HC Deb 25 May 2004 vol 421 cc1431-3
17. Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con)

If he will make a statement on the Government's policy on the powers of the upper House. [175297]

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

The Government remain committed to reforming the second Chamber, but to proceed in the present climate of determined opposition in the Lords would crowd out the current legislative programme. Nevertheless, the Government will return to the issue in our manifesto, and I hope that we will gain a consensus on reforms that would maintain the supremacy of the House of Commons and ensure a proper revising role for the second Chamber.

Mr. Turner

I thank the Minister for that reply. Just as the design of a car differs from that of an aeroplane, because they have different functions to perform, should not the design of the House of Lords depend on the functions that the Government have in mind for it to perform?

Mr. Leslie

Most hon. Members would agree with the notion that the House of Commons should be supreme in the final decision-making process and, therefore, that the powers of the House of Lords should follow that overriding principle. The Lords has a revising function, but any change to increase the legitimacy of the second Chamber would need to maintain the balance that we already have.

David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab)

If, as my hon. Friend says, the House of Lords is a revising Chamber, why should it have any powers of delay? If it is to have such powers, they should be for a maximum of three months. The present delaying period is far too long and gives too much power to the unelected second Chamber.

Mr. Leslie

My hon. Friend clearly believes that the House of Commons should be supreme, as do I. It is important that the second Chamber can exercise revising functions, including asking the Commons to reconsider. However, that has to be a reasonable power, exercised in a reasonable manner.

Mr. Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon) (Con)

Was not the replacement of the hereditary principle with the hybrid hereditary and crony principle only ever meant to be a short-term answer? The total failure of the Government's policy of Lords reform has destroyed the legitimacy of any plans that they may now have to vary the powers of the other place.

Mr. Leslie

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new role on the Front Bench and congratulate him on his appointment. He raises the issue of the hereditary peerage. The Government still believe that we should get rid of the hereditary peerage, but unfortunately we met considerable opposition in the second Chamber that could have jeopardised the whole legislative programme, especially if Conservative and Liberal Members ganged up and blocked all the other good measures that we want to introduce. We will rightly return to the issue and ensure that we introduce reform that squares the supremacy of the Commons with extra legitimacy for the second Chamber.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Coop)

Is not evidence mounting daily that the transitional arrangements are becoming too permanent? There is little incentive for Government to reform an upper House to make it more effective. Does my hon. Friend the Minister believe that there is sufficient political will to achieve that reform, and will he consider deleting the present powers of the House of Lords to veto secondary legislation and, at the same time, Incorporating a power for it to veto or substantially delay constitutional reform?

Mr. Leslie

There is certainly the political will on the Labour Benches to reform the second Chamber. It is possible to find a solution and reach a consensus on the issue. We have encountered opposition from the Conservatives and Liberals in the other place. We hope that they will start to act in a more grown-up and mature manner so that we can find a consensus on the issue. I live in hope.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall) (LD)

The Minister has just heard another complaint about the House of Lords being unelected. Do the Government now accept that it would be folly to tinker with the powers of the other place unless and until it is prepared to face up to the need to make it more democratic and representative and to tackle the issue of its composition?

Mr. Leslie

The hon. Gentleman has a point to the extent that composition should be dealt with at the same time as the roles of both Chambers. It is important to maintain Commons supremacy, but a change in the legitimacy of the second Chamber may have a de facto impact on its role and functions. We will need to bear that in mind when we reach the final stage of reform, as I am confident we will.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con)

Is not the best way of securing the supremacy of this House to ensure that the other House is never either wholly or partly elected?

Mr. Leslie

That may be one option, but other people may feel that the second Chamber needs to be more connected with the public at large, although not as supreme and as much of a final decision maker as the House of Commons. The hon. Gentleman has his views and other hon. Members have theirs; I think that it is possible to find a solution to the issue.

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