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Fiona Mactaggart (Slough): I note that the White Paper's title is "Completing the Reform", but we have three months to discuss the completion. What will the Leader of the House do if the overwhelming response to his consultation is that he should go further, to at least the top level suggested in the Wakeham report for the proportion of elected Members?
Mr. Cook: It would be very unhealthy to begin to speculate about the hypothetical response to the hypothetical expression of a view in the consultation. I can only say to my hon. Friend that we are genuine about the consultation. That is why we published the White Paper, and said at the start of it that all its proposals will be put out for consultation. At the end of the White Paper there are six separate, specific questions on issues on which we want advice and views. One of the questions asks, "Is the proportion right between independent Members, elected Members and the party appointments?" I am sure that my hon. Friend will have an answer to that and that she will encourage others to express their views, as she has done in her early-day motion. We will certainly take those views into account in our response.
Can the right hon. Gentleman tell me of any other major democratic country in which the second Chamber is not overwhelmingly in numbers elected? Does he not understand that the fundamental flaw in the proposals is that the various categories of Member will speak and vote in the House of Lords with different degrees of authority, and that any elected Member of the second Chamber will inevitably tend to be dismissive of criticisms made by placemen?
Mr. Cook: I said a large number. I do not dispute that the majority are elected, either wholly or in part, although many of the elections are indirect. However, there are many with a mixed membership, and there is no evidence of such membership resulting in a distinction or invidious division between the Members.
I have a great respect for the antiquity and experience with which the hon. Gentleman speaks to the House, but he should, in fairness, acknowledge that during the great many years on which he sat on this side of the Chamber, under a Conservative Government, he never successfully persuaded them to introduce the reforms that we propose. I suggest, therefore, that those who were unable to take action when they had the opportunity to do so should be a little humble before they dismiss our proposals.
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): Is the Leader of the House aware that I have been considering this matter for some time? In fact, it dates back to October 1976, when he, I and many others at the Labour party conference voted by 6 million to 6,000this was in the days of the wonderful block voteto abolish the House of Lords. I am not in favour of the elected system or of a system in which the chattering classes will reproduce themselves in the House of Lords. I believe in the third way: get rid of it, and try this out in a post-Taliban Afghanistan.
Mr. Cook: I blame myself for not bringing this statement to the House on Monday, when my hon. Friend could have put forward the Guy Fawkes option, which he plainly favours. I understand full well why he and so many others want to see change at the other end of the Corridor. Unlike my hon. Friend, most of those who have followed the debate agree that there is a case for a second Chamber as a place of revision, and its disappearance, without anything to replace it, would put an added burden on this Chamber. We make these proposals to try to ensure that we have a second Chamber that works as a complement, not a competitor, to the Commons.
Mr. Stephen McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green): I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend's statement, especially the fact that he has made it clear that the future of the second Chamber lies in its being a revising Chamber that acts as a check and balance in our system, not a rival to this House. I also welcome the quota for women Members. May I take this opportunity to urge him to consider the deficits in the representation of ethnic minority communities, as well as the lack of proper regional representation? Finally, does he agree that it is wholly pointless for Members to bleat about the absence of a Joint Committee when they have spent the past four years sabotaging any prospect of such a Committee being established?
Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend's final point is correct: we proposed the establishment of a Joint Committee in the last Parliament but were unable to reach agreement with the other parties on its terms of reference.
I fully endorse my hon. Friend's remarks about the progress that the reform will achieve in terms of the representation within Parliament of ethnic communities across Britain. We have made good progress on that with House of Lords appointments in recent years, but we remain some way short of a membership of the second Chamber that is fully representative of the ethnic communities. At this tense international moment, we all understand how valuable it would be to have them fully represented.
Mr. John Butterfill (Bournemouth, West): Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the problem of voter apathy would be made far worse if the system of election were to be the wholly discredited party list system? If that system were adopted, would we face the ridiculous situation that exists in the European Parliament, whereby entitlement under the party lists enables someone who changes party allegiance to continue to sit as a Member?
Mr. Cook: To be honest, I do not know what response to make to that question. Some issues will have to be explored in Committee, but I would not be inclined to oppose that as a system that we would find acceptable. Yes, a list system will be used. We do not say in the White Paper whether the lists should be open or closed and we look forward to consultation and discussion on that very point. However, it would not be helpful to any of us if Members of the second Chamber were elected as
Mr. Peter Mandelson (Hartlepool): Some of us regret the lack of progress that the Government have made in bringing devolution to the English regions, but, as my right hon. Friend said, they are now finalising their views. Will the Government think imaginatively about ways of accommodating within the arrangements that they make for regional devolution in England the representation of people from those regional bodies in a newly composed House of Lords? Does he agree that we need creativity and more joined-up thinking in carrying through constitutional reform if we are to achieve the new politics and the reinvigoration of our political institutions that so many of us want?
Mr. Cook: Like my right hon. Friend, I fully support the development of a regional dimension to United Kingdom politics. We have already done that through the devolution of power to Scotland and Wales, and the creation of the Northern Ireland Assembly and an elected assembly in London. That work must continue, and a White Paper on regional assemblies will come before the House shortly.
On the question of representation in the House of Lords, there are two ways in which the regional dimension is relevant. The first is whether we should use elections to those regional devolved bodies as the basis on which elections for the elected Members of the House of Lords take place; that is one of the questions that we submitted for consultation. The second was the issue of indirect election from those bodies to the second Chamber. As I said earlier, that is a route for which the Wakeham Commission found no support, but the proposals are now back out for consultation. If the devolved bodies and the existing regional bodies are interested in that involvement and route to election to the House of Lords, they have three months in which to express that view; it is down to them and my right hon. Friend to express it.