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House of Lords Reform

Volume 447: debated on Monday 12 June 2006

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Joint Committee on Conventions has now been set up and is receiving evidence. Tomorrow, my ministerial colleagues in the House of Lords and I will appear before it. I am also arranging to bring forward an order to extend its deadline from the end of July to the end of this Session. An order to that effect has already been laid in House of Lords and will come before this House, assuming that it is passed, as soon as possible. Meanwhile, I will hold informal consultations with the other parties, Cross Benchers and bishops. The hon. Gentleman knows that I am meeting him and other members of the cross-party group to discuss the way forward next week.

I am grateful for that answer, but I seek clarification of what now appears to be the timetable. The Joint Committee is likely to work until the autumn and then report. Should there be a chance for the cross-party discussions to take that advice, information and recommendations into account? Should the House of Commons then be able to deliberate and then the Government formulate their views, hopefully before next year and on a consensus basis, before putting them to both Houses of Parliament?

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that we all hope and pray to find a consensus on this matter, but we never know. It is the failure to find such a consensus in the past that has left us with a less than satisfactory status quo. As to the time scale, we will have lost some months by extending the deadline for the Joint Committee. My intention is to run the all-party discussions, including within the group, in parallel with the Joint Committee’s sittings, but not in a way that pre-empts the conclusions. We should gain a fairly clear idea about the direction in which it is moving towards October and November, and I hope that we can try to bring all these issues together either this side of the turn of the year or just the other side of it.

My friend will have read early-day motion 2307, on the reform of the Canadian Senate. Does he expect the Joint Committee to look at what is happening now in Ottawa to see whether that gives us any way to move forward in reforming the House of Lords?

The Wakeham commission took at lot of evidence about parallels with other second chambers, and I may tell my hon. Friend that the manner in which other second chambers operate, the balance of power between them and the first chamber and their systems of election and appointment are all the experiences that we need to look at very carefully before making our own decisions.

In thanking the Leader of the House for his over-modest extension of the deadline, may I ask him to confirm that he will meet that very large informal all-party group from both Houses, which includes a former leader of the Liberal party and a former leader of the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords, and that he will listen very carefully to the unanimous view of that group, which does not believe in electing any Member of the upper House?

Arrangements are in hand to see the hon. Gentleman, who is a leading member of that group, but the passion with which he puts an otherwise prosaic point simply about holding a meeting illustrates the difficulty of trying to find a consensus on this issue.