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Noble Lords have argued that our commitment to comprehensive reform in the next Parliament is not incompatible with the aims of the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Steel, has said on several occasions that the Bill should be seen as a tidying-up of the House as it is now and not a measure for the future. I acknowledge that his intention is, as the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, put it, for the Bill to be a staging post. I also acknowledge what my noble friend Lord Howarth said about the reputational image of this House in the light of certain matters that have taken place over the past few weeks. We have made it very clear that measures relating to the conduct and discipline of this House are of cardinal importance. The noble Lord’s Bill makes provision for one aspect of that matter—the disqualification of Members after serious criminal convictions. The Government recognise that there is a strong case—and I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, about the need for legislation—for considering legislation to address specific issues raised as a result of allegations against Members of this House. We are actively looking at what legislation we might be able to introduce to support this House in disciplining its Members and we are considering what suitable legislative vehicle might be used to take forward those proposals.

Lord McNally: My Lords, perhaps I may give a Gypsy’s warning. It would be unacceptable if those paragons of virtue down the Corridor were to be the

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source of cleaning up this House. Therefore, can the Minister assure us that this end of the building will be fully consulted before any such legislative proposals are sprung on us?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I am sure that the Government would wish to discuss with noble Lords any matters to do with that. I am sure that we will do so, as clearly we would very much wish to proceed as consensually as possible.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, I apologise for intervening. The noble Lord talks about a strong case. Is there not a strong case for the retention of our position under our Standing Orders—indeed, a stronger case if you look forward a little? Will the Government reconsider their attitude on this aspect?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, are always considered very carefully. I shall certainly consider them.

I need to reiterate to the House that the Government’s view is that we have to look seriously at the prospect of legislation on these important and serious matters. Many noble Lords have said that, in addition, we should embrace other aspects of the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Steel. I caution the House on this for two reasons. First, as I have already said, legislating on issues not connected to conduct, such as the Appointments Commission or the repeal of the hereditary by-election system, would be inconsistent with the Government’s intent to legislate for fundamental reform. I say to my noble friend Lord Gordon that that is not a long-grass option.

Secondly, it is fair to say that there may be—I hope that there is—support for the proposition that conduct and discipline questions need swift action. It is clear from the discussions that have already taken place that, if provisions on conduct issues alone were to be brought before both Houses, one could hope for as speedy and successful an outcome as possible. There appears to be widespread agreement among Members of all parties and groups on the need for action in this area.

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I apologise to my noble friend, but I wonder whether he can help me on this. He was encouraging in response to my specific point about taxation and the need to establish different criteria on membership. He is now, as I understand it, also suggesting that the Government wish to take action on criminal activities and other, possibly exclusionary, difficulties that prohibit membership. How do those matters, if they are put in a collective basket, not inhibit the kind of long-term reform that he says is the Government’s aim? That is the basis, as I understand it, for his opposing the position that many of us have taken, which is that we need this incremental reform now.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I certainly confirm the first part of the question, on the Government looking at the matters raised by the Bill of the noble

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Lord, Lord Oakeshott—Members in another place have raised similar concerns—and the need to deal with conduct and discipline questions as effectively as possible. However, we see those as two specific, important, pressing matters that must be addressed as quickly and effectively as possible.

Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend, but he repeats as a sort of dogma that the two major planks—the statutory Appointments Commission and the suspension of the by-elections—would get in the way of long-term reform, which will take donkey’s years. He has never said anything that justifies such an extraordinary statement. Would he enlarge on why what he says should be so?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I am not sure that I accept my noble friend’s proposition. I have said that the Government’s preferred approach to Lords reform, apart from the two specific areas that we have just debated, is to go along the route that we said we would when we published the White Paper in July 2008, which is for comprehensive reform. My noble friend says that this will somehow take years and years, as if it is being put off for the long term. Perhaps he takes a more pessimistic view of my party’s prospects at the next election. However, as long as I have anything to do with this Government, I am absolutely committed to substantive reform. There is absolutely no reason why, following the production of manifestos and the election, reform legislation cannot rapidly be brought to Parliament. Of course, I cannot predict the future. I cannot say for certain what the outcome of the election will be. However, I can say that the White Paper gives us a very clear opportunity to place before the electorate a comprehensive proposal for reform of your Lordships’ House.

Lord Higgins: My Lords, the noble Lord cannot have been listening to today’s debate, the whole emphasis of which was that the measures in the Bill need to be introduced now. There are strong arguments against delaying them until after the next general election. That was the whole thrust of the debate. These matters are urgent.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: Which matters are urgent, my Lords? I believe that the disciplinary measures are urgent, and my noble friend Lady Jay has made a powerful case about the urgency of the taxation issue. But are the other matters so urgent given that the Government have said that we will put before the electorate at the next election a comprehensive package of reform proposals which we will introduce if we are re-elected? Why is speed required in the other matters? Noble Lords have ignored—

Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords, the answer is that this was in the previous manifesto.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, we should allow the Minister to finish.

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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I was rather enjoying this. Noble Lords have ignored the fact that obtaining universal agreement to specific aspects of the Bill will not be simple. It is clear that many hours of debate will take place before the Bill goes through your Lordships' House. If the Bill goes to the other place, I should think it unlikely that it will emerge from there in the same state as that in which it entered. There are not just three, four or five matters in the Bill which will pass swiftly through your Lordships' House and then be agreed to swiftly in the other place. That is a pipe dream. It is simply unrealistic. It is simply not going to happen. As I said, the Government have identified two areas to which we need to give close and quick attention. However, the others should be subsumed within a fundamental reform package. Of course I will continue to reflect on today’s debate. We will continue to carry out urgent work on conduct and discipline measures. We will continue to press the case for fundamental reform. In the mean time, I look forward enormously to continuing the debate in Committee.

2.18 pm

Lord Steel of Aikwood: My Lords, I think we all agree that we have had a remarkably good and, indeed, enjoyable debate. I thank everybody who participated. Indeed, there is a remarkably large attendance for a Friday. Many noble Lords have suggested amendments to the Bill which I do not propose to go through now. Further to the remarks of my noble friend Lord McNally, although I appreciate that I have 40 minutes in which to reply to the debate, I think that I would do the House a service if I did not speak for that length of time. I shall simply say that I agree with many of the suggested amendments or criticisms. I believe that the Bill will be substantially improved in Committee, but it will have a much better chance of being improved if the Government will take it on. I shall come back to that in a moment. If the Government took it on, they would be wise to incorporate in it my noble friend Lord Oakeshott’s Bill. That seemed to be one of the Minister’s concerns.

It is significant that in this long and anxious debate, there have been 27 speeches in favour of the Bill and five against. I admit that I have not included in those figures the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, because on the one hand he said he was so enthusiastic about the Bill that he wanted it debated every year for the next 10 years, and I thought that that meant he was a supporter, but because he suggested that I should introduce it for the next 10 years, I put him down as a personal enemy.

I know that we are all equal in this place, but it is important and significant that among the contributors who were strongly in favour of the Bill was the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, who, after all, was responsible for the 1999 reforms and is a former Leader of the House. There was also the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, who until recently was the Government Chief Whip. These are two people who have been responsible for the operation and workings of this House on a day-to-day basis and they know more than the rest of us about the weaknesses of the present House. Their

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contributions should be taken particularly seriously by the Government, although all contributions have been most welcome.

It was significant that the noble Lord, Lord Jay, who is chair of the Appointments Commission, added weight to the case for turning the commission into a statutory body, which, as I have said, has been a manifesto commitment of the Government for nearly 10 years. The noble Lord, Lord Lea, made a very valid point when he asked why we should believe future manifesto commitments, on which the Minister has just been relying, when these old ones, which are much smaller in scope, have still to be put into effect.

It has been significant, too, that there have been noble Lords, particularly on these Benches, who said that they had changed their minds. Whereas previously they were lukewarm or hostile to these measures, they are now in favour. All of these points must be taken on board by the Government when they consider the course of this debate. The noble Lord, Lord Warner, who only recently left the Government, was right to talk about the increasing frustration in the House about the failure to move on with Lords reform.

Part 4, which deals with the exclusion of Peers, is a potential vehicle for dealing with the current preoccupations. It deals only with permanent exclusion, as several Members have said. I should assure the noble Lord, Lord Northbrook, that there is nothing retrospective on that in the Bill and there could not be. However, it is right that that part needs to be expanded and amended to take account of the issue that the Minister rightly dealt with, awaiting the outcome of our inquiries.

It is extraordinary that the Government are seriously saying that they want to take up Part 4, which frankly we added quite late as an extra point, pick it out of the Bill and move forward with it. Why? Not because it is more important than the other three parts; it just happens to be topical. That is not the way in which we should decided the priorities of legislation. The case for Part 4 is no stronger than the case for the other three parts, and the Government should look again at the possibility of taking over the whole Bill. They have a huge majority in the other House, and the Administration sub-committee is impatient at the lack of progress. The Government’s position is difficult to understand. The Minister was right to say that if the Bill proceeded as a Private Member’s Bill it would get bogged down, but if the Government take it over there is no reason why these four issues could not be dealt with satisfactorily in this Session. That is my cause.

The noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, and many others made it clear that there is no impediment in this Bill to the Government’s plans which they continue to advocate. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, very fairly put forward what he would see as the priorities of an incoming Conservative Government. I have made no criticism of Mr Cameron for his forthright comment that Lords reform is not a priority. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, rightly pointed to what would be that Government’s priority. I beg to suggest that they would be the priorities of whichever Government happen to be elected after the next election. That is exactly our point. We are not going to get to stage 3, as

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I call it, of Lords reform for many years. That is why there is anxiety that we should proceed now to do what we can.

On the argument about undertakings given in 1999, I am sorry that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine, is not in his place and I hope that he will not mind my repeating what he said to me. He pointed out that the undertaking that he gave was not set in any context; it was simply that until future reform took place, the 92 hereditary Peers would remain. If the Government take over the Bill, that would become stage 2, with stage 3 in waiting for a future Government. That is the way in which it should operate.

The noble Lord, Lord Higgins, made the valid point that if the reason for keeping the 92 was to act as a spur to reform, it had clearly failed. We cannot continue to justify the process of hereditary Peers’ by-elections.

The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, was forthright on the subject of retirement. She made a valid point about Members who are a little elderly or frail feeling that they are letting the side down if they do not turn up. That is true. My noble friend Lord Mackie of Benshie, who is in his late 80s, said to me on the telephone the other day that I should make the point that Members such as him, who walk round here with sticks, should be able to leave knowing that their place will be taken by a new person. The noble Baroness also made that point, and it is clearly set out in the Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, seems to have joined the Selsdon party; he wants a debate every year on this subject. I believe that he has a good chance of securing that. That is exactly my worry—that we could go on debating House of Lords reform for ever. There is nothing mechanistic in the Bill; he was wrong to pull it apart on the grounds of the arithmetic involved. The phrase in the Bill is about the Appointments Commission “having regard” to certain things. There is no automatic mechanism, nor could there be. The House has always evolved according to what happens in general elections. I understand that there has been agreement between the political parties that we should no longer have a situation in which the Government of the day have an overall majority. That is relatively new but we could make it work sensibly, and I have every confidence that the Appointments Commission would make it work sensibly.

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The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, said that he felt awkward supporting the government Front Bench. I suggest that the feeling should be the other way round: the government Front Bench should feel jolly awkward that its support lies in the hands of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, and the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, perhaps partly supported by the opposition Front Bench. It does not seem to me to be a very dignified position for the Government to be in. It is extraordinary that support for their line has been so limited in this debate.

The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, teased me at the beginning by saying that I had been volunteered to undertake to introduce this Bill but that he had no doubt I was now becoming enthusiastic about it. He is right: I am enthusiastic about it. I care about the work of Parliament. I have been involved in major constitutional changes. As everyone knows, I was heavily involved in the creation of the Scottish Parliament. I care about this place, and it is intolerable that we keep putting off sensible reforms on the basis that, at some time in the future, there might be more substantial reform.

I think that the mood of the House has changed; this debate has shown it. Pressure is also coming from the House of Commons through its Administration Sub-Committee. Therefore, I hope very much that the Government will take on the Bill.

When we last debated the Bill, it went to Committee. However, we had only less than half a day on that stage and I did not press the Bill further. The reason was simply that I felt I would not be doing the House a service if I kept bringing forward a measure that was clearly opposed by a small minority, as that would clog up the work of the House. The position is now different. I think that I would be doing the House a disservice if I did not take the Bill forward to the Committee stage and say repeatedly to the Government that they really should take this matter over. In that spirit, and the spirit of this debate, I ask that the Bill be given a Second Reading.

Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

House adjourned at 2.30 pm.

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