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Mr. Straw: I understand my hon. Friend’s point and I thank her for her support. It is for precisely the reason that she mentioned that none of us was in favour of the closed list system. Proponents of each of the four
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systems in the White Paper would argue—with some justification—that each system could lead to the election of people of independent spirit and mind to the second Chamber.

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (UKIP): Following on from the previous question, does the right hon. Gentleman accept that a case can be made for no whipping of members of the second Chamber in order to protect its independence from the corrupting influence of party politics?

Mr. Straw: I know that the hon. Gentleman has a particular view of the Whips—

Bob Spink: Yes.

Mr. Straw: The hon. Gentleman says yes, but I have a slightly different view. I think that we cannot operate a party system without Whips, however difficult they may be from time to time—and that is an eternal verity. The whipping system in their lordships’ House is already rather loose compared with the system in this House, and that may continue.

Sir Peter Soulsby (Leicester, South) (Lab): I very much welcome the statement and the White Paper. Does the Secretary of State agree, however, that alongside discussion of the issues in the White Paper it is important that we discuss the mechanisms that the political parties will adopt to select candidates for a reformed second Chamber? It would be most unfortunate, and certainly not the wish of this House, to substitute one form of patronage with an even less transparent one. It is important that the second Chamber is not full of centrally appointed party apparatchiks and has only a thin veneer of democratic accountability.

Mr. Straw: I agree with my hon. Friend. As I said, that is one reason why the proposals for a closed list system were not accepted and are not part of the current proposals. The precise form of party mechanism depends to a significant degree on the electoral system that is chosen, but I think that all of us accept the burden of what my hon. Friend says.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): Although I fully support the views expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) and the right hon. Member for Warley (Mr. Spellar), can the Secretary of State give the House any assurance that a new House of Lords will have the same range of skills, qualifications and life experience as the current House of Lords? Will the new House control its own timetable, as the current House of Lords does—something that gives it the ability and authority to hold the Government to account and, unlike this place, properly to scrutinise legislation?

Mr. Straw: On the range of skills, if there were an appointed element, some of those who are currently appointed would continue to be appointed, and there is an obvious downside if everyone is elected. However, I do not accept the implication that the only method by which people of experience and education can get to the
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House of Lords is by appointment, rather than election. Plenty of other systems across the democratic world use election.

On the House of Lords controlling its own timetable, we do not have proposals to change the present powers. Although it is true that their lordships have become more assertive in scrutinising legislation, the hon. Gentleman will know, as a member of the Modernisation Committee, that there is clear evidence that this House spends longer scrutinising Bills than does the other place.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): I wholeheartedly congratulate the Justice Secretary on his reforming zeal, not least because we still have ludicrous by-elections for hereditary peers in the House of Lords, the last of which, in May, saw Baroness Darcy de Knayth replaced by the Earl of Stair, whose first predecessor in the House of Lords was given his place there for ordering the massacre at Glencoe. On top of that, we still have convicted criminals in the second Chamber and it is still predominantly representative of London and the south-east. Is not the most important principle that we should stick to the primacy of the House of Commons in that only this House can appoint a Government and only this House can get rid of one?

Mr. Straw: Yes to my hon. Friend’s final question, and I am grateful for his support in trying to develop a momentum for these proposals. On disqualification, as we set out in the White Paper, we are clear that the same arrangements that apply to this House—disqualification for a criminal conviction, for example—should apply to the other place.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West) (Con): I voted for an elected second Chamber, but I am struggling to remember quite why. The Lord Chancellor has sought to detain us with his statement notwithstanding the fact that the existing arrangements seem to be working pretty well and that there is no prospect of consensus between the two Chambers. As for the right hon. Gentleman’s assurance that he is going to put the proposals in his manifesto, he will recall that he put a commitment to have a referendum on the European constitution in his previous manifesto.

Mr. Straw: On why the hon. Gentleman voted as he did, he will have to consult himself and also perhaps the man for whom he works as Parliamentary Private Secretary—the Leader of the Opposition—as it may be that he was told to vote that way. Who knows? But he did vote for it and we, being faithful servants of the House, have implemented the mandate of the Commons.

Mr. David Hamilton (Midlothian) (Lab): I agree with the comments made earlier that allowing bishops to be represented in the Lords would be an offence to the Catholic Church and, indeed, the Church of Scotland. What happens in the Lords should reflect what happens throughout the UK, so it should include all the religious beliefs if its people. My question, however, is this: if we go ahead and change the electoral system for the House of Lords, it would effectively mean that there would be five separate types of elections in the different parts of the United Kingdom. That cannot be good for democracy. Surely it is about time we started to talk about standardising this country’s electoral system.

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Mr. Straw: My hon. Friend raises an important point, which requires further consideration. I fully understand what he is saying about the role of the Catholic Church; it does not have a formal position on this issue, but I am not aware of any hostility by members of the Catholic hierarchy to the Anglican hierarchy sitting in the House of peers. Indeed, it is quite the reverse, as they believe that the bishops speak out as they do in the other place not just for the Anglican Church but for all those involved in the proselytising of faith across our society.

Anne Main (St. Albans) (Con): As someone who voted for a wholly appointed or a wholly elected second Chamber—I believe anything in between is indefensible—may I ask about the cost of all this rigmarole that we may be undertaking with partly or wholly elected lordships?

Mr. Straw: The cost of a reformed Chamber will principally depend on its size. We have suggested somewhere between 400 and 450 members—possibly fewer—while the Conservative party has talked about a Chamber of 300. The smaller it is, the more difficult it will be to effect a transition, but the less expensive it will be.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): May I support my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) in emphasising the importance of relatively small, identifiable and manageable constituencies? That rather suggests the old Euro-constituencies prior to 1983. In choosing the method of election, can we keep in mind the undesirability of too much interference from party central offices—and that certainly argues against a closed party list system?

Mr. Straw: I understand the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s point. The closed party list is no part of these proposals; let us be clear about that. It was in our 1997 manifesto— [Interruption.] We will leave aside how it got there— Interruption.] Not by me— [Interruption.] I am being interrupted. The right hon. and learned Gentleman was, of course, right in the rest of what he said.

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): I congratulate the Lord High Chancellor on not leaking the statement in advance. It is clear that when statements are not leaked the House is much better attended.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the House of Lords is very effective in holding the Government of the day to account? Surely the only reason for reforming it would be to make it more effective. If it is not broken, why is the right hon. Gentleman trying to fix it?

Mr. Straw: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for saying that I had followed the normal conventions. I do not approve of prior briefing on statements, and have always sought to avoid it.

As for the hon. Gentleman’s second point, he needs to consider why he stood in the last general election—along with my party and the Liberal Democrats—supporting a clear manifesto commitment to the seeking of a cross-party consensus on a mainly elected second Chamber. His party had obviously thought about it carefully, and believed that whatever good work the Lords were currently doing—as they are now—could be strengthened by an increase in its legitimacy through an election.

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New Member

Mr. Speaker: Will Members wishing to take their seats please come to the Table?

The following Member took and subscribed the Oath:

David Michael Davis Esq., for Haltemprice and Howden.

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Point of Order

4.32 pm

Mr. Mike Hancock (Portsmouth, South) (LD): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Like you, I should be grateful if the Home Secretary would come to the House to make a statement on knife crimes and clear up some of the confusion. If she is persuaded to come, will she also clear up the confusion over the licensing laws? During Home Office questions, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Gedling (Mr. Coaker), said that the Government had no intention of changing them, but five minutes later, in a reply to his hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Kelvin Hopkins), he said that they were considering doing so. The sooner we are given clarification on both points, the better.

Mr. Speaker: Confusion between Ministers is quite common at times, but that is not a point of order.

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Orders of the Day

Employment Bill [Lords]

Order for Second Reading read.

4.32 pm

The Minister for Employment Relations and Postal Affairs (Mr. Pat McFadden): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I thought for a moment that the presence of the Leader of the Opposition, the shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer and so many grandees indicated a sudden interest in minimum wage enforcement. However, as I observe the backs of Members leaving the Chamber, I realise that that may not be the case.

The Government’s employment policy is rooted in the clear principle that the pursuit of economic prosperity must be combined with the pursuit of social justice. We do not believe that society should be forced to choose between those two objectives, and as the economy has grown and employment has grown over the past decades, people in work have enjoyed a better deal. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development said recently that for over a decade, the United Kingdom has sustained low inflation and rapid economic growth—an exceptional achievement, the fruit of strong policies and policy frameworks, which provide a strong foundation to weather global challenges. The OECD also praised sound institutional arrangements and regulatory policies that promote efficiency and economic resilience.

The International Monetary Fund has said:

and that our

is one of the United Kingdom’s economic strengths.

We understand the pressures faced by families as a result of global factors, but our economic record is no accident. Combining economic prosperity and social justice is not just complementary: it has been essential to the continued success of the labour market in Britain. The Bill makes changes to the dispute resolution procedures for people at work, and it strengthens the enforcement of the employment rights for which this House has legislated. In doing so, it offers better protection for people at work and is also in the interests of the vast majority of reputable businesses who obey the law and treat their workers fairly.

Mrs. Nadine Dorries (Mid-Bedfordshire) (Con): I hope to be called to speak later as my interests are wide and varied, but for now I ask the Minister to inform me why he feels that this Bill is more important than the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, which we should have been debating today?

Mr. McFadden: The House discusses many important issues, and I disagree with the hon. Lady if she feels that it is not important that the House debates minimum wage enforcement and the other subjects that the Employment Bill addresses. I am glad we have this opportunity to debate them today.

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A clear, quick and effective enforcement regime will ensure that individuals are properly compensated if their rights are infringed. The Bill toughens enforcement of employment law by introducing new penalties for employers who do not pay the minimum wage, and it provides additional powers enabling employment agency inspectors to deal with rogue agencies.

The Bill will reform the mechanisms for dispute resolution by repealing the statutory workplace dispute resolution procedures and replacing them with a package of non-legislative measures to help employers and employees resolve disputes earlier.

Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire) (Con): Does the hon. Gentleman agree with what Michael Gibbons said about these regulations: that they are inflexible and restrictive? Does he agree that this was an example of the policy being good but the execution being appalling?

Mr. McFadden: The Gibbons report said these reforms had been well intentioned but had had unintended consequences. That is precisely why we are repealing them and replacing them with non-statutory measures. We estimate that the changes contained in the Bill will produce annual benefits of some £177 million, and these measures are just a part of the wider simplification agenda, which is set to deliver benefits over and above that over the next three years.

In addition, the Bill clarifies the position of cadet force adult volunteers in relation to the minimum wage and permits the payment of a broader range of expenses to voluntary workers without triggering entitlement to the minimum wage. It also amends trade union membership law to comply with the European Court of Human Rights judgement in ASLEF v. UK.

I shall now turn in more detail to the measures in the Bill, beginning with those on workplace dispute resolution. In March 2007, the Government published Michael Gibbons’ independent “Better Dispute Resolution: a Review of Employment Dispute Resolution in Great Britain” and an associated Government consultation paper, “Resolving Disputes in the Workplace”. While the current statutory dispute resolution system is based on well-founded principles, the review highlighted several drawbacks in the way the system is operating, such as the inflexibility and high administrative burden of the mandatory procedures affecting both employers and employees, and that the road to the tribunal is fixed too early, resulting in a significant proportion of cases reaching a tribunal hearing which could have been resolved beforehand between the parties. Access to tribunals is an important part of the dispute resolution system and an important recourse for employees who may be facing mistreatment at work, but it is also the case that if disputes can be resolved more informally or earlier, perhaps through conciliation, that is to the benefit of all concerned.

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