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Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, particularly in view of the noble Lord's presence here this morning, perhaps I ought to have added, and put first, the Speaker's Office.

Lord Weatherill: My Lords, I wholly agree. I was Speaker only for 10 years, but I was a Whip for 12 years. By the end of my time, in 1979, I had reached the conclusion that as Deputy Chief Whip I had far too much power. If we had used the 1970s tactics in 1964, when I first went to the Whips' Office, on Colonel Sir Walter Henry Bromley-Davenport or on Captain Lancaster or on Nigel Birch, I do not believe that I should be standing here today addressing your Lordships' House.

The trouble is the ambition of Members these days to become Ministers. That gives the Whips far too much influence. I wholly agree with the noble Viscount that what is wrong is that the Government are not being held to account, particularly in the other place. There is not time to go into that in detail in the gap, but one of the actions we must take is to return to local government the powers taken from it during the past several years and free Members of Parliament to come into the Chamber and hold the Government to account. It was Mr Gladstone who said to his own supporters, "It is not your job to run the country. It is your duty to hold to account those who do".

The trouble is that Members of Parliament are in their offices answering the 40,000 letters which come into the Palace of Westminster every day. Frequently, when I was Speaker, I received letters of complaint which were hardly ever about bad behaviour but nearly always about the way in which the Chamber was so badly attended. I want to see the Chamber become once again the forum of the nation. If one turns on the television today, one sees that it is nearly empty. That sends a bad message to the public who watch it, or fail to watch it and do not take account of what is happening. I should make the Select Committees much more influential. That is where the Government really are being held to account. For instance, there is a good case for paying the chairmen of Select Committees.

I shall not enlarge on these matters today, but I hope that we shall have an opportunity to return to them at a later stage. I welcome the opportunity provided by the Bill to reform the whole of the parliamentary system. I hope that after the Bill to "reform"--and reform should be better--your Lordships' House, we shall move on to look at the whole of the parliamentary system, which includes the other place. I welcome and congratulate the noble Viscount on giving us this opportunity today to discuss this very important matter.

Lord Renton: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, will he say why he believes that attendance in another place has fallen so much? Is it not due to the ever increasing amount of correspondence which

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constituents send to honourable Members, plus the fact that the departmentally related Select Committees, which were established 20 years ago by a committee of which, I must confess, I happened to be a member, now take up so much of the time of Members and prevent them being on the Floor of the House?

Lord Weatherill: My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right. Part of the trouble is the constituency surgeries, which are now held every week. Members are largely canvassed about constituents' problems. Two-thirds of them are matters for local government, which is why I say that we should return powers to local government and let local councillors deal with many of the problems. That would free Members of Parliament to spend more time in the Chamber.

It is true that Select Committees take Members away from the Chamber. When I was Speaker, Members would regularly ask me whether they would be called by five o'clock. I had to say, "It is unlikely that the Front Benches will have finished by five o'clock. Is it because of your Select Committee?". They would reply, "Yes, Mr Speaker". They have no option. If you can go to a Select Committee and be seen on television holding witnesses and Ministers to account, why stay in the Chamber hoping to catch the eye of the Chair?

12.9 p.m.

Lord Jopling: My Lords, I am provoked by my noble friend Lord Cranborne's flattering remarks, about the efficiency of the Government Whips' Office during the years in which he was in the House of Commons, to offer a few remarks. I wish, however, that his enthusiasm for the Whips' Office had been shown on some of those occasions when he was not quite as helpful as I might have wished. However, on this occasion I congratulate him warmly on introducing this Bill. It brings together many of the thoughts that we have had over the years as to how Parliament might be improved.

My noble friend Lord Cranborne came very clean when he said that one purpose of the Bill was to make it more difficult to get legislation through. It would certainly have that effect. When I was Chief Whip, I hated some of the scrutiny arrangements for legislation. They made my job much more difficult, as it took longer to get legislation through. I well remember when there were Cabinet Committee meetings to decide what should be in the Queen's Speech. Ministers would come with torrents of legislation to propose, even though our party had been elected on the basis of reducing the amount of legislation. Whenever I plaintively said that we might be pushing far too much legislation through, nobody seemed much prepared to listen. The Bill might thus prove to be a good way of stemming the flow of legislation from which we have suffered during at least the 35 years in which I have been around this building.

I much agree with the proposal for a smaller House of Commons and fewer Ministers. I had the honour to be chairman of a committee on the Sittings of the House in the 1990s, and I wish that I had had the opportunity

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to make such proposals, but that was precluded from its workings. I also agree with the noble Lord, Lord Norton, that these things should be done together, rather than in two stages, as the Bill proposes. I hope that the Bill may be changed in that regard.

I am unhappy about the proposal in Clause 9 that Ministers should not sign European legislation until there has been wide consultation. I shall explain why. During negotiations late at night, new propositions often come up in the Council of Ministers, which can prove particularly advantageous to the national interest. For example, I was once involved in the middle of the night in the annual agriculture price fixing. I was determined to maintain the beef support system, which we then enjoyed. We were the only country to do so. I had no friends, and I badly wanted a friend to support me in maintaining the beef support system, which had to be renegotiated every year. At about 4 a.m. the Italian Minister said, "Michael, I have been looking carefully for the first time at your beef support system, and I think it has much merit. But I wonder whether you would be kind enough to look at my tomato pulp regime". I said that I did not need to look at it, as I was sure that it was an admirable scheme. We agreed to stand up for each other's schemes, and so I immediately obtained my beef support scheme. I should hate to tell your Lordships what the commissioner called us when we told him what we had done.

I hope that the Bill will reach the Committee stage, and that we can try as the noble Lord, Lord Rathcavan, said, to improve it in the weeks ahead.

12.15 p.m.

Lord Hankey: My Lords, I have only just returned from abroad, and have not studied the Bill in the detail that I should have liked. However, its content is enormously important. The Mother of Parliaments is closely watched by the rest of the world for the manner in which we achieve our democracy and transparency, and for how we involve our people, as the primary stakeholders, in government.

What we do in Parliament is of great importance for the primary stakeholder, the electorate. All too often, the electorate has been alienated, and that is borne out by the poor turnout at referendums. The devolution of power which the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, and the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, emphasised is vital. We must ensure that devolution involves people so that our open society, which often stands in contrast to the closed societies that lead to corruption and centralisation, can lead to involvement, inclusion and the proper devolution of power.

I have just returned from the Yemen where the law of local administration has attempted to open government to local people. Such issues are fundamental to countries such as India and China, which watch our parliamentary democracy closely. The Bill's importance is underlined by the way in which the "Mother of Parliaments" is so highly visible to the rest of the world. In times of prosperity, alienation is less significant, but we need systems of control and contract for when times are tough, and that also applies to the way in which we organise ourselves in Parliament.

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12.17 p.m.

Lord Monson: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, on this ingenious, thought-provoking and constructive Bill. I agree, in principle at any rate, with virtually everything proposed. The exception is Clause 17. The number of Members of Parliament may have crept up somewhat in recent years, but he has perhaps overlooked the fact that once Scottish over-representation at Westminster has been remedied and Scotland has been brought into line with England, Wales and Northern Ireland--a necessary move which I trust will not be long delayed--the number of Members of Parliament will fall to about 644. Of course that is still a long way short of his ultimate goal of 400. But I understand that many people value the chance of personal contact with their Member of Parliament, and the greater the number of constituents, the smaller the opportunity of making that personal contact will be.

Moreover, as my noble friend Lord Weatherill has pointed out, Members of Parliament have to some extent had to step into the shoes of local councillors, and their postbags are at least 10 times larger than they were a generation ago. The hands of Members of Parliament are therefore already fairly full. I doubt whether, for example, the deputes in the Assemblee Nationale have to cope with quite so much correspondence, but I am open to correction on that.

I wholeheartedly agree with the proposal in Clause 18 to reduce the number of Ministers. But it is surely just as important that their numbers should be reduced proportionately as that they should be reduced in absolute terms. Yet under the Bill's proposals, from the year 2020 onwards, 15 per cent of Members of Parliament, and up to 29 per cent of Members of Parliament on Government Benches, could be Ministers. In addition to that 29 per cent, there would be several unpaid parliamentary private secretaries.

Surely, if we want greater parliamentary scrutiny of the executive, as we must all do, we want the maximum possible number of independent-minded Back-Bench MPs who have little interest in scrabbling for office and are therefore not afraid to vote against the dictates of their Whips whenever they judge it right to do so. With that exception, I think that the Bill is excellent, and again I congratulate the noble Viscount.

12.21 p.m.

Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, I shall not detain the House for more than a couple of minutes. I thank the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, for bringing forward this particular subject, which is very appropriate at this time.

I draw your Lordships' attention to Clause 9, which deals with the whole question of Community legislation. I am not entirely convinced that Members of another place, or, indeed, quite a number of noble Lords, are aware of the amount of Community legislation which goes through both Houses of Parliament without proper parliamentary scrutiny.

For many years I have endeavoured to acquaint your Lordships with the extent to which that has intruded into our national life. Perhaps the Government will give us

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an indication of their views on the validity of the conditions set out in Clause 9. Will the Government indicate whether they are aware of the extent to which legislation from Brussels avoids proper scrutiny? That does not necessarily happen by design, but perhaps through our administrative negligence; or perhaps through the views of our own bureaucracy here, which is not free from blame in that particular respect, and which quite willingly connives at the avoidance of parliamentary views being expressed prior to any particular enactment.

I have no particular rancour in that matter. I do not even resent being ignored over those questions during the past 15 years. But I assure your Lordships, with as much passion as is proper for me to express in this House, that I am deeply disturbed about the way in which the authority of Parliament to deal with its own affairs in this country is being progressively and deliberately undermined.

12.23 p.m.

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, it is a great pleasure now to have an opportunity to join in the debate. I very much welcome those noble Lords who spoke in the gap and joined our deliberations. The fact that they were urged to their feet by the speech of my noble friend Lord Cranborne and by others who spoke earlier shows the strength of the power of debate. I say to my noble friend Lord Cranborne that it is right that we should debate this matter, even if it is a sunny Friday in June. I for one am happy to give up my morning in the sun to be here debating one of the most important issues that faces us. I entirely agree with what my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth said in that respect. Indeed, if we had spent as much time in this Parliament debating the provisions in my noble friend's Bill to strengthen Parliament as we have spent debating a Bill to reduce the independence of Parliament, then we should have hope of better governance. The Bill to which I refer is the one that seeks to make so many changes to this House.

The Government claimed that they would govern for the many, not the few. Yet look at the way in which they have treated Parliament over the past two years. It has been a story of the subjection of the elected many by the executive few. Month after month we have seen announcements made outside Parliament; MPs sent away from Westminster and another place shut down while this House is still working hard; changes in another place to tighten the executive's grip on procedure; expressions of impatience with any spark of independence in your Lordships' House or elsewhere. In this House I hardly need mention the tawdry Bill designed to open the road to a second Chamber.

I see in this House--only just over the horizon--changes in procedure that may erode the right of every Peer in this House to be heard, and the right for debate never to be blocked or curtailed. I hope your Lordships of any and every party will resist such changes to the utmost. That is the last corner of our Parliament into which the clammy hand of the executive has not reached entirely. It must stay that way.

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The independence and authority of Parliament have been steadily and dangerously eroded. An openly presidential manner of government is emerging, in which a Cabinet meeting is an optional excursion from the flat upstairs, and the second most powerful man in the country is a former journalist on a tabloid newspaper, who has never submitted himself to election by the people, or even, so far as I know, by members of his own party.

On the other hand, my noble friend's Bill represents a way to begin to rebuild the authority of Parliament. It is a far-reaching and audacious Bill, betraying that elegance of mind and seductive vision for which my noble friend is rightly renowned. We on these Benches support the Bill, although I agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, that not all of my noble friend's ideas will work, desirable though they may be. We should like to see aspects of the Bill become law, and we offer co-operation to the Government, in both Houses, in helping it on its way to the statute book.

I turn to some of the specific provisions in my noble friend's Bill. It is difficult to decide which clause of the Bill most merits attention. But there is no doubt that the provisions in Clause 1 to put a presumption in favour of consultation on a Bill before it is presented to Parliament are wise. We have seen far too often, both under this Government and their predecessors, truncated consultation, or often none, resulting in bad law. My noble friend is wise to suggest a presumption in favour of a committee on a major draft Bill that would take evidence from affected parties. One only needs to cite the draft financial services Bill currently being considered--and the remarkable work being done by many Members of this House in pointing out its defects--to show the value of that. I hope that the Government will be able to indicate their support in principle for this clause.

I was touched by the piety of Clause 3, which would enact the referendum principle for which my noble friend's distinguished ancestor Prime Minister Salisbury was famous. It would enable this House to require a referendum on a constitutional Bill of special significance. That would provide protection against the abuse of elective dictatorship. It would ensure that any referendum would be held on the basis of the detailed proposals of a government. It would not be held, as this Government's referendums have been, on the basis of outline ideas and before detailed legislation had been published. Such pre-legislative referendums are a disgrace and should be prevented. No doubt the implications of that idea require careful discussion in Committee. My noble friend Lord Norton of Louth has usefully explained why we should have some reservations about it.

I am very interested in the provisions of Clause 4, which would enable this House, on the advice of the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee, to veto sections of legislation taking excessive secondary powers. The growth of secondary legislation, effectively beyond the control of either House, is a curse of modern government which has flourished equally under both

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parties, but has taken a new leap forward in the last two years. The Pollution Prevention and Control Bill, recently before this House, was one of the more outrageous examples of a skeleton Bill. My noble friend's proposal would directly confront that problem. It would require governments to account properly to Parliament, and it would put real power behind the authority justly acquired by your Lordships' Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee, since it was created largely on the initiative of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, and that of my noble friend Lord Cranborne himself.

My noble friend in Clause 5 imaginatively suggests a way in which the valuable services of the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee in scrutinising legislation could, at the request of those bodies, be put at the service of the devolved assemblies. The relationship between this Parliament and the devolved assemblies will take time to bed down. That is one way in which a constructive link can be retained between those devolved assemblies and Westminster. I was much impressed by what the noble Lord, Lord Rathcavan, said on the subject and on the lack of a revising Chamber in the devolved bodies.

Clauses 6 and 7 require more formal consultation on secondary legislation generally, and I welcome that. I can see great attractions in Clause 12 which would automatically cause any legislation not commenced within five years to lapse.

I am glad to see that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor is to reply to the Bill. Perhaps in so doing the noble and learned Lord would undertake to send me, and to lay before the House, a list of all enactments that would currently be caught by this provision.

A number of Bills that have come before your Lordships' House lately seek to address the question of improving scrutiny of European legislation. It is a serious problem, which has become far worse because of the uncritical acceptance of new European commitments by this Government since May 1997, which, taken together, bear down heavily on UK employers, particularly smaller businesses.

So I see great merit in requiring Ministers to consult Parliament on draft directives, long before such directives come to the point of a vote. I also find intriguing the prospect of an affirmative vote in both Houses being needed before a Minister could sign an undertaking. I wonder on how many occasions the noble Lords, Lord Bruce of Donington and Lord Stodart of Swindon, would be seen in the same lobby as this carelessly trusting Government. However, I recognise what my noble friend Lord Jopling said about sometimes needing to take decisions urgently and at short notice.

I very much like the proposals in Clause 10 which will need to be examined carefully in Committee. The clause strikes directly at the pernicious practice of "gold-plating", rife in departments of state, under governments of all colours. Time and again extra elements are grafted on to what purports to be Community-based legislation. Perhaps the noble and

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learned Lord will effect a response to this question--almost certainly by letter--as to which elements in legislation presented to the House since May 1997 have been "gold-plated" by government departments before they were introduced to Parliament.

Of course, I cannot deal with every aspect of my noble friend's Bill. Indeed, a difficulty of the Bill--when it comes to winning the attention that it deserves--is that it addresses so many fundamental questions so incisively. The proposition to give Parliament authority to examine the holders of key public offices prior to appointment--as is done in the United States--may seem a far-reaching one. My noble friend Lord Renton mentioned his opposition to that.

I believe that there is much to be said for the proposition. Perhaps the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor could indicate whether there are any circumstances in which the Government would consider proceedings such as those proposed by my noble friend and, if so, in which areas. I look forward to the response of the noble and learned Lord.

Part IV of the Bill has some deeply intriguing proposals as regards another place. Ministers in another place have been kind enough to send us some fairly questionable proposals for the alteration of this House, substantially without any consultation. It may be only equitable for my noble friend to send a fireship of this kind back down the corridor.

I have never hidden my view that the current House of Commons is large and unwieldy. The same could be said of the payroll in government. My noble friend proposes a limit of 400 eventually on the size of another place; a limit of 75 on the number of Ministers and a limit of 15 on the Members of the Cabinet. I believe that is extremely wise and that the proposal should receive widespread welcome. I particularly endorse the welcome given by my noble friend Lord Jopling.

I do not have a firm view on the suggestion of my noble friend that the practice of Cabinet Ministers having to fight a by-election when first appointed to the Cabinet should be revived. However, I understand that in 1964 Patrick Gordon-Walker lost his seat in Smethwick, was made Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, stood in the subsequent by-election in Leyton and lost. No doubt that is a lesson that the Government may wish to keep uppermost in their minds when responding to my noble friend.

Clause 20 addresses the shamefully unresolved West Lothian question, in the most direct way possible. Perhaps the noble and learned Lord would cast his mind on this proposal. Does he see it as an option for resolving this question and, if so, can we expect legislation from the Government on this matter? For our part, we do not believe that this issue can safely be ignored.

Part V of the Bill is perhaps the most unlikely, but it is also the most reasonable. It proposes asking the BBC to involve itself further in broadcasting our proceedings. I welcome that and I hope that the BBC will take up the proposal. I look forward to its progress.

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If the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor were to give a positive reply to many of the ideas proposed by my noble friend that would be greatly welcomed, not just in the House but more widely. This has been a useful debate and no doubt that is partly due to the lack of interference, or any contribution from the Liberal Democrat Party! I look forward to the reply of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. If the Bill is not enacted, my noble friend will not give up. If he survives the culling process, he will return, in the next Session, with a Bill that deals with some of these issues so that they can be fully debated again.

12.36 p.m.

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, anyone reading the opening words of the preamble to this remarkable Bill may be forgiven for forgetting which party was in power for 18 of the past 20 years. The preamble boldly intones:

    "Whereas the sovereignty of Parliament has been progressively diminished". I am sure that the noble Viscount, in his various roles as a government Back-Bencher in the other place, as someone who took voluntary retirement from there to be accelerated into this House because of the multiplicity of peerages which abound in his great family, and as someone who became Leader of this House, fought tirelessly from within that government to restore the sovereignty of Parliament and to reform the constitution. However, the right honourable gentleman, Kenneth Clarke, told a different story in the other place:

    "With hindsight, I believe that the Government of whom I was a member for so long were mistaken in becoming so immovable on the constitution. We should not have allowed ourselves to be put in a position where we seemed to be defending the constitution for every part of the United Kingdom as though it could never change".--[Official Report, Commons, 30/11/98; col. 577.] I must not fall into dangerous habits of mean spiritedness. I must not countenance the notion that this amazing Bill is the product of many flows of blood to the brain after good dinners in White's Club. No, I must welcome the passion, the zealotry, of the convert to the cause of constitutional reform. Only yesterday the noble Viscount welcomed me to the ranks of high Tories for my defence of the office that it is my privilege to occupy. I welcomed him to the ranks of the rationalists, which high Tories occasionally join, although usually by accident.

The preamble goes on to say that,

    "the obligation of governments to be held continuously to account by Parliament has been honoured more in the breach than in the observance, and the obligation of governments to remain accountable to the electorate through their representatives has in consequence declined". I expect that noble Lords who have served in another place will have many fond memories of being held to account. Few will forget how the electorate held the previous government terminally to account on 1st May 1997. Equally, there are among my noble friends in this House those who will also recall painfully being held to account by the other place on 28th March 1979, when the then Labour Government lost a confidence Motion there.

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This imaginative Bill contains a range of measures which the Government are already putting into effect without the need for legislation. The merits of other parts will no doubt be debated in detail in Committee.

The noble Viscount argued that Parliament generally, and the House of Commons in particular, ought to have been reformed before the composition of this House was addressed. He presented his Bill just before the House of Lords reform Bill was given a First Reading. Well, that is a battle long ago. The noble Viscount and I have been cutting deals for the transitional House, and nine-tenths of the hereditary peerage, to whose services and their forebears' services I have previously paid tribute, are already in the departure lounge from this House.

The Government have taken steps to achieve some of the purposes of the Bill. On primary legislation, we produced five draft Bills for pre-legislative scrutiny. A Joint Committee, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Burns, and referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, reported on the draft Financial Services and Markets Bill. It has now been introduced in another place. Another Joint Committee has been established to consider the draft Local Government (Organisation and Standards) Bill. A draft Bill on freedom of information is being considered by Select Committees in both Houses. The Government intend to produce more Bills in draft in future Sessions. This goes a considerable way to meeting the objectives of Clause 1 of the Bill. These measures are designed both to improve the quality of legislation and to provide an early parliamentary input into the legislative process.

From the start of this Session, fuller explanatory notes have been published with each government Bill. These provide much of the information sought in Clause 1 of this Bill. They also provide a detailed commentary on individual clauses. I believe that the development has been widely welcomed both within and outside Parliament, not least among lawyers. The noble Viscount's Bill sadly appears without explanatory notes, but that is because this imaginative Bill does not command the support of the Government.

I shall not be tempted by Clause 3 to weary the House with a reprise about constitutional Bills and referenda, but the Government have gone out of their way to ensure that the views of the electorate are taken into account in constitutional reform. The devolution settlements and the Greater London assembly plans have been endorsed in referenda. Any change in the electoral arrangements for the House of Commons, or adherence to the single currency, would also be subject to referenda.

No one who has had anything to do with the Pollution Prevention and Control Bill could be unaware of the concern in this House about delegation of powers, referred to in Clause 4. This Government pay close attention to the views of the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee and wherever possible seek to amend government Bills to meet its concerns. I did just that myself in the Access to Justice Bill in my positive response to every point made in the committee's report on that Bill.

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On parliamentary scrutiny of delegated legislation, the House will recall that we brought forward amendments to the Human Rights Bill to set a time-frame for parliamentary scrutiny of remedial orders. The number of sitting days involved in that procedure bears an uncanny resemblance to the periods listed in Clause 6 of this Bill. We are also consulting on an extension of the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994. The procedures in both Houses for deregulation orders under that Act arguably provide better parliamentary scrutiny than Bills or other statutory instruments receive in either House.

The Government have already carried out their manifesto commitment to overhaul scrutiny procedures for European Union documents. Scrutiny procedures have been extended to cover the second and third pillars of the Maastricht Treaty. The scrutiny reserve has been expanded to include European Council decisions. Clauses 8 and 10 would take us further. No doubt we shall discuss in Committee how they would work in practice.

The Government have been active in extending the principles set out by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Nolan, and his Committee on Standards in Public Life, for public appointments. It is a tribute to him to know that "Nolanisation" has entered the Whitehall argot as prescribing that all appointments are to be made on merit. That is something on which I have always insisted for judicial appointments: merit--not social balance, opinion balance, gender balance, or any other kinds of balance. Merit must rule.

The Committee on Standards in Public Life considered whether Parliament should be given a role in the process of making public appointments, which is the effect of Clause 14, but concluded against. The system in the United States shows the potential pitfalls of appointments being delayed and politicised, and of good candidates being deterred from applying. The noble Lord knows that I would have no truck here with the confirmation hearings in the US before Supreme Court justices are appointed. Once appointments have been made, of course, Parliament has considerable powers to hold office holders to account, but subject, in the case of the judges, to the important constitutional convention of judicial independence.

In March, the Government published a White Paper Modernising Government. This set out plans for continuous improvement in central government, including greater use of new technology and a commitment to delivering services which are of high quality and efficient. We have also set up a performance and innovation unit within the Cabinet Office, designed to improve the capacity of government to identify and address strategic, cross-cutting issues and to promote innovation. I think the House will find that these measures, along with the public service agreements, the Government's annual report, annual departmental reports and the output measures involved in resource accounting, will go a long way to meeting the aims of Clauses 15 and 16.

The Scotland Act 1998 already provides for a modest reduction in the size of the House of Commons, but not on the scale envisaged in Clause 17 of the Bill. As

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someone who has not sat in the other place--unlike the noble Viscount--it is difficult for me to judge how reducing the number of MPs--and therefore increasing the number of constituents each represents--will affect the workload of MPs. But I say this: if we had a Bill before us calling for a reduction in the number of judges but an increase in access to justice, some of your Lordships might spot a problem. Clause 18 of the Bill seeks a reduction in the number of Ministers and an increase in accountability to Parliament. I suspect that any reduction in the number of Ministers would not improve accountability, and certainly not in this House. As the Minister responsible for a department of state which feels rather under-resourced with Ministers, I have difficulty in being persuaded by the noble Viscount's proposition.

Clause 19 is surely the most entertaining in this enjoyable Bill. No doubt we all want our Prime Ministers to have maximum flexibility in composing their Cabinet. No doubt we all want to see young blood brought on, although preferably not at the expense of our own seats in Cabinet. But, as I understand the clause, first-time appointees to the Cabinet would have to give up their seats in the other place to fight a by-election. Is it to allow their constituency to judge their suitability for Cabinet rank? I don't know. Or is it to allow the electors to express interim assessments of government performance every time someone enters the Cabinet for the first time? I rather think that it might lead to some Cabinet Ministers remaining in office perhaps for a little longer than might be in the public interest.

Then, in this Bill's breathless canter across our constitutional affairs, we come to the crescendo: Clause 20, the West Lothian question. Now that we have devolution up and running, I think the best thing to do about the West Lothian question is to stop asking it. More or less the same question was addressed in the two failed home rule Bills for Ireland of 1886 and 1893. In the first, Irish Members were excluded from the Westminster Parliament. After many months of argument they were brought back in, but for imperial purposes only. That also became part of the 1893 Bill. But the distinction between what was, and was not, an imperial question proved so impossible to define that, at Committee stage, the Government changed their mind yet again and left it that the Irish Members could vote on anything.

So that is the historic precedent for my proposition that the best thing to do about the West Lothian question is to stop asking it. But the West Lothian question never really was a question any way. It was a challenge: "You can't answer this one; and therefore you can't have devolution." For myself, I regard the so-called West Lothian question as addressing what is a consequence of devolution. We do not want two classes of MPs. A modest price to pay for the maintenance of the Union is to have the wit and wisdom of the Scots inform the legislative counsels of the English nation. On careful reflection, I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, will agree.

So I fear that we cannot support the Bill. However, the thanks of your Lordships' House are due to the noble

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Viscount for enlivening this already sunny Friday morning, although he cast a cloud over my Thursday evening when my noble friend Lord Carter made a late request to me to stand in for him--but, of course, it has all been worth it in the end. I fear that this Bill will not reach the statute book, but it will certainly add to the gaiety of the nation.

12.51 p.m.

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I am enormously grateful to noble Lords who have taken part in what, rather to my surprise, I found to be an extraordinarily enjoyable morning. In particular, I am delighted that I contributed to lightening the noble and learned Lord's day. However, I must say that I cannot help feeling that this entire debate has been justified for one reason only in that it has provided us with a revelation about the true nature of the noble and learned Lord, which was not only "laid" before your Lordships' House yesterday but also today. In his closing remarks, when discussing Clause 21 of the Bill, the noble and learned Lord revealed himself to be one of what we had always suspected the Caledonian members of this Government to be: Scottish supremacists. I think that the English section of the country has been warned that the reverse takeover by the Scots of the United Kingdom is not only in full flow but is now irreversible.

I enjoyed the contribution of the noble and learned Lord and I take a little comfort at least from the modest amount of support that he gave to the spirit behind some parts of my Bill. However--dare I say it?--he did commit one error. As I listened to the noble and learned Lord, he seemed to imply that he thought we could trust the Government to carry out those parts of this legislation with which they agreed. I say this knowing that the noble and learned Lord is probably the most trustworthy member of this Government; and I speak from personal experience. But I do not feel that I would say to him that Parliament exists to trust the Government. That is why it seems to me that legislation might be required, even for those parts with which the Government agree.

I am delighted that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, and my noble friends Lord Renton and Lord Norton agree with substantial parts of the Bill. Indeed, rather more than I dared to hope, your Lordships have, in principle, supported large parts of what I propose. For the reasons given, I firmly support the idea that we should look at ways in which we could make secondary legislation amendable.

On the matter of appointments, I am all too aware of the horrors experienced by candidates for membership of the Supreme Court in the United States, and of the appalling inequity visited on one of them in particular. However, because of the incorporation of the ECHR, judges will now be increasingly called upon to make

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political judgments in a way that they have not been called upon to do hitherto. Those political judgments are bound to drag judges increasingly into the political forum. It was for that reason that I was highly sceptical as a non-lawyer about the good sense of incorporating the ECHR. If judges are to become political, I fear that, as a consequence, we shall need to know a little bit more about them before they are appointed. If we were to disincorporate, I should be the first to advocate that judges should certainly not be examined in that way.

I should tell my noble friend Lord Renton that I drafted Clause 5 as a tribute to him. His contribution in this area over many decades is, I am glad to say, very much recognised by the House. In so far as progress has been made, it is to him and to the late Lord Rippon that we ought to pay most generous tribute.

I should like briefly to mention part of the contribution of my noble friend Lord Norton. As he is such a great constitutional expert, I was pleased that he agreed with parts of my Bill. I was also very touched that my noble friend Lord Jopling does not resent too much the often absurd way I behaved to him when I was one of his very junior Back-Benchers and he was the great and august Chief Whip. I am grateful to him for that. However, I should like to say to both my noble friends that I should very much prefer to take these reforms together. The reason that I propose we should stagger them is that, unless we do so, it seems to me that it will be very difficult to persuade Members of another place to vote in large numbers for their own demise. Nevertheless, if my noble friends can find a better way of doing this, I shall be only to delighted to listen to them in Committee.

As far as concerns referendums, I instinctively agree with my noble friend Lord Norton. But, as long as we do not indulge as the Government do--this is where I disagree with the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor--in pre-legislative referendums, which seem to me to be a constitutional outrage, as pointed out by my noble friend Lord Strathclyde, we shall be faced with a number of very great, fundamental changes which are inevitably irreversible. It seems at least right that such matters as EMU and devolution should be submitted to the judgment of the electorate, but only when it has had the opportunity to see what Parliament has decided and Parliament's own discussion of such matters has not been emasculated by pre-legislative referendums, in the way that the Government did in the first Session of this Parliament.

I should also like to say how much I agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Hankey, about the importance of visibility. I hope that we may return to the matter of the numbers in another place. If we are lucky enough to have a Committee stage for this Bill, perhaps I shall be able to cross respectful swords with the noble Lord, Lord Monson. As I said, I am most grateful for the contribution of all speakers on a warm Friday morning. I reiterate my thanks to all noble Lords who have taken part. I commend the Bill to the House.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

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