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House of Lords Reform

Volume 479: debated on Monday 14 July 2008

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement on House of Lords Reform. I am also today publishing a White Paper on the subject.

In my statement to the House on 19 July last year, I said that I would continue to lead cross-party talks on reform of the Lords. Those talks have included Front-Bench representatives of the main parties from both Houses, as well as representatives of the Cross-Bench peers and the bishops. The talks have made good progress and I am most grateful to all those who have served on the group. I pay tribute to them for their constructive contributions and readiness to consider alternative proposals. Our discussions have been much informed by the work of others, including the Public Administration Committee, informal cross-party groups, the Cunningham report and above all the report of the royal commission under the chairmanship of the noble Lord Wakeham.

The basis for our talks was the outcome of the votes in the House of Commons in March 2007. The House voted then for a wholly elected second Chamber, and for a mainly elected second Chamber and rejected all other alternatives by a large margin. Their lordships took a different view and voted for a fully appointed second Chamber and rejected all other alternatives by a large margin. However, as I said in my statement on 19 July last year, reflecting the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on 3 July last, work taking forward House of Lords reform had to be based on the will of the House of Commons, which is the primary Chamber in our legislature. The proposals we make today are consistent with the 2005 manifesto commitments of the three main political parties.

The White Paper sets out how a wholly or mainly elected second Chamber might be created within a bicameral legislature in which the House of Commons retains primacy. The White Paper reflects the considerable consensus reached in the cross-party talks. Inevitably, we did not reach agreement on all issues. In some instances, those taking part have asked that the White Paper record their difference of view, which of course it does.

As I indicated to the House in my statement on 19 July last, our intention is that the product of the cross-party talks would be the basis of a

“package that we would put to the electorate as a manifesto commitment at the next general election and which hopefully the other main parties would include in their manifestos”.—[Official Report, 19 July 2007; Vol. 463, c. 450.]

It has therefore never been the intention to legislate in this Parliament—as I said last year. The White Paper represents a significant step on the road to reform, and is intended to generate further debate and consideration rather than being a blueprint for final reform.

The White Paper sets out how Members could be elected to a reformed second Chamber from the nations and regions of the United Kingdom. It was a key recommendation of Lord Wakeham’s royal commission, and one that has since enjoyed strong consensus within the cross-party group, that Members should serve a single, non-renewable term of three electoral cycles—that is, of between 12 and 15 years. The proposal reflects the proposals in the February 2007 White Paper. Under this system, elections would be held at the same time as those for Members of this House, so as to minimise disruption to the business of Parliament.

The current House of Lords has more than 700 members. The Government intend that the reformed second Chamber should be significantly smaller, not more than between 400 and 450 members, maybe fewer, and that costs should be similar or reduced. We envisage all members of a reformed second Chamber making a full contribution to its work and we would welcome views on its size. Single, non-renewable terms would help to provide a membership for the second Chamber that continued to be distinct from that of this House and could hence bring an added dimension to the work of Parliament. It is proposed that this be reinforced by the use of large constituencies for elections to the second Chamber.

I referred earlier to the primacy of this House. Analysis of other countries’ arrangements, including that set out in chapter 5 of last year’s White Paper, and consideration of our own history shows that primacy does not depend on the fact that this House is elected while the Lords is not, rather that primacy is rooted in the Parliament Acts of 1911 and 1949 and the conventions that govern relations between the two Houses. However, with the introduction of elected Members in the second Chamber, we have to ensure that the mandate of this House, and of the Government it sustains, continues to hold sway. The membership of a reformed second Chamber should be such that it could not challenge that mandate. That is why we saw considerable merit in staggered elections, with a third of Members returned at each election. In that way, the electoral basis of the reformed second Chamber could never, as a whole, be more recent than that of this House.

The cross-party group considered at some length possible voting systems. The White Paper presents detailed modelling on the possible—I underline possible—effects of each of four electoral systems for elections to a second Chamber. The systems are first past the post, the alternative vote, the single transferable vote and open or semi-open list systems. The Government would welcome views on the choice of system.

The group considered the powers of a reformed second Chamber. We took the view that it would be wrong to presuppose conflict between this House and the other reformed House. The working relationship between the two Houses currently functions well, and we could see no reason why it should not continue to do so. Creative tension between the Houses can lead to better government, not to an undermining of the primacy of this House. If conflict arose in the future, it would, as now, be for both Houses to devise a way through that conflict. In advance of that, we identified no persuasive case for reducing the powers of a wholly or mainly elected second Chamber.

Given the Commons votes last March, the White Paper does not take a view between the options, which were voted on in favour, of either a 100 per cent. or an 80 per cent. elected second Chamber, but the White Paper includes detail on a possible 20 per cent. appointed element, should the latter option be chosen. There would then be a statutory appointments commission and published criteria for appointments. Any appointed members would serve for three electoral cycles in the same way as elected Members.

If the second Chamber became fully elected, there could be no seats appointed or reserved, including for Church of England bishops. But in recognition of the wide and important role played by the Lords Spiritual in the life of the nation and the special constitutional position of the Church, we propose that their representation should continue in a mainly elected House. In that instance, their numbers would not contribute to the 20 per cent. appointed element.

The White Paper includes proposals on eligibility and on disqualification. Because of the long non-renewable terms for which they would serve, we were attracted to the system discussed in the White Paper of recall ballots for elected members of the second Chamber, with analogous arrangements for any appointed members, but those would apply only after the first of the three parliamentary terms that members would serve. Again, the Government would welcome views on that.

We also propose that members of a reformed second Chamber should receive salaries, with the Senior Salaries Review Body asked to advise.

The transition to a reformed second Chamber raises a number of important issues, not least about the future arrangements for existing Members of the Lords. It is those Members who, collectively, enable the Chamber effectively to fulfil its key roles of scrutinising legislation, conducting investigations and holding the Government to account. The Government and, I know, the whole House greatly value the work of the Lords and the contributions of individual Members to it. However, it was made clear in 1999 that the rights of hereditary peers to sit and vote would be removed, as part of the next phase of Lords reform. The Government therefore propose that, following legislation and during the transition to a reformed second Chamber, there should be no further by-elections to fill vacancies for hereditary peers.

The February 2007 White Paper included a proposal from me that a reformed House should be 50 per cent. elected and 50 per cent. appointed. One of the many merits that I saw in that proposal was that it would have enabled existing life peers to remain for life if they had wished to do so. But that 50:50 proposal was comprehensively rejected by both Houses. The votes in this House for a wholly or 80 per cent. elected House mean that the context for the transition to a reformed second Chamber has changed. There may not be an appointed element in a reformed second Chamber. If there is, it may comprise 90 or many fewer Members.

A discussion is therefore now required to determine how far the rights of life peers to sit and vote during any transition to a reformed second Chamber should continue. The White Paper sets out three options for managing this transition: first, for all existing life peers to leave in tranches, allied to the three electoral cycles; secondly, for all to leave on the third cycle; and thirdly, to remain as now for life. Again, the Government would welcome views on those options.

The cross-party group faithfully and assiduously followed the mandate set for it by the Commons in March 2007. We are now keen for there to be a wide-ranging and thorough debate on our proposals. But I hope that all members of the cross-party group share my view that to have got this far on such an important but highly complex issue is a considerable achievement. [Interruption.] I think so, and I am very grateful for the approbation of the House in that respect. As I said in my statement on 19 July, our intention now is to continue to develop the consensus around a comprehensive package for reform of the House of Lords.

Any final package would have to be put to the electorate as a manifesto commitment, including in Thurrock, at the next general election. I hope that we will be able to build on the considerable consensus established already in the cross-party group, to the extent that other parties include similar commitments in their manifestos.

An effective second Chamber plays an invaluable role in holding the Government to account and in scrutinising legislation. Our belief is that the proposals in the White Paper and those of the group will lead to a more legitimate and strengthened second Chamber. I commend this statement and the White Paper to the House.

I thank the Justice Secretary for early sight of his statement and the final White Paper. I commend him on the way in which he has handled discussions in the cross-party group for many months and attempted to steer a course of reform.

We welcome the White Paper and recognise it as a step forward. As the Justice Secretary said, it is a Government document. Many of the proposals reflect areas of consensus in the cross-party talks, but there are areas of disagreement. Will he accept that the question of the electoral system for any reformed second Chamber is far from settled? We believe that that system should mirror that for this House: a first-past-the-post system, with recognisable constituencies, based on our historic cities and counties. We would strongly resist any move to introduce an electoral system based on proportional representation. Would not simultaneous elections to both Houses involving two different electoral systems be a recipe for confusion?

At a time of increasing public disquiet about politicians’ use of taxpayers’ funds, the cost of the second Chamber is bound to be an issue. What plans does the Justice Secretary have to set out the pay, pensions and responsibilities of members of a reformed second Chamber, and the costs of reform as a whole?

The Justice Secretary says that a reformed second Chamber should be significantly smaller than the existing House of Lords, but is not 400 members too large? We have argued for a second Chamber of between 250 and 300 members, which would be a similar size to the upper houses of France, Italy and Spain. The United States Senate has only 100 members for a population of 300 million people, albeit in a federal system.

On the subject of a senate, the White Paper notes that the working group reached a “strong consensus” that a reformed second Chamber should be known as the “Senate”, yet the Government’s proposals do not use that name. Will the Justice Secretary tell us why the Government appear reticent to adopt a name that was agreed by the cross-party group?

The issue of transition could be highly contentious. The White Paper suggests that life peers could remain members of a reformed second Chamber even after transition was complete. How could reform possibly be considered complete while life peers remained in a second Chamber, perhaps for decades? The White Paper also suggests that the remaining hereditary peers would go at the completion of transition. Does the Justice Secretary accept that given that the former Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine, gave an undertaking that the elected hereditary peers would remain until stage 2 of reform had taken place it would be invidious and inequitable to remove those remaining hereditary peers sitting in the other place as long as the 400 life peers created under Labour continued to sit? While the largest number of Members of this House voted last year for a 100 per cent. elected second Chamber—I was one of them—is it not the case, in view of the contrary position taken by the Lords themselves, that retaining an appointed minority would provide the best hope of consensus?

We welcome the special place that the Government intend to reserve for the Church of England bishops in a mainly elected, reformed second Chamber. However, does the Justice Secretary agree that retired justices of the supreme court, who would not be appointed to the second Chamber automatically, would make every bit as valuable a contribution to its work as the Lords Spiritual?

Reform should not be supported unless it strengthens the authority of the second Chamber in holding Governments to account. However, a reformed second Chamber should not seek to compete with this House, which must continue to have primacy. Is it not the case that both Houses of Parliament need strengthening to hold the Executive to account? Does the Justice Secretary agree that the next reform of the Lords should be a democratic one and that we should be wary of any proposals that might cement the current arrangements, especially by allowing an entire second Chamber to be appointed by an unelected quango?

The White Paper represents the next step after last year’s votes in the House for a mainly or wholly elected second Chamber, but is it not clear that the change envisaged is a radical one? It is not so much the reform of the House of Lords as the creation of a new second Chamber. Reform of the Lords has been proposed and attempted for the past 100 years. Will the Secretary of State for Justice indicate when he thinks the proposals will be translated into a Bill? It is right that Members in this House should reflect on and debate the issues carefully. We Opposition Members will continue to seek consensus on a way forward.

The hon. Gentleman asked me a large number of questions, and I shall try to get through them as rapidly as I can, but first, may I thank him for the courtesy and generosity of his opening remarks? As he said, and as I said, this is a Government White Paper. It is, I think, faithful to what was decided in the cross-party group, both where there was consensus and where there was not. The hon. Gentleman is entirely correct to say that, as the White Paper records, the Conservative party favours a first-past-the-post electoral system, basically based on the old European constituencies. I understand the argument in favour of that, but from a position of total neutrality on the issue, I think that there are stronger arguments in favour of first past the post than those to do with the complexity of the ballot papers. There are other issues, and there is much to be said on the matter.

The costs clearly depend on the final size agreed on. That runs into issues about transition. It is a self-evident truth that the smaller the size, the lower the costs will be, but for all parties there could be difficulties with transition. We have said that the matters must be discussed. I accept that the longer transition goes on, the more difficult it will be for the issue finally to be agreed. There is a balance between the best and the good, and in future the Houses will have to come to a judgment.

The hon. Gentleman asks about the name of the senate. What he says is consistent with what is written on page 7 of the White Paper, where the word “Senate” is used. It records the view of the cross-party group, but it goes on to say—this is the Government view—that

“To avoid a preoccupation with name over function and composition…we use the neutral term ‘reformed second chamber’ throughout this document”,

but there is no copyright on that term, and others will use whatever name is appropriate.

On hereditaries, I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman makes, because it is just a fact of life that of the hereditaries that remain, 44 are Conservatives and four are Labour. I have always said that were we to change things, we would have to make arrangements for those existing hereditaries; as I have said publicly, it has never been part of the Government’s agenda, or my agenda, gratuitously to disadvantage Conservative party representation in either place, and I have made that very clear.

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point about retired justices. I agree—this is a personal view—that an appointed minority is the best type of consensus, but let us see. Of course I agree that both Houses need to be strengthened. We should consider how rebellious the Houses have become, compared to how they were in the 1950s, when they were not rebellious at all. This House has been strengthened over the years, and an interesting Hansard Society report about that is coming out tomorrow. He asked about legislation. As I said, it is certainly our intention to bring forward a Bill after the next election, and I look forward to the Opposition parties giving us support by ensuring that they put that in their manifestos, too.

First, may I thank the Secretary of State for the statement and for the work on the White Paper? I pay tribute to his commitment to making sure that we move forward together, as far as is possible. Through him, I thank his private office for its assistance, and his officials, who have been extremely helpful. Does he agree that the reality is that there is a coalition of the committed, who are determined that we shall see reform? The process started in 1911—I nearly said, “as you know, Mr. Speaker.” I did not mean that; I mean, “as we all know.” It would be nonsense if the process were not completed by 2011. The question that the House has to address is not whether, but when, we have a properly democratic second Chamber of the United Kingdom Parliament. That is the issue, and not anything else.

The Secretary of State heard my colleagues and me make a commitment in the talks and on behalf of our party. We will repeat that commitment in our next election manifesto: it is to make sure that all our MPs vote at the earliest opportunity in the next Parliament for just this sort of reform package. However, if people are to be elected to the second Chamber—it will be called “the Senate”, I think—in thirds, for one term only, there is no justified argument that those elected with a party affiliation should not proportionately reflect the public’s votes for the parties at the election. That argument is not about this place; we can have that at another time. It is an argument about proper representation down the corridor.

Will the Secretary of State accept that, like the life peers, the hereditaries have known throughout their service in the House of Lords—many have served it well—that the time would come when their service would end? The only logical position is that all the hereditary peers should go at the beginning of the democratic process and that the life peers should go, at the latest, at the end of the three elections, probably by thirds over the period. In the White Paper, the Government express the preference that we have discussed: that the elections for the second Chamber should take place on the same day as the general election. However, does the Secretary of State agree that there is a strong case for our needing a fixed-term Parliament for the House of Commons and for there to be, at half-time intervals, elections for the second Chamber as well as for the devolved Administrations in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and for any future devolved Administration in England?

There has been a debate about the bishops. I hope that the Secretary of State accepts that many of us in the Church—not only the Anglican Church, but the Church generally—believe that the time has come for the Church of England not to be part of the establishment any more. The Church was not part of the establishment at the beginning and it was not intended to be so. Whether there are to be women bishops soon or not—I hope that there will be—the Church must, like anybody else, put its case for representation to the people. It is nonsense to protect one bit of the old House of Lords, but not any other.

Lastly, does the Secretary of State agree with the point made by the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert)? The proposals do not come instead of, but as well as, the reform and democratisation of the Commons. We need a stronger Parliament in this country if the British people are to think that their Governments, of whatever colour and composition, are to be held properly to account in future.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for what he has said. I also particularly thank my private office and the officials who have worked extremely hard for a long period on behalf of all members of the working group; I should have done that before.

To suggest that the process will be completed by 2011 is probably pushing it; however, getting the legislation in by 2011 would be a good target. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the form of elections. He and his party have their view about the timing of the elections; it happens that the Conservatives and the Government have a different one. One of the great things about the cross-party group was that we had to apply our brains to the discussion. Like the Conservative party, I came to the view that it would be best for good governance and the effective role of both Houses if the elections for each House coincided.

The hon. Gentleman asked about hereditaries. They, as well as life peers, have always known that their time would end. That is true for all of us; we know that our time will end at some stage and the big, existential question is about when. Everybody at the other end of the corridor has certainly been aware that reform has been in the air; it has been since at least 1911, and for many years it has been in the manifestos of the hon. Gentleman’s party, my party and, more recently, the Conservative party. That said, there is a human issue about managing the transition.

The hon. Gentleman made an interesting point that was wholly incorrect, if he does not mind my saying so. He said that the Church of England was not originally part of the establishment. I do not know what Henry VIII had in mind when he broke away from the Church of Rome and created the Church of England. Furthermore, what is still in mind when I go to the palace to administer the new bishops’ oaths of homage, about their allegiance and loyalty to the Crown? I am also a communicating Anglican, as is my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant). I take a different view—I think that the established Church plays an important part in the life of our nation. That is not a party point of view.

Of course, the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that this is not a zero sum game as between the other place and this House. It is in the interests of democracy and of good government that both Houses should continue to be strengthened.

May I thank my right hon. Friend for his courtesy in sending me an advance copy of the White Paper and for his kind words about my work on the royal commission? Having read the White Paper, I congratulate him on producing a masterpiece of imprecision, vacillation and obfuscation that cannot possibly lead to meaningful legislation—a consequence entirely to be desired.

My right hon. Friend is a very old friend. When he starts his remarks with a compliment I always know that there is something coming that will be less than complimentary, and I was not disappointed on this occasion. He played an important role in the Wakeham royal commission. He obviously disagrees with the White Paper, but he is wrong to call it imprecise or obfuscatory. It is neither; it merely comes to a conclusion that is rather different from his conclusions.

In echoing the wise and perceptive comments of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman), may I ask the Lord High Chancellor to acknowledge that when the votes took place in this House last year a significant majority of Conservative Members voted against 80:20 and a larger number voted against 100 per cent? On his side of the House, there was a significant majority against 80:20—

There was a majority against 80:20, and the vote for 100 per cent. was caused by a tactical switch by a number of Members, led by the hon. Member for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Clelland), who is nodding vigorously. That is no basis on which a cosy coterie of cross-party leading Front Benchers can saddle the rest of the House of Commons with the most ridiculous dog’s breakfast that I have seen in many a long year.

Those of us who take seriously the way we vote have to be bound by the consequences of our votes. We cannot have a situation whereby Members vote in one Lobby and then say that they actually meant to vote in the other Lobby; indeed, that would be the road to complete disaster. Moreover, I do not remember the hon. Gentleman ever saying, when he was forced through the Lobby in support of his Government, that he had not really meant to vote for, say, the poll tax or another objectionable piece of legislation. When the votes took place, there was quite a substantial majority for 80:20 and a very significant majority for 100 per cent. All the other alternatives were defeated.

I am relieved to hear from the Secretary of State that brain power was applied in producing this document. What is the thinking behind electing somebody to an upper House for a 12 to 15-year term with no right of re-election? How could they possibly be held to account by the constituency for which they have been elected for such a long period?

Secondly, why on earth can we not do this in this Parliament—

I refer my hon. Friend to my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman), because this idea originally came from the royal commission of which he was not just an adornment but a very important element. I think that it has merit in terms of what we are seeking to do. It was also in the February 2007 White Paper and generally received approbation in the two-day debate in March 2007. If we are seeking a Chamber that is complementary, we must have a system of election that does not get in the way of Members of this House. That is a serious anxiety. We therefore propose single terms, although these Members would not be as responsible to their electorates as is any Member of this House. At the same time, it is important, in our view, that there should be recall mechanisms of some kind to ensure, for example, that as well as attendance requirements, the natural check on Members’ assiduity and behaviour, which takes place very quickly at each subsequent election, would not arise under this system.

Before we start writing our election addresses on this White Paper I hope that the House will have a debate on it. This is an extraordinary process. As my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) said, it is only a coterie of Front Benchers who have come to these generalised conclusions, which is all that they are. There has been no Speaker’s Conference on this major constitutional change. We desperately need to be able to discuss this matter appropriately before any of us come to write our election addresses—in my case, I will include a rejection of the proposals in the form that they take.

I set out the basis for the talks in my statement on 19 July last year, and there was general approval for them. On 7 March, following the clear votes in this House in favour of 80 per cent. and 100 per cent. and against all other alternatives, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) asked me what the next steps would be, and we said that there would be a cross-party group. A cross-party group was formed with representatives of each of the parties. Of course, on this issue, as on many others, there are disagreements within parties, but that does not alter the legitimacy of our mandate, or of those who served on the cross-party group.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on resisting the name “senate”. Frankly, once they are called senators, they will be completely out of control. An important question is highlighted—apart from “Why are we wasting time on this nonsense, anyway?” Once a second Chamber has an elected mandate, what can stop it from claiming equal responsibility to this House?

I do not happen to think that reforming our second Chamber is a waste of time. What my right hon. Friend says is exactly the sort of argument that has led to delay and procrastination on this issue. Reform would greatly strengthen our democracy, and I am not in any doubt about that. What was my right hon. Friend’s second question?

This is an important question, which we debated at great length last March. If my right hon. Friend looks at chapter 5 of the White Paper on Lords reform that we published last year—I will send him a copy—he will find a detailed analysis of other countries’ experience of appointed and elected second chambers and the powers that flow from that. There is no direct relationship between the nature of election or appointment and the powers. There are appointed chambers that are powerful and elected ones that are not. It is the nature of the relationship that is crucial, not whether they are elected or appointed.

As an opponent of an elected second Chamber, as is everyone else who has spoken on this statement, may I say that I wholly support the Secretary of State’s policy of what appears to be endless consultation on the issue? The process looks likely to reach 100 years, and perhaps it could then be given a decent funeral.

I return to the point about accountability made by the hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn). The Secretary of State seemed to say that the fact that a person did not have to be re-elected made the process more accountable. It seems to me that if someone were elected for 15 years, they would have to pay no attention to their constituents—they would not even have to answer their letters, let alone represent their views in any way. If people are to be elected for 15 years on a party list by proportional representation, is the system not very like the one we have at the moment where life peers are mainly appointed by political parties? Why do we not just stick with that?

I invite the hon. Gentleman to look carefully at our argument on non-renewable terms and at the views of the royal commission, in which my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) played an important part, because it made the original recommendation. In a modern society, we must accept that there is an issue about the other place’s lack of legitimacy. It is unusual for the second Chamber of such a large and important country as the United Kingdom to be wholly appointed. Over the years, we have tried to increase the legitimacy of the other place, but it is still appointed. I believe, although my position has moved, that we greatly benefit from its being elected in a way that does not compete but complements the work of this Chamber.

May I commend my right hon. Friend’s thoroughness and progress on this issue but express disappointment that this important question of Lords reform is still in the slow lane? This House voted by an overwhelming majority for a 100 per cent. elected Chamber and by a smaller but none the less clear majority for an 80 per cent. elected Chamber. There is no justification for not introducing a Bill in the next Session, and one of the advantages of doing so would be that it would test Conservative support for Lords reform. I should like that to be put to the test and for us to finish this unfinished business as part of the radical proposals for constitutional reform that I am proud our Labour Government have introduced.

I am grateful for my right hon. Friend’s support and, in a sense, I welcome his impatience. As a former Leader of the House, he will be aware of the issues about what is included in the legislative programme. In practical terms, given the huge amount of detail that must still be resolved, it will be difficult to include legislative proposals in the next Session. Given all the fits and starts on Lords reform—including under my party between 1966 and 1968—the measure of cross-party consensus represents significant progress, and we must rapidly build on it.

Church of England bishops may not be men-only in future, but they will be England-only for eternity, so will Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have additional representation to compensate for the fact that they do not have established religion? To echo the point made by the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain), given that reform of the House of Lords has been in every Labour manifesto since 1997 and has been Labour policy for the best part of a century, why is the Justice Secretary subcontracting it to the incoming Conservative Administration?

We are not subcontracting it to anybody. We have made considerable progress on Lords reform: the composition of the other place and its activity rate have been transformed in the past 11 or 12 years, although it remains appointed.

The hon. Gentleman raises an important issue about the representation of other faith communities, within both the Christian Church and other world religions. I accept his point that if there were an appointed element—it is one of the arguments in favour of an appointed element—the faith communities would be represented, albeit it in a different way. Without an appointed element, there is no provision for any appointments of bishops or of representatives of other faith communities.

The Minister says that he would welcome views on the system of voting and elections to the Lords being held on the same day as general elections. The election that was held in Scotland on the same day using two different systems was a complete shambles that disfranchised many of my constituents as well as those of colleagues. In the circumstances, surely the only system should be first past the post.

There is experience of the electorate finding voting straightforward, including in the elections for the London Assembly. I understand my hon. Friend’s point, and it might be a further argument in favour of first past the post.

In last year’s vote, was not the status quo the least-favoured option among Conservative Members, with the majority of us voting for at least one of the elected options? On the transition, would not resistance from the other place be reduced if life peers were allowed to serve for life, and, with an average age of 68, is this not a matter on which we can afford to be generous?

I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman’s support. He is absolutely right to say that there was a clear majority of 23 in the Conservative party against a fully appointed Chamber, with the proposal being comprehensively defeated across the Chamber by 196 to 375. Each of the parties must discuss his second point with its peers and, indeed, must do so across the parties. I have yet to reach a final conclusion, but we include in the White Paper and elsewhere various actuarial predictions about how long their lordships would take before life ceased to mean life.

I broadly support the proposals, but I wonder what the White Paper says about the dual mandate. Is my friend proposing that the senators, or whatever they are called, will not be able to serve as Members of the Scottish Parliament, Assembly Members or perhaps even as local authority councillors?

I think—from recollection—that the White Paper is silent on the dual mandate. I have never seen a problem with people serving on local authorities, but there would be an issue about serving on other bodies.

I join in thanking the Justice Secretary for the courteous way in which he ran the working group. However, may I ask him to look again at the arrangements for the elections? He has put forward any number of reasons today why the first-past-the-post system is the preferred way forward. When it comes to the constituencies, surely we should have an end to the regions. Regional assemblies have been grossly unpopular—it has not been possible to pursue them—and regions are not popular in the European elections, either. However, people understand what a county, a town or a city is. If we are to have any confidence in the system, surely people should have a sense of identity with the constituencies in which they are voting. Will the Secretary of State join me in standing strong for the great ancient counties and great cities of England and Britain?

I understand the hon. Gentleman’s argument. However, it could be said that, as the House of Lords does not deliver a Government or sustain a Government, one of the arguments normally made against proportional representation, which I hold with a passion so far as this place is concerned, is less significant in respect of the other place. That must be weighed in the balance. We need to look at the experience of the various proportional systems that have been used, particularly over the past 11 years. However, let me draw to the House’s attention the fact that we are not proposing in the White Paper to go for a closed list system.

These proposals represent major constitutional change. If proposals for elected mayors, regional assemblies and devolved government require referendums, should the people not be asked whether they want to abolish the House of Lords and create 200, 300 or 400 more paid politicians?

It has never been the view of any party that such a complex issue ought to be put to a referendum, but we are clear that it should be included in election manifestos.

Even the Government accept in the White Paper that there is no place for bishops in a 100 per cent. elected House, so in their view there is no fundamental constitutional principle in having bishops. Therefore, if the Government want bishops in an 80 per cent. elected House, why not rely on the appointments system rather than reserving a place for 16 or 26 male, mainly conservative people who have separate representation from anyone else?

I have been a strong supporter of women bishops in the Church of England and I look forward to their future representation in the other place. The issue comes down to the position of the established Church. I understand and respect the hon. Gentleman’s view, which is different from mine. One of the things that we need to recognise, at a time of concern about whether there is a lack of faith generally, is the important role that the Lords Spiritual, as bishops of the Church of England, play in representing not only the Church of England but the wider faith communities. It is interesting that almost all representatives of other faith communities, including other world religions, applaud the role of the Lords Spiritual in the other place.

I congratulate the Justice Secretary on the progress that he has made in bringing forward proposals that give effect to the views that the House expressed. I would urge him strongly to commit to as open an electoral system as possible, so that through electoral reform it might be possible to involve in our revising Chamber representatives who stand on platforms other than those of our existing political parties. Having a more open system is absolutely appropriate for a revising Chamber whose job is not to sustain a manifesto or sustain the Government, but to scrutinise the work of that Government and revise legislation.

I understand my hon. Friend’s point and I thank her for her support. It is for precisely the reason that she mentioned that none of us was in favour of the closed list system. Proponents of each of the four systems in the White Paper would argue—with some justification—that each system could lead to the election of people of independent spirit and mind to the second Chamber.

Following on from the previous question, does the right hon. Gentleman accept that a case can be made for no whipping of members of the second Chamber in order to protect its independence from the corrupting influence of party politics?

The hon. Gentleman says yes, but I have a slightly different view. I think that we cannot operate a party system without Whips, however difficult they may be from time to time—and that is an eternal verity. The whipping system in their lordships’ House is already rather loose compared with the system in this House, and that may continue.

I very much welcome the statement and the White Paper. Does the Secretary of State agree, however, that alongside discussion of the issues in the White Paper it is important that we discuss the mechanisms that the political parties will adopt to select candidates for a reformed second Chamber? It would be most unfortunate, and certainly not the wish of this House, to substitute one form of patronage with an even less transparent one. It is important that the second Chamber is not full of centrally appointed party apparatchiks and has only a thin veneer of democratic accountability.

I agree with my hon. Friend. As I said, that is one reason why the proposals for a closed list system were not accepted and are not part of the current proposals. The precise form of party mechanism depends to a significant degree on the electoral system that is chosen, but I think that all of us accept the burden of what my hon. Friend says.

Although I fully support the views expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) and the right hon. Member for Warley (Mr. Spellar), can the Secretary of State give the House any assurance that a new House of Lords will have the same range of skills, qualifications and life experience as the current House of Lords? Will the new House control its own timetable, as the current House of Lords does—something that gives it the ability and authority to hold the Government to account and, unlike this place, properly to scrutinise legislation?

On the range of skills, if there were an appointed element, some of those who are currently appointed would continue to be appointed, and there is an obvious downside if everyone is elected. However, I do not accept the implication that the only method by which people of experience and education can get to the House of Lords is by appointment, rather than election. Plenty of other systems across the democratic world use election.

On the House of Lords controlling its own timetable, we do not have proposals to change the present powers. Although it is true that their lordships have become more assertive in scrutinising legislation, the hon. Gentleman will know, as a member of the Modernisation Committee, that there is clear evidence that this House spends longer scrutinising Bills than does the other place.

I wholeheartedly congratulate the Justice Secretary on his reforming zeal, not least because we still have ludicrous by-elections for hereditary peers in the House of Lords, the last of which, in May, saw Baroness Darcy de Knayth replaced by the Earl of Stair, whose first predecessor in the House of Lords was given his place there for ordering the massacre at Glencoe. On top of that, we still have convicted criminals in the second Chamber and it is still predominantly representative of London and the south-east. Is not the most important principle that we should stick to the primacy of the House of Commons in that only this House can appoint a Government and only this House can get rid of one?

Yes to my hon. Friend’s final question, and I am grateful for his support in trying to develop a momentum for these proposals. On disqualification, as we set out in the White Paper, we are clear that the same arrangements that apply to this House—disqualification for a criminal conviction, for example—should apply to the other place.

I voted for an elected second Chamber, but I am struggling to remember quite why. The Lord Chancellor has sought to detain us with his statement notwithstanding the fact that the existing arrangements seem to be working pretty well and that there is no prospect of consensus between the two Chambers. As for the right hon. Gentleman’s assurance that he is going to put the proposals in his manifesto, he will recall that he put a commitment to have a referendum on the European constitution in his previous manifesto.

On why the hon. Gentleman voted as he did, he will have to consult himself and also perhaps the man for whom he works as Parliamentary Private Secretary—the Leader of the Opposition—as it may be that he was told to vote that way. Who knows? But he did vote for it and we, being faithful servants of the House, have implemented the mandate of the Commons.

I agree with the comments made earlier that allowing bishops to be represented in the Lords would be an offence to the Catholic Church and, indeed, the Church of Scotland. What happens in the Lords should reflect what happens throughout the UK, so it should include all the religious beliefs if its people. My question, however, is this: if we go ahead and change the electoral system for the House of Lords, it would effectively mean that there would be five separate types of elections in the different parts of the United Kingdom. That cannot be good for democracy. Surely it is about time we started to talk about standardising this country’s electoral system.

My hon. Friend raises an important point, which requires further consideration. I fully understand what he is saying about the role of the Catholic Church; it does not have a formal position on this issue, but I am not aware of any hostility by members of the Catholic hierarchy to the Anglican hierarchy sitting in the House of peers. Indeed, it is quite the reverse, as they believe that the bishops speak out as they do in the other place not just for the Anglican Church but for all those involved in the proselytising of faith across our society.

As someone who voted for a wholly appointed or a wholly elected second Chamber—I believe anything in between is indefensible—may I ask about the cost of all this rigmarole that we may be undertaking with partly or wholly elected lordships?

The cost of a reformed Chamber will principally depend on its size. We have suggested somewhere between 400 and 450 members—possibly fewer—while the Conservative party has talked about a Chamber of 300. The smaller it is, the more difficult it will be to effect a transition, but the less expensive it will be.

May I support my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) in emphasising the importance of relatively small, identifiable and manageable constituencies? That rather suggests the old Euro-constituencies prior to 1983. In choosing the method of election, can we keep in mind the undesirability of too much interference from party central offices—and that certainly argues against a closed party list system?

I understand the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s point. The closed party list is no part of these proposals; let us be clear about that. It was in our 1997 manifesto—[Interruption.] We will leave aside how it got there—Interruption.] Not by me—[Interruption.] I am being interrupted. The right hon. and learned Gentleman was, of course, right in the rest of what he said.

I congratulate the Lord High Chancellor on not leaking the statement in advance. It is clear that when statements are not leaked the House is much better attended.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the House of Lords is very effective in holding the Government of the day to account? Surely the only reason for reforming it would be to make it more effective. If it is not broken, why is the right hon. Gentleman trying to fix it?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for saying that I had followed the normal conventions. I do not approve of prior briefing on statements, and have always sought to avoid it.

As for the hon. Gentleman’s second point, he needs to consider why he stood in the last general election—along with my party and the Liberal Democrats—supporting a clear manifesto commitment to the seeking of a cross-party consensus on a mainly elected second Chamber. His party had obviously thought about it carefully, and believed that whatever good work the Lords were currently doing—as they are now—could be strengthened by an increase in its legitimacy through an election.