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Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, the point I was trying to make is that Back-Benchers will play their full part in the process when we get to the creation of the Joint Committee of both Houses. The committee that the Deputy Prime Minister chairs, with all his might and authority, is designed to create the Bill that your Lordships and others can then comment on. I suggest that we are not going to agree on this issue this afternoon, but I hope that we can move on.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: Is my noble friend the Leader of the House aware that there is another point of view? On 5 July, the question of due process concerning the setting up of this committee and its functions is due for consideration. There are two views. One is that of my noble friend the Leader of the House and the other is certainly my own.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I am well aware that there is more than one view on this issue. Today we will hear from 68 speakers and we may well end up with more views than there are speakers. The point of the Deputy Prime Minister's committee is to produce a Bill. Then a Joint Committee will examine it and that will have representatives from the Cross Benches and the Bishops' Bench. I look forward to them playing their full part in it. We would not wish to exclude anybody from this process. That is likely to mean that it will be a substantial committee. It will have a substantial job to do, but that will be next year's job, not this year's.
Lord Richard: The noble Lord has been very good in giving way. Perhaps he could help me a little. I understand that this committee will produce a Bill. Will it produce a Bill in a legal form, properly drafted by parliamentary draftsmen? Will parliamentary draftsmen be attached to a committee of the three Front Benches to draft a Bill? Is that really the position, so that when the committee reports we get a Bill in draft-which can be introduced in the House-and carry on from there?
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, yes. I would hope that the noble Lord would not be so incredulous. One thing that has been missing from this great debate is precisely that-a Bill in properly drafted form. It will not be introduced to Parliament as part of a legislative process, but as part of a pre-legislative process for proper discussion. I am not going to give way too often.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I hope I can save the noble Lord the Leader of the House a little time. Will the draft Bill that is being produced by the committee deal with transition? I think it might shorten the number of speeches today if the noble Lord could be more forthcoming on that.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, yes, it will deal with transition, which is one of the most important issues. I do not suggest for one moment that the noble Baroness will agree with whatever we propose, although she might. I cannot tell her what it will be because we do not know either at this stage. It is still very early days.
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Lord Rooker: I seek clarification on this point. Like other Members, I have read all three manifestos, which all talked about the House being mainly or wholly elected. Not one of them raised the issue of what this place is for. At what point will the House get the chance to debate what a Second Chamber is for, what it is to do and what its powers are? Surely, all we are talking about at the moment is its composition, which seems to be the wrong way round.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, was a senior Minister in the former Government. They must have debated these issues many times in the build-up to the 2008 White Paper. Of course we have to decide what this House is for and what it will do. The view at the moment is that the House should continue to have the powers that it holds and do the work that it does. We are looking at its composition and how people get here, rather than what they do once they get here. I have hardly started in my speech. I will give way to the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, and then I will get on.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: I am most grateful but, in the light of all the peculiar circumstances, it is important to know that, when the Bill is brought to the House, it will not be whipped so that there can be a genuinely free debate.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I have consistently taken the view over a long period-I am not saying that I will retain that consistency-that whipping a Bill on reform of the House of Lords is a particularly fatuous exercise as I suspect that Peers will make up their own minds, almost whatever the Whips tell them. However, we are a long way from having legislation on which we need to take a view on whether it will need to be whipped.
The coalition agreement, which noble Lords will have seen, envisaged a wholly or mainly elected House with elections on the basis of proportional representation. As the noble Baroness pointed out a moment ago, it also anticipated the transitional arrangement that a "grandfathering" system would be put in place for current Members of the House. I know that noble Lords will be anxious to know what both these things mean. They mean that we as a Government have yet to take a view-
Lord Strathclyde: We have yet to take a view on whether a reformed House should be fully or partly elected. Those words mean that we recognise the case for an orderly process of transition if the composition of the House is to change, just as in 1999 both Houses saw the wisdom of retaining a transitional element from the old House.
As I said at the outset, this House can be proud of so much that it does, but it lacks democratic authority. As a result, I believe that it does not carry the weight that the quality of its work merits. While we remain an overwhelmingly directly appointed House-something like 85 per cent appointed as against 50 per cent before 1999-our membership continues to grow. It is now fast approaching 800, with daily average attendance rising over 400. More new Members are due to be introduced over the coming weeks and months. I believe that it is time to examine what avenues could be created to make it possible for Members to leave the House permanently. To this end, I can announce that I will be setting up a Leaders' Group, chaired by my noble friend Lord Hunt of Wirral, to investigate the options available. The group will include representation from all sides of the House and will be tasked with identifying the options that could be considered to allow Members to leave or to retire from the House.
Over the past 18 months, public confidence in politics, but more especially in Parliament, has been dramatically eroded. While many may reject the case for change, both Houses must surely consider it. Some in this House did not want change in Parliament in 1832, 1911, or, indeed, that much in 1999. Incredible though it may seem, the party opposite even voted against the creation of the life peerage in 1958. However, we came to accept all these great changes, just as in 1958 the then hereditary House accepted the case for change.
We cannot know precisely how this debate will unfold, but we know that it cannot be avoided. A great debate is beginning, or perhaps for some of us it is restarting. This House of all places cannot sit this one out. There is not a single Peer, whatever his or her views, who does not love this place, understand the need for a stronger Parliament and want the best for our House. This House, and its Members, must be at the heart of the debate ahead. I want to ensure this House a place in that process. That is the reason today's debate was arranged. I look forward to all the contributions that will follow today and in the months ahead. I beg to move.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I am grateful to the Leader of the House for opening today's debate with his characteristic élan and his evident relish for reform. We all marvel at the newfound determination of the Conservative element of the coalition Government to ensure that, very suddenly, a third-term issue should become an imperative. But whatever their reasons-and I for one am utterly convinced that the Conservative Benches opposite are as natural supporters of reform of your Lordships' House as they are the natural party of government-we can all heartily welcome the Conservative Party to the ranks of reformers.
The noble Lord the Leader of the House is the very model of the radical revolutionary, and from his speech on this subject to the House today, no one can see him in anything other than that role in the future. While the judgment of these Benches is that the constitutional change on which the coalition is so focused means rather less to people's lives than the measures put forward in the coalition's Conservative Budget, I look forward to today's debate, and I thank the Government for providing the House with the opportunity of debating these issues once again.
This House is familiar with almost every aspect of the issues around the question of Lords reform. The department store John Lewis makes the claim that it is never knowingly undersold. On the question of reform of the House of Lords, I think that we in this House can claim that it is never knowingly underdebated.
However, we have seen in this long-running debate a new move, as mentioned by the Leader of the House: the decision by the coalition Government to form a cross-party committee, chaired by the Deputy Prime Minister, on further reform of the House, with the explicit aim of bringing forward a Bill on reform for consideration by both Houses. I am grateful to the Leader of the House for the information that he has provided about the committee's work so far. I would have liked a more open and transparent way of working, but I am told that because the committee is a Cabinet committee, this is not possible. However, I would ask the Leader of the House for an undertaking that he will, as Leader not only of the whole House but of the Government in this House, continue to keep Members of the House informed about the work of the committee as it progresses.
We may not always have to hand a debate on the future of your Lordships' House to provide the means for him to do so, but I would urge the Leader to consider the best means by which all Members of this House can be kept up to date about the committee's work. It is directly relevant to the future of this House and of the Members of this House. While many beyond this Chamber have a legitimate interest in this House and what will happen to it, I would argue that the Members of this House unquestionably have such an interest and it is right and proper for the Government to keep the Members informed.
Some-including, I acknowledge, some in my party-have questioned whether it is appropriate for Labour spokespeople, including me, to be members of this committee, taking part in its deliberations. I understand those concerns. However, I think that in this case it is right for me, as Leader of the Opposition in this House, and for two other members of the current shadow Cabinet to take part. As we showed in government when, at the instigation of my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer of Thoroton, we established the cross-party talks which led directly to our last White Paper on these matters, there is a genuine cross-party interest in such a major constitutional change as further reform of your Lordships' House. We also as a political party should be involved in these discussions inside the tent, if I may put it like that. Reform of your Lordships' House is of course a matter of party politics, but reform of
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I would have preferred-as clearly would have others-the Cross Benches to be represented on the committee. I think it is wrong that they are not. However, our being members of this committee does not bind us to it. We are the Opposition, not the Government. We have joined a committee, we have not joined the coalition. We will see what conclusions the committee comes up with. We have agreed nothing in advance. As the Deputy Prime Minister told us about the approach to these discussions, nothing is agreed until it is all agreed. There will be no accretion of agreement as we move through the process. In particular, we on this side of the House were committed in our manifesto to put the issue of further reform of your Lordships House to the people of this country. To us, that commitment is real and it is important.
This House plays a vital part in the politics and constitution of our country. Whatever the temporary impact on the balance of this House caused by the forming of the coalition Government, this House plays a vital role as a revising Chamber as well as having a central function as a unique means of national debate. It is the principal mechanism within the legislative process by which the Government of the day are held to account and can be asked to reflect and reconsider. That role is necessary whatever political party is in power. It is no less necessary with a coalition Government in power. Indeed, we on this side of the House would argue that it is even more necessary in such circumstances. I take this opportunity entirely to refute the suggestion that the views of this House were not heard by the Government over the past 13 years. They were constantly heard around the Cabinet table.
This House plays a key part in our constitutional arrangements. It is one of the main checks and balances in our constitution and it is right that it should remain so. Our manifesto commitment to a referendum reflects that. It shows that we believe that, because of the importance of the role of your Lordships' House in both our politics and our constitution, it is right that any fundamental change to this House should be put to the people of this country for their decision.
According to the agreement of the coalition Government, the parties opposite are committed to a referendum on voting reform, specifically on the introduction of the alternative vote system for the election of Members of the House of Commons. However, because of the fundamental instability at the heart of the coalition Government, the two parties opposite are not committed to campaigning for the same goal in any such referendum. That and other deep fissures in the coalition, although significant, are matters for another day. What is important today is that, if the issue of voting reform is significant enough to merit the country's consideration in a referendum, so, too, is further fundamental reform of your Lordships' House. I made that point at the first meeting of the Cabinet committee chaired by the Deputy Prime Minister and I shall continue to hold to it as the process of the committee moves on.
Lord Maclennan of Rogart: I remind the noble Baroness that the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, which reformed the composition of this House by removing from its Benches the Law Lords, was not put to a referendum. Has she any precedent for what she suggests?
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I acknowledge that there was no referendum on that occasion, but I respectfully suggest to the noble Lord that making this House an elected House would be a fundamental change in our constitution.
Lord Goodlad: If, as we consider legislation, the party opposite presses for a referendum on the future of the House, will the noble Baroness take into account the recommendations of the Electoral Commission on compulsory voting, which applies in many other countries, so that that is one of the considerations that come before us?
On other occasions, my noble friend Lady Jay of Paddington, a distinguished former Leader of the House, has asked what the point is of the committee of which I am now a member. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, will raise a pertinent issue in his Question on 5 July and, with typical shrewdness and incisiveness, my noble friend Lord Richard has made the point that, if the committee is to consider fully the outstanding issues of Lords reform, it is unlikely to be able to produce a Bill by the end of the year.
Lord Higgins: Will the noble Baroness clarify whether, in her understanding, this will be a government draft Bill, or will it be agreed to by the Opposition as well? More particularly, is it not rather strange to say that we will have a draft Bill before we have taken the decision on whether we want a partially or wholly elected House? Surely that would be a complete waste of time. The vote on the main point of principle ought to take place first, not during consideration of a draft Bill that has been stitched up by the Front Benches.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, as I mentioned, this is a government committee on which the Government have invited members of the Opposition to sit. That does not mean to say that, at the conclusion of the committee's work, the opposition party will fully sign up to it. The noble Lord makes a powerful case in relation to a referendum, but whenever the referendum takes place-
Lord Higgins: My point was not about a referendum; I was asking whether the cart is now being put before the horse-that is, should we not vote first on whether to have a wholly or partially elected House before debating the establishment of a committee which assumes that that is going to be the case?
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, with respect, the setting up of the committee and the process that is being followed on when or whether or not there should be various votes are matters for the Government. I am the Leader of the Opposition.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: Indeed it would, should that be necessary. Obviously, these are still very early days. This committee has met once, and we just have to wait to see what happens within the process. However, I assure my noble friend and other noble friends that I will keep them as fully informed as possible.
I return to the question of what the committee is for. Many noble Lords around the House have suggested that it will not be possible for such a committee to produce a Bill by the end of the year. However, I believe that there is a huge impetus on the part of the coalition Government and that, for three reasons, it will be possible for the committee to produce a Bill by the end of the year. The first reason is political impetus. On behalf of the coalition, the Deputy Prime Minister is making it clear that he wants and intends to maintain the political momentum implied by the formation of the coalition, including on Lords reform, and of course he has every right to do so.
The second reason is political preparation. Perhaps against all the odds, the cross-party group steered through to conclusion by my right honourable friend the Member for Blackburn got further and made more progress than might have been imagined. Therefore, the new committee is meeting against a background of a high degree of political consensus and of a considerable amount of work done.
The third reason is Bill preparation. The length of the history of further reform of your Lordships' House means that a number of pieces of draft legislation have, from time to time, been prepared by the Government of the day. I suggest that there is much stuff in the Cabinet Office's cupboards, so taking a Bill off the shelf, as it were, and adjusting it is far from impossible.
Therefore, to answer the question posed by various noble Lords, I think that it is possible to produce a Bill by the end of this year, but the crucial issue is the pre-legislative scrutiny which the Bill must then receive.
It is clear from what the Leader of the House has said that Lords reform will not be part of what the Deputy Prime Minister has talked about in quite grandiose terms-a new great reforming Act to rival the Great Reform Act of 1832.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: I apologise for interrupting but exactly the same problem is raised by the intervention of my noble friend and the noble Baroness's reply. We come again to the question of due process, which must be dealt with long before a Joint Committee is in place to scrutinise the Bill. At a very early stage, the due process of this committee is being challenged.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I well understand the concern being expressed around the Chamber about due process, but quite frankly, as
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Lord Anderson of Swansea: My noble friend appears to agree that the Government have made a crashing error of judgment in excluding the Cross-Bench Peers, who clearly have a legitimate interest in the outcome of the draft Bill. Will my noble friend therefore not adopt a grandmotherly attitude, listen to the Cross-Benchers herself and be prepared to put forward their view, as they are excluded from the committee?
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, it would give me great pleasure to listen to the Cross-Benchers and to put forward their views in the committee. I must rapidly move on and come to a conclusion.
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