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Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion): The hon. Gentleman has just outlined how devolution might properly impact on what the second Chamber might do. Does he therefore have faith in the membership of the Committee, given that the Government in Northern Ireland are not represented on it, the Opposition in Wales are not represented on it, and the Opposition in Scotland are not represented on it? How can the Committee consider the impact of devolution in the nation states of the United Kingdom if there is no way for the minority parties in those constituent parts of the UK to feed in their views?
Tony Wright: The hon. Gentleman makes the point that he wants to make. I do not believe that the Committee will avoid the obligation to think widely. I entered my note of regret, and he must enter his own.
My point, however, is that, despite a wide spectrum of views, it was possible, nevertheless, to seek to ascertain in a reasonably serious way what Members of the House felt was their preferred direction of reform and to take that into account in framing our position. It was also possible, in seeking to reconcile such initially different positions, to produce a position that might provide a basis for the House to move forward to a next stage of second Chamber reform. If that is the spirit in which the Joint Committee engages with the work, we have a prospect of success.
Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight): The hon. Gentleman has spoken of the next stage of second Chamber reform and, earlier, he suggested that there would not be a finishing point. Is not one of the most important objectives to settle the status of the other place, so that it is not an issue for party political bickering and perhaps one in which parties move aroundI hope that they will notfor party political advantage?
Tony Wright: The hon. Gentleman runs two points together. There is no need to bicker about these things. It is perfectly possible to have sensible discussion while acknowledging that we may not have the final answer. That is a sensible way to approach the matter.
We know very much what the key principles are, and we do not need to explore them now. We do not want a second Chamber that is a rival to or a replica of the first Chamber, but we want a Chamber that has enough legitimacy to be taken seriously and enough independence to secure expertise and a different kind of input. That led me and the Select Committee eventually to think that a mixture would be the right way to achieve our aims. The question is what sort of mixture should that be.
I offer the Joint Committee one piece of evidence only. It does not come from our report, but from evidence that was submitted in response to the Government's consultation document. Sir Michael Wheeler-Booth was not only a member of the Wakeham commission, but the official most centrally involved in making the proposed reforms of the 1960s work. In his response to the consultation, he says:
It is significant that, when we took evidence on the views of Members of Parliament, we found that 75 per cent. of them across the parties wanted a composition that was 50 per cent. elected or more. We therefore have to be clear about that before we begin to do what we have to do on the other issues. That is why it is crucial to have an initial vote on composition as soon as possible. Unless we have that vote as soon as possible, it is unreasonable to expect the Joint Committee to carry out the second stage of reform. That would simply not be possible, because so much of the reform package hangs together. We must know what the key buildings blocks are before we can begin to erect the larger architecture.
That is not a pedantic point, but one that is designed to get the process under way. I shall not explore the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House about being able to do things by 7 o'clock in the evening, but the fact is that we know what the options are. We know that some favour the option of a wholly elected second Chamber, that others favour the option of a wholly appointed one and that there are several intermediate options. It is not difficult to bring to the House an initial menu of options for Members to vote on. I simply do not understand how the Joint Committee can begin to do its work seriously until the choice about the fundamental options has been resolved. I have not heard anyone explain to me how it will be possible to proceed without having done that.
Someone seeing our amendment and seeing the date on it rather unkindly pointed out that no year was attached to it. Some people have suggested that that is all part of the picture whereby we do not hear much about the issue again. When some people saw how the Joint Committee was being constructed, they were given encouragement in thinking that that we might not hear much more about the issue. I do not share that view. At one time I probably did, but I now believe that the Government want to make progress to bring the issue to a conclusion. I know that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House wants to do that, and he could not have made that point clearer.
This is the moment when we have to stop talking about reforming the second Chamber and have to start doing it. A crucial part of doing it is making sure that we have a timetable under which some form of reform can take place.
Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Tony Wright). I accept precisely what he has said about process and timing. Although I cannot speak for all my colleagues because it will be a free vote, I think that they will be minded to support the amendment that he and his colleagues have tabled. We believe that we should make progress as fast as possible.
Although I would be happy for the Joint Committee to meet in August or Septemberas long as it came to Cornwallthat should not be necessary. We should be able to complete the first phase of the process and come back with clear options to the House by the date that has been suggested.
Before I come to the issue of process, I wish to refer briefly to some of the misapprehensions about the choices before the Joint Committee and that will eventually be before the House. The Lord Chancellor said in the other place:
I pay tribute not just to the Select Committee chaired by the hon. Member for Cannock Chase but to the Government. The consultation exercise was as thorough and as effective as that on any public issue that I can recall in my time in the House. In particular, the report on the consultation will be extremely helpful to the Joint Committee. We do not start from scratch; it is not a blank piece of paper. It does not even mean looking at the history books because we can look at the position here and now. Public opinion as well as Members' opinions have been reflected.
The response makes it clear that 89 per cent. of the respondents thought that the other House should be at least 50 per cent. elected. There should be a degree of majority rule in that sense. That is extremely important
Significantly, the second largest response rate on any of the issues in the consultation process was on the method of election. Some 56 per cent. said that the single transferable vote was their preferred method. A further 10 per cent. stated that they preferred an unspecified form of proportional representation. Those are big figures. Some 6 per cent. preferred an open-list system. That type of system was clearly in people's minds, as it was in the mind of the Select Committee. Incidentally, only 2 per cent. of respondents favoured the first-past-the-post system, and for good reasons.
STV has huge advantages in the context of the second Chamber. I am not arguing that it is right for any other type of assembly or in any other election. It maximises voter choice and minimises the power of the parties because they do not prioritise who should be at the top of the list. The voter does that and the parties cannot pre-empt that choice. STV enables voters to cast their votes so that they can ensure that there is a truly representative second Chamber, especially in terms of area, gender and ethnic background. It is the best system that can be devised for that purpose for that assembly. Most important of all, STV encourages independence of mind in the Members who are elected.
By contrast, the House of Commons Library established that were first past the post used at the same time as the 2001 election for this House, the Labour party would have had a majority of 60 per cent. in the other place on a 41 per cent. poll. I am surprised that the Conservative party is in favour of that outcome and hope that it will think again.
The most important issue to consider is that first past the post would inevitably replicate the constituency representation that we have in this House. Those Members who represent Scottish and Welsh constituencies will be aware that duplication and overlap can be embarrassing. That is a problem not just when Members who are elected by different means come from different parties, but when they are elected from the same party. It is extremely important that the second Chamber of this Parliament does not replicate the constituency responsibilities of Members of this House. That is the inevitable result if first past the post is used.