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9.39 pm

The Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): It is with pleasure that I close what all Members will agree has been an extremely valuable and constructive debate on setting up the Joint Committee.

In establishing the Joint Committee, the Government have taken an historic step—to put the decision on Parliament's future into the hands of Parliament itself. We believe that the membership of the Joint Committee broadly reflects the range of views in this House and the other place, as have been expressed in this and earlier debates and in the response to the Government's consultation. The initial phase of the Committee's work will be followed by detailed consideration of the implementation of reform. After that, it is the Government's intention to legislate.

We also believe that it is right for both Chambers to have an opportunity to express their collective view on the issue, and that is why the first task for the Joint Committee is to devise a set of options for the composition of the second Chamber. They will be put to the House in free votes.

We have heard many contributions to the debate urging speed on the Joint Committee. They have been given focus by the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Tony Wright) and his fellow members of the Public Administration Committee. We have heard many voices in the Chamber calling particularly for speed in putting forward the options for the free votes. I am sure that members of the Committee, many of whom have spoken in the debate, have heard those exhortations.

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The Government did not want to set a deadline for the Joint Committee to report, because we felt that it should be a matter for the Committee itself to set a timetable. However, I am sure that it will take into account what has been said in the debate.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase made a number of specific recommendations about timing and I hope that he was reassured by what my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said when he made it clear that we will have to have the options on which to vote by the autumn if we are to keep to a timetable of introducing legislation in the next Session. As my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) requested, there will have to be a final report by the end of the year. We are with my hon. Friends on timing. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase acknowledged, the Government want to make progress and bring the matter to a conclusion. I hope that what I and my right hon. Friend have said this evening will be enough to persuade my hon. Friend not to press his amendment to the vote.

Tony Wright: In the spirit of compromise that we have urged on the House so as to make progress, let me give my hon. Friend the assurance that he requires In view of the assurances that he is giving now and that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House gave earlier, I confirm that we will not press our amendment to the vote.

Mr. Bradshaw: I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend.

My hon. Friend also made several points about the important role that his Select Committee's report played in contributing to the debate. I agree with him on that. He commended to the House and to those watching and listening outside that part of the report entitled "Getting from here to there", and I recommend the whole report to those Members who have not yet read it. It is excellent, and we share his sense of urgency.

My hon. Friend also expressed regret that none of the members of the Joint Committee were drawn from his Select Committee. I hear what he says but, if it is any consolation, the whole House would expect him and other members of the Select Committee to be among the first to be called upon to give evidence. We hope that the Select Committee will mount a critical and constructive critique of the Joint Committee's work. There may be advantages in doing that if there is no overlap in membership.

Mr. Robert Marshall-Andrews (Medway): What criteria were applied for selecting members of the Joint Committee?

Mr. Bradshaw: The ability of members to reach a conclusion while approaching the problem with fresh minds and retaining a balance. My hon. and learned Friend has only just arrived in the Chamber—

Mr. Marshall-Andrews: No I have not. I was here before. [Hon. Members: "When?"] When the Minister was not here.

Mr. Bradshaw: That is amazing because I only popped out to the loo for about 30 seconds. Had my hon. and learned Friend listened to the whole debate, which I am sure he did even if he was not present, he would have

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heard every hon. Member, with the exception of the nationalists, commend the membership of the Committee and its qualities.

The hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) made important references to the report by the Public Administration Select Committee. He spent some time advocating the benefits of certain electoral systems and the timing of elections. Although the White Paper, the report and the Wakeham commission might not explicitly support what he said about electoral systems, they at least tilt towards his view.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush (Mr. Soley) made an excellent contribution. He welcomed the establishment of the Committee and I welcome the fact that he will be a member of it. He also had interesting things to say about the West German model, which I have studied and it has much to recommend it. Like all the details raised by right hon. and hon. Members, those matters will be for the Joint Committee. As a member of the Committee, I am sure that he will be able to make those points to it.

My hon. Friend was right to remind the House that the reform needs to be seen in the context of this Government as the first Government radically to reform the United Kingdom constitution for many years. I thank him for that. He also expressed a desire for a speedy process. Like other hon. Members, he volunteered to sit through parts of the summer, although hopefully only when it would not upset his family too much. My hon. Friend rightly expressed the near consensus that exists on the importance of maintaining the pre-eminence of the Commons. He stressed how vital it is that its Members are elected on a manifesto and given a mandate to carry through those commitments.

The hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Sir Sydney Chapman) startled many in the House with his declaration that we are all modernists now, for which he earned a rebuke from his right hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House. As a new member of the Public Administration Select Committee, he also spoke warmly of its report and in favour of the amendment. I hope that he accepts the reassurances that my right hon. Friend and I have given on timing and is happy that the amendment will not be pressed to a vote.

My hon. Friend the Member for Pendle, another member of the Public Administration Select Committee, accused the Government of having a poor track record on constitutional reform. I do not accept that. Indeed, the Committee's report went out of its way to praise the Government's record on such reform and, as I said, my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush thinks that the Government will go down as one of the great radical reforming Governments of all time. However, having said that we have a poor track record, my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle welcomed the fact that we are leaving the matter to Parliament. I am glad that he is at least pleased about that.

My hon. Friend was concerned that any debate about regions or regionalism would slow down the process. Those hon. Members who want to make progress are unanimous that wherever the regional debate goes, it should not slow down reform of the House of Lords. I

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hope that that reassures him. As I said, his request that the final report should be ready by the turn of the year is one to which we can all agree.

The hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) raised the concern expressed in an intervention about the lack of representation of nationalist parties on the Joint Committee. As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House made clear in his opening speech, we have some sympathy with the hon. Gentleman's points. However, as my right hon. Friend said, if there were to be proportionality in the representation on the Committee, it would have to be more than twice its planned size, and that, we fear, would slow down its work. My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Ms Munn) made the good point that, in the end, we will have a free vote on the options in which all our votes will count equally.

My hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), in another very good contribution, welcomed the steps that we are taking this evening and called for swift progress. She rightly drew attention to the importance of this debate as part of the wider debate in the country about the need for politicians to reconnect with people who feel that politics has nothing to do with them. My hon. Friend was right to point out that that is a crucial part of the constitutional right of reform. We share the belief and hope that it will help to revitalise our political life and re-engage people.

The hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie), in another very positive contribution, warmly welcomed the motion, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend will not mind if I accept the hon. Gentleman's congratulations on his behalf. The hon. Gentleman called for speed and rightly pointed out that some members of the Committee may well seek to delay the process. I hope that those Members who are present and others who read the report of the debate take on board the almost unanimous view that the Committee should get a move on. The hon. Gentleman accused the Government of interminable delay, and I do not recognise that description, but I am glad that he is generally on the side of the angels in this matter.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Kevin Brennan) was right to say that the Committee's first task will be to present options, and he expressed the hope that there will not be too many. I hope that he was reassured by the intervention of my right hon. Friend, who expressed his own hope that that will be the case. My hon. Friend expressed regret that only one Member of this House who had signed the early-day motion tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Slough had been selected for the Committee. We have done a little research in the meantime, and the latest count is five and rising, so I hope that my hon. Friend feels reassured.

I think that it would be fair to say that the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) was a lone voice this evening in arguing that we should not move on. He talked about many details, such as the role of the established Church and whether any faiths should be represented. He made the point that there are too many politicians, and I suggest that this is a good opportunity for us to decrease that number. People have talked about consensus, and I think that one point on which there is consensus is that the second Chamber could be a good deal smaller than it is.

My hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Mr. Bryant), in an excellent speech, showed that he will be an excellent member of the Committee. He reminded us why Lords

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reform must be brought to its conclusion. He also, rightly, spoke of a centre of gravity. In recent months, too many people have got away with suggesting that there are as many views on the matter as there are Members of Parliament, and that argument is very dangerous.

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