Constitutional Reform

– in the House of Lords at 11:38 am on 18 September 2003.

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Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Secretary of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs, Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and Lord Chancellor 11:38, 18 September 2003

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I should like to make a Statement about further reforms to your Lordships' House, and on the office of Lord Chancellor.

I am today publishing two consultation papers on the next steps on House of Lords reform and on the functions of the Lord Chancellor. Copies of both papers are available in the Printed Paper Office.

These papers form another significant part of the present phase of constitutional reform on which the Government embarked last summer, with the creation of a Department for Constitutional Affairs to take overall responsibility for these issues.

May I begin by apologising to the House because a report of the House of Lords proposals appeared in a Sunday newspaper? I can assure the House that no one in my department was authorised to speak to the press on this subject. It has always been the Government's intention to ensure that Parliament should hear first about these proposals.

I shall deal first with our proposals for further reform of your Lordships' House. Last February, this House and the other place voted on the range of options for the composition of our second Chamber proposed by the Joint Committee of both Houses. Your Lordships voted three to one in favour of an appointed House. In the other place, there was no majority for any of the options.

The Joint Committee, in its second report published on 9th May, reflected on the outcome of the parliamentary votes and concluded that,

"simply to maintain the status quo", in respect of composition was undesirable. The Government agree.

In these circumstances we intend to make progress where we can. So the Government are proposing further reforms to ensure that we have a stable and sustainable House of Lords. It was never our intention that the remaining hereditary Peers should remain Members of the House for ever. When this interim arrangement was reached, as well as the immediate benefit of the agreement, we accepted the argument that the presence of the remaining hereditary Peers would act as an incentive to further reform. That has not happened. There is clearly no consensus in Parliament on the way forward.

So the context for reform has clearly and significantly changed. The circumstances which gave rise to the original arrangement over the remaining hereditary Peers no longer apply. The solution which the remaining hereditary Peers were here to help is no longer available.

So the Government must act, and act decisively, to bring about stability and sustainability. It is for the Government to act but it is for Parliament to decide. It will be for Parliament as a whole to decide on the removal of the right to sit and vote of the remaining hereditary Peers.

Therefore the next step of our reform programme will be to introduce legislation, when parliamentary time allows, to remove the right of the remaining 92 hereditary Peers to sit and vote in your Lordships' House, thus completing that element of the reform process on which we embarked in 1997.

In moving on from the current arrangement, I want to pay tribute to the contribution which those 92 Peers make to your Lordships' House. Many of them are among our most active and effective Members. I hope that we shall continue to benefit from the contribution of at least some of them should they be nominated as life Peers in the future.

We shall set up a statutory commission to select and oversee appointments that are made to this House. This will build on the present non-statutory Appointments Commission, which itself represented a significant voluntary relinquishing by the Prime Minister of his powers of patronage. The statutory commission will be appointed by Her Majesty the Queen in response to an Address from Parliament. The three major parties in this House and the Cross-Bench Peers will be directly represented on it, together with a number of members selected in accordance with the principles of the Commissioner for Public Appointments in an open selection process. The Government will discuss with the opposition parties how they may best be involved in the selection process. The commission's funding and accountability arrangements will maximise its independence from the Government. The consultation document asks for views on various detailed aspects of these arrangements.

We propose that the functions of the commission will be threefold. First, it would decide on the number and timing of new appointments to the House. This will be a massive—and voluntary—diminution in the Prime Minister's influence over the membership of the House. In making its decisions in relation to political appointments the commission will be subject to two main guidelines. These are that the government of the day should not have an overall majority in the House and that appointments for the parties should have regard to the outcome of the previous general election. The commission will also be expected to provide that appointments to the Cross Benches should average 20 per cent of appointments over the lifetime of a Parliament. The commission's second function would be to nominate the non-party Peers. And, thirdly, it would vet the nominations for party Peers for propriety.

In the mean time, the existing non-statutory Appointments Commission will continue its work, of which the Prime Minister has already expressed the Government's appreciation. The Prime Minister will invite it to make recommendations for new non-party Peers until the new statutory commission is in place.

We also propose to bring the rules for disqualification for membership of this House in respect of detention following conviction for an offence into line with those for the House of Commons. We do not believe that this difference of treatment can any longer be justified. We therefore propose that in future such Peers will forfeit their membership of the House exactly as they would if they were MPs. In addition, they will deprived of their peerage. The provision will have retrospective effect. Parliament is a privilege, not a possession. Such Peers will, of course, be free to seek renewed membership of the House by applying to the Appointments Commission or their party, as relevant, for nomination, just as former Members of Parliament can seek re-election.

We propose that life Peers, like hereditary Peers before them, should in future be able to resign their peerages and membership of the House. This is a fairer and more reasonable arrangement which will allow those who feel they wish to move on and no longer sit in the second Chamber the opportunity to do so.

Nothing in these proposals relates to the powers of the House. We are not proposing any extension of the role of the second Chamber. For example, the traditional role of this House in relation to Finance Bills is clear and works well, its powers being constrained by the Parliament Act 1911 and Commons' financial privilege established in resolutions in the 17th century. I am sure that your Lordships would not seek to extend its powers, for example, in respect of supply. The House of Commons should and must remain pre-eminent in our constitutional arrangements.

On further reform of this House, we will continue to look for a way forward. We will discuss any possible next steps with the current Joint Committee and how it can contribute.

Taken together, these changes amount to a substantial set of reforms to the House. When added to our previously announced decisions to set up a separate supreme court and to remove the office of Lord Chancellor, thus leading to reform of the office of Speaker, they will create a House that is significantly different from that which presently exists.

I am also publishing today a consultation paper on the reform of the office of Lord Chancellor. Work to bring an end to the multiple roles of the Lord Chancellor is already well advanced. I am formally inviting views on the Lord Chancellor's ecclesiastical patronage, his visitatorial responsibilities and other functions relating to specific charities, schools and other institutions.

The proposals I am announcing today are part of the programme of constitutional reform which the Government have been pursuing since 1997. They will contribute to the further strengthening of Parliament. Alongside our earlier reforms of devolution to Scotland and Wales, the Human Rights Act and freedom of information, they will take their place in the shaping of our nation, to make the institutions of the state fit and responsive to the demands of our citizens in the modern world.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Conservative 11:46, 18 September 2003

My Lords, it is a good custom of the House to thank the Minister for making the Statement. I readily do that to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor.

But here we go again—days behind the Sunday Times. Is it not utterly extraordinary that this great House of Parliament is being told about the latest edict on its future six days after the media? Why such glaring discourtesy and contempt for this House? How much longer are we expected to tolerate this treatment?

Apologies are no longer enough. The Government need to clean up their act. They promise an end to spin just as they reach for the pager. They talk about looking for consensus, and then plunge into self-seeking, go-it-alone change. Time was when the Government boasted of governing for all the people. Now they behave as if the constitution were the private property of the Prime Minister and his friends.

This is a fundamentally dishonest Statement. It is pretending that the Government are still interested in long-term reform when they are pushing a short-term political fix. No one can believe what they say any more. No one can believe that they have the slightest intention of ever delivering genuine reform.

Why have they totally ignored the Royal Commission? Why have they pre-empted the Joint Committee of both Houses? Were the members of that committee consulted on this announcement? If not, how humiliating is that for them?

The issue at stake now is not the future of the hereditary Peers—that issue was done and dusted in 1999. No one any more has the right to sit by virtue of a hereditary peerage alone. The real question that Parliament has to face over the next few months is far bigger—what this House will be in the future and what authority it will have. No legislation affecting this House can be launched without opening up questions that go wider than the narrow compass of a Bill, and every one of us will be affected by it.

Here and in another place we will all face a choice: to buy the Prime Minister's three-card trick and strengthen No. 10 even further at the expense of Parliament; or see this Statement for what it is—a blatant attempt to rig this House and to have a free hand to cook the constitution. It is a political statement of one party and for one party—the very opposite of what constitutional reform should be. Any principle—any pretence of principle—has been dumped. The ideals of the Cook-Maclennan talks have been betrayed, all the pledges of a more democratic House have been trashed. The legitimate expectations of this House in 1999, when so many of its Members surrendered their places, on the basis that 92 hereditary Peers would remain to guarantee genuine reform, have been gratuitously and deliberately dishonoured. It is a sorry and shabby tale, and I am not alone in believing that this ancient House deserves far, far better.

The noble and learned Lord, for all his honeyed words, cannot escape his role in this. Once we all saw him, with some affection, as the man who had to clear up the Prime Minister's messes—the Dome, the latest concessions to the IRA, even legalising sex in public lavatories. Name the problem and the noble and learned Lord would offer a solution. But now we can see that he was part of the problem. He was up to the hilt in bouncing this House over the removal of the Law Lords and now his fingerprints are all over this tacky little plan.

Can the noble and learned Lord tell us why more tinkering with this House is suddenly so critically urgent? Frankly, most people in this country, if they have a view, think this House works rather well, as indeed it does. What has changed since the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, was still talking of a search for consensus as recently as this summer? Can it be anything to do with the fact that this House has begun to show independence and win respect and authority? Can it be that we have questioned the Government over issues such as trial by jury, media ownership, the snoopers' charter and the fair conduct of justice in the courts? Could it be the issue of a referendum on the new EU constitution—a referendum this House might support and the Prime Minister so desperately wants to avoid? Is that why the noble and learned Lord wants to remove 20 per cent of the non-governmental Peers in this House, some of the most active and experienced Peers among us?

Let us look at who will lose: great campaigners like the noble Countess, Lady Mar, the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. We would lose the wisdom of the noble Earl, Lord Russell, my noble friends Lord Denham, Lord Ferrers and Lord Elton, who have devoted years of their life to serve this House. At 88, the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, devotes more time to this House and contributes more than many new Labour Peers who come here, take their seat and are never seen again. Will the noble Lord have to present himself before an appointments commission? It is utterly contemptible. So why now, and why them?

The Government talk of losing Divisions as if Parliament had no right to suggest alterations to their Bills. So let it be put on the record, before their spin doctors get to work, that in 40 per cent of the Divisions the Government have lost this year, fewer than half their own Peers supported them. The Government's policies have simply failed to convince this House.

The noble and learned Lord made great play of the statutory appointments commission. In principle, it is welcome. We have waited a long time for it, though, so can he say precisely when it will be enacted?

The House will note that the Government no longer talk of broad parity with the main opposition party. Instead, they now talk of not having an overall majority in the House. Does not that mean that the Government would have a majority over the two main opposition parties combined? Can he also confirm that the White Paper explores the further option of seats in this House reflecting the number of seats won in another place? There would not be much point in a statutory appointments commission if it had terms of reference to gerrymander. The House will wish to look very sceptically at these proposals.

The Statement also referred to the future of the office of the Lord Chancellor. We will have the opportunity to debate that more fully, as we have been promised a debate by the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House.

The bottom line today is that the Government are in a hurry. Perhaps that is because there is an increasing sense of time running out for those in Downing Street. But surely this is the last moment to pile more constitutional change on the incoherent mess that we have already been given. It will be a major task for the next government to bring order from confusion and breathe back into Parliament the life that is steadily being squeezed from it.

We have known for a long time that the personal dream of the Prime Minister was not the democratic House he once talked about but an appointed House he could ignore. He has never dared to advocate that openly, but this proposal, taken together with the removal of the Law Lords, will now give it to him through the back door.

In some ways, this is a model new Labour policy—pre-spun, ill thought out, tactical, planned in the party interest not the national interest, sold on old-fashioned prejudice and calculated only to make a complex problem even worse. If this Bill is ever presented to this House, the noble and learned Lord and his colleagues can be assured that he can expect a major fight on his hands, and it will not be confined to this Bill. This House values its independence, and in the past four years it has found a voice that the country is increasingly willing to hear. We on this side of the House will not give that up lightly.

Photo of Lord Goodhart Lord Goodhart Liberal Democrat 11:56, 18 September 2003

My Lords, the Statement delivered by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor refers to two papers. One of them concerns the reform of his office; that paper adds little to existing announcements except some detail on subsidiary functions, and that can be dealt with in due course.

The second paper on the future of the House of Lords is an entirely different matter. I have looked through that paper to find whether there was anything acceptable in it. I eventually found something in the last paragraph—the power to renounce a life peerage. It is a power that I doubt will be much used. I also welcome the power to disqualify Members after conviction leading to a prison sentence, although I wonder if retrospective disqualification is legitimate under Article 7 of the European Convention on Human Rights. But the overwhelming reaction I have is a feeling of contempt and betrayal.

In 1997, we and many others seeking reform of your Lordships' House believed that the Government meant what they said in their manifesto and would make your Lordships' House a wholly or mainly elected House. We believed that the Government meant what they said when the House of Lords Act was passed in 1999 and most hereditaries left. We believed that the Government meant what they said in their 2001 manifesto. Even last February, when both Houses voted on options, we believed that there was a real chance of reform.

The Government scuppered that chance by putting pressure on Labour MPs to reject the options on what was supposed to be a free vote. Without that pressure, there would clearly have been a majority for either 60 per cent or 80 per cent elected, or both. So the Government's use of the failure to reach agreement in the House of Commons is frankly like the boy who murdered his parents and then asked for mercy because he was an orphan.

The Government have now made it clear that they want no democratic reform at all. They have betrayed the trust of those who believed that they were truly committed to full constitutional reform. They have done so because your Lordships' House is a nuisance to them. We amend their Bills and we take up their time in debates. A proper reform would make things even worse for the Government, so they take the easy way out. Your Lordships' House will remain wholly appointed.

It is, and remains, the aim of my party to end the hereditary basis of membership. But the remaining hereditary Members should go when, and only when, they can be replaced by a mainly elected membership.

That is not the end of it as regards this report. In 1997, the Prime Minister said that, pending reform, the two largest parties should have equal membership in your Lordships' House and that the third party should have representation proportionate to its share of the vote. The Government now say only that the Government should not have an overall majority in your Lordships' House. But given that 20 per cent of your Lordships' House will plainly remain as Cross-Benchers—indeed, that is stated as the objective—the Government could end up with a massive majority over all other political parties, as the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, the Leader of the Opposition, said.

Furthermore, the Government are reopening the question of whether party representation should be proportionate to the share of the vote or to the share of seats in the House of Commons. If representation were proportionate to the share of seats, we would end up with a clone of the House of Commons. That would mean, among other things, that since 1997 almost every single political appointment would have been an appointment of the Labour Party. So long as Members of the House of Commons are elected on first past the post, it is essential that appointments to your Lordships' House should be proportional to votes, not to seats.

Ninety-two years ago, it was said in the preamble to the Parliament Act 1911 that it was,

"intended to substitute for the House of Lords as it at present exists a Second Chamber constituted on a popular instead of a hereditary basis".

The aim of the Government is to ensure that the House of Lords will be constituted on neither of those bases. The aim of the Government is not only to remove the hereditary Members of your Lordships' House, but to castrate your Lordships' House.

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Secretary of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs, Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and Lord Chancellor 12:01, 18 September 2003

My Lords, both those interventions appeared not to take into account that this House voted overwhelmingly for an appointed-only Chamber. I am quite unable to understand the position taken by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. He himself may have voted for an elected element, but more than 120 of those behind him voted for a wholly appointed House. We have to recognise that no consensus emerged within the other place and none emerged between the two Houses.

So what is it that the noble Lords, Lord Strathclyde and Lord Goodhart, would have us do? Both of them, as I understand it, would have us do nothing. That would have two consequences. First, the hereditaries would remain; I believe that everybody agrees that they have done sterling service but that they no longer have a place in the second Chamber. Secondly, it would lead to a non-statutory appointments commission, with the numbers and timing determined by somebody other than an independent commission.

Let us take the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart. He complains that the measure would allow the Prime Minister to determine the size of the House. It would not. One provision made in the consultation document is that the size of the House and the timing of when people go in is to be determined by the statutory appointments commission. Conveniently for those on the other side of the House who make their various arguments, that leads to the preservation of the hereditary Peers and to the position of the Prime Minister retaining his patronage.

We are in the business of making progress where we can. That is why we have proposed these things. One reason why we have proposed them is because this House, on the basis of how it reacted in February, would reject any elected element. We have to be practical and realistic and move where we can.

Photo of Lord Craig of Radley Lord Craig of Radley Convenor of the Crossbench Peers 12:04, 18 September 2003

My Lords, I start by thanking the Lord Chancellor for his courtesy in informing me as Convenor on Monday about the Statement and its content. But that is the sum total of my gratitude. I was under the impression that there were to be no further changes in the make-up of the House until stage two was reached. We have not reached it.

Is there not a serious breach of faith at the heart of this Statement? Is this Statement today not just a hawkish position to ease the party conference problems that the Government are about to face? If it is, it is a gross discourtesy to this House.

Does the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor acknowledge the immense contribution made to the Cross Benches by the 28 independent hereditary Peers? Does he accept that there is good reason to continue to draw on the experience and expertise of all hereditary Members for the benefit of the House, its legislation and the country? It is widely acknowledged that the House performs its scrutiny and other roles with a sure and constructive touch. The hereditaries' deep knowledge and experience is irreplaceable in one go. Must they be culled all at once? Do the Government really envisage a kind of reincarnation whereby all those removed may return as life Peers?

It would be perverse if this change, short of stage two, served only to debase the capability of the House to carry out its roles and functions. If a Bill comes to your Lordships' House, I hope that the House will support what I termed option 1A in my speech last January on Lords reform—that is, to retain existing hereditary Members for life, but without replacement, so ensuring that the country continues to benefit from the loyalty and commitment of the present hereditary Members to the House. Will the Government accept this option for inclusion in their Bill?

The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor makes much of the relinquishing of the Prime Minister's patronage, but will the Prime Minister continue to recommend individuals such as archbishops, Cabinet Secretaries and chiefs of defence staff for a peerage, as an honour, without recourse to the Statutory Appointments Commission? Are future life peerages recommended by that commission to be treated as honours or merely as working Peers to replace departing Members of your Lordships' House?

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Secretary of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs, Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and Lord Chancellor

My Lords, I of course acknowledge the contribution made to the House by Cross-Benchers and I hope that I made it clear in the Statement that I acknowledge the contribution made by hereditary Cross-Benchers. Indeed, I acknowledge the contribution made by all hereditary Peers to the proceedings of this House. However, I do not believe that it is right that the hereditary principle should determine who can take part in the second Chamber.

After the failure to reach consensus, the time has come for a change to be made. Because no consensus has been reached between the two Houses, it would be right to ensure, first, that the hereditary principle comes to an end as a basis of membership of this House and, secondly, that the patronage determining who becomes a Member of the House is put largely in the hands of an independent appointments commission.

The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, referred to particular office holders—to Cabinet Secretaries and various others. We believe that they make a significant contribution to the House and that it is right that they should be offered life peerages at the point when their service to the nation has come to an end. We do not believe for one moment that that undermines the principles of this paper.

Photo of Lord Waddington Lord Waddington Conservative

My Lords, does the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor recognise that many of us feel that he must be fully aware that what he proposes is in clear breach of undertakings given by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, his predecessor as Lord Chancellor? Will he go away and read in Hansard, col. 1092 of 11th May 1999, when the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine, said:

"The Government are absolutely committed to moving to stage two in the reform process"?

He said that when stage two reform took place,

"the hereditary Peers who remain, if the Weatherill amendment passes, will cease to be Members of this House . . . The 10 per cent will go when stage two has taken place and their presence is a guarantee that stage two will take place".—[Official Report, 11/5/1999; col. 1092.]

Is the noble and learned Lord seriously suggesting that the Bill will bring about stage two reform to which the former Lord Chancellor referred? Of course not. Stage two reform was the full-scale reform referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Jay of Paddington, in her Statement of 20th January 1999, to which I also refer the noble and learned Lord.

After this mean little Bill becomes law, will we not be left with a House composed entirely of people who owe their presence here to present-day patronage—a House less independent of government and less effective as a check on the executive?

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Secretary of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs, Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and Lord Chancellor

My Lords, of course I have read in detail the debates of 1999 and, of course, I am aware of what was said by representatives of the Government at the time. I am in absolutely no doubt that there is no breach of any of those undertakings whatever.

Noble Lords:

Oh!

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Secretary of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs, Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and Lord Chancellor

My Lords, in relation to those undertakings, the position is that attempts were made to reach a consensus. This House rejected any elected element and voted for an appointed-only Chamber. Because no consensus was reached, we must make progress where we can. There is no breach of the undertakings.

Photo of The Bishop of Worcester The Bishop of Worcester Bishop

My Lords, this is not a moment for any of us on these Benches to express our personal opinions about these particular proposals, but only to ask that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor remain aware that the commitment of the Church of England throughout the process has been to ensure the best House for the service of the nation and to play its part in that. Although I note that the proposals make no change in the position of the Bishops in the House, I draw his attention to the fact that we have consistently said that the issue of the representation of the faith communities and of the Christian denominations as a whole in the House remains to be resolved. I do not believe that we have made any difficulties about proceeding with reform in that respect. I should therefore like some assurance that that aspect of the reform of the Lords, which I admit is perhaps not the one that engages most people's attention most of the time, will not be forgotten or kicked into the long grass for a long time.

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Secretary of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs, Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and Lord Chancellor

My Lords, as the right reverend Prelate says, the proposals make no change in the position of the Bishops because there is no consensus on that. The points that he makes are important and need to be considered when we seek to build a consensus for a way forward beyond this Bill.

Photo of Lord Hughes of Woodside Lord Hughes of Woodside Labour

My Lords, does my noble and learned friend accept that one of the problems about failing to have any consensus about the membership of the House is that there is in fact no consensus about what the House should be doing? Unless we resolve precisely the status of the House in relation to the other place, the argument about composition will go on for ever. In passing, I shall make a wry comment. The Front-Benchers for the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats have stated clearly that they wish to see a much stronger House of Lords. In fact, they wish to upset the balance that has existed for many years whereby the other place is pre-eminent and cannot be wholly challenged. The thirst of the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats for the accretion of power to this Chamber is in direct relation to their unrealistic prospects of ever having power in the other place.

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Secretary of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs, Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and Lord Chancellor

My Lords, the relationship between this place and another place is obviously important. Although there are issues about the detail, I do not think that there is any fundamental disagreement between the parties that the House of Commons is pre-eminent, that we are primarily a revising Chamber, or that, ultimately, the other place should have its business. We can discuss the detail of that, but there is broad consensus that that is the position. As for the prospects of the other side in the next general election, it is probably best at this stage not to comment.

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, it is the turn of the Cross-Benchers. I respectfully remind your Lordships that the shorter the interventions, the more of your Lordships who can be heard.

Photo of Lord Marsh Lord Marsh Crossbench

My Lords, I declare an interest as one of those involved with the Weatherill amendment. Certainly in my case and that of the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, the discussions took place in the clear belief that there was a need to find a basis whereby we could reach an agreement that would enable us to move on with the question of the future of the hereditary Peers. That has been the major issue throughout this long debate. We have all known that this was Labour Party policy since long before the 1997 general election, but we thought that we could now reach an agreement. These were off-record, Privy Council discussions.

The reality is that there has been no progress whatever since that time, and we are as divided now as we were then. In retrospect, I think that it was naive to believe that it would be otherwise. For 18 years, the Opposition could have put through any change they wished, with a majority in both Houses. I had thought that we had got past that position, but we clearly have not. I now think that we have reached a stage where, although many of us will not like the decisions that are being reached, this has gone on for so long that we demean the status of the House. I think that it should now be a priority that we get on with a job that we should have been able to deal with some years ago.

Photo of Lord Howe of Aberavon Lord Howe of Aberavon Conservative

My Lords, I ask the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor to approach the same central issue on a more practical basis. I would certainly welcome a decision in favour of a manifestly independent new commission by statute, if that is in line with the recommendations of the Joint Committee. Is he aware that the Joint Committee also expressed its view that there was no consensus about introducing any elected element? I welcome the Government's acceptance of that, not least because it represents the wishes of a huge majority in the House.

Does the noble and learned Lord now recognise—this is the important point—that there has been a huge change in the circumstances surrounding the commitment to get rid of the hereditaries given in an election some years ago? Is that not implicit in what is stated in the Government's response to the last report of the Joint Committee, with their purpose being,

"establishing the present House of Lords in a stable state for the medium term"?

The last sentence states:

"the Government will concentrate on making the House of Lords work as effectively as possible in fulfilment of its important role".

Against that practically important assertion and against the background of the noble and learned Lord's glowing tributes to the role played by the hereditary Peers, on which we all agree, and the difficult questions that would arise if they are removed and we suddenly have to fulfil the roles that they fulfil for us, would it not make complete sense to maintain their presence in the Chamber? It is not sufficient to thank them as they disappear into the mists of time. Would it not make sense—even if the Government are currently determined, for reasons which I think are misguided, to sweep them away—to ensure their continued presence here along the lines proposed, admittedly for different reasons, by the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, and others? What on earth is the practically sensible point of getting rid of people who have played such a crucially important part here and also maintain a balance of the House that is about right by the standards recognised by the Royal Commission?

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Secretary of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs, Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and Lord Chancellor

No, my Lords; it would not. The noble and learned Lord rightly accepts that circumstances have completely changed from 1999. As the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, made absolutely clear, my party made it clear time and time again that the hereditary principle should not be the basis upon which people sat in the House. It is no longer appropriate or sensible, if we are looking for a sustainable and acceptable House, that part of the membership is based on the hereditary principle. With no discourtesy to the hereditaries themselves and no diminution of our acceptance of the important role that they have played, surely the time has come to change the provisions. The hereditary principle should no longer play a part in deciding who sits in the second Chamber.

Noble Lords:

Weatherill.

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, if we hear first from the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, it will then be the turn of the Labour Benches.

Photo of Lord Weatherill Lord Weatherill Crossbench

Thank you, my Lords. As one who had some input into the legislation in 1999 that created the present membership of your Lordships' House, I share the concern and sadness expressed by others. However, I must say to the House—I would fail in my duty as a former Speaker not to remind the House—that a government with a majority have a right to get their business. That has to be measured against the equal right of an Opposition to criticise and improve. I hope that I did not hear an implied threat from the Front Benches opposite that the Opposition would persist in other areas as well. That would be irresponsible opposition.

Throughout the passage of the House of Lords Bill, I fully accept that the then Lord Chancellor, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine, made it plain that the election of the 10 per cent who are with us now was a first stage of the reform of the House and that they would remain until stage two was completed. The noble Lord, Lord Waddington, cited Hansard. My reference from Hansard is to when the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said:

"But the 10 per cent. will go only when stage two has taken place".—[Official Report, 30/3/99; col. 207.]

As has been endlessly repeated, stage two has not taken place.

I recognise that the election of a noble Lord to sit on the Labour Benches with an electorate of three is an absolute nonsense and is possibly—almost certainly—the reason for today's Statement. In February, I introduced the House of Lords (Amendment) Bill, referred to by the Convenor of the Cross-Bench Peers as option 1A. It was designed to overcome the further election of hereditary Peers to your Lordships' House. I did not proceed because there was some opposition from the Conservative Benches, but had I been able to do so with the support of the House, that would have overcome many of the problems that we face today.

I hope that that will be one of the considerations taken into account when consultations are taking place on further reform. In saying that, I salute the hereditary Peers, who have done such an excellent job in your Lordships' House. I should like to see them continue to do so.

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Secretary of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs, Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and Lord Chancellor

My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, I was not sure whether the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, was implicitly threatening to cause difficulties for the Government in getting our business. That would certainly be contrary to the way in which this House has always operated in the past. I see that the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, is nodding his head behind the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, so I take it that he is indicating on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that he intends to disrupt the business of the House.

As for the other points made by the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, as I think that I made clear in response to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, and the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, the position is now very different from that in 1999. We believe that the time has come for steps to be taken to remove the remaining hereditaries.

Photo of Lord Elder Lord Elder Labour

My Lords, in expressing my welcome for the Statement, may I assure my noble and learned friend that many on this side of the House will view it as a sensible next stage, in the circumstances where the other place has not shown any clear view on reform and this House has voted for precisely what it will now get? I find it slightly surprising that others should be so opposed to what this House voted for as the solution.

Can we have further clarification on whether the Opposition really intend to seek to use anger on this issue to try to deny the Government their right to legislation? On one minor but important point, my noble and learned friend said that finance and supply were of course matters for another place. Does that statement have any implications for the current trial whereby the Economic Affairs Committee of this House considers certain technical aspects of the Finance Bill and reports to this House on them?

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Secretary of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs, Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and Lord Chancellor

My Lords, the first part of my noble friend's question is for the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and those on his side of the House. I must leave it to him to answer it, but he appears to suggest that there will be disruption.

As for the second part, as I said in my Statement, the traditional role of this House during the course of the Finance Bill is an example of the system working well when it works in the traditional way. The House has an opportunity to consider the Bill on Second Reading, but its powers have been constrained by the Parliament Act 1911 and Commons financial privilege, established through resolutions passed in the 17th century. In answer to my noble friend's specific question, the Government would not want any extension of the role of the House or its Committees in that matter.

Photo of Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay Liberal Democrat

My Lords, my questions are about the effect of the proposed changes on the party balance in this House and thereby, inevitably, on its ability to act as an effective check on the government and a revising Chamber.

Several noble Lords have rightly said that the hereditaries are among our most active and effective Members. They are also by far our most active voting Members. For example, if we consider all votes in contested Divisions during the previous Session, on average the Government obtained 54 per cent of the vote and the Opposition 46. If the hereditaries had been removed, at a stroke that proportion of government votes would have risen from 54 to 60 per cent. That is the real significance of what the Government are trying to do; they are trying to neutralise the Opposition in the House of Lords.

Obviously, we on these Benches are in favour of a significant elected element to the House, but we are not in favour of flouting the will of the Commons. If I may say so, a lot of nonsense has been talked about there being no clear view from the Commons. One clear view from the Commons was that it was not in favour of an all-elected House.

On the question of party balance, I listened carefully, as I always do, to the noble and learned Lord. We heard some carefully phrased words about how the new statutory independent appointments commission will operate. We heard that it will recommend numbers and timing of appointments, but one key question remains: who will finally decide on the numbers of different party appointments to be made after the commission has suggested that it is time to nominate some more? For all the talk about having regard to this and that, unless the Prime Minister is prepared to give up that power, ultimately, his fingers are still firmly on the lever of power. What is the Government's intention on that point?

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Secretary of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs, Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and Lord Chancellor

My Lords, the statutory appointments commission should decide the numbers as between the parties. As I understand the Liberal Democrat position, they would not want that to happen; they would want that power to remain with the Prime Minister. That is why they oppose the Bill. I understand that the Liberal Democrats are also opposing the removal of the hereditaries.

Those points are made clear in the Statement and the consultation document. That is why we say that we are making it a House in which the patronage of the Prime Minister is dramatically reduced; that is why we say that we shall make it a much more modern House in the way that it operates.

Photo of Lord Renton Lord Renton Conservative

My Lords, I venture to intervene because I think that I have had longer experience of service—continuous service—in both Houses than any other living person: 34 years in the House of Commons and 24 years with your Lordships. I have seen tremendous changes take place during that time.

There was a time when the membership of the House of Commons contained a vast array of people of distinction and with real talent and experience. Now, alas, it is not quite the same. To give but one example, in 1959, there were 30 Queen's Counsel in another place. The number did not decline much until about 15 years ago. But in your Lordships' House we now have a great array of talent. For example, for hundreds of years, the posts of Attorney-General and Solicitor-General were held by Members of the House of Commons, but during the past six years the present Government have been unable to find an Attorney-General there and we have had the advantage of an Attorney-General in your Lordships' House.

What is to be done? We must realise that democracy has its limitations. Do I not know? I have fought and won 10 general elections. I never thought that more than a third of those who voted really understood the issues. House of Commons membership is now a full-time job. That limits the number of people with experience and expertise who can be there. Therefore the future composition of your Lordships' House must fill the gaps which now exist in the House of Commons.

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Secretary of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs, Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and Lord Chancellor

My Lords, looking around the House we can form a view on where all those QCs that used to be in the Commons went—to my right, to my left and across the way. We want a House with a strong independent element. We want a House whose Members have experience of other matters concurrent with taking part in the deliberations of the second Chamber. I do not think that any of us would disagree with that. I bow to the great experience of the noble Lord, Lord Renton, in indicating the importance of that.

Photo of Lord Graham of Edmonton Lord Graham of Edmonton Labour

My Lords, in view of the fact that many speakers feel that the change is not acceptable, will my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor tell us whether any representations were made by them and how we get over the problem that in a House of 700 the Government cannot command the support of 200? These Benches represent 27 per cent of the House. I wonder whether, in the search for fairness and fair play, Members opposite have made any helpful suggestions on how that imbalance can be corrected.

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Secretary of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs, Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and Lord Chancellor

My Lords, I have not heard any suggestions on how the imbalance can be corrected. Indeed, I have not heard any suggestions from the Benches opposite on how we move forward except to leave the position as it is with, for example, the Prime Minister deciding the size of the House, the numbers who can come in and the split between the parties. That, as I understand it, is the position of noble Lords opposite.

Photo of Viscount Bledisloe Viscount Bledisloe Crossbench

My Lords, the noble and learned Lord has, or at least used to have, a decent grasp of the basic principles of contract law. I have to say that in those circumstances I find utterly unintelligible his assertion that the Statement is not a total renegation on the promises given by his predecessor on behalf of the Government. That was described as a compromise deal. In the passage cited by the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, the then Lord Chancellor said that the presence of the remaining hereditaries was,

"a guarantee that stage two will take place".—[Official Report, 11/5/99; col. 1092.]

He did not say that it was an incentive, as the Statement now says, but a guarantee. It was a guarantee not that the House would vote the way the Government wanted but that the Government would press ahead and get some legislation through for stage two. If the Government can invoke the Parliament Act for trivial matters such as hunting, presumably, if they could only make up their mind what they wanted in this place, they could get on and invoke that Act. If the noble and learned Lord had been present during prayers, he would have heard sound words praising him who sweareth unto his neighbour and disappointeth him not. Does it surprise him that when the Government sweareth unto their neighbour and totally renege, those on whom they have reneged should perhaps consider how they can best inconvenience the Government that have reneged on their promises?

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Secretary of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs, Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and Lord Chancellor

My Lords, first, I defer completely to the noble Viscount in relation to contract law, in which he is one of the world's leading experts. Secondly, we are not reneging on our promise. It has been made clear time and time again in the course of this short debate that the position has completely changed. I do not think that anyone understood the effect of the position in 1999—that the hereditaries could stay for ever and ever irrespective of what happened.

Photo of Lord Denham Lord Denham Conservative

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House. The noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, quoted a predecessor of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor referring to what has subsequently become known as his amendment. But unfortunately he stopped a little too soon. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, further stated:

"The amendment reflects a compromise negotiated between Privy Counsellors on Privy Council terms and binding in honour on all those who have come to give it their assent".—[Official Report, 30/3/99; col. 207.]

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Secretary of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs, Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and Lord Chancellor

My Lords, as I have made clear time and time again, I do not think that there is one iota of dishonourable conduct in relation to the Government so far as this matter is concerned because the position was never understood to be that the hereditaries could stay until there was a satisfactory stage two, by which I mean satisfactory to this House.

Photo of Lord Strabolgi Lord Strabolgi Labour

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble and learned friend. May I ask my noble and learned friend one question please? When is it proposed that the Bill will be effective? Will it be effective on Royal Assent or at the end of the Session, or later? The reason I ask—and it is important—is that we are at present—I and two of my colleagues—engaged in an election of a hereditary Peer to replace Lord Milner of Leeds. It would be useful to know how long we are going to elect him for.

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Secretary of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs, Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and Lord Chancellor

My Lords, not just in this House is that election very closely followed. Indeed, the possibility of a draw in the election is very much anticipated. A complete non-attendance at the election is also possible. It is an important issue. As I indicated in the Statement, all I can say in relation to the timing of the introduction of the Bill is that it will be when legislative time permits. I cannot confirm when it will be introduced. As regards at precisely what point it will become effective, I am afraid that I cannot say at the moment. In relation to the election to which my noble friend referred, the electorate will have to form their view, I am afraid, without knowing those details.

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, if we all have short interventions, we have another seven minutes to go. The noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, first perhaps.

Photo of Lord Skidelsky Lord Skidelsky Crossbench

My Lords, I understand that it is the Government's intention to remove from our House Peers convicted of offences on the same basis as in the House of Commons. I think that is perfectly reasonable but I am rather alarmed at the principle of retrospection which was introduced, which seems designed to catch one person in particular. Will the noble and learned Lord reconsider that principle because we have a long-standing and justified prejudice in this country against the principle of retrospective legislation?

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Secretary of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs, Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and Lord Chancellor

My Lords, the issue of retrospection must be looked at as a matter of principle, not by reference to any individual. So far as the principle is concerned, is it right that someone who has been convicted of a criminal offence and then sent to prison for more than 12 months should take part in the proceedings of this House? The principle that we think should apply is that that person should not do so. That is the principle that applies in the House of Commons. We think that the same principle should apply here.

Photo of Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Conservative

My Lords, why has the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor chosen this moment to make this announcement? Yesterday I was summoned to a meeting of the Joint Committee that will take place on 28th October to discuss the Government's July Statement. Why has this moment been chosen to humiliate the Joint Committee and the undertakings to Parliament of the noble and learned Lord's predecessor? Why now? Will the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor give an absolute guarantee that no legislation will be brought before this House to implement the European constitution until such time as this matter is resolved? Are we going to see the hereditaries removed from this House, gerrymandered out of this House, so that he can force through legislation which takes away powers from Parliament for ever? If so, this Government are a disgrace and the noble and learned Lord will have achieved what one of his predecessors described as the elective dictatorship.

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Secretary of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs, Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and Lord Chancellor

My Lords, that question is nonsense. The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, would have it that decisions about the numbers of Peers from each party should remain with the Prime Minister. What we propose is that that issue should be decided by the statutory appointments commission which has precisely the opposite effect to that which the noble Lord proposes. I am quite unable to understand why he wishes to preserve the status quo if he has the concerns which he has. I should be interested to know whether the Opposition are committed to reintroduce, first, the hereditary Peers' right to sit in this House and, secondly, whether it is their proposal that the statutory appointments commission should not have the kind of decision-making powers to which I referred.

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, could we first have the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, immediately followed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern?

Photo of Lord Tordoff Lord Tordoff Liberal Democrat

My Lords, can we tidy up the business of what the opposition parties want? What the noble and learned Lord has said certainly distorts the position of this party. I admit that I voted for an all-appointed House, but that is not the position of my party. My noble friend on the Front Bench and my noble friend Lord Oakeshott have made that clear. What the party wants is a fully elected House.

The noble and learned Lord seems to be saying that we are at stage two. This was certainly not the stage two that anyone envisaged for the final reform of this House. Albeit that there is to be a statutory appointments commission, as I am sure will be welcome in the case of a fully appointed House—the idea of taking away the patronage of the Prime Minister is very good—if the base will be the number of seats in the House of Commons and not the number of votes cast for the parties in the House of Commons, that is an even greater distortion than we have at the moment.

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Secretary of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs, Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and Lord Chancellor

My Lords, I have two points. First, I fully understand the position that the noble Lord takes; he supports an appointed House. I fully understand as well the position so far as concerns the Liberal Democrats; they would support a fully elected House. The noble Lord is aware that this House decisively, by three to one, rejected the idea of an elected House, so there would be disagreement between this House and the House of Commons about whether there should be an elected element, let alone a fully elected element. In the light of that lack of consensus between the two Houses, we think that the right course is to make such changes as one can that improve the arrangements. That includes taking away from the Prime Minister the patronage on the make-up of the House.

Secondly, so far as how the previous general election is to be reflected in the activity of the statutory appointments commission, we have always said in the past that it should be on the basis of the votes cast. We say that in the document. The other alternative is seats. Do people agree that we should continue on the basis of votes in the previous general election?

I hope that that reassures the noble Lord and that, in the light of what I have said and the recognition of the fact that there is disagreement, he will feel able to vote for what we believe to be very sensible changes.

Photo of Lord Mackay of Clashfern Lord Mackay of Clashfern Conservative

My Lords, the noble and learned Lord has referred to two papers. So far the discussion has pretty heavily concentrated on one of them but, from my point of view, the second is obviously rather important.

The noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House said that the Statement would be made by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs. In the list of Cabinet offices in Hansard, the last member of the Cabinet is referred to as the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and Lord Chancellor. Am I right in thinking that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has taken the judicial oath, and that he will perform the responsibilities of Lord Chancellor as the president of the supreme court until statute relieves him of that responsibility?

It is extremely important that we know that in the interim. It may not be all that long, but it is bound to be some time before legislation can be introduced. I assume—correctly, I hope—that the noble and learned Lord will perform those functions and the others referred to in the paper until statute relieves him of them.

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Secretary of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs, Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and Lord Chancellor

My Lords, I am as bewildered as the noble and learned Lord at the lack of interest in the detail of the other paper in relation to the Lord Chancellor's role, and disappointed that more questions were not asked of me about my visitorial office. I confirm, very willingly, that I will continue to perform loyally all the functions of the Lord Chancellor, including those referred to in the paper, until such time as formal change has been made in those roles.

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, we have come to the end. Your Lordships will have noticed that only four Labour questions were called, so the multi-faceted voice of the Opposition has been fairly heard.