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House of Lords Reform

Volume 524: debated on Tuesday 1 March 2011

The cross-party Committee, which I chair, has been considering proposals for a wholly or mainly elected second Chamber. The Government will publish a draft Bill shortly, which will then be subject to pre-legislative scrutiny. The Government hope that that will be carried out by a Joint Committee of both Houses.

I thank the Deputy Prime Minister for that answer. Will the proposals include a fulfilment of the Liberal Democrat manifesto commitment to a fully elected House of Lords?

From what the hon. Gentleman has said, I take it that he supports 100% election to the other place, which is a great advance on the 0% of elected Members that the Labour Government delivered over the past 13 years. My party’s manifesto was very clear about a fully elected House of Lords, so it is no secret that that would be my preference, but as I have explained, we want to proceed with this process on a cross-party basis as much as possible. That is why I have been chairing the cross-party Committee, and why I would like all the proposals in the draft Bill to be subjected to rigorous scrutiny by a Joint Committee of both Houses. My preference is clear, but all I would say to the hon. Gentleman is that, given the fact that the reform of the other place has been stalled for about 150 years, there is always a danger of making the best the enemy of the good.

The Deputy Prime Minister said that it had taken 150 years to get to this stage. May I urge him to take another 150 years before we have to vote?

I do not agree with my hon. Friend, for the simple reason that a principle is at stake—that those who make the laws of the land should be accountable, as is common to bicameral systems across the democratic world, to the people who have to abide by those laws. That is a simple principle. As he knows, we are committed by the coalition agreement to introducing legislation for a wholly or mainly elected House of Lords. As I said, we shall publish a Bill shortly, and it will then be subject to extensive scrutiny by a Joint Committee of both Houses.

The Deputy Prime Minister has just confirmed what he said at the last Deputy Prime Minister’s Questions, which is that he has not made up him mind whether the draft Bill will keep his promise to have a 100% fully elected second Chamber, or whether there will only be a partially elected one.

On another issue of timing, the Deputy Prime Minister has said that he will publish the draft Bill shortly. Before the general election he said that a Bill would be published within six to seven weeks of a new Parliament being formed, and the coalition agreement said that one would be published by December 2010. I know that he is a busy, hard-working Deputy Prime Minister, so when exactly can we expect to see this draft Bill, and what is the reason for the delay?

I profess to being a little surprised, given that the right hon. Gentleman sat in the cross-party Committee that I chair, and I seem to remember that our last meeting was shortly before Christmas. He may profess ignorance of this matter, but he knows very well that the Committee, which I think has been proceeding in a methodical, co-operative and cross-party manner to try to create a cross-party consensus, concluded its work only relatively recently. He attended the last meeting shortly before Christmas, and we are now doing the work in government, which is entirely reasonable, to present a draft Bill based on that Committee’s work—and as I said, we shall do that shortly.