To ask the Chairman of Committees whether there are any plans to tidy up and clean the stonework in the inner courtyards of the House of Lords on a similar basis to the work done on the Royal Court, Speaker's Court, Commons Court and Commons Inner Court.
The Chairman of Committees (Lord Brabazon of Tara): My Lords, the Parliamentary Estates Directorate is planning to begin trials of stone-cleaning work in Chancellor's Court and State Officers' Court in October 2014. It is hoped that work on these courtyards will be completed by October 2015, after which work on Peers' Court will begin in October 2015 to be completed by October 2016. I should point out that these are only estimated timings at the moment and that the programme of works may change.
Lord Flight: My Lords, this is somewhat of an end-of-term Question but I am delighted for the Chairman of Committees to announce the plans for cleaning the seven internal courtyards of the Palace of Westminster. For 15 years, it has struck me as a great pity that, while two or three had been cleaned, the majority in the middle were a dirty mess. I would just comment that we have had announcements of cleaning, but what about tidying up?
The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, there are a great many other works going on in the palace-principally fire safety, mechanical engineering and cast iron roofs. All those require facilities for contractors on the estate, which on the whole means portacabins. I am afraid that they will be around for as long as is required. As for other bits of tidying up, we obviously do our best to make sure that there is not too much clutter in the courtyards but it probably is an inevitable result of the great deal of work that is going on elsewhere.
Lord Touhig: My Lords, during last week's heavy rain, much of the new footpath across Abingdon Green was under water, as was the area in front of Old Palace Yard. Can the Chairman of Committees do something about the drainage in those areas? In the mean time, if we have any more warnings of severe rain, could those of us who do not have offices in the palace be issued with waders?
The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, having come from home yesterday, I can say to the noble Lord that there was a great deal of rain around there too. A lot of the roads and pavements were flooded.
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Lord Trefgarne: My Lords, is this not the last occasion on which the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, will answer Questions in his present capacity? We thank him and congratulate him on what he has done over the past 10 years.
The Chairman of Committees: I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, and for the expression from the House. It is indeed the last time on which I shall answer a Question on these sorts of matters. But I can tell noble Lords that the issue of the works going on in the palace will go on for a lot longer and many more of my successors will be dealing with it.
The Chairman of Committees: I am not certain that I should try to answer that question, mainly because I do not know the answer, but I would have thought that they would go up in value as historic items.
Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, I wonder if I might return to the subject of the original Question. Will the noble Lord consider retaining one of our courtyards in an uncleaned state as a permanent reminder to all of us of the casual environmental damage we sometimes cause, which reveals itself only many years after we have caused it?
The Chairman of Committees: That is an interesting suggestion. I am old enough to remember the great London smogs that caused this damage to the building in the first place, and therefore on the face of it the noble Lord's suggestion is a good one. However, I would resist it because of the damage being done to the building as of now, and therefore it is necessary to get on with cleaning and repairing it.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Henley): My Lords, we await the decision of the European Court of Human Rights on whether to accept Qatada's referral request. We wrote to the Strasbourg court to ask that it reject this application both on the merits of the case and on the timing of his request. Qatada, meanwhile, remains in detention.
Lord Henley: My Lords, I cannot give a precise answer on when he will be deported because that matter is in the courts. However, I do not accept what the noble Lord says about there being a shambles last week. It was quite clear from all the advice and all the precedents that the three months for making the referral expired at midnight on 16 April. My right honourable friend made her decision on that basis. We now await to see what the courts are doing.
Lord Faulks: My Lords, on 7 February, the last occasion on which the noble Lord answered Questions about Abu Qatada, he was asked whether the Government could provide a new reassurance that this sort of situation would not recur, and he referred to the fact that the Government were hoping that reform of the Strasbourg court might make it less likely. We have now had the Brighton declaration. Can the Minister tell the House whether the Government think that this is more or less likely to happen again, and if it is less likely to do so, why?
Lord Henley: My Lords, my noble friend is a lawyer and therefore will know that we can never give an absolutely cast-iron guarantee about what the courts or lawyers might or might not do, but I can say to him that the agreement reached at the Brighton conference represents a substantial package of reforms and marks a significant step towards realising the goals that the Prime Minister set out at Strasbourg.
Lord Anderson of Swansea: Will the noble Lord give the best guesstimate he can of how much, over the past decade and under both Governments, the British taxpayer has had to pay to keep this man and his family in this country by way of social security payments and legal aid? When will this end?
Lord Henley: My Lords, I cannot give that figure to the noble Lord, much as I would like to because I think it is one that the public ought to know. If I can make some sort of guesstimate, working with my own department, the Ministry of Justice and the Department for Work and Pensions, I will certainly do so. However, I can give him an assurance that my understanding is that he is not to have his costs paid in the current matter of the referral to the European Court of Human Rights.
Lord Tomlinson: Has not the Minister rather overplayed the importance of this when compared with the Government's objectives in the Brighton declaration? Will he give an assurance that we will abide totally by the Brighton declaration, that we will cease as a country to suffer the humiliation of having our Government condemn the European Court of Human Rights, and that we will regard it in the way that it always should have been regarded, as the bulwark of our civil liberties?
Lord Henley: My Lords, I do not accept what the noble Lord says at all. All I said was that I thought that the declaration represented a substantial package of reforms. There could be many more reforms to that court. The noble Lord knows perfectly well that it very often exceeds its functions and goes beyond what was ever intended in 1950 when we signed up to the original convention on human rights.
Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, the procedural issues are important but so, too, is the substantive issue. With the Government having reached what they regard as an acceptable memorandum of understanding with the Jordanian Government as to the evidence that will be used in a trial in Jordan, can the Minister tell the House how that process will be monitored to ensure compliance with the memorandum of understanding?
Lord Henley: My Lords, we will maintain very close contact with the Jordanian Government when we manage to extradite this man to Jordan and he faces his trial there. We will make sure that we keep fully cognisant of what goes on in the trial in that country.
Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, when I was the Security Minister I was constantly struck and somewhat surprised by how my opposite numbers in a number of European countries seemed able to return terrorists to the countries to which they belonged. Perhaps we could ask those countries how they manage to circumvent the rules and how they avoid getting into the complete muddle that we seem to have got in.
Lord Henley: My Lords, other countries do things in other ways. The important thing to remember is that this country abides by the rule of law and listens to what the courts say, however unpalatable that might be. I think that what that court has done is unpalatable. We hope that it will see reason on this occasion and accept that his referral is out of time and that there are no merits in the case whatever.
Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, whatever the merits of the 24 hours that were being debated at the beginning of this matter, did my noble friend notice that the infection can spread to the Back Benches opposite? The noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, suggested in his supplementary that the dramas had happened last week when in fact they had happened the week before. Seven days is an even longer period to lose.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the Minister has already referred to listening to the court. In terms of lost days, he will know that the Prime Minister told the BBC that his officials had checked with the European court the deadline for the appeal. Will the Minister give the House of Lords chapter and verse as to when the Home Office checked with the European court and what the court said?
Lord Henley: My Lords, the Home Office and other parts of the Government have been in regular contact with the court ever since the judgment back on 17 January. We are absolutely clear, and both precedent and legal advice are clear, that the deadline for the referral was within-I stress "within"-three months, by midnight on 16 April, and that the judgment comes into effect after three months; that is, after midnight on 16 April. That could hardly be clearer and the precedents could hardly be clearer.
Lord Hughes of Woodside: My Lords, it appears that all the discussions and advice were handled verbally. Are we to believe that that is the case? Is there nothing in writing or a paper trail to say specifically that these deadlines were properly arrived at? If not, why can that not be published?
Lord Henley: My Lords, I can only repeat the answer that I gave to the noble Lord's noble friend, Lord Hunt. I said that we have been in constant contact with the court, that all legal advice and legal precedents indicated that this was the case, and that the difference between the timing for the referral, which had to be within three months, and the timing for the judgment-that is, after-made it quite clear that midnight on the 16th was the moment in question.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, the Minister has not given the information on exactly when the court advised the Government that that was the date. He referred in his answer to my noble friend Lord Hunt to legal advice and general advice in correspondence with the court. What is the exact date on which the court in Strasbourg gave advice to the Government that the final date was the one which the Government used?
Lord Henley: My Lords, the point I was making, if the noble Baroness would be fair enough to listen to me, was that we had been in regular contact with the court on these matters. It was quite clear from precedent and legal advice that the case that I have put forward is the right one. Therefore we were satisfied that we were right to consider that the last possible moment for referral was 16 April at midnight.
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: My Lords, this is a serious question-with respect to those opposite-and the Minister has still not answered the questions about the future. What are the Home Office's plans for dealing with this man and when can we expect him to be deported? Please can I have an answer?
Lord Henley: My Lords, like the noble Lord, and like the previous Government-who tried to do something about this for 10 years-I and all other noble Lords
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The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Henley): My Lords, the Government take recent allegations of police racism very seriously. The firm actions taken by the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police are exactly those that we would expect other service leaders to take if faced with similar issues. We do not believe that a thematic inspection by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary is necessary at this stage.
Baroness Howells of St Davids: I thank the noble Lord for his reply. He will recall that on 29 November he assured the House that there was no racism in the police force. Circumstances have shown that he was wrong. Will he consider again encouraging the police force to begin racism awareness training among the constabulary? We need to get rid of the Aryan myth of white superiority once and for all and I believe that it is necessary that we should all understand what that is.
The Commissioner's statements were very encouraging. Is the Minister able to arrange a meeting between those of us who are very interested in this subject and the commissioner so that we can explain to him what is really meant by institutional racism and the recommendations in Macpherson can be acted on?
Lord Henley: My Lords, I owe the noble Baroness an apology if I suggested that there was no racism within the Metropolitan Police. It is obviously wrong to suggest that any organisation has no racism within it. What I was trying to get over on that occasion, and on the two occasions last week when I dealt with questions of this sort, was that institutional racism within the Met has largely been dealt with. It was encouraging that the most recent cases of racism were reported by the police themselves and therefore this was a strong sign that these matters were being dealt with.
I would be more than happy to assist in arranging a meeting between the noble Baroness and others and either the Commissioner or the Deputy Commissioner, whomever she considers the most appropriate person
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Lord Condon: My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that the wider police service must show great vigilance and endeavour to respond well to race and diversity issues? They must not become complacent and somehow see race as yesterday's problem or yesterday's issue. This is an ongoing challenge that the service must respond to well at all times.
Lord Henley: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Condon, with his great experience, is absolutely correct to express those points. I fully agree with him. I remind him and the House that an important part of the regular reviews by HMIC-the inspectorate of the constabulary-is that any force inspections should always include some detail of an assessment of equality, diversity and those matters.
Lord Dholakia: My Lords, at least 27 police officers are under investigation for racist behaviour. The noble Baroness, Lady Howells, is rightly concerned about that. She has done a tremendous amount of work following the death of Stephen Lawrence on the adversarial contact between the black community and the police. While we appreciate the action taken by the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, is it not right that we should have a thematic inspection of racial issue policies, particularly in relation to training, recruitment and retention, bearing in mind that the cuts to police expenditure are likely to impinge on these areas?
Lord Henley: My Lords, I am grateful for the question from my noble friend Lord Dholakia. I stress that I did not rule out a thematic review-I just said that I did not think it necessarily appropriate at this stage. I can assure my noble friend that there have been thematic reviews in the past. If necessary, that could be looked at again. I repeat the important point in the answer I gave to the noble Lord, Lord Condon, that this is already part of any inspection of the police force. Also, on the very unfortunate recent cases that have appeared in the Met, the great thing is that such cases are at least being reported by their fellow police officers. That is a sign that something is being done. It is progress.
Lord Soley: Does the Minister agree that, over the years, training of the police on racism has improved dramatically but there is a real problem when they then finish their training and join forces which are not representative of the diversity of this country? Should we not put all the emphasis on recruitment and retention of people from across the range so that our police forces represent this country? In that way, you would do far more to resist racism in a force than you would simply in the classroom alone.
Lord Henley: My Lords, I fully agree with the noble Lord. Training is very important but it is also important to make sure that recruitment and retention continue
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Baroness Afshar: My Lords, in the current atmosphere of Islamophobia, could we have an assurance that race includes religion? It seems to me that Muslims are becoming disproportionately targeted. They are of many races and can come in all colours and shades, but because of their religion they are being singled out.
Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords, does the Minister agree that successive Governments, probably over the last 40 years, have found it extremely difficult to recruit the maximum number of officers from among ethnic minorities? Can he assure the House that the greatest effort will be made and the heaviest emphasis placed upon this crucial factor?
Lord Henley: My Lords, I can say that great progress has been made over the last 40, 30, 20 and even 10 years on increasing the diversity of the police force so that it better represents the areas that it covers. That will obviously vary from Wales to the Met. I can also tell the noble Lord-and this is important-that the figures from black and ethnic minority communities on their satisfaction and confidence in our police forces seem very similar to figures from white communities.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Henley): My Lords, the UK uses the internationally agreed definition of a migrant, which is someone coming to or leaving the United Kingdom for a period exceeding 12 months. It is right that students intending to stay for that period should be counted because during their stay they are part of the resident population and contribute to pressure on public services infrastructure. It is not appropriate to discount them from net migration statistics.
Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, the department makes no distinction between temporary and permanent migration. Many other countries do, and still fall within the UN definitions. That means that the Home Office is targeting net migration figures that include overseas students, which is directly contrary to the policy of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. Surely now that the e-Borders system will
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Lord Henley: My Lords, I am afraid that in terms of migration my noble friend has got it right. I do not think he would want me to adjust the figures purely to achieve the ends that he suggests, as there might be complaints from the House that we were fiddling the figures, and I do not want to be accused of that. We stick by the long-standing international United Nations measure that students who come to the UK for more than a year are counted as migrants.
Lord Bilimoria: My Lords, I have just returned from the annual UK-India round-table meeting, and this very question was raised. Why cannot the Government exclude foreign students from the target? Foreign students bring up to £8 billion of revenue into this country. In fact, the Government should be trying to double the number of foreign students from 440,000 to 800,000, bringing in another £8 billion. Does the Minister agree-I know this from experience, as my family was educated in this country from India for three generations-that by encouraging foreign students you build generation-long links, with huge benefit to this country?
Lord Henley: My Lords, I totally agree with the noble Lord in that I accept that students coming to universities-and I stress that the Question is purely about students coming to universities-provide very great value to this country, and we want to see their numbers increase in many areas. They have increased over the past year or so, as I understand it, but we want to get rid of some of the bogus students who come here not to study but to work-and that is what we are doing.
Lord Howarth of Newport: My Lords, if the Government were to accept the proposal put to them by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, would they not thereby confer a great benefit on UK universities and on bona fide international university students, as well as on our international standing, and at the same time be able to hit their own immigration target figures, which they have otherwise not a hope of achieving?
Lord Henley: The noble Lord is, yet again, another one who wants me to fix the figures. I do not want to do that. We want to do these things in a proper way, and the definition of migrants is that they are people staying for over a year. We welcome students and do what we can to get them, but we are not going to fix the figures in the manner that he suggests.
Baroness Knight of Collingtree: My Lords, is it not the case that the situation has been made very much worse by the numbers of students who have come here
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Lord Henley: My noble friend is right to point out that quite a large number of students stay on, but the other point to make to her is that quite a number of people coming over in the past-not the university students that we are talking about-were coming over to colleges that did not really exist and were there purely as a scam to get around migration statistics. That is what we have been trying to deal with.
Lord Morgan: My Lords, is this policy not the result of a basic intellectual confusion that has very serious and harmful effects? First, it distorts the statistics on immigration, which causes concern. Secondly, as we have heard, it is extremely harmful to universities and deters many would-be bona fide students from overseas countries, with a great loss of revenue. Thirdly, it seriously imperils relations with Commonwealth countries such as Malaysia, Singapore and India. Should we not think again?
Lord Henley: I think that if the noble Lord looks at the statistics he will find that there has actually been an increase in the number of students from Malaysia and Singapore. I appreciate that there has been a decline in the number from India, but there have been increases from elsewhere. Here we are talking about university students, and we have not seen an overall drop in those numbers.
Baroness Brinton: My Lords, if the Government are not happy to change the system of permanent and temporary migration figures, and given that in the past they have said that they cannot always track students leaving the country, will they please consider using the HESA statistics, which record students when they leave the country-or, even better, get the border agency to ask students as they leave whether they have completed their studies rather than just where they are going?
Baroness Afshar: My Lords, as a student who stayed and was educated at school and university here, I have to say that many of us do not come here just to work but to contribute. We have a lot to contribute, and the current limitations mean that students from the Middle East, particularly from countries such as Iran but also elsewhere, cannot get access any more because the limits are so tight that anyone from outside the Commonwealth has enormous difficulty getting in. Some of us do make good.
Lord Henley: My Lords, I think the whole House is grateful that the noble Baroness came and stayed here, and for the contribution that she has made to the House, but she will also recognise that we have a duty
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That Standing Order 40(1) (Arrangement of the Order Paper) be dispensed with on Tuesday 1 May to enable the resumed debate on the Motion in the name of Lord Richard http://www.parliament.uk/biographies/lords/26702 to be taken as first business, and that no Oral Questions be taken on that day.
Lord Richard: My Lords, perhaps I might say right at the outset that I am glad this debate is now to extend over two days. The subject deserves proper
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It is important, too, at the outset for this House to be clear as to what precisely the Joint Committee was asked to do. Our mandate, in a sentence, was to examine the draft House of Lords Bill. The committee consisted of 13 Members from each House, a total of 26, who I think were carefully chosen to represent as best they could all the views that existed in each House. For the Lords, there were four Conservative Peers-one of whom, the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, is an hereditary Peer-four Labour Peers, two Liberal Democrats, one Cross-Bencher and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester. From the Commons, there were six Conservative Members, five Labour, one Liberal Democrat and one Ulster Unionist. On any view of the matter, this was a large committee. While that of course made it more difficult to achieve consensus, it nevertheless meant that almost every variety of view found expression.
We had 15 evidence sessions, stretching from October 2011 to the end of February this year. We heard evidence from 20 witnesses, including the Minister for Political and Constitutional Reform, Mr Mark Harper, who we saw no fewer than four times. The Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Nick Clegg, gave evidence to us in a lengthy session. We also took evidence via videolink from members of the Australian Senate, particularly on the issues of primacy and constituency representation. In addition to all that, we received 227 written submissions of evidence. I would not recommend that people read every word of the evidence, particularly in relation to the scope covered, unless they are extremely enthusiastic, but I urge them at least to glance at it. Taken together, the oral and written evidence represents as full and comprehensive a survey of the current position, and of possible ways of reforming the House, as it is possible to get. I cannot think of any major issue that was not covered and was not therefore firmly before the committee.
May I now say a word about the function of the committee? It was not a royal commission. Had it been, I hope it would have been smaller and its membership less political and more widely drawn, and it would certainly have been more wide-ranging in its terms of reference. We did not start by being presented with a clean sheet of paper. We were not told to produce a plan for a future House of Lords; that was not the purpose of the committee. We had a Bill to consider, which itself had specific provisions. The Bill had 68 clauses and nine schedules, and was accompanied by a detailed White Paper. That had to be our starting point. However, in looking at the Bill we had to examine virtually all the major issues around the central themes of an elected House versus an appointed
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That the committee was divided was not, perhaps, surprising. The issue has proved divisive now for well over a century. It would have been remarkable had this not been reflected in the committee itself. There were divisions within parties and within the Houses. There was no clearly visible Labour view versus a Conservative view. There was no clear Lords view versus a Commons view. Opinions inevitably differed. However, we managed to create a genuine atmosphere of what I would call rational discussion. The mood in the committee was, on the whole, equable and tolerant; I pay tribute to its members for that. Thankfully, we avoided a "Lords versus Commons" direct confrontation. Both sides and all members of the committee felt that the issue was a bit too serious for that.
I turn now to some of the specific recommendations that the committee made. First, and perhaps most importantly, it agreed by a majority that the reformed second Chamber should have an electoral mandate. That was agreed after a division in which 13 voted in favour and nine against. Of the 13 in favour, nine were MPs and four were Peers. Of the not-contents, seven were Peers, one was an MP and one was the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester. It was a clear vote and a clear majority. In relation to the alternative report, I am somewhat fortified in saying that by the remark on page 31, which says that that a vote of 13 to eight was a considerable and substantive margin.
Secondly, it was agreed that 80 per cent of Members of the reformed House should be elected and 20 per cent should be nominated. In the vote on that, there were 16 contents and six not-contents. Of the contents, nine were MPs, six were Peers and one was the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester. Of the six not-contents, two were MPs and four were Peers. Again, it was a clear vote and a clear majority.
One of the most important points that the committee discussed-and discussed, and discussed-was the primacy of the House of Commons. We unanimously agreed that Clause 2 was of little use and should be discarded. It was, in the committee's view, declaratory only and risked becoming justiciable. Again, there was a vote on primacy of the House of Commons. This was a topic on which we spent a great deal of time. Those arguing in support of the proposition that primacy could not be safeguarded based their case primarily on the belief that once the House of Lords had an electoral mandate it would behave in an unpredictable and confrontational way and would not accept its subordination to the House of Commons. It was argued that that would apply even in the case of finance and taxation.
The other side of the argument pointed out that the Commons would continue to be the House where Governments were made and destroyed; that the Commons had the exclusive right to determine financial and taxation policy; that the House of Lords would be elected on a different electoral system; that 20 per cent of the membership would be appointed not elected; and that the Parliament Acts would continue to apply. The Government's position was that the current
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The vote was 12 in favour and 10 against. Of the 10, one was an MP; of the 12, eight were MPs. I could not help observing at the time, and, indeed, still do, that it is passing strange that if the primacy of the House of Commons is such a burning issue to the House of Commons, only one MP voted against the proposition and eight MPs voted in favour of it. One would expect that Members of the House whose primacy is deemed to be so much under attack would be reluctant to accept that the Bill ensured its continuation, but far from it. The committee agreed with the Government's proposal for election under the STV system, with the variation to take in the practice currently used in New South Wales, which gives voters the right to express a preference between parties as well as individuals.
The committee agreed that conventions governing the relationship between the Houses cannot be legislated for and that such conventions would evolve further once the House of Lords was reformed. We recommended that any new conventions, or modification to existing conventions, should be promulgated by the adoption of a concordat in the form of parallel identical resolutions prepared by a Joint Committee and adopted by each House. In a sense, this is the daughter of Cunningham, if I can use that phrase. It provides a framework within which the two Houses can operate, work out their relationship and within which primacy can be maintained.
On the size of the House, the committee unanimously agreed that a House of 300 Members was too small and that the size of the House should be 450. We also accepted that Members should serve a 15-year, non-renewable term. The vote on that point was somewhat interesting: the contents were 20; the not-contents were two-the two being the noble Lords, Lord Trefgarne and Lord Trimble. Every other member of the committee then present voted in favour.
One of the most important issues that we discussed was the transition from the existing House to the one proposed in the Bill. I wish to say one or two words about the transitional arrangements because I am very conscious that they are of great importance to Members of this House. Of the three transitional arrangements proposed in the White Paper, the committee agreed with that preferred by the Government and set out in the draft Bill. However, the committee also recommended an alternative option, which makes a bigger cut in the transitional membership in 2015 with no further cut until the end of transition in 2025, so that there would be one cull, so to speak, at the beginning of the process and the remainder would go at the end of it. That proposal has the following three characteristics: first, a transitional membership in 2015 would be equal to a benchmark figure derived from the total number of Members attending two-thirds or more of sitting days in the 2011-12 Session. Those transitional Members would remain in place until the final tranche of elected Members arrived in 2025-at which point all the transitional Members would leave. There would
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In the course of our deliberations, we dealt with many other issues-all of which are set out in the report. We made recommendations, for example, on the operation of the Appointments Commission, disqualification of Members and the position of Ministers parachuted into the Lords as Ministers. However, I should like to say a word about two of the more prominent issues that troubled the committee.
It became apparent that one of the issues concerning Members of the House of Commons was the relationship between an elected Member of the House of Lords elected, as he would be, by STV on a large constituency basis and an individual Member of Parliament elected by first past the post for a particular constituency. MPs were clearly worried that elected Members of the Lords would involve themselves in personal casework of the kind currently undertaken by MPs on behalf of their constituents. We therefore recommended that IPSA should make no provision for Members of a reformed House to deal with personal casework, as opposed to policy work, or to have offices in their constituencies. We did, however, consider that elected Members would inevitably be concerned and be approached about regional, local and legislative matters.
The possible use of the Parliament Acts was a subject we considered. We had evidence from the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, both written and oral, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith. Their evidence raised two issues. The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, told the committee that the Parliament Acts could properly be used to reform the Lords, and that the courts would uphold such a decision. As to whether the Parliament Acts would continue to apply to a reformed second Chamber, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, said that there was at least doubt that the Acts, or all their provisions, would apply. The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, said that the better view was that the present Acts would not apply to a reformed second Chamber. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, said that it would, however, be open to Parliament to legislate now-now, my Lords-to make clear that the Parliament Acts should operate in the same way in relation to an elected second Chamber, although the present clause was not acceptable for that purpose. The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, said that it was vital that the reform Bill specified clearly whether or not the Acts would continue to apply to a reformed second Chamber, and he agreed that Clause 2 did not adequately address the question. The Joint Committee therefore recommended that if the Government wished to ensure that the Parliament Acts applied to a reformed House, they should make statutory provision for it.
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I should like to say something about costs. We accepted the recommendation of the Government that the salary of an elected Member should be somewhat below that of an MP but above that of a Member of a devolved Assembly. We also accepted that the sort of constituency allowances that were paid to MPs should not be available to elected Members of the House of Lords. So far as transitional Members were concerned, they should continue to receive a per diem allowance. This was also to be applicable to appointed Members-the 20 per cent. What we could not do was go into the costs of the whole exercise, very simply because although we asked the Government to produce some figures, they did not do so. I regretted that very much because, apart from anything else, it prevented us having a sensible discussion on the issue.
I am sorry to have taken up so much of the House's time with the details of the report, but in view of some of the comments that have been made, I thought it was important that the House should get a clear picture of what we actually recommended. We undertook a thorough and detailed analysis of the proposals put forward in the Government's draft Bill. It is now for the Government to consider our proposals before coming forward with the final Bill, which they can present to Parliament for further scrutiny.
Finally, I say one or two words about the alternative report. By the rules of the House, there could not be a minority report. There was, however, nothing to prevent members of the committee issuing their own commentary on the process, and this the alternative 12 have done. I have read the alternative report with great interest and some surprise. I see that the alternative 12 now call for reconsideration of the 15-year term. I cannot help but observe that 10 of the 12 voted for it in the committee. However, the main problem I have with the alternative report is the suggestion of a constitutional convention on further reform of the House of Lords. It would be lengthy, time-consuming, diffuse and, judging from the report, distinctly overpopulated. I will not bore the House by reading out the provision in the report which sets out the dramatis personae of those who are supposed to be eligible to take part in the constitutional convention. I recommend Members of the House to read it and observe the ominous words at the end of the list:
More important than that is the fact that there is really nothing much left to say about this issue. We have been round this course now year after year after year for more than a century. In the 22 years since I have been in this House, it has been the subject of intense discussion in the course of which the same points are made, remade and re-remade again, again and again. I see no virtue whatever in setting up a convention to reiterate the differences which already exist and which we all know about.
The idea that somehow there is a mechanism whereby all those differences can be fused and that there will then be a general agreement about proposals to reform the House of Lords is fanciful. It is an absurdity.
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I think that the committee has produced a better Bill as a result of our deliberations. I think that that Bill is important constitutionally, indeed, it is important enough that it should be presented to the people in a referendum. That way, we will begin to make some real progress. I beg to move.
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Lord Strathclyde): My Lords, I begin by paying tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Richard. I know that I do so on behalf of the whole House. I reiterate the Government's thanks to him and to all noble Lords who served on the Joint Committee. Perhaps the noble Lord feels like a juror who has sat on an especially long, complex and lurid trial, and he may wish to put in a plea to be excused from any further service to the House of this nature; I am sure that we would readily accept it.
With me and a few others, he shares enormously long experience in debating these issues on the Floor of this House. He was right when he said at the end of his speech that the time has surely come for Parliament to decide once and for all what we want to do.
The Joint Committee has produced a detailed and comprehensive report which will undoubtedly leave its mark on the Government's final proposals. The report is a milestone in a process that began in 1997, shortly after Mr Blair first described this House as an affront to democracy, and which led to the enactment of the House of Lords Bill in 1999. Since then, Labour in government sought to find a policy for the second phase of House of Lords reform, since when the future of this House has been hanging in the balance. During that period we have seen a royal commission in 2000, a first White Paper in 2001, a Joint Committee in 2002-03, a Green Paper in 2003, a second White Paper in 2007, a cross-party working group in 2007-08 and, finally, a third White Paper in July 2008, with, during that time, also votes in the House of Commons. Following the general election in 2010, this coalition Government established a further cross-party committee and went on to publish for the very first time a draft Bill alongside a White Paper in May last year, and that is the Bill which has now been subject to pre-legislative scrutiny by the Joint Committee.
That chronology alone should serve to demonstrate that the search by successive Governments for consensus on a second phase of reform of this House has been very nearly as exhaustive as the Joint Committee's report. Although it may have proceeded in fits and starts, the broad parameters of those discussions have remained constant for some time. Indeed, the central elements of the Government's draft Bill-the scaffolding, so to speak-are derived from the accumulated wisdom acquired through cross-party deliberations over the past 13 years. In the end, however, there is only one way to test whether consensus on the second phase of
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Today is an opportunity for the Lords members of the Joint Committee to elaborate on the conclusions they reached in the course of the pre-legislative scrutiny, and for other Members of the House to comment on those conclusions with a view to informing the Government's deliberations as we consider how best to adapt our proposals. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, has been frank that his chairmanship was a far from simple task. The issues around reform of your Lordships' House have been vigorously contested over the years and it is no surprise that there were robust debates and differences of opinion among the members of the committee. Those culminated in an alternative report, to which no doubt some noble Lords will refer.
It is none the less the case that by a majority the Joint Committee agreed a report that lends support to many of the central elements of the Government's initial proposals, and the Government welcome that. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, has already addressed some of those in his opening speech. Most importantly, the Joint Committee's report concurs with the Government's view that a reformed second Chamber should have a strong electoral mandate, that 80 per cent of Members should be elected under the STV system for 15-year non-renewable terms and that 20 per cent of Members should be appointed, with reserved places for the Lords Spiritual. Of course, the devil is in the detail-it always has been-but that is what the parliamentary process, of which the pre-legislative scrutiny is the first stage, is for.
We have a second Chamber in order to keep the Executive in check, and the Government believe that a democratic mandate obtained through direct elections would enhance the House's ability to perform this function. If anyone has anything to fear from the proposed reforms, it should be the Executive, not least because it is likely that with elections by PR there would never be an overall majority for the Government in a strengthened upper House.
The Joint Committee shares the view that the election of 80 per cent of a reformed House will make the House more assertive. Intriguingly, however, it concludes that a more assertive House would not enhance Parliament's overall role in relation to the activities of the Executive. I should be interested to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Richard, or from other members of the committee who are due to speak today why they reached that particular view.
The Joint Committee concurs with the Government that the reformed House should be much smaller than the current House of Lords, but recommends a House of 450 Members rather than the 300 proposed in the draft Bill. The committee appears to have been persuaded
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For my part, I am not clear what is meant by full and part-time membership of a reformed House. A significant proportion of Members of the House today attend almost every sitting yet the current House is rightly described as a part-time House, most obviously because the House does not sit for long periods of the year. In other areas of our political system, such as local government, individuals manage to hold down a full-time political office, such as being the leader of a council, alongside other remunerated employment. I am not clear whether the Joint Committee envisages that only appointed Members would be able to maintain professional expertise elsewhere. Elections and expertise are not in themselves incompatible, as some Members of another place continue to remind us.
The Government welcome the Joint Committee's support for our proposals that Members of a reformed upper House should no longer serve for life but for a single 15-year non-renewable term and that elections should take place in thirds at the same time as general elections. We are also pleased that the Joint Committee endorsed our proposal for elections to be held by a single transferable vote and we will examine its argument in favour of the STV system used in New South Wales as an alternative to the STV system proposed in the draft Bill. The Government and the Joint Committee are also agreed that there should be no change to the powers and functions of the two Houses.
The Joint Committee argue that the election of 80 per cent of Members will make this House more assertive and affect the balance of power between the Houses in favour of the upper House, even if its formal powers remain the same. However, a majority of the committee considered that the existing conventions and other pillars on which Commons primacy rests would suffice to ensure its continuation, and that therefore Clause 2 of the draft Bill may be unnecessary. Clause 2 was included in the draft Bill in order to put beyond doubt our intention that the House of Commons should retain its primacy. We note the committee's warning that Clause 2 could lay the conventions governing the relationship between the two Houses of Parliament open to judicial intervention, and its insistence that no provisions in the Bill should afford such opportunities in a manner inconsistent with Article 9 of the Bill of Rights. The Government agree with the committee that the conventions governing the relationship between the Houses cannot be legislated for and will, inevitably, continue to evolve.
I observe in passing that some Members of the House, who have been most vociferous in their concern about securing the primacy of the House of Commons, are the very same Members who have recently urged us to break with convention and challenge the financial privilege of another place.
On the Parliament Acts, which the noble Lord, Lord Richard, raised, the Joint Committee received evidence casting doubt on whether the 1911 Act would apply once the House had been reformed. The committee opted to leave that evidence from the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, to speak for itself. Let me be clear: we produced a draft Bill on the basis that the Parliament Acts will continue to apply to a reformed House. We believe that they are well understood and would provide the backstop guaranteeing the primacy of the House of Commons. None the less, we shall consider carefully the evidence given to the Joint Committee by two distinguished Members of this House.
The Joint Committee's report concludes by recommending that, in view of the significance of the constitutional change brought forward for an elected House of Lords, the Government should submit the decision to a referendum. The committee argues that otherwise there would be no opportunity for the electorate to provide a mandate for these proposals. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Richard, when he winds up-and if not him then other members of the committee present today-will elaborate on the reasoning for this and set out why they concluded that the reforms to the composition of the House proposed in the Bill merited a referendum, bearing in mind that the 1999 reforms that produced the current composition of the House were not endorsed in that way. It is worth reminding the House that at the last general election, the manifestos from the three main parties were remarkably similar, whereas this was not true in 1997.
I also invite noble Lords to explain how the committee envisaged that a post-legislative referendum might work; what kind of question might be put to the electorate; and when it should take place. I particularly hope that the noble Baroness the Leader of the Opposition will seize the opportunity to set out her party's approach to these matters, not least because it endorsed the principle of a referendum in its last manifesto. I should also like to hear her objections in detail to the Government's initial proposals which, as many noble Lords pointed out, bear a passing resemblance to those drawn up by Mr Straw in 2008. To many of us, the Labour Party always appears to be in favour of reform but never quite follows through. I very much look forward to hearing the noble Baroness on this point.
The Joint Committee made valuable observations and recommendations in a number of other areas, notably in proposing an alternative transition arrangement and in recommending a per diem allowance in lieu of a salary for transitional Members, and potentially for appointed Members. I will not set out all those areas now, trusting that other noble Lords will touch on them in the course of the debate.
It will be pointed out rightly that the Joint Committee did not agree with everything that the Government proposed, and that there were considerable differences
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We have not yet reached the final decisions on the Government's proposals and will therefore consider carefully the Joint Committee's recommendations, as well as the House's response to the recommendations expressed in today's debate. Although we may not in the end agree with all the answers that the Joint Committee and individual noble Lords offer, much of the value of the process will have lain in throwing up the right questions to the Government and, in the course of the debate, to the Joint Committee.
Lord Strathclyde: A consensus will be the majority in the House of Commons that passes the Bill. I will add, for noble Lords who need tutoring, that if there is no majority in the House of Commons, no Bill will come to this House.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I echo the thanks of the Leader of the House to my noble friend Lord Richard for his speech opening this important debate. I also thank my noble friend and all those who served on the Joint Committee, especially those from all sides of this House, for the enormous amount of work and effort they put into their task. The House has every reason to be grateful.
We are told that further reform of your Lordships' House might form the centrepiece of the Government's legislative programme for the forthcoming Session, to be set out in the gracious Speech to this House next week. Even this close to the Queen's Speech, it seems incredible to those on these Benches-and, I believe, to the whole country-that, given the problems facing the whole country, the coalition Government think that the issue they need to focus on above all is the future reform of this House.
After the Budget there were rows over the granny tax, the pasty tax, the caravan tax, the charities tax, the conservatory tax and the churches tax-virtually every kind of tax. The Government provoked panic petrol buying, there was a cash-for-access row, the embarrassing mishandling of the Abu Qatada case, social cleansing in public housing, attacks in the most dismissive terms from their own Back-Benchers, personal abuse from MPs such as Nadine Dorries, and searching strategic criticism from MPs such as Bernard Jenkin. Then came the entanglement of Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt. Worst of all are the Government's economic policies: the spending cuts going too far too fast, and the absolute lack of a growth strategy tipping Britain back into recession. All of them are linked by one theme and are driven by what the Government have done. They are all self-generated and self-inflicted.
People across the country are deeply worried. They are worried about their jobs, prices, whether they can afford to put meals on the table, whether they have enough money to fill up their cars, the health service, education and crime. What is this Government's response to their worries? It is House of Lords reform. It is no wonder that the polls are day by day a disaster for this Government. Yesterday, the Tories' ratings were below 30 per cent for the first time for eight years. The day before, 67 per cent said they thought that the Prime Minister and the Chancellor were out of touch. Sixty-eight per cent think that the Budget shows that they can no longer even try to claim that we are all in this together. What is the Government's answer to being thought out of touch? It is Lords reform. When the Government are described as incompetent, what is their answer? It is Lords reform.
The reform of your Lordships' House is an important issue and one that we need to get right, but the idea that it is the most pressing issue facing the country is risible. We on these Benches will have more to say on these matters and on the Government's priorities when we begin to debate the Government's legislative programme next week, but we have in front of us today the report from the Joint Committee on the Government's draft House of Lords Reform Bill, and alongside it we have the alternative report from the minority group of members of the Joint Committee. Both are important contributions to the debate on the future of your Lordships' House.
The Joint Committee's report makes many important points, but I particularly want to highlight just four: first, its conclusion that this House should have an electoral mandate provided it has commensurate powers; secondly, its conclusion that Clause 2 of the Government's draft Bill, which seeks to preserve the primacy of the House of Commons simply by asserting it, is not in itself capable of preserving the Common's primacy; thirdly, that work should begin as soon as possible on re-examining the conventions between the two Houses of Parliament as specified in an earlier report by the Joint Committee on Conventions, chaired by my noble friend Lord Cunningham of Felling, which is something that I advocated a long while ago and in doing so was accused by the Deputy Leader of this House of being a reform refusenik; and fourthly, the Joint Committee's recommendation that,
These are important points, but I accept that they are not points on which every Member of your Lordships' House will be able to agree. I know, for example, that some Members of this House, on all sides of the House, are not in favour of this House having an electoral mandate, although I am sure that the Joint Committee's insertion of the important qualification that an elected House of Lords needs to have powers commensurate with that electoral mandate will interest all Members of the House.
I also know that there will be Members of your Lordships' House who are not convinced of the need for a referendum. In this, I do not mean Members on the Liberal Democrat Benches who are following the bizarre insistence of the Deputy Prime Minister that a
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Far be it from me to offer advice to the Government, but it would be much better for the Government, whether the Tory part or the Lib Dem part, to acknowledge what I believe is the inevitable and accept that a constitutional change of this level of importance requires a referendum. The Government should stop trying to deny the British people a voice on this issue, and that is the position of these Benches.
Labour will make it clear in its response to the Queen's Speech that it will take a close look at whatever proposals for further Lords reform the Government bring forward. We have seen the Government's draft Bill but, for instance, we do not believe that the Government can seriously attempt to proceed with Clause 2 of the draft Bill, mentioned by the Leader, given that, as the Joint Committee's report makes clear, it has no support at all beyond the ministerial opinions of Mr Clegg and Mr Mark Harper.
We do not know what Bill we will get yet, but we on these Benches will test it against three criteria: a referendum, dealing properly with the issues of powers and conventions, and our policy of a fully elected House. I know that there are those around this House, including a number behind me, who would not agree with all those criteria. I acknowledge and accept those differences, which reflect views that are strongly, passionately and legitimately held. I know that we will hear those differences in the two days of debate in front of us, and they are clearly displayed in both the report of the Joint Committee and the alternative report of the minority group. However, I urge that these differences of view are respected, whether they are held by Members of your Lordships' House or by individuals and organisations beyond. Strong argument on the issue is right and to be welcomed.
Significantly, I believe that what we see in the alternative report from the minority group of the Joint Committee is just a difference of opinion. We see clear disagreement, but I welcome the fact that the minority group has set out with equal clarity the areas and issues on which it agrees. These areas include: the functions of this House; the greater assertiveness that an elected House would unquestionably wield against the House of Commons; the role of the Bishops in your Lordships' House, the prospect of introducing representatives of other faith groups, and the importance of diversity; the application of the Parliament Acts; and the importance of a referendum. I am sure the whole House will agree that these issues are vital.
Individual Members of your Lordships' House will make up their own minds and come to their own conclusions on the areas in which the minority group makes clear that it does not agree with the Joint Committee-in most cases because it wanted to go further than the Joint Committee felt it was able to go, given its narrow remit of scrutinising only the Government's draft Bill. These areas include the importance of the primacy of the House of Commons-and I note the emphasis given in the alternative report to the authoritative view of Erskine May of what the primacy of the House of Commons rests on and why-as well as issues such as accountability, constituency issues in an elected House of Lords, transitional arrangements for Members of the current House, and the cost of an elected House.
We on these Benches support the criticism made by my noble friend Lord Richard earlier today and by the minority group of the Government's refusal to provide proper costings for an elected House, and I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Lipsey for the work that he has done. We give notice that we will seek to hold the Government to their commitment, given just last week, that in the wake of the publication of these reports they will now provide accurate figures of what an elected House of Lords will cost so that at a time of national austerity the public can take those important views and facts into account.
The minority group makes a strong case for all these issues to be considered by a constitutional convention. The case made by the minority group is interesting. The reform of your Lordships' House is important but it suggests that such a convention should also consider what would happen to the House of Lords, the House of Commons and Parliament as a whole, as well as to the union itself if the people of Scotland were to vote in a referendum in favour of independence. The vexed issue of the West Lothian question also remains on the table, and that should not be considered in isolation. A constitutional convention might also be suitable for considering the impact of such issues on the other devolved areas and the Assemblies of Wales and Northern Ireland.
Since 1997, we have seen a significant programme of constitutional reform, which we on this side of the House believe was well considered, well thought through and well grounded, such as devolution in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. This reform was necessary and has the support of the people. However, since 2010 we have seen proposed constitutional reform that has been none of these things: for example, the political gerrymandering of what is now the Parliamentary Voting Systems and Constituencies Act; the political partiality of what is now the Fixed-term Parliaments Act; the decisive outcome of the AV referendum; and, finally, the bad Bill that is the Government's draft legislative proposal on further House of Lords reform. These issues should have been properly thought through, and they were not. I therefore understand the argument made that the constitutional convention has merit in being a vehicle that could consider these and allied issues.
I am sure that there will be great interest in the recommendation of the consideration given to indirect elections to the House of Lords, including the idea of
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There are many constructive proposals that would aid the reform of this House and which I believe many on all sides consider to be necessary. The Joint Committee and the alternative report have raised a plethora of vital issues that have not been properly thought through in the Government's draft Bill, including the application or otherwise of the Parliament Act to a reformed House. We shall see what comes before us when the Government set out their legislative programme in the gracious Speech next week. The Bill on further reform of this House may be better than the draft Bill considered by the Joint Committee. I certainly hope so.
The reform of this House has a long history. In its most recent incarnation, it has been going on for the past 100 years. For some, such as the Deputy Prime Minister, it is an absolute priority. However, I am doubtful that the public, facing the problems that they are facing, would agree with that priority. Real reform of your Lordships' House is not a matter for easy slogans. Constitutional reform is a deeply serious matter, the purpose of which cannot be to try to glue the coalition together, albeit at the top. As my right honourable friend Sadiq Khan MP, the Shadow Secretary of State for Justice, has forcefully said:
Reform is a matter of careful consideration. I am confident that over the next two days, Members of your Lordships' House will bring precisely that approach of careful consideration to the issues before us. I believe that both reports before us today are an important contribution to that, and I look forward to the debate ahead.
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: Perhaps I may ask the noble Baroness a question. The coalition agreement provided for the Deputy Prime Minister to establish an all-party group, which would come forward in a Motion, I think from memory, by December 2010. The noble Baroness served on that group. My noble friend Lord Strathclyde in his remarks implied that the draft Bill, which has been considered, was somehow connected with the deliberations of that group. Will the noble Baroness tell us what happened to the Deputy Prime Minister's committee and how its conclusions are in any way related to this Bill?
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I was proud and privileged to be a member of that group, as the noble Lord said. However, during our deliberations, it became clear that there were various issues on which there was no meeting of minds. Towards the end of our deliberations the group stopped meeting. A draft Bill was published that, it might be fair to say, did not have the full support of all members of that committee.
Baroness Scott of Needham Market: My Lords, I speak as a survivor of the Joint Select Committee. In doing so, I offer my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Richard, for his very able chairmanship. I should also like to echo his remarks about the work of the clerks and my colleagues on the committee. About a year or so ago, I would have agreed with the consensus in this House that constitutional reform of this nature should be subject to pre-legislative scrutiny. But after six months on this committee, I am much less sure.
It is certainly true that there are advantages in having a committee of both Houses and I think that we benefited from that. We have certainly produced a vast array of material for the delight and delectation of noble Lords even if they do not read every word. But there are problems with pre-legislative scrutiny on topics such as Lords reform because it is always tempting to move on to the broader constitutional questions which, although relevant, are outside the direct scope of the Bill. I would have liked to have spent some time scrutinising the current arrangements with the same rigour used to scrutinise the proposed arrangements, but I believe that the chairman was right to rein us in and to stick to the confines of the draft Bill. It would have been very odd indeed, on a piece of legislation in which one of the key issues was the ability of the Government to get their business, to have spent 18 months or two years doing pre-legislative scrutiny.
The other problem is that constitutional matters cannot really be scrutinised in quite the usual way because all members of the committee are to an extent themselves experts, and often know as much about the topic as the people from whom they are taking evidence, and of course all the members tend to come with views which are pretty well entrenched. It is also difficult in this case because there is a draft Bill that stands on the simple proposition that the second Chamber should be elected. For those who disagree with that view, scrutiny of the rest of the Bill is very difficult. We found that arguments became very circular and at times frustrating, and of course the requirement to reach enough of a consensus to produce a report runs the risk of compromising the work. Perhaps that answers the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, who asked in his opening remarks why we came up with some of our conclusions. So we need to think very hard about the sort of Bills that are put forward for pre-legislative scrutiny.
Two phrases are constantly used in the context of Lords reform. The first is the one about turkeys voting for Christmas. It is an expression I have come to loathe. We supporters of an elected House will have to do better than that in support of our case, and I believe that we will do so. But, equally, those who argue "If it ain't broke, don't fix it", which is my second hated phrase, will also have to do better. If our system is not broken, it is certainly showing signs of wear and tear, and I do not believe that we can ignore those signs indefinitely.
First, we are the creatures of patronage, either ancient or modern, and we should recognise that that is increasingly anomalous in an age where transparency and open process are the norm. People are entitled to
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My second concern is about the increasingly political nature of this House. I have been here for 12 years and in that time I have seen the House become more confrontational and less courteous. Debate is much more partisan and the majority of votes are cast along party lines. At some point in the future, having a political house with no equivalent electoral mandate is going cause us a problem.
The third and most serious problem is the size of the House. We all believe that this House is too big. It is too big to run efficiently and so big as to risk bringing ourselves into disrepute. The experts in this House find themselves making three-minute contributions to important debates because there are so many of us. But the size of the House is inextricably linked to the power of the Prime Minister's patronage, and it is a response to the growing politicisation of the House. People say, "Well, the Prime Minister should stop appointing people". Let us hang on for a minute. Every Prime Minister for the past 50 years has had the right to appoint Members at a time and in the numbers of their choosing. Under the current arrangements, how on earth should we decide when Prime Ministers should stop appointing and when they can start again? We have no constitutional framework for deciding how large this House should be and what its political make-up should be. If you believe in the status quo, that is fine, but you then have to answer for the consequences of it-and the consequences are that every Prime Minister seeks to rebalance the numbers in this House.
Between the election of Margaret Thatcher in 1979 and the formation of the coalition in 2010, there was only one change of Administration, in 1997. If during that 31 years we had had a change of Government at every election, and more Peers were created to make the political balance work, we would have had to face up to this problem much earlier. If we have frequent changes of Administration in the future, this is an issue that we will have to deal with.
Of course, there are ways of addressing this problem other than through election, and I have no doubt that many of them will be put forward genuinely today. The trouble is that I see no evidence that we could ever get agreement to, for example, a single 15-year term, or a retirement age, or a cap on the size of the House. Many of the proposals put forward by the Goodlad committee have been rejected, and despite widespread
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In the final analysis, even we must rule by consent. There is a danger that if we turn our faces against all reform, those who argue that there is no need for a second Chamber will grow in number. For the opponents of change, there is a danger that we will win this battle but lose the war.
Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield: My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of the Joint Committee and as a signatory to the alternative report. Perhaps I may add my own words of thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Richard. His was not an easy task, as we slogged our way towards a total of 30 meetings-a record, I gather, for a Joint Committee. I am perhaps a touch unusual in getting seriously excited by constitutional matters, but as the tally of our sessions mounted, even I was reminded of that shrewd observer of our country, George Bernard Shaw, who said that the English invented test match cricket in order to give the British people a sense of eternity. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, got us through and on time, and I am grateful to him and to our clerks, though I should point out to the noble Lord that there were two Cross-Bench members of his committee, not one as he suggested.
Every generation or so, we take a crack at the question of Lords reform. We throw the particles in the air and hope that, this time, they will fall in a way that paves a path on the road to consensus. Once again, we have failed, as the voting figures in volume 1 of the Joint Committee's report show, as does the existence of the alternative report. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, spied the outline of a consensus. Over those 30 meetings of the Joint Committee, I have to tell the noble Lord, there was not a flicker of consensus. The noble Lord the Leader of the House is succumbing to an attractive outbreak of Pollyanna-ism, which is always pleasing but in this case is utterly misleading.
So, what next? In the coming Session of Parliament, we could immerse ourselves in the constitutional mire, dissipating copious quantities of parliamentary time and political nervous energy on the Government's proposed Bill, probably boring the country and ourselves rigid except at moments of showdown and all with no guarantee that the statute will emerge at the end unless the coalition is prepared to reach for the Parliament Acts in what could well be the near twilight of its term. Is it wise to attempt to settle the future of the second Chamber before we know the outcome of another grade 1 listed constitutional question, Scottish independence, which is to be the subject of a referendum in autumn 2014?
There is an organic, incremental alternative to the invasive surgery proposed by the coalition for your Lordships' House. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, described it with great eloquence in her oral evidence to the Joint Committee, as did Peter Riddell, director of the Institute for Government, in his. Put their thoughts together with the content of the Bill in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, and the proposals under consideration by the usual channels from the Leader's Group on Working Practices chaired
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"Other approaches to reform are of course possible. A number of our witnesses advocated an incremental approach, focusing on issues on which there exists a large degree of consensus: the mode of appointment, the size of the House, retirement, disqualification and expulsion".
Among the candidates for what the alternative report calls "immediate reform" are: reducing the size of the House to about 500, future appointments to carry a fixed term, the Appointments Commission to be made statutory, an end to the link between peerages and the honours system, a retirement scheme for Members, the matter of expulsion and exclusion and the ending of by-elections following the deaths of hereditary Peers. I know that the last will not find consensual support from several noble Lords whom I respect and admire.
Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield: In the purest sense, no, but the virtue of our system, as I have always seen it, is that the undisputed primacy of the House of Commons, if I can put it bluntly, takes care of democracy. I know that the noble Lord and I will not agree on this although we agree on so many other things.
The danger is that while anticipating the so-called big-bang answer to the question of the Lords, nothing will happen, needed reforms will be stymied and the planning blight that has afflicted your Lordships' House since the departure of the bulk of the hereditary Peers in 1999 will continue. The ingredients of a substantial reform are lying at our feet. Let us pick them up, fashion them into something coherent, something valuable, and let us implement that bundle of reforms before the next general election.
The Lord Bishop of Leicester: My Lords, as a member of the Joint Committee, I add my tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Richard, as chair for his skill, staying power, stamina and achievement in delivering a report on time. I recollect that the retiring most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury recommended that his successor should have the skin of a rhinoceros and the constitution of an ox, and it
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In the mid-summer's day debate on the draft Bill in your Lordships' House last year, I reminded the House that on these Benches we recognise along with very many of your Lordships that some reform of this House is long overdue and that the test of any reform is that it helps to serve Parliament and the nation better, not least by resolving the problem of its ever-increasing membership. To measure that, I pointed to four tests that we might apply to any proposal to replace this House with a wholly or largely elected second Chamber. The Joint Committee's work has in my view made it very clear-to me at least-that these tests have not been met.
The first was whether the proposals flowed from a clear enough definition of the functions of a reformed House. Because of the limits put on the Joint Committee's work referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, this matter has been addressed in some detail by the alternative report, which I signed. That report makes it clear that the overwhelming mass of evidence received by the Joint Committee pointed to the difficulties that will arise between the two Houses as a result of the Government's determination to hold to the position that the primacy of the Commons will be undisturbed by the advent of an elected House of Lords.
The second test is related and is of course about primacy. It rests on the assertion that the Bill contains nothing that will affect the conventions governing the relationship between the two Houses. The unanimity of the witnesses on this point is beyond dispute. It is manifestly unreasonable to argue that you can change one part of a delicately balanced system and leave the other parts unaffected. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, has argued that this appears not to concern Members of Parliament but he knows that at least two MPs on the Joint Committee expressed consistent and vehement concerns on this very issue.
Thirdly, I proposed a test relating to the independence of the upper House from party political control. The Joint Committee explored whether any of the available voting systems offered the possibility of electing people who would take an independent view and speak from time to time with a voice distinctive from that overwhelmingly influenced by party discipline. It is clear that a mainly elected House would become a creature of the party system, whatever mechanism for election was chosen. On this test, too, the proposals fail. I welcome the recommendation for further consideration of a nationally, indirectly elected House.
Fourthly, I sought to apply a test relating to the claims of democratic legitimacy. Would a non-renewable, 15-year term provide this House with a sense of conscious connection to, awareness of and responsiveness to the changing priorities of the electorate? I remain persuaded that this kind of democratic legitimacy is so diluted in
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We are left with a Bill predicated on the encouragement of greater assertiveness by an elected upper House yet one so circumscribed by the electoral proposals and so dependent on the Parliament Act that a reformed upper House would soon either find itself frustrated in its attempts to behave representatively or assert its determination to test the present conventions to breaking point. Either way, the risks are considerable. I have no doubt that this House will look carefully at those risks today and conclude that the benefits of radical reform as proposed cannot justify them.
In spite of these concerns, on this Bench we are pleased that the Joint Committee was persuaded that in a reformed House there should remain a place for the Lords spiritual. This question was not at the front or centre of the committee's attention, but I am grateful that the committee found time to hear evidence from the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, who spoke tellingly about the grounded relationship between the Church of England and the communities in which our parishes and churches are set and drew the committee's attention to the particular role of the Church of England in supporting, encouraging and convening other faith communities, especially in our great cities. His views were endorsed by significant voices from the Jewish community, the Muslim Council of Britain and others. I am pleased that the Joint Committee has pressed for the increasing presence of leaders of other denominations and faiths. A reduction in the proposed number of Bishops from 26 to 12 will be testing and challenging for the Church of England, but we will work hard to achieve a consistent presence from this Bench. We recognise that this will entail careful consideration of the processes by which members of the Bench of Bishops are selected.
It was a privilege to serve on the Joint Committee, not as a professional politician. I learnt a great deal from my colleagues and my respect for those who spend their lives living a vocation to politics has been substantially enhanced. But if I have brought a particular perspective to the discussions, it may be that I was continually asking myself how these proposals will serve the people of the diocese in which I live and work. With the passing months of the committee's work, my puzzlement increased. At a time like this, when we need leadership that unifies our country and vision in Parliament that addresses the needs of the people, why are we embarking on proposals for reform which will be manifestly divisive? At a time of continuing recession, these proposals run the risk of setting the two Houses of Parliament against each other, dividing Parliament from the country's evident needs and suggesting that the political leadership is out of step with the membership. That is why I felt it right to vote for a referendum.
Surely it is partly the responsibility of the Lords spiritual to raise questions about those things that can
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Lord Norton of Louth: My Lords, as a supporter of the Government perhaps I may say how encouraging it is to note that on the definition offered by my noble friend Lord Strathclyde, so far in this Parliament the House of Commons has managed to reach a consensus on every measure brought forward by the Government. I was also interested to hear that we will not be having a referendum because all three party manifestos agree, including the Labour Party manifesto, which promised a referendum.
I too served on the Joint Committee and I too pay tribute to my fellow members. As we have heard, the committee devoted considerable time and effort to examining the draft Bill. However, it was fundamentally hampered in two respects. The first was that the Government presented us with a Bill of which we had the detail but for which we had no justification. Assessing the Bill on the Government's own terms is not possible if the Government make no attempt to say what they are.
If one reads the White Paper, one can extract from the disparate comments two criteria, each of which is asserted rather than justified: that is, that the Bill delivers an elected House-a "fundamental democratic principle", according to the White Paper-and that it maintains the existing relationship between the two Houses. The report of the Joint Committee demonstrates that the Bill fails by the Government's own criteria. It may provide for election but the attempt to ring-fence the position of the House of Commons through Clause 2 is inadequate to the task. Indeed, if you read the evidence, it is fairly clear or would suggest that you can have one but not the other. The committee, as we have heard, took evidence on the Parliament Acts. As the report mentions, it would be possible to make statutory provision for them to continue in force. That, though, is to say what could be done, not what should be done. But even if the Acts were maintained, that would not be sufficient to maintain the existing relationship between the two Houses. As one reporter put it to the noble Lord, Lord Richard, at last week's press conference, how exactly do you prevent an elected House from ignoring conventions? You cannot.
The second limitation was that of time. The committee did the best that it could with the Bill before it. It may, as the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, said, have set a record for the number of meetings it held. Despite that, there was not time to examine the Bill in depth. Even if the Parliament Acts were maintained, they are blunt weapons for determining outcomes, and to rely on them on a regular basis would likely create significant tensions within the political process. The draft Bill provides no deliberative means for resolving disputes and, given the pressures we were under, the
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I take that as illustrative of what was not considered. The report is as important for what it omits as much as for what it includes. That is not a criticism of the committee but of the limitations under which we operated. I know the response adopted by some-we have already heard it-is that we did not need to address the fundamentals of what was proposed, and that further time was not needed, because the issue of Lords reform has been discussed for the past century. There is, in their view, little more to be said on the merits, and it is a case of agreeing the detail.
That view is not only wrong but dangerous. The case for an elected House and hence for the Bill is based on contested concepts and philosophies. We hear trotted out claims as if they are self-evidently true. There will be other opportunities to address these claims; here, I just wish to focus on the assertion that the issue has already been extensively considered over the course of a century or more.
Consideration of the future of the second Chamber, and its relationship to the first, has been sporadic and very rarely undertaken in terms of first principles. There has been little consideration of the role of Parliament in our constitutional arrangements and the place of the second Chamber within Parliament. The two principal exercises were those of the Bryce commission in 1918 and the Wakeham commission in 2000. Otherwise the debate, though extensive at times, has been at a rather superficial level, essentially of detail rather than principle. Even in 1911, the debate on the Parliament Bill was not a principled debate about the place of the second Chamber in the constitution of the United Kingdom. It was shaped by politicians' stances on Irish home rule.
We need to address the issue from first principles. We need to consider how the second Chamber, and indeed the first, is composed once we are clear as to what we expect of Parliament. We have not really done that. There is reference to parliamentary reform at times, but that normally refers to procedural and structural change in the Commons. Lords reform usually refers to changes to the composition of this House. There have been few attempts to address change from the perspective of Parliament as Parliament.
That is why I am a signatory of the alternative report. I have previously argued the case in this House for a constitutional convention, to undertake an exercise in constitutional cartography. Significant constitutional change is difficult to reverse. It usually has significant consequences for other parts of our constitutional framework. We need to get this right. Contrary to what some have said, the place of the second Chamber has not been thoroughly thought through. The report of the Joint Committee has demonstrated what is wrong with the Government's proposals. The report, though, should not be the end of a process of examining the place of the second Chamber, but rather an impetus to look holistically at our constitutional arrangements. We cannot afford to get it wrong.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Richard, for his introduction to the debate and for his chairmanship of the Joint Committee. His stamina and determination were both fully tested in his chairmanship of a very diverse and opinionated group of parliamentarians. I declare an interest not only as a member of that committee but as one of the signatories to the alternative report. There were 12 of us-just one short of half the Joint Committee. Our group of 12 was also diverse, with MPs and Peers from both the Labour and Conservative Parties, and with Cross-Bench and episcopal support. Some of us supported a fully elected second Chamber; others did not.
However, the crucial and fundamental starting point on which we all agreed was that the draft Bill and White Paper offer a misleading prospectus for change. Reading them, that is apparent from the start. The introduction to the White Paper, strongly emphasised by the Deputy Prime Minister in his evidence, says that,
The House of Lords is of course part of the legislative process-we scrutinise legislation and suggest amendments to the Commons-but every single decision that goes into law is ultimately a Commons decision. When I was a young civil servant, I was told that that is why the Commons votes Aye and No and we in the Lords vote only Content and Not-Content. The lawmakers-the ultimate decision takers-are the Commons, because they are elected.
Another questionable premise is set out in the summary of proposals which deals with powers. The summary says that it is proposed to elect the Lords without changes to the fundamental relationship with the Commons which, it claims, rests partly on the Parliament Acts and on Commons financial privilege. Commons primacy rests on the simple fact that the Commons is elected and we are not. Erskine May makes this absolutely plain in the section that deals with the power and jurisdiction of Parliament. On primacy, Erskine May states:
"The dominant influence enjoyed by the House of Commons within Parliament may be ascribed principally to its status as an elected assembly, the Members of which serve as the chosen representatives of the people".
Despite these arguments, it is still possible to argue that, as part of the legislative machinery, Members of this House should indeed be elected. One can mount a
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An elected House of Lords may well strengthen democracy. Having campaigned, canvassed and got support, Members would be elected on the basis of a mandate. They would represent their electors and be expected to exercise a mandate on behalf of those electors. The Government seem to think that democracy is solely about elections, but it is about the elected acting on behalf of their electorate. Why should an elected Peer subjugate the wishes of his or her electorate to those of an elected MP? What is the logic of continuing Commons primacy after the Lords is elected?
The Government have one basic answer to that question: do as much as possible to distance the elected Peer from his or her electorate. The supporters of the draft Bill claim that, if enacted, it would strengthen our democracy and the House would be more democratic and legitimate. However, at every point, the draft Bill and the White Paper seek to distance the elected Peer from their electors. They are quite open about this. The 15-year term is designed to ensure that the Commons mandate is always fresher. The non-renewable nature of the Lords' term and the block on an elected Lord standing for the Commons have nothing to do with democracy and everything to do with protecting MPs from locally elected Peers who may become just a bit too popular.
The huge multi-constituencies of more than 500,000 people will ensure distance between the electors and the elected. These measures will not achieve their ends-that of protecting the Commons. Nor are they anything like as democratic as they should be. Elected Peers with a 15-year term, representing more than 500,000 voters, will be alongside MPs with five-year terms and constituencies of around 76,000. Will a Peer who is entrenched for 15 years, representing 500,000 and possibly elected by thousands more than the local MP, have more or less weight than the local MP?
Secondly, there is self-evidently little or no accountability in this system. At one point in the Joint Committee's discussions, I was told that this is not about accountability. I may be wrong but I thought accountability was part and parcel of a modern democracy. The noble Baroness, Lady Scott, is quite right: of course, we need reform. I support the sort of reform put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman. We could take that forward now, but then we would need to turn to the
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The second thing that we need to do is to set up a properly comprehensive constitutional convention to work through all the questions that need answers. I know opponents of this say that it constitutes kicking the measure into the long grass, but that is a feeble answer to such a serious question. A constitutional convention is the responsible and sensible way to resolve the huge questions that the supporters of the Bill have so conspicuously failed to answer. We did it for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, so why not do it for the United Kingdom as a whole? Why should our constitutional settlement be treated with any less care and respect than those of our constituent parts? Of course, political decisions need to be taken on this matter but we need to do so much more than that. We need to hear from the people of this country what they think.
Therefore, ultimately, we need a referendum. I understand why the Liberal Democrats are so opposed to that; the AV result must have been a terrible shock to them. However, they argue, and the noble Lord the Leader of the House has argued, that there is no need for a referendum because at the 2010 election all three parties supported the election of the House of Lords. However, the noble Lord needs to remember that no one actually won the 2010 election. In fact, like us, the Liberal Democrats lost seats. The only party that won seats was his party, which said that this was a third-term issue. Real democracy means electing the Lords with commensurate powers, as the main report says-a point left out by many who have spoken on this issue this afternoon. We were agreed on the need to have commensurate powers and for the individual to have the power to act on behalf of his or her electorate as a Minister, Secretary of State, even Prime Minister, and to be part of a properly constituted democratic body.
In a speech that he made in December last year, the Deputy Prime Minister accused this House of having only a "veneer of expertise". I put it to your Lordships that this Bill will not do because it has only a veneer of democracy.
Baroness Knight of Collingtree: Before the noble Baroness sits down, I entirely agree with her remarks about primacy, but is there not also a concern that such a system would rob us completely of the independent Peers in this House?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, of course, the position of the independent Peers is very important. It is addressed in the main report. That is, of course, why so many people want to see the House being elected on a 20:80 basis, which would address the point about the Cross-Bench Peers. However, what it does not address is independence within the parties because, as we all know, the Whip would be cracked a bit more effectively over all of us than it is at the moment, and that would rob us of a degree of our independence.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I do, if this House is to be elected with commensurate powers. That is my starting point. We did not vote simply on electing the House. The committee agreed that there should be commensurate powers. If there are commensurate powers-that is, doing away with Commons primacy and everything else to which I have just referred-yes, I do support a 100 per cent elected House on that basis, but only on that basis.
Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon: My Lords, I think it was Oscar Wilde who once said that in a democracy the minority is always right. I have to say, as a Liberal Democrat, that it is a saying that has given me much comfort over the years, and I have a suspicion that it will have to give me some comfort today. I rise, of course, to argue the case for a democratically elected second Chamber-a case made by my party for 100 years. The time was ripe for that 100 years ago. It is essential now.
I just ask my noble colleagues in this place whether they find it acceptable, at a time when people are dying for democracy, that we should have in this place somewhere that infringes the fundamental principle of a democratic state, which is that the people's laws should be made by the people's representatives.
Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon: They are not. We are not the people's representatives, but we make and amend laws, and are part of the process of producing the laws of this country. We infringe that principle daily. I was sitting here and listening to the arguments made around the Chamber, many of which were, "Yes of course we are in favour of democracy, but not now, not on these proposals, but at some time in the future". St Augustine should be living at this hour.
However, the question is this: when we frame the laws of this country-you cannot say that we do not participate in this-we do so because we carry with us a democratic mandate. That is the principle of democracy. I was imagining what kind of a debate we might be having if, instead of debating our institutions today, we were debating the institutions in Brussels. I can imagine the kind of thunderous rage that would be expressed against the fact that those undemocratic
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I was imagining what kind of argument might be made if we were discussing Italy. People would have said, "The present Italian Prime Minister is not directly elected, but is elected only by Parliament". We are elected by no one. As my noble friend Lady Scott said earlier, we are placemen here-no more and no less. I thought that that went out with the Stuart kings. We are the creatures of patronage. There are only two ways to get into this place. One is because you are a friend of the Prime Minister, or at least he does not object to you, and the other is because your great-grandmother slept with the king. There is no other way of getting into this place and the votes of the people have no hand in this process whatever.
The truth of the matter is that this place, whether you like it or not, is a creature of the Executive. When the new Prime Minister comes in, the first thing he or she does is help themselves to a replica of what exists in the other place in order to give themselves the power to push through this place the legislation that they require. Are we really content with that?
I recall well, because I was partly involved, that in 2004 the world's greatest Muslim democracy, Indonesia, went to the polls. The European Union issued a view, a wish-not an instruction, of course-that when those polls were finally counted there would be no placemen to alter the democratic judgment and that there would be no act of patronage to add to the legislatures people such as army officers or even bishops to alter the voice of the democracy. Yet, so we are here today.
On this day, Egypt votes for a new president. The Muslim Brotherhood has recently constructed the Egyptian constitution. Imagine if it had said, "We will have a constitution in which the primary House, which we control, will give us the right to appoint who was in the second Chamber". Would we not have declared that to be a democratic outrage? Yet we are replicating that precise position here today. I give way to my noble friend.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: I am a placeman, fair enough. My noble friend said, with emphasis, that we are a creature of the Executive. I ask him then, what he makes of the following statistics. In the 13 years of the
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Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon: I will come on to my noble friend's point in a moment, except to say this. The question is not what we do; the question is how we are created. We are created here with a balance in this place that reflects the balance that the Executive enjoy in the other. I will come on to my noble friend's point, but time is relatively limited, as we were advised, so allow me to make a bit of progress.
Lord Trefgarne: The noble Lord made a highly offensive remark just now and I would like to challenge it. He said that some of us were here because our ancestors had slept with a queen. I am the second Lord Trefgarne; my father was the first Lord Trefgarne. He was a Liberal MP.
Let me cite some statistics that may illustrate the point. Despite all the arguments made about primacy, et cetera, all the arguments made that we have to work out the new relationship, here are the figures. The House of Lords Library tells me that there are 71 bicameral legislatures around the world of which, leaving aside the micro-nations in the Caribbean whose constitutions were written by us to reflect ours, only seven are not elected second Chambers, seven have no connection with democracy, and seven are appointed, as we are-leaving aside Great Britain. One of them, for reasons that utterly perplex me, is Canada. But the other six may give us cause to pause for a moment. They do not include great democracies. They are Belarus, Bahrain, Yemen, Oman, Jordan and Lesotho. That is the company we keep. Those are not great defenders of democracy. How is it that in every other legislature, all of them with elected second Chambers, issues of primacy, the issues which hold up people's agreement with democratic reform in this place, are not great problems?
Here is the reason why it is said that we do not have to observe the principles of democracy. My noble friend alluded to it a moment ago. It is because, apparently, it works-in that curious, untidy, rather British way, nevertheless, it works. And if it ain't broke, don't fix it. It does not work. There are two functions of a second Chamber. The first is to revise and the second is to hold the Executive to account. The first of those we do rather well. We are graciously permitted to follow along with a gilded poop-scoop,
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I do not believe that if we had had a reformed, democratic second Chamber, we would have had the poll tax, but we did. I do not believe that we would have gone to war in Iraq either, but we did. The last time that I said that, there was much twittering saying, good heavens, should a second Chamber have the right to say whether a nation goes to war? Yes it should. I see no problem with that. There is no problem with the Senate in America. That has not stopped America going to war. There is no problem with the Senate in France, one of our closest and immediate allies in Libya and which put more troops into Bosnia than any other nation and suffered greater casualties.
Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon: I will make the point and then I will take the noble Lord's intervention. There is one nation in Europe which may be insufficiently able to take decisions about military action when it needs to, and that is Germany. The Bundesrat, the second Chamber in Germany, has no say over going to war. However, there is no reason why a second Chamber should not be asked whether to ratify treaties or whether it is reasonable to go to war. Why is that possible everywhere else in the world but impossible here?
Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon: Of course the first Chamber is going to have primacy. That is readily established in every other bicameral system in which there is an elected second Chamber. However, on the issue of whether to go to war, in the United States the President has to get the agreement of both Houses of Congress. Has that seriously prevented the United States going to war? Quite the contrary. This is an issue on which this House, as an elected Chamber, should be able to exercise its rights.
The time has arrived to bring this place up to date. The time has arrived when we have to stop what is not only an anachronism but an undemocratic anachronism. We send our young men out to fight and die and, perhaps worse still, to kill others in the name of democracy but we do not have a democratic second Chamber in this country, as is the case with the vast majority of bicameral systems throughout the world. Why can they cope with democracy but not us? Is our democracy so ineffective and immature and are our institutions so weak that we cannot cope with what they can cope with and we have to resort to the kind of principles that operate in Bahrain and Belarus?
This place is an anachronism and an undemocratic anachronism, and I am in favour of a fully elected second Chamber. However, if the proposition put
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Lord Stirrup: Before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps he can help me on one extremely important point. I think that he referred to the most important element or principle of democracy as the right of the people to elect those who represent them. Rather, is it not the right of the people to remove those who represent them-something for which I believe there is no provision in this Bill?
Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon: My Lords, there is a provision in the Bill, although one might argue that a 15-year term is rather long to make that as effective as it should be. I am not claiming that the Bill is perfect-of course I am not. There are things that I would wish to see that are not there, not least that it should be a fully elected second Chamber. I am simply saying that we have an opportunity to reform. You have to choose between keeping this place as it is, which in my view is totally insupportable, or moving towards democratically based reform of the sort proposed by the Bill. The second of those may be a compromise but it is one that I embrace with enthusiasm because it will at least start the process.
The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, I am a 1660s placeman and I am very proud to have been in this House to represent my family for such a long time. I shall try hard to keep exasperation out of my voice today but, in my view, the coalition is propelling us towards certain constitutional disaster. The draft Bill will run straight into the sand and I can find very little comfort in the Joint Committee's report-partly because we have read it all before but also because we have seen that it is a clear expression of the spectrum of discontent and confusion about our present situation and the way forward. However, it covers new ground and I know that a lot of serious people have contributed to it.
Like the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, and the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, I do not see elections to this House as a necessary route to legitimacy or democracy. Indeed, I am among those reformists who value and cherish the traditions of this House and the practices of our revising Chamber as they are now. They just need to be improved. An increasing number of Peers and MPs think that a Bill advocating the abolition of the present House, or even contemplation of it, is nothing less than madness and perhaps political suicide. MPs recognise that. At a recent 1922 Committee
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As we have heard, there are positive reforms that could be enacted at once, building on the work done by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and others. They appear in Chapter 5 of the alternative report, on pages 78 to 79, but I have put them in my own order of priority: first, as the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, has already demonstrated, the establishment of a statutory appointments commission well away from Downing Street, which has been recommended for years but patronage still prevails; secondly, ending the hereditary by-elections, the principle having already been removed by the 1999 Act, although the public do not know that we are still electing hereditary Peers; thirdly, cutting the link between the honours system and membership of the House of Lords; fourthly, reducing the size of the House, with a moratorium on new Peers; fifthly, improving the balance of membership with more attention to diversity and the representation of other faiths; and, sixthly, provisions for the retirement and exclusion of Members of the House of Lords. I personally feel that one year's expenses would be a reasonable offer to older Members of the House who might wish to retire voluntarily.
I do not accept schemes based on attendance because so many of our most valuable independent Peers attend only occasionally. I do not see the point of a constitutional convention proposed in the alternative report, which will only delay reform even further. It cannot be said too often that the coalition still has an opportunity to carry out these reforms now, and it is possible that during the passage of the Bill there may be openings for concessions that would lead to that situation; otherwise we will have an inevitable debacle with the present Bill, which the Joint Committee has shown to be defective, especially on primacy and powers in Clause 2.
When there are already so many urgent matters, as the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, pointed out, why are this Government so keen to squeeze all other legislation into a corner while the juggernaut of reform proceeds over the next two years, dominating time in both Houses? One can foresee colossal blockships ahead, multitudes of amendments, night after night of pure frustration on a greater scale than we have already endured with recent Bills on parliamentary reform. Long before the Parliament Act is invoked, which is still a highly contested issue, there will be havoc and destruction. Morale in this House will sink to its lowest level, as surely it must, if we are talking of the destruction of this Chamber.
Having spoken to one member of the Cabinet last week and indeed attempted to entertain him with teacakes next door, with mixed success, I have tried to read the Government's mind and have come up with
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Abolition would certainly not carry public support in a referendum, and many people will smell a rat if the coalition disguises it as reform. Public attitudes to this House are quite complex and contradictory, as a House of Lords' Library note makes clear, and a referendum could be very misleading and damaging.
I freely admit that there are some in the Commons who believe that two elected Houses can work together as well as the present ones, and that the existing conventions can endure, but most MPs are thinking about the composition and not the powers of the two Houses, which are bound to collide as they do in the United States. I am not sure that the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, was right about war-making there.
Finally, the Government understandably are avoiding the question of costs. The noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, and others demonstrated conclusively that the transition to an elected House would cost a lot. The Treasury will hardly advertise such a waste of resources now.
There is an excellent group in this House, led by the noble Lords, Lord Cormack and Lord Norton, that genuinely seeks a compromise on reform and would like us to move now towards an effective rather than an elected Chamber. I again urge the Government to listen to the group, as more and more Members of another place are doing, and to take this last opportunity to drop the Bill or to accept amendments that will lead quickly to a solution and avoid the expensive quagmire that otherwise will be inevitable.
Lord Trimble: My Lords, I was a member of the Joint Committee and I begin by echoing the compliments paid by the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, and the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, to the chairman and the clerks. I also signed the alternative report, and I think that between that and the full committee report one finds a devastating critique of the Bill. However, I will not try to cram all my views on all aspects of the report into seven minutes; instead, I will pick one issue. It was one of the two issues that the noble Lord, Lord Richard, acknowledged as being the primary concerns of the Commons. We have concentrated quite a bit on the first question, which is that of the primacy of the Commons. The other is the way in which Members of another place are very nervous about having other elected persons tramping over their patch; they want their constituencies to remain inviolate.
I will focus on that issue because, as so often happens, when I read the report after we had finished-after it had been printed and it was too late to do
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We made a considerable effort to take evidence from Australia because we felt that it might give us a good comparison with what might happen here if we had an elected upper House. It is a Commonwealth country, it operates within a common-law system, and it has an elected upper as well as lower House. We wanted to speak to Australian Senators to hear their views on a number of issues. That of constituencies is dealt with in paragraph 213.
The paragraph starts off properly by referring to the view of a member of the Government of Australia, Senator Stephens, who stated that the people of Australia regarded Members of the House of Representatives as their local representatives and identified very clearly with their Member. The Senator went on to say:
"I will ask Senator Rhiannon to respond to your question about constituencies. I will just explain the Government's method of dealing with that. As a Member of the Government in the Senate, I am allocated a number of seats that are not held by the Government in the lower House in my state. I look after those constituents who do not have a government representative. Those people might come to me about issues and legislation".
We should bear in mind the point about the way in which constituencies are allocated to Senators for them to nurse. The Senator then referred to Senator Rhiannon of the Green party, who said that the issue of working with constituents was very important and took up a lot of their time.
There was then a reference to the views of Senator Ronaldson, a member of the opposition Liberal Party, although he kept describing himself as a conservative-I feel that there must have been a simple explanation for that. The report says that he thought that elected Members of the Lords might engage in constituency-type work if in an area with other elected representatives from other parties. What he said was:
"I think that I am right in saying, Senator Ronaldson, that you said that we should not assume that Members of the upper House will not be involved in constituency work. Does that also mean that they campaign in constituencies? Could we explore a little further what happens on the ground ... Is it normal for Members of both Houses to be campaigning in a constituency all the time?".
"The Senators do not campaign as Senators. They campaign for one of the lower House Members of their own party in a marginal seat, or they vigorously campaign against a marginal lower House Member from another party. Senator Stephens talked about arrangements where we, as parties, will look after various seats. They are described by the Conservative Party as patron Senators. I am patron Senator for a number of seats, some of which are winnable, including one that I very much hope we will win and then become the Government. Senator Stephens will be similarly campaigning in Conservative seats to ensure the election of a new Labor Member or to support the incumbent Labor Member".
The picture that comes from the passages that I have quoted very clearly shows that Senators are heavily involved in political work in areas. They are quite obviously put by their political party into areas where the party does not have a Member and hopes very much to get one, and they are engaged in campaigning not just during elections but all the time throughout the area. I am bringing this out so that Members of another place can get a clearer picture of what might happen when this comes. I am not sure that we should be saying that it ought not to happen.
I must say that the provisions that the report suggests for limiting the finances available to Members of the elected upper House with regard to constituency work are unfair and unworkable. They are unfair because they will mean that a rich elected Lord or Senator will be able to finance an office and have an advantage over those who cannot. A person may not have an allowance for an office, but parties will make offices available, and I am sure that political parties will make sure that newly elected Members of the upper House work just as hard as their Australian counterparts in campaigning all the time, especially to undermine opposition Members holding seats in their patch.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Richard and his committee on the work they have done, even if I dissent from some of their conclusions. We have already reached the point in the debate when everything has been said, but perhaps not yet by everybody.
If we had had reform in 1997 or 2001, I would have been happy to stand for election to this House. In fact, I would have preferred to be an elected Member of this House, although I think it is a privilege to be here anyway, and I appreciate it. I have always believed in an elected second Chamber. When the right reverend Prelate spoke earlier, he said that we do not have too much by way of party politics. Although the Whips may not have many sanctions, and although we have Cross-Benchers who are not subject to discipline, the fact is that we have party politics pouring out of our ears here. We get a Whip every week, we have three-line Whips and anybody who says that there are no party politics here does not understand the way this place works. Without party politics, the Government could not get their business through. So let us be clear, we are talking about a House that is political-party-political in the main-that exists to get the Government's business through or to dissent and hold the Government in check.
I welcome the fact that the Joint Committee report supported elections. That is the fundamental point about what it did. Of course, the Bill has many flaws, and I want to deal with them in a moment or two. Clause 2 is one of them. I have also read the alternative report with interest; I spent much of yesterday doing that. While I agree with parts of it, there is a fundamental point that is inimical to the thrust of policy. It says:
Public opinion is not terribly interested in this debate, except for a small element of the public and the media who will think that we are doing ourselves and the country a disservice if we do not move forward towards reform. However, I have talked at public meetings-mainly Labour Party and Fabian meetings-all over the country over the years, and with one exception they all supported an elected House. I will be honest and admit that I went to speak to some students in Cambridge. I took a straw poll before I started and about 60 per cent wanted an appointed House. By the time I had finished, 90 per cent wanted an appointed House. Well, I did my best. However, the rest of the meetings and indeed most of the people I speak to all think it absurd that we do not have an elected House.
The key issues are clearly accountability, elections and the primacy of the Commons. Yes, I support elections, at least partly because of accountability. Of course, as the alternative report says-and the Joint Committee report disagrees-anybody elected will have to do some constituency casework. I do not see how one can apply to be selected in a local constituency and say, "I am not going to do any work for local voters". It is untenable; it just cannot be done. None of us would be selected if we applied on that basis. Of course there has to be casework, and I am pleased that the alternative report actually says that. It says:
I campaigned very hard for the Labour Party in the last elections and I was happy to support the manifesto on which I was door-knocking for Labour candidates, including our commitment to an elected second Chamber.
I am not happy about being elected once for 15 years. It seems to undermine the basic principle of accountability. Accountability is not just how one gets there in the first place; it is also being accountable for the decisions one makes, the votes one casts and the positions one takes. Quite frankly, I sometimes say to my friends and others, "I vote on issues that affect your lives and the lives of other people, yet I am not answerable to anybody". If anybody asks me why I voted in a particular way, I do not have to justify myself; I can just say, "Because I am here". Of course, I do not take that attitude, but that is the position we are in.
A point that has not been made so far is that having a basis in a constituency makes a politician a different sort of person. Elected politicians get their sustenance, at least in part, from engaging with their constituency, maybe doing casework, dealing with their local parties
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I remember that there was a by-election in south London while the House was sitting and I spent the day tramping the streets knocking on doors. I got an earful on housing, transport, social security, planning, education, the NHS, et cetera. Unless we as individuals go out and canvass in elections, we do not get that earful from voters, and there is nothing healthier in a democracy than hearing what voters have to say-even if they are saying to us, "We will vote you out if we do not like it".
Of course I believe, as everybody else does, in the primacy of the Commons. Individually elected Members of the second Chamber would be able to assert themselves a bit more. If I were elected, I certainly would have more confidence to go to the Labour Party conference and say my piece; because I am not elected, I feel constrained from doing so.
I worry about the idea of a constitutional convention, unless there is a time limit of about a year. I fear it is a recipe for long delays and there are other ways of achieving such ends-but the point has been made already. One of the strengths of the Joint Committee's report is the idea of a concordat between the two Houses. Work on that could start quickly. I very much welcome the detailed suggestions in the report on the idea of a concordat as regards the conventions.
I also am advised by people who know more about this than I do that the Parliament Act could be strengthened to deal with secondary legislation. It could work whether legislation starts in this House or in the Commons and would enable the Commons to retain its primacy.
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