Queen's Speech — Debate (2nd Day)
11:13 am

Moved on Wednesday 9 May by

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Lord Cope of Berkeley (Conservative)

That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty as follows:

"Most Gracious Sovereign-We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament".

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Lord Strathclyde (Conservative)

My Lords, I am very pleased to be able to open the days of debate ahead on the humble Address. I spoke yesterday on a Motion to adjourn the House, and I said then that I would be speaking today to put some flesh on the bones of some of the constitutional announcements made in the gracious Speech.

We have agreed through the usual channels that for today and Monday the principal topic for debate will be constitutional affairs. I know that this is a subject which the House takes very seriously and is in many respects uniquely placed to comment on. I am pleased to see so many speakers signed up for this debate and I know that we will benefit from the expertise available in this Chamber.

We are an outward-looking and inclusive nation, and we adapt inevitably to the world changing around us. That is why the Prime Minister announced last year that we will reform the rules governing royal succession. With the agreement of 15 other Commonwealth realms of which Her Majesty is also head of state, we will bring forward proposals to ensure that a daughter will be treated the same as a son in the line of succession. Once we have agreed the way forward, we will bring forward legislation when parliamentary time allows. The detail is of course still the subject of discussions, but agreement in principle to take forward these changes has already been secured at the very highest level, as the Prime Minister and other Commonwealth Heads of Government made clear in Perth last year.

The Government will also bring forward legislation to tackle electoral fraud, by introducing individual electoral registration requiring electors to register individually rather than by household. In doing so, individuals will have to provide information to verify their application. This will update our electoral registration system, making it easier and more convenient for people to register to vote. New methods of registration, such as online registration, will also be looked at and our aim is to tackle electoral fraud, increase the number of people registered to vote and improve the integrity of the register. By 2015, every individual's entry on the register will have been verified.

I am of course aware that the most significant change to our constitutional arrangements which was announced in the gracious Speech, and perhaps that of most interest to many speakers today, is the proposal to change the composition of this House. I know from a most useful and meticulous debate last week that noble Lords are fully appraised of the contents of the draft House of Lords reform Bill and the Joint Committee's report on that Bill, and indeed the alternative report on it. In summary, the draft Bill proposed to change the way in which people come to this House. Nearly all are currently recommended by leaders of political parties. The Bill would change this so that most Members of the House of Lords would be elected directly by the people. In doing this, the Bill would bring democratic legitimacy to the reformed House of Lords. For the first time, the people who obey the laws of this country would be able to elect the people in the second Chamber who helped make those laws. The second Chamber will have a democratic mandate with which to do its work.

Furthermore, the size and membership of the House of Lords would be substantially reduced, and elected Members would come from all regions and nations of the UK. The House of Lords would also, for the first time, be able to expel Members who have committed serious offences. We intend to bring this Bill forward now because we believe the time has come for Parliament to take a view on what has become a well rehearsed issue. All three major political parties agree that reform of your Lordships' House is needed. We all recognise the importance of bringing increased democratic legitimacy into our second Chamber. Now is the time to start taking actual decisions on how to make it happen.

There is not a single person who has joined the House of Lords since 1997 who cannot have been wholly aware of the proposals for change. Indeed, change has rightly been a feature of this House during this transitional phase, as the membership of this House has continued to evolve. Nor have our customs and conventions been set in stone over that period. Indeed, over the course of the last Session alone we set many uncomfortable precedents. By September last year, the proportion of Bills sent to Grand Committee in a full-length Session had fallen to a 10-year low, prompting a vote on the commitment of the Welfare Reform Bill-which, incidentally, turned out to be a resounding success. We witnessed the longest Committee stage of a Bill since the early 1970s and more Bills taking longer than eight days in Committee than did so over the entirety of the last Parliament.

We saw Third Readings of Bills take ever longer, with many important votes and amendments unnecessarily postponed until later stages or amendments being brought back time and again that had already been properly disposed of. We broke with convention by pressing amendments rejected by another place on the grounds of financial privilege. Even the Leader of the Opposition absurdly voted against the advice that she had previously given as Leader of the House. This suggests that, irrespective of the progress of proposals for reform, the House is already more assertive, more willing to challenge the primacy of the House of Commons and, on occasion, prepared to test the conventions around reasonable time.

The future of this House has been hanging in the balance ever since we embarked on the first phase of reform that the Labour Party started in 1998. It is now time to move on to the second phase. It seems so long since 1999, when the Labour Party said that the transitionary House would exist for only a very short period. That party promised us early reform, and in government it accepted by-elections to replace dead hereditary Peers because stage two would come along so soon. I very much hope that noble Lords opposite who are due to speak from the Front Bench will be able to explain Labour's failure over the past 12 years, and why it never delivered the promised democratic legitimacy that Tony Blair yearned for in 1997-yet another failure.

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Lord Cormack (Conservative)

I am most grateful to my noble friend for giving way. Is he aware that when Tony Blair made his last appearance before the Liaison Committee in another place, he made it abundantly plain that he did not think that this place should be subject to direct elections?

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Lord Strathclyde (Conservative)

My Lords, I am aware of that. I am particularly impressed that those questions were aimed at those in the Labour Party and my noble friend is now answering questions posed to them. I want the Labour Party to tell us whether it agrees with Tony Blair last year or in the late 1990s. That is the question we need to get to the bottom of.

The reform Bill that we introduce in this Session will take account of the work done so far. It will build on the commissions, White Papers and cross-party working groups, most of which were chaired by senior members of the Labour Party in government pleading with us to create a consensus so that they could get on with stage two of reform. When we come forward with our Bill, it will take account of the Joint Committee's report and conclusions on the draft Bill, which will no doubt leave their mark on our proposals. I say, with the noble Lord, Lord Richard, in his place, that we are very pleased that the Joint Committee has broadly confirmed its support for a mainly elected House of Lords and are reassured that the Government and the Joint Committee agree on so many of its key elements.

I do not underestimate what a task it will be to resolve those issues that remain outstanding, nor to come forward with a Bill that will gain support across the parties in both Houses. We wish to proceed by consensus, and we recognise that that will be achieved only by bringing the Front Benches of all three parties with us-and, I hope, their Back Benches too. We do not expect simply to stumble upon a consensus; we have to build it. So the Labour Party will have to make up its mind what kind of second Chamber it is supporting, and will have to choose whether it is going to be part of that consensus.

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Lord Elton (Conservative)

My Lords, will my noble friend confirm that he is now withdrawing the definition of consensus that he gave before Prorogation of being whatever the House of Commons would give a majority to?

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Lord Strathclyde (Conservative)

No, my Lords. However, I think that my explanation of a consensus was misunderstood. Any student of this subject, as I have been over the past 15 years, will know that there is no consensus in the House of Commons without that consensus being made from all three main parties. That was the point. Unless there is a majority in the House of Commons, the Bill will not get passed, and unless it is supported right across the main parties, there will not be that majority in the House of Commons.

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Lord Crickhowell (Conservative)

My Lords, unless I misheard him, my noble friend appears to have produced a new definition of consensus: that it is what is agreed by the Front Benches in both Houses.

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Lord Strathclyde (Conservative)

No, my Lords. It would be very nice to have a consensus between the three Front Benches. I think that that is a condition of being able to create a consensus in both Houses of Parliament.

A moment ago, I said something extremely important that the Labour Party and the House need fully to understand. Consensus in Parliament will be impossible without the support of the Labour Party. The Government's latest brave and sensible proposal is built on the White Paper by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, the White Paper by Mr Jack Straw when he was Lord Chancellor and the consensus created by my noble friend Lord Wakeham when he chaired the royal commission 10 or 11 years ago. If this Bill founders now, having had all this work done on it, then I am utterly convinced that it will be entirely due to Labour's conniving and collective spinelessness. The spines are already quivering.

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Lord Stoddart of Swindon (Independent Labour)

I am interested in what the noble Lord said about consensus and take account, particularly, of what the Joint Committee recommended. One of its recommendations-and this concerns consensus-was that there should be a referendum of the people about this. Will the Bill that will be presented to Parliament contain a clause insisting on a referendum before any reform for an elected House?

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Lord Strathclyde (Conservative)

My Lords, we have not taken a final view on the Joint Committee's report and proposals. We are working on that now. I do not really see the case for a referendum any more than the Labour Party did in 1999 or when it kicked out the Law Lords or for most of the other constitutional changes that it made, but more of that in a moment.

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Lord Grocott (Labour)

The Leader seems to be making great play with his accusation that the Labour Party is not united on this issue and that we are therefore responsible should the Bill fail. Can I take from that that he is confident in his defence of his own position that there is complete unity on the Conservative Benches?

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Lord Strathclyde (Conservative)

My Lords, the noble Lord forgets that he and I have been debating this issue for very many years, I rather longer than him, and my position has been utterly simple and consistent, unlike the Labour Party's. I have never believed that there was a consensus within the Conservative Party. There has not been one in the past 120 years, and there is not going to be one over the course of the next 10 weeks. That is precisely the point. What I want the Labour Party to do in a few moments is to tell us on what basis it will support this reform. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, will do so.

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Lord Forsyth of Drumlean (Conservative)

My noble friend has just said that there has never been consensus in the Conservative Party and that there never will be. Why on earth, then, did we fight the election on a manifesto commitment to build consensus on reform of this place?

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Lord Strathclyde (Conservative)

That is the point: the commitment was to build consensus across the parties to see whether Parliament would agree to reform. That is precisely the point and I thank my noble friend Lord Forsyth for saying that. The commitment was never to create consensus within the Conservative Party. Why on earth would I have bothered to try to do that?

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Lord Anderson of Swansea (Labour)

However, there was consensus-on any of the noble Lord's definitions-in relation to the Steel Bill. When he says that he will give that Bill a fair wind, what does he mean? Does he mean the original Steel Bill or the one that was heavily truncated?

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Lord Strathclyde (Conservative)

My Lords, the only Bill emanating from my noble friend Lord Steel that has passed through this House was the one that languished in another place at the end of the previous Session of Parliament. I think it extremely likely that the Government's proposals will include aspects of my noble friend's Bill, and they should be discussed in that context.

I move on to the next part of this speech in support of the gracious Speech. I hope that, in a moment, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, will speak with his usual clarity. Out of nowhere, Labour now says that it will support a Lords reform package provided the Cross-Benchers are removed. I wonder what the Cross-Benchers did to deserve this. There has been no mention of it over the past 10 years, but suddenly the Cross-Benchers must be flung out of this House before the Labour Party will support the consensus. I say to the Cross-Benchers that they need to pick their friends rather more carefully.

Secondly, there is the codification of powers so that the newly elected House will have less power than the existing appointed House. This is a new sort of rich absurdity that has crept into this debate. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, shakes his head; is he saying that he does not want codification of powers? The other day he seemed very keen on it. He will be able to reply in a moment.

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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Labour)

It is a great pleasure to intervene in the noble Lord's remarkable speech this morning. The issue of powers, which has now been fully explored by the Select Committee and the alternative report, is very clear. With two elected Houses, there is a great danger of gridlock and a fight for legitimacy. That is why some codification is necessary. The issue of an elected House having fewer powers than this House is a red herring because this House does not use all its powers since it is not elected.

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Lord Strathclyde (Conservative)

My Lords, the noble Lord has responded to my invitation to speak with clarity. Labour will support only a 100% elected House with a codification of powers that means that the elected House will have less power than the existing one. The noble Lord can quiver and quibble-he and his noble and learned friend Lord Falconer of Thoroton can do all those things-but in the end they need to be clear on all this. I wonder where all this nonsense came from. Throughout the past 10 years, no Joint Committee, White Paper or any aspect of this has ever mentioned that Labour was in favour of the codification of powers.

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Lord Rooker (Labour)

I will tell the Leader where it has come from. We want to make the primacy of the elected House a reality. You cannot make the primacy of the Commons a reality unless you do something about codification of the powers here. The refusal to take that seriously, as was shown by Clause 2 of the draft Bill, shows that the Government still have not got it.

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Lord Strathclyde (Conservative)

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, was a distinguished Minister with the previous Administration. At no time did he make those points in Parliament or within his Government, in all the Joint Committees that met or the White Papers that were published. They did not start quibbling about the primacy of the House of Commons then. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, in his Joint Committee has made an entirely sensible, reasonable and well argued case about the defects of Clause 2, and we will take those up. However, the Labour Front Bench in this House and, I suspect, in another place, has decided that it does not want to create a consensus, and that is why it has come up with these conditions.

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Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top (Labour)

I wonder whether the noble Lord has forgotten the establishment of the committee under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Cunningham, to look precisely at the powers, and so on, of this House before further action was taken on the composition of the Lords.

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Lord Strathclyde (Conservative)

I am well aware of that, but it is pretty rum that the report from the noble Lord, Lord Cunningham, laid out a whole bunch of conventions that in the past two years the Labour Party, which supported it, has been very happily breaking.

What else have we got? Suddenly, in 2010, the Labour Party says that there needs to be a referendum. There is no explanation of what kind of referendum. I see that the Leader of the Opposition is now talking to her noble friend Lord Hunt; I hope that they are going to explain what they mean.

Let me bring this to a conclusion. The Labour Party's position is that there should be no Cross-Benchers but codification to reduce the powers and a referendum before it wishes to create a consensus. Will the noble Lord and his noble and learned friend confirm that these are the Labour Party's conditions and that it will block any consensus without them? The House will expect the noble Lord to give an answer.

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Lord Foulkes of Cumnock (Labour)

The Leader of the House has not yet mentioned another little time bomb that is ticking away-a committee that has been set up under the chairmanship of Bill McKay to look at how votes are carried out in the House of Commons and to exclude Northern Irish, Welsh and Scottish Members from voting on matters that are purely English, or designated as such. That is an important matter that relates to the reform of the House of Lords, but no mention has been made of it or how it fits in. Has the Leader of the House thought of that? Have the Government thought about it, and what are they going to do about it?

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Lord Strathclyde (Conservative)

The noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, refers to the West Lothian question. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, said that it was a question that was better not asked. In the House of Commons-and it is entirely a matter for them-they are looking at it to see what solutions they can bring. Those are solutions for another place; they are not for us.

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Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton (Labour)

The noble Lord is entertaining the House with a fascinating speech, but could he say whether, were the other place to change its voting on the basis of country of origin of the Member, he would expect this House to continue in the current way? Secondly, I have listened very carefully to many debates. It surprises me that the noble Lord the Leader of the House does not seem to recognise that the position on our Benches and around the House has always been a recognition of the primacy of the House of Commons. He maligns Members of the House by implying that the primacy of the House of Commons is a concern only on our Benches. Around the House there is a fear of a constitutional gridlock, not least because many members of the public and the media keep referring to this House as a legislature. It is not-it is a reforming Chamber.

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Lord Strathclyde (Conservative)

My Lords, I have no problem with the primacy of the House of Commons as it stands and I am very keen to preserve it. What I am trying to find out is what on earth the Labour Party thinks.

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Lord Strathclyde (Conservative)

No, I am not giving way to the noble Lord again; let me finish. The noble Lord will make a speech in a few minutes.

Noble Lords:

No!

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Lord Foulkes of Cumnock (Labour)

The Leader did not answer my question, which is a very important one. Let us suppose that the West Lothian question commission, which is chaired by Bill McKay, recommends that Members from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland do not vote on purely English matters in the Commons, and then we have an elected House of Lords. What would be the position of Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish Members in the newly elected Senate?

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Lord Strathclyde (Conservative)

My Lords, perhaps if the Labour Party had considered these issues in 1997, 1998 and 1999, we would not have to deal with them now. Back to Lords reform; we have been debating this issue for 15 years-

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Lord Lawson of Blaby (Conservative)

I am most grateful to the Leader for giving way. However, on reflection, does he not consider it a little wrong that the whole burden of his speech, to which I have listened with great attention, is that he admits, with his characteristic honesty, that there is no consensus or agreement on the Conservative Benches either in this place or in the other place, and that therefore it is the duty of the Labour Party-the Opposition-to rescue the Government from their folly in putting forward this proposal at this time?

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Lord Strathclyde (Conservative)

My Lords, I do not think that it was particularly candid of me to express a view that there was not much unity on this proposal in the Conservative Party in this House, or, indeed, in the Labour Party in this House. Anyone who has read the debates that we have had over the past 10 or 12 years would have to be completely bonkers not to recognise that. However, that is not so true in the House of Commons. The Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats in the House of Commons have largely unified around all this. However, the point that my noble friend Lord Lawson makes is that we would not be in this position if, over the past 10 years, the Labour Party had not sought to reform this Chamber and make it more democratic. That debate must now come to an end. We cannot keep on talking about this. We have had enough of Joint Committees looking at draft Bills and of endless White Papers and royal commissions. We now need to move forward and make a decision. That is what this Government are going to do over the next few months.

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Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean (Labour)

My Lords, before the noble Lord the Leader of the House sits down, may I ask him a question not about who did what when, or whose fault this is, but about the Joint Committee report? A little earlier he said that the Joint Committee supported a mainly elected House of Lords. However, he omitted to say-I will quote from what the Joint Committee actually said-that it agreed that the reformed second Chamber of legislature,

"should have an electoral mandate, provided it has commensurate powers".

The noble Lord might acknowledge that this is not just about an elected second Chamber. The phrase,

"provided it has commensurate powers",

is a very important one. I hope he will acknowledge that that is what the Joint Committee said, as opposed to what he omitted to say.

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Lord Strathclyde (Conservative)

My Lords, I very much look forward to hearing the noble Baroness's speech, when she will be able to explain exactly what she means, or what she thinks the Joint Committee meant, by "commensurate powers".

11:43 am
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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Labour)

My Lords, that was a remarkable speech by the noble Lord the Leader of the House. It was a remarkable display in which he sought to wash his hands of any responsibility for the Government's failure to get anywhere with Lords reform.

As regards my party's work in relation to reform of your Lordships' House, it is widely acknowledged that the reforms which took place in 1999 improved the effectiveness of this House and that it is held in high regard because of the quality of its scrutiny and revising work. We should not underestimate the esteem in which your Lordships' House is held. Of course, we wanted to move forward on the path of reform and we tried to seek consensus. As the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, knows, consensus on reform of your Lordships' House is a jolly hard thing to achieve. I suspect that the noble Lord's blustering this morning, in which he sought to frame the Labour Party for his own Government's failures, was an attempt to disguise a fact: I wonder if they have a Bill prepared to present to Parliament at all, because on all the substantive questions put forward by the Joint Select Committee and in the alternative report we have yet to receive any answers. I hope that as we go through this debate-and when the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, winds up-we might actually get answers to some fundamental questions about the relationship between two elected Houses, which goes to the heart of our debate.

This is a curious debate to have when the country is in such a critical moment-is it not?-with the economy in recession, unemployment high and investment depressingly low. We have a Government who, having produced a tax cut for millionaires, are now watching passively as millions live in fear of unemployment and are forced to pay more in bills, fares and petrol prices. We desperately needed from the Queen's Speech a policy for growth to create jobs, halt fare increases and tax the banks. But from this laissez-faire Government we have nothing. It is no wonder that business leaders this morning expressed their dismay at the lack of any positive budgetary proposals.

We have had the thinnest of Queen's Speeches, which is wholly irrelevant to people's lives-nothing on growth and nothing on jobs. Even on the biggest social issue that we face-care for older people-all we are to get is a draft Bill, with no guarantee to implement the much-needed Dilnot proposals. There is no high-speed rail Bill and no development Bill. Instead, there is a hotchpotch of a programme in which Lords reform was originally intended to be the focal point. Then we had the elections last week and the panic in the other place on the Back Benches of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. Lords reform has clearly been downgraded to reserve status.

Yet, in your Lordships' House, we are now to enjoy two full days debating constitutional affairs. We will no doubt have a stimulating debate. I have no doubt that much that is new will be brought to that debate, but I wonder what the public will think of that sense of priorities when so much of our economy is at stake. I wonder what they will think of the Government and their endless tinkering with our constitutional arrangements. Already we have had legislation on fixed-term Parliaments and a reduction in the number of MPs. We have been gifted politicised police commissioners, with elections in November and real concern about the low turnout expected. England's biggest cities were forced to have referendums on elected mayors and, even though the Government got a big raspberry for their pains, Ministers now want to implant mayors on regions and unwilling populations. A referendum on Scottish independence is to come. There is a huge amount of churn but very little coherence in these stand-alone measures.

I get no sense that this will enhance public confidence in our democracy. I get no sense that we are anywhere near increasing public involvement in our democratic processes. Voter turnout gets ever lower, and people's interest in politics gets lower still. Nowhere is this piecemeal approach more neatly expressed as in the approach to House of Lords reform.

Noble Lords:

Ah!

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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Labour)

It is worth waiting for, my Lords.

Let us pick up the point made by my noble friend Lord Foulkes. We have a government commission considering the West Lothian question and the place of Scottish MPs at Westminster voting on laws that apply only to England. The current terms of reference apply only to the Commons, but surely the same issues would apply to an elected second Chamber. That is readily apparent when one considers the potential referendum on Scottish independence. Independence for Scotland would of course be a game changer. Carwyn Jones, the First Minister for Wales, has argued that if Scotland were, unfortunately, to leave the UK, and fearing English domination of what is left of the UK, there should be a new Senate in which Wales, Northern Ireland and England should enjoy equal status. You do not have to agree with the First Minister to realise that we may well be heading for a new constitutional settlement of major proportions in which the second Chamber ought to be a constituent part. I put it to the noble Lord the Leader that the place of an elected second Chamber has to be considered as part of a more fundamental question about the future of our United Kingdom and its democratic arrangements.

The alternative report recommended a constitutional convention to look at the next steps on House of Lords reform. That is an excellent suggestion but I wonder whether the remit should not be widened to look at these pressing constitutional issues that we face as a United Kingdom, and perhaps we have a little time to do so.

The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, talks about the Labour position on Lords reform but what is the Government's position? Briefings emanating from Conservative parts of the Government in the past day or so have suggested that the importance of reform has been downgraded. Threats to use the Parliament Act seem to have faded a little and there is even talk of a search for consensus. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, was at it again today.

Significantly, the Prime Minister's call to arms in the Telegraph on Monday made no mention of Lords reform. On the same day, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr Osborne, said that it was absolutely not a high priority. Even yesterday, Mr Cameron seemed rather lukewarm when it came to the debates in the other place. I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, rather gave the game away over the weekend. In his fascinating article in the Sunday Telegraph, he proclaimed, as usual, his belief in an elected Chamber but then predicted that the Bill might get killed off in the Commons. Indeed, it seems that that is the option of choice for most Cabinet Ministers, at least on the Conservative Benches. Yesterday the noble Lord went further in the Financial Times and said that an elected House would be more aggressive in challenging the decisions of the Commons. Of course it will, but I suspect that the noble Lord was just giving a signal to MPs of his own party in the other place and perhaps an invitation to ditch the Bill.

In contrast to the voices emanating from the Conservative Party, we have had the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Clegg, signalling his determination to press ahead with Lords reform, while his right honourable friend Mr Cable said, in a moment of supreme optimism, that we should get on with it quickly and quietly.

So what are the Government intending? What is their priority? Yesterday the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, talked of adapting the proposals in response to my noble friend's Joint Select Committee report. The choice of wording in the Queen's Speech, describing the Bill as being concerned with composition, is intriguing. The noble Lord said this morning that it means that the Government will bring forward proposals that have elected Members and a smaller House at their core. Therefore, I ask him or his noble friend Lord Wallace: have the Government decided to ignore the Joint Select Committee's report and the alternative report on the inadequacies of the crucial part of the Bill-Clause 2? Has the wording in the Queen's Speech been couched in neutral terms to allow for a discussion on reaching a consensus? That would be welcome but, as we have discovered, more meanings are involved in that than "consensus". The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, defines consensus as what the Commons thinks, although he now sees himself as being rather misunderstood. Mr Clegg thinks that consensus is what he thinks, but Mr Clegg is Deputy Prime Minister and is in a position of some influence. Why is he so reluctant to have a proper conversation about Lords reform? If consensus breaks down, look no further than Mr Clegg and the fact that when we had joint talks at the beginning of this Parliament, the moment substantive issues were raised by the Opposition those talks broke down and we were never invited to them again. Do not lecture this party on consensus. We stand always ready to talk to the Government about Lords reform. We will do everything we can to help reach consensus, but consensus is a three-way process in our current political system. So far there is no sign that the Government are prepared to listen.

I am intrigued by the wording on the Bill. I wonder whether it is cover for eventual government support for the Bill proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Steel. Perhaps, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, has a plan B for a Steel-plus Bill to deal with the size of the House. The briefings from different parts of the Government have been confusing, but I want to be clear and I accept the invitation offered by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, to say that if the Government press ahead with proposals for an elected House, it is inescapable that unless they can articulate the role, functions and powers of both Houses and their relationship with each other, the Bill will fall at the first hurdle. It would deserve to do so. That goes to the heart of the arguments put forward by the Joint Select Committee and in the alternative report.

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Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon (Liberal Democrat)

That is an interesting statement. Would we be right to conclude from it that, unless those conditions are satisfied, Labour will vote against the Bill?

Noble Lords:

Oh!

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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Labour)

My Lords, we will of course have to see what is in the Bill. With the greatest respect to the noble Lord, we have been told by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that the Government are busily pondering how to adapt their proposals in relation to the report of the Joint Select Committee. It is not unreasonable to say that we should see what is in the Government's Bill, particularly given the ambiguity of the wording in the Queen's Speech.

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Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon (Liberal Democrat)

I am grateful to the noble Lord for his patience. Anyone listening to his previous statement would have concluded that it would be a condition for Labour to have those powers defined before it supported the Bill. It is nice of him to tell us that that is not a condition. Clarity on this matter really would be useful.

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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Labour)

I am slightly confused. The noble Lord asked me whether the Labour Party would support the Bill. I said that we had better see what is in it. I can tell the noble Lord that it is an inescapable conclusion and quite clear from my reading of the workings of both the Select Committee and the alternative report that, unless we are clear about the respective powers of both elected Houses, it will be very difficult indeed to make progress.

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Lord Trimble (Conservative)

I thank the noble Lord for giving way and I understand the importance of the issue to which he has just alluded. However, I suggest that another very important issue that might be a way of resolving these problems is to look more closely, which unfortunately the Joint Committee did not do, at procedures to resolve disputes.

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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Labour)

That is a very helpful suggestion. One way or another with two elected Houses, whatever is in the legislation on the respective powers, there will always be a need for procedures to deal with the situation when both Houses disagree with each other, particularly if both Houses claim equal legitimacy, as is likely to happen, and particularly if the upper Chamber were elected on a different system of voting where the arguments for legitimacy will be legion. The noble Lord is quite right to suggest that reconciliation machinery must be part of the package, but I do not think that that can substitute for absolute clarity about the respective powers and the role of both Houses if they were both elected.

The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, is widely liked and admired in your Lordships' House. In his wind-up speech last week, he apologised for not answering all the points made, but he did not answer any of them. These points go to the heart of our debate. He was asked whether a second Chamber elected by proportional representation would not claim greater legitimacy than the Commons. He was silent. Asked about the applicability of the Parliament Acts, he was no more forthcoming. Instead, he said that the Government would set out their legal reasoning on the application of the Parliament Acts if a Bill were included in the Queen's Speech. A Bill was included in the Speech. Will the noble Lord now tell me when the advice will be made available?

The advice must answer two questions. The first is on the use of the Parliament Acts in relation to a Lords reform Bill. The second is on their use more generally in application to an elected second Chamber. I remind the Minister that both my noble and learned friend Lord Goldsmith and the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, said that the drafters of the 1911 Parliament Act did not intend its provisions to apply in the event of a second Chamber being constituted on a popular basis.

On the question of cost, the Minister said that no estimate could be given because a final decision had yet to be made on the number of Members. However, there is nothing to stop the Government coming up with a series of different options based on different sizes.

The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, suggested that the primacy of the Commons was a wonderful obstacle against which one kicked. Of course it is, but primacy is at the heart of our constitutional arrangements. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, talked about involving conventions and of the House being more assertive, which I fully acknowledge; it is one reason why many people think that the House of Lords has become a more effective Chamber in the past 10 or 12 years. However, on the balance of power, the arguments between two elected Houses will be much greater than those caused by a non-elected House exercising a small degree of assertiveness.

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Lord Lloyd of Berwick (Crossbench)

Is it still the official position of the Labour Party that it favours a 100%-elected House? If so, how will it seek to solve some of the problems that the noble Lord mentioned?

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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Labour)

My Lords, we are in favour of a 100%-elected House. We debated hybridity last week. Our view on a mostly elected Chamber is that the 20% non-elected element would not feel confident about making a positive contribution in a House that would be much more political. One has only to think of what happened with hereditary Peers. I well remember, when my party was in government, that when we lost votes we counted up the votes of hereditary Peers, and if it turned out that we had lost because of their votes we made a great play of it. The same thing would happen with Cross-Benchers. They would be in an impossible position because it would be argued that because of non-elected Cross-Benchers the will of the elected majority in the second Chamber had been thwarted. In a non-elected House, I pay tribute to the great contribution of Cross-Benchers. However, a hybrid 80%-elected House would not work.

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Lord Lester of Herne Hill (Liberal Democrat)

I have listened to the noble Lord's very important and interesting speech. Does it follow from his argument that the Labour Party's position will be that because of the West Lothian question and the examination of it, and because of the Scottish referendum, it would be more sensible to postpone consideration of parliamentary reform so that options such as a Senate and indirect elections from Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England should be contemplated-or is that simply a debating point?

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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Labour)

My Lords, it is an interesting idea. If we face huge constitutional change in the affairs of the United Kingdom because of the referendum and the potential of Scotland leaving the United Kingdom, one should at least put on the table the fact that there might need to be some kind of constitutional convention to consider what impact that would have on Westminster and certainly on the second Chamber. In the mean time, if a Bill is brought forward we will of course give it every consideration. None the less, it will have to deal with the issues of powers and relationships-we believe that it should be 100% elected-and one cannot duck the fundamental positions that my party has adopted.

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Lord Rooker (Labour)

Perhaps I may give my noble friend another example. We did not develop this matter in the Joint Committee, but it was raised. If we were to have a second elected House-80% or 100%, it does not matter-it would leave the United Kingdom as the only country in the world with two elected Houses and no written constitution. If you looked at the matrix of those with unicamerals and those without written constitutions, and then look at those with elected second Chambers, you would see that we would be unique. In other words, there is nowhere else we can go to learn about how you work with two elected Chambers without a written constitution for settling disputes. That is a barmy position in which to put ourselves.

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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Labour)

I agree with the noble Lord. He is absolutely right. Of course, this is not new. One has only to go back to the preamble of the 1911 Act because the drafters of that Act knew that too. That is why they said that if a Chamber were constituted on a popular basis-and noble Lords on the Lib Dem Benches frequently remind us of the distance between 1911 and 2012-new proposals would be needed for limiting and defining the powers of the new second Chamber. The position in 1911 was exactly the same as the one pointed out by my noble friend today.

We are on a truly uncertain journey. Last week, in a notable intervention, the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, asked how the public would feel about a constitutional change, which is really a deal got up by the two political parties in the coalition, whereby the Conservatives get extra Members in the Commons and in return the Lib Dems get control of the balance of power in the House of Lords. I wonder how the public would feel-as has been briefed in the past few days by a number of people close to the Conservative Party-if, in order to save the immediate future of the coalition, another deal might be got up in which the Conservatives do not get the extra seats after all and in return the Lib Dems drop their passion for Lords reform. What would the public think if that were to happen?

Indeed, how do the public feel about Lords reform? As a Birmingham resident, last week I took part in a ballot to decide whether we were to have an elected mayor, and I wonder why the people of Birmingham are not to be given a say on whether we should have an elected second Chamber. There is only one answer: Mr Clegg is frightened of a referendum and what the public would say.

The Government owe it to the nation to think very hard about the substantive issues that are likely to be raised in our debates on the Bill. I hope the Government will listen carefully to the words of the Joint Select Committee and the alternative group. I also hope that the Government will in the end realise that they owe it to the British people to decide and will agree that, whatever proposals come forward, there ought to be a referendum of the people.

12:10 pm
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Lord Tyler (Liberal Democrat)

My Lords, for the last 20 minutes or so, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, has been busily rewriting his 2008 White Paper, and some would say tearing it up. I thought that it was rather a good White Paper, but I do not propose to follow him down that route. The 11 hours of debate devoted to the reform of our House persuaded me not to concentrate excessively on that issue today. Indeed, I want to try to avoid yet more incestuous self-congratulatory introspection. Instead, I want to look at the wider context to which the gracious Speech rightly drew our attention, that of political disengagement, which is the context for all the proposals that have come forward.

I have been involved in party politics for more than 40 years, in common, I suspect, with many other Members of your Lordships' House. Party politics has a place in binding together people of similar persuasions and allowing them to act in concert and to get things done. It is easy to malign political parties, but I would suggest that they are very necessary. Yet the ebb and flow of electoral fortunes, and the ability to throw the scoundrels out, are surely no longer sufficient to persuade people that our country is genuinely democratic, that it is a place where power is shared on an open and equal basis, and where citizens can influence the course of events by the strength of their vote and the power of their voice.

We should take some examples, notably the corrosive effect on public confidence of a series of scandals like "Cash for Access" and, before that, the "Loans for Lords". The Government are again working to look at the issue of party funding, but to solve the problem, we need to be bold. It is all very well to search for consensus, but one day someone is simply going to have to take a decision. I trust that that will be done in this Session of Parliament, and I hope that it will form part of the other measures mentioned in the gracious Speech which are to be put before us. For my own part, the Kelly proposals to spend 50p per elector on removing the big donations from political parties should be a good starting point. Everybody understands that finding extra money for politics now has implications for public confidence, but surely it is urgent to look at the ways in which present funding is distributed so that we can avoid buying influence for the disproportionate sway of the few and instead buy equal influence for the many.

In the Queen's Speech, as the Leader of the House has said, the Government have promised an electoral registration Bill. That may seem rather unimportant to many in your Lordships' House, but in fact it is the bedrock of our democracy: those who are entitled to be on the register have a civic duty to be on it, and they need to be there. Since recent research by the Electoral Commission shows that we are failing to register nearly one in five people in this country-and disproportionately so in some inner city areas, of course-this is a very serious issue that demands the immediate attention of the Government. I am only sorry that the previous Government did not make more progress on it. In previous debates in this House we have heard of the potential risks associated with individual registration, but I think that we should consider this as a great opportunity to engage more people, particularly younger and more mobile people in inner cities. I strongly support the efforts of my noble friend Lord Rennard to ensure that registration-not voting, but registration-remains a civic duty backed by a financial penalty, as it always has been.

With that firm backstop, there are also opportunities to engage military service personnel in their barracks, students directly in their universities and other colleges, and 16 year-olds in school. That happens to have been the experience in Northern Ireland which has moved on most successfully to individual registration and where the legal requirement has been retained. Voter registration in school is an obvious corollary for the citizenship curriculum rightly introduced by the last Government. In Northern Ireland, it is a natural continuum and has been very successful.

However, there is still more to do to persuade people that their role in a democracy can make a difference. We live in a world where interaction across great geographical and social chasms is instant: students chat to their tutors online; consumers email chief executive officers and get a reply; and, crucially, people can see the value as an end in itself of open dialogue around the issues of the day. Across counties, countries and continents, people show that they are far from disinterested in policy and politics, but for all that technology, no citizen has been brought closer to Westminster, which remains a world apart. Individual politicians try to engage as best they can, but the system itself seems "sludgen" and inert to the public. Parliament is a paradox: manifestly, it is a seat of power and yet not obviously a place that appears to get things done.

Of course, there are no easy answers about how to strike the right balance between maintaining the principle of representative democracy-one person, one vote-and bringing the process of decision-making closer to where people now do their politics; if there were, they would have been produced many years ago. If political debate generates more oxygen on Facebook than at the ballot box, we have to do more than simply lament that fact; we have to work out how to persuade people that issues worth entering into a dialogue about-perhaps with a perfect stranger-are the same matters in which we in this Parliament are also engaged.

Liberals have always believed in the power, agency and freedom of individuals. Before our eyes, society has become more content to develop its own structures and conduct its own rules and proceedings, disengaged from the institutions of Parliament and party politics. Of course, at the same time, society is more sceptical-more frustrated-by the democratic apparatus prescribed for it by the state. These changes may fit our philosophical mould, but they are difficult to deal with outside the abstract. It is a challenge for all of us, the whole political system, in the coming years.

Of course, as we try to meet that challenge, we have the benefit of some direct, personal, overriding experience. When people know that their participation in a democracy makes a difference, they are more enthusiastic and more numerous. I hope your Lordships will forgive me a personal reflection. When I was first elected to the other place in 1974, my majority was just nine votes. The very perceptive electorate in Cornwall, on a very wild and wet February day, saw that the result might be close and so the turnout was 83%. In 2001, when I was defending a majority of over 13,000, the turnout collapsed to 63%. I am sure that many of your Lordships have similar personal reflections. There are similar stories in other countries too. The recent turnout in the second ballot of the French presidential election, over 80%, showed that people really felt that that election would make a difference and they could make a difference within that context.

The conundrum is in trying to maintain that interest and participation by maintaining the reality and perception that people can make a difference to what happens in their democracy. Reform of the party political financial situation and better, modern arrangements for the enfranchisement of potential voters are all important to that end, but we must also recognise that the present situation, when this half of Parliament is so very unrepresentative in terms of age, background and geographical experience, does nothing to persuade people that their political system is, or even can be, capable of listening to them.

We have heard much this week about "bread and butter" issues. What can a Chamber whose average age is 70 and where a clear majority of active Members come from London and the south-east know about the problems of working families in the north of Scotland or the west of Cornwall?

In the coming years, there will be changes that will be difficult for Parliament to accept. We should start with the modest changes to this House and its practices proposed by the group of the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad-I am disappointed that these have not been put before us as a package. We will have to do much, much more as we adapt to a world where people want to speak to us and see very quickly indeed that we are listening to them.

Let us make no mistake: economic crisis can reflect as well as magnify political dysfunction, when people feel that they have no capacity to influence or change decisions that affect them personally. In Greece, Italy and Spain, this very fact has caused desperate problems already, as we are witnessing again this week. In politics, as in economics, we must always be vigilant to make sure that we do not fall into the same trap. If we are out of touch as party politicians, as Members of your Lordships' House and as a Parliament, we risk encountering that same dreadful fate-that the public simply wash their hands of us.

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Lord Grenfell (Other)

Does the noble Lord not agree that the membership of this House is a great deal more representative of the many strands of society in the United Kingdom than is the House of Commons?

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Lord Tyler (Liberal Democrat)

My Lords, I wish it were so, but I am afraid that the latest analysis shows that it is not, particularly in terms of age, of geographical basis and-I have to say-of background. It does a disservice to the other place to pretend that it is somehow totally unrepresentative and that your Lordships' House, particularly its active membership, is above all that and totally independent of party politics. I wish it were so, but it is not.

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Baroness Hayman (Crossbench)

My Lords, I wish to do no disservice to the other place whatever, but the noble Lord should not do a disservice to this place either. Geographical representation is varied, but, of course, that is what the House of Commons is there for-lower Chambers are there for representation by population. It does a disservice to the diversity and expertise of this House not to think back to the Welfare Reform Bill debates in this House and to our hearing from Members who worked in voluntary organisations for the elderly, from Members with disabilities-who offer huge expertise-from the ex-director of the Refugee Council and from people who have worked for the Child Poverty Action Group. To say that they did not understand the problems being described in welfare reform seems a grave disservice to this House.

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Lord Tyler (Liberal Democrat)

My Lords, I do not think that I need respond to that. I accept and have great respect for the noble Baroness's point of view-she has made a very eloquent, simple speech to your Lordships' House-but it does not follow on from what I was saying previously.

12:22 pm
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Lord Laming (Crossbench)

My Lords, it is entirely appropriate that the debate on the humble Address should begin on constitutional affairs. I will try to step aside from the party political flavour that has just occasionally crept into the earlier contributions. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, will excuse me if I make just one comment on something he said-I hope that I heard him right and apologise if I got it wrong. He said that to build a consensus on the future of this House, it is necessary to seek agreement with the three political parties. Well, there are some others of us in this House. I hope that the noble Lord will feel that those of us who do not belong to a political party might have a contribution to make on matters of this kind.

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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Labour)

My Lords, I am delighted to respond. The noble Lord will recall that in the cross-party talks which my own Government instituted, we had strong representation from the Cross Benches and the Bishops' Benches. However, it is an inescapable fact that, in the wider scheme of things, if consensus is to be reached, we need the Deputy Prime Minister first of all to recognise that there has to be discussion on issues other than composition and membership. Essentially, that was the point that I was trying to make.

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Lord Laming (Crossbench)

I am most grateful to the noble Lord. Therefore, before we go, perhaps we may just make a contribution to this debate.

Constitutional affairs might seem dry to some people but, as has already been demonstrated across the House, they are immensely important to the well-being of our society. During the past decade, which is what I have been particularly interested in, there have been many changes. Even during the previous Session of Parliament legislation was passed that might have a marked effect on our arrangements for the governance of the United Kingdom. Some commentators seem to believe that for more than 1,000 years there has been little change, especially in your Lordships' House. That is manifestly not so. Every Member of this House will have direct experience of substantial changes in both local and central government. Even last week some of these changes were experienced for the first time, in the form of referendums for mayors, as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, mentioned.

Time does not allow for-nor does there need to be-a rehearsal of the many changes that Parliament has enacted, both centrally and locally. However, whatever view we take of the merits of those changes, we can at least agree that the catalogue of change has been substantial. Of course, that is the way it should be. If our legislative institutions are to keep pace with the changes in society and remain relevant to the needs and aspirations of our fellow citizens-and, indeed, if they are to understand the concerns that have just been referred to-then of course change must be a constant in all our arrangements for government.

I recognise that there are many in this House who are better qualified than I to speak on these matters, so I will be brief. I shall therefore just pose three questions for consideration, particularly to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace. First, does he agree that during the Session that finished only last week, the Bills that came to this House, having previously completed every stage of consideration in the other place, were without exception, once again, greatly improved during their passage through this House? Thanks to the conscientiousness, skill and hard work of Peers across the whole of the House, the quality of scrutiny resulted not only in many sound amendments being made to those Bills but in the Government, having listened to your Lordships, very wisely bringing forward many amendments to their own legislation.

I hope that when the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, responds to this debate, he will begin by agreeing that this House conscientiously fulfils its responsibility to scrutinise and improve legislation. It is dangerous to raise that point, as there will be those who think that it is just another piece of self-congratulation; but I do not raise it in that spirit, nor do I do so with any notion of complacency. On the contrary, I have in mind something that I regard as much more important: the fact that many of us have a real concern about the effectiveness of the other place in scrutinising legislation and holding the Executive to account. Our society depends on a very strong House of Commons that fulfils its unique role in holding the Executive to account. I hope that when the noble Lord responds he will recognise that it behoves us all to ensure that Parliament is as strong as possible, and that our endeavours should be directed to the whole of Parliament and its standing in the community. It is vital to the well-being of our society that Parliament as a whole commands the confidence of our fellow citizens.

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Lord Elton (Conservative)

My Lords, could the noble Lord elaborate on that? Are we to take it from what he has said that, in his view, as long as the House of Commons is in its current state, that has to be balanced in some way by the powers of this place?

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Lord Laming (Crossbench)

My Lords, that is a very important question. My own view is that I would like to see both Houses being more effective, particularly the House of Commons. I have a real concern about the position of the House of Commons, for reasons that noble Lords across the House will understand.

Secondly, many of us are very familiar with elections: elections to town councils, district councils and county councils, elections to the European Parliament and for Members of Parliament, not to mention elections for mayors and, soon, police and crime commissioners-and then, of course, there are the arrangements in the other countries of the United Kingdom. At first glance, that seems to be a model of democracy at work, an exemplar, but further examination reveals serious shortcomings. Does the noble Lord share my concern and that of many of us in this House about the extremely low turnout in almost all those elections? One commentator described the low turnout last week as nothing short of dismal. Another said that the British people have lost confidence in politics. We ought to take that matter very seriously indeed.

All of that has been set out even more effectively in a recently published audit report by the Hansard Society, which shows very well the lack of interest of our fellow citizens in engaging in the political system. It is incredible to think that around the world millions of people are denied a vote and that millions more may vote but know that their vote is a sham. Therefore, I hope that we all agree that if our democratic processes do not engage the active participation of our fellow citizens, they are seriously defective. This House is only part of a much bigger issue that we need to tackle. We need to ensure that our political and governance arrangements engage our fellow citizens and that they believe that casting their vote is of immense importance. There have been many criticisms of the low turnout in votes by trade unions. We should not be complacent about the low turnout in votes in our democratic processes. Very important constitutional issues are at stake. They should not be taken piecemeal. We ought to take this opportunity to look more widely and ensure that our processes of governance are, to use the common parlance, fit for purpose.

My third point is that we are indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Richard, and his committee and to those who produced the alternative report. Both those documents repay careful study. I suggest that timing is important and will need to be handled sensitively. I suspect that, at this time, most of our fellow citizens are primarily concerned about jobs, the cost of living, the care of elderly and disabled people, further cuts in public expenditure, the National Health Service, and so on-not to mention the fact that our troops remain in considerable danger. There is to be a referendum in Scotland that has the potential to put at risk the integrity of the United Kingdom. Therefore, I suggest, not out of complacency but out of opportunity, that we ought to avoid taking up chunks of parliamentary time on matters that are of little concern beyond Westminster and take the opportunity to look again, to do an audit of our systems to ensure that they are as effective as possible.

Our discussion has acknowledged that there is a wide measure of agreement that our procedures can and should be improved. We all agree that the House is too large. We all agree that that ought to be rectified, along with a number of other matters, not least issues of discipline. As has already been referred to, recommendations of the Leader's Group report chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, are outstanding.

With boundary changes affecting the other place, the referendum in Scotland, the review of the powers of other assemblies, there are major upheavals ahead of us. Let us improve, where we can, the workings of this House. There is much that we can do, and we should do it, but let us also recognise that our constitutional arrangements are matters that go wider than this House. I hope that we will take this opportunity, because those arrangements are important to the well-being and health of our democracy.

12:34 pm
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Lord Wakeham (Conservative)

My Lords, it is a great pleasure for me to follow the Convenor of the Cross Benches. I have always had great respect for Convenors of the Cross Benches. I remember that when I arrived in the House as Leader the Convenor of the Cross Benches was Lady Hylton-Foster. I consulted her on the appointment of someone to an important position and said that there was a question as to whether they might be a little too old because they were 75. She looked at me as if I was absolutely out of this world. She told me how old she was and that was the end of the discussion. I have always treated Convenors of the Cross Benches with considerable respect.

Your Lordships will not be surprised to hear that I want to say a few words about Lords reform. As has been mentioned by both Front-Bench speakers, some 10 years ago I was the chairman of the royal commission which produced a report on Lords reform. Everyone will probably have forgotten what we said, but it was that the Lords should continue to be mostly appointed but that there should be a significant proportion of elected Members, particularly because we thought that the regions and nations of the United Kingdom were not well represented there and that that would be a way to increase the spread of membership. We recommended what is now, in common parlance, the 15-year non-renewable term.

I have to say that our report got an extremely bad press. A number of people said that it was an interesting report, well argued and everything else, but that it had come to the wrong conclusions. We did not mind that it got a bad press, because we expected that, although it was slightly embarrassing to me because it was at the same time as my youngest son was taking his A-levels and he had to write an essay on an article by a Guardian reporter which referred to the timid and cautious report of Lord Wakeham. When I saw the paper afterwards, I said, "I hope you told him that it was an extremely bold report", to which he said, "No, Dad, I said that it was timid. I want to pass the exam". That was the sensible thing to do.

The one bright spark at that time was the Labour Party, because it put in its manifesto that it had accepted the Wakeham report and would implement it. It was slightly embarrassing for me to have my name in a Labour Party manifesto, but it was encouraging. When the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, tells us about the need for a 100% elected House, I can remember a time when that was not quite the Labour Party's position. That is not my recollection.

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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Labour)

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for allowing me to acknowledge the excellence of his royal commission report. He will remember that we tried, and produced a White Paper, but, alas, we did not get anywhere with it.

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Lord Wakeham (Conservative)

It is another story as to why the noble Lord did not get anywhere with it. I will not bore the House with it now, but he and I know many of those reasons.

The main lesson of my report has not been learnt even to this day. Our report recommended a compromise, and that is why people did not like it. Everybody compared their ideal solution with our compromise, and our compromise looked weak and wishy-washy compared with what they wanted. We talked about a compromise; in the modern jargon, that is a consensus, but it is the same thing. We did not reach our consensus easily, I can tell you. One of my noble friends who was on the commission told me privately when we started, "I have already been party to a published document that said that there had to be an elected element in any reform of the House of Lords". One very distinguished Labour Member of Parliament-a good many noble Lords will guess who I mean, but I shall not mention his name-came to me to say, "If the commission so much as discusses elected Members, I will not attend any more of the meetings". I persuaded them both to stay. They both signed the report, and we got consensus. It is therefore possible for people of goodwill to get consensus.

What do I mean by consensus? I mean that all our preconceived positions, both of and within the parties, have somehow to be melded together in a form of compromise for a way forward. As my noble friend the Leader of the House has acknowledged, as a result of the Joint Committee report the Government have to think again about a number of the things which they are doing. If I may say so to the Labour Party, it, too, has to think again about the idea that it can have a 100% elected membership. It is quite simply unrealistic. A consensus outcome will not produce that. We have in Parliament a very big responsibility to get this right and to get consensus because, as people have frequently said, outside this Chamber there is no great interest in what goes on in here. They are not interested in what we do and for us therefore to try to put through a solution that was highly controversial within the House would be a grave dereliction of our total responsibilities as a Parliament. Consensus is therefore what we have to achieve.

Let me say three things about the position as I see it. First, the Government are right to try to see whether they can find a consensus. This issue has been hanging about long enough, and if it is possible to find consensus, we ought to move forward. Secondly, in my view a consensus will involve a partly elected and a partly appointed House. There will be some very tricky negotiations as to how they are going to achieve that. An issue which is now highly relevant, but was not realised 10 years ago, is the effect that that will have on the House of Commons. It has to be thought about very carefully. Thirdly, and of this I am quite sure, if the House of Commons reaches a consensus and sends us a Bill that reflects that consensus, the responsibilities of this House are clear. We should treat the Bill like any other coming before the House. We should give it a Second Reading, try to improve it in Committee and give it proper scrutiny in the normal way. This applies, I am afraid, particularly to noble Lords who do not like things going on as they are. All of us have a responsibility to act in accordance with our precedents.

Finally, I have been in this House for 18 years and was also in the House of Commons for 18 years. I had the honour of being Leader of each House. There are still Members of this House in all parties and of none who are of great distinction, but the place has changed in the 18 years I have been here-and not for the better. When I first came here, I remember Lord Callaghan and Lord Whitelaw getting up time and time again when their Governments were in difficulties to say, "I completely accept the right of your Lordships to pass this amendment, but is it wise?". They were really saying that there is no point in a revising House passing series after series of amendments which will just be reversed when they get to the House of Commons. A revising House should be looking at the legislation that has come forward and seeking to improve it, particularly where the House of Commons is singing on an uncertain note. That is the moment to make amendments towards effective legislation, rather than sending back hundreds of amendments. I hope that people will not be offended if I suggest that we use with some humility the position that we are somehow superior in public perceptions and in our judgment of the public good. The House of Commons is the elected House, its Members accountable to their electorates, and we should not live in a world of wishful thinking, make-believe or has-beens.

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The Earl of Sandwich (Crossbench)

Would the noble Lord care to make a comment in his search for consensus on the original Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Steel?

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Lord Wakeham (Conservative)

I will be frightfully indiscreet and say that if I were still in charge of business management, I would be 100% in favour of my noble friend's Bill but probably would still not have given it government time to get it through, because I know perfectly well what happens. Every single amendment you can think of would have been added to it, and the timetable of the Government would have been lost. I have no idea whether that is the Government's view, so while I am in favour of what he wants to do and think it a disgrace that we have not found the time to do it, I can see the difficulties of business management if you bring in a Bill of that sort when there is no consensus on the way forward.

12:46 pm
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Lord Wills (Labour)

My Lords, unlike some other speakers, I think that constitutional affairs merit parliamentary time, even in a recession. Constitutional arrangements matter because, in the end, they reflect the distribution of power in our society and that perhaps matters even more in a recession. I welcome the Government's commitment to maintaining the impetus for reforming the arrangements for royal succession. That is very desirable, as the noble Lord the Leader of the House said. I had hoped that I could welcome the other constitutional measures proposed in this Queen's Speech. I was the Minister responsible for the legislation which introduced individual voter registration in the last Government and I still support it, and I have long been in favour of a democratically accountable House of Lords. Yet I fear that the approach the Government are taking to both these measures not only weakens the case for them but is in danger of sacrificing the health of our constitution in the interests of short-term political manoeuvring.

I suspect that electoral registration will not feature much in the discussions over the next two days. It is a technical issue of interest to few voters but it is, as the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, has already said, a matter of real significance because eligible voters cannot exercise that precious right to vote unless they are on the register. Individual registration is a desirable principle-citizens should be responsible for their own eligibility to vote-and can help tackle fraud, although the extent of electoral fraud should not be overstated. I note that the noble Lord the Leader of the House did not mention any judgment on the extent of fraud. He said that it had to be tackled, as of course it should be, but, as I will say later, it is not prevalent as he was suggesting. Nor, even when it exists, can electoral fraud be tackled entirely by individual registration. That is not a panacea.

Whatever the merits of individual registration, it carries with it the severe risk that significant numbers of people who are eligible to vote will disappear from the register and so be unable to vote. That was the experience in Northern Ireland when it moved to this new system of registration. More recently, the Electoral Commission has said that the introduction of individual registration, under the measure proposed by the Government, could mean that,

"the register could go from around a 90% completeness that we currently have to around ... a 60% completeness".

The fall-off in registration is likely to be particularly marked among young people and students, people with learning disabilities, people with disabilities more generally and those living in areas of high social deprivation. There is already a serious problem with the electoral register in the United Kingdom. The latest estimate from the Electoral Commission suggests that at least 6 million people who were eligible to vote were not registered to do so in December 2010. The introduction of individual registration risks making a bad situation significantly worse.

The previous Government tried to tackle that problem by tying individual registration to the achievement of a comprehensive and accurate register by 2015. In the last Parliament, the Front-Bench spokespersons in the other place for both the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats approved and supported this approach. This Government could have continued with that approach but have chosen not to, for reasons that they have never adequately explained. They are rushing forward individual registration while removing the key safeguard of linking it to the achievement of a comprehensive and accurate register.

Why might they have done that? Why might they abandon the careful non-partisan approach of the previous Government to this issue? The Leader of the House suggested today that threats to the integrity of the register were the reason for their haste, but the independent bodies that we have tasked with safeguarding the integrity of our electoral system do not share that assessment. Analysis carried out regularly by the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Electoral Commission found,

"no evidence of widespread systematic attempts to undermine or interfere with the May 2010 elections through electoral fraud".

So why the rush? It is hard to avoid concluding that it is being driven by the pursuit of party political advantage. Most people agree-this is not really a matter of dispute-that those eligible voters who are not registered to vote are most likely to vote Labour when they do vote. The evidence suggests that the party that will suffer least, if at all, from any fall-off in registration is the Conservative Party. Electoral registration is only 90% complete in Labour seats; it is 94% complete in Conservative seats. That partisan effect will be amplified considerably by the boundary reviews in 2015. If conducted on the basis of such a flawed register, they will have the effect of increasing the number of Conservative seats and decreasing the number of Labour ones.

I ask your Lordships again to consider carefully the impact on our democracy if it turns out that the outcome of a general election has been determined by the fact that millions of eligible voters could not vote because they were not registered to do so and that this was the result of a government policy, deliberately pursued despite all the evidence that it would have precisely this consequence. I hope that the Government will think again about their approach and might be prepared to accept any amendments that might come forward to once again tie the desirable introduction of individual registration to the achievement of a comprehensive register.

Then we come to the proposal for House of Lords reform. This proposal is not being driven by partisan self-interest-it has become a prisoner of it. I do not want to say very much about this; I am sure other noble Lords will have a lot to say about it. In my view, though, and I speak as someone who supports reform, many of the arguments against it-the cost, the assumed excellence of the current arrangements, the paramount importance of achieving consensus as opposed to simply striving for one-could all have been produced to resist every advance in the democratic accountability of Parliament over the past 200 years, and often have been. In the complaints about there being too many politicians, I sometimes hear antidemocratic undertones that I personally find disquieting.

For all that I wish to see your Lordships' House elected, though, there is one criticism of the Government's proposed legislation with which I agree, and it is fundamental. When the White Paper was published, I and many others criticised it for its inadequate approach to the relationship between the two Houses of Parliament that would result from reform. Clause 2 of the draft Bill is clearly inadequate to achieve its objective of preserving the primacy of the House of Commons. Such criticisms have been powerfully reiterated by the Joint Committee report and the alternative report.

An elected House of Lords does not inevitably mean gridlock in our constitutional arrangements, but work has to be done to find solutions to this potential problem and the Government have failed to do it. There is no shortage of proposals-a concordat between the two Houses, for example, or some form of codification of the functions-and you cannot reform the composition of the House without also looking at the functions. Why have the Government rejected this approach and refused to look at it up until now? I welcome the fact that the Leader of the House said that the forthcoming legislation would take account of the criticisms of Clause 2, but the flaws in that clause have been manifest at least since the publication of the White Paper, and should have been foreseen before it was even published. Why have the Government left it so late? All the solutions to this problem, and there are several of them, have advantages and disadvantages. They need to be debated and the public need to be engaged in a discussion on this, but the Government have done absolutely none of this.

This Bill is recognised as coming from the Liberal Democrat part of the coalition. Why are they pushing forward with such a flawed proposal? I am afraid that it is hard to avoid the suspicion that they want to use what might be only a temporary position in Government to engineer a constitutional reform that, with proportional representation, would be likely to secure for them an influential position in Parliament for the foreseeable future.

Such a partisan approach would be bad enough but in the past few days, if we are to believe the heavily briefed stories in the press, the electoral problems of the Government and the need to appease Conservative Back-Benchers are going to cause reform of the Second Chamber of our Parliament, something to which all three main parties are committed by their manifestos, to be delayed, abandoned or, as I saw in one report, made subject to a post-legislative referendum-incidentally, a process hostile to the representative democracy that participants on all sides of this debate profess to support. That is all being brought into play by the short-term political difficulties of this Government.

It is disappointing that the Government's proposed legislation on an issue of such profound constitutional importance should be so inadequately prepared. It would be shameful if such a lack of preparation were the result of the self-interested haste of the Liberal Democrats. It is an indictment of the Government that the future of this important constitutional reform now appears to be held hostage by the short-term political manoeuvrings of an unpopular Government.

Something could still be salvaged from this mess if the Government would only think again about their approach, accept that they need to do more work on securing the primacy of the House of Commons, use independent experts to advise them on this-something, as far as I am aware, that they have not yet done; certainly not in public-and then of course consult the public on possible solutions in a properly deliberative process, as I have talked about many times before in this House. Then, and only then, should the legislation be finalised before it is returned to Parliament with an adequately worked-through proposal. I hope that they will do that and ensure that Parliament does not once again turn its back on this long overdue advance in democratic accountability.

12:57 pm
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Lord Maclennan of Rogart (Liberal Democrat)

My Lords, I welcome the fact that we are having a discussion at the beginning of the Queen's Speech debate on constitutional reform. I am, however, immensely surprised by the prioritisation in this galère of measures of the reform of the House of Lords. I accept that reform sometimes takes a long time. Indeed, what has been notified to us about the possibilities of changing the succession to the throne is very delayed; it has been more than 300 years since the Act of Settlement. I hope that that part of the Government's programme will be concluded with all appropriate celerity.

It is also right to recognise the need for change when it arises in a conspicuous fashion. Perhaps the case of electoral fraud, of which the noble Lord, Lord Wills, spoke, is such an example. I, too, have some concerns about non-registration, which my noble friend Lord Tyler has already mentioned. It is important that people are notified of their opportunities and responsibilities, and that should be part of the legislation.

At this time, questions have to be raised about the traditional methods of constitutional reform in this country. Incremental change has a pretty good name among constitutional lawyers, and I understand why: it enables the elected Parliament and legislature to give detailed consideration to what is proposed. However, it has to be said that, at this time, when the future of the United Kingdom is under attack, to have an incremental response to the possibility of the nations of this country falling apart is not wise or sufficient to deal with the constitutional crisis in which we are placed. We have to consider as the top priority whether or not Scotland will remain part of the United Kingdom and the other constitutional changes that might be necessary in either circumstance. It is not only Scotland that would be affected by independence being sought and won but also Northern Ireland, Wales and England.

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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Labour)

Does the noble Lord think that if Scotland rejected independence but some form of what has come to be known as devo-plus was offered, the same circumstances would arise?

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Lord Maclennan of Rogart (Liberal Democrat)

I think there is a need to recognise that all the constituent nations and, for that matter, regions of the United Kingdom need to rearrange their relationships whether or not independence is achieved. A step in that direction has been taken by the Scotland Act, but the fallout from that is considerable and we ought to be looking at the coherence of our constitution and the ways in which we can involve the public in influencing the direction in which that coherent constitution ought to go.

I am conscious that consensus may be difficult-indeed, impossible-to achieve, but public understanding of and assent to the rationality of what is proposed is vital. Consequently, I want this House to look more widely at the challenges that we face at this time. In his opening speech for the Opposition, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, recognised the impact that certain changes might have on other aspects of the constitution. What is quite wrong is to seek to bounce the citizens of this country into fundamental changes. The citizenry may reject such opportunities or challenges if they are offered a referendum, and in any event the example of the referendum on AV seems a classic case of how not to proceed with constitutional reform: there was no extensive publicity for what was involved; there was no consideration of what the alternatives were; and there was only about two weeks' notice in some media and even less in the press. A referendum is not necessarily the answer for dealing with the complexity of the structure of government in this country.

We have been too complacent about the structure over a long time. I think that many of the reforms that were achieved at the beginning of the Labour Government's period of office-which had been discussed with other political parties, including my own, and which, to some extent, were a result of cross-party agreement-were valuable. It was possible to achieve the introduction of the Human Rights Act and the Freedom of Information Act and, later, the establishment of the Supreme Court, although it had to be delayed, as it should properly have been, to enable full discussion to be held about its structure and contents, without affecting the whole structure of governance in this country. I can support that kind of incrementalism, but I find it very difficult to support a proposal that one House of the legislature should be reformed-and by that I mean re-formed, not necessarily improved-without looking at the relationship with the other House, considering whether it should be more representative of the nations and regions and without providing for the proper accountability of its Members. The notion of electing people once for 15 years seems to be remote from the idea of accountability. The proposal that the House of Lords should be in some way secondary to the House of Commons is neither secured not justified. There is a case for recognising that in the modern age in which we live, with the huge volume of legislation that is normally brought before Parliament, there could be some spreading of the load across two democratic Chambers, but that apparently does not form any part of the Government's thinking.

I consider this House of Lords reform Bill to be ill-conceived, and I am not persuaded that the attitude that I am taking is letting the best be the enemy of the good. I do not regard it as good to have a hotchpotch of a Chamber that serious politicians would be very unlikely to want to be elected to when their careers would be cut back after one term at whatever age they chose to go in. I do not think that the position of the appointed people would be strong in such a situation, and the debate that followed would seem to be likely to be not whether the House should be further reformed but whether a second Chamber was necessary at all. We have seen that in other Commonwealth countries, including New Zealand, and in other European countries, including Sweden. I want a second Chamber. I have always advocated 100% elected, and I have always wanted to see it have much greater power over the Executive than the current Chamber has. That would consequently be a very considerable rewriting of the constitution, but none of that is appropriately achieved in this kind of step-by-step way which has none of these objectives in mind.

My view is that the country needs to have a much more extensive national debate involving the citizenry. The Scottish Constitutional Convention worked to unite the Scottish people. Unfortunately-we can see this with the benefit of hindsight-it did not include the impact on the rest of the United Kingdom as part of its mandate, and that impact has been real and is evident. Consequently, I would favour the establishment, in due course, of a convention that enabled the restructuring of our constitution to be deliberately conceived and involved not just articulate and already determined politicians.

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Lord Wills (Labour)

I think the noble Lord was just about to come on to my question. There has already been quite a lot of discussion about a constitutional convention-I have been in favour of one for many years-but there is a key question about its composition. The Scottish Constitutional Convention was largely constituted of the great and the good. I notice that the alternative report of the Select Committee also suggested already established figures in our society. Does the noble Lord see any merit in broadening it to include a demographically representative swathe of the British people to participate in discussions about the future of their own constitution?

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Lord Maclennan of Rogart (Liberal Democrat)

I certainly want to see the convention being fully representative. Maybe it would operate differently in different parts of the country. Different public discussions should take place before any decision-making. This is immensely serious because the British public are so disengaged from politics and so disenchanted with their politicians. The convention should not necessarily be dominated by politicians. Representatives of all the civic organisations and different interests of our country ought to be considered in that context.

The convention in Scotland was not particularly dominated by politicians; representatives of the CBI, the church and the trade unions were involved. However, we cannot allow this simple debate between unionists and those who support Scottish independence to go forward without giving a clear indication that there are alternative opportunities to bring our system of government more into tune with the needs and dispassionate desires of the different parts of the country.

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Lord Foulkes of Cumnock (Labour)

Does the noble Lord not think it interesting and disappointing that we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, who is the principal spokesman on this matter for the Liberal Democrats, and not once did he mention the federal solution? I understand that it is still the policy of the Liberal Democrats. If it is looked at properly in the round, it ultimately provides a much neater solution for the second Chamber than the one that the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, advocated.

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Lord Maclennan of Rogart (Liberal Democrat)

I agree with what the noble Lord says about a federal solution probably being best. However, it would have to ensure that the considerations that my noble friend Lord Tyler mentioned about underrepresentation in the second Chamber were taken into account. He spoke of Cornwall and the north of Scotland in his remarks. As it happens, he is from Cornwall and I am from the north of Scotland so we have some voice. However, the reality is that this should not be done in a rush. We must consider the very different priorities of people living in Northern Ireland, people living in Wales and people living in Scotland. Subsequently, maybe people living in different parts of England will take a view. However, I cannot believe that it makes sense simply to consider the West Lothian issue, which has arisen as a result of devolution, by itself. It needs to be considered as part of the solution of the whole. Therefore, I hope that the Government may take longer to consider the broader issues of constitutional reform to which the Leader of the House did not refer today.

1:14 pm
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Lord Luce (Crossbench)

My Lords, having listened to the debate so far, and thinking back over the discussions about this Chamber over the past 14 or 15 years, I cannot help feeling-I am sure noble friends will feel the same-slightly giddy. I have fortified myself with some water to keep me going.

I start by saying that I agree with the noble Lords, Lord Tyler and Lord Maclennan, and my noble friend Lord Laming that there is a serious gap between the electorate-the public-on the one hand and Parliament and governmental institutions on the other. There is no excuse whatever for complacency on our part in this Chamber, let alone in the House of Commons. However, knowing what the coalition Government's proposals are, I find myself strongly in favour of a substantially reformed appointed House. Therefore, I do not support the coalition's proposal.

The coalition has stated that it wants the role and function of the House of Lords to remain unchanged as a revising Chamber, which persuades Governments and the House of Commons to think again. Since that is the coalition's objective, the task would be far more effectively performed if we were a substantially reformed appointed Chamber. On the other hand, had the coalition said that it proposed a second Chamber that was commensurate, or possibly even equal, in powers to the Commons, we would of course need to consider an elected Chamber, whether directly or indirectly elected. However, the evidence is absolutely clear that, although the Government want no change in the role of the Lords, the effect of their current proposals would be to undermine that very objective.

The arguments are borne out not only by the Joint Committee but by the alternative report, which make it plain that the Chamber, if elected, would be bound to be more assertive, and that the natural restraint that this House normally exercises would be unleashed. We can add to that the fact that the conventions of the two Houses would have to be reviewed and a whole range of issues such as the level of expertise; the partisanship of the House; whether elections would produce a B team; whether there would be more constituency rivalry; whether there would be gridlock, as there so often is in the United States, and finding ways to deal with it; cost; hybridity; and many others. All those could be overcome if we were rightly going for an elected House, but I do not believe that that is the right way forward.

I have two reflections to make. First, we all know that our constitution has evolved over centuries. As has been said by other noble Lords, in our experience of how we do things, the best way forward is the pragmatic one and incremental reform. Looking at the Lords over the past 100 years, there was change in 1911, 1949, 1958, 1963 and 1999. More recently, there was further change with the introduction of the Supreme Court. In the words of Lampedusa in The Leopard, if we want to stay the same, things have to change. I hate the word "change". "Things have to improve" would be a better way of putting it. That is the British way of tackling these issues.

Secondly, in recent years-certainly over the past 14 years-successive Governments have not been sensible in how they have proposed radical, big changes. That started in 1998 with the plan to abolish hereditary Peers without producing any coherent plan or cohesive approach to replace them in the Chamber. It was almost a flippant approach to the role of the House of Lords, with little sense of history. Since then, we have debated this issue until the cows come home. The Wakeham report and many other reports have stimulated that debate. However, in my view, which I think goes along with some of the views expressed by the noble Lords, Lord Maclennan and Lord Wills, we have not debated these issues in a sufficiently coherent context. That seems to be the heart of the problem. We cannot look at one arm of the constitution without considering the effects on its other parts. The interrelationship is of great importance.

I am glad that the coalition has reiterated that its overwhelming priority is to put the economy of this country straight. However, if that is, rightly, its priority, I submit that it is very dangerous to divert and dissipate its efforts on issues such as an elected House of Lords, for which there is no consensus. I propose a way forward to the Leader of the House and I put it in two categories. First, to give more coherence and consideration to the substantial constitutional issues, we should pick up the recommendations in the alternative report on the case for establishing a constitutional convention, but I suggest it as a permanent framework for the consideration of major constitutional issues, in which constitutional developments of major importance in either Chamber would be considered. The future proposed referendum in Scotland would be a major factor; the level of devolution would have a major impact on the constitution. Any changes to EU treaties and any referendums that flow from them would also be relevant, as well as whether there should in the longer term be an elected Chamber. All that should be embraced within a permanent framework of a constitutional convention.

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Lord Wills (Labour)

I hesitate to keep intervening, as I have had my say already, but I am very interested in what the noble Lord has just said. When I was the Minister for Constitutional Affairs, I was very attracted to exactly that idea of a constitutional council. It is desperately needed, and I very much welcome his suggestion today, but as soon as I raised the idea officials got extremely anxious and worried about the threats to Parliament, and the pre-emption of the Government of the day and Parliament in proposing these measures. Has the noble Lord given any thought to those sorts of concerns, which will inevitably be brought forward in response to the invaluable suggestion that he has just made?

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Lord Luce (Crossbench)

My suggestion is that we approach this in two ways. The big issues on constitutional aspects should be embraced in the constitutional convention, which should be a permanent framework. Secondly, having said that there is no room for complacency, I think that we should now get on with the pragmatic incremental changes that command a large degree of support-or many of them do, at least, and many were put forward by the Wakeham commission-while the broader constitutional issues are being looked at in order to improve the effectiveness of this House. As noble Lords know, there is no shortage of sensible recommendations, from the Bill proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, to the proposals from the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and the committee of the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, on working practices. On many of those I believe that there could be common ground. There is already common ground that the appointments commission should be on a statutory basis and there are already discussions on the need to reduce the size of the House. There are plans and thoughts emerging on the retirement scheme for noble Lords and policies on disqualification and expulsion. We should look at fixed terms. The recommendations from the Goodlad committee have not been properly considered, but the proposals for improving the scrutiny of legislation and strengthening topical debate procedures, for example, would undoubtedly improve the strength of this House.

I believe that we have a forum in the Chamber, through the Campaign for an Effective Second Chamber, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, which could act as a forum for these pragmatic views to be drawn ahead and to try to achieve a consensus. That is the constructive way forward and an alternative way forward. When I last spoke on this subject last year, I said that, if the House did something like this, I would offer to resign as an incentive for the House to get on with it. If the House is prepared to do that, I am prepared to retire.

1:24 pm
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Lord Mackay of Clashfern (Conservative)

My Lords, the Queen's Speech contains a number of important constitutional matters. The matter of the royal succession is important and requires to be carefully negotiated with all members of the Commonwealth so that the unity of the Commonwealth, which has been so conspicuous under Her Majesty's reign, may continue. There are also the proposals on electoral registration. I am disturbed by any suggestion that that should be motivated otherwise than by trying to achieve the fullest possible registration of voters in a proper way. I hope that that would be the motivation of any reform that is put forward. We are faced also with a major constitutional matter in relation to the independence of Scotland and possibly of other parts of the United Kingdom if that should occur. We need to consider those matters with great care.

However, I intend to restrict my remarks specifically to the House of Lords proposals and the proposal to deal with its composition. When William Hague was leader of the Conservative Party, he invited my noble friend Lord Hurd of Westwell and me to consider options for reform of the House of Lords with a view to achieving some kind of consensus. That is now rather a long time ago. I invited, as I was empowered to do, the noble Lord, Lord Richard, and the late Lord Russell to join us, but neither felt able to do so, with Lord Russell explaining that the leadership of his party at the time felt that it might not be desirable. I can well understand those responses because we had been appointed by the leader of the Conservative Party, which had recently suffered a rather severe defeat in the general election. But my noble friend and myself, with the help of Douglas Slater, a clerk here with great experience, considered the various options. The report has been published for a long time and was available to the Government and the Joint Committee, and was no doubt carefully considered.

My central point relates to the relationship between the two Houses. I have no doubt whatever that the primacy of the House of Commons, recognised in taxation particularly since 1671 or so, is founded on the fact that the House of Commons has over the years been elected-no doubt with a rather restricted electorate to start with, but gradually evolving into a general electorate over the whole country. That has given the House of Commons the responsibility, in accordance with the maxim that there can be no taxation without representation, for full control of taxation matters.

Since 1911 and 1949, the House of Commons has also achieved a primary position on general legislation. The true position now is that the elected House can prevent anything going on the statute book with which it does not agree and, after a reasonably short delay, can put on the statute book anything that it steadfastly believes should be there. Sometimes, as we know, as a result of consultations and consideration in this House, it wisely decides not to proceed further, as happened in relation to the process whereby people were detained without any particular procedure being followed. That process was eventually abandoned. However, generally speaking, the House of Commons-the elected House-gets its own way on posited legislation and prevents the enactment of any measure that it does not want. Therefore, I do not see that the undeniable governance difficulties in our country have anything to do with the democratic deficit, as it is sometimes called, whereby ordinary people cannot exert influence through their representatives on the laws which govern them.

The proposal for a fully elected second Chamber requires that the second Chamber, being fully elected, should have democratic accountability and democratic legitimacy. Therefore, I do not see why it should not be given the same authority as the other House, which is directly elected. That seems to me a fundamental point, which is well made by the Joint Committee. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Richard, who is now in his place, that I very much appreciate the clarity of the Joint Committee's report, which constitutes an important development. The same sentiments apply to the alternative report, which was compiled by members of the same committee. It is not possible to print it as a government paper because of the desire for unanimity by the House of Lords, if possible. However, it was printed using government resources and is available in the Library. It seems somewhat unnecessary to make a distinction in this regard. Indeed, my remarks about the clarity and utility of the main report apply also to the alternative report. We are all extremely grateful to the members of the committee for giving a great deal of their time, effort and expertise to frame the report.

The report records the opinion of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, and the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, that the Parliament Acts would not affect the situation if the House of Lords-the second Chamber-became a fully elected Chamber. I firmly agree with that opinion as you have only to read the preamble to the 1911 Act to appreciate that the House of Lords did not operate on a popular basis at that time. I have no doubt that if it were fully elected it would operate on a popular basis, and we would have two fully elected Houses with full democratic mandates, given that we have universal suffrage throughout the nation. The Joint Committee recommended that if this were to happen it would be right to introduce legislation to distinguish clearly between the powers of the two Houses. I entirely agree with that but legislation needs to be based on reason. I see no reason for legislating to restrict the democratic authority of the second House, if it has a full democratic mandate, but to leave untouched the democratic authority of the first House.

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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Labour)

I am most grateful to the noble and learned Lord for giving way. If you accept the primacy of the Commons as the first base of the constitutional arrangement, it would still be possible to have two elected Houses provided you were able to set out their respective powers. However, inevitably, despite the universal mandate that would arise from the fact that people can vote for the second Chamber, it would none the less still be secondary to the primary Chamber, if it were so ordained through legislation.

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Lord Mackay of Clashfern (Conservative)

I am saying that the legislation needs to have a reason behind it. It is all very well to legislate, and I know that from time to time we see legislation which some of us think does not have much reason behind it, but on the whole we regard it as rather important that legislation which reaches our statute book should be grounded in reason. If the democratic mandate is the same for both Houses, it is difficult to see a reason for distinguishing between their democratic authority.

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Lord Wills (Labour)

I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for giving way. Is it not possible to conceive of a democratic mandate for a revising and scrutinising Chamber? That is precisely the reason for it. It is not necessarily an inferior role, just a different role. That is what needs to be placed in the legislation. I think that most noble Lords who have spoken so far agree with that.

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Lord Mackay of Clashfern (Conservative)

That is tantamount to asking that the second Chamber be elected not to exercise full democratic authority but to have the authority only to do certain restricted things. That is not exactly an issue although it is certainly a possibility. I have never stood for election on the basis that we are discussing so I do not speak from great experience. However, I think that it must be a little difficult to stand for election if your election would result in your having very restricted authority. One could say, "My policies will not matter tuppence because the policies will be determined by the other electorate". Such an outcome is possible in theory but would be difficult in practice. This issue has to be faced at some point and dealt with either by restricting the authority of those elected to the second Chamber in some way or by some other method. The other method one could use is that of introducing arbitration between the two Chambers, which has been hinted at in previous speeches. This is the absolutely fundamental and central point and has to be dealt with before we seek consensus when we are not sure what the consensus is supposed to be about.