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20 Oct 2009 : Column 807

David Howarth: I thank the Justice Secretary for giving way. As he will know, there were far fewer candidates in the days of the pocket boroughs, but will he confirm that the second part of what he said about the future of the House of Lords takes precedence over the first? Is he really saying that the hereditaries there now can stay as long as they are alive? The youngest hereditary is 38 years old, which means that we could have the hereditary principle for perhaps another 50 or 60 years. Will he give us some idea of what he sees as the timetable for switching to a fully elected, or 80 per cent. elected, House of Lords?

Mr. Straw: Perhaps I did so rather too parenthetically, but I did add a coda to the effect that hereditary peers will be with us until they are taken from this mortal coil, or until Parliament passes legislation that transfers them out of the House.

A great deal of detailed work, including the drafting of clauses, is now taking place to do what Parliament asked-that is, to introduce over three Parliaments a House of Lords that is mainly or wholly elected. Although the Labour party manifesto has not been drafted, I would be astonished if it was not our commitment to bring that into legislation early in the next Parliament. I hope that the party of the hon. Member for Cambridge shares that commitment.

David Howarth indicated assent.

Mr. Straw: The hon. Gentleman seems to nod assent. The Conservative party has signed up to the main propositions in the Green Paper, so I hope that its members can sign up to that one as well, including on the timing.

Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): The Justice Secretary has rightly pointed out the temporary nature of these arrangements, but would it not have been useful to bring in the category of temporary peer? The Government of all the talents was a very unrewarding experience: peers were appointed specifically as Ministers, but after a year or so in the role they ended up disappearing back into the private sector with a seat for life in the legislature. That is a very unsatisfactory arrangement. Is this Bill not an opportunity to ensure that temporary peers appointed specifically as Ministers no longer have a place in the legislature once their term of ministerial office has ended?

Mr. Straw: I am not opposed to that principle, and I do not guarantee what stand the Government will take when the matter comes up. Other suggestions to have been made include appointing people to the Lords for 10 or 15 years. The whole House-and I include the Government and myself in this-need to be open-minded about the matter.

Chris Huhne (Eastleigh) (LD): Will the Lord Chancellor give way?

Mr. Straw: Of course I will, in one second. The Committee stage of the Bill will have quite a considerable time on the Floor of the House, so let us see what proposition comes through.

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Chris Huhne: Before the Lord Chancellor moves off the section of his speech dealing with the reform of Parliament, I want to talk about the dog that has not barked in this Bill-that is, the proposals for the recall of errant Members of this House, to which I think that the Prime Minister has signed up. Will the Lord Chancellor tell us something about his plans in that regard, and whether he intends to bring forward amendments in Committee that would fill that gap?

Mr. Straw: We are not intending to introduce amendments to this Bill that would fill that gap, although we do intend to publish proposals about it. I think that everyone understands the need for electorates to have the right to recall errant Members if they are not dealt with properly in this or the other place. However, a general election has to take place before 3 June, so every Member of this House will be subject to recall within the next six months. As it happens, therefore, there is no urgency for this Parliament to make a decision on the matter. It is important that we get it right: I do not want a recall mechanism that means that hon. Members who are assiduous and hard working can be recalled because of a policy argument, or because they voted against capital punishment or abortion rights, for example.

The experience in the United States varies. There is no recall mechanism for Members of Congress, nor for senators. There is a recall mechanism in some states of the Union. In some of those states, it is done for reasons; in others, it can be done without a reason. Although the recall mechanisms are rarely used, the threat of them can be very disruptive to the right of individuals to do as Edmund Burke said-to represent their electors and not to be their delegate.

Mr. Andrew Tyrie (Chichester) (Con): Further to the intervention from my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field), has the Lord Chancellor had a chance to look at the proposals that set out in some detail a term peerage approach-the paper that I wrote with the present shadow Leader of the House when he was a Back Bencher, my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young)? Does that have the Lord Chancellor's support, and might he be prepared to consider an amendment in Committee to enact some of those proposals?

Mr. Straw: I have indeed read them. I think they were published by the University college London constitution unit. I do not wish to damage the hon. Gentleman's future career, but I thought they were rather good. I do not say that I agree with every part of them, but I am open-minded about the issue. I do not want to give a guarantee that we will accept amendments on it, because the usual processes of consulting in government have to take place, but I certainly wish to consider the proposals. I hope that is a reasonable undertaking.

I shall make progress on other matters, as others wish to speak. Part 3 on the House of Lords includes measures to ensure that the House has a robust disciplinary regime to deal with misconduct, to ensure that peers can be suspended or expelled, which they currently cannot be. It provides that peers are to be disqualified from the House after a conviction for a serious criminal offence or being subject to a bankruptcy restrictions order. Currently it is an offence to the public that
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Members may have been convicted of a serious offence and may still be able to serve, which Members cannot do in this House. Part 3 also allows peers to resign and, if they wish to do so, to disclaim their peerage. I have already indicated that we intend to bring forward proposals for further reform.

Part 4 deals with public order. The right to peaceful protest is an important liberty and an essential component of a healthy democracy. Following the statement from my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in July 2007, we have been reviewing the law on protests around Parliament. Our starting point has been to remove unnecessary restrictions on the right of protest, with a presumption in favour of freedom of expression, balancing that with the requirement that Members should be able to gain access to the House freely, that their work should not be disrupted, and that the general public, who may not necessarily be taking part in demonstrations, should not have their rights disrupted.

Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford) (Con): Although I fully appreciate that the Government are seeking to minimise any unnecessary restrictions on the right of peaceful protest, are the Government confident that by extending the ban to only 250 metres, that will allow proper and reasonable access to this building?

Mr. Straw: I think that is the case, but I would not dream of saying that the distance should be 250 metres and not 350. It would be ridiculous if I were to do so. The House needs to consider the matter and I promise the hon. Gentleman that I will, too.

Mr. Dismore: I welcome the repeal of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 in so far as it applies to Parliament. That follows recommendations that my Committee has made on a number of occasions. The particular concern that I have is that the alternative arrangements are to be made by regulation. There is a non-exhaustive list of conditions in the schedule. Would my right hon. Friend consider an exhaustive list, and also consider putting the conditions on the face of the Bill to ensure that we have legal certainty in this difficult area of the law?

Mr. Straw: Part 4 is very different from the provisions in the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005, which are being repealed. It gives a senior police officer the power to impose certain conditions, and it amends the Public Order Act 1986. Those provisions in the 1986 Act and other, similar provisions are quite standard, and we must balance the right of demonstration with the need to ensure access and proper order. I see the hon. Member for this House-the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field)-in his place, and I hope that once the provision in the 2005 Act goes, we will be able to persuade Westminster city council to use its existing powers in byelaw to control noise.

Nowhere else in the country would tolerate such megaphone disruption. Leaving aside what the protestor says, because I am not bothered about that, I must say that the current situation can be very disruptive for people in the building. It is terrible for the police officers and other staff on the gate. The relevant powers
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already exist to deal with the matter, so I hope that Westminster city council will use them rather more assiduously than it has up to now.

Mr. Mark Field: The Secretary of State will, I am sure, appreciate that there is an issue not simply for Westminster city council: advice is taken from the Metropolitan police, and there are elements in the vicinity to which the ambit and rule of the Mayor of London also applies. However, I agree with the right hon. Gentleman: I personally feel that there is a right to protest within the vicinity, but the incessancy and volume of the noise is intolerable for those who work here, and for the residential population, who do not live too far away. I agree with him, but I should not want to water down the notion that there is some right, within what is an important part of the British constitutional make-up, to protest here. We need a balance, but I do not disagree with the right hon. Gentleman's view that the balance has gone too far in one direction.

Mr. Straw: May I just say, parenthetically, that I am one of the world's experts on the land ownership of Parliament square? When it was dug up in 1999 during the "Stop the City" demonstration, I was Home Secretary and the Met's police authority, and there were real problems about which part was owned by whom.

David Howarth rose-

Mr. Burns rose-

Mr. Straw: I shall give way just once, to the hon. Member for Cambridge, because I have already given way to the hon. Member for West Chelmsford.

David Howarth: I am rather worried by the Lord Chancellor's reply to the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore). The point about schedule 4 is that it provides extra powers over and above those about public order, and as far I can see, it provides them for the purpose only of

The Lord Chancellor has, however, talked about using those provisions-not the more general ones, but those provisions-for more general public order purposes, and the schedule should not be interpreted that way.

Mr. Straw: If I gave that impression, I did not mean to, because the schedule and its paving clauses exist to deal with access to and egress from Parliament.

Let me go on to deal with-

Mr. Burns: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Straw: No. Will the hon. Gentleman excuse me? I have already been speaking for almost 45 minutes, and I need to stop.

Part 5 concerns human rights claims against the devolved Administrations in Northern Ireland and Wales. It has been introduced because the problem has been particularly acute in Scotland. Hon. Members will wonder why, therefore, Scotland is not mentioned in part 5, and that is because discussions are taking place with the Scottish Executive about the clauses, and relevant provisions will be brought forward in Committee.

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The issue arises from the Law Lords' judgment in Somerville v. Scottish Ministers, which found that the one-year time limit for claims under the Human Rights Act 1998 did not read across to human rights claims brought under the Scotland Act 1998. The same applies to the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and to the Government of Wales Act 1998. With some exceptions, about which I do not think anybody argues, we will correct that point. I know that the news has been greatly welcomed in Scotland.

Part 6 deals with courts and tribunals, and it seeks to strengthen the independence of the judiciary and improve the appointments process.

Part 7 has important proposals for strengthening the independence and the role of the Comptroller and Auditor General-and the National Audit Office-as well as in respect of his appointment.

Part 8, which relates to the transparency of Government financial reporting to Parliament, refers to a point that was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead) about how Government spending is reported to Parliament. At present, the spending of some quangos and non-departmental public bodies, and certain other central Government bodies, is included in the budget of the parent department, but not in the estimates or resource accounts. That can make for complications and make it more difficult for Parliament to exert its control over Supply, which is one of its principal functions. Part 8 permits the Treasury to issue directions on how Government Departments prepare estimates. It provides for the consolidation of spending by NDPBs and other central Government bodies into Supply estimates and departmental resource accounts.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): Would not this proposal be more credible if we had the American system so that all Members who sit in this House also had to make financial declarations? That is standard practice in Congress and in the Senate. It is very important that this is not just about how Parliament reports itself but about how Members report their financial interests.

Mr. Straw: If my hon. Friend will forgive me, I do not want to follow him down that route. We have to make declarations of financial interest anyway. If he is proposing that we should have to make declarations of wealth, I would say that that should perhaps be referred to a special Committee of the House. The Bill is quite comprehensive, but I think, if he does not mind, that we would find ourselves slightly diverted if we went down that route. However, I am happy to discuss it with him.

The Bill also allows Welsh Ministers to include information relating to the use of resources by designated bodies in Wales.

Mr. Dismore: Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Straw: No, I am afraid that I must make progress.

The Bill is before us at a time when it is perhaps more important than ever that we make every effort to restore trust in our constitutional settlement and in our political and parliamentary institutions. Building on the process of reform that this Government began in 1997, which The Guardian newspaper heralded as revolutionary, the Bill will increase the accountability and legitimacy of
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British democracy and better ensure that power lies where it should-with Parliament and the people. I commend the Bill to the House.

5.32 pm

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield) (Con): Let me begin by saying how much we welcome the fact that this Bill, for which we have been waiting for about two years, has finally arrived. I assure the House that we welcome many of its provisions, as the Lord Chancellor will have appreciated from the interventions that he received. I have to tell him, however, that its title rather belies the paucity of its content. I fear that it is unlikely to take its place as one of the great reforming Acts.

A little over two years ago, the Prime Minister, in his first speech to this House in that role, made a statement that was intended to define his vision as Prime Minister. I remember it very well. He promised us

and it was to start immediately:

What happened? Let us have a look at the areas where he pledged that immediate start-12 areas where the Government would surrender or limit their powers:


According to my calculations, we are still waiting for the Government's proposals on war powers, dissolution, recall, the intelligence services, prosecutors, passports and pardons. Treaties, judges and the civil service are covered in the Bill.

Having set out the 12 priorities for immediate action promised to us by the Prime Minister in his grandiloquent phrases, we find that only two-on bishops and quangos-have actually been implemented. Having seen the recent behaviour of the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families in respect of the Children's Commissioner, we can probably fairly say that it is only one and a quarter or one and a half.

The Prime Minister went on, in what I am beginning to think was a moment of fantasy, to say that he had some big ideas. There were citizens juries-what happened to them? There was the statement of British values, which is the pet project of the Minister of State, the right hon. Member for North Swindon (Mr. Wills). I understand that a roadshow is about to start to do with that, but all I can say is that it looks like it will be a very slow road. One by one, the Prime Minister's initiatives have fallen by the wayside-British day, a national motto, citizenship ceremonies for school leavers, rewriting the national anthem. It is amazing how extensive and far-reaching it all was.

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