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Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, we certainly shall. Her Majesty's Government have been keen to discuss the report with international partners in order to raise the profile of Cameroon's poor human rights record. We shall use the report to underline our concerns about Cameroon. Her Majesty's

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Government have expressed concern about the treatment of the north-west detainees who were held for two years without trial in appalling prison conditions. Seven died in detention, and the High Commission followed closely the military tribunal of each of the detainees. We were concerned about well-documented claims of torture in detention and the use of hearsay evidence. For all those reasons, we have been clear that this is an issue that we shall continue to highlight. We shall attempt to bring about some positive movement.

House of Lords Reform: Joint Committee

3.22 p.m.

Baroness Miller of Hendon asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the proposed Joint Committee on the parliamentary aspects of reform of the House of Lords will be able to consider the composition of the House.

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Jay of Paddington): My Lords, it is the Government's view that the terms of reference of the Joint Committee should not include consideration of the composition of the second Chamber, which has already been fully considered by the Royal Commission chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham. The Government see the function of the Joint Committee as being to consider in detail how the two Houses of Parliament should work together in the future. The exact terms of reference will be discussed through the usual channels and will be put before both Houses in due course.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that Answer. However, I must ask her: why not? It seems incredible that the composition of this House may not be discussed by the Joint Committee of both Houses. Is this simply another example of the Government's policy of taking matters away from Parliament? This should be a matter for Parliament to decide. The matter of the Royal Commission report did not seem to be completely resolved.

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, as I hope I made clear in the final sentence of my original Answer, the exact terms of reference for the Joint Committee will be discussed, no doubt in some detail, through the usual channels. Approaches have already been made to start that process. The Government believe that time was well spent by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, and his colleagues in considering a wide range of issues relating both to the composition of this House and to other matters affecting its future. Some matters relating to the workings of both Houses were unresolved. As we have said consistently since the publication of the White Paper on reform of this House in January 1999, it would be appropriate for these to be considered by a Joint Committee.

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, the noble Baroness the Leader of the House has re-confirmed that the Joint

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Committee will not be allowed to debate the composition of this House. That is because the Government have already decided that one of the three Wakeham options will be the one that the Government prefer. That being the case, if the noble Baroness cannot tell us today which of those options has been decided upon, when will the Government be able to announce it to Parliament and to the nation?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I do not intend to be driven into a commitment on a time-frame for that decision. The noble Lord is well aware that it is a matter for ongoing discussion by the Government. I point out to the noble Lord, and to the noble Baroness on the basis of her supplementary question, that a huge number of issues relating to the future of this House and its relationship with another place do not depend on legislative change: for example, the recommendations made by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, in relation to the deregulation and scrutiny committee; the idea for a new constitutional committee, which has already been adopted in principle by this House; the concerns highlighted by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, and his colleagues in regard to particular changes; and conciliation procedures between the two Houses where there is disagreement. These are fundamental and important matters which are legitimately to be looked at by a parliamentary process and which are precisely relevant to the development of the work of this House. They do not impact on or reflect the positions regarding composition suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham. Those will be a matter for legislation in due time. When those legislative matters are to be announced, I assure your Lordships that we shall bring them first to this House.

Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank: My Lords, there appears to be a degree of confusion in what the noble Baroness has told the House. As I understood it, she said that the committee's terms of reference were open to discussion; but at the same time, she closed the door on the terms of reference covering composition. If I am wrong about that, perhaps she will be kind enough to explain exactly where we stand. Secondly, a number of the Wakeham Commission recommendations can be implemented by this House without legislation and without reference to another place. I had assumed, and perhaps the noble Baroness will confirm this, that we could progress with those, irrespective of the appointment of the committee. Thirdly, is it not the case that, where hitherto we have spoken of two-stage reform--and on these Benches we have accepted that as a necessity--what the Leader of the House now proposes within the terms of reference that she has in mind is not two-stage reform of the Lords, but three-stage reform, or perhaps even a more extended period to get matters absolutely right?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I am not sure about two, three or any number of stages. I have always rather resisted that approach to reform of this House. On the noble Lord's first point, we may be too involved in semantics. In my initial Answer to the

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noble Baroness, I said that, consistent with the position that the Government have taken for the past 18 months, since the appearance of the White Paper on reform of this House, there are parliamentary aspects that need to be discussed by a Joint Committee. I have said that the remit that the Government see for that committee should exactly reflect those parliamentary aspects. In my supplementary answer to the noble Baroness I attempted to expand on some of the matters that might legitimately be considered. I do not think that there is any inconsistency between that and saying that the terms of reference are obviously matters which need to be discussed between the usual channels. Again to repeat my original reply, those will eventually have to be put before both Houses.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that if the Joint Committee were to look at all the Wakeham proposals again, we should simply have a Wakeham Mark 2, and that would surely delay progress rather than enhance it? Is not the right approach for this House and the other place to discuss the Government's response to Wakeham when that is known?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: Yes, my Lords, I agree with my noble friend. In a broader context, it surprises me slightly that there should be a somewhat negative reaction to the announcement of the establishment of the Joint Committee from those who previously urged the Government, rightly, to make progress on this matter. We intend to make progress. To take what might be another very long period to reconsider the whole of the Wakeham proposals and the Wakeham remit would delay matters in precisely the way my noble friend described.

Lord Craig of Radley: My Lords, is the Leader of the House able to give any indication as to when the Joint Committee will begin its work?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, as I said on Monday of this week in response to a Question for Written Answer tabled by my noble friend Lord Acton, we hope to be able to agree both the terms of reference and the membership of the Joint Committee either shortly after the Summer Recess or during the spill-over period. I cannot give a precise date for the commencement of the work of the Joint Committee. However, as I said in reply to my noble friend Lord Dubs, it is the intention of the Government to move forward as quickly as possible and the Joint Committee is the next step in the process.

Lord Renton: My Lords, will the Government continue to resist any suggestion that this House should become an elected Chamber which would turn it into a mere party-political body, or microcosm of another place, and, above all, deprive us of the valuable presence of the Cross-Bench Peers?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. He will be aware that part

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of the evidence of the Labour Party to the Royal Commission, which was included in our response to the recommendations of the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, was that there should not be a second Chamber that was a replica of the other place. That was the reason why we were attracted to some of the proposals of the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, which included what I describe in shorthand as a mixed House. We have also re-emphasised at every possible opportunity our enthusiasm for the continued presence of the Cross-Benchers.

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