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House of Lords: Reform

Volume 699: debated on Wednesday 12 March 2008

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Whether they will publish the minutes of proceedings of the cross-party Front-Bench working group on House of Lords reform.

My Lords, the Government have no plans to do so. We want the group to be able to debate options frankly so that implications can be worked through fully and consensus reached wherever possible. The group has discussed possible electoral systems and whether any changes should be made to the powers of a reformed second Chamber. It is currently looking at issues around a transitional House, as well as a range of other matters, including remuneration and disqualification. The outcome of the group’s discussion will be reflected in a White Paper, which the Government will publish before the Summer Recess.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply, which I am afraid was as predictable as it was disappointing. Does he not accept that a working group that, with the exception of the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, consists entirely of members who believe in a fully or largely elected House of Lords can in no way reflect the opinion of those of us on these Benches or the Benches opposite who believe that to move to a wholly elected or largely elected House would destroy the primacy of the House of Commons and damage the reputation and effectiveness of this House? Does he not see that to deny us the opportunity to read the minutes of the proceedings of the cross-party group adds immensely to the suspicion that the Government have now abandoned his predecessors’ undertaking that the next stage of reform would be based on consensus and that this House would be part of that consensus?

My Lords, I am sorry that my noble friend did not like my Answer. The cross-party group was re-established following the votes in both Houses. My noble friend has referred to worries about the primacy of the Commons if this House were wholly or mostly elected. The expression of the Commons vote, which was to support an 80 per cent or 100 per cent elected House, is the very foundation of the work that we are now taking forward.

My Lords, encouraged by the Leader of the House to believe that the cross-party group would welcome submissions from formed committees in this House, may I ask whether those submissions will be taken into serious consideration before the drafting of the group’s final report is undertaken?

My Lords, I am sure that the members of the cross-party working group would be delighted to receive submissions, but I have to tell the noble Lord that the work of the group, which will inform the Government’s production of a White Paper, is predicated on the votes in the Commons last year.

My Lords, I assure my noble friend that, although his Answer may have been disappointing to the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, to a number of us on this side of the House it was predictable but totally accurate. Is my noble friend also aware that it would be quite impossible for the cross-party group to do its job properly if minutes were to be published, dissected, analysed and brought back to the Floor of this House and perhaps the other place? That is a recipe for total inaction.

My Lords, as ever on the question of Lords reform, I find my noble friend’s comments wholly believable.

My Lords, this is a self-regulating House, but it has to regulate itself, so somebody has to give way or we have to intervene. I suggest that we hear from the noble Baroness.

My Lords, the Minister said that the results of the Division in the Commons would be reflected in the draft report. Will there also be in the draft report or the White Paper comment on the votes that took place in this House?

My Lords, I cannot anticipate what will be in the White Paper because that is the subject of discussions in the cross-party group and a decision for the Government to make. Of course, we are all aware of the votes in your Lordships’ House on Lords reform. When it comes to a division of opinion between the Commons and the Lords, as noble Lords constantly remind me, the primacy of the Commons must hold sway.

My Lords, can the noble Lord clarify what will happen when we get the White Paper, which will be from the Government, of course, and not from the cross-party group? What is intended on the draft clauses that have been promised? Will they be the subject of pre-legislative scrutiny? Do the Government now accept the merits of consideration by a Joint Committee so that there is not so much misunderstanding in this House about the other House and vice versa?

My Lords, it is very important that once the White Paper is produced there should be—and will be—parliamentary scrutiny. The Government are attracted by the idea of producing draft clauses and I am sure that, if a joint Select Committee were to be established, Ministers would be very pleased to co-operate and appear before it.

My Lords, is my noble friend wise to rely so comprehensively on the snapshot vote in the House of Commons? He is presumably aware that a majority of Labour MPs voted against 80 per cent election and that, even more surprisingly, a majority of Conservative MPs voted against it. Unless he feels that the Liberal Democrats will form the next Government—

My Lords, I am not a betting man, even in Cheltenham week, but I think that either Labour Members or Conservative Members will form the next Government, in which case how likely is it that a wholly elected House would meet with approval on the government Benches in the next Parliament?

My Lords, I do not deal in fantasy. On the question that my noble friend raises, these could not be described as snapshot votes. The votes followed extensive debate after a comprehensive paper was produced, again from the joint group. As for what will happen after the next election, the importance of this group’s work is the effort made to achieve as much consensus as possible across the party-political spectrum, so that there is the consensus to take forward legislation after the next election.