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A Noble Lord: Boo!

Lord Williams of Mostyn: Oh dear, my Lords. Who said boo? There was some support for a novel title but, it being novel, I think that it ought to be immediately discarded. That was "Lord Speaker". There was more support for "Lord Chancellor". All those ideas, as the noble Baroness and the noble Lord said, are matters for the committee to look at it in detail at the appropriate time.

3.25 p.m.

Lord Carrington: My Lords, will the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House and the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition bear in mind, when the time comes, that ex officio we have always had two members of the Cabinet? On more occasions than not, we have had only those two. If we abolish one of those ex officio members, we might have only one member of the Cabinet. For the second Chamber, that would really not be enough.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord. That observation was contained in the proposals put to me. I have had every observation collated. They are not to be identifiable in the sense of who made the proposals, as that would be a breach of confidence, but a very full log has been kept,

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and that aspect will feature in the papers that we are happy to provide to the committee if it so wishes. At the moment, thanks to the immaculate helmsmanship of the Prime Minister, we rejoice in having three Cabinet Ministers.

Lord Carter: My Lords, is my noble and learned friend aware that, in the 88 Standing Orders of the House, the role of the Lord Chancellor as Speaker is mentioned in only five, and that he appears only four times in the index to the Companion? I make that point because it seems to me that the role of the Lord Chancellor in this House is entirely a matter of convention. That means that if the House decides to agree on new conventions and amend its Standing Orders, it is entirely free to do so. Is it also true that the role and title of the Lord Chancellor, excluding the Speakership, must remain until it is changed by statute?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, there will be statutory requirements, as I think that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, has pointed out. I am aware of the fact that, of the 88 Standing Orders, only five refer to the Lord Chancellor as Speaker. I am aware of that because, of course, my noble friend Lord Carter told me that he was going to ask me the question before I came in.

Lord Waddington: My Lords, is the noble and learned Lord aware that, not so long ago, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland argued that there could not be proper scrutiny of the Bill on the Northern Ireland Assembly in the House of Commons because the House of Lords insisted on scrutinising it properly itself? Does that absurd position not underline how important it is that we do absolutely nothing that could weaken our ability to scrutinise legislation properly? Is it not essential therefore, among other things, that any Presiding Officer should not have the power, for instance, to select amendments?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I believe that we scrutinise Northern Ireland legislation extremely well. It is a tribute to the flexibility of our procedures that, within 10 days or fewer of the suggestion being made that we ought to have a Standing Order on Northern Ireland legislation, we introduced one. I agree entirely. We scrutinise legislation well, and it is no coincidence that sometimes very difficult, intricate and sensitive legislation in the Northern Ireland context is introduced into this House.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, will consideration be given to the position of those employed to render various services to the Lord Chancellor? At the moment, they are in a position of total misery, uncertainty and distress.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord's observation is right. No one likes uncertainty, and it is a duty on those who employ others or work with others to keep them as fully informed as possible.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I congratulate the noble and learned Lord on having decided to set up a Select

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Committee. I am sure that that is the best way out of the problem. During the Statement, he slipped between talking about the Speaker and then the Presiding Officer; and about the Presiding Officer and the Speaker. He also said that the majority of people did not like the term "Presiding Officer" and I agree. Would the noble and learned Lord be kind enough not to refer to Presiding Officer? I do not know what the difference is between the two, but I am sure that there is a significant one.

Secondly, will he bear in mind the fact that whereas the present Speaker puts only formal questions—for example, moving that the Question be now agreed—once one pays a Speaker, even if he is elected, he will be much more intrusive? There must of course be a Deputy Speaker, a Chairman of Ways and Means and so forth, so the bureaucracy will grow. I hope that the noble and learned Lord agrees that that would be a bad thing.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I used the phrase "Presiding Officer" neutrally, as the noble Earl will readily accept and understand, in order to describe the person who presides on the Woolsack. It would have been deeply presumptuous of me to have used any particular denomination for the successor to my noble and learned friend because it would have appeared to be usurping the function of the role of the committee and your Lordships' decision.

We have a paid Speaker at the moment. He sits not far away from me to the left. His predecessor was paid, I remind myself. Your Lordships will have rejoiced to know that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, was paid a distinct component of his salary for being Speaker. So for once—I can hardly remember such a thing happening previously—the noble Earl is wrong.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, when the committee examines the functions of the new post—I do not know what to call it for the purposes of today's discussions—will it also examine the accommodation requirements that go with it? I do not mean merely the residential accommodation, but the whole range of accommodation at this end of the building. Some of it might go begging, might it not?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, if it does, I shall bear my noble friend Lord Dubs firmly in mind. With the best will in the world, I believe that all these issues are matters of detail rather than for today.

Lord Elton: My Lords, turning to a slightly larger issue—

Lord Naseby: My Lords—

Noble Lords: Order!

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, when this happens, there is a large undertow shouting, "Speaker!". Shall we take the noble Lord, Lord Elton, first and then the noble Lord, Lord Naseby?

Lord Elton: My Lords, thank you. My noble friend Lord Carrington made an important point in referring

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to the possible discarding of one of the two ex officio Cabinet seats in this House, which are sometimes the only seats we have. That strongly links the decision the Select Committee will have to take with other decisions relating to the office of Lord Chancellor.

I was therefore reassured when the noble and learned Lord explained that the present Lord Chancellor had said that he would be happy to discharge such functions for such time as your Lordships might wish. However, I was disturbed to note that the Statement indicated that the timetable set would provide for the implementation of the changes soon in the new Session.

Is it not the case that there are at least 5,000, and possibly 15,000, references to the Lord Chancellor, his duties and powers in statute and that every one will have to be amended or reallocated by statute? Is it also not the case that until the possibilities are understood, no reasonable decision can be taken? Can we therefore have an undertaking that the decision we make will not be finalised until at least those components are known and published, as they will be when my four Questions for Written Answer are answered?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I used to be well versed in the art of selective quotation when I was at the Bar. I shall complete the quotation that the noble Lord, Lord Elton, did not finish:

    "subject to the committee's recommendations and of course the wishes of the House".

I respectfully suggest that we take it step by step. No one dissents from setting up the committee. I have already said that our Front Bench will have nothing to do with it—it is a matter for others to decide about their nominees. But we must not try to resolve everything today.

Lord Naseby: My Lords, is the noble and learned Lord aware that his decision that the committee shall consist only of Back Benchers is greatly welcomed across the whole House? Will he therefore go further in the spirit of co-operation and consider that the chairmanship of the committee should rest with its members or, preferably, that it should go to a Member from the Cross Benches?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, that latter suggestion was put to me vigorously and firmly by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley. I promised to give it every consideration. I hope that your Lordships will be satisfied about the identity of the Peer who chairs the committee.

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