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11.5 am

Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight): I start by congratulating the hon. Member for Ashton–under–Lyne (Mr. Heyes) on his election and on his maiden speech. I was particularly interested to hear about the frequent boundary changes that seem to have afflicted his constituency. I am pleased to say that the boundaries of my constituency have not changed since 1832, except where the sea has eaten bits away: something that is not a danger to the hon. Gentleman.

The Minister adopted a narrow definition of public bodies and never got beyond it. Obviously, we recognise the importance of the non-departmental public bodies to which he referred, and I recognise among them some local examples, such as the boards of visitors which do such sterling work in the three prisons on the island.

By definition, if there are non-departmental public bodies, there are also departmental public bodies. The Government need to adopt a rational definition that looks at all public bodies and all appointments to those public bodies, not simply those that happen to be non-departmental. These include the governing bodies of schools, harbour authorities, primary care trusts, learning and skills councils—both national and local—and the many local bodies that build up and sustain the fabric of our communities. Many of these are voluntary and wholly extra-statutory, although some are public bodies in the sense that they are publicly appointed and statutory in origin.

The biggest public body of all in this country is the one of which this House is a part; the body that makes the legislation by which all our citizens live. The other place is an important component of this Parliament, and I would like to refer to the reforms to the other place introduced by the Government. I should start by saying that if I were going to reform the House of Lords, I would not be starting from here. Indeed, were I back in 1997, I am not sure that I would have reformed the House of Lords in the first place. It did a good job under past Governments of all political complexions, and it has continued to do a very good job under the current Government in both the manifestations that the Government have introduced.

Mr. Tom Harris: Is the hon. Gentleman seriously saying that, at the beginning of the 21st century, his preference would be for a wholly or largely hereditary second Chamber? I find that an amazing statement.

Mr. Turner: I was saying merely that, until 1997, the House of Lords—on a hereditary basis—had done an excellent job. As Gilbert and Sullivan put it, the House of Lords

I am not talking about where we go from here, because we no longer have that fortunate composition of the House of Lords which the Government inherited and then decided to destroy.

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As my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins) pointed out, the Government have substituted a House of Lords with a significant composition made up of Tony's cronies.

Fiona Mactaggart: The hon. Gentleman's words are carefully chosen and very significant, although I reject the label "Tony's cronies". Does he accept that, even with life peers, a minority are Labour?

Mr. Turner: I accept that the Prime Minister does not always nominate for ennoblement people who will accept the Labour Whip in the other place. More to the point, the right hon. Gentleman has nominated for ennoblement more people in the four and a half years he has held office than Baroness Thatcher did in the 11 years we were fortunate enough to have her as Prime Minister.

Labour Members need to understand how much patronage the Prime Minister has exercised. It has been exercised not to improve the representation of Labour Members or Labour ideas, let alone socialist ideas, in the House of Lords, but to improve the representation of a certain small metropolitan class, of which the Prime Minister is the greatest exponent and advocate. If Labour Members want evidence for that statement, I will provide it.

The Prime Minister said earlier this year that 267 people had been elevated to the peerage on his recommendation. Of those, 20 per cent. live in London, within the M25. Not even the constituency of the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) is included. Of course, fewer than 10 per cent. of the United Kingdom's population live in London. Significantly more than 1.5 per cent. live in the east midlands, but the Prime Minister has felt it necessary to nominate for ennoblement only three people who live there. The Prime Minister's nominations are "Tony's cronies" in terms of composition, friendship and networks as well as being a highly unrepresentative, metropolitan, chattering-class élite.

Mr. Tom Harris: Will the hon. Gentleman explain how a more fair distribution of seats in the other place could be achieved through the hereditary principle?

Mr. Harris: It is a fact that more hereditary peers live outside London, in proportionate terms, than those whom the Prime Minister has recommended for ennoblement in the past four years. The President of the Council, in bringing forward the Government's proposals for reform of the House of Lords, has looked for regional representation, by election as well as nomination, and I congratulate him on that. He is aiming for proper representation of the regions. For far too long, as I think the hon. Member for Slough might have said, our public bodies have been dominated by people nominated from and living in London. That is no way to represent a country as diverse as the United Kingdom.

The President of the Council confirmed that it was his intention that future nominations to the other place should be regionally balanced. He also recommended a certain balance in terms of gender, and hoped for balance in representation of the ethnic minorities. I do not recall him mentioning disabled people, but I am prepared to be corrected. He felt that 30 per cent. was the minimum appropriate representation of women in the other place,

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and that 30 per cent. was the minimum appropriate representation of men. However, the right hon. Gentleman was unable to say whether the Government were expecting a rebalancing exercise to take place in the early stages of the life of his proposed new House. In my view, and I am sure that many people outside London would agree, it is appropriate to have a rebalancing exercise among the nominated Members of the reformed upper House at a very early stage, if that reform should ever come to fruition.

I wish to consider some of the other proposals that the President of the Council made for the reform of one of the most important public bodies in the country. I ask my hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson), who is on the Front Bench, to close his ears for a moment. The Conservative party has not yet come to a final view on the future of the House of Lords, but I would like to put forward some suggestions in a friendly way.

The most obvious and representative way to appoint people to the other place is by lot. That method has been used in other legislatures in the past but I do not propose using it at the moment, not least because I fear that many people would not wish to accept nomination by lot. Being willing to accept nomination by lot would in itself make people unrepresentative.

I welcome the Government's proposal that the number of elected Members of the House of Lords should be severely restricted. Again, it is a curious kind of person who is willing to put himself up for election at any level in society. One has only to look around the House to be clear about that. We achieve more effective representation if we allow the nominated element to be larger than the elected element. The quality of those putting themselves forward for election to the new National Assemblies for Wales and for Northern Ireland and for the Scottish Parliament appears, from the point of view of someone representing a southern English constituency, not to be as high as that of those putting themselves forward for election to this place. However, the Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish can have their say on that—I should be tactful and remain silent.

I welcome the Government's proposal to make the office fairly long term. A period of seven to 15 years—although, ideally, it would be for life—is much more appropriate than a short one. Then those people retain independence from the nominating body. One of the great virtues of the life peers, not to mention the hereditary peers, whose nominating body is rather higher than ours, is that they are independent once appointed. Their strings cannot be pulled by No. 10 or by Ministers. So a long period of office makes for greater independence.

I also welcome the suggestion that the nominations should be proportionate to the votes cast at the preceding election. That seems a sensible way of reaching a compromise between a proportional representation election, which I think none of us would seriously welcome, and a system in which the Government nominate as many people of their complexion as they wish.

I have an additional change to suggest. The proportion of those not voting in the most recent general election should also be represented. The best way to do that is by giving those nominations to the appointing body. If 45 per cent. of the electorate choose not to vote for any of the political parties that have put themselves forward for

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election, clearly they are looking for a more independent form of representation. I believe that if 45 per cent. abstained in the 2001 general election, 45 per cent. of nominees to the upper House should be appointed by the independent appointing body and should be expected to take an independent, Cross-Bench position when they sit in the House of Lords. The number of nominations would vary with the electors' confidence in the programmes that the various political parties put forward at the election.

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