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Part 2 places the Ponsonby rule in statute and for the first time gives legal effect to a negative vote by either House on the ratification of international treaties. The Ponsonby rule requires the treaty to be published and laid before both Houses for a minimum of 21 sitting days prior to ratification. Although the Ponsonby rule is well established, it is based on constitutional convention rather than law and, formally, Parliament has no ability to veto a ratification. I mentioned that this part gives legal effect to a negative vote of either House, but the legal effect is different, depending on which House is concerned. Negative votes by the other place could ultimately block ratification by the Government. If there is a negative vote by this House, the Government could nevertheless proceed to ratify the treaty after laying a formal statement before both Houses to explain why. This variation is an appropriate reflection of the primacy of the other place as the elected House.
I turn to Part 3 and the referendum on voting systems. These provisions were approved by a very large majority in the other place of some 178. They provide for a referendum to be held on changing the voting system for elections to the House of Commons to the alternative vote. If approved, the referendum will be held by October 2011; the Bill also provides for the practical and procedural aspects of the referendum and the referendum campaign. I look forward to hearing the views across the House on these provisions.
To anticipate one question that may arise-why now?-as I indicated in my opening remarks, in the past 12 months we have seen a crisis of confidence in
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On Part 4 and parliamentary standards, this part of the Bill includes measures to implement recommendations made by the Committee on Standards in Public Life in its report on the MPs' expenses scheme. The key provisions strengthen the enforcement regime in respect of the MPs' expenses scheme and transfer responsibility for determining MPs' pay and pensions to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. Happily, the provisions in this part of the Bill enjoy cross-party support and have been agreed with Sir Christopher Kelly and Sir Ian Kennedy, respectively the chairmen of the Committee on Standards in Public Life and of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. None of the substantive provisions in Part 4 apply to your Lordships' House as currently constituted.
Part 5 contains a package of measures which relate to your Lordships' House. The Bill brings to an end the by-elections to replace hereditary Peers once they die. Those hereditary Peers who are currently Members of the House will, of course, not lose their seats. The Bill only abolishes the mechanism which allows further hereditary Peers to enter this House solely on the basis of their hereditary title.
I recognise, as we all do, the interests of the House in these provisions. The Government have acted in good faith in taking forward reform of your Lordships' House; demonstrably so, as we have worked closely with other parties to build consensus in cross-party talks. We made clear in 1999 that the by-election process was not intended to be a permanent arrangement and it has gone on now for over 10 years. At the last by-election, there were more candidates than electors-in fact, that is true of three of the last four of these elections-and that was an election for one of the larger groups in your Lordships' House, the Cross Benches. This is not, we believe, a credible way of obtaining a seat in our legislature.
Noble Lords will recall that the 92 hereditary Peers remained in the House as, in some ways, a guarantee of full reform. That is what the Government are committed to and that is why we will be bringing forward proposals very shortly.
It is essential that this House is able to deal with disciplinary issues effectively. Last year, the Privileges Committee concluded that this House did not have the powers it needed to expel Peers, or to withhold a writ of summons from a suspended Member. In order to ensure that this House has a robust disciplinary regime to deal with misconduct, Part 5 includes important measures which will, among other things, provide the House with the power to suspend or expel a Peer; override a writ of summons, or cause one not to be issued; and provide that Peers are to be disqualified from the House after conviction for a serious criminal offence, or being subject to a bankruptcy restrictions order.
A consensus is forming around the need to address the growing size of your Lordships' House. With over 700 Members, this House is second in size only to the Chinese National People's Congress. Indeed, a recent report by the Commons Public Administration Select Committee, entitled Goats and Tsars, expressed support for allowing Peers to resign from this House. In all other aspects of public life we accept that a person should be allowed to resign from office, and the Government believe that Members of this House should be able to resign if they no longer intend to sit and vote. In advance of full reform, Part 5 will provide this House with the powers it needs to operate effectively and for us to address the growing size of the House.
I turn to Part 6 and tax status. Part 6 provides that MPs and Lords Temporal are to be deemed resident, ordinarily resident and domiciled in the United Kingdom for the purposes of income tax, capital gains tax and inheritance tax. As a result, they will be liable to pay these taxes on their worldwide income, gains and assets and will be unable to access the remittance basis of taxation. The Government are clear that Members of this House and the other place should be liable to pay the same taxes as the majority of taxpayers in the UK. I am glad to say that this is one of the many issues in the Bill that enjoys cross-party support.
My noble friend the Leader of the House wrote to all noble Lords on 29 January, setting out how the new regime will apply to incumbent Members of the House. While MPs who do not wish to be deemed for tax purposes may stand down, we recognise that the situation is different for incumbent Members of your Lordships' House. To this end, Part 6 includes transitional arrangements for Peers who are not prepared to accept deemed status.
I turn to public order. Part 7 sets out a clear legal framework for the participation in, and policing of, demonstrations around Parliament Square, ensuring
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We take seriously the need to safeguard the proper operation of Parliament and the need to maintain access to the Palace of Westminster. The powers in Schedule 9 allow senior police officers to give directions imposing conditions on organisers or those taking part in processions or assemblies within a designated area around Parliament.
Part 8 concerns human rights claims brought against the devolved Administrations and confirms that such claims can be brought within 12 months. This part of the Bill has been agreed with the devolved Administrations, and the Scottish Parliament has given its consent in line with the Sewel convention. Indeed, the approach set out in this part of the Bill was agreed by the House itself when it approved an order under the Scotland Act in the previous Session.
Part 9 deals with courts and tribunals. It and Schedule 10 include a range of measures to strengthen the independence of the judiciary and further improve the appointments process. For example, statutory salary protection is extended to various judicial office-holders. Part 9 also removes the Prime Minister from the process of appointing Supreme Court justices. Recommendations to the Queen will in future be made by the Lord Chancellor, following work done by the selection commission.
Part 10 deals with national audit. On 6 March 2008 the all-party Commons Public Accounts Commission published a report on the future governance of the National Audit Office, and Part 10 implements its recommendations. It modernises the NAO's governance arrangements, to ensure appropriate internal controls, while at the same time safeguarding the independence of the Comptroller and Auditor-General. The Public Accounts Commission has strongly endorsed these provisions. Part 10 also includes a framework power to enable the National Assembly for Wales to legislate for the governance arrangements of the Wales Audit Office.
Part 11 permits the Treasury to issue directions about the way that government departments prepare estimates. It allows for the consolidation of NDPBs and other central government bodies into supply estimates and departmental resource accounts. This will provide greater consistency and transparency of public spending data that are presented to Parliament by aligning the spending of NDPBs with the existing budgetary treatment. The Bill also allows Welsh Ministers to make equivalent provision in Wales.
I turn to Part 12. In line with the Government's response to the review of the 30-year rule, chaired by Paul Dacre, the Bill provides for a transition to a 20-year rule. This rule governs the point at which public records of historical significance are transferred to the National Archives or to other places of deposit. In addition, certain exemptions under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 will cease to have effect after
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Part 13 includes provisions to clarify the effect of the Electoral Administration Act 2006 in relation to the eligibility of Commonwealth and Irish citizens to be Members of this House or holders of other public offices, in line with the Government's Written Ministerial Statement of 15 December. I hope that the inclusion of this provision will reassure Members who have been concerned about this issue. Clause 91 in this part requires returning officers to take reasonable steps to ensure that the counting of votes in parliamentary elections begins within four hours of polls closing. This part of the Bill also contains provisions to improve the regulation of referendums, including the AV referendum proposed in Part 3. In that regard, the House will wish to note that Clauses 88 and 89 respond to recommendations from the Electoral Commission. This is an important Bill; it has had a long gestation, and many of its provisions-
Lord Lea of Crondall: I am most grateful to the Minister for giving way, as he is clearly reaching his conclusion. Could he say a word about the circumstances in which we are meeting? We have the wash-up coming up very shortly. Could he remind the House how this works? He has referred to the precedents in terms of the scrutiny that is being given to many of the items in the Bill, but it would be convenient to know exactly who meets whom in wash-up, how we can whittle something down to being a lot smaller than what we are looking at now, when we receive the report, and so on. Many Members will think that is relevant to the context in which we are meeting today.
Lord Bach: My Lords, I cannot comment on whether wash-up will begin soon or not. It is an entirely theoretical consideration at this stage. I can say to my noble friend, and I choose my words carefully, that as the House will know, the wash-up is a regular feature at the end of each Parliament. It is important to stress that it does not change the procedures of the House in respect of legislation. In order to reach Royal Assent, a Bill must go through all of its remaining legislative stages in both Houses, and in wash-up this is done on a much faster timescale. The business for the few days of the wash-up is scheduled on the basis of agreements between the usual channels. It is common practice for Bills on a wide range of subjects to reach Royal Assent during a wash-up. Examples from recent years include Bills on education and criminal justice and a Bill giving effect to the statute for the International Criminal Court.
Lord Bach: I think that the answer is none, but some other Bills that have gone through wash-up are extremely important and have had a great influence on our national life, not least Bills on education, criminal justice and other matters. I dare say we will discuss this later this afternoon and well into this evening.
Lord Elton: My Lords, can the noble Lord remind me, and probably others, whether it is possible in wash-up to insert new material or change material in a Bill, or is it merely possible to remove those bits which are not agreeable to all parties?
Lord Bach: My Lords, I have said that the procedure is the same as for all Bills. In other words, all Members, if they are so minded, have the right to put down amendments to Bills. The timetable is speeded up considerably. I cannot assist the House much more on this subject.
My noble friend was right: I had almost finished what I had to say. This is a very important Bill; it has been in gestation for some time and many of its provisions and policies have been heavily scrutinised, not least in your Lordships' House, over that time. It is a Bill whose time has come and a Bill which will help us to restore public trust in our constitutional settlement. I commend it to the House. I beg to move.
Lord Henley: My Lords, the Minister has introduced this Bill with a straight face and has answered all the questions that have been put to him with a straight face. On behalf of this side of the House and possibly the whole House, I congratulate him on that rather difficult task.
The noble Lord has presented the Bill as a grand and sweeping improvement to the way in which this country is governed but in reality, as we know-and as was made clear as he introduced the 13 parts of the Bill-it is nothing of the sort. It is a ragbag collection of proposals and ideas that range from the possibly sensible to the absurd. The noble Lord knows this and most of us in the House know this.
If the Government had really been serious about presenting this Bill to us in a fit state to be approved, they could have stepped up their efforts to do so. The noble Lord told us that there have been 18 consultations. The Government have been producing White Papers, Green Papers and drafts for several years. The present Bill, however, was quite different when it was first presented in another place in July last year. It was given its Second Reading in another place some time later, on 20 October. Since then, it has been languishing while the Government use it as a vehicle for whatever the latest idea happens to be and whatever other Bills happen to come before it in the queue, despite its alleged importance as a constitutional Bill.
The noble Lord will, I imagine, have read the quite damning report produced by your Lordships' Constitution Committee, which takes great exception to the way in which the Government have behaved. I could, if I wanted, read out great chunks of that committee's report, but no doubt the noble Lord will be aware of them, as will the rest of the House.
If the Government need to make delay after delay in order to insert amendments made in desperate response to bad headlines and unfavourable opinion polls, that is their prerogative. But to insert amendments on the voting system for Parliament, on the tax status of parliamentarians and on changes to the Parliamentary Standards Act-enacted only last year-late in the
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Having said that, I shall be kind. The whole of the Bill is not junk. There are clauses-indeed, whole parts of the Bill-which are largely unobjectionable, but they still need the scrutiny that this House needs to give to all Bills that come before it. That is what we do. Part 1, for example, places the Civil Service on a statutory footing; it could-indeed, it probably should-have been given a long overdue discrete Civil Service Bill. That is something for which we and many others in this House have been asking for many years.
We would welcome greater control over the armies of special advisers, for example, but, as the noble Lord is fully aware, a code already exists. How, in practical terms, will anything be different except, as my right honourable friend Mr Cameron has said, that their numbers would be reduced? Will the Government's proposals be anything other than cosmetic? Why do the proposals relating to the Civil Service not include quangos and other quasi-governmental bodies? We all know that such bodies cost the Exchequer some £43 billion a year. Where are the controls? Where is the code relating to service in such bodies? These are areas that this House must probe in Committee, but they will, alas, probably have to be dealt with at a later date in another Parliament.
Part 1 is perhaps the most important part of the Bill, but it is important that we seek the opportunity to enhance it and to embrace all the government bodies and to get the controls right. However, we must debate that fully, and in Committee; we do not want government or legislation simply by decree, which is what the noble Lord is seeking from us.
On another part of the Bill, we will consider carefully, again in Committee-if the Government allow us the proper Committee stage that we deserve-the provisions relating to the ratification of treaties. We on this side of the House have favoured, in principle, the idea of greater parliamentary control, although it is important not to forget the flexibility that is inherent in the application of the royal prerogative in some circumstances. Again, we need to debate that. However, as the Minister also made clear in his introduction, it is not clear how far either House has authority under these proposals ultimately to prevent a Government from signing a treaty if they are determined to do so. The role of this House seems limited. There is a particular lacuna on European treaties. After the betrayal of the promise made at the last election by the Government-and by the Liberal Democrats-to give the British people a say on the draft treaty before it was ratified, it is abundantly clear, not least after the stitch-up behind
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The Government are offering another referendum. At a late stage in another place, as the Minister said, they found themselves pushing for one on reform-if I might put it in those terms-of the voting system to abolish first past the post and introduce the alternative vote system. I understand that that would have been one sure-fire method of voting that would have increased the Labour majority in the 1997 election yet further. The Prime Minister has been entirely unenthusiastic about any such change until-surprise, surprise-an election looms that he cannot duck and obviously feels that he cannot win.
Clearly, this has nothing to do with electoral fairness and everything to do with flashing a bit of ankle at the Liberal Democrats, who are leaning forward in eager anticipation even at the very mention of proportional representation-except that we know that this is not proportional representation but the alternative vote. It is pretty clear that many of the Minister's noble friends are no more enthusiastic than we are at changing to a system that will embed in all future Governments a party that has been unable to win a national election on the strength of its own policies since the days of the Ottoman Empire. I think that we know a gimmick when we see one.
I turn to Part 5-to relieve the noble Lord, let me say that I am not going to go through all 13 parts of the Bill, as he kindly did. I do not have time for all 13 parts; my noble friend will deal with some of them at the end. Part 5 seeks to make further changes to membership of your Lordships' House. We were given to understand in the gracious Speech at the beginning of this somewhat truncated Session-we do not know how long it will last, but it cannot last that much longer-that a Bill would be published providing for general reform of the House of Lords. That would have been the appropriate way to legislate. Instead, we have a risible effort in Part 5, largely pilfered from the ideas put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, who I imagine is here because, to his dismay, they are not pilfered fully enough.
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