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House of Lords Reform

Volume 530: debated on Tuesday 5 July 2011

1. What recent discussions he has had with constitutional historians and experts on House of Lords reform; and if he will make a statement. (63487)

4. What recent progress he has made on his plans for House of Lords reform; and if he will make a statement. (63490)

10. What assessment he has made of the recent debates in both Houses on his proposals for House of Lords reform. (63496)

The Government have received many representations on all aspects of House of Lords reform, including from constitutional experts. We recognise that a variety of views were expressed in recent debates in both Houses, and we are sure that the Joint Committee will take account of the debates when scrutinising the draft Bill and White Paper.

The elegance of our unwritten constitution allows it to adapt when necessary to meet a pressing need, but change for some other reason could be regarded as constitutional vandalism. Has the Deputy Prime Minister reflected on the fact that if a pressing need is not articulated, his plans for reform of the other place might fall into the latter category?

I do not think it is a new need, and in that sense it is not a pressing need, but there is an enduring need to make decisions in this place and the other House as accountable to the British people as possible. The simple principle that those who shape the laws of the land should be held to account by people who have to obey the laws of the land is a long-standing democratic principle.

One matter of great concern in this Chamber is that the other place is most certainly secondary to it. Does my right hon. Friend see the opportunity to remove any ability for the other place to initiate legislation as a way to ensure the hierarchy between this place and the other place?

As we explained in our White Paper, we believe that the different mandates, electoral systems and terms of office, and of course the conventions enshrined in the Parliament Acts, will guarantee that although there will no doubt be an evolution in the relationship between the two Houses—that is bound to happen under any arrangement—the hierarchy between this place and the other place will remain intact.

The Deputy Prime Minister has just referred to the different mandates of Members of the other place, if it is reformed, and of this House. Does he not think, though, that the reforms would benefit from some clarification of those different mandates, so that the essential and long-standing relationship between MPs and constituents is not eroded?

We already have a system, of course, in which politicians are elected to different assemblies and Parliaments with different mandates, and as long as those mandates are clearly differentiated, as they would be under the proposed arrangements, there is no clash between them. Let us remember that what the Government suggest in the draft Bill is that elected Members of a reformed House of Lords would represent vastly larger areas than the smaller constituencies that we in this House represent.

Given that in our debates so far no one has rushed to the defence of the hereditary principle or patronage, does my right hon. Friend not agree that if we are to make haste in delivering the principles behind Lords reform, it would be best to get on with removing the hereditary principle and patronage now? No one disagrees with that.

I certainly agree that we aspire to create a reform that, although evolutionary in its implementation—it will take several years rather than happen overnight—will at least be comprehensive and create a reformed House of Lords with a far greater mandate and democratic legitimacy than is currently the case.

In the Deputy Prime Minister’s nirvana of 15-year terms, will he consider ruling out Members of the newly elected other place standing for this place, so that we do not have people roaming around one individual constituency trying to unseat the Member of Parliament by using their democratically elected 15-year position in the other place?

The right hon. Gentleman may have noticed that in the White Paper we suggest precisely that. We suggest that there should be a cooling-off period of at least one term, so that those who leave the other place cannot instantly stand for this place. That is precisely to avoid the clash that he rightly identifies.

Does the Deputy Prime Minister have a view on Lord Steel’s suggestion that a payment of £30,000 should be made to enable Lords to retire?

We are not in favour of that, but we are in favour of many provisions of Lord Steel’s private Member’s Bill and look forward to incorporating many of its transitional arrangements and so on into the Government Bill.

Does the Deputy Prime Minister not understand that even those of us who support Lords reform cannot help wondering whether he has masochistic tendencies in trying to win this fight with one hand tied behind his back, and with the Prime Minister simply holding his coat and egging him on from the sidelines? Does he believe that he has the overwhelming support of his coalition partners to steer the Bill through both Houses? If not, is he not just wasting—

I remind the hon. Gentleman that all parties went to the country in last year’s general election with a clear manifesto commitment to reform the House of Lords. As I have said, it does not strike most people as a radical suggestion that the democratic principle that operates in Parliaments around the world should gently and incrementally be applied to the other place.

Do the Government’s proposals for the House of Lords include excluding peers not from England on voting on matters solely related to England?

We have not addressed that in the White Paper. If people want to discuss it in the Joint Committee, they are free to do so.

Has my right hon. Friend read the debates in which the argument was advanced that the House of Lords does its job, and therefore should not be changed in any way? If so, did he think he was reading the right issue of Hansard, or the one dated 1911, or perhaps the one dated 1832?

Whatever their views about the proposals for House of Lords reform that the Government made in the White Paper and the draft Bill, I believe that everybody accepts that the House of Lords is not immune to reform or improvement. My view is that political institutions are always susceptible to some improvement over time, and I believe that that package of carefully considered reforms, which I hope, over time, will enjoy cross-party support, will finally allow us to make progress on something that has been debated for more than a century.