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The White Paper sets out how Members could be elected to a reformed second Chamber from the nations and regions of the United Kingdom. It was a key recommendation of Lord Wakehams royal commission, and one that has since enjoyed strong consensus within the cross-party group, that Members should serve a single, non-renewable term of three electoral cyclesthat is, of between 12 and 15 years. The proposal reflects the
proposals in the February 2007 White Paper. Under this system, elections would be held at the same time as those for Members of this House, so as to minimise disruption to the business of Parliament.
The current House of Lords has more than 700 members. The Government intend that the reformed second Chamber should be significantly smaller, not more than between 400 and 450 members, maybe fewer, and that costs should be similar or reduced. We envisage all members of a reformed second Chamber making a full contribution to its work and we would welcome views on its size. Single, non-renewable terms would help to provide a membership for the second Chamber that continued to be distinct from that of this House and could hence bring an added dimension to the work of Parliament. It is proposed that this be reinforced by the use of large constituencies for elections to the second Chamber.
I referred earlier to the primacy of this House. Analysis of other countries arrangements, including that set out in chapter 5 of last years White Paper, and consideration of our own history shows that primacy does not depend on the fact that this House is elected while the Lords is not, rather that primacy is rooted in the Parliament Acts of 1911 and 1949 and the conventions that govern relations between the two Houses. However, with the introduction of elected Members in the second Chamber, we have to ensure that the mandate of this House, and of the Government it sustains, continues to hold sway. The membership of a reformed second Chamber should be such that it could not challenge that mandate. That is why we saw considerable merit in staggered elections, with a third of Members returned at each election. In that way, the electoral basis of the reformed second Chamber could never, as a whole, be more recent than that of this House.
The cross-party group considered at some length possible voting systems. The White Paper presents detailed modelling on the possibleI underline possibleeffects of each of four electoral systems for elections to a second Chamber. The systems are first past the post, the alternative vote, the single transferable vote and open or semi-open list systems. The Government would welcome views on the choice of system.
The group considered the powers of a reformed second Chamber. We took the view that it would be wrong to presuppose conflict between this House and the other reformed House. The working relationship between the two Houses currently functions well, and we could see no reason why it should not continue to do so. Creative tension between the Houses can lead to better government, not to an undermining of the primacy of this House. If conflict arose in the future, it would, as now, be for both Houses to devise a way through that conflict. In advance of that, we identified no persuasive case for reducing the powers of a wholly or mainly elected second Chamber.
Given the Commons votes last March, the White Paper does not take a view between the options, which were voted on in favour, of either a 100 per cent. or an 80 per cent. elected second Chamber, but the White Paper includes detail on a possible 20 per cent. appointed element, should the latter option be chosen. There would then be a statutory appointments commission and published criteria for appointments. Any appointed members would serve for three electoral cycles in the same way as elected Members.
If the second Chamber became fully elected, there could be no seats appointed or reserved, including for Church of England bishops. But in recognition of the wide and important role played by the Lords Spiritual in the life of the nation and the special constitutional position of the Church, we propose that their representation should continue in a mainly elected House. In that instance, their numbers would not contribute to the 20 per cent. appointed element.
The White Paper includes proposals on eligibility and on disqualification. Because of the long non-renewable terms for which they would serve, we were attracted to the system discussed in the White Paper of recall ballots for elected members of the second Chamber, with analogous arrangements for any appointed members, but those would apply only after the first of the three parliamentary terms that members would serve. Again, the Government would welcome views on that.
The transition to a reformed second Chamber raises a number of important issues, not least about the future arrangements for existing Members of the Lords. It is those Members who, collectively, enable the Chamber effectively to fulfil its key roles of scrutinising legislation, conducting investigations and holding the Government to account. The Government and, I know, the whole House greatly value the work of the Lords and the contributions of individual Members to it. However, it was made clear in 1999 that the rights of hereditary peers to sit and vote would be removed, as part of the next phase of Lords reform. The Government therefore propose that, following legislation and during the transition to a reformed second Chamber, there should be no further by-elections to fill vacancies for hereditary peers.
The February 2007 White Paper included a proposal from me that a reformed House should be 50 per cent. elected and 50 per cent. appointed. One of the many merits that I saw in that proposal was that it would have enabled existing life peers to remain for life if they had wished to do so. But that 50:50 proposal was comprehensively rejected by both Houses. The votes in this House for a wholly or 80 per cent. elected House mean that the context for the transition to a reformed second Chamber has changed. There may not be an appointed element in a reformed second Chamber. If there is, it may comprise 90 or many fewer Members.
A discussion is therefore now required to determine how far the rights of life peers to sit and vote during any transition to a reformed second Chamber should continue. The White Paper sets out three options for managing this transition: first, for all existing life peers to leave in tranches, allied to the three electoral cycles; secondly, for all to leave on the third cycle; and thirdly, to remain as now for life. Again, the Government would welcome views on those options.
The cross-party group faithfully and assiduously followed the mandate set for it by the Commons in March 2007. We are now keen for there to be a wide-ranging and thorough debate on our proposals. But I hope that all members of the cross-party group share my view that to have got this far on such an important but highly complex issue is a considerable achievement. [ Interruption. ]
I think so, and I am very grateful for the approbation of the House in that respect. As I said in my statement on 19 July, our intention now is to continue to develop the consensus around a comprehensive package for reform of the House of Lords.
Mr. Straw: Any final package would have to be put to the electorate as a manifesto commitment, including in Thurrock, at the next general election. I hope that we will be able to build on the considerable consensus established already in the cross-party group, to the extent that other parties include similar commitments in their manifestos.
An effective second Chamber plays an invaluable role in holding the Government to account and in scrutinising legislation. Our belief is that the proposals in the White Paper and those of the group will lead to a more legitimate and strengthened second Chamber. I commend this statement and the White Paper to the House.
Nick Herbert (Arundel and South Downs) (Con): I thank the Justice Secretary for early sight of his statement and the final White Paper. I commend him on the way in which he has handled discussions in the cross-party group for many months and attempted to steer a course of reform.
We welcome the White Paper and recognise it as a step forward. As the Justice Secretary said, it is a Government document. Many of the proposals reflect areas of consensus in the cross-party talks, but there are areas of disagreement. Will he accept that the question of the electoral system for any reformed second Chamber is far from settled? We believe that that system should mirror that for this House: a first-past-the-post system, with recognisable constituencies, based on our historic cities and counties. We would strongly resist any move to introduce an electoral system based on proportional representation. Would not simultaneous elections to both Houses involving two different electoral systems be a recipe for confusion?
At a time of increasing public disquiet about politicians use of taxpayers funds, the cost of the second Chamber is bound to be an issue. What plans does the Justice Secretary have to set out the pay, pensions and responsibilities of members of a reformed second Chamber, and the costs of reform as a whole?
The Justice Secretary says that a reformed second Chamber should be significantly smaller than the existing House of Lords, but is not 400 members too large? We have argued for a second Chamber of between 250 and 300 members, which would be a similar size to the upper houses of France, Italy and Spain. The United States Senate has only 100 members for a population of 300 million people, albeit in a federal system.
On the subject of a senate, the White Paper notes that the working group reached a strong consensus that a reformed second Chamber should be known as the Senate, yet the Governments proposals do not use that name. Will the Justice Secretary tell us why the Government appear reticent to adopt a name that was agreed by the cross-party group?
The issue of transition could be highly contentious. The White Paper suggests that life peers could remain members of a reformed second Chamber even after transition was complete. How could reform possibly be considered complete while life peers remained in a second Chamber, perhaps for decades? The White Paper also suggests that the remaining hereditary peers would go at the completion of transition. Does the Justice Secretary accept that given that the former Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine, gave an undertaking that the elected hereditary peers would remain until stage 2 of reform had taken place it would be invidious and inequitable to remove those remaining hereditary peers sitting in the other place as long as the 400 life peers created under Labour continued to sit? While the largest number of Members of this House voted last year for a 100 per cent. elected second ChamberI was one of themis it not the case, in view of the contrary position taken by the Lords themselves, that retaining an appointed minority would provide the best hope of consensus?
We welcome the special place that the Government intend to reserve for the Church of England bishops in a mainly elected, reformed second Chamber. However, does the Justice Secretary agree that retired justices of the supreme court, who would not be appointed to the second Chamber automatically, would make every bit as valuable a contribution to its work as the Lords Spiritual?
Reform should not be supported unless it strengthens the authority of the second Chamber in holding Governments to account. However, a reformed second Chamber should not seek to compete with this House, which must continue to have primacy. Is it not the case that both Houses of Parliament need strengthening to hold the Executive to account? Does the Justice Secretary agree that the next reform of the Lords should be a democratic one and that we should be wary of any proposals that might cement the current arrangements, especially by allowing an entire second Chamber to be appointed by an unelected quango?
The White Paper represents the next step after last years votes in the House for a mainly or wholly elected second Chamber, but is it not clear that the change envisaged is a radical one? It is not so much the reform of the House of Lords as the creation of a new second Chamber. Reform of the Lords has been proposed and attempted for the past 100 years. Will the Secretary of State for Justice indicate when he thinks the proposals will be translated into a Bill? It is right that Members in this House should reflect on and debate the issues carefully. We Opposition Members will continue to seek consensus on a way forward.
The hon. Gentleman asked me a large number of questions, and I shall try to get through them as rapidly as I can, but first, may I thank him for the courtesy and generosity of his opening remarks? As he said, and as I said, this is a Government White Paper. It is, I think, faithful to what was decided in the cross-party group, both where there was consensus and where there was not. The hon. Gentleman is entirely correct to say that, as the White Paper records, the Conservative party favours a first-past-the-post electoral system, basically based on the old European constituencies. I understand the argument in favour of that, but from a position of total neutrality on the issue, I think that there are
stronger arguments in favour of first past the post than those to do with the complexity of the ballot papers. There are other issues, and there is much to be said on the matter.
The costs clearly depend on the final size agreed on. That runs into issues about transition. It is a self-evident truth that the smaller the size, the lower the costs will be, but for all parties there could be difficulties with transition. We have said that the matters must be discussed. I accept that the longer transition goes on, the more difficult it will be for the issue finally to be agreed. There is a balance between the best and the good, and in future the Houses will have to come to a judgment.
The hon. Gentleman asks about the name of the senate. What he says is consistent with what is written on page 7 of the White Paper, where the word Senate is used. It records the view of the cross-party group, but it goes on to saythis is the Government viewthat
To avoid a preoccupation with name over function and composition...we use the neutral term reformed second chamber throughout this document,
On hereditaries, I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman makes, because it is just a fact of life that of the hereditaries that remain, 44 are Conservatives and four are Labour. I have always said that were we to change things, we would have to make arrangements for those existing hereditaries; as I have said publicly, it has never been part of the Governments agenda, or my agenda, gratuitously to disadvantage Conservative party representation in either place, and I have made that very clear.
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point about retired justices. I agreethis is a personal viewthat an appointed minority is the best type of consensus, but let us see. Of course I agree that both Houses need to be strengthened. We should consider how rebellious the Houses have become, compared to how they were in the 1950s, when they were not rebellious at all. This House has been strengthened over the years, and an interesting Hansard Society report about that is coming out tomorrow. He asked about legislation. As I said, it is certainly our intention to bring forward a Bill after the next election, and I look forward to the Opposition parties giving us support by ensuring that they put that in their manifestos, too.
Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): First, may I thank the Secretary of State for the statement and for the work on the White Paper? I pay tribute to his commitment to making sure that we move forward together, as far as is possible. Through him, I thank his private office for its assistance, and his officials, who have been extremely helpful. Does he agree that the reality is that there is a coalition of the committed, who are determined that we shall see reform? The process started in 1911I nearly said, as you know, Mr. Speaker. I did not mean that; I mean, as we all know. It would be nonsense if the process were not completed by 2011. The question that the House has to address is not whether, but when, we have a properly democratic second Chamber of the United Kingdom Parliament. That is the issue, and not anything else.
The Secretary of State heard my colleagues and me make a commitment in the talks and on behalf of our party. We will repeat that commitment in our next
election manifesto: it is to make sure that all our MPs vote at the earliest opportunity in the next Parliament for just this sort of reform package. However, if people are to be elected to the second Chamberit will be called the Senate, I thinkin thirds, for one term only, there is no justified argument that those elected with a party affiliation should not proportionately reflect the publics votes for the parties at the election. That argument is not about this place; we can have that at another time. It is an argument about proper representation down the corridor.
Will the Secretary of State accept that, like the life peers, the hereditaries have known throughout their service in the House of Lordsmany have served it wellthat the time would come when their service would end? The only logical position is that all the hereditary peers should go at the beginning of the democratic process and that the life peers should go, at the latest, at the end of the three elections, probably by thirds over the period. In the White Paper, the Government express the preference that we have discussed: that the elections for the second Chamber should take place on the same day as the general election. However, does the Secretary of State agree that there is a strong case for our needing a fixed-term Parliament for the House of Commons and for there to be, at half-time intervals, elections for the second Chamber as well as for the devolved Administrations in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and for any future devolved Administration in England?
There has been a debate about the bishops. I hope that the Secretary of State accepts that many of us in the Churchnot only the Anglican Church, but the Church generallybelieve that the time has come for the Church of England not to be part of the establishment any more. The Church was not part of the establishment at the beginning and it was not intended to be so. Whether there are to be women bishops soon or notI hope that there will bethe Church must, like anybody else, put its case for representation to the people. It is nonsense to protect one bit of the old House of Lords, but not any other.
Lastly, does the Secretary of State agree with the point made by the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert)? The proposals do not come instead of, but as well as, the reform and democratisation of the Commons. We need a stronger Parliament in this country if the British people are to think that their Governments, of whatever colour and composition, are to be held properly to account in future.
Mr. Straw: I thank the hon. Gentleman for what he has said. I also particularly thank my private office and the officials who have worked extremely hard for a long period on behalf of all members of the working group; I should have done that before.
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