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Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, what is the Procedure Committee if it is not what the noble Lord has just described?

Lord Carter: My Lords, the Procedure Committee would not be appropriate. That committee deals with the fine detail of procedure as we go along. I believe that we are here considering a separate brief to improve the general workings of the House. It would deal with legislation, the sittings of the House and many other subjects. Interestingly, the Leader's Groups that were set up, such as the Jellicoe committee, the Rippon committee, the Hilton committee and so forth, were not--

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord again, but does not the fact that we are debating yet again these matters demonstrate that those previous groups were, in fact, not successful? It would be far better to have a permanent, standing committee like the Procedure Committee, which debates these issues on a regular basis during the course of the year.

Lord Carter: My Lords, I certainly agree that there should be a permanent, standing committee. However, I am not sure that the Procedure Committee, as presently constituted, is the right committee for the task. This is a point that should be discussed through the usual channels.

In the meantime, there are plenty of strategies that already exist and are set down in the Companion which we could use if we so wished. If we choose to do so, we can already make use of Grand Committees, Public Bill committees, special Public Bill committees and Select Committees on Bills after Second Reading. I should be more than happy to experiment further during the course of this Session to see whether the use of those committees can improve our ways of working. The 10 Peers who worked here until twenty minutes to two this morning might feel particularly disposed to support that proposal.

Again, if the House wishes, I shall be happy to reinvigorate discussions with the usual channels on this subject to see whether there is a will to make more use of procedures already available to us which would not need any further investigation before being brought into use.

It is something of a paradox that this House is justly proud of the expertise and experience that noble Lords bring to its deliberations. But our ways of working may in fact make it more difficult for noble Lords to carry on the outside activities that provide the basis for that expertise and experience. My noble friend Lord Peston has performed a signal service to the House by initiating this debate. We must ensure that we do not miss this opportunity for sensible, balanced and agreed change.

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8.14 p.m.

Lord Peston: My Lords, remaining in statesmanlike mode, facing my noble friend Lord Barnett, and expressing extreme gratitude to my noble friend Lord Longford for referring to me as a "younger Peer" because I still have a full head of hair, my main task now is to thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate and have made such excellent speeches. Incidentally, it goes to show that even with a time limit of six minutes it is still possible to make a very good speech indeed.

One thing I hate is talk and no action. As I understand from the remarks of my noble friends the Lord Privy Seal and the Chief Whip, the Government are disposed to do something. I hope I correctly interpreted the Liberal Democrats as saying that they, too, would co-operate in moves for change. I was a little worried by the Opposition Chief Whip when he expressed a desire not to be seduced by my sweet reasonableness. I have heard rejection of my sweet reasonableness on previous occasions, but I hope that in principle the Opposition would also co-operate with an attempt to move forward practically so that our House can do its job better. That, I hope, was something on which we all agreed.

I thank all noble Lords and beg to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

Register of Lords' Interests

8.15 p.m.

Lord Rees-Mogg rose to move to resolve, That the House asserts its responsibility for the conduct of its own affairs and that the sub-committee of the Committee for Privileges should investigate the effectiveness of the House of Lords' Register of Interests.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am not addressing this matter as an ordinary piece of day-to-day business, but as a question of the constitutional sovereignty of this House. It has much wider significance than the immediate issue of the Neill committee or the Register of Interests. I am glad to see that the first part of my Motion, which reasserts the responsibility of this House for handling its own affairs, is effectively reaffirmed in the amendment proposed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell.

This principle is important not only to us, but to the other place as well. It is also essential to the independence of the judiciary, which reaches its summit in the Lords of Appeal. The Scottish Parliament was, I think, a sovereign body down to 1707. It is now a statutory, subordinate legislature. I think that they, too, will soon be claiming back the status that we already enjoy.

Tonight we have the opportunity to renew precedents which were considered by Lord Coleridge in 1884 in the famous constitutional case of Bradlaugh

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v. Gossett. Lord Coleridge, a great Lord Chief Justice who had been Gladstone's Attorney-General, summed up the constitutional doctrine:


    "The jurisdiction of the Houses over their own numbers, their right to impose discipline within their walls, is absolute and exclusive".

Earlier cases trace that doctrine back to the earliest days of the British Parliament. It has always been regarded as an inherent part of parliamentary sovereignty.

Why is this so important? It protects both Houses of Parliament from arbitrary acts by the executive; paradoxically it also protects the other place from us. If each House of Parliament does not have its own absolute responsibility for its own discipline, then its disciplinary decisions can be taken to the courts. On ultimate appeal they would come to the House of Lords. In 1884 Lord Coleridge was protecting the other place from a potential appeal on a point of law to your Lordships' House.

Some people think that 1884 is a long time ago, but precedents can weaken through disuse. My Motion tonight, even if it should be amended, will put the matter beyond doubt for this new century.

That is the less contentious but more important part of my Motion. The more contentious part is that we should do the job to reform ourselves through our own committee structures and that we do not need to call in the Neill committee to do it for us. I should like to express my admiration for my noble friend Lord Neill of Bladen. This is not a criticism of him; I simply believe that we do not need his committee to do a job we ought to do for ourselves.

I am a self-reformer, on four grounds. First, I believe that we know the needs and circumstances of this House better than any outsiders can. Secondly, I believe that we undermine our independence if we bring in an outside body to do our job for us. Thirdly, the Neill--or previously the Nolan--committee, has been a constitutional anomaly from its first creation. Fourthly, the independence of this House is the eggshell which defends the infinitely valuable yolk of the independence of the judiciary. Before the executive can lean on the judges, as happens in many countries even today, it has to lean on us.

I remind the House that the Nolan committee was not established as a statutory body, as it could have been; nor has it ever been the subject of an affirmative resolution by either House, let alone both. It was established in October 1994 by the mere statement of a previous Prime Minister and has implicitly been maintained by the present one. It is an independent and cross-party committee, but it was set up by a Prime Minister and reports to the Prime Minister. It is paid for out of public funds. If it has any constitutional basis, it comes from an act of pure prerogative on the advice of the Prime Minister.

Of course, the prerogative power of the executive can establish a committee, just as it can send an army abroad. But the executive has no more right to tell us what to do in this House than King Charles I had the right to search the Palace of Westminster for the six Members. The executive has no more right to send a

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committee here without our consent than to do what Cromwell did, and send an army here. Our independence and the independence of the judiciary always need to be guarded against the presumption of the executive, just as in the United States the independence of the Senate and Supreme Court need to be protected from the power of the President.

It is the fourth point--the independence of the judiciary--which matters most. After the Griffiths committee, a committee of this House, had recommended the creation of a voluntary register (which has, in fact, so far led to no complaints) the Lords of Appeal decided that the independence and different situation of the judiciary required that they should none of them register an interest on that register. Now the Neill committee, an outside body which has great legal but not judicial experience, may be called in; it may recommend a compulsory register.

Probably the rules covering the whole judiciary should be reviewed, but the Lords of Appeal must be involved in the process, not merely consulted. The declaration of interest appropriate for a Peer speaking in a debate and a judge trying a case are not necessarily the same. The judges should make their own rules.

We are on the edge of having a de facto Supreme Court to consider human rights claims. It would be quite wrong to ask a committee established by the executive, with no judicial membership, to lay down the rules for the new judiciary. We should be moving towards a clearer separation of constitutional powers, not away from it.

This evening's earlier and excellent debate--for which I join my thanks with those of others to the noble Lord, Lord Peston--showed how many Members are concerned about the future development of this House. I fully share that feeling. I am a reformer, but I am a self-reformer. It is consistent with our historic independence and our historic responsibility that we should do the job ourselves, subject only to statute. In the case of the Neill committee there is no statutory basis whatever.

There will be great further changes in the composition and perhaps in the functions of your Lordships' House in the coming years. Perhaps the Law Lords, whom we so greatly value, will become a separate body; a free-standing Supreme Court. Some people regard that as inevitable. We ourselves have elected Members. But whatever happens, we should not compromise the independence or the sovereignty of this House, or our exclusive right and duty to reform our own disciplines. That would betray the future, whatever it may prove to be.

I beg to move.

Moved to resolve, That the House asserts its responsibility for the conduct of its own affairs and that the sub-committee of the Committee for Privileges should investigate the effectiveness of the House of Lords' Register of Interests.--(Lord Rees-Mogg.)

8.25 p.m.

Lord Archer of Sandwell rose to move, as an amendment to the above Motion, to leave out from

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"House" to the end and insert "welcomes the enquiry into Standards of Conduct in the House of Lords by the Committee of Standards in Public Life, and asserts the House's ultimate responsibility for the conduct of its own affairs".

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Rees-Mogg, moved his Motion in a typically moderate and constructive way. He has helped to define what lies between us and I believe that he has enabled me to discard the habits of a lifetime and to make my contribution a relatively brief one.

It may assist your Lordships, and perhaps reassure the noble Lord, Lord Rees-Mogg, if I begin by attempting to clarify what is not in issue in this debate. The major premise of the argument which the noble Lord has just deployed is common ground. Indeed, it is expressly included, as he said, in my amendment. One of the privileges of Parliament is the right of each House to regulate its own affairs--what is usually referred to as the privilege of exclusive cognisance. That is not in question. As the noble Lord reminded us, it was reiterated in 1884--I emphasise "reiterated"--rather than established, in the case of Bradlaugh v. Gossett. But it goes back much further than that. If it will assist the noble Lord, it was established in relation to your Lordships' House in 1677 in the case of Lord Shaftsbury (reported in Volume 1 of the Modern Reports).


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