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House of Lords Reform

Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 12:38 pm on 19th July 2007.

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice 12:38 pm, 19th July 2007

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement on the way forward on reform of the House of Lords.

On 7 March 2007, after the free votes in both Houses, I said that I would make arrangements to reconvene the cross-party working group and that, after discussions with that group, I would return to the House to make a statement outlining the Government's plans. Those free votes marked the fulfilment of the specific terms of one of our manifesto commitments on Lords reform. While the votes were an important milestone, we must not now lose the opportunity to make further and more fundamental reform happen.

In March, this House voted overwhelmingly—indeed, by a majority of 113—for a wholly elected House of Lords. It backed by a margin of 38 a substantially elected House based on an 80 per cent. elected and a 20 per cent. appointed element. It also voted by a majority of 280 to remove the remaining hereditary peers. As part of a comprehensive package of reforms, the Government are committed to removing the anomaly of the remaining hereditary peers, in line with the will of this House.

As this House will be aware, at the same time the other place voted for a wholly appointed House by a majority of 240. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said in his statement of 3 July that we should proceed in line with the wishes of this House, which all accept is the primary Chamber. That approach was underlined in the Green Paper on constitutional reform, "The Governance of Britain", which I published on the same day. The Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties are committed by their 2005 manifestos to a substantially elected House of Lords. [ Interruption. ] There was no commitment in the Conservative or Liberal Democrat manifestos to a free vote.

Tomorrow in the other place Lord Steel's private Member's Bill on Lords reform will have its Second Reading. My noble Friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath will expand on our response when he speaks in that debate; suffice it now to say that the Bill does not contain the comprehensive reform that is the clear will of this House.

The cross-party talks before the free votes were successful in building up a significant degree of consensus on a range of issues, as reflected in the White Paper on House of Lords reform, which I published in February. I believe that this is the best way of proceeding. I shall continue to lead the cross-party talks, and since the free votes, we have held two further meetings. Given that all three main parties are committed by their manifestos to further reform of the House of Lords, it is right that the group should consist of Front-Bench representatives of the parties, as well as representatives from the Cross Benchers and the Lords Spiritual, but of course we want the widest possible consensus, and I intend to make arrangements so that we can take proper account of the views of all parliamentarians, including non-party independent Members, and interest groups and the public.

The White Paper adumbrated the view that the consensus was for a hybrid House involving a 50 per cent. elected and a 50 per cent. appointed element. However, since both Houses rejected that option—notwithstanding my advocacy of it, or perhaps because of my advocacy of it—we will have to proceed with remodelling our work based on an 80 per cent. or 100 per cent. elected House of Lords.

Although there is agreement on some of the areas outlined in the White Paper, there is still some way to go on some other issues. The group will discuss the outstanding elements of the reform package, including powers, electoral systems, financial packages, and the balance and size of the House, including diversity and gender issues. We will also need to discuss the transition towards a reformed House in detail, including the position of the existing life peers and the need for action to avoid gratuitously cutting Conservative party representation in the Lords when and if the remaining hereditary peers are removed.

Let me turn to the powers of a reformed House. The Government have always said that the balance of powers between the two Houses described by the excellent and recent Cunningham report should apply to a reformed House. Those powers are currently underpinned by some statutory provisions, standing orders and conventions. We undertook to look further at whether the current conventions were adequate to ensure the desired relationship with a reformed House, following the free votes.

Over the coming months, we will look at how best to deliver a substantially or wholly elected second Chamber, based on the principle that this House is the primary Chamber and that an elected House of Lords should complement the House of Commons and not be a rival to it. As part of that programme of work it is vital that the relative powers of a reformed House be made clear. We will therefore look at ways to enshrine in a constitutional settlement the current balance of powers and the different roles of the two Houses.

The Government are determined to proceed with this programme of reform with a view to its completion. In dealing with such a central element of the constitution, it is right that there be as much all-party agreement as possible. I accept that there may well not be total agreement, but the constitution does not belong to any one party and it should not be used as a partisan tool.

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

The immediate next steps are that I hope to be able to publish a further White Paper around the turn of the year setting out where we have got to in the cross-party talks—possibly accompanied by draft clauses that would form elements of the final reform Bill. Our intention through the work of the cross-party group is to formulate a comprehensive reform package that we would put to the electorate as a manifesto commitment at the next general election and which hopefully the other main parties would include in their manifestos. [ Interruption. ] There may of course be areas on which each party takes a different view—and we have heard some of them already. However, there is the potential to reach a degree of cross-party consensus that will lead to the completion of Lords reform. The free votes in the Commons in March gave us a clear direction of travel on an issue that has dogged the country for decades. We now have a chance finally to finish the job.

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Photo of Nick Herbert Nick Herbert Shadow Secretary of State (Justice)

I thank the Lord Chancellor for his statement and for his courtesy in letting me have sight of it in advance. At the outset, may I pay tribute to his considerable efforts to move forwards on the issue of Lords reform and the way in which he is attempting to do so by consensus? It has not always been an easy journey for him and he has gracefully departed from his own preferred option of a hybrid half-elected, half-appointed Lords—or rather, that option departed from him. It is dead. In fact, it was never alive. In March, this House voted for a substantially elected second Chamber. I welcome the Lord High Chancellor to the ranks of those of us—the majority—who voted for the democratic option.

Following the votes in March, does the Lord Chancellor remember saying on the "Today" programme:

"There's now a momentum behind change...Members of Parliament want a wholly or predominantly elected House of Lords. It's now our duty to deliver that"?

But how much momentum is there? Today he said that the Government are determined to complete Lords reform—but when? It seems that his new ambition is to secure a manifesto commitment for reform at the next election, but that election may not be held for another two or three years and the Labour party first had a manifesto commitment on the issue in 1992. Is not the real message in his statement that Lords reform is on ice until after the next election?

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Photo of Nick Herbert Nick Herbert Shadow Secretary of State (Justice)

There will be another White Paper and possibly draft clauses, but can the Lord Chancellor confirm that he has no plans to introduce legislation to deliver a substantially elected upper House in this Parliament?

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Photo of Nick Herbert Nick Herbert Shadow Secretary of State (Justice)

It is now eight years since Parliament embarked on stage 1 of reform. Does the Lord Chancellor

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Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. It would be very helpful if hon. Members waited for the initial statement and response to be completed before making their contributions.

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Photo of Nick Herbert Nick Herbert Shadow Secretary of State (Justice)

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is now eight years since Parliament embarked on stage 1 of reform. Does the Lord Chancellor recall that when the Government agreed that 92 hereditary peers would remain in the House of Lords pending further reform, his predecessor, Lord Irvine of Lairg, told the Lords that the retention of those peers reflected

"a compromise negotiated between Privy Councillors on Privy Council terms and binding in honour on all those who have come to give it their assent"?—[ Hansard, House of Lords, 30 March 1999; Vol. 599, c. 207.]

As one of those Privy Councillors, will the Lord Chancellor confirm that he remains bound in honour, that the promise made then holds good, and that, although he repeats the Government's commitment to remove the remaining hereditary peers, that will not happen unless and until stage 2 of the reforms is complete?

In 1924, Winston Churchill said:

"if we are to leave the venerable if somewhat crumbled rock on which the House of Lords now stands, there is no safe foothold until we come to an elected chamber."

Will the Lord Chancellor clarify the Government's stance on the Bill introduced by Lord Steel, which will be debated in the other place tomorrow? The Bill would gradually remove hereditary peers, eventually leaving an all-appointed Lords. The Lord Chancellor merely said that "the Bill does not contain the comprehensive reform that is the clear will of this House," but given that the Bill breaches Lord Irvine's undertaking and is clearly incompatible with a predominantly elected Lords, surely the Government should oppose it. If they do not, what conclusion can we draw about their seriousness in taking reform forward?

The whole House will agree with the Lord Chancellor that the Commons must be the primary Chamber and that an elected Lords should complement the Commons and not be a rival to it, but after the Cunningham report on parliamentary conventions, the powers of the upper House are more closely defined than ever before. This House has the purse strings and the Parliament Acts, while the upper House has the power to delay. When the Lord Chancellor says that he wishes to look again at the adequacy of the conventions governing the relationship between the two Houses, does he accept that maintaining the primacy of this House should not mean weakening the Lords? It should mean strengthening Parliament as a whole so that the Executive can be held properly to account.

I welcome the Lord Chancellor's comment that the constitution does not belong to any one party and that it should not be used as a party tool. It is important that we move forward on the basis of consensus —[ Interruption. ] Does he understand the profound concern among Conservative Members about the existing White Paper's proposals for electoral systems and constituencies? An electoral system that is based on closed lists and large, artificial, multi-member constituencies would keep power in the hands of party bosses. We cannot accept the removal of the independence and authority of the present Lords unless real democratic accountability is put in its place. Does the Lord Chancellor agree that we should aim for a strong revising second Chamber with democratic legitimacy, not a House of party placemen? [ Interruption. ]

We want to build a second Chamber with legitimacy, authority and the ability to play a full part in holding the Executive to account. We will work constructively with the Government in their search for consensus to that end. However, the preamble to the Parliament Act 1911 said:

"it is intended to substitute for the House of Lords as it at present exists a Second Chamber constituted on a popular instead of hereditary basis, but such substitution cannot be immediately brought into operation".

Does not the Lord Chancellor's statement indicate that far from being able "finally to finish the job", as he said, we remain, nearly a century later, in precisely the same position: intending reform, but still waiting?

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

That was all very interesting. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on trying to have it both ways. One understands why he did so, given the extent of the division on the issue in his party. He did very well to get through his contribution, notwithstanding the noises directly behind him that punctuated his speech. I was reminded of the late Iain Macleod's commentary that when one is speaking from the Front Bench, while one might have the opposition in front of one, one always has the enemy behind —[ Interruption. ] On this occasion, I look behind me and see nothing but friends. One or two still need re-education, but that is another matter.

I am glad that the Conservative party has been engaged in a process of Pauline conversion. Let me remind the hon. Gentleman of why the preamble to the 1911 Parliament Act said that the process would take a long time. That was due to the opposition not of the Liberal or Labour parties, but of the Conservative party. It was wonderful that in 2005—at long last—the Conservative party included a commitment on the matter in its manifesto. The Liberals and the Labour party have been promising such change since 1910, although we have had some difficulty delivering it.

There will unquestionably be opposition from the other place, but I want us to get this through without a train wreck. We will do that if each party gives a clear manifesto commitment to going for a wholly or substantially elected second Chamber with the balance of power between the two Chambers as it is described now, although not necessarily in the conventions. I believe that that will be my party's position and although this is a matter for the Liberal party, I am pretty certain that it will be its position. The question is whether that will be the Conservatives' position. Is it true, as I am told, that the Leader of the Opposition went to a meeting of Conservative Back Benchers earlier this year—he might not have done this, but it has never been denied when I have put it privately to Conservative Members—and said, to calm a rebellion, that as far as the Conservatives were concerned, if they were elected to government, Lords reform would be a "third-term issue"?

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

The hon. Gentleman confirms that that was said. Nick Herbert, as a radical in the shadow Cabinet, needs to ensure that he moves the rather backward-leaning Leader of the Opposition towards his position.

The hon. Gentleman asked me whether we would stick to what Lord Irvine of Lairg said in his statement on the compromise that led to the eccentric provision under which 92 hereditary peers were elected by their hereditary peers, with the process perpetuating itself through elections involving those peers. In the end, that is a matter for the House. Let me remind him that Division No. 71 in this Session took place on an amendment proposed by Mrs. May to a motion that I moved. My motion stated:

"That this House is of the opinion that the remaining retained places for peers whose membership is based on the hereditary principle should be removed", and the amendment would have added the words

"once elected members have taken their places in a reformed House of Lords."

The hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs was one of the 241 Members who voted for the amendment—I happened to vote against it.

After the amendment had been knocked out, there was a Division on the main Question:

"That this House is of the opinion that the remaining retained places for peers whose membership is based on the hereditary principle should be removed"— full stop, without any qualification. The whole issue was whether the House supported Lord Irvine of Lairg's position. Guess what, Mr. Deputy Speaker? The hon. Gentleman may have forgotten what happened, but surprisingly, I cannot find his name anywhere in the list of Members who voted No. However, one of the 391 Members who voted in the Aye Lobby was "Herbert, Nick". It might be that someone else of that name managed to secrete themselves in the Lobby, but I think that it was the hon. Gentleman. He supported the decision that was agreed by a majority of 280, that the hereditary peers should be removed.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the adequacy of the conventions and the maintenance of the primacy of this House. I do not think that there is a huge division among the parties on that. My speeches on 6 March and 7 March made it clear that I accept the principle that the question of powers is not a zero-sum game. There is not a quantum of power in the building that can exist only at one end or the other. Throughout my period in the House, I have been committed to making Parliament more effective. I accept that that involves making it more effective at both ends of the building, but the hon. Gentleman must accept that the workings of the Government and Parliament would become impossible if one House did not have primacy. Perhaps he wants to go down the route of bicameral parliaments that just achieve deadlock, but he should consider the fact that some European countries cannot be governed because there is no clarity about which chamber has power.

We do not disagree with the description set out in Cunningham 2 of the balance of powers of the two Chambers. I hope that the totality of power of both Chambers together will grow. However, we take issue with whether the conventions are adequate, and Lord Wakeham supports us in that respect.

My last point—[Hon. Members: "Hear, hear!"] Well, I always try to give full answers, especially when I am involved in a pedagogical process. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Parliament Act 1911. This has taken a long time, but I hope that he recognises that we have made considerable progress. If the Conservative party makes a commitment in its manifesto, we certainly can, in the first couple of years of the next Parliament, complete this job.

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Several hon. Members:

rose —

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Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. May I say to the House that this is a statement, not a debate? If possible, may we have brief questions and, if the Secretary of State would not mind, brief answers?

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Photo of Tony Wright Tony Wright Labour, Cannock Chase

I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will not mind if I say that the implication of his statement is that comprehensive reform of the House of Lords is not an immediate prospect. I hope that he will not set his face against a more limited reform measure that would put the House of Lords Appointments Commission on a statutory basis, separate the honours system from service in the second Chamber, and give the House of Lords the ability to remove people who bring dishonour on it.

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

I have two quick answers. First, to get to where we want to go, we have to make clear progress, but in the absence of categorical manifesto commitments from the three parties, we would simply find ourselves bogged down in endless debate on the Floor of the House before the next election. I want to make clear progress, so that in the first Session of the next Parliament, we can introduce a final measure. Secondly, on a limited reform measure—that takes us back to Lord Steel's proposal—let us see what the House of Lords says about it. One thing has to be clear: such a reform cannot be an alternative to the major reform to which the House is now committed.

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Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Attorney General, Party Chair, Liberal Democrats

The Lord Chancellor knows that we welcome his statement, his continuing interest and commitment to the subject, and his willingness to change his position to accommodate the views of the majority in all parties. He knows that the Liberal Democrats have said yes to cross-party talks, to seeking maximum agreement between the parties, to making sure that the Commons is the primary Chamber, and to making sure that we get on with the process.

If the right hon. Gentleman is really committed—and if the new Prime Minister is really committed, as last week's announcement suggested—to a major new constitutional settlement, in which there is a properly democratic bicameral Parliament, and in which the Executive return more powers to Parliament, would it not be logical to get on with the process, rather than slow it down? That way, the Government can be seen to deliver on a final transformation of the House of Lords into a proper democratic Chamber within 100 years of the original commitment. Otherwise, we will delay the decision for another Parliament, and goodness knows what the result will be, what the balance of Parliament will be, and who will be sitting in his position and taking an interest in the subject.

Will the right hon. Gentleman reflect again on the fact that if there is no White Paper until the turn of the year, realistically, it will mean legislation in 2008 or 2009 at the earliest? We read reports that there might be a general election before then, and that would obviously put the process in jeopardy. Does he agree absolutely that it would not be acceptable to replace the House of Lords, whether appointed or hereditary, with a second Chamber in which the parties, rather than the people, choose who represents them?

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

I am grateful for the Liberal Democrats' categorical and full-hearted support; we have not heard from them any of the cavilling that we sometimes hear from Conservative Front Benchers. The issue is really one of haste and speed. If we are too hasty, the matter will fall, and I want it to reach fulfilment. I am clear that we can get there, but there are many big issues that we have yet to determine. If that is not done, we will simply end up having hours and hours of debate on the Floor of the House without reaching conclusions, including on the electoral systems. I should just say to the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs—I am sorry that I did not answer this question earlier—that I am, of course, ready to look again at the whole issue of electoral systems.

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Photo of Gordon Prentice Gordon Prentice Labour, Pendle

We have a convicted fraudster, Conrad Black, and a tax exile, Lord Laidlaw, in the House of Lords. Surely we should take early action to rid the House of Lords of people like that, rather than wait until a comprehensive Bill is introduced after the next election.

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"Tut Tut!"......The Lords has always had colourful characters. Care should be exercised when appointing them. I suppose if the Lower House ever has problems, the...

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

I agree with that, but the difficulty in introducing a limited measure is that reform that is not properly thought through can be added to it. If there are other ways of achieving my hon. Friend's aim, so much the better.

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Photo of George Young George Young Chair, Standards and Privileges Committee

Does the Lord Chancellor agree that constitutional reform has not been one of his Government's greatest triumphs? Will he concede, and take some comfort from the fact, that of those Conservative MPs who voted when votes were last held on the issue, a majority voted for one of the elected options, and a majority voted against a wholly appointed House? Will he give an undertaking that by the end of this Parliament, a draft Bill will be ready, which can be introduced in the next Parliament?

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

We have made rather more progress on reform of the Lords than any previous Administration, including those of which the right hon. Gentleman was an adornment. On the issue of a draft Bill, we are certainly aiming to produce draft clauses. Whether we can get to a full draft Bill depends on the extent to which we can agree an overall settlement in the cross-party talks, but I hope that we can reach such a settlement.

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Photo of David Clelland David Clelland Labour, Tyne Bridge

My right hon. Friend is hardly in a position to criticise the Leader of the Opposition for making House of Lords reform a third-term issue, given that, under our Government, it has become a fourth-term issue. Does he agree that the Bill that will come before the House of Lords tomorrow largely satisfies the commitments made in the Labour party's manifesto for the last election, and will he confirm that the Government will support the Bill? Will he also confirm that although the House voted for a wholly elected second Chamber, it was not clear what form the elections would take, who would qualify to stand for election, or who the electorate would be?

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

I cannot confirm my hon. Friend's statement. We said that there would be free votes on the issues, and there have been free votes; the House has spoken. I know that he disagrees with its decision, but the majorities in favour of 100 per cent. and 80 per cent. elected were overwhelming.

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Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

Would the Lord High Chancellor, as we must get used to calling him, accept that that majority in favour of 100 per cent. elected was largely engineered by the tactical voting of Mr. Clelland, who took his troops into the Aye Lobby although they were really not in favour of the proposal? Does the right hon. Gentleman also accept that in every Division, more Conservative Members voted against 80 per cent. elected and 20 per cent. appointed than for? Similarly, more voted against 100 per cent. elected than for. Does he accept that my hon. Friend Nick Herbert, who is newly appointed to the Front Bench, does not speak for the majority of the parliamentary Conservative party, and that the Lord Chancellor will have a real fight on his hands if he tries to destroy the current constitution, as he is seeking to do?

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

I am not seeking to destroy the constitution—of course not. I am seeking to make considerable progress on the issue on a consensual basis, and I am trying to nail down some very difficult details before we bring forward a Bill, because that is the only way that we will get a satisfactory and pretty permanent settlement. As for the votes, I always work on the basis that when hon. Members choose which Division Lobby to go through, they know the consequences, and those who voted in favour of 80 or 100 per cent. elected knew what the consequences would be.

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Photo of Geraldine Smith Geraldine Smith Labour, Morecambe and Lunesdale

No one should have a job for life without accountability, and it is right that we should have a wholly or substantially elected House of Lords, but does my right hon. Friend agree that success will depend on what form the elections take? I do not want party managers dominating the election process, or closed lists. I would like organisations to have the chance, perhaps indirectly, to elect Members of the House of Lords, because it is important that we retain the expertise and experience in the House of Lords, as well as its independence.

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

First, I look forward to discussing my hon. Friend's proposals in detail. Secondly, I am against closed lists for the elections. There is a debate to be held about the election systems used. Let me make it clear that I am not in favour of closed lists of the kind used in European elections for elections to the House of Lords.

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Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

I would be grateful if the Secretary of State stopped using the phrase "primacy of the House of Commons". What he actually means is the primacy of the Executive. So long as the Government can retain control over their party, they can do as they please. We need Back-Bench Members of this House to reassert their independence, to recover the powers that the Executive have stolen from us, and to free ourselves from the tyranny of the Whips. That is what we need to do.

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

I know—and a bad Whip, too. I say to Mr. Hogg that when we have a strong Executive, as we do, our constitution can work only if there is a strong House of Commons and a strong Parliament. I support that, but if there is to be a Government, one House has to have primacy. The decision to accept the primacy of the House of Commons was not made by the Government. It was made by the House of Commons in a free vote when we set up the terms of reference of the Cunningham 2 Committee on 10 May last year.

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Photo of Andy Reed Andy Reed Labour, Loughborough

I enjoyed the first part of the statement about trying to build consensus across the House, but having listened to the contributions of Opposition Members, I am not sure that we will achieve that in time for the 2009 manifesto. Although my right hon. Friend has so far resisted the call to bring forward some of the measures, will he consider bringing some of them forward—for example, the role of the bishops in the House of Lords? They could be removed, along with hereditary peers, as quickly as possible, as part of our disestablishment of the Church of England.

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

Oh goody. Then we would really have a consensus. It is preferable that we proceed as I suggest, otherwise we will end up with deadlock, which is where we have ended up before.

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Photo of Richard Taylor Richard Taylor Independent, Wyre Forest

With a wholly elected second Chamber, how is the significant and valuable proportion of independent Members to be maintained?

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

By definition, that cannot be maintained as it is at present. That is why I voted for 80 per cent., as well as the perfectly formed but unsupportable 50 per cent.

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Photo of Graham Allen Graham Allen Labour, Nottingham North

I strongly welcome the statement from the Secretary of State for Justice. Will he stick immovably to the democratic principle that those who exercise political power in a democracy must be elected? Those who vote must be elected. That, of course, allows some elbow room for my right hon. Friend to ensure that those who do not vote in a second Chamber—those who therefore do not exercise political power—may find a place, whether they are existing or future Members of such a House.

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

The primary Chamber must be wholly elected. We will continue to have a debate about whether the second Chamber should be wholly or substantially elected.

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Photo of David Howarth David Howarth Shadow Solicitor General, Ministry of Justice

Will the Secretary of State resist the siren calls for piecemeal reform, even though the individual ideas might be quite good? That threatens the programme itself. The important thing at this stage is to get on with the comprehensive reform as quickly as possible. In that regard, I add my voice to those who are disappointed that what he has announced today means that there is no possibility of an early election to the House of Lords. Does he envisage the possibility of an election to the House of Lords within the term of the next Parliament, not having to wait till the following general election?

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

The more progress we can make on the all-party talks beforehand, and the more we can deal with the devil in the detail, the more likely it is that we could get the reform through in the first Session of a new Parliament, without running into overwhelming objections by the other place, which acknowledges the primacy of this Chamber. If that were the case, elections to the other Chamber could certainly take place during that Parliament.

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Photo of Martin Salter Martin Salter Labour, Reading West

I welcome the parts of the Lord Chancellor's statement that move us further down the democratic path, as many hon. Members have sought during their time in this place. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that he has comprehensively buried the doomed and somewhat arrogant contention that our democracy will be better served by a unicameral system, with no revising Chamber at all?

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

I have never supported that and the House buried it by an overwhelming vote. It was the very first vote, No. 65, on 7 March.

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Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury

Given the recent decision of the Government to confirm the Church of England as the established Church, will the right hon. Gentleman assure me that there will always be enough bishops in the Church of England to work the system properly?

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Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury

Of course that includes women bishops. Will the right hon. Gentleman also take the opportunity to examine the legislative relationship between the Church of England and Parliament, which is archaic and is effectively governed through the Ecclesiastical Committee with a precursor pre-legislative stage of legislation? Will he revise that system to bring it more into line with 21st century practice?

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

I declare an interest, as I am also a communicating member of the Church of England and believe in the established Church, but that view is not wholly shared in all parts of the House, as the hon. Gentleman well knows. On the second point, I personally want to see a significant representation of the Lords Spiritual in the second Chamber. We must be very careful before we discuss Church of England reform in the Chamber. The hon. Gentleman may recall—not from his own memory, but from the history books—that the 1874 Session of Parliament was dominated from one end to the other by discussions of Church of England reform. I do not want to go down as the Lord Chancellor with that legacy.

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Photo of Kelvin Hopkins Kelvin Hopkins Labour, Luton North

Both Houses have clearly expressed a view about what we should do about Lords reform, but the electorate has not yet expressed a view specifically. I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the fact that in those votes 155 Labour Members voted for a unicameral Parliament. That may represent a much larger proportion of voters outside the Chamber, and they should be given the choice in a referendum as to whether they want a second Chamber in the future. I remind my right hon. Friend that a number of Parliaments have abolished their second Chamber, and many successful democracies have single Houses.

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

As we set out in the White Paper, there are very few countries of our size that have unicameral Chambers. I strongly believe that a unicameral Chamber would lead to more power going to the Executive and less power to elected people in this Chamber, as well as the other place.

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Photo of Michael Fallon Michael Fallon Chair, Treasury Sub-Committee

Will the Secretary of State explain a little more clearly how, in a unitary rather than a federal state, there can be two competing sources of electoral authority?

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

Of course there can be. There are plenty of unitary states that have two Chambers, but if the hon. Gentleman takes a different view about an elected second Chamber, that is his opinion, but it is currently not shared by a majority of the House.

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Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant PPS (Rt Hon Harriet Harman QC, Lord Privy Seal), Leader of the House of Commons

As one who supports a democratic second Chamber, I am delighted that my right hon. Friend has retained responsibility for the subject, not least because I remember the days when he was in favour of a 0 per cent. elected element in the second Chamber. He was then in favour of 50 per cent. and now 80 per cent., so we have got him from 0 to 80 per cent. in just five years. There is an important principle by which the House of Lords has always abided until now. If there is a clear manifesto commitment by a governing party that it will implement, the Lords will not stand in the way. Is that not why it is extremely important that Labour's manifesto, as the party that will win the next general election, is unambiguous on the matter?

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

I thank my hon. Friend for complimenting my ability to listen to arguments. I have shifted on the matter; I am perfectly willing to say that. On the second point, I agree that we need a clear manifesto commitment, then we can get the measure through.

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Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (International Development)

May I remind the Lord Chancellor that there are more than three political parties in the House. He gave an assurance to my right hon. Friend Mr. Salmond that we would play a meaningful part in the cross-party discussions. I remind the hon. Gentleman also that it was the Scottish national party and Plaid Cymru that destroyed the credible case for appointment by pursuing cash for honours in the way that we did. Can he assure me that the cross-party talks will indeed be cross-party?

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

I apologise to the hon. Gentleman. We are suggesting that the key cross-party group should be the three parties, but I promise him that there will be—we should have made previous arrangements—discussions with his party, Plaid Cymru and other smaller parties in the House. I am sorry about that. As for the other point, the debate about whether there should be an elected element is nothing whatever to do with that which he mentions.

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Photo of Andrew MacKinlay Andrew MacKinlay Labour, Thurrock

I am fully signed up to these LPs and senators—a very good idea. Will the—what is my right hon. Friend called now?

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Photo of Andrew MacKinlay Andrew MacKinlay Labour, Thurrock

Will the Secretary of State reconsider the idea of Ministers in either House being able to appear in either House, especially once there are elections down at the other end of the Corridor? It is ridiculous that Lords in Waiting—I do not say this in any disparaging way—are parrots who just read from a brief. It would be much better if the Minister who was the architect of a piece of legislation piloted it through both Houses. There are plenty of precedents for that in Westminster-style constitutions. I hope that that will be looked at.

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

We will certainly look at that, although I am not certain that I will end up in the same place as my hon. Friend.

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Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

I agree with the question from Andrew Mackinlay. Does the Secretary of State accept that many of us in the House believe that people want to destroy the current House of Lords because it is too successful? It represents the best interests of the people of this country and although it is not democratic, it was never set up to be democratic. It is there because of its experience and expertise, and we should appreciate the role that it has played.

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

It was set up precisely not to be democratic and resisted all democratic change throughout the process of change, particularly in the 19th century and the early part of the 20th century. I applaud the role of the House of Lords, which has actually been strengthened as a result of the changes that we introduced in the first Parliament of this Administration. As I said to Nick Herbert, I have never believed that there is a quantum of power that is fixed within this Palace. We have a strong Executive in this country—I believe that that produces benefits—but a strong Executive requires there to be a strong Parliament. That does not mean, however, that we freeze forever the particular constitution of the other place.

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Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

The Lord High Chancellor made great play of giving more power to the people, as did the White Paper on governance. I speak as one who is in favour of an elected House of Lords. Does he agree that it is essential to ensure that there is no proportional representation in the voting system—not merely not a closed list but none at all—and that, to enhance the reputation of the House of Lords, serious consideration should be given to it conducting its business without whipping? I follow what my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Hogg said about this. It is very important that it should have that degree of independence.

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

That would ultimately be a matter for the other place. If the hon. Gentleman aspires to have a Government whom he can support, which may be an impossibility in his case, he will recognise the case for whipping at both ends of the Corridor. As for proportional representation, there will be a debate about that. Although I am passionately in favour of single member constituencies for this place, I recognise that there is a case for multi-member constituencies for the other place. We have to work through this.

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Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

I always thought that the right hon. Gentleman was a tough cookie. May I tell him, for the avoidance of doubt, that he should not be intimidated or slowed down in any way by the reactionary, antediluvian, troglodyte forces in all parties who oppose reform, that the arguments for democracy remain strong, and that he should proceed with a Bill sooner rather later?

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Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

The Lord High Chancellor has a great opportunity to strengthen Parliament and weaken the power of the Executive. Will he assure the House that the constitutional settlement to which he refers will be agreed before there are any changes to the system for election or appointment to the House of Lords?

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

The one is part of the other. [ Interruptio n. ] I am sorry, but that is simply the case. We are seeking to produce a comprehensive package of reforms that will lead to a new composition of the second Chamber.

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Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Shadow Minister (Defence)

Does the Secretary of State agree that if Lord Malloch-Brown and Lord West of Spithead had had to stand for election, neither would have been able to achieve the experience at the United Nations or as Chief of Defence Intelligence which precisely fits them so well to be part of a revising Chamber and, indeed, Ministers in his Government? Is it not the case that if the 100 per cent. proposal—the one with the support of this House—goes through, there will be no prospect of such people getting into the other House, and that if the 80 per cent. proposal goes through, the people with the experience will not have the democratic mandate and the people with the democratic mandate will not have the experience?

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

That is pretty insulting as regards the kind of people who will be attracted to a second Chamber. I know that the hon. Gentleman is one of the troglodytes on the Conservative Benches. I acknowledge that there is a case for an appointed element. That is why I supported a 50 per cent. appointed element and then, when that failed catastrophically, went for an 80 per cent. elected element with a 20 per cent. appointed element. There will be much to be said on this on all sides until we finally reach agreement.

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