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Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I hope that I may interrupt the noble Baroness before she leaves this important and fundamental part of her speech. There appeared this morning on the front page of the Telegraph a report, which appeared authoritative, stating that the noble Baroness had ruled out the most democratic option of the Wakeham report; that is, to

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elect some 190 Peers to a House of over 500. Will the noble Baroness either confirm or deny the contents of that article? Will she also say--as this was slightly obscure--whether she accepts the principle that there should be an elected element in this House?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, as regards the noble Lord's final point, I am afraid that I have obviously not made myself clear. I specifically said that the Government accept the principle of a minority elected element in this House. As regards the Daily Telegraph, I regret that I have not seen the report the noble Lord mentioned. I have certainly not spoken to the staff of the Daily Telegraph and, as far as I know, no one has spoken to them on my behalf. If they have done so in the terms the noble Lord suggests, they were inaccurate in that respect because I have given no opinion on that subject.

I continue with my remarks on the Royal Commission and party politics. The Royal Commission said that while the second Chamber should not be dominated by party politics, nor can it be divorced from them. The Government agree. There should continue to be overt political representation. We also agree that no party should seek a majority in the second Chamber and that the balance of political representation should be determined according to the votes cast in the preceding general election. Noble Lords will recognise that this builds on our own commitments in respect of the transitional House.

The Government have always agreed that there should be a continuing non-political element. We accept the argument that the presence of those who have no overt party affiliation has helped to keep the House of Lords less partisan and that this characteristic is a valuable one which should be retained.

We also agree that a statutory appointments commission should form part of any permanent arrangement. This proposal again builds on what we have already undertaken, on a non-statutory basis, for the transitional House. We shall want to consider carefully exactly what the statutory appointments commission's powers and functions should be. Those who recall the debates on what was then the House of Lords Bill in the previous Session know that this is a complex issue. We had a variety of proposals at different stages of the Bill for a statutory body, none of which attracted universal support, and none of which, I believe, is the same as that proposed by the Royal Commission. But for long-term reform the Government accept the principle that a statutory commission is the way to proceed.

One relevant question in which your Lordships are particularly interested, and on which we would be interested to hear your Lordships' views, is that of the link with the peerage. As your Lordships know, the Royal Commission says very firmly that the peerage and membership of the second Chamber should be separated. As your Lordships will also be aware, there has been confusion in the past--this arose during our discussions on what was then the House of Lords

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Bill--about whether a peerage is intended primarily to confer membership of this House, or to confer a particularly prestigious honour.

The Royal Commission proposals clearly eliminate that ambiguity. This again is a complex issue involving serious questions about the prerogative, but it is clearly relevant to explore decoupling membership of the second Chamber from the peerage. Obviously, in the circumstances which the Royal Commission proposes, being a Peer would not preclude someone being a Member of the second Chamber, any more than being a knight of the realm precludes membership of another place. I am sure your Lordships will not be surprised to hear that the views of current Members of this House on this matter will carry great weight with the Government.

I want to turn now to what the Royal Commission says about a minority elected element. I hope that my comments will help the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. The terms of reference asked the Royal Commission particularly to look at the role the second Chamber might play in the evolving constitutional settlement represented by devolution and to look for a clearer voice for the regions. We agree with its proposal that this would best be done by the introduction of a small elected element. This would not undermine the link between individual MPs and their constituents because the role of these elected persons would be, and would be seen to be, quite different. Nor would their numbers be sufficient to undermine the distinctive character of the proposed second Chamber. The Government intend to listen carefully to discussion and debate on the commission's options and any other permutations--I imagine that the various proposals were not universal--which may be put forward during this debate and at other times. No doubt the other place will have strong views on this subject. But I want to emphasise this afternoon that the Government accept the principle of a minority of elected members.

The Government have always said that we hope to proceed to the next stage of reform by consensus. That is why we are not today advancing cut and dried conclusions on anything except the overall approach. One of the main purposes of this debate is, I hope, to begin to build a constructive consensus.

As I said earlier, we are encouraged by the fact that the Royal Commission's report was unanimous. All political parties were represented on the commission. So at least prima facie it seems sensible to suggest that a way forward which is consistent with its conclusions should have a good chance of commanding wide agreement. My noble and learned friend the Attorney-General and I, and my right honourable friend the President of the Council in another place, are currently undertaking informal consultations to see what the basis for a consensus might be.

I have already had preliminary conversations with the Conservative and Cross-Bench leaders in this House. We have also discussed the report with representatives of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. We are in contact with the Church of England and other denominations over the proposals on

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religious representation. We shall also want to listen to what the other faith communities say. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, is happy to make himself available to discuss the details of the report's proposals, and I am sure that other commissioners would probably do the same.

The aim of gathering these views and voices is obviously to try to formulate broad agreement, at least on the principles of the commission's recommendations. If this can be achieved, the details of the proposals and their implementation will then require careful consideration. Much of the reform agenda will affect both Houses of Parliament, and needs to be considered by both Houses. In their White Paper, the Government proposed a Joint Committee to look at these issues. Inevitably the timing and nature of further, formal proceedings to elaborate the commission's proposals will depend to some degree on the extent of prior agreement on principles. The Government hope that by making clear their position to support the framework at this stage, it will be possible to move soon to detailed discussion.

I hope that there is no one either in Parliament or outside who is sceptical of the Government's intentions to act further on reform. If nothing else, the fact that we have not yet completely achieved our 1997 manifesto commitment in respect of the hereditary Peers is a powerful incentive. The Royal Commission report seems to us a good basis to build on. We agree with its overall approach to the issues it was asked to consider. Obviously, there is a great deal more work to be done on the detail. Nothing I have said today indicates that the Government accept any particular one of the report's detailed proposals. We shall be working on these during the months ahead, we hope with the active co-operation of others. But this is where we will start from in delivering on the second stage of reform. We agree with the broad thrust of the conclusions the Royal Commission has reached. It is evolutionary; it ties in with our constitutional history and principles.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, at the beginning of the struggle to change this House, Winston Churchill wrote:

    "Most men expected that gradually, as things happen in the history of our country, the House of Lords would pass peacefully and painlessly away".

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, by contrast, this Government have achieved one historic step of reform, and today we have a Royal Commission's recommendations which will enable this second Chamber to develop as the constitutional settlement evolves. I beg to move.

Moved, That this House takes note of the report of the Royal Commission on the reform of the House of Lords A House for the Future (Cm 4534).--(Baroness Jay of Paddington.)

3.40 p.m.

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, in her opening words the Leader of the House said that she was enthusiastic

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about the debate. Looking at the long list of speakers before us, I hope that she will feel equally so when we get to the end of it.

We on this side of the House are grateful for the chance again to debate the future of this House. The report of the commission chaired by my noble friend Lord Wakeham is a remarkable accomplishment, particularly given the short time allowed by the Government. We are glad that the Wakeham Commission was set up; we asked for it continually since the general election and it has produced a good report. It will go down with, among others, the Bryce Commission, the Home Report and the Mackay Commission as a major contribution to thinking about the second Chamber.

But it is not the Holy Grail. It is the view of an eminent group of people about options for the future of the House. They did not decide on a specific set of proposals. They may have been ultimately united, but what united them were different opinions on the form of election to this House. They have rightly put this issue back to Parliament, and it is in Parliament that the discussion should now be carried forward.

We will not, of course, support every detail of the report's proposals, but there are many things with which we are in agreement. We are only half-way through change to your Lordships' House. We always contended that there should be no stage one without stage two; I am still convinced that we were right. We always suspected that the Government had blundered into constitutional change more by accident than design. As a result, we are floundering in a constitutional morass. One has only to look at what is happening in Scotland, Wales and the on-going farce in London and the brutal truth is obvious: in none of these areas has the Government remotely thought things through.

Returning to the subject before us, is it not extraordinary that, after three-and-a-half years of debate, the only force in the land about whose ideas for the future of this House we know nothing is the Government? Perhaps the real problem is not that we do not know what they want but that they do not know what they want.

The Prime Minister has torn up a subtle, open, flexible and functioning constitution that had protected us from the civil conflict seen in every other major country in the past 350 years. That constitution was midwife to the industrial revolution, to the rule of law, to the cradling of parliamentary democracy and to the achievement of enormous prosperity in parallel with dramatic social change. But this Prime Minister has torn it to shreds. He is like a child in a constitutional toy shop, dismantling everything without a clue about how to put it back together.

Now we are told by Mr Peter Riddell of The Times that the Prime Minister is not really interested in the constitution at all. Thank you very much--at least we now know where he stands. He is not interested; we need not wait for his ideas. The noble Baroness confirmed that when she said that the Government's

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response today was not an authoritative one--she said that it was not one that dealt with every specific proposal or, indeed, any of them--and she went on to say that when the Government decided what to do, they would go ahead and do it.

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