Motion to Agree
That, notwithstanding the Resolution of this House of 6 July, it be an instruction to the Joint Committee on the Draft House of Lords Reform Bill that it should report on the draft Bill by 27 March 2012.
My Lords, I suggest to my noble friend that some explanation of this Motion might be of interest to the House.
My Lords, of the many Motions that I have moved in the House, I would have thought that this one would be almost entirely self-explanatory. The House will remember that last July both Houses of Parliament agreed to the creation of a Joint Committee of both Houses to examine the Government’s draft Bill on the future reform of the House of Lords. In that Motion, the Joint Committee was due to report by March 2012. At that time, a number of questions were raised about whether the Joint Committee would be able to report in that time, and I indicated that if it wished to have an extension it would be able to ask for one. A few weeks ago, the noble Lord, Lord Richard, the chairman of the Joint Committee, wrote to me and indicated that it would need some more time and suggested the date of 27 March. All this Motion does is extend the time available to the Joint Committee by about a month to take us to 27 March 2012. I hope that that is a sufficient explanation of the Motion before us.
My Lords, what is the point of all this if the Deputy Prime Minister tells the world that he intends to force through legislation, invoking the Parliament Act, regardless of what the committee might say? We had a contempt of Parliament committed yesterday and I would be grateful if my noble friend would indicate that the committee will indeed report properly, that its report will be debated and that no one, least of all someone who wants to treat the constitution as his own personal plaything, should be allowed to usurp the functions of a committee of two Houses.
My Lords, I might have expected my noble friend to speak, but I think he is being unnecessarily intemperate. It may be a surprise to him to hear that what the Deputy Prime Minister said yesterday was not new at all. He had said it once or twice before. In fact, I said something similar last June in this House. It is surprising how quickly all these things are forgotten. I said:
“Therefore our intention is to introduce a Bill next year and to hold the first elections to the reformed House in May 2015”.—[Official Report, 21/6/11; col. 1155.]
The Deputy Prime Minister yesterday was simply following my lead. In the light of that, I do not think there is anything too much to worry about, although, of course, there is a process before a Queen’s Speech is brought to this House. However, the really important thing that my noble friend asked about was whether the report of the Joint Committee would be taken seriously. I can say unequivocally that it will be taken most seriously.
The noble Lord, Lord Higgins, asked for an explanation. The Joint Committee has been meeting regularly and is considering this Bill in a full and detailed way. It is being given full and detailed consideration. All I am saying is that we need another month to continue with that full and detailed consideration, at the end of which we will no doubt produce a report.
Following that comment, will the noble Lord the Leader of the House make it clear that, should the Joint Committee find that it cannot reach a conclusion by the new date that has been set—many of us anticipated that that would be the case when it was set up—the timetable under which it operates will not be determined by what is required for the Queen’s Speech, the date of which has still not been announced? In particular, can he tell the House—I cannot recall this ever happening before—whether the second most important Minister in the country has announced the Government’s flagship policy for the next Queen’s Speech even before the date when that speech should take place has been determined? In order to regain propriety, rather than following what seems to be a make-it-up-as-you-go-along policy, and having told us the most important content of the next Queen’s Speech—in the Government’s estimation, not mine—will the Leader of the House help us by at least giving us the relevant date?
My Lords, it is always nice to hear that the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, is the guardian of the Government’s conscience. I can assure him that my right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister is not the first keen Minister to wish to pre-empt Queen’s Speeches and make sure that there is a clear case for his Bill, nor will he be the last. The date of the end of this Session, and therefore the date of the beginning of the next Session, will be announced a few weeks before in the normal way, following well-worn precedent. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, spoke extremely eloquently a minute ago. No doubt he and his committee came up with the date of the end of March because they believed that it would be possible to achieve that date. I am sure that Members of the committee will hear this debate and will have seen what was in the papers yesterday. I very much hope that we will not need to extend any longer the time that we have to wait for this report.
Can my noble friend the Leader of the House tell me on what other occasion a senior member of the Government has announced in advance that he is going to use the Parliament Act?
My Lords, I am not aware that my right honourable friend said that he would do so. He used words about the will of the House of Commons; and the Parliament Act is of course part of a process that kicks in when the two Houses disagree with each other. It is a well understood process, and although it has perhaps not been well used, it has been used on many occasions. It is always of regret to me when Parliament Acts are used because I believe that, between the two Houses, there must be a better way of reaching agreements.
My Lords, my noble friend has been exceedingly patient. Would it not be wise for us to close this debate on the grounds—on which we are united—that the speech made yesterday by the Deputy Prime Minister showed only a veneer of expertise?
My Lords, I will not be tempted down that road by my noble friend.
My Lords, I congratulate the Leader of the House on the skill with which he has dealt with the remarks of the Deputy Prime Minister. The noble Lord has answered them in exactly the way that they merited.
I am very grateful to the noble Baroness.
My Lords, further to the remarks of the Deputy Prime Minister, can the noble Lord at least clarify whether it would be constitutional for the Government of the day to use the Parliament Act to radically reform and change your Lordships’ House without its consent?
My Lords, the Parliament Act is a matter of statute law. It is our view that it would be illegal to use the Parliament Act when changing the composition or powers of this Chamber.
Does my noble friend the Leader of the House agree that it should not surprise any noble Lord that the Government wish to bring forward legislation to realise a matter that was in the manifestos of every single major party in the last election—and that we should get on with it?
I share with my noble friend her surprise that there is any surprise at all.