Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill

Part of Sustainable Communities Act 2007 (Amendment) Bill – in the House of Commons at 1:00 pm on 8th April 2010.

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice 1:00 pm, 8th April 2010

Indeed, Europe has PR too.

It is a matter of historical record that until late 1923 the Labour party was the third party, and was in favour of proportional representation. The Liberal party-as it then was-which was the first or second party, was in favour of first past the post. In 1924, Pauline conversions both ways took place. The Labour party suddenly decided that it saw every merit in first past the post, and the Liberals, who slipped into third position, where they have remained ever since, were suddenly in favour of proportional representation-interesting conversions! However, although the alternative vote is an improvement to the system we have, it is not proportional representation.

I greatly regret the fact that we have had to remove certain aspects of the Bill, particularly on the alternative vote and the removal of hereditary peers. To accommodate the Conservative party, we offered an arrangement by which all existing hereditaries would in addition be deemed life peers, and a provision whereby, on the death of a hereditary-cum-life peer, the leader of a party or group-this mainly applies to the Conservative party-would have a right to nominate a replacement. There was, therefore, no question of any gratuitous reduction in their numbers. That, however, was not considered acceptable.

Given the constraints on each party, I thank Mr. Grieve and his colleagues for the constructive discussions that were held, and place on record my appreciation of the co-operation of the leaders of the three parties, the Cross-Bench groups and a number of individuals-Members and peers-with whom I met and talked all through last night.

The first group of Lords amendments is on the public service. We got the civil service changes through, which was very important. Lord Norton of Louth tabled a series of amendments. I accepted amendment 1, and did my best to accept the others where possible. The amendment sets out that in managing the civil service,

"the Minister for the Civil Service shall have regard to the need to ensure that civil servants who advise Ministers are aware of the constitutional significance of Parliament and of the conventions governing the relationship between Parliament and Her Majesty's Government."

I told Lord Norton that I strongly support the amendment. He has found a wording that meets the need. A striking feature of my 35 years of contact with officials and of working in government in the '70s is that the number of officials who understand and appreciate what happens here has gone down. We have to reverse that, and the amendment is an important way of doing so.

Other changes remove chapter 3, on Civil Service Commissioners for Northern Ireland, and chapter 4 on Crown employment and nationality. I appreciate that there is some concern about that, but we could not achieve it.

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