House of Lords: Abolition — [Mr Charles Walker in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:30 pm on 18th June 2018.

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Photo of Paul Scully Paul Scully Chair, International Development Sub-Committee on the Work of the Independent Commission for Aid Impact 4:30 pm, 18th June 2018

Forgive me. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and I will come to that point later in my speech. I was talking about when there were solely hereditary peers. I thank him very much for allowing me to correct the record.

The House of Lords clearly needs to do more, however it is composed, to ensure it is representative of the country, not just by reflecting public political opinion, expressed in general election results, but by having more women and people from ethnic backgrounds. It is interesting to note, however, that both leaders of the two main parties in the Lords are female, and that all three leaders of the main parties are younger than their counterparts in this place. Funnily enough, the House of Lords has done its bit for gender equality by electing its first male Lord Speaker, Lord Fowler. It has a good record of supporting women in the most senior positions, but clearly there is more it can do.

The work of Lords is not just the legislation debated in the Chamber, but its Committee work. Its Select Committees are formed differently from ours: while ours tend to reflect Departments, its Committee’s tend to be more cross-cutting. The Science and Technology Committee, for example, makes the most of the House of Lords’ expertise. Essentially, the House of Lords does things that the House of Commons does less of because the time available, and our different political imperatives and priorities, drive us in different ways. However, it should not go beyond its remit, as it clearly has on the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill.

A lot of checks have been introduced over the past 100 years. The Parliament Acts 1911 and 1949 prevent the House of Lords from blocking legislation and money resolutions. It can hold up Bills for up to a year, but the Government can reintroduce them without seeking the House of Lords’ consent at the beginning of the next parliamentary session. Having some tension is no bad thing, but there have to be limits, and the House of Lords has overstepped the limits in this instance.

The Salisbury convention would normally kick in for a measure such as the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, because, like our pledge to leave the customs union and the single market, it was clearly in our 2017 manifesto. However, that only prevents the Bill from becoming law in this parliamentary session. There is obviously a timescale issue with the EU withdrawal Bill, because we will leave the EU at the end of March next year, so we have to get the Bill through in plenty of time to ensure we leave in an orderly way. If it is held up for too long or changed beyond recognition, that will affect our negotiating position now and our capacity to leave the EU in an orderly way next March.