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The Statement says, commendably, that the main aim of the Government now is to seek consensusI wonder what they have been doing for the past 10 yearsand we welcome this new approach. Do I therefore understand the Statement as saying that there will therefore be no Bill to alter your Lordships House before the next general election?
I can confirm that the cross-party group has met twice in the past four months and I endorse the
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Can the noble Lord identify the other interest groups that he says will be involved? Who will decide on these new groups? Perhaps it will be the new constitutional adviser, the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill. How will the public be involved? Are there going to be focus groups, road shows, perhaps even citizens juries? If there is public consultation on changing your Lordships House, it surely must be on a fully informed basis about its character and the work that the House currently does so well. Perhaps the noble Lord should consider discussing with the Lord Speaker investment in a public educational programme to enable that consultation to take place. Where does public involvement end? If this is part of the process for a major new constitutional settlement, will there be consideration of a referendum before such changes are made to our Parliament?
The Statement attacks the anomaly of hereditary Peers. An anomaly is not the worst thing I have been called, but if we are going to trade anomalies, what about the continuing scandal of the Governments refusal to engage in any discussion whatever about the serious anomaly of Scottish MPs voting on purely English issues? The so-called anomaly of the remaining 92 hereditary Peers is the result of massive votes in both Houses and the formal parliamentary undertaking given by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, that it will go only when stage two has taken place. That undertaking remains, as the noble and learned Lord defined it, binding in honour. Hereditary Peers are ready to leave, we always have been, but on the completion of a general settlement promised in 1999. I know that the current Lord Chancellor is an honourable man. Can I take it that he and the Minister remain bound by that government undertaking to Parliament?
The Statement accepts the total rejection of Mr Straws 50:50 plan by both Houses, but does the Lord Chancellor now intend only to pursue an 80 per cent or 100 per cent elected House? The Statement sets out a major programme of technical work. Will the Minister say if any work is being done by officials on modelling a fully appointed House, which has been asked for by this House? Much of the work programme that the Minister has laid out is necessary, but there is a massive difference between a 100 per cent elected House and an 80:20 solution. There are differences in the nature of any mandate, the place of Cross-Bench Peers and indeed the place of the right reverend Prelates. Separate strands of work are probably needed on the two options. For example, does the model of a 100 per cent elected House, on which the Government are working, exclude the right reverend Prelates entirely?
The Minister is right to point out that all this needs a further White Paper, but on one thing we do not need any White Paper: the proposal that the powers of this House should be restrained. The purpose of Parliamentindeed, its dutyis to control the Executive. Two strong, independent Houses working in harness will do that better than one House, dominated as it is by the Executive, dictating the powers of the other. The Statement points to a massive recodification of the Parliament Acts and of the powers and the role of this House. It calls it vital to restrain your Lordships House. I profoundly disagree. The Lord Chancellor is cautious in much of what he proposes, but while accepting the existing conventionsincluding the primacy of the other place, which is entrenched in the Parliament Acts and in financial privilegeI urge him to be far braver than he is about the role and powers of any reformed House of Lords.
Yes, this House has been more assertive since 1999, and government has been none the worse for it. Some of us might say it has been a lot better. If a reformed House kept and used its existing powers with even more confidence, things might get even better still. We welcome the open manner in which the Lord Chancellor is proceeding, and we will join in his search for consensus, but as to statutorily containing your Lordships procedures or reducing your Lordships powers, I can promise the Minister nothing.
Lord Tyler: My Lords, I thank the Minister on behalf of my noble friends, and we welcome him to his post. The Prime Minister, in his Statement on 3 July, said that he intended to press ahead with reform. It is fair to say that if this is pressing ahead, it is a snail-like process. Hearing the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, apparently wanting to slow down that process after 95 years reminds me that the Duke of York at least marched his troops up to the top of the hill; the noble Lord seems to be more energy-efficient in that respect, and is not even bothering to march them up to the top.
In Cornwall, we have the word dreckly. It is much used by plumbers and others in the sense that the Spanish use the word mañana, but with less urgency. After 95 years, it is fair to say that todays Statement does not take us one step further. It fulfils the promise made by the Prime Minister that there would be a Statement, but scarcely takes us further than that.
The Statement accepts the facts of political life, however. The House of Commons has voted decisively. The leaderships of all three parties are committed to reformeven, I think, the Front Benches in this House. The new Prime Minister and Government have reiterated the former commitments. I hope the Statement gives the so-called refuseniks in both Houses the opportunity to recognise that from now on our job as parliamentarians is to try constructively to contribute to the process, rather than to slow it down or filibuster to make it impossible to make reasonable progress.
I seek some assurances on behalf of my noble friends. If there is to be no Bill as such in the coming Session, why would it not be possible now to give us a promise of a draft Bill for pre-legislative scrutiny? The Statement refers to draft clauses, but surely it would be better still to have a full draft Bill in front of a Joint Committee of both Houses so that we could have a comprehensive view of this and not exclusively seek solutions at one end of the building that may exclude those from the other end.
I accept that the Minister has a personal interest, but can he give us an assurance that the so-called Hunt report is dead and buried and will not be exhumed? There has been unanimous rejection of various attempts to clip the wings of the present House of Lords, which was killed off effectively by the Cunningham committee and by the unanimous decision of both Houses that the existing powers and responsibilities of your Lordships House should stand as now. The Statement is ambiguous on that point. On one hand, it says that the Cunningham committee recommendations are effectively the baseline for our discussions, but then it talks about reopening the whole question of powers. Will the Minister give us an explicit assurance that that will not be the case until reform takes place?
We also seek an assuranceand this is relevant to the debate in your Lordships House tomorrowthat the decision on the hereditary Peers by-elections, whatever that may be, will not be allowed to slow up progress on the comprehensive reform that the Government are clearly determined upon.
Will the Minister assure us that the Government will steadfastly stand by the primacy of the Commons, referred to in the Statement, even if that means that in the last resort, and possible after manifesto commitments have been made, the Parliament Acts can be employed to secure reform?
Your Lordships will have noticed that Liberal Democrats in both Houses have voted for reform by substantial majorities, and indeed in line with their party policyunlike the other parties. My party will review its commitment to democratic reform of this House at its autumn conference, but I am confident that we will reiterate our commitment. I am sure that if we do not get legislation before the general election, we will fulfil the hopes of the Lord Chancellor that we will recommit ourselves in our manifesto. I hope that in the mean time the other parties will do the same.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I am grateful for what I thought was some welcome in those two speeches for the approach that the Government have taken. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that the Statement is taking place before tomorrows interesting debate on the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Steel. We are damned if we do and damned if we dont. If we had not published the Statement before the debate on the Bill but had done so next week, noble Lords would have felt that we were not being completely straight with the House. We do not want to undermine or inhibit the discussion tomorrow; we thought that it would be
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I welcome the measured way in which the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, responded. We want to build a consensus. With regard to a Bill before the next election, the Statement makes it clear that our aim is to publish a White Paper by the end of the year. That would then lead to further discussion and then to this partys manifesto for the next election. That means that we are not rushing forward with legislation, but, given that this House and others have spent nearly 100 years debating the matter, if we have the prospect of consensus it is worth waiting a little longer and paying attention to the many matters that still have to be discussed.
The question that the noble Lord raises about taking the view of Back-Benchers is a matter for the House authorities, but I know that my noble friend the Leader of the House will wish to take a view on how Members of your Lordships House can make an active contribution to the necessary discussions. I do not have a list of interest groups for the noble Lord today, but we can discuss that matter in the cross-party group. I confirm that we wish to have a wide engagement with groups with an interest and with the public in general. That is entirely consistent with the approach that we will take in parallel with the Green Paper on governance, which very much reflected a wish to engage extensively with the public.
I endorse the noble Lords remarks about the character, work and value of this House. Our proposals will seek to build on that essential foundation. The noble Lord could not resist raising the question of a referendum. We have set out a process that will put these proposals to the public in the context of a manifesto. That is very important in terms of securing public support for the changes that are eventually proposed.
I note what the noble Lord said about hereditary Peers and the Irvine commitment. The Statement makes it clear that we see the hereditary peerage being dealt with as part of a fundamental reform of your Lordships House. I think that that is within the spirit of the pledge given by my noble and learned friend Lord Irvine.
The cross-party group will work on the models for which the majority of the House of Commons votedthat is, a House made up of Peers who are 100 per cent elected and 80 per cent elected. As to whether the model of 100 per cent elected Peers would exclude the Lords spiritual, I think that it would have to. However, an 80 per cent elected model would allow for the inclusion of the Lords spiritual and retired justices of the Supreme Court, which is another matter that has been raised before.
On powers, I have no doubt that the committee of my noble friend Lord Cunningham did an invaluable job on the conventions; it was very helpful in providing a baseline for understanding them. The Government believe that the relationship between the two Houses should remain however the second Chamber is constituted. All parties are committed to the primacy of the House of Commonsit is essential that we see that continue. Of course we will
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The noble Lord, Lord Tyler, feels that our pace towards reform is not rapid. In the context of Lords reform over nearly 100 years, we have made considerable progress. Many noble Lords would acknowledge that this House has performed very well since the major changes made in 1999. We need to build on that and on the incredibly valuable role of this House as a revising and scrutinising Chamber.
The noble Lord, Lord Tyler, asked about pre-legislative scrutiny. I can go no further than my right honourable friend did in the Statement in posing the possibility of draft clauses being published alongside the White Paper. I have no doubt that in the time available both Houses of this Parliament will have ample opportunity to debate the details of what is proposed.
Is the Hunt report dead and buried? Life has moved on. The Cunningham committee did excellent work on the conventions and has provided a baseline. I am sure that our discussions in the cross-party group will focus on the foundations that the Cunningham report has laid down.
Lord Williamson of Horton: My Lords, the Statement follows on from the Prime Ministers announcement when he introduced the Governments proposed constitutional reform that there would be a further Statement before the Recess. I welcome the fact that the Statement is of an interim nature and does not prejudge any of the further discussions that will continue in the group chaired by the Lord Chancellor, any further discussions that will take place in this House on, inter alia, the House of Lords Bill to be debated tomorrow, and any consultation of the British public through the manifestos that will be presented to them at the next election.
The Minister will not be surprised if I stress the large number of inquiries and opinions, notably the royal commission under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, which stressed the value of the independent, non-party element in this House and in any reformed House. I did not wish to comment on the Bishops, because the noble Lord can refer to Hansard, where he will find that it is not generally considered that the Bishops are non-party, independent Members. They are something different. I note with satisfaction that the Statement says that the Government will take proper account of the views of all parliamentarians, including specifically the independent, non-party Members. We welcome that.
I have two questions for the Minister. First, the report of the Joint Committee was a definitive contribution to the question of relations between the two Houses. The Government agreed it unreservedly and in the Statement describe it as excellent. The
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Secondly, does the noble Lord agree that because the House as at present constituted is working very well and is generally well regarded by the public, it is extremely important to look seriously, if there are to be changes, at the transitional arrangements? They are not secondary to the rest of the package, if there is to be a package, because on those arrangements depends the effectiveness of the House, probably over very many years. Will the noble Lord comment on those points and note that the Bishops do not have to come up again to the top of the pile, as they were dealt with previously in this House when the Lord Chancellor covered that point?
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I welcome the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, and his valuable membership of the cross-party group. I well understand the important role of Cross-Benchers in your Lordships Househaving been handbagged by them on many occasions over the years, I am well aware of the rigour and expertise that they bring to the House. We will take to heart the noble Lords request that in taking forward further discussions we listen to his views and those of the Cross Benches generally. The future of Cross-Benchers comes back to the question of whether the eventual decision is to have a House that is 100 per cent elected or 80 per cent elected.
I agree with the noble Lord about the importance of the Cunningham report and what it said about the balance of powers and the conventions. The best way that I can put it is to say that it provides the baseline for our understanding of the conventions. The cross-party group will need to look at these matters, ensuring that in future arrangements, particularly with a mostly elected or all-elected House, the primacy of the Commons is maintained. But I am fully confident that the outcome will be a House substantially or all elected, which is confident and assertive but none the less respects the primacy of the Commons. I am sure that that is where we all want to be.
I refer the noble Lord to the White Paper published in February this year, which made it clear that a lengthy transition had much to commend it. It is one way in which the current understandings and strengths of your Lordships House can evolve into the new House that we wish to see.
The Lord Bishop of Norwich: My Lords, from these Benches I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, for repeating the Statement. Your Lordships may be glad to know that all bishops are elected by the dean and chapter of their cathedral church in order to be
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At home, I have a very useful book for a bishop who is constantly speaking at anniversaries of schools, churches and other organisationsnoble Lords might purchase it. Called The Chronicle of the 20th Century, it contains news stories for every month of the past century. Just recently, I was preaching for the centenary of the Scout Association, commemorating Baden-Powells very first boy scout camp at Brownsea Island. I looked up what else was happening in July 1907. One news story was predictable: The Government publish plans for the reform of the House of Lords. I could therefore tell the scouts that they had made rather faster progress.
However, we seem to be inching towards some resolution. I greatly welcome, as do all on these Benches, the consensus approach. I know that my colleague the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford is glad to be part of the cross-party talks, and we pledge to continue that. I also well understand that the Prime Minister is bound to honour the recent votes in another place, but the desire for a wholly or overwhelmingly elected second Chamber proposes a radical change in our constitutional arrangements. If this Chamber is to be primarily a revising chamber, it needs a particular range of expertise and experience that elections alone do not necessarily produce. Your Lordships House seems to be widely admired beyond Westminster, and it is that experience and expertise which I hope can be retained in the new arrangements. Can the Minister see that balance and experience being contained within a wholly elected system? I pledge that we will continue to strive from these Benches to be part of the solution to that.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I fully acknowledge the expertise and quality of Members of your Lordships House, but that does not come just from the Bishops Benches or the Cross Benches. Some extremely experienced people have come here through the nominations of the political parties. It is not beyond the wit of the political parties represented here to make sure that, if this House is largely or wholly elected, very good-quality candidates come through. However, I take note of the comment of the right reverend Prelate. It is clearly one of the issues that will need to be reflected on when we look at the two models of an 80 per cent elected House and a 100 per cent elected House.
Lord Howe of Aberavon: My Lords, will the Minister accept from me that the voices of the choir leaders on the Front Benches to my right are by no means supported by a chorus of welcome of the kind that he was so grateful for? As far as I can see, only three words in the Statement that he repeated deserve some welcome. Referring to the future of the hereditary Peers, he said when and if they are to go. The retention of the words and if suggest that there is a degree of sanity in the approach to the problem.
Does the Minister appreciate that, although the response of my noble friend Lord Strathclyde in that
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