Constitutional Renewal — Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:05 pm on 10th June 2009.

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Photo of Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Baroness Royall of Blaisdon President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, House of Lords, Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster 4:05 pm, 10th June 2009

My Lords, I am grateful for all the comments made; I think that is the best way of putting it. This is certainly an interesting debate on the Statement. First, I will deal with the election issue, raised by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, because I am sure that we will deal with this on many occasions. I know how strongly the noble Lord and many of his colleagues feel about the need for an election. However, I, my colleagues and the Government believe that our duty to the public now is to get out there, safeguard those jobs and ensure that people can get through this recession. That is what we are doing and what we will continue to do.

The noble Lord asked about the size of the House of Commons and put forward the proposals that have been put forward by his right honourable friend the leader of the Opposition. It is quite right that we keep the size of the House of Commons under review; it is our duty to do so. However, we must maintain the link between Members of Parliament and the public, and we must ensure that the public are properly represented. We believe that the House of Commons, as it stands at this moment, is the right size.

The noble Lord said that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister is clogging up Parliament with Bills. In the Statement that I have just repeated, there was reference to only one Bill, and that is a Bill on which I think we are all agreed. It is the Bill that will introduce the parliamentary regulatory body for the House of Commons. I took heed of the view expressed in the House two or three weeks ago that there should be proper consultation with this House before the body takes responsibility for this House. That is precisely what is happening. I promise that I will keep all Members of this House involved in discussions pertaining to the remit of that body over the House, but that is for a later stage.

There are, of course, still questions to be answered about the body and its relationship to the House of Commons. The noble Lord asked about privilege, and so on. These are issues that must be dealt with at the other end, but we will engage fully in discussions on those issues. The noble Lord also asked if my right honourable friend the Prime Minister was properly aware of the robust action that we have taken in this House in respect of Peers who have failed in their duty of honour to the House. He is aware of that; I heard what he said in response to questions on the Statement today. Of course, there is still much more to be done. It was acknowledged by the Privileges Committee of this House when we discussed these issues that expulsion of noble Lords, for example, was not something that we could do in this House alone. It would require legislation. That is the sort of thing that my right honourable friend is thinking about.

In response to the various comments made about reform of the House of Lords, we have not yet discussed the White Paper, but we have had many debates on the Bill put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Steel. The views of the House are clear. The Statement mentions proposals. We are talking here about fulfilling a commitment that has been made by my noble friend Lord Hunt on many occasions. That is, we should bring forward draft clauses and proposals for discussion. That is exactly what we are doing. I would have thought that many Members of this House would have been pleased that we are fulfilling this commitment.

Electoral reform is not a carrot. I am dismayed, as are all those on the Benches behind me, the whole of the Government and my party. I am ashamed of the election turnout last week, and the sort of vote that we got. However, electoral reform is right and proper. As the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, pointed out, it is now 11 years since his noble friend the late Lord Jenkins of Hillhead put forward his review. It is time to discuss these issues and we should not be frightened of doing so.

The noble Lord, Lord McNally, referred to the POWER report. Yes, it will be taken into consideration. He talked about the Oakeshott proposals. As the House will know, we have great sympathy with the issues raised in the Oakeshott Bill. They are complex, and we are looking at how they could be best addressed.

I currently think that the constitutional renewal Bill—if I may call it that; the number two Bill which will deal with the main body of constitutional reform issues—will include many elements pertaining to the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Steel. It is recognised that House of Lords reform, even if proposals come forward quite soon, will take quite a long time to enact. We will therefore still see some of those things in the constitutional renewal Bill, along with elements to deal with the Civil Service and so on.

In answer to the question about value for money, we are all in favour of that. If noble Lords look at the Prime Minister's letter to Mr Bill Cockburn of the SSRB, they will find that he says:

"I would ask that you pay particular attention to the need for transparency and accountability, the need to obtain value for money and the desirability of reducing costs to the taxpayer".

I am sure that we would agree that the reduction of costs is desirable. Of course, it is not the main thing, but we should all pay heed to value for money.

The Government have been radical in addressing constitutional reform over the past 12 years. There is still a long way to go. We want to engage with the people in this House and the people of this country in taking that agenda forward.