Second Reading

Part of Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill – in the House of Lords at 9:26 pm on 24th March 2010.

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Photo of Baroness Hanham Baroness Hanham - Shadow Minister, Shadow Minister 9:26 pm, 24th March 2010

My Lords, it is quite clear from the many speeches that we have heard from around the House that the Government have, by pushing ahead with this legislation at this late stage of their life, introduced a largely unadmired dog's dinner of a Bill, with serious procedural flaws. There have been fascinating speeches and, while I cannot hope to mention all those who have spoken, I will pick up some of the points as we go along.

First, on the constitutional issues, the most glaring comments were those about the damning report of the Constitution Committee-"damning" was the word of the noble Lord, Lord McNally. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham suggested that nobody had thought through the constitutional changes. That was picked up by many other speakers this afternoon and this evening. The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, a member of the committee, ended his contribution by saying that the wash-up procedure was not suitable for this Bill. That was underscored by other speakers. The noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, said that the Constitution Committee was right to conclude that this Bill is no way to undertake the task of constitutional reform. The noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, expressed deep concern at the manner in which this Bill has been constructed and brought forward. My noble friend Lord Onslow said that he believes that the Government have acted with contempt for Parliament. This was a great collection of comments for a constitutional Bill.

While there are some sensible reforms in Part 1, on the Civil Service, as identified by my noble friend in his opening speech, they are limited in their effect, as others have said. My noble friend said that it omits the whole sector of quangos; it does not refer to them at all. My noble friend Lord Astor drew attention to problems on these clauses and the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, was strongly of the view that the changes to the Civil Service needed further discussion, although the noble Lord, Lord Wilson, was more in favour of letting it all go through.

Parts of the Bill are nothing short of government grandstanding. The government colleagues of the Minister have produced those. My noble friend Lord Henley drew attention to the political gimmickry of those attempting to introduce, as an add-on to this hotchpotch of a Bill, a system of proportional representation for general elections. I listened with great interest to the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, who dissected and filleted the alternative vote, which I think we all agree would, by virtue of its principles of elimination and redistribution of votes, undermine the party system that is part of our democratic process. The noble Lord, Lord Howarth, said that it would ensure that the outcome of the election might well not reflect the wishes of the electorate. Far from providing a system to repair the status of MPs, as suggested by the Minister, it will serve only to muddy the water further.

There are, too, the Mandelson escape clauses in Part 5, which would tinker with the membership of this place but not improve it and would breach the undertaking given by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine, on the hereditary Peers. My noble friend Lord Denham gave an authoritative exposition on the background to the undertaking, which recognised that a transitional House would still have the electoral system for the hereditary Peers. His views differed from those of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, but the noble Lord may not have been part of the original discussions.