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House of Lords: Reform

Volume 733: debated on Wednesday 21 December 2011


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government why the draft Bill on House of Lords Reform makes no provision for defining the powers of an elected second chamber.

My Lords, the draft House of Lords Reform Bill specifically provides that nothing in the provisions affects the status, powers or jurisdiction of either House of Parliament. We therefore do not believe that it is necessary to define the powers of this House in primary legislation.

My Lords, how can Her Majesty’s Government so readily dismiss the wisdom of a truly great Liberal leader, Asquith, whose 1911 Parliament Act states with absolute clarity that Parliament would need to take measures to limit and define the powers of a new second Chamber elected on a popular basis? Is the Deputy Prime Minister’s single-minded obsession with the abolition of your Lordships’ House not only deeply irresponsible but fraught with constitutional hazard?

My Lords, I can tell that the House is in a good Christmas mood this morning, and it looks as if I am the turkey. The noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, has done some good research into the preamble to the 1911 Act. To some extent, that demonstrates how wise they were in 1911, but even then they could not possibly have predicted that it would take another 100 years to get to the first draft Bill ever published. Today we have a very different House to the one that we had in 1911. The Parliament Act 1911 itself was amended in 1949, and since then the conventions between the Houses have developed over the years. We therefore believe that we should not be bound by the view set out in the preamble to the 1911 Act.

My Lords, is the position of the Leader of the House not somewhat illogical? If we have an elected second Chamber, the Parliament Acts no longer make any logical sense, nor does the primacy of the other place. Indeed, if there were an elected second Chamber, there would be no reason why the Prime Minister should be chosen from Members of the other place, which would certainly please the more ambitious Members of this House.

My Lords, what the noble Lord says is not without its attractions. I think that his position is illogical, though. Like him, many Members of this House wish to preserve the primacy of another place. That is why the existence of the Parliament Act is very important, and that will continue under the provisions of the draft Bill.

My Lords, is it not possible that including such provisions in the Bill would make lucid and clear the increased risk of conflict between the two Houses and the disastrous consequences of the creation of a new structure? Will my noble friend tell the House whether that is the explanation, and is it the consequence of idle carelessness or deliberate deceit?

My Lords, it is neither. There is an expectation that there would be a risk of greater conflict between the two Houses because elected Members of this Chamber would, I believe, use their powers more assertively and, perhaps, more effectively. That is an undeniable conclusion of the process that we are going to undergo.

My Lords, when on Monday the Prime Minister announced that the legislative programme for the next Session would include a Bill on the reform of your Lordships’ House, was he announcing a collective decision of the Cabinet?

My Lords, during the past 10 years, I have been told by the noble and learned Lords, Lord Irvine of Lairg and Lord Falconer of Thoroton, and Jack Straw in another place, that in the next Session there would be a House of Lords reform Bill. So, for the definitive answer, we shall have to wait for the appearance of Her Majesty at the State Opening of Parliament.

My Lords, in the spirit of Christmas and the season of good will to all men, will my noble friend arrange for the Deputy Prime Minister to imbibe some of the love and respect for this House that I have imbibed in the year that I have been here, and therefore arrange as a Christmas gift for the Deputy Prime Minister a tutorial with the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield, so that he can put away his childish things and stop regurgitating sixth-form essays?

My Lords, I really do not think that that is the way to impress either the Prime Minister or his Deputy.

My Lords, what in the estimation of the noble Lord the Leader of the House adds greater value to our political system: the House of Lords in its present form or the Deputy Prime Minister?

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that, unless it is the intention to amend the Parliament Acts before any change is made to the composition of this House, it would be preferable to review the Parliament Acts and, indeed, the conventions when that takes place, which was, of course, what was recommended by the Cunningham committee? Does he also accept that once a convention is codified it ceases to be a convention, as indeed that committee also recommended?

My Lords, I agree with both points that my noble friend makes. However, the fact is that if we end up with a wholly elected House or a partially elected House, and if the relationship between the two Houses becomes strained, it is up to parliamentarians in both Houses to find the best way of sorting that out.

My Lords, the noble Lord referred to this as a Christmas question, but I do not detect too many turkeys in your Lordships' House this morning. He cannot get away with that. When he quoted from the draft Bill, he omitted the second part of Clause 2(1)(c), which states that nothing in the proposed Act affects the,

“conventions governing the relationship between the two Houses”.

The noble Lord should go back to the 1911 Act’s preamble, which makes it clear that those conventions were developed to allow for a relationship between an elected and an unelected House. They cannot apply to two elected Houses. This draft Bill and previous draft Bills are defective because they do not get to the crunch of the issue, which is the relationship between the two Houses.

My Lords, the conventions can apply but they may well evolve in the years after we have an elected senate.