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Lord Dean of Harptree: My Lords, I welcome four of the recommendations in the report: first, the proposal to enable the knowledge and experience of finance in your Lordships' House to be used more effectively; secondly, the proposal for the new Select Committee to examine the merits of statutory instruments where we are clearly defective at the present moment; thirdly, the extension of starred questions; and. fourthly, more Wednesday debates. I have no time to elaborate in the time available on those four points.
I now turn to some criticisms. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Privy Seal is noted for his vivid phrases. He told us at the beginning of the debate that he wanted this House to have a louder bark and sharper teeth. There are at least two recommendations in this report where the bark will be muted and the teeth blunt. The first criticism is the 10 o'clock cut off point where no new items of business could be taken after that time. That is the "office hours" mentality that has infected another place and which is wholly inappropriate to us. On occasion, the only effective weapon that the Opposition of the day have is talk. They must use powerful arguments and many voices to try to persuade the Government of the day that they are wrong and, if that fails, to try to defeat the Government. A 10 o'clock cut-off point would make it easier for the Government of the day and more difficult for the Oppositionnot provide a louder bark or sharper teeth.
So as well as making life easier for the Government, carry-over would deprive the Opposition of the day of one of their most powerful weapons. What about the implications for the Parliament Acts? That will take us into difficult and controversial territory. It will be handed to the Procedure Committee to advise us. That is difficult country, and I should hate to see us embarking on it. Good government needs a stronger, not a weaker Parliament. Again, as the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House said, we need a louder bark and sharper teeth.
I am sorry to be so critical of the report produced by noble Lords from all parts of the House who are highly respected in all parts of the HouseI hope that I can say that without appearing patronisingincluding my noble friend Lord Strathclyde, the leader of the Conservative Party. I hope that he will still talk to me after this debate. But on occasionsnot too often, I hopethe time comes when some of us on the Back Benches feel impelled to speak out. For me, this is such a time.
Lord Peston: My Lords, I have sat through the whole of the debate getting more and more depressed. Indeed, I was in a black mood until my noble friend Lady Gould of Potternewton spoke and told us what she believed was the average age of your Lordships' House72. That cheered me up enormously because it would have meant that I am still one of the younger Peers. However, I have since been informed that she got her facts slightly wrong and that the average age is 67, so I am no longer one of the younger Peers. I therefore revert to my gloom.
Anyone who has been a member of your Lordships' House for as long as I havemany Peers have been here longeris aware of what I have called in my notes the slow pace of change. The correct expression is the zero pace of change. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, gave the game away rather beautifully when he said that we have had these ways of proceeding for hundreds of years and do not need any changes; we are perfectly all right. I am surprised at that.
I suppose that if the noble Lord had been aroundas he is an hereditary Peer, perhaps his father was aroundwhen that great man, Harold Macmillan, introduced the Life Peerages Act 1958, he would have said, "What? We do not need any life Peers; we are perfectly happy with hereditary Peers. What? A
The fact is that there are Peers who simply do not want any change. Some of my noble friends referred to the debate that I introduced on the subject. If I remember rightly, every single Peer who spoke proposed changes. No one said that it was all OK. One would have thoughtand here I follow the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, who also gave the game awaythat the Procedure Committee on which he is so keen would have met and said, "Well, there has been this debate in your Lordships' House in which everyone said that they wanted things to move forward. We are called the Procedure Committee, which means that we ought to give some thought to that and do something". I must tell noble Lords that at no point did any member of the Procedure Committee come to me to say, "I hear that you introduced this debate. How should we proceed?"
The point is that to go down the route of the Procedure Committee is again to go down the road of no change. The great benefit of the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Denham, which I hope that he will press to a vote, is that it will divide the House between those of us who want to move forward on the basis of rational change and those who want no change whatever. My noble and learned friend the Leader of the House has been far too generous. He is the Leader of the House, the Lord Privy Seal. In my judgment, despite some personal remarks that have been made about him, he carries great authority. I am staggered that instead of saying, "Do it!", he is merely saying, "Take note and let us give it to this ridiculous committee".
I can hardly find any language in which to respond to the absurd notion that, after all these yearsI have been here 15 yearswe are steaming ahead by telling the committee that it might come back to us by 8th July. One knows why the Conservative Party is called the Conservative Party and why it is in the mess that it is if it thinks that this place is steaming ahead in some way or other.
We all have views on what changes we would like and what are our priorities. As your Lordships know, I could detain your Lordships for a long time with various ideas, but I hasten to add that I have no intention of doing so. Instead, my general position is that this is a remarkable report both because of its unanimity and because of its reasonable content. As I said, it provides nowhere near all that I would want, but I shall certainly vote in favour of it. In particular, it takes us towards our ultimate functionwhich, I am convinced, is to be a dispassionate, genuine scrutinising Chamber based on a combination of
One aspect of the report, however, amazes me. We have been told that the report is balanced between the various interests in your Lordships' House. I find that difficult to accept. There is a bias in the report, and it is a bias entirely in favour of the Opposition and against the Government. Indeed, I am amazed that my noble friend the Chief Whip, on being told of the contents of the report, did not simply storm in to my noble and learned friend and say, "You have got to be joking! You have simply made my job completely impossible."
Lord Peston: My Lords, the idea that the report makes life easier for the Government is incredible. The 10 o'clock finishing time means that the Government have to accept more amendments to get their business through. They must respond in an entirely reasonable way when confronted with reasonable arguments from the other side. My noble friend the Chief Whip cannot threaten those of usincluding, I regret to say, mewho occasionally make trouble for the Government by saying, "You make any more trouble and I will keep you here all night". He will have to find more days on which we can all make trouble. I cannot see where noble Lords have got the idea that it is a way of strengthening the Government and weakening the Opposition.
I have one last comment to make. I hope that it is a correct interpretation of the substantive Motion to say that the Procedure Committee is not being asked to respond on substance. I interpret the Motion as asking the Procedure Committee to respond on the practicalities of anything in the report that looks good but, on reflection, poses difficulties. It is not part of the Procedure Committee's remit to come up with changes that differ totally from what is in the report. I would regard thatto echo the remarks of, I think, the noble Lord, Lord Denhamas the equivalent of a wrecking amendment. We all know the House's view of wrecking amendments.
I shall give the House a purely hypothetical example of something that is within the committee's remit. I would not necessarily advocate this, but it is an example of what it can do. If the committee were to suggest that we should have prayers 10 minutes before the half-hour so that Questions could start on the half-hour, that would be a sensible, mechanical change that it might put forward in order to make better use of your Lordships' time. If, however, it suggested that, rather than 10 o'clock, the cut-off time should be 12 o'clock or 1 o'clock, I would regard that as a wrecking amendment that we should reject.
This is a chance for us to go forward. It is also a chance for noble Lords here today to say exactly where they stand on reform of the House. I shall vote for the Motion, and I hope to get a chance to vote against the amendment.
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