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After 10 years of unilateral action the Prime Minister wants a multilateral approach to help sort out the mess. Well, so be it, but can the noble Baroness tell us why this so-called new constitutional settlement fails totally to address the scandal of Scottish MPs voting on English laws when English MPs have no say on similar matters in Scotland? The Prime Minister says this will create a two-tier class of Members of Parliament. That two-tier class already exists today. Why does the Statement not consider apportionment of resources between parts of our kingdom? If, as Scotland’s First Minister says, Scotland’s resources finance England, or if, on the other hand, the Barnett formula works to the disadvantage of England, why should these issues not now be studied? Why is there no proposal to review use of referendums in the United Kingdom? There is talk of removing power from Government, so why will the review not look at who decides whether we have a referendum and what the rules will be? What is the noble Baroness’s view on the right balance between the referendal principle and parliamentary democracy? If we cannot have a referendum on the transfer of power from this Parliament to Brussels—something explicitly promised in the Labour and Liberal Democrat manifestos—is there any case for referendums at all?

I welcome talk of a review of our damaged voting system, a system once trusted beyond doubt and understood by everyone, now riddled with confusion and tainted by corruption. Will it end the use of three

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or four different voting methods on the same day? This has demonstrated the weakness of proportional representation, and we see no case for importing that system to Parliament.

We will take part in discussions on a written constitution and other ways of asserting individual rights. But as the Prime Minister says, this would represent a major change in the way things have been done in this country. Much recent constitutional change has been lawyer-driven and lawyer-made and it has not always been well made. Does the noble Baroness see any dangers in subjecting constitutional decisions of this Parliament to judicial oversight?

Surely what we need most of all is a fundamental reverse in the dragging of power to the centre. Where in the Statement is the real return of authority to local government and local communities? Where is the return of power from the quangos and unelected regional bodies to elected local authorities? Where is the scrapping of targets and controls from the centre, not only in local government but across the public sector as a whole? Will the noble Baroness confirm that there will be a full-blown Civil Service Act? Perhaps she might tell us whether it will be introduced in the next Session. If her answer is yes, we very much welcome it.

Before we define the new rights, should we not stop to consider what happened to the old ones, such as habeas corpus, privacy, a citizens’ police force, freedom of movement, freedom of speech, and the freedom to travel without signing up for an ID card, which once made this country the envy of the world? No one had to write down the freedoms of the British people then; they were inborn.

What we now need is a massive programme of repair to our constitutional arrangements. We will play our part, and with the conviction and resolution that this House and the noble Baroness would expect. Our conviction is rooted in a deep love of liberty and freedom, and our resolution will be twofold: to give back to every individual, every family and every local community more power and say in the things that affect their lives; and to restore to this House and to this Parliament their central place in the key decisions that shape the future of our society and our country.

4.26 pm

Lord McNally: My Lords, I thank the Lord President for repeating the Statement and for the Green Paper, which was published simultaneously. Some months ago, when we debated the reform of the House of Lords, I said that I detected the thunder of reform coming down the Corridor from the other place. There was some laughter from Members on the Conservative Benches when I said that. I hope that they will at least concede today that my hearing was not at fault.

As the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said, the devil is always in the detail when it comes to constitutional reform, and I will not try to cover everything in the very long and detailed Statement. I note, however, that there are symbolic signs of momentum in any cause. I see three such signs here. First, this is a prime

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ministerial Statement. Constitutional reform cannot be carried through without the whole-hearted commitment from the Prime Minister of the day, so I find it very encouraging that the Statement comes from the Prime Minister himself. Secondly, it is also encouraging that Mr Jack Straw has been left in post. Others speculated that he might have wanted grander prizes. It is very encouraging that he has decided, and the Prime Minister wishes him, to stay the course in carrying through this programme of reform. Thirdly, it is also encouraging that the Prime Minister has asked the Leader of the House to come into the heart of these negotiations.

I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, about the need for consensus. That is to be welcomed, but not at the expense of progress. If we had waited for progress, the Member for Old Sarum would probably still be sitting in the House of Commons and we would probably still have 700 hereditary Peers in this place. Constitutional reform, too, needs momentum and commitment, but, again, there are good signs. The Government can draw on the excellent power report that was produced under the chairmanship of the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, and an excellent paper that was published this week by Professor Robert Hazell of the Constitution Unit of UCL—my old college—which proposes a nice agenda for government. As the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said, there is the Power to the People report by the Conservative Democracy Taskforce, which is chaired by Mr Ken Clarke. There is also the policy paper of the Liberal Democrat policy working group, chaired by my noble friend Lord Tyler, and I ask the Lord President to get off the shelf and dust down the excellent report on voting reform by my distinguished predecessor Lord Jenkins of Hillhead. It would make excellent reading for the Prime Minister. While making this list, I also include the excellent initiatives already taken by our Lord Speaker in her outreach role.

I have a few questions for the Lord President. I see no mention in the Statement of the Freedom of Information Act. Can she assure me that that Act will not be amended unless there is post-legislative scrutiny by a committee of both Houses which allows both those who wish it strengthened and those who wish it weakened to put their case?

I am interested in the references to Civil Service reform. Although the noble Lord, Lord Sheldon, is not in his place, I am sure, like the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that he would want me to ask whether that means a Civil Service Act. If so, we on these Benches certainly welcome that redemption of a pledge made by the first Gladstone Government.

The interesting comments and proposals on security and the royal prerogatives would give tremendous new powers to the House of Commons. In taking on those new responsibilities, will there be parallel reform in the House of Commons to make it fit for purpose? On House of Lords reform, will the noble Baroness ensure, as Leader of the House, that reform is not a euphemism for weakening the House? Seeing the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, in his new position does not entirely fill me with confidence. I

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would trust him with the National Health Service to my dying day; whether I trust him with the constitution remains to be seen. I quote to both of them the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart: unless this House retains the right to say no, it becomes a debating chamber and not a legislature. We must retain the right to say no.

It would be churlish not to recognise the Statement for what it is: an historic Statement, a bold Statement and one that should give people in all parties, and in none, the opportunity to address some of the real challenges and worries about our society. We need democrats to make a democracy work. All of us involved in politics know of the shortcomings of recent years. The devil is in the detail, but the Prime Minister has thundered today and we welcome him for that.

4.32 pm

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I am grateful for the welcome. I agree that it is as if thunder has indeed arrived. I am also grateful for the approach of both noble Lords and their desire to search for consensus as far as possible. I echo those sentiments. It is important that we all engage in the process that my right honourable friend has set out for us today.

Although I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Lester, is indeed offering his advice to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Justice, and although today is his birthday, he has not played a role in putting together this Statement. It has come from the Prime Minister and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Justice, with input, as noble Lords would expect, from members of the Cabinet.

I am grateful that we will have an opportunity to consider these proposals in the future; I have no difficulty with debating these proposals in your Lordships’ House. I am sure that, with the Leader of the Opposition and with the noble Lord, Lord McNally, we shall find time to do so, as noble Lords would wish. Part of that debate will be to take forward these proposals. As I said at the beginning of the Statement, it is important to see these in the context of genuine consultation, genuine proposals and by no means the end of the story. I agree too that the devil is in the detail. As the noble Lords, Lord McNally and Lord Strathclyde, said, we need to take forward practical considerations. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister would concur with that. He has set out the objectives and the direction of travel. It is for us to contribute to the process of ensuring that the practicalities are considered properly.

The Ponsonby rule will apply for European legislation, as noble Lords would expect—the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, asked about that. Hearings for public appointments would be very much down to the consideration of the elected Chamber, but I have already said to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Justice that I would want to discuss with him what role the House of Lords and its committees might play, not necessarily in that part of

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the deliberations but more generally. As Leader of the House, I will report back on those discussions.

As I indicated, it is important that we have discussions with other parties. I believe that this is a moment to rejoice, to quote a former Prime Minister. It is important that we consider the proposals as being about making our democracy and Parliament stronger and more accountable to the people. That is a fundamental part of what my right honourable friend has indicated.

We have no intention of doing anything to destroy the union. We will not do that. We can have as many debates as your Lordships wish about English and Scottish MPs, but we believe that the union makes us stronger and that the right level of devolution has occurred with Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The debates and the process will continue, but we are not moving one inch from where my right honourable friend the Prime Minister indicated that we would be.

I note that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, is now wedded to referendums. I am delighted to hear it. However, there are many ways of consulting the British people and involving organisations, politicians of all sorts, local government, voluntary organisations, local people, young people and Parliament itself. That is what we should do. As for judicial oversight of constitutional issues, those are important considerations, and in looking at what should be codified and written down we should consider the consequences for the role of Parliament and the judiciary.

I was asked whether the measures would be part of a Civil Service Act. Our proposal is on page 22, in paragraph 43, of the document published today:

That is how we will seek to do that. The Freedom of Information Act is not mentioned. I agree that, if any changes were to be discussed, they would have to be taken very carefully in considering exactly what ought to happen. Noble Lords will know that, as a former freedom of information Minister, I feel strongly about that.

My role is to make sure that I lead for the whole House, as I indicated yesterday. In participating in debates with my right honourable friend I will make sure that that is the role I perform.

4.37 pm

Lord Williamson of Horton: My Lords, yesterday I welcomed the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, to her new post but I did not then know how short the honeymoon would be. We have here a substantial and major Statement, on which a large amount of work will be needed over a long time.

I cannot speak for 205 independent Cross-Benchers and, in any event, I have only had a short time to look at this important Statement, but I would like to make one or two comments. Our Benches will certainly be favourable to the idea that power should be more accountable. That is the first point in the Statement. Some of the 12 points listed may be disagreed with, but the principle of making power

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more accountable will be welcomed, I am sure, as will a bigger parliamentary role in some areas, such as key public appointments, including the Civil Service Commissioner and the Local Government Ombudsman.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, we will ask first whether Parliament means both Houses or one. We believe that it should mean both. That question will come up in due course. Also under that heading, I think that my colleagues will welcome the reinforcement of the core principles of the Civil Service not being at the discretion of the Executive but in legislation by Parliament. We will come back to the important point on whether there will be a Civil Service Act.

Secondly, I am sure that there will be strong support for enhancing the rights and responsibilities of citizens, including at the local level—while it is often felt that they ought to be there, in practice they are not always. That will also be greatly welcomed.

The third point is that this document rightly refers repeatedly to involving the public in a debate on important issues such as whether there is a case for a British bill of rights and responsibilities and whether we should move towards a written constitution. On this, the theme among my colleagues will certainly be, as the Government state in this document, that we must proceed only with a settled consensus. That is the vital element of such an important issue.

I am extremely glad to see that the Prime Minister has carried through his reputation for prudence in the sense that there is very little in the Statement about this House. How prudent that is. None the less, we look forward to a Statement before the recess.

I do not have many questions for the noble Baroness, but I think these comments are needed on such an important document.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, for his comments and questions. Both are extremely valuable as we consider this important document. I agree with the thrust of his remarks about greater accountability and that there is an issue about the two Houses of Parliament. But the Houses are different, so let us not begin by assuming that we have the same role as the elected place. We will have to consider what our role should be in an appropriate manner. That will form part of the discussions and deliberations from the Ministry of Justice, to be led in your Lordships’ House by my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, whom I would certainly entrust with anything to do with a new constitution, or indeed any other aspect of government policy he was willing to take on. As I indicated, I will work closely with him. I am also pleased that the noble Lord mentioned the local dimension. There is much that we need to think about regarding engagement with people at the local level.

The Lord Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham: My Lords, we are most grateful to the Leader of the House for repeating the Prime Minister’s historic Statement. I am sure noble Lords will wish to know that the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of

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York, on behalf of the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Church of England, has today welcomed the announcement by the Prime Minister regarding changes to the process by which diocesan bishops are appointed. The Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Justice consulted the most reverend Primate about his intentions, which we believe are in accord with the declared wishes of the Church of England. Indeed, the church being the decisive voice in the appointment of bishops was called for by the General Synod of the Church of England back in 1974—not quite 150 years ago.

The Church of England is grateful for the Prime Minister’s thoughtfulness and his overt support for the role of Her Majesty the Queen as Supreme Governor of the Church of England and the establishment by law of the Church of England, which has been quite strongly reiterated in the Green Paper. Further, the church is grateful for the way in which the Prime Minister has confirmed the valued relations between church and state.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I am grateful for the comments of the right reverend Prelate and for his work with the Church of England. I am also delighted that we are now catching up with the General Synod of 1974.

Lord Howe of Aberavon: My Lords, I do not want to sound unduly churlish, particularly in the light of the magnificent way in which the noble Baroness has handled her presentation of this brief this afternoon, but does this not proffer a mammoth menu of measures, many of which have a genuinely modish appeal to them but risk being a case of Utopian overindulgence? Is it not likely that no institution in the country will remain unruptured by the consequences of what has been set out? It amounts to material for a dozen or so Queen’s Speeches and two or three general elections, put forward by a Prime Minister who may well be said to require a mandate before he starts on such a mammoth task. More seriously, and worst of all, does not this huge agenda risk overloading in general and in detail a Parliament that already struggles to handle competently its workload? I regret having to say it, but is this not an overambitious agenda from an understandably impatient man?

4.45 pm

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I am grateful for the comments of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, about the way in which I put forward the Statement. However, I have to say that having a “modish appeal” is not something I associate with my right honourable friend the Prime Minister; indeed, that is not how he would wish to be seen. He has considered very carefully where he believes we need to strengthen and move forward our democracy and he has put those issues in a Green Paper today, at the beginning of his premiership, for consideration in Parliament and in the country beyond.



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I began the Statement by saying that this is not about one Bill, one year, one Parliament. Indeed, my right honourable friend has laid out the beginnings of a process, which I hope noble Lords will embrace, but not in a way that suggests that all this is about legislation or the things that Parliament has to do; rather it is an entire process of looking at how we can strengthen our democracy through the engagement of our young people, supporting people at a local level, thinking about our institutions more carefully and considering how best we can deliver for the people of this country. I believe that is what we have done.

Viscount Bledisloe: My Lords, I seek two assurances from the noble Baroness, the very welcome Leader of the House. First, do the Government accept the unanimous recommendations of the Cunningham committee, which they and this House unanimously accepted, that there should not be legislation to lay down the conventions of this House? Secondly, do they also accept the unanimous view of every government spokesman on the subject since 1999, that the independent Members are a vital element of this House which must be preserved in any reform?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, in considering the future of your Lordships’ House it will be important to look at the recommendations put forward and to note, as I do, the strength of feeling within them. We will take account of them in our considerations. As regards the independents, noble Lords will know that we have had several votes in your Lordships’ House and in the other place, and they will know in which direction my right honourable friend the Prime Minister voted. The issue will form part of my discussions in considering the future of the House. My noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath will work on behalf of the Ministry of Justice in your Lordships’ House to consider how best to take the matter forward.

Lord Maclennan of Rogart: My Lords—

Lord Morgan: My Lords—

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, I think it is the turn of the government Benches and then the Liberal Democrats.

Lord Morgan: My Lords, I can assure my noble friend that the Statement will be greeted with enormous enthusiasm by all parties who care about the quality of democracy in this country, particularly because it focuses on the often-ignored concept of citizenship. It defines and hardens the notion of our people as citizens and not simply as subjects.


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