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David Winnick (Walsall, North): Will not future generations find it difficult to understand how hereditary peers lasted throughout the 20th century, and would have lasted even longer had we not been returned to office? Does my right hon. Friend accept that many Labour Members have reservations about a fully elected second Chamber? Opinion seems to be going towards a second Chamber with nominated and elected peers, which would safeguard this House to a large extent. A fully elected second Chamber, which may not be popular among Labour Members at the moment, would in many respects pose a danger to the supremacy of the House of Commons.
Mr. Michael Weir (Angus): Unfortunately, the prospect of abolition does not seem to be on the table. In trying to find a role for a revised House of Lords, will the right hon. Gentleman give us a guarantee that any revising function in relation to Scotland and Wales will relate to matters reserved to this House only, and no attempt will be made to extend the powers of the House of Lords to revise Acts of the Scottish Parliament or the National Assembly for Wales?
Mr. Cook: I have no difficulty whatever giving the hon. Gentleman that assurance. Indeed, it would be ultra vires and illegal for either House to attempt to revise legislation on which we have devolved administration to the Scottish Parliament. We are talking only about reserved matters, and those are the only matters that either House is competent to consider.
Fiona Mactaggart (Slough): Can the Leader of the House please assure us that he will shortly announce the membership of the Select Committee? When does he think that may happen? That may reassure those people who are unfairly denigrating this proposal as a kick into the long grass. Will he also assure us that, if the Joint Committee comes up with a timely analysis of the options on composition, which as he said have been extensively rehearsed and do not need a great deal of thinking about, he will make time for this House to reach a decision about its view on composition before the summer recess?
Mr. Cook: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for wishing us to make all possible speed. It is important that we maintain the momentum for reform that we have established in the past two years. A number of decisions must be reached before we can appoint the Joint Committee. We must reach agreement on the size of the Committee and on whether the Chair should come from this Chamber or from the other Chamber, and we must identify those who should be appointed to it. That cannot be done overnight, but I assure my hon. Friend that I want to make all possible speed, which is why I said in my statement that the Committee should be established as soon as possible. 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. It is difficult to see what new matter needs to be examined, and I hope that the Joint Committee will co-operate with us in making that speed.
Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield): I broadly welcome the right hon. Gentleman's statement, not least because it gives us a chance to reflect further on what is currently proposed by the vast majority in the Chamber. Is it not the case that this is the elected Chamber and that we do not need yet more elected politicians, especially following the announcement about regional government
Mr. Cook: The hon. Gentleman identifies one of the strengths of the present House of Lords: there is a route of entry to it through the process of independent appointment for people who are distinguished in science, the arts, business and community life. For that reason, we propose to have an independent statutory body to choose the independent peers, without any political interference. The case for a mixed solution, in which there is room for that means of entry to the second Chamber, does not preclude others in that Chamber from being elected. If those who are appointed to that Chamber are to be Members of a Chamber with authority, it is important that the Chamber have legitimacy. In the modern world, it is very difficult to identify a more legitimate approach than the democratic ballot in order to provide elected Members of the second Chamber. Whether all hon. Members wish to live in that modern world is something I cannot help them with, but if we want to be legitimate we have to accept democracy.
Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the statement, which will enable us to make a decision before the next general election. Can he confirm that, given the primacy of this House and the view already expressed that a substantial number of those in the upper House should be elected, if a mediaeval minority seek to block the proposal, the modernising majority of the House of Commons will prevail?
David Burnside (South Antrim): Historically, the only criteria any Ulster Unionist uses in judging constitutional reform are: does it strengthen or weaken the Union, and does it make Government more or less accountable? On the make-up of the Joint Committee, although the Labour party has considerable representation in England, Scotland and Wales, it has none in Northern Ireland, and the Conservative party is almost non-existent in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales in terms of Members of the House. Can he ensure that the minority parties, including the Ulster Unionists and Welsh and Scots nationalists, have some representation on the Joint Committee because it will affect the future of the Union?
Mr. Cook: I understand what the hon. Gentleman says. He will be aware that we have sought to be as helpful as we can to the minority parties to ensure that there is fair representation. I think that the new arrangements are working rather better in that respect. A Committee that drew so large a membership from the Commons that it provided for a pro rata place for the minority parties would result in a very large Joint Committee indeed. One would be looking at a membership of more than 30 when one aggregated those nominated from the House of Lords. I cannot promise a Committee that large. With a smaller Committee, some painful and difficult choices will have to be made.
Mr. Cook: I have no difficulty in giving my hon. Friend that assurance. It is important that the representation from this Chamber is balanced, and that the minority view that he describes should be represented both from the Labour Benches and no doubt from other Benches. At the same time, we must ensure that the majority view is also well represented on a proportional basis.
Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge): I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend's statement and commend him for his bravery in allowing the House to come to a conclusion on this very important issue, but some valuable work has been done already by my hon. Friend the Chairman of the Public Administration Committee in locating a centre of gravity of the opinions of the House. Does my right hon. Friend not consider that that presents an ideal opportunity for the Joint Committee, when appointed, to move forward with some speed?
Mr. Cook: I have already said that I welcome the report of the Public Administration Committee as a valuable contribution to the debate. I very much hope that the Joint Committee will take account of its recommendations when it comes to its decisions. I also hope that some of those on the Select Committee may themselves be members of the Joint Committee. I would not want to pre-empt the options that may be recommended by the Joint Committee but, plainly, the consensus that was established in the Select Committee at around 60 per cent. is an issue that will have to weigh with it.
Mr. Eric Joyce (Falkirk, West): Does my right hon. Friend agree that even a substantially elected component of the House of Lords would place considerable pressure on the primacy of this House? That is precisely the reason for the damascene conversion of the Conservative party, which knows that it will not hold the reins of power in Parliament for many years to come.