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Elected Second Chamber

Volume 517: debated on Tuesday 26 October 2010

2. What progress he has made on developing proposals for a wholly or mainly elected second Chamber. (19216)

My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister announced to this House in June that he would chair a cross-party Committee that would set out the Government’s proposals which they will bring forward in a draft Bill early next year. We hope that a Joint Committee of both Houses will be able to scrutinise it in due course.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer. Does he agree that only those elected to a revised second Chamber should be able to vote on the passage of legislation?

I very much agree with my hon. Friend. The Government have made it very clear that we think those who make our laws should be elected. Thinking back to the previous question, it is worth saying that of the peers created since this Government came to office, more of them are Labour than represent the coalition parties.

Will the Minister explain why he is proceeding with a cross-party, consensual approach to reforming the House of Lords, as is right and proper, yet rushing through other major changes to parliamentary democracy and the way in which we run this country without such usual cross-party consensus and support?

I certainly do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman that we are rushing things through. We have had five days of debate on the Floor of the House and we have another two days on Report next week. Labour Members—albeit not the right hon. Gentleman—voted against our programme motion, which gave the House more time. I simply do not agree with him on this. We have set out our proposals and we hope that this House and the other place will agree with them in due course.

The country has been waiting 100 years to elect the Lords. Once the Minister’s plans become law, how long will it take to achieve the Government’s intended proportion of elected Members in the upper Chamber?

My hon. Friend puts his finger on an issue that the cross-party Committee is taking seriously and on which I am sure the Joint Committee will have a view: the length of, and procedure for, the transitional period. It is not an easy process. I look forward to the debate once we have published our draft Bill.

We support the Minister’s plans to make constitutional and political reform the Government’s centrepiece, as long as it is for the right reasons and is effective. Will he confirm that, at the same time as rushing through legislation to remove 50 elected Members from this House—all the evidence suggests that most of them will be Labour MPs—this Government are rushing through plans to appoint 50 more unelected peers to the other place, most of whom will be Conservative and Liberal Democrat? Can the hon. Gentleman understand why most observers think that this is partisan and political manoeuvring?

I welcome the right hon. Gentleman to his position, as this is the first time that we have crossed swords at the Dispatch Box at Deputy Prime Minister’s questions.

On House of Lords reform, as I said in my previous answer, the Government will create some new peers in due course—the Prime Minister has made that clear—in the same way that the previous Government did. Since the election, 29 Labour peers have been created, in the resignation honours list of the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown), but only 27 coalition peers. The Government have no plans to pack the upper House; the Government do not have a majority in the other place; we will take our legislation through there by arguing the merits of the case and hoping to persuade a majority.

Given that most people would react with horror at the prospect of doubling the number of elected MPs, why does my hon. Friend think so many on both sides of the House are fanatically in favour of turning the upper House into a carbon copy of this Chamber, which might either rubber-stamp or oppose its findings, while excluding the experts who do such a good job in revising our legislation?

I know my hon. Friend’s views on this subject, but he is simply not right. One issue that the cross-party Committee is thinking about very carefully is exactly how to ensure that the reformed second Chamber is not a carbon copy of this place—that would clearly not be sensible. Although we think that Members should be elected, we will look at a range of ways of ensuring that the House of Lords can do its job properly as a revising Chamber, without duplicating the role of this House, which will remain the primary House of Parliament.