Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

House of Lords Reform Bill — Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:56 pm on 17th May 2011.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster 3:56 pm, 17th May 2011

My Lords, on behalf of the whole House, I pay tribute to the right reverend Prelate who, after 15 years as a Member of this House, will retire at the end of this month. Although he will be remembered for many great speeches, I am sure that his last contribution will be quoted on many occasions. The right reverend Prelate raised some very important issues on the full-time role of Members of this House once elected, on the rationale behind the proposals to have an elected House and on whether it would continue its scrutiny role. I see around me in this House many Members who have stood for election in another place and in other elected Parliaments and Assemblies, and they have the skills of scrutiny, so there is no reason why we should not be able to elect people to sit in this House who would have similar skills.

The question about full-time politicians is also important. What is intended by this is the expectation that those who stood for election would have the time available to devote themselves full-time to this House while the House is sitting; namely, around 150 days a year. It would not be a full-time job in the same way as being a Member of the House of Commons is a full-time job, with all the coalface representative functions of constituencies on the ground.

I also welcome the words of the Convenor of the Cross-Bench Peers in welcoming the 20 per cent option, continuing the role of the Cross-Benchers and the appointed element with a statutory Appointments Commission. Of course I understand her concerns about the role of an elected House, and many others around the House will make that point.

There is a rationale for an elected House: it is to give legislators in this House the authority of the people who would elect them, to make the powers of this House stronger and to make this House more assertive when it has that authority and the mandate of the people. The noble Baroness said that it would have more political power, and I think that is right. It is one of the essentials of doing this. All of us who are in favour of an elected House should recognise this.

That is why I was so disappointed by the Leader of the Opposition, the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, and underwhelmed by her contribution. The reason why this White Paper is presented today is because there is a political consensus right across the parties-the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservative Party-all of whose elected representatives stood on a manifesto in favour of a democratically elected second Chamber, but you had to strain your ears to hear that from the Leader of the Opposition this afternoon. Indeed, the noble Baroness did not tell us that the Labour Party's position is now to have a 100 per cent elected House. She did not tell us, nor did she explain, why she and her party see no role whatever for the Cross-Benchers in this House and believe that they should be removed immediately, nor any role for the right reverend Prelate and his colleagues. "No Bishops", says the Labour Party sitting opposite. I am glad that the noble Baroness is now nodding in agreement. I wish she had said that in her statement.

The noble Baroness did ask several questions, which I am very happy to answer. Today is a day to deal with the Statement and the immediate questions. There will, of course, be a requirement for debate, and it is one which the Government are very happy to agree to. A one-day debate-two days, if required-will be made available, probably within the next four or five weeks, and an early announcement will be made.

The Joint Committee of both Houses will be set up fairly soon so that it has an opportunity to meet before the Summer Recess and decide on its work programme. As I said in the Statement, it will be made up of 26 individuals. From the House of Lords, it will include Members of the Cross Benches and a Bishop in order not only to represent their views but to share their experience, knowledge and undoubted wisdom.

The noble Baroness, Lady Royall, asked about the powers. It is an important assumption that underlies the White Paper that the powers of the existing House should not be changed it if it were to be elected or partly elected. There is one very good reason for that. If I were to propose that an elected Chamber should have less power than an appointed House, that would begin to look ridiculous. Of course, over time, the relationship between the two Houses may change. It already has changed over the course of the last 20 or 30 years. There is no reason why it should not do so in the future.

The noble Baroness, Lady Royall, asked whether the Joint Committee would be able to examine the report of the noble Lord, Lord Cunningham. Of course, it will be entirely up to the Joint Committee to decide. While it is in accordance with precedent for the Government to invite the Joint Committee to produce its report by the middle of February of next year, it would be entirely up to the Joint Committee to take a view as to whether that was possible. I hope that this House and another place will co-operate in setting up a Joint Committee to look at the proposals in a sensible way and give it the kind of expertise in pre-legislative scrutiny that I know so many noble Lords are keen that we should demonstrate.

The noble Baroness also asked about the Parliament Act. The Parliament Act is a process that comes into effect when the two Houses are in disagreement with each other. At this stage, there is no Bill before Parliament and there is no disagreement between the two Houses. It is therefore impossible to tell whether the Parliament Act would be used. If, or indeed when, the Government come forward with legislation, which I hope will be supported by the noble Baroness and her party, as with all government legislation, the Parliament Act is always a fallback.

Finally, the noble Baroness asked about the system of proportional representation. It was a bit odd for her to suggest that if it were to be PR, there should be a referendum for on it as one of the proposals for PR was proposed by her party-namely, a list system which means that you vote for a party as opposed to individuals.

I hope that I have covered the ground reasonably well as regards those who have spoken. There will now be 40 minutes for me to reply to individual Peers, which, as you can all imagine, I am looking forward to immensely.