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House of Lords: Reform

Volume 707: debated on Tuesday 10 February 2009

Question

Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what representations they have received on their White Paper An Elected Second Chamber: Further reform of the House of Lords.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister, but that does not go very far. Can I take it that the Government are disposed not to make timid and temporary tinkering but to take action on a longer term for a more strategic approach? Perhaps I may remind the Minister that the House is now likely to be here for another 15 or 16 months before an election and that all three parties and their leaderships in both Houses have supported the White Paper and the thrust of its proposals. Surely now we should make real progress. Does the Minister accept that any delay in this House would be interpreted by the public as complacency and special interest? On four occasions, he has said to me that he would be prepared to look at four or five draft clauses for pre-legislative scrutiny. Finally—

My Lords, finally, does the Minister recall the recommendation of the Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege, on which I served? It said:

“The House of Commons has power to suspend its Members, and it would be anomalous and undesirable if this were not the position in the House of Lords”.

My Lords, the Government’s White Paper was informed by the work of the cross-party group. We are committed to fundamental reform of your Lordships’ House and the manifesto at the next general election will indicate that. From then on, it will be very much open to legislation. As far as immediate legislation is concerned, as my right honourable friend the Lord Chancellor has said, the Government are actively looking at what legislation we might be able to introduce to support the House in disciplining its Members.

My Lords, the document under question has been in circulation for some time. When might we expect a debate in this House on what is a most interesting White Paper?

My Lords, this is a matter for the usual channels and I am sure that they will take account of what the noble Baroness has said. On 27 February, we have the Second Reading of the Private Member’s Bill sponsored by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, in which I am sure many noble Lords will wish to take part.

My Lords, have the Government received representations that the time is now ripe, without further prevarication, to enact the reforms specified in the Bills of the noble Lords, Lord Steel and Lord Oakeshott, given the widespread agreement that those reforms are necessary; but that given the strongly conflicting views on elections to the second Chamber, not least between the Front Benches and the Back Benches, the time is not ripe to resolve that issue; and that questions of the discipline applicable to Members of your Lordships’ House ought to be determined by your Lordships and not in a new law or by some outside body?

My Lords, we have various inquiries and reviews going on in relation to allegations made in respect of Members of your Lordships’ House and it is best to await the outcome of those before we discuss that matter any further. The White Paper was the result of cross-party work. As for the Private Members’ Bills of the noble Lords, Lord Steel and Lord Oakeshott, we will have a very interesting debate on 27 February. However, the Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, covers a large number of areas and I have to say that the Government’s commitment to comprehensive reform is not diminished by a need for any swift legislation in some specific areas.

My Lords, is not one of the tragedies that, as the Minister knows well, if he, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and I got together we could probably get an agreement on Lords reform within an hour or so? If we are not going to use the slack of the least busy parliamentary year since 1945, would the Minister take the initiative so that at the next election the three major parties have identical commitments on Lords reform, which may put into perspective any prevarication in this House?

My Lords, it does not feel like a slack legislative Session to me. Of course it will be up to each of the political parties to decide what they put in their manifestos, but it is clear that the cross-party group has worked well. The White Paper makes some excellent proposals and highlights issues for consultation on fundamental reform. There is no reason at all why legislation following the next general election could not take place.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that there can be no possibility of agreement on a future elected House of Lords while the noble Lord, Lord McNally, sticks to his position of a House elected by proportional representation? Can the Minister also confirm that at the last general election all three parties made in their manifestos a commitment to a referendum on the Lisbon treaty but none has so far taken place?

My Lords, I do not recall the party opposite proposing a referendum on the Maastricht treaty. As far as the noble Lord, Lord McNally, is concerned, the White Paper puts forward a number of options on electoral systems. The working party could not reach agreement on this matter, so we will see what the manifestos say and then discussions will have to take place. What is clear, however, is that there is agreement that the electoral system in general for your Lordships’ House should not be a mirror image of that for the House of Commons.