|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Lloyd of Berwick: My Lords, the Lord Chancellor is the Lord Chancellor of Great Britain, and he presides in the House of Lords over Scottish appeals in all respects except criminal appeals. The noble Lord is right in one respect only, and that is in respect of criminal appeals. He is the Lord Chancellor of Great Britain.
Lord Steel of Aikwood: My Lords, what I am not clear on is whether the Supreme Court will be covering criminal cases as well. That is still in the air. In that case, I will pass on quickly from the question of title.
Lord Chalfont: My Lords, it is a great privilege and pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood. As a Welshman, I have often wondered what goes on in that other outpost of what used to be the United Kingdom. He has given us a great insight into that. I welcome, as other noble Lords have, the report from the committee under the chairmanship of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, if only because, and not only because, of its capacity to be brief and concise. In that spirit, I will comment on only one aspect of the report: the title of the future occupant of the Woolsack.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, with whose speech I was in almost total agreement, I am not convinced by the arguments in the report against retaining the title of Lord Chancellor. There seems to be a singular lack of logic in one part of the report, in the suggestion that to revive the name of the Lord Chancellor might be pretentious, but that it would be a good title for the senior judge. I find it difficult to reconcile those two suggestions. If it would be a good title for the senior judge, it would also be a good title for whoever will preside over the deliberations of your Lordships' House. If we could persuade the House to retain that title, it would maintain a great deal of the dignity and prestige of this House, which has suffered sometimes from the ravages of modernisation.
As for the suggestion of "Lord Speaker", I find no strong arguments to support that. The title Speaker has a strong historical resonance for the House of Commons. It goes back to the 13th century, when the spokesman of the Commons was the man who spoke to the king when he returned to the House of Commons after making the King's Speech, putting forward his proposals for action by the House of Commons. The spokesman was the only person
It is clear however that the title Speaker, or Lord Speaker, has no historical resonance for your Lordships' House. The office of Lord Chancellor, as prolocutor of the House of Lords, has a history that goes back to the curia, or the great council, of the Norman kings. It had nothing to do with being a speaker or a spokesman, he was a senior and distinguished officer of state, and was the king's closest confidant. Therefore, the title of "Speaker" has no historical relevance whatsoever to the requirements of your Lordships' House.
Today, the term "Lord Chancellor" has a clear connotation in most people's minds outside this House, as the occupant of the Woolsack in your Lordships' House. Whatever the other duties of the Lord Chancellor are, no one, when you mention him outside this House, thinks of him as the Visitor of royal peculiars, or as the arbitrator of disputes among students in universities, which are both functions of the Lord Chancellor. No one thinks of him as these, they think of him as the occupant of the Woolsack in the House of Lords. This has already led to a certain amount of confusion, in that many people outside the House think that he is a Speaker, that he controls the proceedings of the House, when as we all know, the House is self-regulating, and the Lord Chancellor has no role in the order, discipline or proceedings of the House. I suspect that if noble Lords accept the suggestion that we should call the future occupant the "Lord Speaker", that confusion would be even worse, because people would be more likely than ever to believe him to be the House of Lords counterpart of the Speaker of the House of Commons.
The Government, of course, have a perfect right to organise their business how they please, and to distribute duties among their Ministers as they please, but the procedures of your Lordships' House are a matter for your Lordships, and not for anyone else. If the Government in their wisdom have decided on a course of action which no longer has a use for this ancient title, your Lordships may think, as I do, that the Lord who sits on the Woolsack should continue to be entitled, as he has been for more than seven centuries, the "Lord High Chancellor".
Lord Naseby: My Lords, I will not praise the report, although I recognise the dedication and effort of those who gave time to prepare it. It seems to be a report of lost opportunities and some confused thinking. The issue is either that we leave matters entirely alone, as some noble Lords would have, or we recognise that a lot of change is needed, particularly as your Lordships' House changes, as the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, indicated. We must recognise that these changes have not finished, and we know that further changes are likely. The nature of those changes we can
The first point about a Speaker is that in essence he or she is a chairman. Good chairmanship is a skill; it is an art form that requires dedication, commitment, and above all preparation. It is pretty demanding, and it is jolly draining. It is not a reactive role, it is essentially a anticipatory role to ensure that the House comes to a decision and makes progress. It is not for the chair to decide the nature of the progress; that is for the House to decide.
Some of our debates are unnecessarily long, partly because some noble Lords are out of order, or they are repetitive, or they cannot stay within the suggested, self-imposed time limits. They have an inability to stick within the suggested time limits, and there have been a couple of examples this evening.
If the new Speaker is to have a greater role then the House must put some trust in that person. You cannot ask someone to take on this role and then declare that, "All the difficult decisions will be taken by the House". That is not the role for the Speaker. We must have some faith and confidence in the person chosen by the House.
Question Time has been referred to on a number of occasions during our debate. From the point of view of a Back Bencher, too often noble Lords on all sides of the House ask several questions when, according to the Companion, they should ask only one. Others ignore the Question altogether and exploit their time to their own advantage. Others, dare I mention this, possibly aim for news coverage. In my judgment, I am afraid that the same thing is happening when we consider Statements.
Additionally, it is not acceptable for the House to decide who should be called when two noble Lords from the same party rise to speak. It would then always be the more senior Peer, or the one who is the more regular attender. However, the presiding officer or Speaker would know that a certain noble Lord or noble Baroness had a specific interest in the particular Question and, of all people, they should be the one to be called. So I do not find the suggestion in the report that this should be left to the party or to the good sense of the House one that is acceptable.
Paragraph 31 suggests that the Speaker should do his stint when the House is in Committee. I disagree with that. Given that the role of Speaker is to be highly significant and that, with respect, unless we are going to change significantly the age profile of your Lordships' House, the person who is to preside is likely to be someone in the twilight of their career and their life, to demand that, over and above all the roles that the Speaker is going to be asked to take on, he should also sit at significant length on the Woolsack is not appropriate.
Finally, I turn to the name. In my view, the title of Speaker should rest with the Commons, where it has been formally recognised since 1377. We already have the title of Lord Chancellor. We know that the role of
Lord Naseby: My Lords, of course some of them spoke Latin; indeed, I had to pass O-level Latin to go to Cambridge. However, while the word prolocutor may be the Latin for Speaker, the word used in the Commons was Englishand that was rather earlier than it was used in your Lordships' House.
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, having had the honour of being asked to serve on the Select Committee, I should say that I took on the task with a completely open mind. Having heard all the evidence, I support the report's overall conclusions. I have been amazed this afternoon at what the noble Lord, Lord St John of Fawsley, described as the "deep gloom" which pervaded the Chamber at the beginning of this debate. I say that because I think that this is a very modest report suggesting minimal changes which I believe the House should welcome.
Nothing in the report suggests a scenario such as that outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne. Rather, it emphasises time and again that the House operates extremely well under self-regulation, although it may be a little frayed at the edges; that it wants to see self-regulation continue and that that is the premise on which it is based. Of course the way in which the current change was announced to us was most unsatisfactory but, having arrived at this point, I believe that we should see the change as an opportunity, which is what the members of the Select Committee tried to do. My noble friend Lord Steel reminded us that change is inevitable. I think that the report seeks to make the absolute most of the opportunities now before us.
I feel a deep sense of frustration over our debates on the future of your Lordships' House. That frustration is born of the fact that while we have debated the composition, administration, facilities and even, on occasion, the form of Christmas card for this House,
I believe that the lack of a proper debate on this issue both in Westminster and in the country at large has left us in a position where constitutional debate carries on around us, but the thorny issue of how your Lordships' House should best serve the country's democracy as a check and balance on over-mighty government is not addressed. It is against this background that we should consider the future Speakership of this House.
If we are thinking about the future of democracy, then perhaps one of the most important points is set out in paragraph 49 which considers having a Speaker elected by the whole House using an intricate electoral system. While the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, may not believe that many noble Lordsperhaps with the exception of the Liberal Democratscan understand its complexities, perhaps I can assure him that it is a system which ensures that as much consensus as possible is reached on whoever is elected. That is extremely important. Having a Speaker elected by the whole House would mark a step forward towards real democracy.
I turn now to a point referred to first by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, by my noble friends Lady Williams and Lord Steel, and by the noble Lord, Lord Carter. There is a job to be done in focusing on what the public want in terms of the future role to be played by this House. We need someone to be given a very clear remit to explain to members of the public the present role and function of the House of Lords so that they can play a part in considering what should be its future function.
While there is a certain level of understanding among members of the public of what is done here, there is also a good deal of misapprehension played up in the media by portraying a caricature of this House as a place where old Lords wrapped in red robes wobble from bar to bar on their Zimmer frames. Noble Lords know that that is not true and, equally, members of the public are not completely taken in by such images. However, they are not absolutely clear about our role in the legislature. Having a Lords Speaker who could give a face and voice to this House in a way achieved by many Commons Speakers over time would be an extremely valuable asset when set against the background of Lords reform.
A Lords Speaker could transform public understanding through a wide variety of opportunities such as youth parliaments, trades unions, the Citizenship Foundation, the National Federation of Women's Institutes, the City and Guilds Group, the CBI, regional assemblies and whoever is interested in learning about how our democracy works. If we made perhaps one mistake in our report, it was not to emphasise enough the importance of such a domestic ambassadorial role.
I believe that our debate should concern how we as a House shape ourselves for the 21st century to serve our democracy as well as we are able. To do that we must have self-regulationwe all agree on thatbut we must not have self-congratulation. Those who do not want change are in danger of being self-congratulatory. We must look to the future and have regard to how we can best serve a modern democracy. We should support the step forward that the report suggests.
Lord Borrie: My Lords, I do not welcome the debate because I do not support the Government's view that the office of Lord Chancellor should be abolished. However, as suggested by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, a couple of hours ago, I would welcome a debate in the near future on the full implications of the abolition of the office of Lord Chancellor, with particular reference to the independence of the judiciary.
Having said that, howeverto say more would not be appropriate for this debateI share the view of the majority of the Select Committee that, in the light of the Government's determination to abolish the office of Lord Chancellor, the House should consider contingent proposals for the Speakership of the House.
Like most noble Lords, my whole life has not been spent in this House. Outside the Housein the course of my political life, business life and so onI have attended, as will have most other noble Lords, numerous meetings. At those numerous meetings there is invariably a chairman and the role of the chairman is invariably a key one. My trade union colleagues, who are not in their places at the moment, will recall that a former General Secretary of the TUC, the late Lord Citrine, wrote the standard work entitled ABC of Chairmanship. Put shortly, the normal role of a chairman is to get through the agenda in a reasonable time but to enable individuals at the meeting to be heard and to put their points of view, as long as they do so with reasonable despatch and do not hog the meeting and tax the patience of the others present. As none of us is exclusively a Member of the House we should bear in mind the normal role of a chairman, and the role of our Speaker should be broadly similar to that.
I agree with the Select Committee that our Speakerthe "Lord Speaker" or whatever he may be calledshould not have responsibility for selecting amendments, nor should he pick speakers in a debate. The present system, which is being applied to the debate today, of speakers lists prepared for major debates after liaison through the usual channels should continue. But the Lord Speaker, like the chairmen of most meetings outside with which we are familiar, should be entitled and expected to intervene if a Member speaks for too long in a time-limited debate, comments at undue length on a ministerial Statement, strays too far from the point or is unduly repetitious. It does not make sense in a House such as ours, with
I recall recentlyand this is a very recent experience, not one going back over the yearsa 16-minute speech in the course of a debate where speeches were supposed to be limited to eight minutes. There are other abuses, such as the so-called winding-up speech which has been wholly or 90 per cent pre-prepared and makes no attempt to comment on the many contributions made in the course of a lengthy debate. As the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, said in evidence to the Select Committee, there are other abuseswhich individually may be trivial but they are abusessuch as supplementary questions that come in the form of statements and interventions that take overlong. The noble Baroness used the phraseshe is familiar with the House of Commons and many of your Lordships may not approve of itin answer to question 57 of the Select Committee that the Chair should put Members in their place. Some noble Lords may consider that that is a shocking thing to say to Members of this House but, in the interests of the rest of us, I do not believe that it is.
It may be that the Chief Whips and other Whips should and do remonstrate on the quietand, because it is on the quiet, other noble Lords will not know whether or not it is happeningwith Members who ignore the Companion. However, although no doubt that takes placeor should take placeit depends on the Whips' knowledge of what is happening and their willingness to pursue the matter. Never having been a Whip, I am somewhat sceptical of whether they do take on that kind of role.
I like the Select Committee's view that the Speaker should be seen as the guardian of the Companionthat phrase in paragraph 16 appeals to many noble Lordsbut, I say to my noble friend Lord Carter, who was a member of the Select Committee, I am not so sure about the phrase "a light touch". If you contrast a light touch with a heavy hand, I do not want that either. If "a light touch" means ineffective chairmanshipand it mightI do not want it.
I wonder whether the Select Committee reportwhich reflects, of course, a majority decision and was not written by one personis a little over-sensitive to the traditional practices of the House, particularly when paragraph 26 refers to "gentle guidance" and "tactful reminders". Are your Lordships so different from ordinary mortals outside?
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|