My Lords, the Government have today published our response to the report from the Joint Committee on the draft House of Lords Reform Bill of last Session. We have reflected, and we are now in a position to introduce a Bill. The House of Commons has today given a First Reading to a House of Lords Reform Bill introduced by the Government and copies are available in the Printed Paper Office. The Government, after a White Paper, joint pre-legislative scrutiny and many debates, have taken the next step in the legislative process and put the proposals before Parliament. The Government will ask another place to give the Bill a Second Reading before the Summer Recess.
The development of the Government’s Bill has benefited from the detailed scrutiny of the Joint Committee on the draft House of Lords Reform Bill so valuably chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Richard. The Government are grateful to the Joint Committee for its report. We have considered its report and we have accepted many of its conclusions and recommendations.
I hope it might be helpful for me to set out the key respects in which the Bill introduced today differs from the original draft Bill, and to identify the central elements of the Bill that have not changed. The Joint Committee and the Government are in agreement on key features of our proposals. We are agreed that 80% of members of the reformed second Chamber should be elected on the basis of proportional representation; that the reformed House should be smaller than the current House of Lords; that Members should serve for a single 15-year, non-renewable term; and that there should be no change to the powers and functions of the two Houses.
We have none the less made a number of significant changes to the Bill we have introduced today. The draft Bill recommended reducing the size of the House to 300 Members. The Joint Committee recommended 450 Members, and we have accepted its recommendation. The Joint Committee also recommended that the 90 appointed Members should not necessarily be expected to attend the reformed House every sitting day. The committee argued that allowing individuals to maintain relevant professional expertise would strengthen the reformed House, as it does the present House. The Government have accepted this recommendation, and consider that the same logic should apply to elected Members. To reflect this, the Bill provides that IPSA must pay Members according to their level of participation in the work of the House.
On the recommendation of the Joint Committee, we have also significantly altered Clause 2 of the Bill. It is no longer a declaratory statement that nothing in the Bill affects the primacy of the House of Commons, the powers of each House and the conventions. Instead, it now clarifies the continuing application of the Parliament Acts in the context of a reformed second Chamber.
A further substantial change intended to provide a clear differentiation between the role of MPs and that of elected Members of the reformed House is that the areas from which elected Members will be returned are now larger regions rather than the smaller electoral districts proposed in the White Paper. Using these regions means that there will be a larger number of seats in each district, which in turn would have led to significant practical issues if an STV system had been used. The Government share the Joint Committee’s view that the complexity of the electoral system is an important consideration, and that voters should have the option of simply voting for a party. The Government therefore consider that the most appropriate electoral system for the reformed House in Great Britain is a regional, semi-open list, and that is what is now proposed.
In many other respects the draft Bill and the Bill introduced today are the same. Elections to the second Chamber will happen in thirds to coincide with general elections. There will be a transitional period with existing Members leaving in thirds, as each set of elected Members arrives. Membership of the reformed second Chamber will no longer be linked to the peerage. There will be a continuing role for Church of England bishops, but in reduced number. A statutory Appointments Commission will make nominations for the 20% of appointed Members who would be expected to be non-party political. The Bill includes provision for Members of the House to be able to resign, it provides for disqualification from membership of the House, and it gives the House a power to suspend or expel Members.
Finally, the fundamental principle behind the Bill has not changed. The Government believe that those who make the laws of the land should be elected by those to whom the laws apply, and that a democratic mandate—obtained through direct elections—would afford the House greater legitimacy and thereby enhance the House’s ability to perform its core functions of revising legislation and holding the Executive to account.
I am conscious that Members around the House have taken a close interest in the cost of the Government’s proposals for reform. As promised, the Government have today published their full cost estimates alongside the impact assessment for the Bill. These, too, have been placed in the Printed Paper Office.
I hope that this overview has served to highlight the main respects in which the Government’s proposals have evolved since the publication of the draft Bill and the publication of the Joint Committee’s report on that Bill. I reiterate the Government’s thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Richard, and the other noble Lords who served on the Joint Committee, whose report has had a significant influence on our final proposals.
I said before that there is only one way to test whether a consensus on the second phase of reform of this House exists or can emerge, and that is to introduce a Bill and allow Parliament to take a view. Today, that process is under way.
My Lords, I thank the Leader of the House for making a Statement to your Lordships' House on the Government’s revised House of Lords Reform Bill, which has been introduced today in the other place and given a First Reading. I am grateful, too, for an advanced sight of the Statement. I thank the Leader and the government Chief Whip for offering to extend to 40 minutes the normal period for Back-Bench contributions to the debate today.
This country is facing enormous difficulties. We are in a double-dip recession; we have no economic growth; unemployment, especially youth unemployment, remains high. The Governor of the Bank of England did not mince his words yesterday when he spoke of the depth of the economic crisis. Further efforts will be made this week at the EU summit to try to resolve the eurozone crisis. We need jobs and we need growth; we need a change of economic strategy. Those are the country’s priorities and those are the Opposition’s priorities. What are the Government’s priorities? Apparently, they centre on further reform of your Lordships’ House. Not only is reform of your Lordships’ House not at the top of the priority list of the people of this country; it is not even at the bottom of the priority list. In fact, it is not on the list at all, because it is not a priority. Even the most positive polling figures suggest that less than a fifth of the people of this country regard further House of Lords reform as in any way urgent. Yet this is what this Government have placed at the heart of their legislative agenda; this is what the Government are focusing on today. Why are the Government making reform of your Lordships' House such a priority in the light of the economic challenges facing us?
We do not from these Benches say that constitutional reform is unimportant. From 1997 onwards in government, we brought forward a serious programme of constitutional reform, including major changes such as devolution in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Constitutional reform, including further reform of the House of Lords, goes to important questions about how Britain is governed. We on these Benches did not seek a Bill on further reform of your Lordships' House to be included in the Government’s legislative programme, but it has been; it is there; and we as the Opposition must respond to it.
Labour’s commitment to a fully elected second Chamber was explicit in its manifesto at the last general election. Labour has a long commitment to reform and has enacted that commitment. We want to see reform, but we want to get that reform right. For the Labour Party, that means a fully elected second Chamber. It means getting the powers and role of the House of Lords right, not only in itself but in relation to the House of Commons. We believe, too, that the issue is of such importance that it should be put to the people of this country in a referendum, a commitment which is strongly supported by the public according to opinion-poll evidence.
We will want to examine in detail the Government’s revised version of the House of Lords Reform Bill. The first version of the Bill, published last year, was a bad Bill. We thought so; the Joint Committee on the Bill thought so; and the alternative report from the Joint Committee’s minority group thought so. Pretty well everyone thought so, apart from the Deputy Prime Minister.
The Government are proposing their revised Bill in the face of serious and searching criticisms of their first attempt. We will need to consider how far this version gets in dealing with the very big questions which need to be resolved, including those about the primacy of the House of Commons. The Government’s revised Bill today attempts to shore up in various ways the wholly discredited Clause 2 of the original Bill, on Commons primacy, by scrapping the provision entirely and replacing it with a statement in the Bill about the applicability of the Parliament Acts. The Bill also repeals the preamble to the Parliament Act 1911. Are there any further constitutional implications of repealing the preamble? I look forward to hearing the views on this issue of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and of my noble and learned friend Lord Goldsmith.
On the applicability of the Parliament Acts, can the Leader of the House explain why, in the Government’s response to the report of the Joint Committee, which has also been published today, they refer on page 7 to their response to recommendation 84 of the Joint Committee, on the Parliament Acts, when their responses to the recommendations go from 82 to 86, without recommendation 84 being included at all? That is interesting.
There are also questions about the powers of the second Chamber; about the exact proportion of elected Members, the length of their terms, whether they should be renewable; about the system of election; about the relationship between the Lords and the Commons, about the position of this House in relation to the outcome of a referendum in Scotland on independence; about the place of bishops or other religious representation; about transitional arrangements, and about the costs of the Government’s reforms.
On the question of costs, the Government have, as the Leader of the House said, finally published the costings today on their revised proposals. I note that these include provision for a number of allowances for Members of an elected House, including an accommodation allowance and a staffing allowance. The costings do not, however, include the cost of elections for the House, put separately by the Government at £85.7 million for each of the elections proposed. Will the Leader tell the House what the Government believe the total net cost of all their proposals will be?
Can the Leader of the House explain to Members of your Lordships’ House what the position will be in an elected House in relation to remuneration? The Government have been briefing the media heavily in the past few days that Members of the new elected House will not be paid a salary but will instead have a daily allowance before tax of £300. However, new Section 7A of Clause 46 of the Bill specifies that,
“members of the House of Lords are to be paid … on a monthly basis in arrears”.
Will the Leader of the House clarify which is correct?
Of huge importance to my party and to the Joint Committee, the revised Bill does not contain a referendum. There is little logic in a position which says that we have referendums to decide whether we have city mayors, but not to decide whether to alter radically the composition and structure of our Parliament. We shall see whether the Government’s present non-inclusion of a referendum in the Bill survives whatever parliamentary processes the Bill faces. However, can the Leader of the House say why he believes that 55%—according to the latest opinion poll—of the people of this country are wrong in wanting to have their say on these matters in a referendum?
On these matters, Labour, whether in the other place or in your Lordships’ House, will seek as an Opposition to scrutinise, amend and improve the Bill during its passage through Parliament. Lords reform is a serious issue and we expect the Government to take Parliament seriously, too, in considering it. That is why we want to see proper scrutiny of the Bill in the other place, where it will be taken first. That is why we will oppose in the other place the proposed timetable for the Bill, which would, effectively, guillotine debate. However, we are a party in favour of reform, which is why Ed Miliband also announced yesterday that Labour in the Commons will be voting for a Second Reading of the Bill. For a Bill about which we have real reservations, this is an unusual step for an Opposition. There is indeed plenty of precedent for legislative proposals being opposed at this stage.
For example, in 1999, the party opposite, including 11 members of the current Cabinet, proposed and voted for a reasoned amendment and against the Second Reading of the Labour Government’s 1999 House of Lords Bill on hereditary Peers. We know that there are members of my party, both in this House and the other place, who would wish to vote against the Bill for reasons of principle. I respect those who hold this view, but the shadow Cabinet, of which I am a member, disagrees with them, and Labour will vote for a Second Reading in the other place later this month.
It is next month, forgive me. It is not July—hell.
We know, too, that there are great differences of opinion—vast gulfs of opinion—between the constituent parties of the coalition, and within the ranks of the Conservative Party, both in the other place and in this House. As the Prime Minister said in the other place earlier today, there are those in all parties who oppose further reform of the House of Lords, just as there are those who support further reform. We shall see how those differences emerge as the Bill goes through its Commons stages.
It is likely that those stages will be protracted. The Bill is, I suspect, many months away from coming before this House, if indeed it manages to get out of the Commons. Given the dates for Second Reading in the other place, it is likely that the House of Commons will go into Committee on the Bill when it sits in September. Recently the noble Lord the Leader of the House all but issued as a threat the possibility that this House would have to sit in September to deal with the Financial Services Bill. Can I inform him that in order to deal with a range of matters, such as the Government’s legislative programme and their record on jobs and growth, we on these Benches would welcome sitting in September when the Commons will be deliberating on this Bill. I ask the Leader of the House to arrange now that this House should indeed sit in September to consider these important matters.
On the overall matter of further reform of your Lordships’ House, there are wide differences of opinion across the House. That was clearly demonstrated right across the House in the days of debate we have had on the issue recently, both in considering the report of the Joint Committee and the alternative report and in the days devoted to the constitutional issues during the debate in this Chamber on the gracious Speech. However, what was also demonstrated in those debates was a seriousness about this issue—a determination that it should be considered properly, and a clear intention to scrutinise fully whatever proposals the Government place before Parliament. Can the Leader of the House give us a commitment that if this Bill does get to your Lordships’ House, the Members of this House will have all the time they need to scrutinise the proposals fully and properly?
We have revised proposals before us today. In this House we have time—possibly a good deal of time—to consider these proposals while they are in the House of Commons. That is what I expect that many individual Members of this House will wish to do. For our part, both in the other place and, if necessary, in your Lordships’ House, we will ensure that the Government’s proposals are properly debated, properly considered, properly questioned and properly scrutinised. That is the job of the Opposition; and starting from the publication of the Bill today, that is the job that we will be getting on with.
My Lords, having read what Mr Miliband said in support of the prospect of reform, I was surprised by much of what the noble Baroness said this afternoon. I was very impressed with what Mr Miliband said yesterday. He pledged the Labour Party’s support for the Second Reading of the Bill, even before he had had an opportunity to see it. Perhaps when he has read it, he will decide to support a programme Motion to rush it through the House of Commons and into this House as quickly as possible.
The noble Baroness asked whether this should be a priority. It has been hanging around for so long that we have to get around to it at some stage. It started in 1998-99 as a great priority of the previous Government. They published their last White Paper in 2008. I dare say that if the Labour Party had won the election it would have brought forward a Bill. This coalition has decided that it is time to bring this debate to an end and to ask Parliament what its view is, and it is right that we should do so.
There is also the bizarre suggestion that when important things are happening, Parliament cannot decide on other important issues. It is worth reflecting that on 6 and 7 June 1944, the House of Lords was debating the all-important Butler Education Act on Second Reading. Of course, getting growth into the economy is important, but that is not going to be done just in Parliament; it is going to be done by businesses and entrepreneurs up and down the country.
The noble Baroness reiterated the Labour Party’s view that what is most important in reform is that the House should be 100% elected. Respectfully, we disagree, as did the Joint Committee. Although she did not say that the powers between the Houses should be codified, I think that is what she meant. Again, respectfully, we disagree. She said that there should be a referendum. We see no case whatever for a referendum on the issue. Parliament should decide. It would cost £80 million to have a referendum on this issue, which was included as part of all three main parties’ political manifestos. I urge the Opposition to have more confidence in their manifesto, which is only two years old. I hate to point out to noble Lords opposite that there were no referendums in 1958 or 1999, when the composition of the House was changed, and we see no case for one now.
On the question of primacy, it is true that the Joint Committee had a substantial debate on Clause 2, helped by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, and the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and the Government reflected on that. That is why we have changed the Bill in this way. This is in part because this Bill is about the composition of a reformed House of Lords and the transition arrangements for getting there. It is not about the functions, powers and role of the two Houses, which we would like to see remain unaffected by that change. The Bill clearly states that the Parliament Acts of 1911 and 1949 will continue to apply after the introduction of elected Members.
The Parliament Acts underpin the primacy of the House of Commons in statute. They limit the legislative power of the Lords and ensure that any Administration with a majority in the Commons can ultimately pass legislation without agreement of the House of Lords. We are not aware of any further constitutional implications of repealing the preamble to the 1911 Act.
On the questions of cost raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, she rightly pointed out that the cost of election was excluded from the cost of the House; it stands at £85.7 million every five years. We believe that at the end of the transition period the projected additional annual cost of the House of Lords will be £13.6 million. Of course there will be other associated costs during the course of transition. As for pay, there is something inherently useful about the current arrangements whereby Peers have a daily allowance, and we wish to replicate that through a per diem salary that would be paid monthly in arrears but would be assessed on daily attendance in this House.
In the course of the next few months, there will be many opportunities to discuss some of these issues, but it is also right for the House of Commons now to take its view. I have no idea when the House of Commons is going to discuss these issues, and whether it will be early or late in the autumn. We also have work to do and we should get on with that before dealing with the Bill when it gets to us some time in the winter.
My Lords, for the avoidance of doubt can I say explicitly that if my Government had been in power now and had faced the economic situation which the country faces now, this would not have been at the top of our priorities and we would not be discussing this Bill in the House of Commons today?
My Lords, I will be brief. I, too, thank the Leader of the House for repeating this Statement on a Bill that will clearly repay careful study, and for agreeing to this extended time of questioning.
It was entirely understandable that the new coalition Government introduced a full and challenging legislative programme that required an extended first Session. Inevitably some of that legislation was controversial. Does the Leader agree that every one of those Bills was carefully scrutinised in this House? Does he agree that, thanks to the hard work of colleagues from all around the House, each one of those Bills was greatly improved, so much so that during the period of scrutiny the Government had time to reflect on points that had been made and brought forward very many changes to their own legislation? As a starting point, does the Leader agree that this House has demonstrated time and again its ability to fulfil its responsibilities in the scrutiny and improvement of legislation?
Secondly, does the Leader agree that the House has changed greatly in recent years, and that time and again it has shown its willingness to change? Indeed, across the House there is agreement that further incremental change is still there for the taking.
Thirdly, will the Leader accept that my colleagues and I welcome that the Bill will endorse that 20% of the membership of the House will be appointed, but will he assure the House that the appointed Members will be genuinely independent and without any party political allegiance?
My Lords, I am grateful for the Convenor’s questions. Of course I agree with him: the House of Lords, not just since the general election but broadly since 1999, has done a good job of scrutiny and worked well on Bills. I have put on record many times that this is not about the current effectiveness of the House of Lords, which is recognised as having done its job extremely well and having improved legislation. The Government’s view is to improve the legitimacy of the House—indeed, to strengthen its ability to hold the Government to account and to challenge the decisions of the House of Commons.
On the noble Lord’s second question, yes, the House has changed substantially throughout the 20th century, most recently in 1999, and has always accepted such changes. Many of my colleagues in the coalition regard the transitional period as being extremely long. There was no transitional period, or not a very big one, in 1998-99, but there will be a substantial one for the new House to get used to the new arrangements over three electoral cycles.
I confirm that the 20% appointed Members will be appointed by a statutory Appointments Commission, as laid out in the Bill, and will be non-party political Members of this House.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Leader for his clarification of the Government’s proposals. We on these Benches recognise the need for some reform of this House, and welcome the opportunity that the Bill will give for a thorough debate about the future of Parliament. In particular, we are pleased to see that the Government endorse the Joint Committee’s recommendation on the continuing contribution of the Lords spiritual to a reformed House, albeit that the decision to raise the proposed size of the House to 450 from the original proposal of 300 suggests that the proportion of Bishops, at the number of 12, may be too low if the total number is revised upwards.
We have always said that we will assess the proposals on the basis of what makes for the good governance of Britain. I therefore raise two questions. First, as a member of the Joint Committee, I remained puzzled throughout the course of its work about how the Government’s expressed desire for a more assertive House could be squared with the confident assertion that a reformed House could be relied upon to exercise the necessary self-restraint required to guarantee the primacy and effectiveness of the House of Commons. Will the Leader help us to be as certain as he appears to be that the Parliament Act will prevent the serious risk of dysfunction in the relationship between the two Houses?
Secondly, as your Lordships will be aware, the Church of England has always argued for diverse religious representation in this House so that it properly reflects the diversity of civil society as a whole. The Government appear not to have accepted the Joint Committee’s recommendation that it is necessary for the Bill to make explicit reference to the inclusion of major faiths in a reformed House. How is it proposed that the Appointments Commission can ensure that a reformed House will reflect the religious heritage and cultural diversity of Britain today?
My Lords, I reiterate a view that I have long held and which the Government also hold: the Lords spiritual play a valuable and important role in the House and make an important contribution. The right reverend Prelate wonders about the numbers. I think it was the Joint Committee that suggested a reduction to 12 Bishops. The proposal in the Bill is that there should be five named Bishops and Archbishops, and then seven others chosen by the Church of England.
On two key questions of self-restraint and how this can be achieved, of course nothing can be guaranteed. It depends on the House evolving, and its new relationship with the second Chamber, which either will or will not change. It will be up to the new House, and the House of Commons, to decide how best to govern itself.
On the second question the right reverend Prelate raises, he is right to point out that we have not accepted that there should be an explicit condition on the statutory Appointments Commission to put in Peers of other faiths and make sure they are represented. There is no such view on the current Appointments Commission, yet it works extremely well. Other faiths have been introduced into the House, and I hope that that will continue.
My Lords, I did explain at the very beginning and I repeat that it has been the custom of these extended debates for a senior member of the Liberal Democrat Benches to speak after the noble and right reverend Bishop. It was my error in saying “my noble friend Lord Dholakia”. I apologise; I should have said “my noble friend Lord Tyler”—which I did say—followed by “the noble Lord, Lord Richard”.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Dholakia is not able to be here, and I have been asked to respond. I am very sorry if I am holding up the noble Lord, Lord Richard, because I am looking forward very much to his response. He and other members of the committee will agree that the Government have in the main responded to our report.
Has my noble friend the Leader noted very intriguing variations in consistency on this issue? He will have noted, I think, that David Cameron and George Osborne voted for the 80/20 hybrid House as long ago as February 2003, as indeed I did. However, a great many others seem to have changed their minds since. I particularly welcome—and I think that other members of the Joint Committee will join me in this—the fact that the Government have taken such trouble with a very robust and comprehensive analysis of the cost projections to lay to rest the otherwise very speculative scaremongering expenditure estimates that were given to us previously. That is very helpful. That also responds to the report recommendations.
May I ask my noble friend the Leader to expand in due course, not necessarily now, on the true comparison between the Government’s proposals in this very useful document on the projection of cost and what would otherwise happen if the Government’s proposals did not go through? If the size of the House continued to expand, the cost of this House would of course also increase dramatically.
Yes, my Lords, we most certainly can. My noble friend is entirely correct. There has been a very robust analysis of the cost, including an examination of what the cost might have been if no reform had taken place—it would increase substantially. I said in reply to the Leader of the Opposition that the net cost in the first year after transition would be an extra £13.6 million per year, and I stand by that amount. I am very happy to write to my noble friend about how the costs have been robustly examined. I think the House will find that when it looks at the Explanatory Memorandum and the reply to the Joint Committee of both Houses, it will see very clearly how those costs have been reached and how they are substantially different from the ones proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey.
My Lords, it was indeed a privilege and a pleasure, although perhaps not a treasure beyond measure, to have been asked to chair the Joint Committee. It was a fascinating experience, and I greatly enjoyed it. We exposed a very large number of issues in the course of it, some of which I am happy to say the Government have taken on board. It is now proposed that the size of the House should be 450 rather than 300. That is thoroughly sensible. However, the main issue that the Joint Committee spent a great deal of time on was raised by the noble and right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester: namely, the primacy of the House of Commons and the relationship between the two Houses.
The Government are quite right to put in the provision clarifying totally the issue of the Parliament Acts. There was a lacuna there, and it was clearly pointed out to the Joint Committee by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith. The Government have put that right, and that is to be welcomed, but I am not sure whether merely dealing with primacy in that way, and only in that way, in the Bill will be sufficient. I ask the Leader of the House whether he will look at this issue of primacy again, and at whether there are ways in which one could perhaps not exactly buttress the primacy of the House of Commons but at least harden it.
There was one Joint Committee recommendation which the Government did not accept, and I would be grateful if the Leader of the House could tell me why. It came originally from the Cunningham report, and was that you could not codify the conventions dealing with the relationship between the two Houses and that you should not put them in statute. That I entirely agreed with. On the other hand, as we suggested, each House could almost simultaneously pass resolutions in identical terms spelling out what that relationship is and what the conventions underlying that relationship were. In other words, you would have a concordat spelt out in two documents between the two Houses that would set out the basic relationship between the two. I am not suggesting that that is immutable and can inevitably last in perpetuity, but I do say that although you cannot guarantee the primacy of the House of Commons in perpetuity—it cannot be done—you can produce a set of proposals that make it far more likely that that primacy will last than if you do not have those proposals in the Bill.
The Government should therefore perhaps look again at whether you cannot harden that part of the relationship between the two Houses, and I ask the noble Lord to look at it.
My Lords, the noble Lord is of course entirely correct that a large part of his report and the evidence that he received was on precisely this point about powers and primacy. There is a difference of opinion. My view, and the Government’s view, is that we should not worry too much about this at this stage. There is no need to do so. What could be a potential outcome of this? We could end up with an elected House having less power than the current House. That would be completely absurd. In the Bill, the Government have protected the current rights and privileges of the House of Commons and the House of Lords and have asserted that the Bill is about composition and not about powers at all.
The noble Lord, Lord Richard, has made an entirely sensible observation: that one way around this is to look again at the conventions that exist between the two Houses, and to ask each House to pass some sort of resolution. Well, maybe that is exactly what will happen, but there is no need for it to happen now or before Royal Assent of this Bill, or indeed before 2015, which is the anticipated date of the first elections. However, it is certainly a suggestion that a successor House may well wish to look at sensibly.
My Lords, I appreciate the way that the Government have taken on board the main principles of the Joint Committee. I note that the Bill now overlaps in most significant respects with the recommendations of the royal commission chaired a few years ago by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, but with one significant difference. The Wakeham commission allowed for the possibility of at least a few experienced politicians being appointed to the new second Chamber. How does the Leader of the House envisage providing, under the Bill, for people who have perhaps stood for election to the House of Commons two or three times and who would not necessarily be tempted to stand again for election to this House but who have a huge amount to offer in the way of political experience and wisdom? If there was no such provision in a new Chamber, would he not say that this was a significant loss?
My Lords, the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, makes two valuable points. First, he is entirely correct that there is a firm line of thought between the conclusions of the royal commission chaired by my noble friend Lord Wakeham, the White Papers produced by the Labour Party when it was in government, the draft Bill and, indeed, the Bill that we have published today. That is why I have said that very little is new in all this; the noble and right reverend Lord is entirely correct. The second point that he raises is more difficult and more intriguing. It is right that unless former distinguished Members of the House of Commons were prepared to stand for election under their party label, we would lose some of that expertise. Having said that, I do not think that it would be beyond the terms of reference of the statutory Appointments Commission to select a small number of most eminent politicians—a very select few—who might be interested in serving the nation and this House without a party political label.
My Lords, my noble friend will surely remember that it is only a few years ago that the Public Administration Select Committee of the House of Commons concluded that the principal cause of today’s widespread public disillusionment with our political system is the virtually untrammelled control by the Executive of the elected House of Commons. The committee reached important conclusions. First, that there is a need to ensure that the domination of Parliament by the Executive, including the political party machines, is reduced and not increased and, secondly, that,
“the second chamber has to be neither rival nor replica … but genuinely complementary”,
to the Commons, and therefore, “as different as possible”. On that very sound basis, coming from the other place, would my noble friend take note of the fact that the principle underlying this Bill is one which will have to be examined critically and seriously, because it is fundamental to the good working of this constitution as we have enjoyed it for so many years?
My Lords, I agree with my noble and learned friend that this Bill should be fully examined and I know that it will be. I agree with the examples that he uses: the control of the Executive in another place, the domination of Parliament by the Executive and the need for differences between this House and the House of Commons. However, I come, and the Government have come, to a different conclusion. I see these reforms as strengthening this House by giving it the authority of the electorate to be more assertive and occasionally to be more beastly to the House of Commons, to hold it to account and to challenge the decisions that it takes. This House will be able to do that far better having been elected than simply having been appointed.
My Lords, I have no wish to extend discourtesy in public life, as the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, did when he described my costings of the Richard report as complete nonsense. I will not apply those words to the Government’s costings. However, would the noble Lord the Leader of the House accept that their costings of £220 million omit a large number of costs that will certainly arise under the Bill—for example, the costs of election—and therefore do not stand a moment’s close scrutiny? If he will not, will he agree to refer those costings to an independent referee, such as the Institute for Fiscal Studies, which can examine their costings of their proposals and my costings of the Richard report, and give the public the correct assessment of the costs that they will have to pay through their pocket as VAT, income tax and so on?
My Lords, the underlying assumptions and cost projections are in the public domain today. I fully expect that they will be given robust scrutiny by the IFS, the TaxPayers’ Alliance, the Labour Party and anyone else who wishes to examine them. Of course, the Government will reply to any questions raised on costs, which I believe have been reached in a robust manner.
My Lords, does the Minister accept that the decision to have a list system will mean that this House would be in effect appointed by the political parties in many cases? The people they would appoint would be those who would not in other circumstances be chosen for this House. Many of those who work in this House would not wish to fight an election in those circumstances. This proposal makes for the worst conceivable kind of appointment to this House. That is why, above all, we should look at this Bill extremely carefully and, I hope, recognise that that which is, although illogical, is better than that which would just be fatal.
My Lords, apart from powers, one of the key areas will be the electoral system, which is different from the one originally proposed in the draft Bill. It is different from what was suggested by the Joint Committee, although the committee suggested some improvements to the original system on which this is based. Under this system, it is difficult for independents to be elected, which is why we have reserved 20% of the House to independents who will be put here through the statutory Appointments Commission. It is beyond doubt that it is a proportional system. Therefore, there will be no natural majority for any Government, which will preserve one of the strengths of this House.
Will the Leader of the House at least consider that, after the White Paper and all the deliberations, consultations, and discussions he has made a bad Bill worse? First, as has just been pointed out, the new senators will be less independent than originally proposed because not only will the list system make them more loyal to parties but they will have to be determined on the list by the party leaders. Secondly, they will be more likely to intervene in the legislative process and the work of the House of Commons because they will have no constituency work to do and can spend all their time dealing with matters of politics and legislation.
Thirdly, I am sceptical about the cost. I do not know what the Leader of the House would think of any new company which starts up with 450 employees and bases its overheads and costs assessment on the hope that they would not turn up to work, which seems to be what he is doing. Above all, will the Leader of the House explain—if he knows it but Members of the other House do not—that you cannot ring-fence by regulations or by law the natural dynamic of politics? If you choose 300 senators with constituencies 10 times as big but with no constituency work for a term three times as long, whatever the regulations that will become through the dynamic the primary House. If there is scepticism from the Members of the House of Commons about this cast-iron guarantee that they have been given, will he refer them to the cast-iron guarantees that were given by Mr Straw that the Freedom of Information Act would be ring-fenced so that it did not apply to MPs allowances?
My Lords, the noble Lord says that Peers elected under this new system will be even less independent. We are not calling them senators at the moment: we are not calling them anything. I think that the Bill calls them Members of the House of Lords, but they will not necessarily be Lords.
The noble Lord’s charge is that they will be less independent than they are today. I am not sure that that holds water at all. At the moment, Peers get appointed by their party leaders and presumably act accordingly. Under this arrangement they will be elected by the electorate, but once they are here they will not need to be reselected to stand again because it will for one term only. Do I agree with the noble Lord that they will intervene in improving scrutiny of legislation? I think they will. This Bill is now in the House of Commons. It is up to Members of the House of Commons to decide whether the noble Lord is right and whether that will aid the scrutiny of legislation or improve it. I believe that it will improve it and that elected Members of this House will be more assertive than the current House.
My Lords, I hope that the Leader of the House will agree that there has been a long tradition that when Law Lords retired they made a significant contribution to the deliberations of this House and that it is an important tradition to maintain. Will he tell me whether the special position of the Law Lords has been given consideration in the present Bill? It seems to me that it will be very difficult—if not impossible—for former Law Lords to become Members of this House through the appointment system.
Law Lords do not retire at a particularly youthful age. If the application for appointment to this House is to be made subsequent to their retirement, as one would expect, the prospects of obtaining Law Lords in this House is going to be remote. I understand that at present the appointment of independent Cross-Bench and other Members is at the rate of four a year. That will be reduced to two a year, which is hardly consistent with dealing with a category of that sort.
My Lords, I have every sympathy with what the noble and learned Lord says because I am one of many who voted against the constitutional vandalism of tearing out the Law Lords from this House five or six years ago. However, it is a bit like toothpaste; you cannot put it back into the tube. I think we miss the Law Lords and I think they probably miss us, which is why the noble and learned Lord is suggesting that we should find a way back. I have to tell the noble and learned Lord that there is no guarantee that they would be appointed by the Appointments Commission. However, I do not believe that because they are old they are of no further use to Parliament and to the nation, and after 2015 it may be that particularly eminent Law Lords will still be appointed.
My Lords, my noble friend has repeatedly told the House that at the last general election all parties had some form of commitment to election of this House in their manifestos—they were markedly different, I would remind him. That being the case, no elector in this country had the opportunity of expressing concern on this issue. How, therefore, in all logic can someone who prides himself on his democratic credentials—namely, Mr Clegg—possibly argue against the validity and fairness of a referendum on this very important constitutional subject?
My Lords, my right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister is really not at all convinced that there is a strong case for a referendum on this matter. Earlier, I said that the cost of a referendum would be around £80 million. At a time of economic austerity, this seems—
It is all very well noble Lords laughing at this. The public will see that they are laughing at a huge amount of public money being spent on a referendum when all three parties and the coalition manifesto said that there should be reform of this House.
On the contrary, I think that noble Lords were probably laughing at the transparent inadequacy of the answer. We now see on page 36 of the Bill the enormous constituencies that are proposed for electing Members of this House. There are eight of these huge constituencies and it will take the votes of millions of people to send Members to your Lordships’ House in the future. Does the noble Lord the Leader of the House really think that people sent here for 15 years with the backing of millions of votes are going to defer to Members of the House of Commons, who will be sent to represent constituencies with electorates of no more than 80,000 on a minute proportion of the votes for only five years? Self-evidently, Members of this House will be much more powerful than colleagues at the other end of the Corridor. I hope that the noble Lord will answer that in terms of how it will automatically affect primacy. I do not think that Members of this House will go on deferring to the Members of that House in the way that we do while we are unelected and they are elected.
My Lords, I agree with some of what the noble Baroness says: I think that elected Members will probably defer less than is the case with the current House. That of course is something that the House of Commons will need to take into account when it comes to its conclusions on this, and it is right that it should do so. There would be no point in doing this if this House were less assertive than it currently is. The fact that Peers will have been elected will give us an authority and legitimacy that we do not have at the moment. However, I think it will be argued by Members of the other place that the House of Commons has ultimate legislative supremacy because of the provisions of the Parliament Acts, because the Government of the day is formed from the party or parties that can command a majority in the House of Commons and because the House of Commons has control of financial matters. These are the protections for another place.
My Lords, I strongly endorse what the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, has just said. Certainly, if I am elected to this House, I shall be very assertive. However, looking at the way that the list system operates, I am not sure that the Prime Minister will put me on the list, thereby completely destroying the independence of this House, upon which our constitution depends. I say to my noble friend that it is very important that this debate is conducted in accurate terms. I therefore ask him and his colleagues to desist from saying things which are simply not true; for example, the assertion, as contained in the Statement, that those who make the laws should be elected. This House does not make the laws; the other place makes the laws. Nothing gets passed into law without the agreement of the other place. If this is the principle upon which the Government are founding their ridiculous Bill—that those who are elected must make the laws—then does the reverse apply? If it does, how on earth can the primacy of the House of Commons be maintained?
My Lords, I have made the point about the primacy of the House of Commons and I stand by it. Of course it is an essential principle of democracy that those who make the law should be elected and of course it is true that this House makes the law, as we are going to be doing later this afternoon. My noble friend is right. No law becomes law without the agreement of the House of Commons. This afternoon, this law cannot become law without the agreement of the House of Lords.
My Lords, I am aged 78 and I expect personal decomposition before we ever agree on the composition of this House. I welcome what is in the Bill about the independent Members and the statutory commission but I raise one single question. How can the noble Lord the Leader of the House justify the phrase in the Bill that,
“present party political activity or affiliation does not necessarily preclude selection”,
as an independent Member? I do not think that that is right.
My Lords, I think the whole House would agree that the noble Lord looks to be in robust health and I wish him continuation of that for very many long years. The line he takes is the point made by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries. It is our view that non-party political Members will be appointed. There may be a case for saying that former eminent politicians who have no interest in continuing a party political role could be selected by the Statutory Appointments Commission, but it is a statutory commission and not one which is guided by party politicians.
My Lords, why did the Government ask Her Majesty the Queen to appoint a record number of new life Peers, all of whom are of course personally very welcome, so that we now have a record number of some 660 life Peers? Why did they do that when they were already planning to reduce us so drastically, perhaps to some 300? What has the Government’s logic been in this process?
I do not think that there is any difference. We decided there should be a transition arrangement over three parliamentary terms. That will give the existing House, including any new Peers appointed since 2010, the opportunity to remain here until 2025 if they survive that long and if they survive the process of transition.
My Lords, will the Leader of the House reconsider the reply that he gave just now to the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth? Will he accept that there are few, if any, who dispute the principle that those who make the laws of the land should be elected by those to whom the laws apply? But in the interests of ensuring that the Deputy Prime Minister does not mislead the House of Commons or the country, will he undertake to find an opportunity to explain to the Deputy Prime Minister that Members of the present House of Lords do not make the laws of the land but confine themselves to advising those who do—the elected Members of the House of Commons? Therefore, the whole project of this Bill is based on a fallacy, and a dangerous fallacy at that, because it would confuse and diminish the present clear-cut accountability of the Government to the people through their elected representatives in the House of Commons.
My Lords, all I can say is, you could have fooled me. I have seen the noble Lord robustly defend or indeed attack a piece of legislation in this House. But I meet with the Deputy Prime Minister very regularly and I shall draw the noble Lord’s remarks to his attention.
I think we will hear from the noble Baroness, Lady Saltoun.
My Lords, what makes the Government think that, if this House is to continue to do what it is doing at present, 300 Members will be sufficient to service the committees and the offices that have to be serviced? I have worked out that 300 would not be nearly enough and that it would take 450 Members to do the job. Would the noble Lord care to comment?