HL Deb 10 June 2003 vol 649 cc122-4

2.51 p.m.

Lord Barnett

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Further to the answer by the Baroness Scotland of Asthal on 19th May (HL Deb, col. 495), whether the Prime Minister's future statement will include the issue of whether there will be a House of Lords reform Bill in this Parliament.

The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Baroness Scotland of Asthal)

My Lords, as I said in answer to the noble Lord's previous Question, the Government are now considering their response to the report from the Joint Committee of both Houses on the way forward on reform of your Lordships' House. We shall have to address the question and timing of any further reform Bill as part of our deliberations. We hope to be able to publish our response within the normal two-month deadline

Lord Barnett

My Lords, I apologise to my noble friend for having tabled this Question again. She did not answer, I am sure inadvertently, some of the points put to her. At the time she told the House that the Prime Minister was to make a statement shortly—that was three weeks ago. Perhaps she could define "shortly". Is it fair to assume that we shall not have a House of Lords reform Bill this Session, or even the next? In those circumstances, when can we expect to see a list of new working Peers?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I note that the noble Lord now asks me four questions. As on the previous occasion, he seeks to tempt me into error. Let me answer as directly as I am able. First, "shortly" is, as "shortly" says, as soon as reasonably practicable. Secondly, whether it will be in this Session or next I am not able to say. All I can say is that these matters are being given anxious consideration. They will be addressed in the response that I know that your Lordships anxiously await.

Lord Renton

My Lords, will the Government bear in mind that your Lordships' House contains many Peers and Peeresses accustomed to various kinds of responsibility such that cannot be found in another place and that, if we were to be democratised, we would become a mere microcosm of another place?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, first, it is our view that this House forms a very important part of the democracy. We are already democratised to that extent. Secondly, it is right that the Peers in this House perform a very wonderful function. We have the advantage of Peeresses visiting the House at certain times, but currently none of them sits on any of the Benches of the House.

Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay

My Lords, I wonder whether I shall have any greater chance of tempting the noble Baroness than the silver-tongued noble Lord, Lord Barnett. Does the Minister accept that at least we all agreed on one matter in the reform committee and in debates both in this Chamber and in another place; namely, that this House has too many Members?

Noble Lords


Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay

My Lords, what would be the point of fattening us up further and making additional appointments at this stage in defiance of the clearly expressed opposition of the House of Commons to an all-appointed upper House?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I hear what the noble Lord says about there being too many Members. There are those who say that this House is a lean, mean working machine and not one Member will be lost to us. Of course, we have to see what the final resolution will be and the recommendations that will be made. But a tragedy for this House is that in the past two years we have lost 49 of our Members who sat on all Benches. They are sorely missed and there are many who say that they should be replaced.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean

My Lords, if the Government are genuinely considering the report from the Joint Committee, particularly in respect of the recommendation that a statutory appointments commission of some kind should be established, why have the Government recently renewed the appointment of the chairman of the present appointments commission?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I have no confirmation of that matter. I shall repeat what I have said on a number of occasions. The Government are obliged, in the normal way, to give a response to the committee's report within the average time of two months. We shall use our very best endeavours to do just that. I am afraid that we shall all have to await the outcome of that response.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, given the weight of legislation that now arrives in this House from another place completely unscrutinised and very often even undebated, is it not time for the Government to consider seriously a reform of the House of Commons, particularly as regards the number of Members of Parliament and whether it can still be justified to have over 650 Members sitting in that House?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, thankfully, I can say that that is not a matter for me.

Lord Weatherill

My Lords, I am sure that the Minister is aware that earlier in the year I introduced a Bill that was—I am sure she will agree—designed to be helpful to the Government. Will that Bill have the Government's support?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I have to reply in the way in which I have replied the whole afternoon. Those are matters that the Government will take into account. We shall take those matters into account and respond when we respond—shortly.

Lord Boston of Faversham

My Lords, as the Minister has told your Lordships that Her Majesty's Government are giving these matters anxious consideration, can she say what is the nature of that anxiety?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, to do that which is right for this country. We hope that we shall discharge our duty in the exemplary manner in which we have done so far.

Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes

My Lords, if the Government still do not know the way forward, can the noble Baroness say why they started down the road in the first place?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, we have known the way forward. It is right to say that this House is now in good order. An argument has raged backwards and forwards in this House and elsewhere as to what the next step is. That matter is under consideration. The committee has helped us and we are deliberating on our response, which, as is quite clear from the debate today, your Lordships' House is most anxious to hear. I am sure that all those responsible will take keen note of this debate.