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House of Lords: Membership

Volume 726: debated on Monday 14 March 2011


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether under their plans for an elected House of Lords the Prime Minister could be a Member of the House of Lords.

My Lords, an important part of the plans for the reform of this House is the continued primacy of the House of Commons. The presence of the Prime Minister in the House of Commons therefore underlines that primacy.

Does my noble friend accept that in a number of bicameral systems in the world it is possible for a Prime Minister to be in either House? While it might not be acceptable to public opinion at the moment for a Prime Minister to sit in this House as it is presently constituted, if in, say, 10 years’ time this House is wholly elected, is deemed more legitimate and is demanding more powers, would it not be appropriate and necessary for there to be more senior Ministers in this House? Would it not be wrong for the Government’s legislation to exclude the possibility of a Prime Minister being in this House, as used to be the case right up to the early years of the 20th century?

My Lords, I am deeply impressed by my noble friend’s ambition—10 years to wait does not seem too long at all. The fact is that the Prime Minister is First Lord of the Treasury. It would a very strange thing, given the reduced powers of this House since 1911, for the Prime Minister to be a Member of this House. Therefore, we have no plan or proposal to make it so.

My Lords, if the programme of parliamentary reform led by the Deputy Prime Minister were to result in the other place continuing to be elected by first past the post, and the future Chamber here being elected through proportional representation as envisaged in the coalition agreement, who would have greater democratic legitimacy—MPs or elected Peers?

My Lords, it is of course an immensely good question, and it is one that we will return to many times over the next few months when the Deputy Prime Minister has published his White Paper and draft Bill. But I go back to the central point—which is that, under the terms of the 1911 Act, another place has primacy. We believe that that is where it should remain.

Can the Leader of the House reaffirm his frequently stated opinion to this House that, in the event of there being an elected second Chamber, which I understand he has not been that keen on in the past, he would be strongly opposed to it being elected on the basis of proportional representation and would stick to first past the post? Secondly, is it correct, as reported in the FT last Thursday, that he expects there to be Senators in this House by 2015? If that is not correct, perhaps he could say so. If it is correct, can he please observe the normal proprieties of making crucial statements about the future of this House or of government policy to this House and not to the Financial Times?

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, certainly has the power to embarrass me because it is certainly on the record that I am not one who favours proportional representation. However, it was in the coalition agreement that, in the event of there being an elected second Chamber, it would be under the system of proportional representation. So far as concerns the Financial Times, I am not sure that that is what I said. Of course, that will depend on the draft Bill being published soon and on the Joint Committee sitting in time for legislation to be passed so that an election can take place in 2015, and that will depend entirely on the will of Parliament.

My Lords, there is time. We have had a question from the Cross Benches. Perhaps we might hear from the Liberal Democrats first and then the Cross Benches.

Does my noble friend agree that it would not necessarily interfere with the primacy of the House of Commons if all Ministers were answerable to the second Chamber on matters for which they had ministerial responsibility and, in particular, for the legislation that came from their departments?

My Lords, that is an interesting proposition and it will no doubt be dealt with in the forthcoming White Paper.

My Lords, does the noble Lord the Leader of the House agree that it would not be possible for the right honourable gentleman the Prime Minister to sit in this House because he is already a Member of another place? Does he therefore accept that the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, should be allowed to amend his Question slightly proposing that a Prime Minister—I emphasise “a”—should be allowed to sit in this House? I say that even though I do not agree with the idea of an elected House of Lords.

My Lords, can the Leader tell the House whether the Government will continue to pursue the coalition agreement until 2015, which is the date when it is reported that he believes the changes will be in place? The agreement states:

“Lords appointments will be made with the objective of creating a second chamber that is reflective of the share of the vote secured by the political parties in the last general election”—

that is, 86 more Conservative Peers and 99 more Liberal Democrat Peers.

My Lords, is it not the case that this House always gives way in the end to the other place, because its Members are elected and we are not? If we were elected, would we not deny such possibilities occurring? Surely we would be bound to hold to our rights as well.

My Lords, I accept that possibility, but there are well known processes for dealing with disagreements between both Houses. It is not without precedent. Over the past 40 years, the House of Lords and the House of Commons have come to disagreements that could only be resolved by turning to the Parliament Act.