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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, of course. But the implication was that we do not have enough. I was attempting to explain that we are rather better than other countries in that regard and, for the information of noble Lords, the parliamentary website is the best in the world. For example, it includes the text of Hansard, of all Bills and of all committee reports among many other matters.
The noble Lord, Lord Smith, made a valid series of points in relation to quangos. He will be aware of the Government's consultation document produced at the end of last year opening up quangos. It outlined the steps that the Government have taken and propose to take to ensure that they are fully accountable in their role and operation. One of the most important elements is that appointments to quangos are now made according to the Nolan principles rather than by the bad old method of going round to the Whips' Office to see whether there is a Conservative loyalist in the area who might be suitable for appointment to a paid job.
We are committed to keeping the total number of quangos under control. However, there are circumstances in which a body with independence from Ministers will be the best way of delivering specific functions. We plan to publish our response to the consultation process soon.
I must disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, about executive agencies. He describes them as being a diminution of parliamentary control. That is not the case. Executive agencies have to publish annual reports; they have to set themselves targets. This is not a party political point. Executive agencies were set up by the previous government, and they are judged on whether or not they achieve those targets. It is an effective form of public and parliamentary control and I welcome it. Also, I am not ashamed of the number of task forces and reviews. I gave the first Answer to Parliament on that. I was pleased to see almost all of the reviews I listed in my Answer and I am willing to accept that many more have been identified since then. It is right that the Government should go to outside expertise for advice on issues of public policy.
The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, made a comment which I believe he has made before in relation to the overload of Parliament as though that is a criticism. He will know, as we all know, of the additional burden being placed on Parliament--thank goodness!--by the need for legislation in Northern Ireland. Of course we will have to adapt and work harder; the noble Lord will have to work harder too and I hope he will support us in getting that legislation through when, as we hope, the referendums go well on Friday of next week.
There was specific criticism in relation to the idea of a carry-over. It is not a device to provide injury time. It is an idea with a good pedigree. It came from the Hansard Society Commission chaired by the late Lord Rippon. The Procedure Committee in the Lords will shortly consider a unanimous recommendation from the all-party Commons Modernisation Committee that in certain circumstances and with general consent a government Bill might be carried over from one Session to the next in the same way as private Bills may be. That procedure would avoid the end of Session rush and ensure that any such Bill was properly considered. But there would be no change without consultation and debate.
In view of the time, I am inclined to skip the arguments in relation to the reform of the House of Lords--not that I am in any way afraid of them. However, we are to debate them in full at another time.
Lord Alexander of Weedon: My Lords, cannot the noble Lord briefly respond to the clear suggestion that he asked the Liaison Committee to establish a joint committee to come forward with a package to safeguard and enhance our future?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I can respond, but I cannot respond positively. Our commitment in the election manifesto was that there would be joint action by both Houses of Parliament to consider the second stage of reform of the House of Lords. That is a better proposal than the idea of the Liaison Committee setting up a special committee in this House alone. It is a matter for Parliament as a whole.
In view of the time, unless I am challenged on any other points--that was a perfectly valid challenge by the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Weedon--I hope noble Lords will forgive me if I do not go into that topic in more detail.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I rise simply to question the noble Lord on the answer he gave in relation to the Local Government Association having copies of the applications for action zones. I understood the noble Lord to say that it is involved in the assessment process. That was not made clear to the House. It was not made clear in any supporting paper and has not been made clear anywhere. Can I say also that the Local Government Association has written to councils of all party political persuasions. Is the noble Lord saying to me that as a Front Bench Member of the Opposition in this House I have a lesser entitlement than a councillor on a county council?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, let me be precise because I read out what I said. I said that the Local Government Association sought involvement in the assessment of applications. The department's view was that it would not be appropriate for the Local Government Association to have formal representation on the advisory panel. It was agreed that at official level we would allow the officers to see copies of the applications and would take note of any comments they offered. I cannot go further than the information I have from the department. I am sure that Ministers concerned will be in touch with the noble Baroness if she has any further problems.
I want to say a brief word about devolution. One or two noble Lords--the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, in particular--appeared to think that somehow devolution undermines the authority of Parliament. I remind him that Parliament is using its legislative authority to decentralise power in accordance with the wishes of the electorate demonstrated both in the general election and the referendums.
Parliament retains its legislative sovereignty and could repeal the devolution Bills if that were thought appropriate. I am grateful for the number of noble Lords, on both the Labour and Liberal Democrat Benches, who recognise that it is an extension of democracy rather than a reduction.
Finally, I want to refer to two items which seem to me to be the most important initiatives which this Government have taken which received no comment whatever in the debate. The first is the Human Rights Bill--the implementation in this country of the European Convention on Human Rights. That is a huge increase in democratic accountability of this Government to their citizens, and I should have thought that those concerned with the subject matter of this Motion would agree with that. The second is the White Paper on freedom of information, which is due to be published as a draft Bill this summer. If we had done nothing other than incorporate the European Convention on Human Rights and freedom of information into our legislation in the course of one or two Sessions, that
Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I am most grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. I am particularly grateful to my two noble friends who entertained the House with notable maiden speeches. I should like to associate myself with the adulatory remarks made by various noble Lords on this side of the House to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh. I do so with some trepidation--
Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, the noble Lord has anticipated my explanation of why I did this with some trepidation. We would all hate to lose him and I am sure that the fastest way of losing him would be to praise him too highly from this side of the House.
I was particularly interested by the noble Lord's waving, at the beginning of his remarks, of a massive sheaf of what he described as defensive briefing. I could only conclude that he thought there was a great deal to be defensive about.
Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, circumlocutions of that kind are certainly circumlocutions we have heard from various members of Her Majesty's Government, but, I am glad to say, very rarely from the noble Lord himself. I merely note that he preferred to ignore a number of the more serious charges which we attempted to lay at the door of the Government. But, if I may say so, he did so with his usual good humour and elegance. Therefore, I hope your Lordships will support me in begging leave to withdraw my Motion.
Baroness Nicol: My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill do now pass. In moving this Motion, I should like to thank all those who have taken part in the proceedings on the Bill and who have, without exception, supported it. I refer in particular to the noble Lord, Lord Luke, for the Opposition, the noble Baroness, Lady Wharton, the noble Lords, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, Lord Soulsby and Lord Waddington, and the noble Earl, Lord Liverpool.