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Mr. Knight: The White Paper allows until the end of the month for the conclusion of consultations. We have a position, but it has not been published yet. It will be made clear before the end of January.
The Prime Minister's statement reminds me of the bishop offering the curate an egg that is good in parts and bad in others. The curate must eat the egg, so as not to offend the bishop. I think that the Prime Minister was hoping that the House would do something similar today. I have to tell him that many Opposition Members do not want to eat that egg at all. On the other hand, many Labour Members are so afraid of offending the bishop that they would eat almost anything put before them. This issue, however, represents one rotten egg too far for many Labour Members. I believe that the majority of Labour Members are prepared to say, with us, "We like eggs, but we would like one that is primarily not bad, one that is substantial and that is worth waiting for. Take this away and bring us another!"
The Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office (Mr. Stephen Twigg): Lacking a public policy, my shadow chose not to address any of the issues that have been raised in today's debate. I have 10 minutes in which to try to do so. This has been a very constructive debate, and I am pleased to be responding to it on behalf of the Government. We have heard some excellent, thoughtful speeches from both sides of the House.
Constitutional reform has been one of the greatest achievements of this Government since we were elected in 1997. We have introduced the Human Rights Act 1998, the Freedom of Information Act 2000, devolution in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the restoration of elected city government in Greater London, opportunities for communities to opt for local, directly elected mayors, the setting up of the Electoral Commission, and legislation going through Parliament at the moment to enable political parties to take positive action to increase the number of women candidates.
The goal of removing the hereditary principle from the House of Lords is one that this party has striven for since our foundation more than 100 years ago. I remember people saying to me before 1997 that, once elected, we would not proceed with constitutional reform or with the first stage of Lords reform. Well, we did. I remember, once we had completed that first stage, we were told that we would not proceed to the second. Well, we are doing so.
I welcome the fact that the Conservatives are now engaging with this issue, and that some have converted to the cause of reform. As recently as the 1997 general election, they were still defending the hereditary principle in the upper House of this Parliament, and for
We are told that the Tories have secret proposals that will be published soon. In today's debate, three Opposition Members called for a fully appointed second Chamber, three called for a wholly or largely elected second Chamber, and the hon. Members for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) and for Romford (Mr. Rosindell) wished that we had not started the reform process. Indeed, I got the impression that the hon. Member for Romford hankered for the good old days before the signing of Magna Carta.
Certain basic principles have been accepted by all speakers in the debateor certainly by most. They are that there should be two Chambers; that we should remove the hereditary element; that we should assert the pre-eminence of the House of Commons; that we should have a second Chamber that reflects the balance of public opinion between the parties; and that there should not be a fundamental change in the powers of the two Chambers.
Like many who have spoken today, my personal instincts have been in favour of a fully elected second Chamber[Hon. Members: "Aah!"] Hold on a sec! I have another six minutes to fill. The argument that persuaded me against that is that an appointed element brings expertise to a second Chamber. A number of speakers on both sides of the House made good arguments about the expertise that comes into the second Chamber via appointment, whether through party appointees or Cross Benchers.
Secondly, an appointed element ensures the pre-eminence of the House of Commons, which is very important. Finally, it plays a part in achieving a Parliament that looks more like the public whom we serve and, in particular, in ensuring proper representation of women and diverse communities in our country. No speaker addressed that issue. I would prefer election to secure such representation, but we have only to look around us to see that election alone does not have a track record of delivering proper representation of women and minority ethnic communities. The appointed element may play an important role in that.
Wakeham proposed in option B that 87 of 550 second Chamber Members be elected, while the White Paper proposes a slightly higher proportion120 of 600. Nevertheless, I accept that it is clear that Members on both sides of the House strongly support the proposals involving a larger elected element. I take that on board and shall feed it back in, but I want to respond to some specific points during the debate in the Government before bringing proposals before the House.
There is also the question of the length of an elected Member's term and the debate is between the desire for independence as set out in the Wakeham proposals, which suggest a very long term, and the need for those elected to Parliament to be accountable. I think that a 15-year term without the right to stand again would reduce the accountability of the democratically elected element in the second Chamber, so it makes far more sense to have shorter terms for Members with the right to stand for re-election. That is a more democratic way to ensure that there is an elected element in the second Chamber.
The White Paper raises the issue of indirect representation in the new second Chamber, and various Members made proposals for achieving it. The difficulty is that, although there are Assemblies in Wales and Northern Ireland and a Parliament in Scotland, there is no regional representation in England. However, the proposal is worthy of consideration as the debate moves forward.
Let me briefly address the question of prime ministerial patronage and appointees to the new second Chamber. The Government carefully considered Lord Wakeham's proposal that party political appointments be made by an independent commission, but we do not believe it appropriate for party political rather than independent representatives to be appointed in that way.
There has been a great deal of talk in the debate about prime ministerial patronage, but the proposals in the White Paper represent a significant reduction in those powers: the elected element would be 20 per cent., 20 per cent. would be appointed by an independent commission and about 55 per cent. would be appointed by parties, with most of those being appointed by opposition parties.
Currently, the majority of new Members of the Lords are directly appointed by the Prime Minister, so the proposals represent a significant reduction in the powers of patronage. [Interruption.] I recognise from the noises coming from behind that it does not go quite as far as many of my colleagues would like.
This is an important debate and, as many people have said, it is about not just the future of the other place, but the reform of Parliament itself. The purpose of reform, both here through my right hon. Friend's modernisation proposals and in the Lords, is to create a Parliament that is more effective and more representative of the people we serve. The 59 per cent. turnout last year is a clear warning to us all: renewing our political institutions is not some sideshow and it strikes at the heart of why we are here in Parliament.
This Government are listening to the concerns expressed here today and in the other place yesterday. The public consultation will continue for another three weeks and the debate is an important contribution to it. I am grateful to all Members who took part.