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Lord Renton: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble and learned Lord for giving way. Surely, if the will of the people can be expressed by electing Members to the House of Commons, why should there be any kind of duplication by there also being people elected to your Lordships' House?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, it is quite simple: because they are doing different jobs of work. If we want the House of Lords to do a completely different job of work, or an associated series of different jobs of work, there is no earthly reason why we should not have an elected component. That is not duplication, because they would be doing completely different things.
I am afraid that I have only eight minutes left, and I want to develop a particular theme. I personally believe that we should strengthen the way in which this House works. The Leader's Group has met; a questionnaire is winging its way to your Lordships to ask for your views about the future. Perhaps I can deal with one or two of the issues. One of the most effective ways in which this House challenges the GovernmentMinisters in particularis Question Time. We have four Questions lasting 30 minutes. I have offeredI have not told my colleagues thisthat Question Time should be extended from 30 minutes to 45, so that we might have six Questions on any one day. I have offered that we should have Questions on Fridays. I have offered that we should have a Leader's Question Time. Your Lordships may not be interested in those proposals, but it cannot be said that I am afraid of scrutiny, nor that I have not offered it.
It is a legitimate question in that context to ask whether, if we want an effective Official Opposition and an effective Liberal Democrat Opposition, they are properly resourced for research purposes. That means money. I have asked the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, to submit written proposals about that.
I hope that those are regarded as earnests of the fact that my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor and I believe in strengthening this House, although we do not think that the parroting of the cry for an elected House is the only remedy. We do not believe that that will bring about the outcome that we want. Both of us recognise that we are only trustees of our duties in this place for the momentseveral moments, I must say,
I hope that this does not sound heretical. We are in danger of becoming obsessed with our composition. It is always a topic of enormous interest to all of us, and we always get a full House when we discuss ourselves. My suggestionput only for your Lordships' considerationis that we should not become obsessively over-focused on composition. The way in which we work and discharge our duties may be even more important; it is certainly as important.
Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, does the Leader of the House accept that we on these Benches recognise that he and the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor have endeavoured to be as helpful as possible in this House and to suggest ways in which it might be improved? Is he willing to recognise that that is nothing to do with the White Paper and that our great objection to the White Paper is that it fails to recognise the way in which the public now expect the House to be more legitimate and more democratic than it is at present?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am afraid that the noble Baroness was not present, but, on many occasions, a large number of your Lordships pointed out, quite rightly, to the Lord Chancellor and me that we had been rather sketchy about methods of working in the White Paper. The noble Baroness was not hereI am not complaining about thatbut I am dealing with points that were raised in depth, with scruple and with point and purpose by several noble Lords. That is why I am dealing with that.
I promised that I would come to the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Denham. Interest in the matter was not just limited to him: the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, and the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater, asked similar questions. With his unfailing courtesy, the noble Lord, Lord Denham, wrote to me saying that he would raise this question. He also kindly said yesterday that we had had a lengthy conversation last year.
The noble Lord quoted some remarks that were made by my noble friend Lady Jay and me. I am clear in my mind that we have not resiled from any commitment, but it is for the House to judge. The right thing for me to do is to put in the Library all the documents that I believe to be relevant to the question of what undertaking was given, whether it was a Joint Committee on composition, as some believe, or a Joint Committee on the parliamentary aspects, as others believe. I do not wish to put documents in the Library selectively, so I am more than happy, to be fair, to put
Lord Denham: My Lords, as I said in my speech, we all understood it as an undertaking from the Dispatch Box that would be honoured. During the whole of the passage of the House of Lords Bill, there was never, to my knowledge, any suggestion that there should be a limitation on the work of the Joint Committee.
A large number of Members of this House feel that they have been given a commitment and that that commitment has not been honoured. If the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House is content for the House to feel that he has reneged on this, I do not think that that is a good idea for the House at all.
I hope that he will honour the commitment now. In the early days, no one ever explained to the House, in the three Statements which were made or during the passage of the House of Lords Bill, that there were going to be limitations. That was done only the moment the Bill was on the statute book. I feel myself that the House has been very shabbily treated.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, what the noble Lord, Lord Denham, has done in his citation is to underline exactly my point; that it is just as well to look at the documents. The phrase that the noble Lord put to me was "the parliamentary implications". We have been perfectly content to have a Joint Committee on the parliamentary aspectsthe parliamentary implicationsand we were not able to agree with the relevant parties on the terms of reference.
If that Joint Committee of the kind I have mentioned is wanted and we can agree on terms of reference, I am perfectly happy to use my best endeavours to have it set up. But I think it is very important, before an accusation of reneging is made, that one should actually consider what was said, look at Hansard, and see the parliamentary Answers and any other documents which the noble Lord, Lord Denham, wants to put in the bundle.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, whether or not the noble and learned Lord feels that a commitment has been reneged on, and he is an honourable man, given the tone of the debate we have had these past two days and of that which took place in another place today, the Government's policy is clearly in tatters. Purely on the merits of a Joint Committee of both Houses, would it not be an extremely good idea now to set one up?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, before I accused anyone of having a policy in tatters I think I would be inclined to get a policy. However, as your Lordships are fond of saying, as I said at the beginning of these remarksbrief as they arewe will reflect on everything that has been put to us. Plainly, if the noble Lord puts that to us and if we see any practical virtue in it, of course the Lord Chancellor and I will reflect upon it.
Indeed, I was about to say when I was invited to give way that I would like to reflect very carefully on what was said by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford. I think we may agree that his purpose and mine are the same but that it is a question of how we get there. I thought that his speechif I may say so without appearing presumptuouswas extremely powerful. The Lord Chancellor and I would like to look at it and perhaps have informal conversations with him to see whether we can get an agreed journey towards the outcome that we want. The White Paper makes it plain that we value the contribution that the Bishops make. We agree with the Royal Commission that there ought to be a wider representationor it may be reflectionof other faith groups.
This has been a very long debate. I hope that we can move forward. One or two of the questions are not of headline-grabbing urgency but they are extremely important. Perhaps I can deal with them briefly. I am overrunning my time but I have given way on several occasions.
Pre-legislative scrutiny is a significant key to doing our work better. In a sense, I do not call it "calling the Government to account". I would prefer to describe it as "discharging our duty to get the best legislative product we can on any given topic". Whereas we may disagree on the principle of legislation, we ought at least to deliver as finely honed a piece of work as possible.
Our debate has been exceptionally good natured; it has been a privilege to listen to your Lordships' different views and different experience. Most of your Lordships believe that it is now time for the hereditary element to go. It is difficult to justify the continued attendance of hereditary Peers, however many there may be. That is not to say that we diminish the work that they have done. In many ways it has been sterling work. Without presumption, those hereditary Peers who remained did not cease from their efforts in doing what they could in the service of the House.
Other than those remarks, and the fact that no one seems enormously pleased with what we have produced, there seems to be no unanimity. I am about to finish because it is very late, but I shall go back to what my noble and learned friend said at the beginning of his introduction. If we can reach consensus, recognising that that must mean compromise, we should prefer it because we want to equip the House to do its duty. One aspect of that is composition and the other, which is much more long lasting and of substance and significance, is the way in which we do our work.
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