Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Ms Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley): Surely the hon. Gentleman is missing the point. It is not the purpose of the Committee to produce a solution. It is a mechanism that will enable all Members of this place, from whatever party, to express their views on composition. The motion may be regrettable from the hon. Gentleman's point of view, but his view will be able to be expressed as will mine or that of any Member who is not on the Committee.

Mr. Thomas: I think that the hon. Lady has missed the point. I regret that the view that I have tried to get across has gone over her head. The clear message from the motion is that there is no place for any minority party on a Joint Committee. That is the message and the dangerous precedent that is being set. She may be right in terms of the Committee's report, as we will all have a chance to debate it. However, I shall say a little more in a moment about why I think that she is incorrect even on the narrow point that she made.

The logic of the dangerous precedent that is being set is that of excluding the minority parties from constitutional debates, and we can see the same thing in another area. We were told recently that the Prime Minister will soon grace the Liaison Committee with his presence. The Committee, which I think has 34 members, will therefore cross-examine and question the Prime Minister about his work, but no member of any minority party will be present, as we have no Chairmen. We have never had a Select Committee Chairman in this place, so we have had no role on the Liaison Committee. Therefore, a Committee of 34 members, which should have at least one, if not about 1.6, minority party members, does not have any minority party representation. I ask the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Ms Munn) whether that is an acceptable situation. The Liaison Committee is being promulgated by the Government as a huge, modernising step forward—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I can understand an allusion to that matter, but it is outside the terms of the motion that we are discussing. May I urge the hon. Gentleman back to the confines of the motion on the Order Paper?

Mr. Thomas: I shall certainly return to the motion, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I was trying to deal with the

19 Jun 2002 : Column 363

dangerous precedent that is being set. Until then, I had confined my remarks to the establishment of the Joint Committee. I shall not even touch on what the recommendations should be, as that is another matter that we will come to in future.

Kevin Brennan: I understand why the hon. Gentleman and his party might feel left out of the process, because they are not represented, but is he really saying that his commonality of interest is so powerful that he would be happy to be represented by the Democratic Unionist party on the Committee that is dealing with such an important constitutional matter?

Mr. Thomas: I am arguing for inclusion on the Committee and other Joint Committees—and, indeed, the Liaison Committee—of a member of a minority party. Once the principle is accepted that Joint Committees of more than 20 members should include a minority party member, I am sure that as more Joint Committees are established, the time for Plaid Cymru will come, just as for the Scottish National party and the SDLP. I am not concerned about which party takes the one place in question now, because I am arguing about the principle and not individual membership.

I do not blame the Leader of the House or the Opposition for the current situation, as I think that it is a result of the abject failure of the reform process and the way in which we go about our business in the House and select Select Committee members. We all recall the stitch-up of a few weeks ago, when proposals made by the Leader of the House, which I fully supported, were scuppered by the underhand actions of the Whips Office. The stitch-up was cooked in the Whips Office and served up by compliant Back Benchers.

Mr. Robin Cook: It was not cooked up.

Mr. Thomas: It was undercooked, but served up by compliant Back Benchers who were anxious to be seen to be doing the Whips' bidding in a so-called free vote. I am not surprised that we have not got the arrangements right for the House properly to select members of Select Committees, Joint Committees, the Liaison Committee and whatever other Committees. I am very concerned, as are hon. Members from all the minority parties of this House—

Kevin Brennan: Where are they?

Mr. Thomas: The hon. Gentleman will see them when we vote.

I am very concerned about the precedent that we are establishing. I thought that even the narrow point made by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley was incorrect because we know already what the options are. One option is a fully elected House and another is a fully nominated House. It is the third option that we are charging the Committee to propose, and that is the crucial option, because whatever side of this spectrum we are on—I am on the fully elected side—we know that it will somehow carry the day, as it will be the only one that can muddle through the processes that we have established to decide these matters. We will use it to make the final decision on the proportion of elected Members in the House of Lords and it will be produced by the Joint

19 Jun 2002 : Column 364

Committee. We have heard protestations all along that the Joint Committee will not come up with a blueprint, but it will. Once it does, the pragmatic reality is that the third option is the only one likely to go through.

Mr. Tyler: The hon. Gentleman may have misread the motion before the House which talks about a number of intermediate options. There will not necessarily be just a third option, but a fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth option if the Joint Committee recommended that.

Mr. Thomas: I did not misread the motion. The reality is that a preferred option will sneak its way through, so the point made by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley falls. Whether we have just one option or the number of options to which the hon. Member for North Cornwall referred, the Joint Committee will produce the blueprint. The lack of any representation of any minority party on that Committee is a backward step in the modernisation the House. It fails both devolution and our representational and territorial role as minority parties in these debates.

8.51 pm

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough): I congratulate the Government on ditching the White Paper, with its scandalous accusations that elections would be a bad thing for the second Chamber. They have accepted the weight of public and parliamentary opinion that that solution would not be acceptable and would stick in our throats. In revising the constitution, the Government need to bring Parliament and the public with them.

I urge swift progress towards a vote for options on the composition of the second Chamber. Some people suggest that deciding composition is a secondary matter deriving from the powers of the second Chamber. At present, we are going about that in the right way. There is a broadly settled view about powers. The proposals and reports produced every decade since the beginning of the last century on reform of the second Chamber overwhelmingly endorse a second Chamber which is a deliberative, revising Chamber that contributes to scrutiny of the Executive. There are marginal variations at different periods, but that is the continuing theme of reports and proposals from Governments of all parties for reform, most of which have not got anywhere.

Mr. McCabe: I want to agree with my hon. Friend, but the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) has a different view on the powers of the second Chamber. If his view commanded a broader majority in the Conservative party, would that not mean that the consensus on which my hon. Friend is relying would not exist? In those circumstances, to argue about composition before we have agreed on functions, role and powers would be an error.

Fiona Mactaggart: My hon. Friend is jumping into a trap created by the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst. That is something that the right hon. Gentleman frequently does with great charm and aplomb. He takes one position one day and another the next day to wind us up, and at the moment he is succeeding. That makes him very happy. I suggest that we should not fall into his trap and should not be wound up. It is interesting to watch the right hon. Gentleman's journey on this

19 Jun 2002 : Column 365

subject. It has consistently reflected his commitment to this Chamber—which is deeply held—and to Parliament, but it is also about how he can do the best thing for his party. That is not an unrespectable position to take, and it is not one that he has always taken, but it is the role that he plays as shadow Leader of the House. We should enjoy watching it, but not fall into his heffalump trap.

History shows that although the function is broadly a settled question, the issue that has caused controversy in every decade, especially recently, is that of where the second Chamber derives its authority from. That is the underlying issue in respect of composition. There needs to be a clear decision about the source of that authority. Does it come from the people, through voting; from other institutions of civic society—as my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush (Mr. Soley) suggested in terms of the involvement of local government—or from the appointment of the great and the good, following on from life peerages and people's peers?

That seems to be a chronically unsettled question, yet in practice it is settled both in public opinion and in the opinion of the House. Every time the public are consulted, it is clear that they think that the people should give permission and authority to legislators in the second, as well as the primary, Chamber of the House. The view of this House has been made clear by the breadth and depth of support for early-day motion 226, tabled by me and some of my hon. Friends, which has gained more than 300 signatures—a clear majority of the 571 Members of Parliament who are neither Ministers nor Government Whips.

Next Section

IndexHome Page