I have been in Westminster today for the publication of the report of the Joint Committee on the Draft House of Lords Bill. It was launched at a press conference this morning. You can read details and links to the report here. (In addition to the report, the oral and written evidence has been published.) It was followed by a press conference to launch an Alternative Report, signed by twelve members of the Joint Committee, supprting some of the recommendations of the Joint Committee but arguing the need for the role of the House to be examined in a wider context. The Bill, as it stands, is deficient and too narrowly focused. You can read the Alternative Report here. I am one of the signatories.
The press conferences were interesting and well attended. The reporters put some very critical questions at the launch of the Joint Committee report: How much is all this going to cost? How will you be able to stop members of an elected second chamber ignoring conventions? These pertinent questions highlighted some of the problems with the Government’s proposals. The Joint Committee was limited in focusing on the contents of the Bill. It did, though, find significant problems with the Bill. The Government want to have an elected second but maintain the primacy of the House of Commons, more or less as it presently stands. It sought to maintain primacy through Clause 2 of the Bill. The committee was unanimous in finding that Clause 2 in itself was not capable of maintaining the primacy of the Commons. The committee also concluded that an elected second chamber would be more assertive, but went on to say (at paragraph 34) ‘that a more assertive House would not enhance Parliament’s overall role in relation to the activities of the executive’.
As was widely trailed, the report also recommended that the proposal be subject to a referendum. If the Government are prepared to have a referendum on a modification of the system of electing members of one chamber, it is difficult to see how they can deny one on the actual system by which members of the other are to be elected.
The report (and the alternative report) will be debated in the Lords next Monday.