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House of Lords

Thursday, 3rd July 2003.

The House met at eleven of the clock: The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Portsmouth.

Local Government Bill

The Minister of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Lord Rooker): My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the amendments for the Report stage be marshalled and considered in the following order:

Clauses 94 to 101, Schedule 3, Clauses 102 to 106, Schedule 4, Clause 107, Schedule 5, Clauses 108 to 121, Clauses 1 to 19, Schedule 1, Clauses 20 to 42, Schedule 2, Clauses 43 to 93, Clauses 122 to 126, Schedules 6 and 7, Clauses 127 and 128.—(Lord Rooker.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Speakership of the House

11.6 a.m.

The Lord President of the Council (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. The Motion has been agreed after the usual discussions, and I think that it explains itself.

Your Lordships will have seen that the noble Lord, Lord Elton, has tabled two amendments. Perhaps it may be convenient, when I sit down and the Question on my Motion has been put, for the noble Lord, Lord Elton—I have spoken to him about it—to move the first of his amendments and to speak to them both. After your Lordships have made contributions, I shall do my best to reply to the points made. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, will then come to a conclusion on what he wishes to do about his amendments. Finally, we will decide the main Question. I beg to move.

Moved, That it is expedient that a Select Committee of 11 Lords be appointed to consider the future arrangements for the Speakership of the House in the light of the Government's announcement that it is intended to reform the office of Lord Chancellor, and

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to make recommendations; and that the committee shall report by the end of the Session.—(Lord Williams of Mostyn.)

Lord Elton rose to move, as an amendment to the Motion, after "Chancellor" insert "and any undertakings given by the Government as to the future allocation of places in the Cabinet to Members of the House of Lords".

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving the first amendment, I shall, as the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House suggested, speak also to the second. Your Lordships will realise that the Motions deal with separate, distinct points, so the way in which we deal with them at the end of the debate may be different.

The issues to which I ask your Lordships to give some thought concern this House and the Government. By that, I mean the whole House and all future governments, as well as the present one—not just the one that we happen to have at the moment. The need for the Motion arises from the decision of the Government to reform the office of our present Speaker, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. By virtue of his office as Lord Chancellor, our present Speaker has a seat in Cabinet, as well as one on the Woolsack. He is one of the distinguished voices linking the House directly with the top echelon of government. The strength of that link is important to the House as a whole and is also important to any government in office.

At present, we are richly endowed with voices: we have no fewer than four. It was not always so, nor will it always be so in the future. When there is suitable talent waiting hungrily for preferment in another place, no government will be over-keen to award Cabinet seats to Peers. In the past, as my noble friend Lord Carrington pointed out before the Motion was drafted, we have often been reduced to the bare minimum number of such voices. That number has for long been two: one for the Leader of the House for the time being and the other for the Lord Chancellor for the time being, who is, ex officio, our Speaker. That is no accident. It is because of the duties that they perform that both our Leader and our Speaker have had to be members of the Cabinet. Again, it is because of the duties that they perform that they have both had to be Members of this House.

We understand—not by way of a White Paper—that the Government's intention is that the greater part of our Speaker's responsibilities in his role as Lord Chancellor and of any successor in his office will be taken away from this House. If, for instance, the judiciary is to be separated from Parliament and, specifically, from the House of Lords, there will be no obvious call for the head of the judiciary to sit in either House. There will be no more reason for a Minister of justice to sit in this House than for a Home Secretary or any other Secretary of State. Be it whispered in his august absence, if the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs were to fall ill or, even less imaginable, if he were to be overtaken in brilliance and

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usefulness by someone in another place, that person could and, indeed, would take over the job without joining this House in order to do so.

The office of Speaker and the functions of Lord Chancellor are combined in one person. It is our Lord Chancellor's powers, not his person, that secure a Cabinet seat for our Speaker. Separate the office of Speaker from the powers of the Lord Chancellor and, no matter what happens to those powers or to whom they may be given, our Speaker's claim to that seat is gone, and the barest minimum representation of the House in Cabinet will be reduced to one.

No one who has sat in a Cabinet Committee as a Peer, as I have sometimes done, let alone in Cabinet itself, as my noble friend Lord Waddington has often done—he was about to put his name to my Motion, but, apparently, that is not how such Motions are attributed—can be under any illusion that it is a very hard job to make the rest of that committee or Cabinet understand or care how this House works, what it can and cannot be persuaded to accept, or to accord some of your Lordships' opinions the value—even, dare I say it, sometimes the political value—that they deserve.

With no second voice to back him up and bear him out, the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House could not be even half as effective in Cabinet as he now appears to be to all of us. I say that with no disrespect to him. It is a fact of committee life. We are not concerned only with today's Leader of the House; these provisions will affect all our Leaders to come, even those less able than himself. The word "even" was slipped in by mistake; there was no intention to be pejorative in that remark. The Government—all governments—would lose by that, and so would this House, in all the Sessions to come.

Some of your Lordships still think that choosing some way—any way—of appointing a Speaker to do what any Chairman or Deputy Chairman can already do in this House and, perhaps, to dress up in fancy clothes and process on state occasions, is a free-standing decision; it is not. Once we acquiesce, without any compensating gain, in the separation of these two roles, we acquiesce in the downgrading of our Speaker and of this House. The Select Committee that we are about to appoint ought not to proceed without a clear statement of its freedom to consider the implications of this and to make recommendations in that light.

I have spoken of the powers, duties and privileges of the Lord Chancellor, and that brings me to my second amendment about which I can speak much more briefly because I believe that the point is already better taken. I hope that I have already shown that we cannot really come to a conclusion about what or who to replace our present Speaker with until we know how many, and which, of the powers, duties and privileges now vested in the holder of the combined office of Speaker and Lord Chancellor will remain with our Speaker when the Lord Chancellor has gone, or has been stripped of his power.

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I had thought that this would be information readily available, but I gather that the task of the Government informing themselves of what those duties, privileges and powers actually are has proved greater than they expected. There appears still to be some doubt as to what they are and some difficulty, therefore, in deciding what to do with them. I do not wish to tease the Government about this—that is not true; I do wish to but I shall refrain from so doing—but I suggest that surely at the least our committee must be given the full list of duties, privileges and powers before it is asked to come to a conclusion.

If, as is rumoured, that list runs to over a thousand in primary legislation and thousands more in secondary legislation, it may well not be ready before the end of the Session. My second amendment, therefore, seeks to delete the requirement to report before the end of the Session and to substitute it with a bar to reporting before the complete list of powers, duties and privileges has been published and considered.

My first amendment touches on the efficiency of parliamentary government and the power and authority of this House. The second addresses the need to ensure that the Select Committee is fully informed on the matter about which it is instructed to advise us before it gives that advice, which seems a pretty simple request. I await the advice of your Lordships on both matters, and I beg to move.

Moved, as an amendment to the Motion, after "Chancellor" insert "and any undertakings given by the Government as to the future allocation of places in the Cabinet to Members of the House of Lords".—(Lord Elton.)

11.15 a.m.

Lord Waddington: My Lords, I rise to speak briefly to the amendment moved by my noble friend, which I support. For some years, the Government seem to have devoted much effort to changing the working methods of the House of Commons, which has had the effect of greatly reducing its effectiveness. They have certainly succeeded to the extent that, as a result of government guillotines on all Bills, those Bills are coming over here after totally inadequate consideration in the other place.

Anyone who doubts this should look at the Criminal Justice Bill where, as was pointed out by my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew of Twysden at Second Reading, four new clauses and two schedules received no examination at all in the other place. Let us consider the Northern Ireland Assembly Elections Bill, which received virtually no scrutiny in the Commons. As a consequence, we are left to do the work which should have been done elsewhere and we are told by Mr Hain that that is nothing to our credit, but is just an example of our filibustering habits.

I hope that, from time to time, the Leader of the House makes the point in Cabinet that we are performing an ever more important role, not least because of the dismal changes made in the Commons, and that it would be a sad and a bad thing—and

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inconsistent with what the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House has said; he has spoken of his determination to see a renewal and invigoration of this place—if, having lost the Lord Chancellor—

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