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House of Lords: Scottish Referendum

Volume 734: debated on Wednesday 1 February 2012

Question

Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact of the proposed referendum on Scottish independence on reform of the House of Lords.

My Lords, the Government can proceed only on the current constitutional framework. We will of course take all relevant factors into account when planning the timetable for reform.

My Lords, I am enormously grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, for that illuminating response. Remarkably, it appears that Mr Clegg’s Bill is to be the centrepiece of the Government's legislative programme for the next Session. However, this will be in advance of the outcome of the Scottish referendum which could—I am sure the noble Lord will agree—have profound constitutional significance for the United Kingdom. How will the Government take that into account? Furthermore, as Scotland is to have a referendum, why on earth are the British people not to be allowed one on Lords reform?

My Lords, there were a number of questions there. The noble Lord is right that it would have profound constitutional implications for the United Kingdom if there were to be a referendum result in Scotland in favour of breaking up the United Kingdom. However, as I said in my Answer, we can proceed only on the current constitutional framework. If there is a Scottish referendum, I for one—and, I am sure, the noble Lord for another—will campaign in favour of retaining the United Kingdom. The Government of course considered the case for a referendum on the future of the House of Lords. However, given that all three manifestos in the most recent election were remarkably similar on reform of the House, we feel that people's views have already been taken into account.

My Lords, the manifestos were rather different. However, does my noble friend agree that those of us who are concerned about the future of the United Kingdom must not take the people of Scotland for granted and must not appear to patronise them? To anticipate the results of the Scottish referendum would seem to do precisely that. Therefore, is there not the strongest possible case for getting the issue decided before we turn to House of Lords reform?

My Lords, of course we must neither patronise nor anticipate. On the other hand, normal work should not come to a halt because of a possible referendum. That is why we are carrying on with our stated proposal for reform of the second Chamber.

My Lords, if the Scottish people were to determine that their constitutional destiny lay with the devo-max model, would it be appropriate for them to participate in elections for the Deputy Prime Minister’s senate in 2015?

My Lords, a rather different question is raised by the noble Lord, and I am not sure that I know entirely what is meant by this phrase devo-max.

My Lords, I hear some moaning from the other side, but I expect that if we asked three of them what they thought devo-max meant we would get four different answers. It would probably be the same if we asked them their views on House of Lords reform. The point is that any different arrangement of the United Kingdom would of course have an impact on an elected House, in the same way as it would have an impact on the House of Commons.

My Lords, I am not going to ask about devo-max. However, last week, in reply to a question from my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours, the Leader of the House gave an unequivocal reply that no list of new Peers is being proposed. In the Daily Telegraph today he was quoted as saying that there is a new list, and indeed that the SNP has been asked to nominate. Would he care to clarify the position?

My Lords, I stand by my original answer. It is, of course, up to the Prime Minister to decide when and if he comes forward with a list. I am not aware that he has any current plans to do so. I certainly voiced a view that there is no reason why there should not be a Scottish nationalist in this House, but I do not believe that any has been proposed.

My Lords, would it not be wise to allow the United Kingdom to reach consensual decisions about the role, powers and composition of this House when the future political relationships of all the constituent nations of the country have been settled?

My Lords, I do not think there is any requirement for us to wait on a referendum on breaking up the United Kingdom, which may not take place until the end of this Parliament, before legislating on what a future second Chamber will look like. However, as I said in my earlier Answer—which I think is not out of keeping with what my noble friend has just said—if the relevant factors were to change, we would take them into account when planning the long-term timetable for reform.

My Lords, would not the best way of improving Scottish influence on proposals for House of Lords reform be to abandon the current, deeply flawed draft Bill, and replace it with support for the excellent Bill tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, which commands wide-ranging respect in this House?

My Lords, I am well aware of the respect with which it is held in this House. However, it does fly in the face of the three manifestos on which the Members of the House of Commons were elected only 18 months ago.

My Lords, is it not the case that because the people of this country had no chance to vote for any party except those that support Lords reform, they ought to be afforded such an opportunity?

My Lords, that is a good point: when all the parties are united, there is no room for much opposition. However, if a Bill is published after the gracious Speech, I am sure that there will be very effective debate within Parliament, because, as I have said before, very often the differences on House of Lords reform exist within the parties rather than between them.

My Lords, to revert to an earlier answer, why does my noble friend think that the world is not going to come to an end if a Bill to abolish the House of Lords is introduced into your Lordships' House?

My Lords, I am always wary of my noble friend winning this sort of competition to speak in the House. I rather wish that I had taken the question from the noble Lord, Lord Low.