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I hope that I will not do damage to the reputation of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, among his loyal supporters on the Conservative Benches if I say that I am not quite sure what the noble Lord was actually suggesting. Is he suggesting that we should have another pause in reform? If so, he is not fully taking account of the fact that the Statement makes it clear that his very constructive contribution to the work of the cross-party group was acknowledged and warmly welcomed. I am sure that the Minister will reflect that again in a moment. Although he may have problems with the detail of the White Paper, he was, I think it would be fair to say, a very constructive contributor and I pay tribute to him for that. I hope that I have not done great damage to his leadership.

I am sure that there will be a very firm commitment to reform along the lines of the White Paper in the next Liberal Democrat general election manifesto, but it is far from clear, from what has been said this afternoon by those on the Opposition Front Bench in this House and the other House, whether that remains the case for the Conservative Party. I am not sure whether it is still committed to the reform that it said it was committed to in the 2005 general election. Is it the Minister’s intention to seek an exact common manifesto commitment from all three major parties to make progress in future?

The question that the public will ask is, “Why are we waiting?”. Why do the Government hesitate? It was clear—was it not?—that when we were all expecting a general election this year or in 2009, there was a very good case for delay. Now, since the Prime Minister has made it clear that there will not be a general election until 2010, it should surely be possible for us to make some progress on this clear set of proposals.



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The Prime Minister’s first Statement, on 3 July 2007, contained a firm intention to give priority to reinvigorating democracy and strengthening Parliament. Why are we in this House to be left in illegitimate limbo? In the Statement and in the conclusion of the White Paper, great emphasis was given to clear legitimacy for this House. That is surely what we should all seek. Given that the so-called Constitutional Renewal Bill has proved to be nothing of the sort, surely this is a genuine reform that can be included in the Queen’s Speech in December.

When I have previously questioned the Minister, he has said, on two occasions, that it was the Government’s intention to submit draft clauses for pre-legislative scrutiny. He seemed very sympathetic to my idea that this should be examined by a Joint Committee of both Houses; that would at least reduce the ignorance there is about the other place and this place among Members of the two Houses. Surely that is a way in which we could make some progress. We could, in the phrase of the Lord Chancellor’s Statement,

and sort out some essential details. For example, we on these Benches think that it would be preferable to hold elections for the senate on a fixed date to avoid the considerable practical difficulties involved when the House of Commons is elected on an indeterminate date; we would be seeking a firm, fixed term for Members of the reformed second Chamber. It would also mean that we could avoid confusion among the electorate, who I am sure many of us recognise often vote for—or, indeed, against—a Government when they see an opportunity at a general election to do so. We surely do not want that to determine what will happen in this House. The Government are promoting a different option; why cannot we now debate those two alternatives and see which best meets the needs of this House?

Ministers have been quite specific in the White Paper on so many points that it is curious that they are havering between an 80 and a 100 per cent elected senate. No one is asking them to be absolutely determinate about that but at least some preference could be indicated. Surely they could now reveal that.

It is now 15 months since the House of Commons, for which everyone claims primacy, voted by such large majorities for reform. Surely unnecessary delay simply plays into the hands of the refusniks or reactionaries. In his Statement in the other place, the Lord Chancellor referred to the possibility that we might achieve reform by 2011. As Members of this House will no doubt recall, it was on the face of the Parliament Act 1911 that we should move towards a second Chamber based on a popular mandate. If we are to fulfil that firm commitment of 100 years ago by 2011, surely we should start now.

4.20 pm

Baroness D'Souza: My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement and offer congratulations to the team of officials, who managed to make coherent what was often less than coherent.

All that I wish to say has been said many, many times before. Nevertheless, I feel compelled to make just a few points, if only because there is very strong

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feeling about this issue among the independent Cross-Bench Peers. Some might say, “Well, they would, wouldn’t they?”, but I think it is more than that. There is a deeply felt concern that some of the measures proposed will have an undoubtedly deleterious effect on the chief functions of this House and on legislation more generally. More than 60 independent Cross-Bench Peers have, for example, endorsed a statement focusing on incremental House of Lords reform.

I start with the premise on which the White Paper, and the work of the cross-party group on Lords reform, is based. In no other legislation since I have been in this House has the overwhelming vote of this Chamber been so entirely disregarded. The Lords voted on 14 March 2007 for an appointed or predominantly appointed upper House by a majority of 327 votes, which represents almost 60 per cent of the votes cast on that day.

Perhaps I may also add that the two options—wholly or 80 per cent elected—which have now become the only options, were in fact voted against in 2003 and 2007 by two leading members of the cross-party working group; namely, the right honourable Jack Straw and the right honourable Theresa May. Therefore, in fact they are arguing for something that they had voted against.

It is difficult to know from where this pressure for radical reform is coming. It is certainly not coming from this Chamber, the public or the media, nor, as far as I can tell, from a significant body of Members of the other place. However, inexplicably, even the relatively minor and sensible reforms put forward in, among others, the so-called Steel Bill have been rejected by the Government in favour of this radical reform.

Crucially, I have not heard from within the working group or without it any argument that a radically reformed House would demonstrably improve the work of this House. The need for legitimacy is constantly emphasised, but we are not illegitimate as we stand—a view endorsed by the Government’s public reference to the “increased legitimacy” of the House of Lords. Legitimacy is not necessarily or exclusively guaranteed by elections. Are, for example, judges or senior academics non-legitimate by virtue of having been appointed? Furthermore, are we talking about genuinely open elections or about simply substituting the present appointments system with a more politically based one?

The process of democratic reform is achieved by greater transparency, accountability and debate, and not by the single fact of election alone. It is difficult to see how an individual elected for a 10 to 15-year period with no opportunity for re-election can offer accountability.

The potential effects of a predominantly elected second Chamber can be summarised as follows: the rise of a competitive state of affairs with the other place, which would have an inevitable effect on the primacy of the House of Commons—elected Members would, I suspect, not be content merely to delay legislation but would in time demand a veto; an increase in the politicisation of this House, no matter what voting systems are adopted; an inevitable decrease in the expertise, independence and diversity of this House—it

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is, for example, less likely that mid-career people, women, representatives of ethnic minorities, and, most importantly, people with disabilities would put themselves forward for a potentially gruelling election process; and, finally, its relative cost as compared with the other place, a matter on which this House has always prided itself, will be lost—an elected Chamber will involve a massive rise in expenditure.

I regret so much that, in the past few months, I have sounded much like a stuck record in the proceedings of the cross-party group, but I genuinely believe that the changes outlined in the White Paper will neither enhance nor improve the work of this House but may result in politicisation and a degree of confusion to the ultimate detriment of the crucial work that this House undertakes.

4.25 pm

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, noble Lords will have a flavour of the fascinating discussions that we have had in the 12 meetings of the cross-party working group since it was established following the free votes in the Commons. I say at once to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that I agree that your Lordships’ House makes a huge contribution to the work of Parliament. An intention behind the White Paper and its proposals is to build on that contribution. He is right to say that there have been many reports and many White Papers on Lords reform, starting with that of Viscount Bryce and the Bryce conference in 1917-18. The noble Lord might also have mentioned the memorandum of Winston Churchill to the Cabinet arguing for some form of indirect elections, I think, during the 1920s. That illustrates to me that reaching consensus on the future of your Lordships’ House is very difficult indeed, which is why the cross-party group was established.

Of course, there is much more work to be done. This White Paper spells out the implications of the vote of the Commons and allows for a debate on those implications. I do not think that we are the poorer for that kind of process or that it was an unreasonable way in which to proceed. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, is right: it is a government White Paper, but it draws heavily on the long and detailed discussions in the cross-party group. I pay tribute to all noble Lords and honourable and right honourable Members who took part in those discussions.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, about the issue of powers. We do not want to see a diminution in the powers of your Lordships’ House within the context of a mostly elected or all-elected Chamber. That principle was agreed right at the start of those cross-party discussions. I believe that it was agreement on that principle that enabled the talks to continue in such a fruitful way.

I also agree with the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, when he points to the importance of long, non-renewable terms of office and to the contribution made by the right reverend Prelates to your Lordships’ House, which, he argued, meant that he favoured an 80 per cent elected House. The Government have deliberately chosen not to come down in favour of either option at this stage, because the Commons voted for both options.

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We thought it better to produce a White Paper that allows the Commons and others to look at the consequences of that. The time for a decision will be later, but I think that the White Paper will be very helpful to that debate.

It was clear from our discussions in the working group that we were unlikely to achieve a consensus on voting systems. It seemed much more sensible to put into the White Paper a number of options and to allow a debate to take place.

On the name of the reformed second Chamber, I know that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, is keen on the use of the word “senate”—“the senior senator from south Scotland” has a certain ring to it. Let us debate the title of the second Chamber and decide in the light of that debate.

The noble Lord then asked when that will happen. That very much depends on the debates on the White Paper and on the decisions of the political parties. This process allows manifesto commitments to be given at the next general election and subsequently for legislation to be made. That process was always laid out. The White Paper continues that and will allow the public as a whole to come to a view.

I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, for his kind comments. He asks why we are waiting. As we have already observed, there will be many reports on House of Lords reform, which started more than 90 years ago. Seeking consensus is surely the best way forward. Surely a modus that allows for debate, manifesto commitments and then legislation is the best chance that anyone could have for reaching agreement and producing legislation to enable reform. This is entirely consistent with the Green Paper, The Governance of Britain.

I did not recognise the unkind remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, about the draft Constitutional Renewal Bill. Reform of your Lordships’ House is entirely consistent with the Government’s intention to enhance the position of Parliament vis- -vis the Executive. We have always said that, in the light of consultation, there may well be an opportunity to publish draft clauses. Just as we would welcome Parliament’s scrutiny of and debate on the White Paper, we would welcome further scrutiny of any draft clauses that might be produced.

The cross-party group discussed the Liberal Democrats’ view that elections should be held on a fixed date. That view is recorded. However, there are strong arguments for those elections to be held at the same time as general elections. That would certainly ensure that this House as a whole had no more recent mandate than that of the Commons, which is important, given the primacy of the Commons. On the point about confusing the electorate, the electorate are well up to being able to vote both for a Member of Parliament and for Members of your Lordships’ House.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, for her contribution to the work of the cross-party groups. I was amused by her comments about coherence where there may be none; I often think about the work of Hansard when I read my speeches in the Official Report. I do not share her view that the measures in

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the White Paper would necessarily have a detrimental impact on your Lordships’ House. The question of legitimacy is very important. Surely the goal is to add legitimacy to the enormously important work of your Lordships’ House. That is what is intended. The question of independent Members is one of the strong arguments for an 80 per cent elected House and I am sure that she and others will pursue that option with great vigour in the future. Matters such as costs will need to be considered in greater detail when we are clearer about the way forward. We will want an effective second Chamber, but we will also need to ensure that public finances are managed as effectively as possible.

4.34 pm

Lord Cunningham of Felling: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that, if legitimacy is the underlying argument driving this forward, the conclusion—that we should have a 100 per cent elected House—is inescapable? Any other arrangement denies the very argument and principle that the Government have advanced. However, I must say that a 15-year term gives a fig leaf of legitimacy and no more. What in the White Paper will convince the public that an elected House on those terms will be more effective, more efficient, give better value for money, be more representative and speak more effectively for the people of this country? To describe what we have had presented to us as a White Paper defies logic. It barely can be dignified with that description. With the world economic crisis as it is, oil prices going through the roof, and food and commodity prices rising weekly, if the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, thinks that the public are hanging on for an imminent decision about reform of the House of Lords, I am afraid that he is not living in the real world.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, my noble friend perhaps has put the “price of bread” question to me. Of course, one would hesitate to say that reform of your Lordships' House is the first concern of many members of the public. None the less, the health of our democratic institutions is important. It underpins the whole nation. Therefore, measures to improve the effectiveness of Parliament are worthy of consideration. I take his point about legitimacy and a House that is 80 per cent elected as opposed to 100 per cent elected. However, we have taken both votes in the other place and presented to Parliament and the outside world the implications and consequences of that. Clearly, there will be an intense debate about whether 80 per cent or 100 per cent elected is appropriate.

As regards long terms, the aim was to have an approach and membership that are very distinct from the Commons’. I think that most of the working group believe that a non-renewable, long, one-term electoral term is likely to lead to a more deliberative approach by Members of the second Chamber, which very much fits in with its essential scrutinising role. However, we will have to see the outcome of the discussions.

Lord Wakeham: My Lords, first, I thank the Minister for the very kind references to our Royal Commission report in the White Paper. A substantial piece of work was produced, which merits a lot of consideration and

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not detailed judgment. Having said that, all the outstanding points are those which were difficult for us 10 years ago. They are very nearly the same points. Our report at that time attempted to offer a compromise between those points, which was rejected by virtually everyone initially because no one wanted a compromise. Does the Minister think that, 10 years later, people might be prepared to seek a compromise, rather than everyone demanding exactly what they want, with the likelihood of getting nothing?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I pay tribute again to the noble Lord for his chairmanship and leadership of the Royal Commission report. It remains a fount of wisdom and information about reform of your Lordships' House. He is right that the White Paper merits a great deal of consideration, which, I hope, your Lordships' House will be able to give it over the next few months. The noble Lord is also surely right that the lack of compromise has bedevilled Lords reform on many occasions. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, referred to the 1968 proposals, which fell, due again to a lack of compromise.

Following the votes in the Commons and the cross-party working group, let us hope that what we have now engaged in can lead to a consensus which would enable Parliament after the next general election to legislate on the basis of a settled view. That is the hope and the expectation following this White Paper.

The Lord Bishop of Exeter: My Lords, I also thank the Minister for repeating the Statement, and welcome the White Paper. We on these Benches will play our part fully in the debates on the recommendations, including those that seek to secure a proper representation of all communities of faith in these islands. Given the evident interest in the future of these Benches shown by many noble Lords, not least during the reading of the Statement, perhaps I could comment on some of the recommendations that relate to the Bishops. While noting that there could be no continuing place for Lords Spiritual in a wholly elected Chamber, we welcome the fact that there would be a place for them within a partially elected Chamber. We therefore acknowledge that in a House with a reduced membership, consideration would need to be given to the appropriate number of Lords Spiritual, which currently stands at 26. We have long held the view that the minimum number required for an effective service to be offered to this House would be 20 and we would therefore welcome a commitment by the Government to discuss this issue with the church. In this context we would be happy to respond to the invitation in the White Paper to review the current system of selection to the Bishops’ Bench—

Lord Bach: My Lords, I apologise to the right reverend Prelate for interrupting him, but I wonder if he could ask a question. A great many Members want to come in with their questions, and we have such limited time.

The Lord Bishop of Exeter: My Lords, in welcoming the continuing presence of Lords Spiritual in this House, would the Minister affirm that, whatever the final outcome regarding the place of Lords Spiritual

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in the House, there is an assurance that there would be no fundamental change in the relationship between church and state?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I can gladly so affirm.

Lord Maclennan of Rogart: My Lords, I welcome such modest progress as has been made towards the democratisation of the second Chamber, but it pains me to reflect that in the years since the late Robin Cook and I signed a cross-party agreement, so little progress has been made. Does the Minister recognise that the failure to provide for the re-election of elected Members of the second Chamber deprives the public of the prospect of holding them to account, which greatly reduces the legitimacy of the second Chamber? What considerations might ultimately tip the Government’s mind with respect to whether it should be a wholly elected or partially elected House?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the noble Lord says that little progress has been made. In the history of Lords reform there have been considerable problems in reaching agreement on the way forward, and that is why the process we are now engaged in is so important. He could have acknowledged that the Commons were able to come to a view, which, as he knows, was not the case in the first set of free votes. On re-election, I have already outlined the reasons why the Government and the cross-party group favour long, non-renewable election terms. The White Paper discusses the possibility of recall ballots as one way of ensuring accountability. We will welcome views on that.

Lord Wright of Richmond: My Lords, like most noble Lords, I have not been given the opportunity even to skim the White Paper before the Statement was made this afternoon, but I start by endorsing every word spoken by my noble friend the Convenor of the Cross Benches, which, I know, reflects the substantial majority of opinion on these Benches. I noticed that the Minister shook his head vigorously in denial when the Convenor referred to costs. While I do not expect him to answer the question this afternoon, how does he expect the Senior Salaries Review Body or its successor to devise an appropriate salary for 450 elected Members of this House within existing costs?


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