Skip to main content

House of Lords Reform (Draft Bill)

Volume 528: debated on Tuesday 17 May 2011

With permission, Mr Speaker, I wish to make a statement about the Government’s plans to reform the other place.

At the last general election, each major party committed to a democratically elected second Chamber. The coalition agreement set out very clearly the Government’s intention to deliver that, but the roots of these changes can be traced back much further. A century ago, the Government, led by Herbert Asquith, promised to create

“a Second Chamber constituted on a popular instead of hereditary basis.”

There has been progress in the intervening years—the majority of hereditary peers have gone, and the other place is now predominantly made up of life peers. We should see ourselves as completing that work.

People have a right to choose their representatives. That is the most basic feature of a modem democracy. Our second Chamber, which is known for its wisdom and expertise, is none the less undermined by the fact it is not directly accountable to the British people. I am therefore publishing a draft Bill today, and an accompanying White Paper, which set out proposals for reform.

In the programme for government, we undertook to

“establish a committee to bring forward proposals for a wholly or mainly elected upper chamber on the basis of proportional representation.”

I chair that cross-party Committee, which reached agreement on many of the most important issues—not on all of them, but good progress was made—and those deliberations have greatly shaped the proposals that are being published today. I should like to pay tribute to all members of the Committee, particularly Opposition Members, who engaged with us in an open and collaborative fashion. Let me also thank those individuals whose past work on Lords reform has laid the foundations for what we are doing today, particularly the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) and the right hon. and noble Lord Wakeham. Rather than start anew, the Government have benefited from their previous endeavours. Today’s proposals represent a genuine, collective effort over time.

The draft Bill and White Paper will now be scrutinised by a Joint Committee composed of 13 peers and 13 Members of this House. The Committee will report early next year, and a Government Bill will then be introduced.

The Prime Minister and I are clear that we want the first elections to the reformed upper Chamber to take place in 2015. However, although we know what we want to achieve, we are open minded about how we get there. Clearly, our fixed goal is greater democratic legitimacy for the other place, but we will be pragmatic in order to achieve that. We therefore propose an upper House made up of 300 members, each eligible for a single term of three Parliaments. Three hundred is the number that we judge to be right, but this is an art and not a science. In the vast majority of bicameral systems, the second Chamber is significantly smaller. That arrangement helps to maintain a clear distinction between the two Houses. We are confident that 300 full-time Members can cover the work comfortably. We are, however, open to alternative views on that.

The coalition agreement committed the Government to produce proposals for

“a wholly or mainly elected chamber.”

That debate is reflected in what we are publishing today. The Bill makes provision for 80% of Members to be elected, with the remaining 20% to be appointed independently. The 60 appointed Members would sit as Cross Benchers, not as representatives of political parties, and in addition bishops of the Church of England would continue to sit in the other place, but would be reduced in number from 26 to 12. The White Paper includes the case for a 100% elected House of Lords. The 80:20 split is the more complicated option, and so has been put into the draft Bill in order to illustrate it in legislative terms. The 100% option would be easy to substitute into the draft Bill should that be where we end up.

There are people on both sides of the House who support a fully elected Chamber, believing that an elected House of Lords should be just that. Others, again on both sides, take a different view, and support having a non-elected component in order to retain an element of non-party expertise, as well as to keep greater distinction between the two Houses. Personally, I have always supported a 100% elected House of Lords, but the key thing is not to make the best the enemy of the good. That approach has stymied Lords reform for far too long. After all, 80% is a whole lot better than 0%.

Elections to the new reformed House will be staggered: at each general election a third of Members will be elected, or a combination of elected and appointed. That is to prevent the other place from becoming a mirror image of this House. In the Bill we set out how those elections could be conducted using the single transferable vote. The coalition agreement specifies only that the system must be proportional, and what is most important is that it is different from whatever we use in the Commons. That is to ensure that the two Chambers have distinct mandates; one should not seek to emulate the other.

STV allows for that, and would also give the upper Chamber greater independence from party control. Votes are cast for individuals rather than parties, putting the emphasis on the expertise and experience that candidates offer, rather than the colour of the rosette they wear. We want to preserve the independence of spirit that has long differentiated that House from this one. I know that some Members prefer a party list system, including Opposition members of the cross-party Committee I chaired. We are willing to have this debate, and have not ruled out a list-based system in the White Paper.

The Commons will retain ultimate say over legislation through the Parliament Acts, and will continue to have a decisive right over the vote of supply. In order for a Government to remain in office they will still need to secure the confidence of MPs. The other place will continue to be a revising Chamber, providing scrutiny and expertise. Its size, electoral cycle, voting system, and terms will all help to keep it distinct from the Commons and a place that remains one step removed from the day-to-day party politics that, quite rightly, animate this House. What will be different is that our second Chamber will finally have a democratic mandate, and will be much more accountable as a result.

Clearly, the transition must be carefully managed. We propose to phase in the reform over three electoral cycles. In 2015 a third of Members will be elected, or a combination of elected and appointed. The number of sitting peers will be reduced by a third, although we are not prescribing the process for that; it will be up to the parties in the other place to decide. In 2020, a further third will come in under the new system, and then again in 2025. There are other ways of staging the transition, however, and the White Paper sets out two of them.

To conclude, history teaches us that completing the unfinished business of Lords reform is not without challenges. Our proposals are careful and balanced. They represent evolution, not revolution, and are a typically British change. I hope that Members from both sides of the House and the other place will help us to get the proposals right. The Government are ready to listen and are prepared to adapt, but we are determined, in the end, to act. I commend this statement to the House.

I thank the Deputy Prime Minister for advance sight of the statement, and for how he chaired the working group—squaring the views of Lord Strathclyde with those of the rest of us was nothing short of a master class in conflict resolution. I am also pleased to see the Prime Minister here supporting the Deputy Prime Minister. The latter must feel like the manager of West Ham seeing his chairman after the final whistle on Saturday. I hope he has a better outcome than the chairman—I mean the manager—of West Ham had on Saturday.

I agree that our politics and constitution are in need of reform. Like the Deputy Prime Minister’s party, Labour had a manifesto commitment to create a fully elected second Chamber. Let us be frank: Lords reform is not near the top of any of our constituents’ priorities. They are more interested—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] I am grateful for that support; I am not sure whether the Deputy Prime Minister is. Our constituents are more interested in their schools and hospitals, and whether they will have a job at the end of the year. This is about how we write the laws that affect us, including laws on schools and hospitals, and who writes those laws, so if we are doing it, we have to get it right.

The present situation is unsustainable. The Lords has more than 800 Members, and the Prime Minister intends to pack in another 200, at great expense to the taxpayer—117 have already been added since May 2010—while at the same time cutting the number of elected Members in this House. More unelected, fewer elected—and he calls it progress. I fear that the Deputy Prime Minister will soon realise that the Tories are the real obstacle to reform, just as they were when we were in power.

It is important that we get the details right. The Deputy Prime Minister says that he supports a fully elected second Chamber, yet he is unveiling a Bill today that leaves at least 20% appointed, plus bishops, plus Ministers appointed by the Prime Minister. The Joint Committee will have a built-in Government majority, so the idea of it overturning anything of substance in the Bill by next year is unrealistic. These proposals risk being a dog’s dinner, with nobody happy at the outcome— not even the Lib Dem activists, whom the Deputy Prime Minister is trying to appease. After 12 months in office, he has nothing new to say on Lords reform, but is simply putting out proposals that kick the issue into the long grass.

Before the Deputy Prime Minister delegates responsibility for the Bill to the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, the hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper), who is the Minister responsible for political and constitutional reform, and to Lord Strathclyde, can he answer these 11 questions on the proposals?

Bearing in mind that the country comprehensively rejected the AV system two weeks ago, is the Deputy Prime Minister seriously suggesting that he should impose a system of proportional representation for the second Chamber without consulting the electorate? What powers does he want a reformed House of Lords to have? How will he deal with the conventions that currently govern the relationship between the two Chambers? Does he believe that the relationship should be codified? What role does he envisage for the bishops in the second Chamber, and why 12? Can he set out the cost of a reformed second Chamber? If it is possible that no peers would be forced to leave until 2025, what does he predict the maximum size and cost of the second Chamber will be in the interim? Will he confirm that he wants reform on the statute book by the next election? Will he confirm whether he intends to use the Parliament Acts to force the proposals through? Will he also confirm whether coalition MPs and peers will be whipped to vote for the Bill when it comes out of the Joint Committee? Finally, will he allow a debate on his Bill in Government time before the summer recess?

The Deputy Prime Minister has confirmed by the publication of this Bill just how irrelevant he and his party are in the coalition Government. I am afraid that the Bill, the White Paper and the whole process are a huge anticlimax.

Not only did the right hon. Gentleman fluff the lines at the beginning, he also failed to rise to the occasion. This is an occasion when, for once, he could put aside his sour observations and try to work across parties, as we have in the cross-party Committee, to make some progress not only, I should remind Opposition Members, on something that was in their manifesto—by the way, so was AV, but a fat lot of good that did us all—but on something that we have been discussing as a country for almost 100 years. If that is not long enough, I do not know what is.

Before I turn to some of the right hon. Gentleman’s questions, let me address the vital issue, which he has raised once again, about a wholly or mainly elected second Chamber. It would be so much easier to take the right hon. Gentleman’s admonitions in favour of 100% seriously if, during the 13 years under Labour, more had been delivered than 0%. Given that the country has been debating House of Lords reform for more than a century and that all three parties made a manifesto commitment on this issue last year, it is crucial not to make the best the enemy of the good. We have set out in the Bill how an 80:20 split would work, and we have maintained the option in the White Paper of moving to 100% if that is what people want. That is exactly what we will submit to the Joint Committee.

Turning to the right hon. Gentleman’s questions, the cost is almost impossible to estimate at this stage, without knowing precisely what the final composition of the House of Lords will be or the method of transition from where we are now to where we want to be in 2025. In the Bill, we have proposed a staged election—or election and appointment—by thirds in 2015, 2020 and 2025, alongside a staged reduction, commensurate with that, from the House of Lords as it is at the moment.

We will leave it to the House of Lords itself to decide the precise method of reduction by thirds. We have set out two options in the White Paper. One would involve moving to the full reduction of the size of the House of Lords to 300 immediately in 2015; the other would be to do nothing until 2025, which would mean that the reformed House of Lords would have become very large indeed in 15 years’ time. We would then make the reduction at that point. Those are exactly the kinds of issues that we will invite the Joint Committee to look at.

I can confirm our determination to see the reform of the House of Lords reach the statute book in time for the elections in 2015. We want to see the first elections to a reformed House of Lords take place in 2015. We will treat this legislation as we treat all Government legislation. This is something to which both our manifestos—in fact, all the manifestos—are committed, and it is clearly set out in the coalition agreement. We will use all the legislative tools at our disposal to deliver on that commitment.

Order. A great many hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye. Brevity is therefore of the essence.

Does the Deputy Prime Minister appreciate that there will be a warm welcome for the fact that he is introducing a draft Bill? We look forward to its being thoroughly scrutinised by the Joint Committee. Will he please explain how the balance of power between the two Houses of Parliament will change when an elected second Chamber competes with this House and its Members for democratic legitimacy?

We discussed this in the cross-party Committee. It is precisely to avoid competition between the two Houses that the Bill and the White Paper propose different systems of election, different geographical constituencies—the Lords would not represent constituencies in the way that we understand in this House—and non-renewable 15-year terms. Bicameral systems in other countries show that, as long as the mandate and the term in one House are very different from those in the other, an asymmetrical relationship can be preserved.

The stated aims of the proposal are clearly legitimacy and accountability. How would an election system that leaves the electorate unable to understand who they have elected add to legitimacy, and how would accountability be aided by 15-year non-renewable terms, during which there would be no power of recall for the electorate? Is it not true that a mandate given to the second Chamber would reduce the mandate of this House?

I remind the right hon. Gentleman that the insight that it is best to have long non-renewable terms in the other place in a reformed House of Lords precisely to avoid such conflict with the other place was not established by the present Government or the cross-party Committee I chaired; rather, it is an idea that has enjoyed consensus from the days of the Wakeham commission onwards. If we look at the proposals from a cross-party group of MPs, which were given considerable support by the previous Labour Government in 2005—the “Breaking the Deadlock” proposals—we find that a preference was made not only for non-renewable terms of between 12 and 14 years, but for the single transferable vote. These are not new proposals: they are drawn from a lot of insights identified by others from all parties in the past.

Given that this issue has been on the agenda of Parliament for so long and that reforming the second Chamber is now the settled will of the leadership of all three parties, is not the test of this Bill whether the leadership of those parties makes sure that the democratically elected Members of Parliament prevail in a reform that is long overdue and that the proposals are not derailed by people who are not elected, but are either hereditary or appointed—a completely unacceptable branch of a modern democratic legislature?

I strongly agree with my right hon. Friend in the basic principle that people should be able to hold to account those who make the laws of the land by which the people of this country have to abide. That is a simple democratic principle: it is not new; it is shared by Members of all parties; it is widely recognised as a simple democratic principle across the democratic world. It is interesting to note that there are still people even in this democratically elected Chamber who seem to resist that very principle.

Does the Deputy Prime Minister not agree that a sounder approach would be to decide what we want the House of Lords to do and what its functions should be before we decide how it is made up? Otherwise, we are in the situation of picking the team before we have decided what game it is going to play. Surely if it is to be elected, any self-respecting elected Members of the upper House will not feel themselves bound by the customs and practice that have applied to an unelected Chamber—and we will thus get conflict between this Chamber and the upper Chamber.

We already know the role of the House of Lords—scrutiny and revision. Every time this issue has been examined by a range of cross-party groups—the Wakeham commission was just one of many examples—the same conclusion has been reached: namely, those powers should remain the same and as long as the mandate, the electoral system and the terms of those elected in the other place are different, the basic relationship between the two Houses can remain constant.

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman again whether he intends to continue to pursue, in the words of Lord Steel of Aikwood,

“private obsessions with little public resonance—AV and an elected House of Lords, for example”?

I just do not recognise that. A commitment was made by the hon. Gentleman’s party, by the Labour party and by the party I lead and it was set out very clearly in all three manifestos of the main parties, so I do not think it can conceivably be described as a private preoccupation for one politician or another. This is an issue that we have been debating as a country for over a century. A very simple principle is at stake: do we believe, yes or no, that it is a good thing in a democracy for people to be able to hold those who make the laws of the land directly to account? According to our manifestos, all of us believe that that is the right principle; it is therefore right for this Government to try, on a consensual, open and pragmatic basis, to reach agreement so that we can finally put that principle into practice.

Most people will agree that the House of Lords has become too large, but that could be changed by all the parties agreeing to stop making so many new Lords. I do not know what happens on the buses in Sheffield and what people on those buses are saying, but I certainly know that people on the Clapham omnibus in my area are not demanding the reform of the House of Lords, as they have many, many higher priorities, yet they must see huge amounts of time, effort and money being wasted on this reform.

Of course I accept that many issues that we discuss in the Chamber, and many issues with which any Government must deal, may not resonate on the doorsteps, but they may none the less be significant and important to our national life. I think we all agree that it is important for world trade rules to work properly, but that is not an issue that is raised with me on the doorstep very often. It is important for us to get local government finance right, and that too is not raised on the doorstep very often, but it is none the less significant and important. The fact that an issue is not raised with us by our constituents does not mean that it is not worthy of debate. If that is not the case, I cannot imagine why Government after Government have debated this very issue for nearly a century

Is this not yet another tatty roadshow brought to us by the same people who thought that the British people wanted the alternative vote? If the Deputy Prime Minister really believes that the British people want this reform—and I note that he makes no criticism at all of the way in which the House of Lords currently does its job—why does he not submit these proposals to a referendum, and let the British people decide?

I remind the hon. Gentleman that last year he fought a campaign in favour of—this was in the Conservative party manifesto—

“a mainly-elected second chamber to replace the current House of Lords”

without a commitment to a referendum.

Does the Deputy Prime Minister recognise that Lords reform is essentially a penalty shoot-out in which no one will score, because nearly everyone is opposing nearly everyone else’s proposed reforms? If we are to join him in this constitutional version of the fantasy football league, will he tell us whether there will be a limit to the number of Members of the House of Lords who can be appointed by virtue of being Ministers, whether it will be possible for elected Members to be appointed as Ministers, and why there is still discrimination in favour of one Church and England in respect of the Lords spiritual?

Whatever one’s views about the Church, it is a fact that it is an established Church, and that is reflected in the composition of the House of Lords. As for ministerial appointments by the Prime Minister, we think it acceptable in principle—and this is another matter that we would invite the Joint Committee to examine—for future Prime Ministers to make supernumerary appointments of Ministers to the reformed House of Lords, but only for the duration of their holding of ministerial office. In other words, there would be a temporary mechanism whereby Ministers appointed by the Prime Minister could be held to account by one or other of the Houses in Westminster.

What sort of people does the Deputy Prime Minister wish to select for this hybrid Chamber, and why does he think that those skills would be lacking under a fully elected system?

It would not be up to me, or to any members of future Governments, to make such selections. Core to the proposals in the Bill for the model of 80% elected and 20% appointed is the making of appointments by an entirely independent and statutory appointments commission, the process conducted in an entirely open and meritocratic manner.

I must tell the Deputy Prime Minister that I have never seen less enthusiasm for a Minister’s proposals on the Government Benches. He should have looked behind him.

Being a sporting sort of person—as I am sure he is—would the Deputy Prime Minister be willing to bet me whatever sum he thinks appropriate that his proposed system will not be in place, or anywhere near it, in 2015?

Given that the hon. Gentleman and other Members in all parts of the House fought a general election last year on a manifesto commitment to House of Lords reform, given that, as I explained earlier, we have been discussing it as a country for a very long time, and given our determination in government to see the first step in these changes made in 2015, I am determined to prove the hon. Gentleman wrong.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his modest progress. The plain fact is that an unelected Lords is an illegitimate Lords, and that weakens the Lords and weakens Parliament as a whole. An elected Lords is a strong Lords, and that strengthens Parliament as a whole. Does my right hon. Friend not find it faintly ridiculous that after 13 years of abject failure, the dinosaurs over there are only interested in feather-bedding the dinosaurs upstairs?

I thank my hon. Friend for his remarks, and I agree that the notion that somehow more democracy can weaken a legislature would strike most people outside this Chamber as an extraordinarily peculiar argument.

Does the Deputy Prime Minister personally believe that there is a case for keeping bishops in the House of Lords, and if so, what is it?

As I said earlier, the Church is an established Church. We have set out proposals in the Bill, however, under which if progress were to be made on a largely elected, but partly appointed, House of Lords, on a supernumerary basis the Church would be represented but on a much smaller scale than we now—[Interruption.] The Bill envisages a cut from 26 bishops to 12.

Will the Deputy Prime Minister remind the House how many other countries elect people for 15 years—and he will have to do better than citing the likes of Papua New Guinea and Fiji this time? Does he not understand that having people there for 15 years will be the worst of all worlds, because they will claim democratic accountability to confront this elected House but they will be accountable to no one?

As I said earlier, the idea that in a reformed House of Lords there should be long non-renewable terms is not new. It has been put forward on numerous occasions before, and with cross-party support. However, if Members feel that is a step too far or the period of time is too long, that is exactly the kind of point on which the Joint Committee should seek to make representations.

I welcome these proposals, but may I suggest that the Deputy Prime Minister might have included in his roll call of thanks the late Robin Cook, as it is often forgotten that under his leadership this House narrowly—by just three votes—failed to support an 80% elected Lords back in 2003? The Deputy Prime Minister knows that these proposals will go nowhere unless he is prepared to use the Parliament Acts. Will he now commit to using them if these proposals are blocked in the other place?

As I have said, we are very keen to proceed on as consensual and pragmatic a basis as possible. [Interruption.] If I may just finish, we are presenting the Bill and the White Paper today. We hope the Joint Committee will be established before the summer, and it can then do a thorough job of applying pre-legislative scrutiny to the proposals we are publishing today, with a view to our submitting final draft legislation in the next Session. The Bill will be treated in the same way as any other Government legislation. It was part of all our manifestos and features in the coalition agreement, and if we cannot make headway by any other means, we will use all the legitimate instruments at our disposal to get the Bill implemented before the next general election. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman about Robin Cook: I am very happy to recognise that it was an omission not to acknowledge the very significant role played by Robin Cook—and also, dare I say, by the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) and many other Opposition Members, who have for many years argued precisely the case we are seeking to promote today.

The Deputy Prime Minister will know that the draft Bill states that nothing in these proposals shall affect the primacy of the House of Commons. As nobody else has been able to define what “primacy” means, how does the Deputy Prime Minister propose to define it?

Primacy is clearly set out in the two Parliament Acts, and was also clearly set out in my earlier statement. My view is that the fact of greater election to another Chamber does not in and of itself mean the balance between the two Houses is seriously disturbed. That is confirmed by examples of bicameral systems elsewhere in the democratic world.

The Deputy Prime Minister keeps asserting that the conventions will stay the same, but when the other place has 100% elected Senators or Lords and they take a different view from him, how will he assert this House’s authority over another elected House?

Does my right hon. Friend see these proposals as a means of empowering the voices of the devolved nations and the English regions? Manifestly, that will be achieved by electing people, rather than hand-picking appointees, in order to achieve balance across the country as a whole.

Clearly, a proportional electoral system, whichever one is finally settled on, would be reflective of opinion across the whole of the United Kingdom, so people across the United Kingdom can look forward to this as providing a greater reflection of opinions the length and breadth of the land.

Will the Deputy Prime Minister give an undertaking that the Joint Committee that is to be set up will include representatives from the smaller parties represented in Parliament, unlike the Committee that he set up previously, which brought forward this Bill?

This is clearly not something for the Government to decide; it is up to the usual channels, and I know that a number of conversations have already been had. Clearly, the ambition is—or should be, at least—that the Joint Committee embraces the widest possible opinion from this House.

When asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mrs Laing) how one would resolve a clash between the two Houses, the Deputy Prime Minister said, “Well, this is why we are going to have different electoral systems, with proportional representation for the reformed Chamber.” Given that he believes that proportional representation is more democratic than first past the post, which of the two Chambers would he believe to be taking the correct decision if there were a clash on the basis that he outlined?

As I said earlier, as is set out clearly under the Parliament Acts and in line with the convention that the Government are held to account primarily by this Chamber, the supremacy of this House would remain.

I am surprised that the Deputy Prime Minister should be focusing on this issue, given that in the local elections in Sheffield people were bothered only about jobs, inflation and getting his party out of the town hall. However, how can he describe his vision as “representative” or “democratic”, given that it would give representation to those who are members of the Church of England but would not give it to those of Jewish faith, Catholic faith or Muslim faith?

The Catholic Church prohibits its bishops from sitting in Parliaments and political bodies. Leaders of other faiths—I was in discussion with the Chief Rabbi just yesterday—also recognise that they do not possess the hierarchies that would allow them to provide that kind of representation. Those leaders of other faiths have long accepted, acknowledged and supported the idea of continued representation of the established Church in this country, even in a reformed House of Lords.

May I say to the Deputy Prime Minister that it is the view of many on the Government Benches that we did not come to this place to vote for measures that will undermine the democratic supremacy and legitimacy of this House? It is widely known that, as he said in his remarks, he has passionate and long-held views on what should happen to the other place. Others of us have equally strong and passionate opposing views. Why does he seem to be indicating to the House today that he is not going to follow the example of what happened in March 2007 and February 2003, when this House last voted on these measures, and offer everyone in this House a free vote, so that they can vote with their conscience?

Of course I acknowledge that people will have different views, will feel strongly about the matter and will come at it from different directions. The fact is that last year all of us, notwithstanding some relatively minor differences between our manifestos, stood before the British people on manifesto commitments to see reform to the other place finally be delivered. We will of course have further debates, deliberation and argument, not least in the Joint Committee, but this is Government business, this is in the coalition agreement and it is a manifesto commitment from Members in all parts of the House, and it should be proceeded with on that basis.

Against the background of events a few days ago when the British people voted by 70% to throw out the alternative vote, has it not yet crossed the Deputy Prime Minister’s mind that he has probably been set up by his Tory friends to do this job today?

Never occurred to me, Mr Speaker—never. The hon. Gentleman seems to be suggesting that any electoral change or changes to the electoral system can only be preceded by a referendum. It is worth remembering that we have changed electoral systems in this country on many occasions—for the European Parliament, the London assembly, the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Scottish Parliament—and that the Government are proposing to do it for elected mayors; all without referendums.

Only a fifth of the current Members of the House of Lords are women yet we still have the anachronism of places effectively being reserved for men in the form of bishops. There might be differences of opinion in this House about the merits of all-women shortlists, but surely we can all agree that in terms of diversity the last thing Parliament needs is de facto all-male shortlists. How will the Government take the opportunity presented by reforming the House of Lords to create a more diverse Parliament that better reflects society?

We cover this in the White Paper. My hon. Friend is right to say that a reform of the other place presents all political parties—and, I must stress, the party I lead in particular—with an opportunity to have greater diversity in those who represent us in a reformed House of Lords. It is primarily for the political parties to decide how they will use the mechanism of a new form of election to ensure that there is greater diversity in the candidates they put forward.

May I welcome the Deputy Prime Minister’s commitment to bringing to House of Lords reform the same golden touch that he brought to the AV referendum? In practical terms, what will a wholly or partly elected House of Lords be able to do that the current House of Lords cannot?

It would fulfil the same function as it has at the moment, but it would do so with far greater legitimacy because it would be more directly accountable. Is the hon. Gentleman seriously proposing that there is something wrong with the argument of principle that those who have a hand in crafting the laws of this land should be directly accountable to the millions of people who have to abide by the laws of this land? I understand that there is a lot of point-scoring going on, but surely that basic principle is something that even he would not deny.

I would like to see every vote cast in our democratic Parliament cast by individuals who have been elected. We should all recognise, however, the widespread respect among our constituents for the spoken contributions made in the other place by Cross Benchers. Has my right hon. Friend or his Committee considered measures by which they could be allowed to stay in the House of Lords so long as the votes were the exclusive preserve of those who had been elected?

Clearly, one of the features of the proposal we are including in the draft Bill—namely, 80% elected Members and 20% appointed by an independent statutory appointments body—is that those appointed Members would sit not as party representatives but as Cross Benchers.

May I suggest to the right hon. Member that he is confusing legitimacy with accountability? Although election before one takes office might give legitimacy, it certainly does not give accountability. Accountability comes from an election after one has done things over the 15 year period. Will he reflect on that?

I think the hon. Gentleman has some force to his argument, but one thing we were keen to preserve in the cross-party Committee was that any reform should be designed in a manner that would allow elected Members of any reformed House of Lords to retain a certain independence and even distance from party politics. A lengthy non-renewable term was seen as one way of delivering that, not only by the cross-party Committee that I chaired but by many other cross-party Committees that have considered the issue in the past.

Is it not the case that if Members of the second Chamber are elected on a constituency basis, however big those constituencies are, and members of the public disagree with what their Member of Parliament has advised them, they will inevitably turn to Members of the second Chamber? Is the Deputy Prime Minister not therefore setting up a conflict that members of the public do not want to see?

First, as I said earlier, this House will have the final say—that will remain. Secondly, I think there is a world of difference between the number of people whom we all represent as Members of this House and the hundreds of thousands who would be represented by individual elected Members in any reformed House of Lords. That would be clearly understood by the public as providing a much greater and more direct mandate to those of us in this House than to those elected to the other House.

Can the Deputy Prime Minister confirm that he has had discussions with Scotland’s First Minister, Alex Salmond, on Lords reform? Given the wonderful and historic scenes we have seen with our Queen in Dublin this afternoon, should not this Parliament also catch up with the modern world and ensure that in a democracy all Chambers try to reflect the democratic wishes of the people they aim to represent?

I spoke to the First Minister earlier today and explained to him in considerable detail what we are proposing, and we are both agreed that we will continue those discussions in the near future.

I broadly welcome the proposals to elect our second Chamber and I shall certainly be supporting them. We have had some assurances from the Deputy Prime Minister on the incredibly long term in office of 15 years. Two weeks ago, the people of Brigg and Goole on the same day kicked out their Labour council and replaced it with a Conservative council, and voted by a margin of about 70% to reject a change in the electoral system. Is the electoral system also up for discussion along with the multi-Member constituencies? Will the Deputy Prime Minister at least listen to us on that?

As I said, in the draft Bill we have proposed one system—the single transferable vote—primarily because it seems to be the system that gives the fullest individual mandate to elected Members rather than casting them in a party political light. It is the individual independence of spirit in the other place that everyone agrees should be preserved, but there are alternatives. In the White Paper—I know that Opposition Members feel particularly strongly about this—there is the alternative of a party list system, which we have said is available to us, as explained in the White Paper. If that is where the debate takes us, we are very open to those alternatives.

Does the Deputy Prime Minister share the views of his hon. Friend the Liberal Democrat president, the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron), that Members elected in a different Chamber by STV will have greater legitimacy than Members of this House? Does he still believe that Members elected in another Chamber will be banned from then standing for election to this Chamber, and is that concordant with the Human Rights Act 1998?

We have looked into the latter point and it is consistent with the Human Rights Act. The draft Bill envisages—this enjoyed cross-party support on the Committee I chaired—that someone from the other place would not be able to stand for election to this place unless they had completed a cooling-off period of one term. Clearly, we do not want to transform the other place into a sort of launch pad for people’s careers in this place. The reverse, however, would not be the case.

Surely the answer to the points made by the hon. Members for Leicester West (Liz Kendall) and for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith) is that the two archbishops and 10 senior diocesan bishops will bring to a reformed House of Lords considerable wisdom and expertise. On the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson) about diversity, I hope that by 2015 the House will have had the opportunity of voting to legislate for the appointment of women bishops.

That is a very important point, which shows that there is a chance of reform on several fronts, not just one.

The Deputy Prime Minister speaks of supernumerary appointments—a rather complex word. Could it not be interpreted as unelected appointments by a Government who might even be tempted to pack the Lords?

As I specified earlier, all we are envisaging is that if future Prime Ministers wish to appoint Ministers, they must make sure that those Ministers are for the duration of their ministerial office held to account by either this place or the other place, and that one way of achieving that objective, which is to enhance and strengthen the accountability of the Executive to the legislature, is to allow Prime Ministers in a small number of cases to appoint Ministers on a supernumerary basis for a temporary period during the time that they hold ministerial office.

A reform of the House of Lords is undoubtedly needed, but this is not a reform measure. It contemplates the abolition of the House of Lords and, with that, reduced diversity and reduced expertise in our public life. Why did not the Deputy Prime Minister use this opportunity genuinely to reform the House of Lords by adopting the Bill of the noble Lord Steel, which would remedy many of the deficits that currently exist?

In many respects the provisions of Lord Steel’s Bill are in part covered by the proposals that we are putting forward. For instance, one of the central planks of his Bill is that there should be an independent statutory appointments commission. That is exactly what is envisaged in this Bill. Another part of Lord Steel’s Bill provides for retirement of existing Members of the House of Lords. That has been taken up by the Leader of the Lords already. I do not think the ideas in Lord Steel’s Bill are incompatible with the longer-term reforms that we are proposing today.

As I said earlier, every time that has been looked at on a cross-party basis, the conclusion has been reached that in order to entrench rather than undermine the difference between the other place and this House, it is best to do so by giving any elected Members of a reformed House of Lords a long, non-renewable term so that they are not subject to the normal short-term temptations of party politics, to which some of us might be subject in this place.

May I remind the Deputy Prime Minister and the House that the Japanese recently reformed their upper House from an appointed House to an elected House? That led to a huge loss of talent, a situation where the upper House has a complete veto over most legislation of the lower elected House, and legislative stalemate. Would we not be very foolish to embark on these reforms?

First, I do not accept the principal assertion that if someone has the audacity to stand for election, somehow they do not have talent. That conclusion would not be favourable to anyone in the House. The assumption that wisdom and expertise can be possessed only by those who have not subjected themselves to election is an assumption that I have always found curious. Secondly, the hon. Gentleman refers to what happened in Japan, but he should look at bicameral systems across the democratic world that manage a relationship between one Chamber and the other perfectly well, even though there is election to both.

It is obviously right for a Government to proceed on a basis of consensus, given that this is a major constitutional change and all three parties supported it in their last manifestos, as the Deputy Prime Minister rightly pointed out. I hope that across the House Members will do their best, when scrutinising the Bill, to ensure that it becomes law so that the next elections can take place in 2015, as the right hon. Gentleman suggested. Does he agree that although it is important to proceed on the basis of consensus, there is also a danger that proceeding on too much consensus could lead to the lowest common denominator and a Bill being introduced that no one supports? There is already a danger that it will offend people who want a fully elected House and offend everybody who is not a member of the Church of England. May I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that one of the lessons of the AV referendum is that if people compromise too far, no one agrees with them and their proposals do not get anywhere?

Of course we need to get the balance right in seeking to get as much support for these measures as possible. Hon. Members should remember that what we have published today was preceded by several meetings of a cross-party committee where although there was not consensus on everything, there was a considerable degree of consensus. I pay tribute to Members on the Opposition Front Bench who played an active and constructive role in that, but as I said in my opening statement, this is a Government measure and the Government are determined to act.

Like my neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy), I broadly welcome the proposals, which seem to be a natural extension of the democratic process. However, it is important that electors identify with their representatives and the area they represent. People generally do not identify with the English regions. I urge the Government to rule out election by regions and consider election by our historic counties.

We had precisely that discussion in the cross-party committee and, for the exact reason the hon. Gentleman sets out, we believe that the best basis on which to proceed—we will remit the exact details to an independent panel of academics and experts—is to have clusters of counties, because they are, quite literally, a familiar territory and a familiar landscape for millions of voters up and down the country and should be the building blocks of the large constituencies or districts that elected members of a reformed House of Lords would represent.

I welcome the Deputy Prime Minister’s statement, but given that a poll released today shows that 74% of people are against unelected bishops having a place in our legislature, including 70% of Christians, and given that expertise and wisdom are not the monopoly of any one religion, will he look again at that aspect of the reform?

I hear the hon. Lady’s strength of feeling on the issue and respect it, but the fact is that we have an established Church, which has always been reflected in its representation in the House of Lords. As I said earlier, leaders of other denominations are very supportive of some form of continuation of that representation, even though it will be on a much smaller scale than is presently the case.

Order. I am keen to accommodate remaining colleagues who wish to speak, so I reiterate the merits of economy and self-restraint.

My right hon. Friend was a Member of the European Parliament, which moved from being an appointed body to an elected one and, over time, has demanded more and more powers, reflecting its democratic mandate. He is very consistent in saying that that will not happen in the case of a reformed House of Lords, but how can he build in some assurances to that effect?

Those powers of the European Parliament were ultimately changed because of a negotiation between it and national Governments. The conclusion we have reached, and which several other committees and cross-party commissions that have looked at this in the past have also reached, is that the way to avoid opening that Pandora’s box is simply by asserting that the balance of power will remain as it is and as reflected in the Parliament Acts. That is exactly what we are proposing.

The Deputy Prime Minister has clearly had a difficult few weeks. May I give him some advice? I suggest that when he leaves the House today he speeds to the airport and gets a plane first to Sweden and then to New Zealand so that he can see how effective unicameral Parliaments work, and then he can come back with a different proposal.

I think the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that we should come forward with a proposal to abolish the other place altogether.

That would probably meet an even more noisy reception than the balanced package that we have put forward today.

Would my right hon. Friend like to state clearly for the House what he believes the primary purpose of the second Chamber to be? Following the previous question, if the second Chamber did not exist, would he seek to create one?

The House of Lords now, and a reformed House of Lords in the future, would fulfil its task of review and scrutiny of Government business and Government legislation. I am not a unicameralist, although a good case can be made for it and, as was mentioned earlier, there are plenty of mature democracies that have only one Chamber. However, I believe that the checks and balances in a mature democracy are best met by two chambers.

It will seem very strange in the 21st century for only one faith and one Church to be represented in the reformed House of Lords, bearing in mind that that Church represents only England and not Scotland and the other nations of the UK. Will the right hon. Gentleman give consideration to the national Church of Scotland and other churches and faiths being included in some way, which I think is very important?

I sought to answer those concerns earlier. What we are trying to do—it is not an easy balance to strike—is to introduce reform while maintaining a certain degree of continuity with where we have come from. That is why we arrived at the decision—I stress again that it was arrived at on a cross-party basis in the Committee that I chaired—that it was best to leave things broadly as they are but, as I have said, on a much smaller scale: 12 representatives in future, rather than 26.

How can those elected to the other place remain, to quote the Deputy Prime Minister, “one step removed from…day to day party politics”, when every third election Members of the second Chamber will compete for votes with all of us in our constituencies?

That is a rather good argument for the case, which was criticised earlier, of non-renewable terms: such Members will not stand again or, of course, in the same constituencies. We will have constituencies—certainly, after the boundaries are changed—where each of us represents just over 70,000-odd; they will seek to represent half a million-odd. It will be a completely different contest, held on a different mandate, under a different system, for a different term, and I believe that millions of British voters will be easily able to distinguish between one and the other and to keep the two separate in their own minds.

I think that this is the wrong priority at the wrong time, but if the Deputy Prime Minister is confident that we need another constitutional adventure, why does he not test whether that is the will of the House?

The final Bill, which we will bring forward after it has been subject to pre-legislative scrutiny by a Joint Committee of the two Houses, will come to this House for a vote.

The hon. Gentleman says “now”, but we have been criticised in the past for pushing forward with changes too quickly and not subjecting them to sufficient scrutiny. What we are doing now is moving very deliberately, very methodically and as consensually as possible, presenting a Bill with our best guess of what would work legislatively; keeping the options on some key issues open in the White Paper; and then inviting a cross-party Joint Committee to subject that to full scrutiny in the months ahead. I do not think that we can be criticised either for moving too fast or for seeking to escape from proper scrutiny.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the hereditary principle is wrong in principle? Whatever comes out of these reforms, will he ensure that people do not take part in the democratic process as a right of birth, and that people should be either elected or appointed to that Chamber?

That is exactly what we propose: that either by election or appointment, but not by heredity, people will be represented in a reformed House of Lords.

As someone who wishes the Deputy Prime Minister well in this effort, may I ask him, first, why he believes that the Parliament Act, which, unlike the written constitutions that other bicameral countries have, is not entrenched, will prevent conflict between this House and the other place? Secondly, what are his specific proposals to reduce the risk of conflict between Members who are elected for the same territory? Has he looked at non-geographic constituencies for the other place?

The idea proposed in the Bill—again, I really should stress that this is not some sort of new idea but a repetition and a re-presentation of an idea that many people have proposed in the past—is that the geographical mandates are so different that any meaningful overlap cannot really occur. The hon. Lady refers to the Parliament Act, but the Parliament Acts are there to resolve conflicts where they become firmly entrenched, and we believe that the provisions of the Parliament Acts should remain in place.

I just want a little further clarification on a question that one of my hon. Friends raised. Is it intended that elections to the new House of Lords will coincide with general elections? What will happen if the date of a general election drops out of the five-year cycle?

Yes, the idea is that they should be held on the same day if, for exceptional reasons, there were to be a change in the fixed rhythm that we are seeking to enshrine in the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill. We have set out provisions in the Bill and the White Paper to ensure that there is at least a minimum period during which elected Members of a reformed House of Lords could continue to serve.

Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab): Constitutional reform is not a priority of my constituents; they showed that, not least, in the AV referendum result recently, as did many others. I wonder why the Deputy Prime Minister is so keen to keep appointed Members of the new Chamber. Is it perhaps because he knows that it is the only way of getting Lib Dems elected back into Parliament after the next election?

That is a rather tired point to make at this stage of the debate. I agree that it is not a priority, but the hon. Gentleman none the less made a commitment to a referendum on the alternative vote and, indeed, to reform of the House of Lords. He shakes his head, but let me read out to him this commitment from the Labour manifesto:

“At the end of the next Parliament one third of the House of Lords will be elected; a further one third of members will be elected at the general election after that. Until the final stage, the representation of all groups should be maintained in equal proportions to now.”

We are introducing that idea of making changes by thirds in the draft legislation that we have proposed. I hope that he would welcome that instead of trying to make somewhat feeble political points.

Mr Andrew Love (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op): With a democratic Chamber having been endorsed in all three major political parties’ manifestos, and indeed appearing in the coalition agreement, what reassurance can the Deputy Prime Minister give to this House that he will do everything he possibly can and use every possible mechanism to ensure that we have the first elections to the second Chamber in 2015?

I can certainly give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. I have sought to explain that we are determined to act to ensure that the first elections to a reformed House of Lords take place in 2015, but not for want of trying to create genuine cross-party consensus on the way to proceed. That is why we held the meetings of the cross-party committee and why we are putting the Bill and the White Paper out to the wider scrutiny of a Joint Committee. There is ample opportunity for everyone to make their contributions, but, as he rightly implies, at the end of the day this Government must act and will act.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): As the Deputy Prime Minister headed off towards the high savannah with his bag of fudge, was he at all worried by the sound of tumbleweed blowing behind him as he spoke? Why did he not have the guts to go for a proposal that I believe in, and that he really believes in, which is a 100% elected second Chamber with no prime ministerial cronies and no assisted places scheme for Anglican bishops?

Of course there is a compelling case, for which I have argued for a very long time, for a fully elected House of Lords. However, anyone who takes even a cursory look at the unhappy history of attempts to reform the House of Lords will conclude that one of the great problems occurred when people reached too far and made the best the enemy of the good. It would be much easier to take seriously the hon. Gentleman’s rather pious admonitions in favour of 100% if he had delivered more than 0% of elections in the 13 years when his party was in power.

Gavin Shuker (Luton South) (Lab/Co-op): I welcome the broad thrust of the Deputy Prime Minister’s statement, the draft Bill and the White Paper, but ask politely whether the only 80:20 split that is of any significance to the success of this legislation is the 80:20 split on the Benches behind him, with 80% against his proposals and 20% in favour.

As I said, all the parties’ manifestos are committed to reform of the House of Lords. They differ slightly, but they are all based on the simple principle that there would be a stronger, better, more legitimate Chamber doing its work on behalf of the British people more effectively if there were greater democratic accountability—and that is exactly what we are proposing. However, I acknowledge that the debate should now continue by way of the Joint Committee.

Given that recent events demonstrate that the British people want to retain first past the post, why is the Deputy Prime Minister insistent that the second Chamber will not be elected under that system? Could it be because it is in his party’s interests?

No. It really is worth looking at the history of the cross-party commissions and Committees that have considered this matter in the past, which by the way have been chaired by politicians from all the major parties. Almost all of them came to the conclusion that if we want to retain the precious difference between one House and the other, it should be reflected in a different electoral system.

How sustainable does the Deputy Prime Minister believe it is to create a hybrid Chamber with two classes of Member, one in five of whom will be present without the approval of the electorate? Would it not be much more sensible and durable to create an entirely elected second Chamber?

As I said earlier, I have a lot of sympathy in principle with the argument for a wholly elected Chamber. However, I disagree with the hon. Gentleman because there is not much experience to support his case. Holyrood shows that elected representatives who have different mandates—in this case there would be elected and appointed representatives —are none the less able to co-exist and to do a job collectively on behalf of the British people.