Jack Straw proposes the end of hereditary peers in Lords reform bill

July 21, 2009 at 3:52 pm 1 comment

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The election of hereditary peers to the House of Lords will be ended by new legislation proposed by the government.

Justice Secretary Jack Straw, who is also Lord Chancellor, presented the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill yesterday into the Commons.

It contains proposals for reform of the Lords, judicial appointments, treaties and the civil service and will be debated by MPs when Parliament returns from the summer recess in October.

The Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill removes the hereditary principle from the House of Lords and allow for the disqualification of peers found guilty of serious criminal offences.

The Lords provisions contained in the Bill build on the House of Lords Act 1999 to end the system of by-elections which allowed for 90 hereditary peers to continue to sit in the House of Lords.

They are currently replaced by a poll of hereditary peers from outside the House when a vacancy is created by the death of a hereditary peer.

Ending the by-elections will eradicate the hereditary principle from the second chamber.

There are approximately 750 members of the House of Lords, including 26 bishops and archbishops of the Church of England.

New powers are proposed:

* to allow members of the Lords to resign from Parliament

* to give the House authorities the power to expel or suspend peers found guilty of misconduct

* to disqualify members of the Lords found guilty of a serious criminal offence, or who are subject to a bankruptcy restriction order.

The Bill also places the Civil Service Code of impartiality and professionalism on to a statutory footing.

It takes power away from Government so that any change to the Code must go through Parliament first.

Other measures in the Bill to rebalance the relationship between Parliament, the government and the public include:

* repealing the legislation that limits protests around Parliament

* removing the Prime Minister from involvement in all judicial appointments in England and Wales to strengthen
the independence of the judiciary.

Separately the government will be bringing forward a resolution to ensure that the House of Parliament is able to approve any commitment of armed forces into conflict.

Jack Straw, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, said:

“We are committed to ending the hereditary principle, which has no place in a modern, representative democracy.

“Together with new powers which will give the house authorities more options in terms of disciplining peers on the rare occasions when this is appropriate, this builds on the work we have already done to create a strengthened, more legitimate second chamber.

“We also want to strengthen the relationship between voters and those they elect.

“The Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill will ensure that power lies where it should – with Parliament and the people.

“The Lords reform measures in the Bill come before proposals for comprehensive reform of the second chamber, which will be put forward in a draft bill later this year.

“The government is committed to reforms leading to an 80% or 100% elected second chamber.”

The Bill includes the following reforms:

1. The Civil Service

Place the Civil Service and Civil Service Commissioners on a statutory footing, and enshrine the Civil Service’s core values in statute.

2. Treaties

Enshrine in statute the procedure for pre-ratification scrutiny of treaties by Parliament, and give legal effect to a vote against ratification.

3. Demonstrations around Parliament

Repeal sections 132 to 138 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005, removing the requirement to give notice of demonstrations around Parliament, as well as the offence of holding a demonstration without the authorisation of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner.

The Bill will instead enable the police to be given proportionate, alternative powers to maintain access to Parliament.

4. Human Rights – ‘Somerville’

Reconcile the time limit for human rights claims under the Northern Ireland Act 1988 and the Government of Wales Act 2006 with that in the Human Rights Act 1998.

Due to the interface between this Bill and parallel provision for Scotland in an Act of the Scottish Parliament which has yet to receive Royal Assent, the same provision for Scotland will be introduced by amendment at the appropriate time.

5. Judicial Appointments

Remove the Prime Minister from the process of making appointments to the new Supreme Court (this complements non-legislative measures ending his involvement in the appointment of other members of the senior judiciary of England and Wales); and remove the provision enabling the Judicial Appointments Commission to assume responsibility for magistrates’ appointments.

6. National Audit Office

Provide a modern governance arrangement for the National Audit Office, and change the tenure of the Comptroller and Auditor General.

7. Transparency in accounting for NDPBs

Align the spending mechanisms of non-departmental public bodies with the existing budgetary treatment.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Aodh  |  July 21, 2009 at 5:34 pm

    There is no possibility of arguing that the present composition of the House of Lords can be justified either by logic or by reference to any preconceived constitutional theory. It is the result of a long, even a tortuous, process of historical evolution. Its authority rests upon the acceptance of the result, handed down to our time, of that historical process. It is the authority of acceptance, the authority of what Burke called “prescription”.

    The House of Lords shares that characteristic with many of our most cherished and important institutions. Trial by jury, for example, is not to be justified in logic; it does not rest upon statute; it came to us by a strange historical evolution out of the sworn witnesses of a neighbourhood. Neither logic nor statute nor theory is a basis of that other hereditary institution by which it comes about that a young woman holds sway over countless millions. The authority of the House itself does not, in the last resort, rest upon any logic in the principles upon which we are formed or elected: it rests upon the acceptance by the nation of an institution the history of which cannot be divorced or torn out of the context of the history of the nation itself.

    I am far from saying that one should never alter or interfere with an institution of this kind. There are many instances in which such interference has taken place. There are many cases where a change has, in fact, resulted in preserving, and even enhancing, the institution in question. If one looked for it, one could find such an example in the history of the House of Lords itself, where, probably, the device of transferring from other honours to barony itself the notion of conferring a dignity by patent—the creation, in fact, of barons of patent—has been the means of preserving the House of Lords as we have had it through the last four or five centuries.

    But, although it is not possible to say that one should never reform, alter, or interfere with prescriptive institutions, I do say that, such is their nature and the nature of the authority they enjoy, we should not undertake that interference except of necessity, for the avoidance of an evil which is clear and imminent, and in such a way that the result will evidently be to remove the evil.

    It is because I believe that the proposal is a serious interference with a prescriptive institution and that the reasons which have been given for that interference are not such as to justify it—not such as to show that only by this change can evident and imminent difficulties be avoided—that I find myself obliged to condemn it.

    We are faced with a proposal which represents a substantial and basic alteration in the character of a prescriptive institution; and we have to ask ourselves whether the reasons which are alleged to be compelling—and compelling they must be for this change—are adequate. The Government wish to strengthen Socialist representation in the House of Lords. Is it essential for that purpose that the present basis of that House should—to use Lord Home’s word—be “modified”? When the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, was Prime Minister, he succeeded in prevailing, according to, Dod, upon no fewer than 86 persons to accept hereditary dignities. On the calculations of the Lord Chancellor given to another place, 54 of those were political creations. So the Labour Party found the necessity of conferring a hereditary peerage no insuperable obstacle to what it regarded as the necessary manning-up, in quantity and quality, of the then Government Bench in the House of Lords. It is really very difficult one to decide that this constitutional change is indispensably necessary when we know that not even preliminary inquiries as to the attainability of the object under the present system had been made.

    I now come to the alleged indispensable necessity for this constitutional change, namely, that on the present basis the House of Lords cannot be made, or be kept, representative of all aspects of the national life. I invoke to the immense variety, the almost inexhaustible variety, of experience of every kind which is represented in the House of Lords as it exists at the moment. I invite anyone to take a list of the creations since the end of the war and look down it to see the variety, the width and the scope of the interests which those creations cover—science and the arts, the professions, medicine, the law, agriculture, the Press, the trade unions, the Services, both fighting and civil, industry, trade and commerce in every branch. Is it possible, in view of that recent experience before our eyes, to conclude that only if we abandon the present basis of membership of another place can we preserve there a wide and representative selection and presentation of every aspect of the national life?

    To conclude, we are being asked to make a serious constitutional change and to make it without evidence of grave necessity. It is admitted that this is a substantial change. The case to show that it is necessary is not proven.

    Reply

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