Constitutional Renewal — Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:58 pm on 10th June 2009.

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Photo of Lord McNally Lord McNally Leader in the House of Lords, Spokesperson for Constitutional Affairs , Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords 3:58 pm, 10th June 2009

My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, as he deftly has to square official conservative policy with the opinions that he knows are held behind him. He so often reminds me of the man on his deathbed who was asked to renounce the devil and all his works and who said, "This is no time to be making new enemies". His response will have made no new enemies behind him, but the problem with this Statement is that it offers more committees, more reviews and more delay. Yet the groundwork on most of the issues has already been done. I have mentioned before the groundbreaking work done by the Power inquiry under the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy.

The time is now for action, not for words. We on these Benches welcome, as did my colleague in the other place, Nick Clegg, the setting up of the parliamentary standards authority. And we will co-operate fully in any machinery to ensure that this House is fully involved in defining its powers and responsibilities. I associate myself with what the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said about the fact that it is important that the responsibilities of this House are fully consulted with this House and are not simply an afterthought from the other place.

Is the Leader of the House aware that we on these Benches agree that this House must move with urgency on matters of composition, finance and discipline? In the spirit of action not words, will the Government adopt the proposals made by my noble friend Lord Oakeshott on tax exiles sitting in this House and by my right honourable and noble friend Lord Steel on immediate reform of this House? The Government's constitutional renewal Bill will be the "Constitutional Renewal (No. 2) Bill". The original Bill is that already put before this House by my noble friend Lord Tyler, so I invite the Leader of the House to plunder that Bill for good ideas for the government Bill when we get it.

If they want more ideas on freedom of information, I suggest that the Government look at the White Paper produced by the noble Lord, Lord Clark of Windermere, which was so radical and far-sighted that it cost him his job in the Cabinet. If they want to reform party funding, let them implement the Hayden Phillips recommendations. If they want to fulfil their pledge on a Civil Service Bill, not mentioned by the Prime Minister, let them consult the noble Lord, Lord Sheldon, or the draft Bill produced by the Public Administration Committee in another place. If they want to look at electoral reform, let them look at the Jenkins report. All the building blocks are there ready to be assembled.

What is not there is all the time that the Prime Minister seems to think he has. He talked about putting these proposals in the next Queen's Speech, which means November. Is the Leader of the House aware that the Parliament Act 1911 was introduced into the Commons on 21 February of that year and cleared the Lords on 10 August, 173 days later? I often wonder what it was about 10 August that made their Lordships give up, but give up they did. This Parliament still has over 300 days left to fulfil commitments that were not only in the Government's previous manifesto, but were actually in their 1997 manifesto, including of course the commitment to reform this House. The lesson of history is that constitutional reform is not advanced by everlasting searches for cosy consensus, but by radical Governments willing to show vision and leadership.

The Government have 300 days to rescue their reputation for reform. If they go in the right direction, they will have our support from these Benches every step of the way. As a stock token of that commitment, I invite the Leader of the House to come to the Liberal Democratic debate day tomorrow, when a galaxy of talent from these Benches will provide further constructive proposals for action.