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Political and Constitutional Reform

Volume 588: debated on Tuesday 18 November 2014

The Government have a full agenda for political and constitutional reform for the remainder of this Parliament. We are currently awaiting the recommendations of Lord Smith of Kelvin on the process of devolving further powers to Scotland, and we will publish draft clauses on that in January 2015. The Wales Bill, which will devolve further power to the Welsh Assembly, is continuing its passage through Parliament. Work continues to be done to investigate the impact of devolution on all nations, particularly in relation to the so-called West Lothian question. We have introduced a Bill on the recall of MPs. We are implementing legislation to deliver a statutory register of consultant lobbyists, which will increase transparency and help to drive up standards in the industry.

I am grateful for the fact that the Minister’s answer did not include plans to repeal the Human Rights Act 1998 or to threaten to withdraw from the European convention on human rights. Does he agree that such plans would diminish our standing in the world, take rights away from millions of people in the United Kingdom, and cause great harm to the devolution settlement in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?

The Prime Minister made very clear at the Conservative party conference the Conservative party’s position on the European convention on human rights. As I have said, we have a full agenda for the remainder of this Parliament, which will satisfy all the nations of the United Kingdom.

Given the recent announcement of a metro mayor for the Manchester area, it appears that elected mayors are fashionable once more. One barrier to having more elected mayors is the requirement that 5% of the local electorate must sign a petition to trigger a local referendum. Will the Minister therefore consider reducing the 5% threshold to 2% or 1%?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. I am advised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), the Minister responsible for cities, that councils can resolve to have a mayor and go ahead on that basis, so the 5% threshold should not be a barrier.

9. I will give the Minister a second opportunity to answer the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North East (Mr Bain). How are the Tories’ attacks on human rights and the removal of critical protections for citizens against the state meant to help the public? (906054)

The Prime Minister’s position and that of the Conservative party is very clear: the Human Rights Act should work in the interests of the British state and of British people, but it does not always do so. That is why, if there is a future Conservative Government, we will look to exit the Human Rights Act.

The House of Lords should have 400 Members, all appointed for 10-year terms—possibly with repeat terms for someone exceptional—and an upper age limit. Why do we not just get on and do it?

My right hon. Friend is well aware that a programme to reform the House of Lords was brought before this House and was unsuccessful. However, we have since reformed the House of Lords. The Steel Bill has brought some reform to the House of Lords, in that peers can be made to retire and, if guilty of serious wrongdoing, can be removed from the House of Lords. The Government remain committed to reform of the House of Lords in future.

Surely an obvious reform would be full fiscal autonomy for Scotland, not only to end the disproportionately greater Scottish contributions to the Exchequer that there have been for the past 33 years, but so that we in Scotland can arrange tax and spend to grow the economy, jobs and communities. Full fiscal autonomy for Scotland—there you go.

There was a clear referendum in Scotland and a clear result for Scotland to stay part of the United Kingdom. I advise the hon. Gentleman to wait for the proposals of the Smith commission, from which there will be heads of agreement at the end of this month and draft clauses in January, for the full answer to his question.

The Minister will know that last Friday the UK Youth Parliament met in this Chamber. Its priorities were shaped by more than 800,000 young people across the country. Does he agree that that shows again that many young people are engaged in politics? In learning from that and from the experience of the Scottish referendum, is it not time that we finally lowered the voting age to 16?

The hon. Gentleman has asked that question—[Hon. Members: “How old are you?”] [Interruption.] How old are you?

The hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) has asked that question a number of times. As he is aware, there is no consensus within the Government on the issue, and therefore there are no plans to lower the voting age in this Parliament. It is great to see young people taking an interest in politics—I was at the rock and roll event held in Parliament yesterday as part of Parliament week—but there is no consensus on lowering the voting age at this point.