Select Committee on Public Administration Sixth Report



1.  This memorandum constitutes the Government's response to the Public Administration Select Committee's (PASC) Report The Second Chamber: Continuing the Reform (Fifth Report of Session 2001-02, HC 494-I, published on 14 February 2002). It is an interim response. The committee's report was itself a response to the White Paper, "The House of Lords: Completing the Reform" (Cm 5291), the consultation period for which the Government extended to include the PASC's response and which therefore ended barely two months ago. The Government will respond in detail to the recommendations when it publishes its full response to the consultation before the summer recess.

2.  The Government welcomes the PASC's recognition of the importance of its continuing commitment to reform of the House of Lords, and of the significance of its White Paper proposals (para 18).

3.  There are a considerable number of points where the Select Committee has endorsed the approach set out in the White Paper.

4.  In particular, we share the same analysis of the role and purpose of the second chamber. We are agreed that

  • it is essential to the role of Parliament that there should be a strong and effective second chamber.

  • the second chamber should neither rival nor replicate the House of Commons, but be genuinely complementary to it. It should be clearly subordinate.

  • the composition of the second chamber should be driven by its function. The second chamber needs to be composed in such a way that it can most effectively discharge its functions, which are essentially those of scrutiny and revision of legislation.

  • the present House of Lords adds distinctive value to the quality of the legislative process because of the wide-ranging experience of its membership drawn from many different professions and occupations.

  • It would not be right to try to make the second chamber into an advisory committee or quango. It is, and will inevitably remain, a politically active part of the legislature.

(PASC Report paras 6, 54, 56, 61, 65 WP p4).

5.  Following from that identity of view about the purpose of the House of Lords, there is also considerable identity of view about the proper role, functions and powers of the second chamber. The Committee's report highlights the Government's proposals on the role and powers of the House of Lords, in the box at page 19. Paragraph 69 then describes the proposal that there should be no major change to the role and functions of the House of Commons as "one of the fundamentals on which there is broad agreement, and it is one of the firm foundations on which reform must build". The Report agrees that the second chamber will continue to be predominantly a revising chamber, and that its other main functions should be holding the Government to account and debating political issues, in particular long term and technically complex matters which 'have been given insufficient time' in the House of Commons. The Government welcomes the Committee's agreement that there should not be a veto on any proposal by the House of Commons to amend the Parliament Acts (paragraph 74).

6.  There is, however, a considerable difference between the composition recommended by the Government to give effect to these principles and that recommended by the Committee. The Government also has to take into consideration the comments received from other respondents to its consultation exercise. In these circumstances, the Government is not yet in a position to give a full response to all the Committee's recommendations.

7.  There are, nonetheless, a number of areas where the Government welcomes and can accept the recommendations of the Committee, since they are not dependent on any particular conclusions on the overall composition of the House. These are set out below.

Recommendation (b)

We agree with the Government that no major change is required to the role or functions of the second chamber. It should continue to be a revising, scrutinising and deliberative assembly. But its performance of all these functions can and should be strengthened.

As set out above, the Government agrees in turn with the Committee that this should be the main objective of reform of the House of Lords, to make it a more effective part of the present Parliamentary system.

Recommendation (bb)

We recommend that the remaining hereditary peers should leave the second chamber when the reform Act comes into effect.

This has always been a consistent part of the Government's proposals for the next stage of House of Lords reform. The Government welcomes the Committee's support for this proposal, which was a Manifesto pledge from the Government.

Recommendation (z)

We recommend that membership of the second chamber should no longer be linked with any honour, including the peerage.

The Government agrees with the Committee that the time has come to separate membership of the second chamber from the honours system. As set out in its own material, the Government believes that the present confusion over the purpose of an award of a peerage has done a disservice to the House of Lords. It must be made clear in the future that members of the House will be selected on the basis of the contribution they can make to the second chamber, whether that selection is by election or nomination. It should not be a reward for their achievements outside the House. At the same time, the need for a highly prestigious 'lifetime achievement award' will continue and therefore the institution of the peerage should remain.

Recommendation (u)

We recommend that the size of the second chamber [when all the elected members have joined] should be clearly established and that it be set at up to 350. This figure would be very much the upper limit of the acceptable range.

The Government welcomes the Committee's recommendation that the size of the House should be fixed in statute. The time has passed when it was appropriate for the membership of the House to be open-ended. This is the case whether the membership is nominated or elected or a combination of the two. It is also the case whether the size of the House is determined by the Government, the electoral system or an Appointments Commission. The present arrangements for the House of Lords are a hang-over from the days when it was the King's Council meeting to advise him. It can have no continuing justification in the 21st century. The Government is not yet in a position to respond to the Committee's specific recommendation of the size at which the House should be capped.

Recommendation (w)

We recommend that the research and other resources available to members of the second chamber should be adequate for the role that it is required to perform. We further recommend that this should be kept under regular review.

This is a matter for the House authorities in the first instance to consider and, if relevant, make proposals for. The Government accepts of course that the House should be properly equipped for the role it is to perform. It is important, however, not to lose sight of the fact that its role will be different from the Commons, even among any elected members. Using the requirements of MPs as the yardstick against which to judge the needs of members of the House of Lords would be misguided.

Recommendation (x)

We recommend that the Senior Salaries Review Body should review the question of payment of members when the reformed chamber has been operating for a number of years.

This would naturally be a part of the remit of the Senior Salaries Review Body. The Government notes that in text of the report itself, the Committee suggests that for the time being, members could be paid a daily rate, similar to that paid to members of large public bodies (paragraph 177). The SSRB would then be asked to consider whether a form of salary should be introduced. The Government agrees with the Committee that it is premature to consider the introduction of any sort of salary.

There is, in addition, one element of the Committee's proposals which is not the subject of a single recommendation, but which nonetheless underpins a large part of their package. This is the independent appointments commission, whose existence is taken for granted in recommendations (e), (m), (o), (p), (q) and (r). The Government agrees with the Committee that if there is to be a nominated element in the House of Lords in the future, then a powerful, independent and statutory Appointments Commission is needed to oversee the nominations process, to appoint any independent members and to take responsibility for monitoring the make-up of the House. This was a specific Manifesto pledge from the Government in the 2001 election. The Government cannot, however, yet respond to the Committee's specific recommendations on the function and the appointment of any Commission.

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