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Private Bills

41. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): What plans he has to put proposals before the Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons for reform of private Bill procedure. [51334]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office (Mr. Stephen Twigg): Private Bill procedure was reviewed by the Joint Committee on Private Bill Procedure in 1987-88, and many of the matters previously covered by that procedure are now covered by the

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Transport and Works Act 1992. Before the general election last year, the House agreed to Standing Order changes that allow the House to consider the compatibility of the European convention on human rights with private Bills. The Modernisation Committee might discuss that in future.

Andrew Mackinlay: May I encourage the Minister to see that the Modernisation Committee does look at the matter again? Can we interpret the fact that the Leader of the House did not vote on the City of London (Ward Elections) Bill the other week as an indication that he, like me, considered the whole thing a charade and something that the Government should not have had their hands on? Should not the Modernisation Committee and the Government review the procedure to consider whether it should be changed? It was designed, and most used, to deal with the building of Victorian railways. Is it appropriate that, in a modern Parliament, there should be such an archaic procedure—one that the Government pretend not to be involved in, even though in fact they are involved? Surely, we should say what we mean and mean what we say—especially the Government—about all legislation.

Mr. Twigg: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The quantity of private legislation has been hugely reduced by various measures—the Transport and Works Act and the Financial Services Act 1986.

The specific Bill to which my hon. Friend referred was debated at great length in the House over more than three and a half years.

Mr. Chris Bryant (Rhondda): May I urge my hon. Friend to consider reforming the procedure for private Members' Bills? For instance, if we were to adopt a similar pattern for our sitting times on Wednesdays as the one we currently use on Thursdays, might it be possible to bring private Members' Bills into the main body of the Kirk and consider them on Wednesday and Thursday evenings?

Mr. Twigg: That matter certainly merits further debate; it is under review and will be taken forward by the Modernisation Committee.

House of Lords

42. Fiona Mactaggart (Slough): What the proposals for reform of the House of Lords are; and if he will make a statement. [51335]

43. Mr. Martin Salter (Reading, West): When the Government will announce their proposals on House of Lords reform. [51336]

44. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire): When he expects to make an announcement on further progress on House of Lords reform. [51337]

The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Robin Cook): The Government are committed to reform of the House of Lords to create a modern, effective second Chamber. As I have previously informed the House, we received 1,000

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responses to the White Paper. As the Select Committee on Public Administration observes in its sixth report, published today,

I can confirm, however, that we hope to announce how we intend to proceed before the summer recess.

Fiona Mactaggart: I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Is the Committee correct to think that the weight of responses to the White Paper is closer to its thinking than to that of the Government? Is he satisfied with the response, which seems to record previously existing points of agreement and disagreement rather than to reflect new thinking? Can we expect new thinking before the summer recess, when the Government have promised their full response?

Mr. Cook: The Select Committee stated in its report this morning that it is understandable that the Government are unable to give a complete and final response, given that it is necessary for us to consider carefully the responses to the White Paper. I have said to the House before, and I am happy to confirm in the context of this Question Time, that the great majority of responses indicate support for a majority elected second Chamber. Clearly, that must be a factor in considering how to take this matter forward. In terms of what we hope to announce before the summer recess, of course we would expect to go further than we have been able to indicate to the Select Committee at present, and I hope that that will point a way forward for us to make sure that we can legislate in the near future for a reformed, effective, representative second Chamber.

Mr. Salter: May I remind my right hon. Friend of his comments following the publication of the ill-fated White Paper on House of Lords reform? He said that the search will go on for a "centre of gravity" on this issue and that we need a "period of reflection." Does he not agree that, five months on, we have reflected more than enough? Given the 304 right hon. and hon. Members who signed the early-day motion in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) calling for a substantially elected second Chamber, there is no longer any doubt whatsoever that this is the road that we should go down.

Mr. Cook: It is very kind of my hon. Friend to remind me of the debate in the House; I assure him that every moment of it is engraved on my memory. I was conscious that the majority of Members taking part in the debate wanted a higher democratic element in the new second Chamber. Of course a period of reflection must come to a conclusion. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman tempts me, but I must invite him to wait a little bit longer before we announce that. That period of reflection is very important to make sure that we take seriously not just what is expressed in the House but what is expressed by the public and the others who responded. I assure my hon. Friend that we are conscious of the need to maintain momentum on this, and we are also conscious of the need

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to make sure that the House can legislate at an early opportunity. That is why I hope that we can announce how we intend to proceed before the summer recess.

David Taylor: Before the long-delayed second stage of House of Lords reform creaks into life, do the Government intend to request the House of Lords Appointments Commission to recommend a further tranche of the ludicrously named people's peers? If so, what changes of criteria does the Minister believe are necessary to widen the pool from which these people will be recruited so that we avoid the appointment of the cosy clique variety that we saw last year?

Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend makes his point with considerable colour. He will have observed that there have

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been no recent appointments from the Appointments Commission, and it is important that the House should be able to reach a view on what should be the future composition of the House. It is much more important that we address our mind to how we see the long-term reform of the House. I hope that, in the process of doing that, we can find the centre of gravity. I believe that the Public Administration Committee proved that it was possible for those who want reform to reach agreement.

I strongly agree with my hon. Friend's opening remark about the long time taken to secure reform. For almost a century, since 1911, we have been looking for reform of the second Chamber, and I am determined that we shall not make the same mistake as before, whereby those who were in favour of reform were divided among themselves, and therefore no reform took place. We must not let that happen this time.

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Points of Order

Mr. Paul Keetch (Hereford): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Last Thursday, my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Williams), the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Wiggin) and I met health service workers from Herefordshire outside the gates of Downing street with three separate petitions calling for more beds for Hereford hospital. I then presented my petition of some 26,000 names, along with my hon. Friend's petition of some 3,000 names, to the Prime Minister. The hon. Member for Leominster, however, whose petition was of some 500 names, kept his petition back. Last night, he presented that petition to the House. He stated:

Given that Standing Order No. 153 states that a Member presenting a petition


will you, Mr. Speaker, explain to the hon. Gentleman how he can correct the record?

Mr. Bill Wiggin (Leominster): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am grateful for this opportunity to draw further attention to the strength of feeling in Herefordshire about the lack of hospital beds and to give credit to the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Keetch) for his part in helping me with this very serious issue. [Interruption.]

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