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House of Lords Reform

Oral Answers to Questions — Constitutional Affairs – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 18th October 2005.

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Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Labour, Tooting 2:30 pm, 18th October 2005

When the Department intends to proceed with the next steps towards establishing a reformed House of Lords.

Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Minister of State (Department of Constitutional Affairs), Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

We intend to continue with reform of the House of Lords to create an effective legitimate Chamber while maintaining the primacy of this House.

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Labour, Tooting

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend. With the greatest respect, is she happy with the answer that was drafted by the civil servants? Can she let us know when we can expect a Joint Committee to be established and what its remit will be? Will she ensure that when the options from the Joint Committee come back to this House we are given options as to preference rather than a yes or no option? She will remember—some of us will not—what happened last time this House was asked to vote on the options.

Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Minister of State (Department of Constitutional Affairs), Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

The civil service gave me a very long and good answer to kick off the point raised by my hon. Friend, but I made it short to give him as much time as possible to ask his supplementary and so that I could deal with the issues that he raises.

We want to get the Joint Committee established as soon as possible so that it can codify the key conventions of the House of Lords. My hon. Friend raises a very important point, of which he did not give me notice—although I am not criticising him for that—[Interruption.] I am saying that it was not a planted question. What he is asking is whether we will have sensible proceedings in this House when we have a free vote on the composition of the House of Lords, and how we will go about reaching that outcome. That is a very important point.

We know where we got to in 2003. When we vote this time, we want to have absolute clarity. We want all Members to be absolutely clear that the choices that we are presenting to the House are those that they want to vote on, and we want to ensure that we vote on them in such a way as to achieve consensus. My hon. Friend pre-empts me in raising issues that I would like to explore—for example, whether we simply stick with a yes or no option or have a range of choices, which is sometimes called a preferendum. We must have a better process to ensure that the will of this House on the composition of the House of Lords is better expressed than we were collectively able to achieve in 2003, and I will certainly strive to achieve that.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Chair, Constitutional Affairs Committee

This morning, the Lord Chancellor laid out for the Select Committee a measured process whereby a Joint Committee would seek consensus on the functions of the second Chamber and then both Houses would have the opportunity to consider its composition in the light of that. Would not it be pre-empting that process for the Government to try to rush ahead in getting the House of Lords to introduce timetabling of Bills, or indeed remove the remaining hereditary peers, without taking all these things together?

Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Minister of State (Department of Constitutional Affairs), Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, we have a manifesto commitment to limit to 60 days the time that the House of Lords will have to deal with a Bill. That is a free-standing manifesto commitment. We also have a free-standing manifesto commitment to abolish the remaining hereditaries. In addition to that, we said in our manifesto that we would establish a Joint Committee and have a free vote in this House. We will proceed on all those points; one is not conditional on the other.