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Lord Monkswell: My Lords, a number of my concerns have already been covered adequately by other noble Lords. One matter that concerns me that so far has not been touched upon relates to the third section of the report that deals with quotations from Commons speeches in the current Session. Those noble Lords who have glanced at the Companion will understand why that rule exists. If I may paraphrase the Companion, the rule is intended to ensure that debates in the House of Commons are not carried over into the House of Lords. It is important that there should be a distinct and separate debate in the House of Lords from the House of Commons, and vice versa. I hope that when the Companion and Erskine May come to be re-written the importance of the separation of debates in the House of Lords and House of Commons is assured, even though noble Lords will accept the common sense of allowing quotations from speeches in either House to be referred to. But if that should be seen as an opportunity for Members of this House effectively to carry on a completely separate debate in the House of Commons that should not be allowed.
Lord Elton: My Lords, in support of my noble friend Lord Dean of Harptree, I ask the noble Lord the Leader of the House to provide a little more information as to what is intended by sub-paragraph (c) of paragraph 2. It is proposed that the eligibility of Bills for carry-over
Given that the threat of the loss of a Bill at the end of the Session is a real one--as a former Minister I remember how real it was--I regard that as one of the rapidly diminishing means by which Parliament can maintain control of the Executive. Those of us who feel that the Executive is getting further and further out of the control of Parliament believe that we should retain these restraints. I am not speaking of any particular government; I am talking of a continuing process. I for one would be comforted if the noble Lord the Leader of the House would say that agreement would be reached between the usual channels as to the volume of business that might be done in carry-over rather than that the whole volume of available business might be carried over.
Lord Monson: My Lords, I share the disquiet of the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Harptree, and the noble Lord, Lord Elton, about the carrying over of Bills. Can the noble Lord the Leader of the House say, first, whether there is any precedent in peacetime--obviously things may be different in time of war or national emergency--for a government Bill, as opposed to a private or hybrid Bill, being carried over from one parliamentary Session to another?
Secondly, in its third report, published on 2nd March this year the Commons Select Committee states that the carry-over should not be a device by which the Government impose their will on the minority. Can we be assured--and here I echo the noble Lord, Lord Elton--that "agreement through the usual channels" means not only securing the agreement of the two main opposition parties, I suppose in both Houses, but also the agreement of the smaller parties and, ideally, Cross-Benchers through the medium of their Convenor bearing in mind that we on these Benches outnumber the Liberal Democrats and all other smaller parties in both Houses put together?
Lord Renton: My Lords, I too feel obliged to follow up what is said in sub-paragraph (c) of paragraph 2. The trouble, I think, is caused by the use of the word "settled". Settled normally means decided finally. If it be the fact that the usual channels--that means the Whips, coupled no doubt with the Leader of the House, the Leader of the Opposition and perhaps the leader of a minority party--were to decide these things (Front Benches only), they might place themselves in conflict with Back Bench opinion throughout the House. That is a serious proposition.
If the word "eligibility" is considered to modify the word "settled", a different conclusion might be reached. But it is the word "settled" that we need to be very careful about. I was rather disappointed that the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, with whom I have worked in various ways in the past and for whom I have such great respect, decided not to move and press this amendment. I think it is one of great importance. It comes to this: that the responsibility and power for deciding this important matter will be granted to the Front Benches, and to them alone if we are not careful.
Lord Brightman: My Lords, I am much obliged. Can the Lord Chairman of Committees confirm my own impression that the effect of paragraph 2 of the Report on the Procedure of the House will be absolutely minimal? I take four examples.
First, if a Bill starts in this House and gets only as far as Third Reading when the parliamentary Session is about to end, the Bill cannot be carried over. It cannot be carried over because under sub-paragraph (f) the new procedure does not apply to a Lords Bill still in this House when the Session ends.
Secondly, suppose a Bill starts in the Commons, is passed in the Commons but gets only as far as Third Reading in this House when the Session is about to end. The Bill cannot be carried over. That is because under sub-paragraph (b) carry-over is restricted to Bills which have not yet left the House in which they originated.
Thirdly, suppose a Bill, which started in this House, has been passed by this House but is returned to us with Commons amendments. Again, the Bill cannot be carried over because under sub-paragraph (f) a Bill which starts in this House and is in this House when the Session ends cannot be carried over.
Fourthly, suppose a Bill, which started in the Commons, has passed through all stages in this House but is returned with Commons amendments. Again, the Bill cannot be carried over because under sub-paragraph (b) a Bill cannot be carried over which has left the House in which it originated. It follows that the carry-over of a Bill under paragraph 2 will be confined to extremely rare occasions.
In those circumstances it does not seem to me that the procedure is capable of being used in this House to deprive the Opposition of a power to disrupt Bills which are incomplete as the Session nears its end.
I am very glad that the noble Lord has accepted my noble kinsman's amendment. I am sure he is right to do that. What in fact happened was, in my view, a mistake, for the reason my noble kinsman has said.
On the question of carry-over, I notice that noble Lords have been paying a great deal of attention to the sugar on the pill. But the pill itself is that a new principle is being established. The previous principle--and if it was not a principle it was certainly treated as one--that carry-over did not exist except in exceptional circumstances--is being discarded; and now the principle is being established, sugared though the pill is, that carry-over is possible.
During my 16 years in this House as a Back-Bencher I have observed the salutary effect in practice of Parliament having to resolve matters before the deadline. A government seldom wants, despite what the Lord Privy Seal has said, the embarrassment of a Bill falling and having to be reintroduced in the next Session. That is an embarrassment and governments shrink from that.
With or without the sugar--and, as my noble friend Lord Cranborne said, this measure could increase the power of this House--it is a very big change. I am sorry that it came to the House tucked between a big constitutional matter and matters of noble Lords' pockets. I do not think women's pockets are under consideration. I am sorry that such a big measure came in this way to the House. I feel that it should have been first discussed in a debate purely about that. But we have taken advantage of the discussion of the report and I am glad of that.
I hope that, in future, big changes which affect the practice of Parliament--not just of the House of Lords, but of the House of Commons--will not be discussed here simply as matters almost hidden in a report of the Procedure Committee.
The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, it seems to me that my noble friend Lord Dean needs support on this. This is a constitutional innovation. It is a constitutional innovation, however small the pill--I take the points made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman--in that it is a mini-Aspirin; it is not a block-buster or a Viagra. It is however a small pill and it is a start. It is extremely dangerous for such constitutional changes to be introduced by the back-door, which this almost is, with the check on it which states:
What happens if the usual channels do not agree and the Government want the Bill carried over? I presume, because they have a precedent, that the Government will have their way. I am sorry. This is dangerous. We should not allow it. I beg the noble Lord, Lord Richard, who is not arrogant or conceited and is quite our favourite Leader of the Government Front Bench at the moment, please, because he is a good lad, to go away and think about it again, because he cannot but see the force of the arguments of my noble friend Lord Dean.
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