Draft House of Lords Reform Bill - Joint Committee on the Draft House of Lords Reform Bill Contents


Members Present

Lord Richard (Chair)

Baroness Andrews

Bishop of Leicester

Lord Norton of Louth

Lord Rooker

Baroness Scott of Needham Market

Baroness Shephard of Northwold

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

Lord Trefgarne

Lord Trimble

Lord Tyler

Mr Tom Clarke MP

Ann Coffey MP

Oliver Heald MP

Tristram Hunt MP

Dr William McCrea MP

Dr Daniel Poulter MP

Laura Sandys MP

John Stevenson MP

Malcolm Wicks MP

Rt Hon Mr Nick Clegg MP and Mr Mark Harper MP (QQ 709-768)

Examination of witnesses

Rt Hon Mr Nick Clegg MP, Deputy Prime Minister, and Mr Mark Harper MP, Minister for Political and Constitutional Reform

Q709   The Chairman: Thank you very much for coming. We are very grateful to you. Mr Harper, we have seen you before, three times, I think. Mr Clegg, this is your first intrusion into the Committee. We welcome you to it. You know what we are about, so I do not have to explain. Do you wish to make an opening statement, or would you like to launch straight into the questions?

Mr Clegg: If I could just spend a minute or two, I would be very grateful. First, thank you very much for inviting me and the Minister to come before you today. I am also very grateful for the rigour with which the Joint Committee is examining the draft House of Lords Reform Bill. I am very much looking forward to seeing the final report, which will have a very significant bearing on the Government's thinking on the final shape of the Bill. I hope we have ample time to enter into quite a lot of the detail, but before we do so, I want to step back for a minute and reflect on why we are discussing another reform proposal relevant to the composition of the House of Lords.

My view is that at the end of the day it comes back down to a pretty simple dilemma, a simple question, if you like. Do we think that in a democracy the people who make the laws of the land should be elected by the people who obey the laws of the land? Ultimately, when you strip away all the detail, it is as simple as that, and I think the vast majority of people intuitively would accept that it should be people, not party-political patronage, who determine who sits in the House of Lords. That question has hung over this issue for generations. It has been debated for a hundred years or so and there have been 15 blueprints for reform of the House of Lords, but I hope that with the new constellation, if you like, in which all three major parties at the last general election had clear manifesto commitments of one shape or other for reform of the House of Lords, we can finally bring this debate about reform of the composition of the House of Lords to a close.

Yes, these are important proposals, but they are not new. In fact, they have been knocking around for a long time. They are not particularly revolutionary. My view is that the only institution or body of people that has anything to fear about these proposals in British politics is the Executive. We will, no doubt, debate this shortly. I know there has been a lot of focus on the possible change in the relationship between the House of Lords and the House of Commons, but my view is that a more legitimate House of Lords will strengthen the role of Parliament as a whole in holding people in power, in Government, to account. That, in my view, is one of the many merits of this kind of reform.

Yes, of course we should proceed with care in a thoughtful and pragmatic manner, but even as we debate a lot of the complexities, I hope we will be able to keep the end goal in sight, which is that, in a modern democracy, the House of Lords should not be stuffed full of friends and colleagues of party-political leaders, but should be filled with the elected representatives of the people. Mark, I do not know whether you want to add anything.

Mr Harper: Having been here three times, as the Lord Chairman said, and having observed the work the Committee is doing, I think it has engaged with this in the way we hoped it would. I think it has set a very good example for both Houses as a whole when we eventually present a Bill. I am confident that both Houses, including the House of Lords, will adopt the same sort of constructive approach that the Committee has adopted and we will end up with a Bill that is in good shape to end with a very successful elected upper House.

Q710    The Chairman: Thank you. I wonder if I can start by raising one major issue, not a fundamental one such as Clause 2 or what you have just been talking about but one that is of great importance to this Committee and, indeed, to the House of Lords itself. At the outset, we were told that, as far as the transition was concerned, there was going to be no money that we could consider in relation to it. Now Lord Steel did his Bill about two weeks ago in the Chamber of the Lords. If you will forgive me, I am going to quote two paragraphs. They are not too long, but they are necessary, I think, for us to get the flavour. He said:

"The most important part of the Bill that we are now considering is, I would submit, the retirement section … The House will recall that the all-party committee under the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, recommended that the House should take statutory powers to introduce a retirement scheme. While I shall not quote the report in detail, the committee also said that that should be done without expense to the public purse and within the budget of your Lordships' House. Since then, I have had discussions with four Members of the Cabinet. I am not going to name them, but I will say that one was a Liberal Democrat and the other three were Conservatives. We talked about what sort of scheme might be introduced if we give the House the necessary statutory authority.

At present, those Peers who attend regularly, by which I mean almost every day, can take home in allowances over the course of a year something over £40,000. … The Government are keen on capping payments and I suspect that capping any kind of terminal allowance would be quite popular. These details are not in the Bill, but I shall give noble Lords an indication of the kind of discussions that have been going on. If a cap were set at £30,000, that would be the same as the tax-free allowance on redundancy payments made in the outside world and so would be quite acceptable and in line with other occupations.

We suggested that the other cap would be that the maximum amount any Member could claim would be no more than they claimed in the last Session of Parliament. That would prevent Members who come only occasionally suddenly deciding to claim a large lump sum. With that in place, I think that the scheme would be financially neutral. The taxpayer would benefit after one year because no more payments would be made to those who leave. I also suggest that there should be a minimum payment of something like £5,000 to deal with those Members who no longer attend for reasons of frailty, but who have given great service to the House and may wish to take advantage of this proposal".

I listened to that with some surprise when I was sitting there that Friday afternoon. Is this true?

Mr Clegg: I have had no discussions on that matter with Lord Steel, so I am as interested as you are.

The Chairman: With respect, that was not the question I asked you. I did not ask whether you talked to Lord Steel about it. I asked whether it is true.

Mr Clegg: Clearly, it is not the case if it has not been discussed. It is certainly not something we have decided upon within the Government because those issues of transition and the costs of transition depend in very large measure on what the design of that transition would be, over what period, how one would move from one status—the current status quo—to another and in what kind of instalments. As the Committee will know, we have proposed a particular model in the White Paper, in thirds, but there are other versions of that transition. It is quite difficult for us to be precise about transition costs and whether you would cap one or other feature of it without deciding first what the basic transitional route would be.

Mr Harper: I had the benefit of listening to the whole of that debate in the House of Lords. I think I am right in saying that Lord Steel made it clear that he had individual conversations and that each of the people he had spoken to made it clear that they were not speaking on behalf of the Government and that the Government had not agreed that position.

The Chairman: "Four members of the Cabinet" is what he said.

Mr Harper: The decisions that the Government take are collective decisions, and the Government have not taken a collective decision effectively to provide some sort of redundancy pay, which is effectively what Lord Steel was arguing for.

Q711    The Chairman: Is that on the table? That is what I really want to know because it may have quite an effect on our proposals in relation to the transition. Is that something that the Government would be prepared to consider?

Mr Harper: We set out our proposals in the White Paper. Clearly, if this Committee recommends such a thing, we will consider what it says. At the moment, in much the same way as we have set out the position for party funding, I do not think the public would take kindly to effectively giving Members of the House a pay-off for going away.

Q712    The Chairman: I am not asking you about the public. I am asking about the Government. What I really want to know is a simple question. I hope it will get a simple answer. Is the issue of payment for Members who are going to leave one that the Government are prepared to consider?

Mr Clegg: We are prepared to consider it, but we simply cannot be asked to decide on it now without hearing this Committee's final views on what the transition should be and allowing for collective discussion within Government about what the transitional arrangements should be. It is inextricably linked with the pace and manner of transition from the current House to a reformed one, but of course we will consider it, and we will particularly consider it if the Committee were to recommend it.

Malcolm Wicks: This is a rather different question. Can I put it to the two Ministers that if—and there is no reason why we should be—we were being asked by people in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and, hopefully one day, Syria to advise on what a modern parliamentary democracy looks like in the 21st century, we probably would not say that one of the Chambers should consist of representatives of the military, big business and theocracy and former Ministers and other close friends of the political class? Probably, going back to basic principles, we would say that it has to be democratic. I am rather repeating what the Deputy Prime Minister said. It should be made up of people who, if they are passing laws that affect the society and the people, should be elected by the people. There are a lot of details here—we just heard a bit of detail—but, basically, should we not be going back to basics about what the 21st century demands in terms of a democratic Parliament?

Mr Clegg: I suspect—I cannot be scientific about this—that if you spoke to protestors in Tahrir Square and other activists in the Arab spring who look to our country as a model of democracy and of a stable, democratic political system, they would probably be surprised when they found out that over 70 per cent of the current Members of the House of Lords are there as political appointees and have been appointed by party-political leaders. They would be surprised.

The issue about legitimacy is important not just for the overall design but for the quality of our democracy. I genuinely think that a more legitimate House of Lords would be a more effective one as well. In other words, I think that efficacy and legitimacy go hand and hand in a democratic system. I think a revising Chamber, which does a magnificent job with its current composition, would do it even more authoritatively and credibly both at home and, as your question asks, abroad, if it had greater explicit legitimacy.

Q713   Tristram Hunt: Am I right in thinking that the coalition agreement suggested that a draft House of Lords Bill would come forward, so in terms of the coalition agreement just a draft Bill was all that was required?

Mr Clegg: Yes.

Tristram Hunt: So you have fulfilled that. For those critics who fear that this is going further, in terms of the agreement, that has been ticked off.

Mr Clegg: Any Government puts forward a draft Bill for a purpose, not for the sake of it. That draft Bill is there to be examined, revised and finally adopted.

Mr Harper: Mr Wicks talked about the view of members of the public. Interestingly, even today one of the party grass-roots websites, Conservative Home, did a poll of its members. Just over half of its members who took part in that poll supported the principle of an elected Lords, so you can see that the simple principle that people who make laws ought to be elected is supported on both sides of the coalition.

Q714   Tristram Hunt: Talking of grass roots and parties, in the Guardian today, Lord Rennard, the former chief executive of the Liberal Democrats, explicitly links support for reform of the House of Lords to Liberal Democrat support for the boundary review. Is there any basis to that suggestion?

Mr Clegg: Of course there is no formal link between those different elements of the constitutional and political reform agenda that this Government are pursuing. There are various different facets of it. I recently got the ball rolling on what I hope will be new, fruitful discussions on party funding reform. Mark Harper is piloting legislation through Parliament on individual electoral registration to bear down on electoral fraud. We had a referendum last year. We have legislated for a fixed-term Parliament. There are various bits that make up the mosaic of this Government's political and constitutional reform agenda. I think they all hang together in a coherent way, but there is not a quid pro quo about one aspect as opposed to another.

Q715   Tristram Hunt: Finally, in a private seminar last week, a senior House of Commons official suggested that if the timetabling vote on this Bill, if it is in the Queen's Speech, went against the Government, Parliament would be into what he called Maastricht territory. Do the Government have the will and the appetite for Maastricht territory on House of Lords reform?

Mr Clegg: I understand that this provokes passions, particularly for people who are very adamant that the status quo should be retained. Many people out in the country do not care about it nearly as much, but that does not mean it is not important. Of course, the quality of our democracy is important. It would be pretty incomprehensible to the vast majority of people in the United Kingdom if those who oppose what would strike most people in the country as reasonable reform, just asking law makers to be elected by people who have to obey the law, had a slightly odd set of priorities and hijacked the rest of parliamentary business just to insulate the House of Lords from reform which has been discussed in one shape or form. In preparation for this, I was looking at the extraordinary, in fact almost accidental, similarity between our proposals and the proposals—I have forgotten what they are called—back in 1918. This has been debated for a long period. I think everyone would find it quite curious if, in defence of the status quo, a whole range of other laudable measures were somehow disrupted. I think people would find that a curious, to put it mildly, selection of priorities.

Q716   Dr Poulter: One of the biggest issues we have picked up in this Committee is the primacy of the House of Commons. Earlier on, Deputy Prime Minister, you said that the second Chamber would do its job even more authoritatively—I think those were your words—if it were democratically elected. Would you agree that there is a clear distinction in terms of the primacy of the House of Commons between having a second Chamber that is 80 per cent elected and 20 per cent appointed and one that is 100 per cent elected?

Mr Clegg: I suspect that may well be right. I find it difficult to be scientific about the consequences—predictable or unintended—of one model or another. It may well have a bearing on the perception of the relative roles of the two Chambers, but my view is that whether it is 80 per cent elected or 100 per cent elected is probably less important in making that distinction than the other quite big differentiators that we have built into the plans. The most important, I think, is the non-renewable single term, because that removes any incentive for Members of the reformed House of Lords to mimic what I call the conventional electoral politics of the House of Commons. You would not have constituencies at all in a reformed House of Lords under our blueprint. You would have districts, the smallest of which would have 2.5 million voters, and I do not think you can do meaningful constituency work for 2.5 million voters, so there would be a clear distinction there. This very long, non-renewable term would be much shorter than the life membership you have now, so in one sense, it is a big cut, but it is still none the less a long non-renewable term. I think those are probably more important mechanisms by which the clear division of labour can be maintained between the House of Commons and a reformed House of Lords in future, but I accept that 80 per cent or 100 per cent might have some additional bearing on it.

Mr Harper: In terms of the framework—and I am sure we will get questions on this later—the underpinning of the primacy is the existence of the Parliament Acts. We have been very clear that we want those to continue as now. Ultimately, they guarantee that the Commons is able to retain its supremacy over the upper House. However much the upper House might want to change that position, it cannot do so without the permission of the Commons. For Members of the House of Commons who are nervous about that, that is the underpinning that should give them confidence that they retain that supremacy because of the nature of their relationship with the voter.

Q717   Dr Poulter: It follows, Deputy Prime Minister, from what you have said that, with those 15-year non-renewable terms, the implicit terms under which the senator or the Lord accepts election would be that it is a revising Chamber. Inherently, they accept the primacy of the House of Commons as part of their mandate for election to the second Chamber.

Mr Clegg: Absolutely. By the way, there are countless bicameral systems that manage this trick in a very straightforward manner in which the two Chambers are either wholly or largely elected but none the less a clear division of labour exists and there is clear primacy—

The Chairman: Since the Division in the House is on the health service, I fear we will have to adjourn.

Meeting suspended for a Division in the House of Lords.

The Chairman: I think that we can probably start again.

Q718   Laura Sandys: In the Tea Room, there is a lot of discussion about the primacy of the Commons and the Lords. In many ways, the issue for most people and parliamentarians is the relationship between Parliament and Government. While we have had a lot of evidence given to us about the primacy in the relationship between the House of Lords and the House of Commons, it is strange that we have had no real discussion, projection or analysis of how an elected House of Lords would change the relationship between Parliament and Government. I would be very interested in your perspective on that and on whether issues such as long-term strategy could be more effectively scrutinised by Parliament. My personal view, which may not be shared by others, is that both the House of Lords and the House of Commons will become stronger and more activist and use more of the powers that they currently have which they tacitly deny themselves.

Mr Harper: One of the interesting things is that some people say that if the House of Lords becomes more legitimate and powerful that must mean that power is taken away from the House of Commons. I simply do not follow that argument. Your position about scrutinising long-term strategy is something that Lord Adonis also set out in some of his observations from when he was Transport Secretary. A House elected for long single terms could scrutinise significant infrastructure projects, which have a gestation period of longer than one Parliament. I think an elected or mainly elected House of Lords could carve a role out for itself to hold the Government to account very effectively on things that the Commons does not. Collectively the two Houses of Parliament working together would hold the Executive to account more effectively and we would have a stronger Parliament, which would be a good thing for the people and for Government because if Government has to be more concerned about Parliament and about being held to account we would get better decisions and better drafted laws. Both coalition parties agree that well drafted laws and the Government being held to account are better for the country as a whole. I think your argument has a lot of merit.

Q719   Laura Sandys: You are saying that the Government are turkeys voting for Christmas. On that basis, when you start to look at the engagement the Government have with trade bodies, the media and think tanks, do you feel that Parliament does not currently have the capacity to put forward ideas in the most effective way to influence Government strategy? Do you believe that a greater capacity across both Houses would enable Parliament to take powers away not just from Government but from third parties and people who are now engaged in the political process with no legitimacy at all?

Mr Clegg: One thing that I would add is that the great virtues of the current House of Lords, which would be retained under the new arrangements, are the freedom to think long term, emancipation from the tyranny of day-to-day, up-and-down politics, an ability to see the wood for the trees and not worrying about the gyrations of political fortunes but looking at the long term. I think Members of the House of Lords elected on long, non-renewable terms would, as the earlier question suggested, explicitly be putting themselves forward to fulfil a very different function—not just political, but intellectual—from that of Members of the House of Commons. They would be genuinely free to look at things with greater independence and a longer view. I think that must be good for a House of Lords whose legitimacy has been strengthened. As Mark Harper has quite rightly implied, it would also be good for Government because it would test Government on some of the long-term propositions which, as we know, often get lost in politics in the wash of day-to-day events.

Q720    Baroness Shephard of Northwold: Mr Clegg, I am starting with a slightly cheeky question. You said that the report that will eventually be produced by this Committee will have a significant effect on Government thinking. How about if it does not entirely come out in favour of the Government's Bill?

Mr Clegg: It will have a significant effect, but it may be a different from one that had a different conclusion. I know you would like to go on to another question, but this is an important point. We have tried to move at a very methodical, almost stately pace on this. We have drawn very heavily on all the previous cross-party reports and the views that have gathered over the years and the decades. For several months, I chaired a cross-party group looking at—reviewing, if you like—all the blueprints for reform. We then put forward a White Paper with a draft Bill and submitted it to you for your deliberations, and we will take it forward from them. We have tried in the time available to move in a very deliberate, collaborative and open fashion. That is very much the spirit in which the Government will respond to the report from this Committee.

Q721   Baroness Shephard of Northwold: You will know from studying the submissions made to this Committee and its minutes that no evidence whatever has been received supporting the claim that the primacy of the House of Commons will not be affected by having an elected House of Lords. I wonder whether you would like to comment on that. The only evidence we have had supporting that argument has been, most loyally, from the Minister.

Mr Clegg: Equally, although I stand to be corrected, there has been no evidence to this Joint Committee that a change in the composition of the House of Lords will in and of itself create an unstable or undesirable relationship between the House of Lords and the House of Commons. The composition of the House of Lords has changed radically over the years. If one compares the composition of the House of Lords today with that before the 1958 Act, which introduced life peerages, it has changed out of all recognition. It has become a much more partisan place, and it has become dominated by those who have arrived in the House of Lords through political appointment. That simply did not exist 50-odd years ago. Even though the composition of the House of Lords changed radically, we never sought to try to capture the changed relationship between the House of Lords and the House of Commons. In a way, we allowed it to evolve organically, if you like. That is very much like drawing on the wisdom of history and very much the approach we take to the future. As the composition of the House of Lords changes, we want to do exactly what previous Administrations of all persuasions have done and allow that relationship to evolve on its own merits and not to try to predict it with any scientific precision. I think it is not susceptible to scientific prediction.

Q722   Baroness Shephard of Northwold: It is precisely that point on whether one can predict a change in behaviour that has worried those who have given evidence to this Committee, not least the Clerk to the House of Commons, who has said that if you replicate the politicians in the House of Commons in elected politicians in an upper Chamber or a senate, unless there are very elaborate means of deciding disputes between them, the disputes will become entirely justiciable. I have a supplementary to that, although you might like to answer that first.

Mr Clegg: First, a key point is: what kind of politicians do people prefer? Do they prefer politicians who are placed in the House of Lords through patronage or politicians who are in the House of Lords through election? That is an issue of principle. We should not contrive to portray the current House of Lords as an apolitical body when over 70 per cent of its composition is there through decisions by people like me, at the whim of individual party leaders. My view is that, when confronted with that choice between politicians who are there because of them, because they cast a vote in a ballot, and politicians who are there because some party leader decided that they would like to have them there, most people in Britain would chose the former.

Secondly, we are explicitly seeking not to replicate Members of Parliament. I do not want to repeat the answer I gave earlier to Dr Poulter, but with a different electoral system, a different length of term, a non-renewable term and no constituencies but larger districts, we are doing something that is very familiarly done in bicameral systems around the democratic world, which is giving the two Chambers different forms of mandate that allow people to have a say through the ballot box.

A final point I would make is that I could not agree more that we should ensure that these issues about the relationship between the two Chambers should not be determined or decided by judges. We are very confident that our Bill, and finally the Act, would make that absolutely crystal clear. Of course, we are open to any suggestions to put that beyond any reasonable doubt.

Mr Harper: Baroness Shephard, the question that you asked was about primacy, and then you referred to the evidence from people who said that the relationship would change. I think we have been very clear that the relationship between the two Houses would change and evolve, but underpinning the primacy of—

Q723   Baroness Shephard of Northwold: No, the point that I made, which was about the evidence that the Committee has been given, is that the assertion in the Bill that the primacy of the House of Commons would be unaltered by the existence of an elected second Chamber does not hold. That is the evidence we have received from everyone except yourselves.

Mr Harper: I have looked at the evidence. Lots of people have said the relationship would change and lots of people have said that the conventions would be tested and would evolve. I do not think that anyone has said that the legislative underpinning of primacy, the Parliament Acts, would be affected.

Baroness Shephard of Northwold: I think that you will find that the Clerk of the House of Commons said exactly that.

Mr Harper: In his evidence, the Clerk of the House of Commons said that if you had elected Members of the upper House, they would want more powers, but the fact is that under the framework we have set out with the Parliament Acts, they could not take those powers without the agreement of the House of Commons. They might desire them—I am sure they would—but without the Common's assent that could not happen.

Q724   Baroness Shephard of Northwold: What he said is that it would end up in the courts. I have one more question at this stage. We have heard from Mr Clegg a lot about the quality of democracy, legitimacy and so on. I do not know that we have heard very much about the accountability of those who would be elected to the second House with a 15-year, non-renewable term. To many of us who have been elected, it would seem that there is not much accountability in that. Would you like to say how this would enhance the accountability of the Government to the British people, the people who are so important in all these electoral arrangements, as you have constantly stressed, and as I agree?

Mr Clegg: I very deliberately talked about legitimacy rather than accountability to draw the distinction because of course I accept that, technically speaking, if you are not standing for re-election that affects accountability. Clearly, accountability can be expressed by voters deciding whether someone deserves to carry on. I have chosen my words very carefully. I have talked about legitimacy rather than accountability. Some people may say that 15 years is a long time. It is a whole lot shorter than life membership.

Baroness Shephard of Northwold: That is not the issue. The issue is that you are electing someone with the desire, as you put it, to improve things.

Mr Clegg: To improve legitimacy, correct.

Q725   Baroness Shephard of Northwold: If you are actually electing people who are in effect here for life because they have a 15-years non-renewable term, what is the difference, apart from telling the people, who you say are so important—and indeed they are—that they are being given an electoral chance that they do not currently have and that this is a reward? I would submit that, in terms of accountability, you are giving the public absolutely nothing.

Mr Clegg: As I said, I placed the emphasis quite precisely on legitimacy. Do I think that one could come up with a range of different options? Yes. I think it was the Wakeham commission that first proposed a 12 to 15-year period. Again, we are not new. We drew very heavily on the Wakeham commission proposals. Why did he and his colleagues arrive at that decision, which was no doubt as controversial to you then as it is now? It is because it tries to strike the right balance by giving voters a say in who sits in the House of Lords in a way that is constructed in a manner that makes it abundantly clear that it is separate and distinct from the House of Commons.

While I totally accept that one can argue almost indefinitely on whether a shorter term, a slightly longer term or a different electoral system might be appropriate, I come back to the principle of whether it is better in a revising legislative Chamber to give people at least some say in who is there or simply to allow the whole thing to remain in the clammy hands of a very small number of individuals who happen to be the leaders of political parties. That seems to me to be the issue of principle that we have to come back to again and again. Fifteen years elected seems to me to be eminently better than an arbitrary list of nominees appointed from time to time by party-political leaders.

Q726    The Chairman: Can I put in a slight defence as one who had a clammy hand put on his shoulder and was compelled into the House of Lords? It seems to me that it is an infinitely better situation than it was earlier on, when you had 1,200 Members of the House of Lords, 850 of whom were Conservative or took the Conservative Whip. Although they all sat independently, they all voted Conservative independently. It seems to me that the Life Peerages Act transforming that into a situation in which you had party representation at the core of the House of Lords was a huge step forward, not a step backwards.

Mr Clegg: I do not want to cast aspersions retrospectively on the 1958 Act, which was a huge advance in the composition of the House of Lords, as was the 1999 Act. In a sense, that underlines my point that what we are doing is a natural extrapolation. It is the natural next step in a process that has evolved over decades.

Q727    Baroness Andrews: Can I take up that point? I confess to being slightly confused because you have always been a very powerful advocate of the extraordinary power of election. You have mentioned that many times this afternoon, yet in your evidence to the Constitution Committee you suggested, as you have just now, that this is just another step in a sequence of changes in the House of Lords. You have said that that is one reason why we can be content to address composition and need not bother our heads about function. You cannot have it both ways. Either election is a manifestly radical, transformational step for this Chamber, or it is an evolutionary step which poses no threat or issue—in which case, why bother?

Mr Clegg: While I accept, of course as in all major political debates, that there is a mixture of poetry and prose and one needs to lift people's sights but also keep their feet firmly on the ground. I do not think there is anything incompatible in saying that of course it would be significant—after all, this has been debated for over a century—finally to fulfil the promise debated in 1911 to have law-makers in the House of Lords subject to election by the people. I think it is none the less reasonable to point out that there has already been a great change in the composition of the House of Lords. We talked about it just now, 1958 and 1999 being the two most important steps. I suspect that historians could possibly construct an argument that the introduction of life Peers in 1958 was almost as significant—not least given the very particular composition of the pre-1958 House of Lords, as Lord Richard reminded us—as would be a partially or mainly elected House of Lords in future. I do not think the one is as incompatible with the other as you suggest.

Q728   Baroness Andrews: I think that you are ploughing a rather lonely furrow. If you read the evidence to the Committee, people have taken the challenge of election to this House extremely seriously, which is why we are struggling with Clause 2. You said that you have been very careful to look at the history of the way we have tried to address this very complex constitutional problem in the past. Yet Clause 2 does not wrestle with it at all. That is the absolute judgment of every person who has come before us, irrespective of where they stand on election. In evidence to the Constitution Committee you said that you do not see an automatic link between composition and function. You said: "the functions of the House of Lords are not the problem that one is trying to fix … We have a sensible, balanced, pragmatic set of proposals to deal with that. If we try at the same time to resolve a whole range of other issues, which are not in critical need of reform or amendment … nothing will change". I put it to you that the consensus of evidence to this Committee, common sense and experience suggest that you have no choice but to address the issue of functions because with an elected House, everything will change.

Mr Clegg: We are in danger of just repeating assertions at each other. I would like once again to refer to perhaps the best empirical data of all, which is the past and what has actually happened. The composition of the House of Lords has changed out of all recognition. Someone who was a Member of the House of Lords in 1957 would simply not recognise the House of Lords today. I suspect, parenthetically, they would be appalled by the much more party-political nature of the House of Lords because of its changed composition. Like Lord Richards, I think that the 1958 Act was a massive step forward, as was the 1999 Act. At no time in all those years have any Government of whatever political persuasion suggested that a radical change in composition of the House of Lords should automatically lead to a change in function. If that has not happened in the past, I think the onus is on critics of our proposals now to suggest why that would be so very significantly different in the future, not least because what we are proposing is hardly a big-bang approach to change. Our White Paper talks about a 15-year process of elections in thirds, incrementally, with roles that are clearly distinct from those of the House of Commons. Forgive me, I know I am slightly repeating what I said before, but for all those reasons, I am persuaded that the assertions—which is what they are; it is not a mathematical formula—that an elected component will suddenly be transformative in a way that the 1958 and 1999 Acts were not are not right.

Mr Harper: I do not think that anyone is arguing that the relationship will not change; the question is whether we say now that we will try to forecast or set out what we expect the relationship to be between the House of Commons and the House of Lords at the end of the transition period, codify that and set it down in statute, or whether we say that we will allow that relationship to evolve over time, accepting that the primacy of the Commons is guaranteed by the Parliament Acts. When this was looked at by the Cunningham commission, the conclusion it came to was that you did not want to try to codify everything and set it all down in statute. That is not how we have ever gone about things in the past. The relationship between the Lords and the Commons has evolved and changed. It has changed quite a lot since the start of this coalition Government, with the move of the Liberal Democrats into Government and the role that the Cross-Benches play. I think that is, if I may say so, a very British way of allowing the constitution to evolve and a perfectly sensible way to go about things.

Baroness Andrews: All that I can conclude, gentlemen, from your evidence is that either you do not think that election is that important, as we certainly do around this table, or that you think election to the House of Lords carries a lower value in terms of a mandate than election to the House of Commons.

Mr Harper: I do not think that it is a case of hierarchy. It is the case that we think that the two Chambers have a different role. The House of Commons at the moment has primacy and will continue to do so with the Parliament Acts. It is the House in which the Government have to have a majority to be the Government. It is the body that predominantly holds the Government to account. That is the body that you are accepting has that role. The House of Lords has a scrutiny and revision role. It is a different, complementary role. Together, the two Houses make Parliament stronger. I do not think there is anything contradictory about it at all.

Baroness Andrews: That is the difference between the two Houses at the moment: an elected House and a supplementary, complementary House, not elected, that obeys the will of the Commons.

Mr Clegg: May I ask a question? I am genuinely keen to engage with this. As Mark Harper says, of course we accept that changing the composition of the House of Lords would, just as in the past, change the tenor, the temper, the character of the Lords. I hope that a more legitimate House of Lords would feel more credible and self-confident. It is a good thing. The more Parliament as a whole is self-confident and assertive vis-à-vis the Executive, the better. What I genuinely do not understand, and I have tried to grapple with this constantly, is why anyone thinks that that patchwork of changes and evolution in the two Chambers should be the reason that we do not do any reform or change at all when it is Parliament as a whole that stands to benefit and the Executive that would be put on their toes. In my view, the House of Commons might welcome a more legitimate House of Lords with which it can work together on either side of the Palace of Westminster in order to do the work that we are collectively doing in Parliament, which is holding the Executive to account. Of course roles will evolve. They must do. It would be very odd for them not to, but to suggest that that is always going to be a threat to the House of Commons and therefore that that is somehow an alibi to say that there should be no reform at all is the bit of the argument that I genuinely do not follow conceptually.

Lord Trimble: In passing, I will make some supplementary comments on things that have been said so far before I come to my main point. First, I noticed that Mr Clegg referred to people coming into this House on the whim of a party leader. I do not know what happens in the Liberal Democrat Party, but I want to place on record that my party did not allow me to act on my own whim when I was doing something similar. Secondly, Malcolm Wicks said—this was echoed in Mr Clegg's comments—that the laws should be made by people who are elected. Of course, that sounds eminently reasonable, but surely in assessing that we should be looking at substance rather than form. The substance of the matter is that the laws are made by the House of Commons, and the House of Lords merely asks the House of Commons to think again on certain issues. Sometimes the Commons takes that opportunity to think again and sometimes it does not, but the laws are not made by the House of Lords in any meaningful sense. That is the substance of the matter.

However, the main point that I want to focus on is the question of accountability. In commenting on democratic legitimacy, Mr Clegg, you said that that legitimacy came purely from being elected rather than from being accountable. I would ask you to think again about that. Persons who are elected and are subject to re-election consider what the electorate might think of their actions, because they want to be re-elected. Similarly, parties that want to win the next election think about what the electorate want when they are making their decisions. Accountability and democratic legitimacy are totally intertwined. If someone who is elected never has to face re-election, he does not need to pay any attention at all to public opinion during that period of time; he is, literally, irresponsible. We will have someone who is not accountable and could do what he likes—subject to whatever influence his party might have on him, which may be greater or lesser. I see that as a real danger, particularly when linked to the electoral system that is proposed.

Every electoral system has its advantages and disadvantages or its pluses and minuses. You may like a proportional system, but there are different types of proportional system. You have chosen the STV proportional system, which achieves a fairly high level of proportionality, but it is also a proportional system that is biased against political parties—persons get elected not so much on their party label as on whether they attract a personal vote. In a multimember constituency, parties put forward several candidates who then compete with each other, so it is a matter not just of the party's selection but of that interaction among them. Where STV exists, party discipline tends to be weakened and independents come forward—or people create parties quickly for the purpose—and persons who get their names well known tend to benefit from that. We are going to have an electoral system in which a personality or celebrity or someone who manages to attract publicity has an advantage, and in the course of the campaign he can say anything that he likes to the electorate knowing that he will never be called to account for those comments or for what he does subsequently.

Given that this 15-year term is being put together with STV, I am very concerned about what this will do to our electoral political system. You are creating a machine for irresponsibility in the second House. If the second House does become more assertive, this is creating a very dangerous situation from the point of view of the health of our parliamentary democracy. I urge you not just to reply off the cuff but to take this point very seriously indeed.

Mr Clegg: Of course I will take it very seriously and certainly I will not seek to provide an off-the-cuff answer. Believe you me that, while we may not agree, a very considerable amount of thought has gone into our proposals. Crucially, we have drawn very heavily on previous conclusions arrived at by previous committees and those who have advocated reform. For instance, the idea of having a lengthy, non-renewable term was a key conclusion of the Wakeham commission. The all-party group that I chaired looked at the Wakeham commission and we all agreed—we did not agree on other aspects of the reforms—that that was the right model. Of course I accept that, if one wanted to improve the accountability of elected Members of the House of Lords, one would suggest that they have renewable terms. This is where we have to strike a balance. If we came before your Committee and said, "We are going to suggest that there should be Members of the House of Lords who are elected and who can get re-elected", I think that you would, quite rightly, throw your hands up in horror and say that that really will pose a challenge to the House of Commons, because there would then be a whole bunch of elected politicians traipsing round the country trying to curry favour with the electorate. We arrived at the conclusion, just as the Wakeham commission did, that to maintain the distinction between the two Houses—which Baroness Andrews quite rightly highlighted is so important—it was best to advocate, as others have done before, a non-renewable term.

On STV—dare I say it—it is precisely because STV weakens the hand of the parties that I believe that it has some virtue. As you rightly pointed out, STV encourages people to develop a personal profile and make a personal pitch as individuals, not just as partisan politicians, to the electorate. In our internal deliberations, we were anxious to retain in a reformed House of Lords a House that could be populated by people with independence of mind, who are not placemen and placewomen of the parties. I would suggest that an electoral system that gives elected Members of a reformed House of Lords a personal mandate, so that they are not just plonked on a list by party bosses but have actually won that mandate in and of their own right, is a better way of securing that kind of independence of spirit and mind that I think everyone values in the House of Lords. Whereas you believe that this concatenation of mechanisms would create irresponsibility, I would suggest that a system such as what we have now, where legislators in the House of Lords do not need to seek any mandate at all from the electorate and where—of course I accept that different parties have different methods—at the end of the day much of the composition of the House of Lords is determined by political patronage, creates a greater risk of irresponsibility than the proposals that we have put forward.

Lord Trimble: The thing that concentrates the minds of Governments dependent on a majority in the House of Commons is the danger of losing an election, and the great significance of the power of the electorate is that they can turn people out of Government. With this new elected House of Lords—or upper House or whatever it is—the electorate will never be able to turn it out. It is literally irresponsible, and something that is literally irresponsible is liable to behave in an irresponsible way. This worries me enormously, actually. If we are to have an elected House that thinks that it has greater legitimacy because it is elected and it is free to do whatever it likes because it does not have to stand for re-election, you are creating a very dangerous machine—a much more powerful body than our existing House—at the heart of Government. I worry very much about the damage that that will do to our political system.

Mr Harper: Listening to your description of the characteristics that STV would inculcate in those who are elected through it, I thought that many of those sounded like remarkably welcome characteristics that we would want to see in Parliament.

I think that the difference is this: the House of Commons is what determines the Government. For those people running round saying, "Here is what the Government is going to do if you elect me and we get into power", that position is not going to change. Members of the House of Lords who campaign for election will not be campaigning on that basis, because a majority held in the House of Lords will not determine who is in Government; that will be determined by the House of Commons. You are electing people on a different basis. I recognise that it is a novel basis, because we have not had elected Members of the House of Lords before, but all of the risks that you have pointed to, such as a lack of accountability, are risks that we have today. The difference is that, today, party leaders decide who gets to sit in the House of Lords and no Member of the House of Lords is accountable at all because they can stay there for life, whereas in the system that we are proposing Members will have a term of 15 years. You may not be any more accountable, but you are certainly no less accountable.

A final point is that Members of the House of Commons go through this process once in their career if they decide to stand down voluntarily. From the moment that a Member of Parliament says, "I am not standing for election again"—whether he actually says it or whether he thinks it in his mind—he is in exactly this position. Other countries have the same position with term limits. In my experience, Members of Parliament who decide not to stand for office again do not suddenly go mad and run around being irresponsible. That may be a theoretical risk, but it is simply not one that I have seen in practice. I may be corrected by other Members, but I have certainly not seen that sort of behaviour myself.

The Chairman: The next question is from the Bishop of Leicester.

Lord Trimble: Sorry, Mr Harper's comments did not relate to anything that I said.

The Chairman: The Bishop of Leicester, please. You have had a good go.

Q729   Bishop of Leicester: You began your remarks by reminding us of what you regard as the simple question: do we think that people who make the laws should be accountable to the electorate? I wanted to explore with you what price you would be prepared to pay for that principle. Supposing this was regarded as a political good of such magnitude that it was worth creating a parliamentary system in which there was a dysfunctional relationship between the two Houses and in which there was substantial loss of expertise in the upper House, and possibly that the process of getting there consumed a large amount of parliamentary time in the middle of a financial crisis—if all those things came about, would you still regard that as a price worth paying for the fundamental principle about which you care so passionately?

Mr Clegg: The only circumstances in which it would be as destructive of the parliamentary timetable and gobble up a huge amount of political capital, energy and time would of course be if, when they received the Bill from the House of Commons, Members of the House of Lords chose to die in a ditch about it. If the House of Lords were to be sent a Bill on the back of a vote in the House of Commons in support of reform, the onus would not be on the Government; it would be up to the critics to explain to the public at large why, even though all three major parties in British politics are explicitly in favour of Lords reform, that issue was significant enough to disrupt other Government and legislative business. I think that case would be almost impossible to make, and I would not recommend anyone doing that.

You mentioned expertise. It may be that I have misunderstood this, but I just do not understand the underlying assumption that election is incompatible with expertise, that somehow a legislative Chamber would be dumbed down by the act of election, as if a reformed House of Lords could not seek out the expertise of experts in its work. I am quite unsettled by this idea that there is this image of pristine, uncluttered, unsullied expertise in the present House—even though over 70 per cent of the present House is there through political appointment—and that somehow elected Members would not have expertise. Dr Poulter is elected and he is a great expert in certain medical fields, and that would not change. A reformed House of Lords would be able to seek out experts just as the House of Commons can today.

Q730   Bishop of Leicester: Perhaps you could tell us whether you have had the opportunity to listen to debates in the House of Lords regularly and whether you have been able to form a view as to the comparative quality of some of the debates and levels of expertise for yourself.

Mr Clegg: Of course I have. Candidly, some debates are distinguished by insightful, wise, relevant and up-to-date expertise; other debates are distinguished by less relevant and more out-of-date opinions. In the same way as we should not on our side over-romanticise the sanitising effect of election, I urge colleagues on all sides of this debate not to over-romanticise the House of Lords as it is today. Closer scrutiny of the way the House of Lords works suggests there might be a bit of a gap between claims about what it is and what people believe it to be.

Q731   Bishop of Leicester: I have one last question. You talk about closer scrutiny, and of course the House of Lords has been under scrutiny, as you have mentioned, on many occasions, not least the Wakeham commission. It was the Wakeham commission that expressed its strong opposition to "a situation in which the two Houses of Parliament had equivalent electoral legitimacy. It would represent a substantial change in the present constitutional settlement in the United Kingdom and would almost certainly be a recipe for damaging conflict". You clearly think that Wakeham got it wrong. Can you tell us why?

Mr Harper: I do not think they would have equal legitimacy. Clearly, an elected House on the basis that we set out would be more legitimate, but there are a number of things that the Deputy Prime Minister set out at the beginning, in answer to a previous question, about why ultimately the Commons' position as the primary House would be defendable. For a start, our proposals are for an 80:20 elected House, so the House of Lords would still have 20 per cent of Peers appointed. Our proposals allow it to retain Bishops. Members would be elected in three tranches so they would never have a more up-to-date mandate than the House of Commons. I do not think the Houses would have an equal level of legitimacy, and picking up Baroness Shepherd's very sensible point, the House of Commons would consist of people who are not just legitimate but accountable. That makes the House of Commons' position stronger, which is why I think it would both retain the primacy legally and be entitled to do so. I just do not accept the premise of your question.

Q732   Bishop of Leicester: Just so we understand you, you do not accept the premise of the Wakeham commission's finding on that issue?

Mr Harper: You quoted what Wakeham said about two Houses which had equal legitimacy. I am saying that that would be a problem if you had that, but our proposals have a different relationship between the Houses.

Mr Clegg: My recollection is that that was a prelude to explaining why the Wakeham commission arrived at the conclusion that 12-year to 15-year non-renewable terms would be the best way to proceed, which we are pretty well carbon-copying.

Q733   Mr Clarke: Perhaps I can ask the Deputy Prime Minister whether he feels that the Government actually has the will to see the changes through.

Mr Clegg: I think the same questions have been asked about the Welfare Reform Bill and the legal aid reforms; indeed, the NHS reform Bill is very much the subject of the moment. Notwithstanding endless predictions, which I have now witnessed almost on a daily basis since the coalition was formed, that this coalition Government would not be able to muster sufficient political will to do controversial things, I suggest the evidence shows that we have confounded our critics and that if we set our mind to try to do something, particularly on the back of deliberate, open and internal debate within a coalition, we see things through. This is a clear ambition for this Government, which draws on a long history of attempts by various Governments of different persuasions, and because all three main parties had their manifesto commitments to see House of Lords reform happen, we hope that this time the stars will be aligned in a favourable manner.

Q734   Mr Clarke: That leads me to ask: does he think that the Government has the might to see such changes through? For example, Mr Clegg is the Deputy Prime Minister but he is also Leader of the Liberal Democrats, and we seem to be hearing conflicting messages there. Yesterday I saw Lord Oakeshott on Andrew Neil's programme saying that he would not support the boundary changes if the changes in the Lords do not go through, and then I read elsewhere—if Lord Lee is correctly reported—that he would resign from the Lib Dems if this went through. If I am wrong on that, I apologise, but certainly Lord Lee did give the impression that he was not agreeing with the Government in what they are planning to do. Does that not present a problem for you, both as Deputy Prime Minister and as Leader of the Lib Dems?

Mr Clegg: I think it is rather refreshing. It shows that even in the Liberal Democrats, the party of zealous political reform, there are different shades of opinion—of course there are. If this had been straightforward, and the subject of straightforward political consensus, it would have happened in 1911. The reason we have been debating this for 100 years is precisely because it divides opinion, and clearly it has divided opinion in this Committee as well. I am not for one moment suggesting that we will achieve North Korean-style political consensus where everyone applauds what the Government do on this. What we are trying to do, including this whole process of engagement with the Committee and the cross-party meetings that I have chaired, through argument, discussion, debate, evidence and balancing the pros and cons, is to advance reform of the composition of the House of Lords, which is—I cannot stress enough—in line with proposals for reform which are as old as the hills, or certainly several decades old. There is a very strong body of opinion in all parties in favour of reform, but clearly not a universal body of opinion in favour of reform. I would never expect something like this to be universally applauded, but I think we live in a political culture that has changed very dramatically in recent years. People are less diffident; they are more demanding of people in power. They do not just want to be told to like it or lump it in terms of their political arrangements; they want people to be held to account. People have been empowered through information technology and as consumers. We do not live in that deferential, tribal class-based political environment that supported a House of Lords which lived by its own rules. People increasingly find it anachronistic that they, the people, have no say in who sits in the House of Lords to determine or shape the laws of the land. I just think it is very much in keeping with a more demanding political culture that we should make this reform now.

Q735   Lord Trefgarne: I am afraid that I want to develop the same point. Mr Clegg, in your speech to Demos some months ago, you quoted Lloyd George as describing the House of Lords as "a body of five hundred men chosen at random from amongst the unemployed". You then said, "To be honest, it might be better if it was". Do you really think that?

Mr Clegg: No. These are the dangers, which I learn and relearn all the time, of humour in politics.

Q736   Lord Trefgarne: The plain fact is that, despite your best endeavours, the work of the all-party group to which you referred and the work of this Joint Select Committee, there is no consensus for this proposal. A number of MPs from all parties have said they are going to oppose it. Even more Members of the House of Lords have said they are going to oppose it. It looks as if it is going to have a pretty rocky and certainly very long passage through Parliament. Will you be imposing a three-line Whip in the House of Commons?

Mr Clegg: The first point that I would make is that there is a consensus—in the formal, stated policies of all three parties, as set out in their manifestos. Yes, they were of different shades but all three parties were committed to reform of the House of Lords. That was stated explicitly by all three parties in their manifestos. It would be not quite right to suggest that parties, formally speaking, were not devoted to House of Lords reform. I have now seen, certainly over the last 18 months, enough predictions of disaster and apocalypse every time any change is proposed in any major area of public policy to learn that if one were to stop at the first sound of opposition and criticism, Government would do nothing. People do not like change. I understand that, and the onus is on those who propose change to explain why they think change would be an improvement on the status quo and that the plan has been carefully thought through. I believe that we have thought things through carefully. I would suggest, in reverse, that those who want to defend the status quo and inoculate the House of Lords as it is from any basic democratic impulse also need to explain more fully why, uniquely, the House of Lords should stand aside from a democratic impulse when compared to so many parliamentary and bicameral systems across the democratic world. I hope those arguments—and I accept they are arguments—can be made in a considered and considerate fashion in the coming months.

Q737   Lord Trefgarne: So there will be a three-line Whip in the House of Commons and you will use the Parliament Act to get it through if it fails in the House of Lords?

Mr Clegg: As the Prime Minister has confirmed, this is Government business and will be treated as any other part of Government business.

Q738    Lord Trefgarne: Including the Parliament Act?

Mr Clegg: Absolutely. He confirmed that in the House of Commons himself.

Q739   Lord Norton of Louth: I want to ask about one or two points. Mr Harper, regarding your response to Lord Trimble, of course part of the problem was identified by Enoch Powell back in 1969: namely, that voters would be voting for the second Chamber on exactly the same basis as for the first, and that would inject an element of redundancy into the system. In your opening comments, you quoted a survey carried out by Conservative Home, a copy of which I have in front of me—it is headed, "Tory members vote overwhelmingly against a House of Lords elected by PR". In that survey, 72 per cent agreed that, "the Lords often does a better job at scrutinising legislation than MPs and it should be left as it is".

Deputy Prime Minister, in response to the point made by Malcolm Wicks, you seemed to think that people were surprised that the second Chamber is not elected. I am not quite sure why you gave that response. In your opening statement, you said that the claim that you were making is self-evidently true, but that is challenged in the written evidence that we have received, including from at least one specialist in democratic theory. If you look at it empirically, wholly elected second Chambers are not to the majority taste. For example, Meg Russell's latest article in Political Quarterly shows that, of the 76 national second Chambers that exist, 21 are wholly directly elected, which is not much more than the 17 that contain no elected Members at all.

However, I really want to pick up other points that Meg Russell makes in that article. She makes the point that, if you look at elected and mainly elected Chambers, just under half have an absolute veto over normal legislation. She concludes: "it is generally the party balance of the second chamber with respect to the first which determines the level of conflict, rather than concerns about legitimacy". Once you turn to an elected second Chamber—once the clammy of hand of this electorate is at work and its Members have to campaign—election fundamentally changes the terms of trade between the parties. Indeed, that is implicit from what you were saying earlier about the nature of the conflict between the two Chambers. That invites the question: what dispute resolution procedure should be adopted? There has been talk of the Parliament Act, but that is a last resort. One would be looking prior to that in thinking about how the two Chambers relate to one another when there is a conflict. What are the dispute resolution procedures that should be adopted? The procedures that we have at the moment are geared to asymmetry; if you have a more symmetrical relationship, how are you going to resolve disputes between the two Chambers?

Mr Harper: Before the Deputy Prime Minister answers, I want to say that it is interesting that even in the Conservative Home poll that Lord Norton quoted, which I do not think meets any of the normal criteria for a scientifically conducted poll, the majority of the people voting said that they supported an elected—admittedly, not elected by PR—second Chamber. Even in that poll—

Lord Norton of Louth: Well, 49.7 per cent of those polled said that the second Chamber should not be elected, and the rest supported varying degrees of election. Under first past the post, that is an overwhelming victory.

Mr Harper: If you want to read it like that, you can, but I do not think that that is how a reasonable person would read it.

Lord Norton of Louth: I do not know how you can lump the 8.1 per cent of those polled who said that only 20 per cent of the second Chamber should be elected with the 17.9 per cent who said that it should be 100 per cent elected. The poll does not exactly produce a consensus.

Mr Harper: If you look at the Social Attitudes Survey, which asked what the public think, the issue is very clear: 22 per cent say that they want to abolish the House of Lords; 6 per cent say that it should remain as it is; and 60 per cent say it should have a significant proportion that is elected—

Lord Norton of Louth: If you drill down, as the MORI poll did in 2006—

Malcolm Wicks: Lord Chairman, we cannot hear the Minister if he is interrupted all the time. I think that those data were quite interesting. Could we hear the Minister uninterrupted for a while?

Mr Harper: The British Social Attitudes Survey showed—this has been an increasing trend over time in a number of surveys—that 22 per cent want to abolish the second Chamber, 6 per cent say that it should remain wholly or mainly appointed and 60 per cent say that it should have a significant elected element, with at least half of its Members being elected. It seems to me that it is very clear what the public view is. Yes, they do not care about it very much, and we have never suggested that they do, but if you ask them what their view is, the proposition that people should be elected is not a controversial one.

Q740   Lord Norton of Louth: When you start to drill down, as was done in the Ipsos MORI poll, which is the only poll that asked people about priorities, you find out what people would prefer: a House that engages in detailed scrutiny over an elected second Chamber or one where they had trust in the method of appointment. Given those priorities, an elected second Chamber came fifth on the list.

Mr Harper: I do not accept the premise that people who are elected cannot do detailed scrutiny and cannot do a serious job in a scrutiny and revising Chamber. If you say to people that elected Members cannot do that job, they may not want elected Members, but I do not accept that as a premise and I do not think that it is borne out by legislatures around the world.

Lord Norton of Louth: I refer you to what the article that I quoted from says about conflict.

Mr Clegg: I do not want to intervene on this psephological debate, but the Ipsos MORI poll was produced back in 2006, so it is quite old data—it is about six years out of date—and it took place before the MPs' expenses scandals and before what has clearly been a very sharp increase in public demand for transparency and legitimacy in the way in which politics is conducted. The Social Attitudes Survey results are really quite remarkable. When, as part of that very large survey last year, people were given a choice of various options, only 6 per cent in effect opted for the status quo. By the way—I have just been looking it up here—of the 76 second Chambers in the world, 56 are largely or wholly elected. Of course there are lots of differences, because some are directly elected and some are indirectly elected, but that is quite a striking reflection of what happens around the democratic world.

On the observation that the party-political composition of a second Chamber must have a bearing on the relationship between the second Chamber and the first Chamber—and, indeed, on the relationship with the Executive—that has to be true. However, in a sense, we are deliberately designing the system, notably by proposing that elections happen in three steps using a single transferable vote system or other proportional system, such that it is highly unlikely that you will get any overall party control in a reformed House of Lords. We accept that in a revising Chamber it is arguably more healthy if there is a spread of opinion that is not dominated by one party or another. Of course, having the elections take place at different points in the electoral cycle—coinciding with elections to the House of Commons—will almost certainly guarantee, given the ebb and flow of party-political fortunes, that that will remain the case. That was very much one of our anxieties, which we have sought to address, so that you do not have single-party domination of a reformed House of Lords.

The Chairman: The next question is from Lady Symons.

Q741    Lord Norton of Louth: Sorry, would either of the Ministers like to answer my question?

Mr Harper: On dispute resolution mechanisms, I come back to what I said in answer to a previous question. First, we are not proposing a big-bang reform. If we were suggesting that we went from the position today to having a 100 per cent elected House of Lords tomorrow with no transition, your argument might have a significant amount of force. However, we are going to be starting from the status quo and move over a period. I said that the relationship will change and evolve and the conventions will change and evolve. Ultimately, the back-stop is that the Commons has primacy through the Parliament Acts. Because of that, our tradition suggests that you would get that dispute resolution mechanism, as happens now, evolving through convention. I think that that is much more sensible than saying that we have got to decide today what the relationship will be between the two Chambers in 15 years' time, decide now how you would deal with those disputes and set that down in statute so that it would be decided by the courts. I do not think that that is how we have traditionally done things in this country, and I do not think that it is necessary in this case.

Q742   Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: Deputy Prime Minister, in your manifesto in 2010 you put forward the proposition that the House of Lords would be 100 per cent elected. In the Commons vote in 2007, there was a majority of 113 for a fully elected House and a majority of only 38 for an 80 per cent elected House. How will you vote when inevitable amendments come before the House of Commons to have a 100 per cent elected House of Lords? How will you advise members of your party to vote?

Mr Clegg: I am a supporter, of course, of a fully elected House of Lords, but I do not want to make the best the enemy of the good. If the centre of opinion across parties is such that the 80 per cent option, which we very deliberately proposed in the White Paper alongside the 100 per cent model, gains more favour and support, in the cause of consensus and cross-party work, I would support that because, bluntly, 80 per cent is a lot better than 0 per cent.

Q743   Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: May I then ask Mr Harper? We have been bandying backwards and forwards on the poll that has been published. Of all the options, among Tory Members there is least support for the 80 per cent option—5.9 per cent of Conservative Members. Are you going to find that difficult in the House of Commons when it comes to voting for an 80 per cent elected House, or will you simply not worry about that?

Mr Harper: No, first of all, I simply used this argument because it happened to be current today. I think that opinions among MPs and the views of the public are important. The public are very clear that they want at least half the Members of the House of Lords to be elected. I think our 80 per cent option balances legitimacy with the concerns that people have about the relationship between the two Houses. I think it is a very good balance, and I hope it will command support, but the whole point of going through this scrutiny process is to say that this Committee, consisting of Members of both Houses, having taken a lot of evidence, can offer the Government its views. We have not heard what your views are yet. We will use your views to help shape what the final Bill looks like when we bring it before the House.

Q744   Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: I am sure that we are all very reassured on that point, but it seems as if you and the Deputy Prime Minister want legitimacy, but not too much legitimacy, and you want democracy, but not too much democracy, in the House of Lords. You have rested a lot of your argument on the Parliament Acts. I think the Deputy Prime Minister said earlier that the House of Lords was not political in earlier times. Actually, the Parliament Act was introduced precisely because the House of Lords was so political. If you look at the preamble to the 1911 Act, the reason it was introduced was because the House of Lords was not elected, the House of Commons was and therefore the elected House should have its way. Are you going to be able to rest on the Parliament Act when the House of Lords is elected, too? The whole raison d'être in the preamble will be knocked away. How can you say that you can go on using the Parliament Act?

Mr Clegg: I am keenly aware of the preamble. The preamble is just a small point. It does not have legal force. Lord Pannick made some very interesting observations on this point to this Joint Committee. He made a slight variant of your argument. In order to clarify the status of the Parliament Act, he advocates incorporating it into the final Act. It is a novel idea. He also confirmed in his evidence to you that this Government are entirely entitled to use the Parliament Act to see their business through. I am very keen to examine what Lord Pannick said on this point in order to pick up from where the 1911 preamble left off. Of course, I accept that there might be tying up of loose ends as we move towards direct election, but we need to look at it quite carefully. Is it possible, does it work legally and so on?

Can I take one slight issue about us wanting legitimacy, but not too much or whatever it was? How can I put this? A bit of legitimacy and a bit of democracy—just a smidgen—might be better than none in a House which makes the laws. It is not an alien concept in mature democracies that legislative revising Chambers in one shape or form have some form of democratic mandate. It is not unfamiliar at all if you look at democratic bicameral systems around the world that that mandate is not always complete—in other words, not 100 per cent of the membership—and there are plenty of instances where there are non-renewable terms. So it is not perhaps quite as half-cocked a concept as the question suggests.

Q745   Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: Deputy Prime Minister, no one is arguing that it is a half-cocked concept. What we are arguing is that a democratic mandate also generates greater authority. You say so yourself in the foreword to the White Paper when you say that the Lords does its work well but lacks efficient democratic authority. "Authority" is the word you use. You have used "legitimacy" throughout this discussion. "Authority" is a very different word because it implies, and we would all understand—

Mr Clegg: What is wrong with it?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: There is nothing wrong with it, but authority means that you have a mandate and can exercise it on behalf of your electors. You seem to want to separate the electors from the elected. That is fine for the House of Commons but is not fine for the House of Lords. I put it to you that when the House of Lords is elected, and I think that many of us do not have any problem with the House of Lords being elected, we need to have the mandate of the people that can be exercised by those who are elected. You seem to want to separate the two.

Mr Clegg: I do not quite follow. I have no problem at all in repeating that I think that greater legitimacy will confer greater authority on the work of the House of Lords. That is precisely why I think it is a good thing for the House of Lords. I think that with a strong revising Chamber, in which I passionately believe, good governance, which is improved by a strong Parliament as a whole, will be facilitated.

Q746    Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: Then why do you not support a 100 per cent elected House of Lords?

Mr Clegg: Of course I support a 100 per cent elected House of Lords. I have believed in that all my political life, but I also believe that politics is the art of the possible as well as the ideal, and I would rather have 80 per cent than no reform at all. All I am doing is giving the reason we deliberately set that out in our White Paper and our Bill. By the way, it is quite unusual for Governments to do this instead of slapping down a White Paper and a Bill saying, "This is what we believe must happen and we are not going to consider any other alternatives". On a number of issues—for instance, the electoral system or 80 per cent versus 100 per cent—we said there is a legitimate debate and we are very keen to hear people's views. I would be delighted if you could become a major advocate of a 100 per cent elected House of Lords. I suspect that many other people feel that 100 per cent is a leap too far and they would prefer the hybrid model of 80 per cent. In pure conceptual terms, I would prefer a fully elected House of Lords, but I would be delighted to see a reform that enjoyed greater cross-party consensus with 80 per cent.

Q747   The Chairman: You said that you are in favour of 100 per cent elected. Do you see this Bill therefore as an interim stage, a point between what we have now and the 100 per cent elected that you want?

Mr Clegg: No, I do not believe in perpetual Maoist revolution when it comes to reform of composition.

The Chairman: Perpetual motion, perhaps?

Mr Clegg: For all I know, there may be future generations of politicians who might want to pick up the cudgel again, but my view is that this is the conclusion of a debate that has been brewing since 1911 and we need to settle it one way or another to provide constitutional and institutional stability.

Q748    The Chairman: This is a settlement, not a staging post to something else?

Mr Clegg: That is my view. I cannot speak for other Governments in future.

Q749   John Stevenson: I have two very different questions. First, the Prime Minister of the day appoints Ministers from the House of Commons and the House of Lords and, if he wishes to appoint additional Ministers, he creates new Peers. Given that we want to strengthen Parliament, should we restrict the ability of the Prime Minister of the day to appoint new Ministers by creating Peers?

Secondly, we have talked a lot about legitimacy today. Once the Bill has been passed, should it be put to a referendum of the people?

Mr Harper: On the first point, we specifically set out in the White Paper provision for the Prime Minister to create a limited number of appointments. We did not set out an exact number, but we made it clear that the number would be limited and that such people would be appointed only for the purposes of being Ministers and would serve in the House only for the period that they were a Minister—so when they ceased being a Minister, they would no longer be a Member. We did that for the very reason that you gave: there may be people whom the Prime Minister wishes to appoint to Government who should therefore be accountable to one or other of the Houses of Parliament. We think that that is a sensible thing. One of the criticisms that we had is that, because we did not limit the number, people were very suspicious and thought that that might be a mechanism for large amounts of patronage, but we made it very clear that the number would be limited.

On the second question, regarding a referendum—

Q750   John Stevenson: I have a quick question before you answer that. Do you think that those appointed by the Prime Minister should also be entitled to vote?

Mr Harper: That was the basis on which we set out the proposal in the Bill. As you know, we have proposed that 80 per cent should be elected and 20 per cent would still be appointed. We have also said that the Church of England Bishops should still be there. Those people would have the same role in the House in terms of being able to vote. That is the basis on which we set out our views in the draft Bill.

On the referendum point, our view was that, because all three parties were in favour of this, we did not think that a referendum was justified. When the House of Lords Constitution Committee looked at referendums, it said that it thought that abolition of the House of Lords would be a subject on which you would automatically want to have a referendum, but it did not say that changing the composition of the House of Lords would be such a proposition. So, no, we do not think that a referendum is necessary, and that is why we did not propose it in our draft Bill or White Paper.

Q751   Dr McCrea: There is certainly no doubt that the reform of the House of Lords is a live issue for parliamentarians, but how exercised do you feel that the general public is about this issue?

The Bill suggests that we should introduce a little legitimacy or democracy but not accountability, but whether those issues can be so easily separated from one another is another question. Should there be a baseline of electoral support to give legitimacy to these persons, who will be there for 15 long years?

Mr Clegg: I will take the first point and Mark Harper will deal with the second. In terms of the public, if you are worried about your job or your child's education or paying the bills every week, reform of the composition of the House of Lords is hardly going to be at the top of your shopping list of concerns. The same applies to many other things that we debate, such as reform of local government finance or the World Trade Organisation. I think that the quality of our democracy is immensely important, but that does not mean that it comes up on the doorstep when I go out canvassing. Of course there is a distinction between significance and popular resonance. However, all the evidence suggests that, when you ask people whether they—rather than just party bosses—should have a say on who is in the House of Lords, they generally say, "Now that you have asked me, I think that it would be better if I did have a say".

I have heard and read of a lot of people saying that we should not be wasting our time on this, as if Government can do only one thing at once. Looking at the history of this, we see that in 1911, when this issue convulsed the Government, they were legislating to introduce the modern pensions system. I think that Governments—and, dare I say it, parliamentarians—can do more than one thing at once. I very much hope that the opponents of this reform, particularly when it arrives in the House of Lords after the Commons, will not choose to give this a disproportionate degree of priority over all other matters by holding everything else hostage. I agree with the implication that has been made that that would be very much out of line with public expectations on an issue like this. They would expect us to deal with it, particularly because it has been debated for about 100 years, with slightly greater velocity than that would imply.

Mr Harper: On your point about legitimacy and accountability, I think that you my have been asking about how much support you would need to get elected in the first place. One of the things that we looked at in setting out the electoral system was balancing getting a proportionate result with other areas that make some sort of sense to people. For elections to the House of Lords, my sense would be that it depends on what you measure progress against. Clearly, you can measure progress against some perfect system that would tick every box, but if you measure against where we are starting from, we are going from a system where people are put in the House of Lords for life with no interaction with the public at all to a system where they are put in for a limited—although, admittedly, lengthy—term which is an awful lot less than the term that we have at the moment. I think that that is a very good balance.

Clearly, we are just about to be interrupted by a Division in the House of Lords.

Q752    The Chairman: I do not know how much time the Ministers have, but I have five Members who still want to ask a question. If they would be kind enough to let us go and vote and then take those five questions, I would be obliged.

Meeting suspended for a Division in the House of Lords.

The Chairman: Let us go on. I call Lord Rooker.

Q753   Lord Rooker: I apologise if I leave before the end, but I have only a couple of points. I do not want to repeat things, but there is a central issue. You asked a question of Baroness Andrews, Mr Clegg, and I want to give you the answer. On Wednesday this week in this place, we will deal with ping-pong for the final bit of the Welfare Reform Bill. I can personally guarantee that the Minister will at some point say, because I have done it myself and have been there, "This is the third time. We don't normally go past the third time in the Lords, because"—and there is only one reason—"we are unelected". That is the reason. The Parliament Act has been used only, perhaps, seven times since 1911. That indicates that we give way, because the Commons makes the laws. That is the answer. The only difference between us is that we are not elected, so we don't push it. That gives you an example, from this week, of where the system works because we are not elected and don't push it.

Can I ask you about bicameral Parliaments, because you have used the term several times today and in your evidence to the Constitution Committee? As I understand it, there are some three countries that have no form of written constitution—I might query the quality of some of them, but there are only three—which are: the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Israel. New Zealand and Israel have unicameral Parliaments. Therefore, we in the UK are in the position of having a bicameral Parliament with an unwritten constitution. Would it not be a good idea, before the change, to write down some rules on the relationship between the two Houses? That is what we are asking for. I am with you that the second Chamber should be 100 per cent elected—that is the only thing that I have ever voted for, although I have moved Bills to abolish the place—but I am more concerned about the relationship between the two places than I am even about the relationship between Parliament and Government. Before it happens, to avoid chaos in the governance of the country from a parliamentary perspective, should we not write down some of the rules, because we will be the only modern democracy—you can count all the others as well—with no written rules for governance and a second Chamber? If it is an elected second Chamber, that is a recipe for disaster. Would it not be a good idea to write down the rules of the relationship before we do it?

Mr Clegg: I think that my answer to both points, really, comes down to the same thing, which is that I do not believe that election in the way that we are proposing it will upset the applecart in quite the way that you fear. First, on your phrase "don't push it"—which is a good phrase—I think that a reformed House of Lords would be under no illusions that it could push things beyond a certain limit, because it had an asymmetrical, uneven, unequal relationship with the House of Commons. That position would be retained for all the reasons that I explained earlier: the non-renewable long term; the different electoral system; its not being elected in one go but in thirds; and its not being dominated by one party as is the case with many revising Chambers. I do not think that maintaining an unequal relationship between the two Chambers, even though both are wholly or partly elected, is quite as complicated as you suggest.

On codification, I was looking earlier at the 2006 report on the conventions by the Cunningham committee. The report concluded: "We do not recommend legislation, or any other form of codification which would turn conventions into rules, remove flexibility, exclude exceptions and inhibit evolution in response to political circumstances". That was absolutely spot on because, as the Minister was saying earlier, trying to codify an evolutionary process, which will take many years to develop—after all, our proposal is hardly top-speed, so it is a 15-year transition before we have a fully reformed House of Lords—would be unwise. The process will develop its own tempo and character. We never chose to do that when the composition of House of Lords has changed radically in the past and that has served us well. We were tolerant of a position whereby the composition changed, but we did not try to trap that or put it in a straitjacket in anticipation of events that we simply cannot anticipate at this moment.

Q754   The Chairman: As I recall, the Cunningham report said that there should be resolutions of each House in virtually the same terms which in effect encapsulated the understandings—if I can use a non-Cunningham, fairly neutral phrase—as to what the conventions between the two Houses were. I totally accept that it is not legislation, but there was going to be some actual expression of what the conventions should be. Do you feel that that is a good thing or a bad thing?

Mr Clegg: Mark Harper will want to comment on this. Of course, both Houses should be entirely free to adopt resolutions. It is not a matter for the Government to say at this stage what resolutions a reformed House of Lords or a future House of Commons should pass; they are entirely free to do what they like. The Cunningham report was quite clear about the dangers of fossilising things through codification when you are dealing, by definition, with quite a dynamic relationship.

Mr Harper: At the risk of repeating myself, we have not said that the relationship will not change. The question comes down to whether you try to predict the destination and say what you think that relationship either will or should be at the end and then codify it today, or whether you accept that it will change over time but you have the Parliament Acts in place, which ultimately mean that the Commons can get its own way. In other words, if the House of Lords, for example, chose to "push it"—to use Lord Rooker's phrase—by using some of its existing powers where it currently does not, the Commons could act to stop that happening. Because the Lords knows that that is the case, the two Chambers will end up with a dialogue and those conventions will evolve, as they have even since the election, where there has been a lot of debate over some of the existing conventions that may or many not operate with the coalition Government. Given the way that we have done things in the past, allowing that evolution, but with that legislative back-stop of the Parliament Act, seems to me the best way of proceeding. But you have taken a lot of evidence on it and I know that it will be one of the issues that will be debated. We will listen to what the Committee says.

Q755   Lord Rooker: Can I just put finally the worst-case scenario? Let us say that an elected second Chamber, whether it is elected in thirds or whatever—I am in favour of it being 100 per cent elected—decides, because it has got a mandate and all the reasons that it will use because it has been elected, that it does not agree with the Commons having the last word through the Parliament Acts and blocks every Bill to force the Commons to negotiate a rewrite of the Parliament Act. That may be irresponsible and not constructive, as Lord Trimble pointed out, but why risk that? Mr Clegg, we have never met and I was not in the Commons when you were there, I do not know whether you think that you are a House of Commons man or a man from the House of Commons. I know the difference. The fact is that there are more House of Commons men—and, I might say, women—in the Lords than there are in the Commons. Those of us who served in the other place actually feel deeply and strongly that it should not be put at risk. Frankly, you are playing fast and loose with a refusal to write some basic rules for the relationship between the two Houses. That is what we are concerned about, not about self-preservation or redundancy pay and all that sort of flim-flam. The relationship between the two Houses of Parliament is absolutely fundamental as far as we are concerned.

Mr Clegg: First, of course, you are right, Lord Rooker, that an increasing number of people have been recycled—that is not quite the right word—but have moved from the House of Commons into the House of Lords. In the long run, it is more healthy for Members of the House of Lords to have their own mandate through the ballot box rather than be part of this washing-machine arrangement whereby people go from one end of the Corridor to the other.

Secondly, I think that we have done better than codification and than any number of rules anticipating the future; we have made sure that the rules of the game are such that there can be absolutely no doubt whatever that the House of Commons has primacy, because we are not providing Members of the House of Lords with the ability to be re-elected, because we are giving them non-renewable terms and because they are being elected in tranches rather than at once. That is more reassurance than anyone needs to show that there is a clear distinction between one and the other, and that those Members of the House of Lords, once elected, would not be able to "push it".

Q756   Oliver Heald: Can I take you on to one change that concerns me, although, broadly, I would accept what you are saying? You are turning the House of Lords into a forum for regional and national concerns to be aired because 80 per cent of the people in it will be elected by regions and nations to go to Parliament and speak up for their people. If that happens, that will mean that, in your constituency, there will be a senator for your region who, on a regional issue such as subsidies for the steel industry, will be able to come into your constituency as somebody who has been elected for your region and make a great deal of it. He will be able to come to Parliament and raise those issues. In my area, it may be the A14 road in East Anglia. Are you happy with that?

Mr Clegg: At present I have no problem when Members of the European Parliament pile into regional issues from different parties. I am a generous spirited man. I think if people from different parties and with different mandates want to get involved in an issue that is of great concern in a region, why not? The big difference between MEPs—I should know this from personal experience—and Members of a reformed House of Lords is that MEPs can then compete for attention and all the rest of it and subsequently pursue their ambition to get elected to the House of Commons. We would, by statute, make that impossible. That is another very important fire-break. Baroness Symons, did you want to say something on that?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: I was wondering where democracy was in that. You made the analogy with MEPs, then you said—

Mr Clegg: Let me clarify. I am trying to highlight the difference with MEPs, who at the moment, quite rightly, have the right to get stuck into local or regional issues and some of them may, dare I whisper it, have ulterior motives if they have ambitions to transfer from the European Parliament to the Westminster Parliament. We looked at this on a cross-party basis in the committee that I chair and, for that very reason, everybody across all parties felt this was a good idea. We felt that we should not mimic that but should make sure that there is a fire-break between one and the other and should legislate to ensure that one cannot leap from a reformed House of Lords into the House of Commons. You have to wait for one full term before doing so.

Q757   Oliver Heald: My other point is about the great and good. You are going to have 20 per cent for the great and good, as long as they are independent. If you look at your party, you have very eminent lawyers in the Lords who are national figures in the legal world. So do the Conservatives, and so do Labour. Writers, such as PD James and Ruth Rendell are national figures. There are Melvyn Bragg and Lord Lloyd-Webber. On the medical side, there are Lord Winston, Lord McColl and so on. Is it going to be possible to keep people of that quality in this new Chamber? How are we going to have people like that putting themselves forward for the senate if they have to have this regional job as well?

Mr Clegg: I very much hope that they will put themselves forward—not all them, of course. It would be very interesting to see what the Committee concludes on whether the assumption is that elected Members of a reformed House of Lords would attend on a completely full-time basis or whether they would be expected to maintain other vocations at the same time. It is quite a finely balanced argument.

Q758   Oliver Heald: What do you think about that?

Mr Clegg: I am genuinely undecided about that. On the one hand, if one is going to confer a democratic mandate on elected Members of the House of Lords, in order to reciprocate the confidence the people have invested in you, you should be applying yourself full time to the job of scrutinising and revising Government legislation. There is a very powerful argument that says that, precisely in order to retain that independence of spirit and objectivity of mind and thought, not only is it worth having people elected, particularly under the STV system where they are freer of party strictures, but there might be a case for allowing them to continue to do other things so they have one leg in politics, if you like, and one leg in the real world. I do not know whether the Committee has deliberated on this, but it is one of the many things we need to decide.

Mr Harper: I agree with that. One of the things I know from reading press reports, which may not be accurate, is that the Committee has been looking at the number of Members and their full-timeness or otherwise. That may be something that goes into its report. I have one observation, which is that a lot of the people you read about, people with a reputation, in the best sense of that word, absolutely fit the description of the sort of people that Lord Trimble mentioned as people who would be particularly able to get elected under STV as they are people with a reputation whom the public would look at and think, "Yes, this is the sort of person who brings something to Parliament, who brings experience, and is the sort of person I want to elect". I do not know whether they would want to be elected, but they sound like the sort of people who would be perfectly capable of getting elected in the system that we have set out.

The Chairman: I think that they would like to be elected but they would not want to go through an election. That is the real point. There is a big difference between those two things.

Mr Harper: All Members of the House of Commons want to get elected, but I am not sure how many of them actually enjoy the process of election.

Q759    The Chairman: If you are a very distinguished doctor, you have the choice. You do not have to get elected.

I am told there is one question that I have to ask you so the clerks can go on beavering away. It is on disqualification. Clause 36(4) envisages that the House of Lords may, by resolution, modify the disqualification regime for elected Members. This resolution will be given effect by an Order in Council. Clause 38(3) states that an Order in Council can list offices that will not disqualify appointed Members. What is the effect of this different approach? Is it appropriate for the reformed House to decide its own disqualification regime in respect of elected Members but not in respect of appointed ones?

Mr Harper: Let me say what I think it says, but I will reserve a fuller answer and write to the Committee.

The Chairman: Fairly briskly please.

Mr Harper: I think the distinction between the two in what we have set out is to reflect partly the conversation we have just had. If you are going to have appointed Members who have other interests and may do other things, you may want to have a less restrictive regime for disqualification than for elected Members. I think that is the purpose of the difference, but I think it is probably safer if I write and set it out in full for the benefit of members of the Committee.

The Chairman: Thank you very much. We have four questions left. I ask Ms Coffey to be brief.

Q760   Ann Coffey: I will be as brief as everyone else. In this Committee, we have talked a lot about House of Lords reform and how it impacts on the House of Commons has been seen through the prism of primacy. As a Member of the House of Commons, I have noticed over the years that the way that the Government manage business through the House of Commons and the House of Lords has undermined the House of Commons for a very long time. What tends to happen is that Governments of all colours have refused to accept amendments in Committee then have subsequently made those amendments in the House of Lords or have brought forward Government amendments. Everybody says, "Isn't it wonderful that the House of Lords has managed to overcome the deficiencies of this wretched Government and useless Opposition?". That has caused undermining. Do you think that, if we have an elected Lords in which there will be no overall majority and in which the Government are going to have to manage quite a lot of very difficult negotiations, it might encourage the Government of the day to make sure that when Bills go through the House of Commons sufficient time is given to scrutiny and that proper amendments are accepted by Ministers in the House of Commons so we do not have this situation where Members of the House of Lords can then stand up and say that the House of Commons did not scrutinise enough—or whatever it is—and therefore they are completing the job? I think that is more of an issue than elections. I am very much in favour of an elected House of Lords because I think that, in terms of public perception, that is where we should be. Let us not pretend that the reality is something other than it is.

Mr Clegg: I certainly recognise your characterisation of what a succession of Governments do, when they give way on amendments and in which House. I think that is more a function of the fact that the House of Commons usually has a Government majority—usually a thumping majority—and the House of Lords does not. I hope things will improve with more elected Members of the House of Lords, not least because I think you would get greater engagement up-stream, so Governments would think carefully when they propose legislation and engage at a very early stage. However, I do not think the basic difference between one House where a Government has a socking great majority and another which does not will necessarily be changed by the fact of election itself.

Mr Harper: My answer to your question is that I would hope so. Also, I think it is worth remembering briefly what reforms are taking place in the House of Commons to try to strengthen it. The things that have happened already include electing Select Committees and the Backbench Business Committee and, by the end of the third year of the Parliament, there will be the move to a House business committee, which will be quite significant because it will start looking at the extent to which the Government get their way and how you then manage time in Parliament.

Speaking for myself and for Conservative colleagues, I think that having well drafted pieces of legislation, perhaps even fewer pieces of legislation, is probably a good thing. After all, if we solved all the problems of the world by passing vast quantities of legislation through Parliament, over the past 13 years the country would have been a very happy place, and it was not. This goes back to the point that Ms Sandys made that, if you strengthen one House, you should not see that as a diminution of the powers of the other House. The two Houses together would be a more effective Parliament in holding the Executive to account, which I think is a good thing. It makes life more difficult for Ministers, and I expect any Ministers watching me say that will probably stick pins in me, but it raises the bar, makes us work harder and ultimately delivers better legislation, which is, after all, what the public want us to do. I think your point is very well made.

Ann Coffey: I have another point, Chairman.

The Chairman: A short one. I am concerned about the fact that there have been two and a half hours so far.

Ann Coffey: Those of us who are asking questions at the end of the Committee have waited patiently.

Mr Harper: We have steeled ourselves.

Q761   Ann Coffey: My second question is about the term of election. On the day that you are elected, that is your moment of legitimacy, whether you are elected for five years or 15 years. One of the things that concerns people is standards in public life. I know the House of Commons is considering a recall mechanism for Members of Parliament. Do you think it might deal with the issue of getting elected and then not giving a toss about what people think if you had a tougher recall mechanism in the House of Lords? You cannot do it based on the number of votes cast because they are going to be so vast. That might be a way of reassuring people that people cannot get elected to this place, offend the public by their behaviour and then expect to stay elected Members.

Mr Clegg: Conceptually, I have a lot of sympathy for that view. If you take the step of not standing for re-election for reasons that we have said, it is a debatable point but our view has been that that is a failsafe way of providing a distinction between one House and the other. You are quite right. You need some kind of insurance mechanism so that, if people go off the rails or do not give a toss, they can be held to account. What kind of recall mechanism you use is quite an important matter to consider in some detail because the proposal we are putting forward for the House of Commons is that it can be triggered by 10 per cent of the electorate in your constituency signing a petition calling for a by-election, in effect. I think that 10 per cent of a district of 2.5 million or more just would not work. I think the principle is right, but I would not recommend just carbon-copying the recall mechanism in the House of Commons in a reformed House of Lords. I think we need to have a different one, and that is where you would have an opportunity to, arguably, set that threshold lower, if you wanted to, precisely to provide reassurance that your vote would not be wasted once you elected someone to serve for 15 years.

Q762   Baroness Scott of Needham Market: This evening has reflected months of deliberations, in that the key question is the extent to which individuals' behaviour will be changed by having a mandate and how that will alter things collectively. I wonder whether you might like to reflect on the nature of the mandate. It seems to me that it is very important to think about what people have voted for when they have gone to the ballot box. For example, if they are being asked to vote for people to carry out a scrutiny and revision exercise, it would be very odd indeed if they behaved in a Rookeresque way and drove the programme of the House of Commons, which is elected to form a Government, into the sands. I wonder whether you want to reflect on the importance of the clarity of the mandate as a scrutinising and revising Chamber.

On that topic, I remain concerned about the notion of holding elections to both Chambers on the same day, not because people cannot understand the difference, but it is difficult to get any oxygen for the secondary election. I speak as someone who has fought three county council elections on general election day. It is very difficult to get any oxygen at all for those sorts of issues. If you want clarity that the second Chamber is about revision and scrutiny, it makes that job more difficult if you are holding the election on the same day that you elect the Government.

Mr Harper: On the last point, clearly there is a trade-off, which we reflected. We think people are capable of dealing with two separate questions on the same day. The evidence from the AV referendum last year, which in many places was combined with a devolved election or a local election, demonstrated that voters are very capable of doing that, so I am not sure that I necessarily accept the premise. Clearly, one of the things we have never tested is having two national elections at the same time where, effectively, people are submitting themselves to voters on different bases. However, I think your starting point is the right one. If you are clear about the role of the second Chamber and the basis on which you are campaigning to get elected—picking up the point that Lord Trimble made—it is not the same as somebody who is getting elected to the House of Commons because you are not saying to someone, "If you vote for me, and my party gets a majority, we will form the Government". Whatever you are doing, that is definitely not what you are doing. You are standing for election on a different basis. As well as your party label, there is more of a role for your personal characteristics and what you bring to the role in doing that scrutiny and revision, which is exactly why we chose the STV system which maximises the ability for candidates to set out those qualities. As long as you are clear with people about what the role is and is not, voters can make that judgment quite well.

Mr Clegg: Clearly, if you were a candidate in those elections, you would not be presenting yourself as someone who was going to provide a constituency service. You would, I guess, be seeking to portray yourself as an individual who would be effective at holding Governments to account and who has the expertise, wisdom, insight and background that people generally want in Parliament. I think it would be refreshing to try to bring the concept of scrutiny and revision to life in political terms. So far, we have never had to explain that to people in direct accessible language, and I think it would be a good thing because—dare I say it—it would help dramatise the excellent work of the House of Lords in a way that has never happened before.

Baroness Scott of Needham Market: I agree absolutely, but that is the reason that I am nervous about the dual election because I think it is very difficult to get anybody to listen when they are choosing their Government. That is what people are focused on, but I will leave it at that.

Q763   Lord Tyler: My question follows the answer that has just been given. We have had some insidious suggestions—not from either of you but from some witnesses and some evidence and possibly in one of the questions today—that, somehow, somebody who is elected cannot have the independence of mind and expertise to do the job with the scrutiny that it demands and so on. I would hope that you would be able to reinforce the view that the people you see being elected, quite apart from the ones who are appointed, could have all those qualities in spades. There is nothing to prevent that; indeed, it would put the parties on the spot and, to some extent, if the STV option is selected, the voter on the spot, to identify just such people.

Mr Harper: That is a very good point. This is something that I said when we had our full day's debate in the House of Commons. I know it did not necessarily make me popular in the House of Lords. In the debate on House of Lords reform, Lord Howe of Aberavon gave an example of a debate on health—very topical for today—and said that in the House of Lords you have a number of people with a lot of experience. If you look at the House of Commons, quite a lot of people have done other things first. I thought of some colleagues. We have people who are hospital doctors, such as Dr Poulter, or who have been journalists, opticians, lawyers, accountants or bankers. They do not suddenly lose all that knowledge and expertise just because they have been elected, so I do not accept the premise that everybody in the House of Commons comes with no skills, ability or expertise.

However, your point is quite right. If your role in the upper House is one of scrutiny and revision, where you are bringing your qualities and expertise, they will be one of the things that you will want voters to make a choice about. The party you support will be less important because you are not going to be putting the Government in position. I think people rate more highly your personal qualities and what you bring. Some of what Lord Trimble said of his experience of STV suggested that some of those qualities are exactly the sort of things that people will rate in an STV system.

The Chairman: Finally, Mr Hunt.

Q764   Tristram Hunt: I will be very brief, Lord Chairman. Deputy Prime Minister, do you accept the evidence we had from the Clerk of the House of Commons, Robert Rogers, that he would find it very difficult to foresee a reformed second Chamber with democratic legitimacy not being able to take on finance Bills? Why would a second Chamber limit itself in relation to finance Bills if it represents taxpayers?

Mr Clegg: The curtailment of the financial decision-making powers of the House of Lords goes way back to the 17th century, a time when the concept of democratic legitimacy was not around. I see no reason why a partially or wholly elected Chamber would not still maintain its division of labour.

Q765   Tristram Hunt: What would be the rationale? Why?

Mr Clegg: Partly for all the reasons that we have set out. Without a renewable term and with explicit revising and scrutiny tasks to fulfil, the basic division of labour on financial matters between the House of Commons and the House of Lords does not need to be usurped.

Mr Harper: The Clerk of the House of Commons said that he could imagine an elected House wanting to do that, but as I said before, it can want all its likes, but the Parliament Acts set out very clearly who is responsible for money Bills, and that position is not going to change unless the House of Commons agrees. At some point in the future, if the House of Commons wants to agree that the upper House can have responsibility for money Bills, fine, but the point is that the upper House cannot unilaterally decide it is going to because the framework that is in place has made it very clear who controls supply. The logic is that supply—control of money, taxation and spending—should go with the House that determines who is in Government. Ultimately, being in Government is about being able to raise taxes and spend money, so it is very logical to say that the House to which the Government are responsible is the House that is ultimately responsible for taxation and spending. That is the logic that is underpinned by the Parliament Acts, and we are not proposing to change that.

Q766    Lord Trimble: Have you seen the legal advice that we have received that the Parliament Acts properly construed will not apply to an elected House?

Mr Harper: I have seen the argument that Lord Pannick set out, for example, which is that it would be better to refer in the reform Act to the Parliament Acts to reassert that they apply.

Lord Trimble: I think Lord Goldsmith was of the same opinion.

Mr Harper: That was not the view that we took when we drafted our Bill, but I think I have already said that we will look at the evidence that you have received and what you say, and we will come to a view about whether we think that backs it up.

Lord Trimble: This is an argument about the interpretation of the Parliament Acts.

The Chairman: It is a legal point. We have had evidence from Lord Pannick and Lord Goldsmith, but we are not the Court of Appeal—thank God—and no doubt the Government will have their evidence. In this context, I must say that we asked the Attorney-General whether he would express a view on this, and were turned down very flatly. He said it was his job to advise Governments, not Select Committees of Parliament, which I am bound to say I thought was a bit brusque. As a result of that, we turned to Lord Pannick and Lord Goldsmith.

Mr Clegg: Notwithstanding that brusque response from the Attorney-General, I think Mark and I have been very clear that the argument that Lord Pannick and Lord Goldsmith made is a powerful one. It is about the status of the Parliament Acts in a reformed House of Lords rather than rewriting the provisions of those two Acts. It is a legal issue, but we are very willing to look at the specific recommendation that we write the Acts into the Bill or refer to them in the Bill.

Lord Trimble: That is departing from the intention of Parliament when it enacted the Parliament Acts. Its intention was clearly demonstrated.

Q767   The Chairman: I have two other matters before we close the meeting. First, Mr Harper, you were kind enough to write to me today offering to produce a paper for the Committee on your thinking about Clause 2. We would be grateful if you could produce that paper, but as you know, we are committed to producing our report by the end of March. Therefore, to feed it into the processes of producing that report, please can you do it fairly early?

Mr Harper: Of course.

Q768   The Chairman: Finally, I just want to mention a monumental issue, which we have not referred to, but I have been asked to mention it, so I will. It is Scottish devolution and the referendum. As I understand it, the proposal is that there will be a referendum in Scotland in 2014, before the first tranche into the House of Lords in 2015. If that referendum in Scotland is for independence, presumably you will not have any elected Scottish Peers coming in in 2015.

Mr Clegg: If Scotland departs from the United Kingdom, what happens to the House of Lords joins a long, long, long, long list including taxation, defence and all the other things that we share at the moment in the United Kingdom. A whole lot of unravelling would then have to be done which would, of course, affect the way the House of Lords functions but, like in so many other areas of public policy, we have decided not to arrest life until that decision is made. We think we just need to proceed on the basis that the United Kingdom remains strong and whole.

The Chairman: I thank you both for coming. It was a fascinating session and we are very grateful to you. I think you have exposed the Government's thinking, and it has been very helpful to us.

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