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Another thing we have seen is a cascade of referendums, but none on the EU constitution. I know the noble Lord, Lord McNally, will be stressed about this but it is worth repeating how ironic it is that many enthusiasts for renewal and a written constitution in this debate broke their written pledge in the Labour and Liberal Democrat manifestos for a referendum. I know why that was done. There was a deal struck between the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats which went, We do not need to debate this at the general election because we will promise a referendum. Then, when we get to the other side of the election, we will scrap that suggestion. That is why it is an unanswerable question and why the Liberal Democrats hate it being raised. If you cannot keep your own written promise, what price drumming up respect for a written constitution, and what claim do you have to be among the authors of it?
A year ago, amidst national mourning, the Government lost the services of the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hillhe explained why this afternoonas their constitutional adviser. He praised the deal in the mid-1990s with the Labour Party but as soon as there is a deal in the House of Lords he bleats that somehow it is unfair. Now the noble Lord also spoke in a code. He said that he was not interested in getting into the debate between an elected House and an unelected House. What that means, in my experience, is that Peers feel that you could not elect anybody better than themselves, and the same, I suspect, is true for the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill.
Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, I am very sorry but I have to say to the noble Lord, since he attacks me personally, that when he reads what I said he will find it bears as little relationship to reality and what I in fact said as what he has just said about the Supreme Court or the Human Rights Act.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, on the question of the Human Rights Act, I think it would have been helpful to those who do not know about the noble Lord if he had declared his substantial remunerated interests in these subjects. We know it, but those outside the House do not. Further, to hear some of the Liberal Democrats speeches in this debate, you would think that all we needed to save Britain from recession was to tear up what was left of our ancestral constitution and invent something new.
Before plunging into more so-called renewal, might it be wise to review the dubious success of the most recent renewals? I do not set my teeth against change; indeed, I think I am well known in this place for wanting to find a consensus for change here. We need a smaller House of Commons. Will that be in the Governments Bill? If we want fair voting, we need rules to ensure that the sizes of each constituency are near enough the same. We need rules to ensure that political parties should not retain donations that are the proceeds of fraud or of crime. We need that massive transfer of power to local communities to which my right honourable friend Mr Cameron has spoken. So we do need some change, very often beyond local government and down to people. I am cynical about the constant delays in the Governments
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Instead of smokescreens of change thrown up by the Prime Minister to hide the problems in his own backyard, which targeted this House from the basis of what I can only describe as apparent ignorance, we cannot renew confidence in Parliament without giving the British people the chance to send fresh faces to Westminster in a general election.
I have troubled your Lordships in the past with a modest maxim of my own, which I urge us to remember: things are not necessarily bad simply because they are old: they become old because they are good and have the qualities to endure. As I listened to the right reverend Prelate I thought that Durham Cathedral was not a bad example. Doubtless, if we had the faith and the genius we could build a new one, but I would be inclined to be modest about whether the result would be quite the same. So I am not an easy sell on change for changes sake. Let us take that single case of proportional representation about which the Liberal Democrats and the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, get so excited, although I lean rather more in the direction of the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, than the Liberal Democrats.
One thing Britain has benefited from is stable Governments, with representatives at Westminster directly accountable to their electors and extremists shut out of office. Why on earth should we change that to suit the constantly thwarted ambitions of a third most popular party? Forgive me if my history is a little shaky; perhaps the noble Lords, Lord Howarth and Lord Wallace, can put me right. But am I not right in thinking that with the decades of Liberal control of Parliament from the 1830s to the 1880s and the great landslide of 1906, we were never given this incredible elixir of proportional representation? Indeed, when the first Lord Avebury put it to the vote in the Commons, just 17 of those massed Liberal MPs supported it. Mr Gladstone was not having any, and neither should we.
PR is said to stand for proportional representation. We all know that what it means is permanent representationpermanent representation for Liberal Democrats in office, a glorious never-never land in which those great Platonic guardians will be immovable from office and decide which of the more popular parties will exercise it. We live in it every day in this House, as Liberal Democrat Peers decide which parts of the Governments legislation will go through and which will not. I chuckle when I hear Mr Clegg saying that he wants PR to shake the hold of the two establishment parties. What he really wants is one establishment partyhis ownwith permanent representation in office. That is what PR is all about.
Because time is getting on, let me conclude with two brief points. First, can I renew my suggestion of a regular Question Time for the two Secretaries of State now in this House? I am delighted to see the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, on the Front Bench. I do not want to break the valuable rule that Ministers in this House answer for the whole Government and that our Question Times are varied, but an additional provision to scrutinise these Ministers would be widely welcomed.
Secondly, as we all come to write our manifestos for the election that the Prime Minister cannot indefinitely delay, can I research the status of an old wisdom? For this side, the Salisbury doctrine, as reinforced in the report of the noble Lord, Lord Cunningham, will apply if we are not elected. We have observed it scrupulously these past 12 years. I am not sure of the position of the Liberal Democrats but I think that they have honoured it and would wish to continue to honour it from now on. Will the Minister give an assurance that the Labour Party, if in opposition in this unelected House, would observe it again? This is one principle that surely needs to be explicitly and clearly reaffirmed.
The real joy of this debate is that there will be, as we heard yesterday, a whole series of opportunities in the next few months to debate these issues many times again, with the publication of the constitutional renewal Bill, the clauses on reform of the House of Lords and, indeed, the short Bill on the new super-regulator for the whole of Parliament. There are many other things that I wish to say, but I know that I will have the opportunity to do so in the months to come.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Bach): My Lords, I start off by agreeing absolutely with the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. I have enjoyed this debate much, much more than I thought I was going to. However, I have a feeling that that is where the enjoyment, both of myself and of those of us in the House at the present time, may end. The Government put their case yesterday and I have to make a confession straightaway. The Government have not changed their mind overnight. Noble Lords may well have heard on an earlier occasion some of what I am going to say. That has not stopped this debate being an absolutely terrific one, if I may say so, with wonderful speeches from all sides expressing different points of view. It has been a delight to take part in it.
The great expertise that there is in this House on this subject has shown itself today. Even if I am not going to say anything particularly original this afternoon, one thing that the Government will have gained from this debate is the listening; is what will appear in Hansardtomorrow and what will be there for ever afterwards. There is a great advantage in seeing in print what was said in one of the Houses of Parliament on this subject at this time. We will take great note, I can assure the House, of what has been said on all sides in this important debate.
The noble Lord, Lord Tyler, deserves congratulations both on his timeliness and also on what he has had to say. He is quite right too to call for decisive and prompt action. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister yesterday made clear the path we must pursue to renew our democracy. The goal of this process of renewal must be the regaining of the countrys trust. A number of noble Lords have spoken, whether they used the word trust or not, about how trust seems to have departed as it were in the relationship between the people and Parliament.
I am sure we all agree with my right honourable friend the Prime Ministers view that most Members of Parliament enter public life to serve the public interest in the same way that Members of both House are in politics, not for what they can get, but for what they can give. I think that still is absolutely true. Nevertheless, public confidence has been badly shaken. We must renew our democracy but, particularly when we are discussing these matters, we will not regain the trust of the people in these difficult times without to a large extent setting aside for the sake of our common democracy the differences that exist and have existed for some years between our parties. The Prime Minister sounded a warning yesterday:
At precisely the moment when the public need their politicians to be focused on the issues that affect their lives ... the subject of politics itself has become the focus of our politics.[Official Report, Commons, 10/6/09; col. 795.]
Without wishing to test the Houses patience too much, I believe it is important to review the Governments plans for democratic renewal. At its first meeting on Tuesday, the Government's democratic council decided to bring forward new legislative proposals before the Summer Recess on two issues which have been the subject of constructive cross-party discussion. Interestingly, those issues have not played a prominent part in todays debate because we have talked in broader terms about the future of democracy, so let me remind the House. The first proposal pertains to the immediate creation of a new parliamentary standards authority with delegated power to regulate the system of allowances. That decisive step will underline our commitment that the House of Commons, and subsequently this House, must move from the old system of self-regulation to independent statutory regulation. The proposed new authority would take over the role of the Fees Office in authorising Members' claims; oversee the new allowance system following proposals, of course, from the Committee on Standards in Public Life; maintain the Register of Members' Interests; and disallow claims, require repayment and apply firm and appropriate sanctions in cases of financial irregularity.
The second legislative proposal of course relates to a code of conduct. The House will be asked to agree a statutory code of conduct for all Members of Parliament, clarifying their role in relation to the people and to Parliament. It will codify much more clearly the different potential offences that have to be addressed and the options available for sanction. As was said yesterday, those measures will be included in a short self-standing Bill on the conduct of members in another place, which will be introduced and debated before the Summer Recess. That will address the most immediate issues about which we know the public are most upset. During the past few weeks, many of us will have had experiences like that of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, as he walked down Saltaire high street. I am sure that we all welcome the clarity and transparency the proposals will bring. However, they represent only the first stage of the Governments legislation programme for constitutional and democratic reform; I think that the House will be pleased to hear that.
The House knows that the Government believe that the House of Lords should also be reformed. Following a meeting of the House Committee, and at its request, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister yesterday wrote to the Senior Salaries Review Body to ask it to review the system of financial support in this House to increase accountability and transparency and reduce cost. For the first time there will also be legislation for new disciplinary sanctions for the misconduct of Peers. Given the vital role that transparency has played in sweeping away the decrepit system of allowances and in holding power to account, we should do more to spread the culture and practice of freedom of information. The Government will set out further plans to look at broadening the application of freedom of information to include additional bodies which also need to be subject to greater transparency and accountability.
Lord Bach: My Lords, if I recall from my reading of the press during the past few days, a number of them are public bodies financed by the taxpayer. The BBC is one; others escape me at the moment, but they are in that category.
In the past 12 years, we have created the devolved Administrations, ended the hereditary principle in this House, and introduced the Freedom of Information Act and the Human Rights Act. That is what I believed until a few minutes ago, but it now appears that those measures were all the responsibility, almost uniquely, of the Liberal Democrats. History has been to some extent rewritten. I always thought that this Government had been responsible for the passing of that legislationbringing it to Parliament and carrying it through both Housesbut I will apparently have to review carefully my no doubt rather strange belief. I was intrigued by the view of history of the noble Lord, Lord McNally, which was that there was a kind of golden age up to 2001 and that after that it had been downhill all the way. The Home Secretary between 1997 and 2001, when those great reforms occurred, was my right honourable friend the Justice Secretary, Mr Jack Straw, and I remind the noble Lord that any moves there have been towards reform of the House of Lords for a number of years are the responsibility of the very same politician; that is the view that many of my noble friends take, whether they are on the side of reform or not. To say that somehow the Justice Secretary has been a force for conservatism over the past few years in a constitutional sense seems to be rather stretching a point.
Lord Bach: I wonder whether I can just finish this point, my Lords. If I were to be cynical, I would say that my right honourable friend had achieved more reform on his own as part of this Labour Government than any member of the Liberal Democrats for almost 100 years.
Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords, I agree substantially with what my noble friend has said, with one exception, which is not about the period when Jack Straw was
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Just as through recent changes we are removing ancient royal prerogatives and making the Executive more accountable to Parliament, so Parliament itself must now become rather more accountable to the people to establish and renew its legitimacy and status. That has been a theme of the debate. Therefore, democratic reform cannot be led in Westminster alone; it must principally be led by our engagement with the public, which sometimes we are not very good at. This Government will build a process that engages citizens from every background and every part of the country, so over the coming weeks the Government will set out proposals for debate and reform on a number of major issues.
A matter that is clearly of great interest to this House is electoral reform. Following the publication last year of a review of the electoral system, we will set out proposals for taking forward a debate on electoral reform. I hope the House agrees that we should be prepared to propose change only if there is a broad consensus in the country that it would strengthen our democracy and politics by improving the effectiveness and legitimacy of both government and Parliament and by enhancing the level and quality of representation and public engagement. It is surely right to concentrate on what will interest or engage the public, lest we fall into the trap of making politics the focus of our politics.
The Government have done much to take power away from Westminster and place it in the hands of citizens and local communities. We are all familiar with the establishment of the devolved Administrations. That was a matter of great constitutional and democratic significance, but the process of devolution is not finished; it is clearly ongoing. We have made proposals to complete the devolution of policing and justice in Northern Ireland. Next week the Calman commission will report with recommendations on the future of devolution in Scotland within the Union.
However significant these constitutional changes may be, we must continue to seek new ways to empower and engage citizens. The Government will shortly set out how we will strengthen the engagement of citizens in the democratic life of their own communities as we progress to the next level of devolution in England. There will be among those who spoke today, I hope, people who will say hear, hear to that. My noble friend Lord Howarth referred to that in his excellent speech. We must consider whether we should offer stronger, clearly defined powers to local government and city regions, and strengthen their accountability to local people.
Moreover, we have a duty to ensure that our democratic processes are legitimate and truly representative. We need to improve electoral registration. We will consider how we can increase the number of people on the register and help to combat fraud. On receipt of the Youth Citizenship Commissions report, and having heard from young people themselves, we will set out the steps that we will take to increase the engagement of young people in politics, including whether to give further consideration to lowering the voting age.
This is not the limit of our ambitions. Setting out not only the rights that people can expect, but the responsibilities that come with those rights as a British citizen, is a fundamental step in balancing power between government, Parliament and people. The Government have published proposals and these will be subject to wide public debate. Should the country want a written constitution, the drafting of such a constitution will be a matter for the widest possible consultation with the British people. My noble friend Lord Desai, the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, and the noble Lord, Lord Norton, among others, all spoke on their views about a formal written constitution.
Last but not least, I come to a matter that we have discussed often and will no doubt discuss at length in the futurethe reform of this House. We would argue that the Government have taken historic steps to make our democracy fit for this century. The House of Lords Act 1999 removed the right of all but 92 hereditary Peers to sit in this Chamber. That must count as the most significant legislation to affect this House in more than 90 years, but we will not rest on our laurels. The Government are committed to introducing comprehensive reform to deliver on the votes in another place in March 2007. The Governments White Paper, published last Julyfor which there is, we believe, backing from other partiescommitted us to an 80 or 100 per cent elected House of Lords. It is the Governments view that it is now time to carry this commitment to completion. We will publish proposals for the final stages of House of Lords reform before the Summer Recess, including the next steps towards resolving the position of the remaining hereditary Peers. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, asked about the Salisbury convention. I will be careful in answering him. The answer is that, of course, we will observe the Salisbury convention in the same way, and to the same extent, as the opposition parties.
I end by saying that we believe that what my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said yesterday in his Statementrepeated here by my noble friend the Leader of the Houserepresents a strong plan of action to deal with profound issues. The excellent speeches of the two right reverend Prelates dealt with the profundity of the issues that we must face, as did most of the other speeches that we have heard today.
The Government will introduce a constitutional renewal Bill soon, but we must first address the issues raised by the expenses crisis. We must recognise that one piece of legislation will not solve all the problems facing the country. Only by a co-ordinated programme of reform can we renew our democracy and merit
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Lord Tyler: My Lords, by my reckoning there are several minutes until our three and a half hours are up, but even if I took up every minute I could not do justice to all the contributions that have been made to this debate. I heartily endorse what the Minister has just said: we will all read Hansard tomorrow with exceptional care. It is customary to say that there has been a thoughtful and thought-provoking debate, but this one genuinely has been. I will look at every contribution with great care tomorrow. I hope that others will, too. It would perhaps be invidious to take up time in pointing out particular contributions, but I am particularly grateful to the two right reverend Prelates for their speeches, which were very interesting. As the Minister said, it has been a terrific debate and I am grateful to all who have contributed.
I go back to a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth. He said that there is a crisis of confidence in the political class. That is the background to our debate, but I would argue that it is not just about individuals but about the institutions that give rise to the political class. That is how they get there. It is the whole context in which those people come to those roles. We cannot simply divorce the two. We cannot simply deal with the present crisis, to which my noble friend Lord Wallace referred so eloquently, of a lack of confidence and trust in individuals. There is also a lack of trust in the institutions that those individuals occupy.
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