Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Dean of Harptree: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for giving way. Perhaps I may tempt him a little further. If the Royal Commission were to suggest that there should be some changes, would the Government then be prepared to have the House consider the matter?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, the appropriate course is that the report of the Royal Commission should be published, a joint committee should be set up and then the House must consider what is the best method by which the House debates the contents of the commission's report.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, what the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, says or does not say may

7 Dec 1999 : Column 1266

be interesting. But does the noble and learned Lord accept that this House is the master of its own procedures? It is for us, not for Wakeham.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton : My Lords, I respectfully submit that the right approach is for this House to wait for the report from the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham. He is seeking to see the role of this House in a wider context rather than simply what the House believes is the right position in relation to its powers. One of the important powers of this House is in relation to delegated legislation. Rather than asserting that the House is master of its own procedure come what may, it may be more prudent to wait for the findings of the Royal Commission. That sets out the basic position.

During the course of the debate there has been a suggestion that the convention does not exist. Even the noble Earl, Lord Russell, in his acceptance of the need for an amendment to the Parliament Act, acknowledges that there is something there.

As one would expect, the most eloquent description of the convention came from the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, in the debate introduced by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, in 1994. Much reliance has been placed on the Motion that was passed then; namely,

    "That this House affirms its unfettered freedom to vote on any subordinate legislation submitted for its consideration".

The noble Viscount immediately agreed that that was the case. He went on to say:

    "As noble Lords know better than I, this House has very broad powers: indeed there are very few formal constraints. The manner in which the House chooses to exercise such powers is crucial. We all know that the proceedings of the House depend in large part on a foundation of agreement as to what is and what is not an appropriate course to pursue. The House could not function so effectively without such consensus--that is, without general agreement to observe the various conventions which regulate our activities".--[Official Report, 20/10/94; col. 360.]

He said later in the same speech, at col. 361,

    "One such convention is certainly what we are discussing today; namely, that although noble Lords have the right to do so, they do not vote directly on subordinate legislation".

That is the basis on which the noble Viscount indicated that the then Conservative government would not oppose the Motion introduced by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale. The noble Viscount indicated that we accept the Motion, but on the basis that there is a convention that says that we do not vote against subsidiary legislation.

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I am conscious of the time, and was therefore biting my tongue, as I have been throughout the noble and learned Lord's speech. As he has deliberately trailed his coat, I wonder whether he will accept that there is widespread concern, increasingly widely expressed, about the volume of secondary legislation coming from governments of both parties over the past decade or so in particular. Does he further accept that any government would be unwise not to take account of that concern and at least make a nod in the direction of it by agreeing that the matter deserves consideration--particularly since it is at least conceivable, in spite of

7 Dec 1999 : Column 1267

what the Government have repeatedly said, that another place might not feel disposed to accept the recommendations of my noble friend Lord Wakeham and that, therefore, the transitional House may last rather longer than even he or I might like?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, there is a great volume of secondary legislation. Another place is considering, through various committees, the most effective way to deal with it. What is clear, both from the content of speeches in this debate and from what I am saying, is that there is effectively a convention that we should not reject secondary legislation in this House. There is broad acceptance of that. The reason is that it is not right to reject the views of the other place. We are wrong at this stage to seek to break with that convention. We must wait for the findings of the Royal Commission. There are separate issues about how the volume of secondary legislation is dealt with. I am glad to say that to some extent that matter is being addressed by the other place.

Like the noble Viscount, I am conscious of the time. Perhaps I may deal with some further points. First, the passage of the House of Lords Act 1999 does not change the position in relation to the convention. It does not make the House any more democratic than before. The House remains a nominated Chamber that should not take on the other place, as it were. Secondly, the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, said that because people were members of political parties, those parties controlled too much of what went on in the other place. It is plain that a party label is very much a sine qua non to election to the other place, but that is a decision which has been made by the electorate for many years. There was a time when Members were more independent of parties. But it is up to the electorate whether it prefers people who represent particular parties.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: My Lords, it is late and I apologise to noble Lords. I refer to the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, which the Royal Commission has never considered. I do not speak from her experience. The worry expressed from all sides, which I rather hoped the Minister would address, is about the nature of the change with which the noble Baroness was intimately concerned. I rise to my feet even at this late stage in the hope that the noble and learned Lord will comment on the noble Baroness's concern for the whole of democracy.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I shall do so in my third point. The noble Baroness expressed concern about the great weight of legislation, late amendments and the inadequate opportunity to consider until a late stage the detail of those amendments. Plainly, all governments would deprecate any process whereby the ability of both Houses to consider legislation was in any way limited. Whether there needs to be a change in the way that this House considers legislation because of matters of that kind is one of the aspects that the Royal Commission under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord

7 Dec 1999 : Column 1268

Wakeham, will investigate. It is nothing to do with the 1999 Act or the fact that there is a lower Conservative majority than in the past. It would be wrong in those circumstances for noble Lords to make any change to the practices of this House until the results of the Royal Commission's recommendations are implemented.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I fully understand the noble and learned Lord's point about the need to see what the Royal Commission recommends. But I shall be grateful if the noble and learned Lord can give an indication that in his view the checks and balances that now apply to the executive in the United Kingdom--I do not refer to a specific time or a specific government--have been considerably weakened over the years and that that issue may at some time be required to be addressed urgently.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, to ask whether I believe that overall the checks and balances are inadequate goes far beyond the scope of the Unstarred Question. We are talking about the extent to which this House should restore to itself the power to reject secondary legislation. I believe that at this stage the right course is to continue as we have in the past, wait to see what the Royal Commission recommends and then consider it. I believe that that is the sensible way to deal with it.

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I apologise for further delaying the matter. It is at least conceivable that there may be some delay before the recommendations of the Royal Commission, whatever they may be, are implemented. During that time governments will continue to legislate in a way that has proved to be unacceptable to Members of this House. The noble and learned Lord takes a position rather like that of St Augustine:

    "Give me chastity ... but not yet".

Just in case some time elapses before the recommendations are implemented, will the noble and learned Lord give an undertaking that in that event he will depart from the principle that he has just set out and will be prepared to commit the Government at least to considering a mechanism within a short time after the publication of my noble friend's report?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, the reason the House adopted particular conventions--in particular the convention about delegated legislation--was because it took the view--rightly--that it would be wrong to take on the other place. Before we decide what we should do about any of that, surely we should look to the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham. The opportunity will be given to debate the report of Lord Wakeham and his Royal Commission and then, in relation to that, we will decide the appropriate course.

It would be quite wrong for me to give the undertaking the noble Viscount seeks. We have not got to the stage where we have seen the Royal Commission report; we have not got to the stage where we know the Government's reaction to it; and we have not got to the

7 Dec 1999 : Column 1269

stage where this House has had an opportunity to debate its findings. That must be of relevance when the Royal Commission report is to include a part relating to what it thinks the power and reaction of this House should be to delegated legislation.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page