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House of Lords: Reform

Volume 737: debated on Thursday 21 June 2012


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their latest estimate of the cost of their plans to reform the House of Lords.

My Lords, on behalf of the whole House, I wish my noble friend a very happy 70th birthday. As to his Question, cost estimates depend on the content of the Bill. Therefore, the Government will publish full cost estimates when we introduce a Bill.

I thank my noble friend for his good wishes. My finest birthday present would have been for him to announce that the Government’s proposals were to be withdrawn because they are nearly friendless and wholly unnecessary.

Is my noble friend aware that the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, a distinguished and recognised economist, has costed the Joint Committee proposals? The details have been sent to the Library and are freely available. He projects that the total cost of the recommendations will be nearly £500 million by 2020, broadly split between running costs of £300 million and election and referendum costs totalling £200 million—in other words, half a billion pounds in total. That is equivalent to the cost of 15,000 nurses’ salaries in one year. This £500 million compares with the total cost of running this House for the past five years of £91 million; it is five times as much. When the public wake up to this gross waste of money, will they not kick the proposed Bill firmly into touch?

My Lords, we will publish a Bill before the Summer Recess. When we do, we will have a full estimate of what a reformed House would cost. However, noble Lords would be wrong to assume that this will necessarily be an enormously expensive enterprise. After all, part of the purpose of reform is to reduce significantly the size of the House. However, we will make a full cost estimate when we publish the Bill.

My Lords, the Prime Minister recently said that he had not ruled out a referendum on Lords reform. Bearing in mind that this House was told last May, after the country had rejected the AV system, that the cost of that referendum was around £120 million and still counting, what estimate have the Government arrived at for a referendum on Lords reform in these hard-up days?

My Lords, the Government are not convinced of the case for a referendum, even though it was a recommendation of the Joint Committee of both Houses, which reported earlier this year. The noble Baroness will have to be patient until we publish the Bill, which we will do relatively soon.

My Lords, are the Government satisfied that detailed scrutiny of legislation will continue to be done in this House, regardless of whether it is elected in whole or in part?

My Lords, if we had an elected Chamber, I do not see why elected Members should not be able to give legislation exactly the same expert scrutiny as this House currently does. The noble Lord himself was formerly elected and I am sure that many of the skills that he uses now were skills that he learnt in another place.

My Lords, it is simplistic to argue that to be democratic a House of Parliament must be elected. The importance of the House rests in its function, not in its appearance. Did not the experience of the Terrorism Bill 2006, when your Lordships prevented the House of Commons enacting a Bill that allowed one Secretary of State, having talked to one policeman, to lock up any private citizen for three months without any access to law whatever, show that the unelected House is actually the defender of democracy and should be retained as such?

My Lords, I hate to say it but my noble friend is rather straying from the original Question on the Order Paper. He makes a very valuable defence of the second Chamber, and the House of Lords in particular, over the past 10 years. However, given that if this House were to be elected it would be on a different basis from the House of Commons—with different constituencies and a different electoral system—there is no reason to believe that a second Chamber, so constituted, would not be able to do some of the very valuable things that this House has done in the past.

My Lords, how can Her Majesty’s Government reassure the people of our country that in destabilising the relationship between your Lordships’ House and the other place their proposals for House of Lords abolition will not undermine the constitutional monarchy?

My Lords, I have every confidence that the robust nature of the British constitution would be able to bear well an elected second Chamber and it would have no impact whatever on the constitutional monarchy.

I think that we will hear from my noble friend Lord Tyler—and noble Lords should have a look at the third Question that we are coming to.

My Lords, returning to the original Question, can my noble friend assure the House that when an estimate is prepared in the light of the Government’s Bill in a few weeks’ time, we will have a true comparison of the future likely costs of not reforming the House along the lines of the Government’s Bill?

My Lords, I do not think that I can go quite as far as my noble friend wants. Yes, I believe that there will be a comprehensive breakdown of the costs of a reformed Chamber. As for the costs of the future of this House, that is more difficult to see, but the House needs to be aware that the total costs of this House are currently around £90 million a year, forecast to rise to £103 million in 2012-13.

My Lords, is the Leader of the House aware that some Members of this Chamber believe that the present composition is unsustainable and needs reform? Is he also aware that it is my birthday today too?

My Lords, I am very glad that it is the noble Lord’s birthday. I am surprised that we have had no questions on age limits being introduced in this House. I join him in being one who thinks that the House should be reformed.

My Lords, I am grateful for that support. Does my noble friend accept that the present House is cost-effective, and does he deplore the indiscriminate attacks on the bishops? We appreciate their presence, believe that they perform valuable duties, and we do not expect them to sleep on the embankment.

My Lords, I entirely agree with my noble friend. Bishops are eligible for the daily allowance and all the travel allowances, like any other Peer. I think that the House regards the bishops as providing very good value.