HC Deb 13 January 2004 vol 416 cc663-4
23. Tony Wright (Cannock Chase) (Lab)

Whether the Government intend to separate membership of the second Chamber from the honours system. [147118]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Mr. Christopher Leslie)

The Government do not plan at this stage to break the link between the life peerage and membership of the House of Lords. Our Bill will, however, propose ending the link between the hereditary peerage and membership of the House of Lords.

Tony Wright

May I remind my hon. Friend that the royal commission on Lords reform, which the Government established, made a clear and unanimous recommendation that the award of a peerage and membership of the House of the Lords should be "completely distinct"? Whatever else we do on House of Lords reform, will he give an undertaking finally to separate being awarded an honour from service in the second Chamber of Parliament?

Mr. Leslie

What my hon. Friend says about the royal commission is true. Last February, however, there were discussions and a lack of decision on the composition of the second Chamber. That has considerably changed the landscape. We will introduce a Bill to make incremental progress when we can, but our minds are not closed about future changes that may be required. Some issues may need resolving later.

Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton) (Con)

When it comes to separating honours from political power, what is the Under-Secretary's verdict on the people's peers who signed a contract to work in the Lords, yet have never even bothered to turn up? How does he reconcile his party's promise, which was binding in a contract with the people called a manifesto, to make the House of Lords more democratic and representative, with the subsequent contrary policy that it will be all appointed?

Mr. Leslie

To take the hon. Gentleman's first point about the appointments process, the proposals in the Bill to create an independent statutory appointments commission will not only remove patronage from the Prime Minister but allow general election results to be reflected in the process. That is a step towards a more democratic and legitimate system, although I accept that there may be a need for further discussion beyond the Bill. I believe that the Lords do a good job with the work that they contribute. When we consider the Bill we shall discuss a statutory appointments commission, so that appointments can be made on merit in future.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab)

But are we getting value for money from the House of Lords Appointments Commission? It is almost three years since the first batch of people's peers was appointedca—and as the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) said, we do not hear much from them.

Mr. Leslie

I am not sure whether it is fair to generalise in that way. Different Members of both Houses will have different records in Parliament. However, I believe that it is our job—and especially mine—to examine the framework in which appointments are made, and that the Bill will be firm about the way in which we structure a statutory appointments commission to ensure that we have good criteria for appointments in future.