Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): I am interested by what my hon. Friend is saying, but does he agree that we should consider not only the powers and responsibilities of the upper House, which are important, but the way in which this House operates? Does he agree that an important aspect of reforming the system of scrutiny would be to enshrine in the processes of the House pre-legislative scrutiny, which worked effectively in the last Parliament?
Mr. Clelland: I agree with my hon. Friend. The system of draft Bills that was tried in the last Parliament worked extremely well, so I hope that the Government will increasingly adopt it in the future.
The second chamber should give well considered advice, publicly debate the great issues of the day and make comment on the quality of legislation and governance, with its views commanding wide respect. It should be made up of people selected for their experience and knowledge and considered qualified to offer advice and guidance to the elected House. However, such a second chamber could not be guaranteed by elections.
There is more to our democracy than elected politicians. Many bodiesstatutory, voluntary and professionalplay an important, and indeed vital, role in our democratic society. I envisage the second chamber drawing its membership from those bodies. They would provide the gender and ethnic balance that still eludes the Commons, but is needed if a truly revising, advisory and representative body is to have any claim to legitimacy.
It would be possible to create a second chamber made up of such eminent people while making it representative and more accountable. However, that would not be achieved by creating yet another
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appointments commission because that would be only a small step towards more democracy. Experience shows that appointments commissions merely appoint people such as their members. Also, who appoints the appointments commission?
We must make the selection of representatives in the Lords more democratic by widening the responsibility for making appointments. Political parties should appoint representatives regionally, perhaps in proportion to the number of votes cast in the general election. Local government and devolved Assemblies should appoint representatives, as should business, trade unions, voluntary bodies, religious organisations and so on. We would thus create a representative second chamber with members who would be accountable to their appointing organisations. It would be separate and distinct from, but complementary to, the elected House of Commons. Such a new second chamber would add value to our system of governance and, in the words of our manifesto, be more
Perhaps more important than widening access to power is widening access to prosperity and opportunity. I am proud to be a member of a political party with that as its central tenet of belief. The Labour Government have done much more than any previous Government to attack poverty and the causes of poverty, and that work must be intensified during this Parliament, both at home and overseas. I welcome the references in the Queen's Speech to such matters.
I was also pleased to hear the references to support for housing costs. Many of my constituents struggle to get on the first rung of the housing ladder, even though they live in the north of England, where prices are much lower than in the south. Some housing associations providing shared ownership schemes have offered welcome help and support to first-time buyers, but there is a snag to that. Shared ownership can mean that a housing association effectively owns part of a property while the buyer has a mortgage for the rest. The original intention was that the buyer would buy out the association and become the sole owner. However, the rise in property prices has meant that rather than a buyer having to repay the £15,000 contributed by the association, for example, he or she must pay many times that sum because the value of the house is now nearer £75,000 than the original £30,000. Such a sum is completely beyond the means of many home owners, so they are thus prevented from getting off the first rung of the housing ladder. I make a plea for a structure that recognises housing associations' contributions by allowing them to charge a reasonable amount of interest on the sum borrowed, but does not let them share fully in the increased value of the property, thus avoiding trapping people with a debt that they can never repay.
There is a reference in the Queen's Speech to help for consumers. Many years ago, I introduced a private Member's Bill that hit the statute book as the Sale and Supply of Goods Act 1994. I was proud of the legislation, which for the first time, amazingly, meant that goods sold had to be fit for the purpose for which they were sold. That principle now seems to have been enshrined in most of our commercial transactions. However, one thing remains glaringly exempt: the private sale of motor cars. The daughter of a friend of
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mine recently bought a car for £3,000. After taking it in for a service, she was told that it was a death trap. When she took it back to the seller, she was told, "Tough." Aficionados of "Only Fools and Horses" will be familiar with Boycie, the man from whom one should not buy a used car. Sadly, Boycie is by no means a fictitious character. I am afraid that he is alive and well in many areas. Although it may be a joke on a TV programme, it is not a joke for the many hard-working citizens who buy a used car only to findsometimes only days laterthat the car on which they have spent their hard-earned cash, or for which they have taken out a loan at an exorbitant interest rate, is not roadworthy.
It is probably impossible to legislate for rogues and charlatans to have scruples or, dare I say it, respect, but it is certainly possible to legislate to ensure that it would be illegal to sell a car with less than, say, nine months of a valid MOT certificate to run. That would give the buyer some measure of confidence in the roadworthiness of the vehicle and some redress with the testing station should it turn out not to be so. It would also afford much protection for hard-working families. I hope that the Government find time in the other measures that Her Majesty said would be laid before us to introduce such simple but essential protection to buyers, to say nothing of making our roads safer.
Although not referred to directly in the Queen's Speech, transport is none the less vital to the pursuance of many of the Government's objectives. It is an aspect of Government policy that needs to be elevated up the priority list, nationally and in the north-east. Driving down to the House yesterday, I noticed much ongoing work to improve the road network, and there were several instances of major improvements to the A1. None, however, were in the north-east. Ours is a much neglected region in terms of investment in the transport infrastructure and remains the only region in Britain not directly linked to the national motorway network.
Robert Key: Yes. If the hon. Gentleman were to experience the congestion, the gridlock and the lack of investment in roads in the south of England, he might think twice before coming to the House and begging for money for roads in the north-east.
Mr. Clelland: If I am ignorant of road congestion in the south, the hon. Gentleman is equally ignorant of problems in the north-east. I represent the north-east and am entitled to argue on behalf of my region.
Let me educate the hon. Gentleman. The links from the north to Scotland rely on miles on single carriageway roads. Our links to the north-west are on intermittent stretches of dual and single carriageway. Our links to the south are by two-lane motorway and then dual carriageway through North Yorkshire. The traffic congestion on the A1 western bypass through Gateshead and Newcastle rivals the worst cases elsewhere and, I suggest, anything experienced in the south-west. It will get much worse without early intervention.
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The north-east badly needs a detailed regional integrated transport plan to link our conurbations and to serve our local communities. Regional transport plans, drawn up in the regions, by the people from the regions, should form an integral part of national transport planning. Bus operators have more interest in their licence to print money than in their licence to run buses. There is no effective control of bus services and no meaningful integration with other modes of transport, such as the Tyne and Wear Metro system. We need legislation to bring some regulation of local bus services back to local authorities so that they have an influence over the services provided to local people.
Mr. Kevan Jones: On what my hon. Friend says about integrated transport in the north-east, many of the problems in my constituency relate to bus travel. They were made worse following deregulation by the Conservative Government. Does he agree that one thing the north-east needs is a single passenger transport authority, or some other body, to control transport for the entire region? It is quite a small region, but it is still divided, with different types of transport in operation.