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So far as concerns this amendment, I am rather in favour of calling the House a senate. I am much attracted to the United States model and this might be the first step in that direction. Therefore, I hope that the noble Lords amendment will be considered carefully and perhaps agreed.
Viscount Goschen: I sympathise with the frustration felt by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, who wants to proceed very quickly with his Bill. I certainly recall sitting up at two in the morning, next to my noble friend Lord Ullswater, trying to do exactly the same with government employment Bills but I found that several noble Lords, including two very distinguished members of the party opposite, took up many hours of your Lordships time expanding the Bill into areas that they thought were highly relevant.
Therefore, I sympathise with the noble Lord, Lord Steel, but I cannot in any way agree with him. He has reopened Pandoras box for the nth time in terms of House of Lords reform, which, as we know, is an immensely complex area. He cannot expect the House to concentrate on the areas that he wants to see advanced quickly. Here, we are talking about an attempt to decouple or remove certain very important areas from the overall subject of House of Lords
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Baroness Thornton: I support the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Richard. Being in the business broadly known as communications and PR, I can say to the noble Earl that it is a rule that you do not rebrand something unless you fundamentally change the product in a way that matches the rebranding. That is why I support my noble friend.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde; I do not think that I have ever previously uttered those words in your Lordships House. He said, in what I thought was a witty speech, that we need to discuss the report of the Select Committee in another place and, more importantly, another place needs to discuss that report. I am fairly sure that Members of another place, particularly honourable friends of mine, will be as pungent in their remarks and as determined in their views as they have already been about the need to reform this House.
I agree with the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, who said on Second Reading at col. 1438 that a Private Members Bill is an unsuitable place to discuss such a grave constitutional matter. I agree with that. The number and range of amendments tabled on this Private Members Bill completely bears out what she said. However, I want to record my support for my noble friend's amendment. We need to wait for the White Paper and take time to consider those very important matters before we reach a view.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): I am conscious that the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, will not believe a word that I am going to say, but I shall plough on none the less.
I shall respond to a number of questions that noble Lords have asked me. On the question of the Government's attitude toward the Bill, there is nothing more that I can say than was said at Second Reading: this is a Private Members Bill; it will proceed through your Lordships' House as would any Private Members Bill.
I also refer to the report of the House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee, to which several noble Lords have referred. It is a very interesting report. It proposes an interim measure, including, as I understand it, changing the name of your Lordships' House and detaching membership from the peerage.
The position is very clear. The Government have a responsibility to consider the report and respond. We will do so in due course. I cannot give the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, an exact date by which we will do so, but I assure him that we will do so as soon as we can.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: That is a very clever question from a very clever Member of your Lordships' House. Of course, I am not going to answer. I was just about to come onto the question of timing. The noble Viscount, Lord Astor, asked me to define the new year. All that I will say about the Select Committee report is that discussions are going on within government about our response. We will respond as soon as we can. On the definition of the new year, I concede that, in my previous incarnations in both the Department of Health and the Department for Work and Pensions, the definition of the new year was somewhat elastic. I am now in the Ministry of Justice, where, as yet, I do not think that we have come to define the new year.
I can talk in general about the progress that has been made within the Joint Working Group which has been established in the light of the votes in both Houses last year. I believe that good progress is being made. We intend to meet several times over the next few weeks. It would be very foolish of me to give a definite date as to when the White Paper will be published but, obviously, we want it to be done as soon as possible.
Lord Faulkner of Worcester: Before my noble friend leaves the subject of the Joint Working Group, will he indicate whether the Government are prepared to reconsider their decision not to publish the minutes of the meetings that have already been held so that this debate can be held in a much more open way and we know what our respective Front-Benchers are saying?
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath:I think that my noble friend has made a number of requests to my department on this matter and they are still being considered with great care. On the question of the work of the working group, it is comprised of the leadership of the political parties, with representation also from the Bishops and the Cross-Benchers. As for the intense discussion about the development of a White Paper, that is best done within the confines of that working group. As regards a dialogue between me, the group, and other members of the Government who are on that group, we are always willing to discuss with Members of your Lordships House, and with groups of Members, the whole question of the White Paper and the reform process. We remain able to do so. However, given all that has been said about the inevitable challenge of Lords reform, it is important that, within that group, there can be discussions that enable us to come to as wide a consensus as possible.
Lord Howe of Aberavon: Given what the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, was just saying about his search for the widest consensus possible, can he reaffirm what he said a moment or two ago, that the working group is considering this matter in the light of the votes of both Houses? Will he give some kind of assurance
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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: Of course the working group is considering the discussions on reform in your Lordships House in the light of the votes of both Houses. However, I have to say to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, for whom I have great respect, that the critical vote took place in the House of Commons, which all noble Lords in discussing Lords reform in general have acknowledged in terms of primacy. We are moving ahead in those discussionsand, eventually, I hope in the White Paperon the basis of an elected second Chamber and of the two options for which the House of Commons voted: 80 per cent and 100 per cent.
I have been asked about the commitment made by my noble and learned friend Lord Irvine of Lairg. He said that until the second stage of House of Lords reform had taken place, the amendment that he was addressing,
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: There can be argument about whether an amendment that in time reduces that 10 per cent is actually a departure. It would be interesting to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Steel, when he winds up this debate, about his own attitude to what has come to be known as the Irvine agreement. I shall repeat what my right honourable friend, now the Lord Chancellor but then the Leader of the House, said in the other place on 7 March 2007:
For the avoidance of doubt, I spoke to my noble Friend, the former Lord Chancellor, this morning, and he authorised me to say that the passage in the White Paper, at paragraphs 3.27 and 3.28, is a correct summary of the position. He went on to say, and I am authorised to repeat, that what was agreed in 1999 implied no guarantee of any particular stage 2. It was just a guarantee that there would be a legislative stage 2. Before the Front Benchers jump up, the reason for that is that the commitment was made even before the royal commission had reported
I will make one or two comments on the specifics of the amendments that we are debating. I have always looked forward to being the senior senator from Birmingham. As far as the Government are concerned, the February 2007 White Paper, in paragraph 9.42, states:
For the time being, the future House of Lords will be referred to as the reformed chamber but we will consult on the name in the lead up to legislation. Decisions on the name will partly depend on what final decisions Parliament reaches on composition. That was the approach adopted by the Wakeham Commission.
The debate on whether senate is an appropriate name is interesting and very helpful in terms of what the eventual decision would mean, but I would caution the House about senates. The noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, wished to use the Senate of the United States as a model. There is general consensus that the primacy of the Commons should remain and that the second Chamber, whether 80 per cent or 100 per cent elected, should be a revising Chamber. One should adopt a degree of caution in choosing a name that appropriately reflects the fact that it is a revising Chamber. I say that not to preclude any wide debate about the name in future.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: Now we are into an important debate. It is entirely proper for the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, to raise that, and there will be different views. It is entirely proper for the working group to discuss this, and one hopes that the conclusions will be in the White Paper. But I say to the noble Earl that the Parliament Acts themselves are the enshrinement of the primacy of the Commons.
Lord Strabolgi: The last White Paper clearly says that in the event of reform, Members of this House would not be allowed to stand for membership of the House of Commons. It is silent on what Members of this House would be allowed to do in a reformed Chamber. Will they be able to stand as senators, or whatever we call them, in a reformed Chamber? Will my noble friend make sure that something like that is put clearly in the next White Paper?
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: The establishment of a committee is entirely in the hands of the House and individual Members. If a committeeor committees, given that there is more than one view on Lords reformis established, the Government have said that they are happy to come before it. I enjoyed a very engaging interrogation by Sir Patrick Cormacks committee just a few weeks ago. I am entirely relaxed about going through that again and appearing before any committee established in your Lordships House.
Lord Tyler: Before the Minister sits down, will he respond to the specific point about pre-legislative scrutiny of the proposed draft clauses? I accept the point that this is to an extent up to the business managers of both the other place and your Lordships House, but I do not think that the Minister is so naive as to suppose that they might not be influenced by the attitude of the Government. Is the Governments intention that the draft clauses might be given pre-legislative scrutiny by a Joint Committee so that both Houses could contribute to the process at the same time?
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: We have said that we hope it will be possible following the White Paper to produce some draft clauses. That is as far as we have gone. I take the helpful suggestion of the noble Lord, which can be considered, but no decision on this has been made. However, I am sure that publishing draft clauses at some stage would be helpful. Further, I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Steel, that frustrating as these debates may be, the fact is that whatever progress his own Bill makes, teasing out some of these matters could in itself be seen as a form of pre-legislative scrutiny.
Lord Richard: I confess that I am a little lost so far as the procedure is concerned at the moment. Normally, once the Minister has made his views clear, the Committee can proceed to a decision or not as the case may be. I have tabled an amendment to a new clause to the Bill proposed by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, and I assume that I should now sum up my views on the amendment, and then the noble Earl will sum up his views on the new clause.
The Earl of Caithness: Would it not be a good idea for the noble Lord, Lord Steel, to comment on these amendments? I do not think he has yet done so. He has talked generally about the group of amendments, but he has not spoken specifically to either the noble Lords amendment or mine.
Lord Richard: If the noble Earl is asking my view on that, the answer is no, quite firmly and definitely no. There is one simple reason for that response. The noble Lord, Lord Steel, intervened in the debate. He was entitled to make a speech and he did so. If in the course of that speech he did not see fit to address the amendments before the Committee, with great respect, he cannot now come back on them.
Earl Ferrers: Of course the noble Lord, Lord Steel, can come back and speak to the amendments. This is the Committee stage and anyone can speak as often as they like. Incidentally, they do not always have to say, Before the noble Lord sits down.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: It might be helpful if anyone speaking in this debate were to speak to the amendment, which I thought my noble friend Lord Richard was inviting the noble Lord, Lord Steel, to do.
Lord Richard: It is a pity that my noble friend Lord McIntosh was not here a little earlier on. If he had been in his place an hour and a half ago, he would have heard the speech that I made proposing my amendment in which I made the enormous mistake, as it turns out, of speaking to the amendment and not to the generality of the argument. This has been a fascinating debate on the general arguments, which we have been round and round and round, and we will go around them again in this Bill.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Steel, that he cannot have it both ways. If he produces a Bill that was bound to be controversial, and which he knew would be once it was in the public domain, any noble Lord would be entitled to table amendments to it and to have them discussed. If the amendments were not in order, I have no doubt that the excellent Clerks at the Table would not have allowed us to put them down. The noble Lord, Lord Steel, cannot now say, Oh gosh, isnt it terrible? You want to discuss things which I dont want to discuss. I merely want to discuss the things that I want to discuss. That is not on.
In the circumstances, I have considered carefully what to do with the amendment. It is a clear and simple proposal that there should be some input from the Secretary of State and the House of Commons before we move to a change to the name of this House. On any view of the matter, that is a sensible way to proceed. I have thought very hard about whether I should seek a vote on the amendment, and in the end I have decided not to. But I give warning to the noble Lord, Lord Steel, and the promoters of the Bill that I shall return to this subject at a future stage, if there ever is one. But I do not think that there will be.
Lord Steel of Aikwood: I am now totally confused. There are some Members who desperately do not want me to speak and others who are desperately urging me to speak. The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, understated the issue when he said that I had let a cat out of the bag. It would appear that I have let a whole herd of cats out of a whole lot of bags this afternoon.
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