By Matthew Barrett
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He was first asked by Labour peer Lord Grocott - Lord Strathclyde answered in a dry tone, and managed to suppress laughter when speaking:
"Lord Grocott: Have the Government still not learnt the lesson of the AV referendum? Unlike the Deputy Prime Minister, the British public do not think that our constitution is broken and they think that Government should spend their time on other, more important matters. Can I suggest that before the Government embark on any future constitutional experiments they apply two tests? First, do the public want it? Secondly, is there a political consensus to deliver it?
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, it is true that the Government have not been overwhelmed with responses from the public after the publication of the White Paper. However, at least one interpretation of that is that the public are reasonably satisfied with the proposals that the Government have put forward."
The House was united in laughter.
On yesterday's ToryDiary we highlighted Shadow Justice Secretary Nick Herbert MP's response to Labour proposals on Lords reform. Pasted below are key extracts from the response of Lord Strathclyde to the Government's statement in the Upper House.
A short history of Lords reform: "This House is no stranger to reform. The Conservative Life Peerages Act 1958 was a revolutionary experiment in composition, enacted some 80 years after the controversy over life peerages first raged in the Wensleydale case. The Conservative Party enabled women who inherited peerages to enter this place in 1963, and in 1968 the House voted for substantial further reforms only to see those plans scuppered in another place. In 1999, half this House departed in the face of the House of Lords Act. Much as they disliked it, they accepted that as their duty in view of the binding undertakings given by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, to provide for a comprehensive stage 2 reform. In 2005, further legislation reversed the first life peerages provisions in relation to the judiciary and provided for Law Lords to be excluded. So let it not be said that this House is not prepared to entertain change, accept it or adapt to it when it occurs."
The Commons wants a largely elected Upper House, the Lords wants a fully-appointed Upper House: "There is a majority in this place for a fully appointed House, an idea that in itself presents substantial practical issues. However, the Government chose to proceed on the basis of votes in the House of Commons for an 80 or 100 per cent elected House, which made known—for this Parliament at least—the will of another place. Of course, the Government could not and should not have ignored the votes of another place and—I must say, bluntly—neither should we as a House. If we do not engage with another place, it can impose its will on us; we cannot just sit this one out."
There must be no reduction in the powers of the Upper House: "If there is an elected House, we must keep, so far as possible, the strengths of this House while increasing its will to use its powers. We agreed that that means no reduction in the powers of this House. We agreed that it means long non-renewable terms for Members, so that they are free of coercion and as independent as possible from threats and rewards by party Whips. We agreed that it means retaining the right reverend Prelates. It also means, in my view, “no” to a 100 per cent-elected House, because that would exclude the Cross Benchers who put a particular stamp on this House and whose expertise is so valuable to Parliament. Any reformed House must pass these and other key tests. It must complement the other place, not compete with it; it must not be a House of opposition, but nor should it be servile; it should be no less capable of performing the key roles of the current House and it should be a House to which the people of this country can genuinely relate."
First-past-the-post: "It may surprise noble Lords to hear that the Liberal Democrats shocked us in the working party by calling for proportional representation. We prefer smaller constituencies based on our historic cities and counties, with Members chosen directly by “first past the post”. The Government sat on the fence. That is not a good basis for legislation."
This is more of a Green Paper than a White Paper: "Many grey areas also remain for which the White Paper has not provided adequate answers for public scrutiny. There are the difficult questions of the transition from one House another, the pay and pension arrangements for the new House and outgoing Members of the present one and, indeed, the overall costs of a reformed House. These issues cannot be fudged in a Bill. There has been perhaps a little fudging, which is why this is not really a White Paper at all. It is a Green Paper. The Government’s mind is unclear on so much that you have to wonder why they are publishing it in the first place. Even the name of a reformed House is a mystery. Leaks a few weeks ago suggested that it would be called a senate, but even that seems to be too radical a step for this Government, and the name disappeared in the final draft. What will the House be called? The Minister and the noble Baroness the Leader of the House will have to make the Government’s position far clearer in the months ahead."
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