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Lord McNally: My Lords, perhaps as an example to any who may care to follow, I do not propose to go into the same detail in responding to this Motion as the Official Opposition Chief Whip, although I think that he has done a service to the House in posing some of the difficulties that will be faced by the committee.

It is known, certainly on my Benches, that when this committee was first proposed I was very reluctant for the Liberal Democrats to participate in it; not least because I thought it simply gave momentum to what was at that stage one of those famous Downing Street briefings—that the Prime Minister was determined to clip the wings of the House of Lords. It came not long after the Labour Party group report of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, already referred to, which exposed one of the problems we face—that that group seemed to set as its objective how best and how smoothly to get government business through the House of Lords. I see that the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, is shaking her head as well. Listening to the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, on the ID cards, that again seemed to be the main thrust of her argument, coupled with threats, which I think she will come to regret, to the Cross Benches, and, indeed, to anyone else who dared to stand in the way of the Government's tanks.

While we are at it, since the noble Lord, Lord Richard, is also speaking from a sedentary position, during the same period we had a contribution from him which was again extremely useful if you were a government trustee. The noble Lord made his reputation down the road defending the indefensible, and in his speech on ID cards that is what he was doing that night.

We must split off our task as parliamentarians to be a Parliament that can keep an over-powerful executive in their place and the desire of some on those Benches to make life easy for the government Chief Whip of the day. I have been willing to go along with this group because parallel with it is an initiative by the Lord Chancellor that will look at reform and composition, and I do not think that you can separate composition and powers in the way the Government are trying to do. I do think that the useful analysis of the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, has already established that the group will have some difficult tasks to perform. The House of Lords, by one of those paradoxes of history, now has a higher reputation than perhaps at any time in the recent past, partly because it uses its limited powers prudently but constructively, and I am determined that it should still retain the right
 
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to say no. Unless it retains that right, we are on our way to a unicameral Parliament, with a debating Chamber at this end, and with that would come all threats of the elective dictatorship which Lord Hailsham warned us about 30 years ago.

We are entering very deep water and some very complex subjects, which the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, has laid out effectively for the House. Anyone who volunteers for the committee would do well to read the noble Lord's speech, because it will face some hard work. We on these Benches will enter into these discussions with good will, generosity of spirit and a determination to succeed. I hope that the same will be true of those on the government Benches because, if it is and if they think not only of the government of the day but of this Parliament and this House, we have a chance of succeeding.

Lord Williamson of Horton: My Lords, I thought I should make the preliminary point that I recall being pleased by the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland of Asthal, but never threatened.

Although the Motion is a procedural one about the appointment of a Joint Committee of both Houses, it opens up issues, as both speakers have already made clear, which are extremely important for our relations and the operation of Parliament as a whole. For that reason, I want to make some comments before the Joint Committee is set up, and to do so now because the Motion has come upon us rather speedily and it is obvious from the date of 21 July in the Motion that the committee will work quickly. I do not know whether it will conclude by then but it will certainly work quickly, and now is our chance to speak.

My first point is that it would be a mistake to assume that there is something wrong in the current relations between the Houses and their respective powers, although other aspects of the House of Lords, such as the presence of hereditary Peers or the question whether there should be an elected element, are, as we all know, the subject of much debate and disagreement but are not the subject matter of this Joint Committee. On the subject matter of the Motion, I do not detect any sign of public dissatisfaction; indeed, I believe that the public are generally very satisfied with the performance of the House of Lords, and particularly with the way in which we scrutinise and amend legislation and give careful attention to the interests and the liberty of our citizens. For that reason, I join others in hoping that the Joint Committee will stay strictly within the proposed mandate to examine the practicality of codifying certain conventions and not change their substance.

My second point relates to the conventions—I shall be fairly brief, but these matters are important—the first of which is the Salisbury/Addison convention. Of course I, like others, cannot forebear to mention that the Cross-Bench Peers were not party to the creation of the convention, although, like good soldiers, we have respected it. I recognise without reservation the force of the convention—namely, that the House of Lords should not reject a manifesto Bill of the democratically
 
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elected government, nor should it amend it in a way that would destroy or completely alter the measure. But it can, of course, in its normal revising role make working amendments which do not breach that principle.

However, if there is to be any further codification, it would be desirable to identify more clearly what constitutes the core programme of the Government and to indicate the manifesto Bills in that programme. In that way, both Houses of Parliament would know clearly where they stand. Point (B) in the proposed mandate of the Joint Committee relates to secondary legislation, which I am slightly surprised to see here. I do not see any particular problem relating to this House. For many years, I have been an unremitting opponent of the volume of secondary legislation deriving from the European Union. Since I have been in this House I have added some secondary legislation of national origin to my hate list. But the control of secondary legislation goes much wider than the activities of this House. Our committees do excellent work indicating problems with secondary legislation, which the Government often follow. We do not normally—or very seldom do we—reject secondary legislation, although we did affirm a resolution some years ago that we had unfettered freedom to vote on any subordinate legislation.

Point (C) relates to the consideration of government business in the House in reasonable time, which I think was covered in the report of the group chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, and elsewhere. In my period in the House, which now seems rather long, I have not noted any significant time wasting. We have to bear in mind that this House is the principal revising and amending Chamber—that is a reality—on legislation. Frequently, the Government correct their legislation by amendments which are tabled and adopted in this House. That is happening. The scale of our legislative work is not always appreciated or understood. In the last typical, completed full Session—2003–04—9,604 amendments were tabled in this House, of which 3,044 were adopted. We have an important role. We must not prejudice our capacity to improve legislation to a large degree on lines which the Government approve.

Point (D) of the draft Motion refers to the exchange of amendments to legislation between the two Houses—"ping-pong" in Lordship-speak. My initial comments about distinguishing between codification and substantive change apply with even more force to that. In addition, as has been indicated by the noble Lord, Lord Cope, the rules of ping-pong are codified, or at least documented, thoroughly already.

Finally, I want to make a point on a matter which is not directly a concern of the Joint Committee, but to which reference has already been made, and is the backdrop to its considerations. If in due course a decision is made to make this House a largely elected Chamber, the primacy of the other House will remain. But its result would evidently be that the public would attribute to their Member of the House of Lords the same legitimacy in his or her parliamentary functions as they would attribute to a Member of the other
 
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House. To that extent the bicameral nature of our parliamentary system would perhaps be even more evident and worthy of protection than it is now.

Lord Denham: My Lords, how and by whom is the list of conventions of your Lordships' House that the Joint Committee is to discuss to be drawn up? I ask this because, apart from the handful that are named in the Motion, the Joint Committee should also be in a position to consider those conventions that have already been broken by Her Majesty's Government throughout the years since 1997: the convention, for instance, that no change in the constitution should be imposed unilaterally without having at least made an effort to achieve an agreed solution with Her Majesty's Opposition; the Leader's Committee of a few years ago, set up without the authority of this House and treated thereafter, with a Clerk of the House assigned to it, as though it had that authority, its main legacy being a virtually empty Chamber every Thursday from the end of Question Time in the morning until the rise of the House in the late afternoon; the whole catalogue of events that had their origin on the afternoon of 12 June 2003, for which no attempt at apology, let alone reparation, has yet been made; the Hunting With Dogs Bill, over which nearly every convention in both Houses of Parliament was broken to ease its way on to the statute book; and finally this Motion this afternoon, drafted, I suspect, without prior consultation with the other political parties, rushed on to the Order Paper leaving only two sitting days' notice, no facilities being arranged for a proper debate and breaking what is perhaps the oldest convention of all—that of comity between the Houses. I hope that the noble Baroness the Leader of the House may find it in her good will to withdraw the Motion for the moment so that all these matters can be discussed.

3.30 pm


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