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26 Jan 2010 : Column 740

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) alluded to what would probably happen if elected term peerages replaced life peerages. I think that that would be a sensible and desirable way to go forward, but I agree that there are some deep concerns about the appointment of Ministers specifically from outside the political sphere.

7.30 pm

In many ways, what happened with Lord Carter, Lord Jones of Birmingham and others has rather discredited what was a very good initiative on the part of the Prime Minister of the time. I think that it is desirable to have certain ministerial talent coming into Parliament, but my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham was right to say that the difficulty with those two individuals and the others was that they were enamoured of Parliament and politics for only a matter of months. After that, they ended up with the life peerages that were bestowed on them, which cannot be taken away. That would be less undesirable if there were evidence that they wanted to play a part in matters political even in their post-ministerial lives, but there is little evidence of that.

The amendment proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) is in many ways a sensible interim development. Some trimming of the notion that a peerage is for life would be very desirable but, in the absence of the radical reform that I would prefer, I suspect that over the years and decades ahead we will move towards all peerages being term peerages and not life peerages. To an extent, that would get around some of the concerns about Ministers expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr. Harper).

The whole thing is a bit of mess, to put it mildly. This has been a worthwhile debate although, for the reasons set out just now and earlier this evening by my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester, it is likely to be academic, as it is unlikely that the amendment will end up on the statute book.

Mr. Hogg: Would my hon. Friend encourage our Front-Bench team to make it plain to Government Front Benchers in the wash-up session that we would support the concept of life peerages at the end of this Parliament, as part of a compromise Bill?

Mr. Field: Yes, I would join my right hon. and learned Friend in trying to make that plain.

I hope that the Minister has some food for thought for his response to this brief debate but, assuming that the amendment is pressed to a vote, I shall join my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester in supporting it.

Mr. Wills: I say this with genuine regret, but I am afraid that I am going to break the consensus and tell the Committee that, unfortunately, the Government cannot support the amendment.

My regret is genuine, as the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) has done the Committee a real service. My thanks go as well to the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) and to my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), whose name also appears on some of the proposals.

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The amendments are serious, imaginative and constructive, and they deal with an issue of real importance in our national life. I am particularly sorry that we cannot support them, as I think that there is real consensus across the Committee-and I include myself in that-about the three main objectives and premises that I have discerned to be driving the proposals.

First, everyone who has spoken is, like me, in favour of comprehensive reform of the House of Lords on a democratic basis. I think that we can take it for granted that we all want a wholly elected House of Lords

Secondly, I see all the merits for term limits, for all the reasons that have been set out. I shall not rehearse them, but I would like to sign up to all the arguments put forward by hon. Members on both sides of the Committee in favour of term limits.

Finally, I think that everyone can agree that the House of Lords is too large and is growing even larger, for all the reasons that have been advanced so cogently. That is regrettable, and the trend needs to be reversed. On all those grounds, I think that the Committee is in agreement.

However, the problem with the amendments is that they are based on a fundamental premise with which the Government must disagree. That premise is that the comprehensive reform of the House of Lords is not going to happen in the near future. I understand why people may say that, as the process has been going on for 100 years or more. I also understand that there is a certain cynicism or weariness about the matter, so I completely understand the motivation behind the amendments, but we have to look at the arguments a little more closely.

The hon. Member for Chichester advanced two main reasons why he thinks that reform of the House of Lords remains a distant prospect. The first was that the next Parliament, whoever forms the Government, will be wholly preoccupied with dealing with the current crisis in the economy. As a result, he said, radical constitutional change will simply not be an option.

I fundamentally disagree with that proposition. We can all accept that there are real pressing challenges in the economy that need to be dealt with, but it is manifestly not true that the House will be able to concentrate only on that one thing. It was not true at the height of the second world war: the nation faced one of the biggest challenges to its existence that it has ever faced, but wholesale programmes of economic and social reform were driven through. The foundations of the national health service were put in place, as were radical reforms of the educational system, and so on. Of course this House, and Parliament as a whole, can do more than one thing at a time.

Mr. Mark Field: The Minister will accept that the Butler Education Act of 1944 and the Beveridge reforms were based on consensus in the House of Commons that spread throughout the political sphere. The issues were debated at some length, it is true, but broadly speaking there was consensus. The difference now is that reform of the House of Lords would be a matter of great contention, with the result that the Government would have at least one eye off the ball when it came to the economic crisis.

Mr. Wills: If the hon. Gentleman looks at his history books, I think that he will find that there was not a consensus about the NHS-very far from it. The Conservative party did not support it at the time, but I shall not take that historical analysis any further.

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The second argument put forward by the hon. Member for Chichester for his amendments was that there would be a constitutional crisis-I think that that was the term that he used-if reform were to be driven through in short order. I understand the argument, and accept that Members in the other place are very sceptical about the idea and reluctant to envisage the sort of radical reform that every hon. Member who has spoken here tonight wants. The consensus in the House of Commons on the matter is broad, with almost everyone supporting reform, but I put it to the hon. Gentleman that we would not see the sort of crisis that he predicts if every major political party's manifesto contained a commitment to drive through radical reform of the House of Lords in the next Parliament.

If the manifesto commitments were expressed in those terms, I think that the other place would recognise that the will of the people had spoken. Sadly, we have not heard quite such a definite pledge from the Conservative party here this evening, but there is still hope.

I do not think that full reform of the House of the Lords is, by any measure, inevitably a distant prospect. The House of Lords could be reformed, as long as the proper political will existed. The Government are willing to commit to that prospect, but the premise for the reform proposed in the amendment is misplaced. The amendment can have the merits advanced for it today only if a change to a wholly elected Chamber is not going to happen imminently.

Such a change would be phased in over time, as we discussed at great length previously, but signing up to these amendments would send the signal that we had given up all hope of radical reform of the House of Lords. I am simply not prepared to do that.

I want to offer some comfort to the hon. Member for Chichester, the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham and all those who have spoken in the debate today. The Government will publish draft clauses for that wholesale reform very shortly, within a matter of weeks. I hope that we can focus the debate on the content of those clauses, which we are publishing in draft because we genuinely want contributions from hon. Members on both sides of the House on how best to achieve the wholesale reform that everyone has signed up to today.

Mrs. Laing: We have known for a very long time that this part of the Bill would be debated in the Chamber today, so why have the Government not already brought forward the draft Bill to which the Minister just referred? They could have put it before us this evening, so that we could have debated this matter knowing what they intend.

Mr. Wills: I think that the hon. Lady is being slightly disingenuous. The Government's broad intention has been clear for a very long time. We are talking about bringing forward specific clauses so that the details of our intentions can be scrutinised and discussed.

That is where I hope the energy of the House will be directed. The quality of today's debate shows that Members of the House have a considerable contribution to make in achieving that radical reform-not temporising or providing transitional measures. That is where I hope we can focus the debate.

26 Jan 2010 : Column 743

I shall not dwell on them, but there are technical problems with the proposal and unanswered questions such as who would decide whether a person should be granted a term peerage or a life peerage, against what criteria the decision should be made and what would happen at the end of a fixed term, although we had a little discussion about reappointment. All those technical problems could be fixed if there were broad agreement that this is the right way forward because reform of the House of Lords is so distant. I do not agree with that.

Mr. Hogg: Does the Minister understand that what he is saying is slightly different in its general tone from the position adopted by the Secretary of State? The Minister is saying that if we agreed to the amendment, which is intrinsically good, we would send a signal that serious future reform was not intended, but during the previous debate the Secretary of State asked us to accept reforms that, adopting the Minister's argument, send exactly the same signal. Why were we asked to support clause 29 when we are being asked not to support the amendment?

Mr. Wills: I completely understand what the right hon. and learned Gentleman is saying, but he is an extremely distinguished lawyer and he knows that the devil is always in the detail. The whole point about clause 29 is that we have a system that is risible, to use the Secretary of State's term. We cannot expect the dignity of the House not to be impaired when we have a system that involves more candidates than electors. I do not want to revisit the previous debate, but that was clearly not envisaged. The two situations are categorically different, and we cannot simply apply the badge, "The best is the enemy of the good." That simply does not fly, although I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for allowing me to make that clear.

I think we all share the same objectives, broadly; it is a question of how we get there. On that basis, I hope that the hon. Member for Chichester will consider withdrawing his amendment. I understand why he has made his proposals, but will he devote his considerable intellectual energies and creativity to getting the wholesale reform of the House of Lords that we all want to see when we introduce the draft measures on that very shortly?

Mr. Tyrie: I am grateful for the Minister's generous words at the end of his speech, but less grateful for the unfortunate fact that, uniquely among those who have spoken, he has decided to oppose the measure-indeed, to lead the Government's opposition to it.

I am fortified when I receive support from such a varied crew from around the House: the Chairman of the Select Committee on Public Administration, the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright); the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart); my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg); and my Front Benchers and so on. Their support-not to mention that of the whole of the Liberal party, which I think is also aboard-suggests to me that there might be something in the proposal.

The Minister put two arguments against the measure. First, he said that we should rush ahead with radical reform even though the economy is in crisis, adding that
26 Jan 2010 : Column 744
that would be perfectly doable based on the historical precedent of radical reforms that took place during the second world war, although he did not mention the fact that we had a coalition Government in the Commons and Lords' support for them. He then alluded to controversies about the NHS as a further example, without realising that the NHS was created well after the war under the Attlee-led Labour Government. I feel that he needs to look at the history books, which he invited us to look at.

The Minister had another main objection. He seemed to say that now we have this solid proposal ready on the blocks, we should act on it and that nothing could be an obstacle to it-we could act within weeks. The Labour party has been in power for 13 years with huge majorities, so why on earth did it not find an earlier opportunity to push reform through? I find that quite astonishing.

Mr. Wills: First, I said that the foundations of the NHS were laid during the second world war. I think the hon. Gentleman will find that that is true. The fact that the NHS was delivered after the war is another matter. Secondly, and more importantly, he knows very well-he heard my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State explain it this afternoon-that we have tried for the past 12 years to build a consensus for reform. We have made considerable progress in doing so, and I hope he will recognise that at least.

Mr. Tyrie: We have made some progress. Eventually, perhaps, we will be able to move further in that direction and measures might be introduced when the country is more prepared to allow its focus to be taken away from the issues that matter most to the vast majority of households. I am sure they will be focused on economic issues for the foreseeable future.

In the meantime, I am surprised and disappointed that the Government have not realised that the measure would address the effect of the ratchet-the fact that the House of Lords is getting ever larger. It had been heard in Government circles that that problem was being increasingly discussed.

Given that there is such widespread, cross-party support for the measure, except among those on the Treasury Bench, I have decided to press it to a Division.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

The Committee divided: Ayes 170, Noes 249.
Division No. 60]
[7.45 pm


Afriyie, Adam
Ainsworth, Mr. Peter
Amess, Mr. David
Ancram, rh Mr. Michael
Atkinson, Mr. Peter
Bacon, Mr. Richard
Barker, Gregory
Beith, rh Sir Alan
Bellingham, Mr. Henry
Benyon, Mr. Richard
Blunt, Mr. Crispin
Bone, Mr. Peter
Brake, Tom
Brazier, Mr. Julian
Brooke, Annette
Browning, Angela
Bruce, rh Malcolm
Burns, Mr. Simon
Burrowes, Mr. David
Burt, Lorely
Butterfill, Sir John
Cable, Dr. Vincent
Campbell, Mr. Gregory
Cash, Mr. William
Clark, Greg
Clarke, rh Mr. Kenneth
Cox, Mr. Geoffrey
Curry, rh Mr. David
Davey, Mr. Edward
Davies, Mr. Dai
Davies, David T.C. (Monmouth)

Djanogly, Mr. Jonathan
Dorries, Nadine
Duncan, Alan
Fabricant, Michael
Fallon, Mr. Michael
Farron, Tim
Field, Mr. Mark
Foster, Mr. Don
Francois, Mr. Mark
Gale, Mr. Roger
Garnier, Mr. Edward
Gauke, Mr. David
George, Andrew
Gibb, Mr. Nick
Gidley, Sandra
Gillan, Mrs. Cheryl
Goodman, Mr. Paul
Goodwill, Mr. Robert
Gray, Mr. James
Greening, Justine
Grieve, Mr. Dominic
Hammond, Mr. Philip
Hammond, Stephen
Hands, Mr. Greg
Harper, Mr. Mark
Hayes, Mr. John
Heald, Mr. Oliver
Heath, Mr. David
Heathcoat-Amory, rh Mr. David
Hemming, John
Hendry, Charles
Hogg, rh Mr. Douglas
Holloway, Mr. Adam
Holmes, Paul
Horam, Mr. John
Horwood, Martin
Hosie, Stewart
Howarth, David
Howell, John
Hunter, Mark
Hurd, Mr. Nick
Jack, rh Mr. Michael
Jackson, Mr. Stewart
Jenkin, Mr. Bernard
Jones, Mr. David
Kawczynski, Daniel
Knight, rh Mr. Greg
Laing, Mrs. Eleanor
Lait, Mrs. Jacqui
Lamb, Norman
Lancaster, Mr. Mark
Lansley, Mr. Andrew
Laws, Mr. David
Leech, Mr. John
Letwin, rh Mr. Oliver
Liddell-Grainger, Mr. Ian
Loughton, Tim
Luff, Peter
Mackay, rh Mr. Andrew
Maclean, rh David
MacNeil, Mr. Angus
Mactaggart, Fiona
Main, Anne
Mason, John
Maude, rh Mr. Francis
May, rh Mrs. Theresa
McCrea, Dr. William
McIntosh, Miss Anne
McLoughlin, rh Mr. Patrick
Mercer, Patrick
Miller, Mrs. Maria
Milton, Anne
Mitchell, Mr. Andrew
Moore, Mr. Michael
Moss, Mr. Malcolm
Mulholland, Greg
Mundell, David
Murrison, Dr. Andrew
Newmark, Mr. Brooks
O'Brien, Mr. Stephen
Ottaway, Richard
Paice, Mr. James
Paterson, Mr. Owen
Penning, Mike
Pickles, Mr. Eric
Price, Adam
Prisk, Mr. Mark
Pritchard, Mark
Randall, Mr. John
Redwood, rh Mr. John
Reid, Mr. Alan
Rennie, Willie
Robathan, Mr. Andrew
Robertson, Angus
Robertson, Hugh
Robertson, Mr. Laurence
Rogerson, Dan
Russell, Bob
Sanders, Mr. Adrian
Scott, Mr. Lee
Selous, Andrew
Shepherd, Mr. Richard
Simmonds, Mark
Simpson, Alan
Simpson, David
Smith, Chloe
Soames, Mr. Nicholas
Spicer, Sir Michael
Spink, Bob
Steen, Mr. Anthony
Streeter, Mr. Gary
Stuart, Mr. Graham
Stunell, Andrew
Swayne, Mr. Desmond
Swire, Mr. Hugo
Syms, Mr. Robert
Taylor, Dr. Richard
Thurso, John
Timpson, Mr. Edward
Tredinnick, David
Turner, Mr. Andrew
Tyrie, Mr. Andrew
Viggers, Sir Peter
Villiers, Mrs. Theresa
Walker, Mr. Charles
Wallace, Mr. Ben
Waterson, Mr. Nigel
Watkinson, Angela
Whittingdale, Mr. John
Wiggin, Bill
Williams, Hywel
Williams, Mark
Williams, Mr. Roger
Willott, Jenny
Wilson, Mr. Rob
Wishart, Pete
Wright, Dr. Tony
Young, rh Sir George
Younger-Ross, Richard
Tellers for the Ayes:

Mr. Stephen Crabb and
Jeremy Wright


Ainger, Nick
Allen, Mr. Graham
Anderson, Mr. David
Atkins, Charlotte
Austin, Mr. Ian
Bailey, Mr. Adrian
Bain, Mr. William
Baird, Vera
Balls, rh Ed
Banks, Gordon
Barlow, Ms Celia
Barron, rh Mr. Kevin
Battle, rh John
Bayley, Hugh
Begg, Miss Anne
Bell, Sir Stuart
Benn, rh Hilary
Benton, Mr. Joe
Berry, Roger
Betts, Mr. Clive
Blackman, Liz
Blackman-Woods, Dr. Roberta
Blears, rh Hazel
Blizzard, Mr. Bob
Blunkett, rh Mr. David
Borrow, Mr. David S.
Bottomley, Peter
Brennan, Kevin
Brown, Lyn
Brown, rh Mr. Nicholas
Brown, Mr. Russell
Browne, rh Des
Bryant, Chris
Buck, Ms Karen
Burden, Richard
Burgon, Colin
Burnham, rh Andy
Butler, Ms Dawn
Caborn, rh Mr. Richard
Cairns, David
Campbell, Mr. Alan
Campbell, Mr. Ronnie
Caton, Mr. Martin
Cawsey, Mr. Ian
Challen, Colin
Chaytor, Mr. David
Clapham, Mr. Michael
Clark, Ms Katy
Clarke, rh Mr. Tom
Clelland, Mr. David
Clwyd, rh Ann
Coaker, Mr. Vernon
Coffey, Ann
Connarty, Michael
Cooper, rh Yvette
Corbyn, Jeremy
Cousins, Jim
Crausby, Mr. David
Cruddas, Jon
Cryer, Mrs. Ann
Cummings, John
Cunningham, Mr. Jim
Cunningham, Tony
David, Mr. Wayne
Davidson, Mr. Ian
Dean, Mrs. Janet
Denham, rh Mr. John
Dobbin, Jim
Donohoe, Mr. Brian H.
Doran, Mr. Frank
Dowd, Jim
Eagle, Angela
Efford, Clive
Ellman, Mrs. Louise
Ennis, Jeff
Farrelly, Paul
Field, rh Mr. Frank
Flello, Mr. Robert
Flint, rh Caroline
Foster, Mr. Michael (Worcester)
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings and Rye)
Francis, Dr. Hywel
Gapes, Mike
George, rh Mr. Bruce
Gerrard, Mr. Neil
Gilroy, Linda
Godsiff, Mr. Roger
Goodman, Helen
Griffith, Nia
Hain, rh Mr. Peter
Hall, Patrick
Hamilton, Mr. Fabian
Hanson, rh Mr. David
Harman, rh Ms Harriet
Harris, Mr. Tom
Havard, Mr. Dai
Healey, rh John
Heppell, Mr. John
Hesford, Stephen
Hill, rh Keith
Hodge, rh Margaret
Hodgson, Mrs. Sharon
Hoon, rh Mr. Geoffrey
Hope, Phil
Hopkins, Kelvin
Howarth, rh Mr. George
Howells, rh Dr. Kim
Hoyle, Mr. Lindsay
Humble, Mrs. Joan
Hutton, rh Mr. John
Iddon, Dr. Brian
Illsley, Mr. Eric
Irranca-Davies, Huw
Jackson, Glenda
James, Mrs. Siân C.
Jenkins, Mr. Brian
Johnson, rh Alan
Johnson, Ms Diana R.
Jones, Helen
Jones, Mr. Kevan
Jones, Lynne
Jones, Mr. Martyn
Jowell, rh Tessa
Joyce, Mr. Eric
Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald
Keeley, Barbara
Keen, Alan
Keen, Ann
Kelly, rh Ruth
Kemp, Mr. Fraser
Khan, rh Mr. Sadiq
Kilfoyle, Mr. Peter
Knight, rh Jim
Kumar, Dr. Ashok
Ladyman, Dr. Stephen
Lazarowicz, Mark
Lepper, David
Levitt, Tom
Lloyd, Tony
Love, Mr. Andrew

Mahmood, Mr. Khalid
Malik, Mr. Shahid
Mallaber, Judy
Mann, John
Marris, Rob
Marsden, Mr. Gordon
Martlew, Mr. Eric
McAvoy, rh Mr. Thomas
McCabe, Steve
McCarthy, Kerry
McCarthy-Fry, Sarah
McDonagh, Siobhain
McFadden, rh Mr. Pat
McGrady, Mr. Eddie
McGuire, rh Mrs. Anne
McIsaac, Shona
McKechin, Ann
Meacher, rh Mr. Michael
Merron, Gillian
Michael, rh Alun
Milburn, rh Mr. Alan
Miller, Andrew
Mitchell, Mr. Austin
Moffat, Anne
Moffatt, Laura
Mole, Chris
Moon, Mrs. Madeleine
Morden, Jessica
Morgan, Julie
Morley, rh Mr. Elliot
Mudie, Mr. George
Mullin, Mr. Chris
Munn, Meg
Murphy, rh Mr. Jim
Murphy, rh Mr. Paul
Naysmith, Dr. Doug
Norris, Dan
O'Brien, rh Mr. Mike
Olner, Mr. Bill
Osborne, Sandra
Owen, Albert
Palmer, Dr. Nick
Pearson, Ian
Pelling, Mr. Andrew
Plaskitt, Mr. James
Pope, Mr. Greg
Prentice, Bridget
Prentice, Mr. Gordon
Primarolo, rh Dawn
Prosser, Gwyn
Purchase, Mr. Ken
Rammell, Bill
Raynsford, rh Mr. Nick
Reed, Mr. Andy
Reed, Mr. Jamie
Reid, rh John
Riordan, Mrs. Linda
Roy, Mr. Frank
Roy, Lindsay
Ruane, Chris
Ruddock, Joan
Russell, Christine
Ryan, rh Joan
Salter, Martin
Sarwar, Mr. Mohammad
Seabeck, Alison
Shaw, Jonathan
Sheridan, Jim
Simon, Mr. Siôn
Skinner, Mr. Dennis
Slaughter, Mr. Andy
Smith, rh Mr. Andrew
Smith, Ms Angela C. (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
Smith, rh Angela E. (Basildon)
Smith, Geraldine
Smith, rh Jacqui
Snelgrove, Anne
Soulsby, Sir Peter
Southworth, Helen
Spellar, rh Mr. John
Starkey, Dr. Phyllis
Stewart, Ian
Stoate, Dr. Howard
Strang, rh Dr. Gavin
Straw, rh Mr. Jack
Stuart, Ms Gisela
Sutcliffe, Mr. Gerry
Taylor, Ms Dari
Timms, rh Mr. Stephen
Tipping, Paddy
Todd, Mr. Mark
Touhig, rh Mr. Don
Trickett, Jon
Turner, Dr. Desmond
Turner, Mr. Neil
Twigg, Derek
Wareing, Mr. Robert N.
Watson, Mr. Tom
Whitehead, Dr. Alan
Wicks, rh Malcolm
Williams, Mrs. Betty
Wills, rh Mr. Michael
Wilson, Phil
Winnick, Mr. David
Winterton, rh Ms Rosie
Wood, Mike
Woolas, Mr. Phil
Wright, Mr. Anthony
Wright, David
Tellers for the Noes:

Mark Tami and
Mr. Dave Watts
Question accordingly negatived.
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