Skip to main content

House of Lords: Reform

Volume 729: debated on Wednesday 20 July 2011


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how many representations have been received from the public in response to the House of Lords reform draft Bill and accompanying White Paper.

My Lords, the Government have received, and continue to receive, many representations on all aspects of House of Lords reform.

My Lords, I did not really expect an answer to the Question so I am not disappointed. Have the Government still not learnt the lesson of the AV referendum? Unlike the Deputy Prime Minister, the British public do not think that our constitution is broken and they think that Government should spend their time on other, more important matters. Can I suggest that before the Government embark on any future constitutional experiments they apply two tests? First, do the public want it? Secondly, is there a political consensus to deliver it?

My Lords, it is true that the Government have not been overwhelmed with responses from the public after the publication of the White Paper. However, at least one interpretation of that is that the public are reasonably satisfied with the proposals that the Government have put forward. Of course, the public are understandably concerned with a whole range of important things, such as jobs, education and health, but because the reform of the House of Lords does not have an immediate resonance, that does not mean that it is important.

I have reminded the House of this before: at the last election all three main parties had in their manifestos a pledge to reform the House and people were very happy to vote for that. As for political consensus, we will see to the work of the Joint Committee when it reports next year.

My Lords, among the representations he has been examining, has my noble friend seen the report published on Monday entitled The End of the Peer Show?, in which Mr Hilary Benn has committed the Labour Party to a continuing campaign based on its manifesto commitment for a wholly elected House of Lords? Is my noble friend aware of any successful parliamentary candidate who arrived in the other place committed to voting against his party’s manifesto?

My Lords, no, I am not. I have not read Mr Benn’s no doubt splendid article, but given that the Recess starts later on today, perhaps it should be required reading for all noble Lords.

My Lords, why is the Leader of the House so reticent about telling us how many representations he has actually had? He said many—is that 10, 20, 100, 500, 1,000? Will he take this opportunity to correct his Freudian slip when he said that House of Lords reform was not important?

My Lords, that was well spotted by the noble Lord. Of course the issue is extremely important and something that this Government are very committed to dealing with. Since the general election, we have received over 180 letters from members of the public. Since the publication of the White Paper, we have received over 30 pieces of correspondence. The key point is that the vast majority of these letters call for a change in the way that this House is run.

My Lords, has my noble friend, having had such an overwhelming response, had the chance to memorise all these letters? Can he tell the House how many people have written to him or made representations on the National Health Service, on the Education Bill or on the Localism Bill? Does this not indicate that the general public are fairly well satisfied with what they have and very much more worried about many other things? Perhaps we could take the Recess to readjust the priorities of Her Majesty’s Government.

My Lords, we have just set up a first-class Joint Committee of both Houses which is going to look at the draft Bill. Most of the letters we have received come up with their own new and improved schemes for the future of the House of Lords, or are interested in the Bishops remaining in the House of Lords and the representation of other faiths.

My Lords, public engagement with the Bill might be enhanced by describing its consequences in terms of the interaction of our citizens with this Parliament. How would the noble Lord the Leader advise a constituent in 2016 with two elected representatives to this Parliament, an MP from the opposition party and a senator for the governing party, who wished to raise an urgent issue with the Home Office? Should the constituent speak to MP or senator?

My Lords, I hope that that is exactly one of the questions that the noble Lord, Lord Richard, will tackle in his Joint Committee. We do not anticipate senators, if that is what they are to be called, taking over the role of Members of Parliament. Of course, it will be entirely free for members of the public to write both to their Members of Parliament and to their senators.

My Lords, I was fascinated by the figures that the noble Lord the Leader of the House produced. The House may like to know that a call for evidence has gone out from the Joint Committee. I sincerely hope that we will do much better than the Government on this.