|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, I was one of those referred to by the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, as expressing quite a lot of doubt about the wisdom of the carry over of Government Bills from one Session of Parliament to another. As I remember, the noble Lord the Leader of the House, as is his wont, introduced the subject and asked for responses. My noble friend the Leader of the Opposition was what I would describe as lukewarm on the subject, having studied it in the time of the previous government.
I argued against the proposal on the basis that it would increase the power of the Executive--that was exactly the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Monson, just now--by removing the delaying power of either the Opposition of the day in another place or indeed of your Lordships' House as a whole. I recall the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, disagreeing with me and saying that the power to delay was somewhat overrated. Be that as it may, I think that it is probably true to say that the offending sentence in the first paragraph to which the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, drew attention probably reflects the Lord Chairman's summing up.
I recall asking specifically whether the substantive discussion on the carry over of Bills by the Government would be held after the paper by the Clerk of the Parliaments and the Clerk of another place had been considered by the committee. The answer was in the affirmative. I therefore find it difficult to understand how the report can possibly state that the committee accepts that there is a case for it when that substantive
The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Richard): My Lords, I shall say a few words on one or two of the issues that have been raised, particularly the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, and the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun. As I understood the proceedings in the committee, the one undoubted fact that the committee could neither accept nor deny was that the House of Commons had accepted the principle of carry over and that the Modernisation Committee report had been accepted in another place. Thinking back, I am sure that the Procedure Committee took the view that it would be a strange situation in which the House of Commons had accepted the principle of carry over but the House of Lords had not. Although there were some doubts expressed in the committee--I totally accept that; I do not claim that there was a unanimous feeling, nor would I claim that the Leader of the Opposition was particularly warm on this issue--there seemed to be a general acceptance that the principle of carry over should be examined at a practical level by the officials of this House and the officials of another place. When it has been examined it will have to return to the Floor of this House.
If I may lapse into Community jargon, it seemed to me, considering that discussion of the Procedure Committee, that there was an avis favorable to accept the principle of carry over by a majority of the members of the committee. We did not take a vote because, as far as I know, we never do take votes in the Procedure Committee. That was certainly my impression. Judging from the report submitted by the Lord Chairman of the Procedure Committee, that was clearly his impression too. I entirely accept that there were voices in opposition. Of course I accept that the measure is bound to have to come back to the House when the practicalities have been considered.
A number of questions were raised about the register of interests. I do not think that I can advise the House to take any decision on this other than the one which has been reached by the Procedure Committee. I say to my noble friend Lord Dormand of Easington, it is not that it will be put off for another three years; when the Procedure Committee looks at it at the beginning of the next Session, the existing machinery will have been in existence for three years. There will be therefore a greater opportunity for discussion and more data from which the House can come to a judgment as to whether we wish to go further.
I was interested in the mathematics of the noble Lord, Lord Monson, as regards the £80,000 savings. The House of Commons again has adopted this procedure: that a Question for Written Answer is printed only once. As I understand, the savings have been very great. The
Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I shall not attempt to detain the House long. I merely wish to record my gratitude to the Leader of the House for the guidance he has given the committee and the House this afternoon. I entirely support the guidance he has given us.
The noble Lord is correct in saying that I had some reservations about the issue of carry over, not only as to whether it would impinge on the present powers of your Lordships' House, but also as regards the circumstances in which another place might feel it wanted to introduce Bills being carried over from one Session to another. The Leader of the House was extremely wise, if he will allow me to say so, in suggesting that officials of both Houses should consult together and report back to the Procedure Committee. It will in due course report back to your Lordships' House the results of those consultations. I understand that the original proposals for carry over--perhaps the Leader of the House will indicate dissent if I have this wrong--have been modified. It is now proposed that Bills to be carried over might be of a highly technical nature and would be discussed through the usual channels. Some of the impediments would be drawn to your Lordships' attention just as they would be in another place, in particular with the advantage of advice from officials.
I believe that the Leader of the House is entirely wise in suggesting to your Lordships that we await the report of the officials so that we can discuss this potentially extremely important matter further.
I wonder, too, whether noble Lords might feel inclined to consider, for the reasons given by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, what seemed an extremely ingenious suggestion which can do nothing but improve in a minor but important way the ability of Parliament to hold the Executive to account. It may well be that the noble and learned Lord's suggestion could be further considered in due course by the Procedure Committee. Subject to the guidance of the Leader of the House, I am disposed to view that suggestion with some sympathy.
On registration of interests, the noble Lord the Leader of the House has done the House a favour. As the noble Lord, Lord Dormand of Easington, pointed out, it is right that a functioning House of Parliament--as is your Lordships' House--should be seen to take these matters extremely seriously. Of late such issues have become increasingly a matter of public interest and concern. It is right that your Lordships should be aware of that and should take these matters to heart, and be seen to do so. Equally, your Lordships will be aware that at present we are not an elected Chamber. The nature of the written Summons to your Lordships' House is different from the qualification that enables Members of Parliament to sit in another place. In many ways the circumstances are different. Thanks to the recommendations of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths, we have a system which is newly established. So far as I know, there have
The Chairman of Committees: My Lords in view of what has been said by the noble Lord the Leader of the House and the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition about carry over and the registration and declaration of interests, I do not propose to add much.
On carry over of Bills, I confirm what the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition said. The noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, and the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun of Abernethy, referred to the matter. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, for having warned me half an hour before the House sat today that the matter was likely to be raised. That enabled me to look into the matter. I confirm the recollection of the Leader of the House on the committee's decision. Acting as chairman, I summed up the discussion on that matter. It is my clear recollection that the committee decided to accept the idea of carry over in principle but subject to certain practical matters and safeguards, which are to be the subject of discussions between the Clerk of the Parliaments and the Clerk of the House of Commons.
In that connection, it must be borne in mind that we would not have come to a conclusion on principle if we had not considered the issue of practicalities and safeguards. But, having considered the practicalities and safeguards, if the Procedure Committee is not satisfied, it would be open to it, as it always is in our domestic committees when reconsidering matters, to defer the matter for further consideration or to throw it out altogether. To that extent, perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, and the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun of Abernethy, will be somewhat reassured.
The noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, mentioned the register of interests. I am sorry that it is not available at present. The register is to be published either on Monday or possibly tomorrow. It should have been published earlier. There were many last minute amendments. If those were to be incorporated, it was not possible to send off the register until Tuesday of
The noble Lady, Lady Saltoun of Abernethy, raised a number of other points. She is right to say that some maiden speakers have not remained in the Chamber for at least part of the remainder of the debate after making their maiden speeches. It was not an isolated occasion this week; it occurred last week too. Since we have also referred to the congratulations after maiden speeches, perhaps I may mention an exodus during congratulations expressed on Tuesday. Two noble Lords withdrew during the congratulatory remarks by the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant. The noble Lord was sitting in his usual seat at this end of the far Benches by the aisle to my right. Those noble Lords passed directly in front of him. That is another transgression which the noble Lady mentioned--namely, passing between the speaker on his or her feet and the Woolsack. She is also right in saying that some noble Lords fail to bow to the Cloth of State on entering. With that gentle reminder on those three points, drawn attention to first by the noble Lady, I hope that noble Lords will remember to observe those conventions.
As to declaration of interests, there has been no evidence whatever of wrongdoing in your Lordships' House in the two years since the Griffiths Report, so no matters have had to be referred to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths's sub-committee. As already indicated, there have been no suggestions that the sub-committee overlooked any important matter.
It may be worth making the further point that in some ways your Lordships' rules are much tougher and tighter than those in another place, particularly so far as categories 1 and 2 are concerned. We face more stringent restrictions. To give one example, if a noble Lord were paid a consultancy fee by a firm, he would be prohibited from speaking in the House on any matter relating to that firm, whereas a Member of another place in similar circumstances would not be prevented from so doing. That is just one example of how your Lordships have instituted tougher rules.
The noble Lord, Lord Monson, mentioned the topic of Questions for Written Answer. We have already had some evidence from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, about the large number of Questions appearing in the Minute. That is one consideration. Another is the number of copies bought each day and the nature of the contract with the Stationery Office. I appreciate that, among others, the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition has been attracted by the suggestion of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, as one to be considered. The great merit of the Procedure Committee's recommendation to your Lordships today is the fact that it is simple and straightforward. The proposal of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, would involve some additional monitoring and therefore
I suggest that, since the proposal made by the Procedure Committee to your Lordships is a new one, we should wait and see how it works out. As we know from experience, there is nothing to stop the Procedure Committee returning to these matters. Perhaps the suggestion of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, can be borne in mind so that, when further consideration is given to this matter, we can consider instituting his proposal as well. I repeat in that regard my earlier reservations and words of caution.
I am anxious not to go on for too long; I think I have covered all the points that were raised. If I have not, I shall see that noble Lords who have not received an adequate response are answered in writing or orally.