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I hope that the Government will look sympathetically on the Bill. It provides steps that a huge number of people agree need to be taken. The danger is that if we do not do something and sit around for another eight or 10 years arguing about other sorts of issues, we will go backwards not only on the progress that this House has made in the past 10 years in improving the professionalism of its performance but in the public’s sense of the important things that this House does in revising legislation and engaging in serious public debate on the political issues of our time.

Lastly, I said in my response to the Government’s White Paper that the issues of constitutional reform facing our country do not rest primarily in this House; the issues of confidence in our constitution and political process have wider issues at stake, issues to do with the capacity of the whole of Parliament to call the Executive

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to account and to engage in serious legislative work. Those are the issues that are in front of us. Reform of this House is part of a wider agenda. We would be foolish to think that reforming this House will solve the constitutional problems facing our country. That is why I support the Bill. I hope the Government will give it a sympathetic hearing.

11.03 am

Lord Jay of Ewelme: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Steel, on his tenacity in bringing the Bill before us a second time. I should declare an interest straightaway as chair of the House of Lords Appointments Commission, but I stress that I am speaking today in a personal capacity. I have not previously spoken in debates on reform in your Lordships' House but I wanted to do so today to comment briefly on one or two aspects of the draft Bill before us.

I am on record as supporting a partially elected House, and I voted accordingly in the debates in 2007. Like the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford, I was part of a very small and select minority in your Lordships’ House who supported the Government's original proposal of a 50:50 House. I continue to believe that an elected element would give the House greater legitimacy, and I do not believe that such a hybrid House would be unworkable. Our constitution, it seems to me, has managed stranger things than that over the years. However, I believe that it is equally important that there should be a substantial appointed element in a reformed House.

I hope—indeed, I am sure—that in due course a Bill will be passed to bring about further reform of the House. I note that on 23 February the noble Lord, Lord Bach, reiterated the proposal in the Government's White Paper on Lords reform that a reform Bill should be brought forward in the next Parliament by the Government of the day. I cannot say whether that will actually happen but I do think that, in any event, there are certain interim reforms that would enable the Lords to perform its functions more effectively and win greater public support. I do not see that such reforms need adversely affect the prospects of further reform later; indeed, I share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, that such reforms could prepare the way for more substantial reforms later.

I should like in this debate to underline two such reforms. The first is the provision to enable Members of the House to retire or resign, or, as proposed in the draft Bill before us, to seek permanent leave of absence, which would constitute retirement or resignation. This seems to me a sensible and necessary measure which would fit well with the growing presumption that membership of your Lordships' House is increasingly a job rather than an honour and carries with it the obligation to play an active though not necessarily full-time part in its affairs.

The second point that I should like to mention is the status of the House of Lords Appointments Commission. I regard it as a huge honour to chair the commission and to build on the excellent work done by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Coddenham, and his colleagues. I am delighted that three of his former colleagues remain as my colleagues on the

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commission now. I am also delighted that the noble Baronesses, Lady Dean and Lady Campbell of Surbiton, are with us today.

Many of the fruits of the last commission’s work are, and have been, present in your Lordships’ House today. I hope that the new commission will be able to recommend appointments of similar quality in the years ahead. I am delighted to have the vote of confidence from my noble kinswoman, the noble Baroness, Lady Jay. Like her, I believe that the House of Lords Appointments Commission should now be put on a statutory basis so that its role and remit is set by Parliament in statute and is not open to change by the Prime Minister of the day without recourse to Parliament. That seems to me the right status for a body whose principal and hugely important task is to recommend appointments to the legislature.

I do not want to comment today on the detailed provisions of that or other aspects of the draft Bill—that is for Committee stage—but I do have one comment. The appointment of commission members, and certainly the independent members, should be, and should be seen to be, wholly transparent and independent. In that context, I would see advantage in maintaining the present arrangements whereby those appointments are made under the Commissioner for Public Appointments.

I have one final point. As part of the process for my appointment as chair of the Appointments Commission I appeared before the House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee for a pre-appointment hearing. I have every expectation of being invited back, and I shall look forward to it, as I have always looked forward in my career to appearances before the Select Committees of another place. However, I find it slightly odd that there appears to be no similar process in your Lordships’ House. I cannot speak for other members of the commission, but, speaking for myself, I should be happy to redress that balance.

In conclusion, I support a short, measured, focused reform Bill on the lines of that before us today.

11.09 am

Lord Warner: My Lords, it is 10 years since I spoke here on House of Lords reform. I did so shortly after finishing my stint as the Home Secretary’s senior policy adviser, when constitutional reform was part of my brief. At that time, I was word perfect on the 1997 manifesto commitments on House of Lords reform and I was optimistic about progress. I still support a partially elected second Chamber but, like my noble friend Lady Jay, my level of frustration at the lack of progress has brought me here today. As we know, on step 1 of House of Lords reform in the 1997 manifesto, the Government were waylaid by a plausible salesman. In the world in which we live today, quite a lot of people have been waylaid by plausible salesmen, so we should not feel too badly about that. We are now in very good company.

Not for the first time, it now falls to the noble Lord, Lord Steel, to come to the rescue of a Labour Government. I am old enough to remember when, in late 1977, mandarins across Whitehall eagerly awaited the smoke signals from the Steel-Foot Lib-Lab pact

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weekly meetings so that we could refurbish our submissions to Ministers. Thirty years on, here he is again doing his best to help a Labour Government who are in a spot of trouble over House of Lords reform. I welcome what he has produced. It is a well crafted and practicable Bill. My noble friend Lord Grocott, who has deep experience of trying to get less well crafted and practicable Bills through this House, has drawn attention to those merits.

In a few crisp words in Clause 10, the noble Lord, Lord Steel, starts the process of reducing the number of hereditary Peers, for which I commend him. If I were in the Minister’s shoes, I would like to think that I would graciously thank the noble Lord, Lord Steel, for his sensible Bill and for helping us out of a hole, but I have this nagging suspicion that my noble friend will not be saying that at the end of this debate. Looking fairly objectively at Parts 3 and 4, I find it difficult to see that there are any measures in them that would not commend themselves to most Members on all sides of the House. Looking carefully at Part 1, I cannot see how it is other than helpful to the Government in taking forward House of Lords reform. In their manifesto commitment in 2005, the Government committed themselves to an independent commission. In the 1997 manifesto, on House of Lords reform, Labour acknowledged the need to consider having some places reserved by appointment for those who have made an outstanding contribution. Part 1 preserves the principle of appointment by merit, but it also provides a more statutorily based system of appointment to this House than we have now. I would have thought that, in the present circumstances, with concerns in this area, that would be wholly advantageous to the Government.

This House has become more diverse during my time here, but there is still a case for making it more representative. As I understand the wording of Part 1, that could still take place. The only area in which the Bill could be said to fail—as all the parties have failed to come forward with a solution, I do not think that it should be criticised for this—is in progressing the second stage of House of Lords reform. I suggest that we are some way off finding satisfactory answers to the conundrums involved in securing a more democratically elected Chamber. I have not noticed the public clamouring for a solution to reform of House of Lords membership. I detect that they are pretty preoccupied with the state of the economy, the level of public borrowing and the shortage of credit. Labour cannot deliver its 2005 manifesto promise to complete House of Lords reform before the next election and I have seen little evidence from the White Paper onwards that we have a game plan for doing it if we win the next election.

Just to be totally objective, I should add that, like the noble Lord, Lord Steel, I saw the interview that the leader of the Conservative Party gave to Total Politics in its last edition. It makes it absolutely clear—I shall be interested to hear what the shadow Leader of the House says later—that reform of the membership of the House of Lords will not be a priority. In these circumstances, we should support the Bill. I would like to see it progress because I believe that it takes us in the right direction. I hope that the Government will

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think about supporting it and will be willing to take it over. Whatever else happens, I shall support it at the next stage of the proceedings.

11.15 am

Lord Norton of Louth: My Lords, we have heard some excellent speeches in support of this measure. There is clearly support on all sides of the House for the provisions of the Bill. We have had only one speech against the Bill so far. My noble friend Lord Caithness did not make an argument about principle and, in any event, his argument was built on a false premise, as Clause 8(2) makes it clear that the commission shall have regard to certain principles; it is not a stipulation or a requirement. Therefore, the basis of what my noble friend said falls.

The arguments for the Bill are compelling and have already been well made. Given that, I feel it appropriate to use the time available to follow the line taken by the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, in his excellent speech and address the arguments used against the Bill. As the noble Lord mentioned, there are those who argue that the Bill does not go far enough and those who argue that it goes too far. The argument that the Bill does not go far enough has been expounded in previous debates and various speakers have already referred to it. The aspect of the argument on which I wish to focus is that advanced by the Lord Chancellor and others that the purpose of the Bill is to prevent wider reforms from being achieved. It is recognised that there is much of merit in the Bill, but we are told that it is a means of stifling attempts to give effect to the Government’s preferred policy for the second Chamber.

Last month, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, said in response to a point from the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott:

“On the question of kicking the issue into the long grass, does the noble Lord not recognise that the danger of these incremental approaches to Lords reform is that they will inhibit the move towards fundamental reform? I will take the same view about the Bill proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, for the same reason”.—[Official Report, 23/1/09; col. 1875.]

It does not take much reflection to recognise that that is an admission of weakness. If the Government’s case is so compelling, why will the Bill inhibit the move towards fundamental reform? That line of argument is tenable only if you believe that the case for wider reform is inherently weak and likely to be undermined by incremental changes. If enactment of this Bill were to undermine or even destroy the political will to achieve further reform, that would be a damning indictment of the case for the Government’s position. If the Government believe that the case that they have made in the White Paper is sound and compelling, the Bill should not be—indeed, cannot be—seen as an impediment to that case. The Government have accepted that there will be no legislation on wider reform in this Parliament. The White Paper envisages change that will take years to deliver. Therefore, the choice is not between the White Paper and the Bill; the choice is between the Bill and doing nothing.

Given that the choice is between the Bill and doing nothing, let me turn to the argument that the Bill goes too far. This House has evolved over centuries. Intrinsic to evolution is change. A static institution often becomes,

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sooner or later, a dead institution. This House has shown a remarkable capacity for change. Much of that change has been achieved through amending our practices and procedures—in other words, changes that were within our own gift. However, some changes that are necessary to strengthen the House can be achieved only by statute, hence the introduction of the Bill.

One of the principal objections to the Bill appears to be to Part 2, which covers the by-election provision for hereditary Peers. I have dealt with this argument previously. Closing off the by-election option will not prevent hereditary Peers from entering the Chamber. It could actually have the opposite effect. I am regularly told that there are 92 hereditary Peers in the House of Lords. The number is actually greater than 92. The number of Labour hereditary Peers granted life peerages is higher than the number sitting under the provisions of the 1999 Act. The Liberal Democrats also recognise the value of conferring life peerages on hereditary Peers. However, the practice has not been followed on the Conservative Benches or the Cross-Benches, largely because of the number of hereditary Peers remaining on their respective Benches. The by-election option is utilised as the exclusive route for bringing in hereditary Peers. That seems to be seen for what it is: an impediment to, not an opportunity for, bringing in more able hereditary Peers. We have had some very able Members brought in through the by-election route. Their quality has not tailed off in recent by-elections. That suggests that there are talented hereditary Peers still outside the House. However, their chances of entering the House are constrained by the rate at which existing hereditaries in the House die off. If those in the House demonstrate longevity, no one comes in through that route.

My point is that the existing arrangements hinder rather than assist an able hereditary Peer excluded by the 1999 Act who could contribute to the work of the House. If we were to close off the by-election option, such a Peer could apply to the Appointments Commission, or be considered when a new set of working Peers is required. Able and younger hereditaries could come in more quickly and in greater number than is presently the case. In short, closing off the by-election option should be seen as a sign of confidence in the ability of excluded hereditaries, not a means of preventing them from coming into the House. If one has confidence that there are able hereditary Peers worthy of membership of the House, one should embrace the provisions of the Bill, not oppose them.

Other arguments could be raised against points made against the Bill, but I wanted to address what I see as the two principal claims levelled against it. I do not believe that either is sustainable. One can easily be in favour of fundamental reform and support the Bill. One can be in favour of ensuring that able hereditary Peers have an opportunity to enter this House and support the Bill. Essentially, it is an issue of confidence. Those who want wider reform, or who want able hereditaries to enter the House, and support the Bill have confidence in their position.

I have yet to hear a compelling case against the Bill that overcomes the objections that I have advanced. The Bill is necessary, perhaps more so now than before, and the case for it is compelling. It has my complete support.

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11.22 am

Lord Goodhart: My Lords, I am one of those who previously opposed the Bill on the grounds that removing some flaws from the present system would diminish the chances of full reform involving conversion of your Lordships’ House into a mainly elected House. I must say that I have changed my mind on that. I make it clear that I remain one of the minority of your Lordships who want a mainly elected House, but I am persuaded that it would make sense to proceed towards reform step by step. That has worked in the past. Both the creation of life peerages in 1958 and the removal of most hereditary Members by the House Of Lords Act 1999 have been important steps forward, and the Bill could be another step.

However, the Bill has some defects that need correction, perhaps especially in Part 1. I strongly welcome putting the Appointments Commission on a statutory basis, but Clauses 1 and 4 give the commission far more powers than it now has. The Bill gives very little guidance as to how those powers are to be exercised. In particular, there is no formula for the proportion of Members appointed from non-party nominees and those appointed from party nominees. Nor is there any formula for how party Members should be allocated between the different parties. Those are controversial issues that, if the Bill is to be enacted, should be on its face and not left to the commission or to the Prime Minister of the day.

I welcome Parts 2, 3 and 4, but they are incomplete because the Bill does not provide for the suspension of Members or for expulsion of a Member, except one who receives a sentence of more than one year. Recent events have shown that stronger sanctions than naming and shaming are needed. I must say that the legal situation here is not clear. It seems probable that Members cannot constitutionally be expelled except by an Act of Parliament at present and doubtful whether power to suspend membership exists, at least beyond the end of the Session in which the order of suspension is made. In saying that, I bear in mind an article written yesterday in the Times by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, which takes a different view. Great as my respect is for him as a lawyer, I do not entirely agree with that.

I understand that there is pressure from some Members of your Lordships’ House for sanctions to be a matter for Standing Orders of the House, not for legislation, because the courts could not in fact challenge the Standing Orders, even if they were constitutionally dubious. That would be unwise. I am not certain that that argument would succeed. The reputation of your Lordships’ House would be better served by statute rather than by Standing Orders, which could be revoked by a decision of your Lordships’ House alone.

Finally, Clause 11 allows voluntary retirement from your Lordships’ House. That does not go far enough. Not many Members of your Lordships’ House will choose to take voluntary retirement. As I, speaking as a geriatric, am all too well aware, and as we all know, your Lordships’ House is the best geriatric day care centre in the country. We need a time limit on our appointments, whether they be political or non-political. We need a time limit, not an age limit. It should be a

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long period—say, 15 years—possibly with the power for the commission to authorise an extension in appropriate cases.

All of us may have—most of us have—valuable experience or expertise, but as time goes on we get more remote from that experience and expertise. We must remember that most Members of your Lordships’ House reach here in late middle age, at a time when we are no longer employed in full-time jobs. We therefore pass our use-by date. We should recognise that and accept that there should be a time limit to membership. Nor, looking at it from the other direction, do we want someone to be appointed at the age of 35 and then have an automatic right to continue to sit for another 40 or 50 years. That is important when we consider that we may wish to appoint other, younger people for a limited period.

Those issues can be discussed in Committee. My noble friend Lord Steel has done a great service by introducing the Bill, as has my noble friend Lord Oakeshott by introducing his Bill on the taxation status of Members. I am therefore very happy to support the Bill at Second Reading.

11.28 am

Lord Low of Dalston: My Lords, I congratulate the noble lord, Lord Steel, on his stamina in bringing the Bill forward in substantially the same form for what I think is a third time. So far, despite support from all parts of the House, that has proved a pretty thankless task concerning the Government's response, which must be the pre-condition of its making progress in this House, let alone the other place, but it is to be hoped that his persistence will be better rewarded on this occasion and that the Government will want to give the Bill a warmer welcome today.

The Bill should certainly be supported. For a start, all the things it contains are things the Government want: a statutory Appointments Commission, an end to further accessions based on heredity, and the possibility for Members to retire from the House and for the House to exclude those sentenced to more than a year's imprisonment. To be sure, it does not contain all the things the Government would like, but it is equally clear that the Government cannot get all they would like—not in this Parliament, anyway. The Government have made it clear that there is no question of enacting the comprehensive package that they would like until after a general election. Mr Cameron has described major House of Lords reform as a third-term issue. In their manifesto for the 2005 general election, the Government promised to complete the reform of the House of Lords. The only way in which they are going to be able to leave a legacy that goes any way beyond the removal of the bulk of the hereditaries in 1999 is by picking up this Bill, or something like it, and running with it.

There is broad consensus in favour of the measures that the Bill contains. It does not create any impediment or comprehensive reform at a later stage, but it is the only practical way of making progress with the reform agenda at the present time. As it is, 10 years have already elapsed since the Government’s last and only attempt at Lords reform. The Government have conceded

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that it will be 2014 at the earliest before anything can be implemented if we wait for the comprehensive package, and others have speculated that it could well be much longer. This is the central case for supporting the Bill now, and it is unanswerable. If there are detailed aspects of the Bill that people do not like, it can easily be amended in Committee.

Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Steel, has already amended his earlier attempts in order to take on board constructive criticisms. However, the process of never-ending amendment should not be used as a device for killing the Bill. That was plainly what was beginning to happen the last time the Bill had a brief outing in Committee, and I am bound to say that it did not show the House at its best. It is even more important now in the light of recent events that the House should be seen to be adopting a responsible approach to putting its house in order and getting rid of the more obvious anachronisms in its constitution, which can easily be tackled.

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