My Lords, my right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister announced yesterday that he will chair a committee composed of Members of all three major political parties in both Houses. It will be charged with producing a draft Bill by no later than the end of this year. The draft Bill will then be subject to pre-legislative scrutiny of a Joint Committee of both Houses. Those serving on the committee will be Mr Mark Harper MP, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, Sir George Young, Mr David Heath, Miss Rosie Winterton, Mr Jack Straw and me, under the chairmanship of Nick Clegg.
My Lords, the best part of that Answer was the inclusion of the noble Lord himself in the list of members. Does he agree that it is important that the committee should have a deep understanding of the way that the House of Lords operates within the constitution in order to avoid some of the mistakes made by the previous Government when contemplating constitutional reform? Will he assure us that, unlike previous attempts at reforming the Lords, this one will be conducted openly and with full access for Members of this House to the committee to put their views and ideas?
I thank my noble friend for his comments. I think that Fabio Capello could not get a better blend of youth and experience than this committee. How the committee will do its work will depend on what it announces after its first meeting. But I agree with him. I hope that Members of both Houses and organisations outside will feel free to feed in their ideas and opinions. But it is a working group to draft legislation. It will not just go around in ever-decreasing circles, which has been the experience of the past 10 years.
My Lords, given the historic role of this Chamber as representing the interests of non-partisan civil society, will the Minister give us some assurance that the proposals before us do not represent an increase in underlining the partisan character of this House? I speak of course with some interest from these Benches and with the Cross Benches in mind.
I understand the interest that has been expressed. I can say only that the committee will take such considerations into its deliberations. Its conclusions will be reflected in the final draft Bill which will be presented for scrutiny by a Joint Committee of both Houses.
My Lords, I know that many Peers wish to speak. Perhaps we could have the Convenor next and then someone from the Labour Party.
My Lords, does the noble Lord, Lord McNally, agree that two fundamental issues must, or should, underline the deliberations of the cross-party committee? The first is the need to identify the clear and necessary functions of the House of Lords. The second is that any proposals put forward should necessarily enable this House to do its job more effectively.
My Lords, when we first meet I will draw those statements to the attention of the chairman, because they give a succinct work-in-progress for us.
The remit for the committee, taking into account what the Convener of the Cross Benches has just said, is to prepare a Bill. One of the great weaknesses of all our discussions over the past 10 years has been that no one has had a bone to chew on. We are going to produce a Bill.
My noble friend has always been skilled at getting an audience on his side and his point may well have merit. But the fact is that the three major political parties which fought the last election all had in their manifestos reform of this place. We are going ahead with those commitments as perhaps the other party should have done at some stage when it had the majority to do so.
I am most indebted to the Leader of the House. It is almost as difficult to get into an Oral Question these days as getting into Fort Knox used to be. In light of the composition of this very cosy committee, if I may characterise it as that, the exclusion from which of all Back Benchers I find discouraging-to put it ridiculously mildly-can the noble Lord assure us that we will be given plenty of time for pre-legislative scrutiny because I expect that that exercise will be ferocious, and it should be so?
I could not agree more with the noble Lord, but the point is that this committee is about drawing up a Bill. It is not a debating society and therefore it is absolutely appropriate that those on the committee should represent the official policy of their parties. As I have said before, some of the speeches from the Labour Back Benches should really be made at Labour Party conferences to change Labour Party policy.
My Lords, does my noble friend recall that after the White Paper of 2008, the previous Government promised to bring forward for pre-legislative scrutiny precisely the Bill to which he is now referring, but never did so? In order to meet the concerns expressed on all sides of the House, I suggest that the sooner we get a draft Bill for pre-legislative scrutiny before a Joint Committee, as set out by my noble friend, the better. To accelerate that process, I would draw my noble friend's attention-modestly-to the fact that the Second Chamber of Parliament Bill was introduced in the other House five years ago by Mr Kenneth Clarke, Mr Robin Cook, Mr Tony Wright, Sir George Young and myself.
The building blocks for this Bill are all around us. The work has been done in many committees; I have served on three over the past 10 years. But this committee is going to do a real job of work that will allow the proper work of Parliament on its proposals.