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Mr. Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley): The Leader of the House will be aware that, at present, there is an independent Appointments Commission. Members from Northern Ireland welcome the statement that there will be fair representation of the nations and regions of the United Kingdom. Is the Leader of the House aware of the disappointment in Northern Ireland at the fact that Northern Ireland was not represented in the first batch of independent appointments to the House of Lords, despite the fact that a number of eminent members of the community in Northern Ireland applied to the independent commission? Will the right hon. Gentleman therefore take steps to ensure that when we say that there will be fair representation of the regions, measures will be introduced to ensure that that is reflected in appointments?
Mr. Cook: I take note of the hon. Gentleman's comments but, in fairness, the Stevenson Commission, which made those appointments, was operating on a non-statutory basis. Our proposal in the White Paper is not only that the Appointments Commissions will become
Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North): I congratulate the Government on tackling the second stage of Lords reform. I welcome the ending of the hereditary principle, the possibility of removing titles and, in particular, the requirement of a minimum of 30 per cent. women. I also welcome the consultation, as I hope that there will be movement during that period on the number of elected Members.
Why is the percentage of elected Members so lowonly 20 per cent? That is lower than the highest recommendation in the Wakeham report of 35 per cent., or 195 elected members. We have already covered issues relating to what my right hon. Friend thinks about a link to regional governments in Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland and possibly regional governments in England. Does he see this as the end of the process, or does he see further stages ahead in which we can move to a fully democratic House of Lords?
Mr. Cook: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her welcome for aspects of the statement. Totting them up, I think that she gave me a pass mark. I understand what she says about the percentage of those who are elected. From listening to the exchanges today, I believe that it is broadly agreed by almost all present that there should be some elected Members. Many hon. Membersmost, I thinkwould recognise that a wholly elected second Chamber would have severe implications for the House of Commons. The question is where to strike the balance between "some" and "all". We proposed one balance in the White Paper and invited comments on it; I hope that the process of consultation will help us to find a consensus on judging the balance between elected, appointed and party Members.
Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire): The House will have noted that the Leader of the House did not answer the interesting questions asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) about whether the various imperatives on membership can be reconciled. However, I wish to make a different point. Throughout debate on the second Chamber, the Government have said that they are anxious to achieve a consensus. If it becomes clear that a consensus is more likely to be achieved at a higher level of elected representatives than currently proposed, will they obstruct the securing of that consensus?
Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge): I welcome my right hon. Friend's comments about the disadvantages of a wholly elected second Chamber, but I regret that I cannot give him a pass mark. His announcement today represents the worst of all worlds: part patronage, part appointment by a committee that will doubtless choose
Mr. Cook: I recognise the force of the case for indirect elections, although, from listening to hon. Members, I am not sure whether my hon. Friend struck the note of consensus for which we are searching. So far, only a minority of the United Kingdom is covered by an elected regional body. Many inside and outside the House would be reluctant to support indirect election by unelected bodies.
Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk): Does not the Leader of the House believe that the current reformed Chamber is working wellindeed, according to many observers, better than ever? Can he give one example of a way in which it does not work? Today's proposals are a dog's breakfast. We should keep the House of Lords as it is, or hold full-scale elections for the second Chamber.
Mr. Cook: I refer the hon. Gentleman to Bernard Shaw's observation that a Government consisting of the hundred tallest people in Britain might work well, but that does not mean that it would be a good system. In my opening statement, I pointed out the flaws in the current House of Lords: hereditary peers are still there; no Member is elected, and its membership does not reflect the balance of the way in which the nation voted. The proposals will rectify that; those issues of principle are worth tackling.
Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle): My right hon. Friend said that the proposals would create a "modern second Chamber". They may do many things, but they will not achieve that. Legitimacy comes only from election. Many Labour Membersand I am sure, many Labour party members, if they were properly consultedwould call for an elected second Chamber. My fear, which has been echoed by Opposition Members, is that the proposals are so inherently complex that they cannot satisfy all our expectations. I ask my right hon. Friend to put on his influential Labour party hat as a member of the national policy forum and tell us whether there will be proper consultation in the party by 31 January to ascertain its members' views of the proposals.
Mr. Cook: Of course, the Labour party, like every party, will be consulted. I hope that consultation will enable us to build cross-party consensus. I understand the force of my hon. Friend's argument, but I cannot understand how we can have a wholly elected second Chamber without breeding conflict and competition. If my hon. Friend wants us to cede power to the second Chamber, he must be honest with himself and others. I note that some Conservative Members are nodding at the idea of ceding power to the second Chamber. I do not
John Thurso (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross): I add my welcome to the White Paper on Lords reform. I commend to the Leader of the House the inclusion of a provision to allow existing life peers to retire. I raised the matter on Second Reading of the House of Lords Act 1999 in the other place and said that, at present, the only way out was in a box.
The combination of reducing the powers on secondary legislation and the low numbers that are proposed for election leaves the second Chamber as neither fish nor fowl. Are not the proposals a small step for democracy and a giant leap for complacency?
Mr. Cook: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his welcome for an escape hatch that does not involve a box. It remains to be seen how many life peers might be interested in that process of retirement, but it would be important in enabling us to meet the cap of 600 to which other hon. Members have referred.
I do not have a problem with making a proposal that involves mixed membership of the House of Lords. Indeed, as I said earlier, mixed membership is essential to ensure that the House of Lords complements, rather than competes with, this Chamber. It is a matter of judgmentand a matter for valid debate on that judgmentas to what should be the basis for, and proportion of, that mixture. That is why we are producing the White Paper and putting it out for consultation.
Mr. Calum MacDonald (Western Isles): Does my right hon. Friend agree that there can sometimes be a conflict between having a fully democratic Chamber and one that is fully representative in the sense of reflecting the wider society? Given that this Chamber is a democratic Chamber, does it not make sense to have one that is more representative, that reflects society outside, and that has more women and ethnic minorities and, hopefully, fewer lawyers?
Mr. Cook: We have not drafted any statutory provision to control the number of lawyers appointed but, obviously, I shall try to absorb the feeling of the House on that point in any proposals that we introduce after consultation.
My hon. Friend has a point. Ethnic minority communities are now better represented in the second Chamber than they are here. I hope that, in the course of achieving the progress that we want to make on the second Chamber, we shall achieve a reasonable balance between the genders more quickly than it looks as though we shall here. There are ways in which representation can be achieved other than through the ballot box. That is an important element, which is why we are proposing an element of elected members.