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House of Lords: Reform — Question

– in the House of Lords at 3:23 pm on 6th February 2013.

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Photo of Lord Howarth of Newport Lord Howarth of Newport Labour 3:23 pm, 6th February 2013

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they intend to proceed with any reforms to the composition of the House of Lords.

Photo of Lord Hill of Oareford Lord Hill of Oareford Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

My Lords, as noble Lords know, the Government have no further plans for legislation to reform this House in this Parliament.

Photo of Lord Howarth of Newport Lord Howarth of Newport Labour

My Lords, given that the House of Commons has made it absolutely clear that it will not tolerate the challenge to its primacy of an elected second Chamber, given the Deputy Prime Minister's sensible acknowledgement that the best is the enemy of the good and given the undesirability in the interests of good government that the question of Lords reform should overshadow the next Parliament, will Ministers introduce legislation in this Parliament to enable us to resolve the issues of how Members are to be appointed to the House of Lords, the future size of the House, how the balance between the political parties, the Cross Benches and the Lords spiritual is to be determined, the future of hereditary membership and life peerages, and provision for retirement and disqualification, all of which need to be resolved and upon which sufficient consensus could be achieved?

Photo of Lord Hill of Oareford Lord Hill of Oareford Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

Having picked my way around this landscape over the past few weeks and having had the chance to talk to and understand the concerns of many noble Lords, I am not sure that it would be as easy to secure consensus as the noble Lord, Lord Howarth of Newport, suggests. He is clearly a great optimist if he believes that that is the case not only in this House but between this House and the other place. I obviously understand the points that many noble Lords raised about some of these issues that we discuss but, in the light of last year's debate and the views that the Deputy Prime Minister has made clear, there is no prospect of further legislation for those issues that would require legislation.

Photo of Lord Laming Lord Laming Convenor of the Crossbench Peers

Bearing in mind the financial situation and the concerns expressed all round about the impact of that on the poorest people in our society, does the Leader of the House agree that it would not enhance the reputation of this House for public funds to be used to encourage people to give up the privilege of serving in this House?

Photo of Lord Hill of Oareford Lord Hill of Oareford Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

I agree personally and in principle with the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Laming. When the rest of the country is facing huge economic challenges, as the noble Lord said, to spend taxpayers' money in such a way would be difficult, but I also agree with the underlying point of principle, which is that it is an honour and a privilege to serve in this House, and the idea that if one ceased to want to fulfil that honour and privilege, one would need to be compensated financially, sits oddly with the principle it serves.

Photo of Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Conservative

My Lords, in his role as Leader of the House and as the representative of this House in Cabinet, will my noble friend take the opportunity to draw to the attention of the Prime Minister the article in today's Times by the Lord Speaker, and impress on him that it represents the feelings of the vast majority of people in this House? Further, will he talk to the Deputy Prime Minister and say to him that his refusal to allow the Steel Bill to go forward is unacceptable, given the strength of feeling shown in both Houses about the size of the Houses of Parliament and the importance of getting value for taxpayers' money?

Photo of Lord Hill of Oareford Lord Hill of Oareford Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

My Lords, I am sure that all the points that have been raised in this debate are being seen by my colleagues in the Cabinet, including by my right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister. I understand the points raised about the size of this House. It is important to have the ability to refresh the House, bring in new talent and draw on the expertise for which this House is rightly renowned. One of the reasons why I was particularly keen to do this job is because I saw as a Minister the difference between this House and another place in terms of the quality of the scrutiny that this House provides, and it is extremely important that we should carry on having the Members to enable us to do so.

Photo of Baroness Hayman Baroness Hayman Crossbench

My Lords, will the Leader reconsider the pessimism implicit in his original reply? It is intolerable that the failure of the Government's plans for an elected House should stand in the way of progress on a reform agenda that is widely supported and which is urgently needed for the reputation of this House. The noble Lord could do the House a great service by championing that reform agenda, as the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, said. Will he undertake so to do?

Photo of Lord Hill of Oareford Lord Hill of Oareford Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

My Lords, I hope that I can always be a champion of this House, about which I feel extremely strongly. On the point about me being a pessimist, I like to think that I am an optimist. I am optimistic about this House, about its future and about the contribution that it makes to our national debate. I have, though, to be realistic about the consequence of the debate and the votes that took place. We know that the other place said at some point that it was in favour of an elected House; it did not then will the means for that to happen. Given where we got to last October, I am not a pessimist but I am realistic.

Photo of Lord Steel of Aikwood Lord Steel of Aikwood Liberal Democrat

Is the Leader of the House aware that following consultations with the Chief Whip, and as he rightly advised me, I postponed the Motion that I was to bring forward stopping further introductions until 28 February, which is the day before my Bill is next due to be blocked by the government Whips in the House of Commons. It would helpful if he, I and others could use the intervening time to try to persuade the powers that be at the other end that this is really a housekeeping measure purely affecting the Lords that we would like them to be nice enough to send back to us.

Photo of Lord Hill of Oareford Lord Hill of Oareford Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

I understand that point. I have great respect for the noble Lord, Lord Steel, and am glad that I have already had the chance to discuss his proposals with him and others. I would be happy to do so again. He, I am sure, can use his powers of persuasion with colleagues in his own party, including the Deputy Prime Minister. I know that he will try and we will then see how we get on.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Health), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, I would like to take him back to his first Answer. He suggested that it would be difficult to get a consensus in your Lordships' House on interim changes. Why does he not put it to the test? There are various groups meeting at the moment in this House discussing these matters. There is a great deal of consensus. Why does he not call those groups together, or have a Leader's Group, to see if we can make progress when there is a clear and huge majority of your Lordships' House in favour of making sensible interim changes?

Photo of Lord Hill of Oareford Lord Hill of Oareford Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

Again, the noble Lord says there is a lot of consensus around this. The conversations I have had with people so far do not bear out that optimistic gloss. I am keen to talk to Members of this House who have views, and that is something I will continue to do.