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The matter has been fundamentally understated in three areas: the relationship between the constituent and the Member of Parliament; the relationship between
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What about the powers of the other place as well? It is all very well to talk about the powers of this House, which will be affected by the number of Members in another place. However, there is also an argument that the powers of the other place are affected by the number of Members.
To enlarge on that, let us look at what the role of an MP is. We have not, as far as I have heard, discussed that so far in these debates. I have not heard the whole 19 hours, but I have heard a great proportion of them. What is the role of an MP? There is an argument that the scrutiny role of the other place has changed. It can be argued that Select Committees have greater influence and power. Chairs of Select Committees are now paid and selection has changed from being by appointment by the Whips. However, it can also be argued, with much legitimacy, that the growth of an MP's work as a representative of their constituency has grown enormously. Look at the number of letters and the issues being raised-life is more complex for people.
When I was first elected in 1997, the main issues that were brought to me included hospital waiting lists, although that died away over the course of the previous Government. There was a complexity to the issues towards the end of my time in the House of Commons. Life was complicated for people and they sometimes had difficulty managing. The first person from whom they sought help, support and advice was their Member of Parliament. That work was increasing significantly. If we think back to the 1800s, most Members of Parliament did their correspondence by hand. I am the very proud owner of several House of Commons passes from when members of the public were given a pass to attend the House of Commons that was not a printed one-issued in their thousands-but had been handwritten by individual MPs on headed notepaper. That was how one gained access to the House of Commons.
In the 1800s Members would stand up in the Committee Corridor at the other end of the building and write to their correspondents by hand. They were able to do that. Then we moved into the 20th century. MPs got typewriters and some of them had secretaries. Could any Member of the other place now cope with their workload and correspondence without a fully staffed office, computers and technology? They could not. The volume of work that comes in is matched by the volume that goes out. One way to quantify this would be to look at the postage bill for Members of the other place. You would find that the number of letters in response to constituents has grown enormously.
Baroness Smith of Basildon: Certainly, there is an element of that. It is a real problem, especially when we are looking at the size of constituencies. I took, in the end, to not checking whether someone was on the electoral roll. If someone needs help and you represent their area, you should seek to help that person. However, there is an issue about the number of people who, for various reasons, do not register as electors. They are still entitled to representation. I do not know of any MP who would turn somebody away because they were not on the electoral roll. They would still undertake that work.
At the same time that Members of the other place are undertaking this increased workload, they see their resources to do that work reduced. Under the new regime of IPSA, had I remained a Member of Parliament, I would have lost half of or one member of staff. I would have had to move my office to smaller accommodation. I can assure you it was not salubrious in the first place. Members have also lost the communications allowance for communicating with constituents. There are fewer resources and more work. That makes it harder for MPs to fulfil that scrutiny role, which is very important. If we are looking to change, by increasing or reducing, the number of Members of the other place, we need to look at their powers and responsibility.
When I was first elected, I used to describe my work as a Member of the other place as being in thirds. A third of a Member of Parliament's work was constituency casework from the individual people who came for help, support and advice. Another third was the work of an advocate for the constituency if resources or support for industry, local charities, youth work and so on were needed. The third role, which was informed by the other two, was that of scrutiny and work in Committee, on legislation and on Select Committees. Towards the end of my time, I felt that it was getting harder to maintain that final third, which is crucial. MPs are there to be legislators, not caseworkers. However, it was getting harder to maintain because of the volume of work where people needed the help that it was an MP's duty to provide. To reduce the number of Members of Parliament under those circumstances does not make sense at all.
If we were to reduce the size of the House of Commons, it would have an impact on this House. Your Lordships' role of scrutiny becomes all the more important if Members of the other place are finding it harder to fulfil their duties and obligations on scrutiny. I recall a number of occasions when Members of Parliament whom I held in the highest regard told me that they were not able to take part in a debate or go on a committee because they had their casework to do. That is not to criticise the individual MPs because their responsibilities were to their constituencies, but it is a sad indictment that Members of the other place who want to involve themselves in scrutiny feel so much under pressure from individuals' problems and issues in their constituency that they are unable to do so.
One of my worries is that it is harder for Members of Parliament who have the most demanding constituencies-I think it is agreed across all parties that the issues and problems presented in some constituencies are more demanding and time-consuming than in others-to take on a scrutiny role. It is also harder for them to take on a ministerial or Select Committee role. Would we find ourselves in a position where only the Members of the other place who have the lightest casework loads and the less problematic constituencies would be able to serve as Ministers or take on important roles in Select Committees? That worries me because it is not the primary function of a Member of Parliament.
The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Knight of Weymouth, causes me some concern around the issue of the powers of the House of Lords. He is right that we are interdependent; I do not think that we can look at the relationship between the two Houses without taking into account the powers and memberships involved. We should not make proposals on size without considering responsibilities, and that goes for changes to or reform of either place. Membership is dependent on function.
My noble friend-I use that word advisedly but it may not last for long-almost lost me in the debate on his suggestion that there should be 15-year terms and that your Lordships' House should be elected in thirds. That would be an abuse and misuse of what could loosely be called democracy but is not democracy at all. As my response to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, pointed out, democracy is about two things: first, it is about the powers that a body or an individual has; secondly, it is about accountability and how they use those powers. That is absolutely fundamental. I feel very strongly that if we were to have a 15-year term in which someone never sought re-election, there would be no accountability; they would never be accountable to anyone. To me that is a sop to elections and democracy which insults the term.
The noble Lord, Lord Grocott, made a point, with which I have some sympathy, about the relative sizes of the two Chambers. I bring him back to the point about whether it is the size or the powers that matter. I still think the powers and responsibilities of the House should come before size. It is not about numbers but what the powers and responsibilities of each Chamber should be. Whether it is the other place or your Lordships' House, what are the powers and responsibilities? How do we achieve the right balance within the relationship between the two Houses and what is the number that best achieves it? At the moment we have picked a number out of thin air. Six hundred Members is a nice round number, as we have heard, but accepting it does a disservice to your Lordships' House and to the other place and undermines some of the excellent work that has been undertaken. To reduce the number would further undermine the role of MPs in exercising any scrutiny role they may wish to have.
Lord Puttnam: I warmly support my noble friend Lord Grocott. I bow to no one in your Lordships' House as a reformer. I was hoping to speak to the earlier amendment of my noble friend Lord Kennedy
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My reforming zeal has always been focused on better government. I have tried very hard never to be a knee-jerk reformer and I have been hugely indebted to and informed by the work of the noble Lord, Lord Norton, over the years.
Taking on this role has involved two things. As many noble Lords know, I do not speak that often in the House. I do not much like speaking in the House; I am not very good at it. However, I have gone out to schools, colleges and universities to talk about democracy and the possibility that this House has a role to play in improving our democracy and, indeed, the governance of this country. I have spoken in almost 400 schools and about 350 other institutions. That is a lot of institutions. One of the points I should like to make to the noble Lord the Leader of the House is that not once in the Q and A sessions in 13 years and almost 800 occasions has anyone ever said to me, "What we really need is a smaller House of Commons and a cheaper House of Commons". In fact, they have, if anything, said the exact opposite.
Some years ago I had the honour to chair two Hansard Society reports on the relationship of Parliament with the people. The noble Lord, Lord Tyler, was a member of that committee, as was the noble Lord, Lord Renton of Mount Harry. The reports were absolutely unanimous. I wish to quote a couple of important lines from the first of those reports. It stated:
"The level of informed, transparent and engaged democracy that any citizen of the 21st century has a right to expect is, of necessity, comparatively expensive. Cut price democracy will never represent much of a bargain".
I think that is precisely right. I would argue that far from trying to find £12 million worth of savings, a responsible Government should explain to the electorate that good democracy and good government are expensive. Therefore, if it needs to cost another £12 million or another £50 million, it is a bargain if it results in a better Government and a better run country. Therefore, I absolutely reject the notion that any part of this Bill should have to do with saving money. If it is, it is frankly a disgrace because that is not what the people of this country want and no one in any of the bodies I have talked with has ever given me that impression.
A remarkable event took place here on 10 December. No one present in the Chamber was there but the Lord Speaker was there, as were the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, and the Convenor of the Cross Benches, the noble Baroness, Lady D'Souza. Two hundred and eighty sixth-formers from all over the country attended this House to debate reform of the House of Lords. All four of the options with which we are only too familiar were debated. The debate lasted for three hours and was very stimulating. At the end of it, to my jaw-dropping amazement, by a margin of two to one the vote went in favour of an all-appointed House.
It is worth mentioning why the debate went in that direction. These young people decided that they were interested in judgment, objectivity, expertise, people with a hinterland, people who had done other things in their lives and decisions made on evidence. They rejected the notion that politics should have anything to do with what they termed-this was their phrase, not mine-the party Whip. They rejoiced in the notion that the House of Lords did not seem to be dominated by the party Whip. For example, there was a lot of concern about environmental issues. I was very interested to learn from my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours that the Environmental Audit Committee has an average attendance of 37 per cent. If you told these young people that the Environmental Audit Committee, on which their lives may well depend, was being attended by a little over one-third of those appointed-
Baroness Wall of New Barnet: My Lords, I am aware of the noble Lord's commitment to the debate involving the young people, which was absolutely wonderful. However, does he agree with me that the debate we are now having will be very important to the primary school children who have been observing it and are about to leave the Chamber?
Lord Puttnam: That is very much the point that I wanted to make. I imagine that the reaction around the House might be: "What do those 280 sixth-formers represent? Young people who have not yet formed a judgment". Our debate today is about them. We are making decisions that will intimately affect their futures-not ours, because we will be gone. I was very impressed by the speech of my noble friend Lord Prescott. He is absolutely right; we are making decisions that may be implemented by a far less benign Government. I am not referring to a Conservative Government or to the coalition, because we do not know who or what will turn up in the next 10 or 20 years, nor do we have any idea what pressures there might be on the electorate. We are establishing a precedent whereby a determined Government, simply because they have a majority, can ram through constitutional change. Woe betide my children and grandchildren if they are forced to deal with the consequences.
This is a very important debate. I have sat through any number of debates in your Lordships' House that have been interesting but not important. I have also sat through some that have been important but not interesting. Today's-and last night's-debate has been both interesting and important.
Lord Campbell-Savours: Perhaps I may take my noble friend back to the Environmental Audit Committee. It is possible that I did not represent the position with total accuracy. It is not that one-third of committee members attend meetings. In the House of Commons, some Members attend committees for five or 10 minutes to register and then leave. Therefore, the position is far worse than the case I described. That applies across all committees, even those that I do not describe as Cinderella committees.
Lord Puttnam: I will wind up with one final point. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, is in his place; he may want to comment on it. Our committee, with his agreement and that of the noble Lord, Lord Renton, concluded as follows in 2004, when we were anticipating the new Parliament of 2005:
I suggest that the Government of 2005 funked the job and did not do what could have been done. However, that does not mean that now rushing headlong towards an arbitrary number of MPs and making the type of changes that have been suggested is a good way forward. This is a marvellous moment for this House to show maturity and judgment, to understand who it is responsible to and to do something that the 280 young people who were here a couple of months ago would wish us to do-namely, to use wisdom and common sense to hammer out something that will be sustainable and in the long-term interests of this country.
Lord Desai: My Lords, I briefly looked in on the debate of the students. When I heard the conclusion that they came to, I lost all hope for their generation. Unlike my noble friend Lord Prescott, I want a reformed House of Lords. The last time I spoke was 17 hours ago, so I hope that noble Lords will not mind if I speak again. I do not like either of the amendments in this group because they establish an unnecessary connection between the membership of this House and that of the House of Commons. There has never been any connection between the numbers of Members of the two Chambers. When Pitt the Younger entered Parliament, your Lordships' House was half the size of the House of Commons. When I joined, it was twice the size of the House of Commons. Not only have the two Houses been independent but, from long experience, I know that the other place does not care very much about us, nor does it want to find out what we do. I do not complain about that.
The amendment of my noble friend Lord Knight makes House of Commons membership conditional on reform of the House of Lords. The only optimistic thing about that is that my noble friend thinks that reform of the House of Lords will happen. I do not think that it will because, at the rate at which this Parliament is going, we will not have time to do it. However, even if there were time, it would not be a good idea to postpone what we wanted to do about the House of Commons until after the House of Lords had been reformed. That would be a bad precedent.
I slightly favour the amendment of my noble friend Lord Grocott because it is not conditional on reform of the House of Lords, but merely refers to the other place having more Members than the House of Lords. If the latest report referred to by the Leader of the House about people leaving the House of Lords is implemented, we may get a membership of a reasonable size, which would be desirable. However, hitching the membership of either House to that of the other has no constitutional precedent, and so far no one has shown it to be at all desirable. We may continue to impact on each other for a long time but our roles,
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Lord McAvoy: My Lords, I am not too keen on the amendments in this group either, which is unusual, because usually I am strongly behind anything that my noble friend Lord Grocott puts forward. Although I have not long been a Member of this House, some noble Lords, particularly on the Liberal Democrat Benches, portray me as a dinosaur who is anti-reform, lives in the past and does not want any change. I will come to that in a couple of minutes.
In response to the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, I will say a word in favour of party Whips-all party Whips. Sometimes when I see some of their performances, it strains my faith in the importance of Whips, but in general I am in favour of them performing their duties. They do it very well; they organise the place and make it work. The popular image that they get people in corners and inflict pain, both physical and mental, is simply not true nowadays. My noble friend Lord Prescott has fond memories of one of the greatest Whips in history, Walter Harrison, who almost single-handedly carried the Labour Government between 1974 and 1979 with no majority. He did extremely well.
I am a reformer and I believe that there can be change in the House of Lords. There can be change in the House of Commons as well, but in this context we are dealing with the House of Lords. To imply that I am against all change is not true. The older one gets, the more experienced one gets. I am in favour of slow change. Something should be done to curb the increasing number of Members of the House of Lords. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, has been looking at ways of getting people to retire and giving them the opportunity to leave early. That is fine. I am astonished that the Conservatives, who in general are more traditionalist than Liberal Democrats or Labour Members, do not see that they are overseeing the wrecking of this place. They seem not to realise that over the past 17 hours we have crossed the Rubicon and things will never be quite the same again.
There is danger here. I do not regard it with pleasure or joy, but as a red light signal about what could happen. Majorities can change. I think that if the boundary redistribution goes through in its current form, it will be to the disadvantage of the Labour Party, but opinions vary on the effect of the change. However, one thing is certain; we will be back in government one day. I am not sure when that day will come and will make no rash threats or promises-it has taken us 18 years before, and it took the Conservatives 13-but our turn will come again. The danger is from the damage to consensus. This has been referred to by my noble friend Lord Prescott. Those who want to fight not the class war but the war against political opponents will come to the fore and say, "The Liberal Democrats did it to us, now we will get our revenge on them". I would regret that attitude-and that would be nothing to what those on the Labour side would do to the Conservatives if they got back in power. That is the damage that is being done.
I have a lot of respect for many traditionalist Conservative Peers. They have been extremely kind and courteous, and I have no word of criticism for them. Damage has been done, however, and, once power changes hands after an election, the seeds of damage will have been sown. There will be less tolerance, less give and take and less of the usual channels. The call will come to inflict damage on the electoral prospects of the Conservative Party, which I would oppose; and on the electoral prospects of the Liberal Democrats, which ultimately I would oppose but it would take me a wee while. That is where the damage is being done.
I will mention the expertise, knowledge and judgment of the Cross-Benchers. I am still making my transition to this place. Some Peers have come up to me and said, "I heard you say such and such. Perhaps you could say it differently and not use that language". More Cross-Bench Peers have approached me in the past few months, looking to help and guide me, than Peers from any other party or party grouping. They bring that expertise. I have seen and heard the knowledge displayed by Peers on all sides of the House but particularly by the Cross-Benchers, who do not have an overtly political angle. It is desirable that the Cross-Benchers should remain an integral part of the House.
The biggest damage has been done since the election. Again, I find it astonishing that traditionalist conservative Peers would go along with it. I am big on party loyalty and I understand it in other people, too. However, the proposed reforms ride roughshod over the House of Lords, where the chemistry and alchemy have changed because the Government have a majority. The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have tried to maintain the fig leaf that they are not one unit and that the Government do not have a majority. I wish that they would be more open and honest and say, "Yes, we do have a majority". This fact of life has been shown over the past 17 hours; the Government as a unit have a majority. It would be a lot better if they recognised that and were more honest about it.
That is where the biggest damage is getting done. There are elements of the Liberal Democrats in particular who say, "We are the masters now". Yes, the Government are the masters, but it will not last. Reinforcing that by increasing of the number of new Peers is damaging.
I do not care which Government they are; when a Government know that they have that power, especially in the House of Lords, where it has not happened before, it affects their approach to the Opposition and to legislation, and that arrogance of power does damage. Ultimately, it will do damage to the Conservative Party in particular. We have seen that in the behaviour of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. I am sorry to say this because of his good personality. There are aspects of, "We are in charge and we are riding roughshod over you. We are not consulting. We are moving Motions that are entirely unprecedented". If there are complaints about alleged filibustering, take it up with the usual channels and get a response. It is extremely short-sighted desperation to try to get this Bill through under any circumstances and at any price. The alchemy
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However, they have that alchemy, chemistry or mix to put things through. It is affecting the atmosphere of the House, and within that are the seeds of self-destruction. I do not say that with any joy, because this country needs a balance by having a right-of-centre and a left-of-centre party. We do not need a party that is totally obsessed with voting systems and nothing else, an obsession that I have never understood. I have always understood that the Conservative Party wants power and I have always understood that my own party has struggled to get that power. That is the to-ing and fro-ing of British democracy and politics which has worked. The House of Lords is an integral part of that.
The vision put forward by my noble friend Lord Knight of Weymouth shows what happens. I say that with great respect to my noble friend-I have always got on with him and I always will. It shows that, when you start thinking about systems, and despite this small liberal idea about tinkering with the House of Lords to make it more democratic, the place works, as the past 17 hours have shown. That is not to say that it cannot be altered here and there, gradually and slowly. I definitely would not go along with all the various systems that have been discussed for too long in intellectual circles. I am afraid that I cannot support my noble friend Lord Knight's proposal, and I am sorry to say that on this occasion I could not support the proposals of my noble friend Lord Grocott.
My last appeal is to Conservative colleagues and perhaps my Cross-Bench colleagues. I do not see any faces that I can appeal to among the Liberals, but I would certainly ask traditionalist Conservative Peers and Cross-Benchers to watch this situation carefully.
Baroness Sherlock: I support my noble friend Lord Knight of Weymouth, but sadly for different reasons. His advocacy for his amendment was characteristically persuasive, but uncharacteristically wrong. I hope that he will forgive me if I back the content but try to offer some different reasons.
He was right for the most powerful reason that form always follows function. That is as true when one is designing a parliamentary system as it is when one is designing a chair. If that is the case, we need to understand, as my noble friend Lord Howarth explained so well, the relative functions of both Houses without trying to conceive a grand plan that would re-engineer the entire British constitution on a piece of paper, and seek to enact that.
At the very least, we need to understand the purpose of the two places and particularly their distinct roles. Then we can understand what their composition and size should be. Unlike many of my colleagues, I am a reformer, but possibly in a different way. I should like a much broader conversation about the way that this House functions and is composed, and an understanding about what is different about this place.
I had an interesting conversation recently with an academic from King's College, who described the other place as being there to represent geographical communities,
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One of the most powerful things about being human is that we only really come to life in relationships. We naturally form communities in all kinds of different ways. I know that noble Lords on all sides of the House will appreciate that wise Governments know that you cannot make communities; the most you can hope to do is to support them, enable them, help them to grow and allow them to flourish. Certainly, if the party opposite wants to promote the big society, I am sure that it will have discovered by now that the best thing it can do is not to try to create communities-they have a nasty way of falling over when you turn your back on them-but to work with the natural communities that exist, and there needs to be a very clear view on both sides of the House about how that should be done.
You start with the principle that the Houses should be created in a way that respects the natural communities. Therefore, in another place, if we are looking at the way in which communities or constituencies are formed, we should go with the way that history, geography, culture and a sense of identity have naturally created constituencies. In this place, again, there should be a natural way of looking at how we represent the non-geographical communities of interest where the voices should still be heard, and we should make sure that the two things can be reconciled. However, if we start jumping in now with numbers, we will have missed a step. The point of these Houses is not the people in them but the job that they do. In reflecting on this matter, we have to consider what that job is and how the Houses may be best constructed to enable them to do it.
I very much hope that we will not consider specific numbers. I want to share some of my experience with noble Lords. My background is in the voluntary sector.
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My noble friend Lady Smith of Basildon mentioned the growing casework problem experienced by Members of another place, and I suspect that it will get considerably worse. At the moment, the only place that citizens can go for help is either to their Member of Parliament or to an advice agency. Most of those agencies are funded by legal aid and many across the country are going to close. I suspect we will find that more and more people who have welfare or other problems will have nowhere else to go other than to their Member of Parliament, and therefore it seems likely that that role will grow, not shrink.
I do not for a moment suggest that Members of another place should simply turn into social workers or advocates. However, they play an important role by being there to act, when necessary, between the individual and the state. They represent the state to the individual but they also represent the individual to the state. Their job is sometimes to be the person who breaks through when the state appears not to act appropriately. They have to try to crack open the system and ensure that justice is done. I have lost track of the number of cases where someone would bring me a judgment that was not only demonstrably unfair but clearly not in accordance with the law. Sometimes it would take only a letter or a phone call from a Member of Parliament and the matter would be looked at again. I would never want to see the role being one of simple advocacy or special pleading, but the job of making sure that you hold the state to account for the individual, as well as going out to advocate for it, seems to be fundamental.
Baroness Quin: My Lords, I am very grateful to have the opportunity to follow the thoughtful speech of my noble friend and fellow north-easterner Lady Sherlock. I also agree very much with the wording of, and the intent behind, the amendment of my noble friend Lord Knight of Weymouth. The fundamental point is that it is absolutely crazy arbitrarily to reduce the number of Members of the House of Commons when we are greatly increasing the number of Members in this place. That does not make sense at all, and I very much agree with my noble friends Lord Grocott and Lord Knight on that issue. It also seems strange that-
Lord Strathclyde: If the noble Baroness really does think that, what impact does she think that substantial reduction in the number of Members of the House of Lords should have had on the House of Commons?
Baroness Quin: In most countries where there is a bicameral system and a revising Chamber, the revising Chamber is roughly less than half the size of the primary Chamber. The primary Chamber has a representative role with constituencies; the revising Chamber has a different, detached role, but the two are interrelated. It seems absurd to increase the size of the revising Chamber when the Chamber involved in representing communities throughout the land is being subject to cuts. My noble friends are completely right to say that you have to look at the function of Parliament as a whole and the interrelationship between the two Chambers. To increase numbers in this place at a time when, for matters of political convenience, the coalition would like to reduce the numbers in the other place is no way to proceed in a democracy. It also seems extremely-
Lord Strathclyde: What the noble Baroness says is interesting but I am confused by the strand of her argument. Ten years ago, the Labour Government massively reduced the size of this House and then it increased it with what one noble Lord opposite-I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Grocott-said were "Tony's cronies". Did the noble Baroness feel awkward about that? Did she feel that it was a good or a bad idea, pro democracy or anti-democracy? I would just like to get a feel of where she is coming from.
Baroness Quin: The noble Lord is referring to the time when most of the hereditary Peers were removed from this House. I thought that that was a tremendous blow for democracy. The noble Lord said that he is confused but I, too, am very confused about the attitude of Ministers in this House towards these proposals. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, is not in his place but on many occasions in the past I have heard him speak out against increasing the size of this House. However, through this Bill he is proposing to reduce the size of the other place, while at the same time he is presiding over a huge increase in numbers in this House. That seems to me entirely the opposite of what we have heard him say in the past. Indeed, although my noble friend Lord McAvoy and I have different views on the way that this House should be composed, he none the less expressed his misgivings about the continual increase in the numbers in this place at a time when we are proposing to cut the numbers in the other place. I am an unashamed reformer in terms of wanting an elected second Chamber.
Lord Lester of Herne Hill: I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way. When I came to this House about 16 years ago, it was completely unbalanced because the hereditary Peers were overwhelmingly Conservative and Mrs Thatcher had done nothing to reform the system. I was in one of the two opposition parties, with the noble Baroness next to me, sitting where she is now sitting. We never used the filibuster, even though there was an absurd and unfair built-in
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Baroness Quin: I hope that the noble Lord is not accusing me of filibustering. I have sat through a great deal of this debate and this is the first time that I have spoken. These are issues on which I feel very strongly indeed-as I hope the noble Lord will accept.
I am someone who favours an elected second Chamber. I was interested to hear the comments about the wonderful debate that took place here on 10 December with the young people from different schools around the country. I confess to the House that I was the Member of the House who worked most closely with those young people who were putting forward the elected option. Unfortunately, we lost the debate. Nonetheless, there was a great quality of argument and discussion. It was an absolute privilege and joy for me to work with the young people from the community school in Newham in east London, helping them prepare for that debate. I absolutely applaud their efforts and the efforts of the other young people involved in what was a tremendous occasion. I am glad that my noble friend, having referred to this, enabled me to make that comment.
In her very eloquent contribution, my noble friend Lady Smith spoke very tellingly about the changing role of MPs and their attachment to their constituency. As a former Member of the other place I feel very strongly about it too. I believe-as others have said-that it is important for constituencies to be linked to communities. It should be a very important guiding principle in deciding on numbers, rather than simply having an arbitrary number decided on. Like my noble friend, my own constituency was changed several times because of boundary changes. Sometimes those changes worked well if they were linked to proper communities.
However, the constituency that I finally represented, Gateshead East and Washington West-which I was very happy to represent because it is in my native North-East-was a very strange constituency. The name sounds geographically a little bit confused. It was virtually two islands only connected by one narrow lane. One part of it was in the city of Sunderland and the other part was in the Metropolitan Borough of Gateshead. That arrangement worked far less well than having a constituency that was wholly within one particular local government area and that had a very obvious association and community feeling. The arguments that my noble friend put forward were very telling indeed.
For all these reasons-and for the reasons that she gave about the changing role of MPs-she is, in some ways, absolutely right. The pressure and amount of work is much greater than it used to be. Although we must recognise that there is also some continuity in the frustrations of the House of Commons. In the 19th century Walter Bagehot said that the House of Commons was so full of business,
In some ways, it is not just about the numbers. It is also about the function, role and huge variety of tasks that Members are trying to undertake. It is about all these things: the need for constituencies to be part of communities and the need for the role of a Member of the other place to be properly evaluated before changes are made. We should proceed very cautiously and not proceed in an arbitrary or ill thought out manner.
Lord Peston: My Lords, one of my noble friends earlier referred to dinosaurs. I am a dinosaur. I think that it is about time one of us spoke. Some form of social Darwinism may in due course make us extinct but until then we should be allowed to speak-at least in your Lordships' House.
The dinosaurs used to be conservatives but clearly the use of the word has changed. One of our problems with language and terminology at the moment is that it is perfectly clear that the Prime Minister is not a conservative-in the sense of appealing to us dinosaurs-and, as far as I can see, many of his Cabinet are not conservatives either. As a dinosaur, I see no urgent need-and I underline the word, urgent-to change your Lordships' House, to change the other place or to change the electoral system. I am not opposed to change as I will point out in a moment but is it urgent? No.
One of my problems with the alternative vote, over which a great many of us have a hang-up, is that, when I look at the Benches opposite and I think of my many Tory friends, I cannot find a single one who supports the alternative vote. They get through the day by biting their lips and pretending that none of this is happening. I must tell them that it is. I am grievously sorry that the Labour Government who have just gone did not accept the so-called Steel Bill, which would have tidied your Lordships' House in a most desirable way and would have given us a great deal of time on which to produce a more rational way of moving forward. Bygones are bygones. I echo my noble friend Lord Puttnam. I do not meet anybody from what I will call-for want of a better phrase-the real world, who is remotely interested in this legislation. I repeat an old joke. I guess that 1 per cent of the electorate favour the Bill, 1 per cent are against the Bill and 98 per cent have not the faintest idea of what we are up to and, more to the point, have no wish to know.
I care about your Lordships' House. My time is running out. However, I have broadly enjoyed every minute of the 24 years I have spent here. Although I was doubtful when I first got here, I do not believe that I have wasted my time in coming here-quite the contrary. Even in the bad old years that the noble Lord, Lord Lester, refers to, when we had hereditaries, we did a pretty good job. I do not know if the noble Lord, Lord Lester, remembers, but we had all-night sessions. We did not filibuster then and I do not regard myself as filibustering now. I regard my duty as trying to persuade the Leader of the House to think about this rationally and to go away and come back with a much better way of doing things. This is what this is all about. I am not much of an optimist but I have at least a faint hope that maybe something sensible might yet emerge.
In my dinosaur role, I say again that the atmosphere of this House in the past few weeks has changed dreadfully for the worse. The cause of this is the Bill. The beginning and end of everything going wrong is not the fact that we have a lot of new Peers taking time to understand our ways and to fit in. It is nothing other than this Bill and the refusal to approach rationally what is in the Bill. That means of course that what has gone wrong with this House is the Government's fault.
They suggest remotely, via the Government's friends in the right-wing press, that the Opposition are the cause of all the problems. However, this is not our Bill. I have heard my noble friends come up with lots of entirely acceptable suggestions for amending it and the Government clearly have a bit of paper that they have all had printed for them, saying, "Agree to nothing". That is what is going on here. We should not pretend that that is not what is going on.
Coming to my final remarks, most horrifying of all was the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord McNally, from the Government Front Bench a couple of hours ago. I hope that I am mistaken but he appeared to say-indeed he appeared to threaten us-that the Government were willing, because of this Bill, to end self-regulation in your Lordships' House. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, has every opportunity-he can get up now if he wants-to pledge that it is not remotely in the Government's mind to end the era of self-regulation, and maybe even introduce a guillotine in your Lordships' House. I did not hear the noble Lord, Lord McNally, say that that was not in his mind. Would the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, like me to sit down so that he can tell us that the thought has never entered his mind? No, he is not even looking in my direction. He dare not look in my direction. What pretty pass have we come to as a result of this, when someone on the Government Front Bench, albeit a Liberal Democrat, can even raise the subject of ending self-regulation and possibly introducing a guillotine?
Lord Mawhinney: Maybe I am a dinosaur too, but I have been listening carefully to what the noble Lord has been saying, and at least with dinosaurs there is perhaps an occasional element of resonance. He also said that his side was not filibustering but are seeking to persuade the Government to change their mind. How many hours does he think it is legitimate to take to seek to persuade the Government to change their mind before he accepts that they are not going to change their mind and that thereafter it is a filibuster?
Lord Peston: The noble Lord ought to look at the history of filibustering, particularly its origins. By no standards can the reasoned arguments that we are putting forward count as filibustering. I have not heard anyone make a five-hour speech-20 minutes seemed to get up everyone's nose. However, I do take the noble Lord's point. My late father used to say to me: "Stop knocking your head against the wall. Do you not realise that you will feel better when you stop doing it?". There is a genuine question of when we on our side give up. I am not in command of that, but I take the noble Lord's point when he asks us why we do
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Lord Mawhinney: I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way again. I think I promise not to do it a third time. I was very careful not to accuse the side opposite of filibustering and of irrelevantly banging their heads against a wall, to use the noble Lord's phrase. However, it seems legitimate as we go through this process, with a residual element of good will on both sides, for the House to have some sense of how long those on the opposition Benches think it is legitimate to seek to persuade before the prospect of persuasion becomes vanishingly small.
Lord McNally: Fortunately, in the 21st century, it is possible to follow the proceedings while moving some paper-and I did hear what the noble Lord said earlier. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, said from a sedentary position that I am sensitive about it. When I made my remarks earlier, both the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris, and the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, said that I had my facts wrong-I think the term was my "century wrong". However, I made no threats whatever. I merely pointed out that in the 19th century the House of Commons had lost some of its liberties in the management of business because of abuse of procedure. In order to check, I went to the House of Commons Information Office factsheet P10, which did indeed say that the guillotine was first employed, essentially as it is now, on the Criminal Law Amendment (Ireland) Bill in 1887.
I was saying simply that there is an historical analogy; when the system breaks down, there are consequences. I made no threats, and I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, wants to apologise for suggesting that I did not know my history.
Lord Campbell-Savours: It is not that I have to apologise but that the noble Lord raised the question of the guillotine during our debate. He may wriggle around as much as he likes, or go to the Library and check the historical record, but he introduced that element. There are those of us who believe that, unlike the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, who has a lot to lose
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Lord McNally: I do not in the slightest, but I will give another analogy. The reason why we have the Salisbury/Addison convention-and the reason why this House has lasted as long as it has-is that, at that time, those who had the power perpetually to disrupt, defeat and destroy had the wisdom not to use it. Salisbury/Addison came about because Lord Salisbury was smart enough to know that if they used the power-which has always been there in a self-regulating House-consequences would follow. I said no more, and to suggest any idea of threats is simply absurd.
Lord Soley: The noble Lord is making a fundamental mistake. Actually, I am sure that it is not a mistake as he knows that he is doing it. The phrase that he used was "abuse of procedure". The key abuse here is for a Government to bring in a portmanteau Bill on the constitution without any co-operation, or even any attempt to reach agreement between the various political parties, and without any attempt to consult, and then to try and drive it through without any concessions whatever. That is an abuse of this House, and it will destroy it. It will turn it into another House of Commons, and when they bring forward their Bill on the reform of the House of Lords, they will drive that even further. The noble Lord is destroying this House; let us have no illusions about it.
Lord McNally: I am the last one to tell the noble Lord not to get aerated but, as my noble friend reminded us a little earlier, less than a year ago his own Government brought in a constitutional reform Bill that had 13 separate items of constitutional reform. I understand that occasionally, as the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, and I were discussing earlier, a little bit of aeration is worth it, but so too is a little self-knowledge. No one is threatening anyone, but there are lessons to be learnt from history, which was all I was doing.
Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, I was the one who introduced the word "guillotine". I did it yesterday at col. 16, and I did it to say that, happily, we never had to introduce the guillotine here because we operated the House, as the noble Lord, Lord Peston, indicated, in a way that was self-regulating and that worked perfectly well. I said it not because I thought that we should introduce a guillotine but because I thought that we should behave in a way that made it unnecessary.
Lord Elystan-Morgan: The noble Lord, for whom I have the highest regard, was more aerated than he recollects. Not only did he mention the end of self-regulation, and referred to the situation at the end of the 19th century, but he used a sentence which I cannot remember exactly but which referred to Fenian obstructionism. The Fenians at that stage in the last quarter of the 19th century were not just parliamentary obstructionists-
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am certainly not prepared to be part of any filibuster, and there has been no filibuster; there has been a discussion of important amendments. Through the long watches of the night, I have exercised considerable self-restraint because there has scarcely been a debate in which I would not have wished to participate. The debates have shed a great deal of light upon the development of this legislation and the necessity for change. The answer to the noble Lord, Lord Mawhinney, is quite straightforward; we are concerned about the principles behind this legislation and we have real objections to them. He will recall that, when we introduced principled legislation on the abolition-as we put it at that time-of the hereditary peerage, we engaged in compromise that was not accepted by all noble Lords on Labour Benches, but did so because we recognised that a constitutional issue has to have some consensus. Progress that is rammed through against the principled opposition of a major party in the land is not the way to achieve constitutional reform. That is what we have demonstrated in this debate-exactly that principled position.
I say to the noble Lords opposite that they should recognise our anxieties. They should recognise that the very act of coalition has transformed this House. It has transformed it in the nature of the Benches; it has transformed the nature of our deliberations. Everyone knows of the enormous pressure on Question Time. It is very difficult for a self-regulated House. We are all having problems coping. What is that a reflection of? It is a reflection of the fact that there is now one opposition party, plus the influential contribution of those on the Cross Benches, but there is a majority party on the other side that is presenting its position. That is bound to sharpen the exchanges, and, particularly as we bring in more and more talented people, it is inevitable that the competition to express a point of view is getting more intense. As a consequence, we are seeing our procedures coming under increasing strain.
None of this is the work of the Opposition. Not only are the Government not apologising or in any way showing restraint about this mad dash to get additional Members on to their side into the House-and by Heavens we have seen the reason for it in the long watches of the night. What is the hurry? It is because they have always been worried about this highly controversial legislation on which we have a very strong case for criticism and on which they should effect some compromise about how it is tackled, not least by giving sufficient time for debate of this major constitutional issue, which relates to the relationship between the two Houses. Of course, the Government are ignoring all those representations.
I said that there are consequences from all this. I am grateful to my noble friend for his amendment, which has triggered this debate, and to my noble friend Lord Grocott, the former Chief Whip, for his position. He and I agree on a great deal in these matters, but we are actually divided on a fundamental issue. My noble friend from time to time seems to present arguments
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I emphasise that, because we are in this situation today, we should recognise the gains that have been made in the House over the past decade or so. There is no doubt that the House has enhanced its reputation or that those who join us recognise the value of our debates and deliberations. There is increasing awareness outside of the work that the House does. None of us can go before schools on the Speaker's programme to talk to schools without being aware of the fact that young members of the community know some of the value of the work that we do. We must not exaggerate that, but we must protect what we have.
My anxiety is that the Government are proving to have a degree of ruthlessness in their objectives that is completely counter to the way in which one should handle a Bill of this great significance. The Government know that we recognise that there is a time and date for the Bill; we recognise that the Bill-or part of the Bill-has to be delivered in a certain time. We have offered that, and we have offered discussions on that. It is the other part of the Bill, which contains fundamental constitutional issues, that we expect to deliberate at length.
Lord Kinnock: I am grateful to my noble friend. Can I take advantage of his experience and perspicacity? Does he think that there is a possibility that the circumstances at which we have arrived, deeply regrettable as they are, are the product of the fact that unusually, in the context of the past decade or so, we have a Government in a position, if they wish to, to employ one-party rule in this House because of a built-in guaranteed majority? Despite that, because of his knowledge of and acquaintance with the Leader of the House, does he agree that this ruthlessness of which he spoke is not entirely the product of the Leader of the House, who understands this place, but the product of those outside this House who do not understand this place but have instructed the Leader of the House to take the attitude that, because they can get 100 per cent by exercise of their overwhelming majority, they must get 100 per cent and nothing less? The absence of room for reasonable compromise arises from that external pressure.
Lord Davies of Oldham: I am grateful to my noble friend for reminding me of an unfortunate fact. We all lament the very limited perspective that still obtains at the other end on the work in this House. We often see instances of that failure to appreciate the contribution that we make. In these circumstances, the Leader of the House must take responsibility for the actions that he pursues, and I shall not attribute it to others while I have before me the noble Lord who is answerable and responsible for this legislation. I am making an obvious appeal to him that he appreciates that. We shall continue to demonstrate that and to argue the case of principle, not with filibustering but with reasoned argument on
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I am eager that we should recover our poise and sustain our reputation. I am eager that we should co-operate with each other to produce the best effects in legislation. However, this Bill and the basis on which it is being done, along with the attitude that underpins it, are the ruination of us all.
I tend to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Desai, that there is not an automatic link between the numbers in one House and another, but there is certainly a link between the powers of the primary Chamber and the powers of this House. I thank my noble friend Lord Knight for tabling his amendment, and similarly my noble friend Lord Grocott for drawing to our attention the fascinating conundrum of the proposal to reduce the numbers in the other place while at the same time increasing to an extraordinary amount the numbers in this House. My noble friend Lady Smith said that she did not know how they had arrived at the figure. We have had the explanation-we might not like it and it might not necessarily be logical, but we have been told that it will save money. I am not going to comment on that approach from a Government who have made their attitude clear on the importance of cutting the deficit and that any amount is important. Someone else has said that 600 is a nice round figure, and it is hard to argue with that, too. Others allege that it will create a political advantage, although I could not possibly comment on that. But those are the arguments that we have heard to date. I have one thing to say to the coalition. To paraphrase, if you reform in haste, you may well repent at leisure.
One thing that my noble friends have drawn to noble Lords' attention again and again is the way in which this House has changed with the coalition Government. The atmosphere has changed. The Government have the power-there is no arguing with that. They have the Divisions and the numbers. My noble friend Lord McAvoy used the phrase that the chemistry had changed, which made it clear that he was a science graduate. He is right. It has changed. An interesting and important comment was made by the noble Lord, Lord Low, who has many wise words that are always worth listening to. He said that the coalition should think carefully about the ability to reach an agreement. As my noble friend Lord Davies said, the power to reach an agreement on this contentious Bill is within the hands of the Government.
There have been a couple of not so much accusations as suggestions about whether the fact that there has been a forensic analysis of this Bill, which has gone on for a considerable time, is, in effect, filibustering. I could not help reflecting on the fact that I had the exquisite pleasure of taking through the Digital Economy Bill, which was a modest little number. It had 43 clauses and attracted 700 amendments. I do not think that I ever used the word filibustering, although on many occasions I watched as we debated the same issue again and again and again and again.
Lord Young of Norwood Green: Some were, but many more were from Liberal Democrats and Conservatives. I have no complaint about that, but I had the same desire that the noble Lord has to get the Bill through. To enable us to do that, many hours were spent in arriving at compromises. That is the significant difference. I would have wished it to proceed faster, as the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, wishes this to do, but it was a plain fact of life that if we wanted this Bill to succeed we had to listen carefully to the Opposition's arguments and, in certain circumstances, be prepared to arrive at a compromise. That is what has changed the atmosphere with regard to this Bill. You know that you have the power and you do not want to compromise in any way whatever. It does not matter what has been suggested; however marginal it has been, there has been no attempt whatever to reach a compromise. If the Government are going to suggest that the Opposition are somehow doing something out of the ordinary, they should examine their own actions and their own attitude towards this House. I believe that that is fundamentally important.
We all know that, whichever way we want to reform the House, one attraction of the House of Lords is that it is a place where there has been reasoned debate and an ability to persuade a Government to change their mind and accept amendments. That is what has been missing during the course of this debate. It is unfortunate that the noble Lord, Lord McNally, is not here. I do not want to accuse him of making threats, but I will say what I would say when I got a bit agitated when trying to resolve a dispute with my kids-they are young adults now-just chill out. I cannot help feeling that he ought to take that advice, because I do not think that that has helped the discussion in the Chamber.
I think that the Opposition have been perfectly reasonable in dealing with a Bill on which we believe there could be compromises. It could be taken in two parts if there was a willingness on the Government's part to consider that, or to consider any amendments or compromise. Although I do not necessarily support these individual amendments, I thank both my noble friends who have tabled them for giving us the opportunity to have this debate and for me to be able to participate.
Lord Triesman: Like my noble friend Lord Young, I have not spoken in this debate at all. Were it not for the issue in these two amendments, but particularly in
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I am not allowed to describe the noble Lord, Lord Mawhinney, as a noble friend, but he is certainly a friend. I remain a perpetual optimist, and I still hope that some things may be changed by means of a sensible debate in your Lordships' House.
My reason for wanting to say things that are supportive of the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Knight, are these-and they follow very closely from the views expressed by my noble friend Lady Sherlock. Before I came to the House-although I was deeply involved in political life, with responsibilities in the organisation of the Labour Party-I was intrigued by the way in which the House worked and in particular by how the definition of the role of Members of this House was contrasted with the roles understandably played in another place. The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, in the course of the night, has said how hard it is to define those roles, because so many things would come along that you had never seen before and make you question whether you had ever really understood the extremities of the role that you might play.
I understood very well that it was difficult to define those roles precisely. The then Leader of the House was Lord Williams, who was most certainly a good and treasured friend and a very great guide to so many of us in the ways that the House works. Gareth Williams was kind enough to describe to me the complementary character of the roles played by the two Houses-that is, the jobs which were done in the Commons and the Lords, even if it would have been hard to write down a job description particularly for Members of the House of Commons. None the less, you could understand that process. I respected that because I understood it, which is what brings me to follow the proposition put forward by my noble friend Lady Sherlock.
In almost every debate that I have had the privilege to attend in your Lordships' House on the future of this House, the conversation has focused almost entirely on how many people should be here; very rarely has the debate been about how many people should be at the other end of the building, though of course that issue has come round in this legislation. However, it has always been about the numbers. I find that an extraordinary way to describe any system, or to consider what might happen in such a system. Perhaps it is because I am a pragmatist, too narrow in my vision or whatever, but I always start by asking the purpose that we are intended to fulfil, and whether we are fit for that purpose. Is it possible to work out what each of the different elements of our parliamentary system is supposed to do to the benefit of the people of the United Kingdom? The answer to those questions seems
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There will of course be different opinions about the answer and the qualities of the answer. However, there will be an answer about how many people there should be so long as you know what you are intending to do and whether you think you can make those functions fit for purpose. Yet that has rarely been part of our debate. I am not criticising any noble Lord for that because the propositions have generally been put to us in those terms. I am not sure that, had this House had its way, we would ever have discussed the subject from that end of the telescope. We would have started with a more rational discussion about function. Every so often, however, we have had an element of that discussion.
I am deeply concerned now in part because I think that the atmosphere here has become awful and sour. I do not want to contribute to that at all. It is certainly an awful transformation from the time when I had the privilege of sitting on that Front Bench and experienced great courtesy right across the House in our deliberations on the issues with which I was concerned. It is not just because of that. It is because I think that we can identify some characteristics of the changes in the system that should make us all pause and really think about whether we can do this without a proper reflection on the whole issue of the numbers here and the function that we are supposed to perform.
I am not making this argument because I think it will produce an impossible circle in which we cannot do one thing without the other, and then we cannot do the other without the first. I truly understand that argument. We have tried to elaborate our constitution over probably centuries but certainly decades, since the reforms following the Budgets of Lloyd George. That has been done at a pace at which it has been possible to assess the constitutional impact of one set of proposals and to digest those before moving to the next set of constitutional propositions. There has been the time to do it.
In other words, we did not say that it was impossible to do it all together because you would never know where to start or where you would break deadlock, but we have had the luxury-if I can put it in this way to your Lordships' House-of digesting it and thinking about the impact. So, even if we did not write the constitution down in a very specific form, we had the chance to grasp the fundamental elements of it and to develop conventions which I think are sadly now missing for the most part, which allowed a degree of organic development of the relationship between the two Houses.
Those are not the circumstances in which we find ourselves now. We are in circumstances where it is obviously intended, and I understand why, to produce a swift and dramatic set of reforms to your Lordships' House in the wake of the reforms to the other end of this Building, and there will be no time for any iterative process in which people can compose, even in that rather more organic way, any kinds of constitutional arrangements. I just say this: were it to be the case, for
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There will be two sets of elected people in this Building, two sets of numbers without a proper digest of any constitutional issue, because we will not have allowed ourselves the time for the necessity of making that analysis-it is not a luxury-and there will be constitutional deadlocks. I do not like using overdramatic language, but in my view there is likely to be chaos. That chaos will be compounded by the arrangements with the European Parliament and the devolved legislatures around our country-they may increase in number, but there will be chaos even with the current number-and, certainly, by the relationships with local government, because we are not doing ourselves the courtesy of thinking through what the framework of these constitutional arrangements ought to be.
That can hardly be the way in which a genuinely mature legislature, as we have, approaches questions of this size and this importance. It cannot be right to do it this way. So, even if it is thought by some to be a lost cause, I ask that we pause and consider. In doing it in the way that we are, we will probably end up with something about which in a year, or in 18 months, every one of us will say, hand on heart, "I never wanted that; it was not where I intended to go or what I think was desirable for the legislature of this country". Everyone will repent it, not with ease but with great regret, and what is lost will be irreplaceable.
Lord Trimble: I apologise to cut short the noble Lord's apologies, but I wanted to come in before he sat down. I found myself in considerable agreement with the comments that he was making about the consequences for Parliament as a whole if we find changes to this House rushed through this House in the way that he mentioned.
I want to put this point to him: does he appreciate that the consequence that he warns against is made much more likely if, in this House, there is a determined campaign to obstruct the primary legislative project of the present Government, and that the Opposition at the moment are getting dangerously close to that territory? The Opposition need to consider the unintended consequences, such as the noble Lord has mentioned, of their current behaviour.
Lord Triesman: I thank the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, for putting that point to me. I suppose that the fundamental point that I am trying to make is this: without some proper digest of both the parts, it is very unlikely that we will come to a satisfactory conclusion. In that, I see that we are broadly in agreement, although I do not want to put words into the noble Lord's mouth. Were it to be the case that we did not try to pursue these arguments as convincingly as we could,
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I get back to my apology, in a way: I do apologise but, having not spoken, I hope that noble Lords will understand that I feel very passionate about these possible consequences. I suspect that there are a good many people in your Lordships' House who feel the same anxiety and can see this calamity unfolding, without any real arrest of its process or the discussion that we really need in order to get those questions right. I thank noble Lords for allowing me the opportunity to put that point.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, these two amendments rather bring it all together. The effect of my noble friend Lord Knight of Weymouth's amendment would be that the Bill did not decide the number of Members in the House of Commons until the membership and powers of a reformed House of Lords had been agreed by both Houses of Parliament. As I understand the amendment, once we knew what we wanted the Lords to do and how their membership was going to be selected-and, presumably, once we knew what its relationship was with the Commons-then, and only then, would we decide what the numbers in the Commons should be. The thinking is that if, for example, we were completely satisfied that all the House of Lords did was scrutiny and nothing else, that would tutor us in how large both the House of Lords and the House of Commons should be.
My noble friend Lord Grocott's amendment is, with respect to my noble friend, slightly more opaque. Its effect would be that this Bill never came into force, as I understand it, until the Lords was smaller in number than the Commons. My noble friend's amendment is opaque because it gives no indication, although this may come in his next amendment, of what the size of the Commons should be.
These amendments raise principled issues. First, there is the basis for the reduction in the size of the Commons-that is, are we trying to change the function of the Commons in any way? The noble Lord the Leader of the House has put that to rest; in the interview that he gave to Sky Television, where he gave his clearest exposition, he said that the public want fewer politicians, especially around the Commons, and 50 is about right. That is a précis of what he said to Sky yesterday, and that, as I understand it, is the reason.
The noble Lord is saying not that the function of the Commons should be changed in any way but only that the numbers should be reduced because people do not like politicians any more. The logic of that must be that if people do not like politicians any more, we should also be reducing the number of politicians in the Lords. However, as many of my noble friends have pointed out, the number of noble Lords since 5 May 2010 has gone up by 117. So it is quite difficult to see what the logic is of the Government's position with regard to the Lords.
Perhaps that is not surprising, because the noble Lord the Leader of the House has not told us what the detailed plans are. I understand that we will be seeing them in the next few weeks. I do not know what he can tell us but it would really help us to know, first, what he envisages as the role of the Lords. Does he envisage its role to remain the same as it is at the moment? Secondly, does he envisage the size of the House being smaller or larger than it is at the moment? If so, what size will it be? Thirdly, what does he envisage as being the process for becoming a Member of this House? Will the House be wholly elected or substantially elected, or will there be some other form of entry? If election is to play a part in it, which I understand it is, how will he ensure that the Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, indicated, does not become a competitor to the Commons? Why is election to the Lords any less valid that that to the Commons? How will the Government ensure, if they want the Lords to be a scrutinising House, that it remains exclusively so? The noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, who made an excellent speech, said that she had discovered that this House is more attentive to the concerns of people who need help. Is that because of the structure of the House? Will that be lost in what the noble Lord proposes?
I do not think the amendments of either my noble friend Lord Knight or my noble friend Lord Grocott are sustainable, but they allow the noble Lord to indicate to us how the Bill relates to his proposals for Lords reform. They come together because the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Nick Clegg, has said in many speeches that his great reform programme-the most important since the 1832 Act-includes, co-linked with this Bill, the reform of the House of Lords. I say that they come together, because the relationship between the Lords and the Commons is also affecting the position in which we now find ourselves in this House.
My experience of being in this House during the past 13 years is that we have made progress in substantially amending Bills and occasionally stopping them altogether, including those which the Government of whom I was a member proposed, because we have understood when we had to reach agreement and when it was possible to block things. This is an occasion when we need to make progress and agree things, but, because we are a self-regulating House, it inevitably involves give-and-take on both sides. That is quite easy to achieve when there are three separate parties. Where, however, two of the parties come together, as they do in the coalition, it has two effects: first, it gives those two parties much greater power and enables them to refuse to make concessions that would otherwise be made; secondly, and just as significantly, once an agreement has been reached between the two members
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We now need better skills than in the past to find a way forward. I said at the beginning of yesterday that the leadership of the Labour Party is willing to sit down and find a way out of this new position. I make it clear that we will do so with good will by negotiating either a process or the substance. We should, as Members of this House with substantial responsibilities for its continued success, both recognise that more is required than previously. I completely endorse what my noble friend Lord Prescott said: that our survival depends on our ability to negotiate effectively.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I am delighted to hear the noble and learned Lord say that he did not agree with the amendments, and I agree with him. We have had a magnificent and wide-ranging debate lasting some three hours. Nearly three hours ago, the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, accused me of spraying innuendo. I had no idea what he was talking about, but it is rather a delightful phrase and I should like to keep it. I shall find an opportunity to use it in the weeks and months ahead.
We have had a bit of coalition philosophy. I did not follow much of it, but I am sure that we will hear about the terrible things it means for the Opposition in the near future. I welcome the offer made by the noble and learned Lord to discuss and to negotiate. If only he had done that at the beginning of November when I talked to him about the number of days that we should sit; but the noble and learned Lord got batey with me when I suggested that we should negotiate. So I welcome the change of tone. It is immensely good news.
We have had several different strands during the course of the debate, some of which had something to do with the amendments and some that did not. There was a strand on Lords reform and that there should be no change to the House of Commons until reform of the Lords has been completed. There was a strand that there should be no change to the House of Commons under any circumstances for a whole variety of reasons. We then had a long debate by various noble Lords on the process. Somehow members of the Opposition have turned themselves into great victims of the coalition. I am not a psychiatrist, so I need to speak to my noble friend Lord Alderdice about this. There is now a sort of victim culture that speaks of how, "We have all been put upon by the Government". I feel put upon by the Opposition, but the Opposition feel put upon by the coalition as though there was something immoral about it. It is as if uniting in the House of Commons and uniting here is a dreadful thing. They do not accept the changes and it is an extraordinary thing.
There is also a new view, which is that the Opposition somehow have a right to what they call compromise, even if-or, in fact, especially if-they have not won a vote. This is a most bizarre concept that I have never heard before, but I recognise that members of the
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Lord Peston: I thank the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. I welcome his friendly remarks. However, does he remember that when he was the Minister and I was the principal spokesman, we were often dealing with Bills that neither he nor I understood, so we had great difficulties? I distinctly remember one occasion when he said that he really had to get one of his Bills through, so he asked what concessions could be made in order to do that. I paused, at which he said, "You don't understand the Bill and nor do I. Why not go and see the officials? They will give you some concessions and then we can get the Bill through". That was the atmosphere, but that is not what is happening on this Bill at the moment. The whole thing has totally changed.
Lord Strathclyde: That strikes me as an eminently sensible way of doing business, but in those days we were dealing with relatively minor details. On this occasion, it is the fundamental principles that noble Lords opposite dislike so much. Having themselves introduced the concept of AV, they are now the first to deny it. They say that it is not the principle of AV but that it is the wrong date; it is the wrong time and it is the wrong electorate. Not enough women or BMEs voting, it is not in Gaelic, and other issues have been brought forward in a plethora of other amendments. But when it comes to reducing numbers in the House of Commons, they totally oppose the principle. There is some shaking and nodding of heads opposite. There is a confusion of policy. We still do not know whether it is official Labour Party policy to campaign in elections around the country for 650 MPs. If it is, they might want to tell us how they got to the figure of 650. I look forward to that.
Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, it is very interesting to hear the Leader of the House telling us how difficult it is to understand Labour Party policy. Surely the purpose of this part of the debate is for him to explain the policy of the Conservative Party and the Government and to explain to us exactly why-because we are still waiting-they have settled on the figure of 600 Members of the House of Commons as the perfect number.
Lord Strathclyde: Our policy is crystal clear. There should be 600 Members of Parliament in the House of Commons, 50 fewer than the current number. We
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Lord Soley: Definitely. First, a number of us have been saying for some years that there is a case for reducing the size of the House of Commons, but the argument is more complex than simply coming up with a figure. The problem is this magic figure that he just referred to again. The number is reduced to 600 for no other reason than the one he gave: that this is a good enough system for the House to work. In fact the reason, which was given in a number of documents and speeches by Conservative MPs and by people pursuing that policy in the Conservative Party, is that it would decrease Labour representation in the House of Commons. That is in writing; the noble Lord can read it. I quoted some of it yesterday.
Lord Strathclyde: I must admit that I have not done a great study of this, but I am reminded that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, said that if that was the reason, it was not the case, and I am very happy to rest with that. I do not think it is a partisan policy by the coalition somehow to reduce Labour representation. What is part of our policy is to have an equalisation of constituencies across the country.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, the Leader of the House, his noble friend Lord McNally and even the courteous noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, have not answered the question about when a Government last determined in advance of a proper independent inquiry the number of people who should sit in the House of Commons. My noble friend Lady Nye has done some research to help me. Apparently it was 1832 when it was last decided by the Government and, in order to get it through Parliament, they introduced a very large number of new Members to your Lordships' House. I thought that would help the noble Lord because I cannot see why we cannot have the normal custom and practice of looking at parliamentary boundaries independently and a report back. Then we would not have to have the notional figure of 600. It would be done properly, not on the back of an envelope.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving us that information. She asked the question many hours ago and I did not have the answer then. She has the answer now, and that is good news.
The point is that the Boundary Commissions are independent. They will do their review and will advise Parliament on their conclusions. It is equally right that Parliament should say to the Boundary Commissions that we believe the right number across the country is 600. I am in danger of doing what I have accused noble Lords opposite of doing, which is straying from the amendment, and I certainly do not want to do that.
I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Knight, to these debates on House of Lords reform. I can promise him many hours of debate in the months and perhaps even years ahead on this great subject. He joins a small but-I hope the noble Lord will not mind if I say this-noble group of Members who wave the standard of reform and are not much encouraged by their Back Benches. The noble Lord will find that is equally so. Like the noble Lord, Lord Dubs-he is no longer in his place, which is a pity-and many other noble Lords, I recognise that being a reformer in this House is quite a difficult path to tread.
Of course, it is true that Lords reform forms part of a wider series of reforms designed to restore trust in Parliament, but that does not mean that deciding on an appropriate size for the other place is in any way dependent on membership of this House. Determining the size of the other place and reforming this House are not interrelated. If they were, which would come first? As my noble friend Lord Tyler said hours ago-he was absolutely right in his intervention in the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Knight-could we not equally argue that reform of this House cannot be finalised until we agree on an appropriate size for the other place? The two questions are not necessarily connected. If we had done it the other way, I feel sure that the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, would have been the first to have argued it the other way round.
The amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, would have us wait until the number in this House was below the number in the House of Commons. At the moment, there is no means to retire. My noble friend Lord Hunt of Wirral has issued a report and we will be studying it. So many noble Lords are keen on retiring from this House that I hope the report will be accepted and a means for retirement will be accepted forthwith.
When we get to the Government's plans on long-term reform of this House, while no final decisions have been made, I very much hope that a document will be published in the next few weeks. I think I can say that it is likely that an elected senate would be substantially smaller than the current House and almost certainly smaller than another place. I hope that that will put a smile on the face of the noble Lord, Lord Grocott.
Lord Strathclyde: There is an awfully long queue of new Peers and hopeful Peers who would like to come in. Publishing a Bill and sending it to a Joint Committee of both Houses is an important milestone in this debate on reform of the House of Lords, but it is not yet the introduction of a Bill for legislation. We shall have to wait for the Government's decision on that, and of course the Bill will be subject to full parliamentary scrutiny.
Reform of this House is, of course, an important issue, but determining the size of the other place and reforming this House are certainly not connected. I hope that noble Lords opposite feel that I have demonstrated that. This has been a good debate. It has
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Both these amendments ask us to wait, and that is the fundamental message I got from the Labour Party throughout what has been a very long Committee day. It is, "Do not be hasty"-well, we could not be accused of being overly hasty these past few hours-and "Do not make the change in the House of Commons to 600". I believe that there is a majority in this House to make that reduction, and I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.
Lord Knight of Weymouth: We have had an excellent debate, and I do not want to delay the House for very long. It was significant that we heard from many noble Lords who are not the usual suspects in this Committee. I pay tribute to the usual suspects because we have had many more taking an active part in this Committee than we normally do in Bills that come through at any time of day in this House. It is good to hear some new voices, particularly after such a long period of time.
I also felt that the debate proved the first law of Lords reform: the more detailed the proposals, the more likely you are to lose support. That was certainly the case with my speech, which had very little support indeed. In fact, it was a great relief when the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, stood up and started with the immortal words, "I agree with Lord Knight of Weymouth". He then went on to disagree with me, and my noble friend Lady Sherlock did much the same, but occasionally there was a smattering of support for my particularly ingenious solution to Lords reform.
I shall not comment on the many excellent speeches-which is a shame because they came from Members of the House who I admire the most, including my sponsor, the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam-but I should like to comment on three matters. First, there was a point when the excellent debate got bogged down by a tetchy discussion when the noble Lord, Lord McNally, came in. We were distracted and discussed the nature of the proceedings of the Bill rather than the amendments. It is a huge shame that the offer of negotiation now from the Opposition is being rejected. The opportunity was offered when we voted the last time on the House resuming. I hope that very soon the offer for serious negotiations will be taken up and that we will not have many more protracted evenings going on into the following day.
Secondly, in the second speech of the debate, the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, said that, in essence, my amendment was saying "not yet". By some remarkable sleight of hand we seem to have a Session that will now last, virtually, until the Olympics. With some kind of Olympian effort, it may be possible for someone with the expertise and brains of the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, and others who have been dwelling on this subject for some time, to come up with a solution and achieve reform. However, given the comments that we
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Finally, the substance of the amendment concerns the significant linkage between the numbers in your Lordships' House and in the other place. The noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, was right to say that there is an importance in the order of doing things, and I think we are doing things in the wrong order. For example, if in the end this House is wholly or partially elected, that will increase the number of elected representatives in this country and increase the cost of representation-and those are the two reasons given for Part 2 of the Bill. We may need to return to these issues on Report but, for now, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Grocott: My Lords, this will be the last amendment before we need to conclude the proceedings of this day's Committee as a courtesy-the House would expect no less-to the three new Members who are being introduced today. That may be relevant to the discussions that we have just had but, in view of the procedure that quite properly has to be observed, it would be quite wrong if we went on very much longer.
This is a simple amendment. It follows on from the discussions that we have just had because, believe it or not, it is an attempt to compromise; it is an attempt to meet one of the objections that the Front Bench opposite has raised to those of us who are keen for the House of Commons to remain at about 650 Members.
The position is, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, in particular, said, one of the problems with every redistribution is that figures get rounded up and the House gets larger and larger. I have already said that I strongly support a House of 650. I have not liked having to be here right through the night; it is not a good way of considering such a major constitutional Bill. However, it has had one huge advantage. I need to remind the House that we have been debating most of the night the reasons for the Government's decision to reduce the House of Commons from 650 to 600. It is sometimes only when you have a very long debate that the barren nature of the Government's position is laid bare. They have so far completely failed to explain to the House where the figure of 600 came from. They have completely abandoned their first justification for doing it, which was that it would reduce the costs of democracy. That is what Ministers said time and again, but they do not even attempt that defence for the reduction of MPs any longer and I hope that whoever
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It was in the later reaches of the night that it became apparent to me, and to any dispassionate person listening to the debates, that the Government could not say in two sentences why it was of such imminent importance that the House of Commons should be reduced to 600 Members. My amendment, which I acknowledge is badly worded, although I drafted it as effectively as I could, says that at the next Boundary Commission-which, I am afraid, we have already decided will be as the Government wish, in that it will come quickly and there will be a short period of consideration for redistribution-the numbers should not be rounded up, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, rightly says they normally are, but should be rounded down. That means that over a period of redistribution, rather than in one great shock, the size of the House of Commons should be slowly reduced.
I do not like that, and feel strongly that it should be 650. We have been told that somehow or another we need to try to reach agreement on some of these matters. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, has left but I was astonished at something he said, which I tried to take down verbatim, when we suggested that there should be compromise. I apologise if I have completely misinterpreted him but he said, "Governments reach compromises only if they lose amendments". I do not object to him not being here at the moment as he has been here a long time, but, if that is what he said, I hope that when he reads Hansard he will rethink that statement. It was certainly never the position of the Labour Government in my time that you seek compromise only if you lose an amendment. You seek compromise all the time, which is what a Committee stage is for, but that has not happened on this Bill. Ministers should say, "We don't like that amendment very much. It may have some good points but let's go away to see if there is anything there". Of course, we reach compromises on ping pong, as and when that arrives.
I shall not prolong this short amendment. I am saying simply that the Government are not getting all that they want if they do not get a cull of 50 MPs immediately. I am emphatically not getting all that I want, but this is something of a compromise. I hope that we might get something from the noble Lord, Lord McNally, in the spirit in which it is offered.
Lord Bach: My Lords, as ever, my noble friend Lord Grocott has come forward with an ingenious plan that the Government should consider carefully. It is a constructive proposal which, as he said, seeks to tackle one of the central complaints that have been made about the current rules for drawing constituency boundaries. That complaint is that the rules have the potential to give rise to a ratchet effect, causing the total number of constituencies to increase with each review.
We have heard that the size of the House of Commons has remained broadly stable since 1983 at around 650. None the less, we accept that the interplay between
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"The consequences of the application of Rules 5 and 6 is that whenever seats are awarded under those Rules above a review area's entitlement on the basis of the electoral quota alone the number of constituencies recommended will be greater than the previous total. These new, higher, totals will in turn be used as divisors for calculating the electoral quotas at the next general review. At that review Rules 5 and 6 will again operate, so that the tendency for the numbers of seats to increase will be increasingly cumulative".
My noble friend's amendment would address that problem by capping the House of Commons at a maximum membership of 650 and would place a downward pressure on the number of constituencies created by future reviews, by stipulating that the numbers must always be rounded down. There are some attractions to the amendment and we think it to be much preferable to the rather rigid and ill considered proposals to fix the Commons at exactly 600 seats.
First, the amendment starts from the basis that 650 is a more appropriate size for the membership of the other place. The Government believe that there should be a significant departure from that position and that 600 seats would be the optimum size of the other place. However, at the risk of repeating what has been said, the Government have so far failed to advance any compelling evidence to support that position.
Secondly, the amendment would provide the Boundary Commission with an element of flexibility in doing its calculations, albeit in one direction. It does not repeat the folly of the Government who, by fixing the House of Commons at an exact number, will make the task of the Boundary Commissions very difficult, not just in the next review but in the review that will follow. In any event, the Committee knows that we believe that it is wrong in principle for Parliament to set the exact figure.
We see advantages in my noble friend's amendment. However, we on the Front Bench tabled yesterday-or perhaps I should say today; it was about 24 hours ago-Amendment 58A which is a better model for addressing the same problem. I remind the Committee that our amendment would commence the process of drawing boundaries by establishing an electoral quota through the method of a fixed divisor and be based on an assumption of a House of Commons of 650 Members. The advantage is that that would anchor the House of Commons at approximately 650 Members, but allow for a small variation above or below that figure, depending on the mathematical rounding associated with the special exemptions, including certain seats in Northern Ireland-an issue which we will no doubt consider in future amendments. That was the preferred method recommended, on the advice of the Boundary Commissions, in the Home Affairs Committee report to which I referred.
On this side, we think that my noble friend's amendment is an alternative to our proposal and is certainly one which the Government should certainly take away to consider and see if it meets their requirements.
Lord McNally: My Lords, in introducing the amendment, the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, reminded us that three new Peers will be introduced at 2.15 pm. I wonder whether the House authorities have checked whether they have been watching the television overnight and are indeed on their way. All I would say to them is that there is still time.
As has just been pointed out, this amendment seeks to keep the number of Members in the House of Commons at 650 for the 2013 boundary review. Like our proposals, it attempts to address the fact that has been recognised on all sides of the House that there has been a tendency for successive boundary reviews to increase numbers of constituencies at every general review. They have been increased only by a small amount, but nevertheless that constitutes upward pressure. The noble Lord, Lord Grocott, has put forward a plan that I will not describe as ingenious as we fear that, if it were adopted, it would take perhaps 50 years to get down to the target level in this Bill of 600 as it is not entirely clear how the process of rounding down would function.
The noble Lord, Lord Grocott, said that we had abandoned the claim that our objective is cost saving. However, I was present on at least three occasions during the night when we pointed out that our measures would result in cost savings. They would not be large but they would certainly not be trivial, as noble Lords on the other side of the Chamber claimed. Therefore, we have not lost the objective of saving public money but, as I have said so often, we are basically motivated by the objective of getting fair votes in fairly drawn constituencies. Although we have listened to what the noble Lord said, we tend to follow the view of the secretary of the Boundary Commission for Scotland on moving the number in the Commons downwards. He has said:
Lord Grocott: My Lords, I have already said that I have no intention of going beyond 1 pm on this. Should I wish to test the opinion of the House, that would take us beyond that time, so I recognise the constraint within which I am operating. I am not surprised but disappointed with the response, although it was made in an emollient way so perhaps I am being over-hopeful in thinking that we could get some movement on this.
Lord Grocott: I suggest that the noble Lord still needs a bit of practice in the art of emollient speaking but it is a start. However, I simply cannot sit down without saying one sentence about the costs. The Government's figures claim that culling 50 MPs would save in the order of £12 million. We know that we have to have an accelerated Boundary Commission-that is
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Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn. It may be helpful if I confirm that the House will sit today at 2.15 pm for introductions and Oral Questions. The intention is then to proceed with the 10th day in Committee on the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill, as was indicated in the House of Lords Business. Noble Lords may wish to be aware that when we return to the PVSC Bill after Oral Questions, we will continue to use the revised ninth Marshalled List. Clearly, it is to the advantage of the House and the organisation that we do not seek to do any reprint at the expense of the taxpayer.
I should also make it clear that we will not proceed with the seventh day in Committee on the Public Bodies Bill, which had been scheduled for this afternoon. In discussion with usual channels, there is a conversation to be had about the time of ending today. It will of course depend on progress of business, but it is not anticipated that the House will go until as long as 10 pm. I know that usual channels are keen to see if it is possible to rise around a dinner hour which is yet to be determined.
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