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Parliament Act 1911

Volume 711: debated on Monday 22 June 2009


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to celebrate the centenary of the Parliament Act completing its passage in the House of Lords on 10 August 1911.

My Lords, may I first take this opportunity to congratulate the noble Baroness on her appointment as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster? The noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, will already have told her that it is the highest office that any reasonable politician can hope for. Did she notice yesterday the Pauline conversion announced in the Observer of Mr Jack Straw to a wholly elected Senate to replace this House, which brings him into line with the official policy of the Conservative Party, so eloquently expressed on these Benches by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde? Does this not mean, given my party’s 100-year commitment to such reform, that we are very close to moving quickly after the next election to House of Lords reform and to celebrating the centenary by passing another parliamentary reform Act?

My Lords, I very much look forward to visiting Lancashire. In relation to Lords reform, my right honourable friend the Justice Secretary said yesterday in a newspaper that we are committing to bringing forward draft legislation and trying to get it through before the next election, but, if that is not possible, to having it fully in place shortly before the next election. I am sure that that is what all parties will be working towards.

My Lords, if the Government reconsider their plans on whether to celebrate the passing of the Parliament Act, will they consider publicising one of its most important provisions; namely, that this House still holds an absolute veto on extending the life of a Parliament? Can the noble Baroness confirm that this Government have absolutely no intention of asking the House to extend this Parliament?

My Lords, tempting though that might be, I can confirm that the Government have no intention to do that.

My Lords, does the noble Baroness recollect that the preamble to the 1911 Act says that,

“whereas it is intended to substitute for the House of Lords as it at present exists a second chamber constituted on a popular instead of hereditary basis … such substitution cannot immediately be brought into operation”?

Since it took Parliament some 80 years to overcome the first of those obstacles, albeit only in part, would it be right to look on the final solution as something that exists less on the plane of time than on that of eternity?

My Lords, I think that the Benches to my left are much better equipped to talk about eternity than I am. However, this Government should be congratulated on bringing forward the first very important stage of reform in 88 years.

My Lords, will my noble friend resist any temptation to Schadenfreude as she contemplates the fact that, barely more than 10 years after the Liberals forced through the Parliament Act 1911, they had become extinct as a party of government? Is not the lesson of the past 100 years that grand designs to impose constitutional reform usually prove to be the political graveyard of their proponents and that the Prime Minister is wise to insist that constitutional reform should be a bottom-up process, expressing—in due course—the considered wishes of the people?

My Lords, I have no shivers down my spine because I am confident that, yes, we are engaged in a bottom-up process, but I am also confident that any legislation that the Government bring forward will build on the consensus that we already have across all three parties.

My Lords, I have always believed that we would achieve a fully or mainly elected House by the centenary of the Parliament Act. The trouble in the past few years has been over the question: which Parliament Act, 1911 or 1949? Do the Government recognise, in response to the previous intervention, that nothing will happen if they insist on consensus before taking action?

My Lords, it is very important that we have come as far as we have on the basis of consensus. Of course, the best way is to move forward expanding on the consensus that we already have.

My Lords, would the noble Baroness be good enough to consider with great suspicion any suggestions on these matters made by the noble Lord, Lord McNally? Does she realise that, although she talks about consensus, there does not seem to be any? Instead, is not all the brouhaha going on at the other end of the Palace of Westminster a good cause to celebrate the existence of your Lordships’ House, with or without—preferably without—the 1911 Act?

My Lords, I do indeed celebrate the existence of this House; I celebrate day by day the excellent work that we all do in this House. I wish that more people would take note of that excellent work, which is done on all Benches in this House.

My Lords, I note the views of the noble Lords, Lord McNally and Lord Strathclyde, as well as those of my noble friend, but will she note the fact that the views of the three Front Benches bear no relation to those of the Back Benches?

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that some of us—we may be constitutional anachronisms—believe that there should be at least a partially elected second Chamber?

My Lords, are the Government not putting the cart before the horse? Would it not be more sensible first to retrieve our democracy from Brussels, where the majority of our national law is now made? We should then organise the Select Committee procedure in the House of Commons to hold the Executive to account. Having done that, we should decide whether we want a second Chamber, how it should be composed and what its powers should be.

My Lords, I do not think that the Government are putting the cart before the horse at all, as the noble Lord puts it. We have an excellent relationship with the European Union; it is a relationship of partnership. The House of Commons is considering how it organises its Select Committees, which is entirely a matter for the other place, but I am confident that that is what it is doing. One of the next great reforms should be the reform of the House of Lords.