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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.
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 Executivenot uswill 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.
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
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 reasonto 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