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Mr. Robin Cook: I raise not a point of disagreement but a technical footnote on which it is important to reflect. If the Joint Committee recommended just one intermediate option, involving certain percentages of the elected and the appointed, it would of course be amendable. Any Member of the House could suggest different percentages, and table an amendment to that effect. In practical terms, the offer of one intermediate solution therefore opens the way to others. That is why I share my hon. Friend's view that it would be helpful if the Joint Committee were under no pressure to produce six different alternatives.
Kevin Brennan: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that intervention, and having heard it I now understand why he said that he could spend two minutes in a room and come up with the three options being presented to the House. Of course, any option could be amended to take
I do not care what positions prospective members of the Joint Committee held on this issue, but I hope that they adopt the same attitude as we did, and approach it in the same spiritthat of bringing about reform. If the House does not want reform, it can vote accordingly, but it must be given an early opportunity to vote. Perhaps the House does not agree with the date suggested in our amendment, but, as was pointed out, we should not set a date of July 2003 or 2004. We know what would happen if such a date were set.
I reiterate that the first job is to produce composition options, but I should also point out that it is possible to proceed quickly. You will undoubtedly know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that when my home county, Glamorgan, played Surrey today in a one-day match on the other side of the river, at the Oval, more than 850 runs were scored in 50 overs. That shows that, with the right attitude, it is possible to dispatch the ball to the boundary and make quick progress. However, if many players on this particular team are determined to present a straight bat to every proposal, we will make no progress, perish, and end up with a boring draw.
I turn briefly to the membership of the Joint Committee. I agree that the proposed names represent a distinguished group of hon. Members; among them is my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Mr. Bryant), who is new to the House. However, 303 hon. Members signed the early-day motion in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart). I congratulate the person who, according to the House's mysterious processes, was responsible for selecting the membership of the Committee, as that person was able to find 11 hon. Members who did not sign that early-day motion.
That is extraordinary. I checked the 303 signatories, and I apologise if I have missed someone. I am willing to stand corrected, but as far as I can tell the only member of the Committee who signed the early-day motion proposing that we should have a second Chamber that is wholly or substantially elected was my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda.
I hope that members of the Joint Committee will read tonight's debate. If the amendment is not pressed, I hope that that will not be taken as an excuse for delay, because delay means no change. If the tactic is to delay, there will be no change. We must be clear and honest about that.
If reform is prevented by delaying tactics and the deliberate use of the straight bat, Parliament will lose its credibility as an institution, because we will not be doing what we claim to be doing. We will not be being straight and honest with the public. The issue may not be of great importance for people in high streets around the country, but when they lose faith that politicians will do what they say that they will do, we will all perish.
Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight): The question of how we rule ourselves is probably the second most important of all those that could come before the House, the most important being whether we rule ourselves. The composition of the upper House and its functions, powers and legitimacy are of course of great importance in the matter of how we rule ourselves.
I must, however, immediately dispute the assertion made by the hon. Members for Cardiff, West (Kevin Brennan) and for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush (Mr. Soley) that we have to move on. The hon. Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush made what I thought was both an astonishing admission and an astonishing attack on his Government, although I am sure that it was not intended as such. He applauded the way in which the Government had waded in andI think that these were his words"smashed up the shop". He said that it was therefore necessary that something be done to put the shop back together again.
The Government have certainly made changes to the upper House that I and many others regret, but their action could not be described as "smashing up the shop". We still have a perfectly effective, functioning and legitimate House of Lords. It is certainly as legitimate as anything that may be cobbled together as a result of this motion.
Mr. Turner: From a sedentary position, my right hon. Friend says that it does so a lot more effectively, and I concur with him. However, the House of Lords does not obstruct the Government's legislation unnecessarilyindeed, it improves it, as I am sure that the Home Secretary, for one, would admit, in retrospect.
Mr. Tyrie: Is my hon. Friend aware that more than three quarters of so-called improving amendments are tabled by the Government to patch up shoddy legislation brought in here and then bunged up there for subsequent improvement?
The only serious problem with the House of Lords is its size and the capacity that the Prime Minister of the day has to pack it if he wishes, although heaven forfend that I suggest he does. I should not criticise the unrepresentative nature of some recent appointments to the peerage because the peerage is not meant to be representative. However, it is noticeable that a huge proportion of recent appointees to the peerage live in the south-east of England and a tiny proportion live in other regions of England.
May I say to the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Kevin Brennan) that there are worse things in life than a boring draw, as I am sure members of the England team would have agreed after their boring draw with Sweden in the early rounds of the World cup? Worse than a boring draw would be a worse upper House. It might be more representative and present more of a challenge to this House and its members but it might obstruct the Government's business for no good reason and exclude many of the able and intelligent people, represented largely by life peers at present, who would not dream in a month of Sundays of putting themselves forward for election.
The fact that so few people responded to the consultation contained in the document1,113 out of a population of 60 millionmay be, as the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) said, because the White Paper was treated with derision. Or it could simply be that there is no overwhelming demand across the country for a wholesale reform of the House of Lords. There certainly is not in the pubs and clubs or on the beaches of the Isle of Wight. The consultation is wholly unrepresentative. It is not even as representative as the Isle of Wight council's consultation on the pedestrianisation of Newport high street, to which 1,135 people out of 130,000 responded.
The hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) suggested that we should not consult any more. The Government appear to have a strategy of consulting to death, until the people in the final consultation are such a tiny distillation of the political classes that the Government can, if they wish, ignore the result. However, on this occasion, the Government and the Joint Committee, if it is established, should ignore the result.
We need proper consultation on the powers of the House of Lords or its replacement, its functions and its composition. That consultation should be undertaken by the Joint Committee in the regions, involving real people, not just the political classes, so that they have a genuine say, an accessible opportunity to give their views on this important element in our constitution. [Interruption.] Labour Members seem to treat with derision the idea of people in the regions having a genuine say.