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Finally, does the noble Baroness agree that, although we have had many proposals and interesting suggestions over the years, there is still an enormous amount of confusion around in terms of legitimacy on the one hand and accountability on the other? These words are waved around as though we all knew what they meant. Again and again, however, when you poke your finger at them, it goes straight through the paper and we are left with puzzles continuing. We urgently need that sort of debate about the nature of government and constitutions, and we will simply not have it if we have a programme rushed ahead as a way of distracting attention from other events.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, the Statement that I repeated is not about displacement. This Government are focused on the economy and getting people back to work, and things are happening. It is clear that things such as the reduction in VAT are having an impact.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, it is truelook at the figures. I understand the concerns expressed by the right reverend Prelate. However, we are not rushing through a programme. What we are doing is debating many of these issues, and taking the debate outside to the people.
Nearly two years ago, when my right honourable friend the Prime Minister became Prime Minister, he said that the constitution was something that he wished to discuss. He started the process with the governance White Paper, and introduced the White Paper on House of Lords reform. What we are doing is taking these things forward. However, it has become clear over the past few months that the public are even more disengaged from politicians than we thought they were. We have to bridge that gap, and it is important that we discuss these things.
The right reverend Prelate is absolutely right that individual responsibility and individual character cannot be determined or fashioned by regulation. There is a place for regulation: it is terribly important. However, we as individuals have to be responsible for what we do and say: the same goes for every parliamentarian.
Lord Maclennan of Rogart: My Lords, does the Leader of the House accept that the core of the message that she read out is that fundamental reform is required to restore the trust of the people in our parliamentary democracy; and that if that trust is to be restored, it must be accepted that the myth propagated by the Opposition Front Bench that the present voting system produces strong government has not been borne out by the events of the past few weeks?
Secondly, does she agree that if the legitimacy of Parliament is to be secured, and trust in our parliamentary democracy reinstated, we need to take action on our electoral system before the next election, which could condemn the country to a do-nothing Government?
Finally, does she accept that, if we cannot go the whole waywe probably cannot in the 300-plus days that are leftone way to meet the hunger of the people would be to arrange the next election with a system that allows at least 50 per cent of the electors in
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Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I believe that reform is necessary to restore trust in our democracy. As the noble Lord says, that is precisely what the Statement is about. In respect of the voting system, I hear what he says and I know what he and many other noble Lords feel. I am sure that, if there were to be a change in our electoral system, many people might feel that that would be an excellent way to restore trust in our democracy and the link with the people. However, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister made clear today, either in the Statement or in questions afterwards, that no action will be taken on that before the election, because any change to our electoral systemeven the type of change that the noble Lord referred towould require a referendum. Therefore, there will be no change before the next election.
If it is true that maintaining the link between the MP and the constituency is fundamental, does my noble friend agree that any move towards proportional representation will severely diminish, not enhance, our democracy? Further, having seen the evidence last weekend of proportional representation in actionit led, as many of us knew it would, to the growth of extremist parties and did nothing for turnout, which was lamentable under PRcan she acknowledge that it is necessary to have a debate about the electoral system, but the electoral system in Europe, with a view to returning to first past the post?
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I am well aware of the very trenchant views that my noble friend expresses, and I have noted the words of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. Retaining that link between the elected Member and the constituency is absolutely fundamental, but it is important to debate these issues. I believe that there are systems which allow for some form of proportional representation and ensuring that the link with constituencies is maintained. I am probably speaking from ignorance but there are many things out there to be debated. There are many systems in many parts of the world, and I think that they are worth looking at. It is certainly a debate worth having.
Earl Ferrers: My Lords, does the noble Baroness realise that her Statement has caused a lot of concern? Does she recognise that all this started not only because of freedom of information but because a disk was hawked around Fleet Street and bought for, I understand, £300,000 by the Daily Telegraph, which then besmirched everyones characters? These accusations have never
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Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, of course I understand the concern that has been expressed by the noble Earl and around this Chamber. These are very serious issues for Parliament, for the public and, indeed, for us as Members of this House. I deplore the actions of the Daily Telegraph and I deplore the way in which good Members of Parliament, who are in the majority, have had their characters assassinated, as the noble Earl said. However, I believe that the events of the past few weeks, which arose as a consequence of the actions of the Daily Telegraph, have demonstrated that the systems in place are no longer adequate. That is why it is necessary to act in this way. I think that the actions that have been taken in respect of a new parliamentary standards authority will help to restore trust between the people and their representatives.
Lord Steel of Aikwood: My Lords, can the noble Baroness clarify those matters which affect this House on which there will be action during this Parliament and those which are simply up for discussion? Am I correct in saying that the legislation will include the capacity to expel Members from this House for disciplinary offences, as well as an end to hereditary by-elections? May I pursue the question put by the Convenor of the Cross-Bench Peerswhat has happened to the answer that I was given a few weeks ago about the proposal to allow Members to resign or retire from the House? Is that going to be included in the legislation? If these three things are, the noble Baroness will recognise that they are also in the Bill I presented, which has already had a Second Reading and was overwhelmingly supported in the House. I am willing to make her a free offer: why does she not take over the Bill and get on with it?
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I am always up for free offers; I spend a lot of time in supermarkets. I hoped that I had responded to the noble Baroness, Lady DSouza. As I understand it, the larger constitutional renewal Bill will still include elements of the noble Lords Bill. That Bill will be published in the not-too-distant future and as soon as I am able to inform noble Lords of its exact contents, I will do so.
Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, will we have an opportunity in the House of Lords to consider the special parliamentary commission? I am concerned about the membership of this House on that committee, as well as that of the House of Commons. Will we have an opportunity before the summer adjournment to consider the proposed Bill in so far as it affects this House? Finally, when the Government claim that there is all-party support for an 80 per cent or 100 per cent elected House, what is the evidence for that?
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, forgive me, but I do not recognise the committee to which the noble Lord refers so I cannot say whether there will be representatives of the House of Lords. Whether there will be a debate on the issues is up to the business managers and usual channels. The 80 per cent and 100 per cent refer to the vote which took place in the House of Commons last year.
Lord Mackay of Clashfern: My Lords, how does the suggestion of a written constitution lie with questions of reform of the House of Lords? It is obvious that, if there is constitutional reform on a grand scale in the shape of a written constitution for the first time, questions must arise about the position in that constitution of both Houses of Parliament.
My second question is in relation to the authority that is proposed in respect of the House of Commons. As I understand it, a committee is sitting at the moment on the reform of the allowance system in the House of Commons and it is hoped that a good, transparent, effective and reasonably cost-effective system will be proposed by Sir Christopher Kelly and his committee. If that is the case, it removes a considerable part of the difficulty that has affected the House of Commons in recent months. If, in addition to that, the expenses of the Members of the House of Commons are immediately made public, perhaps the problems that have existed will disappear. Is it right for this Parliamentwith the problems that it has had, in particular this House of Commonsto take upon itself, prior to a general election, to conclude that those to be elected as MPs in the future will not be worthy of trust without the supervision of this body? I believe that may be seriously underestimating the electorate, who are capable of taking a pretty serious account of the matters that the right reverend Prelate referred to of character and conduct when it comes to electing Members of Parliament.
Thirdly, has any consideration been given to the relationship between this new body, if it comes into existence, and the existing Parliament? At the moment, Parliament enjoys a very special position in our constitution in that the ordinary courts of justice do not interfere with Parliament on the basis that it is supreme. This new body will apparently have disciplinary powers over Members of Parliament. If so, there must be a considerable question as to how its status will lie with the ordinary courts.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, the noble and learned Lord first raised the issue of a written constitution. The Government propose that the UK could move towards a written constitution but only
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The noble and learned Lord then talked about Sir Christopher Kelly publishing expenses on the internet. It is absolutely correct that whatever Sir Christopher Kellys committee comes up with, including the publication of expenses, will help to restore trust in parliamentarians. However, as I mentioned earlier, the days of self-regulation are gone and an independent regulator is necessary. That is not to say that MPs are not worthy of trust. They are, but it is something that the electorate expect these days, because no other similar body is self-regulated. This is also important for MPs themselves. We all have friends and colleagues in the other place who have been under the most enormous pressure and are having the most terrible time at the moment. They might well feel comforted by the fact that there is an independent regulator.
Lord Davies of Coity: My Lords, I have a question for my noble friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster about the Statement on House of Lords reform. I have a letter from the Lord Speaker on behalf of the House Committee to the Prime Minister yesterday. It mentions,
Transparency and accountability are clearly stated in the Statement on the reform of the House of Lords, but I also recall it being said in this House not so very long ago that House of Commons expenses cost this country £100 million a year and House of Lords expenses £17 million a year. Indeed, we have been told that it is the most inexpensive legislative body in the world. What does reduce cost mean?
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I readily acknowledge that this House does a remarkable job for a very small amount of money. We personify value for money in many ways, but it is right that the Prime Minister writes to the SSRB about the desirability of reducing costs to the taxpayer. That is what the taxpayer expects, so it is right that this body should take these things into account when it considers all these issues.
The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change & Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, we have yet to hear from the Cross Benches. May we hear from the noble Baroness, Lady ONeill of Bengarve, please?
Baroness O'Neill of Bengarve: My Lords, I do not want to be Cassandra in this situation, but we have an immediate problem of public trust, which I do not believe will be given back to Parliament on the basis of a juggernaut of constitutional reform. We need to address the immediate issues first and take a proper length of time over consideration of the wider issues that divide us.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I wholeheartedly agree with the noble Baroness. That is why we are addressing the most important issue that has helped to destroy the trust between public and Parliamentexpenses. It is precisely why a Bill shall be introduced shortly on the introduction of a parliamentary standards authority for the House of Commons. The other issues mentioned in the Statement are very much secondary, if I might put it like that. They are issues for debate that will be coming along later. We are addressing the key issue first.
Lord Tyler: My Lords, does the Leader of the House recognise that, in laying great stress on the urgency of restoring legitimacy to Parliament, she has to look at some of the issues that are part of this Statement now rather than putting them into the long grass? For example, does the Cabinet recognise that not one MP enjoys the majority of his or her constituents support? Does that not raise great questions about the legitimacy of the present House of Commons? Does it not also deal with the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, who thinks that the constituency connection is so important, when more than half the constituents in any one constituency do not support their Member? In that case, if the next general election is fought on exactly the same discredited system, surely we are back where we started.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, every Member of Parliament has been elected with a majority in his or her constituency. Therefore, I believe that those Members of Parliament are entirely legitimate. That is not to say that we should not be reflecting, looking at or debating different electoral systems, which is what the Prime Minister has undertaken to do. However, he has also said that there will be no change before the next election.
Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, might I remind my noble friend that, when some of us did some detailed research on the alternative vote some 20 years ago, in 1989, we found that it threw up freak results where third-placed candidates were awarded the seat on the basis of the 50 per cent threshold? That consideration drove the Plant commission, which was then established by the Labour Party, to recommend the supplementary vote, which avoids that problem. May I alert my noble friend to the need, before we start talking of the alternative vote as a way forward, for people to do a little homework?
Lord Elton: My Lords, if we are to start messing around with the composition of both Houses of Parliament, we ought to consider that Parliament was
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Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I agree that the Executive must be controlled by Parliament; that is the duty of Parliament. Forgive me, but while I cannot say how many Ministers there arealthough I shall certainly come back to the noble Lordit is interesting to think about the number of Ministers in both Houses and to reflect whether there should be so many. That should be thrown into the argument. The noble Lord raised one other thing to which I wanted to respond, but I cannot quite recall what it was. Could he tell me?
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, as I understand it, having a Question Time in this House has been discussed before. This is a self-regulating House. If it wishes to have that sort of Question Time, I am sure that the Government would be delighted to respond.
Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady ONeill, rightly spoke about a far-reaching crisis of trust. This is not just about the Daily Telegraph and expenses; it runs much deeper in the sense that much of the public think that Parliament is no longer as effective as they believe it should be. Given the Prime Ministers perfectly correct frequent references to the need to involve the public and to recognise that this reform must rest on the people and not simply on the political class, will the House consider two things? First, will it consider the introduction to this debate of a number of organisations and figures that have a great deal to contribute, and make it clear that they will be included in a discussion? Secondly, and more radically, will it put those proposals on the internet so that the public may be encouraged to give their own messages, responses and views in such a way that the Government and other parties can take those into account in reaching their recommendations?
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I completely agree that there is a crisis of trust. I do not think that it is a new crisis; it is one that has been developing over a number of years and one to which none of us has paid enough heed. I also agree that we have to include the public. The Government will work with a lot of organisations and figures, and I will bring the names to this House as soon as I can. I am sure that suggestions would be welcome. It is an excellent idea to put things on the internet and to seek the views of the public. I will take this back and I think that it will be acted on.
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