Motion to Take Note (Continued)

Part of Draft House of Lords Reform Bill – in the House of Lords at 9:21 pm on 30th April 2012.

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Photo of Lord Haskel Lord Haskel Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 9:21 pm, 30th April 2012

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Whitty has just spoken about what the public expect. The noble Lord, Lord Higgins, spoke about the importance of telling the public what we do. They are both right. Outreach is one way in which your Lordships' House communicates with the public. I have participated in the outreach schemes since they started several years ago. I have spoken about this House, and taken questions, not only at many schools but also at regional WI conferences, Rotary meetings, business conferences and political meetings. Rarely am I asked about legitimacy and reform, although I am asked about diversity and experience.

However, if there is one threat running through all these meetings, it is that people have high expectations of us. They have such expectations because we are appointed. It is to satisfy those expectations that we need to be very careful about the reform of your Lordships' House. I am in favour of reform and, eventually, an elected House, if that is what our powers, duties and functions, as my noble friend Lord Whitty spoke about, require. But I also agree with my noble friend Lady Royall. I am in favour of taking the steps when they have been properly thought through. It is then that we will satisfy the high expectations that the public have of us.

Sadly, the draft Bill presented to your Lordships and considered by the Richard committee does not satisfy these expectations. It speaks of objectives but rarely speaks on how to achieve them. The call for evidence listed in appendix 2 of the Richard report is, in effect, a list of these shortcomings and, quite rightly, the committee is asking people to help them to do the Government's thinking for them. Both reports point to many inadequacies, about which noble Lords have spoken. In particular, they have spoken about the primacy of the House of Commons in Clause 2. As regards appendix 7, in the supplementary written evidence on Clause 2 from Mr Mark Harper, he agrees that the Government have not thought matters through and asks the committee to do it for them.

The Richard report and the alternative report point to many other areas where the objectives have not been properly thought through: the relationship with the other United Kingdom assemblies; necessary changes in the House of Commons; the honours system, separate from membership of the House; differences over numbers; conflicts in the constituencies; and the accountability of elected Members. Many noble Lords have added to this list and, as a result, the suspicion must be that it is political expediency which is driving this reform, not wisdom-a suspicion that both reports attempt to rectify, but something which the public do not expect from this House.

I am in favour of reform but, because of the difficulties we are debating, I am in favour of dealing with it incrementally through a series of small steps. They should be steps which have been properly thought through, such as the proposals from the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, about reducing numbers, and from the noble Lord, Lord Steel, on discipline and reforms to our procedures. When these small steps have been taken satisfactorily and the other matters properly thought through, that is the time for a referendum. Of course there should be a referendum on such a major constitutional change, but only when the smaller steps have been taken and shown to work, and when the other more major changes have been properly considered and decided. Otherwise, a referendum will be a fiasco because it would be seen as a way of covering up for inadequate thought and preparation.

I join my noble friend Lord Lipsey and other noble Lords in their concern about costs. We all know that making changes without a budget ensures not only that costs will rocket, but that the intended changes will suffer. Yet the costs are not spelt out-and this from an austerity Government. The alternative report tries to deal with it. An analysis on the fullfact.org website raises a number of serious queries, and using the Freedom of Information Act it is trying to get the Government's costings. I look forward to the Government providing the House with a proper budget by which we can hold them to account so that we can judge the value and appropriateness of the expenditure.

I add my thanks to those given to my noble friend Lord Richard and his committee for the report, and to those who have written the alternative report. Both are valuable contributions. However, neither really settles the old arguments about our duties and whether election equals the legitimacy to carry them out. A recent Hansard Society report tells us that the public have become less engaged in politics and more suspicious of politicians, which is hardly the right climate in which to devote our attention to an elected House. So let us take the small steps, think through the big steps and explore whether there is a consensus. We will then carry the public with us because, after all, we are here to serve them.