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Mr. Andrew Turner: The hon. Lady talks about public opinion. Does it surprise her to learn that of the 60 million or so people in this kingdom, fewer responded to this consultation than to a consultation by Isle of Wight council on the pedestrianisation of Newport high street?

Fiona Mactaggart: Not at all. That is not because people are not interested in how they are governed, but, I am afraid, because the White Paper was rightly treated with derision by the public as it was such a flawed piece of work. The grown-up aspect of what the Government are doing—it is unusual for a Government, and worthy of praise—is to say, "We were wrong; we are prepared to look again and think again on this matter." Public opinion is not often expressed in specific responses to a consultation on a deeply flawed White Paper. It is expressed in other ways, and every time that it has been measured on this subject it has been clear.

Let me urge the Committee, in giving us the opportunity speedily to achieve what my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House called a centre of gravity in relation to the composition of the second Chamber and the source of its Members' authority, to take a leaf from the book of those of us who tabled early-day motion 226—that is, to concentrate on finding what we agree on rather than what divides us. If we consider the history of the debate, we realise that the search for perfection has been the enemy of progress.

We are parliamentarians and we therefore hold opinions. I urge members of the Joint Committee, who will all approach their deliberations with a view of the

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perfect solution, to submerge perfection and build consensus, which can be the platform for progress. Unless we do that, we shall simply be this decade's example of failure to make progress on an important constitutional question.

The debate about the irrelevance of politics and about politicians being self-serving, boring and more interested in whether they can outflank the royal family will be fuelled by our failure to take responsibility and say that we can improve the way in which the country is governed. We have a duty and an opportunity to do that now. I wish the Joint Committee well, but warn it not to delay. We must act now.

9.1 pm

Mr. Andrew Tyrie (Chichester): I have been an Opposition Member since 1997 and it is therefore refreshing to listen to speeches from all parties with which I can largely agree. I hope that that happens more often in future.

I congratulate the Government on introducing the proposal. The Leader of the House has done a marvellous job in getting the motion on the Order Paper today. I support the motion, for which I shall vote if there is a Division. I have been pressing my party and arguing in the House for such an approach for more than five years. I am delighted that we have got this far.

That leaves the question of whether to support the amendment if it is pressed to a Division. I do not instinctively support restrictive timetabling for measures of constitutional reform; I sympathise with the views of the shadow Leader of the House on that. However, I have listened carefully to the arguments tonight and I believe that I am persuaded of the case for the amendment, for three reasons.

First, it deals only with the need for clarity on the narrow issue of composition, which is the basic building block for subsequent reform. Without that, we cannot proceed far. Secondly, composition has been aired and debated fully. There is no need for extensive further consultation and hearings by the Committee. It already has the requisite information to draft a proposal to put before the House. Thirdly, and most important, some Committee members—their names are on the Order Paper—will be determined to prevent meaningful progress. Indeed, several members have said on the record that they do not support any change and will be obstructive. Lord Weatherill said that keeping the status quo was,

I have no reason to believe that he has changed his view.

Mr. Forth: Given our current position and that the measure has to go back to another place for final resolution before the Committee is formally established, is it reasonable to expect the Committee to meet for the first time, elect its Chairman, settle its procedures, survey the progress made today and determine sensible options for the House by the date that the amendment specifies? Does my hon. Friend, with his customary thoughtfulness, truly believe that?

Mr. Tyrie: I thank my right hon. Friend for his final remark. I believe that a month is a reasonable time for determining the basic point. However, if hon. Members

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agree with my right hon. Friend, perhaps the time could be extended until the end of the Session. I should certainly support that, too. We have, however, reached the point at which we must push this matter forward. There has been interminable delay on every aspect of this reform, as other hon. Members have pointed out.

I would like clarification on one point, and I would be grateful if the hon. Member for Cannock Chase would nod his head if I am correct in assuming that I am supporting an amendment that refers to direct elections rather than just elections.

Tony Wright indicated assent.

Mr. Tyrie: I am getting the affirmation that I was looking for, and I can therefore wholeheartedly—or, at least, reasonably heartedly—support the amendment.

I have one other brief point to make to the hon. Gentleman, which comes under the heading of "Getting from here to there". Whether or not his amendment is passed, I hope that, in an effort to speed things up, the Public Administration Committee would consider submitting a draft proposal to the Lords Committee, setting out how the proposal for voting could be implemented by both Houses of Parliament. I suggest that his Committee do some of the work right away—in a sense to disprove the point that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) has just made—to show that this work can be done expeditiously and that it is relatively simple to draft the motion on composition.

I recommend that the hon. Gentleman and his Committee draft that motion and submit it as a proposal of a Select Committee of the House to the Committee on House of Lords reform. That would concentrate the minds of the Lords Committee on the need to get on with this, even if we do not get the hon. Gentleman's amendment. I hope that he will give consideration to that proposal. I realise that he and his Committee might have other investigations under way, but it is not asking a great deal of the Committee to consider such a draft.

I have one last point, which I want to communicate to the members of the Committee as they think about what to do. In this attempt at Lords reform, we are in new territory in the crucial area of composition. There is a very high degree of agreement among people in many parts of the country about what to do. In all previous reform attempts, that has not been so. In the 1960s, people were all over the place. Indeed, the current Prime Minister would have been right to say of that time that there were as many proposals as there were Members of the House. However, that is not true this time.

I am sure that far more members of the Labour party support election than ever before. There has been a sharp decline in the Labour party of support for unicameralism—for abolishing the Lords altogether. Many might still hanker after that, but a very high proportion now seem in favour of election. In the Conservative party, there has been a transformation. In 1997, it was certainly against election. It is not now. I would say that three quarters of the present parliamentary party support majority election for the House of Lords.

I have tabled an early-day motion on this matter, as has the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart). As she points out, the combined effect of all this work on

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early-day motions is to show that more than half of all Back Benchers are even prepared to put their head above the parapet and sign on the dotted line for majority election. In so doing, they are, of course, in line with public opinion. More than three quarters of the public support election. They have done so in opinion polls, which have been phrased in different ways at different times to different groups, using different samples, but which broadly speaking have consistently come up with the same answer. The polls have always shown that between three quarters and 85 per cent.—occasionally 90 per cent.—of those questioned were in favour of at least a majority elected second Chamber of Parliament.

If the Lords reform Committee fails to permit Parliament to express its opinion on this crucial issue of composition—if it lets us down—it will also be letting the wider public down, and, in the long run, the growing number of us who want constitutional reform on this issue will not forgive it.

9.10 pm

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff, West): Time is brief and I shall try not delay the House so that other Members can speak before the winding-up speech. I welcome the motion before us, and I hope that the Joint Committee will indeed be established. However, on reading the motion carefully, it seems that, despite tonight's debate, the ordering of paragraphs has put the cart before the horse—or perhaps I should say the Lord before the cook. Paragraph (1) states that the Joint Committee should

Not until paragraph (2) is it stated that the Joint Committee's first task—a task that need not delay us for months or years—is

I agree with the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) that we could have more than one intermediate option, but I hope that he was not serious in talking about six, seven, eight or nine options. To go down that road would, along with his detailed exegesis of proportional representation, ensure delay in the introduction of composition options.

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