HL Deb 20 January 1999 vol 596 cc582-98

3.5 p.m.

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Jay of Paddington)

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I should like to make a Statement about the White Paper the Government are publishing today about reform of your Lordships' House. Copies of the White Paper are now available in the Printed Paper Office, together with the Bill which my right honourable friend the President of the Council has presented in another place.

This White Paper marks another significant step in the Government's overall objective to improve the institutions of this country, so that they fulfil their functions in the new century with energy and effectiveness.

We want to create a modern Parliament for a modern Britain.

The reforms that the White Paper introduces will form a vital part of our constitutional reform programme. It makes clear how a revised second chamber could play an important role in the new constitutional settlement.

The outlines of the Government's proposals on reform of this House have long been familiar. They are threefold: the removal of the right of hereditary Peers to sit and vote in the House; reformed arrangements for nomination of life Peers; and the establishment of a Royal Commission to consider longer-term reform.

The White Paper confirms that all hereditary Peers will cease to have an automatic right to membership of the House. It also confirms that hereditary Peers will be given the right to vote in Parliamentary elections and to stand as candidates for election to the House of Commons without having to disclaim their peerages.

There will be no change in the position of life Peers. They will remain unable to vote in parliamentary elections, and unable to disclaim their titles.

There are no changes proposed in the Bill to change the position of either the Law Lords or the Church of England Bishops.

The White Paper also confirms that if, when the Bill reaches your Lordships' House, there is consensus in favour of an amendment to allow continued transitional membership of the House to some hereditary Peers, the Government are minded to support such an amendment. But I must make it clear that whether the Government are able to support such an amendment depends a great deal on the extent to which the normal conventions of this House about the Government's legislative programme in general are being observed. The Government have always made clear that we prefer to proceed by consensus. In this spirit we are prepared to accept this proposal if it indeed enables reform to proceed by consent. It is not a concession to be extracted by pitched battle. Indeed, pitched battle will jeopardise the proposal.

The White Paper proposes historic change—change which has been discussed throughout the 20th century. The Bill which my right honourable friend has presented in another place completes parliamentary reform first suggested in 1911. Today, the Bill to abolish the right of hereditary Peers to be Members of Parliament has finally been introduced by this Government. A fundamental anachronism can be removed as we reach the millennium.

The presence of the hereditary peerage has weakened the legitimacy and effectiveness of our second Chamber. It has weakened it for two main reasons: because the principle is wrong and because the results are unbalanced.

First, the principle. Nobody suggests we should today select Members of one House of Parliament, the House of Commons, as we did in the 18th century; why should we select the Members of the other as we did in the 15th century? Society, and politics, have moved on and your Lordships' House must, however reluctantly, move with them.

Secondly, the results. The hereditary peerage gives one of the two major political parties in this country a three-to-one built in majority in this House over the other. No votes by the electorate at a general election change this; the Conservative majority in this House continues untouched and untouchable.

The hereditary peerage, taken as a whole, is unrepresentative of today's Britain; unrepresentative economically, socially, by gender and ethnic origin. As a result, because of their predominance, the House suffers disproportionately from a political and social imbalance. This, too, is no longer acceptable.

Once the hereditary peerage is removed, the Government will move to rapid, full-scale reform of the House of Lords. There will be a period of transition with which the White Paper deals in detail.

There have been many wild and, frankly, ridiculous assertions about the character of the transition House. The most often reported is that the House will be one created exclusively by this Government and dependant on patronage by this Prime Minister.

I would remind your Lordships that approximately 500 life Peers will remain in the transitional House; life Peers appointed by eight successive Prime Ministers over the past 40 years. Even without a single hereditary Peer there would still be a Conservative majority over the Labour Party. Nonetheless, this Government and this Prime Minister intend to reduce the Prime Minister's powers of appointment. For the first time ever, the Prime Minister has publicly pledged himself not to interfere in the detail of nominations from other party leaders, provided that they have been given a clean bill of health on propriety grounds. And for the first time ever, the Prime Minister will relinquish, entirely, his power to make recommendations for Cross-Bench Peers. This will be passed to an independent appointments commission.

The appointments commission will be encouraged to seek nominations from many sources, including members of the public. It will extend the range of interests and types of people represented in the House. The appointments commission will consist of members of the three main political parties and independent members, who will form the majority and provide the chairman.

From before the election, the Government have always made clear the view that no political party should seek a majority in your Lordships' House. But on the basis of the manifesto, we would be entitled to seek numbers 40 per cent. in excess of those of the Conservative party. However, at present, we plan only to move towards broad parity with them. We shall also ensure a fair representation for all other parties and for the Cross-Benches. The Government intend that the principles of a broad parity and proportionate creations for the other political parties and the Cross-Benches should be maintained throughout the period of the transitional House.

Taken together, these proposals significantly reduce the Prime Minister's powers of patronage compared to those of his predecessors. The resulting House of Lords will be a better House, more representative than the existing one and better equipped to play its part in the constitution.

I want, finally, to say a little more about the longer-term. The Government announced on 14th October that we would be establishing a Royal Commission to consider options for longer-term reform. I am now pleased to be able to tell the House that the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, has accepted the Prime Minister's invitation to be the chairman of the commission. It is obviously important that there is senior representation on the Royal Commission from the House of Commons and I can tell the House that another senior Privy Counsellor, the right honourable Gerald Kaufman, has also agreed to serve on the commission. The remaining members will be announced shortly.

The commission's terms of reference are set out in the White Paper. They are: Having regard to the need to maintain the position of the House of Commons as the pre-eminent chamber of Parliament and taking particular account of the present nature of the constitutional settlement, including the newly devolved institutions, the impact of the Human Rights Act and developing relations with the European Union: to consider and make recommendations on the role and functions of a second chamber; and to make recommendations on the method or combination of methods of composition required to constitute a second chamber fit for that role and for those functions; to report by 31 December 1999". These terms of reference are deliberately non-prescriptive. They are intended to stimulate public debate as well as giving the Royal Commission its remit. The Government have not indicated their own preference in the White Paper. However, the two final chapters of the White Paper set out a number of issues which the Government think the Royal Commission will find it useful to address.

There are three issues which I want briefly to draw to your Lordships' attention in the Royal Commission's terms of reference. First, the terms of reference defeat the accusation that the Government's proposals for constitutional reform are piecemeal. The Royal Commission's work is explicitly set in the context of other constitutional developments, most notably the newly established devolved institutions.

Secondly, they ask the Royal Commission to consider the role and functions of the second Chamber as a preliminary to considering its composition. Contrary to common assertion, the Government have never maintained that wide-ranging reform of composition can be decided in isolation.

Thirdly, the Royal Commission has been given a demanding timetable. This is evidence of the Government's wish to maintain the momentum of reform of the second Chamber. We believe the timetable is achievable. After all, this debate has been taking place for most of this century. There is no need to undertake extensive gathering of evidence before any work can be done on the analysis of the issues. It is analysis and judgment which are most important.

However, we must make clear that the timetable does not provide an excuse for delaying stage one reform until the Commission has reported. The Government believe that we can make no long-term progress until the hereditary Peers have gone. We are keen to maintain the momentum of reform, but for that momentum to be maintained the process must begin now.

The package of measures announced in the White Paper sets out the Government's approach to the radical and historic task of reforming this House. Although radical in its intentions and effect, it is a careful and considered approach. It starts with the most immediate and urgent reform of the rights of the hereditary peerage. It identifies the path to longer-term reform.

House of Lords reform is modernisation for a purpose. It is not just the historical objective of getting rid of hereditary Peers. It is not just a constitutionalist interest in improving the mechanics of government. It is about modernising government to get better government; because better government means better laws, and better laws mean a better Britain.

3.17 p.m.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for making the Statement today. Will she accept that there is a deep sense of disquiet and regret in this House about what she has announced, not because we want always to be as we are and where we are—we do not—but because the role of this House has also been to ask of governments deep and detailed questions about Bills and policy? Time and again it has fallen to this House to press for precise answers on behalf of the people of this country. So is this ancient House not entitled to be treated with the same courtesy as we have asked for others? Are we not entitled to know where in the long run we are headed?

The most depressing aspect of the announcement today is that we have seen no clear vision of the future of this House of Parliament. To say that it is modernisation is simply not enough. I ask myself whether the Government are even remotely aware of the far reaching consequences of the course they have begun today. Today marks the beginning of the end of the delicate balance between the two Houses of Parliaments which has served this country well. It will do so in ways which will be entirely unpredictable, for one consequence of a genuinely reformed House of Lords will be a more powerful second Chamber, something which we on these Benches would support. What is the Government's thinking on this? This is not a complicated matter; it is a broad question of principle. Do they want to see a more powerful House or do they intend the reverse?

In the terms of reference that the noble Baroness announced in the Statement, what is meant by the phrase, Having regard to the need to maintain the position of the House of Commons as the pre-eminent chamber of Parliament"? We welcome the fact that the Government have listened to some of the many concerns raised in this House over the past 20 months. They have accepted a Royal Commission, which previously had no place in their plans. They have accepted the fact that there should not be a wholly-appointed "quango House", something which their manifesto proposed. They appear to accept now that there must be movement towards a genuine second stage of reform, although I regret the fact that there is still no guarantee that it will take place, and no timetable. The Government are groping forward but their long-term policy is still a sea of fog. That is no way to reform Parliament. Indeed, of all the ways to reform Parliament that they could have chosen, the one they are following is simply the worst.

The Government's motives and intentions are negative and nothing that has been said today justifies the removal of the hereditary Peers before the Royal Commission reports. What are the Government so afraid of in the year ahead?

The Government owe it to this House and to the people of this country to make their policy clear. It is sheer constitutional vandalism to tear down a structure that is working well and to offer no ideas on what will be built in its place. That is not a responsible way forward. I trust that the noble Baroness will undertake, on behalf of the whole Government, to present evidence to the Royal Commission on the Government's preferred long-term proposals. Perhaps she can confirm that they will do so before the Bill is read a second time in this House.

We congratulate my noble friend Lord Wakeham on his appointment, although we regret that that appointment and other proposals were announced in the press before being reported to Parliament. However, a chairman does not make a commission; nor does an inquiry make policy. The Government have had 20 months in power and nearly 20 years in opposition to think about this policy. Will the noble Baroness tell the House when the other members of the commission will be named and how many there will be? Will she confirm that the Royal Commission will take evidence in public and from the public? The public have, as yet, been given no say in the future of their Parliament.

It is highly regrettable that a Royal Commission was not appointed last year. If it had been, perhaps today we could have been legislating on a genuine cross-party reform for a stronger and more independent second Chamber for this Parliament. If the Government are determined to plunge on with this half-baked, half-way House, will the noble Baroness say what consideration they have given to guarantees that there will be a stage two?

I turn to the appointments commission. We on this side of the House will want to examine the ideas carefully and sceptically. Will the noble Baroness confirm that under these proposals the Prime Minister will determine the precise party balance in this House and decide how many independent Cross-Benchers the commission will be able to appoint?

We on these Benches do not oppose reform but we oppose these half-baked and self-seeking proposals masquerading as reform. We will also question gimmicks masquerading as solutions. Of course, we will look at the idea of so-called "people's Peers", but real "people's Peers" would be Peers elected by the British people, not nominated quietly by individuals. Does a mainly elected House remain on the Government's agenda?

We have not had time to study the Bill formally read in another place and published a few minutes ago but it is clear that the proposals in the Bill would create an entirely nominated House of Parliament, something we would implacably oppose. Will the noble Baroness explain to the House why the proposals put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill—proposals that the Government support—are not in the Bill which means, therefore, that another place is denied the ability to debate them in Committee?

Why the threats? What are the normal conventions that the Government are so afraid might be broken? The Government say that they wish to see consensus. Do they feel that the Bill commands any form of consensus? If not—and I think there is none—why do they say that that is what they want? As for "pitched battles", how will we know when we have fallen into a pitched battle? Will the noble Baroness let us know?

The Statement says that the Bill completes parliamentary reform. I thought that it was the whole intention of the Government's proposal that this is a stage one leading to a stage two. I wonder whether the noble Baroness will clarify that.

I hope that the noble Baroness and, indeed, the whole House will understand that when we oppose the Bill, as we shall with vigour, we do so not only because of what is in it but because of what is not in it; that is, any coherent vision of the future of Parliament.

There will be difficult weeks and months ahead—difficulties unleashed by the reckless way in which the Government are dealing with the question of changing Parliament. I hope that in those months we may be spared trite and facile denigration of this House and its Members. I have always felt that abuse was the first refuge of those without an argument, just as the sound bite is the resort of those without a strategy.

This is a solemn occasion, the first step on an uncertain road that will take us we know not where. It will see the expulsion of Members of this House who have given great and selfless service to this country for little or no reward. The Government today are asserting their massive power; but in the manner of their doing so they will reveal the true balance between form and substance in their make-up—how much there is of opportunism and how little of statesmanship.

Will the noble Baroness understand that that is the test she and her Government will face over the coming months? Can she assure the House that she will be ready not only to listen but to take on board ideas that this House, in all its experience and wisdom, may propose for the better working of a free Parliament? Today is a sad day for Parliament. It is not a day for rejoicing.

3.26 p.m.

Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank

My Lords, I think I can be a little more generous to the noble Baroness the Leader of the House in so far as she has made the Statement first in your Lordships' House, a rare experience when most Statements are first made in another place. I hope that that view, at least, will have the endorsement of noble Lords on all sides of the House.

Beyond that I give the Statement, the White Paper and the prospect of the Bill a broad welcome, not least because much of what the White Paper and the Statement contain are thoughts first pioneered from these Benches. For those who dare to doubt that, I refer to a debate in your Lordships' House in July 1996. I remember on that occasion proposing an independent appointments commission. The then Leader of the House, the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, and the then Leader of the Opposition in this House, the noble Lord, Lord Richard, looked at each other and shook their heads as if to say, "What a naïve suggestion—only an indication of how far the Liberal Democrats are out of touch with the real world." Here it is, in the White Paper and in the Statement—thank you very much, indeed.

There are other respects in which we find echoes of what was said on that occasion. Certainly, it was argued then that there could be nothing that constrained the prerogative of the Prime Minister as exercised down the ages. I accept, subject to what I shall say further, that the White Paper and the Statement indicate constraint on the powers of the Prime Minister. I greatly welcome that.

I welcome the appointment of the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham. He has not been known in recent years for pushing out the radical frontiers of politics, but he is well liked in this House and well known as a fixer. If he can fix this one, we shall all be surprised as well as delighted.

I believe that the Government were a little heavy-handed in their threat—and I would call it that although the noble Baroness will have to deny that it was any such thing—that the Weatherill proposals would succeed only if Peers behaved themselves. I am still a little uncertain about the Weatherill proposals and, in particular, one aspect of them. It would be helpful to know the method by which hereditary Peers are to be selected. Will they remain hereditary Peers during their remaining tenure in this House or will they become life Peers for that period? It would be helpful to know what the Government have in mind.

I should like to ask the noble Baroness three other questions. This is not the occasion on which either to repeat the debate which we had last October or to anticipate the Second Reading of the Bill which will come here after it has been to another place. The first is the reference to "proportionate new creations".

The noble Baroness will be familiar with a sentence which has occurred in documents to which the Government have previously given their assent. The sentence is that following their removal, we should move, over the course of the next Parliament, to a House of Lords where those Peers who take a party Whip more accurately reflect the proportion of votes received by each party in the previous general election. May I assume that still to be the policy of Her Majesty's Government?

The second point refers to the terms of reference of the Royal Commission. The terms of reference mention role and function, but they do not include powers. Am I to assume that "role and function" embraces the idea of powers or have the Government in mind in some way that the Royal Commission should be constrained in its considerations and recommendations by no change in the balance of power between the other place and the second Chamber? I express no view on the matter, but I should like to know what the Government have in mind.

My third point, which follows from the second, is that chapters 7 and 8 of the White Paper, to which the noble Baroness drew the attention of the House, seem slightly odd. The White Paper is otherwise fairly bland—I take no exception whatever to that—but in chapters 7 and 8, it seems to point the Royal Commission in one direction rather than another. Will the Leader of the House—because I am sure that that is what is in her mind and that of the Government—assure the House that chapters 7 and 8 should not be seen in any way to inhibit or constrain the Royal Commission within its terms of reference which, as I have already said, I assume to include the question of powers?

Finally, we should welcome the prospect that there will be a final settlement. Inevitably, that will be for the time being, but that time being may be a long period. We should all welcome the prospect that there will be a settlement within the next five years. That is the assumption I make on the basis of the Statement and the White Paper. Will the noble Baroness the Leader of the House confirm that she and the Government anticipate that the interim stage will be over, and the legislation to establish the new House will be through, within a period of five years? May we look that far ahead but no further for the new life which the second Chamber will eventually have?

3.33 p.m.

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords who have spoken for what the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, described as a broad welcome. However, I hope that I shall not be misunderstood when I say to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that although he says that neither he nor his Benchers are against reform, on the basis of what he said today, you could have fooled me.

However, let us turn to the details of some of the points which were raised by both noble Lords which were important and extremely relevant to how we proceed in relation to both the White Paper and the Bill. Both noble Lords raised legitimate questions about the functioning of the Royal Commission. I am glad that both noble Lords welcomed the appointment of the chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham. As I said in the Statement, the other appointments will be made very rapidly. I hope that they will meet with equal favour in your Lordships' House.

On the question of evidence and the mechanics of the Royal Commission, it will be for the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, and his colleagues to establish the precise form that they take. But we have laid down the timetable clearly in the White Paper. For the reasons which I gave in the Statement, we believe that a judgment and analysis of issues which are already in the public domain are required, rather than the necessity for a great deal of primary research.

The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, asked whether the terms of reference of the Royal Commission constrain it as regards the breadth of its inquiries; in particular, in relation to the powers of your Lordships' House. I am more familiar with the White Paper than anybody else in this House can be and I do not suggest for one moment that noble Lords who have spoken already need to be so familiar with it. However, a section in chapter 7 of the White Paper states that we feel that there are a number of fairly clearly delineated methods of establishing the role and functions of the second Chamber and the membership which is dependent on those roles and functions. Therefore, we prefer the Royal Commission to stick to that remit.

One reason that that has been made explicit in the White Paper is because your Lordships will know better than many others that one has only to pick up a daily newspaper nowadays to find yet another, what I would call, "free-flowing approach" to reform of your Lordships' House; for example, there have been suggestions that the membership of your Lordships' House could be arranged by methods equivalent to the jury system or something of that kind. Therefore, the chapters at the end of the White Paper have laid down fairly precise boundaries for those areas which we believe that the Royal Commission could most usefully explore in seeking to answer some of the questions which are raised.

The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, asked me about evidence. Although there is always a case for unique activity, the Government would not normally expect to give evidence. However, I imagine that the political parties will be expected to do so and will take every opportunity to make their positions widely known and understood.

The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, asked whether or not the terms of reference are to encompass powers as well as roles and functions. One reason that we were careful not to open up the rather difficult area of powers was because that may lead to precisely the free-flowing stream of consciousness discussion about the powers of Parliament which are not established anywhere in our unwritten constitution. One suggestion in the White Paper, for example, is that the Royal Commission might look at the possibility of codifying some of the conventions which are now established in relation to your Lordships' House and its relations with the House of Commons. That may be a possible area for useful exploration.

The Royal Commission was one area which both noble Lords wanted to pursue. Another was the nature and make-up of the transitional House. As regards the question of the appointments commission, there is no way that anybody reading the detail of the establishment of the appointments commission as an NDPB (a non-departmental public body), with all the restraints that that has relating to the Nolan Report and other aspects of our public life, could possibly see it as anything but genuinely independent.

The appointments commission will have total control, if that is the appropriate word, over the nomination of the Cross-Bench Peers, which is a very substantial and important part of our arrangements. It is suggested in the White Paper that that may be a way of looking in the long-term at the appointment of other life Peers.

I was about to return to the issue of numbers within the House and so I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, for reminding me about that. That depends partly on the form of the stage 1 Bill which my right honourable friend the President of the Council has introduced in another place today. If an amendment such as that originally floated by the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, is acceptable to your Lordships' House, and if the Government accept that amendment, the numbers will be rather different from what they would be were all hereditary Peers to leave immediately.

Both noble Lords suggested that I had been "threatening". I hope that my tone of voice was not threatening. I normally try to be conciliatory and proceed by consensus. But my noble friend the Chief Whip and other business managers—and I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, will have drawn from his experience in that role both in government and in opposition—will understand only too clearly what we mean by the passage of legislation through the "normal conventions of this House". I am sure that the noble Lord will be able to detect when we reach a state of "pitched battle", as I put it rather colloquially, or the usual friendly and very constructive relationships in the usual channels which normally exist in this House.

As to the passage of the Bill and whether or not the amendment suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, or some arrangement of that kind, should have been on the face of the Bill, and the reason that it is not, that can be precisely derived from what I have just said. If this Bill—and we have an example of this in the recent past—has to be subject to the enactment of the Parliament Acts, it would be fruitless for the Government initially to produce a Bill in the House of Commons which contained that specific provision.

The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, was ominous in his concerns about the future of Parliament. Again, I can only say with the greatest possible courtesy that when he has had more time to read the detail of the White Paper, particularly the final chapters wherein many questions of broad, long-term constitutional concerns are addressed in a way that I hope he will find satisfactory, he will find that many of the issues of which the Government have been accused in the past few months—for instance, not thinking about the long term; not taking a view about the possibilities of reform—are answered in a way which makes a great deal of sense without in any way trying to undermine or prescribe the important work which will now be conducted by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, and his colleagues in the Royal Commission.

Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, spoke about disquiet. I suspect he will find that most people feel that this kind of progression towards an appropriate parliamentary institution which deals properly, effectively and legitimately with the major issues which face this country, is something for which, at the turn of the millennium, this country will be grateful.

3.42 p.m.

Lord Wakeham

My Lords, will the noble Baroness the Leader of the House accept from me that, in my view, the terms of reference of the Royal Commission are sufficiently wide to allow us to look at these issues in the round? It will certainly be my hope to seek to get as much consensus for them as I can.

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, I am grateful for that intervention by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham. Perhaps I may formally say how much the Government appreciate his great kindness in giving up an enormous amount of time—as I am afraid it will be—in the next few months to undertake this extremely important task. I am grateful that he feels that the terms of reference are sufficiently wide to enable him to do the job properly and we look forward to many constructive and, as he rightly said, co-operative discussions on the detail.

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I am grateful to your Lordships, particularly as I intervene with due diffidence from the Back Benches for the first time during my career in your Lordships' House.

I add my congratulations to my noble friend Lord Wakeham on his appointment. His experience in both Houses—as Chief Whip in another place and indeed as Leader of your Lordships' House and a former Leader of another place—will make it all the easier for him to understand the importance of the relationship between the two Houses with a reformed upper Chamber. Will the noble Baroness confirm that she regards that relationship as one of the pivotal areas which must be considered by a Royal Commission?

Will the noble Baroness also accept that we on this side of the House, as my noble friend Lord Strathclyde said, would infinitely have preferred that reform of your Lordships' House should have happened in one fell swoop rather than in two stages? The reasons given by the noble Baroness for failing to undertake that "one fell swoop" reform appear to be increasingly specious. In view of the fact that she appears, thankfully, to be in a considerable hurry to proceed to stage two, in marked contrast to the sort of atmospherics that she was giving off only three months ago, will the noble Baroness explain to the House the reason for that change, particularly as she was quoted not long ago as saying that in her opinion stage one should be allowed to bed down until such time as the effects of devolution could be felt, which would enable us to be able to consider the effects of devolution in the context of a stage two reform? Can the noble Baroness explain to the House what has changed in the past three months to make her change her mind?

Finally, can she confirm that it is still the secret objective of the Government to see a stage two which envisages an overwhelmingly nominated Chamber?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Viscount, and particularly grateful for the helpful words in relation to the appointment of the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham. I am sure that, with the general help of noble Lords around the House who wish to proceed by consensus, we shall do so. As I said, I am particularly grateful to the noble Viscount for underlining that point.

The noble Viscount spoke of the need to regard the question of the relationship between both Houses as pre-eminent. Again, if he had had the opportunity to look at the terms of reference of the Royal Commission, he would find that that is made explicit. When the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde—I apologise to him for not referring to that point in my reply to him—asked what was meant by that, I believe it is all too clear that the House of Commons must remain the pre-eminent Chamber. That is something that we are asking the Royal Commission to take as a given, in the pursuit of its wide-ranging discussion on the terms of reference which, as the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, said, are sufficiently wide to allow a general debate and a general consideration of the broader issues.

The noble Viscount referred to the "atmospherics" of my remarks. I am in some difficulty in being able to establish precisely what those atmospherics are. Again, if he were to look at the precise details of the terms of reference of the Royal Commission, he would see that perhaps the tense is marginally more in terms of the continuing present than the future. The terms of reference which ask the Royal Commission to look at the roles and functions of the second Chamber in the context of the constitutional settlement, particularly as it relates to the devolved institutions, appear to be consistent. However, I am afraid that I find difficulty in being consistent with atmospherics because I am not precisely sure to what he refers.

The Lord Bishop of Chichester

My Lords, perhaps I may make three brief points on the document before us. First, I wish to express our appreciation for the kind remarks made in the document in relation to the contribution of the bishops to the work of this House. Secondly, we look forward to offering our own comments and contributions to the work of the Royal Commission when it comes into being. Thirdly, I want to make it quite clear, as I have done on previous occasions, that we would welcome the expansion of religious representation in this House to include other faiths, not only Christians.

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate for those words. As I said in my original Statement, there is no intention in the transitional House, and certainly no understanding in the terms of the Bill, that there should be any difference in the representation on the Bench of Bishops during that period. He is right that in relation to the general discussion of the work of the Royal Commission it speaks of the possibilities of embracing a wider faith and a different cultural approach to the citizens and subjects of this country, which I am glad to hear he feels is appropriate.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, is the noble Baroness the Leader of the House aware that many noble Lords who have been here a long time are concerned about the future of our unique staff under the proposed arrangements? Will they be halved? What will happen to the staff? Can the noble Baroness give us any reassurance.

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for raising that question. I am sure that the extremely effective and illustrious members of staff of your Lordships' House will be delighted to hear that they have such an important advocate on their behalf. Of course, there will be over 500 life Peers plus a representation of hereditary Peers—if we retain them in the transitional period—who, I am sure, will use the offices of the staff with the same enthusiasm as at present. The staff may be grateful for slightly more free time.

Baroness Young

My Lords, does the noble Baroness accept that there are many of us who agree with my noble friend Lord Strathclyde that this is a very sad day for the House? That is a view shared by a great many life Peers, not just hereditary Peers. We should place on record our gratitude for the amount of work carried out by the hereditary Peers—often unsung, unnoticed and, unquestionably, unpaid. Whatever the new House becomes, if it is founded predominantly on life Peers, it will be quite a difficult proposition.

In the noble Baroness's interview on the "Today" programme this morning and again in her Statement this afternoon, she failed to say that hereditary Peers have agreed to reform of the House, and did so in 1968. It is very important that everybody, not only in this House but also outside it, should understand that point.

The important reform brought in by the late Lord Wilson when he was Prime Minister was accepted by Conservative Peers when my noble friend Lord Carrington was Leader of the Opposition, but it was lost in another place. Having had that experience, it is hardly surprising that a lot of people are sceptical about whether or not stage two will work.

My second question this. Although we are all agreed that at long last a Royal Commission is to look at stage two, none of us will be satisfied—indeed, we will fight to the end to achieve it—unless we have a copper-bottomed guarantee that we will have a stage two. Otherwise, the Statement and the White Paper will be seen simply as a very bad transition, a so-called reform of the House of Lords, dressed up in the new buzz word "modernisation", whatever that might mean. That would see a very important constitutional reform, affecting people throughout the United Kingdom, carried out in a manner more reminiscent of a sixth form debate than a serious constitutional proposal.

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, I have said on many occasions, and I am delighted to repeat today, that everybody acknowledges that there are some members of the hereditary peerage who have not only made major contributions to the work of the House but have also often played an important part in national affairs in general. I do not believe that anyone has denied that in the appropriate context.

The noble Baroness draws attention to the need to proceed rapidly to stage two. I believe we would be in disagreement about the relevance of the hereditary peerage in a second Chamber of the 21st century. It is precisely because we on these Benches are unwilling to foresee that as a long term prospect that we will wish, particularly in light of the theoretical amendment to retain transitionary rights of hereditary Peers to sit in your Lordships' House, to move rapidly to a point at which that becomes unnecessary. The fact that we have given the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, a very tight timetable in which to report to the Government on his findings under the Royal Commission must suggest to your Lordships that we would hope to move to a second stage as rapidly as possible. I am sure that noble Lords are more able than I of working out the parliamentary and annual arithmetic of the number of months between that and the next general election.

The noble Baroness says that in the past hereditary Peers have agreed to this type of reform. If the noble Baroness feels that that is right, and that it was merely obstructed in another place, it is surprising that the former government and the party of which she is a member made absolutely no effort in l8 years to move forward on reform.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill

My Lords, can the noble Baroness the Leader of the House clarify one important matter? As I read paragraphs 19 and 20 of chapter 7, the relationship between the senior judiciary and this House as a legislature in respect of separation of powers is considered to be within the terms of reference of the Royal Commission. However, to make specific proposals as to some alternative final court is not within the terms of reference. Have I understood that correctly?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

Yes, my Lords.

Lord Weatherill

My Lords, I forbear to mention the arrangements the noble Baroness has made concerning the 91 hereditary Peers who are to remain as an interim measure. However, I pay tribute to the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, for his part in helping to bring that matter to fruition.

I have two brief questions. I have not had time to read the White Paper, which has only just been put into my hands. First, when will the commission to nominate independent Peers be set up? Secondly, is it within the remit of the Royal Commission to look at the number of Members of Parliament in the other place, bearing in mind devolution for Scotland and Wales?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, the answer to the noble Lord's second question is simply no. I hope I have understood the question correctly. Composition of the membership of a reformed House of Lords is not related to the composition of the membership of the other place at all. The timing of the establishment of the appointments commission will depend on the passage of the stage one Bill through both Houses of Parliament. If it were to proceed smoothly, there is no reason why the appointments commission should not be set up in the course of this year.

Lord Gifford

My Lords, may I congratulate the noble Baroness the Leader of the House on a truly historic Statement which announces the end of an unjust privilege. As a hereditary Member, I and my few hereditary noble friends have always respected the Members of this House, the work of this House and the procedures of this House, but we have found the institution of the House to be profoundly unjust. I said so in my maiden speech in 1965.

Is consideration of the name of the new second Chamber within the terms of reference of the Royal Commission? Would it not symbolise the historic significance of the reform announced today if the new second Chamber were to be a House of Senators and not a House of Lords?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his remarks about the position of himself and, I am sure, other noble Lords who are hereditary Peers. As I have had the opportunity to say before in your Lordships' House, I have found in conversation with noble Lords on these Benches who are hereditary Peers that their approach is similar to that expressed by my noble friend. The question of the name of the reformed House is not in the terms of reference, although I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, and his colleagues may be inspired.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, perhaps I may ask a very simple question. Can the noble Baroness the Leader of the House confirm that there will be no substantive enactment of reform until the Royal Commission has considered the matter? Can the noble Baroness also confirm that there will be no such reform until a joint Select Committee of both Houses has considered the report of the Royal Commission and the considerations of both bodies fully debated in this House and the opinion of the nation taken in a referendum? Can she further confirm that all representations as to the reform of the powers, constitution and composition of this House will be put to the Royal Commission?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, said, the Royal Commission obviously has within its terms of reference a very wide remit, together with an ability to take evidence and make judgments on a large number of issues. I imagine that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy—

Noble Lords


Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, I apologise to both noble Lords. One is sitting in front of the other; I apologise to both. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, speaks of substantive reform. I suppose he is referring to the long-term reform of the House—what we call colloquially "the second stage". It is of course the case that the purpose of the Royal Commission is to advise us in that respect. So there is absolutely no suggestion that any change would be made before the Royal Commission reported.

Lord Monkswell

My Lords, although I welcome enthusiastically the Statement made by my noble friend, perhaps I may refer to the proposed amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill. Would my noble friend consider consulting with her right honourable friend the Prime Minister as to whether it might be useful for that amendment to be considered on the basis of a free vote in both Houses? That would enable it to receive across-the-board endorsement rather than being perceived as a creature of the party political machinery.

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, my noble friend makes an interesting suggestion. I shall be happy to raise the matter with my right honourable friend. I am not quite sure precisely what my noble friend expects would happen in this House but to suggest that the Government could drive through anything on the basis of their massive majority in this House would be a little extraordinary.