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House of Lords Reform

Volume 545: debated on Tuesday 22 May 2012

3. What assessment he has made of the effect of his proposals on House of Lords reform on the relationship between the two Houses. (108463)

The Government believe that the primacy of the House of Commons will be maintained. We accept, of course, that the conventions and agreements between the two Houses will continue to adapt and evolve, but this is compatible with the continued primacy of the House of Commons. I stress that this is not only the view of the Government; the majority of the Joint Committee on the Draft House of Lords Reform Bill said that the current basis

“on which Commons primacy rests would suffice to ensure its continuation”.

The Deputy Prime Minister will hear many Members wax precious about the primacy of this Chamber, but this Whip-tamed Chamber spends far less time considering legislation and has a poor rate of success with amendments. Is there not something pathetic about self-respecting democratic legislators having to rely on the fact that another House is unelected to claim legitimate primacy?

I share the hon. Gentleman’s view that, although some concerns about the primacy of the House of Commons need to be taken seriously, some are overstated, not least because the changes that we published in our draft Bill would mean that, because the other place would be elected in instalments, it would never have a more recent, fresher democratic mandate than Members sitting in this place. When combined with other differences of mandate, constituency and so forth, that approach will ensure that the relationship between the two continues to guarantee the primacy of this place.

It is interesting that the Deputy Prime Minister quoted selectively from the Joint Committee report. That report also stated:

“We concur…that Clause 2 of the draft Bill is not capable…of preserving the primacy of the House of Commons.”

Does he accept that?

I accept that the Joint Committee received evidence, particularly from Lords Pannick and Goldsmith, suggesting that the two Parliament Acts should be incorporated and reflected in clause 2 to clarify this issue of primacy beyond doubt. We are actively considering that and all the Joint Committee’s recommendations.

Would it not have been sensible to start out by looking at the powers and responsibilities of the second House first, rather than just continuing as we are?

It is important to stress that the Joint Committee did not make that suggestion, and neither have a succession of cross-party committees and commissions over the last several years. All of them have agreed that there is nothing incompatible about increasing the legitimacy of the other place, on the basis of the very simple, uncontroversial principle that the people who make the laws of the land should be elected by the people who obey the laws of the land, and that this matter should in no way need to wait for a wider discussion on the respective powers of the two places.

Given that we are now part of a multicultural and polytheistic society, does my right hon. Friend agree that now is the time to remove bishops from the House of Lords, rather than increasing the proportion of seats that they would hold?

I know there are strongly held views on this issue, as on many issues to do with reform of the other place. The balanced approach that we took as a Government in the draft Bill was to reduce the number of bishops from 26 to 12, but not to remove them altogether.

I thank the Deputy Prime Minister for the way in which he answered those questions. How soon does he expect to be able to publish the Bill, and how many days does he think it is reasonable for MPs to have to debate it?

We hope to publish the Bill well before the summer recess. The amount of time that would be allocated to it would be the subject of discussion through the usual channels and then a possible timetable vote in the House of Commons.