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House of Lords Reform

Volume 719: debated on Tuesday 29 June 2010

Motion to Approve

Moved By

That this House calls on Her Majesty’s Government, notwithstanding their proposals for Lords reform whose legislative timetable is unclear, to table Motions before the Summer Recess enabling the House to approve or disapprove-

(a) a scheme to enable Members of the House to retire,

(b) the abolition of by-elections for hereditary Peers,

(c) the removal of Members convicted of serious criminal offices,

(d) the creation of a statutory appointments commission.

My Lords, I said at the beginning that I would listen to the debate. I have been encouraged by the strong support for my Motion. Therefore, I propose to move it without making another speech but I will simply clarify two things. Contrary to what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said, the Motion is not an alternative to the resolution of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde; it is a precursor to it. It is clear that the course on which the Government are embarked will take at least the five years of this Parliament. We need running repairs now. If the four separate resolutions are passed—I stress to my noble friend Lord Caithness that they are separate and might not all be passed—there is no reason why draft or full legislation could not be introduced in the autumn. Three of the points are already in legislative form from the previous Government. Therefore, the legislation could go through during this Session and we could achieve the running repairs which this House so badly needs. I beg to move.

My Lords, I am surprised that this Motion has been moved. I was rather hoping that the debate we have had over the last few hours would have been enough for your Lordships, so I have not prepared many words. However, the Order Paper is a serious document, and if Motions are tabled and moved they need to be taken seriously, so I should formally respond to the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood.

This is an unusual Motion. I have never seen one quite like it before and we are taking it at an unusual time of night. It is unusual because it is unclear what its intended effect is. On the advice that I have received, it does not bind the Government to do anything. It simply asks the House—or gives it the opportunity, which it can take at any stage it wants—to give an opinion on various matters. It does not inexorably lead then to any legislation. From that point of view the Motion is rather pointless, though I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Steel, when he replies, will explain why it has a point and what that point is.

The Motion asks the Government to table Motions which could approve or disapprove certain requirements. In my speech this afternoon, some hours ago, I explained that I had had cause to set up a Leader’s Group that will look at the position of retirement of Members from this House permanently, and that the group would be chaired by my noble friend Lord Hunt of Wirral. I would hope that that would have dealt with that. There is certainly no scheme. The noble Lord, Lord Steel, does not have a scheme; I do not have a scheme. We are all rather hoping that my noble friend will be able to come up not necessarily with one scheme but many different schemes. There are several options. The whole point of my noble friend’s job is to try to find out what these options, and their pros and cons, are. Therefore, I do not see that there is any particular point on that because I think there is a substantial desire in this House to have a scheme for retirement. I was rather hoping that there would be a murmur of approval for that.

Since we are on a roll, how many noble Lords would like to take up that scheme for permanent retirement? I am very happy to take an interruption at this stage.

The noble Lord, Lord Richard, proves my point and I am immensely grateful to him. We are going to investigate whether there should be a scheme.

The noble Lord, Lord Steel, wants to have a vote on the abolition of by-elections for hereditary Peers. I can confirm to the House that when we publish a Bill at the end of this year, which is only a few months away, there will be not only a proposal for the abolition of by-elections for hereditary Peers but one for a very substantial cut in the number of life Peers under the Life Peerages Act 1958. That is the by-product of going down this road.

The noble Lord has put down only four suggestions. He could have had a fifth: whether or not there should be an elected or an unelected House—as if there were any doubt about that, incidentally. His next proposal concerns the removal of Members convicted of serious criminal offences. Frankly, I was surprised to see this because I cannot imagine that anybody would not be in favour of having a statutory scheme similar to that of the House of Commons. It is certainly our intention that this should be covered in the legislation when it comes forward, once we have had a suitable debate on that subject. The provision already applies in another place; there is no good reason why it should not apply here.

The creation of a statutory appointments commission is infinitely more complicated and is the most difficult and controversial aspect of the noble Lord’s proposals. It is difficult and controversial at least in part because the appointments system that we have already seems to work pretty well. Many of the Peers on the Cross Benches came out of the Appointments Commission and they show up that commission rather better than many of us had imagined would be the case. However, if we still had an appointed element in this House, there would have to be some kind of system, and it would be very surprising if that was not a statutorily-based system.

Is the noble Lord not aware that, in introducing his Motion, the noble Lord, Lord Steel, said that it applies to the period between now and the never-never land when the Bill will come into operation? To say that this will all be covered by the Bill and that the hereditary by-elections will automatically ipso facto go at that time does not address the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Steel.

But of course it does. The Government have pledged to produce a Bill by the end of the year. I could ring up the parliamentary draftsman tomorrow morning and say, “We have a cracking good idea. We have four marvellous suggestions that none of us has thought of before. Please draft a Bill”. These measures require legislation. They cannot just be willed. They cannot just happen.

But it is not a government Bill. It has been introduced several times and found to have enormous flaws. A responsible Government would have to ask a parliamentary draftsman to draft a measure. The noble Lord with his government experience knows this. We would need to do that at the earliest opportunity. We are going to fast track this. It could not be published before October or November. That is just a few weeks before we will publish our own Bill. I do not think that I could go to the committee of parliamentary business managers and say that the House of Lords wants an advantage of just a few weeks to discuss in government time the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Steel. With the best will in the world, that is not going to happen.

All that I will say is that it has been a tremendous debate. I am glad that I have been able to answer the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood. He has been very patient for a number of years. Now we are asking him to be patient for a few more months and he will get everything that he wants and probably deserves.

All that I would say to that is that I do not want to wait for another five years. We need these matters to be resolved now. I beg to move.

House adjourned at 11.45 pm.