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House of Lords: Reform

Volume 710: debated on Monday 27 April 2009


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government when they expect to publish the planned draft clauses on House of Lords reform in the light of responses to the White Paper An Elected Second Chamber: Further Reform of the House of Lords.

My Lords, the Government have always said that they would consider the possibility of publishing draft clauses in the light of responses to the White Paper. We are still in a period of consideration.

My Lords, I think I am grateful for that Answer. Does the Minister recall that on seven occasions now he has said that pre-legislative scrutiny might be appropriate for draft clauses? Has he noticed that, in recent months, the Conservative leader has announced that he is now campaigning for the same vote, the same value, right across the country—in other words, for proportional representation? Would it not be wise to see whether consensus could be reached on this rather contentious issue through pre-legislative scrutiny, presumably in a Joint Committee of both Houses, so that the Government can build on the consensus arrived at within the White Paper discussions?

My Lords, it is not for me to comment on the difficulties which the Liberal Democrats and the Conservative Party may have with the system. Clearly, the White Paper discussed a number of electoral system options that could be adopted for a reformed second Chamber. We welcome comment on those matters.

My Lords, may I assure the Minister that the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, is clearly deluding himself? The Conservative Party has no intention of campaigning for proportional representation.

My Lords, there is clearly consensus between the two main parties on objecting to proportional representation. Will my noble friend take that into account in any further considerations?

Indeed, my Lords. There are clearly different views about what electoral system might be appropriate for the second Chamber. It is important that any electoral system that is brought forward is not seen in any way as challenging the perfectness of a first-past-the-post system for the House of Commons.

My Lords, whatever differences there may be about the ultimate shape of the House of Lords and how it is composed and elected, do the Government recognise that there is broad consensus that an interim measure, along the lines of my noble friend Lord Steel’s Bill, would make a difference and meet the public recognition that change is appropriate now? Will the Government give a lead?

My Lords, we have had a great many opportunities to discuss the Bill proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Steel. Of course, elements in it could be contained in a major reform proposal based on the White Paper’s proposal. The Government have said that they are already prepared to move swiftly on matters concerned with conduct and discipline. The fact is that the Government’s efforts take forward substantive reform. That is why we established the cross-party groups which led to the White Paper. Let us hope that in the manifestos for the next election there will be a consistency of approach among the political parties on substantive reform. Then legislation could soon follow.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that at the end of March, during the Committee stage of the Bill proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, there was unanimity on the four main principles of the Bill and that that should also be taken into account by Her Majesty's Government?

My Lords, as I said, there are clearly elements within the Bill proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, which would need to be addressed within substantive reform. It is worth making the point that, to take the question of a statutory Appointments Commission as an example, the White Paper accepts that if the eventual outcome was an 80 per cent elected House, there would need to be a statutory Appointments Commission and legislation would follow that course. The proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, embraces a statutory Appointments Commission that would decide which party-political appointments could be made. I have to say that that is entirely unacceptable to the Government.

My Lords, as there is obviously consensus between Conservative and Labour Peers in this House that this is a matter best left alone, can we not achieve some mechanism by which all the Liberal Democrat Peers resign and re-elect themselves in some different form?

My Lords, the more questions are asked, the less consensus I see in your Lordships' House. I think that the best possible approach is for the White Paper proposals to be taken forward and we look forward to legislation in the new Parliament.

My Lords, does not the Minister feel a sense of shame that a Labour Government—a Labour Government—after 12 years and three thumping majorities have left this House a House of patronage quite unrepresentative of the people whom they are supposed to represent?

No, my Lords, I do not. This Government are the first Government for many a year to take forward and enact substantive reform of your Lordships' House. It is widely accepted that those reforms have led to this House becoming a more effective Chamber. The whole point of the cross-party working group of which the noble Lord was a very influential member is to continue the process of reform. That is what we are committed to do.

My Lords, does the noble Lord accept that his original Answer was most acceptable to many of us in the House and that if it were the intention of Her Majesty's Government to continue in a period of consideration indefinitely, that would be very welcome?

My Lords, I fear I must disappoint the noble Lord. We intend to report in the summer on the results of the consultation. That will be an important step forward. We can then discuss what further steps need to be taken.

My Lords, is the noble Lord right when he uses the word consultation? He has referred to consideration throughout but now it is consultation. What is the difference?

My Lords, the White Paper is being fully considered and of course there has been a consultation process. Indeed, we received about 150 comments on the White Paper, which was published last year, so we will publish a summary of the views expressed. Of course, we are ever eager to hear the views of your Lordships' House on these matters.