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I hope that we will be able to extend our pre-legislative scrutiny. Once we in this House get stuck into a Bill that has had only partial attention in the Commons, we can be like terriers; but by this stage-and this applies also if the Bill has started here-Ministers are defending rather than debating. Positions are polarised, and that is not a good basis for taking forward a discussion. It might be easier for the Government, which is one reason why Parliament and not the Government should determine which Bills are presented in draft. Pre-legislative and post-legislative scrutiny are part of the same process, each building on the other. Identifying how legislation might have been better should feed in to improving it in future. It is a frequent complaint that Government do not let legislation settle down before introducing the next tranche. The noble Lord, Lord Luce, referred at the start of the debate to the quantity of legislation. Teachers, school governors and LEAs have been wearied by 33 education Acts in the past 26 years. Health has had 35, criminal justice 108 and the constitution 123. I am not arguing that these were all bad, but neither were they all good.
The noble Baroness, Lady Royall, mentioned the Digital Economy Act. We all have our candidates for post-legislative scrutiny. Freedom of information and data protection might well be high on the list, because the world that they were addressing has changed technically and politically. The previous Government committed themselves to reviewing legislation after three years. As I understand it, the current Government intend to continue this. I am not sure whether this refers to three years after enactment or after commencement. What might come out of post-legislative work could be the flushing out of the number of Acts and sections within Acts that are not in effect. It is very confusing-again I am taking the point of view of a member of the public-for those who need to know day-to-day what sections are actually implemented. My noble friend Lady Thomas of Winchester, who is the new chair of the Delegated Powers Committee, would have made that point had she been able to be here this evening. Review by the Government is not the same as scrutiny. It is not a substitute for cross-party consideration of the operation of legislation, hearing from stakeholders, questioning Ministers, considering whether the legislation is fulfilling its purpose and whether the costs, risks and benefits were properly and accurately identified.
As I have said, this Chamber is complementary to the House of Commons. Our work could be done in conjunction with the House of Commons, or, if the Commons is not inclined to do this, separately, being mindful of what the Commons does not find time for. There is a case for a committee separate from the Commons Select Committees, because a specialised committee could develop expertise and perhaps be in a better position to disseminate best practice across the board. I am not arguing that every Bill should go through the process. We need to find the right balance. The workload is not negligible, and nor are the resources needed, but I hope that the Leader's Group will look at the mechanisms available and perhaps, as a first step, undertake a scoping exercise.
I am lucky enough to have been appointed recently to the Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee. Not everyone would say that was luck, and the size of
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None of this is groundbreaking: it is common sense and what the public expect. It should not be seen as threatening what is good about the way in which we work. If the message is to be got over, we will also need to work with the media. When I have said this before, in effect the comment has been, "steady on"; but they are part of the way in which our democracy operates. What is common sense but also novel in the UK Parliament, though not in other parts of our constitution, are procedures that recognise the changed political configurations within the Chamber. The public pretty much support political parties working together, as two of us now are, but they also expect us calmly to tweak the procedures to fit the new reality. I take issue briefly with the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, who referred to an inbuilt government majority. That is not the case-I will not say "unhappily not the case". The first vote of the Session made that clear.
Scrutiny is not a second-class activity: good government needs good scrutiny. I congratulate those who have done so much work. There is a lot more that could be said, but I will regulate myself and say simply that I hope that the House can do justice to all the work that has already been done.
I very much welcome this debate and I congratulate my noble friend on initiating it. Like him, I take the term "working practices" as an all-encompassing one. Working practices exist for a purpose. My starting point therefore is to address the basic principles that should guide us in determining those practices. First, we need to establish the purpose of Parliament and the relationship between the two Houses, as several noble Lords have already said. This point is fundamental, both to the debate about the composition of this House and about its structures and procedures. Parliament is the body which calls Government to account. The Government are the body that crafts public policy and is responsible for the administration of the state, but does so within constraints imposed by Parliament.
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The value of Parliament is maximised by having two Chambers that work in such a way as to complement one another. The difference between the two is a particular strength of our political system. The House of Commons is the body through which the Government are chosen and the body that, by virtue of being elected, constitutes the grand debating arena of the nation. It is the place where the battle between the parties is fought. MPs are returned to support their party and to argue the case for that party. Election affects fundamentally the terms of trade between the parties. The parties fight it out in the full glare of national publicity. Partisanship is intrinsic to the way the House operates. The other place, quite naturally, focuses on vote-winning exercises. Members' legitimacy in fulfilling their tasks derives from election.
This House is very different. By not being elected, there is not the same clash between the parties. By not being elected, Members do not need to achieve high profiles for the purposes of promoting their parties and their own re-election. This House can complement the other place by fulfilling tasks essential to Parliament, but tasks for which the House of Commons lacks the political will, time or sometimes the resources to fulfil.
In addressing our working practices, we thus need to recognise that we are not here to emulate or to challenge the ultimate authority of the elected House. Rather, we exist to add value by fulfilling tasks that play to our strengths and enable the other place to focus on those tasks to which it gives priority. This House complements the other place by engaging in rigorous and detailed scrutiny. The other place determines the ends of public policy and devotes some time to examining the means. This House focuses primarily on the means.
Our legitimacy for engaging in detailed examination derives from the experience and expertise of Members. I cite in aid the findings of the Ipsos MORI poll, commissioned by the Constitution Unit at University College London and carried out in 2007. The survey found that considering legislation "carefully and in detail" was ranked as very important in determining the legitimacy of the House by 73 per cent of those questioned. Having many Members who are experts in their field was also ranked as very important by a majority of respondents.
That is my first point. That establishes our core functions. If we are to fulfil our functions effectively, then we need to have appropriate structures and procedures in place. Who, though, determines those structures and procedures? How do we ensure that they remain the most appropriate? How do we review them on a regular basis?
This House does a good job in fulfilling the functions I have mentioned. We variously point out how good we are at legislative scrutiny, not least relative to the
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We need to review our practices, but the mechanisms for doing so are rather clunky. Our means of review are occasional and reactive. Our working practices start to look a little worn and Members recognise that there may be a case for reviewing them. What happens? We have to press for a review, for example, through a Leader's Group. There is a growing recognition that we need to develop our committee structure. What happens? A Member or Members of the House write to the Liaison Committee asking it to recommend the creation of a committee. In short, we lack the means for examining what we do on a holistic and continuing basis. The Liaison Committee has recently reviewed the committee structure and generated criteria for assessment. That is a welcome development, not least given that the criteria take into account the relationship between the two Houses. However, we need to go further.
Our committee structure has developed on an ad hoc basis. We need to examine whether there are gaps that can usefully be filled by committees in this House. What cross-cutting issues receive no systematic parliamentary examination? Can our committees be reconfigured and form part of a coherent committee structure? We need a body that can engage in such reflection. Not only that, we need a body that can review the committees of this House and our working practices generally and do so on a continuing basis. We have nothing equivalent to the other place in being able to do so. Our Procedure Committee is essentially a reactive body. We need something like a permanent Leader's Group, one that comprises Members from all parts of the House, is empowered to set its own agenda and to take evidence. Then and only then can we ensure that our working practices remain effective and efficient for fulfilling our core purposes.
It is essential that we make use of this opportunity to press for such a committee and in the interim to identify those changes that will strengthen our working practices. As has been mentioned, we have the reports from the three working groups that reported at the end of the previous Parliament. I served on all three and I endorse the recommendations that they produced. They are well targeted for ensuring that this House fulfils its functions. In the time available, I wish to identify three changes relating to legislation that have been recommended and that will enable this House to play to its strengths in undertaking detailed scrutiny. In so doing, I shall reinforce some of the points already made by noble Lords.
The first is the recommendation of the working group, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, that a committee on legislative standards be appointed to advise the House on whether a Bill meets an agreed set
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The second relates to a Bill once it has been introduced. The Constitution Committee of your Lordships' House, in its 2004 report, Parliament and the Legislative Process, recommended that each Bill should, at some point during its passage through Parliament, be subject to examination by an evidence-taking committee. Since then, the other place has introduced Public Bill Committees. What flows from this, as recognised by the group chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, is that a government Bill starting life in this House and not subject to pre-legislative scrutiny should be referred to a temporary Select Committee. That would bring us into line with the other place.
I add one qualification. We should not preclude the possibility of following the same procedure for Bills brought from the Commons. There are problems with the Public Bill Committee procedure in the other place-not least the limited time between evidence taking and commencing consideration of amendments-and some Bills may be unduly rushed or not even be submitted to such evidence-taking.
My third point relates to post-legislative scrutiny, a point on which several noble Lords have touched. The Constitution Committee, in its 2004 report, recommended that post-legislative review be introduced and that reviews undertaken of Acts be submitted to a Joint Committee of both Houses. The Government referred the recommendation to the Law Commission. The commission endorsed the recommendation, including the creation of a Joint Committee. The Government accepted the recommendation for post-legislative review, and, as has been mentioned, most Acts are now reviewed three to five years after enactment. However, no action was taken on the proposal for a Joint Committee. The Filkin group has reiterated the case for a Joint Committee. Like the Constitution Committee, it recognises that if there is no interest in the other place in setting up a Joint Committee, this House should establish such a committee.
For the reasons I mentioned earlier, there may well be little interest in the other place in a Joint Committee. It is not politically high profile; there is no scope for partisanship and attracting votes. It again is something that would play to the strengths of your Lordships' House. It would enable post-legislative reviews to be considered in Parliament and for best practice to be identified.
It is important for such a committee to be created fairly quickly. That is for two reasons. The first is that several post-legislative reviews have already been published, including on anti-terrorism legislation and the Constitutional Reform Act 2005. The second is that, at a time of austerity, there is the danger that the Government may view suspending post-legislative review as an easy way of reducing costs. If they do, we revert to the situation where Ministers see success in terms of Royal Assent-getting a measure through-rather than
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The arguments I have just outlined for a committee on post-legislative scrutiny also apply to the case for creating a committee to examine treaties-an essential step, in my view, following enactment of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act.
There is a great deal that we can and should do to strengthen our working practices. There are clear and compelling recommendations from the three working groups. Those recommendations need to be set within a clear conceptual framework of the purpose of this House in our political system. We need to be clear as to what we are here to achieve, and we need to have in place mechanisms that enable us to keep our structures and procedures vibrant and efficient. This debate is a starting point, or at least one step on the road, to achieving that. By playing to our strengths, we deliver what the public expect of us. Let us make sure that we live up to expectations.
Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall: My Lords, first, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, for setting up this debate and, in particular, for his announcement of his intention to set up a Leader's Group and to give it the widest possible remit on the issues that we are discussing today. That is remarkably welcome, and I am sure that the whole House is grateful to him.
There are several disobliging terms sometimes applied by natives, mostly of rural communities, to describe those that they regard as outsiders. Among those that can be repeated here are "grockle" and "blow-in". It can take several generations for the stigma of being one of those to wear off. I have been a Member of this House for almost 11 years but, like my noble friend Lady Jones, I still feel like a new girl and occasionally like a fraudulent interloper, so I venture into this debate with some trepidation. I do so armed with a little confidence having been a member of the cross-party group chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, and of the group of Labour Peers referred to by my noble friends Lady Royall and Lady Jones, chaired by my noble friend Lord Grocott, so I feel that I am slightly better informed than I might have been a few months ago.
I am not a natural radical. I have little appetite for change for its own sake. I respect and admire the resilience of things that have survived the test of time, whether they be pieces of old furniture, the language of William Shakespeare or, indeed, the traditions of this House. I especially and vehemently do not want this House to become a replica or shadow of the other place. However, in my short time here-as, for Peers, it is a short time-a lot has changed. We have seen the loss of most hereditary Members, the exit of the Lord Chancellor, and the very welcome, in my view, creation of the post of Lord Speaker. I take this opportunity to join the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, in paying tribute to the enormous contribution made by the present incumbent in her time in office. There have
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However, in the world outside and, I have to say, to some extent within Parliament itself, the impression persists of this House as obstinately adhering to arcane tradition and exclusivity. We need to look only at how we are routinely portrayed in the media-it is always the ermine that gets into the picture. This is not good. It makes us vulnerable and calls into question the value of what we do. We have a duty to do our best to correct any misapprehensions but, more importantly, to try to see and hear ourselves as others do and to review our working practices and procedures with humility and on a continuing basis, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Norton.
We have just been through a very turbulent year. At the start of this new Parliament, with many new Members-to whom, whether they come from another place or from outside Parliament, I imagine that the practices of this House must appear somewhat perplexing, at least at the beginning-and faced as we are with the prospect of major reform, this House could adopt one of two positions. It could either decide to do nothing, reasserting its independence and unique character by setting its face against any challenge to the way that it does things now-thankfully, so far this afternoon I have heard no support for that position-or it could take the opportunity for some further incremental change that could significantly improve the effectiveness of the House and help to enhance its reputation. I am delighted that the noble Lord the Leader of the House, by setting up a Leader's Group, is encouraging us to take this opportunity.
I want to draw attention to two specific points. I fear that they are the same two specific points that my noble friend Lord Filkin drew attention to, and he probably did it rather better than I will but, in the true traditions of this House, that is not going to stop me. The first concerns the observations made by his group about ensuring that legislation, when it comes forward, should,
That point was eloquently made by the noble Lord, Lord Norton, and mentioned by a number of other noble Lords. My noble friend's group proposed a committee on legislative standards, with a remit to examine upcoming Bills against a clear set of criteria, which I will not read out because he has already enumerated them. I very much support this recommendation, and I also support the various suggestions about evidence-taking before Committee stages. I agree with my noble friend Lady Royall about pre-legislative scrutiny, an issue that has been raised by many other speakers. If legislation were consistently well prepared-this was a point noted by the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, who is not in his place-much of the time and effort taken by both Houses to scrutinise that legislation would be much better used and some of the difficulties discussed elsewhere in the paper by the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, and the paper by the noble Lord, Lord Butler, would diminish.
My second point concerns governance and accountability, which were covered by the group chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, of which I was a member. It was subsequently addressed in a very useful briefing paper from the Hansard Society, which I received this morning, and by the noble Lord, Lord Luce, and other noble Lords. I am well aware that these matters are sensitive-probably more so than those concerning the House's legislative role. However, like the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, I urge that we do not flinch from considering whether our governance arrangements would bear the kind of scrutiny to which other aspects of lives have recently been subjected. It is no longer enough, as he pointed out, that we should understand and be content with how we do things-although, as was evidenced in what the noble Lord, Lord Luce, said, not everyone does-we must also consider whether we are taking into account the way that things are done elsewhere. In a community-I hesitate to use the word "organisation" or "institution" -as complex and unusual as this one, there is a great temptation to think that everything not only is, but has to be, sui generis. I worked for years in the arts where this kind of view was for long enough prevalent, but eventually it dawned on us all that emphasising what made us different did not always work to our advantage. It was far better to look about, adopt what was best in business and other practices and become more efficient and effective by learning from others. Perhaps paradoxically, the things that really made us unique emerged much more strongly once we began to join the rest of the world.
I hope that this House will review its own governance in the same light and take seriously some of the suggestions that have come forward about accountability and transparency. They are not frightening nor, frankly, especially radical, but they might be-to mangle Robert Burns, and with apologies to my Scottish colleagues-power that,
Lord Butler of Brockwell: My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking the Leader of the House for this debate and in thanking him and the Leader of the Opposition for the positive and open-minded way in which they introduced it.
As has been mentioned, following the Lord Speaker's speech to the Hansard Society on strengthening Parliament, the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, the noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, and I agreed to lead three cross-party groups in which we divided up various aspects of the working processes of your Lordships' House. I did not involve myself in that work as a critical or-certainly not-as a disgruntled Member of your Lordships' House. On the contrary, I hugely admire the work that this House does and my purpose in taking part in it was to contribute to suggesting ways in which we could do it even more effectively.
As other noble Lords have said, we ought to start this debate by asking: what is our role? I believe in strengthening Parliament because I believe that an
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I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, the noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, and the other Members who served on our groups would agree that the ideas in our various papers are not intended to be a comprehensive or even, perhaps, a coherent prescription for further changes. They are an à la carte menu of ideas which the participants thought worth bringing to the attention of your Lordships, and I hope they will be worth considering by the Leader's Group that the Leader of the House announced today.
In my remarks, I shall concentrate on some of the ideas in the group that I chaired on the non-legislative aspects of the House's procedure but, first, I shall comment on the suggestion made by the group chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, on which I also served, and say how striking it is how many speakers today have picked up this idea. The noble Lords, Lord Luce, Lord Kakkar, Lord Maclennan and Lord Norton, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Hamwee and Lady McIntosh, have all referred to the idea of a committee similar to the Merits Committee, which looks at statutory instruments, that would look at the merits of legislation brought before Parliament. Since other speakers have so eloquently dealt with it, I shall not go into the details, but shall say just two things about it.
First, since the quality of legislation is of crucial interest to Parliament as a whole, this committee would be most effective if it were a Joint Committee of the two Houses. I agree that it if were a committee of this House only, it ought to look only at legislation being introduced here, but a combined committee would be a way of avoiding duplication and increasing co-operation between the two Houses. Secondly, speaking from my experience in the Executive, if there were ever a prospect that, on the basis of a report by such a committee, a House of Parliament might refuse to give a Second Reading to a Bill and might refer it back to the Executive for better preparation, that would hugely improve the care with which legislation is prepared within the Executive. That might be a nuclear weapon but, as we know, nuclear weapons are there not to be used, and it would be very effective in dealing with some of the problems of excessive and poorly prepared legislation, of which we are all conscious.
As regards the suggestions of the group I chaired on non-legislative procedures, the theme underlying our suggestions is making best use of the time available to the House. We started with the three principles of our procedures to which the Leader of the House referred: the House being committed to self-regulation and the role of that in encouraging a spirit of courteous compromise; the characteristic that any Member of this House can raise and explore amendments to legislation without being prevented by formal timetables or guillotines; and the informal convention that allows all sections of this House to be fairly represented in debate. Our group felt that these were crucial characteristics that we ought to bear in mind in any considerations of our processes in the future.
In that context, let me have my two penny-worth on the role of the Lord Speaker during Question Time, which I know divides opinion in this House. I would not be in favour of the Lord Speaker being given a role calling individual speakers. However, like the noble Lord, Lord Luce, I take the view that it would not be inconsistent if the Lord Speaker took over from those on the government Front Bench the role of indicating which section of the House should have the next question-a role that has become even more controversial since the creation of the coalition. Apart from what I think many of us feel is the unseemliness of present procedures, there is clearly a danger of those on the Front Bench becoming open in this matter to accusations of political partiality.
The rest of my group's suggestions concentrate on ways of using to best advantage the crucial period between Question Time and the dinner hour when attendance is at its highest and the opinion of the House can most conveniently be tested. We suggest that more Statements and more Committee stages of Bills should be considered in Grand Committee, where any Member can take part in the business. The time available for the very important Statement that we had today on the National Health Service would not be as constrained as it was today, and the business of the House would not be interrupted. This debate today has been interrupted. Perhaps that does not matter, but it matters more when important debates on Bills are interrupted on Report.
We also suggest, and other speakers have referred to, more opportunities for topical debates and Questions-and, yes, we suggest shorter supplementary questions and answers. We suggest that, to increase the transparency of the House's arrangements, the Leader of the House should submit himself to a weekly Question Time of 20 or 30 minutes. The noble Lord, Lord Cope, had a bit of fun with this, but he has been one of the usual channels in another place. As one or two noble Lords have said, the arrangements by which the House is administered are not as clear to some Members of the House, even those who have been here for a long time, as they are to others. I very much remember intervening in a debate and asking the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, whether he could tell me the difference between the usual channels and the House authorities. With all his ministerial experience, he said in the most charming way that he could not.
Lord Cope of Berkeley: I apologise for interrupting the noble Lord, but I was not joking at all, particularly in my remarks, to which he drew attention, about the prospect of the Leader of the House answering questions. That would not be a positive improvement, and would not achieve the results which the noble Lord's sub-committee sought.
Lord Butler of Brockwell: I was not suggesting that the noble Lord was being frivolous. I, too, seriously suggest that if it is important that the House should be self-governing, which it is, widely giving Members the opportunity to put points of concern to the Leader of the House when they can during the week would increase the sense of involvement and participation and make the House more collegiate.
Lord Butler of Brockwell: This is certainly an open matter for debate. I should have thought that 20 minutes would be perfectly sufficient. Clearly, if the suggestion finds favour, the Leader's Group and the House could look at it.
We suggest that more publicity should be given to the excellent reports of Select Committees of the House by their chairs being given five minutes for a trailer on the day of publication, and we trail our own coats by suggesting slightly earlier sitting times and the ending of the wearing of medieval robes at times when the public gaze, through television, is most likely to be on us. We want to convince the world of the relevance of our procedures, and it is not helpful that we are most often portrayed in the newspapers and on television in our robes.
Not all these or our other suggestions may find favour with all your Lordships. As I said at the beginning, they are intended as an à la carte menu that we hope may provide food for thought, but I am greatly encouraged by the open-minded way in which they have been received by those on the Front Benches on both sides of the House.
I will make a final point about the timetable. It has been said that it would be useful if the Minister replying to the debate indicated the timetable which the Government have in mind for the Leader's Group. A report by the end of the year would be helpful so that discussion of these matters is not overtaken by the preoccupation with more controversial matters such as the draft Bill on the future of your Lordships' House.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, it is an extraordinary privilege to be able to follow the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, particularly on the first few points of principle in his speech and what he said about the Executive, about things-we all know what he was referring to-getting better, and about combined committees with the other place; the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan of Rogart, and my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth referred to that.
Right at the start of my contribution, I would like to say a word of gratitude to my noble friend Lord Strathclyde for tabling this Motion on working practices. The initiative was taken in 2001 by Lord Williams of Mostyn, who set up a group to report on working practices. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Royall of Blaisdon, for placing in the Library the fundamental documents that we are entitled to use, and need to use, in this debate; and the Library staff who produced our notes.
Having said that, I should make it plain that I will speak to only two working practices. One relates to what my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth said on 28 January, 25 February and today about pre-legislative and post-legislative scrutiny. I will speak later on how the Government can take steps to implement that. The other is the role of the Lord Speaker at Question Time. I am afraid that I respectfully disagree with the suggestion made in its report by the group of the noble Lord, Lord Butler; he mentioned in effect what it says. I will come to that a little later, but I object really on the basis that it sets aside the report of the Select Committee on the Speakership, which reported in December 2005 and was approved by the House on 31 January 2006. I will refer to the passage in it which is frankly put aside by what the noble Lord suggests.
I shall move on to my main point; the business of the Lord Speaker is relatively subsidiary, but in a way it goes against the grain and extends the remit of the appointment unnecessarily. On pre- and post-legislative scrutiny, my noble friend has proposed, in effect, that a new, formal effective structure should be established-a standing committee, preferably of both Houses-that pre-legislative scrutiny should be the norm; and that a Special Public Bill Committee or a temporary Select Committee should be set up for post-legislative scrutiny. Then he referred to the case for setting up a Joint Committee of both Houses. That is a bit loose and needs to be pulled together. There has to be a pattern of implementation, which should be provided by government in a written form. It should include the essence and details of what is proposed, how it will affect the process that will be used to implement it, and what sort of guidelines or criteria shall be established.
I will not go on for long, but there is a lot to be done with the details before you can get this going. In a sense, I am flat out for it. It is totally right and it is time we really got down to details which can be laid before the House and either approved or amended. It is a matter for the House. It is not really a matter for me at all. I shall leave legislative scrutiny and turn to my point about the Lord Speaker.
which was approved by the House. What the justification is for going against that today I do not know. Recently, it has been quite a difficult job and has needed authority-far more so than some years ago.
The noble Baroness, Lady Royall, and my noble friend Lord Strathclyde have done a very good, fair and effective job in difficult circumstances. Why? It is because they have authority. You cannot do that job
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Lord Rooker: My Lords, the title of the debate includes the words, "the case for reviewing". I think that the case was made before we started. Therefore, we can limit the evidence we have to give because the Leader's Group will look at it in some detail. I do not think that we can escape the fact that questions will have to be asked about what we are here for. It will get inexorably linked with the other debate that we are going to have. I have been here eight years. Some of us on the informal groups-last year, I had the privilege of being on one of them-asked: how do you get any change in this place? That was the starting point. Who do you go to? What do you do? What is the infrastructure to get some change? We discovered that it was not there. In the other place, there is more of a structure. I was told about the Procedure Committee, but others advised me that that was not the proper route.
I have two words at the top and the bottom of my notes, which I would ask the Leader's Group to think about. My noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours knows what I am going to say. The words are "trial" and "pilot". Do not come back with anything that looks like it will last for ever because the House will not buy it. To be honest, that is my experience. Offer every suggestion that comes to the House on a trial basis, perhaps until the next Parliament, for the whole of a Parliament or for a Session, depending on the menu. I do not think that the Members of this place, who are by and large more experienced than me, if I may put it that way, and slightly more conservative with a small "c", want to buy a lot of change. But trial and pilot should be offered and we can see how we go. The way to get change is quietly.
I am very pleased that the third report on governance is encompassed in this. To be honest, I had no involvement in that whatever. Like everyone else, I read the report when it was produced and it worried me more than the other two. I say that because people in this House who have experience on outside bodies that are governed by codes of practices and procedures for appointment and governance and finance do not recognise what they have read in that report. I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, and her team were right to bring those matters to the House and I hope that they will find some favour with the Leader's Group. But at the least they should be put to the House because, in the end, Peers have to decide these things.
I think it would be whistling in the wind to think that, if we ever get elected Peers-I do not want to get into that debate-they will arrive here and not use the powers. The restraints we put on ourselves will go out of the window, a point touched on by the Leader of the House in his opening gambit. If we are going to have some rules, we have to codify them, otherwise it will be absolute chaos.
I am not going to speak for long so I shall make just a couple of points. The issue I raised last year in the debate on the Queen's Speech was about having flagged up the bits of Bills that have not been looked at before arriving here from the Commons. That idea came to me while I was driving home one day when the House was not even sitting. I would have had a job explaining that to Bill Cockburn and his committee, who asked us what we did as Peers-how we clock on and clock off and so on. I was thinking about how we could make Bills better. I realise that someone has had a look at this suggestion and I know that it is not as simple as it appears, although it has a seductive appeal. I realise that sometimes a clause of two lines can bring in a schedule that might be 50 pages long. Which bits would you say were not debated? Generally speaking, if there is an elephant at the door, we recognise it, and therefore I think we can recognise the parts of the Bill that have not been debated or scrutinised, and then we can choose whether to look at them. We may decide that it does not need to be done, but those parts need to be flagged up in a systematic way. I cannot believe that there is not a way of doing that, and it is important.
For Bills that start in this place-personally, I do not think that they should, although that argument is not going to carry the day-certainly we need different procedures. Some major Bills have started in this place. The Climate Change Bill started here because I brought it to the House, as did the 2002 police reform legislation. It is true that politically contentious Bills generally do not start over here, but some major ones do, and we need to take a serious look at that.
The idea of a pre-legislative committee is also important. I do not want to criticise parliamentary counsel, but there is some slipshod work being done in Whitehall-under pressure from Ministers to get Bills before Parliament. Sometimes they say, "Slip it into the Lords first". I have been there when these discussions have taken place. Parliamentary counsel say, "We're not quite ready", and they are told, "That's all right. Put it in the Lords. They can sort it out because they have got more time and are more flexible than we are". That is not an effective way to produce good legislation for our fellow citizens. It would be a power to parliamentary counsel if we had that kind of committee.
I would not have raised the next issue if it were not for what happened today-and I have sat through all the debates today, including on the Statement. The noble Lord, Lord Cope, might say that we all failed, but no one was brave enough to stand up at the beginning of the Statement and say something when one of our Members took 25 per cent of the time available to the whole House.
Lord Rooker: Only after the event, and that is the difficulty. The argument for taking Statements in Grand Committee is powerfully made. Five minutes were taken up by one person when there are only 20 minutes for questions because there is no mechanism for getting some order into the system. If there was, I would not say anything, but going into Grand Committee is important.
I want to raise an issue which I know from some of the speeches is controversial. By the way, I agree with everything that has been said, but the role of the chair, particularly at Question Time, is not an unimportant matter. Between 2005 and 2007, the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, was the Leader of the House and I was the Deputy Leader, I had responsibility for Question Time. I have kept all the daily papers from that time. I have got them in a box, and I know exactly who got called, when they were called, and their party, for every Question Time for those two years. I can produce the figures. They were difficult to do, but nevertheless I kept all the papers because I just walked out of here and chucked them into a box.
Lord Rooker: No, no. There was almost a competition between us. My noble friend Lady Amos would say, "I once got 36 supplementary questions through. How many did you get today?". I usually managed 24 or 25 supplementaries in half an hour, which is pretty good going when you think about what happened during the Statement today. I want to repeat a point I made last October in the debate on the Queen's Speech. There is a serious problem in that with the expertise in this House and the range of Questions that can come up on a daily basis-we are not constrained like the other place-I think that there are hundreds of Members of this House who are reluctant to try to ask a supplementary question. That is because the method of doing so is to enter a bear pit.
I have no experience of it. In fact, last week I stood up for the first time ever and asked a supplementary question at Question Time. I had never done it before, and it was an easy one because no one else stood up. However, it can be a bear pit and many people just will not do it. But if you were to ask them whether they had something to say, they would reply, "Yes. I had a good point to make but I wasn't prepared to join in. If I could have been called, I would take my luck with everyone else". I know that this is a tricky one because, in a way, it would give the chair the authority of the Leader. It is important because I do not think there is another legislature anywhere in the world where the Executive decides who is asking the questions that scrutinise the Ministers. That is intrinsically wrong for a start. It has got to be a bad principle in terms of democracy. The Government decide which Member can ask the Government a question. I know it is done fairly because for two years I supervised it myself, but it looks wrong. The Lord Speaker could do it in terms of the blocks as people stand. My noble friend Lady Jones is not here, although I am pleased to see my noble friend Lord Grocott in his place.
When I referred to this last October, I said that I had not done any research on it, but I did say that we keep hearing from the same noble Lords at Question Time. After that, someone did some work on the figures, and we had them today. Over a whole Session, half of the supplementary questions-over 1,500 of them-were asked by 8 per cent of Peers, which is 57 Peers. The same people asked all those questions because they are prepared to bully and shout and intimidate others into sitting down. That cannot be conducive to proper scrutiny at Question Time. A few people dominate, and we know who they are because we see them all the while-the same 57 people ask half the supplementaries. So I appreciate the fact that that research was carried out.
Lord Rooker: Many who would stand up if they could be called are put off, and they are world experts in the variety of issues that this House deals with. Peers should be asked about this, and I am pleased that when the Leader talked about how the silent majority were going to rule, I think that that is what he was referring to: those who are not here as opposed to those who speak. There ought to be some questionnaires from Leader's Group asking people what they think before proposals are brought back to the House for decision.
Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope: My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Rooker. I say that because he and I have been studying these things across both Houses for a number of years. I enjoyed his speech and I concur with absolutely everything he said. What I want to try to do with the short time allocated to me is argue that we really do have a new set of circumstances surrounding this debate. Whether or not it was a shot fox, as the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, said, I welcomed the announcement as soon as the coalition was formed that we were going to have a Leader's Working Group. I hope it will give consideration as to whether it should be a standing group; the noble Lord, Lord Norton, is right about that. I am relatively new here. I have never experienced a Leader's Working
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There is a majority for change in this House if it is handled properly. At my first political demonstration, I followed Jo Grimond, marching towards the sound of gunfire. What was the chant? It was, "What are we for? Moderate change. When do we want it? In due course". I am now in the coalition and a holy warrior for change: I want change and I want it quite soon. I can put a time on it now because the difference with this debate today is that we know we are going to have five-year Parliaments. There is high risk that this House, this important institution, could be facing profound change by 5 May 2015. That does not sound a long time and we have a great deal of work to do if we are to have a modern legislature that is capable of anticipating that change, facing it and planning for it. We do not know what will happen to us, but if we do nothing it will be worse.
There is a new urgency about what the Leader's Group will bring to the House. The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, is right. We need to pilot things and think carefully about them. I am very pleased to be the chair of the Information Committee. I was fingered by a Whip and told that I was to be chair of the Information Committee, which was very interesting. I thought, "Do I not need to face an election?". "Oh no. Nothing as bizarre as that", I was told. My role is to try to help in outreach, which is a horrible word. My predecessor, the noble Lord, Lord Renton of Mount Harry, produced a fantastic report called Are the Lords Listening? Creating Connections between People and Parliament, and noble Lords such as the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, and the Lord Speaker are doing wonderful outreach work in explaining the House to people. The noble Lord, Lord Luce, said that there is "profound ignorance" among the public about what we do here. He is not exaggerating; that is an absolute statement of the current position. If that is the case, we should spend 25 per cent of our time-I shall certainly spend 25 per cent of my time-in Parliament for the next five years trying to explain to people what we do here.
It is not difficult. I have visited one or two schools as part of the schools outreach programme, which I recommend to noble Lords. You get mostly positive feedback, some of which is amusing and entertaining, and you always bring back anecdotes to tell down the pub on a Friday night. It is worth doing. We need to get into a position where people understand that we are legislators. That is all we need to say: "We are legislators".
I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Luce, who made the point that substantive debates were influential on government policy. People say to me that it would be helpful to use the IT and social networking sites that
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The Information Committee organises and supports the work in the Library and we need to consider extra resources to support the working practices. There are 400 active Members of the House. How do I know that? Because the lists are in the Library. People are in and out of the Library, calling on resources and using them productively on the Floor of the House in order to do the work they are bidden to do in Parliament. Those 400 people need better support. Why? Because we are getting bigger in number and the facilities need to be properly promoted. The struggle for resources is a constraint on us all. We get valuable assistance from the Library and we need to keep up its quality. However, I warn the House that, unless we put resources in over the next five years, that quality is bound to slip and become diluted. There are plans for extra members in the Library in the new island site when it comes on stream but, as chair of the Information Committee, I give notice that I will be making a robust but sensible application for continuing support for individual Members who are trying to do their work in this House. I shall also look for support from colleagues to do outreach work.
I was lucky to be part of the governance committee under the noble Baroness, Lady Murphy. Again, the noble Lord, Lord Luce, set the tone of the debate when he said that there needs to be an independent review of governance. I was a House of Commons Commissioner for a long time and I was very nervous about this. I was the external spokesman for the commission during my time in the Commons and, when we had the Braithwaite review, the scales fell from my eyes. Someone from outside-no one particularly special-came in, sat down, went round, asked some quiet questions with no axes to grind and produced a devastating report on what was happening externally
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The noble Lord, Lord Cope, busily defended Whips-the poor souls-and said that people speak to them every five minutes. That is a great shame; what a load it must be if people talk to you a lot. I was a Whip and I know that Whips look after party interests. However, those are not the only interests here. The government Chief Whip and the Leader of the House look after the executive interest but in the House of Lords there is also the holy grail of the institutional interest which the Lord Speaker should hold tightly in his or her grasp. I think that the usual channels do not take a sufficient overview of the institution and have too much influence. However, you always think that if you are not a Whip and think the reverse if you are and nothing much will change in that direction. However, it is not sufficient to say it is okay; that the usual channels have got it fixed and it all works. It does-and I am grateful to the people who do it-but we need to have a completely new transparency and consider how it looks from the outside. People need to see what is happening so that they can be confident that what they are being told is fit for purpose.
Lord Cope of Berkeley: There are differences between the way in which Whips in this House and Whips in the other House operate. Of course, Whips in this House look after the interests of their party among other things, and they also have a great responsibility, as they do in the other House, for the institution as a whole, but the Whips in this House have in addition a great responsibility for the members of their group, be it their party or the Cross Benches. If they do not look after them, they do not get on very well. They are also extremely open to both public and private scrutiny.
Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope: I defer to my noble friend's greater experience: I have never been a Whip here nor do I intend to apply to become one. The usual channels need somebody to oversee what they do. There needs to be more constructive tension between the Government, the Whips, the usual channels and the Lord Speaker. We need some sensible, adult thought about that.
Lord Elton: My Lords, as one, I presume, of the 57 Peers whom the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, had in mind, I am very glad not to have had to bully, shout at, or intimidate anybody to get into this debate. I am very sorry to hear that he might think that I have had to do so in Questions.
The House has changed enormously since the days when I joined it, which were, I admit, 37 years ago. That change has accelerated rapidly since the removal of the rest of my hereditary colleagues. In my early days in the House, to have to shout in order to get into Questions, or not to give way to a Privy Counsellor or
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I shall not talk about the detail of the papers-except in one respect-because that can be done in response to whatever consultation comes out later on. I shall speak instead about the context in which the consultation is taking place and which I fear from time to time slips from our consciousness. We need, as three Peers have said before me, to remember what Parliament is for: it is to control the Executive. The House of Lords is there to assist the House of Commons to do that and supply what the House of Commons either cannot or will not do, or has not done. A lot of that is in legislation. In a recent debate, I pointed out how, on 10 and 11 March 2005, we prevented the House of Commons allowing the Government what amounted to a lettre de cachet, renewable every 90 days, to put people into detention without trial. That is the big thing that we are there for; it is made up of a lot of little things in the way of legislation. Governments like making laws; they like getting their own way; and they like getting it easily. The noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope, used the nice term "institutional interest". It is an institutional interest that we have to watch here: the interest of Her Majesty's Government, of whatever party, in securing their legislation as swiftly, as easily and in as large a bulk as possible.
Like, I am sure, the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, and many other of your Lordships, I have been in the position of being a new junior Minister and finding Permanent Secretaries, or, sometimes, slightly less senior civil servants, put it across that really what sort of a man or woman you are will come out of how big a slice of legislative time you can get for your department. That is built into the Civil Service and Governments need to resist it. To the extent that they do not or cannot, they need to be supported by Parliament to see that this great inertia of legislation has a brake put on it.
Grand Committees were invented to take the brake off. There did not used to be Grand Committees; all Committees were on the Floor of this House until relatively recently-for those who are of my generation. They were invented, I think, in Margaret Thatcher's day-I regret to say it, but I may be wrong-to free up the logjam in the Chamber that we keep hearing about, although I have not noticed there being one at the moment. But whose logjam is it? It is a logjam of government business. Most of us are agreed that there is too much of it. Therefore, I am not of the chorus which says that we must have more Grand Committees; I am in the very small group which says, "Actually, we could do better with none, but let's stick with one". As my noble friend on the Front Bench said in opening the debate, there is spare capacity there now, because the number of Bills that have gone through Grand Committee recently is not as high as in the peak. So let us not start messing about with more Grand Committees.
I have to follow the noble Lord, Lord Luce, and others in saying that all this inexorably links to the question of reform, because what you do in this House and how you do it depends on what it is made up of. We are at a critical point in the process of evolution. We were at one stage much larger than now. I have heard people say with hushed voices in case they should be overheard by the public, "We'll soon have 800 Members". When I joined the House, there were 1,084 Members, and it grew after that, but the House was nothing like as crowded as it is now at Question Time, because there was no incentive to come here to talk unless you had something worth saying and knew that people were going to come and listen to you. That meant that you had a very much higher quality of input and a very much shorter list of speakers.
We are now moving towards a decision to have a much smaller body, elected. Instead of a vast crowd from which hundreds of experts in very narrow specialisms can be called when they are needed, we will have a small group of jacks-of-all-trades who will work simply from briefing that they are given every day, just like Ministers working from the same briefs. Where is the improvement in quality of legislation in that? I pray that we may not get there. In the mean time, we are right, are we not, to continue to plan the reforms in our procedures and governance to work with the system that we have got? I think that that is something worth fighting for.
I hope that your Lordships will take away the importance not of widening or increasing the streams of legislation that go through this place but, rather, of focusing them and giving them more expert attention. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch-I have not seen her in her place since she spoke-said that the House of Commons spent three times as long as we did on scrutinising legislation. It does not say much for the level of its scrutiny when, in particular, not only do the things that it has scrutinised come with glaring mistakes in them but vast rafts of the stuff come from there not scrutinised at all. The figures that the noble Baroness quoted do not accord very closely with those that I got from the Library earlier today.
I merely put this in at the end to focus on the importance of the legislative process that we do for the nation-our country, as the noble Lord said. If we are going to do that at our best, we need to do it in a focused way with a large reserve of individual experts on specific things who are not coming in, frankly, in order to get benefits but in order to contribute to the work which is vital to this country.
Lord Parekh: My Lords, I begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, for arranging this debate and introducing it in a most constructive tone. Since he is for change and is welcoming suggestions, I shall add a few more to those that he has already received in this long debate. During the 10 years that I have been in this House, I have often had occasion to wonder whether our practices might not change so that some of us on the Back Benches might be able to participate more effectively than we have so far. If one were to ask how we should judge the practices of this House,
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Judged by these three criteria, I want to look at four important aspects of this House's practices. I begin with Question Time, because during the 10 long years that I have been here I have found it difficult to stand up and ask supplementary questions. That has been so partly because I am not as quick on my feet as I could be, while sometimes I am not good at outshouting somebody else who might stand up at the same time. It is also sometimes the case that one is not able to stand on one's feet until the House decides in one's favour. It is as a result of this sort of experience, which many Peers must have, that about 57 Peers-as the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, said earlier-tend to monopolise between them nearly 1,300 supplementaries or thereabouts.
It is not just a question of the 57 Peers. If you break them down into their backgrounds, I would have thought that nearly 75 to 80 per cent of them would have been either ex-Ministers or ex-MPs. They are used to that kind of practice; some of us who have not been to the other place and are simple-minded university professors are not, and we find it rather difficult to adopt it so there must be some principle that guides us in deciding who follows whom when supplementaries are asked. It is also important that some preference should be given to those who are not normally in the habit of speaking and who might be speaking for the first or second time. That job is best done not by the Leader of the House-however well meaning he might be-but rather by the Lord Speaker, who is able to spot who needs to be invited and whose turn it is. In spite of what the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said at the beginning about not being in favour of passing on this power to the Lord Speaker, I strongly urge that this change is badly needed.
I turn to another area where I have participated more enthusiastically than in supplementary questions: the debates. I would have thought that nearly a quarter of this House's time is spent debating big issues and about two-thirds dealing with legislation. If as much as 25 to 27 per cent of our time is devoted to debates, we should be asking ourselves how those debates are organised, what they achieve, who participates and whether they are structured in the right way. I shall make three or four important suggestions for improvement.
First, very often we have subject themesfor debates which are too general and therefore inevitably too vague to allow us to decide what the debate is about. If I go into the Whips Office and find a subject, it can be interpreted in 20 different ways; one therefore puts down one's name and takes a particular line on it. In some other legislatures, it is a common practice when a subject is put down for debate to have a paragraph explaining what the proposer of the debate would like to see debated under that rubric. That would not do us much harm. Otherwise, lots of debates that I have sat through lack coherence because different speakers,
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It would also be useful to ask ourselves what is happening to some of the ideas that we might be able to articulate in those debates. Some of us sometimes spend hours thinking about a subject and trying to see what new things one can say. Having spent that much time, you ask yourself: what is the destiny of those ideas? What is happening to them? The Minister, inevitably, only has a few minutes at his disposal and some suggestions that we might have made get referred to in a sentence or two. What happens to the rest of the points that many of your Lordships might have made? Sometimes, the Minister will write a reply but that is often not as detailed as it could be. It might therefore be helpful if, at the end of each debate, the Minister or his senior officials could provide a fairly detailed reply to all the points that have been made by the speakers. Should that be difficult, there should at least be a meeting arranged with them so that those points can be discussed and clarified.
I also sometimes wonder why the practice of being here not just at the beginning of the debate but sitting until its very end is mandatory in this House. There are second legislative Chambers in the world where that is not so. You must, obviously, be there at the beginning, because that is where frameworks for the debate are set out, and for a couple of speakers before and after you. After that, if you hang around as 20 other speakers follow you, only in the hope that you might get a mention in the Minister's speech, you might ask yourself-if you think about it realistically and ruthlessly-exactly what the point is of staying on right until the bitter end. One might say it is advisable that you should be there as a matter of courtesy and etiquette. Fine-but should it be mandatory, as it is? I sometimes wonder whether we might not rethink that practice.
I also sometimes wonder whether the four or five days of debate that we have following the Queen's speech are absolutely necessary. Four to five days of your Lordships' time are given over to those debates. The same debate then comes up at the Second Readings of Bills. Is it therefore right to have 50, 70 or 80 of your Lordships speaking on any given day and require them to stay from the early afternoon until almost midnight? What would be the point of that?
Going a step further, this year I was particularly struck by the fact that if you take a subject-the Home Office, let us say-a whole day is set aside. Yet the Home Office covers seven or eight different areas. Some of us might want to speak on race, some on police custody and some on immigration. Because the Home Office subjects are not clustered and thematised such that we could put down our names to speak on this subject rather than that, the result is that one of your Lordships speaks on immigration followed immediately by somebody speaking on another subject and the debate tends to lack dialectical engagement or critical coherence.
The third area which we might want to look at a little more carefully is the Grand Committee. Over the years, as the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, pointed out, Grand Committees have increasingly come to
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Finally, I turn to the question of post-legislative scrutiny. It is an absolute must for a variety of reasons. It allows us to compare the outcome against the intended objectives of the legislation and to learn lessons that can be fed into the work of the department and improve future legislation. We can also, through such scrutiny, build up common guiding principles on good and bad practices in the drafting of legislation. This is particularly relevant because this Government seem to want, rightly in my view, to make a bonfire of some of the existing laws. However, that bonfire simply cannot be made on the basis of what the general public want; it must be done on the basis of certain guiding principles, and post-legislative scrutiny should allow us to do that. Some kind of Select Committee to deal with that would be important.
Debates in this House, from time to time, have parochial orientations. We do not look at what happens in other European countries-in the United States, Canada, India or other places. I hope that when the Leader's Group begins to discuss this very important issue, it might also conduct a short survey of what practices obtain in other jurisdictions from which we might learn something.
Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, I congratulate the usual channels on arranging for a debate on the practices of the House so early in this Parliament and my noble friend's intention to set up a Leader's Group to study them. I hope that this will not preclude a discussion of procedures, which is what I am principally interested in.
Earlier in this debate, my noble friend Lord Cope used a phrase akin to "be careful what you wish for". Some years ago, I had the opportunity to visit New Zealand, representing both the Merits Committee and the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. While there, I picked up a guide to its Parliament, which started with the sentence:
I am not an abolitionist but, like other noble Lords, I believe that we can do things better and make better use of our facilities, such as the Moses Room, as my noble friend Lord Strathclyde said. That would take pressure off the Chamber and reserve it for what are arguably more important things. For example, why are Committee stages of Private Members' Bills invariably held in the Chamber?
Also with regard to the Chamber, I do not think that we should be considering what the Lord Speaker does now, or how she performs her role. For example, unlike the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, I would not like the Lord Speaker to become involved in keeping order
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Some Chief Whips have been better than others at having extraordinary antennae for identifying trouble in the Chamber. My noble friend Lord Denham was one such, even when he was some distance away from where we are now. It is only failing an intervention of one of these that a Back-Bencher would be brave enough to dip their toe in that particular water, but it is not out of order, as the Companion to the Standing Orders makes clear. When, on rare occasions, I have done it as a Back-Bencher, it was only after taking advice. My noble friend Lord Strathclyde will remember a whispered conversation that we shared before I brought a Question for Short Debate to a grinding halt by moving that a noble Lord be no longer heard. That situation and many others are covered by Standing Orders and the Companion thereto, an edition of which I was, with others, appointed to revise some years ago.
The problem as I see it is that the Companion is now too bulky and heavy to carry in one's pocket or handbag. With new Members appearing every day, not every noble Lord has read it, although every noble Lord receives a copy. What would be useful is a very basic synopsis, especially for those noble Lords who have not been with us very long. In this connection, I welcome the unofficial mentoring that is undertaken by some experienced noble Lords, although in the heat and thunder of debate it is seldom appropriate to give pertinent advice at a time when it is so sorely needed. Perhaps one transgression is understandable, but a second is generally not.
That said, this debate is about practices, and there are two things that are high on my list of priorities, both of which come under the heading of interruptions. In opening the debate on our future, my noble friend Lord Strathclyde was interrupted no fewer than 11 times when he was trying to set out the Government's stall on the subject of reform. It was far from conducive to good and sensible debate to break up the logic of what he sought to explain. I accept that his words were miles away from what many of your Lordships wanted to hear. None the less, far from improving the quality of debate, for which we are normally renowned, it actually destroyed it. In my book, the only time when Ministers should be interrupted is during the wind-up. After all, noble Lords can be as disrespectful as they like in their own speeches. If you feel strongly about a subject, you should put your name on the list to speak, but only if you can be in the House for the whole debate. We are not and never should be a version of
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The other thing that we should do something about is Question Time. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Luce, in this, although the "bear pit", as the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, described it, I find a bit strong. It is very rare these days when only one noble Lord rises to ask a supplementary question. Is it only good manners-the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, used the word courtesy just now-to give the floor to someone who knows more about the subject or more senior than oneself. Within this, we should sort out the pecking order as regards the parties and the Cross Benches. Given the coalition Government, some noble Lords, especially in the Official Opposition, regard those of us who sit on the spiritual side of the House as comprising one party-the party of Government. We are not a single party-or perhaps not yet, as I have heard rather premature talk of a single party being formed. I doubt that very much. Politics makes strange bedfellows and my temporary noble friends are just that-temporary. As such, we should return to the status quo ante, with the routine of supplementaries from the three parties and the Cross Benches on a one-one-one-one basis, with the norm of a right reverend Prelate intervening should he wish. Otherwise, we would have to have the Lord Speaker call Members, a procedure that would inevitably lead to a rearrangement of the Chamber. Do those promoting this course really want the Clerks sitting between the throne and the Woolsack or even beside it?
Lastly, we had an occasion on Wednesday last when we sat to what these days is regarded as a very late hour. Not being privy to the discussions between the usual channels, I do not know how it came to be agreed that we should have a late sitting on the day before we were to sit at 11 o'clock. This may not have inconvenienced many noble Lords, but I beg the usual channels to consider our staff and treat them a little more generously. I am well aware that after 10.30 pm they are allowed taxis home, but some who have to be here as long as the House sits or even for a period after it rises have a two-hour journey home. If they leave the House at, say, 12.30 in the morning and then have to be back in the House half an hour before we sit the following morning at 11 o'clock, they can hardly be expected to give of their best. In parenthesis, the same reasoning applies to morning Sittings, especially regarding the Doorkeepers-although I suppose that it would be possible for others to perform the duties that they currently undertake in the Moses Room.
There are two ways out of this problem. The first is to return Thursday to its 2.30 pm sitting time, but I am afraid that 11 am sittings suit the majority of noble Lords so I suppose that we are too far down the track to change our hours back to what they were in the 1980s. However, I wonder how many of us work in or outside the House in the mornings as trustees of charities, directors of firms and so on. A fair number, I suspect. Perhaps it would be sensible to poll all noble
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Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe: My Lords, I begin with a word of thanks to the Front Bench opposite for giving us this debate today, which has proved to be an excellent event. I express my gratitude to the Lord Speaker for her speech to the Hansard Society that acted as a spur for a number of us to come together and work in a variety of ways. I personally thank the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, for leading the small committee of which I had the pleasure and privilege to be a member, which spent much of its time focusing on the issue of how we use our time.
The noble Lord, Lord McNally, will be pleased to hear that I am not indignant today-in fact, quite the opposite. I hope only that he will not be indignant when the noble Lord the Leader announces that we might be looking to work on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings in future; I remind him that when we were members together in the Leader's Group under Lord Williams of Mostyn, it was the Lib Dems who opposed working on Thursday mornings when we tried to effect that change. I hope that the coalition has sorted itself out on that issue and there will not be any problems between its members. That is an area where, if there are to be changes of that nature, a poll among Members of the House would probably be appropriate.
Most of the issues that I wanted to touch on have already been dealt with in some depth. There is not much, frankly, on which I can add a great deal more. I can, however, introduce something new regarding the Lord Speaker's role. The sub-committee that I was on recommended modest changes: the powers presently held by the Front Bench should be transferred to the Lord Speaker but without the right of the Lord Speaker to call individuals, merely with the right to indicate which group is to speak. I support that view.
Noble Lords will be interested to hear that during the course of 2009 my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours carried out extensive consultation among Members of the House. The result indicated that 241 were in favour of transferring responsibility from the Front Bench to the Lord Speaker, 58 were against and 18 were neutral on the issue. That was in 2009, and since then we have seen further changes take place. I share the view that Question Time in particular has become rather more unruly than in previous years, and perhaps it is time that we had a look at this. I am pleased to hear that the terms of reference will include a review of the role of the Lord Speaker. I hope that it will be confirmed that they will extend to seeing whether there is a possibility of transferring responsibility from the Front Bench to the Lord Speaker along the lines that I have just described.
I support the view, which has been expressed by my noble friend Lord Rooker in particular, that in areas where we may have worries we should be prepared to embrace trials or experiments for certain periods.
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Another topic that came up in the group overseen by the noble Lord, Lord Butler, and which has given rise to a number of Questions, particularly from the noble Lord, Lord Cope, is the idea of a Leader's session. Again, this has some history and some background to it. When we had a Leader's Group back in 2002-03, the idea came from the then Leader of the House. Lord Williams offered to do a half-hour session on business and any other issues that might arise. That is the source of the recommendation in the paper of the noble Lord, Lord Butler. It is worth reviewing again and I would welcome a comment from the noble Lord, Lord McNally, on this. We had the recent experiment of Secretaries of State taking Questions for half an hour specifically on their areas of departmental responsibility. I think that this was an experiment that ran up to the end of the previous Parliament. I presume that they have now been abandoned. If I have got that wrong, perhaps the Minister will put me right.
An alternative that would help us all would be seriously to consider a Leader's session of about 20 minutes or half an hour-I would prefer half an hour. I think it would be primarily about the way that business was being run, but additionally it would give Members an opportunity to raise other topics in the Chamber where they see no alternative way to raise such questions under the way that business is presently run. I have been one of those who wanted to raise topics and have invariably ended up with the Chairman of Committees being responsible for trying to reply. Given that he has limited areas of authority, my Questions have had to go back to the government of the day.
We now need to give serious consideration to having a Leader's session. It would be helpful in terms of business, but more particularly it might release some of the tensions that have been building up and which we have been witnessing during the course of the four Questions each day, when people are increasingly seen to be frustrated at not being able to get their view heard. I hope that the Minister will say whether that will be looked at.
With regard to other issues that we find difficult to raise, it is good to see that the Institute for Government is doing such sterling work. I suggest to those who have some influence within that organisation that they might try to persuade it to give some thought to the following: instead of merely looking at the Commons separately and then maybe looking at activities within the Lords, perhaps there is a case for taking an overall view of the way that the two Houses interrelate in a range of areas. I find it interesting that soon we will be looking to local authorities to find savings in the order
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When I first came here, we had separate IT operations for the Commons and the Lords. That set-up was quite impractical for dealing with the way that technology developed. We then had to pass an Act of Parliament to bring the two together and have a combined operation, which was the right thing to do. There is a range of other activities that take place and affect staff and Members in both the Commons and the Lords where, if we are encouraging others in different parts of society to come together, work better and effect efficiencies, there is a case for doing something similar within the Palace of Westminster between the Lords and the Commons. Again, though, there is no mechanism for doing that. I look to outsiders to explore the possibility, or maybe, if we get a Leader's Question Time and nothing is happening on that front, I will get the opportunity to raise such a Question with him then. At the moment, there is nowhere else where it can be raised.
Lord Tyler: My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, referred in her powerful speech to the denigration of newcomers to certain areas of the country. In Cornwall, unless you were born there or have lived there for 25 years, you are referred to as an "emmet", which is certainly a denigratory word. I have been in your Lordships' House for only five years, but I have been impressed by the way in which, today and on previous occasions, Members with longer experience and Members who are newly arrived have agreed on a whole number of issues.
I do not propose to go over all the issues on which I agree with other Members of your Lordships' House; instead, I want to reiterate and reinforce one or two of the major themes. In so doing, I congratulate my noble friend the Leader of the House on bringing forward this issue so early in the Parliament, as I think that that will be to the benefit of careful consideration of these issues. I also thank him and the noble Baroness, Lady Royall of Blaisdon, for referring to the need to see how the Wright committee proposals in the other place interrelate with what we are doing here, a point that I shall come back to.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, who has just spoken, I had a minor role in the discussion on the strengthening of Parliament and I pay tribute to the chairs of the three groups that brought forward those papers. Again, like the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, I think that it is important that we do not just have those papers on the agenda for the Leader's Group. The Better Government Initiative, the Hansard Society and the Institute for Government have also produced important raw material for consideration of these issues. I very much welcome what my noble friend Lord Strathclyde said about the wide remit for the Leader's Group.
The main theme that I shall pick up is the holistic approach to the whole work of Parliament-the whole building-which I think is extremely important. For the reasons that have just been elucidated, it tends to fall between two stools-the two ends of the building. Therefore, I am encouraged that there has been a strong emphasis on the total outcome of the work of Parliament rather than just on the two different bits. I refer in particular to the speech made by my noble friend Lord Maclennan of Rogart.
We have to be careful to avoid the silo mentality that is explicit in the way in which the two Houses work. We are so careful not to tread on the toes of the other place that sometimes we do not do justice to the whole of the work of this building. This is not just a question of the Wright committee proposals versus the strengthening of Parliament proposals in your Lordships' House. We need to ensure that they marry together to improve the total outcome of Parliament.
It is true that we can now work on specifics. The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, in the debate on the gracious Speech, referred to the way in which the other place-the whole of the House of Commons-is trying to own more of the process of legislation. One of the Wright committee's proposals was that there should be more of a guarantee that Report stage of all Bills in the other place reflected a total acceptance and understanding of the Bill by the House rather than simply being entirely dominated and managed by the business managers of the Government of the day. As I understand it, what came out of that suggestion was that the business committee or whatever mechanism the House of Commons decides to create should certificate to your Lordships' House which areas of a Bill had not, in its view, received the full attention of the other place. That would be a useful self-discipline, quite apart from being informative to this House. It is one example of where the two Houses have to find mechanisms for making the process work better.
I spent eight years on the Select Committee on the Modernisation of the House of Commons. During the 2001-02 Session, I saw one area of reform under the then Leader of the House, Mr Robin Cook, that I think is an important consideration for your Lordships' House. It is referred to in the committee's second report of that Session, which states:
"We recommend that there should be collective consultations with other parties in the House on the broad shape of the legislative year, those Bills intended to be published in draft, those Bills intended to be carried over and which Bills are expected to be introduced in the Commons, including discussion on the likely dates of recesses and related matters such as Friday sittings and Opposition days".
It will be immediately apparent to noble Lords that, if the House of Commons is going to discuss which Bills should start there, that has huge implications for your Lordships' House, because presumably all the other Bills will begin their process in this House.
I bring to your Lordships' attention, as I do not think that it has been noted, the fact that that process took place, albeit only once. After the Queen's Speech in 2002, there was a meeting chaired by Robin Cook and including the representatives of the other two parties-Eric Forth and me-at which we discussed precisely the most appropriate Bills to come to the Commons and to your Lordships' House, although, of
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Lord Campbell of Alloway: I think that what my noble friend is talking about is political consensus. Let us hope that in such circumstances there can be consensus. However, if there is not, you cannot have these committees dominating the wish of the Government.
Lord Tyler: I understand what my noble friend says: of course, at the end of the day, it is the Government's business. However, I believe that the Government would benefit-this has very much been a theme today-if there was such informal discussion. The group that I mentioned was informal; it was not an official committee. Informal discussion about the processing of legislation through the whole of Parliament-not just one House and not just in the Government's interest-would also allow for agreement about which Bills were most appropriate for pre-legislative scrutiny and for carryover into the following Session. At the moment, that tends to be a take-it-or-leave-it proposal from the Government.
In addition to the lack of Lords representatives at that meeting, the other problem was that, as soon as Robin Cook, sadly, resigned, as a result of the decision to invade Iraq, the government Whips took back control. There was no cross-party discussion of any other Queen's Speech. I strongly urge my noble friends on the Front Bench to look carefully at whether they can find some mechanism by which both Houses can find a better way of processing legislation, not just to avoid the London bus syndrome, which is bad enough in both Houses, but to get more consensus about which Bills are most appropriate for pre-legislative scrutiny and carryover.
The other issue which has been given a great deal of attention today and which deserves more examination is the way in which this House self-regulates, self-disciplines and self-governs. When I came to your Lordships' House, I was amazed. I accept that the occupants of the government Front Bench-of all parties-do their very best and are scrupulous during Questions and Statements. Indeed, we had another example of this during the Statement today, when the self-discipline of the House was, frankly, not very effective; it looked more as though the business was being directed by a representative of the Government.
The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, who has patiently listened to so much of this debate without contributing, has over the months proved the case for thinking very carefully about the role of the occupant of the chair. It is asking too much of the government Front Bench to have eyes in the backs of their heads. I remember the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, who was here earlier-I am sorry he is not here now-asking, as someone who had to perform that role so often, "What other assembly or legislature in the world would ask somebody who has their back to half the potential participants to decide who should contribute next?". Both at Questions and during the Statement today,
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I agree, therefore, that we must think a little about the role of the Lord Speaker. We should not leave that until the end of the five-year term of office, which is only 12 months hence now. The Lord Speaker has, both in person and in how she has allowed the role to develop, been a triumphant success. However, that does not mean that we should leave it at that and hope that all will be well forever. I take issue with my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway. Yes, the Leader of the House at the time has personal authority, but that is because he or she is appointed. The Lord Speaker is elected by the whole of your Lordships' House. She or he has absolute personal authority from the way in which we ensure that person is appropriate for that role. We should, therefore, in the next 12 months as part of the general role of this new Lords Leader's Group, look at that issue. We should not take it as a separate issue, but see it as part of the general concern.
There have been some notable contributions today. I was struck by something that the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, said. This should not be an ad hoc operation that we come to every so often, perhaps when there has been some sort of minor crisis. We should have a continuing renewal and review role in the way in which we operate. It does not mean that we will always make changes. It may be that part of the outcome of that renewal and review will be to say that we have got things roughly right. It should not mean that we start from scratch, right at the beginning again. We need to build on what we already have.
I hope that my noble friends on all sides of the House will agree that it is important to make some progress. However, this will not be something that we complete in a matter of months. There will be a need for continuity in this role. I heard what the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, said about some of his new colleagues in your Lordships' House. As far as I am concerned, all Members of your Lordships' House are my noble bedfellows. I am proud to be in this House, looking as we are at trying to improve our game. Again, as Robin Cook said so many years ago, this is not a zero-sum exercise. Improving how the other place operates and improving how we operate are not in contradiction or conflict. We need to be better together at holding the Executive to account. We can do that if we make complementary changes to how we operate here.
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, with the many different and time-consuming activities of your Lordships' House, I have come to think about this issue of continuing reform and updating the House's processes and working practices rather late. Therefore, I particularly thank the Leader of the House for this
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The number of detailed recommendations contained in these papers is considerable. I have immediate very positive reactions to a few points, such as more pre- and post-legislative scrutiny, and clear description of and justification for Bills before this House. I very much like the idea, proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, that there ought to be some method of letting us know which parts of Bills coming from the other place have not been discussed, so that we can get straight on to those. Setting up a Leader's Group, now that that has been decided, is clearly the best way forward for the consideration of the totality of the issues before us.
Looking through the papers, I was also immediately struck by their underlying similarity in two essential respects, which will need rather more specific action. First, although there is and will be a need for some form of usual channels, in their present form, the hidden, rather secretive way in which they operate is viewed as rather less than democratic by those not within their magic circle. Secondly, the way the House operates needs to take Back-Benchers' and Cross-Benchers' interests more obviously into account. Several noble Lords have made this point, not least the Leader of the House himself. Furthermore, the interests and needs of the wider public should be taken into account as well as those of Cross-Benchers and Back-Benchers.
My thoughts on this go back to my own entry, nearly 10 years ago, to the House as one of that first batch of appointed, so-called-rudely-people's Peers. Coming directly from chairing the Broadcasting Standards Commission, it was a surprise to find that no House of Lords communications Select Committee existed for this crucial and growing area of importance. Not surprisingly, I set about trying to secure the establishment of such a body, not least because a little research showed that nearly 100 Members of your Lordships' House had experience, expertise or interest in this area.
The formal approach we made to the Liaison Committee when Lord Williams of Mostyn was Leader of the House certainly produced a hopeful reaction to the suggestion that the committee be set up after the Communications Act 2003 became law. Sadly, though, when that time arrived, he was no longer with us and the reaction of the next Leader-the noble Baroness,
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From that I come to one suggestion for fairly immediate change, which is no more than an imitation of the change recently accepted in the other place; namely, that there should be a greater willingness in your Lordships' House to enable decisions to be taken by a ballot of the House itself-for example, to decide whether a specific select or other important committee is to be established or, if that is thought to go rather too far in favour or popular choice, at the very least to decide who the members of that committee are to be, and who is to be its chairman. That suggestion is not a way-out novelty. As we all know, it figures in several of the papers being considered today. As it is already happening in another place, why should it not happen here in our own?
Lord Lucas: My Lords, I do not always agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, but I certainly side with the last point that she made. It seems to me that the Commons has shown us the way and that we ought to follow it. However, I do not side with my noble friend Lord Tyler and others when they seem to suggest that in some way the Commons will pal up to us and agree that we should do some things and it will do the others. As was shown demonstrably in the previous Session, the Commons wants to do all the nice things itself, and so it should. Our job is to decide what else needs doing and then to find ways of doing it well or, if we are already doing it, ways of doing it better. If we approach that task in a self-critical frame of mind rather than a self-satisfied one-that is not something we always find easy-take up the suggestion of my noble friend Lord Norton that this should be a continuous operation and pick up what the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, says about using pilots rather than getting too stuck up on what the consequences might be of a change that was not quite right, we shall make good progress. The whole process ought to be one of continuous improvement. It is the way the world outside runs. Frankly, there is plenty of opportunity for it.
To go back to what the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, was saying, this is something we must do as a whole House. We cannot leave this to the usual channels to do at their pace because, to take an obvious example, the whole argument over our expenses was delayed
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I want to concentrate on two areas, the public and Back-Benchers. I know that we are old but, if we are to be a legislature, we must keep up with the way the world is moving. The world is moving in an extremely technological way and the technology is changing every year. We have not been well served by our Information Committee. This piece of junk I have in my pocket that passes for a PDA cannot get the internet properly, twitter or communicate in social media properly. What are we trying to do to ourselves, loading ourselves with that inadequate technology? We are merely cutting ourselves off from the sort of communication that people out there want us to have. Yes, we should get much more involved in those aspects of being a legislature that involve the public. Pre-legislative scrutiny and public evidence-hearing should be what we are really aiming at because it gives the public a chance to participate. We should certainly go for post-legislative scrutiny; I entirely agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, that the Digital Economy Act should be a prime candidate for that. It was only half discussed before it was passed into law and is full of controversial stuff. This time next year we shall have a much clearer view of what is happening and the way it should go.
When we have proper scrutiny of a Bill, we should put it up on Wikiversity. We should let people have a real look at the clauses, comment on them, propose changes and work with those Members of the House who are interested to see how individual clauses and aspects of the Bill could be changed. "Wikiversity" may not be a word that many Members know but we should know it. These techniques are out there and are being used to develop ideas between a number of diverse people rather than within a little conclave. That ought to be the direction in which we are heading. For the first time last week I saw an iPad used in the Chamber. That may startle some noble Lords. However, I live my life electronically. Why do I have to print things out every time I come into this Chamber? I want the Bill and all the comments that I have received in front of me. I use an inadequate laptop at the moment but there is plenty of technology out there which would make it much easier to handle the volume of information we ought to be handling in Committee. Overall, we can make this House much more open to the public, particularly to those members of the public who really understand what is going on in a Bill. Our functions would benefit greatly if we did that.
The second thing I want to cover is the role of the Back-Bencher. I say to noble Lords who were not here when we had hereditary Peers in number that we are in the unusual position of having a Government who are in control of the House, as we saw in the two votes last week. Some of us, at least, got used to the idea that the Liberals were the swing voters and that if you had the Libs with you, you won; if you did not, you lost. We had this rather strange business of effectively talking to the Government but actually trying to persuade my noble friends to come with us in order to defeat the
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I must say that my noble friend disappointed me when, almost in his first sentence, he talked about a Leader's Group which, "I will appoint". That has too many echoes of what we have seen in committees appointed to consider Lords reform-that is, hand-picked committees, chosen specifically so that they will produce reports which agree with the conclusions that the usual channels have already arrived at. We must be much more open on this, particularly when we are talking about the rules which govern this House. Those who are on the committee, or at least a proportion of them, should be on it with the consent of the whole House, having been openly chosen by the whole House. I side with the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, on that. It would make these committees much more powerful. That should also be a characteristic of the House Committee, the Liaison Committee and other aspects of this House.
There is also scope for a greater Back-Bench voice in the selection of Motions. How do they suddenly appear for dinner-break debate and so on? Mine have been chosen an inordinate number of times, and I am very grateful, but whether or not my Motion has been chosen does not seem to have reflected the will of the House.
How should we choose noble Lords to ask Starred Questions? At the moment, there is a sort of queue at 10 o'clock. This inordinate scramble is like some arrangement from the junior common room whereby only those who are prepared to stay up until two hours past midnight actually get any business done. There was a good suggestion in one of the newspapers-I forget which-that we should hold a ballot two weeks ahead and Members whose names are drawn out of the hat can then put down a Question. That would produce a much more even relationship between us.
We have extensively discussed today the selection of speakers during Questions. I very much side with those noble Lords who think that the chair should be allowed to choose. My noble friend, a self-confessed member of the Heinz 57 group, has a well perfected technique of sitting on that Bench-when he rises he cannot see half the House behind him and therefore cannot give way to other noble Lords because he is unaware of their presence. I am not asking for the Lord Speaker or whoever is in the chair to rule on matters of procedure-which clearly they cannot do, given that they are such a long way from the Clerks-but they can choose who is to speak next. That would mean that, rather than quarrelling among ourselves, we would just rise and not have to compete with ourselves to be heard, and it would not be the noisiest or even the grandest who were chosen. We would presumably have to agree to rules on how we expected the Speaker to operate, but if we were to go down that route, we would have a much more presentable system.
We have talked a lot about what else we can do. I agree with some of the suggestions put forward on how we can improve the way that we operate this House from the point of view of the Government. Taking Statements into Grand Committee would be an excellent idea. They take up a chunk of prime House time. Noble Lords who are interested in a Statement are almost never those who are interested in whatever business they are interrupting. If we put them in the Moses Room, we could give them more time and we could make the timing of Statements more flexible, as it is in the Commons, and reach a point where the Back Benches have exhausted themselves-or at least we could experiment with that.
Lord Lucas: That is because I want a lot of government time to be taken up by things such as pre-legislative and post-legislative scrutiny, and other good activities on which other noble Lords have commented. We ought to be trying to find the most effective role for ourselves and we cannot take on new things without giving up something else. Anyway, a Committee stage-which is essentially a conversation-taken off the Floor of the House would be a better environment and would mean that the House was working better and more effectively.
In addition, we should look at changing Report stage. Report is a pretty sterile activity at the moment whereby everyone talks, the Minister replies and then you do not have a chance to pick up anything that the Minister said. It would work better if Ministers automatically rose immediately after the proposers of amendments and had a first go. That might bring everything to a close and save a lot of time. On other occasions, it would allow those who were to speak later to do so in a much more informed way, and the Minister's final reply would be much more fruitful.
Lastly, I wish to pick up a point on intervals between the stages of Bills. Intervals are important if you are a Back-Bencher because it takes time to put amendments together when you do not have staff. You cannot do your job if everything is run together. I welcome this initiative by my noble friend and I am delighted that we are discussing procedures. I very much hope that what will come out of this is a committee which is open to all our views, open in its processes and results in our making real progress on the way that we conduct our business.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, we, too, very much welcome the initiative of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and I am happy to reiterate what my noble friend Lady Royall said many hours ago that we will play a constructive role in reviewing our working practices, under the auspices of a Leader's Group. That will be valuable in itself, but could also lay a
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Any reforms of our working practices will command the general support of this House only if they are seen as improving its overall effectiveness as a revising Chamber. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, has long championed the value of this House in acting as a check on government. Most commentators feel that we have become increasingly effective in that since the reforms of 1999. That has much to do with the quality of our debates and the undoubted calibre of noble Lords.
The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, pointed to the large number of amendments made in the previous Session. Of course, some of them were routine tidying up, but I suggest that the House's reputation is not unconnected with the number of defeats suffered by the previous Government-more than 500 since 1997. Those defeats gave the House considerable leverage and caused the previous Administration to think again on many occasions. That is why the House became so effective. I suffered more than my share of those defeats and make no complaint: that is what the House is here to do.
We come now to the circumstances of the coalition Government. As the noble Lord, Lord Elton, said, it is the job of Parliament to control the Executive. It is early days, but there is a genuine question about how the House will continue to control the Executive in the circumstances of the coalition. I would be very interested in the views of the noble Lord, Lord McNally. What role does he expect the House to perform if he and his colleagues on the Front Bench are determined to force through every clause of every piece of legislation that they put before us?
We are coming to the closing stages of the Academies Bill. If ever a piece of legislation fitted the description of "ill digested legislation" made by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, this is it. It has been rushed through your Lordships' House at an unseemly pace because Mr Michael Gove, in one of a number of misjudgments for which he is becoming so well known, insisted that some academy schools had to be up and running by September. That is why the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, was forced to stay so long last week. As the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said, on Report three amendments were voted on. They were defeated by the Government, who had the votes to do so. Fair enough-but if the future pattern is that the Government will win every vote, the House will begin to lose some of its hard-won reputation. Again I ask the noble Lord, Lord McNally, how he sees the House acting as a check on the Executive in those circumstances. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, put his finger on it.
When it comes to working practices, we are not short of material. The Wright committee's work in the other place is of equal significance. I agree with noble Lords who talked about the relationship between the two Houses being of great importance when it comes to changes in working practices. I should be interested in the Minister's response on how he thinks the Houses might work together. I should also like him to respond to questions raised about the role of the Lord Speaker. Clearly, among some noble Lords, there is a sense of frustration about self-regulation and how it works. Self-regulation depends on Members observing the spirit of the Companion. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, that I am not sure that it is new Members who do not observe the spirit of the Companion. I fear that it is often very experienced Members.
The problem is most clearly seen at Question Time. It is a very important occasion. The House is full, Ministers are on their mettle and it sets the tone for the day; but not all noble Lords are happy with the way in which it proceeds. Supplementary questions are often read, are long-winded and exceed the two points that are permitted, and some ministerial responses are equally lengthy. My noble friend Lady Jones identified that nearly half the supplementary questions were asked by only 8 per cent of our Members, and that the current shouting match may not create an encouraging environment for all Peers to take part. The noble Lord, Lord Luce, shared that view. There is a case for looking at whether the Lord Speaker should perform the role currently performed by the Leader at Question Time, perhaps for a trial period. I should say that I have no criticism of the way in which the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, has conducted himself in that matter since he became Leader of the House.
Having performed that role myself for about 20 months, I am well aware of the pressures all round the House. Like my noble friend, I, too, have the statistics from my time discharging that awesome responsibility. During that time, the Government batted under its weight. The Conservatives were a little bit over, the Liberal Democrats were an awful lot over and the Cross-Benchers batted quite a lot under their weight. My current statistics show that the Government and the Opposition are getting roughly equal treatment in terms of the number of supplementary questions, with the Cross-Benchers again batting under their weight. As far as concerns the gender balance, so far about 28 per cent of supplementary questions have been asked by women, who make up less than 28 per cent of the House.
Question Time is a crucial part of what the House does. It is important that the spontaneity and liveliness of Question Time is not lost with any change that we might make. Many Members have mentioned Lord Williams of Mostyn and the reforms that he made. One of those reforms, to increase the number of Questions to six Questions, did not work; nor do I believe that the Questions to the Secretaries of State worked. We must be prepared to try these things, but it is important that the central focus of Question Time is not lost. I know that many Peers are reluctant to see the departure of self-regulation, but self-regulation will not survive an elected House. At the very least, the Leader's Group will have to discuss these matters.
I want to comment briefly on a number of other matters which have been raised. My noble friend Lord Brett asked some searching questions about debates and particularly about how the Government should respond. That is a very relevant matter indeed. On the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Butler, that Statements might be made in Grand Committee, I am not at all convinced. I believe that major Statements of government policy ought to be made in this Chamber; for example, the announcement made today about the NHS, agree with it or not, was a very important Statement. Surely, such Statements ought to be heard in prime time in the Chamber. Frankly, the problem during the Statement was that experienced Members did not observe the spirit of the Companion. However, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, that it might be useful to circulate to all noble Lords a pocket guide of the three or four essential points in the Companion.
Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, on that subject, under this so-called self-regulatory regime, it is extremely difficult for individual Members, who may feel embarrassed, to stand up, thereby asking others to sit down. That is why self-regulation does not work. Very few of us are prepared to get up and challenge others. There is a great onus on those on the Front Bench to do that, but very often they do not.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, that is a fair point. I would certainly encourage the Whips on the government Front Bench to intervene. They would certainly have the support of this side of the House if they sought to do so. Essentially, their role is to help the House to regulate itself.
Lord Maclennan of Rogart: My Lords, does the noble Lord acknowledge, even if he does not agree with Statements being taken in the Moses Room or in Grand Committee, that Back-Benchers do not get a fair crack of the whip? Even today when we had a major Statement on the National Health Service, there was very little scope for the House to express its views.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I have two points on that. The noble Lord is right that 20 minutes is a fairly limited time. Equally, a Statement is not an occasion for Back-Benchers to make general statements about what they have heard in a Statement; it is to elucidate answers from the Minister. An extension of time would be welcome but, equally, some self-discipline among Members would be appreciated.
On the legislative procedure, many interesting points have been made about how we can go into Grand Committee more often and how the process in Grand Committee can be improved. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, made a very useful comment about Report stage and how we might change the procedures there. I also thought he was right about time intervals. Experiencing opposition for the first time, and the awesome task of having to write one's own speeches and amendments, a little time between stages is indeed welcome and very necessary.
In conclusion, I welcome the initiative of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. We shall support it; it is a constructive move. I would comment on what the noble Lord said in the debate on the Queen's Speech. He said that Peers in this House already enjoy rights not given to Back-Benchers in the other place to table amendments at three stages of a Bill and to have each one heard and replied to. Today, he said that he had no desire to move from that, no desire for compulsory grouping of amendments or for timetabling Motions or for preventing every amendment being considered. That is welcome. I detected a veiled warning perhaps that that depended on noble Lords not abusing the flexibilities that they have. I have seen no signs of that. I agree with him that we need to update our working practices. The Official Opposition will support only change which increases the effectiveness of the House. Ultimately, the Minister must recognise that that will not happen if the parties opposite simply railroad their legislation through this House.
Lord McNally: My Lords, first, I am grateful for those final words-"the parties opposite"-because, as was said earlier, there is an attempt by the Opposition to make a very harmonious coalition into a single party. We are a coalition. The other point that came from the debate is now a hardy annual from the Benches opposite, about the harsh treatment of the Labour Party during Question Time. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, will not let the facts get in the way of a good grievance.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: I do not think that I said that at all. I paid tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, for the even-handed way in which he helped the House come to a view on who should ask questions.
Lord McNally: I am very grateful. I hope that, from now on, when some people-I will not name them, but we know who they are-start shouting and screaming from those Benches, we can mention that, in the first week in June, the Labour Party had 42 per cent of questions, as against 19 per cent for the Conservatives and 16 per cent for the Liberal Democrats. In the second week, it was 48 per cent for the Labour Party-well done-21 per cent for the Conservatives and 13 per cent for the Liberal Democrats. In the third week, it was 40 per cent for Labour, 19 per cent for the Conservatives and 16 per cent for the Liberal Democrats. In the fourth week, it was 44 per cent for the Labour Party, 18 per cent for the Conservatives and 18 per cent for the Liberal Democrats. I hope that, as this Parliament settles down, we can get away from that Millwall supporters' attitude.
Lord McNally: No, I was just getting to the nice bit of my speech. I just thought that we could get something on the record, especially as there has been so much praise for the Library, which is busy producing statistics for both sides, as it should.
I welcome the assurance from the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, that the Opposition intend to play a constructive role. We share his approach that the test must be the overall effectiveness of this House. I will return to that. As to how the House will work in the circumstances of the coalition, again, we have to see how things go. It is a different circumstance, but there have been other times when this House has been effective before reform. If people go to the memoirs of the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, they will find that she constantly complained about the defeats that the Government suffered in the House of Lords.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the noble Lord traded statistics with me. He has just to look at the scale of the defeats that the previous Government suffered. By my reckoning-again, I am grateful to the Library for these statistics-there were 526. During the Conservative Administration, the number of defeats was very much less.
Lord McNally: As my noble friend Lord Strathclyde has just whispered in my ear, it is too early to tell what the pattern of this House will be. All that we know so far of the statistics is that the Labour Party has won 40 per cent of the votes and the Government have won 60 per cent.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the first vote was on a technical point on the Local Government Bill. The second vote that the Government lost was very late at night on an amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, which the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, described as a meaningless vote.
I close this debate as Deputy Leader of the House and a loyal No. 2 to my noble friend. I am pleased to say that we approach our task today with a complete unity of purpose. I am delighted that he has given such priority to the reform of working practices so early in this Parliament. I am also pleased that he has chosen to do so in a way which benefits from the groundwork prepared by his predecessor, the noble Baroness, Lady Royall. This debate and the announcement of the immediate setting-up of a Leader's Group to look into the matter in the first few weeks of this Parliament means that the reform of working practices is more than a declaration of intent: it is work in progress. I am delighted to say that my noble friend has persuaded the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, a former chairman of the Constitution Committee, to be the chair of the Leader's Group. He will lead it with the independence and rigour that it demands.
This has been a stimulating debate. Thanks to the customary enthusiasm that noble Lords have for this subject, nobody need fear that the Leader's Group will be wanting for inspiration, advice or input. It is not my intention to set out the Government's views on the suggestions that have been put forward by noble Lords-they are House matters for the Leader's Group to reflect on-but I shall make brief mention of a few individual contributions. Many noble Lords paid tribute
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Looking back even over the past 18 months, we have made a number of advances in this House's ability to scrutinise legislation and to hold the Government to account. We have adopted an additional set of arrangements for scrutinising fast-track legislation, based on the recommendations of the Constitution Committee, which should ensure that the House has at its disposal the information it needs to give proper consideration to such Bills and to the case for fast-tracking legislation. We have introduced a new procedure for scrutinising national policy statements, an innovation intended to enhance the House's ability to scrutinise government policy formulated under the Planning Act. We have put in place a panoply of procedures for exercising the new powers that the House now wields in respect of European Union policy and legislation as a result of the Lisbon treaty and the entry into force of the European Union (Amendment) Act. We have conducted successful experiments with Question Time for Secretaries of State. They were successful, and have not been abandoned. We just, at the moment, do not have any Secretaries of State in this House-hope springs eternal, as they say. We also have a new approach to scrutinising Law Commission Bills, which I very much welcome. I could go on. My point is simply that we have been steadily adding to the armoury of tools at our disposal, and I am confident that the Leader's Group will both refine existing practices and propose new ones.
Lord Rooker: I am not aware that the House debated or voted on any of the examples the Minister just gave. Something has been missing for change, and this is why we were advised not to go down the Procedure Committee route. No one is asking the Leader's Group to put the whole agenda forward but, when it has considered issues, it should bring to the House not just recommendations about those issues that it agrees with, but other issues for the House to decide. We do not want to be told that the Leader's Group has agreed all these things and to be asked whether we agree with them. What about the things it may not have agreed with? The House might have a view and therefore it must make the final decision about what goes on the agenda, not the Leader's Group.
Lord McNally: This House is its own master. The Leader's Group will report to it, and there will be full discussion and a full debate. I gave a list of procedures that have been put to-oh! I have been passed a note; I have always wondered what these notes said.
Lord McNally: It says here: "Did the House vote on these examples? Yes, it did". It must have been when the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, was not here. I could go on. My point is simply that we have been steadily
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There is little time left tonight, save to say that we will set up the Leader's Group, which will have the widest of wide agendas. We will then see what it reports back to us. That will be a very exciting time. The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, asked what we are here for. In my 15 years in this House, I have never had any doubt that I am a parliamentarian. The noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, said that we are here as legislators. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, said that we are here to check the Executive. The noble Lord, Lord Luce, said that he used topical debates to influence government policy. The noble Baroness, Lady Howe, said that she goes about making a nuisance of herself. That combination is what we are here for, and we want the procedures to fulfil those roles. We do not need to agonise too much about this; the task is to find the working practices to facilitate that work.
Some themes have come through. It is interesting that about 10 speakers referred to a revised role of the Lord Speaker. I am sure that the Leader's Group will look at that but, as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, and others have said, there are doubts about it. We have said before that powers to the Lord Speaker would be a slippery slope. Well, let the Leader's Group look at that.
The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, talked about Questions being a bear pit. I am not too sure about that. This is a Parliament, and I worry about what people who are invited to join a Parliament expect it to be. I also listened to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Parekh. I know a place where people come in, read their speeches and go out. Has anyone seen the American Congress being televised? It looks like a funeral parlour most of the time. One of the things that I like about this place is the courtesy of people staying and listening to speeches. I know that Members harbour suspicions about my intentions for this House. I am even a bit suspicious of the noble Lord, Lord Butler, wanting us to get rid of the ermine. We wear it only once a year, and I think that we should keep some of the old courtesies and perhaps some of the old clothing. I have said once before, and got into terrible trouble when I did so, that if we start to look like Croydon Council we will be treated like Croydon Council. I had forgotten that there is a complete mafia of Croydon councillors in this House, who stopped me the next day and said "Oi!". One of the constructive things about this place is that it retains those courtesies, which are part of its power.
The noble Lord, Lord Brooke, asked what our approach would be to trial and pilots, the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker. That is a very good suggestion, but it is a matter for the Leader's Group, which I hope it will take on board.
I turn to other points that I can cover in the time left. The noble Lords, Lord Rooker and Lord Filkin, referred to whether the Leader's Group remit would extend to the governance arrangements of the House. The terms of reference will be widely drawn. The group will need to set priorities and will take its own decisions on what it wants to cover, but it is setting itself a big agenda.
A large number of noble Lords pointed out that we cannot consider our practices and procedures in isolation from those of the House of Commons. The House of Lords and the House of Commons keep their separation up to a point. We should learn from what they have done. There have been several good references to the work of the Wright committee. I do not think that we have been standing still even while the Wright committee has been working, but the Leader's Group gives an impetus to what has been going on here. As a first step, my noble friend might talk to Sir George Young, the Leader of the House of Commons. I cannot remember who mentioned this point, but striking up a dialogue with the House of Commons is not always as easy as colleagues might think. However, knowing the two men I have just mentioned, some soft soundings might help in meshing what is going on at both ends of the building.
Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope: It would be helpful to the House if my noble friend could give some indication of how long this might take. My noble friend Lord Goodlad is a serious man who I am sure will take this very seriously. But is there any chance of getting an interim report by, say, the end of the calendar year?
Lord McNally: Again, that would be both impudent of me and unfair to my noble friend Lord Goodlad and his group. From what has been said today, this will not be a speedy process. There is a big agenda and a lot to be considered. As has been said, the group will look for advice not only from within this Chamber but from bodies outside which have studied these matters.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, while clearly one must not rush into this, the fact is that a draft Bill for reform of your Lordships' House is expected by the end of the year. I really think that it would be right to ask the Leader's Group to report before that.
Lord McNally: I will not commit myself to that. At the end of the year there will be a draft Bill which will itself go to legislative scrutiny. There is no rushing of fences on this. There is some serious work to be done. A very good agenda has been set up. A standing committee to look at practices and procedures may come out of-
Lord Elton: While my noble friend is on procedure, perhaps we may revert for a moment to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker. I presume that the Leader's Group will produce a report, which will be put to the House with a Motion that it is approved and will be open to amendment. It will include an enormous number of proposals, which could well elicit a large number of amendments. I hope that my
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Lord McNally: I think so, but we should first look at the report. Certainly, we will not do what the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, implied; namely, to say, "This is it: take it or leave it". We hope that the committee will bring forward a range of suggestions which will be open to the House, but it will remain in this House's power to decide what it wants out of that report.
As I said, this Hansard report will produce a good first working document for the group of the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad. Also, those such as the Hansard Society and other groups who take an interest in these matters will see an open invitation to submit their evidence, as will the parties and individual Members of the House. I hope that it may even consider the suggestion of my noble friend Lord Lucas and open up its workings to the new technologies so that we can get ideas through in that way. I also noted him saying that the Benches behind me should relearn the art of rebellion. I have to say that some of us never thought he had lost the knack for that.
I finish on a thought that comes from my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway. He gave us a political warning, and it is one I can feel as a parliamentarian: do not think that you can smooth all the rough edges
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It is that combination of urgency and open-mindedness which gives us the best prospect for progress. I wish the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, and the Leader's Group well, and I hope that it receives ideas and proposals from both inside and outside the House to help it in its deliberations.
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