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Fiona Mactaggart: I was not laughing at the proposal to consult people in the regions, as the Wakeham commission did. That consultation has continued, and I fear that the hon. Gentleman is arguing for consultation because he is not eager to make progress.
Mr. Turner: The hon. Lady is right[Hon. Members: "Ah!"]I am not willing to make progress in the wrong direction. My hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) said that one quarter of the parliamentary Conservative party was not in favour. As one of the four hon. Members to have spoken from the Conservative Benches, I probably am that one quarter. However, we
On the functions of the House of Lords, of course, it is important that it should scrutinise legislation and hold the Government to account. It is still more important that it should protect and enhance our constitution and provide a constitutional longstop to the Government's ability to get constitutional changes through this House on a whipped vote. It is also important that the House of Lords should represent those people who would not dream of standing for election. I believe that the established Church should also be represented in that House.
I take my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) seriously when he says that the House of Lords might take on a greater role in holding the Government to account. That is certainly the only justification that I can think of for a larger elected element, accountable to the people.
The other issue is the range of options that the Committee is asked to produce. I am unsure that it is right that it should start, as hon. Members on both sides of the House seem to have accepted, by determining the composition of the other place. It has to start by determining the powers; then it must consider the different elements of the composition. That is not a one-dimensional question. It is not simply a question of 100 per cent. nominated at one end and 100 per cent. elected at the other. The nominated category encompasses an infinite variety, ranging from the retention of existing life peers to a big bang nomination of 100 per cent. by the Government of the day, the political parties, regional assemblies where those exist, Uncle Tom Cobleigh and allthe corporate institutions, the Confederation of British Industry and the trade unions.
The question of composition is not one-dimensional at the nominated end of the spectrum, nor is it one-dimensional at the elected end. Does elected mean directly or indirectly elected? Although we have the nod from the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Tony Wright), I am not sure that we have the nod from anyone on the Treasury Bench as to whether "elected" in the motion refers only to directly elected.
It is a widely held view that there are too many politicians in this country already[Interruption.] That is, politicians of all parties. A 100 per cent. elected House of Lords would simply be a job creation scheme for second-rate politicians. Although I do not wish to go into the details of voting systems, the single transferable vote proposed by the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) would be the worst possible form of election because the only way in which one could be elected if one did not have a constituency interest would be by publicity seeking or representing more and more extreme views of one type or another.
I hope that the Joint Committee will consider not only the type of elected individual, if it is considering elections, but also the means of election. We cannot make these decisions separately; we must make them together. If it takes longer to take a better decision, it is right that the Committee should take longer.
Mr. Chris Bryant (Rhondda): I am delighted to speak in this debate as the last Back Bencher to be called. This is the second time that I have achieved that honour in debates on Lords reform. I am also delighted, if the motion is approved tonight, to achieve the honour of providing some freshness on the Committeein the words of the shadow Leader of the Houseand to act, in the words of the Leader of the House, as a shop steward or convenor for the forces of progress.
I had been delighted with the whole thrust of the debate until the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) spoke. He took us down several avenues that are not likely to help the Committee. Indeed, they might have been specifically designed to hinder the Committee in the progress that it might make. It is worth remembering that the major reason for the Committeeand why I welcome the Government's decision to set it upis that the House of Lords still seems to the vast majority of people more like something out of a Shakespearean play, rather than a legislative body. It still contains the Bishop of Chester and the Bishop of Carlislecharacters from "Richard II", "Richard III", "Henry IV", parts 1 and 2, and "Henry VI", parts 1, 2 and 3, who are all still forming legislation for this country.
Mr. Bryant: It does not look anything like it. It may look like the planet from which the hon. Gentleman has come, but it does not look like the country from which the rest of us have come. The second Chamber, as presently constituted, still has significant powers but without authority, accountability or legitimacy. That must be a fundamental problem for the British constitution.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush (Mr. Soley) made the point well that Britain has taken great pride in its constitution by virtue of its ability to adapt, reform and change. We now need to make additional change. In the words of the Leader of the House in the first debate held on the issue since I was elected, a centre of gravity already exists, certainly in this Chamber. It is intriguing that those who argue for no change often do so on the basis that they want to retain the primacy of this Chamber. However, they are often prepared to pray in aid the views of the second Chamber as if it should hold primacy on this sole issue.
The centre of gravity on the issue has been evident in many of the debates that we have already had on this subject. It includes the belief that we should have a second Chamber that is a secondary and revising House, without significant additional powers of any kind. I believe that the majority of Members of this House think that any additional powers that it has should be exercised with legitimacy. There is also a centre of gravity around the
Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings): The hon. Gentleman seems to be arguing that the only form of political legitimacy is democratic legitimacy. Surely he is far too intelligent to believe that. If he did, he would have to argue that the monarchy, and our head of state, were not politically legitimate.
Mr. Bryant: The monarchy and our head of state as currently constituted attract the support of the vast majority of the people in this country, as was demonstrated when Her Majesty visited the Rhondda last week. However, I personally believe that the best form of legitimacy for any country is democracy, and we should push arguments for democracy more strongly, especially when democracy is having a difficult time.
As one who, I hope, will be put on the Committee by the end of this evening, I want to issue a couple of warnings. First, the Committee has been referred to by many in the press and the media, including the BBC website, as the "long-grass Committee". I am something of an expert on long grass, as I have not cut the grass in my garden for some time. I bought a strimmer last week, however, and, in recognition of how strong the grass is in my garden, a bush cutter. Perhaps it would be a good idea if all members of the Committee were issued with strimmers to make sure that it does not stay long in the long grass and that we can get it right back in the middle of the lawn.
My second warning is that there is no point in the Committee repeating the work of previous Committees. There has been a royal commission and endless different Committees of the House and of the other place. Various different organisations and think tanks have been round these bushes so often that it is time that we cut through the Gordian knot. That will not best be done by trying to repeat the work by calling a vast array of witnesses who have already given evidence to Select Committees. It is most important that we move forward.
On the best way to move forwardperhaps the Minister will reply to this laterthere still seems to be uncertainty about what stage 1 and 2 are. My understanding is that stage 1 puts a simple series of questionsnot fully worked out optionsabout the composition of a new second Chamber. For instance, will the composition be 0 per cent., 60 per cent., or 100 per cent.? We shall vote on those and any amendments but not on a wholly worked-out system. That is the building block for the second stage. Once the Committee knows whether the composition is to be 0 per cent., 60 per cent., or 100 per cent., it can put forward a whole set of proposals with recommendations about the electoral system, length of service, transitional arrangements and other issues that will need to be addressed.
If the Committee spends a large amount of time in its first months deliberating about all those other issues, it will never manage to achieve the most important first step of establishing the building blocks of what the composition should look like. Above all, the final outcomethis must be a kind of lodestar for the Committeeis a historic opportunity to create a settled constitution. A parliamentary system that commands
Many members of the Labour party might say that these constitutional issues are largely irrelevant compared with the bread-and-butter issues of law and order, health, education and transport. In many ways, I agree. The Labour Government will stand or fall on those issues far more than on this one. The question of how we choose to run the country, however, is about the way in which we use power. I shall make no apologies, as the Member of Parliament for the Rhondda, for spending what I estimate will be a considerable part of the summer and other parts of the year ahead working on this matter, if only because the first Member of Parliament for the Rhondda, William Abrahamswho was known by all as Mabonspent all of his maiden speech, and much of his parliamentary career, trying to seek the disestablishment of the Church of Wales, as it then was, and, subsequently, of the Church in Wales, and trying to make sure that the bishops of the Church of England were removed from the House of Lords.
I hope that we can finish the job on behalf of Mabon. I note that there is no bishop on the Committee, and that is a significant first step. It is the first time that there has not been a bishop on any Committee that has been set up to try to reform the House of Lords. I hope that we follow through in that style.