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House of Lords: Reform

Volume 722: debated on Wednesday 1 December 2010


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how the increased membership of the House since the general election, and likely further increases, are consistent with their aim of Lords reform.

My Lords, the new appointments since the general election are entirely consistent with the coalition’s programme for government, which set the objective of creating a second Chamber that is reflective of the share of the vote secured by the political parties at the last general election. The Government are committed to reform of this House. The cross-party Joint Committee on House of Lords Reform will come forward with a draft Bill early in the new year.

My Lords, I want to make it clear that I mean no disrespect to the many Members who have recently joined this House or are about to do so, but how can the Minister reconcile the Government’s reducing by 50 the number of MPs in the House of Commons with increasing by more than that the number of Members of this House? Is he not breaking the cross-party understanding that the Government should not have an overall majority, especially as this has an adverse effect on the Cross Benches? I have yet to find a single Member of this House who agrees with the Minister—and I have asked quite a few of them. One can look at the faces behind the Minister to see that they are nodding in agreement with me and not with him.

I had better not look behind me then. There is a dilemma which this House has partially created for itself. For as long as I have been involved in these matters, there has been an assumption that incoming Governments will freshen their Benches, partly for reasons of needing to man the government Benches. That is exactly what the Labour Party did, with Mr Blair creating more than 300 Peers during his term of office. The attempts to reform this House over the past 10 years have failed and we are left with a problem of a House that is too large. That is why I hope that the Benches opposite, when they get the opportunity in January, will enthusiastically embrace the reform programme which the Government will put forward.

Does my noble friend agree that the best way to make progress would be if the Labour Party, instead of bringing in ex-MPs who are refuseniks on reform of your Lordships' House, stuck to its manifesto commitments, made not just at the last election but at many other elections, to reform this House comprehensively?

My noble friend makes some valid points, but I think that it is unfair to say that the ex-MPs who come in are against Lords reform. It usually takes them two or three weeks before they become enthusiastic supporters of the House. I see in his place the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, who has taken to the ermine like a duck to water.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord McNally, has implied that the 300 Peers brought in by Mr Blair were Labour Peers, but can he tell me how many were not and took other Whips in the House? Does he endorse the remarks made yesterday by his noble friend Lord Tyler, who in the context of Lords reform effectively told the Cross Benches that, unless they supported the Government in votes, a 100 per cent elected House rather than an 80 per cent elected House would be proposed? Does he endorse that view?

I do not read that into what my noble friend Lord Tyler said yesterday. I trust the Cross Benches to take decisions on votes in this House as individuals and not as a collective group. I know that they will continue to do that. Even more shaming than any threats real or imagined from my noble friend Lord Tyler are the blatant attempts made by the Labour Party to lure the Cross Benches into elephant traps when trying to delay government business.

My Lords, have any of the newly appointed Peers been asked to give an undertaking that they would support House of Lords reform as envisaged by the Deputy Prime Minister?

My Lords, it is always good to have a contribution from the Cross Benches. No such assurances have been asked for and they would be pretty valueless for the reason I gave earlier. I can see faces on the Benches opposite who I remember in their radical youth wanted to burn this place down, and they are now enthusiastic supporters of no change at all.

Does the noble Lord accept that there is no logical explanation to the Question put by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs? We all know the views of the Cabinet and the coalition. I speak as a Conservative, I am still a Conservative and I support—when I can—the coalition, but not on this occasion.

I am well aware of those views. All I will say to all sides of the House is that the other place has come to a settled and consistent view on the need to reform this Chamber. In keeping with our democracy, those views were taken to the electorate. The Conservative Party’s commitment to reform, the Liberal Democrats’ commitment to reform and the slightly dodgy, but still there, commitment of the Labour Party to reform—

A noble Lord: We lost—

This is a question we will come back to many times. There is time for only one more question. The noble Lord, Lord Pearson, has been trying to get in consistently since the beginning and I suggest that we hear from him. There will be many other opportunities.

My Lords, if it is true that the Government are appointing new Peers in proportion to the votes cast at the general election, why does UKIP not have 24 Peers in your Lordships’ House and why did the Prime Minister refuse a single extra Peer?

My Lords, I do not know. It is not in my brief, but I will find out. That shows that you should never let in that last question.