job on behalf of Mabon. I note that there is no bishop on the Committee, and that is a significant first step. It is the first time that there has not been a bishop on any Committee that has been set up to try to reform the House of Lords. I hope that we follow through in that style.

9.39 pm
The Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office (Mr. Ben Bradshaw)

It is with pleasure that I close what all Members will agree has been an extremely valuable and constructive debate on setting up the Joint Committee.

In establishing the Joint Committee, the Government have taken an historic step—to put the decision on Parliament's future into the hands of Parliament itself. We believe that the membership of the Joint Committee broadly reflects the range of views in this House and the other place, as have been expressed in this and earlier debates and in the response to the Government's consultation. The initial phase of the Committee's work will be followed by detailed consideration of the implementation of reform. After that, it is the Government's intention to legislate.

We also believe that it is right for both Chambers to have an opportunity to express their collective view on the issue, and that is why the first task for the Joint Committee is to devise a set of options for the composition of the second Chamber. They will be put to the House in free votes.

We have heard many contributions to the debate urging speed on the Joint Committee. They have been given focus by the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Tony Wright) and his fellow members of the Public Administration Committee. We have heard many voices in the Chamber calling particularly for speed in putting forward the options for the free votes. I am sure that members of the Committee, many of whom have spoken in the debate, have heard those exhortations.

The Government did not want to set a deadline for the Joint Committee to report, because we felt that it should be a matter for the Committee itself to set a timetable. However, I am sure that it will take into account what has been said in the debate.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase made a number of specific recommendations about timing and I hope that he was reassured by what my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said when he made it clear that we will have to have the options on which to vote by the autumn if we are to keep to a timetable of introducing legislation in the next Session. As my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) requested, there will have to be a final report by the end of the year. We are with my hon. Friends on timing. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase acknowledged, the Government want to make progress and bring the matter to a conclusion. I hope that what I and my right hon. Friend have said this evening will be enough to persuade my hon. Friend not to press his amendment to the vote.

Tony Wright

In the spirit of compromise that we have urged on the House so as to make progress, let me give my hon. Friend the assurance that he requires In view of the assurances that he is giving now and that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House gave earlier, I confirm that we will not press our amendment to the vote.

Mr. Bradshaw

I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend.

My hon. Friend also made several points about the important role that his Select Committee's report played in contributing to the debate. I agree with him on that. He commended to the House and to those watching and listening outside that part of the report entitled "Getting from here to there", and I recommend the whole report to those Members who have not yet read it. It is excellent, and we share his sense of urgency.

My hon. Friend also expressed regret that none of the members of the Joint Committee were drawn from his Select Committee. I hear what he says hut, if it is any consolation, the whole House would expect him and other members of the Select Committee to be among the first to be called upon to give evidence. We hope that the Select Committee will mount a critical and constructive critique of the Joint Committee's work. There may be advantages in doing that if there is no overlap in membership.

Mr. Robert Marshall-Andrews (Medway)

What criteria were applied for selecting members of the Joint Committee?

Mr. Bradshaw

The ability of members to reach a conclusion while approaching the problem with fresh minds and retaining a balance. My hon. and learned Friend has only just arrived in the Chamber—

Mr. Marshall-Andrews

No I have not. I was here before. [HON. MEMBERS: "When?"] When the Minister was not here.

Mr. Bradshaw

That is amazing because I only popped out to the loo for about 30 seconds. Had my hon. and learned Friend listened to the whole debate, which I am sure he did even if he was not present, he would have heard every hon. Member, with the exception of the nationalists, commend the membership of the Committee and its qualities.

The hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) made important references to the report by the Public Administration Select Committee. He spent some time advocating the benefits of certain electoral systems and the timing of elections. Although the White Paper, the report and the Wakeham commission might not explicitly support what he said about electoral systems, they at least tilt towards his view.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush (Mr. Soley) made an excellent contribution. He welcomed the establishment of the Committee and I welcome the fact that he will be a member of it. He also had interesting things to say about the West German model, which I have studied and it has much to recommend it. Like all the details raised by right hon. and hon. Members, those matters will be for the Joint Committee. As a member of the Committee, I am sure that he will be able to make those points to it.

My hon. Friend was right to remind the House that the reform needs to be seen in the context of this Government as the first Government radically to reform the United Kingdom constitution for many years. I thank him for that. He also expressed a desire for a speedy process. Like other hon. Members, he volunteered to sit through parts of the summer, although hopefully only when it would not upset his family too much. My hon. Friend rightly expressed the near consensus that exists on the importance of maintaining the pre-eminence of the Commons. He stressed how vital it is that its Members are elected on a manifesto and given a mandate to carry through those commitments.

The hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Sir Sydney Chapman) startled many in the House with his declaration that we are all modernists now, for which he earned a rebuke from his right hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House. As a new member of the Public Administration Select Committee, he also spoke warmly of its report and in favour of the amendment. I hope that he accepts the reassurances that my right hon. Friend and I have given on timing and is happy that the amendment will not be pressed to a vote.

My hon. Friend the Member for Pendle, another member of the Public Administration Select Committee, accused the Government of having a poor track record on constitutional reform. I do not accept that. Indeed, the Committee's report went out of its way to praise the Government's record on such reform and, as I said, my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush thinks that the Government will go down as one of the great radical reforming Governments of all time. However, having said that we have a poor track record, my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle welcomed the fact that we are leaving the matter to Parliament. I am glad that he is at least pleased about that.

My hon. Friend was concerned that any debate about regions or regionalism would slow down the process. Those hon. Members who want to make progress are unanimous that wherever the regional debate goes, it should not slow down reform of the House of Lords. I hope that that reassures him. As I said, his request that the final report should be ready by the turn of the year is one to which we can all agree.

The hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) raised the concern expressed in an intervention about the lack of representation of nationalist parties on the Joint Committee. As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House made clear in his opening speech, we have some sympathy with the hon. Gentleman's points. However, as my right hon. Friend said, if there were to be proportionality in the representation on the Committee, it would have to be more than twice its planned size, and that, we fear, would slow down its work. My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Ms Munn) made the good point that, in the end, we will have a free vote on the options in which all our votes will count equally.

My hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), in another very good contribution, welcomed the steps that we are taking this evening and called for swift progress. She rightly drew attention to the importance of this debate as part of the wider debate in the country about the need for politicians to reconnect with people who feel that politics has nothing to do with them. My hon. Friend was right to point out that that is a crucial part of the constitutional right of reform. We share the belief and hope that it will help to revitalise our political life and re-engage people.

The hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie), in another very positive contribution, warmly welcomed the motion, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend will not mind if I accept the hon. Gentleman's congratulations on his behalf. The hon. Gentleman called for speed and rightly pointed out that some members of the Committee may well seek to delay the process. I hope that those Members who are present and others who read the report of the debate take on board the almost unanimous view that the Committee should get a move on. The hon. Gentleman accused the Government of interminable delay, and I do not recognise that description, but I am glad that he is generally on the side of the angels in this matter.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Kevin Brennan) was right to say that the Committee's first task will be to present options, and he expressed the hope that there will not be too many. I hope that he was reassured by the intervention of my right hon. Friend, who expressed his own hope that that will be the case. My hon. Friend expressed regret that only one Member of this House who had signed the early-day motion tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Slough had been selected for the Committee. We have done a little research in the meantime, and the latest count is five and rising, so I hope that my hon. Friend feels reassured.

I think that it would be fair to say that the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) was a lone voice this evening in arguing that we should not move on. He talked about many details, such as the role of the established Church and whether any faiths should be represented. He made the point that there are too many politicians, and I suggest that this is a good opportunity for us to decrease that number. People have talked about consensus, and I think that one point on which there is consensus is that the second Chamber could be a good deal smaller than it is.

My hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Mr. Bryant), in an excellent speech, showed that he will be an excellent member of the Committee. He reminded us why Lords reform must be brought to its conclusion. He also, rightly, spoke of a centre of gravity. In recent months, too many people have got away with suggesting that there are as many views on the matter as there are Members of Parliament, and that argument is very dangerous.

Mr. Tyrie

The man who has argued most forcefully that there are as many views as there are Members is the Prime Minister.

Mr. Bradshaw

That is as it may be, but in recent weeks and months, the realisation has been growing that it is possible to bring people around to a consensus, and I think that the report of the Public Administration Committee achieved that. Although the House contains many views on the way forward, consensus is coalescing around a number of issues, although strong differences remain on composition and the proportions of elected and appointed Members, which is one of the reasons why the Joint Committee is to make settling on recommendations and presenting us with options a priority.

My hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda expressed the hope that the Joint Committee would not be a "long-grass Committee". I think that most hon. Members share that hope. He also stressed the importance of the Committee not repeating work that had already been done, and he was absolutely right to do so. He was also absolutely right in his definition of stage 1: it needs to be quick and to serve as a building block so that we can get on with the nitty-gritty and the detail. He generously offered to emulate his distinguished predecessor by spending much of the summer dealing with constitutional reform.

Several hon. Members have made specific proposals on the direction of reform, and although I do not want to duck those issues, I have to say that such matters are now for the Joint Committee, which has been established to consider the way forward in a way that reflects the views of this House and the other place. I think that those proposals were directed more at the members of the Joint Committee in this House and people outside than at my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House or me. I am sure that those members of the Joint Committee who have been present for the debate have noted the points made and will consider them during their deliberations.

I join with other hon. Members in wishing the Joint Committee well in its deliberations. There should be no doubt that it is a Committee of very high calibre, whose members will bring to it a large amount of collective wisdom and a healthy mix of opinions. I am certain that they are up to the task.

The matter with which the Joint Committee will deal is not a small one, and it is to the Government's credit that we have put Parliament in the driving seat of reform of the House of Lords. Parliament now stands on the brink of an unparalleled opportunity to shape itself for the future. It is considering one of the most important constitutional decisions of the past 100 years, and the effect of its deliberations will be felt for decades to come. I know that it will rise to the challenge. I trust that the House agrees that the motion is for the convenience of all parties and that it will support it.

Mr. Speaker

I understand that the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Tony Wright) does not want to pursue his amendment.

Mr. Simon Thomas

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the fact the hon. Member for Cannock Chase has decided not to press his amendment, is it possible for you to reconsider accepting ours?

Mr. Speaker

That was a decision made at 12 o'clock today.

Question. put:—

The House divided: Ayes 320, Noes 14.

Division No. 277] [9.58 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Chapman, Sir Sydney
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N) (Chipping Barnet)
Ainger, Nick Chidgey, David
Allan, Richard Clapham, Michael
Allen, Graham Clarke, Rt Hon Charles
Anderson, Rt Hon Donald (Norwich S)
(Swansea E) Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale) Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary Clelland, David
Atherton, Ms Candy Clwyd, Ann
Atkins, Charlotte Coaker, Vernon
Austin, John Coffey, Ms Ann
Bailey, Adrian Coleman, Iain
Baird, Vera Colman, Tony
Baker, Norman Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Banks, Tony Cook, Rt Hon Robin (Livingston)
Barnes, Harry Corbyn, Jeremy
Barrett, John Cousins, Jim
Battle, John Cox, Tom
Bayley, Hugh Cranston, Ross
Beard, Nigel Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)
Bell, Stuart Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Bennett, Andrew Cummings, John
Benton, Joe Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr Jack
Best, Harold (Copeland)
Betts, Clive Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Blackman, Liz Cunningham, Tony (Workington)
Blears, Ms Hazel Dalyell, Tam
Blizzard, Bob Darling, Rt Hon Alistair
Borrow, David Davey, Edward (Kingston)
Boswell, Tim Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Bradley, Rt Hon Keith (Withington) Davis, Rt Hon Terry
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) (B'ham Hodge H)
Bradshaw, Ben Dean, Mrs Janet
Brennan, Kevin Denham, Rt Hon John
Brooke, Mrs Annette L Dhanda, Parmjit
Brown, Rt Hon Nicholas Donohoe, Brian H
(Newcastle E & Wallsend) Doran, Frank
Brown, Russell (Dumfries) Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen
Browne, Desmond Doughty, Sue
Bruce, Malcolm Dowd, Jim
Bryant, Chris Drew, David
Burgon, Colin Duncan, Peter (Galloway)
Burnett, John Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Burnam, Andy Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Cable, Dr Vincent Efford, Clive
Cairns, David Ellman, Mrs Louise
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth) Ennis, Jeff
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Field, Rt Hon Frank (Birkenhead)
Caplin, Ivor Fisher, Mark
Carmichael, Alistair Fitzpatrick, Jim
Casale, Roger Fitzsimons, Mrs Lorna
Caton, Martin Flint, Caroline
Cawsey, Ian Flynn, Paul
Challen, Colin Follett, Barbara
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S) Forth, Rt Hon Eric
Foster, Rt Hon Derek Liddell-Grainger, Ian
Foster, Don (Bath) Lidington, David
Foster, Michael (Worcester) Linton, Martin
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings) Lloyd, Tony
Fox, Dr Liam Love, Andrew
Francis, Dr Hywel Lucas, Ian
Gapes, Mike Luke, Iain
Gardiner, Barry McCabe, Stephen
George, Andrew (St Ives) McCartney, Rt Hon Ian
Gerrard, Neil McDonagh, Siobhain
Gibson, Dr Ian MacDonald, Calum
Gilroy, Linda McDonnell, John
Goggins, Paul McGuire, Mrs Anne
Green, Matthew (Ludlow) McKechin, Ann
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E) Mackinlay, Andrew
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) McNulty, Tony
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) MacShane, Denis
Hain, Rt Hon Peter Mactaggart, Fiona
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale) McWatter, Tony
Hall, Patrick (Bedford) McWilliam, John
Hamilton, David (Midlothian) Mahmood, Khalid
Hanson, David Mahon, Mrs Alice
Harris, Dr Evan (Oxford W) Mallaber, Judy
Harris, Tom (Glasgow Cathcart) Mann, John
Havard, Dai Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)
Hayes, John Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Healey, John Meacher, Rt Hon Michael
Heath, David Merron, Gillian
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich) Michael, Rt Hon Alun
Hepburn, Stephen Miller, Andrew
Heppell, John Moffatt, Laura
Heyes, David Mole, Chris
Hill, Keith Moore, Michael
Hinchliffe, David Morgan, Julie
Hoey, Kate Morley, Elliot
Hope, Phil Mountford, Kali
Hopkins, Kelvin Mullin, Chris
Howard, Rt Hon Michael Munn, Ms Meg
Hughes, Beverley (Stretford) Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N) Murphy, Rt Hon Paul (Torfaen)
Hughes, Simon (Southwark N) Murrison, Dr Andrew
Hurst, Alan Naysmith, Dr Doug
Hutton, Rt Hon John Olner, Bill
Iddon, Dr Brian Osborne, Sandra (Ayr)
Illsley, Eric Owen, Albert
Ingram, Rt Hon Adam Palmer, Dr Nick
Irranca-Davies, Huw Pearson, Ian
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough) Pickthall, Colin
Jenkins, Brian Pike, Peter
Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle) Plaskitt, James
Jones, Helen (Warrington N) Pound, Stephen
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C) Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Jones, Lynne (Selly Oak) Prescott, Rt Hon John
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S) Primarolo, Dawn
Joyce, Eric Prisk, Mark
Keeble, Ms Sally Prosser, Gwyn
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston) Pugh, Dr John
Keen, Ann (Brentford & lsleworth) Purchase, Ken
Kemp, Fraser Quinn, Lawrie
Khabra, Piara S Reed, Andy (Loughborough)
Kidney, David Reid, Alan (Argyll & Bute)
King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth) Reid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N)
King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green) Rendel, David
Ladyman, Dr Stephen Robertson, John
Lait, Mrs Jacqui (Glasgow Anniesland)
Lamb, Norman Roche, Mrs Barbara
Lawrence, Mrs Jackie Rooney, Terry
Laws, David Ross, Ernie
Laxton, Bob Ruane, Chris
Lazarowicz, Mark Ruddock, Joan
Lepper, David Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Leslie, Christopher Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)
Levitt, Tom Ryan, Joan
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S) Salter, Martin
Lewis, Terry (Worsley) Sarwar, Mohammad
Liddell, Rt Hon Mrs Helen Savidge, Malcolm
Sawford, Phil Twigg, Stephen Enfield)
Sheridan, Jim Tayler, Paul
Simon, Siôn Tynan, Bill
Skinner, Dennis Tyrie, Andrew
Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E) Vaz, Keith
Smith, Geraldine (Morecambe) Vis, Dr Rudi
Smith, Jacqui (Redditch) Walley, Ms Joan
Smith, John (Glamorgan) Ward, Ms Claire
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent) Wareing, Robert N
Soley, Clive Watson, Tom
Southworth, Helen Watts, David
Squire, Rachel Webb, Steve
Starkey, Dr Phyllis White, Brian
Stewart, Ian (Eccles) Whitehead, Dr Alan
Stoate, Dr Howard Wicks, Malcolm
Stuart, Ms Gisela Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Stunell, Andrew Willis, Phil
Sutcliffe, Gerry Wilson, Brian
Swayne, Desmond Winnick, David
Tami, Mark Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Taylor, Rt Hon Ann (Dewsbury) Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S) Wood, Mike
Taylor, David (NW Leics) Woodward, Shaun
Taylor, Dr Richard (Wayre F) Woolas, Phil
Timms, Stephen Worthington, Tony
Tipping, Paddy Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Todd, Mark Wright, David (Telford)
Tonge, Dr Jenny Wright,Tony (Cannock)
Touhig, Don Wyatt, Derek
Trickett, Jon Younger-Ross, Richard
Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Turner, Neil (Wigan) Tellers for the Noes:
Twigg, Derek (Halton) Angela Smith and
Mr. Jim Murphy.
Beggs, Roy Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W) Spink, Bob
Ewing, Annabelle Turner, Andrew (Isle of Wight)
Fallon, Michael Weir, Michael
Hermon, Lady Williams, Hywel (Caemarfon)
Llwyd, Elfyn
Price, Adam Tellers for the Noes:
Robertson, Angus (Moray) Mr. Simon Thomas and
Rosindell, Andrew Pete Wishart.

Question accordingly agreed to.


That the Lords Message [10th June] relating to House of Lords Reform be now considered.

That this House concurs with the Lords in the said Resolution.

That a Select Committee of twelve Members be appointed to join with a Committee appointed by the Lords as the Joint Committee on House of Lords Reform

  1. (1) to consider issues relating to House of Lords reform, including the composition and powers of the Second Chamber and its role and authority within the context of Parliament as a whole, having regard in particular to the impact which any proposed changes would have on the existing pre-eminence of the House of Commons, such consideration to include the implications of a House composed of more than one 'category' of member and the experience and expertise which the House of Lords in its present form brings to its function as the revising Chamber; and
  2. (2) having regard to paragraph (1) above, to report on options for the composition and powers of the House of Lords and to define and present to both Houses options for composition, including a fully nominated and fully elected House, and intermediate options; and to consider and report on—
    1. (a) any changes to the relationship between the two Houses which may be necessary to ensure the proper functioning of Parliament as a whole in the context of a reformed Second Chamber, and in particular, any new procedures for resolving conflict between the two Houses; and
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    3. (b) the most appropriate and effective legal and constitutional means to give effect to any new Parliamentary settlement;
and in all the foregoing considerations, to have regard to—
  1. (i) the Report of the Royal Commission on House of Lords Reform (Cm. 4534);
  2. (ii) the White Paper The House of Lords—Completing the Reform (Cm. 5291), and the responses received thereto;
  3. (iii) debates and votes in both Houses of Parliament on House of Lords reform; and
  4. (iv) the House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee Report The Second Chamber: Continuing the Reform, including its consultation of the House of Commons, and any other relevant select committee reports.

That the Committee shall have power—

  1. (i) to send for persons, papers and records;
  2. (ii) to sit notwithstanding any adjournment of the House;
  3. (iii) to report from time to time;
  4. (iv) to appoint specialist advisers;
  5. (v) to adjourn from place to place within the United Kingdom; and

That Janet Anderson, Mr. James Arbuthnot, Mr. Chris Bryant, Mr. Kenneth Clarke, Dr. Jack Cunningham, Mr. William Hague, Mr. Stephen McCabe, Joyce Quin, Mr. Terry Rooney, Mr. Clive Soley, Mr. Paul Stinchcombe and Mr. Paul Tyler be members of the Committee.

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    2. HOUSING 24 words