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House of Lords

Volume 528: debated on Tuesday 24 May 2011

3. What representations he has received on his plans for the future composition of the House of Lords. (56961)

Yes, forgive me. [Hon. Members: “Oh!”] I would like to group questions 3, 4, 5, 11 and 12. A major issue—my omission to group the questions. That is how over-excited Members on the Opposition Benches get.

5. What recent representations he has received on his proposals for reform of the House of Lords. (56963)

11. What representations he has received on his plans for the future composition of the House of Lords. (56969)

12. What recent representations he has received on his proposals for reform of the House of Lords. (56970)

The loudest voices inevitably belong to those who object the most to our proposals to make the House of Lords a more democratic Chamber but, as the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr Love) said last week, a democratic Chamber was endorsed in the manifestos of all three of the largest parties in the House.

Accountability is the essence of democracy. If the newly elected Members serve only one term for 15 years, how can that be called democratic?

As was discussed in the debate last week, the principle that one of the ways in which we distinguish between a reformed House of Lords and this Chamber is to introduce long non-renewable terms for the elected component in the other place was not invented by this Government. It was identified in a series of cross-party commissions over many years, but if the Joint Committee that is to be established thinks otherwise, that is exactly the kind of thing that we should debate in the months ahead.

Given that reform of the House of Lords was in all three major parties’ manifestos, is it not right that the House discuss the matter in Committee to work out the best way to implement it?

Yes, and that is precisely why we look forward to a Joint Committee of both Houses being established through the usual channels, which will be able to get to grips with all the many questions, queries and objections that have been raised, so that we can as far as possible proceed on a cross-party basis on something that all parties are committed to seeing through.

From his conversations with the Prime Minister, how committed would the Deputy Prime Minister say the Prime Minister is to facing down his own Back Benchers and, if necessary, using the Parliament Act to get the reform through before the next election?

The Prime Minister gave an unambiguous answer to the question about the Parliament Act at Prime Minister’s questions last week. Not only was the commitment made by all three parties in their manifestos, but it is one that we entered unambiguously into the coalition agreement.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is important that the reforms lead to an increase in the diversity of representation in the second Chamber? What steps will he take to ensure that that is the outcome of the reform?

One of the advantages of the system that we are introducing, as explained in the White Paper, is that it will permit political parties to take active steps, in so far as they wish to do so, to use elections to the other place to increase the diversity of representation in Westminster as a whole.

Given the country’s firm rejection of AV in the recent referendum and the fact that the Government’s proposals include the possibility of some form of proportional representation for election of Members of this Parliament, will my right hon. Friend at least consider giving the people of this country a referendum on this important constitutional change?

The first point of which to remind my hon. Friend is that this was a manifesto commitment of all three parties. It is something that we as a country have been discussing for around 100 years or so, and we have introduced changed electoral systems to a number of Assemblies and Parliaments in the UK without referendums in the past.

It is understanable that there is tension and disagreement between the two coalition parties on this issue, and perhaps on other matters, but it was reported last week that during a recent meeting of Tory MPs one Member described the Liberal Democrats as “yellow” followed by a second word beginning with “b” then “a” and ending in “s”. Was the Deputy Prime Minister as shocked as I was by such behaviour?

Order. May I gently say to the Deputy Prime Minister and to the House that I do not think he is responsible for what is said at meetings of Conservative Members of Parliament?

Should the right hon. Gentleman not drop this unpopular policy, which does not resonate with the majority of the public, and concentrate instead on finding a solution to the problem of the West Lothian question?

I am the first to acknowledge that, whether it is the West Lothian question or reform of the House of Lords, these are of course not matters that are raised by our constituents or on the doorsteps as we campaign at election time, but it does not mean that they are unimportant. We discuss many things in this House, from local government finance to world trade rules and all sorts of things that are not raised from day to day in our local communities, but that are none the less important. That is why we as a country have been struggling with this dilemma for more than 100 years and why all three parties have a manifesto commitment finally to make progress on reforming the other place.

The thing we find most bizarre about all this is that it is a priority for the Government at this time. The coalition agreement states that they will continue to appoint peers to the House of Lords

“with the objective of creating a second chamber that is reflective of the share of the vote secured by the political parties in the last general election.”

There are currently 792 unelected peers, after a year of the fastest level of appointment of new peers in the history of this country. To get to the objective set out in the agreement, the Deputy Prime Minister would have to appoint another 269. Are there another 97 Liberal Democrats to make peers in the House of Lords? Should there not be a moratorium?

Every time the hon. Gentleman asks a question, I find it more and more baffling why anyone should want to hack his phone and listen to his messages. It is quite extraordinary. The point he has just made illustrates why we need to reform the House of Lords.