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Constitutional Renewal Bill

Volume 710: debated on Thursday 7 May 2009


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government when they expect to publish their Constitutional Renewal Bill; and what elements of it will be directly relevant to the working of the House of Lords.

My Lords, the Bill is in its final stages of drafting. We intend to introduce it before the Summer Recess for carry-over into the next Session. However, the final content is not yet agreed. The Government intend to bring forward measures to support this House in disciplining Members and to allow Members who wish to do so to resign. However, we must ensure that that is done in the most appropriate way.

My Lords, I welcome the Minister's Answer, in so far as the Bill will definitely be with us before the Summer Recess and appears to incorporate two of the four points in the Bill that I have introduced in this place, but what about the other two points: putting the Appointments Commission on a statutory basis and ending the hereditary by-elections?

My Lords, the noble Lord knows that the Government are committed to comprehensive reform of this House. We still believe—we have said this for several months now—that such major reform should be brought forward in a government Bill. That is why we had the all-party group meetings that took place over several years. The consequence of that was that we hope that the parties will set out in their manifestos for the next election their commitment to reform, and comprehensive reform can then take place.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the Government are absolutely right to view the provisions of the so-called Steel Bill with some suspicion? Is he further aware that the Government are absolutely right to say that at this stage they do not intend to bring forward a partial set of proposals for reform of this House? Finally, is he aware that at some stage the fundamental issue about this House, which is its composition and elections to it, will have to be decided?

Yes, my Lords, I absolutely agree with my noble friend. This is a major issue and one that we should not enter into lightly. We have committed ourselves to entering into it after the next general election. We hope that with the support of all the major parties we can move towards reform of this House. We still believe that piecemeal reform would be a mistake.

My Lords, on the question of constitutional principle, will my noble friend be wary of the advice given to him by my noble friend Lord Richard, which seems to be that until you can do everything, you should not do anything? Will he therefore take particular account of the Second Reading debate initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, which received overwhelming support in this House? Its four principal provisions were not even objected to—as I read it, they were supported—by the Government Front Bench. Let us do a little bit that is good and wait for the wonders of the future at some later time.

My Lords, attractive though that proposition is as my noble friend puts it, there are dangers in it too. We feel that if we were to agree to some more minor measures, when we came to the reform of the House that will take place in future, we might be caught slightly by what the earlier Act of Parliament said. We have to walk very carefully in this field.

I can go this far with my noble friend: we think that we should bring forward some government legislation on discipline of the House and we hope to do that soon.

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that the Liberal Democrats could best help the stabilisation of the constitution if they would stop perpetually trying to upheave it? Does he further agree that this is not the right time to institute a new Bill for Parliament, just at the end of the present Parliament?

My Lords, has the Minister had an opportunity to examine the provisions in the Constitutional Renewal Bill to which the House gave a First Reading on 31 March and which, incidentally, has provisions for appropriate disciplinary procedures for Members of your Lordships’ House? Would it not be better to make some progress now on these issues rather than wait until the Summer Recess? Will the Minister use his great persuasive powers to get the government business managers to find government time for a Second Reading, because then we could make real progress on these provisions?

My Lords, the noble Lord knows, I think, what I am going to say. We are immensely grateful to him for having introduced his own Constitutional Renewal Bill. Its progress, of course, is a matter for the usual channels, but it contains a number of points with which we agree and which I believe were drawn from the draft Bill that was published last year and which has been very widely discussed. We believe that those points are better taken forward in a government Bill.

My Lords, given that the House unanimously agreed the main principles of the Steel Bill, which includes a statutory Appointments Commission, and given the way in which the political parties make their appointments at present and the need for reform of that process, does my noble friend accept that supporters do not see the two points in the Bill which he mentioned as the most fundamental points and that a day should now be found to look at the clarification which the Government claim is needed and which supporters agree should now be made to the Bill to be clear about how the political parties make their nominations to a statutory Appointments Commission?

My Lords, we disagree with some of the details of the Steel Bill, although, as I have already conceded, there are parts of it that we like. I repeat that we believe that some of those issues point to a comprehensive reform of this House, which is best done by government following an election.