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House of Lords

Thursday, 19 June 2014.

11 am

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Derby.

Rough Sleeping


11.06 am

Asked by Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is the current number of rough sleepers in England; and what proposals they have for tackling rough sleeping.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Stowell of Beeston) (Con): My Lords, the latest official figures from my department from 2013 show 2,414 people sleeping rough in England. Our approach to preventing homelessness and supporting those who, sadly, end up on the streets is comprehensive and is reflected by our increase in spending in this area.

Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top (Lab): My Lords, I remind your Lordships of my interest as chair of Changing Lives. Is the Minister aware that a recent survey from Homeless Link shows that 3% of claimants in general are sanctioned but that 33% of homeless claimants are sanctioned? Will she commit to working with her colleagues across the Government—I know that they have a working group—to ensure that the road from the streets and preventing people going on to the streets is understood and that these very vulnerable people are worked with in a way that helps rehabilitation rather than through sanctions, which, largely, push them back out on to the streets?

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: I share the noble Baroness’s concern about this very important and serious issue. That concern is felt widely across the Government. On the specific topic of sanctions, it is already recognised that there is a need to be flexible with regard to people who sleep rough when considering sanctions that might have to apply. Certainly my colleagues in the DWP have already introduced some changes in this area and are currently looking at what more is possible for them to do. However, I hope that it will give the noble Baroness some confidence to hear that only this week my colleague in the Department for Education—my honourable friend Matthew Hancock—announced some funding to assist with reading and writing for those who sleep rough.

Lord Laming (CB): My Lords, can the Minister assure the House that the Government will continue to do all they can to identify those young people, many of whom have run away from public care and are sleeping rough, and make sure that they are properly cared for and protected?

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Baroness Stowell of Beeston: Of course I can provide that assurance to the noble Lord and to the House. I remind your Lordships that all local authorities have a statutory obligation to young people who are under the age of 18 as well as to those who come out of care homes who are older than that.

Lord Spicer (Con): My Lords, I was the Minister who first introduced the rough sleepers grant some 25 years ago and I think I may have been wrong to do so. Does my noble friend agree that a better way to spend the money might be on improving the hostel facilities for people who do not have anywhere to sleep?

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: Our primary priority in terms of how we spend money in this area is prevention and doing everything we can to avoid anybody arriving in this dreadful situation. We are also investing in hostels to make sure that provision—should anybody have to be placed there—is adequate and that it includes services that help them to get in a much stronger position so that they no longer need to draw on this kind of help.

Lord Patel of Bradford (Lab): My Lords, I declare my interest as patron of Bradford Cyrenians, an organisation that works with homeless people. One gathers that a large percentage of those who are sleeping rough have alcohol, drug and mental health problems. Many patients who have been discharged from overcrowded mental health hospital wards now find themselves sleeping rough on the streets. What action are the Government taking to address this really important issue? What percentage of rough sleepers are veterans who have come back from conflicts?

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: As I said in response to the previous Question, most of our investment is on preventive measures and trying to ensure that we provide support on issues such as mental health and drug and alcohol addiction. As for people sleeping rough who have served in our Armed Forces, the number is very small, but obviously any number is a number too many. When I was asked about this matter some months ago by a noble friend of the noble Lord, I replied comprehensively in writing about everything we are doing for former members of the Armed Forces. That letter is in the Library.

Lord Roberts of Llandudno (LD): My Lords, which department of government has overall responsibility for rough sleeping? How thorough is the co-operation between those in government and the voluntary sector, which does such a tremendous amount of work in this direction?

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: My department, the Department for Communities and Local Government, leads on rough sleeping but it is a matter that cuts across a range of Whitehall departments, which is why we have an inter-ministerial group that is specifically concerned with this issue. As my noble friend indicated, we work very closely with the voluntary sector, and

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our approach is to provide funding to the voluntary sector as we think it is best placed to provide the services that people need.

Lord Blair of Boughton (CB): Does the Minister agree that the installation of spikes and other devices to prevent public spaces being used for rough sleeping is a civic disgrace? Will she consider legislating against this practice?

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: We certainly want all our public spaces to be safe and welcoming. My honourable friend the Housing Minister spoke very clearly about this matter the other day. He said:

“I don’t know what self-respecting architect would want to be associated with such an offensive measure”.

As the chief executive of St Mungo’s, one of the charities very much involved in homelessness, said, it is important to prevent people adopting a street lifestyle. Sometimes there is a need to adapt the physical environment but in a way that is not consistent with the kind of example that the noble Lord highlights. As a Government, we need to ensure that we provide services to support people to get off the streets and into other kinds of accommodation, and that is what we are doing.

Small and Medium-sized Enterprises: Late Payments


11.14 am

Asked by Lord Harrison

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress has been made on the late payment of debt for small and medium-sized enterprises.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Viscount Younger of Leckie) (Con): Late payment has a damaging effect on the best-run companies, which is why the Government are taking firm action. Through the small business, enterprise and employment Bill, large firms will be required to publish their payment practices, which will hold poor payers to account and help small businesses to be paid on time. Further reforms will ensure that public authorities run timely and efficient procurements and give Ministers greater powers to investigate procurement complaints.

Lord Harrison (Lab): My Lords, given that the Federation of Small Businesses finds that five out of 10 of its members are experiencing difficulties with late payment and that members of the Forum of Private Business have experienced a 23% rise in the problem, along with the NSCC discovering that only 3% of small firms are paid within the agreed 30-day period, is it not time to enforce the labour legislation permitting charging of commercial debt against both big businesses and big government?

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Viscount Younger of Leckie: The noble Lord makes a good point about the fact that late payment is still very much an issue. In our discussion paper, Building a Responsible Payment Culture, we asked for views on radical options for tackling late payment, including greater legislation. What was clear is that businesses did not want legislation that restricted their freedom of contract, further fines or a Government to collect fines on their behalf, all of which were felt to harm business relationships. That is why we are working to create transparency in payment practices and work with industry to create a more responsible payment culture and, indeed, make some behavioural change.

Baroness Sharples (Con): Are all government departments paying their bills on time?

Viscount Younger of Leckie: The record for government payment is improving the whole time, and I am pleased to say that my own department, BIS, has a 97.3% record. We keep a very strong eye on the stats, and we are very aware of the fact that the public sector has to keep up.

Lord Brookman (Lab): My Lords, I speak specifically about the roofing industry. As many other noble Lords are, I am a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Roofing Industry. The industry is in an appalling situation, with money held back when work is completed; in some instances, people are going out of business. Seriously, Minister, these people need help.

Viscount Younger of Leckie: The noble Lord refers to the construction industry, concerning roofing, if I read him correctly. We welcome the principles announced by the Construction Leadership Council to end the unfair use of cash retentions. The use of retentions is, I am pleased to reassure the noble Lord, in decline, with many of the construction industry’s better clients no longer withholding payments. Indeed, the Government have committed to reduce their use on their own contracts.

Lord Cotter (LD): Will the Minister consider very carefully the issue of retention for the construction industry and, specifically, the roofing industry? Will he also give a firm commitment that he will listen to the Federation of Small Businesses and the construction industry, because there are considerable problems still, with over 50% of small businesses waiting for payment? Would he have a constructive consultation, because there have been concerns about them, to ensure that there are tangible measures in this Bill on the payment charter, for example, to make it more mandatory?

Viscount Younger of Leckie: I hope that I can assure my noble friend that, in addition to introducing the new reporting requirement, we are looking at giving suppliers more information on what to expect from their customers and therefore to be in a better position to make an informed judgment on whether to enter a commercial relationship, and how to negotiate

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fair terms or challenge unfair terms, as well as how to understand what they need to do to ensure that they get paid on time.

Lord Broers (CB): My Lords, what are the Government doing to help small companies to obtain payments from overseas companies that refuse to pay?

Viscount Younger of Leckie: The noble Lord raises an important point. This is very much a question for the companies and the contracts that they enter into. The Government can certainly produce a framework and, indeed, from the UK angle, the small business Bill will take matters forward to give greater clarity and transparency.

Lord Stevenson of Balmacara (Lab): My Lords, in August last year the Daily Telegraph reported that Vince Cable was considering a late payment levy. In October it reported that Michael Fallon was “going to war” on the issue in the context of a report that outstanding bills to small businesses had reached a record £37 billion. The Minister mentioned the small business Bill but was a bit light on detail. Why does it not include a late payment levy? Further, why does it not consider representations made from this side, including banning bad payers receiving public sector contracts?

Viscount Younger of Leckie: I have already commented that we do not think that it is right to legislate on that at the moment. However, we are taking a number of important actions, including incentivising fair and transparent payment practices by requiring large companies to report, which I have mentioned, strengthening the Prompt Payment Code, working with industry to establish codes of best practice on fair payment, making further reforms to increase prompt payment in the public sector and increasing access to alternative finance options.

Baroness O'Cathain (Con): My Lords, surely my noble friend the Minister must be aware that the best way to tackle this matter is by ensuring that every single government department pays and that no government department delays payments; otherwise, how can we tell anyone else that they had better not delay payments?

Viscount Younger of Leckie: We have committed to bring in a number of further reforms to streamline procurement and improve public sector payment practices, including requiring public authorities to accept e-invoices and adopt timely and efficient procurement practices, and giving greater powers to Ministers to investigate complaints raised by the Cabinet Office’s mystery shopper scheme.

Lord Campbell-Savours (Lab): Does the Minister accept that invoice discounters and factoring companies have a major role to play in dealing with this problem? Why do the Government not promote those services more positively?

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Viscount Younger of Leckie: I believe that we do. Around 80% of business-to-business transactions are undertaken on credit terms of some form. Trade credit constitutes about 37% of total business assets. The House will know that late payment is not a new issue. Although the problem worsened during the financial crisis, it is starting to improve. In 2013, £30.2 billion in overdue payments was owed to business. This is down from £36.4 billion in 2012.

Royal Mail: Universal Postal Service


11.22 am

Asked by Lord Hoyle

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assurances they received from the privatised Royal Mail that they would maintain the universal postal service; and what such assurances they have given to Parliament.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Viscount Younger of Leckie): Royal Mail, as the UK’s designated universal service provider, is required to provide postal deliveries to all UK addresses in accordance with minimum requirements set by Parliament under the Postal Services Act 2011, and quality standards set by Ofcom, the regulator. Only Parliament can change the minimum requirements of the universal service in the UK.

Lord Hoyle (Lab): I thank the Minister for that reply. Royal Mail is committed to providing a universal service. However, it is facing competition from other companies seeking to cherry pick from the direct delivery service. Ofcom has promised to review the situation but that could take at least two years. Will the Minister join me in pressing Ofcom to begin the review immediately in order to save the universal service?

Viscount Younger of Leckie: The noble Lord is correct: this is a matter for Ofcom. The Government’s policy on competition in the UK postal services market is clear: although competition can bring benefits to consumers, it should not undermine the provision of the universal postal service. That is why the Government have ensured that Ofcom’s primary statutory duty is to secure the ongoing provision of the universal service. However, should competition threaten the universal service, the Act is clear that securing the universal service must take precedence.

The Lord Speaker (Baroness D'Souza): I hesitate to interrupt the proceedings but I am having difficulty in following them due to the continuing conversations coming from the Benches on my left.

Lord Deben (Con): Does my noble friend accept that those of us who live in the country are particularly at risk should there be any diminution in the strength

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of the universal postal service? However, could we not be encouraged to take on board the practice adopted on the continent and in America—namely, to situate post boxes at the end of driveways? That is environmentally very friendly and entails a huge cost saving.

Viscount Younger of Leckie: My noble friend makes an interesting point but the minimum requirements of the universal postal service are enshrined in law, and include six-day delivery to every address, rural and urban, in the UK. I reiterate that the protections are exactly the same for rural areas as urban areas. The Postal Services Act also ensures that universal services are offered at uniform prices throughout the UK; so universal services cannot be offered at different prices in different areas around the UK.

Lord West of Spithead (Lab): My Lords, why is it still called “Royal” Mail? Does this mean that any company can use that prefix?

Viscount Younger of Leckie: It is called Royal Mail because the universal service includes the Queen’s head, which will remain on the stamps—as set in stone.

Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD): Does my noble friend agree that perhaps the biggest threat to the enshrinement of the universal postal service across the United Kingdom is the Scottish Government’s ill considered plans for independence, which would put at risk United Kingdom postal services overall? Does he also agree that perhaps the most vulnerable communities are in the most sparsely populated areas across Britain, including the Scottish borders and the rural Scottish highlands? We are already seeing some providers offer a poorer and more expensive postal service. In support, therefore, of the request of the noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, does the Minister agree that Ofcom should pay particular attention to those living in the most rural parts of the United Kingdom?

Viscount Younger of Leckie: This very much ties in with the question raised by my noble friend Lord Deben. I reiterate that Royal Mail cannot refuse to deliver, or stop delivering to, rural areas; nor can it introduce different prices for rural areas as part of the universal service. The minimum requirements of the universal postal service are enshrined in law and include six-day delivery to every address in the UK, urban and rural, including in Scotland.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock (Lab): My Lords, further to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, will the Minister confirm that the greatest burden on delivery is in Scotland, which represents one-third of the land area of the United Kingdom, particularly in the Highlands and Islands? Does he agree with me and others that the greatest threat to the universal postal service in Scotland would be if it were to become an independent country?

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Viscount Younger of Leckie: The noble Lord draws me into a different area. We take the view that Scotland is much better off staying within the United Kingdom, so we do not see any threat to the universal service.

Lord Skelmersdale (Con): My Lords, does my noble friend accept that the universal postal service obligation works only because of cross-subsidy, with money saved by urban delivery paying for rural delivery? Is not the noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, therefore, absolutely right to say that the biggest danger to all this is the cherry-picking to which he referred, which Ofcom has to consider very seriously?

Viscount Younger of Leckie: Yes, and I know that the chief executive of Royal Mail made a few comments about this a few weeks ago. I should, however, reassure the House that Royal Mail delivers more than 99% of all letters and 37% of parcels. Other suppliers—that is, the incoming competition—directly deliver around 24 million items per year, compared to the 55 million items per day delivered by Royal Mail. So the competition is healthy but is not a threat.

Lord Young of Norwood Green (Lab): The noble Viscount said that only Parliament can change the universal postal service, but is he not concerned about the fact that we have had already one massive increase in stamp price, with a further increase being projected by Royal Mail? Should he not, therefore, take a bit more seriously the threat of competition and the way in which it emerging? I can only reinforce the point that my noble friend Lord Hoyle made about the need to ensure that Ofcom, in delaying unnecessarily the response on this vital issue, does not undermine what everyone in this Chamber treasures—the universal postal service.

Viscount Younger of Leckie: The restrictions were laid down by this Government when we came into power, with the Postal Services Act going much further than any restrictions put down by the previous Government. Competition is healthy, and it is very much a matter for Ofcom to review the progress of Royal Mail. Ofcom continues to do that and will give a proper, full assessment at the end of 2015.

Cornwall: EU Structural Funds


11.29 am

Asked by Lord Berkeley

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how they intend to enable the allocation of €590.4 million of European Union structural funds between 2014 and 2020 to Cornwall in accordance with their localism agenda.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Stowell of Beeston) (Con): My Lords, the people of Cornwall will be in charge of how their allocation of €590 million

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from European structural funds is spent. We are making the process for spending European structural funding money simpler, more flexible and more local than it has ever been. We are giving Cornwall more opportunities than before to decide what type of projects to fund and in which areas.

Lord Berkeley (Lab): I am grateful to the Minister for that Answer. However, when I read the consultation documents from the DCLG on the England operational programme for the ERDF, I saw nothing about this; I saw a lot of good words about devolvement, but it appears that Whitehall will make the decisions. Can she confirm that the Government will accept the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly structural and investment fund strategy? I think that she said that in her Answer, but I hope that she can confirm it.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: My Lords, the thing for me to make clear to the noble Lord and the House is that, under the new ERDF programme which we are about the enter, Cornwall will retain everything that it has had or enjoyed in the past in terms of its authority and control of decisions. It is the only area to have its funding 100% ring-fenced. On the point that the noble Lord raised specifically on civil servants and decisions from Whitehall, the only decisions that will be taken by civil servants will be to ensure that the applications for funding are eligible within EU rules. However, all decisions about projects in Cornwall will be taken by the Cornish people.

Baroness Wilcox (Con): My Lords, is the Minister happy with and encouraged by the progress of the local enterprise partnerships, particularly the local enterprise partnership that has looked into this great allocation of money from the European Union to ensure that it best serves what is now a new Cornwall, having had a status awarded by this Government to bring it in line with Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland? Better together, I would have thought.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: My noble friend is a great champion for Cornwall as she has great local connections there. I echo all her positive remarks about Cornwall and the LEP in the area, which is working hard to ensure a good deal for the Cornish people. That is what it is achieving, and it is doing it in a way that is in line with everything that we would expect from a LEP. That is good news.

Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde (Lab): My Lords, does the Minister agree that the local enterprise partnerships have been very successful in Cornwall? This is the third stage of EU funding, and it would be wrong to withdraw it from Cornwall. The Minister says that the people of Cornwall will decide, but the structures in place are the ones that have ensured that 3,000 young people no longer leave Cornwall, because they can get higher education in Cornwall. That came from the first stage of funding. More than 25,000 jobs were also created. The local enterprise partnership is crucial. Can she confirm that the Government’s intention is not to dilute either the local enterprise partnership’s

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authority or responsibility but that it will be at the centre in deciding where the EU structural funding is spent?

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: I can confirm to the noble Baroness and to the House that the local enterprise partnership in Cornwall will be at the centre of the decisions made about how it will spend the European structural funding for Cornwall. The point which I need to keep re-emphasising to noble Lords is that the amount of control and autonomy held by the LEP—the shorthand form for this entity—is absolutely the same as that which existed for its predecessors. We will have a single programme for England as a whole, which means that on top of retaining all the authority it currently has, Cornwall will be in a much better position to benefit from other spending using these funds, which might be taken in other parts of England.

Lord Teverson (LD): My Lords, I very much welcome the Minister’s statement that there will be that degree of autonomy outside of making sure that projects are eligible. That is quite reasonable. The programme, which is really important to the economic growth of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, should have started at the beginning of this year. When does my noble friend anticipate that it will start so that we can begin to invest in Cornwall and Scilly and really make that economy work?

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: We are on track now. The consultation on the England operational programme has concluded and we are absolutely on schedule to meet the deadline set by the European Union to submit that document. It is really important that we do not try to reopen the negotiations, which would delay us in meeting that deadline. Once we have gone through all the processes, the money will start flowing at the beginning of next year.

Lord McKenzie of Luton (Lab): My Lords, the Cornwall Council website makes it clear that European funding has already made a huge economic and social impact on business and residents in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly thanks to the Objective 1 programme, and the convergence programme has delivered transformational projects such as the rollout of superfast fibre-optic broadband. It anticipates the benefits of the €592 million programme, to which my noble friend referred. Of course, that is part of a wider €6.2 billion ERDF and ESF programme for the UK as a whole. Are these programmes that the Government would wish to see preserved or changed under any renegotiation of the treaty?

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: As the noble Lord understands, we are about to enter this programme, which is for 2014 to 2020. Due to the Prime Minister’s effective negotiations in Europe, we have already cut the European budget and negotiated a much more streamlined use of these structural funds. We have done all that and protected Cornwall at the same time.

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Business of the House

Timing of Debates

11.36 am

Moved by Lord Hill of Oareford

That the debate on the Motion in the name of Baroness Taylor of Bolton set down for today shall be limited to 5 hours.

Motion agreed.

House of Lords: Labour Peers’ Working Group Report

Motion to Take Note

11.37 am

Moved by Baroness Taylor of Bolton

That this House takes note of the Labour Peers’ Working Group report on the future of the House of Lords and its place in a wider constitution.

Baroness Taylor of Bolton (Lab): My Lords, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to introduce this debate. I start by thanking my colleagues on the working group for their support and the work that they did, and I thank those who assisted the committee. I make particular mention of my co-chair, Lord Grenfell. I am pleased to report to the House that when I saw him a couple of weeks ago in Paris, he was on fine form.

The composition of the group was very mixed in terms of our backgrounds, our experiences, our length of service in this House and indeed our age, but it was also mixed in terms of our long-standing attitudes to an elected Chamber. It was therefore very interesting to debate these matters and we produced a unanimous report. We found that the more we talked through the issues, the more we achieved consensus. I think that there is a lesson to be learnt there, in that on constitutional issues it is wrong to come to knee-jerk conclusions.

It is also important to note—we say this very clearly in our report—that we do not claim that this is the last word on House of Lords reform. We are sure that not everyone will agree with every recommendation but I think that we have a set of positive proposals for real progress. I shall explain what led to this report.

Basically, Labour Peers, like many others, felt that the ill fated attempt by the Deputy Prime Minister to pilot an ill conceived Bill through Parliament highlighted the fact that a simplistic approach to Lords reform was always going to crash, and it did crash when the reality of the complexities of constitutional reform was realised. However, just because that attempt ended in somewhat ignominious failure, we did not think that the issue would go away. Therefore, we wanted to do something constructive to bring together ideas which would help the House to work even better.

We believe that this House has many strengths, and makes a significant and positive contribution to the examination of legislation and to holding to account

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the Government of the day. We also believe that the House has some problems in terms of its size, its procedures and its image. Steps can be taken to improve all these and they could be taken quite quickly. I am pleased that the Government have stopped blocking any form of change and that the Byles Bill was passed. I hope that we will make further progress based on the work of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman.

I turn first to the size of this House. The number of people entitled to sit in this House is causing increasing concern to most active Members. Although daily attendance is much less than the total attendance could be, it is rising. We looked at what, in ideal circumstances, would be an appropriate size for a second Chamber in our system. The Clegg Bill suggested 300 Members and the Joint Committee suggested 450. We decided that two principles should apply. First, the Lords should be smaller than the Commons. Secondly, there should be sufficient Members to carry out the functions of revision, scrutiny and holding the Government to account properly, including the important committee work.

The Joint Committee recommendation of 450 Members seems about right to us, although Members will be relieved to know that we are not suggesting an immediate cull. At the heart of our proposals is the concept of a working Peer. That concept is often talked about but has never really been defined. We believe that all Members of this House should be working Peers but we acknowledge that this does not mean it has to be a full-time role. It is, of course, an honour to be here but we also have a job to do. There are other ways to give honours and to recognise those who have made a significant contribution to British life but whose other responsibilities would prevent them from fully participating in this House.

We suggest that when the Writ of Summons is issued at the start of each Parliament, Members who respond should do so with the intention of serving for the whole of the Parliament as a working Peer. We suggest that there should be an attendance requirement of an average of three-fifths of our Sessions. We recognise that that is a crude measure of contribution but it indicates commitment. We also recognise that there could be some exceptional circumstances, which would require modification.

We recommend—this may be controversial—that Peers should step down from active membership of the House at the election following their 80th birthday. There are always the exceptions and people who make fantastic contributions but two of our eight members of the committee were over 80. They were keen to point out that if we had such guidance, we as Members could think well in advance about when and how to adjust to life outside. As we have a fixed-term Parliament, at least for the moment—I wish my noble friend Lord Grocott well in his Private Member’s Bill—it is possible for us to start thinking ahead as to when would be the right time to step down.

In terms of membership here, more attention should be given to achieving greater diversity and greater regional balance. That is the responsibility of parties for political nominees and the House of Lords

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Appointments Commission for others. The Appointments Commission, which should be put on a statutory footing, could do better on this, although we realise the constraints in which it has been working in recent times. We think that its published criteria are appropriate. The political parties making nominations should adopt new transparent criteria for nominations based on the principles of the House of Lords Appointments Commission, particularly in respect of ability to make a significant contribution, a person’s range of expertise, a strong personal commitment to the principles and high standards of public life and, of course, a commitment to be resident in the UK for tax purposes. We also believe that no one, no matter how distinguished his or her public service, should have a role in public life—in the Civil Service or wherever—that should automatically lead to a position in this House.

As far as the Bishops are concerned, we make no recommendations. Putting it mildly, there were strong views on both sides. I recall one of my senior colleagues in another place telling me that House of Lords reform would come to a full stop with any Bill that included the abolition of the Bishops. I am not sure whether that is true, but we decided not to go there, such was the strength of feeling both ways.

However, we all agreed on hereditary Peers. I think that there is widespread though not unanimous support for the end of the hereditary principle. We point out how it could be done while acknowledging the very significant contribution of some hereditary Peers. Of course, some of those people could be awarded life peerages on transfer. On disqualification, we simply think that we should always align our rules as closely as possible to those in the Commons.

Political balance is a much more difficult problem. In 1997, the Labour manifesto said that no political party should seek a majority in the House of Lords. In government, we stood by that. Coalition government has created a new situation. There is only one Government and at the moment they have 58% of political Peers in this House, which makes it harder for the House to assert itself.

There have been suggestions that the number of political Peers in this House should be changed after each election and should reflect the percentage of votes at the previous election, although I note that some who advocated that have been quiet on that issue since opinion polls changed. Unfortunately, although it sounds a simple solution, it is a recipe for an ever increasing size of the House and not something that we think wise. In effect, only party leaders can deal with the balance issue. It requires them to be responsible and not just to seek party advantage.

We also make recommendations about procedural reform. The first is that we suggest that all non-Private Members’ legislation should start in the House of Commons. Bills could then have a First Reading in the House of Commons and follow the normal procedures in the Commons or be subject to a referral Motion that would ensure that this House then took on the detailed examination of any Bill. This procedure would reinforce the primacy of the Commons and, with a few tweaks, allow the Parliament Act to be applicable to all pieces of legislation.

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We also make a proposal about secondary legislation in this House because the current situation of “accept or reject” causes a great deal of frustration. We therefore suggest that there should be a three-month deferral opportunity so that Members can make the Government think again when there is serious concern about an SI.

We think that more should be done to look at the work of previous committees, such as that chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, in terms of modernising the procedures of this House. In particular, we are very keen on the idea of a legislative standards committee, which we think could be established as a Joint Committee, although it should be established by this House if the other place does not want to go down that route. We also think that, because of the good reputation and the sound work that is undertaken by many committees in this House, there is scope for more short-term ad hoc committees on specific cross-departmental subjects. We also recommend a review of the role of the Lord Speaker, which is not personal but was promised when that role was first established by the House.

We also make recommendations about the wearing of robes. We believe that the wearing of robes creates an image of the House that belies the very modern contribution that the Lords makes to current political life. It may make for good television for some, but it does nothing but detract from our very positive contributions to the working of our democracy.

Those are measures that we think could be implemented quite quickly and, most of them, without legislation, but I will also say a word about our thinking about long-term constitutional change. If the Clegg Bill did anything positive, it convinced many people that piecemeal change, without consideration for the consequential effects, deliberate or otherwise, is most unwise. We point out in our report that, at the moment, there seems to be some common agreement that there is widespread public disengagement from politics and our parliamentary system. That is quite dangerous, and has many causes but very few simple answers. So it is with constitutional change: there are few simple answers. Despite the fact that constitutional change is not a priority for most of the public, we have had a significant number of important but piecemeal changes in recent times, and more are proposed. We have had fixed-term Parliaments, the failed AV referendum, changes to voter registration and votes for 16 year-olds in Scotland. There is also the Scottish referendum to come, maybe an EU referendum, questions about extending powers to the Welsh Assembly and new discussions on the regions and city areas; nor, of course, has the issue of Lords reform gone away. We believe that complex constitutional matters need not only careful consideration but careful co-ordination. We think that such changes should command public support—after some political consensus, we hope—and we acknowledge that referendums might have an important role in this respect.

Many people—committees, commissions, politicians and academics—have looked at all these issues and one thing is, I believe, emerging as almost inevitable. It is not quite there yet, but there is an emerging consensus that there is a need for a constitutional commission or convention, which can take an overview of any and all

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of these issues. We suggest that such a body should be tasked with reporting within two years of the next election, which would allow time in that Parliament for further legislation where it is needed. This is the only way to ensure a coherent approach and to undertake change in a measured way. We have to make sure that we make our constitution fit for the challenges that lie ahead, and we need that wider view of how to do it. Our report is intended to be a contribution to that, and I recommend it to the House.

11.54 am

Lord Richard (Lab): My Lords, first, I declare an interest as the former chairman of the Joint Committee. Secondly, I very much regret the absence of my friend Lord Grenfell from this debate. He is a person of vigorous views—on this we do not agree—but I would like to have heard his voice today.

The Labour Peers’ report, The Future of the House of Lords and its Place in a Wider Constitution, is a useful contribution to the debate. We have been round and round this course many times. There is not a great deal new that can be said about it but at least the report gives us a new focus for the discussion and recognises that some reform has to take place and that it should take place now.

I am grateful to the authors of the report, particularly for paragraph 1.8, which says:

“Labour peers as a group do not necessarily agree on every issue relating to the future of the House of Lords”—

how true. The report continues:

“Such a spectrum of views, with many points in between, often crystallises around the issue of whether the House of Lords should be elected”.

The report then says:

“We know that opinions on this issue are very often passionately held”—

that is certainly true—

“and that those holding such strong opinions are unlikely to be moved from them”.

That seems true as well. The report continues:

“Our judgement is that a majority of Labour peers do not support an elected House of Lords. However, we know too that a substantial number of Labour peers do support an elected Lords. We respect both views, and we recognise that on this issue, and no doubt others, there is unlikely to be clear agreement across the board”.

Those are rather wise words, if I may say so. I certainly commend that lot to the House.

Noble Lords will know which side of the argument I am on.

A noble Lord: Both!

Lord Richard: I stand where I was and nothing has caused me to modify my views. I believe in an elected House. I believe that in the long term it will be seen as not only right but inevitable. There is a fairly obvious lacuna in the report that I should point out, which is that it calls for progress and reform as part of the process—progress towards what? What is the end of the process? The answer can be only an elected and

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reformed second Chamber. If that is the ultimate aim, viewed in that context the report is indeed useful. If viewed as an end in itself, the report is not.

Since we are talking about Labour Party views, we should be clear about what the Labour Party commitment was at the previous election—and indeed, I hope, remains. We set it out very clearly in our manifesto. With the leave of the House, I will quote it:

“We will ensure that the hereditary principle is removed from the House of Lords. Further democratic reform”—

the House will note these words—

“to create a fully elected Second Chamber will then be achieved in stages. At the end of the next Parliament one third of the House of Lords will be elected; a further one third of members will be elected at the general election after that. Until the final stage, the representation of all groups should be maintained in equal proportions to now. We will consult widely on these proposals, and on an open-list proportional representation electoral system for the Second Chamber, before putting them to the people in a referendum”.

That seems perfectly clear. I would be very disappointed indeed if at the next general election we were not equally forthright.

Moreover, in considering the whole issue yet again, one should not forget that when the House of Lords Reform Bill was debated in the House of Commons, it was passed by a majority of no less than 338, which in anyone’s figures is a pretty hefty majority.

The Labour Party voted very firmly in favour of giving the Bill a Second Reading. Again, we should look at the arithmetic. Of Conservative MPs, 193 voted in favour of a Second Reading, 89 voted against. As far as the Labour Party was concerned, 202 were in favour, 26 against. The Liberal Democrats scored 53 in favour and zero against. I hope that there is no suggestion that as a party we should resile from the principles of the position that we took in the House of Commons. One of the dangers in this whole argument is that the House of Lords will come to the conclusion that it is in favour of a non-elected House and the House of Commons will come to the conclusion that it is in favour of an elected House. That is an unhealthy result to look forward to.

Having said all that, however, I want to look at the common ground between us on the report. The report says that the House of Lords should have 450 Members and be smaller than the House of Commons. I totally agree with that. It says that the hereditary principle should be ended and that all remaining hereditary peerages should be abolished. I totally agree with that. It says that no political party or coalition of parties should seek a Lords majority. I agree. All Peers should be working Peers. I certainly agree with that. The House of Lords Appointments Commission should be established in statute. I agree with that. Attendance should be set at an average of three-fifths of Lords sitting days. That seems to me to be unexceptionable. Disqualification from the Lords should be in line with such arrangements as apply in the Commons. All legislation should start in the Commons. The ceremonial wearing of robes should end. The role of the Lord Speaker should be reviewed. With all of that, I think I could agree. I am bound to say that that is a substantial measure of agreement on any view of this issue. I am sure that it goes rather too far for many people on the other side of the House.

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Finally, the report calls for a constitutional commission to consider Britain's evolving constitutional settlement as a whole. This will apparently include devolution, the outcome of the Scottish referendum and questions concerning English governance—whatever that may mean—including regional government. It says that all those provide the context within which wider questions of the place of the second Chamber within the constitution will fall to be determined. These questions are apparently to include the functions and composition of the House, including the question of election, the relationship with the House of Commons, the implications for the formation of Governments, legislative activity, scrutiny of the Executive and representation of the people.

I have to say that is one of the longest and least mowable pieces of grass that I have seen cultivated into which a political football can be successfully kicked. The agenda is enormous and the idea that you could produce results on that in 24 months is, with great respect to the authors of the report, somewhat fanciful.

I see no reason why the reform of this House should have to wait for the resolution of all the problems related to the British constitution. I am very strongly in favour of a long look at the relationship between the devolved Administrations and the centre. I am strongly in favour of taking a long look at the possibilities of regionalisation for England, but I am very much against using the constitutional commission as the excuse for continued inaction on the central issue of the reform of this House.

I am conscious of the time, but I have two other points that I want to make. I will do so very briefly. Looking at the history of this country, we see that many of the great constitutional advances that have been made have been made not by consensus but very much in its absence. If we go back to the 17th century—let alone Magna Carta, that was hardly consensual—and the disputes between Parliament and the Crown, to the Great Reform Bill, or to the Parliament Act 1911, none of them was consensual. They all took place because the Government decided that that is what was right and that was what they were going to do. I would wish future Governments to do that too.

Baroness Northover (LD): My Lords, I remind noble Lords that we are in a time-limited debate. When the clock reaches eight, noble Lords have had eight minutes.

12.04 pm

Lord Stephen (LD): My Lords, when I first came to this Chamber I expected quite quickly, as I hoped, to vote for and deliver radical reform of the House of Lords, and now I wonder. I thought that in voting for that radical reform I would have the support of the Labour Party, and now I wonder.

The Labour Party has a pretty reasonable track record in some areas of constitutional reform but a less dynamic record in others. In 1999, there was a good year with the establishment of the Scottish Parliament and the introduction of PR for the European elections, but in 2007 I fought an election campaign in Scotland where Labour said, “This far but no further”. If a different, more flexible approach had been taken in that election, I wonder whether we would have

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ended up where we are just now in terms of the future of the United Kingdom. These issues are really important, as is the view of the Labour Party. With a bit of encouragement, Labour did deliver PR for local government in Scotland, which was a very good thing.

This report, however, is not at the leading edge of Labour’s radical thinking. Its tenor is also as though little or no thinking about reforming your Lordships’ House had taken place in the past 15 years or so and as though the suggested convention would be able to reveal new answers which the nine cross-party committees and commissions that have examined this issue since 1999 have been unable to proffer. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, quoted from the 2010 Labour Party manifesto. I will not repeat that, but one can go back as far as 1992, when the party committed to a package of reforms,

“leading to the replacement of the House of Lords with a new elected Second Chamber”.

In 1997, it promised to,

“make the House of Lords more democratic and representative”.

In 2001, it said:

“We are committed to completing House of Lords reform, including removal of the remaining hereditary peers, to make it more representative and democratic”.

In 2005, it said:

“In our next term we will complete the reform of the House of Lords so that it is a modern and effective revising Chamber”.

Labour won that election, so there was a next term.

Surely the Labour Party’s policy forum, when it comes to consider this issue, will not be fooled by this prospectus of yet more navel-gazing around a committee table. Surely this is not the Labour way; either Labour is committed to democracy or it is not. If it reneges on that commitment now, it will be abandoning a very long history of manifesto pledges with a long tradition within the party, as if the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, along with Smith, Blair and Brown, have all been ditched for some pretty soft and flexible wording about a convention.

If this House is to be reformed so that it is electors and not party leaders who put people here, then there is little alternative better than the 2012 Bill. It was developed over a decade, with its key principle of retaining always a more powerful mandate in the Commons than in this House, while ensuring that this place had real democratic legitimacy. The architecture of the Bill was based almost brick for brick on that suggested by Jack Straw in his White Paper in 2008. That presumably is one reason why an overwhelming majority of Labour MPs—more than 200 of them—voted in support of the Government’s Bill in 2012. Despite their reservations, it also attracted a more than two to one majority of the elected Members of Parliament from the Conservative Party in the House of Commons. All Liberal Democrat MPs supported it. What is so astonishing is that with that huge mandate, Peers at this end were threatening to torpedo the Bill with blocking tactics, while expressing their deep concern for the vital primacy of the House of Commons.

Lord Campbell-Savours (Lab): If that is the case, why did Clegg agree for the Bill to be withdrawn? Why did he not insist within the coalition on that Bill being brought forward to this House?

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Lord Stephen: The noble Lord is well aware of the circumstances, which directly involved the attitude of the Conservative Party to these matters.

The House of Commons has clearly spoken on these issues and has consistently voted for democracy, in 2003, 2007 and 2012. Noble Lords who shake their heads should reflect seriously on the position of the other place and the fact that it has consistently backed democratic reform of this Chamber. Surely 2015 should not be the time to think about this for even longer through another commission.

I want to challenge one of the central assumptions of the report, that embarking on this wide consultation and engagement will lead to a consensus. On this issue, a wide consultation does not inexorably lead to a consensus; this is a matter on which some people’s views are intransigent. The preface to the report says that the majority of the authors think that a majority of their group believes that,

“election would lead inexorably to the Lords challenging the primacy of the Commons”.

That has not historically been the Labour Party view on this issue, as has been described, but wide consultation and engagement will not stop anyone who insists on that point. It also ignores the fact that elected Chambers work alongside each other in many other Parliaments, and that the 2012 Bill had specific mechanisms built into it—

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Lab): My Lords, I wonder if the noble Lord will give way on that point. He is really rather glossing over some of the difficulties of the 2012 Bill relating to the respective powers of the two Chambers. Surely in those Parliaments where there are two elected Chambers—

Baroness Northover: My Lords, I will let the noble Lord continue, but I remind the House that noble Lords who have signed up for this all have an opportunity to put their case. They should therefore be chary of eating into the time of other people.

Lord Campbell-Savours: It is a debate.

Baroness Northover: Noble Lords will have their time. I will let the noble Lord continue his point, but I point out that noble Lords will have their opportunities later on to make the case that they wish to make and that they should be chary of eating into other people’s time.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, with the greatest respect, it is not in the noble Baroness’s gift to either let me intervene or not. The noble Lord is clearly well able to debate and wants to do so. The only point that I want to put to him is this: in those places where there are two elected Chambers, there tends to be a written constitution. Is that not really at heart the problem—that no one has yet resolved the balance of power between the two elected Chambers in the UK?

Lord Stephen: We can always make it too difficult, tough and complex to deliver change. I would be delighted to see a written constitution as well. As

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I have just pointed out, though, those commitments running back over not just one decade but two from the Labour Party were to radical reform and democratic change, but during its time in office that has never been delivered. It is our system that, I emphasise again, is the exception, not the rule, and the rule should be a democratic one.

If noble Lords will give me just a little leeway, I will finish very quickly. The fact is that some people do not wish to be persuaded of the case for real reform. While that is the case, there will be no real reform and no consensus unless the political parties take a different approach. What can be achieved will be achieved if those manifesto commitments for change are delivered by one majority party or, as I would prefer on an issue of this importance, by cross-party majorities, which I believe exist in both Houses of this Parliament and can deliver democratic reform. After the next general election, that is what can and should be delivered.

12.13 pm

Lord Harries of Pentregarth (CB): My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to debate this report and its recommendations for incremental change in the House. I am particularly grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Bolton, for her extremely clear and balanced introduction to the debate. I was fortunate enough to be a member of the Royal Commission on House of Lords Reform, which was chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham. This contained members of all parties as well as academics. It began with a total division of opinion between those who wanted a fully elected House and those who wanted a fully appointed one, but by the end a remarkable consensus had been achieved.

I intend to look at a few of the recommendations in the report that we are debating today and compare them with the related proposals made by the royal commission, while deliberately not dealing with the question of election versus appointment, because I believe, taking up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Richard, that the kind of proposals that we are discussing for incremental change are compatible with a fully elected House, a fully appointed House or a hybrid House. Everyone now agrees that our House badly needs reforming and I believe that we can take significant steps in reform even before a final decision is made about that issue.

First, there is the question of size. The Wakeham commission proposed 450. I am glad that this figure now seems to have emerged as the agreed one and is the one put forward in the Labour Party working group’s report. Secondly, there is retirement. The Labour Party report proposes the age of 80. The problem, of course, is that 80 is the new 60. There is one extremely distinguished Member of your Lordships’ House, who I am glad to say is still very much with us, who was appointed at the age of 79. The royal commission argued against age limitations of any kind and instead suggested that everyone should be appointed or elected not for life but for 15 years, renewable for a further term only under exceptional circumstances, a decision that would be made by an independent Appointments Commission. Fifteen years would enable a person to

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take a long view but would also enable the House constantly to be renewed without having to get larger and larger, which, as we know, is what is happening at the moment.

Thirdly, there is the Appointments Commission. The Labour Party recommends that it be put on a statutory basis and given greater powers than it has now. That recommendation is extremely welcome. For the royal commission, this was a key proposal, which we discussed in great detail. On the commission’s proposals, its powers would go further than those envisaged by the Labour Party report. It would have responsibility for the proper balance not just among Cross-Bench Peers but for the House as a whole. It would keep in touch with party leaders to ensure that across the House there was the right balance of gender, ethnicity, religion and experience. It would also, of course, attend to the other criteria helpfully set out in the Labour Party report about proven probity, commitment to the work of the House and so on.

This leads on to my fourth point about how a Government’s majority in the Commons should be reflected in this House. According to the Labour Party document, no one party should have a majority in this House, and it is critical of the way in which a coalition Government, such as this one, with a very big majority, can almost invariably get their way without too much difficulty. The opposite view, which I understand is held by the Government and which was put forward by the royal commission, is that the ratio in this House should reflect the votes cast in an election, a view that would, or could, lead to even more appointments to this House.

It is worth looking at the number of times particular Governments have been defeated in this House. The present Government have been defeated 89 times. In the last term of the Labour Government, they were defeated 175 times. In the term before that, they were defeated 245 times and, in the term before that, 108 times. If we go back to the two previous Conservative Administrations, they were defeated 62 times and 72 times. There is quite a big gap between the Labour Party being defeated 245 times at one point and the Conservative Government being defeated only 62 times. I shall make no comment about those figures, because they speak for themselves. What it has meant in practice at the moment is that the Government can be defeated only if a strong body of Cross-Bench Peers combines with a number of members of the coalition Government who are prepared to vote against their own party.

The principles behind any solution to this issue seem to me quite clear and are ones that I think all your Lordships would agree on. First, in the end, the House of Commons must get its own way. Secondly, this House must have real power to force the Commons to think again. Against the background of these two principles, I suggest a third, which is that this House, at least in the interim period, should reflect the Government’s working majority in the Commons without at that point taking into account the Cross-Benchers. Very often when people discuss this, they do not take into account the fact that 20% of this House’s Members are Cross-Benchers, from a whole range of professions and backgrounds, who have a responsibility to think independently of party. That 20% figure has not of

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course been finally agreed, but in the previous set of proposals there seemed to be a growing consensus on it.

In the Commons, the Government have a working majority of 79 in a House of 650. If that majority were reflected in a House of Lords of 450, it would mean a majority of 53 over the opposition party and, in addition, the House would have 90 Cross-Bench Members. In other words, even if there were a coalition Government, it could not be taken for granted that the Government would get their way, for they would have to convince the majority of the Cross-Benchers. A healthy House of Lords, I suggest, is one in which the Government should not be defeated on a regular basis but would be defeated from time to time. Of course, that begs the question of what is “regular” and what is meant by “time to time”. Finally, going back to a previous point, it would be the responsibility of the independent Appointments Commission, working with party leaders, to ensure that this balance was kept.

I welcome the push that this report has given us to think about incremental changes that could be made, even at this stage. However, the recommendations of the royal commission go further and enable us to achieve more in this direction, whatever we finally agree about whether this House is to be fully elected, fully appointed or a hybrid.

12.21 pm

The Lord Bishop of Derby: My Lords, it a great honour and privilege to follow the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth. I have spent a lot of my ministry following his example and inspiration. I thank him for his contribution.

I am grateful for this report and for the clear presentation of the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor. I welcome the continuing debate and the whole style of incremental reform, which is the right approach. The report begins by recognising a significant feature of our times: widespread disengagement with our parliamentary system. We keep saying that and then just moving on. I want to ask us to stop and think about that phrase for a minute.

In the 21st century, we have to come to terms with what might be described as a turn to the self as a reference point: the privatisation of space and the dissolving of community and public space. People live in relationships that must always be negotiated rather than in what might be called “relatedness”, which is when you are given a connection with people through family, through neighbourhood and through country. In this kind of world we have to ask whether democracy as we understand it—one person, one vote—is fit for purpose. That is an important question. The simple accumulation of numbers is often undermined by the manipulation of highly organised pressure groups. That is the issue which we have to take seriously. The strongest forces in Parliament are not MPs and the people they represent, but lobbyists of particular interests and views. Lobbying is about power and self-interest. Of course it is important: it articulates useful things. However, because lobbyists already know what they want and what they think, they undermine the potential for debate and reflection.

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If there is any truth in that kind of scenario, we have to work on two fronts. First, we need to look at reforming the House of Commons.

Noble Lords: Hear, hear!

The Lord Bishop of Derby: How can MPs and their local interests play a more significant part, and how can power be devolved back to the people? Secondly, we live in a complex world of competing interests. Many of them are highly organised and very sharp, so we need a different kind of representation of the people besides that of MPs and those who vote for them. We need a supplementary system of representation that represents networks, groups, cultures and faiths—that whole complex ecology in which human beings live. The genius of our present constitution is that we have both types of representation. We have democratic representation in so far as it is fit for purpose. However, there is the sheer complexity of the ecology and the fact that it can be prey to pressure groups. Then we have this House, which is full of all kinds of wisdom, experience and insight, which can reflect that complex ecology and, as a place of place of reflection and measurement, can bring it to what is being proposed.

We all accept that this is a secondary and supportive Chamber—the report refers to it being a partner and not a competitor—and that the primary power resides with the people. However, democracy—one person, one vote—is a very simplistic way of trying to manage power and influence. The space this House gives to a different kind of ecology of wisdom and experience through careful appointment is a very important part of the political process. It is not just an old-fashioned, out-of-date Chamber; it could be the most precious way of dealing with the complexities of the present and the future.

I support the call for a smaller House and for a retirement scheme. On these Benches, we model retirement as a way of operating. I will make a brief comment about working Peers. I take the point that was made about them, but my plea is that because Members of Parliament and Peers have a representational role in the wider world, we must allow people to work off-site as well as on-site. It is very important that that work is given priority.

Should Bishops be here? Others must decide that. However, while we are here, I hope that our Benches will very soon be graced by the appointment of women Bishops, which will greatly enhance our contribution. We bring, within the ecology I have spoken about, a particular kind of representation that is at the grassroots. I have a personal connection with every community in Derbyshire, which is a very interesting set of relationships to be involved in. Another important principle is that the diversity of faiths is represented. I support the call for a constitutional commission, which has also been supported by my colleagues the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester.

I will finish by saying something about robes, which noble Lords might expect me to say. When you are in a public role you are not just you, as John or Mary; you have a representative role. Certainly in my trade, pitching

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up on occasion in robes—in role—helps people to understand who I am, what I am about and what I represent. We have to think carefully about accepting a commission to be public figures with public responsibilities and then think we can simply be ordinary people alongside others. We have great responsibilities and great authority is placed in us, and it is not a bad thing on certain occasions to model that.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock (Lab): Does the right reverend Prelate agree that someone who has the greatest authority in the whole world does not have to have a robe; namely, the President of the United States of America?

The Lord Bishop of Derby: That is another debate. If we were debating the American constitution, I might have some even stronger things to say about that.

12.28 pm

Lord Trimble (Con): My Lords, the report we are debating is deliberately modest, which in itself is a welcome change. I will confine myself to just a few points.

It is proposed that the House of Lords Appointments Commission be put on a statutory basis “to underpin its independence”. That is not a problem. I will not debate the quality of its appointments, although they are, and are bound to be, somewhat varied. My problem is with the legitimacy of the Appointments Commission. Why should a quango have the power to influence the size and composition of one of the two Houses of Parliament?

Those appointed by political parties derive a degree of democratic legitimacy from the popular support for that party. However, it is said that that is insufficient and that they should be properly elected. What, then, of the commission’s appointees, who have no scintilla of democratic legitimacy? That is not to say that there should be no Cross-Benchers, but that maybe there should be another way.

It is also proposed that some of the commission’s criteria for appointment should be applied to political appointees. I think it is wrong, as a matter of principle, to interfere with the internal workings of any political party.

It is also proposed to end the replacement election of hereditary Peers, which is described in paragraph 6.19 as,

“a political arrangement reached by the main political parties”.

Those are rather weasel words. A deal was done. A contract was made. The Act was passed on the basis of that deal. All those who supported the Act necessarily accepted the deal. I say to the party opposite that they should keep their word or, in the fine old Scots phrase, they should not approbate and reprobate. It is not good enough to say that it has not led to further reform. That is because a consensus has not yet been achieved. Perhaps we should focus on that.

This brings us to the proposal for a constitutional commission as a means to achieve a consensus, which has some merit, although such a commission would

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probably have several other matters on its agenda ahead of House of Lords reform. However, such a commission would have to deal with the issue of Lords reform comprehensively.

I was pleasantly surprised in 2012 by the speed with which so many new Conservative Members of the other place realised that Lords reform was really about them, involving a reduction of their power and primacy through the creation of an equal or superior Chamber. It underlined the point, which should have been clear from previous attempts, that the other place will permit the creation of another elected Chamber only if the latter’s mandate and power are clearly inferior. This can be done through indirect election, for which there are precedents even within British parliamentary practice. It should be easier to build a consensus for that than for any of the proposals we have seen in recent years. The report avoids this territory as its proposals are for interim contributions, but those proposals have the disadvantage that most of them require legislation. Will time be found for such legislation? Will a Private Member’s Bill pass the other place? If it does, will it advance or postpone wider reform?

Finally, here we are at the beginning of the last Session before the general election, which will come in less than a year. This is the first Labour debate. I was surprised to see that that the most important issue for Labour is modest, interim measures of Lords reform. It takes priority over the financial crisis, comes before the economic recovery, and relegates consideration of Labour’s views on the growth of business and the reform of public service. I think the party opposite must be hoping that the electorate do not notice.

12.32 pm

Lord Dubs (Lab): My Lords, first, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Taylor and Lord Grenfell on the way in which they jointly steered this Labour Peers’ working group forward. I was delighted to be an elected member of that group—elected by my fellow Labour Peers. I am bound to say that my noble friend may have been extremely persuasive in her opening remarks today but, my goodness, she is much more persuasive when she is chairing a committee, and she ensured that we got agreement.

I was happy to support the report, although I should have liked it to go a bit further and I want to develop that in a moment. However, I want to say something about the Clegg Bill, which managed to unite in opposition to it those of us who support an elected Lords and those of us who oppose it. It was quite a political achievement to get all those people on the other side.

Furthermore, in so far as some of us believe in an elected second Chamber, as I passionately do, we believe in it because of accountability to voters. A 15-year term manages to avoid such accountability because once one is elected, one is no longer answerable. So I did not like that 15-year period. There is another argument against that 15-year period that the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, advocated, which is this: if people are going to give it 15 years of their lives, they will not be young people. After 15 years, what will they do? How will they get into a career? A

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15-year term seems to be recipe for only older people. That is surely the last thing that we want to advocate at this stage. I am against the 15-year term, whether it comes through appointment or election.

The size of the House is getting unmanageable. Let us be clear about that. More people are coming in. When one looks at the figures—and given the number of people who are attending—one can see that it is extremely difficult for this place to function sensibly. If we are to adjust the membership of the Lords after every election, unless there is a way of getting rid of people, there are will be more and more people. The number will rise exponentially.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD): There is execution.

Lord Dubs: I thought that we were against the death penalty, but it is an interesting suggestion.

Lord Campbell-Savours: Says the Minister!

Lord Dubs: Well, he is a Lib Dem. Anyway, I genuinely believe that the House will become unmanageable if it goes on being made larger and larger. We have to find some way to control its size. That is why we on the working group looked at a retirement age of 80, coupled with people who do not play their part in this House no longer being Members. Those two things have to go together. I still think, even if I have to fall on my own sword, that that is at least one option for reducing the size of the House.

My noble friend mentioned that all First Readings of Bills should be in the Commons, even if half the Second Readings then come here. That would ensure that the Parliament Act would bite on all legislation. As for giving only a delaying power for orders or statutory instruments, that seems sensible. All of us when in opposition have wrestled with disliking an order and not wishing, as an unelected House, to actually kill it; we have all had that difficulty. So a three-month delay period would be sensible.

As for reviewing the role of the Lord Speaker, although this is not a debate about that important role, the way in which Questions work in this House means that those who are more pushy—I hate to call my fellow Peers bullies, but those who act like bullies—push out other noble Lords in getting supplementary questions. That is not satisfactory, and we know that it does not work. We know that some of us are reluctant to push in with supplementaries simply for that reason.

I noted what the right reverend Prelate said about robes. His argument would be that we should wear them all the time—heaven forbid. The problem, as my noble friend said, is that whenever there is a photograph of Members of this House, we are always wearing those robes and we look totally out of date for modern times. Frankly, it is just not a sensible way forward. I should like to add to that the suggestion that we get rid of titles. If one is introduced or if one introduces oneself with a title, the other person—if they are a normal human being—looks at us as if we are complete nerds, or they become entirely deferential. Neither is a

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sensible way to have a rapport with anybody. It stands in the way of our dealing and engaging with ordinary people.

I put forward one suggestion before without getting much acclaim, which was that anyone who wants to stay in this House should drop the title and, if they want to keep the title, they should retire for good. That would sort out those who say that they keep their titles only because their wives demand it, which I have heard on more than one occasion.

I support the idea of a constitutional commission, provided that it is not a long-grass job and that there is a time limit, because there are too many difficult issues that need to be resolved. I wanted the report to steer the constitutional commission towards working out how best to achieve an elected second Chamber, but I was dissuaded from that by my noble friend on the very sensible grounds that, if we tell a constitutional convention or commission what it should do, it will hardly be able to do its job properly. We would simply be ordering what should happen.

Yes, many hereditary Peers make a fantastic contribution to this House, but I think that the time for having them is over.

I shall just tiptoe on thin ice on the subject of Bishops. I believe that many of them make an enormously useful contribution to this House, but they do it because of the individuals they are. If Bishops are to continue to sit in this House, I should like them to be appointed or elected to it in the same way as everyone else.

I fear that my next comment will offend the right reverend Prelate. He criticised lobbyists. That is fair enough. However, I fear that I shall make a lot of enemies by saying that the only paid lobbyists in this House are the Bishops. That is an anomaly.

Lord Harries of Pentregarth: I thank the noble Lord for that comment which deserves a response. Bishops do not represent the Church of England in this House but seek to represent some of the feelings in their diocese as a whole. As the right reverend Prelate said, he is in touch with all the communities in Derby. The Bishops are not pursuing the interests of the Church of England alone but also representing other faith communities.

Lord Dubs: I hear what the noble and right reverend Lord says. However, I stick by my point: we took care to avoid having paid lobbyists in this House, and we should ensure that we do not apply that principle selectively. However, as the group said, we should leave that matter to a constitutional commission. This is not a bad report. I welcome it and hope that the House will endorse it.

12.40 pm

Lord Kakkar (CB): My Lords, I join in thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Bolton, for introducing the report, which makes an important contribution to the ongoing debate on the future of your Lordships’ House. I declare my interest as chairman of the House

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of Lords Appointments Commission and take this opportunity to thank for the first time my predecessor, the noble Lord, Lord Jay of Ewelme, for his tremendous contribution to the work of the commission in his five years as its chairman.

Noble Lords have discussed the content of the report and previous attempts to reform your Lordships’ House in this Parliament, particularly the Bill proposed by the Deputy Prime Minister which fell in the other place. Important lessons can be learnt from that experience with regard to reform of your Lordships’ House. The fundamental problem with that proposition was that it did not deal with the important question of defining the powers of elected Chambers in this Parliament. That remains a fundamental question. As the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, said, no bicameral Parliament with two elected Chambers exists which does not have a written constitution defining the powers between the two elected Chambers. It is wrong to suggest that your Lordships’ House would have opposed as a matter of principle a Bill that had been fully debated in the other place; rather it might have taken the opportunity to consider this important constitutional question and ensure that, in changing fundamentally the nature of this Parliament by having two elected Chambers, the other place was cognisant of the fact that, as was stated in the preamble to the Parliament Act 1911, Parliament would need to address the question of limiting and defining the powers of the House of Lords. That remains a fundamental issue that should be addressed by a constitutional commission. It will eventually have to be addressed if this Parliament moves from having an elected Chamber with primacy and an absolute clarity of mandate democratically delivered by our fellow citizens, and a second Chamber made up of appointed Members revising and scrutinising legislation, to having two elected Chambers.

I would like to deal with some of the issues in the report relating to appointment to your Lordships’ House and the work of the independent House of Lords Appointments Commission. Noble Lords will be aware that this independent commission was established at the time of the previous major reform of your Lordships’ House around 1999 and 2000 and discharges two important constitutional responsibilities—to nominate individuals without allegiance to party to sit on the Cross Benches and to vet all nominations to the party Benches, the Cross Benches and those of Peers who are nominated through the other available mechanisms. That vetting function is a vital, clear, but sometimes not altogether recognised, purpose of the House of Lords Appointments Commission.

In this important report, it is suggested that criteria are published that might in some way match those adopted by the House of Lords Appointments Commission, so that our fellow citizens can understand the basis upon which individuals are appointed to either the independent Cross Benches or the party-political Benches. The criteria that the House of Lords Appointments Commission uses have been refined over time since its inception and provide an important basis of clarity in terms of the qualities that the commission looks for in making appointments to the Cross Benches, and might usefully be adopted by the political parties for that purpose.

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In terms of the vetting function for independent Cross-Bench Peers, the commission looks both at the criteria that define suitability to serve in your Lordships’ House and at the criteria and vetting with regard to propriety. It may be—and it has been suggested—that an independent commission might take on an assessment of suitability criteria for party-political Peers. That matter has not been discussed by the commission at this stage, and it has never been put to the commission by any Government or by either Chamber of this Parliament.

With regard to the question of participation and commitment, the House of Lords Appointments Commission has always been of the view that those wishing to serve in your Lordships’ House are able to make a substantial time commitment and are prepared to recognise that they should serve by participation in the Chamber and in the work of the Select Committees, as well as by being prepared not only to provide their expertise but make general contributions to the effective discharge of the responsibilities of this second Chamber. There is an increasing expectation by our fellow citizens outside Parliament that individuals who offer themselves to your Lordships’ House, and are prepared to accept the privilege of serving in it, do so on the basis that they make a regular and active contribution—an important point made in the report.

There is also the important question of whether the House of Lords Appointments Commission should be put on a statutory basis. This has not been considered by the new commission, which consists of an independent chairman, three independent commissioners and three commissioners appointed as a result of party-political nomination. There is no question that there could be justification for a statutory appointments commission, but the issue should be addressed once we understand what the final function of your Lordships’ House is going to be in this bicameral Parliament; once we better understand whether that function will be delivered as part of a fully elected—in which case, there would be no need for an appointments commission—fully appointed or hybrid Chamber; and, on that basis, once we understand the responsibilities that we have to discharge, how Parliament sees us going about those responsibilities, and the balance between elected and appointed Peers. The question could then be put about how a statutory appointments commission could be formed and on what basis the statutes should be delivered.

12.48 pm

Lord Rooker (Lab): My Lords, I congratulate my noble friends on the report and can support it. I want, however, to use my time to issue what I would call a manifesto warning to the three party leaders about Lords reform.

I served as a member of the Joint Committee on the 2011-12 draft Bill. I supported An Alternative Way Forward, a document supported by 13 of the 26 members of the committee. After we had finished our work, in scribbling around, I started to think about amendments for the Bill during the summer, before it was withdrawn. I came to the conclusion that I should try to get a package together. In short, it amounted to a combination of giving the Lords an extension of its revising powers,

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but limiting its blocking powers. I shall explain. As has been said, the Clegg Bill refused to look at functions and powers, instead concentrating exclusively on composition. His answer was that solutions would evolve. Indeed, the noble Lords, Lord Ashdown and Lord Strathclyde, went further and seemed to relish the prospect of open warfare between the two Houses. No one took them seriously, but no progress was made.

The two Houses are not equal. The unelected Lords cannot force legislation upon the elected Commons, but the Commons can force legislation upon the Lords. That is as it should be. Leaving things as they are and dealing only with composition will undermine the Commons. When he gave evidence to the Joint Committee, I asked the Deputy Prime Minister, whom I had never met, whether he was a man from the House of Commons or a House of Commons man. The look on his face told all. But he is not alone: none of the three party leaders down there is what I would consider a House of Commons man. Of Messrs Cameron, Clegg and Miliband, not one of them has ever been an effective, active, marauding, campaigning Back-Bencher in the Commons. There is not a shred of evidence to contradict that. They are open to the seduction of the manifesto claim to democratise the Lords from advisers less committed to the Commons than they are. The fact that the Commons can be so easily undermined appears to be of no concern whatever. Putting in place an elected element in whole or in part while leaving the current Lords powers the same is so risky it beggars belief they would try to do so.

There is then the primacy argument, used by some as a means of opposing the elected element. The question of whether it is incompatible to have Commons primacy with an elected Lords is legitimate but deceptive. The Lords’ current powers, unused by an unelected House, must be reduced. Why should people stand for election to a House that has fewer powers? Why should an elected second Chamber have fewer powers than an unelected second Chamber? In my view, that is the wrong way to look at it. We have to find a way to deal with this issue.

If we accept the second Chamber as a revising Chamber, a thinking-again Chamber, a holding-to-account Chamber and then give it a real task in these areas greater than at present, it becomes much easier to get your head around the idea of reducing powers—or, more correctly, restricting the blocking powers. I have not set about looking for lots of examples on this because there are plenty around to distinguish between them, but I will give a couple. The beauty of them is they would work with both an elected and an unelected Chamber. They should be promoted now, so that when the issue of election comes around—as it surely will—we will have removed some of the barriers to a decent consideration. It is logical to restrict Lords’ blocking powers, given the powers of the two Houses are not equal on finance or the formation of Government.

So far as revision is concerned, I am well aware that there are plenty of ideas around: there are some in the report we are debating. They do not need to be invented. For example, we could give the second Chamber the power to offer a couple of modest amendments to secondary legislation. The Parliament Act should not apply because secondary legislation is implementing

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legislation. This would give a boost to the revision of implementing legislation, while allowing the Government always to get their statutory instruments—at a price. We could allow the second Chamber revision of any money Bill that is not a finance Bill. That would stop the nonsense we had last year over the social security Bill, where we were prohibited from discussing what was general social policy. As I recall, there is a legal requirement for a finance Bill due to the Provisional Collection of Taxes Act, so it is quite easy to distinguish between a finance Bill and a money Bill.

As for blocking powers, we could remove the right of the Lords to vote on any Second Reading. It beggars belief that we would chuck out a Bill when we are here to revise it, so remove the power. Okay, we do not use the power, but if we leave it there for an elected House, just think about the potential for problems. If we give the second Chamber powers to amend SIs, I think we should remove the right to reject a statutory instrument in exchange, so there is a quid pro quo. We could propose to stop introducing Bills into the Lords, as was said by the report, or indeed to apply the Parliament Act to all such Bills—that is the other way round. We should certainly give up that power, which gives the possibility of Bills slipping through.

There should be a time limit on Bills taken in the second Chamber. We could introduce a fixed time in which to return to the Commons Bills that have undergone pre-legislative scrutiny. I still favour—I raised this before the last election—special attention being given to Common Bills passed under a timetable Motion. The second Chamber must have the power to carry out proper scrutiny of such Bills, which may or may not have undergone pre-legislative scrutiny, and it should have the power, perhaps by a majority two-thirds vote, to extend the time by a specified period if the Commons has not done its job properly. That would be a big incentive for the Commons to reform its processes as well.

I shall stop there, but I trust that I have given the House a flavour of giving this Chamber more revising powers while, at the same time, taking away some of its blocking powers. That could be done now. They are powers which, by and large, we do not use but they would be there to be used by an elected Chamber if there was no change. In my view, we have to secure the primacy argument before there is any elected element.

I suspect that on my final point I shall be in a minority. It is a point that I raised in the Joint Committee. In the event of there being an elected second Chamber, I would prefer the courts rather than the Government Whips’ Office to make use of the Parliament Act. In other words, there should be a procedure whereby, if no solution is found, the dispute goes to a special court. That would be a big incentive for both Houses to act in a grown-up way; otherwise, you keep the status quo of ping-pong. That sounds like a written constitution, does it not? That is the issue, as has already been said. I said to the Deputy Prime Minister that, if his Bill had become law, the UK would have been the only country with two elected Chambers but without a written constitution to deal with disputes. At one point in the debate, I got thrown back at me

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Israel and New Zealand, but they are unicameral; they do not have a written constitution and they have only one Chamber.

A sentence in a manifesto does not give the Government absolute power. That is my warning. I am not going to be prepared to vote for any change which undermines the House of Commons.

12.56 pm

Lord Dykes (LD): My Lords, I was very glad to see on the speakers list that I was following the noble Lord, Lord Rooker. I shall embarrass him deliberately by saying that he could be relied on to make a most riveting speech going to the very kernel of the dilemma that we face concerning the future of the House of Lords. Therefore, I am very grateful to him for that. I hope that he will not mind my saying that I have long been a fan of his, and I was confirmed in that yet again when he made some very tough suggestions today. Your Lordships should pay attention to a lot of them.

How proud I was, like everybody else, that in this country we do not have a written constitution. We thought that we were totally unlike all the others with their foolish written constitutions. What a mistake. We have our excellent system of—I was going to say “checks and balances” but I am not sure about that now. Governments—post-war, too—have increasingly ruled without a genuine majority vote from the public, shutting out all alternative legislation, and driving unpopular and badly drafted legislation like a coach and horses through the whole system. Thank goodness that there was a still unelected House of Lords to act as the revising Chamber, doing its best to make sure that some of the very badly drafted Bills coming increasingly from the Administration in the other place were improved—at least, at the margin—with some amendments occasionally being accepted by the Executive.

However, this is still all very amateurish and limited. I am grateful for the many excellent suggestions in the report of the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, and her team for further improvements following the Steel Bill, as well as other suggestions about modernising some aspects of the House of Lords. That is all very important.

As well as being proud of there being no written constitution, I was also very keen on the idea of an elected House of Lords. Democracy in action—what a good idea. However, the more I have thought about it, the more I have changed my mind on both those things. This country suffers severely from not having a written constitution. A current complication is the Scottish referendum, but that has to be dealt with.

I am sorry; I have hay fever and therefore my throat is rather bad today. Perhaps one of the doorkeepers will very kindly bring me a glass of water because my voice is getting into a bad state. I apologise; I thought that it would be all right. I am very grateful to my noble friend Lady Northover for bringing me some water.

Lord Smith of Clifton (LD): A written constitution would deal with that.

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Lord Dykes: As always, I am very grateful for the excellent suggestion from my noble friend Lord Smith of Clifton.

This is a moment of truth for us. The party systems are not functioning in the House of Commons. There is no agreement on party funding. Why not? Why is it taking so long? The party leaders overreacted on the expenses scandal. Only a small number of MPs were involved, yet the party leaders said that the whole House of Commons was at fault in some way—or the press did on their behalf. The House of Lords is a much more sedate, gentle and dignified Chamber than the House of Commons, which we and the public like. But it does not have the necessary powers to keep the Executive in check once badly drafted Bills have come from the Commons. That is the kernel of the matter.

I have changed my mind too on an elected House of Lords. The House of Lords should not be elected, which I have said repeatedly in the past three or four years as I think more about it. I, like some other Liberal Democrat Peers, strongly opposed the Clegg Bill saying that we should be elected because of the absence of any definition of the powers and the relationship between the two Chambers. I live in France as well, where the relationship between the Senate and the National Assembly is set out in the Fifth Republic constitution. The Senate has considerable power and authority, and a proper salary and expenses, which is another reason why I am no longer in favour of an elected House of Lords. I hope that the senators, as I suppose they will be, will not be wearing robes. I agree very strongly with that recommendation and I disagree with the right reverend Prelate, who has left his place, that robes are important. They are for individual officeholders but not for the collectivity. Therefore, the way in which this is dealt with in the future is crucial.

Senators of an elected House of Lords presumably would be elected with some kind of regional multi-member constituency—probably STV, which is the best internal voting system for parties, as well as for members of the public, in a country such as Ireland. Once that is done, those senators would not only demand proper office expenses for their team and their advisers. Quite understandably, men and women would want a proper salary—and I hope that there will be more women in the future. They would then inevitably challenge the power of the Commons because they would be approached by members of the public who will say, “You must really increase your activity now that you are paid a salary. You are a senator elected democratically by a swathe of people in a multi-member constituency. It is your job as a senator to answer the wishes of the people as well as deal with the healthy revision of the legislation that comes from the Commons”. They also would launch new legislation because the powers would be shifted completely. That is the reality of it and has to be accepted. Therefore, if we do not want that, the Lords should remain unelected. However, there are many additional aspects of modernisation that this Chamber could do which would score well.

Despite the fact that the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, nobly gave me a glass of water, I hope that she, as the Whip on duty today, will not be offended if I say that I thought that it was quite right in debates in

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this place for people to rise and intervene on someone’s point, otherwise it would be just like a conference with people reading out written speeches all through the debate. It would be like a conference on machine tools manufacture in Central Hall Westminster or something like that. In a genuine debate, everyone has the right to intervene—

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: I am very interested in what the noble Lord said about the group of Lib Dem Peers. I am constantly puzzled by why the Deputy Prime Minister refused to engage on the issue of powers. Can the noble Lord throw any light on that?

Lord Dykes: My natural sense of modesty, and because it is above my pay grade, prevents me from trying even to give a putative answer to that matter. It was just the way in which things are rushed into with badly drafted, inadequate and mediocre legislation in the House of Commons. More and more is churned out which has to be repaired two or three years later by another set of Bills to rectify the mistakes. That was in the early days of the Deputy Prime Minister being in the House of Commons for one term.

Lord Cormack (Con): Is not that because the Deputy Prime Minister has never studied the British constitution?

Lord Dykes: It is for others to give their views. I am a great admirer of the Deputy Prime Minister but in this case he was just at the beginning of a learning curve. All that will come out again in the wash. This country takes a long time to make fundamental decisions about its modernisation. Irrespective of what happens in Scotland, which is a great complication, the sooner we have a written constitution and agree to be a modern, powerful, well paid, revising, unelected—that being my preference because if it is elected that would change matters completely—institution, the sooner it will have more powers, otherwise we will drift along with an inadequate system of which we are artificially proud for some bizarre, historical reason.

1.05 pm

Baroness Bakewell (Lab): My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, will, I hope, be pleased to know that I have not arrived with a written speech. I am making some footnotes on what I have already heard. I congratulate my noble friend Lady Taylor of Bolton on introducing the debate. The issue goes forward; it goes on and on. My comments derive from being part of the outreach department of the House of Lords, which goes into schools and talks to intelligent, and sometimes not very intelligent, sixth formers about this House. There is mass ignorance about what we do.

When I arrive, with natural campaigning spirit they say to me right away, “Why aren’t you elected? What are you doing here? You have no right. How does it happen?”. When I explain that we do have democracy, that it is called the House of Commons, and that we are a revising Chamber, they settle their first eagerness for change—change almost for its own sake—and listen as I set out the purposes that we fulfil. The most

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surprising aspect to them is the nature of the Cross-Benchers. They do not realise that we are not all politicised and loyal to our particular Benches. They are very impressed by that.

However, they want to know who the Peers are, which brings me to other issues, some of which have been overlooked in this report. In doing my homework before meeting these young people, I have understood how change has come incrementally, little by little. Some change has been reluctant, some consensual and some argumentative. That is how it works in this country, which is why we have life Peers and women Peers. Change goes on. Here we are in the middle of change and there will be more. Many of the things recommended in this report could be brought about, and should be brought about, quite soon without legislation. Then we will discuss further legislation.

Who should be in the House of Lords? I am a working Peer. I believe that it is a great honour to serve here and that it is very important that Peers should be working Peers. A footnote to that is that working Peers have to give of their time. People who have some expertise and would be willing will have been at the peak of their career and moving towards the end of it. Young doctors or lawyers will not find the time to serve as working Peers. When we ask people to be working Peers, we are asking them to sacrifice or to phase down their professional working lives. That will present some problems of how we recruit.

I shall say a few words about retirement. I am a working Peer who is over 80. I say that as a preliminary to discussing the whole nature of retirement. Retirement in our country is fundamentally changing. We have an ageing population. The whole change of legislation is indicating that people will not get their pensions until they are in their late 60s but, believe you me, that will extend. People will work into their 70s. That raises the whole problem of the life trajectory which people can expect to live. People will age at different rates. They will have different degrees of expertise at different times in their lives. Again, that is a footnote. I want to register that an age number is not the sole criterion in deciding whether someone is useful to a Chamber. Indeed, the practice in many businesses now, as people approach their retirement age, is to begin to adjust their role to offer them opportunities to do less, give them specific tasks and generally ease that phase in which they begin to leave their work so that the institution does not lose their expertise and they themselves are not overtaxed. I know of noble Lords in this House who are over 80—indeed one is over 90—who give extremely good, expert advice. I turn up in the Chamber to hear them speak because I know that they are experts. Medical people and lawyers, too, have reached the peak of their professions and retain that knowledge. The whole retirement issue will again prompt discussion among us.

This is a tremendously interesting report. It is an interim report. But it lost its nerve by not mentioning the Bishops. I am one of a group of people who are not eligible to sit on the Bishops Benches at all—I refer to women. There are no women and they are not going to be elected. Will Bishops be elected? How do

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the Bishops get their role? The whole issue of the presence of the Bishops is extremely interesting and is bound to change. In the course of its changing, we may well hear arguments for representatives of other religions in our society also to have a place in this Chamber. We are very conscious these days—are we not?—of the mix of religion and politics. The idea that you could have token members of different religions, primarily there by virtue of their religion, is a dangerous path. Again, it is a footnote, but this is an issue that will come up and be pressed by the many religious communities. But where do you stop? There are a large number of them.

These are the footnotes that I offer to this impressive report. We will go on talking. We will probably talk by way of a commission. There is nothing wrong with talk. Plenty of us can do plenty of it, as we know.

1.11 pm

Lord Armstrong of Ilminster (CB): My Lords, I welcome the Labour Party report, which is full of interesting and well thought-out ideas and I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, and Lord Grenfell on chairing that working group. As it turns out that I shall not be able to stay until the end of the debate, I shall spare your Lordships the benefit of my observations on this occasion, confident that another occasion will arise before the House of Lords is actually reformed.

1.12 pm

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: Goodness! That took me by surprise in more ways than one, but I am pleased to be speaking earlier than I expected.

I join in the effusive and widespread congratulations to my noble friend Lady Taylor and to Julian Grenfell—or the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, as we used to call him—who moderated our work so well. They had a diverse group of people to deal with. An awful lot of work was put into this, by the way. We met every Wednesday morning for more than six months—it seemed like six years. It was a long time with a lot of work and a lot of thinking, and we have a pretty comprehensive and relatively concise report in the end that focuses on the main issues.

To be honest, I am not going to talk about what I planned to talk about because I was so incensed by what my noble friend Lord Richard, who has gone, and the noble Lord, Lord Stephen, said. I will deal with the short term later, but looking at longer-term reform, they made two completely false assumptions from which they started their argumentation. First, it is a false dichotomy. We are not talking just about the possibility of a non-elected House or a directly elected House. There are forms of indirect election that can be really effective and produce a second Chamber as we see in other countries with a different role and a different purpose drawn in a different way.

Some of us recently went to Paris and met with senators and found that they are elected in a different way, as the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, said, by grands électeurs. In every departement, the mayors and elected members get together and choose their regional representatives to go to the Senate. Then we discussed

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with the senators how they resolved problems between the Senate and the National Assembly. They have a way, as the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, said—it is defined and it is clearly the case.

Lord Stephen: Our general point, which I hope was not a false point in any sense, was that the Labour Party has had rather a long time to consider all this, has made many manifesto pledges in relation to this issue and still seems to be talking in pretty generic, general terms about visits to France.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: The noble Lord is preoccupied with the past. I am talking about the future. That is all we should be talking about. I am not talking in general terms: I am talking in specific terms about what happens in France. We could also look at Germany where the Bundesrat, the second Chamber, represents the Länder. It has a different role and is elected in a different way. There are different models. We could look at Ireland and different models around the world. We can learn from other countries. We should be learning. We do not have a monopoly of knowledge here in the United Kingdom, so we should be doing that.

I would explain to my noble friend Lord Richard if he were here why I am enthusiastic about a constitutional commission. The issue will not be kicked into the long grass. We are saying that the commission should have a period of two years in which to report. I am enthusiastic for two reasons. The first is because we have piecemeal devolution and centralisation—I think that the Liberal Democrats agree with me on that. That needs to be structured, reformed and looked at. But also, looking at how devolution and decentralisation fit in with this Westminster Parliament will help to bind the United Kingdom, which is in danger of fracturing at the moment. The second Chamber can perform a valuable role, not just as a revising Chamber, but by bringing together the various parts of the nation of the United Kingdom and the regions of England. It is worthwhile doing that kind of exercise.

I welcome the contribution of my noble friend Lady Bakewell because it was not one of those reread, pre-prepared contributions. It was commenting on the debate. I hope that during the rest of the debate—and I hope it is a genuine debate in spite of the Front Bench opposite trying to stifle proper debate—we do not just go back into the old tram lines of whether the second Chamber should be directly elected or appointed. There are different ways of looking at it.

Lord Maxton (Lab): Will my noble friend include a third option, which is not elected, nor appointed, but abolished?

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: That is an option, absolutely. It is possible to look at a unicameral option. I was in favour of that. When I was in the other place, I voted for abolition. We have heard about the examples of New Zealand and Israel, and all the Scandinavian countries operate unicameral systems. My only doubt is because of what has happened in Scotland. In Scotland, there is one Chamber which is controlled by

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one party, which is controlled by one man who decides who the Presiding Officer should be and who members of the committees should be. The committees do what they are told and they do not challenge the Parliament or the Executive. There is no House of Lairds to question, challenge or revise. I am beginning to doubt unicameralism because of that. I have made the main point about the future.

Lord Dykes: If the Commons were on its own, you could not have timetabling of Bills either.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: That is a very good point.

Having made my main point, I am glad that I abandoned what I was going to say but I want to make one or two quick points about the immediate changes. I completely agree with getting rid of the robes. I constantly get this. Some people actually believe that we are sitting here day by day wearing ermine. That is what they tweet about me—that I am sitting here in ermine. Anyone who watches regularly can see that I am not.

I agree with the provisions relating to hereditary Peers and agree, of course, with the idea of working Peers. We saw in the Senate in Paris that they are properly paid and resourced. When we do have an efficient second Chamber, that is one of the things that the Government and the taxpayer will have to take account of.

I also do not understand why we have a State Opening every year. We have one Parliament, and a Government are elected for that one Parliament. Why do we not just have one State Opening at the beginning of the Parliament? Why do we need all this carryover and flummery every year? One Parliament is elected, so let us have the one State Opening and get on with it. I am getting some nods, which is very encouraging.

Reform of the House of Lords is overdue. Sitting here, I can get up and say things—I am doing that now—but I do not really have a mandate or authority. I do not have the legitimacy that I had during 26 years in the other place. Reform is long overdue, but I say to and plead with people such as the noble Lord, Lord Stephen, who I greatly admire, not to think that the only option is direct election. There are other ways in which we can give legitimacy to this second Chamber.

1.21 pm

Lord Norton of Louth (Con): My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Bolton, on securing this debate and on the report that is before us. The report constitutes a constructive contribution to the debate on the future of this House. In my view, it is far superior to the documents laid before us in recent years by successive Governments. White Papers have taken as given, first, that the second Chamber should be elected and, secondly, that the functions of the current second Chamber are appropriate and should be retained. By not justifying either point, the Government have avoided addressing the fact that the two are not compatible: if you accept one, the other has to be

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abandoned. Election would change, fundamentally, the terms of trade between the parties in the House. There would be no reason to accept the existing functions of the House or to exercise restraint in the use of existing powers, let alone to accept those powers as adequate.

By not addressing the contradiction, Governments have been able to focus solely on composition. Election is seen as the democratic option, and the functions are fine, so let us just proceed with election. This stance is fundamentally flawed, so the Government’s House of Lords Reform Bill of 2012 was always going to be a bad Bill. It failed to grasp the need to address functions and powers, just as it failed to recognise that election is not necessarily the democratic option.

This report is to be welcomed because it avoids those mistakes. It addresses functions, doing so through recognising the position of the House within a system of asymmetrical bicameralism. It recognises that the functions derive from the House seeing its role as complementary to that of the elected House. The report puts it very well:

“It is a ‘think again’ house, not a ‘yield or we veto’ house”.

In other words, the House adds value by fulfilling functions that do not challenge the primacy of the elected Chamber. Those functions have, on the whole, been well fulfilled, but there is scope for increasing the efficiency and the effectiveness of the House. The report goes on to say:

“The task then is to find a model for reform that tackles the defects of the present House while preserving its strengths”.

I think it important to recognise that the reforms advanced in the paper are practical proposals that derive from a clear appreciation of the role of the House. I find myself in agreement with most of the proposals embodied in the report, which is hardly surprising given that many echo what was in the original Steel Bill. However, there are a few with which I would take issue. Rather than seek to make what would be essentially Committee-stage points, I will just make a few general comments designed to contribute to the debate.

The report follows the Steel Bill in recommending that the House of Lords Appointments Commission be put on a statutory basis and that the by-election option for hereditary Peers be abolished. There was a reason both were in the Bill. Either they need to be implemented together or putting the Appointments Commission on a statutory basis needs to be achieved before the by-election provision is ended. The merit of the by-election option is that it brings in Members over whom the Prime Minister has no veto: he cannot block a Member who comes here under the provisions of the 1999 Act. At the moment, the Appointments Commission is formally an advisory body to the Prime Minister. By putting it on a statutory footing, one can protect the independence of the commission and there would thus continue to be a route to this House that is free of executive control.

I support the recommendations that this House should be smaller than the House of Commons and that no party should have a majority in the House—again, provisions of the Steel Bill—but I would not necessarily

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reduce the size to 450. I would be wary, in any event, of a fixed number of Members and one geared to the existing committee activity of the House. I think we could reduce numbers but expand the committee role of the House. I would also be wary of using an age limit to reduce the size of the House, which I would regard as too arbitrary. My view is that we should consider a scheme whereby, at the start of a new Parliament, the parties agree on how many Peers each should retain in the light of the outcome of a general election—the proportions could be geared to the proportion of votes achieved—and then each party group would be responsible for electing those they wish to retain. That would enable the issue of overall size, as well as party balance, to be addressed effectively. Providing that the House was never larger than the House of Commons would prevent the membership ballooning in size.

On the wider issue of a constitutional convention, I am one of those who support that proposal. I have argued previously in this House for creating a constitutional convention, although one somewhat different in scope to what is often proposed. I believe that we need a convention to help us make sense of where we are, and not necessarily to tell us where we should be going—Parliament can decide that once we have a much clearer appreciation of where we are in terms of the structures and relationships that form our constitution. Just over 30 years ago, I published a book entitled The Constitution in Flux. If it was in flux then, how are we to characterise it today? As the report recognises, we have experienced constitutional changes that have been both rapid and discrete. One change impinges on others, but in ways that have not necessarily been thought through. We are particularly vulnerable to the law of unintended consequences. If we plough ahead with further changes, that vulnerability becomes even greater. Hence the case for having a commission able to stand back and assist us in making sense of where we are.

We are now in a situation where it is difficult for a Government to resist the recommendation that there should be a referendum in the event of their embarking on an attempt at major change. I have made the point before that I have a principled objection to referendums, but the problem for successive Governments is that they have not. They have therefore conceded the case for referendums on proposals for major constitutional change. The position was well summarised by the Constitution Committee in its report, Referendums in the United Kingdom, published in 2010. It was for that reason that, as a member of the Joint Committee on the Government’s draft Bill, I voted to recommend that the Government’s proposals be subject to a referendum. The situation is not the ideal, but it is the real, and that is what we have to deal with.

To conclude, I very much welcome this report. It is a considered contribution to debate and forms the basis for moving forward to achieve change which is both practical and desirable. Moving forward on a cross-party basis is to be encouraged. This report meshes with, and reinforces, other contributions to the debate on the reform of this House and I hope that it will be considered seriously by both sides of the House.

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1.29 pm

Lord Whitty (Lab): My Lords, when I first entered this House, quite a few years ago, there was an anticipation of a modernising, radical Labour Government taking over and delivering their manifesto promises. I was a bit surprised, therefore, when my first pass extended my attendance here into this century. Well, we are past that, we are past the 100-year anniversary of the Parliament Acts, and the future of the House of Lords is still not clearly defined.

I remain a committed and unrepentant democrat. I think every part of the legislature needs to be at least predominantly elected. I recognise, as the noble Lord, Lord Norton, has just reminded us, that that dramatically changes the terms of trade and engagement between this House and another place. That needs to be codified, written down and made clear before any move to radical reform. I agree with my noble friend Lord Rooker on that point.

Despite my strong views on the long-term future of this House, I welcome my noble friend Lady Taylor’s report, and her presentation of it today, because I am enough of a realist to recognise that we are not going to get a radically reformed House very quickly. Therefore, if we do not do something about it, we will stagger on in roughly the same way for at least the length of the next Parliament. That is slightly depressing but it means that we should look at some changes and reforms to the way in which we do our business that will both improve the way we operate and give us greater legitimacy and a better image in the eyes of the public. I regard this report as being part of a blueprint for how we operate in the next Parliament—no longer than that, no more than that but also no less than that. The group has done a very good job.

I broadly support the intention to have a constitutional convention because there are a lot of other constitutional issues that we need to look at. That does not mean that we will resolve them all within two years, and we will no doubt legislate in a piecemeal way thereafter, but at least we can have a coherent cross-party and cross-society discussion of them.

I agree with most of what the report says about our numbers. We need to deal with our numbers. We need to deal with the way in which people get in here, in terms of at least a modicum of legitimacy, and we need to deal with how we get out of here with at least a modicum of decorum. My noble friend hesitated to use the word “cull” but that does mean a reduction. By definition, the three-fifths rule that we now have will cause a significant reduction, and quite rightly so. People who do not attend regularly should not remain in this House. However, to some extent, the problem with our processes is that the people who do come here are too numerous and want to get engaged in too many things. That does not resolve the problem.

Therefore, I support a cut-off point—if that is the term. I tend to be more favourable to the view of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, that we should have a fixed term rather than a fixed retirement date, which is unfair to those who come in when they are 70. Nevertheless, some sort of cut-off point is needed and we need to grasp that nettle. Whatever age or length of term we adopt, some people will be upset

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and it will be unfair to some. We need to adopt that process, consciously, so that everybody—existing and future Members—is aware of it. In the old days, tsarist Russia was described as “autocracy tempered by assassination”. The House of Lords ought to be, at least for a short time, “oligarchy tempered by forced retirement”. I therefore support the general view on that.

I will mention two points that I do not think have been raised. One is a slightly delicate one and relates to the way in which we are paid, which has been, for one reason or another, subject to some serious media criticism. We are on occasion vulnerable on that front. If there is a three-fifths attendance requirement, why can we not move to a salary basis for our remuneration and why should that not be taxed? One of the most difficult things for the public is to see that we are not taxed like anyone else doing a decent job—and if we are talking about working Peers, it is a job.

I agree with most of the points that the report made on procedure, but I think it was a bit timid on the structure of our committees. One of the strongest arguments for an appointed House is that it brings into the legislature all sorts of experience, expertise and, at least in some cases, wisdom—and brings it to bear on the process of government. But, by and large, we do not make use of that expertise because we do not have a comprehensive range of standing policy committees in the House. We have some good committees, such as the EU Committee, the Constitution Committee, the Economic Affairs Committee and the Science and Technology Committee. All their remits could be broadened, but they are cross-department.

We need some more cross-department committees: for example, on industrial and employment matters, social affairs, and international and defence policy. A huge number of people in this House are expert in that but apart from the EU committees, which are limited by what EU legislation is before us, we never really make use of that expertise in terms of actually holding the Government to account. We have our own debates in which we can all pontificate but if you look at second Chambers around the world, the first one that anybody thinks of is the United States Senate. The great glory of the United States Senate is that it can hold powerful people, in and out of government, to account.

We need a similar process here and that involves us looking at establishing for ourselves a broader range of committees. I do not think that the House of Commons would object to that because the committees would not be dealing with legislation or challenging the legitimacy and primacy of the House of Commons. I know that when the Economic Affairs Committee was established, there was some resistance from the then Chancellor, but we have sort of overcome that. We need to broaden that experience and, therefore, the usefulness of our House for the next Parliament, when for the most part we will still be appointed.

1.36 pm

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall (Lab): My Lords, it can sometimes feel as though the House of Lords spends more time talking about itself than about any

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other topic. I do not say that that is a good or a bad thing; I simply observe that it can feel that way. Whether the same could be said of another place I do not know, but given how much time it has been obliged to spend talking about us, it is worth wondering, for the following reason. Many people—I am one of them—believe that our constitutional arrangements are not perfect, but the debate on how they might be improved, both within and outside Parliament, is too often conducted on the premise that the House of Lords is the problem—not part of the problem, which it certainly is, but the problem itself. That is a view that I do not share.

I do not usually participate in debates on this topic, taking the view that there are many more expert and considered views than mine that the House would rather hear. The debate today has made that clear. The views have been very diverse, sometimes very passionately expressed and always interesting. This occasion is different: I was a member of the working group and I welcome the opportunity to add my voice to the tributes to my colleagues, from whom I learnt a huge amount, and in particular to the excellent chairmanship of my much missed friend Lord Grenfell—retired—and my noble friend Lady Taylor of Bolton, to whom we are also grateful for securing this debate.

To the noble Lord, Lord Stephen, I will say one thing, although I see that he is not in his place. This is not a report of the Labour Party; it is a report of a group of Labour Peers to the Labour Party and should be read in that light.

I suspect that a number of people were surprised, and perhaps disappointed, that the working group chose not to take a view on the question that has dominated discussion of parliamentary reform—whether the House of Lords should be elected. Personally, I do not believe that election is the only measure of democratic legitimacy, but I also take the view, which I realise some will regard as heretical, that it is a second-order question. There are, of course, powerful arguments for and against elected second Chambers; elections of all kinds can be put into that category.

There are also strong arguments for appointment and, indeed, for unicameralism, but their resolution should grow out of a properly informed and widespread consensus—I use the word recognising that some people think that consensus is impossible to achieve and not worth having when you get it—about the larger issue of what kind of Parliament or, indeed, Parliaments, we should be aspiring to, in a rapidly evolving political environment which will certainly look different in five years’ time, whatever the outcome of Scotland’s referendum or any subsequent referendum on our place in Europe. As part of securing that consensus, we must reconsider what part, if any, a second Chamber has to play and then how it should be made up.

That is why I believe that a constitutional commission, as proposed in section 10 of the working group’s report and also in the alternative report presented by members of the Joint Committee on the Bill, is the right next step if we are serious about modernising our democracy. I was very taken with the words of the noble Lord, Lord Norton, when he talked about making

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sense of where we are. That is an extremely valuable perception in my view, and one to which we should pay proper attention.

The House of Lords cannot sensibly be considered in isolation. We must review and refresh Parliament as a whole, and we must find a way to engage the whole UK population, to the extent that this is possible, in thinking about how it can be achieved. That has never been more important than it is now, when we know every day with greater certainty how increasingly disengaged the electorate, and those who will soon become the electorate, are from the way that politics is conducted in the UK. The reviewing and refreshing should be done with all possible speed—certainly before the end of the next Parliament—and should not wind up in the long grass, whether or not that grass can be mowed.

However, this House should not do nothing in the mean time. The noble Lord, Lord Steel, won a famous victory in the last Session with his Bill, and I also welcome the Bill tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman—who I believe is not in her place—which I hope will also secure a safe passage. The working group has set out a number of proposals for further incremental changes, many of which would not need legislation. Some of them are undoubtedly contentious, as today’s debate has revealed, but none of them is outlandish, and none would prevent major reform of Parliament following a constitutional commission. Collectively, they would allow significant improvement to how we manage our arrangements. Such change is badly needed.

The House of Lords is a formidable institution with an extraordinary history. We are all privileged to be part of it. It is full of extraordinary people. The work it does is always diligent, often effective and sometimes transformative, but its value as part of a healthy parliamentary democracy is not well understood, as we have heard from, among others, my noble friend Lady Bakewell. Its perceived demerits—an opaque appointments system largely dependent on political patronage, and an apparent fondness for the trappings of title and privilege, including robes—are leading to the gradual erosion of its credibility.

Let us not make the best the enemy of the good by refusing to do whatever lies in our own power to prevent this decline. I hope that all of us in this House, despite our differences, can work together to bring about some short-term improvements while keeping our eyes on the big prize of wider constitutional change.

1.43 pm

Lord Smith of Clifton: My Lords, in thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Bolton, for introducing this debate, I also record my regret that your Lordships will not have the benefit of hearing from Lord Grenfell, who co-chaired the working group. He is already sadly missed.

The report is acceptable as far as it goes, which is not very far. The authors restricted themselves to a modest agenda. Most of the recommendations it makes seem sensible enough. I hope that the proposals do not have the unfortunate and unintended consequence that, if implemented, they give credence to a belief that

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the Lords is modernising itself so that more fundamental reform can be postponed. That was not the intention, but that may be the effect. The report is aware of that and calls for a constitutional convention to review our role, along with other major issues such as devolution. I agree strongly with that suggestion, but doubt that it will figure large in the party manifestos for the 2015 general election. We have learnt from recent experience that major changes in the role and composition of the upper House are very difficult to achieve.

Many noble Lords, including the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby, have said that we need to look closely at reform of the House of Commons. If there is a constitutional commission, it must set about that as a first step, a precursor to wider issues, because if we have proposals to reform and modernise the House of Commons, it will make the Commons more confident to contemplate reforms elsewhere in our system of government. That is very important. As other noble Lords have alluded to, the Commons is not a very self-confident place these days. Not only has it had the expenses scandal to cope with, as my former student the right honourable Peter Hain has just shown, the quality of MPs now coming into the Commons is very poor in respect of being a self-perpetuating group of political people who, from being president of their student union, go to work for a research department, then become a spad, then become an MP and then become a Cabinet Minister. As Peter Hain pointed out, that is at the heart of the alienation between electors and the elected.

Thirdly—again, the right reverend Prelate referred to this—there is the growth of pressure groups, in particular, the growing encroachment of corporations in dictating the public agenda. What President Eisenhower called the military-industrial complex has also emphasised the decline in the position and powers of Westminster. If you want political power today, become a director of a multinational corporation and you will have much more influence on public policy, not just in this country but in most countries.

Only when the Commons is reformed and equipped to deal with the needs of the contemporary polity can we have a constructive approach to Lords reform. Thus, while looking at the UK’s constitutional arrangements in the round, a constitutional convention should start by proposing how the Commons could be made far more effective in its primary duty of holding the Executive branch to account. If its tasks and structures were codified and strengthened, that would enhance the work and status of MPs and may help to bridge the gap between the electorate and the elected. All are agreed that growing public alienation and disaffection is an issue that is in desperate need of being addressed.

It is no comfort that popular disdain for the political elites is by no means confined to the UK. The Tea Party effect is felt well beyond the shores of the US. I am sure that at this very moment, a very bright young political sociologist is beavering away writing a definitive treatise entitled “The End of Western Democracy”, in the manner of Daniel Bell’s The End of Ideology and Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History. It behoves all of us to prove that western democracy can be refashioned and made fit for purpose.

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I speak, therefore, to support the promotion of a new wave of constitutionalism, to which the Labour Peers’ report alludes. We need to regain the momentum that Charter 88 unleashed three decades ago. Gordon Brown recently observed that we must examine the case for a more devolved, almost federal United Kingdom that, among other things, might in turn release an authentic and substantive form of localism. Bringing government closer to the people seems essential as one means of bridging the gap between the rulers and ruled. Sir John Major this week on the “Today” programme alluded to that likely outcome following the Scottish referendum.

One final point: in any reform of this House, serious consideration should be given to enable it to distill and reflect what I call the UK-ness of the United Kingdom. If more devolution and subsidiarity are to become the operational principles guiding future changes in our governing arrangements, provision needs to be made for the expression of the wider sense of the overall nationhood of the UK.

1.49 pm

Lord Howarth of Newport (Lab): My Lords, I congratulate my noble friends. The tone of their report is right and they have charted out an extensive area of common ground. They are proud of our institution but also critical of it. It always seems to me that the test that should be applied to proposals for reform of your Lordships’ House is not whether they would be popular or radical but whether they would tend to improve or impair the functioning of the House and of Parliament as a whole. The working group has made an unanswerable case for reform and I agree with nearly everything that it has said. Some of what it has recommended has already been advanced in the recent Steel Act.

I profoundly agree with my noble friends when they say:

“Constitutional reform only works well, perhaps only works at all, when it is the product of consensus, conducted away from partisan political processes and electoral considerations”.

No Prime Minister or Deputy Prime Minister, and no party or coalition of parties, has the right to play fast and loose with our constitution. Politicians are elected and we in this House are appointed to serve within the frame of the constitution. We should have massive respect for the constitution, which is the product of the whole of our political history. A majority in the House of Commons, particularly in circumstances of coalition, does not confer upon the politicians who find themselves in office for the time being an entitlement to rewrite the constitution at whim or act recklessly towards our historic institutions. The formal power to do so does not confer a moral right to do so. An elective dictatorship is still a dictatorship. Our unwritten constitution is predicated on restraint and on the attempt by those in government to construct a genuine majority, indeed a consensus, where major reform is in question.

There is an excellent passage in the report on the desirability of political balance in your Lordships’ House. The working group is right to dismiss the newfangled doctrine enunciated in the coalition’s

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programme for government that it would be appropriate to make appointments to a second Chamber so as to create a Chamber,

“reflective of the share of the vote secured by the political parties in the last general election”.

There is no basis in theory or convention for that proposition. It was a self-serving proposition that betrayed a failure to understand the place of your Lordships’ House within our wider constitution. The role of this House is to scrutinise and advise, to hold the Executive to account and to act as a check and balance against the more arbitrary or ill considered initiatives of the Government and the House of Commons. We perform that role by way of debates, reports, questions and, perhaps most importantly, the amendments that we recommend to legislation.

To perform that last responsibility of offering our advice to the elected House of Commons by way of amendments to Bills is difficult, if not practically impossible, in circumstances where the Government have a political majority in this House. We understand that, by definition, the Government of the day have a majority in the elected House of Commons and will use their majority to get their way. For that very reason it is inappropriate that the Government should also be able to use the political machine, through a whipped vote with an assured majority, equally to bulldoze opposition and get their way in the second Chamber. Ministers ought to be able to make their case rationally and persuasively, and to prevail by virtue of their arguments. The House works properly when no party has a political majority, and certainly when no coalition has one.

There are at present rumours that new Members from the coalition parties are to be appointed to your Lordships’ House to increase their political majority even further. They do not need it, not least because, as we have seen from the valuable statistics offered to us by the House of Lords Library, all Governments—not just the present coalition Government—can typically rely on some 18 to 20 Cross-Bench votes to boost their majority. If they create more Peers now, it would simply be an abuse of patronage.

I am apprehensive of the recommendation in the working group’s report for a constitutional commission. It is true that we face major systemic challenges all at once: the move to Scottish independence which will issue, at a minimum, in more devolution because of vague and rash commitments made by the political parties; our future relationship with the European Union as the integration of the eurozone proceeds; the growing problem of the disproportionate power of London within our national life; and, of course, the widespread disaffection of our citizens from our formal democratic processes. My noble friends have been tempted by a grand attempt to wrap up all these issues in a blueprint for constitutional reform but I think that the parties should distance themselves from any such exercise. It might valuably be undertaken by academics and think tanks, which could elucidate the issues and offer useful ideas.