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Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich): My right hon. Friend will accept that whether or not the mixed system works will depend wholly on who picks the non-elected Members. It would be helpful to be given some clear information in that respect. Those Members whom I would pick, using my long experience and great knowledge, might not necessarily be the same as those who would be picked by other right hon. and hon. Members.

Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend's timing is, as ever, impeccable: I was coming to that precise point.

Even with the retention of an appointed element, we accept the royal commission's proposals to reform the process by which such appointments are made, which is known as the process of patronage. We have already begun to do so voluntarily. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is the first Prime Minister to have reduced his powers of patronage over the House of Lords--[Hon. Members: "Oh!"] I know that the Conservatives hate to be reminded of that, so I shall repeat it: he is the first Prime Minister ever to reduce his powers of patronage over the House of Lords, with the appointment of the interim appointments commission, which, in the words of its chairman, will be "scrupulously independent and rigorous". We accept that, in stage 2, there should a statutory appointments commission.

The royal commission made many detailed recommendations, both on the nature of the statutory appointments commission and on the precise powers and functions of the second Chamber; it also made more detailed recommendations on composition. The Government are continuing to consider those recommendations--all 132 of them--to determine our detailed proposals. Some of the recommendations relate almost entirely to the internal workings of the second Chamber; some would have a profound impact on the

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House of Commons and on the relationship between the two Chambers; some can be implemented by administrative decisions, whereas others would require possibly complex legislation to effect.

Because of the implications that reform of the House of Lords will have for this House, we suggested in the 1999 White Paper that a Joint Committee of both Houses would be a suitable means of considering the parliamentary aspects of the reform proposals. That is still our view.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley): Can my right hon. Friend give the House an idea of when the Joint Committee will be established? I expect that she may be about to tell us in her next sentence.

Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend is right. His timing, too, is impeccable. The Government intend that such a Committee should be established, and it will be established in due course.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Beckett: If I continue, I may answer the hon. Gentleman's question even before he has got it out. We hope that today's debate will give us a clear idea of how, following publication of the royal commission's report, views have begun to crystallise. It should give us some indication of whether there is any common ground on the basis of that unanimous and thus consensual report on which the Government can build. Does the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) still wish to intervene?

Sir Patrick Cormack: I am grateful to the right hon. Lady. Is she committing the Government to establishing the Joint Committee before the general election?

Mrs. Beckett: I would anticipate that, but after all, it could still be a considerable time away. It is the Government's intention to appoint the Joint Committee, as I said, to examine the parliamentary aspects of the proposals. All hon. Members will recognise that the proposals are bound to have enormous--I would almost say technical--implications, and we believe that it would be valuable to have the views of parliamentarians on those proposals.

The degree to which common ground can be identified during this debate and beyond it is bound to shape the scope and timing of the Government's own response.

Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet): Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Beckett: I would have given way to the hon. Gentleman, but I am at the end of my speech. I hope that the debate will be constructive and allow us to proceed with stage 2 of reform.

5.37 pm

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire): The right hon. Lady's search for a consensus has got off to a lively start. I join her in paying tribute to Lord Wakeham and

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his fellow commissioners for producing the high-quality report that we debate today. It has taken our debate a stage forward and it can serve as a launching pad for stage 2.

It was not, in my view, Lord Wakeham's skills as a former Chief Whip that have been so valuable--the sanctions that go with that position were not available to him--but his skill at chairing Cabinet Committees. I recall his ability to resolve a discussion by finding against a colleague, but to sum up in such a way that the colleague thought that he had won. I commend his diplomacy in identifying a broad consensus from a very wide range of opinions in a very short time.

The Government should not just thank the commission, as we do, but should apologise to it. It is as though the captain of the relay team had instructed the runners of the first legs to sprint around the track at high speed, but when the baton was handed over to the captain for the final lap, he relaxed into a leisurely stroll. Wakeham reported--we read in an article in The Parliamentarian by Baroness Jay--with a week to spare, but his vision of the first election of regional Members taking place at the next general election looks extremely ambitious.

It is shameful that we have had to wait five months for this debate, and even after that interval, the Government have little idea of what to do next. However, in the case of the Burns report on hunting, they knew exactly how to take it forward even before it had reported. On Lords reform, the Prime Minister told us last week that we would have to wait for Labour's next manifesto to find out its plans.

I am reminded of a speech by Michael Foot at the Dispatch Box when he was Leader of the Opposition. He described a conjurer in his Plymouth constituency who invited a prosperous member of the audience to lend him a gold watch. That was placed on a table. Another member of the audience was invited to lend a silk handkerchief. That was placed over the watch. The conjurer brought down a hammer with some force on the handkerchief. He then announced to the audience that, sadly, he had forgotten the rest of the trick. That seems to encapsulate Labour's approach to reform of the House of Lords.

I shall make four short general points. First, there has been a tendency to represent the debate about Lords reform as a one-dimensional contest with the Commons: if one gains, the other must lose. It is perhaps symbolic of that view that our debate takes place on the day of the annual Lords v. Commons tug-of-war, which the lower House should win now that the virile young hereditaries have been banished from the upper House. That is the wrong perspective. The real contest today is not between the Lords and the Commons, but between Parliament and the Executive. In that battle, the Houses are not rivals, but partners.

We believe that any reform should strengthen Parliament as a whole. Much of what the Government have done has weakened Parliament. That is why we set up the Norton commission to examine the way in which Parliament could be strengthened. It will consider the way in which the workings of both the Commons and Lords can be reformed to ensure that Parliament is better able to hold the Executive to account. It will report shortly.

Secondly, it is difficult entirely to ring-fence Lords reform and thus separate it from Commons reform. There is interdependence and interchange between the two

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Chambers. The commission is considering conciliation, not ping-pong. Proposals that the Lords should set up a constitutional committee or a human rights committee have implications for the Commons. Some have argued that we should reform ourselves before reforming the upper House. The proposal to elect Members to the upper House has implications, to which I shall revert in a moment.

Thirdly, the current position is unsatisfactory. The Government have asserted that the new House will be more legitimate, more effective, more authoritative and more influential. In the Parliamentary Monitor in November 1999, Baroness Jay stated:

However, there is no sign of the Government respecting the new House. When the Government lose, it is just like old times: more threats and more abuse. The Lords has defeated the Government on several issues. It has protected the right to trial by jury; Londoners from a veto on free leaflets from mayoral candidates; the independence of local authorities from central dictation; and children from unsuitable material in schools. The Government must simply accept the legitimacy of criticism from an effective second Chamber and control their wish to dominate our proceedings.

As the Leader of the House said, the Wakeham commission was unanimous. However, the unanimity disguised a disagreement on the most contentious issue--the composition--and avoided a conclusion on some others. If the commission had had more time, and if Lord Wakeham had had more cigars, it might have reached agreement. However, we must recognise that, while it agreed on a House of mixed composition, the key issue of balance was left unresolved.

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