My Lords, before addressing the substantive issue before the House I wish to draw attention to material which appeared in today’s edition of the Sun reporting on our deliberations yesterday. The article began by stating:
“Ministers last night vowed to make MPs sit through the night to pass new Right to Buy laws after Labour peers blocked them”.
It went on to claim:
“The Lords again voted down key funding arrangements to extend the 1980s policy to all housing association tenants”.
There are only three things wrong with that statement. First, there was no call for MPs to sit through the night—or indeed at all—on this issue until, as I understand it, this afternoon. Secondly, the vote in favour of the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, included Lib Dem and several Cross-Bench Peers as well as Labour Peers. Thirdly, the amendment did not amount to the alleged voting down of key funding arrangements. In fairness to the Sun, it has clearly been fed this distorted version of events by the Government.
What is much worse, however, is the astonishing personal attack on the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, by the Minister, Brandon Lewis, which the paper also reports. Mr Lewis says of this distinguished and highly respected public servant:
“Not only is Lord Kerslake unelected, he is the owner of his own home who is trying to stop others from owning theirs”.
Quite apart from the offensive language unworthy of a Minister of the Crown, this disgraceful attack entirely overlooks the role of the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, in supporting the voluntary agreement between the housing association movement, of which he is a leading member, and the Government in extending the right to buy to their tenants. He is owed a prompt and full apology.
I turn now to the substantive issue before us. The House has twice asked the House of Commons—yesterday by a small majority—to reconsider its position in respect of one aspect of the Bill in relation to the sale of high-value homes and their replacement. It has declined to do so, and we now have reluctantly to accept the position. But I wish to return to the question of financial privilege, the claim to which has been reiterated by the Commons and has already been the subject of debate in your Lordships’ House. Yesterday the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, made much of the issue and criticised the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, in terms which I think, on reflection—although by no means to be compared with those of Mr Lewis—he might just regret. He and I have had brief exchanges on the issue of financial privilege—a matter which my ancestors appear unaccountably to have omitted as the 11th commandment when they recorded what was engraved on the tablets of stone handed down at Mount Sinai.
The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, averred correctly that the designation of an amendment as one involving financial privilege is not made by the Speaker, the Government or the House of Commons. But that is not the end of the matter. In a paper on financial privilege in February 2012, the Clerk of the House and the Clerk of Legislation set out the position with complete clarity. When the Commons considers Lords amendments in which financial privilege is involved, the Commons can waive its privileges. If the Government use their majority, which of course they are entitled to do, the reason given to this House will be the financial privilege reason. The paper goes on to affirm that “the Commons can accept” such an amendment and “waive its privileges”, and continues:
“The Commons waives its privilege far more often than not. For example, 115 LAs”—
Lords amendments—“to the Localism Bill”, emanating, I remind noble Lords, from the same department that has fathered the present Bill,
“were designated as involving financial privilege. The House waived its privilege on all of them”.
Moreover, it adds:
“In the last three years”— therefore including more than a year of the last Labour Government—
“sixteen Bills have come back from the Lords with amendments which involved privilege”.
On eight of them, privilege was waived on all the Lords amendments; on seven, privilege was waived on most, but not all; and on only one was privilege not waived because it required a money resolution.
It is therefore clear that this House is not acting improperly in passing amendments that might invoke privilege and that the Commons can, if it chooses, waive such a claim. There is no justification for intemperate claims about the actions of this House in the exercise of its duties to scrutinise and if possible improve legislation, let alone for the kind of attack on an individual Member which was launched today.
I will conclude on a more congenial matter, which is to express once again the thanks of the Opposition and I suspect all Members of the House to the noble Baroness the Minister and her colleagues—but especially to the noble Baroness, who has seen through this dreadful Bill with as much charm, patience, skill and effort as could be demanded of anybody. We are extremely grateful to her and to those who have supported her. We end up, in the view of many of us, with a very bad Bill that is by no means the fault of the noble Baroness, and she takes with us our good wishes for a relaxing weekend—before eventually we start going through the mass of secondary legislation that will flow from her efforts.