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7 Jan 2003 : Column 17—continued


The President of the Council was asked—

Private Members' Bills

32. Mr. Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith): To ask the President of the Council if he will bring forward proposals to allow for private Members' Bills to be debated on a day other than Friday. [89167]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): The Procedure Committee has already announced an inquiry that will include the procedures for private Members' Bills and the time made available for debates on them. My right hon. Friend the President of the Council looks forward very much to its report.

Mr. Lazarowicz : I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. May I urge him and his colleagues to support positively the idea that private Members' Bills should be debated on a mid-week evening to take advantage of the time available under the new timetabling arrangements? If that were to be done, it would encourage a much bigger attendance by Members at private Members' business and it would make it easier for Members from further afield to take part in such business. If the business were properly programmed, it could also allow more private Members' Bills to be discussed and dealt with. That would therefore allow more hon. Members to enjoy the success that I had last Session when I took a private Member's Bill through the House.

Mr. Bradshaw: I congratulate my hon. Friend on his success. He and I belong to the small and privileged club of those Members who have managed to get a private Member's Bill on to the statute book. I urge him and other Members who feel strongly about the issue to make their representations to the Procedure Committee whose deadline for evidence is at the end of this week.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): I commiserate with the Minister, who seems to have had an accident during the recess. I ask him to be totally even-handed on this matter when he considers the Government's interests and those of Back Benchers. He will recognise—and I hope that the President of the Council will too—that, since the Jopling reforms, both private Members' Bills and private Members' motions have disappeared as an effective way for Back Benchers to make their presence felt in this place. The opportunities for Back Benchers have been grossly discouraged and, to a large extent, extinguished. While the Procedure Committee is considering the specific issue of private Members' Bills,

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will the Minister undertake to make representations to the President of the Council that the Modernisation Committee should also be looking at the wider issue?

Mr. Bradshaw: I commiserate with the hon. Gentleman's constituents. As I understand it, he has announced that he will not be standing at the next election. He will be sorely missed by them.

The Government will certainly be even-handed. We believe strongly in the principle that Back Benchers should be allowed to initiate legislation and to get it on to the statute book. Before I came into the Chamber, I took the trouble of checking the historical record, and it is not true that there is currently an historic low in the number of private Member's Bills getting on to the statute book. The number goes up and down from year to year and from decade to decade. However, the Government adhere to the principle that Back Benchers should be allowed to initiate legislation and, when the Procedure Committee's report is published, we shall consider it very carefully, and my right hon. Friend the President of the Council will take the hon. Gentleman's comments on board.

Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley): Does my hon. Friend agree that many hon. Members are effectively barred from attending Friday debates on private Member's Bills because that is the only day of the week in which they can undertake constituency duties when offices, factories and schools are open? It is essential that we have that right on a Friday for 52 weeks of the year, other than when we are on our annual holiday.

Mr. Bradshaw: I do take that point on board and I urge my hon. Friend to make it to the Procedure Committee in any evidence that he may care to give to it.

Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire): I first wish the Minister a full and speedy recovery. I presume his injuries are a lesson to us all about the dangers of cycling.

Does the deputy Leader of the House agree that if a Member of Parliament wishes to change the law on a subject about which he or she feels strongly, that Member should be prepared to come here on a Friday? Is not the issue part of a wider campaign by some Labour Members to get yet more time off so that they have to work only a four-day week? Does he accept that the requests for change have little to do with modernisation and are more about malingering?

Mr. Bradshaw: No, and by the look on the faces of some of the right hon. Gentleman's Back-Bench colleagues it is clear that a number of them certainly like to take time off to do second jobs. It is worth reminding the House and, perhaps, the outside world that this Westminster House of Commons sits for more days than virtually any other legislature in the developed world. In fact, according to a survey on the number of days that legislatures in Commonwealth countries sat in 2001, this House sat on more days than any other with the exception of the legislature of the state of Borno in Nigeria.

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire): Will the review look wider than the day on which we deal with private Member's Bills to consider the procedure as

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well? If we are to make the most effective use of our time, should not we look at all the rules governing private Members' Bills because in my experience most of the time is sadly abortive?

Mr. Bradshaw: That, I imagine, is why the Procedure Committee decided to have not a narrow, but a very broad review into the system of private Members' Bills, including their procedure and when they are debated.

House of Lords Reform

33. Hugh Bayley (City of York): To ask the President of the Council if he will make a statement about further reform of the House of Lords. [89169]

37. Joyce Quin (Gateshead, East and Washington, West): To ask the President of the Council if he will make a statement about progress with Government plans for House of Lords Reform. [89174]

The President of the Council (Mr. Robin Cook): The Government welcome the report from the Joint Committee on House of Lords Reform and are grateful for the work it has done. We look forward to the debates which are to be held later this month in both Houses of Parliament. The way forward on reform will be considered in the light of the outcome of the votes on the options put forward by the Joint Committee and will provide a remit to that Committee to work up a more detailed set of recommendations.

Hugh Bayley : When I speak to Members of Parliament in central and eastern Europe, Africa and developing countries about the merits of democracy, I find it extremely difficult to explain why a Chamber of our Parliament is archaic, only partly reformed and unelected. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the worst possible option is to fail to reach agreement in this House and with the other place, and to fail to complete reform, because the status quo is untenable?

Mr. Cook: I can understand my hon. Friend's difficulties. The House of Lords is about to have a by-election in which the sole qualification for candidates and electors is to be a hereditary peer. That is a rather eccentric version of democracy and reinforces the case for bringing real democracy to the second Chamber. I agree that the worst possible outcome would be the one that we have had too often in the past, in which we end up with no reform because the great majority who want it cannot agree among themselves on what reform to go for.

Joyce Quin: Although I personally have strong views in favour of an elected second Chamber, as a member of the Joint Committee may I stress that its report contains a number of matters on which there is consensus and on which we can build and make rapid progress, not least on the widespread agreement about the powers of the second Chamber? Despite strongly held views, it is possible to agree even on the difficult issues of composition, as the excellent report by our Public Administration Committee showed.

Mr. Cook: Yes, as I have observed to the House before, the Public Administration Committee report

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was unanimous and showed that it was possible to find a centre of gravity among Members in favour of reform. I agree with my right hon. Friend that the report from the Joint Committee spells out the wide degree of consensus that exists on the remit, powers and scope of a second Chamber. It is now necessary to find that centre of gravity for the options for the composition of a reformed Chamber so that we can proceed with the reforms that so many in this Chamber want.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire): Does the Leader of the House expect to introduce legislation before 17 July this year?

Mr. Cook: I would not expect to introduce legislation in this Session because, as I indicated to the House when I made the announcement committing us to a Joint Committee, the longer the final report of the Joint Committee took to be produced, the more difficult it would be to introduce such legislation in the current Session. I hope that we will make good speed with the debate on the Joint Committee report and with the votes and the options put forward. It is then for the Joint Committee to come forward with a report providing a detailed scheme based on whatever is the majority wish of this House and the other place. I hope that we see that report well before 17 July and that it will enable us to take forward legislation in this Parliament.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): Did the right hon. Gentleman hear the Lord Chancellor say this morning on the XToday" programme that the argument was really polarised between a wholly appointed and a wholly elected second Chamber? May I ask whether that represents Government policy? If so, does the right hon. Gentleman understand that the majority of us will go for the wholly elected option?

Mr. Cook: I arose especially early and completed my breakfast in order that I might give the Lord Chancellor my full and undivided attention. [Laughter.] May I say to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that the Government's policy is as stated by both the Lord Chancellor and myself, and that both Houses will have a free vote? There will be seven options open to both Houses to vote on—all Members will have a free vote on those seven options, which include an all-appointed and an all-elected House and five variants in between of a mixed House. It is for the House, not the Government, to decide where the settled will is, but I very much hope that those votes will produce a commanding, convincing majority for one option that will restore momentum to reform.

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): Is not the importance of the Lord Chancellor's broadcast at 7 o'clock this morning the fact that it showed that there is some division in the Government on the issue? Labour Members of Parliament and other radicals in this place want the Leader of the House to tell the Lord Chancellor in unequivocal terms that we wish to see the completion of the upper House reform in this Parliament. It should not be kicked into touch by the

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Lord Chancellor or by anyone else in that place, as they have done with other legislation that we were committed to when we were elected in 1997.

Mr. Cook: I shall reflect on the precise terms in which I might convey that message to the Lord Chancellor. I put it to my hon. Friend that we have said that this matter must be resolved by Parliament. It is a parliamentary matter; the second Chamber of this Parliament is being reformed. It is therefore right for this House that the other House should have a free vote. That being the case, it would be wrong for the Government to express one single united view among the seven options available. However, it is important that we find a settled will—a centre of gravity—for reform and then all coalesce around that option for reform and make sure that this time we actually carry through the reform that has evaded Parliament for 100 years.

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